Saturday, May 23, 2015

End of the School Year Reflections

My school year has come to an end: Final exams have been graded, the semester averages have been posted, and my classroom has been packed away for the summer. I am now officially on summer vacation. 

Honestly, I feel restless at the moment. It always takes a few days for me to decompress from it all.To me, the end of the school year is always a crazy time with finals, graduation, etc., and I liken it to being on a runaway train. The train is not going to stop whether I like it or not, so alI I can do is just hold on. And then suddenly, the train stops, but due to the laws of physics, I am still in motion and am hurled forward. I once told a class this analogy, and a student just looked at me dumbfounded and said, "Wow, that is SO deep..."

Yesterday at my school's end-of-the-semester luncheon, my principal handed back to us teachers two goals for our school year which we each had written back in August. This was his first full year as principal (he had been with us though for many years as an assistant principal and then took over as principal halfway through last school year), so he had wanted to know what we were feeling. Quite honestly, I had forgotten that I had even done this, so I was pleasantly surprised to read what I had written down as my goals:
  1. Goal #1: to make my classroom a Comprehensible Input classroom
  2. Goal #2: to not allow what I view as educational obstructional policy to sour my view and love of teaching
I'll address Goal #1, but gosh for Goal #2, did I really write the words educational obstructional policy for my principal to read?!! Wow, that was pretty brazen of me! (In an earlier post, I address my reaction to "educational obstructional policy"). My principal actually included a really nice note to me when we got back our goals, and in it regardng this particular goal, he wrote, "Your passion and POSITIVE approach continue to produce excellent results for students. You make Brookwood a better place." I truly do appreciate my principal. He has been an ardent supporter of the Latin program at my school (we will be adding our FOURTH Latin teacher next year) and in fact, our school will be paying for one class of Latin 1 to be taught at the local middle school in order to start up a Latin program there!

Regarding Goal #1 and making my classroom a Comprehensible Input classroom, I would give myself a letter grade of B. This year, I was only teaching Latin 1 and AP Latin (talk abut extremes!). On the one hand, I see all of my shortcomings, failures to deliver Comprehensible Input, the times where it was easier to show a video instead of teach, and the days where I failed to engage students due to falling back on grammar-translation ways; plus I was teaching AP Latin which is not truly CI-friendly. On the other hand, this was my second full year of teaching full-out Comprehensible Input (I had been doing TPRS for years prior to this, but I did not truly understand CI when I was doing it), and I felt like I had a much stronger hand on CI this time. I have heard that it takes three years to get the hang of teaching CI, so watch out next year!

In August, I had written a list of CI goals for the year. Let me write up here how I felt I did. This only applies to my Latin 1 classes:

  1. Leave the textbook behind - On the one hand, I did leave the textbook behind in that my students never used it  - in fact, although I was required to check out books to students in August, I told them to keep it in their lockers for the year. On the other hand, due to my Latin colleagues closely using the textbook, I could not leave it behind complelely. I looked at the sequence of how topics/vocabulary were presented in the book and then taught it how I wanted when I wanted. It was quite a tenuous task, since at the same time I needed to prepare my students for my colleagues who do follow the textbook. I will discuss my experience at this summer's NTPRS in a presentation called "Detoxing from the Textbook."
  2. Deliver understandable, comprehensible and compelling language to students in word and on paper - I feel like I did a good job on this and am looking forward to expanding it even further. Was I teaching 90% of the time in the target language. Not even close, but I'm getting better! I really enjoy writing, and I found that it is indeed possible and very easy to write compelling stories with a limited amount of vocabulary.
  3. Limit vocabulary - I felt like I did a good job...maybe too good a job. In some ways, I feel like I underprepared my students for my colleagues who may expect that they know more words. However, I feel like my students truly acquired them and have a working knowledge of their vocabulary, instead of just having learned them from memorization.
  4. Hit the high frequency words first - Wow, what a simple concept! Done and done!
  5. Incorporate a Word Wall in my classroom - This is definitely something which I am going to do every year. Why did I not do this before? Students told me how much they liked it, because it helped them self-monitor their own knowledge of vocabulary. Reviewing words on the word wall 2-3 times a week is a great warm up activity.
  6. "Point and Pause" more - I have definitely gotten better at doing this. See an earlier post here where I discuss it.
  7. Vary things up -  One of the best things which I have learned from Carol Gaab (and believe me, she is a font of CI/TPRS knowledge) is the phrase  "The brain CRAVES novelty." She was the first TPRS/CI presenter whom I ever heard say "Just doing circling questions and PQAs gets REALLY OLD, REALLY QUICKLY for students." I have learned to vary up circling in a way so that it does not even seem repetitive at all, and I now have students go over a story at least 6-7 different ways. The 4%ers (who have already probably mastered the story) appreciate the novelty of the new activity, while the slower processors appreciate the reps. As Rachel Ash says, "The goal is to get in repetitions without being repetitive." 
  8. Focus on student reading and re-reading of material -  I can honestly say that reading and re-reading is where the magic happens in language acquisition. The job though is to vary up the readings and to find those stories which are compelling to students. This week, on my Latin 1 final exam, I put two reading passages which students had already seen before on previous tests from months ago but with a different set of questions. The feedback which I received was overwhelmingly positive about how easy they were to read, since they already had a background knowledge of them. After the exam, a student told me "Those passages were almost too easy, " to which I replied, "Wow, that just shows you how much your reading ability has improved in just a few months." 
  9. Read more CI/TPRS blogs - Reading blogs has been my lifeline for my teaching this year. There are so many good ones out there. In addition to learning so much from them, I feel such a strong sense of comraderie now with these bloggers, as we are all headed towards the same goal of student language acquisition. 
  10. Attend CI/TPRS presentations at conferences - at ACTFL, I attended some really great CI/TPRS workshops. Unfortunately, now that I am pursuing an Ed.S degree in Instructional Technology, whenever I attend conferences, I must attend tech presentations in order to accrue lab hours for my classes.  
  11. Teach fearlessly - DONE!
So thanks to everyone who helped me achieve my goals. I learned so much from your blogs, presentations, tweets, and emails. I am so grateful for you, and I am already looking forward to next year. Now off to enjoy my summer vacation...

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