How to address unfinished learning

Unfinished Learning in Spanish Class

So. Here we are.

New school year.

I think that we all hoped that after a year of remote or hybrid learning, our troubles would be in the past.

However, what confronts us now is all of the unfinished learning in Spanish class that is the result of a year called “the best that we could do under the circumstances”.

What Does Unfinished Learning Mean?

For me, unfinished learning is what we call skills that would typically be mastered by most students, but instead, we find that they are either partially or not at all mastered.

This unfinished learning is particularly challenging in cumulative courses like Spanish, Math and other language courses. In our courses, we build off a body of prior knowledge to get more creative with language, more detailed in our communications and more precise with our messages.

How Does Unfinished Learning Look in Spanish Class?

Every school and each teacher is a little bit different in their approach to teaching Spanish to secondary students. Our school is in the process of transitioning to Mastery Based Learning. (It’s not easy to be somewhere between traditional and Mastery Based!!). We are using proficiency-based rubrics with unit specific learning. It’s messy during the best of times!

Unfinished learning in my classroom has its hallmark in students who do not have nearly as wide a range of vocabulary as they may have had if last year was a normal school year. Because students were working from home, we allowed everyone to use their vocab lists while taking assessments. Vocabulary that may have been memorized before was not, and therefore, our students this year have less vocabulary to work with.

Vocabulary impacts students’ ability to understand what they hear and read. It can also hinder a student’s ability to express themselves in writing or speech.

Another area of relative deficit is grammar. Our school still teaches specific grammar at specific times. We know that explicit grammar lessons may work for some, but it’s not a natural way to learn language. Even in the best of circumstances we can expect students to get better and more proficient and accurate with their grammar over a long period of time (years). But after our past pandemic year, students just had less. Less time hearing Spanish in class. Less time speaking Spanish. Less minutes of on-task learning. Less practice in general.

What Do We Do about Unfinished Learning?

Ok. So now what?

Option A: Live every day in frustration. Go home exhausted and feeling like a failure.

Option B: Acceptance.

Surrender is not the same as giving up. Try to make peace with what happened last year and what is still happening this year. Make a plan. What can you do today or tomorrow? What can you do next week to help your students move forward?

Our district has PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and we are given scheduled time to work with our colleagues for the express purpose of analyzing student data and developing techniques to support their learning. Here are some steps you can take with your colleagues to make this year feel less overwhelming.

  1. Breathe.
  2. Determine what students are missing and prioritize.
  3. Don’t review ALL of last year. When you come to a place where you note a deficit, hold the new learning and review as the need arises.
  4. Work with colleagues to develop supports, activities, plans, etc. to help students who need to practice certain skills. Having a team to divide the work with makes it so much less overwhelming! Sharing tools and ideas benefits the students AND their teachers!

Here Are Some Specific Ideas

Amig@s, this year will likely be just as challenging as last year. Maybe in different ways, but still…. all new and lots of challenge. But it’s ok. Educators are among the most resourceful, creative and generous people around! We got this!

Here are some ideas you might be able to use with your Spanish students who have unfinished learning.

  1. Create a set of activities targeted at skills students need more practice with. Divide this work amongst colleagues and share. Assign differentiated practices to students based on their individual needs.
  2. Create a system for which students can see any Spanish Teacher in your department. I have study hall duty period 1, so my colleagues can send their struggling students to me if those students have a period 1 study hall. In turn, any of my students who are struggling can see Srta. M during period 5 Study Hall.
  3. Create a list of on-line activities that are fun and engaging for students. Encourage them to practice for 5-10 minutes a day. Suggestions include: Quizlet, quia.com, studyspanish.com, conjuguemos.com, duolingo and spanishdict.com

Here is a differentiated writing activity for the Preterite vs. the Imperfect. It is focused on writing. Some students struggle with remembering to conjugate. Others struggle to use the right ending for the person doing the action. Some need to add detail. There are 6 different activities, and each one tackles a different deficit. Use this, or create something similar with your team!

Most of all, remember to be patient with yourself and with your students. We have all experienced trauma. Keep the big picture in mind, and do what you can!

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How to address unfinished learning
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