Engaging students at a personal level is the way to their hearts and minds. Aaron Mendelsohn, a high school teacher in Massachusetts, sent me this note the other day:
I just want to share with you that I have gotten A LOT of mileage out of Persona Especial! What a great activity. Thank You!
When I asked him to elaborate, he replied with this:
Persona Especial has been a success for a number of reasons. I’m gonna start off by sharing what was on my mind when I wrote to you a few days ago: PE is almost a O prep activity. I have all of the questions written up on PowerPoint slides that I display behind the person who is being interviewed (Mike Peto showed me this). The slides are ready to go. I don’t have to wonder about how this activity will work, because it has never gone poorly (I started this last April, after your workshop). Some days it has been mas o menos, and some days it has been really great. In my 10th grade Spanish 1 yesterday, we had our 4th interview of the year and I called on a girl who was absolutely beaming from ear to ear as she sat on the stool.
Persona Especial gives the class an opportunity to really get to know each other. And they like that. It is good social-emotional learning, and they like it too. (I have read Social, as well as other books on your list) I have learned some really interesting things about my students through this activity, and I think it has helped kids to connect with each other.
When it comes to the write and discuss part- the language that we are using is authentic, and it opens up the door for spontaneously teaching new phrases, expressions, and ways of putting ideas together. I have started doing the write and discuss in the first person, because I don’t think that they get enough input in 1st person. After class, I type it up in the 3rd person and put it on Google Classroom. The next day, we read the 3rd person version in English (I read each line in Spanish, and they read it back in English).
Persona Especial also results in very predicable assessments for kids. They know what they need to study and what they need to do. No excuses. One area I am having trouble with is telling kids (especially Spanish 2) that I don’t accept resume type questions anymore. This is too vague for them. They want to take the low hanging fruit and so I have to get really specific, and say things like- I don’t want to hear about his car, his birthday, how old he is, etc…. although I still ask these questions in the interview, because I want to know.
Well- there is no perfection in teaching, but I think that this is a reliable activity that I will be using for years. Thank You!
This is a typical result of the Persona Especial. Because it is acquisition, rather than learning the interviews do not feel difficult to students. We are trying to get to know a classmate and the only difference is that we are speaking in the target language. It is true compelling input that students want to listen to. When we just speak to the kids and really focus on them, they respond. In this screen time era, students are starved for real human contact and attention from adults. Like Aaron, I do not accept the run-of-the-mill “resume-type” answers, once students get the hang of what we are doing. We want more interesting answers. We want to get to know them.
Well done, Aaron. Keep up the good work.