Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My collaboration rock star

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to start working with a student teacher (she wasn't my student teacher...she belonged to my mentor).  She was so excited and eager to learn and eager to teach!  We hit it off right away...  Flash forward a month or two and she got hired to work with me in the district!  I convinced her to go to NTPRS with me in St. Louis and our love affair really began.  I have mentored her for the past year and half and I'm very excited to say that the student is now becoming the teacher!  We've had several snow days recently, and she's been working feverishly on curriculum FOR NEXT YEAR!  Now, I'm a real fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants gal, so I'm really excited to have someone to push me to thinking beyond tomorrow.

So this is what we are going to try to do for next year: 

1.  We are thinking of doing our stories only in the present tense, but still do our weekend talks in the past.  Here's the reasoning and please speak up if you have other ideas:  we will only be teaching level one and our students will go to a non-TPRS classroom for level 2.  The high school teachers don't care too much about how much of the past tense we cover (we're supposed to teach all of the passe compose, but it's always been shoved in at the last part of the year when other jr. high teachers taught out of the book), but they really want those verb endings...  I have really enjoyed telling stories in the past and reading in the present and my level twos are just now really getting into the difference between the two.  If I was able to follow my students beyond the first level, it would be a no-brainer.  Any thoughts or experience on this?

2.  We are going to look at the textbook and actually try to fit in all of the verbs that they are "supposed" to know.  And I know that they really don't know them beyond maybe being able to put an ending on them, but we'll see...

3.  I have gotten into the habit of having no idea where a story is going before I start telling it.  I think this might be a downfall because sometimes I don't know how to wrap up a story and so it just kind of ends up falling flat.  Sometimes it works out brilliantly and I have a home run story that I NEVER would have been able to create on my own, but then there are days when story time comes to an end and I feel like we haven't accomplished anything.  So I think we are going to go back to the table and try to come up with some really good story ideas to really get back to the essence of storyasking (where only the details are decided by the students).  Obviously, if a class has a home-run idea, we would have the flexibility to go with that.

4.  I would like to do more embedded readings with authentic texts

5.  We would like to infuse more culture into our stories and readings so that we don't have to have an English day to explain things like how the Acadians got to New Orleans or who St. Nicolas was.

6.  I really want to experiment with MovieTalk, but I'm not 100% comfortable with it not being 99% comprehensible to students.  It seems like so much fun, but I'm afraid that, even with the visual cues, it might be taking a step away from CI and into the land of Rosetta Stone where students are guessing the meanings of words.  Any thoughts?  (I am not trying to say anything bad about those superstars who are using this!  It sounds amazing, but I haven't done it or seen it done, so I'm a little hesitant...)

What else is working well in your classrooms?  We have not done Kindergarten Day or FVR.  The closest thing I've done to FVR is "Lisons Lundi!" which is where students work on a novel in groups.  When they finish one novel, they can choose another one to work through.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stories this week

Today, we told this story in my French 1 class:

There was a girl.  Her name was Steve.  Steve wanted to go to Batman's party.  (we side-tracked a little and talked about "A mon avis, Spiderman est le meilleur hero..." and when I asked who was the best heroine, a superstar said "Joan of Arc" and had me laughing...AND I got to give a quick history lesson).  She wanted to go to Batman's party, so she went to Russia.  She danced the harlem shake to Russia (youtube harlem shake to get an idea of what this is.  Basically, one person dances mildly for the first 10-15 seconds of the music and then at a certain point, everyone goes crazy!  We played a clip of the 30 second song every time we repeated this sentence to add variety and interest).  In Russia, she looked for Batman's party, but she didn't find it.  She found Scotty's party (a kid in class).  Everyone in French class was invited to Scotty's party, but Steve wasn't invited.  So she went to Kazakstan.  In Kazakstan, she looked for Batman's party, but she didn't find it.  Robin was in Kazakstan and he looked at Steve romantically.  Steve looked at Robin romantically.  Robin  was invited to Batman's party, so he took her to the party with him. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Gems from improv class

At my first NTPRS, I took a class with Von Ray about using the skills of improv to add excitement to your TPRS class.  Well, I was inspired, two years later, to start taking improv classes.  What a blast!  I am in love and will be performing for the first time on March 3rd.

The interesting thing to me is trying to take the "games" from the improv classroom to my TPRS classroom.  Here are some games that I think translate well.  They might be a little hard to picture without the visual, so feel free to ask questions if anything is not clear.

Patterns:  In this game, students stand in a circle.  I turn to the person to my left, look them directly in the eye, and we start a pattern by saying a word at the same time (this can be hard because the other person doesn't know what I'm going to say yet) and clapping.  Then, they turn to the person to their left and continue the pattern, and so on.  Once it gets back to me, we repeat the pattern until we can do it fairly quickly.  I would say that this works best if there is no more than 15 kids in a circle, so you might need to split up a larger class.  For my students, we start off with numbers.  I say "un" and my partner says "deux" and so on around the circle.  When it gets back to me, I turn to my left partner and say "un" again.  By this time, they should know that I am going to say "un".  Try and get it going faster and then start with the numbers a second time, so that there are two sets of counting going on at the same time.  Once kids get the hang of this, you can try a category, like colors.  I would start off with "bleu" and then my partner would say another color to his left-partner.  If you can get really good at it, you can have two categories going at once (colors and numbers).

Go!:  This is more of a brain-break, but it's kind of fun.  Again, stand in a circle.  One person points to another student and says their name (this would be good for the first weeks of school when we are trying to build community).  The person who has been called on looks at the pointer and says "Go!/Vas-y!"  The pointer can not move until the named person says Go!  Once they say Go, the pointer moves to take the named person's place and the named person becomes the pointer and picks another student.  It sounds really easy, but the brain's first reaction is to start moving as soon as the student names and points. 

Whatcha doing?:  I really like this game, but I have not yet tried it for the classroom.  Two students come to the front of the class and one student starts miming an action.  The other student says, Whatcha doing?/Qu'est-ce que tu fais?  The student doing the action says anything but what they are actually doing and the non-miming student starts mimicking that action.  For example, student A starts pretending to swim.  Student B asks "Whatcha doing?"  Student A says, "Riding a bike"  Student B starts pretending to ride a bike and Student A asks "Whatcha doing?" and student B says "playing football" and student A starts pretending to play football. 

Arm/leg/countdown:  This is one that I just thought of adapting yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to try it.  It would be great for those moments when the eyes are starting to get glassy.  Everyone stands up.  You shake your right arm and say "Arm, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8"  Then start shaking your left leg and say "Leg, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8"  Then move to the left arm and say "Arm, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8"  Then right leg "Leg, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8"  Then go back to the left arm and lose the 8 "Arm, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7"  Repeat until you are just yelling "Arm, leg, arm, leg, arm, leg" and jumping around like a goofball.  Obviously, you would translate to your language.

So that's it!  Hope these add some fun!

Friday, February 15, 2013


Laurie Clarcq has been a fountain of positivity this year.  She started off January sharing a positive message, video, or thought every day.  Just something to raise our spirits as politicians try to tell the world that we suck.  It was a breath of fresh air in the month when we are all stuck inside and fresh air is hard to come by...

This month, she has been sharing a new TPRS blog every day.  I have to admit that I haven't been looking at them...but last night I had plenty of time as I sat at my table, eagerly awaiting my Valentine's dates/parents.  I was so inspired!  I have now added links to blogs on my sidebar and will continue to do so as I find amazing resources!  If you have a blog and want to be added, let me know!  I think it is so important for us to share specifics of what we do, what works, research, etc because we need the support. 

My colleague said that my last posts were pretty much downers, and I'm so glad that I had the time and sharing last night to drag my tired booty out of the doldrums.  I also had some amazing compliments from parents.  One parent sat down and said, "It always amazes me to see you behind this desk because I always expect to see Superman, based on what my child says about you."  I had another parent who was a real stinker last year, raking me over the coals for my lack of a textbook and lack of grammar.  This parent returned last night to tell me thank you for inspiring his daughter (she is absolutely FANTASTIC!!) to eat, breathe, and live French.  Besides the parent kudos, we language teachers had an awesome time sharing funny websites and laughing.  It was a great night.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Conversation starters

Thank you so much to Michele Whaley for introducing me to this website full of interesting photos!  I have always looked for bizarre photos on flickr, but this site is so much better.  I can't wait to use it for class...

Movie talk

I'm late to the movie talk game, but I've been reading all about it on Michele Whaley's site today.  It sounds like the perfect thing to infuse some new life into my class.  I've started getting the "are we doing a story AGAIN?" question and I think this would be a perfect way to stay in the TL, keep them engaged, and still meet my objectives. 

I wish I had come across this idea before I showed the kids Le Ballon Rouge a couple of weeks ago.  I had them write out sentences or words of what they saw, but it would have been so much more effective to stop the video and discuss in French or point out what I see.

I'm wondering how to adapt a video to every level if they are missing much of the vocabulary.  Anyone using this?  What videos do you use in the French classroom?  What structures do you focus on?

A down week

It seems like I've been in a funk this year.  This is for several reasons.  First, I have little to no time due to having an infant at home and trying to provide nourishment during my free time...  Second, we are in a transition period and everything that I have known and loved will be changing next year.  And finally, my teaching strategies have been attacked this year.  I am trying to keep things positive because, like I tell my students, perception is reality.  If you think you are happy, you are happy.  If you think you are bored, you are bored.  I must be doing a good job of faking it, because many students told me today (on warm fuzzy day, a day of compliments in my school) that they enjoy my class because I am always happy and having fun.  Whew!  I don't like my bad attitude to rub off on others, and I already know that it rubs off on my co-workers from time-to-time. 

I'm also down this week because I feel like I'm a stinky teacher this week.  We have parent-teacher conferences this week, so my heart just hasn't been in the classroom.  I'm tired and worn out and really really ready for a four-day weekend (5 and a half hours left!!).  So my plans for the classroom have been to teach about Mardi Gras, the Cajuns, and the history of Le Grand Derangement.  Usually, I LOVE this time of year because I love talking about this stuff.  It's really personal to me because I love New Orleans, Quebec, and my family survived Hurricane Katrina in a hotel in the French Quarter and were shuttled out of NOLA by a local musician who just happened to stop at Zachary Richard's house (look him up, French teachers...he does GREAT things) for a quick shower. 

This year, however, it hasn't felt that great.  Instead of being excited about sharing all this great information, it feels like we're just taking a break and wasting time.  There hasn't been much CI.  There hasn't been much French at all.  I know that culture is important and I also believe that "fun" is really important if we want to continue to have a growing French program, but it felt like a cop-out for a lazy teacher this year. 

So I'm trying to think of ways to teach the students what I want them to know about Acadians/Cajuns next year without losing our CI momentum...  Thoughts?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Strangers in the classroom

This year, I am blessed to have two high school students in my classroom for a portion of most days.  It is so wonderful to have an extra set of eyes to work with students and give me a new perspective on my class.  For me, it helps keep my class fresh, knowing that there is someone in the class that I can try to impress or entertain.  At this point in the school year, some students are getting "bored" with the stories, but the fresh set of eyes push me to show everyone how exciting story time can be.

I also love having high schoolers come down and visit/help because they are so encouraging of the way I am teaching French.  They go back to the high school and tell their friends how "fun" my class is.  It feels like a nice warm hug on those days when I just don't think I'm worthy. 

PT conferences...

...are always a good time to reflect (and catch up on blogging between parents).  As always, I am failing in my goal of keeping this blog updated.  But I hope that this week will give me a chance to blog about all the TPRS goodness that is bouncing around in my head. 

Parents have been very supportive of my class and tell me that their students love French class, which is good to hear.  I've also been able to share a bit of our class with the parents as I read a recent free-write to them.  The looks on their faces are priceless!  I either get some giggles or they look really uncomfortable as I read about Jimmy the cow who wants to eat a fish named Tony.  I hope I'm not shooting myself in the foot by sharing insights into our classroom environment...

But I am really enjoying showing the parents what their children can do and it gives me something to refer to when I talk to them about their children.  I highly recommend that you try this in the future, and I hope I remember to do it again next year.