Saturday, August 2, 2014

NTPRS: Popular music in the classroom--but first, a word about Lisa

I'm awesomely grateful that I was able to come to this conference. The last one I attended was in 2006, and it was in Vermont that I first meant Lisa Reyes.  She was assisting Karen Rowan with the conference, and she was wonderful.  The year after, she took over the duties herself, and this was her last year. She has retired and is going to Haiti to work with students there.

Karen and Lisa are a great combination. Karen is a force of nature. She is a genius--I'm sure of it. Some of the best ideas in the TPRS world have come from her--most notably coaching (and I think, but I'm not positive, that she came up with the idea of language classes that became Fluency Fast). She has brainstorms, and they can by scary amazing. At the same time, she is a person who genuinely cares about you. She sees your professional need--knows it intuitively--and actively seeks a way to meet it. And all she asks in return is your affirmation of her. She's quite simply amazing.

Lisa, on the other hand, is understated. She is calm and present and beautiful. She is there for you, there to make your conference successful and happy. She cares. She works tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that the conference goes off without a hitch, it's largely because of her that it seems to go effortlessly.  She does everything she can to make sure that everyone has everything she needs, and she is available for you. That's the most important thing in the world--someone who realizes you need help and makes sure you get it. She has a group of people helping her, and together they are the glue that hold the conference together.

Example--at the beginning of the conference, we were told that all our needs would be meant--there would even be chocolate! I can't really eat chocolate, but I had occasion to go past the hospitality desk (don't know if that's what they called it, but it's what it was). The first time I went by, there was a big bowl of chocolate.  The second time, the big bowl had been supplemented by a smaller ball of sugar-free chocolate. Later, I noticed Starbursts for our friends who don't like chocolate. Still later, gluten-free snacks.  I was impressed--once again, everyone's needs were being met.  Believe me, if you're a teacher at a language conference, you need a sugary treat from time to time! Lisa cares about your personal needs.

Well, back to the class. Once again, you can find the presentation handout at

Popular music is the easiest way I know to involve your students in Spanish. It's music, and music, is inherently repetitious. It helps listening comprehension and rate, and the students like it. If you find music they like, they'll download it themselves, thus insuring countless reps.

The important thing is to find music that they like. Not you--they. You might be a big fan of mariachi or ranchero--they won't be, not yet. You can find good Spanish popular music by going online and searching popular Spanish music on Pandora. Pandora is an easy way to find new songs, because it is a genome tracker. You give them the name of a popular singer--say Shakira, for example--or a song and it will give you unlimited songs in that same style. That way, you can find a variety of singers and songs that your students will probably like. If you don't want to go that route, Lisa and Bryant helpfully give you a list on their handout. Like I said, she knows what you need and tries to make sure you get it :).

Most of us realize the value of music, but not everyone has a plan to put music into the teaching week.  Lisa and Bryant do it differently, but they both do it as bellringers.  It's a great way to start the day--you can take attendance and do any morning prep you need in the two-five minutes that the students are listening to the song.  There are instructions on the handout, and I'm going to let you read them rather than putting them here for you.  Instead, I'm going to take a few minutes and tell you how I do it (hey, it is my blog, after all :) ).

I teach at Salpointe, where Joe Neilson teaches. Joe is fabulous, and so I was surprised that he doesn't use music. He was not sure that music was a good use of time until one of his students asked if he could use words from songs I'd taught him as part of a writing prompt. Joe was amazed at the amount that he'd remembered from just listening to a song for one week.  He gave me some pointers on how to best use my time, and that's how I teach songs today.

I start music on the first block day of school. Our school has three regular days and two block days, so we see our students four days a week.  If you don't have block, just pick a day. On that first day, I start with teaching them the song. If the song is more than 2-3 minutes long, you can split it in half. Lisa suggests only translating the parts that you want them responsible for, but I do it differently. First I read the song in Spanish, and I tell them (in Spanish) to underline certain phrases as I read them. Those are the phrases that will be on the test. Then I translate the entire song, but I tell them they only need to write the translation for the underlined words. For the rest of the week, the students are expected to take out their songsheets and follow along. I play the song twice--the first time they listen, and the second time they sing or speak the lyrics.  I explain to them that the first time is for comprehension and reading and the second is to increase their rate. Most of them are willing to sing or speak; they really do want to speak faster and better.

After a week, I quiz the song. Lisa has some great ideas for this on the handout, as well as exercises during the week.  I quiz them by having them complete a CLOZE exercise. I play the song twice, and then I say it once. That gives them a really good chance to hear the words. I tell them that spelling doesn't count--unless their misspelling becomes an entirely different word. Later in the year (2nd year), I also hold them accountable for accents, but only if the accent makes it a different word (esta vs está, for example).  In the second part of the quiz, I give them five sentences and put their target vocabulary in a word bank. They fit the right word into the right sentence.

I really enjoy using music. One thing that both Bryant and I have discovered is that your students will bring you your best music. Remember I said not to use mariachi or your favorite music? You actually can do that, but later in the year, after you've got them hooked. The exception to this rule is if your student brings in something. This happened to me last year. My student and her boyfriend love to listen to M.C. Magic. It was a great connection--he is from Nogales, Mexico, which is about an hour away from Tucson. But the music--it was a very different style. But I introduced it with the proviso that they were to listen respectfully, since this was a classmate's suggestion. Here is the song: Todos mis días.  As the video started (I always introduce the song by reading, then translation, then showing the video. The first time they actually hear the song, it's accompanied by the video).  Well, I heard a few snickers, quickly covered up. But once they got used to the admittedly strange sound of Magic and his vocorder, it quickly became a favorite. By the way, if your students are bugging you for a rap, this is a good one. It's quite slow.

If you haven't tried music in your classroom, what are you waiting for? You can use traditional music, too, of course. There's always room for Cielito lindo and Allá en el rancho grande. But if you want the kids hooked--make it popular!

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