Summer Reflections

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I have so many things that I’m thinking and learning right now that are rolling around in my head, and it has suddenly occured to me that my poor little blog has seen very little action of late. I thought it would be a good start to at least list them all here so I keep them in mind and keep exploring them systematically over time.

  • standards-based grading (I’m co-hosting a google hangout #langcamp #langchat on the topic with @garnett_hillman next Monday evening 8 PM Eastern / 7 PM Central if you’re interested!)
  • digital badges and gamification (I’m not sold on this but think it has potential, particularly for Middle School learners which I’m transitioning to teach this fall after 6 years at the HS level)
  • teaching English grammar to ELLs (graduate course that is absolutely blowing my mind and making me want to a learn a lot more about the nitty-gritty of Spanish grammar too!)
  • basic computer programming and web design including HTML, CSS, and Ruby on Rails.

I’m busy trying to learn all of these things and relax at the same time while also thinking about how my new age group will differ from my older learners and how to modify the curriculum to bring in some of my new interests while still not trying too many new things at once.

Basically, my brain hurts. But in a good way, kind of like when you start exercising again after a hiatus and have muscle fatigue. Ugh, hurts so good.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. I found it interesting so I thought if share-seems like lots of people found me searching for ideas for how to sub plan effectively. I’ll try to post more ideas on that topic as well as on my new edtech interest: using an iPad mini in the foreign language classroom! Happy 2013!!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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First post from my new iPad mini!

My husband is a computer programmer & lover of all things Apple. We are also dinks (double income, no kids). Therefore every time Apple releases a new product we pretty much become first-day adopters. This is how I find myself posting to my blog for the first time in several months via my brand new iPad mini:

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Now, with the exception of accidentally posting prematurely, I have to say is device has me more excited than usual for potential use in education! A few reasons why I think the iPad mini may be a game-changer for teachers & students:

-size: the iPad was a big step in the right direction but the mini is even better: more lightweight, easy to hold in 1 hand, and for some reason easier to type on for me? Also there’s something to it being smaller than an iPad but larger than a phone that maintains its legitimacy as a learning tool- if I am not yet ready to allow my students to have their phones out at all times I can’t very well have mine out, even if it is for an educational reason. The iPad mini solves this problem- it’s clearly not a phone!

-iCloud: everything is everywhere all the time. While I recognize that as an early adopter, I may be further along this curve than most, I think its fair to say that in 5-10 years or so services like iCloud and Dropbox will have more or less eradicated the “I forgot it” excuse from learning environments. I also think that because kids will have the ability to work from almost anywhere we will see a gain in their engagement in learning outside of school & in their overall productivity!

-intuitive & fun to use: iPad mini’s size makes it fun to carry around and easier to slip out & use, particularly for receptive tasks like reading, than other devices. It’s interface is so similar to the iPhone & iPad that kids will have no trouble picking it up & intuiting how to use it from day 1. This may also be a great way to welcome teachers in who have historically been reluctant to use technology to augment their teaching.

-apps! As w high school spanish teacher I’m already thinking of apps I can use in the classroom to facilitate instruction with students and out of the classroom to enhance my professional productivity. A few that come to mind that I’ve used on other iOS devices & look forward to exploring on this new device include:

Dropbox – if you are a teacher & you’re not using this yet please contact me to invite you. Your life will be forever changed for the better- Dropbox allows you to sync your files between different computers & devices so that flash drives are a thing of the past. Imagine starting a document at home, saving it to your Dropbox, and finishing it at home that night. Then you log in to your classroom computer & your finished document is there too, ready for your lesson! Great stuff! Plus when you invite friends you get extra storage for free (they start you with 2 gigs free!)

Simplenote this is my go-to note-taking app for absolutely everything, from grocery lists to documentation of student needs and IEP info, to links to quotes & lesson ideas. It pairs well with Notational Velocity for a desktop app (syncs your notes via the cloud)

PowerTeacher Mobile- this is the grade book application used by my school district. The original iPad app wasn’t great (slow, not so intuitive) so I’m hoping it may have some improvements in place now. I actually find its mobile web app much more useful on a daily basis. You can find it by simply typing the normal URL for your attendance in safari & then saving it as a shortcut that winds up looking like an app on your iPad!

VoiceRecorder – sadly the native iPhone app didn’t get carried over but there are a wide variety of third-party apps available in the AppStore, including this one which appears to let you take notes within the app as well. This has a lot of potential for streamlining my oral assessment process with kids!

Doceri- remote desktop app with potential to be used as a wireless slate with your smartboard, this is another app that I tried a few years ago & was disappointed in but think may now be more fully conceptualized & easier to use. I love the idea of being able to walk around my classroom & write on my iPad mini & have it show up on my interactive whiteboard. Plus, I think this has a lot of potential for student engagement because teachers can simply pass the ipad off to students & have them contribute ideas that way. This year, in particular, I would really benefit from this feature, because my classroom is rather small & crowded & I have rather large classes, so it is just awkard at times for the kids to physically get up & walk to the smart board to write on it.

These are just a few of the ideas I have in mind! What so you think? Will the iPad mini become a part of your life as a teacher? If so, how do you plan on using it? Please share any thoughts or questions!

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Maintaining perspective

It’s been awhile since I posted, and I haven’t really thought through in advance what I’m writing but it feels like it’s time to write again, so here goes!

Recently in my department we had the opportunity to take a professional day as a group of high school Spanish teachers to discuss philosophy, articulation of curriculum, and other issues. This was a rare and valuable opportunity to hash out differences that may have been lingering for years and start dialogue moving in a direction that was solution-focused rather than problem-based.

I was so thankful for this day. Recently, although I love what I do in the classroom, the politics of teaching have been weighing on me. These politics seem present at every level – nationally, state-wide, locally, in our building, and even down to our very department and language groups. Politics, I remember, were something I was warned about as a pre-service teacher. I remember kind of naively thinking “I won’t get sucked into those! That’s not helpful to kids! I’ll stay positive and out of the teacher’s lounge forever!” While these thoughts may have been admirable, I now realize how real politics are in the teaching profession. And while I am still convinced it’s important to try to avoid getting too “sucked in” to them, I admit that they sometimes need to be addressed.

Last week, I am happy to report, we were able to work through some of the politics that have historically interfered with our ability, as a spanish department, to collaborate effectively. We came together, communicated effectively, and compromised openly about curriculum and what we believe is best for kids. It was such a relief to leave this day – a weight had been lifted.

We still have a long ways to go…but we’re finally moving in the right direction. And it’s fantastic to be able to look all of my colleagues in the eye as we cross each other’s paths during the day, ask how they are, and really want to know rather than avoid interaction. I also, for the first time in a long time, can picture myself working in this setting for longer than I have before. I still don’t know how long K-12 Education will be for me, but, 5 years in, I don’t see myself leaving any time soon.

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Home-School Connection

My level 2 Spanish students are presenting the culmination of a month’s worth of hard work this week. About a month ago I introduced an IBMYP unit on backpacking. Since then students have worked to research and create a 6-day itinerary to 3 different destinations of their choice, one of which had to be outside of the United States.

Although I provided two days in the computer lab for students to conduct initial trip research and later work on their visuals for their presentations, and about 3 days of in-class time for preparation prior to the presentations, the majority of the work was done outside of class.

As a result, students had to be very self directed and work through many issues using critical thinking. These 21st century skills were one of my goals of the unit.

Today I was absolutely blown away by the quality of their end products. The visuals they created, the hooks they brainstormed, the outlines they worked on boiling down into just 2-5 phrases on 3-5 notecards, together with days of rehearsal resulted in some absolutely phenomenal presentations.

So great, in fact, that I found myself emailing every single parent to let them know what a fantastic job their child had done. I had initially planned to email only a few parents but once I started the positive energy was infectious and I just wanted those parents to hear good news. It was then that I started to think about what parents typically hear – and I fear that it’s all too often something negative, or, potentially worse, nothing at all.

In sending out positive messages to parents now, I am building a rapport not only with my students (who will likely hear through the grapevine how proud I am of them) but also with their parents, who will appreciate the effort taken to reach out. In addition, if later in the year I need to contact with negative news, we will have a working foundation laid and they may be more likely to listen to what I have to say and take it more seriously.

Too often I forget how important the home-school connection is. Parents tell me all the time how their teenagers “don’t tell them anything” – as their teacher, I am lucky that this is not the case for me! I talk with these kids every day and get to know them well, from their strengths to what causes them anxiety. I also see students’ work ethic up close every single day and have insight into how much effort they are putting into Spanish class. Every so often, I need to remember to let parents in on this valuable insight I have into their children. I hope that in return, at some point, parents may provide me with valuable insight from home that can help inform what I do to help their children be successful in my classroom.

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My Classroom-Based Inquiry Proposal

This fall my graduate course has been on the topic of teacher classroom-based inquiry, often also referred to as teacher action research. The goal of the class was to help its students become very comfortable with APA style and to create a formal classroom-based inquiry research proposal. As a high school Spanish teacher, I decided to focus on a subject that joins together two topics of great interest to me: feedback in the classroom and student motivation. My inquiry posed the question:

How does my use of different forms of feedback affect motivation for high achievement in Spanish of my middle-class suburban high school students?

To explore our topics we were led through all of the essential steps of creating a quality research proposal. First, we were taught how to recognize and locate teacher inquiry studies and we were required to find websites or organizations which publish teacher research as well as existing examples of teacher research projects to share with our cohort. Next, we were to come up with our inquiry question and subquestions and back up our wonderings with a sound rationale. After this, it was time to see what already existed on our topics, so we hit the library and conducted a preliminary lit review on our topics. After the lit review we had to project forward to discuss the ways and frequencies with which we planned to collect data as well as our future plans for data analysis. Finally we projected even further into the future to discuss the following: collaboration, financial support, sharing of results, and implications.

Afterwards all of these weekly tasks (during which I must say, my professor did an excellent job providing us with timely, usable feedback for improvement), we refreshed what we had learned about the tenants of quality teacher research and self-assessed our work before putting it all together into one, polished final proposal.

So, this proposal is the cumulative result of the past several weeks of my graduate learning and I would love any feedback that you may have. I understand if you just don’t have it in you to read the whole thing but if you happen to skim it over and want to add your two cents, know that your comments will not only be welcomed but seriously considered in my final revisions.

I hope to carry out this research project next school year (2012-2013), and in the meantime will work on revising and improving the final proposal and perhaps piloting certain aspects of it (e.g. the motivation survey and student discussion pieces- see appendices A and B, accordingly).

If there’s one thing I’ll take away from this course it’s that teacher voice is largely missing in the research of our profession – this is, of course, silly considering we are the ones in the trenches day in and out and the most familiar with what students need to be successful. I’m starting to add my voice to the discussion – I hope you’ll consider joining in too!

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9/11 Lesson & Reflection

Bagley Image

Image from Salt Lake City Tribune: http://bit.ly/oSvgpX

Today I did a reading lesson that went really well and wanted to share it with others who may be able to make use of it.

Last weekend, @Larryferlazzo posted a helpful link on Twitter to a resource on how to teach multi-level ESL classes. As a high school Spanish teacher, I always find that I get some of my best ideas from ESL teachers. I borrowed the “Jigsaw Reading” activity described about half-way down the page. Here’s what I did:

BEFORE CLASS:

1) Located an authentic text that was comprehensible enough for my level 3 Spanish students to figure out even with quite a few unfamiliar vocabulary words (How? I used a topic with which they have a lot of prior knowledge: 9/11. Here is a link to where I found the article that I used – it’s over at the History Channel en español in the “Hoy en la historía” section, for 9/11, at the bottom of the page.

2) Split up the article into 8 sections. Labelled each section with a letter to later be able to easily go over the correct order with students. (See here) Mixed up the 8 pieces and put them in an envelope. Repeated 5 times for 5 groups.

3) Planned for what to do when some groups finished earlier than others (always inevitable with this type of activity). My solution? When a group had figured out the order I assigned them 2 of the pieces to summarize for the class in English. This way, once everyone had finished we were able to go over the whole text together in a way that was student-led instead of me just telling them the meaning.

IN CLASS:

1) Told students to think for a minute about what they already knew about 9/11 and raise their prior knowledge. Had them chat with their groups to get ideas going. Then asked several students “When you think of 9/11, what’s one word or phrase that comes to mind?” – wrote down what they said on the board (“terrorism” “world trade centers” “airplanes” etc.)

2. Told students to keep these ideas in mind as they would likely help them figure out what was going on when they got “stuck” on authentic phrasing in the article.

3. Gave each group of students (3-5 students/group worked well) 1 envelope with the following instructions:

“You have a deconstructed article about 9/11. Your task is to put it back in the correct order using what you know of the event and the wording of the pieces you’ve been given”

4. At this point, I sat back and gave them time to get to work – in order to put the pieces in order (a “literal” jigsaw of sorts) students had to read them, get the gist of what was going on, and look for cues as to the sequence of events (also draw on prior knowledge often when the text itself was inaccessible).

5. In advance I had planned what to do when they finished up (see #3 above in “before class section”) so as they finished I gave them their sections to summarize and then we went over it by 1) me revealing the order one piece at a time and 2) the student group that had been assigned that piece summarizing its meaning for the class in English.

6. At the end I just asked a few students about their own experiences on 9/11. Most of my students were in Kindergarten and didn’t remember much but some had some memories to share.

POSSIBLE FOLLOW-UP:

My students are learning the imperfect tense right now, which is used to talk about how things were or what people used to be like. Tomorrow, to follow up on the reading they did today, I’m going to show this image (shown at top of post) and ask them a few questions that they will write about in the imperfect:

  • ¿Cuántos años tenías en 9/11?
  • ¿Dónde estabas en el momento del atentado?
  • ¿Estabas nervioso/a? ¿Comprendías la situación?
  • ¿Qué te decían tus padres sobre el ataque?

REFLECTIONS:

I was really impressed with my students’ maturity with this activity. They were engaged, respectful, and seemed to take it quite seriously. A couple of elements went into making this particular article a successful one, I think, including:

  • the text was pretty comprehensible because they had so much prior knowledge about 9/11.
  • the article was fairly short and highly sequential (first the plane hit, next the towers were brought down, then the pentagon, etc.)

I will be using the activity again in the future, perhaps with modifications as the years pass and students have fewer memories of the actual date, or, maybe with a different text altogether. It was much more engaging than simply reading and answering questions about a text, and I think they may have gotten more out of it too! How do you teach reading in engaging and interactive ways?

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Flipped Classroom InfoGraphic

The Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and <a href="http://columnfivemedia.com/&quot; onclick="javascript:_gaq.push(['_trackEvent','outbound-

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First Day Reflections 2011

Today was my first full day with my Spanish students and it went really well!! Here’s what I did:

Level 2 Spanish:

  • started with seating charts as they walked in
  • handed back name cards to students who attended freshman orientation yesterday to get to practice names; asked upperclassmen to make name cards
  • Wrote inquiry question on board: “What is normal?” / invited students to consider what they thought and then handed out slips of paper to each students & played United Nations Cocktail Party - a great way to start a language class!!
  • debriefed UN cocktail party in small groups; then as a classs – discussed what it felt like to have to do something that may not feel “normal” to them & what it felt like to be on the receiving end of seemingly abnormal actions; how they coped; the relevance of the activity for a language class.
  • handed out syllabus & parent letter and told them a few details but mostly just directed them to take it home, look it over & get a parent signature on the letter to bring back tomorrow. I will give a formative quiz over the syllabus on Friday which students self-assess; this will give me an opportunity to go over the specifics with them in more detail without just talking at them.
  • Played 2 truths & a lie – I modeled with a presentation about myself first in Spanish and students then played in small groups of 3-4. Today I let them choose to use English or Spanish and all went for English but I was ok with that, because my goal this week is mostly just to get comfortable with each other & learn who is in the class.
  • That was it!

Spanish 3

  • made name cards
  • played BARNGA; similar in end goals and discussion to UN cocktail party above but extremely different in that students play the game silently and it is much more involved because it involves a card game with quite a few rules. It also takes significantly longer to play (20-30 minutes versus 3-4 for UN cocktail party).
  • debriefed BARNGA; discussed the relevance of the activity for a language class
  • began to have students read an article sharing benefits to studying a second language – very long article so it was a jigsaw where they were going to become experts on one category of reasons (e.g. studying a second language can help develop cultural awareness & sensitivity; studying a language can lead to a wider variety of career opportunities, etc.) and then re-form different groups with 1 individual from each of the previous group’s categories to share what they learned — BARNGA took longer than expected, however, so I will have to push this to tomorrow.
  • My homework for Level 3 was going to be to register for moodle & complete a student info form (email addresses, contact info, interests, etc) but the bell rang and I forgot to announce it, so that too will wait.

+/-

Things that I liked about how I started this year included:

  • it was engaging & student-centered
  • students were more active than me (I was facilitating; they were doing)
  • i kept administrative hoo-ha to a minimum
  • the activities encouraged reflection from the start and emphasized that they will work together daily and communicate often

Things I can improve upon include:

  • time management – try to come to a close the first day and give the planned assignment so that they do not have 2 tasks on subsequent evenings
  • my questions during debriefing of activities
  • allowing sufficient wait time before I answer questions for students – getting more comfortable with silence.
  • starting a little less awkwardly – there wasn’t a real “we’re beginning” moment to cue students to start; however I am trying to be a little less structured in this way this year since I have been known to go overboard with bell work activities.
I can’t wait until I know all of my students’ names and more about them. Tomorrow I’m doing name games with Spanish 3 and some active dramatic approaches with level 2 centered around the inquiry question “What do you want to know about the people in this room?” – I am using a lot of English this week to encourage a focus on getting to know each other well but I will need to transition next week into more Spanish too, so I may try to do a few of my activities in Spanish to let them get their feet wet. What did you do on your first day??
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Back to School 2010-2011: Brainstorm

So many thoughts are jumbled together in my head as the start of the 2010-2011 school year approaches. I am reading Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards which is a great way of building on what I started to explore in Dan Pink’s Drive last March. I’m also coming off of a 10-day vacation to Jamaica which was ridiculously relaxing and I’m starting to trade inspirations and ideas with colleagues for the year ahead in person and via Twitter. Just a few of the thoughts I’m tossing around in my head right now include:

  • Flipping my classroom (i.e. making homework the ‘self-teaching’ of a lesson and class time the focused putting-into-practice of that concept.)
  • Connecting with an English classroom of Spanish-speaking Colombian students via Skype and/or Blogs.
  • Getting rid of extrinsic rewards in my classroom (including candy, extra credit points, and certificates that single out students….and trying to reduce the amount of praise I offer and replace it with acknowledgement of students’  work and positive feedback instead).
  • Lesson Planning with my iPad using the SimpleNote app
  • Getting to know my new student teacher and building a positive, cooperative relationship with her.
  • Getting to know my new students and their interests and needs, and of course also building a positive cooperative relationship with them!
  • Replacing my retake procedure with a procedure to accelerate student learning and give them a boost for the next time a skill is assessed.
  • Examining my assessment practices more thoroughly – including a push for more formative assessment with meaningful feedback, a critique of using grades, and examining more carefully the purpose, frequency, and value of homework in my classroom (which will relate to the first bullet point)
  • Changing my classroom setup to pods of 4-5 students to (hopefully) encourage collaboration and cooperation and discourage me from lecturing up front.
  • A sub-point here: reducing the # of minutes I talk so that it is at least 50-50 compared with the # of minutes students are talking, if not less.

I know from experience that summer is a great time to have all of these thoughts and that come fall most of them slip to the sidelines as I scramble to keep up with all of the demands on my time, including lesson planning, grading, and contacting parents, among other administrative duties. But one thing that encourages me this year is that while I have a lot of ideas tumbling around in my mind, they are at least all somewhat inter-related. For example, flipping my classroom from time to time would make my homework more meaningful and give it a real purpose; it would also result in using class time to jump into useful activities that help students grasp the ins and outs of the concept they learned for homework the night before – this will be facilitated by seating them in pods so that they work cooperatively with more ease. And because they will be working in groups more and seated in pods, I will hopefully keep in mind the # of minutes I talk vs. the # of minutes they talk while I plan. Lesson planning on my iPad will allow me to access my plans from home or school on multiple devices and to share them with my student teacher to help her begin to explore her own approach to lesson planning.  The assessment piece will likely need to wait a bit or be explored more thoroughly as the year goes on, as I won’t be ready to overhaul anything by this Thursday – when I have to set up my electronic grade book – but, that’s OK. I think I’ll have plenty to be thinking about. Any thoughts or suggestions, please share!!

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