CI in the Mitten: Another #mindblown Day


April 22, 2017

You know that feeling when you come back from a conference and your head is swimming with all the amazing ideas you were just learning about and you can’t wait to try them out in your classroom ASAP? Yeah, that’s me right about now. After realizing that–aside from my brief foray into PBL with my 2s earlier this year–I haven’t really changed my teaching methodology the whole time I’ve been teaching. That’s 13 years of doing the same thing with the same methods. My kids have changed, why shouldn’t I?

If you read my last post, I gave you a brief overview of what has happened to the clientele in my school over the last few years. Since I’m not dealing with the same types of learners I had when I first started teaching, it seems only logical that I work with a different methodology to fit the currently clientele.

Let’s face it: kids today want to be entertained. All. The. Time. And what better way to do that than creating stories with Comprehensible Input (CI)? I think this is a more viable option for both of my levels, especially my 1s. And while every hour will not go exactly the same, I think this will keep me on my toes more!

So what exactly got me so super geeked? To start the day off, I was in the same room with Dr. Bill Van Patten! Having done my Masters in Second Language Acquisition (SLA), this guy’s name was all over everything that I read research-wise. To say I was fangirling out was kind of an understatement! Then, I got to go to CI bootcamp with Carol Gaab. She taught us by putting us in the students’ seat by teaching us Hebrew. In the 3ish hours that I was in that workshop, I learned more than I did when I took the same conversational Hebrew class twice in Sunday school!

After getting a good intro to how the method works, I then went to learn about Movie Talks from Jen Kron. She made references to Martina Bex and Maris Hawkins, both of whom I love! After lunch, I got some good hands-on practice with a Coaching Session. Super helpful and although it may take some practice, I think this is a better way to go.

Finally, the last session that I attended was presented by Kristi Shaffer about using Realia with CI. She gave some really good examples of what she uses with her 1s and 4s. I got some amazing ideas on how to use things with both my 1s and 2s.

So, to recap: I think CI is a great method/technique to use because while it’s still teacher-driven, the kids get more of a role in creating the stories, and as a result they stay engaged and it’s more about having fun and–Oh, by the way, you’re learning!

Reflections on the Year (So Far).


April 18, 2017

With only weeks remaining in the school year, I have started my reflection process. This is me thinking out loud and for you to learn what I have, but not through trial and error. I think it would be safe to say that I have learned almost as much as my kids have this year. After teaching at the same school in the same room with (mostly) the same teaching assignment for 13 years (as long as my kids have been alive!), it’s good to know that I’m still constantly expanding, learning, and growing as a teacher. I consider myself lucky. Not many people can say that they’ve had the same experience that I’ve had with their job. I like this familiarity.

I am also pleased to know that my kids can teach me some things and that–contrary to popular belief–I don’t know everything. And I will never claim to. But this year has taught me that even more.

So, you may ask, what have I learned? Here’s what I have learned this year so far:

  • Don’t assume students know something. Explain as much as possible.
  • When students ask a question, be straightforward with them and answer their questions. (This also goes with the thought above.)
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work.
  • Don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board after trying something new. I realize that the style of PBL that I was doing wasn’t working for my kids, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it another shot.

Without going into a detailed history of why these changes in my teaching have occurred, the short version is this: A couple of years ago my district decided to re-draw the boundary lines for who attends what school where. This dramatically shifted our population and–I believe–my teaching style as a result. The assumptions I made (correctly) with the previous population can no longer be made with my current clientele. This forced me to change my teaching style and go back to basics. I would consider this my Renaissance.

One of the main things I was taught in Ed School (thank you Western Michigan University for giving me an amazing education with priceless experiences; Shameless Plug. Sorry not sorry.) was that a good teacher always re-evaluates and continues to reflect. And that is what I have to keep reminding myself of every day, with the start of each new year.

While it may seem that I’m getting nostalgic a bit, it’s true. As frustrating as this year has been, I really appreciate the experiences I have had, because they make me a better teacher. Each group of kids that I get leave a special place in my heart and I can say that these guys have made me a better teacher. And isn’t that what this is all about?

Healthy Choices for Food & Exercise


March 9, 2017

My Spanish 1s are culminating a unit talking about food, healthy and unhealthy food and activity options. For a final project before their Common Assessment (which serves as the Post-Test in a Pre/Post-Test), they are to create a poster talking about what you should/shouldn’t eat and what kinds of things you should do to stay healthy. It turns out I have some very artistic students in my classes who turn out some amazing final products!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The idea is laid out as part of our textbook that we use, Realidades. (This is one of the few things I actually use textbook materials for!) In the Guided Practice side of the workbook, a template is laid out for students to start their brainstorming using the following sentence starters

  • Debes comer… [You should eat…]
  • No debes comer mucho(a)… [You shouldn’t eat a lot of…]
  • Debes beber… [You should drink…]
  • No debes beber mucho(a)… [You shouldn’t drink a lot of…]
  • Debes… [You should…]

Students make sure that the sentences are grammatically correct, lay out a rough draft on a piece of lined paper, and then–once approved by me–they may start on their final draft on a special piece of paper that I give them to make their poster. I include samples from previous years’ students so they can get an idea of how they can lay it out, what they can include, and ideas for how to include pictures even if they’re not super artistic (I tell them they can cut out pictures from magazines or use clipart found online). Their poster must be colored and I show them this rubric so they know what I’m expecting them to do.

As you can see, the results are awesome! I am constantly amazed with the hidden talents of my students! They are so creative and really get into it!

What are some of your favorite projects to do with your kids? I’d love to hear about them below!

Continually Improving


February 16, 2017

Teaching is a reflective process. You cannot expect to get better if you do not constantly reflect on what you have been doing. This has been a huge year for my growth. Trying something new made for a bumpy road at first, but it has gradually smoothed out. My Spanish 2 students have been brutally honest about what works for them and what doesn’t. I’m glad they are willing to advocate for themselves and not hold back when I ask for their feedback.

It has been a year of learning for all of us. I am always looking to incorporate new methods, and while some have worked and others not so much, I know that I’m becoming a better teacher for it.

One of my files in my Google Drive is “To Do for Next Year”. Here I include notes about what to include, what to skip, and what to tweak based on current students’ experiences or if a particular activity was effective or not. I always leave myself notes in my Google Doc or my lesson plan so that when I’m using it the next year, I can go back and change what didn’t work and keep what did.

I’m thinking that at the end of the year I’ll do a survey with both my 1s and 2s. I want to know what they really liked and what they didn’t. Hopefully they take things seriously (if you have middle schoolers you’ll understand this; end of the year 8th graders can be very snarky with their comments when you are looking for honest feedback).

End of the Semester Reflections


January 27, 2017

So the last few weeks have been insane and a bit stressful, as evidenced by my lack of activity. Today is the last day of the semester and while my last few classes take their Midterms, I have decided to reflect on what has worked so far and what hasn’t.

I started out the year hopeful that this new method of teaching for me, Project-Based Learning (PBL), would be an engaging new way to teach my Spanish 2s. It started out okay, and I was thankful that my administration–as well as my students and their parents–were on board for a little experiment. It started to go okay, and while there were some concerns and tweaks that I made based on feedback I received, things slowly started to unravel.

Constructive criticism that I received included things like “there’s not enough direct instruction”, “we need more pronunciation practice” and “is it possible to slow down a bit? I’m not sure I have enough time to process everything that we’re learning”. That last one really made me think. And make some more tweaks.

By the second chapter, I thought I had the hang of it and we were finding a good groove. However, the parent emails continued expressing concern about how their child “feels like they’re not learning as much as they should”. By the end of that second chapter, I had to come to the realization that this was just not working out.

I had given it a valiant effort and it didn’t work. I got particularly frustrated after a meeting with a parent, their student and both administrators. The parent was concerned about her daughter’s progress because of the methods we started the year off with. I was back to my “regular” method of teaching that I had used before, but it still wasn’t “good enough”. The student was getting a B+ in the class.

Fortunately, my administrators backed me up and supported me. “I like that you tried something new. Yes, it didn’t work out, but at least you tried,” my principal told me after the meeting. That made me feel better, but it’s still awkward between the student and I.

So here we are back at the beginning again. Sort of. Monday starts a new semester–and the way I see it–a fresh new start. Time to show these kids what I am truly capable of with my teaching methods. If I start them out strong this semester, we can finish strong together at the end of the year.

I have still not given up hope on using PBL. I would like to continue thinking of new ways to incorporate this technology that my students have at hand. March brings the MACUL conference to my area, and one of my pedagogical mentors, Matt Miller (of Ditch That Textbook) is scheduled to be a speaker. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say. Maybe he has some more ideas that can get me inspired to continue moving forward. I refuse to simply give up. In the words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Reflections of an Almost-Complete First Semester


December 14, 2016

So we have about a week and a half until break. Our first semester doesn’t end until the end of January, so 2nd quarter is almost half done. I swear it was just September 2 weeks ago! (I’m sure other teachers feel the same way out there…) There have been a lot of learning experiences, for both me and my students.

I thought my plan was foolproof, and my students seemed to be intrigued about the idea of something different. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but now I think I have my answer. Knowing the different teaching styles and classroom management styles my students were used to last year, I think it sounded good theoretically. It was similar to what they were used to, but the one factor they didn’t anticipate was that I am a very tough grader, and this was something they had to get used to. I’m used to the difficult transition students face when coming from their Spanish 1 class. It’s not 1 anymore. It’s a whole new level of difficulty and I think sometimes students forget that this is a high school class even though they’re not in high school…yet.

So in processing this with my mom, I told her how things were going and she pointed out something so obvious, yet so wise. She told me her experiences as a parent when my brother and I were in school about how some teachers were sticking to what they knew, and while they were not doing the “latest and greatest” teaching technique, it worked. Sometimes better than these new techniques did. And she told me how she was bummed to see these really good teachers let go simply because they weren’t using the “latest and greatest” techniques even though what they were using was highly effective. She summed it up by telling me that sometimes you need to think about the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And I think that’s what I have to do here. Stick with what works. It may not be all cutting edge and it may be a bit more boring to the students, but the results speak for themselves.

I consider myself lucky to be where I am. I got this job 8 months out of school, have been in the same building, in the same room, in the same district for 13 years and counting. I can now say that I’ve been teaching for as long as my students have been alive. Crazy to think about it like that, but it’s true. I am also lucky in that my administration gives me the freedom to allow me to experiment like I did and not micromanage my teaching.

I rolled with the punches, and after a decent amount of feedback, realized it wasn’t working and changed to what I know worked. I think this was a valuable learning experience for all involved. My students were mature enough to give me constructive criticism about what was working for them on their end and what was giving them frustration. Their parents were equally flexible to let me try something new out, and, when it didn’t work, didn’t hold it against me, but appreciated the honesty.

I think this is best summed up with a quote from Thomas Edison that goes something like this: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” So now I know what not to do with students. As I said in a previous post, I think this technique could work well if you were working with high schoolers. But I think you also need to know your students. Are they mature enough to handle something so unstructured? Are they able to budget their class time wisely? These are things you should take into account before jumping in.

I’ll continue to update you on happenings in my class, both with my 1s and 2s. I think sharing my ideas are what helps us to become better as teachers. Hopefully I’ll give you some ideas for something that really works well with your kids and that they really enjoy. Also, feel free to share what your best ideas are that worked really well with your students. I can always get some new ideas to incorporate!

Choice Boards: Round 1


November 7, 2016

Phew! So I know it’s been a while since I’ve last written. Things are getting super crazy and hectic, but what else is new? Since I last wrote, my 2s have turned in their first Choice Boards, and here is what I’ve learned so far:

  1. When using Kaizena, if you set it up linked through Google Classroom, anything students upload in Google Classroom will automatically show in Kaizena. This made for very tedious work basically looking at duplicates of anything the students submitted. Very frustrating and time-consuming.
  2. Have one location for students to turn things in digitally. I find it best to have students either share it with me via Google Docs (which will send you an email notification) or upload directly to Google Classroom. Make sure your students give you access to the docs, otherwise you won’t be able to see anything!
  3. For the speaking activities, I use a rubric to evaluate them. I ended up printing out hard copies of the rubrics and attaching the speaking rubric to the overall Choice Board rubric. I initially thought I could do everything digitally, but the old-school teacher in me needed to see and physically write on the hard copies. It’s still reducing my paper trail overall,  but I feel like giving students a hard copy of the rubrics gives them more concrete feedback.

I had to adjust the pacing overall (see my previous post here about how that went), and I think together we have finally found our groove. It was a bumpy start, but I think things are starting to smooth out overall.

We are now on our second chapter and the students are starting to figure out how things are going to go. (“Wait. We’re going to have a Choice Board for every chapter?” Um, yes. How else am I going to see if you’re proficient in the material?) I think they like the overall structure of the class, but I’m not totally sure. I’ll probably give them a survey right around midterms to see how they feel about stuff. Maybe at the semester I can make some changes. I’ve already started to tweak things based on their feedback.

Meeting the Needs of All Students

meeting_needs_studentsOctober 18, 2016

So we are now in the thick of it, and I am already learning a lot about the needs of the students in regard to pacing and instruction with this new format. After one week of introducing the new concepts back to back, it came to my attention that there needed to be some processing time between introduction of concepts. Based on student feedback, I have decided to space out the introduction of new grammar concepts with group guided practice. This will help them get a better idea of how well they are understanding the material and receive effective feedback from me about what they may be doing wrong.

While students are working on their Choice Boards (see my previous post about that here), I am meeting with them to have individual conferences. I ask them four basic questions: What do you feel your strengths are for this chapter? What do you feel like you need work on? How much progress have you made with your Choice Boards? and Do you have any questions for me? As I talk with the students, I’m making a Google Doc recording their answers. I expect to have 2 meetings with them per chapter to monitor their progress and see how they have progressed in their understanding of the concepts.

When students hand in their Choice Boards, it will be a combination of handing it in digitally via Google Classroom or sharing it with me in Google Docs or doing various speaking activities with me in person. They will check in their workbook pages with me in person during their second Individual Conference. I am still not sure how I will evaluate the speaking activities done in person. I included a rubric with the Choice Board in Google Docs, but I’m not sure if it would be more effective to print out a hard copy or make notes to myself on paper and later fill in their rubrics digitally when they turn them in via Google Classroom.

In meeting with the students individually, one thing has stood out to me: The higher students often do well and don’t need a lot of one-on-one attention help, but it’s the lower students that need more structure and less independent work. This was one thing I did not consider when I originally made this plan. I know it seems fairly obvious now, but the details and logistics seem to escape you when you’re planning a general overall schedule. This became apparent when I went to meet with one of my students in my homeroom, who expressed a lot of concern with this less-structured setup. I told him that after I finished the initial round of Individual Conferences I would be able to work with him one-on-one and answer any questions he had or re-explain anything he needed me to. He seemed relieved and determined to be successful, which I appreciate. I like that I can get individual time with each student and they can give me some very good constructive criticism that will ultimately become a better teacher.

I think overall this will be a good plan. But, like any good plan, there needs to be tweaks and changes to make it as successful as possible. I think together my students and I are finally finding our groove that works for everyone.