Saturday, August 12, 2017

Utilizing Google Classroom to be the teacher I want to be

I am always in search of the best way to run my class website and help organize student assignments. A couple of years ago our school became a Google school, and I started using Blogger to organize class. However, it wasn't quite doing everything that I wished, so I started looking for another solution. When I started hearing about Google Classroom, it seemed like a natural step. I began using Google Classroom for my school website last year, as a test to see how it would work. 

I found that I really loved Classroom, even though I wasn't using all of the available features. Students were able to easily get on the site, access assignments, and complete them. I could create an assignment in Google Docs or Sheets and have a copy created for each student. I loved that I could make students load presentations in one place that was easy to access quickly when they were giving in class presentations. No more flash drives, emailed presentations, the "I emailed it, didn't you get it?" That feature alone was a huge time and sanity saver. 

I found great sites that work with Google Classroom to make assignments even easier. EdPuzzle is my favorite for listening activities. Quizlet also works with Classroom so you can assign vocabulary practice. I also found some Google add-ons that are helping me better utilize students time and research. My current favorite is Insert Learning, which enables me to take a live web page and add questions, notes, and even word/phrase translations to make it comprehensible for all levels. 

This year, I have more consistent access to computers, so I am trying to incorporate even more online. I have created Google Forms for practice and quick mini-formative assessment checks. This will enable me to set up automated grading so students can get instant feedback. I am also using Forms for student goal setting and reflection for each unit, semester and for the year. I can schedule everything to make sure it is delivered on time. 

All of this will hopefully give me more time for what really matters, one-on-one time with the students. I want to be able to not only more purposefully help students, but also to be able to better monitor their work, especially conversations. I also want to be able to have individual meetings with students quarterly to discuss their progress and make plans to help them to continue to grow. Basically, I am hoping that I can focus on what I should be focusing on, helping the student move up the fluency. Updates to follow.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We're going global!

Flipping my Spanish class was the best decision I ever made. Freeing up class time has given me the ability to incorporate so much more into my classes. More than anything else, I moved the focus of class from me to my students. This shift has affected me more and more as the years have gone by. Whenever I get ideas for projects or assignments, my first questions are ALWAYS:
  1. Do the students really need to know this?
  2. When will the students use this again?
  3. Will this really matter to the students?
This year, I am adding a new question - How can this help students make a global connection?

I teach in a small community at a high school of 700 students, many of which have been going to school together their entire lives. For many of them, their only exposure to other cultures comes from what as a language teacher, I provide. Many think going "all the way to Denver" (a 30 minute drive) is a big deal. Going to visit another country and/or experiencing another culture is something many of them have not experienced, and may not experience for quite some time.

This can lead to students that a)don't realize how lucky they are, and b)are unable to truly understand the rest of the world outside of our little town. This is a problem not only for me as an educator, but for me as a citizen of the world. How can our students ever hope to be prepared for life if they aren't empathetic and open to the culture of others that live in our world?

So, what does this mean for the classroom? It means that I am working hard to add more people into my classroom. No, it doesn't mean I will need more desks. I want to add other students learning Spanish, authors, politicians, sports figures, leaders and more to my classroom. I want to help them not only make global connections for class, but for life. I want my class to be the most relevant it can be by making it a part of the real world.

We are going to incorporate YouTube 360 videos. (I even bought a VR headset.) I want use everything at my disposal to get students truly immersed in the culture, and what better way then to really put them in the action. They can be standing in the middle of the Plaza Mayor, or inside of Sagrada Familia. It isn't the same as being there, but it is an awesome experience for those who need to learn to look outside of our little town.

I am going to incorporate Twitter in the classroom. If students have a comment about a character in a book, why not make that comment to the author? We will be reading more and getting more input. If they student read a story about a politician, celebrity, sports figure, why not tag them in a comment? I am working on the start of a rubric for Twitter usage, which I will finish with the help of my students, but I want it to be more about just points....it needs to generate a level of excitement because what they are learning really MEANS something.

I am also working on making connections through epals to hopefully have some pen pal correspondence for my students. Isn't learning about hobbies and past times going to be more interesting if they are sharing that information with someone abroad? Won't they be more willing to learn the vocabulary and structures necessary if they are talking to a real person?

I want to reinforce that the focus of the class is the students. I love a worksheet, or looking for that "perfect" project or activity, but won't they be so much better off if they are learning because they want to? Because they don't want to look foolish in front of a new friend? Because they wrote to someone, who actually wrote back?

Who's with me? Want to be a part of the connections? Comment below.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Beginning planning for 2017/2018

I have finally, finally convinced my admin that our department (of 2) needs to have their own computers. This means that I am going to be able to move more curriculum online and be able to kill fewer trees.

However, this begs a few questions:
1. What is the best way to utilize this more readily available technology?
2. How to make sure I don't use technology for things that are more easily/better done in person?

My goals with the the new tech is that I will be able to do more "quick checks" of comprehension using Google Forms. Additionally I am hoping that this will give me more time to be able to spend with students one-on-one in my ever growing class sizes.

This year I also have to go back and try to create a student goals/objectives and feedback form that is easier. The one I created for last year required too much and there was no way I could keep up with it on an ongoing basis, so it was a bust. Luckily for me, the kids were so busy, that they never gave it a second thought.

In addition to the incorporation of the technology, I also need to continue the hunt for CI, as well as modifying the curriculum to include more projects with a global perspective. The more I teach at Elizabeth, the more I realize that students need more exposure to the world outside of our small town.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Every teacher struggles, even me.

My 2014-2015 school year was probably my worst. It has taken me a long time to write this. Even seeing it now, I feel like a bit of a failure. Don't get me wrong, kids learned, papers were graded, I had parent conversations, worked with peer teachers. I think that only now that I know I had a good year am I comfortable enough to really write this post.

However, I was trying new things professionally (not in the classroom). Our school had lost its focus after a search for a new principal came up empty. We operated the whole year with no principal. I knew that the curriculum needed revamping.....I have the blog posts to prove it. But, I didn't do it. I usually work hard over the summer to make tweaks, find PD and improve the curriculum. However, two summers in a row, it didn't really happen.

I coasted in the classroom, which is not like me. It is so upsetting, even now, to think that I let it happen. I have always driven myself to succeed - as much as I like gold stars, it is intrinsic motivation that keeps me going. I have thought and thought about it, and I can't pinpoint where it all went wrong. I think it was just lots of little things that I let slide by. Was it the 7 year itch? Was it time to move on?

As confirmation that it was not my best year, enrollment in the upper level classes was down for the 2015-2016 school year. The students that I did have were more difficult to motivate to work independently and to strive for continued growth because I had let them slide the previous year. I did make some changes to the curriculum for this past year to help motivate the students. However, it seemed like it was too little too late.

Thankfully, it was my Spanish 2 students that inspired me to get it back in gear. I had some great students that really love the language. Students that started to find ways to take it further without me. I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend ACTFL last November. Being able to get ideas from sessions and have some great conversations with superstars like Amy Lenord, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Kara Parker, Mira Canion and numerous others helped me find my spark again.

So I have learned a humbling lesson. Every teacher struggles and can lose their way, even me. I wanted to share this because I am betting that I am not the only one who has felt this way. The key is to realize it is happening. Acknowledge the "slump" and find a way out of it. Find inspiration again in your students, your peers and make the turnaround. I did it, and so can you.