Summer Planning and Getting Back in the Game

An unexpected hiatus

Burned out, Over it, Exhausted, Fried, Run down

These are all phrases I can use to describe the last 2.5 months of school. I was ready to be done with the year in April, which is bad, because the year was over on June 1. I didn’t blog because all I had were negative things to say. I know that I would stop following a “woe-is-me” type blog from a burned out teacher, so I decided to just take a break.

And I’m glad I did, because, after a week and a half at home, I’m already anxious to get back into the game. I went back and re-read my posts from the last year. I really posted a lot less this past school year than the year before. I am not too happy about that. This blog is a place to post my reflections, ideas, and share what has been successful in the classroom. The reason I didn’t post was that I didn’t feel as inspired as I had in the last year. I felt like I made it past the honeymoon period of TPRS and have started to plateau.

Engaging students and myself next year

Now comes the hard part: How to keep students (and myself) engaged. I have storytelling pretty much down. The kids like the stories, especially in the lower grades, but the older ones are hungry for more. They need a new story template and new types of activities to keep them engaged.

This summer is the time for finding the solution. I have been reading up on Laura Sexton’s pblinthetl blog and am going to try some of her ideas:

Vocabulary blogs

 

Since the 8th grade is now a byod class, I am anxious to get them using their devices to personalize their learning. I learned about the idea of student-created word walls, but those are not very practical for me because I teach 3rd – 8th grade in the same room which I also share with another teacher. There just isn’t enough wall space for all the classes to have that for all of the classes.

An idea for those younger grades would be to have class wikis for word walls (have students suggest words or I can take a picture of the words we end up writing on the board) and post them to our class websites.

Interactive notebooks

 

Interactive notebooks are something that I have played with before, but it wasn’t very successful. First off, it was way too much work for me to collect and grade, which is because I implemented it in 4 grades at the same time. It was a bit of a disaster. This year, though, will be better. I am keeping it simple and straight-forward and I am rolling it out slowly, just like the byod activities that I talked about above.

Finally, assigning homework (or finally assigning homework)

With 2 days per week of instruction time, I decided that chasing students for uncompleted homework assignments wasn’t worth it. While this did free up my time and keep lots of 0s out of my gradebook (allowing grades to better reflect the students’ abilities), it hasn’t quite sat right with me. I want the students to interact with the language outside of school, but I don’t want to give worksheet and I don’t want to have to chase them down for it. Then, I found this 5 year old post from my Blackbox Buddy Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell at musicuentos. I will have some ideas on how to hold the students accountable for getting this work done and I will post them as soon as they are more fleshed out.

These are just a few ideas that I have encountered that are going to dovetail nicely with my own teaching style. I will be describing more as I find them and will be adding my own contributions as well.

Thank you to all the bloggers and great thinkers out there in the World Language Ed-Blogging world. Your work serves as an inspiration and I hope that I may rejoin your ranks soon!

Seeing With New Eyes

As a language teacher who sees the students in class every day, I find that it is so easy to take for granted the everyday language that students know and are able to use. My students are able to say a lot of things about themselves, they are able to ask this information about others, and they are able to understand a lot of topics that they aren’t ready to talk about yet. And on a regular day, I would say to myself, “well of course they do, but they can’t do XYZ.” I tend to focus on what they can’t do rather than what they can. This is a theme that I find myself coming back to again and again in my reflections on teaching:

Sometimes, it takes a different perspective to see just how significant the students’ progress really is.

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Encouraging Student Interactions in Class

Since I attended the SCOLT conference, I have begun to implement a lot of new ideas into my daily teaching. Some of these things are a bit outside the TPRS mainstream, but I think that even if it isn’t “TPRS approved,” there can still be value. Specifically, I am talking about “forcing” student output.

I am on a journey with my students and I am learning as much as they are as we go through the year. Just like most of my students with their Spanish proficiency, my TPRS proficiency began at novice low. Just like my students, I have made major gains in my proficiency, but I felt I was reaching a plateau. I have felt stuck, not knowing how to get the students to the level above just acquisition. How do I get them to synthesize that newly acquired knowledge and use it in original interpersonal interactions?

Most of what I have read and researched about TPRS is about students at the beginning of their language journey-they shouldn’t need to produce at the very beginning, but what about the students who have had a lot of input and are eager to start speaking? As I move along my own Spanish teaching proficiency scale, I am finding that I have to do the same kinds of things that the students have to do to progress: take chances (they use dictionaries and other tools to move beyond what we are doing in class; I use ideas from all over the language teaching spectrum to make sure that they get CI and also the opportunity to express themselves), make mistakes (everyone in here experiments and gets things wrong, but that doesn’t stop us from trying again), and get messy (linguistically 😉 ).

01-frizzle (Thanks for the advice Ms. Frizzle!)

source

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Looking back to move forwards

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I used to do a lot of different things in my teaching past. I didn’t just use worksheets and grammar (I did for middle school, because that’s what I thought they needed). In the lower grade levels, I did a lot of varied and interesting activities with the kids that I pretty much stopped doing when I started TPRS. I have found that after 1.5 years of only stories and timed writings (and games, for when we’re low on time) in the classroom, the kids are in search of something different. Because of the CI they get from our stories, they have never been able to do more with the language, so I decided to look back at the activities that I have done in the past to see how well they fit into our CI Classroom.

Turns out that many of them (some with a bit of editing and creative updates) will help the students to develop their proficiency in all of the modes of communication.

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Assessing Proficiency and Providing Feedback

SCOLT is definitely my favorite new conference. It is like ACTFL, but I can find my way around and recognize people. Take ACTFL and take away 5000 people and you have SCOLT: All the same kinds of presenters (Including me!) and ideas being promoted, but in a way that is more manageable.

For me, SCOLT was all about proficiency:

  • How do I get the students from one proficiency level to another (for me, mostly novice to intermediate)
  • How do I assess proficiency
  • How can I quickly and effectively give feedback?

I didn’t know that going in, but it was definitely a theme that I followed around the sessions of the conference. I will spend the next few posts discussing these things and how they will be implemented in my own classroom framework.

How do I move students from one proficiency level to the next?

I went to a workshop given by Paul Sandrock (@psandrock), who is a former president of ACTFL and currently the ACTFL Director of Education. It was all about getting students from performance to proficiency and how to get novices to reach up into the their next proficiency level. I didn’t have the vocabulary or expertise on the proficiency levels to really use them to describe my students or to figure out how to use them. I didn’t have a good working understanding of what they are, so how could I use them?

But now I do.

Novice level is all about memorized language. Novices are parrots, repeating what they hear. As Paul Sandrock and Thomas Sauer both stated: “Novices are full of answers waiting for the right questions.”

Intermediates, on the other hand, are peeking out from behind the memorized language wall. In the intermediate low level, they are using the memorized language that they have internalized and are beginning to creating with it. Additionally, they are not just reacting anymore, but asking their own questions.

So the question becomes: How do I get the students from novice into intermediate? How do I get the students to create with language and how can I get them to keep conversations going by asking more questions?

Answer: Always be looking at the next level. By that, I mean to keep an eye on the ACTFL Can-Do Statements. Once they can reach the novice benchmarks, start planning on how to get them to the next. Give the novice level students lots of input and phrases that they would use as intermediates—question words, transition words, phrases like “I agree,” “I disagree,” “How is it possible that…,” etc. Basically, give them the phrases to start internalizing the strategies you will be teaching them to move beyond the parrot stage.

Remember that Novice learners can’t really interact with each other because they can only react to input from an interlocutor, they can’t really produce original language. That’s why if we give them the strategies and phrases to begin to talk to others on their own, we can foster more student-student interactions and get them to move beyond the novice level.

What would this look like in my TPRS classes?

So all my TPRS friends out there are reading what I wrote above about getting the students to speak (aka forcing output) and are probably spitting coffee all over their computer screens. The whole idea of TPRS is to get students to proficiency in the most natural way possible: Input until the kids start producing. I am all for this, but at the same time, I feel like my students are ready to begin their output journey. They have had a lot of CI in the last year and a half and are anxious to get the language from their heads to their mouths. I also find it to be beneficial to get students comfortable with being in the uncomfortable position of speaking to others in the target language.

I know that focusing on output in the classroom will not lead to true proficiency. I get that. I understand that performance and proficiency are not the same thing. At the same time, I learned at the conference that things learned for use in performance activities (output activities with strict parameters and lots of support posted around the room) can become internalized in the same way that input can be.

In the realm of writing, we do timed writings and retells to assess our students in TPRS classes. I am thinking of applying my new deeper knowledge of proficiency levels to direct how I assess this output. I am not going to take off points for the grammatical rules that students break. I will draw students’ attention to their errors and help them to correct them. I will help them to get to the next level in their output all while telling stories and circling and doing movietalks and all of the other activities that I have learned how to do as a teacher in the TPRS world. So don’t think I’m abandoning my beloved TPRS to go to back to another type of teaching from the past. I will continue to be forward thinking and focusing on acquisition and proficiency.

Assessing students’ proficiency

Another thing I learned (or that I inferred, you could say) from the conference is that my assessment tools are really lacking. With the kind of assessment I am doing now, it is very difficult to let the kids know what they can do to improve. Enter Thomas Sauer (@tmsaue1) and Bethanie Drew (@lovemysummer). Both of them presented on how to use rubrics and provide feedback to students in a positive way that emphasizes their movement along the proficiency continuum.

At Thomas Sauer’s presentation, I learned about using rubrics and about what makes rubrics useful. Firstly, no number ranges! There is no reason that rubrics can’t use the proficiency levels as the criteria. This lets the kids know exactly where they are on the proficiency continuum for each assessment. They will know that on such and such interpretive assignment, they are at Intermediate Low and on such and such interpersonal assignment, they are at Novice Mid. This becomes positive for the students because they can see the requirements for the next proficiency level. Rather than seeing that they lost points for only including 3 verbs instead of 5 (which they already know because they did the assignment), they can see where their proficiency is and the exact kinds of things that they need to be doing to move to the next level.

These levels can be tied to letter grades, but Mr. Sauer was reluctant to endorse that, even while saying that it may be a necessity in some places. Even though it isn’t ideal, it is much more valid than the, “I can understand what you wrote, you get an A” style of grading that I have been using (for lack of a better alternative) since I started using TPRS.

This leads into the other thing I learned about rubrics and proficiency in general: Kids will be all over the place depending on the kind of mode they are using. Someone may show high proficiency in presentational mode (because of the ability to revise and practice the presentation) and show low proficiency in interpersonal mode (because they are nervous in 1 on 1 conversations with others). The only way to know where they are is to use these rubrics consistently.

Providing Feedback

Bethanie Drew’s presentation on “Fortifying with Feedback” was great because it helped me to see how I can do what she calls compassionate assessment. The idea is that we focus on the strengths of the students’ work, rather than marking up their papers with red ink. We can focus on what was good, then give them concrete ideas on what they can work on to do an even better job next time. instead of saying, “You did A, B, and C wrong,” we can say something more compassionate, like, “I like A, so keep that up. To do a better job on B, why not try ___, ___, and ___?”

SCOLT was so inspiring and there is so much to unpack (both physically from my suitcase and metaphorically from all the great sessions I attended). I will be working on that for a while, now that I am back in the classroom and able to throw more ideas into my teaching repertoire.

As always, thank you to all of you out there who share your ideas through conferences and blogs and tweets!

SCOLT 2016 Presentation: The Switch from Traditional to CI Methods

This was my first SCOLT Conference and it was my very first time presenting at a conference. It was super exciting! I met a whole bunch of my langchat friends who live in the Southern Region of the US. As a conference, it was just big enough to get a lot of perspectives from a lot of different places and just small enough to keep bumping into presenters and people who I wanted to interact with. The ACTFL conference is always filled with great presentations, but it is so enormous that it’s hard to connect with people. SCOLT, on the other hand, was the best conference experience I’ve had so far. Their conference next year is in my back yard: Orlando, FL. I hope to see you there!

This year’s SCOLT will also have a special place in my heart and mind because it was the first time I presented. My presentation was:

The Switch: Shifting from a Grammar-Based to a CI Curriculum 

SCOLT2016logo

If you weren’t able to attend and are interested, click the link for an adapted transcript of the presentation:

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Creating Characters

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In the TPRS classroom, it’s easy to get lots of repetitions in the 3rd person. My kids can describe the details of another person pretty well:

“El chico es alto.”

“La chica tiene 17 años.”

“Chris está triste.”

“Mi amigo está feliz.”

But when I ask them about themselves, they generally respond in one of 3 ways:

  1. Respond in Spanglish – “I am feliz”
  2. Use the 3rd person verbs that they have acquired – “yo está feliz”
  3. Look at me like I’m from Mars – “are you talking to me? Oh gosh, what do I do? Ahhh!!!”

So what to do? How can I get them to start talking about themselves accurately?

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Thank you

Wow, my last post about when lessons fall flat (link to post) has really taken off more than I expected. I have had more traffic to the site in the last week than I had in all of May, June, and July combined!

I would like to thank everyone who retweeted and liked and shared and commented. Thank you for your support and acknowledgement. I know that it can be hard for everyone, but the outpouring of love and supportive comments to other teachers who are having trouble has been really beautiful.

I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas surprise! (unless you have tickets for Star Wars this weekend…that would be cool, too)

Falling Flat on Your Face

A lot of bloggers who write about using TPRS or any other CI method talk a lot about how great it is and how engaged the students are and how much more the students are able to do with the language with these methods. They make it sound easy and wonderful and like anyone can do it and there is no challenge to it; once you decide to do it, your teaching life will be perfect. And in a way, all of that is completely true. It is easier for me now than it was when I taught grammar and used only the textbook; it is definitely more fun; and my teaching life has definitely improved.

CI methods have made a huge impact on the learning of my students in the last year and a half. But the one thing that I don’t see very much in other teachers’ blog posts is what they do when they fail spectacularly. We all do it, it’s the nature of being a human being trying to teach 25-35 other little human beings. Sometimes, the things we do will fall completely flat.

Let’s face it: As positive as we are in the world of language teacher blogging, sometimes, a lesson just doesn’t work.

I had this very experience yesterday when my 8th grade lesson fell completely flat. But one of the best things about teaching is that I was able to come back in today and approach it from a new angle. It went far better today.

The Grump Factor

When a class comes in grim and grumpy, my gut instinct is to reflect that grumpy energy and get mad at them for not paying attention or for calling out. I have learned through experience that even though it’s my first gut reaction, it is the single worst reaction to have. It does nothing but get them grumpier, which makes me grumpier, and we end up getting into a sort of grump-spiral and the class devolves from there and everyone leaves with bad feelings. It has happened more days than I care to admit and those are the days that I want to quit. I don’t know if other teachers have those days, but I’m not afraid to say that I do.

I’m not afraid to admit it because after enough of them, I started thinking about my reactions rather than the students’ behavior. “Could I be enhancing the bad feelings and making my day worse for myself? Is it really more my fault than theirs? Am I to blame for adding to the bad attitude in the room?” I’d ask myself. And the answer is, “YES!” They are children, I am the adult, and is it my responsibility to not lose my cool when kids act like grumpy kids. Of course, this realization made me feel terrible because it’s always hard to figure out that something you were blaming on someone else is really your fault. But after reflecting on it and thinking what I could do, I came up with some ideas for what to do when I start to fall on my face and I’d like to share them with you now:

What to remember when lessons fall flat… Continue reading

5 Things to Remember in Early Elementary FL Classes

Hi everyone, it’s been a while. I have been away from the blog for a little while starting with the rush to get trimester 1 grades in and then getting ready for Thanksgiving and all the things in between. This is the craziest part of the year (until the last few days, that is) and it feels like everything was getting away from me. But now I’m back on track and ready to write again.

And I have something to write about.

I recently received a comment from a reader asking for tips with K-3 storytelling and to be perfectly honest, that is the level that I struggle with the most. I have the least amount of experience teaching them and the least amount of time with them per week. So I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting and throwing ideas and methods against the wall to see what sticks.

Here’s what I have learned so far:

  1. Each group is different, we can’t just have one plan for all the groups at the same grade level

The individual differences of the kids’ personalities are so much more pronounced in the early grades, probably because they don’t have the ability to contain all their thoughts and emotions like older kids can. When they get older, they can reel in some of their habits that aren’t conducive to the learning environment, but early on, those habits are all out there for you to see.

This makes it difficult sometimes to plan for one grade. One group of first graders might be loud and wild, another might be quiet and unwilling to participate, another might be right in the middle. I have found that for some classes, I can get away with having activities where they sit still the whole 30 minutes, but others need to be up and moving. The biggest challenge has been figuring out how to get the same content in to the same grade level in different ways.

  1. For the most part, they want to be active

Especially the youngest ones-they want to be up and moving around. They love and really respond to TPR activities and to songs that have dances that go with them. And when songs don’t have dances, you can make up your own moves that will help them to get moving and focused. Remember that the goal is for them to be internalizing language. They won’t be producing much (if anything) in Kindergarten and 1st grade, so it’s ok for them to just listen and participate (especially if you only have a very short amount of time)

  1. The students can sit still and be quiet, but they need to have something in front of them 

This is why I used to rely on coloring sheets. They were “under control” when they had something in front of them and I didn’t have to constantly keep them on task. Some teachers and bloggers are against using coloring sheets in language classes at this level, but I think that they can be useful, if you are using them thoughtfully.

There are benefits to having the kids sitting quietly and focusing on something. There is only one benchmark every activity needs to reach: Does it help the students acquire? Are they getting good input in the TL?

If it is just a plain jane coloring sheet that you give them to do as busy work, then it’s probably not going to help them acquire much. If, on the other hand, you can have them working on something that forces them to listen to and comprehend the TL, then they will be acquiring the TL. It may seem difficult, but with a little thought and experimentation, you can adapt any activity to make it input-rich.

For example, I had great success with a reading and coloring activity that we did in class: I broke up the TPRS story that they heard in class into 6 boxes and they had to read it with me and then draw a picture of what was in each box. I read it with them and drew with them for the first two boxes so they understood what to do and then I just read to them and they drew their own pictures for the last 4 boxes. It worked really well—they were engaged, reading, and showing comprehension through drawing.

  1. The students might not seem to be paying attention, but they’re acquiring, so don’t stop talking in the TL

Sometimes the kids who seem like they are focusing the least are picking up the language right in front of you but you can’t see it. All of the sudden, one day a student who has been interrupting and disrupting class will start talking in the TL. It has happened to me several times and each time I’m still amazed. Even though it seemed like the student wasn’t interested at all, they heard everything I said and understood it and processed it and eventually acquired it.

Speak in the TL as much as possible and always have faith that it’s getting through to them. They will pick up a lot more than it seems.

  1. We can’t linger too long on one activity, no matter how compelling, interesting, or “good” it is

The activity needs to constantly change—I need to stay ahead of their attention spans and keep them hooked. They will get bored otherwise. And bored students are disruptive students.

This is why doing all the different songs at the beginning works well – they get to sing each song and then take a quick break, then sing another and do completely different actions (first song-“Buenos días”-has hand motions, cómo estás has faces to make, and then the students get out of their seats for linguacafé-style conversations)

In the past, after singing songs I would expect the students to be able to sit in their seats and quietly listen and participate for 25 minutes. I had great stories and great question and answer activities, but they took a really long time. I don’t know why I expected the kids to sit through it, though. Everything I have seen in my experience as a Spanish teacher has told me otherwise. If you look at what I just wrote above and think about why the songs work so well and keep the students so engaged, you’ll see that it is precisely because they have to keep moving and doing different things. Instead of just doing a chunk of activity at one time, I instead have started to keep the action going throughout the classroom by sprinkling in brain breaks and activities that get the kids up and moving.

The only requirement is for them to listening to and comprehending the language, so why can’t that be done while they are standing? Or dancing? Or jumping? Or spinning?

Sample Plan

Here’s a sample lesson plan (not the whole thing, just the list of activities that I will do in the 30 minutes) to give you an idea of what I have found to work in the youngest grades. Remember: the idea is to keep them peppy, moving, and loud (sure their grade-level teachers might not like that, but if you want them to acquire, they have to be engaged)!

I hope that this helps and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know!

Introduction activities – 4-6 minutes

  • TPR actions (stand up, sit down, jump up and down, breathe in, breathe out—I add some funny sound effects to this part, spin around, repeat nonsense words, etc)
    • These actions get them up and moving and get their blood flowing and get them into the mood for listening to and responding to the TL
  • Songs – with words and actions
    • Standard “Buenos días” song (to the tune of Frere Jacques) and I invented some hand motions (waving, shrugging, thumbs up, etc)
    • “Cómo Estás” adapted from a Basho and Friends video I found on Youtube called Cómo estás?
  • Conversations to get them out of their chairs and talking with their friends in the TL
    • (como estas and answers that they practiced for a few months with the song mentioned above)

Vocabulary review – 5-8 minutes

  • Back to the seats and stand up for TPR actions for adjective review (tall/short, fast/slow, etc)

Reading/Storytelling – 8-10 minutes

  • Then students sit in their morning meeting spots for story time – then we read “Perro grande…Perro pequeño” translated from the PD Eastman book
    • Lots of story-asking throughout the book
    • Editing the text of the book as I read it to make it more comprehensible
    • “Getting it wrong!”

Review story – 5-10 minutes

  • Students draw pictures of their favorite scenes
  • Or
  • Students tell the story to a partner in English
  • Or
  • Students draw a comic strip of the story (more for the older students)

Ending “Sponge” Activities (a term one of my professors taught me about the activities used to “soak up” the extra time in class and keep it all in the TL) – 3-4 minutes

  • If time after reading, students will play a game (veo veo or simon says – something to keep their brains working in Spanish and their production level low so that they don’t feel any pressure to produce until they are ready)