Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clothespins Vocabulary

As I was looking for creative new vocabulary games, I came across this idea for students to clip clothespins with Spanish vocabulary onto paper plates with their English equivalent (here's that game as well as a variety of other vocabulary station ideas).  I thought this was a neat idea and headed over to order some wholesale clothespins from Amazon.  I'm creating this game for an activity in a week for my Spanish 2/3 classes to review, so I'm doing quite a bit of vocabulary up front, but I'll be able to use those same resources in the future for my Spanish 1 and Beginning Spanish classes as they learn the vocabulary.  Still, it's going to be a lot of work to transfer this many words onto clothespins.  It got me thinking - how many different ways can I use theses clothespins?

Vocabulary hand-off - students can start with a plate and all the corresponding clothes pins.  Once they match all the clothespins up, they remove them and pass the entire plate and clothes pin set to the next person to do it.  Thus, vocabulary is circulating around the room and students can even start racing to see how fast they can hand off their plate.

Vocabulary race - all the clothespins are placed in a bucket in a central location.  Teams start with the same number of plates.  Students must take turns and send one person at a time to get a clothes pin and put it on the team's plate. Whoever can fill their plates first (or, whichever students get the most pins in a certain amount of time) wins.

Vocabulary sentences - Students are given strips of paper with English sentences on them.  Students create a chain of clothespins by clipping one onto the end of the other to create the entire sentence.  The final clothespin clips onto the piece of paper with the English sentence on it (you could hang the sentence chains from a string or wire clothes hanger).

Sentence creation - I'll remove all the clothespins with nouns.  Students create sentences by clipping them onto popsicle sticks in an order that creates a comprehensible sentence.  They can fill in the nouns by writing them on pieces of paper and sliding them into the clothespins.

Those are just a few ideas I came up with off the top of my head.  What ideas do you have for using Spanish clothespins?

UPDATE: Another cool idea someone suggested after posting this was to put a clothespin on each desk with a sheet of paper.  Students visit different desks and write an original sentence using the vocabulary word on the corresponding paper.  Then, everyone returns to their desks and read the sentences.  They pick their favorite one and share it with the class.  Afterward, papers and clothespins can be hung up in the classroom for all students to read one another's sentences.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Key to Teaching

**NOTE - Though this is a management post, it has some very specific and important implications on my use of Spanish and CI in the classroom as I get to the specific examples of what is happening in my classroom now

Last May, I hated my job.  I was overwhelmed with all of my responsibilities for a number of reasons, including personal circumstances.  However, I'd also created a monster at school through my lack of solid plans, including classroom management.

When discussing what the most important aspect of teaching was during my teacher prep program, I decided on classroom management since it forms the structure of everything else we do and provides us an environment conducive to learning.  I did not realize how true that was - and that the classroom management plan cannot be a half-baked idea with the expectation that students will fill in the blanks like young adults might in order to make class time useful.  Last May I absolutely realized that and vowed that I would not let my classroom deteriorate like that again.  I do not want to hate my job in May.  It's such a wonderful, rewarding, miraculous job - and I want to want to keep coming back!

So, this last summer I overhauled my classroom discipline and management plans.  This led to a number of small but significant changes in my classroom, all adding up to a class that I'm absolutely loving now that we're 2 weeks into the school year.  My classroom feels more like a place of learning than it ever did before.  My solid plans are what kept my sanity through two straight weeks of non-working technology, students being added/dropped/switched daily (even just yesterday!), starting XC practices on the second day of school with a first-year team, and still managing things in my personal life (including a trip during the entire weekend with no time to prep for week 2!).  Students are still learning the procedures and expectations, but they're working like a charm and it's only going to get better from here!

The book I've been using to overhaul my classroom is "Discipline in the Secondary Classroom."  By working through the chapters step by step, I developed a vision of what I want my classroom to look like, clear expectations to communicate to my students, procedures that will help my classroom run smoothly, and more physical management artifacts such as my Course Expectations and even the arrangement of my room.  Here are some examples of things that have worked wonders these first two weeks:

Behavior Log/Rules and Guidelines for Success
I used to groan at things like behavior logs and grading behavior/participation at first.  Now, I will never teach without one.  The first week made me a fan - the second week made me frenzied fanatic over this thing.  The basic concept is that I keep a clipboard with all students names on it and a column for each day of the week Friday-Thursday.  I have codes for specific behaviors I want to encourage and discourage.  Students start the week with 15/20 points, and their behaviors are tallied and then totaled Thursday nights.  My items are directly linked to the rules (LISTEN: Look me in the eye or where I direct your attention, Involve yourself, Show me when you get it and when you don't, Tune back in, Español only, No talking over), which are 6ft high on my wall right next to the door.  We began with a discussion of the rules as well as the Guidelines of Success (Susan Gross's "Responsibility, Respect, Results"), also posted on a large poster next to the rules.  In addition to these individual points  The results of this practice has been miraculous:

  • Since students are starting with a "C", I'm constantly looking for behaviors to reward.  This constant effort ensures (and keeps track of) how many positive/negative interactions I'm having with regard to behavior and ensures that I keep it at that ideal 5:1 ratio of positive and negative comments.  In fact, my ratio is MUCH higher than that.  For students that are having regular behavior problems (and point reductions), I make an extra effort to notice things that they're improving on, such as rewarding these students for things as simple as raising their hand BEFORE they speak, making a comment that is on-topic and adds to the class, or simply being on task.  One particular student started this year right where we left off last year, but I was able to correct the behaviors that continued all last year within one week this year!
  • I am effectively encouraging students to do the things that are typically harder to get them to do.  Rather than being something embarrassing that only pays off in long-term learning, by stopping me when they don't understand, raising their hand to ask a question, or taking a risk by answering a question (particularly discussion questions), students are immediately rewarded with recognition for something they did awesome and a point toward their grade.
  • All students participate.  Because they need their points, they involve themselves more often and no one can just sit back and be a fly on the wall to earn the grade they want to.  This really gets to my smart kids whose input I want, but they're sometimes so used to just sitting back and understanding the material without getting involved that they don't participate the way that I'd like them to.  It also ensures that I'm interacting with everyone - No more doubt about who has answered all the questions and who hasn't said a thing.  I have the proof in my hands at all times!  Especially toward the end of the week, I'll check to see who hasn't earned any points and remind them, as well as put a priority on calling on them if/when they raise their hand.  Likewise, I have justification to tell an over-eager student that they have all of their points for the week, and I'd like to give another student an opportunity to earn a point before I call on them.  Thus, they're rewarded, but I make sure all students get the attention they deserve.
  • Students get immediate feedback.  Both during the class time and then when the grades are posted on Friday (hence the Fri-Mon schedule).  Students know that their performance is (or isn't) up to par with my expectations.  I feel justified assigning this as a grade, too, since our "classwork" is mainly made up of interactions and communication, and this system measures the efforts they're putting in to do so.  Even in two weeks, students are adjusting their behavior and involvement in class based on the number of points they've received (or didn't receive!).
  • I'm constantly re-teaching and reminding about my rules as I inform students they've received a point and why.  Even the students who came late have caught on the to the rules and expectations without direct teaching and are participating/behaving the way I want them to.
  • I know every single one of my students names.  I had all but a handful down by the end of the first week.  I never realized how huge this is for both me and them.  It became a very quick and rewarding game for everyone as I had to address them by name in order to give them their points throughout class.  Students visually "approved" of me (or were exceptionally pleased) when I called them by name, especially if it was a name that took me an extra day or two to get.  When new students showed up on my roster (or in my class), I immediately knew who they were and was able to welcome them to class and make sure they stayed caught up.  Attendance was a breeze (especially since it was obvious when a student was missing indicated by their lack of a point for that day and the constant reminder to take attendance with their names in front of me).  By the middle of the second week, I even knew where everyone sat (and where the empty seats were for new students).  I feel a sense of community that's already affecting the class in a positive way, which is amazing in only the second week.  Granted, I only have about 130 kids and about a third of them are students I had last year as well, but I'm better with their names than I ever was last year.  I'm pretty darn proud of myself.  This in itself made the behavior log worth it.
Class Points
Similar to the individual points, class points are earned when the whole class is being awesome.  These are awarded as marbles in that period's jar.  There's not a hard-and-fast rule to this, but I do try to give some points every class period.  Oftentimes, I'll give multiple points at once (usually 2-3 marbles, 5 marbles for something that I really want to recognize, though I did give 10 marbles to one class yesterday for a very lively rendition of the "Taco Song" that out-did all the other classes).  When the jar is full, they'll get a PAT activity that they'll vote on as a class, but will still encourage CI (i.e. a game, kindergarten day, etc).  When marbles are messed with they also make a loud, tinkling, and unmistakeable sound - whether they are being put in or taken out of their jar.  It instantly gets the attention of the entire class and the response is immediate (especially if I feel like I'd have to work to get their attention again when they've gotten a little out of hand - the marbles quite them down immediately!)

Posting Grades and handing back work
Even though I only posted one grade on the first Friday, nearly every student wanted to see what they got for their behavior and participation.  I collect all work on Fridays (including their daily journal, quizzes, and any assigned work), as well as hand back the items from the previous week (though they should know their grade before it's handed in with the way that I grade and because they do immediate peer-corrections for items that they may not know the grade for).  This was extremely reinforcing for them as well as myself as I knew that they were invested and interested in their achievement.  Since all work is handed back on Fridays, they're able to immediately compare the posted grade with the grade on their work and let me know if there are any issues as well as check the no-name pile for items they thought they turned in and rectify the situation.  These weekly postings keep me on top of my grading and the students are responding to this beautifully.

Passing out work
A system that is working for me is to front-load the passing out.  There is a pass-out folder that I put copies of each day's handouts in (great job for a teacher's aid!).  My "Capitán de Pasar" (Captain of passing) grabs their folder at the beginning of each class and then passes out the items in the folder WHEN INSTRUCTED (still teaching that to a few of them).  The folders don't go back until the end of the day.  Passing in work follows similar procedures, but is only done on Fridays.

Student Surveys
Students have been taking their time to fill out my short surveys after each Friday quiz indicating which activities helped (or didn't) help them and why as well as giving me a percentage "grade" for how much of class time we spent in Spanish.  I've gotten a lot of really constructive comments and am adjusting my teaching accordingly.  It's great to know what my "customers" think and it seems to be fostering a truly open learning environment where we are all learning and making an effort for one another - even me!

Essentially, my entire class is guided by PowerPoint slides.  At first, I started doing this because I have very limited board space, so I needed something I could change quickly.  However, they've essentially become the lesson plan that I can follow easily and maintain the flow of my class.  Moreover, I can explain more in Spanish and make sure students are understanding as they can see the Spanish (and sometimes English) "subtitles" for the instructions I'm giving them.  For my more novice classes, I can start with bilingual instructions and then transition to straight Spanish as students become familiar with the instructions and specific slides.  Plus, I can copy and paste slides we didn't get to onto the next day's slideshow.  As a teacher, these have drastically improved my instruction - and my students have noticed.  Though I never said anything about my slides in my surveys, at least two students in different periods commented on how much they like them.

There are a number of other little things I've done, but the bottom line is that I'm enjoying my job more than ever and I feel like I'm achieving my goals as an educator.  Both returning and new students have commented on how much they enjoy my classroom.  Though I got over being "liked" last year by students, more effective management and therefore teaching seems to be resulting in more positive student experiences and "liking" my class more because they are organized and successful!  And, I would have to say that I have pretty high expectations for their behavior and don't compromise (like I did last year) - It's my classroom I refuse to let my students (or sometimes a student) take control.  We play by my rules, and we're all happier for it, especially since they're LEARNING!!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Interactive Notebooks - Round Two

(Click here for my previous posts on Interactive notebooks, including my plans and experiences from last year.)

After giving Interactive Notebooks a shot last year and considering how they failed, I've decided to have another go at them.  However, I've made some strategic changes to avoid the problems we encountered next year.  The biggest issue was inserting materials into the notebook.  As long as students were simply copying down information, they worked great and never had to search for notes since I could tell them exactly where to find them.  However, I have a lot of handouts for reference, and that's where I ran into troubles.  After some experimenting, here's what I've decided to do:

Students will have a combination of a 1" Binder (with a pocket in the front and back) and Interactive Notebook composition book.  Handouts and loose leaf paper (for quizzes) will be organized into the binder, while notes will go into the notebook.  The composition book will go into the pocket of the binder (this is why I want a 1" binder instead of 1/2").  Thus, the binder is a kind of "Appendix" for the notebook and I know exactly where students should be looking for items without either of them getting too crammed.  They can even write references on worksheets (see page so-and-so in IN) and annotate notes to refer to handouts.

I will specify this year that the comp book MUST be 100 sheets and standard size (this was an issue last year, especially when you're trying to tell students to put certain items on certain pages).  Because this notebook is strictly for notes, and the binder is for the items that are handed in/out, the set-up will be simple.  I'm trying to decide whether I should even take class time to have them do it or just assign the set-up as homework (I'm leaning toward the latter and making it due at the end of the first week):

  • Interactive Notebook Set-Up (see pictures below)
    • Students number the odd pages in the TOP, RIGHT-HAND corner (the trick to this is to have them do the ones first throughout the entire book (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) and then go back and do the tens (skip first 5, then put "1" in front of the next five, then "2", etc. all the way through 15 for books with 80 sheets or 20 for books with 100 sheets)
    • For the sections, students fold over the corner of their page until it meets the center, like how the Origami projects started to make a rectangle page square.  Alternatively, they could do tabs, but I found that most students chose not to get tabs, so this is a quick-and-easy way to make the sections easy to flip to.
    • Students write the section heading on this folded over part (so if you unfolded it, it would be on the back of the page).  
    • The Table of Contents goes on the front of the unfolded page.  Students will fill these in as they take notes.
  • Interactive Notebook Sections:
    • 1 - Table of Contents (includes the page numbers for the following sections; individual page numbers for specific notes goes on the section page)
    • 3 - Essential Vocabulary (this is the vocabulary that they will be tested on)
    • 51 - Verb Karate (Only for Spanish II/II)
    • 75 - Algo Más
    • 101 - Reading Journal
  • Binder Setup
    • Front pocket - Interative Notebook (on the rare occasion that I provide a handout for homework, it would go in the front pocket, too, unless they have another designated location for homework)
    • Before first tab: Syllabus and Diarios (each new item will go on top of the last, so the Syllabus will actually be at the back of this section and the most recent Diario that they're working on should be at the front).
    • Tab 1: Song Lyrics
    • Tab 2: Algo Más and Other Handouts
    • Tab 3: Quizzes and Assessments (this is for their reading, listening, and writing quizzes at the end of each week)
    • Tab 4: Verb Karate (Spanish I and II only) - I am providing a basic cheat sheet/reference guide with verb endings that will go at the front of this section (students can also put other printed guides, such as those available on and, with this).  Afterward, they'll put their completed Verb Karate attempts so they can review their mistakes and study.  Of course, all notes and practice that I have them do will go into the IN, so this is an excellent example of where students may want to annotate the items in their IN with the page numbers of where the notes they took are.
    • Tab 5 (Tab 4 for Intro to Spanish and Spanish I): Loose leaf paper for quizzes (notes go in the IN!), so they won't need more than 1 or 2 sheets of loose leaf paper each week.  I'll recommend students put about 20 sheets of paper in there to start with and re-stock when their supply gets low).

 Sometimes I wonder if this is too much and if I should just stick to a binder, but then I remember what it was like trying to keep track of notes that I took and getting them mixed in (or never put in) with all the paper in my own binder.  Hopefully, this will at least make it possible to keep all the notes they take organized and, in the worst case scenario, students will only lose the handouts that I make available online for them to print anyway.  I will be checking their reading journals at the end of each semester, so I may as well go ahead and flip through the entire notebook and make that part of their grade (one of my class goals is for students to prepare themselves for their futures by taking accurate notes and keeping materials organized, so it's justified!).  I'll post pictures and reactions as we get to it.  I'm feeling fairly confident this will work for us!

Overall Index

"Algo Más" section divider

Index/Table of Contents for "Algo Más" section

Reading Journal section header

Index for essential vocabulary

Reading Journal example



Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Music-Centered Curriculum

Last year, I made an attempt to follow the curriculum in the newest Look, I can talk! books (Blaine Ray).  However, for various reasons, it just wasn't cutting it for me.  However, one thing that students were picking up really well were the songs.  Along with the LICT curriculum, I did activities with LEGO stop-motion videos based on the original LICT stories and of course Señor Wolly (their favorite).  In fact one particular struggling student's mom purchased a school Señor Wooly account so that her son and the rest of my students could access the videos!  Students were able to remember and use the phrases because they got the songs stuck in their head and enjoyed singing them as well as associated the words with the videos that accompanied the songs.  After getting some feedback from students, I decided mid-year to re-do my curriculum and have the songs at the heart of the curriculum.  In other words, my structures were pulled from the songs and listening to the songs became a central part of instruction.  Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, I wasn't able to plan this curriculum shift out methodically and it showed, but it also showed how much the students were learning.  However, the 2014-2015 school year will have a music-based curriculum that I feel will be much stronger and I can't wait to see the results.  Here's how I went about structuring it:

First, I used Bryce Hedstrom's list of the 400 most common words to identify the words that I wanted my students to know.  Then, I looked at various songs from both of the previous resources as well as songs commonly used by other Spanish teachers, including authentic songs (for example, "Eres Tú" is an excellent first-year song!).  I identified prominent phrases within the songs (usually they were repeated multiple times, giving me lots of repetition and increasing the likelihood that students would know them) and cross-checked that they included high-frequency vocabulary and/or important grammatical concepts that I wanted my students to be exposed to and acquire (in the lower levels, phrases with high-frequency vocabulary were emphasized while grammar gained increasing importance with the higher levels since they already know many of the high-frequency words and have acquired more fluency).  I also ensured that the phrases were in a complete sentence (or were put into a complete sentence with minor adjustments) and that I could come up with a discussion topic with which I could PQA, circle, discuss, and/or tell a story with.

In Intro to Spanish and Spanish 1 classes (which are very similar) have a very well laid-out curriculum, especially since I've taught these levels before and know where to start/end up, what my resources are, and the general strengths and pitfalls of particular phrases and songs.  Ultimately, I decided to leave my Spanish 2/3 classes (I have both levels in the same class) a little more flexible and identified a loose order of songs to do with them and will select specific phrases as we go (these students are generally more proficient than a regular Spanish 2 class since they've had Spanish all through elementary school, Intro to Spanish, Spanish 1, and for some Spanish 2, as well as being at a high-performing school and they take Spanish as their elective over other options; thus, the majority of what I'm doing is practice, practice, practice and just help them become more fluent since they are already conversational and this is the first time I'm teaching these levels).  The phrases are what students will be tested on, but as all Comprehensible Teachers know, they will know so much more than just those phrases.

In addition to centralizing my curriculum on these phrases, I'm doing "Verb Karate" with my Spanish 2-3 students, doing someting called "Algo Más" each Friday, and putting an emphasis on reading.

  • Verb Karate is similar to the activities on and will help them start solidifying their knowledge of grammar.  I'm going to directly teach a verb form once and then review it for a week or two before teaching the next form.  Students simply need to demonstrate that they can conjugate the verb endings (which will be available to them during the test) correctly by completing a conjugation quiz pulled straight from Conjuguemos every other week.  I expect them to earn 5 "belts" per semester, though there will be a surprise for students who earn all 15 "belts".  I'll write more about Verb Karate at a later date.
  • "Algo Más" is simply that - "Something more".  These are a variety of topics that I don't cover nor test in my regular curriculum (though they might be a "bonus" question).  Some of these are vocabulary-based (head, shoulders, knees, and toes), some are culture-based (the countries and capitals of Spanish-Speaking countries), and some are just an additional fun way to get CI (learning a song that didn't fit into the curriculum but that students enjoy).
  • With reading, students will be doing free-choice reading Monday-Thursday (further reinforcing their command of high-frequency vocabulary) and whole-class reading with me on Thursdays.  The whole-class reading for lower levels will come from Blaine Ray's New LICT books since they provide short stories and activities that go with them based on high-frequency vocabulary.  The higher levels will read more authentic resources from Spanish and Latin American literature as well as current events.  I worked out a 5-step process for students to complete these readings in groups (context, pre-reading questions, brief summary, embedded reading, and post-reading questions), especially since I'll be teaching both my Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 classes separately at the same time (thank goodness they're my more responsible and advanced kids!).  Again, I'll write more about these activities in a future post.
That's basically my curriculum in a nutshell!

PS - I'll update soon with the actual songs and structures I chose.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Interactive Notebooks Revisited

Many of you liked my ideas for using Interactive Notebooks last year.  I did give them a shot this year, and learned a lot about implementation, especially about WHEN they're appropriate.  Unfortunately, they didn't work out as I'd hoped for one main reason: my class is more handout-heavy than it is note-heavy.  Let me elaborate.

In my class, we don't do a lot of note taking.  For the most part, some key vocabulary is introduced and students write down that vocabulary and anything I point out that might help them.  I don't emphasize grammar.  If I did, there would be a lot more notes to take and the Interactive Notebooks would have worked better.  Indeed, when we did take notes, it worked like a charm.  However, we do a lot of learning through discussion and songs.  Discussion doesn't lend itself to notes (obviously), while it's just not efficient for students to copy down lyrics to songs and translate them.  Instead, I provide handouts with the lyrics, a CLOZE activity, etc.  The trouble with all these handouts is that they have to go somewhere.  When using an Interactive Notebook, especially when utilizing a composition book, the only way to get the handouts in there is with tape or glue, which resulted in a number of problems.  Tape is the best since it's least likely for the papers to fall out - that is, of course, assuming that students realize that the tape needs to be positioned in such a way that about half of it is on each paper (some students would tape with 99% of the tap on the handout out and the tiniest sliver of tape actually connecting it to the notebook.  Moreover, students didn't have tape, didn't take the time to actually tape things in, and things fell out.  Not good in a handout-heavy class.

My last complaint is that, while IN's offer so many cool opportunities with foldable, foldable frankly eat up time in a secondary classroom.  Often, there's so much time spent creating the foldable that could be better spent simply instructing and moving on.  Thus, foldables in my classroom were more or less eliminated in order to make sure I had enough teaching time.  At this age, I could very easily provide the information online and ask students to make the foldables at home if I felt they were necessary (I don't - students often find equal or better ways of studying).  I'd like to revisit foldable at another time (and possibly their application in another subject as I can see how it would better organize certain information, but I don't have anything that calls for that just now), but they just weren't efficient in this class.

I also ran into issues with students who never created their notebook for one reason or another.  This is likely a first-year teacher symptom, but a small number of students either joined the class late or simply didn't have their notebook on the days we put them together, so they ended up just taking notes on random pages of their notebook or didn't take notes in a notebook at all.  This was a bit frustrating, especially since these were the students that may have benefitted the most from the structure of an IN.

I guess the moral of the story is that, while IN's can work well in some situations, they're aren't necessarily the best option in others.  If I had a note-taking heavy class where I could title pages and have students take relevant notes (my high school economics class comes to mind), this would be a wonderful tool that would fit the job well.  On the other extreme, if you have a class where note taking is minimum and your class calls for more organization of handouts, IN's are not the answer (this is where I fall).  If you fall somewhere in the middle where you have a lot of note taking, but you also have handouts, I might suggest (and am considering, given some changes to my curriculum) having students combine a folder/binder with an IN - have students put their handouts in the folder/binder and keep the IN for notes in the pocket.  I'm still toying around with what I want to do for next year.  I think I have too many handouts for a folder to suffice (if you do go the handout route, I would suggest using one with the brackets in the middle to keep things more secure), but a small binder with a limited number of tabs to organize the handouts may just be the trick and I've already checked that a composition book will fit nicely in the pockets of said binder.  Plus, binders are more sturdy than folders anyway.

As a final note, here are some things to specify to students about getting their composition book that I didn't anticipate: I didn't realize different composition books had different numbers of pages.  Thus, when I told students to put things on page 95, but they only had 80 pages, we ran into some troubles.  Also, somehow students assumed that all IN's were equal and showed up with these itty bitty notebooks (wha...?).  Moreover, some assumed a spiral notebook would work just as well (they don't).  So, be VERY specific about what notebook students should be getting.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Getting the Act Together

One of the number one things I learned this year (and I've heard it's a common lesson for first-year teachers) is that I need a little work on Classroom Management.  Between the normal struggles and the extra stuff that was going on in my life, I was SO sick of being a teacher by the end of the year.  However, I've got three months to figure out how to make things go differently next year, and my goal for next year is to still like my job come May (that could be a very tall order!).

Classroom management was the place to start, so I researched a number of books and chose the one that seemed best: Discipline in the Secondary Classroom.  (The reviews for the current edition are lacking, but the older edition got a number of glowing reviews, so I assumed the third edition would also be good).  I am not disappointed.  I have to say, this book is completely changing my views of my classroom and making me re-think every little detail, while still providing flexibility for me to do things my way and customize them for my classroom.  It's an easy-to-follow, step-by-step how-to instructional manual for all things classroom management.  The worksheets on the DVD are an added bonus that I'm using along with my own documents that I've created according to the activities in the text and I'm going to have a solid Classroom Management binder to refer to throughout the year.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who teaches in a secondary classroom that would like to fine-tune their classroom management plan.  Right now, I'm working on the activities for the first half of the book, which involve nailing down exactly what my plan is and articulating them in a way that I can clearly visualize how every aspect of my classroom should function like a well-oiled machine using the STOIC model.  Below is a summary of this, including what I've done thorough Chapter 5 (I recommend reading chapters 1-5 and then working on your plan since things in later chapters will influence your plans related to earlier chapters - I find I'm jumping back and forth to fine-tune things a lot):

Section 1: Structure your classroom for success (S)
Chapter 1 - Vision: Understand key concepts about managing student behavior

  • Documents I created: Guidelines for Success, Family Contact Plan, Self-Assessment Plan, Family Leter

Chapter 2 - Grading and Instruction: Design instruction and evaluation systems
  • Documents I created: Clear Goals for Instruction, Feedback on Behavior - Monitoring Behavior, Feedback on behavior and effort - Grading/Assessing behavior, Plan for students to review their grades
Chapter 3 - Organization: Prepare routines and procedures
  • Documents I created: Instruction and evaluation procedures, Schedule of daily activities, Expectations for independent work periods, How to get students' attention, Student materials, Beginning and ending class, Addressing absences, Procedures for assigning/monitoring/collecting student work, Physical space and classroom layout
Chapter 4 - Classroom Management Plan: Plan to encourage responsible behavior and to respond consistently to student behavior
  • Documents I created: Guidelines for Success, Family Contact Plan, Self-Assessment Plan, Family Letter
Section 2: Teach Expectations (T)
Chapter 5 - Expectations: Plan to teach students how to be successful
  • Documents I created: ACHIEVE acronym breakdown, Plan for students to get my attention and communicate that they need help, Preliminary lesson plans for teaching expectations, list of common activities and transitions, ACHIEVE activities worksheets (detailing expectations for each common activity), ACHIEVE transitions worksheet (detailing expectations for each common transition)
Chapter 6 - Preparation and Launch: Pull it all together for the first day

Section 3: Observe Student Behavior (O)
Chapter 7 - Monitor Student Behavior: Implement and adjust your classroom management plan

Section 4: Interact Positively (I)
Chapter 8 - Motivation: Enhance students' desire to succeed

Section 5: Correct Fluently
Chapter 9 - Proactive planning for chronic misbehavior

Spanish Reading Materials

I'm working on building a library for my students to read from.  With a focus on Comprehensible Input and minimizing frustration, I plan for students to select their free-choice reading material from my library or to purchase their own books (giving them even more choice and flexibility) from an extensive list of leveled reading resources.  These resources I'm suggesting come from the novels popular with TPRS teachers, short stories (again from TPRS resources as well as my own), carefully selected popular novels that students should be able to read, and authentic resources that include embedded readings and context for students to understand them.  I'll help guide students to what best fits their level and interests, allowing for considerable differentiation and flexibility in choice.  Of course, if students have something they REALLY want to read, then their motivation can overcome the difficulty of the book and it's still valuable, but most students find that my recommendations are usually the most enjoyable since they feel more capable of reading them.

Below are "Amazon Wish Lists" of the books I plan on recommending to my students.  These were compiled based on what's available through Blain Ray, TPRS Publishing, and Susan Gross's list of Spanish novels.

Middle School Spanish (Intro to Spanish)
Spanish 1
Spanish 2
Spanish 3
Spanish 4
Spanish 5
Spanish 6

Additionally, I am selecting authentic resources from NMSU's reading list for students in their Spanish Literature Master's degree list.  Almost all of the items other than the books (they're formatted correctly, so books titles are all underlined) are in the public domain, so you can easily find them online.  These can be very challenging, so I'm making these available to students to read if they want (there's some wonderful poetry and enlightening essays!).  I will be teaching some of these to my Spanish III students separate from free-choice reading as well.

On a side note, I'm trying to raise funds to purchase many of these books so that students have more selection in my classroom.  If you'd like to donate, please visit my GoFundMe page: (I will love you forever if you do!)

Genius Hour 2014-2015

Genius Hour next year is going to look very different than Genius Hour this year for a few reasons. During my first year teaching, I identified a few things that I need to address and fine tune a bit more before I'm ready to take on Genius Hour in the same way again: Spanish proficiency and Structure.  I felt that I was lacking in these areas last year, and Genius Hour was when it showed the most.  However, while re-structuring my curriculum and teaching this summer, Genius Hour emerged in a whole new way that I didn't expect.

Reading is a fundamental element of developing language proficiency.  In my quest to pack as much comprehensible Spanish input into my class as possible, I set aside a daily free-choice reading period for students.  However, I needed a way to hold students accountable for their reading and to check that they're getting out of it what they should be.  I added a reading journal, where students identified what they read and included a brief summary as well as a list of words they came across that they didn't know (note to self - I just had the idea of adding in a "rating" for each entry, indicating how students feel about reading that day).  Then, while deciding the format of my final, I decided to use that daily reading as the source for a book report and presentation, which allowed me to assess speaking, something that can be tricky in a Comprehensible Input-based classroom.  My main objective was simply to translate their reading into a somewhat painless writing and speaking assessment, but I decided to include a "product" of their choice that could represent their book as well as help remind them of what they wanted to talk about during their 1-2 minute presentation to the class.

In my push for more comprehensible input and Spanish instruction, I was a bit sad that I was eliminating Genius Hour, but felt this was needed and that I would be much more successful with my instruction and meeting my responsibilities with my new curriculum plan.  Then it occurred to me... Isn't this reading project just another form of Genius Hour?  I'm requiring that they read... but they're welcome to read anything they want to, create a project that represents their learning, and presenting it.  All the elements are there, PLUS it's all in Spanish!  I feel like I've found my silver bullet and am quite pleased with myself.  Because of some of the attitudes toward "Genius Hour" from last year, I won't be calling it that this year (at least not in front of my students).  However, the fundamental elements are all there and I am so excited to capitalized on this experience again!

My First-Year Genius Hour Experience

Well, I learned a lot about Genius Hour this year.  Being a first-year teacher, I learned more about what works for me and what doesn't.  I also got a lot of honest feedback from students.  In all, I love the idea of Genius Hour, but it's going to look very different next year.

My goal for Genius Hour was for students to explore culture.  I made a decision to focus on Spanish language proficiency during the first four days of the week, and then allow students to explore culture on the fifth.  I felt that the Genius Hour experience would be hindered if I required students with minimal Spanish skill to try and complete their project in Spanish.  Thus, the tie-in to my subject was through a focus on culture.

Our Genius Hour experience was primarily split into two parts.  During first semester, I tried to promote learning a little about a lot of topics.  I gave students a list of 10 categories of cultural topics ranging from Art and Food to Economics and Government.  By the end of the semester, students needed 15 blog posts - one in each category plus five on any cultural topic they wanted.  I gave them a format for the blog posts that required them to include their resource and a paragraph describing what they learned and why they researched it.

  • What worked: students did end up thinking about culture in new ways beyond just food, dance, and music.  They were also able to learn things that were unexpected.  Overall, they gained an appreciation for many of the similarities and differences that exist between the cultures (including ours).  It was also easy to keep track of posts because each student "tagged" their post with the cultural category as well as their name, so I could pull up all of their posts at once to grade.
  • What didn't work: STRUCTURE.  This year, I learned that I don't really have it, but I really need it.  This holds true for all of my teaching, not just Genius Hour.  However, Genius Hour was the least structured part of my week, and I really struggled with it.  This is a classroom management issue rather than a GH issue.  I would particularly warn new teachers that they need to be meticulous and hold many students' hands through the process to ensure their success.  My highest students got this right away and took full advantage of it.  They were the ones who got the most out of it and enjoyed it the most.  My lowest students, on the other hand, just wished I would teach class.  Unfortunately, this was a reinforcing idea considering they didn't get out of it what they could have, and so they felt it was a waste of time.  My higher students also noticed the lack of actual learning that seemed to prevail in the classroom.
At the end of the semester, to get buy-in for another semester, I put continuing Genius Hour to a vote.  If I had simply continued Genius Hour as it was, I can almost guarantee the vote would have been a unanimous "no".  However, I explained that the goal and format would be changing to allow them focus on one topic of their choice and complete a project on that topic.  I REALLY turned on the salesman pitch.  In the end, only one class voted not to continue, but the rest of the classes voted by a landslide to continue doing GH.  Since I had informed classes that the votes for all the classes would be tallied and we would all either continue or not continue, I decided to move forward with GH with all my classes (the class that voted not to continue did come around, I think).

Second semester, student chose one topic and then completed a project about that topic.  They had to create something to display about their topic (I purposely left this vague to see what they came up with) and attend a "Genius Hour Fair" where everyone displayed their product and filled out a worksheet about other students' projects.  Their final for the year was to turn in a portfolio that included their initial proposal, a 1-page "What is culture?" paper, a 2-page reflection paper about their experience, a Spanish-English dictionary that listed the key terms of their topic in Spanish and English, and an annotated bibliography.
  • What worked: Students got really excited about their project.  Students who cared about their learning and project really went the extra mile.  They also learned a lot about the process of designing and following through with their plan.  Before starting their project, students had to present a well through-out proposal.  Most of the groups split up early on (usually at the proposal stage) once they realized that working in a group would limit them being able to do their project their way (or they were worried about relying on another person), and many students realized that their plans changed for various reasons (not enough information, not feasible, etc.)  It was really cool to see students work these things out themselves and then simply come to me for approval for their changes.  In the end, I had a number of amazing projects - students built websites (I showed students with digital projects how to create a QR code for their display and then scan other codes to see items on their devices), sewed clothes, built models, and cooked food, and learned to dance among other things.  For these students, the experience really paid off.  In fact, a number of my "lower" students had the chance to shine when they brought their projects in - there were a few that all the students were talking about and they had no idea that that particular student could do the things they did!  Parents and students alike seemed very impressed at the Genius Hour fair - Most students put at least satisfactory effort into their projects (though it was obvious many of them slapped a poster together the night before).  However, there were clearly students who turned their "wow" factor on with paintings and displays that went well beyond anything I knew these students could do.  Many students and parents commented on how this experience gave them some unique opportunities with their kids.  For example, more than one Mom commented on how much fun it was to cook with their kids (students were required to work with a "mentor", defined as someone who knew more about their topic than they did) and that their family now had new recipes they ate on a regular basis.
  • What didn't work: Again, the issue of structure came in.  There were a number of students who just couldn't get the ball rolling with an idea and wasted a lot of time.  The issues from first semester rolled over into second semester and resulted in sub-par experiences for my students (and me).  However, I would say that second semester was much more successful than first semester and students got more involved in their projects, including my "low" ones.
If I were to do Genius Hour this same way in the future, I would make sure I thought through more structure, provided physical resources (such as worksheets), and spend less time on the "general" research.  I would also do shorter projects - a semester seems so far in the future for students.  I would possibly spend first quarter (or one week) researching a variety of topics so that students could explore things that they wouldn't normally explore and discussing those as a class.  Then, I would do one project each quarters - students who want to "go big" could form an idea that would justify three quarter's worth of work and then complete part of it each quarter, resulting in the one larger project.  The Genius Hour fair was well worth all the work put into it, however, and I would make an even bigger deal out of it than I did this year, sending out invitations to parents and families and announcing it at the school.  Next year, though, Genius Hour is going to have a different focus since I need to fine-tune some of my other responsibilities before I can facilitate a less-structured Genius Hour like this.

Friday, July 11, 2014

It's been a while....

Ok, I have a confession to make.  You might have noticed I've been AWOL for the last year.  Guess what?  The first year teaching is TOUGH (I'm sure that's no surprise to anyone that's already been through that).  Not to mention coaching XC for the first time, being asked to do the yearbook just before Christmas break, and a whole slew of LIFE.  At the risk of sounding unprofessional, I frankly got my butt kicked. But, I survived.  And I learned SO much. Now that the school year is over and my summer classes are coming to a close (adding another endorsement), I really should let everyone know what I've been up to.  However, I've been putting it off - do I really have anything worth sharing?  I came into this year with guns blazing hot from grad school feeling like I would change the world.  As it turns out, what changed the most this year is me.

However, as much as I realized I have to learn, there are things that I've learned that might be of value to others.  Somehow, without a single tweet in the last year, people are still finding my blog and tweeting about it.  Thank you :)  So, I guess I'd better stop procrastinating and let you all know how all my ideas worked out.  It's going to take a number of posts, but here they come.