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.


Accountability discussions

I’m visiting my daughter in New York (City, if you’re on the west coast). The day I arrived, she invited me to accompany me to her actors’ group accountability session. I had heard about these meetings, but never experienced one. Her group combines advice, counseling, and meeting of friends.

Each person had a chance to talk about his or her week, and then the group leader went through a list that the group had helped that member make the previous week. Most of the members had completed most of the items on their lists.

I loved the public sharing of accomplishments, and wonder whether this could be added to the Bryce-Special-Person day starter, especially for those groups who have known one another well for some time, and where the deeper questions he suggests are successful discussion starters.

In the acting group, the leader suggested steps actors needed to take to keep their careers moving forward. She knew how to help people network, how to time emails to potential agents and responses to companies, and she recommended specific seminars. It was fascinating, and it gave my daughter a reality check about what folks ahead of her on the acting ladder were still doing, as well as lauding her for short-term accomplishments. Each week, the leader helps members add a manageable set of new goals, and she emails them their lists after the discussion.

In school, “accountability” is usually about a specific class, whether that is positive or negative. I might check in on a student whose assignment or book is overdue, hand back assignments or completed rubrics, and if I happen to hear about a sport activity or drama event, I will ask questions and applaud successes. But I don’t have a way to  intentionally help students take small steps toward other life goals.

Where students know one another in a supportive classroom climate, each day could include check-ins with a couple students on goals to include a personal one (relationship or organizational), a health or lifestyle goal, and a step toward specific interests (learning about a career or getting involved in a club, for instance). Then as the cycle came around again, the class could check in with the student. It probably couldn’t turn around as quickly as the weekly actors’ group, given class sizes, but that might be good for students, who might need more time to work on goals, as well as for the teacher and other class members, who might have time to research ways they could be of assistance.

It occurs to me that keeping the class “checklist” could be a class job; students could maintain it on a section of the class website or simply keep a notebook page for everyone.

I love how talking about big topics makes class groups become communities, and I suspect that kids might like the addition of a model of setting and noting achievements of goals in their personal and professional lives. Can’t wait to start implementing in August!

“Perfect Grammar”

An update on my path to acquire Spanish: yesterday we were Face Timing with our daughter, a fluent speaker of Spanish. At some point, since my husband was headed out to play a Cinco de Mayo gig, we lapsed into Spanish for a silly teasing argument over his lack of headwear. He claimed that real Mexican musicians didn’t wear sombreros, and didn’t know where it was, so I said I’d seen it somewhere in the house…

I had the past tense verb! It came out of me (and then I checked, because I suddenly thought what I had said might mean something else). Karl responded, and after another minute, my daughter started laughing uncontrollably. Nervous, I asked why, and she explained that Karl was making up Spanish words from his Italian background, and that my Spanish was textbook perfect grammar.

I do remember that when folks said my Russian was perfect grammatically, it meant “somewhat stilted,” but I’m taking this as a compliment.

Two drawing gadgets

Good Morning!

No Spanish news this morning, just two awesome drawing sites that Teacher’s Tech on YouTube shared.

First, AutoDraw: draw your best version of something, and a picture will probably popautodraw 4-29-2017 (2) up that is somewhat close to what you want (sometimes I can’t get it to recognize my renditions, and then I just choose an alternate picture; I was attempting a mouse and ended up with a bear here, for instance). You can paste it into a document. It’s that easy. Since students often have trouble recognizing what I draw, this is especially helpful for me to use in front of the classroom on the white board; I can still print vocabulary words that I need to use.

Second, Quick, Draw! It sets a challenge to draw a picture that the computer can recognize in 20 seconds. It’s a little obsessing-making. Try it!