Hodgepodge Bag of Tricks

I’ve been using this phrase throughout my 31 years of public school teaching. I’ve seen movements and buzzwords and best practices come and go, but the real bottom line is we want students to use the languages we teach. There, again, are strong opinions: language purists, grammarians, communicators, users of only TL, PBL, TPRS; the list is endless. So, do what works for you and your students and consider that students and classes are unique, so you may need a variety from time to be inclusive and to encourage student success and of course language use in conjunction with culture. Rather than go into a lengthy debate, I thought I’d show you a 1st year lesson; I’ll contrast this with an AP lesson in a future post.
Goal-to introduce the idea of different people doing different activities. (grammar point -er verbs).
After evaluation on personal likes and dislikes (previous lesson), we watched lyrics (there are some 8th grades in the classroom) and heard Stromae’s ‘Alors, on danse.‘ Kids tapped their toes, danced in their seats and were generally attentive. [Authentic Resource]. I slowly scrolled through lyrics and asked them to shout out words they could guess. Then I asked, “If we’re talking about dancing and singing, why were there so many words like problèmes, dettes, divorce? They got it-13-15 year olds! “Well, you’re going to have issues, so why not sing and dance to get through them?!”

We did a walking survey: Tu chantes? Tu danses? Je chante/je ne chante pas… Then we added other activities, most were cognates, but we still just used the tu-je combination.

Day 2-Story time. We listened and some sang along to ‘Alors, on danse’ again. Then it was storytime. I usually present picture stories, but this week I’ve added stuffed animals to get across the idea of singular and plural. I added exaggeration and extra details thanks to Nancy Feigenbaum’s FLAVA presentation on TPRS (Se me olvidó)  that I saw last weekend. Here’s the shot of the story-post lesson.

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 5.54.02 AM

They did not see the story while I was telling it; they did answer questions as I was telling and repeating. [TPRS and TL Communication] We spent a long time telling, with them shouting back answers, and the tiger and the zebras being added in. Then I showed them the written story; I read it; they read it and we figured out who was singing or dancing in each sentence; we acted out. I asked them to find the spelling that went along with each person I had listed. Some picked out chanter (the infinitive) for ‘il’ because in one sentence they did see he likes to sing. Students wrote in the spellings and we talked about not hearing differences except with chanter, chantons and chantez.

I emphasized that the chart might be helpful when they were writing and that some people even liked the purple chart with only the last letters to help them remember spellings. We talked about the difference in j’aime chanter et danser vs. je chante and je danse [grammar]. We’ll spend a month on the activities that people do-mostly talking, but also writing and adding to their pen-pal letters they’re getting ready to send to students in GhanaScreen Shot 2014-10-04 at 7.00.35 AM who are also studying French [authentic written interpersonal communication]. Then in two weeks, they’ll tell me about themselves and family and friends if they want [mopi and pals evaluation]. That speaking will be the basis  of my growth evidence, my Smart Goals, for my professional evaluation. Even more exciting, I script as they talk and then show them at the end of the year how much more they’ve said and how they’ve grown as French speakers.

Yes, it’s a hodgepodge, but it seems to work.

Grading and Variations of Teacher Perspective

As I was participating in a #langchat discussion, I realized just how passionate teachers are about classroom procedures and grading. I also came away feeling that we must be respectful as we share ideas. A repeated theme in my classroom this year is: Not only talk to talk, but talk to listen. Teachers, including myself, should also work to put this into practice.

New buzzwords in education include NO HW and Skill Based Assessment and Grading. Looking at these concepts individually allow for teachers to consider their practices and how they best serve student learning. In the NO HW camp we have teachers who say, “Students don’t do it anyway.” or “It’s not fair.” or “It’s just busywork.” There are partial truths in these statements; however, assignments that take place outside of class are not necessarily anti-student. Flipped classrooms, student choice, community applications, further research, practice to promote ease of learning or comfort with a current topic are all worthy out of class assignments. These practices promote life-long learning and opportunities that extend interest and application for those that feel led. An alternative for students who don’t have out of school access to technology or who don’t have school work support at home would be to use study hall time and/or visiting the teacher’s classroom even if another class is in session. Another option is to provide a window of acceptable completion, like a colleague does with her classes. She allows full credit for assignments in a two-week window. She explains to students that after that window, there will be a zero and that it’s better to practice during the learning phase rather than after the fact, but it’s their choice. This policy does not work for me because I have too many preps (5) to keep up with windows for all of them, but it works well for her and her students, so I respect this format. Another colleague accepts work through the end of the grading period with partial credit. I accept work until a certain date provided at midpoint and then again at the end of the grading period. Out of class assignments can also be called Active Study; in lower levels in my classes, this counts as extra credit-with limitations so that it doesn’t skew a grade beyond actual achievement. Another teacher doesn’t assign any out of class work and another uses flipped classrooms with great success. We are all professionals who use different policies and different strategies and we accept this although we all feel strongly about the choices we make as educators.

Which brings us to grading and variations thereof. In the #langchat discussion, some wanted to count many steps in language learning while others said, “Participation is just expected, not graded.” In both situations, one has to consider the class makeup and motivation level. I fall into the credit for participation camp because I believe students need the encouragement to use languages, especially in the lower levels. It’s a challenge for many of them to reach a comfort level of language use rather than what they see as performance perfection. If we’re evaluating their growth, use of language is a key component. I attended a presentation on grades that suggested we need to consider what students can do as a key component and that leads me to include participation. I do agree that there should be no place in grading for behavior such as bringing writing utensils and notebooks. If it’s an expectation and you have consequences, that’s fine but it can’t legally affect their grade in our district. Other teachers feel that the newest grade for a particular skill can simply replace the previous one and that is their method of showing student effort, growth and achievement. Again, there are a wide variety of methods but the question needs to be, “Are the grades a proper reflection of student achievement throughout the grading period?”

As we consider these issues and continue our discussions, we should reflect, share  and allow for teacher variations in the same way we value student diversity.