Fearless: step 1 – Target language use

Before I get into this post, I am not advocating that you charge ahead into decisions before you think them through. That would be irrational. And I am only occasionally irrational.

Okay, so I’ve gotten some great feedback and varied interest about my #oneword2015 – fearless. Really, this was the push that I needed to take my classes to the next level – public accountability. So, I’m here to tell you of the wonders and failures that have happened recently.

The first thing that I decided to do: some kind of 90% TL system for my kids, levels 1-AP. If they have to speak the TL, then I have to model great behavior for them. So, I jumped right in. The first day of our new semester was familiarizing ourselves with the new program, and filling in a cheat sheet of relevant questions and phrases (“I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” “Can I speak English?,” “Can I go to the bathroom, nurse, locker, drinking fountain, etc.”

Now, choosing a system was not easy. I knew that I could be #fearless and start using the TL myself, but that wouldn’t exactly mean my students would follow my lead. I’ve been pouring over different systems for months. I originally wanted to go with Cristy Vogel’s French-only “Paie-moi” system, but with so many classes, the logistics are hard. I know my students, and I know that they would cheat. If you don’t know the system, any time a student uses English, another student who hears yells “paie-moi!” and once a student racks up 10 points, they have to write a suck-up letter to her in French. Students are allowed to write in English, mind you, but not allowed to speak it unless absolutely necessary, and when that happens, it’s outside of the room. If Cristy herself speaks English and is caught 10 times, she bakes her students brownies. My students would love this, because they know I make the most delicious cheesecake swirl brownies in the world. But this would be a lot for me to keep up with. In a few years, I do plan on switching to this plan.

The plan I went with comes from none other than Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell over at Musicuentos (are you really that surprised?) where each student gets a set number of dollars at the beginning of each class, (#8 on her list) and these dollars “bail them out” when they need to speak English. Once they’re out of dollars, speaking English will cause their grade to fall. This lets kids ask complex questions at the novice level, or tell me that story that they can’t hold in until later, and get through those “DUH, I KNEW THAT” moments without initial consequence. I’ve also started giving myself the same number of dollars, and students love making me pay up. I’ve also started asking my students “Can I speak English?” in French, and they have to say yes for me to continue. Some students nod like their head is about to fall off, and others want to tell me “no” so that they can watch me struggle. Either way, I know that I’m pushing them, and I think that it’s important to give them the option to hear more French before I switch to English.

Even before I was sure that this is the route I wanted to take, I explained the system to my students so that I had no way to back out. I bought play dollar bills a few months ago, and I laminated them with the help of a fantastic library aide (they were individual dollars and we had to push 8 through the laminator at a time to not waste the film!) Then, my loving, wonderful, too-good-to-be-true husband helped me cut them out. All 150 of them. And the next day, though my hands were shaky and I was instantly worried about my decision, I passed them out. No turning back.

My laminated "bank" of dollars. Also, check out my adorable mug that has a sweat coozy!
My laminated “bank” of dollars. Also, check out my adorable mug that has a sweat coozy!

And I’m loving the system so far. I’ve been really reluctant to speak with my French IIIs. I don’t know why. They’re definitely intermediate level, but when they think listening, they think terrible textbook exercises and crazy accents. One girl, giving up a dollar, shouted, “I understood ALL OF THAT” after I explained a concept to her table in French. I’ve also been able to joke with them. I don’t think they thought speaking French all the time would be their teacher talking about how she met her husband (we’re on a unit about love and friendship) and saying that she robbed a cradle because she’s “hyper-cool.”

I did fail this week, and part of my #fearless journey is recognizing where i went wrong and coming up with a solution. I was trying to give directions about filling in some cloze blanks, and I was getting those deer-in-the-headlights stares. I was gesturing, modeling, drawing, and saying the best cognate I could (blanc in French is blank) – still nothing. So we went with English. It was not the end of the world, and the kids still managed to complete the task. This week at #langchat, Amy Lenord shared her strategy: never make directions an interpretive task. She shared that she either uses English directions on the (smart)board while saying them in Spanish, or to have them written at the top of a paper, while saying them in Spanish. I plan to rectify my “fill in the blank directions” this way – she even advocates keeping the directions to your most commonly used activities saved so you can pull them up on a moment’s notice. Thanks for the advice, Amy!

I think the first step to being #fearless is doing something before you have a chance to question it. Before the fear trickles into your mind and you’re afraid to look silly, or to fail, or to wonder if you’re up to the task.

What about you? What #fearless things have you done this year? I’d love to hear your stories! And speaking of stories, look out for my next post on storytelling: coming soon!

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3 thoughts on “Fearless: step 1 – Target language use

  1. It sounds like things are going great with your new TL accountability system, congratulations! And thanks for mentioning Amy Lenord’s advice about giving written directions in L1 while saying them in the TL. I definitely need to make sure to start doing that.

    1. Thanks John! And yes, that advice from Amy rocked my world. After a lot of repetition, I’ll start using common directions in the TL, or maybe put both on the paper. But for now, it’s nice to not spend 20 minutes explaining only the directions to the activity. D:

  2. I created signs with my commonly used direction words (that arent cognates) in the TL. I point to them while i give directions to aid in comprehension. They can be purchased in my TpT store “chantez francais avec renee”

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