Friday, May 20, 2016

Tea with BVP

If you are not listening to this Podcast yet, you MUST!!!  I'm currently binge listening and am on the 11th episode, trying frantically to catch up so I can call live at some point.  For those who might not know, it is hosted by Bill Van Patten, an SLA researcher at Michigan State University.  The hour-long show is an academic discussion of Language Acquisition between researchers, teachers, college professors, and methods students.  Fascinating stuff!

Students' evaluations

Almost all of my students completed a quick teacher evaluation after their finals today (I have three more classes on Monday).  There were quite a few common themes that I thought I'd share in case anyone else is curious what kids notice in a TPRS classroom.

Some quotes about how I showed them I care:
"You wanted us to try and kept pushing us."
"You are always very kind and accepting of mistakes." (I want to know which teachers aren't accepting of mistakes)
"You were really involved with me and the class."
"You helped me even when I didn't say I needed help."
"You slowed down and made sure we were following along and seemed to genuinely care when we talked.
"You talked to me"  (again, what teachers aren't talking to their students?!)

About the best thing we did in the classroom:
"Mafia" (thanks Martina Bex!)
"made it a fun environment, easy to make friends, talk to people, learn"
"You made up stories with us in French that were fun and easy."
"You hung up vocabulary posters for us to refer to if necessary.  It was very convenient and aided me a handful of times."
"You always included parts of the real world into class."
"Being repetitive on words and phrases."

How to improve for next year:
"Have desks"
"Kick kids out when they stop us from learning"
"Crack down on kids breaking rules"
"Give more worksheets and vocabulary lists so we can study."
"Teach us more words."

This is my 3rd year with these kids, so I'm not sure why they are still asking for worksheets!  I feel like a do a pretty good job of explaining my teaching philosophy and SLA research, but maybe not...  Thoughts?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

End of the year reflections-Negatives

1. Second semester slump: For some reason, every year about February or so, I get super down on myself and lose my love for teaching.  I feel like everything I do is garbage, my kids hate me, and they haven't learned anything.  Plus, my body is physically exhausted and I have a hard time keeping things together.  Next year, I'll try to keep a folder of home run activities that I can rely on during the long dark days.

2. Classroom management: I start every year strong, but then, as I get more comfortable with the students, classroom management goes out the window.  I think this is where being a mom of five is a real disadvantage for me because my tolerance for shenanigans is really high (or else I'd live my life screaming at kids).  So I just ignore ignore ignore until I can't handle it anymore and I get frustrated with my kids because they can't read in my mind where the imaginary line is that they've crossed.  Next year, I will try to focus more on loving redirects.  I've also considered participation points...I'm still very up in the air on this, but I feel like a big part of being successful in my class is participating (being engaged...not necessarily speaking).  So we'll see.  I need to think about whether or not that fits with my SBG philosophy.

3. Lack of vocabulary:  I feel like I could do a much better job of focusing vocabulary and building on existing knowledge.  It's hard when I have new students who come into my French 2 or 3 class because I feel like I need to quickly re-teach them everything we've learned in my class in the past one or two years...but I need to remember that if we recycle vocabulary effectively, we don't need to waste the time doing that.  So....a better vocabulary plan for next year.  Hopefully based on novels and the frequency dictionary.

4.  Distracted by "curriculum":  In my district, we are supposed to teach the same curriculum at about the same time.  Thankfully, we aren't held to this super strongly, but I still feel the need to "cover" the curriculum.  I have no idea why I feel this desire because my students don't learn this extra stuff any better or worse than the students in other classes...  But this year, I at least tried to look at the units and create some sort of plan (for my French 3 classes at least).  So, for example, we looked at the health vocabulary and then we did Bryce Hedstrom's Dr. joke (Patient goes to several doctors complaining that they hurt all over.  3rd doctor figures out that the patient's finger is broken), then we read an article targeted for French children over an 11 year old boy who had a heart transplant, and finally, we discussed health issues like nutrition and exercise, working our way up to questions about whether or not health is a right or a privilege and whether the gov't has the right to tax junk food.  It worked for me!

I've still got a ways to go....I start of the year full of energy and ideas and then teaching 4 preps and having two jobs and 5 kids gets to me and I get lazy and then I feel like a sucky teacher and then I don't want to do anything.  It's a terrible cycle that I HAVE to break next year.

End of the year reflection-Positives

I am almost to the end of my 9th year teaching, which makes it my 7th year teaching almost exclusively with TPRS.  Each year, I try to think about how I can improve next year so that I can focus on that when I am at NTPRS in July.  Otherwise, there are just too many great ideas and my brain gets overwhelmed.

So, here is a meandering reflection of what worked and what can be improved after this year.

1. Special Person: I have always started the year with Circling with Balls, but I used to make up silly details to make the story more interesting.  I realize now that it doesn't have to be crazy to be interesting to the kids.  As long as I am interested, they are interested.  We started off talking forEVER about names, reinforcing the Je vs Tu vs Il/Elle.  Since parking on this one concept for so long was new to me, I checked in with some of the high flyers to see if they were bored (since I was bored repeating myself so slowly for so long).  They said that it was interesting and that it didn't seem that repetitive because we were talking about each kid in the class, so they could each have their turn.  During this "unit", I was able to teach family vocab, including possessive pronouns, careers, numbers, most of the action verbs (play, watch, swim, run, etc), and we had a good time doing it.

2. Using actors and verifying details:  I started doing this last year, but really focused on it a lot more this year.  I found that it is super important to do this when you are telling the story in the past, because it is a natural way to re-tell the story in the present from different points of view.  If you have never seen a master teacher like Blaine do this, let me know so I can try to explain it better.

3.  Mystery Skype:  This is something I did because my neighbor teacher was trying it.  We Skyped a French-speaking person from somewhere in the world and the students each had a role to play in trying to figure out where they were.  Roles included map expert, question asker, question writer, host, and so on.  I found my mystery skypers by asking my French-speaking friends on Facebook if they would be willing to Skype in.  We had a family in Annecy, a college student in Lyon, a former classmate in Copenhagen, and a French elementary teacher in Vermont.  The kids got really excited and it was great for me to see how we could use collaboration and roles in sync with technology in a realistic way for a common goal.

4. Business partner:  In our town, we are lucky enough to have an ice cream company which is expanding to Canada.  I reached out to ask them if we could do some creative marketing for them for their French-Canadian stores.  We started by going to the offices and taking a tour, which was facilitated by their bilingual customer service agent and then we spent a week in class creating our marketing products, which included memes, print advertisements, video advertisements, and Snapchat filters.  We then did a Google Hangout with the marketing team in California and some of the employees here in Missouri to share our plans.  While it wasn't 100% in French, it did give the kids an idea of what a bilingual job could look like in the real world.  The kids had a blast, got a ton of free ice cream, and the company was really happy with what we produced.  I'm trying to think of ways to integrate more real-world tasks like this in the future.

Next post...what I need to improve for next year!