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Hasta pronto,

Doctora Collado

What Counting Elephants Taught Me

“Un elefante se balanceaba sobre la tela de una araña…” is the first line of a very popular Spanish folk song. I recall playing a hand game with three other friends while singing the song when I was a child. I spent many afternoons in the front yard of the elementary school I used to attend playing the game. Now that I started teaching at an elementary school I get many flashbacks of those years. The songs and games randomly pop in my mind. So, I decided to teach my students the elephant game and see what happened.

At first it was difficult for them, as they had to learn the lyrics of the song, the procedures of the game, and remember the numbers in Spanish. Even I had trouble keeping up as I joined each group. It can be quite a workout to sing, clap hands and move up and down at the same time. But not only did they learned it, they’re obsessed with it!

I gave each group three main goals: to memorize the song, sing along while playing the game, and count as many elephants as possible in one game. The students have the opportunity to play the game once a week at the end of a class period. Each time a group sets a new record it’s posted on the classroom door for everyone to see.

Last week one of those magical teaching moments happened. A group of fourth graders gave me one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned. This particular group of students had some differences in the past. They’ve practiced briefly a couple of times yet the lack of concentration of one of the team members was affecting their performance, and had barely gotten over ten elephants. This time, though, they were determined to beat the record set by another group at 33 elephants.

They started at a good, relaxed pace and quickly made it to 10, then 20, then 35 elephants! At this point the whole class was engaged singing along and counting. Because some students still didn’t know the numbers past 30, they gathered around a poster with the numbers posted on the wall to make sure they knew what number was next. The group of students playing the game continued on to 50, 60, 70 elephants! They were tired but their faces lit up with excitement every time they reached a new multiple of ten. “Let’s make it to 100!” they whispered to each other in between the lines of the song. And they did!! They screamed, cheered and hugged each other, and I never felt so much pride.

What did the students learn? They learned a cultural song, game, and new numbers in Spanish. What did I (the teacher) learn? I learned that in order to be successful (individually or as a team) one must put any conflicts aside, focus, and move on without giving up until the goal has been reached.

This is why I love teaching! Each day I’m a better person because of my students.

Below are the song and game procedures for those of you who wish to give it a try.

Song: “Un elefante se balanceaba sobre la tela de una araña, como veían que resistía fueron a buscar otro elefante. Dos elefantes…” (add a higher number in each new verse).

Game procedure: In groups of four, students will clap their hands at the same time they sing the song. Students A and B will clap their hands up, down, right, left and repeat. Students C and D will clap their hands down, up, left, right and repeat. All four students should continuously clap one of the team member’s hands while signing the song in order to continue playing.

Is Google Translate cheating?

Recently, I came across the idea that a student should not use online translators because it is cheating. But, is it really?

I’m not a fan of online translators and can’t stress enough to my students (of all ages) that online translators are not always accurate. Therefore I encourage students to review their notes and use what they have learned rather than rely fully on online translators. The speech goes something like this “First of all I will notice right away and second of all, it will make no sense! Trust yourself and use what you know!”

HOWEVER, as a speaker of Spanish (first language) and English (second language) I often resort to online translators in lieu of dictionaries, as a quick way to check the meaning of a word or to simply verify the spelling. If I use it as a tool in the writing process, then, how can I ban my students from using it?

The problem that I see is when online translators (and dictionaries) are not used properly, whether because the student is in a rush to finish a writing assignment or because s/he doesn’t have enough confidence in his/her knowledge.

Another issue that I often find in classes is the constant “How do you say.. in English?” even when asked in the target language, it promotes translating, which we want to avoid. Therefore, I always have dictionaries available for students to use as needed.

Today, I took advantage of technology and incorporated the use of an IPad. I downloaded the Google Translate App and set up the Ipad on one of the tables. As students worked on their projects, they took turns in using the IPad to look up vocabulary words other than the ones learned in class. An easel pad sheet with vocabulary as well as a chart with word strips was displayed; yet having the opportunity to use the translator allowed them to work independently. They also checked with me to make sure the words chosen were accurate, as instructed. But overall, it was engaging and effective.

So, why not incorporate translators as another useful tool instead of banning them completely?

On beautiful, brave and lucky mistakes…

I don’t know about you but if there’s a lesson I still need to learn is that it’s ok to make mistakes. It’s kind of ironic that one of my rules in class is “Confia en ti”/ “Trust yourself” yet I’m often filled with doubt on whether I’m making the right choices in teaching. Having a pretty creative mind, I’m usually sorting through ideas to be incorporated in lesson plans and thematic units. Yet, at some point in the process I stop to think of what I’m doing, self doubt kicks in, slowing the outcome as a result.

Luckily, a colleague of mine shared one of his lessons on, Guess what? Making mistakes!! Barry Ostrer, a fifth grade teacher, has devised a system to have students feel comfortable making mistakes and most importantly, learn from their mistakes.

Below is Barry’s message. Hope it’s as enlightening to you as it was for me. And if you end up using this information in your classes, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

“It seems that some of our students are petrified about making a mistake. I was frustrated seeing only students who knew they had the correct answer raising their hand and participating in class discussions.

I set out to try to change this attitude by creating an environment where making mistakes was viewed as both OK and simply as a chance to learn something new. I use the attached PowerPoint slide deck to introduce this idea and have students re-evaluate their feelings about making a mistake. Feel free to use some of the ideas, and I am happy to help you customize it for your class.
In our math class, we categorize and discuss each mistake. And yes, my mistakes are handled the exact same way! We label the mistakes as brave, brilliant, beautiful, creative, important, lucky or silly. Over the years, students have suggested new labels (example “mini”), but the labels are always positive. I created magnetic labels that we put on the whiteboard to highlight the mistake and learn from it. We have fun with these labels and it generates a good and useful discussion.”
PowerPoint created by Barry Ostrer:

Just call me Misi Collado

I recently started teaching third, fourth and fifth grade students for the first time.  During one of the initial meetings at the new school a teacher asked me “Will the students call you señora or señorita?” and I quickly replied “I’m single so I guess they’ll call me señorita.”

But as I drove back home that day the question stayed in my mind.  The truth is that I’ve never been crazy about students calling me “Señorita Collado” but it was the appropriate title for a single Spanish teacher.  On the other hand, I thought it was hilarious how I became “Miss Señorita” or “Señorrrrita” leaving the Collado completely out. 

In recent years, my colleagues were also found in a predicament at times when referring to me as “Señora Collado” as students corrected them that it was “señorita” not “señora”.  But being that I’m no longer in my twenties, regardless of being single or not, “señorita” seemed inappropriate.

Then, I remembered a scene of the movie Casi Casi, based on a group of high school students in Puerto Rico.  At some point in the story Maria Eugenia tries to explain to the principal, Mrs. Richardson, what’s going on…, Maria Eugenia nervously says “Pero Misi, Misi…” AHA!! How about I become Misi Collado? I thought.

Growing up in Puerto Rico I used to call my female teachers Misi, along with their last name.  This wasn’t an official title but the popular way of referring to a teacher, and it was really a substitute for the English titles “Mrs.”, “Miss” or “Ms.”; a sample of the influence of the United States in Puerto Rican culture and language. 

So after surveying my closest American friends I decided to make the change.  I’m now officially Misi Collado and I’m pleased that faculty members, parents and students liked it and got used to it right away.  To me is very meaningful as it represents my cultural background, plus it takes me back to my school years in Puerto Rico.  It’s like being a Spanish teacher back home.  It can’t get more culturally authentic than that! And most importantly, I’ve rid myself of the use of a title that either reflects marital status or an educational level. 

The Good, the Bad and the Meaningful

As I was driving to work the last day of school (a week ago) I felt exhausted and relief at the same time. My eighth year in the public school system hadn’t been easier. Just like a fitness mantra states “It doesn’t get easier with time you just get stronger.” And it is that strength that allows me to reflect on the good, the bad and the meaningful.

The good relies in the ability to make a difference. A tiny itty bitty one but nevertheless a difference. This year it came in the form of a card left by a student just to say “thank you” because it was her first year taking Spanish and she loved it. On a daily basis, the good shows in the form of a smile, a greeting in the target language, a positive message from a parent or administrator, or the improvement on a student’s performance.

The bad? That feeling that I didn’t do enough. The student that seemed I couldn’t reach, the lesson I should have expanded upon, the ancillaries I forgot to use, the trip I didn’t organize, etc…etc…etc…I guess I should worry the day that I don’t feel a bit as a failure. This feeling keeps me thriving.

But it is the meaningful what keeps me in the profession. The lessons learned through my students have made me a better and happier person.

Although many, I would like to share five:

1.Know yourself – Know what makes you happy, sad, angry, how often do you need a snack, a break or a pep talk. As a teacher you must be fully present and ready to handle anything that comes up. Knowing yourself allows you to do your best at any given time in the classroom and in everyday life.

2.Be honest – Students have the ability to see right through you. They know if you are being yourself or pretending to be someone you’re not. Whatever you do, be yourself because they will accept you for who you are, and won’t respect you if you’re phony. Isn’t that true for friends and family as well?

3.Nothing is ever personal – So don’t take any comment or action personally because it is not. Have a talk and move on. If students don’t hold a grudge why should you? What for?

4.Don’t take yourself too seriously – Since my second language is English I often mispronounce a word or mix up a colloquial expression. During my first couple of years I felt embarrassed that students would correct me but I learned to listen, laugh it out and practice saying it correctly. It’s brought the “cute” and “funny” to my personality. ;-D

5.Be loyal – To yourself, your students and your colleagues. I’ve witnessed how students might not necessarily agree with their classmate’s attitude or behavior, but they help and protect each other whenever possible. If we don’t support each other (at work, home or community) how are we going to progress?

Who knew? I know I didn’t. Teaching can be the biggest learning experience one could ever have.

A Few Ideas on Comprehension Strategies

Last week at the FLENJ Spring Conference, I met a young colleague who asked me how did I introduce a reading in Spanish.  After a brief conversation I promised I would post a couple of ideas.  

I previously shared my thoughts on teaching reading strategies in the post “What?! I can’t read Spanish!!”.  In the beginning of the school year I like to have a lesson devoted to the teaching of reading strategies.  Then, I reinforce the material every time I’m focusing on the interpretive task as a lesson objective. 

Below are some ideas:

  • For each interpretive task I ask the students to primarily focus on: source type, images/illustrations, cognates/familiar phrases, structure elements, background knowledge and context. Although they might be using more strategies to derive meaning I like to reinforce the ones taught in the beginning of the year.
  • Periodically students complete an Interpretive Reading Warm Up for a magazine article of their choice. Then, they write a summary in English stating facts and the main idea.
  • For books, the Interpretive Reading Warm Up can be completed as a class exercise using the front and back cover of the book.  Then, the students can complete an interpretive reading task created specifically for the reading, individually.
  • Books can also be divided into sections and be assigned to groups of students.  After each group completes an interpretive task for their assigned section, the students switch groups and share their part of the story.
  • Recently, I created a Video-Interpretive Task which is a modified version of the reading one. The concept is the same and it can be used as a graphic organizer when students are watching a video for the first time. After watching the video a second time (in the target language with no captions), students are ready to answer more specific questions about the information presented.

In my experience, by creating a routine in using the graphic organizers mentioned above I’m able to reinforce the strategies and promote independent learning.  My goal is for students to be able to  understand an authentic text outside the classroom, on their own.  Instead of  giving them a vocabulary list in advance (for example) I encourage them to gather their own vocabulary as they scan the reading, by recognizing cognates and learned phrases. The same is the case with the other strategies.

It’s not easy at first as students may resist by arguing that they “can’t read Spanish!” but with patience, structure and repetition we both (students and myself) feel successful at the end.

For a PPT on strategies, templates and rubrics copy and paste the following link:



Keep Calm and Parle Français

In the twelve years that I’ve been teaching Spanish I’ve often considered learning a new language. I thought it would be good to have the student’s perspective and gain new insight into what strategies work best.

The challenge in deciding which one to choose has been how much practice, realistically, I would get outside the classroom. In addition, I didn’t want to learn a language ‘just because’, becoming proficient is a primary goal.

Although, French was the first runner up, I still found Greek quite interesting and attractive, [like most Greek gentlemen 😉 ], Italian very similar to Spanish which could make learning it easier, and Chinese (language and culture) fascinating.

So how did I make up my mind? It’s simple…I was given a classroom to share with a French teacher. My colleague’s passion and love for French culture is contagious. Spending my prep time in the classroom grading papers while he taught made me accustomed to the sounds of it. All of a sudden it didn’t seem foreign anymore. It became real and attainable. So I got a notebook, and started taking notes and following along just like another student.

The experience has been an eye opener as a teacher. So far I’ve learned that:

– It’s ok when a student repeats EVERY SINGLE WORD I say when I’m teaching. I find myself sounding like a broken record doing the same as I listen to my colleague.

– Certain words just stick to you more than others. Like ‘croquant’ and ‘délicieux’. So I manage to use them in every sentence I say. To my Spanish students that happens with ‘sacapuntas’ (sharpener), reason why they ask to sharpen their pencil a dozen times during class and sing loud improvised raps about sharpening their pencils in Spanish.

– A significant part of the learning process at the novice level is comprehension. If there’s no comprehension it’s hard to produce outcome (speaking and writing). And although using the strategies that I teach help, it can be a tedious process. No wonder why my teenage students are not always crazy about working on a reading. Note to self: keep them short!!

-Knowing other languages really helps you in the learning process. It’s amazing how the brain functions. I instinctively make connections to both Spanish and English in trying to make sense of French. I thought since Spanish is my first language it would be my primary source of reference. Yet my thoughts go from one language to the other in a matter of seconds, taking notes in both. Usually something I’ve witnessed with my students who are also fluent in Italian or Portuguese in addition to English.

But most importantly, I’ve learned that learning a new language expands your mind, gives you a broader vision of the world around you, an understanding of cultural differences, and a greater appreciation of your own

So just like the French Club t-shirts mandate in the school that I work at, I will continue to “Keep Calm and Parle Français.”

Au revoir!

Growing Professionally One IPA at a Time

The day was finally here. After over a year of working on the “IPA” workshop I was very happy to be on my way to the conference center in Edison, NJ. But there was a tiny little problem: a major winter storm would hit the tri-state area until Saturday. Thankfully, we were able to conduct the session in its entirety and leave early enough to get home safe. Hopefully, everyone did!

I’m not surprised though. Those who know me know that every time I’m doing something important either rains or snows. So I take it as a good sign. And once more, Mother Nature didn’t disappoint me. We had a great turnout and a productive session.

This time I had the opportunity to work with two very knowledgeable colleagues: Glennysha Jurado-Morán and Jose Pan. Although all three of us are writers for the model curriculum project, we hadn’t worked closely together before.

ImageI think is ironic how collaboration is stressed so much, especially in teaching, yet it always represents a challenge at first; whether one is a teenager or a an adult. The beauty of it, I realize now, is that everyone brings something different to the mix. A different perspective, attitude, strategy, etc…because the truth of the matter is that in a team: Together Everyone Achieves More.

I find the same to be true of IPA’s. Creating Integrated Performance Assessments is not an easy task but collaborating with other teaching professionals not only makes it easier but is a determinant factor in making effective ones. So don’t be afraid of reaching out and asking for feedback and/or teaming up when creating performance assessments. It is through the exchange of ideas, experiences and points of view that we grow not only professionally but personally as well.

Copyright © 2015 Ericka Collado
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