Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Absences make the heart grow fonder

I've been sick. Yuck. Missed three days of school. It was really nice to get back into the classroom and back into the swing of things. My kids were (mostly) excited to see me back. I had kids asking "Are we telling a story today???? Can I be in it?????" Seriously? However, all their enthusiasm didn't make my classroom any quieter today. I keep experimenting, and maybe that is the problem. I need to figure out what I'm going to make work and stick with it. Byron recently posted something on FLTeach about the way he makes his class work and I think I'm going to take a little of that...a little of the rules on the wall...and a few days and get this back in shape. Next week is our first full week in a long while, so I'll get something together and I'll see how it goes!

Today I tried something that I thought would work really well. For my beginners, it was a little tough, but I bet it would be a riot for some more advanced classes or classes who've had more than a couple months of novice TPRS instruction. Last week, we really worked a story. Re-tells, picture drawing, reading, etc. I have two classes of that level, so I thought it would be fun to take their drawings (I had groups draw one scene from the story) and have the other class write stories about the drawings. The set-up was similar and the key phrases were there, so they had some idea of what was going on. I started with individual re-writes and then had them work in groups of 2 or 3 to combine to make the best possible story. We shared with the class and then I had them vote on which story they thought was the best. The winners got a free homework pass for my class (kind of silly since there really isn't a whole lot of HW in my class, but they were excited!)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Early writing

How do I get my first years to write more? And more correctly? They don't have a lot of practice and I'm not sure how to make the transition from listening and understanding to writing. So far, I've had them write stories on their own, using a story I wrote as a pattern. We've also written a story as a class...and they've started doing 5-minute free writes. That's when I noticed that they have almost no writing skills at all. How can I improve this?

Reflections on the meaning of life...

...or this last week of TPRS. I said earlier that I was having a hard time staying jazzed about TPRS. This week I tried some new things and got my mojo back. It feels so good to be able to laugh again. I think I just got bogged down with classroom management and was so down on myself for not being better at it that I spent most of the hour being mad at the kids.

This week, I used Michele's suggestion (I think it was Michele) that I use Monday to talk about the weekend. I was wondering how I could find enough words to be able to talk to my first years for an entire class period... I tried with my "experimental" class and it went really well! We were able to fill the 45 minutes and the kids really enjoyed talking about themselves. The next day, we stretched our question of the day to 45 minutes as well...or almost 45 minutes. On Monday, I was having trouble with kids wanting to translate out loud and answer me back in English instead of trying to use French. So yesterday I started class and said, "You guys have 3 minutes to speak all the English you can. After that, class will be in French. You may use up to 3 English words in a row, if you have to." I timed them for the 3 minutes and then we started with our question: What do you like to do? The first girl who answered started off "J'aime...I don't know what I like to do." So I kindly smiled and pointed to the door and asked her to wait in the hallway. After the next student answered in French, I let that student come back each time a student spoke too much English, they were only out in the hallway for maybe 5 minutes at most. The door was open, so they could still hear what was going on in class. It was a miracle!! The students all spoke French for the entire time...they were engaged in listening to the others because if I caught them whispering or chatting in English, they'd be out! When every student had finished, there were still 2 minutes left in class. I asked the class if it was worth it to have the extra time to be social and then really speak French. They were all very positive. I'll definitely start this in all my classes because it's very easy for me to be fair about it. If I hear more than 3 words of English, they are out in the hall. They understand that they're not in trouble because I'm smiling and yet they are still sort of part of the class. Very effective.

I'm also really enjoying the re-tells that my students are doing. They are able to speak French for up to 5 minutes at a time without resorting to English! Some are (of course) better than others, but it's so awesome. I just can't wait for some of my barometer students to attempt the re-tell. That will be a happy day, for sure.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Free write

Today I tried the free write portion of TPRS. I was AMAZED at how well it went. Even my chatty chatty class that questions everything I do was quiet and engaged with the activity. I explained that we were going to be slowly working towards a goal of writing a 100 word story in 10 minutes. I used running as a metaphor to explain that I wasn't asking them to start off running a marathon, but rather they would start by just running around the block. I had students write anywhere from 12 words to 118 words. So there's a lot of different ability levels in my second year students. For my 1st year students, I had them write for 5 minutes. The highest word count was 38 in that class. I'm still impressed because we haven't spent a lot of time writing yet.

My question is this: My second year students, who learned through the "old method" had much MUCH better spelling and conjugation than my 1st year students who have only learned through TPRS. I know that it is very early and that they are still doing a great job, but I worry that their spelling will never get any better. Any tips for how to encourage correct spelling without requiring it??

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I suck

Man, it's hard not to think like a student some days. I make a mistake and my affective filter goes way up and I'm terrified that someone will see me teaching. I don't know exactly where these feelings of panic come from. I only know that it makes my heart beat faster when the bell rings and my kids are sitting there, quietly waiting for me to begin the lesson. Okay, so that never happens. I have to orally cue them that class is ready to begin. But it does make me nervous to teach on days when I don't have a homerun lesson. This week, I've been panicked that I don't have the exact route paved for my PQA or PMS. Last week, I was pretty okay with it. The week before, I was relishing the fact that I didn't really have to have anything planned, per se.

I think it's because I'm trying to take our district French curriculum and mold it into a TPRS classroom. Writing down what they are supposed to know takes me away from the spontanaiety of good TPRS because I'm constantly trying to force words into the situations. Today, though, it worked pretty well because I took some of the action verbs that my kids need to know for stellar stories and worked it into a 3-ring circus. I skipped the verbs they already have down by heart and worked with the more difficult ones. I was also able to throw in some prepositions by asking where in the classroom they were doing these actions.

However, I'm still in a panic. I think it also has a lot to do with my terror of classroom management. It's SO hard for me to send kids out of the classroom. It's SO hard for me to pull them out of the classroom. I really need to be on top of it and stop worrying so much about teaching and focus on management first. I can't remember where I read it recently, but control of the classroom has to precede instruction. I have to remember that and take that to heart. I also read Bryce's "Alternative Activity" sheet that he gives to disruptive kids. It made me laugh and I wish we had the support in our district to do something like that, but I don't think we do. I just keep hoping I'll get the hang of it...that the good days will outnumber the bad. It's just so hard when kids see your class as the "fun" class and they try to take that and run with it. Yes, my class is fun because we get to speak French and talk about weird things. Sometimes Joey will dance under the table...but that doesn't mean that you can randomly yell out inappropriate comments about the race of a classmate. I mean...really!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yucky Mondays

I have the hardest time "playing the game" on Mondays. I have no idea why this is, since I usually spend my weekends catching up on sleep. I'm cranky on Mondays, have no energy, and generally don't want to be here. So far, I've been planning for this lack of energy and having a reading or writing day on Mondays. That way, my students are still making progress, but I'm not required to entertain them. Are there any other suggestions for ways to make it through Mondays? It's also super hard right now because it's dark when I get to school and wicked cold. We've been sitting at about 20 degrees below normal temps for the last two weeks. Yikes!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

First "story"

Yesterday was a "blah" day. I was tired from working my second job this weekend and feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work I need to do to get myself more ready to teach with TPRS. So I planned a reading/writing day. It I guess I'm feeling like if my lesson plans say "story time" every day...I'm not working hard enough. I need to get over that. Today, I watched Ben's DVD segment where he shows off his room and talks about lesson plans. It made me feel much better. I need to remember that I am doing a lot of work; it just looks different.

And then there was today. Yahoo for today! I did my first official story today in that I had three phrases I was focusing on...reviewing the rest. I had a general idea of where the story was going to go, but I let the kids add the details. It worked in both of my classes. I'm still getting them trained on how to act during story time, but I'm getting more and more students on board with me. At least that's how I see it today; tomorrow I may feel like I'm drowning again. My question now is: What do I do with those three phrases? I know they didn't get the needed amount of reps. I'm planning on reviewing the story tomorrow and giving a quick comprehension quiz. Then what? I'm not really sure if the kids are ready for re-tells. I also have a learning objective for the week that is not matching fully what has been happening in the class. choices are: force a re-tell and be happy no matter the results, have students create a mini-book based on the learning objectives (reviewing the school day), or some other melange of ideas that sound good tomorrow morning. Hmm...

Monday, October 5, 2009


My assistant principal sends us funny or inspiring quotes every day. The other day, he sent this one, and I couldn't help but think of TPRS:

Tell me, and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand.--Native American Proverb

Through the PQA and asking the story, we really do involve our students in the learning. It also (some days) lets our students pick what vocabulary is important to them. I have a class that is in love with the word "malin" and we use it every chance we get. I love the idea of having private jokes with my classes because it makes the participants feel included and it makes those snoozing through class feel like they're missing something by being a jerk. I really need to play up to those students who are swallowing what I'm feeding them and try to ignore or find a solution for those who aren't. I love what Ben said about having those kids sit in the back of the room with a workbook until they are ready to play the game. Awesome!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Word Chunk

Well, I tried the Word Chunk game this week with both levels of my students. I have one class that I really consider to be a superstar class. I think I've made reference to them before because they really embody and embrace the "game" of TPRS. That class adored the game and the prize (picking the French video to watch at the end of the hour). I found a snag with my other classes. While most students loved the game and it really engaged all students, I had one team in each of the other classes where none of the players was interested in playing the game. I could have assigned them to teams, but I feel like that takes away the reward of the game. Especially if they are going to be in these teams for a while. Any thoughts?

Also, I had some students who were very concerned with "fairness" in the game. They would cry foul if I called on a team with no points when they obviously had their hands up first! I found that my other classes did better with that when I explained that as part of the rules. "I might not call on the team with their hand up first because I want to give everyone a chance." They seemed to accept that pretty well.

I had a day yesterday that had me shaking my head. I had a total Negative Ned who was being completely inappropriate. It really made me question my sanity, but it was just a bad day. Today, we were back on track. I think if I just let it slide off my back and go back into the classroom full of love for the students, I feel better about it and they respond in kind. I'm still trying to figure out how to prove to my students that I'm not out to get them, but I do need some order and respect in the classroom.