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.

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!

Fearless – step 3: Post a story for all to see

Okay, so I said that I’d post my story here. And even though I’m still nervous to do so, I’m going to post it anyway. Constructive criticism is the best kind, right?! Right.

So, please remember that I’m a non-native speaker, and that I’m not perfect in any sense of the word. And that while TPRS does a great job of giving three completely random structures, I do not yet possess the same abilities.

This story is intended for year three, intermediate low speakers of French.

La sculpture magique! 


Ca me fascine
J’ai déjà vu cette pièce d’art
Ca me fait sentir ____________

Un jour, Bob et Angélique sont allés au musée d’art avec leur classe de français. Ils sont allés au Louvre à Paris ! Pendant le tour du musée, Bob a vu une sculpture très célèbre : La Venus de Milo. « Oh la la, » dit Bob, « Ca me fascine. » « Vraiment ?! » dit Angélique, « Ca ne me fascine pas ! » « Pourquoi pas ? » dit Bob. « Parce que ca me fait sentir triste. »

Dans la prochaine salle, Bob et Angélique voient une peinture très célèbre : La Joconde ! « Ca me fascine » dit Angélique. « Je ne l’aime pas » dit Bob «  Ca me fait sentir étrange. Elle me regarde. » Et puis, quelqu’un dit, « Bonjour ! » Bob tourne, et Bob voit encore la Venus de Milo ! « Angélique, » dit Bob, « J’ai déjà vu cette pièce d’art … » Mais, quand Angelique tourne, la Venus de Milo n’est plus là. Angélique et Bob courent a une autre salle.

Dans la prochaine salle, Bob et Angélique voit des pièces d’art très grands « Ces pièces me fascinent » dit Bob. « Bonjour ! » quelqu’un dit. Puis, Angélique voit la sculpture, La Venus de Milo, derrière une autre pièce d’art. « BOB ! » dit Angélique, « J’ai déjà vue cette pièce d’art. » Mais, quand Bob tourne, la sculpture n’est pas la. « La sculpture est magique ! » dit Angélique. « Ca me fait sentir étrange. »

Bob et Angélique vont partir le musée après le tour. Ils montent le bus pour aller a la maison. « Le musée me fascine » dit Angélique. « Moi aussi. » dit Bob. Et tout en arrière du bus, Bob voit La Venus de Milo ! « Angélique ! La sculpture magique est dans le bus ! » Et Angélique voit la sculpture. « Bonjour » dit la Venus de Milo. « Ca va ? » …

There is intentionally no ending to the story because I plan to have my students make their own endings to tell who the statue is/why the statue is here. We will vote on the best one.

One of my biggest fears is that I write my stories too easy for my students, but I want to make sure that the language is accessible. I think I heard once that you should use 90% of known language, 10% new structures or cognates. Is there validity in that?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Fearless – step 2: Listen to advice

Hi everyone! I can’t believe that it’s finally Saturday – even with only 4 days this school week and two of those days where we were delayed for weather, I thought this week was the longest week EVER! Much like that first sentence.

Since my post last year about storytelling, I’ve gotten really into it. My students are still on the fence, but I think that as I continue to do it, they’ll get used to it. Plus, I’ll get better with each story and soon it won’t be so painful for them.

My third story attempt was awhile ago and it just seemed to fall flat. The kids were bored with the story, and I have one specifically crazy class that cannot function if they don’t know the meaning of a word in English. It’s maddening trying to work with some of them. Anyway, I knew something was off, other than my beginner status, and by my 4th attempt, I had found it.

Circling. Circling, circling, circling, where have you BEEN all my life?! Okay, that’s silly: I know where it’s been. Circling has been out in plain view and I just chose to ignore it. I initially read about it from Martina Bex, but questioning is mentioned multiple times over at Musicuentos too! (two of many sources here and here) And instead, I ignored it.

“The questions can’t be that important,” I said. “I definitely don’t need to script questions; that’s a waste of time,” I declared. “You can’t ask a question that many times and expect students to pay attention,” I scoffed. “There’s no pattern to questions that will help students when storytelling,” I boasted. And I was wrong.

The last time I told a story, I decided to script my questions. I followed the circling technique to a T. I asked:

  • A question to which students answer yes
  • An either/or question
  • A question to which students answer no
  • A question with a question word (who, what, when, etc)
  • A personalized question (using new vocab, students had to answer about their lives)

And man, did it work. Did student pay better attention? Yes. Did students hear infinitely more repetitions of the target structures? Yes. Did I know if students understand what was happening as it was happening? Yes. And did student get a chance to interact with new vocabulary and structures? YES YES YES.

I’m actually really amazed at how simple it is to ask a series of questions, and how much better retention students had of those target structures than before. It was amazing, and I recommend it to anyone looking to either tell stories, or to increase the language they use with their students.

Monday, I’ll be telling a story to my level 3s about a magic statue that walks around an art museum. It seems silly, but I hope that they like it. Maybe when I finish the script, I’ll post it here (please encourage me to do so, or I’ll be too “scared” to do so)

Now my challenge to myself is to find great activities to work with after the story is over. I need extension activities, retelling activities, etc. What are your favorite activities for after stories? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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!