Saturday, October 22, 2016

Five Organization Tips for the Elementary Classroom

Have you read the bestseller The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? I did last summer and my house and my classroom have really benefited. But teachers need more organization tips than the Japanese guru Marie Kondo offers in her book. So here are my favorite tips I've implemented this year.

1. Extra glue caps - this idea came from our STEM lab teacher. You just collect the glue caps as you throw away old used glue sticks. And then when you find one that has lost its cap you don't have to crawl around on the floor looking for it. Just grab one from the basket! As some of my fourth graders said, "That's genius!"

2. I like to keep my books organized by type - board books, bilingual books, non fiction, etc. My students never used to know which bin my books went in until this year when I finally color coded them. If it has a pink sticker it goes in the bin with the pink sticker. 

3. I also color coded our interactive notebooks. Each class has a different color sticker in the corner and then each of my small groups of 4 have a number. Then I use our Kagan partner mats to assign which student in each group will collect the notebooks and put them up - that way each groups' books stay together and are easier to get out the next time. If one of them does get out of order the color and number help me figure out where it goes. With over 200 notebooks this saves a LOT of time!

4. Pencils used to be a struggle but now I keep it simple by training the students to put broken pencils in one cup and grab one from the other cup. No more "Can I sharpen my pencil?" When the needs sharpening cup gets full I either do it or get an eager helper to do it for me.

5. I get more names on papers with this little sign that reminds students to take a minute and make sure they are ready to turn in their paper. The key to this is to teach and model to the students exactly how to stop, read the sign, look at their paper, and then put their paper in the basket. But the best part is that it teaches students to be reflective and prevents (most) kids from rushing through their work.

What are your favorite organization hacks? Share in the comments below!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Setting proficiency goals

Goal setting is a powerful tool. And there's research that setting goals not only increases student motivation but can also impact achievement. One of my goals is always speaking in the target language 90% or more during class. I measure that goal by timing myself.  You know your students are getting the whole 90% target language goal when they freak out on you when you don't use the timer and the flag is flipped too long to English. But we did speak more English a few weeks ago because we were setting our proficiency goals for the year.

I blogged in the past how I've used the Chichen Itza graphic to explain proficiency to my students. I have that poster right over our Si Se Puede bubbles and they know that a yellow bubble is novice low, a green is novice mid, and blue is novice high. But I also wanted them to set their goals for the year. Since we start interactive notebooks in third grade it made sense to put them in our notebooks.

The students had already seen the Chichen Itza graphic so we quickly reviewed it and what each level looked and sounded like. In my first class, a student asked me if I was at Intermediate & beyond, which was an opportunity for me to share that I am Advanced and my goal is to get to Superior (that darned subjunctive still gets me in interpersonal conversations most of the time!) I made sure to share that with the rest of the classes.

Chichen Iza graphic - Setting proficiency goals in Spanish class.

What struck me was how many of the students saw themselves as Novice High already. I had to crush some of their dreams by explaining we needed to add more topics but they were pretty confident they could get there soon. But the best was when I asked them if they wanted to share and a new girl told the class that she Novice Low and she was working up to Novice Mid by practicing at home using the newsletter I had sent home. I melted y'all. Absolutely melted. Like I said, powerful stuff.

I also had small group conversations with my heritage speakers about what their goals should be. Most of them are intermediate in speaking and listening (with some even being advanced) but most of them, unfortunately, can't read or write well at all. It was a great opportunity for me to talk with them one on one and encourage them to do more at home too in their L1. I'll also be printing out RAZ books for them in Spanish to take home and read.

So even though we missed our daily goal of 90% target language, the quality of work and conversations we had about language learning, proficiency, and how to get there was well worth it!

Get your free copy of the goal setting sheet here!

Do you set goals in your classroom? How do you explain proficiency to students? Share in the comments below!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Note for New Teachers

The best thing anyone ever told me when I accepted my first "real" teaching job was that and I quote, "You're going to be great! It's going to be awful."

"What?" I asked.

"You're not going to have a life. You're going to be exhausted all the time. You'll feel awful but you're going to be great!"

And it's true. It was awful. And it was great.

Here are a few things I wish I knew when I started:

1. Classroom management is HARD! Like really, really hard. And you can't speak 90% target language when they won't listen to you in English. And all that stuff that professor who hadn't taught since the 1960's isn't going to work. I had a student who regularly rolled under her desk shouting how she hated Spanish class. No one had taught me how to handle that level of off-task and defiant behavior.

2. So relating to #1 - try different things. Find what works for you. And give yourself a break. Because it's going to be HARD. Really, really hard.

3. Some things you do will work great. You will feel awesome and like you have found your true calling. Like when students get you off track asking you questions in SPANISH about a picture you showed them.

4. Some things will crash and burn so hard that you will end up in the bathroom crying (or at least I did.) You will feel like you have made a huge mistake. The first time I tried centers the students tore up all of my materials and two kids got into a fist fight. That might explain why I still don't really feel comfortable doing centers...

5. Joining your professional organizations will help you get through. You won't feel like you have time but going to any professional development you can will give you ideas and help you to build a support network. I'll never forget going to a workshop at KWLA conference 1 month into teaching and having Helena Curtain tell me that 700 students once every 6 days sounded really hard and to hang in there. Her encouragement got me through that year.

6. But don't just rely on those organizations. Read blogs, watch videos, scour Pinterest, and join in Twitter chats like #langchat. I may look like a bum on my couch with my coffee but I am doing some serious research.

7. Pick one or two things to focus on this year. And next year. And the next. You can't do everything so give yourself a break - especially if you have hundreds of students you only see once a week!  My first two years I focused on classroom management and target language usage. I knew my assessments were awful and I didn't write lesson plans that weren't on a post it note but that was ok because those things could come later.

8. Keep in touch with your friends - especially your non-teaching friends. I call my best friend, Susan, every day on my way home from work. She listens while I complain about my job and her complaints about her corporate job remind me why I left and went into teaching.

9. Remember it might not feel like it now but it does get better. And as my friend said " You're going to be great! But it's going to be awful."

What would you add to the list? Are you a first year teacher - what are you struggling with? Share in the comments below!