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 Conjuguemos.com 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: http://www.gofundme.com/ba121w (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.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Get rid of the desks!

Over Spring Break, I had the opportunity to observe a French classroom that did Organic World Language.  While there are still some things I'm hesitant about with the method, I did get a huge takeaway regarding classroom organization.

I've never been a fan of desks.  They're in the way, clunky, and hinder true interaction.  This is a major point of the OWL method.  So what do they do?  Students stand or sit in a circle!  The desks are gone.  Students are all able to see and interact with one another as well as the teacher.

I decided I had to give this a try in my own classroom and did so as soon as I got back.  My initial thought is that I love it - suddenly, my students who don't usually interact are in the front row and able to participate - many of whom did so on their own.  They're able to see what's going on with everyone else and comment on it.  I can see all of them and move freely about my classroom - as can they.  With only two people next to them, classroom management is easy enough to simply ask someone to move to another part of the circle.  We can act things out in the circle or I can bring people to the middle.  If I write something on the board (which is kept to a minimum), students can move around to see it clearly.  No more heads down on desks or texting/reading under desks - and definitely no sleeping!

I can see a few clear issues that are easily solved with the right resources and classroom management techniques - both of which are going to be difficult to adjust in the final quarter of the year, but not impossible.

  1. Students want to sit down - I don't see this being as much of an issue when the standard is set at the beginning of the year.  I also think that high schoolers will accept standing up for an hour better than middle schoolers since it's simply what has to be done.
  2. Leaning - Students migrate towards areas such as walls and tables where they can lean instead of stand.  This takes some of the energy away and ties students (often in groups) to certain areas, as well as makes the arrangement unequal across the entire classroom.  When sitting down, this takes the form of half-sitting and half-laying, which is worse than the desks themselves.
  3. Chairs - traditional chairs/desks will inhibit the free-flowingness of the classroom.  I am willing to provide chairs, but need to do so in a way that students can still move freely and easily.  I think I'm going to manage this by taking a weak spot (for me) and turning it into a strength - I'm going to use the chairs as a resource for much more than sitting.
So what kind of chairs will solve all three of these problems?  Drawing on my youth camp days, I remember using 5-gallon buckets that we upholstered and then packed all of our gear into for a cheap, effective, and unique seat/suitcase.

http://finditmakeitloveit.com/2013/05/5-gallon-bucket-seat.html
How does this solve my problems and then some?
  1. Compromise - students may sit, but they cannot lean.  I still have all the benefits of students standing in a circle (and the bucket chairs should prevent there from being a huge height difference if some want to stand and others want to sit).  I also still have the power to take a student's chair away if needed.  They are easy to move (and even come with a handle!) and put away, enabling me to change the classroom configuration when needed (i.e. when we're watching something on the projector/board or taking a test).
  2. Resources - I can put everything I need students to have right under their seat!  Think about it - no more passing out/handing in class sets!  Inside, I can put class books (novels and textbooks), white boards (white paper sealed in sheet protectors), dry erase markers, erasers (a sock), clip boards (when we need to write), props for our stories and conversations..... And more!  Other items that might be useful for other classes might include coloring/glueing supplies, the kind that are generally in a cup in the middle of a group or whatnot.  If I really needed to, I could put extra paper and pencils in each bucket, but that's getting a little generous haha.  And, since students have to get up, take the lid off, dig in the bucket, and then put the lid back on to get anything (which isn't a big deal when asking them to but otherwise it's very noticeable), I doubt students will be getting things out that they're not supposed to have at the moment.
My plan is to have students deposit their belongings in a certain area (backpacks/books/phones out of reach!) and grab their buckets for the day.  (This does lend itself to providing paper in the buckets since I rarely ask students to get out paper, but I wouldn't want them trying to dig it out of their backpacks when I do - they can bring their pencil to the circle).  I could easily ask students to simply leave the buckets in the circle and then put away extras/get out any more that we need.  This opens up so many opportunities for activities and especially interactions!

What do you think?  How would you put in your buckets seats and what activities would you do with students in a circle?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Genius Hour 2013: First Semester

Each day, I'm getting closer to introducing Genius Hour to my class.  After much thought and input from coworkers, I feel like I've got a solid plan.  Obviously, things will be a little less flexible than this last summer as far as what material we need to cover (I need to demonstrate that I'm meeting standards for Spanish classes), but we have so many more opportunities to really go big with this project so I'm very excited!  Here's what I've got planned so far...

My new classroom!

Well, it's been a while since I last posted, and I have so much to write about! I'm officially one week into my teaching career.  I've been absolutely swamped between moving and getting started with my first year of teaching.  However, things are finally calming down to where I can start posting about what's going on :)

First things first - here's my new classroom!

Here's the front wall -  it has all the most important things for students to see.

  • Starting on the left, we have our class rules (LISTEN) so that I can point and refer to them whenever we need to.  
  • The giant white notepad next to it is for words that the class wants to use, but aren't necessarily "in bounds".  We write the words and their translations on the pad to bring them "in bounds".
  • Next is our vocabulary word wall.  I use this to hold/display curriculum vocabulary.  There's plenty of room to display our current words as well as hold all the other word sets we will cover.  Each word from each of our structures is written on a color-coded card for each chapter.  we'll put these on the board with magnets (the smiley face!) when we're using them in context and combine them with other words.
  • Above the whiteboard are the ACTFL proficiency standards in student-friendly language for the Novice and Intermediate levels.  There is a little green arrow for Spanish 1 and another one for Spanish 2 pointing to where I expect them to be at the end of each class. (I'm only teaching Spanish 1, but I discussed where to put the Spanish 2 arrow so students have a long-term idea of where they'll be by the end of these classes).
  • Below the board is the current Spanish alphabet with vocabulary words for each letter - great for inspiring some fun words during PQA and stories since we'll see them all year!
  • On the left-hand side of the board is the "CBC" board with the date (written out in Spanish with vocabulary cards for the day and month), Objectives, Agenda, Essential Question, and Homework.
  • To the right of the board are the question words as well as our props!


Here's another view of the front wall where you can see a few more items:
  • My desk area - I love it!
  • Above my desk are cards to remind students to tell me when to STOP (red), SLOW DOWN (yellow) and REPEAT (green).



Here's the right side of my classroom:
  • There are responses for students to use during PQA and Stories, etc, that are color-coded for the type of reaction they express (for example, under "Approval" is listed "¡Qué bien!")
  • I have a chart with the weather where the arrow can be rotated to point to the current weather.
  • I have two windows, though we keep the curtains closed in the morning to prevent glare.
  • The bookcase holds our library of books, including textbooks, Interactive Notebooks, and books for free-choice reading.


There are only a few things along the back of the room, but they take up the whole wall!
  • TPRS-friendly grammar posters - these have the endings that we'll most frequently use, but the important letters are colored in with black to draw attention to them (i.e. the "-mos" on all of the nosotros forms).  I also have a "subjects" poster with all of the Spanish words for "I", "you", "he", "she", etc.
  • Color words are above the computers.


Finally, the left-hand side of my classroom, with lots of fun things.
  • Map of the Spanish-speaking countries of the world - I love this map!  It's so cool and has a lot of interesting information.
  • Map of Mexico with illustrations of different areas.
  • Poster of all the country flags.
  • "How to tell time" poster.
  • "High Frequency Words" poster.
  • Emergency exit strategy
  • Bathroom/Tardy sign out/in.


Finally, you might have noticed there are labels everywhere!  All useful words to point to when I need to :)  My desks are also set up so that I can go throughout the room with ease as well as have a nice, large area in the center for acting!  I'm so excited about my room set up and my students seem to really like it.  So far so good, and I haven't had to assign seats yet!