I had the incredible fortune to be able to observe two of my colleagues today, one in Spanish and one in Japanese.
Let me just say that both teachers spoke almost no English, and that their students clearly understood what they were saying and could often respond. It’s a huge difference from a traditional classroom that I observed last year where the kids told me they never understood because the teacher wasn’t speaking English.
To enter the Spanish class, the kids looked at and heard questions on cards about the book they’d been reading. They answered quickly, took the card with that question, and went in. It was a nice way to warm up. The kids were writing answers to questions about the book in class in a semi-dictation form: that is, the teacher re-read the question, various kids contributed to the answer, and they all wrote together. Then they got to read how another class had answered. In the meantime, the teacher circled some items, checked comprehension, did some PQA’s, and basically flooded them with comprehensible Spanish. Toward the end of the period, the group went to a commons area and did facing circles, asking and teaching as necessary the questions on their cards. Once the group had asked and answered, they traded cards and rotated, so that they taught a new question. I could see doing that with pictures and explanations that they might make up on their own. To get back into the room at the end of the period, the kids had to answer their new question…a great way to hold them accountable!
In the Japanese class, I have to admit that I personally understood almost nothing. . . but the kids obviously got it all! The teacher started with music and an eye-catching screen of Harry Potter. As the music played, the teacher had the kids rotate partners. Then they worked with a song. For those of us wanting song tweaks, this is my new thing: you need a visual. Every couple lines of the song had a new picture! The teacher played the song all the way through first, then went swiftly through a few lines with grammar and vocabulary pop-ups, and then settled on one screen for probably close to fifteen minutes, doing a PQA over that line with five or six kids. She used whispers to good effect and threw in some fun slang for the kids, grammar popups, and gestures. Then one of each pair of kids had to tell their partners as much as they could remember. I was amazed by how long my student partner kept talking.
After that, the students were reading a fairy tale. They had a hard copy AND a powerpoint in front of the room with pictures to match. They read and translated as a group. I can’t remember whether they discussed too–my memory is already hazy!! But then the teacher showed four slides from the story and the pairs had twenty seconds to tell about each of the slides, both thus talking for 40 seconds over the alternating slides. Again, my student, who had to go for 80 seconds total, was remarkable. At the end of class, the students had to tell one piece of the story as an “exit ticket.”
Takeaways: first, believe that this is working! It was great to see that some of the kids in the Spanish classes were fitting in despite transfers and absences. I think it’s really hard when we get “untrained” kids, and also when we know they’re going to transfer to traditional classrooms. Second, use visuals. What a difference. I tend to have only words up there on the screen most of the time.
The Japanese teacher had transferred all her books onto power points (and was amazed to know that I hadn’t done so…wonder whether that could be a copyright issue or whether we could share that kind of thing?). She suggested using our native speakers and exchange-student aides for that task. I have already requested that one of my native speakers do this for Poor Anna. He loves finding pictures, so he will be perfect. I also found that size 28 font was the smallest that is really easy to read from the back of the room.