Evaluations

Well, although I was taken away from this blog for a while, I am now back with some ideas from the semester. I can officially say that I just had the best semester of my teaching career. It wasn’t perfect, but the work that I did over the summer has paid off! My classes have been stronger than ever and I really feel like that the students have acquired a lot.

I am getting to that time of year where I like to find out what has worked for students and what has not worked. I really like doing this because it helps to make my classroom better. There are a few ways to do this and I have tried all of them. I will tell you what has worked the best for me.

How to evaluate?

  1. Have a discussion with the class.
  2. Make a paper survey and have them fill it out.
  3. Use an online site to make a survey.

I have found that using an online site works the best. It gives me statistics, I don’t have to make copies, and it is automatically saved for future reference. The site that I use is quia.com. I chose this site because I can also create quizzes and games. It is easier for me to have one site that does multiple jobs.

Making a paper survey is the next best thing because then I can hear from all of the students rather than just a handful. Also, if needed I can show them to parents at conferences.

For me, the class discussion comes in last place. The reason is that it is really hard to control and can quickly turn into a complain fest, which is never good for a class. Also, you can’t refer to it later because it happens in the moment and you run the risk of a small, loud group voicing an opinion that does not reflect the thoughts of the whole group. With an online evaluation, students can voice their opinion without feeling peer pressure and the data is more reliable.

When?

  1. Before the final test
  2. After the final test

I tend to prefer giving it before the final test. The reason is that a final test is a culminating event. After a final, you feel done with the class and are ready to move on with your life.

More Tips

  1. Keep the questions relatively short and simple.
  2. Try not ask yes or no questions. This will give you more data.
  3. Have a mixture of multiple choice with essay.
  4. Have no more than 10 questions. 5 or 6 is probably good enough. They don’t want it to take forever.
  5. Keep the name optional. This will allow a choice for those who want to put their name on it, while keeping a certain amount of anonymity for others.

I am really looking forward to the evaluations this year. I value what my students have to say and desire to make my classroom more effective. The information that the students give us in invaluable and could really make a difference. I am sure I will find myself saying, “Wow. I never thought of that.”

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My Classroom Management in a Nutshell

The great American Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This is true in many different areas of life, but is especially important in education. At first when thinking about it, I thought that it was referring to the daily schedule or curriculum, but it is so much more than that. I decided to apply it to as many areas as I could and one area that made a difference for me was in my approach to classroom management.

We need a discipline plan. It is that simple. Without it we will not be as effective and our students will not achieve as much. My plan is easy to understand and realistic.

  1. I have some rules
  2. Something happens when you choose to not follow a rule
  3. Something happens when you do choose to follow a rule
That’s it! It follows the basic idea of Rules, Consequences and Rewards. Once this was developed, I had the task of deciding how I would let them know that they violated a rule. I have tried to keep my classroom as real life as possible and chose to model the violation notification after the speeding ticket. Why? Because it’s familiar, especially for teenagers who are looking forward to driving. So, when they choose to not follow a rule, I give them a ticket. It’s a 3 inch square of red paper that fits in my pocket. On the ticket I have three words: Name, Date, and Rule. I carry about 5 of them in pocket at all times so I am prepared for when the students choose to break a rule. As soon as they break a rule, I respond with something that shows empathy. For example, “Ooh. That just stinks.” I lay the ticket on their desk, tell them the rule they broke, give the student some space by moving away, and then immediately get back into instruction. The whole incident takes about 5 seconds and there really is no pain. They usually know what they did and just start filling out the ticket right away.
When I was developing a consequence, I just thought of something that the students really love and took it away. For many teenagers, this is lunch time. When they are the last person in line for lunch it sends them a message. When they can’t ride with their friends to go out to eat, it sends them a message. So far, it has worked really well. And the atmosphere in my classes is quite pleasant. Below is my Discipline Plan.

Discipline Plan for Spanish

Classroom Rules

  1. Respect the people, equipment, and furnishings of our class.
  2. Follow instructions immediately.
  3. Don’t cause a problem for someone else.

If You Choose To Break a Rule

Phase 1:                       We’ll talk about it.

Phase 2:                       5 minutes at the beginning of Lunch Time.

Phase 3:                       10 minutes at the beginning of Lunch Time.

Phase 4:                       We’ll have a conference where you will develop an action plan.

Severe Disruptions:     Student sent immediately to the office and we’ll have a conference where you will develop an action plan.

If a student chooses to miss his or her scheduled consequence, it will immediately be turned over to the Principal.

Possible Rewards

  • Verbal Encouragement
  • Phone call home bragging about how awesome the student is
  • Extra Credit
  • Unexpected Candy
  • Various other perks
A side note to language educators is that we also have the problem of students speaking English in class. If students continually do this, it gets in the way of acquiring the language. I use the Págame system. [págame means pay me] Here is the nutshell.
  • When we’re going into a time of Spanish, I say “Español por favor.” [Spanish please]
  • If a students really needs to speak English, they raise their hand and when I call on them they say, “¿Inglés por favor?” [English please]. If I nod yes, they say it. If I say no, they have to wait for another time.
  • If a students speaks English without asking for permission, I may give them págame. I do this in a light-hearted way. It has to be like a game and not a punishment. If it is a punishment, it causes damage to your classroom atmosphere and students feel like they are getting yelled at. If it’s a game, it becomes more of a challenge to not get a penalty. Kind of like not getting called for holding in football. I may do a video on this to show the difference.
  • After I give them a págame, a student in the class records it on a designated piece of paper. This frees me from any administrative duties and I can just relax. Plus the student likes the responsibility and power to keep track of the class. I choose this person wisely. Usually a quiet person that doesn’t like to act.
  • This keeps the English out and Spanish in. We have a lot more focus and more gets accomplished. Also the students practice more control.
Both of these plans have made my life so much easier because I have something to fall back on when a problem arises. It allows me to have high expectations for our class. Most of all, it allows there to be justice in our class. So often I feel like kids say things in class that are hurtful or don’t belong in our learning environment and nothing happens. Now, something happens and I have seen changes in behavior. It frees me up to be creative and have fun.

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Routines and Procedures

This year I have really taken the idea of Routines and Procedures quite seriously. I wanted to see if it really made a difference. So far, for me, it has made an incredible difference in the achievement of my students. It has also made a difference for me. I decided to take the concept one step further and assign myself Routines and Procedures. I thought to myself, “If this works for the students, why can’t it work for me?” So here and there I decided to think of ways that I could make my day more efficient. It has not only made my day more efficient, it has made the day go by faster and less stressful.

Here are a few of the Procedures and Routines that I have assigned myself.

Before School 

  • Organize the Desks
  • Write the Daily Schedule on the Board
  • Write the Bell Work
  • Take out the box of folders for Period 1 and place it on the cart by the door
  • Before I open the door to let students in, I look at the Daily Schedule and make sure that everything is prepared for each item.

During Class

  • I greet each student as they get their folder. Sometimes I hand them a piece of paper with the Bell Work on it or I hand them a graded assignment.
  • Help students stay on track by saying, “Get to work.”
  • When everyone is in their seats working, I close the door and say, “Buenos días, clase.”
  • During the 3 minutes of silent work time, I take attendance and enter in grades for that particular class on my iPad.
  • Then I mention the agenda for the day, we finish grading the Bell Work, and go through the agenda one by one.
  • At the end of class, the students put their folders away, I put their class box on the shelf and get out the next classes box.
  • I dismiss the students, not the bell.
As I was thinking about this routine, it first sounded really OCD. I continually asked myself if this was necessary. But it has made my life so much easier and stress free. I actually have more free time after school and usually get home by 4:15 – which is pretty good because I have a 25 mile commute. I can spend more time with my family and I am happier. Procedures and Routines have much needed order to my life and I hope that my students benefit from it as much as I have. So far, they have really embraced it and look forward to coming to class. I enjoy greeting them when they enter and seeing that we are forming a healthy working relationship. I am excited to see what the year will look like at the end.

Upcoming article Next week…

My Discipline Plan in a Nutshell

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The Power of the Picture Dictionary

This year, I added another comprehensible input element to my classroom –The Picture Dictionary. I had heard about it for the last few years and considered it a great idea, I just never implemented it. Over the last few weeks, I have seen how useful this can be for acquisition as well as the overall atmosphere of the classroom.

Atmosphere

  • Sets the tone that in this class we are here to work
  • The work is not always hard, but can even be therapeutic
  • Practices the expectation of working quietly
  • Promotes sharing, if students need a color that they don’t have

Acquisition

  • Students think about the word multiple times as they are writing it and designing a representation
  • Students get an initial feeling for how the word is spelled
  • Students are personalizing the vocabulary to bind it to their memory
  • The use of color makes the vocabulary come alive

Steps

  • Students make a table of contents [This is a list of the words with their definition]
  • Students construct the form of the dictionary [Simply just draw the lines on their paper]
  • Students write in the word and draw a picture

I have seen an improvement in recall as we start to play with the words.  The Picture Dictionary is yet another way to prepare the table for the meal that is to come when we tell the story and the students are blitzed with action and meaningful repetition. It seems that more I prepare them for the story time, the more opportunities there are for the language to be subconsciously imaged into the language acquisition device.  Plus, for many of the students the Picture Dictionary is just fun! They spend all day getting lectured and then they come to Spanish and it is creative and focused.

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Teaching French This Year

I have decided to teach a French exploratory class at the Middle School this year. Many people are surprised at this because I don’t speak French. Really, you ought to blame Ben Slavic. I remember a conversation we had one May afternoon when he told me that he was teaching a Spanish exploratory.

“Dude, you should teach a French exploratory,” he said. I remember thinking at the time that he was nuts because the only French I knew was oui.

“Ben, how would I do that? I don’t speak French,” I said.

“You need to think 4th dimensionally on this. Look, I don’t speak Spanish and I’m teaching an exploratory. You just have to learn the words you need and make sure that your pronunciation is good. It’s not that bad, man. You should totally do it.”

That conversation has been on the back burner of my conscience for the last 3 years. I started to think about it. I continued to ponder about how we learn languages and if we truly acquire from understanding messages, then one could actually teach a language without being fluent because you would acquire it with the class a little at a time. In fact, the class will probably acquire faster because you are going so slow. There are a few things you need to be solid on, though.

  1. Your pronunciation needs to be legit. You can’t mess around on this and need to make an effort to be as close to native as possible because you are the source of your students input and you don’t want it to be tainted.
  2. Start with a TPR phase to get command of some basic vocabulary.
  3. Buy a basic grammar handbook to help you understand a few basic grammar concepts.

I went into this year with this little guide and believe it or not, I am actually acquiring French. It’s not as hard as I thought it would be and you know what, the students are acquiring it, too. The hardest part is getting over the fear of learning a new language. It’s kind of like jumping off of a diving board for the first time. This is so monumental because as I see it, there is no limit how many languages we learn.

I remember a conversation that an expert language interpreter, Lomb Kato, had with Stephen Krashen. She said to him, “Stephen, you’re so young. You’re only 53. So many years left, so many languages to acquire.” I am starting to understand what she means.

 

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The Textbook. Enemy of Acquisition or Useful Tool?

For a long time, I was frustrated with textbook companies and saw them as the enemy of acquisition. I felt that they were useless and didn’t help me to acquire when I was in school. I felt that they were a big waste of time. When I decided to be a Spanish teacher, my disgust for textbooks only got worse as I saw how they provided everything for a teacher causing them to be lazy and engage students in activities that didn’t lead to acquisition.

I was so refreshed when I came upon TPRS® because this allowed me to teach Spanish without using a textbook and gave me a little more credibility. Also I was in contact with several older teachers that were fed up with textbooks and abandoning them. As a young teacher, I thought to myself, “If they have spent all of these years with textbooks and are getting rid of them, why do I need to make a mistake by using them.”

Well, toward the end of last year I started to notice that my students were missing some important skills, such as greetings, thematic vocabulary, and some essential grammar. I had placed them into stories, but somehow it didn’t get acquired. I realized that I was shorting my students by not helping them gain mastery in these skills.

So, I had a few choices.

  1. Continue to insert this thematic vocabulary into the stories, but be more intentional about it.
  2. Use the skills in a textbook and present them to the students using comprehensible input activities.
  3. Use stories and comprehensible input to give the students more exposure to thematic skills commonly found in a textbook.

I chose to do number 3 and for the first time in my teaching career, I actually checked out textbooks to my students.

¡Gasp!

Now just relax and let me explain. This doesn’t mean that I am going all textbook and making the main focus on learning versus acquiring, but it does mean that I am using the textbook for its thematic vocabulary and activities for bell work exercises. The thematic vocabulary helps me to stay on track with giving them the skills that they should have and the activities provide brief bell work activities that get them focused on the language before class starts.

The great part about it is that I am not bound by the textbook. I can choose what I feel is an important skill versus insignificant vocabulary that I will just skip. I actually had a process that I followed when I was considering a textbook and the skills. First, I skimmed the textbook to see if was broken up by skills or if it was just vocabulary that didn’t relate to each other. Then, I identified each skill and developed criteria for what I want the students to master.

I think that this is important especially for young teachers because we are not walking curriculums. Many teachers can ditch a textbook because they have already been using it for over a decade. They have taught those essentials so many times that they could do it in their sleep. They already have an idea of what a beginning language student should master. Young teachers do not have this experience and need a guide if they want to help their students to be well-rounded in the language.

I finally realized that the textbook does not have to be the enemy. It can be a guide for teachers to help students master some basic language skills. However, if a teacher over-uses a textbook and depends on it for every minute of class, then it can become the enemy of acquisition. It all depends on your understanding of acquisition and how you decide to use it. If you have an understanding of how we acquire languages, then you are not bound by the activities in a book. You are simply just using the book as a pacing guide for introducing meaningful skills through an array of comprehensible input methods. If a teacher focuses on comprehensible input, I believe that the students will acquire the language and be successful.

In the end, we must realize that we do not have a lot of time with the students and we must be as effective and efficient as we can. The gift of language is one of the best skills that we can give students and I don’t want to waste one minute!

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A Well-Oiled Machine

This summer I had the opportunity to do a lot more farm work. To some of you, that may not seem out of the ordinary since you know that I live in a rural town of about 3,000 people. However, I must share that I grew up in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago. I am pretty much a city boy. I think that’s why I have enjoyed living in Minden so much. Well this summer I did more work on machinery and I found out how important it is to have a well-greased machine.Without grease, the joints of the machine will get squeaky and wear out much quicker. Without oil, the engine will be ruined. Where am I going with this? I see such a parallel in my classroom. Our classroom is like a machine. There are many unique parts that work together in order to successfully complete a job. Grease and oil are the procedures and routines that keep this many membered machine working. Without procedures and routines, classroom management is much more difficult and the unit will not run efficiently.

In the past I have been a very relaxed teacher when it came to routines and procedures. My classroom had procedures, but my mentality was that I didn’t want to be up tight about every little aspect of the classroom. I was still a good teacher and the students still acquired the language, but I wasn’t efficient. The classroom squeaked and at times I heard the sound of metal rubbing in the wrong way.

If last year was the year of being relaxed, this is the year of efficiency. The funny thing is, I am way more relaxed this year than previous years because the classroom practically runs itself. The first two weeks of school I nailed the class with procedures and routines. We still did some Spanish, but that was mostly in the background. I wanted my students to know that there is way that this classroom is run and I wanted them to be on board. From time to time, I would hear little respectful winces of, “Profe, are we going to tell a story soon?” They want it so bad that they are eagerly awaiting the day.

I am so excited! They have no idea of what is about to hit them this week. The well-oiled machine is what allows us to have fun as a class. I know that we cannot begin to have fun without an orderly environment of respect. Now that this solid foundation is laid, it is time to build an architectural masterpiece of comprehensible input that will forever change their lives. Krashen has said that acquisition is involuntary. When CI breaks through the language acquisition device we have no choice but to acquire the language. That is how powerful language acquisition can be. I believe that structure gives students a comfort and security that will lower the affective filter resulting in the language acquisition device being more exposed to the comprehensible input. What a beautiful thing! The more I learn about it, the more impressed I am with how it works.

Now, I must remember that just because I greased and oiled the machine at the beginning of the season does not mean that it’s fine for the whole season. A machine must be maintained and checked. Some joints may need more attention than others. I must continue to reinforce the procedures and routines as we go and as soon as I notice a student not following a procedure, I need to address it. It doesn’t have to be demeaning or painful. I just simply need to ask, “What’s the procedure for …. or how do we …? They tell me and then I say, “Great! Now show me how it’s done.” I am prepared for this and they need to know that I care enough to keep them in line.

I am greatly looking forward to the condition of this machine by the end of the season. Many times we notice that a machine has been neglected and not treated well. If a machine is taken care of properly, it can last for many years. Our classrooms are the same. If we maintain them, we create a machine that will create memories that last a lifetime.

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