Love teaching

It’s been a fun day up here. We made gingerbread cookies in an improvised kitchen in the first-grade classroom after completing Amy Van Der Deen’s Las Galletas unit, sang songs and told the Hungry Caterpillar in Kindergarten, made a story about a lost caribou and acted it out (which I link here, in case anyone is willing to correct before we make the masks and add the pictures of the acting) in second grade. My fourth- and fifth- graders did some PQA Star of the Day (though our attempt to use technology bombed), and my third-graders drew pictures of phrases from our story about Alex and Bob, traveling on the Titanic to the Nether and not having time for tea. That last was a parallel story before reading Señor Wooly’s embedded reading for Puedo ir al baño. Then, as a wonderful end to the day, my fledgling Russian class got to meet with a boy from Canada on Skype. He wants to take Russian, and I need star power. He provided it. This time, technology assisted in a grand way.

I’m reading reading reading in both Spanish and Russian, mildly panicking as ACTFL and the spring semester approach (presentation and class with textbook), but I keep feeling my powers increase. More and more, I can speak Spanish with confidence that it’s comprehensible at least, and correct more often than not. Another teacher told me today that one of the parents said that her kids are speaking Spanish in the car all the time as they go to and from school. My spies (that’s their job, thanks to Erica Peplinsky) alert me that their classmates are using Spanish to count and sing. And my first graders were using “Dame el rojo/el morado/el azul, por favor,” coloring pictures as a sponge while I set up the cookie-rolling station. I can hardly believe it. Language is coming out of their mouths, more and more. Sometimes, just like with my own children, I don’t know how they could possibly have acquired certain words, as I have had them on a slide or read them just once.

Back when I started using TPRS, I would feel my excitement rising as I headed for school. What would my kids come up with today? I’m having that same feeling again. It’s just wonderful. It’s so much fun to let them be creative and to spin out their stories.


CI is working!

Just a silly note. First, I am deeply appreciative of Mira Canion, whose teaching guides for novels are beyond wonderful. Second, did you all know that this stuff works on us? I know I’ve been excited before, but all my singing (thanks, Duke, for that long-ago experiment of 25 songs) and the box of books from Mira, who sent me the ones she bought while she was on exchange, seem to have just pushed me up a level. Suddenly, I can read the year three ones at almost the same speed I read in Russian. And I’m beginning to be able to make grammar pop-ups for myself as though for my kids: “fue is because he just went. Iba is what he was doing.” When I send my stories through my teacher helper, I get almost everything right (granted, it’s basic, but now mistakes are usually typos rather than stuff I had no idea about).

It’s SOOOO empowering!

Yeah, I’ve said that before. But I can feel my Spanish brain improving, and that is more fun than it has any right to be.

(PS if I have fue/iba wrong, please let me know. I have not studied Spanish! Right now I’m trying to understand why sometimes I see hacía and sometimes hacia, both in situations where to me it means “toward.” Could one be a typo? I understand that hacían means “they made,” as in “they made ceramics.”)

CI made easi(er)

Understanding how to provide comprehensible input makes teaching language easier. It means that a teacher can use any resource to guide acquisition. I mean anything. It could be a blog, a song, the back of a cereal box, the directions on shampoo, a video, a conversation, a question–

But it’s so, so much easier when there is a curriculum with options–a curriculum that a practiced CI teacher has developed.

I am having the best time imaginable using Martina Bex’s Somos curriculum, Amy Vander Deen’s Había Una Vez, and Señor Wooly’s website. I am also keeping an eye on Mira’s teacher’s guide for El Capibara con Botas. They are all worth their weight in gold. I am on the second lesson only in Amy’s curriculum, because they are all so rich that we are spinning these lessons out a long way, and because they keep giving me other ideas. Each of these authors offers tweaks that help me keep things fresh. I do a little mixing, but any one of them could also stand alone.

Luckily, I am the lower school teacher, so it’s okay to be taking my time. Lower school students have only two days a week of Spanish. But today I got such long series of conversations that I realized kids are beginning to trust our work together. They’re showing me our signs for words and phrases. They’re answering questions confidently. They’re contributing ideas for stories. They’re using Spanish outside class (two kids were counting up donated spoons for the school’s attempt to get away from plastic for events and they used “Vamos a contarlos” from the “Un mano, dos manos” song YIPPEE!!), and they’re excited when they can relate having understood Spanish outside the school.

My Russian side is a green-eyed monster when it compares the riches that are available to Spanish teachers, so I’m working on helping create resources for beginning Russian students (see this Nelly the Nerpa story, for example) and making sure that I learn about my students in both languages. Having a curriculum can become the tail wagging the dog if I get too excited, and that’s the piece that I have to remember: community, personalization, repetition and compelling input are what help students acquire a language–possibly in that specific order. But, having that knowledge, I am so very lucky to have expert, excellent guidance as I follow this new Spanish path.


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)