“Recreational reading is the most powerful tool we have in language education”
-Stephen Krashen, presentation at CCFLT, February 2017
These are the readings we need most for our classes, the easy easy readings that low level readers can read independently. Almost impossible to find. This is how you do it:
Like the idea? Click here to download the template for the pamphlet cartoon stories
It happens without warning, catching me by surprise. We might be watching a video in which a Bolivian chola comes on screen, or perhaps a very dark-skinned person, an overweight woman wearing a hijab or a homosexual couple dancing in the background of a music video. I hear a snarky murmur, mean-spirited chuckling… nothing that I can precisely distinguish but I know what this is about.
You cannot let this fester. This has to be addressed immediately and unequivocally, but winning hearts and minds can be trickier than just shutting down the rude comments. I have developed the perfect tactic to address this situation. This is not an overall strategy (every teacher should carefully plan how to honor diversity in their classrooms), but rather a tactic to remind students of their better selves. I like this tactic because it rapidly turns the tables and invites them to join us in the 21st century.
When I sense such an undercurrent, I stop whatever we are doing and quickly say, “I thought yours is the cool generation, the generation that refuses to carry hate in their hearts, to hate people for what they wear, how they were born, for being different”. I pause and frequently somebody in class will say, “we are”. They really are the cool generation. “I admire that about your generation… all of that bullshit is over with your decision to end it here and now”. Sometimes I make eye contact as I say, “right?”, but often I am addressing the whole class when I say that. More students will respond affirmatively. “We´re together on this one, right?”, and the whole class responds affirmatively. Most often I can find a reason to fist bump the offending students within ten or so minutes, and they are fully back into our class community.
I do not know why this works so well, but every time I refer to them as the cool generation they immediately take it on as their identity. I am hoping that in the future when my students hear hate speech, when they see white supremacists in public spaces, when they observe powerful figures making harsh generalizations about minority groups, they will think to themselves, “that is not a cool generation, those are not my values”.
I have been thinking about a recent blog post by Cynthia Hitz about the basics of story-asking. The first time I taught a TPRS lesson was a revelation: everyone had so much fun and learned so much. But try doing this every day, all year long, and the magic can fade. How devastating it is to be greeted by a class of moody teenagers groaning, “another story”, as if it were the worst thing to happen to them all day.
Carol Gaab points out that the brain craves novelty; switching things up, keeping it fresh, adding a dose of the unexpected will go a long way towards building a class that kids actually want to attend. There is another side to this, however, that has to do with consistency rather than novelty. When I watch this video of Alina Filipescu, for example, and I see her students´ synchronized responses I cannot help but admire the results of her clear expectations for students. The interpersonal skills rubric that came out of Ben Slavic´s group is what I use at the beginning of the school year to norm my class behaviors. At the beginning of the year I point and pause until I get the behavior I want. This can be excruciating, and I am not as consistent as I should be. At this point in the year, however, I simply need to restate the norms in a concise, “novel” format. Here is what I have written on the board:
I hate the way it is so tied to a grade, as if we cannot just hang out and have fun speaking Spanish. Yet I also feel like this is working better than anything else I have going on at the moment. Perhaps it is because I am so terribly bad at managing the bureaucracy, at keeping class jobs assigned and placing check marks on little lists, but this sign has saved me from the February blues that seems to weigh on many classes at this point of the year. It quickly, wordlessly redirects our attention so that we can get back into a delightful story, or a discussion about El Internado, or a discussion about the fictional life of a classmate. I like it.
A little tweak that makes life easier for struggling beginners
My Spanish 1 kids are at the point that they mostly understand many cognates when I say them in my wonderful Spanish accent, but there is always someone who cannot hear the elephant in elefante. And everyone, even my superstars, occasionally have their slow processing days when the word hospital sounds nothing like hospital.
We have come up with the perfect class routine to tune all ears to the cognates. When I say a cognate I pause, then say the word béisbol to which the entire class responds “baseball!!”. Now that they are alerted to the presence of a cognate I repeat the cognate and the students who understand (usually most of the class) shout out the word in English.
I love this little routine because students who did not instantly understand the cognate have a chance to process before I give them the answer, the students who did hear it are proud that they can demonstrate their mental agility, the quiet students who are not willing to admit that they did not hear the elephant in elefante are able to comprehend, and the entire routine is so quick that our class story is barely interrupted.
Many people have written about the positive impacts of creating class community through class jobs (for instance, click here and scroll down to “Classroom management” on Bryce Hedstrom’s website for a very comprehensive list of class jobs or click here to read a post on the public part of Ben Slavic’s PLC blog). Here is one additional job that we created in my classroom that has added an great element of fun: the class cat.
Whenever someone not from our class community comes into the classroom, the class cat starts whispering the words gato gato gato (cat cat cat) in a steady voice to inform me that there is someone new in the classroom. I may be deeply absorbed in the story we are creating… or I may just want to finish whatever we are doing, but the class comes first! The rest of the class, however, is sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for their signal to act. They are waiting for me to utter the phrase “había un gato”, at which point every student says “MEOW” at exactly the same time in a loud, confident voice. At that point I address our visitor as if nothing unusual had happened. My kids really enjoy this.
One of my colleagues, Tammy Cullen, has taken this further. Every several weeks she changes class jobs and, with that, the class votes on a new animal. Of course she then teaches them the Spanish voice for each animal so that the class remains in the target language whenever a visitor arrives. Here are a few that they have done:
el pollito (baby chick): pío pío pío
la paloma (dove): cucurrucú
el pavo (turkey): gluglú
el gallo (rooster): quiquiriquí
el burro (donkey): ji jo
el perro (dog): guau guau
la rana (frog): croac croac