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Recognizing Teacher Appreciation Week – Monday, May 5, 2014

Tiana RelafordPhoto of students and staff



What do you do to engage your students? What makes your classroom unique?

I love to create a Spanish atmosphere with posters, d├ęcor, flags and souvenirs from trips to recreate that feeling of being immersed.
Designing a lesson to engage students consistently throughout our time together appeals to students as well. Acknowledging the various learning styles ensures the lesson appeals to everyone, and having different activities keeps the lesson from being dull.

The pace of the lesson also keeps students engaged. I move through activities pretty quickly, but vocabulary that is used in the first activity will be repeated in the second and third activity. So students have more than one way to learn the vocabulary. They may learn it while we do flashcards together, while we read a conversation together, or they may pick it up while we play LOTO (BINGO) together. Including so much variety within the lesson keeps students involved in something new. If the pace moves along, then students have a variety of ways to acquire vocabulary.

photo of teacher

"Starting a unit with a focus on speaking and listening skills builds a confident communicator," says Middle School Spanish teacher Tiana Relaford.

How are you responding to the Common Core shifts?

We have done a lot of reading in my 6th grade culture class about the Spanish culture. We started with Mexico and Central America, then we covered South America, and now we are working with a unit on Spain. Throughout all of these regions and countries there are so many things to learn about. We have read about the Panama Canal and its current expansion. We have learned about several holidays, read about Barcelona’s incredible soccer team, and  read about so many foods. Reading news articles about current issues and writing about Spanish culture has been the focus, and students have truly gained knowledge about many aspects of the Spanish culture. There is so much on the internet to enhance our readings and to bring to life the topics we are studying. This course has been a true exploration of the Spanish culture. Understanding other cultures and how to use technology to enhance exploration is part of the Common Core goals—and we are doing it here in culture class. Every day we read, write, discuss, and listen to the varied aspects of the Spanish culture!

 Why do you think it's important to teach the way you do?

It’s always amazing to hear students come back from their trips talking about how much they understood. They are able to read menus and catalogs and street signs. They recognize authentic foods that we have talked about in class. The topics we cover in class are topics that we use when we talk about in our everyday lives—the course is very relevant to their everyday life.

It’s surprising how many of our students travel abroad and use what they have learned in class at this age. Not everyone gets to go abroad. I have a lot of students come to class and talk about going to Spanish restaurants in the area. Class time can get lively when students chat about what they liked and when they compare foods at different restaurants. Students don’t have to go abroad to see what they have learned in class come to life.

 What do you feel is the most exciting thing about teaching?

I love creating materials to excite and draw in students. Creating materials to show off the Spanish culture catches students’ attention and generates great discussion. In our current chapter on going to a restaurant, we looked at several menus for actual restaurants in Spain and Mexico together. Students saw so much vocabulary that we have studied in class being applied to real life menus. A few menus were really detailed, students were able to see the foods and the prices were listed in euros or pesos. We talked about the currency converters and how we would certainly download that app if we were traveling abroad!

Traveling to Spain with students a few years ago was so incredible. When I work with students at the middle school level they dream of being a high-schooler and going on the trips. Traveling with them as high school students is fun—their excitement to go abroad has not worn off—they are so excited to be in the places we have read about.

 What singular lesson plan, activity, assignment or experiment do you return to year after year because of its "spark" factor with you and/or your students?

When 7th graders enter my class on the first day of school, I always take attendance and get started with our first unit—cognates. Cognates are words in Spanish that look and sound like words in English. We study sports, foods, types of music, and classes that are all cognates. Students learn the phrases ‘I like’, ‘I like it a little’, and ‘I don’t like’ and we talk about how we feel about these things. They come in psyched to speak Spanish and I don’t want to squash that at all! It’s a unit that immediately gets students using Spanish. Students love being able to go home after the first day of school being able to speak some Spanish. Starting a unit with a focus on speaking and listening skills builds a confident communicator.

 Tell us a little more about yourself.

This is my 15th year at GFMS. At the beginning I didn’t have a classroom and I worked in an office with Bob Rizzo and Anne Zilch. We worked together for so long in that office and now we are all in the same wonderful wing together. My career started here 15 years ago and so much change has happened. When I began teaching, I calculated grades for each student with a calculator. Now our computer-based eSchool takes attendance, maintains my gradebook, and parents can see how their students are doing—technology truly makes school user friendly for teachers and for students.

When I graduated from high school a friend and I went to Mexico for two weeks. We studied at a great school in Cuernavaca and lived with a family. That was my first time being immersed in Spanish culture and I loved that trip! The classes were taught in Spanish and we were encouraged to speak entirely in Spanish. In high school I knew that I wanted to travel and speak Spanish.