Category Archives: Interpersonal Communication Grade

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 8, 2016

Write (and Read) What You Know

This year, I am starting a few new things.

One is a new setup for my chairs.  Last year they were a big U-shape around the outside walls of the room.  Many of last year’s students (miss you guys!) have said that the U-shape was a little squeezed – que l’on était serrés comme des sardines.  I was in Mike Peto’s room this summer and it inspired me to have four boxes with nine students in each box.

So far, this setup seems to give middle school bodies more wiggle room and a bigger personal bubble.  Also, the kids are closer to me and I can move more freely about the room.  Further, a space for acting opened up in the back now, so when we begin stories we will have a spot for Locations 2 and 3 in the back there.

Another new practice for me this year is using Interpersonal Communication as the basis for the entire class grade.  This prioritizes students’ comprehension in class.  I teach 4 first-semester classes and one second-semester class.  At the Novice level, the work is listening, comprehending, and responding to show comprehension using one-word or memorized-phrase answers.  Of course, many students taught with comprehension-based teaching can create sentence-level discourse in the first year or two.  But the job of a Novice, overall, is comprehension.  From that, everything else grows.  In the past, the Interpersonal Communication Rubric has been 65% of the course grade, but this year it is 100%.  (Thanks to Ben Slavic and his amazing PLC for this tool which I have adapted somewhat)

A final new practice is ditching whole-class novels.  I do not honestly know why this took so long for me to come around to.  It’s just that I never stopped to think about it,  I guess.  In Language Arts, I would never teach a whole-class novel unless it was as a read-out-loud text that we just used as a class for shared enjoyment and as a mentor text – a text that we could use as an example for reading and writing moves we want to practice.  I have never assigned one single whole-class novel in any English Language Arts class I have ever taught over the eight years I worked in ELA.  They are not differentiated enough to serve the needs of all the readers in the classroom.  The reading abilities in any seventh-grade classroom I have ever been in span second grade (or even pre-primer in some cases) up through post high school levels.  How can one novel reach them all?  In world language, even though the kids are (supposedly) all around the same level…except for heritage kids, and dual immersion kids, and kids who lived abroad…and kids who are gifted in literacy, and kids with LD in the area of reading or decoding, and kids with emotional or behavioral challenges, and kids who find it hard to focus on the page.  Wait, who is left?  The mythical magical middle seems to be shrinking away.  So who are we supposed to select the whole-class novel for?  Also, this article by Mike Peto suggests that reading novels as a class makes students like the novels less.

I might do some read-out-louds this year, but more likely they will resemble Kindergarten Day and we will do shared readings of a kiddie book  I might do a novel in second-semester French, but I am still not sure.  Many of my students LOVE reading in English – and my current student population contains many, many more of these book-devouring, super-active readers than my previous school.  (Seriously, Battle of the Books is a THING at West Sylvan.)  So I was surprised to find out that the TPRS readers were not better-loved by these super avid readers.  I can only surmise that the books are either too hard for them to comprehend enjoyably and fluently (in ELA we say that 5% unknown words -just five on a page – is enough to make the book a putter-downer and not a keeper) or not compelling enough, or both.  So, no more novels.

Whatever shall we read, then?  Class-created stories!  Thanks again to Ben Slavic for his incredible list of 21 Reading Options, formerly known as Reading Option A or ROA.

Ben uses texts based on stories or images the kids create, but I myself like writing them with my kids.  It is less work for me outside of class time and it is also a nice activity that provides good opportunities for input.  We generally review the artists’ work, then do what I would only be able to call Write and Discuss.  I ask them through the writing process, clarifying the details of the story, maybe adding or embellishing as we go.  Of course, from time to time, I also like to write up the stories on the computer during prep, because that way I can embed new details and new vocabulary (up to about 5-10% new words is the goal – not too much or the reading takes on a heavy feeling as conscious minds kick in and affective filters go up.).

Here is my French 1 class writing up a One Word Image of a giant hot pink nose named Steve.  Here is my Spanish 1 class writing up a OWI of a giant multicolored spork named Frarky.  The Spanish class is the whole period but the review of the artists’ work that leads to the writing work starts at about 12 minutes in.  The readings are below, along with a French 2 reading on a béret named Tyrone and a Spanish 1 reading on a pair of glasses named Phil and Felicia.