Sunday, September 24, 2017

Being the champion for your students

There are times when as teachers we sit back and wonder why we continue teaching. More and more it feels as though we work for not just little pay, but little respect from the outside world. We are constantly working to find new ways to compete with all of the distractions in our students lives. We are trying to reach the students that seem unreachable, teach the students that can seem unteachable. Most importantly we try to give our students a base of knowledge, compassion, drive and the ability to think so they can be successful when they leave our classrooms, no matter what they choose to do later in life.

Of course in the education world driven by achievement and test scores, this often seems like an insurmountable task. As teachers we often look around and feel a sense of hopelessness because it doesn't seem like we are making a difference to anyone. We start to wonder if it is time for us to do something different-we can't imagine what. This is what drives teachers to be constantly changing and evolving what we do. To drive us to find our spark again. In 2011, this brought me to the flipped class movement.

As I look back now and reflect on how far I have come since that conference in Woodland Park with Jon Bergman, Aaron Sams and about 60 other interested flippers, I realize that the biggest change I made had nothing to do with my curriculum. My biggest change was the way I thought about my job and what I did. I stopped thinking that I taught Spanish. I don't teach Spanish at all. I teach students. 

My focus on teaching students is helped by the additional time I can spend with each of them in my flipped classroom. I am able to get to know them: how they learn, issues they are working through, challenges they face. Teaching students gives me the power to stop a lesson if someone asks an off-topic question that should be answered. To get side tracked in a good way to promote student thinking and questioning of their education and their life.

This last week I was reminded of the best part of teaching students - the influence that we have on them that sometimes we don't always realize. The best part is that sometimes these students manage to turn up right when we need them; right when we start questioning all that we do. This happened in a few ways for me last week. It started with a small thing, a huge hug from a student who senses you are having a bad day, students that bring you chocolate ice cream because they want you to have a good week, etc. Sometimes it is a Facebook friend request from a student that joined the military and wants to let you know how they are doing. Other times it is a student that contacts you to taunt you about a football rivalry, but also mentions that even though they are in college now, they learned more from you than in any other class.

Then, there are other students, the special ones that maybe you don't want to love, you know they are trouble. However they somehow find their way into your heart. They are the students you give a hard time to because you know that they can be more. The students that aren't making good choices, in school or in life, that you keep trying to get through to. The ones that other teachers, administration, and maybe even their parents don't know what to do with anymore. The ones that goes away for the summer and then doesn't come back. The ones that you find yourself thinking about and wondering about long after they are gone from your class and your school.

Sometimes these students show up out of the blue to thank you for what you did for them: for believing in them, for pushing them, even for giving them a kick in the pants when they needed it. These are the moments that we as teachers live for - to realize that we have truly made a difference. These moments, though often few and far between, can keep a teacher going for months or even years.

Teaching students is what we all do. Forging positive relationships not only makes a difference in our students' lives, but in our own. It is the reason why teachers go to school everyday, plan and grade in their free time, spend summers planning and learning. I think this quote sums up my perspective now more than ever. "Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be." - Rita Pierson

I will continue to strive to be that champion for my students. I don't know any other way to teach.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Student centered class through flipping

With the class time I have gained since switching to the flipped class, I am able to better meet the needs of all of my students. Before the flipped class, I would stand at the front of the class and lecture, then have students practice, then go over work and lecture some more. What I found was that I had three types of students in my class - the "Got It" which was about 30%, the "Almost There" which usually was about 50%, and the "Never going to get it" which was about 20%. 

Each of these groups present their own problems when lecturing to an entire class. The "Got It" kids often get bored and tune out as you try to help the "Almost There" group understand the material. The "Never going to get it" kids then start to feel hopeless because now you have explained a concept multiple times and they still don't understand. So this group will pretend to understand so they don't have to ask questions and put themselves on the spot. I just wasn't able to find a way to meet the needs of all of the students without some students being bored or frustrated. That is why I wanted to try flipped class - I needed to find a way to reach all of my students.

When I flipped my class, I was able to move the majority of the "lecture" to video. This way students could take as long as they needed to take notes. No one missed something because we had moved on and they were afraid to ask to go back or have something repeated. This meant that each student ended up with the same base of knowledge to work from when we started applying the lecture to the classroom activities.

Then, by changing the structure of my class time to allow every student an opportunity to work on assignments in a more self-paced manner over the course of a week, I found that students worked at different paces on different types of assignments. Some students were great readers, but struggled with listening. Others could write with ease, but couldn't put a sentence together in a conversation. So, by making classwork assignments assigned in a weekly time frame, rather than on a day-by-day basis, students were able to allocate their time across all of the activities and amazingly were finishing the week pretty much all in the same place. Students that needed to read a passage five times to gain the comprehension necessary could do so because they only had to do a listening selection one time to get the gist. This structure gave students a bit more freedom with their class time and I really saw an improvement in their comprehension of all of the modes of communication for all of the students. 

When the students could work individually (or in small groups) on tasks, I was able to better monitor students as they worked which enabled me to be able to see errors students make BEFORE they had made the same errors repeatedly. This also allowed me to do mini-lessons on an ongoing basis to address students needs, as well as able to give students the consistent encouragement that they need to be able to have to confidence needed to keep trying. 

Additionally, I have been able to use reading to be able to help students of different abilities all continue to improve. I love being able to work with students as they read and the make the connections with everything we have been learning and continue to make gains not only in their language proficiency but in their self-confidence. 

This year I am working on incorporating more Google Forms to help students get the additional help they need when working on classroom tasks so I can better meet the needs of each and every student. With Google Forms, I am able to give remedial instruction right away to students as they are working on formative classwork which (so far) allows them to more quickly realize and correct mistakes. I have just begun to work with this, but so far the results have been promising. 

Overall the flipped class enables me to focus on the individual students. Although I still struggle to find the time to have the individual conferences I would like to have with students on a quarterly basis, I have found more and more ways to help reach each student at their level and keep them engaged in class and language learning. Best of all, I see way more smiles now than the frustrated sighs I saw when I began teaching. ;)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Gain more class time with Flipped World Language class

I recently stumbled on a new chat on Twitter called #flipblogs. The participants had blogged in advance on the topic was "What problems have I solved in my class with flipping?" Although I had not done a post on this topic at the time, I thought that it was a great question to address. As I started writing down my thoughts, I realize this is a multi post topic for me. So, I will begin with the biggest problem and solution.

In my opinion, the greatest challenge I have as a World Language teacher is the small amount of time I have with my students. My school is on an alternating block schedule, so I see my students for about 90 minutes every other day. Therefore, I am always striving to find ways to incorporate more into our classroom time. But not just more; I was to incorporate meainginful activities that are a good use of our time together. Activities that not only help students learn the language, but activities that students enjoy. The other struggle with time is that 90 minutes is a long time for students to stay focused in a class, especially when we are trying to use as much of the target language as possible. I needed a better way to "chunk" material and activities to not lose students before our precious class time was up.

So the first problem I solved by flipping my class was that I gained more meaningful time with my students. I made activities more beneficial for each student by being able to give some assignments online so students could have as many opportunities as possible to learn, practice and achieve new skills. Flipping also gave students time to be able to work individually and receive individual help from me each class. I did this by taking all boring grammar explanations out of class and put them on idea. I stopped doing listening by playing a cd and moved those activities online so students could play them as many times as they needed to be able to get the gist of the listening and answer comprehension questions.this year, I have added more online practice for students with vocabulary and grammar so they can practice at their own speed and as many times as necessary to master the content.

So our block of 90 minutes (approx) is now often divided as follows, but not necessarily in this order:

  • 15 minutes of warm up - this can be translation, comprehension questions from a previous day's activity, a quick writing prompt, or a conversation activity.
  • 20 minutes of reading or conversation - Reading is done in reading groups with students having books appropriate for their level. Sometimes I read with them, sometimes I just listen. Conversation can be with a partner or a few classmates and be as simple as talking about the weekend, school activities, or another prompt I provide based on the theme I am teaching to the class. It can also be a fun activity like picture pages (where one student describes a picture in Spanish and the other draws what is described), for higher levels I sometimes use a picture as a story prompt and have groups come up with a story for the picture I show. I also love to use story cubes, which I have bought at Target. These cubes have pictures on each side and the student roll the cubes and create a story. 
  • 10 minutes of content delivery - of course this varies. Sometimes it is a review of a concept I see students are struggling with, sometimes it is a new cultural concept, vocabulary, or a colloquial phrase and its uses (I am trying hard for a phrase of the week.)
  • 15 minutes of practice of new content
  • 20 minutes of individual work - this is when students work on listening activities, projects, practice exercises, reading (if they are behind), etc.
  • 10 minute wrap up - I try to end the day with a quick review, activity, exit slip, something to try to help them leave with a positive vibe. Unfortunately somehow this is time that still occasionally disappears from class while I am giving individual help. But, I always make it a priority on Fridays to end with something fun - usually these days it is a Kahoot deck (they love Kahoot and beg to play!).
Now of course these are approximates. I have had some days where conversations just really gets going and we switch partners and keep going for 30 minutes. I have other days where the kids don't seem to want to take at all and 5 minutes is a struggle. The point I am trying to make is that my students are actively engaged in activities for the entire 90 minutes. I always make sure to give them individual time so they can practice what they need to work on at their pace. This also gives me the opportunity to help students every class on an individual basis to help them avoid frustration that can often come with a new language. Many days I feel like the individual work time is the most reductive for the students because they can focus on their needs and not be forced to follow the class needs. Giving students that time is the most important thing flipping gives my students.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beginning of the Year Assessments with Google Forms

The first week is always a time of optimism. The first week at my school was full of opportunities for my new students. The first week with a new teacher is an opportunity to leave the past behind and start fresh. My students seemed to come to their new Spanish class in three distinct groups: Fearless, Scared, and Resigned. My goal for this year is to bring them all to the group "Capable and Confident". However, before we can start, I wanted to assess the students abilities.

Too often in the past I have assumed I knew students' levels and just worked on problem areas as they came up. I have resisted beginning of the year assessments because I have been afraid that students would be dejected if they felt they didn't know everything that I asked. I was afraid I would lose some students before we even started because they felt stupid.  But, since many of my colleagues have been using some type of beginning of the year assessment, I thought it was time to put my worries aside and try it.

Since we have better access to computers this year, I created an online "Intro Assessment" for each of my levels using a Google Form set up as a quiz so I could have it quickly and automatically graded. I loved that the Google Form gathered all of the responses together so I could look at student answers all together to see if their answers were a pattern of things that none of them learned, or if it was just a few students that needed review.

Although a quick written assessment isn't a total insight into students' abilities, I thought it was a good place to start. I didn't give the students in Spanish 2 the ability to see their scores, but I did let the Spanish 3 students see their results.

For Spanish 2, there was some simple translation, vocabulary, and basic questions that students should be able to answer at the beginning of 2. In looking at the results, I could quickly see that we have a lot to do. Students seem to have some basic vocabulary, but struggled answering questions, even simple ones like "Where are you from?" and "What is the weather?". In Spanish 3, it was all translation/answer the question for Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 topics. The Spanish 3 classes fared better and although the automatic grading still gave terrible scores, the majority of the students demonstrated a firm grasp of the Spanish 1 content and a passable grasp of Spanish 2.

I was glad that I didn't let Spanish 2 see their scores. I think that many of the students would have been very upset and lost confidence in their abilities, or it would have confirmed their worst fears. In Spanish 3, I think the ability to compare their answers with the correct answers I provided provided some insight in where they needed to focus their effort. Many of the Spanish 3 students realized that they had made silly mistakes, and some asked lots of great questions about why things were incorrect.

So, as I prepare for Week 2, I am armed with some knowledge of the classes overall abilities as well as some individual struggles so I can help specific students one-on-one. I have adjusted some of my review activities to better focus on what students need to work on. I am looking forward to doing some more practice conversation activities to see how the students are able to communicate and then help them create some goals for their growth this year in both written and oral communication.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Can you flip listening practice?

This is a common question that I get from people who are asking about the flipped classroom, so I felt it should be addressed.

In my opinion, listening is the most crucial skill in any language. It can also be the hardest to teach and practice. Before I flipped my classroom, when we worked on listening, I played the CD and students answered comprehension questions. I would play the selection three times and then we would go over the answers. Great, right? Well, not so much.

What I realized (not as quickly as I should have) was that listening to a selection 3 times was fine for 50% of the students in class. Not nearly enough students were really understanding the listening. By doing listening in a large group, quite a few students would just copy what their neighbors had written down, and a few more would just give up entirely. This method was not really helping my students learn the most valuable skill in communication. So, the second year I flipped my class, I knew that I had to better incorporate listening into the classroom.

I began by just putting listening selections online and having student answer written questions. However, now there are so many great technology methods that can be used to help with this process. My favorite is EdPuzzle. With EdPuzzle I can easily embed questions into videos where I want them. This makes it easier for students to listen and listen again to the appropriate section to find the answers to the questions. It also means that students have to listen individually and I found that the students worked hard and really focused on comprehension of the listening to be able to answer the comprehension questions. As a result, listening comprehension scores improved, which is always the primary goal.

An added bonus of using Edpuzzle is that I was able to quickly grade student responses and see data which showed where students were struggling. Here is a snapshot of the quick grading on EdPuzzle.

This enabled me to better focus my instruction and continue to help my students improve. Sometimes by looking at the student data all together, I also realize that I need to work on the wording of a question, or that the question was too difficult.

Here is a sample of the video and questions that I am using in the review for Spanish 2 at the beginning of the year. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Utilizing Google Classroom to be the teacher I want to be

I am always in search of the best way to run my class website and help organize student assignments. A couple of years ago our school became a Google school, and I started using Blogger to organize class. However, it wasn't quite doing everything that I wished, so I started looking for another solution. When I started hearing about Google Classroom, it seemed like a natural step. I began using Google Classroom for my school website last year, as a test to see how it would work. 

I found that I really loved Classroom, even though I wasn't using all of the available features. Students were able to easily get on the site, access assignments, and complete them. I could create an assignment in Google Docs or Sheets and have a copy created for each student. I loved that I could make students load presentations in one place that was easy to access quickly when they were giving in class presentations. No more flash drives, emailed presentations, the "I emailed it, didn't you get it?" That feature alone was a huge time and sanity saver. 

I found great sites that work with Google Classroom to make assignments even easier. EdPuzzle is my favorite for listening activities. Quizlet also works with Classroom so you can assign vocabulary practice. I also found some Google add-ons that are helping me better utilize students time and research. My current favorite is Insert Learning, which enables me to take a live web page and add questions, notes, and even word/phrase translations to make it comprehensible for all levels. 

This year, I have more consistent access to computers, so I am trying to incorporate even more online. I have created Google Forms for practice and quick mini-formative assessment checks. This will enable me to set up automated grading so students can get instant feedback. I am also using Forms for student goal setting and reflection for each unit, semester and for the year. I can schedule everything to make sure it is delivered on time. 

All of this will hopefully give me more time for what really matters, one-on-one time with the students. I want to be able to not only more purposefully help students, but also to be able to better monitor their work, especially conversations. I also want to be able to have individual meetings with students quarterly to discuss their progress and make plans to help them to continue to grow. Basically, I am hoping that I can focus on what I should be focusing on, helping the student move up the fluency. Updates to follow.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We're going global!

Flipping my Spanish class was the best decision I ever made. Freeing up class time has given me the ability to incorporate so much more into my classes. More than anything else, I moved the focus of class from me to my students. This shift has affected me more and more as the years have gone by. Whenever I get ideas for projects or assignments, my first questions are ALWAYS:
  1. Do the students really need to know this?
  2. When will the students use this again?
  3. Will this really matter to the students?
This year, I am adding a new question - How can this help students make a global connection?

I teach in a small community at a high school of 700 students, many of which have been going to school together their entire lives. For many of them, their only exposure to other cultures comes from what as a language teacher, I provide. Many think going "all the way to Denver" (a 30 minute drive) is a big deal. Going to visit another country and/or experiencing another culture is something many of them have not experienced, and may not experience for quite some time.

This can lead to students that a)don't realize how lucky they are, and b)are unable to truly understand the rest of the world outside of our little town. This is a problem not only for me as an educator, but for me as a citizen of the world. How can our students ever hope to be prepared for life if they aren't empathetic and open to the culture of others that live in our world?

So, what does this mean for the classroom? It means that I am working hard to add more people into my classroom. No, it doesn't mean I will need more desks. I want to add other students learning Spanish, authors, politicians, sports figures, leaders and more to my classroom. I want to help them not only make global connections for class, but for life. I want my class to be the most relevant it can be by making it a part of the real world.

We are going to incorporate YouTube 360 videos. (I even bought a VR headset.) I want use everything at my disposal to get students truly immersed in the culture, and what better way then to really put them in the action. They can be standing in the middle of the Plaza Mayor, or inside of Sagrada Familia. It isn't the same as being there, but it is an awesome experience for those who need to learn to look outside of our little town.

I am going to incorporate Twitter in the classroom. If students have a comment about a character in a book, why not make that comment to the author? We will be reading more and getting more input. If they student read a story about a politician, celebrity, sports figure, why not tag them in a comment? I am working on the start of a rubric for Twitter usage, which I will finish with the help of my students, but I want it to be more about just needs to generate a level of excitement because what they are learning really MEANS something.

I am also working on making connections through epals to hopefully have some pen pal correspondence for my students. Isn't learning about hobbies and past times going to be more interesting if they are sharing that information with someone abroad? Won't they be more willing to learn the vocabulary and structures necessary if they are talking to a real person?

I want to reinforce that the focus of the class is the students. I love a worksheet, or looking for that "perfect" project or activity, but won't they be so much better off if they are learning because they want to? Because they don't want to look foolish in front of a new friend? Because they wrote to someone, who actually wrote back?

Who's with me? Want to be a part of the connections? Comment below.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Beginning planning for 2017/2018

I have finally, finally convinced my admin that our department (of 2) needs to have their own computers. This means that I am going to be able to move more curriculum online and be able to kill fewer trees.

However, this begs a few questions:
1. What is the best way to utilize this more readily available technology?
2. How to make sure I don't use technology for things that are more easily/better done in person?

My goals with the the new tech is that I will be able to do more "quick checks" of comprehension using Google Forms. Additionally I am hoping that this will give me more time to be able to spend with students one-on-one in my ever growing class sizes.

This year I also have to go back and try to create a student goals/objectives and feedback form that is easier. The one I created for last year required too much and there was no way I could keep up with it on an ongoing basis, so it was a bust. Luckily for me, the kids were so busy, that they never gave it a second thought.

In addition to the incorporation of the technology, I also need to continue the hunt for CI, as well as modifying the curriculum to include more projects with a global perspective. The more I teach at Elizabeth, the more I realize that students need more exposure to the world outside of our small town.