Micromanaging the Class (Part 3): The Results

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my final exam projects. The gist of that post was that I was giving up micromanaging the kids’ writing. They would write on their own and they would edit on their own. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

The assignment

For their final exam, I assigned students in 6th and 7th grade to make a brochure for an incoming student to our school. In it, they had to describe their schedule and also write an autobiography. These two topics – school and describing themselves – were ones that we have come back to throughout the year in stories, PQA conversations, and reading assignments.

The language they needed to use to complete the assignment is language that they have worked to acquire over several years of TPRS stories and reading assignments (two days a week). As such, the task wouldn’t be perceived as difficult because it’s using language the students already have in their heads. In the 8th grade final, as I mentioned in the previous post, the students had too much freedom-the assignment didn’t reflect the language they had worked to acquire and as such they ran into problems in composing their stories, making sure the language was accurate, and being able to understand what they had written when they had finished.

(Side note: that was a real wake-up call for me–They wrote their stories and then couldn’t understand what they had written because they used translators and dictionaries rather than acquired language. It was after that realization that I decided to be sure that the students’ assignments reflect the language they have worked towards acquiring)

How they self-edited

I had 2 main goals in having the students edit their own work:

  1. I wanted to give the students the chance to reflect on their work and use their own knowledge (with guidance) to correct what they wrote
  2. I didn’t want to correct and (basically) rewrite 125 writing assignments.

After the students finished writing their rough drafts, they had to edit them. As I said in the last few posts about micromanaging, my plan was to give them an assignment that would actually show what they were able to do using the language that we have used throughout the year.

For their first draft, I handed them their assignment that had all of the details I wanted them to include (name, age, city and state where they live, etc) and let them write. They had a word limit that they had to surpass and I sat back and answered questions when needed.

For the second draft, I posted a list of tips and things to look for on the board. I had them make sure their verbs were in the first person (through our use of TPRS stories, they have become more comfortable with using the 3rd person to describe others and I wanted them to make sure they weren’t falling back on old habits based on older things they have acquired); I had them make sure they used the correct vocabulary; I had them check their adjective agreement. I had them work on their own to edit and then rewrite their own work.

Why they self-edited

The goal of self-editing was to give them more autonomy over their language. Rather than be the micromanaging dictator of what they could write, I tried to become a coach, giving pointers and helping them with specific questions. Unfortunately, some of my students have been held back from their true potential by my micromanagement. These high-flying students were more than happy to take on the challenge of autonomy and not ask for help. Others needed more help and I was happy to give it. Ultimately, based on the students’ engagement in the work and the results (mostly As and Bs), they were happy to be challenged a little bit more.

Final Results

Was it successful? No one failed! Even students who ventured out beyond what we have done in class (in terms of vocabulary) found success in their writing. This is how it should be always. Challenging students to use the language they have acquired (and use it on their own without micromanagement from me) boosted their engagement and their confidence.

Moving forward, my plan is to continue to give my students more autonomy. My plan for next year is to incorporate novels and current events content that keeps things fresh. I want the students to ride this success farther along the proficiency path. They’ve had a taste of what they can do when they’re left to their own devices with a task that has the right amount of rigor and is appropriate for their level.


Resonse to Laura Sexton: What Kind of Teacher Are You?

One of my blogging heroes, Laura Sexton (@SraSpanglish), has put out a challenge on her blog, pblinthetl.com. She has a list of 10 sentence prompts that she has used to reflect on her teaching up to now. I never miss an opportunity to reflect on my teaching, so as soon as I saw this, my mind went into overdrive mode trying to think of responses to all the questions. Here they are and I hope that they provide you with something to think about.


1. I am a good teacher because … I am not very good at all, but I recognize it and I am always trying to improve.
I’m not good because I am good at what I do, in fact, I’m only just getting started, so by definition, I am not good at this yet. If I had to pick a reason that I’m good at teaching, it’s that I reflect on my teaching practice and I recognize where I need to improve. But that’s not all; I recognize my faults, yes, but I also seek out help from other teachers at my school, from members of my twitter pln, basically from anyone I can get to help me. I attend conferences when I can, I participate in #langchat conversations, I ask other teachers in my PLN when I have questions about strategies or activities. I’m good because I’m not very good and I have learned how to find and use the tools that are available to get better.

2. If I weren’t a teacher I would be … I honestly don’t know.
I can’t think of anything that I like better than teaching. I like writing, but I don’t think I’m good enough to get paid for it. I am a part time social media manager, which has been super cool, but would I want to make a full time career out of it? I don’t know. It’s possible, but I would really miss the classroom interaction. If I had to choose, it would definitely be something where I work with other people and where I get to do a lot of on the spot problem solving and where I get to laugh a lot. I don’t know what kind of job that would be, but I’m sure there’s something…Hopefully I won’t have to ever try to find out.

3. My teaching style is … Fun, silly, and boisterous
My philosophy on language teaching is that if it’s not fun, why do it? I love to have fun in the class and I love to make the class as fun and engaging for the kids as possible. It looks silly and crazy , but just because I wear silly ties, use silly props, and mess my hair up in a story for effect does not mean that I don’t know exactly what I am doing.

There has been a balancing act that I have finally figured out after 5 years of teaching and 1 year of tprs/CI teaching. I used to have too much fun and the kids’ learning suffered because they learned that they could get me off track by joking around. Now, I try not to tolerate as much joking around. The switch to CI has helped, because the curriculum is a lot less rigid (more opportunities to include silliness in the TL) and because the kids (mostly) can channel their silliness into the stories and they have a productive TL outlet for it.

4. My classroom is … Not mine.
I travel now. I used to have a classroom and a 6th grade home room in addition to teaching all the kids in the school from k-8. When give up the homeroom, I gave up the room. I spent a year sharing it with a homeroom teacher who was also the pe coach, which was ok, but I had trouble giving up my space. There were many…let’s call them territorial disputes…that made last year difficult. This year, the admin changed the schedule and my classroom became a room for Spanish and a homeroom and 6th and 7th grade math, so I travel now because the room is occupied by others most of the time. I only teach 2 grades, 6&7, in that room and I travel to everyone else. It has been a challenge in its own way because I feel like I’m invading other people’s space, but for me, it’s been liberating because I get to go all over the school and I have no worries about classroom politics. I have a closet space in my old homeroom and I can log into the school computer system from any desktop station, so I can get work done wherever I can find space. When I first heard that I was not going to be in that room, I was super angry about it, but after 7 months, I’ve come to see it as a blessing in disguise.

5. My lesson plans are … short, sweet, and likely to change.
I don’t do a lot of daily lesson planning in advance. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that I don’t have time to plan at home because of my many hats (being a dad is the biggest one, but there is also blogger, tweeter, and social media manager). The other reason is that the plans are soooooo susceptible to change. By that, I mean that I don’t know where a story is going to go. I know that one day I will be doing a class story based on an original one I write and on other days I will be using embedded readings and doing volleyball reading, team translating, drawing/writing summaries, retells, and/or original stories based on the readings. Finally, I have pared down my required materials for each level. TPRS has allowed me not to have to use textbooks, which is liberating. On most days, I am the most minimal teacher. I don’t need anything other than markers/chalk/smart board pen, my ppt presentations saved on the school’s faculty server (which can be accessed from any teacher’s account, so the teachers whose rooms I use don’t even have to logout of their stations and I don’t have to remember my USB drives), and my grade book for attendance and behavior plan purposes. I sometimes need to have copies and I always carry around blank copy paper for activities and writing assignments for kids who don’t have paper. Otherwise, I just need me. (That being said, I do have extensive unit plans that state all the materials I’ll need, the activities I plan to do, the skeletons of the stories I plan to tell, the types of assessments I plan to use, and the vocab and grammar I intend to cover)

6. One of my teaching goals is … To be better at assessing both proficiency and progress.
I have a gut feeling about each kid and I know how they talk and how they write, but there is not much evidence of what I see in class. This year has been dedicated to figuring out how to implement CI teaching methods, next year will be figuring out how to properly assess what the kids can really do.

7. The toughest part of teaching is … Seeing kids only a few times per week.
I can handle bad attitudes and I can handle disrespect in the classroom (hint: it is almost always something else in the kid’s life that is manifesting itself as disrespect towards the teacher, in other words, it’s not you, it’s the kid). I can handle the pressures of teaching all the kids and I can handle being on the bottom of the teacher totem pole (it helps that the kids seem to like me more than their regular teachers 😉 ). All this is easy or it’s something that I have learned to deal with. If there is one really tough thing about my job as a teacher, it’s that I don’t see them for enough instructional time. I wish I could see them more. I have gone into the principal’s office at the end of every year to ask for more time with any or all of the kids. I tech all the kids, but the biggest problem I run into is the fact that once an individual group starts to get something, I have to move on to another room and I won’t see them again for a week. It can be frustrating how slow their acquisition goes. That being said, they are doing a million times better than with legacy/traditional methods I used to use.

8. The thing I love most about teaching is … Being with students.
I don’t like working by myself and I have never liked being in a cubicle. I taught a university level online Spanish course for a number of semesters and it was definitely not for me. I feed off of social interaction. I love the spontaneity and the improvisation that occurs in a classroom. The kids can be so creative and they have the ability to surprise me all the time. I have gotten hooked on that sense of surprise. I never know what exactly to expect and it is thrilling. I also love the complex challenges that teaching provides: Something that I have planned for days or weeks doesn’t work; what do I do? Can I salvage the lesson and turn it into something useful? Or should I give up on it and try something different? These are the challenges that I live for as an educator.

9. A common misconception about teaching [Spanish] is … That because I have a lot of fun in the classroom I am not serious about what I do.
I talked a bit about this above and I will elaborate here: I am dead serious about what I do. I can’t stress enough how important I think it is for students to be exposed to other languages and cultures. I come from a pretty homogenous school population (mostly white, mostly non Hispanic, mostly well off). They have no idea what the world outside teh ‘burbs is really like. It’s my job to open that world to them a little bit, to give them a glimpse of the world beyond their back yards.
I have fun in class. I get silly. I get the kids to get silly. But it’s all for a purpose. I’m not just a clown who needs to entertain and be entertained. If the language acquisition research showed that grammar-translation or other grammar-heavy teaching methods were the best way to acquire a language, then that’s what I’d do. But the research doesn’t show that. It shows that students need a lot of comprehensible and compelling input. At this age level, that input comes in the form of stories and keeping the stories silly help the kids to remember them and to attend to them. It’s that simple.

10.The most important thing I’ve learned since I started teaching is … How to be an adult.
Kids have problems outside school that affect their moods. These things manifest themselves as outbursts, disrespectful comments, and/or bad attitude. Kids also have their own personalities that might clash with mine. They just plain might not like me. This is ok. They don’t have to like me. It’s not a popularity contest. I hope that they like me, but it’s not necessary for them to learn. That being said, the most important thing that I have learned since I started teaching is to not let bad attitudes get to me. I have learned to address these issues in ways that talk about what is happening with the kids rather than in an angry way. I have learned to not get into battles/arguments/debates with kids. I have no interest in these kinds of conflicts, I just want to figure out the problem, solve it, and get back to teaching.

I hope that this post can provide some help and some insight to those of you out there going through the same type of curriculum transition that I am going through. Please write your own response and post it in the comments here or on Laura Sexton’s blog pblinthetl.com!