Monday, December 13, 2010

Using Skype to Connect Gifted & Talented Learners

Hello Everyone, it’s been a while. In fact, I haven't blogged since I officially switched from Spanish to Gifted. One of the major changes from my switch is the opportunities I have to incorporate technology. Yes, in Spanish, I used Skype to connect my students to schools in Argentina and Spain, but I was doing all of the talking because I had to translate, which resulted in my students not being able to be as engaged as I wanted them to be. My ideal experience is for my students to steer the conversation and be the ones in charge of the discussion. And, I am thrilled to say that that is exactly what has happened so far with my gifted learners.

Sharing our Work

Just last week I organized a series of Skype sessions with other elementary gifted/talented teachers across the nation. My goal was to have both classes showcase projects that they have worked on this semester. I had my students present one of their projects and in turn they served as a audience for our partner class. I enjoyed watching my students describe their product and was impressed when they started sharing the process of developing these products. I noticed a sense of pride and accomplishment in their voices. It was truly an amazing experience. The best part though was when we had our partner class ask questions and vote on their favorite project. My students really enjoyed receiving this feedback.

Informal Sessions

I also scheduled several informal sessions to introduce both classes. These kinds of sessions were arranged for partner classes that could not Skype for over an hour. For these sessions I also came up with the idea to use a Google map to show both classes where we were. On the Google map, I tagged both schools and used the satellite feature to “zoom” into our schools. Both classes really enjoyed this and thought the satellite view was cool. My plan is to add more partner schools to this map and eventually embed other features such as video greetings or pictures for our partner schools.

The remainder of these informal sessions was dedicated to a Q & A session. Both classes asked questions about their daily life (family, pets), interests, likes (favorite food, music, television shows, toys), and school (special events, recess, classes). I enjoyed watching this dialogue and I know my students were very interested in learning more about our partner classes. And of course, my students were thrilled at the sight of snow!

Overall, my students were excited about connecting with other classes in different parts of the nation. I can tell that these chats have made an impression on them when they ask, “Are we going to Skype today?” Unfortunately, we have to postpone any sessions until January due to end of the semester testing and the holiday break. My students and I are equally looking forward to sharing more projects and good news with our partner schools. This has been as much a learning experience for me as it has been for them. And as our break approaches, I have so many ideas floating in my head. My next step is to find more partner schools as well as develop collaboration projects. If you teach gifted/talented classes in the elementary setting, I welcome you to join us in this journey.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Well, everyone the time has come. A few weeks ago, my principal offered me an opportunity I just couldn’t refuse. I am officially a gifted teacher at my school. I have been wanting this for so long that it’s almost unreal. Ever since I was working on my Master’s degree under Dr. Frances Karnes, I knew an enrichment setting was where I belonged.

The first four courses I will teach are: All Things Money, Entrepreneurship, Folktales around the World, and Leadership. These enrichment courses are designed to cultivate self-efficacy and global connections. My goal is to create the kinds of learning experiences that expose my students to an array of ideas, themes, and concepts, as well as develop a rudimentary expertise in the subject area. Whether we are exploring world cultures through folk tales and Skype sessions with classrooms around the globe or writing marketing plans for our Entrepreneurship unit, the objective is to integrate literacy and technology into each lesson.

I have been blessed and have enjoyed teaching Spanish these past few years. I will miss my students, especially the little ones in Kindergarten to 1st grade. It almost broke my heart to see them in the hallway when they asked where I was today. As of now, the reality hasn’t set in for them or for me. Though it is sad to leave Spanish, I am ready to move on to the next chapter in my career. I invite you on this journey with me to follow what I am doing in the gifted classroom.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Classroom Management in the Elementary Spanish Classroom

This blog post will provide a glimpse into my management plan for the Elementary Spanish classroom. I outline routines, procedures, structure of my lessons, and organization of work spaces. Because students participate in a combination of partner, small group, and whole group collaboration, it is crucial that I set up an environment that is comfortable and effective for larger class sizes. I welcome your comments and hope that we can start a dialogue about routines and structures that have worked in your foreign language classroom.

Classroom Routines

I have set up a routine in my classroom so that students know when and how we complete tasks and activities. The first routine consists of entering the classroom. First, students must enter quietly and in a straight line. Once they are in the classroom, they must immediately find their assigned seats. Students in grades third through sixth must stand behind their chair and wait quietly until their teacher greets them. Students in grades kindergarten to second grade sit in their seats quietly until their teacher greets them. Usually, the greeting reads, “Buenos días/tardes clase” (good morning/afternoon class). Students then respond, “Buenos días/tardes Señora Deyamport” (good morning/afternoon, Mrs. Deyamport). At that point, the teacher tells students to sit down in the target language. Next, the objectives for the period are given. The teacher may also remind students of her expectations for behavior and draw the class’s attention to the behavior/star chart. Sometimes the teacher may count the stars with the class in Spanish. This serves as a reminder of what students need to do to earn their star for the day.

For the most part, instruction is given in a large group. Most independent practice is done in small groups. When I want to present a new topic or decide to review concepts, I use the interactive whiteboard. During this time, all students’ attention should be directed to the activity. For independent practice, I usually assign small groups to a specific center. At this center, students are to complete interactive tasks related to the content. Some sample activities include playing a concentration game to review vocabulary, listening to an audio book in the target language, playing online games that reinforce vocabulary, or labeling manipulatives with their appropriate Spanish name.

I also have a certain routine every time I need to get the attention of the class. I use this signal when students are working on different tasks at the same time. First, I stand in the front of the class and hold my hand up. Next, I start counting to five in Spanish and hold up each finger as I count out loud. Once students see me doing this, they must stop talking and look at the teacher. I practice this signal with students at the beginning of the year and throughout the year. The first group or table to follow directions usually gets fake cash. This technique is one recommended by Harry Wong (1997) because it redirects students’ focus and attention in a calm and structured manner.

Classroom Organization

The classroom is organized to create a kinesthetically supportive environment (McIntosh & Peck, 2005). McIntosh and Peck (2005) suggest that teachers create work spaces that are clutter free and allow for comfortable movement. I have set up four to five work areas in my room to promote this notion. First, my computers are located in the back of the class and face the back of the class in order to diffuse any distractions. Near those computers, I have set up a round table with accompanying chairs. At that round table I keep my radio and headphones or other small manipulatives needed for particular tasks. Next, the center of the classroom houses six long tables which I have arranged into a U-shape. I have organized my tables this way to promote a collaborative environment and to save space. Lastly, my interactive whiteboard is at the front of the class and visible from all parts of the room.

Distribution of Materials

Classroom helpers assist in distributing and collecting materials. Every month three students from each homeroom class are selected to perform these tasks. Helpers also assist in cleaning up the room by straightening chairs and collecting folders and placing them in the appropriate cubby before the class is dismissed. I explain to students that my choice is based on exemplary behavior and whether or not that student has shown responsibility. I also like to post the names of these students on my helper bulletin board as recognition. Once the month is up, I also like to reward these students with a small prize. To the students, being a helper is something they strive for. Involving students in helping manage the class helps create a sense of ownership and community (Chapman & King, 2008).

Chapman, C. & King, R. (2008). Differentiated instructional management: Work smarter, not harder. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

McIntosh, E., & Peck, M. (2005). Multisensory strategies: Lessons and classroom management techniques to reach and teach all learners. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Wong, H. (1997). First days of school. Mountain View, CA: Harry Wong Publications.

Discipline in the Elementary Spanish Classroom

It is important to set up a structure as well as procedures for any classroom (Chapman & King, 2008; Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004; McIntosh & Peck, 2005; Wong, 1997). It is also essential that procedures and rules are communicated and even modeled for the students so that they know what to expect. As a Spanish teacher, structure is important because of the limited time that we have in class. I do not have the flexibility like most homeroom teachers and therefore, having a set of rules, procedures, and routines are important in this setting. The next blog posts will outline my approach to dealing with discipline along with an outline of my classroom management plan for an elementary Spanish classroom. I’m offering my plans to paint a picture of my classroom in hopes of guiding new teachers in the field.

Positive Reinforcement

In order to promote a constructive learning environment, positive reinforcement is used to highlight desired behavior (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004). Instead of drawing attention to negative behaviors, I reward and constantly praise students for exhibiting exemplary behaviors and actions. Many times I remind students of the school motto which reads, “I have my own mind. I have my own business. I make a difference to me.” This motto is a way for me to help redirect focus among students but also to remind them that they are accountable for their own actions.

I also have a system that rewards students as a group and individually. Whenever a class shows a positive attitude and makes an effort during assignments and activities, I issue them a star for that class period. This star is placed on a chart that lists all homeroom classes. Students must earn a designated number of stars for that term or nine weeks to earn a class party. During this party, students may bring snacks or treats for themselves or for the whole class. I usually bring an animated film in Spanish for them to watch while they eat their treats. Other parties can also have a theme to celebrate holidays, such as Mexican Independence, El Dia de los Muertos, etc. During these events, I offer a list of snacks or treats that relate to the theme of the party, such as flan or pan de muertos.

If the class as a whole does not receive this star, I issue fake cash to individual students who demonstrated commendable behavior. This fake cash can be used in the reward system in that student’s homeroom. Most of the time, the homeroom teachers allow students to use this cash to redeem a prize from their class treasure box. Sometimes, the cash may be used to earn points to participate in school-wide events such as The Grand Theater, where students may watch a movie in the auditorium, or a class field trip.

Another way I acknowledge students’ positive attitude and efforts is to elect a Student of the Term. For each term, I pick one student from each homeroom and allow them to get a prize from my treasure box. This is the highest honor because only four students in each homeroom are selected for the whole year. Also, I recognize these students by printing their names in the newsletter that I send home each nine weeks.

Classroom Rules

The classroom rules are based on the school rules. These rules include, a) be respectful, b) be responsible, c) be safe, and d) be engaged. At the beginning of each school year I outline these rules and explain what each one means and might look like. It is important that these rules are discussed and that students understand the expectations for behavior (Chapman & King, 2008; Wong, 1997). I do this by designing activities such as skits, where students determine the appropriate action or behavior for a scenario. For example, one skit showed the principal walking into the classroom while students were working at centers. I asked students what would be the appropriate thing to do and what rules reflected their actions. Modeling how to problem solve situations that may arise not only shows concrete examples of the rules but also develops accountability and personal responsibility (Chapman & King, 2008; McIntosh & Peck, 2005). Curtain and Dahlberg (2004) also recommend that there be consistency between rules in the foreign language class, the homeroom class, and school policies. Therefore, instead of creating my own rules, I have adopted the school-wide rules.

Consequences for Breaking the Rules

Several steps are taken when students break classroom rules. First, when I notice a student start to lose focus I usually give them a non-verbal warning. This could consist of a look or a tap on the shoulder to indicate that they are not doing what they are supposed to. Starting with nonverbal cues is a recommended strategy because many times the cause of the disruption is to draw attention to the student (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004). Next, if the student continues with his/her action, I give them a verbal warning. This means that I call his/her name and ask him/her to complete a task or question in order to redirect focus. In this step is important not to draw attention to the behavior, but rather to redirect the student (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004). Thirdly, if the student does not change their behavior, they are moved to a different part of the room to avoid further distractions. At this point, the student will complete assignments in his/her folder and not participate in the rest of the activities planned for that class period (i.e. games, centers, etc.). The next step is then to contact a parent or guardian. If the student’s behavior is not corrected by the end of that class period or if this behavior continues to another class period, I will complete an office referral for that student. This usually means that the student is removed from my classroom. Starting with nonverbal cues is a recommended strategy because many times the cause of the disruption is to draw attention to the student (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004).

Chapman, C. & King, R. (2008). Differentiated instructional management: Work
smarter, not harder. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Curtain, H.,& Dahlberg, C.A. (2004). Languages and children- making the match: New languages for young learners. Boston, MA: Pearson.

McIntosh, E., & Peck, M. (2005). Multisensory strategies: Lessons and classroom management techniques to reach and teach all learners. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Wong, H. (1997). First days of school. Mountain View, CA: Harry Wong Publications.

Textbooks for the Elementary Spanish Classroom: Review #3

Hazan, M., & Travis, J. (1998). Pablo y sus amigos. St. Louis, MO: Symtalk Inc.

Target Audience and Theoretical Framework
The Symtalk textbook series teaches foreign languages through the use of visuals and games. The philosophy behind the program is based on cognitive psychology, where long term memory and retrieval are encouraged through hands-on lessons and visual aids. In addition, the program utilizes immersion approaches and exploratory learning. The Junior series is specifically geared towards grades kindergarten to eighth grade.

Organization of Topics
The text is divided into fifteen lessons, where each lesson reflects a thematic unit. The first page of each lesson includes an illustration of the vocabulary terms for the lesson. The second page introduces the verb for that lesson, which also reflects a graphic illustration. For example, for the verb “tener” there is a picture of a closed fist to show ownership of something.

It is important to note that the chosen verb for each lesson relates to the vocabulary. For example, in the food lesson, the verb “quiero” is used to express want of a certain food item. The remaining pages in each lesson show a series of pictures that are intended to illustrate sentences using the vocabulary and verb introduced. The majority of these sentences present a subject, verb, object order. Finally, these sentences are meant to be read aloud by students.

As the units progress so do the vocabulary and skills. While each unit may have its specific set of terms general terms associated with previous units, such as colors and numbers, are introduced periodically. These old terms are then used to apply to the new vocabulary learned. For example, in the school supply lesson, numbers are reinforced by counting school objects.

Use of Visuals and Grammar Instruction
The program relies on visuals to create associations with vocabulary and grammar. Pictures are used to represent nouns and verbs throughout the introductory lessons. After these are reinforced, the lessons start to introduce ways to blend these visual representations. The goal is for students to identify vocabulary and ultimately construct sentences in the target language. The use of magnetic strips and pictures are needed in order to teach the vocabulary and grammar concepts presented in the textbook. While grammar is not explicitly taught, examples of form are present in the activities and games included with the textbook series.

Activities and Exercises
Each lesson encourages recitation of the vocabulary presented. Also, the sentences at the end of each lesson can be seen as a grammar lesson in disguise. Although grammar isn’t explicitly taught, its structure is evident in last pages of each lesson, where students construct sentences with the pictorial representations. Furthermore, the textbook series includes manipulatives, such as board games, to reinforce vocabulary acquisition. These games are hands-on and require students to apply the concepts learned. One popular game in this series is bingo. With the basic level board, students are able to identify colors, numbers, and names of objects. On each board, one would see several school or home objects, in different numbers, and in different colors. For example, one square might contain five red pencils, and another may have two black chairs. In playing bingo, the teacher has the option to focus on the vocabulary separately, by doing colors or numbers only, or combining forms, by calling out a specific number or color of a certain object.

Final Thoughts
Overall, the text is visually stimulating, which is beneficial for younger learners. Also, the supplementary materials, such as its board games, encourage hands on practice. This series takes a constructivist, top down approach where grammar is learned through chunks and phrases. While grammar is not explicitly introduced, students are able to see grammar in context when they construct sentences at the end of each lesson or chapter.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Textbooks for the Elementary Spanish Classroom: Review #2

Gerngross, G., Santamaria, S.P., & Puchta, H. (2005). Vale: 1. Saint Paul, MN: EMC Publishing.

Target Audience and Theoretical Framework
The Vale textbook series aims at teaching Spanish as a second or foreign language to elementary-aged school children who have not been previously exposed to the language. The series is divided into three levels and is based on theories of cognitive psychology and multiple intelligences. As a result, the series utilizes hands-on and natural approaches to learning Spanish. This review will specifically look at the Level One textbooks.

Organization of Topics
The text is organized into thematic units. While the beginning units start with general topics, such as colors and numbers, they later progress to more specific topics, such as school and clothing vocabulary. Also, the exercises in the beginning units are simplified since students are beginning to learn the language. Later units incorporate skills and vocabulary learned in previous units. For example, in the fifth unit, students are asked to decipher the name of the days of the week according to a code of colors and letters. This exercise uses higher order thinking skills along with reviewing the colors to identify the days of the week.

Use of Visuals
The main focus of the Level One text is vocabulary recognition. This textbook seems suitable for young children due to its use of visuals. Colorful pictures, animations, and even real-life representations of Spanish-speaking children found throughout the text are stimulating and effective in maintaining students’ attention and interests.

Activities and Exercises
Activities and exercises in this text use a communicative approach to teaching language. Many of the exercises revolve around recognition of vocabulary words presented in each unit. Vocabulary exercises at the introductory level include matching, fill in the blank, true and false statements, and simple reading comprehension questions. However, the activities used to practice that vocabulary involve collaboration and communication. For example, when learning the numbers, students are first asked to write and recite their phone numbers. As an activity, the students are required to ask at least five classmates their phone numbers. In the activity section, pictures of students performing the task along with dialogues for that task are presented. This gives students a visual representation of the task they are to accomplish.

Introduction of Grammar
Since the level of this textbook is geared towards beginning learners of Spanish, the grammar presented throughout the text is limited. Much of the grammar is infused through simple phrases used in the target language. Also, since this textbook reflects a naturalistic approach, it does not present grammar in a structured format. Instead, grammar is presented through various mediums such as stories, rhymes, and chants. However, the text does not bring attention to these grammar features explicitly but rather holistically. This approach seems age appropriate, particularly since this level does not focus on grammar.

Final Thoughts
Overall, this textbook seems age appropriate for young students. Its visual appeal and simplified approach make it easy to follow. Also, the activities are collaborative which makes learning less intimidating for children. Finally, the organization allows for students to build on previously learned words and skills.

After reviewing the text, I think it can also be a useful supplemental resource. Each level comes with audio samples of the chants and other listening exercises that accompany several tasks within the text. I find this component of the series suitable for learning center time, where students can perform listening tasks (singing chants, pointing to pictures as prompted) from the textbook.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Textbooks for the Elementary Spanish Classroom: Review #1

These next few blog posts will be dedicated to my review of textbooks designed for the elementary Spanish classroom. Although we have not adopted a textbook for our particular program, I feel that textbooks can be a useful resource for the elementary Spanish classroom. For this reason, I have selected a few of my favorites and present their organization, description of the activities and exercises, and explanation of how grammar is incorporated at the elementary levels. I hope that you find these reviews useful and welcome your remarks, especially if you are using these texts in your own classroom or program.

Belisle-Chatterjee, A., Tibensky, L. W., & Martínez-Cruz, A. (2005).
¡Hola!: Viva el Español! Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Target Audience
The ¡Viva el Español! Series is geared towards students in the intermediate to upper elementary grades (4th-6th). The series includes several levels which include, Hola for introductory levels and ¿Qué tal? for intermediate levels. The Hola textbook serves as introduction or basic review of vocabulary and grammar forms in the Spanish language.

Organization of Text
This text is organized by thematic units. Each unit introduces vocabulary, grammatical structures, and cultural information that are pertinent to that particular unit. For example, in the animal unit, vocabulary for specific animals is introduced. Also, this unit reviews colors and introduces how to describe the color, size, and shape of an animal. In addition, a cultural section on South American animals in included in the unit. This same structure is seen throughout each unit. As the units progress, so do the skills and vocabulary. In other words, each unit usually incorporates general vocabulary or grammar, such as colors, numbers, and gender of nouns, from previous units. This structure and format is age appropriate for elementary students because of its repetition of grammar concepts and general vocabulary. Also, the text is able to scaffold and build on previously learned skills and vocabulary.

Activities and Exercises
Each unit begins with exercises where students practice identifying vocabulary and the grammar skill or form. Exercises at the beginning of each unit involve tasks where students practice asking and answering questions in the target language. For example, in identifying vocabulary for school supplies, student pairs must ask each other what each object is and respond with the correct term. These activities are collaborative and communicative in nature. This format is appropriate for intermediate elementary students because they get to practice focus on form through communicative and meaningful activities.

After each vocabulary or grammar section, the text includes an activity called “Entre Amigos.” This section involves collaborative work where students must complete a communicative task. The activity also requires students to include phrases that utilize the vocabulary presented in an authentic manner. For example, in the classroom unit, the students must complete a mini-scavenger hunt in their classroom. The task requires them to write down several colors and write the name of the classroom object that corresponds to each color. However, the students must do this in pairs, walk around the room, and ask their partner what color each object is before they can write it down. The textbook presents a clear example of a sample dialogue that can take place between students.

At the end of each unit, there is a section called ¡A Divertirnos! In this section students participate in visual arts or musical activities. Sometimes the unit will present a song about colors, such as Jose Luis Orozco’s De Colores. Other activities prompt students to create a product. For example, one unit has students create a birthday card using phrases in Spanish.

Grammar Instruction
Grammar is explicitly taught in each unit. However, the text integrates grammar into the theme in an interactive way. When introducing each grammar form, the text presents the grammar rule along with illustrations of examples relating to the unit topic. For example, in the school unit, the rule for making plurals is introduced along with pictures of several examples of how to make plurals using school objects (un globo, dos globos). Next, the exercises have students practice using the grammar form in structured dialogues. Again, the text presents models of how these dialogues should look.

The format in which grammar is introduced is age appropriate. While the activities and the exercises at the beginning of the unit are more structured, these become less structured as the unit progresses. Towards the end of the unit, the text integrates the grammar form presented with vocabulary that was learned in previous units. For example, in the school supply unit, students are asked to say the number of each object or supply they see in the classroom in complete sentences.

Final Thoughts
This text offers an interactionist approach that focuses on form. Even though grammar is explicitly introduced through concrete examples and rules, the exercises and activities in the text create opportunities for students to practice these forms in a collaborative and communicative way. More importantly, the communication exercises also allow students to see how each form functions across different contexts. Also, the text reiterates concepts and general vocabulary, which allows students to build on previous knowledge and skills.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Glogster in the Foreign Language Classroom

This semester was the first time I tried Glogster. I created a poster to introduce myself to my students and their parents, and hope to post it on my school’s website. As I was playing with this tool, I didn’t realize how engrossed I became. I thought, if this is fun for me, what would my students think of it?

What I like about glogs is that they are fairly simple to use. I signed up for a free educator’s account that allowed me to create up to 100 student accounts. Each student account has a nickname, which protects the identity of the author. But most important, the teacher has control over the account and what is saved, shared, or deleted.

Glogs also allow the author to be as creative as they want. Some of the features include choosing a background for your wall, text boxes, and images. You also have the option of uploading your own images or video. If you would like more advanced features such as inserting your own drawings or uploading documents (PowerPoint presentations, Word documents), you must upgrade to a premium account.

As I was playing with the different features I brainstormed several ways to use glogs in the foreign language classroom. Here are some ideas I came up with:

Back-to-School Glogs
As a way to get to know your students, why not have them create their own glog? To make it more challenging, your students can express themselves in the target language. Another variation to this activity would be to have students create a glog on what they did over the summer. They can upload pictures of their vacation or clip art to show what they did. As a culminating activity, they can present their glogs to each other in the target language. These glogs can also be posted on your classroom blog or wiki.

Famous Figures
In preparation for Hispanic Heritage Month or as part of a cultural unit, students can also create glogs on historical figures, authors, activists, famous artists, or musicians in the target culture. This provides a creative twist to traditional posters or written reports.

Country Research Projects
Every year, I like to incorporate some sort of research project about different Spanish-speaking countries. Normally, I resort to using PowerPoint but I think glogs would be more interesting. Students can make their glogs appealing by embedding YouTube videos of the target country.

Thematic Glogs
If you’re studying a particular unit, you can have students create a glog on the vocabulary they are learning. For example, students can create glogs that illustrate fruits or food from the target culture. Students can even add recipes or YouTube videos of someone preparing the selected ingredient.

Glogs are a variation to the typical Power Point Presentation or hand-made posters. The neat thing about them is that you have the flexibility to post students’ glogs virtually to share with families and parents. I would love to hear about how you use glogs in your language classroom. Feel free to leave a comment!

Using Cartoons to Teach Greetings

I like to start my year off with a greetings unit. Through this unit, I outline the different ways to say hello and goodbye along with cultural practices that are associated with greetings. While I have my students practice and role play different greetings with each other, I also expose them to media that illustrates the target language in an authentic context. This is where cartoons come into play. With these, I am able to show the language being used as well as create an interactive activity for my students. Here are a couple of my favorite cartoons and exercises for practicing greetings and leave takings.

1.Dokí: La canción de las despedidas

This is one of my students’ favorite activities. I usually show this video and have students individually write the leave takings they hear in the song on their mini-dry erase boards. With beginning learners, I play the song multiple times. Some modifications would be to have students memorize the song and recite it in class or to create a cloze activity where students fill in the blanks with the correct leave taking. Students can also create a Voki or avatar to recite their song.

2.Pocoyo: Hora de Acostarse
My younger learners love Pocoyo! As students view the video, I encourage them to repeat key phrases or words that they know (i.e. hola, buenas noches, adiós). After watching the video clip, I ask students to identify words that they recognized.

Using cartoons is a fun and engaging way for students to see and hear the target language in action. While the exercises I have offered are geared towards young learners, I’m curious to know if and how middle and high school teachers have used cartoons in their language teaching as well as how other elementary language teachers have used them.

A Kid's Tour of Latin Music through Google Maps

In preparation for Hispanic Heritage Month, I wanted to start with a basic geography lesson. Many of my students have limited exposure to Spanish-speaking cultures both within and outside their communities, and geography is something that is abstract because many of our students and their families do not have opportunities to travel. Therefore, I feel that is it my responsibility to expose my students to as many cultural experiences as possible. So what better way to do it than through music! I find that music is an engaging way to draw students’ attention to different places and possibly ignite a curiosity for learning about those places. Being an aficionada of Latin music, this approach was fairly easy to adapt in the teaching of cultures and geography. As a result, I created a Google Map with embedded videos that reflect both popular and folk music in the Spanish-speaking world. Each tag also shows the city where each artist or group is from. With folk music, I tagged the capital of that country. Feel free to view the link and add comments about any artists, groups, or types of music that are age-appropriate for elementary, middle, or high school students. This map is not intended to be an extensive overview but rather a glimpse of the variety of music across Spanish-speaking cultures.

Although this is a teacher-created map, you can modify my approach to be more hands on. One modification can be to have students research different styles or genres of music and then label the map with an accompanying video. This would work best with upper level classes or with upper elementary to high school students.

Finally, I want to acknowledge my Twitter experts @gret and @felissa2. I have had the wonderful experience of Skyping with these two educators and it was through our conversations that I learned about popular music in their countries.

View Tour of Latin Music in a larger map

Monday, August 30, 2010

Amigo Search: A Spanish Get to Know You Grid

This year we had several changes take place in our Spanish program. We went from having two Spanish teachers to one and we have quite a few students who are new to our school, which for the most part means that they are taking Spanish for this first time. As a result of these changes, I decided to take a new spin on how I assessed language skills. Instead of the traditional paper and pencil pre-test, I used a grid that required students to search for their classmates’ signatures, much like is used with most get-to- know you grids. The objective was to get as many classmates to sign your grid. While this activity was meant to get students to interact with each other it also served as an informal assessment of previous skills or knowledge of the Spanish language and its cultures. I was able to achieve this by including statements that required a response. Here are some of the items I included in the grid:

1. Has a big familia.
2. Can count up to 20 in Spanish.
3. Can name 3 frutas.
4. Rides el autobus to get to school.
5. Can name 3 Spanish speaking countries (besides Mexico).
6. Can say their birth month in Spanish.
7. Can sing a song in Spanish.

My students enjoyed this activity very much. They loved getting the chance to show off how much they remembered or knew in Spanish. This activity was also able to keep their attention for the allotted time. I even allowed them to ask me to sign their grid once they had obtained most of their signatures. During these instances, they learned some quick facts about me.

I highly recommend this activity for all levels. Since my students are beginning learners and due to our mixed ability grouping, I needed to make my grid bilingual. However, this activity could be adapted by including only phrases in the target language for more advanced learners.

Finally, I want to give credit to the sources that inspired this activity. While the actual grid is something that I have been using over the years, the handout used for this specific activity was modified from a template provided by Some of the statements were also inspired by a posting written by Deborah Blaz in the FLTEACH Listserv, where she described situations that focused on how students interacted with the target language in their homes or communities. In my activity, I included statements that required students to recall vocabulary items. To a certain extent, I blended Blaz’s concept of language interaction with assessment in mind.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Free Printables & Games for the Spanish Classroom

In my last blog post, I outlined some great books filled with engaging activities and games for the foreign language classroom. Fortunately, I own a majority of these books thanks to funding from a FLES grant. Now our program is functioning without funding from our previous grant and my search for more games and activities is just beginning. For this reason, I am sharing more places to find printables and activities that can be downloaded for free. This is my way of welcoming you back to a new school year. Enjoy!

Free Activities & Games

This is one of my favorite sites for game ideas. It offers some tips for presenting and reinforcing content in the elementary Spanish classroom. I feel that many of these activities can be easily modified to teach other languages in the elementary setting.

This site is a goldmine when it comes to finding activities to reinforce skills in listening, speaking, writing, reading, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Simply click on the section that you want to focus on and you will be directed to a wide array of activities that suit different proficiency levels. Each activity is clearly outlined and some include a sample worksheet. Although the exercises are meant for teaching ESL, I have found that they can apply to other languages as well.

This is a must see site! It contains activities and games that have been compiled from discussions on the FLTEACH Listserv. Instructions are included along with some sample templates and worksheets. Also, the games are not language specific and can be modified for different levels and age groups.

I came across this site through Twitter and loved how the exercises can apply to almost any language setting for young learners. The activities are very hands-on and age appropriate.

Free Printable Worksheets & More

I love this site because it offers many printable worksheets on different themes and letters of the alphabet. There are also some very cute craft activities that can complement most thematic units. I highly recommend this site to Spanish teachers in the early grades.

Although this site is meant for ESL, the concept of using flashcards can be used in any language and at almost any level. I also like that this site has a variety of colorful and humorous flashcards. My favorite feature is that you can choose what size to print your flashcards.

I love to use the lists on this site as reference guides for my students. They are colorful and very easy to understand for my students.

I hope these sites help in your search for free materials. I would love to hear your comments about where you find free printable worksheets and activities for your foreign language class. Your feedback is always appreciated!

Engaging Activities & Games for the Elementary Spanish Classroom

Just recently I have networked with several teachers who were interested in games for their elementary Spanish classrooms. Connecting with these teachers inspired me to share some of my favorite resources with other foreign language teachers. Please feel free to leave a comment or share a game that your students enjoy.

Some Tips
1. Introducing a Game- When I first introduce a game, I play it as a whole class so that students can familiarize themselves with the format and rules. Once we have played the game a couple times and once students are comfortable playing it, I incorporate the game in my learning center rotation. This year, my plan is to type and laminate the rules (to different games) as a guide for students.

2. Collaboration over Competition- I try to set up a collaborative environment rather than a competitive one when it comes to games. When games are first introduced, each table is its own team. In order to ensure that students of different abilities are at represented at each table, I create a seating chart that reflects this at the beginning of the year. Also, instead of rewarding the “winning” team with prizes, I reward the whole class for participating in the activity with a star, which counts towards their points for a class party.

My Favorite Resources

1. Languages and Children: Language Instruction for an Early Start, Grades K-8 (4th Edition) by Helena Curtain and Carol Ann Dahlberg
This is my absolute favorite text for games that gets kids active in using the target language. Curtain and Dahlberg include various activities that reinforce vocabulary, listening, speaking and writing across different proficiency levels. I also love that the activities can be modified for any foreign language.

2. Activities, Games, and Assessment Strategies for the Foreign Language Classroom by Amy Buttner
This is another one of my go to sources. Buttner includes very engaging activities and games to practice vocabulary, listening, and speaking which can be modified for various proficiency levels. Activities are categorized into warm-up activities, group activities, partner activities, individual practice activities, and five-minute activities. There is also a section dedicated to games. Two great features of this resource are the recommendations and modifications offered for each activity.

3. 100 Games and Activities for the Introductory World Languages Classroom by Thierry Boucquey, Karina Flores, Julia Kramer, Laura McPherson, et al.
This is a great resource that provides general games that can be adapted for most foreign languages. Games are categorized into themes that include animals, body parts, clothing, colors, numbers, date, time, family, the home, personal description, food, weather, travel, geography, and culture. I also found this book most suitable for middle school and high school.

4. Foreign Language Teacher’s Guide to Active Learning by Deborah Blaz
Although this text is geared towards middle and high school students, I have found several activities that can be modified for the elementary Spanish classroom. The games and activities can also be easily adapted for other foreign languages too. Blaz does an excellent job of providing clear instructions, tips, and variation across themes (clothes, animals, body parts, etc).

5. Utilizing Games and Cooperative Learning Activities in the Classroom by Lisa Moore and Eva White
This is a great source that is not language specific. Many of the games can apply to different themes and concepts in language learning as well as promote collaboration and active learning. I like this text because it provides clear instructions with accompanying handouts and templates.

6. Games & Activities: Supplementary Materials to Reinforce Skills and Vocabulary in the Basic Spanish Classroom by Deb Scott
This text also provides a great collection of activities for individual, partner, or group practice. I especially like how each activity is labeled according to proficiency level (easy for first year student, medium for second year students, and challenging) and includes accompanying materials (board templates, story picture squares, clip art). Also, activities tap into different skills such as listening and speaking.

7. Games & Activities for Individual Whiteboards by Pam Chalus
I love this text because it has creative games to practice writing and vocabulary with individual whiteboards. It’s an excellent source that reinforces skills in the intermediate to higher level classrooms.

8. Colección Kaleidoscopio by Maria Gabriela Acuña
This collection provides worksheets, flashcards, game templates, and ideas to practice vocabulary and grammar skills. Each book is dedicated to a theme such as colors, numbers and alphabet, food, classroom objects, animals, and clothes. This series is a must have in my classroom because it provides ready-made fun activities that I use for my learning center rotation. My favorites have been the game boards and dominoes.

9. ¿Jugamos? 1 by Maria Gabriela Acuña
I highly recommend this book because it offers games that are not covered in the Colección Kaleidoscopio. Just like her previous collection, Acuña provides worksheets, flashcards, game templates, and clear instructions that are suitable for beginners but that can also be modified for more advanced learners. I especially like this book because the instructions to the games are simple enough to use for independent practice or learning centers.

My Goals for This School Year

As a jump start to the new school year, I decided to reflect on my goals. These past three years, I have learned so much about the language learning process and have come across some innovative ways to teach a foreign language. Here are some of the things that I have planned for this year:

1. Global and National Collaboration Projects
Over the past few months, I have connected with other elementary Spanish teachers across the United States. My goal is to have my students connect with other Spanish classrooms in order to put their language skills to use. From learning songs to retelling stories, I want both classes to equally exchange and participate during our sessions. I also plan on maintaining a relationship with our abroad contacts and continue our discussions about culture and life in their countries. One project that I am excited about is exploring popular music in Spanish-speaking countries.

2. Integrating More Technology
Throughout the summer I have been playing with several Web 2.0 tools and brainstorming ways to integrate them into my curriculum. I feel that these kinds of tools create opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and application of language skills. Some of my favorite tools include Animoto Slide shows, Glogs, and Vokis. My students seemed very excited when I described these projects and I am as eager as they are to get started!

3. Out-of- School Learning Experiences
Due to demographics and geographical location, my students have limited exposure to Latino cultures and the Spanish language in their home communities. For this reason, I feel that it is important to expose my students to as many cultural and language experiences as possible. So far my absolute favorite event has been the Latin American Performance by the Hispanic Flamenco Ballet, which presents folkloric dance from various Spanish-speaking countries. This company schedules a performance in our city every year, and I would love to continue taking our students to enjoy it.

Another event I plan on organizing involves visiting a language institute that is part of our local university. This institute has native Spanish-speaking students who volunteer as guest speakers as part of their community outreach program. Last year, we had these students come talk to our students about their home countries, history, and culture. This year, I would like to duplicate those same activities but host the event at their institute.

4. Hands-On Learning Experiences
Last year I used learning centers to reinforce vocabulary. I plan on continuing these centers but would like to include activities that involve language that goes beyond single words. Incorporating arts and crafts is also on my to-do list along with including engaging ways to learn grammar concepts.

I also used many games to reinforce vocabulary. Although I liked the concept of using games to practice language, I did not have enough games to work with. After doing some research, I have come across many that can be adapted to fit different themes and proficiency levels, which is important in my teaching setting.

So these are my goals in a nutshell. What kinds of projects do you have planned for the upcoming school year? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Finding Global Partners

This past school year I had the amazing opportunity to Skype with elementary schools in Argentina and Spain. The idea of connecting with other schools had been on my mind for quite some time, however, I did not know where to start. I wondered how teachers found partners who were willing to connect with their classrooms. Then I came across Twitter which pointed me in the direction of a few global collaboration sites worth exploring. Here is what I came across:

Around the World with 80 Schools- The mastermind behind this site is Silvia Tolisano, 21st Century Learning Specialist and Globally Connected Learning Consultant. The idea is to connect with 80 schools around the world through Skype. In order to be a member you must be involved with or serve students from grades PreK-16 or adult learners. I have had the most success with this site since this is where I came across my two abroad contacts. Because it started off as a Ning and later switched to its current site, the community is rather small but quickly growing. Also, this site includes a space for blogs to document Skype experiences.

Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC)-This site has many ongoing projects created by other teachers and institutes such as NASA. Once registered, it is recommended to post a collaboration (a description of your project and possible dates) and update it. One of my favorite features from this site is that it includes a directory of its members by country. I have had success finding national partners with this site.

eLanguages-This site was developed by The British Council, which is an international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations in the United Kingdom. Their goal is to provide a secure global online community for teachers who are looking for international partners and who want to share their projects and resources. Teachers have the option of viewing other’s projects, joining them, or creating their own project. Another neat feature is the ability to upload a wide variety of resources that include PDF files, videos, and links. Also, this site is available in 23 languages and you can search for partners or projects by country, language, or type of school (i.e. elementary school, middle school, high school, adult education). I just recently registered with this community and have found members from various Spanish-speaking countries.

Collaborations Around the Planet(CAP Space)- This site also provides many ongoing projects posted by other teachers around the globe. Although I haven’t had much luck with this site, it is definitely worth mentioning.

Some More Tips

No Cost-Creating an account is free of charge for all of these sites. Also, there is no service or participation fee for joining projects.

Profiles- After you have registered for these sites, it is best to update your profile with school name, contact information, grade(s), subject area(s), interests, and upload a picture. This makes it easier for other members to contact you. Please be advised that once you register, contact information that you include on your profile will be made public to other members.

Messages-All sites allow you to send a message to other members. Some sites also give you the option of posting your email address.

Email Notifications-Some sites(CAP Space, CILC) have email notification features that contact you directly when someone posts a new project. Others have the option of sending email notifications when you have received a new message.

Groups- You can also join groups within these sites that pertain to your specific grade level or content area (3rd grade groups, Foreign Language Group, Math teachers). These groups also help in narrowing your search. A great start would be to post a message on the group’s page (much like a status update on Facebook or Twitter) and briefly introduce yourself and what you’re interested in doing with your students.

Outlining your Project- For CILC, CAP Space, and eLanguages it is recommended you create a collaboration or description of your project. Be as specific in terms of: 1)Project Title, and 2) Project Details- the activities you want to complete, age group(s) involved, content areas to be covered, time frame(one time conference, two weeks, once a semester), and duration for each activity(50 minute class periods, 30 minutes). It is also best to list possible dates for your project and don’t forget to take into account TIME ZONES. Usually, these descriptions are sent out to members via email and posted on your profile (CILC, CAP Space) or on a separate Project Page (eLanguages), where you can update the status of your project. This section is very important in giving other members an impression of what you are planning to do.

Another effective way of finding partners is by word of mouth. Once I have established a collaboration with a school, I ask my contact person if they would be interested in connecting with my other contacts. I make sure not to share any contact information unless I have been given permission to do so. Many times, my national contacts are interested in connecting with my abroad contacts and that’s how we spread the word.

I hope this information is useful in your quest for global partners. I have listed the links to these sites under my “Global Collaboration Sites” for future reference. What other ways have you found abroad or national partners? Are you a part of a global collaboration site not mentioned in this blog post? Please share!

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Language Journey Part IV: Beginning Career

After I completed college I was licensed as an elementary teacher. While I had an endorsement in middle school Spanish, I did not pursue teaching positions in this area. I was hired as a second grade teacher in an elementary school, where I taught for my first three years. The only Spanish I used during these short years were to translate for the few Spanish-speaking families we had at our school.

During my time as a second grade teacher, I tried to infuse multiculturalism in my teaching. I taught at high poverty school made up of mostly African American students. Many of my students have not been outside their neighborhood and much less have traveled outside the state or the country. In an attempt to introduce my culture, I taught mini-lessons in Spanish, where students practiced numbers and colors. I also designed a literature based unit and activities that reflected my Mexican culture. I read texts that depicted holidays in Mexico, such as El dia de los muertos. I also brought some pan dulce and had one of my Spanish-speaking parents make chocolate for our class. I can recall the enthusiasm and excitement among my students as they heard the story and sampled the treats. It was at this point when I realized that I loved teaching culture. However, the reality was that in a regular education classroom, opportunities like these were not a part of the curriculum. I was only able to infuse my multiculturalism on special days or whenever we had time at the end of the day, which was not frequent. The idea of being able to do this full-time was a dream for me.

In the regular education classroom, I was responsible for teaching all subject areas. I was under a lot of pressure and my students had to perform well on their reading and writing skills, especially since these were the most emphasized subjects in this school district. Despite my teacher preparation, I felt that I was ill prepared in teaching these subjects. As a result, I pursued a master’s degree in gifted education. After my three years as a second grade teacher at XXXX School, I was hired as a second grade teacher at my current school. And when the Spanish teacher left, I was asked to switch to fill her position. That was the best move for me as a teacher.

The shift from a regular education teacher to a foreign language teacher was difficult at first. I had to adjust to serving half a school and planning for multiple grades. I was also under the impression that teaching language meant teaching vocabulary and grammar in isolation. It was through my professional development, graduate courses, and experience that I was able to transform how I taught. Teaching was not linear anymore, but rather presented in themes and chunks. I also used more hands-on activities and projects in my teaching. And recently, I have stumbled across ways to integrate technology to connect globally and make learning more engaging and relevant for my students.

During my three years as a Spanish teacher, I have earned an Ed.S. in Reading Instruction as well as an English as a Second Language endorsement-having taken 30 hours of ESL language learning theories, instruction, and assessment. As for now, I do not know what the future holds for my career. What I do know is that I am drawn to teaching languages and including a multicultural/interdisciplinary approach. Whether that will take me back to regular education as a language arts teacher, out of the classroom as an ESL instructor, or as a Reading Coordinator or Specialist, only time and intuition will tell.

My Language Journey Part III: College Experiences

In college I established my identity as a Latina and a Spanish-speaker. I attended college in a small town, far from home. This was the first time in my life where a majority of my peers did not look me, sound like me, or even had similar experiences as me. Fortunately, my roommate was a close friend I had known since middle school. This made my transition much easier.

My communication with my friends shifted from an all-English environment to one that included code-switching. I noticed that I used more Spanish with other Latino classmates and friends on campus. It seemed that we used the Spanish language to stay connected to our roots and to feel like home. I further maintained this connection by choosing to major in Spanish and Elementary Education. Although I had no formal instruction in Spanish, I felt very comfortable in these courses. The courses in Spanish literature were my favorite because they exposed me to different Latino perspectives, and it was through these courses that I realized that being Latina was much more than being Mexican.

As part of my program I was fortunate enough to study abroad for a semester in Argentina, where I lived and studied in Buenos Aires. During my senior year I was also a teaching assistant for an introductory Spanish class. With this class, I was able to visit Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic for spring break. These experiences further shaped my own identity as a Latina and introduced me to the diversity among the Spanish-speaking world.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Language Journey Part II: Adolescence

It was during middle school that I started to reconnect with my love for the Spanish language. During my elementary years, I was quickly immersed into the English language that it felt I somewhat neglected the Spanish language. After watching many Spanish news broadcasts, shows, and listening to lyrics for different songs, I wanted to use the language in ways that went beyond speaking and listening. At this point, I began to take an interest in reading and writing in Spanish. This new interest was also motivated by my need to communicate with my grandmother in Mexico. I started to write her letters and sound out words. My mother assisted by proofreading my letters and also building my vocabulary. I remember her using more advanced and less common words. It is no doubt that this time in my life opened my eyes to the many possibilities available in Spanish.

In high school, however, for my language requirement, I chose French over Spanish. I chose French instead of Spanish because I was curious to try out a new language and culture. Though I took French for four years, the language proved to be more difficult and my interests and efforts towards fluency quickly declined.

After having studied language acquisition on the graduate level, I attribute my failure in learning French to my own habits as a learner. As I reflect on the whole experience, I could point out many things I could have done to make my learning experience more successful than it was. First, I did not use my knowledge of the Spanish language to help me learn French. This approach could have assisted me in learning grammar. Second, I did not practice speaking or reading French outside of class. Somehow I expected to learn what I needed in the context of the classroom. A combination of these factors had an impact on my attempt to learn a third language.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Language Journey Part I: Childhood

I have had a distinctive relationship with language. I feel like I am from two worlds: the English speaking world and the Spanish speaking world. While I was born and raised in the United States, my home environment was far from American.

My parents were born and raised in Mexico. They immigrated to the United States as adults, where they eventually met and married. Growing up, my family spoke only Spanish in the household. My mother would always tell us that we would learn English at school and maintain our Spanish at home. She kept our Mexican culture alive through frequent visits to Mexico and by exposing us to various Spanish media outlets. During my childhood, we would listen to the news and radio in Spanish. I can recall her love of music and remember listening to popular as well as folkloric Mexican songs she would play for us.

While my parents strived to maintain an appreciation for the Spanish language and culture, they also embraced the American culture and its language. I can recall listening to many Motown hits and other popular music during the 1980s. We also celebrated American holidays such as Halloween and Christmas the American way, which was something our relatives or friends did not do.

In school I never enrolled in Bilingual or ESL classes. Although these services were offered at my school, my teachers did not see a need for them in my academic or language development. From the beginning, I loved school and never struggled academically or socially. I was a shy student who followed the rules and who played school when I got home. I knew from a young age that I wanted to become a teacher when I grew up. Overall, my positive experiences with school quickly shaped my attitudes towards English.

It was during elementary school that I truly learned English and connected with the language. At school, I would speak to my peers in English and eventually started using it with my own brother at home. I had teachers who encouraged us to maintain our heritage as Spanish-speakers but who also pushed us to become better English speakers. My proficiency in English progressed each year. In fact, my English was so fluent by the fifth grade that my parents utilized me as the family’s translator. While I loved the language, I did not particularly enjoy ordering pizza and disputing bills over the phone.