Skyping with Spain!

It’s been a very busy fall! I can’t believe that I haven’t had a chance to post about my trip to San Sebastián, Spain. Missing an entire week of school in September was a challenge, but it was SO worth it! I hand-wrote a blog entry on the plane ride home but never got around to typing it! So, if you’d like to know more about Nipmuc’s exploratory trip to Donostia in the hopes of creating a student exchange program with the Sta. Teresa school there, please check out AP Moran’s post on Mr. Clements’s blog or Superintendent Maruszczak’s blog! I’m going to write a little bit about how the relationships that I’ve formed there are impacting what’s going on in my classroom right now!

Although it took a little while to figure out how WHEN to Skype due to the 6 hour time difference, my new friend Begoña, the head of the English department at Sta. Teresa, and I were able to connect in real time in class twice last week. The first try was short due to come technical difficulties, but the second time we worked around those and also came up with a better strategy for running our conversation. Instead of having the entire class on camera, we set up pairs that were prepared to speak on a certain topic in either Spanish or English. Since we both want to practice L2, we are going to have to thoughtfully decide which language to speak and when. Of course, the students didn’t necessarily follow our instructions in the excitement of the moment and there was more English spoken than Spanish this time. But that did not impact my students’ enthusiasm – staying into break to keep talking with their peers in Spain! I experimented with @Snagit to record both sides of our Skype conversation and I’m hoping that in the future, I’ll be able to review the recordings with entire class.

Later on in the day, one of the students who traveled to Spain with us for the exploratory trip showed up in my room to let me know how awesome it was to see a “familiar” face on the other side of the computer when she saw the photo that I had tweeted of the Skype call. I’m not exactly sure how things are going to go from here, but I know they are just going to get more and more exciting and REAL! I’ve started a Flipgrid in order to help us connect and not have to worry about the time difference.  In addition to personal introductions, I’ve asked students in Spain to share their views on topics like bullfighting, Columbus Day/Día de la Hispanidad/Día de la Raza and the current situation in Cataluña. How amazing it is for my students to be able to hear from their peers in the target language on the topics that we have been discussing in class! Actually, we have another teacher at school whose daughter is currently teaching in Córdoba and after our discussion in class today about the Arabic influence in Spanish culture, I’m hoping to convince her to send me some Flipgrid videos of her students showing us examples of Arabic architecture, art and culture that abound in that city. And of course, in return, our students will be able to answer questions about the English language and life here in the USA.

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Our next step forward in our planning for our in-person exchange next year is an informational meeting for parents and students.  We hope for a good turnout to match the enthusiasm we have seen so far in San Sebastián. In the meantime, I hope to continue to improve both the quality and quantity of our digital “exchanges” and help my students to find an authentic use for their language skills!



El estudiante secreto…

IMG_0579I spent some time this summer thinking about ways to motivate my students to speak in the target language in class. Specifically, I’m interested in helping to motivate my Spanish Immersion students to stay in Spanish when they are speaking to one another. In general, they are happy to participate in class discussions and address me directly in Spanish, but when they are given time to work in groups or individually, their conversation tends to be in English. My efforts over the past few years to encourage them to talk to each other in Spanish have turned into nagging and students get tired of it pretty fast.

While on Pinterest, I found a post about a “mystery student” classroom management method and decided to give it a try. We are only a week or so into using this strategy, but students have really seemed engaged by it and the amount of Spanish I’ve heard has gone up drastically.  Here’s the details: I tell students that we are going to pick an “estudiante secreto” and then determine a length of time (or set of activities) we will use the mystery student for. I pick a student’s name randomly and place it in an envelope without sharing the name with the class. If the student whose name I picked stays in the target language during the determined length of time, that student earns a prize (so far it was a couple points on the first vocabulary quiz of the year). The catch is that there’s also a happy and sad face on the board. As we work, if I hear other students speaking in English, I put a hash mark under the sad face. If I hear good use of Spanish, I put a hash mark under the happy face. If there are more marks under the happy face than the sad face by the end of the set time period, I reveal the secret student. If not, then we simply skip it.

So far, every “estudiante secreto” has been revealed and won a prize! Last block today, the “game” lasted almost the entire hour class! And… during the last 5 minutes after I had revealed the name of the “secret student”, and students were having their own conversations, they continued IN SPANISH! Hooray!

Under construction…

My son, Noah, and I have spent a lot of time this summer watching the construction vehicles hard at work across the street building a new house. For him, there’s nothing better than coming home to find the excavator moving dirt into a dump truck. Its more fun than watching the garbage truck pick up the trash!  Just look at the wonder and excitement that shows on his face in the picture below.

I can’t say I feel the same way. I get bored pretty fast watching piles of dirt move from place to place. But I can stare at my son’s handsome face for hours, watching his expressions and listening to him as he tries out new words and sounds. So, I happily sit next to him as he takes it all in. We are both content, but motiIMG_8892vated for completely different reasons.

Motivation was the topic of Nipmuc’s keynote speaker, Richard Lavoie, during our kickoff professional development day today and his message was one that I hope to keep in mind as I get to meet my students tomorrow. Engaging my students and motivating them to learn the subjects that I teach requires that I get to know them as individuals. Convincing them that its worth their while to complete the tasks I put in front of them means figuring out how they will put those skills to work for them in real life. This week, I’m going to spend some time learning the names, faces, likes, dislikes, experiences, hopes, fears and dreams of my students.  My hope is that this will translate into a more fruitful (and fun!) academic year!

Now its time to get some sleep! See you all in the A.M.!

Sub plans!

I was out 2 days last week – one for a personal day  and the other because my son was sick for the first time. It is a challenge to create sub plans that will keep students on task and engaged, but I was very pleased with the work that my students in Hispanic Civilization did on Friday! Earlier that week, a student handed me a copy of the Wall Street Journal as she entered class and on it was a picture of Pope Francis. This took us a bit off topic for the day but I was happy to have a discussion with the class about the role of Catholicism in Latin American culture. It turned into a 30 minute review of some important historical dates and people and I wasn’t really sure if any of the information stuck!

So… the class’s assignment while I was out was to make a short video including each member of the class in which they explained the importance of the people, places and events we had discussed! I was happy to see that they remembered a lot and created a pretty nice video. Our 1:1 program makes this type of assignment possible. Check it out!

The language we speak can impact the way we act!

The first week of school has come and gone – along with our long Labor Day weekend – and it was a good start to the year! I think that my new 2nd floor classroom is a bit cooler than the 3rd floor was but I’m still hoping that the temperatures drop soon! Students in Spanish 1  participated in an activity on the first day in which they were asked to find something in a photograph of a person from another culture that reminded them of themselves. Student did a great job and we able to identify the main purposes of the task: getting to know one another, getting used to speaking in front of others and, most importantly, finding something familiar in the “foreign.” We now use the term “world” instead of “foreign” language to describe our department, but beginner language students will be exposed to words, ideas, and traditions that are different from those they know.

I mentioned in class that sometimes the words that a language uses have an impact on the way speakers of that language view a topic or think about an idea. Here’s a link to an article by Jessica Gross titled “How languages affect the way we think”  that contains great examples of how the words we use to describe an idea can actually impact our behavior. Check it out!

Class syllabi and Piktochart

I have experimented a bit with infographics in the past and this year, after seeing some great examples on, I decided to give my class syllabi an update! I’m hoping to have students create their own infographics this year as well. Piktochart was the site I used to make these, but I have also found an app/site called “Canva” that looks very promising and a bit more streamlined.

Here they are! Spanish 1 syllabus Hispanic Civ syllabus 15-16 21st century skills syllabus


noah for wordpress

Hope everyone had an awesome verano! I enjoyed spending time with my son (he’s almost 9 months old now) and visiting with family. But now it is time to get back to class! I’m excited to meet all of my new students and reconnect with those I already know! I moved to a new classroom on the last day of school so my new address is Rm. 237 (2nd floor, blue wing) and I’ll be using this blog to communicate with students and parents about what is going on in my classroom. I’m teaching Spanish 1, Hispanic Civilization, Literature and Culture and 21st Century Skills this year.  It is going to be great year! ¡Va a ser un año excelente!