Class vision statements and class poems: Creating community in the WL classroom 

Important! Usually I blog about my heritage classroom. This post is unique because these activities are fantastic in BOTH my heritage classes and my L2 classes! 

Hello friends! Wow, it’s been a loooong time since I wrote a blog post. I am truly sorry for the radio silence over here, but to be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt like writing a blog post. The last few years have turned what I thought I knew and loved about teaching upside down, and I’ve had to work twice as hard to accomplish half as much. I’ve felt too exhausted to blog, too lost to blog, drowning too much in imposter syndrome to blog…all of the things. And then there was that other part, the part about…well, I’ve been away for so long…how do I start again? Does my first post back have to be earth shattering? Do I have to explain all the things?

Nope. No to both of those questions. I finally feel like I have something I want to share, that has brought me joy in my classroom with kids and been pretty successful that I think might be helpful for you, and I finally have a little bit of time and energy to write this post. So, here we are again. Finally.

ACTIVITY 1: Creating a class vision statement – from Jess Lifshitz

This is an activity that I learned about from the amazing Jess Lifshitz on Twitter (@/Jess5th). I very much admire Jess as an educator and have learned so much from her; I highly recommend checking out her work on Twitter and her blog. I first read this thread of hers last fall, and she recently tweeted about it again this year. What I’m going to share is just an abbreviated version of how I did this in my high school Spanish classes (both heritage and L2 classes), based on her ideas; there are some modifications. Full credit goes to her for this idea.

The goal of this is to give students a chance to think through what kind of space and community they’d like to be a part of, and what they need for that to happen. This is a chance for me to get to know them, for them to have a voice in the kind of class and space and community we build, and for them to interact with their new classmates too. This class community statement will ultimately be a value statement about what is most important to us. When done, it will be posted prominently in our room and serve as a touchstone when we get off track to remind us of what we said we wanted to be. Here are some pictures of what our statements looked like last year:

For alt text, please click here and here.

In a nutshell, here are the steps that we went through):

  1. Don’t skip this step! (I accidentally skipped it this year and it really made a difference). I did a padlet (or you could do google slides) where each student wrote a sentence about something that is important to them or something they like to do, added a picture, but did not put their names. Here is an example. 
  2. Students give individualized responses to the following questions on a jam board, google form, or post it notes to the following questions:
    1. Look at our class padlet (or google slides). Who are we? What’s important to us?
    2. Think of a place/class where you felt comfortable and successful. What do you need from our space to recreate that here?
    3. Think of a place/class where you felt comfortable and successful. What do you need from your teacher to recreate that here?
    4. Think of a place/class where you felt comfortable and successful. What do you need from your classmates to recreate that here?
    5. Think of a place/class where you felt comfortable and successful. What do you need from yourself to recreate that here?
    6. Think of a class where you felt comfortable and successful. What do you need from this class (either what we learn or how we learn it)?
    7. (Here is a template of the Jamboard I used in English and Spanish)
  3. I made the individualized answers available to the class (without names attached). Students worked in small groups to read all the answers for each question and try to summarize the info into one sentence. (I had them do it in google classroom, everyone completed it but they all had to write the same sentence which ensured they had to talk to each other.) I used a google doc but I would recommend doing it as a google form so it’s easier to compile in the next step. Here’s what mine looked like in English and Spanish.
  4. After class, I combined all their answers to each question into one document (if I had 5 groups, I copied and pasted their summary sentences for question 1 together) and then I tried to distill them down into one sentence with all the key ideas for that question. I did that for each question.
  5. Last, I took my draft of the community statement (about 5-6 sentences) and presented it to the class the next day to ask for feedback or additions. After they approved it, I wrote it on chart paper (or printed in large print) to post it in the classroom.

Lately, I’ve been working on building my understanding of what education as a practice of liberation looks like; I’ve read these books in the last year or so and highly recommend them if you are working on growing your understanding of this: 

  • Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks, 
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, 
  • Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies edited by Salim and Paris
  • Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby 

I love this class vision statement activity particularly because it helps set the tone for the year. I want to cocreate a community that works for all of us (see this fantastic post from Françoise Thenoux, @/thewokespanishteacher on Instagram, about co-creating a community that recently inspired me to keep up this work, even though it’s messy). I want to dream of what school could be; it is a chance to practice freedom dreaming (thank you to shea martin who has helped me understand this term). I’ve really enjoyed this activity, particularly at the beginning of the year, for these reasons.

ACTIVITY 2: Soy de” poems and creating a class poem – credit to Dr. Claudia Mendoza Holguin (I think), Liz Kleinrock, and Iliana Sucre (@/thetckteacher on Twitter)

My other go-to beginning of the year community building assignment has been writing “Soy de” poems. I believe I first heard about these poems during an ACTFL Spanish for Heritage Learners SIG webinar (I believe it was by Dr. Claudia Holguin Mendoza but please let me know if you think I’m mistaken so I can correct this). I later read the book Start Here, Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community, by Liz Kleinrock, and was delighted to see they were included there as well. This activity has been one of my favorite beginning of the year activities. 

I love to start by sharing a poem from a former student – here is one from last year (published with their permission). You can read several other examples that my Spanish Literacy 5 class published last year on our class website (published with student permission) – scroll down to “Soy de” poems.

For alt text, please click here and read the second poem.

Next, I share my own example with them. I really appreciated how Liz Kleinrock scaffolds this activity with her students, especially using a graphic organizer (see pages 8-11 of her book for more info and other ideas to scaffold). Also, Françoise Thenoux has a great template for this activity in her Tpt store (thewokespanishteacher) in both Spanish and English!

For my high school students, I give them this graphic organizer to start to brainstorm ideas of things that remind them of their families, their homes, and their unique identities. Finally, I give them time to write their own poems – they come out so beautifully! 

When they’re done, I love to blow the font up so it’s much bigger, take off their names (they never want to hang them up with their names), print them on card stock, and let the students decorate the paper with markers or whatever, then we post them in the hall outside my room as kind of a “Who are we?” bulletin board.

And finally…my favorite part!! This year, I’m really excited that I came across this tweet by Iliana Sucre for a really great next step…creating a class poem using one line from each student! I asked students to go back to their own poems, choose their favorite line, and submit it using a google form. Then, I took all their favorite lines and combined them into one class poem that describes us all…I love this! I checked with my students to make sure they approved of it, and my plan is to share it with our parents this week. I’ll leave you with this beautiful example, friends: 

For alt text, please click here.

I wish you all the best friends, and as always, welcome your feedback.


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