I thought I would offer a bit of a reflection on this past year at school. So I just finished my second year of TPRS with Spanish in High School (and a middle school class). I really did notice more students speaking Spanish in these past two years in the hallways than before. This was my first year at a new school and the teachers would often tell me that they would hear the non-Native speaking kids speaking more Spanish in their classes than previous years.
That's encouraging. The more circling I do, the more it will just slip out in a contextualized way, right? That is, naturally.
Some things this year that were harder though were that the school environment was a bit different from my previous school. There seemed to in general be more apathy to learning. And I was the new guy too. So that might not have helped. By my fifth year in my previous school, my students generally knew who I was and what I was about. Hopefully this second year will be easier in the new school.
I thought I would break down some of the lessons I have learned this year into sections.
1. Native / Heritage Speakers
I was nervous about having kids in my classes who spoke Spanish as a first language at home. I was nervous mainly because I thought that these kids might call me out on my not knowing their language or they would get bored and cause problems in class. I found very few cases of either thing. I combatted the first one by always asking how they would say something at home (if I was unsure or simply wanting to see if they would help me) and I would remind them, "Hey guys. I'm not as blessed with the language as you guys. If you notice I make a mistake, please let me know! I don't want to teach something incorrectly." I think this helped the kids see that I considered them as allies.
The second concern wasn't really an issue because through storytelling, the Native / Heritage speaking students were sometimes even more entertained than the non-natives. They enjoyed being silly in the language.
I did have some opt to read every day and write summaries. My school was considering doing a Native / Heritage Speaker Spanish class in the future. It could be neat. I fear it might require lots of planning though.
2. Student success and less than success
I had a few students this year who didn't do well with the storytelling. I asked around about one and he was a senior who didn't want to take my class to begin with. He also never looked at the board. He did come in after school once or twice to work with me. To be fair, in the class that he was in, I had to teach with [outdated] technology. So I was stuck near the front of the classroom at a computer with a touch panel monitor to switch to different places. And in order for the other kids to see me pointing in the other school, I had to stand next to the laptop and couldn't stand in front of the TV and point. As a result, he had a hard time in class but said outside of class that it was a lot easier.
I also had a student or two sleep during class. I REALLY need to get into the habit of calling home and checking up on the students.
Also my policy on cheating next year will be that students will have to come in after school and do the same or a similar assignment to make up their zero. I seemed to have problems with a few not doing the readings (or even trying) when I had subs. They would even write the same short answers as someone else (word for word with the same spelling mistakes).
I didn't do it all year and I didn't regret that decision. My students once in awhile thanked me. I also heard comments from students that I was a "tough" teacher because I really did my best to make them learn in class, but they knew I did it for their benefit and they liked that. They also appreciated how we didn't have homework because some classes really load it on. I watched Alfie Kohn's talk about the second shift. It's the idea that we give kids a "second job" by giving them all the homework that they must do when it's time to explore other avenues and simply be kids.
My idea for this last year was actually to give kids 3-4 assignments per 3 week period and give them options (enrichment type activities). Some were cultural while others were retelling the story, making flashcards of the structures, etc. I never ended up using them though and don't feel to bad about it. My kids still learned quite a bit! I'm not sure if they really would have learned more if I would have assigned homework. It would just have been something that they would have rushed through and done superficially (for the most part).
I feel like my room was too unorganized in the decorations. I would like to add a word wall of some sort with verb conjugations and some high frequency vocabulary that I can go and point to when necessary. I would like to group some of the items together like my pictures of places. Then I could have the term, "los lugares" (places) above them.
I would also like to do something involving a wall of awesome where I just have things to praise the students and classes for. Or another idea might be kind of like what my lab in physics class did. We had the name of the groups who did the best in the lab activities get up on the wall and other classes could even see who the winning group was. I thought that was a really neat way to get us to buy into physics class a lot more. So maybe we could have something like that and I could think of a system for groups to get points and they could decorate a little placard that I could hang up on the wall. Then we would periodically change groups.
My first year was a little easier in storytelling. This year I started out much more confident, but burned out much sooner. It might have had something to do with my having to miss about two weeks in January / February due to my daughter being born and also getting a bad case of strep for a week. I'm sure it didn't help since when I was finally back, my students had missed out on the structure for a few weeks.
I did notice about halfway through the year, my kids were getting bored with the monotony of the Blaine Ray stories in Look I can Talk! This is meant as no disrespect to Mr. Ray and his storytelling abilities. But many of the stories seem to be the same story, only with a few new words and/or a different character. My kids were craving novelty. It might have been my fault for trying to work into a story that fit the structures like the Blaine stories. For whatever reason, I found myself experimenting and looking for structures that I could make up my own stories with and found success.
I'll do a later post on this, but next year I have decided to not use the Blaine stories as much as make up my own and conspire with a fellow TPRS Spanish teacher that lives nearby.
All in all, the second year for TPRS was tougher, but there were a lot of lessons I hope to learn from to continue to make a myself better educator.