Historia de mi nombre Distance Learning unit

COVID-19 is raging and I’m so grateful that we are still in a fully distance-learning model. Obviously it’s not ideal; not seeing my students face-to-face makes it extremely difficult to build the relationships I usually have and of course I can’t read their facial expressions to gauge understanding. But cases in our area are higher than they’ve ever been and our hospitals are approaching capacity, so I am thankful that we’re focusing on everyone’s safety above all else.

After starting the year with some community building activities, I moved into teaching the unit from En Comunidad about language practices (chapter 2). From there, we moved into one of my favorite units, writing and sharing our name stories. Usually this happens in the first 2-3 weeks of school, but it’s 2020, so we just wrapped up our stories last week. It’s such a fun and powerful little unit that I wanted to share it with you all. If you make it to the end, you’ll find all the slides I used in this unit, from start to finish, as a special gift for sticking with me through this long post.

I started the first day of the unit by asking students to share the meaning of their name in the chat for our Do Now. Students could look up the meaning of their name online if they didn’t know it. From there we moved into a video of Elizabeth Acevedo performing “Names” from her incredible verse novel “The Poet X.” Even though it’s in English, I wanted students to see and hear her performance because Acevedo is an incredible performer. Then I read aloud the Spanish translation of the same text and students did a 5-minute quick write in response to it. 

From there we jumped into our first mentor text, “Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre” by Juana Martinez-Neal. I have the book but unfortunately the document camera I purchased is backordered, so I used a YouTube read-aloud of it to introduce students to the story. Then I asked students, in their small group breakout rooms, to create a slide with visuals that represented how they or the book answer the questions: ¿Qué nos enseña este libro sobre nuestros nombres y nuestras familias?¿Por qué debemos aprender la historia de nuestros nombres? This process took about 4 times longer than I anticipated (distance learning, hello!), but the results turned out great.

We did a Gallery Walk where students looked at the slides of other groups and added positive feedback in the comments. The screenshot below shows one example. If you click on the image, it should take you to a copy of the slides from one of my classes. I had to remove all the comments because they show students full names.

Next, we returned to Elizabeth Acevedo’s “Nombres” and dug into what the author communicated in this short poem. I used this Google doc and divided students among 2 copies so that 1/4 of the class worked in each small section at a time, making it slightly less chaotic.

The next class period, we returned to the same text to look at how the information we identified the previous day was communicated. I made a new Google doc and asked students to reread and look for techniques used by the author to communicate her message. This step is a lot harder, so I prepared a copy in advance with some things I wanted to point out. At the end, I asked students to comment on what they noticed about the highlighted words. Many students responded in the chat that the words were strong, unique, specific, powerful, etc. My favorite response was “The words are like a sword.” That student definitely got it!

We also took time to practice using a mentor sentence. We looked at the last 2 sentences of the poem and then I asked students to write their own version, starting each sentence the same as the original, but changing the rest to describe their own situation.

Mentor sentence study helps students practice directly with different types of sentences.

Our final mentor text was an except from Jenny Torres Sanchez’s book “We Are Not From Here.” If you haven’t read it yet, you really should. It is a fantastic book! Just keep the tissues nearby because it’s a tearjerker. Anyway, I typed up this excerpt from pages 207-209, shared my screen, and read it aloud. We didn’t spend as much time analyzing this text, but I did ask students to share in the chat one strategy from this excerpt that they could imitate in their writing. Since this book is a narrative and Poet X is a novel in verse, we were easily able to identify different writing techniques between the two examples. I also wanted to point out the effect of repetition, so I highlighted two examples and we talked about the way repeating a word or phrase adds emphasis and also impacts the way we read.

Finally students wrote their own name stories. I wish I could tell you how amazing they were, but I was sick all week and was barely able to muster the energy to teach my classes, so I haven’t done any grading at all.

Once their names stories were turned in, I had students record a Flipgrid reading their stories. Then we did a distance learning style Gallery Walk where students watched their classmates’ videos and then left either positive comments or personal connections. I was excited that Flipgrid now has text comments, but we found out that the Canvas Flipgrid integration doesn’t allow text comments. So on the fly I created a Google doc where I pasted my roster and asked students to type their comment next to their classmate’s name. This was an unfortunate extra step but it was nice to see students making genuine comments and connections with their classmates.

And that’s it. If you check out the slides, you will see my pacing as well as find a great video I forgot to mention earlier, where actor Uzo Aduba tells a story about growing up with a name that was often mispronounced. I absolutely love the message and her storytelling is perfect. My students always write great responses to this clip.

You made it to the end. Congrats! Do you have a favorite unit that has worked well in this unusual year? I’d love to hear about it!

Q & A: How do you motivate your heritage students?

Hello, friends. It’s been too long. This fall has been incredibly busy with school, presentations and family. I’m sure you’re all finding this year to be more than a little challenging, and as my fall busy-ness starts to slow down, I’m hoping to get some more regular posts up in the next month or so.

Today I wanted to share a question I received recently.

I’ve been teaching heritage Spanish for a few years and I always find that 90 percent of the students won’t do any of the work or assignments on their own, but when we do it as a class and they follow along they get more confidence and actually produce good work. I personally don’t mind this but maybe its a crutch? Maybe their independent work skills just aren’t there yet to do it on their own? The work isn’t too difficult, and some of them tend to do poorly in other classes so maybe they do need this support. I just want to see if its only me or if this is common for the type of class.

Here are some of my thoughts on how you can work with your students if you find yourself in a similar situation:

I find that I see this type of behavior with some of my students every year. I’m sure there are lots of factors contributing to their reluctance to do work. Maybe it seems irrelevant, so it helps to talk about why the learning activities are important and useful. I spend a lot of time building that buy-in, particularly through sharing my goals for the class and asking them both what they would like to learn and why being bilingual is important to them. This isn’t a one-time question; it’s an ongoing conversation. I remind students ALL THE TIME that our goals are to become stronger readers and writers of Spanish. We talk frequently about how we will achieve those goals (practice, practice, and more practice) and reiterate the reasons why these skills, and others, are important.

In addition to helping students see the importance and relevance of the class, and each learning activity, another thing to keep in mind is the importance of building community. Our students may not be used to sharing their thoughts, their feelings, and their writing with classmates. Depending on your school setting, they may not feel safe speaking up in some classes or peer groups. It takes a lot of work to build a community where students feel safe contributing and sharing. One way to do this is to be vulnerable with your students. When you take the first step, it helps students see you as a real person, with feelings and dreams and a life beyond the classroom. See my letter to students for one example to how to start this process from day one.

Another really common cause of that many students is simply lack confidence in their language skills. Students who have never had their heritage language valued in school (due to monolingual education) and who have often been corrected or even ridiculed by family and friends for making errors are hesitant to try because they already “know” that they “can’t” do it. We need to show students that in this space, mistakes will be made because that is how we learn. We can’t just tell them this, we have to show them. That means valuing their language practices, honoring their efforts and not correcting every mistake in their reading, writing and speaking.

Another thing to keep in mind is that modeling is very important. Students may not want to participate if they aren’t sure they understand what you want them to do. They also may be hesitant if they believe they can’t do it well. Providing student examples and doing the work you’re asking students to do (before them and/or while they do it) helps build confidence. I often want my students to be creative, but that’s not always easy when they’ve been drilled on structures like 5 paragraph essays for years. It takes time and I have to start small. That’s one reason quick writes are so great. It’s 5 short minutes, no grade, only share what you want, and I always model and share my own writing.

What else do you do to help motivate your students and help them feel comfortable taking risks in your class? If you have any tips, please share! And if you have any questions that you’d like me to answer, leave a comment below to let me know.

Stay safe, everyone!

Starting the year off write, 2020 version

It’s 2020, so basically, if it can go wrong, it will. I know I don’t have to tell you that, because you’re living through it right here with me.

In my school, pretty much everything we do is different this year. For starters, we’re entirely remote for at least first semester. For the first time, we’ll be 1:1 with all students receiving a school-provided laptop. We’re using Canvas for our LMS, and that is A LOT to learn. For our live classes, we’re using Microsoft Teams, and I’ve decided to use OneNote for digital notebooks. Our schedule is nearly impossible to explain, but essentially I’ll see each group for 60 minutes twice per week, except when I only see them once. Phew. There’s a lot going on.

School starts Tuesday and I’ve been working hard to get ready. I can’t wait to “meet” my new students Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately, our laptop order was delayed, so many students will be starting the year on their smartphones. Definitely not ideal! I’m trying to keep my first class short and do everything within the Teams app, which students downloaded to their phones this week at a tech orientation session.

The beautiful thing about the tech orientation was that, since all kids were in the building for a few hours (staggered throughout the week, of course), we were able to set up an entire classroom of independent reading books, in Spanish and English, for students to check out. All of my students, theoretically, have checked out at least 2 Spanish books to read over the course of the next month or two, before we can host another book checkout event at school. This is a huge relief, as I know many students don’t want to read digital books.

Students have books, now I just have to get them to read them. I’m working on a plan for that, which includes using some of my very limited live class minutes for independent reading. I think it’s important to show kids that I mean it when I say reading is one of the most important things that we can do to improve our language skills. And if reading isn’t part of our class time together, that really doesn’t send the message that I value it. So, we will read, together but apart. I imagine it will be pretty awkward at first, but we’ll make it work.

With a plan for reading, the next big question is writing. I know that to get students invested in the class and willing to take risks in their writing, we need to develop a strong, trusting community. I’ll be doing a lot of small group and whole class team-building activities, but on the first day, I will continue the tradition I started last year: I’ll be reading aloud a letter that I wrote to my students. The letter serves as an introduction to my class and will also serve as a mentor text for my students when they write their own letters. In it, I attempt humor, I share some info about my expectations and goals, and I demonstrate honesty and vulnerability in writing about some very personal moments from my life. This letter is our common starting place, and is the foundation for future writing.

This will be the main activity for day one. Rather than have students write a response, since I’m trying to keep class short and my students will have technology limitations, I’m going to ask them to unmute their mics and give a single word or short phrase in response to my letter. I just want to hear their voices so it feels like we talk to each other rather than me talking and them listening the whole time. Once they have their laptops, I will use breakout rooms probably every class, so that students can talk to each other and work in small groups together. But for now, these few minutes are all I will hear of them.

What is your teaching context this year? How will you build community in your heritage classes? Leave a comment to let me know!

TW: Death of a student

I try to write useful pieces here, but I’ve found that writing is where I do my best thinking, and this is where I write. So today, I’m writing for me.

A student died yesterday, and I feel numb. A vibrant, strong, hilarious student died yesterday, and I’m really struggling to belive it. A student, my student, who had just graduated and had so many adventures to experience, died yesterday. He is gone and we are still here, trying to make sense of the senseless.

When David signed up for my AP Spanish Literature class in the spring of junior year, I knew who he was but hadn’t taught him before. As I worked to get that new group of students ready to take the course their senior year, David and I connected right away through humor. David was a jokester. He did everything and anything to make me laugh and get us off task. I didn’t mind. I’m so glad I didn’t mind.

We laughed a lot. When I broke up his crew of soccer players and assigned partners, he said “Miss, how you gonna do me like that?” with a big grin on his face. When I collected homework, he and his friend would look at me and say with a laugh, “We got you tomorrow, Miss. Swear!”

His playful banter with his teachers and classmates was well known throughout the building. A classmate who he often annoyed in class with his goofy behavior sent me a message last night: “Mira maestra. I was looking through my phone and came across these [pictures]. He’d always grab my phone during your class and start taking random pictures.” Sure enough, all the pictures are clearly taken in my classroom. You can even see me in the background trying to teach, oblivious to the camera.

I could say so much more, and someday I probably will. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve lost a student, so I’m flashing back to that previous tragic loss as well. For now, I will keep this wacky Spanish class selfie in mind and try to remember all the laughs.

Register Now for the En Comunidad Webinar!

This event has passed. Stay tuned for upcoming events.

Recently I shared my recommendation of the book En Comunidad: Lessons on Centering the Voices and Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students.

Today I’m back to share an exciting opportunity: a webinar with Dr. Carla España and Luz Yadira Herrera, authors of En Comunidad, just for heritage Spanish teachers!

The webinar will be held on Thursday, September 10th, 6:00-7:30 pm CST. I hope you’ll join us to hear from the authors and share ways that we can adapt this incredible text to our unique context. The webinar will be recorded for registrants who are unable to attend live.

Register here to join us for this fantastic opportunity for heritage teachers!

What A Year: Reflections on my First Year of Workshop Teaching

In all new experiences, expect the unexpected

Books from my classroom library.

Wow! When I think back to August 2019, I can say with 100% certainty that I had no idea of where this school year would lead. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency distance learning, and the murder of George Floyd and subsequent civil unrest that directly impacted my students and their families, it was an unimaginable series of events that meant I didn’t see my students for the last 3 full months of school. It was all honestly a bit traumatic, and it’s been hard to get past that trauma (and my anxiety about the upcoming school year) to write this post.

Recently, my WordPress app informed me that it had been 3 months since my last post. I never intended to go so long without writing something new. I actually started, and accidentally deleted, this post a month ago. And tomorrow marks one year since my very first blog post. So, although it’s already the end of July, I am finally ready to reflect on my first year as a workshop teacher. And what a year it was!

Obviously this wasn’t the year any of us imagined. But in spite of how it ended, I learned a lot. And my students, my brilliant, wonderful students, made massive gains in their reading and writing skills. I feel like I could go on forever, but will try to summarize briefly what went well and what I plan to change going into my second year of workshop.

What went well

Reading:

  1. Students read every day in class. They often asked for more reading time.
  2. Students across the board became more confident Spanish readers.
  3. Students explored many genres and got better at choosing books they enjoyed.
  4. All students improved their reading skills in Spanish.
  5. Most students completed their weekly independent reading homework (2 hours independent reading total each week, including 40 minutes IN CLASS and 80 minutes OUTSIDE OF CLASS.) This was the only homework I assigned.
  6. Many students regularly exceeded their weekly reading goals.
  7. Being able to send books home with students every day meant that they read so much more than when we only did FVR in class. This led to stronger reading skills and increased confidence.

Writing:

  1. Students wrote every day. This was a goal of mine and I made it happen!
  2. Through Quick Writes, students improved their writing speed and stamina.
  3. Quick Writes also reinforced the importance and habit of revising EVERY TIME you write.
  4. Writing mini-lessons were effective for teaching new skills and reinforcing skills taught in the English class.
  5. I could actually *see* the improvement in student writing over time.
  6. Students incorporated the mini-lessons successfully into their writing.
  7. Students referred back to mini-lesson notes while writing!

Other:

  1. Class went by quickly; students often exclaimed, “What? It’s time to go already?” at the end of class.
  2. Students were engaged in the work of reading and writing for the majority of class every day.
  3. Sharing our writing built a strong community that carried over into distance learning.
  4. The videos, poems and other texts for quick writes helped students explore their identities, relate to each other and recognize shared experiences.
  5. My students became more confident in their Spanish.
  6. We didn’t waste time on worksheets that were extremely difficult for many students and extremely simple for others.
  7. I didn’t collect assignments every day that I never had time to look at, score and put in the gradebook.

What I still need to work on

  1. Reading and writing conferences: These were hard for me! I struggled with what to ask or say to students. I struggled to get more than one word answers even when I asked open ended questions. I struggled to prioritize conferring about reading when there were a million other things I could do with those 10 minutes of silence. So I wrote a list of questions and prompts and carried them with me to every conference. I started listing the students I would check in with on my slides as a bit of accountability – if students were expecting me, I couldn’t just bail. These helped with the routine but not as much with the quality of the conferences. This is definitely my biggest priority to practice and improve.
  2. Making sure Quick Writes and Mini-lessons are connected so that everything we do is cohesive for students. This is the second biggest improvement that I know I need to make.
  3. Preparing book talks in advance instead of doing them on the fly.
  4. Communicating clear expectations for writing assignments (this got easier as the year went on and *I* had a clearer idea of what to ask of students).
  5. A grading system that is clearer for students. Really this just means that I need to be more explicit and repetitive in my explanations of how grades are earned.
  6. A grading system that is more manageable for me (haha, wish me luck!).

Overall, it was a year full of ups and downs, but one that I’m very proud of. I set out on a journey about 12 months ago to make massive changes in my class, and in spite of many unexpected challenges, I succeeded. And more importantly, my students succeeded. We grew together as a community of readers and writers, just as I had hoped we would when I read them my letter on Day 1.

As always, I am planning still more big changes for the year to come. I’m working to add more social and racial justice content and discussions to my units. I’m trying to put together some lessons using clips from the Netflix series Gentefied to talk about gentrification, stereotypes, the feeling of not being enough, and more. And of course, these changes also must adapt to hybrid/distance learning. It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m confident that if we work together, we can all be successful through this challenging time.

Recommended Reading: En comunidad: Lessons for Centering the Voices and Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students

I’m really excited to share this wonderful book with you. Whether you’re teaching your heritage classes with a workshop model or not, I think you will find this book valuable.

Honestly, I was kind of in love with this book before I even opened it, because this cover is beautiful! It drew me in and I sat down right away to read the foreward by Ofelia García. I found myself texting pictures of quotes to a former Heritage learner of mine who is now studying to be a Spanish teacher. As expected, she felt seen in the quotes I shared with her, which reinforced for me the value of this text.

The book consists of a series of paired lessons that are designed for English Language Arts or Dual Immersion teachers. I know, you’re saying, “Wait, but I teach heritage Spanish. Is this book for me?” In my opinion, the answer is 100% yes! The lessons focus on ways to encourage students to use all of their language practices in their learning. The lessons explore students’ identities and heritage, using a variety of texts (again, I’m using text in a broad sense: picture books, video clips, interviews, poetry, music, etc.) as models of how to improve as readers and writers.

Another thing to know is that the book says it is written for grades 3-8. However, the lists of possible texts are engaging and appropriate for older students, and the lessons are easily adapted to high school. Many of the recommended and alternate texts that are listed are in Spanish, others are in English, some are bilingual and some are available in both Spanish and English.

One thing I love about this book is the explicit focus on teaching and encouraging students to use translanguaging in their learning. Rather than force students to use one language all of the time, we can encourage them to further their development of all of their languages. This is important to me because one of the goals for my class is to develop literacy skills that transfer to other areas of students’ lives. Seeing the shock on their faces when I tell them it’s okay to use English in their writing is always amusing. But reading the finished product when they’ve seamlessly moved between languages is just beautiful.

Even though I haven’t finished reading the whole book yet, I’ve read several of the lessons and am excited to implement them in my Heritage classes this year. They fit perfectly with reading and writing workshop, and are so well-designed to support our Latinx students as they develop their language skills.

You can check out this Heinemann blog post outlining some of what you’ll learn from this book.

And enjoy this podcast featuring the authors here.

Finally, don’t miss this incredible Padlet of resources put together by the authors.

The book is available for purchase from Heinemann and can also be purchased from Amazon.

What have you been reading for professional development? I am addicted to books, but have found reading during this pandemic really difficult. I’m hoping to wrap up reading this fabulous book before school starts, but if not, it’s okay because I have gleaned so many great ideas from it already!

Multi-genre End of Year Project, Reimagined

In my last post, I talked about my 4th quarter plans for distance learning. Essentially, I’m scaling back to just 2 weekly assignments: 3 journal entries and 1 hour of independent reading each week.

Originally, the plan for 4th quarter looked quite different. You can probably relate. I intended to work with students to produce a large multi-genre project as the culmination of our year together. Obviously, this is not an ideal task to undertake in our current conditions. Still, I wanted a way to build some closure into the year. Today our governor announced that schools in my state will remain closed (distance learning only) for the rest of the school year. I spent most of the day sad and teary, even though I absolutely knew this was coming. It’s just so hard to envision an end of the school year without physically being in the presence of my beloved students for the entire last 3 months.

Over spring break I came up with my plan to greatly reduce the weekly work for my class, and got it approved by my principal and curriculum dean. Around the same time, I came across an awesome idea in a Facebook group for English teachers who use workshop in their classes (side note: if you’re not using Facebook groups and Twitter for professional development, what are you waiting for?). It seemed like a perfect way to create a multi-genre product without overwhelming my students as they try to balance distance learning, added responsibilities at home, jobs, and the stress and trauma of living through a global pandemic.

The project, shared by teacher Alexandria Mooney, is called “A Series Of…” and it’s such a simple but brilliant idea. I have been working on adapting this idea to fit with what I already had (very loosely) planned for the quarter, and also to align to the multi-genre project my students will be completing in their English classes.

My goals for this project are:

  1. Provide students with an opportunity to showcase their writing and creativity.
  2. Build in differentiation in both quantity and depth of work, allowing students who are struggling for any reason to experience success, while allowing others the chance to really dig in and excel.
  3. Keep the workload low for my student and for me.

You can see my work-in-progress project here:

Instructions for students

My example

The journals we are doing as prep for the final project

I usually blog about my experience *after* the fact so I can share what worked and what I will change. This time, as we are all scrambling to find meaningful ways to continue our teaching and wrap up our school year, I thought I would share where I am in the hopes that it will help someone else.

I hope you are handling this situation as well as you can, and I hope that maybe you found something helpful in this post.

Making it work in Tough Times: Distance Learning & Workshop

Well, this certainly isn’t the way I envisioned my first year of diving into workshop ending up. Our COVID-19 building closure came suddenly and left us scrambling to roll out distance learning quickly. We had one PD day to come together, agree on expectations and plan our next three weeks. The next day, we were teaching our students remotely. It was a whirlwind.

All that feels like a lifetime ago, when in reality it has been “just” 4 weeks. We’ve wrapped up 3 weeks of distance learning and are on our last day of spring break today. It’s only April 10th, and as of now, we are doing distance learning until at least May 4th, but I think we all know that this will likely go on through the end of the school year.

So, what does this mean for my classes? For the first 3 weeks, I kept the basic structures in place and just slowed my pace to a crawl. We had quick writes about twice per week and writing mini-lessons about twice per week. I assigned a video check-in on Flipgrid and we started working on our theme analysis essays. Since we were no longer reading together in class, and many students did not have books, I reduced independent reading expectations from 2 hours to 1 hour. We were approaching the end of 3rd quarter, so I had students continue adding 5 vocab entries to their personal dictionaries each week.

By the time we made it to the end of our third week and the start of our spring break, I was weeks behind in grading and completely overwhelmed. I’ve talked here about my anxiety before; I’ve never felt so anxious in my life! I was doing everything I could to maintain the relationships I’d spent all year cultivating. That meant writing individual responses to each student. With 120 students, it was too much! But, it felt (and still feels) extremely important. I realized that what I wanted and needed to do was not provide less personalized responses. I needed to have less work coming in to respond to.

One factor I haven’t mentioned yet that I’m sure many of you can relate to is the other type of distance learning: that of my kids. I have three school-aged children, ranging from 1st through 6th grade, and they have a good deal of work to complete each day. My oldest struggles mightily with executive function skills, so I have to help him make a plan for each day and then stick with it. My youngest is in first grade and all of her work is on an iPad. She is fairly independent and self-directed but still runs into issues and immediately starts whining when she does. And my middlest (as we affectionately refer to him) is getting extremely overwhelmed and anxious by the quantity of assignments he sees in his portal each day. He has meltdown after meltdown. Yesterday he spent the whole day on one relatively short test that would have been quite easy for him on paper. On the chromebook, however, it literally took him hours, with many breaks to scream, cry, whine and just generally feel miserable.

So… I’m busy. I’m frustrated. I’m overwhelmed. This week I realized that this isn’t working. Not for me, not for my students, not for my kids. I emailed my amazing principal and instructional coach and told them as much. I outlined a plan to go forward. They were both incredibly understanding and reasonable. This shouldn’t surprise me, because they are excellent leaders. But I think my anxiety got the best of me and I was convinced they would think I was a whiny, terrible teacher.

I did not intend for this post to be this long. So here is my back to basics, super super basic plan. Until distance learning is over, we will have exactly two assignments each week:

  1. Quick Writes/Journals
    Students will complete three journal entries each week. They should total a minimum of 1.5 pages double spaced.
  2. Independent Reading
    We will continue to read 1 hour per week. I have provided a list of digital reading resources for students who have finished their books.

My wonderful school leaders, recognizing that we launched quickly and need time to think, adjust, and regroup, have added 3 PD days on to the end of spring break. So I won’t “see” my students again until next Thursday. To re-launch my course following my new plan, I went all the way back to day one and wrote them another letter outlining how I’m feeling and what I want for them.

I put together this presentation, which I will use to record a video where I read my letter aloud and explain these changes to my students.

I came up with these suggestions to help students plan out their week and manage their time.

I’ve been trying to remind myself and my students that this is one moment in time. It feels enormous now, because it is, but someday it will be just a memory. We will get through this. So I’ll end with the same reminder I’ve been sharing with my students each day:

We can do this!

How are you holding up in all of this? What are you doing for distance learning?

Poesía Revelada

Hi, friends. In the past 2 months, I’ve started 4 drafts, but never managed to find the time to pull everything together to finish any of them. Then, in one night, I found some time and energy, and managed to write not one but two new posts. So here’s my second post of 2020. I hope you enjoy!

The school I teach at has a ton of scheduling quirks, due mostly to the corporate work study jobs our students go to one day a week instead of class. We start earlier in August than most local schools, and go later into June. Thus, our first semester ends 2 weeks after winter break. This means we have one week and one day (4-5 class days) with our students before our semester finals. Since my class, and my final, focus on reading and writing, I did not need to spend five days reviewing. However, I didn’t want to start a new unit, only to be interrupted by finals.

Our first day back, we read, we wrote, we talked about reading and writing, and that pretty much filled the class. The day before exams, students worked in pairs to pre-read one of the readings for the final. That left me with three days, not enough to do anything major, but three days that I didn’t just want to waste.

I was still scrambling to grade their personal narratives (a blog post for another day) and their video book talks (a blog post I finally finished!), so I was NOT about to assign another big project that I wouldn’t have time to grade.

I wanted to do something fun and creative and easy to grade. My students always surprise me with their creativity when given the time and space to freely create. So I decided to try something I’d been wanting to do for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to yet: Blackout Poetry.

The premise is simple: using a page of any book, select words and phrases to form a poem. Black out the rest of the words, preferably making a design of some sort that relates to the poem you’ve written.

Ideally, you would use actual book pages, perhaps from a book that is falling apart or otherwise unusable, but since my classroom library is only a few years old and my books are more likely to disappear than to fall apart, I went a different route. I grabbed a big stack of books off my shelves, went to the copier, opened to random pages, and started copying. I copied two pages per book, and used about 20 different books. Then I made enough four copies of the whole stack of pages, giving me one per student plus plenty of extras when students make mistakes / lose them / change their minds.

I started with some examples that I found online. Sadly, I couldn’t find any in Spanish, but that will only be a problem this year, since I can use the work my students made this year as examples in class next year. After showing the examples and talking a little about the process, we went over the first few steps and students got started.

Rather than retype all of my instructions, here is a link to the instructions and examples I used in class.

Ideas and examples for my instructions came from this blog.

Click here to view some of the best finished products.

Overall, my students had approximately 70 minutes of class time over three days to complete their blackout poems. Some students used every minute and created incredible works of art. Some students wasted time or lost theirs and threw something together at the last minute. In the end, I was happy with how the process went and impressed with the work of most of my students.

What is your favorite creative project for students? What is a project you’re still waiting to try? Next on my list to try: the one-pager!

Scroll down for examples of some of our work in progress. I plan on using these to replace the English in-progress examples in my instructions next year.

Step 1: Lightly circle words any phrases you might want to use in your poem.
My poem in progress…
Student has blocked out the words and phrases she will use and is beginning to black out the rest.
This student used Google to search images to aid him in his drawing.
My finished poem. I’m not much of an artist, and I wanted students to see a less-than-professional quality example as well as be inspired by the amazing examples that I found online.

Teaching Heritage Spanish using reading and writing workshop

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