Intro to passé composé: film story

As a new teacher to comprehensible input, I always wonder how much I’m impacting my students. Clearly, I am not doing a perfect job, but I hope that the strides I am making will help my students each day. One day, I’ll be totally 90%, but this first transition year is hard.

That’s one of the reasons I love stories so much. I worry that students aren’y getting the “grammar” they need, and that the vocabulary we’ve been working with this year has been a lot of the same. I look at my traditional-styled colleagues, who are well into preterite vs. imperfect in level two, and I wonder, “am I doing this wrong?” I have to constantly battle my “old” ways of thinking to remember what’s better for my students.

So, this week, as we head through a unit on entertainment, I’m hoping to talk about the Oscars, but before we do that, my students need to be exposed to a little bit of the past tense. What better way to intro with a story? And, what better introduction to past tense? On a Monday, students always want to share a) where they went, or b) what they watched/listened to/ate over the weekend, so I think this is the perfect combination of the two.

For this story, I’ve incorporated a short review of question words (in general) because we spent last week (two 2-hour delays, one full day, and mardi gras) reviewing questions words explicitly. I hope to just incorporate them from now on, and that students will catch on, and eventually be able to ask and answer a variety of questions on familiar and unfamiliar topics (one of my only memorized Ohio FL standards, and a great push into the murkiness that is the intermediate level.)

I’ve also included a review of “plus ______ (que)” a way to compare two things, since we’ll hopefully be comparing movies using the Oscars this week. I’m also looking into comparing the artists and winners from the Grammys, if I can find the appropriate resources (and who doesn’t want to talk about how Kanye insulted another artist this year?!)

Hopefully I can pool all of those resources in the coming week, and actually post my first mini-unit, a totally #fearless thing of me to do!

In this particular story, I’ll be using a boy from my class as the main character, Henri. I’m hoping that this will keep students intrigued, and I may even use a celebrity as the girl, Rosalie. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ve included the story script here, and as always, I’d love your feedback if you want to offer it! I always worry about the key structures; one day I’ll get the hang of choosing them!


Impressionism fair!

There’s a quote that I can’t remember that I’ve been thinking of today – something about me being a sum of all the people I’ve ever met.

So, today in my French III class, I used an activity I found from Lisa Shepard. We’ve been talking about art, and she did a unit where she focused on impressionism, so I borrowed some all of her ideas. Today, we did the activity she describes here, where students look at two paintings, pick which one was an example of impressionism, and support their case. I grouped students into partners, and they spent yesterday looking at their paintings, and coming up with supporting reasons that the painting they chose was impressionism. We talked about subjects, scenes, colors, point of view, brushstrokes, etc.

Then, today, I moved the desks into a circle, with one desk on the inside and one on the outside. I modified Colleen’s “fair” activity, so that students had a few minutes to review with their partner before they presented. Then, the students on the inside (partner A) walked from desk to desk, asking which painting was impressionism and the reasons why. Their partner, on the outside (partner B), stayed with their paintings, and defended which they chose. Once these students had finished, they switched roles with their partner, so that partner A stayed to defend while partner B walked the room. I circled around, sitting across from students and letting them explain to me. Every group chose the correct painting!

Then, I added an element of John’s fairy tale activity (which he modified from Colleen’s fair activity as well) He had students circumlocute different fairy tales, and student A would guess what student B had described to them. I had students guess which one of the paintings they thought was impressionism, and had them decide if the “defender” of the paintings described the correct one.

I think a great extension of this activity would be to give students new paintings and to choose on the spot which one is impressionism. One thing I would change for next time is that I would limit how much the students got to use their cheat sheet, arm the inside circle partner with questions to ask, and/or have the “questioner” rate how well the “defender” described their painting.

Here are a few pictures of the madness:

IMG_0265 IMG_0266

Overall, this mash up activities worked out well. One of the things I want my French IIIs to work on is their ability to have a spontaneous conversation. While this wasn’t spontaneous, I think that it’s a step in the right direction.

One day, I’ll have my own amazing activities, but until then, I’ll keep modifying and sharing others. :] Thanks Lisa, Colleen, and John for your great ideas!

#Teach2Teach Question 3

I’ve been thinking on this post for a bit, and as much as it pains me, I think that it’s important to talk to beginning teachers about the realities that they might face in the profession.

If you’re not familiar with #Teach2Teach, the wonderful Amy Lenord started it to help pre-service teachers answer real, pressing questions that they have.

Question 3 happens to be: “What has been your most troublesome experience with teaching and how did you handle it?”

My most troubling teaching experience, like with Sara-Elizabeth over at Musicuentos, comes from a direct run-in with higher-ups. I’m actually very nervous about someone coming across this post and how it might directly affect my job, but I think there’s a much higher need to share what happened.

So last year, during my first year of teaching, I was having a hard time. With four preps, one being AP, I was spending lots of time at school, neglecting my (brand-spanking new) husband, and not getting any recognition for the work I was putting in. It was my first year at this school, and I thought I was doing well maintaining rapport with my students, despite all of the hardships. I thought students were responding well, even though I was new, young, and replaced a teacher who had been in the building for a long time – the only French teacher most of these students ever had. But at my school, you can’t share your hardships, because that means you’re not a good teacher.

After scheduling in the spring, I was alerted by my department head to a meeting that we’d be having with someone (I’m deliberately going to be vague here.) In this meeting, I was blamed for the lack of students I had moving on to the AP level (about 40% of students). As background, in my school, you need 3 years of a language to be able to get an honors diploma. A lot of students don’t want to continue to AP if they’re taking other AP level classes. I also get the feeling that my school isn’t very excited about offering French as a language choice.

In this meeting, my choices in the classroom (choices this person had never witnessed first hand) were questioned by what were called “anonymous complaints.” The correlation between the students I had moving onto the next level was based entirely on my “rapport” with students, again something that this person had never seen, and that other teachers had commended me on before.

During the most painful parts of the meeting, it was made clear that because of this supposedly awful rapport that I had with my students, my job could be cut to part time, eventually phasing me out and replacing my program with another language, like Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic that students “would have more interest in.” I had to come up with a plan, immediately, to move more students onto the next level. When looking at my level 1 numbers (there is no French at our middle schools), this person remarked that “[the] level one numbers are the highest, and I can only assume that this is because these students haven’t met you yet.”

I was crushed, and there was nothing that could keep the tears from streaming down my face. This remark haunts me to this day; I remember not being able to think about anything else all day (the meeting took place at 7AM), and I spent a lot of time overanalyzing every choice that I had made, every time that I’d spoken to a student, and a lot of time just crying. This kind of meeting was not what I’d signed up for.

I had lots of teachers tell me to move, to find some other job, to get out of here as fast as I could. I had older teachers tell me to make my class easier, to bake brownies, and to give students bonus points for outlandish things, like bringing in tissues or for coloring. I eventually got a few more students to sign up for AP, but I wasn’t feeling great about the situation.

Over the summer, I changed a lot about my teaching style, thanks in full to #langchat, and some amazing educators, like Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Amy Lenord, Cristy Vogel, Martina Bex, Elizabeth Dentlinger, and Bethanie Drew. I had a support team of teachers I’d never spoken to face-to-face, never met in person, but teachers who believed in me, and believed in language education.

And I had to keep in the back of my mind that this might be it. That this year might be my last at this school, that I would be judged for this year forever. And after changing my teaching style, building (even) better rapport with students, and having a year of experience under my belt, I had over 85% of students sign up for AP next year. I’ve had about 75% move on to level III, and another 75% move on to level II.

I will never forget the hurt that I went through to get to this place, and I think that it’s my resilience and my hard-working nature that got me here. I’m thankful for the resistance that I met, the plans I made to get more students on board with French, though the way it was conveyed to me was not in the realm of “ideal.”

I still believe with all my heart that the “meeting” that I was involved in was one of the most unprofessional meetings that I’ll ever have in my career. I believe that, while the person in question wanted to use scare tactics to turn things around, that my ability as a teacher had nothing to do with the meeting. This meeting was based on saving money, or cutting programs, or getting me to leave on my own because they don’t appreciate French. I still feel that I was attacked by this person, and the flat-out rude things that were said to me still bring tears to my eyes.

But I’ve become a better teacher for it, no matter my personal feelings on the issue.

And as much as new teachers don’t want to hear these kinds of things, I think it’s necessary. You are going to meet resistance out there. The standards and beliefs about education are the most flawed they’ve ever been, and there are probably colleagues or higher-ups that will make you feel like you should have chosen any other profession in the world. But you cannot come out of the gate perfect. You cannot be your best in your first year. But you can give your best. You can walk into work every day with your head held high, with your student’s best interests in mind, and your lesson plans that might fail. You can be a positive influence in the lives of your students, no matter what other people tell you. If you walk into each class, giving even 90% of what you have in you, that’s amazing.

There will be days you feel discouraged – and hopefully not in the same ways I felt discouraged, but there is always hope. You’ve decided to be an educator for a reason, and don’t let anyone else talk you out of it.

This post has helped me immensely in feeling better as a new teacher, and I hope that it inspires you too. What I wish I’d know as a new teacher, on Edutopia.

Evaluation … adaptation?

Well, I don’t usually post about things like this, but there’s something that a colleague said a few days ago that really bugged me.

On discussing an upcoming observation that the teacher had, the colleague mentioned to me (and to a student) that, “I have to play games. I’m a much cooler teacher when I’m not being evaluated.”

And man, I don’t know how that makes me feel. As a second year teacher in the state of Ohio, I understand what it feels like to be observed. I’ve got evaluations from administrators, I’ve got walkthroughs, I’ve got SLOs to deal with, and I’ve got a mentor through the new teacher program that visits me weekly. I’ve had my share, in the two short years I’ve been a teacher, of being observed and of being evaluated.

I also understand, that with all of the buzzwords thrown around in education, some educators are staying on their toes so that their evaluations are up to snuff to continue doing their job. I, as a new teacher, think I understand that very well. We throw around Marzano strategies with domain names, essential questions, enduring understandings, academic vocabulary, student learning objectives, and student learning targets. We talk about kids who are G, ED, 504, ESL, and IEP. Sprinkle that with a few national and/or state standards, technology usage, formative/summative AND formal/informal assessment, and it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

I’ve been criticized, advised, commended, cautioned, urged, warned, instructed, encouraged, discouraged, counseled, mentored, and had an evaluator that was flat out rude when speaking to me.

I’ve also catered my lessons toward observations, planned activities that I know my evaluators would like to see, and single-, double- and triple-checked my plans so that everything lined up absolutely perfectly for an observation day. I’ve molded lessons, done extra work, created materials, warned students, and scripted for those observations.

But if I can’t be the same kind of teacher when my evaluator is in the room, I think that there’s a problem. I think that if I deem myself, “cool, original, fun, etc.” when I’m alone and have to change everything to put on a show for my evaluator, there’s something wrong. If I have to limit myself, filter myself, or hold back because of an observation, my question is, “why am I doing that in the first place?”

Now, clearly I am not a perfect teacher. I don’t have it all together, I mess up frequently, I forget to assess often enough, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But I’ve never thought that I had to be a different person entirely when I’m being observed. I’ve never changed the way that I teach because I felt that I had to impress someone. If I have to change things that drastically for an evaluation, than my day-to-day teaching is probably not up to par.

And personally, I don’t want to change for my evaluation. I want my feedback to be 100% real, usable, and critical of stuff that I do on an everyday basis. I want to get better based on that feedback, and not shrug it off because “that’s not how I normally teach.”

This is just something that I think I needed to get off of my chest. I mean no disrespect to the colleague in question, and I hope that colleague doesn’t feel the need to change this lesson from the normal day-to-day. I’m just sad that some teachers feel the need to become another person for an evaluation and then get ratings that don’t reflect what their real performance. I think this is part of the reason that society is so critical of teachers, but also, we’re struggling in a field where so many are making decisions that aren’t in our best interests as teachers and professionals. I understand the struggle, but don’t want to succumb to it.