Friday, March 22, 2019

Wooly in Heritage Classes

*Please, forgive the lack of correct accentuation. It keeps removing all the punctuation and I can't figure it out.*

From the Spanish Teacher Success Academy, I have had an influx of questions about planning for mixed level classes (both within a heritage class and heritage with L2). All the different preps can be not only challenging, it can be exhausting. I recently had a discussion with another teacher who claimed it was so difficult because she can’t use her L2 stuff in her heritage classes, and she loves her L2 “stuff”. I started talking to her about what she loves about her “stuff”. Her big love was CI and Sr. Wooly resources for L2. We didn’t have enough time that day to unpack why she felt she can’t use her L2 CI with her heritage students; I took that conversation to heart.

Here is how Senor Wooly was a huge asset to my heritage classroom. *All opinions are my own and were not solicited by anyone and there are no affiliate links in this posting.


Teaching my 6th and 7th grade heritage classes, I find myself working to build student confidence, trying to fill seemingly irregular holes in literacy skills, and more confidence building. If I can give them work that appears to be "below their level" then I can work on the processing portion of language.

Using Senor Wooly embeded readings, audio bits, and printed screen shots, I can focus on building student confidence in interacting with Spanish and help them process in problem solving (academic language) in Spanish. Honestly, the intermediate embeded readings are too advanced for some of my heritage students and below the literacy level of others.

How to Wooly in Heritage Classes

With heritage classes, and with groups of heritage learners in other classes, these students interact with Wooly differently; they solve a mystery.

This time I used the video "El Banco" and the supporting materials available on the Pro account. These materials included: short audio clips of the "movie", specific printed stills of the "movie", and the intermediate level of some of the embeded readings.

Dia 1

I printed about 18 scenes from the El banco "movie". I taped them around the room, I did number them in order. All I said, "Clase, ayer alguien hizo algo malo. Necesitan tabajar para encontrar mas informacion. Necesito entrar las notas en Infinite Campus."

Students had to work to figure out 1) what was happening, 2) who are the people in the pictures, 3) what was the crime, 4) who was the victim, and 5) who was guilty.

I printed select scenes so it was really hard to tell what was going on. I did, however, leave the title slide that says "EL BANCO".

I also did not enter grades. I most definitely spent time answering questions (by saying, I don't know, go figure it out) and taking notes of student interactions and grading writing samples and oral convos on the spot.

Dia 2

Students get their "case files" when they walk back into the class. I took their writing samples of observations and inferences and put them in folders. 

The slide on the board read something to the effect of: "El detective se fue en una tormenta de emocion. Solo tenemos esta caja llena de sus cosas del escritorio. Por favor, usen las observaciones y conclusiones con cualquier informacion pueden sacar de esta. Tenemos que resolver el crimen hoy."

Students could re-examine the scenes from around the room and the information they previously found. Students were naturally talking to each other to fill-in holes and ask more questions.

This box has a bunch of random papers from the recycling- happened to include information about the US government from the Civics class; great distracter. I also wrote some important and some non-crucial information on sticky notes, provided the intermediate readings that were "censurados" and missing key information. Some papers were even ripped in the detective's fit of furry. 

The key to this success was the reading. I had short notes, I had long, redacted readings, I had quotes from the movie. Every student in these classes could be an expert somewhere. I have several students are are majorly struggling in reading in any language and there was something accessible to everyone. Students naturally started to regroup themselves into heterogeneous (mixed-ability) groups. Strong readers spent time decoding while struggling readers took notes, tried to match-up the small information to the bigger information. 

Dia 3

Today is where the case became interesting. "Anoche descubri unos flash con unas grabaciones de las entrevistas entre el detective y ambas personas del caso. Hoy, entregen sus conclusiones finales. Hoy, alguien es culpable."

Students listened, non-stop, to several short audio recordings from the movie. Each of the three flash drives only had one clip that was a little different and could sway their final accusations. They had the box of desk stuff, the printed scenes, and audio recordings to connect their observations and inferences. This leads to a logical deduction of what happened. All academic skills which also use a lot of cognates for my native speakers.

(Hint: cognates of academic language do nothing for students who don't have an existing understanding of that concept in the L1. A heritage student might recognize that paralelismo is clearly the Spanish word for parallelism, but still have no concept that these words represent correspondence.)

Day 4

I could have done a lot more with this but we hit spring break and it was a great shut-off point. We did a very quick presentational speaking of making a formal accusation and why. I showed them the movie at the end of class.


While this was not an engagement in a Spanish Language Arts course, this was definitely time well-spent bridging academic English and Spanish skills. My middle schoolers seems to need a lot more of the "You can do this in Spanish too!" direct reminders than my high schoolers needed.

Practicing deep-level thinking while practicing making an observation and supporting a conclusion are crucial steps to good writing.

We will be using this as a stepping stone to deductive reasoning and opinion poetry. 

Using your L2 classroom materials to minimize the separate and distinct planning, often required in heritage classes, will be a sanity savior. It is not a disservice to our students and it can really help with balancing the cognitive load when working on academic skills in the L1. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Service in Spanish Class

Service Learning is the Best Kind of Learning

I have been at my current school for two years and we keep talking about making the world better and more peaceful. We talk about community and we believe our students are capable of great compassion and being kind. I know my students will change the world... but why not start now?

I tasked my eighth graders to use whatever Spanish they have to make our community better. For some, they use Spanish daily and others are just starting to find their groove. All language has purpose and the focus is communication, not perfection. 

Defining Community

When told they have to make our community better, my students asked many great questions and we had deep and meaningful conversations. Many chose to impact our school community, others are being risk-takers and creating opportunities within our school district and within our city.

Very special someone

Our school has more than 750 students from all sorts of backgrounds, abilities, talents, and strengths. We have one student who is a native speaker of Spanish and is blind and hard of hearing, I will name her Sara. Finding resources for her in any class can be changeling. It is especially hard to find Spanish materials that she can interact with.

I have two, very special and endearing, students who know Sara and wanted to do something so she could enjoy Spanish class as well.

Stories connect people and representation matters

This summer, I did a quick book review of the FVR favorite, Juliana by Rosana Navarro and Margarita Perez Garcia.

This book was not only fun to read and a FVR favorite in all my classes (heritage, L2+ novice-low to intermediate low), but it talks about a little bat who is different from the other bats. She is kind of small and doesn't see like the rest of her community. This is the first FVR book I have encountered that has a main character of different ability. This is the first book that a student like Sara could comprehend and relate to a main character.

My two eighth graders decided to record an audio version of this book for Sara. They read and reread the book, understanding the feelings, knowing when to pause, and how to conquer all the sound effects. I could hear their speech become more comfortable and fluid. My two students were so proud of their progress as story tellers and thrilled to be of service to someone in a positive way.

Both of these students came to class and ask, "Did Sara start the book? Does she like it?!" They want to know her thoughts about the book and if she can understand their Spanish.

With permission from Margarita and both of the girls' parents, here is a short clip of them with their audio recording on a service-project work day.

Language is meant to be social

If we continue to use stories, PQA, MovieTalks, and other CI methods to engage students and build their vocabularies to be functional... what is the purpose if we don't encourage students to be social?

I am not supporting the idea of forced output; not at all. I am saying that students need to feel loved, valued, connected, and represented in their learning environments. They value their peers more than adults, that just comes with teaching middle-schoolers. We need to use this to foster an environment where students want to engage in the language with each other. Then they see even if it isn't perfect, their attempts to genuinely reach another person are meaningful. 

Many of my students in this class are likely somewhere between novice-high and intermediate-low unless they are my heritage students. They are using their language to make a positive impact in their community. It is never too early to start fostering these ideas and concepts of interconnection. 


Sara loves the audiobook. She listens and re-listens and giggles. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Conceptual Planning and Free PD

Ya'll, it's PD in your PJs

This year I am very proud to be presenting on managing mixed classrooms. Think: heritage learners with L2s, Novice-Lows with Intermediate-Lows, or having three or more preps. Does it hurt a little because it sounds so, so, so true?

In my PD session at the Spanish Teacher Success Academy, brought to us by Speaking Latino, I mention how conceptual planning has saved (some) of my sanity.

Not only does it help my planning, it is good for kids. It worked at the rural high school I taught at (department of one with five preps) and it works at the urban middle school I teach at now.

My video about conceptual planning is below! It's about 11 minutes (approximately one glass of wine, one bottle of beer, or two margaritas- don't risk the ice melting).

If you are interested in FREE PD (in your PJs... with wine, I made-up that part), here is my referral link. The FREE PD starts March 10 and lasts a week. Every day is something new. Heritage (me) day is Tuesday. The up-graded paid version is under $70 and gets you lifetime access to watch and re-watch on your own time, an attendance certificate, freebies from the presenters, and so much more. I've seen what's on there and I will be PDing for the next month. #worthit

Again, here is my referral link for #STSA19.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Stations in Secondary Spanish Class

Aren't stations for babies?

You know what, naps are also for babies and they are fabulous. 

In all seriousness, stations are chunks of focused skill development. If you aren't sure what really works for that weird class, do you know what skills your students struggle with or are confident with? 

Stations are your friends.

Do you have an observation coming up with an admin that doesn't understand your content? Are you being assessed for engagement percentages, rigor in the classroom, inquiry-based practices, or knowledge utilization?

Stations are your friends.

Do you have a class that is so talkative you can't teach? Do you have a class with a wide range of ability levels?

Stations are your friends.

When / Why to use stations

Stations are more than just "fun" (they are fun). I call them "speedy Spanish" days. Students almost never have enough time to finish a whole activity in one class period. Completion is NOT the goal. Showing their gut instincts and understanding what students do easily or well/poorly will and should impact your instruction the next day.

I use stations when we get in a rut. I am doing the same things and students are showing the same results. I need more feedback on where we need to focus. This quarter, I have been doing A LOT of story telling, story asking, cloze listening activities, and PQA. My students were shocked when they were at a reading station. Oops. Time to change it up.

I use stations when class has been intermittent or many absences (think snow days). Students aren't ready for "new" content but I am out of ideas. They need more input, more repetitions, more types of exposure. Ya'll, I have 400 students. I don't know who needs what so everyone gets it all!

I also tend to do stations on announced building-wide observations. Yes, it is part "dog and pony show" but also because it is a familiar, research-based teaching strategy that breaks-down what your students are doing into clear, observable skills. It is much easier to tell that students are in a rigor class when they are being stretched and pushed on multiple skills and standards.

Students Work, Teachers Push Students

Not literally. Don't push your kids unless you want to lose your job, and you enjoy spending time in a courtroom.

Students should be doing 99.9999999% of the work. You need an easy timer. Students should not have enough time to finish any given station in that allotted time.

As the teacher, you should be either 1) being asking more questions than answering or 2) modeling thinking / language skills. If you are defining vocabulary, giving cheats to students, you have removed all higher order thinking. Feel free to model and help students make connections to what they are doing, do not give answers (barring new student additions, chronically absent students who may not have been present to build that background). 

You can also be a station. Please, know your students first. I do not have a class I trust to just "do" this semester. Before, I was a station when I had smaller class sizes and the same students all year. I would have them reading a challenging reading with me, I would practice short conversation, ask them connections to other classes they are seeing... I LOVED spending that time with my students.

Logistics and stuff

I make enough stations to fill about 5 minutes per station plus a five minute introduction.

I use a timer only I know is going on. If I need to fib and move on more quickly or extend time, I can do so without any push-back.

Grouping students: depends on how organized I am and if this is for an over-all formative assessment or to help students who are behind catch-up. I have done homogeneous groups, heterogeneous groups, random numbers, go down the list, and divide up "those" kids. I NEVER LET THE KIDS PICK. It's not social hour.

Make station signs that have numbers. Write them in L1 so you aren't just re-giving directions every time.

Stations in my 6, 7, & 8 L2+ class

We've had Iowa snow days, cold days, and low attendance days. Plus, we switched students at semester. Like I mentioned above, I have been doing lots of auditory input and not nearly as much reading practice. So we did a class story inspired by Martina Bex's Somos 1 Unit: Dice. I built a skeleton story for this and put it in a PowerPoint with no images (I could draw in the white board and add details specific to each class).

I took our classes' stories and made one version and used it for our stations in class. My goals were to: 1) assess literacy skills like comprehension and reading strategies, 2) lots of repetitions of familiar and newish vocabulary, 3) work on building community and collaboration, and 4) get them saying Spanish words.

I did not give them sufficient time because I want them to "rush" and put their gut reaction down so I am more likely to get what they have acquired.

I also want them to start speaking Spanish words. I know that output does not increase acquisition, but I am personally tired of the line, "But I don't speak Spanish." (Like seriously, I am going to lose it or come unhinged). I don't care what it sounds like, I don't care if it is conversational, I don't care if it isolated words: They said Spanish words so now they speak Spanish. Argument ended. 

Station 1 Comic

On one side of their paper, I made a comic book template and inserted the main ideas into the word boxes. Students had to sketch as much of the story as they could.

Because the final version of the story might have slightly different details from their class's version, it was important to read the boxes carefully. Students were encouraged to talk to each other, divide and conquer, but everyone had their own paper.

Stick figures are welcome when they have the details or labels to ensure the audience, me, can understand the details of the story.

Station 2 Parallel Universe

I failed and forgot to take an actual picture of the station.

Students flipped their paper over from station 1 to find the typed version of the story. The paper is in landscape and the story typed one one half of the paper. Students had several options depending on confidence or grade level or class needs. Option 1 Translate the story into English on the blank of of the paper. Option 2 Write an opposite story in English. Option 3 Write an opposite story in Spanish.

My 6th graders did the most of option three.

Station 3 Order in the Station

Collect the papers from station 2

I used the typed version of the story and made the font bigger, printed the lines, and then cut them into strips. I had two sets because my groups are big (big classes) so everyone could participate. I put colored dots on the strips so they didn't get mixed. I used blue and red dots.

Students were told to put the story in an order that made sense. It didn't have to match the typed one, just in an order that made sense. (Savanya can't run home first because then nothing happens in the story.)

Students put the lines that confused them off to the side and then tried to integrate those at the end. I could see what they were struggling with. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with "big" sentences.

A lot of students were upset they didn't have time to finish and asked to take a picture of what they did. 

This story is not exact but it is logical for students 13 days into the semester!

Station 4 fail: Teatro

Yeah, they weren't ready for this. 

Sixth grade was awesome. Seventh and eighth grade stunk it up.

I gave them the reader's theater version of the story. They had four minutes to prep, one minute to act whatever they could. I told them they could do it in English or Spanish. My sixth graders did it in Spanish and owned it! Everyone spoke at least a word and then participated in being a character or supporting detail.

Station 4: Improved- Mano nerviosa

This is the card game like Slap Jack. Students count 1-10 in Spanish. If the number they say matches the flipped card, anyone can slap the card to win the pile. I made it so anything with a face is worth 10. It was a great community builder and for the few students who "didn't know" or were holding up the game, the positive peer pressure to participate was awesome.

There were several new students who really didn't know their numbers 1-10 and several students who got stuck after cinco. I just counted with them for a few rounds and they eventually counted in unison (output for many, input for some).

Station 5: Collaborative Smash Doodles

I had three cognate readings with "tiene" "esta" "dice". The stories were written at three different levels of difficulty. Each table group had the readings taped to the desks, a big piece of paper, and a set of markers. Stories were all the same at the same table.

Students could move around and pick any story and add details or draw whatever they understood. It's like the group before provides the scaffolds for the next group. 

Students were really protective of their drawings and I didn't see any penises drawn on. Win.

I hung up the best ones in the hallway bulletin board with a copy of the story with it.


Additional Station Ideas

Cloze listening with computers

Cultural components on YouTube

Reading/Chatting with teacher

Logic puzzles

Hidden object search

Art analysis

Guess Who or Rako

Prinola (Mexican top game)

Catch-up and Pick-els

Want some more great ideas for free?

I am part of the Spanish Teacher Success Academy and it is next week, March 10-16. The free version includes freebies from the presenters and a different topic each day.

The paid upgrade is under $70 and gets you lifetime access, more bonus freebies, and PD certificate of attendance.

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.