THIS IS WHO WE ARE

Julia Thomas, OFLA Early Language Learning Chair
Spanish Teacher, Oberlin City School

One thing that a parent commented on last year during online teaching was how I taught my kindergarten students examples of respect and how to treat each other only using Spanish. The parent said that as their student watched me on screen and listened to me say things like, “Is it respectful to talk while the teacher talks?” and, “Is raising your hand respectful?” they could understand what I was saying and saw students respond positively, showing that they understood. 

That comment really stuck with me as I continued on through the year. The fact that, even over the Zoom platform, students could see, understand, and interact, was very encouraging to me. 

I want my students to love learning and to enjoy Spanish class. More than that, I want them to be kind, considerate, empathetic humans; therefore, I try to instill in my students the idea that they are kind and respectful, that they can make smart choices, and that they are cared for.

I have grown to be a warm demander, calmly and kindly requiring that students remain in the target language as much as possible, and because of this, lessons about desired behavior are also in Spanish. I like to use the verb “to be,” or “ser,” in Spanish, to give students positive affirmations about who I see them to be. A few are, “Soy amable”- “I am kind”; “Soy inteligente”- “I am intelligent”; “Soy especial”- “I am special.” I sing these statements to them along with giving actions that correspond to the key words. Students are asked to repeat what I sing and do the actions to reinforce the words that they are singing. Then I ask them questions using the statements: “Who is kind? Is this student a little bit kind or very kind?” (They always say  “Very kind”). And then to the student who was identified as very kind, I ask, “Are you very kind?” (They always agree.). Finally I ask the whole class again, “Who is kind?” (Students all raise their hands enthusiastically.)

It has become the routine that we start every class by singing our hello song and then making these statements about ourselves. We sing all together that we are kind, smart, special, important, and respectful. Every time I notice a behavior that was not in line with our class’s essential agreements, the conversation always comes back to, “Is it respectful?” And I know that because students want to be respectful and meet the expectations that I have set, the behavior changes when they are reminded that they need to act respectfully, because we have already established that they are respectful. We go back to singing, “I am respectful!” and modeling that respectfulness to each other. That is the culture of our class, even when it is being taught over Zoom. 

Now that we are back in the classroom, I am happy to report that we continue to make our statements, learn about what respectful behavior we should seek to exhibit, and remind ourselves of who we are. I am so thankful that we are able to make things work on or off screen, because no matter where we are, it is all about relationships and showing each other that we care as we learn and grow together. 

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