Saturday, September 21, 2019

Getting ready for the day: organizing and tools

This is a quick look at what getting ready for a day of teaching looks like. 

But there is a HUGE disclaimer:

There are SO many things that are *not* visible that I have already done to get ready for the day.  These are things that are part of getting a unit ready.  

These include:

  • Planning the units 
  • Prepping (copying and chopping) the materials for students (see the above link for how this is different than planning)
  • The Great Organizational Project- Which includes:
    • Youtube playlists of videos and songs by unit, 
    • Itunes or spotify playlists of songs
    • Electronic file of related resources 
    • Hard drive files organized
    • Paper file of lesson plans and materials
  • Setting up my internet environment with an extension such as Toby or Onetab.  (I actually do this at the beginning of the year.) 

REMEMBER:  This is gradual work.  When I teach unit 18 for the first time, I am going to build a youtube playlist with songs and videos, purchase the recommended song and put it in my iTunes playlist, create an electronic folder on my hard drive, create a notebook in Evernote, and print up all the materials to put in a binder.  This is *all* part of planning for a unit.  I don't do this all at once. It is bit by bit.  

WAIT!  Don't be overwhelmed!  

I have taught most of these lessons before - several times.  I *still* look at the activity and if I need to, grab the printed out lesson plan and carry it around with me as I teach.  Sara Chronister, one of my fellow admins of our SOMOS collab group, created this AMAZING list of links for activities in SOMOS.  This is awesome- but is one more thing on the computer.  For me, I prefer to read it on paper and file it with the unit.  

The other thing that I urge you to consider as you use any curriculum- (aside from our #mindset shift, Connections not curriculum!) is to consider activities as opportunities for input and as such, as bullet points in a list, not I must do these five things today because that is what the lesson plan says and I don't want to be a bad teacher.  

For me, shifting to a bullet point mindset ("this is the order that we are going to do things in, more or less, and they take up as much time as they will take up") makes prepping and planning much easier.  As soon as we finish one thing, we do the next.  Planning becomes about looking at the bullet pointed list (which honestly is in my head at this point, but here is an example I made for a Stepping Into SOMOS training).  

When I step into class: (This is what you will see in the video)

  • Check for handouts that I prepped for each unit, organized by unit.
  • Lesson plans printed (this isn't in the video, but the printed plans are with the handouts)
  • Open computer
  • Open Chrome (which opens TOBY) (tab organizer)
  • Open Teaching Tabs (using TOBY) 
  • Open attendance tabs using TOBY.  
  • Open iTunes Música de la clase playlist 
  • Open unit folder PLANS on hard drive
  • Open any film clips or something that will be projected(because the internet rarely actually works in my room so I download most clips).
  • Open campanadas. (This isn't in the video. I forgot to do this that day. It was fine, because it took me less than 5 seconds.)

Here is the video  
(Click if it does not play- for some reason the auto-play function is not working.)

Referenced in the video:
SOMOS 1, Unit 02 
SOMOS 1, Unit 21 (free)
Modified Comida unit 
Toby Chrome extension
Brain Break slides 
Classroom screen

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Storyasking! Videos!

Here are some videos of StoryAsking (part 1 and 2). This is Camina y Corre, SOMOS 1, Unit 2.  I am working on videos of PQA and our collaborative mural, but one thing at a time!

For more resources about story asking, including what it is, how to do it, and tips to make it go smoothly,  take a look at this episode of SOMOS Summer Fun Club and these resources.    

I *did not* take the time to subtitle these in English, sorry folks.  I just would not have the time to do this until...summer, and then I would forget.  Please accept my apologies to folks who are not Spanish speakers, and take a look at some of my other videos for subtitled versions.

IMPORTANT:  These students are NOT novice level students. They have had one solid year of comprehension based teaching with a focus on communicative embedded input.  (They are CI taught.)  This group is Spanish 1 Honors, and were assessed at the end of last year to go into standard or honors tracks.  I don't yet have too many videos of me teaching novices because my only novice class is fifth grade, and I do not have video release forms for them.  Sorry!

What you will not see: TONS of classic "circling" questions.

What you will probably see: lots of comprehension checks, brain bursts (quick brain breaks), some routines and procedures, and a lot of language.  And one class clown.

Want to get better at asking stories? Martina Bex and I collaborated on this resource to help.  Watch this video and use one of the organizers referenced in the post.  This is a great way to start training yourself!

PART 1  For some reason, this preview is not functioning.  Use the button on the upper right hand of the screen to open it in a new window, or click here.  

PART 2 - click on the link or use the button in the upper right hand corner below to open in a new window.  Sorry!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Day 3: Working with the stories (and activity ideas)

Day 3

This post is the third in a series about what I actually did the first 3 days of classes.  Here are posts about Day 1 and Day 2.  

In Panamá and República Dominicana (class names for my Spanish 1B classes), my plan was to finish the story we started a couple of days ago.  I was successful in one class, and the other...well,  it's a work in progress.  We sure did get a chance to practice our procedures and routines, I tell you what!  That is a nice way of saying that they needed a lot of practice- practice not talking over each other or me, practice listening, practice not throwing things, etc.  Lots of practice.  

I believe in practice.

My classroom mantra.  

 We did establish a few facts in their story, but I am going to have to finish their story another day.

I also wanted to give all the classes their interactive-ish notebooks, but not spend too much time on them.

I spent about 20 minutes at the beginning of class passing out notebooks, getting names, updating tables of contents, going over expectations for gluing, and gluing in one important rubric- that of daily engagement.  

Then, back to the stories.  In Panamá I dispensed with the notebook stuff because several kids are gone due to a mountain bike race, so we just worked with the story (and finished it!).  In República Dominicana, I focused on the notebook and we will finish their story during the next class.  

In Cuba (Spanish 1 Honors), we did Around The World with Translations and Illustrations. It went really well.   

In my Honors 2 class, Honduras, we started with the notebooks, but since they were with me last year, it took about 5 minutes.  Then, I projected their illustrations from the mural and gave them a copy of the story that I typed out.  They had to write the sentence (on whiteboards) that best described the picture I showed- and if there were different opinions, we had a conversation about it.  (Here are directions for that activity. It is one of my favorites.)

To differentiate this activity and get more input, I asked different students to be interviewed (by me) as a character in the story about what happened and how they felt.   I let any student volunteer, but some students got yes/no and either/or questions and others got more open ended questions.  

Here are some question examples for students who needed more support: 

  • Were you scared when ___ happened?  
  • Did you go to ___ or ___ afterwards?
  • Did you do ___ first or ____?  
Open ended questions:

  • Why were you scared?
  • How did you feel when ____ happened?
  • Did you want ___ to happen? Why or why not?  

Was this forcing output?  Nope, I don't think so.  They were volunteering to be interviewed (they knew that they would be speaking) and I was using different kinds of questions to make sure they were successful.  

I also added a write and discuss so they could see the 1st person forms of the words with the answers the interviewees gave.  

 I didn't even get through all the pictures of the mural when I realized if I wanted to start the movie trailer activity, I'd better move on.  We started just as Amy describes in her blog post- discussing what are the elements of a trailer, and started brainstorming important events.  

Then it was time to go to lunch!

Next week's plans

Next week, I plan on continuing to teach procedures, add in new brain breaks, and add a few procedural things to our interactive-ish notebooks.   (Passwords, birthday compliments, and performance descriptors come to mind.)  

I will use the Around the World translation and reading activity in my standard classes (with their class story) and play some kind of secret input game with the illustrations.  

I also plan on taking one whole class period and teaching them about proficiency levels. (See this post for specifics).

In addition, I will spend at least one class period with my 8th graders setting them up for Sustained Silent Reading (Free voluntary reading), but if I don't get to it until the following week, that's ok.  

Day 2, 2019: some lessons about going out of bounds

Day 2

This is a series of posts about what I actually did during my first three days of class with students.  Click here to see Day 1, and here to see Day 3. 

I started each class today by giving students time to read the syllabus and assigned the syllabus homework that I have students do each year.  We reviewed how students enter class and practiced it with one group.  (Here is a sample of my routines and procedures.)

We spent a few minutes discussing the syllabus homework, then I taught them another brain break and we practiced that.  

Next, we continued with the story we had started the previous day. In the case of the class that had no time to start one, we started a new story.   (Here is the rough script that I was roughly following.)  
A vegetarian chupacabra and Elmo.

In Honduras, the class that looped up with me (they were Spanish 1 honors last year, now Spanish 2 honors), we spent very little time practicing procedures, but jumped straight to a complex story about a vegetarian chupacabra that wanted to be popular, but also refused to hunt. It was a classic TPRS story in that there were multiple locations and unexpected details- Mall of America, a roller coaster, and Elmo.  (If you want more information about how to ask a story, you are in luck!  We made a whole episode of our Summer Fun Club on this Story Asking-  and here is even more information! )

When the story ended but there was still class time, I turned to my favorite activity- a Cooperative Mural.   Students had 10 seconds to draw one moment of the story, then I narrated and verified what part they drew. 

At the end of class, I took pictures of the mural with my phone.  I know that I will use these in some way the next time I see the kids.  

For the other classes, I took pictures of the board again. 


In Cuba, Spanish 1 Honors,  I had a terrible fail.  I used WAY too much vocabulary (went way out of bounds) and overloaded them.  Although I did a good job of making sure they understood the words (linking meaning, writing words on the board, etc.), I used WAY too many words.  I have no idea what I was thinking in that moment- all I can say is that I forgot my audience. It was a pretty epic TPRS fail and I knew I had to think of some ways to scaffold the crap out the story and make sure they felt supported.  More about that below.  

In that sense, it was ok because I showed them that I am going to make sure they understand- I did all the things that I try to do- each time a kiddo showed me they didn't understand, I clarified (and said thank you and gave them a high-five), and each time they didn't answer my questions with confidence, I clarified, and I gave them lots of processing I guess it wasn't a total fail, but not an experience I hope to repeat.  I have to remember to give myself some slack, right?  

In República Dominicana and Panamá (class names), I had two incomplete stories, but we had established some hilarious facts and had some laughter in Spanish, so I was happy with that.  

End of day  

At the end of the day, I had two completed stories to finish typing out and two half-completed stories to start typing out.  Still exhausting, but I had a big block of planning time before I saw three of the four classes again, so I had some time to work.

I also had the illustrations from the mural to work with for one class.  

What I prepped for the next class:

In Cuba, the class with which I used too much vocabulary, I decided to do an input-based translation and reading activity.  I wanted to reinforce the idea that "you are going to understand everything, and I am going to help you."  This was the best way I could think of to overcome my epic fail.  

AROUND THE WORLD Translation and Illustrations

Click for examples that you can use or adapt:

1) I typed up the story and divided it into 9-12 paragraphs.

2) I created a handout with the story and a space to write a number next to each paragraph. I made one for each student.  I also included a box for small illustrations.

3) I translated each paragraph to L1 and assigned each one a random number.  (This is an easy way to teach low frequency vocabulary like numbers. Just use them!) 

4) I printed up the translation paragraphs, cut them up, and put them around the room.

Students need to walk around the room, reading the story and the translations, and write the number of the translation in each box.  When they finish, they sit down and choose some scenes to illustrate.

*The reading and matching L2 to L1 is the most important part of this activity. The illustration is an extension for kids who fly through the first one, giving them something to do while slower processors take the time they need.  I will let them know that the illustrations are not meant to be completed (although I bet I have some fast finishers who will) so the slower processors don't get stressed. This is one way that I differentiate. 

On Tuesday, when I next see them, I will have them read the text again, and we will review the activity.  THEN, I will have them cut out their illustrations and we will put them in a big pile and do some variation of a Secret Input activity. I think that this group, which is boy heavy, will enjoy some healthy competition, so I need to think about how to do that.  Or maybe I will divide up the illustrations and kids into small groups, and have the students pull one illustration and their group members have to find that scene in the text and write it on a whiteboard.  I will see how I (and they) feel.

For the other class that finished the story, Honduras, I took the pictures of their mural and put them in a quick slideshow- click here for more information about that- so we can do some kind of secret input game for our next class.  

I also went back to my notes from all the PD I did this summer and decided that I wanted to try this idea from Amy Marshall, which requires no prep from me other than having a story.  Perfect!  

I also typed up my notes from the other classes, and came up with a way to end the stories we started.  

I went to bed at 8:15 that night. 

Day 1 in my classroom, 2019

I started school last week!  This year, my schedule is less convenient, I lost prep time, and I added another class.  I am doing my very best to be positive and sanguine about these changes, while looking ahead at what I will need to do to maximize my limited time.  I expect another blog post about planning time to come soon, as soon as I have lived it a bit more! Here is one planning post to get you started, if you are interested.  

But what the heck did I do during my first three or four days with the kids?   This post is about Day 1 and my overall goals.  Click here for Day 2 (with some examples of activities that I do) and Day 3. (with examples of how I differentiate an activity).  

Overall Goals 

My goal for the students was to help them see that this class is fun, that they will understand the Spanish we use, and also fun.  My teacher goal was to introduce them to some procedures and routines that will be the foundation of our year (like how we return to our seats from brain breaks and how we interact with each other in class).  My academic goal was to spend enough time in Spanish to make it feel like a language class, while not overwhelming or scaring them.  

My favorite way to do this is with a story.  But sometimes it doesn't go as planned! Read on for details, and a couple of ideas of what to do with the stories once they are finished, or skip to here for detailed activity ideas.

Day 1 in middle school 

Short classes!  In each class, I started with teaching the procedures for walking into my classroom.  (Because that first moment is the most important opportunity to establish how it is going to go, at least in my opinion.)  I had name tags for the kids, seating cards so they had random, assigned seating with less anxiety, and directions on the board.  

Kids lined up outside my room to wait for me.  I pulled one kid who I sort of knew and had them be my helper; they stood by the materials and made sure each student saw the directions and saw where the materials are located in the room.  Meanwhile, I greeted each student, asked them their name pronunciation and preferred nickname if applicable, and welcomed them.  

I did not welcome them in Spanish.  I did not start class in Spanish.  Once I taught them my "class is starting" procedure (in English) (click here for an older post about procedures and routines) and we practiced it a couple of times, I welcomed them in English.  

Then I made a little time for them to tell me what they were excited about, what they were nervous about, and what questions they had.    I smiled a lot.  We chatted.  I answered their questions and concerns, and I shared mine.  One class had more questions, and one was silent so I had to do a think-pair-share.  

I said several times "I am speaking in English now because I want you to know what is going on in this class, and I know that we will be speaking plenty of Spanish later."  

Then we did a quick brain break- I taught them to form 2 lines quickly and we practiced that a couple of times.  Then, they made a complex handshake with their partner(s) and practiced it- they had one minute.  I did this all in English, except for the second time we formed two lines- then I gave the direction in Spanish.  

I told them this handshake partner was their compañero de Bolivia, (Bolivian partner) and whenever they heard me yell BOLIVIA they needed to run to a space in the room with their partner and do their crazy handshake.  

We practiced that a couple of times, and then practiced how I get them back to their seats. (I do a call and response, which I learned from Annabelle.)  I praised them for doing it correctly and invited them (invited is a nice way to say that I forced them, but in a friendly way) to practice it again when they didn't get it quite right.  

Then, depending on how much time that all took, we started a little Spanish story.  

In two classes (I use class names as Annabelle suggests in this post- so these classes were Cuba and Honduras, both honors classes), I had them move chairs to how I like them for story asking, and we got started. 

 Here is the outline of the script I use (and some other beginning of the year resources) but it is very loose.  And remember, I am *not* teaching beginners!  If I was teaching beginners, I would start out doing exactly what is described in SOMOS 1, Unit 1, available for free on TPT.  *

With República Dominicana, the story went nowhere, but we did establish that one kid had shoes that smelled delicious, and that it was bad behavior to eat other people's sandwiches.  

Panamá ran out of time to move chairs and start a story, so I started talking about animals.  I used my rather gigantic collection of stuffed animals to ask (in target language) "Who has a dog?  I have a dog. Jay, you have a dog?  Who else has a dog?   Who has a cat?"  I used gestures and comprehension checks and the realia of the stuffed animals to support.  When I got to a stranger animal (moose, otter, giant spider), I started asking "Who wants a ___?", again checking for comprehension and using gestures.  

At the end of each class, I took a picture of whatever I wrote on the board so I could recreate it later.  

This wasn't quite a story, but it was a lot of input!  

At the end of the day, I took a few minutes to type out as much of the story we had done, based on the photo of the board.  This is a CRUCIAL, if exhausting step, both to help me decide where to go tomorrow, and to help me remember what we talked about.  I remembered why I usually don't do storyasking at the same time in all my classes if I can help it!  

Read on for Day 2 and 3!   

*Full disclosure: I now work for Martina Bex and the Comprehensible Classroom, but I do not renummerated based on sales or commission- at all. I am recommending it because it is fantastic.  


Monday, August 26, 2019

Two toxic moments in staff meetings and what we can learn about being truly inclusive

This is a post that I want to write because these incidents happened.  There are a lot of other incidents that don't necessarily rise to the top in the pile of indignities, assumptions,  and examples of ignorance that are part of the life of being a bi-racial Latinx woman who is white passing and who is not afraid to speak up.  Name spelling and pronunciation, anyone?  (And yes, I acknowledge the great privilege I carry with my light colored skin and hair color.)

These things happen, and I think we can learn from them. So, stick with me.  This is not about comprehensible input.  It is about being better teachers.  And hopefully better humans.  

Anyway, let me give some background.

If you have read my blog for a while, you maybe know that one great passion of mine is inclusion, with the related passions of diversity, social justice, anti-bias, and dismantling the system of oppression and racism and bias that we live with every day.   

One key idea for me in being inclusive is that each member of my classroom (and hopefully community) feels safe and seen for who they are and what they need. They feel safe to say no if they are uncomfortable, or to ask a question if they don't get it.  They feel safe talking, or not talking.  

One of the greatest compliments that I have ever been given was in feedback about a presentation I did this summer.  I am putting it out here because it makes me feel great (because I read this blog too!) and because this idea of safety goes hand in hand with consent.  I am grateful that what I try to do was seen.  
[Elicia] was so open and engaging that she made each of us in the over-crowded room feel welcome. She modeled many important social-emotional practices: tiny physical "brain breaks" to reset our tired minds, differentiating by offering different options and encouraging us to make the activities we liked our own, responding to all suggestions and comments with "yes and", and above all, modeling asking consent for every little thing - "do you mind if I use your picture?" "may I use you as an example?" 

So this work is not just part of my teaching practice, it is who I am and what I bring to the classroom.  I believe in it and it's important to me.     

Fast forward to some incidents in staff meetings.  I want to be clear that I don't have issue with the activities I am describing.  I have concerns with the responses made by my peers, and I want to bring to light some of the embedded assumptions that are made when choosing these activities.   And I want to highlight what a good response to these kinds of incidents looks like. 

After these incidents, I sat down with my administrator and shared my concerns and we made a good plan to address them.  I am really thankful that I have a administrator who makes time and takes time to hear me, and takes these concerns very seriously.  

#1: In a getting-to-know you activity, there is a soccer ball being with questions written on it being tossed around. When you catch it, you answer the question that your right thumb lands on.  This game was being modeled as one that could be played in class or in our advisory groups, with kids.  Some questions were about favorite things, like breakfast cereals, and others were things like "what makes you sad?". 

Let's digest that for a minute.  First, what are the assumptions there?  

  • Everyone in the community knows about breakfast cereals.  
  • Everyone gets to eat breakfast.
  • Everyone is feeling comfortable with getting a ball tossed at them.
  • Everyone has the physical ability to catch the soccer ball. 
  • Everyone feels comfortable talking about what makes them sad.  (Because you know what makes me sad?  Surviving this.  Is that really what people want to hear?  Trust me, the answer is usually no.) 
Being me, I asked the person running the game what happens if a student doesn't want to answer that question. (Because if I don't speak up, who will?)  Before an answer could be given, someone snickered and made a very belittling comment about what a stupid question that was, that they (the students) could answer the questions.  

Wait- WHAT?  Do we not want all students to feel safe?  Do we not acknowledge that students come from different backgrounds?  

The game leader (our very thoughtful admin) quickly responded "oh sure, great question- have them answer one near their thumb" and moved on.   

So, on one hand, I feel like the admin heard the question, acknowledged its value, and answered it.  I felt seen and heard.  But on the other hand, not only was my question belittled, there was no awareness from at least one colleague that it might be relevant. 

#2:  In a later activity, several pictures of a prominent sports figure were projected, displaying different emotions.  The activity was an emotional check-in.  The pictures were of this sports figure with different facial expressions, and we were supposed to put our initials next to the image that best expressed our emotional state.  

Again, let's dig in to some assumptions about the activity: 
  • Everyone can read facial expressions and assign meaning to them.
  • All participants know who the sports figure is.
  • Everyone is comfortable sharing their emotional state.
I was not super happy for a number of reasons when this activity occurred.  But more frustrating to me was that I had no idea who the sports figure was and I didn't really know what the expressions were.  I asked who the person was (because asking about the expressions felt like it would open me up to ridicule, so I chose instead what I thought was a safer route).  The admin quickly responded, telling me the name and sport. No biggie.  

But my colleagues gaped.  "You don't know who X is?" "Do you know who Y is either?"  "How can you not know who X is?" "Are you serious?"  

I was shocked.  Like, really, really shocked.  Hurt, disappointed, sad, angry, and a dozen other negative emotions.

I want to reiterate what I said at the beginning of this post.  I did speak to my administrator. He heard me. We made a plan. I felt heard and seen and respected.  It's ok and I'm ok.  But it is a solid example of embedded assumptions and of not treating each other with respect and kindness.  And of side conversations getting out of control.   

Imagine if I was a kid in a class where that happened.  Maybe I'm 12 and growing in all kinds of new places.  Maybe I am new to the school.  Maybe my family doesn't allow screen use at all.  Maybe I just lost my parent. Maybe I ...there are a million maybes.  But I am sure that in that moment, I have completely lost the trust of that kid.  Note that the person running the activities, the "teacher" (admin, in this case), handled each moment with consideration and kindness.  It was the side talk, the outside conversations that were harmful.  

And please, I am not saying that every kid needs to be coddled and treated like a precious snowflake.  I believe deeply in the gift of failure, the power of hearing no, and the growth that those bring.   

But friends, they see a lot more of the real world than we think.  And they are still kids.  

I can not control what happens to them outside of my classroom.  I can commit to making my classroom as safe as possible.  Especially in 2019.  

What can I take away from these situations as a teacher? (Hopefully they will apply to you too.) 

For me,  it is to critically examine the actual things I do in the classroom and constantly ask myself what assumptions I am making.  Yes, it is exhausting.  I am going to do it anyway.

It is also to take a moment before reacting- to questions, to comments, to actions.  But especially to questions.  If I want to give an eye roll or a smirk, I need to check that right at the door. Because it is legitimate to someone.  

I need to keep focusing on creating a community where those kind of side comments can't happen (through procedures) and don't happen (through community building) and when (not if; I am only human) they do, I own it and address it.

I need to remember to take a cue from my administrator.  He never got defensive.  He owned what happened, apologized sincerely, and together we found a way to repair it.  

Most important, I need to keep asking questions and question other peoples' assumptions.   

I need to remember that it takes courage to ask questions and call attention to unpopular ideas and call people out on their assumptions.  And sometimes I am going to feel bad or unwelcome.  (These weren't even about race. Think about that.)   I need to remember that is who I am- courageous- and find ways to connect with communities that support me and that build me up and help me when I'm down.   

Saturday, August 17, 2019

What matters most

Alyssa Campbell, of Seed & Sew, spoke recently in the Summer SOMOS Fun Club episode on Classroom Management about self care.  She talked about it in context of collaborative emotional processing.  Because (this is my take away), you can't take care of your emotions or support other people in their emotions if you don't take care of yourself, and the root of our interactions in classrooms is emotional.  This got me thinking a lot about self care and why I am such a nut about going to bed early on school nights.  It also made me thing about my Lunchtime talk at iFLT 19, which touched on a similar theme.

Self Care

What does self care have to do with language acquisition? Well, let me go back to some fundamentals that I believe.

There is only one thing that really matters when it comes to language acquisition.  (And it is *not* assessment, despite what you may think after spending time on this blog!)

There is one thing that creates language in people's heads.

There are, of course, factors affecting how that language is created and how our classes function.

Let's go back to what the Coaching from the Heart model uses to frame teacher's work.  There are two goals in an acquisition driven class:

1. The communication takes place using language that is understood by the students (comprehensible and comprehendED).
2. The class is an environment where students feel safe and want to take risks.

Comprehensible and ComprehendED Language

Trainers talk a lot about how to be comprehensible.  Sarah Breckley just made this incredible video with a lot of specific ideas on how to do it. If you go to a workshop or conference focused on input, you will find a lot of beginner sessions focused on how to speak so your students understand.  (Maybe we need more).
Some strategies for observation,
reflection, and reference by
Martina Bex
Martina and I collaborated earlier this year to make this resource for reflection, reference, and observation. It has all kinds of strategies to link meaning.

Being comprehensible and comprehendED is not easy and it takes a lot of intentional focus, but there are skills that can be taught and practiced.   Here is a great blog post from Martina about being comprehensible.

And of course, we can speak all day long and think that we are being comprehensible, but we also have to make sure that students understand what we say. We do this with constant formative assessment.  For many, this is asking a ton of questions, looking in their eyes, doing comprehension checks, and more.  

Then there is the work of making every student feel safe and willing to take language risks.  For me, this is hard work.  I have to create a community where students feel secure, one that is predictable as well as emotionally and physically safe.  

And I teach middle school, which means I have to work really, really hard to keep them interested in what I have to say. (That is why TPRS is my go-to!) While there is not really any evidence that the input needs to be compelling for language acquisition to occur, there is a lot of evidence that middle school students better be interested in what is going on or the whole class will fall apart.

Me, after a day of teaching
But it does get easier!  
All that is exhausting. Like, really, really exhausting.

One thing that I observed when I first started teaching with TPRS and focusing on input was my own level of exhaustion shot up.  A lot.  I was drained- so fully that I felt empty at the end of the day.  This exhaustion came from watching the kids, interacting with them, and monitoring every single pair of eyes (and body language) for a full hour (per class) all day, and making minute adjustments constantly to make sure each and every kiddo was comprehending and felt safe. It was exhausting. It still is. Every. Single. Day. (It does get easier, friends.  It really does.)

 This is what it sounds like in my head while I am teaching:

Amber looked sad when she came in today I wonder if she slept at her mom's or not. Better give her a smile and oh wait Jamil is starting to turn to Hamish so I am going to walk over to them right now before he even opens his mouth, but now Brian looks like he is going to fall asleep so I better check that he is following along and I wonder if Hailey is taking notes like we agreed or if she is writing a note about what happened at lunch and I don't think that everyone understands hacer SUP so I better comp check that and maybe I should put up that cute picture of Juniper on the paddleboard but I don't know where my phone is and I bet Joe wants to tell the whole class what he told me earlier so how can I give him a yes/no question that he can answer and understand?  

AND AT THE SAME TIME (while pointing or gesturing to words that I am not sure they know) saying:
"Clase, ¿Qué hiciste durante el fin de semana?  Yo pasé tiempo con mi perrita y mi esposo. Fuimos ..what does the mos mean?...we... Fuimos al lago Jordanelle para hacer SUP.  What did we do? We SUPped.  Hicimos SUP.  A Juniper no le gusta hacer SUP pero le gusta pasar tiempo con nosotros. Does Juniper like to SUP?  No.  ¿Qué hicicte tú? ¿Quién fue a las montañas?  Joe, ¿Fuiste a las montañas con tu familia?" 
(Class, what did you do during the weekend?  I spent time with my little dog and my husband. We went...what does the mos at the end of the word mean...we...We went to Jordanelle Lake to SUP. What did we do? We SUPped.  Juniper does not like to SUP but she likes to spend time with us.  Does Juniper like to SUP?  What did you do? Who went to the mountains?  Joe, did you go to the mountains with your family?)  

Yeah. That's HARD.  All that empathy and being open to receiving what the students are broadcasting (emotionally) while at the same time trying to herd the middle school cats AND speak in another language and make sure they understand... It is hard.

That is why self-care is so important to me.  

I can't control what happens to those kids outside my classroom, outside of the few hours a week that they are in my class. I can't keep them safe, I can't feed them, and I can't make puberty any easier.

But what I can control is what happens in my classroom: how much input they get and how fun things are.  (Which includes how safe, how interesting, and how comprehensible.)

And the only way I can possibly have the energy to create the classroom environment that I want to have is to care for myself.

So, I choose (my) life.

I choose input over pointless assessments, over grading everything, over activities that do not help students acquire. (I do what I have to do to keep my job, don't get me wrong. I *do* assess and grade, I just do it in the easiest way possible.)

I choose to spend my time working on getting better at providing compelling input. (Because middle school.)

I choose students over curriculum. (Read more here about some big mindset shifts that I believe in, including this one.)

I choose my passions.  I choose to engage in hard work that is important to dismantle systemic inequalities.

I choose to go outside and do something I am not very good at. (Painting plein aire.)
It feels great.  

I choose my well-being.

I choose my family.  As I said in my iFLT lunchtime talk: I only have a few years on this earth with my father.  I am not going to prioritize grading papers over a trip to visit my folks.

I actively try to simplify my teaching life to what matters most for language acquisition: input and emotional safety (sometimes known as low affective filter). And love.

For me, this means choosing one curriculum and not letting my squirrel brain follow the next great idea down the blogosphere.

It means treating my time as if it was as precious as my money. (It is.)

It means prioritizing things that give me joy (writing, painting, mentoring other teachers, learning more about second language acquisition, teaching a graduate methods class, walking the dog) and help replenish my heart so that I can go in and give my full attention to my kids.  It means advocating for myself and saying no and letting people (admins and friends and my husband) know when I need support.

Don't get me wrong-my husband wonders why I have a second job, and I don't always get to bed on time, and some days I don't get the workout or yoga session that I wanted, and other days I go in and snap at the kids or have no patience.  I am human, and far from perfect.  But I can honestly say that I am in control of my professional life, and I have a personal life too.


Here are some of my favorite resources about self-care.  In particular, Angela Watson's work, especially her book Fewer things, Better, has inspired me.  (The following links below take you to articles and podcasts by Angela.)

Erica Peplinsky and others (Megan Hayes, Justin Slocum Bailey) have all done some great work (blog posts, presentations) about self care as well.

So, as the year begins, how will you take care of yourself?  What will you choose?