Back to school………again……

August 1.  It’s a date that weighs heavily on most teachers.  The start of a new school year is literally right around the corner.  For me, it is the start of either my 33rd, 34th or 35th year (depending on how you count, and what you do with maternity leave!!). I took a self imposed break from blogging this summer.  The last school year was a tough one and I needed to rejuvenate. I was not happy with how my Spanish III students progressed, in comparison to previous years.  Some of that may have been the student, some of that was definitely me (major events in my lifetime last year included 3 college graduations and my son’s wedding), and some of it was the last step in the transition from text to no text, and the complete acceptance and full implementation of Comprehensible Input (CI).

I have not used a textbook with students for at least the past seven years……..but I still have relied (less each year) on the county curriculum.  That meant that I was still tied to teaching certain “themes/sets” of vocabulary and definitely some conventional grammar mechanisms.  Last year was the “tip over” point.  For the first time, I had all three sections of Spanish IV and I did not have to maintain the curriculum with another teacher!  I did not lesson plan with someone else who may still be entrenched in the philosophy “Oh, this is the level that we teach if, then clauses, sequencing of tenses, por/para, etc.”.  I was free to follow my own and my students’ desires, timeline and interests. It was so liberating. My Spanish IV students, in my eyes, made huge leaps last year.  The transition had been taking place for years, but last year, it became complete.  That is NOT to say that everything was successful!!!  I made mistakes, I blundered, I took my students down paths that were unnecessary…..BUT, there also incredible rewards, big growth in their speaking and writing abilities (even after they groaned, “another free write?”).  Will I change things this year?  You bet!  But I have a very clear vision of what we will explore and do together.  It will be based on the evolution from the past few years, fine tuned from last year, and I’m sure there will be further adjustments this year.  But it is exciting. We will be reading at least two TPRS Publishing novels (@TPRS publishing ) this year:  beginning with La Llorona de Mazatlan the second day of school, and using Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatruche in the midst of the Narcoviolencia unit and the Immigration unit.  I am hoping to seek funds from the PTA to purchase a third, La Hija del Sastre, to use somewhere in conjunction with the Art unit (when we explore Picasso, Dali, Kahlo and Rivera). The units of Narcoviolencia, Immigration and Art were favorite units of the majority of last years 67 Spanish IV students (along with the Copa Mundial unit at the end of the year).  I know that I will continue with the Fluency 1 assignments that evolved from Sara-E.Cottrell @SECottrell and several other terrific Twitter colleagues.  I moved the Fluency depository to Edmodo last year, and it worked very well.  Oh, yes, I can hardly wait to get started!

Now, Spanish III, last year, that was another story!  But, I have hope!  This school year will begin with CI being used by both of us who teach the 5 sections of Spanish III.  We are both starting the year with a TPRS Publishing novel (Esperanza), and know that we will use Robo en la Noche again (we did last year, too, with incredible success).  We also will seek funding for a third, La Guerra Sucia. The framework for this coming year is located on my wikispace, El Mundo de Birch. The Essential Questions are already posted for Esperanza:

1. ¿Dónde está Guatemala? ¿Cómo es Guatemala?
2. ¿Qué pasó en Guatemala de 1970 hasta 1999? ¿Cómo respondió los EE. UU.?
3. ¿Cómo es la vida del inmigrante?
4. ¿Cómo representan las canciones la vida cotidiana de Guatemala y de los inmigrantes?
5. ¿Qué está pasando en Guatemala hoy día? ¿Cómo está respondiendo los EE.UU.?
6. ¿Por qué tiene el libro el título de “Esperanza”?
7. ¿Qué es el Immigrant Archive Project?

Focus countries and some general grammatical areas are also listed.  Yes, I am excited and hopeful for Spanish III this year.

I have not reached this point alone.  If you are not on Twitter, I would urge you, no….I would implore you……USE IT!!!  It is the best professional development around.  Through Twitter, you will be able to connect with such an assortment of teachers, with a collective wisdom that just astounds me.  Follow their blogs, follow their ideas, their successes and their failures.  The support is incredible.  That “fount of knowledge and inspiration” includes, but is certainly not limited to:




12 thoughts on “Back to school………again……

    • Hi Brigitte….I’m going to edit my post, and include a link to the actual document. I hope that helps! I will say that while not all of those 67 Spanish IV students enjoyed fluency, at the end of the year, almost all were able to say that they understood the value of the assignments. And, many of my students indicated that they did actually enjoy them!!!

      • Thanks so much, that would be terrific. I have been giving very little if any homework since I switched to TCI. However, sometimes I get the feeling that the kids “want” some type of “work” to complete outside of the classroom. So, naturally, my senses perked up when I read your reference to HW for fluency.

      • OK, I’ve updated. Let me know if you still have problems with it. I know what you mean…while kids don’t enjoy homework, they do feel “incomplete” without something!!! If you need any explanation of it, let me know.

  1. First of all – HUGS to you! You are a huge influence on teachers. Thank you for freely sharing your remarkable resources. Everyone benefits!!!

    Secondly, I can relate to what you said about taking a break from blogging over the summer. I definitely needed time to step back and rejuvenate.

    Lastly, isn’t it amazing how much we learn each year? When I compare my first years of teaching to how I teach today, it’s like night and day, and each year I continue to make huge steps in improving. A large part of that growth is due to the support I have from my Twitter friends, reading blogs, and attending conferences. I read your blog and all the blogs listed in your post, as well as others. I think many of us could say, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

    Enjoy the remainder of your summer vacation!

    • Cynthia, HUGS right back at you!!! Thank you for your wonderfully kind words! And, thank YOU for sharing all of your amazing resources. You are right….everyone benefits from this free sharing that is , I believe, a direct result of Twitter. Indeed, we do “get by with a little help from all of those friends!”

  2. Thank you so much for all of your ideas. Could you tell me how you use the readers/novels with the students? Do they read them in class aloud?(If so, how do you ensure total class engagement?) To themselves? In small groups? As homework? Or do you combine all of these? I really want to incorporate more of this but am unsure of what the best way would be. Thank you

    • I do everything you mention except use them as homework. I follow the principles of comprehensible input (look at blogs by Martina Bex, Cynthia Hitz, Carrie Toth, Bethanie Drew, Mike Peto, etc.) My students have really enjoyed reading the books. I develop lots of my own activities to go with them….cultural, musical, etc. There are some examples on this blog, but there are many activities on my wiki. Search Robo en la noche, Esperanza, or La Llorona. I hope this helps.

  3. Saludos, Sra. Birch! I am so happy to have been led to your blog via Martina Bex’ site as I have been struggling for a couple of years now with my Spanish III/IV classes. I too have had some bad experiences with classes- some of it their lack of interest (just taking the class for college apps sake) and my own personal issues (illness). I find that I am always at a loss as to how to begin and maintain an upper level class. I was planning on beginning the year with a TPRS novel such as Esperanza. I am a believer and practitioner of CI/TPRS and strongly dislike using the textbook my county has adopted (Realidades series) for all the reasons that make textbooks unattractive, but I have colleagues that use them, so I get students who are used to the worksheet/take notes thing coming into my classes. I have read through some of your entries about your 3 and 4 classes and have surmised that you base them on your county’s curriculum but turn them into your own with the novels, music, and CI. I’d like to ask you for guidance on how you do that exactly. Our county doesn’t have a “curriculum” per se, we go by the state standards (TN- which is based off of the national 5 C’s) and as you know, having only the standards is a pretty vague starting place. So, do you use the textbook as a “guide” for a unit? Do you jump around with the themes of the book? Do you screen the vocab/grammar concepts/themes and go from there? I am the only Spanish 3/4 teacher in my school, don’t have common planning time with other Spanish teachers, and I generally feel like I’m spinning my wheels/going in circles- and not the productive “circling!” I really need some direction and how to get things started. I don’t want to have another year like last year- I felt irritated and exhausted most of the time. Your advise and help would be most appreciated! -Christina

    • Hi Christina. It sounds as if you really did not have the year that you would like to have! To answer some of what you asked, initially, back in 2005 – 2010, I had the textbook (Expresate), followed the curriculum mostly (which I helped to write) but added to it liberally with music, history and geography. Each year, in that period of time, I used it less and less until I don’t think we did anything with the textbook at all by 2010. From that point on, I completely abandoned it. While I have attempted to honor the county curriculum, I certainly have also taken great liberties. For example, Spanish III in my county is supposed to cover food, clothing, weather, animals, geography, travel, sports, and school….all at a much more advanced level than earlier levels. The grammar is supposed to be preterit, imperfect, present perfect, present subjunctive, conditional, future tense and a host of other lesser topics. WAY too much, and completely unnatural. I began creating entirely new units that were based on what my students were interested in, and also what were my own personal strengths. It also made much more sense to focus just on present and past tense as they naturally occurred, allowing other things to pop in without focusing on them. I had joined Twitter in 2009, but the summer of 2010 I really began to connect with several other Spanish teachers. I have collaborated, through Twitter, with them ever since. If you would like to see some of those units, you can take a look at my wikispace, which contains the daily framework for lessons for the entire school year. I have recently blocked a good portion of it due to several people taking entire units and calling it their own, so you will have to let me know and I will give you access. To begin with, here are the menu pages for Spanish III and Spanish IV: and I hope this might help some. Please fee free to contact me again, too. You can also email me at

      • Thank you so very much for your prompt and thorough response to my questions! The curriculum you described for your county sounds a lot like what we’re expected to cover using our textbook series- topics and grammar. As you said, “WAY too much,” which is probably why I feel incredibly overwhelmed each year. I just recently (as in two weeks ago) joined Twitter and so I’m still learning how to use it, but I’ve seen many CI teachers post about how helpful it can be on their blogs, so I’m going to give it a shot too. I really appreciate you sharing your outlines with me- this will help give me an idea of how you structure your classes. I’m sorry that some have taken your hard work and creativity and passed it off as their own- that is maddening and hurtful. If by looking at your menu pages, I feel I need to see an example of sorts, I will contact you again for access. I really appreciate your willingness to share in spite of what you’ve experienced. I’m sure I’ll be in touch soon with more questions!

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