A language class for everyone

You know the cool thing about teaching with Comprehensible Input? It makes language class accessible for everyone. You know the language classes where kids memorize 50 billion irregular verbs and get marked off for missing accent marks? Those classes are not for everyone. Those classes are for the kiddos who are good at playing school and are super motivated. Those language classes weed out the rest of the student population and cater to the lucky (gifted, selected) few. We are not those language classes. 

I’ve been loading my Little Darlings up with Comprehensible Input for a long time, but just recently (like in the past 5 years or so) my school started noticing  that my class wasn’t one of those classes, that kids, all kinds of kids, are successful in my classroom. It started small…you know,  things like at IEPs when you tell the team that the ADHD kiddo is doing awesome in Spanish and the rest of his teachers are not as, ahem, positive about his contributions in their class.  Then it grew bigger…students with pretty severe disabilities, students who spend most of their day in a contained Special Education classroom, were placed in my Spanish 1 class with their general education peers. In the past couple of years I’ve been privileged to teach 6 kiddos who come to my class with a one-on-one aid, and each one has been a reminder to me that we create little special little communities where everyone, and I mean everyone, gets to be successful.

If you find yourself teaching kiddos who need more support than your typical students, I’ve got some stories for you and one piece of advice:

Figure out that kid:

Of course we know that there’s no “one size fits all” in education and when we get kiddos who are hard to teach (because of behavior issues or disabilities or they hate us or whatever) we have to figure them out. Easy kids don’t make good teachers. It’s the toughest ones to teach that will make you a better teacher. You know when none of your tricks work and you have to go back to the drawing board and start from zero? That’s what makes good teachers.

I had this autistic student who would get really angry when he didn’t have enough time to finish his task and switching gears was nearly impossible for him. Unpredictability really upset him and that would cause some extremely disruptive outbursts during class. I figure out that for him, just quietly telling him our plan for the day as he came into class made things go waaaaaay smoother for everyone. He felt calmer knowing what to expect, I felt more pro-active and not reactive, and the rest of the students able to participate and focus without the outbursts. Win-win-win.

I had another Little Darling who couldn’t control his vocalizations, to the point that it was hard for anyone to focus and pay attention to all the fascinating Spanish input coming their way.  For this particular guy, I wrote a specific lesson plan for him each class. He would spend the first half of class with us, and I would plan lots of singing, brain breaks, TPR, and games that he could participate in. Then, he would go with his aids to another classroom to complete the rest of “his” lesson plan- practicing vocab on quizlet or duolingo, watching a  Dreaming in Spanish video, or reading and illustrating page of a CI novel. Yes, it was more work for me, but it made it so that the second half of class, we could read silently and do storytelling without the distractions and my kiddo was able to be a part of our class community, interact with his general Ed  peers for the first time in his school career, not to mention acquire some Spanish and serenade his mama with our songs at home.

Once I had a kiddo with some emotional issues who would get so frustrated that he would start hurting himself during class… one particularly bad day he jabbed a pencil in his eye. I figure out (by the grace of God, really) that he really enjoyed singing in class and that helped mellow him out and diffuse his frustration.  I’d watch him carefully during class and when I saw the first signs of frustration,  I’d just stop teaching, put a song on, we’d sing out little hearts out, and then transition back into our lesson. 9 times out of 10, that was enough of a reset to make it though the class without any incident… and no one suspected that was the reason we sang A LOT that year!

There are the kiddos who are so hyper they can barely sit still- they’re the ones who are assigned to light and door duty. They’ve got a productive reason to frequently dash to the back of the classroom.

None of these are the magic solution for teaching kids with severe disabilities. The secret is to figure out what makes them tick: read, ask your colleagues, try new things, think it through, ask yourself what can I change about my teaching to meet their needs? Because, remember easy kids don’t make good teachers and every time you’ve got a challenging kiddo, it’s another opportunity to grow.   It would have been easier (and probably justified) to whine and complain and feel sorry to myself. I could have told my administrator that kid can’t be in my class because it is making it so I can’t teach the other 31 Little Darlings who are there to acquire Spanish. But I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again: Easy kids don’t make good teachers. There are always solutions… keep looking for those until you find something that sticks.

And challenging kiddos don’t only help us grow, our General Ed kids need those kiddos in class, too. They need to watch us to know how to respond when a kiddo takes his shirt off during class (it happened) or can’t stop crying (it happened) or started sprinting across the room and out the door with his aid hot on his heels (it happened). These kiddos give us great opportunities to talk about community and support and compassion and show them what it looks like. And isn’t that a lot more fun than memorizing 50 billion irregular verbs and stressing out about accent accuracy?

If you’ve got tough kiddos on your attendance list this year, they will shape you in to a better teacher if you let them.

Wishing you all the best this year!


  1. Anne Marie, I completely agree. As a former Special ed teacher myself – now teach ASL – I can tell you that those kids, their families, and their special ed teachers have all been longing for a class that would demonstrate what their kid CAN do. It’s one of my favorite things about teaching with CI – access to ALL, dignity for ALL, and success for ALL. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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