Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Semester 1 results: French 2

I am struggling with my French 2s this year.  I don't know what it is, but they are just not my favorite.  It seems like it's always a little bit like this because French 2 is where the upper classman who just finished French 1 mesh with the smarty pants who took French 1 in middle school.  The dynamic is strange and I have some huge attention seekers in those classes.

Anyway, here are my results of what my kids (and only the kids that had me last year and this no smarty pants who took French in 8th grade) did on their writing final.

 This is a student who is not the best student.  He struggles with paying attention.  I love that he throws in phrases like "Suddenly!" Also, his story is terribly tragic with the object of Mason's affection killed in a car accident.  Might be hard for a native to understand the story, but it's there...
 This is from an otherwise perfectionist student.  I'm proud that she is able to get away from that perfectionism a little bit to write a story with a few mistakes.  I just need to get her to make more mistakes to get more output from her...  I love that she used "lui a dit" correctly (even though her story jumps from past to present throughout) and used conjunction words to make the story sound more natural.
 This is my student who struggles the MOST.  He could give up.  He could drop.  Instead, he comes to see me during study hall because he feels safe with me.  I show you this one to hopefully encourage you to focus on relationships sometimes more than grades.  This kid has been through HELL and I can't imagine how he manages to focus at all in class.  But he just decided last month that he's going to try and make it in college.  I pray so hard that he finds an advocate wherever he goes because I know he can do it and make a better life than what he's living right now.
This is my first year with this student, but she wanted to skip into French 2 so badly that she contacted me last year (when she was an 8th grader) to see if I could help her do that.  So I gave her some novels to read, asked her if she had any questions, and that's it!  This is what she has been able to accomplish with reading only for one year (and even less, actually) and one semester of CI.  I have to admit, she a genius at languages...she must be!  She soaks it in like a sunflower with sunshine.  I can't wait to see what she can do in another semester!
And finally, my class clown's writing.  I have to fight with him most days to keep him from becoming a distraction.  We've had the talk about being an actor and not a distractor, and most days he redirects well...  This piece is almost 100% grammatically perfect.  With zero direct grammar instruction and I guarantee this kid isn't playing on on his own time for funsies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Semester results: French 3

I also did La Personne Spéciale this semester with my French 3 classes (and French 2 as well) because a lot of these students had never met each other before (and some I had never met either).  I feel like their comprehension is better than in years past.  For example, we watched some Cyprien videos on youtube with the subtitles in French, and they said that they felt pretty confident that they understood what was going on.  I was able to do a lesson that I love (Alma movie talk) with them and embellish a ton because I knew that they would be able to understand.  So how are their results?  Well, here are the results from students who have ONLY had me as a French teacher.  In this case, these are students who were not "gifted" enough to start French in 8th grade (or were too busy taking music classes to start then).  Also, in Missouri, there is no language requirement, so a lot of the struggling students drop after year 2.
 I don't know why I can't get this to my apologies.  This student had almost perfect grammar for a French 3 student (in my opinion).  Especially if you read it out loud (for example, qui s'appelé should be qui s'appelait, but they are pronounced the same).  I love how the direct pronouns are in the correct places.  I doubt she could even tell you why they belong there.  Really impressive.
 This sample isn't as impressive as the last one.  This student is quiet and doesn't engage a lot with the class, but the high frequency words are there.  Not much else to say about this one.
 This is another quiet student.  Whenever she gives a presentation, the students are amazed that she can talk!  She is super smart, though, and is one of those students who sucks it all in even though she doesn't feel like spitting it back out.  There are a lot of really good things here.  The fact that she was able to use her vocabulary to tell a pretty good story, in my opinion.
This student had me last year in French 1 and wanted to skip to French 3, so she's not as precise as the other French 3 kids, but MAN, does she pick up vocabulary!!
There it is!  One semester of French 3.  I have some other really excellent students, but I only wanted to show students that I can claim 100% responsibility for...

Semester results-French 1

Okay, so we spent all of first semester on La Personne Spéciale, learning about all twenty-six students in my class.  I had one student who REALLY did not want to participate, so I saved her for last and talked her through it.  Instead of making her answer in a complete sentence (and let's not get into the forced output argument), I just let her answer one word or nod her head.  We went very slowly and I don't think any of the other students noticed that I was interacting with her differently than I had with others.

I thought I had results to share, but I forgot that I removed the speaking and writing portions of their test to allow them more time before assessing their language output.  All in all, I am EXTREMELY pleased with what they know and how they surprise me every day with their capabilities in the language.  Actually, I do have some five-minute free writes from last week, so I'll post those!  We had just started our first story, but had only spent about 20-30 minutes total with the new structures: Il y avait, elle s'appelait, aimait, voulait.

I've included a good one, a lower one, and the worst one.

The good one shows the accuracy that is possible with NO EXPLICIT GRAMMAR.  Most of my students are able to write with very few errors because they have seen the correct structures so many times.  The only thing I'm bummed about is that, by focusing an entire semester on LPS, they didn't get very good at talking about a lot of things.  Think about how much they can say after just learning those words from our first story...  So that's sad, but I think they'll pick them up quickly next semester.  Stay tuned...

Here is the worst one.  She got a few things out of her own brain before copying the colors from the color poster on the wall.  This student was absent SO much.  I think she is going to end up dropping at semester and trying again next year.  It's just soooo hard to catch up from a lot of absences.

This is another poor sample.  This student seems to pay attention in class, but he is not very socially active in class.  He prefers to keep to himself and shares little.  I'm hopeful that as he feels more comfortable, he will engage more and have better results.

That's it for this semester of French 1!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Novel reading-it worked for me!

So I finished La Personne Spéciale weeks early with one class and was struggling with what to do with them.  I tried creating a persona and asking that person the same questions I had asked the other students...but that fell flat.  My other class (the one who is still going with LPS) can talk about anything in French.  They come into class each day bursting with some story they want to tell we're behind.  My "fast" class doesn't want to talk about anything.  They are a small class and are content to sit back and watch me do my dancing dog show for them.  What to do??

I decided to make life easy on myself, and, rather than create a FIFTH daily prep, we are reading Nuits Mystérieuses.  Now, I have to say I have read this with a class before, but it was YEARS ago and I wasn't super thrilled with the novel because, as a former Lyonnaise, I thought the culture was a little lacking.  Flash forward maybe 6 years, and I've now seen Mira Canion and Mike Coxon and Carol Gaab really explain teaching with novels.  It's taken me a while for all that goodness to sink in, but I think it finally did!

I must admit, I am doing ZERO prep for this novel.  We just open it up and start reading.  But it's working, so I will share what I did yesterday for those of you who, like me, hate prepping for class (or don't have time to do it).

So, we started on chapter 4.  This is after the infamous tennis match where Alphonse hit Kevin in the nose with a ball.  In the first sentence, we learn that Kevin is in the Place Bellecour (yards from my old apartment), so of course, I had to show the kids what it looks like.  Luckily, there is a recent song and video that takes place in Place Bellecour, so we watched that.

We moved on to the second sentence, of course repeating the first.  My room has a squareish-shaped carpet, so I decided spur of the moment to make that Place Bellecour.  I took two bean bags to use as the base and scrambled to find a horse and a person-like thing for the horse and rider.  I found a giraffe for a horse and a mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for the rider.  Add in a sword, and Voilà!: Place Bellecour!

Next, Dylan is eating a croque monsieur, so I scrambled to find a plastic sandwich and threw it at the student who was reading Dylan's lines.  As we continued, each time one of the boys reacted, we waited until the actor reacted appropriately.

When we got to the part about Kevin's nose being red (because of the tennis incident), we did an instant replay because we hadn't had time to act out the last chapter.  I didn't have tennis rackets, so one student used a broom and the other used a dustpan.  I had a stress football that I used and we did a slow-motion re-enactment of the scene.  I have to admit, I was very surprised that my kids were so willing to get up and act goofy.  This is a class that LOVES sit and get.  They complain anytime I ask them to move.

Next, Dylan and Kevin look for a Starbucks, so I was able to talk a minute about the difference that used to be huge between French and American coffee-drinking habits.  And about how that is slowly changing as Starbucks arrives in France :_(

Next in the story, Dylan and Kevin go to a café, where they see a beautiful girl.  I picked a girl at random and had her sit in front of my computer.  The next line said that she had green eyes, so we had to go back to the drawing board and find a different girl with green eyes.  All this time, all adjustments are made in French and I am repeating myself, but it's compelling because it's all in context.  I say "Oh, B doesn't have green you have green eyes?  No, you don't have green eyes?  Who has green eyes?  Do you have green eyes?  Yes!  Okay, J has green eyes."  Then J sat up by the computer.  Next sentence we find out that she has long black hair...J didn't have black hair, so I had to improvise a wig.  The kids were laughing at the strange ways I was making this all work.

Anyway, I just wanted to write it up while I was thinking of it to show a bit of success with little planning.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Kindergarten Reading/Read Alouds

I've been focusing a lot of energy on literacy this year because it's a great way to learn vocabulary and I personally love the heck out of it.  But I couldn't seem to wrap my brain around re-creating the feeling of snuggling with my mom in bed while she read to me in the classroom.  So I reached out to the experts.  Here is the email I sent to Mike Coxon and Bryce Hedstrom, two superstars in creating life-long readers:

So I was inspired to finally buy the Read-Aloud Handbook and read
another book called Book Love this year.  As I'm trying to wrap my
brain around how to make this work in the FL classroom, I have a
question that I'm hoping you can lend some experience to.

I started doing Kindergarten Reading on Wednesdays, but with my French
1 kids, the books that we were able to do were pretty lame, so I
started taking 10-15 minutes that day to additionally read aloud to
them from a book in English (my reasoning being that there is a ton of
cultural information in there and I really thought I would just read a
chapter...but they LOVE it).  The feeling in the class when I'm
reading is magical.  It's comfy and cozy and the kids are able to just
relax and enjoy the story.  How do I take that magical feeling and
transform it into the TL?  I talked for quite a while last week with
Jeremy Jordan and our Reading Specialist, but I don't think the
reading specialist quite got it.  Jeremy had a couple of ideas, but
suggested that I should also get advice from you two "big dogs."

This is rambling, and I apologize, but there's a lot going on in my
brain about this.  With Kindergarten Reading, it definitely has it's
place, but it is way more interactive and I'm working really hard to
keep the language in bounds appropriate to their various levels.  With
a read aloud (from what I can gather from the Read-Aloud Handbook),
part of the beauty is that the students are exposed to a higher level
of language than they would be if I am sheltering sheltering
sheltering vocabulary to make it 100% comprehensible.  So, do I 1)
choose a book that I know they can understand most of (and if
so...what?), 2) pick a book that they probably won't understand as
well, but maybe one with a familiar storyline, 3) hold off on read
alouds until the upper levels, or 4) Scratch this whole idea and do
more Kindergarten reading or FVR.

Does all of this make sense?  My goals with Read Aloud are to expose
kids to new vocabulary and to create that warm fuzzy feeling.

Thanks in advance for reading this long, rambling, mess of an email.

Bess Hayles

And here is Bryce's response:

Hi Elisabeth,

Reading aloud can indeed magical. There is a connection there that you do not find elsewhere. The best way to help you with this is to set up a contrast. Your questions and commentary are so deep and well written that I am compelled to give an in depth answer.

When I read aloud to my students I am trying to recreate the close and tender feeling of reading to my daughters on my lap at night when they were little. I am close to my grown daughters and they are both eloquent and avid readers. I attribute it partially to the close feelings we shared as I read to them every night. They heard my voice and they could tell I cared. they associated those good feelings with books.

I am also trying to transmit the joy of listening to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Pyle, read to our class after lunch. He read to us every day and sometimes he even read for an hour. Once or twice he read for the rest of the day. I learned to love reading because of that. I have re-read almost all of the books he read to us then: Where the Red Fern Grows, Anne of Green Gables, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, When the Legends Die, Little Britches, Man of the Family and many others. That is a long-term reading win. God bless you, Mr. Pyle.

That absolutely does not happen, cannot happen, will NEVER happen to my high school students regarding reading in the current educational environment. Many English teachers are now forced to do close reading or deep reading with their students. The result is that reading now teaches students to hate reading. Reading is not something they enjoy, it is something they analyze in excruciating detail. I am willing to bet any amount of money that high school students that are forced to read a book over a period of weeks and analyze it sentence-by-sentence will never read any of those books again and worse, they will probably never read anything else like that again for pleasure for the rest of their lives. the result will be De facto illiteracy--they will be able to read but they won't because they will have been taught that reading is loathsome, something you are forced to do. Good intentions gone horribly wrong.

Go for the feeling in examples #1 & #2. Ditch #3.

Here is how I do it:

To paraphrase to ideas of Stephen Krashen, keep it comprehensible and interesting:

Keep it comprehensible.

1. Adjust the level of your speech. Students cannot see the print on the page, even if it is a big book. Use that to your advantage. Change the level of your "reading" to match the level of your students. I have used the same book all day long for kindergarten reading in level I, level 2 and level 4/AP by altering the level of speech in each class. It is easier to go from harder to easier. Just paraphrase in language that is comprehensible to the kids sitting in front of you.

2. Check for understanding. Do frequent comprehension checks to make sure they are with you. These are more informal than in a normal lesson and usually appear as side comments in the TL: "Wow, that must hurt! Has anyone fallen down like that? You? Really? when? What happened?

Keep it Interesting:

3. Alter your voice. Do not read like a machine. Use the read aloud tips from "Reading Magic" by Mem Fox: High/Low, Fast/Slow, Loud/Soft and Pause. Alter the tone, volume, speed and cadence and use dramatic pauses to make them want more.

4. Use different voices. Students that are listening to you do not have the advantage of being able to scan ahead to see who is speaking. They need to hear it instantaneously. So I do the main characters in distinct voices, usually based on their personalities: haughty, crafty, sneaky, innocent, caring, etc. The narration is in my own normal voice.

5. Pick books that are interesting to you and them.  If you like it you enthusiasm will be contagious. Don't read something to them just because you think you should. That is terrible modeling for the students. Let you admiration and love for the content in the book overflow and shower your students. They will pick up on it. You also need to take their interests and sensibilities into account, but do not go too far down that road, they are in your class because they want to learn something from you. They can easily get the pop culture

Practical Tips:

6. Change the body, change the mind.  Students sit in a different place and in a different way when we do read alouds. I have a plush rug that a student rolls out and students sit on it. I sit on the floor. My student teachers who are often female usually prefer to sit on a chair in front of them. Students that cannot fit on the rug move their chairs into a tight semi-circle around it. Those that cannot fir in the semi-circle of chairs have to stand behind them. No one can sit in a chair that is not around the rug. That creates an outcast, someone that is disengaged. I tell them that it is because they need to be able to see the pictures so that they will know what is going on.

7. Consistency. We do Kindergarten Reading every Thursday at the end of the period. No matter what. It doesn't matter if they have behaved or misbehaved. It doesn't matter if it is homecoming week or some other crazy event is going on. They can depend on it and look froward to it. So do I.

8. Cookies. Student volunteers bring cookies to share. This idea and the feeling of holding a cookie and eating it bring back memories of when school was fun, of when the teacher liked them and they liked each other. I do not beg for cookies. I do not mention it much at all. Students arrange it. We almost always get volunteers to bring cookies. We give them an applause and a sincere thank you. That helps to keep the cookie train rolling.

Does this clear it up?


And then Mike chimed in as well:

Hey Bess,

I agree with what Bryce mentions about using different voices and altering your voice. I also recommend reading with soundtrack music lightly playing in the background.  When I read aloud I am standing and dramatizing the story as I read (be careful you will get dizzy at first). 

You mention that "warm an fuzzy feeling" when reading.  I always had the goal of making reading exciting or entertaining because I wanted them to enjoy it so they would do it on their own.  

When you contrast what a typical History or English class might do when reading aloud (if they read aloud), there is a more serious and academic approach.  The TPRS novels and children's books that are available give us an opportunity to step out the "teacher role" and be an entertainer. 

I want the kids to get a little bit lost in what we are doing which is why the voices or music can help "fool"them.  This does take work but I think Reading Aloud helps students really get into reading AGAIN.  Towards the second half of the year FVR is more successful because of the Read Aloud sessions. 

Bryce also mentions body positioning.  I have had kids lay on the floor while doing Read Alouds (which has been great).  I have even gone to other parts of the school to act out scenes (I found it to be too distracting). IF I have some cool chairs in your room so it looks like you are set up reading :)

Sounds like you are on the right track.  Your personality seems like a perfect fit for dramatizing Read Alouds...hope these ideas help!

Talk soon,


Lots of great information there!

Still here?  Here are some videos I made of me doing Kindergarten Reading with my French 3 class before and after getting advice.  What do you think?

FLAM session on creating an authentic classroom by Dr. Tonya Tinsley

I've had this blog post sitting open on my computer for almost a week now.  I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to present it, so I've procrastinated.

Last weekend, I went to the local conference for Missouri and Kansas FL teachers and presented (presentation available on an earlier blog post).  My favorite part of the conference was seeing what was going on in other schools and classrooms, but nothing super resonated with me.  Not because they weren't fantastic ideas or that there aren't amazing things happening in FL classrooms across the midwest, but I didn't hear anything that I felt like I needed to share with the world or really ponder.

So on Saturday morning, tired from a stressful day of presenting for the very first time, I decided to duck into a session presented in French because, I figured, if I don't have anything to take away from this into my classroom, at least I've spent over an hour listening to a language I love.  And the presenter had a beautiful accent and a quiet presence that just felt so good after so much GO GO GO.  Sadly, I can't find an online program from last weekend, so I have no idea of this woman's name or of the name of her session.  (if anyone reads this and has this information, please share!)

To make a long story short, here are the ideas that she shared that resonated with me.  I was typing frantically while translating and listening, so they are very choppy.  But rather than sit with this blog post glaring at me while I try to teach, I will put this out there in the world as I experienced it.  If anything is confusing or you want more explanation, please reach out.  I can try and remember my thoughts as I took the notes.

Are our students used to traveling?  We can give them the tools of the language, but experiencing it is another thing...  Grocery store?  Paying the bill?  We need to make sure that our students can make those authentic connections because otherwise, they don't understand.

4 types of locuteurs: someone used to working with language learners, someone who's not, but is willing to be kind and communicate, someone who has no idea of how to speak with a non-native, someone who doesn't know and doesn't care to know.

Talk about something precious to them.  Something they value....but also, expose them to other things.  History: Sur les pas de Anne de Bretagne, Pour Connaitre La France: Histoire

How can we teach the value of culture if we don't know the story behind it?

What do they spend their money on says a lot about their lifestyles...?  We need to share our experiences with students.  When we ask them what they are going to be in the future, we are also helping them to become themselves.

It's important to show them you interacting with another French speaker.

We need to tell them that it's okay to start a sentence and not know how you are going to end it.  Maybe give them an example that life is not scripted.   We never know what we're going to say next and it's okay to stop and start again.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Keeping it in the Target Language

Here is the copy of my presentation from today's FLAM conference.  Please feel free to connect with any questions or suggestions!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

La Personne Spéciale

This year, I went full-hog into Bryce Hedstrom's Persona Especiale with all levels of my classes, with the understanding that the language we use in the upper levels will obviously be more complicated than the language I use with my lower levels.

I decided to start recording myself teaching so that my TPRS buddies *cough* you guys *cough* can give me constructive feedback.  Please don't destroy my soul, but if you have a few minutes (or 30) to watch and let me know what you saw that you liked or that confused you, please let me know!  I am always striving to be the best French teacher I can be!!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Pencil Grab

Reading through my blogs that I subscribe to, I came across a blog by Martina Bex where she talked about Movie Talk.  I was kind of scanning through it and looking for target vocabulary that I could use for the movie clip she references when I stumbled across an amazing "game" that Martina took from Kristin Duncan who took it from Carmen Andrew-Sanchez.  And I tried it yesterday!

So, instead of using a new reading (which would be ideal), I typed up some of the facts we had learned about a student in class through La Personne Spéciale (Bryce Hedstrom's first unit of teaching) and we read through them.  Then, students sat in pairs with a pencil between them.  I would say a true or false statement about that student (only those facts that were typed up because I wanted them to look and re-read if they got confused).  If the statement was true, students raced to grab the pencil and the student with the pencil earned a point.  If the statement was false and the student touched the pencil, they lost a point.  I had so much fun tricking my students with this.  For example, I have a student who can imitate Barry Gibbs (how old are these kids?!).  So for one of her phrases, I said, Suzie can imitate Barrrrrrrrack Obama!  The groans and investment from the kids was awesome.
Here is a short video I took of one of my classes playing.  It wasn't as exciting because I didn't trick them, but you can see how it works.  The kids were very happy to be filmed, as you can see :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Day 4 French 1 samples

Here are three completely random writing samples.  They had very little visual support to write these because, teaching 5 levels, I have very little room in my room to post everything...  I'd love to have posters with these structures like Bryce...

Monday, August 22, 2016

First 3 days

I feel like I made a lot of changes this year.  First, I changed my grading philosophy, as discussed in this blog post.  Then, I added flexible seating to my classroom, thanks to a funded project on  So now my classroom looks like this:
I've also decided that this is the year that I kick butt at classroom management.  Since coming to the high school and abandoning P.A.T., I've relied on my relationship with kids to do my managing for me.  Which works for most kids, but I was WORN OUT at the end of last year because of poor classroom management.  So I have Bryce's "How to Participate" on my wall, I'm wearing professional skirts and heels, and I'm taking no crap.  French only except during the first 5 minutes if I have announcements to make and the last 5 minutes when we wrap up the day.  Other than that, "Pas d'anglais dans la classe de français."

And it's going well so far!  I have a few kids that I had last year who are trying to take me back to the loose rules of last year, but I'm not going to let them!!

I also decided to change my classroom jobs a bit (which I'll blog about later) and implemented the secret password.  We practiced Friday in preparation for the real deal this week and the kids really got into it, whispering into my ear and acting like it was a big deal.  I loved it!

One last thing that went well last week: we had back to school night, where parents come to meet the teachers and find out about class.  In past years, I've introduced myself and talked about my philosophy and grading practices and blah blah blah blah.  But then I had to go to back to school night last year at my daughters' school and it was HORRIBLE!!  So boring being read to from the syllabus hour after hour after hour.  So I pretended like the parents were my French 1 class and taught them exactly as I had been teaching their kids.  The feedback was extraordinary!  They loved it, they were laughing and I doubt they will complain about my class in the future.  It was a really great way to start to build relationships with the parents.

Last thing and I'll go for now:  Jeremy Jordan (aka Senor Jordan) is now in my building.  While we don't see each other much during the day, having him here has been a huge blessing because I have someone that I can talk to and he immediately gets it when I say Circling with Balls or Special Person, etc.  Also, we've started Skyping with Andrea Schweitzer, roommate extraordinaire, once a week to check in and see how things are going.  If you're ever interested in joining us, please let me know!  We'd love to have special guests!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Comprehension to the MAX, community for the WIN by Justin Slocum Bailey

After hearing glowing reviews for Justin's earlier sessions and getting a personal recommendation from Michele Whaley, I was super excited to finish my week in this session.

This session was all about creating a secret language in the classroom using gestures and ASL to create a sense of community and fun.  Apparently there is an online dictionary showing videos of how to do these.  Here are some of the signs that we learned

  • Again: to get something repeated, either for clarification or for fun
  • Copycat: used by the teacher to tell kids that they need to do what I do
  • Play: used to show that we're about to have fun
  • Slow down: used to adjust the speed of the teacher
  • Word: used when a new word is going to be introduced or used by students when a word is used that they don't understand
  • Rise above: is the Usain Bolt gesture and is used when the situation is stinky, but we are going to rise above it.
  • Make lemonade: used when a situation is stinky and we are going to use the situation to teach the language
  • Distraction: used when there is something (a noise, an action) that is distracting from the leaerning
  • Start sign: used when the teacher is going to repeat or start a re-tell
I am big on precise language and what teachers say, so here are some quotes I got from Justin that I really like
  • "You control the language that is coming at you."
  • "There is no such thing as 'We already had that word'"
  • "How many of you want to know more?" -when a student said that she had 30 bicycles
  • "Am I saying that right? Names are so important." -when learning a student's name
  • "Students aren't used to understanding in their classes."
We spent the rest of the hour talking about the normal distractions that happen in our classroom and how we can use them to #makelemonade  For example, if a cell phone goes off, we can use that in our story.  If there is an announcement, maybe it becomes a message from the aliens.  We need to be better about using our imaginations in the classroom to use the things that would normally be an annoyance.

So....right after this session, we went to our farewell luncheon.  Right as Blaine Ray was giving his speech, the room next to us starting jamming out to some sweet jams.  I looked at Justin, who was behind me, and made the sign for Distraction.  He nodded and I turned back around.  Then, he tapped on my shoulder and gave me the Rise Above sign.  It made me chuckle and made me feel like Justin and I had this secret language and I felt special.  I can't wait to do this in my classroom!

Last thing: I've always shied away from using gestures because it just doesn't seem natural to me and I didn't want to force all of my students to do it if they didn't want to.  Justin made it kind of optional.  He encouraged us all to do them, but if we didn't, no biggie.  As a student, I really enjoyed the signs and I imagine that my more fidgety students will like them to.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Using Literature Circles with Michelle Kindt

After reading Carrie Toth's blog post about what she did with independent novel reading this year, I was interested to see how Michelle makes it work in her French classroom.  First off, you want to make sure that you use this with upper grades who can handle reading on their own.  They need lots of practice reading with you before you let them loose.

The original lit circle idea is that students break into groups of about 4 and every person is given a role.  What Michelle did with this idea was to help us, as teachers, keep track of multiple groups to keep them on task.  She starts with four jobs: vocabulary curator (chooses a short list of vocabulary needed to understand the story or useful in other situations), discussion question generator, summarizer, and culture connector (makes connections to our culture or things they know about other cultures).

Students read together for about 20 minutes a day and switch roles every day.  When there are 5-7 minutes left, allow students to get technology out and record their vocabulary, summary, questions, and culture connection, color-coding who adds what.  While students are reading in groups, Michelle leads a discussion with a group, using their discussion questions and adding her own (thus modeling a good discussion question).

After class, Michelle looks at the google docs and makes comments about which vocabulary they chose, sometimes correcting errors, or making a discussion.

If the students get behind, Michelle might work with that group to help them catch up.  If one group gets done early, she might give them suggestions of ways to spice up their google doc (adding pictures or doing a little research to add background knowledge to the story).  Students were also tasked with faking a Twitter or Instagram feed to re-tell the story from a character's perspective.

The coolest thing is that Michelle used the common thread of the novels she chose (all took place in French-speaking countries with rainforests) to create a unit on the rain forests.  Students read articles, debated, wrote emails, and studied geography and culture.

Good stuff!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Building Diversity-Positive Characters in the TPRS classroom with Anna Gilcher and Rachelle Adams

Holy cow!  I have to admit, I went to this class originally because my friend Anna was leading it.  And also because I am always wanting to honor the diversity I see in my classroom.

We started by creating a Circle of Love, an activity to replace a family tree.

I have gone away from having the typical family discussion by asking kids who they live with instead of "What's your mom's name?"  I get the same vocabulary, but it is individual for each kid.  

Next, we thought about one of our heroes and had to come up with an adjective to describe that person.  I thought of Stromae because he is influential.  We created a poster with all of those adjectives: 
We talked about these adjectives as possible replacements for the typical TPRS adjectives of beautiful, rich, tall...  

Next, they had the room in tears by showing an Ad Council video about Love has no Labels.  I had not seen the video, and after spending a week with like-minded love-filled people, I was done.  I'm just glad I didn't start sobbing and snarfing... 

Some quotes that I thought were powerful:
  • Students deserve to see positive representations of themselves and those they love, both as they are now and in the future.
  • We are not asked to change our personal belief systems, but to honor those in front of us. (I love this because it makes sense...we don't have to agree with...say...the hostile takeover of Palestinian lands to honor and love a person of Jewish descent.)
Next, we talked about the differences between diversity, multiculturalism, equality and equity.

Moving on to the Big 8 Social Identifiers:
  1. Ability-physical or mental capacities
  2. Age
  3. Ethnicity-a large group of people who share language, location, etc
  4. Gender
  5. Race-physical criteria (skin color)
  6. Religion/Spirituality
  7. Sexual Orientation
  8. S.E.S.
And the little 4:
  1. Appearance/body image
  2. Family structure
  3. Geographic region
  4. Military status (more important in some regions than others)
We talked about "jokes" that a lot of our teenagers think are hilarious.  Instead of yelling or getting them in trouble, we should guide them to understanding by asking "What do you mean by that?" and "Why is that funny?"

We talked about our gestures: think about how you gesture a man vs. a woman...(scary, isn't it??)

Now that we had all of the background, we talked about how we can co-create more inclusive TPRS stories.
  • adjectives-think back to the poster of the adjectives we used to describe our heroes...
  • names and characters and places: does it always have to be Kim Kardashian?
  • professions/responsibilities: woman can be doctors and men can be secretaries
  • locations (think of how powerful it is to use locally owned places that the kids actually go to!)
  • humor 
  • relationships: instead of a boy always looking for a girlfriend, maybe he is just looking for a friend
  • problems: try to move beyond to come up with meaningful problems (ex: Joe wants to take his mom to the much insight does that give us about Joe vs a story where Joe wants an iPhone?)  Instead of going to three locations and asking strangers for help, maybe the character works together with a friend to solve the problem.
  • solutions: try to come up with out-of-the-box will come up with great ones, but we may need to train them in the beginning.
We have great stories, but we can either re-write them to make them more inclusive or have our students do so.  As Alina said in her wonderful session, "We have to help them become the human beings we want in our society."

I can't say how important I think this session was.  I am always searching out ways to validate my students and their lives...and some of these things (like the gesture for woman) are so natural to's so nice to see it for what it is (sexist) and be able to change it in the future.  

Anna and Rachelle were amazing presenters and I hope they will present this same exact session next year (longer!) because it was cathartic and eye opening and wonderful.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Grafted Writing with Eric Richards

First off, shout out to my Missouri boy Eric Richards.  We've met at previous NTPRS conferences, but this was my first time sitting in on one of his sessions.  This session was about writing strategies and I came in a little hesitant because I have been thinking of comparing two of my classes: one where we continue to do free writes once a week and the other where I hold off on writing until the end of second semester.  But after going to this session, I realized that this is actually way less about writing and more about getting kids to Betsy's Blind Readings, where she has students do a blind re-tell, with others in the classroom helping him/her (while sneakily re-reading the story).

Anyway, here are the ideas I poached from Eric that I can't wait to try in the classroom:

  1. Condensing content: Students read the text and write down five of the most important sentences in the text to re-tell the story by copying those 5 sentences verbatim (they cannot combine).  This is SUCH an important skill to teach kids and I love the idea of having kids copy so they are writing accurate language.  Once they have their 5 sentences, they compare with a partner and collaborate to agree upon their 5 sentences.  You can continue this compare/share activity until the class agrees upon 5 sentences.  During this activity, students are tricked into re-reading the text like 10 times!
  2. What a difference a detail makes: students re-write the story word-for-word, changing one detail (character name, desire, etc).  Then, they read to a partner and share with the class.
  3. Rotating desks: Every desk has a piece of paper, teacher projects a skeleton story and each person writes that sentence based on the story that is in front of them.  Then, they swap stories and read them to each other.  You can also extend this by having students add details to the story
  4. The Space Between; This one is harder to explain...  Use a paper that is pre-numbered so that it works that, in partners, students co-create a story, leaving a sentence between what they that students have to figure out what sentence goes between.  Eric has a template for this that I need to download and then upload here...  So, picture that student 1 writes sentence 1 and 3.  Student 2 writes sentence 2 and 5.  Student 1 writes sentence 4 and 7...make sense?
  5. Addjectives: Students take a text and add an adjective to each sentence.
  6. Publishing problems: Students have to insert a topic-travel, family, character description-into text as they re-write the story.  
  7. Say what?: Just like number 6, but students add dialogue.
  8. Paint a picture: Have a student illustrate a scene from the text and trade, partner writes text.
  9. What in the world: Teacher orally describes a room and kids draw it and then have to write what happened in it.  For example, there is a knife near the bed, the window is open...
  10. Please don't say vocab lists: Students must write a story using a list of vocab structures.  This works well if teachers pick the structures from an existing story because then, you can have students read the original text and compare.
  11. Fill in the blank: Have students write missing pieces to a story (beginning, middle or end)
  12. There are always 2 sides to a story: Re-write a story from the other character's point of view.
  13. Write a picture: Add setting to a story.  Example: if the story simply says "The mom gave them hot chocolate," students can add details like "There was a fire burning in the living room..."
  14. Old school texting: Basically just like passing notes in class, but you tell the kids they are texting as a particular character and they pass a paper back and forth.  
Sooooo many good ideas to help students scaffold their writing because, in the first activity, they are literally copying sentences from the text.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Interactive input with Mira Canion

The idea of this workshop was that any question is a good question.  I'm assuming that Mira is thinking of the pressure we have started to feel the last couple of years to have Higher Order questions.  She began the session by giving us an example of a simple question that could have a simple answer, but says a ton...  Ready?  Here is the question: Who are you?  Depending on how you answer, we can learn a lot about you: the first thing you say tells us what you hold in the highest regard and tells us what you are most proud of.

So, she started by telling us how she begins a book (her example was her own book, which takes place in Ecuador).  She starts with a numbered map with pictures of animals on the different countries.  Start small by saying: The cat is from Ecuador...Ecuador is number 17.  Then, you can circle and gradually add more animals/countries.  Then, you can ask questions like: What number is Ecuador? and they can start learning geography.  Then, she went into talking about the rain forest and asking us where the rain forest is and could we make any guesses about why the rain forest grows there geographically.  Continue with talks about volcanoes or earthquakes or whatever.

She talked about personalization and how it doesn't just have to be about the student him/herself.  It can also be about a student's interest.  For example, being a bit of a Pokemon go player, I could talk about where we find different types of Pokemon (being in Reno, in the desert, I have found a ton of fire and desert Pokemon that don't live in Missouri).

Then, she pre-teaches the vocabulary of the novel using a parallel story.  Instead of telling the story of Anne, we can tell a story of a boy who has a different problem.  Anything to get the vocabulary in their head.


Once they have gotten a pretty good handle on the vocab, she writes a bunch of questions on index cards and hands them out.  The students find a partner, ask the partner their question (and answer the other question), trade cards (so they have a new question) and find a new partner.  I have always avoided doing activities like this because it feels like too much forced output and I have nightmares of students doing an information gap activity from a textbook...but I realized that this activity is not really about's more about getting more information that I can circle.  I also LOVED this activity as a student because I realized that it allows the students to go at their own pace.  If I want to start a conversation based on the card, I can because I don't have to be done with my partner right away.  It also allows slower students the chance to breath for a minute.

The next awesome thing about this is that you can then circle the structures again.  Ask your students "Who said that their mom was nice?" or other questions like that to get more repetitions on the structures.

Great stuff from Mira.  Super glad to have gotten more time to hang out this year...

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Optimizing the use of the TPRS novels-Mike Coxon

Mike is a kindred soul, I feel like.  I can't remember if I've been to a session with him before or if I just remember him so clearly from the War Room last year...  He has a way of making anything interesting, and his session, which was on novels (and I've seen probably 10-15 sessions on novels at the past 6 NTPRS conferences), was full of interesting ideas presented in a way where every teacher there felt confident taking the skills back to the classroom.

The first tip he gave us what that changing clothing changes a character and changing the classroom structure changes the feel from typical to exciting.  He told us that in his classroom, when the kids are working on something, he'll sneak out into the hallway and change his shirt without saying anything.  The kids are so confused...but it's another way to make our classes the most exciting class of their day.  He also builds tents in his classroom under the desk as a prop and also for them to read in during the tent chapter of Brandon Wants a Dog.  Brilliant!

He shared some reasons for reading aloud to the students as they follow along in their book.  I always do this and I remind my students to follow along with their eyes because as they are hearing the language and seeing it at the same time, it makes connections in their brains between the way the words look and the way they are spelled.  Mike also adds that reading aloud builds vocabulary, shows how the language works, associates reading with pleasure, creates background knowledge, provides a reading role model (me), and plants the desire to read.

In this session, we learned 3 principles for optimizing novels: If it's a boring chapter, personalize.  If it's exciting, dramatize, and if it's cultural, YouTubize.  (He showed us a 3D video of Guernica to go with La France en Danger that was spellbinding)

Next, he showed us some ways to read a chapter.

First was a simultaneous read.  In this, he used 3 different sets of characters who all acted out the scene at the same time.  He "read" the chapter, adding details and actions not originally in the book to add interest and extra vocab.

In a Crime Scene Investigation, he puts on a detective hat after a chapter reading to "investigate" the scene.  We saw this with the poop scene in Brandon Brown.  Some example questions: What happened?  Was the poop perfect?  Was it big or small?  Why?

Fake Text Messages:  I have had this site pinned on my browser forever and I've never used it.  Mike showed us an example of text messages between Anne's "friends" mean girling her. "Did you see Anne's shirt today?  Where'd she get that?  Goodwill?  Ha Ha!"  Also, text messages between the dude dancer (can't remember his name from the book) and a friend not in the book. "There's a beautiful girl over there?  What should I do?  Go over and tell her you're an expert in dancing"

Mike has his teacher's aids highlight the dialogue in every copy, using a different color highlighter for each character.  I love this idea, especially in the French novels, where it is not always clear who is speaking.

Two other weird things Mike does that I would LOVE to figure out how to do is that he dresses up as a substitute teacher for a day and teaches the "sub plan" in character all day long.  Or he dresses up as a super hero to become Captain Grammar.  I love that idea for those long weeks in the spring when the kids think my class sucks (only because they are used to how awesome it is and they forget how good they have it).  I could become someone else so they appreciate me a little more when I come back the next day.

Back to reading the novels:  When reading aloud, stimulate the senses, have students read along, read slowly, quickly, in different voices, using different accents.  He also does Narcolepsy Reading, which is where he pretends to fall asleep and the kids have to yell the missing word.

After going to this session, I feel like I did a horrible job of pre-teaching the language... I just assumed (ridiculously) that the novels are repetitive enough that they'll just get it eventually.  DUMB!!  One of the things Mike showed us to pre-teach vocab is the 3-Ring Circus.  I have seen this before in other sessions, even saw it in my student teaching 10 years ago.  But I LOVED what I saw Mike do (well, actually me, because he used me as the teacher).  Pick one student and have them do a SERIES of actions (ex: open the window, climb out the window, close the window), then, have a second student do another series of actions.  This is amazing for repetition, because we will have to go back and coach our first actor to continue doing those actions.  Add a third person.  Ideally, at least one of the characters has makes a noise or has a line that they are repeating to add interest and rhythm.  Then, once the actors are well established, step out of the scene and circle.  "What seems like chaos to us is normal to them."  Think about that?  How awesome are our kids at multi-tasking?!  They thrive in this environment (unless they have stimulation issues...know your audience).

We can also bring in the thoughts of side characters to add subplot or invent scenes.  For example, in La France en Danger, we can create a scene where Pauline calls her dad to explain that she is in trouble and asks for help.  How awesome is that?!

Side note: Mike is awful at driving games, but pretty solid at killing aliens

Friday, July 29, 2016

Make a Movie with Senor Wooly aka Jim Wooldridge

This was a two-night event that ROCKED!!  Senor Wooly was giving us the tools to create short films that could be used easily as MovieTalks.  Night one was going over the different types of shots and camera movements as well as a set of rules.  Talking about shot and movement do not make sense in a blog, so I'll just give you the rules.

  1. Hold phone horizontally (I broke this in the very first shot I tried to make...)
  2. Don't film everything in just one shot.
  3. Use close-ups
  4. But use them sparingly
  5. Record way more than you think you need
  6. Don't zoom
  7. Don't pan
  8. Scan the environment before you record
  9. Don't film in front of windows
  10. Outside, shoot at dawn or dusk 
  11. Film at the same height as the actors
To see my very first editing job, click here 

We used a free app called Adobe Premiere Clip, which did awesome things, but editing on a phone is not my cup of tea because I have fat, dumb fingers.  Just ask my friends how many of my texts they actually understand.  Thank God for real keyboards!

Night two was to film our piece in groups.  Here is our final product   My group was Andrea Schweitzer, Jeremy Jordan (who did the editing quickly) and me!  Every group did amazing work considering that everything had to be shot and edited in less than 2 hours.

Ask a Story 2.0 by Craig Sheehy

This session was about how to create stories that are more interesting than the cliche of a person with a problem goes somewhere, doesn't solve problem, goes to a second location, doesn't solve problem, and then goes to the 3rd location and solves the problem.  Craig has been reading tips for writing from a man named Ian Irvine.  There is a lot that goes into this, and to truly type out all of my notes would take twenty-five pages.  So instead of trying to explain the 41 ways to spice up a story, I'll just type them and if you have a question about a specific tip, please let me know.

The basic tenants of a story are to create suspense and tension in stories using a character that students can identify with.

One HUGE tip is to start our stories in the middle of the action/problem and then go back and flesh out the details.  No more "There is a boy who wants a cat."  We need to surprise our students and starting out every story the same way will get very boring very quickly.

To spice up characters, they should be:

  1. Sympathetic: in trouble, underdog, vulnerable and/or deserving
  2. Interesting: powerfully, naturally gifted or highly skilled, unusual, attractive, funny, or dangerous
  3. Have clear goals
  4. Have a strong opponent
  5. Tailor the character to maximize suspense
  6. Take away hero's defenses
  7. Create anticipation and expectation
  8. Romantic tension
  9. Micro-tension
  10. Rapidly changing emotions
To spice up a problem:
  1. Put character or friends in danger (physical, psychological, emotional or moral)
  2. Wants can be: love, friendship, escape, master a skill, discipline, art or realize a dream
  3. Pose a mystery or puzzle
  4. Force hero to face problem
  5. Raise the stakes
  6. Make it more difficult to solve
  7. Shorten the deadline
  8. Unusual twists and reversals: he got what he wanted, however, that made life worse for someone else
To spice up the plot:
  1. Make a problem clear
  2. Put the hero at a disadvantage
  3. Increase the pressure
  4. Create conflict with everyone and everything
  5. Create inner conflicts and dilemma
  6. Use of dramatic irony (the audience knows something that the character doesn't)
  7. Use the unknown to create anxiety
  8. Put hero in a perilous place
  9. Create mysteries (find a ouija board or a voodoo doll)
  10. Design puzzles
  11. Leave issues unresolved for a while
  12. Use reversals
  13. Secrets-clues should heighten suspense
  14. Use subtext-hidden agenda
  15. Turn dramatic event into a question
  16. Make it worse
To spice up structure:
  1. Structure the beginning to create suspense
  2. Tailor hero's actions to increase suspense
  3. Vary fortunes
  4. Sequence antagonists reactions to increase hero's troubles
  5. Heighten critical scenes
  6. Climax, resolution, ending
  7. In editing-reflect
That's all 41 ideas.  Still here?  The main idea is to do at least one of these things to avoid our usual trap.  For example, during another session, we were acting out the dance scene in Pauvre Anne and Andrea Schweitzer (my roommate at NTPRS and buddy) had the brilliant idea to insert details about Anne's friend to infer that she was jealous of Anne and the flirting boy.  Brilliant!!  Just think about trying to get better at doing one of these and our stories will get better.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Discard the Discipline Plan with Alina Filipescu

I love you, Alina.  When I grow up, I want to be like you... (I say this because she tells me that she reads my blog, which is incroyable!)

Alina has this aura about her that makes you love her.  She is sweet, kind, and she knows what she's doing in a classroom.  This session was about the procedures that she uses to keep her students engaged so they don't have time to cause problems.

I'll start with her procedures and then talk about her other ideas:

  • Whenever she says that she has a secret, the students all lean forward with their hands over their ears
  • When she says Excellent, the students repeat while giving a double thumbs up
  • When she says That's sad, the students repeat giving a thumbs down
  • When she says That's ridiculous, students slap their thighs and stand up and shout That's ridiculous!
  • When she says that someone has a problem, they put their hands in a cross over their chest and exclaim (Oh no!)
  • When she asks Do you understand? They reply I understand (she does this in multiple languages)
  • When she snaps her fingers and says click (to get their attention), they snap twice and say Click click
  • When she leans forward, that is their cue to answer chorally (do avoid hearing from only the fast processors and to reduce the feeling of chaos)-LOVE THIS IDEA
  • When she says Ok, I'm turning up the volume, they need to speak louder
Those are just the call and response type things that she does to keep the learning active.

Here are some other things that she does in the classroom to build a sense of community to avoid discipline issues.
  • She has an activity called That's me!  I'm pretty sure I blogged about this last year, but just in case...  She has a list of statements and if that statement describes you, you stand up (or sit down if you are already standing) and say "That's me!"  I like the idea of this because I can see doing it as a brain break in the middle of establishing meaning to get more reps while getting the kids moving.
  • Alina establishes her routines and expectations from the beginning and is consistent throughout the year.  She is forever repeating herself to the kids.  I had already planned to put my most important rules on a PowerPoint and have them scrolling the first two weeks of school with reminders every Monday throughout the year.... I need to be more consistent and I need to re-state my expectations every day
  • Here is some verbage that she uses with kids "Thank you so much for raising  your hand and waiting to answer."  "It's okay to laugh, it's okay to smile, it is not okay to talk over, blurt out, or chat with your neighbor"  "I love that you are so creative, but I need you to wait until ______ next time."  "When you _____, you make me a better teacher."  I don't know about you, but seeing the actual sentences modeled for me helps so much.  I'm always looking for what other teachers actually SAY to their students.  It helps me immensely.
  • She seriously limits vocab in the TL by saying "extra vocabulary is just noise right now, either say it in English or let's find a way to talk around the word you are looking for."  And she TEACHES them how to circumlocute!!
    • She teaches them four words in the TL: thing, event, place, and person.  For example, she had a student who didn't know how to say laser gun, so instead, he used her helpful words to say "He has a thing that says pew pew."  
  • She has a poster of How to Participate hanging from her ceiling with things to do to Pay Attention and things to do to Contribute (I think she said she got the list from Bryce Hedstom's website...)  First off, I love that it is there for students every day and I love that it is not hanging on the wall...instead it is in the room since it is hanging from the ceiling tile.  I'll have to find a spot for a poster in my room....
  • She talked about her Password at the Door, which gives her one-on-one time with each student before class to check in with them and their attitude while at the same time teaching important phrases.  I am thinking of having my students line up outside to get into my class. It's a cultural thing as well because, in France, the students (even high school students) stand in a line outside of the classroom until the teacher welcomes them into the room.  
  • Classroom jobs is something that I did last year and blogged about extensively last summer.  I plan to do a wrap-up blog about my first year with jobs and reflections about that.  One of the jobs that Alina uses that I LOVE is the human poster holders.  Instead of having word posters on the wall (which is awful when you teach 4 different preps), she using construction paper and writes the words on both sides of the poster.  Then, each time she uses that word, the student holding that word holds it up higher so that everyone can see.  Brilliant!
    • Alina also suggested not handing out the jobs all on one day.  I failed at that last year...
  • Once a year, Alina writes meaningful thank you cards to each student telling them a bunch of personalized things that she is thankful for.  I usually do this at the end of each year...but I like the idea of doing it throughout the year or in the middle of the year and MAILING them home!!  

But, the quote that Alina said that stuck with me is: We have to help our students become the human beings we want in our society.

Thank you Alina...for your smile, your kindness and your love of our profession.

Spanish with Blaine Ray

I always look forward to my Spanish lessons with Blaine.  He is such an amazing teacher, I love to see him in action, and I always learn something new by watching him.

This year, he said that there is a huge gap in our classrooms between what we teachers think they are understanding and what the students actually feel confident about.  We need to recognize that and find ways to repeat repeat repeat and slow down without making it seem overly simplistic.

Last year, I implemented the following five steps to creating details:

  1. Teachers says a statement to the class (Meredith is beautiful).
  2. Teacher asks the actor (Meredith, are you beautiful?)
  3. Actor answers in a complete, accurate sentence that is written for them to read. (Yes, I am beautiful)
  4. Teacher repeats and agrees with actor (Yes Meredith, you are beautiful)
  5. Teacher reports back to the class (Class, she is beautiful)
In this way, we are bouncing back and forth between 3rd, 2nd, and 1st person without it sounding awful or overly repetitive.

This year, I plan to do this and implement Bryce's movement (moving to a different location during step 1 and 5) to help differentiate the points of view.

Blaine says to repeat this until kids have a feeling of confidence in one sentence.  This takes practice with parallel characters (and always use yourself...that way when you talk to your actors, they are also practicing speaking in all 3 points of view).  The actors are allowed to make minor grammar mistakes (prepositions or adj agreement) as long as the verbs are correct.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Feeling Like a Citizen-Bryce Hedstrom

I love the way that Bryce creates community in his classroom.  I've blogged about him several times over the years (and hopefully I will come back and hyperlink to those blog entries), but I still

get something new every time I see him.

This session was about Persona Especial and how he implements it.  I used Persona Especial last year, after many years of using Ben Slavic's Circling with Balls...  All of these ideas are very similar in that our first weeks (or months for me!) of school, our curriculum is created by getting to know our students.  When I first started, I took their activities and created a bizarre story for each student in my class, like Bob swims in the toilet!!  But a couple of years ago, I did away with the crazy stories (unless the student initiated it) and did more realistic stories based on the student's actual answers.  So last year, I put off talking about activities until I had gotten to know other things.  We started with names, ages, and then things they have: job, license, car, dog, etc.  Then we went to family members by talking about where they live and who they live with.

Okay, so here are the things that I learned this summer that I plan to change about how I've been doing things...

First, Bryce said that brain research shows that the social side of the brain learns vocabulary better than the cognitive side of the brain.  So, by making connections to PEOPLE, EMOTIONS, and STORIES, we are helping our students learn better than if we gave them vocabulary lists...things that we all know, but it's super cool to learn that science supports it.

Also with brain research, Bryce changes where he is in the room for the different points of view.  When he is speaking to a student, he is close to that student (not too close!) and angled towards him/her.  When he changes to report what he found out to the rest of the class, he moves to the center of the room.  This helps differentiate the two POV in the brains of our students.  Brilliant!  I plan on trying to do this, for sure.

Bryce starts out the year with name, age, and grade.  He will ask about 5 students in the class those three questions, circle the crap out of them, and then give a quiz where students have to write 10 sentences about those 5 students in Spanish (1st or 2nd day of school!!)  The thing that I stunk at was, trying to get reps in, I would bounce between like 3 students (as a parallel character) while doing this.  After watching Bryce again, I think I will stick with the one student until they are "finished" and then move on to my second student.  Parallel characters are great, but the purpose of this activity is not just getting reps.  It's about gaining the trust of the students and teaching them that they are worth my time and attention.  Also, have the students spell their names so that we can start hearing the alphabet.

After that first day or when he feels the kids have those structures, he moves on to the other questions on his questionnaire.  The language and the questions build so that each student answers all the questions the other students have already answered, plus the new question.  Then, when all students have shared, he will go back and get the missing information from the first students (who may have only answered their name and age).  For this reason, he will pick the most vulnerable, shy looking kids for the first day because the spotlight will actually be on them for less time.  He also never talks to a student if they say they don't want to share...respecting their boundaries until they are ready.

Good stuff!  I highly recommend seeing Bryce and trying some of these things out!

How to Create and Implement a Robust CI Classroom-Craig Sheehy

This session was for teachers who have material they have to cover because of a textbook or vocab lists or whatever.  Craig broke down how to take that information, those lists and make them work in a CI classroom.  I took notes, but I am fortunate enough that I don't really have anything that I have to teach beyond high frequency structures.  And, lucky me, we are working as district French teachers to get away from the textbook (again) and make our curriculum more about what kids need to know vs what the textbooks tell us they need to know.

Anyway, here are my takeaways from Craig's session:

Steps to create a CI-friendly curriculum when you have vocab lists you are supposed to teach:

  1. Put the cognates in a column.  Those you will not have to teach because the kids should be able to figure them out very quickly.
  2. The rest of the words go into three columns, MUST KNOW, NICE TO KNOW, and SUPERSTAR WORDS (for those crazy words like scuba mask that end up on vocab lists for some insane reason).  Also look at what grammar points you are supposed to be hitting and think of some target structures that you could use to kill two birds with one stone (vocab and grammar at the same time)
  3. Take your MUST KNOW list and break it into chunks of 3 or 4.  That group will become your key structures for your story.
  4. NICE TO KNOW words can be used as detractors (Did Joe walk to the door or the pencil sharpener?  In this example, door is a high frequency word that kids will need to know, but pencil sharpener does not necessarily need to be taught.)  You can also use these words in your set-up, extra details, etc.  Your main story will focus on the MUST KNOW words, but you can throw in some NICE TO KNOW words every once in a while.
The three steps to a story:
  1. Background info: this is where you talk about all the things that aren't actually a part of the story.  Maybe our character just returned from Disney World and that is why s/he is calling her grandma.  You can use this for character development, to teach adjectives, or to teach weather.
  2. Problem: The character has a problem (duh!)
  3. Solution
  4. Add a parallel character to compare/contrast/get extra reps.
Craig teaches on a block, and he teaches with LICT.  This is his schedule for each story (3 stories per chapter of the book).
Day 1 (and 2 if you aren't on block)-Establish meaning: could be through PQA, TeacherTalks (Phototalk, Proptalk, MusicTalk, ArtTalk, CurrentEventTalk, CultureTalk, StudentTalk, MovieTalk, ActorTalk, Gestures), or whatever you want to use.
Day 2 (or 3 and 4)-Ask a Story: Find your character, Create Background information for the story, Use parallel characters, Explain the problem, Use multiple locations, Think of potential props.  Your core story (what you re-tell, circle, etc) should not be more than 15 sentences..  Anything else that you add for interest or repetition of structures is good for students to hear, but you don't have to repeat that information.
Day 3 (or 5 and 6)-Reading: students could read the same story from class, a parallel story, an embedded reading, a prepared story (like what's in the book), or a fairy tale that uses the same structures.  This reading does not have to be exactly what happened during class, but it should use the same structures and be 98% comprehensible.

I really liked that Craig pointed out that our core story is what we should worry about drilling into our kids' heads.  Those 5-15 sentences are the ones that we want to pour out of our kids' mouths.  Anything else that I added (like a detail that the mother is secretly jealous of the dog) is just for them to listen to and to add interest to the story (unless I'm creating an embedded reading).  

Good stuff!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Opening Session with Katya Paukova

I opened my 6th NTPRS with a keynote breakfast (something new...) with Katya Paukova.  It was impressive to me that almost half of the attendees are newbies who have never been to an NTPRS before and are learning about the method.  As they go through the journey, I hope they will reach out when they encounter bumps in the road.

Katya spoke for about 45 minutes about her journey and shared some great words of wisdom about language teaching.

  • Learning should not be painful.
  • If we learn the culture, we will accept the people (because we will see that they are people just like us).  
  • Fluency does not rest on grammar knowledge; in fact, the most successful speakers are the ones who speak without fear of making errors.
  • We are all learners, just at different stages of this journey.
  • You don't need everyone to like it, you just need one (I need to remember this...I have fallen into a terrible habit of allowing a class to fall into chaos in fear of losing one student because they might not like me if I re-direct them)
  • Just because it hasn't been done before doesn't mean it can't be done.  (Woah....think about that one for a minute.  I feel so bogged down by fear of failure and fear of the unknown...Big ups to those coaches who encourage me to go for it...  Especially Mira Canion who may have inspired me to write a novel and to Andrea Schweitzer who may have convinced me to try making videos...)
  • I think that this should be shouted from the rooftops: TPRS IS USED AT THE US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE TO TEACH LANGUAGES TO OFFICERS WORKING IN MILITARY DEFENSE!!!!!!  If it didn't work, would we trust the safety of our country to the method????
  • Before, we were not taking students to the desired end of proficiency and we have to change direction (through CI)
Great keynote full of laughs and love and cheering.  I'm so glad that I decided to drink the KoolAid and become part of this family.  And for those I'm missing this year...come visit KC!!