Monday, October 8, 2018

FVR: just do it

Free Voluntary Reading

My hesitations

The implementation of FVR in the second+ language classroom seems to be en vogue while its counterpart, SSR (Silent Sustained Reading), seems to be exiting schools. I was skeptical about FVR in my Spanish classroom because I saw several failed SSR programs in public schools. Kids didn't like reading any more than before and teachers hated monitoring the students not reading.

Why I started

I believed class novels and story telling helped my students acquire Spanish. This didn't help them remember Spanish for a test, but facilitated language acquisition. We read 90% of all class periods; even if it was brief. I read books to my own children at home. I encouraged my young son to read what he could. I bought him leveled "beginner reader" books and loved watching him read.

My Spanish students enjoyed stories and most of the time enjoyed reading stories in class. I read chapters of our novels, they read to each other, they read silently. My students even commented how cool it was they could read like a real book in Spanish. Some read ahead because they were hooked.

WHY DIDN'T I TRUST THEM TO READ WITHOUT ME THERE!? They were already reading ahead in class and spoiling all my plans! (This is the light bulb moment.)

I did a little more digging and read this article by Krashen. Okay, fine, I will "do" FVR in class.

My Implementation

I had the research to back-up the why I decided to implement FVR. Now I had to set a goal and make a plan to reach that goal.


For students to read in Spanish for a consistent amount of time. 

For students to develop a confidence in their ability to understand and figure out Spanish.

For students to enjoy a story line. 

For students to be reflective and inquisitive.

Every Tuesday or Wednesday (we are an every other day schedule) we read for the first ten minutes of class. They come in, grab their folders, check where they left off, and grab their reading material.

Don't be like me: do better

I failed the first few times we (class and myself) attempted FVR. My biggest fails were: inconsistent opportunities to read, making FVR a "fast finisher" activity, not reading (myself) during FVR, starting at 10 minutes right away.

I believe it was Mike Peto that said "give them less than they can handle". The whole concept is to build up to whatever time frame you have dubbed as ideal. If the class can handle five minutes, give them three. If they can read for seven minutes, give them five. Leave them wanting more. My note is also that the beginning of books is boring; especially when language is limited. It's all character introduction and setting... yawn.

FVR was inconsistent in my classroom which devalued the opportunity. I felt like we were "behind" and they needed to complete X from the last class. I would push back FVR to accommodate my planning schedule. WRONG. Pick a day, do it that day, no exceptions.

I also wasn't reading because I was worried about the kids not reading. It sucked the fun out of the time. AND if reading is so "great" and wonderful for language learning, why wasn't the teacher doing it too? I bought myself books I wanted to read and I sat down and read. Lead by example.

My library


I have sample pages and covers copied and posted on the walls in my room. Students can sample the book and see at what level it is written. Laurie Clarcq said at the CIIA 18 conference that a student should really look at chapter four of a book to see if it is too complex in story line or language. I have no reason to not believe nor disagree with her, so my sample pages are near chapter four.

I use washi tape to mark easy books, advanced books, and a book
series. All the codes are on the sampler pages. The sampler pages are also grouped by "difficulty" level. I will eventually be marking these with approximate Novice-Mid type labels. I think this will help kids reflect on their abilities.

Where did all these books come from?

Over 95% of my FVR books are mine. I drink wine and shop on Amazon. Oops.

That said, DonorsChoose is a great way to secure funding. Grants are always an option. I also made a "Leave a legacy" form for conferences. When parents see that a book is between $5 and $10, they are often willing to buy one for the class. Parents can purchase a book and send it to the school; sometimes I share a link to my Amazon wishlist of books. Inside the book I put a sticker that says "THIS SCHOOL'S book is brought to you in honor of ___________________."
I also subscribe to Martina Bex's El mundo en tus manos. It is worth every penny. There is a weekly and biweekly subscription option. (More on this to come.)


I don't always know that they did read. I am reading so there is a chance some of them don't read.

Yes, I do give redirections like, "Reading time is quiet time." "If you aren't going to read, at least stare at the page and act like it." Kids will read something during this time. I can't control them but I can control me and my reading.

Quick summaries

I have students write the date, title, and page numbers/range on a paper. I ask them to write a super quick summary of what they read so next time they can review quickly and either grab the same material or something new.

I check in with students and ask how the books are going. I tell them how much I loved that story and ask if they've gotten to a good part yet (vague hints of who does what). I very rarely read in depth what students write.

Book reviews

I have a form that students complete when they finish a book. They rate the book and I hang it up on the wall. Sometimes I even type up the reviews and send them to authors. If I have enough reviews of the same book, my goal is to start posting their reviews here. This was our class/my review of Juliana.

FVR Resources

Mike Peto has many resources on effectively using FVR in classrooms, starting FVR, and student accountability. Here is the link to his page with his FVR resources.

IWLA's very own Allison Wienhold at Mis Clases Locas has a helpful blog entry about what FVR looks like in her classes. It also has links to her library tour and hints for grant writing.

Martina Bex at the Comprehensible Classroom has a short entry with a link to her TpT for "accountability" forms to help guide FVR. The forms are around $2 and are structured for different types of books. This is important to remember that your whole library doesn't need to be (nor should be in my opinion) all novels. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Drama, action, and team building: Day 1 middle school story telling

Welcome back

First off, welcome back. Today was my first day back in the classroom with kids. I missed them and yet I was happy to see them go home after seven+ hours. 

My voice already hurts. (CI teachers, you know what I mean.)

Why I did what I did

Earlier I posted about literature and language "basics". After reflecting on my class size and other school changes, I knew I had to do something to build community and get a better "read" on my students. 

Last year I did a "Salva a Sam" with a gummy worm and team building... I can't find the PowerPoint anywhere, nor pictures of it. So I moved on and didn't post about it in detail. Sorry.

I needed to create a story that I could use with my Heritage classes all the way "down" to my brand new 6th graders. So I came up with this story that's "based on a true story". 


All my goals are focused on building community through content. This is a key mentality for managing classroom behaviors.

1) Engage students so they leave with curiosity to come again next class.

2) Teach routines. I do a quick talk about what to expect when entering class next time. Thank them for the work they did today. I show them where to look to know what they need to be prepared for class. I also show them the shelf of extras for those times we "forget" things. 

3) This is really another routine thing, but it is so important and I think many teachers forget this: routines for transitioning between instructional methods: can they move from large group instruction, to elbow/table partner discussion, to whole table discussion, to get supplies, and back to focus on the teacher? I use this story to create moments for students to "predict" what come next. I do my count down and get their attention back to me. We share out what our table said. We focus back on me for the story. You can also see who is willing to participate and who is opting out, who is quiet and listening, who is bored...

4) Make them rely on each other. If they have to work as a group, and it's kind of fun, 99% will join in. You can assess: Who takes leadership roles? Who is the problem-solver? Who bends the rules? How do they talk to each other? (Spanish, English, Arabic.... supporting and positive language, sarcasm, punishing language...) Are they asking questions for clarification or just winging it?

Method to my madness

I used Martina Bex's seating cards (slightly altered) to randomly assign seats. They usually end up in a good place to build a new working partnership rather than just always pairing with friends. It is also easier to ignore negative peer pressure when they don't yet care about the other person's opinion.

This story is simple enough for beginning students. I make lots of "Wait!! I never told you what
"mucho" meant, how did all of you know that?!" "Ohhh, so you remember X so you can predict Y." "I didn't know you already knew so much about N." "Do you guys even really need me?!"

My heritage students even ate this up: lots of V/B appearances to help them work on that spelling thing. My 7th grade heritage class stopped after school to say how much they liked it. Seventh graders don't like anything! They enjoyed the simplicity of the story with all the random details I threw in or they clarified. We discussed the word in Spanish for "road kill"; no consensus yet, one student promised to report back on Monday.

This story has no ending and several atypical plot turns. Students have to work together to create the ending, but without language.

The end "activity" they do requires a lot of work between partners and no input from me. It is physical and allows them time to process the story while in class. Plus, it's just fun.

The story

*Edit* Resource now on TpT which includes a day two with student printable to revisit the story and encourage them to show what they know at home.* Price is $1.00.

I am thinking about posting the PowerPoint on TPT for others to use. Here is the synopsis: There is an armadillo and coyote who are both hungry, live near each other, both want to eat but can't eat/find what they normally eat, they go to Burger King, and the armadillo ends up stealing the coyote's hamburger. Does the armadillo escape?! No one knows (see activity section below).

The activity

I scoured Pinterest for good team building ideas (I used STEM activities that I altered last year) but I didn't find anything I thought I could relate to Spanish class and have it accessible for all my classes. I ended up seeing a cool marble track for my own kids to build and as I scrolled I found a paper plate activity that used holes as llama feet. BINGO!

Side note: Armadillos roll into balls to help evade predators. I just finished planning La perezosa impaciente by Mira Canion which also has an armadillo as a character who is kind of a jerk.

Since I will be teaching ^that novel this year, it's a great way to pre-build some ideas and vocabulary.

On paper plates (upside down) I drew a starting line and then made random dotted road around the plates. The circle on the plate is the armadillo's house/ safety zone. I glued poms to act as barriers and bushes. I tried pipe cleaners and it was a pain. Don't try to be that #extra unless you like having glue and hairs under your nails for days. I drew on ponds and then realized I was going to cut them out... so they were cute for a while.

I went to the Dollar Tree and bought the poms and a bag of "wooden beads" in the craft area. Marbles and glass beads can break and be easily pocketed. These are much less appealing to throw or put in your mouth (middle school... remember!?).

Teams of two or three. Each team member must always be holding the plate. One hand per person. Three fingers max, per person. A wooden bead starts at the starting lines and needs to get to the circle using the route drawn; no "off-roading".

I write groups with fastest times on the board for infamy and glory. Sometimes I write points next to
finishing teams to reward the teamwork process (not time or successful completion of the task). Team with the most points gets 10 extra credit points... We're SRG, there are no points. No one has noticed this yet. I'm going to ride it out until they figure it out.

Fast finishers can trade plates with another group since they are all different.

Key take aways

I am monitoring class engagement, circling where necessary, and limiting details to increase comprehension.

I watch students as they do table talk. We explicitly talk about the transitions, "Class, thank you so much for having eyes on me and voices off when I got to one. That was seriously impressive." "Oh no, that didn't work. Let's try it again."

The physical activity requires all members to participate or the armadillo won't make it home. LISTEN FOR THE WAY KIDS TALK TO EACH OTHER.

Build routines using stories and predictions and group shares and choral responses.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Classroom Management

In my past professional life I worked with mentally ill children

As a previous social worker and psychology major, I worked at a full time mental health facility for children ages 10-18 during and right out of college. Here I worked on the unit where 10-12 kids lived full time. They had a variety of mental health needs requiring intense therapy, medication management, and even an on-campus school. I worked with kids to identify their ABCD's (Antecedents, Behaviors, Climax, Decompression), helped kids through their tough moments while trying to keep everyone safe.

I learned a lot via trainings on managing mental health needs, verbal deescalation techniques, and behavior triggers. These couple of years really helped me mature as an adult and definitely impact my teaching today. 

Goal: Share my biggest learning moments, my "tricks" in my classroom, and some resources I use to keep me going.

Warning: Many of these ideas require you to "give up" parts of your day. It's an investment; put the time in now, make you're life easier through out the year. If you are thinking about all the barriers in your way, you're right. You need to overcome the barriers, that's why you're stressed. Find one thing to work on and do that.

My current teaching reality

I used to be a #deptof1 in a small rural school with small-ish classes. This comes with the "price" of knowing my students deeply, which complicates teaching and makes it wonderful at the same time. Now I am back to my urban school with a total roster of 400+ students (my personal responsibility divided among 12 class periods- 6 classes a day, meeting every other day).

I teach native speakers, SpEd students, TAG students, and everyone else all mixed together in a beautiful melting pot of what America is supposed to look like. I also have very large classes. Some are easier than others to work with.

1) It all starts and ends with love

No matter what certifications, methodologies, intervention program implementation, it all starts and ends with love. You MUST LOVE YOUR KIDS, GENUINELY. 

Like your own children, you must always love them AND you don't have to always like them.

If you don't look at your school kids with love, then stop teaching. Kids know when you're faking it. So don't. If your hardest kid came up to you with a bad cut, a bloody nose, or that "I'm gonna puke" face and your 1st reaction isn't to help them, then stop teaching (helping can mean hand a garbage can or Band-aid to the kid, or even write them a pass to the nurse).

2) You were never hired to teach content, you were hired to teach students

You don't teach math. You don't teach Spanish. You don't teach music. You teach students. Period.

We all know educators wear approximately 4,971.25 hats every day. You teach students. Hopefully you teach students your content while modeling positive citizenship. 

You are in a school. You want kids to take risks. This means they will fail... and your space is the safe space for that failure. Sometimes failure means an incorrect solution, sometimes failure is making fart noises in the back corner of your room. Academic and social failures require reteaching.

3) Stop relying on Admin to "take care of it"

Watch this YouTube clip of Brian Mendler talking about that kid in class that you send to the principal. You will laugh because it is so incredibly true. 

I'm not talking about the non-negotiables: physical contact, targeted bullying, and unsafe behavior and/or language (going to kill myself/others). 

The kid with the cellphone, the kid who doesn't. stop. talking. ever., the kid leaning back her chair for the billionth time... that kid. There is a common denominator; kid. I know adults who still act like this, how can I have reasonable expectations that my middle schoolers have their lives together!?

Sending a kid to the office does a few things: 1) tells the kid they aren't worth your time, 2) shifts all power away from you, 3) lets the kid take the "out". Mendler is artful when showing the interaction between the student and administration. The kid promises to behave thirty minutes after the incident, goes back to class, and does it again. Welcome to what I call the escape cycle. Students can be escaping a multitude of things, but being out of your room is part of the escape.

It's hard to make progress when you're running in a circle. Forward movement requires being with the student.

My suggestions: Talk about the situation that is frustrating for you with admin or your support staff (find one). This is a situation you don't like, not the student. Double check that this student doesn't have special accommodations that need to be met. If you don't find admin helpful, make your own plan and keep them in the loop anyway.

Always welcome the student back to class at the door. Say hi to the student every chance you see them. Wear them down will all the love in the world.

4) Fly-by teacher

I have practiced this since before teaching: the fly-by. The power struggles Mendler talks about in the first clip can't happen if you're not there. 

Steps for the fly-by:

1) Distant reminder- do the non-verbals: "the look", point and shake your head, a quick verbal redirection and thanks for complying if that kid can handle it ("John, we are all listening now. Thanks."). Move on.

2) Proximity- Walk to get close to the student. Some kids follow along at this point. Once they are on-track for ten seconds-ish, high five them. Move on. 

2b) Prolonged proximity- This is your communal space, but it's still yours. If you are a confident teacher, you need to make them feel uncomfortable using your space incorrectly. I have taught sitting in a chair right next to a talkative student. Not like the row over. Our chairs looked like a bench. I slowly moved away as the student was meeting expectations. DO NOT STOP TEACHING. This is not a spotlight moment for the student. 

3) Redirect and move- Get to a natural pause ASAP or make one happen. "Class, do a quick draw of a tree in your notes, GO!". I walk by the student and give a very quiet and clear direction to the student, "John, you can chose not to participate but you can't make the choice for anyone else." THEN WALK AWAY.

So what if John calls me a b*tch? He's 13. I'm 30+. I'm not trying to be his friend and my feelings aren't hurt.

So what if his friends hear him call me names? Let him save face. He will comply or quit, most likely. The eventual "quit" is not immediate but a result of consistency.  

Mendler talks about this in a quick two minute clip here. It sounds so simple, but I have watched mental health professionals, principals, counselors, and numerous teachers feed in the power struggle. I know I do it too. It's hard.

4) Supply drop- Much like dropping relief aid from planes, I often deliver supplies to students. Even if it's day 34 and the kid is intentionally not getting the supplies. Let them have that win. Eventually you will have a relationship to talk to them about the choices.

I keep plain paper and pencils near my desk and out for student use. I drop a pencil (sharpened by the squirrely kid in the last class) and paper off and say nothing, just keep on keepin' on. 

I had a student last year that had poor attendance (I was his first period teacher every other day) and would 100% shut-down. Sleeping, non-verbal, and would kick the desk leg. After a semester of doing the supply drop off, saying hello to him every day, he wrote his name on the paper. By the end of the year, he completed more than 50% of his work in English with correct answers. 


Stop being so negative. The 3% of "naughty kids" in your classes take-up 90% of your time. The "good kids" know this and are annoyed; more than you are. (Side note- "naughty" and "good" are words we need to stop using. It's really more about disruptive and compliant behaviors, not the overall value of the kid.)

I had an associate in my room from time to time and a educational researcher in my room this year. Both noted how often I label the behaviors and values I see happening in class. This is so crucial. 

We spend all this time telling kids what not to do that they may not know what to do at this point. Teach the social curriculum explicitly. I don't mean with Core-aligned lessons.

"Tanner, thank you so much for being helpful and giving Mia a handout for me."

"Monroe, it's so caring of you to push-in your chair. Oh, and Leo, and Marcus, and George. Thank you."

"It is so awesome that Bl'aire was willing to shout-out her answer. Girl, you seriously owned it! That is AMAZING!"

"I see about three people who were responsible by putting their names on their papers. Those are my favorite kinds of people."

"This group is doing a great job being communicators. They were asking all sorts of questions!"

Also remember to be specific and praise the behavior. The behavior is what I liked, I always love the kid. When the kids own the behaviors, you see the shift (over time) to their natural/innate behaviors. By the end of the year, my kids push their chairs in without being asked, one kid always gathers materials for the group, kids are automatically picking up one piece of trash to exit the room.

Also tell kids very quietly during work time what you like about their behaviors. Individual and "private" praise really lets some of your kids realize you notice them all the time and are always watching... yup, sounded creepy. You get it.

6) Chatty Cathy

If the kid is going to talk, give them purpose. They talk to me; I jump in the conversation during groups and then redirect the whole conversation. I point out what I just did. Sometimes, when I get a good group, I make a friend the police and that person has to keep the Cathy on track (know your kids before doing this).

Cathy is always my errand runner. Take this to the teacher across the hall. Turn the lights down, answer the door, find my green Expo. If Cathy talks, Cathy moves. Keeps Cathy away from friends. Cathy will get tired of being volun-told to do "everything". Tell Cathy you thought s/he was bored because of all the talking so you always pick him/her. Thing may turn around.

I find Cathy on her time. I go sit and "talk with Cathy". I say how nice it is to get all the chatty out now so it doesn't have to happen in class. More times then not, I will walk and talk the kid before school starts. Walk in the hall, away from people, and talk. Not always about class, but it generally gets there.

I asked a building admin to com sit and supervise my class while they were working on something. I started to pull my Cathys out one by one and walked and talked them. They were great for a solid class period after that. It was the foundation of our love:hate relationship (I love them, they hate my expectations and my insisting they meet them).

This last year, one of my biggest Cathys spent a lot of walk and talk with me. I figured out this kid's life is falling apart, has no adult influence at home, is looked to for answers from everyone, and basically doesn't get to be a kid. The chattiness lasted all year but it gave me some compassion when my patience was just about gone.

7) Restart

My kids know my policy is a fresh start every time they come in my classroom. I had one kid tell me to leave and walk back in when I was super crabby. He was right, I needed it. I also apologized for being so crabby with them and then gave the class representative a high-five as our restart.

I spent a total of 4 full teaching classes with my 7th graders this year walking the kids to hall, explaining expectations, and re-welcoming them individually to class. I called home and explained to their parents their choices and recommended early morning make-up to practice being in class to not waste learning time any more.

If a student needs to exit my room for a "buddy room". They don't re-enter until I can talk with them at the door. We quick process, high five or fist bump, and they walk in anew.

8) Get adults in your room

When kids see adults enter classrooms, they receive a few messages: 1) this class is important, 2) is this adult here for me?, and 3) these adults really are on a team.

You also need to go into other teacher's rooms during your plan. Have a presence beyond your classroom walls.

Ask teacher coaches, counselors, other teachers with relationships with your kids, the VP, your formal observer to come into your room at any time; or plan out a time in advance. When kids see more adults, they tend to behave more. 

If your admin is not supportive, you have to make your own support network. 

Hopefully this helps

None of these things are earth-shattering. These are, however, strategies rooted in research to work with difficult classes.You are the adult and you have to teach more than curriculum. The opinions of children will not define you; they can hurt your feelings, but these do not define you.

If I have to pick two pieces of advice to implement: reinforce the positive things and avoid the power struggles with the fly-by.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Book Review: Juliana

Disclaimer: This is an unsolicited review. I purchased my own books and the link at the bottom provides me ZERO compensation.

Reviews (via my students):

Storyline: 3.9/5 “It was a good story. I understood pretty much all of it. Because it was easy the story is kind of simple. But SUPER interesting. I Googled to see if some of it was true. I learned a lot about bats even though that wasn’t the point.”- 6th grade student, Novice-Mid ish

“I really like how Juliana is just herself, like nobody is going to stop her. She still did some dumb stuff which I can relate. You do you, Juliana. You do you.” -7th grade student, Novice-High ish

“My favorite class is science and I got to do that here. So awesome. The book was mostly easy to read. I really liked how it’s based on a true story, like movies.” -6th grade student, Novice-Mid ish

Classroom Function (my opinion):

FVR Potential: This novel is an FVR favorite in my classroom. My students feel confident reading it which is much more important to me than having the best storyline on the planet. My fast finishers like to pick this up and then see what’s true and what’s not (albino bats? animal tunnels? Family groups among bats?).

My recommendation is to buy a minimum of 5. Students can support each other and discuss content. My original single reader was the source of some middle school drama.

Whole Class Potential: I love this story, I don’t think I could teach it whole class. I do think this novel has excellent potential for small group or café style readings.

I have a few reasons for being hesitant to teach this as a whole class novel. 1) My students call me (affectionately?) the Crazy Charades Lady when we read as a whole class. My arms aren’t in-shape enough to be a bat. 2) There are beautiful illustrations in every chapter. I find students rely heavily on the pictures instead of listening and following along for acquisition. 3) My knowledge of bat culture is limited to the kind that hang around Robins. 4) I really want to work on an interdisciplinary unit with our science teachers to increase background for this story, and the curriculum doesn’t line-up in a non-forced way.

I think this book would be great when teaching in café style, or literature circles. It would be a great for students too advanced for Capibara but not quite ready for Tumba. The visual cues from the amazing illustrations would provide scaffolds for advanced students needing to reach up or even for struggling students in a second year class.

Summary: Buy the book. It is worth it! Here is the Amazon link.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

CI IA 2018 Heritage Speaker Presentation

Comprehensible Input Iowa- the PD we all deserve

If you haven’t heard about CIIA (Comprehensible Input Iowa), look it up here! Te prometo that you won’t be disappointed. I could go on forever about this conference (and I will later).

Truth is this is the teacher-grown, professional development we all deserve as world language teachers. You see and meet teachers from many languages, many teaching approaches in the CI
world, and everyone is there with the intent to SHARE what they do. There is a genuine feeling of community. The love and support is great. It makes you feel ready to get back in the classroom... in the second week of June.. three days after you just got done teaching... IT’S THAT GOOD.

I have been able to go to two of the three CIIA conferences and presented at both to build up as much good karma as I can; if I’m honest, I need a lot of good karma... I teach more than 400 students every two days.

2018: Heritage speakers in a CI Classroom

This year I presented on what I did with my “heritage speakers” in my CI classroom. I am refining the presentation to get a more in-depth toolkit result (I can try X in my classroom now). This presentation focuses on where the struggle really is for CI teacher with heritage students and a few things I’ve done (with varying degrees of success) to serve my students better. It also talks clearly about the difference between heritage and native speakers; each group having distinct needs from the other.

To have a really productive conversation with your admin, you need to have a clearly defined problem/solution going in to the conversation. Research shows that native and heritage students need a separate class from L2+ learners. For many of our schools, we don’t have the scheduling ability for a separate class (low numbers, departments of one, etc.).

The current solution seems to be to move kids to a more advanced level and hope it works. I did this at my small school and it was kind of helpful. There were still a lot of gaps for all students in that room. This presentation addresses ways to serve students instead of trying to fit them in somewhere.

I am lucky and have the student population numbers and a supportive admin to have heritage classes. I will write about how these classes work. I do need to be clear that not all Spanish-speaking students are in this class.

Here is the link to my presentation from this session. I appreciate any feedback and push-back. We are all learners here. I failed and did not cite the research for each of my suggestions. Most of the research came from the Teachers of Spanish as a Heritage Language Symposium in 2018. It was great to listen to current approaches and research. Most of it is geared to college-level and there are undertones of CI happening in some of the communicative roots.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Colors and numbers through literature

Thank you for entertaining my “feelings” post. I had so many teachers talk with me about transitions and it touches us all so deeply, I needed to share.

This post is much more school oriented. Primary goals being first few weeks of school, Spanish language teaching, and getting in the groove.

Holy crap, school starts and what to do!?

No matter how much experience a teacher has, the beginning of the year is stressful. What to teach?! What initiatives are we doing?! How do I learn ALL the names?!

Here is my process, followed by what I am actually doing (or as much that is planned).

Step Zero: Panic into prep

This step is generic. See the BTS ads, hoard and hide all the school supplies I buy from the hubby,
scour Pinterest and other wonderful bloggers seeing if I change it up or not. I start sneaking into my classroom and bring my janitors and office ladies treats. (Always love these people. In Iowa, love=food).

This year I also tried something a bit different. Every year wonderful people ask me, “What do you need for your classroom?” I never had a good answer and then I ended up with hundreds of glue sticks and missing key items like markers and highlighters. This year I made a wish list on Amazon. When you change the settings to public, you can share the link. I have been slowly adding my “needs” to this list. Some are nice to have. Some are true needs. You can also set the “importance” level from low, medium, high, and highest. This helps me keep track of things I still want in my room. People can purchase items and they shipped to my house. The generosity has been inspiring.

Then the serious steps come into play.

Step One: Goal setting

I believe this is when elementary teachers pick a theme and Pinterest the heck out of it. This is where I set goals and try to tie them together with a theme. It helps my very Type A brain plan.

I set several types of goals. Normally I have a “language-use” goal for each of my “levels” or preps. I also tend to have a big idea these all fit into. If you have a goal, then it is easy to machete your own path to get there. When you are really lucky, you will find parts of your path already cleared by other language teachers, different curricular teachers in your building, and sometimes by students.

There is major caveat I want to highlight about goal setting: Great goals are responsive to the needs of your students; the goals should modify based on the needs of your classes, building focus, and your well-being  and mental health. You can’t swing a machete if you’re too tired to pick it up.

My 2018-2019 School year goals

*This post is specific to my middle school but this is the process I followed in my high school days.*

I am teaching at an IB middle school in Des Moines Public Schools, grades 6, 7, and 8. I have a great administrator who is supportive of my CI path to acquisition. I am also lucky to have enough students that I have separate heritage classes (more on this later). I also recently finished my ELL endorsement. My class sizes are between 36-42. I also gain about 2 grey hairs a weeks.

I have not finalized my goals and will do a more formalized post later, but here is my generic path in my IB setting (I will also post about how my IB school is offering Spanish):

Big Goal (general direction): Learning through literature- everything will have a children’s story we read together in class. My high school kids LOVED being read to. This is NOT just a middle school thing. I actually find it harder to convince middle schoolers to realize I’m cool.

Phase 1 (novice-low): My students will be able to follow simple conversations, provide quick answers on familiar topics, and be eager to engage in Spanish language. Children’s stories- Eric Carle books- art, color, repetition to increase language acquisition

Phase 1 (novice-mid): My students will follow simple Spanish conversations, offer information on familiar topics, and ask questions in L1 to further the classroom study. Children’s stories- Eric Carle books- focusing on word order, adding details, and rhythmic reading

Phase 2 (novice- high): My students will initiate Spanish interactions, they will ask in L1 clarifying questions for deeper understanding, they will explore phrases and understand how language changes impact meaning. Children’s stories- Lil’ Libros series- simple words, major cultural components, detailed pictures for discussion.

Heritage (Spanish language acquisition): Students will develop a confidence of language skills while exploring various cultures.

Step Two: Planning the first days

There are lots of philosophies about “how to” do the first days of school. I 100% believe that fun, structure, routines, expectations, and community building CAN and should be done in the TL (Target Language) at least 50% on the first few days and increase daily. My classes should run nearly the same on day one as day twenty as day 100.

My students should want to stay in the TL because it is “more fun” than me doing English. English is for boring directions, redirecting behavior, and anything not fun. Spanish is a good-times language where the crazy white lady acts like a charades olympian.

I try not to smile, move around much, or make sound effects when I am speaking English. I laugh, smile, and use positive proximity while I speak Spanish. Students naturally catch-on that in our class we prefer Spanish so Profe doesn’t get mad and crabby.

I also think the first days have to tie in to your goals. Making it clear this is the goal we are working on and they are already SOOOOOOOOO amazing for doing so much on the first day. Wow, those classes are blowing your mind and your kids feel loved, capable, and confident. Who needs to review a syllabus on the first day if you are long-term goal setting on day one!? Amazing.

My 2018-2019 First days plan

I am starting all levels of my classes with the same book. Every level has different expectations for interacting with the book, but they all have a common language. Bonus if I have very advanced or low students in a class, I have varied level of difficulty assignments to meet student where they are to foster confidence in the language!

This year I will be using Oso pardo por Eric Carle (Brown Bear, Brown Bear). My interactions will be focused on “traditional” colors, numbers, and questions at the beginning of the year. Students might know them already, they might not. Some may have experienced this book, some have not. Either way, this book offers high repetition, really drives home noun/adjective placement, and uses questions on every page.

I will use Martina Bex’s randomized seating chart cards as students enter. We will do a fairly archaic version of Simon Says, and then we will read. I will read the book to them using the ELMO to project the book on the board and their papers as a follow along (I put them on the desks prior to students entering).

Phase 1 (novice low) will work on identifying the animal vocabulary and the color vocabulary. They will have a PPT 6 slide printout of the book to help.

Phase 1 (novice mid) will work on answering the questions. They may do a rewrite changing the colors of the animals.

Phase 2 (novice high) will work on partner rereads or a mixer activity depending on the class mixture.

Heritage will work on rewriting the book with animals from their home/family countries. The door will be open to allow fictional characters as well because we ill be getting into a myths and legends unit.

I will post my last year’s STEM inspired team building activity. I did a crazy short story in Spanish and they had to Save Sam before class ended. I will likely also do something like this on day one and two based on the reading. The reading won’t take too long and if I really play it up, kids will buy-in. I’m not worried about it being too childish, they are children.  

That was the big reveal?!

Well, yeah. That’s all I have so far and that’s okay because it’s summer and all of this work I am doing is volunteer hours.

The big idea is that we all wonder “what to do” at the beginning of the year and many of us teach the essential numbers and colors at the beginning of the year. This is my nod to teaching colors and numbers and doing it within the context of literature (loosely defined).

I believe that if my students hear the colors, and see the colors, in context and in the right order, it will improve their writing and accuracy.

I believe that day one “sets the stage” for the desire to learn and acknowledging how wonderful they already are at language learning. If I believe my kids are awesome, they will be awesome (because they are).

Monday, July 23, 2018

Not a come back, but... here’s my come back

It’s a personal post about negative spaces and changes.

*Edited 7/23/18 at 3:15 pm.*

For the last year, my blog has been dormant. I was in a very negative headspace for a multitude of reasons and really felt I could not put out helpful, clear, or positive contributions. I even forewent the IWLA 2018 conference because I wasn’t ready. This post is intended to help anyone else considering major changes in life or is in a less-than-supportive professional environment. 

Changes at school

I was a #deptof1 at a small rural school in Iowa. It was a LOT of work starting curriculum from scratch with no resources. Fortunately, I am a second career teacher who LOVES macro planning (curriculum development). 

I love(d) my kids and getting to see them every year. I was lucky to coach for 2/3 of my years there. My kids were the best in the school, no questions asked (yes, I taught 80% of the school at any given moment). My own two children were loved by my “big kids” and my husband was well-known in the school (bringing me coffee, coming to see my big kids’ games, trading our own children for their after school activities...). 

While I was pretty much left to my own devices, there was a lack of community among the teachers there. Lots of cliques, generic politeness, but I felt a lack of depth of connection. I was never sure what was said and by whom. It was uncomfortable for me but there were many great individuals there that I really enjoyed. I also believed all the teachers were doing their best to teach their students (even if I didn’t agree with methods/content, which is not my job to do). Many teachers were willing to get a bit crazy and enjoy homecoming  week, attempt inter-disciplinary units with me, and supported their students.

Our principal retired and our district hired a new one. I was excited for change (I get bored easily and like a challenge). I saw a division in staff, some seemed to try outshining other teachers by dampening others’ flames. It didn’t feel right in my soul. Students were feeling the impact (not just “new rules”). Students were telling teachers what other teachers were saying (degree of truth?). 

While I was, again, left to my own devices and was allowed to do what I saw fit with my students, my soul felt gross. I wasn’t excited to try new things, I wasn’t excited to go to work. I was also battling some health issues that added to the general crabbiness.

*Edit* Uppon the great feedback and connections I’ve made since this post went up, I feel like I left out my clear responsiblity in this post. My previous school is full of great people. Many teachers I admire still work there; I do NOT want to make it seem like it’s toxic and horrible.

I was, and am, a participant in any workplace I work in. My actions or inactions  participate in that environment. I was not in place personally or professionally to give my best in that setting. That is soley on me and no one else. IT IS NEVER ANYONE ELSE’S RESPONSIBLITY TO ENSURE MY ADULT CAREER IS HAPPY AND PEACEFUL.

I encourage people in any professional setting to look at your happiness. Are you excited to try something new? Is there one part of your day you get excited about? If you cannot answer those questions, I urge you to do self-reflection and think mindfully about you and your situation. You cannot control others, but you can control your choices. (Edit contiued in the summary section below.)

Changes at home

As previously mentioned, I was fighting personal health issues. Turns out my students weren’t exhausting, I had two autoimmune diseases... I still think they were/are exhausting. *Mom-look* to my students who know who they are.

We were also living in the country and it turns out I am allergic to everything outside. Life was rough in all first-world sense of the word.

My husband was waiting to hear about his possible job changes (and moving) when I got a phone call from a friend. A few weeks later I had a job offer to go back to DMPS and a hard decision to make.

Making the decision for a change

I had quite a few people reach out when they saw my job posted. Lots of support, what happened, and congratulations. I made the choice to go back to Des Moines Public Schools. It was also one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.

We teach because we believe in the power of education. We teach Spanish/Language/Content because we’re nerds. Teaching lets us live our nerdy dreams. We keep teaching because of the kids. I cried, a lot, thinking about leaving my kids. Then my mom and my grandma said the same thing in different phone calls: You cannot do right by those kids if your heart is unhappy, no matter the reasons for the unhappiness.

I was physically ill, allergic to the place I lived, and felt professionally stunted.

Making the change

I remained pretty quiet on my teacher social media. I just wasn’t “over” leaving my high school kids and I felt like I was drowning in the middle school deep-end. Wow, middle school is its own beast. People who teach middle school need BOGO drink tickets to the local bar and immediate sainthood.

That said, my new school is healing my heart. While the kids are overwhelming (sheer numbers), my coworkers love kids, they love what they do, and they are good people. I feel like people are their true selves and it works. We are team at the end of the day, not matter how much we disagree. I was almost hospitalized because I quit breathing the day before spring break and when my team found out 1) they never apologized for sending texts demanding payment for having to also take on my kids :) AND 2) they checked-in on me. They asked if I needed anything (at school or home), and they continued to check-in when we got back from break.

My soul and heart are being fostered in an environment that is right for me. I can serve my kids better because of this. I am happier for this. I STILL MISS MY OTHER KIDS; and that’s okay.

Summary for the reader

Take care of you. I know it’s not that simple; you’re talking about kids, maybe making coworkers or admin unhappy, changing curriculum, maybe moving. It’s a big deal.

You have to do what’s good for your soul, what’s good for your family. Teacher burnout is real, for innumerable reasons. Care for yourself.

*Edit continued* If you feel stuck, build your town tribe. It is extra hard as a department of 1, I promise. That said, find other teachers, NOT IN YOUR DISTRICT, and know them professionally and perosnally. Plan time for shop talk. Just knowing you’re not alone can carry you a whole school year! I am always ready for new friends and to learn new things from others. Find me on Facebook or email and I am happy to say hi.

Picture is of our team at Brody Middle School and used without their permissions. These two men were so essential in helping heal my professional, and personal, life. I will miss both of them this next year as they continue with their paths (professional chior director and returning to Spain to be with family).

P.S. I took my coworks and unhealthy amount of chococlate to apologize for being gone the day before break. Always take care of yourself AND your people.