Saturday, July 31, 2021

Simplify: A blast from the past

Image:Light pink background with a cassette tape.
Text reads:Blast from the past: An unpublished post from 2019


I was digging around in my blog recently and found this post. Whoa! It is from late October, 2019. Pre-Covid. Yeah, remember that? 

I was teaching 5th, 7th, and 8th grade- exploratory Spanish, Spanish 1 Honors, Spanish 2 Honors, and Spanish 1B. I was also mentoring a new teacher and teaching a graduate methods class as an adjunct. I think I was too busy to actually publish this! So I am publishing it now, almost 2 years later. 

Interesting fact: I didn't change anything in the post, other than to do a bit of light editing and add some images and links. This is one way in which I don't think my thinking has changed.  Except to add this:

If you love any of the things that I recommend against, it's ok! You are the expert in your life, in your community, in your classroom. My suggestions are based on my years of mentoring teachers who are trying to implement comprehension based teaching in their classroom, observing trends and common concerns from teachers. #NoJudgement. 

Now, in 2022, as I have transitioned to a formal training role, I am trying to create resources and trainings to support teachers. Thinking about these things continues to be a good use of my energy.  As we move into the 2021-22 school year and yet another year of unknowns, I hope that the idea of simplifying might help someone out in making their teaching and lives more joyful. 

October, 2019

I have a lot of half finished posts, and a lot of chores on my to-do list.  In fact, I am leaving to go camping for 5 days with the whole 7th grade...tomorrow morning! And I haven't started packing.

But today, instead of focusing on that, I want to offer a #mindset shift for those of my colleagues who are feeling overwhelmed.

Because, frankly, starting anything new is overwhelming.  And hard.  And rarely 100% successful.

I recently responded to a post on the SOMOS Collab facebook page from someone who's admin wants data to back up their new approach.  I wonder..would the principal ask the math department for data immediately after adopting a new text?  Would the principal expect significant gains in writing directly after adopting a new program, or would they invest in training, time, and let the teachers do their best?  Why is language any different?

Anyway, here is my advice: Simplify. Simplify your planning.  

Image:Light pink background with 80's geometric shapes. 
Text reads: Simplify.

Stop creating more work for yourself- we have so much to do already!  Here are some things that I see teachers doing that seem to make things harder:  

1) Powerpoints (or Presentations)

Feel like you have to have a powerpoint for every minute? Reconsider. Making powerpoints is a huge time suck. What would it be like instead to step away from the projector and sit down with your students? What would it feel like to give them a text and read it with them, without projecting? What would it be like to orient your room away from a screen? Can you just project the page that you want to share instead of putting it into a slideshow? What would the time savings be?

Image:Light pink background with 80's geometric shapes.
Text reads: Do you really need that presentation?

Note: I did make a master powerpoint for one class, for a book study. I did it to see if I liked it since it seems to be the main format for so many teachers, especially language teachers. While it is nice to have that resource now, the time investment overall seemed to be not really worth it, for me.  Others are different, so take this with a grain of salt.  

2) The search for more resources

First, I suggest that you find a curriculum. Or if you are teaching a novel, get the teacher's guide.

Then teach the curriculum.  Unless you absolutely MUST add content because of things you can't control, just teach it.  Live with it for a year or two.  See how that goes. Do some reflection.  Then...start adding.

Don't like the song that was suggested in the curriculum? Consider skipping it or, try teaching it.  I mean, it was put in the curriculum for a reason.  Decide if your gut was wrong- later.   Rather than spending time looking for or creating new materials, maybe just don't.  It won't kill the students to not listen to a new song every week. (We do one song about every 3-4 weeks. My kids are ok!)  Of course, use your professional judgement and don't use materials that will get you in trouble.

Image:Light pink background with 80's geometric shapes. 
Text reads: Pick a resource. Stick with it.

Feeling overwhelmed by resources? Take a look at this blog post that I wrote with some helpful links (I think!): CI Overwhelm: Practical Tools for Coping

3) Theme days

Joke Thursday, Cat Wednesday...they are great ideas!  But wow, the amount of work to collect those resources, and then make them comprehensible to different levels...that sounds absolutely overwhelming.  And if you use them in every class, then you have to keep doing it- day after day, year after year.   

While I love the idea of using the same resource for each class (and I have done this), what that means is that each year, you have to find new resources. That is  lot of work! 

Image:Light pink background with VHS tape.
Text reads: Are theme days worth it? What could you do instead?

4)Assessment Data Tracking for Planning

I am not saying that we should eliminate assessment. (But imagine! What would that look like???) I am saying that some of the things we do, e.g. some kinds of data tracking, and using that information to plan, may not be a good use of teacher time.

I have written a lot about assessment.  I really like talking and thinking about assessment.  
(Most of my assessment writings are linked here, and here.) But really, I feel like we spend WAY too much time talking about assessment when we know it doesn't really help with language acquisition. In fact, it doesn't even help for us to see what the students don't know- not really!  

Since language acquisition is stage-like and ordered, there is pretty much nothing to do but...give more input, and make sure it is comprehended.   That's it.  So, again, try to simplify.  This is a video I made with Martina Bex about how I simplify assessment- and more. Take a look! Assessment Hacks and Hope in SOMOS.  

In all seriousness, I used to use a data tracking form where I listed an objective at the top (e.g. uses time indicators correctly- son las 3:00, es la una, a las 2:00) and then listed the kids who could do it and the kids who couldn't. It looked great in terms of admin data requirements. And took a TON of time. Like SO MUCH TIME.  And that time- well, I can say with all seriousness that it was wasted time. Wasted for me, wasted for student learning. 

And this is why:  The present-practice-produce-assess-reteach cycle that is drilled into teachers doesn't fit so well in a comprehension based framework.  We know that explicit instruction does not lead to implicit language. And those features will develop in stages, in a particular order, and those features will be developed independent of instruction! So, tracking that information *only* shows me what students can not yet do.  

Re-teaching how to use time indicators is not going to help students use it in the long-term. It will certainly be boring and not really affect their language system at all, except maybe to impede acquisition of that form.  There might be some short term effects for some students. If I re-teach it, then re-test it, how much time am I spending? How much time am I giving up that could be spent doing something that does help them acquire? And what about the kids who have brains that are not yet ready to get it (which is NORMAL)?  What will it feel like for them to fail an assessment-again? Ug. I feel kind of gross just thinking about that.  

If you are in a district that requires you to read every word that students write, assign fewer words!  Instead of a 10 minute freewrite, do a 5 minute freewrite. Don't assign them to every class at the same time! Interested in reading more about freewrites? Take a look- Timed Freewrites: One Practice that Serves Many Purposes

If your district requires you to track data, here is an article that might help: Teacher Goals and SLOs.

Image:Light pink background with a cassette tape labeled Tea with BVP: Ordered Development and a walkman. 
Text reads: Keep SLA principles in mind when using assessment data. 

People are often surprised that I don't bring work home with me.  I don't, even with having fewer planning hours and more preps, because I am trying to keep things as simple as possible.  I found a curriculum.  I like it, I teach it, and I rarely supplement it because it's pretty robust. If I do supplement it, it is because I have something I really want to try out, or I am really passionate about something, and it only takes a little bit of time and effort to prep. 

How can you simplify? What are the time sucks in your planning process?

Image:Dark pink and black background with 80's sunset, cityscape, and palm trees.
Text reads: How can you simplify your teaching?

This post was inspired by the book Fewer Things, Better, by Angela Watson.  I *HIGHLY* recommend her work, and this book in particular, for focusing on what matters.  I am not an employee or in any way recompensed for recommending this book.  

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