Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ACTFL Conference

So, if anyone out there is going to the ACTFL conference and wants to chat, email me at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

And the teaching goes on......without me

As I sit at home with a sick daughter for the second day in a row, I am thankful yet again for the flip. I don't have to worry about finding a sub that some knowledge of Spanish. Nor do I have to show a dumb movie and lose a whole day of teaching.

My students are in the classroom. They are currently working on the future tense and learning vocabulary about the government and future choices. I did not have to race to make sub plans, they already knew what to do. They will (and often do) email me with questions.

I love the flip

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Parent Teacher Conferences

So, as I was finishing up Unit 2, we had fall Parent/Teacher conferences. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting. The flipped classroom is pretty new in my district, and only one other high school teacher, a Chemistry teacher is flipping. We have a lot of students in common and although we are flipping differently - she with flipped mastery, and me with just the flip - I was ready for some parents to be "flipped" out.

Actually the comments I got were almost completely positive. I have one set of parents that thought it was so much better for their child and were almost as excited as I was. Only one conference, where the student said " I don't like having to teach myself" was I sad about. It was a student who has never really said anything about the flip in class. Actually, she has missed quite a bit of class for some family issues, so I would have thought that it was working well for her. During the conference, I reminded her that she is not 'teaching herself'. I am still there to help with work and answer questions every class period. We just use our class time more effectively because the students can take the notes at their own pace. The mom seemed ok, but I don't know about the student.

It made me wonder how many other seemingly fine students were really upset about the flip and just not saying anything. I had already planned on a year-end evaluaation, but now I wonder if I should wait that long. Maybe I should do a little something at the end of each unit? Hmm.....

Onward to Fairy Tales

So, changes made, grades decent, we were all ready to move on to the next unit - Fairy Tales.

The students seemed to be resigning themselves to the idea that the flip wasn't going away. We were settling into a groove. Students were watching videos, work was getting done. I did a cute warm up with vocabulary flash card pictionary that went well. Then, it came.......the Benchmark Assessment.

Who would have guessed....the grades were TONS better. The were mostly Bs and Cs. Hardly a 37 in sight! Thank goodness, I felt so much better. Some kids still needed to improve, but across the board it was so much better. I was actually happy to give the assessments back.

We continued on. The kids did fairy tales in Spanish skits. I found a great book with shortened skits and the majority of the kids dressed up, memorized their lines and everything!! (On a side note, one of the APs got hit with a flying pumpkin from the Cinderella skit, which was amusing!)

Benchmark Assessment 2  came, Sadly, the kids didn't do as well. This time, I was writing notes on the top of papers, telling kids who hadn't done well on any of them to come see me. Guess what, when they came to see me, some were honest about the fact that they hadn't studied. I have a few who have decided to come in for extra help. I have a few I think I have convinced that they should ask questions, not just say "I'm ok" if I ask if they need help.

I know have a briefcase full of fairy tales to grade. A quick perusal tells me that the translator wrote a few of them. I actually had a student come to me yesterday to check over a story that she had pretty much totally written via translator. Did she think I wouldn't notice? Sigh. She rewrote the story in her own words, thankfully. We shall see how the grades turn out.

I am already contemplating re-writes. Should I let them do it? I actually gave them a chance to turn in rough drafts and hardly anybody did it. Hmm.....fodder for another entry later.

When in doubt, talk it out

So, on the last day of Unit 1, I started informally polling the students. What could be done differently? Why can't you do better on the assessments? What can I do? What can you do?

I went back to the basics.....the kids can sometimes identify problems more easily than I can (I often over think things), and getting their input and acting upon it is the best way to get their buy in.

So, some of their suggestions weren't going to work, I was not giving up on the flip. No, I was never going to give them a word bank on the quizzes. NO, not even an English word bank. (Seriously!!)

Some were  great. Yes, I would number pages in the packet so that they could find things more easily. Yes, I will move supplemental materials to the back. (Because they refuse to look at them unless absolutely necessary.) Yes, I will go back to some warm up activities. (I thought they always hated those!)

I also made my own list. Maybe instead of using activities from texts, I should take the time to use the vocabulary in the exercises. (Honestly I was kidding myself that I wouldn't have to do that). When I have conversations with the students, I have to make sure I am forcing them to use unit vocabulary. (Sure it is more fun to talk about current movies and the football game, but they need to practice their new vocabulary too.) I also thought that maybe I should make each of them a  class calendar in addition to the assignment sheet and give them some time to plan the unit and how they want to break down getting the work done.

So, I made the changes, and the kids noticed! I am in this with the students, and it's great to remember that and for them to realize that too!

Thank God for Unit Assessments!

Well, thankfully, even though the kids grades were not improving the way I wanted on the Benchmark Assessments, the Unit Assessment projects looked much more promising.

I had begun the Unit by going over my expectations and putting the kids into groups. I had given them a small amount (and I do mean small) of time in class to work on scripts, etc. The kids had the last two days of the unit to finish up a few tasks and work on their project.

I have to say, clearly, many of the kids were reading their "memorized" scripts, but at least the majority didn't look like they had never seen the script before. They Spanish was all pretty good, and some of the videos were genuinely funny. Check them out under Spanish III Class Projects on my website

So, with the Unit Assessment, my students grades greatly improved, and the grumbling about dropping my class at semester seemed to die down.

But, that didn't really take care of the root problem, did it. I had to find a way to fix the gap in their performance on assessments and their knowledge. After the Unit Assessments, I could tell that the majority of the kids got the why couldn't they do better on the Benchmark Assessments?

What to do????

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is the problem flipping, the new curriculum, or both?

With the early success of the review unit, I was excited to get started on the first full unit. It is called "Challenges in Teen Life" and I thought that with the flip we would be able to get so much more accomplished and the kids would be able to do so many fun things with this unit.

When I passed out the unit assignment packet, there were plenty of wide-eyed looks. I kept reminding them that these were all of the assignments for the entire unit - 5 weeks. The unit assessment was going to be a video project done in a group. I began the unit by having the students choose either a Judge Judy format or a Jerry Springer format. Then I divided up the groups. I wanted to have some amount of say in the formation of the groups so that no one person was left out, and I also didn't want to have a group that was totally composed of weaker students. Everyone had some of their friends in the group, and almost everyone was happy with how the groups shaped up.

Then I went over the highlights of the assignments and due dates. I made sure I pointed out when the assessments were and what would be on them. We also discussed the new format of the assessments. There would be two benchmark assessments and one unit assessment for each unit. The benchmark assessments would be on vocabulary and a grammar concept. The vocabulary would be in fill in the blank format, not just a regurgitation of a list. The students all nodded and got to work.

When the day of the first benchmark assessment came, I knew something was wrong. I was about to hand out the assessment and I was asking if there were any last minute questions. Students asked me to define to ostracize, to define to conform. These were words that were on their vocabulary list. Not only did they not know what they meant in English, but they were only now asking me what they meant!! How do Juniors not know what these words mean?

That was only the beginning. I had no sooner handed out the quizzes that the students started to look like deer in headlights. They started asking for hints, for a word bank, and my favorite "could I please tell them one this word means?". I had given them practice worksheets for the vocabulary that were in the same format as the assessment. Many of the questions on the assessment had come directly from the practice. I told them all to do their best, and I was confident my reign of "tough and mean" teacher would continue.

The assessment grades were a disaster. Yes, I did have a few As - there are some students that will always get them. However, most of the grades were Fs, and not just Fs, low Fs....37, 26, 14. I was really shocked. What went wrong? Was it me? Was it the flip?

After the I handed back the assessments, I talked to the students. It would seem that many didn't really study, and the ones that had studied did it right before class. And yes, in my effort to use vocabulary that would enable them to discuss teen issues, I clearly went over their head.

Luckily, my plan had always been to allow the students to retake the assessment if they needed to. So, I chalked it up to experience and knew that the next one would be better. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The next one was a little better, but still more than half of them were Fs. Worse yet, many of the students didn't take advantage of the retakes, so the grades were in the toilet. We were six weeks into school, and I had kids planning on dropping at semester. What was I going to do to make this better???

Overcoming problems and objections

So, the first mini-review unit went off without much trouble. My idea had been to start with the review so that I could iron out any technological problems and the students could get used to the idea of the flip before we started working on anything new.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should backtrack a little.

I made videos for the grammar topics using Power Point and Camtasia. I had decided to follow many of the ideas for how to run the flipped classroom from the conference at Woodland Park High School over the summer. One of the most important things I learned about using the videos for lectures was not to require that the students watch the videos. I know, this sounds nuts....but, I think it is a good idea because if nothing else, it helps to overcome the "I didn't watch the video, so I can't work" excuse. There are also some people that just won't like the videos. So, if students don't want to watch the videos, they can take notes from the book, or from another website. My bottom line is I don't care where you get the information, I just want you to get it.

I only had two students that weren't able to watch the videos because of technology problems, and these were overcome by using Camptasia to make the videos in a .wmv format and putting them on the students' flash drive. I did decide that next year, I will probably add flash drives to my students supply list to make sure that everyone is prepared should there be issues.

The other main technological problem came from something I have no real control over. My school blocks access to YouTube, which is the easiest way to publish and watch videos. So, I am also using I post the videos on the website using YouTube and then I add a link to the video on Screencast. This way, whether the kids are home or at school they can easily access the videos.

Keeping the students focused and on task is going to be the hard challenge to conquer. They love working together, but they seem to be having trouble staying on task for the class period. I think that some of this has to do with being on the block schedule. 90 minutes is a long time to stay focused. I am finding that even the best students seem to be "done" with about 15 minutes left in class. So, I am going to have to work on ideas to keep class focused for the entire class period.

Challenges and all, I can really see how this is going to pay off. I am excited to keep going.

Beginning the flip!

So, with new curriculum outlined and power point videos made (well, at least for the first unit), it was time to implement the flip. But how was I going to explain this to the parents and the students?

First I started with the parents. I decided to take a proactive approach. Since our wonderful grading system could send a letter to all of our parents easily, I set to work writing the letter. I outlined what a flipped classroom would look like, what my expectations for students would be, and what I would be doing during class time. I read it, proofread it, sent it to colleagues to proofread it, then sent it off to the parents about a week before school started. Then I waited.

I was sure that I was going to hear from some parents. I was ready with my explanation of why I was flipping, how I thought this was going to improve student achievement, how I expected things to work in the classroom. And I continued to wait. Amazingly, I didn't hear from one parent before school started, or in the first weeks of school.

So, the next task was getting the students on board with the new system. Even though I am accustomed to being thought of as the "tough" and "mean" teacher, I knew that if I couldn't get the kids to buy into the flip it would be dead in the water. Luckily, we have a crazy schedule for the first day of school, and I see all my classes for 20 minutes....the perfect amount of time to talk to them about the flip.

I was grateful that although the parents did not say anything to me about the flipped classroom, many of them had talked to my students about it. So, many of the kids had a basic idea of what was going to happen. I talked with them about how much time I felt like we have wasted in class - waiting for students to copy notes, having some students drawing pictures in their notebooks while others begged "don't change the slide yet!".  As I talked about this, I watched as my students nodded in agreement, and breathed a sigh of relief.

We talked about how I would make the videos, and how they could watch them on their time, rewinding them, stopping them, and going at the right speed for each of them. I explained how they would never miss a lecture again. I also gave them their first packet - which made them cringe. I will admit, it looked a little intimidating. I explained how the packet contained two weeks worth of work. I went over the assignment sheet with all of the assignments and deadlines outlined. All of the students seemed to like the idea of being able to work on their own and in groups. I was excited that there was no major pushback at the onset.

With the first day done, there was no looking back. We were off and running, and I couldn't wait to see how successful this new format would be!