02 May Spring Fever…Our Students Catch It, Why Can’t We? by Mary Sherman
If you are an educator, or know someone who is an educator, you know that the last few months of school, especially after spring break, can be brutal. The weather gets nicer, attention spans are even shorter, and general student apathy usually sets in at full force. I know we all have different challenges, but if we are in education for the right reasons, we find a way to finish the year strong. Strive to have confidence in yourself and in your students; in the end you will probably both surprise yourselves. As a seasoned language teacher, I have learned some tips along the way that could help you finish your year on a positive note.
Over the past 3 or 4 years, some of the methods that I learned for teaching language when I was in college are falling by the wayside for me. AHHHHHH! I’m getting older! I know that I can’t avoid the inevitable (even though I would like to), so what I have always tried to do is offer the best version of my “teacher self” to the students. I have done that by pushing myself to experiment with new things in my classroom when I can. In my opinion, you have to relate to the students, and connect with them somehow. That way they are more likely to respond to you as you facilitate their learning. Therefore, keeping up with the trends and pedagogical paradigms in our field is imperative.
For me, I fulfilled a bucket list dream of mine by attending ACTFL’s National Convention last fall. Now keep in mind that the only thing that my district provided for me were two days off and I covered the rest. I’m not knocking my school by any means, but I am serious about becoming a better teacher, so I insist on making things happen that will support that. If you haven’t or can’t attend any conferences or trainings, I strongly suggest checking out Pinterest. If you haven’t, you need to! There are plenty of activities and/or ideas that will spark your interest and connect you to other teachers like us with the same issues, feelings, or struggles. It’s super addicting and once you’ve crossed over into that realm, you will wonder what you ever did without it.
Now that I have mentioned some of what I do to keep motivated, I’d also like to take this opportunity to address this time of the school year. Some words of advice: Don’t let yourself get into a rut. Especially in the spring when you are competing with outside factors that you really can’t control. Believe me, I know that this is sometimes harder than it sounds. However, you must be positive, you set the tone of your classroom…and your life for that matter!
So, I challenge you, from now until the end of the year, to try something different in your classroom. Do something new if you want to but it doesn’t have to be. It could also be something old that you changed and made better. Or, take a chance on something that you have never done before. Failure is ok. If it doesn’t work the first time, like I said, make it better. Who knows, it may surprisingly turn out to something that everyone enjoys. But please, don’t blame time on not taking risks in your classroom. You always have time to implement new ideas and if it is worth it (you’ll know in your heart if it is) you’ll make time.
Well, now it’s time to get down to business. What kind of blog post would this be if I didn’t share any resources? Just to be honest, I beg, borrow, and steal just like any good teacher should. But I almost always tailor things for my own use, which you probably already do, too. Some of the things I will mention below, I’ve used in my classroom for years, some of them I’ve changed for the better, and some of them are very new. It’s this healthy balance in your repertoire that all teachers need to aspire to. Nevertheless, I hope they help fuel the fire you’ll need to take you through the rest of the school year.
Music. I have used all types of music in my classroom for many years and in many different ways. Typically, I work with the song for about a week or so with my students. We listen, work with the lyrics, work with the artist’s biography, and then have a quiz over it at the end. You may choose how to do your own quiz. I usually do some type of cloze passage where they have to fill the words or put them alongside in the margin. I also ask questions about the biography, but how you choose to set it up is up to you. Kristy Placido and Allison Wienhold have both blogged about how they use music in the classroom and have provided me with many ideas.
Along with those ideas, I also use Quizlet, Quizlet Live, Kahoot, and Kahoot Jumble for practicing vocabulary but they are particularly good for practicing the vocabulary that you select in the music/listening activities that you also teach. Something else that works well with teaching authentic music is a website called lyricstraining. This free site is available to practice lyrics through games with differing levels of cloze activities. What I thought was cool is that you can create an activity for whatever you are studying. So if you are not doing a song but a commercial in class that isn’t on the site, you can create activity for that!
Target Language. Read all you can about teaching with comprehensible input and the power it holds. Use authentic language whenever you can. Infographics, memes, reviews, commercials, and websites are good resources. In regard to creating activities for these is this popular template provided by ACTFL that you can tailor for your own needs. The Internet makes these things readily available. Why rely on a textbook when you can use real language? Remember, you are the link between your students and the target language. It’s ok if you don’t know everything, especially if are not a native speaker. What is not ok is if you don’t learn, reflect and grow right along with your students.
Assessments. I have really tried to focus lately on what my students know and can do rather than what they can’t do. Using projects, integrated performance assessments, and other means that inspire your students to create with the language they’ve learned is much more rewarding than using traditional methods that sometimes only focus on error. The trick is making the transition into using them if you already haven’t. I recently tried Smash Doodles for a small activity on Holy Week. They turned out pretty great considering it was the first time my students and/or I have tried them. If you are interested, check out Elizabeth Dentlinger and Martina Bex’s posts for more information on how they used them.
Technology. Embrace it! Also, don’t forget to lean on your students for help when you are trying to implement something that you are unsure of. They may make fun of you a little (if you are a more seasoned teacher like me) but take it in stride. In the end they will respect you more for it anyway.
In closing, I definitely realize that some of you may already be familiar with the things that I have previously mentioned. Don’t judge! If you are already implementing what I have shared, good for you and keep innovating! Hopefully what I discussed will give you the validation that is always so desperately needed in the educational world. If these suggestions were new, I really hope they help. Either way, let’s catch that spring fever and make the end of this year amazing!
Mary Sherman has been teaching Spanish for eighteen years, the last ten of which she has spent at North Branch High School in Michigan. Mary holds a Bachelors Degree and a Masters in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University. She has been married to her husband John for 14 years and they have two cats Chica and PJ. In the summer she likes to garden, travel and enjoy the pool!