Sunday, September 24, 2017

Being the champion for your students

There are times when as teachers we sit back and wonder why we continue teaching. More and more it feels as though we work for not just little pay, but little respect from the outside world. We are constantly working to find new ways to compete with all of the distractions in our students lives. We are trying to reach the students that seem unreachable, teach the students that can seem unteachable. Most importantly we try to give our students a base of knowledge, compassion, drive and the ability to think so they can be successful when they leave our classrooms, no matter what they choose to do later in life.

Of course in the education world driven by achievement and test scores, this often seems like an insurmountable task. As teachers we often look around and feel a sense of hopelessness because it doesn't seem like we are making a difference to anyone. We start to wonder if it is time for us to do something different-we can't imagine what. This is what drives teachers to be constantly changing and evolving what we do. To drive us to find our spark again. In 2011, this brought me to the flipped class movement.

As I look back now and reflect on how far I have come since that conference in Woodland Park with Jon Bergman, Aaron Sams and about 60 other interested flippers, I realize that the biggest change I made had nothing to do with my curriculum. My biggest change was the way I thought about my job and what I did. I stopped thinking that I taught Spanish. I don't teach Spanish at all. I teach students. 

My focus on teaching students is helped by the additional time I can spend with each of them in my flipped classroom. I am able to get to know them: how they learn, issues they are working through, challenges they face. Teaching students gives me the power to stop a lesson if someone asks an off-topic question that should be answered. To get side tracked in a good way to promote student thinking and questioning of their education and their life.

This last week I was reminded of the best part of teaching students - the influence that we have on them that sometimes we don't always realize. The best part is that sometimes these students manage to turn up right when we need them; right when we start questioning all that we do. This happened in a few ways for me last week. It started with a small thing, a huge hug from a student who senses you are having a bad day, students that bring you chocolate ice cream because they want you to have a good week, etc. Sometimes it is a Facebook friend request from a student that joined the military and wants to let you know how they are doing. Other times it is a student that contacts you to taunt you about a football rivalry, but also mentions that even though they are in college now, they learned more from you than in any other class.

Then, there are other students, the special ones that maybe you don't want to love, you know they are trouble. However they somehow find their way into your heart. They are the students you give a hard time to because you know that they can be more. The students that aren't making good choices, in school or in life, that you keep trying to get through to. The ones that other teachers, administration, and maybe even their parents don't know what to do with anymore. The ones that goes away for the summer and then doesn't come back. The ones that you find yourself thinking about and wondering about long after they are gone from your class and your school.

Sometimes these students show up out of the blue to thank you for what you did for them: for believing in them, for pushing them, even for giving them a kick in the pants when they needed it. These are the moments that we as teachers live for - to realize that we have truly made a difference. These moments, though often few and far between, can keep a teacher going for months or even years.

Teaching students is what we all do. Forging positive relationships not only makes a difference in our students' lives, but in our own. It is the reason why teachers go to school everyday, plan and grade in their free time, spend summers planning and learning. I think this quote sums up my perspective now more than ever. "Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be." - Rita Pierson

I will continue to strive to be that champion for my students. I don't know any other way to teach.








Friday, September 8, 2017

Student centered class through flipping

With the class time I have gained since switching to the flipped class, I am able to better meet the needs of all of my students. Before the flipped class, I would stand at the front of the class and lecture, then have students practice, then go over work and lecture some more. What I found was that I had three types of students in my class - the "Got It" which was about 30%, the "Almost There" which usually was about 50%, and the "Never going to get it" which was about 20%. 

Each of these groups present their own problems when lecturing to an entire class. The "Got It" kids often get bored and tune out as you try to help the "Almost There" group understand the material. The "Never going to get it" kids then start to feel hopeless because now you have explained a concept multiple times and they still don't understand. So this group will pretend to understand so they don't have to ask questions and put themselves on the spot. I just wasn't able to find a way to meet the needs of all of the students without some students being bored or frustrated. That is why I wanted to try flipped class - I needed to find a way to reach all of my students.

When I flipped my class, I was able to move the majority of the "lecture" to video. This way students could take as long as they needed to take notes. No one missed something because we had moved on and they were afraid to ask to go back or have something repeated. This meant that each student ended up with the same base of knowledge to work from when we started applying the lecture to the classroom activities.

Then, by changing the structure of my class time to allow every student an opportunity to work on assignments in a more self-paced manner over the course of a week, I found that students worked at different paces on different types of assignments. Some students were great readers, but struggled with listening. Others could write with ease, but couldn't put a sentence together in a conversation. So, by making classwork assignments assigned in a weekly time frame, rather than on a day-by-day basis, students were able to allocate their time across all of the activities and amazingly were finishing the week pretty much all in the same place. Students that needed to read a passage five times to gain the comprehension necessary could do so because they only had to do a listening selection one time to get the gist. This structure gave students a bit more freedom with their class time and I really saw an improvement in their comprehension of all of the modes of communication for all of the students. 

When the students could work individually (or in small groups) on tasks, I was able to better monitor students as they worked which enabled me to be able to see errors students make BEFORE they had made the same errors repeatedly. This also allowed me to do mini-lessons on an ongoing basis to address students needs, as well as able to give students the consistent encouragement that they need to be able to have to confidence needed to keep trying. 

Additionally, I have been able to use reading to be able to help students of different abilities all continue to improve. I love being able to work with students as they read and the make the connections with everything we have been learning and continue to make gains not only in their language proficiency but in their self-confidence. 

This year I am working on incorporating more Google Forms to help students get the additional help they need when working on classroom tasks so I can better meet the needs of each and every student. With Google Forms, I am able to give remedial instruction right away to students as they are working on formative classwork which (so far) allows them to more quickly realize and correct mistakes. I have just begun to work with this, but so far the results have been promising. 

Overall the flipped class enables me to focus on the individual students. Although I still struggle to find the time to have the individual conferences I would like to have with students on a quarterly basis, I have found more and more ways to help reach each student at their level and keep them engaged in class and language learning. Best of all, I see way more smiles now than the frustrated sighs I saw when I began teaching. ;)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Gain more class time with Flipped World Language class

I recently stumbled on a new chat on Twitter called #flipblogs. The participants had blogged in advance on the topic was "What problems have I solved in my class with flipping?" Although I had not done a post on this topic at the time, I thought that it was a great question to address. As I started writing down my thoughts, I realize this is a multi post topic for me. So, I will begin with the biggest problem and solution.

In my opinion, the greatest challenge I have as a World Language teacher is the small amount of time I have with my students. My school is on an alternating block schedule, so I see my students for about 90 minutes every other day. Therefore, I am always striving to find ways to incorporate more into our classroom time. But not just more; I was to incorporate meainginful activities that are a good use of our time together. Activities that not only help students learn the language, but activities that students enjoy. The other struggle with time is that 90 minutes is a long time for students to stay focused in a class, especially when we are trying to use as much of the target language as possible. I needed a better way to "chunk" material and activities to not lose students before our precious class time was up.

So the first problem I solved by flipping my class was that I gained more meaningful time with my students. I made activities more beneficial for each student by being able to give some assignments online so students could have as many opportunities as possible to learn, practice and achieve new skills. Flipping also gave students time to be able to work individually and receive individual help from me each class. I did this by taking all boring grammar explanations out of class and put them on idea. I stopped doing listening by playing a cd and moved those activities online so students could play them as many times as they needed to be able to get the gist of the listening and answer comprehension questions.this year, I have added more online practice for students with vocabulary and grammar so they can practice at their own speed and as many times as necessary to master the content.

So our block of 90 minutes (approx) is now often divided as follows, but not necessarily in this order:

  • 15 minutes of warm up - this can be translation, comprehension questions from a previous day's activity, a quick writing prompt, or a conversation activity.
  • 20 minutes of reading or conversation - Reading is done in reading groups with students having books appropriate for their level. Sometimes I read with them, sometimes I just listen. Conversation can be with a partner or a few classmates and be as simple as talking about the weekend, school activities, or another prompt I provide based on the theme I am teaching to the class. It can also be a fun activity like picture pages (where one student describes a picture in Spanish and the other draws what is described), for higher levels I sometimes use a picture as a story prompt and have groups come up with a story for the picture I show. I also love to use story cubes, which I have bought at Target. These cubes have pictures on each side and the student roll the cubes and create a story. www.storycubes.com 
  • 10 minutes of content delivery - of course this varies. Sometimes it is a review of a concept I see students are struggling with, sometimes it is a new cultural concept, vocabulary, or a colloquial phrase and its uses (I am trying hard for a phrase of the week.)
  • 15 minutes of practice of new content
  • 20 minutes of individual work - this is when students work on listening activities, projects, practice exercises, reading (if they are behind), etc.
  • 10 minute wrap up - I try to end the day with a quick review, activity, exit slip, something to try to help them leave with a positive vibe. Unfortunately somehow this is time that still occasionally disappears from class while I am giving individual help. But, I always make it a priority on Fridays to end with something fun - usually these days it is a Kahoot deck (they love Kahoot and beg to play!).
Now of course these are approximates. I have had some days where conversations just really gets going and we switch partners and keep going for 30 minutes. I have other days where the kids don't seem to want to take at all and 5 minutes is a struggle. The point I am trying to make is that my students are actively engaged in activities for the entire 90 minutes. I always make sure to give them individual time so they can practice what they need to work on at their pace. This also gives me the opportunity to help students every class on an individual basis to help them avoid frustration that can often come with a new language. Many days I feel like the individual work time is the most reductive for the students because they can focus on their needs and not be forced to follow the class needs. Giving students that time is the most important thing flipping gives my students.




Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beginning of the Year Assessments with Google Forms

The first week is always a time of optimism. The first week at my school was full of opportunities for my new students. The first week with a new teacher is an opportunity to leave the past behind and start fresh. My students seemed to come to their new Spanish class in three distinct groups: Fearless, Scared, and Resigned. My goal for this year is to bring them all to the group "Capable and Confident". However, before we can start, I wanted to assess the students abilities.

Too often in the past I have assumed I knew students' levels and just worked on problem areas as they came up. I have resisted beginning of the year assessments because I have been afraid that students would be dejected if they felt they didn't know everything that I asked. I was afraid I would lose some students before we even started because they felt stupid.  But, since many of my colleagues have been using some type of beginning of the year assessment, I thought it was time to put my worries aside and try it.

Since we have better access to computers this year, I created an online "Intro Assessment" for each of my levels using a Google Form set up as a quiz so I could have it quickly and automatically graded. I loved that the Google Form gathered all of the responses together so I could look at student answers all together to see if their answers were a pattern of things that none of them learned, or if it was just a few students that needed review.


Although a quick written assessment isn't a total insight into students' abilities, I thought it was a good place to start. I didn't give the students in Spanish 2 the ability to see their scores, but I did let the Spanish 3 students see their results.

For Spanish 2, there was some simple translation, vocabulary, and basic questions that students should be able to answer at the beginning of 2. In looking at the results, I could quickly see that we have a lot to do. Students seem to have some basic vocabulary, but struggled answering questions, even simple ones like "Where are you from?" and "What is the weather?". In Spanish 3, it was all translation/answer the question for Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 topics. The Spanish 3 classes fared better and although the automatic grading still gave terrible scores, the majority of the students demonstrated a firm grasp of the Spanish 1 content and a passable grasp of Spanish 2.

I was glad that I didn't let Spanish 2 see their scores. I think that many of the students would have been very upset and lost confidence in their abilities, or it would have confirmed their worst fears. In Spanish 3, I think the ability to compare their answers with the correct answers I provided provided some insight in where they needed to focus their effort. Many of the Spanish 3 students realized that they had made silly mistakes, and some asked lots of great questions about why things were incorrect.

So, as I prepare for Week 2, I am armed with some knowledge of the classes overall abilities as well as some individual struggles so I can help specific students one-on-one. I have adjusted some of my review activities to better focus on what students need to work on. I am looking forward to doing some more practice conversation activities to see how the students are able to communicate and then help them create some goals for their growth this year in both written and oral communication.