Sunday, October 28, 2012

Increase your World Language PLN today!

There are many things that make being a World Language teacher difficult, but I think the hardest part is a feeling of isolation. Often, World Language departments in schools are small, and like-minded collaboration is difficult. Additionally, there is little professional development for us at the school level. When schools have professional development, we often don't fit in. We aren't a core class, but we don't fit in with most electives either. So, for professional development, we head to local conferences as well as national conferences like ACTFL in the hopes of learning new techniques, gathering new materials and meeting new contacts to help us improve our classes.

Thankfully, we also have the magic of technology to allow us to find our own professional development. So, it is time to get out there and find your PLN (personal learning network) and get some great ideas to improve your class!

Blogs are great ways to learn new things. Best of all, they enable us to learn from the successes and mistakes of others to save us valuable time. I have a long list of blogs that I read (ok, sometimes I skim). The ideas on these blogs can save us hours of searching and writing our own plans. The teachers that write these blogs are always open to sharing ideas, making them a very valuable resource. (If you are a blogger, or know a great WL blog, please add it on the form at the end of this post!) Check out the list so far!

Social media is another way to find great resources and other WL teachers to collaborate with. I know many people shudder at the thought of Twitter, I was always the same way. However, I have found that just with my small amount of activity, I have met some other great teachers, found some great resources and participated in some wonderful chats. If you are ready to give it a try, here are some great people to follow:


Great conversations happen quickly on Twitter. Here are some I like to try to participate in:

#flipchat is every Monday at 8EST
#edtech is every Sunday at 8EST
#langchat is every Thursday at 8EST

And of course, there are many webinars available. I have one on November 13, you can register here. I am also co-presenting in December 5th with French middle school teacher Ellen Dill, and you can register here. If you are interested in Project Based Learning, check out this one. You can find a webinar on just about anything if you look. Although I think it is best to do them live so you can ask questions, most are recorded so you can watch them when your schedule allows.

So, now that the weather is turning cooler (it snowed this week in Denver!) cuddle up to your computer and learn something new today!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Conquering the challenges

The last few weeks have been busy weeks in my classroom. Here is a quick recap:

Unit 1, Challenges in Teen Life proficiency assessment (culminating project for the unit - found in important docs) was a mixed bag. In many ways it was a success because the students all worked together to create a project in the target language. They worked over the course of the unit, but the last two weeks were the most intense. It was great to see the students working together, watching other commercials in the target language and creating posters, PowerPoints and videos.

As with most big projects, I realized at the end that I need to explain a few things better. I told them to create "campaigns" for the teen problem, such as "Don't Drink and Drive". However from many I got something that more closely resembled a report on drunk driving. Clearly I need to include a "slogan" portion of the assignment and we should watch examples of these types of commercials before they begin working. Sometimes, explanation just isn't enough. Overall, they were good, and they chose great teen issues and learned tons of Spanish. Next year, I just need to help them a little more with what I am envisioning. I need to give them choices, but still show more examples of what I think it should look like.

On to Unit 2, Fairy Tales and Legends! This is always a popular unit. Again, since the Spanish 2 teacher gave overviews of some of the elements I teach in 3, I still have some students that don't want to do the video instruction, because they "know" the concepts. However, this time I changed the way I did the grammar. It is in three small parts over the course of 3 class days. So, I have had the opportunity to catch those not taking notes, fix problems with irregulars, and then the students have still had another opportunity to practice the work again.We have our first Benchmark Assessment on Monday/Tuesday, and I am hoping that this will help them to do better.

Since last week was Homecoming Week, I had given the kids short Fairy Tale skits to work on in groups, learn and then present. I make the kids memorize their lines, bring costumes, props, etc. They grumble, and some just can't do the memorization, but the skits are loads of fun, and the students really enjoy doing them and watching the other groups. It is one of the activities I never had class time to fit in, that now I can enjoy with my students.

Here are some samples of the posters I received. (Imagine them as billboards!)

Here is a link to a great video that another group of  students did.

Flipped Class progress - I still feel as though this year's classes are not getting as much out of the flip as we did last year. I am adding more fun activities to help them practice, for example we did Scattegories and Speed Dating. However, I am still having trouble getting the students to open up and interact with each other and me. Too many are content to be in their own zone and try to never say a word. I have to change this....but how?? I have been thinking about it for a few weeks, and think I have finally come up with some ideas.

First, I am going move away from the word of the day for a while and give them a speaking prompt of the day. They will need to have at least five minute conversation in pairs at the beginning of every class period. I am going to make each group record their conversation on a hand held recorder. I don't know that I will listen to them all the time (or at all), but it is my experience that if the students think I am recording it they will take it more seriously. I can usually get a good feel for the conversations as I am walking around the room. As far as I am concerned, if they are in the target language and trying, that is good enough for me.

Second, in the next unit, I am moving away from the short stories and going to introduce the readers. My focus here is going to be for students not to translate every word, but to read a few lines, a paragraph, or a section, and then in their group do a quick conversation to make sure they are keeping up with the story. I want to create some type of reading log to have them keep track of this. (Not sure yet exactly what this will look like.) Last year, we began with level 2 readers, and for many of the students, they were too hard. This year, we are beginning with the level 1 readers for the majority of the students. I will start the higher level students in some of the level 2 books. (I love reading because it is so easy to differentiate!) As we have been reading the short stories, I have been talking to the students about  how they felt about each of the stories, and the reading groups are almost forming themselves.

Third, we are finishing the planning of the cross-level shopping project. The upper level students will create "booths" in the plaza, and the level 1 students will "shop". One of my biggest worries for some of the upper level students is that they get so caught up in some of the more advanced vocabulary and grammar structures, that they forget how to do the simple things, like ask how much something costs. I am also hoping that these types of projects will help encourage students to continue learning the language because they will know some of the fun things that go on in the other levels and look forward to them.