Let’s Make Language Teaching More Natural

 It’s been a really weird school year. I recently started reading The Nature of Language by Bill VanPatten and it really got my gears going. 

He uses so many analogies that are applicable to those of us who are language teachers, despite the fact that the book is written about language, not language teaching. 

The first analogy that had my mind blown was about stars in the sky. I believed in the fundamental fact that grammar rules are not what wind up in our mental representation, but I never fully grasped what BVP meant when he said that those rules don’t exist. 

I always tried to work it out by thinking, well we teach rules like ser & estar in traditional language classes, but those rules are really not entirely true because I can fully well say ese chico es bonito (that boy is cute) or ese chico está bonito (that boy is cute). There are different implications to both, but the point is that the rule many language teachers teach — ser is for descriptions and estar is for states of being — is not quite true. 

This book took it even further than that. His point related to the stars and how if you look up, you might see the Big Dipper. However, if we were to fly into the sky and get super close, we would no longer see the Big Dipper as we see it from here on Earth. This is because our mind is making meaning of something that is not actually there. It’s almost like a 2D representation of the sky. The same happens when we are learning grammar rules. They are external descriptions of what is in our heads, but they are not real. They are not actually what is in our heads. It’s just an attempt to explain the inexplicable.

A linguistic example that was an aha! moment for me: if I were to say:

*I drived to the store yesterday.*

*I have drived to the store before.*

Any native speaker would know that that sounds wrong. We say:

 I drove to the store yesterday

However, if we look at a very similar verb (but less common), it is not quite as simple. 

I strived to do my best.

I strove to do my best.

I have striven to do my best all along.

I have strived to do my best all along.

It’s likely that all of those sound plausible to you. This is because language is so much more complex than what those rules of grammar tell us. 

So what does this mean for language educators?

Well, I think it’s important to note that first language acquisition and second language acquisition are fundamentally the same. Our brains do not acquire infinitive verbs and then use a chart to add verb endings. We acquire the entire word. 

So, when I am using tasks to help my students acquire whatever they’re learning (my goals are content related), I try as hard as I can to get them to focus on the meaning of whole words in context. I never have them practice conjugating; I leave that stuff to the linguists. 

In my Spanish classroom, I am not a linguistics teacher, and I do not believe that there is any benefit in providing grammar exercises when shooting for proficiency. Instead, we use the language for a purpose: to communicate. That is the only thing we use language for in real life, so that’s what I do in my classroom. We use the language to complete tasks.

I have, however, noticed a slight downside to my approach: my first-year students kinda stink at subject pronouns because they don’t see them as often as they see a verb in context. I think that’s an easy fix, though, and either way, it is part of their natural acquisition process. We cannot force what they acquire and what they do not, just like we cannot force a baby to acquire “mama” before “dada.” It just all depends on the input and the child’s need to use the word to make themself understood.  

It’s good to be back,


Preliminary Unit: How do I assess it?



If you read my last post, then you know that I have been working on making the preliminary unit better with 6th grade. 

Another part of my goals is to make my quizzes and other assessments a little more meaningful. I want them to see the purpose for what they are learning. 

This is no easy task, and it often becomes a logistical NIGHTMARE. 

In the end, however, if it works, it's really useful. 

So how do I assess the first unit?

I do have a performance assessment that is a little longer than this, but I recently gave a quiz that I liked A LOT. 

Here's what I did:

We have a virtual language lab with Sanako Connect. It's not my FAVORITE language lab I have ever used, but it has some really cool features. One feature is to put the kids in pairs and have them type to each other. 

So, I had the students sign in with a different name.  That's the key. Then, I put them into groups, and they had three tasks:

1. To figure out who they were actually talking to (the only way they know how to do this is to ask 'what's your name?').
2. To figure out how that person feels. 
3. To say goodbye.

Is it the best communicative task? No. But the kids had fun and how often do you hear kids say that a quiz is fun?! 

Also, I rarely do interpersonal writing, so this was a cool way for me to test out those waters a bit. 

Hope this helps someone!


The Preliminary Unit: Is it Communicative?

Hi hi hi! 

It has been way too friggin' long since I have written a post, but I am not blaming myself for this one. Last year was so difficult; it's inexplicable what educators had to do. 

To my surbrise, this year isn't much easier. I've almost gone as far as to say it's harder. My students feel so unbelievably young this year, and there is so much classroom management needed. 

As much as I would love to give more updates, I am going to save that for another post. Today, I want to talk about the preliminary unit. 

I absolutely HATE the first unit. I hate it. Not only because I think a unit on numbers and the date is ridiculous, but also because it's hard to make it communicative. So, I am going to take some topics that I think are commonly in the preliminary unit and talk about some ideas I have used to make it more communicative. 

Introducing ourselves:

Obvi, one of the first things we teach our students is to introduce themselves. My name is...

But, once we all know each other's names, it becomes pointless practice. And as you know, I want everything in my class to have a purpose. I am not saying I am there yet, but that's my goal. I want my students to be using the language for a purpose. 

Game 1: 
The first game I thought of was having students take an index card/post-it and writing a new name. Any name, but I told them to try to make it funny. They had to go around and ask everyone for their new name, and at the end of the activity, we voted on our favorite fake name. The kids loved it, and the cool thing about this is that you can do it multiple times as long as you switch names. 

Game 2:
The second game that I really love is similar. Each student picks a new name, but they have to write the same name as someone else in the class. Only one person will write an individual name. Then, I shuffle them and have each kid take a new name. They have to go around asking each other their names until they find the person with the same name as them. The person without a partner is out. However, I didn't like having kids get out because then they were watching for so long. Instead, I started having kids who had no partner do their favorite dance move for the class (challenge by choice, obviously). 

The date:

I am begging you: please stop spending a month learning the days of the week and the date. This can simply be taught all year by asking what the date is. 

I create a birthday board in the center of my classroom, so I basically ask: what's the date? and is it anyone's birthday today? If it is, we then sing to that person. 

That's all for now, my friends! Let me know your ideas, questions, thoughts, etc.! 

With love,


Textbooks: a Resource or a Curriculum?


As many of you know, I am not a fan of textbooks, and I never use the textbook in my classroom. If you asked my 6th graders, I bet they wouldn't even know there is a textbook (although I do use a few of them to block the cold air coming from my vent in the winter, so they might know). 

What I HAVEN'T really ever written about, though, is how I have used the textbook as a resource. 

Why a textbook shouldn't be the curriculum: 

Most textbooks are not designed with language research in mind; they are designed for what the public wants. Sadly, most language teachers still want the traditional textbook, so that's what is published. 

However, there are textbooks that have communicative tasks in them like "Sol y viento" and I STILL believe that those textbooks should not be the curriculum. 

For one, textbooks do not necessarily meet the demands of the students. How can a textbook published in 1995 still be relevant? I mean those textbooks are still teaching the word "chalk" in the classroom unit, for crying out loud. 

The other issue that I have with textbooks is that they start with a preliminary unit that usually involves the alphabet, numbers, colors, stating their names (this one's good), dates, days of the week, etc. This is treating a first-year language class like a kindergarten class, BUT IT IS NOT. My students are at a much higher cognitive ability than that, and I can teach them all of those things in much better contexts. Also, kindergartners go to kindergarten with LOTS of language, believe it or not. My students are coming to me with none, so I need to give them much more useful language than just an alphabet, numbers, and dates. 

How are textbooks useful, then? 

I know all of this bashing of textbooks on blogs can be really overwhelming for teachers, and it probably pisses you off. To be honest, it pisses me off too! Not because I think that textbooks are the greatest resources but because I believe that districts should be doing a better job of giving teachers time to re-write the curriculum CONSTANTLY. A good curriculum needs to be forever changing. This is hard for a lot of teachers. I have a beloved unit that I have done for five years now. I worked so hard on it, but in my eyes, it's time for it to go so that bigger and better things can come along. However, it's really hard to do that when you're not a department of one. If teachers are required to maintain our licenses (and pay for it ourselves), then why are schools not being held accountable for rich, well developed curricula?

Anyway, when I started teaching at my current school, I asked for a curriculum, and there was just a textbook. Now that's not a stab at anyone because my department head gave me that textbook and explicitly said that I had all the freedom in the world to do what I wanted with it. So, essentially, the textbook is being used as a stepping stone for teachers who are new to the district to have something to follow, but it is not a requirement. Do I think that's better than a written curriculum of thematic units hitting on hot topics like social justice issues? Absolutely not, but it's a start, and I was able to roll with it. 

My first year there, I basically taught the textbook using as many communicative strategies as I could. The problem, though, was that I was using that textbook like a curriculum. It just can't be that way. As BVP always says, teaching communicatively is not to be seen as a method to teach the same old things in a different way. It is an approach, not a method. That's to say, if I am trying to teach textbook rules and my units are based solely around grammar points, then I am not teaching communicatively. 

After that, I started doing workshops on thematic units, and I realized VERY quickly that my units were not good. The thing is, though, there are 8 middle school Spanish teachers in my district, and I wanted to still be in line with at least the grammar that we all expose the students to. So, I couldn't just throw the book out the window like I wanted to. I had to get creative. 

One thing that textbooks are somewhat good at is picking contexts for each unit. For example, there are units on school, housing, family, food, sports, parties, clothing, etc. These units are not strong enough by themselves, in my opinion, but they are a great place to start. I took those units and made units around them; that way, I was teaching the same grammar in the textbook but in a much more interesting context, and I was also teaching the same grammar as the other Spanish teachers who have their own creative ways of facilitating language acquisition. 

So, every year, for example, my unit on "school" gets muuuuuch stronger. It is now a unit on equal access to education. The unit on parties is now a unit on quinceañeras and gender performativity and heteronormativity. The unit on food and emotions is now a unit on how sugar consumption affects our emotions. Etc. 

However, in Avancemos at least, there are a few units that have no topic and are really just focused on a grammatical structure. Sometimes, those units have to be thrown out. For example, I will never ever do a unit on stem-change verbs ever again. I am trusting that stem-change verbs show up naturally throughout my curriculum (and they do). Other units, for example, can be worked with. Our textbook has a unit on prepositional phrases (in front of, behind, next to, etc.). Right now, I have that as a unit on teen technology use and focus on statistics about how much time we spend in front of screens, the percentage of us who sleep next to our cellphones, etc. This is one of my weaker units, so I have cut it down to a two-week mini-unit, but I still think it's stronger than just teaching the vocabulary out of context. Hopefully, I can get rid of this unit soon and fill it with something stronger. Like I said, our curricula in EVERY subject should be constantly changing. 

I am at the point in my career where I am ready to throw that textbook completely out. I would never replace it with a new one, but I thought it was time to be transparent that the textbook was useful to me in getting me started on rewriting the curriculum. It's okay to use a textbook as a resource, but when we are spending three months on learning to tell the date, numbers, days of the week, etc. just because the textbook demands it is when it gets a little problematic. I believe that we can get our students to much higher proficiency levels when our curricula are more designed to meet our students at their cognitive AND language level. 

Thanks for reading!!


Distance Teaching: I Feel Like a First-Year Teacher Again

I think this is probably the longest I've gone without writing on my blog. I just got so overwhelmed when all my teaching switched to online. All these amazing teachers were sharing all of these great resources, and I was ignoring it all. My brain shut down, and I did not want to think about it until I had to. 

Teaching online has made me feel like a first-year teacher again, which is both infuriating and relieving. I look back on the way I taught my first year and regret it with every fiber of my being, so it's nice to kind of feel like I'm getting a do-over. I had a great mentor and was beginning to dabble in communicative language teaching, but I still had no clue how languages are acquired. So, being a new teacher again, it would've been really easy to resort back to grammar practice and language-based units. 

I'm too stubborn for that now, and I am grateful now more than ever that my units have changed from units on indefinite/definite articles, direct object pronouns, present tense, etc. to units on pollution and resolutions in Mexico City, human values with regard to sports/entertainment and education, etc. If I were to resort back to units based on a specific grammatical structure, I would've lost way more students than I did (because, let's be real, many of them are not doing the work now that it's optional and online). My students would've picked up on the inauthenticity (whoa, what the heck?! Did I make this word up?! Why are there red lines under it?!), and they would not have done the work.

The Interpretive Mode

I've always learned that speaking and writing are not necessary for language acquisition (that's not to say that they're not important for skill development). However, throughout this process, my goal is for my students to ACQUIRE as much Spanish as possible now that I am down to two days a week of teaching (and hours more work than ever in planning!). 

This has been a great opportunity for me to focus on the interpretive mode (listening and reading). It's honestly the only thing I can do right now because I cannot really monitor the use of Google Translate and other resources from home. Thanks to the help of Ronie Webster for sharing many resources, I have gone further in depth than ever with my unit on pollution in Mexico City. It's also been great because listening has always been the lowest for our students on the STAMP test at the end of eighth grade, so it's given me a lot of chances to develop listening assignments.

The 6th graders have been emailing me saying how much they're enjoying learning about solutions to pollution (I really believe these kids will change the world someday). It's cool to see that they're this engaged and lots of them are asking questions! They're also thinking critically and criticizing the possible solutions as well; every idea is flawed and can be improved! 

One of the things I teach about in this unit is how Mexico City has strict laws as to when people can drive. For example, if you have a yellow sticker, you cannot drive on Mondays. I'm sorry but isn't learning colors and days of the week by learning about driving regulations in Mexico City much more interesting than having a "unit" on telling the days of the week at the beginning of the year??? I really think so. I cannot imagine spending so much time on language that barely helps my students communicate about real things anymore. I want to meet my students at their cognitive level--not just their linguistic level. 

Teaching Online

Not being in class to deliver this content has been so challenging; I'm not going to lie, though, I've enjoyed the creativity. I, like many other teachers, was convinced that my students were not acquiring much language. However, I did a Google Meets with my 7th graders the other day and was really happy to see that they were having no trouble understanding and producing the language from the unit. It goes to show that engaging content really makes a difference. It also goes to show that input has so much power--even if it's only two days a week. They were using phrases like "le da" which includes an indirect object pronoun. I know that phrase is so "teachery" but just trust me that, if I had a unit specifically on indirect object pronouns, they would not be using them today. 

The technology part has been kind of fun for me, and I am so grateful to all the companies that are giving teachers free access to their stuff during this pandemic. It's made my life so much easier. I have found some really awesome ways to deliver my lessons even when I am not actually there in person. This took me so long to get good at, but I can actually say that I still feel like I am being a great teacher right now, and I DO believe that my students are acquiring language (just not as much as before). I found ways to embed videos of myself teaching the materials into interactive lessons thanks to Pear Deck, Screencastify, EdPuzzle, and many more. For example, my students can watch a video of me telling a story, interact with it, and then see the correct answer. Here's a quick sample below:

Although this is not my IDEAL way of teaching, I have still enjoyed doing it. I think if I had not stayed true to what I know about language acquisition, this would've been torture for both me and my students. 

The cool thing about all this is that it didn't happen overnight. That's why I felt like a new teacher again, exploring new tools again, figuring out what works, keeping track of student work in different ways, etc. And just when I feel like I am getting the hang of it, it's coming to an end! haha! That's life, but all I can say is that my sub plans are going to be bad ass from now on! 

Anyway, thanks for reading. It was nice to do something different for a change. 


Apathetic Students and Participation Grades Re-mastered

Buenos días:

It's been a while since I've posted--mostly because things have been busy, but I also may or may not have forgotten my password for a bit...I feel the grey hairs coming in already. 

This year has been my very first year dealing with super apathetic students. I am very much accustomed to students loving Spanish class and the content that I teach--especially 6th graders--but I have two groups this year that are very bad at showing their interest. 

I felt like I had tried everything: surveys, lessons on social faking, developing units around personal interests, letting students sit with friends, and the list goes on. That's not to say that these strategies didn't work for most students, but it didn't for all. 

Sometimes, in the classroom, one student can change the whole game. All it takes is for one student whom the other students view as "cool" to be unengaged for the whole class to start to feel the same. I gave two classes lessons on social faking--basically pretending to show your interest--and explained to them that I am suuuuuuuuuuper empathetic. So, when they have low energy, so do I. I'm working on that!

Anyway, these strategies were very ineffective with one of my students. This student's apathy has been really venomous to the other students in the class, and I have started to feel soooooo defeated. Like...really friggin' defeated. 

What has started to work: 

1. I moved the students' seats. This seems like an easy solution, but it was a strategy I hadn't thought of before in this way. I decided to move the students' seats strategically so that the student who is most apathetic will not be facing me most of the time. If this student is being an active listener, then they should turn around; but this way, if they don't, then I won't be affected by the apathy.  I am hoping that this will help a lot with my empathy and the other students' reaction to this student's lack of interest. 

2. Participation Grades Re-mastered - The famous Bill VanPatten mentioned participation grades on his podcast "Talkin' L2 with BVP" the other day that really helped me a tonnnnnnn. I, personally, had done away with participation grades because I feel that they VERY often reward extroverts and punish introverts. HOWEVER...buh duh da da!!! BVP comes to the rescue! This grading system is essentially based on active listening. Since our students at the novice levels are really supposed to be soaking up as much language as possible, they need to be active listeners. If they are not, they won't acquire as much, so their grade should be able to reflect that.

This rubric is pretty quantitative and not super qualitative, so it's a work in progress, but it has helped me so so so so so so much with students not talking over other people, making eye contact, answering questions, etc. 

It's something more for me to keep track of, but if it's helping my students acquire the most Spanish as possible, then I'm okay with that. I have found that students are being much kinder to each other and to me in terms of listening to each other. The more they listen, the more input they get!

My friend, Toni, recommended the acronym SLANT. 

Sit up
Ask and answer questions
Nod your head
Track the speaker

I'm hoping to put this on  poster in my classroom soon as a nice reminder for the students. All in all, this has been my best year as a teacher in terms of lesson plans and curriculum, but it has been my hardest in terms of students' social and emotional needs. I'm hoping to get better and better at this every year. 

Thanks as always for reading. ❤


Social Justice, Global Warming, and Human Impact in the Classroom

Hello, world:

A lot of amazing stuff has happened to me since my last post! I have been thinking a lot about social justice in the classroom ever since I developed that unit on heteronormativity in quinceañeras.

So, I attended Cassandra Glynn and Beth Wassell's workshop on teaching culture through the lens of social justice at this years MaFLA conference. If you have not read their book, Words and Actions: Teaching Languages Through the Lens of Social Justice, it's a MUST buy. I am in the middle of reading it right now, and it's so unbelievably helpful!!
I also attended a session on the UN's Global Goals, and that really supplemented what I learned from Cassandra and Beth. There are social justice standards that are just a non-negotiable at this point. We have to be teaching this stuff because it's a necessity for the safety of our students, planet, etc.

This can be done with novice learners! 

I had to put this in bold and underline it because it was a huge misconception that I had in my mind before. I was always under the impression that when we talked about the 3 Ps (Products, Practices, and Perspectives), that the "perspectives" part were more for upper-level students. I was so wrong. Perspectives need to be in every unit that we teach.

This summer, I did a training at Middlebury, and a professor said that the 3 Ps were antiquated because they don't teach students how to really interact with people from other countries. However, what I think was missing in this discussion was the social justice aspect of culture. These DO help students learn to criticize, admire, and interact with their culture and the culture of others.

My units:

I had a lot of thematic units designed that touched on some of the topics from the UN's Global Goals, but I was not going deep enough. What I realized was that all of my units contained content knowledge/factual information and tools for personal reflection, but what I was missing were the tools for critical analysis and the tools for action and social change. I was not having my students come up with/learn about any solutions to the problems that we were discussing. What a missed opportunity for social change!

I started new digital portfolios with my students *this will have to be a post of its own someday*. However, in part of the portfolio, students have to write things that they are passionate about. This was the suggestion of my department head, Jorge Allen, because many students in Andover have to do this for their capstone projects. My students are not doing their own capstones per se, but I figured I could start to develop units around their passions while incorporating a social justice lens.

MY STUDENTS' ANSWERS HAVE BEEN OFF THE HOOK! I thought they were going to write things like "I like videogames," which would've been totally acceptable, but they went so much deeper (even if they did say their passion was videogames). They were giving reasons why, adding statistics, thinking about others, etc. My heart was soaring!

The first one that stood out to me was from a 7th grader. He wrote that he was passionate about the environment but added that he is specifically passionate about tree conservation. He pointed out that our society is trying to move away from plastic straws by using paper straws...buuuuuut...we have to cut down trees to make those paper straws. *MIND BLOWN* Sometimes we think we are being environmentally friendly without thinking of other possible consequences of our actions.


I sat down with two incredible science teachers at my school, Catie and Kayley, and they helped me begin the process of writing TWO units based off of this student's interest in trees. I had already had a unit on Puerto Rico and a particular bird in danger of extinction, so we zeroed in on that and made it a unit on human impact!

The other unit that we began to develop is a unit on global warming for 6th grade. The wonderful French teacher at my school and I were talking last week about how we hate teaching the "weather" unit. It just doesn't seem to move students up much in proficiency, and it's just not fun. So, I talked with her and another Spanish teacher at my school (the third Spanish teacher is away and we miss her!), and we are going to work on developing this unit on global warming together to add some value to our weather unit.

These two units really incorporate social justice in my opinion and cultural perspectives because they say a lot about human values. We often value our own needs over the needs of our planet or over the needs of others around us, but these problems can be solved.

The solutions! I cannot stress how important it is to not only discuss social justice issues, but to also discuss solutions with the students. When we discuss greenhouse gases, we will talk about solutions like eating less meat to produce less methane, etc. When we talk about human impact, we will talk about light pollution, the use of fossil fuels, pollution, etc., but then we will also discuss the solutions. I already bought my first silicone and metal straws in preparation for discussing the solution to plastic/paper straws brilliantly brought up by my student.

Also in the works is going to be a unit on animal cruelty; A LOT of students wrote about cruelty free products, pounds that kill dogs after 14 days of not finding a home, etc. But one step at a time, Timothy! 😉🤣


These units are making me (and hopefully my students) a better person, and I am learning a lot in my research as I develop each unit. It feels so good to be excited about teaching a new unit! Thematic units are a lot of work and require a lot of research and time, but I really love the idea of not teaching the same old stuff year after year. As the world changes, my curricula will continue to change with it.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! I'm a happy camper!


What I did when students didn't feel comfortable in my room!

Hola hola hola:

Teaching is hard. Last week was one of the roughest weeks in my career as a teacher aside from my first year. There were so many emotions in our building from staff and students, and it was just so hard to not get discouraged.

I had one class in particular that was giving me a hard time—not because they were bad but because I could NOT get them to answer any of my questions.

They did the work that I asked them to do; they were very very compliant. But I don't want compliant learners. I am not okay with that in my classroom. I want my students to always go above and beyond.

Well, as I said, they were not answering my questions. Some might think, "Oh, perhaps they are not understanding the Spanish." NOPE. They were not answering my questions in English most of the time either! I tried to convince myself that they are all just shy kids, but I have had plenty of shy kids in the past, so I didn't have myself convinced.


I talked to an amazing teacher, Toni Ciaccia, at my school, and she told me the honest truth. She said, "well, when kids aren't answering my questions, it usually means that they don't feel safe to answer the questions." This hit me like a BOMB! Not because I couldn't believe it, but because I realized in that moment that Toni was right; I had not created a safe enough environment for this class.


You all know me, and I love research-based practices, so I did some research on creating a safe environment. A lot of the stuff I had already been doing: lots of brain breaks, lots of games, etc. 

So what WASN'T I doing? Well, I wasn't being patient enough; when they weren't answering my questions, I was getting visibly annoyed that they weren't answering me, and that (obviously) just was making matters worse. 

I came up with some strategies that have worked wonders for me so far. First and foremost, I wanted to give the students a voice. I always tell them on the first day of school that I want them to call me out if I am being unreasonable, but 6th graders are just not comfortable doing that. 

So, I gave the students a survey that included a few questions: 

  1. Do you feel nervous to speak Spanish in class?
  2. Is there someone in class who makes you feel nervous to participate? 
  3. Do you feel unsafe answering questions because you don't know your classmates well enough?
  4. Do I make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable? 
  5. What can I do to make you feel more comfortable? 
  6. Is there something I could be better at? 
  7. Is there something else that you want me to know?
These questions helped so much because the feedback was way more positive than I thought it would be, but it showed the students that I am willing to admit my imperfections and address problems head on. 


Two students said in the survey that they felt like I was a little impatient with them (which is something I told them that I was working on), so I created a signal for them when they feel like I am impatient and one for when they do not understand.

When the students do not understand something I say, I asked them to wiggle their fingers on their shoulders. I NEED them to do this because it's impossible to acquire a language if they cannot focus on the meaning, so this is my way of getting them to express to me that they do not understand. But here's the important aspect: I asked every student in the class to wiggle their fingers on their shoulders any time they see someone else doing it. This way, the whole class is doing it, so no one really knows who started it. It's just a signal for me to know that someone in the class needs more guidance. 

I also created a signal for when they think I am being unreasonable (they stomp their feet). This is a way for me to check myself, but I am hoping that they never have to use this signal! I think that this is important because I do think that it's necessary for students to learn that it's okay to question authority when appropriate. I am not a dictator, and I am not right all the time, so I need them to feel comfortable expressing their concerns to me. 


This is basically teaching 101, but I needed a reminder of its power. In my classes—especially the class that wasn't answering my questions—I am trying to give them more opportunities to turn and talk to a classmate about their answers before calling on students. This way, they get a little more practice and reassurance before having to speak in front of other students.


Since this class was struggling with energy, I decided to give them new seats. I told them that I wasn't doing it because I thought they deserved it, but rather because they NEEDED it. I was honest and said that I am looking for waaaaaay more energy from them, and this change also made a HUGE difference!

I am really happy so far with how things worked out; I hope it just gets better and better throughout the year.


Updates, Thematic Units, and my Beliefs.

Hola hola:

I hope that all the teachers out there have had a great start to the year and that everyone else who is working is still having a great year.

It's so good to be back at work but also super exhausting. This year, we extended the school day by fifteen minutes, which doesn't sound like a lot, but I am totally feeling it. We used to be allowed to leave at 2:35, and now we aren't supposed to leave until 2:50. However, we rarely leave right on time, so I am finding that I am not getting home until after 4:15 or so, which means that I have a 10-hour work day. Yikes.

Normally, I like to have these blog posts be a bit more organized, but I have a lot of things that I want to say, so I think that I am just going to let my fingers do the talking.

This year, I have been working really hard (thanks to some really great friends and a really amazing boyfriend) on trying to fight for/ask for what I want more often. I often get too shy or too worried about bothering someone else, that I won't make even a simple request like asking the Dunkin' Donuts worker to add more sugar to my coffee.

I think that this is true for teachers too. It's not necessarily that we are afraid to ask for what we want, but simply that we don't do it. We complain SO MUCH but rarely actually do things about it. This got me thinking: what is the thing that I complain about most at my job? Once I thought of it, I thought of a solution. This was a solution that I was saying I wanted for a while, but I never asked for it. So, I AM GOING FOR IT! I am really proud of myself--whether the request is honored or not.

That's my advice to teachers and everyone else: instead of walking around the halls with bitter, angry faces on, do something about it! If your problems are not solved, then make a decision.  Every problem has a solution.

My wonderful students: 

As always, I have a great group of students this year who are eager to learn and laugh at my stupid antics! I kind of like being a weirdo in class.

Sadly, I did not get a lot of my students from last year back this year, which was a major bummer--especially when I had students for two years and now don't have them their last year in middle school.  However, as I look at the students that I did get back, I am SOOOO proud of them and their Spanish. I gave each class an open-ended assignment in 7th and 8th grade just to see what they can do with the language, and they remembered so much more than I expected.

As many of you may know, last year, I rewrote the curriculum to reflect a curriculum that I want to teach while still making sure that I still expose my students to the same grammar as everyone else in my district. I am so unbelievably happy that I did that because my students are writing more than ever in such brilliant Spanish; they truly are constantly exceeding the proficiency goal for the course, and I could not be happier. I LOVE THEMATIC UNITS.

Thematic Units and Myths About Communicative Language Teaching: 

The reason why I love thematic units is because my students are learning about something IN Spanish instead of just learning Spanish. This way, I can always help them focus on the MEANING of words instead of just doing grammar exercises. I can see how effective this was in my students this year, and I cannot wait to watch them continue to move up in proficiency.

Now, it seems that people are constantly under the impression that communicative language teachers do not teach grammar. This is simply not true. In order to give the students communicatively embedded input, we have to be using grammar. It just means that we don't explicitly teach grammar. In other words, the meaning is the most important thing. They could fill out a grammar chart with a verb they do not know, but if they do not know what it means, it's impossible to acquire language! That's what communicative language teaching avoids: students not needing to know what something means. They need to truly listen to understand, which is a beautiful thing.

In my class, I always tell my students that communication is the most important thing; that means that if I understand you, then you have met your communicative goal. This, however, does NOT mean that their Spanish will not get better and their accuracy will not improve. Of course it does because the more courses they take and the more MEANING that they pay attention to and express, the more they will acquire. My students cannot always give a grammatical explanation for something, but they very often can USE that structure--just like native speakers. How many of you who are not language teachers can give me an example of the pluperfect tense? I bet very few, and that is OKAY! Too often we focus on students' output and think "if I don't correct this, they won't get better," but they WILL! They will get it through more and more input.

My department head said something that really resonated with me the other day. If our hope is for our students to be as native-like as possible, then why are we beating them up for missing accent marks and misspellings when native speakers make those same mistakes??? I had never thought of it that way. Of course I want my students to use accent marks correctly (which they will acquire through reading--not from a spelling test), but in the grand scheme of the universe, how important is it?

Okay, but many people say to me: "Timothy, you love grammar, and you always want to know the grammar rules." This is wicked true. I do. I love syntax and morphology. So, if you have a Timothy in your class (I rarely do) who wants to know the grammar rule, obviously explain it! Our minds sometimes find grammar to be fascinating, but that doesn't mean that those grammar rules wind up in our heads. It just means we know a grammar rule.

Greg Duncan explained to me recently that he does believe that those Timothys can get their grammar explanations quickly along with their communicative input. It doesn't take long. He also said that you can have grammar walls for those kids to look at and the non-Timothys in the class can just never look at them and get all of their input communicatively.

However, I do believe that if there is no exchange of information--no need to TRULY listen or truly read the meaning--then there is little to no acquisition. If somebody asks me to conjugate the verb "mancar," I can totally do it:

Yo manco
Nosotros mancamos
Tú mancas
Vosotros mancáis
Él/ella/usted manca
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes mancan

But if I do not know what that means, how can I use it? How can I acquire something without a context?

Anyway, I am really proud of the work that my students and I did last year, and I am looking forward to getting even better. All I ever want to say about my job is that I am proud of the work I do, and I really am. I'm so lucky to love what I do.

Thanks for reading,


Discussing Heteronormativity in the Classroom

Hola hola hola:

A huge push in my district (and many other districts) is to develop lessons that incorporate social emotional learning (SEL) to help students of all types with their social and emotional growth. There is so much that goes into this--using students' names, greeting students at the door, etc. However, it's more than just interactions with students; we want to start incorporating it into our everyday lessons. This might mean using more brain breaks, doing mindfulness activities before an assessment, etc.

Given that I am a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have always wanted to make it a point to ensure that students in this community with me feel safe in my classroom/school. We have rainbow flags in our classrooms, etc. However, I hadn't really incorporated it into the curriculum yet.

The closest I used to get to talking about this in my classroom was when I would tell them things about my boyfriend. I try to normalize LGBTQ+ relationships as much as possible so that, even if it's not in the curriculum, it is present in my classroom. Since I believe in communicative language teaching, this does mean that I talk about myself with my students, so it does come up, but not as often as I would like.


Heteronormativity is basically anything that promotes heterosexual relationships as being "the norm." At our last department meeting, my department head, Dr. Jorge Allen, had us all look at the United Nations website, and I came across the section about gender equality. It got me thinking, "if this is a goal for our department, how can I incorporate this in my classroom?

A few days later, IT HIT ME! 

Every year, I have to teach the "party unit." This unit drives me bonkers because it talks a lot about chores and planning for a party, which my students rarely do. Last year, I wanted to make this unit more thematic, so I decided to teach them about the quinceañera. For those of you who don't know, it's basically like a Sweet 16/Bat Mitzvah but at the age of 15. There are some really cool traditions in the quinceañera, so we would talk about those traditions and then move on. This year, however, I did the same thing, but I am now working on discussing how heteronormative quinceañeras can be. 

Here are some of the traditions (depending on the country/family):

1. The girl wears an elegant dress
2. There is a court of honor comprised of 15 pairs/couples - 15 "chambelanes" and 15 "damas"
3. They cut the cake
4. The girl changes from flats to high heels to represent becoming a woman
5. The father daughter dance (usually a waltz)
6. The grand entrance
7. The last doll (sometimes, she gives away her favorite doll. In other countries, she receives her very last doll. In other countries, this tradition doesn't exist).
etc. etc.

This got me thinking about a lot of WHAT IFs.

1. What if the girl is a lesbian? 
2. What if the girl doesn't have a dad? 
3. What if the girl doesn't want to wear high heels? Not all women wear high heels...
4. What if the girl doesn't feel comfortable wearing a dress? 
5. What if she never played with dolls? 
6. Why does the court have to be made up of fifteen boys and fifteen girls? 
7. What if they prefer gender neutral pronouns? 
8. etc. 

Now, I have to stress to my students and to you that all of these traditions are absolutely okay...IF they work for the person turning 15. However, what if these traditions do not work? Can we question these traditions? 

This year, I want my students to question these "what if" scenarios and offer other possible options. Last week, we got into the discussion of traditions. Should these traditions always apply because they are traditions? Some students said yes because otherwise traditions would never exist. I pushed back a bit and said that traditions can change without disappearing. For example, if the girl turning 15 has two mothers, she can dance with her mothers instead of a father. The tradition of having a dance doesn't disappear, it just changed a bit. The students seemed receptive to that idea. 


As many of you know if you read my last blog post, I am working on thematic units and having my first few experiences with storytelling in my classroom. I watch this show called "One Day at a Time" on Netflix, and there is an episode in the first season called "Quinces." It's about a Cuban-American family, and the daughter recently comes out of the closet and is about to have her quinceañera. I decided to use this episode as the basis for the story I was going to tell. I am telling the students the story about Elena and how she struggled with some of the traditions of a quinceañera. She ends up wearing a stunning, white suit, and her father isn't okay with her being gay, so she dances with her mother, grandmother, brother, and some family friends. It's beautiful. 

The idea here is not to say that these traditions are bad, but rather to offer the possibility of other options for people who do not feel comfortable with them. I want them to recognize the possible negative effects of heteronormativity and start to understand the struggles of those of us in the LGBTQ+ community. So far, the students have been so receptive. 


As teachers, when discussing matters like this, we have to be mindful that these conversations can be difficult for some people. I made my principal and other building administrators aware of this unit before I began it and got the okay from them. The conversations can be uncomfortable, but they are so important. 

After discussing this unit with a friend of mine, she shared this New York Times article with me about "stretching the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony to accommodate gender fluidity." It's a really great read!

Thanks for reading!


My First Experience With Storytelling

Hola hola hola:

I know that it's been a while since I wrote a blog post. This time of year is crazy for all of us, but I am feeling especially overwhelmed this year as I balance all the musicals that I'm doing, my Saturday teaching job, and my regular teaching job. 

I have heard so much in the past about the power of Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), but I never really knew how to implement it. All the books I had read on TPRS seemed to require too much translation, which I'm not a huge fan of in my classroom. 

HOWEVER, I finally tried it, and I am sooooo happy that I did. I have to give a huge shoutout to Kara Jacobs because her resource was the one that really gave me the courage to start it. I used her story and just made some adjustments to make it my own, etc. 

As you may know, I have been working on thematic units this year, so I wanted to turn the "descriptions" unit into a unit on self-esteem and stereotypes instead of just teaching them to describe things and moving on. I used Kara Jacobs's resource on the music video "Soy yo" by Bomba Estéreo as the starting point for my unit. For those of you who haven't seen it, take a look at it. You do not need to speak Spanish to understand the message behind it. 

So, basically I told the students the story of the girl in the video before actually showing them the video. I pre-taught the essential vocabulary, and then we went right into it. I HIGHLY recommend using Pear Deck for this. It makes the presentation way more interactive and fun for the students when telling the story. 

So, I spent a few weeks working with them on this story and identifying stereotypes, retelling the story, etc. There was soooo much vocabulary and grammar in this unit that I thought I was never going to finish it. However, we did, and the results made me so happy. 

The Final Assessment:

I always end my units with a performance assessment--either a speaking or a writing assignment. This one was a writing assignment. The scenario was that my friend in Mexico has a little sister who's being made fun of for her weight at school, and the students had to write to her and tell her all about the girl in the video and remind her that she is beautiful just the way she is. 

This assessment was done a few days ago with my 6th graders. I haven't gotten through all of them, but I have been shocked and surprised by all of the ones that I have read so far. 

This is their first year studying Spanish, and I went back into one of my student's portfolios who had me in 6th grade two years ago and found a writing assignment that I did at this exact point in the year. This student's writing was really great and s/he included a lot of questions, which is something I need to remember to add to my prompt for the Soy yo writing next time. However, there is still a HUGE difference in the amount of writing included. 

March 7th, 2017 -- one of my top students wrote this: 

"Hola Ricardo! Me llamo _____. Mi familia y yo somos de Estados Unidos. Soy rubia. Soy doce años, ¿y tú? Me gusta dibujar y jugar al lacrosse. ¿Tú eres atlético? Me gusta matematica pero no me gusta escribir. Mi mejor amiga se llama _____. Ella es simpática. A _____ le gusta jugar al fútbol y esquiar. Nosotros somos altas. ¿Te gusta jugar al fútbol? Hace frío afuera. ¿Qué tiempo hace en Puerto Rico? ¿Te gusta nadar? 

Hasta luego!"

March 12th, 2019 -- my current students wrote this: 

“Querida Laura:

Hola. Mi nombre es ____. Soy de Massachusetts, USA. Soy flaco, alto, castaño, y muy extraño. Tengo pelo largo. Me gusta jugar a los videojuegos y mirar la televisión. No me gusta practicar deportes ni tomar exámines.

    Yo odio estereotipos. Gordo no es feo, flaco no es linda.

    En una video, hay una chica en una peluquería. (El nombre de el video es “Soy yo.”) A ella le encanta su nuevo pelo. La chica sale de la peluquería y dice, “Soy yo! Hasta luego.”

    Ella monta en bici por la ciudad. La bicicleta de la chica es muy especial y bonita. La chica ve a dos chicas. A ellas no les gusta la bici ni la chica. La chica toca la flauta. A ellas no les gusta la música de la chica. La chica dice, “Soy yo.” Las dos chicas salen de la esquina.

    La chica ve a unos chicos juegan al básquetbol. A ella le gusta básquetbol. Ella entra la cancha de básquetbol y roba la bola. La chica no juega bien. Ellos no aprueban. La chica dice, “Soy yo. Hasta luego, chicos.” Ella sale de la cancha de básquetbol.

    Ella baila por la ciudad y ve a unos chicos que bailan muy bien. A la chica le gusta bailar y mira ellos. Ellos dejan de bailar y mira la chica. Ella baila, pero ellos no aprueban. La chica dice, “Soy yo.”

    La chica ve a su papá y corre a él.

    No te preocupes si no aprueban. Cuando te critican, tu solo di, “Soy yo.”


" Querida Laura, 
Hola Laura. Me llamo ____. Yo soy feliz, moreno, y paciente. Me gusta nadar y dormir. En la classe de espan'ol, yo mira un “ Soy yo” video. En el video, hay una chica. La chica es en la peluqueria. La chica es muy bueno. Ella le gusta su nuevo pelo. La chica sale de peluqueria y dice “ Soy yo.” Entonces, la chica monta en bicicleta por la ciudad. La bicicleta es bonita y especial. Cuando la chica monta en bicicleta, ella ve a dos chicas. La dos chicas no les gusta bicicleta de la chica. La chica basta montar en bicicleta y toca la flauta. Las dos chicas no les gusta la musica de la chica. Asi que, la dos chicas salen de la esquina. La chica camina por la ciudad cuando la chica ve a chicos ellos juegan al basquetbol. Ella entra la cancha de basquetbol y roba la bola de ellos. La chica no es atletica. Cuando la chicos critican la chica porque ella no es atletica, la chica dice “ Soy yo.” La chica camina por la ciudad cuando ella ve ellos bailan. Ella baila y ellos bastan. Ellos ven la chica baila. La chicos no es importa de baila de la chica. Cuando ellos critican, ella dice “ Soy yo”. Entonces, la chica corre cuando ve su padre. Ella es muy feliz. Un verso en la video es, “ Que no te preocupes, si no aprueban. Cuando te critican, tu solo di. Soy yo.” Un verso dice differente es bien. Estererotipos son generalizaciones sobre de grupo de personas. Totales estereotipos es falsos. Un ejemplo es “gorda es fea.” Gorda no es fea. Totales estereotipos es falso. 

Even if you don't speak Spanish, you can tell that this is a lot more in depth. This is the same grade from the same time of year, and I attribute this improvement to four things: I didn't start this year off with the alphabet, dates, etc.; I used this story (TPRS); The students AND I strive for 90% target language use in the class; and I have been developing thematic units. 

Every year, we should get better at something, and it's hard for me to not feel like I failed in the past. That student who had me two years ago was certainly capable of writing what my student this year wrote, but I wasn't at the level of teaching to help get her/him there. I sometimes feel like I failed my former students -- especially my first year when I taught grammar super explicitly. However, it's a learning process just like the path to proficiency. Every year, we improve (hopefully). This is a constant reminder for me of the importance of trying new things! I do not want to be one of those teachers who does the same old things every year. A new curriculum can be frustrating with a lot of work, but the results are worth it. As my department head, Dr. Jorge Allen, reminded us recently as we begin moving toward thematic units: we have to be willing to fail. It's hard to learn if we aren't taking risks. We tell our students that all the time, but are we doing it ourselves? 

Thanks for reading! 


Let’s Make Language Teaching More Natural

 It’s been a really weird school year. I recently started reading The Nature of Language by Bill VanPatten and it really got my gears going....