jueves, 7 de agosto de 2014

Getting Back into It!

After a wonderful summer spent with family, moving, and finding new jobs, I am back to blogging! Are you ready for the beginning of school?! I must admit that every time at this year I feel a million different things. I am nostalgic for the peace and quiet summer evenings, looking at a sunset, waking up slowly and enjoying a cup of coffee while doing nothing (well almost nothing :), and a great excitement to see who will come through my classroom doors this year, experience how much the kiddos will inspire me, and the general excitement that learning and teaching with a purpose can bring! How do you feel?

As I mentioned above, I have been in the process of moving, so it will be a bit of time before I am fully up and running, but I hope that you bear with me. Here are some things that I am hoping to set-up in the next few weeks:
-Task Cards! I began using task cards at the end of last year, and I loved them! I will be posting a blog in the future on how to use them, but in the meantime, I am hoping to put a small sample for free on my TPT store. I will put the whole preterit/imperfect set up for sale too!

-More organized pinterest boards! I am hoping to reorganize my pinterest boards, eliminate the boards that are just products and really focus on boards that I find useful in my teaching.

- New elementary units. I am presently working on a new elementary unit that should also be up in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, be sure to read through my back to school check-lists from last year. I can't wait to see what this school year will bring! Also, feel free to post about your back to school prep in the comments :)

lunes, 12 de mayo de 2014

What is your ideal Exam?

So, I have been a rather vocal proponent of trying to make the traditional paper/pencil exam at my school into an assessment that is more authentic. While my school is unwilling to stray from the two hour traditional format, one of my colleagues asked me what my ideal exam would look like. My answer is not one hundred percent formed, and it would need to be scaled to fit each class level,  but here are the elements that I would like to see included in my (more) ideal final exam.

- Students would create a planned speaking presentation that incorporated two of the themes that we had studied (I would create some prompts to help them get started, and most of my classes have studied between 6-10 themes)

-Students would write a paragraph on one of the themes that we have studied (Again, I would design relevant prompts)

- Students would read two different articles on two different themes and respond to the questions.

- Students would dialogue with another student about a predetermined topic, but without a script or notes.

- Students would spontaneously speak (in the computer lab) without a script or notes on a theme that was not told to them ahead of time.

- Students would listen to an audio text or view a video clip and write or speak a response.

- Students would write, listen, or speak about an element of culture that we had covered throughout the year.

While I have purposefully left my ideal exam a bit vague, I acknowledge that there would be some challenges to creating and using this sort of an exam.: Time (all of my students take their traditional paper/pencil exam on the same day at the same time), Perceived subjectivity by parents and students, Rubric (would need to be highly specific about length, grammar requirements, etc.)

Here to me are the advantages: student can show their ability to use the language, students have some choice in what their exam looks like, this exam would ideally be more reflective of the way the students are being taught.

Is a final exam required at your school? What is your ideal exam?

domingo, 27 de abril de 2014

No Grass Picking! A Self-Reflection

Quite a few years now, I worked at a summer camp, where I had the opportunity to lead small groups of kids in activities. I remember one summer, I vowed to myself that the kids would all be so involved in the activities that I had planned that not a single one of them would pick grass, in that distracted fashion that children do. So, I had my challenge, and I am pleased to say that I met it! I was able to plan activities that kept the kids so occupied and engaged that not a single one of them picked at the grass.

As I think about my lesson plans for the rest of the year, while acknowledging that this time of year students often become distracted and less interested in school, and instead they become more interested in spring activities and the end of the school year. So, as I reflect on the challenge I gave my younger self, I realized that I could issue an even greater one. Can I design lesson plans that keep students so engaged and interested that they don't pause to check their cell phone, or wander off the web page that they are looking at to check their email, facebook, twitter, etc. Can I design and revamp lessons such that there is no "grass picking" for the remainder of the year?

What are your end of year goals?

I have add to this post to note that thus far in the week, I have failed at my goal. The screens continue to beat me. I will have to keep working!

domingo, 16 de febrero de 2014

Why I do Projects

My school, like many, invited a speaker in to do a professional development talk on the faculty workday proceeding the December/January holiday break. I have to admit, I am pretty nerdy and generally love speakers. I usually get fired-up to try a new technique and I often think of new lesson plans on the spot while listening. For this reason,  I always bring a notebook to speakers. I don't necessarily take notes, but I jot down my thoughts on how their presentation could be relevant to my classroom practice.

So, generally I love speakers, but I must respectfully disagree with the one that my school brought in most recently. He spoke vehemently against projects, inquiry-based learning, authentic assessments, and really any sort of performance based learning. He also lumped all of the above into one method. So, while he gave the argument that all of these methods are too taxing to the learner, here are my reasons for why I will continue to do projects. I might choose to address some of the other methods later, but for now, I will stick with projects.

1) Engagement! Students get the opportunity to explore a topic that truly interests and excites them.

2) Pacing! Students can work at their own natural skill level with guidance from me. This means that advanced students can incorporate more advanced grammatical structures and higher level words, but the struggling students can stick to the rubric's requirements and still find a lot of success.

3) Projects allow students to incorporate technology, music, video, and other outside interests that I don't necessarily use on a daily basis.

4) Speaking practice! My projects all contain an oral speaking component which students can practice beforehand. As a result students can target pronunciation, fluency, and other speaking skills that we don't practice as much during our spontaneous speaking activities.

5) Vocabulary and more vocabulary! Students use the vocabulary in a manner that makes sense. They are forced to contextualize their learning and this usage in turn causes them to both remember and apply the vocabulary with much greater accuracy than any paper/pencil test (at least in my experience)

6) Listening skills and peer critique! All of my students are required to fill-out some sort of peer critique sheet while their classmates are presenting their projects. As a result, students have to both comprehend what they are hearing and give useful feedback. Giving peer feedback is an excellent life-long skill.

7) Public speaking practice! Again, this is another lifelong skill that every student should have numerous opportunities to practice (in my opinion).

8) Focus on form! Students have to really consider what grammatical structure best conveys the meaning that they desire.

9) Culture! I think that projects are one of the best ways for students to explore/experience a taste of another culture. I love when my students are willing to try to cook from a Spanish recipe or learn a dance from a video.

Here are some of my arguments for why I will continue to use projects in my classroom. What are your reasons for using projects? If you don't use them why not?

sábado, 25 de enero de 2014

Keeping Language Fresh?

My husband brought me a chocolate crescent from a French bakery today and as I prepared my coffee,  it brought me back to when I was 19 and in Spain. All I needed were the cute tiny fork and knife that they give to you to eat it with, and a glass of fresh squeezed zumo de naranja to top it off.  So I  reflect on being 19 and struggling through ordering a chocolate crescent in Spain (and struggling through consuming bitter coffee before I learned to order it with dulce de leche. Now, I consume way too much coffee of any type, and I definitely don't struggle through it!

I realize through my reflections that it has been 12 years since I have been back to Spain, and almost three since I have been to a Spanish speaking country, and I know from listening to my Spanish as I speak with my level I and II students that it is getting rusty. It is hard to keep the language fresh when teaching exclusively in the younger grades, and when the language department doesn't have the culture of speaking the language amongst itself (which is highly unfortunate, as I have worked in places that do use the language between department members and I think that it provides great role-modeling for the students).

So, what is one to do to keep language fresh? I try to listen to the news regularly, but I'll admit, I get busy and don't always keep it up. I also watch children's shows both with my students and my child, but they only offer so much. I watch music videos, and ask the native Spanish speakers at my school questions-especially when it comes to slang words, which of course teenagers love to use, but I don't know many current ones anymore. When possible, I listen to Spanish radio. I also read other language teacher's blogs in order to obtain ideas as to how to stay more current, and when possible attend conferences.

However, nothing compares (at least in my mind) to the real deal of sitting down in that café ready to relax with a chocolate crescent and coffee that was successfully ordered, paid for, and a side-conversation about where I am from was even had, and it is this feeling, this ability to communicate and enjoy while in a different country that is most important to me to convey to students when they ask "why?" Until I can get back there, I will continue working on my Spanish, just as I ask students to work on theirs. What do you do to keep the language fresh?