Toni commented recently but somehow it didn’t get on so I’m just putting this here as a blog:
4th quarter began at my school a couple of weeks ago. With each new quarter, I get a new batch of 7th graders and a new batch of 8th graders in my 2 Exploratory Spanish classes (the rest of the day I teach Spanish I and II.) So, I decided that with these new groups of students, 4th quarter would be the perfect opportunity for me to focus on using more Spanish in the classroom and insisting on more of it from my students. The results, by my own estimation, have been very impressive. I haven’t been tallying my English usage, but I think I can honestly say that I am in the 90%+ range. Before now, what I was missing was the “management” piece. I “saved” the TL for TPR and TPRS, opting to use English for things like basic instructions. I guess I felt it was more expedient to give directions in English, but now I am seeing just how wrong I was. Sadly enough, I am at 90%+ TL with my 7th and 8th graders, but my Spanish I and II classes are way behind that. I feel like my 7th and 8th graders are at a much greater advantage than my Spanish I and II students because they are hearing so much more Spanish from me – and they KNOW they have to listen and watch when I point to words on the board because I’m not going to say it later in English.
I want my students to be able to respond to basic stuff like…
take out a pen/pencil/sheet of paper…
draw a line down the middle of the page
look at the board/the screen/me/a student
point to the word with your finger
What do you think?
So, I TPR those verbs and nouns and those exact phrases. I used to think this kind of TPR was boring – touch the folder; open the folder; take out a sheet of paper; write on the paper… How is THAT connecting with my students? I thought it was way more fun to touch your head and your belly button, jump, run… The TPR phrases listed above ARE boring, BUT when the TL is brand new to students, they think pencils and folders are interesting because they’re so excited to understand the language. Belly buttons or pencils – they’re all fun when you’ve never heard of them before (I love newbies!). Also, students seem more willing to stick with boring TPR in the beginning; it’s okay be a little drab as they settle into my expectations of them – we can add the fun stuff after laying a foundation. Finally, I mix up those phrases with fun stuff, too: look at the pencil romantically, draw an elephant (and then go on and on about what a fabulous artist I am)…
And, just to drive home that these terms do not exist only for giving directions and telling students what to do, I have been TPRSing them, too. Yesterday, I asked my students what they look at/watch. The most popular response: television – BORING. I PQA’d how boring my students are – :o), then one student said he looks at EYES. Now THAT was interesting, so we told a story about how this boy looks not into the eyes of his most recent love interest, but at his mom who has only one eye – it’s big and brown and the boy thinks “ew” and runs away. Before this quarter, I was using Ben’s idea of Circling with Balls/Props to personalize the classroom. That was working really well – I was using a ton of personalized, comprehensible input – but it was taking me too far from the foundation of terms that I need my students to know. My students knew about hunting turkeys – because that interested them – but they couldn’t take out a sheet of paper. (Maybe next, we’ll tell a story about taking out a special rifle – then a bazooka, then a slingshot – to hunt turkeys.) In the end, it’s the same idea: it’s still personalized, comprehensible input. Now, I am just making a more concerted effort to lay a TL foundation for my students.
The final key to this has been using Ben’s idea of WRITING STORY IDEAS ON PAPER rather than the previous 2-word max (spoken) to suggest cute answers. When students write their ideas, rather than speak them, there is so much more respect for the TL. I don’t have lots of blurting students, talking over each other, mad that I didn’t use their ideas. They don’t hear any inappropriate responses – they only hear the ones that I think are good enough to use for reps and then the best answer that wins. They know when they are supposed to respond out loud to my questions in unison, and they know when to write their cute ideas. That delineation sends the message that they shouldn’t be blurting things out or having side conversations at any other time during class either.
The results? You should see the focus in my classroom! My students are mentally exhausted at the end of the hour from hearing (and understanding!) so much Spanish. Heck, I’m exhausted, too – I’m working REALLY hard to make sure they understand every word! My classroom management is 100% better because students know that I actually mean it when I say “Speak only Spanish.” They know I mean it because I am leading by example; I’M speaking only Spanish, and not using English to give directions or give quickie translations. I feel like I’m really experiencing that “TL magic” that so many expert TPRSers have described before. :o)



1 thought on “Toni”

  1. Toni–it’s great to hear of someone in my same situation of teaching 4 quarters of middle-school exploratory Spanish. Uncanny, but I decided the exact same thing with my 4th quarter students when they came back from spring break this week–that I would speak 90% Spanish. I have a timer and a student in each of my 3 classes times my English usage and reports at the end of class. I aim for under 5 minutes and reached that easily the first couple days back from break.
    I blew it the past two days, thinking I’d let the class do some small-group, easy story translations. Disaster–they ended up having one person write while the others talked about sports, etc. It had worked OK giving small groups 3 minutes to come up with story ideas but 10 minutes just opened wide that English door. Gotta slam it shut again tomorrow and slow back down.
    Thanks for the confirmation that squelching all those explanations in English is the right thing to do. I needed to hear that today. I visited a traditional high school Spanish classroom over my break and was shocked to see how little Spanish input there was. And that was the way I had planned to teach this year–I didn’t know any better–until I ended up in a TPRS-only school district in Indiana. Blessing in disguise.

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