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%?