Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mixing it up with proficiency levels

Having students at different levels happens sometimes in high school but it's pretty much a given in an elementary class. Let's talk about just one of my fifth grades classes...

My school likes to group all the ELL kids in one class to make it easier for scheduling so this class has several native speakers in it. 

Our district also redrew the school boundaries this past year so I have students who have never had Spanish before. Maybe they had Chinese. Or maybe they had nothing. 

Then I have non-native students who have had Spanish since kindergarten. 

Oh, and two new kids showed up last week and they've never had Spanish before either. 

Plus they're fifth graders after winter break so they're also kind of the worst. 

But this past week before doing our bell ringer conversation and getting ready to do some Mix, Pair, Share we reviewed our proficiency levels and what that sounded like, where they should be, and what they should be aiming for.

¿Tienes una mascota?

Novice Low - Sí. Rocket.

Novice Mid - Sí, tengo un perro. Se llama Rocket.

Novice High - Sí, tengo un perro. Se llama Rocket. Rocket es grande. Me gusta mucho Rocket. ¿Y tú, tienes una mascota? ¿Cómo se llama?

It only took a minute but I was able to instill some confidence in my two boys who can only answer the question ¿Tienes un perro? with a sí or a no. I heard my students who started with me in August answering with Sí, tengo un perro. And lots of students reaching up to novice high and elaborating on their answer and asking each other questions. Several kiddos also wanted to know how to say they used to have a pet or if they had a pet what it's name would be. So I also heard some imperfect past and conditional thrown in the mix too.

It was super quick and really easy way to differentiate both our opening conversations with each other and during the Mix, Pair, Share. It reminded both me and my students where we're at and where we're heading and most importantly that we're all at different points and that's ok!

How do you differentiate in class? How do you share proficiency levels? Share in the comments below!

Also check out my Chichen Itza graphic that I use with 2nd-5th grade. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

More Kagan Structures to get your students talking

I wrote a post last year about how I use Kagan structures in my classes. I also use Rally Coach. After some refresher sessions and observing a teacher who is an absolute master at Kagan I've added more to my rotation. Here is a list of what I use and how I use them that I hope you find helpful.

Turn and Talk - no prep: just establish the routine of face and shoulder partners

Students turn and talk to their partners. They practice either a conversation or answer a question I have posed to the class.

Things I've used this with - Everything! We start each class out with greeting our partners, asking their name, and how they are. I also add any other questions we might be working on such as How old are you? and Where do you live? If I am telling a story or we are discussing something else I don't let them raise their hand to answer until everyone has turned and talked to their partner. This way everyone gets a chance to answer and the number of hands that go up increases to nearly everyone in the class.

Stand up, hand up, pair up - no prep: just write out what students will say on the board

Students walk around the room with their hands up. When they find a partner they have the conversation in Spanish. When they're done, they put their hands back up and find a new partner. I do keep the sentence frames on the board for students to reference if they need them.

Things I've used this with - Everything! In kindergarten they went around and greeted each other and introduced themselves. In 4th grade they are walking around and talking about what animals they like and dislike.

Mix Pair Share - a little prep: some music and a few picture cards

I play some music while the students walk around. To make use of every moment I play a song they can sing along with like Chocolate or Basho and Friends ¿Cómo te llamas? When the music stops, the students find a partner. I give them a prompt that they answer with their partner. When they have agreed they turn back to back with their arms crossed. I call on a random student to answer and then we start again.

Things I've used this with - In 3rd grade we are learning about animal habitats. I showed a picture of an animal and students had to tell their partner where it lived. In 2nd grade we are learning about characters and setting so I gave them the character or setting from the story Rubia y los 3 Osos and they had to tell their partner either ¿Quién? or ¿Dónde?

Quiz Quiz Trade - a little more prep: enough cards for each student to have one

Each student gets a card. They walk around with their hand up until they find a partner. They show their partner their card and tell them about it. The partner shows them their card. They either say muy bien or coach the other person to the correct answer. Then they trade cards, put their hands up, and find a new partner.

Things I've used this with - In kindergarten, they got a card with a color on it. They had to greet their partner, introduce themselves, and tell them the color on their card and then switch and say goodbye. In 3rd grade for the same animal habitat unit they got a card with an animal and had to tell their partners where they lived. In 2nd grade they got a card with a food on it. They had to tell their partner if they liked or disliked the food.

Do you Kagan structures? What are your favorites? Share in the comments below!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A year of growth

I love the blog, books, and podcast from Gretchen Rubin. She recently quoted Yeats on her blog, “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”

I'm in year 5 of teaching (with 4 years before that of being an assistant teacher abroad) and this year has been a year of growth. I've gone to my state conference - KWLA - and to ACTFL. I always come home with great ideas from conference but this year I've found additional ways to stretch and grow as a teacher.

Observe other teachers/Let other teachers observe you

- Our district has started a program where they pay for subs so teachers can go and observe each other for half a day. I've had two different teachers come in and watch me teach and it's interesting to hear what others are struggling with and looking for when they come and observe. Having someone in my room always makes me put forth my best effort and I find myself remembering to do things I often let go. I tend to keep doing these things even when the other teacher has left. And getting a glow sheet at the end is a good self-esteem boost since I often focus on what I'm not doing right rather on what I do well. 

- I didn't go and observe another WL teacher in my district. Instead I watched 4 different teachers in my own building, seeing how they taught content. We have a 30 year veteran in our building who is a Kagan machine. Every kid was engaged in deep discussions while I was in there. It was inspiring to watch. I'm now adding more and more Kagan structures to each class to my students' delight. I also realized I'm pretty lax about talking about the learning targets while every teacher I observed went over them. Guess what I'm doing now... 

Embrace the parts of the bureaucracy that make you better

- I know it sounds crazy and I get that most people despise all of the paper work that distract teachers from actual teaching but I've always ended up improving my teaching practice because of these accountability measures. They are meant well and if you focus on what they're trying to get you to do they actually can make a difference. Recently our new superintendent mandated that we have to start submitting "High Yield" lesson plans. Our principal told us she would be looking specifically to make sure that our formative assessments matched our learning targets. Guess who spent an hour revising her learning targets... 

Get involved

- It's hard to be a department of one so by getting involved I have created  network of teachers who  have supported and challenged me. I've been the NNELL-KY rep for the last 2 years and also serve on the KWLA board. I'm on my district curriculum development team. I have people who will ask me the tough questions, who argue with me, and also encourage me. A recent argument about assessment and how to collect data effectively on 500+ students has led me to rethink what I'm doing and how I can do it differently. Guess who has already gathered more data than she thought possible... 

So to summarize, in the last few weeks I've been more deliberate in making sure my learning targets match my assessments, communicating those targets to my students, and actually tracking more of the assessment data so I can definitively show proficiency growth. These are all things I knew to do but struggled to actually pull off.

Watching how other people did it, being forced to think about it because of a new lesson plan structure, and arguing about it with a trusted colleague - THIS is how I've put what I've learned in theory into practice. I always keep in mind how Helena Curtain ended a workshop I attended. After presenting tons of information and strategies she reminded us that we get better, "one baby step at a time."

What do you do to grow as a teacher? Share in the comments below!