Anita, a reader of this blog writes:
Hi Bryce,
I’ve just about completed my Persona Especial for the year and saw some good and bad things about my first time. I wanted to share these with you.
• Spanish I did well with answering questions in context and it was easy and interesting for them. I did not elaborate more with questions and wish I had more training on how to do this.
• I used a lot of the preterit tense with Spanish 2 and it was difficult to get good answers out of the students. They had an exceptionally hard time responding with the correct grammar. I tried to make it engaging with interesting comments or questions but I feel that I did worse with Spanish 2. I don’t feel like they are able to say much in the target language and I am finding myself disappointed with my teaching ability.
My questions for you…
1. How can I get some really good language out of the questions? I wanted to expand on some things but feel like I didn’t know how to do it.
2. How do I get students to properly answer questions in the yo form without them having to guess whether it ends with an -o, or -e or -i, or repeating my question back to me?
Thanks for your help. My goal is to get better at this next year.

Hi Anita,

Great questions. You’ve really been thinking about this. You’re on the right track and you WILL get better at this.

Don’t beat yourself up. Many teachers are commenting that Spanish 2 students have done worse this year than in the past and some say that they’re even learning more slowly than Spanish 1 students. It’s likely due to the pandemic lockouts. A few students did well, but 70-80% of students seem to have been broken by the pandemic response due to isolation, stress, lack of accountability and inadequate social interaction. It will take years for them to recover. Giving sentence starters on wall posters will helps these slower learners, and all students in your classroom.

Students need input and examples more than explanations.

Some ways to get lots of good input into students so they can produce good output are:

 BEFORE THE INTERVIEW: Stop the interview and limit it.

A. No reluctant interviews. Never interview a reluctant student. Let them pass if they do not want to talk. Cut short the interview if they are reluctant or boring. You can come back to them later, but do not let the slow, boring or knucklehead student take over the process and kill it.

B. No more than 5 new words. Too many new words can drown the students in vocabulary. When you get to the five new words threshold, stop. You can always circle back around to that student later. Keep going around the room and come back to them two months later. By then the whole class will have more language and you can pick up where you left off. Pressing on is too much. when the new word load gets to be too much, just say, “Well, that’s about all the time we have today…” and change activities.

DURING THE INTERVIEW: It’s about them.

The ancient Roman proverb goes: “Repetitio mater studiorum est.” (Repetition is the mother of learning). Repetition is also the mother of acquisition. Students need to hear vocabulary and grammatical structures over and over for them to sink in. They need lots of examples because examples beat explanations. Once you have an enthusiastic student, do these steps, which involve LOTS of repetition of the vocabulary and grammatical structures involved in the interview. More meaningful repetition will get you closer to where you want to be.

1) You Ask a Question. Ask a question (in second person):

Do you have any animals?  1st repetition (of have/has)

2) The Student Answers. The student answers with a full sentence (in first person), coached by you. Do not allow one-word answers. Do not allow anyone to fail. Help them to produce full sentences. They’ll get used to it:

I have two dogs.  2nd repetition

3) Follow Up. This is the most important step. It shows you are paying attention and that you are engaged with what they are saying. Everyone needs and deserves attention and respect. Asking follow-up questions is how you give it to them. It also models what a good conversation sounds like — and our students desperately need good modeling after the cultural strip-mining of the COVID era.

Follow-up questions are also a great opportunity to give more modeling of language usage so that students can get the feel of the language. You just interject a few comments about yourself along the way to support what the students is saying.

Ask follow up questions when a student shows the slightest interest: When they lean in. When their eyes sparkle a bit. When their voice changes slightly. Keep coaching them to answer in the first person with your follow-up questions:

Really? What kind of dogs do you have? Are they big dogs or little dogs? What are their names? How old are they? Are they your dogs, or are they the family’s dogs? How old are they? Do you take care of them? It’s important to walk your dogs, because they need exercise. Do you walk them? Can your dogs do any tricks? Do you have any pictures of your dogs to show us? Can you bring one of your dogs in to our class? That would be so cool!

You know, I have a dog. I used to have two dogs, but that didn’t work out,. We gave it away to a farmer, so now I just have one dog. His name is Jojo. When he was younger he used to go on long walks and even run with me, but now he’s old and it hurts him to walk.

Do NOT just go straight down the list of questions with every student. Boring! Stop and ask follow-up questions. That’s where the interaction is.

4) Report Back. “Report back” to the class (in third person) every 2-3 answers. They just heard it, but act as if it is a “This just in…” news bulletin:

Class, Lauren has two dogs!

Train them to respond in melodramatic style with “Ooh!” and “Aah!” This makes the class more interesting. 3rd repetition

Steps 1-4 create horizontal conjugation and build natural understanding into students’ heads.

5) Verify. Verify the information by checking back with the student to be sure you’ve got the facts straight. This is called the Columbo Technique — you act like you don’t quite get it. This gives either the class or the interviewee the opportunity to correct you and engage even more. The class is thinking, “Poor profe just doesn’t get it!” With this technique, the information, vocabulary and grammatical structures get repeated meaningfully 3 or 4 more times:

Teacher: Now let’s see… you say you have three dogs…  4th repetition

Class: She has two dogs!  5th repetition

Interviewee: I have two dogs. 6th repetition

Teacher: Oh, Ok, sorry. Right. You have two dogs. 7th repetition

6) What Do We Know? Ask students to say what they have heard about the interviewee. The faster acquiring students will raise their hands and answer aloud. That’s OK at this stage. 8th repetition

When a student says a new piece of information that we have heard in the interview, you repeat it so that everyone can hear it clearly. You can also nonchalantly correct any grammatical mistakes in their oral answers along the way by saying it correctly. 9th repetition

7) Write It Down. Direct students to get into pairs to go over what they have learned in the interview. They will be reviewing in the target language 10th repetition and then writing it down 11th repetition. Each student writes their own notes. they will not use their notes on the upcoming assessment, but their own notes will provide them with a study guide.

8) What Did You Write? Go around the room asking for one sentence at a time so that students can see if they got them all. Everyone should have an opportunity to speak. Simple (but complete) sentences are OK, especially from slower students:

Se llama Samantha. Prefiere Sam. Tiene dos perros. Etc.  12th repetition.

How’s this? Does this clear it up for you a bit? I fear I have not been clear enough in the past, so I’d like to know.