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 true...it 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?? No...it 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: www.teachforjune.com 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!!