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?

Advertisements

Password

I’m not sure where I originally saw the link, but over the summer I came across a post about class passwords by Bryce Hedstrom and immediately thought to myself, I’ve got to try this! I am quite happy to say that it has been going swimmingly in my 4/AP split. I picked that particular class as a means of introducing and reinforcing more idiomatic language, but it’s definitely something I would consider implementing in my other levels!

I don’t have any particular rhyme or reason to selecting a password; sometimes it has something to do with our current topic of study, but more often than not it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just a particular quote I found interesting, or a funny proverb.

This year’s passwords so far: I typically make the students use the password in a complete sentence/in context if applicable.

tant pis! (too bad)

quand même (anyways, all the same)

mieux vaut tard que jamais (better late than never)

ça vaut la peine (it’s worth it)

avoir un poil dans la main (literally: to have a hair in one’s hand; idiom for: to be lazy)

à quoi bon…? (what good is…?)

à partir de ce jour (from this day forward)

de plus en plus (more and more)

plus on est de fou, plus on rit (the more, the merrier)

de l’autre côté (on the other hand)

Un sourire coûte moins cher que l’électricité, mais donne autant de lumière. – Abbé Pierre (A smile costs less than electricity, but gives as much light)

la soupe au pistou (vegetable soup; this was borne out of a weird dream I had in which I made this the weekly password and the kids thought it was so funny that they actually wanted to have it as the password for the week. I am NOTORIOUS for having school-related nightmares, so it’s a bit of an in-joke with us)

Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame/Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués (a formal e-mail closing; they’re required to memorize a few for the AP exam, might as well make it a password!)

il n’y a pas de mot de passe (there is no password – I forgot to come up with one, so this became the password)

il s’agit de (it’s about/it concerns – introduced as a way to correct students saying il parle de to relay information from another source)

365 nouvelles journées, 365 nouvelles opportunités (365 new days, 365 new opportunities; this was the password the week we came back from winter break!)

I really like the password not only as a linguistic function, but also as a relationship builder – it gives me and the students something to talk about as they enter the classroom and, as Bryce said in his post, kind of gauge where they are mood wise that day and I can check in with anyone I need to check in with. It’s also fun to hear a student use an old password in a real-life context; like when someone arrives to class tardy, there is always a chorus of “mieux vaut tard que jamais, Mademoiselle!” Or when I grill them a little bit for whining about something silly, “Oui, mais quand même, Mademoiselle!”

I’m always taking suggestions for more passwords, so feel free to share!

 

Professional Development in Vichy, France

Professional Development for.png

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

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 7.17.46 PM.png

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

open for.png

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

On Failure and Embracing Change

December is always a reflective month for me. In part because it’s the end of the year and I think everyone has a tendency to look back at the year that’s gone by as well as ahead to the year that’s coming. On a more personal level, December is my late father’s birthday month and I think often of him and how life might be different were he still here. This month, I lost a college friend to an extremely rare, unexpected illness just days after she was placed on a transplant list, and a childhood friend lost her mother hours after a double lung transplant that she had waited twelve years to receive. December also marks the anniversary of the biggest, most life-changing event I have ever experienced.

It marks the month that I flunked out of music school.

Many people know that I studied music in college and that officially it’s my minor. Some people know that I actually spent over three years as music major before switching to French. Not many people know that the reason I switched was because the music department at my university deemed that I longer had the right amount of talent to continue in my degree program and I had to find something else to study.

I had never failed on such an enormous scale before in my life. To say that I was crushed is only the half of it; I wanted to be a musician for my whole life, and I had spent my middle school and high school years preparing to that end. Private voice and piano lessons, music theory courses, singing in several different choirs, interning with my high school choir director, participating in theatrical productions, everything. After the failure, I spent the entire month of Christmas break in a complete fog and deep depression. I had no idea what was next for me or how to move on. All of my friends were music majors; I had lived in the music residential college. It was truly the only life I knew.

In January, a tiny voice crept into the back of my head. Maybe you could study French, it whispered. After all, I had taken language classes on the side and intended to minor in French anyway. I had a great relationship (and still do) with my French professors. The voice became a little stronger as I considered the prospect of studying something I actually felt good at, as I looked at the possibility of studying abroad: Why not French?

Looking back now, my failure as a music major was one of the best things that ever could have happened to me. I felt like I was made to study French, and immediately it felt easier than music ever had. I felt like a missing piece of my personal puzzle had finally been found. In studying French, I found so much joy and opportunity and everyday I’m thankful that I wound up where I am.

My failure also taught me one other thing: change comes whether we like it or not. Despite how much we may plan for our futures, none of us truly know what’s coming. At first, that was a scary sentiment but now it brings me comfort and a feeling akin to adventure or exhilaration. I have no idea who I am going to meet in the course of the next six months or a year, or what opportunities may present themselves that I don’t yet know about. I have no idea who or what may enter my life to change my worldview, to spur that little voice again that says Why not this?

What’s going to come will come – opportunity or misfortune, success or failure. We can’t predict or control it; what we can do is embrace the change and try to imagine what life has in store for us.

Here’s to 2017.

Come Into My Classroom

If I’ve been quiet these last few weeks, it’s because I’ve been struggling enormously to accept the very ugly reality my country has been living. Much like Amy, the election season and results have effected me enormously, as a woman and, without going into specifics, a member of a minority group that a certain President Elect has chosen to malign over the course of the last year and a half.

Then his administrative appointments came, and it started getting worse. Betsy DeVos is from my state and I can tell you very few (as in, not any) complimentary things about her stance on public education. Then, our state government began the process of dismantling teacher, firefighter and police pensions and healthcare, and things got even uglier.

I’m not sure where this overwhelming public negativity towards teachers came from, and I know teachers are supposed to remain publicly apolitical but our jobs are political. They have been politicized on a state and national level and one thing I’ve never been particularly good at is holding my tongue. So I won’t.

If you think public schools are failing, come into my classroom. Please let me prove you wrong. In fact, here’s an outline of my week:

We’ve studied geography, exploring the region of Québec. We’ve read and interpreted authentic Francophone legends, discussed their cultural implications and value and we’ve summarized and created together, synthesizing the information that we’ve learned.

We’ve learned how nearly half of the world’s population doesn’t have access to clean drinking water, the grave illnesses associated with that, and how our own actions can impact the lives of others. We’re researching solutions and implementing a plan of action.

We’re comparing family traditions not just between “American” and “French” cultures but how celebrations and traditions can vary across the many cultures represented in our classroom, so that we can better understand not just the world we live in but the people we live WITH in that world.

We’ve interacted with native speakers on social media. We’ve read, listened, written, spoken, sang, danced and laughed and did I mention?

We did all of this in a language that is not native to ANY of my students.

On a wider scale, our school is preparing a Diversity and Inclusion Day, in response to the hateful rhetoric currently infecting our country, to show that our diversity isn’t something to be scared of, but something to be proud of.

We’re gearing up for Charity Week, which is bigger and more loved than even Homecoming week and dedicated 100% to serving others. Lest you forget, in one week our school raised $84,000 for last year’s chosen charity. High schoolers. In one week.

So please, tell me again how public schools are failing our students. I’ll tell you again to just come into my classroom and see for yourself.