It’s no secret that my Spanish 2 classes haven’t exactly been awesome this year. We’re finally to the point that I have convinced the kids that they really should try to speak Spanish as much as possible. But they’re just not engaged. It’s so strange. Nearly every student I have in Spanish 2 this year is an athlete, so I thought my sports unit would be a hit. It’s not. I mean, I think they’re mildly interested in talking about their own sport, but only mildly. And it sort of seems like they have no interest in talking about any others. I figured my jai alai day would be one they would be interested in. They really weren’t. So then I thought “I’ll let them write about whatever sport they choose.” Bored.
I was coming to dread 3rd and 4th period. Not that I don’t like the kids – they’re nice kids, and mostly hardworking – but just that it’s hard to be excited about something when your audience is consistently, unendingly disinterested.
Yesterday when they came in, I had an outline of what I thought I might do, but I had a feeling it was not going to be well received – not that the kids would even get off task or create behavior issues – just that they would be checked out. Immediately. For fifty minutes. And I was not in a mental place to handle that very well. So I asked the first couple of kids what we should do. I told them I didn’t care, it could be anything as long as it related to either A)sports/passtimes/hobbies or B)giving commands/instructions or both. They suggested a couple of thing, but we also got into a good discussion about some of the things that are different this year:
- They immediately said “Let’s play a vocab game!” to which I responded “We don’t really have vocab lists this year.” A couple of girls commented that they wished they had vocab lists, and I explained that the idea is that they learn the vocab that they find important and that they want or need to learn. I didn’t mention that some units will have more of a “vocab list” than our current unit, but they sort of accepted my response.
- Then they said “I want to learn to make sentences. I feel like we aren’t learning to do anything with the language right now.” My only real grammatical goal for right now is that they learn to give instructions, a la giving directions to a place and telling how to play games/do things. So I told them “We’re learning commands and instructions right now.” And again, they kind of accepted that.
Ultimately, they didn’t really come up with any ideas for us to do, but I realized something. I had definite goals for this unit, but I clearly hadn’t communicated that to my students. They knew that we were talking about sports and giving commands, but they didn’t feel any ownership of what we were doing, and they were just kind of going along with, what probably felt to them like, disjointed activities day after day. Clearly I need to learn to focus, and share that focus with my students.
What did we end up doing? Just before the bell rang (and Spanish became mandatory), I told them that we would practice giving directions. A girl piped up “Well, now that I know what we’re doing, I’ll be able to catch on!” which, in reality, was the reason I had given that hint before the bell rang. Which taught me something else: Sometimes, it’s OK to speak English. Sometimes, it’s even necessary. I’m worried about sort of “losing control” and speaking too much English; finding the right balance is definitely not going to be easy for me, but it’s definitely something I’m going to have to do.
The plans I had for yesterday? Totally out the window. On the spur of the moment, I pulled up a cartoon map (I have no idea where this came from, if you do, please let me know so I can provide a more proper link) and asked the kids to tell me how to get from (say) the hospital to the park, while they were telling me, I drew the route on the SmartBoard. We reviewed some direction words (turn, left, right, go, stop, go straight, etc.) before we started. After I let them give me directions as a group to a few different places, I had them each write down a set of directions from a place of their choosing to a place of their choosing. Then, in pairs, I had them go up; 1 person read their directions while the other drew.
I figured they’d be pretty uncomfortable if I didn’t let them use what they had written, but of course, they had to ad lib a little if their partner didn’t understand, went the wrong way, or asked a question. It was a pretty great activity. Finally, once everyone had gone, I asked for one brave volunteer to go up to the board while I gave the directions. I had the kids going all over the map, down some streets two or three times, and around the most convoluted route from one side to the other.
They loved it. There was focus. They felt like they were learning, and I finally felt like I was really teaching.
So I was looking forward to today. I promised the kids we’d do more with giving directions today. Periods were shortened today due to Homecoming skits in the afternoon, so I didn’t have a great deal of time to spend with them. I got them to stand up and we TPR’d some directions. I told them to “turn right”, “go straight for three steps”, etc., and just to make sure they were paying attention, I threw in “touch your nose” and “sit on the floor”. Then I got one volunteer to tell all the rest of the class (myself included) what to do. In both classes, they basically just stuck with the giving directions around town words, but that was fine.
Then, I asked them to give the new, Mexican exchange student (imaginary, unfortunately) directions around the school, because he was lost. They kind of enjoyed that, and we reviewed the words “stairs”, “go up” and “go down” from last year.
Finally, I pulled up Google Earth and asked them to tell me a city in Latin America. We zoomed in and I asked them to write down directions from one location in the city to another. Of course, I used “earth view” so that they could actually see what the city looked like. We zoomed in to street view to look at La casa rosada in Buenos Aires and a random side street in Mexico City. They liked it.
The only issue I had for two days was the, when we “went” to Mexico City, one student started whispering to his neighbor about cartels & drugs, and when we zoomed in to street view, every person on camera was “cartel”. This, obviously, did not make me happy.
But other than that, I came to a great many excellent realizations about my teaching, and I think my students really learned a lot!