Tuesday, December 31, 2013

¡Feliz año nuevo!

Today is the last day of 2013 and as I reflect back on this year I have a lot to be thankful for - I finished my first year of teaching in the US, passing KTIP (internship program in KY) and getting my full certification. I attended the MOPI (modified oral proficiency interview) training over the summer and came away with a better understanding and zeal for teaching for proficiency and communication. And I've implemented new performance based assessments and Whole Brain Teaching classroom management in the first half of this school year. And I started this blog, which has really helped me reflect on my practices and why I do what I do.  I saw a lot of professional growth in 2013 and I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store.


So what are my goals for 2014?

1. Continue to strive daily for 90% target language in my classes. Especially with some of my rowdier classes where I sometimes give up and switch to English. It's easier for me and them but it isn't helping anyone.

2. Connect with other language teachers, especially other FLES teachers. My team at school is great but it's so helpful to talk with people who truly understand what I do and am trying to accomplish. I need to make participating in #langchat a priority and hope to see a #FLESchat start in 2014!

3. Assessments, assessments, assessments! This is one thing that doesn't come naturally to me because I never had to worry about it when I taught in Japan. I'm getting better at backwards planning and designing performance based tasks but I need to continue to focus on writing rubrics that make sense and communicating them to the students.

4. Feedback to students and parents. This is part of our program review next year and something I don't do well (or at all in regards to parents.) I need to figure out a way to do it that is feasible for 670+ students and 1 me.

5. My goal this school year was to be a meaner teacher. By that I mean that I communicate my high standards to the students and enforce them. I realized last year that I sometimes played favorites and wasn't always fair.  Students who continuously struggle in class I've been pulling out sooner, documenting when they miss recess, and calling home sooner before small problems become big problems. I've also not been as afraid to stop class and practice routines because ultimately it helps me get more done and stay in Spanish. I need to keep this up in 2014.

6. Have fun! When I have fun and enjoy class then so do my students. When they are having fun then they are more excited to speak Spanish.

So what are your goals for 2014? Share in the comments below!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Whole Brain Teaching - Part Two

In my last post about Whole Brain Teaching I talked about the routines and signals that I use. So far my students have really enjoyed it. And because we practiced the routines so thoroughly at the beginning of the year the rest of the year I've had far fewer behavior problems and I've been able to stay in the target language more often, even reaching that 90% goal. Part of the equation are the rules.

The rules: There are 5 simple rules in WBT -
  1. Follow directions quickly. 
  2. Raise your hand for permission to speak 
  3. Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat. 
  4. Make smart choices.
  5. Keep your dear teacher happy.
¿Qué es la regla más favorita de Ms. Kennedy? ¡Regla 5!
We go through the rules EVERY SINGLE CLASS PERIOD. Yes, twice a week, every time I walk in the room we go over the rules. All I have to do is ask students "¿Qué es regla 3?" and they know to sit back down and raise their hands. If they are yelling out "Recuerdan regla 2 por favor" and they know to raise their hands. They say the rules in English but because they know them so well I don't have to switch to English during class when they break the rules. That helps me maintain my 90% TL goal.

At the beginning of the year we learned our signals - quiet signal, espejo, enseña, and cambia using the rules.  Students did gestures with me for each rule, then they taught each other the rules, switched and listened to a partner teach them the rules and then they got quiet at the signal. If they were able to learn quickly they were rewarded with a short dance party at the end of class.

Here is the link to Chris Biffle's explanation of each rule and how to do the gesture.

So those are the rules. Next up, is the scoreboard.

See Part One - Routines and Part Three - the Scoreboard

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

¡Feliz Navidad!

My winter break starts today at precisely 3:15. The first week of break I plan on baking, decorating and eating a ridiculous amount of cookies, visiting with family and friends, and listening to the complete Messiah.

This pretty much sums up how I feel about break...

The second half of break will not be nearly as fun as I have to...

1. Get ready to start grad school (again) on January 14th. Need to buy books, check on financial aid and pay tuition. Blerg...

2. Plan out Spanish Club lessons. This past semester I only had 20 kids from the 4th & 5th grade and I planned it on the fly. This did not work for me. With the school musical, art club, STLP and Girls on the Run I have a lot of competition for 4th & 5th graders so I've decided to open it up to 2nd - 5th grade this next semester. My idea is to have a semester long virtual field trip to a target language culture. One week we'll make passports and go through immigration. The next week we'll "visit" famous landmarks and ask people to take our pictures, etc. Need to get a basic outline and schedule done before we start.

3. Plan out Spanish Enrichment lessons. Something else I did on the fly this past semester but with better results than Spanish Club. Still, with grad school on my plate I want to make sure I have an outline of what we'll be doing so all I have to do is pull things together rather than think up plans AND pull everything together the day before.

4. Sketch an outline of lessons for the rest of the year for all grade levels. I'm pretty sure my 4th & 5th graders will take the remainder of the year to finish our 4 units. The 2nd & 3rd graders will probably get through things a bit quicker so I'll need to make sure I know what I'm doing next. Same with K-1.

5. Write new blog posts!

Will you work over the winter break? What do hope to get done while school is out?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Whole Brain Teaching - Part One

My second year teaching Spanish has already been exponentially better than my first. For one, the students know me better so there is slightly less limit testing than last year. Second, we switched from 55 minutes once every six days to 25 minutes twice every six days. The shorter time is easier for them to take in an immersion style class.

And just as importantly I adopted a new classroom management system - Whole Brain Teaching. I wholly suggest visiting the website wholebrainteaching.com and watching some videos on youtube. It works better if you adopt it ALL rather than just parts. Up first is a video that I found this summer that really inspired me to give Whole Brain Teaching a try. Below is a summary of the signals and routines that we use in my classes and how I introduced them to my students.

Quiet signal - I say "clase, clase" and the students respond with "sí, sí." Then they get so quiet that if someone walked in they would think we were all sleeping. (Yes, I say exactly that when I explain it to the kids.) They have to say sí, sí  however I say clase, clase. So if I draw it out really long with a dip at the end then they should too. If I whisper then they should whisper it. I usually play around with the signal to keep their attention. Sometimes I sing it. Sometimes I say it three times instead of twice or once really short. It keeps them on their toes.

Hands, hands and eyes - This is the signal when I really want their attention. I don't use it as often as I should based on the advice from wholebrainteaching.com. I tend to use it to give instructions to a game or clean up at the end of class. I say "manos manos ojos" and the students repeat it back putting their hands together and staring at me like I have a big cheeseburger on my forehead (this is particularly effective for the second and third graders who have me just before lunch.)

Mirror - On the Whole Brain Teaching website they suggest "chunking" material and having students repeat after you with gestures. The gestures help those kinesthetic learners and prepares my novice speakers to augment their communication using gestures.  I say "espejo" and the students say "espejo OK." I have pictures with the words in Spanish on the SMART board in my prezi presentation and the kids repeat after me with the gesture. That way they see, hear, and act out each word or phrase. I teach one word or phrase at a time and work up. I don't exceed 10. Once I've taught the new vocab/phrases we insert them into games, read them in authentic resources, and use them in simulations. I do usually review them briefly using Espejo at the beginning of each class so as to bring students back into what we are doing since I sometimes go several days between seeing them.

Teach - After mirroring me students need to teach and practice with their classmates to help solidify the new information in their brains. I say "enseña" and the students say "enseña OK." Then they turn to each other and practice the information we just practiced in the mirror phase. With conversations, one student asks the question and the other student answers.

Switch - To make sure that everyone gets a turn to teach we switch halfway through. Students who were teaching now listen and students who were listening now teach. OR, if we are doing a question and answer then one student asks and the other student answers and then they switch roles. I say "cambia" and the students say "cambia OK."


Now here's the important part - we practiced and practiced and practiced at the beginning of the year. Some classes we still sometimes  stop class and practice some more.  Some people claim that they can start class in 90% TL right from day one. I am NOT one of those people. I wanted my students to know exactly how my routines would work. We learned the signals by going over and over and over the rules. I mirrored them with gestures. They taught them to each other. Then they switched. I got them quiet using the quiet signal. We practiced manos, manos ojos. UNTIL THEY GOT IT. I didn't start teaching content or speaking mostly in Spanish until the third rotation or I was sure that the class knew the routines. Now that they know them I speak much more Spanish in class than I ever did before!

And speaking of rules, that's part two of my series on Whole Brain Teaching. 

See Part Two - The Rules and Part Three - The Scoreboard.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What's working - El gusano Tutu

As a first year teacher last year I really struggled with timing and how long to spend on things. I would get frustrated that students couldn't retain anything even though we'd done it for 2-3 weeks. Which was ridiculous because last year I had my kids ONCE every six days. Everyone likes to proclaim that the best time to study a language is when kids are young because they will retain it better. Which is true, BUT the younger they are the longer and more often they need exposure to the language for it to really stick. As my grad professor says, "younger is better but older is faster."

So my goal this year was to really slow down and take my time. We haven't been moving on until I know the students have it. Does that mean that it's almost Christmas and some classes are still on Unit 1? Yes, yes it does. For the littler ones we've been hitting multiple things and adding a little more each month. In kindergarten that means we've been learning our colors, how to say hello, my name is and the months of the year.

For colors I've been using the song El gusano tutu. I used it last year and my first graders still request it. I don't know what it is about that crazy colored worm that they love but they do. Each month I introduced two colors. Then we played Color, colorcito (minus the running) and a sorting game on the SMART board, both of which served as formative assessments since I could see who was getting it and who wasn't fairly easily. We also read the book Sombrero Azul, Sombrero Verde.

Finally this past week we did our summative assessment. Of course they didn't KNOW it was a test but it was. I passed out coloring pages with Tutu and they had to color him in based on the song. I had to help some with reading the words in Spanish but most of them recognized the words from the flashcards I used during our lessons (and yes they were circles and made the shape of Tutu.) Almost everyone was able to get most of the colors correctly with many students getting them all correct. Some are still struggling with blanco, negro and naranja but since those were the last colors introduced they have had less exposure to them so that makes sense. When everyone was done we sang the song again and pointed to the colors on our sheets.

Now that my Calico Spanish curriculum has finally arrived we will start following that which will mean new songs to sing and new games to play. But I'll keep Tutu in my back pocket and use him as a reward. If they are on their best behavior then we might just have time to sing about el gusano Tutu at the end of class. ;-)

How much time do you spend on new content? Does it change depending on the age of your students?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Staying in the Target Language

ACTFL recommends that students receive instruction in the target language at least 90% of the time. This means everyone from my baby kinders to my almost in middle school 5th graders should only hear me speaking English for 2 and a half minutes or less per 25 minute class period. I'm not going to lie - it's difficult. And I don't always make it. Especially at the beginning of the year. But as we get into the swing of things and students learn the routines of class I transition more and more into Spanish. By Halloween I'm usually accomplishing 90% in 90% of my classes (and working on it in the last 10%.)

So how do you get to 90% in your classes?

  • Make a plan! - In your lesson plans decide beforehand when and where you will use English. Directions for a new activity you've not done before? Great time to plan to use English. Activity you've done multiple times? Better to stay in the target language.  Want to explain a grammar point so you're sure students will understand? Use English. (Although really I've explained plurals and verb conjugations to my fifth graders in Spanish so just because it's grammar doesn't necessarily mean you have to use English.) Plan when you'll use it before class and you're less likely to slip into English on a whim.
  •  English/Spanish flag - I have a sign on my cart that has English on one side and Spanish on the other. Last year I didn't use it much because I was too lazy to walk over and change the sign, which meant I should've stayed in Spanish but...it didn't work. This year I've been assigning a student to change the sign for me. They take it very seriously and remind me when I'm in the wrong language and even fight over whose turn it is to change the sign. So far it's been working much better.
  •  Time yourself - Every time a student flips that flag to English I turn my timer on. When I see I'm getting close to the 2:30 mark I try to switch back to Spanish. Holding yourself accountable helps make it a habit.
  • Speak Spanish - post instructions in English - I stay in Spanish while I have a student read the directions in English. Or I explain in Spanish, then check for comprehension, I ask students who understood to explain to those who didn't.  
  •  Model what you want them to do - I  will also act out instructions. When I wanted my kinders to draw a picture of themselves I first drew one of me with their help in the TL. If they answered in English, I repeated the word back in Spanish and then drew it. When we played Color, Colorcito I acted out the rules with good ways to behave and bad ways to behave asking them to give me a sí or a no to each action. They know that ¿Corremos? ¡No! ¿Andamos? ¡Sí!
  •  Routines, routines, routines! - The first month of school I spoke more English than Spanish but that was because we were practicing my rules and routines. Now that my students are comfortable with my routines I'm able to stay in Spanish way more often. And students are less stressed about all the Spanish because they know the routine. Some people advocate 90% from day one but I find that I have greater success with my classroom management if students completely understand my expectations - which means English at the beginning. I say do what works best for you.
  •  Frequent comprehension checks - You don't want your students drifting off to la-la land because they don't understand you. I make sure to make my Spanish comprehensible with pictures, gestures and circling back to things they already know. And then I check to make sure they understand. They know when I put up my thumbs and say ¿Me entienden? I'm asking them if they understand. They show me with a thumbs up, to the side, or down. They take it very seriously too. Sometimes when I'm just babbling to myself in Spanish I will look up and 2 or 3 kids will have their thumbs down.
  • Forgive yourself! So you don't always make it at 90%, neither do I. I went to a workshop given by Helena Curtain, author of the book Languages and Children, and the thing that stuck with me was her telling us to forgive ourselves. Tomorrow is another day - another chance to try again.

What are your strategies for staying in the TL? Do you make it 90%?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

That's How I roll - Emergency Sub Plans

We're moving into flu and cold season and since I'm only a second year teacher my immune system of steel hasn't fully matured yet. Which reminds me, I really need to stop high fiving kindergarterners. Or start bathing in hand sanitizer if I don't want to get sick this winter.

No one likes to be out sick, especially teachers, the one profession where it takes more work to be out than to just come in feeling awful. I'm OCD about planning ahead so I always have my emergency sub plans done before the first day of school so that I can stay home without guilt when I need to. The problem of course is that while there are lots of subs out there willing to teach elementary school and there are some subs out there willing to teach Spanish, the pool grows much smaller when you try looking for someone who is willing to sub for elementary Spanish. And infinitesimally smaller when the elementary Spanish is also on a cart. Basically no one wants to be my sub. 

Okay that's not exactly true they do sometimes (rarely) give me their cards and ask that I add them to my preferred list but I don't always trust their "I can even speak some Spanish!"  So what's a sickly Spanish teacher to do?

Plans in English!

Yup, I'm sure that sounds like heresy but give me a chance. This year my students will be watching Brainpop videos on Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo, then they will discuss and write three facts that they learned about these artists, and then they draw a self-portrait in the styles of Picasso and Kahlo.  These plans work for me for the following reasons:

  1. Students are learning about famous people in the target culture in an in-depth manner I can't accomplish during our regular class time because I can't go that deep in 90% target language and due to other curriculum constrictions.
  2. The students like videos and they like to draw. When they are doing something they like they are less likely to behave badly for the sub.
  3. My art teacher loves me. I was out last month and a week later a student went up to her in class and asked if one of her posters was a Picasso. Then they listed his different periods, including the blue period, rose period and cubist period. She was blown away. 
  4. I can count this as both collaboration between Spanish and Art as well as towards our Arts and Humanities Program Review (you know what I'm talking about KY teachers!)
  5. I don't have to worry about Sally Substitute trying to teach the Spanish she learned in three semesters in college.
It's a win-win as far as I'm concerned. I have extra activities such as Picasso coloring sheets and a Create Your Own Cubist Portrait website but so far the subs haven't needed them (which is awesome because that can be the next sub plan if I have to miss another Day 3 in our rotation.)

So those are my emergency sub plans. What do you do when you have to be out unexpectedly?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

You know you're a FLES teacher when...

Since this week is a short one thanks to Thanksgiving I don't have a What's Working post. Instead I hope to entertain you with the following short list.

You know you're a FLES teacher when...

  • You come home with white board markers in your pockets and there are vocab cards in your purse.
  • People suspect you of being a hoarder because you save everything from your trips abroad to the target culture - receipts, bus tickets, grocery store ads, subway maps, brochures, business cards etc.
  • Kids come up to you in the grocery and say ¡Hola!
  • Your English is interspersed with the TL and you don´t notice.
  • Your English is interspersed with the TL and your family and friends no longer notice either.
  • You watch commercials on Univision/Telemundo and immediately start trying to find them on youtube. (They are never there!)
  • You sing songs like Los días de la semana or Los colores in the shower.
  • You can fit an entire classroom's worth of supplies on a cart or in a bag.
  • You have so many students that you start calling all the boys Carlos and all the girls Maria because that´s easier than memorizing 700 names.
  • The only person who knows where you are in the building is you. (And you only know because you have a triple color-coded schedule that you consult after each class.)
  • You get jealous that the Art & PE teachers always get cupcakes for student birthdays but you never seem to. (Probably because the students couldn't find you.)

Add to the list! Comment below or on twitter!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

That's How I Roll - back up plans

So technology is wonderful and most of the time helps my classes run smoothly. But then there are days there is no technology to be had. I ask that my teachers email me if they can remember to let me know if something isn't working so I can be prepared. Want to know how many actually do that?

One. Thank you Mrs. Casebolt!

The last two weeks I've walked into a third grade room only to be told the light on the projector is out so nothing computer related can be done. And then on top of that the speakers weren't working when I tried to plug in my iphone. And there's another teacher who likes to take her laptop home so when she's out I don't have anything connected to the SMART board (in this case I usually frantically unplug another teacher's laptop and plug it in but then I get to spend precious minutes of my lunch returning it and plugging it back in.)

So what to do when technology fails you? A reboot just leads to the same blank screen? The SMART board projector has gone dark? Take a few deep breaths, give the kids a quick task to practice their conversation in Spanish, and quickly devise a new plan.

One of the few good things about being on a cart (and there are only a few) is that if the problem is isolated to one computer or SMART board you only have to deal with it for 30 minutes and then you're onto the next room. But it's still always a good idea to have a back up plan just in case.

  • Teach new vocabulary with picture cards, gestures or your awesome art skills on the whiteboard. Have students brainstorm with you the best gesture for a new word.Or take a screen shot of your prezi or print out your power point slides and keep extra copies just in case you need to pass them out.
  • Keep a stock of vocabulary cards to be used in impromptu games - manos rápidos, Go Fish, I have/I need, Spoons, Four Corners, Concentration. No cards? Students can race to play Pictionary on the board. Board races that work like Scattergories where students race to fill in words based on a category are a favorite with my students. Or play I Spy With My Little Eye. 
  • Have students line up or stand in a circle. They practice their conversation with the person standing across from them. After a certain time one line or circle moves and they speak with a new person. 
  • Fast Finisher Folder stocked with worksheets, word searches and word scrambles. 
  •  I keep a CD and DVD of my songs on the cart if I can't pull them up on youtube. I also have songs loaded on my phone so all I have to do is plug into speakers.
These of course are all options during your regular class time as well. But it's good to keep them in mind when you realize that awesome youtube video you were planning on using that day isn't available. Or you're starting a new unit and you have a lot of new vocab to teach and no pictures to teach them with. Sometimes I feel that teaching is very similar to doing improv. You got to take the scenario you're given and roll with it. You can always circle back to your original plan later when the technology is working.

What are some of your go-to activities when your technology isn't working?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What's working - Basho & Friends

So what's working in my classes this week?

I've been teaching your standard ¿Cómo te llamas?/Me llamo _____ lesson to my students in the third grade. They have studied this before so the Me llamo part hasn't been too hard but I'm trying to get them to feel more comfortable asking questions in Spanish this year so I've been focusing on the ¿Cómo te llamas? part of the conversation but how to do that?

The solution?

Basho & Friends! If you haven't checked out these great and catchy songs then you need to pronto. For $0.99 I bought the ¿Cómo te llamas? song and loaded it onto my iphone so I can plug into the speakers in each classroom. The song is super upbeat and the kids clap their hands, tap their feet and beat on the table (I only let them do that last part as long as it doesn't get too too loud.) The part of the song where they sing the names of the different people we sing over it and put in our names instead, chanting Me llamo ______. Each table of 4 students gets a chance to say their name during the verse. The next two verses are  ¿Cómo te sientes? and ¿Dónde vives? so I just turn the music down a bit and we continue to sing ¿Cómo te llamas? over it. (We'll add those parts later in the year.)

The best part? They sing the question ¿Cómo te llamas? about 80 gazillion times and love it. After some practice without the music we sang it again and I pointed to each table and they "performed" the Me llamo portion for the rest of the class.

Now this gets loud and rowdy very quickly so I've been telling classes that if they get 5 smiley faces (part of my Whole Brain Teaching behavior management system) then they can have a dance party. This ensures that they will get quiet quickly in between and listen to directions. The dance party consists of the same song but when the music stops they have to stop, find a partner and high five them, then ask and answer ¿Cómo te llamas?

In the next class we did the same thing but I changed it up during our dance party. Each student got a card with a cartoon character. They had to introduce themselves as that person rather than their own names then they switched cards. They loved saying "Me llamo Spiderman" and "Me llamo Tinker Bell." We will finish up next week by making a page to put in our books "Todo Sobre Mí" listening to our new favorite Basho & Friends song while we work.

What's working in your classes this week? How do you teach questions and introductions? Leave a comment below!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

That's How I Roll - Technology

I'm not super tech savvy but I'm neither am I a dunce. What I do know is that when you're on a cart you want to use the technology you have available as much as possible. I'm super lucky that every classroom in our building has a SMART board.  If there is something I can pull up on the SMART board then that is one less thing I have to pack on my cart.

My routine when I come into a room looks something like this - I roll in, students are either quiet and waiting (thank you awesome classroom teachers!) or still in the middle of math or some other activity and are frantically trying to transition to Spanish. I walk over to the teacher's laptop, hope it's turned on and they are logged on, pull up my account on prezi.com, youtube, or game site we will be using that day. Turn on the SMART board, give my quiet signal and get started.

The power of technology!

There are a million sites out there that can you can use in your class but here are a few that I find helpful. Most of them I would use even if I wasn't on a cart but I find myself relying on them even more since I do travel.

  • Prezi - this is a fantastic site that offers free use for teachers. Think of it as powerpoint on steroids. I build a prezi presentation for every new unit. I use pictures to teach vocabulary. I include the Unit Objectives so every time I log on students can see their I can statements. I embed youtube videos for listening practice. I include instructions and rubrics for activities that we will complete. For my School Supplies Unit I even had authentic resources (school supply lists from Mexico) in the Prezi that we read together. Students came to the front and circled with the SMART board markers the items that we also used in our school. During other activities like games and partner work the pictures on the SMART board function as a word wall.
  •  Youtube -  I created my own youtube channel specifically for my students and then created video playlists arranged by topic.  Students can review the videos we've watched in class at home or in their free computer time at school or preview videos we will watch later.  If we are doing independent work I will often turn on the video playlist related to our unit so Students have background music to  listen to. More than once they have been working and singing along to a song in Spanish.
  • Victoria Languages Online  - This Australian site has free resources for multiple languages, including worksheets, posters and interactive games that are great for a SMART board.
  •  SMART exchange - I don't use this one in class per say but I do pull games off here to use in class. In this case I save it to my school's network drive so I can pull it up on any computer. Or if I save it to a thumb drive I appoint a student to make sure I don't forget it when I leave the room.

What are some of the sites that are invaluable to you?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

That's How I Roll - Organization

I envy those of you out there with a classroom. You have walls to hang up lots of comprehensible input. You can arrange the desks and chairs the way you want them (and move problem students away from each other.)  You can sit down in the few minutes between classes. And most importantly, you have a space to call your own.

Then there are the nomads, like me. We're in a different room from hour to hour, scurrying to and fro in the five minutes between classes. Teaching on a cart is a special challenge in any subject but in world language where the idea is to immerse students in the target language and culture for the short time you have them it is especially difficult. But there are a few things you can do to make your life easier and to give your instruction more impact.

Organization is KEY! 

There's nothing worse than getting to class and realizing that the activity you were going to do that day is back in your office. Or worse yet in another class (and you better hope you can remember which one!)

  • Bins, bags and folders are all great ways to keep your things organized. I personally use a lot of the same things from grade level to grade level and class to class so I like to pack my cart with bins. But I've heard of people who use bags with everything they need - picture cards, puppets, game pieces etc. - for a certain grade. They just grab that bag and go. 

  • Manila folders organized by grade level and by day (we are on a 6 day rotation) stored on top in a upright folder holder helps me keep student work organized. I only keep the folders for that day's classes on the cart. The rest stay in my office. 

  • Make the most of your cart with magnets and velcro. Space is a premium so don't let any go unused. I used to have a metal book cart from the library. With magnets I could roll around with posters, our monthly calendar, and a binder ring that held my rules attached to the side of my cart. I velcroed a whiteboard/large post-it note combo on the back where I wrote my daily objectives. As soon as I rolled in, students could see what we would be working on that day.  Now that I'm on a larger cart I have my objectives in a pocket chart - I pull them out and magnet them to my whiteboard based on what grade I'm teaching.

  • Get creative! Silly even! My cart even has eyes, a mouth and a speech bubble introducing herself as Sra. Speedy. Sometimes my kindergarteners greet the cart in the hall before they greet me.

  • Check and double check you have everything you need because once you're on the go it's hard to look back. I like to pack my cart at the end of the day for the next one and then check it again in the morning. I still occasionally have to send my students out of the room to retrieve things for me but not very often.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Projects - Books as Bridges

I've been looking for ways to connect with classrooms in my target language classrooms and have struggled to find a way to do it easily with my students' novice low-mid Spanish level and coordinate it for as many students as I have (670+).  A solution finally presented itself with the Books as Bridges program.

Books as Bridges

Books as Bridges a local program that is part of the larger non-profit the International Book Project that sends books to developing countries. In the Books as Bridges program students write three letters to pen pals in a developing country, send a cultural package about what life is like here in Kentucky and they do a community service project somehow related to their pen pals. That all sounded awesome to me so I talked to our fifth grade team and they were also interested so I signed us up.

To make this relevant to our Spanish study we requested a partner classroom in South America that was studying English. The immersion school in our county has participated before in the past with other elementary schools in Latin America but I felt that my students' level of Spanish wasn't really at a point where we could be writing letters completely in the target language. But if we could write a small introduction in Spanish and then finish our letters in English that could work. A partner classroom that was learning English could do the same thing but in reverse - intro in English, rest of the letter in Spanish. My students are much better at reading and negotiating meaning than they are at producing now. Anything they couldn't figure out I could translate for them.

They told us that they had done that before so it shouldn't be a problem. However, apparently it's taking longer than usual. We got a late start anyway because I didn't find out about the program until past the official application date but they let us in. Now the contacts in Ecuador are being slow to answer emails. The back-up plan will be a partner classroom in Africa, which while it will still be cool to have pen pals and do a service learning project it will negate the whole reason I'm running it.

In the meantime we had a pen pal prep session and all the students are excited. Hope they let us know soon about our partner classroom so I have answers for my students who are beginning to pepper me with questions every time they see me. Fingers crossed!

Check out the International Book Project and Books as Bridges.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What's working - Mistake Monitor

So what's working in my classes this week?

This week and last I've had a lot of success with appointing a mistake monitor. I don't usually do a lot of error correction in my classes.  As long as I can make out what they are saying I'm good. I'll model back to them the right way to say it, then say "muy bien," and move on to the next person. The main reason I do this is to make sure that we all maintain a low affective filter. I want them speaking without fear. If they are worried about making mistakes then they will speak less.

However, that all being said, I'm also trying to get my students up to Novice High. That means that they need to be able to ask questions.  So far we can ask the questions but then when they go to answer them they like to parrot back the question word in the sentence - "Qué necesito un lápiz."

I've modeled it. They've repeated after me. They've practiced questions and answers in pairs and with an interpersonal game. And they still do it wrong. I can't in good conscious let this error go but neither do I want to harp on them about it.

The solution? 

The mistake monitor! This was an idea I got from a professor in grad school. I pick one student that I've caught making the mistake, I teach them correct way to answer and then I appoint them the monitor. If they hear someone else making the same mistake then they have to point at them and say "No qué!" (or whatever the mistake happens to be.)

And you know what? They love it! In one class I picked a student who sometimes has problems paying attention. Now that he knows he can point at people if they make a mistake he is listening intently to every word said. The only downside is that some students are making the mistake on purpose just so they can have the monitor point at them but overall the error rate is going down and everybody's happy.


Things to remember - this isn't for small mistakes made by one person but something a larger group is consistently struggling with. I would also be careful who you appoint as the monitor and make sure that they know they should always be kind and respectful to their classmates.

How do you correct errors in class? Share below!

Monday, October 28, 2013


So I'm diving back into the blogverse. It seems I can't stay away for long, although my interests certainly have changed. (Check out my now defunct blog that reviewed Japanese Kit Kats - Jen Ken's Kit Kat Blog.) This time I'm focusing on teaching - specifically teaching world languages, teaching on the go and teaching the 'lil ones.

Who am I?

I wasn't trained as a teacher. In fact my bachelor's degree is in History. But after graduating I spent a year in France teaching English in two junior high schools. After a few years as a cubicle monkey at a Fortune 500 I escaped to Japan where I taught English for 3 years in 2 junior highs and 3 elementary schools as an ALT.  It was there playing janken with my elementary school students I realized I was kind of good at this teaching thing and I would be happy to do it for awhile longer (but closer to home.)  So I came home, got my alternate certification and was offered a job teaching elementary Spanish. (I should mention here that I've studied Spanish since I was in the 8th grade, minored in it in college and took an additional 15 hours of undergrad credit before I did my alternate certification program. I also speak a little French and Japanese.)

So that's my strange and wonderful journey that has led me here. I'm in my second year teaching here in the US and my 6th year overall.  Here in Kentucky, I have 680+ students in kindergarten to 5th grade. I see my students for 25 minutes twice every six days (not enough but I'm working on getting more time.)  I'm a lone ranger - my team members are the art, PE, music and science lab teachers. I'm also the third Spanish teacher in 4 years so even though there was Spanish being taught when I got there I'm the one responsible for building our program. I teach on my spiffy cart, Sra. Speedy. She and I roll around the school teaching up to 11 classes a day. Oh and I don't have a curriculum, so I have challenges, lots and lots of challenges.  All of which I will be documenting here as I work through them.