Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Harry Potter

Yesterday I tried a story with my kids that really worked.  I am running out of things for the circling with balls (especially since we are trying to talk about one kid for an entire hour and there's only so much you can say about playing basketball at this point in the school year), so I have started inventing hobbies for my kids.  I don't think they mind (I hope not, at least!). 

Yesterday I picked one student out of each class who did not have a story yet and that person can do magic!  I wanted to introduce pouvoir while the kids are still super engaged, and since it is such a high frequency word. 

Here is an example from one of my classes (please excuse the lack of accents):

Sam peut faire de la magie. Elle utilise un pompom comme baguette.  Elle est etudiante a THS.  Harry Potter est etudiant a Hogwarts.  Harry Potter est le meilleur magicien a Hogwarts parce qu'il a tue Voldemort! (At this point I did a quick time-out to teach them that Voldemort means flight from death in French).  Harry Potter utilise la tour Eiffel (I have a small Eiffel Tower) comme baguette.  (We follow the same pattern to establish Ron and Hermione as characters...)  Un jour, Sam visite Hogwarts.  Sam regarde Ron et elle aime Ron.  Hermione est jalouse et elle crie "Ron est MON garcon"  Sam est fachee et elle crie "Avada cadavra" (or however you spell the killing curse).  Hermione tombe et elle est morte.  Ron est fache et il crie "Avada..."  Harry Potter frappe Ron avec un dragon (another prop in the classroom) et Ron tombe.  Harry Potter adore Sam. 

I'm really enjoying extending my circling with balls in this way because it feels less forced to me than last year when I tried to only use LICT for my stories.  I'm hoping that by the time I'm done with my circling, I will have already taught a large portion of the vocab from LICT and I can skip a ton!

The stress of the last month

I have been trying to think of how to compose this blog and avoiding it because it just makes me feel bad...

About a month ago, we had a district-wide meeting of all the language teachers.  We were talking about common core and how to support the ELA and math teachers in our classes.  Great stuff.  The problem came when we got together with our languages to talk about how things have been going.  My TPRS colleague and I were attacked by our non-TPRS (and upper-level) colleagues.  We were told that we aren't teaching our students anything (okay, I can kind of ignore that because I know what my kids can do), that we have to use the book (again, I can ignore that because there is nothing that says I have to use a textbook), and that the parents and students are complaining that they weren't prepared by us to continue to the next level (this is the one that stung).  They complained and attacked for around 45 minutes while my colleague and I answered their attacks.

 "Do your kids ever see a verb chart?"  "No."  "Well, I think they are a very handy tool because, once they have seen a verb chart, they can conjugate almost any verb that they find in a dictionary." 

"Can your kids count and say the alphabet?" (this one was just ridiculous)

"It's October: have your kids learned avoir?"  "They have learned how to say I have, you have, and he/she has"  "Well, if they haven't learned the other forms, what else are you teaching them in that time?"  "My kids know reads, listens to, plays, is, writes, sleeps, knows, etc etc"  "But they only know the singular forms of those..."

This went on forever.  Finally, as we were running out of time, an administrator came to check in with us and the "leader" (who has no power over us besides that she teaches the highest level) said that we needed more time to collaborate and could we have the afternoon together.

And so it continued...  Although I do have to say that the afternoon was much more productive since we actually talked about what we teach in each level and what the high school teachers consider essential and what they consider extra.  Turns out that we agree on most of it.  The difference is that the high school teachers teach songs to help them conjugate all the forms, while we teach our kids to actually use the language.  But it was actually productive and I felt good after that.

But now I don't feel good anymore.  I am constantly questioning myself.  "Am I really teaching them anything?"  "But in their free writes, they are making so many spelling and conjugation errors!"  "Man, they are supposed to learn imparfait, passe compose and conditionnel in one year?!  How am I going to make sure that they can fill out those boxes?"

I don't want to think like this.  I want to point out that Stephen Krashen sent an email to moreTPRS saying that what I'm doing in the classroom is right.  I want to print off the new ACTFL guidelines and show them how I'm meeting them.  I want them to at least spend an HOUR in my classroom before they attack me.  They have NO CLUE what I do down here!!!  But instead, I can't get out of my head.  I keep envisioning my awesome students from last year, whom I led, taught, and loved, sitting in a classroom and taking a test that they fail because I didn't teach them to fill in boxes last year.  It breaks my heart.  I feel like I can't look my students in the eyes because I know what they are going to have to do next year.  And I don't want them to blame me for failing them. 

Help.  I need help.  I'm better than this.  I am a damn good teacher.  I know it.  But the little voice in my head is confused.  Do I take a week/month at the end of the year and work through the textbook so they won't be unprepared?  I will NOT stop teaching this way because I LOVE it and my students love it.  I am reaching students every day who are failing other classes and hate school. 

Phew!  That was a lot to dump on you, dear reader (if you exist), but I had to get my thoughts out so that I can hopefully feel better.  If you have any ideas (particularly with those tricky conditional endings), let me know...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Circling with balls

This year I am really trying to spend more time talking about what the students do.  I have one class of 30, and I'm only about halfway through talking about them.  I'm trying not to get impatient...  My brain is telling me to start in on the "book" and get going on the "curriculum," but when I sit down and think about it, my kids are getting SO MUCH good vocabulary and SO MUCH great repetition because we can review the information every day or every other day, so whatever vocabulary we talk about now should be so stuck in their brain that they remember it for the rest of their lives.  So I need to take a deep breath, think of some new way to insert common vocabulary (connait anyone??), and keep on keeping on.  My kids won't know I'm bored with it unless I act like I'm bored.  I just need to use the acting skills I'm learning in my improv class to make believe that my class is the most fascinating class in the world and my students are the best kids in the universe.  C'est vrai, n'est-ce pas?

P.A.T. follow-up

My colleague and I have had over a month to try out our different ideas for P.A.T. and the verdict is in!  Our students are really enjoying it!  Even my students who experienced the old, loosy-goosy way last year say that they prefer the way we are doing it this year! 

So, this is what we have done so far...
  • French music videos (I tried to pick videos with a story to keep them interested like Adieu by Coeur de Pirate, J'aimerais trop by Keen'V, U.S. Boy by Jena Lee)
  • Games (Pictionary, flyswatter, basketball...all the Fred Jones stand-bys)
  • Kindergarten craft
    • So far, we have done this once and it worked really well...I did a mini-lesson on Van Gogh and how he was influenced by impressionism and the landscape in France.  Then I had them do a baby-ish craft.  They cut out a sunflower on card stock and used tissue paper to "color" the flower and then glued sunflower seeds to the middle.  I made a big bulletin board in the middle of school with facts about Van Gogh and France and displayed their art for the whole school to see.  I called it CYA so that I wouldn't get in "trouble" for having my kids to baby crafts in a French 1 and 2 classroom.
    • We are planning our next kindergarten craft to be a stereotypical French guy toilet paper roll craft.  I found a template somewhere online and we are going to talk about stereotypes and compare French and American stereotypes.  I'm planning on showing a couple of comedy clips of people to bring the point home. 
  • Tastings
    • We did a beverage tasting the first time and taught them some restaurant vocabulary and I showed them a sample menu with the beverage choices.  We tasted Orangina, Evian, and Perrier. 
    • This last week we did a biscuit tasting and they got to taste Petit Ecolier, les gaufres, les madeleines and Biscoff.  We reviewed the restaurant vocabulary and talked about Belgium since the Biscoff and gaufres came from there. 
I'm planning on doing some movie trailers and having them match the French summaries with the movie poster or trailer.  We'll see if I can get that planned...

I'm drowning!

I keep hoping that I am going to get into a rhythm and I will have plenty of time to blog regularly.  Oh man, do I really want that to happen.  Unfortunately, it is not happening.  I am trying to get my stuff together, get my ducks in a row, etc... 

The good news is that I don't think I'm letting my kids down.  I feel like I am still a good teacher to them 95% of the time, even when I'm tired or grumpy or unprepared (because of outside forces, of course...I would never be unprepared...gasp!).  So it's really just my real and virtual collaborators that I'm letting down.  Sigh.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The fight for what is right

I was talking to a friend last night who also teaches language.  She is not a TPRSer, but she is between a grammar freak and a TPRSer.  In fact, I think she would love to be a TPRSer, but she's afraid of making the leap until she gets permission from the higher-level teachers.

A couple of her former students came to visit her after school and said that language was SO HARD this year.  At first, she dismissed this as the idle complaining of teenagers.  Then they talked a little bit more about WHY it was so hard.  On the fourth or fifth day of school, the students were given a list of 150 verbs that they are supposed to know.  They are supposed to know the translation, spelling, conjugation, etc of all 150 verbs.  Some of the verbs were the students couldn't even rely on a pattern to complete the assignment.  They were given one week to study and then given a quiz on the information.  Next, they were given a list of essential vocabulary that included words like divorced. 

My friend handled it very well and said "Oh, the teacher is just trying to weed out the low-level your best and try not to worry too much."  But inside, she was freaking out!  The upper-level teachers have never shared this information with her, but yet her students are expected to know it!  So she is feeling like a failure for not preparing her students well, but also realizing that the upper-level teachers are not teaching in a way that will help the students learn the language.  They might be able to conjugate a verb, but will they be able to survive in a foreign country?

So sad...  She is now looking for research on the best methods for learning a language.  I'm going to guide her to Krashen and all of his online papers.  Anyone else know of other sources of research?

Educational Intern

I am so blessed to have an educational intern this semester.  Our district has a senior-level class for students who want to become teachers after college.  My student is a former student who really wants to be a French teacher (yeah!).  He comes twice a week and can do a ton of things.  He can do organizational things like grading or making copies, he can do one-on-one tutoring with kids who need extra help, he can re-direct students who are off-task, and he can TEACH lessons!! 

My student is amazing and could not WAIT to get in front of the class, so I let him go for it after only three days of observation.  He did circling with my first year students and NAILED it!  Okay, so he wasn't perfect, but it brought back so many memories of my first time standing in front of those students and trying to think of the right words while trying to think of what question to ask.  I jumped in when needed, gave him a little coaching, and guided him to some questions, but he did it!  And he's only a senior in high school...18 years old with no teaching experience...

With my second year students, he guided them in discussion about their weekend.  Sadly, my kids didn't really want to share that much, but he did a great job encouraging even the quiet ones to participate without being forceful. 

I am so lucky to have this superstar helping me this semester!! 

P.A.T. ideas

I use Fred Jones' P.A.T. as a classroom management tool and I have had great success with it.  I even presented what I do to a group of my peers last summer!  But last year I started dreading P.A.T. time.  The kids would always vote for the WORST games and then I would be stuck trying to manage this horrible game for 40 minutes on a Friday.  So my colleague and I brainstormed to try and figure out a way to make it work for us again.  This is what we came up with...

We are going to do a sort of rotation each month.  One Friday will be music videos (most kids LOVE this).  One Friday will be a tasting.  I am thinking that the first month we will do beverages.  I will show kids a menu with Boissons to give them an authentic look at restaurants in France.  We will talk about how to order a drink, do a tasting of Perrier, Evian, Orangina and then talk about if they like it or not.  The first month will be pretty lame because they will get a lot of vocab and they won't get enough practice, but I'm hoping that by using the same or similar vocab every month, they will acquire it by June.  One Friday will be a game.  I have a ton of game ideas, so this shouldn't be a problem.  My second year kids will get to vote on what game they want to play while first year students will rotate through my repertoire.  The last Friday will be craft day.  I've gone online and tried to find some authentic crafts for the kids to do.  Some things that I've thought of (and they aren't all authentic...) is to teach a mini lesson about Van Gogh and have them make paper sunflowers with tissue paper and glue, make an Easter bell with yogurt cups, mini bells and pipe cleaner, paint in the style of Seurat with Q-Tips and tempura paint, make a fleur de lis Christmas ornament out of paper, make a stereotypical French man with a template and TP roll, make Valentine's Day cards in French, make a Poisson d'Avril...

Any other ideas?  I'd like to use more authentic crafts or at least celebrate authentic French holidays... 

Beginning of the year excitement

I love the smells of a new school year...the fresh wax on the floors, the plasticy smell of new school supplies, MARKERS!  There is something about a new school year that excites even the "worst" student.  It's exciting to go blind into a class and find out what that teacher is all about.  As a teacher, it's exciting to meet my new students and try to excite them about French.  I do this a multitude of ways:  First, I show the students my excitement by being happy to be there.  I try not to act tired and my mantra those first days of adjustment is "fake it 'til you make it."  High fives, whooping and smiling are ways that I fake it if I'm not feeling it.  I'm pretty sure there's research that shows that you can trick your brain into believing that you aren't tired...  Second, I share myself and ask them to share themselves with me.  We've all heard it want to be noticed, but I think it's really true.  I try to learn my students' names in the first couple of days, but there are always a couple of stragglers that just don't click in my brain.  It breaks my heart when I can't remember their names because I can see the disappointment and deflation in their faces when I fail.  It's heartbreaking. 

We are now in our third week of school and my groundwork is paying off...  I have two students who are going out of their way to SHOW me their excitment about French.  One student happens to have study hall while I am on my plan, so he has dropped by twice to check with me about what he's learning.  The first time, he wrote out the pronunciation for the alphabet so that he could practice over the weekend (no judgement on teaching the's a cute little authentic video that gives the kids a brain break from circling).  The next time, he wrote me a letter all in French!!  No google translate, my friends!  He used the vocab from class to write me a letter!  Now, there were a couple of mistakes (using the comparative "like" instead of the verb) and he did throw in a couple words of English when he didn't know a word, but I was so blown away!  (He also brought me a teacher's favorite gift...dry erase neon!)  I can't wait to see where he goes through the year!

My second experience was an email from a student in French.  She used google translate (and admitted it!), but she wanted to tell me that she really liked the Coeur de Pirate song we listened to on Friday and was thinking about performing it in the school talent show! 

Fingers crossed that I can reach more students, or that I already have and they're just not as vocal about their excitement!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I think I've probably already confessed this here before, but it never hurts to say things more than once, right TPRSers?? 

Okay, here it is....I want my students to like me...what's that?  You can't read that because your eyes hurt from too much reading?  I'll say it again...I want my students to like me! Ahem.  I not only want my students to like me, but I want them to remember me.  Isn't that why we all became teachers?  To make a difference in kids' lives?  Sigh.  As a junior high teacher, I have found that I am quite often forgotten in the excitement of high school.  My students meet their new French teacher and forget all about the cool, beautiful, amazing French teacher they had last year.

So imagine my surprise when I got back from an absence today and saw on my board love notes from some of my students from last year!  They came back to this stinky old school to see me!!  They wrote (in French) that they love me.  I have made jokes about it here, but that really meant a lot to me.  Not just because the tiny adolescent me is still in here, hoping that the popular girl will notice my new haircut, but because it means that I did my job last year.  Not just my job of teaching French, but my biggest job, which is reaching my students.  I reached those students and they knew (I hope) that I would be excited to see them because they were IMPORTANT to me. 

This year, I have 148 new or returning students and I hope that I can show them every day how important they are.  I might not be the best about remembering to ask them about their soccer game this weekend (I'm not very good at that), but I hope I have my own way of showing them they're awesome.  I think I do have a way, but I'm not sure that I could really pinpoint it teaching to the eyes? complimenting them on a cute shirt? trying to connect through music or films?  There have to be multiple ways to reach students, right?  How do you do it?

How to review with 2nd year students

Oh man...what are supposed to do with 2nd year students?  Do you just start off with the next lesson?  Re-teach everything?  Circle with cards because they know each other?

Sadly, I have tried all of these (even starting off with the next lesson with students who were new to me and came out of a textbook...I was a first-year teacher, okay?!)  This year, I am going to start off with storytelling, reviewing the structures as we go.  It is my hope that one story could review two or three weeks worth of structures at a time.  We'll see...  So far, my second year students are on the first three structures, but we are actually reviewing much more than just those three structures. 

In one class this week, we told a story to review il y avait: there was, aimait: likes, voulait avoir: wanted to have, and est alle: went (sorry, I can't get accents to work).  But we actually reviewed things like "how did he go? by bike? quickly? forwards?" We reviewed descriptions, numbers (with ages), the rules of storytelling, and all sorts of other things that I can't think of right now because the students all remembered it with little or no reminders. 

I'm super proud of my students and hope that the students who struggled last year will be able to catch-up with the other students through this review and not struggle this year!

My first few words

On Monday, I continued circling with cards with my 1st years.  I reviewed the names and introduced a student who played something.  Because most of the sports are cognates, this was pretty easy.  I could circle what the student played and throw in an or question pretty easily.  For example, Joe plays baseball.  Does Joe play baseball or tennis?  Then I asked Joe if he plays tennis and circled that for a while.  Eventually, I asked where Joe plays baseball and either picked an answer that was a proper noun or provided my own.  My kids are still learning the game, so I usually had to tell them that Joe plays baseball at WalMart.  While I circled, I made sure to insist that students give me the "I don't understand" gesture and the "slow down" gesture if they needed it.  I inserted words that I knew they didn't know and then praised whoever stopped me or "yelled" at them if they didn't stop me.  I did NOT do a good enough job of this last year and I really hope I can keep it up.

Once that has been beaten to death, I introduce another student (hopefully a girl) who plays a different sport.  We go through the same process of establishing what she plays, what she doesn't play, and where she plays it.  Now I add someone for her to play with (should be a celebrity).  We go back to Joe and pick someone for him to play with too. 

Doing this for two students took me about the full 45 minutes...I was bored to tears, but the kids were understanding and weren't bored.  This is something that is very hard for me to remember until I watch Linda Li teach students three words in 20 minutes.  That is certainly not boring, so I must be bored because I already know French.  My students are (mostly) not bored because they are still trying to keep up with me.

First Friday of the year

For my first Friday of the year, I had fun with my second year students.  First, I had them do a free write to kind of see what they remembered from last year.  It was about what I expected and way above what most teachers see on day 3 of year 2 (I think/hope).  My lower kids were able to come up with some complete sentences with spelling and grammar errors and my higher kids were able to write a story using a variety of vocab with minimal errors.  I was pretty impressed with my kids and patted myself on the back for doing a decent job last year!  Then we sang songs from last year and finished with one or two French music videos.  Pretty easy class.

With my ones, I finished going over my syllabus and began circling with cards.  I told the students to write whatever name they want me to call them on one side and a picture of something they like to do on the other.  At first, I was struggling to make this exciting...  I started with "His name is..." and circled that.  Then, I asked the student "Is your name...?" and circled that.  Then, I added in a girl to show the difference between he and she and circled that.  It was incredibly boring to me and I was so out of practice that I was grasping for questions to ask at first.  Luckily, I didn't have more than 5 or 10 minutes for each class, so it was a good way to get my feet wet.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

First two days wrap-up

This is my sixth year teaching and I'm starting my 4th year with TPRS.  Even so, I still feel like it's new.  The difference is that I wasn't stressed out too much in the days and hours leading up to the first day of school.  And it's even better now that I've starting getting to know my students.  I'm always terrified that I'll get a bunch of "stinkers" who will make my year a living hell.  But once I meet the students and look into their eyes, I just feel better. 

Starting off on the first day (yesterday), I had my students do a name game.  This is mostly for me, because most of my students know each other, but it also helps out the new students who start the year off feeling unknown and out of place.  The game I play is super simple: each student comes up with an adjective that starts with the same sound as their first name.  We stand in a circle and I start with my name: Hilarious Hayles (c'est vrai, n'est-ce pas?).  The next person in line says my name and theirs (Hilarious Hayles, Creative Cathy) and then the third person builds on that.  If someone blanks, it starts off with them.  The goal is for one person to make it all the way around the circle.  Imagine the repetition as students mess up again and again!  It's a pretty lame game, but I had some students who said that it was their favorite moment from the first day of school.  Not sure if they are just buttering me up, but I'll take it!  The problem with this type of game is that it takes away the structure for the first day, so it was a struggle to keep kids in line.  Especially since they have never met me before and have no idea what my expectations are.  I was a little bummed at the end of the day yesterday...worrying that my whole year was going to be filled with chatting and disrespect.

Today went much better.  I handed out my syllabus and went over the expectations.  It bored the students to death, but I tried to infuse some humor and promised that class would get better in the future.  Tomorrow we might actually get to learn some French!!

I have to say that I was BLOWN away by my returning students.  Anyone who doubts the method should be with me on the first day of school to hear the conversations I am able to have with my returning students after almost 3 months of NO FRENCH at home.  I was so excited that we started off the year with talking about our summers!  I can't wait to see what these kids can do at the end of their second year of French!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Beginning of school year excitement!

Okay, call me a dork, but I'm really glad that I've started to get excited about next year!  It just hit me last week that I think I can do this whole teaching thing again next year...  I'm looking forward to getting my "back to school" packet from my principal and smelling the hallways and school supplies.  Not that the summer isn't wonderful, but I still have a whole month left!  Whew!  It's a great feeling to know that I'm in the right profession.  The only bummer is that I'm missing out on NTPRS.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

End of the year wrap-up

Whew! What a trying year. I had more students, more preps, more classes, and more responsibilities. Oh yeah, and I'm 9 months pregnant!! But I've survived and I think I've made a difference in my students' lives. I say "I think" because I just handed out my end-of-year survey to my students and it's always uplifting and bums me out as well. Is it too much to want to be everything to every student?? As usual, there were a couple of kids who felt that I didn't care about them. That breaks my heart. My husband and I were talking about this last night: give any student a year or two and all the "bad" feelings a teacher may have had about them disappears. I can forgive every student everything after a year of maturity because I know that none of my students is evil. Every student has their reasons for acting up in class (whether that be home problems, immaturity, etc), and I love them anyways (even as I am pushed to the edge of my reason). But here is what I got from my surveys this year: 1. I am doing a better job of greeting every student and making them feel that I care; I still have more room to grow, but most of my students did feel that I care!! 2. My kids feel cared about when I smile, ask them about their day, say hello, show them their grades often, and allow them to re-take tests. 3. My level 2 kids (advanced) were really ticked off that they "couldn't take notes." I put that in quotes because I have never forbidden notes in class except for during story time. At that time, I ask that the desks are cleared to avoid the temptation for distraction. Next year, I will do a better job of explaining this and carve out a couple of minutes at the end of each day for those note-takers to take notes. 4. My level 2 kids were also very upset that my assessments were unannounced. However, almost every single block day had an assessment of some sort. A TPRS class is very hard for those grade-grubbers to adjust to. I'm hoping that my French 2 kids next year, who will have no experience with any other French teacher, will not be so upset by this. We'll see... 5. My level 2 kids were also super upset that I didn't allow them to go to the bathroom without taking off PAT time. I don't think I will be changing this any time soon... The students who complain about it are so few that it makes it worth it to me because I don't have to deal with the constant pass writing every hour of every day. Instead, I have maybe one or two students per week who choose to take advantage of my bathroom policy. That's all I can think of for now. I'm still kicking myself that some students think I "hated them" or "played favorites." One thing that is clear over the years that I've done the survey: EVERY student wants to be validated and wants attention. Even the ones with the super long bangs who cower in the corner and you think they would shrivel up and die if you talked to them. I hope your years are ending just as well. Feel free to share any lessons you have learned this year!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Reading Lickety-Split (Thanks Susie Gross!)

As the school year winds down, I had to decide if I wanted to try and do more stories with my classes or read a second book for the year. I decided to do a second book after seeing the recent moreTPRS posts from Susie about reading lickety-split (reading quickly for meaning and not necessarily for increase vocabulary, testing, etc). Susie's idea was so freeing that I decided to try it. I have to say that my previous experiences with reading have been good, but not great. It takes sooooo long and some kids get the new vocabulary through the repetition, but I ended up losing quite a few students who were pretending to play the game while secretly daydreaming. I was so mad at myself after reading Pirates first semester because I actually had a couple of students who regressed in their French instead of growing. I thought, "What was this Krashen guy thinking??" Okay, I really didn't think that because, since meeting him this summer, I think the guy is an amazing genius fighter for public education and the poor. But I was very confused and sad. Flash forward to today. We've been reading Pauvre Anne with my 1s and Fama with my 2s. We read it super fast. Sometimes we read/translate it chorally, sometimes I ask for volunteers to read/translate an individual sentence, and sometimes they read a paragraph with a partner. We are over halfway done and we just started. Another thing that I have tried this time (thanks to Carol Gaab for the idea) is having a secret word for each chapter or section. I skim the section and find a word that comes up quite a few times. The students are supposed to yell that word whenever it comes up that day. Keeps kids engaged and keeps the less-than-engaged kids from falling asleep. Is it working? Well, we are having great discussions about racism in my 2 classes and the 1 classes are talking about lower-level things like family and dancing. IN FRENCH. I have asked my classes if they prefer this book or Pirates, and I've gotten mixed results. Amazing considering that my 1s from last year still talk about burning Pauvre Anne...I'm not getting that kind of hate this year at all. But here's the magic part...I have some students who have struggled all year, and they are BLOSSOMING with this book. They are raising their hands and sticking their necks out to try to read a sentence for the class! They are learning! And, if I needed further proof that Krashen is a genius, I only need to look at their latest writing samples. IT IS TRUE THAT READING INCREASES ACCURACY IN WRITING!! (for most students) I'm so happy with my results...I might even brag and post this to moreTPRS...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Improving each year...

As I was cleaning out my desk today, I found my student surveys from the end of last year. I decided to throw them out, but I read them one more time first. It made me cringe to think of who I was last year with those students. These two classes were TERRIBLE and I treated them just as terribly. The students still felt like I cared and like they learned French, but I know how much better I could have been. And that was just last year! When I think back to my first or second year of teaching, I cringe even more!!!

It does, however, make me excited to see what kind of teacher I will be in five years or ten years!

Embedded Writing

This week, I had to come up with an independent activity that kids could do while I did a speaking test. I decided to take the idea of embedded reading and twist it so that students were doing an embedded writing instead. I gave the students three sentences and then asked them to double that "story" by adding details. I really had to model this a LOT for my kids because they could not understand what I meant. It helped to say "Imagine cutting and pasting the text and then adding details or sentences between those words or sentences."

Once they had doubled the initial story, I had them give their paper to another student and double someone else's story. Then, if there was time, they did it one last time.

As I read over what they came up with, I was pretty impressed. Of course, some students still didn't understand the concept and changed the story or started writing their own...but, for the most part, the students did a great job of using vocabulary from waaaay back and synthesizing French.

I will definitely do this activity again and I'll be interested to see how this activity impacts their next round of free-writes. I'm hoping they'll be longer and more detailed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Teacher tenure on the chopping block

Since "Waiting for Superman" made such a splash on the Oprah Winfrey show, teacher tenure has been on the chopping block in Missouri. It's finally up for a vote, so this is what I wrote to my representative. If you are a Missouri resident, I highly recommend you contact your representative!!

As a teacher, I am begging you to protect our tenure. In our society right now, there is a huge push to blame teachers for everything that is wrong with education. I can tell you that this is simply not true. Having lived and traveled abroad, where the educational system is "better," there are a multitude of reasons for this, none of which have to do with better teachers. In fact, the teachers there work fewer hours, have fewer students, and are, in most cases, less educated than the American teacher.

We have chosen a profession for ourselves that is consistently attacked by parents, politicians, and the media. Tenure is the one thing we have to protect our jobs under such scrutiny. Also, there is nothing in the current law that says that a teacher who is doing a terrible job cannot be fired: the administrators simply need to follow the procedures to do so, just like in any other profession. Tenure protects us from the politicians on the school board, protects those of us who join a union, and protect us from powerful parents unhappy with a grade their students receive.

I would invite you to come and visit me any time at my job if you need further clarification of what life is like as a teacher. I think it would be eye-opening...

Monday, January 30, 2012

The weekend

Today we talked about what the kids did this weekend, as we do every Monday. It is honestly my goal for them to talk the entire hour, but it's funny how they think they're "pulling one over on me" by trying to drag it out. I just see so much benefit in this one silly activity. My kids get words like effrayant/scary, poulet/chicken, etc without me teaching those words explicitly. I realized today that most of my students will learn food vocabulary on Mondays by telling me what they ate at a restaurant...'s also a time for me to get on my moral high horse and ask them if the parents were at that party they went to and admonish them for playing violent video games. It's all done with a wink and a smile, but I hope they get my hidden message that I care about them and want them to make the right choices in life (not that going to a party without parents equals a life of debauchery...).

Hounding students

My department has decided this semester to "hound" students who get below a certain grade and make them re-learn the material through home study time and re-take assessments. Friday, I sent an email to the parents, letting them know about this new requirement and to let them know that their student didn't do so hot on the first assessment of the semester.

I got a response from a very conscientious parent telling me that her daughter is usually very good about studying hard the night before a test and asking how much notice they had for this test. My response was that my tests are unannounced because I want to know how much they have acquired, not how much they've memorized for a test. And now I'm nervous that this will not make the parent very happy. I know that I'm right...but it sounds weird telling a parent that you don't want his/her student to study. And I worry that in this culture of questioning and belittling teachers, I'll be taken to task for this. Thoughts??

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SBG and Assessments

I just gave a listening assessment to my first years and a reading assessment to my second years. The results were ho-hum...

What do you guys think? The class average was a low B, but with our SBG scale, that means that most of the students were not meeting my expectations. Did I give them a test that was too hard? Do I let it go because a B-average on a test is pretty good?

This week's stories

Well, we are back in the TPRS swing around my classroom. This week, we worked on "wanted to buy," "looked for," "needed," and "found it." I've found that it always works well if the main character is missing pants. The kids are instantly engaged. My first telling of the story went beautifully, thanks to the creative answers of my I led my other class in the same direction and had two home run stories!

Here was the basic story: some chick was missing pants and wanted to buy white pants with green polka-dots. She went to a nightclub (not sure why...probably because my first character lived in the Jersey Shore) and saw some outrageous singer there (think Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga). The singer had the opposite pants on (green with white dots), but the lead was not sad because she got to dance! At this point, I went over to my computer and queued up the French version of "I'm Sexy and I know It!" (it exists!). My lead danced (I had a great male actor in my second class playing the girl and he LOVED hamming it up!). Stop the music! There was a problem!! L'il Wayne worked at the club and he was mad. He tells the lead "No pants, no club." So the lead leaves and goes to a store. At the store, they have beautiful white pants with green dots. Sadly, the lead does not have any money (pretty impossible to carry money around with no pants), so she hits the worker (someone fun like an Oompa Loompa or whoever the kids suggest), who falls asleep and she returns to the club to dance some more. Everyone is happy and dancing at the end!

Things that worked: Adding the music and the silly dancing in the middle. Having "masks" for the famous people...I printed off color pictures and pasted them to card stock (thanks Carol Gaab for the idea). The idea that the actor doesn't have any pants on.

Hooray for home run days! My upper-level stories were not nearly as interesting this week. Oh well, maybe next time!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thoughts at the new year

As I said in my last post, first semester was a firestorm! We hosted a family of five while they were between houses, I took a grad level class, I increased my work load by being full-time at one school (meaning an extra class and an extra prep...I now teach 6 classes with 3 preps)... It was busy! Plus, we, as a department, are making the jump to full-time standards-based grading.

Reflecting on the first semester, I think I did a pretty good job. We just got back from a trip to Quebec and my students did a fairly good job of communicating. They were blurting out stuff in French and didn't seem as afraid as kids from years past to try. I only had one student that I've had for more than a year take the trip, so I wonder what my results will be in the future. Another French teacher with kids on the trip commented that it seemed like my kids knew more than her kids, which is nice to hear. After her first year of teaching, she is ready to jump to TPRS for next year. Yippee! We could have all TPRS for French at the jr. high level!! Now what the high school has to say about that...we'll see...

I was a little down on myself at the end of first semester, thinking that I wasn't doing a very good job. I think it's because I started Pirates a little too early and didn't do enough comprehension checks and I lost a lot of kids. Now that we've started back on stories, I feel like they are getting the hang of things again, but that was a rough spot. Live and Learn

I hope to blog every day (as I said I would do at one point this year), but right now, having just returned from Canada, my brain is fried and I'm ready to go home and take a nap!