The teachers at my new school have now been back in session for two full weeks. We’ve had seven regular school days with students, and I’m starting to feel like I’m getting into a groove. So far, I love my new district. The staff is wonderful and welcoming, and they’re being very understanding about my hundreds of questions. My students are pretty excellent as well, and I have a lot more to love this year! Last year, I had 75 students total in classes ranging from 4 to 20 students (I know, how lucky can you get?!), this year I have 145 students in classes ranging from 8 to 27. It’s been a strange adjustment going from knowing half my students from prior years to knowing no one, but since I’m still a department of 1, I’ll get that familiarity back for next year.
I worked hard on my room this summer! Here are the results:
The view from the door. Proficiency descriptors in the corner, flags from all the Spanish-speaking countries, labelled with the name of the country. Some kids have already started bringing pictures and maps in to hang on them!
Here’s my desk. I promise it’s getting less messy! Question words, essential verbs, and Spanish memes on the bulletin board in the back of the picture. Oh how I want to get rid of these combo desks and get tables instead! I don’t see it happening this school year, but I’m really hoping that I can make the switch next year!
And there’s the door. It’s hard to see from this far away, but on the window beside the door, I have 3 picture frames, each with a different color of scrapbook paper inside. I’m using these to write my daily goals. I wish they were in a more prominent location, but, as you can see, I’m low on wall space, and I need to be able to reach them every day to update.
Other things that didn’t make it into the pictures: My OTHER Spanish meme bulletin board, and my book cart. I don’t have a very large classroom library (yet!) but what I do have is on a cart near my desk. It includes several children’s books (which I pick up super cheap at Ollie’s from time to time), a couple of newspapers I picked up in Costa Rica, more than a few Spanish-language comic books left by a previous teacher, and a shelf full of dictionaries.
The first week plans that I shared at the beginning of the summer got tweaked and changed over time, but ended up looking pretty similar. Until class started, of course. I realized that I am not (at least not yet) cut out for first day stations with students I don’t know. And on the first day of school, some kids probably aren’t ready for the autonomy that comes with stations – especially when one of them is a “Create a Spanish Class Twitter Account” station. Add to that the fact that our students can’t receive outside emails to their school email addresses, the school has terrible cell signal for receiving the Twitter registration text, and those students who just aren’t good with technology. I was pretty frazzled the first day and after 2 periods, went from stations to much more structured activities with me guiding the kids as a class.
I think the Twitter accounts are a good thing – kids are actually using them, and some of the kids are SO excited about them, but I don’t know if I will have every kid set one up in the future – maybe I’ll just make it an option for them to do outside of class the first week if they want to. We’ll see how much we use them this year.
Other than that, things have gone very well! I think all my students have a basic understanding of the proficiency levels and are developing an idea of what they can actually expect to be able to do this year. It was a surprisingly easy task to convince my 2s and 3s that these changes were going to be a good thing – a refreshing change from last year, for sure! I’m the fourth teacher in four years (although I have no Spanish 4 students this year), so maybe they’re just ready for anything at this point.
We’re starting class with music every day! Monday – Thursday we learn and practice the chorus to a song. It took the kids a couple of days, but they’re starting to like it. Baile Viernes hasn’t been a huge hit yet, but some of the kids are into it, so I’m not giving up! I keep plugging it outside of class so maybe other teachers will come on their planning period, or even bring another class in to dance with us!
As you can see in the pictures, I’m also using Sara-Elizabeth’s idea of varying the seating daily and so far, I like it. I’m learning names slowly, but since everyone has a name card, I can address a student by name even if I don’t have it down yet. And they come into class every day excited to find their name and see who’s around them. I have a feeling as we get further into the year and I get more familiar with the kids, this is going to become a huge tool for me.
After the first couple of days, and then pre-testing for Ohio’s required SLOs, I’ve finally gotten down to teaching in all my classes! My Spanish 3 students overall seem to be pretty good at interpretive, but they’re definitely quiet at this point. I’m trying to fill empty time by chatting and asking them questions, but I think it’s going to take some time before these kids are ready to open up to me. However, they all seem to be dutiful and capable students, and they seemed to enjoy our first experience with El Internado on Friday.
Spanish 1 is doing well, too. We’re basically following Sara-Elizabeth’s first days plan. I used it last year, and I felt that it set us up really well for the rest of the year. The kids like it, and I definitely think it gives me great tools to help set up the low-pressure, try-your-best, mistakes-are-OK learning environment that I want to create. They’re into it so far, and I spiced it up with my own ticket-earning system. In all my classes, students receive raffle tickets for participation, and in 2 and 3, they can lose them (to me or classmates) by speaking English. In Spanish 1, I told them that the first semester, they would be allowed to speak English unless I specifically designate a no-English time. BUT, any time I hear a kid speaking Spanish, they get a ticket. A few kids have taken great advantage of this and learned a few key phrases, much to the envy of all their peers. I’m hoping it catches on quickly. We have a drawing every Friday for small prizes that the kids get super excited about.
Spanish 2, much like last year, promises to be a bit of a challenge. They took longer on their pre-test (Spanish 3 didn’t have one) because they actually have measurable prior knowledge, so we’ve only had one real “class” experience so far. To put it lightly, they were a little overwhelmed. I have no doubt that they learned and understood more than they felt they did, and once they get over the fear of no English?! I’m sure we’ll be fine. But it might be an uphill battle for a few days. Still, I’m not giving up! Friday, we started out with a story about daily routine activities. I started here because I thought it would be review. Turns out, it’s not, so I expanded a little. We watched this video with a girl describing her normal routine to us, and completed this cloze activity to go along with it. After 3 times through, most of the kids had most of the words. I was pleased, and tried to tell them, but I still don’t think they fully realized how well they were doing. Monday, we’re going to review and then try to put sentence strips in order from memory, then watch again to check.
The biggest challenge so far? The school is 1:1 with Chromebooks. How is that a challenge, exactly? Well, for the most part, it is excellent, and I love it. However, the cameras and microphones are disabled on student Chromebooks, so any time I want to have the students record themselves, we have to go to a backup plan. That means either cell phones or tablets, and of course, not every kid has one, so they have to share, and they don’t like depending on someone else to turn their work in for them. And then they have to upload to Google Classroom or email me, and the guest wi-fi is slow and the cell signal is terrible, so I’m having a hard time even getting all the recordings. I’m definitely going to have to see if there’s any way the school would consider enabling these cameras, or somehow providing me with an alternative for in-class use, because what we are currently working with is not working.
I’m exhausted, but I’m getting used to my new schedule. I miss my former students even more than I would have thought possible, but I’m really excited to build some new relationships. I didn’t do any major work on my curriculum this year – I made it through last year, and this year I have far fewer “extras” on my plate, so I’m excited for the opportunity to tweak more, reflect more, and improve my practice this year!