The talented Devon Gunning invited me to write my first guest blog (below) for her Target Language Expert Interview Series.
She interviewed me and a video of that interview is at the end of this blog.
Have you ever had a class that made you feel like a first-year teacher all over again?
The behavior is so challenging that even your disciplinarian agrees that the roster is a combination of characters that should never be scheduled together.
Your colleagues offer you chocolate and coffee gift cards as tokens of sympathy and to make sure you don’t send any students to their classes.
The last time I had such a stomach-clenching low-ability Spanish One class, my newly hired, inexperienced supervisor * interpreted “the 90% Target Language for all levels goal” to mean that during observations, teachers earned ‘needs improvement’ scores for every student’s English utterance!
I earned five times more ‘needs improvements’ in one observation than I had cumulatively in the past twenty-five years in the classroom.
*This supervisor is no longer in the educational field. My current supervisor is a dream – hold on if you are in a similar situation – I would never have predicted how quickly things could change for the better, but they can and do!
HOW TO ACCELERATE TARGET LANGUAGE USE IN YOUR CLASSROOM
Until then, I believed the Comprehensible Input theorists when they said to not force output. However, I needed to accelerate target language output to avoid being put on an improvement plan. These students were talkers! During the post-observation I asked the supervisor how to stop this challenging class from blurting out in English, and was told that was my problem to solve.
At that point, I had a daily PowerPoint presentation with my daily routines, a slide for each transition, and a few slides for each activity. I called it my “daily tech guide” or “DTG” for short. I did a different song of the week and a daily headline from BBC Mundo. I used my remote presentation device so that I could move around the room and stand behind the students who created the most problems.
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TIP: WORK WITH YOUR CLASS PERSONALITY
I knew enough to not try to get these students to be quiet but to be engaged. Rather than telling them “silencio” I would always have the next activity on hand and say “listos” and they would answer ‘listos’ and quickly move to the next activity.
Once I started to analyze when they would act out and blurt out, I realized that transitions were an invitation to go off task.
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TIP: THE POWER OF TRANSITIONS
I also realized that while I taught the usual classroom phrases of commands and requests, I wasn’t teaching them the phrases they need to talk to one another, nor was I teaching them the important self-talk phrases. So I created The 50 Classroom Survival Expressions
TARGET LANGUAGE USE TIP: PUT IT TO MUSIC!
I also observed that anything set to music seemed to drop out of their mouths with very little effort, faster than the CI experts would have you believe. The 50 Classroom Survival Expressions were put to music.
Around this time, my friends in Venezuela were suffering financially. I started to send songs for transitions and class routines to the unemployed music teacher to record, transition videos to the videographer, and multi-cultural clipart requests to the graphic designer. I started to sell their creations on TpT and send them all net proceeds.
GETTING STUDENTS TO USE MORE TARGET LANGUAGE WITH VIDEO
As I started to add musical class routines and transition videos to my DTG, I added more slides with options for students’ responses. The videos are so engaging that after hearing the “Saquen la tarea” video just once, students are able to tell me “la tengo” or “no la tengo” – after two weeks it just flows out of their mouth more easily than the English.
As my students were drenched in Spanish from minute to minute of class time, they grew to handle spontaneous speech activities after a month of instruction. My DTG also grew and sometimes has as many as 100 slides.
I have a template for my daily lessons and label them from “day 1 – greetings” to “day 180 – closure activities” and everything in between.
At the end of each day, I take a few minutes and discard what I didn’t use and change anything that didn’t work. I save it as ‘rd’ for real deal – the version that will be my starting point next year.
This week was my second week of classes. I pulled up my DTG from last year and with fifteen minutes of tweaking the date, adding school messages about Picture Day and new bus routes, and checking handouts, I was ready to teach a class worthy of a walk through or even an observation.
While many teachers are seeking unscripted, no-prep classes to better interact with their students, I have found that by having my scripted class, I am able to be more emotionally available to students.
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TIP: WHY REINVENT THE WHEEL?
I don’t have to remember whether I taught something to period three but not period seven. It is all in the daily tech guide, freeing me up to be more present for my students. I teach in a large building with three other level one teachers and I know that I have taught all that was required so that next year my students are prepared for new teachers. Since using the DTG, no one has ever come back to complain I didn’t teach something.
All of us teachers need to craft our own ‘teaching voices.’ They may be pure TPRS, ci, owl, traditional or our own eclectic blend. But, if you are struggling with classroom management, make a slideshow with an outline of your class and start inserting musical transition videos to help keep your students on task. Watch my template video for inspiration.
By creating a classroom management tool for a very difficult class, I inadvertently created a system for keeping any level one class in the target language. While I still use English to discuss matters of the heart and to clarify something new, the students are accustomed to most of the class being conducted in the target language.
Click here for the daily tech guide template – it will help you to start to create your own daily tech guide.”