A Recalibration: Finding the Positive Hidden in the Negative

1000 Days

1000 days ago (1001, to be exact) I wrote a post about having fun in the classroom. I wrote another one (about 870 days ago) about variety and avoiding boredom in the classroom. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of these things. I got bored and I started being the kind of teacher I always told myself I’d never be: unadaptable, stuck in my ways, unwilling and unable to see that what I was doing wasn’t working, and refusing to try something new. I committed 2 of the biggest teacher sins: losing sight of why I’m even teaching and blaming the students for not being successful.

It’s hard to say that out loud.

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So You’re Thinking of Presenting At A Conference

I have a colleague and very good friend who asked me about my presentation at the SCOLT conference in Orlando (see this post). Her main question was, “How did you get to do that?” It’s a question I have gotten from lots of people since my first time presenting last year (see this post).

Attending and/or presenting at a conference is a great experience for any teacher at any point in their career. I have made friends and met colleagues that I would not have otherwise met. I have also met people I have only spoken with online through #langchat or other social media. When I met Laura, Keith, and Megan, I was completely star-struck. But the thing is, they’re normal people who want to be the best teachers they can be. Just like the rest of us. So come out to a conference and see what it’s like, then try and submit a proposal. The worst thing that could happen is they’ll say no. Last year, ACTFL rejected a proposal for a presentation. It was not very nice to feel the rejection, but at the same time, now I know what I need to do differently to maybe present there next year.

So What To Do?

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A long hiatus…

It’s been a while. It’s been time to decompress, time to focus on the art of teaching, time away from the hustle and bustle of all this language teacher blogging stuff. The irony, of course, is that I took a bunch of time away from the blog and from #langchat right after writing a post about starting a blog.

I still think you should start a blog, btw.

Personally, I needed time away. I was feeling uninspired and burned out. It happens to everyone from time to time. I feel like maybe I have written that phrase too many times on this blog, but it happens a lot. Don’t let anyone tell you they don’t get burned out, because they do. Everyone deals with it differently and that’s ok. Some people jump deeper into what they’re doing. Some people change what they’re doing and start from scratch again. And apparently, when I get burned out, I turn it all off and walk away.

But now I’m back and ready to share. What’s bringing me back is my SCOLT 2017 presentation. I will be talking about what to do when you move away from the textbook. Think of it like the sequel to what I spoke about last year.

I’m back in the game and ready to get back into the swing of it all. Seeing old friends at the conference like Laura and Fran (and meeting some people I feel like I’ve known for years but have never actually met in person, like Megan and Keith), and meeting new people with different perspectives and ideas has reinvigorated and inspired me. Seeing presentations from people whose work I have followed and admired for years is so encouraging. Thank you to all who are presenting or who have presented and keep inspiring us!

Summer is Coming…And It’s Time For A Tune-Up

Summer is usually a time for re-evaluating the work I’ve done throughout the year. In summers past, I have spent the whole time completely re-working the curriculum based on whatever interesting things I find from the awesome blogs I read and teachers I follow on Twitter. This year, though, will be quite different. Rather than reworking the entire thing, I will be working on small parts. The main style of instruction and the things that I will be presenting in the coming year are not going to change very much, if at all, but there are individual parts that need tweaking. Unlike in past years, I will not be throwing away everything I have. I will not be starting again from scratch. It’s a good feeling.

Tuning the Engine (aka Curriculum) Instead of Rebuilding It

The only thing that will be getting a major overhaul is assessment. I’ll spend the summer looking at what worked from the year and what didn’t. There was a lot lacking this year, if I’m totally honest, in the way that I assessed the students’ proficiency. I know that they can write and I know that they can do all right in a very basic conversation, but I’ll be using the time off in the summer to find ways to really figure out what the kids are able to do with their language. 

My goals for the summer are to figure out the best ways to incorporate proficiency assessment. I have the Can-Do Statements and Standards and everything else I will need to build better rubrics and informal assessments. I need to have more than just a gut-feeling about where the students are. I plan to know very well where they are. If I had to break down the students by proficiency level, I’d say, broadly:

  • Novice-probably about 65% of the students
  • Intermediate-Probably about 30% of the students
  • Advanced-around 5% of students

But I have no way of really knowing. That’s where proficiency assessment comes in. Hopefully by this time next year, I will have a much better idea of where the students are. This is my goal and I will be working through the summer to figure out the best ways to find out.

Confidence

This has been the year of results. Kids in middle school could sit down and write stories from scratch.  4th and 5th graders were writing bullet point summaries of stories that we read in Spanish. They had never been able to do this before. CI instruction methods are a completely different approach to learning a language (not learning, acquisition). The fact of the matter, though, is that regardless of what the classroom looks like (hectic, chaotic, silly), the kids can speak so much more and understand so much more than they could in past years. It’s kind of staggering. (And I’m not even very good at what I’m doing…I can only imagine what it will be like after a few years more practice!)

There were so many great things about this year, but there are so many ways that they can be even better. These results are confidence-boosters. As they say, success is the best motivator. This year, more than any other, I am feeling very successful.

The Key: Find What Works for You

Maybe all this confidence is getting to my head, but I feel like I can tell you what the key to success and confidence in the classroom is: Find what works for you. If you are having trouble with your curriculum, think about ways to change it. Go to a conference, attend a webinar, chat with us on Thursdays and Saturdays during #langchat on Twitter. This answer seems obvious, like a cop-out, but if you really think about it, usually the simplest answers are the best. That being said, it is a simple answer, but an incredibly hard task. Be open to new things and make sure that you have fun. If we aren’t having fun with our work, why do it? I found TPRS and I have run away with it. It has been a home run for me and my students’ success. It won’t necessarily work for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something out there for everyone.