Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My absence

I am so sorry that I haven't blogged in a while. I have been uber-busy with work, a grad class, and surprise house guests. Hopefully I'll find some time soon to write about the wonderful things that are happening in my classroom and the struggles...always the struggles. Thank goodness the good outweighs the bad!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Be nice

Compliment your students. Beyond telling them in class that they are the awesomest...notice their shoes or necklace. This is something that I used to be really bad at, but I think it makes a powerful difference.


This weekend, I had a terrible feeling in my gut about this year. Can I really do this? Can I really do this so that 160 students learn? Can I manage huge classrooms back to back to back? What about planning time? Suffice it to say that I was a mess this weekend.
Yesterday, I came into school and I started doing my thing. For my students from last year, they were used to this sort of thing, so it went as expected. But with my new students....they LIT UP! They were smiling and laughing (or at least staying awake). I had just as much energy, if not more, at the end of the day as I did in the morning. What a great feeling! And, I continued asking my students if I was going too fast or too slow and they all said I was going at a good pace! It really is feels slow to us, but it is just the right speed for our students. Thank you, Linda Li, for really drilling that at NTPRS through modelling.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Comprehension checks

After NTPRS this year (and my experience last year), I realized that I need to spend a lot more time with comprehension checks, going SLOW, and making sure that EVERY student understands. Today, I started working on training my students (even the ones I had last year who feel like they know how to work this class) on how to make that happen.

We practiced several times what I expect from a choral response. I gave them a verbal cue..."Claaaasse?" in a very exagerrated question, followed by the question. I then listened to see if everyone answered. If not, I talked about how they should answer next time and we tried it again. Explaining what I was doing and why really helped my students understand what the heck was going on in class. I also said, "When I ask for a response from the class, it could be one word or several, depending on your level of comfort."

The next thing I did as I was doing a little circling was to have comprehension checks. At first, I just did a basic 10-finger check to see how much they were able to understand. If they were at a 7 or below, I reminded the class that they need to be stopping me if they don't understand. After a couple more minutes of CI, I did another comp. check, but this time I used someone's (Linda's?) word-by-word check. I had students give me a sign if they understood the word and could picture it and a different sign if they didn't know it. Then, I said the words I had been working on and checked them out. This was an AWESOME way to see my barometer students really quickly. It was surprising to me to see how many kids were struggling that were giving me all the "I'm okay" signs.

The last cool thing (at least I think it's cool) that I did was to have the kids tell me "oui" or "non" on the way out of class. Oui meant that they thought I was doing a good job and going at a good pace. Non meant that I was going too fast or too slow (and then I asked them to expand at the door). I was really surprised at how many Ouis I got...even with my second year students...considering that I was going sooooooooo slowly. Everything just reaffirms the power of going super slow. It's not the kids getting bored, it's us! (usually). I did have some kids ask what to do when I was going too slowly. I said that I would be checking in with them every so often and that if they were all on board that I was going too slowly, I would speed up. Otherwise, I wanted the faster processors to focus on something they could improve on or come up with an interesting story so they wouldn't get bored...

I love my job!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day two

Today, we started off with me giving an introduction of myself and what I like. With my second year kids, I did the whole thing in French, checking for comprehension and reinforcing my expectation that everyone understand everything. I think this went pretty well, but I realize that I need to spend a LOT more time on comprehension checks. It is sooooo important.

With my first year students, I told them that I could do my introduction in French...and I could make sure that they get the gist of what I'm saying, but I didn't want to do that because I didn't want them to get used to the feeling of being confused.

When we were done with that, we started talking about the syllabus. How exciting is that? I think it's going to go really well, though. I was a little nervous about yesterday because I couldn't remember a lot of faces or names, but I did better than I thought I would today. I just have to remember to take it one kid at a time. It also went better than I thought it would because the kids who were pushing my limits yesterday really calmed down AND they were still making jokes, just at appropriate times. This could be really awesome!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

First day, first day!!

Ooooooo boy! What a fabulous but mind-numbing day! I met all but two of my almost 160 students and tried to remember a lot of new names and faces. Hopefully things will calm down tomorrow as I introduce myself and we start talking syllabus and procedures. And then comes the fun stuff of getting to know them through talking about what they like to do!!

I have to say that I was absolutely AMAZED at the retention from my 2nd year students. They were up, talking, answering questions, and UNDERSTANDING what I was saying. One difference? Me! After NTPRS, I think I did a much better job asking for clarification, slowing down, and not being afraid to jump in with English. I can't wait to start curriculum!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back to school Eve

Woo hoo! I am super excited to be starting another year with TPRS! And this time with a protege and some new Missouri TPRS friends. I think this year will be the best yet!
I had a meeting with a new parent who had some genuine concerns about her child being successful in my class because of some SPED issues, and I felt great being able to re-assure that parent that ANY kid can be successful in my class. I see it as an exciting challenge to bring that child into the classroom and make him/her feel great about being an individual and celebrating his/her strengths!! That is really the best thing about TPRS (besides not having to plan for hours and hours) to me. I love being able to create a true connection with kids.
I also saw a student from last year in the hallways. She was with her grandma, so I made sure to speak only in French to her. At first, she freaked out and said she didn't remember anything...but then she realized that I was only asking stuff we talked about millions of times during class (What did you do this summer? Did you see any movies? Did you travel? Where?). It was reassuring to me that she was able to remember the answers and UNDERSTAND what I was saying to her. I'm not banging my head against a wall anymore!!
Good luck tomorrow and this week (or later, if you're a late starter) with getting new kids (almost 160 for me this year!!!) and helping them find their voice and shine!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

NTPRS wrap-up

For me, this year of NTPRS was a lot more networking than last year. Last year I was just trying to learn as much as possible. This year, I learned a ton, but I also met some really awesome people. I can't wait to watch for their moretprs posts and such.

I also have to say that my brand-new colleague who came with me has decided to go into her first year teaching as a TPRS teacher!!!!!!! She is already receiving a little bit of kick-back for her choice of TPRS and standards-based grading, but there are enough people to support her that she'll be fine. And I'm her mentor at school, so how could she go wrong ;). In addition to my awesome colleague, we met and became very close with a couple of new TPRSers from the other side of the state. We are already making plans to meet up in October to touch base and support each other.

I love my job! I love TPRS! I love NTPRS! I love my students! and I love all of you...the army of TPRS. Together, we can teach the world to communicate.

Stories Worth Retelling: Teaching with Jokes-Bryce Hedstrom

First, I have to tell all of you that I love Bryce Hedstrom. Last year, I didn't see him in any sessions because I was sooo busy with a bunch of other junk, but he stood out to me in the Fred Jones session. He said that Tools for Teaching changed his life. And that was a pretty big endorsement! So I tried it and I have to say that it changed my life as well. So of course I had to tell him that...and he was so great! I think that's one of the things that we TPRS teachers do really well: we tell each other when we've made a difference. I had people come up to me and tell me that my blog is helping them! It was kind of weird, but gave me the energy to keep it up, that's for sure!

Okay, so now that my gush-fest for Bryce is over, I'll tell you about this amazing session. The premise is really simple: sneak a joke in AS A STORY every once in a while to keep your students on their toes! It starts out the same: there is a boy/girl/monkey who has a problem. But instead of a conclusion, there is a punchline!!

For the first joke, Bryce pre-taught us a couple of key phrases: me duele (hurts me) and roto (broken). If my Spanish is jacked, I apologize. So we talked about what hurts worse, a broken nose or a broken finger? Who has ever had a broken finger? How did you break it? Does it still hurt? You get the idea. We PQA and circle the heck out of those two phrases because they are essential to the joke. Once we get bored of that, Bryce introduces our character. Gerry is a boy with a problem. He hurts. He hurts all over. He hurts when he touches his shoulder, He hurts when he touches his knee. At this point, somebody yelled that it hurts when he touches his hair. Bryce acted really confused and questioned us...Does it hurt when he touches his hair?? never hurts when I touch my hair (this made me laugh so hard because Bryce has a beautiful bald head...). Gerry goes to the doctor and tells the doctor his problem. The doctor thinks and thinks and says "I know your problem!" Gerry is so excited...the doctor says "you have a broken finger!" The kids were never expecting that. They were expecting the wrong solution and then a second and a third location!! Genius.

Bryce has jokes for advanced levels, beginner levels, etc. They don't have to be culturally Spanish (or French or Russian...) jokes, they just have to be story jokes. Good stuff I tell you!

Activating Readers-Carol Gaab

Only two more to blog and I'm done for a while!!

This was really helpful to me because I loved reading novels with my kids last year, but it took sooooooo loooooong. I got some great tips in this session to make the stories more fascinating and to make the reading go more quickly.

The first tip that she gave was that we should be doing more PQA than we do circling. We do circling to establish meaning, but then we involve our students to get reps. This makes it more interesting!! Real aha moment!

The other aha moment was that we don't have to make sure that they get every word in the reading. We don't have to write every unknown word/structure on the board and then circle for acquisition. Pick 4 or 5 per chapter that you want them to acquire and then just give them the others!

Okay, I'm just blogging my notes, but they aren't in any sort of order. I'll try to get things back in order.

First step is to think about what you want to do for pre-reading. This includes picking the phrases you want kids to learn...or what cultural tidbits you want them to pick-up. Pre-teach high frequency, essential vocabulary...WAY before the book is ever introduced. Then, start teaching background knowledge that they will need to know before you start reading. This could be history, historical characters (like Houdini), geography...anything!

All of this stuff will get them excited to read. Introduce the characters before you introduce the novel. Talk about parallels between characters and students. They should WANT to read!

During the reading: this is where I struggled. I either had students chorally translate or popcorn translate. and that was it for my bag of tricks. Carol had tons of better ideas: You could break the class into groups and have each group chorally read a section. You can read in English (sloooowly) and then have students fill in the blanks for important or acquired words. Have them read in partners. Do a jigsaw activity where each group translates a paragraph or sentence and then get in groups again so that each section is represented and have them read it together. Have the students respond to a key word ("Every time we read "the boy" you say achoo!") Or just use the audio books and allow them a chance to enjoy being read to. Good stuff right there. As with everything I learned from Carol, the key is to mix things up pretty regularly so the kids don't get bored with any one thing.

The students don't have to "get" every word to get the story. Carol suggests checking comprehension by ordering events, analyzing events, answering questions about the plot, acting out, drawing pictures, etc. You can also read the text with different emotions and inflections to ask the students to think about what is going on. Which one would be the best if I were an actor in the movie version of this book?

Carol also suggested two books for help with activating readings: The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (also recommended by Krashen) and You Gotta Be the Book by Jeffrey Wihelm.

Sigh...I love Carol...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Power Assessments-Scott Benedict

I went to both parts of this session, but I'll combine them to one blog for space's sake.

This session was really poweful and helpful to me. It was helpful to see that I wasn't TOO far off with my experimentation into standards-based grading. But, what I did realize is that I didn't have to have the vocabulary section (first, because it's really hard to discern meaning out of context and second, because I could just add questions after the reading to see if they understood the vocabulary). So, in the future, I will just have my students read a selection and then have a variety of questions. Some about just various vocabulary words, some about the plot, and then a couple asking them to infer (a higher-level on Bloom's taxonomy).

It was also really helpful because I was struggling with creating standards to narrow down the broad national/state/district FL standards. Scott doesn't do that! Instead, he uses the standards as they are, but then GRADES them based on where he KNOWS they should be. Incredible.

He talked about feedback on formative assessments and how we should talk to a student about how they can improve instead of just giving them a number correct or incorrect. Since it is a formative assessment, this is about the student's growth in knowledge!

Scott also had some great rubrics that I will adapt/steal for my classroom. It was really awesome to see that Scott's rubrics and my Spanish department's rubrics from last year were very similar. AND it made them feel good too when I shared it with them!

For reading and speaking, Scott followed the pattern above. For culture, he did fill in the blank or multiple choice, since this is lower-level Bloom's taxonomy. For writing, he would either give them a prompt or have them write for a set amount of time. This is what I did last year! But I was grading fluency and not accuracy. He suggests using a rubric to help grade these. His rubrics have three criteria, and I am not sure if I can remember them off the top of my head: vocabulary, flow, and grammar maybe?? I'll have to look at his website: and remind myself. For speaking, he would give them a prompt and have them come up two at a time while the rest of the class was doing another portion of the test. That way, the students were focused on their test and not on what the other students were saying. Sometimes he had the students do a dialogue with another student, sometimes they were re-telling a story based on a picture sequence, sometimes they would tell everything they could about a picture. In this way, he can grade all the students in one period and the grading is done when the bell rings.

I would highly recommend Scott's webinars or webversity if you have questions about this. He is amazing and has such an incredible grasp on SBGing. Good stuff!!

Presenting to Peers

Last week, I presented a session on classroom management to a group of 40 peers, including my two administrators!!! It was sooooo fun! Teaching to a room full of teachers is not the easiest thing, since we all know that teachers make the worst students...but they were all engaged and open to what I had to say! Before TPRS and the confidence that I have gained through the method, I would NOT have been able to do it. There's something about TPRS that allows me to really be myself in front of a classroom. I was cracking jokes off the top of my head and relating to my students. Amazing!!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Co-building a story-Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido

At this point, a lot of this session was synthesis of what we learned in the other sessions. The difference in this session was the focus on taking student suggestions. I STINK at this. And during the coaching portion of this session, I learned why. I'm too flippy floppy on it. I'm always waiting for the perfect answer, so I take way too many suggestions and then pick the best one. Instead, I should take a couple of suggestions and either take one, making a big deal about how great it is that the student "guessed" the answer, or I should give my own answer. Either way, it should seem as though I know the story by heart and they are just helping me re-tell it. With the way I do it, the students shout out too many answers and then argue with me when I finally pick an answer. My fault! I need to be more certain in my answers.

We also talked about creating a space for each location to give the students help in remembering the plot.

Personalization-Barb Watson and Michael Miller

I loved this session! Michael started off by talking about how he gets to know his students from the first day of class. It was reassuring, because I focused a lot on this last year. I even shook my kids hands the first week of school to build a connection. As the year went on, if I feel that connection breaking, I would just shake their hands for a few days and BOOM! the connection came back. It was really powerful.

I also loved this session because it gave more ways to embed advanced grammar structures into class so that they become natural.

In the video of Michael in his class, he started off by talking about famous people. Do you know anyone famous? Are you famous? Then, he switched to the future: Will you be famous? I believe that...will be famous. So much good stuff there all around one main word! The thing that stuck out to me about Michael's class is that it really felt like a conversation between him and his students. Really amazing stuff.


I am having a hard time responding to, to Piedad, you are so sweet and I uploaded a picture. I'm getting better at this technology stuff, but still not great!

To Alike: again, technology. Once I figure it out, I'll add a link to your blog. I saw you at NTPRS, but wasn't ever close enough to talk.

To Anny: I'd like to talk to you about your sabbatical. What were you working on? Is your blog up and running yet?

Props in the Classroom-Barb Watson

In this session, Barb talks about what works in her classroom with props. She uses them for interest value, to establish meaning, and as a classroom management tool. How in the world are they a classroom management tool? Students have their favorite props, and Barb will let them sit on desks as long as the student is behaving his/herself. If he/she acts out, the prop is removed. She also has a puppet who is a member of the class. If a student says something mean or out-of-bounds, the puppet gets very upset. Students respond to this more than if Barb just tells them to knock it off.

Barb also uses specific dolls as characters from the novel. This helps students keep characters straight and gives them a visual to go along with the reading.

I don't use props a ton in my class, except for when talking about my animal of the week or when a prop is just perfect for a story. Because I'll be trying to plan ahead more this year, I think I can use props a little more.

The Politics of Education-Dr. Stephen Krashen

First, I have to admit that I am a hippy (I try to use natural soaps, grow vegetables in my back-yard garden, cloth diaper my baby, and recycle like crazy...). I was so happy to go to this session and be surrounded by hippies. I consider a hippy to be anyone who believes that we can improve on the status quo, is willing to fight to make it happen, and will use their beliefs and anything else they have to speak up for the little guy who can't fight for himself.

I already said how much I loved listening to Krashen speak during the keynote address. He was just as engaging here, and he didn't talk about aliens. :)

Krashen started off by telling us that we are not the problem in education. In fact, he said that our educational system is not broken at all. If we look at our national test scores, but remove the scores of those living in poverty, we are very competitive with the other countries. Which is pretty amazing as some of the other countries have little or no poverty and some countries do not educate or test those of below-normal intelligence.

Whew! It's not us! We're not failing our kids! Okay, so what now? Krashen says that there are three main things that have a direct correlation with achievement levels. He says that good public libraries are huge...access to books is one of the biggest indicators of success in school. But most of the poorer schools and communities do not have great access to books. Sooo, pump money into the libraries. But we also need trained librarians who can help students find books that are interesting to them. They need to feel compelled to read. Librarians are number two. And third is a trained library staff to help. Amazing! Of course, he has the research to back this up.

The other thing that Krashen said that I found incredible is that SSR is as effective or MORE effective than direct instruction in reading. I am dumbfounded by this! I will definitely be taking this back to my administrators this fall...

Krashen also talked about curing poverty to make sure that our kids are well-fed with HEALTHY meals and have access to healthcare to help reduce the achievement gap. All-in-all...amazing stuff.

Action plans: follow and go to We need to convince politicians that TESTING is not the way to go. Spend those billions of dollars used currently for testing to get more books in schools, feed our kids, and offer them school nurses.

Contrastive Grammar-Susie Gross and Betsy Paskvan

Grammar in a TPRS classroom?! No way! Yes way!

I loved this because it gave us 3 basic skills to practice.

  1. For our low performers, we ask them to translate a piece or a phrase that it already written on the board. This is the same as in comprehension checks...

  2. For average students, we ask them to transfer the grammar rule we are practicing to another known phrase. For example, "If jouons means (we) play, what does chantons mean?" They should be able to figure that out...

  3. For superstars, we ask them to produce language. "How would I say We like?"

We got to practice this skill, alternating between circling questions and the different levels of grammar pop-ups. Great practice.

The other thing that I really got from this session is the idea of color-coding my board. French should be in one color, English in another, and the grammar point should be in a third color. That's hard to picture, but I'll try to explain it: In the above example, I would write jouons in black, (we) play in blue, and then I would put a red square around the "ons" and (we) so that students can begin to see the pattern.

Great session and my first time to see Miss Susie in action!! AND, I almost forgot that I got to learn some Japanese!! Really amazing... Betsy was so in love with the language and the was hard not to get sucked in!

Comprehension Checks-Barb Cartford and Leslie Davison

This session was a summary of a lot of things we had been seeing in our other sessions...well, as far as comprehension checks go. We have seen the instructors model these skills, and now we have a list of some to try.

We can do translation checks asking kids to translate what we just said (either the whole phrase or a portion) or even retell the story so far in English. Obviously, we need to choose the question based on the ability of the students.

We can also ask the students to tell us how much they are understanding through a finger check, answers to questions, or through a gesture to tell us we are going way too fast.

For us, we need to teach to the eyes...this will tell us quickly if a student is lost (unless they are faking it...).

The coolest things that I learned in this session is how to say "You are really good today" in Swedish...which sounds like Doo air duke diggy dog...or something like that. The other cool thing was how to have students text their level of understanding using I can't wait to use this in my classroom! I think my kids will pee their pants when I tell them to pull out their cell phones in class!

Skipped sessions...

I skipped the last session of the day because my brain needed a break and there wasn't anything I was crazy about. Instead, I talked to a bunch of people and checked out the exhibitors. Great stuff there. I bought three sub DVDs from Chalkboard Productions. I'm sure I'll blog later about how those worked in the classroom.

Power Grading part 1-Scott Benedict

In this session, Scott explained the "why" behind Standards-based grading and how he uses that in his own class.

Scott breaks down his grading into five sections that he weights based on Bloom's Taxonomy. Culture is worth 10% because this is mainly recall of information. Listening and Reading are worth 15% each because these require a little more thought. Writing and Speaking are worth 30% each because they require the highest level of thinking. I love this idea and will transfer my gradebook to this. Last year I had 95% assessments and 5% homework, but I had already planned on ditching my homework grades for the upcoming year anyway. I have had horrible luck with homework in my classes and HATE it as a parent.

Scott also talked about the difference between formative assessments (dipsticks for teachers to see how the students are doing so far...also to provide feedback for students to improve) and summative assessments (test of multiple learning goals).

My school has been working towards standards-based grading for a couple of years now, so I understood the why of this method of grading. There were quite a few people who were shocked by this idea, especially NO HOMEWORK and NO PARTICIPATION. I believe in it... Anyway, I decided to skip the second part, not because Scott isn't amazing as a presenter (as you'll see in later sessions), but because I was already sold on the idea and really wanted to hear Krashen talk about politics.

Building Dialogue through Actors-Scott Benedict and Carol Sutton

One of my favorite sessions because there was sooo much there. Variety, acting, humor, upper-level grammar, and useful phrases.

In this session, Scott and Carol taught us how to choose the right actor (not too crazy, not too shy...just right), how to use dialogue with different levels (low level are puppets, mid-level repeat the dialogue, superstars improvise), and how to vary the drama by having the audience repeat the words with different emotions.

When using dialogue, the teacher circles the dialogue, verifies the details with the actor, and gets advice from the audience. This is such a perfet way to include different subjects, tenses, etc. LOTS of practice. You can even go further by asking way advanced questions like "What did he want that she say? (subjunctive) or What would you like her to say (conditional)" Really really good stuff in this session that I can't wait to use.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Verifying details with Blaine and Von

I love Blaine. He has a way of making me feel like the best, most awesome, student in the class. There really is no way to explain the magic of Blaine until you have a chance to see him teach. And I don't mean teaching about TPRS, I mean teaching a language. He is magic...

This session was practicing the skill of verifying details with the actors and then the class to introduce the first and second person forms. We had a lively discussion about whether oral stories should be in the past or the present. Then Cheri asked if we should introduce both past tenses of a word at the same time. Blaine asked me what my experience was last year in Spanish class... Here is my answer: I learned from Blaine that tenia means wanted. So when I say He wanted...I know exactly what to say. If he had given me two words and tried to explain the difference, I would ALWAYS be asking myself to choose before producing that phrase. That slows down production and creates way more errors than just giving tenia means wanted. So I really believe in the power of just using the language in context and giving the students the meaning.

When verifying, you write the "you" form of the question on the board with the correct response. Then, you ask the actor a question that has already been established. Example: Nilsa, are you a girl? Nilsa answers-Yes, I am a girl. The class applauds Nilsa and the teacher VERIFIES the detail by answering, Yes! That is correct! You are a girl! Another repetition there. Then, turn to the class and verify the detail with them: Class, is/was Nilsa a girl? Yes! That's right! Nilsa is/was a girl. Just another way to increase reps.

I don't have notes from this, but I think that was about it. We had a lot of practice time with Blaine and Von coaching. Again, magic!!

More notes from Carol Gaab

I found my original notes from Carol's session Monday. I thought I would post them, because there are some really good things here...

Make sure that you display vocabulary through meanings or pictures. Pictures, props, gestures are more effective because we are visual creatures.

This is what Carol suggests saying when administrators ask "How do you differentiate": I tier my lesson based on cognitive ability…in other words, I have my core words for the day that EVERY student should internalize and then we have enrichment words (spontaneous) for the top half of the class.

Have some interesting dialogue in every story. Dialogue of the day (Do you want to go? Sure, I want to go!) Great time to use “advanced” dialogue that it high-frequency. Phrase of the week. I will have a lot more about how to embed dialogue into a story from a session on Tuesday.

Put question posters near appropriate items ("where" by map, "what time is it" by clock…) I really like this idea because it eliminates me looking around to point at the appropriate question word...

Partner work is not necessarily for production, it’s for teacher breaks, brain breaks, or a chance for them to think on their own. I do not do nearly enough of this because I'm always afraid that they will use the time to talk to their friend. I think if I give them a set amount of time and time it, they will be more likely to do what I want them to do. Also, it gives me a chance to hear them produce in a non-threatening way.

Use props sparingly and strategically…choose several for the week and then put them away. Emotional engagement increases because the props are always new! Favorite props (cereal boxes, hats, abnormal body parts, glasses, blow-up props, fake foods, empty containers, famous faces) Print off face on card stock and get popsicle sticks. I love the idea of famous faces. I can imagine how my kids would love to see a head of Snooki with her HUGE hair!

One individual question for every 4 group questions….say their name, pause, and then ask the question…offer a choice if they are stuck. This goes against the "old way" for teachers. Usually we are trying to "catch" our students to encourage them to pay attention. But that increases the affective filter. If we say their name, pause, and then ask the question, there is little chance they won't be able to answer. ESPECIALLY if we ask the question very slowly and point.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Improv with Von Ray

Woo hoo! After almost a day, I was reunited with the Ray boys. I doubted that they would remember me, but they did and they were even looking for me! Woot!

Anyway, on to the class. This class was a training to help us as teachers be in the moment of the story. We need to feel comfortable not knowing what is going to happen next. We talked a lot about what makes things funny in an improv situation and then we got to work!

Our first practice was an improv game called One Word Story. In this activity, each player stands in a circle. One person starts the story with one work (Once) and the next player adds another word (upon)...etc. The goal is to have a cohesive, smooth story. Wow! This was really freaking hard. But we all agreed that it is a great team-building activity for our students and would also teach them a lot about being respectful of others' answers in our TPRS classroom. With only one word, it was hard for us to actually create a story with a problem and solution. Instead, we just kept adding details and characters and locations. Hmmmm...sound familiar?

Our second practice was called Conducted Story (I think). One player sits in the middle of the circle and "conducts" the story by pointing to different players for differing amounts of time. This was much easier and we actually had some story lines that made us laugh quite a lot. One of the girls in my group had me on the floor with two words that were completely unexpected. It wasn't that what she said was necessarily that funny, but it was sooooo out of left field that I had to laugh and missed a key part of the story. Luckily, Cheri from Lee's Summit was there to get our story back on track.

The goal of this session was not to find activities to take back to our classrooms for students to do, but rather to start to feel more comfortable with the unknown. Very fun!!

Are we doing a story AGAIN-Carol Gaab

Another great session! This answered soooooo many problems I've had (real or imagined) with my classes. It also showed me, yet again, just how much I have to learn before I can be truly awesome and super effective.

The first point Carol made that I think I need to remind myself of 25 times a day is that the kids aren't (usually) the ones who are bored; it's us! We get so bored saying the same phrase fifty gajillion times that we assume we must be boring the students too. As I can assure you all after being in "classes" of Russian, Chinese and German this week so far, our students NEED that repetition. Most of them aren't bored, they are tuning out because we are going to fast and trying to further the story...

The next tip was to bring in props. But, like every tip that Carol gave us, it should be used sparingly for optimum response and excitement. Carol brings in a few props each week and rotates them so students are excited by the new props.

The next tip is to vary our techniques. Instead of having all choral responses, we should be calling on individuals, have them write it on their hand, bark for yes, etc. I really like this idea and hope to use it once the novelty starts to wear off.

The next tip is also a technique of our storytelling. It is using actors for dialogue. Right from day one! If they can't produce, speak for them and have them open their mouths as your puppets.

Use technology to excite students! No, that doesn't mean a snazzy PowerPoint (although it probably could...). Use Jibjab to explain a story point. Use blabberize. I had never heard of this service. Apparently, you can take a digital photo, center it over a mouth, and then record something for the mouth to say as it moves. Carol suggested using a celebrity crush and then record the story saying something romantic to a student!

We can also vary the types of stories we use. It doesn't always have to be based off PQA. It doesn't always have to come from asking a story. How about using a current event? I thought immediately of using Casey Anthony as a story starter. Carol also uses historical events to teach a story, but she often uses PQA situations the previous day to introduce vocabulary and increase interest in boring old history.

She suggest using music or TV theme songs or sound effects to create pizzazz in the classroom. Again, this is not something to be used every day.

Carol said again and again that not every story is going to be a homerun. We need to realize that our classroom is going to have some fizzles. We just have to learn how to deal with those in a positive matter and keep going in the future!

Krashen Keynote

I thought this was absolutely fascinating, though I guess there were some that found it a bit boring. Not this girl! I was amazed at the sheer genius of this man and the fact that he was in front of me! I have my photos of me and Blaine and Von and me on the bulletin board in my classroom and now I have another "celebrity" I want to add. (I also have a picture of me and Jason Sudeikis...number one on my "list")

Krashen presented 5 areas of discussion

  1. Krashen talked about a program called Reach out and Read where pediatric office workers, nurses, and doctors are briefly trained in how to teach parents how to read aloud to their children. During the wait time for the well-child check-up, the parents were talked to about read-alouds and GIVEN a free book. In this tiny way, research shows that the achievement gap can be reduced significantly. So, we should read to our children and our students to increase vocabulary development.

  2. Compelling input-Krashen proposes that compelling input (where the listener is transported to another world and forgets that the story is in the target language) can destroy the affective filter and eliminates the need for motivation. We provide this by talking about the most fascinating subject in the entire world to students...them!

  3. Next, Krashen talks about a study that shows how to delay dementia...good news for languages! Being bilingual is one way to delay dementia. The other two ways to help with dementia are to read fiction and non-fiction and to drink coffee!

  4. I had a hard time following his next point about Arnold Schwarzenegger...But I think he is making the point that immersion does not make for fluency alone. The input has to be comprehensible in order to be beneficial. This reminds me of why I don't teach 100% in the TL anymore. It was like a game of charades where the kids are frustrated, I'm frustrated and little progress is made.

  5. Okay, I'll admit that I got lost here as well, but it was at least entertaining. Krashen talked about aliens and if they have visited us and how they communicate. What I took from this point is that we have to be proactive in trying to change the way language instruction is seen in modern culture. Is it seen as "kill and drill"? Is it seen as memorized dialogues? If we see something that we don't agree with (as Krashen saw on Star Trek), we should be vocal and call or email the creators.

I was very impressed with Krashen's knowledge level and his wonderful sense of humor. Maybe I'll send him a pound of Kansas City's own Roasterie coffee.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Art of Going Slowly-Bryce Hedstrom and Linda Li

Wow! Chinese!!! This was so much fun. Linda is a true artist as she takes something as banal as "looks at" and makes it fascinating and challenging. Very fun session.

I think we all as TPRS teachers know that we HAVE to do a better job at going slowly, pausing and pointing, and teaching to the eyes. In fact, one of my biggest goals for next year is to make sure that I don't lose a single student. So this was a good reminder of how I can accomplish that goal.

I have to say that Bryce spoke directly to me when he started talking about forgetting all the intellectual stuff and really worrying about our hearts and what they are saying. In the last year, I have gone from having a job to having a job that I LOVE...that I'm excited about. For the first time in my life, people can ask me how work is going and I feel giddy. It is really because of the heart and love mindset that I feel that way. I have removed the pressure from myself to have students who can get an A on this textbook unit test or students who know how to say, "No, I don't have any." I really believe at this point (and I hope I don't get fired for saying this) that my job is less about curriculum and more about the kids. Of course, I try to cram as much French into my time with them...and I know that I am doing that successfully...but I'm also teaching them that it's okay to be a goofball. Or not. It's okay to like reading. Or not. Wow, that was a tangent.

Anyway, I loved this session. Some quick things that I took away for the classroom:

  • Don't allow students to repeat after teacher

  • Make sure to teach and re-teach the gestures for "slow down" and "I'm lost"

  • Remind students to do the gestures

Embedded Readings with Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley

First off, it is always awesome to put a face to a name, but then I always try to put more information with the face and the name and my head usually explodes. This is what happened when Laurie introduced me to Michele today. Of course I've seen the name a thousand times on the moreTPRS blog and Laurie's blog, but I knew I should know more about her. Is she a colleague of Laurie's? Is she the one (of many, I know) from Alaska? Cue head exploding. So if you happen to be a witness to one of these instances of social despair, I apologize in advance. Anyway, it turns out that Michele is indeed a Russian teacher from Alaska!

In this session, Laurie and Michele worked in Russian (well, Michele worked in Russian and Laurie explained the pedagogy behind the embedded readings) to show us how this is truly beneficial to beginning students. This was my first experience with TPRS in a language other than French or Spanish. It was AMAZING! I realized that TPRS really does work...even if it's not in a language extremely similar to my second language.

Michele spent time working on a few key structures with us. Then she added a parallel story (I am assuming here that most of my readers know these basic ideas. If not, please add a comment and I would be happy to expand) in which two new characters looked at each other and said or did not say hi to one another. By this time, we were fairly comfortable with recognizing and understanding the new structures. Then, Michele had us write down the core structures on a sticky note. Then, she asked us to work in pairs to create a story in English using those structures and whatever else we wanted to add. She later used these student stories to create an embedded reading.

Okay, so what is an embedded reading? I highly recommend that you check out for explanations and example stories. But I can summarize here by telling you the basic outline of an embedded reading. An ER is created to level instruction to meet the needs and abilities of all students. It starts with 4-5 core sentences that each student should have no trouble reading after circling and PQA. Then, in the next "story," those same core sentences are there, but we've added detail or a time stamp or a repetition of a sentence or a prepositional phrase or.... The teacher, or the class with teacher guidance, takes the second story, copies it, and continues to add. This can go on several times...usually 3 or 4 times.

Why in the world would we want to do this? Well, for repetitions sake. By the time the students have read all of the versions of the story, they have heard the core vocab in the prep circling and PQA and they have read the sentence (and understood it) at least 3 more times. Another reason is to scaffold for the slower processors. If you gave those students the final version at the beginning, they would look at the amount of words and give up. By giving it to them in this way, they don't even realize how awesomely they are able to read until the end. Ha ha! Teachers trick the students again!

Anyway, I am sold! I tried this a couple of times in the last year, but it seemed like a ton of work and it took so long to read that the students are bored. Seeing how it worked in this session with true beginners, I realize that my final versions were WAY too long to keep the interest of my students for that long. Plus, I was having them chorally translate each version. BORING! They could just as easily have translated to a partner or read silently and visualized. Things to do next year...

NTPRS-I'm here!

This year, my second, I brought a colleague with me who will be starting her career in my district with me as a mentor! On the almost 4 hour trip from KC to St. Louis, I tried to explain the week of love, support, and excitement that is NTPRS. I was a little hesitant in case I just had a really good year last year...I mean, could all of those people really be that nice ALL the time??

Well, I am happy to report that it is just as loving and welcoming for a second year as it was for a first year attendee. I think my colleague is having a good experience in the beginning sessions, and I will post entries about my sessions as I find time and brain function.

PS-Shout out to Liz Hughes who said she reads my blog! That is certainly NOT something that I'm used to hearing "Oh, I read your blog!" Wow. Really puts the pressure on me to put something worth reading here...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Home run story!

I've been struggling with my 9th graders. Nothing is cool. Nothing is fun. French sucks. So do I. Anyway, today I had a story that I wanted to tell from Susie Gross. I had tried an earlier story of hers with an animal peeing in a bed, but it just didn't work. So I used another story about a kid who falls asleep in class. Perfect!, I thought. The first time around, I had a student with his head down when the bell rang. Dingdingding! You are my "bad" student. I made sure to talk about why he was a bad student. It wasn't because he was mean or stupid or anything like was only because he slept in class. We got a lot of repetitions in talking about who was a bad student and who was a good student and why. Then we started talking about talking while sleeping, screaming while sleeping, and what is in students' nightmares. Finally we went back to my "bad" student. The French teacher was so mad at this student!! What does she do to him?? Does she hit him? Oh no! Does she give him a kiss? No way! She pours mineral water on his pants!! In my second class, I held a water bottle over my sleeping student and the other students stopped breathing, I swear. The anticipation was electric!! It was sooooo awesome. Now tomorrow we can re-tell and read it!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


It may seem like a tiny tiny thing, but I've found myself complimenting people more this year. I think it comes with the mindset of teaching with love. I greet my students at the door and make sure to tell them if I like their new haircut or that awesome shirt. In the past, I always meant to say something to the girl with the awesome shoes, but then I would get caught up in teaching...I don't even have to think about it this year!

I feel like NTPRS changed my view of teaching so much (especially Ms. Laurie Clarcq!!)...I can't wait to see myself this time next year!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

P.A.T. and grammar puzzles

I've talked before about how much I struggle with my second year students. They are just sooo hard some days! I love their personalities and they are so funny, but it causes a real classroom management problem most days. Today, they made me so proud! Lately, I've been having students try and write the answers to the day's song/grammar puzzles on the board for minutes for P.A.T. Today it hit me how awesome they are doing on this. They are really focusing on trying to "catch" others' mistakes and actually trying to solve the puzzle on their own before the answer is written on the board. Today, one of the puzzles was "I will take her place." We have not worked with the futur simple, but I have thrown a couple of examples in on our grammar puzzles because it appears so frequently in song lyrics. I had a student today write "Je vais prend sa place." Another student piped up and said, "I think there is supposed to be an -re at the end of prendre." I was blown away. First, that a student would find a work-around for the phrase instead of inventing a word for "will" and second, that a student would pick up on the missing -re! It might be commonplace in others' classrooms, but I was proud of these kids today. Thank goodness! I was about to tear my hair out!

Free writes and preposition "chant"

Today I was looking at my first years' five-minute free-writes and it really hit home how much my students are learning. It's interesting, as a language teacher, to watch their progress on this task. They start out first with a few words strung together or phonetic spelling of sentences we have used in class. Then, their fluency starts to increase and they write more and more. At a certain point, they slow down on the writing, but the accuracy increases. It is so fascinating to be able to "prove" all the theories we believe in with TPRS. That fluency precedes accuracy, and that accuracy comes with exposure to the language and not through worksheet after worksheet and drill after drill...

Another thing that warmed my heart today was a review of my preposition chant. I talked about this in a previous blog as a type of "time-waster" to try and get kids to learn location words. Well, today, one of my sloooooow students outshone all others on this chant. I'm sure everyone has had a student like this: super sweet and tries really hard, but the eyes are kind of vacant. Today, I feel like I had a breakthrough with her because, as a cheerleader, the chant really worked for her!! I'm going to make time to sit down with her soon to talk about coming up with gestures for all vocabulary words. I know that this should be a no-brainer part of my TPRS classroom, but I haven't really been using it in class. I'm very hopeful that gestures could be the key to unlocking her brain and helping her learn French!!

Monday, April 18, 2011


Okay, the BEST thing about standards-based grading is seeing a student improve and being able to throw out the old score. The way I do this is: I use a "template" for my reading comprehension tests. First, I list 25 vocabulary words and their English equivalents. If they can get at least 20 of these, I continue grading the test. On the back of the test is a paragraph that either I wrote, using vocabulary that they know with a couple of new words thrown in or I take a paragraph from the novel we are reading, but have not yet read. Then I ask them some questions that I really really think they should be able to answer along with a couple of questions that I would be surprised if they could answer. That way, I know who is meeing my expectations and who is exceeding them. So, this semester I am trying to assess them at least once a month to monitor their progress. Most of them are continuing on at whatever level they were before, but there are some students that are doing better on these latest tests with new, harder vocabulary. If they can show me that they know the latest stuff (with some old stuff recycled of course), then I throw out any prior grades that were lower than their latest effort. I LOVE being able to do this. Because it really gives an accurate picture of what the students are capable of.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Teachable moment

I had a student start class today by saying "I know this isn't what we're talking about right now, but my mom told me about the law they just passed in France about the Muslim women" Right then, I knew I had a choice. I could validate her by saying that I had heard about it and move on, or we could have a mini class discussion. I decided to talk about it because I wanted these students to hear about the issue. So my student told the class what had happened and then offered her opinion: That it was a great thing for women's freedoms because they could no longer be forced to wear this concealing garment. I countered that, by banning the burka, they were actually reducing women's freedoms because those husbands who "force" their wives to wear the burka are sure as heck not going to let them out of the house without one. So...their freedoms are actually being lessened in that case. I also pointed out that some women choose to wear the burka on their own accord. I talked about what my friend and Spanish teacher had told me: that she wore her hijab out of love and respect for her husband. I probably shouldn't have been so political with my students, but I wanted to give them something to think about. At the end of our discussion (which sounds more one-sided than it actually was), one student said, "Man, there are good sides and bad sides to everything!" EXACTLY! I wish more Americans would realize that very point. You learn so much if you just open up your mind...

Tuesday block

Today, I started the class with a new song of the week: Sarah by Kyo. I realized the other day that even if the activities that we do with the song are not effective, they do so much beyond that that it is worth spending five minutes a day on it. For those WS lovers, it gives them a chance to "fill in the blanks." For those who love memorizing, they are supposed to memorize 5 out of the 10 phrases from the song. But, my real goal at this point is for what happens outside my classroom. Lisa Reyes called this "the ripple effect." Some are singing along (what???), some download the songs from iTunes, but they are all being exposed in a substantial way to French music and culture. They've heard Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and Dalida along with Shy'm, Garou, and Christophe Wilem. It's wonderful! So I'm going to cut myself some slack if they're not filling in all the blanks on the worksheet or passing every little memorization quiz. Then, we did our animal of the week. This is another "time-waster" in that I don't really assess anything or expect them to learn anything from it. It's my way of exposing them to the third person plural. My hope is that if they see and hear Ils sont and Ils ont and Ils mangent enough, it will stick in their head and come out when they want to say "They are handsome..." Pie in the sky? Maybe! Finally, I found a guide for Pobre Ana that I ripped off and translated into French. Even though we are already on Chapter 6 of the novel, I had the students work through the activities for chapters 1-3. They worked very hard on it and it gave me a chance to walk around and look at individual papers. Very good exercise. I'm planning on making other guides for the other novels before I teach them next year. It gives the students something concrete to look at and work with and gives me another reason to make them read the chapter...again! I'm fed up with my second years right now, so I'm not going to blog about them today. Maybe tomorrow!

A typical Monday

So this Monday we did our phrase of the week, which was A+ this week. I thought they would really enjoy learning some "text" language, but it really confused them. Oh well. We'll go on to something else next week. Then, we went over prepositions again and then talked about their weekends. I'm finding that it's really hard to blog at the end of the day because the last two classes of the day are KILLERS for me. They are so draining and take up so much classroom management that I just don't have a lot of good things to say at the end of the day. I think I'll try blogging in the middle of the day...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April 7: Standards-based grading

This was the second half of my non-sub day this week, so I won't talk too much about it. Last week, we had a meeting of those of us who are venturing into Std-based grading. I'm really thinking of changing my grading again next year. This year, I did 70% assessments and 30% homework first semester and then changed that to 90% assessments and 10% homework for second semester. There is another teacher in my building who does 100% assessments. And she's a math teacher who assigns math homework every night! She says that she keeps track of homework and whether or not they turn it in, but it counts for none of their final grade. I REALLY like this idea. I find that I mainly do completion grading on these things I might as well not count them as anything. Sooo, I'm thinking that next year I will break my grades up into reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Listening assessments will be my little quizzes that we do after stories. Reading will be very standards-based because I will design my test so that they are answering different levels of questions and can stop whenever they get stuck. I blogged about this last semester, if you are wondering exactly how I do this. Speaking would be based on re-tells. Writing would be based on free writes and fluency. Can they write 100 words in 5 minutes? Would a native reader understand the story? Did the author write with spelling and grammatical accuracy? With this, I would count a 3 as having the appropriate number of words and a native speaker would understand. 2.5 would be less words, but a native speaker would understand. 2 would be mid-level words, but very hard to understand. They would get over a 3 for wowing with content or accuracy. Thoughts??

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April 6

Today my 1st years played with some Quia vocab or (you can do French vocab or even art!!) while I tried to catch up on some other junk. It wasn't the best lesson, but I had to have something that a sub could do with the other half of my students yesterday! For my 2nd years, I wrote a melange of the two hours' stories and made copies for everyone. They were supposed to read it, translate it, write a copycat story, and try to put it in the past. The copycat stories were pretty amazing. I had a student who never says a dang word in class read her story and it was full of all those tiny words of awesomeness like "parce que/because" and "plus que" more than. Instead of writing simple sentences, she was using those words to create more varied sentences. I was very happy. Two other groups had amazingly creative stories using last year's vocab and funny details. I had one group that was a little behind the others. The problem with that group is that I have some students who are SO creative in English that they just can't seem to limit themselves to being creative with the vocabulary they know in French. So there were tons of words in English. Oh well. As far as transferring it to the past, they didn't do so well. Again, oh well! They did all seem to know that "il y a" becomes "il y avait." So that's something! On to tomorrow!!

April 3rd

Another block day! My 1st year students started off with Mon Pays again. Then we went straight into Pauvre Anne and finished Chapter 5. Next we took a "brain break" and watched episode 4 of Chez Mimi, a very silly show on Discovery Streaming that is made for French language learners. My 1st years have already watched all of the Telefrancais episodes (available on youtube), so this is our next step...I don't know what we'll watch when we're done with Chez Mimi! After that, we took a quick quiz over Chapter 5, just oui or non with me giving statements in English about the chapter. Most students do very well on these quizzes and I consider it a pretty good indication of their listening comprehension. Then, I had them do a five minute free write. I try to have them do this about once a week to practice writing fluency. I do not check grammar or spelling or anything. The purpose is for them just to practice writing. The goal is for them to write more words than the previous week, with an end-goal of over 100 words in 5 minutes. Once that stuff was done, we sang a silly song called En Voici, En Voila by Alain le Lait (found on Youtube) about different kinds of food. Finally, we finished the day by talking about what the students had done over the weekend. With my 2nd year students, we followed a similar agenda, but we substituted a TPRS story using l'a emmene, s'est reveille, and a quitte as our 3 phrases. We finished that story and then took a comprehension quiz like the one we took with the 1st years. Then we did a free write and followed that with watching the last episode of Extra (again, available on Discovery Streaming). I've ordered Friends in French to watch with the 2nd years next week. My goal is just to get them listening to authentic French and getting used to not understanding every word. My goal when I'm speaking, telling a story, or we're reading is for them to understand every word. So this is their chance to make wild guesses. We finished with talking about their weekend. I love this activity because it can take a really long time if you ask a lot of follow-up questions. Plus, it gives kids a chance to say Je suis alle au cinema or j'etais malade. J'avais une boum. I'm exhausted! More blogging later!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 31st-Block day

We have block days at least once a week (which is actually two days), but we are blocking just about every day right now to accomodate state testing. Fun fun! I'm hoping to be able to get back into a groove of having a lot of activity choices, because I've been relying an awfully lot on just reading Pauvre Anne and Pirates. So today, I started the day with my first years and we started with our song warm-up...I'm pretty sure I've blogged about this activity before, but let me know if you have questions. This week I'm using an old song: Mon Pays by Gilles...oh what's his last name?? Anyway, I'm trying to mix in some old classics so that my students really get a good base in French music (and Quebecois, bien sur!) Next, we reviewed the story of Pauvre Anne from chapter 1-4. I try not to do the full review every day or they just get super bored, but I like to do it pretty frequently to refresh some of that awesome vocabulary and help the slower kids catch up. So I asked a lot of questions about what's happened so far. Then we started reading chapter 5. When we're reading, I now read a paragraph out loud, pause so they can ask for clarification on unknown words and then usually circle some key plot points in the paragraph. If the paragraph is particularly confusing or has a really important bit of information, I will have the kids translate individually. I take a volunteer for the first sentence and then let them pick someone else for the following sentence. I know that this breaks all sorts of reading rules, but with the dictionary in the back, I know that every student CAN translate just might take them a while. And I've even got some students who will give a slower student a super easy sentence because they know it will boost their self-esteem. That's really cool to see! I also stop for culture clarification sometimes, like when Anne goes to the bank to exchange her U.S. dollars for euros. It's a great chance to talk about the proximity of the European countries and how they banded together to gain more power and strength globally. Once we had read 2 pages, we took a singing break and sang a new song: Bee Bee, Mouton Noir, a translation of the classic nursery rhyme done by my old cooperating teacher. Then we spent some time learning a "cheer" that I was taught in high school going along with the prepositions. Devant, derriere, a droite de, a gauche de, sur, sous, dans, avec, chez, a, de, pres de, loins de, a cote de, en face de, au milieu de, tout droit. I think I might have a couple of spelling errors there, but you get the idea. For some reason, this is super easy to remember and very helpful later. Finally, we finished with a rousing game of football (americain). I used Fred Jones' idea for this game, straight out of his book. I drew a football field on the board and broke the class into two teams. I didn't have my large class today...I'm worried it might not go so well with a class of 30... Anyway, I had questions that were worth 10, 20, and 30 yards. Each student took a turn being "quarterback" and trying for their choice of yards. If they got it right, I moved their magnet that many yards on the field. If they got it wrong, the other team could sack their quarterback for a loss of 10 yards if they could answer correctly. It worked very well in my classes and they were pretty engaged. I like this game because it gave every single student in my class a chance to be successful. With my 2nd year students, our song of the week is US Boy by Jena Lee...a super-catchy current hit about how much French girls love American boys. We then had storytime, continuing a story about a boy named Kitty Kat Man, who helps George W. Bush find the best BBQ in the world. I have to admit that things got a little goofy in this story. At one point, Bush gets scared when a cashier at Gates BBQ yells (Hi! May I help you??) at him and pees his pants. When he tries the McRib, he throws up, which makes Kitty Kat Man throw up (and his stuff has a hairball in it, of course!). Then who shows up, but Dolly Parton. And how in the world do you describe her without describing all of her attributes. So I taught them nenes. Not sure if any other French teacher in the world would be comfortable teaching this word, but since it was taught to me by a 2yr old boy...I figured it couldn't be too crass. After story time, we played football and that was a day!

Blog every day??

I haven't blogged in quite a while, and I think it's because I'm just waiting for something amazing to happen. But I'm missing the small victories that come with every single day. So I'm debating blogging every day or every other day to say what my lesson plan it went...and any small miracles that I see. So...let's see how this experiment goes!

Monday, February 14, 2011

This is why I teach!

Just last week, I was chatting with my aunt-in-law, a reading teacher in a very tough school district. She had had a bad day and was looking for some support from a fellow teacher. We talked about how rough it is to feel like you're making a difference when the results just aren't there...

On the heels of that conversation, I had a moment that affirmed my choice of profession... On Friday night, at my son's soccer game, I ran in to one of my students from last year. It was odd to see him there, since I live 35 miles from the district I teach in...but oh well. This student was a student who was walking a fine line between good kid and deliquent. I knew that he had support at home, but his friends were taking him down a bad path. He got in trouble almost every day in my class and really seemed to be asking to be kicked out of school. But he really touched my heart. I knew that there was something special in him. So I tried to ignore some of his behavior and just kept silently pushing him. So, Friday night, I ask him how things are going for him at the high school. He has a 3.0!! And an A in French!! He said that he was really surprised how much he remembered from my French class after a long summer off of school. And that was a student from last year, before NTPRS and all that awesome training and coaching I got in Chicago!

So I keep the faith that those students who are trying so hard to get left behind, that try so hard to push my buttons...some day, they'll wake-up.

How about you all? With those kids, do you push them? Do you have high expectations for them or do you take a passive stance with them? I struggle with this because my instincts tell me to be passive and touch base with them every so often to let them know that I want them to do better without breathing down their neck in class, but I also think that they need high expectations just like everyone else. Thoughts?

Friday, January 21, 2011


The other night I couldn't sleep due to too many snow days and no routine. As I was trying to force myself to sleep, of course my mind starting racing with thoughts of school. I'm really trying to figure out the best way to assess my students.

Last semester, I weighted the grades so that assessments were worth 70%, homework 15%, and participation 15%. I really think that killed a lot of grades. My "homework" is that the students need to do something on their own, outside of class that has to do with French. They can watch a French movie, look up music videos on youtube...really anything. I know it's not really helping them learn French, but it has generated some excitement as students download songs onto their iPods, teach their siblings French, or take the opportunity to practice French by texting a friend in French. So I feel like it is valuable, but I don't want it to kill anyone's grade. Soooo, this semester I am going to 90% assessment, 5% homework and 5% participation. This way, it won't kill anyone's grades and the grade letter will actually reflect what they have learned in the class.

Now, for assessments...I've blogged a couple of times about my standards-based assessments and I really want to continue this practice. Last semester, I had story-quizzes about every week or so, weekly spelling tests, and then the standards-based assessments. I began the semester by asking for feedback, since I had 3 students drop my class because they "didn't like it." (All three were dropping to take a ceramics I wonder if the other class was just more enticing?) Anyway, I surveyed my class to find out what they like and what they don't...and what helps them learn. They are sick of quizzes! I thought I was helping them out by just having quick 10 point quizzes every other day, but they hated it! So, back to the drawing board.

I'm really thinking about doing more Kindergarten-style assessments. My son's grade card tells me how many sight words he can read, how high he can count, how many numbers he can write and identify... How can I make this work in my classroom? Obviously, I can have my students count as high as they can in French. Any ideas??