Posted in Assessment, Reflections on Teaching, Target Language

6 Good Decisions From This Year

It’s so easy to write about something that went poorly that we are eager to fix and now know how to do better next time. I think it makes us feel better because we can almost explain it away and move on, knowing it will not be nearly as bad next time.

But a lot of my reflection (’tis the season!) is not only what I want to change but what went well so that I can keep the “good” and fix the “bad”/”ugly”. Here are 6 things I have NO regrets about:

#1: Started a blog.
blogI started a blog to have a place to collect my own thoughts and reflections. A lot of my posts were written just for me, just as a place to decompress and talk myself through things. I am a “percolator”. I have to mull over something for awhile before making full sense of it and deciding how I wish to continue forward. My blog helped me in many respects to make sense of what I value as a world language educator and to digest all of the thoughts we have running around in our heads all the time. It’s kinda like my own little Fortress of Solitude, and, hey, if any of my ramblings also benefit someone else, well that’s just icing on the cake.

#2: Let them color.
colored pencilsStudents are full of anxiety these days. I went from 0 students my first year to 7 students this year who have documented anxiety disorders. The pressures to get into college or to get perfect grades is higher than ever. Peer pressure hasn’t abated since we were in school, and now with students’ lives being shared digitally with everyone in the world, our students have a lot of pressures built on top of normal teen pressures. But we tend to forget that they are still just KIDS. After quizzes or tests, I offered a new option this year: coloring. I printed off a few different coloring sheets and gave the students the option to color while we waited for our classmates to finish. Some chose to work on other homework instead. Others laid their heads down. But a surprising number chose to color and asked if they could hang it up around the room. And let me tell you: when I said “Sí” to that simple request, their faces LIT UP. It told them that I value them as a person and see them as a contributor. They were so proud to hang it up! Coloring has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and it helped build relationships. Did it help with language proficiency? Heck no. But I don’t just teach Spanish — I teach students.

#3: Used 90% Target Language in class. (started in March; see post here)
This is a no-brainer for so many teachers, but I truly wasn’t sold on it until this year. Again, I’m a percolator… I needed time to process it. I was already doing comprehensible input to introduce vocabulary, but doing *everything* in the target language? No way! How will we get anything done? How will they be able to take the department’s common final if they don’t understand the exact English translation? Yeah, yeah, I know. I couldn’t have been more wrong… My students are now much more willing to talk and make mistakes, and they no longer panic when everything is in Spanish. It’s been a process for me this year, but over the summer I am working on getting ready for 90% target language use from Day 1 of Spanish 1 next year. Oh yeah!

#4: Agreeing to choreograph the school musical.
The BoyfriendAlthough there were days where adding one more thing made everything just plain crazy and nerves increased as opening night approached, I loved every minute of doing it. I got to create fun routines, teach them to students, and watch them get better and better every time we ran it. IMAG0439Plus I got to know several students I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I got to see some of my own students doing something they absolutely loved. Talk about awesome.

You can check out a video of one of my favorite routines here.

Oh, and they started the Ms. Upton Fan Club — So cute!
(we meet during lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays)

#5: Allowed students to re-do assessments
As I reflect and mull things over some more over the next couple weeks, I will likely write an entire post dedicated to this topic alone. But I blatantly stole this idea from Nicole Nadiz after attending her IPA strand at CLTA’s Summer Seminar (check out her blog here), and it has been a game changer. It was something I had thought about for a long time, but I allowed general teacher-shaming to keep me from it. Yep, we all have at least one teacher at our school like this, and you can hear them now with that tone of indignation… “What do you mean they can re-do ANY assessment?!” Yes, I let them re-do any assessment (except the final), and it was one of the best things I did. The way I organize it needs a few tweaks still, but it inherently shifted the value and purpose of an assessment from speed/points to mastering a topic. But more on that later…

#6: Focused more on memorized chunks
This year, whenever I introduced vocabulary or questions, I made a pointed effort to always introduce it as a phrase and to always use that same phrase as much as possible during practice. I also focused a lot on demonstrating patterns. For example, if the question uses “tienes” we always use “tengo” in our answer. And I don’t think I fully saw the outcome until now, as we’re reviewing for finals. Today we prepped for the department speaking final. The kids have to answer 3 questions from the list, and as they were working at their own pace today, by golly, the kids KNOW the patterns and phrases. They always put “a” after a form of ir. We spent hardly any time on why, but they always do because I/we always did. They know that “eres” in the question means “soy” in the answer. Even most of my lowest students know these patterns, and it’s just incredible. I don’t think I ever fully realized how much they can do with these patterns until I watched them work through these questions that we’ve never practiced before. Sure, they are questions from the units we had this year, and we have likely worked with similar questions. But I didn’t purposely include these questions in any of my assessments or teaching, and holy crap, they can answer them. And the most amazing part is that it seems to come fairly effortlessly for them because these chunks are rooted deep down in their memory, without explanation or reason. My takeaway from this personal “aha” moment? The reason DOESN’T ACTUALLY matter. Huh, imagine that…

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