My 2018 End-of-Year Confessions

My Post (2)

WHEW. Is this thing still on? I can’t believe that I’m here, writing another end-of-year confessions post (you can go back and read my 2016 and 2017 confessions, if you’re so inclined) but more importantly, I definitely cannot believe that I’ve already finished my first year of graduate school. This year has rocked my world far more than I ever anticipated, and it seems oddly fitting that I started on this journey in the last year of my twenties because I have done an enormous amount of reflecting on what it is I want my life to look like as I move toward my next decade. Graduate school has been hugely challenging – not necessarily on an academic level (that’s been an appropriate challenge) but moreso on a personal level, which was something I really didn’t expect. But through these challenges I’ve gained a lot of perspective, which in turn has inspired a lot of questions that still, as of right now, have no answers.

But enough of the vague, wishy-washy stuff! Onto the confessions – let’s start with the fact that…

I know basically nothing about French literature, and definitely even less about literary theory. I committed to this particular Master’s program in part because they have a “culture and society” parcours that corresponds pretty closely to my own personal interests – history! Cultural studies! Woohoo! …WELP, turns out that at the end of the last school year, nearly all of the professors who teach on the culture and society track left on sabbatical, left on retirement, or just simply left the department altogether, leaving exactly one historian standing, compared to about six literature specialists. Who knew that a graduate seminar entitled “France in Ruins from 1945-present” wouldn’t be about the consequences of WWII on culture and society, but instead would focus on the nouveau roman? I read an entire novel from which the letter “E” had been completely omitted, you guys. There was no letter “E”.

Turns out, teaching college is…basically the same as teaching high school. Only, unfortunately, not as fun. My university has a pretty standard language requirement for nearly all undergraduates, which means that the vast majority of our student population has to take at least three semesters of a foreign language. I taught the third semester portion (French 3), where the majority of our enrollment is, as students are automatically placed into French 3 if they’ve had at least 2 years of French in high school. There is no placement test – this means that I had students with an extremely wide array of backgrounds and abilities; bright-eyed freshmen straight out of AP French, and last-semester seniors who hadn’t heard a word of French in six years but needed my class in order to graduate. This spurred a major realization (and was one of those perspective-giving experiences I wrote about earlier): there is no truly substitute for quality language instruction in high school (and before). What you do matters, and has consequences – good and bad – that may not manifest until after your students leave your classroom. This leads me to my third confession…

…I really think my place is in the secondary classroom. At the end of last school year, I was having doubts about the sustainability of being a high school teacher. Major doubts. Doubts that pushed me toward pursuing graduate school full-time and picking a department that would afford me the experience of teaching at the university level. What I learned was I think I really am meant to teach high school. I miss my students and my colleagues. I miss the atmosphere and energy of my school. I miss the connections that I got to forge with the kids that I saw every single day, some of them for four entire years. I miss designing my own curriculum and teaching in a way that aligns with my beliefs about language acquisition and proficiency. I miss speaking French to a room of 25 fifteen-year-olds and actually having them understand me. I miss the joy of hearing them respond to me in French – errors and all. I know I’m romanticizing a bit (or a lot) but I just feel that the secondary classroom is where I belong. But a return to high school will have to wait for now, because…

We’re moving – again! This time it’s a bigger move than Michigan to Pennsylvania – I’m actually going to be spending a year in Lyon, France, teaching English to French university students as the representative for my university’s longstanding teaching exchange with Université Lumière Lyon II. This is, of course, provided that the correct documentation comes through in time for my scheduled departure on August 13th – in true French bureaucratic fashion, I’ve not yet received my work contract, which means I’ve not yet been able to apply for my visa or appear in person at the Consulate…as an already highly anxious person, this has not be fun. The stress of it has started to make me physically ill, but I’m trying to remain optimistic that it will all get done (somehow, it always does) and that I’ll be able to leave for France as scheduled.

I’ll be blogging more about this process and our travels on my personal blog, which I’ll link to once it’s all cleaned up and ready to go! And who knows, perhaps this space will even see a few ESL lesson plans in the future…

Happy (almost) Summer!


You’re doing it right

Teaching methods are sometimes a contentious – or should I say passionate – topic. How and why we teach the way we do can become very personal, in this profession where we have to give so much of ourselves to others. When our students are successful, we want to share our successes and how we got there with our colleagues. Most of the time this sharing leads to a friendly, positive interaction; some of the time, it doesn’t. While the majority of non-positive discussions tend to just end in a stalemate where both parties go their separate ways, there exists the rare occasion when sharing your successes incites a profoundly negative reaction which that person then feels compelled to share.

It’s that passion again, I know – that enthusiasm for wanting to share what works in one’s own classroom, but coupled with a complete disregard for the other person’s feelings, experience, and motivation, this passionate response becomes a tear-down. I’ve learned not to take it personally when I share an idea that works well in my classroom and receive a response that details the reasons that I am not only wrong, but potentially harming my students and inhibiting their language acquisition with my teaching methods, it’s hard not to bristle. It’s even worse for teachers looking for new ideas or support through what they feel is a method that isn’t working for them the way it works for others. I’ve been on all sides of this coin:

  1. If I teach grammar, I’m doing it wrong because “the research” says it’s a waste of time – all students need is input and good language teachers who want their students to be able to communicate never bother teaching grammar (nevermind the fact that I can also cite research that challenges “that comprehensible input alone is enough [to foster second language acquisition]” [Lightbown & Spada 165]).
  2. If I’m dissatisfied with a TPRS-only approach, because while it’s fun and my students responded well to it at first, the routine has become boring, the stories feel superficial, and my students don’t seem to be making any meaningful long-term gains – well, I’m doing it wrong because when you do TPRS right, all students are engaged every day, and if only you, the teacher, were doing it “right” the students would reach Intermediate Mid at the end of year two.
  3. If I design a thematic curriculum, I’m doing it wrong because themes aren’t realistic, take away from input, and rely too much on trying to control things you can’t control, like giving vocabulary lists and the like.

All of this criticism can get exhausting and after a while, it starts to feel like you just can’t seem to do anything right. But at the end the day this simple fact remains – the critics are not in your classroom every day, so how can they know if what you’re doing is “wrong”? They do not know your students. They do not know the kind of atmosphere you’ve created, or the relationships you’ve fostered with your kids. You do. If there’s a particular method that works well in your classroom and fosters true learning and/or language acquisition – do that thing.

If what you do in your classroom – whatever that may be – results in measurable progress in students’ language proficiency, intercultural competence, reading comprehension, citizenship, or heck, even their accuracy (yes, I said it), then guess what? You’re doing it right.


The meaning of a mentor

Something few people know about me is that when I first started my undergraduate studies, I desperately wanted to be a music teacher. I spent the first three years of my education as a music major, intent on becoming a choir director. This dream never panned out for me – in fact, my music studies ended traumatically, and since the end of my music studies in the winter of 2010, I have never sung another note. I still hold a great passion for music, however, and my love of the discipline has returned as I’ve begun my post-graduate studies; in fact, I wrote two of my final semester papers about music related to my discipline, and it was a cathartic experience.

The thing I always loved most about being a musician was participating in a choir. Choral music grips me in a way that no other music can – to me, it’s simply captivating. I’ve had the privilege to sing some of the truly great pieces that make up choral canon – Handel’s Messiah, the Fauré Requiem and the Benjamin Britten War Requiem, among other pieces by such notable composers as Poulenc, Rutter, Haydn and Whitacre.

When I think about why I wanted to become a teacher, I think first and foremost of Ms. Tuomi, my middle school choir director who first inspired my love of music, and Mrs. Fristad, the high school director who further cultivated it. In college, though the path as a soloist was tough and often lonely, my desire to teach music never waned; what brought me joy during this time was, again, participating in the choir, under the direction of Dr. Nina Nash-Robertson.

Nina’s reputation always preceded her, and on the first day of Concert Choir I was surprised to see in front of me a tiny – and I mean tiny, I’m only five feet tall and still was taller than Nina – and smiling Irish woman. I don’t remember the first song we sang that day, but I do remember how she was able to command a room of 80 people with a single movement, and how she already seemed to know everyone’s name. For each of the next nine semesters that I sang under Nina’s baton, I never heard her ask someone to repeat his or her name – she just always knew.

And it was amazing, the things that she knew. I worked at the music library during my undergraduate studies and one day, Nina came in to check out some CDs. “The voice professors tell me you have an excellent ear,” she said. It was true – I didn’t have the strongest voice as a soloist, but a good ear and analytical mind allowed me to excel in ear training and musicology. During my end-of-semester jury performances, when the other professors cut me down, Nina was always encouraging: “When you sing in your lowest register, it’s really very beautiful,” she wrote in her comments. “You have a very pleasant voice.”

It was under Nina’s direction that I had the opportunity to sing in China at the Shanghai World Expo. My favorite memory from that trip was not the grand concert we gave in a fancy performance hall, but when we came upon a group of Chinese people singing folk songs in the garden of the Temple of Heaven, and we surprised them with an impromptu performance of Jasmine Flower, in Chinese (heavily accented and imperfect, I’m sure). I will never forget the look of surprise, and then utter joy, on the faces of the singers when they heard this American choir begin to sing such an iconic song. They joined in with us, and we joined in with them afterward, following along with the notes and words as best we could.

At the end of 2009, when I was no longer allowed to continue my music studies, Nina listened to me cry. She listened to my frustration and concerns. She told me I was still welcome in her choir, and so I stayed. Though my journey as a collegiate musician was often stressful, the good memories I have come from my experience as Nina’s student. Years after I left her classroom, we kept in touch via Facebook and anytime something big happened in my life – my first teaching job, my acceptance to graduate school, things that never had anything to do with music – she ALWAYS left an encouraging and uplifting comment.

In May, Nina retired from her position of director of choral activities after 35 years of service to Central Michigan University, with as much pomp and circumstance as such an event deserves. Her daughter had just given birth to her first child – Nina’s first grandchild – and I know Nina was so excited to be a grandma. On Saturday, I got a text from my best friend:

Have you looked at Facebook? Nina passed away.

A brain aneurysm. Sudden, unexpected, awful. The kind of loss that rocks an entire community – all the more evident from the literal hundreds of tributes that came pouring in after news of her death broke. So many people impacted by this one woman from a small university in the middle of nowhere; her impact and legacy have spanned decades and continents, uniting people from all walks of life in a common love of music, art and life.

I remember how Nina always smiled. She was tough and demanding, but never mean. Though she was small in stature, she was truly a giant personality. Before our concerts, she would always give us a wink that no one else could see. I remember how she would rock her fist against her chest when conducting a truly emotional piece. I remember how, during our rehearsals, she would stop us and say, “That was great, really beautiful, BUT…”. I remember her stories about Ireland – she was a proud and fiesty Irish woman – and her parents, her experiences as a renowned Irish dancer, a high school teacher, how she met her husband on the first day of new faculty orientation at CMU and then married him the following summer, the fierce love she had for her only daughter…all of these things she shared with us, even though as our professor, she never had to share them at all. From Nina I learned the true remedy to a head cold – put Vicks on the soles of your feet before bed, and then cover them with socks – the lyrics and meaning of Danny Boy, and what it was like for a young girl from Ireland to board a boat at 9 years old, knowing she’d never see her grandparents again, and then carve an amazing life for herself in America. I remember how she was a fixture in the music building at CMU, beloved by students and her colleagues alike. I remember how she treated all of us as important to her classroom and her choir, and how she truly cared for each and every one of her students.

We as a community are so deeply saddened by this loss, which I know pales in comparison to what her family and close friends must feel. But it reminds me of why I became a teacher in the first place – Nina’s impact on so many people will keep her legacy alive for years and years to come. Even though I don’t teach music, her example is still one I strive for daily when I am in the classroom. If, after 35 years, I have made even a fraction of the same impact, I will consider it a job well done.

“I think that I want everybody to know that it was lovely, that I so appreciate all of the support; that it has been more fun than I ever should have had, that I have enjoyed being in this community of scholars, of students and of musicians, and of just lovely townspeople, far more than I ever dreamed. And so to the community people I want to say thank you; to the students, I want to say: trust the journey. Just because you don’t know where you’re going, doesn’t mean it won’t be the right place when you get there.”Nina Nash-Robertson


Grammar in a proficiency-based/CI classroom: the PACE method


Ask any World Language teacher their biggest conundrum in switching from a “traditional” teaching practice to one that is rooted in comprehensible input or teaching for proficiency and I’m willing to bet they’ll tell you that it’s how to teach grammar within the new framework.

The teaching of grammar is one of the most hot-button topics out there for language instructors: do you do it? If so, how much? In what way? Should grammar instruction be implicit or explicit? Both? Non-existant? Practice or no practice? Am I a bad teacher if I still teach and test grammar?

While there is a lot of research to back up basically all of the above viewpoints (and believe you me, I took a graduate seminar in pedagogy this semester and read A LOT of the research) my own perspective comes from a combination of research and experience. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of comprehensible input and center my teaching practice around it, but from experience I know that CI alone has only gotten my students so far – at a certain point, they needed more structure and some explanation. Thankfully, I had a very strong formation in my undergraduate methods course that stressed the importance of teaching grammar in the target language, via authentic resources if possible, and in line with the principles of CI and teaching for proficiency. The PACE method made my transition from textbook dependent to textbook-free much less painful, and it’s what I suggest to anyone who asks about teaching grammar without sacrificing CI or proficiency. I’ve had a lot of success with this method, and I particularly like it because it emphasizes the best practices that I feel very strongly about: input before output, exposure to authentic resources (or teacher-created resources with authentic language), culture, and establishing meaning before focusing on form.

The PACE method

So, what exactly is the PACE method? PACE is obviously an acronym, and each letter stands for a different part of the process.

P – Presentation: This is the very opening stage, when a document that highlights your targeted grammar point (song, video, poem, story, etc) is presented to the class. This document obviously needs to be in the TL, and do not announce the grammar point to the class beforehand. Just focus on the document itself and what it’s about. For example, when I wanted to introduce the conditional to my French 3 (university) students, I sourced a bunch of tweets on a trending hashtag, #SiInternetNExistaitPas (If the Internet didn’t exist) and read through them with my students, checked for comprehension, and asked personalized questions and then follow-up questions. Depending on the length of your document, this could very well take the majority, or even all, of a class period – or even MORE than one class period. I picked a lot of tweets because I wanted a lot of exposure to the verb structures and their meanings. Take your time on the presentation section – this is the most important part, as it’s where meaning is established. And bonus: this is usually a great culture-infused lesson, too.

A – Attention: This part of the PACE method means you simply call attention to the structure you want to study. You don’t explain it, or teach it; you just call attention to it. When I did my lesson with the tweets, this involved re-typing all the tweets so they appeared on a single slide, and then highlighting the verbs in the conditional. The students read through them again, and we matched the French to an approximate English translation (this part was purely a choice on my part, you don’t have to translate anything at this point if you don’t want to). I DID put a little warning-sign symbol next to the sentences with verbs that have irregular stems, but I didn’t tell the students why right away, I was simply calling extra attention to those verbs.

C – Co-Construct: After the initial presentation phase, the co-construct part of the method is the most essential. In this step, the students and teacher construct an explanation of the targeted grammar together. However, for maximum effectiveness this needs to be very student-led, with the teacher serving as a guide to affirm or re-direct the hypotheses of the students. During this step, I usually ask a simple question while students are still viewing the “attention” step: What do you think is going on here? I give the students time to brainstorm with a partner or in a small group, and I tell them I want them to focus on the following things and come up with a hypothesis for each question:

  1. What are the highlighted verbs (or whatever it is you’re targeting) communicating?
  2. Can you spot any patterns? Where/what are they?
  3. How do you think these verbs work? (This is where the formation part comes in)
  4. Why did I put that warning sign next to certain sentences? (For my example lesson)

The most important part is that I leave them alone during this time. I don’t ask the questions aloud and then let my all-star student answer while the rest take a mental trip to Hawaii. They must communicate with a partner, or even jot down some notes on their own to figure out how the grammar works. Once they’ve had time to get their ideas down on paper, then I have them tell me how it all comes together. For Novice students, they may speak in English during this time; Intermediates can typically function at least partially in the TL. It’s during this co-construct stage that practice of the grammar point may come in to play; particularly if it’s a verb tense, I’ll usually start with some simple drill-style games. We may do human sentences or Mad Libs, or even (though this is rare)…a worksheet. This practice is usually very easy for the students since meaning has been clearly established by this point through the presentation and attention phases, which means I don’t have to do a TON of it.

E – Extension: This is the final phase of the lesson, when the students have to use what they’ve learned to complete a task (hopefully one that is contextualized/real-world), or even several tasks. I like to do a few extension activities that increase in difficulty, starting small with a short, prepared writing activity (like writing your own tweets – short, time to reflect) to a longer presentational writing (still time to reflect) and will typically end with a speaking activity that requires students to attempt to produce the targeted structure on the fly.

For me, the PACE method is a happy medium between no grammar instruction at all and explicit instruction in the L1 of a concept that is typically very abstract for the learner, and I have gotten great results from lessons designed around this particular method. Additionally, it keeps me at least 90% in the TL and the nature of co-constructing the grammar means that, when done correctly, the students are doing the majority of the heavy lifting and therefore, the learning – a wise teacher once told me ‘the one doing the talking is the one doing the learning’ and boy, does that ring true for me in most instances. I also find that the PACE method lines up really well with the primacy/recency theory, even when stretched over multiple class periods. It’s also helped me bridge the gap between the constraints yet relative effectiveness of TPRS (more on that in another post…someday, maybe) and my students’ interest in more theme-based units.

There are a ton of free resources on the Internet for PACE method lesson plans and I encourage anyone who has one they’re willing to share to comment with a file or a link! If you, like me, struggle with finding the right balance between input-driven lessons and grammar instruction, give the PACE method a try – it may be what you’re looking for!



10 Activities for Music in the Classroom (that aren’t fill-in-the-blank!)

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Bonne rentrée tous et toutes! I simply cannot believe I’m not back in the high school classroom today, greeting all of my new and returning students. I know I’m where I am supposed to be right now but today, I miss those kids, my colleagues, and the energy of high school way more than I thought I would.

Even though for many teachers in the United States today is the very first day of classes, what better way to kick off the year than jumping right into Mercredi musique tomorrow?! The first thing my students wanted to know when I told them I would not be returning this fall was, “Will we still be able to do Mercredi musique?!” While my own Mercredi musique routine is a very simplified version of Laura’s Coros process (listen to the song & watch the music video,  discuss our reactions, learn the chorus & sing all together), music is a great vehicle for language and culture! And most of all – it’s FUN! I’ve seen a ton of posts on social media lately, from teachers asking how to move beyond CLOZE activities when it comes to incorporating music in the classroom (no shade to CLOZE activities – I’ve used plenty of them!). Here are a few of my favorite activities, that are also relatively low-prep.

  1. Music Word Cloud Races: I learned this one from Carrie Toth at a conference a few years ago and it is so much fun! Run the lyrics (or major words from the lyrics) through a word cloud generator like Tagxedo or Tagul and print the word cloud. Give one copy to each pair of students, and have them select a writing implement that is a different color from their partner’s. Play the song, and when they hear a word that’s in the word cloud, they have to be the first to totally color in that word. The partner with the most of his/her color on the sheet at the end is the “winner.” (Activity Hack: For more advanced students, put the words in English).
  2. Arrange the Lyrics: Super easy and can be done individually or in pairs (which I suggest). Print the lyrics and have students cut them up, line by line, then mix up the strips on their desks. Play the song, and the students have to rearrange the lyrics into the right order. (Activity Hack: At the end, give an envelope to each kid and have them stuff the strips back in. Put all the envelopes into a gallon sized Ziploc, and you’ve got your activity already created if you want to use that song again.)
  3. Embedded Reading: If you’re using a song that features a lot of a particular language structure that you want to highlight, create an embedded reading based on the story behind the song or the video that features many repetitions of that structure.
  4. Re-cap with screencaps: Take screenshots of major points in the music video, and have students retell the story using the pictures as a visual aid/support. (Activity Hack: You will probably want to do an embedded reading beforehand, particularly for novice/intermediate low students.)
  5. Recreate the video: Based on their understanding/interpretation of the lyrics, have students develop a storyboard for their own version of a music video and provide a summary/description of each frame in the TL. (Activity Hack: Give the students the lyrics firstbut do NOT show the original music video as you listen; have students compare how their own interpretations related to the “real” version.)
  6. Lip Sync Battle: This is really fun to do any time you have some extra class time but don’t necessarily want to fill it with new material (before a long break, in-between units, at the end of the school year, etc.). Students can work in pairs or groups of three to create choreography and give their best performance of their favorite target language song!
  7. Blackout or Found Poetry: Print the lyrics and give a copy to each student. Blackout poetry is a little more complex, as they are required to keep the words in their original order and “black out” the parts that won’t be used with a marker, thus creating a new “poem.” Alternatively, they could create a found poem – using only the songlyrics, but cutting them up and rearranging them into a new order.
  8. Intruder: Give each student a set of lyrics, but include words and phrases that are NOT actually in the song. As they listen, the students have to identify which words and phrases do not belong. (Activity Hack: Students can “level up” by identifying what the REAL lyrics are.)
  9. The Voice: I used this with my 4/AP students last year during our Beauty & Esthetics unit but it could be adapted to any level, particularly if you want students to be able to talk about music in quantitative terms (describing the rhythm, melody, instrumentation, and so on). Just like the blind audition stage of “The Voice”, the students turn their backs to the SmartBoard (if you have one) while you play a snippet from a lesser-known song by a target culture singer (either known or unknown to the students). If the students like what they hear, they turn around to see who the singer is. If not, they remain with their backs turned to the board. At the end of the snippet, discuss together in the TL what they liked or didn’t like. This activity is extra fun if you have access to swivel chairs! (Activity Hack: Both France and Mexico have their own versions of “The Voice” and many very famous singers like Louane and Kendji Girac started out as contestants on the show! Play their audition videos and see what the judges had to say about them – do you agree or disagree? Why?)
  10. Don’t Forget the Lyrics: A great brain break or filler for those extra five minutes at the end of class, when things went a little faster than expected! Divide the class into two teams. Play a snippet of a song that the class knows, then “randomly” hit pause (I usually did it before the chorus, as that’s what my students knew). If the team can sing the next line of the song, they get the point. Each team gets their own turn, though if they’re wrong the other team can “steal.”


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End-of-Year Reflections

WOW, has it been an absolute doozy of a year. For reasons both professional and personal, I’m not terribly sad that this school year is coming to a close. Though I will miss my French program at my current school, I am really looking forward to a change of scenery and a new set of challenges as I move forward with my education this fall. I think it’s going to be really good for me. I really appreciated Martina’s most recent post on finding your place in the world, because if there is one thing I’ve learned in my 28 (almost 29…gulp) years of life it’s that you might make a plan, but you never know what factors could influence the path you’ve imagined for yourself. It’s impossible to predict who you’re going to meet, what connections you’ll make or what opportunities may arise that influence your journey on (or deviation from) that path. I leave my high school teaching position with the plan that I’ll return at the conclusion of my studies, but the idea that I very well may not is always at the back of my mind. So it’s with that in mind that I write my end-of-year reflections.

No one is a prophet in their own land. I’ve had several teachers and administrators whom I admire tell me this over the course of my career. For the past two years in particular, I’ve been really trying to foster change and growth in my department, but it’s been a challenging road. I’ve done the best that I can to adopt a honey rather than vinegar attitude, which at times has been a challenge. As I move on, I hope that some of the things I’ve shared have made an impact somewhere, and that someone else will be willing to be the voice of change moving forward. Even if I never return to secondary teaching, I hope to keep helping other teachers move toward a more proficiency-based approach, and to continue fostering my own growth in that area as it is something I am passionate about.

Sometimes “less” really is less. In terms of my teaching practice, I tend to adopt a “less is more” attitude which I generally think serves me fairly well. However, this year I think I went a little too “less” and it showed in my students’ performance. It is always my goal to be more diligent in my planning, to more clearly target exactly what I want my students to accomplish, and I simply haven’t done that well – particularly not this year. An area for improvement in the future!

It’s all about the relationships. At the end of the day, your relationship with your students, your colleagues, and yourself is the most important thing. Whenever I feel badly about how little I seem to have taught my students, those are the moments when I overhear them saying, “I learned so much more this year!” which is really all I can ask for. School has become so high-stakes these days that it’s easy to forget that it’s just French class. What I do is important, yes, but I’m not curing cancer and most likely, the bonds I forge with my students will be remembered far longer than some of the content.

And so with that, I wrap up my fifth year of teaching and move on into the semi-unknown. I can’t wait to see what I’ll be reflecting on (and looking forward t at this time next year!


Music resources for French teachers!

I got a tweet from the fabulous Laura today asking about resources for French music, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite links!

I do Mercredi Musique in all levels of French (only for the past two years, but it feels way longer). It’s arguably my students’ favorite part of French class, and I like to keep it pretty routine and therefore, low-prep (like, seriously low prep) so we do the following things every Wednesday.

  1. I intro the name of the song, the artist and the genre. Sometimes, we predict what the song might be about (based on the title) but that doesn’t happen very often (mostly because I’m lazy and/or I forget).
  2. We watch the music video. I try to pick songs with school-appropriate videos; if there is a moment or two that is potentially questionable (I’m not about that parent e-mail life) then we have “technical difficulties” during those parts (aka I mute the SmartBoard).
  3. We express our opinions of the song and its video; I provide some helpful nouns and adjectives to that end, so I don’t have to listen to everyone say “c’est intéressant” all the time.
  4. I teach them the chorus; this involves repeating after me line-by-line and then making meaning of the words to get an idea of what the song is about. A bonus to only teaching the chorus is that the selection of songs you can use in class gets way bigger, because any stray swear words are typically in the verses and unless the kids have enough gumption to look up the lyrics and each word’s translation, they won’t know the difference.
  5. They practice the chorus with a partner.
  6. We listen to the song again, and sing the chorus each time it comes up.

My Mercredi Musique slides for the past two years are here and here. To find ideas for songs, I peruse (though a lot are in English), Spotify France, Topito, and Paroles de clip by TV5Monde. Because I want to get my students hooked on French music (and thus, my class) I try to only pick songs that are, in their words, “lit” which as far as I can glean means cool/catchy. There is the rare exception (everyone needs some Edith Piaf from time to time) but I really try to use songs that are mostly upbeat and fun; know your audience, though – sometimes the chill indie songs have been successful, but I try to play to a wide audience.


*Petite side note: As the school year winds down and throughout the summer as time allows, I will be uploading some of my units and other teaching resources on TpT (frankly, grad school doesn’t pay much and a girl can only eat so much Top Ramen). Just keep an eye out if that’s of interest to you!

My End-of-Year Confessions

Last year, I wrote a post on my End of Year Confessions and man did it feel good to get those things off my chest and, based on other blogs that I follow, know that I was not alone in my I am so done-ness. We still have 19 wake-ups to go before the end of the year (which seems like an impossible, insurmountable number which I know is overly dramatic but whatever) but, like the kids, I am just so tired. And so done.

All of the things I wrote about in my Confessions post last year are still true. I’ve been eating an embarassing amount of frozen food. I looked at my calendar and realized that the number of free, no-plan weekends I’ll have this summer totals…two. I haven’t been to the gym in weeks. And so, I really only have one new thing to add to this year’s Confessions, but it’s a big one, and the main reason my blog has been so quiet this year – because my attention has been totally, completely elsewhere.

I’m taking a break from teaching.

Well, sort of. I am returning to the classroom in the fall as a student, which will be funded largely by teaching undergraduate French classes as I pursue my Master’s degree in French and Francophone Studies at Penn State University.

It’s been a long time coming – I told myself when I hired in at my current job that I would give myself five years. I wanted to fully cycle through a group of kids from start to finish, see how much I could really accomplish and teach them. As of this year, I’ll have done that and even though I go through the typical anxiety periods of Am I crazy for leaving a full-time job with salary and benefits to live the life of a poor college student again? I know that the choice I’m making is the right one. I am taking steps to better myself, which will in turn benefit my students when I return to the secondary classroom. I live and work only 20 minutes away from where I grew up and while there’s nothing wrong with that, at almost 29 years old (and marriage & maybe babies on the horizon) I know that I need to go knock out a few more adventures. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking, Well, someday when I get my graduate degree… or Someday, I’d really like to move away and live in such-and-such city…but when is “someday”? It’s really true what they say – if you want something, you have to go and get it. Sometimes the best opportunities are the ones we create for ourselves.

So, that’s my confession – big changes are on the horizon! I am both excited and terrified; happy and sad. It’s been a mix of emotions and I’m really trying to not wish away my time here in Michigan because it will be gone before I know it. I do still plan on posting and sharing here; I am really looking forward to seeing what it’s like to teach college-level courses and how much of my high school teaching experience I can bring into this entirely new demographic.

Thanks for following along on this crazy journey and BONNE CHANCE as we finish up the end of this school year!

Thoughts on the STAMP 4s Assessment

So, I recently had the opportunity to administer the STAMP 4s proficiency test to a small group of my students across levels 2-AP (which is level five). I’ve always wanted to administer a proficiency assessment to my students but wasn’t sure if/when I’d get the chance, until my colleague and I got into a rather, ahem – shall we say spirited discussion of proficiency levels and what students could do at each (and that a French 1 student is probably not a reliable Intermediate Low). Our curriculum coordinator gave us permission to test 5 random (key word – random) students in levels 2, 3, 4 and AP. Because we wanted our data before our district-wide meeting that’s taking place tomorrow (March 15), we decided not to test French 1 until the end of the year. I’m not teaching French 1 this year, so that was fine by me.

Our district provided the funding for us to test our students – our ISD subsidizes some of the cost so it was only $10/student and our curriculum department took care of that.

The Test

The STAMP assessment has two sections – Reading & Writing and Listening & Speaking. You have to complete either reading or listening to do the output sections; it’s not an option to just do writing and speaking. The test is adaptive, so the reading and listening samples get harder the better a student performs. Their results on the interpretive section of the test also determine what kind of prompts they receive for the writing and speaking (three prompts each).

The Setup

The test is administered via computer. I have a laptop cart in my room for 1:1 use, so I had our tech specialist re-image and update the computers to make sure they met the tech specs for the test. Our department also has 30 headphone/microphone combo sets, so I made sure to have those on hand for the listening and speaking portions of the test.

Prior to administering the test, I used the index cards I have for cold-calling on students to randomly select 5 students per level. I offered them an extra-credit incentive to take the test (plus, they were excused from that day’s classwork).

Giving the test

On the website, it says that the interpretive sections of the test should take about 40-45 minutes, and the speaking and writing sections about 20-25 minutes each. So I planned to do two days of testing one week, and two days of testing a second week. The assessment can be stopped and resumed at any point – even in the middle of a section.

I have a large classroom, so I set up my test takers on one side and administered class normally on the other. It seemed to work just fine that way. We experienced a few technological issues, but nothing that switching a set of headphones or getting a new laptop couldn’t fix.

I planned the administration of the test around our Charity Week, which was the first full week in February; nothing big gets done that week in terms of instruction because there are so many interruptions, so I figured it was ample time to get the test done and over with before our March 15th deadline.

Reflections on testing

You guys. This test took FOR. EV. ER.

As in, I started in the first full week of February and I STILL have some students who haven’t finished. It is THAT MUCH of a time suck. I finally had to let it go – what’s done is done and their results are their results on whatever parts of the test they took. Seriously, the students taking the test were starting to miss so much class material that it became frustrating for me and them. I guess because of the adaptive nature of the test, it just naturally becomes more long but after 180 minutes of testing, the software quits recording exactly how much time was spent on it and just says “180+ minutes.” Time does not factor into their score, and neither the speaker nor writing portions are timed, so a student can very easily plan what they are going to write/say in response to the prompt. Recordings can also be re-done if students are not satisfied with their first attempt. In that way, I would say that it is much less of a proficiency assessment and far more of a performance assessment due to the processing time allowed and the lack of interpersonal interaction/negotiation of meaning.

The Results

Despite the enormous time commitment of the assessment, I have been so far very pleased with the results. Across all levels, students performed very well in reading, with an average score of 6 (Intermediate High) even in level 2; the highest score for reading was an 8 (Advanced Mid) by one of my AP students. Listening tended to vary wildly across the board, with some students earning scores as high as a 7 (Advanced Low) in AP and as low as a 2 (Novice Mid) in French 3.

In terms of writing and speaking, the majority of my students performed exactly as I thought they would, if a bit lower in some cases. For example, I have a student in French 2 who performs very well on in-class assignments and assessments who scored a 2 on writing (Novice Mid) and a 3 on speaking (Novice High), and a French 3 student who I thought for sure would be well into Intermediate got a 3 (Novice High) on speaking. That being said, the VAST majority of my students were in Intermediate range, with many scores of 4 (Intermediate Low) and 5 (Intermediate Mid) on speaking and writing across levels 2-AP. I had a smattering of 6s (Intermediate High) in speaking/writing for my AP students (and even one French 4 student). No one scored higher than a 6 (Intermediate High) on the speaking portion, which to me proves the point that an immersive study abroad experience really is required to get students over that hump into the Advanced proficiency range.




Micro-unit: Les partis politiques français


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In an effort to expose my students to as many cultural topics as possible before the AP test, I did a very quick, brief overview of the French presidential elections and the political parties in France. And I mean very quick. I could (and should) have done a lot more with this concept but I’m feeling a little panicky about the amount of material I have to get through in the next eight weeks so we did a very brief micro-unit so they are at least familiar with the system and the candidates, should anything crop up this year’s test (given that it’s an election year).

I slapped together a brief dossier (this does not include an article I found on 1jour1actu) for this micro-unit; there’s not much in it, it’s more of a guide to help me and keep my students organized.

Day 1: Look at the graphic on the front page of the dossier and brainstorm the major values of French politics; are they similar to or different from our values? How so? Examine the logos on page 2 and try to guess where the parties fall on the left-right spectrum. Watch this video from 1jour1actu: Ca veut dire quoi, droit et gauche en politique? The students then used their devices to go on I Side With and filled out the survey to find out which French politicians/political parties best fit their perspectives on a variety of issues. We culled vocabulary related to politics and political stances during this activity as well.

Day 2: We explored some of the articles from the presidentielle 2012 dossier on 1jour1actu, bearing in mind that the candidates are not currently relevant but the practices and concepts are basically the same. I also cut up the pieces of a document shared by a fellow teacher on the French Teachers in the US Facebook page (thanks, Debbie McCorkle!) that broke down the viewpoints of 13 major French political parties on issues such as the economy, the European Union, immigration, terrorism and the army, and the environment. I put students into pairs and assigned them a political party to be the “expert” on, then they had to share out to their classmates, giving only the essential information before moving on.

Day 3: I did a quick direct lesson (in the TL, of course) on how the French president is elected (le suffrage universel direct), how many elections there are (le premier tour, le deuxième tour) and how long a President is in office in France (5 years). We looked at some of the survey results from Le Figaro regarding current candidate popularity, and then did a Venn Diagram of all of our findings thus far regarding similarities/differences in French and American political parties and processes (days 1-3) I then assigned everyone the identity of a French politician for an in-class “primary” debate.

Day 4: Students researched their candidates’ viewpoints on major political issues (immigration, economy, etc) as well as the viewpoints of 1-2 opposing candidates to prepare for our debate.

Day 5: In-class whole-group role play with me as the moderator. I asked questions about various issues and called on “candidates” at random to express their views and challenge the viewpoints of their “opponents.” We also did a quick AP-style reading from a textbook on the voting process in France.

There you have it! Fast, a little shallow, but still relevant and engaging for my students, particularly since it’s been a year full of politics in the United States.