This is not the model classroom laden with tech toys, nor is it even my ideal classroom… but it is getting closer every year. These are some of my favorite design tweaks, and how it helps me teach:
No desks. Chairs only, with tables on the outside for students to place their backpacks (and cell phones). Students come in and take out a notebook and pen, copy down the three structures of the day that are on the board, and then put their notebooks under their chair. I have to fit forty students into a classroom designed for twenty-eight; it was necessity that first led me to remove desks just to free up space. But now that I’ve done it, I would never go back! On the days that my AP students complete a formal essay I reserve the library. But writing is not the backbone of any TPRS class; listening and reading in class develop speaking and writing skills. They can place their notebooks on their laps as they write during the last ten minutes of class.
I also place the chairs in groups to facilitate TPR, naming groups after countries. I learned this from Jason Fritze. Once the whole class responds to ¡Levántense! and ¡Miren! then it’s time to start switching it up and say ¡España, levántense. Miren a México!. It keeps them in their toes.
Inspired by something I once read about Bryce Hedstrom’s classes: the back of the seats of the front row all have exclamations that I encourage them to use in class, so that not only do I get the ohhhhh’s but also a ¡Claro que sí!. Sometimes this can be really amusing.
Free reading library; there are duplicates but none of these books are “required” in the sense that we talk about them in class. Instead they are used for sustained silent reading. Some of the books, like Donde viven los monstruos, are chosen to appeal to non-heritage speakers with very little reading ability in Spanish. Right now I have about 70 books, but I’m building this library to be a more important part of my classes, in every level. The little shelfs are made of cardboard and paper stapled to the wall… very cheap but took some time during the summer to figure it out and then put it together.
Changing the lights from industrial office park lights to soft, friendly lamps has a surprising impact on the mood of the class. These are perfect for telling class stories.
My word wall focuses on the main sixteen irregular verbs that are used over and over again in conversation. Simply pointing to the correct verb with a laser pointer while telling a story, or asking a question, is amazingly effective. Terry Waltz has refined this list to 7 verbs which she teaches (in Mandarin) within the first two or so hours of class. The English will be removed once these verbs are internalized. I have the same verbs in the infinitive form posted along the front of the classroom.
The only poster in English is a reminder for me to SLOW DOWN. I refer to it often in class to emphasize that when they do not understand me then it’s my fault, not theirs.
Question words are posted in the most central place in class, right above where I often stand. I will tape the English to the bottom for the first few weeks of class to make sure these are thoroughly acquired. You can also see some of the animal puppets I have velcro-ed to the wall. They are good conversation partners and some even develop their own personalities, depending upon the class story.
Essential bookcase in the back of the room where I always place the paper that I need. You’ll notice a syllabus is already there, because otherwise I’ll lose it! The planning calendar is to keep track of when my AP kids will be giving a presentation… by September we are on a schedule where two people are giving two minute presentations every day. If I did not have this calendar I would forget.
The Sí sign velcro-ed to the front board has a red back that says no. Hold up red when ask a question. Wait. Wait. Flip it to sí and everyone answers at the same time.
The tarea box is another organizational tweak that has saved my life. I would never remember to collect homework if it weren’t for the rule that homework has to already be in the box before the last bell rings.
First day of school is tomorrow… looking forward to it!