Reflections on the Year (So Far).

reflections_year

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

healthy_choices_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!

End of the Semester Reflections

end_of_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

reflections_1st_semester_blog

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!

Reflections: PBL So Far

pbl_reflections

December 5, 2016

So things have gotten crazy busy since I last wrote; it’s that time of year! In the past month or so, students have completed 2 Choice Boards, done one project, and given me tons of valuable feedback on how things have been going so far. And the verdict is (drumroll, please)…

It’s not working for them. While I’m kind of bummed that this is how it’s turned out, I didn’t know how it would go until I tried. I was super optimistic, the students were willing to work with me, but it just wasn’t working out.

Feedback I received included some of the following:

“It’s too stressful to make sure that I have everything done in time for the Choice Boards to be due.”

“I need more structured practice and more feedback more consistently instead of right at the end.”

“I feel like I’m not given enough opportunities to practice with your guidance.”

“I like that I can work at my own speed at things I know I need practice on.”

Okay, so some of it was positive. But that, in combination with parent emails about the lack of structure/guidance with frustration on their students’ part made me go back to my original setup.

It’s more consistent work on a daily basis rather than everything “all at once” as one student put it. I think that this setup might work better with high school students who are more independent and are more able to handle this type of setup.

As Matt Miller put it in his book Ditch That Textbook, you never know how something is going to go until you just jump in and try. And what’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work and you find out what not to do.

So, in conclusion, it’s back to the drawing board, so to speak. Plan A didn’t work, so Plan B, which I know is solid from previous years’ experience, is the new Plan.

So after all that reflection I still want to tell you how my new version of the House Projects went.

In the past, I had done individual projects, which was fine. I had smaller classes and it wasn’t that big of a deal to grade them all. But this year I have bigger classes (think 31-32 kids in each section), so I didn’t want to grade about 80 individual projects. So, after talking to my parents, they gave me an idea of how to make this a group project and incorporate real-world situations/experiences. (See my blog here about the initial ideas; you may have to scroll down a bit to get there.)

The projects turned out great! Students were able to choose their groups, anywhere from 3-5 members. Each member had a role and had responsibilities leading to the final product. There was a visual aid, a written component, and an oral presentation of the final product. Here are some of the amazing final projects that were submitted:

 

Choice Boards: Round 1

choice_boards_round_1_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.

Pacing & Planning: Post-Conference Reflections

 

pacing_planning

October 14, 2016

Last night was Parent-Teacher Conferences. We did a new system, where instead of all the parents coming at once, they made appointments via PTCFast.com. The school set us up an account, and we could schedule breaks. Theoretically, it sounded like a great idea. Until we got off schedule. Part of my problem was that I didn’t set a timer. It sounds dumb, but 5 minutes is less than you think when you get going.

Anyways, there were only a couple of students who attended with their parents. One of them was a Spanish 2 student of mine. I started off the conference by asking for his feedback about the class. He expressed to me some concerns about the quickness of the pacing and how he felt overwhelmed. His mom commented how I was one of the only teachers to actually ask him what he thought. (Seriously? How can that even be? Anyways…) He told me that he didn’t have enough processing time between introduction of grammar concepts and that with the introduction of the Dream House project (see my post from July 30 about this new version of a project I do with my 2s here), he felt very overwhelmed and stressed. When I explained to him that the Dream House project was a two-chapter project, he seemed a bit relieved.

There was one other parent of a 2 that expressed that her daughter had concerns about the class as well. She was worried that I make it seem like they didn’t learn anything last year (which could honestly be part of my presentation, but also the realization that the teacher they had last year and I have very different teaching and classroom management styles). Her daughter is currently doing well in my class, but nevertheless, I told the mom that I’d talk to her daughter to make sure she isn’t feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.

I think that overall conferences went well. I feel like the students are overall responding positively to this new style of teaching. The one thing that I worry about is that this new method of teaching doesn’t hinder my students’ proficiency in the material. In the past, the high school teachers have commented about how knowledgeable my students are coming into their classes. I just hope that this new method doesn’t prevent them from being as proficient as in years past. I realize that each group of students is different, but in the end, I just want to do what is best for the kids, and not do something new just for the sake of being different.

Beginning of the Year Reflections

October 11, 2016

So I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. School is in full swing and things have gotten pretty hectic on my end. My students are slowly getting used to the routines I implement in my classes, and we’re falling into a nice rhythm. So I guess this is as good a time as any to reflect on how things have gone so far.

My 1s are in the middle of Etapa 1A, which is the first “real” chapter that lets them get a better idea of what to expect for the rest of the year. They have their first vocabulary quiz today. Some of them have been asking me if spelling counts. (Um, hello. Yes. What did you expect taking a language class?) So I think they’re freaking out a bit about how that’s going to work.

wall_of_memes

Part of the Choice board is that students can create a meme for my Wall of Memes based on the current chapter’s grammar/vocabulary

My 2s are at the beginning of the Project-Based Learning adventure. I just put my Etapa 6A Choice Board live on my Google Classroom, so now the fun begins and the real work happens. I’ve already realized how I may have to tweak things and give them reminders about stuff that I (stupidly) assumed they would be able to figure out. For example, how to make a copy of a Google Doc for certain assignments attached to their Choice Boards. They initially complained when I announced that there was homework, but when I explained it more, the groans seemed to subside. A little.

 

The grammar flipbooks turned out pretty good. We shall see if/how much the kids actually use them as we continue on. I’m considering doing a Grammar Flipbook for Midterm Review (when we eventually get there). If they find the ones we did at the beginning of the year were useful, then I might do another version.

To wrap this up, I’ll put a question out there for those of you reading this. I encourage you to comment and put in your metaphorical two cents. My question is: What has been your biggest teaching triumph so far this year?

I can’t put my finger on one moment that’s stood out to me yet, but I guess if I had to say one thing, it’s that I really like my homeroom group. They’re one of my classes of 2s and I would like to think that part of the reason they are such a personable, amazing group of kids who work well as a team is because of the ice-breakers we did at the beginning of the year. Granted, they had already been in class with each other for one year prior to having me as a teacher, so they somewhat knew each other. But still, I would like to think that part of their amazing teamwork and overall jovial nature as a group would be because of how I talk to them on their level and I’m straight with them about how they’re my guinea pigs with this whole crazy adventure. And I would like to think they appreciate the honesty from me.