Thursday, May 12, 2016

Question Ball

I noticed as I clicked "new post" that this is my 100th post!  It's so awesome to see what this blog has not only done for me but for my readers as well.  It always makes me happy to see people posting in other places about using these resources/ideas and how they worked for them.

This is an idea I cannot take credit for, it's actually something my student teacher did.  Nonetheless, I just had to share.

I've definitely been pushing more for interpersonal proficiency in my room (something I really lacked in past years), so we have the students speaking quite often.  To mix it up a bit, my student teacher found a cheap $1 ball and wrote a bunch of relevant questions on it for our unit.

In the activity, the ball was thrown to a student.  Wherever their right thumb landed was the question they had to read out loud and respond to (en francais bien sur).  They really enjoyed it and it was fun with how random it was.

One way to even mix this up is to start by asking a student a question and THEN throwing it to them.  They must respond to the question first and then ask the question by their thumb to the next student and throw the ball.

Either way, it gets them speaking but is low pressure as it's just a simple question.  See the photo below for a photo of the ball.  Please excuse my chipping manicure ;)


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Curriculum Writing: What's Important?

The World Language department in the district where I teach has been going through the curriculum process the past two years.  I can't even explain what a huge difference this process has made on not only what I teach, but how I teach and how I assess it.

If you have ever written curriculum before, you know what a daunting task it is.  How do you choose what to teach? How do you properly assess it?  How do you still make it fun and enjoyable for your students?  How do you make it meaningful?


1. Start at the end
We were fortunate enough to have two retired language teachers who now do curriculum coaching to come and give us a workshop and then come help us get started.  They asked us a question right at the beginning of day one that was super helpful:




This question really helped guide our process.  It really encouraged an end to start approach.  It's much easier to figure out how to get to the destination when you know what the destination is.


2. Make it MEANINGFUL
Since I started in this district, the curriculum for French was just lists.  By the end of a certain unit, students knew topic A, topic B, topic C and topic D.  Nothing about putting them together, nothing about how they would be assessed.  Being a new teacher, I just followed it.  Unfortunately, it made it easy for me to fall into a slump of teaching vocabulary lists, conjugations, and culture...all separate from the other.  All of my assessments were on paper.  Going back to the original question... what do I want my students to take away from my class?  Certainly not writing out conjugations and giving me English to French definitions.

In this process, we were introduced to the concept of thematic units.  Rather than teaching them a list of topics, we would wrap said topics into a thematic unit where it could all be used together.   When creating a unit, it's important to ask, "What should my students be able to do at the end of this unit?"  From there, that should guide not only what you should teach (or review!) but also what you should assess.  A prime example of change of pace in my teaching is with the partitive.  In the old curriculum, I taught the partitive with the food unit and it was an entire section on the test so we spent literally hours upon hours practicing.  But when I made the food unit, "students will be able to correctly use the partitive" really didn't pop up on my list of students being able to do something.  There were other more important things for students to be able to do.  Yes, the partitive is introduced.  But it's not my primary focus. Going back to the main question: What do I want my students to get out of my class? When I think about that, I don't certainly think about something as measly as the partitive in the grand scheme of Frenchness.


3. Create AUTHENTIC assessments
Like I mentioned above, when I first started teaching, I found myself teaching to the lists.  Because of this, I was assessing based on the lists too.  I had exams where there was literally a vocab section, a verb section, and a grammar concept section.  There was nothing bringing them together.  There's nothing wrong with "teaching to the test" per-se, but when you have the wrong kind of test, then you're going to teach the wrong things.  In that method, I realized how rarely my students were actually listening and speaking in my class.  It was mostly reading and writing.  The writing wasn't even very good because they weren't pulling the concepts together because I taught them all separately in their own "bubble".  I was also assessing things that really didn't matter.  

Once again it goes back to the main question: What do I want my students to get out of this class?  What should my students be able to do at the end of this unit specifically?  In asking myself that, it was simple.  I wanted my students to leave my class able to function in a French speaking city on the level of language and culture.  If I were to plop a group of my students in Paris, they should be able to "function".  That's the ideal assessment.  Could they function?  Each unit should bring them closer and closer to that goal.

In a Francophone country, will they hear simple language that the textbook made?  No.  Will they read things geared towards a French 1 or 2 learning level?  Likely not.  So why would I create assessments like that?

When I took my methods course in college, I learned all about Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs). Because of  everything I was learning, I didn't really take much out of it.  It just seemed like another thing.  But over the years, and especially as I was working on this new curriculum, I realized how amazing they truly are.

For those who don't know what an IPA is, it's a group of assessments with three modes. 
            -The first is presentational where the student will "present" their knowledge either via writing and/or speaking.  I always do this assessment first with the ability to use notes and other things.  As it can be prepared ahead of time, it's definitely the easiest. 
            -The second mode is interpretive where students have to "interpret" something they read and/or see/hear.  Generally for this assessment I find an authentic video (or as close to authentic as I can find) and/or article about the topic they are studying, sometimes taking it even a little further.  I write up questions in English to assess what they got out of it.  I know assessing in English seems counterproductive, but in doing so, you are truly assessing what they get out of the video/article.  If they get a question wrong that was French, you sometimes have no way to know if it was the video/article that they didn't understand or just the question they didn't understand. 
             -The final mode is interpersonal.  This is the most difficult assessment so I save this one for the end of the unit.  Students are given a topic that they will be discussing with a partner or group and they must ask questions, discuss, etc for a certain length of time.  Depending on the unit, the topic will be different or require different things.


I started using IPAs this year as a form of assessment and as such, have started "teaching to the test".  Because IPAs are about as authentic as it gets, in teaching to said assessments, my students are improving in ways I didn't even imagine possible.  They are speaking with confidence, reading articles way above their reading level while picking out the pieces they understand, and I'm also using more French in the classroom in the process.  I could not say more about how much I like them.  If you're curious to check one out, click here for the IPAs I made for a unit on future career aspirations (free).  I also have plenty of other IPAs in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store if you'd like to check them out.  With every IPA purchase, I also include the link to my google drive of that unit so you can have access to all of my resources.


4. Be Flexible 
It's great to put a lot of time and effort into curriculum and unit plans.  But just know that nothing will be "set" until you teach it.  You may go through things and realize it's not the best way to go about it.  You may stumble across an even better idea or resource for something and tweak it as such.  You'll always be improving on things, so be open to that.

5. GET ORGANIZED
If you've read any of my previous posts, you know I am extremely organized (I have to be or I'd lose everything).  It's so easy to forget to do something or forget you have something.  I highly recommend making a digital filing system that is easy to follow.  I even have my "home" folder connected to Google Drive so it automatically backs up and I can access it from any computer at any time.

The photo below shows my folder structure.  The "home" folder opens to the one on the left.  The folder called "French" holds all of my resources.  Inside that folder is the middle-left photo.  In there I have all three levels of French that I teach.  If I click on the French 1 folder (middle-right), I then see all of the units.  In opening a specific unit (far right), I can see all of the resources I have that go along with that unit and also the IPA folder.  I also have a specific document called "useful links and resources" where I save any links I stumble across and want to remember later.  Pinterest also works well for that



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Curriculum writing can be a daunting task.  But a good curriculum and corresponding assessments can really make the difference in a successful program and an unsuccessful one.  Just know that Rome wasn't built in a day.  Your curriculum takes time to mature and grow.  I started this process last year and don't anticipate being completely "set" with it until I go through it in its entirety next year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Telephone Pictionary

So first of all, I'm embarrassed to say it's almost THREE months since I've posted.  I greatly apologize for this.  Things have been rather crazy lately including taking on a student teacher (he's awesome) and implementing new curriculum practices (including IPAs...but more on that later).

I came up with a super fun game today with my French 3s that they loved called Telephone Pictionary.  They are currently studying parts of the house along with chores.  It also included a review of location prepositions (next to, under, near, etc).  To practice a bit with the vocabulary, we played this game.

To start, I put the kids into rows of 4 (but any even number would work).  The first person in the row faced the front and the rest had to face the back so they couldn't see the board.  What I did was project a simple picture on the board (examples below) and the first person had to write a few sentences to describe it.  They then passed their sentences to the next person who had to draw what was written.  That person had to pass their drawing to the next person who had to write (and so on and so on).  The line should end at someone who is drawing.  I gave them about 2-3 minutes per round and the team who had their last drawing closest to my original drawing would get the point.  For some of them that are more complicated I gave maybe two or three points even.

The kids really enjoyed this game and got very competitive with it.  It helped them with sentence formation and putting lots of vocabulary in context.  It could definitely work with multiple types of vocabulary!


Monday, January 25, 2016

Sentence Builders

I've recently started an activity with some of my classes that involves sentence building.  I make a set of words (articles, nouns, verbs, verb endings, etc) that have all the pieces necessary to make sentences.  I give each group a set and have them spread the words out.  Next, I show them a sentence (in English) on the board that they must make in French using the pieces I gave them.  After a few minutes, I will show them the answer.  If they got it right, they get a point.  Most points at the end will win.

I really like this activity, especially with verb conjugation, because it forces them to see the structure of the sentences and specifically the conjugations. It's a bit of work to start, but once you make a set, you can keep re-using them with that unit in future years.  I also have my first group cut out each set to save myself some time.

The kids also enjoy it because it's very kinesthetic and helps them to process sentence structure.  And of course, a little competition never hurts either.



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Virtual Dice Activity

A teacher shared this at a conference I went to, so I knew I definitely had to pass along this gem to the rest of you.  Just a warning, this activity only works if you have a smart board.

This virtual dice activity is awesome.  You can set one or both dice to randomly choose something (maybe a subject pronoun on one and a tense on the other?) and then the random word chooser to choose a word (verbs work great here).  This is an awesome activity to use with white boards in class.  The kids also LOVE taking turns activating the dice and word chooser.

This one that I made (<--CLICK) was for practice with adjectives, possessive adjectives and family members.  The first dice said who was the owner (my, your, his/her, etc).  The second said what family member they owned.  Finally the random word chooser had adjectives that described people.  Some were adjectives that needed to go before the noun, all needed agreement.  It was a great way for students to practice all of them.

Feel free to use the one I linked.  It is easily editable to whatever you'd like to use.  Just be aware that the random word generator chooses the same order of boxes every time, so if you will be using it more than once with the same class, save your progress and pick up where you left off.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

All about QR Codes

This  is a post I have been meaning to write for months, but of course time continues to escape me.  Many of you may have heard of QR codes.  For those who haven't, this is a QR code:
A QR code is like a bar code, but even fancier.  They can be scanned in any direction to give you the information within them.  They can be read using smartphone apps.  My preferred QR reader is i-nigma. It has a mobile app that I have right on my phone.

This blog post will first tackle the purpose and usage of QR codes, not only in life in general, but specifically in the classroom.  Then, I will explain how to make QR codes and put them into your own activity.

How can I use QR codes?

You may recognize QR codes from advertisements and posters all over.  Depending on how the QR code is created, it can send you to a website, show you a video, give you contact information, send you to social media or even give you the option to purchase an item when scanned.  What one can do with QR codes is practically limitless.

I love using QR codes in my classroom.  Not only does it integrate technology, but it gets the students moving around and being able to apply their knowledge in a different way.  Below is a list of different QR activities I have made (along with my shameless plug to them my TPT store if you wish to purchase them).

1. Clothing QR Activity- The students got a sheet (in color) of 20 different people in different outfits.  Each QR code around the room, when scanned, showed them the text describing what one person on the sheet was wearing.  They had to match that code to the correct person on the sheet.

2. Interrogative QR Activity- In scanning each code, the students saw a simple sentence in French like "Pierre eats a pizza at the restaurant".  Their job was to come up with as many questions as possible about that sentence like "who eats a pizza" or "where does Pierre eat" as well as answer them.

3. Phone Number QR Activity- This was a two part activity.  The students had to first scan a set of codes that took them to a Youtube link of me speaking different phone numbers to them.  They had to write the phone number down on their sheet.  Then, around the room, were pictures of different cities and the QR code attached was a phone number that would match what they had on their sheets already.  Not only did it incorporate number practice, but they got to see what phone numbers from around the world looked like.

4. Telling Time QR Activity- For this activity, when the code was scanned, they were taken to a picture of a clock. They had to write down in digits as well as words what time the clock showed.

5. Object Pronoun QR Activity- When students scanned the QR codes, they were given a full sentence in French.  On their sheet, they were given empty sentences with only object pronouns included.  They had to figure out which sentence went in which spot as well as form it correctly.



As you can see, the classroom usage of QR codes is endless.  I generally allow students to bring in smartphones to do this activity, but we are also fortunate enough to have a set of iPads to check out from the library.

How do I make my own QR code activity?

The first thing you need to do is decide how you want the activity laid out.  What will the students have on their sheet?  What do you want the codes to actually do?  How will the codes be incorporated to what is on their sheet?

I generally start by making my worksheet and going from there.

The next step is generating the QR codes.  There are two different ways to do this.  If you plan on only having a link or text in your QR code, this handy template is a GODSEND.  You can literally type in all of your stuff and it generates the code for you.  Then, highlight only the columns that have the letters and that have the code in them and do "print selection".  I make it portrait style and I don't include the headers.  You get a few codes per page and all you have to do is cut them out.
*Note: If you want to use this for any projects, I HIGHLY recommend making a copy of mine to have in your own google drive.  Then make a copy of that each time you make a new project so that your base always stays blank.


If you are wanting something a little more in depth, www.qrstuff.com works really well.  On the left hand side, you indicate what you want the code to do.  Then you type your text.  On the right, a code will be shown.  Download the code and print it.  This method is a little more time consuming, but it also gives you more options.


Have fun!

So go off, and have fun with this.  Students love QR code activities because it's different from the normal, plain worksheet.  It's engaging and is a great way to review things being studied in ANY subject.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tapette Vocabulary Game

So I will start with the disclaimer that I cannot take credit for this game.  A colleague introduced it to me, but it's so awesome, I have to share.  If you've ever played flyswatter game with your kids, it's actually quite similar.

To prepare, you take the current vocabulary you are working on and make a sheet with photos and English words if you need them.  This is my sheet for the clothing unit:  (Feel free to copy it and use it yourself!)



In class, you have the kids find a partner (groups of three work too, but I've found that partners work best) and give one sheet to each group.  Take your own copy of the sheet and project it on the board.  Then call out a vocabulary word (in the target language of course).  The students must touch the item with their finger faster than their partner.  Whoever gets it first gets to put their mark on it (usually have them choose Xs and Os).  If neither got it, just scribble it out.  Once you've called a certain item, you cross it off on your sheet too.

I played this with my French 2s yesterday and they were SO into it.  They were having a blast!  What's awesome about this is you can use it to practice just about any kind of vocabulary.  It's also something you can keep reusing if you have a random 5 or 10 minutes to kill at the end of a random class.  Another fun spin is to have students take turns doing the calling of vocabulary as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

This shouldn't be my first reaction

Imagine this, if you will.

You are sitting in your office during prep time, eating a quick snack and checking e-mails.  Suddenly, out of the silence, you hear screams.  Terrified screams.

Your heart leaps into your throat.  In this day and age with all of the school shootings, you imagine the worse.  Someone has a gun in your building.

You freeze.  You don't know where the screams are coming from.  Do you barricade yourself in your office?  Do you try and make a quick getaway down the stairs that are across the hall?  Has the unthinkable actually happened to your school?  You wait for the unmistakable pop of gunshot.

Then you hear laughter.  You calm down and realize that there is no threat and everything is safe. 

This scenario happened to me today.  My office is on the second floor of our three story building, directly across from the stairwell.  Upon further investigation of this scenario I discovered that the students in the computer lab on the third floor directly above you are playing pranks on one another on the computers with scary Halloween stuff.  All is fine.

All I could do is shake my head.  Why is it that my first reaction upon hearing terrified screams is that there is someone with a gun in our building?  It shouldn't be my first reaction but in this day and age, it is.  As of four days ago, there have been 52 school shootings this year in this country.  52.  That's roughly 1 1/2 shootings per week on average.

When is something going to be done about this?

Before I delve any further, let me say that I am a proud supporter of the 2nd amendment.  I believe in the right to bear arms if you are a law abiding citizen.  My family hunts and we fully have every intent of purchasing a handgun to eventually have for protection.  All firearms in my house are locked away and the key's location will be known only to my husband and myself.

What I don't understand, though is why nothing is being done about this.  So many politicians are raging against our current system yet few have done anything.

What I also don't understand is why it has to be so black and white.  Many who support the second amendment feel that any restrictions take away their rights, therefore there shouldn't be any regulations.  Many who don't support it feel that all guns should be banned.  Neither is the answer.

As with anything nowadays, there needs to be middle ground.  Guns do serve a purpose when used properly.  Protection and for hunting are the major ones.  However, we are required to have licenses and registration for cars, why are people so afraid of that for guns? I agree that guns are not the problem.  People are the problem.  But because people are the problem, we need to be open to regulations of the requirements of gun ownership.

I'm not going to dive anymore into the political side of this problem because honestly it shouldn't be political.  Students (and teachers) should feel safe in the environment they spend the most time in other than home.

In reading this scenario, did your mind go to the same place mine did?  I had a few colleagues who heard the screams that had the same reaction. 

That is so messed up.  Think about it.  School shootings have become such a norm that hearing screams sends your mind there first.  School shootings should not be a norm.  They should be a rarity, even non-existent.

Something is wrong.  Something needs to be done.  We can't keep sticking our heads in the sand and wishing it goes away.  Imagine your school or your child's school is next.  Would you still hold the same beliefs?

I don't want to be scared anymore.

School shootings since 2013.  From vox.com

Friday, October 9, 2015

Cut us some slack, alright?

I'm getting to the age where many of my friends and old classmates have school-aged children.  One thing that always grinds my gears is when parents vent about their child's teacher on social media.  One because it's a very public call-out (even if names aren't given.. enough people know who you are talking about) and two because parents generally don't "get" it.

I had a colleague last year who dealt with this.  The student in question was a student who was caught cheating on their test.  Not only that, but the parents refused to acknowledge it despite the student admitting it.  The student was failing because they did not understand the material and was spending zero time studying at home.  Yet somehow, because "this student is an A/B student", the parents felt it was the teacher's fault for not teaching the student properly.  Said parents decided to blast this teacher all over facebook (of course leaving out the teacher's side of the story) and many parents got upset at this teacher.

A friend of mine on facebook was similarly (and vaguely) saying horrible things about her daughter's teacher last year.  Based on what she was saying and based on what I knew about teaching, there was easily a misunderstanding going on there.  When I asked her if she had talked to the teacher to clarify she said she hadn't because she was too mad.  I sent her a private message urging her to talk to the teacher before saying things all over the internet.  Sure enough, there had been a misunderstanding.

I got an e-mail from a parent last week whose daughter (we will call her A) came home crying because of my class.  She was upset because she thought I didn't want to help her figure out what her missing assignments were and that she would be stuck with them as zeroes in the grade book.  On the surface, it had appeared that I brushed her off.  But the story went much deeper.

As a traveling teacher, I arrive at my second school right before noon.  Just enough time to take 20 minutes to eat my lunch and take a quick mental break.  The bell for my next class rings at 12:23.  That day I had a fun activity planned that required me to do some setup in the room.  However, right as I was heating up my lunch, a student came to get some help on her lunch time.  So not only did I barely get to eat my lunch during my lunch time, I also didn't get a chance to set up for that class.  Once the bell rang for passing time, I quick went to my room and was scurrying around trying to set up.  As I'm setting up, A came up to me and said, "I have a few missing assignments and I don't know what they are."  I told her that I needed to set up and that wasn't the best time to be asking me.

The problem with this scenario was A didn't know that I had just spend the last 20 minutes trying to eat lunch and tutor a student at the same time.  She didn't know that I had to get stuff set up before the bell rang so I really couldn't help her with her assignment before then.  So she could only assume the worst.  As did her parents.  And this all wouldn't have happened if I hadn't given up my lunch break to help another student.

Thankfully I explained a little further what had happened and everything is fine.  If that parent had just assumed I was brushing her daughter off instead of clarifying with me, this poor student would still be sitting in my class thinking I had no desire to help her.

In this day and age of professional development requirements, technology requirements, extra duties, and more... not to mention personal lives like spouses, children, parents and hobbies.. the life of a teacher is hectic.  It's chaotic.  It's disorganized and messy. 

We are getting to the point where teachers are put on a pedestal.  The expectations are skyrocketing.  We must handle ourselves a certain way at all times because of the position we hold.  Teachers are expected to be teachers and ONLY teachers.  And when you're being a good teacher to someone else's kid, then you're not being a good enough teacher to another's.  We must be perfect all the time.  We must be willing to give up our free time to help students with little thanks to show for it.  If a teacher isn't a great teacher, we must publicly flog them.  Forget giving them the benefit of the doubt.  The general public obviously knows more about what a teacher needs to do than a teacher does (insert sarcastic face here).

That teacher who didn't reply to your e-mail by the end of the day? She was assessing all of her students one at a time and then had a doctor's appointment immediately after school.  That teacher who didn't put your missing assignment in the gradebook within a few days?  He has a stack of missing work to grade that is one inch thick because so many students turn their work in late.  That teacher who took a week and a half to grade your test and give it back to you?  She had a sick child at home and had to spend her spare time making sub plans to make up for the three days she'd spend at home taking care of him.

To any other perspective, the aforementioned situations would warrant major annoyance from any parent or student.  But to the teacher's perspective, he/she is giving it her all and then some just to get through the week.

So cut us some slack.  We're people too.  And when in doubt, talk it out.  Privately.  I can almost guarantee you there's more to a situation than you think.

photo from aplacecalledkindergarten.com

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Living Vocabulary

Ah vocabulary.  One of the most tedious things in the foreign language classroom.  At the end of the day it is pure memorization.  The hard part is making the memorization easier on the kids.

An awesome way to reinforce vocabulary, I have found, is what I like to call "living vocabulary".  Living can go in more than one direction depending on how you look at it.  As a verb, it can be that students are living their vocabulary. As an adjective, the living describes the vocabulary: it's alive.

Living vocabulary is applying vocabulary to real life in some way.  Rather than seeing photos or doing flashcards, students match the vocabulary to the actual thing.

For example, my French 1s are currently learning about classroom vocabulary.  One day they walked in the room and there were letters everywhere attached to different items.  They spent the hour walking around the room and identifying each object.

Another example would be with my French 2s.  They are working on body parts and daily routine.  They are given different labels that talk about body parts (les oreilles, le ventre, la jambe, etc) and had to attach it correctly to their partner.

Doing a unit on housing? Make them label different rooms and items in their house with post-its (or something that will stick) and keep them labeled for a week. Food unit?  Find some plastic food and keep it on hand.  Make them pick a piece out of the box and tell you what it is.

By associating vocabulary to it's actual item, vocabulary comes alive for students and they are able to better retain it.