Season 4, Episode 3: Building Community with Claudia Elliott

Welcome to Inspired Proficiency and thank you for joining us for season 4, episode 3. As always, please tweet any takeaways and inspirations to #inspiredproficiency.

Download the episode here or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts here or find it wherever you listen to podcasts! 

Today’s episode is about community building with Claudia Elliot. Based on episode 2 this season, Ashley has started to try something new related to homework. Last season she had an episode with a homework panel and Ashley started to think about homework in a different way. Speaking with Rhonda Higgins inspired her to work with students and co-create the grading rubric for any homework to push students to take more ownership of their learning. She started by showing students a TED Talk by Lýdia Machová. It talked about how polyglots learn languages and they all acquire them differently. These learners found effective methods, made a plan to use those methods in daily life, and were patient. Every student in Ashley’s class chooses one thing for 15 minutes a week to increase their proficiency. They send Ashley homework evidence once a month and will make new plans at the beginning of the next semester.


Mi fotoClaudia Elliot is from Colombia but lives now in Florida for the past 15 years. Teaching is her second career and she was originally a lawyer who practiced for 11 years. Her husband was a teacher and asked for his help one day that the Spanish teacher had left the school. She doesn’t know why she said yes but she fell in love with this new career and has been doing it ever since. She teaches some IB and AP courses as well as Spanish 1. 

She enjoys teaching comprehensibly for many reasons. These classrooms can be very organic and very unpredictable. Building a community allows learners to feel less afraid and scared while they are learning something new and potentially overwhelming. She believes that you need a strong community in EVERY class but especially in a language class built on communication. This community is very important to show students that they will make mistakes but the community will always be there to support them. This encourages risk taking. Some people perceive these classes as teacher centered when a teacher is constantly providing input to the students. This communication and relationship is student centered and the students are the topics and what build the community and the topics. 

A caring environment builds empathy and drives communication to push yourself through until someone can understand the message you’re trying to convey. Their undivided attention will be better lent to the teacher when they feel comfortable and welcome in their classroom community. Students will feel cared for. When teachers can model confidence that students need then it’s really great for students to know it’s OK to not know something or find the answer together. A teacher can model learning and growing for students to improve the trust in the community and the proper ways to find out how to say unknown words. 

Teachers also need to know that they don’t NEED to what someone else is doing in their classrooms. Social media, podcasts, conferences, etc… are all resources for teachers to learn and NOT mimic exactly what they’ve seen. They need to do what works for them in their classrooms and make it work for their students in their classrooms and schools.

How can we build strong communities?

  • Discovery process
    • Elena discovered CI (Comprehensible Input)
      • Teaching this way shows students that you REALLY care about them because they drive the curriculum and become the curriculum
  • Become intentional about building community
    • Much more powerful CI (“on steroids”)

**When the students become the curriculum, they buy in to the class and build a strong community of learners.**

We need to get to know our students! Students get to know the teacher!
  • Special Person Interviews created by Bryce Hedstrom
    • Learn a lot about students
    • They feel so important
    • They love being interviewed
    • Discover talents and special interests
  • Picture talk
    • Something in the teachers life
    • Spouses, children, larger family gatherings
    • Culture of the teacher
  • Picture talk/ Clip Chat
    • Students share their pictures or videos (appropriately)
      • Clothing
      • Tons of possibilities
  • Clip Chat
    • Share events from teachers’ life especially if you have a different culture to share with students
  • Calendar Talk
    • Weather
    • Date
    • Students daily lives and upcoming events
    • Tina Hargaden has many videos modelling this
    • Highlight their events they’re excited about and then ask them how it went the next week
      • Soccer games, etc..
      • Students lives are full of events to discuss
      • Start a class newsletter or newspaper to share all this information
  • Goals
    • Share your own personal goals if you feel comfortable
    • Check in with students with their own goals
    • They want to know the progress of your goals
    • Be a great role model of setting and achieving goals and working towards big goals
  • Story telling
    • Make students the characters in the story
  • Classroom Management
    • Jon Cowart’s idea
    • Allowing some time to use English (or their first language) for kids to ask questions and express frustrations so they’re not always FORCED to be speaking the Target Language and stressing out
  • Card Talks
    • Students have a card (paper, card, cardstock, digital) and draw favorite thing
    • Students showcase their favorite WHATEVER and then teacher helps provide the language they need to say this is their favorite thing
    • Look at the cards “Oh, class, Johnny likes ice cream. Who else likes ice cream?” and it bonds the class together
  • Story asking/ Illustrating
    • Teacher and class co-create a story
    • Some students illustrate these stories or the characters
    • Mike Peto suggests publishing them as class materials for students to read
    • Published stories from Claudia’s classroom
  • Survey students
    • Information for the teacher to use to learn more about each student
    • Can use the info to engage learners in class in case they were too shy to community with their words
    • Empowers students to feel known and seen in class by the teacher by including them in any way possible


We as teachers:

  • Need to meet students where they are at
    • They may have forgotten things after years of study and that’s OK
  • Can’t expect students to remember everything
    • Being disappointed doesn’t build a positive relationship
    • Claudia allows retakes so students can have many opportunities to improve and retain more information
  • Need to reflect on our teaching and student learning
    • Does everything the students do need to be perfect?
    • Can they communicate with errors and mistakes and still pass the AP or the IB or the WHATEVER exam?
    • Are they even paying attention to all the feedback we’re giving them?
  • Need to think about sharing what we do well to help other teachers
    • Claudia learned so much from many mentioned presenters and Ashley and her summer webinars
    • Thank you to those teachers who share!


Final tips for building the classroom community!

  • Always be positive
    • Don’t take student behavior personally
      • Ask what is happening? Why are you acting like this? Build the relationship!
    • Listen to what they’re saying
      • They might have A LOT going on that you don’t know about
    • Breathe before getting upset 
    • Try to remain calm
  • Continue growing and learning as a teacher


Game Segment with Sarah Breckley:

Ghost from Ultimate Camp Resource

  • Quiet, simmer down kind of brain break
  • Goal: to notice that there is a ghost behind them OR as a ghost, to ghost someone without their knowledge
  • Students gather around the room
    • 3-4 students are the ghosts
  • Ghosts wander around and stand quietly close to classmates for10 seconds
    • Project a clock so students know how long
    • Ghosts say something to students
      • I’ve been watching you!
      • You need to pay attention!
      • You never listen!
      • She lived a good life!
  • When ghosted, students have to sit down!
  • If they think there’s a ghost behind them students say certain phrases
    • Is there a ghost behind me?
    • Do I hear something behind me?
    • Heavy breather alert!
    • I feel a presence behind me!
    • Ghosts are bad
    • Ghosts are scary
  • If students guess there’s a ghost correctly, they become a ghost too!
  • Wrong guesses, they’re out
  • Make it cultural and instead of ghosts make them people in history
    • Diego Velazquez, is that you?
    • Frida Kahlo, I don’t have your monkey.

Resources and links mentioned on the show:

Inspired Proficiency Homework Panel Episode season 2 episode 7

TED Talk by Lýdia Machová

Special Person Interviews created by Bryce Hedstrom

Calendar Talk examples with Tina Hargaden

Jon Cowart and classroom management

Mike Peto and publishing classroom stories

Claudia’s Facebook group: Growing with CI

Ultimate Camp Resource


Claudia Elliot on Twitter @SraElliott1

Game Segment with Sarah Breckley on Twitter @SarahBreckley


Season sponsorship brought to you by:

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Episode sponsors:

  • Comprehensible Midwest Conference from 9/27/19-9/29/19 SOON!