Hello again and happy 2021-22 school year! For me, school started five weeks ago and this year so much has changed.
One big (happy) change is that we’re back to in-person school for all students! Our school is requiring masks for all and so far the kids are mostly really great about it. We’re also strongly encouraging vaccination and even had a vaccine clinic at school for students, families and the broader community over the summer. Today we learned that 85% of students our fully vaccinated! I’m so happy to see students again and have those casual interactions that we lost when we were online. Building relationships with my students has gone back to being easy and natural. I just feel connected to them as real people, something that was a struggle when I never saw their faces.
Another huge change is that we’ve moved to a block schedule. Instead of 50-minite classes usually 4 days per week, we now see our students for 100 minutes 2 times per week. I was excited about this change because of how well it works with writing workshop, but I admit I was also nervous. An hour and 40 minutes is a LONG time. Would students be bored? Fall asleep?
So far, class has honestly still felt fairly quick each day. Students seem engaged as we move through different activities. I plan a brief movement break in the middle of each class and make sure to break up the time into smaller tasks. No one has fallen asleep and overall students have seemed to enjoy class. The longer time has left me feeling more relaxed. I’m not trying to squeeze things into a tight time frame anymore. So my assessment after 5 weeks is that I really like our block schedule.
The last and maybe biggest change of all is that I’m also teaching 2 English language arts classes this year! This has long been a dream of mine, but that doesn’t mean I feel confident or even qualified. Still, it’s an exciting opportunity, both for me and for my department. It allowed us to hire a full-time Spanish teacher instead of again trying to find an amazing candidate to teach part time, which has failed year after year.
I know it’s been a really long time since I last posted. I promise I have more posts in the works and they are coming SOON. In the meantime, I hope your year is off to a great start!
It has been a long 4+ months since the last time I posted. Today’s post will be a short update on what we are up to in the midst of very trying times.
THE BACKSTORY: It has been a tough year in our community. On top of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all witnessed Derek Chauvin kill George Floyd less than 2 miles from our school. In the aftermath, the neighborhood around us faced utter destruction: vandalism, looting, fires. Students and their families lost homes, jobs, access to food and household supplies, and their sense of security. There was confusion, anger, fear, and we weren’t able to process any of it together in person.
Skip ahead almost a year to the trial of Derek Chauvin. Everyone is on edge and here we are facing another very public police killing. This time the victim is 20-year-old Daunte Wright, killed in Brooklyn Center, where several of our students live. Again, there are protests. The police response is strong and swift, we are put under curfew, the National Guard is called in. Within days, bodycam footage is released in Chicago from the March 29 killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.
TODAY: I don’t believe that we can ignore these things and just carry on like nothing has happened. We usually talk about these things in my Heritage Spanish classes, and although right now I can’t feel the tension and unease (because we are not physically together), I know it is there.
After seeing this fantastic resource on social media over the weekend, I adapted two of the activities to use in my classes this week. On Friday we were told that we were getting Monday off as a mental health day. It was a much appreciated break to do whatever we needed to just get through. However, due to our work study program and pandemic schedule, that means I only see each class once this week. We only got to the first activity today, and that’s all we did. It was worth it.
I’ve shared an image below of the activity we worked on today in two of my heritage classes, and will work on tomorrow with the other two. You can also click here to see the full slide deck.
There was a time last year when I really worried that we would start to see anti-Blackness from our Latinx students. Around 85% of our school is Latinx and the majority of the other 15% is Black. When destruction erupted up and down Lake Street, I was afraid my students would respond with anger towards their Black peers. And while I know many students were hurt, confused and angry, I did not see any evidence of the anti-Blackness I had feared.
Instead, today, I saw solidarity. Empathy. Determination.
We used Canva to create our graphics. It’s a powerful tool and creating a teacher account gives you and your students free access to everything, even the premium (paid) content.
Check out some of their work below.
Ultimately, in the worst of circumstances, my students demonstrated that they are better than many adults at seeing past the division to the big picture: we are all fighting for the same things.
I know I don’t have to tell you that this year is hard. Whether you are in person, fully remote, or the dreadful hybrid, teaching this year is extremely challenging and often feels downright impossible.
I know we teachers are all doing our best to check in with our students and make sure they are ok. But do you know what your students are really dealing with right now? The 2 days before Thanksgiving, I asked all of my students, including my AP Spanish Lit class, to complete a reflection that I titled “el peso de la vida.” I explained that this time of year especially people are so focused on gratitude but rarely recognize that sometimes the weight of everything we are facing makes it hard to feel truly grateful. I also reminded them that sometimes talking to someone or just writing about your struggles can help lift some of that weight off of you.
So I asked them simply: ¿Qué peso cargas hoy? And then I gave them time to write in their digital notebooks. I did this last year for the first time and the results were shocking, depressing, and so enlightening. But this year, without ever meeting my students in person, I wasn’t sure if any of them would feel comfortable sharing with me. I was okay with that. I figured even if it was just 7 minutes of silence, of not having to try to focus on a lesson, that would be worth it.
But, as is often the case, my students surprised me. I’d estimate that about 3/4 of my students wrote a reflection (well above my usual quick write completion rate) and many of them shared similar feelings: loneliness, anxiety, depression, stress, fear. They shared that they want to do better in school, they know that they should complete their work, but they just don’t have the energy or the motivation to do it. They shared the struggle to focus on school while also caring for and supporting younger siblings with school. They are worried about their parents who are essential workers, they are worried about their parents who are out of work, they are worried about bills and the holidays and about letting their parents down.
Some students shared deeply personal traumas and it was honestly so hard to read. I could relate to almost every single one of them, and that made me ache so much for my students. Two students said they preferred not to share their struggles, and many others simply did not complete the reflection. Several of my students have been ill with COVID-19 during the school year. Many are dealing with the death of family members.
“I feel like my head is going to explode, like the world expects something from me and I don’t even know what I’m doing in the first place.”
Of course I already knew in general terms that my students, like all of us, we under immense amounts of stress and dealing with all sorts of personal struggles. Asking them to share those struggles with me was an opportunity to get a glimpse into the whole of what they are facing.
“Me pesa que todos mis father figures se han ido de mi vida: mi papa, mi abuelo, mi tío, mi otro tío y mi ex padrastro de 10 años. Me pesan mas cosas pero se me acabo el tiempo.”
Some stories involve personal traumas too horrific to share. Others are more mundane. Those I’ve shared here are among the ones that I referred to our school social workers. I hope they continue to share with me or begin working with one of our amazing (and extremely overworked) counselors, but of course the choice is theirs, and it’s a hard step to take for many.
“Honestamente no sé como puedo explicar como me siento. No me siento ni feliz pero ni triste. No es un sentimiento de sentirse como cualquier otro día, para más rápido la verdad no siento nada. La verdad no sé si es normal sentirse así, como si nada te alegrara pero no te sientes ni triste ni enojado.”
Several students wrote some variation of this sentence: I want to go back to being the person I was before. For some that meant being a better student, for others it meant being more open and outgoing, and for others and meant not living with so much fear and anxiety about the future. It hurt so much to read this, knowing that they are having a natural reaction to such an extremely abnormal situation. It also hurt because I feel it, too. I want to have the energy I had before. The joy for teaching I felt before. Devouring books like I did before.
I have 122 sophomores and 22 seniors. I read close to 100 reflections and wrote a response to each and every one. It took so much time, and so much emotional energy and stamina. I finished today, a full 10 days after they were turned in. During those 10 days, I took 5 days off for Thanksgiving (only completing lesson plans for the following Monday). Each time I thought about reading these reflections during my prep time, I had to resist the urge to just do something else. They can feel so overwhelming when reading more than a few at a time. I didn’t do any grading in these 10 days. It took so much willpower to just sit down to read and respond to them. But when I did, my heart swelled in pride for these amazing, wonderful, beautiful young people. Because even as their stories broke my heart, their resilience, the fact that they show up for online class every day and try their best to do what I ask, makes me feel so lucky to know them.
My students are really great. I know this even though I can’t see them and have never met them in person. Your students are great, too. And behind that smile, or mask, or black box on your screen, they are going through a lot. Even though it is really hard to read/hear it, it might be a good idea to ask what weight they are carrying today. While you’re at it, tell me: what weight are YOU carrying today?
Independent reading is such a big part of class. Finding a way to make it work in this time of fully remote learning was extremely important to me, so I spent a significant chunk of time thinking through different ways to implement choice reading this year. Today I’ll outline what I’m doing and how it’s working so far this year.
In a previous post I explained how I got physical books into most students hands before school began. I also shared a document I’ve compiled of many digital reading options, including Spanish language podcasts. Some are specific to my area (like our local public library system) and there is one that I purchased access to (E-lit app), but the rest should work for anyone, just make a copy and edit to suit your needs.
Once students have lots of access to print, audio and digital reading, where do we go from there? For me, it started with pausing to consider whether or not I would use some of my very limited live class time for reading, like we normally would in the classroom. Ultimately I decided that if I was going to preach the importance of reading to my students (I was) and if I truly believed choice reading was essential (I do), then I needed to use live class time for choice reading. So since day 3 of our online, synchronous classes, we’ve dedicated 10 minutes per class to independent reading. For context, I see students “live” typically twice a week for one hour, an sometimes just once per week. Committing 10 minutes of every 60 to reading is a big deal, but in my opinion, it’s totally warranted. Beyond in class reading, I expect my students to read for 40 minutes per week (10 minutes per school day, divided up however they like) OUTSIDEA of class.
I’ve been asked several times how I know that students are reading, whether during those live meetings on Teams or their out of class minutes. The truth is, I honestly don’t know. I’m certain that some of them are reading (almost) every class, and I’m certain that some aren’t reading at all. And I assume there are many who fall somewhere in between. Maybe they spend half the time looking for something to read. Maybe they start reading but get a message from a friend and stop. Maybe they are getting breakfast or lunch for a younger sibling, or taking a bathroom break. I don’t know, and I’m not going to stress about it (because honestly, I just can’t dedicate my limited energy to it right now).
For their 40 minutes of independent reading each week, students are asked to complete this simple Google Form each week (for the sake of other readers, please remember to make a copy for yourself before editing if you want to use this). The questions are short and since students enter their own score, it makes grading easy. Again, I have no way of knowing if they are genuinely reading or if they’re lying. My impression is that they’re fairly honest, because many students have chosen the option “1: I didn’t read but at least I’m filling out this form!” I don’t worry too much about this either since homework is only 5% of their grade.
On an average week I get around 50% of these forms turned in on time, so it’s obviously not a huge success. By dropping the link in the chat during live classes and lots of verbal reminders, I can usually get to around 70% or more. Still not great, but better than nothing. It takes some time to comb through the responses, but it’s fun to see what students are reading/listening to, and whether they’re enjoying it or not.
Overall, I’m really happy with how independent choice reading is going this year. Is it perfect? Far from it! But it feels like a good solution in this difficult time.
If you’re doing choice reading in your remote classes, drop a comment below and let me know your system and how it’s working for you! And if you have a question I haven’t answered, reach out through the contact page and let me know.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
Students read every day in class. They often asked for more reading time.
Students across the board became more confident Spanish readers.
Students explored many genres and got better at choosing books they enjoyed.
All students improved their reading skills in Spanish.
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.
Many students regularly exceeded their weekly reading goals.
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.
Students wrote every day. This was a goal of mine and I made it happen!
Through Quick Writes, students improved their writing speed and stamina.
Quick Writes also reinforced the importance and habit of revising EVERY TIME you write.
Writing mini-lessons were effective for teaching new skills and reinforcing skills taught in the English class.
I could actually *see* the improvement in student writing over time.
Students incorporated the mini-lessons successfully into their writing.
Students referred back to mini-lesson notes while writing!
Class went by quickly; students often exclaimed, “What? It’s time to go already?” at the end of class.
Students were engaged in the work of reading and writing for the majority of class every day.
Sharing our writing built a strong community that carried over into distance learning.
The videos, poems and other texts for quick writes helped students explore their identities, relate to each other and recognize shared experiences.
My students became more confident in their Spanish.
We didn’t waste time on worksheets that were extremely difficult for many students and extremely simple for others.
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
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.
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.
Preparing book talks in advance instead of doing them on the fly.
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).
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.
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.
Teaching Heritage Spanish using reading and writing workshop