Monday, May 22, 2017

Student evaluations

Every year I have my students evaluate me after they have taken their finals.  Here are some of the most common responses this year.

1. Did you feel that I cared about you and your success?  Overwhelmingly, the answer was yes.  There were a very few students that hesitated or said that they weren't sure.

2. If yes, what did I do to show you that I cared?  If no, what could I have done? The answers on this were mainly: you let us know when we had a bad grade and let us turn stuff in late, you asked us about our weekends and seemed interested, you told us about your life.

3. What is the best thing I did in the classroom? This one had a ton of different answers.  But I got a lot of The Stories with Repetition, the Gestures to show when we needed help, The songs at the beginning of the hour...basically everything was said on someone's paper.

4. What is the worst thing I did in the class?  "pop" quizzes, not enough grammar, no vocab sheets.  I really don't know how to handle these because I don't really foresee me changing this next year.  Any thoughts?  I mean, I could poop out a vocab sheet and I have tried to flip the grammar for those students who want it, but it hasn't gone well...

5. What could I do next year to be a better teacher? More stories, teach grammar, more conversations, write words on the board in upper levels, units with specific vocab, more comprehension checks, more repetitions

And that's about it.  I did have like 3 semi-critical ones, but I think those had more to do with personality clashes than about actual pedagogy.  Overall, kids said that my classroom was a fun place where they didn't feel stressed out and they felt like, when they were feeling stressed out because of other classes, I gave them space to de-stress.

I did have one student who was the most complimentary.  This is a student who NEVER volunteered to speak and when she did speak, it was almost a whisper.  She wrote such wonderful things about how much she loved class, even if it didn't show on her face.  So remember, even the kids that you think are miserable could be loving what you're doing.  Don't count them out!

I really recommend doing this at the end of the year if your heart can handle it.  I'm not gonna lie, some of the responses hurt, but you'll never grow if you don't put yourself out there.  And every year, it's the most critical responses that I grow from.

Friday, May 19, 2017

End-of-year reflection

I have four more classes of finals to give, so I'm just sitting around waiting for them to show up.  Perfect time to sit and reflect on the year...

First, I have to admit that I haven't felt great about this second semester.  First semester, I had some crazy virus that made my iron levels go sky high...leading to an extreme exhaustion, which is not great for TPRS.  Second semester, I fell into a depression probably caused by lack of sunshine and  finding out some information about terrible bullying going on between two of my students and I disengaged from my classes for a while.  Then, just when I'm starting to get back into the groove, I had hernia surgery to repair an umbilical hernia from having so many stinking babies.  I tell you all of this because I am a sharer and also to give you hope that it's really true that even bad TPRS is better than no TPRS.

So...really bad year on my part.  BUT, I'm getting some of the best results of my career.  Because I spent almost an entire semester on Personne Spéciale, the kids had a TON of compelling input as they learned about every one of their classmates.  Next year, I'm going to cut out some of the questions from Bryce Hedstrom that didn't work for my classes and am adding a couple of new ones like What is your spirit animal? and What do you want to do before you die?

I may not have done a ton of stories with my classes, but the ones we did do were super interesting.  I had one story that was truly Blaine Ray magic.  We spent so much time building up a back story that we never finished the actual story.  But the kids LOVED it.

Also, having the structures on the Powerpoint and projected each day as we talked about the kids really helped with pronunciation and spelling.  By doing that, I'm seeing almost no Juh swee.  They still make some errors, but way fewer.

I'm not sure why this is, but my Free Write word counts went up this year over-all.  Even kids who have had me for the last four years were writing more and writing better.  I'm not sure why that is except that I started giving them a small grade for making progress on word counts...so maybe they had more incentive to try? (and yes, I realize that grades should not be used as the carrot and the stick, but I feel like until our society changes, this is the way it is).

What else?  I won't know everything until I get all of my student evaluations back.  I know that at NTPRS this summer, I need to focus on meeting the needs of my upper level students.  I am finishing my tenth year of teaching levels one and two...my 8th using TPRS exclusively.  So I feel like I do a pretty good job with those students.  Now it's time to figure out how to take that energy and excitement and transfer it to the upper levels where I am supposed to make sure they are prepared for the IB exam and college.  Yuck!

How about you guys?  What's the one thing that you're going to change for next year??

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 year...so 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 conjuguemos.com 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 rotate...so 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 me...so 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 eyes...do 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.