Guess what? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know all the questions. However, I am glad that there are other awesome teachers from whom to learn.  AMEN?? I live in a small town. There is one public high school and one private high school. I teach at the private school and until last year, my husband taught at the public school. He is now an assistant principal in his school, but that is neither here nor there. While he was a teacher, I got to know and be friends with the other world language teachers in his department. In fact both of them came to Guatemala with us where we built two houses.  The fact that we teach at different schools does not matter to me. Nor does it matter to them.

Today, we got together for a pow wow. IT WAS AWESOME! One of the Spanish teachers attended iFLT this year. I attended NTPRS. The other Spanish teacher was not able to go to a conference, but she was super excited to meet with us by SKYPE to hear about the highlights from our respective conferences. And we had a newcomer join us! My husband’s vacancy in the German department could not be filled, so the school is going in a different direction and they hired a new French teacher. He has actually taught French before, but not exactly in the way that the rest of us do. He is open to learning about CI/TPRS and I could tell by his presence at the meeting that he is passionate about teaching French.

One of the most exciting things to come from our meeting today was the fact that there are four of us and we all have our strengths and weaknesses and our own styles. I don’t expect the others to teach like me and I know they don’t have that expectation either.

I will keep it short. When you have opportunities to collaborate, may I encourage you to choose humility, and listen to your colleagues. Give them the freedom to teach the way they teach. And if someone passionately shares something that they have done in class, and you know that does not work for you (right now), applaud their passion. In the meantime, be sure to share YOUR passion with others.  As school begins, plan to share with your colleagues about something that you LOVE about your teaching style.


Why Scatter JOY?

Look around you. Can you agree that the world needs a little more JOY?  I want to be an instrument of JOY. This is my mission. Sometimes, it really is a battle of wills that compete within me, but I am purposefully attempting to choose JOY more.

Allow me to backtrack for a moment. My niece started a clothing company called Soul Honey Clothing a little over a year ago. It is going great and it is going to be BIG! I am so proud of her. One of her first designs was a warm, cozy crew neck sweatshirt which simply said, “Scatter Joy” on the front, along with the author, Ralph Waldo Emerson. The full quote actually reads like this:

“There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us.”

WOW! Isn’t that awesome? Isn’t that what this tumultuous world needs more of right now?

So, what in the world does this have to do with teaching Spanish? In my opinion, it has everything to do with teaching Spanish…at least for me it does.  I have been in and out of the classroom for the past 22 years and only taught formally when it worked into my mission to be the best mom I could be. When it conflicted too much or when my health did not allow, I stayed at home and served my family from there.  Two years ago I was offered the opportunity to re-enter the classroom. I wasn’t really looking for a job, but it kind of “fell into my lap” and after a lot of prayer, I decided it was a good time to jump in. From the moment I was offered the job, I have sensed that God has a bigger purpose for me being there than “just teaching my content.” Yes, I hope to do that successfully, but my bigger mission is to scatter JOY into the lives of my students and my colleagues.

I am looking forward to this new year and this daily opportunity I have to work toward my mission. I’m not oblivious to the pain around me. I see it. I feel it. I read it. I hear it. That is not what the quote is about. Read it again. The way I interpret it, I can be an instrument of JOY or an instrument of pain. I want to be the former, not the latter.

My students have become familiar with my “scattering JOY” antics in the classroom. Every once in awhile, I just pretend to sprinkle JOY on my students. I walk around the room sprinkling them with my wiggling fingers. Obviously, I can’t go around doing this in the mall, or in my car as I peek at the drivers in the lane next to me, but I can sprinkle JOY in other ways, like with a warm smile.

As you go back into the classroom after the holiday break, I invite you to join me in scattering JOY in the lives of your students. Let me know how it goes. Let me know if you need some encouragement. Let me know if you have a really great success story. Let’s do this together: Scatter JOY!


Tío Timoteo- Part 2

In order to understand this post, it might be helpful to read the first installment Tío Timoteo-Part 1!

Up to this point, my students have filled out their answers to the questions found here.  Tío Timoteo This activity had them working hard and mostly quietly for one class period! Before our class time the next day, I created a Google slide show “reading” using the answers of one of my students. I corrected the errors for the slide show. As I addressed his answer to each question, I requested that my students make corrections on their own pages. For example, some said, “Yo es quince años.” On the slide, it showed, “Yo tengo diez y seis años.” So I told the students they should correct any errors. This did not take up the entire class period, so we spent some time reading their novels as well.

For the next day’s class, I had to do a little bit of preparation. I determined how many groups of 2 or 3 I would have in each class. Then, I created an envelope for each group with 10 shapes that I cut out. On each shape was written the name of the shape and a number between 1-10. The numbers correlated to the questions on the worksheet they had filled out.  Out side on the sidewalk, I drew the 10 shapes about 15 feet away from each other. The shapes were not in any particular order on the sidewalk, but I did make them nice and BIG!

Here are the instructions I gave the students: Form groups of 2 or 3. I will give you an envelope with 10 shapes. DO NOT mix up the shapes in your envelope. You will remove the top shape, try to find that shape outside on the sidewalk, and note the number on the paper shape .  You will locate that number on your form. One person will ask that question and another will answer. You will each take turns asking and answering. SO: Let’s say, a group removes a triangle with the number 6 on it. They would then go find the triangle outside and once they find it, they would begin their conversation. “¿Qué talento especial tienes? Mi talento especial es montar en unicicleta.”

The reason I did not want the students to mix up the shapes in their envelopes is because I did not want them all to be on the same shape at the same time. I purposefully mixed them up so they would have to do a fair amount of “back and forth” while outside.

The students loved this activity. We live in North Dakota, so we ALL love an excuse to be outside once the weather turns nice enough to be outside!  One of my classes is composed of a competitive group of boys. They turned this into a competition also, even though I did not tell them they were competing. I walked back and forth on the sidewalk with a clipboard noting any students who were not on task and listening to the conversation.

The next day, we wrapped it up. I told them to form the same groups. I created another slide show in which a slide instructed the students to talk about a particular question. I told them I wanted them to imagine that they were at a party mingling. I wanted them to discuss the question, but also think of additional questions to piggyback off of the original question. I told them to continue talking about that question even if it meant repeatedly asking and answering the same question. (Yay for repetitions!) Meanwhile, I went around listening in on their conversations. I asked them to keep their forms on their laps and to only use them in emergencies. I was shocked, but they LOVED mingling! Many of them who have had negative attitudes this year commented that they enjoyed that.

The last thing I did with them related to this activity was to give them a focused timed write. I gave them 10 minutes and they wrote about whomever they wanted to. They were also allowed to throw in any information that they had previously learned about the classmates whom we interviewed.

I will do this activity again…or something like it…but I will do some things differently.

Tío Timoteo-Part 1

A little more than a week ago, I was frustrated by the lackadaisical attitude of my students toward engagement in my class. It was clear that they subscribed to the erroneous belief  that one may shut down one’s brain prior to the official last day of school.  I felt it my responsibility to enlighten them. Only, what to do??? I didn’t want it to be blatantly obvious, and yet, I wanted them to catch wind of my “Ah, ah, ah…not so fast” message.

Fortunately, I had been re-reading some of the Ben Slavic books.  While casually skimming the Q & A portion of TPRS in a Year!, something caught my eye. In one of the questions, there was a request for examples of “real verbal output” toward the end of the year.  Even though Ben admits that the activities lean toward “fake verbal output”, he justifies them by saying that the students feel like they are learning, and that is more the goal than them demonstrating real acquisition, at least for this activity.  I will describe what I did below.

On Day One, I wrote two words on the board in blue marker (the color I use for any Spanish). The words were “tío” and “Timoteo”. First I told the class that “tío” meant “uncle”.  We practiced with pronunciation briefly and then I asked, “What do you think “tía” means? And of course, they answered “aunt”. If I had it to do over again, I would have spent a few minutes personalizing. I would ask: Who has an uncle? Who does not have an uncle? How many uncles do you have? Who is your favorite uncle? Why is he your favorite, etc. Unfortunately, I felt the need for speed since my classes are only 40 minutes and we were also trying to include time for SSR in class.

After establishing the meaning of “tío”, we turned to “Timoteo”.  I asked if anyone had any guesses about the meaning of this word and a few guessed that it meant “Timothy”. We practiced with pronunciation of the word a bit. Whenever I am introducing them to a word with many syllables, we say, “See the vowel, say the vowel”, which I believe I learned from Grant Boulanger. So we slowly said the word, camping out briefly on each vowel. Then, I began snapping to the beat of the word and the students repeated what I said while I continued to snap out the beat. I learned this also from Grant. I love this because I believe it helps the students “feel” the words.

Next, I asked the students to put the two words together to get the rhythm of how it would sound together. I directed them to turn to the person next to them and gave them 15 seconds to practice saying “Tío Timoteo” as slowly or as quickly as they wanted. One partner would go first, then I had them switch after the 15-second time limit was up.

Then we got down to the nitty gritty. I asked them who “Tío Timoteo” was. In one class, a girl suggested that another student be “Uncle Timothy”, thinking that we were about to embark on some storytelling!!  I LOVE that! She was disappointed when I told her that this was not a story.

I turned my “No English” sign over, (their signal that we may speak English), and explained who Uncle Timothy was. In a nutshell, here is what I said, “Uncle Timothy represents that annoying relative or family friend who, when he finds out that you have had one whole year of Spanish, comes up to you and says, ‘ Oh….you had Spanish??? Say something for me in Spanish.’ And you are put on the spot to produce something impressive. Unfortunately, Uncle Timothy is not aware that it takes several years for the language to move from the part of your brain that understands Spanish to the part of your brain that speaks it. Unfortunately, Uncle Timothy is not well informed about second language acquisition and he will likely stand there until you speak!”

According to Ben, “this activity (he calls it Uncle Jack) is designed to give the illusion of speaking gains in a world that does not fully understand how we acquire languages and judges quickly if they don’t hear fluency even in first year students.”

The next day, I gave my students a handout with ten questions on it. You can take a peek here. Tío Timoteo  I asked my students to quietly answer the questions in complete sentences. I told them that I would not accept incomplete answers. So, for example, if the question was “When is your birthday?” I did not accept “June 6th.”  I told them it should be “My birthday is June 6th.” I gave them the period to work on the worksheets while I went around to help with personal questions. I told them that anything they did not complete in class would be due at the beginning of the next class. More in a day or so. 🙂


What Was Lost Is Now Found

Well, what did you lose that you now found, Laura? Your sleep? NO! Your marbles? Uh, don’t think so. How about your sanity? Definitely NOT!

Thankfully, what I found was my BLOG! Embarrassing, I know. But that is the pathetic truth. I began this Blog a few weeks before starting my first year as a TPRS/CI teacher, back in August of 2015. Like most beginning bloggers, I had high hopes of chronicling my adventure this year.

I’m pretty convinced that God hid my blog from me! No, seriously! If I had added the internal pressure of regular blog posts to my already insane year, I am pretty sure that I would not be able to say, with excitement, “I can’t wait to do it again next year!”

Thankfully, I have now found it. (With the expert assistance of Matt Miller, my “adopted” little brother.) And I am not going to make any promises, but I am going to attempt to chronicle my experiences in teaching.

Bear with me as I “find my voice.” Back when I was in fifth grade or so, I tried out for a school musical and got a small part with a solo. I enjoyed it so much until I overheard some unkind words about my lack of singing ability. I never found my voice again. That voice still occasionally whispers to me that I have nothing to offer, but after many years, I have learned to tune out THAT voice and listen to the voice of Truth. So, please be patient with me. 🙂

It’s Official!

Ok. Here we go. My younger “brother” (I’ll explain later), Matt Miller, author of Ditch That Textbook encouraged me to just start somewhere. So here it is. My first blog post…lame as it might be.

This summer has been wild. I spent two weeks in San Raymundo, Guatemala volunteering at Morning Glory Christian Academy. Then my “team” of 30 people arrived to work with Casas Por Cristo (Houses because of Christ) to build two houses in a week.

The day after arriving home from Guatemala, I flew to Washington, D.C. to attend NTPRS, the national Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling conference. I attended the beginner’s course so that I could learn about the basics of teaching Spanish using this method.

Since returning, I have been preparing my classroom and my curriculum. I’m NOT ready to go, but I will be by August 25th. It is going to be a WILD year also. The range of classes that I am teaching will be both a literal and figurative stretch. In the mornings, I will stagger 2nd graders-8th graders. Some of them have Spanish twice a week; some, three times. In the afternoon, I will have Spanish 1-3: two classes of Spanish 1 and one of a combined 2/3. I’m not a fan of combined classes, but there are extenuating circumstances which led me to agree to do it…for this year!