Learning, Moving and Taking Chances

This year I have really encouraged our staff to share and collaborate more on projects, lessons, and success stories. Using Google Apps for Education has certainly helped. Writing and sharing publicly can be a bit nerve racking the first couple times you hit publish. You really do open yourself up to criticism, but you also create a wonderful opportunity to learn. Clay Tocheff is the lone foreign language teacher at Centerburg High School. He shared a success story with me in the hallway a few days ago where he took a chance. I asked him to put something in writing so we could share it with the world. I hope you see his excitement and passion come through in his success story.

The other day I found myself in a state of frustration as I couldn’t understand why my students weren’t remembering a certain set of vocabulary that I had given them.  They had been studying these words long enough that the words should have started to sink in, but I wasn’t seeing the desired progress.  I tend to take this personally because I consider myself to be a good teacher.  So, if students aren’t learning, I need to admit that my design may be flawed.  I knew that a different approach was necessary.
           I remembered a conversation I had with a fellow Spanish teacher about a foreign language teachintake a chanceg style known as Total Physical Response(TPR).  I hadn’t worked a lot with it yet, but I decided it was worth a shot.  The basic principle of TPR is that assigning a movement to a term will help the student remember the meaning.  This kinesthetic process allows the right brain to be apart of the learning experience.  Later, the left brain comes in to figure out the nuts and bolts of grammar structure and verb conjugation.  This isn’t rocket science, nor is it a progressive outlook on language acquisition.  After all, when we are learning our native language, we learn to respond in movement before we can verbalize the words.  Why would it be any different as one learns a second language?
           The following day I did an exercise where I would say a verb and do a motion to correspond.  The class, then, would repeat the word and motion.  For example, the verb jugar means to play a sport/game, so I said “jugar” as I pantomimed taking a fade-away jump shot.  All of the kids did the same.  I worked through the vocabulary list, and by the end of the

class each student was able to do the motion and say the correct verb along with it without looking at their list. Even more surprising, the next day they were able to duplicate it without my saying the verb first.  I was also pleased to see kids smiling and laughing as they learned.  I knew I had succeeded when one of my students who normally struggles was walking down the hallway with a friend and he took that fade-away shot and yelled “jugar”.
           As I previously said, I didn’t do anything overly innovative.  I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel or do something extravagant.  I simply assigned meaning to movement.  The most important part of the process was accepting that I needed a fresh approach.  I am proud to be a teacher, and I love when kids learn.  After

all, learning is moving(pun intended).

I think it is important to note that the strategy Clay used may not have been his biggest accomplishment. Recognizing that he needed to do something different was huge. Openly admitting that his old strategy was not working takes guts. I want our staff to feel that it is ok to take a chance

and try a new strategy when the old way may not be providing the desired results. Just as the sign on my door states…

Everybody should take at least one chance.


  1. John Wink said:

    Enjoyed the read. Thanks for sharing. I think it is difficult but doable to start a culture of published sharing. On our campus, I have a weekly email and in the email, I have a section called iLearn. Sometimes I share my thoughts and other times, I invite staff to submit a strategy that it working in their class. The response initially was difficult, but now more staff proudly share great ideas. It all starts with the culture that is provided by the leader. He or she must promote a risk rich and low threat environment so that all staff feel comfortable in making contributions.

    Thank you again for sharing.

    February 23, 2013
  2. Jim Cordery said:

    Thanks for sharing. I have recently reached that level of frustration with one of my classes. I am rethinking my techniques for this class. It is great that the teacher felt comfortable to try something out of the ordinary.
    Thanks again for sharing.
    Jim Cordery

    February 24, 2013
  3. Stephen Alexander said:

    Thanks for sharing! I am a student at The University Of South Alabama in a course called edm310. I am going to school to become a teacher. This story really speaks to me, I travel to Guatemala twice a year and when I first started going I didn’t know how to speak a bit of Spanish. I learned what to say and when to say it through movement also. I think its a great way to get kids involved and moving around during the learning process.
    Thank you for sharing once again.
    Stephen Alexander

    February 25, 2013

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