Sage vs. Coach

I’d like to openly blog about one of the current “hot topics” in education. I, personally and professionally, am an advocate for this topic. I changed schools to one where they’re moving to this type of teaching, and I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of. I’m just not actually very good at it.

The topic, of course, that I’m referring to is the “coaching” of your students, rather than being the “sage on the stage.” I love the idea of not being the only means of instruction for my students, and that they can spend about 10 minutes with me, where we set the tone for the day. Then, they can spend 4/5 of their time working collaboratively or independently, creating things that they couldn’t if I was in the front of the room expecting them to take notes all the time. If I start with my list of pros, I think that this not only makes students responsible for their learning, but also readies them for college, where even if the instruction is direct, a lot of what they’re doing will be in groups or independent of class time. I also think that this goes hand-in-hand with TL use. If I set the tone or teach a mini-lesson in the TL, they can work on that skill, also in the TL, and we’ve hit 80 or 90% without it all coming from me. I can survey the room, help individual students, and really coach them through the process without having all the answers.

The cons here are threefold: 1) I do not set up perfectly great activities (shocking, I know), 2) I don’t know what structures and words students need to know to do all of this effectively in the TL, and 3) Students need input before they can produce output; where is this coming from, if I’m only spending 10 minutes with them? I will borderline blaspheme here and say that I would probably be really great at this if I taught my subject in all English. If I were an English, math, science, or history teacher, I think that I could ace it. But trying to teach students IN the language and not ABOUT the language leaves me floundering at the ways to do this effectively, especially with level 1.

Actually, if I were to pinpoint the problem here, it’s that my activities are rarely up to snuff. With my 10 minutes, I can introduce something new, personalize it for students, circle (though not in the true TPRS form, so I’ll say instead:) question students individually for them to get more input, but then I send them off on their own to … do what? Tell each other that they have green eyes? Say that they like to watch Netflix everyday? Ask a new partner their age? This isn’t what I had in mind when I imagined students creating, collaborating, and using the TL. So, what gives? How do I get students (in levels one and two) doing all of the wonderful things I’ve heard about via the internet? Does it stem from bad curriculum? Awful lessons? My general inexperience?

The truth is, I don’t know. And I’ve come to grips with the fact that it’s a journey, and it takes time, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting results now. At this point in my very short teaching career, I’m still “borrowing” ideas from others just to make it through a week or to extend a concept. The times when I can create something innovative and collaborative is actually pretty rare.

Here’s what I’ve had students do this year that kept us in the TL without me being the sole source of input, allowing me to coach them if needed:

  • Greetings: this year with greetings, I printed off the “small flashcards” from a set on Quizlet, made copies, and handed them out to students. I taught groups of students how to say their particular greeting or goodbye, and then set them up in two circles depending on if they had a goodbye or greeting. They greeted/goodbye-d their partner while holding out the paper with the French/English on it. This way, students could read the English for themselves without saying it. We went around, and then after a few rotations, we taught our partner how to say our phrase and switched papers with them. Verdict: my students actually learned multiple hellos and goodbyes better than every before. This activity is a keeper for me.
  • Numbers: #sorrynotsorry, but I HATE teaching numbers, especially with no context. NO ONE COUNTS STUFF IN THE TL WITH THEIR FRIENDS. I really think that students need to right them and decide how numbers sound FOR them. Doing this as a whole class is a terrible activity. This year, I had students listen to a youtube video where a woman said the number, the spelling appeared on screen, and I had them write down the spelling AND what it sounded like. Since they were watching a video, they could stop, pause, listen again, and count with her if needed. Then, when we began to USE those numbers (phone numbers, mostly,) students had enough input to really feel comfortable saying them. Verdict: We did this 3 times, with numbers up to 40. Students really seemed to grasp numbers, and we practiced a lot together, listening to ourselves and others – I will definitely keep doing this activity.
  • Screencast: For “flipped” homework, I had students watch a video that reviewed likes and questions from level one. They came the next day to class, where they put the knowledge into practice. Verdict: I was at PD on the day that they “came back” to class, and a lot of students did the subsequent activities in English 😦 — next time I will make sure to be there on the “deepening understanding” day.
  • Vocabulary building: On the first day of my “who am I?” unit in level 1, some students had a few activities to finish from the old unit first. As a self-paced lesson, I had students look at a word cloud of description words [most are cognates – thanks for the wonderful idea, Bethanie (PS, check out her big boy sheet for descriptions!)] and highlight words that described them, a good friend, and a bad friend. Then, I gave each student a slip of paper with a new vocabulary word and a number. The number was associated with a communal Google slide, where students put their word and a picture of their word. I used this Slide presentation to introduce the new vocabulary, and students got really excited to see their slide! Verdict: love everything about this. Will do for multiple units in the future.
  • Stations: We’re on a building wide goal in my school to include stations (station rotation) at least once a week by the end of the school year. This, to me, seems a little excessive, but I will do it because I see the value in it, even if I do a TON of work for them. I’ve been following the Creative language class template of stations – where is station is a mode. I usually also include a “teacher” station where small groups speak the TL with me in some way – really gives me a snapshot of what students know and can do. Verdict: I need more practice with these, but overall, I see the benefit for students to be actively hitting all modes in one class.

For me, it’s not actually all about giving up control. I’d be fine giving up the control if I knew what to do for my students to stay in the TL and produce good stuff.

What do you do to be a coach instead of a sage? What do you think of the practices? I’d love to hear your suggestions, advice, successes, failures, and anything else you’d love to share.


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