Friday, March 29, 2013

Flipping with the Essential Question

Before the Spring Break, I worked really hard on creating the second half of my conflict unit for my Spanish III class. I am using the model that I learned about at the CCFLT conference. In the weeks before the break, we did some vocab and grammar. When we return, I will be putting the students in their groups and having them get to work on these projects. I selected groups based on a Google Voice question a few weeks back. I had asked them what they would like to learn before they finish Spanish III. I took the responses to these questions, and formed the groups. The groups are of 3 and 4. Students that did not respond to the phone call were placed in groups together and I chose a theme for them. Basically the themes are sports, food, conversation/culture (colloquial phrases, insults, etc.), science, and pop culture. 

Students will be able to choose a country and then take their general topic and find a more specific topic that interests them. I am asking them to focus on comparsions and in particular comparisons of their topic and a similar topic in the US. Here are links to all of the documents that I will be giving the students. I worked hard on this, and to make sure that I was adequately covering all of the modes. I am using this as a test to see how the students respond and complete the assessments.

As you all know, I love comments from my PLN, so please offer any advice or comments. I am looking forward to this and want it to go well. Let me know what you think!



Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Break Vacation??

Today is day two of Spring Break. We just wrapped up the quarter, and had parent teacher conferences. All my papers are graded (ok, we'll there are three kids that sent in late work that are on my desk back at school, but that doesn't count!) I have made my Essential Question projects, had them peer reviewed by my favorite German teacher, and even made the copies for Monday. For my PLN I have answered a bunch of emails. So, now I am planning on cleaning my house, hanging out with my kids, making lesson plans for levels 1 and 4, catch up on blog reading, write a blog post, answer more email, look for resources on the Internet.......

Hold on, isn't Spring Break supposed to be a vacation? A time for teachers to recharge so they can go back to school refreshed and ready to finish the school year? I read an article recently about work life balance, and after a long chat with my very supportive hubby, my post for today was inspired.

Let me start with a story.....
Once there was a man who worked in the IT industry. He worked all the time. He worked 10-12 hours at work, the would come home, go to an event for his kids, kiss his wife and then work some more. Is wife was constantly asking him to stop, to slow down.....

Now another....
Once there was a teacher, a teacher who worked hard to do the best possible job for her students. She went to sporting events at her school to build relationships with her students, she volunteered to chaperone dances, she revised curriculum. Then she began speaking at conferences, writing a blog. She also encouraged students to email her with questions, so she was constantly checking email and responding to her students.

These stories are about myself and my husband. I hadn't realized it, but I am just as bad at work-life balance as he is. I am addicted to my job. It snuck up on me. Who would have thought when I began teaching that those high schoolers would have such a place in my heart that I would find it near impossible to take a day off? Hard to believe that I am so committed to constant improvement that I am always working. I take consolation in the knowledge that I am not the only one. How many teachers do you know that take a day off just to grade and/or plan?

We all need time to recharge before the home stretch of the school year. These last 7 weeks go by so fast that there is hardly a chance to breathe. Recharging makes us better teachers. It helps us be able to distance ourselves from the pressure and drama of school. Then, we can better reflect on our work and our students. That is why, this Spring Break, I am putting away the blog, Twitter, emails, etc. and relaxing with my family. No more thinking about school until Sunday. I am looking forward to it and I hope you join me in the Spring Recharge!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tapping into peer-to-peer teaching with assessments

I am constantly looking at how I am assessing students and trying out new ideas to help the students do a better job of demonstrating their knowledge. With this in mind, I tried a partner test for my new level 1 class. It started as an idea from necessity...we had three snow days in five class days, and there just wasn't enough time to get everything done that needed to be accomplished before Spring Break. When I decided upon this partner test, I had no idea that it was going to turn out to be a great idea.

So, I had the students sit two to a table and let them use notes and their partner to complete the test. They were allowed to use any notes and their partner at their table, no one else and no other resources. (I was pleasantly surprised by how some of the pairings worked out - I had some A/B students with B/C students.) I had created the test so although there would be some quick, easy answers from the notes, there was quite a bit of long answer: translate the sentence, write original sentences with specific words, and writing an original paragraph.

Amazingly, what happened was not a furious copying down of material from the notes, but great dialogues about how and why some grammatical things happened. I loved watching all of the students work together to come up with the right answers. Some worked together the whole way, some each did what they knew and then compared and discussed what was missing. Others (mostly the A students) did the test on their own and then swapped papers to peer review.

Yes, I know that this is not necessarily a true assessment of what each student knew, but to be honest, I thought the dialogue that came from doing this was well worth it. The most interesting part was that when I finished grading the assessments, the majority of students performed the way they normally do on tests. The only exception were my lower achieving students, who, for the most part, did better than normal. The best part was that in the days since we did this, I have heard more students doing peer-to-peer teaching, even the lower achieving students.

Since this went so well with level 1, I thought I would try something similar with my level 3 classes. We are studying adverbial phrases with the subjunctive, which is really some tough material. So, what I decided to do was have the students take the assessment normally. Then I gave them 10 minutes to compare and correct mistakes on their tests. Again, there were some great discussions about some tough grammatical concepts. I did have two students (out of 80) that really made out because they clearly had not studied at all, but the majority were able to tweak and refine their answers.

I guess I am just a sucker for peer-to-peer teaching. The students all have so much to offer each other and it is very difficult to tap into all of their knowledge. I don't think it is bad for students to discuss the concepts and then make decisions about what is right. I wouldn't do it all the time, but with a really tough concept, thought it was a good idea.

What do you think??