New Year’s Reflection #3: Spanish IV

To keep each of these posts a bit different, I am going to work backwards and deconstruct how I structured my Spanish IV classes for this semester and write about each unit. To provide the context, this junior class has always had one less section of classes, so I only have two sections with relatively small numbers at 14 and 10. I have only taught four of these students before because two years ago I only had one section of Spanish II with 12 students in many grade levels. These four students loved learning from stories and songs and frankly their retention was wonderful so I wanted to make it a goal to include as many stories and songs as my semester would permit. Since I am the only Spanish IV teacher, I get to explore and take my students to any place I would like as long as I am preparing them to AP Spanish Language and Culture [which is my mindset anyway and I am also doing this]. So let’s reflect on the semester.

Spanish IV – Semester 1 Reflection

Overall this year’s students all came in at an intermediate low or mid level and I attribute this to our evolving mindset as a department and what we are asking students to do in Spanish – go team!!!

This is the 3rd year I have taught this course and I am constantly modifying the content. This year I switched the order of my two novels: first teaching Vida y muerte en la Mara salvatruchas published by Fluency Matters and then during semester two I will teach La Casa Dividida published by TPRS Books. These two novels are super compelling and last year students loved both of them.

In order to prepare students to read Vida y muerte, to participate in a Spanish only Socratic Seminar (a 2018 goal is to blog about Socratic Seminars soon – although come to OFLA’s annual conference April 5-7 in Cleveland for a three-hour workshop with co-presenter Amy Wopat), to have an interpersonal interview with me as a part of the midterm, and to work on developing their sentences and essay writing in Spanish, here are many of the things that I did for each unit of study.

When we began the year, I had a good idea of the “I CAN” statements that I wanted to include on the midterm although these evolved a bit during the semester. So during class I would make students discuss and write about these “I CAN” statements/topics by responding to questions in pairs or as a class, developing their ideas and thoughts thematically, asking questions, and ultimately recording answers individually or having conversations and writing using this template to help them develop their thoughts and sentences. I provide this same format on their quizzes and they must incorporate these terms in order to exceed expectations on my writing rubrics, which can be found on my resource page. And wow, what a difference this scaffold makes and in time, they are including the transition words with ease.

With regard to speaking grades, this is one area with which I have been experimenting. For the first two speaking grades, I provided the questions and many of my students prepared their responses and responded with beautifully well-developed Spanish (which was not read). This is great on one hand but bad on another because could they do this spontaneously without the preparation? For the following two assessments, I had them work with random partners and ask questions about the topics (yes they prepared these ahead of time but they did not read them) and their partner had to provide shorter answers (about 20 seconds like on the AP Lang and Culture exam), this way it is more like a conversation. I think I will continue with this strategy for more interpersonal like speaking assessments and do others that are more presentational for lengthier responses.

Now for the units, which are below with Essential Questions, I CAN statements, and Themes/Topics.


  • What is my role in my community: my city, school, home?
  • How do the places in my city/community reflect how and where I live?

I can express myself and ask questions about the following:

  • What I like, love, dislike
  • My personality and how I look
  • My home life, where I live, my origins
  • My city and community where I live and go to school
  • Spanish civilization, religions of Spain, and the development of the Spanish language

For this unit, I wanted to get to know my students and have them become very comfortable for many of the novice type questions and I CAN statements. I have always been bothered that my students could possibly do very well on a Socratic Seminar and talk to me about literature and/or politics without being able to respond to questions that we hope they learned in earlier levels. I find this beginning unit is great for all students regardless of their strengths and weaknesses.

I reviewed and taught many structures using traditional TPR and also TPR with subjunctive commands like “Pido que Ud. / I ask that you…,” “Exijo/Mando que Ud./ I demand that you…” and “Sugiero que Ud. / I suggest that you…” This was great this year and I will continue to incorporate it in Spanish III also.

There was a lot of Ben Slavic’s Card Talk, PQA (personalized questions and answers), and a few stories done as well as two beloved songs: Me encanta by Pierre Louis and Señor Wooly’s Sé chévere.


  • What are my goals?
  • How do I define success?

I can express myself and ask questions about the following:

  • My goals, dreams, and future
  • My successes
  • What I have done and I have not yet done
  • My responsibilities

I began doing this unit after backwards planning the book Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatruchas. So many of the words that my students would not have known were about goals, dreams, and reflecting on what one has already done; so it has been perfect for junior students.

For this unit, I make students describe, defend, give reasons, explain, converse and interpret information about goals and dreams. I use a few stories and a Movietalk and embedded reading based on the rather sad short-film Kiwi. Thanks to Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley for their concept of embedded readings and training; using embedded readings has been a staple of mine now for many years and I continue to use them because of how they build confidence for all students. Check out for more information.

I also incorporated the songs No importa la distancia from Disney’s Hercules sung by Ricky Martin or now by David Bisbal too, and Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked (see my resources). These two songs deal with the themes and we learn a lot of vocabulary from the songs – here are two of my Quizlet sets for “No importa la distancia” (shortened list and longer list) that align with some vocabulary in the Vida y Muerte. Thanks to song expert Lisa Reyes, who shared her No Importa la Distancia materials with me many years ago.


  • What does friendship mean to me?
  • What should one look for in an ideal partner?
  • How does one country’s turmoil affect the lives of its people, community, and culture both in the country and in the world?
  • Socratic Seminar Question: Should the USA feel responsible for the rise of gangs in Latin America?”

I can express myself and ask questions about the following:

  • My friendships, relationships, ideal partners
  • Keeping secrets
  • Being a member of an organization/team
  • Loyalty and faithfulness
  • Trust
  • Pride
  • Crime and punishment (including war and gangs)

During this unit we explore the Civil War in El Salvador (1980 – 92) through a film study of Voces Inocentes. This year we also had pre- and post-discussions about types of governments, politics, and global issues, which were all spontaneous and real conversations. To help prepare my students, I went to that one “folder I know I have in one of my four very full filing cabinets” and pulled the National Spanish Exam word lists for these topics and copied them for my students. In 2007, I did quiz all of my students on these words but fortunately for my 2017 students I did not. Instead students just used the words to help them engage in conversation and it was successful. Students did have to demonstrate their knowledge of the themes from the film in both presentational forms: speaking and writing. Again as I mentioned earlier, although I do know that they are rehearsing and preparing these responses, I have concluded that this is one way that I help students reach Intermediate mid, high and Advanced levels. It is through my expectation of developing their thoughts (which does include some rehearsing) and it has been very successful for many students and in years when I did not require it as much, students were not reaching those levels.

In preparation for the crime aspects of the text Vida y muerte, I have created a story that I tell students. Then we read the text with a lot of success because I had already exposed them to so many of the words from the text. Fortunately for our us who use the novel, Carrie Toth has blogged about her many reading activities that I have used over the years to teach this novel (but these ideas could be applied to teaching any novel). I really enjoy reading this novel with the students. The chapters are rather short and they hold the students’ interest. Each day this year, students were speaking about the topics above and what was happening, happened, or will happen in the novel. It was very successful and it was apparent that I have taught this novel now four times.

One recommendation I have is to have students read the Prologue at the end; the language is difficult. For me it serves as a terrific segue way to the Socratic Seminar question: Socratic Seminar Question: Should the USA feel responsible for the rise of gangs in Latin America?” This year I chose to show a National Geographic documentary that I found on Youtube instead of using the film, Sin nombre (we were out of time) but I will still use it in the future.

The day of the Socratic Seminar my students spoke only in Spanish for their allotted 30 minutes (for a group of 7 students (two rounds during the class) and 45 minutes (for a group of 10 (1 round). The Seminar is evidence based and students must refer to class sources and their own articles that they have found and annotated. The first year I started doing these Socratic Seminars in Spanish, the students were terrified but they almost all report having grown tremendously from the experience. We have since implemented a first Socratic Seminar experience at the end of level III, which has helped ease the fears in level IV. In level IV, last year I had to develop a rubric that looks for spontaneous speaking and not prepared reading. This change in evaluating has helped more students to really listen to what is being said and responding off the cuff, which is a part of the goal for this assessment which has elements of all three communication modes: interpersonal speaking, presentational speaking and writing, and interpretive through finding and annotating articles in Spanish and following the seminar.

To round out the semester, I have a 4 part midterm: the spoken interview, Interpretive Reading, in class written essay, and a structure/grammar piece. I always fight myself internally about this 25% grammatical content piece. But this year I chose to include it so that they would review many tenses of higher frequency verbs, word relationships, and the gender of tricky nouns. I have brought this aspect back after waffling for so many years because my conclusion is that it is in this level they need these aspects of structure and language to help them grow. The studying did not harm them and they appreciate that in general I do not give too much daily “busy”-homework.   As I always tell people, I have been an AP reader for many years and language accuracy is not the focus of the rubrics but rather the task completion and its development. This being said, if students produce work that is more accurate with regard to spelling, more polished with agreement, and using a variety of tenses and vocabulary in addition to completing the tasks and development, then the product has a chance to be scored better. If I do not create learning opportunities to enhance these aspects then they may not get them. I know there are many other ways to work on this accuracy and this is one way that I am using.

Overall I am filled with Pride for these students (another beloved song that I taught this semester, Orgullo (This is For) by PitBull. These students have worked so hard and they all feel success, which is wonderful. I know this after seeing their happy faces talking and asking me questions during their midterm interviews. I am very pleased with their progress, and I look forward to Semester 2. Thanks for reflecting with me. As of now, I am not sure what I will write for my 4th New Year’s Blog Post – I have yet to be inspired

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