What to do if you have a Exploratory Spanish with self contained students

This school year, I had to teach an exploratory Spanish with self contained students. What do I mean by that? Teaching 10 students who were in our SLC (structured learning center) from our Special Education program. I had students that were visually impaired, hard of hearing, down syndrome, non-verbal among other Individual Educational Program & 504 (behavior programs).

I had to teach this exploratory Spanish twice a week (I teach on an A/B schedule) Tuesday and Friday’s. I had 2 awesome associates and me. I am grateful considering that before when I had them in a “gen ed” classroom, I only had one. So what did we focus on curricular wise?

The curriculum

I honestly had little to no formal feedback for their “Spanish curriculum”. My class is essentially a break so that their SLC teacher can have her planning time or her lunch. I mainly focused on:

1. Colors
2. Numbers
3. Estoy (emotions and school locations using CI methodology)
4. El/Ella/ (person) es (bueno/a, malo/a, amigo/a, enemigo/a)
5. A LOT of children’s songs, motions, dancing, etc.

The day-to-day

After taking attendance we always began with the Buenos Dias song. Every.Single.Day. Most of these students had little to no formal output in their L1, Native language, choose your favorite title or simple they were non-verbal. I had one student, an 8th grader, who NEVER talked to me before this year. In MAY, he looked at me, said his name and then looked at me in the eyes and said “EO… IA”. Which mean EO = buenos, IA= Dias. GOAL. HIGH FIVES. Insert me aggressively dabbing in the classroom because of the teacher win. Yes, I did that. Yes. I am THAT teacher.

After the Buenos días song, we had days that were “brain break days” which easily meant, we just did Spanish Dance Revolution to songs in Spanish OR a song that was sung by a Latinx artist. These students needed a chance to move, dance, and do something that was different from what they see day in and day out. I used a LOT of Atención Atención, which if you don’t know who they are, you need to. They’re essentially the Wiggles of Latin America and they come from Puerto Rico (shameless plug in from my country). Most of the days we just did part free draw as we listen to songs in Spanish.

If you have had classes with Special Education students, let me know!!

Reflections of a Native speaker teaching native and heritage Spanish​ speakers.

The school year is over. OVER. Is this the time where I do my happy dance? Is this the time where I begin to burn things from the previous year and purge myself of all the bad juju? No to the first one. Second one? I don’t know. What I do know is that I am still having “teacher dreams”. You know, the ones where you are still lessoning planning in your sleep. Telling Bobby to “sientate por favor” for the millionth time. Also the “I need to start planning for next year” bug began to itch… 2 weeks before the school year was done. I think I have a problem. But, hey. If you are not doing that…. #blessyou.

So, what was I going to talk to you again, oh yeah. That thing we teachers have to do (or should do) at the end of a school year. Reflect.

If you have read some of my previous posts, mainly Building an MYP Spanish program, you will see how the Spanish program in my school works and How to integrate music… on some reflections on what I’ve done in my class. For the sake of this post, I will make a quick view of our Spanish program.

The program

This year we had 3 Spanish teachers (we will go back to a 2 teacher team because of budget cuts). Our school has roughly 800 students so I had around 250-ish students every 2 days (next year will be up to 400). We are on an A/B schedule with rotating Wednesdays and next year it will be a fixed A/B schedule. I teach 6, 7, and 8th graders on the south side of Des Moines, Iowa.

This school year

This school year was the first time I actually had a classroom. I was a traveling teacher for two years, so I felt like I received a promotion. No longer was I traveling between 6-13 classrooms per week. Spanish would have a home base, and we would all be close to each other. I was also not teaching ALL of the native speaker classes and we actually had a plan. My partner-in-crime Surprisingly Spanish collaborated throughout July and created a scope and sequence that made sense for our students. We built on what I had done the previous year and she pushed me. A lot.

She challenged me constantly through the year to advocate for our students, mainly our Heritage speakers, more than I did before. She also was pushy (in a very good way) into poking at my thought process for my instruction so that it wasn’t in an “I am a native speaker, so therefore here’s Spanish”, but to go through the lens of “what will be attainable and comprehensible for students”.

This was my first year teaching with some CI (comprehensible input) techniques and methodologies. I, surprisingly found myself being “me” not a “native speaker teaching gringos”  and creating authentic materials that were fun. I jokingly tell coworkers that this has been my best year ever. Not because of “I have a classroom”, but I was more “me” and kids received it.

The #strugglebus

I’m very appreciative that my administration authorized me to go to IWLA this year AND to the National Heritage Spanish Speakers symposium in Iowa City, Iowa. I think that one of my #strugglebus moments this year was ironically my native speakers class or Heritage. Not because they were Latino/a, but because it was my 3rd year with my 8th graders as their teacher. They knew me. I knew them. And collectively (in a macro perspective) we didn’t grow as much. Them as students, and quite honestly me as a native Spanish teacher. I know that surprisingly Spanish grew a ton mainly because it was her first “go” with a full native speaker class.

I think that, again, I bit more than I could chew with them. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe that overall, my students enjoyed my class. We had awesome and deep discussions about Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Latinx rights. We talked about immigration, we listened to a lot of music, we talked about Argentina and the Dirty War. My 6th graders talked about Agentes Secretos y el Mural de Picasso (not in the way that I thought we would, but hey it was still a win). But quite honestly, I struggled on how to teach “my people”. How do I teach Native Spanish or Heritage students about our language and culture when they are on so many different levels in their Language Acquisition.

This weekend, I am attending CIIA or Comprehensible Input Iowa. I will be attending a crash course on what is CI and CI methodologies, activities and strategies. Hopefully, I can learn a lot more about how to service our latinx students in the USA. My non-native students or students who are just beginning their Language Acquisition journey, those are fine. I have struggled to some extent with them on how not to overcomplicate concepts, but there are quite frankly so many resources and strategies for them, that I just need to go back to basics and just “do”. But for Native/Heritage students? Everything feels still overwhelming. Most of it in a good way. The doors are unlimited and open to experimentation. But the perfectionist in me. The musician in me. The “musical poetry” in me is still striving for excellence. I believe we, not just me as a professional, we’re green. as in REALLY GREEN when it comes to this population. I know one size doesn’t fit all with ANY student, especially students who are ESL, Native/Heritage Spanish speakers, students that may have a language core (many or most do not have one), but we have to do better. I have to do better. I should and must do better. Next year my focus or goal (for now) is to use what I know. Help these students native, heritage or just beginning students acquire knowledge with music. We’ll see how I do…


How to integrate music with a Native/Heritage Speaker class or Non-Native Speaker

Since I am a music teacher first, many people have asked me how I integrate music into an L2, Heritage, and Native Spanish classroom. Every day I use my Spotify playlist “Songs in Spanish” (which I am trying to also make one on iTunes since I’m trying to slowly integrate Apple products into my room).

I use the playlist as a way to never have unintentional silence in class. As a musician, silence has always had meaning. A purpose. I want the same thing in my room.

I also use my playlist as a classroom management skill because if students are talking in their pods my go-to is: “Si no puedes escuchar la musica, estas charlando/hablando demasiado de alto” (If you cannot listen to the music, you are talking too loud). I use the playlist as an ice-breaker at the beginning of the year. My native speakers give suggestions to the Spotify playlist and that way they can show songs that they want their peers to listen to, especially our non-heritage/native speakers.

The music I pick vary in tempo, instrumentation, countries, and genre (style). I pick music from my college music friends with their EP’s, #throwbackthursday 90’s music to the Top 20 of 2017. I have not done “muévete miércoles” or “Baile viernes” like some other blogs suggest as activities, mainly because it doesn’t work with my students in my district. They do better with a CLOZE listening or listening to various styles of music.

Here are my suggestions if you’re creating your own playlist:

1. If you like the song, just add it.
2. If a student gives you a suggestion and it’s school appropriate, add it. You will be surprised at the relationship you can have with a student just because you add a song that they like.
3. Add songs from different genres, eras and topics. Even if the students cannot truly comprehend the message, they are at least getting used to the speed and accents of the artists and their respective countries.
4. If it’s songs you will do as a CLOZE listening, put it in your playlist and let the students listen to it through the school year.
5. Too elementary? You will be surprised. I have students who have listened to a Buenos Dias song from “Atención Atencion” and they will sing it as silly as it sounds. If you teach a song with motion, they will still do the motions as they’re working individually, sometimes without them knowing it!

If you have some suggestions, ideas, or feedback, let me know!

Songs from Spanish Class


Building an MYP Spanish program pt1

I have been in my school in the Des Moines area for 3 years now. Next year I will begin my 4th year in the district. I have had to create, restructure, and edit our curriculum every year that I’ve been here and I had people asked me what I have done.  In this post, I will share what I have done, what has worked, and what has not worked in our MYP program. This material has been a compilation of 3 years of work, multiple PLC structure, and shared material.

I began my Spanish teacher career here in the DSM area. When I began in 2015, I was a traveling teacher. We’ve been always a team of 2 teachers. This year has been amazing and we’ve added a 3rd teacher, but unfortunately, because of cuts, we will be a 2 person team next year.

My school hosts around 800+ students. All students are required to take Spanish, so we split all students between 3 teachers. My first 2 years (and next year) I will have 400 + students on an alternating schedule. I teach all 3 middle school grades (6, 7, 8) and my students range from native-speaker, advanced speakers, and beginning Spanish students.


In 2015, as a traveling-new-to-teaching-native-speaker Spanish teacher, I stuck with what I know. I was heavily influenced by grammar charts, vocabulary list, many many worksheets and recycled material from previous teachers and what we worked in the DSM full Spanish PLC at the district level. It was a year of many firsts, but I managed to come out alive!

All my Spanish teaching were based on grammar. I had to differentiate heavily since I had native speakers with beginning Spanish learners in the group. I taught mostly in English and rarely gave input in Spanish. Being grammar-based, I divided all my classes (6, 7, and 8th graders) in essentially (Semester 1= estar & Semester 2= ser). I had one native speaker class with a handful of non-native speakers. I had no clue what to teach them, so I essentially “made it harder” for them by teaching Present and Past imperfect together. Their “job” as students was to fully navigate in both present & past with little to no “formal” errors. All of my classes were fully based on mountains on worksheets, but not a lot of lectures on grammar.


As a second-year teacher, first win was, I SURVIVED MY FIRST YEAR. I had a new partner and she was awesome. Most of it was a repeat of the previous year (2015-2016) with one major change. We established a native speaker route and a non-native speaker route.

Native Speaker track: Students actively speak Spanish at home, are or were in the ELL track, and feel confident in their Spanish abilities.

Non-Native Speaker track: Students are beginning to learn Spanish. Have had Spanish class before in a different school. The student would like to begin Spanish 2 when they reach High School.

In this year, my main goal was to purposely incorporate meaningful cultural material in the class.  I wanted to pursue this for multiple reasons. First, to give the students (and myself) a “brain break” in the general “verb chart conjugation & worksheet” class that we had. Second, my school’s schedule works with alternating Wednesdays. We label Monday/Thursdays as A days & Tuesday/Friday B days. In a month we have 2 Wednesday’s labeled as A or B

In these Wednesday’s I called them “Cultural Wednesdays” where we would talk about a specific topic in Latin America. It was filled with Web quests, documentaries, and inquiries of what students wanted to know about Latin America. This also gave students to ask all the questions about my home country, Puerto Rico.

In the next post, I will focus on the major changes that I have made after my first two years, my focus in music, and how I am beginning to work with TPRS, CI, and bridging grammar-based curriculum with CI components.

If you have ideas, comments or feedback do not hesitate in commenting below!





Where have I been?

Hello. Is anybody there. It’s me… José or MusicalPoetry if you’ve been here long enough.

I have been completely MIA. I have been gone out of the face of this Earth. For quite a while now. The last post saying “I am here!” was in 2015. What has happened since June 10, 2015? A lot.

Since my last post, where I was all excited about finishing my Masters in Music from WIU, I was in the looking for a career in the Midwest. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. For the last 3 years, I have been teaching in the Des Moines metro area as a Spanish teacher in an IB (International Baccalaureate) School. In this position, I have created from the ground up a Spanish program for an MYP (Middle Years Program). The how I did and what I did will be another post!

As a middle school teacher, I’ve added a bunch of catchphrases (hashtags) to my life. One of them is #mistruggleesreal and it has been a struggle. I have been juggling this idea of where my career was going to take me, to the musician I want to be, the conductor I always imaged I would be, the educator I thought I would be. Most importantly, what I thought I would be after college.

Some of it has been completely real, I finished a masters in music. I have completed 2 degrees in music. I have focused on cultural aspects of Latin America since 1945 to the present. Some of it has been a complete flop. How do I connect music and poetry now that I don’t have a class to get these ideas? How do I begin to connect these ideas of culture, music, and choral conducting in a meaningful and practical way? After starting to teach Spanish at the middle school level for native and non-native Spanish speakers; how do I connect culture, language acquisition, and music in a practical way that students (and me) would enjoy, is practical, and is meaningful?

I believe that’s the direction this blog is going to go. I will still post “musical poetry” entries because I believe that it would be a powerful tool for my native speakers to navigate through our culture. My Hispanic students are already completely submerged in Hispanic music. Maybe not the music of my preference, but it is music that is meaningful to them! The challenge for me is how I can take these ideas, their music, our culture, and mesh it into one.



I’m still here!

Hello! Are you still there? I just finished my Masters in Choral Conducting at Western Illinois University. This semester (the year in general) has been non-stop, but the good this is I crossed the finish line. Who would have thought that I would actually finish a Masters Degree in music AND focus said masters degree in the relationship between literature, culture and music?!

I’m really excited for what the future holds. I am (re)re-editing my last paper, which hopefully will be published soon. Also, I’m  starting a job in Des Moines, Iowa as a teacher in the area.

A lot is happening, but I can assure you will continue to hear from me!


As the birds fly home for winter, so do I.

As the birds fly home for winter, so do I.

They cherish the moment in where they go and flee from the cold, for a brief moment, but remember why they flew out in the first place. The thing is, Puerto Rico- where I live, lies in the perfect spot in the Caribbean. It has perfect sunsets, copious amounts of beautiful beaches, colorful people, in short as many locals call it in social media #paradise. The problem does not lie in the beautiful, geographic aspect of the island, no; the problem lies in its economical stress and little job opportunities creating an unstable environment, where the happiest island on Earth is tormented by metal illness, poverty, and constant forced exile.

When I was in my undergrad, I went to the InterAmerican University Metro campus, where an alumni gave a conference about musical therapy. While I was toying with the idea of applying once more to graduate school to further my musical studies, one thing stuck to me about his keynote presentation. “Sadly, we (all of you who are sitting and are close to my age) are the generation of lost dreams and forced exile.” In this economy, which  it worldwide, everybody in their “prime” (age group 21-35) are leaving Puerto Rico. Why? Because we cannot find a job. Cost of living is high, and if you find yourself lucky, the first job opportunity are offered is… a cashier in a fast food establishment. Not saying that this is not a stable income or unworthy employment, but I am talking individuals with Doctoral degrees, Masters degrees, doctors, lawyers, teachers are either at these types of jobs or homeless. I’ve read before that “the island of enchantment”, as we call our country, is one of the most educated places in the world, while simultaneously have these individuals flee from our island, myself included, to find better opportunities. Area of Choice? The United States. 

It is in the United States where, compared to Puerto Rico, one can do the same job, but twice as much than in PR. While the grass is always greener on the other side, families are forced to find jobs in the US for they want to have a better life. The sad aspect of this is what we leave behind. A rich culture that we have to try to carry with us alongside our traditions. Friends and families, as in my case go somewhere alone where nobody knows you and start from scratch. Essentially, a life. And go to uncharted lands and start anew. Most people fail and have to go back and try to make amends, but most of us. We thrive. We make most of the situation and fight for what we want, but as nature intends we fly home for winter. Even if it’s for a small window of time, we fly home, visit where we come from and know that our sacrifices will not be in vain. That our sacrifices makes us stronger, and it’s there where we are unique. It is there where we are resilient. And in resilience, there is power.


A haiku from a second year graduate student.

Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve updated. That’s what Graduate School does to you. You’re constantly, as a professor calls it, in crisis management mode. Between writing papers, constant research, reading articles, music ensembles, and office hours you can lose track of time. This happens to an extreme if you add constant Netflix adventures.

It is because of my long leave of absence that I will share with you a haiku from a second year graduate student.

he watches
sadly in despair
he sighs
work is not done

and just for fun, let’s have another one!

Help me,
so much to read
to do
is it break already?



Wandering through the foggy woodland
breathing the musty sods
twilight is upon us
skulking through murky, moldy dunes

A bridge is upon us,
filled by webs and fueled by decay
creakingly pivoting,
summoned by the dark, looming loch

Walking through the unstable path,
fixed upon the scrutiny of the unknown
-the fae beckons-
as you slowly gather up the storm

Walk, and walk you must
through the darkness you shall pass
until the shire comes at last
until your truth unfolds
until the embers dim to you