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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?


the ode of henry

A friend of mine wrote this. I love it!

conceptual wanderings

Have you ever noticed that birds enjoy the morning? They sing as the run rises and fly about catching worms and other small insects they can take back to their nest to feed their young. Even on my morning runs, they are flying about from one place to another, grabbing food or twigs to add to their nest. Many birds like to chirp as the sun rises, just like a rooster. In a way, it is a nice way to help wake you up for early morning chores or duties.

Some birds like to get started before the sun rises. At what time does this occur? Between 4:00am-4:30am of course! Every morning, Henry (that is what I have chosen to name this bird), sits outside my apartment and chirps. While most birds stay in one place, Henry likes to be an adventurer. He flys from one window ledge to the…

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