dispatches from the classroom: round two

It has been an entertaining month or so at school, as my students of all grade levels have impressed me with their creativity, enthusiasm and English skills.  Here’s another installment of highlights from the classroom.

My sophomores, often the most difficult age group to engage, voluntarily stayed a few minutes after class to finish an activity in which they had to guess which hypothetical tattoo was designed by which classmate.  We laughed a lot and learned some interesting things about each other through this simple assignment, which I originally feared would be a flop.

Top chefs
My youngest pupils have been involved in two big projects lately.  Some have created their own imaginary restaurants and then written and performed skits in which customers order food and waiters solve a restaurant mishap of the students’ choice.  We’ve seen everything from choking incidents to kitchen fires to sinpas (a Spanish phrase for eat and run, stemming from the words sin pagar — without paying).

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Tall Tales
Other 7th grade classes have read a story about Paul Bunyan and the creation of the Great Lakes, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Hood, and then have written their own creation stories about a feature of Spanish geography of their choice.  With varying degrees of assistance, the kids have done some excellent work!

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It’s also been a fun month or so with my bachillerato students (11th and 12th grade).  I had my last class with the seniors a few weeks ago, during which we listened to the “Wear Sunscreen” graduation speech made famous by Baz Luhrmann, and I handed out Reese’s as a sweet send-off.  I’m impressed by these students’ hard work, both in English and in their other subjects, to successfully complete bachillerato (a bit more complicated than graduating from high school in the US) and move on to college, and I’ll certainly miss them at IES Leonardo da Vinci.  The graduation ceremony was long but lovely; standout differences from the American version include a lack of cap and gowns (replaced by almost prom-like attire), catered tapas by the school cafeteria, and a heavy dose of politicization from both student and faculty speakers, as Spanish public education faces more cuts and roadblocks than ever.


Perhaps the most exciting activity has been with my juniors, who have been participating in a project with my alma mater, Algonquin Regional High School.  After contacting my former Spanish teacher, we paired up our students, who then spent the last few months exchanging photos as well as bilingual letters and videos (in addition to the tweets and Facebook posts they chose to exchange on their own time).  Recently, we took a field trip into the city and recorded videos, showing the American students Madrid’s most important sights, sounds and flavors.  It was some of the best work I’ve seen out of this group of students, and we had a blast doing it.  Here’s a sampling:

Recording Stars
Finally, I have recruited the assistance of many of my friends and family back at home to help me with an assignment for next year.  As we prepare the virtual classroom activities for our students in 4° de la ESO (sophomores), I have been put in charge of the listening exercises.  After writing monologues and dialogues with appropriate vocabulary and grammar from each unit and sending the scripts to family and friends, I will be adding recordings of these familiar (and now internationally famous!) voices to my students’ workload for 2013-2014.

With that, the school year is rapidly coming to a close.  I’ve had quite the crash course in teaching this year, learning (but with so much left to learn) about what works and what doesn’t in classroom management, curriculum design, and student engagement.  Here’s to a second year with fewer kinks and even more successes.


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