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.

 

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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.”

Enjoy!

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Professional Development in Vichy, France

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I mentioned briefly in my #authres August: version française post that I had just returned from a 2-week internship at CAVILAM in Vichy, France. I was lucky enough to be one of the 20 teachers nationwide who benefitted from a scholarship to attend this specialized training for French teachers. We were not the only teachers to attend, however – there were hundreds more from all over the world, not to mention the students who come for language learning, DELF/DALF training and other opportunities (though we did not mix with non-teachers in our courses).

The French Embassy in the US offered the scholarship and here’s what they offered:

  • 2 weeks at CAVILAM (registration paid by the Embassy)
  • Lodging in a host family (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Train tickets (round-trip) from Paris to Vichy
  • An allowance of about 225 euros to cover the purchase of books, meals and other incidentals
  •  A $600 reimbursement for the purchase of an international plane ticket

Not a bad deal, am I right?

Each week we chose 2 courses to take, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There were no classes on Wednesday afternoons, as that time was reserved for a seminar featuring a guest speaker (one week we had Tunisian writer Yamen Manai as our guest). Friday mornings there was always a CAVILAM-sponsored breakfast to mingle with professors and other students.

My courses:

I took four courses total from this list, which were:

  • Panorama de la société française en 2016
  • Améliorer les compétences orales et écrites avec TV5Monde et médias
  • Enseigner la langue et la culture dans une démarche culturelle
  • Lexique et grammaire en action

The Good:

  • TWO WEEKS in France on the French government’s dime! Doesn’t get much better than that.
  • An opportunity to collaborate with French teachers from all corners of the globe.
  • Living with a host family; my host family was truly the HIGHLIGHT of my two weeks in Vichy. They were wonderful!!
  • Access to numerous authentic resources – I seriously brought back a folder stuffed to the gills of ready-to-go resources and activities.
  • New teaching strategies! I got to see French teaching through the lense of native speakers, which brought new perspectives and approaches. In particular, I learned some really valuable writing techniques and new ideas for interacting with authentic resources. Exposure to the CECR framework (France’s measure of proficiency) was also really interesting.
  • Generally speaking, the professors didn’t spend a lot of time lecturing; there was a lot of hands-on practice of new ideas and concepts.
  • CAVILAM has a wide variety of cultural activities; every evening there was something going on, from movie nights to afternoon and weekend excursions (day trips to Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, Rocamadour, wine tasting, sports, food nights, etc).

The Not-So-Good:

  • For being a 2-week intensive program, I had a LOT of free time. I would have appreciated maybe taking 3 courses a week instead of two; but then again, I really like school.
  • Similary to the above note, I felt a little at a disadvantage since the second week we were at CAVILAM also happened to be the week of Bastille Day, which meant a jour férié on that Thursday, so no school. So in addition to not having our afternoon course on Wednesday, we also did not have it on Thursday which meant we didn’t experience the full benefit of taking whatever class we selected and missed some material.
  • It seems that CAVILAM combines courses; the “Lexique et grammaire en action” course was also the “Atelier d’écriture” (or something similar) so both sections ended up getting content we didn’t sign up for, and less of the content we DID sign up for.
  • I encountered a snafu when attempting to get my allowance, which was not really the fault of Campus France but it still was a major inconvenience; I had arrived early to spend a few days in Paris and thus chose to get my allocation the day of my departure from Paris to Vichy, which also happened to be a Sunday. Campus France assured me that the Western Union in question had Sunday hours (a rarity in France) but when I arrived, it was inexplicably closed. This meant I went several days without my promised allocation, and when I did receive it, it was prorated. Boo.
  • CAVILAM has on online “plateforme” that we were expected to sign up for and we were promised that all materials from the courses would be uploaded to the plateforme; some of us experienced that, some of us did not.
  • The cultural activities (namely, the excursions) were sometimes expensive (mais ça vaut la peine).

Overall, would I recommend this opportunity? Absolutely! If you are a teacher who is new to the idea of teaching for proficiency, you will leave with a wealth of knowledge and new ideas for practice. If you aren’t new to the idea of teaching for proficiency, you’ll still get some new ideas and you’ll be able to spend two weeks immersed in the French language and culture with very minimal out-of-pocket expenses.

If the SPCD Vichy training is something you’d like to experience, check out the application requirements at the French Embassy’s website! Bonne chance!

 

 

The Hard Truths

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In 2015, I attended the Ohio Foreign Language Association’s annual conference. I don’t live in Ohio, I live in Michigan, but I really felt that my state’s conference wasn’t offering sessions that aligned to my professional interests. I mean, I’m sure there are some people that get excited by sessions like Strategies for teaching the gerund in French but those people are not me.

That year, Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame was the keynote speaker. I thought it was a little weird – Dave doesn’t teach a World Language – but his message really resonated with me. If you’ve never seen Dave present, he is extremely high energy and passionate about hooking his students into the content he teaches. At one point in his message, Dave addressed the fact that people often tell him things like, “What you do is amazing! I could never do that, though – I’m just not that creative.” What Dave said next was like a punch in the gut (I’m paraphrasing here):

“I’m not creative” is a bad excuse and a cop-out to avoid change, because change is hard and uncomfortable.

It’s a materials adoption year in my district and over the last two years, we’ve been talking a LOT about proficiency and what that means. It has not been an easy process. I am not trying to be egotistical at ALL when I say that awareness of proficiency standards (and proficiency-oriented teaching methods) is…limited amongst my colleagues (who are wonderful people and, like all of us, do the best they know how to do). It tends to move in a cycle that looks a little bit like this:

  1. We agree that we want to be a more proficiency-focused department.
  2. We examine the proficiency guidelines and discuss their implications.
  3. We come to a consensus that Novice Mid (or even High) is a reasonable outcome for French 1.
  4. We try to design a level 1 class, but it ends up being based entirely on grammatical targets and say – should we introduce the past tenses at the end of the first year, or very beginning of level 2? And how early should we train them for the AP exam? But the grammar!!
  5. Well, that’s not really the point of proficiency and is probably going to set us up for frustration…
  6. Argument, then repeat from step 1.

So you know what? Like Dave Burgess, I am going to deliver a few hard truths.

Not because I think I have all the answers, or because I want to shame anyone who doesn’t think this way, but because once believed all of these things below to be false until someone else took the time to help my viewpoint evolve.

1. Proficiency is a REAL THING.

Language proficiency is a real thing, even if you personally don’t “believe” in it. When I say that novice mid students (those that are often in level one) cannot reliably speak in complete sentences, that is a fact rooted in DECADES of research by trained professionals. This means that your level one students, if administered a true proficiency test, will MOST LIKELY not use perfect subject-verb agreement, with extra details, in a nicely complete sentence. In the instances that they do exhibit “perfect” grammar, it is likely because they memorized a particular language chunk. Creating with language and sentence-level discourse does not happen reliably until the intermediate stage.

2. If you build it, they will come.

Or, in language educator jargon, if you provide [comprehensible] input, the students will acquireThey will. Even Johnny Boy who never does his homework or brings his textbook to class, or Sally Girl who is afraid to verbally participate in class but who can rock a timed writing. Therefore, conversely, if you don’t provide comprehensible input, your students will not acquire and the age-old paradigm of only the strong (or 4%-ers) survive will probably begin to manifest.

3. You do not need a special aptitude to acquire a second language.

Everyone on earth has acquired a language. EVERY. PERSON. ON. EARTH. How did they acquire a language? Nothing but input from another source (usually mom and dad). So why do so few high school students acquire Spanish (or French, or German, or any other second language)?

Because we stop providing input and start providing “knowledge.” We provide verb endings, stem-changers, DR MRS VANDERTRAMPP and basically a calculus formula for the uses and formation of the subjunctive. The “good at traditional school” kids thrive, and everyone else crashes and burns and drops out after level 2 because it’s “too hard” and now they feel like they’re not good at Spanish (or French, or whatever). And then teachers say the phrase I loathe more than anything – “Well, little Bobby really shouldn’t have been in level two anyway.” To me, that is a Dave Burgess-level cop out. When I hear that, what I hear is I’m only going to accommodate you if you can learn within my comfortable, familiar teaching style and not What can I, the teacher and the content expert, do to make sure that ALL students are successful in my classroom? 

4. Yes, ALL students.

All students who go through your language program should exit with some degree of language proficiency (NOT necessarily explicit knowledge OF a language system). Yes – every student. Even that student who only makes it through level 2. Even the one who never did a single workbook page. Even the one who still insists on saying “J’ai allé” even after you “teach” them the right way to say it (he’s still demonstrating comprehension of the concept, right?). Your AP students should not be the only students who go on to remember and use their French.

5. It’s not about you.

Change is hard. Change is uncomfortable. Change is time consuming, and slow, and frustrating. Teaching is a deeply, deeply personal profession and confronting areas for improvement within ourselves is often an emotional and difficult journey. But at the end of the day, our jobs are not about us; they’re about the kids who rely on us every day. If we want to foster a growth mindset in the youngsters around us, we as teachers NEED to model that growth mindset by making purposeful, intentional attempts to try new things and expand our horizons.

The bottom line is, don’t close yourself off to something that at first seems unfamiliar and strange – embrace it. Use it as an opportunity to discover, to stretch your thinking. It’s the hard truths that make us better than we were before!

 

Top 5 of 2016

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Another year of blogging in the books! I’m sure I’m not the only one who is more than happy to bid farewell to 2016 and who is hoping for a less eventful, more peaceful 2017. This was my most productive year of blogging yet and I have to say, I really enjoy the process. I’ve always enjoyed writing and having an outlet to do so has been very soothing, particularly since my real-life family and friend audience doesn’t always understand the trials, triumphs and tragedies that come with teaching. So thank you for reading! I hope, in some way, I’ve been able to contribute something to the profession this year.

So what did readers like in 2016? It seems my more reflective blog posts were all the rage but for some reason, my post on daily routine/reflexive verbs continues to garner a lot of traffic (I’m not sure why; it’s probably the most boring French topic known to man, other than chores, but I think it’s one many of us feel obligated to teach anyway).

The top 5 posts of 2016

5. La Routine Quotidienne

4. August #authres

3. The Power of the Do-Over

2. A Play on Write, Draw, Pass

1. Don’t Look Back

Mystery Student

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In the past 24 hours, the subject of “how do you get kids speaking in the TL?” has come up twice; once with a colleague and then again on last night’s edition of #langchat.

There are definitely a lot of strategies that one could use – I’ve written before about my love for Class Dojo and after a brief hiatus from the system I brought it back just to see how my kids would respond and sure enough; they’re back to wanting to speak more and more French.

But then, it comes time to set up an interpersonal speaking activity in-class. Those are always frustrating for me because I can never monitor everyone at once and am never certain that everyone has participated in the way that I would like them to. Enter the “mystery student” tactic which is very simple and has worked well in all of my classes so far (though I wouldn’t use it every day or for every interpersonal activity just to keep it novel).

  1. I announce to the class that I am going to randomly select a student. I will not tell them in advance who the student is. Since I have every kid’s name written on an individual 3×5 notecard, I can choose randomly from the stack.
  2. After I choose the mystery student, I announce that I am only going to be listening to THAT student, to see if he or she remains in the TL for the entirety of the activity. I still mill about the room so they don’t know who the mystery student is, but my ear is always trained on that one kid.
  3. If the mystery student is successful, everyone will receive points (no more than 5) for the activity. His or her name is then revealed and everyone thanks him or her.
  4. If the mystery student is NOT successful, then no points are given (just nul, not 0/5) and the mystery student remains a mystery. Better luck next time!

Give it a try! Let me know how it works in your classroom!

Petit Prince Chapters 10-17

French 4/AP continues on our journey of reading Le Petit Prince! It’s been going well, but is a long process due to the number of chapters in the novel and how often we stop to write/discuss/draw/summarize/etc. This is exacerbated by end of year field trips, AP tests, senior exams, and so on. Unfortunately I won’t have time for the mini-unit on soccer that I planned for this year which is a SUPER bummer, but I’m hoping I can start with that in a few of my classes next year, to re-cap the Euro Cup that’s happening in France this year. Otherwise, I plan on giving my exams prior to the official exam day, so perhaps on that long class period we can get out on the pitch and my soccer kids can show us how it’s done.

So, what’d we do for Petit Prince chapters 10-17?

Chapter 10

I printed out the illustration of the king that accompanies chapter 10, and asked the kids to write all over it and surround the king with as many words and phrases as they could in response to the question, “What makes a good king?” We discussed this together as a class, and then I read the chapter aloud to them as they followed along. When we finished, they journaled on a quote from the chapter – It is more difficult to judge yourself than others. They discussed their responses to this journal in small groups.

Chapters 11 and 12

I handed each small group a stack of post-its and had them read chapters 11 and 12 together (for my independent readers, they read alone). On each post it they had to tell me the following things:

  1. Key vocab they wanted to remember
  2. A quote or passage that they found interesting and why
  3. A 10-word summary of the chapter
  4. A question they had about the chapter

It was at about this point that I had a TON of kids out for AP testing and didn’t want to continue the book without them, so with those remaining in class, we did a roleplay in which the Little Prince’s flower is visited by a butterfly – what would the rose tell the butterfly about the Little Prince?

Chapter 13-14

The students read these chapters alone and updated their character maps. There was still a ton of AP testing going on at this point, so it was not as interactive as I would have liked it to be. We played Freeze Frame to re-cap the major events of the book so far.

Chapters 15-17

We had a couple of big discussion questions for these chapters, as the Petit Prince makes his final stop on his trip, on the planet Earth. The first was: How would you describe the earth to someone who had never heard of it?

In responding to this question, I asked the students to draw a visual representation of the Earth and note it’s major physical features, as well as other things they thought were important to know. We did a roleplay in which one person was the “alien” and the other had to explain the Earth to that person. We also did this as a whole-class activity, with me playing the role of “alien.” I really tried to ham it up and make them dig deep with their language – for example, a student would say, “There are big cities with buildings!” and I would respond, “What’s a building? Who goes there? What do you do? Why?”

Our other discussion question was about the role of snakes in film and literature – What do you think of when you think of a snake? In what stories does a snake play a big role?

We also played The Marker Game to review and did a few listening assessments.

Coming up next – we just finished what is probably my favorite project to do with my kids that follows Chapter 18 of Le Petit Prince. Stay tuned!