Friday, January 10, 2020

Story asking! Video!

So, you remember that Plan B class? They have made big improvements. HUGE, in fact. Not perfect. Far, far from it.  But...they have come a long way. 

So much that I asked a story in class today!!!  Since storyasking is one of my very favorite things to do in class, I was pretty joyful. Since it was the end of the day on a Friday, I was pretty exhausted.  

In fact, I asked the same story with two different sections of my Spanish 1B class of 8th graders.  

Level Up your Learning

 Use this form (and read the article while you are at it) to observe.  (This was a collaboration between Martina Bex and I.)  

Real talk

Please forgive any and all language mistakes- I am human.  And for a minute, I started to ask the story in past tense, then remembered mid-word what class I was in front of. 

Notes: The first THREE minutes are in English! Gasp! I was setting expectations.  That, to me, is a very good use of L1.   Also, for the first couple minutes or so of the actual story, the camera is on its own personal journey of discovery in my classroom.  It decided not to focus on me at all.  Skip to about minute 5 if you feel like you must, but the sound is pretty good in those first couple of minutes.  

You will see me mouth the words "pollo frito" a few times.  I am doing this because we established (ages ago) that when we say it, one kid leads us in his favorite dance. Thus, I use the magic of the fried chicken dance very carefully.  

At about 13:20, a kid starts to have a side conversation and I have to send them out of the room.  (They are going to work on a written assignment.) 

I also did this story with another class, but for now, here is one video. My apologies for not taking the time to add subtitles.  It's Friday night.

Click here if it won't start playing. 

This lesson is the Story asking part, day 2, of SOMOS 1, Unit 10.  Used with permission.  

Resources about story asking:  
Story asking: Summer SOMOS Fun Club Video
Story asking:  
Blog post and more info:

#StoriesConnect Tips
#1-Set expectations
#2 Managing Choral Responses
#3- Teaching how to make suggestions

What is TPRS™?  

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Upcoming: two amazing opportunities to grow as a comprehension based teacher.

So, this is a little bit of shameless self promotion. Forgive me.  This blog *is* my platform to share some great opportunities coming up.  

First, Martina Bex and I are doing our very first SOMOS (and Nous Sommes) training.  We have been very busy creating new materials and reflecting on how to best support teachers implementing SOMOS/Nous Sommes.  I have been moderating our collaborative Facebook group for a long time now, and there seem to be common questions and concerns.  Our goal is to try to help teachers understand why SOMOS/Nous Sommes is written the way that it is, and how to use the curriculum as a guide to create joyful connections in language class.  We are so excited to finally do this- it has been my dream for a LONG time!  We are going to have coaching, social time, and a fantastic day and evening of training and support.

Seriously, this is a big deal.  At least for me!  And then, there is Comprehensible Online.
The second opportunity upcoming is Comprehensible Online.  This is my third year presenting as part of this amazing conference, and I am so proud to be included.  The thing about this conference- well- there are so many things.  PD in your PJs?  YES!!!  A TON of presenters who are presenting on their areas of expertise and passion? That too.  The list of topics is breathtaking and vast.  I *know* that I will not have enough time to even watch a portion of these, and I also know that they will have an immediate impact on my teaching.  Also, you can watch them on a treadmill or exercise bike. BONUS!  

As a presenter, I try to go deep into a classroom practice and use live video of my students and I in the classroom to model and explain that practice.  For me, seeing actual teachers in their classroom is some of the most impactful training I can get.  

This year, I decided to dig deep into what differentiation looks like in my classroom.  Because we have to teach the kids that we have, not the kids we wish we had.  

Somehow, I feel like it has become a core part of my practice, so I decided to present on it.  I have two presentations this year. 

The first one, called Differentiation in the Moment, includes lots of footage of my classroom (grades 7 and 8, Spanish 1 honors, 2 Honors, and Spanish 1B) and presents a few strategies that I use to differentiate during story asking, classroom discussions, games, and whole group reading.  

My second presentation is also about differentiation, but more focused on input based tasks and activities that are pre-planned. 

I will be sharing templates and resources for participants to download and implement in their classroom.  I will also be talking about how I adapt some of the resources for elementary FLEX classes and how that has gone.

This one doesn't include classroom footage because, well, it was incredibly boring to watch the students work on things, but it does have a lot of content- so much that I had to cut out 10 minutes! 

If you sign up before Jan 15, you will get a $25.00 discount AND better pricing, and will help me recoup some of the 40+ hours spent making the video with the kids. Sheesh- it takes HOURS to edit!! Thanks! Use code ELICIA.     

Please consider joining me (and my dear colleagues) at one of these trainings. You will not be disappointed!   

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

StoryAsking Tip #1: Set expectations!

Hi, this is a quick post to link this short video I made with one tip (and some links) to help you build some confidence with story asking! Sorry the video is a bit messy- I am on my way to the NAIS People of Color Conference in Seattle, and since our airplane’s front window cracked (!) we have some extra time in the airport!

For more storyasking ideas and supports, check out http//

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A week in the life of a comprehension-based classroom

I had a pretty good week.

Not a great week- in fact, I went home sick one day with a migraine- but the rest of the teaching went pretty well.

Here are some of the things that I did- maybe you all can find inspiration here!  This is just a list with links of things that I did with all my classes!  

Spanish 2 Honors 

Monday: We started with Weekend chat, then we co-created a story from SOMOS 1, Unit 14.  After class, I typed it up.  
Here are some resources for co-creating stories:  

Tuesday: We reviewed the story- students read it out loud in pairs than worked to create their 
Top 8 events, then we reviewed those events as a class.

Students reading!  
Wednesday:I went home sick, so students read for 15 minutes (Free Voluntary Reading/FVR), did a 10 minute free write, and worked on Sr. Wooly or Garbanzo for the remaining time.

Thursday: no class

Friday:  Free voluntary reading, short discussion about upcoming all-school service project, then Running dictation with their Top 8 Events from Wednesday.   (My directions that I post are here.)  To finish, we reviewed upcoming hard deadlines and filled out daily engagement for the week. This class was shorter than usual due to a special schedule. 

Spanish 1B

Monday: Weekend chat, read and dramatized biography of Barrio Zumba from a resource from Nelly Hughes.  (It looks like the resource is no longer available, though.)  We played a short Pencil Grab game with the true/false questions included in resource.  Then we listened to the song Mexicano.

This was the starter for our discussion about food
Tuesday: We briefly discussed favorite foods, then listened to the song Mexicano again and tried to fill out the cloze lyrics included.  We listened to the song at regular speed once, than at 75% speed (I love youtube when it works!) a second time.  For a brain break, I taught them the basic steps to a zumba routine set to the song, and we danced for a few minutes.   Then we reviewed the lyrics (with L1 translation) and discussed them briefly.  Students independently read a text (also from Nelly's resource) about Mexican food, and then responded to comprehension questions by coloring a glyph that I created.  

Wednesday: I went home sick, so students read for 15 minutes, did a 10 minute freewrite, and continued to work on their glyph.  

Thursday: no class

Friday: Free voluntary reading for 10-15 minutes, then short discussion of our all-school service project.  Students then got into teams for the Lucky Reading Game!  We played that until it was time to review upcoming hard deadlines and fill out daily engagement for the week.  One section had an extra 15 minutes of instructional time, so we spent some time doing a Write and Discuss about the service project.  

Spanish 1 Honors 

Monday: Weekend chat, then we started a new unit today, SOMOS 1 Unit 04, so I introduced the core vocabulary and students put those and our unit objectives into their interactive-ish notebooks.  

Rare homework, from The StoryTeller's Corner
Then I taught them gestures for the core vocabulary and we reviewed gestures for other words. (Click here for an example of what that looks like, from a different class.)   We used the resources included in the unit to see the words in context and then did some personalized questions and answers.   (Here is a video of that process, but with a different unit, if you are curious about what that looks like.)  

Although I *rarely* assign homework, I assigned an activity from this resource from The Storyteller's Corner, where they had to draw and color what they want to be when they grow up.  

Tuesday:  We discussed more personalized questions to start- including "what class do you want to take that is not possible at our school?" I learned so much about them!  Then we spent some time on the song "Quiero Ser", by Nubeluz, which depending on how you introduce it can be loved or hated.  

I LOVE this song and kids seem to respond to that!  First, I told them how much I love it, then I gave them the lyrics to follow along with.  The second time we watched the video, and the third time (no joke!) the kids wanted to try to do the dance that the singers do.  Finally, there is a short comprehension-based activity that they worked on that is included in the unit.  

Wednesday: No class.  Before I went home sick, I took their colored pictures and put them into a slideshow for Card Talk on Thursday.

Thursday: We started with the question "What do you not want to be?" and "Why?" and that discussion lasted for a while.  We followed up the discussion with a Write and Discuss, because the previous night, one of my fellow PLC members said she was trying to do more W&D and I realized that I should try to do that as well. (I love my PLC, even if this year we can only virtually meet through voice messages.)  

Then, we listened to and danced to the song Quiero Ser again, and finished the class with Card Talk about their desired future professions.

Slide for Card Talk about the future...
Friday: After a short discussion about our all-school service project, we did the lyric activity suggested for Quiero Ser by Amaia Montero, that is included in the lesson plans. Students have the lyrics out of order, and working in pairs, they had to quickly cut them up then listen to the song a couple of times and put them in order.  After, I briefly comprehensified some of the lyrics and reviewed the order, then we read the included biography of Amaia.  This was a super-shortened class, so that is all we had time for!  

Fifth grade: I see these kiddos for 45 minutes a week.
 As a warm up, we did a little TPR (Total Physical Response) and acted out a couple of sentences that were interesting.   Let me explain what I mean:  I had them draw how they were feeling, then I asked "Who is tired?" and "Who is hungry?"  They were all hungry so I gave them the phrase "wants to eat" and asked them "What do you want to eat?" and pulled a couple of props out as ideas. It turned out that one kid wanted to eat a dinosaur so we acted that out (with another kid being the dinosaur) and so on.  Of course, I was narrating it in Spanish and making sure it was comprehensible.  

We have been working with our own version of this simple beginner story (in Spanish!).  Last week, we did "all the world's a stage" with the story and I took pictures of the kids acting it out.  Then I put the pictures in a slideshow. (Description for that activity coming soon- sorry! For a longer read about Reader's Theatre, check out this resource.)
Click for an editable slide to show!

I passed out a copy of the story for kids to review with a buddy, then I showed them the pictures.  I wanted them to look at the picture and decide what moment in the story it was representing, then write that moment down on a whiteboard (using their copy of the text). 

Here is an example of the directions etc. only I used pictures of the students acting out the story rather than their illustrations.

 I had no idea how it would go, honestly. This is an activity I do ALL THE TIME with my older students, but I wasn't sure if it would be ok for the younger ones. 
It went...ok.  A couple of kids were really frustrated because it wasn't the kind of thing that had a clear-cut answer, but I think that is the kind of kid they are at this stage in their lives, and the rest of them seemed to enjoy it and read the story about 20 times.  

Then, we transitioned to another new activity.  A couple of weeks ago, I gave them a simple storyboard to illustrate with the text of the story, and then I cut up their illustrations and the words and put them in baggies (1 per pair of kids) to make some partner activities.  I wanted to try this kind of activity (also available in French) that I learned about from an excellent presentation by elementary teacher Alison Litten, so I tried it.  I did modify the directions to be in L1 to allow them to focus on the reading and re-reading of the story.  I was surprised at how quickly it went for the fast processors (who I grouped together), and how completely on task all the pairs were!  I will certainly be doing this one again!  

So, that's it!  I hope this was a useful read!  

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Implementing Plan B: when the classroom management strategies just aren't enough

Plan B: I wanted to share a little bit today about how I have two classes that are really challenging this year- for different reasons- and how they have become my Plan B classes.  
First, here is what I mean by Plan B.
A little background:  
One class is the class that I have not yet been able to finish a story with. There are constant interruptions. I have a personal belief against sending kids out of class, and in general none of the interruptions are truly horrible or worth sending a kid out for- they are just unbelievably frustrating. Like dozens, or hundreds of low-level constant interruptions and annoyances that bring everything to a screaming halt. 
I have tried a bunch of different strategies and interventions over the last 5 weeks, but finally at the beginning of this week, I decided to go to Plan B.
So, why am I doing it? Well, I realized I was being drained. I was trying everything in my toolbox of classroom management strategies.  

Here are those tools and interventions I used:
  • I taught and practiced procedures. Over, and over, and over again. I refused to move forward until everyone was doing what I expected them to do. With a smile! (I smiled- them, not so much.) (In L1)
  • I responded quickly, and positively, to every single instance of a student not doing what I wanted. I have posted rules, and each time a student spoke out of turn or had a side conversation, I walked over to the rules and waited, patiently, smiling, until I had the full attention of everyone.  (Rules are in L1.) (This is a strategy I learned from here.)
  • I narrated the positives constantly. In L1.
  • I reviewed the expectations before each new activity. I asked students to volunteer to be positive examples and model the desired behavior, and narrated it. In L1.
  • I used proximity, seating charts, and secret signals to indicate to a kid that they were going off the rails.
  • I found something positive (behavior wise) to write home about and emailed or called the caregivers of the most challenging kids, to show that they *could* be successful in my class. Sometimes I wrote about how Little Johnny had a rough day on Thursday but really turned it around at the beginning of class on Friday. It was *something* positive, right?
  • I met with the kids who just didn't get it, individually, and tried to connect, build relationships, find what they are interested in, etc. I even paid attention to student athletics- which for me, is a big deal.
  • I sought help from other teachers in our student support meetings, documented behaviors so I could try to see patterns within myself, time of day, activities, and/or students.
  • I implemented different interventions such as rocky stools, weight belts, fidgets, and bouncy sensory chair pads. (One kid sliced one of my homemade weight belts with scissors. That was not awesome.)
  • I changed the kinds of brain breaks I did in those classes (from energizing to focusing and silent).
Whew! That's a lot of interventions!  
But NOTHING WORKED. And I was miserable. And I hated that it felt like a power struggle. I know that no one wins a power struggle.
Worse? I was spending so much time redirecting, responding, and eventually reacting, that there just wasn't a lot of input happening. And for the kids who want to be there? For the kids who are controlling themselves? Who crave the input and the fun? They were getting nothing except frustration.
Now, an earlier version of me might have justified throwing out the ringleaders. And yes, on a day with one of them absent, well, we got a TON accomplished.  
But I have to ask myself: will kicking them out solve the problem? Sort of, but only in the short term. And also, won't that eat up a ton of time in meetings with parents and admins, follow up meetings, documenting, writing plans, etc.? And you know that time will come right out of my planning and/or after school hours.  And will it change the behaviors?
Will it just turn our relationship into kid vs. adult? Will it cement their identity of "bad kid" and trouble maker? Can I break that cycle? Don't I have a responsibility to teach all kids, even the ones who make it the most difficult?  
But don't I have a responsibility to the other kids too, those who are losing out due to the poor choices of the few?  
This, my friends, is the eternal teacher question. And also why Plan B makes so much sense to me.  
In short, Plan B means that students get input that they understand, but the interaction as a community is missing. The input might be from a story, a pre-written text, a video, or whatever else was in my plan for the day. The activity to deliver input is altered so that students do it all independently. It is very heavy on reading. 
What it looked like: 
This week, the plan was to Clipchat (Movietalk) Sr. Wooly's video for QuĂ© asco, read a more complex version of the video written up to be like a story, and invent our own gross combinations (like the song) to see who had the grossest and which one would smell the worst.  
I knew that at this point that students would not be able to manage a ClipChat/MovieTalk. Their interruptions would be too much, so I had to let that go. Oh well.
Instead, I decided to have them read and interact a bit with the reading (available with a Pro subscription) and then we would watch the video, then I would have them write (instead of draw and eventually use their illustrations for card talk) the gross combinations. Rather than trying to have a discussion about their gross combinations, I would have them respond ONLY with hand signals. If they could handle it. 
It has been more work. I had to create slides (ugh! I HATE creating slides! I hate working from slideshows in general!) with very clear directions.  
It has been work that I am, frankly, not used to doing. I have to very carefully plan out each activity and write it out- then make sure there is a text to read, a way to support their comprehension, and then something to do for fast finishers. 
Now, I do all these things normally, but I do them in the moment, based on how I am feeling and how the class is going. (This is one advantage of being experienced. I give directions on the fly and change how we use a reading or activity based on what is happening that day. That does NOT fly for Plan B.)
It is boring- while they read, I circulate. I monitor. It is NOT interaction. I am even more strict than usual (absolutely no talking. None!).  
I hate it. It is not my personality and it doesn't feel right to me. It is *not* an interactive classroom. It is not wacky, memorable, and it is really not fun. For any of us. is working. Kids are getting input. I am not super frustrated at the end of the day. (Bored, but that is better than angry.) 
Kids who didn't get input because of all the distractions are getting input. Kids who were distracting are...getting input. Is it as rich and compelling as it would be if we were acting out the movietalk and exploring what they think are gross combinations? Not at all. is input, and it feels a lot more equitable in that I am able to do my job and not spend most of my time and energy on just a few kids.  
And at the end of class yesterday, I tried a turn-n-talk. (This has not yet worked consistently.) They managed it. It felt nice. We reflected on the feeling of class in L1. It was a better day. One kid in particular got a positive email home.  
The next day, I tried another turn and talk and lead a short discussion. Each day, I want to give the class back to interaction, just a bit more, so that we can get back to the fun. But for now, Plan B is going to let me stay sane and keep doing my job of providing comprehensible input, so I am very thankful.