I’ve been wanting to write this post for weeks now. Things have gotten so. much. better. since I restructured everything in my level 1 classes and wrote this post: Dial Back the Fun back in December. I was afraid to document it because I didn’t want to jinx it, afraid that if I said anything out loud, all hell would break loose and we’d be back at square one: me in tears, looking for a new career and them climbing the walls like feral animals.
But now I’m ready to share the journey with you: it’s May, we’re almost there and I can truthfully say that I’m enjoying teaching level 1 again AND my Level 1 Little Darlings have (finally!) worked their way into my heart. All of this feels miraculous, considering where we were a few months ago! This year has been painful and frustrating and the hardest of my career, by far….but also full of some really important lessons that I don’t want miss.
If you’re here for some reflection and some touchy feely processing, stick around. If you’re looking for a zero-prep lesson plan for Monday, you won’t find it here, but Drama Timelines or The Lucky Trivia Game or Duolingo Podcast Choice Boards might be more your style!
Why this year sucked so much:
It took me a while to figure this out (I am not the brightest crayon in the box sometimes!). This year wasn’t my most challenging because I got a difficult bunch of Little Darlings, or because of the pandemic, or because of some tough stuff within my school and community, or even because of the death threat (don’t ask, I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t worry, everything is fine now.)
With a little help from Socrates, I figured out why this year very nearly made me quit the career I love:
I spent nearly all last semester fighting the old, trying so desperately to make the things that have always worked for my Little Darlings work for this year’s Little Darlings. I’m a good teacher! I have a lot of tricks in my bag and tools in the box! BUT NONE OF THEM WORKED! And like a border collie obsessed with a tennis ball…I couldn’t drop it. I kept trying harder to make what wasn’t working work. That was exhausting and left me leaving school like a failure every single day. The turning point was when I realized:
That simple revelation really freed me! What my students need this year is structure and a predictable plan and for me to dial back my enthusiasm a bit. A very wise teacher (whose name escapes me, sorry!) commented that our students are like infants who are desperate to be swaddled and that metaphor really stuck with me. I detailed our new plan here, and I’ve stuck faithfully to it for 4 solid months because it’s working! I can hardly believe the turn around! And students have noticed too, take a look at this comment from our distict-required Student Perception Survey:
Teach the ones you have: For years and years I’ve had kids who came to class excited to acquire Spanish (one of the benefits to not having a state language graduation requirement!) and I crammed them full of comprehensible input. Seriously, in our 90 minute blocks (and 110 minute blocks before our schedule change) there was not a moment to lose! I mean, we did brain breaks, but we were still in Spanish, I’m not kidding: NOT.A.MOMENT.TO.LOSE…all CI all the time! I was a mad woman on a mission and by golly did they acquire a LOT of language! And we had a blast doing it! It’s from that bunch of Little Darlings that I have 3 former students who are Spanish teachers today, and hundreds of post cards, telling me about their worldwide travels and how they’re still using the Spanish they acquired in my classroom. Ahhh…those were the good old days.
This brings be to lesson #2, Slow down and chill out: My Little Darlings this year don’t have the stamina or the enthusiasm of my students of yore. This year I’ve had to slow down and take it easy. Now, I am not talking about rate of speech and choosing my words carefully, which we do to make language comprehensible to our students. I’m not even talking about language acquisition here. I mean, I’vehad to slow down everything. We are taking A LOT of breaks that would horrify Pre-pandemic Señora Chase!
We’re starting every class with 10 minutes of GimKit or Blooket, sometimes reviewing vocab, sometimes they have to think a bit harder and pair sentence beginnings with sentence ends. It is the best use of class time? Nope, definitely not. Is it a pedagogically sound educational decision? Negative, Ghostrider. Is it endorsed by any of the Big Names in the Know? My guess is absolutely not. Is it saving my sanity and giving us all a calm and easy way to start every class and get into the Spanish groove? Yes. Worth it? I say it depends on the year and the Little Darlings. This year, for us, 1000% worth it. It is a safe and predictable thing that we do to start every class. Pre-pandemic Sra Chase wanted to keep every class fresh and new…but this year’s kids have different needs and it’s where we are.
Then, every class we talk about our schedule for the day and chit chat a bit about what’s going on…this goes for as long as they can manage, but I’m delighted that their stamina and focus is improving and we can sustain a conversation (mostly!) in Spanish for maybe 5-10 minutes. Then to refocus them, we breathe together, every class.
Now this is something that has been quite the journey…when we started back in October, it took herculean effort get them to stop making funny faces and laughing and farting and screwing around during our breathing time. But now… now it is GLORIOUS! We take a minute or two or three to breathe and it feels like such a treat! Now they settle right down and breathe deep (or at least sit there quietly or take a quick 2 minute power nap) and it is the best part of my day. Sometimes we breathe with Andy over at headspace. Sometimes we use a focused breathing video like this one: (Take 50 seconds to breathe with me. You’ll feel better or your money back, guaranteed!)
Other times I put on a YouTube video of waves or rain or jellyfish or nature sounds or relaxing music and give them 2 or 3 minutes to breathe deep, and zone out. I almost always ask how they prefer to breathe each day, and we’re all feeling much more regulated than at the start of the year. I was so skeptical, but thank you, JJ! You were so right!!!
This prepares us for our “input chunk” whether it be an EdPuzzle video or a pre-recorded video of me talking to them (because Sra Chase recorded is evidently more captivating than Sra Chase live!) or a Modified Movie Talk or Small Group Instruction and I’ve even been able to describe a story to the whole class lately, using the board to illustrate, which feels like a huge win! 30 students, all listening at the same time!? Hallelujah! This year, this is the stuff of dreams!
And then, after about 15-20 minutes of sustained focus, we take a break, which usually lands about halfway through our 90 minute block. (Pre-pandemic Señora Chase would have never, in a million years, given students 5 minutes to hang out, chat, listen to music and screw around.) I started it as part of the deal: You give me your attention for a little bit, then you can have a break to visit with your friends.
I’ve found that the mid-class break has actually proven more beneficial than I anticipated. It’s given me time to chat and connect and be real with them, in English, gasp! I try to be strategic during our descanso: it’s not time for me to check emails or prepare our next activity…it’s time to look at their dog pictures and chat about their track meets and learn about bass fishing. The other lovely thing about it is that when a kid asks about making up a quiz or has a question about a grade or needs help with some make up work, we’ve got time to address it, without holding the rest of the class hostage. “Remind me about that during break and we can get that squared away” has been a Godsend.
The last few weeks, I’ve started asking if they want to take their break as usual or want to play Heads Up 7 Up instead. One class consistently chooses the break, the other class is obsessed with Heads Up 7 Up, which we play in Spanish. It is hilarious how much they love it and it speaks to how much they long for their pre-pandemic elementary good old days! The beautiful thing about Heads Up 7 Up is that it’s super easy to play and narrate in Spanish. I write on the board: “¿Quién te escogió?” (Who picked you?) and “Creo que fue ______ ” (I think that it was_____) and away we go.
Then, for the past month or so, we’ve been watching Encanto, for the last 5-10 minutes of every class. (I’m going to stretch this sucker out until June, just you watch!) We watch it in Spanish, with English subtitled, and they watch, entranced, like little kids. I’m not fooled, they’re not getting any real CI from the movie, BUT, before we watch, each class, we Write and Discuss what happened previously, we chat about the characters and make predictions. That’s when they’re getting rich input and it is so fabulous to know that the last 20-30 minutes of every lesson plan is already figured out and ready to go. Annnndd….they know that if we don’t get through the rest of the day’s lesson, there won’t be any time for Encanto, so it’s really helped with their behavior and buy in.
But are they acquiring anything?
This year looks WAY different that my other years of teaching and I was a bit nervous about their outcomes. I mean, are they actually acquiring any language?! A few weeks ago I passed out their portfolios, with all their Celebrations of Knowledge and Timed Writings, and it turns out, they have actually acquired some Spanish this year after all! There were squeals of delight and texting of pictures to their parents as they marveled at their growth between August and March. And I breathed a sigh of relief. Have they acquired as much as I would have liked? No…but they’ve got new language and that is something to celebrate.
Many of you, dear readers, have commented on my authenticity and transparency on this little blogcito through a hard year, so I would feel like a fraud if I didn’t mention one more lesson learned:
One final lesson:
I wouldn’t have made it through this year without a whole lot of prayer. As I look back at my prayer journal, I can’t tell you how many times I prayed that God would restore joy to my classroom. Back in January and February, that felt like a really big ask. Now that I’m on the other side and the sun has come out, I know it’s by the grace of God that I’m still teaching, and with a smile on my face. I’m not in survival mode anymore and I’m even looking forward to a coming back after summer to start over (after a long and well deserved vacation, of course!) I’ve been reminded that prayer is a big deal and if I can pray for you, please let me know. It would be my honor.
The sun is shining here, both physically and metaphorically, and I am so, so relieved. I hope there some sunshine shining there too!
Loved it! Thanks for sharing 👍
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You have been a breath of fresh air to me. Thank you for blessing me by sharing your experience. I love your humor, your faith, and persistence to carry on. I have been teaching a long time, too, and have been baffled by so many changes in the kids which you articulate so well. I have worked hard to juggle, change my expectations, try to demonstrate my love and commitment ….blah blah, blah. I have realized, like you, that I need to find my perfect routine, although I don’t have it down yet. I have tried an idea or two of yours and am grateful. Thank you for sharing.
Praying for you. Please pray for me, too.
Sent from my iPhone
Oh Sra Dav, I am praying for you, that you finish this year on a high note with your Little Darlings!
Always appreciate your posts. Thank you for your honesty with some of the challenges you faced this year. It truly has been tough for us all. But you always inspire me with you thoughts, ideas and perspectives. Great read!
Thanks so much for sharing this invaluable information. I am a CI novice, although I’ve taught Spanish for many years. I follow your posts and I am always grateful for your generosity and honesty. I’m also impressed with how open you are about your relationship with God.
Thanks so much,
*Donna D. Bennett* *Stella Niagara Education Park* *Spanish 4-8*
Thank you so much for sharing. I also felt like I had to add more structure to my classroom this year. This is my 28th year teaching Spanish. I’ve felt like a failure all year because I drilled vocabulary and grammar militantly. Something I haven’t done since my first few years teaching in order to find my classroom management routine. It’s so nice to hear that I’m not the only one that had to abandon some of the joy in teaching a foreign language in order to keep my sanity. Like you, I was able to start slowly introducing the fun into the classroom after Christmas—I love project-based learning. It was such a hard change for me this year to abandon my love for projects for an entire semester and be so restricted with them this semester. I do hope next year will be better, but I do plan on starting the year with a lot of structure and easing them into projects as I see fit.
Thanks again for your post. Sending you thoughts and prayers for next school year! Keep up the great work—you are making a positive difference in every child’s life.
Thank you so much! I have similar issues without the breakthru joy — and I haven’t been praying consistently. Thank you for your ideas. You give me hope.
I’ll be praying for you!
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Thanks so much for sharing your downs and how you came back up. I’ll re-read your turn around plan.
It has been the hardest year for me as well. I’ve second guessed myself countless times. But like you, here I am close to the end of TYFH part II (the year from hell part 1 was last year’s madness).
Here’s to ending strong and resting fully.
Thank you so much for posting your struggles and your solutions for overcoming them. I appreciate your honesty with your situation more than you can realize. I too have had to rearrange, slow down, and repeat a lot more… and sadly use more English than I would like. I spend the last 5-6 weeks of the school year reviewing all of the stories we have done in class- like I spend one day on Sept, then one day on Oct, etc. It is fun to see that they remember more than they thought they did!!! It’s also fun to rewatch the silly movie talks (that is the mainstay of my classroom). My favorite review game has been to put several sentences from a story on the board (usually about 13… my classes are small) and then they have to pick one sentence and use playdo to recreate that sentence. Then we go around and guess which sentence each playdo story is retelling. LOTS of input as they are reading the sentences over and over again.
Oh my goodness, that play dough sounds like so much fun!!! (Although I can imagine what this year’s group would do with play dough this year- maybe I’ll try it with my calmer, more mature Sp 4s!! Thank you for sharing!!
Yes! Please pray for this German teacher in western NY! I’m praying for you too– and so grateful for the help you’ve given me this year. That post was transformational for me too. A few differences here– we only have 45 minute periods and a WL requirement so a real mix of skills and interest levels. I start each period off with 5 – 10 minutes of Wordwalls (can’t recommend enough). I’ve started having Chromebook-free Fridays when I show a movie. I agree, they don’t get much CI but I do Write and Discuss earlier in the week. Thanks for all you do!
Will pray!! Almost there!!
I think it was your blog I read that uses Gran Hotel in upper levels. Where do you watch it? We can’t get Netflix at our school and I was wondering if you had luck getting the DVD.
Thank you for all you do! I use your games and resources all the time! -Cait ________________________________
Yes!! I ordered the Gran Hotel DVD from Amazon.es It was pricy but worth it! It is region locked, meaning you can’t play it on a regular DVD player… But you can play it through your computer using a media player. That’s how we watch every day.
I read your post about the “breathing breaks” earlier in the year, but was too scared to try it with my MS students. Now that we’re at the point of 5 weeks left, I figured I had nothing to lose…and I’m kicking myself for not doing it earlier. My students LOVE the breathing and it buys me 20-30 minutes of calm focus on whatever we’re doing next. I love it too because it lets me look at the students I’m about to give up on with new eyes for the 2nd half of class. This is going to be part of my daily practice from Day 1 of school next year.
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Thank you for this post. Thank you so much. And thank you for professing faith. You have been and continue to be a blessing to me. also, so much of this-quizlet live and blooket… the kids love. and still kahoot. I breathe with my students every day, only for a quick 15-30 seconds tho. Im currently stretching out Encanto. I showed a the conoce Colombia making of film vid too. They begged for Encanto. Candy and stickers are working. Old school vocab games( just games on friday…regardless if much CI) miaucles meme, jaja jueves joke, wednesday wordle in spanish, and way more english than i ever used…these are the things these days. keep the faith, keep inspiring reminding, and keep the posts coming.
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I loved this post, and it’s so good to hear that your year and time with your kiddos is ending well. I’m curious about the forms you used for the writing. Are those available on TpT? Hope you enjoy your summer!
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Hi Jeanna!! Writing forms? That’s not ringing any bells… If you can give me some more details I will help you out with it!
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