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!

 

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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 http://www.mcm.fr/top-50 (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.

Enjoy!

*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.

 

La Manie Musicale de Mars 2017

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It’s that time again: March Madness! For the college basketball fan, March is a huge deal of non-stop games that culminate in the college basketball championship at the end of the month. For the world language teacher, it’s a great opportunity to work more authentic music into any and all levels!

This will be my 3rd round of Musical March Madness, and it is my students’ favorite time of year – and that is no exaggeration. We listen to music pretty regularly regardless, but this is a special occasion that everyone looks forward to during the school year. And, to be completely honest? It also gives me a little bit of a break on having to craft 4 different levels of 50-minute lesson plans during one of the hardest months of the year (for me, anyway). I can take the same activities and use them in every level!

Typically I do a 16-song bracket, but as we have testing in March this year, and I will be absent a couple of days this month for various personal-life things, I’ve reduced it to 12 songs. I picked based on titles and artists that my students have enjoyed listening to over the years – however, the majority are not songs that they’ve heard before.

Please bear in mind that I also teach mostly levels 3, 4 and AP and therefore I feel comfortable choosing songs that have more mature themes. Know your clientele and make the choices that are right for you (and them!).

La Manie Musicale de Mars 2017

Soprano – Barman vs Willy William feat Keen’V – On s’endort

Vianney – Je m’en vais vs Fréro Délavega – Mon petit pays

LEJ – Seine Saint Denis Style vs Coeur de Pirate – Ensemble

Louane – Jeune vs Margaux Avril – Lunatique

Christophe Maé – La Parisienne vs Claudio Capeo – Un homme debout

Black M – Je suis chez moi vs Maitre Gims – Ma beauté

I’m excited to see who the winner is!

January: What I Read

When I was younger, I used to read for pleasure all the time. I had, literally, hundreds of books (still do, probably). I’m not sure why, but I got out of the habit of reading for pleasure while I was in college and didn’t really pick it back up again once I hit the workforce. I realized last year that it kind of bummed me out that I wasn’t reading more, since I think it’s a big part of self-care, so I did the 2016 Popsugar reading challenge and read about 20 books on the list of 40. While I didn’t get all the way through the challenge, I really enjoyed having a goal to meet and categories of books to read (like “a book with a blue cover” or “a book that’s 100 years old”) rather than “Read this exact title” because I could tailor the challenge to my tastes. So in December I decided to do the 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge and I’d really like to make my total more than 50% this time!

Here’s what I read in January, and how I’m counting it for the challenge.

1. 97 Orchard:97orchardcover.jpg An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman

Challenge category: A book with a subtitle

I’m a big history person (particularly social history, or anything that has to do with real people) and I happened to visit the tenement at 97 Orchard street this summer when I went to New York. I saw this while I was in the gift shop but didn’t buy it, so I decided to pick it up when I saw it at my local library. The book focused less on the actual families than I would have liked (and as it was advertised) and more on the food trends of the demographics to which they belonged. Still, it was interesting to see how people lived (and ate) in turn-of-the-century New York, and how culinary traditions from the “home country” ultimately became our culinary traditions (or have been totally lost since then).

 

2. The Pearlpearl.jpg That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

Challenge category: A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you / A story within a story

This book came highly recommended from a friend of mine and has generally favorable reviews on Goodreads but I was decidedly not a fan. I found it poorly written, poorly edited, and had such little connection to the characters or setting that it could have been a book about anyone, anywhere – not the situation of Muslim women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Likewise, for all the fuss they made about Rashima being the descendant of a woman who supposedly played a huge role in the King’s palace, she was there for all of about four chapters and didn’t actually accomplish anything or play any kind of significant role at all. Nevertheless, I finished the book and like I said – it seems many of the people who reviewed it on Goodreads enjoyed it, so you can come to your own conclusions!

veldhiv3. Je vous écris du Vel d’Hiv: Les lettres retrouvées by Karen Taieb (preface by Tatiana DeRosnay)

Challenge category: A book of letters

As I mentioned above, I am a HUGE history buff (in fact, it’s my minor) and one of my areas of specialization during my undergrad was France at war in the 20th century. I was fascinated by the story of La Rafle, and how little there was in terms of documentation – almost nothing was left behind, save for a photograph of a buses full of people parked outside of the former Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris. So that Taieb was able to track down 18 letters, written from inside the Vel d’Hiv, and put together the stories of the people who wrote them is, I think, remarkable. Hard to read, but important and so, so necessary. I think there is an English translation available to any non-Francophones who are interested in reading it.

Read anything good lately?