El mundo de Sra. Brown

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Make the Vocabulary Stick!

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Make the Vocabulary Stick!

In a time of ever-increasing ways to access, present and recombine information, it is easy to forget tried and true pre-digital classroom tools. This recent post inspired me to bring back the sticky note!

Students made a peek-a-boo vocabulary list of places using small sticky notes and then timed themselves trying to match them. Then they made sequence schedules of places they were going to go during a trip around the city, narrating them to the rest of the class. Finally, they grouped the places into verb circles–for instance places you could RUN or places you could READ or places you could CLIMB.

It was so much fun that I overlooked the unauthorized use of sticky notes to simulate facial hair.

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Hispanic Heritage Month

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Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage month runs from September 15th to October 15th each year. I am lucky to be able to collaborate with the Upper School Spanish teacher at my school to create a bulletin board displayed in the dining commons of our school where students from kindergarten to twelfth grade can see it.

It’s important for me to discuss the historic and growing influence that the Latin diaspora has on our national identity. Hispanic heritage is all of our heritage and I want my students to connect with it. I have my students listen to stories of American Latinos in English and in Spanish. I also discuss with them the growing political influence of latinos in the United States. We examined La Voz, our city’s Spanish newspaper and discussed events celebrating Hispanic Heritage happening around our community.

Sixth and seventh graders looked at census data compiled by the Pew Center showing the geographic distribution and country of origin of Latinos in the United States. Students then marked a large map with the areas of greatest concentration and the countries of origin of the population. The Spanish I class wrote mini-bios of famous Latinamericans, including profession, nationality, and descriptive adjectives. Meanwhile, Spanish III students researched and compiled regional expressions used in different Spanish-speaking countries. In addition, photos of Latinos in our school community were posted along with their names and where they or their families are from.

Parent Night is Different in the Middle Grades!

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Middle school is the hinge between childhood and adolescence with students swinging back and forth depending on the day. It can be a confusing time for parents. “He doesn’t let me read to him anymore,” laments one mom. “The answer to every question I ask her is “fine,” says another dad.

While distancing a bit from their parents, middle grade students often study the other adults around them for models of how to be in the world. I often sometimes feel like a specimen under a microscope with the kids eyeballs glued to the lens. “Where did you buy that dress?” they ask. “Who did you vote for?” “How old were you when you had your son?” “How many different countries have you lived in?”

The shifting ways that parents and students relate to each other influences what I do on parent night. I want to give parents and students a touchstone from the childhood they are leaving behind. To do this, I have students think of an word (object, action, person) from an important childhood memory, translate it to Spanish and draw it on a pair of large index cards. Then I have them write a letter giving their parents clues to the meaning of the word. I hang the pictures around the room and when parents come in, they must match the word in their letter with their child’s picture. It is a kind of subterranean communication where students can reach back to the security of the past as they launch forward, and parents can see how important those formative experiences still are to their family identity.

Second, I have students leave questions for their parents on the whiteboard. The questions are to the whole group and I give parents the opportunity to write back answers if they wish. I always get the most interesting questions: “What would my name have been if I were a boy instead of a girl (or vice-versa)?” “What subject was hardest for you?” “What do you most regret not doing when you were in Middle School?” “Which Middle School teachers do you remember most?”

With this activity, I am prompting students to study their parents as they study me. And I am asking parents to remember what it was like to be contemplating adolescence. It gives the parent roadblocked by the the answer “fine” a pathway back into the conversation.

Tú eres mi otro yo

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One of the challenges of setting a foreign language class into motion is lowering student’s anxiety about communicating imperfectly. Studies have shown that the dynamics of a class can drastically affect how much a given student is willing to speak. During the first week of class I have students memorize “Tú eres mi otro yo,” the Mayan golden rule in Spanish. It translates to “you are my other self.” This helps them to identify with each other, create community and gain the courage to make constructive classroom mistakes in front of their peers. This year, students recorded the saying in meaningful places around our school.