Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
Last year, I made an attempt to follow the curriculum in the newest Look, I can talk! books (Blaine Ray). However, for various reasons, it just wasn't cutting it for me. However, one thing that students were picking up really well were the songs. Along with the LICT curriculum, I did activities with LEGO stop-motion videos based on the original LICT stories and of course Señor Wolly (their favorite). In fact one particular struggling student's mom purchased a school Señor Wooly account so that her son and the rest of my students could access the videos! Students were able to remember and use the phrases because they got the songs stuck in their head and enjoyed singing them as well as associated the words with the videos that accompanied the songs. After getting some feedback from students, I decided mid-year to re-do my curriculum and have the songs at the heart of the curriculum. In other words, my structures were pulled from the songs and listening to the songs became a central part of instruction. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, I wasn't able to plan this curriculum shift out methodically and it showed, but it also showed how much the students were learning. However, the 2014-2015 school year will have a music-based curriculum that I feel will be much stronger and I can't wait to see the results. Here's how I went about structuring it:
First, I used Bryce Hedstrom's list of the 400 most common words to identify the words that I wanted my students to know. Then, I looked at various songs from both of the previous resources as well as songs commonly used by other Spanish teachers, including authentic songs (for example, "Eres Tú" is an excellent first-year song!). I identified prominent phrases within the songs (usually they were repeated multiple times, giving me lots of repetition and increasing the likelihood that students would know them) and cross-checked that they included high-frequency vocabulary and/or important grammatical concepts that I wanted my students to be exposed to and acquire (in the lower levels, phrases with high-frequency vocabulary were emphasized while grammar gained increasing importance with the higher levels since they already know many of the high-frequency words and have acquired more fluency). I also ensured that the phrases were in a complete sentence (or were put into a complete sentence with minor adjustments) and that I could come up with a discussion topic with which I could PQA, circle, discuss, and/or tell a story with.
In Intro to Spanish and Spanish 1 classes (which are very similar) have a very well laid-out curriculum, especially since I've taught these levels before and know where to start/end up, what my resources are, and the general strengths and pitfalls of particular phrases and songs. Ultimately, I decided to leave my Spanish 2/3 classes (I have both levels in the same class) a little more flexible and identified a loose order of songs to do with them and will select specific phrases as we go (these students are generally more proficient than a regular Spanish 2 class since they've had Spanish all through elementary school, Intro to Spanish, Spanish 1, and for some Spanish 2, as well as being at a high-performing school and they take Spanish as their elective over other options; thus, the majority of what I'm doing is practice, practice, practice and just help them become more fluent since they are already conversational and this is the first time I'm teaching these levels). The phrases are what students will be tested on, but as all Comprehensible Teachers know, they will know so much more than just those phrases.
In addition to centralizing my curriculum on these phrases, I'm doing "Verb Karate" with my Spanish 2-3 students, doing someting called "Algo Más" each Friday, and putting an emphasis on reading.
PS - I'll update soon with the actual songs and structures I chose.
Many of you liked my ideas for using Interactive Notebooks last year. I did give them a shot this year, and learned a lot about implementation, especially about WHEN they're appropriate. Unfortunately, they didn't work out as I'd hoped for one main reason: my class is more handout-heavy than it is note-heavy. Let me elaborate.
In my class, we don't do a lot of note taking. For the most part, some key vocabulary is introduced and students write down that vocabulary and anything I point out that might help them. I don't emphasize grammar. If I did, there would be a lot more notes to take and the Interactive Notebooks would have worked better. Indeed, when we did take notes, it worked like a charm. However, we do a lot of learning through discussion and songs. Discussion doesn't lend itself to notes (obviously), while it's just not efficient for students to copy down lyrics to songs and translate them. Instead, I provide handouts with the lyrics, a CLOZE activity, etc. The trouble with all these handouts is that they have to go somewhere. When using an Interactive Notebook, especially when utilizing a composition book, the only way to get the handouts in there is with tape or glue, which resulted in a number of problems. Tape is the best since it's least likely for the papers to fall out - that is, of course, assuming that students realize that the tape needs to be positioned in such a way that about half of it is on each paper (some students would tape with 99% of the tap on the handout out and the tiniest sliver of tape actually connecting it to the notebook. Moreover, students didn't have tape, didn't take the time to actually tape things in, and things fell out. Not good in a handout-heavy class.
My last complaint is that, while IN's offer so many cool opportunities with foldable, foldable frankly eat up time in a secondary classroom. Often, there's so much time spent creating the foldable that could be better spent simply instructing and moving on. Thus, foldables in my classroom were more or less eliminated in order to make sure I had enough teaching time. At this age, I could very easily provide the information online and ask students to make the foldables at home if I felt they were necessary (I don't - students often find equal or better ways of studying). I'd like to revisit foldable at another time (and possibly their application in another subject as I can see how it would better organize certain information, but I don't have anything that calls for that just now), but they just weren't efficient in this class.
I also ran into issues with students who never created their notebook for one reason or another. This is likely a first-year teacher symptom, but a small number of students either joined the class late or simply didn't have their notebook on the days we put them together, so they ended up just taking notes on random pages of their notebook or didn't take notes in a notebook at all. This was a bit frustrating, especially since these were the students that may have benefitted the most from the structure of an IN.
I guess the moral of the story is that, while IN's can work well in some situations, they're aren't necessarily the best option in others. If I had a note-taking heavy class where I could title pages and have students take relevant notes (my high school economics class comes to mind), this would be a wonderful tool that would fit the job well. On the other extreme, if you have a class where note taking is minimum and your class calls for more organization of handouts, IN's are not the answer (this is where I fall). If you fall somewhere in the middle where you have a lot of note taking, but you also have handouts, I might suggest (and am considering, given some changes to my curriculum) having students combine a folder/binder with an IN - have students put their handouts in the folder/binder and keep the IN for notes in the pocket. I'm still toying around with what I want to do for next year. I think I have too many handouts for a folder to suffice (if you do go the handout route, I would suggest using one with the brackets in the middle to keep things more secure), but a small binder with a limited number of tabs to organize the handouts may just be the trick and I've already checked that a composition book will fit nicely in the pockets of said binder. Plus, binders are more sturdy than folders anyway.
As a final note, here are some things to specify to students about getting their composition book that I didn't anticipate: I didn't realize different composition books had different numbers of pages. Thus, when I told students to put things on page 95, but they only had 80 pages, we ran into some troubles. Also, somehow students assumed that all IN's were equal and showed up with these itty bitty notebooks (wha...?). Moreover, some assumed a spiral notebook would work just as well (they don't). So, be VERY specific about what notebook students should be getting.
Well, I learned a lot about Genius Hour this year. Being a first-year teacher, I learned more about what works for me and what doesn't. I also got a lot of honest feedback from students. In all, I love the idea of Genius Hour, but it's going to look very different next year.
My goal for Genius Hour was for students to explore culture. I made a decision to focus on Spanish language proficiency during the first four days of the week, and then allow students to explore culture on the fifth. I felt that the Genius Hour experience would be hindered if I required students with minimal Spanish skill to try and complete their project in Spanish. Thus, the tie-in to my subject was through a focus on culture.
Our Genius Hour experience was primarily split into two parts. During first semester, I tried to promote learning a little about a lot of topics. I gave students a list of 10 categories of cultural topics ranging from Art and Food to Economics and Government. By the end of the semester, students needed 15 blog posts - one in each category plus five on any cultural topic they wanted. I gave them a format for the blog posts that required them to include their resource and a paragraph describing what they learned and why they researched it.
Second semester, student chose one topic and then completed a project about that topic. They had to create something to display about their topic (I purposely left this vague to see what they came up with) and attend a "Genius Hour Fair" where everyone displayed their product and filled out a worksheet about other students' projects. Their final for the year was to turn in a portfolio that included their initial proposal, a 1-page "What is culture?" paper, a 2-page reflection paper about their experience, a Spanish-English dictionary that listed the key terms of their topic in Spanish and English, and an annotated bibliography.
Genius Hour next year is going to look very different than Genius Hour this year for a few reasons. During my first year teaching, I identified a few things that I need to address and fine tune a bit more before I'm ready to take on Genius Hour in the same way again: Spanish proficiency and Structure. I felt that I was lacking in these areas last year, and Genius Hour was when it showed the most. However, while re-structuring my curriculum and teaching this summer, Genius Hour emerged in a whole new way that I didn't expect.
Reading is a fundamental element of developing language proficiency. In my quest to pack as much comprehensible Spanish input into my class as possible, I set aside a daily free-choice reading period for students. However, I needed a way to hold students accountable for their reading and to check that they're getting out of it what they should be. I added a reading journal, where students identified what they read and included a brief summary as well as a list of words they came across that they didn't know (note to self - I just had the idea of adding in a "rating" for each entry, indicating how students feel about reading that day). Then, while deciding the format of my final, I decided to use that daily reading as the source for a book report and presentation, which allowed me to assess speaking, something that can be tricky in a Comprehensible Input-based classroom. My main objective was simply to translate their reading into a somewhat painless writing and speaking assessment, but I decided to include a "product" of their choice that could represent their book as well as help remind them of what they wanted to talk about during their 1-2 minute presentation to the class.
In my push for more comprehensible input and Spanish instruction, I was a bit sad that I was eliminating Genius Hour, but felt this was needed and that I would be much more successful with my instruction and meeting my responsibilities with my new curriculum plan. Then it occurred to me... Isn't this reading project just another form of Genius Hour? I'm requiring that they read... but they're welcome to read anything they want to, create a project that represents their learning, and presenting it. All the elements are there, PLUS it's all in Spanish! I feel like I've found my silver bullet and am quite pleased with myself. Because of some of the attitudes toward "Genius Hour" from last year, I won't be calling it that this year (at least not in front of my students). However, the fundamental elements are all there and I am so excited to capitalized on this experience again!
One of the number one things I learned this year (and I've heard it's a common lesson for first-year teachers) is that I need a little work on Classroom Management. Between the normal struggles and the extra stuff that was going on in my life, I was SO sick of being a teacher by the end of the year. However, I've got three months to figure out how to make things go differently next year, and my goal for next year is to still like my job come May (that could be a very tall order!).
Classroom management was the place to start, so I researched a number of books and chose the one that seemed best: Discipline in the Secondary Classroom. (The reviews for the current edition are lacking, but the older edition got a number of glowing reviews, so I assumed the third edition would also be good). I am not disappointed. I have to say, this book is completely changing my views of my classroom and making me re-think every little detail, while still providing flexibility for me to do things my way and customize them for my classroom. It's an easy-to-follow, step-by-step how-to instructional manual for all things classroom management. The worksheets on the DVD are an added bonus that I'm using along with my own documents that I've created according to the activities in the text and I'm going to have a solid Classroom Management binder to refer to throughout the year. I highly recommend this book to anyone who teaches in a secondary classroom that would like to fine-tune their classroom management plan. Right now, I'm working on the activities for the first half of the book, which involve nailing down exactly what my plan is and articulating them in a way that I can clearly visualize how every aspect of my classroom should function like a well-oiled machine using the STOIC model. Below is a summary of this, including what I've done thorough Chapter 5 (I recommend reading chapters 1-5 and then working on your plan since things in later chapters will influence your plans related to earlier chapters - I find I'm jumping back and forth to fine-tune things a lot):
Section 1: Structure your classroom for success (S)
Chapter 1 - Vision: Understand key concepts about managing student behavior
Chapter 2 - Grading and Instruction: Design instruction and evaluation systems
Chapter 5 - Expectations: Plan to teach students how to be successful
Section 3: Observe Student Behavior (O)
Chapter 7 - Monitor Student Behavior: Implement and adjust your classroom management plan
Section 4: Interact Positively (I)
Chapter 8 - Motivation: Enhance students' desire to succeed
Section 5: Correct Fluently
Chapter 9 - Proactive planning for chronic misbehavior
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