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Creating “Self-portrait” Poems & Visual Representations

It’s week 5 of the school year and we’re progressing along pretty smoothly in my classroom, all things considered. I’ve learned everyone’s name and gotten to know a bit of their personalities. Classroom jobs are up and running (some better than others), and students are settling into the routines of our class.

We’ve been studying different texts that address people’s names as part of our opening identity unit. Usually I have students write their own name stories as the assessment for this unit, but I had a sudden burst of inspiration (unusual over these past few years!) and decided to change it up last week. We’ve watched and read some poems, particularly spoken word, so I thought it would be fun for students to write their own poems. In my English classes, we opened the year with a poetry unit, and one of the sub-genres we teach is “Portrait Poems.” I decided to adapt that idea, and the brainstorming sheet I already had for it, and have my Heritage Spanish students write “Self-portrait Poems”.

The idea of the poem was to paint a picture of their lives with words. We’ve been looking at craft moves like imagery, metaphor and simile in the texts we read, so it felt natural to apply those techniques in a poem of their own. I modeled the brainstorming process and shared my poem with students, and then they were off to brainstorm and write their own poems. The finished product was graded as our first standard of the school year.

Inspired by the idea of a written “self-portrait”, I had another creative burst and thought, what if we also made a visual “self-portrait” representing the parts of our lives we detailed in our poems? With my teaching partner, we came up with two options: drawing by hand or creating a visual on Canva.com. We both created examples to go with our poems on Canva. While several students started out drawing by hand, in the end, everyone decided to create their self-portrait on Canva. (Side note: If you’re not using Canva yet, you should definitely check it out! As educators, we essentially get the premium access for free, and when students join your class through the link, they also get access to all the good stuff 100% free. I use it all the time to make classroom posters, graphics like the ones for my Autores del día for el mes de la herencia, and student projects.)

Check out my example (left) and my colleague’s below:

Once students completed both parts of this project, we printed them and hung them side-by-side in the halls. I created a simple worksheet to guide students through reading the poems and studying the student-created art that went with them. This helped them stay on task and limited the noise we made in the halls.

Want to try it? Here are some helpful resources:

  • Brainstorming doc (with my example at the bottom); credit to Louder Than a Bomb for creating the original Portrait Poem brainstorming idea that this is modified from.
  • Slides from class Poem & Art creation + Gallery walk
  • Poetry & Art Gallery assignment
  • Single-point rubric for the poem (I told students that should have at least 2 of the 3 literary devices we practiced: simile, metaphor, sensory details)
  • Some student art samples below:

If you decide to do this in your classes, I’d love to hear how it goes! My students and I had a lot of fun with this project, and I’m so glad I decided to switch it up last-minute!

Guest Post: Creando Comunidad with Classroom Jobs

It’s August and today was my first day reporting to school for the 2022-23 school year. I had a very short, busy summer, and while it was hard to go back, I’m excited to start planning for the upcoming year.

For this post, I enlisted the help of the fabulous Michaela McCaughey. I’ve had every intention of implementing classroom jobs for several years, but I never get around to actually working out the logistics and putting them into practice. I remembered Michaela telling me how she uses classroom jobs in her classes, and the impact they have on community building, so I reached out to her to see if she’d be a guest author. Luckily for all of us, she agreed! Read on to learn more about this great practice that can not only build a sense of community but also lighten your load as the teacher.

Creando Comunidad with Classroom Jobs

by Michaela McCaughey

Over the summer, I reflected on what worked, and what definitely did not work this past school year. It was a challenging one, which I know is not unique to me or my school. And like every year, there are things I will add in, remove, and adjust. However, an element that has remained in place since I started teaching, one that has consistently improved the environment and flow, is assigning classroom jobs.

At the start of the year, there is a heavy emphasis on the community we are building. Taking care of our shared space and collaborating to make it run as smoothly as possible is part of that. This class, and classroom, is for all of us. Everyone taking an active part in that, and being invested in the class, is part of how we will function well as a community. Which if you think about it, is true in just about all places.

There are lots of different specifics you could include when implementing classroom jobs, and many other language teachers have written about it and shared resources. My advice is to make it work for you, your students, your class. Keep it simple. Adapt and adjust as needed. Include or add in later the jobs you and your class really need for success. This can look so many different ways, and it’s the most fun part! Treat it as a real and important thing, because it is, and because that is critical to students buying in and taking their jobs seriously.

At some point in the first week or two of school, I roll out classroom jobs. Earlier is better here. Some teachers give them out as they organically come up, I tend to explain them all at once and students pick them (in class in the moment or via Google Form if you think there will be competition for some jobs). I try to get everyone a job, though this depends on your class sizes and amount of jobs. It’s more important that the jobs have real meaning and tasks. [Sometimes a student will refuse to take a job, this is then a helpful data point for meeting with them from a social-emotional learning standpoint. Not a fight, but a conversation worth having.]

So, in sum: we talk about student jobs, students choose or apply for the one(s) they’re interested in. The following class, I tell them who ended up with which job, and we write them on chart paper to hang in the room for reference. Some jobs come into play every day, some only as needed/certain days. You can change them quarterly, or never. Switch a specific job if a student isn’t doing it. Often I give the students who have excelled in their jobs first pick when we switch them.

Grading: I give them a 100 as a participation assignment if they do their job well and reliably. I also ask about it in a quarterly self-assessment and as needed in class. If they don’t have a job or don’t do it very well, they simply don’t get a grade for that assignment, so it doesn’t negatively impact their grade. It doesn’t have to be graded at all. Grading behavior is not something I am cavalier about so this may shift in the future, but for now it’s been the most equitable way to incorporate a grade for it.

Some of my inspirations over the years:

  • Bryce Hedstrom has a ton of great resources on student jobs, aimed at the CI classroom but certainly adaptable to the heritage classroom (especially useful pdf here)
  • Bertha Delgadillo, a phenomenal teacher in the heritage language teaching community, has a great blog post with helpful links and resources.

Some of my resources:

  • Student Job Descriptions Doc (2019, pre-Covid)
    I left this as is so you can see the examples but it is different now! We’re not allowed to use diffusers, El Internado is off Netflix, cojines were banned during Covid, and the point system went out the window this past year. Also, the Bouncer role took on a whole new level with my class that kept dismissing themselves early. It solved the problem in that it was that student’s job, they took it seriously, and the class knew exactly when to leave. The point is, it’s supposed to change.
  • Google form for students to select a job(s) (Tip: make a copy for yourself before editing)
  • Images from student-facing slides (2021, Covid additions), launching student jobs and explaining them to students in class:

To wrap up, I’ll leave you with this recent find on Instagram that captures my “why” behind student jobs, and a general helpful reminder for all of us as we go back to school.

We hope you’ve found this post helpful. Do you use classroom jobs in your classes, or are you thinking of trying this year? Tell us about it in the comments! My goal this year is to be more active here on the blog, and I’d love to hear what topics you’re interested in. Check out Michaela’s bio below and don’t hesitate to connect with her on Twitter.

Michaela McCaughey is a high school Spanish Heritage teacher in Providence, Rhode Island. Her students are creative artists who push and inspire her. Within her educational philosophy she focuses on social justice issues, culturally sustaining pedagogy, arts-integration, and (bi)literacy. Connect with her on Twitter @mika_ryan

What is WRONG With Me???

I’m tired. I’m not gonna sugar coat it. Teaching through a pandemic has exacerbated an already tenuous situation. Teaching has always been stressful. It has always been exhausting. It’s always been too much work for too little pay, constantly being pulled in too many directions, being expected to fill too many roles, and never feeling like you can catch a break.

I taught from home for more than a year. It was really tough. My favorite part of my job, the spontaneous, genuine interactions with young people, all but disappeared overnight. They were replaced with soaring anxiety, overwhelming feelings of despair, frustration, deep sadness, and a lot of tears. (My own children fared only marginally better, but there were definitely a lot of tears and frustrations all around.)

Now that I’ve been back teaching in person for a full semester, I find that I’m still struggling, and I get really frustrated with myself about that. I tell myself I should be doing better: our school is taking better covid precautions than many, I’m teaching classes that I enjoy, and my students are so much fun. Instead, I find myself dreading going to work each day. What is wrong with me, I wonder?

What is wrong with me? Well, today, a mere two miles from my home, two students were shot outside their school. One of those kids did not survive. Many are directly impacted by this senseless and tragic violence, many more feel the effects less intensely.

Yet, at the same time as we reel, as we mourn, as we stare into space in a shocked daze, there are adults crowding school board meetings around the country fighting against covid-19 prevention measures. Parents fight to keep school buildings open, no matter the cost to teachers and students alike, because “kids need to be in school.” But they refuse to do anything to make schools safe for students and educators.

The only thing that’s changed in all of this is me. Maybe I’m at my breaking point. Maybe I’ve reached my limit. When I got word of the shooting outside a nearby school, my thoughts went first to my own kids. They were safe. This time. And so was I. But I’m not sure I can continue to sacrifice my own mental and physical health to do the job I love. I don’t know if I even want to.

Goodbye, Guilt. Hello, Grace.

Hello, incredible teachers. It’s been an awfully long time and I’m really sorry. I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt over not making the time to update my blog. Getting back in the classroom with students this year has been lovely! And difficult. Exhausting. Overwhelming. And so much more.

I decided it’s time to let go of the guilt. This blog is mine, it’s something I enjoy, and I won’t enjoy it if I feel bad when life gets in the way. I hope to someday find time to share some of what I learned in my first semester back in person. For now, I’m going to be satisfied with sharing my outline for the upcoming 3rd Quarter.

We’re starting on Monday with literary analysis. In consultation with my fantastic new colleague, we decided to start our analysis unit by watching some short films. Her students have been begging to watch a movie, so this seemed like a decent compromise. (SPOILER ALERT: I also decided our final timed essay will be a character or theme analysis of Encanto, so they’ll get to watch a movie in the end.)

We’ll start our unit analyzing a character from a common text. After plenty of practice with that, we’ll move on to writing theme statements and then analyzing the development of the theme in a text. Most of our texts (short films and short stories) will be anchor texts that we all read/watch together. For the theme essay, students will choose from a selection of short stories and read in small groups.

Check out my unit outline here and let me know if you have questions or suggestions.

Thanks for your patience with me. If you’re new here, know that sometimes I write 3 new posts in a week, and sometimes I go 6+ months without a peep. I hope you are all managing as well as possible in these impossible circumstances. If you’re struggling, know that you are NOT alone (see these responses on Twitter for proof). Continue to extend yourself grace and patience and love, and let go of everything you can.

New Year, New EVERYTHING!

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!

Processing police violence in our communities

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.

The weight of the world

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.

Before asking students to write, I talked a bit about how hard it is to be a teenager and how hard this pandemic is on us. I briefly shared some of what I have been feeling, because I know that modeling vulnerability and just showing kids that it’s ok to not feel ok is so important.

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 During Distance Learning

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.

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!

Teaching Heritage Spanish using reading and writing workshop