5 Little Things (Structures to support student learning and teacher sanity, part 12)

As we start the second half of the school year, I’d like to share a few little things that make a big impact on the positive tone in our classroom, especially when it comes to including every student in the conversation.

Cosas Buenas:  as a regular part of our class-starting routine, we have “cosas buenas” (good things).  Simply put, students share something good going on in their lives.  It commonly is shared with table groups first, then we call on a few students to share with the whole class.  In mid- upper- level classes, we do this in TL; in lower level classes it’s in L1.  Here’s what makes this activity a keeper:

  • it focuses our attention on positive things
  • it builds community as we celebrate one another
  • it gets students talking about their real lives –in TL– and organically injects relevant vocabulary & structures into our class conversations like “beca” (scholarship) and “pasantía” (internship)

Pick your favorite: We don’t do a lot of work where we are reviewing answers of an exercise, but when I do call on students, I ask them to pick their favorite question to answer.  While this often means that we do not go in sequential order, it does mean that each student who contributes is also (usually) successful. This helps to encourage more reluctant students to join in as well, as they have more control over their likelihood of getting an answer right.

Comodín: I learned this word while in Spain this summer, thanks to the amazing tv show Boom.  It means “wild card” or “lifeline”, and when we are reviewing or discussing and a student is stuck, I’ll offer them a comodín and come back to them.  Sometimes this means that they are able to consult with the people at their table and then answer; other times, it may mean that they review their work and try again.  In the end, the most important thing is that it emphasizes continuous effort, offers second chances, and doesn’t allow “I don’t know” to stay that way.

Puedos  this year I’ve introduced them in Spanish 4, and have been pleasantly surprised how they’ve been embraced.  One of the tasks for this unit: locate and identify on a map each of the countries for the legends we’ve read in our myths and legends unit.  While students have certainly been asked to do a maps or countries/capitals activity in previous classes, it doesn’t seem to stick long term.  However, this seems to be helping.  The best part of this time is that I am able to facilitate and respond to questions as needed–again, especially with reluctant learners–rather than let the questions linger.

Eliciting regular student feedback: Using our warmup sheet as the vehicle, every two weeks I ask students to provide me feedback about what’s going well, what would make it even better, and what they need from me for support.  By having the structure already created (on warmup sheet, questions pre-printed), it greatly improves my consistency in requesting this feedback from students, which in turn makes it more effective.  I comment on each feedback and return it to students so that they know that I’ve seen it and considered it.  There are so many issues that have been brought to my attention this way, and I truly value their input.

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