Last week Jon  Cowart, the lead world languages teacher from a school in inner-city Memphis, Tennessee, came to observe. Since he was investing an entire day, I adjusted the class schedule so that he could see a variety of activities that we typically do over the course of several days. The students hummed along as they normally do so that he got a good idea of how the classroom operates–a few even acted up a bit so he could see how my classroom management system works! Here are Jon’s observations:


Thank you so much for allowing me to visit your classroom all day last Thursday.  I had many takeaways that I have already implemented in my room and I’m already starting to see an impact.  Here are the biggest things I learned and will use in my classroom immediately:

Classroom Points System

Your classroom point system is way superior to the one I was doing.  In my system, the class earned points for “superior scholarship, integrity, respect, or empathy.”  For example, if a student gave a great answer all in Spanish, helped another student pick up a binder, called out errors on a test that I had made, etc., I would award a whole class point.  After 100 points, the class would have a fiesta.

My system worked well up to a point, and then students lost interest and we had to try other things.

What I liked about your system better was that there was CLEAR CRITERIA for how to earn a point:  On time, prepared, quiet, and working on the Do Now.  This was lacking in my system and it became a sort of “Is Mr. Cowart in a good mood today?” sort of thing.  It felt opinionated and unfair at times, and students became disinvested in it over time.  With your system, there’s no opinion or emotion involved.  It’s either, “we did this,” or “we didn’t.”

The other good thing about your system is that it’s a weekly accumulation.  A class can earn minutes of game time each Friday based on how many points they earn throughout the week.  This gives more immediate feedback/reward.  Under my old system, classes wouldn’t reap the benefits of earning 100 points for months.

Classroom Jobs

When I walked in to your class, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, had a job.  There was someone to make me coffee, a different person to interpret for me what was going on, someone to turn the lights on, pull the projector screen up, serve the class chocolate, an “English Police”, scribe, paper passer-outer, and on and on.

This was awesome to see.  The students took these jobs seriously and it gave everyone responsibility in the classroom.  This built a real sense of community and belonging, allowed you to focus on teaching, and made students behave and engage with the lesson.  This was simply awesome to see.

La Persona Especial

               I’m sure you have somewhere on your blog where you explain what this is, so I’ll just cut straight to my thoughts about this:  AMAZING.  The idea of spending class time talking in Spanish about other students, and then quizzing your students over facts about other students is brilliant.

The students seemed to genuinely care about one another.  They asked follow up questions and gave emotional responses.  For the types of students I teach, this is an absolute must to do.  It builds culture while at the same time teaching students how to have real, authentic conversations with others.  It is also easy to differentiate and teach new vocabulary with.

Kindergarten Reading Day

I had always read about this, but this was the first time I had seen it.  It was so much more involved than I imagined and watching you do it gave me the confidence to try it in my class.  It’s more than just reading and showing pictures.  You paraphrased, asked PQAs, and used all sorts of CI to discuss events, characters, and themes of children books.

Silent Sustained Reading

Despite my small library, I will also be implementing this in my classroom.  The research you shared with me was mind-blowing:  we acquire MOST of our second language by reading things that are comprehensible and that WE choose.  Your library was very impressive and it gave students plenty of options from which to choose.  You ordered your books from easiest to hardest, which allowed students to see where they were in their independent reading skills.

Students really enjoyed this.  They read silently for 20 straight minutes.  I also liked how you read with them to model that adults do, in fact, read also.  After their reading, they fill in a book report in English to share what they learned and what they enjoyed.  I was blown away watching Spanish I students read books meant for Spanish II and III students.  It was interesting to them and they totally understand what was going on.  This was great.

There’s so much more I could write about, but these were the top things I remember off the bat.  I cannot thank you enough for everything.  The day spent in your classroom was worth 500 conferences.  Please keep being awesome and keep sharing!


Jon Cowart