Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Protecting your Bandwidth

I am a new department head this year, and at times, it has felt overwhelming, because everything in this position is a "first time" for me. I am definitely learning a lot so far. Last Friday right after school, three issues suddenly were brought to my attention as department head. But I was so tired and weary from the week already that I decided to wait until Monday to address them, since quite honestly, I did not possess either the emotional or mental bandwidth to deal with them. Since they did not need my immediate attention, I put it off until Monday - these concerns would still be there on that day, and I would have the adequate emotional and mental capacity to address them.

I have come to the conclusion that there are certain things over which I am not going to waste any mental, physical, or emotional bandwidth when it comes to my professional life, because big picture, it is not that big of a deal (or at least not a big of a deal to me any longer). I am now entering into my 24th year of teaching, and it has taken me so long to learn this. Although this may sound blasphemous, the lockdown and hybrid teaching were probably some of the best things to happen in my professional career, because they truly made me stand back, look at myself as a teacher, and reprioritize everything. Some of this is also due to my age and stage - I am 52 and can retire in 5-6 years, so my perspective is probably different from 2nd/3rd year teachers in their 20's.

Here are some ways in which I have learned to preserve my bandwidth:

  • You do not have to grade everything you assign. I no longer assign homework in my classes. While I know that there are huge debates about assigning/not assigning homework, I do not assign homework for one simple reason: I do NOT want to grade it. Yes, my reason for doing this can be interpreted as selfish, but this is a personal boundary for me. However, since I do not assign homework, then it is imperative that I am 100% faithful with my classroom time with students. There are a number of things which I do assign that while I may not give a grade to them, they serve as formative check-in's for me to see what it is that students know and to inform me if I can move forward with the material or if I need to address gaps.
  • Majoring on the majors, and minoring on the minors when it comes to my classroom setup. Even though I have 7 days of pre-planning, there is still never enough time to get everything done which I need to do. As a result, getting my classroom decorated and set up is low on my list of priorities during that time. I moved to a new classroom this year so my walls are pretty bare. In my early years of teaching, I can remember coming in on the weekends to get my classroom walls covered with posters and decorations, but now, as long as I have 32 chairs in my room on the first day of school, then that is a win for me. I can decorate and cover my walls eventually, and I am so okay with that.
  • Leaving work at work. During the year of hybrid teaching, that became standard practice for me. I will do some light planning on the weekends, but my goal is not to grade anything away from work. 
  • Learning to say no. Maybe it is because of my age and stage, but saying no to requests of my time has never been easier and more satisfying! 
  • Teaching is what I do, not whom I am. I will admit that earlier in my teaching career, I was all about learning how to be a better Latin teacher, attended conferences, voraciously read pedagogical blogs, etc. This is not to say that I am still not interested in bettering myself as a teacher today - the difference is that it is just not consuming my time and effort like it did before and taking over my life. Maybe I was younger and had more energy and interest to do so then.
I hope that you are learning to protect your bandwidth too!

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Cherishing the Few Specks of Time

Recently I saw the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once, and oh my gosh, I was completely blown away by it! I kind of had an idea of what the movie was about, but wow, it was SO MUCH more than that. The basic plot is about a Chinese immigrant mother (played by Michelle Yeoh) who is recruited to save the universe from a major evil villain who is determined to destroy the multiverses. Yes, it sounds like an action, comic-book kind of movie, but it is an incredibly absurd but such a deep, moving film - for the last 20 minutes, I was both laughing hysterically and crying through it all. I can honestly say that it was one of my all-time favorite movies now!

Meanwhile, I am in my 7th week of school with students. By this time, everyone (teachers, students, administrators) is SO TIRED and already burned out to a degree. The novelty has definitely worn off for all parties involved, and now it flat out feels like work for everyone. Throw in that I am also a new department head, so I feel like I am learning everything as I go. So much of it is all "first times" for me - first time leading a department meeting, first time having to call a parent who wanted to talk with me about a teacher issue, first time dealing with teacher "concerns/complaints/gripes," etc. Honestly, it has been very hard!

When it comes to teaching, here are some "truths" which I have learned:

  • There are days which are going to be just flat out poopy. I hate this reality.
  • Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. Again, I hate this reality too, because it means that there are going to be LOTS of poopy days over a long period of time. I just want to get through it all quickly!
  • Students and teachers were affected deeply in so many ways since March 2020, and it may take YEARS to figure it all out and to see those effects. So as we enter this post-pandemic phase, in my opinion to expect that everything will suddenly return to normal is not realistic. Quite honestly, I still feel that I have tinges of PTSD on so many levels from these past 2.5 years (personal and professional) as we maneuvered through the uncertainty of it all.

However, without spoiling Everything Everywhere All at Once (I hope that I am not), one of the messages in the film is learning to "cherish the few specks of time that have any meaning." This is definitely something which I trying to take in:

  • Since victories may be few and far-between, I need to look for them. Because if I am not careful, I will develop a bitter spirit, and I refuse to allow that to happen.
  • I truly need to celebrate any and all victories no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. For example, in one of my "lesser-involved" classes where I feel like I have been struggling these past few weeks to engage, I was very impressed with their first timed write of the year. Some of my other classes were really engaged communicatively in the Unfair Game. Another couple of my classes did a great job with a recent Write and Discuss. Some students made me laugh out loud the other day.
I wish that I could say that every day I am hitting homeruns in my classes - instead, I feel like there are many days where I am getting hit by a pitch! But I am looking for those days where I get a hit when I am up to bat, and if it ends up being a bunt single, I will take it!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Grudgeball

This is another communicative-based activity which I learned from Andrea Schweitzer this summer at IFLT. It is very much like the Word Chunk Game/Trashketball but with a twist. The setup itself is the same like the Word Chunk Game/Trashketball, but the difference is that in Grudgeball, students can give points to other teams points or most likely take them away!. Martina Bex has a great writeup here with directions, so I will not waste blog space here rehashing her directions. You will learn that this activity is called Grudgeball for a reason!

Like the Word Chunk Game/Trashketball, I love how Andrea "communicatified" this game. If a team answered the question correctly, I asked in Latin "________, who will lose points? Team #1, Team #2, Team #3..." If a team answered the question incorrectly, I asked in Latin, "_________, who will receive points? Team #1, Team #2, Team #3..." And much like Word Chunk Game/Trashketball, I asked the class in Latin before the student attempted to score, "Class, do you think that ______ will score?" Previously in Word Chunk Game/Trashketball where most students would respond "Minime (no)!!", however because in this game there was the taking away of points of another team depending on the basket, most students yelled out, "Certe (yes)!" because they wanted to get on the good side of the student so that the student would NOT take away any of their points. Like earlier, I was able to ask again in Latin, "______, who will lose the points? Team #1, Team #2, Team #3..." This gave me an excuse to say the team numbers again in Latin for repetition.

Observations

  1. In terms of a lesson plan, this activity took place late in the scaffolding of a reading. By the time we had played Grudgeball, students were quite familiar with both the English and Latin for the story.
  2. In her presentation, Andrea said that when we facilitate "communicatified" games like Trashketball, Grudgeball, and The Unfair Game, although we are asking students questions to answer, our focus actually should be on engaging students in communication - asking the class to predict if a student is going to make a basket in the target language and then interacting with those responses are a great way to begin!

Monday, August 29, 2022

Starting Off Your School Year with CI

I have been back with students for almost a month (my first day back for pre-planning was July 25, and the first day of school was August 5). However, I am still basking in my IFLT high from everything which I learned (and re-learned!) a month ago and from being with such awesome people, most of whom I am still fanboying over. 

Meanwhile, I know that there are many of you who have just started the school year or are beginning after Labor Day. How should you start off the school year when it comes to CI/ADI instruction? Regardless of your familiarity with CI (for Star Wars fans like me, allow me to use Star Wars language: are you a force-seeker, Padawan, or a Jedi Master?) or your number of years as a CI/ADI teacher, this is my advice for anyone starting out the school year when it comes to CI: Take just a few new CI/ADI strategies which you wish to try out, and run with them. Build upon your previous foundation (if any). Exercise your CI muscles, and establish that new foundation. It may be that you wish to try out using processing questions or a Movie Talk/Clip Chat, or maybe you wish to focus on proficiency instead of performance. Maybe you want to try out a novella with your classes. Whatever it is, focus on those. But do not bite off more than you can handle. So often, novice teachers return from conferences and want to implement so much, but they do not possess the necessary foundation yet and burn out as a result. There is no rush to go all-in with CI if you are not ready for it. Once you feel comfortable with facilitating those strategies and have built up that foundation, then possibly add some new ones, and begin the process again.

Based on what I learned at IFLT in July, here are my CI/ADI strategies which I wish to try out this year (some of these I have already tried out in this first month of school and have blogged about):

  1. Communicative-based activities and "communicatifying" existing ones
  2. Write and Discuss
  3. Associating vocabulary with gestures
  4. Classroom passwords for previewing vocabulary
What are some CI/ADI strategies which you are wanting to try out this school year?

Monday, August 22, 2022

Write and Discuss - the OG version!

This summer I attended IFLT (the first in-person IFLT since 2019), and I did not realize just how much I needed IFLT to "refill my cup"- I came away with a renewed spirit for the school year and so many new activities (specifically communicative-based) which I cannot wait to try out in my classes. I have already blogged about "communicatifying" existing activities, and now I want to add Write and Discuss - the OG version.

I attended a session called "Write and Discuss with Sprinkles" given by Caitlin McKinney, who addressed how to do a basic Write and Discuss and then gave many variations of it. In the session, we actually took part in the basic Write and Discuss and other variations in English as if we were students. Although I had already blogged about my experience with Write and Discuss, I did not have much knowledge or experience with the original way to do a Write and Discuss, and I learned that there are SO many different ways to do one (hence, the "sprinkles" which Caitlyn presented also). Therefore, I will call this blog post "Write and Discuss - the OG version" and call my previous blog post about the activity "Write and Discuss as PreWriting".

A Write and Discuss (OG version) is another way to review a reading/story, and it is done quite early in the scaffolding process of a reading. Following a story introduction (such as a movie talk, picture talk, TPRS story, etc), ask students to tell you corporately what happened in the story in the target language for the purpose of creating a class recap. You can ask students processing questions to guide students and to garner responses. As students give you responses, you will type out the sentence out on a projected document for the class so that they can see what you are writing (Caitlin used a Google Slide for this, and that works great, but I can also see using Google Docs or some type of document). As students recap what happened in the story and continue to contribute, you can also give students the option to add sentences of events or descriptions which happened prior in the story (filling in the gaps) or they can continue moving forward with the story. When you are finished, now you have a class-created document of the story which you can then review the next day with students as a warm up.

Last week, my colleague John Foulk and I did a Write and Discuss (OG version) for the first time. We did this activity with our Latin 3 classes immediately following a Movie Talk (Sand Castle) but because it was an upper level class, we added a new element. The movie talk itself took about 30 minutes, so immediately afterwards we projected the vocabulary from the movie talk and told students that they had five minutes to write in Latin what they could about the movie talk (which hopefully was fresh in their minds since we had just completed it). We then collected their writings and read over what they had written to get an idea of what students were communicating. Then the next day, we returned their writings and showed the movie short again (to rejog memories and for those students who were absent the day before). Following that, using a projected Google Slide, we began the Write and Discuss:

We then asked students or called upon student volunteers one at a time to give us a single sentence in order to construct what happened in the story based on what they had written the day before. The first student had it the easiest, because that student just had to tell the opening of the story. As students told us sentences (either filling in the gaps or moving forward with the story), we typed up the story, serving as grammar and spelling editors while typing it up but not changing the student messages themselves.

I loved this activity so much, because although each class came up with the basic recounting of the Movie Talk, each class also differed in what they corporately wrote up. Below are my three different Latin 3 classes with their versions of the story:
Observations
  1. Oh my gosh, I love this! What a great way to recap a story and have students do it for you, with you serving as their guide.
  2. I like that what I am dictating from students is being projected for students to see. 
  3. I felt that this was another way for students both to interact with the passage in the target language and to receive more understandable repetitions of the language.
  4. Because this was a Latin 3 class, students were comfortable writing in the language prior to the Write and Discuss. NOTE - lower levels may not feel so comfortable doing a prewriting before the activity, so use your teacher discretion. Prewriting is not a requirement of a Write and Discuss. When Caitlin demonstrated a Write and Discuss in her presentation, I felt successful as a "student" with her just asking us questions aloud to elicit responses. 
  5. It was John's idea for students do a writing of the story for five minutes immediately after the movie talk and prior to the Write and Discuss. When we did the Write and Discuss, students actually had something to which to refer when giving suggestions for the next sentence to add. 
  6. I was surprised at how many students actually volunteered to provide a sentence. Again, maybe because they had already written something, this lowered their affective filters in offering a sentence instead of having to create/remember a sentence on the spot in Latin or answer me asking processing questions.
  7. Many students wanted to "fill in the gaps" with their own sentences between sentences which had already been provided - wow, I was impressed!
  8. I was surprised by how many students used vocabulary beyond what was provided for them or created their own sentences which were not originally from the Movie Talk.
So consider doing a Write and Discuss with your students (you do not have to do the prewriting portion that John and I did - a Write and Discuss functions just as well without it), because it is another great way to conduct a post-reading, communicative-based activity.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Communicatify!

Communicatify is my new word for this school year! I can take absolutely no credit for that word - I learned it a month ago at IFLT from Andrea Schweitzer, who was my fellow co-member of the Intermediate-Low Cohort coaching team (along with Amy Wopat and Gary DiBianca, our leader). Andrea presented this topic to our cohort, as well as gave this presentation for the general IFLT audience.  Andrea's main message in her presentation was that although we may have a giant toolbox of activities which we do with our students, how many of these are actually communicative in purpose

However, there is no need to re-invent the wheel with our activities, because all we need to do is to modify them so that they now lead to purposeful communication. Andrea taught us two "words" and their purposes: 

  • Communicatify: Make changes to shift the overall purpose of the game to that of communication as the means to achieve the overall goal of the game
  • Vehiclize: Use the game as a vehicle for creating contextualized communication with your students (sort of like picture talk or movie talk etc).

These two words definitely have resonated with me, as I strive to create a communicative-based classroom and to facilitate activities which are rooted in purposeful communication. Not an easy task, but I am taking steps (baby steps, shall I say?) toward those ends! 

Last week in my Latin 3 classes, I played the Word Chunk Game/Trashketball. To be honest, I have never been a huge fan of this activity, but I would play it probably once a semester to give students both a break and a novel way with which to interact with a reading. However, Andrea showed us how we could communicatify and vehiclize this activity. The activity itself is still the same, but we can shift the game towards purposeful communication when it comes to students "shooting a basket" by asking students in the target language to predict if they think that the student will "make the basket/score a point". That seems like such a small, uneventful modification, but wow, when I asked students in Latin, "Do you think [student] will score a point?", I got a ton of participation from students answering yes or no!! I was then able to play with that, asking students questions and teaching them rejoinders for "go" and "boo". Suddenly, students were invested in the game IN LATIN!! Suddenly the activity was not about reviewing the reading per se (which was the vehicle) but about engaging students in conversation and providing understandable input for them with which to interact and to respond.

Here is an example in Spanish of how Andrea has "communicatifized" Trashketball in her classes (start video around 12:59):

Observations

  1. In her demonstration of Trashketball, Andrea has a 2-point, 4-point, and 6-point line from which students can attempt a basket (with two chances), so in Latin I was also able to ask the student who was about to shoot a basket, "How many points do you want to score? Do you want to score 2 points? Are you sure you want to score 2 points? Maybe you want to score 4 points?" Meanwhile students of their own accord began yelling out, "Six points" IN LATIN to the student! And if a student missed the first shot, I could say in Latin, "Do you still want to score 4 points? Maybe you want to score 2 points." But students on their own were still yelling "Six points" IN LATIN! And then I could restart the whole questioning again, "Do you think Student A will score X points?"
  2. I made a change to my original Word Chunk Game based on Andrea's example. I will still pull out a student's name from a bag and ask them a question. However, now the team can pick one person to be its representative to shoot a basket. This makes the conversation more focused when I ask the class if they think Student A will score points, and most likely, the student who is attempting the shot is okay with being the center of attention.
  3. Wow, such a small change to Word Chunk Game/Trashketball suddenly made this a communicative-based activity, because I was able to engage in conversations with students in a very understandable way and to continue giving them comprehensible input.
I now love the Word Chunk Game/Trashketball and cannot wait to play it again with students. Last week, after I had played this new "communicatifized" version of the game, I texted Andrea, Gary, and Amy about my experience and profusely thanked Andrea for showing us this!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Personalized Questions and Answers (PQAs)

Often times I get asked what is the purpose of circling and asking students questions in class, especially when it starts to become really monotonous and repetitive for students. Essentially, asking questions is a great way to assess comprehension in the moment among students, since it can be very easy for students to "fake" understanding. If I ask a target language question, and students mis-answer, then I know right away there has been a breakdown somewhere in the comprehensibility of my messages. As a result, I can re-adjust in the moment. Also, asking questions is another way to continue the current dialogue in the class. I have heard Ben Slavic compare the process to a balloon which we are trying to keep in the air. The more we can dialogue with students using comprehensible language about a sentence/topic, the longer the "balloon can stay in the air." Personalized Questions and Answers (PQAs) are a great way to do this. But honestly, I feel like I am horrible at PQAs.

I do have Ben Slavic's PQA in a Wink (a great resource), but when it comes to questioning, I feel like my questioning just peters out after awhile because I do not know where to go with it or students begin to tire of it. However, as I look over what kinds of questions I ask students, I realize that I actually do ask a lot of PQAs and that PQAs can take a lot of different forms:
  • Do you like/have/want? - In many ways, this is a natural personal question to ask students such as do you like to eat pizza, do you have a dog, do you want a lion? But again, these questions can get really old with students even if you add details to them such as do you like to eat pizza at night or in the morning, do you have a big dog or a small dog, do you want a big lion or a small lion? So as extension questions, consider asking...
  • Would you... - In the summer of 2021, I was serving as a cohort coach for the virtual IFLT Conference. I was coaching teachers on circling, and a teacher had volunteered to do be coached on circling using the structure "eats". She did the basic, "Maria eats insects. Does Maria eat insects? Does Maria eat insects or Takis? Does Maria eat Takis?" However, then immediately she turned the structure into a PQA, directing it to a "student," asking "Do you eat insects? Would you eat insects? Would you eat insects for $100?" Now the questioning became interesting! I wanted to know how the student would respond! Moreover, this teacher was demonstrating how to shelter vocabulary, not grammar by keeping the vocabulary word "eat" but now changing it to a subjunctive form for the purpose of communication. This teacher did a great job of keeping the "balloon" in the air!
  • Asking for examples - Very often, I like to ask students to give me examples of something based on a vocabulary word for which I want to get in lots of repetitions or where I think we can get in some good discussion. For example, for a movie talk where the word "witch" was being introduced, I asked students to give me an example of a witch in a book, TV show, or movie. Wow, students were volunteering answers left and right (I did not realize that there were so many), because for many, this was a personal question of interest. I could extend the questioning to be "What witch did Carson suggest?" "Who suggested Glinda as a witch?" A student suggested Mary Poppins as a witch, and suddenly that became a question for discussion - "Who of you thinks that Mary Poppins is a witch? Or is she just magical?"
  • Predictions - In a Movie Talk or a reading which we are doing at sight, I like to ask students to predict what they think will happen next, "What will happen next?" "Do you think that X will be happy?" "How will X respond?" Once I get a response from a student, I can then ask the class, "Who else thinks this?" or "Who here does not think this?"  Again, this can be a personal question of interest for many. 
So consider using many of these different types of PQAs with your students!