Using the three modes

In last week’s #langchat, I made a statement that earned a lot of retweets and provoked thought amongst the other chatters. The tweet in question said that my planning philosophy this year is “If I can’t figure out what mode an activity is, I probably shouldn’t use it.” For those of you who might be new to the modes of communication, they are:

interpretive – This mode is when the student needs to understand language but is unable to negotiate meaning with the speaker or author. Examples of the interpretive mode are reading a story, watching tv, or listening to music.

presentational – Presentational is the flip side of interpretive. If you have a student in the presentational mode, then the others are interpretive. Presentational is when a student is producing output in the language but again, cannot negotiate meaning. Examples of presentational mode are giving a speech, making a podcast, or performing a skit.

interpersonal – Interpersonal is really the bread and butter of communicative language. Interpersonal mode is the interaction between two or more people (whether it be through text or spoken words) where they are able to negotiate meaning to come to a clearer understanding. Interpersonal mode is particularly interesting because many students (including me!) are nervous about interpersonal communication, since someone else can point out their mistakes right away. On the flipside, having someone to point out your mistakes and help you fix them in the moment is invaluable in language learning.

So what does this have to do with my lesson planning? Well, thanks to the ideas I borrowed liberally from Camp Musicuentos, I redesigned my planning process this year. (Although I couldn’t make it in person, the blog posts and examples from people who actually attended it were incredibly helpful.) I have real, cohesive unit plans! Amazing! With this format, I try to mark out a day for each mode of communication, and the other two for other activities as necessary. With my lower classes, I try to have an extra day’s worth of input. With my upper classes, I do a dialogue journal and free reading. And of course, it’s always nice to have an overflow day, review day, or just a day to do something fun. This format has really helped steer my teaching and give it purpose rather than doing activities in no particular order. It’s everything I dreamed of doing when I was a young, idealistic student teacher.

By planning by mode and not by grammar point, I feel like my instruction so far this year is more comprehensible and palatable to my students. Most of them seem to enjoy the stories, readings, music, and other fun things we get to do in class. However, there are times when a non-mode-related activity might be appropriate to focus in on a specific problem. For example, Amy Lenord’s question workshop (although technically that was increasing interpersonal proficiency by creating good questions) or if you need to clean up grammar because it’s interfering with comprehensibility.

Another tweet I made in the same #langchat received as much, if not more attention. One of the toughest things about switching to comprehensible input and mode-based planning was the pushback in upper level classes. As I began the transition last year, many students were upset and frustrated. They did really well with conjugation worksheets and vocabulary quizzes – because they only require rote memorization, the lowest level of thinking. It was easy. When I asked them to start being able to DO something, that’s when they balked, even though (in my opinion) what I was asking them to do was way more interesting, personal, and fun. It also required me to use a lot more Spanish. I had a lot of students mentally check out and choose not to take Spanish again. This may be an ongoing issue for those of you who are not a department of one.

This year, I’ve found that my lower level classes (Spanish 1 having CI from the beginning and Spanish 2 only having about 3 months of traditional instruction) have had zero issues with the way I teach. When I started with mostly Spanish from the beginning, it garnered far less complaints. In fact, I can’t imagine how awful one of my younger classes would be if I asked them to sit down and take a class period’s worth of grammar notes (that most of them would barely look at ever again). By using videos, songs, and stories, they can remain engaged and well-behaved, which leads to happy students and happy teachers. I am very pleased with the results of my changes so far and 11 days in, I am still having the best year ever!

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First week: great success!

So it’s Friday of The First Week and I am ex-hausted. Wow.

But still in way better shape than I was when I first started teaching. Especially because I had one and a half ridiculous things happen to me. The first is that we got new doors in the building over the summer. On the first day of teacher meetings, we always have a big staff breakfast. I brought doughnuts, but because I am a klutz, I got glaze all over my shorts. I went into the bathroom to wash it off, and as I turned to leave, I realized that the new, big, heavy door that opens inward…. does not have a handle attached to it. Thankfully, another coworker was upstairs so I could bang on the door and shout to be saved. Yep, that’s how I started my school year.

On the first day with students, I woke up at 5:42. My alarm was set for 6. (I checked it multiple times.) I thought, ‘I can snooze a bit longer.’ The next thing I knew, it was 6:38. I leave for work at 7. Whoops! But because I am a veteran teacher and not a newbie, I knew 20 minutes was still plenty of time to get dressed and I could eat in the car, since I have a 45 minute commute. The only trouble is that it put me off my pain med schedule, and my collarbone/shoulder hurt the entire way there. Ouch.

Other than that, I have had a most fantastic week. I have great classes. My only complaint is that my 3rd period is a bit large (I have a section of 6… and then a section of 19) but it still beats the 23 I had to squish into my room at one time my first year. I haven’t had any major boundary testing yet and am working hard to refresh my relationships with returning students and build relationships with new ones.

I really feel like this year is It. The Tipping Point. The Year I Finally Got My Ducks In A Row. First of all, my school has moved to Google Apps for Education. We also went 1:1 on laptops for grades 7-12. I am a huge tech nerd, so I am ready for the challenge. I think it will make some things harder, but most things much easier. After all, my biggest problem will probably always be students talking when I’m trying to teach, and technology won’t change that.

The second thing is that I finally have the vision of where my students are, where I want them to go, and most importantly, how to get them there. In prior years, I had only parts of my vision aligned with each other. Now I’ve even got fancy unit plans (though some are more complete than others, haha) and it makes planning so much easier. The hardest part right now is that I didn’t change to full-on comprehensible input until shortly after Christmas last year, and in my Spanish 1s and 2s, then I had a student teacher! So my first semester is going to require a lot more work than second semester, where I already found videos and readings and other items appropriate for teaching. I decided this year that if I couldn’t decide which mode of communication an activity fell into, I probably shouldn’t be doing it. The exception is if I’m specifically using the activity with the intent to clean up grammar, rather than just doing it because that’s what the book told me was next. I am also going to clear out a lot of space (digital and physical) because I can say adios to all those conjugation exercises!

Another important note is that I will be finishing my master’s degree in the spring. Well, technically – the last class is just a portfolio and capstone course, but I still have my portfolio from undergrad, so all I need to do is update it a bit and that will be finished easily. I only have one week left in my current class, and two more regular classes to go. After that, I’m not sure what I want to do in a professional capacity. I might go for a second master’s (in Spanish) because UNK now offers an online degree for that. I might also attempt to become a National Board Certified teacher. That would be a lot of work, but a great honor.

The final piece of the puzzle is that we have a new superintendent. Sam Stecher comes to us from an administrative position in Kearney, but he’s already integrating well into East Butler. He really emphasizes personal relationships with students, and although I haven’t had much time to connect with him myself, I hope I will have a chance to just shoot the breeze sometime in the near future. He even co-runs a website called Mission Monday that is all about giving a weekly ‘mission’ to staff, students, and parents, to generate a conversation to show interest/caring and put dollars in those relationship banks. I like that he is tech savvy and is already working to be very approachable to everybody. For example, he stood outside the main doors on the first day of school and greeted everyone as they walked in. How cool is that? I think he’s going to do great things for our district and I’m excited to see what the rest of the year holds.

How are things going for you? If you’re already back, I hope your year is also going well. If you’re not back until after Labor Day, enjoy these final summer days!

My summer vacation 2014

I want to start this post by noticing that people are still reading my site even though it’s the summer and I have questionably awesome content. You must be crazy, and for that, I love you.

School starts back up at East Butler for teachers this Friday. I’ve gotten to the point  – after 5 years, holy cow, how is this my 5th year teaching???? – that I no longer get freakishly freaked out in the last few weeks of summer. Previously, I would try to somehow smash all of the things I intended to do in the summer, but never did, into that last smidgen of golden summery goodness. I’ve chilled out since then. Things will get done. I’m actually far, far more productive during the school year. I’m lucky enough that teaching pays me enough (not having children also helps) so I can spend my summers mostly relaxing. The only big task I really have before the start of the school year is to remember to update my syllabi. I’m not even obsessing over rosters, like I normally do. Whatever kids walk through my door, I will say hola and we will learn things.

In honor of summer and feeling like I wasn’t a total loserslob, here is what happened to me (in slightly chronological order):

-My foster cat died. Sorry to start with such a bummer, but it is what it is. I specifically take older, special-needs-ish cats from the no-kill cat shelter where I volunteer (The Cat House – not to be confused with a brothel) and they don’t generally make it past a year with me. I have the perfect, quiet home for cats who mostly just want a lap to lay on. It hurts when they go, but I am so glad to give them a home for their last few months, rather than languishing in a shelter. Even if our shelter is way more hospitable than your average humane society.

-I started playing Marvel Puzzle Quest. I am still playing Marvel Puzzle Quest. I love me a good match-3 game plus nerdiness.

I went to the TPRS workshop in June. It was awesome and I can’t wait to really implement TPRS this year. It might be a disaster, but probably not.

-I had my first real ‘girl’s night out’ EVER. I am 28. It was everything I hoped it would be.

I put together my own computer. It turns out that the problem was my power supply keeled over. The new power supply just arrived today, but I can’t put it in at the moment because…

-I broke my collarbone on July 26th playing roller derby in Kansas. Long story short, I was skating, someone hit or pushed me from behind, I fell on my shoulder, my collarbone said OH SNAP! and that was that. It’s my first broken bone and really, the amount of concern people have for me is overwhelming. My doctor said that collarbones love to heal, and he’s right. It’s been a week and I am already back to about 60%. I will probably be back to normal by mid-August and hope to start exercising again by September, though I’ll miss the end of the derby season.

-I did not complete any video games this summer. None. I was too busy reading. I hope to finish Heroes 6 by the end of the year, though.

-According to GoodReads, I read 10 books this summer (though I’m in the middle of 3) including 2 books from A Song of Fire and Ice, which are like 4 books each. I’ve read over 7,000 pages in 2014, which is closing in quickly on my 10,200 from 2013. Getting through A Feast For Crows will probably put me over the edge by October. Too bad it will take me beyond forever to read it during the school year, since I can’t devote 6 hours a day to devouring books.

-I did a very minor amount of prep for school this year. I feel like, even though I am switching tactics – again – I have most of my plans already in place. I know what I’m doing, I just need to put the details on paper before I forget. The one big bummer is that I was finally, for really reals, going to go in a day early and attempt to organize the Sarlacc Pit known as ‘my corner’ in the attic of various sundry theatre items. But with a non-functional left arm, that’s just going to have to wait.

I am definitely in the throes of anticipation phase (though it kind of worries me that my profession has a professional looking chart noting that half of the school year is considered ‘survival’ and ‘disillusionment’) and am ready to start fresh with my kiddos next Tuesday. 2014-2015 is going to be the best year yet!