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!!