I have been grateful to have publisher and author Contee Seely observe my classes two times so far this year. Being watched by someone that literally wrote the book on TPRS (Fluency through TPR Storytelling, with Blaine Ray) could have been an intimidating experience, but Contee is so gracious that he made me feel at ease and this allowed me to teach my plan without feeling self-conscious. He speaks Spanish so he was able to understand everything that was said in each class, and with his wealth of knowledge and experience he was also able to simultaneously see and process all of the components of what I was doing, understand why I was doing them, and realize why they worked.
He saw my students and me on the very first day of class as I set the expectations, taught the routines and practiced the procedures that lay the groundwork for a successful year. It was helpful to see my teaching through his eyes, and I am looking forward to having him return for more observations in the future.
Here are Contee’s first observations:
On Friday, August 14, 2015, I had the good fortune to observe two of Bryce Hedstrom’s classes at Roosevelt High School in Johnstown, Colorado. These were the first sessions of the school year for these two classes. The first class was Spanish 1. Bryce had a seating chart all set and it was displayed on the screen in the front of the class so that everyone could find their seat. He gave one student a printed copy of it so that she could help out. The desks were arranged so that each half of them faced the center of the room with a wide aisle between them that went from Bryce’s desk at the back to the board at the front of the room.
The very first Spanish these students heard and learned was “Lo siento” (I’m sorry), which Bryce instructed them to say if they arrived late to class. Nearly the whole class was spent on classroom procedures–what to say and what to do in various circumstances. He taught them that when he said, “Clase,” they were to stop whatever they might be doing and answer, “Sí, señor.” He explained that it was his job to prepare them to get along not just in this class, but in life in a range of situations.
He taught them how to come into class. They were to put their backpacks and whatever else they had with them somewhere around the edges of the room. To practice this, he had them all get up with their backpacks, etc. and go out and then come back in and put their things near one of the walls. He explained that most of the time they would have nothing on their desks (pupitres), because their main job was to listen and understand. The desks are convertible; the writing surface can be swung around to the back so that it is out of the way. They practiced moving the writing surface behind the desks and also back to the front.
He said sometimes they would move all the desks to near the walls of the room so that whole class could form a circle or sit on the floor or do some particular activity. They practiced moving the chairs to the periphery of the room and back into the seating arrangement.
Bryce told them that it was very important for them to understand everything. It was his job to speak Spanish. It was their job to listen and understand. He showed the class a hand signal they should use if he was speaking too fast for them to follow, and another signal to indicate they did not understand.
He told them that much of what they would be dealing with in the class was information about the individual students in the class. So they were to obtain a particular type of notebook or composition booklet that cost about 80¢ and bring it to class the next day and every day. They would be taking notes on facts about other students as Bryce interviewed them, and they would be quizzed about the other students. He said he would eventually interview every student. He mentioned that one time a new student came in the middle of a course and that, as she was leaving her first class session, he overheard two other girls telling her that she “was going to love this class; we all like one another and care about one another.”
He told them that ¿Cómo se llama? meant What’s your name? Everything that he was teaching them in Spanish he either wrote on the board in the front of the room or he pointed to it with a laser pointer where it was already displayed on a wall. He asked some students their names. They needed to answer only with their first name. Bryce would then say, for example, “La chica se llama Megan” (The girl’s name is Megan.) Bryce would sometimes follow with “¿Prefieres Megan o Meg?” (Do you prefer Megan or Meg?)
This class was composed of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, so Bryce would also ask “¿En cuál grado estás?” (Which grade are you in?) and used the numbers nueve, diez, once and doce, which the students answered with.
He also started assigning jobs to students. The first one was the screen person, the student who raised and lowered the projection screen. Another one was the sneeze person, who, whenever anyone sneezed, would loudly count “uno, dos, tres.” And then the whole class would say, “Salud” (health).
He taught them how class ended. It didn’t end when the bell sounded. It ended when he said, “Gracias por aprender” (Thank you for learning.), and the class answered, “Gracias por enseñarnos” (Thank you for teaching us.). They practiced this beforehand, and then they did this at the end of class.
The second class was Spanish 3. The students, Bryce told me, had not been his students before. They had another teacher, who mainly gave them worksheets, so they were not used to speaking and understanding as much. Nonetheless, Bryce was able to use more Spanish with them, mostly simple things. Much of what he did was nearly the same as in the Spanish 1 class. He was training them in how the class functioned.
In this class he did more interviewing and was able to ask a few more questions, such as “¿Cuántos años tienes?” (How old are you?), “¿Trabajas?” (Do you work?) and “¿Dónde trabajas?” (Where do you work?) as well as “¿Tienes tu licencia? ” (Do you have your license?) and “¿Tienes un carro?” (Do you have a car?). The answers were very brief.
In both classes he was friendly and respectful to students and he promoted an atmosphere of respect, politeness and congeniality. These were both the very first classes of the school year, so they were unique and especially important for establishing a basis for all that would follow.
Thursday, August 20, the next week, I observed the same Spanish 1 class. This was their 5th class of the school year. To get into class, they had to give Bryce the password of the day, muy amable (very friendly, very nice–used as an expression of appreciation and thanks for a favor or help). He interviewed a few students, using more questions this time than in the first class session, questions such as those just above that he asked in the first Spanish 3 class. After interviewing, he had the students bring the writing part of their desks into writing position, and they wrote notes about the interviews while Bryce circulated and occasionally commented on something to a student.
Before class ended, he had the students move all the desks to the edges of the room. He took a large picture book and sat down with it in the front of the class for what is sometimes called “kindergarten day.” Most of the students sat on the floor in front of him. A few were on desks at the back of the room. Bryce read to them as he showed them the pictures and asked them a few questions in Spanish based on the words he was reading to them.
The bell rang and Bryce asked them to put the desks back in place. He said, “Gracias por aprender,” (Thank you for learning) and the students responded, “Gracias por enseñarnos” (Thank you for teaching us).