Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Hard Reset: A whole class intervention

I want to talk a little bit about a whole class intervention that I have used when things in class are going off the rails. But first: 

Who's responsibility is classroom engagement and cooperation*? 

Now, I am not a fan of anyone telling teachers that classroom management challenges are their fault- by any means- and I also know that my own actions and beliefs can lead to power struggles and problems. They are also in my control. 

This article by Angela Watson (Truth for Teachers) is a very good read about this topic: Is your "invisible throne" creating power struggles and unnecessary work?  I also went back and re-read this article (also by Angela Watson): How to respond to rude, disrespectful student attitudes.  

Ideas about controlling students (coercing them, manipulating them) is one way that White Supremacy manifests in classroom management, and in my work to dismantle systems of oppression and find places where White Supremacy is guiding my actions, I choose to reframe how I think about kids and behavior. 

*I prefer the term classroom engagement and cooperation over classroom management. It makes more sense to me. I don't want to manage students. I want to cooperate with them and engage with them.

Individual interventions

I get a lot of questions in workshops about individual kids and their behavior, and my response is always the same: approach with curiosity. Why is that kid doing that thing (usually blurting)? Do they know they are doing it? Is there a need not being met? Is there a relationship to develop? Depending on the answers, the interventions are going to be different. Kids are kids- and one strategy is not going to support every student. Also- consider: if it is just one or two kids that you are struggling with- how awesome is that?!? Celebrate that! Then approach those kids with curiosity.  In my Plan B post, I have a long list of possible individual and whole class interventions- take a look. 

Whole Class Intervention

This intervention is one I learned from Jon Cowart (I think) and mad props to him for his amazing work on classroom management. This is my version of a hard reset. 

However, please know- this is one intervention in a whole menu of interventions. And like many items on a menu, they are best when served with other items. I suggest adding a heaping serving of Plan A Minus or Plan B, if you're asking! 

This whole class intervention came about because I could not successfully teach a lesson. Students were interrupting me and disengaged (how is that even possible? They managed it!) and talkative and off task. This was a situation where the majority of students were not cooperating nor were they engaged- not just one or two- so I needed to approach the class as a whole.  Mind you: I was a "long term" sub with a very firm end date. I was not their "real" teacher and that was made perfectly clear, and not just by the students. So there were some factors that were out of my control. 

I had to focus on what I could control: my own practice. 

I started with curiosity.


So my reflective, curious questions to myself were:

  • Had I done a good job explaining the expectations? Did I go over the expectations ALL the time? 
  • Did I give students the chance to practice meeting expectations? 
  • Did I celebrate when expectations were met?
  • Were my expectations culturally responsive and appropriate? 
  • Was I consistent or inconsistent? 
  • Was I using the target language so that students were understanding the input? 
  • Was I talking to the students or with the students? 
  • Was I teaching content that was at all interesting to the students, or including them and their interests?  
  • Were there relationships that I could develop? 
  • Were there opportunities to develop relationships (with students and caregivers) that I could take advantage of? Examples would be sending a positive email home, or talking to the student's coach to find out more about them and their interests. 
  • What did the students -as a group- need that they weren't getting? 
  • Could I provide that with my time and energy and means? 

It became clear to me, upon reflection, that I had not taken enough time to set and practice expectations, and in fact, had not considered their input at all. Since I was a substitute  and had limited time with them, I made the decision at the beginning to use the classroom teacher's expectations.  With some classes that seemed to work fine. But with the 8th graders, it was not working.  Lots of things weren't working.

I also realized that in addition to expectations, students needed more structure- they were used to one thing, and they needed scaffolding to be able to do something different. Thus: the More Structured Input plan, aka Plan A minus.  I implemented both interventions more or less simultaneously, and although I didn't have a lot of time with students, it made the last few days with them more successful and more fun for everyone. 

Hard Reset

When students walked in, I had some kind of starter on the board, but instead of reviewing it, I sat on a stool in front of them and I said something like "I don't feel like class has been going well, and I think we need to come up with some norms and agreements so that I can do my job of teaching and you can do your job of learning. I have been very frustrated because I don't feel like I am doing a lot of teaching, and I get the sense that you all are frustrated too. So we are going to start over." I did this in our shared language (English). 

I made a classic T-chart on the board with the titles Student and Teacher. I asked them what their job was. Some shouted out, but most were happy to raise their hand and offer their ideas. For each student job they came up with, I said "so what does that mean for me?" and added my job. 

There was some negotiation, and some explaining on my part. Like when I had to say "the thing that I am most frustrated about is when you talk over me. I can't do my job when that happens. So how can we address that?" 

I learned that one student thought I was really mean and unreasonable- I had no idea- because of a comment I'd made that they misunderstood. I also learned that, for the most part, they wanted to be there and learn Spanish, and were incredibly frustrated with their peers that were being mean. 

This is important: Jon Cowart reminds us that expectations need to be OBSERVABLE. "Respect" is not an observable behavior.   "One person speaks at a time" is observable. 

I had to work with them (not entirely successfully as you will see) to keep behaviors observable. 

This is what we came up with in one class:

Image ID: T-chart with student jobs (listen the first time, focus, move quickly, Don't be attention seeking, use Spanish*, Hands to self, ask a friend) and teacher job (Give clear instructions, 2nd chances, give support, brain breaks, use Spanish*, be nice/flexible, use a kind tone)

This took most of the class time. We even did a brain break game in the middle.  Or maybe more than one!

I let the students know that we would be signing a document with these new norms in the next couple of days. (I wanted to live with them and see if there was anything missing or problematic before committing to them, honestly!)

Then what?

The following day as a starter (bell-ringer),  students were shown the list and asked to pick 2 agreements to focus on. They had to use a sentence frame to write about why it was important. They did this in English, our shared language. 

Image ID: A slide with directions for the starter, sentence frames "I will (choose one from the list). This is important because..." and a picture of class agreements. 

Before starting any language instruction, I went through the Norms in English and let them know that at the end of class, they would be reflecting on what they chose. 

At the end of class, I had them use the same scrap of paper that they wrote on to reflect-I asked them to put one to five stars on each sentence, one star being "nope, I didn't really succeed at this" and five being "I succeeded at focusing on this agreement". I collected these reflections but I did not ask them for names. I was curious to see if their self-reflections matched my perception of how class went- and it turns out, it did...mostly.

The following day, we signed the agreements, one at a time, and put them on the board, and again, I started class by reading them. 

Moderate Success!

And you know what? Between this hard reset and giving them more structure in class, I began to see improvement in both engagement and cooperation. It wasn't what I had hoped for- it wasn't the 8th grade class of March 2020, those dreamy kids who did everything I asked and then wanted more- it was the actual kids in front of me, being somewhat successful. More successful, at least.

I could see that there was an upward trajectory- progress was being made, and with patience and work, we could have a lot of fun and use a lot of language.

 Unfortunately, all that happened the last week I was subbing, so I didn't get a chance to let it play out in the long run. That's ok. I think small successes add up to big ones, and being able to have some discussions and do some things in class, in the target language, is actually a pretty big success!

I hope that this look at a Hard Reset, paired with some other structured input plans, help you! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

More Structure: Creating a Plan A Minus*

Plan A-Minus*

*Not quite Plan B, not quite low-fun input plan, but something else: when it's becoming clear that having conversations with students about something is something they are not yet ready for. Adding more structure. 

The Background

Two of my classes in my recent role as a long term sub needed something...a lot more of something. Or less of something.  Or just...SOMETHING.  

They were CHATTY. Like I couldn't say a sentence without being interrupted by something totally unrelated or by students having side conversations about whatever they felt like.  It was not fun.  There were some other behaviors as well, but it was the CHATTY that was making me insane. 

They also were very used to an output-heavy class and were very reluctant to engage with input.  

My Thinking

I had to make 2 interventions/shifts in my teaching in order to meet the kids where they were.  

Mindset Shift 1: Teach the kids you have, not the kids you want

I was a little caught up in my pre-pandemic teaching brain- pretty much constantly wondering why they weren't like the other classes, or why were they so completely unlike the class that I last had...the middle school kids that I adored and had so much fun with! It is so easy to dwell on wanting to teach the kids I wanted...not the kids that were actually in front of me.   

But I had to teach the kids in front of me, not some idealized version of the kids I wanted. Which meant I had to make some changes to the class structure because what I was doing was not effective. And that, my friends, was on me. 

This was a mindset shift that I had to work through- teaching the kids that were there.  (Thanks to Laurie Clarcq for naming this shift.) Once I made that shift though- it became a lot easier to manage.

Mindset Shift 2: MORE STRUCTURE

I realized within the first week that I needed to give them a LOT more structure. Some of this was the group of kids, some of it was because as a long term sub they were not interested in investing in me or my class, and some was just...well, I guess because. 

The (Original) Plan

My lesson plans were to teach the song La Gozadera, using plans from The Comprehensible Classroom (please read the disclosure about my relationship with The Comprehensible Classroom here.) I thought a song unit with lots of reading and culture would be just the right amount of content to finish during my time as a sub.  Plus,  I've never taught the song before and wanted to try it. 

The lesson plan (simplified) looks something like this:

  • Card talk
  • Clip Chat (movietalk) for beginning of music video
  • Watch video
  • Discuss video
  • Read about meaning of the title
  • Students do some reading activities related to the reading
  • Read more about video and song 
  • More reading activities

The Reality

When I looked at the plan, I saw a big looming disaster.

Nope. That was NOT going to work!

These students did not seem to be able to handle any kind of class discussion, and the free-form nature of Card Talk or Clip Chat seemed like a recipe for frustration and disaster. I believe that there would be very little input happening and a lot of frustration. 

I did some reflecting about what the challenges were in class, and what actually was going well (when it was!), and I decided that I needed to give students more structure. I also decided that it would be a good thing to trick them into thinking that they were creating with language (output) while getting them to attend to the input. I framed this in my own head as "the illusion of output". 


All of these ideas came from a mix mash of Jon Cowart's Weekly Packet, the Plan B plan from Martina Bex, Implementing Plan B (from me!) and Low Fun Input Plans from AnneMarie Chase, and my own experience as a teacher. 

Modification For Card Talk

I created a little response sheet- it was 6 or 8 open ended sentences: En la opinión de ____, _____ es/no es divertido/a. (In ___'s opinion, ____ is/is not fun.) 

When I say little response sheet, that is exactly what I mean. Since I print everything "2-up" (or 50% sized) and then copy it on recycled paper from the copy room- copy paper that has already been copied on one side- it was quite small!

Telling them that we would discuss each picture then fill out the form was like magic. Suddenly they were listening, and mostly responding to my questions! Engagement! 
After discussing someone's card, I filled in the blanks on the board and they copied them. (illusion of output, actually input!)

The Response Sheet for Card Talk 

At the end of the form, I had two open ended sentences for them to finish themselves, and then we discussed how they finished the sentences (also more illusion of output, but with the focus on me leading the discussion- that is, input). 

The bottom of the response sheet for Card Talk

Modification for Clip Chat (MovieTalk)

For the movietalk portion of the lesson plan, I created a slideshow with screenshots. Since the lesson plans ask the teacher to just use the intro to the video, I only used 3 stills for this part. 

A screengrab from the La Gozadera video plus vocab to use instead of a video 

I also created a little response sheet.  

Question 1 was ¿Qué ves? (What do you see?) 
I gave them some input first, then let them tell a partner what they saw, then I talked about their responses, and THEN I let them write. See how the input came first? 

Question 2 was ¿Dónde están las personas? (Where are the people?). Again, I showed the slide, talked about it, let them make predictions, talked about their predictions and why they thought that, and then let them write. Since I noticed that they weren't very good explaining how they reached their conclusions (which is an important skill in any language!) I lead the discussion down that road: What's your evidence? Why do you say that? Why do you think that? 

The third question was something like ¿Cómo están las personas" (How are the people feeling?) and again I got their ideas, led a conversation, asked them for some evidence for their thinking, then let them write. 

I also added a space for them to copy the Write and Discuss, just in case I decided that they needed that. (They did not, and I am not a fan of having students copy them in general, but I thought I might need that space!) 

Part of the ClipChat response sheet 

Watching the Video

For the actual watching of the video, I gave them a 5 Senses Video Viewing Form from Martina Bex and they had to fill it out while they were watching. After, I led a discussion. I really like this particular sheet because it allows them to write at the level that they wish- single words, phrases, and sentences. 

Prep Time

Now, it took me less than 10 minutes to make those response sheets- which may sound fast (and it was! Remember- I'm pretty experienced!). I hoped they would work - I thought they might be exactly the ticket- but I didn't want to spend a ton of time on creating. I was using the MVP principle in creating these: the Minimum Viable Product.  Basically, the idea is to create the thing that you think will work, and after you use it, then reflect, touch it up, change it, make it pretty if that's your thing. (I learned this from Angela Watson and it has been a HUGE timesaver mindset for me!)

What Happened in Class

To my everlasting joy, it went pretty well. I was able to give them the input because they felt like they were getting output. (Illusion of output, very structured output, lots of input!)

Once they bought in to the illusion of output, I was able to do the more free-form activities (Card Talk, Clip Chat) with much less difficulty. The response sheets gave exactly the right amount of structure to let the input still be about the students (their cards, their interests, their ideas).  

The reading activities were pretty straightforward and although I was surprised that they had never done activities like the ones I was asking them to do, once they figured out what I was asking for (reading, re-reading, reading closely, interacting with the text in a way (that forced them to make meaning), they were pretty cooperative.  

Note: I did a major behavior intervention as well- which I will post about at a later date, but I think the structure is what allowed them to settle in and let input happen. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Differentiation and more: Back in the classroom!


I spent the first three weeks of school…in school! I was invited to take over for 3 weeks while a teacher was out on paternity leave- so I got to start the year with students! 

Some students were those that I knew from way back in the Before Times- when I was teaching one section of 5th grade, writing curriculum for grades 3-5 as I went, and mentoring an elementary teacher in addition to teaching my regular schedule of Spanish 1 honors, Spanish 2 honors, and Spanish 1b.  Then the pandemic hit, and the rest was…well, you all know.

I did a week-long sub job last year for a colleague in Texas as well, but it was a short, quick week at the end of the year, and while it was wonderful and worthwhile, I didn’t really get to try a lot of new things. 

I got to try A LOT of new things this time! 

And wow, I had a lot of new things to try!  I was so lucky to get to spend time in the language labs at IFLT this summer with Marta Ruiz Yedinak, Skip Crosby, Annabelle Williamson, Hayiun Lu, and others, and to be a facilitator-coach at the Agen Conference (IN FRANCE!!!), embedded in Spanish with Adriana Ramírez. From all of that came a list of things that I wanted to try, observations, things I wanted to think about, etc. However, the theme of the summer for me seemed to be Differentiation. I watched as some incredibly masterful teachers modeled a TON of different differentiation techniques- some that were familiar and some that were totally new to me. 
In my next few blog posts I am going to share some of the things I saw, learned, and tried. Let's start with Differentiation and the Amazing Skip Crosby!

Differentiation: Skip Crosby Style

Skip was a language lab teacher at IFLT this summer. 

I should mention that Skip is a master at differentiation. It’s so subtle that if you aren’t looking for it, you will likely miss it, which is incredibly impressive because the students don’t even notice it. All they seem to notice is how successful they are any time he asks them something.  If you ever get a chance to watch Skip teach, treat yourself. 
(Side note: He hosts the annual TCI Maine conference, which is open for registration as of September 2022 and although I am not going, I am 100% sure it will be amazing. Click here for more information: TCI MAINE 2022)

Some things that I observed him doing included (some are very differentiation focused, some are just Skip being amazing). 

Accepting non-verbal answers

    As a learner (of Chinese) myself, I can not stress the amazing value of this practice. There are many times when I understand a question and even know the answer, but may not be able to or confident enough to verbalize. I have seen this over and over again. 

Using cognates

    Cognates, if you teach a cognate-rich language, are great *so long as everyone understands them!* Cognates are a literary skill and can backfire- imagine being the person in the class who doesn’t know the word that is “obvious”. Making meaning clear for cognates is one trick. Mike Peto taught me this: use a gesture (I use my two index fingers coming together) to indicate a cognate. When I do that, students can shout out what they think it means in English. Then I confirm. 

Changing the question when it was not understood

    I watched Skip ask a question and then realize that it wasn’t a good question for that student- that is, they weren’t able to understand or answer it- and smoothly repeat the question in such a way that it was understandable. I can’t quite wrap my head around how to do this in such a way that it isn’t obvious-like Skip did- but it is something that I aspire to. 

Letting one student repeat and translate to the shared language any time it was needed

    This practice is something that I have really struggled with. It was really eye-opening for me to see and hear Skip model this and to recognize how it didn’t interrupt or disrupt the flow of teaching or language. I know, based on research and practice, that using the shared language in class does not do harm to student acquisition of the target language, but I have always stopped this when it happened in my class. (Like last week.) Re-reading my notes from watching Skip, I wish that I had just let it run its course, and recognized that the student was getting what they needed in that moment.


    Personalizing our classes is one of the core practices of a comprehension based classroom - after all, getting to know our students and talking with and about them is in our standards! And it takes a while- and practice- to use the information we get from them in a way that works in class. Skip reminded me of the importance of this. Some of the things he did included referring to their pets and their interests and hobbies throughout the class.

Staying in-bounds- only using language that had been used in class and referring only to what had happened in class that day. 

  Out of all the skills that are necessary for a comprehension based class, staying “in bounds” is maybe the hardest. ESPECIALLY when you have students who are at widely differing levels of proficiency. (Like me, last week, with an 8th grader who had never had language instruction and the rest of the class who had 2+ years of proficiency driven instruction…) It takes a lot of intention and work to make it automatic, and compassion for ourselves when we don’t get it right.    

Differentiation in the Moment: A Game 


Using a simple game format, the teacher asks questions of students that they are confident they can answer. The teacher asks different questions of students depending on the student. 

What’s the point? 

Teachers can use a game format to build student confidence and motivation by asking differentiated questions during the game. Plus, this is a great “sponge” activity to use when only a few minutes of class remain. 

Teacher Directions: 

  • Students stand or sit in a circle.
  • Teacher throws a soft object at a student OR students pass object around until music stops. 
  • Teacher asks a question about the day’s input (or other known information) that the student can answer.

Student directions

  • Catch or pass the object as directed.
  • Answer the questions. 

For some ideas of differentiated questions:

  • What does ___ mean in English? 
  • How do you say ____ in [the target language] ?
  • Where did [person] go first in the story?
  • What is one fact about [topic]? 
  • [in target language] Yes or no: ______. 
  • “You ask me a question” (for more advanced students, in the target language) 


You can play this with a lot of different kinds of games- any game where you ask questions about something that you make up on the spot. I have done it with The Lucky Reading Game and also with a variation of 4 Corners.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE - Coming soon I hope! 
Differentiation and observing Adriana Ramírez, 
The Student who is new to Class and how she read a whole page of a story after 3 weeks
Not Quite Plan B, Not Quite Anything goes (adding structure when kids are squirrely) 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Live! In Person! Two-day training! Salt Lake City, here I come...

Warning: Shameless pitch about a workshop that I am leading. 

(It's my blog, I can pitch if I want to!) 

I am so excited to be able to bring a 2 day workshop to our Mountain West region. I have been working very hard at creating trainings that actually mean something- and frankly, I am really proud of the work I've been doing. I'm really proud of the aha moments I see from teachers, from the feedback that helps me grow, and of the confidence that teachers have reported feeling after the workshops. I'm also (and yeah-I am tooting my own horn here) really proud that teachers of languages other than Spanish (我 看 你们 中文 老师)feel supported. 

I also tried to make this particular workshop as easy as possible for people coming in from out of town- based on all the things that I find hard and expensive when traveling! 

The workshop location is in a downtown hotel, easily accessible by quick and simple public transportation (direct ride) from the airport, near places that I would actually want to eat. (I know, because I actually eat at the near by restaurants.)   We were also able to negotiate a reasonable hotel rate.  Finally, I designed it so that participants could potentially fly out on the second day (workshop ends at 1:00, with optional coaching in the afternoon), because who needs to spend another night in a hotel unless you want to? 

Oh, and you can earn graduate credits too!  

Here are the details:

Click here for registration

August 10-August 11, 2022

Teach and Assess for Acquisition 

Salt Lake City, UT 

Cost  $150.00

If you are interested in doing some in-person training with me, please take a look at the information on this link- all the details are here, including information about the hotel, what's included, more about the workshop content, contact info, and more, check out this link: Teach and Assess for Acquisition in Salt Lake City 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Projects in World Language Classes: An Opinion

image: classroom background with text overlaid that reads: Do projects support language acquisition?

Let's talk about projects, shall we? 

It's something that comes up a lot.   I am basing this on the number of posts about projects in every language teacher forum, even those that are dedicated to comprehension based teaching.  
Important: I am writing this piece, on my blog, about what I think. I am not intending to judge anyone for their instructional choices. I *do* want to explore some ideas that have been sloshing around in my brain around projects and their various purposes. Again, I am not writing this to say that anyone is bad or less good or anything else. And maybe, you might find some ideas that support you in your journey to be a little bit more comprehension based and/or a little bit more equitable, which *is* what I hope to do. 

Some teachers build their whole language curricula around projects. Others use projects to manage an otherwise unmanageable set of school expectations and duties (e.g. coaching, directing a school play, etc.).  Others have such fond memories of their own projects in language class that they can't imagine not doing them! And, finally, some kids love them, parents and admin often love them, and they do seem to part of the unspoken list of "Important Things to Do In Language Class."

What are projects? 

When I think about projects, I am thinking of things like:

  • Students write, edit, illustrate, and publish a text to share or include in the class library. 
  • Students make a craft of some sort, usually culturally relevant.  They might present about the craft as well. 
  • Students research a topic and produce something- a written or oral presentation or product on that topic. 
  • Students work together to create a skit  to perform in front of other students. 

Project Based Learning (PBL), a super hot New Thing, has a lot going for it too, and many schools are jumping on the PBL bandwagon to show how their students are using real world skills to solve real world problems.  Now, I have some love in my heart from project based learning as a general educator, and I have a lot of questions and critiques of it as well- again, as a general educator. Having watched my colleagues move to an integrated project based learning system (and being dragged along for the ride), I see how it *can* result in meaningful learning.  IN GENERAL EDUCATION CLASSES.  As a language teacher, I have a lot of concerns. 

A recent post in a language teacher group got me thinking about what the purpose of projects might be, why kids (and admin) ask for them, and how we can meet that purpose in a way that supports language acquisition.  

My Opinion: Most projects do not support language acquisition. Especially for novice and intermediate leaners. 

Teachers might choose to do them for other reasons, so again #nojudgement.  

 I have written before on this subject, but here's a summary of my thinking:  (excerpted from this article):
  • Projects are usually not level appropriate.  Most teachers overestimate what their students can and “should be able to” do, and most projects involve specific, contextualized vocabulary that will require time to look up and memorize, as well as discourse beyond their level. A good rule of thumb is “if they struggle with the activity, the task is too challenging.”
  • Projects are incredibly time consuming for both teachers and students, using time that could alternately be used to do things that help students acquire language (e.g. input). 
  • If the students have to produce something to share with others, either it is fairly low quality (because they don’t have the language yet) or it requires a great deal of time- consuming editing and correction on the part of the teacher.
  • Dr. Bill VanPatten talks a bit about project based tasks in chapter 6 of While We're on the Topic, and points out that project based tasks are not intended to practice language, nor are they appropriate for beginners. He gives some solid examples of tasks that might work in upper levels. He also speaks very specifically about Project Based Learning (PBL) in Target Language.  
Most PBL is beyond what students of language can do at the lower levels. Imported from educational contexts, PBL assumes ability with language. This is why it is a popular approach for learning science, history, and other subjects; speakers work in their first language to complete PBL projects, but beginning students don't have skills in the second language equivalent to their first language skills. So PBL in languages might be better for more advanced language proficiency levels."   (VanPatten, 2019)
  • Research in second language acquisition (SLA) tells us that practice is unnecessary for language acquisition. Students do not need to speak or practice to acquire. They need to listen to messages and read messages, that they understand. 

Background of bookshelves with text that reads: What need is not being met when stakeholders ask to do projects?

What do projects accomplish?

This is some new thinking for me: to really consider what it is that projects accomplish. 

When kids/parents/admin ask for projects, what is the purpose? 

What need is not being met (or not being visibly met)? 

In asking for projects, stakeholders might be asking for:

  • more "fun"
  • opportunities to follow their interests and personalize learning
  • opportunities to create with language
  • more time interacting with peers

Background of classroom with text that reads "How can we meet those unmet needs in a way that DOES support language acquisition?"

So my question becomes: are there other ways to directly meet some of those needs, while still giving students lots of input?

Yes! I think there are! My first idea is centered around reading, aka Free Voluntary Reading / Self-Selected Reading / Free Choice Reading. 

Background of books with text that reads "Free Choice reading accomplishes many of the same goals as projects".

Personalize Learning & Following Student Interests

Free reading is a great way to let students personalize their learning, follow their interests, acquire vocabulary that is relevant to them, and of course, to differentiate. When one student is reading about music, another is reading a story about immigration, and another is reading about a favorite sport, students are personalizing their learning. 

And remember- you don't have to have a huge budget to buy readers in your target language. There are many ways to get free and low cost texts in your classroom. (Hint: a printer and dollar store page protectors can go a long way!)  

You can read more about how I set up my free reading program here,  and from Alina Filipescu here: SSR/ FVR Reading Program.  Bryce Hedstrom recently wrote an entire book about it (which I have not yet read but plan on it!): High Impact Reading Strategies 

More time interacting with peers

Letting students talk about their books with each other is a very simple, quick way to let students socialize. Yes, I *do* let them speak in the shared language (English, in my case) because I only want them to do this for a couple of minutes. The payoff is huge as they get excited about their books, hear about different books, and engage in the habit of readers everywhere: telling people about their favorites. Andrea Schweitzer has a great activity for this as well- you can read that here, on Martina Bex's blog: Speed Dating your classroom library.

What about Game of Quotes? This game, from AnneMarie Chase, is social, fun, and lets students feel like they are creating with language...while re-reading. It's brilliant.

More Fun

Have you ever played Game of Quotes? Go do that. Have you ever gotten pleasure from telling someone about a book that you enjoyed? Let your kids do that! 

Background of school hallway with lockers with text that reads: "Co-creating narratives is fun, community building, personalized, and interactive."

Co-creating narratives (aka Asking a story, story asking, TPRS)

For some teachers, asking a story is really stressful and doesn't work for them. I get that, and also, it works for me and it one of my favorite things to do with students of all ages.   You can read more about story asking here and watch me do it with students here and here. 

When I co-create a story in class, I have a script outline (usually, but not always!). I ask the students for details about who the story is about, specific events in the story, and often the end of the story. Students contribute their ideas, and often these ideas are glimpses into what they are interested in. 

Personalize Learning and following student interests

When you co-create a story and are able to incorporate student interests in that story, it is all about them.  I know it seems like story asking is very teacher directed, but when student suggestions and interests are incorporated, the story really does become their story. From watching Storage Wars to riding on the backs of giant bison (a reference to some popular animated Netflix show), their ideas that are included (and even the ones that aren't included) create a sense that the language in the classroom is theirs. 

More time interacting with peers

I ask students to interact with their peers in a lot of ways, both during the process of story asking as well as after.  During story asking, I might let them turn to a shoulder partner to do a quick recap of what happened so far (in our shared language or in the target language, depending on the level), or to make a prediction, or to decide what happens next.  After the story is done, I might do any one of a variety of interactive activities.  Play doh scenes comes to mind, as do any of the small group variations of Secret Input. (You can even see a video of my kids doing some interacting here: Breathing Space, Resting Space.)  Some of my favorite activities from the SOMOS Curriculum, like Running Dictation, Write Draw Pass, Fan N Pick, and 9-Square and variationss all involve some level of peer interaction (depending on how you do it).  And don't forget all the input focused Kagan activities and cooperative learning that Martina has adapted! The Lucky Reading Game, from AnneMarie Chase, is a blast and is virtually no prep. 

Heck, I have even been known to let students write, with a peer, their own version of the story (I give them 20 minutes and very specific directions). Although they spend their time speaking English during the process, the payoff is a bunch of different stories that I can type up (correcting any irregular language), and that we can then read, illustrate, vote on (funniest, most probable, least probable, most creative, etc.), and add to our class library. 

More fun

Story asking is usually pretty fun, in and of itself. And playing with play doh? Yep, also fun. Any of the post-reading activities I listed above are pretty fun! Some are more prep, some are low prep, and some are no prep.  

Creating with language: Some musings 

Now, you may have noticed that I haven't really mentioned a lot about giving students more opportunities to create with language, although that may be one reason why projects are requested. 

Here's the thing: I think that it is possible to give students lots of opportunities to create with language, but I tend *not* to create activities that force them to do so.  The one glaring exception to this is when I ask students to do Timed Free writes (Fluency Writes).  Please read more about why I choose to do these, if you are curious. 

The reason I don't force them to create with language (with that one exception) is that I strongly believe that forcing them to create won't help them acquire, and it has the strong potential to raise their affective filter- that is- to make them stressed out, which will inhibit their acquisition. 

I will work on a future blog post about how I create opportunities to create with language at some point. Annabelle Williamson (La Maestra Loca) has a lot of brain breaks that support students creating language as well- take a look at her blog for some ideas.

One way that allows students to create with language is to give them rejoinders. 

I use rejoinders all the time, and I find that they are a great way to let students express themselves, even when they are beginning language students. For more about rejoinders, hop over to Grant Boulanger's blog and learn more. 

So, to sum up: when stakeholders ask for projects, it's worth it to ask ourselves: what needs are not being met that they think projects will meet? How can I meet those needs in a way that will support language acquisition?  

I hope this blog post has given you some food for thought!  

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Breathing Space/ Resting Space

Image: desert sunset. Text reads: The Exhaustion is REAL.  How do I provide input and give myself a break?

The Exhaustion is REAL

Over the last few months, I have been getting a lot of requests from teachers for activities that give them a break- activities that are still input-focused but let students work independently or in small groups. I hear you!

The feeling of being on all the time, of being the one who has to guide the conversation, to monitor every kid's comprehension, and the sheer emotional weight of taking care of every person in the room is exhausting.  The thousands of decisions we make each hour are overwhelming. Deciding which word to use, when to walk over to that student to check in on them, when to ask a question, when to stop and give students a break, all the while that we are managing the actual humans in the room, while speaking in a different language and navigating between languages...it's really, really hard.

Image: Desert sunset. Text reads: Breathing Space, Resting Space

Breathing Space/ Resting Space

So what do we do to make it feel like we aren't on all the time in a comprehension-based classroom? How can we give students input, that they understand, and not feel like we have to be captivating their attention 100% of the time? 

Luckily, there are a lot things we can do! Some things require some up-front work- either in finding or creating texts that are 100% comprehensible to your students. Here is an article that addresses that: How to write texts that your students understand (The Comprehensible Classroom)- but if you are working with a curriculum or novel that has texts that you are confident that your students understand, or you work to co-create a text (through strategies such as Asking a Story, Card Talk, Write & Discuss, etc.) you have a TON of options.

I decided to dissect a lesson, filmed when I was recovering from a major knee surgery, and share exactly what I was doing to give students input, allow for super low energy on my part, and get through a really rough time in my life.  (You can read more about some of the lessons I learned during this season of being on crutches here: Mindset Reminder)

Image: polaroid photo with colored pencils. Text reads: Listen and Draw.  Teacher reads a familiar text. Students draw events from the story. Activity Credit:  Laurie Clarcq, Hearts for Teaching

Strategy 1: Listen and Draw

I had students draw while I read. I asked a handful- a very small handful- of comprehension questions to make sure that they were really understanding, but what I was reading was the typed out text of a story that we had co-created, so it was familiar and easily understood by students. In this activity, I had students use whiteboards and markers, but any kind of paper/writing utensil combination would work.  I also had them draw 4 pictures, dividing the whiteboard in 4 boxes.   Read more about that here: Secret Input

Activity Credit: Laurie Clarcq, Hearts for Teaching  Honestly, I don't know where I learned about this, but it seems *likely* that I learned it from Laurie. It is one of several strategies that fall into what I call "secret input" strategies, that I have presented on a few times.  If I learned it from you, please let me know so I can credit you! 

See this strategy in the video below at 0:22. 

Image: Polaroid with an image of a stamp that reads Top Secret. Text reads: Secret Input. Students: find the text that matches the picture. Underline it in your copy of the text.

Strategy 2: Secret Input

 Find the text that matches the picture (Secret input variation)

Once we had pictures, I had students prop their whiteboards on their chairs, find someone else's whiteboard, pick a picture, and, using a written copy of the text, find the best sentence to describe the picture. Then they had to underline the sentence in the text that matches the picture. They had to do this five times. 

See this strategy, including how I give directions in the target language, in the video at 9:24. 

Image: Polaroid with students of color at a table looking at pictures. Text reads: Picture Share. Students highlight their own or another's picture and read the accompanying text

Strategy 3: Picture Share

Students highlight their own or each other's art.

After students glued their copy of the story in their interactive-ish notebook, they were invited to share their own or someone else's art. My role was calling on the kid, clarifying which picture, and listening. The kids did all the work AND celebrated each other! 

In video: 15:46

Brain break!

Brain break: Pikachu (From La Maestra Loca) 

Bonus! Practicing when students did not meet my expectation of going back to their seats silently. 

In video: 18:50

Image: Polaroid of chrysalis becoming a butterfly. Text reads: Before or After? The teacher reads an event from the story, and asks students to write what happened before or after. Activity credit: The Comprehensible Classroom

Strategy 4: Before or After

This is a low-to-moderate energy activity. While it is teacher led, it feels very low energy to me because all I am doing is asking students to re-read the text and find the answer to one of two questions (which required no prep on my part), then copy the answer on their white board.  I think that it feels low energy to me because while students are writing, I am drinking coffee, futzing with the music, reading over their shoulders, providing hints or support, etc. You can read a detailed description of this activity here: Before and After. I learned it from Martina Bex. 

In video: 20:20

Another Brain Break

Brain Break: Toe Tapping Brain Break

I have NO idea where I learned this from, sorry! If I learned it from you, please let me know and I will credit you! 

In video: 29:18

Strategy 5: Draw and Write a prediction

This strategy only works for some teaching contexts- specifically, when one is teaching a novel. In this class, we had read chapters 1-5 of Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro, then diverted a bit from the novel to  ask a story.  To bring us back to the world of the novel, I asked students to draw and write what they thought would happen next in the novel. This activity was adapted from the Teacher's Guide. 

Note: That day, before I went home, I picked 7 or 8 of the best predictions, corrected any language errors, and put them in a slide show to print out.  When we next met as a class, I put the printed slides around the room and had kids walk around, read the predictions, and then vote for funniest, most probable, most improbable, and most creative. This was another way for me to get them to interact with input without me leading the class- but it did require prep on my part.   

In the video: 30:15

High Energy Strategy: Weekend chat

For the last few minutes of class, I asked students what they did over the weekend. So you can see what it looks like! Read more about weekend chat here: Weekend Chat

In the video: 34:28

The Video

Here is a *very* long, unedited, un-captioned, imperfect video in Spanish that shows most of the  this lesson. I am sharing this so if you want to see what some of these strategies look like, you can! This video is unique in that I was about 4 months post-knee surgery, and I was on and off my crutches throughout the video. I was a real mess during this time period (because of the surgery and accompanying massive pain levels and stress of not being able to do anything that I wanted to do, e.g. ride my bike), and I think the video really shows how you *can* provide tons of input without being captivating or high-energy.  

About this video: Students are in a Spanish 1B class in April of their 8th grade year. For most, this is their 2nd year of Spanish in a comprehension-based program.  All students have permission to be used in this video. 

Minute by minute guide 


Directions for Secret Input: Read and Draw


Directions for Secret Input: Find the Text 


Secret input: Picture Share


Brain Break: Pikachu

Practice returning to seats quietly!


Before or After reading activity


Toe Tapping Brain Break


Make a prediction: Draw and write


Weekend Chat (brief!)