Sneak Peek: Inside you will find a detailed explanation of my second year teaching the heritage language learners course through the lens of the curriculum I created.

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This was my second year teaching a class for heritage speakers of Spanish. It’s hard to believe that I already have two years of teaching this class under my belt. It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was super nervous about taking on this new challenge. If this is your first time teaching a course for heritage speakers you may be able to relate to how I felt my first year.

How the Heritage Course Is Set Up at My School

At my school, in particular, this course consists of 9-12 graders that will take this course up to three times with me during their time in high school. Typically, students will take my class in a consecutive cycle of three years. We don’t separate students by level or age because we don’t have a high enough enrollment for that. We are only able to offer one course for all high schoolers, which is why students end up enrolling in the same course for multiple years.

So, with that framework in mind, I am in the process of developing a three-year curriculum cycle, this being the second of the three years, which is now complete. It is important to note that the heritage speakers curriculum does not necessarily build in difficulty, so much as it varies in the topics covered. I refer to the curriculum years as Heritage A, Heritage B, and Heritage C.

(Heritage A) + (Heritage B) + (Heritage C) =
A Heritage Speakers Three-Year Curriculum Cycle.

Since I had most of the same students in class this year that I also taught last year, I couldn’t repeat the curriculum I created for year one. I created all new curriculum this year (Heritage B) which means that I am now done with two out of the three years of curriculum I need to create for my foundational heritage speakers curriculum.

FVR for the Win

Side note: One huge win for this year was getting funding to start an FVR library (Free Voluntary Reading library) run out of my classroom. One of my primary goals as an instructor of heritage language learners is to ensure that my students are growing in their capacity to read in their heritage language, over simply being able to converse in it. Most school libraries do not feature enough of a Spanish language section to support adding FVR to a heritage speakers curriculum. After securing funding I was finally able to begin exposing my students to a healthy dose of reading infused into the curriculum and began experimenting with how best to feature/incorporate FVR moving forward. It is a new addition this year, but let me just say that so far the positive response from students has been amazing! You can expect that I will definitely be sharing more in the future about my experiences with FVR.

Without further adieu, here is what I taught this year in Heritage Curriculum B (HCB)!

The fact that the curriculum does not progress in difficulty nor build off the lesson that precedes it does bear mentioning again. This means the lessons, lectures and concepts can be intermixed, switched around or taught in any order you see fit.

So, note that I will write about the way and order in which I taught them in my own classroom, but it is certainly not the only way to navigate HCB. In fact I may switch them around during the next curriculum cycle.

First Two Weeks of School

I started out the year with a week of getting-to-know-you activities and setting up the classroom expectations for the year. The very first day, as students came in, they had a task list they needed to complete immediately- such as enrolling in my Google Classroom and filling out a name card. While students worked through their task list, filling out questionnaires and taking diagnostic exams, I interviewed each student separately so I could get to know their interests and gain a feel for their background in Spanish.

Taking the time to be personal with my students was really important to do at the start of the year because I found that there were a couple of students who were misplaced in my class. You’ll want to sort those issues out as soon as possible, as placement issues can be rearranged within the first week of the school year, as scheduling is still quite flexible. Additionally, the first week of school is the best time to set the tone for showing students that you are interested in who they are as a person.

In that first week we did icebreakers like “Would you Rather,” “Never Have I Ever,” and Who’s in your circles. One day we did a fun activity you can grab for free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store called El examen del español con Pero Like.

The second week of school began with a mini-unit built around a spelling list- Los errores comunes. It was also during this week that I first introduced FVR. Finally, students were assigned pen pals with students in my other section to kickoff our Amigos secretos project. Talk about getting out to a quick start!

Los acentos y dialectos en el mundo hispanohablante

Our first official unit for the year was a 13-day unit titled Los acentos y dialectos en el mundo hispanohablante. I enjoyed teaching this unit towards the beginning of the year, as it got students opening up to the class in a participative way. Students got to know one another while engaging in conversations about the Spanish they use based on their heritage and compared the words they use to the words their friends from other Spanish speaking heritages use.

It was cool to see students really begin to grasp the concept of dialects. They began to see the way they speak as a certain dialect, and how that dialect plays a role in defining certain characteristics of their culture that make them unique. They began to understand that their dialect isn’t wrong, just different. And in that same sense, the way their friend speaks isn’t wrong, it’s just different. There are many different dialects within the Spanish speaking world and differences can and should be celebrated.

Los acentos y dialectos en el mundo hispanohablante was also a great way to open up discussions about differences in dialect and standard language. Instead of telling students that it’s incorrect to pronounce “llegaste” with an “s” on the end, I was able to explain that in standard language, or formal language, it is not pronounced that way. I explained that while it isn’t pronounced that way in standard language, or in academic contexts, pronouncing “llegaste” with an “s” on the end can be very fitting for certain contexts depending on which dialect you are attempting to use and with whom you are conversing.

They appreciated learning the distinctions of formal settings vs informal settings and the role this particular distinction plays in choosing tone. Students readily understood that depending on the setting, different registers will be expected of them. Essentially, the paradigm shifted from whether or not a pronunciation is right or wrong, and shifted more towards them possessing an understanding of the various settings in which certain pronunciations and phrases are more appropriate. In Spanish, as in English, there are certain time frames and instances where formal language is a necessary component (interviews, university, weddings, etc.). Understanding where those situations will arise and how to best position yourself within them is a key skill moving forward.

Most importantly, they were able to see that both standard language and dialects hold inherent value. Standard language provides value by maintaining the core components of a language while dialects carry the essence of the people using that language, which is constantly changing and evolving.

In this unit, students:

  • identified different accents throughout the Spanish speaking world
  • wrote synonyms in Spanish
  • recognized the difference between dialect and standard language
  • appreciated the value that all dialects hold
  • learned why we have accents
  • practiced recognition of certain dialects and accents belonging to different countries
  • took notes on phrases used in various countries
  • recognized key characteristics of Spanish from Spain
  • worked in groups of four to create a presentation on a dialect

One of my favorite lessons from this unit had students listing off the words they know and use for certain items, then comparing these words and phrases to their classmates’. Overall, students enjoyed this unit and found it to be an interesting challenge to try and identify where certain speakers were likely from.

These were some of the words and phrases students had to write synonyms for in Spanish.

Pregúntale a Alicia y el mundo de las drogas

The first class novel we read was Pregúntale a Alicia. Credit where credit is due, I got all the materials for free from Adrienne Brandenburg’s Teachers Pay Teachers store – Teach Like you Love It. Adrienne also has a blog where she and a colleague write about their adventures in heritage teaching. I enjoy the content, and feel like there is a good chance you will as well!

Pregúntale a Alicia has very strong themes and should only be used in your classroom with caution, depending on your school and classroom dynamic. I understand and will be the first to admit that this novel is raw, uncut, and a tough sell for certain educational environments. While it is not ideal for all environments it really churned out some beautiful conversations and openness in my classroom, so it may just do the same in yours.

I found the topic of drugs and addictions to be extremely engaging for my students, and it created conversations they were looking to have in a scholastic setting. In fact not only was this a relevant theme, but it’s also necessary, as moderate-to-extreme drug use is something going on all around teens in their everyday lives. Simply not talking about tough topics or ignoring them altogether, does not make these issues magically disappear. So, with some communication on the front end to the parents of my students clearing their participation, we decided to tackle a few of the big ones.

The length and reading level of this novel was a great fit for my class. The material was challenging enough, but not to the point where they became lost, and could not understand the story. This novel opened up the topic of drug use in general which we explored a little further through a project called La infografía.

Although this project rubric can be used for any topic (perhaps it will be of use to you in other ways or for other topics as well, or instead), I had students create infographics based on different topics of drug use and then do a gallery walk to view each other’s creations. To culminate this unit, I brought in guest speakers from Know the Truth, an organization that works alongside Teen Challenge.

The guest speakers are former drug addicts that shared their personal stories, as well as drug statistics with the class. I felt it important to wrap up the unit with real people sharing their stories. Something to bring the novel we read into more of a place of reality, so that students who perhaps missed themes and narratives in the novel, would not miss the overall message.

After opening up a Pandora’s-box of sorts, I wanted to ensure a strong, final message was communicated- drug addiction can and will ruin your life. Ultimately, drugs are not the good time they are often portrayed to be in pop culture. In the very least, my students know where I stand on the matter, and the rest is up to them.

La biografía de una persona influyente en mi vida

The next unit I taught was La biografía de una persona influyente en mi vida. This unit is a blended learning unit that is self-paced with a playlist, or interactive notebook. I spread this out over two months and worked some other classroom activities into the mix, such as FVR and a research project called Latinos influyentes.

Incorporating a research project about influential Latinos initiated a conversation on what it means to have influence. Students worked on interviewing someone they considered to be influential in their life, while at the same time, researching a famous Latino who is considered to have influence in the world.Parents and family members can have some busy schedules, so I found the two-month formatting to leave plenty of time to schedule interviews for the busiest among them.

In this unit students:

  • worked on assignments to learn about interviewing styles and formatting a biography
  • conducted three interviews with someone who is older than them, that speaks Spanish and is a part of their life
  • wrote a biographical essay about that person’s life
  • created a children’s book illuminating an inspiring story from that person’s life

I loved this unit because it gave students direction behind the scenes and freed up class time for me to work one-on-one with students needing more help. Students were able to work at their own pace through the task list and when a few of my students traveled out of the country for a couple of weeks, they were able to stay on track with the class.

The other amazing piece of this unit is that it fostered an opportunity for a deeper connection with the adults in my students’ lives. One of my students commented saying that this is by far her favorite thing we have done, because it gave her an excuse to get to know her dad more, since, “it’s for school.” I found that this also built rapport with the parents, as they saw I was promoting their families to their children and felt respected to be included in the educational process.

La felicidad

Next, I taught a 26-day unit on La felicidad. Happiness is such a fun topic, which provided a lot of opportunity for self-reflection and discussion. But, happiness is so much more complex than one would think initially, so we explored its concepts and structure a bit more in depth. My heart behind creating this unit, was to teach students about real-life coping mechanisms and skills, all the while immersing them in academic Spanish experiences.

Mental health is such a big issue for teens these days, and so many of them have not figured out which coping skills work for them. Furthermore, some students did not realize that certain things they may have been doing instinctively, were actually coping mechanisms and can give them insights as to how they are processing life intrinsically. It’s tough to read the cues your body is giving you, and really understand yourself when you are unaware of the cues in the first place.

Additionally, a lot of teens lack vision and direction for their life. That is not to say my students are aimless or lack initiative, simply, this is such an exploratory and adventurous time in their life. So I really intended this unit to have students reflect on how they navigate their emotions, how they are growing emotionally and what it is they are truly striving for in life.

The topic of happiness and prosperity was interesting to view through the paradigm of students with immigrant parents or grandparents. Many immigrants come to the United States searching for just that: happiness and prosperity or opportunities to provide a better life for their family.

Our class discussions had some very meaningful dialogue about the irony of how much happier people seem in Latin America where perhaps people have less. This, as opposed to the general happiness levels they witness in the United States, where their family has more things, but likely has less time to enjoy each other, due to the fast paces of American life.

Many of my students have family throughout Latin America that they are still very much connected with, so their observations were astute and based on their experiences abroad vs domestically. Overall, this unit offered a juicy topic to be explored as a distraction while I used it as a means to have students read, write, and converse in Spanish.

In this unit students:

  • justified their responses with facts
  • reflected on which factors play a role in happiness, according to a documentary
  • reflected on social media, how they use various platforms and the ways in which it affects their happiness
  • architected their own philosophy on happiness, expressing it in the form of a quote/personal motto
  • examined how the idea of achieving happiness has changed throughout the years
  • identified the main idea or argument of an article
  • listened to four different speakers talk about their opinions and views on the concept of happiness
  • applied what they learned from these speakers by forming their own opinions on happiness moving forward, based on what they heard
  • investigated worldwide happiness according to the Happy Planet Index, World Happiness Report, and SURA Barometer of Happiness
  • rated how happy certain situations, places or things make them
  • looked up synonyms for common emotions and rounded out their vocabulary in this capacity to help better express their emotional state going forward
  • assessed the causes of their emotions
  • compared and contrasted emotions and moods
  • summarized a paragraph in their own words
  • examined the frequency of their emotions to help them establish which emotions they are currently prone to having, and being mindful of those patterns
  • created a pie chart of their moods
  • identified the poetic structure known as a stanza
  • identified prominent Spanish poetry constructs of rima asonante and rima consonante
  • categorized self-care activities
  • reflected on ways they can practice self-care
  • reconstructed a story into a script in order to personalize, summarize and dramatize it
  • listed out what they are thankful for and reinforced the importance of practicing gratitude as a lifestyle
  • made a list of measurable goals and dreams for their life
  • created a vision board to plan their goals and dreams
  • presented their vision board orally to the teacher
  • wrote a letter to their future self about what currently makes them happy
  • demonstrated understanding of viable evidence vs opinion, by searching articles for facts and statistics as evidence to sift out bias from the source, and use said facts to construct a sound position for purposes of debate
  • demonstrated an understanding of bias and confirmation bias
  • researched an argument, both for and against their assigned topic
  • prepared evidence for a debate
  • debated the key to happiness in front of the class in a formal debate structure
  • discussed what they have learned throughout this unit in small groups
  • read an article about ten keys to happiness

One of my favorite projects from this unit was El tablero de visión where students created a vision board and presented it to me individually. I loved this project because I got to better know each one of my students as they shared their hopes and interests for their futures. It was also a great way for my students to feel more comfortable speaking in Spanish with me. Students loved this project too. I mean, who doesn’t love thinking about the things that bring you joy and dreaming about the future?!

On the first day of the unit, I had students rate their happiness level on a scale of 1-10 and tuck that piece of paper away in a safe space inside their folder. Again, on the last day of the unit, I had students rate their happiness level and compare it to the number they gave themselves on the first day of the unit. I was thrilled to see that by the end of the 26-day unit, a lot of student’s had numbers that were higher. I asked them why their happiness levels had increased and the common theme was that they are now more grateful for what they have and realize the power their mindset and mindfulness has over their happiness.

El libro de los americanos desconocidos

To finish out the year, I became a mama! So, as I headed out on maternity leave I wanted to leave behind plans that would equip my long-term sub for success. Doing so would lessen their stress, and ensure that my heritage students kept on track with the heritage speakers curriculum regardless of whether or not the sub could speak Spanish. This product fit the bill perfectly.

In my absence, students read the book El libro de los americanos desconocidos. I created a questions packet to go along with the book for students, as well as an answer key to leave with the sub. If you want to know more about whether this novel would be a good fit for your class, you can read all about it here in another blog post. By the way, if you ever find yourself in need of a last minute, easily executed sub-plan for your students, or just want something to have on hand in case, you can grab this Don Quijote Comic and Questions activity from my Teachers Pay Teachers store… for free!

And of course, I shouldn’t forget that this year we had our fair share of fiestas in class! We celebrated el Día de los Muertos, el Día de los Reyes, and we had a baby shower/going away party for me at the end of the year as I headed out on maternity leave.

If you haven’t taken the time to throw a party with your heritage speakers class, you definitely need to! These kids sure know how to have a good time, and I’m always impressed with the amount of initiative they put forth when it comes to party planning. I didn’t realize it at the beginning, but allowing my students to have a party, has actually been a learning opportunity for me to see a different side of my students.

Their maturity and generosity really came through when some of my students took it upon themselves to coordinate and bring in items to play baby shower games for my going away party.  I was so touched! This is a memory I will never forget.

So here I am again, finishing out another year of teaching heritage Spanish speakers and still loving every second of it. My students have been respectful and endearing, which only makes me want to work that much harder for them to provide them a quality education. I truly am passionate about setting them up for success by growing their academic Spanish skills and look forward to next year with some of my same students. One perk of the curriculum cycle formatting at my school is the opportunity I have for repeat students and cultivating a deep relationship with them as they grow throughout the three-year process. I always find it a bit tougher to form meaningful relationships with students I only have for a trimester or two. Long story short, I deeply value that I can truly get to know them.

If you want access to all these materials in a bundle that saves you money, click the image below!

How is the heritage speakers class set up at your school? Comment below!

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