Looking Back at This Year

We just started the last quarter of the year and all my students are starting to talk about how excited they are for summer. I try not to let on too strongly, but I’m pretty excited for summer as well. Warm nights. Long days. Sleeping in. What’s not to love? But I’m also looking forward to summer as an opportunity to plan for next year. Even with 9 weeks of school left, I can’t stop thinking of everything I want to do next year! I can’t wait to dig back in, make some changes, and hopefully make some real improvements over this year. Thinking of summer makes me think of the beginning of the new school year, too, and who doesn’t love that!?

Of course, before I start thinking about what I want to change, I should really reflect on how this year went. It was my first year of teaching without a textbook, not (really) teaching grammar, and conducting every class almost entirely in Spanish.

So let’s start with some pros and cons:

Things that have gone well this year:

  • Weekly blogging – due before midnight Friday night (I found that for me, having all classes due before midnight is easier than trying to keep track of when every class starts and when each kid turns theirs in. If the email notification comes in with the next day’s date on it, it’s late). They choose the topic; all they have to do is meet the word count (and write in real Spanish, of course). In Spanish 1 they answer questions the first semester, and have to write at least 25 words 2nd semester. Spanish 2 is 30 words 1st semester and 35 second semester. Spanish 3 is 40 and 45, and Spanish 4 is 50 and 75, and both 3 and 4 also have to comment on at least one other person’s blog. In the lower levels, they typically write on whatever topic we’re studying (so this week I anticipate a lot of food and health blogs!), which is good practice. In the upper levels, their personalities shine! I have one student who writes music suggestions every week, and when we didn’t have a blog due last week due to the end of the quarter, he added his suggestions as “PS’s” to his “Aventura”. They never complain about having homework on Friday. I use Edmodo, which has been excellent, but I’m considering moving to Google Classroom next year, since my students already have Google accounts.
  • A weekly Aventura by midnight Tuesday. They choose an activity from this list. Spanish 1 has to do 1 point/week, Spanish 2, 2/week, Spanish 3, 3, and Spanish 4, 4. If they do enough extra to cover another week, they can take a week off. They may not repeat activities within the 9 weeks, and at the end of the 9 weeks, everyone’s extra points reset to 0. Some of them have activities that they look forward to repeating when the new quarter starts.
  • Starting every class with music – I have seen this increase students’ vocabulary, interest in class, and pronunciation. It’s been a nice, easy routine to help get us in the Spanish mode every day. I have noticed that students pick up vocab from the songs, and upper levels sometimes key in on structures. Added bonus: at the beginning of the year, when the kids read Wikipedia pages for their Aventura, they always chose Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, JLo, etc. Last week, I had students choose Pignoise, Juanes and Reik.
  • Daily I Can statements for each unit really help me keep my focus.
  • CI and communication instead of textbook-driven lessons and units. By no means am I a pro at this yet, but even after just 1 year, I know it was a good decision. The kids may not know every form of every verb, but they’re actually able to use what they’ve learned. Which leads me to…
  • IPAs instead of traditional tests. Since I’m not asking my students to memorize grammar, grammar-based tests don’t make much sense. Besides that, I’m seeing what my students can actually do, rather than what they didn’t memorize for the test. I still have a long way to go here, but I’m learning.
  • Speaking only Spanish (that post is already out of date for some of my classes, haha). Some classes cooperate more than others, some kids like to make up words (last week one of my top Spanish 3 students made up “zoomar”), and some just don’t talk. But overall, I see this as having been overwhelmingly positive this year. The kids are much more comfortable speaking Spanish than I ever was in high school. Even in Spanish 1 I have groups that actually chat with each other in Spanish between activities. I guess all that research is right – more and more TL really is better! I have some thoughts on how to improve for next year, but I’ll get to that later.
  • My flags
  • Midterm exams
  • I’ve discovered and incorporated lots of excellent technology this year.
  • And of course, my PLN! I haven’t made it to as many #langchats as I would like, but now that they’re happening on Saturdays too (10 AM eastern, in case you didn’t know), I’m making it more often! And there are so many great blogs out there to access outside of #langchat time! I’m learning so much from so many excellent language teachers!

Things that have not gone so well:

  • I definitely could have started this year better. I overloaded the kids with information. I was so excited about all the changes I was making that I thought that if I just told them enough about it on day 1, they’d get there too! And I definitely could have done better reviewing at the beginning of the year. Day 1 will definitely look different next year!
  • I’ve found that I’m not an awesome lesson planner. I’m getting better, and in just the last few weeks I’ve realized some things about myself that have already helped (ie., I can outline units electronically, but I need to plan each week with pencil and paper.).
  • I’ve been burned out. I definitely piled too much on my plate this year. Next year I’m lightening the load a little.
  • Speaking all Spanish (yes, this is a pro and a con). It’s gone well overall, but there are some classes that need an extra push. In Spanish 1 and 2, I switched to a system in which students have to pay (fake money I made last year) to use English, and it’s been pretty successful. However, I tied it to a weekly participation grade, which I hate. I think next year, I’m going to change the system up a little. Instead of money, I think I’ll give raffle tickets to kids for various things (being in their seats when class starts, speaking Spanish, answering questions, etc.), and have a drawing on Fridays for little prizes (I’m thinking a couple of free Aventura points, a piece of candy, etc.). I’ve done this in previous years and the kids enjoyed it, but next year I’ll combine it with my current system. If someone speaks English, another student can make them “pay” a ticket. That way there’s a reward for being involved, speaking Spanish, and a (small) punishment for speaking English. It allows kids to speak English when they really need to, and it doesn’t require tying in to the grade book!
  • IPAs (also a pro and a con!) have been highly successful for me this year, but they definitely need some revamping before next year. I’ve got a whole post planned about this, so I won’t go into it here.
  • I need better unit plans. At all levels, I feel as though I’m leaving out important information. Because I’m not teaching verb charts or tenses anymore, it’s been easy for me to just do what’s easy. I need to better define what structures and forms I want them to know at each level and unit, so that I can plan better (communicative) ways to teach them. Even if I’m not teaching grammar, there are still grammatical things they need to be taught (just not the way I was doing it before!). I don’t know if that makes sense to any of you, but I know what I mean. 🙂
  • More and more and more authentic resources! I haven’t done too badly this year, but I know I can do better!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. MmeF says:

    Great post! Again, I see the same pros and cons that I’ve gone through. It’s always great to know that others are having the same ups and downs as you are. Some of your ideas are motivating me to make changes for next year – and I’m probably going to steal your idea and do a similar post, if you don’t mind. :]

    1. Melanie says:

      Of course I don’t mind! This was an excellent exercise for me, I hope it is helpful for you as well! And yes – it is definitely good knowing when you’re not alone in your struggles. 🙂

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