Saturday, June 25, 2016

Every teacher struggles, even me.

My 2014-2015 school year was probably my worst. It has taken me a long time to write this. Even seeing it now, I feel like a bit of a failure. Don't get me wrong, kids learned, papers were graded, I had parent conversations, worked with peer teachers. I think that only now that I know I had a good year am I comfortable enough to really write this post.

However, I was trying new things professionally (not in the classroom). Our school had lost its focus after a search for a new principal came up empty. We operated the whole year with no principal. I knew that the curriculum needed revamping.....I have the blog posts to prove it. But, I didn't do it. I usually work hard over the summer to make tweaks, find PD and improve the curriculum. However, two summers in a row, it didn't really happen.

I coasted in the classroom, which is not like me. It is so upsetting, even now, to think that I let it happen. I have always driven myself to succeed - as much as I like gold stars, it is intrinsic motivation that keeps me going. I have thought and thought about it, and I can't pinpoint where it all went wrong. I think it was just lots of little things that I let slide by. Was it the 7 year itch? Was it time to move on?

As confirmation that it was not my best year, enrollment in the upper level classes was down for the 2015-2016 school year. The students that I did have were more difficult to motivate to work independently and to strive for continued growth because I had let them slide the previous year. I did make some changes to the curriculum for this past year to help motivate the students. However, it seemed like it was too little too late.

Thankfully, it was my Spanish 2 students that inspired me to get it back in gear. I had some great students that really love the language. Students that started to find ways to take it further without me. I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend ACTFL last November. Being able to get ideas from sessions and have some great conversations with superstars like Amy Lenord, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Kara Parker, Mira Canion and numerous others helped me find my spark again.

So I have learned a humbling lesson. Every teacher struggles and can lose their way, even me. I wanted to share this because I am betting that I am not the only one who has felt this way. The key is to realize it is happening. Acknowledge the "slump" and find a way out of it. Find inspiration again in your students, your peers and make the turnaround. I did it, and so can you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Evaluations, goals and reflection tools, oh my!

Nothing makes me happier than having to do my teacher evaluation. I know pretty much every teacher feels the same way. This year has been very different for me because I was evaluated by our new principal. Not to delve into all the details, but it was so nice to have a frank and honest conversation about my performance. It really inspired me to find the way to move forward and continue to improve. There are elements of the evaluation where points were lost not because I didn't do things, but because I didn't have the artifacts to support that it is done. There are also places where I definitely need to improve - most notably in having students create goals and do reflections.

Goal setting and reflection is something that I always try to do, but the process is very time consuming and by October I always seem to let it fall away. So, now, I am searching for a solution to make the process easier and allow the students to do their portion more independently. I have written out what I want this document to look like, however, I am struggling with finding the right tool to create the form. I am hoping for something user friendly and "pretty". Here is a basic outline of what I am thinking for students to complete:

Yearly Goals

  • What will I do?
  • What do I need help with?

Unit 1 goals

  • PreAssessment results
    • Use to create Unit 1 goals
  • How will I meet?
  • What do I need help with?
  • Formative assessment 
    • Peer review
    • Student reflection
    • Teacher feedback
    • Goal adjustment
  • Unit summative 
    • Peer review
    • Student reflection
    • Teacher feedback (with rubric)
  • Goals met?
  • How to remediate (if necessary)

So, now all I need is to find the tech method to be able to make this all happen. I want students to be able to complete and me to be able to give my feedback and comments without bringing piles of paper home. I have fixed it so I have to figure this out this summer because I have also told my principal that a tool like the one I want for my students would be a great way for teachers and admin to share artifacts, to collaborate and to help make the teacher evaluation process simpler for everyone. I promised this knowing that I would make sure that I found a workable tool this summer.

I thought it would be easy once I figured out what I wanted, but alas, it is not so. The problem is I can't find the right tool - I was thinking I could create something on Google Docs, but that isn't working. I have searched for ideas online and am not finding what I want. That is why I am throwing this out to my fantastic PLN. Do you know of something I can use? Have you used a good tool in the past? Any ideas and comments would be greatly appreciated!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Planning for more!

Reflecting at the end of another school year is one of my favorite things to do. I have been working hard to revamp my curriculum (so happy to have a school district and principal that gives me that freedom!) to make it have a more communicative focus. I want students to have more interest in the topics that the units cover and therefore be more interested in learning the content that goes with it. Most of my work this year was done in my Spanish 2 curriculum so this summer I am focusing on how I can build on that with a revamped Spanish 3 curriculum.

For example, in Spanish 2, we always do a unit on food (as many WL teachers do). Instead of just another boring food unit, I changed the focus to living a healthy lifestyle. This enabled students to ave a focus for choosing their own vocabulary - we did this as a class for the first time (I was inspired by Amy Lenord, but have to find a better way for this because it took almost an entire class period!). Students chose many words and activities that I never would have thought of putting on a list. It had the added benefit of having each class have different lists so the cross-class copying for practice couldn't continue. ;)  We then did a variety of activities, interpretive reading with infographics. Like this one and this one. I also used this Coke commercial as a CI listening introduction to the unit.

What I found was that by changing the focus of the unit to a question - "How do you live a healthy lifestyle?" - Students naturally wanted input on vocabulary and activities. They also always had an opinion and had something to say so conversation practice came more naturally. They were at first freaked out by some of the TL activities because they didn't know every word and in some cases, couldn't even find a translation for words and had to use their brain to figure out what some words meant. The summative for this unit was open to student choice. They did a presentation about healthy lifestyle. For some this meant demonstrating how to play sports, for others, a cooking demonstration of a healthy recipe, ideas to replace junk food with healthy alternatives, etc. It turned out to be one of the best units I have ever planned and some of the best work from the students. As if I didn't know that things went better this year, my enrollment for Spanish 3 tripled for next year. Yea!

Of course, in hindsight, I realized we never talked about ordering in a restaurant and asking about items on a menu, which is something "real world" that students want to be able to do, but next year, I will make sure to add an activity to help them practice this as well.

So, with this success, the question is how to I work on the other units to make them as engaging for students? I have long wanted to change my Fairy Tale unit in Sp 3 and really need to make my Future life and decisions unit better, but how.? This is part of my summer homework.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The best part of flipping

When I began using the flipped class, I thought the best part was that I would not have to do direct instruction of grammar. The next year, I was sure that being able to allow students to practice listening exercises at their own pace, as many times as they needed was the best part of the flip. The following year, the best part of the flipped class was being able to group students by ability to be able to better structure their learning.

It has occurred to me that through my years flipping my class, the one thing that was the BEST thing that happened was that the students became the center of the classroom universe.This has taken many forms, and has looked different as time has gone by, but the fact remains it is the student-centered aspect of the flipped class that has made all of the difference in my teaching and their learning.

What does student centered learning look like in my class?

  1. Students have the opportunity to choose their own personal vocabulary to learn in each thematic unit. 
    1. In each unit, students must choose 15 - 20 words that they want to know. For example, in the house unit, when students are creating their dream house, these words should be included. (ie - the gun room, the horse stall, the arena, mud room, etc.)
  2. Students can allocate their time to activities that they feel need the most attention to obtain proficiency.
    1. If a student is an excellent writer, but struggles with listening activities, they can spend more class time on listening activities and less on writing activities. 
    2. Students can also be directed by me to repeat activities to ensure comprehension as many times as it takes for them to obtain proficiency. 
  3. Students have the choice between different activities and assignments whenever possible to spark their interest.
    1. For example - projects about books must show comprehension, but can be presentations, posters, written assignments, cartoons, art projects, etc. depending upon the students interests. 
    2. Students can adapt written practice depending upon their level. If a student can demonstrate knowledge of a concept after 10 practice sentences, they don't need to do 25. If a student needs more than 25 to demonstrate knowledge, that is what they need to do.
  4. Students have the responsibility to make sure they understand the concepts presented. 
    1. If a student does not understand, they must make the effort to redo assignments.
    2. If they need additional help, they are responsible for speaking up and asking questions. 
    3. When students are assessed on the can do statements for the unit, if they cannot successfully complete the activity outlined by the can do, they need to go back and redo it until they can demonstrate comprehension.
  5. Students can ask to demonstrate their proficiency with an assessment I did not propose. 
    1. If a student has another idea of how to demonstrate their proficiency of a concept, they can propose it and use that as an assessment. 
  6. Students can become teachers of their peers.
    1. When a student teaches another, that is when they truly understand the material. Whether it be word choice, word, order, pronunciation, or colloquial phrases students are empowered to support their peers through peer instruction. 
The freedom that the flipped class gives the students to control the class can be overwhelming at first. However, it is the best way for them to understand their learning needs and increase their proficiency in the language. By continuing to keep the focus of the class on them, the material is relevant and inspires them to learn.