Comprehensible Input, Differentiated Instruction, Spanish

CI: This Time It’s For Real!


May 1, 2018

So you may have noticed a change in my name. Yes, I know I said at the beginning of this year that I was going to do CI and that didn’t happen. But this time, it’s for real!

I went to CI in the Mitten and got a crash course in how to start from day one. There were amazing speakers and presenters, like Bryce Hedstrom, Tina Hargaden, and the one, the only, Sr. Wooly! Bryce really helped me feel like this was doable, as a complete newbie. So this summer I am completely retooling everything to help my transition into CI next year be as smooth as possible.

In related news, coming soon, this site will have a new look! Julie Matthews, the brilliant mind behind Mundo de Pepita has helped me create a new logo. I think you guys will really like it! Can’t wait to show you!

I have a lot of work to do this summer, but I’m really excited at what it can bring. I hope you’ll follow me along for the journey!

Comprehensible Input, Differentiated Instruction, Spanish, Web 2.0

The Best Laid Plans…


February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day! Now that I got that out of the way…

I am a creature of habit. I find something that works, and I stick with it. So you may have noticed I haven’t posted lately. Things have been crazy. It’s that time of year (general post-Midterms craziness coupled with a reprise as a co-sponsor of the school Talent Show that I “swore” I wouldn’t do after last year. Long story. But I digress…)

So I had all these great ideas and plans at the beginning of the year. I was going to start CI (Comprehensible Input) and incorporate all of these new resources that I had found over the summer and it was going to be awesome! And then I started, with the best of intentions, to speak to my classes in only Spanish (yes, that was including my 1s)…and then that sort of fell by the wayside.

On the one hand, there’s the old “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” philosophy. But sometimes I get bored and want to switch it up. So I feel like there’s never a “right” time to just go into something different, but at the same time, I want to try something new. But then there’s the evil cycle of me being a creature of habit. And the circle of life continues!

So here I am back at the beginning. I keep telling myself that the next chapter that each of my classes start, I’m going to incorporate some new resources in, like Sr. Wooly. I figure rather than changing everything all at once, it will be easier to gradually introduce new things into my curriculum.

So now I have to keep you posted, which will hopefully increase my accountability! What new things are you trying with your classes? Gimme your ideas!

Comprehensible Input, Differentiated Instruction, Grammar, Spanish

Adventures in CI…er, sort of…

Adventures in CI

October 5, 2017

It is now a month into school. I’m not doing a traditional CI classroom model, but I make an effort to speak more Spanish to my students, including my 1s. This has been going well, but I find myself slipping into English more. There are definitely days that I use more English than Spanish, and while I’m not doing traditional CI, I feel like the exposure to the language is making the work itself less intimidating.

My goal is to use more Spanish than English by midyear, but that means I need to use it more on a daily basis. I need to take the “No inglés, sólo español” approach that my high school Spanish teacher did with my class. The only difference would be that my 1s would have less of a language base to work off of, and would probably default to English.

I flip flop between teaching grammar points in English with my 1s but doing all Spanish with my 2s, to thinking about doing all Spanish all the time with both my levels, but I have a feeling that this would lead to confusion with my 1s. I go into English when necessary, but this hasn’t changed my overall teaching method or approach.

I have all these ideas swirling in my head about how my ideal class would be taught, but when it comes down to it, I’m a creature of habit, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But then that gets me thinking, ‘is it actually broke and I’m in denial about it?’

I have been teaching for 14 years and the quality/learning style of students has definitely changed since I first started teaching. I am now competing with YouTube and reality TV for their attention, and just the thought of that makes me so tired! To keep their attention, but still make it fun, engaging and <gasp> educational?! I might as well be a miracle worker!

But then I go back to thinking about my Methods teacher in Undergrad, who I respect and admire: Spanish is fun. Period. I want them to have fun and learn something at the same time. I guess that’s what we all want. But I’m still figuring out how to do that.

For those of you who do more CI-type methods, I would be more than happy to hear any tips/tricks/suggestions of how to transition to a more TL-dense classroom!

Comprehensible Input, Differentiated Instruction, Spanish

Fresh Start


August 31, 2017

Today is my last day of work for this week. Well, at least working while I’m at school. Here in Michigan, most teachers started back to work this week, and we’ll meet our new batch of kiddos next Tuesday after Labor Day.

As you may have noticed, I took a true break this summer and did almost nothing school-related. Unless you count me tutoring as a second job. But, I digress…No blogging stuff (unless you follow me on Instagram. Which you totally should!)

So now it’s back to the grind. I finally have my classroom in order and pretty much ready to go! For those of you who are interested, here’s my wonderful room!

I’ve been lucky enough to be in the same room for all 14 (!!!) years of my teaching career. And yes, I mean I have been teaching in the same room, in the same school, for all 14 years of my teaching career. I call that a win! (And a super lucky break!)

My classes are smaller this year (most of them are 23-29 kids), while my homeroom is my only class over 30 (33 kids). I think this will be a nice break from last year. Plus, I only see my homeroom for 20ish minutes before they go on their way to 1st hour. And then I see most of them again for 3rd hour.

So this year I have decided to go all in with TL spoken in class. 90/10 is my goal. Mostly I’m putting that in writing so I can remind myself when I’m teaching next week (already?!) that that will be the case moving forward. I wanted to give my kids (especially my 1s) a head’s up about what that means for them. Hopefully it will make them more engaged overall since they’ll really have to make sure they understand what’s going on!

So, I’ll definitely keep you updated as to how things go. What new things are you trying this year with your kids? Let me know and keep me posted as the year progresses!

Comprehensible Input, Differentiated Instruction, Grammar, Spanish, technology, Web 2.0

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!

Differentiated Instruction, PBL, Spanish

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?

Differentiated Instruction, Grammar, PBL, Projects, Spanish

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!

Differentiated Instruction, paperless classroom, Spanish

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).

Differentiated Instruction, PBL, Spanish

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.”