I did not grow up in the city, and accordingly, sometimes I think my lessons sprawl out everywhere, like the rolling countryside. When does one lesson end and another begin? No one really knows. Let me provide an example (for detailed examples, see HERE).
The school year is about to commence, and for perhaps the fifteenth year in a row, I am excited but also a bit panicky and nervous. How do I teach, again? Do I remember? And, most importantly, where to begin? The age-old questions haunt me at night: do I start in English on day one to provide structure and a curricular overview, and allay students’ fears that Spanish class is not impossible but rather exciting and project-based–but thereby risking that I will slide into English when the going gets tough? Or do I begin in Spanish and set the tone for an immersive classroom, but struggle later on in the year when expectations and rules have not been clearly
stated understood and the curricular flow is not obvious to students?
Now, don’t get me wrong: I aim for a 90-100% immersive classroom experience. This is and has always been the goal. Some classes are closer to 99%, others less so. While I love the idea of 100% immersion, we only meet two to three times a week, which means that our learning targets must be adjusted accordingly; I do not teach at an immersion school. True fluency is idealistic but not likely, given the time constraints. However, this year I have a solution, at least for this seemingly annual query.
Enter THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION. Wait, what? How in the world are you teaching La Constitución Espanola to elementary-aged students? Don’t worry, I created an abridged version! Here was my step-by-step process:
- Get a piece of normal computer paper. Crumple it up and then flatten it back out.
- Fill a pan with strong tea or coffee, and soak the paper in it for several hours.
- Dry the paper with a hairdryer.
- Decide on your top 3-5 most important qualities you want students to strive for in your classroom, all year long. You can do this with your students, too, of course, but I chose not to this year to save time.
- Soy amable. (I am kind.)
- Soy inteligente. (I am smart.)
- Soy fuerte. (I am strong.)
- Soy valiente. (I am courageous/ brave.)
- Write them in your best print or cursive with a black Sharpie on the now tea-stained paper.
- Discuss as a class (in English) what being kind/ smart/ strong/ brave looks like in your room. I like to use questions here. How can you be brave in Spanish class? Ask questions! How can you be strong? Never give up, ever!
- Have students sign an attached page with their fanciest signatures, as though it were the Declaration of Independence. Post in your classroom.
- Repeat the Spanish words like a mantra at the beginning of each class period, as a quick reminder. You will, of course, still need to remind and discipline, but this provides a nice structure where you can focus on the Spanish.
- If you teach more advanced levels, the “Soy...” sentences could be written up with more complex sentence structures and vocabulary; and when classes have mastered these phrases, you can likewise ‘level up’ however you see fit.
- That could mean asking, “¿Cómo eres?” at the beginning of class, and students’ job is to provide those four answers (and/or more), or prompting them with, “Primero/ Antes que nada, …. [soy amable]”, “Segundo, [soy inteligente]”, etc.