Takeaways from the heritage sessions at Spanish Teacher Success Academy

Hi friends! I hope you doing well and enjoying your classes! I am FINALLY on Spring Break and feeling like I can slowly get caught up on everything…ie, clean my house, hang out with my munchkins, and…listen to all the Spanish Teacher Success Academy sessions I’ve been trying to fit in!!

I’ve been strategically trying to listen to all the heritage sessions first, knowing that I wanted to share my takeaways with you all. If you are unfamiliar with the Spanish Teacher Success Academy, a friend of mine named Jared Romey has put together a great lineup of 25 Spanish teachers sharing on a bunch of different topics…and the sessions are free to watch, all the way up until TONIGHT (March 18, 2019) at 11:59 Pacific. You can just head on over to this link, sign up, and then boom! You’ll have access to all the sessions in your email. AND if you start to think, “Man, I’d love to see all these sessions but I don’t have enough time to listen to all this amazingness!!” — then you can upgrade for $67 and get lifetime access to all the sessions, plus a million extras (including a PD certificate). I might add, one of the perks of the All Access Pass is you can watch Q and As with a few presenters, including Sam Finneseth and Michaela McCaughey, who both presented on heritage topics. But again…you only have until tonight!!

Anyway, like I said, I’ve been trying to get this post out BEFORE the STSA access is completely unavailable because a) I’d love to share what I’ve learned with you all because I think the ideas are AWESOME and b) I’d like to give you the chance to hear the sessions for yourselves if you want! I know many of you have already purchased the All Access Pass so you can listen whenever you get a chance; if you are in this category, please feel free to use this post as a guide to what you’d like to listen to first, or as a way to compare my takeaways with yours! And whenever you are ready to talk about the ideas you read about here, please reach out on Facebook (in our group, Teachers of Spanish Heritage Teachers) or on Twitter (@AdrienneBranden, @MaryBethinCO, #heritagelang or #STSA19). Or, of course, feel free to comment below!

My takeaways from Sam Finneseth – Managing The Mixed Classroom

  • Hard-core differentiation for mixed classes is not just possible in an upper level classroom, but can be done (and done well) in lower level classes
  • Sam shared how she plans ahead for teaching different groups (ie, heritage and L2 learners) about a similar topic, and how she differentiates well-known CI activities (reading, running dictation, breakout activities)
  • Sam has a heavy focus on building community with her mixed classes, including a powerful video and discussion activity about the importance of saying one’s name correctly and being proud of one’s name
  • Sam advocates that we not automatically place heritage students in upper level L2 classes or heritage classes because some of them lack the basic literacy skills to be successful there (this reminded me of this great post by Mary Beth about placing a student from Guatemala in Spanish 2 instead of a heritage class)
  • I loved her exhortation that to be successful in a mixed classroom, you need to a) let go of the idea that you will be able to control everything, and b) be firm with deadlines
  • I loved the concept of her “I don’t wanna” form, allowing students to opt out of an activity that they don’t like or feel like they need to do, and giving students ownership over choosing a different option
  • Follow Sam’s blog “Surprisingly Spanish” and on Instagram @surprisinglyspanish!

My takeaways from Dr. Jenna Cushing-Leubner – Two Classes In One: Strategies For Heritage And New Language Learners In Mixed Class Teaching

  • I have to say, my munchkins made it extremely difficult for me to get through this session! I watched it in several sittings 🙂 If my takeaways seem incohesive, don’t judge!! It was a great presentation!
  • A major thing that struck me that she said is many of our heritage learners have experienced a subtractive language approach in school; this means very little support was given to maintain their Spanish, and the English instruction was often meant to replace or supersede their Spanish language. When I think about trying to teach a class of reluctant heritage learners, I think this is a great place to start with them – to recognize this experience and talk about how we are working to ADD to their language repertoire
  • Equally as jolting was the idea of working with an entire group of students that have endured years of schooling without seeing themselves represented in the books they read, the curriculum they are taught, or even the teachers that teach them; she encouraged me to think about the socio-emotional effects that this would have on our learners
  • I thought it was interesting that she does not think the term “mixed classes” is only appropriate for classes of L2s and HLLs, but also classes of HLLs, because there is is always a wide range of ability levels and language experience in heritage classes
  • She touched on diagnostic exams, and suggested that we give HLLs the option to respond to a reading either in written Spanish OR English, or the option to respond out loud, in order not to judge their reading ability by what may be a limited productive ability
  • Also on the topic of diagnostic exams, she talked about the importance of repeating them a few months later, because they may be negatively influenced by the lack of rapport between the learner and the teacher, and fear of what the teacher might do with the information
  • I found it fascinating that she discussed the differences in how proficiency “maps” for L2s and HLLs; often, for L2 learners, it is a more linear progression in proficiency, while with HLLs, their progress is not as linear and can often be categorized by large gains (instead of small, incremental ones) and also drops when HLLs are exposed to new contexts
  • If you are interested in getting some great PD this summer in person from CARLA at the University of Minnesota or online in a certificate from University of Wisconsin Whitewater, Jenna is your point person!

My takeaways from Dr.  Florencia Henshaw – Teaching Spelling To Heritage Learners: No Drills Required

  • Florencia reminded me of why spelling is so challenging for HLLs – something I knew, but probably couldn’t have clearly articulated: L2 learners acquire the oral language usually at the same time as they acquire the written language (ie, they already have literacy skills so when they learn a new word in the target language, part of that learning includes what the word looks like and how it is spelled); however, many HLLs learned the language at a young age, before they were literate, and this means that they did not acquire the spelling at the same time
  • Even though the majority of my teaching in both L2 classes and heritage classes revolve around the main centerpiece of CONTEXT, I have to admit that spelling is something I don’t always do in context. I usually do a few mini lessons with spelling rules, and some drill (out of context), and then move on to LOTS of reading. Florencia gave me so many great ideas to help raise students’ awareness of spelling patterns and accuracy IN CONTEXT.
  • You can have students watch a short video, then write about what happened, focusing on the past tense forms and emphasizing where and when accents are needed
  • You can do a dictation (also something I’ve done), but make all the sentences about the same topic and same context, have them go in a logical order (OR have the students write them all down, then put them in order) – ie, make sure there is a meaningful context; also, make sure students have access to immediate feedback.
  • She reminded me of a cornerstone of my old TEFL/TESL courses: a dictagloss. You tell a students a text, and they listen (and perhaps take notes if you choose). Then, the students work together to reconstruct the text, obviously paying attention to accuracy.
  • One of my favorite recommendations from Florencia is to have students either correct subtitles for any video or program, or (more advanced options) add the subtitles.

My takeaways from Jen López – Techniques For Heritage Speakers To Discover And Embrace Their Own Identity

  • One of the things I appreciated most about Jen’s session is her recognition of being on a journey as a heritage teacher. She talked about where she started, why she was unhappy with where she was at, and how she’s evolved and why it’s working for her. She brought it full circle at the end with her ideas about what she would like to try next. I just feel like there are so few heritage language teachers talking about their teaching journeys, and we need more of this!! It’s also been so fun to collaborate with Jen from afar!
  • I loved the way she expressed her key components: literacy and identity work. A large part of her class is centered around doing some of that powerful work of recognizing and naming one’s identity, and helping students to be proud of who they are.
  • Another takeaway for me was seeing how Jen is able to really meld these two key components (literacy work and identity work). I was especially excited about how she discussed FVR (free voluntary reading) as a means to which accomplish some of that identity work.

My takeaways from Kristin Montgomery – Affirming Multilingual Identities: Language And Power

  • I really enjoyed this presentation from Kristin! Full disclosure, I was actually able to take decent notes during this presentation (as opposed to multi-tasking), so I am much more able to articulate my takeaways 🙂
  • Kristin focused on recognizing and valuing the language our HLLs come to our class with, and affirming it as a powerful and important dialect of which they are masterful speakers; not only does this include all the informal slang and jargon that students have, but also their Spanglish, complete with all the calques it may come with. I appreciated this additive perspective!
  • She pointed out that because Spanish does not have equal status with English in the US, it’s really important to let our HLLs know that we value their language and their dialect
  • She cited Cummins: Literacy activities that are identity-affirming will increase student participation; this is a great reminder to make sure students feel affirmed and valued in our room, even if we are teaching them a different dialect
  • With regard to code-switching and Spanglish, remember that students who code switch or speak Spanglish are actually very fluent in both languages, and are often the students who are most close to being balanced bilinguals; check out this great video by Superholly that Kristin showed in her session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCbiM5YtNlg
  • I LOVE this project idea for working with your HLLs: Have students fill different hexagons with the different dialects they speak (both Spanish and English) and with whom; have them add a few examples of words that are unique to that dialect (see photo). What a great way for them to see, concretely, their range of language abilities!
  • I also LOVE this narrative assignment idea from Kristin: Students write a narrative about an event that has influenced them, but they have to write with both English and Spanish, choosing purposefully to use each language to achieve their intended purpose for their intended audience. What a great idea!! Love it!!
  • Last great idea: as she is prepping students for the AP Spanish Literature exam, she needs to teach them about rhyme, rhythm, meter, and word choice. Instead of using super old poems, they analyze contemporary songs that have Spanish and English lyrics (like Stand by Me from Prince Royce).

My takeaways from Michaela McCaughey – The Arts In A Heritage Language Class: Student Engagement & Teacher Sanity

  • First, can I just say, I SO enjoyed hearing so many fantastic student samples in this presentation! She shared examples of students performing songs they had written about El Internado, she showed lots of a great photos from projects and class experiences she’s done, and had real students sharing real words of advice for future heritage teachers. It was really such a treat!! I highly recommend it!
  • In this presentation, Michaela is advocating for using lots of arts in your heritage classes, in order to increase student engagement and make it an overall easier class for you to teach.
  • I loved that she said to expand your understanding of what the “arts” are; for example, El Internado counts, podcasts count, etc. Don’t think it just has to be music, dance, visual arts, etc.
  • She uses El Internado as an anchor text in her class; I love the idea of using a visual with subtitles instead of a traditional novel.
  • I love the way that she framed her presentation in such a way that she wants you to save your sanity – so important for heritage teachers! One valuable tip is to choose texts and projects and units that you are super interested in, because it makes it easier to teach it and be passionate about it. Another tip? If you have multiple preps that are different levels (like heritage 1 and 2), use the same materials to teach both classes and just differentiate up or down as needed.
  • To piggyback off that, I really think it’s important that she is validating what heritage teachers know and do every day: that it’s NEW and it’s HARD. And doing new and hard things is HARD.
  • She shared a ton of resources for FVR and where she finds her books, plus how she runs her reading program and pictures of her adorable kids reading on floor pillows!
  • I love the way she talked about how you can either use the arts as means to develop and build a classroom community, OR you can build a strong classroom community so that your students feel safe expressing themselves in their own creative ways; both are honorable and amazing

And about my presentation…Myths (And Facts) About Teaching Spanish Heritage Classes

I had fully intended on including some of the ideas from my presentation here, but now…I would rather just let you sit with all that great info! I will probably blog about many of my myths/facts from this presentation sometime soon. For now, I’ll leave you with some of the questions and invite you to join the discussion on Twitter! (@AdrienneBranden, #heritagelang or #STSA19)

  • Myth or Fact: It’s better if a heritage or native speaker teaches a heritage class.
  • Myth or Fact: You should spend a lot of time in culture in your heritage class.
  • Myth or Fact: Heritage speakers are advanced language learners.
  • Myth or Fact: Behavior issues worse in heritage classes compared to L2 classes.
  • Myth or Fact: Our main job should be fixing/improving/changing students’ slang into academic Spanish.

Looking forward to hearing from you all, friends!!


PS – Mary Beth and I have a lot of exciting things going on these days! We would LOVE to have you join our mailing list so we can keep in touch with you! Join here!!

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