Just another manic Monday

Just another manic Monday. Or el lunes loco, if you’re a Spanish teacher. I really don’t care for Mondays, and it’s not that typical “ugh, Monday, I hate going to work” trope. I don’t work a job; I have a career that I love and I enjoy it all days of the week. However, I’d be a liar if I said that Mondays weren’t the hardest day of the week. There’s just something about student behavior on Mondays that is harder for me to deal with – I don’t know if it’s the excitement of the weekend, trying to get back in the school routine after a whole two days off, or what. At my school, I much prefer Friday behavior to Monday behavior. (Tuesdays are my favorite, for the record.)

That being said, I am someone who believes in working smarter, not harder. I have always tried to align my teaching with the reality of students. For example, no assessments on Mondays. That’s just a great way to make sure everyone forgets (including me, honestly) and there’s a big panic – not worth it. This year, my big focus has been taking into consideration the student needs to walk and talk. Mixing what I’ve learned through CI trainings (the brain craving novelty) and Kagan (humans wanting to be mobile and socialize), I’ve tried to find some activities that I can especially use on Mondays that will keep learning happening without making me crazy with constantly trying to get student attention.

**Side note: my Spanish 1s this year are… a bit more squirrelly than my last few bunches. This means that my last few years of ‘here is a story, let us do it’ is NOT working. They can’t get through even a paragraph without me having to stop and regroup them. PQA tends to be a disaster. I am having to mentally adapt all my activities because as reflective teachers know, what works for one group of students does not necessarily work for the next, and we always need to adjust to that. Upon further reflection, (this post has been sitting in my draft queue for a long time) of my 17 students, I have at least 5 in this class who have been formally diagnosed with ADHD. On top of normal student silliness. Some of them are wonderful about taking their medication, if prescribed, others are not. Some days are a really rough go.

Anyway, if you are having the same issue with your students, here are some things that are working and some things that are NOT working for me.

Working well:

  • quiz-quiz-trade
  • numbered heads together
  • mix-pair-share
  • round-robin (depending on the task)
  • Señor Wooly puzzles
  • fan-n-pick

These activities all have a few key ideas in common. If you’re not familiar with the terms, just google them (most of them are Kagan structures). Number one and most importantly, these activities allow students to mostly work at their own pace or with a timer. This keeps students on task without making me, the teacher, go crazy by trying to keep a group together. Number two, these tasks are completed in pairs or small groups. Again, trying to keep a large group together on Mondays seems nearly impossible for me, so letting students work in much smaller groupings is easier on my ears and my patience. Finally, these activities also promote positive interdependence – the students have to work together to complete the task, which creates all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings like lowering the affective filter and strengthening relationships.

Not working:

  • Four corners
  • MovieTalks, PictureTalks, pretty much anything that introduces new vocab where I stand in the front and give input for more than 12 seconds
  • OWI

To reiterate, these activities are terrible for me on Mondays. Every other day, they’re fine – the squirreliness of students is just too much on Mondays. I’m not sure what causes these activities to break down. Four corners ends up with too much side chatter. MovieTalks, PictureTalks, OWIs, stories… any of those that require the whole group’s attention and circling, introduction of new vocabulary, etc. do not go well for me. These activities are easier with my upper level classes who have a higher level of focus, but I still find it easier on myself just to pick an activity from the first list. My second period would be comatose if I let them, so picking an activity that forces them to interact with each other and/or walk around keeps them from falling asleep on me.

As we head into the end of 2017, hopefully these ideas will help you have happier, more productive Mondays in 2018!

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Kagan conversion: why you should get training too

Something that I see over and over when I am on twitter (which I am reading far more frequently this year than last, for various reasons) are threads where I want to jump in and say ‘Need engagement strategies? There’s a Kagan structure for that!’ It’s kind of like the Portlandia sketch ‘Put a bird on it!’ only.. you know, for questioning kids. The most recent example was a thread on the ol’ worksheet debate: yay or nay. My take is that the debate is old and tired. Pieces of paper with words (aka worksheets) are not the problem; it is the tasks on the them that are the issue. And that isn’t even the underlying issue because 99% of the time, the task – in any subject – is asking students to solve a problem or answer a question. Our job, as teachers, is to have students solve problems and answer questions and we can either have them do that orally (enter: the lecture) or written (enter: the worksheet). For a long time, that was The Way Things Were Done because that was what we had available to us, and as our teachers were taught before us, and the teachers before them, and so on unto the beginning of time.

But it’s 2017. And this blog is all about Not Doing Things The Way They’ve Been Done, unless there’s a good reason, such as research-based evidence that it actually works. And I assume you (ustedes) read this blog because you are someone who wants to become a better teacher all the time. I can assume this because teachers who do not want to become better teachers don’t bother reading blogs. So here’s why I’m a Kagan convert, and you should be too.

In January of this year, I took day 1 of training thanks to my ESU. I loved it. I said, ‘Oh, this is stuff I do already.’ My favorite part was that day 1 stuff takes ZERO PREP. NONE. Okay, making your teams takes some prep but that’s it – the actual structures, the stuff you do in class? No work on your part. WHAT TEACHER DOESN’T LOVE THAT. I get MORE engagement from my students, LOWER affective filter, BETTER feelings of being part of the in-group, and I don’t have to do anything except what I’m already doing? Sign me up!!

Now day 2, this is where we get to the worksheet part. Day 2 structures included strategies like quiz-quiz-trade, fan-n-pick, or numbered heads together. Day 2 structures do require a bit of prep work on the teacher’s part. But here’s the catch – that prep work? Is probably stuff you already have lying around. It’s taking the questions you were going to ask already (in a worksheet format), and putting them in a different format like on a powerpoint or on index cards. These structures are great for world language teachers who are stuck teaching from a textbook or assigned curriculum who would rather not, or PERFECT for social sciences. They’re a little bit trickier for subjects like math, but they can also be easily adapted for literature, any of the sciences, you name it!

I’m going to day 3 here in a few weeks and I don’t know what structures are up next, but I’m excited. I will use them when I learn them. This year, I honestly use Kagan structures… nearly every day, in every class.

Okay, the structures are the meat-and-potatoes of the system. I’ve mentioned them here and here before. I can’t possibly explain how they all work, because there is not enough space or time – that’s why you have to go to the training sessions. Or email/DM me if you have a specific question. But there are many other parts to the system, and they all work together. Students are placed in teams, which is important for building comraderie. We want that closeness, that ‘we’re in this together’. Each week, they recommend that you do classbuilding and teambuilding activities. They only have to take less than 5 minutes a piece. I, personally, don’t worry about this because in Spanish, we’re already doing that in the TL, all day, every day! That’s literally half of what Spanish class is about! There’s also the positive interdependence piece – since everyone is part of a team, everyone is important and everyone’s work counts. There is no hiding. Everyone has to put in their fair share. I like this for multiple obvious reasons. Number one, the slackers can’t slack, because the peer pressure is too strong. (It’s easy to be a slacker in a trio. It’s much harder to slack in a pair. And with Kagan, even if you are in a trio, it is very clear on who is doing what, so there is no arguments over what you’re supposed to be doing.) Number two, quiet students get heard and socially aggressive students don’t dominate. Now, some students are just quiet (physically) and not actually shy, but this helps the actually shy students – I have yet to meet someone who is cripplingly shy in just a one-on-one situation. Kagan, due to its clarity, also helps students with anxiety – it is clear who goes first, what their job is, and what everyone else should be doing when they’re not speaking. There are no surprises.

I’m actually really surprised that I don’t hear more language teachers talking about using Kagan because if you already use CI strategies and especially TPRS specifically, it fits right in with how we want things to work. The only real difference is, instead of the whole class reporting to us (the teacher) all the time, the students are reporting to each other and then to us. Does it slow things down? Yes, especially the first time you are using a structure. But my hope is to get other teachers at my school on board and then by the time kids get to me in 9th grade, they can know exactly ‘RoundRobin, 1 minuto, Persona 3 empieza’ means without any explanation, off we go. There are really NO downsides to this system. After my trip to iFLT this summer and my initial TPRS training with Craig Sheehy however many years ago, these Kagan trainings have probably been the most useful to my practice. If you can get the training, go. I hope you’ll become a Kagan convert too. (And if you just want free talk throughs, there’s always google and yours truly!)