Success!

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In our first week back from Spring Break my Spanish II class has been working on a unit about watching movies.  I got the ideas from Sra. Drew and this post, and adapted them for my students.

Let me say, before I explain my success and excitement, that I didn’t do the best job on this unit.  I am still VERY MUCH learning how to be a proficiency-based class, and posts like the one I was able to adapt this unit from have been such a tremendous help!  That said, I didn’t read the blog carefully enough, and I missed ALL THE INTRODUCTORY activities.  Next time I teach this (or a similar unit) I know I need to include some ways for students to find the vocab. (at least most of it) from authentic readings like she did, but I honestly have just learned about the importance of this step in the last… well, day or so.  Whoops 🙂

Anyway, I am prefacing my success with errors.  I started on Monday by giving a vocabulary sheet and simply doing PQA with the sheet.  Since there were quite a few cognates and I was able to point to the words/phrases if students needed to it, this went pretty well.  I definitely need to learn more how to facilitate PQA sessions, though, as I feel like I run out of things to ask without getting boring, and this happens pretty quickly.  I only have 16 students this hour, so I am able to ask each student a different question of two, but I feel like I do need to learn to do a better job of this.

So Day 1 (Monday– first day back from Spring Break) consisted of PQA with this vocabulary, and a reading activity (similar to Sra. Drew’s post).  This went quite well and I felt good about it.  At end the hour (I told you, I go pretty quick, unfortunately.  I need to learn to SLOW DOWN), I modeled how to write a few sentences about movies we like, giving examples of a particular movie.  For homework they had to write another mini-paragraph like this on their own.

On Day 2, we practiced writing again in the same manner.  I walked around as they wrote and I was able to give 1-1 feedback to each student as they worked.  I also incorporated pop-up grammar when I saw common errors.  We really tried to push the writing and get more and more detail, which resulted in each student writing two full paragraphs during class.  Towards the end of the hour, we partnered up, switched papers to peer edit (modeled), and each student wrote a response to the paper the read.  Students seemed to feel more confident after this.

Day 3, then, I wanted to see how much they had gotten out of the writing workshop.  Though we had not had a ton of instructional time, I decided to give them a little “quiz.”  Here’s the prompt:

You just started your own blog where you can practice Spanish. Trending in the Blog world right now is the topic of movies.  Many of the blogs you follow have posted what they think about different kinds of movies, so you decide to join in the conversation with what you have to say.  You should write about at least TWO different movies; one you like and one you don’t like.”

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I know that good practice would want me to give more input before assessing, but the writing seemed to go so well in class that I wanted to see where they were at.  The results were AWESOME! For example: photo 1

This was, admittedly, the best response, but each person in the class met my proficiency goal!  Yay!  I was super excited to see how much and how well they wrote.  This class is Spanish II, though not one person in the class had a true Spanish I (before I was hired, this school used Rosetta Stone for about a year and a half, which these guys took in middle school).

We are now working on producing summaries of movies.  I am hopeful these successes continue.  I am at least feeling like a rock star for now 🙂

Choice Boards for Emergency Sub Plan

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One thing that I have NOT been very good at so far is having some materials ready for those “emergency sub days.”  Luckily, I don’t get sick often, so I have not had to get out of bed at 2am with the flu to make plans or anything, but I also understand that I should be prepared.  In scouring TeachersPayTeachers I came across this example of a German teacher’s Choice Board assignment for such situations.   I am a big fan of giving students a choice in what to do, so choice boards are a favorite of mine.  What I like most about this is that it is written to go with any topic of study for extra practice, and the same plan can be left for multiple levels of class (e.g. I, II, MS, etc.)

This evening, then, I made my own, modified, choice board based off of the linked example.  I took off the grammar-specific options, as I try not to teach grammar-specific lessons (at least for the most part).  I also like playing with fonts and shapes, so I had a bit of fun with those things, but didn’t want to put too much that made it distracting.

Choice Board Assignment Sub Plan

I have left this in the form of a Word Document for easy editing, if anyone so chooses.  I made this with a Mac, so my apologies if the format doesn’t quite match with a PC!

Reasons I love the Blogosphere

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I’m sitting here this morning, the last true day of Spring Break (I’m not counting the weekend, as I will actually have to start planning for the school week), drinking coffee while watching HGTV and pouring over the Blog world.  I am in the “home stretch” of year #2 in the classroom, and by all accounts I should be run-down and exhausted.  Let me tell you, a week ago that is EXACTLY how I was feeling!  However, this week I spent a good amount of time pleasure reading (I read or re-read virtually the complete works of John Green because he is my favorite author and has a way of just sucking me into each book so that I can’t put it down), and when I finished pleasure reading I spent a lot of time on Pinterest, TeachersPayTeachers, and the Blog world!  I wasn’t truly planning any concrete lessons, but more just THINKING about the direction I want to take my classes in, both for the rest of this year and into next year.  Since I am the only World Language teacher in my building, I do have the flexibility to try out new things now, knowing that they won’t have to end at a necessarily certain place for next school year.

Specifically on the Blogosphere, I have found a TON of things that I am excited about trying to incorporate in my own way (I’m the kind of girl who never truly follows a recipe without making my own spin on it):

  1. What got me into blogging in the first place, and now back into blogging (though I don’t yet have my own mastermind insights to post) is The Creative Language Class.  Even though I’m kind of late to the game on this one, I am pretty confident in saying that I have read every post (many times literally taking notes!) and looked at every attachment.  I even modified my own curriculum to follow what they have posted showing what they follow.  It made so much SENSE and it makes me feel like I have so much more of a “plan” than what I have been doing.
  2. Martina Bex really made us think about CI/TPRS and the Common Core this week in this post.  Not only was I excited about what she mentioned in this post, but it made me rethink some of my ideas about CI/TPRS.  Obviously, CI is what we always want to strive for in World Language classes, but I have a hard time personally with TPRS.  For me, it is more of a mode of presentation or a single method, rather than an everyday thing.  However, even though I don’t consider myself to be a TPRS or Storytelling teacher, this post made me realize “Hey!  I do a lot of that stuff! Rock on!”
  3. Elizabeth Dentlinger posted an AWESOME Choice Board project for the novel Esperanza by Carol Gaab.  The project can be seen here.  I LOVE how she is actually teaching Bloom’s Taxonomy to her students in the project.  So often, I feel that we as educators use things like Bloom’s Taxonomy, but as a “behind-the-scenes” idea. I really like that the students were learning the Taxonomy ALONG with doing the project.  Even more brilliant, is her organizational project folders.  I’m wondering if I can incorporate these next year as the student’s general in-class folder.   For example, rather than the proposal stapled, could I staple a Unit-by-Unit “I can” overview and student reflection page? (The Creative Language Class gave me this idea, but I can’t find the exact link.  Sorry!)
  4.  A new Blog I discovered and LOVE can be found at Aventuras Nuevas.  The authentic resources that she posted here and here for her (current?) in-class unit really have me inspired to make more handouts that include authres and, honestly, just aesthetically-pleasing visuals!  Her handouts just LOOK fun (both to create and receive!).  My project for this weekend will be to think about what I am teaching next week and try to make a few of my handouts modeled after these.  I can bet my students will be excited by them!  Also, in the first post I linked here, she talks about vocabulary lists, which have been quite the “hot topic” in the virtual teaching debate world.  I love (and completely agree with!) how she explains their use:

Recent #langchat conversations on Twitter have discussed the use of a vocabulary list. For me, a list is like a map of a place you’ve never visited before. Without some guidance from a map, you’d be lost, and it’s hard to get an image of your surroundings if you only can rely on asking others for directions. So a vocab list for my classes is like a tourist’s guide. It has some key places (phrases) that you probably don’t want to miss, as well as some general directions where you might want to go. It also has options so that you can tailor your adventure to your personal preferences.

 

Obviously there are SO many more reasons and resources that I was able to list here; these are mainly just the ones that have truly got my head spinning and engaged right now.  It has been really nice this week just to get EXCITED about what’s happening (and what I hope will happen!) in the classroom! I guess the point of this post is really a giant THANK YOU to those who are constantly sharing great ideas!  You are appreciated, and this teacher is feeling a lot more confident and excited thanks to you all!

Spring Break!

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For me, the week of Spring Break is a very interesting time of the school year.  Though I am feeling completely burnt out and don’t want to even THINK about the small (it really isn’t too bad!) pile of grading that I brought home, I find myself scouring Pinterest, Blogs, and TeachersPayTeachers for ideas to revamp and rejuvenate my classroom.  I am simultaneously thinking ahead to bigger changes for next school year and thinking about what I can do to improve my teaching for the rest of THIS school year, though without making any huge changes that will simply confuse students as far as grading/procedures go.  I am currently both excited and completely overwhelmed… but in a good way!  I love getting so excited about teaching like this, so that once again my job feels like a fun hobby.  (Note:  I think the meanest thing a veteran teacher can ever say to a new teacher is “teaching is so wonderful that it never feels like a ‘job!’ I don’t even call it ‘work’ I call it ‘school!'”  While I can attest that teaching can often feel super fun and exciting, it is MORE OFTEN (especially at first) a LOT of work and stress!  By saying that it shouldn’t feel like work, I think, makes young teachers– at least me– unnecessarily worry that we perhaps chose the wrong career path when we are stressed out!– /end rant)

Anyway, I just wanted a quick post to share how EXCITED I am organizing projects and ideas and games and activities!  I can’t wait to try some of them out next week!  Okay, so I can wait… I really like this sleeping in and relaxing on the couch thing, but you know what I mean! 

Happy Wednesday, all! 

The best intentions

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Above all, my intentions are to be a great teacher.  Not a good teacher, not a mediocre teacher, or even just a favorite teacher.  I want to be a great teacher.  I know that is a lofty goal, but it is my goal nonetheless.  That said, I can honestly say my intentions have been good in everything I try in my classes.   I can also say, again in all honestly, that I have failed miserably in my good intentions more times than not.

I feel that this year has gone very well in teaching English 9.  I don’t mean to imply that every day and every lesson has gone perfectly, but more times than not I feel that I have been a “good” teacher in presenting the lessons that I have taught in both of my sections of English 9.  Surely there are things that I will change when teaching it next year (after all, this is my first year teaching it), but I am overall happy with how this year has gone so far.

Spanish, on the other hand, leaves me constantly feeling like something is missing.  And I can make all the excuses in the world about how I teach 6 different things every day (which, while a truth for my job, still feels like an excuse), but excuses don’t fill the empty space.  What am I missing? The 90% plus of Comprehensible Input.  I feel like a failing teacher because I just don’t do this and I KNOW that I should and that, if I really gave it my all, I could.  I get frustrated with myself and my students who just stare at me blankly when I try.  It’s most frustrating because I AM, in fact, careful to use only words that they know, and I supplement this vocabulary with visual cues.  This makes it hard to know if I am not truly being comprehensible, even though I feel that I am, or if the students are just being lazy in piecing together the language because they know I will eventually have to break down and tell them in English, or they can ask a “more apt” student.  Somewhere I know I am failing, I just don’t know where.

I also know that I should be using the TPRS method, but it is a constant struggle in my teaching.  After having read a recent post by another teacher about the things she loves and hates about TPRS (see http://musicuentos.com/blog/) and I felt like every word spoke to me.  Her “hates” are a lot of what has turned me off of TPRS and what has stood in the way of be being successful (sometimes with even trying to be successful) with the method. 

I guess right now I just keep on keeping on and try to continue reading as much as I can to try to do what I know I need to do in the class. This must be what they mean when they talk about it being a “process.”  All I know is that I long for the day that I can post awesome lesson plans and stories that have worked for me to help build the professional learning community.  Right now, I feel that I am just the mooch of the language teachers community. 

Reflections

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So this whole blogging thing, like most of my great ideas and great intentions, doesn’t appear that it has worked out like I had wanted it to.  I wanted (and still want!) to use a blog to talk about my successes and failures in the classroom so that I, and perhaps eventually others, can learn and grow from each of those.  However, if I neglect this all the time, that really isn’t a possibility.  I have stayed up (kind of) on following other blogs to learn from veteran teachers, but I feel like I really need to start something of my own as well. 

I guess I am back to write about my frustrations lately.  With four snow days in a row (!!!), three of which were this week alone, I have had a lot of time to relax and de-stress, drink my coffee, and think about what I am doing in my classrooms.  One of my biggest frustrations with myself is that if I have a good lesson in one class, I feel like the rest of my classes suffer.  I teach six different things every day (including a “direct instruction” reading program during our advisory hour), and though I know perfection isn’t attainable, it bothers me to be so far from it.  I feel like I just came off of a GREAT unit teaching To Kill a Mockingbird to my 9th grade English students, but my Spanish lessons, in turn, involved teaching and practicing verb conjugations.  (I know, I know, you are all writhing in excitement at the chance to fill in those conjugation boxes! Wooo!) The truth is, teaching canned grammar lessons that come from the book like that, or just in general teaching directly from the book, is very much against what I was taught and what I believe about teaching.  ESPECIALLY language teaching!  I need less excuses and just to make it work, I guess.  

I really want to use the TPRS method in teaching my Spanish classes.  Like, really, REALLY want to use it.  I KNOW it is what is best for my students, and it follows every single thing I have been taught about language acquisition, even if I have not, speciAnfically, been taught to use TPRS.  The problem, I think, is that I indeed have not been taught to use TPRS, and I am somewhat of a perfectionist.  If it’s not a slam-dunk lesson, I tend to be discouraged; and I can guarantee that I have yet to have a slam-dunk lesson.  I feel like I really need a mentor teacher for this.  I have a great mentor teacher at school, but she is an English teacher; I feel like I need more support and advise from a foreign language teacher. I am also frustrated lately with the attitude of some of my students.  Several are dropping at the semester from already having finished their 2-year requirement, and when asked why they wanted to switch mid-year they responded that it was because they were learning to read and write, but not to speak.  Perhaps that was because they chose to have conversations in English while we practiced such skills?  Or did barely the minimum when they did participate?  While I am not doing TPRS as I would like to, I know I providing opportunities for all students to practice each of the language modalities every day!  It is frustrating that they, then, blame their laziness on the rigor of the class!  I suppose, though, this is even more argument for me to get back trying to make TPRS really work for me.  

ANYWAY, I didn’t intend for this post to just be one big Negative Nelly pity party.  I am officially off my soap box and willing to make some changes.  I have made a TPRS lesson that I am confident with for Spanish 1 (with family vocab!), and I have used the advice of other/veteran language teachers to work on re-vamping the curriculum for my middle school class.  Being that my MS class is only a semester-long class, I will start over with a new group this week and intend to try out some new procedures with them.  I am toying with the idea of introducing some of these things in Spanish 1 and 2 with the new semester as well, but I am not sure yet.  I will think about that and evaluate how big of a change that will be for them tomorrow while they take their exams.  Specifically, I want to start using Stamp Sheets to show proficiency/ I -can statements, as the wonderful bloggers from The Creative Language Class use.  

Anyway, this was a lot of rambling today.  A lot to think of and a lot to work with.  Luckily, I am feeling motivated right now and ready for positive change.  Last year (year one), I was ready to quit my job and run away from adulthood at this point in the year, so I can definitely see some improvements already! Win!

 

My last, and completely unrelated note: I get married in less than 11 months!  I am going to have to change my Blog address/ username!

Planning for the end of the year

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I think perhaps one of the biggest problems I have with lesson planning is that I am constantly looking at “the big picture.”  While that doesn’t sound like it’s a bad thing, I feel like I start looking so far ahead and planning week by week that my day-to-day plans suffer some.  I could definitely use more time to put into my day-to-day plans, especially when I teach stories.  This is something I struggle with more times than not, so it frustrates me to spend a lot of time on it.  With my high school Spanish kids, if its not planned well it’s pretty obvious because they aren’t really into suggesting plot twists and me asking a story, whereas my middle school kids would prefer that I didn’t have even vocab planned and we could just create a story about anything from nothing (seriously, these kids get EXCITED when I have them write stories for an “essay” grade!  It’s AWESOME!).

Anyway, that flaw aside, I’ve been thinking a lot lately how I want to end the year in the last quarter.  We have two weeks left in the third quarter, and I have my Spanish classes creating and then performing skits.  I know this isn’t the best activity for CI, as it doesn’t involve a whole lot of input at all.  I will walk around to help them, try to speak with them in Spanish as I help and suggest, but it will mostly be them having their own discussions about what they want to do.  And while it would be awesome to think they will all be discussing their skits 100% in Spanish at all times, I know that is unrealistic.  I haven’t been as good as I could be about keeping our class in Spanish– definitely something I want to improve upon next year (unless I am asking a story, we all– even me– tend to be in English; at first it was to calm their nerves about Spanish after a couple years with Rosetta Stone at the school, and now it has become an awful, nasty habit!).  Anyway, I think the skits WILL, overall, be useful for a couple of reasons.  For one, my students (middle school and high school alike) BEG to do them!  They have fun with them, they get to be silly, and I have a pretty sweet prop box in my room that they can play with whenever they want!  For me, I love that it’s an opportunity to get them ALL speaking in Spanish in front of the class.  I struggle the most in getting THEM to speak in authentic language on a normal basis.  Most of our speaking activities, unfortunately, involve me asking them to turn to a partner and retell my story.  

Okay, so those are some things I have and will be doing, even though I’m saying I know what I need to improve upon.  Having said all that, I’m wondering how much I can improve her in the 4th quarter.  I am DEFINITELY going to be doing my best to incorporate a LOT more Spanish at all times.  I know they can do it, so I guess this is where I prove to them that THEY can do it and stop letting fears hinder learning.  In high school Spanish, the novels that we have read so far this year are Pobre Ana and Casi se muere, both by Blaine Ray. For the last marking period, we will read Esperanza, a TPRS Publishing Book, and I am VERY excited.  I plan to do a unit on dictators and civil wars while we read, and hope to end the unit watching El laberinto del fauno. I am excited and I think the kids that know about it are as well.  Unfortunately, I think I might “save that one for later” with my middle school students.  They are 7th graders, and I am thinking that content might be too much for them, and I am definitely not even going to THINK about showing them an R-rated movie, permission slips or not.  With them, we have read Berto y sus buenas ideas and we just finished Pobre Ana.  I think we will read Casi se muere next and end there.  

Either way, for both high school and middle school, I plan for my semester 2 “exam” to be for them to each write their own story and present it in front of the class.  I want to require visual aids to tell the story (pictures, PowerPoints, whatever) and I am thinking also to assign each student a different Spanish-speaking country in which their story should be set, and ask them to do a bit of research and include some kind of cultural information. This is, after all, most of what we have been practicing and doing all year, so it seems to me to be the most logical kind of assessment.  It could also be a good basis for an assessment if I later get students who want to try to test out. 

I feel like I get so excited and hopeful even thinking about these different things that I want them to do.  Even when I am doing it wrong, I am definitely seeing amazing things out of my students through the use of story-telling.  If a year ago you would have told me that my 7th grade students (with zero Spanish background) would be writing 200+ word essays with ease, I would have laughed.  Now I am seeing that constantly in their story-telling, and it is SO encouraging.  I love that my students have never seen me pull out a textbook in Spanish class, yet even they surprise themselves in their abilities to write and read (and somewhat speak) the language.  I am trying to start a PLC with other Spanish teachers in our county (most of us are the only language teacher in our districts), and I am definitely trying to make sure they see my success with this so that those who aren’t using it might at least consider TPRS.

This post ended up being a lot more rambling than I thought, but I suppose that shows pretty accurately where my though process goes while I am lesson planning.  I have also been avoiding not only some of the finer points of planning, but also a very steep mountain of papers to grade. Blog posting could, indeed, be procrastination at its best!