Stacey Margarita Johnson: This is “We Teach Languages,” a podcast about language teaching from the diverse perspectives of real teachers.
I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson. Today on episode 31, Maris Hawkins is here to talk about how she uses technology, novels, Teachers Pay Teachers, how her blog works, how she got started in blogging — just a wide‑ranging conversation on a lot of topics.
Thank you so much for being here today, Maris.
Maris Hawkins: Thanks so much for having me. I’ve been following your podcast since this summer, and I’ve really enjoyed it.
Stacey: I am so glad to hear that. It’s exciting to actually have you on the show. You’re one of the first people who reached out and talked to me on Twitter and said that you were [laughs] listening to this show, so thank you so much.
Maris: You’re welcome.
Stacey: I’ve really enjoyed getting to know your blog though, since I met you, probably, in August. I actually recently assigned some of your blog posts to my graduate students in my teaching methods course.
Maris: Oh wow. Thank you.
Stacey: [laughs] Awesome. How is it that you teach between 8th and 12th grade? That seems like a big spread.
Maris: I teach in an independent school. So, what happens was, by last year just being a middle school teacher, I developed my blended class which needs two days online. They have, actually the Latin teacher is their proctor. I watch the Latin students, so to start to mimic what they would do if they were taking an online class but with some guidance and help from an actual teacher being there. After that, I moved to the upper school, and so I still continued to teach my blended class.
In the past, I taught just level two, or I taught level two and three. This year, I transitioned to teach level one so I could teach level one without a textbook. I blended classes level two, and then I’m also developing level five class. I have ended up with a much bigger span of languages and ages. I enjoy it because you can do different things with upper schoolers; they’re more independent. But, yeah, that’s how I ended up with all the different grades.
Stacey: It seems like a lot, especially since you’re doing a no-textbook class, then planning all the way up to fifth year. [laughs] I can’t imagine teaching that big of a span.
Maris: One of the best things I did, especially with level five, level one there’s always a lot of materials to find, but level five, I’ve been using a lot of resources from Kara Jacobs. She’s done a lot with culture development.
In all levels, I’ve also done novels which I think also helps to base a curriculum, because you have all that already written and then it’s just supplementing.
That’s another great thing about teaching now, is there are so many blogs that are out there and most of them share their resources. Or you can go on Teachers Pay Teachers, especially when they’re having a sale, pay under $10 to get a great unit that will last a month or so.
Stacey: One of the, maybe, downfalls of Teachers Pay Teachers is you really have to know that the materials are high quality and they come recommended. Do you have any teachers that you would recommend people looking into if they haven’t gone on that site before?
Maris: Martina Bex ‑‑ I’ve bought a lot of materials from her ‑‑ Kristy Placido, and Allison Weinhold as well, who does Mis Clases Locas. There’s a lot. Also Kara Jacobs as I mentioned before. The CCC Spanish Store is another…
Stacey: “Si, si, si” as in S‑I, S‑I, S‑I?
Maris: No. The letter is CC…It’s, compelling comprehensible cultural connections. That one has been great as well. Those are the ones that as I’ve been making the transition, I’ve used a lot of their materials.
Stacey: That’s really helpful. I’m really interested in the whole teaching with novels thing. There’s just a lot of momentum behind leveled novels right now. I would love to know what your experience has been with that.
Maris: When I really started to dig into the culture behind the novels that they have, “Frida Kahlo”, which has all the art and all of that within it, has been a great one. The “Agentes Secretos” is also great. It has Guernica and Spain and the civil war.
All of those have allowed me to start bringing that culture in. When I could bring more culture in, that has been able to make it more engaging for students.
I found, especially when I do a class novel, if I do a somewhat easier novel to read, then all of the students are more engaged because they can understand it. I can also assign them some pages that they can read without me, which I think doing whole class readings, at least for me, became a bit monotonous for the students when they were always just relying on me to read to them.
When we are not reading novels, I’ve started doing a lot of free voluntary reading. That allowed me to have students pick what they wanted to read. Also allowed them to read harder books or easier books. Reading all of that Spanish has been really helpful and great for them.
Stacey: Do you have any check‑ins with the free voluntary reading?
Maris: Usually, I’ve done a booksnap where they take a picture. Seesaw is an online journal that they can use to post all their work. That’s one way that all my students can do it or they can take a picture with Snapchat and then add a caption. Some of them will add their bitmojis, add pictures to it, but just to see what they’re doing.
Some other people have started to do a bit more of keeping track of what their students are reading, and I would like to try that. It’s just a fine line between wanting to hold them accountable and not wanting it to be something that they don’t look forward to.
The other thing that I do that keeps it successful is even in my upper levels we’d just read for about seven minutes. I’m hoping to extend it throughout the year, but they haven’t done a lot of just sitting and reading in Spanish. I think as we continue to read and develop more, I think it’s important to start small and then increase the time.
Stacey: One of the things that I often have wondered, when you are using novels or free voluntary reading, is if you’re in, particularly maybe for the lower grades, where you might have more developing or reluctant readers, for instance in middle school [laughs], I’m wondering how you motivate people who have difficulty with reading or people who find it to be very challenging. How do you motivate them to get involved with free voluntary or novel‑based classroom activities?
Maris: The book that I’m reading in my middle school class is actually the Senor Wooly graphic novel.
That’s was the book that I started with my Spanish Two last year when I had a lot of those reluctant readers and I hope also that graphic novels in Spanish and other languages too would really take off because when you talk about comprehensible input, you can talk a lot around the pictures and what you’re seeing, and give students more input that way.
As far as words on the page, it’s definitely not as intimidating as some of the novels can be. I found that graphic novels sometimes are a good bridge.
My levels-ones today, I just put out a lot of books and they read for three minutes. It wasn’t intimidating to them. I think they think, “Three minutes, I can do this.” One said, “3 or 30?” I said “Just three. ” You know, getting their feet wet.
I think keeping the time manageable, making sure that the book is almost a little too easy for them, specially the first book that you’re introducing, you can’t go wrong because then they all feel like they can understand it and that they’re successful.
Stacey: Yeah, that’s great. Great feedback. You’re doing a lot of exiting things in your classes. It’s fun to get a peek into how all of these concepts are playing out for you. One of the things I really wanted to talked to you about today is your blog.
A lot of the things you’ve talked about today, you’ve put those ideas on your blog. You share glimpses into your class room and how those things are really working for you. How did you get started blogging? What made you want to do it? How did you get entry into that world?
Maris: I started out loving cooking blogs. I enjoyed cooking and that was my entry into the blog world. I also always wanted to write a book, so blogging seems like a good intermediary thing. Although I love to cook, I am not an excellent cook. No one would read [laughter] a blog about my cooking, so the only thing that I really felt like I knew a lot about was blogging about what’s happening in my classroom and being a Spanish teacher, although it’s always intimidating putting yourself out there. You also wonder, “Would anyone even read this? How long do I have to write a blog until someone tweets at me, or makes a comment on it, or my numbers start to jump? How many people have actually read it?”
It can be intimidating to do that, but luckily for me, everyone I found has been very kind. Even if they give me feedback because there’s a typo, or one time I had a picture with some graffiti that wasn’t the best. I was just putting up pictures and not really paying attention. Anyway, someone said, “Just so you know, you might want to take this down.”
Everyone always starts out with, “Thank you so much for what you’re doing.” I’ve gotten so many great ideas. They always start off positive. As far as worrying about people hating what I was doing or hating my blog, it didn’t happen. That definitely helped me continue to blog.
Stacey: Awesome. How long have you been doing your blog now?
Maris: I started January 2013.
Stacey: Oh my gosh. It’s been almost five years.
Maris: Yes, it’s been a long time. It took me a while before I really started to see more people. As I started sharing more on Facebook and starting doing more on Twitter, then I was able to talk to more people and bloggers and things like that.
Stacey: If there’s someone listening who has thought about maybe doing a blog and isn’t sure if they should get started or how they should get started, what advice would you give to them?
Maris: I would say definitely to go ahead and get started and trying to blog because initially not that many people will find it. You can write a couple of posts, and then when you’re ready to share it with everyone, then you can go on Facebook and share it in a Facebook group or go on Twitter and share it there.
You can wait until you feel like you’ve started posting a couple good ideas and then share it with everyone. The other thing that I’ve noticed take off this past year has been Facebook groups. It seems like when I first started teaching, there was a lot of sharing going on via different emails, Yahoo groups, and things like that.
I’ve noticed that’s toned down and people have more moved to sharing on Facebook. I would say if you’re not sure about if you want to blog, you can always share a post or an activity that you’re doing on Facebook as well to get to that same community and go from there.
That’s a way to get your feet wet if you’re not ready to start a whole blog.
Stacey: I also think just participating in a variety of Facebook groups around language teaching gives you an idea of what topics people are talking about and how you might be able to contribute to the conversation before you go out and start blogging, right?
Maris: Exactly. I don’t think you necessarily have to have a grand purpose when you start blogging. Just sharing what’s happening in your classroom is a great start. It doesn’t have to be a specific theme or a specific niche that you really want to focus on. You can develop that as you go along.
I am a prolific blogger. I think for me, it helps to reflect on what I’m doing in the classroom, and then it helps me organize because for example, I’m starting the graphic novel again with my middle school students. Last year, I blogged day‑to‑day what I was doing.
This year, I pulled up the same post. I’m changing things up, but it’s a way for me to reflect. I think that’s why I am so prolific. For other people, they don’t have to be worried that they’re not posting enough.
I don’t think you have to post every week, every month. It’s just when you have a good idea, when the mood strikes you. We all go through busy times in our lives. One thing that I use also is Bloglovin. I can just have all of the blogs there and anytime someone shares a new post, it’ll pop up.
Stacey: Is that an app for your phone?
Maris: It can be an app. I just also use the web version as well.
Stacey: Well, this was a wonderful experience for me. I’m going to follow up on so many of the resources that you’ve mentioned, all of the teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers, all of the resources like Seesaw and Snapchat.
Stacey: I’m going to make sure to put links to everything you’ve mentioned in the show notes as well. Thank you for being here today.
Maris: I enjoyed it.
Stacey: If you would like to comment or give feedback on the show or be a guest on the show yourself, let us know. You can find us on Twitter @weteachlang. You can comment on any of the episodes on our website or you can send a text message or leave a voicemail on our Google Voice number, which is (629)888‑3398.
If you leave us a voicemail, we may even play your question or comment on the air. Don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the show. Thank you so much for listening. Bye‑bye.