Category Archives: Community-Building

September, the Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Image result for september

Ahh, September.  I used to go Costco and load up on wine, joking with the cashier that it was my September teacher medicine.  Nowadays I am more inclined to go to acupuncture or get a massage to cope with the stresses of teaching, but I am not sure if I would make it through the month without SOMETHING to help me!

September is golden in some ways and then again it is utterly exhausting as well.

It is golden because the kids are so amazed that they can understand a new language so easily.  They are very motivated by this and see themselves growing quickly.  They are falling in love with class, and the language.  We are talking about them an their interests and their uniqueness.  People are getting their classroom jobs, and we are developing inside jokes (I am constantly on the lookout for a good inside joke and firmly believe that you can judge the quality of a class community by the number of inside jokes that the class shares.  I am looking for cute names (as I learned from Ben Slavic so long ago) I can call them and we are settling in and getting to know each other.  I am chatting them up at the beginning of class, laughing with them, observing them, assigning and managing student jobs.  Some days we talk for four minutes, and others we talk for 25…especially when setting up jobs and suchlike.  (The average, I would say, is more like 4-6 though.)

It is utterly exhausting because I am constantly training the class in my expectations.  I am constantly walking over to the rules, investing those seconds of deep breathing and smiling calmly into future smooth-running classes.  I am explaining over and over how they are graded each and every minute in class.  I am updating their Interpersonal Communication grade twice a week, and sending home emails and making in-class phone calls on Fridays to let the class know that I am serious about focusing up when it is time to focus up.  The third week of school, right about, oh, NOW, is the most exhausting part.  The kids are getting comfortable and are testing to see what is allowable in this new kind of class.  Because they have never seen anything like it, the ones who will test, test intensely.  Because I have prioritized having a good time and laughing with them in English before the input part of class starts, the ones who want to keep up the free-for-all the entire class will try to.

It is also exhausting because in addition to training the kids, I also do not yet have the relief of reading time to relax and recharge for ten minutes at the beginning of each class period.  The day when we begin SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) is a beautiful day indeed for me, because i am about to teach a LOT of language without lifting a FINGER…my little friends the BOOKS are going to do that for me!  We will not start that till October, so C’MON OCTOBER!!!

Personally, I find it is worth the struggles that come with having to establish those boundaries, to have the blessing of the “slow start” to class.  I LIKE having those minutes to connect with the kids, build community, pass along as much power as I can to them in the way of student jobs, and build our class culture.  I learn so much from the kids during those first few minutes of shooting the breeze in English.   It is time well-spent to me, even though it does require a strong, firm hand when we switch gears into the input part of the lesson.  It’s like we go from Hanging Out and Relaxing to Full-Steam Ahead when I give that signal that it is time for the language class part to begin.

September 14, 2016

Fomenting Revolution

IMG_4922.JPGI am blown away by the engagement this year in creating these One Word Images.  I truly chalk it up to the artists’ work.  It is such fun to turn the easel around after the OWI has been discussed for about twenty minutes or so and see the invisible object that we imagined become visible!

My French One class (seventh graders)  is loving the One Word Images.  In fact, they are loving them SO MUCH that we tend to get a little overwhelmed by all the excitement.  If only I could show the kids in class in these videos, you would see them bouncing, almost falling out of their seats, yelling, gesticulating wildly – sometimes I fear a bit for my life in there!  Thank goodness for the Professeurs 2!   Yes, we have two of them now.  Ben Slavic is, to me, endlessly creative and inventive, and the student jobs he has developed over the years are so foundational to my success in CI teaching, and the Profe 2 is, for me, in the top two jobs.  (The other one is his newly-created Story Driver)

We have had to assign two Professeurs 2 – one male and one female.  As you will hear in the video, the boys were quite upset that the female Professeur 2 was making all the calls.  (It is kind of funny because just statistically, the girls make up 75% of the class and only 25% boys!) So now we rotate, so one gets to decide one detail and the other gets to decide the next one.  It is a testament to the interest generated by these images!  You can hear the boys fomenting revolution during the turn and talk time.

Speaking of turning and talking, I never did these L1 turn and talks in my language classes till this year.  However, my nine years in English Language Arts and Social Studies were chock full o’ turn and talk.  I am experimenting with them as I think it helps us to focus better when we are communicating in L2.  Simply listening with the intent to understand is so taxing.  I really noticed that at iFLT listening to Linda Li teach Mandarin!  Listening is rigorous work and a little L1 processing seems to be improving the focus.

Part one:  We are talking about the calendar (and learn that the teacher is not perfect…but presque parfaite…LOL) and an absent student’s birthday.
Part two:  Pick this up at 4:15 as it repeats part of the first video.  Or if you want to see where the One Word Image starts, pick it up at 7:00.  At the end of this video we really start to do some negotiation of meaning, which is fine, but I think that part of class could have been smoother and required less stress for us all .  The students did not understand that I was asking about the color of normal pigs.  It took about three minutes to establish that fact in French.  Looking back, I see that I should have POINTED to “normal” the first time I said “normaux” but failed to do so because I thought that the kids would get it.  After all, it is a pretty string cognate.  But I was saying “normaux” which sounds very different, and oftentimes we see cognates and the kids do not.
Part three:  The iPad’s memory filled up and cut us off but you can see us working further with the OWI of the eggplant-pig.  And you can hear more revolution being fomented by the garçons in this class of 75% filles.  Do not fear, order was restored the following day with the addition of our Professeur 2 masculin.

Second-year French will soon be doing stories using the Invisibles.  Today they had a ropes course field trip so the half of class who was left behind spent the period drawing characters.  Some of their characters were adorable and I cannot wait to feature them in stories.  They are already trained and ready to do stories because we started last February when I started helping Ben Slavic pilot the work with telling stories that use emergent language, not pre-planned target structures/words.


September 9, 2016

Creativity in Community

It’s amazing how much training students need to be able to participate respectfully in the class community.  Sometimes kids are “just joking around” and disrespecting each other, and they have to be reminded that what is OK amongst friends outside the classroom is not OK to bring into class.

My eighth grade French class was reviewing the calendar when a student suggested the “cute” answer that instead of Friday (which it was), today was Monday (Oh no oh no oh me oh my!)  Whereas I make a big deal of hating Mondays, I was nonetheless happy to see the creativity of this student in suggesting a cute answer.  However, his classmates were not as willing to roll with his creativity.  Some even went as far as to call him out with some funny yet insulting language.  It was time for a class intervention in L1.  Speaking in English is, to me, like putting savings away.  You can’t put your WHOLE paycheck in savings, but if you put aside a little, especially if you do that early in your career, over time it will grow and bear fruit.  I see L1 in the language classroom the same way.  More L1 use in the early months pays off with better-trained kids who are ready to be creative as a group.

Building group creativity is not for the faint of heart.  Facilitating true human connection, community, and creativity, especially in the upper grades, especially in today’s schools, is a tall order.  Doing it without ever using L1 just might be too much.  Give a little to get a lot.  It’s like saving for a rainy day.

In this French 2 class, we reviewed the calendar, then worked on a One Word Image of a teeny-tiny rainbow colored pig who is magic, but is sad because he only speaks English and does not speak Pig.  You will see me using L1 to discipline the class as well as to praise them for letting me know if I am not being clear.  Both uses of L1 are setting the foundations for important work this year – being a respectful community and making sure that Hargaden is clear when she speaks French.

In this Spanish 1 class, the OWI illustrates the important concept that Ben Slavic was so into this summer in all his workshops – the teacher needs to LIKE what she is talking about.  I LOVE THIS TINY EWOK!  He is small even for an Ewok!  So cute!  I am discovering that if you can get your kids to give you things to talk about that you genuinely love, the period will come to an end far quicker than you want it to.