Managing a class

I have one very wiggly class. I had been setting up my plans so that we moved locations every three to five minutes, and so that the focus changed at least that often, but it was wearing me out. And since I don’t have a classroom of my own, it was hard to set up and to have all the different items I needed every time.

Last week, I introduced a point system. I’m hoping that someone knows where I got it. I used to use it with some middle school and younger high school groups.

In essence, it pits the skills and behavior of the class against the teacher. I put up a simple scoresheet: Class/Sra. Whaley. Right now if they respond immediately to one of my teacher calls – anything from “cinco dedos” (the school system), to “nachos/salsa,” to “hola hola/coca cola” or “ACHOO/salud” – or if the spy (thanks, Erica Peplinski) tells me someone was speaking Spanish outside class, or if they do something truly amazing, they get a point. If they don’t respond immediately, blurt out irrelevant English, or if two start wrestling (honestly, they are like adorable puppies), I get a point. This group is very competitive, and since I can look very disappointed when they all behave perfectly, they think it’s really funny and work hard to get me looking like a sore loser. I may have to talk about that later and morph into being a well-adjusted game-player, since I don’t want them to think it’s appropriate to have a facial teacher-tantrum when I don’t get my way.

The class earns the number of points that they have over the teacher. If I have five and they have seven, they get two points. It’s pretty easy to control it so that they earn limited points each time. Their payoff will be that when their class has a certain number of stickers – one sticker per point – they will be able to listen to our entire playlist of songs in a row, or play games for 15 minutes, or other choices that I have created.

What is this called? It works beautifully for a wiggly, competitive group.


Class books

Reading, Preschool, Kindergarten, School

I am loving teaching Spanish classes. We are not moving very fast through the curriculum. In fact, we are kind of stuck on the first lesson in every class. But we are speaking Spanish, and we are having fun.

That said, one of the things I love doing is making books for classes. When I find out something new about kids, it’s hard not to rush out and use the story right away.


Luckily for my kids, who might be inundated, I make mistakes even in simple Spanish, and have to get the books corrected. (As you might guess, though, sometimes three different Spanish speakers have three different opinions. That’s the case in Russian, too.)

So – here is a kindergarten book about our animals.

Here is a book that will grow as we learn about families.

Here’s a book about what the children think a missing student might be doing.

We made up a story about my whale. I wanted them to learn my name: Señora Ballena. It didn’t work, but we had a story.

As you can see, they’re not high-quality, but the families can read them (they’re posted on a public blog site), and I print them out and bind them for the various classrooms.

We’re going to have a series of books about families as we do an interview for La Persona Especial every day in most classes.



Picture credit:


IMG_5283I was very happy to get these stress reliever balls in the mail from Amazon on Monday. I sat down with an Immersion Spanish teacher to figure out all the phrases I’d need, since I don’t have the vocabulary in my head. We ended up with three categories of expressions, and today, my kinders, first-graders and second-graders were absolutely engaged, trying to get me to roll them the three balls that we were using. I was setting up behavior expectations – raise your hand, wait your turn, sit properly in the right place, treat the balls correctly – more than I was focusing on language acquisition, but they loved the entire experience, and it’s amazing how fast they produced the chunks of language. We started with just one ball, asking who felt that way, moved on to “sí/no,” based on what phrases went with each ball, moved to “or” questions, did several mini stories about why the individual balls felt how they looked, what they said, and then the kids were pretty much producing the phrases. And then class was over. I never got to our animal color discussion.

The three categories were “Estoy,” “Me…” and “Tengo.” The three bolded phrases are the ones we used today, and they may be enough for a while. I hope I get them all here. If you notice additional ways to say things or corrections, please let me know. The first grade also has “I’m excited,” “I’m shy,” “I’m hurt” on their board, so with them, we used “Me duele…” (one had hurt his hand).

Me siento feliz, me siento mal, me siento orgulloso, me da risa, me da asco.

Estoy aburrida, estoy asustado, estoy super encanto, estoy triste.

Tengo miedo, tengo vergüenza, tengo celos.

It’s a little difficult to differentiate among all these balls. Because my Spanish is so limited, I’m going to be using the ones that seem most necessary, and then I’ll ask kids what the balls look like to them and figure the matching phrases out slowly. A kindergarten teacher who reviewed the balls said she would ask kids to make the faces they see, and I know there are many other ideas that could come. Share, please!

Note…today the price went down on the set of twelve to $8.00.



Back to School

I am back to school, and everything is different: grades I haven’t ever taught, a language I have barely taught (and have never actually studied). I’m the new Spanish teacher at a local private school, and it’s a steep learning curve. I’m lucky to have amazing friends in the Spanish language and curriculum business, so I’m leaning on them heavily.

To improve, I watch videos of others teaching, read as much as I can, and listen to podcasts. Of the last, RadioAmbulante remains my favorite: it is long enough to get a walk in, and I can pre-read the transcripts to find the phrases I don’t understand. Today was the first day that I’ve ever listened to and understood almost a whole podcast without having read the transcript first. And I retook a quiz on preterito/imperfectivo (совершенный/несовершенный) verbs that I’d given up on when I got 2/40 a couple times in a row. Today I understood almost every word, and got a 38/40. That was encouraging. Most of the right answers seemed obvious. I know I am acquiring, but it’s not in an audible, linear fashion.

As I was explaining to a retired Spanish kindergarten teacher friend today, while I can do circling of stories, and even mostly ask stories, I lack the vocabulary — for things like musical instruments, and animals — and the automaticity of classroom phrases. “¿Puedo ir al baño?” (may I go to the bathroom) is easy to help kids say, since I’ve listened to Jim Wooly’s song enough times. But “Write your name on your paper” and “Take a block out of your bag” or “Draw a picture of…” are not phrases that anyone has said to me. They haven’t figured large in Fluency Matters novels or the book of Spanish poetry my daughter left me; nor do they come up in the RadioAmbulante series! If I didn’t move from class to class, I would post a cheat sheet on the back wall of my classroom.

I think I’m the only person with my level of language teaching in a school. The admins do know my history. I’ve told them they must hire the first person who comes along who will do a better job than I. In the meantime, I am in love with this job and these kids and happy to be there. Think about me, and if you speak Spanish, share useful phrases in the comments!


A few of my resources and life-saving friends:

Martina Bex’s Somos Curriculum

Amy Vander Deen‘s Había Una Vez Curriculum

Julie Matthews El Mundo de Pepita

Mira Canion’s novels and teacher guides

Videos of Leslie Davison, Annabelle Allen, Erica Peplinski

RadioAmbulante podcast

(And the Facebook Elementary TPRS Teachers page — what an amazing bunch of helpful folks)

Communicating with Mirrors

As I think ahead to the summer, I’m hoping that I can help new audiences understand teaching with CI.

Words in Alan Alda’s book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face? are jumping out at me – literally, as I’m listening to it rather than reading to it.

For storytelling teachers, there is one idea that is obvious: that people will learn better if they have a story to attach it to. But Alda has a new lens for me to use as I discuss how slow is slow enough for language acquisition.

Alda discusses teaching scientists how to share information better through improvisation exercises. One of those is the Mirror exercise. The follower in a pair must mirror the movements of the leader at the same time. Alda coaches the participants, telling them to slow down so that they can be precise together. If the leader is moving too fast, Alda says it’s his responsibility to help the mirror (follower) keep up with him.

“The person communicating something is responsible for how well the other person follows him. If I’m explaining something and you don’t follow me, it’s not simply your job to catch up. It’s my job to slow down. This is at the heart of communicating.”

“If I tell you something without making sure you got it, did I really communicate anything? Was I talking to you, or was I just making noises?”

Mirroring moves in ever more difficult exercises in movement into speech. The pairs have to use signals from body movement and ideas and face to work together.

Any of you who are around me this summer: I’m going to be drafting you into experiments with mirroring and improv games. With luck, it will make at least me a better communicator and teacher.




PS Alda cites this article on tapping by Valdesolo and Desteno as leading to social cohesion. I suspect it is part of what might start to explain the miracles Gerry Wass and I have noted happening in classrooms where we use music.

Screencasts and Subtitles on YouTube

Thanks to a demo by teacher extraordinaire Diane Neubauer, I’ve just rediscovered some tools for creating videos for classes. QwikSlides makes screens out of individual sentences. It’s very basic, with no pictures, but it’s quick. Then, since I have a Mac, I use QuickTime screen recording to record my voice as I read through the slides, and then upload that result to YouTube. Here’s a sample of that process from my last class.

It’s also possible to go straight through YouTube to make a screen recording. Check out this video/article.

Finally, it’s possible to add automatic subtitles to personal videos on YouTube. Here’s a wiki page explaining how to do that; while things have moved around on YouTube, the directions work. The current changes are that you have to find your Video Manager, then go to Creator Studio, and edit your uploaded videos from there. But how cool! It will subtitle (in English) automatically for you, and you can then go in and make tweaks on whatever it didn’t understand. Try it in other languages for me. It used to do automatic subtitles in Russian, but on my latest attempt, I had to type them in as my video rolled. At least YouTube stops the video while you’re typing.

Fun in Spanish

I’m at the end of my fourth day of teaching in a Spanish immersion week. Everyone who’s important knows that I am not truly a Spanish teacher. Everyone in my classes likes how I speak slowly and carefully. They understand me! There’s no way I could speak any faster…my monitor is working overtime, and I know that students will learn in this class. I don’t want them to learn incorrect language.

I am having the time of my life! I’m learning to simplify what I do know, and how to compensate for what I don’t. I keep track of phrases I need (“Tenemos suerte” is my most recent acquisition), and when I don’t know something, if I can’t divert attention, I tell the class I don’t know and we move on. It feels as though I’m born to do this language-teaching thing. I knew it was fun in Russian. It’s even easier in Spanish, partly because there’s so much out there. Storytelling authors: you have some orders coming! I brought an assortment of books–some that I had bought for myself, and also a couple of class sets that I ordered for my class at home–just in case people would want them. They did. They’re drinking up the chance to be able to understand what they read. I know just how they feel.

It’s too bad I can’t sit in on the other language classes, because they’re at the same time I’m teaching. But that doesn’t matter…I’m learning a lot by doing my research in the evenings and by actually teaching the material for the second or third time. This is the most patient group of students ever. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. And now I feel even more inspired to continue my Spanish language acquisition adventure.