17 February 2011

To swim

I've been teaching Spanish for 5 years, but it seems I was only in the kiddie pool until last year, when I decided to undertake National Board certification, and teaching Spanish has felt a lot like drowning since.  I've learned to tread water, mind you, but I long to master a good, strong sidestroke to keep my head above water and maybe to get somewhere.

I've tried to stay afloat, reading a textbook, starting a master's program in Spanish instruction, poring over lists of authentic texts and designing new units. Now I can breathe, but I'm moving in circles. 

Then I discovered @SECottrell's blog, then the #langchat PLN on Twitter.  I feel like I'm starting to sputter and bob again.

One of the things the PLN keeps saying is that I'm robbing my students by speaking in English more than 5 minutes a day.  I've heard that "conjugation" is a bad word.  Grammar instruction is almost completely pointless and vocabulary is only useful in context.

I do not disagree with these ideas, but neither do I know how to deal with them.

I started teaching Spanish I conjugation the other day, mostly because I hadn't stopped to ponder another way.  It was dry, it was boring, it was a chore.

I tried it a different way in the next day's Spanish I class, where I used one verb to have a conversation with the class.  It went something like this (with lots of repetition in between)

Yo nado a veces, no mucho.  A veces yo nado en la piscina en la YMCA en Conover.  Nado con mi familia cuando puedo.  Nado con Charlie y Paolo.  Nado más los sábados. Tú nadas, [student]?  Yo nado a veces, nadas tú?
A ver, [student], tú y yo, nadamos este sabado? Vamos al YMCA! Nadamos? Andale, tú y yo, nosotros nadamos en el YMCA este sábado. 
Communicating the ustedes part was complicated, and I'll have to work on that, but I could refer back to the ellos part, citing the ones who did say they swam and asking questions with them grouped, then draw the connection from there as they fill in the conjugation chart.

This presentation method was very time consuming, frustrating, and, yes, sometimes boring.  I think I want to try it some more, build up my comfort with it, because this could work.  I mean, I did toy with the idea of only teaching first and second person, but we're making glogs to present what teenagers in GENERAL do in our area, so the plural was kind of important.  This did lead me to another sort of revelation, too, that I think will help conjugating (even though I now feel guilty every time I say that word): TPR subjects.

I plan on using the gestures we came up with to help communicate when the subjects they're talking about don't match the endings they're using to emphasize things like when I say, "YO nado???"

All in all, I'm catching my breath every once in a while, and I think I have a chance with National Boards this time around.  I'll get to the finish line, even if I don't set any records.


  1. Oh, don't feel guilty, and keep swimming!! You are taking a huge step to even WANT to know what other people think, whether or not you agree with them--I get so frustrated working with teachers who are content to live in their bubble and never want to know what others are doing or what's going on the profession!
    This year I totally redesigned my Spanish 3 class and put it in a spreadsheet, themed the units, cut the tests in favor of performance assessments--finally, in my 3rd year of teaching the class without a textbook. Know why? Because I work part-time and I have a total of 19 students, and I didn't work at all last summer. So I finally had the time to turn it into what I thought it should be without feeling like I was drowning. But I remember when I had 80, 90, 100 students, 6 periods a day, six preps one year, and they were lucky if there was any innovation that year. Keep swimming, keep your mind open and clear, and congratulate yourself on actually taking so many steps others don't ever take--whoa, National Boards? I have thought about it but not sure I'm up to it!


  2. You are right where I want to be! Thanks for the inspiration!