My First Two Weeks: Respect, Routines, Plus Language

What a couple of weeks! It is incredible how much goes into the first full two weeks of school. This year I am teaching Spanish II, III and IV (the past two years I have only had Spanish II and IV).  So in addition to a third prep, figuring out my routine and new class schedule (similar for students) is the greatest challenge as we all find our new rhythm.

Regardless of figuring out a new fascinating rhythm, I am able to rely on many language activities, routines, and procedures that have made the last two weeks feel very successful and rewarding. The goal of the first few weeks or month of school needs to be more about developing the procedures necessary for maintaining classroom management instead of just trying to teach language.

Don’t get me wrong, these last two weeks have been full of language acquisition, learning, and practice – but the truth is that setting the tone, procedures, expectations, establishing community, and learning students’ names have been my ultimate classroom goals. I learned this essential piece the hard way, even as a seasoned teacher who went to teacher school when I transitioned to my new position four years ago. What I soon realized was that many of the same routines and procedures developed by master teachers in elementary and middle school grades could and should apply to a high school setting. I must thank Bryce Hedstrom (http://www.brycehedstrom.com) for his careful articulation of procedures and expectations for students that he has shared because so many of them have helped me be a stronger teacher.

Fortunately I do not have to take a management approach of “not smiling until December,” and I am able to still build the ideal rapport with my students while consistently reinforcing my expectations. The truth is that maintaining consistency is challenging and at times not fun, but then I remember the times of feeling helpless with an unruly class, which was much worse that just being consistent. My high school students need as much follow through and reminders as fifth graders; in fact, I have the luck of being married to a fifth grade teacher, who is a master in developing classroom routine and structure so over the years we have had many conversations on the topic. Knowing this, I cannot expect my students to follow all of the rules and procedures only after telling them once nor can I feel that my directing and retraining of student behavior is a waste of precious time for language learning or providing comprehensible input. I believe this a fallacy for many teachers especially in school cultures rushing to teach for the test and get results. Teachers and administrators must set the limits and enforce them in order to provide safe learning environments for all students. I do not feel we must all be authoritative disciplinarians but we must create learning environments with limits and respect.

Over the past two weeks, I have worked through many activities and limit setting pieces within my lessons in order to develop some of the skills necessary for language acquisition and/or learning to occur. I do not find this area to be my strongest suit and I am always adding new pieces to my arsenal. This year I have included a new call and response system that I saw beautifully demonstrated by Alina Filipescu at IFLT this summer. She uses many catchphrases (the call) that she trains her students to listen for and when said, students must reply with another piece (the response). Of course, this takes training but once the expectation is set, it becomes second nature and helps demand that students are listening and watching. There are some elements of body language used in the system; for example, I raise my hand for an all-class response and Alina leans forward with her body. For the past two years, I have successfully incorporated Bryce Hedstrom’s “Clase/Sí señor/a” when the teacher says “Clase” and students respond “Sí, señor/a.” This is how I have requested students’ attention and now I have incorporated many more into my daily routine: Alina’s “1,2,3 / No inglés (No English)” and “Mira, Escucha / Estamos en la lucha (Look, Listen / We are in the battle/fight),” some classics like “Hola, hola / Coca-Cola,” “A,E,I,O,U / El burro sabe más que tú” and a few of my own: “4,5,6 / no móviles (no cell-phones),” “Estamos juntos / hasta el fin. (We are together, until the end),” “Otra cosa / poderosa (another powerful thing)” and “Es viernes / gracias a dios (It’s Friday, thank god.)” My new ones were developed as I was backwards planning structures that I know my students will need in the future (juntos, cosa, poderosa, dios).

Setting a respectful tone and safe classroom is very important for me as an educator. We discuss that using inappropriate or sexist/racist/homophobic language is not permitted in our community and there will be consequences. I use the same infraction system as cellphone usage in class: first offense is an after school detention, second is a call home and detention, and third is an office referral. From a curricular stand-point, I have chosen to begin my Spanish II and III classes with the song “Colores, Colores” by Bacilos because the song talks about diversity and how people feel they are superior because of their skin color yet students do not get this message when just listening to this fun and catchy song. I do four to six days of short language listening lessons with the final day viewing a student made video of images (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgRfGGxr76Q&feature=youtu.be – yes there are some language errors in the written Spanish). The images are powerful and simply having students define the meaning of the lyrics with the pictures allows them to see that this fluffy and fun song is much deeper. Along those same lines, Spanish III and IV students were engaged in a Movietalk using the “Paper, Rock, Scissors” Android commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk5yeiydxV4). I know many have used this in it the past, but it was a first for me, and it worked like a charm. Again, incorporating these resources help set the tone of respect in my room the same way when I correct a student’s behavior for being rude during a competitive game of Quizlet Live.

I do not want it to seem like language and comprehensible input were not an important piece of the equation from day one; it absolutely was and students were not introduced to a syllabus until day three. In all of my levels, we worked toward 90% target language for us all using James Asher’s TPR (Total Physical Response), Ben Slavic’s Card Talk (aka Circling with Balls), name games, discussing the date, day, weather and emotions, reporting what happened or will happen over the weekend, passwords, asking a story, reading a story, a Movietalk, a song, learning how to use wordreference.com, our first ten minute free write, and seven minutes of silent-sustained reading. All of these pieces needed routine building and training. The first two weeks provided the initial experiences of these important aspects of my classes.

Now it is my job to continually go over the routines for each of these activities and be consistent in expectations while also incorporating more. I know that it has taken me my whole Mosaic of World Language Teaching to get to the point to have such a full and what I think meaningful two weeks. What I always have had to remember as a teacher is that we are all at different places in our careers and our experiences. For teachers reading this, please do not feel you ever need to incorporate every aspect that I have included above (because we often want to include it all). We must all look at our teaching and process by polishing one piece of our mosaics at a time. These two weeks reminded me that a bit of self-care is also needed – when I was on the brink of losing my voice. Teaching with lots of comprehensible input and establishing the routines required lots of talking and I had to make some lesson design decisions around the fact that I needed to save my voice. We all must do what we need to do to be effective for our students and ourselves.

I am leaving the post with this message from Wicked the Musical. After reflecting on my first two weeks, I know that I must set the limits for my students (and myself) and then with my students we’ll be “Unlimited. Together we’re unlimited. Together we’ll be the greatest team there’s ever been.” I believe that working on procedures, routines, respect, and limits will allow us all to be unlimited and grow together. Over the next few weeks I will include some classroom jobs, which will enhance our community and team even more.