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Classroom Managment

Differentiated instruction
Incorporating new and exciting technology
Setting Goals, Reflecting, and Succeeding
Five Resolutions for starting a new semester
Checklist to assess teaching and classroom management
Why must I write annual goals to submit to my principal? 
How to best serve on my school district's text book adoption committee
What is digital storytelling?
To use or not to use the dictionary, that is the question?
Getting away from the book and still teaching the curriculum
Tired of teaching the same things year after year
What is the true value of rubrics?
I am transferring to a new school that is on block scheduling
Encourage teachers to make the most of block scheduling
How can I bring my students attention back to the class topic?
How can I help my students use their language to meet their requirements for service learning?
What do you recommend for my first travel experience with my students?
Why is the language club an important feature of the foreign language department?
Accomodations during testing: reading materials aloud
Balancing order with openness in the classroom
How to deal with irate parents?
What do I do about students who refuse to do their out of class preparation?
How to revitalize my classroom?
Students missing class
Dealing with student teasing
Getting students to settle down
Disruptive heritage speakers in class
Managing mixed ability classes
Special education students: Dyslexia
Special ed students: Learning Disabilities

Differenciated Instruction

Dear YANA,
Differentiated instruction is a big push in my school system this year. This is my 7th year of teaching high school languages and I am struggling with broadening the ways in which I present material to my students. Our student population is varied, multi-ethnic, crosses the economic spectrum, and with the whole range of hopes and plans for the future. Please help me to figure out some ways to better engage these students.

Dear Reader,
Every teacher needs to be aware of the characteristics of the students who come into the classroom. You are well on your way to reaching all of your students because you are aware of where they come from, what they bring with them into your classroom, and where they are going. Use this to your advantage:

  • Design activities that engage these young people in what they are interested in doing.
  • Tap their talents and encourage them to apply the language they are learning to those talents.
  • Find out how they learn.

Armed with this knowledge, you can go about providing learning experiences for them that will engage them from the beginning because the experiences are interesting and relevant.

When students work in pairs or threes, they can:

  • explore topics of similar interest,
  • support each other in their learning process, and
  • reduce the amount of time the teacher needs to be “talking to the class” thus leaving the teacher free to work independently with individual groups.

The final product is a reflection of well-designed rubrics and prompts that demonstrate use of appropriate content, language, and cultural interaction, all with the individual twist and interpretation that makes life so interesting.

Incorporating some new and exciting technology

Dear YANA,
I want to start the new year with my students by incorporating some new and exciting technology. I’m looking for things that will interest them, things that will help me keep organized, and things that just add something to the tried and true. Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Reader
A new school year is starting. It is so exciting to meet new students, see their eager faces, and realize how excited they are to be learning a new language. One of our tasks as teachers is to make their experience as positive and attainable as we can. This includes couching their learning experiences in terms they know and understand. Enter: Tah Dah! new developments in the language classroom. Most of these new developments are technology based, so I thought I would highlight some of the technology discoveries made during our summer Spanish Immersion Institute.

For lesson planning and resources:
    Resources for teachers and students, prepared activities. Many languages and formats (both on-line and in the classroom) from which to choose. (Free)
    Spanish language and culture, offers a variety of lesson plans about culture and language that incorporate a variety of media. (Free)
For presentations:
    Presentation package. Combines brainstorming, organizing, and presenting in one package. Zoom and fly from one point to the next. (Free)
For connecting, collaborating, and sharing:
  • Collaborative space for sharing ideas. (Cost)
  • Collaborative space for sharing ideas. (Free)
  • Collaborative space for sharing ideas. (Some resources are free, some have a cost)
For Creating Visual Impressions:
  • - Create heads to express ideas, emotions, personalities, etc. Drag and Drop. (Free).
  • - Create word pictures with different sizes and orientation of words and phrases. (Free).

Have a wonderful start to a new school year! If you have questions, YANA is here to help, and reminds you that You Are Not Alone!

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Setting Goals, Reflecting, and Succeeding

The school season is hard upon us! Our restful days of summer have rejuvenated us and we’re ready to step into the fray, eager and anxious to share our love of language to the new crop of students awaiting us. But, what do we want to accomplish this year? Of course, we want our students to succeed, to develop an understanding of language and cultures, and to get through the curriculum our district has established for us. Is that all?

As we all know, there is more to teaching than page turning, so take a few moments to seriously think about at least three goals you would like to achieve this year. Perhaps you can come up with five, but don’t go beyond that. These goals may be personal, they may be professional, or they may be focused on your students. It really doesn’t matter, although a good mix is not a bad idea. Maybe your goal is to incorporate a specific technology into your teaching on a regular basis or to integrate all of the 5 C’s into your teaching for each thematic unit. Or, is it leading your students to confidently be able to speak for some determined length of time? It might even be that you want to return all assignments within 3 days, with grades and detailed comments.

Once you have determined your goals, set down some intermediate steps to help you achieve your goals by the end of the school year. Make a plan for your success by taking out a calendar and pacing out your march toward achieving the goals. Plan and schedule these markers to determine what you will achieve towards your goals, how you will get to that point, and by which date. Your markers are intended to help you achieve your goal and should be scheduled in a way that works best for you. Whether that is at the end of each grading period or is determined by certain events in your life, whatever your framework is, set yourself intermediate steps.

Beyond that, it might be helpful to list some strategies that you will use. Strategies can include a list of books, websites, mentors, or tools that you might use to help you. Strategies can also include behaviors on your part or on the part of your students. If your goal is returning assignments, then perhaps a strategy is to turn off the TV for 2 hours in the evening. If it is to learn technology, sign up for a workshop and designate time each week to work and practice with it. If it is student speaking, devise some activities that will give them the experiences and time they need to be comfortable while speaking.

Why is it important to set goals? It keeps us from wandering aimlessly about, wondering if we are making a difference, asking ourselves if we are improving ourselves in any way, and gives us something to focus on beyond planning lessons and grading assignments. When observation and evaluation time comes around, this is something we can share with our evaluator. Most importantly, it gives us focus and an opportunity for reflection about how we are doing with our chosen profession. Reflection prompts adjusting and improvement, and improvement is what we all want.

If you have a plan and have a fairly good idea of how you will achieve the plan, you will find that you have met your goals when this year is over. What a sense of achievement that is!

Think. Set goals. Plan. Reflect. Achieve.

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Five Resolutions for starting a new semester

It’s a new year and time for some resolutions!  The start of a new semester presents a wonderful opportunity to institute some new ideas, tighten up procedures, and generally spruce up the classroom environment.  These five are relatively easy to execute and should go a long way toward getting you through February.  (Where I live, February is chilly, grey, dreary, and often drippy, with very little sunshine, and lots of humidity.  The year’s shortest month often feels as long as two Januarys!)

#1:  Tighten up use of classroom time.

·      Look at your procedures and chop out those minutes of down time. 

·      Institute fun and engaging activities for students to do as they are waiting for the bell to ring and for you to finish those quick administrative duties at the start of class.

·      To ensure that students are actively participating in language use, change the type of activity every 12-15 minutes.

·      Finish up class with a “culminating activity” that incorporates all the major points of the class period.  This only needs to last 5 minutes and remember that the operative word here is activity.  Make it active and all-inclusive.

·      Reinforce the procedures you instituted at the start of the year, thus keeping the pace of class moving along.

#2:  Include students in your preliminary planning.

·      Talk with students about the parts of class that seem to be of most help in their learning. 

·      Get their ideas about what will improve their learning. 

·      Apply these ideas regularly in your planning.

#3:  Do something exciting for yourself that relates to your classes.

·      Buy a book or a DVD that you’ve been wanting.

·      Go to a concert, lecture, book signing, or local celebration that relates to your teaching.

·      If you are excited, it will transfer to other things you do, including your demeanor in the classroom.

·      Share interesting things you have done or learned with your students.

#4:  Refurbish and refresh the classroom

·      Change the arrangement of classroom furniture.

·      Renew the walls.

·      Change the bulletin boards.

#5:  Try something completely different

·      Invigorate learning by trying a hands-on project

·      Take learning out into the community in some fashion

·      Invite teachers from other curricular areas to share their knowledge as it relates to your language and culture.

There are thousands of ways to make the start of the second semester feel like the start of an exciting new course.  Be creative in your approach and both you and your students will beat the February blahs and find that it’s spring before you know it!


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Checklists to assess teaching and classroom management

Hello YANA,
I would like to have some forms or check lists to help me assess my own EFL teaching and classroom management. I teach Reading to college level students overseas.
Thanks, Noura

Dear Noura,

What an interesting and valuable idea you offer. Most of the questions I receive have to do with the student side of the equation. You have posed a wonderful two-part question and I will address each part separately. This column will talk about classroom management and the next column will talk about self assessment as a teacher.

Classroom Management

The most important piece of successful classroom management is knowing what you expect from your students and conveying those expectations to them in a clear fashion and being consistent about their application. Give this careful thought before going into the classroom on the first day, including the following ideas.

• Establish classroom procedures that will ease the flow of the activities you have planned.
• Have clearly stated goals and objectives for the course, unit, and day.
• Have a clearly stated grading policy.
• Be sure that what you expect is reasonable and respectful of the students and yourself.
• Prepare a syllabus that clearly identifies what topics will be covered and what skills will be addressed.

Do you lose the students as you transition from one activity or topic to the next? Ask yourself the following:

• Do you clearly know what you are going to do, and when and how you will do it?
• Do you know how to operate the equipment you will be using that day?
• Have you checked out the equipment to be sure it is functioning properly?
• Do you have your teaching materials organized and easy to locate?
• Do you have back-up plans ready and in place if something goes awry?
• Do you have students engaged in learning from the start to the end of class?

It is very easy to lose your students if you do not transition smoothly and quickly from one section of class to the next, or if you do not have your students actively participating in the learning process for the entire class period. Have things planned for students to do from start to finish. Part of your procedural training of the class should include how to work in small groups and pairs. Start the class off with paired work that either reviews yesterday or lays the groundwork for today. Then, be sure they know you have been paying attention to their work.

If a transition is going to take some time, devise a small group activity for the students to do while you are setting up the next piece that either uses the old or new topic. Here are some ideas to use for transitioning:

• a short conversation,
• the writing of a group story with a beginning, middle, and end (5 sentences using current vocabulary and structure),
• sketching a print advertisement using the current vocabulary and structure,
• creating a jingle that reflects the old or new topic,
• preparing a list of questions to ask the teacher that pertain to the new topic,
• a quick, ungraded, pre-test on the new material that students will use later to assess their understanding of the new topic.

Just about anything works here, as long as it is quick and relevant. Then, before actually starting the next piece have some type of follow-up to the small group activity. This will ensure that students are being held accountable for what they do during that transition time.

Do you find that students are not able, or willing, to demonstrate the skills you expect? Take a look at:

• How much time you are talking during the class period.
• How much modeling you do of the expected outcome.
• How much time students have to practice the skill.

Student performance will be low if they do not have the opportunity to practice and/or do not know what to practice to what end. Model what you expect, then step aside and provide lots of practice time. Ungraded practice is good for exploration and testing of unknown waters. Move quickly to checking what they have done by using follow-up questions, reporting back to the class, and other quick-check methods. Although ungraded, these methods keep the students responsible for their time, and allow you to assess their progress.

Prepare students for the final assessment by breaking up the material into smaller pieces and giving them the opportunity to perfect them, and then combine them into a larger piece. Ultimately they will have a fairly large piece already practiced and perfected when it comes time for the final evaluation. The students will find it easy to prepare and the scores should be high if this is done correctly.

Once you have classroom management under control then the students will have positive learning experiences. That is, providing you have given proper thought to planning. Next month’s column will address how to evaluate your own teaching.


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Dear Noura,

Teacher Self Assessment

Last month I answered the first of a two-part question about teacher effectiveness.  That section dealt with classroom management and this section will address self assessment on the part of the teacher.  There are a lot of classroom management self assessment tools available for teachers on the Internet and you may find one that seems to address your particular situation.  Classroom management is only a portion of being a successful teacher.  Likewise, subject matter knowledge is only a portion.  Preparation is still another piece of the successful teacher puzzle.

Good planning, with alternate plans, is a key to effective teaching.  Your plans should outline the entire course, each unit, and each day, and be more and more specific as you approach the daily lesson plan.  It is very important to know where you are going and how you are going to arrive there.  Predictability will help both you and your students to succeed.  I know some teachers who say they have taught the same course for years and don’t need to write lesson plans all of the time.  What they fail to recognize is that each class has a different student make-up.  This means different skills, interests, and abilities.  You must take the unique nature of each class into consideration when deciding what you will do each day.  If you teach the same subject several times a day, the same holds true: each class is unique because of the students and the time of day.  I also know a teacher or two who say they don’t know what they are going to teach until they’ve taught it because they want to be open to that “teachable moment” when it arises.  Don’t be fooled by that!  Good lesson planning always allows for the digression into that teachable moment

What is a good lesson plan?  It is one that accurately predicts and reflects classroom activity on a given day.  If you look back to the classroom management column from last month, you will see that good planning is the key there as well.  It creates a flexible framework for forward progress.  Always plan for a bit more than you think you will achieve.  Frame your activities to so they involve all students in a positive and nurturing climate.

Each class should provide students with a variety of activities, each of which probably shouldn’t last more than 20 minutes.  Variety can simply mean using the same content in different ways: draw a comic strip to illustrate an idea or to use vocabulary, write a poem using vocabulary, perform a skit incorporating inter-personal relationships and communication, conduct surveys and prepare a summary of their findings.   Some of these activities might be ungraded practices that lead to a culminating activity in a few days time.  This variety will help students who have different learning styles grasp the concepts.  Ungraded practice can be whole class, yes, but it must also include small group, paired, and individual practice as well.  Your classroom should seem like organized and controlled chaos to an outsider.

Spend time with your colleagues and your mentor.  Share your ideas, successes, and not-quite-so-successful attempts with them.  They will have had similar experiences and will be able to help you fine-tune your style, approach, and expectations.  When something doesn’t go quite right, they may have the simple answer, or be willing to help you search for an answer.   Things will go better if you maintain and expect positive and respectful behaviors in your classroom.

How your students perform on your assessments is probably the best indicator of how well you are doing as a teacher.  If students consistently perform poorly, it may be for a variety of reasons:  (a) The assessment is too demanding.  (b) The expectation is beyond the students’ abilities.  (c) The assessment is poorly designed.  (d)  The assignment and/or the rubric was not clear (e) The learning did not take place.  Take a close look at all five of the possibilities and honestly judge them.  You may have to go back and do some things again in a different way and assess again.  Did you do enough evaluation along the way to the final assessment to know what the students still needed to learn?  Did they practice and learn what you tested?

Finally, reflect on your day every day.  What went well?  Why?  How could the best be made better?  What did not go quite so well?  Why?  Improve on the idea and try it again.  Is your voice tired and your throat sore?  If so, you are talking way too much.  Stand back and let your students do the talking.  Only through practice will they gain proficiency.

How does one know if one is an effective teacher?  Briefly, I would say that student performance on proficiency based activities is a good indicator of your effectiveness.  Also, the general atmosphere in the room will tell you whether your students look forward to, or dread, their time with you.  Pay attention to the types of questions and comments the students have; if these are superficial and/or critical you may have some changing of your ways ahead of you.  If students volunteer their participation, come prepared, have assignments ready when due, are positive and respectful, and seem comfortable in class, then you are probably doing a fairly good job of it.  There’s always room for improvement: build on your strengths!

Having said all of the above, please remember that even the best of the best teachers run up against a difficult class now and then.  It’s rare that an entire class is difficult, so ask your mentor to observe, to review your lessons, assessments, and other materials.  Seek help from those experienced teachers around you.  Remember, and apply, the “positive and respectful” theme.

So, here’s a check list based on the above:

  • Do I have a course outline and a set of course objectives?
  • Do I have a complete lesson plan for each day of a unit?
  • Do I allow for the individual differences found in each class, while essentially keeping them in the same place?
  • Do I have a variety of activities?
  • Do I group students for practice and production of information?
  • Do I switch activities frequently?
  • Have I set a predictable routine and taught the students how to move from one activity to another?
  • Do I provide ungraded practice time before graded performance time?
  • Do I evaluate student progress regularly during the class?
  • Do I teach what I test?
  • Do I test what I teach?
  • Do I talk with my mentor?
  • Are the assignments, and expectations, clearly stated?
  • Is the rubric clear?
  • Is my classroom a positive and respectful place in which to learn?
  • Am I taking time every day to reflect and critique how the day went and why?


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Why must I write annual goals to submit to my principal?

Dear YANA,

I know you addressed this topic several years ago, but I would like you to re-visit it again, please.  Why must I write annual goals to submit to my principal?  They just go into a file; they are never read; I am never asked about them in a post-observation interview.  I find it a waste of time to write something in “educationalese” when I know in my mind what I want to accomplish and go about doing it every year.

~ Frustrated!

Dear Frustrated,

Whether you feel that the appropriate use is made of your written goals by your administrators or not, they are important to put down on paper, perhaps especially for you.  I will approach your frustration from the angle of how this will help you, and will not address what your administration does or does not do with them.  There are a variety of reasons why an administrator might ask for goals.  Among them are having to satisfy a list of objectives either for the superintendent or the school board, or as part of a check list for accreditation. 

We all arrive at school in the fall ready to tackle another year, having spent time over the summer thinking about our successes and our failures, our strengths and our weaknesses.  While everybody likes to sit on their laurels, what will make us even more successful, is to spend time reflecting on our failures and weaknesses.  This reflection should include delving into reasons why we weren’t satisfied and exploring ways to make the effort more successful.  Jot down the most important of these and prepare a plan of action (aka: a set of goals) for improvement.  A time-line might be helpful if you have devised a multi-step plan for one of your goals.

While thinking seriously about these things is an important first step, putting ideas on paper helps to crystallize the thoughts and organize approaches for improvement.  Written down, these ideas then become easier to run a self-check on as the year progresses.  Pull them out every month or two and critically analyze your trajectory toward achieving the goals.  Make adjustments as necessary.

There are always hoops through which we need to jump, whether or not we like or agree with them.  Stop grumbling about having to write these goals and submit them to your principal, and turn your thinking around into how this will help you become an even better teacher than you are already.  We all have room for improvement!

In summary:

  • Make a list of what you areas would like to improve in this year.  Be specific.
  • Form a plan of action from this list.  Be specific.
  • Prioritize this list, using whatever criteria are important to you.
  • Select the top 5 items and submit them for your goals for this year.


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How to best serve on my school district's text book adoption committee

I was asked to serve on my school district's text book adoption committee. I know what I like and don't like about our current textbook, but I have never done anything like this before and would like some advice on how to approach this important responsibility.

You are indeed correct when you indicate that selecting a textbook is an important and far-reaching activity and you are right to approach it with a sense of the responsibility that was bestowed upon you. For those of you who are not serving on such a committee, be sure you make your ideas known to a representative. Volunteer your name for the next time around. Stay informed in the interim. The more all of us are involved in the choices that affect our daily work routine, the more control we have over a positive outcome.

Along with everything else I am going to suggest, please keep in mind what is appropriate for your community, both in terms of demographics and finances, including price contracts for the duration of the adoption cycle. You want to look at all levels in a series, not just what you teach, from the point of view of the teacher, the student, and the parents. Ancillaries are secondary and should be used to break a tie, especially if there is a cost involved.

It is very likely that your state has already done some of the groundwork for you by reviewing and approving several series. This means they will have looked at how the books deal with the state standards for foreign languages and the soundness of the pedagogy. In addition, they will have considered such mundane things as the durability of the book itself.

Things to consider in a general overview
  • uncluttered pages
  • easy to understand icons
  • useful references
  • size and weight of book
  • durability of student text
  • sufficient support included in the text to not need many of the ancillaries
Things to consider from the students' point of view
  • organization of the textbook
  • useful icons
  • comfortable size (for carrying and for desktop use)
  • up-to-date photographs and cultural items
  • clear drawings
  • consistent format
  • consistent color coding
  • colorful and uncluttered
  • clear, concise directions
  • easy-to-follow models
  • variety of exercises
  • easy to locate vocabulary listings
  • easy to use grammar help
  • interesting content
Things to consider from the teachers' point of view
  • organization of the textbook
  • front matter includes a schematic of how the various parts fit together
  • reasonable to cover in one year
  • How does the “extra” material in a text get treated in the next level
  • useful and easy to interpret icons
  • spend equal time covering skills and standards in a proficiency approach
  • photos and other cultural information up to date
  • incremental learning, re-entered regularly
  • vocabulary presented in manageable groups
Ancillaries: workbook
  • address the same skills and standards as the text
  • treat the same material as the text
  • reflect incremental learning
  • contain a variety of exercises
  • contain a variety of exercises
Ancillaries: transparencies
  • reflect text material
  • clear and uncluttered
  • colorful
  • up to date
Ancillaries: audio-visual
  • reflect text material
  • speech is clear
  • speed is sensible
  • pauses are sufficient
  • repetition is appropriate
  • contains different pronunciation patterns
  • images and content are appropriate, relevant, and up-to-date

I wish you luck in this endeavor. Choosing a textbook series by committee is an exercise in accommodation and compromise. Whatever the committee chooses must be acceptable to a variety of teaching and learning styles, as well as a variety of ages and interests.

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What is digital storytelling?

Dear YANA,
I am hearing some of my colleagues at other schools talk about the digital stories their students are writing. They are very excited about what their students are doing. What is digital storytelling? How can I use it in my classroom? I am not very technical beyond the basics, but am willing to learn.

Digital storytelling is a multimedia way to tell a story. Many of the successful digital stories use music, still photos, speaking, and some include snips of video. The result is a short video piece similar to the kind of thing Ken Burns did with his Civil War series. Topics may be personal memories, historical research, creative writing, or anything else that crosses the mind.

You will have to become versed in a variety of software in order to lead your students through the creation of their own stories. Talk with the IT person at your school to see what they suggest. You will need an audio editor, an image editor, and a video editor. Some good ones are available fir free, and your school may already have access to some of these. I strongly suggest that you create some digital stories yourself first for use in the class, both to learn the process and to demonstrate the final product. Ask your IT person for help as you create these. Tell your students that you are learning how to do this and ask for their honest critique of your work.

What can you ask your students to do in a digital form? Your students can transfer anything you have them write as an essay or as a creative writing assignment to this digital format. The challenge is to reduce the information to the essentials so that the video does not run beyond 3 minutes or so. See the Teachers Lounge in Culture Club for a lesson plan.

Some students will come to your classes with the skills and knowledge to do digital storytelling and others will have no clue. Talk with your students about how they use computers and what they know how to create on their computer. This will give you an idea of where to start your instruction, because not only will you be assigning a “project” to your students, in all likelihood you will be teaching them how to use new software as well. Students will enjoy preparing and presenting reports and stories in this exciting new digital mode. It takes time to create, but it is worth it!

Several websites will be of help to the beginning digital storyteller. Just put digital storytelling into your favorite search engine and you will find a wealth of information at your disposal.
Main Directory for the Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling Website
College of Education, University of Houston
Introduction, Goals and Objectives, Getting Started, Examples, Tools, Evaluation, Resources, Partners.
Excellent tutorial and basic information with examples. techLEARNING, Nov. 1, 2007
Tips for Digital Story Telling. Clear, concise and excellent one-page introduction
Digital Storytelling Good collection of sites with examples, instructions, hardware and software requirements
The Center for Digital Storytelling
Cookbook of how to put one together. Examples of good digital stories

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To use or not to use the dictionary, that is the question?

Dear YANA,
One of my colleagues is doing a series of lessons on how to use a dictionary, including both paper and on line versions, for an entry level class. I have encouraged my beginning students to stay away from the dictionary and am wondering what your advice is on this matter?
~How do you say

Dear How do you say:
Using a dictionary is a topic that is likely to generate as many opinions as there are people taking part in the conversation. Everybody has their own take on the effectiveness of exercises and use. Here's my approach to dictionary usage.

Introductory Levels:
I discourage their use at just about any time for work they will be doing for class, especially in the productive skills areas. I always encourage their use for curiosity and growth. The reason for not using them at this level has everything to do with what they must learn to pass the course. If they are laden with additional words they need to learn, we are risking a melt-down. All of the creative, individual and group projects that my students engage in are based on the vocabulary of the current, and past, lessons. If this project is something to be shared with the class, the vocabulary has to be commensurate with the audience's knowledge. If it is an individual writing for the teacher, I permit some additional words beyond the scope and sequence of the course. Students need to be able to talk about what interests them and I do provide opportunities for that on a regular basis. If students are assigned a reading that contains words they do not know, I usually gloss them, both to save the student time, and to keep the flow of information coming.

To ensure that dictionaries are used correctly, I do a series of short lessons that will introduce the students to how the dictionary is organized, the abbreviations that are used and what they mean, and the multiple meanings of a single word, depending on context and part of speech, for example "spoke." In addition, I do a piece on idioms, so they understand that some phrases must be taken as a whole, and not their individual parts. A favorite one that illustrates this point is "of course."

Intermediate and Advanced Levels:
I continue to discourage the use of dictionaries on a regular basis in order to reduce dependency. How many of us carry a bi-lingual dictionary in our pocket all of the time? They must learn to store words in their memory banks (aka brain) and retreive them when they're needed.

As the complexity of their language increases, and the topics become broader and more esoteric, dictionaries are permitted, always with attention paid to choosing the correct word.

In summary, the use of dictionaries has a place in learning another language, especially with the productive skills. I have many in my classroom and do tell students to consult them when it is an appropriate use. These comments are relative to both print and on-line dictionaries. They have nothing to do with on-line translators, which I abhor and do not permit at all. When I am working on my non-teaching language projects I often have an on-line dictionary open, to check to be sure that I have chosen the most appropriate word. I sometimes use both an on-line and a print dictionary when working with very specialized vocabulary that is relatively new to me. I am not anti-dictionary, but I do try to avoid using one in most cases.

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Getting away from the book and still teaching the curriculum

Dear YANA,
I am a new teacher; this fall I have been observing teachers that are more experienced than I am. I notice that some of them are teaching directly out of the book, doing all of the exercises, and are successfully engaging students in using the TL. I see other teachers never opening the book and still engaging students in using the TL and incorporating the same pieces that the book users are incorporating. I want to teach without the book! Do you have some suggestions on how I can do this?
Bookless and loving it!

Dear Bookless and loving it!
What a wonderful observation you have made! Many teachers lean on the book in class and still produce students who can communicate without the book. My observational experience says that there are higher numbers of proficient students leaving classrooms of teachers who do not use the book very much in class. We need to remember that proficiency is a continuum of skills and knowledge that is acquired over a period of time. So, when we talk about proficient students leaving a level one class we understand that they are not “fluent” nor are they as proficient as a student leaving a fourth level class.

Now, to address your question directly … If you provide your students with opportunities to express themselves every day, and require them to do so, they will eventually gain the confidence needed to step out on their own into uncharted territory. You can do this in a variety of ways.

For communicative speaking proficiency:

  1. On the first day, introduce the vocabulary in small chunks of about 10 words. Use action, pictures, definitions in your TL, or any other means that comes to mind, to give meaning to the words. Avoid English at all costs. This should take about 10 minutes.

  2. Put the vocabulary in a place where everybody can see it. Ask the students to carry on a conversation using the words on the list, with each student selecting at least 6 of the 10. This should take 2 to 4 minutes.

  3. Have the students change partners and engage in a second conversation using the same words. It will be a different conversation because it involves different people. This should take about 3 minutes.

  4. Do this a third time, with a third partner, this time removing the word list so they work from their memory. This should take about 2 minutes.

  5. When you introduce the next group of vocabulary, you may have to go through only two conversation cycles.

  6. Then, incorporate a random sampling of the previous lists so the students expand their base of vocabulary to include a wider variety of topics about which to talk.

To increase communicative listening proficiency:

  1. Capture radio reports about events the students already know about. Listen to them carefully ahead of time to be sure the speed and regional pronunciation will not interfere with comprehension.

  2. Select songs with lyrics the students will be able to distinguish without too much difficulty.

  3. Show short segments from a film or a TV program that reinforce your content for the day.

  4. Use the materials supplied by your textbook.

  5. Always do pre- and post- comprehension activities.

  6. Activate their knowledge about the subject before listening. Guide their listening with specific questions, but avoid going into too much detail at first.

  7. After listening to the segment a couple of times, check for understanding by having groups discuss the content, having students draw a picture, having an impromptu skit that re-tells the content. Be creative here. Boring questions and answers are going to lose the students.

Be sure to include the cultural component from the beginning, so that students gain cultural competency along with language competency.

  1. Start with simple manners of behavior: use of social register, physical greetings (hand shake, bow), personal space.

  2. Expand to include more subtle behaviorisms such as how to form a line to be served in a bank, or where women and children unaccompanied by a man sit on the bus.

The first time I ask level II students who are new to me, to do a short conversation without writing it out first strikes terror in their hearts and minds. By selecting short vocabulary lists and giving them several times to practice before they need to do this for an audience, they become comfortable with the process. After completing the first step they are amazed that they were able to do it. It’s all about developing confidence. Ultimately, your goal is to provide the student with all of the tools to navigate successfully through the linguistic and cultural waters at his level of expertise. With the confidence that you have helped the student develop, he will succeed. That is proficiency.

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Tired of teaching the same things year after year

Dear YANA:
This is my 10th year and all I have ever taught is levels one and two. I am getting very bored doing the same thing year after year. My chances for reassignment to other levels are slim to non-existent. I love teaching! I love working with my students! I love my language! But, I’m really tired of present and past tense and the same cultural things year after year. Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Yawning:
Every year is the same yet different in so many ways. What can you do to keep your interest as a teacher at peak level while teaching the same thing year after year?

First, talk with your supervisor to see if there isn’t some way you can be assigned another level next year. Explain your predicament and seek his/her help. Be sure you come across as wishing to expand your professional abilities, rather than complaining about having the same old teaching assignment year after year. Put in a correct and positive, light, you might surprise yourself and get a new assignment next year.

But, for this year, you have the same text and the same material to cover. Don’t get discouraged, however. First, look to your students for ideas. Find out what their interests are and work those into the lessons. Just because the family section suggests the students make a family tree and describe each member of the family doesn’t mean that you have to do this! Be creative with this assignment. Move away from the family tree idea and have students create a powerpoint presentation about the family of a famous person. You can control this by limiting it to historical people (presidents, for example), or literary characters (Harry Potter). Or, send them on a shopping trip for their family, so you can cross reference foods that each family member likes or dislikes.

Find new materials. There are some excellent websites that have all kinds of interactive opportunities. Choose things that involve the students and ask them to create a final product that they must present to the class in some fashion. Step out of the old favorites of posters or essays and get them into digital activities. The IT person in your school will be thrilled to sit with you and help you come up with how to execute an idea.

This is your year to stretch your own margins and step into another dimension. The first two years of language study are so important in determining whether a student will continue his study beyond the required level. Work to make it exciting for the students, and along the way you will become excited as well. Involving the students actively, getting them to use the language every day for the entire class period, leading them to understand your joy with the language will go a long way toward reducing your boredom. After all of this, you may find that you are so excited about levels one and two that you won’t want to give them up! These are the levels where we need our most inspiring teachers.


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What is the true value of rubrics?

What is the true value of rubrics? Why should I always have to provide a rubric for every task I ask my students to perform?

Rubrics give structure to a task, clarifying what is expected in the final product and indicating how the final product will be evaluated. Rubrics also help in the design of an assignment that leads to a final product.

A good rubric …

Covers a range of abilities: With a point spread enabling the evaluator to place a student on a continuum, each element is defined and relegated to a particular location on the line. The top score should always reflect going beyond the assignment, and the bottom score should reflect no attempt to cover the material, or work done in a completely unsatisfactory manner.

Includes content: Is the content of the assignment included in the product? The evaluator may want to make a list of items mentioned in the prompt to aid in answering the question.

Includes structure: Divided into two separate categories, the first category focuses on the structural elements of the current lesson, and the second focuses on a general over-all holistic assessment of the structure.

Includes vocabulary: The prompt should indicate the type of vocabulary expected in the product, and perhaps provide a list of things to be included. The vocabulary used should be commensurate with the level of study of the student.

Includes organization: Organization can be visual on a poster, linking on a website, or the logical flow of ideas in a story or essay. In any case, it reflects a thoughtful relationship of ideas.

Includes expression: This addresses the manner of expression. Does it address the audience appropriately? Is it too juvenile? Is it sophisticated? Are all of the sentences simple, or are there a variety to include compound and complex? Did the student use prepositional phrases, adjectives, and adverbs well?

Allows for creativity: Within the parameters of what is expected, the elements should be presented in an original and interesting fashion.

Allows for risk-taking: This is especially important in the structure and vocabulary sections where students should be rewarded for attempting to do something beyond where they are at the time of the exercise. Sort of like bonus points.

When you set about to prepare an assignment, in your mind you know what you expect the students to turn in to you on the due date. If you start with that list, formalize it, organize it, and prioritize the elements, you have the beginnings of a good rubric. Once you are satisfied with this list, assign relative values to each of the elements, indicating the relative importance of each element in the over-all design of the product. When you distribute the assignment, include the rubric as part of the information. This will help students include all of the elements you are expecting and will avoid the "How was I supposed to know you wanted …?" kinds of questions later on. Use the rubric for evaluation of the product and return the rubric to the student for his information. Nothing is a surprise when everybody has the rubrics for reference.

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I am transferring to a new school that is on block scheduling...

Dear YANA,
I am transferring to a new school that is on block scheduling. The classes are 95 minutes long and I am used to 50-minute classes. How can I keep my students and myself sane during these long classes?

Dear Reader,
There are several types of block scheduling, the most common being either the A-B or the 4x4. In the A-B, classes meet every other day and over the course of two weeks each class meets 5 times. This extends for the entire year through both semesters. In the 4x4, classes meet every day for one semester, with a new set of classes for second semester.

In the 90+ minute classes found in block scheduling variety is the key to success. Do not spend more than 20 minutes, 15 preferably, on any one method of contact. Choose from paired or group activity, individual work, student presentations, teacher prepared presentations (board, computer, PowerPoint, etc.), and a host of other types of activities. It is very important to keep students on task all of the class period. Once they learn that you will dawdle while shifting from one mode to another, or that the out-of-seat activity can be extended to enable chatting, you will have a very difficult time getting them back on track.

Create times when students are forced to be on their feet and moving about the classroom. I use a device I call "fiesta time" in which everyone is attending a party and there are no chairs to sit on. Everyone talks with another person about the assigned topic for a couple of minutes. Then I call out "change!" and they move to a new conversation partner. After talking with 3 or 4 different partners I end the fiesta. Here I am trying to simulate what would happen at a real party where one talks for a moment with one person and then moves on to somebody else. Students love it and often start to wander off into other topics of conversation. I ignore it as long as it is in the target language and they think they’re getting away with something! I usually make a casual comment about the topic sometime later in the class so they know I was listening. Start out easy on this kind of an activity because it places huge responsibilities on the shoulders of the students while requiring you to be able to hear as many as 15 conversations at the same time. I listen for English and for strange words. Don’t do this more than once a week because it will lose its freshness.

A 95 minute class might look like this:
1-10 minutes - warm-up and review
11-25 minutes - presentation of new material
26-30 minutes - paired practice of new material
31-35 minutes - paired practice of new & familiar material with another partner
36-45 minutes - whole class activity using new & familiar material to check on learning progress
46-60 minutes - out of seat activity of some type
61-75 minutes - story telling with new material
76-90 minutes - sharing of stories with the class
91-95 minutes - wrap-up and discussion of homework

The first few weeks of a block schedule are exhausting, but once you get the hang of it you will enjoy the extended time with the students. Plan for more than 95 minutes so you have something to fall back on if an activity doesn’t work, or if they move something quicker than you anticipated. You will be a better teacher and your students will be more successful if you hand over the class to the students. Introduce, demonstrate, and then let the students practice while you walk around and help individuals.

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Encourage teachers to make the most of block scheduling

Dear YANA,
My district school system has just implemented a block scheduling policy for the high schools. From now on, my class periods will be longer and we will only meet every other day. I know I speak for other foreign language teachers when I ask: how do I ensure my students receive the target language exposure on a daily basis? Can you suggest ways to expose the students to foreign language outside the classroom?
Teacher's Block

Dear Blocked,
Do not despair! You now have more time for detailed instruction as opposed to forty or fifty minutes where most of the time is devoted to classroom management. Here are some ideas to help expose your students to the language outside of the classroom.

One entertaining idea is to have your students complete a homework assignment that requires them to attend a cultural exhibit or watch a foreign film in the target language. This way, they can practice their writing and listening skills with journal reflections on what they observed.

Another way to have students exposed to the target language is by using a language lab. Language labs are a great resource for students to improve on their listening skills. If your school has a language lab, use it to your advantage by designing listening comprehension worksheets that the students can complete for extra credit.

Finally, encourage your students to participate in an FL club or take the initiative to start one if your school does not have one already established. (See the April Edition of "Dear Yana" for ideas on how to begin). Not only is this an extracurricular activity for students but a great way to learn about another language through culture appreciation. Remember that practice makes perfect and it is important that the students practice the target language even on the days you do not meet.

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How can I help my students use their language to meet their requirements for service learning?

Dear YANA:
Many of my students belong to organizations and clubs that have a service learning component. Do you have any ideas about how I can help my students use their language to meet their requirements?

Dear Service-Oriented:
Making connections across the curriculum and out into the community is a challenge that is easier to meet in some parts of our country than in others. However, even when there is not a large population of people who speak the language you teach, there are some creative ways in which your students can earn community service credits while using their new language.

If you have a student who speaks a language that is not commonly heard in your area, the following General Types of Activities should help find ways to combine that language with the community. If the language is relatively common in your area, the Activities Directed to a Specific Language Population in an Area will provide examples that are more concrete.

General Types of Activities

1. Day Care Centers
a. Read stories in the language to the children
b. Teach the children simple vocabulary
c. Teach a simple children’s game and give some cultural history about it
d. Lead a craft table teaching children how to make a typical craft
e. Teach the children a simple song
f. Perform a play
2. Adult Community Centers
a. Teach simple vocabulary
b. Teach a simple game
c. Teach a song
d. Play board or table games
e. Teach crafts with some cultural information thrown in
f. Just talk with them
g. Prepare programs about different countries
h. Teach a lesson about the weather
i. Perform an interactive play
j. Work with ESL classes
k. Teach a beginning computer use class in the language
l. Teach an Internet class in the language
3. Libraries
a. Read stories during story hour
b. Prepare an instructive bulletin board display for the foyer
c. Write an article for the newspaper
d. Introduce and show a movie in the language, or about the country

Activities Directed to a Specific Language Population in an Area

1. Public Buildings
a. Create signs in the language directing people to various offices
b. Prepare flyers outlining services offered by a business
c. Prepare price lists and other signs for the local grocery store
2. Medical Facilities
a. Translate the room service menu at the hospital
b. Prepare signs directing people to various parts of the hospital
c. Prepare signs for LEP employees, i.e.: Wash hands before handling food
d. Create books or coloring books introducing children to the hospital environment
e. Prepare vocabulary prompts (posters, flyers, note cards) for various personnel
f. Translate at immunization clinics
3. Schools
a. Translate directions to schools in the district
b. Prepare documents for parents
c. Interpret at kindergarten registration
d. Teach a class at the elementary school
e. Tutoring of LEP students
4. Other
a. Fund raising for purchase of educational or medical supplies for orphanages
b. Organize a pen-pal letter exchange with a school where the FL is spoken
c. Prepare programs for local children’s clubs (scouts, Boys and Girls Club)

Let the creative juices flow. Listen to and watch what is going on in your community; there is bound to be a nook where a specific foreign language will fit nicely. Encourage students to be on the look out as well. Community service in a foreign language brings with it a huge sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to the students. My students are never so happy as when they are using their language to benefit their community.

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How can I bring my students attention back to the class topic?

Dear YANA:
I find that when switching from lecture to activity or even a pause in instruction that the class will erupt into talking. It’s difficult to bring them back to the topic. Any suggestions? I’m a first-year teacher of Spanish in an inner-city school.
An ACTFL conference-goer

Dear Conference-goer:
Transitioning from one activity to another can be a real time waster if it isn’t done properly. It takes practice and organization to do it seamlessly and easily. Many students, regardless of where they live, often have many out-of-school issues that they bring with them to school, and as a result it is hard for them to concentrate or care about what happens in school. Recognize these factors and try to work with and around them. I suggest that you start with yourself and how you prepare for class.

Get organized

1. A detailed set of lesson plans is necessary when the students are easily distracted.
  • indicate the approximate amount of time allocated to each activity
  • indicate how the transition from one activity to another will take place
  • write the final piece of the first activity and the first piece of the next activity in your plans so that you can segue without having to think on your feet.
  • connect through using the same vocabulary in a different context, or using new vocabulary in the same context.
2. The second piece to good organization is to have all of your materials open, available, and within reach.
  • distribute by rows, not individually.
  • criss-cross in a stack the number of papers for each row,
  • organize papers to be returned by seating order so there is no need to bounce back and forth across the room.
  • ask students to distribute things sometimes
3. The third piece is to train your students to have the tools of their trade ready
  • have textbook open on desk
  • have notebook, paper, pen/pencil at the ready
  • explain and require classroom etiquette – when to talk, when to listen

Engage the students

1. Everybody participates all of the time every day
  • Paired practice with report back to the class
  • Question and answer among students
  • Students questioning the teacher
  • Short time segments of no more than 12 minutes
  • Manipulatives to organize vocabulary
2. Include physical activity
  • Standing up to do a paired activity
  • Paired activities front-to-back and side-to-side for variety
  • Inside-outside
  • Organize flash cards on the floor
3. Spend no more than 15 minutes total on any one activity.
  • Mix known material with new material
  • Vary the level of difficulty within each activity
  • Develop a wide variety of activities to reduce boredom from repetition
4. Always congratulate students on their accomplishments
  • Verbally
  • Through gestures
  • Quietly on the side
  • Written note on a paper to be returned to student
Manage the class 1. Teach from bell to bell.
  • Post warm-up activity for before the bell
  • Start class when bell rings
  • Closing activity goes right up to ending bell
2. Train for positive classroom behavior
  • Talk when called upon
  • Keep personal grooming items in bags
  • Bring all materials to class
  • Have materials out and ready to use
3. Be ready for the students and the lesson
  • Know where things are
  • Have them within easy reach
  • Know what to do next
  • Set up before class
  • Don’t waste time

Reflect on Plan vs. Actuality

1. Talk with colleagues
  • Strategies for specific behaviors
  • Some groups won’t be easy to get to focus
  • Don’t discuss specific students
2. Write down the reality
  • In your lesson plans
  • In the lesson file
  • In a personal journal
  • Identify trends and commonalities
3. Seek additional advice and ideas 4. Write a set of personal/professional goals for the semester and or year
  • Choose 3 or 4
  • They should be achievable, but challenging
  • Document progress

Reflection on what you planned vs what you actually accomplished and finding reasons for why things turned out the way they did can be an extremely valuable exercise. If you manage your class well, the class will not be managing you.
Best wishes,

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What do you recommend for my first travel experience with my students?

Dear YANA:
I am a 5-year teacher and now feel comfortable with considering a travel experience with my students. There are so many options from which to choose! What do you recommend for my first time out?

Dear Exploring:
Successful student travel takes a lot of advanced planning, constant vigilance while traveling, and vigorous follow-up after the travel experience.

Choosing a program.
  1. Do not plan your first trip on your own. Go with a recognized student travel organization.
  2. Select a program that is of interest to you and your students. Do not let students choose the program; present only one option to them. They take it or leave it.
  3. Select a program that leaves very little unstructured time.
  4. Select a program that is within the financial reach of your students. Plan far enough ahead that they can plan, work, and save for the experience.
  5. Strongly recommend to parents that students pay for a significant portion of their trip. When they invest their dollars, they appreciate the experience more and tend to behave better.
  6. Research the company before making any commitments. Talk with others who have lead trips to find out what questions to ask. You want to minimize surprises.
  7. Choose a company that focuses on student travel only.
  8. Choose a company that has rigorous behavioral standards that they stand behind.
  9. Select your assistant chaperones. Consider pairing up with an experienced teacher-chaperone for your first experience.
  10. Determine how students will be selected and justify this selection process.
Announcing the trip to your students and their parents.
  1. First, consult with your principal about your plans. The school may choose to be a "co-sponsor" and treat the trip as a school-sponsored field trip. There are advantages to this in terms of the discipline support, and in terms of classes students may miss due to travel delays.
  2. Schedule an evening presentation for parents and students. Require at least one parent and the student attend this informational meeting.
  3. Have sufficient handouts about the tour company and the specific tour you have chosen.
  4. Have an agenda prepared that covers the itinerary, insurance, history of the travel company, support provided by the travel company, costs included, additional costs, lodging and meal arrangements, type of clothing students should take, medical emergencies, and anything else you can imagine. If you cover the essentials and hold questions until the end, you will have answered most of the parents’ concerns.
  5. Announce a payment schedule and how payments will be handled. What are the late payment and withdrawal penalties?
  6. Announce a "training" schedule that all students will be required to attend. Each of these sessions should cover a topic that will enhance the students’ experience. Possible topics include: etiquette, language, food, and introduction to the places they will be visiting.
  7. Alert the local newspaper about the impending trip so an article, or two, can be written about it.
"Training" sessions.
  1. Do not schedule more frequently than once a month. Announce far enough ahead of time for planning. Try to avoid athletic competition days.
  2. Send out reminders for each meeting.
  3. All participants must attend. You probably cannot penalize a student for not attending, but impress upon them the fact that these meetings will enhance their travel experience.
  4. Schedule to last no more than an hour and endeavor to have them be lively and interesting.
  5. Encourage students to keep a journal of the entire experience, from planning to after-trip impressions.
What to do while traveling.
  1. Be flexible.
  2. Constant vigilance on the part of you and your assistant chaperones is a must.
  3. Talk with each student every day to be sure there are no problems arising.
  4. Every evening review the day’s adventure and pre-view the next day with the students.
  5. Organize any free time. It can be a trip to the ice cream shop, a walk in a park, or an afternoon at the movies.
  6. Consult with the guide daily. Make minor adjustments based on student interest and participation.
  7. Be flexible.
  1. Organize a picture exchange for a couple of weeks after your return.
  2. During the picture exchange, provide an opportunity to talk about what impressed the students, what they learned about themselves and about the country, how they used and improved their language, and how this has impacted their life.
  3. Continue to explore these topics individually with students.
  4. Prepare a group presentation for the principal, the school board, or a class that might be studying the area you visited.
  5. Contact the local newspaper and ask that a reporter contact you about the trip. Set up a meeting at which some of the students will share their impressions. Provide a picture or two to go along with the article.

Traveling with students has been one of the most rewarding types of travel for me. Their fresh look at places, their innocent take on events, and their enthusiasm as first-time travelers all contribute to a unique and exciting trip for the seasoned teacher chaperone. I must also say that traveling with students has been one of the most harrowing types of travel for me. Vigilance and individual contact would have avoided some of the problems and fortunately I was traveling with a very supportive tour company. I highly recommend traveling with students in a structured experience with cooperative and team-oriented assistant chaperones. It will be an unforgettable memory for you and for them.


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Why is the language club an important feature of the foreign language department?

Dear YANA:
We have just lost one of our vibrant club advisors. Nobody who teaches that language wants to take over the position. Please help us determine why the language club is an important feature of the foreign language department.

Dear Leaderless:
Foreign language clubs have long been a feature of the after-school environment in schools. The particular nature of the club and its members varies from school to school. Some clubs are honors organizations, with membership open to older students who have studied several years of the language, while others are open to all students who have studied, or are currently studying, the particular language. And, finally, there are schools that combine their language clubs into a single organization and call it the International Club.

Regardless of the type of membership your club has, it is an important part of the offerings of your department. The after school contact provides a time to explore the things for which there is not time in class. It is an excellent place to use holidays as a springboard to crafts, foods, history, social features, and daily life. The club can provide community services in the form of reading at the library, playing dominoes at the senior citizens center, or perhaps even minimal translating services. The club can also act as a support mechanism for exchange students in the school, providing all students with important contact – the exchange student with a ready made group of friends, and our students with direct contact with someone their age who is a native speaker of the language they are studying.

For the sponsor of the club, it is a way to get to know the students in a different milieu that is much less formal in nature than the classroom. A well-organized sponsor and a good set of officers that run the club’s program of activities make the time investment minimal. Once everything is in place, the sponsor only will have to worry about monthly meetings with the officers and monthly meetings with the club. It is true that some of the club activities will require additional time, but with careful guidance these can be scheduled at times when the calendar is generally slow.

If the students are enthusiastic about what the club is doing, their enthusiasm will bubble over into successful activities and eager leadership. The language club provides an environment in which the students can have fun learning their chosen language and about the culture that surrounds that language. Learning that is fun is learning that sticks, and this is probably the single most important reason for having a language club in your school.
Collegially Yours,

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Students missing class

Dear YANA,
I recently joined the staff of an urban high school, where I teach Spanish and ESL. I know from experience that the best way to manage the classroom is to set clear expectations and stick to them. However, my administration does not always support my rules. For example, I have a "three strikes and you are out" policy when students miss class, but the principal just sends the students right back to class. Any suggestions?

Dear Help,
I can imagine how frustrating this must be for you. I always suggest that teachers set their own classroom expectations and consequences so that they are not dependent upon school policies and administrators. It looks like you have tried to do this, but find yourself in a difficult position since your rules clash with the culture and norms of your new school. I would suggest you bring this issue to the attention of your department head or administrator, bearing in mind that you may have to adjust your expectations to be in line with those of the school. In the mean time, if the students are being sent back to your class, consider alternate consequences that do not take the students out of the classroom. With absentee or tardy students, you could establish a point system that encourages and rewards attendance and punctuality. If negative consequences are required, signing "the book" (a simple notebook labeled "the book") with the excuse for tardy or absence may be a successful strategy. Students will be less inclined miss class when they realize that the teacher is taking note of their lateness/absenteeism. A conference with their parents or guardians may also solve the problem. All the best.

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Dealing with student teasing

Dear YANA,
I am an eighth grade Spanish teacher. One of the boys in my class struggles with pronunciation. Whenever he tries to speak Spanish other kids inevitably laugh or tease him. I've told students to stop, but any peace is only temporary. It's very frustrating because I see in his face that he is becoming discouraged. I'm also concerned because oral participation is 20% of the students' class grade. Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Disalentado,
Your story brought back a flood of memories from my teaching years. The teasing you have described is a nightmare that every language teacher faces. It's heartbreaking to watch students hurt each other and it is so frustrating to feel out of control. Spending so much time and energy on classroom management when we know our students have so much to offer in ability, creativity and discipline is exasperating. Our goal is to provide a warm, safe and most of all respectful learning environment for our students. Over the years I have developed a management system based on three Cs:

  1. Clearly stated expectations - As a class, construct a set of class rules that students are expected to follow. Make sure you elicit the rules that you already have in mind, such as be on time, come prepared and be respectful. I suggest limiting your list to four basic guidelines, so the class does not feel overwhelmed.
  2. Consequences - The most important concept is respect. I find that a short class discussion on what respect means to them is a great way to set the tone for the future. Identify positive and negative consequences for classroom behaviors. A positive example might be to make classroom participation charts for each section of Spanish One. Have the sections compete against each other to be the most active and expert Spanish speakers. My set of negative consequences follow the old three strikes you're out: (1) issue a warning (2) call a parent and (3) send the student to sit and do homework in an agreed upon place (a study hall or another teacher's class is often more effective than the principal). Don't panic if you are in the middle of the school year. There are natural breaks that allow you to start things over with your students. For instance, second semester, the beginning of a unit, or Monday!)
  3. Consistency - I know this is the hardest part. We teachers are human, and so many factors influence what goes on in the classroom. However, sticking to the system you outlined will create stability for you and your students. Even when the students' classroom behavior appears to be particularly good or bad, it is essential that you don't change the rules or consequences (this obviously does not apply in certain extreme cases). You'll find that students work better and feel more secure when they can count on guidelines and routine.
Good luck with your new beginning. Let me know if you come up with any good tips for other teachers.

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Getting students to settle down

Dear YANA,
I find I am wasting too much time trying to get the students settled before I can start the lesson (10 minutes of each class with my 9th graders!). This is particularly frustrating as I have so much to cover to meet the standards and my school syllabus. What can I do to get the students to focus?
New Teacher In Distress

Dear New Teacher In Distress,
I'm glad you have raised this issue because even the most experienced teachers face this problem. My answer has two parts: Expectations and Activities. Clearly stated expectations create guidelines for students to follow and allow them to focus on their responsibilities. First, make sure you know what your expectations are and have a clear plan in your mind. When we are clear on what we are looking for we can communicate that to our students. Second, be explicit with your expectations to your students. The more you tell them, the more they know. Sometimes we presume that we don't need to tell students to be on time, do their homework etc, because it seems obvious. I have found that it's best not to make any assumptions. Clarify what you consider appropriate classroom behavior and how you want classroom procedures and routine to run.

One great way to fix your routine (and give yourself a few minutes to think!) is to begin each class with a warm-up activity. Students will become accustomed to checking the board for the review activity or language game you have scheduled for the first part of the lesson. We tend to spend too much valuable class time on administration. Having your activities organized before the students come to class can save a lot of time. For example, have handouts on the desks before class. Also, put your lesson agenda and objectives on the board. This will alert students to what you are covering that day, help you organize your own time, and provide a secure routine for students to rely on.
Keep these ideas in mind for ending class too...

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Disruptive heritage speakers in class

Dear YANA,
I am a Spanish teacher from California who learned the language in the classroom. I have two native speaker students in my class who were placed there because they can neither read nor write in Spanish. They disrupt class by correcting me and the other students. How can I address their issues and as well as the other students?
Señora Frustrada

Dear Señora,
This is a tough question, and I am glad we can address it. Start by showing these students that you value their skills. Use them as examples and ask them to work as peer teachers with students having trouble. Praise their oral skills and allow them to show them off in class in such a way that does not intimidate the other students.

In private, discuss the importance of Spanish literacy with these two students. Explain that learning to read and write well in Spanish is an important part being bilingual. Emphasize that Spanish literacy is important to succeed in school and being bilingual will extend their job prospects immensely! In addition, explain that becoming better readers and writers in Spanish will help them with their reading and writing in English. Suggest that bilingual readers have a better understanding of the material than monolingual readers because they look at it from different perspectives. Making your students feel special will increase their motivation to learn.

Explain your correction practices. Students may not realize that we choose not to correct every pronunciation or grammatical error in order to boost the speaking confidence of the student, and therefore, incorrectly presume that you didn't notice the error. Also point out that you use simple language in your class on purpose, so although it may seem like you are making a mistake or not using the best word, in reality you are trying to make it easy for students to understand.

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Managing mixed ability classes

Dear YANA,
I have 25-30 students in my French 102 courses at a large state university. Some of the students have never studied French before while others studied for 1 to 4 years in high school. The students come to the class with mixed abilities, and their skills are developing at very different rates.
Qu'est ce-que il faut faire?

Dear What to do,
Differences in ability is a concern in all language classrooms. I recommend employing cooperative learning and general group- and pair-work activities for two reasons. First, putting students into groups allows you to match beginners with more advanced learners. Students with varying language abilities and personalities share their knowledge and help each other in their interactions. More advanced students practice their skills and become more confident by taking an instructive role. Peer input and modeling helps beginners develop their language skills in a friendly and dynamic learning environment.

Second, dividing students into groups will shrink class-size. Your instruction, monitoring and in-class assessment will be more manageable, and the students will have more opportunities to speak and participate. While students are working on projects, acting out role-plays and completing assignments together, you can continuously evaluate their understanding and performance. Once you have identified where students' needs lie, you will be able to individualize your instruction to suit each student (both in class and during office hours).

In addition, ask your students what elements of French they believe they need to focus on. Give them an informal questionnaire on how they feel about each skill and their general progress in French. Their responses will help you address their needs. College students usually have a relatively accurate understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in their own learning. You can gather all sorts of information using simple self-report surveys at any point in the year.

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Special Education Students: Dyslexia

Dear YANA,
I am going to have a student who has dyslexia in my eighth grade Spanish class this fall. I have never taught a special education student before, and I would like to know how to approach the situation so as to best help her learn.
Ana Martinez

Dear Señora Martinez,
You are not alone! Many mainstream teachers feel unprepared to work with special education students though all of them ask the questions and seek resources that will empower them to do so. There are several procedural and instructional steps you can take to help your new student succeed in Spanish.

First, it is critical that you read and familiarize yourself with the student's IEP. Make yourself aware of the strategies listed that will help her. Second, get to know the Special Education teachers, and elicit their help whenever you have questions or concerns. Third, remember that dyslexia will affect her reading and writing ability, but should not impair her language processing and acquisition. Anticipate success in oral and aural areas of language, and be sure to accompany any written instruction with an oral explanation. Fourth, access support from other classmates. For example, when students work in pairs, her partner can take notes. You can also divide the class into homework buddies.

Throughout the year, when students have questions or difficulties on homework assignments, they can call their buddy for help. Finally, reading and writing assignments may have to be shortened to suit her needs. Work with the Special Education teachers to identify reasonable expectations for her assignments, and then provide assistance and resources to help her achieve them. Have a great year.

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Special ed students: Learning Disabilities

Dear YANA,
I teach a Special Education Spanish class to English speaking students with learning disabilities. Do you have any strategies for language instruction for students with language-based learning disabilities? Thanks,
Michele Bollinger, Wilson High School

Dear Michele,
There are many possible answers to this question because it addresses an extremely important issue not only in foreign language instruction but, in teaching as a whole. Your assessments and lesson planning will be based on the varying levels in your class and how you want to address your students' needs. I suggest using Cooperative Learning techniques to encourage students to interact and guide each other through the learning process. This is especially important when students progress at different paces. Based on their need, carefully group your students to work on an activity together. The combination of contributing and observing will help learners build their strengths and improve their weaknesses.

Individual attention is essential in a special education setting - in cooperative learning, it becomes easier for the teacher to monitor individual progress because the class is broken down into groups. Grouping also helps ease the anxieties students may otherwise experience in a large classroom setting, especially in foreign language classes. Hands-on learning is another way for students to learn foreign language skills without being overwhelmed. This can be anything from a community service project that incorporates grammar usage, to a project based on a thematic unit. These projects break down the language learning process step by step so the students can complete tasks at their own pace. They also allow the students to draw on their creativity to learn a concept.

Find out what resources are available in your community so you can access events, workshops, and community services that will help you with your class. Include a variety of activities on the target culture (food, festivals, or music) in your instruction. Your students will develop an insight into a different way of life, and foreign language learning will be interesting and fun at the same time. More importantly, you will be able to put context in the activities. These are only a few strategies to complement your instruction.

Bring as many target culture decorations and props to the classroom as you can find. Students love looking at Spanish magazines or newspapers, and you can create simple reading or vocabulary tasks to go with them. In 2002, multimedia sources such as TV commercials, videos, music and Spanish learning software are an excellent sources for materials and activities. Check out the Internet for a wide variety of valuable education websites that have teacher links and helpful hints as well. The web houses extensive educational resources for and beyond foreign language education.
For example, offers language links about: language learning, multi-media, translation tools, maps, culture, contemporary world issues and more, provides information on foreign language teaching methods including school/college articulation, student teacher training, classroom activities, curriculum, and syllabus design. FLTeach, which serves as a forum for foreign language teachers, allows you to take and share ideas with FL educators nationwide.

This is a short answer to a huge question, but I hope it will get you started. I suspect you'll find one idea leading to many more. Best of luck!

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How to revitalize my classroom?

Dear YANA,
I'm half way through this year and I feel as though I'm half way through next year! What can I do to recapture the enthusiasm I had at the start of the year? I have run out of ideas, energy, and optimism; June is so far in the future that I wonder if I will ever get there. Please give me some ideas that will get me back on track.
Desperate in DC

Dear Desperate,
The most important piece of the revival puzzle is to get a grip on yourself first. Stand back and take a more realistic view of your situation through clearing your head of petty annoyances. By using a personal day, make arrangements for a long weekend and plan a get-away. Even if the get-away doesn't involve travel it can be very healing. Under any circumstances, absolutely do not use it to grade papers or prepare lesson plans! Revise your view of things so that your are able to see the half full glass instead of the half empty one.

Take a look at your workload. How much of it is the result of your assignments? Can these be pared down, combined, eliminated? Can you prepare a rubric that will help you sail through the grading process? Are there alternative ways to test that are easier to evaluate? Are you re-inventing the wheel that your colleagues already use? Begin to collaborate with your co-workers and share the workload that results from vibrant and new ideas.

Take a look at your workspace. De-clutter your desktop. File those papers from last semester. Find a print of your favorite painting or photograph and hang it where you can see it. Be sure to provide yourself with enough light. Get a nice silk arrangement to hang in your field of vision.

Take control of your schedule. Prepare a calendar that lets you see the month at a glance, as well as each week. Keep it handy at all times. Before committing to a meeting, check the calendar. Try to space things out so you aren't running from one place to another on the same day. Also, firmly schedule only one day (or two) a week to work with students after school, and set aside one day a week for meetings. If you don't have a meeting, that's your time to catch up on your filing, etc.

Cultivate friendships with non-teacher people. This will provide variety to your ocial experiences and conversations. Seek out a new hobby or interest to add "thrill" to your life. It doesn't need to be a full-bore commitment, but you can certainly set aside one night or weekend a month to this new interest. Put it on your calendar and commit to it unconditionally.

Be sure to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Get some exercise, even if it is walking the perimeter of the school during your planning time. Take time to play with your children, to talk with your mate, to run with your dog.

Look for some type of professional renewal experience. Often there are one-day workshops that are worth their weight in gold. Sometimes these are on the weekend, but that's ok because the infusion of new ideas will overcome the "lost Saturday" feeling that you might have. Plan an exciting experience for the summer. Every state has recertification requirements. Find an immersion course in some other part of the country, or visit a country where your language is spoken. Money might be available through your school system for these experiences. If you plan ahead you can save the money, enjoy the anticipation, and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

And, remember, there will be some things that are so far out of your control that you should just stop stressing about them. You need to learn to choose your battles so they are ones you have a decent chance of winning. The others need to be brought to somebody else's attention so they can work on solutions. Be creative in finding the answers to those vexing problems.

This approach to reviving your burned-out feeling takes time and determination, but it worked for me. Once you have control of yourself, your outlook will improve, your state of mind will be brighter, and your enthusiasm to teach will start to return. Your students will sense this and be enthused by your new outlook on things. They will find the new approaches you have devised to reduce your workload to be fun activities for them. Everything works in a circle, with one part having a major effect on all the other parts. Break the cycle and you will find that the spinning out of control will at least slow down. Hang in there!

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What do I do about students who refuse to do their out of class preparation?

Dear YANA,
What do I do about students who refuse to do their out of class preparation?

Whether out of class preparation entails memorizing verb conjugations or vocabulary, filling in the blanks for a verb exercise, or preparing a conversation, writing an essay, creating a comic strip, or bringing in a show-and-tell item, the student who does not come to class having prepared the assignment is at a distinct disadvantage. These students pose a special challenge to the teacher because the causes for this are so varied; the solutions are infinite.

Showing frustration, which is often interpreted as anger by the student, is not the way to find the cause of the no-homework syndrome. Nor is being overly concerned, since that often is interpreted as prying into something that is too personal and not the teacher's business. There is a fine line between wanting your student to be successful and causing further distancing of the student from learning.

Some Causes Possible Solutions
Didn’t understand the assignment Although this may be an excuse for just not doing the work, or for being lazy, be sure you pursue other reasons as well.  Re-read the assignment to make certain that it is clear.  Are the directions easy to understand?  Are the steps manageable?  Is the rubric clear and does it explain how the work will be evaluated?  Does the assignment stimulate the imagination, or dull the senses?  Is sufficient time provided to complete the task?  Does the student possess the skill set necessary to meet the rubric’s expectations (and yours)?
Too busy.  Too involved in sports, scouting, church, whatever Work on time-management skills with all of the students.  This very likely is a problem many of them are having.  Help students find small time segments in which they can complete an assignment for one class – perhaps after school but before team practice starts.
Too busy.  Too involved in job Try to determine how many hours the student is working, and what is the motivation for working. Is it for weekend entertainment? For car insurance?  To support family needs?  Help the student find those short segments of time to do homework class by class rather than all at once.  For a student who is working to support the family or himself, permit him to have lunch in your classroom and do homework while eating.
Too busy.  Too involved in family obligations Discover what these obligations are and why they fall to your student to meet them.  Then help the student find ways to manage the homework task at an acceptable level.  Are there health issues of which you are unaware?
Isn’t interested in foreign languages Get beyond the foreign language to what does interest the student.  Find ways to relate the L2 to those interests.  Make a link that is exciting and interesting.  Sometimes, all it takes is a teacher showing ah honest and lasting interest in the passion of the student for the student to do everything in his power to please the teacher.
Getting back at the teacher for “picking on” the student in class. Find out what the student interprets as being “picked on” and work from there.  If it is simply calling on the student and expecting an oral response of some type, explain why it is important for you to hear what and how he is saying things, and how this provides ungraded (non-threatening) practice.  Explain that just because you do not like a given behavior does not mean that you do not like the individual engaging in that behavior.  Work on yourself to understand why certain behaviors happen.  Are they cultural and you don’t understand them?  Do others instigate them?  Does the student fall asleep in class because there is constant turbulence at home at night?
Rebelling against parents Why are they rebelling?  There are thousands of reasons why a student might rebel.  Is this rebellion caused by a need for attention?  Because the parents are too strict and invasive?  Because the parents demonstrate no interest in the student at all?  Because there is a divorce and the student does not know how to convey how frightened they are?  Sometimes these problems are beyond the teacher’s capabilities to handle and a guidance counselor needs to be involved. Often contacting the parents is not the right thing to do because it is betraying a confidence the student placed in you.

Enlisting the assistance of others may be a necessary step, once the probable cause has been identified. Talking to your mentor, department chair, or faculty confidante to elicit their suggestions, may result in clarifying your perception of the problem, and provide you with some possible solutions. Identify and contact the teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or other adult with whom the student identifies and in whom he confides. Enlist their support and intervention in solving the problem. Nobody wants to see these students fail, least of all the student; perhaps there is somebody out there who can reach your student better than you can. Always, always, always, maintain confidentiality and do not divulge the name of the student.

The bottom line is that the student must understand and accept the personal importance of carrying out tasks outside of the classroom. If all you do is harp on how not doing out of class assignments will affect the grade, and perhaps cause the student to fail the class, it is likely that you will exacerbate the problem. The student is smart enough to have already figured that out and has determined that it doesn't matter to him if he fails, or gets an unacceptable grade. Remember that "unacceptable" is a value-laden term that has different meanings for different people. By helping the student find alternate ways to do the work, find little spots in the day where the work can be completed, and by connecting the assignment in a personal way to the student, you will turn around the recalcitrant student and have a willing (and maybe even eager) class participant. Good Luck

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How to deal with irate parents?

Dear YANA,
I often receive telephone calls and emails from parents who believe that their child is not succeeding in my class because of something that I am doing or not doing. Do you have any suggestions about how I might approach these parents without getting everybody upset?
Seeking solutions

Dear Seeking Solutions,
To reassure you, every teacher has had a conflict with parents – usually this happens at least once every year, and sometimes more frequently. There are lots of reasons for why the parents feel that the teacher is at fault, and although they do not mean to be attacking you personally, they are frantic with worry and concern, and often it seems they are in an attack mode.

It is difficult to remember that parents only hear and see what their child wants them to hear and see, especially as they proceed through the grades and into high school. When a child has a report card that does not meet parental standards, the child begins to make excuses, generally pointing the finger at and accusing everybody but himself. When the child appears to be innocent, the parents, in looking for a cause, start to think that perhaps the teacher is indeed at fault. That is when the ugly phone calls and emails start to arrive.

Of course, every situation is unique and there are hundreds of ways to successfully resolve the problem. Consult with more experienced colleagues and seek out their advice. Here are some general pointers and ideas to help defuse the situation and scale it back to a mutually satisfying meeting of the minds where the success of the student is the only desired outcome.

  1. The most important thing to remember while dealing with such a situation is to not take what is said personally. There are usually phases to these confrontations and it takes skill to calm a parent down so you can be heard and understood. Extremely important as well is to not go into attack mode, or become defensive yourself. Permit the parent to say what they have to say; do not interrupt, no matter how much you feel it is necessary. Wait until they have finished before you respond. Good manners go a long way in a touchy situation. If they interrupt you, ask them to kindly wait until you are through saying what you have to say, as you did with them.
  2. As soon as you can, turn them away from generalities and ask for specific examples. These will be easier for you to respond to knowledgeably with specific information. Ask the parent for specific examples of why they are concerned. Confront the example head-on and explain, from your point of view, what transpired, or didn’t. Always be certain that you can justify everything you say and do. Be sure that you can produce documentation about assignments, scheduling of testing and projects, and that you can give good solid explanations of why the student received a particular grade.
  3. You will be on your own, probably, the first time a parent contacts you. Try to determine what the specific concerns are, calmly address those concerns, and offer some suggestions for what the parent can do at home to improve the situation, and what you can do (such as your regularly scheduled tutoring session held after school every Wednesday afternoon for an hour). Often, when the parent finds out that their child is not participating in class, is not turning in required work, is not attending tutoring, and so on, they calm down and are friendly and willing to work with you.
  4. When that is not the case, be sure to have your meetings and conversations in the presence of somebody else: your department chair, a guidance counselor, or some other person of equal authority. Be sure to CC these people if you are communicating via email. Having somebody else present lends credence to what you are saying and tends to keep parents out of the full attack mode, so the conversations stay civil and can be constructive. Bringing in a guidance counselor opens other avenues for helping the child become successful. The more support you can bring to the table for the child, the more likely it is that the parent will see that you, too, really are concerned about their child.

Always walk away from a difficult situation having learned from it. The child needs to understand that you will not take out your frustrations on him and his work. As awkward as it may be for everybody, give the student your attention and be as helpful with him as you are with all of the other students in the class. The parents need to believe that the problem has been addressed and solutions are in the works. Open a dialog with them so they are informed about their child’s progress and enlist them as partners in the education of their child.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for your professional growth and development, do a self-evaluation based on the concerns expressed by the parents. Use the results of your introspection to make changes in your methods, in the way you present and express yourself, in the way you interact with your students, and just generally in the way you approach your day. The impasse will be temporary and the difficult situation will have positive outcomes in the end.
Good Luck!

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Balancing order with openness in the classroom

Dear YANA,
How do I maintain the distance and order I need to control my classroom while creating an open environment to facilitate risk-taking and language use? Thanks for your advice!

Dear Concerned Teacher,
You have posed a thought provoking and tantalizing question while delving to the very core of good classroom management in an exciting learning environment. The solutions to your question lie in the way you manage the orderly chaos that is characteristic of a proficiency-based foreign language classroom.

Your question indicates that you are aware of the need to maintain control over the situations you create in your classroom while at the same time leaving room for each student to pursue the end result in his own fashion. The following list will have some good ideas for you.

  • Have standards and stick to them. Be clear in your own mind what behaviors are not acceptable. Be sure they are reasonable and enforceable and do not make exceptions. Set the standards by example.
  • Apply the standards equitably to everybody in the class, including yourself when appropriate.
  • Always have several back-up plans in case your wonderful idea falls flat on its face.
  • Have a variety of activities planned for each day and do not let any one of them go on for too long.
  • Include every student every day in several ways.
  • Provide clear instruction about what is expected in a free-flowing situation.
  • Create controlled times every day when everybody is expected to be speaking the language at once. Paired practice, skit rehearsals, and the like are good times to engage everybody at once in using the vocabulary and structure points of the lesson.
  • Distance, and the ability to draw that line, will develop as you hone your skills for creating order out of chaos. It is a delicate balance to achieve and maintain day in and day out, especially if you teach in a school where you live and you know these people outside of the school situation. Your consistency and clarity of expectations will go a long way to establish you as the approachable authority in the classroom. The following list contains what I see as the essential elements to finding the balance.
  • Self confidence without arrogance is supremely important. You must be confident in your knowledge, in how you are going about the day, in the way in which you greet and relate to your students.
  • Maintain a good sense of humor. Be certain that humor is not at the expense of students in the class. Humor will help you tolerate the silly antics of your students and may result in settling down the students.
  • Always be able to laugh honestly at yourself.
  • Recreate the joy of learning languages that you experienced. If the magic touched you, chances are the techniques used will work on today’s students as well.
  • Always be prepared. Good lesson planning, clear directions, flexibility, variety, tolerance of errors all contribute to a professional aura that you will carry with you wherever you go.
  • Be professional in your personal conduct and in your approach to your job and the people with whom you work and spend your day.

Having created an environment in which students know it is okay, at certain times, to speak when others are speaking and in which they recognize you as the ultimate authority within the classroom, there will be many risk-takers using the language regularly. The following list contains some guidelines to further encourage broad student participation.

  • Be human. Show an interest in each student as a human being. Strike up conversations that show the student you care about him/her as a whole person, not just as a language student.
  • Expect mistakes and don’t be too critical of them when it happens. Gently correct the blatant errors. Sometimes obviously correct yourself or share an experience you witnessed with a “foreign language expert” where mistakes were made, corrected, and everybody laughed and moved on.
  • Provide regular weekly tutoring sessions where the more timid student can have more of your attention and a smaller audience for “stupid” questions.
  • Assessment should reflect expectations, activities, and preparation in class. If your students do a lot of talking and not much fill-in-the-blank writing, don’t have a fill-in-the-blank test.
  • Continuously be on the hunt for additional ways to teach the same concept. Keep in mind the various ways in which students learn and help them develop appropriate strategies for learning.
  • Provide open-ended projects that let students explore their interests while following a clear set of expectations. There should be some type of proficiency-oriented assessment at the end.
  • Be mindful of the need for relevance in the lives of teens.
  • Admit to not knowing something. Offer to find out, and report back promptly on what you learned. When you ask a question and seek knowledge, your students will follow your lead.

Although your question has been divided into three separate parts, they really are pieces of the larger jigsaw puzzle that is the successful foreign language teacher. All of the pointers need to be happening all of the time in your classroom. As your professional growth continues these techniques will become easier and more second nature to you. Your more experienced colleagues, regardless of their subject area, will have many excellent and successful strategies for controlled chaotic learning; listening to them and enlisting their help is to your advantage. My secret goal is always to have so much apparent chaos happening in my classroom that the principal stops in to see what is going awry. I just smile when s/he realizes that they’re all speaking Spanish at once and producing some wonderful work at the same time. Having learned about the organized learning environment I have created in my classroom, the principal now often stops by just to see what’s happening. And, the students get a kick out of putting one over on the principal!
Bon Courage,

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Accomodations during testing: reading materials aloud

Dear YANA,
I have several students who require special testing accommodations, especially the requirement that all testing materials be read aloud to the student. Do you have any suggestions for how I can meet the needs of the students, while maintaining my grip on sanity?

Dear Reader,
In these days of burgeoning class sizes and more demands being placed on a teacher’s time, it can become a big problem when a student appears who needs special accommodations. A skilled and talented teacher will have learned how to juggle priorities and time constraints outside of the classroom, but such requirements may very well stretch the teacher to the limit. The bottom line is that if an IEP exists requiring that all testing materials be read to a student, then those accommodations must be met. That is the law. How can we accomplish this? Much of the not-so-easy answer depends on the flexibility of the individuals involved: the student, the student’s parents, the teacher, and other school officials. Once the need has been determined, the following steps may be taken.

Take care to be thorough, and creative, in your investigation of all possibilities as you search for the best option for your student and for you. The special education person in charge of the student’s case management may have good insight to solutions.

Try to locate an individual, not a student in the school, who can do the reading for you. This person needs to be dependable, as well as trustworthy. They must be able to speak the language well and be able to read with fluency and consistency. They must understand the testing situation: a) no helping, hinting, body language, or any other behaviors that may give the student a clue to the correct answer, b) the confidential nature of a testing situation, and c) the confidential nature of working with the student and his/her right to privacy. In addition, they must be able to appear at the school when they are scheduled to do so. It is the teacher’s responsibility to inform this individual of the place and time with sufficient advance notice for planning. You may want to investigate the possibility of an hourly wage for this person if there are funds available for handicap interpreting services. Enlist the help of the special education person in charge of the student’s case management to find a suitable individual. Interview each candidate in person and have him/her read several types of test passages. You need to be able to hear their reading and watch their non-verbal body language before selecting somebody.
Once you make an agreement with a reader, provide training.

With the student and reader, arrange for a consistent testing time. For example, testing is scheduled always during the time that the class is taking the test, or always after school on the day of the test (with no alterations to this), or some other mutually agreed-upon time slot. Investigate the possibility of using the student’s study hall time for testing.
Arrange for a consistent testing location. This place should be visually and audibly protected from outside distractions. (The hallways outside the classroom, a table in the library, an unused closet are not good locations.) There should be sufficient space for a desk and chair for both student and reader, as well as space for any other materials necessary for the testing (CD player, visual cues, movement, etc.) Remember that if the testing is simultaneous with the rest of the class, then duplicate testing materials are necessary.

To ensure that there are no future misunderstandings, build a team that includes the parents from the outset and throughout the process. They must agree to the process you have created, and be able to support you and their child in the endeavor.
If finding somebody else to do the reading turns out to be difficult and you must do the reading yourself, here are some suggestions for making this as easy as possible for you.
Adjust your attitude so the student and parents do not think you find this to be a distasteful chore, or that you think the student is less capable than your other students. Impressions are truth in the eyes of a teenager.

Select a time that works for you and that does not impinge too much on your planning time. In my experience, testing on the same day of the test for the rest of the class is optimum for best student performance. Same-day testing means that the material to be tested is still current and fresh in the student’s mind. My students, their parents, and I usually prefer an after-school time slot because there are fewer distractions then.
If reading the test takes more than an hour, the test is probably too long for everybody. Shorten the test.
The one-on-one testing time can be very beneficial to you as you carefully watch the student as s/he listens to you and responds. You may pick up some clues for strategies to use during class that will help you help this student achieve at a higher level than s/he is currently.

Give the student your full attention during the testing time. Do not try to grade other papers, write lesson plans, or otherwise give the impression that you are too busy to be bothered with this.
Whatever creative solutions you devise, always remember that it is highly probable that if the student requires read-aloud testing in your class, the same is probably true for all of the classes the student takes. Coordination among the teachers is paramount to the success of any plan. Flexibility on your part is also a good thing, even if you don’t publicize it. There are always going to be some extenuating circumstances that require re-scheduling. However, be sure to stand firm on the scheduling, so your test is not always the one that is put last in the cue in favor of another subject.

Regardless of the final arrangements, remember, you are in control of the testing environment because you are ultimately responsible for the grade the student earns; do not relinquish that control to anybody else.

There will be more next year on the topic of helping special needs students achieve success in class. Until next time,

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