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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Conquering my Novice Everest

When I started blogging, it was all about me processing my experience as a Spanish teacher. Blogging is a way for me to empty my brain of all of the ideas that clutter it. Once I see it in paper, or in this case, in the screen it is so much easier to understand what is going on. I went public with my blog a couple of months ago and have gotten a great response. I haven't blogged for 3 weeks because I have been discouraged. I didn't feel like writing positive things that were not in my heart. The temptation is great to use blogging either to put on a happy smile or to help other people. But, that was never the intention of my blog. It was for me. So, in the spirit of that initial commitment, my blog today is a "Dear Blog, today I am..." except I will share it with others, in the hope that I will glean some nuggets of information from the corporate wisdom.

Dear Blog today I am feeling...
Defeated about my Spanish 1 students. I have worked SO hard at  changing instructional approaches and attitudes from the past. I started out with high hopes, excitement and renewed commitment to make my novices LOVE Spanish and to allow them to experience success. I did PD all summer, giving up free time of my own or with my family, so that I would be ready to help my novices learn in a way that would bring results. I have planned fun lesson plans and had it all worked out in my head as to how it would pan out.

I threw away the grammar and vocabulary based approaches and went for communicative learning/natural approach/contextualized teaching etc. But, the results are the same. The same percentage of students who did well, are doing awesome and the same percentage of students who failed in the past are failing now. So, what gives? 

Why are some novices so unmotivated to learn, not just Spanish, anything? Why are they sometimes so slow in picking up material that has been repeated dozens of times? Why is there such a chasm between the haves (intellectually and cognitively) and the have nots at this novice level? Why do I have to have a highly structured classroom with my novices when my personality is bent towards collaborative learning and free flowing exchange of ideas (as I do with my Spanish 3's?) Because, if a number of novices are not in a structured environment, they fall apart. This year, more than any other year, my high level students are bored out of their minds, because I am going SOOOO slow and repeating structures SOOOO much.Why can't novices be like my Spanish 3s who want to learn, who grow by leaps and bounds and who can do SO much with what I give them?

I feel as if I'm climbing an Everest made out of sand and I keep slipping backwards. It is going to be a LONG year is something doesn't change for me.

Thank you for reading and I would appreciate any feedback that you may  have. 


  1. I so appreciate reading posts like this one - it lets me know I'm not the only one who struggles! I teach Spanish 1 all day - five sections of it. I enjoy novices, and I love how I can trace their progress and watch how much they grow and learn in a year. That being said, I was nodding my head and agreeing with you as you wrote about the need for structure, the lack of motivation, and how some students are so very slow, and the gap between the cognitive/intellectual haves and have nots.

    I try to remember that it's not all students who are uninterested and unmotivated - that mixed in with the students who frustrate me so much are some excellent, highly motivated students that I am getting through to. I also have noticed that each class is different - stations and collaboration will work in some periods, but other periods do need more structure. It's hard to find the balance (gaaah differentiated planning is so much work!), but sometimes I need to do the more structured, less #langchat-approved activities with those more challenging classes. An ok-lesson (with more structure and less collaboration) that students will do is better than a fantastic structure (with less structure and supervision) that students will be too distracted or immature to complete.

    I try to survey students about class activities every couple of weeks - I usually just throw a question or two on the board, and ask them to answer on the back of an assignment we've finished. What class activities work best for you? What do you need more practice with? The feedback gives me some insight into what students enjoy in class - yes, they do appreciate my fun activities, even if it doesn't show on their faces! - and is, for the most part, encouraging.

    All this to say: I feel you. You are not the only one going through this, and all you can do is your best, and know that some days will be better than others. Good luck!

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. As you said there are highly motivated students, you are right. I also know that by the end of the year, I do see tremendous growth in most of my students. All the ones who move on to Spanish 2 tell me that it is easy for them because I prepared them so well. As iron sharpens iron... so were your words to me today.

  3. Axa, if my experience is any indication the slipping may last a few years. The truth is it's not just the kids: it's the culture, too. And it is you. You are learning yourself, and you have as much adjusting to do as the young ones--I am TOTALLY there with you on the structure thing. As with the kids, we have to practice before we are proficient. What's more, though, is you are working against established expectations, generations of them, really. Wait until kids get wind of your new style after a few semester's and come in expecting it--about the time you're hitting your stride, too! You will have a foothold and be in sight of the peak! And then the slipping is totally worth it.

  4. I have taught novices every year. But, 2 years ago I had 2 classes, last year I had one (dream) class and this year I have 3. I think there was a comfort in the old me where I set my high expectations and if they didn't catch on, it was too bad for them. I moved along with the motivated kids, which left the non-motivated behind. What I am doing this year is SO much harder because I am having to pick up and carry the struggling Ss while trying not to bore (without success) my kids who "get it" the first time I say it or teach it. The temptation is great to just move on and leave kids who can't or won't get it behind. I don't want to do that but I need something, a prop, a technique, a "something" else that I haven't figured out yet, that will bridge that huge divide between both groups of kids.

    1. Here's what you do: you set up a system for the early finishers--maybe they can get extra credit, maybe not. Either way, you build in time for you to do the necessary practice with struggling kids, allow yourself room to breathe--THAT is paramount in this situation. I'll refer you to some tweeps who can help.