Dear colleagues, One thing that I have learned over the years (this is my 22nd year of teaching Spanish) is that without reflecting on my own practice, I cannot move forward. Additionally, I have continually experienced the power of reflecting and sharing in a collaborative collegial environment. For me, my closest colleagues have often been folks that I primarily interact with online! As most of us are now in the swing of the school year, there is no better time than now for us to develop or continue the habit of reflection and collaboration. I invited all of you to send me your “Dear Colleagues” letters. I was so touched by the number of you that responded, and the open and honest reflection you were willing to do publicly in the name of collectively becoming better teachers. All of you truly embody the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Together, we ALL get better. Due to the number of responses I received, I chose several that really captured the spirit of the reflective nature of this topic and I selected excerpts from those. I think these will resonate with you! THANK YOU to everyone who shared so freely!
The questions posed to the guest colleagues were:
What do I do in my classroom that is working? What obstacles have I successfully overcome? What tweaks have I made from past years? What are my goals for this year?
There are 4 levels that I teach daily and this year a colleague & I are also beginning an adult class. This is the result of being inspired at iFLT this summer, where I had the opportunity to be an apprentice in an Adult Spanish Class. However, without my colleague, I wouldn’t accomplish as many of my goals or ideas. Having a colleague, even though we don’t share the same building, I’ve learned, is extremely important to me! After having the opportunity the past 3 years to attend iFLT, I have been able to really hone in on some specific skills that are a challenge. Thanks to Lindsay’s encouragement, I’m trying activities that I’ve tried before, but felt didn’t work for me. Now, two years later, I’m coming back to try again. How did I really break through? Support! The support of an outstanding colleague!
Classroom management has always been my struggle. I want to temper strict classroom rules with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, but always have trouble pulling it off. I can mostly attest this to my not being consistent. So this year, I’ve worked on following my plan consistently, fairly, but with a smile and it seems to be working well. I have much fewer side-conversations (these have always plagued my classroom) and more engagement and focus while still having fun with compelling CI. I also made it a point to stay in the target language more this year. The last few years, I have been lazy and let English creep in more and more to where it became infectious. This year, I’m almost 98% in the language and the students are about 75%. And the best part is that they are consciously trying to stay in the language! This hasn’t happened in years. I would always get the question “Can I speak in English!” So it’s been awesome.
The approach of teaching a mile wide but only an inch deep always left me feeling ineffective (albeit in my comfort zone). A necessary change was to move away from laundry lists of curricula topics and instead dig deep into the essential skills of acquiring a language. It’s taken a few years to cultivate resources but I’m more confident and my students are better learners because of it. I found a lot of success with small storytelling units that focus on a few key vocabulary structures and perspectives. In particular, my students enjoy dissecting music videos, retelling the story, creating alternate related stories and backstories for the characters. The close relationships I build with the students key me in to the types of stories they are interested in and I usually create units and opportunities around those things. My Spanish 3 class in particular enjoys discussing conflict resolution and character perspectives so I try to introduce stories, novels or discussion topics related to that.
I am currently living in Istanbul and haven’t found a job teaching Spanish. I’m teaching one-on-one English lessons, but rather infrequently. I’m feeling a little like a fish out of water. I don’t have a tribe here. Most of the teachers that I see occasionally in passing are not necessarily formally trained as teachers, and we are all teaching single students with specific goals and needs that are largely tied to a syllabus top-heavy with grammar (insert yawn here). I didn’t go to iFLT this year, the first year in four. I feel like I’m going to lose my groove. Some of you might say, “Oh! What I would do for some more time to do X-Y-Z!” Yes, you are right: I should be using my time wisely for it will fleet away quickly. I feel like I should be creating. Creating new units? Perhaps I should write a reader? Maybe I should make a big bowl of popcorn and plop down in front of the screen to watch as many PD videos on fluencymatters.com as I can? I could use some inspiration.
One thing that I have noticed is how divisive these ideas can become, on a staff, in a district, and for language teachers in general! It seems as if people are either CI or traditional. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I would consider myself a mix of CI and traditional strategies. This year I am teaching Spanish 3. I know that I have students who prefer CI and students who prefer traditional, and I am trying to engage both groups of students.
This is the first year that I am doing SSR (silent sustained reading). Thanks to the many ideas on Facebook, I had my husband nail some vinyl gutters in my classroom and now I have a cool classroom library. It has taken me about 5 years to accumulate cool novels for multiple levels but now we are spending at least half a period on Fridays just reading and logging. The kids are respecting the SSR rules and I give them 5 minutes at the end of class to tell each other what they read. They are actually reading! Best of all, some students are asking to check out their books over the weekend.
Dear colleagues, we’d LOVE to hear from you, too! Please continue the conversation in the comments! Would you like to submit a blog post for consideration to CI Peek? Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!