The first week back to school is in the books, and I am very proud and pleased with how it went. Was it perfect? NO, but that wasn't what my goal was. This year my focus was all about setting the tone for HOW to learn in my class and all of the components necessary for that to happen. Truthfully, that has been my goal for the first week of school the past 2-3 years, but this year I was much more intentional about things. In fact, I have been planning and preparing for this week since June, and I was super fortunate to have a partner in crime in this venture. Sometime in the early summer, Allison Donaldson (@sracurling) and I got together at La Madeleine to debrief the school year and start looking forward to the coming one. During that conversation, we discovered we had similar aspirations for better training our learners what the goals for our classes would be and how to be great learners in those environments. With a wave of enthusiasm building, we scheduled a meet for the next week to start drafting our plans! In today's post, I hope to share with you some of the best ideas we had, and how they actually rolled out in my week.
Day One: Community Matters + Mistakes Are OK
The first day back to school, I planned lots of ice breaking activities, and one of my favorites is called Group Juggling (you can access a very detailed description here). The key for me is starting by numbering the group in a clockwise fashion starting with me as number 1 and instructing all my students to remember their number. Then, I ask the even numbered students to walk across the circle and exchange places with another even numbered student. We then count through the original order we numbered ourselves with to find the pattern. Then, we say our number and names, paying attention to who comes before us and who comes after us. Then, we toss a ball around in that order calling the name of the person we are throwing to until the ball returns to me. As we team juggle, I stress that it doesn't matter to me if we make mistakes, we just have to recover well and keep going. I also try to stop the group when someone makes a mistake and either thank that student for making a mistake or train the group to cheer for the mistake so we have an opportunity to do better the next time. As we continue to play, I introduce more and more balls or objects for us to juggle.
Once all the balls/objects make it back to me, I ask the group, "So, were we successful?" and the answer is usually yes. Then I ask, "Were we perfect?" and the answer is definitely NO. This allows me to say, "THAT is exactly what this class is going to be like. We are never going to be perfect, not even me. We are going to make mistakes and recover a million times, but each time we do something again, we are going to be better. Everything we do is going to be dependent upon other people in this class no matter that our grades are individual, so we have to learn to work together WELL. This means, we have to get comfortable with being less than perfect in front of each other and know that we are safe doing so. Our mistakes are opportunities to get better, help each other and grow."
Day Two: Collaborating to Learn to Collaborate
As a department, the world language teachers and I all taught a lesson on communication and collaboration to train students how to collaborate well. The main idea was to get them collaborating in groups of 4 through discussions, quick products to create, and considering class norms. This lesson was structured with prepared questions to guide their conversations, roles and responsibilities for each group member, and accountability via intentional questioning strategies to report out to the class/teacher.
After the lesson was done, I asked students around the room how collaboration was made easier in my lesson plan. The students who shared out noticed that they had roles, time limits, structure and accountability, and all of those things helped them successfully complete what was asked of them. We shifted discussion by reflecting on how to apply the same types of systems to their own collaborations this year. Next year, I think I will have them produce an exit ticket writing for this. The closing was pondering how each student is collaborating with me this year. Surprisingly most of the looks on their faces were blank when I posed this question, so I rephrased it this way, "What common goal do you and I have together this year for this class?" When I asked the question this way, I got answers back like, "My grade," or "My passing," etc. So, I asked them whether how we work together matters or not, and I shared anecdotes about situations I have encountered where students poorly communicated with me, acted up in class or shut down that made that shared goal impossible. The culminating activity was a homework assignment. I asked them to write me an email in English to introduce themselves to me, making sure that they covered a variety of bullets, simply for the practice of writing a professional email to someone they need something from. My goal now is to write back to each student before the end of the grading period. I am so glad I did this because it is allowing me to learn names and make connections with students on a much more personal level, and writing them back is helping me welcome them to my class and show them that I see them.
Day Three: Knowing the Goal - Your Path to Proficiency
As much as it pains me to do so, I am going to wait to post this part of my first week until later simply because it has so many working parts. The short version is that it was a powerful lesson that has been a missing component in the past. More on this topic SOON!
Day Four & Five: Learning to Learn a Language
I am lumping days 4 and 5 together here because they were my days for transitioning into target language days with my students. While order does matter, dividing into days doesn't because of how class schedules are different. For example, I teach 48 minute class periods every day, but Allison teaches in a block schedule. That being said, I will share the order of my activities and my reflections on them all.
Since student responses are the lifeblood to a target language classroom, I made sure that the first activities we do in the target language require their responses so (1) they learn that they must be responsive and (2) they know that I WILL adjust if they are struggling to understand. Before I say more, it is important to know that I frame these two days by telling my level 1 students that I have no expectations that they remember anything we cover in these two days. If they do, great. If not, no worries because we will start curriculum content the following Monday. I intentionally told them we are training to know how to function a language learners in this class.
A. Ups & Downs (used for both Spanish 1 and 2 Honors)
I used the script linked above to make simple statements to my students in Spanish. Their job was to listen and observe, then stand if the statement is true about them, sit if it is not true about them, or raise their hands if they don't understand. This was particularly powerful for my level 1 classes because they had to learn:
We discussed all the ways I used to make sure that unfamiliar Spanish was comprehensible to them and all the ways they communicated to me without being able to speak Spanish back. This initial TL activity really, really helped them GET what Spanish class has to be like.
B. Mi profe (Spanish 1 and 2 Honors)
This was a basic dictation/storytelling activity. I planned a list of things I wanted to share about myself, and I talked about myself in Spanish to my students. Their instructions were to listen and take notes in their notebooks on what they understood. I encouraged them to not take things down word for word, and with my Spanish 1 students, I had to train them about which language to write in. They asked if they write in Spanish or English, so I countered with, which language is going to prove you UNDERSTOOD? They recognized the difference between dictation & interpretation then, and why English will occasionally be necessary for the purpose of practicing the interpretive mode.
While for Spanish 2H, these activities were mostly to re-acclimate them to learning in a target language environment, the power for level 1 students was seeing the page fill as they realized how much Spanish they could understand even before one day of instruction. It was so cool for me to see level 1 students with 2/3's or 3/4's of a page filled with information, some of it being really detailed. At the same time, I could see which students were struggling with processing what they heard or staying focused enough to capture what they were hearing. I have already got a particular student in mind because he didn't write anything at all. I know now to look to see if I have SpED/504/ESL paperwork on him or to chat with his counselor to find out if there is any needs he might have that haven't been identified. This was such an amazing tool, and my only regret is that I haven't used this in the past. It will be a go-to from now on! Mega confidence builder for students in both levels!
C. Los nombres (Spanish 1 only)
Before I describe the activity, it is important to know that the day I did this, I was also training students how to use their Spanish cuadernos (notebooks = spiral notebook or composition book to curate their own notes/content for the class), so while the tasks we did on this day (Friday) were learning how to be learners in a TL class, that had to include how to document their learning or curate the information they would need for studying outside of class.
For the sake of this lesson/activity, I put all of my students in pairs seated right next to each other because after modeling language to them, I planned to have them practice in mini-conversations. I started by using target language to introduce the topic Los nombres (names) and instructed them to write the topic and date in their notebooks (all target language). The slide you see in the slide show I used (linked above) had the question and response framed for them to see. I then modeled stating my name in the TL, and modeled asking the question for names by asking various students for their names. Of course, they first responded by just stating their names, not by using the full Spanish response, so I took advantage of this moment. I walked over to the Novice High (Level 1) section of my proficiency wall, and pointed Can Do Statement about communicating in sentences and asked this question, "If your goal this year is to hit Novice High, but you communicate with just words, will you hit your goal?" Their collective answer was "no," which allowed me to ask, "So, in this activity, what is my expectation for your answer?" Then they responded, with, "Me llamo (their names)," and from there we continued. I was so grateful for that wall because it helped me justify expectations that before I had nothing concrete, or at least visible, for my students to refer to. AH-MA-ZING! We then had speed dating chats asking for each others' names over and over again.
After going through this super simple lesson, I talked to my level 1 kiddos about the instructions I gave in the TL, about the importance of the repetition of the activity and how it helps them work less hard outside of class, and whether or not they ever felt they didn't know what I wanted from them. I also got a chance to chat with them about something I said earlier in the week about how this class is packed full of things we do that have no grade attached to them. When I first said this, it concerned some students, but this quick lesson on asking for names cleared up why our "doing" with no grade attached is so important to being able to perform when we are being graded. Even if they don't remember how to ask for names when Monday morning comes, the experience was totally worth it!
D. Mis cosas favoritas (My Favorite Things) (Levels 1 & 2H)
Again, while this was designed to refresh my level 2H'ers' memories, for level 1 this was a training component. I gave them a graphic organizer to fill in about their favorite things (linked here). As you can see, this is all in target language that is new to a level 1 student, but completely comprehensible. With this activity, I am intentionally doing 2 things:
Another way I used this activity was with response cards (linked here). I read out my responses to the same items, and asked them to respond by holding up blue cards with "Yo también" or "Yo no" to express if they agree or disagree with my favorite things. After a few responses just with the cards, I asked them to also say their response.
I LOVED the things we did this week, and I cannot wait to get to class Monday to see how those intentional decisions impact the learning we will do from this point forward. My heart's desire is that my eager learners burst with even more energy to learn and my hesitant learners know there are systems in place to help them be successful no matter what. I know the work isn't all done yet, but I think we have prepared well.
I'll keep you posted!
Happy Coaching to you all!
Welcome back to school!
(n.) A special place where we remember that students are humans that need to feel loved and important, where their achievements are celebrated every day and where we learn Spanish along the way!
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