Wins and Losses in my Heritage Class

I’m teaching Spanish for Heritage Speakers for my first time this year and let me tell you, the learning curve has been STEEP, my friends!

This course ended up in my lap in a rather dramatic fashion last May and I panicked.  I felt (actually still feel) totally inadequate to teach this class. I spent most of my summer freaking out, reading, researching, praying and reading some more to prepare for August.  This summer I inhaled the Adventures in Heritage Teaching blog and read 6 novels in Spanish, in an effort to brush up my Spanish and figure out what the heck I was suppose to do come fall.

To say that this class has been humbling would be a great, big, fat understatement. Some days they leave my classroom and I feel like a failure of a teacher; the deserve way better than what I can give them. Some days are pretty OK, we made it, nothing spectacular, nothing horrible, but we made it. But some days… some days my heart swells with love for these 19 squirrlely as can be, mostly wild  freshman boys  (just 5 girls in the class!) who blow in to and out of 7th period like a hurricane.

We’re in Week 12 right now. There have been some pretty epic losses so far this year, but there have been some sweet, sweet wins too.

Strike outs:

  • Basically I’m having to redefine myself as a teacher. My big ‘ol bag of tricks that work wonders with my other Little Darlings is useless with my heritage kiddos. I don’t know if they’re too cool for school, or they’re secretly insecure, but the goofy games, brain breaks, chants, call and responses are a NO GO in 7th period. Hola chiquitos, en mis otras clases bailamos los viernes. Lo llamamos “Baile Viernes”. ¿Quieren bailar el viernes? ((Blank faces and crickets sound in the background)). ¿No quieren bailar? ¡Es divertido! ((More crickets)) A mis otros alumnos les gusta… Response: We’re not your other students. Ok muchachos, está bien…no vamos a bailar. Hay otras cosas divertidas que podemos hacer, como…..
  • They hate reading. I’m trying to not take this personally. I know they hated it long before they got to my classroom but I really, really, really, really want to turn it around. I want to be their Mike Peto and connect each kid to their home-run book that will change their lives. We’ve made some headway…we first started reading for a solid 3 minutes (The first day we tried for 5 minutes but that just about started a revolt!) and now we’re up to 8 mostly focused minutes. I’ve been working diligently recommending books, making it a positive experience, reading with them, you know, all the things. They’re getting better and as long as we don’t do free reading on Fridays (because my colleague and her kiddos love Baile Viernes on the other side of our portable!) they’re mostly reading or at least pretending to.  Their complaining has slowed a bit, and I was feeling better about the reading piece… Until today, when one of my dear ones tossed one of my books onto the shelf. Cuidado con los libros. Los compré con mi propio dinero. Quería que tuvieran muchos libros para leer este año. His response: That was a big waste of money, Mrs. Chase. Ouch.
  • During class, they mostly work for me. I’ve been stretching every relationship building muscle I have and I’d say I’ve pretty much won them over. But bring in a sub and forget about it. They don’t seem to appreciate my specially crafted sub plans, that take me freaking forever to write! Last time I was out, I was completely deflated when I got back to exactly zero work from them. ¿¡En serio, muchachos?! ¿No hicieron nada? ¿Por qué no???? Response: It was too hard.
  • Did I mention they hate reading?!

Homeruns:

  • My heritage kiddos don’t participate the ways my other kiddos do. At the beginning of the year, it was like pulling teeth. I’d ask a question and nada. I’d ask again, and nada. I’d ask again and tell them they can answer in English or Spanish and, you guessed it, nada. After a few classes I was getting pretty desperate and then this divine idea came to me, I am certain from the Lord, because it turned out to be pretty awesome.  I opened up Google Maps and asked “¿De dónde vinineron sus familias?” After a moment or two, a brave soul ventured to answer and I dropped a pin on the city. Then another volunteered. Another pin. And another. And another. And all of a sudden, this class that wouldn’t talk to me was clamoring to tell me where their families came from. It made me choke up…they were so proud to share a tiny piece of their family’s story. This picture makes my heart sing.

Heritage map.png

  • At the beginning of the year, on the start of the year survey, they told me they wanted to learn to write. A few weeks later, they reiterated it. And that left me scratching my head… I mean, in my regular Spanish classes, my focus is on input. I know the output will come… but first, the input! But these kiddos have been exposed to a lot of input and now they are hungry to output! They want to write but  I’m not really sure how to teach that. I asked my English Teacher / Spanish Teacher / Portable Mate who said, “well, just have them write  a little bit each class.” So that’s how we started; I decided they’d write a little bit most classes and so our diario was born. Each day I project a new writing prompt and set a timer for 5 minutes while my kiddos write on their Diario Sheets. So I don’t spend my life grading papers, once they’ve written 4 diarios, they re-read them all and star their best one. That’s the one I read and assess using my nifty ACTFL inspired writing rubrics. This afternoon, I compared their most recent Diario with their baseline Quick Write from the very first day of school. My goodness. It’s working! They made me cry. Just look:

They’ve been other wins, but not as significant, and other losses too, but not as painful…but the important thing I’m realizing is that even though I’m totally inadequate for this job, these kiddos need someone, and that someone is me. Lord, help me!

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I’m a Heritage teacher, too. I understand all that you said on your blog. The first thing that WE as heritage teachers need to understand is that we are not teaching a second language class like with our other Spanish classes and therefore we cannot use most of the things that we usually do. Heritage students already know the language, now they need to improve their skills in writing, reading, and even speaking and listening. My students didn’t like reading either, but I made a list of books that we could read in class and discussed them with my students, and they chose the book that they wanted to read in class. We’ll start in a week or so and they cannot wait. I give them a lot of writing feedback and teach them grammar about the mistakes that I see in their writings. Before I start class I tell them, today I have some grammar and orthography for you, do you want to do that first or at the end of class? They always ask for the grammar first and I can hear their comments while I’m still speaking: ” I didn’t know that!” , ” Oh, I had been doing that wrong my whole life!” I have also used Google Earth many times in my classroom everytime we talk about one of the countries or places they come from and that makes them get engaged for the rest of the class even after I change the topic. Good luck with your class!

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  2. Thank you for this heartfelt post. I learned so much reading it, and I know you are enough for your students. The gain they have made in writing is wonderful and probably connected to your free reading program, so while they may hate reading, it is working! I would let them know that “the more you read, the better you write”. And show them their progress. ¡Adelante Maestra! Can’t wait to read your next installment.

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    1. Oh thank you! I can’t wait to show them their writing progress when I see them next and attribute it to their reading!!! Thanks for reading and posting!

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  3. I’m at school right now reading this post, and tears are welling up! You’ve touched on a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. . . heritage speakers. Thank you for sharing your story. You make me want to be a better teacher!

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  4. I understand the challenge and it sounds like you’re doing a great job and they’re lucky to have you. A couple of ideas that have worked well with my heritage speakers are that they do a song instead of me choosing-choose a song you like that’s school appropriate, tell us about the artist and the song, give me a MP3 copy to add to our class playlist, and then you design the listening activity to go with it, then, of course, we attempt to sing it as a class-great fun for all and gets a wider variety than I could find. Another one that goes with your diario is blogging-we write for 5 on a question, then pass it and either comment on the other person’s or respond to the question, then in groups, they use their “data” to summarize class opinions and to design visual representations (graphs) with the info-again, great fun, all student created and good practice for AP. Good luck on your continued adventures and thanks for sharing with us and for the inspiration!

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  5. I just love your honesty and reflections – thank you for your rawness and reminding all of us that we are not perfect and it’s ok to have strikeouts! It means we’re growing as professionals, right?? Anyways, good luck with this class!!! And please keep the blogs coming! I love them!

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  6. Querida sra. Chase,

    May I have your school mailing address to send you the book I used for my one year teaching heritage Spanish? It’s called Tapices Literarias by Glynis Cowell. I had some success reaching students, mostly Central American, with it.

    This post really touched me because heritage Spanish was one of the most emotionally difficult classes I’ve ever taught. It’s cliché I know, but the students taught me much more than I think I taught them.

    Qué Dios le bendiga,

    Christine

    On Thu, Nov 7, 2019 at 12:38 AM Loading up my little darlings with Comprehensib

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  7. Hi there! This is my first year teaching heritage speakers too, and I’m learning a ton! I’d love to start the diario routine- do you happen to have your list of prompts/ would you be willing to share? Thank you for sharing your experience and being honest about the process 🙂

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