Sunday, August 31, 2014

Boot Camp for Bloggers!

Tomorrow I finally get to begin the 30 day Blogger Challenge over at the Te@achThought Community Wiki! 

This reminds me of my Saturday morning Boot Camp group (and that's a good thing!) because I am going to "working out" daily to build my strength and endurance through a series of thoughtful prompts. It is a commitment I am making to think about my teaching, learn from others and have a little fun along the way, of course!   

Saturday Boot Camp Crew!
The blogging challenge is going to be a great reflective activity for everyone. I know that I am going to learn new things from those participating and get to know them better as teachers and individuals! I want to sincerely thank my awesome new colleague Justine Hughes ,Teacher and Educational Consultant, and creator of the Te@chThought Community Wiki for managing the different time zones and collaborating with me to bring one of my ideas to reality for everyone. I continue to enjoy working with you- so lucky to have joined your Twitter chat #ttchat that one Spring evening this past May!

You can jump in on the 30 Day Blogger Challenge even after the Sept. 1 start date. Come visit the page, sign up, grab your own copy of the cool badge (like mine on the left) to shout out to everyone that you are a participant and get started! It's never too late to start growing both personally and professionally!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Modifying with the Modes

Differentiated learning is something I really love. It takes you out of being the center of the classroom and puts you in the role of facilitator- and that's what it should be. Your students are the center of learning and you need to place yourself on the sidelines and coach them on as they learn! I can't believe that I spent so many years of teaching thinking that I needed to lead the class hour...and I worked to craft every single moment of my language class. I must confess that am a detailed planner and was pretty proud of the fact that my classroom ran smoothly and that students learned a language, but I realized one day that I was working so much harder than them and thought: How much more could they achieve if I just got out of their way? My experience has shown that an instructor can not and should not control everything in a classroom. We just need to let students go, trust them to take responsibility, plan for active learning in the class and let the students assume control of the material. Looking back, I see that some of the best learning happened in those moments when I let go and let the students take the lead, learning in their own way and at their own pace. Now it is my mission to make every moment in my class like that!

Which picture looks like more student learning is taking place? I know, it's obvious. Active learning fosters so much more student growth!


Language students experience a modified flipped classroom with me. They gain proficiency through learning stations every day that build their proficiency, but one of my goals this year is to to further structure those learning activities so that students see the academic vocab of the ACTFL Modes of Proficiency on a consistent basis. I would like my students to understand that Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational modes are our communicative goals for the year that develop our language proficiency.

I took a template of differentiated activities that I have used in the past and edited it a bit and I am really pleased with it. I included some places to insert activities for structure development, learning games, challenge activities for high-performing students and a free choice area.

I am sharing my template with you as well- feel free to use and adjust to your course!
I would love to hear about your experiences incorporating the Modes into your teaching or any suggestions that you have. Here's hoping that you are off to a great school year!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Be an Epic Teacher this year!

Social media serves up the news of the day, offers me quotes for my classroom, provides ideas to enhance the student learning happening in the classroom and most recently gave me the inspiration for this blog post!

Recently I saw a post from the wonderful folks at the Tell Project. This is The Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) Project, an initiative of AdvanceLearning. (And you should follow them at +TELL Project !) They have some great ideas that can be used to enhance the effectiveness of world language teachers. Recently they started their #epicteachers initiative on Twitter and it really gave me food for thought. After years of teaching and getting my National Board certification in WLOE, I would like to think that I have demonstrated my abilities as an instructor. But when do we reach the "epic" stage? When does one finally say that they are an accomplished teacher?  I say NEVER- because the way students learn and educational spaces are changing, our approaches, delivery of instruction and the way we interact with students must change and grow as well! So, how can you and I be more "epic" instructors?

My goal is to give valuable feedback this year. I want to give students more specific comments about how they can improve as well as offer them lots of support out of the classroom. Here are are a couple of tools that I am going to use that will improve my existing communication with students:

1. RemindHQ -safe, one-way texting from teacher to parent and student, great for reminders, inspirational thoughts, attaching pictures to get students thinking before they enter the classroom.
2. Kaizena -embed oral feedback into Google Docs that you want to give back to students- this is going to be one that I definitely work on being a part of my routine! Valuable and Personal!
3. Insert Comment Feature on Google Docs- I plan to make 2 comments...a Let's Celebrate! comment (something done well) and an Under Construction! comment (an area for learner improvement). The extra time it takes me to do.

Adding on new ways to communicate more effectively with students not only helps them grow in their learning but also helps me develop more positive relationships with all of them and their parents. And we know that Positive students=Productive students. And productive, happy students are what we want. Becuase in the end productive, happy students are what makes each of us "epic" teachers.

Won't you join me in the charge? I encourage you to go to the Tell Project, download the cool poster (that you can hang by your desk to remind you this school year) and think of a way that you can be more of an "epic" teacher today!


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Monitor the Whole Child Using Google Forms

We all know how important formative assessment is in our classrooms and how it provides us valuable feedback at multiple points of the lesson as to how students are performing on the material that we are teaching them. But what about how students are feeling each day? How many opportunities do you give to your students to tell you how they are actually feeling physically or emotionally? I don't know about you, but I feel that we place a lot of emphasis on gathering data about their performance and not enough attention on collecting information about their well-being. 

For me, it is challenging to check in with each student and have the meaningful conversations I need to have every day with them. One strategy that many teachers use is to stand at the classroom door and greet every student as they enter the room. I think this is a great approach , but speaking from experience the brief "hello" or "hola" as a group of 5 students enters (en masse!) does not net me that deep, meaningful feedback about the student as a person.

That is why I am suggesting that we move to something quick, efficient and more private so that students can check in, tell you how they are feeling, indicate if they need help or just want to talk about their day. Since most students have their smartphone on them at all times, how about placing a poster outside the classroom with a Google Form link or QR code that students access as they pass into the classroom? Students use their phones to give you that valuable feedback and they can discretely tell you how they are feeling and why! Other alternatives to using phones would be to access the form off of the Internet by typing in the link or by creating the Google Forms and sharing/placing it in a shared folder where they can access it when they need to.

Using Google Forms in this way allows students share their thoughts with you before class, during class and even outside of class, whatever your preference or school allows. You as the teacher can access their responses anytime/anywhere and can continue the conversation with students and get them the help they need or talk with them about things that are going in their lives.

Here is my Google Link for the Student Check-In Google Form:
Here is the link for the Poster to hang outside your door:
Feel free to use!

It is important for teachers to not only know how our students are doing academically, but also emotionally and physically- it signals to us if a student needs encouragement, intervention, a word of praise or a shoulder to lean on and those relationships that we have with our students are crucial to their success in school.
If you incorporate this idea into your teaching, please visit my blog again or contact me via Twitter to let me know how it went or any suggestions you may have!

Here's to gathering feedback on the whole child!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Where did your boat sail to?

Hello everyone!
How did you spend your summer? I took the opportunity to get involved in a couple of wonderful initiatives and I hope you did too. Every summer, these opportunities are like a boat we all jump in where we leave the comfort of our homes and sail away to meet new people, learn new skills and with (or maybe without!) the aid of a map we hope to navigate exciting, uncharted waters!

Some of my ports of call:

Port of Call #1 The Chromebook Midwest Institute It was smooth sailing to this welcoming harbor that offered me loads of ideas for my classroom. This was a great place for me to connect with other techy people and it challenged me to think about how I can structure my classtime more around technology. This was definitely the port of call that offered me tons of "souvenirs" to take back and arrange in my classroom!

Port of Call #2  The National Board NBPTS Assessment Center in Naperville, IL. Had some stormy seas to navigate just to get here. Being chosen as one of five assessors in the country to grade over 100 entries of National Board Candidates in World Languages was a great honor but on this part of my journey I was tossed about the boat many times. I struggled with the rubrics, I struggled with seeing the evidence, grading without bias and my confidence was at a low. How could I carry my weight for my shipmates? I don't know about your experiences like this, but I actually wanted to jump overboard on this one! But I was thankful for my four other shipmates who supported me, guided me and helped me to understand the process. We were together for 12 days, 8 hours a day and together we trusted each other and learned from each other. Little by little the skies lightened and cleared as we pulled into this harbor and it was a beautiful place. This was the port of call with large thinkers and master teachers, offering me the most intense collaborative experience I have ever known. Here is where I insert a profound blog quote:

Port of Call #3 Illinois Virtual School Summer Workshop. Got a nice tail wind leaving National Board and my boat docked quickly here. I am honored to be a part of the faculty here and besides preparing my AP Spanish online course, I learned some new tricks in our course management system and got to connect with some wise people that have been in distance education for a long time. In my mind, this port of call is like a good Caribbean town: always sunny, has the most friendly and welcoming people and there is time set aside away from the work for laughter and celebrating!

I hope that you had an enjoyable trip in your "boat" this summer and that you are home safe and sound. I would love to hear about your exciting journey as an educator here or blog about it in your own space and send me the link. I hope that I have inspired you to share your journey with others!