Category Archives: Teaching Discoveries

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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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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Filed under Classroom Management, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries, teaching grammar

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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My Best Year Yet

I have taken a good, long break from this blog. I needed some time to reorganize and think about a lot of personal and professional things. This blog has really made a difference in my professional growth and I am glad that it has been so helpful to so many of you out there. I think it is great that we can have communication even though we live so far away. Thank you for your encouragement.

I want to be up front with all of my readers out there. I have decided that I am going to blog once a week. This will most likely be on Saturday morning. The goal for this year is to reflect at the end of the week on how it went, what went well, and what needs to be improved. This will allow me to be free during the week and to have a consistent time that I can look forward to blogging. Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions.

Last year was a hard year for me. Especially, second semester. It wasn’t teaching or the kids, it was me. I was thinking about a lot of things and deciding whether or not I wanted to continue in the Public School system. Also, my wife and I had our first son this last year and if you have kids of your own, you know how that can take up some time. After weighing all of the pros and cons, I decided to stay in education. Not only to stay in education, but I told myself that this next year was going to be the best year as an educator. I proceeded to have one of the best summers I have had in a long time and to work from time to time on my weaknesses. Slowly, I found myself getting stronger with each passing day.

School started this last Monday and it was the best week I have ever had! It was amazing to experience the difference from previous years. The kids really responded and it has been confirmed that this is going to my best year in education. “So…what’s different?” you may be thinking. I put a list below and I’ll talk about each of them.

  • I modeled my classroom after Harry Wong’s The First Days of School
  • I have identified my curriculum and created criteria for each chapter
  • I have made an effort to be up front about my expectations and make my classroom predictable
  • I consider myself to be a professional educator
The First Days of School
Susan Gross has said, “Discipline precedes instruction.” I have always known this to be true, but never had all of the pieces. I had read several items on classroom management, but it really all came together with The First Days of School. I also recommend the video series that goes with it called The Effective Teacher. In short, these two materials alone have changed my life. I soon realized that if I could be an effective teacher, many of my weaknesses would become strengths and my class would acquire much more of the target language. I realize that it is not for everyone and people have different styles. However, this model has really made sense to me for educators in public education.
The Effective Teacher is:
  1. A good classroom manager. [discipline plan, procedures and routines]
  2. Designs lessons to reach mastery [comprehensible input is the key]
  3. Has positive expectations that students will be successful
Note: On number 2, this does not nullify the idea of comprehensible input. In fact we know that if we are going to lead students to acquisition, the only way is to have comprehensible input. This can be targeted CI or non-targeted CI. I tend to have the most success with targeted CI in an open way. This means that I have an idea or goal of what we are acquiring, but that it is also open to other CI knowing that students have their own order of acquisition.
Curriculum and Criteria
I want my students to know where we are going. This year I have decided to add some skills into the mix of storytelling. It may be during a story or just a separate skill that the students will get practice in. I found that my students had a very good handle of the language, but they lacked some very basic skills such as greetings and basic conversational topics that are the basis of many textbooks. This year, I want to try to do both and mix them together to see if my students are more versatile in the language. Again, this will still happen through comprehensible input.
This year I am going to tell my students exactly what I want from them so they can know which skills we are mastering. This way they will have a sense of all they have acquired and I will have a resource to help them if they have not acquired it. Identify my curriculum gives me something to look forward to every single day and makes the events of my class clear.
Up Front About Expectations and Predictability
I told my students this year exactly what I expect of them in terms of behavior and what it means to respect the people and furnishings of our classroom. I even gave them a classroom tour so that they know what everything is and my expectation. No secrets. I also told them that I don’t want them to talk bad about other teachers or students. I have put our daily agenda up on the board so that they know what is coming up in class and to keep me focused. So far, they have been really responsive to the structure and it has been a comfort for them. They more willingly cooperate and are quite pleasant compared to other first weeks of school. I know that we are still in the honeymoon phase, but many of them have noticed the change this year and have been positive about it.
I am a Professional Educator
I realized how hard many of us work and how much we know about education as well as the age group that we teach. I am not ashamed of this or the fact that I read professional journals, books, and seek highly effective educators for advice. I realized that we are like family doctors.
This summer we took my son to his one year check up and it was a great experience. The doctor was not only personable, but very knowledgable and he helped us with a lot. After we left, I realized that I will probably be teaching his kids Spanish and he will be depending on me for my professional expertise and knowledge, just as I depended on him. What a great system! After that point I decided to take myself a lot more seriously.
It is sad that we have to work with people that view our profession in a lesser light. I have chosen to take a different course. This changes how I dress, what I read, how I act at work, and my overall view on my profession. I have noticed that the changes I have made have changed our environment at school.
I realize that the changes I have made are not for everyone. We all have different ways of accomplishing our goals and leading our students to acquisition. We just need to keep growing and striving in order make ourselves effective.
In reality, we should have the mind set that each new year we start will be our best year yet. If we have grown and gained experience, why wouldn’t it be? We are so fortunate to have the power to choose much of the course of our life. I choose for this to be my best year yet and I hope you will, too!

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Using the Visual Modality for Directions

Once every chapter or so I do a dictation in my classes. It is a great listening assessment that helps to get in some grammatical practice. There is a bit of a process to learning how to do a dictation and it is somewhat hard to understand from listening or reading instructions. I have found that after the second or third dictation that the students start to realize the process. This is after much pain and explaining the procedure too many times. In the past I just put up with it because I knew they would eventually get it, but I after I had that conversation with our art teacher I started thinking in terms of modalities. I am so glad I did!

I experimented with using pictures for instructions the next time that I did it and it went much better! The students were less confused and could actually see what they needed to do. I first thought about making a video, but soon realized that it would be way easier to just show a picture.

I am starting to see a new way in instruction keeping these modalities in mind. They are not just limited to content, but apply to everything we do in the classroom – even instructions.

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Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Paradigms

Below I embedded a short excerpt from Sir Ken Robinsons speech on Changing Paradigms and also the full version below it. Pretty interesting stuff.

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Ira Glass – Weird Stories – MS Curriculum

Find it on youtube here!

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Classroom Tour

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmrvuitvjWg

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