2016, Here We Go

Happy New Year! It seems like when the calendar changes from one year to the next, people get thoughtful. I’ve had a pretty good time reading everyone else’s reflections this year, so here I go with my own.

Once again, I feel like it’s been ages since my last post. A lot of that is because I have been so busy both in the classroom and out that I’ve hardly had time to put my thoughts down! Along with busy often comes stress, and the past couple of months have been no exception. I have felt stressed, overwhelmed, and sometimes even nervous about school. Some days, I have felt a little guilty about doing things other than school work. It’s one thing to be committed to a job, but sometimes you have to think about other things! But life is finally starting to settle and I am so excited for the new year!

2015 was a year of big changes. I started at a new school, which has been both awesome and a lot of work. Year 2 of implementing CI methods has definitely been easier than year 1, but since I’m at a new school this year, I was laying the groundwork and getting the kids on my side all over again. Some days I still feel like I’m getting the kids on my side. Like day 1 after winter break? Yeah, then.

Although I’ve been able to reuse a lot of what I did last year, a lot of things have been really different, too. Partly that’s because I learned so much about what my goals are, what works, and what doesn’t work. Partly that’s because my Spanish 2 and 3 students this year are at a totally different place than my 2s and 3s were last year.

The second semester is probably going to be even more different from last year than the first. In all three levels today, I started laying groundwork to read a TPRS novel – the first ever for 1 and 2, while Spanish 3 read Felipe Alou right before Christmas. Spanish 1 will be reading Brandon Brown quiere un perro, Spanish 2 is going to tackle Felipe Alou, and Spanish 3 is preparing to take on Esperanza. I’m pretty excited about all three, and I’ve been scouring the Internet for all the great ideas out there (and there are many!) but I’m most excited about Esperanza!

Last year, in my opinion, my most successful unit was one that I taught on immigration. It was the most authentic, the most engaging, and involved the most student interaction. I definitely wanted to repeat that unit this year, and Esperanza will be the perfect addition! As I started fleshing out this unit over Christmas break, I realized just how much last year’s unit lacked a real focus. Immigration is a huge issue and I was trying to cover way too much of it in just a few weeks. I still count it as a success, but this year I’m determined to do better!

For one, I’m not planning on touching the issue of immigration in other countries this year. It’s so tempting to discuss the refugee crisis in the Middle East, but I’m trying to focus so I’ve decided that, if there’s interest in having a Spanish 4 class next year, I’ll do an “immigration in the rest of the world” unit where we can talk about Syrian refugees, the relationship between Spain and northern Africa, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and all the other things I have grudgingly cut from this year’s unit. The more I think about it, that kind of comparison unit is probably best saved for another year anyway, and it’s not like I’ll lack material this year or next!

I’m excited about this unit, but I’m a little nervous. My single, small section of Spanish 3 (8 students) is a very quiet class. I keep trying things that I hope will get them talking, but I feel like we’re not making any progress. I don’t think it’s a lack of confidence – at least, not totally – I just think they’re quiet kids. That, combined with the fact that I’m their 3rd teacher in 3 years and they don’t know me that well, and I can’t really blame them for being quiet. I haven’t been as successful building relationships with this group as I have with the others. Maybe because we speak considerably more Spanish than in the other levels? Maybe because they’re quiet people? Maybe because they know (or think?) that they won’t have me next year? I don’t know, but I’m not giving up! I’m trying to find a balance between getting them to talk and giving them the opportunity to express their opinions in writing. Hopefully the more provocative issue of immigration will get them going.

In all three levels, I’ve decided to stop worrying less about what my beginning-of-the-year plans said and go more with the flow. Whatever seems most appropriate for my students right now. Teaching novels is the first iteration of that, since I didn’t have any idea at the beginning of the year that I would have them available! It feels pretty good not to be totally bound to a schedule (that I made, so why not change it?) and to have the freedom to go where I feel like my students will make the most progress and be the most interested.

On the flip side, I’ve identified an area of my teaching where I really feel the need to improve. During the interview section of my midterm, I noticed that my students are pretty good at making lists regarding a particular topic, but they have trouble going deeper. Of course, part of that is that that’s where they should be – Novice range is all about lists! However, my goal is to move them past that, and that’s going to be my new focus.

I think I’ve been focusing too much on the words (there’s just so much vocabulary!) and not enough on the way we put them together. They know lots of nouns, but I need to focus more on structures. Last year, I tossed “grammar” in favor of CI, but that doesn’t mean that “grammar” isn’t important. Even if I’m not explicitly teaching verb charts or worrying about subjunctive indicators in this unit and preterite vs. imperfect in that one, there are still verbs and phrases and concepts (I’m convinced that whole, overarching concepts are best saved for higher levels, though) that students need. They just have to be kept in context and taught in a manner that gives kids the confidence to actually use them. Even if I just try to focus on a single verb or phrase a week, I think that would be huge.

I know, this is a mind-blowing, incredible, revolutionary idea that I’m having here, right? Well, it might be for my teaching. I’ve been having to remind myself a lot lately that I don’t have to do everything, and I really feel like this is a logical, doable next step for me. Remember, I’ve only been doing this CI thing for a year and a half now! The more comfortable I get with what I’m doing now, the better I can identify areas of weakness and implement new ideas. Even if they’re ideas that I’ve been reading other people blog about for years. I wasn’t ready for them then, and I am now. Hopefully there are things that I’m not ready for now that I will be in a few months. It’s like my teacher proficiency level is growing and I am seeing the progress!

Overall, I am truly excited about where 2016 is going to take me, but I’m going to be taking 2016 one day and one week at a time for the most part. I’m going to try to stay flexible, help my students figure out what goes between those nouns, and keep stress levels down. I think it’s going to be a pretty great year.

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