Monday, August 27, 2012

Advice for New Teachers and Teacher Voice

As school is starting (for some - I started with kids this past Tuesday) I'm getting some last-minute requests for advice.  Here is a response to one email:

Advice for first year teacher - feeling lost and overwhelmed is normal - I still feel that way in the first few weeks of school (and sometimes later) even after 12 years of teaching.  The way I handle it is putting in the hours to make sure I have good lesson plans ready for class.  Even then, you have to stay flexible in class and accept the fact that some activities will flop badly, others will surprise you in how well they go, sometimes you run out of activities; sometimes you run out of time.  Stay flexible and accept the improvisational aspects of this job as part of the deal.  I recommend getting a good Spanish soap opera off Amazon to fill in the dead spots in class so you can regroup.  However, if you show videos "too much," you'll get a bad rep that way, so use judiciously.

My other big advice for new teachers:  Develop and use Teacher Voice.  You may want to practice this at home until you get a volume and a tone that sounds right, and practice going from normal conversational tone to instant Teacher Voice.

Teacher Voice is:
- loud (able to be heard over a classroom of 35 kids who are talking)
- firm, authoritative without sounding angry
- positive, expectant
- sure of what you want to happen ("OK, I need everyone to go back to their seats now.")
- bossy but with an undertone of affection

Now, not everything you say in class has to be delivered as loudly as you need to get to be heard over 35 voices, but you need to be able to hit this volume in an instant when needed.  A lot of times kids aren't necessarily being disrespectful, they simply can't hear the teacher, and/or they aren't sure you REALLY need them to listen now because you aren't commanding attention.

Okay, Ven Conmigo - I know of it, but I haven't studied the vocab lists or grammar topics enough to know how closely aligned my 1A book is, but I'd be willing to bet that it starts with greetings and introductions, then goes on to numbers, school supplies, family, house, colors, numbers, activities/hobbies, clothes, food, places around town, etc. like every other Spanish 1 textbook does.  If you need to compare vocab lists, my 1A list is at the very back of my book broken down by lesson.

Best of luck to you - let me know how the first day or week goes!  And let me know if you need anything else.

Anyone else who wants to chime in on advice for new teachers, feel free to comment.  Okay, back to the rush of Monday morning getting ready for school...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gestures to Teach Vocab

Getting a lot of questions like this one from my friend Glen Irvin up in Minnesota:
Hi Jalen,
I think I've asked you this question, but I'm not sure of your response so here it goes again. Do you have a description of the gestures you use for your vocabulary in your Level 1 and 2 new books? I also believe that gestures really work, but maybe I'm not creative enough, but I can't seem to think of anything good for some of the gestures. I have had the kids make stuff up on occasion but this sometimes distracts from the learning of the vocabulary and becomes all about the gestures. If you have suggestions or if you have something down I would be interested in hearing it.

My response:
Hi Glen, I've been meaning to write a post about this but I've been swamped with trying to finish 3B and processing fall book orders (a happy problem...)

The short answer, I don't have a list of gesture descriptions.  I don't worry too much about whether the gestures we come up with are "good" or doesn't seem to matter, as long as they do a gesture when I say a phrase.  We use the same gesture for several things, like thumbs up with a goofy smile means a jillion different things, depending on which vocab set we're on.  As long as the 5 or so gestures of the day are different, it works.  So if I made a list of gestures, you'd look at it and go, wow, those are all lame. : - )

The point is, they are doing a movement that we agreed on beforehand would represent that word or phrase, and their brain makes the connection.  I repeat, the gestures do not have to be "good," there just has to be one for each phrase.  (Or sometimes it's a couple of movements for the phrase, if the phrase is long.  Example from 3A:  Joe le mintiĆ³ a su hermana = cross your fingers then point at Jade, who we all just now decided looks like Joe's hermana)  Also, I draw quick stick figure drawings of stuff on the board for them to point at if we can't gesture it.  (These also do NOT have to be "good.")

Yes, sometimes this process of coming up with gestures takes away from the focus more than I'd like, but that is mostly just in the first class of the day, because after that I use their gestures unless the following classes jump in with a better idea, which they sometimes do.

And there is more to say about gesturing, but that's all I have time for at the moment!  Back to work.  I'm on Lesson 17 in 3B.

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