Building Confidence in Teens Through Hispanic Poetry and Music

I’ve been teaching a class. It’s called Hispanic Poetry and Music. It’s “Language Lite” as I described it earlier to a special education teacher who placed an 8th grader in it who had never had Spanish before because they have significant learning disabilities.

Except it works in a confidence- building, artistic-expression, motivational kind of way.

I make it fun.

We take part in a music video competition. We say a poem to start class each day. We play games that involve peers and circles and laughter and real joy. Also games that are online and kid oriented.

I give gum or mints for motivation with speaking. Kids who are miserable and don’t have intrinsic motivation to be “nerdy” and speak in Spanish will be polite, and make an effort or take a leap to speak when rewarded with treats. Alternatively they will all-out resist doing ANYTHING without the reward.

I guess they need a little push.

We had our final day of class Friday. Their projects were varied and many of them, wonderful.

Two students sang songs. Four danced. Two recited poems from memory. Many did black out poems or shape poems. Only one fell through the cracks and did NOTHING despite my best effort. Wait- I take that back, he danced with his friend in front of the class spontaneously. But project wise? Zero. And a few comments like, “I don’t care, it’s only Spanish.” To which I responded by embarrassingly guilt-tripping him for bashing the content area I’d devoted my professional career to. I don’t know that it had any impact.

It was crazy, chaotic, and tiring.

But it was something.

And the positives outweighed the negatives.

Teaching is crazy these days. Some kids have wild behavior. And we don’t have leverage to change the behavior. Parents don’t always back you up. Administrators are overwhelmed themselves. We are not encouraged to apply negative consequences for behaviors that are out of line- rather to reward kids when they do follow the rules. And you can’t convince a kid who doesn’t see the value of your course to work harder or start caring all of the sudden. They have reasons for how they act and often those reasons are not something you can overturn easily.

You have to figure out how to work with them in the system you have.

But I digress.

Hispanic Poetry and Music. Some kids think it sounds boring. But they just haven’t played enough with language. We do tongue twisters. I model singing aloud. We do modern pop music and one or two traditional songs. And it’s a valuable course for teaching the following:

🎵memorizing happens when you revisit something consistently over time so it gets easier with repetition

🎵it’s okay to not speak perfectly, in fact it’s brave, because it means you’re trying something challenging

🎵there is a larger world out there and the music from other cultures is varied and awesome

🎵there’s a difference between the quality of the song and the quality of the music video

🎵poems come in many shapes, rhythms, and emotions

🎵ANYONE can learn another language. (after all, you learned your first one, right?)

🎵when translating, it’s not a one-to-one word correspondence. You have to look at things like overall meaning, symbolism, rhythm, and staying true to the author’s style. This means flexibility is needed when learning languages and communicating in general.

Long story short, by the end of this class the students have gone on a journey. They’ve gone from lacking confidence to knowing some poems and choruses in another language. They have a kind of secret code with their classmates that only they understand. They have created some beautiful, artistic projects and also discussed critical themes like friendship, identity, fitting in, and values.

Several years ago I had one student describe this class as “therapy” because we would start with a question like, “What factors shape your identity?” or “What do you learn from your friends?”

I’m not pretending these kids can hold a conversation after taking 15 day of my Hispanic Poetry and Music class. But some can sing some Spanish songs. Others can look at their projects with pride. All should at least have learned about styles of music and perhaps found a song they liked from another culture. A few even took a leap and performed in front of their peers. That is quite memorable.

Afterall, isn’t life really just music and poetry?

Please share your experiences. What was your favorite class in school? Teachers, what is your favorite class to teach? Let me know!

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