Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What's new in my classroom #3: Unsheltering grammar and rugs

This week, I want to talk about unsheltering grammar and the use of rugs.  Yes. Rugs.

In TCI/TPRS/CI/CCLT,* we often use the phrase "Shelter vocabulary, not grammar." Well, this is a fine saying, but what the heck does it mean? How can I shelter vocabulary when there are different words to use if I want to un-shelter grammar?  How do I not overload them?  If my class seems like they can barely handle the most common, frequently used words in the present tense, but not much more, how can I unshelter grammar?

This is something I personally have been struggling with since I started this journey.  How do I find the balance?  I mean, it seems to me that walk and walked are the same (camina and caminó) but some of those other words are just..well, different.  How do I know what to do?

Last summer, I learned a great definition of "Shelter vocabulary".  This comes from the talented Donna Tatum Johns: to protect my students from words they don't know.

Ok, that sounds great.  I focused on that for a few years.  It is a hard skill to learn: how to stay in-bounds, how to use familiar words and add words as needed that are high frequency, and how not to end up with a board full of new words at the end of a class period.  It's taken me a while to feel like I am confident with this skill.

So what's next?  How do I "unshelter" grammar?  I know that lots of teachers use past tense day one with their kids.  How do they do that?  I know that some teachers use the subjunctive from day one with their kids. Um, how?  But if they can, I can.  (Of course, being sure about how to use the subjunctive in Spanish is its own separate challenge, but thankfully all the reading I do during FVR has solved that one on its own with no concious help from me. Krashen for the win!)

After playing around with some ideas, and attending a fantastic workshop session at IFLT18 with Donna Tatum-Johns, here are some ideas that have stuck.

First and foremost, and the rule that I keep in mind when unsheltering grammar, is to use words that they have already acquired.  They know walk, so walked is not a big reach.  They know the phrases "It is important" and "She is nice."  It is not a huge stretch for me to combine these to say "It is important that she is nice."  Especially if I am doing lots of good comprehension checks.

Talking about the past
I *always* do two of the three following actions when I use past tense.
  • I move to the rug that says "pasado."  Slowly. Sometimes I move back to the middle of the room and slowly move back to the past tense rug, and repeat the sentence again.
  • Past tense rug
  • I gesture one hand over my shoulder to indicate past.  (I do this if the classroom is not set up for me to easily move to the past tense rug.
  • I do a comprehension check: "Did I just say she walked or she walks?"  "Am I talking about now or yesterday?" etc.  
I started doing more weekend talk and, along with the past tense rug, I use these great free resources from TPT (by a colleague).  I stopped being scared.

Using the subjunctive...not that scary
A couple of years ago, I noticed that my students were trying to form sentences that required the subjunctive, but how could they since I almost NEVER used it myself?  Uh oh!

The poster
Chris Stolz to the rescue.  This blog post changed my teaching- I started incorporating a ton more subjunctive casually in conversation, thus making myself more comfortable with it.  Then I realized that I should make it visible, so I made the poster, and every time I used it, I would point to the poster and we would sing the word "subjunctive" with some jazz hands.  (Yes, I know that is the noticing hypothesis and completely unproven.  But it's fun.  And my hope is that it makes them less scared of it when they get to Sra. Grammar Teacher in the future, with the long list of subjunctive clauses and stem changing verbs.)  

Finally, I realized that in moving to point to the poster, I was moving to the same spot on the rug on the other side of the room...thus, subjunctive rug.

I don't know what this will do long term, but it is forcing me to a) unshelter grammar more, and b) slow down and do more comprehension checks.

** TCI- Teaching with Comprehensible Input
TPRS- Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling ©
CI- Comprehensible Input
CCLT- Comprehension-based Communicative Language Teaching

Thursday, December 6, 2018

What's new this year #2: Positive adjectives

If you know me or have been reading this blog for a while, you know that diversity, inclusion, and social justice are as important to me as comprehensible input.

There are so many ways that these two passions meet and I am so grateful for the privilege to think hard and try to eliminate bias and use inclusive pedagogy in my teaching.  I am grateful to my colleagues and friends who want to talk about bias, and to the university (where I am an adjunct teaching a Methods course) for providing training and support in deconstructing bias and being more inclusive.  I just finished reading "Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria" and my mind is racing with ways I can bring some of the things I learned into my classroom.

In the meantime, while I cogitate, I want to share one thing that I changed this year that has had a HUGE impact on classroom culture and teaching.

Years ago, I attended a workshop presented by Elevate Education Consulting (Anna Gilcher and Rachelle Jackson) about how to be more inclusive and reflect positive values through TPRS stories.  It was life-changing, and I have continued to attend workshops and presentations by this amazing duo.  One of their handouts includes a list of diversity-positive attributes.  (This is *not* the link that will take you to the most updated version, but it is all I could find!)

Although I had the list by my side, I never made it visible to the kids.

This year, I decided to buy a $3.00 window shade from a home decor store (bad call, should have paid more as it falls constantly, but it works!) and write out the adjectives with their definitions (in light blue because that was the only blue sharpie I could find).

What I have seen:
The students ask for me to pull the shade down when we do birthday compliments.
They have started using the words even when I don't have it visible.
Our TPRS stories are kinder, more inclusive, and more real.

This was *so* simple.  But I think it makes things nicer!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

What's new this year: #1 Celebrating birthdays

There are a few new things that I am trying this year in my classroom.  Here is a series of short posts about them.

#1: Celebrating birthdays

I am terrible about celebrating birthdays.  This goes for my personal life (sorry, friends) and even more so in my professional life.

Last year, Laurie Clarcq did a presentation in Comprehensible Online about classroom culture and it was so chock full of ideas that I was instantly inspired and overwhelmed.  I decided to pick one thing that I felt that I could manage, and made a plan to do it. That one thing was celebrating birthdays in class.  Laurie modeled how she has kids give each other compliments when it is their birthday.

While idly browsing someone else's blog (and I have no idea to whom it belonged, sorry!)  I found this AMAZING free resource on TeachersPayTeachers, which is basically a starter for birthday compliments. It is SO good that I did not edit it at all.  I just printed it up (half size, to better fit in interactive-ish notebooks) and passed it out to the kids.

That was the easy part.

Write the birthdays down in a book.  
Then came the "remembering the birthdays" part, something that I am terrible at.  I decided to get a school calendar from the dollar store and write each kid's real or half birthday in it.  It took about an hour of precious late summer time, but hey, I got it done.

Dollar store score!  
I also decided to make a kid check the calendar as part of class job.  This turned out to be great if it was the right kid for the job, and not-so-great if it was the wrong kid.  One sweet, sweet girl came up to me in early November to tell me, nearly in tears, that she had forgotten to check the book and that we had missed another student's birthday, and asked me to fire her.  Instead, I allowed her to resign and we found someone else to take that over.  In another class, the student comes in each day and tells me everyone's birthday in each of my classes, for which I am grateful.

When it is a student birthday, I ask the kid whether they would like us to write or speak our compliments.   Either way, the whole class gets out their compliment starters (that are in the back of their notebooks) and a whiteboard. They have a few minutes to think and write.

If we are speaking, I just take my phone and film each kid as they read what they wrote.  If we are writing, the kids line up the whiteboards and I film myself reading them.

Finally, I send the video to the birthday kid, cc'ing the parents so they can see it too.  Sometimes the sound doesn't record, which is a bummer, but it's still better than not doing it.

I wish I could measure the impact this has had on my classroom this year, but it is impossible to separate it from everything else.  Suffice it to say that I feel like this is the best year ever as far as classroom culture and classroom management.  This has got to be a big part of it, and the joy in the room is palpable.

I love my job!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Secret Input

Here is my handout from the ACTFL presentation.  

Super special thanks to everyone who came and supported me- we guessed that there were more than 200 people!  

This is not the presentation, but all the info *in* the presentation.

Monday, November 12, 2018

ACTFL: Come visit!

This is a super short post to invite folks to come see me at ACTFL.

Here are some time certain places and events that I will be participating in:

Friday, 11:30-12:20
Comprehensible Comedy Hour- presented by the CI Posse
Ernest Morial Convention Center
Room: Exhibitor Workshop Room #3

Friday, 6:30 
#SOYSOMOS- SOMOS meet up- meet Martina (and me) and share/ask questions
Follow Martina Bex at #ACTFL18 or #SOYSOMOS on the twitter for the secret location!

Saturday, 1:30-2:15 MY PRESENTATION!!! 
Secret Input, presented by me
Ernest Morial Convention Center
Room: Room R02

Sunday, 11:00
Demo:  Cardtalk (presented by the CI Posse)
Ernest Morial Convention Center
Room: Exhibitor Workshop Room #3

I look forward to meeting you!  Please stop by!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

What goes in the gradebook....

I have seen a lot of questions about setting up a gradebook lately on social media.  So, here's my response.

First, I have some flexibility in how I set up my gradebook.  Most teachers at my middle school use categories like Tests, assignments, projects, and citizenship.  All teachers have a citizenship category, but we have flexibility to define it.

After working with a great administrator for a couple of years, our language department moved to the following: Assessments: reading and listening, Assessments: Speaking and writing, Language Participation, and citizenship.  We all have different weights depending on the level and grade for each category, but we pretty much agree on what the categories mean.  This is as close to proficiency based grades as we can get within the system that we have at our school.  It is not perfect, but it is a good compromise, and student grades now tend to reflect their language abilities at their level.

Language Participation
First, it's important to know that we define participation as engagement- NOT as speaking. Students can get 100% in this category and never produce an original, spoken sentence.  They are, however, expected to respond to questions, respond chorally, and be engaged.  "Work" also goes in this category, which in Spanish mostly means whatever they do in their Interactive-ish notebook.  Any (rare)  homework assigned and anything that is not an assessment goes here too.  Truth be told, there aren't too many assignments in this category outside of the interactive-ish notebook and our weekly daily engagement grade.  For more information about how I assess their interactive-ish notebooks, check this out. 

What we actually expect from the kids in class is this: listening to understand, one person speaking at a time, signaling when the teacher is not clear, doing their 50%- defined as responding enthusiastically and all the time (chorally, or to individual questions at their level), getting as much comprehensible input as they can, and supporting the flow of class and language.  We modify this based on individual students (i.e. eye contact is tricky for some students, etc.).  We use a slightly modified version of this rubric. 

Adapted from MagisterP 

Depending on the age/grade/level, students self assess daily or weekly, write down their score, and at the end of the week, come up with an average.  (I tell them to eyeball average it.  And that a .5 is fine.)  Then, the teacher goes through those scores, agrees or disagrees as appropriate, and puts them in the gradebook.  Weekly engagement grade complete.    Our version has 8 weeks on one double sided page, so it is easy to keep track of and we don't use a ton of paper.

This is a required category, so we decided that it has to do with two things: being prepared for class with their notebook and something to write with, and getting tests and quizzes signed by parents. (Another school expectation).   To keep it simple, we start by giving kids 100 points per trimester.  As they forget something, they sign a Citizenship log, and we periodically go through the log and deduct points from their 100.

Assessments: Reading and listening
This is what my gradebook looks like- or at least a few things!  
We use the reading and listening assessments included in the unit plans for SOMOS in Spanish 1, 1A, 1B, and 2.  We tend to give some kind of interpretive quiz for each unit, sometimes more than one. For my units that don't have included reading assessments, I have started using a text from the unit (or one that I write) and one of these forms to grade it.  For more info about how I grade these, see this post.  

Assessments: Writing and Speaking
The title of this category is a bit of a misnomer as well as we only assess speaking once, during their 8th grade year.  (They are novices! They need input, not "practice speaking" or presentations. But it looks good.)  

Most of the SOMOS units include writing assessments; for the ones that don't, either we do a timed freewrite or a focused freewrite based on the target structures or content of the unit.
For more information about how I actually grade these, see this post.  In 7th and 8th grade (Spanish 1, 1A, 1B, and 2- we have honors classes) we also do timed freewrites weekly, and grade them about every 4-5 weeks per class.

The weight of each category changes depending on the level of class.
Span 1A (7th grade):   Writing/speaking: 20%, Listening/reading: 40%, Language Participation: 25%, Citizenship, 15%
Span 1B (8th grade):  Writing/speaking: 30%, Listening/reading: 45%, Language Participation: 15%, Citizenship, 10%
Span 1 (7th grade honors): Writing/speaking: 25%,  Listening/reading: 50%, Language Participation: 15%, Citizenship, 10%
Span 2 (8th grade honors): Writing/speaking: 40%,  Listening/reading: 35%, Language Participation: 15%, Citizenship, 10%

Note that the highest class level has more weight on what they can actually do.  This is an experiment for me this year- previously it has been more in line with the other classes, but I feel like I want their grades to reflect what they can actually produce at that level (but only that level!).

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Lesson Planning: how I power-plan to make day-by-day planning easier

First and foremost, when lesson planning, I need time.  

I need time that is productive for me.  I know that I am a morning thinker.  I can just about manage copies, if they are not complicated, in the afternoons or after school.  Maybe some emails.  (Maybe not, says the teacher that emailed the wrong parents about a kid on Monday afternoon.  #teacherfail.)  For me, this means  I utilize my morning preps and before school time very intensively.  If you haven't thought about your own most productive times, I highly encourage you to do so.  

Something else to consider when thinking about when to lesson plan (which I consider to be a very important step in the process) is to set aside time every week to do so.  Once I started blocking off my morning prep period and before school time on a certain day for lesson planning,  I stopped feeling so overwhelmed.  Mind you, this works for me because I power-plan.  (That is what I will describe below.) Basically, I do all the thinking, resource gathering, etc. in one go (if possible) but none of the prepping (copying, making manipulatives, etc.).  Then, once a week, I power-prep.

Angela Watson over at (and leader of the 40 Hour workweek) is my inspiration and guide for helping me manage lesson planning much more effectively.  Her advice is why I really only work 40 hours.  

Also, it's worth noting that as a TPRS/CI teacher, I still follow a purchased curriculum.  (SOMOS, by Martina Bex, if you were wondering.)   Now that I have taught most units a few times, I don't necessarily follow it exactly as written, (as in,  I add, drop, create, and personalize more for my context) but it helps me a great deal to have a general idea of what is going to happen.  That being said, if I am starting something new that I have never taught before, it looks very similar, but with fewer resources I've saved to dig through.  And it does take more time. 

Something else that is important to know: I plan ahead.  For example, at the moment, I have one group working on SOMOS 1, Unit 2, and they are about halfway through it.  Another two classes are doing a long-term Food and Flavor unit, adapted from this post.  My Spanish 2s are finishing up Somos 1, Unit 21, Aventura de Camping, before their actual camping trip, but they are nearly done with it (it's short but sweet) so I am going to focus on them first, since they will be first to start a new unit.  

Big picture planning:  

Last year's year at a glance page
I have a scope and sequence for all my classes that I have created through trial and error, and I *roughly* follow it, depending on if I think it was a good idea or not.  I also keep a document like this from every year for each class.  A few times of year, I sit down and write in what units we did, and roughly when I started them and when they ended.  I save these year to year to see what happened previously.

  Based on these two sources, I know that I want to teach SOMOS 1, Unit 14 next.  

If you are feeling overwhelmed by resources, check out this post by Angela Watson.  She has a lot of great material and I credit her for helping me be more efficient.  

Here is what I do  

Step 1: Gather resources
For me, this means: collab files from the Collab drive, paper notes from my paper lesson plan, re-reading what I put in my evernote file, pulling any activities from my paper files, and if I am really on top of things, looking at saved posts from Facebook. 
Paper Files
*For how I organize my electronic and paper materials, take a look at this post.  This helps in the efficiency department as well.* 

What it looked like this week:  First, I pulled out the paper lesson plan from my binder and all the various things I have for unit 14.  I checked out my evernote file, and I skimmed through the Collab drive and found a cool activity that I downloaded.  I saw that I had noted that a lot of my kids were using subjunctive clauses (es importante que, quiero que) in their final writing assessment for this unit, but most were not using it correctly.  Then I remembered that I went to a fantastic session at IFLT18 on using advanced structures with Donna Tatum-Jones, so I pulled up my notes from that session and read those through as well.  Finally, my paper lesson plan had a big sticky that said "escucha activity in file", to remind me to grab the class set of an input-based reading game that I had made previously that is in the manipulatives file.  This whole step took maybe 15 minutes.  

Step 2: Ask Questions

  • Do I need an assessment for this?  Hint: the answer is not always yes. 
  • Do I have assessments already? Did I like them?  
Note:  I have made it part of my practice to note when assessments aren't great, or need tweaking.  That gets noted in the paper lesson plan, usually on a sticky.  It'd be better if I just fixed it (for next time) when grading them, but sometimes I just don't have the mental capacity to figure out what went wrong.  A note like "no advanced option" or "needs scaffolding" usually suffices, and then I have time to fix those when I actually sit down and plan the next time that I teach.  Click here for more about how I deal with assessments in reading and here for writing. 

  • What are the reading resources that are going to get glued in the interactive-ish notebooks?  What else do I want them to glue in? 
  • What are the actual things (activities, tasks, readings, story-askings, ClipChats, songs, etc.) that we are going to spend our time doing? 
  • Are any of those resources from Step 1 too good to leave out?  
  • CRITICAL QUESTION:  How much time will it take to make those something that is truly input-based and is that a good use of the time I have available?  Is it a 5 minute thing where I gloss some words, or is it recreating the whole thing so it works in my context?  Is it worth it?  

What it looked like this week:  For unit 14, I saw that there was a reading and writing assessment included in the unit, and aside from the note about the subjunctive stuff, nothing I really need to do for those.  For reading resources, I will be asking a story then typing it up, and the song (No Debes Jugar, by Selena) has an amazing critical thinking activity so that will get glued in.  There is a video viewing guide/graphic organizer included in the plans, so we will use that too.  This took about 5-10 minutes to go through the included resources.  

But I really want to try to use more subjunctive clauses with the kids, so I spent some time thinking about possibilities with that.  Donna had some good ideas, but what I eventually decided to do was to create a challenge activity for the manipulative-input game.  The game is basically a matching activity with a bunch of cards, kids read scenarios and match them together.  In the scenarios, someone says something like "Lo que debes hacer es comer menos azúcar."  (What you should do is eat less sugar.)  I decided it would be really fast to create cards that said the same thing but with a subjunctive clause, so this one would say "Quiero que tú comas menos azúcar."  

I have a program that  allows me to edit pdfs, so I opened that, made a copy of the original game, and quickly rewrote the phrases.  My idea is that I will make separate games of these cards and fast finishers can grab them and read/match as well.  Creating the activity took about 15 minutes.  Deciding what I was actually going to do and going back to my notes from Donna's presentation took about 10 minutes.   Copying, cutting, and sorting the activity will take a long time, but it is mindless and I can do it when I have a chance.

 If you are thinking that I have used up an hour already, well, know that on Monday mornings, I have a block of 2 hours and 15 minutes to plan, even after AM duty at 7:45, so I am still doing ok on time.

In fact, I really liked that activity I downloaded from the Collab Drive, so I opened that document and noticed that all I had to do is make a very few changes to it to personalize it for my students, so I did.  I did not do it in the most efficient way possible; it took about 10 minutes. It should have taken 5 or less.  Oh well.  

Step 3: Plan it out on paper
I use a single sheet that I call my Unit Planner for this step.  I use it to organize what goes in the notebooks and to keep a list of things to Find/Create.  You can download it here.  

What it looked like this week:  Really, step 2 and 3 happen at the same time. I have the unit planner out, and I start writing down what gets glued in and things that I need to create or improve.  As I complete them, I check it off.  


If I am doing something radically different than the purchased day-by-day plan suggests, I start writing the sequence of events on a sticky note that will live on the printed lesson plan.  

Step 4: Making the Masters and Prepping to Copy

  • Make master copies for students.
  • Put things in a protective sleeve to keep them together.
  • Make / Modify day-by-day lesson plan packet.
  • Put it all in a big folder to save for Copy Day.

Sleeve with master copies for students
What it looked like this week:  As I created the challenge manipulatives activity, I sent one copy to the printer to be the master.  I did the same for the thing from the collab drive.  Then, I grabbed my paper file of student master copies, and made sure that I had a master of everything that I was going to give to the students (with the exception of the story- I will type and copy that once we are done with it).  I found that I was missing a copy of the song activity, so I sent that to the printer too, then walked over to grab my copies.  I made sure I had one master copy and one copy to add to my day-by-day packet, stapled my day by day packet together, and put all the new masters in a sleeve to be copied.

Big folder to save for Copy Day 

The day-by-day plan, the manipulatives, and the sleeve all got put in my Big Folder (which is just a large plastic folder I saved from the trash bin- one of four) to save for Copy Day.  I know I will need a little extra time to make the game, and I will need to get envelopes and colored paper from my secret stash of supplies for it, but I will do that when I make the copies.  No rush.  The planning is done. The copying will happen on Copy Day, when I have something else ready and planned, later this week.  Probably Thursday afternoon, when I have no energy but no one is at the copier.  

Notice that I have not put anything into a day-by-day format at all.  And honestly, I won't do that until the day or so before I actually start this unit, as the previous one winds down.  Then I will probably note a couple of day's worth of activities- bullet points in my lesson plan notebook, because...I already have the lesson plan materials printed out.  All I need in my planner is something that says "start unit 14".  If I need more specific information (like, a breakdown of what activities I am going to do each day) I will do them for 2-3 days at a time, because inevitably something takes a different amount of time than I think it will, and re-writing everything (even in my favorite erasable pens) is not a great use of my time.  

To be clear: when I first started this curriculum, I did write out bullet points for every day, activity by activity.  I needed that structure, so if that helps you, do it.  If it doesn't, I am sure there is something else you'd rather be doing!  

This is a format that I really like, by the way, posted by a user (Janice V) in the SOMOS Collab files.