Don’t fit the mold

I will start this post by clarifying what you may have already gathered: I do still exist! I’ve been really caught up in taking a load off this summer. This is my first summer where things are “staying the same,” meaning that we’re not moving, I have no big trips planned, I’m not trying to redo everything, and I’m really trying to focus on relaxing and not thinking about school with every waking moment. Conclusion? It’s been going really well.

This summer I’m trying to update my curriculum, from all the tips and tricks I learned at #CampMusicuentos in June. It’s been a little rough, because not only am I reading The Keys to Planning for Learning, but I’m working with basically nothing except the outline of a former textbook. What I mean by that is: I’m not sure if my school has a set curriculum. I mention this, not to shame my school (I really do love it there) or to make myself sound impressive, but because I know there are TONS of young teachers in this position. My first year of teaching could have gone much more smoothly if I would have ASKED for our curriculum before school started. Now that I’m entering my second year at my new school, I’d feel silly asking about curriculum without raising questions like, “what exactly were you doing last year?” (Answer: “my best”)

I finally feel like I’m in a place to do some actual curriculum mapping and planning this summer. You might not feel like you’re in the place. Use an already set curriculum, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about that! This brings me around to the point that I’m trying to make here:

Don’t attempt to fit a mold that someone “who knows what they’re doing” laid out for you.

What I mean by that is that there is a FINE line when you’re using someone else’s resources. I am ALL for “not reinventing the wheel,” “working smarter, not harder,” and “sharing is caring.” I am constantly reminded that teachers (especially us young ones) might not have the time, experience, or resources to write curriculum by ourselves. Heck, up until this year, I clung to the Jefferson County Public Schools curriculum tighter than I’ve ever clung to a textbook. But there’s a danger here, and that danger is losing who you are as a teacher.

Case in point: I looked at other teacher’s successes (JCPS/The Creative Language Class, Shelby County, etc) and thought “if they are successful, all I have to do is do exactly what they do, and I will also be successful.” WRONG. Even this school year, I had another French teacher to plan with for the first time. I spent a lot of the year trying to be more like her. Why wouldn’t I want to? She’s got tons of experience, stays relevant, tries new things, and is a good teacher! Of course I would want to emulate her and her practices. In the past, I spent so much time trying to do exactly what JCPS outlined that my teaching suffered. My students suffered. My mental health suffered.

You’re not meant to be someone else, no matter how great they are. I can’t shove myself into a colleague-shaped box. I can’t fit inside the crime scene-style chalk outline of anyone else. I can’t force myself into a curriculum that might not be right for my student population.

Did you know that the JCPS curriculum caught some flak for some of the units that they did? As far as I know, it was a curriculum compromise to include things like the “have a good day” unit. I didn’t know that until this year. I just assumed that they were the be all end all of curriculum! And it’s GOOD, regardless of these facts. Knowing this puts it into perspective that not one element contributes to your success as a teacher. A lot of it rides on you, your personality, your management, and so much more. So this year, my goal is to not lose myself in the quest for “better.”

I hope that your goal, while picking and choosing resources to help further your students towards their targets, is to remember who you are along the way. You were hired by your district for your expertise, your personality, your attitude, and your ability to do your job. Don’t let the promise of success with any one curriculum, method, or style tear you away from the great things that you bring to the table as an individual.

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Quoi de neuf?

I was planning a post to update what I’ve been working on in my classes, and of course, Melanie got there first. We’re always on the same wavelength.

Truth is, I’ve been so concerned with this year’s changes, that I haven’t been focusing on the language. Rather than 90% French, we’ve been spending class in 90% English with some French on the side. Over the weekend, something “clicked” and I feel refreshed and energized about speaking the language! I need to engage kids with culture – every day! I need to develop activities that keep kids in the target language!

I watched the Musicuentos Black Box podcast on staying in the TL; and Senor Fernie mentions that we should have a bank of activities with simple directions that so that students know what to do in the TL.

I’ve also noticed that my classroom lacks of mass amount of culture. At the high school, we’re not really supposed to put up posters or other aids, so I’ve been fighting with how to get culture embedded. A million thanks to Kara and Megan over at The Creative Language Class, because I’ve been using all of their tips and tricks to embed culture into the each lesson.

So what exactly AM I doing in class?:

  • Using simple directions, modeling, and cognates to start activities. Sometimes I leave out unnecessary words. Today, prepping for a gallery walk-style activity, I said, “chaque personne, huit post-its,” and said the names of several students: “Mae: huit post-its,” “Erin, 8 post its.” My sentences didn’t have verbs, but we’ll get there. I was overwhelmed by how much students understood in the TL during several activities this week.
  • LEADING with culture! Kara and Megan at CLC have really inspired me to inject culture into every day. With a little help from their ideas, I’ve created a French version of their novice listening form, and of their cultural aspects sheet. You can look out for both of these in their Mercado soon (I’ll let you know when they’re up.) EDIT: 11/3/15 The cultural aspects sheet in French is now up in their Mercado!
  • I’ve started a YouTube playlist of videos that can inject culture into my lessons – I hope to gain a few each week and build up to having one for each day, if possible. They can serve as mini brain breaks, but we can do an activity after watching them twice, which will bring everything together. You can view my YouTube playlist here. This is another inspiration from Kara and Megan – check out all of their posts on using YouTube in class!
  • I’m working on some activities to share soon, so please hold out for a little longer! I’ve decided that I need to stop holding back and share what’s working, even if I don’t think it’s great or innovative. To hold you over, here’s an activity where I’m having students find the names for sports in French. I left the top left blank so that you can give your own directions. Sports tweets

Thanks for bearing with me as I change around what I’m doing around here! What’s going on in your class? I’d love to hear about it!

Two rivets for change

Have you ever heard of the two rivet rule? I hadn’t until recently during a devotional that I had been reading, and I think that the idea is fascinating.

Apparently, when the Golden Gate Bridge was built in San Francisco, the engineers thought that it would withstand earthquakes. Unfortunately, that was a lofty dream, with the bridge being so close to the San Andreas Fault line. Eventually, the bridge needed to be retro-fitted to withstand earthquakes, and the task needed to be completed with the bridge still functional. I can’t imagine the daunting task of changing a bridge while it was still a main source of transportation. So, they put in place something called the “two rivet rule,” where they decided that in order for the bridge to be used during this process, only two of the 1,000,000+ rivets that were in the structure could be removed at a time.

Imagine the time it took to change this
Imagine the time it took to change this …
Now, the idea of this has sparked a lot of people to think about what that means for change. Most blogs and articles I’ve read that talk about this process recommend that we follow the “two rivet rule” when making change in our own lives. Sure, you could take a look at your life (or specifically your teaching life) and decide that x, y, and z (and maybe a whole lot more) need to change to make you a better teacher. But in order to not fall apart, cause chaos, or burn out, two changes at one time is plenty. And think of how much faster you can get to the other changes that you want to make if you’re not buried under the rubble that 16 changes have caused in your life or classroom. The moral is that life goes on when changes are being made. You can’t halt all other progress just because you want to overhaul something in your life or classroom. 

That being said, there are a lot of things that I want to change to become a better teacher. But as last year and a lot of advice from great teachers taught me, you can’t take on everything at once. So this year, with so many changes involving location, classes, schools, etc. I’ve decided to tackle only two changes at the start of my school year. Once those two changes have become ingrained into my teaching and my classroom, then I’ll tackle a few others that are on the eventual list.

My two changes for this school year are:

1. Standards-based grading with a focus on proficiency. This is a policy that the other French teacher in my department uses, and for consistency and a focus on growth for my students, I’ll be taking on this same (or a similar) grading scale.

2. Meaningful and timely feedback for students. This is one that I’ve decided on after changing out with a few other hopeful changes. But, at the beginning of the year, it’s so much easier to stay on top of feedback and “grading” because I’m not weighed down by … well … other feedback and grading that I haven’t given yet. If I can start out strong at the beginning of the year, I hope that this will create a habit that I can continue, while making other, harder or more intensive changes later on in the year.

What changes are you hoping for this school year? Are you looking at two or more? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Fearless, step 4: Just go for it

Did you forget about my #oneword2015: fearless? To be honest, I almost did.

If you haven’t gathered based on my last several posts, I am moving school districts for the 2015-2016 and I’m really excited about it. I am very sad to leave my students, but really excited about where this opportunity takes my career and my family. This was a definite #fearless choice because I love my students with all of my heart, but knew on the inside that my (old) school was not the place I could spend any more of my teaching career.

That brings me to my new #fearless steps and excitement about new possibilities:

1. #deptofTWO

One of the things that I most excited about is having a second French teacher in the department. We only overlap in teaching one level, but it will still be wonderful to have her insight, ideas, and experience on my side. It seems that we have a similar style, though she is a much more seasoned teacher than I am. With that comes my anxiety that I now get to fuel kids and prep them with the foundation to have someone else as a teacher, who may expect different things. When you’re a #deptofone, you can get by with missing out on a few things because you’ll be teaching these level one students next year, the year after that … and the year after that. Now I have the weight of making sure I get these kids through what matters so they don’t suffer later on. I know this is how normal teachers do it, but still … scary.

2. First year of technology integration

I’m also SO excited about my new school’s 1:1 technology integration and their commitment to blended learning for next year. My high school students will each have a Macbook Air, and my middle school students will each have an iPad. There’s a district version of Schoology, I hear through the grapevine that we’re getting PearDeck, and I’ll have a Mac as my school computer (I love technology, but I really don’t like PCs – bring on the Mac jokes, I can handle them)! This is the real first year of the 1:1 rollout, at least at the high school level, so I couldn’t have found a better time to merge; I won’t be the only one trying, failing, and retrying tech integration this year!

3. Two preps

The next thing that I’m excited about is less preps. Though I’m happy to have experience teaching 4 levels, I’m definitely okay with moving down to two next year … Might I have … free time?! Probably not, with all of that new-fangled technology. But it’s nice to dream.

always thought that I was an AP French teacher. I imagined myself teaching students to write persuasive essays, speaking in complete French, telling jokes that students understood, etc. I remember on my first day of teaching, I determined that I severely disliked French two, French one wasn’t my style, and that French three was clearly my favorite. Two years later, French two may be my favorite, and as long as I can get a handle on speaking 90% TL with them, I also like French one a whole bunch. I’ve actually done a frighteningly bad job with French three and AP French, but then again, I’m my own biggest critic.

4. #Cartlife

As of right now, I don’t have a classroom to call my own next year. I don’t know if that situation will change, but I am assuming that I will be a cart teacher. I will also be traveling to two of the district’s middle schools, a change that I was originally not very excited about. “What are you thinking?!” has run through my head a few times, and potentially yours as you read this, so I will share my positives with you:

I am extremely organized, so cart teaching doesn’t intimidate me. If anything, it forces me to be more prepared so I’m not running around like a crazy person at 7 AM. With less preps, I think that I can handle both a mobile classroom and changing schools. And let’s face it … how many days out of the last two school years (approximately 360 days) have I seen the outside during daylight hours, gotten fresh air during the day, or had the potential to grab a coffee pick-me-up one those particularly rough days? Three, if I’m counting exam days and being lenient on the others? For these reasons, I am very excited about the change. I was initially worried that I was giving up my program, students, and presence in my school to be the teacher version of an intern (coffee runs, anyone?) but I am so excited about these new challenges and can’t wait to share them with you.

I can say, that of all the decisions I’ve made, this is the one that makes me the most hopeful for the future, both personally and professionally. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences and resources with you!

What about you? Are you changing schools, styles or practices for the next school year? I’d love to hear about them, or to hear about your experiences travelling between schools or on a cart.

Yearlong reflection

I’ve been gearing up to write a reflection of this school year, but every time I sit down to think about it, this year is just a jumbled mess in my head.

Things that went well:

Teaching style: This year, I ditched the textbook in favor of a mashup of both Jefferson County and Shelby County‘s curricula. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with 4 levels, so following this was really nice. It was nice to have an end assessment in mind, even if I tweaked it. Most days, I also wished they had actual activities, but that’s a definite pipe dream. I think that the units were interesting, relevant, and generally engaging topics for my students.

Quasi proficiency-based: I didn’t get the integration of this that I would have liked, but I definitely liked trying to incorporate this system. Next year, I need to make sure students know what all the levels are, their goal, and where they currently are. I definitely didn’t mention this as much as I should have, or make sure that students knew its importance. I think that next year I’m going to start with Shelby County’s proficiency pre-unit, or something similar.

Not grading everything: Oh. my. goodness. Do you know how wonderful it is to give students practice that’s not graded? Something that will propel them into the next benchmark/assessment without needed to grade each and every one of them?! It’s amazing. That being said, I need to streamline the feedback for these assessments and be honest with students. Many only wanted to know, “is this for points?” and I need to work on changing those mindsets. For feedback, I’m hoping to use some “stock” feedback that I can check; I hope to reinterpret Amy Lenord’s plus/delta speaking feedback.

Input: This year, I really realized how crucial the input step is. There is one unit in particular where I modeled the vocabulary for students every single day for two weeks and I think it’s the vocabulary they remember the most. They can write it, they understand it when they hear it, they can speak it, and they can interpret it when reading. Next year, I need to find more ways to give written input; I think I’ve got more ideas for oral input, but need to expand what students read.

Things that I need to change:

Feedback: This year I was awful at both a) giving timely feedback and b) giving the right kinds of feedback. Like I said above, I’m hoping to design a feedback form that helps with this kind of thing, and a general rubric (probably several) that I can use that will help me give feedback fast(er).

Refining all skills: In changing my teaching style this year, I concentrated on the speaking and writing (the first two parts I think of when I think proficiency) and I’m the first to admit that the reading and listening portions of my class suffered. I attribute some of this to not having a bank of activities, to being young, and to teaching four levels, but I’m hoping to get more listening and reading activities for next year. I’m hoping to (eventually; I know this one will take time) incorporate a system like Sara-Elizabeth does, where each day is dedicated to a specific mode of communication. That way, I won’t find myself freaking out that it’s been two weeks since we did an interpretive listening activity.

Technology integration: I tried to incorporate technology as much as I could last year, but there were so many limitations that I ran into? We needed Chrome to use this site; I could access a site on my school computer, but it was blocked for students; I tested a site and it worked, but couldn’t handle 24 students accessing it at a time. This year was a mess. There was one situation where I made a listening assessment, the site didn’t work for students, and I had a backup plan (go me!) — and that site didn’t work either. For those students that got it to work, great, but someone had taken all of the headphones (there were 3 pairs out of 30) from the library, so they couldn’t listen even if the site did work. It was my biggest failure this year and next year I need to test more and have better back-up plans.

There are definitely more things that I could put in both columns, but I’m trying to stick to the positives and only a few things that I need to change. I can’t take on the world in a day, that’s one of the ways I hit a bout of burnout last year.

That being said, I want to shout out a few things: I recently celebrated my one year blog anniversary, and my one year dedicated to becoming a better teacher with #langchat on twitter. I wouldn’t be the teacher or the professional I am today without the help and support of #langchat, and there are quite a few teachers I want to thank. I could say a million words of thanks to you all, but I’ll try to keep it short:

Sara-Elizabeth: Thank you for revolutionizing everything I thought I knew, and for being so helpful and supportive in my a journey

Amy: Thanks so much for sharing all that you do and for truly coaching me through your blog and your tweets

Allison: Thank you for sharing your ups and down and reminding us young teachers that even the greats have hard days; I’m inspired by your journey

Laura: Thanks for sharing, caring, and the #blogpostsporfavor. You challenge my thinking in a respectful way, even when I am clearly wrong

Colleen: Thanks for making me feel like wonderful teacher, even on the toughest days, and for inspiring me by your wonderful activities

John: Thanks for all of the collaboration we did this year, and thanks for putting up with my constant tweets and terrible jokes

Lisa: Thank you for your transparency in changing your teaching. not only are you honest about the time that it took you, but you share so much and I can’t tell you how much I respect and admire that

Bethanie: Oh my goodness, thank you so much for sharing everything that you have with me. I would have been lost this year without the ideas and activities that you share and I’m so grateful for that

Melanie: Thanks for your fresh ideas and letting me ask you tons of questions/stealing your blog post ideas. The four prep solidarity was much appreciated

Kirsten: Thanks so much for all of your help and support, in front and behind the scenes, and I’m looking forward to working with you next year!

More changes coming soon – can’t wait to share them with you!