Good week

I had a great week!  This was the first full week of school where I really felt like my lessons were on-point and the students were engaged while still being challenged.

This was Spanish 1´s third week of food vocabulary and second week of dates and months vocabulary.  Spanish 2 is doing clothes and dates/months.  Both work together surprisingly well since with different months come different holidays (foods) and weather patterns (clothes).  We also spent quite a bit of time reviewing numbers.  I found a math games site online that gave me simple number patterns with some numbers missing.  I converted the numerals to spelled-out number words so students had to first identify the numbers and then figure out the pattern before they could fill in the number that was missing.  Apparently a lot of my students are logical learners because in the majority of my classes the room was dead silent during this activity.

We wrapped up reviewing numbers with a game of “around the world” with Quizlet slides.  Two students would compete at once.  The first one to say the number on the slide moved on the the next student, with the winner being the first student to get back to her or his original seat.  While this was very loud, the students loved it and I laughed and had so much fun that day.  I think it was an important teacher-student bonding day.  Several students have complained that my class is “too hard” because all they did last year was play bingo.  I was actually proud to know I´m a “hard teacher,” but this game improved everyone´s mood and I feel like they were still learning.

We wrapped up today with a graphic organizer activity that I felt summed up everything very well.  We had talked about dates and birthdays and we had already done characteristics two weeks ago so I decided to review everything.  Students had to ask at least two classmates “¿Cómo eres?” (“What are you like?”).  Classmates were to respond with at least three personality characteristics (and “soy,” of course).  Next, the student asked the same classmates “¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños? (“When is your birthday?).  We had already done horoscopes as a wrap-up activity two days prior, so I had handouts prepared with each astrological sign and a brief general description (copied and pasted from the first website that came up in a Google search for “horóscopos generales”).  Students then had to find their classmates´ sign according their birthday and compare how the students described themselves to how the horoscope described them.  They created a Venn diagram of the similarities/differences.

I think this was a great activity that was very student-centered; however, I should have structured it better.  I think it would have worked better if I had a system for grouping students quickly and had them answer the two questions before I revealed the purpose of the activity.  I saw several students reading the horoscopes and turning to a classmate and saying in English “Are you sincere?” or insert appropriate characteristic.  I felt like that degraded the thinking skills aspect of the activity.  The good news is that even though I had advanced level Spanish texts from an authentic Spanish language website, their were so many cognates that I only had two complaints all day about not being able to understand words. (“Well, what do you think “sincero” means?”)  So my notes for a better go at it for next time are: more structure and better instructions.

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PS: I did notebook checks during this activity today and it wasn’t a good idea.  How/ when do you check notebooks?  I feel it’s necessary for my students or they won’t do the daily notes/questions/activities.

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-A

Things I need to work on:

I need to be better at seeking out help and using the knowledge and wisdom of others to improve my instruction. I am a very independent person, and while I don’t mind asking for help, I sometimes have a hard time accepting that others’ ideas are better than my own. Luckily, I have a good friend who is also a Spanish teacher who has directed me to many resources that offer great advice and ideas. I think it’s easier for me to sort through these ideas and find things that align with my philosophy of teaching than for someone in-person (like a department head or university supervisor) to offer me ideas that I just don’t think work for my classes. The only problem with sorting through these resources is finding the time to sort through these resouces, which brings me to my second topic…

I gave a unit test last week and I’ve yet to grade a good 70 of them. Then I have a vocabulary quiz on Thursday and I haven’t graded any of them! Where do I find the time to plan awesomely effective lessons, find great ideas for effective lessons, grade the assessments to those lessons, AND take care of administrative stuff like entering grades, making sure students make-up missed work, and checking my e-mail for random things administration want me to do? Should I do more self-assessments? Have students peer-grade things like vocab quizzes? My school requires at least one “assessment” grade every two weeks. I now understand why Scantron is so popular.

Thirdly, I’ve fumbled on speaking the target language in class. This is something I always always always said I would never do. It’s Spanish class! The class should be in Spanish! Right now I’d say that on a GOOD day my class is about 50% Spanish. I spend a lot of time explaining procedural things in English, telling students to pay attention, how they should organize their assignments in their notebooks, no they can’t go to the bathroom or to Mr. Smith’s room to get the ever-so-important lipgloss they left behind or to talk to their coach about missing practive. I thought that I started the year off well by modeling expectations from day one, but I never explicitly told students rules or procedures which I realize now was a huge mistake. The first 9 weeks is ending soon and I plan on hitting the reset button. I just hope it’s not too late.

My last major issue is lesson planning. I have to have my week’s lesson plans turned in by lunch every Monday. Other teachers just send in the same lesson plans they used last year and change the date. Given that I’m a first year teacher and I also have to turn in my lesson plans to my university (I’m earning my master’s degree) I don’t have this luxury. Even if I had lesson plans from last year I don’t think I’d just turn them in because I feel like I need detailed plans to guide me during the week. I also think having detailed plans improves my instruction and keeps me from flying by the seat of my pants (is that the correct saying?). I’ve been creating my lesson plans on the weekend and I typically spend about 2 hours planning and typing them. When I finish I feel accomplished and like I made good lessons, but often I have found myself asking “the hell is this?” when I review the day’s lesson the day prior to teaching it. So I really want to find a why to make good lesson plans that are even more detailed than what my university requires that are pretty much fool-proof and that I can’t skimp on. After I publish this blog I’m going to work on revamping my university’s lesson plan template. I’ll post it in my next blog.

So that’s my vent for the week. I really want to be an excellent teacher, and while I know that takes time and practice, I still want to hold myself to the highest standards.

-A

Mi aula

Not that anyone is reading this really, but you can probably tell I’m terrible at blogging.  I am going to set a goal of blogging once per week.  We’ll see how that goes.

It’s been nearly two months since school started and I feel like I’ve finally got my classroom set-up and organized in the way I want it.  So, I wanted to share a few pics.

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My desk was originally in the back of the class.  Last Friday I moved it to the front and I think it’s much more functional.  I have all 36 student desks set up in a semi-square.  I really would prefer tables, but I have to work with what I have.  I didn’t want students sitting in the traditional long rows for ideological reasons.  In one of my psychology classes we discussed how schools are designed to prepare students for factory work and rows of desks mirror assembly lines.  So it’s my hope that my desk arrangement will reflectes my desire for open discussion and free thinking.

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I got a nifty cart in which to store iPads securely that doubles as a podium and my wonderful custodian tracked down a narrow table for me that I put beside my door.

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I still wan a small bookshelf to hold the workbooks, but I love that the table gives me an open and central location for students to find materials they need and to turn in work.  The crate on the left says “¿Qué hicimos?”  It’s a idea I stole from my mentor teacher.  There is a folder for each class for each day and I put assignments students need to make-up in the respective folder.  When a student is absent and later asks what they missed, all I have to say is “check the folder!”  Make things a lot easier for me.

Things I’m have trouble with so far are mostly procedural.  Grading is a nightmare and I never realized how difficult it would be to grade 166 papers.  We had a unit test last week and since I refuse to give multiple choice tests, 3 classes remain ungraded.  I’ve also noticed that students seemed to have been trained to only care about work that is turned in.  If I say we aren’t turning it in, they don’t do it.  They are very book-work oriented and I’m having trouble designing lessons that start drawing them out of that mentality, but still contain enough structure to make them care about doing it.  It’s very frustrating.  I want to focus on higher level thinking skills, but the majority of students only respond to things like fill-in-the blank.  Even short answer is a challenge for them.  However, I don’t think it’s because they aren’t intelligent enough to be able to process information at higher levels; I feel like the schooling system and standardized testing has taught them that if information isn’t presented or tested in a certain format that it isn’t important or understandable. Perhaps that’s just me looking for reasons to ditch traditional schooling and standardized testing, but I also felt like my hunch was validated when I passed out a test and every single student was quieter than I had heard them be all year without be telling them anything.

-A

Opening thoughts

I’m starting this blog as a way to reflect upon my first year as a high school Spanish teacher.  I’ve decided I’m going to remain anonymous so that I feel free to discuss whatever is on my mind.  I’ve already heard talk from other teachers about tenure being difficult to obtain so I don’t want to cause any problems for myself!

We have been in school for about four weeks now and I can honestly say things are going well.  I’ve been gifted with really good kids, about 170 in all.  We are on a seven period day with each class being 50 minutes.  The period that contains lunch has an extra 25 minutes set aside for a type of study hall.  That period is my biggest challenge so far.  There are 35 students and several of them have big personalities that clash.  To (try to) keep them quiet, I’ve been playing TED talks during study hall, but it’s been difficult to find ones that interest them.  We have second lunch, which means we have 25 minutes of study hall, lunch, and then 50 minutes of class time.  I’ve yet to figure out the best way to get everyone back into “class-mode” have a 50 minute free-period.  Some teachers have suggested just starting class right away and using study hall as class time, but I feel like that might overload them.  I really need to just take some time and search out engaging 20 minute activities and videos.  If anyone knows of an endless supply (or at least 180) please be sure to let me know.

I’m trying a new seating arrangement with this “problem class” tomorrow because I had lots of issues with them being disruptive today (and everyday).  I’m also planning out an incentive package for good behavior to implement next week.  I know for sure threats of extra work or disciplinary action won’t work and to be honest that’s not really my style anyway.  I know being engaged in every lesson would fix every behavior problem in that class, but I haven’t figured out just how to engage them all.  That being said, I’m open to suggestions on classroom management!

I don’t want to end my first post on a negative note because I truly am having a great year so far!  I don’t want this to become just a medium for ranting.  Hopefully some wonderful and experienced teachers will stumble across this and give me some good advice or just a friendly “go get ’em!”  Hope everyone has a great long weekend!

 

-A

Reflections and thoughts on language teaching