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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Stopping the shame game

So there is this practice that is somewhat prevalent among teachers, and I don’t like it.

I call it ‘The Shame Game’. We all know what the shame game is. Either we play it with our students, or had it played with us when we were students, and we have all DEFINITELY seen it played sometime in our lives. The shame game looks something like this:

Student comes to class. Student needs a pencil, but doesn’t have a pencil for whatever reason. Usually they forgot it or it got lost (somehow, magically, in the 10 steps between their last classroom and your classroom) but sometimes their friend took it and broke it in the seconds your back was turned to write something on the board, or maybe they dropped it and it rolled underneath your bookshelf and now they can’t get it, or they threw it up in the air and now it’s stuck in your drop-down ceiling. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Anyway, so student comes to class, and they don’t have that pencil. Your job is to teach them responsibility, right! Why don’t they have that pencil! Why aren’t they prepared for class! And this is where many teachers start to play the shame game – they say those exact things to the student. The student, of course, feels so incredibly thankful that the teacher pointed out to the class that they were unprepared and that they are a dumb loser (maybe not in those words, but we can read between the lines here) who can’t even hang on to a stupid pencil, and never forgets their pencil again. Right?

Right?

I have a student, who I love dearly, who is in my Spanish 3 class. He has struggled since day one to play the school game properly. He has gotten better over the years as we have found strategies for him to be prepared, be on time, to stay organized, and probably a little bit has to do with simple maturation. But the *very first day* of class this year, he somehow managed to leave his chemistry syllabus on my table. I don’t know how, we didn’t even need to open our binders that day, we just talked in Spanish about nothing in particular. Now, I could’ve played the shame game and thrown it away – ha ha, that’ll teach him responsibility to not leave his stuff lying around! – or I could’ve chosen to be the compassionate teacher, found him in the hallway and handed it to him with a smile, saying ‘Hey buddy, I think you forgot this.’ As I will with every. single. paper. he will leave in my room over the course of the year, as he has for the previous two years.

Because here’s the thing, fellow teachers. Playing the shame game helps no one. It doesn’t teach responsibility. We know this. That kid is still going to forget their paper, day after day after day. Or their pencil. Or their binder. Or their computer. Some teachers seem to take it personally. It is not personal. Sometimes the student has an undiagnosed problem with their executive function (aka, the part of your brain that controls decision making and organization.) Sometimes they just have a brain fart. Maybe the student is being bullied in a place where we can’t see and they start the day prepared, but someone is taking their stuff before they get to us. Some people are just plain ol’ forgetful. Playing the shame game only raises the affective filter, makes them more nervous, and paints us as jerks. We are not jerks… right? That’s not how we want to portray ourselves. We already have tv shows and movies for kids to do that for us.

To add insult to injury, these things do not happen in the adult world. As an adult, if I go to a meeting, paper and writing utensils are frequently provided for me. If they aren’t and I don’t have something, nobody asks me for a shoe or my planner for collateral. If I run out of dry erase markers in my classroom, my school has an entire closet of extra supplies in the office and I can take as much as I need and nobody ever asks why I didn’t plan ahead. It’s also far easier for me to keep my items where I need them because I’m not tromping around a building (and then to and from my house) with all my stuff – it stays where I put it in my room, mischievous students aside.

So here’s the point. The shame game does not teach responsibility. It doesn’t stop students from forgetting their whatevers. All it does is hurt our relationships with those students, make us look like jerks, and makes it seem like we care far more about a stupid 10 cent pencil than our students. I don’t know about you, but at this point in my career, I can always get more pencils. (They don’t pay me THAT little, or I can just get them from the aforementioned well-stocked closet.) I can’t always repair a damaged relationship with a student. The shame game is not worth it. Please, let it go. Compassion will take us much farther in our goal of educating all students.

Even if we have to grit our teeth as we smile and say ‘Hey buddy, I think you forgot this,’ for the seven hundred zillionth time.

My AP syllabus: 2 years later

Two years ago, I started on my AP Spanish journey. If you’ve been reading recently, you have realized that my AP journey… has been a rocky one. Not going so well. That’s okay. In teaching years, two years is still baby steps. I know I didn’t feel like I sort of knew what I was doing at all as a teacher until my 3rd year, and I didn’t feel like a decent teacher until my 5th. Now, going into my 8th, I feel pretty confident that I got this. I don’t feel any nerves about this upcoming year, only excitement. (It definitely helps that I work in an awesome school, with an awesome staff, where I feel safe and supported, and I have the same students over and over, so I always know what to expect, which keeps my hates-the-unknown anxiety down to a manageable level.)

Anyway. One of the continually popular blog posts of mine is my AP syllabus. I’m sure it’s frequented by poor lost souls who are also teaching AP, probably for the first time, and have no idea what they got themselves into. If you’re one of those people: welcome! You’re not alone! Tengo un secreto: nobody knows what they’re getting themselves into when they say ‘sure, I’ll teach that AP class’. (In my case, I offered to do it – I know most teachers aren’t given the choice.) So I decided to look back at the original post and see if I would say anything different, given what I know now.

First off, you can reread the original post here to refresh your memory.

Writing your own syllabus… hmm. I still agree with everything I wrote. Especially if you’ve already taught a similar level class, why re-invent the wheel? If you are a brand new teacher, though, and you’re coming into a situation where the previous teacher already had a syllabus? USE IT. And then modify it to fit your needs/style.

Know what your students need – definitely. One big failure of mine is that I know what my students need to know to be successful… I just failed to, you know, teach it to them.

I still think the easiest way to plan a unit based on authentic resources (or any unit from scratch, really) is the grid shown to us by our trainer. I don’t know why I don’t use it more often. I should keep it in mind as I restructure my Spanish 3 this year. That way, you can be sure to hit many different types of input (and assess using different modes of output, if that is your desire). Plus, it’s really handy when you get to February and you’re thinking ‘man, I read that really cool article on [topic] that one time that would’ve been PERFECT… now where did I read it?’

Vertical curriculum – HUGE. I noted this as a big deal, and didn’t implement it myself. It hit me over the head again just a few weeks ago at iFLT, and I am going to try to slowly reorganize my lower levels to fit the AP themes better. Those essential questions? Yeah, that’s to try and figure out what theme(s) your unit would fit under – and also help drive some thoughtful questions to ask your students as you go along. I realized, I am doing all sorts of the right things, I just need to clean it up a bit. (For example, in Spanish 1, we watch Selena as part of the family unit. Not only does it fall perfectly to watch a movie around Thanksgiving/one act competition time when I am gone a lot, but it lends itself to appropriate family/identity related topics for novice speakers – but how can I better orient my questioning/activities to make it clear it’s related to an AP theme?)

The actual syllabus itself (still available here! check it out!) Oh my. My official syllabus… is beautiful. Look at all those resources. Look at my introductory paragraph. It’s gorgeous. So convincing that I’m gonna be successful.

The reality of my syllabus? If you somehow can teach everything in that beast AND have time to prepare your students for the test AND get around all the stuff that seniors miss school for… please let me know how you did it. I typically teach units 1, 2, and 3 (prehispanic cultures/gender roles/fashion) in the fall, and hit 5, 6, and 9 (La Guerra Sucia/immigration/mobile technology) in the spring. We also do FVR/blogging and Gran Hotel weekly, so I really am only teaching content from the syllabus 3 days a week. (This is up for potential change this year.) The units I pick are ones that have the most compelling content and the ones I feel most competent teaching. I might pull unit 8 (love and romance) or unit 10 (the return of measles) down to Spanish 3, with adaptations and time permitting. Things are really up in the air this year.

So overall, I think my original thoughts were on point. The reality of teaching, however, is not that easy. I always joke that I am THE BEST teacher on paper, which is true. Actually teaching real, live humans? Sometimes, not so much. I still think my syllabus is pretty darn great, and I don’t intend on changing it for the moment. It’s my in-class practices that need to change. But if you’re someone who is wanting to use units or the whole thing, feel free – just know that if you weren’t able to get through everything, that’s okay. I made the syllabus, and I couldn’t either. 🙂

iFLT 2017: pause for teaching

Originally, I wasn’t going to blog tonight because I am dead tired. My brain is so full of thoughts and ideas and just… kaboom, ya know? I think everyone is feeling the same way. But I have been talking to many people here and something that has really kind of been a recurring theme is that many of the people who are on the beginner track (and some intermediates) feel like… okay, we got the basic idea of this whole “comprehensible input” thing, we have buy-in, we’ve seen it as students, we’ve been shown what the end product looks like… now what? A lot of them feel as if they are missing a huge middle step, which, technically they are: lots of practice. But I know I didn’t feel like I REALLY got how to do CI until I went to a 3 day TPRS workshop where we spent those entire days practicing circling with a single sentence, then moving up to a paragraph, and then moving on to storyasking small parts of a story as a group, then individually, all under the guidance of a well-trained TPRS teacher. We never did have time to storyask a whole story (there were only 7 of us in that conference but storyasking 7 stories would be a brainsplosion, I think) but we did receive the updated version of Blaine Ray’s Look, I Can Talk. Ironically, after a year of teaching TPRS, I didn’t really need the book anymore because I got the pattern down, but the first few chapters are very good about literally scripting every. single. question. you might want to ask as you attempt to ask a story (not even including any of the other potential comprehensible input pieces that you might choose to do along with said story!)

Anyway, after today’s sessions, I was standing near the books with one of my new conference friends and she was looking at them, and I held up Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro and said that I loved teaching it, and she said, “My kids can’t read.” I was very confused, and she clarified that her students have approximately no literacy skills in Spanish though and she has no idea where to start. I told her that for the first chapter, you only need to teach quiere, tiene, perro, stuff I tend to teach within the first week. How? And I launched into a random demo of my PQA lesson where I ask students about their pets in preparation for reading Brandon Brown. To an experienced CI teacher, this is the simplest of simple language, but I realized today that for a newbie, this is terrifying stuff!

And so for my friend Taylor, and any other person who is still not entirely sure what PQA looks or sounds like, here is a pretend script of what it might look like in my class. I found that the best way to start, honestly, was to write out everything I was going to say for my story or PQA. Every sentence, every question. Was it clunky? Oh yeah. Did I have flow? No way. Did I get lost? All the time. But you have to be bad at something first to eventually get better, right?

So without further ado, here is a link to my google doc of a sample script (in English, so any language teacher can see what it would look like) of what PQA about pets might look like.  I hope it helps break down what the language looks like for anyone who got lost along the way.

New year, minor updates

Today is my last work day before students come into the building tomorrow. Since I don’t have to share rooms, move rooms, or otherwise do anything over the summer, I can leave everything more or less how it is when I finish in May. I am a major creature of habit, but I did make a few minor changes this year and I just want to show everyone what my room looks like. It’s nothing fancy – I’m no pinterest fiend – but it’s functional.

Updated word walls!

Ever since I switched to comprehensible input, I’ve had some version of word walls up. This is the third time I’ve done them and I hope the kids are nice to these, because cutting out all those words took a lot of time! (My prior versions were handwritten and I don’t have particularly nice handwriting.) A problem we also had in the past was that students couldn’t read the words when the lights were off, so I’m hoping that the white bubbles around black letters will help them stand out while still allowing for color on my bulletin board areas. (I also felt really proud of myself when I realized that with the whiteboard between the two word walls, I could use the green and red to make a Mexican-flag-like display.)

Useful phrases!

helpful words

I put an image of this on twitter a while back, but I added the green poster last year. (See what I mean about the handwriting? I can’t write in a straight line to save my life.) These posters are super duper handy when pushing students into intermediate and helping them use connecting and organizational words in their speaking and writing. This year, I am considering adding a bunch of various nouns (with pictures) in that blank space above the posters as inspiration. Not in the sense that they’re inspirational pictures, but rather to help students if we’re trying to story-ask or write something and they can’t think of something interesting to happen in the story. Maybe animals or something that can function as both a character in the story or a prop – I haven’t gotten that far yet.

New books!

studentwishlistbooks

Most of these were either specific student requests from my end-of-year survey about the offerings of my class library or Spanish versions of popular books that I know my students like in English. I hope the students attempt some of the harder ones – I think that The Fault in Our Stars will be popular. I also got a handful of new novels from TPRS Publishing as well as expanding my collection of ones that were popular last year (Problemas en Paraíso and Rebeldes de Tejas, if you were wondering.) However, it seems that with every novel I buy, two more are released! But that’s a good problem to have, I think.

Other random stuff

In the past, I have usually placed my tables in groups of 4 to facilitate easier pair work and conversation. This year, I decided to put the tables into a horseshoe shape. #1, it will be easier for everyone to see the whiteboard/projector screen comfortably. #2, students can still easily work in pairs or small groups. #3, nobody will complain about so-and-so kicking them from across the way cause their legs are too long. #4, I think a horseshoe shape works better for discussion and storytelling. #5, I can easily get to every student without having to navigate the narrow in-between-groups spaces. My projector is still currently on a cart but hopefully it will be in the ceiling by the end of the month, which will make things even easier for me.

The other big additions this year are more curriculum based. I decided as of yesterday to add the show Gran Hotel to my Spanish 3 and AP classes on Fridays. We run a shortened schedule anyway, and it’s a nice way to end the week. I am probably going to use the guides provided by Mike Peto and Kara Jacobs to help me out.

Reading and blogging are staying around for Spanish 3 and AP. I am seriously considering expanding FVR to my Spanish 2s, though in a more limited way. (We already read 2 novels in the year.) For reading, however, I am adding Martina Bex’s Mundo en tus manos news stories to my Monday plans. Between a short reading or two and weekend chat, my Mondays are set! (Mundo en tus manos is also a fantastic addition to any FVR library. Last year’s students felt they were an easy, comfortable read at level 3.)

First days

We only have 24 minute periods tomorrow and 35 minute periods on Friday, so my plans are pretty simple. Due to the nature of my school, I know all of my returning students and I am pretty familiar with my incoming freshmen, so I get a VERY short honeymoon period. I think I am going to have ‘Relax’ by Sie7e playing as students come in. I love Sie7e because he’s got that chill summer vibe, and Relax is a very appropriate song for first-day Spanish students who are probably super nervous! I’ll say hi. Spanish 1 will do a simple me llamo/te llamas/se llama game and that’s all we’ll have time for. With the other levels, we will do a quick refresher on the syllabus and procedures, then maybe chill while listening to some favorite Spanish songs from last year. Day 2 is when I will hit that stuff with Spanish 1, and the other levels will do some conversational stuff about their vacation (or just listen to me ramble about mine which is also great). And that’s it. Nothing too fancy. Next Monday, we hit the ground running.

For funsies, I’ve included a copy of my EXTREMELY simple syllabus piktochart (again, not a lot to explain in a small school) and the image I use to explain the AP exam to my AP students. Feel free to use either of them in whole, in part, or inspirationally.

Too many materials! (part 2- post overflow)

Continuing with last week’s post about too many materials, here is another set of ideas you can use to supplement your teaching.

Reader resources

There is loads of research that demonstrates that reading comprehensible input is the #1 way to foster language acquisition among language learners. If your students are literate in one language, you can use that literacy to cultivate learning in a different language. (It’s a little harder for elementary teachers who have pre-readers.)

  • Blaine Ray – The original set of readers, they have offerings for middle school through upper levels in a variety of languages. I think these tend to be a little drier and predictable, but offer specific cultural lessons in each book.
  • TPRS Publishing – TPRS Publishing is another novel powerhouse (and they have great customer service!) I personally prefer these novels, as they are more interesting to my students while keeping vocabulary in-bounds.
  • Mira Canion – Mira’s works are available from a few different places. Hers are mostly appropriate for lower levels.
  • Santillana Publishing – I haven’t actually used these readers yet, but I plan to add this publisher’s books to my library in the coming months. They are a little pricier, but come with a CD of the audio to save your voice.

Curriculum guidance

I have to preface this section by saying that I make my own curriculum guidelines/scope/sequence/can-do statements/whatever as a department of one. I have previewed these materials but not followed the entire curriculum to use in my classes. However, if you are a new teacher or someone who is making the switch to CI, these materials will be very helpful in making the transition.

  • Cuéntame (TPRS Publishing) – This series starts geared more towards elementary learners, but the beauty of stories is that they can be adapted to any level. (Also available in French.)
  • Look, I Can Talk!/Fluency through TPR Storytelling (Blaine Ray) – This series takes an eclectic approach to teaching. Rather than teaching in any particular order, this series works on high frequency vocabulary. A good start to learning to story-ask, circle, and embedded readings.
  • Somos (Martina Bex) – I haven’t used this, but Martina’s stand-alone products are amazing, so I can’t help but recommend it.

Teachers Pay Teachers

There is sometimes some controversy over teachers marketing their work for payment rather than sharing for free. However, I am a big believer that time is money, friend, and if someone has gone through the trouble of making something so that I don’t have to, I have no problem throwing a fellow teacher $5 here and there. These need no explanation – just check them out!

As luck would have it, at the time of posting, TPT is hosting a TEACHER APPRECIATION SALE!  (Yes, I just realized it was site-wide. I’m a little slow.) Use the code CELEBRATE on May 3rd and 4th to get 28% off everything! Protip: grab some pre-made lessons to keep your sanity during the end of the school year!

I hope all of these materials help you discover a new amazing resource to use in your classroom at the end of this year or during the next.

Too many materials!

I started teaching in 2010. The 2010s are a great time to be a language teacher. We’ve got youtube, google drive/classroom, twitter, LCD projectors, smartboards, and more leveled readers and stories than you can shake a stick at. And because there are so many options to choose from, it can be extremely overwhelming! It used to be that language teachers had to look through a handful of textbooks and decide which one they preferred, they ordered it, and then they taught it. But now there’s so many options, how do you even know where to start? I mean, curating videos from youtube and making lessons from them could be a full-time job. The upside and downside of the availability of language materials is that literally anything could be used for a lesson, as long as you can make it comprehensible for your students.

With that in mind, many new teachers are looking to graduate and compile ideas for their future classrooms. Veteran teachers are looking forward to another fresh start in the fall. However, none of us have time to comb all the websites for all the potentially useful ideas for all levels and all topics. So in this post, I’m going to share some of my favorite teaching materials to help narrow down the field for both newcomers and veterans. Unfortunately, these materials tend to focus on Spanish language so I hope that all the other language bloggers out there find someone who will do the same for them! I also have easy access to technology in my room, though I know many schools still do not, so your mileage may vary.

Video resources

  • VideoEle – a youtube series designed for Spanish learners. I like it because it designates topics by difficulty level (using the European A/B/C) and has subtitles. The creator has also started going through and remastering some videos with Latin American Spanish as well as the original Spain Spanish, so that’s cool.
  • Señor Wooly – Señor Wooly recently recreated his site from the ground up and it is awesome. The PRO version, though mildly expensive, has been totally worth it in my opinion. Doing one video can easily take a class period or two, and if you do a large number of the included stories, nuggets, and other activities, you could easily stretch one video into a week’s worth of comprehensible input with very little work on your part. Señor Wooly does all the work for you! And, because music is fun, the students don’t even realize they’re learning.
  • Señor Jordan – Even though I have backed off heavily from grammar explanations, there still comes a time when I need to explain a grammatical point to clean up my students’ speech or writing. Señor Jordan has a number of grammar videos with great examples of the concept.

Audio resources

  • Audio-lingua – Audio-lingua is a great resource for all teachers, but especially if you’re a teacher who is full-on comprehensible input only, with no particular thematic units. I love that you can search by length, speaker region, difficulty, or any variety of other parameters. It’s just people talkin about stuff.
  • Spanish Obsessed Podcast – Relatedly, the Spanish Obsessed podcast is also people talkin about stuff. They do a nice job of splitting their podcasts into different levels. I’ve only used a few samples from the intermediate section. As a non-native speaker teacher, I also like that Rob is a non-native speaker conversing with Liz, a native speaker. It helps students distinguish from different accents and emphasizes that you can have an accent and still be perfectly comprehensible.
  • University of Texas listening exercises – For listening exercises, this website is my bread and butter. You can choose to have English, Spanish, or no subtitles available when viewing. I personally like to set it to no subtitles while listening, then going over the full clip together with the Spanish available. Oh, and they’re organized by difficulty level, topic, and have a variety of speakers from different countries to practice those different dialects!

Interpersonal practice

  • Let’s Chat by Patti Lozano – I ordered this book through Teacher’s Discovery. It is chock full of games and other speaking types of activities, written in English with examples in Spanish, French, and sometimes German (but of course, you can always adapt if you teach something else!) One trick is to make sure if the activity itself doesn’t lend to comprehensible input from the students, use their responses and turn it into comprehensible input yourself!
  • Cuéntame Cards – These are another valuable resource. They are the kinds of questions I might ask a student, only… I didn’t have to think of them. I just have one set that I pull cards from to make the set appropriate for whatever level of students. The guide that comes with the card has multiple ways to use the cards. You could also make your own for free, but I’m lazy.
  • Hablemos: 25 Guided Dialogues – I didn’t use this resource as much this year as I would’ve liked, but the premise is good. It’s actually rather similar to the conversational portion of the AP exam. Rather than having students translate or memorize a conversation, these guided dialogues tell students what to say in general (‘greet your friend’ or ‘make plans for the weekend’), and the students have to do the work. It provides a sample conversation for students to check their work against, and also includes some things like crosswords or word searches that might be appropriate for fast finisher activities.

As usual, I have way more resources to share but I’ll save them for a later post. Happy shopping!