Overheard in one of my ninth grade classes this week, “Why don’t we ever do anything ‘normal’ in this class?” I’m not sure this was meant to be a compliment, but I am going to take it as one.
Most people who know me well would probably say that I do things my own way. I often am a bit ‘outside of the box’. In fact, I sometimes find myself so far outside the box, that I can’t even see the box. If you were to walk into my classroom, it is unlikely to be quiet. It tends to be noisy, whether we are talking as a class, music is playing or there is pair or group work happening.
So, what is actually going on? Depends on the day. Last summer, I was looking for a way to start out the school year (having essentially ditched my textbook) that would be interesting to my ninth graders who have had Spanish before in middle school and weekly in elementary school.
In my search for inspiration, I first came across some ideas from Kristy Placido on her blog about starting off the school year. Off to Teachers Pay Teachers I went and purchased her Bingo Humano activity and her 4 Corners Posters. They both worked as great ice breakers with my students.
After getting to know my students a bit, I wanted to do something compelling and engaging. I read this post by Allison Wienhold on her awesome blog, Mis clases locas. I decided to use Allison’s idea and instead of starting off with a ‘review unit’, we began to read Esperanza by Carol Gaab. With all of the supplemental materials that were included in the Teacher’s Guide, we worked on the novel from mid-September until mid-November. I have never had so much fun starting off the school year. My students were talking about relevant issues in Spanish - and who could have predicted how relevant these conversations would be during the contentious presidential election in 2016? The novel gave them the vocabulary to talk about immigration. They also began using structures like object pronouns without having been explicitly taught them. In my early days of teaching, I would dread the point in the curriculum that I would have to teach direct, indirect and double object pronouns.
A colleague of mine who teaches the same level and, like me, started the year off with the novel, also had a few interesting comments from her students. One student asked her when they were going to start ‘learning Spanish’. What I found so wonderful about that comment was that the student didn't even realize she was acquiring Spanish, without worksheets & verb conjugations.
In my class, we do projects which are often technology infused. Since our district is now 1:1 and I am a bit tech obsessed, if you walk into my room you will often see my students on their MacBooks. They could be using QuickTime Player to create screencasts, videos or audio recordings to re-tell part of a story. We do spontaneous recordings using QuickTime Player or Vocaroo, where I ask a question or two and they record their answers. Formative assessment can be a quick Google Form, which enables me to see where my students are instantly.
These assessments feel integrated, because they aren’t rehearsed or things they could ‘study’ for. They write reactions to their reading or show they can interpret and understand what they were reading.
Now, we are just finishing up reading our second novel, Felipe Alou: Desde los valles a las montañas. I was so happy to be discussing Felipe’s story during Black History Month. We were able to make connections to MLK, jr., Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. From reading the novel, they had the vocabulary to talk about these issues. We also watched the film Rumbo a las Grandes Ligas. Students in my class regularly respond to their reading with #BookSnaps (thank you Tara Martin) which are shared via Google Classroom. I create a blank Google Slides presentation and allow students to edit the presentation. They are free to creatively express their reactions to what they are reading, as they are reading. I describe them as the 21st century version of a post-it. These are so much fun for me as the teacher and for students.
This school year, I heard about Breakout EDU. Then, Martina Bex shared her Breakout activity for the Spanish Christmas Lottery. With some help from Jen Fischer, I was able to create a digital version of the game, as I did not have a breakout kit available. We did this right before winter break and had a blast. As a culminating activity for Felipe Alou, I had my students come up with puzzles related to the novel for a Digital Breakout activity. My classes were engaged bell-to-bell. They were competitive, too, trying to outdo one another. The idea was to choose several of their puzzle ideas and create a digital Breakout game to use in class the next day. I ended up with three different digital breakout games to play. I plan to share more about the Breakout games in another post, so stay tuned!
As my students got into groups to work on creating their puzzles, I overheard the comment about my class not being normal. I like to ‘keep ‘em on their toes’ and change things up. Next week, I am planning on several Movie Talks as we try to work on telling stories, which is a logical step after reading the novel in the past tense. I strive to continue not being ‘normal’.
Share some of your ‘not normal’ activities in the comments!
High school Spanish teacher in NJ. Google for Education Certified Trainer. Always looking to try new things in my classes. Technology junkie.