Long time, no post – Updates!

I made some big changes to my classroom so far this year and want to make even bigger ones. I was so inspired at a join conference for NCAATF and NCAATSP back in the spring of 2019 and decided that since I only have about 10 years to go to retirement that I wanted to go out with a bang and be the best French teacher I could possibly be. Who knows? If I really like all these changes, I may teach longer than 10 years!

So, I studied standards-based grading this summer and have implemented it in my classroom this fall because I have the luxury of only having one prep. That’s a rare thing for me so I have been playing around with French I. I really like standards-based grading but I find it does take more time to teach for mastery. So now, I’m scrambling with only a few weeks left in the semester to cover what I need to cover for these kids to go on to French II.

I have some friends who have switched over to teaching with comprehensible input and I have been inspired by them and the teachers I see doing this online. Comprehensible Input is based on research on how language is naturally acquired – it’s acquired through reading and hearing the language, not by grammar charts and vocab lists. I have dabbled a bit with this, doing a movie talk to introduce description (it went really well I think and the kids really enjoyed it) and using calendar talk on a daily basis to cover the date, the season, and the day of the week. I read somewhere that some people add something juicy like what is the national day for that day (There is a National Day for Vichysoisse!) which leads us into little mini-discussions (using likes/dislikes, other questions). I need to add weather to it as well. I applied for and was awarded a grant through Delta Kappa Gamma to help provide training and resources to learn more about how to implement comprehensible input in my classroom.

I am on a new learning journey and it’s fascinating to me to learn about all these techniques and philosophies and then try to implement them in my classroom. I have been energized and excited to take on this challenge.

HELP!!! Personalized learning – how does this work??

Since being awarded a Race to the Top grant, our county has set personalized learning as one of their main priorities in the strategic plan.  All middle school students in our county will have tablets over the next couple of years which will be used as a tool to help personalize learning.  We as teachers have been trained on the use of the tablets and the students will be receiving them in just a few weeks.  Thrown in with the tablet training has been information on how we need to use the tablets to help us personalize learning.

Ok, so my concern is, if I am truly supposed to personalize learning, how the heck does it happen?  In all the training, I have heard very few ideas about how to make this happen in my classroom.  We’ve heard about what it is, how important it is and that this is a main focus and reason for us getting the tablets.  I have read some articles about how the ultimate goal is to create an environment where the learner is in charge of his/her learning and the teacher is a partner.  The learner is deciding what and how to learn, designing projects and the teacher is giving feedback.  It sounds wonderful but I don’t understand how to get there.  How do the twenty or so students I have in a middle school classroom teach themselves French (as complete beginners) and decide what they will learn?  I was not taught French this way.  I didn’t get to decide what vocabulary words I was going to learn or what grammar to work on.  It was taught to me in bits and pieces.  I practiced the concepts I was taught and somewhere along the way I learned how to communicate in another language.  This idea of allowing the students to decide what they’re going to learn is a totally foreign concept to me.

I can understand flipping the classroom.  I can understand giving the students choices for projects.  I can even understand how you could give students choices about how to learn something using a tablet (i.e. give them the choice to watch a video about how to conjugate verbs, read instructions, or sit in a small group with a teacher to explain and model).  What I don’t understand is how students would just pick and choose what they want to learn.  So, if a student is more interested in sports and another is interested in animals they would be studying different vocabulary words?  Another student wants to learn only how to write French but another student wants to learn only how to speak – how does that work?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this can’t work.  I’m just saying this idea of personalized learning doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t know how to move my classroom into something that looks like this.  If anyone out there has ideas on how this is done in a foreign language classroom, please post links, videos, anything!  Help!!!

Tablets anyone?

SGPT121USSSo, Guilford County Schools was one of 16 school districts in the country to win a federal “Race to the Top” grant giving us $30 million to spend on tablets, data subscriptions, and training for all our middle school students.  From what we’ve heard half of the middle schools will get the tablets next year and the other half the next.  I don’t know what will happen the following year for incoming 6th graders.  It would make sense that additional money would need to be allocated to keep tablets coming for those kids also each year but who knows?  We don’t know what kind of tablets they will be but we’re pretty excited.  It will change the way we teach for sure–at least it will for me.  What a great boon to know that every child will have a tablet with Internet access.  I have to get my course on Moodle or something now so students can submit work digitally and we can get away from paper for the most part.

I would love to hear from others with a 1:1 program in their schools and how having these tablet has changed your classroom in a positive way.  I know there are challenges such as students wanting to play games and be off task in that way but I know there have to be so many great things about students having their own devices too.

Pinterest – Get inspired!

I am just loving Pinterest for getting French teaching ideas at the moment too.  If you are an educator and haven’t started using Pinterest – PLEASE do yourself a favor and join Pinterest!  Start searching for the subject you teach and start following some people who have ideas that line up with yours.  You will be amazed at what will happen.  It takes Personal Learning Community to a whole new level.  It’s also very addicting.  You have to be invited to join Pinterest so if you need someone to give you an invite, feel free to contact me and I will beglad to do so.  Surfing on Pinterest tonight, I found the video below and Go Animate! and some other cute ideas like this printable Eiffel Tower.

New loot for my classroom

After going to a foreign language teacher gathering this week, I was inspired to go out and look for bargains that would encourage students to speak more French in my classroom or for items that would just make learning more fun.  I realized after reflecting on my 1st quarter that I only played two games with my students?  What?  What the heck was I thinking?  I seriously need to loosen up and start having fun with these kids or I really will teach myself out of a job for next year.

So, I went to the Dollar Tree and instead of just buying supplies for my classroom, I browsed through the toy section and found these darts.  They have a sticky end and will stick to any smooth surface.  I immediately thought: WHITEBOARD!!  I can easily snag an image of a dartboard and project it from my LCD projector onto the whiteboard.  With students divided into teams, I can ask them a question and the first person to get it right will have the chance to throw a dart and earn points for their team.  This could work with any topic and they were only $1.00!  I bought two packs just in case they get destroyed (which there is an enormous possibility for in a middle school classroom).

I also found these cute little cones.  I immediately thought about games – like use them to mark the starting line for where the kids will dash to do something or maybe do a ring toss.  These have praise words on them as well and are made out of a durable rubbery plastic so you could put them on a student’s desk as a way to quickly praise them for doing something awesome.

I don’t have a photo of the two flyswatters I bought but I’m sure you can easily imagine the solid, plastic kind that are sort of floppy.  A colleague in Social Studies introduced me to the idea of putting words or ideas on flashcards on the wall and letting two students use the flyswatters to slap the card with the word you describe.  OH MY!  What a simple idea and why hadn’t I heard this before?  I borrowed her flyswatters on a whim the other day and the kids loved it!  I put the in two teams since her swatters were two different colors (red and blue teams) and I had two sets of the same vocabulary – one small and one larger sized.  I bought magnetic clips at Wal-Mart sometime ago so I clipped all the cards to the whiteboard and scrambled them all up.  I gave the students 2 points if they slapped the smaller cards and 1 point if they slapped the larger card.  I called out the words in English and they slapped the French word that meant the same thing.  I did tell them to hold the swatter on the word and they only got one slap so they had to make a good choice.  They boys loved the fact that they got to slap something period and of course they loved the race aspect and being competitive.  The girls liked it to but at this age they can handle almost everything.  I seem to keep trying to find things to please the boys and get them engaged.  They flyswatters I found at Harris Teeter in their clearance buggies.

In the same buggies I also found some “Guess Who?” games for half price.  These are the ones with two trays and there are many faces of different people (all races) in slots.  The students draw an identity from a deck of cards then they each ask yes/no questions to discover the identity of the other person.  Since I’m getting ready to teach describing people I thought this would be a great way to get the kids speaking a little French.   They only had 3 sets though so I will have to turn this into a station activity.

So bargain hunting paid off for me this week and I will definitely keep my eyes open in the future for more cheap little things like this to breathe some more life into my classroom.  I am now avidly scanning Pinterest for teaching ideas (instead of just recipes).  Teachers, please share your ideas!

FLANC Ideas 2011

Ok, maybe almost having bronchial pneumonia was a good thing for me this weekend.  I have gone nuts catching up on blogs I love to follow, found some new blogs to follow, and writing up my own posts.  I have missed my personal learning community or professional learning network or whatever it is you want to call it!

I went to the FLANC conference a few weeks ago and got lots of great ideas.  I whipped out my handy little bag full of goodies today and found some things I’d like to post here that may help some other folks.

  • PowerPoint and Motivation in the Classroom – This session had some great ideas on how juice up PowerPoint for your classroom.  One neat idea in particular was how to embed a Flash timer in your PowerPoint.  This might come in really handy for me as I like to put all my warm-ups on PowerPoint.  The kids need something to get them moving as they like to chatter and then before I know it, I’ve lost class time due to so many taking so long to do a short warm-up.  You will need to scroll down a bit to find the presentation she did at FLANC on 10/14/2011.
  • Blog it! How to Implement and Use Communicative Blogging in the FL Classroom – Awesome session from a school where the foreign language department has every student set up with a Google account.  The students then use blogs as digital portfolios so they can publish their work.
  • What’s Cooking in World Languages? – Interesting presentation on how to cook simple foods in class and combine that activity with teaching grammar along the way.  They had an interesting take on using the culture and interest in the food to make grammar (teaching imperative etc.) more palatable for students (no pun intended).
  • Teachers as Advertisers – I didn’t go to this session but another teacher passed the presenter’s link to me.  She has some neat ideas here about teachers being advertisers and teaching foreign language from that point of view.
I have one more that I would like to share but am waiting for a link to the materials.  Enjoy!

Interactive Whiteboards – the laser disk of the 21st century?

This is the system I have in my classroom. It's the Epson BrightLink with Easiteach software.

I read this great post on tweenteacher.com about interactive whiteboards.  I am blessed to be in a great classroom with a mounted projector and an interactive whiteboard (it’s interactive with a stylus not by touch) but I have been struggling to find ways to use the interactive whiteboard bit and I couldn’t figure out why that is.  Isn’t it every teacher’s dream to have a setup like this in their classroom?  I think Heather from tweenteacher.com put into words why I’m frustrated.

The big clunky forward facing, whole class method of lesson delivery via Interactive Whiteboard, I believe, is the Laserdiscof educational technology. The overpriced fad of Interactive Whiteboards (whether Smart or Promethean) is imperfect in their current incarnation. Sure, we all imagine classrooms with“Iron Man2”:-esque 3-D touch sensitive lessons, but inherently these pieces of equipment do not illustrate the spirit of technology in information delivery: all-access, collaborative, open, interactive, etc…

Currently, they are only as engaging as the lessons created, and those lessons are tedious to create and time-suckers in their efficiency. The prep time to create charts that utilize any effects over-and-above what you would already do with a laptop and LCD projector feels clearly developed by those with a disconnect to the precious time we have in education and the many hats we already wear.

The few times I have found ways to use the interactive whiteboard have mostly been teacher-centric and I have felt guilty afterwards.  The kids are enthralled because it is different but, especially in middle school, this kind of thrill does not last long.   So I have tried preparing some activities where the students get the stylus and go to the board but, again, only one person at a time can use the board.  I get the kids to hand the “baton” of the stylus to the next student so I try to keep them engaged through the anticipation of getting to go up and use the board.  This is still not ideal particularly if it takes a student a while to figure out the answer.  I start to lose those kids already on the fringe and they start misbehaving out of boredom.

I think the interactive whiteboard has its place but I am really struggling to:

  • find activities that are engaging enough to keep the whole class interested
  • find activities that are easy and quick to make
  • find web-based activity makers as I can’t download any software on my teacher computer
I don’t think we should dismiss IWBs altogether as they do have their place in the classroom and I know they can be used to create some great components to lessons (I just haven’t been uber successful with this yet).  I agree with Heather that mobile technology is the way to go.  I would much rather my kids have tablets or even laptops on a 1 to 1 program and be allowed to buzz in with their cellphones to a poll question in the classroom.  Since our school is far from that, I will keep trying to think of ways to make my lessons better and more student-centric using the technology I have at hand.