When I learn about a technique or strategy that promises to be more effective than what I’m already doing, I have to give it a try. This was the case with Michael Peto‘s “¡Béisbol!” technique for helping students recognize cognates, and is also true for Alina Filipescu’s “Secret Password” that Bryce Hedstrom has written on in great, GREAT detail here.

In his post on the secret password, Bryce Hedstrom opens with a quote from Frank Smith:

Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift.  Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club–the community of speakers of that language.

What’s interesting to me is that secret passwords and handshakes are actually meant as exclusionary devices. They are specifically designed to leave people out. But in this case, exclusion leads to inclusion.

By using the secret password, all the members of the class become members of the club, while students not taking my classes are outside the club. They’re already outside the club though because nobody would expect them to understand any Spanish my students speak in other classes, in the locker bays or in the cafeteria. There is no additive exclusionary feeling for not knowing the secret password. They’re not effected.

But the positive effect of having all members of my classes being in the club is huge for building community. I even have kids leave their science or math class on a bathroom pass just to come knock on my door to see if the password works for other class periods!

This week I’m making an experiment. Over the last 5 weeks all classes have had the same password. This week I’ve presented a different password to each class. I’ve just used my rejoinder posters as passwords. I’m using these:

¡No vale la pena! / It ain’t worth it!

Quizás / Perhaps

¡No es justo! / That’s not fair!

¡Qué chido! / Cool!

¡Olvídalo! / Forget about it!

I want to see if having different passwords creates an exclusionary effect with other classes. Will they be competitive? Will they keep the secret or share it? Will kids from other classes get bathroom passes and try to come into Spanish class when it’s not their hour just to see if they can break the secret password? My own feeling is that it will strengthen the bond of the students in the same classes. I’ll let you know.

The Secret Password: Can Exclusion Lead to Inclusion?

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