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