Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
I feel like a total n00b when it comes to my Advanced Spanish class. I've never taught at this level, nor with this amount of differentiation. I feel like each day is a struggle to try and meet students' needs at the level that they need it. Moreover, since all of them are in Spanish IIIH and AP, I feel an obligation to make sure they are satisfied with their elective choice, especially since it goes beyond the two years most students feel like they need for college. They are here because they truly want to learn what I have to offer. I have to admit I'm a bit flattered that they would choose this over, say art. But yet, here they are. And I often feel like I'm letting them down with first-year teacher issues.
Except, thnere's one big difference: I'm not a first-year teacher and I know I've done more difficult things than this before. I can do this - I just have to figure out what works. I keep reminding myself - at least I know how to teach now! I just need to put the pieces together! And of course, having an additional two years of classroom management makes me feel like a pro compared to that first year.
I've tried three distinct curricula with them so far:
As students finished their tests, I drew a table with three columns on the board: "What I like", "What I don't like" and "What we should change" and filled in a few of my "big" things I've been thinking about in black. As they finished, I invited them to add their own thoughts to the board in any color other than black. When everyone finished adding their ideas, I found that I could accommodate everything they'd written and still do my job well. How awesome! However, it occurred to me that not everyone may agree with the ideas on the board, so I passed out post-it notes and told them to put a check mark next to the things they liked and an X next to the things they don't like. They didn't have to put their name and I positioned myself looking away from the board.
When they informed me I could turn around, I was happy to see that there was a high degree of consensus among students. In fact they all agreed on every item except one - more on that later. Here is their feedback (my comments are in black, theirs are in blue).
Overall, I'm very pleased with the students' suggestions. Students want to talk in Spanish! Which is ironic, because I feel like this is what I work the hardest to encourage them to do. I think that with this expressed desire, I can capitalize on this and structure more activities. I believe structure is the key - they need to know when to talk (taking turns and for certain periods of time), what to talk about, and how to talk abut it (sentence frames, etc.). They also want to explore culture more, which is something I've been moving toward using the Tejidos activities and addressing the AP exam themes. I'm not sure I'm seeing quite the payoff from listening to Un Gancho al Corazon, but it's a powerful motivation tool and the students love it. I can use that to my benefit by encouraging them to work hard for me and then reward them with Un Gancho. They also didn't completely oppose anything that I suggested was good or needed change.
It was pretty evident to me students did not find the reading log valuable. Instead, they requested worksheets. I personally feel that the reading is more valuable and I would get value from it. However, this is a place I can give in, especially since they gave me an alternate type of homework that I could use to be meaningful. I'll probably start with Conjuguemos and grammar-type worksheets. That seems to be what they want - I'll load class with Comprehensible Input and let them work out the grammar at home. Win-win!
There was sharp disagreement in feedback about splitting the class. It appeared that the majority of the class (we assumed the IIIH students with easier work) was happy with the split, while four students (we assumed these were probably the AP students) did not like the split. Some of the more vocal Heritage students were upset because "it's not fair" that they are doing harder work. They asked if they could get the "AP" on their transcript, which cannot happen because they don't have credit for Spanish IIIH (nor are they getting the full AP curriculum). However, this is one of the issues that I'm not going to budge on - I will not sell them short by giving them material that is too easy for them, nor will I give the rest of the class work that will set them up for failure. It looks like I need to have an honest discussion with them about how and why I am differentiating the instruction, and why I'm doing it for them (it's sure to make my life easier!).
Overall, I think this gives me a good "checkup" on where we are, what my students want, and what they need. I'm excited to move forward with these activities with the hope that I'll have more buy-in and motivation since the activities match their desires, resulting in more motivation and learning on their part. Plus, I'm excited to do the things that they want to do as well! It will be interesting to see how these next few weeks go with new strategies based on this conversation.
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