Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sick Day Dilemma: Tools for Covering Your Absence!

I mentioned recently that we don't have a sub system in place for our elementary and middle school  Spanish classes.  If I know I'm going to be out in advance-sometimes our other, part-time Spanish teacher(remember my super creative colleague?) can cover some of the classes. But generally no teacher=no Spanish class.  I'm hoping to change that for next year, but it means that the sub will likely not speak the TL, nor be a WL teacher. For me to stay at  home means that I have a sick daughter, am in a body cast or on my death bed, so making some creative plans for  5-6 levels of Spanish  that morning are well...not going to happen.  Feeling motivated but overwhelmed with creating standing plans that would continue moving the children forward, and keeping the schedule that I know my colleagues depend on...I reached out to my generous, smart and creative PLN on Twitter(looking at you #langchat and @Earlylang).

Here is a list of their ideas for sub plans for sick days(Note: some of these ideas involve products. I have not received any compensation for mentioning these):

  • The SUB TUB. 
    • Julie Hoffman at Mundo de Pepita shared this: A Sub Tub!   Julie mentioned that while this was labor intensive to set up, it's well worth having this tool in place, so teachers don't have to plan anything from their sick bed. Rather a sub can grab and go.
  •  Play Verba.
    • This one requires a little financial investment, but seems well worth it. Verba is a card game, developed by WL teacher Kevin Ballestrini,  that practices high frequency words within sentence context--and has an elementary expansion pack, plus a Youtube video that explains the game in English-to bring your sub up to speed. Information for Verba here.
  • Draw a story from text.
    • The children draw or create a story board from a text. Or use an activity like the Zombie Sub Activities by Martina Bex(Thanks Bethanie Drew). 
  • Do a reading activities using Newslea .
    • Newslea is a current events news service for students-starting at grade level 2. I think it is currently only available in English and Spanish.  I will unpack this one further in another post--it's a really rich source. (Thanks Maria Cristina Rodriguez-Villa!)
  • Use QR code or links to videos .
    • Develop a cache of videos that can be accessed by the students via ipads, computers to work on an interpretive activity. If that technology isn't available, maybe the sub can access it and project it to the group and then students work on a stock interpretive activity--perhaps writing, then talking. 
  •  Continue what they're already working on.
    • Sometime I overlook this one. Can the students continue working on an activity that you started with them during a previous class?   
  • Focus on familiar activities.
    • Talia Block said that she relies on the familiar--activities like Buddy Bingo, creating Venn diagrams, and video activities.  Using something the students are familiar with can make set-up and execution easier for the sub and encourages TL use among the students. 
My goal is to set up a Sub Tub that includes lots of these activities(I'll keep you posted on this experiment!).

What do you do when a sub is coming in--especially if they don't speak TL or work in WL? I'll update this list as more ideas come in!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Getting Through The Hard Days

If you read my recent post, So You Use a Textbook...Stop Judging Yourself, you know that I feel strongly that we have to be forgiving of ourselves. We all have rough days in which survival is the goal.   There are those days where there just is not enough coffee, and looking at the day's classes feels insurmountable. In my school, there are no subs for Spanish. So, no teacher =no Spanish class.  On the rough days, I hike up my big girl panties and face the day.

But am I always my best, well-planned, game-face-on self?  NO WAY.

 This time of year, I find myself having more of those days than during the rest of the year, with special events, field trips, you name it interruptions to the schedule.

When I made the switch to teaching for proficiency,  I tossed out my old textbooks and worksheets.(Nuts! I miss them on days like these.) Since I've recently switched over to thematic units, I'm also low on 'stock activities' I can pull from when the going gets tough.  Facing the last couple of months of school, and a bumpy re-entry from spring break,  here are a couple of things I did in class that took little set up or creative energy on my part.(Plus it put more responsibility on the the children!)

5th grade survival class:
  • We're talking about biomes and conservation.  I put up cards that were used in previous lessons that list animals in each biome(picture/TL label) and show a picture of the biome, with its name.   The children made bingo cards with the name of a biome or animal in each square.   To play, I described the biomes and animals, and the children had to identify them to mark the bingo card. (If they were more familiar with the biomes, I would have had them say something about the biome or animal when they read off their cards.) Even though I was feeling off, we still maintained 90+% TL and worked some vocabulary in context of descriptions with photos. In the past, I would have simply shown the picture and had children identify the vocabulary word--now they're having to listen and glean meaning from the description.
6th grade survival class:
  • 6th graders are exploring the essential question "Where does the world live?" Children came in and started class with a silent writing time, describing this photo: 

Afterward, they shared their descriptions with a partner. After reading to a friend, they returned to writing. I asked them to answer the question "QuiĆ©n vive en esta casa?"(Who lives in this house?). The children then wrote some very funny descriptions of the people who live in this house and what they do.  What I did: posted a photo and asked two questions. What the children did: All the work. Something else I could have done is to have the children write three questions they could ask the people who live in this house.   I have also used, in a similar way,  the photographs from The Material World by Peter Menzel, which provides a rich cultural context.

One change I made this year that facilitates activities like these, is explicitly teaching transaction and transition phrases, like--Please pass me....(pencils, markers), I don't understand, Can you help me?  How do you say...?, Can I go to the bathroom, water fountain...? What do you think? What are we doing? My turn? Your turn?

Now, I notice that during something like bingo card preparation, or making a poster about something, the children speak in the TL and the process of setting up the activities becomes an opportunity for them to interact with each other.
Going forward, I'd like to empower the children to take charge of some of these activities, too, especially since they've gotten a sense of working toward proficiency and know it's about TL and communicating in it.  I'd also like to build a cache of meaningful activities so that on rough days, I can grab and go, and feel good about my survival tactics.

Are there days coming up when Banagrams in Spanish are coming out?  Definitely. It's about survival in these last 35 days.(Am I counting?) 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

So You Use A Textbook...Stop Judging Yourself

During a recent #langchat that focused on unit development, amid the caffeinated Saturday morning conversation, several teachers hesitantly shared that they use a textbook for their unit ideas, followed by some self-depricating apologies for it.  Colleen Lee-Hayes and I simultaneously tweeted out the same message, "Let it go--let's drop the judgement."

You use a textbook for whatever reason--you're new, your district says you have to,  all your teachers used them, you like it, you teach 100's of students and pee only during your lunchtime of 10 minutes. The list goes on. With on-going conversations about what proficiency is and what's the 'best' way to get there, it can be tough if you're at the beginning of making a shift in your teaching or  are already mid-stream. So. Let it go. Stop judging yourself. You don't need to apologize. We're all learning and growing. Did you see my post on when things go wrong? Seventeen years in, I'm still wrestling with this and continuing to learn.

One of the most freeing things I've heard along my teaching  journey is that you control the textbook--not the other way around. It's a resource. What can we do with it?  Some questions to explore:  Can we take the good cultural stuff at the end of chapter and use it as input and to pique interest at the beginning the unit?  What about writing an essential question and can-dos for the chapter?  How about scanning Pinterest for some rich authentic materials that go along with the chapter theme and support cultural competency and provide needed input? Is it possible to write an IPA or some performance based formative assessments?  Do you have the freedom to re-order or combine some chapters to create a unit?  Do the students have to have the unit's whole vocabulary list or can you get that paired down so they can focus on function? How to flesh out the three modes--are there plenty of opportunities for communicative tasks?

Personally, I am in the process of writing my own units. The amount of time this takes plus teaching sometimes overwhelms me. Using a textbook may be the resource that is allowing you to address other teaching duties (Hello carpool and committees! Recess supervision anyone?).

During the process of writing this,  Colleen Lee-Hayes sent me this post .  Colleen is a #langchat moderator and teacher I respect--her words on judging ourselves are balm for the language teacher's soul.

Teaching for proficiency is a mindset, not a material.  You control the text, not the other way around.  Let's drop the judgement.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

When Things Don't Go As Planned

In case I've given you the impression that things always go as planned in my classes... let me set you straight.  I will you tell you the tale of two teachers presenting the "same" lesson.

I am blessed to have a wonderful colleague who teaches kindergarten and 1st grade. At the moment, the 1st and 2nd graders are working on  "A Healthy Life," a unit we're co-writing, and I'm working on with the 2nd graders.

We had a fun lesson planned working with a great authentic resource from Mexico--a children's video that focuses on healthy choices.  It's below.

My colleague's preparation before viewing the video with her class:

She also found a cute video clip that demonstrated "mover el esqueleto," and previewed some of the phrases the children would hear--priming the pump for them to work with the video.

Here's my preparation:

 I think you can see where this is going.

My colleague's students left understanding that eating foods of various colors and moving their bodies are part of a healthy lifestyle.  My group...well, did not make those connections as clearly.

Sometimes when I've found a resource I'm excited about, I give it short shrift--plowing through it energetically, but lose the opportunity to milk it for all it's worth.  While the children in my group enjoyed watching the video, they didn't make all of the connections to the unit I was hoping they would, and didn't have the chance to learn and use some new and possibly relevant language chunks/vocab. I went too fast.

After lessons like this, I remind myself that it's important to lay a good groundwork for authentic resources, give processing time, and then work the resource until we've rung it dry(and/or the kids lose interest).  It's not a race.  It's perfectly fine if the children spend several classes, doing a few different tasks on one resource, as long as they're still invested.  Working this way takes time, and it's OK(and worth it) to give it that time.

I've decided to be forgiving with myself and learn from my creative colleague for our next go round!