Gosh, it's been a while since I have blogged. My silence hasn't been for lack of ideas, rather a lack of time. I really hate that things have been so busy that this little sanctuary I have created for myself so that I have a place to think about what I am seeing in my classroom, verbalize my learning, flesh out or evaluate ideas or even just rant is one of the first things that gets placed on the back burner while I shift into survival mode. Now, there are so many thoughts and ideas to share that I am not sure saving them for individual posts would be productive either. By the time I get to that topic to flesh it out I am sure my raw thoughts on the topic will have turned into dust bunnies in the corners of my brain.
THAT is the reason this post is called The Garage Sale Post. I am about to unload on you a motley assortment of junk I have been thinking about for super low prices! So, grab your cup of coffee and put on your comfy clothes! It is time to sift through the junk in Amy's brain. Maybe you will find that my "trash" will be your "treasure".
Planning Should Be a Food Group
I am at the tail end of one of the busiest semesters of my life. I have just had way too much on my plate, and now that we are just days away from ACTFL surviving this season I have been in makes me wonder how the ACTFL TOY manages teaching during their TOY year since they are pulled here and there and everywhere (rightly so). I, being a mere mortal, am in complete awe because I haven't experienced that level of demand on my time, and I have still struggled! The thing is that the very part of my teaching that is so essential to the success of my students is the thing that has been neglected the most: my planning. I need my planning like a fish needs water, and the kind of planning I need requires quiet time away from others. I have to FOCUS. It has become so essential to me to plan lessons in which each step is cohesive and layers the learning up to a very specific point each day. For me it is all about two things: purpose and momentum. My students have to be able to see the purpose in what we are doing at every stage of the lesson/unit, and I have to maintain their momentum in the learning and in the target language. It is kind of like finding that perfect calorie burning workout. I have to sustain their focus for the growth to happen. Does this make any sense at all? To do this requires careful, thoughtful planning. Each step leads to the next, and if I get them out of order I run the risk of confusing my students or making things harder for them rather than easy. The goal is to design a lesson during which the transitions are so smooth and logical my students don't even realize how much they have learned until later. They might not even realize how much time has passed. Sadly, the busier I have been the less this kind of planning happened. Sometimes it wasn't that I didn't have the time, but because I didn't have the mental and/or physical stamina to plan the way I should. That's why, to me, planning should be a food group. Like water, air, or sleep, it has to be a part of the equation if proficiency is going to happen for our students. The hard part is making sure the necessary time for planning is strictly protected!
The Unsung Priority of State Organizations
I have just finished my presidential year in my state organization. What's super weird is that I spent the last 3 months unable to wait for the day that I was no longer the president because there was so much going on, and now all I hear is crickets chirping it is so quiet. Strange. One of the many things I learned during my term is something I hope all state leaders are thinking about: grooming and coaching the next generation of state leaders. What I know now that I didn't before is that state organizations have the potential to be huge influences on the teachers they serve, but that influence is in direct proportion to the number of hands on deck. All state organizations could use more help from passionate educators who care about the health of the profession and the growth and learning of their educator peers. The one thing that I think is so important and can sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle of state org business is training the next group of leaders. Too much of the work done when serving on a SO board is on the job training, at least in my experience. Terms and facetime for work are very limited amounts of time, so having to learn how to do your job really should be something that is streamlined or expedited so that the experience for that new board member is a positive one. It's harder to do that in sounds since so many SO board members don't necessarily live near each other, and since outgoing board members don't often get to know or work with the new ones. This is a real challenge, but I don't know how to address it. Maybe sending it out into the universe will at least give the issue some light.
The Power of Introductions
On a related note, one of my job responsibilities as SO president was to host the state conference. I got to be a part of a committee to choose session presenters, and I got to pick the keynote and guest presenters. Since I have met so many cool, amazing, and talented world language educators over the last several years, I wanted to bring some of the people who most inspire me and share them with Texas WL teachers. One really, really, really cool thing that came out of the conference is this: I got to see first hand how my connections helped grow the world language network. I could walk down the hallways of the conference center and see teachers having deep, thoughtful conversations with WL stars like Sara Elizabeth Cottrell, Kara Parker and Megan Smith. You could see the light in the eyes of so many teachers from around the state who most likely didn't know who these presenters were until then. What was even more rewarding was to see how the club grew, and I got to play a part in that. My point here isn't to self congratulation, but to encourage us all to help facilitate more connections like that. Not only do we help cool people connect to other cool people, but we are strengthening the profession by making sure that the bonds between passionate language educators reach further and further, but are made easier because they are connecting digitally as well. I make fun of my friend now TFLA President, Buffy (@kubuffy), because after introducing her to my homies from NEISD like John Cadena or #langchat royalty like Sara Elizabeth Cottrell sometimes SHE talks to them more than me! But, that gives me so much pleasure because she is so excited to be a part of the club! We have to keep connecting our peers to each other. There are nothing but benefits for us all!
Making Time to Be Human
I am sure if I could buy you a cup of coffee we could comisurate over the struggles we have had either working with difficult people or finding out that WE were the difficult people in work situations. What I know for certain is that some of the challenges we face at work can be managed if the people who work together care about each other as people. I happen to believe this is particularly true when it comes to women, who often have more drama at work than their male counterparts. How do we find time to connect as people to each other when the demands at work are so often working against our doing so? This time should not be taken for granted. The work, but what's more, the communication between us will suffer if we don't make time to chat and get to know each other.
Another Rant on Vocabulary Instruction
You know that I have been a huge supporter of getting away from teacher prepared vocabulary lists, and I have gotten into lengthy discussions with peers about this. I haven't written on vocabulary in a while, but it is a topic I continue to think about a lot. What is on my mind now is that how we teach vocabulary is as much about the words we hope they acquire as it is about how words work in the language we teach. I had my students do an activity this week based on a reading. I underlined new words and phrases in the reading, some directly connected to the theme and some not, but their job was just to make guesses about the words based on context. So what, you might say... and I get that. I am sure there are others out there doing similar things, but what I noticed was how this type of activity gets easier and easier for them the more they do it. This means they are learning to make meaning faster and faster all the time. I think this is because their literacy skills are being put to use. Of course after a few minutes working like this I always allow them time to confirm with me what the words, or what the harder words mean. I don't just tell them, I ask them to make guesses or connect to other words, and if that doesn't work I then circumlocute for them which then helps me expose them to even more target language. All of this is further support for using text and reading to lead language instruction, and even more to not shelter students from so much language all the time. What we need to do is focus more on teaching kids how to make meaning and less on a certain word set. This also means that vocabulary lists really, really do rob students of that meaning making skill that is so vital to proficiency building. The point isn't that they necessarily use those words again (unless they need or want to), but that they are building the skill to unlock them. This is HUGE, and has so much more power than any list could ever have. Plus, it taps into the NEED to understand which is the other side of the NEED to be understood, which is another thing that vocabulary lists rob from students. #endofrant
End of the Garage Sale
Well, that feels better. It is always good to purge. I hope you found something useful about this post, and I hope it was comprehensible. Honestly, I don't know if it was myself. I just had to dump the hard drive on this one. Thanks for taking some of this off my hands!