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Reconciling #musicalpoetry, #spanish learning, #CI, and #culture


I’m a music teacher. I’m a Spanish teacher. I am a both. I am a Native speaker. How do I reconcile both in my classroom? These were my thoughts throughout #CIIA2018 this month, especially when Laurie Clarcq was speaking in her breakout sessions.

As a Spanish teacher, I constantly use music in my room. Mainly in a indirect way for my non-native & non-heritage students (if you are ACTFL fan they are Novice to Novice-low, rarely a Novice-Mid as a Second Language learner because of contact hours). I mostly use my Spotify playlist “Songs in Spanish” to keep playing in the background. All. The. Time.

When I have commented to my coworkers about this during the school year (mainly a music teacher) I told them that it grounds me. It keeps me connected to music, but there IS a method in my madness.

The madness

My first 2 years as a Middle School, MYP teacher in an International Baccalaureate school, I have 35+ students. Every class period. Yes, that means that in 2 days (we’re in an A/B schedule) I teach a max of 400 students. In my classroom, I have free seating & “you have a phone, ok. Use it to your advantage.” Policy. Meaning, that if a student has a phone, I do not go “phone-Nazi” and take them away. I purposely teach focus. I did not realize that I did this, until our technology teacher told me that she did the same thing. I want to teach focus. Intentional focus. This is hard at the middle school brain.

I start the school year telling all my students that I am a music teacher, I conduct choirs, I sing in choirs, and that I conducted choirs in Puerto Rico, my home country. They are always “shook” and as one student told me this year “show me the receipts Brenda, or it didn’t happen”. I show them the “receipts” and they’re impressed (to say the least). Honestly, that was the point of “the art of musical poetry” when this blog began: how does music, language and culture works. As a Spanish teacher, while the core is still there, it’s been tweaked as I teach Spanish.

How do I use the madness to my advantage

Using my Spotify playlist, I put on music that I will teach during their 3 years in the program, music that is fun/different, music that my students (mainly my native speakers) choose to share to the “gringo students”.

It opens up conversation that yes, in Spanish-land you have as many musical genres as they listen to in English. From Taylor Swift-like pop, to hard metal, to Spanish covers of their “omg this song gives me life” favorite songs.

While it takes them some time (mainly new students and incoming 6th graders) to adjust, they LIKE the culture in the classroom. They KNOW that if they don’t have music playing something DIFFERENT is going to happen in the room. Students BEGIN to WITHOUT prompt sing the songs in Spanish, learn their favorite songs in a Spanish cover, and even better? ASK for SPECIFIC songs. This year Corazón sin Cara, Andas en mi cabeza, and La Gozadera were huge hits.

WHY?

We go back to the Why? Why would I do this? I do know that most teachers would think I am crazy for doing this. Well… I might be. But it goes back to who I am, what I do, and what I want my students to achieve and feel successful. In 3 years, in an A/B schedule, my students will NOT be awesome superstars with their output. I know that. I’ve accepted that. Now, this year’s 6th graders (next year’s 7th graders) might make me reject that reality. If so, #ChallengeAccepted.

In my room, silence needs to be important. Just like music. It has to have MEANING. It reminds me of what Laurie Clarcq said at CIIA (I’m paraphrasing)

The Teacher is the conductor of the orchestra. They know (or should know) the music, the theory, and each student must bring their “instrument” or kill so that they can continue to improve.

But let’s be real, most of the students do not have some skills, what ever skill you’re looking for (reading, writing, social-emotional, etc) so we have to address it and teach it.

How do I teach it

1. Student’s who are notoriously late: Conversations.

As of this year, students have a grade that directly ties their attendance. It’s a small rehearsed conversation: Hola Maestro. Me llamo ____. Como estas? Now while it was surprisingly spanish (Sam Finneseth) who started this year, I followed suit and it gave me a lot of rewards. Students who are shy and are more receptors rather than “sayers” they have at least 1:1 interaction with me. Most importantly it teaches students that they need to be on time, is simple and parents are supportive.

2. It can be used as a warm up.

3. I use it to actually remember students and their names. (I am horrible with names)

4. Students with phones: Teach self-control

I am a phone-a-holic. I am. I let my students know this. I even check my phone (sometimes) while they are working. It’s part of life and these kids never lived in a time where people have smartphone (and I feel old about that). So I have to teach them, just like a part of the orchestra, they do not need it at the moment. IF you are grabbing the phone its to check time, listen to your OWN music when SPANISH music is not plating (which is almost never), using Quizlet in class (when we need to), etc.

5. What to do with silence

If we have silence in the room, we are using it when we play mafia (listen to be understood. Listen to comprehended), when we are reflecting on our process, when I am talking about our CFA’s, Scales, and/or “big things” like real-life connections of culture and what we are reading, etc.

Would love to hear from you, what are some things that some peers think is “unorthodox”, “crazy or mad ideas” or simply how do you mix music, culture in your classroom that might be out of the norm?

My first experience in #CIIA2018


I honestly thought that these things would be a waste of time. It’s probably because I’m a second career Spanish teacher. Music is first, so I always go to ICDA (Iowa Choral Conductors Association) instead or I just simply saved my money and go to Puerto Rico to see my family. This year has been different. Way different.

This year, as I may have mentioned in a previous entry, my friend Surprisingly Spanish suggested that since I have been dabbling in the arts of Comprehensible input, that I should go to CIIA or Comprehensible Iowa this past weekend. I was surprised. Very surprised. In a very good way.

I like that CIIA is made for teachers by teachers. They talked to us in a very real way that was not what you sometimes experience in these types of conferences. Everything was directly “from a classroom” and how “it has worked in a class” and “how it can be better”. I also enjoyed that there were moments where you truly can reflect. Ergo, Laurie Clarq, the keynote speaker. which took us back to basics. Her 3 rules in a classroom: a) one person talks, everybody listens, b) listening with the intent to understand, and c) self-control as a necessary skill where not groundbreaking at all, but it reminded (at least me) that if I want a positive culture and community these need to be part of my expectations and priorities in my class.

41wvjgctxvl-_sx331_bo1204203200_I went to 3 of Laurie’s sessions which were amazing. I also went to Sam Finneseth’s Heritage students in a CI classroom. I loved this presentation. I believe that it was very real as mostly her reflections on the past school year as a Spanish teacher for Heritage students. As a native speaker, I hear constantly that these students should not be in a Spanish classroom. While I had this mentality during my first year of teaching, I was able to create a Heritage class at my school and I could see what was Finneseth’s thought process. I do know that we NEED an active NEED in our state and nation in how to help these types of students. I already have my book by Mike Peto to help me for this next school year. I also had a lot of people asking me what I actively do with my 8th graders when it comes to curriculum, which that will be a post in the near future.

In all, I believe that CIIA is a great resource in our state and midwest area for teachers who actively teach with the CI methodology, but also for newbie teachers like myself in helping us get acclimated to this CI world.

I am excited and looking forward to next year’s CIIA and Iowa’s and Midwest professional opportunities!

Sweltering heat, Frigid Winds


Finals are done, and I’m back home in Puerto Rico for the Winter Break. Coming back home is good. I’m still not accustomed to the change in temperature. Living in twenty-something degree weather (that feels like ten-something because of the wind chill) to the drastic eighty degrees with seventy percent humidity is… taxing. Nevertheless is good to be back, at least for two weeks or so to say hello to the family (in person and not by FaceTime) and see some familiar faces. So far, I crashed a choral rehearsal from my undergraduate. Saw my highschool/undergrad voice teacher, and my choral conducting/literature/methods professor. It’s been good, but bittersweet. It has put a lot of things in perspective, such as family, friends and what I want to do in my life.

Flamenco Beach. Culebra, Puerto Rico

Flamenco Beach. Culebra, Puerto Rico

I’m still debating coming back to the island after I receive my Masters degrees. In one side it would be returning to my comfort zone. On the other, it would be returning to a place where I know I could find a collegiate work opportunity, because of my networking. I don’t know if the job opportunity would be a stable one, but with the way things are back here, it is… daunting. When I came here, teacher’s went on strike, and the overall teaching opportunities/lifestyle are light and day in comparison of what I’ve seen in Iowa and in Illinois. These past six months of actually living alone, in a place where no one knows me has made me seen life in a different ways, and I’ve remembered and learned new this. Some of these are…

  1. No matter where you come from, people judge you (or should judge you) for your actions and how you present yourself.
  2. Everybody should deserve a chance for every job opportunity.
  3. Don’t tell everybody that you don’t have something, do something and find something similar.
  4. Family is only a phone call/text/FaceTime session away.
  5. Family can also be your close friends.
  6.  If you try hard and believe in yourself… (inside joke)
  7. Everybody can pass through a storm, they maybe unresponsive and not believe your words, but they can appreciate (or so you think) that you are a phone call/text away.
  8. No matter what happens, you have to work hard, because in the end it’s your future. Your life.
  9. Pick people’s advice like a grain of sand.
  10. Only the past is set in stone, the present is a gift, and the future as the sea’s wave. Even though the past is set is stone, do not throw it to the sea for the waves will carry it back to shore.
  11. Drink wine.
  12. Graduate School helps you use the most obscure and random scholarly words just to make your argument that more… scholar.
  13. It is in our scholarly duties to make up words so that other scholars can use them, and so the scholar circle begins.
  14. Personal style evolves. I still laugh when people say I have good fashion taste, if they could see me in my undergrad…
  15. Mozart is in fact from the 54th, later 45th century. He was possibly a woman, and he did in fact use non-human technology. He may have been indeed a reincarnation of The Doctor.
  16. The Doctor Donna is a professor of mine, also she is hardcore. Also, she loves French stuff so when you do a research project in French Chansons, you better werk if not she will shred you to pieces. Good for me, I rocked my paper AND presentation.
  17. Musicology might be a career move for me, or at least be a minor in my doctoral degree
  18. Always hope for the best, even when things seem dark.
  19. Just as in BBC’s Merlin. “The Darkest is just before dawn“. And, Just as Dumbledore said “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light”
  20. Yes. I am a huge nerd.
  21. Study hard, but nobody can part-ay like happy choral grads who laugh so hard that they fall from their chairs, and then laugh harder. (looking at you, yes you.)
  22. IF you put  three choral grads in the same hotel room, they may or may not start laughing. This laughter would be loud (in harmony, with a certain counterpoint), and it WILL last for AT LEAST 30 minutes. The undergrad in the room would later tell you, “I though you guys were going to be all serious.”

In short… if I’ve learned or re-learned some of these things in a short amount of time, I know that I have so much more to learn. All you can be in life is a sponge, learn from everything.

 

Happy Holidays from Puerto Rico
-Musical Poetry

Swallowed in the sea


The Angry Sea

A  tumultuous sea. This can be a definition for life. It starts abruptly, like a sudden typhoon. It can suddenly soften as a warm towel against your skin. Life can sometimes be as intimate like a chaste kiss or as hard as fifty kilos on your back. Life, as it seems, is a roller coaster. We must brave the waters, and mind the hatches. In life we must try to “pass the storm”, and try not to drown. But, what happens in that moment when we start to “drown”? Everything and anything turns overwhelming. “This is where you show your true strength” people usually say to each other. “You’ll be stronger after this passes.” they tell you as advice. How do they know if they may not be living (or have lived) the situation, or a similar version of it.

So what can we do? Do we get swallowed by the sea? Do we “brave the storm”? Do we “the storm pass”? Because the reality of most situations is that during the situation, we can’t do anything. We can do something “after” the storm. I believe it’s “after the storm” and the actions that we take during that time is what shows who we are. It’s ok to do nothing. It is acceptable to cry. It is human to do nothing. At least, for a while. But, after the slump, we must take back what is ours. We must yell at the storm, at life itself, scream to the heavens that we can overcome whatever it is that we face. Show life that we can get stronger.

“If you allow yourself, you can become stronger in the very places you were broken” – Jane Fonda

The reality of life is that we are always going to get hurt. We are always going to get broken. The majority of this comes from the people we trust, care, and love the most. What can we do? The only thing I can tell you is what I read a couple of days ago:

One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel- Madame de Pompadour

And if that angel is the one we humans call “soulmate”, well we can weather any storm. Why? Because they make you stronger than ever before.

 

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