Category Archives: Student Jobs

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 15, 2016

My Boyfriend!

not-mr-cleanI love Mr. Sketch.  Given the choice between Mr. Sketch and Mr. Clean, duh, Mr. Sketch hands down.  Apparently my Mr. Sketch love has not gone unnoticed by my students.  One of my students drew a happy, green Mr. Sketch marker as a possible character.  Because I need to feel a good deal of love for whatever we are talking about, in order to make the story take off, of course I seized on this amazing gift for our first story of the year!  Part One is here and Part Two is here.

I spent too much time on the exposition – the Who.  My Story Driver needs to drive me harder, I see.  The Story Driver is the best thing to ever happen to me, when it is working well!  It is SO EASY without that job for us to just talk and talk, losing kids’ interest.  Even though I am firmly committed to making the story zip along and have pontificated about that at great length, it is so easy to slip into the cozy sound of my own voice.  Getting that Story Driver to drive me to go in a zippier fashion is going to be my job Tuesday when we do another story.  Monday we will write this story up and therefore the next time I need the Story Driver will be Tuesday.

Gist of the story (only got to one location because of the aforementioned Story Driver issue):  There’s a marker named Mr. Sketch.  She is a woman with the name Mr.  She loves kindergarten rooms.  She is in Forest Park in Portland with a kindergartener.  This kid is naughty.  He screams in class.  He throws markers.  They are on the top of a tall hill in Forest Park.  He screams, “I want to throw you!”  He throws her.

It would have been fun to see where she landed but class was over.

The problem popped up in the addition of the kindergartener.  Of course he had to be a naughty boy!  And there they were on top of a tall hill.  Perfect.  Second character plus location made the problem appear.


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 12, 2016

Pulling out of the Station and Riding the Rails to Storytown

Today in French 2 (second semester of first year, eighth grade) we pulled out of the One Word Image station and started our little CI train down the tracks to Storytown.  We did not get all the way there because the period ended, but we did get a nice little vignette going:  a magic rainbow-colored tiny pig who could only speak English, not Pig, was at the Théâtre Argentina in Buenos Aires with his girlfriend, a fox.  However, since the fox only spoke Pig and the pig only spoke English, miscommunication and heartbreak ensued (hey, kids, this is why you need languages!)

In this video, you will hear the class using actors.  They are sitting off-camera on little stools.  The stools are not too high nor too low.  You will see me encouraging the actors to parrot me, to stay in synch with my words, and act like puppets or visual aids;  I say that often to my actors.

September 6, 2016

Small Talk as Curriculum

Today in class I was able to take a YouTube video of sixth period.  This is a class of 35 kids, seventh graders, at a public middle school, on day two of instruction.  We are still working a lot on getting to know each other and establishing the expectations for behavior.  I am still on the absolute lookout for kids not doing their job.  It is a gift, as I have an opportunity to exert leadership each time a kid is whispering or slouching in their seat.  Calmly, and smiling (thinking to myself, “This is a gift, this is a gift, this is a gift.”) I try to walk to the rules each and every time and point, smile, and put some tiny little teeth into the smile, to show that I am not ALL peppermints and unicorns inside, then resume instruction.

At the beginning of class, we spent eight and a half minutes in L1, which is, admittedly, a large percentage of the class period of 54 minutes.  Over the years I have actually incorporated MORE L1 into the classroom.  I started my CI journey committed to using L2 as much as possible.  I have come to see that a little L1 use is time well spent, though.  I feel it is important at the beginning of the year to establish a solid foundation of community and connection, with the kids feeling like I am on their side and an approachable, real human being.  So we talked a bit about the grading this year (I am using 100% Interpersonal Skills Rubric and this was the first time I had broached that topic with this class – that their actual minute-by-minute behavior in class was the basis of their grade), and we talked about getting back into the routine on this, the second week of school.  Then at minute 8:30, we start the input in Spanish.  As the year progresses, we will do a quick check-in and then jump into L2.  But here on day two I am investing in them in L1.

We are working on assigning student jobs and so we started the L2 discussing the people who have jobs already.  I do not have a big Day of Assigning Jobs, I just distribute them as the need arises.  It is easier on me and, maybe most importantly, it allows kids to feel truly needed, because the job was needed in the moment that they emerged as the “Hoy Kid” or whatever.

The “Hoy Kid” was getting a workout today, because we spent the rest of the period on the calendar.  You will notice on the board there is a schedule with nothing on it, because I do not know day to day what activities will be used in class.  Today, we were still talking about the sixth of August by the  end of the period.  It is all good to me.  The kids’ energy was there, we were communicating in L2 for extended pieces of time, and we are building their word bank.

You can see the emergent word wall below me.  It will continue to grow as we add more words daily, based on the actual communication needs of the kids in class.  This is entirely new to me, as this idea popped up in a workshop this summer – I think in Portland – and seemed to fit in well with the practice of basing instruction on emergent language needed at the moment in class.  Because this is so new, I will be interested to see how this plays out this year.

Tomorrow in class, we will be creating a class text based on the discussion from today.  Then we will do some reading work with it.  A job that is likely to be needed is the Reader Leader.  This important job helps save my voice, but most importantly, it helps – like all the jobs – distribute power in the classroom.

In comprehension-based teaching, the teacher is often the center of attention.  This is normal, as the teacher is the one providing the input.  Taking the teacher away and using another means (internet, film, song) is an option, but it reduces personalization and human communication.  So in my opinion we should sparingly do this, and still guide the class’ interaction with these resources.  So, most every day we are there providing input for extended periods of time.  Therefore, for me, it is of the utmost importance that we share power with the kids.  Ben Slavic’s student jobs are so key for me in this.  I cannot imagine teaching without my student jobs.