Wednesday, February 1, 2017

FVR: Best thing I did for my own French

I started doing FVR (free voluntary reading) a couple of years ago after finally finding enough books to feel comfortable doing it and after spending what seems like several hours picking Bryce Hedstrom's brain about how he's done it so successfully.  If you are brand new to this idea, I highly recommend going to Bryce's website and reading all you can about what he does in his classroom.

Here are the keys (in my opinion) to making this work (and I'm sure Bryce would agree since I got my ideas from him):

1. You have to start early.  I have enough baby picture books that even my French 1 students are able to "read" for five minutes the first week of school.  I don't know how beneficial reading is at this point in their acquisition, but at this point in the school year, they are super compliant and so I am training them that this is the way things are going to happen for the rest of the school year.

2.  You have to read with them.  When it's reading time, I get out my book, get in my comfy chair, and read with them.

3.  No evaluation: I do not give the students anything to turn in for this time.  I've read other books (such as Book Love) that say that keeping a log is a good way for the students to self-reflect and can help the teacher guide them to great books, but I just can't figure out a way to do it that doesn't seem like paperwork.  I want them to enjoy reading in a low-stress environment.

4.  Tell them why: Before we read for the first time, I tell them of all the research showing how wonderful reading is for acquisition and we revisit these throughout the year.  I also don't assign homework, so I tell them that these 5 minutes are their way to pay me back for that.

5.  This time is sacred: No bathroom breaks, no talking...just silence.  Which is super powerful when I read something funny and start chuckling to myself.  "Man, I wonder what is so funny in that book??  Maybe someday I'll read it."

But this blog post wasn't supposed to be a re-phrasing of Bryce's work...  I wanted to say that I have been AMAZED at my own progress in French through reading 30 minutes a day for 2-3 days a week this year.  (five minutes for six hours)  For me, reading in French has always been awful because at university, we had to read 18th century novels written in a French that isn't spoken today and with tons of junk hidden in the words.  I hated it.  I hated reading and I hated that all the grad classes offered at the local university were all literature classes.  Where's the enjoyment in that?!  Luckily, I found the Nicolas Sparks of France, ,Marc Levy.  His books are not earth-shattering, but they are written in a French  full of daily language and with gripping plot points.  Sure, the guy and girl end up together in the end, but I'm hooked!  There are times when I am reading almost as if I were reading in English.  I forget that it's in French and am able to just enjoy the plot.

So, if you are like me and struggling with how to get better at a language without being immersed in the language 24/7, please please please get your kids reading in class.  They also benefit, but that has been well-documented elsewhere.  If you need some book recommendations, let me know!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Semester 1 results: French 2

I am struggling with my French 2s this year.  I don't know what it is, but they are just not my favorite.  It seems like it's always a little bit like this because French 2 is where the upper classman who just finished French 1 mesh with the smarty pants who took French 1 in middle school.  The dynamic is strange and I have some huge attention seekers in those classes.

Anyway, here are my results of what my kids (and only the kids that had me last year and this no smarty pants who took French in 8th grade) did on their writing final.

 This is a student who is not the best student.  He struggles with paying attention.  I love that he throws in phrases like "Suddenly!" Also, his story is terribly tragic with the object of Mason's affection killed in a car accident.  Might be hard for a native to understand the story, but it's there...
 This is from an otherwise perfectionist student.  I'm proud that she is able to get away from that perfectionism a little bit to write a story with a few mistakes.  I just need to get her to make more mistakes to get more output from her...  I love that she used "lui a dit" correctly (even though her story jumps from past to present throughout) and used conjunction words to make the story sound more natural.
 This is my student who struggles the MOST.  He could give up.  He could drop.  Instead, he comes to see me during study hall because he feels safe with me.  I show you this one to hopefully encourage you to focus on relationships sometimes more than grades.  This kid has been through HELL and I can't imagine how he manages to focus at all in class.  But he just decided last month that he's going to try and make it in college.  I pray so hard that he finds an advocate wherever he goes because I know he can do it and make a better life than what he's living right now.
This is my first year with this student, but she wanted to skip into French 2 so badly that she contacted me last year (when she was an 8th grader) to see if I could help her do that.  So I gave her some novels to read, asked her if she had any questions, and that's it!  This is what she has been able to accomplish with reading only for one year (and even less, actually) and one semester of CI.  I have to admit, she a genius at languages...she must be!  She soaks it in like a sunflower with sunshine.  I can't wait to see what she can do in another semester!
And finally, my class clown's writing.  I have to fight with him most days to keep him from becoming a distraction.  We've had the talk about being an actor and not a distractor, and most days he redirects well...  This piece is almost 100% grammatically perfect.  With zero direct grammar instruction and I guarantee this kid isn't playing on on his own time for funsies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Semester results: French 3

I also did La Personne Spéciale this semester with my French 3 classes (and French 2 as well) because a lot of these students had never met each other before (and some I had never met either).  I feel like their comprehension is better than in years past.  For example, we watched some Cyprien videos on youtube with the subtitles in French, and they said that they felt pretty confident that they understood what was going on.  I was able to do a lesson that I love (Alma movie talk) with them and embellish a ton because I knew that they would be able to understand.  So how are their results?  Well, here are the results from students who have ONLY had me as a French teacher.  In this case, these are students who were not "gifted" enough to start French in 8th grade (or were too busy taking music classes to start then).  Also, in Missouri, there is no language requirement, so a lot of the struggling students drop after year 2.
 I don't know why I can't get this to my apologies.  This student had almost perfect grammar for a French 3 student (in my opinion).  Especially if you read it out loud (for example, qui s'appelé should be qui s'appelait, but they are pronounced the same).  I love how the direct pronouns are in the correct places.  I doubt she could even tell you why they belong there.  Really impressive.
 This sample isn't as impressive as the last one.  This student is quiet and doesn't engage a lot with the class, but the high frequency words are there.  Not much else to say about this one.
 This is another quiet student.  Whenever she gives a presentation, the students are amazed that she can talk!  She is super smart, though, and is one of those students who sucks it all in even though she doesn't feel like spitting it back out.  There are a lot of really good things here.  The fact that she was able to use her vocabulary to tell a pretty good story, in my opinion.
This student had me last year in French 1 and wanted to skip to French 3, so she's not as precise as the other French 3 kids, but MAN, does she pick up vocabulary!!
There it is!  One semester of French 3.  I have some other really excellent students, but I only wanted to show students that I can claim 100% responsibility for...

Semester results-French 1

Okay, so we spent all of first semester on La Personne Spéciale, learning about all twenty-six students in my class.  I had one student who REALLY did not want to participate, so I saved her for last and talked her through it.  Instead of making her answer in a complete sentence (and let's not get into the forced output argument), I just let her answer one word or nod her head.  We went very slowly and I don't think any of the other students noticed that I was interacting with her differently than I had with others.

I thought I had results to share, but I forgot that I removed the speaking and writing portions of their test to allow them more time before assessing their language output.  All in all, I am EXTREMELY pleased with what they know and how they surprise me every day with their capabilities in the language.  Actually, I do have some five-minute free writes from last week, so I'll post those!  We had just started our first story, but had only spent about 20-30 minutes total with the new structures: Il y avait, elle s'appelait, aimait, voulait.

I've included a good one, a lower one, and the worst one.

The good one shows the accuracy that is possible with NO EXPLICIT GRAMMAR.  Most of my students are able to write with very few errors because they have seen the correct structures so many times.  The only thing I'm bummed about is that, by focusing an entire semester on LPS, they didn't get very good at talking about a lot of things.  Think about how much they can say after just learning those words from our first story...  So that's sad, but I think they'll pick them up quickly next semester.  Stay tuned...

Here is the worst one.  She got a few things out of her own brain before copying the colors from the color poster on the wall.  This student was absent SO much.  I think she is going to end up dropping at semester and trying again next year.  It's just soooo hard to catch up from a lot of absences.

This is another poor sample.  This student seems to pay attention in class, but he is not very socially active in class.  He prefers to keep to himself and shares little.  I'm hopeful that as he feels more comfortable, he will engage more and have better results.

That's it for this semester of French 1!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Novel reading-it worked for me!

So I finished La Personne Spéciale weeks early with one class and was struggling with what to do with them.  I tried creating a persona and asking that person the same questions I had asked the other students...but that fell flat.  My other class (the one who is still going with LPS) can talk about anything in French.  They come into class each day bursting with some story they want to tell we're behind.  My "fast" class doesn't want to talk about anything.  They are a small class and are content to sit back and watch me do my dancing dog show for them.  What to do??

I decided to make life easy on myself, and, rather than create a FIFTH daily prep, we are reading Nuits Mystérieuses.  Now, I have to say I have read this with a class before, but it was YEARS ago and I wasn't super thrilled with the novel because, as a former Lyonnaise, I thought the culture was a little lacking.  Flash forward maybe 6 years, and I've now seen Mira Canion and Mike Coxon and Carol Gaab really explain teaching with novels.  It's taken me a while for all that goodness to sink in, but I think it finally did!

I must admit, I am doing ZERO prep for this novel.  We just open it up and start reading.  But it's working, so I will share what I did yesterday for those of you who, like me, hate prepping for class (or don't have time to do it).

So, we started on chapter 4.  This is after the infamous tennis match where Alphonse hit Kevin in the nose with a ball.  In the first sentence, we learn that Kevin is in the Place Bellecour (yards from my old apartment), so of course, I had to show the kids what it looks like.  Luckily, there is a recent song and video that takes place in Place Bellecour, so we watched that.

We moved on to the second sentence, of course repeating the first.  My room has a squareish-shaped carpet, so I decided spur of the moment to make that Place Bellecour.  I took two bean bags to use as the base and scrambled to find a horse and a person-like thing for the horse and rider.  I found a giraffe for a horse and a mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for the rider.  Add in a sword, and Voilà!: Place Bellecour!

Next, Dylan is eating a croque monsieur, so I scrambled to find a plastic sandwich and threw it at the student who was reading Dylan's lines.  As we continued, each time one of the boys reacted, we waited until the actor reacted appropriately.

When we got to the part about Kevin's nose being red (because of the tennis incident), we did an instant replay because we hadn't had time to act out the last chapter.  I didn't have tennis rackets, so one student used a broom and the other used a dustpan.  I had a stress football that I used and we did a slow-motion re-enactment of the scene.  I have to admit, I was very surprised that my kids were so willing to get up and act goofy.  This is a class that LOVES sit and get.  They complain anytime I ask them to move.

Next, Dylan and Kevin look for a Starbucks, so I was able to talk a minute about the difference that used to be huge between French and American coffee-drinking habits.  And about how that is slowly changing as Starbucks arrives in France :_(

Next in the story, Dylan and Kevin go to a café, where they see a beautiful girl.  I picked a girl at random and had her sit in front of my computer.  The next line said that she had green eyes, so we had to go back to the drawing board and find a different girl with green eyes.  All this time, all adjustments are made in French and I am repeating myself, but it's compelling because it's all in context.  I say "Oh, B doesn't have green you have green eyes?  No, you don't have green eyes?  Who has green eyes?  Do you have green eyes?  Yes!  Okay, J has green eyes."  Then J sat up by the computer.  Next sentence we find out that she has long black hair...J didn't have black hair, so I had to improvise a wig.  The kids were laughing at the strange ways I was making this all work.

Anyway, I just wanted to write it up while I was thinking of it to show a bit of success with little planning.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Kindergarten Reading/Read Alouds

I've been focusing a lot of energy on literacy this year because it's a great way to learn vocabulary and I personally love the heck out of it.  But I couldn't seem to wrap my brain around re-creating the feeling of snuggling with my mom in bed while she read to me in the classroom.  So I reached out to the experts.  Here is the email I sent to Mike Coxon and Bryce Hedstrom, two superstars in creating life-long readers:

So I was inspired to finally buy the Read-Aloud Handbook and read
another book called Book Love this year.  As I'm trying to wrap my
brain around how to make this work in the FL classroom, I have a
question that I'm hoping you can lend some experience to.

I started doing Kindergarten Reading on Wednesdays, but with my French
1 kids, the books that we were able to do were pretty lame, so I
started taking 10-15 minutes that day to additionally read aloud to
them from a book in English (my reasoning being that there is a ton of
cultural information in there and I really thought I would just read a
chapter...but they LOVE it).  The feeling in the class when I'm
reading is magical.  It's comfy and cozy and the kids are able to just
relax and enjoy the story.  How do I take that magical feeling and
transform it into the TL?  I talked for quite a while last week with
Jeremy Jordan and our Reading Specialist, but I don't think the
reading specialist quite got it.  Jeremy had a couple of ideas, but
suggested that I should also get advice from you two "big dogs."

This is rambling, and I apologize, but there's a lot going on in my
brain about this.  With Kindergarten Reading, it definitely has it's
place, but it is way more interactive and I'm working really hard to
keep the language in bounds appropriate to their various levels.  With
a read aloud (from what I can gather from the Read-Aloud Handbook),
part of the beauty is that the students are exposed to a higher level
of language than they would be if I am sheltering sheltering
sheltering vocabulary to make it 100% comprehensible.  So, do I 1)
choose a book that I know they can understand most of (and if
so...what?), 2) pick a book that they probably won't understand as
well, but maybe one with a familiar storyline, 3) hold off on read
alouds until the upper levels, or 4) Scratch this whole idea and do
more Kindergarten reading or FVR.

Does all of this make sense?  My goals with Read Aloud are to expose
kids to new vocabulary and to create that warm fuzzy feeling.

Thanks in advance for reading this long, rambling, mess of an email.

Bess Hayles

And here is Bryce's response:

Hi Elisabeth,

Reading aloud can indeed magical. There is a connection there that you do not find elsewhere. The best way to help you with this is to set up a contrast. Your questions and commentary are so deep and well written that I am compelled to give an in depth answer.

When I read aloud to my students I am trying to recreate the close and tender feeling of reading to my daughters on my lap at night when they were little. I am close to my grown daughters and they are both eloquent and avid readers. I attribute it partially to the close feelings we shared as I read to them every night. They heard my voice and they could tell I cared. they associated those good feelings with books.

I am also trying to transmit the joy of listening to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Pyle, read to our class after lunch. He read to us every day and sometimes he even read for an hour. Once or twice he read for the rest of the day. I learned to love reading because of that. I have re-read almost all of the books he read to us then: Where the Red Fern Grows, Anne of Green Gables, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, When the Legends Die, Little Britches, Man of the Family and many others. That is a long-term reading win. God bless you, Mr. Pyle.

That absolutely does not happen, cannot happen, will NEVER happen to my high school students regarding reading in the current educational environment. Many English teachers are now forced to do close reading or deep reading with their students. The result is that reading now teaches students to hate reading. Reading is not something they enjoy, it is something they analyze in excruciating detail. I am willing to bet any amount of money that high school students that are forced to read a book over a period of weeks and analyze it sentence-by-sentence will never read any of those books again and worse, they will probably never read anything else like that again for pleasure for the rest of their lives. the result will be De facto illiteracy--they will be able to read but they won't because they will have been taught that reading is loathsome, something you are forced to do. Good intentions gone horribly wrong.

Go for the feeling in examples #1 & #2. Ditch #3.

Here is how I do it:

To paraphrase to ideas of Stephen Krashen, keep it comprehensible and interesting:

Keep it comprehensible.

1. Adjust the level of your speech. Students cannot see the print on the page, even if it is a big book. Use that to your advantage. Change the level of your "reading" to match the level of your students. I have used the same book all day long for kindergarten reading in level I, level 2 and level 4/AP by altering the level of speech in each class. It is easier to go from harder to easier. Just paraphrase in language that is comprehensible to the kids sitting in front of you.

2. Check for understanding. Do frequent comprehension checks to make sure they are with you. These are more informal than in a normal lesson and usually appear as side comments in the TL: "Wow, that must hurt! Has anyone fallen down like that? You? Really? when? What happened?

Keep it Interesting:

3. Alter your voice. Do not read like a machine. Use the read aloud tips from "Reading Magic" by Mem Fox: High/Low, Fast/Slow, Loud/Soft and Pause. Alter the tone, volume, speed and cadence and use dramatic pauses to make them want more.

4. Use different voices. Students that are listening to you do not have the advantage of being able to scan ahead to see who is speaking. They need to hear it instantaneously. So I do the main characters in distinct voices, usually based on their personalities: haughty, crafty, sneaky, innocent, caring, etc. The narration is in my own normal voice.

5. Pick books that are interesting to you and them.  If you like it you enthusiasm will be contagious. Don't read something to them just because you think you should. That is terrible modeling for the students. Let you admiration and love for the content in the book overflow and shower your students. They will pick up on it. You also need to take their interests and sensibilities into account, but do not go too far down that road, they are in your class because they want to learn something from you. They can easily get the pop culture

Practical Tips:

6. Change the body, change the mind.  Students sit in a different place and in a different way when we do read alouds. I have a plush rug that a student rolls out and students sit on it. I sit on the floor. My student teachers who are often female usually prefer to sit on a chair in front of them. Students that cannot fit on the rug move their chairs into a tight semi-circle around it. Those that cannot fir in the semi-circle of chairs have to stand behind them. No one can sit in a chair that is not around the rug. That creates an outcast, someone that is disengaged. I tell them that it is because they need to be able to see the pictures so that they will know what is going on.

7. Consistency. We do Kindergarten Reading every Thursday at the end of the period. No matter what. It doesn't matter if they have behaved or misbehaved. It doesn't matter if it is homecoming week or some other crazy event is going on. They can depend on it and look froward to it. So do I.

8. Cookies. Student volunteers bring cookies to share. This idea and the feeling of holding a cookie and eating it bring back memories of when school was fun, of when the teacher liked them and they liked each other. I do not beg for cookies. I do not mention it much at all. Students arrange it. We almost always get volunteers to bring cookies. We give them an applause and a sincere thank you. That helps to keep the cookie train rolling.

Does this clear it up?


And then Mike chimed in as well:

Hey Bess,

I agree with what Bryce mentions about using different voices and altering your voice. I also recommend reading with soundtrack music lightly playing in the background.  When I read aloud I am standing and dramatizing the story as I read (be careful you will get dizzy at first). 

You mention that "warm an fuzzy feeling" when reading.  I always had the goal of making reading exciting or entertaining because I wanted them to enjoy it so they would do it on their own.  

When you contrast what a typical History or English class might do when reading aloud (if they read aloud), there is a more serious and academic approach.  The TPRS novels and children's books that are available give us an opportunity to step out the "teacher role" and be an entertainer. 

I want the kids to get a little bit lost in what we are doing which is why the voices or music can help "fool"them.  This does take work but I think Reading Aloud helps students really get into reading AGAIN.  Towards the second half of the year FVR is more successful because of the Read Aloud sessions. 

Bryce also mentions body positioning.  I have had kids lay on the floor while doing Read Alouds (which has been great).  I have even gone to other parts of the school to act out scenes (I found it to be too distracting). IF I have some cool chairs in your room so it looks like you are set up reading :)

Sounds like you are on the right track.  Your personality seems like a perfect fit for dramatizing Read Alouds...hope these ideas help!

Talk soon,


Lots of great information there!

Still here?  Here are some videos I made of me doing Kindergarten Reading with my French 3 class before and after getting advice.  What do you think?

FLAM session on creating an authentic classroom by Dr. Tonya Tinsley

I've had this blog post sitting open on my computer for almost a week now.  I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to present it, so I've procrastinated.

Last weekend, I went to the local conference for Missouri and Kansas FL teachers and presented (presentation available on an earlier blog post).  My favorite part of the conference was seeing what was going on in other schools and classrooms, but nothing super resonated with me.  Not because they weren't fantastic ideas or that there aren't amazing things happening in FL classrooms across the midwest, but I didn't hear anything that I felt like I needed to share with the world or really ponder.

So on Saturday morning, tired from a stressful day of presenting for the very first time, I decided to duck into a session presented in French because, I figured, if I don't have anything to take away from this into my classroom, at least I've spent over an hour listening to a language I love.  And the presenter had a beautiful accent and a quiet presence that just felt so good after so much GO GO GO.  Sadly, I can't find an online program from last weekend, so I have no idea of this woman's name or of the name of her session.  (if anyone reads this and has this information, please share!)

To make a long story short, here are the ideas that she shared that resonated with me.  I was typing frantically while translating and listening, so they are very choppy.  But rather than sit with this blog post glaring at me while I try to teach, I will put this out there in the world as I experienced it.  If anything is confusing or you want more explanation, please reach out.  I can try and remember my thoughts as I took the notes.

Are our students used to traveling?  We can give them the tools of the language, but experiencing it is another thing...  Grocery store?  Paying the bill?  We need to make sure that our students can make those authentic connections because otherwise, they don't understand.

4 types of locuteurs: someone used to working with language learners, someone who's not, but is willing to be kind and communicate, someone who has no idea of how to speak with a non-native, someone who doesn't know and doesn't care to know.

Talk about something precious to them.  Something they value....but also, expose them to other things.  History: Sur les pas de Anne de Bretagne, Pour Connaitre La France: Histoire

How can we teach the value of culture if we don't know the story behind it?

What do they spend their money on says a lot about their lifestyles...?  We need to share our experiences with students.  When we ask them what they are going to be in the future, we are also helping them to become themselves.

It's important to show them you interacting with another French speaker.

We need to tell them that it's okay to start a sentence and not know how you are going to end it.  Maybe give them an example that life is not scripted.   We never know what we're going to say next and it's okay to stop and start again.