Last week three teachers from one school came to observe for an entire day. Here are some observations by award-winning middle school teacher, Jessica C. from Colorado Springs:
I just wanted to thank you for letting me spend the day observing your classes. I just can’t say enough great things about your program. You have created the perfect formula for a successful language learner. It’s engaging, it’s fun, it’s motivating, it’s inclusive and it’s enjoyable. After implementing your ideas my first WEEK Spanish students (not even first year… these are kids who have not even been exposed to the numbers 1-10) are doing what I have not been able to do with even my Spanish 3 classes in a traditional program.
I am a first time TPRS’er after 13 years of teaching. I’ve always been told I am a great teacher… I have won awards…I have “teacher of excellence plaques”, district awards, a binder of email accolades, notes, cards and Facebook thank you’s from parents, student teachers and former students. I was told I was an “irreplaceable” at my school. According to my admin… I was “fantastic”. I did everything right… in fact, I was told repeatedly I was above and beyond.
My frustration was Back to School Night, parent conferences or the grocery store, when my Spanish II students would appear with their parents and this would happen…
Spanish II student walks into conference. I say, “Hola, Chica. ¿Cómo estás?” Student looks at me, pauses, says, “Um… wait… that’s “How are you”, right?” I die thinking, “We just spent THREE WEEKS memorizing skits to present the preterit tense irregulars and you can’t even answer the question “¿Cómo estás?”
I would walk away so frustrated and defeated…and I knew I was doing everything right… better than right. I was told I was GREAT.
So, last year I, again, taught a traditional, vocab list, grammar-based method (as that’s what I had been told we had to do to align with the high school). I had a girl, Gio, in my class, who spent the whole year just “not getting it”. It was the “places in the city” unit from the textbook. So -of course, my kids built a city out of cereal boxes and they each had to go up to present their place, tell where it was located in relation to the other cereal box buildings in our city and then practice directions with a partner by having their classmate drive a matchbox car through the city. Gio got up and said, nervously, “Okay… um… I have… wait… tener… yo… tener… iglesia. It’s next to… wait… How do you say next to? It’s derecha de… wait… how do you say it is?” Ugh. We’d been doing the same unit for 4 weeks. Why couldn’t she say more than “tener” and “iglesia”?!
As a “great teacher”…making the transition from traditional grammar/vocab-list based Spanish to TPRS was quite terrifying (but exciting). I was so scared to screw it up and fail. I didn’t want to go from a good teacher to a mediocre teacher. I attended Blaine Ray’s training and KNEW this was good for the kids but I felt like I was starting my first year of teaching all over again.
When Matthew & Bridget W. told me about you, I looked up your website, saw the “Free Stuff” and printed EVERYTHING. I was still terrified, but thought, “Okay… this guy has some cool ideas… maybe I’ll just start with these.”
Here are some of the ideas I saw in your classes that I love…
- CLASS JOBS: I’ve always had class jobs (lights/projector/door, etc), but your jobs of host/hostess, translator, someone yelling “salud” after a sneeze, Donald Trump, timers, counters, story writers… are genius. Thank you, thank you and thank you for sharing those.
- SECRET PASSWORD: I teach in a modular classroom. Up until last week, I have called it a trailer. On Monday, when I came back from seeing you, I made a big hoopla… congratulating them for choosing to take a language and be in a secret language club. I told them our trailer had been magically converted to a Spanish clubhouse over the weekend and told them they had to use a secret password to enter. You should see them when they walk in!
- “PASEN LOS PAPELES A…”: Good God, I hate alphabetizing papers to enter grades. I have 172 students and it takes me forever. It has always made me crazy when I get a kid’s paper that says, “Mike” on it. How many times have we practiced writing the header on our paper?!? Over and over and over and they still don’t have a last name? Guess what – now they do. Ha ha! Problem solved. Thank you!
- PERSONA ESPECIAL: This just is… WOW. WOW. WOW. They love it. I love it. It is amazing. It’s creating a sense of community and trust and helping and caring and…just wow. They beg for this. I am blown away that we can sit and chitchat about a kid and it is not just curriculum, but GREAT curriculum.
- READING: This blew me away. You have students CHOOSING to read higher level novels in Spanish on their own accord?! My department members and I are currently writing grants to build up classroom libraries. I also love your reading reflection assignment that goes along with this.
- LETTING KIDS GET UP AND MOVE: I think I told you while I was there, but I have three boys of my own and while I heard the research about boys and movement, I never fully appreciated it until my own little monsters arrived. I wish every teacher would take the same approach. It’s not that boys choose not to sit still… it’s that they CAN’T. I SO appreciate you understanding and implementing this… it makes such a huge difference in the brains & learning of boys.
- CANDY…”Comparte conmigo”… What an awesome idea. It’s so simple and has such a huge impact on the students. They are speaking, they are re-energized and they are engaged. What a great tool to let them re-focus.
- NICKNAMES: I have never done nicknames in class. I have always hated them and been annoyed when I see Jenny in the hallway and the other Spanish teacher shouts, “¡Hola, Margarita!” “Why are you calling her Margarita? When she gets to Mexico, they aren’t going to give her a new name!?” BUT… is Jenny going to be called “Güera/Gorda/Bailarina?!” Yes! I gave every one of my kids one of your nicknames this year and they could not be more proud to get up in front of the class and proclaim, “Mi apodo es Señorito y mi apellido es Johnson”, or “Yo soy Pelón”. And guess what?! They understand (and laugh) when they hear “Mi nombre es Vato Feo” or “Soy Jirafa Fuerte”. It’s meaningful to them and useful.
- “WHAT IF I GIVE A QUIZ AND THE WHOLE CLASS FAILS?” – I loved that you asked them this and I love that they could recite the answer. This is brilliant and puts it into perspective 100%. I have always just thrown out the tests and thought, “Well – that didn’t go so well”. I love that you address it with the students. It shows them that you are on their side and it ties in a metacognitive aspect for them.
Quite simply: You have an incredible gift. Harry Wong would be impressed with your classroom procedures and how well you and your students run a class. You have such a talent and I can’t tell you how appreciative I am to have had the chance to observe you in action and to use your ideas. Thank you!!
You made my transition to TPRS easy and my students are saying, “Mrs. C… why didn’t you do this last year? It’s so much better!” I don’t know that I could have made the transition without your ideas. For the first time I feel like I’m actually a good teacher.
I have Gio in class again this year. We’ve only been doing TPRS for two weeks. Yesterday, after using a combination of your classroom techniques/jobs and straight-up TPRS storytelling, I asked the class this question about the previous days’ story: “Clase, ¿qué dijo la chica al chico ayer?” I was shocked to see that Gio had raised her hand. I called on her (expecting her to ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?”) Gio looked up and said, nonchalantly, almost annoyed that she had to answer such an easy question, “El chico le dijo a la chica, ‘Tienes un teléfono para mi gato? Mi gato no tenia télefono y quería telefono”
I can’t thank you enough.
Jessica C., Colorado Springs, CO