Monday, December 29, 2014

Flipped out & stressed out

It seems as though all of my favorite things about my teaching career have been neglected this year. I have really been struggling with the addition of 3 Spanish 2 classes this year. At the end of last year, our Spanish 1 teacher retired, and we found out that her position would not be filled. SO, on top of teaching 2, 3 and 4 this year, my classes are big. I had 30 students in each of my Spanish 2 classes. Now, I know that for many people, larger classes are the norm, but these are the largest classes I have taught since being at EHS.

On top of the larger classes, the students came to me with very limited Spanish 1 skills. They came to Spanish 2 missing key vocabulary, unable to conjugate the most basic verbs, and the most scary of all, many of them came unable or unwilling to work hard to be successful. Knowing that most of these factors were not the students' fault, we dove right into work. I spent double the amount of time reviewing that I normally would to try to teach the students the skills and vocabulary that they were lacking. After this 6 weeks, the students seemed to be better on top of some key vocabulary and were able to form sentences in the present tense. They all made oral presentations about their family, and only a few really struggled to get through those.

I felt much better about getting into the Spanish 2 curriculum. I pared down vocabulary from the beginning units, gave the students a reference list of common verbs and we pushed forward. That was when things really took a turn.

For the first time, I had a large majority of my students balk at watching content and culture videos. Even as we moved into October conferences and November, I still had students that acted as though they had no idea what I was talking about when I said they had to watch a video. At the beginning of November we moved into the intro to the past tenses, and I told the students that if they didn't show up to class with the notes, they would not to get to choose who they worked with on the unit project. That finally seemed to get their attention, and for once, all of the students came with notes and could effectively do the practice exercises and begin to engage in the class activities actually having a clue what I was talking about. I was feeling more positive and thought we were finally on track.

Well, that didn't last long. I introduce the past tense (preterite and imperfect basics) in the one video, and then demonstrate preterite irregulars in a second video. Guess what? The students went right back to saying video? what video? and I was back to ripping out my hair.

Now I will say that many more students were on board as we finished out the semester. However, so many of them had been doing their work without notes, copying practice work, pretending to read (but really only looking at pictures for clues), etc. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the final exam. The final exam is different than what the students have seen in the past, They are asked to apply their knowledge....there is no multiple choice. The final exam grades were a disaster. Even though I had worked hard with many of the students on a one-on-one basis, it wasn't enough to compensate for their lack of work the entire semester.

So, the real question is what now? Well, I am losing about 3-5 students in each of my Spanish 2 classes because they didn't pass first semester. This is another first for me. However, I had about 5 students that had decided by October that they weren't interested in working (at all) and were just going to take an F. I had a similar number that had been doing the bare minimum for the majority of the semester and then couldn't pull out a passing grade on the final. The kids don't get it, but the grades this semester really broke my heart. I haven't had kids that totally checked out in a long time. I have had even fewer that just couldn't (or wouldn't) do the work necessary to be successful. There were all some kids that barely passed (and even 1 that didn't) Spanish 1 and really didn't come into Spanish 2 with much knowledge.

As much as I feel like I let those kids down, looking forward, I think it is going to make a real difference. Many of the students talked to me on finals day and expressed how they were going to do things differently so that they would be more successful next semester. For my part, I am going to change how we do things second semester. First, students will be required to show up with notes. If they do not, they will receive a 0 for that day and will have to work by themselves in a designated corner to get the notes. If this happens a second time, I will be emailing parents that their student is coming to class unprepared. I am going to begin classes with a variety of speaking, listening and writing activities to continue to bring their skills up to the required levels to move on to Spanish 3. I am going to (sigh) create a seating chart that will keep the students more effectively seated and away from one another. Finally, we will have 20 minutes of silent work time every class period for students to work on activities. (Remember we have 90 minute blocks, so this is very doable for me.)

When we go back, my first plan for each of these classes is to sit down with them all and have them work on a plan for success together. They will have to write down a list of five things individually that they will do to have a better semester and then as a small group, decide on the top three things. Then I will discuss with them the changes I will be making. I am hopeful that this will allow me the time to do a better job working one-on-one with the students which somehow got lost in the last semester.

In evaluating everything that didn't go right with my sophomores, I know that I was not well prepared from the beginning and that has contributed to the issue. This is the first time since I flipped that I had three classes of Spanish 2, and I should have done a better job laying down the ground rules at the beginning, Add to that the fact that I spent way to much time playing Kindergarten teacher (don't take his stuff, stop poking him, keep your hands to yourself, etc.) that I lost what I love most about the flip which was my ability to spend time one-on-one with the students to help them succeed as a group and as individuals. I can do better, and I will do better going forward. The reality is that with budget cuts and not replacing teachers that leave, classes are only going to be bigger, and I have to go back to being much stricter in order to keep everyone on track.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sophia Guest Blog Post

I know the blog has been woefully neglected as of late. It has been a tough year, with larger class, tough kiddos, the loss of a language teacher (retired) and her position. I know the story is the same for many of you. I also have new challenges with a part time job with VIF creating a flipped curriculum.

So, I have some blogging that needs to be done and a have lots of thoughts and ideas I need to get written down here. For now. I am sharing my guest blog post from

Having the ability to share ideas, success, struggles and failures with a large network of educators provides the support that so many teachers need. A personal learning network (PLN) can provide that support and is a vital tool for teachers. Some teachers are lucky and have a good support system in their buildings, and others need to look outside of their school and local area to find a peer group that can support them. Fortunately, technology has made it much easier to find that like-minded group of educators. Here are some great places to go if you are looking to connect with other teachers.
Many teachers use blogs to reflect on what is going on in their classroom and to share successes as well as failures in the hope of continually improving. Here is a list of some of favorites.
This blog is a reflection of four years of flipping and is valuable for all teachers, but especially World Language teachers.
Need I say more? Free and technology...some of my favorite words! If you are looking for a great tech tool, this is the place to start.
This is Crystal Kirch’s Math blog. She is a leader in the flipped class and gives frequent webinars with Sophia.
This primary teacher and has great ideas that apply to all teachers. She has great ideas for classroom setup.
Twitter chats are popular and available on a variety of topics. Don’t be intimidated if you are not on Twitter. It is easy to sign up and use. When participating in a chat, remember that you must add the hashtag so that your Tweets are grouped in the chat and easy to follow. If you don’t have an account, sign up and give it a try.
Mondays, 8pm EST
This is a very popular chat and can be fast paced at times. A variety of topics is covered every week, and teachers that flip their class at every level and in every content area can be found here.
Thursdays, 8pm EST
This is the best World Language chat. They meet every week (they do take a hiatus in the summer) and discuss a variety of topics applicable to the classroom.
Mondays, 8pm EST
This chat is based on the popular book Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The specific topics vary week to week.
State and National Conferences
Although connecting with people across the country and even the world is fun, don’t neglect the great teachers in your local area. Join the local and national organizations for your content area and try to go to your State and National conferences. They are wonderful places to meet other teachers and get ideas in your content area.
About the Author: Heather Witten is an enthusiastic educator, presenter and blogger and co-author of Flipping 2.0. She currently teaches high school Spanish to students in 9-12. In 2013 she was elected to serve on her state foreign language board (CCFLT).Heather has delivered numerous presentations about the flipped classroom, most recently at the Flipped Class Conference 2012, CCFLT, AATSP and ACTFL. Heather is beginning her fourth year flipping her class and is passionate about flipping foreign language classes because it enables teachers to better utilize class time to create better, more meaningful classroom activities and ongoing assessment. Heather shares her journey with the flipped classroom in her blog at