Saturday, October 28, 2017

Teach Better/Work Less: Slow Down on Innovation

I continue to be inspired by Elizabeth Dentlinger and her goal of Teach Better/Work Less, which I've adopted as my own.

While I've got lots of moving parts to the Teach Better/Work Less plan, one area I've had to take a close look at is innovation.  Why do I feel like I must have new and better ways every year, all the time?  There's no doubt that our field is full of learning and innovation right now--making the shift from learning to acquisition, from memorization to proficiency, new ACTFL standards, new research, better ways to spend our class time.....There's a lot of great work to be done.  But I don't have to do it All. At. Once.

After writing a couple of new units for upper elementary and middle school and adding FVR, I started talking about creating stations--after the school year had started.  My good friend and colleague, Siobhan, didn't even look up from her work when I laid out my plan. She simply said, "For next year."

She knows. I'm an innovation junkie. In reflecting more about this penchant for change, it became clear, quickly, that my focus on (rapid) innovation was the cause of a lot of stress and additional pressure on my work load--all brought on by me. I'm now asking myself, "Am I really reflecting on each major innovation? How does it work? How do the children respond? Is the innovation responding to their needs?  Is it too fast for them? How does this change focus on the bigger picture and program goals? Given the time limitations, does it make sense?"

So, I'm committed to what I've started and as far as innovation? I started a Pinterest Board with ideas for stations so when I feel the strong urge to start changing things I can pin ideas to the board and then let it go...for now. Same for unit ideas. I'll take some time to sit with the changes already in place, and respond as needed. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Keeping it in the TL: Elementary Version

A couple of years ago, my colleague, Siobhan, and I attended a workshop that emphasized the importance of teaching students transactional phrases and words in the target language to be used during class activities. The presenters stressed that the value of whatever cutting/pasting/coloring project we had going on could be lost because students drop the TL to speak in English, but it's the transactional language that's the real life part. This rang true for both of us and we went back to school, where between us, teach kindergarten through 8th grade, and put some new practices in place to support TL use in our classes.  
As a part of our process, we asked the children what language they needed to get their needs met and express themselves without defaulting to English.  The list of language is ever evolving and is posted on our class white boards, so when a situation arises, we can add it to the list. Now having experience with the kinds of things the children need to say, we can predict some of that language and explicitly teach it and have visual reminders posted in our classrooms.  What we've noticed is that the children, when given these phrases and words, use them. Phrases like ¿Puedo ir al baño? or ¿Me das un lápiz? can be heard from very young children through middle school.  Not only are the children learning necessary transactional language, we're laying the foundation for on-going inquiry and ownership of their language learning. In upper elementary and middle school, rather than dropping to English, students ask "Cómo se dice...?" for something they need to express an opinion or ask a question, and add the language to their personal vocabulary lists for future use.  This stems from their early experiences in lower elementary and being supported in using target language from the start.