What to do With “I Don’t Get It”: Stage 2

In this blog series, I’ll be breaking down each stage in the Spanish Curriculum Stages of Teaching and Learning by introducing what it is, outlining teaching strategies for each stage, describing what the students are doing at each stage, and telling you how to determine when students need to review or are ready to move  on.  Our last blog discussed Stage 1: to Comprehend.  Today, we move on to Stage 2: to Recognize.


Stage 2: To Recognize

  • At this point, new material has been introduced and students are learning to use it correctly. This is where students can distinguish one item from the other when given a couple of choices.

What the teacher is doing:

  • Most speech is driven by the teacher.
  • The teacher is introducing questions instead of simply asking students to repeat.
  • Questions are “yes or no” questions (i.e. “Es_________?” “Sí/No”) or 50/50 questions (i.e. “¿es grande o pequeño?”)
  • The teacher is still prompting students with pictures and movements so that they can understand the question.

What the students are doing:

  • Students are still using pictures and movements to understand words and phrases.
  • Students use the anchors the teacher provides in order to understand and answer the question.

How you know students are ready to move on:

  • They are participating confidently.
  • They are consistently answering questions correctly.
  • They are able to answer questions without two choices or a yes/no prompt

How you know students need to go back down to the comprehension level:

  • They sound unsure when they are answering questions
  • They consistently answer questions wrong.
  • They don’t answer at all or simply answer with “I don’t know.”

Use the stages to recognize when some of your students may just need more time to comprehend! Keep your eyes out for our next blog, where we discuss how to move on to stage 3: to recall.

What to do With “I Don’t Get It”: Stage 1

We saw the answer of what to do with “I don’t get it” in our last blog post.  In this blog series, I’ll be breaking down each stage in the Spanish Curriculum Stages of Teaching and Learning by introducing what it is, outlining teaching strategies for each stage, describing what the students are doing at each stage, and telling you how to determine when students need to review or are ready to move on.


Stage 1: To Comprehend

  • This is usually where we begin our teaching and students begin their learning of a new lesson.  Students have little to no prior experience with the material and we are making a direct connection to the new material.

What the teacher is doing:

  • All speech is driven by the teacher.
  • The teacher is only focusing on the word or phrase that they are introducing and practicing with students. They are repeating the word or phrase three times.  Teachers are not inserting extra words! Students need all the focus and practice they can get when building vocabulary.
  • The teacher is over enunciating.  You should feel your cheekbones moving!  Students need to see not only the letters of how the word is spelled, but they should also see how the word should be leaving their mouth.
  • The teacher is connecting the new word or phrase to a picture and a movement.

What the students are doing:

  • Students are engaged with their eyes on both the teacher’s mouth in order to establish pronunciation and on the visual prompt in order to make the connection between the sound and the symbol.
  • Students are only being asked to repeat words and movements while keeping their eyes on the teacher.

How you know students are ready to move on:

  • They are participating confidently.
  • They are saying the word without needing a prompt from you to repeat it

Keep your eyes out for our next blog, where we discuss how to move on to stage 2: to recognize.

What to do With “ I Don’t Get It ”

In a teacher’s perfect world, every student would meet every objective of every lesson at the same pace and in the same way.  In the real world, however, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Even when we feel that we’ve delivered some of our best teaching, there is still a student that will give us the infamous, “I don’t get it.”

Have we considered the possibility that they may actually…get it? Many times the problem is that when we ask students questions, we’re doing so at a level much higher than they have learned it.   In other words, it’s not the answer that’s wrong, but rather the question that’s wrong.

I want to introduce you to what may be wrong about the questions that you’re asking through Spanish Curriculum’s Stages of Language and Teaching & Learning:


You’ll see that there are 4 levels that move in a cycle as we teach and as our students learn.

Let’s take a moment to fully understand the four levels:

  • Stage 1: To Comprehend
    This is usually where we begin our teaching and students begin their learning.  Students have little to no prior experience with the material and we are making a direct connection to the new material.
  • Stage 2: To Recognize
    This is where students can distinguish one item from the other when given a couple of choices.
  • Stage 3: To Recall
    At this level, students can determine an answer when given a wide range of choices or a clue.
  • Step 4: To Generate
    Students need little to no assistance determining an answer and can produce it independently.

So: that blank stare you get after you ask a student, “¿De qué color es tu camisa?” could mean that simply adding, “¿De qué color es tu camisa? ¿Azul o gris?” will make all the difference.

This series of blog posts will take a closer look at each stage of teaching and learning by defining it, outlining teaching strategies for each stage, describe what the students are doing at each stage, and tell you how to determine when students need to review or are ready to move on.  Stay tuned!

Reflection… it should be called “ReflACTION!”

Finishing up this week’s Blog theme of the “Teach Roller Coaster”, we end with Reflection.  I don’t know if it is because of our biological nature or just a product of our environment, but I have come to believe that teachers are the most reflective group of professionals in the world!

I can’t even begin to count the conversations that I have had with myself (yes, all the time!) or with colleagues that start off with “Next time…”.  We strive for improvement in ourselves just as we strive to help our students improve.  After any lesson, exam or school year we think of all the things we can do to make it better next time around.  We just can’t help ourselves!

Reflection is essential to becoming a great teacher but it is not enough.  To merely think of all the things we coulda, woulda, shoulda done differently is just the first step.  The true improvement comes with ACTION!  Follow this link to our Teacher Reflection Action Plan!  Write down your honest answers in your journal or on separate sheet of paper.  Save your answers so that you can review them as you begin to plan for next year.  This reflection activity is great to do alone or with members of your support team!

Reflect, then take Action!

You will see improvement in your teaching reflected by improvement in student learning!  And when the “Teacher Roller Coaster” resumes next year, you will be ready to ride!

Maximize the Highs and Minimize the Lows!

In our last post, we took a look at the “Teacher Roller Coaster” filled with the emotional highs and lows that we ride every school year. I started thinking, however…if the ride is inevitable, is there something that we can do to maximize the highs and minimize the lows?

I think the answer is a resounding “Yes!” and I think that if we dig deeper into the idea of Rejuvenation we can definitely ride the high points for the rest of the school year!

I took the idea to feel “rejuvenated” to my last staff meeting.  Well, first I took my idea to the local dollar store and purchased 6 pairs of fuzzy socks and a few silly Springtime trinkets for my colleagues.  When my fellow Spanish teachers came to our meeting, they were each given a pair of socks, a small gift and a healthy snack.  With surprised smiles all around and wearing our fuzzy socks, we began our meeting.  Truth be told, we left that meeting, feeling more refreshed and excited than any other meeting this year!

So, are fuzzy socks the key to feeling renewed after several long months of teaching?  Maybe!  But, I think the true answer lies in taking a break from the norm.  Our structured teacher lives filled with lesson plans, school bells, data collecting, classroom procedures and a myriad of other responsibilities can start to feel old and redundant by this time of year.

To combat the lows, we need to do something different, something fun and something NEW!

Let’s look at what “Rejuvenated” means!

Re (again) + juven (from the Latin young)

Put it together…To Be Young Again!!

For my fellow teachers and I, it was fuzzy socks, green juice and a little surprise gift giving…for you it will be something else.  Take time during the upcoming break to find out what makes you feel young again.  This will be the key to truly feeling Rejuvenated and to finding the energy to enjoy the “teacher roller coaster” ride all the way to the end of the school year!

What makes you feel young again?  Please share your great ideas with us in the comment section below!!

Have a wonderful Spring BREAK!

The School Year Roller Coaster: Do You Scream or Do You Enjoy the Ride?

Think back to your first year of teaching EVER.

How were you feeling? For most first year teachers, August-June takes you through a whirlwind of emotions.  There are tears of happiness and tears of frustration, moments where we love our students and moments where we wonder why we even started teaching in the first place.

For some of us, we still experience similar ups and downs throughout the school year.  We feel it in its most extreme form during our first year, but I think that we all have “most favorite” and “least favorite” times the school year!  We refer to this cycle of emotions as the “roller coaster” of teaching:


courtesy peacecorps.org

Does the graphic resemble anything you went through during your first year of teaching? Does it resemble your school year right now? You’re not alone! Teaching is not for the faint of heart.  Let’s take a closer look:

  • Anticipation: Ideally, this is where we are launching and wrapping up our school year.  We’re excited, looking forward to the Fall, making plans, brainstorming, and ready to take on the next challenge.
  • Survival: At this point in the year, we’ve used a backup plan more than once, classroom routines are being challenged, and our “tomorrow” pile continues to grow because of things we couldn’t get to today.
  • Disillusionment: As soon as we get to school, we already can’t wait to get home.  We have a ton of work to do and our students are challenging us at every turn.  We feel overwhelmed and wonder what life would be like if we had chosen a different career path.
  • Rejuvenation: Winter Break brings us new life.  We’ve visited with family, read that book we were never able to get to, took a day trip, and reorganized our thoughts to tackle the challenges we left behind in December.
  • Reflection: As we start to see changes in both our students and our teaching, we start to think back to the beginning of the year and think either, “why in the world was I doing that?!” or “why don’t we do that anymore? I wonder how we could make that work for next year…”  We start seeing the next school year as a fresh beginning.

Not every teacher feels every phase!  Surround yourself with a positive support system, find what you’re passionate about in your teaching, and take care of yourself.  In the next two blogs, I will walk you through not only how to recognize the low points in the year for ourselves, but also how to turn them around.

Can anybody say America’s Funniest Videos??

We have all had those moments… you know, when you wished there were a hidden camera in the back of the classroom to capture what little Johnny just said in Spanish!  We hold back our reaction, move on to the next volunteer as if nothing funny has just been said, all the while crying on the inside with laughter!  If they only gave Oscars to teachers…

I have so enjoyed writing the last two blogs and sharing inspiring thoughts from our teachers and students that are practicing total immersion.  What better way to round out the week by highlighting some of our funniest moments in the classroom!  Here are a few of my favorites moments sent in from total immersion teachers…

“Señora, do dogs bark in Spanish?” -First grader

“I once had a student that thought I traveled by plane from Spain everyday.”

“Señora, can you speak normal?”  -Kindergartener

“I couldn’t hold it in when one of my students was giving a presentation on food and translated “brats” (short for bratwurst) as “mocosos”!  I couldn’t keep my teacher-face for too long on that one!”

“My students crack up every time I say “hipopótamo”…so, sometimes I just say it randomly to get their attention.  It is also a great way to ease their nerves and make them laugh!”

“I have taught my students that when they struggle with the language, their brains are are getting stronger. So, one day in class a first grader who was having a hard time looked up at me and said, “Señora, I think my brains are getting too strong today.”

Do you have some laugh-out-loud moments to share?  Do tell!  Spring break is a great time to take a moment to relax a little and to let the laughter flow!  We take our jobs very seriously all year long but every now and then you just have to stand up and shout….


Students give teachers some words of wisdom…

Straight from the horse’s (or students) mouth!

We had such a positive response to our last blog with advice from teachers to other teachers, that we decided to follow up with even more helpful suggestions.  This time we asked our clientele (aka our students) to share their best advice to others in total immersion classrooms!

Here is what they said…

“Even though you don’t understand everything your teacher says, you get the general idea and that’s okay. That will help you when you travel to a native country” -Fourth grader

“You just have to get used to it, before you get to college or get a job.” -Fourth grader

“My teacher always tells us to not be afraid so I pretend it is a new song that I am learning.” -Third grader

“Don’t say “sí” if you don’t understand. She might be asking for volunteers!” -Third  grader

We would LOVE to hear what your students have to say!  Ask them for their advice and post it below for all to see!  Listening to each other, teachers and students, can learn together!

Teachers helping Teachers with words of wisdom

I thought that Spring break would be a perfect time to send out some words of encouragement to the many hard working teachers out there!  Being an immersion Spanish teacher, in a world consumed by test scores, API and data can be a challenging feat.  Sometimes we can feel undeservedly low on the educational system’s list of priorities.  We know how invaluable a second language is to our children!  We know total immersion is the most efficient method but also the most arduous! We need to stay committed and keep our aim high!

To help us maintain our expectations for this last stretch from Spring to Summer break, I asked a group of talented, total immersion teachers to share their best piece of advice that I could pass along to you!

Here are a few gems:

“The best piece of advice that I have is to breathe deeply and be patient!  As total immersion teachers, we don’t usually see results right away, but it pays off in the long run!”

“It is so important to to smile and be energetic, even on days when you don’t think you can!”

“(Total immersion) is scary for our students.  They need us to be the positivity in the classroom.”

“Stay in the language, be patient and watch the economy of the language.  It works!”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help!”

“The best piece of advice that comes to mind is patience, especially when you want to translate for them.”

“Keep a journal in which to record struggles and questions as well as answers and solutions.”

“Smile a lot!”

“Remember with struggle comes strength! It is OK for the kids to struggle!”

Do you have any priceless pieces of advice to share? Any favorite words of wisdom? Post them below and pay it forward so other Spanish teachers can learn from your expertise!

celebrate in your classroom

The Best Way to Celebrate in Your Classroom

We’ve been talking this week about the significance of cultural celebrations and why we should be including them in our teaching.  Not only are they a rich part of the language, but celebrating with your students also creates a stronger relationship with them (see “Have You Included Yourself in the Classroom Community?”)

Ok. We’re ready to celebrate in your classroom! So…now what?

I took a group of students to Costa Rica last Spring and one of our most genuine moments together was when, at breakfast one day, a local Tico burst into song.  Eventually we were all singing, whether we knew the words or not!

As we focus this week on celebrating, let’s take a moment to recognize the power of music and song.  How many times in a day do we use music? Do you listen to or even sing along to music on the way to work?  Do we put on quiet music when it is time for our students to focus and settle down?  Do we use any songs or rhythms to transition in our classroom? That little victory dance we do at the end of the day on Friday? That’s music, too!

We use music in our own lives to bring joy and to recognize special moments. Why not introduce some new songs to your class to feel that same celebration of joy in Spanish?

Below are just a few!

These three are more traditional:

  1. Cielito Lindo
  2. De Colores
  3. Las mañanitas

And these have more of a modern taste:

  1. Fotografía
  2. Llegaste tú
  3. Rosas

I love that moment when I hear students saying, “_______ is stuck in my head!” as they hum a tune to a song…in Spanish! If you already have some personal favorites, look back at what I advise in my previous blogs: bring YOUR passion into the classroom.  The holidays, music, food, and traditions that are most meaningful to you are going to be the ones that are special for your students as well. They will feel the power of your words!