He traveled almost 17 hours, crossed the Atlantic and landed here, 5,000 miles away from his hometown Tocina-Los Rosales, near Sevilla, in Spain. Two years later, this social media and technology “nerd” –as he proudly calls himself–, is ‘cooking’ pizza, making 1000 paper cranes and using his storytelling ‘powers’ with his “champions” every day at Ninfa Laurenzo Early Childhood Center. Meet Mr. Francisco Usero Gonzalez, a Pre-K bilingual teacher.
Mr. Usero, why did you decide to become a teacher? I always had a love for teaching and had the dream of becoming a teacher. Professionally speaking, I became a teacher quite late in my career, at the age of 27. Previously, I worked in tourism for ten years; however my real passion was set on teaching. So when the Visiting Teaching Program between Spain and U.S. was a reality I knew I had to be part of it. This is now my second year as a bilingual Prekindergarten Teacher and I really like Houston and would like to spend more time, professionally speaking, in this amazing city.
I am definitely happy doing what I love to do because I know that education is a social service. We not only teach concepts and follow guidelines or objectives; we promote great values such as respect, care, and friendship. We lead lives and spark children’s likes and interests.
How do you set up the classroom environment to promote that spark you mention in your kids while also promoting biliteracy and oral language development? Everything I do for my students is based on their demonstrated needs. I like to promote a calm atmosphere in my classroom where students feel confident when they speak and interact with one another. I always try to give them various opportunities to communicate in the way they feel most comfortable within their peers. One example of this, is by starting with a story and then inventing a song to repeat what they have learned and, later, make home connections so that the students can relate to what has just been presented. This is a prime example as to why I enjoy using the outdoor learning area for this activity.
To promote literacy and lead my students to participate and communicate with others in a respectful and proper manner, I use my learned skills and strategies as a storyteller. Storytelling is an important multilingual and multicultural resource for the development of communicative skills in Early Childhood Education because it develops active learning especially in a bilingual classroom.
Storytelling has become a daily activity in my classroom since it promotes multisensory skills which, in turn, lead students to enjoy reading and literacy in general. In a similar way, it allows students to express themselves freely, without judgment, and develops positive reading habits, as well as, communicates a message to different learners giving wide opportunities for everyone to learn.
To promote biliteracy and oral language development, I provide opportunities for my students to become classroom leaders. For example, during the morning circle time, they are able to lead the class calendar activities and create the news. During workstations, students work in pairs and small groups. Students are encouraged to take leadership roles and help each other stay on task to complete the center activities.
Please share with us anecdotes that have made a positive impression on students… I could mention so many, but lately we have been learning about healthy habits of eating and gardening. We collected lettuce and other veggies and then we pretended to cook a pizza and ‘tortillas’ with those ingredients. They really liked it!
Piano with color-coding method is a good way to introduce this incredible instrument. Students like this center and every project we can play one song. I remember when the nurse came for the first time to my classroom and she asked: is this the music room? The mom-volunteers answered her rapidly saying no, Mr Usero and children like music. They like music in all its forms: playing, listening and dancing.
Yoga, TaiChi, and Mindfulness activities are impressive with my students since they can self-regulate and balance themselves. They can manage their own emotions, and even they can help others.
But the best one is when we were working about our multisensory project with the storytelling of “The Big Turnip” and one question was asked by one of my students: “How are herding dogs trained?” After having a short reading activity and a video, I set a “circuit” in the outdoor learning area. It was surprising the way students understood every activity, followed all the instructions, helped each other, and respected their turns without any kind of advice.
Considering that in Kindergarten teachers really begin looking at TELPAS implementation, in order to prepare Prekindergarten students for Kindergarten, please describe how you promote in your lessons and/or workstations, listening, speaking, reading, and writing? Children need all senses to learn and acquire a language. They have to be given opportunities that fit their possibilities of growth and progress. One important aspect that I make sure to implement is to adapt everything to their level so that all students are given an opportunity to learn at their pace, and for what is developmentally appropriate for their age level.
Connections are a huge aspect when I plan my lessons. I make sure to refer to myself at that age and place myself in the student’s shoes to create a meaningful lesson that they can relate to. In the community in which I work, many children are faced with daily hardships that not all can relate to, therefore I use the classroom environment as a safe haven for my students. I like to promote an environment in which the children feel safe and are given many opportunities to learn. I am by no means the perfect teacher, but I try my best to promote lesson that they will like and are geared towards their interests. Therefore, my workstations revolve around the concept of scaffolding and significant learning.
How can you reach every student at their individual level and help push them to the next level? All of my classroom centers provide opportunities for students to read and write. Students tell stories and dramatize them, based on the Rice Storytelling program. This method allows them to develop their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills.
Happiness is the base of everything we do, it is our aim. In our community, I know that the conditions of many children are really far from this happy ideal, which is why I want to provide it to them, at least, make them see that learning is fun and they are safe here at school. And sometimes, these children need something extra… something that speaks to them and encourages them to want to learn.
What are some researched-based strategies that you use in teaching and making lessons engaging for students to master PK Guidelines? I have studied a lot about learning and acquiring foreign languages, especially in early education. Many teachers, principals and administrators participate and contribute by sharing their great ideas that I can adapt to my classroom and kids. I adapt because I am aware of the community where my students and their families live and their characteristics are so different and diverse. With that being said:
- Total Physical Response: a method that I like to use with my students. I like the way I am able to check comprehension by movement and action. At early stages, action and movement are key concepts for their development and learning, it is scientifically proved, since neurons increase their connections with movement.
- Talking-time and Silent Period: it is very important for them to have opportunities to talk but, at the same time, they need to be not pressed. We, as teachers, must understand that every student has their own process of learning.
- Montessori Approach: a good method to learn how to be autonomous and independent.
- Bloom’s Taxonomy: is one of my favorites to use. Being creative needs a process and time, practice the thinking levels and work on them. In this way I explain clearly what to do, checking understanding, and let them collaborate with other students.
- Doman: another important strategy for me since his method is really good for implementing early stimulation in learning and skills, reading, and other cognitive issues.
What does a regular teaching day look for you, Mr. Usero?Every morning, before starting instruction I play music and invite the students to dance once they finish writing their names. This amusement encourages them to participate, to retake the relationships with their classmates, and communicate their feelings.
We then move forward to the morning message, where my higher level students are in charge of the calendar and other morning routines. It is interesting to see how the students encourage each other to participate and help within this time period.
Throughout the day I make sure to capture moments in which the students are engaged so that the parents can see what their children do throughout the day. That is why I use social media such as twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to communicate with parents.
Technology creates a bridge of communication and understanding between school and families. Indeed, many volunteers want to participate on our school activities like garden, peace project, healthy habits, and recycling, among many other projects, because they are motivated as well. Children who see their parents involved in their academic lives improve their results academically.
What are your future plans with your students? Provide my “campeones y compeonas” with possibilities to enhance their learning and improve their communication skills, the basis of social relationships and respect. If someone knows how to express him/herself in a positive way to others, he/she will be successful in life. This is why we will continue with our worldwide peace project “1000 paper cranes challenge” in which many schools, from other countries are able to participate.
Follow him on social media and view more pictures and videos: Facebook: Maestro Usero, twitter: @MrUser0, Pinterest: Maestro Usero, Instagram: mrusero, Youtube: Maestro Usero and keep up with his a new blog http://great-e-learning.blogspot.com/.