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 that...it 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 anyway...so 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 freerice.com (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!