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.
Here I am, about to submit my National Boards portfolio for World Languages. It's been a wild ride. One piece of advice: Don't do all four components of NBCT AND complete your Ph.D. in the same year.
All right, let's assume that none of y'all are gluttons for punishment like I am. Yet, you still want to get your NBCT certification (DO IT!). What advice can I give now that I'm ending this journey for the first (and hopefully last, not including renewal!) time? One of my biggest frustrations with this process is that there are SO FEW World Language candidates - and I'm in the state with the 3rd highest number of NBCT annual certifications in the nation. Not only do we have a state-sponsored bonus of considerable proportions ($5,000 or $10,000 depending on whether your school is high-poverty) and certification benefits (I get a LARGE number of clock hours and will be excepted from certain license renewal requirements), but they also have a 5-day introductory training, annual district-based cohorts, and state-wide Home Stretch days where you meet with like-area candidates and review work. I've taken advantage of all of these, so I've had a TON of support through this process. I know I'm really, really lucky to have access to these. But I also want to help support all of my World Language NBCT candidates wherever they're located.
To do this, I'm going to start a mini-series of blog posts about becoming NBCT certified. I hope to share all the things I learned along the way, but especially the things I wish someone had told me up front. These come from my experiences provided by WEA (Washington Education Association), including my wonderful cohort leaders and members, as well as things I simply picked up from trial and error.
Let's start by asking yourself... Am I ready? Where do I start?
Am I ready? Where do I start?
First things first - you need to get your ACTFL scores for writing and speaking ASAP. This often ends up being one of the hardest parts for World Language candidates, and I don't recommend starting your Boards if you haven't gotten an Advanced-Low score (the minimum). You cannot receive your NBCT scores unless you have this certification cleared - and that means you might do a lot of work and pay a lot of money for nothing. Even if you aren't going to pursue your NBCT certification for a few years, you should work on your ACTFL proficiency (how to do that is an entirely different post). Keep in mind, your scores must have been within the 2 years prior to the closure of the NBCT registration window. That means if you DO have current ACTFL scores, you should make sure they'll still be current or be planning to re-test prior to the year you plan to begin the NBCT process. This is the reason I started my NBCT while still doing my PHD - my ACTFL scores were about to expire!!
So, let's say you're all set for ACTFL. If you're still not going to start your NBCT for a year or two, I recommend at least reviewing Component 1 and brushing up on your content knowledge in the areas listed (look at the NBCT World Language standards for more information on these, but don't expect much). Glance back through your college textbooks on Spanish/French and teaching. Review linguistics, including regional variations. Explore cultures in a variety of context and themes. Stay up-to-date on theory. Attend professional conferences and see what's out there. Experiment with these things and start articulating how you apply what you know to what you do as a teacher and why. You can also find plenty of groups online to ask about what they recommend doing. This test is broad - so should be your preparation for it.
Finally, hone your teaching skills, especially in these areas (you can use these as daily/weekly teaching reflections!):
If you feel confident answering these questions, then you're (probably) ready to jump into National Boards. Note that your answers are going to change through this process and so will you as a person and professional.
I recommend deciding on your first two components as early as possible - that would be NOW if you're thinking at all about pursuing them at any time in the next year or two. So, now, which components should you do, and when?
Doing all 4 in one year
The components really do fit together nicely, but this is a TON of work and a lot to keep straight. I would liken the total amount of work to a Master's program. Also, are you a good test taker? Because C1 is worth 40% of your evaluation (the most of any of the components) and you're not going to have as much time to study as you would like if you do all four in the same time. Pros - an inspiration in one component can lead to improvement in another component, especially in applying writing style and incorporating the Architecture, rubrics, and standards. You also get any associated bonuses sooner assuming you certify. Cons - You'll only really figure out what you're doing in April, right before you have to start finalizing stuff and submitting it. Also, you won't have a life for a year. If the time crunch results in less quality work, you may have to re-do components which has a financial cost to it as well.
Get a grip on Component 3 the year BEFORE the end of the school year prior to the cycle you plan to do your boards and start recording - anything you record after the closure of the registration window (February 28) can be used for the next year's cycle. Get those release forms signed ASAP - you need one for every individual (including adults) who is seen or heard on your video. Figure out exactly what it is you need in your videos, what you should improve on, and start recording. With any luck, you can get at least two great videos before the end of the year and start your writing on Component 3. I highly recommend connecting with someone who is NBCT certified (doesn't have to be in your teaching area or even physical area) to review your writing and give you feedback. Chances are, you'll end up revising and possibly picking a different video, but just getting your feet wet this way will give you a great head start and make the next year much more manageable.
Make a plan for Component 4. This one is a beast and you'll want to have a solid plan in place before you start the school year, especially for how you'll gather information about students.
Once you have C3 and C4 planned, start working on C2 (I recommend no later than October). Your "instructional sequence" has to be between 3 and 12 weeks long, so give yourself time to implement the sequence and possibly have a re-do if needed.
Hopefully, if you do this, you should have all your evidence for C2-C4 by February or March and all you'll have left to do is write and study for C1. Don't wait until then to start writing though! I found that during the writing, my plans changed and it was back to the drawing board to improve on what I'd done and/or gather more evidence for the plan I was implementing.
April/May will feel like a 6-week-long "dead week" before your college finals. Keep these months as open as possible for writing, reading, editing, and revising not only your own work but also others' drafts (again, don't wait until then to start. You'll have enough on your hands just working with anything you've already written up to that point). With that in mind, try to get a June assessment date so you can put C2-4 behind you and clear your head for studying for C1.
2 per year
Take C1 first - It's worth the most of your components and there's very little to go off of. The materials are very vague. Should you need to re-take it, you can do the whole thing or just a particular section. Don't gamble by putting this one off and finding out you just needed .1 more points on a multiple-guess test to certify (did happen to someone my NBCT coach knows).
So, which other component should you do with C1?
Doing C1 and C3 first: This is my recommendation because they're worth the most and you'll want to know if you need to re-take any of them. They are also the most straightforward of the components - C1 is a test and C3 feels most like the evaluations we're usually familiar with.
Doing C1 and C2 first: Not confident in your writing skills? Try out C2 first. It's not as confusing as C4, but it's also only worth half of C3. If you don't pass, you can more easily revise this one and implement it the following year without too much work. If you do pass but don't get a high score, you can decide whether it's worth it to re-take. If you pass and get a great score, awesome! In any of these three cases, you'll get valuable feedback which will impact how you approach C3 and C4, where you really have to be on your game due to the worth of C3 and the complicatedness of C4.
With any luck, I won't need this information. However, it's good to know and it's VERY common to retake the components - aside from the emotional and financial impact of having to redo a component, this is really not something to be ashamed of. There is no such thing as failing a component. You are already a great teacher, and your willingness to engage in this work is evidence of that. This is a learning experience - take it and try again. You have 3 years to re-take any component that you do not pass - and you can work on other components at that time as you see fit. You'll get general feedback about what needs improvement (although this is mostly just a rehash of the rubric you already have). But most importantly, you'll have your reflection and learning from the prior attempt to improve upon in future attempts. Talk it over with other candidates, identify a plan for moving forward, and execute it!
One of the most common questions I've been asked by other educators during my PHD studies is whether or not it's worth it or reasonable for them to get a PHD. My answer? It depends. Let's break that down - and feel free to ask me anything about my PHD experience!
Is the additional education worth it?
PHD or EDD?
First, it's important to note as educators there are multiple options and routes available to you. Without jumping into other program options (such as EDS, which I also have as part of my PHD program), there are a few things to consider. As an educator, you can select from two general types of programs, the traditional Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) or Doctor of Education (EDD). As a professional, both are equally valuable. The EDD prepares you for practical application of your expertise, including reviewing prior literature on a topic and facilitating your own research. The work you'll do is generally site-based, evaluating the needs of your own setting and implementing programs and initiatives. The PHD, on the other hand, is geared more toward higher education and especially research and publishing. Your research is intended for a wider audience through publishing peer-reviewed articles.
Keep in mind, though, you're not restricted to just those realms. In fact, the the PHD and EDD students in my program all took the same classes together, but the PHD took two additonal classes: one on theoretical frameworks (critical for effective publishing) and one on the publishing process, resulting in a manuscript submitted for publication to an academic journal. So, thus far, my experience hasn't been that different from the EDD students. Of course, this varies by program, so that's an important piece to check if you're researching where you might want to attend. As far as K-12 education is concerned, including conferences and workshops, they're both about equal in applicability. As far as higher education is concerned, it depends on the school - if a program is expecting you to conduct and publish your own research, they will likely expect the skills acquired in the PHD program and may not look favorably on an EDD. However, universities with more of an emphasis on teaching than publishing should consider the EDD equal with the PHD. Again, the big question is: Do you want to publish academic research in peer-reviewed journals?
Another important question is what you will get your degree in. My PHD is in Educational Leadership. There are a variety of other education-related areas that a Google Search will easily bring up. Again, this will be related to whether you decide to go the PHD or EDD route and what you want to do with it afterward - be sure to consider your goals and settings as well as how your particular area of expertise will contribute to them. Do you want to focus on your content area and become a subject matter or program expert? Do you want to develop a specific skill, such as educational technology? Do you want more generally rounded expertise such as educational leadership as a whole, which you can narrow down to your own areas of research?
I actually applied to two programs, one in Educational Technology and one in Educational Leadership. When was accepted to the Ed. Leadership program at NNU, I withdrew my Ed. Tech. application from the other school because I knew this was a best fit for me. I don't like being limited to one area and can easily get bored. I also want to be in student- and teacher-facing settings, whether as a professional or a researcher. I could customize the Ed. Leadership to my own interests and setting (I originally wanted to research the impact of proficiency-based teaching vs. legacy/eclectic approaches but then transitioned to LGBTQ advocacy) while also hearing about the amazing topics my cohort members were researching (black women who are administrators in higher ed, PLC's in international schools, the social-emotional learning of children in a preschool combined with a retirement home, etc.). The downside was that it was on me to become the expert in this area and seek out my own mentors who had expertise since my program was not specialized in my topic. At the same time, though, that was exciting and forced me to dig deep as well as reach out to others in my field, creating a network that I can now rely on as a professional and a researcher.
Most importantly, what are you passionate about? Because you're going to be thinking about it for a long, long time. Would a narrow field such as linguistics feel restricting or enlightening? Would a broad field such as leadership feel superficial or freeing?
How will I fit it all in?
This is largely dependent on the program you choose. Traditional full-time programs are just that: you will probably need to stop working, attend classes, possibly do a fellowship where you teach or conduct research with the university, and resume working after you're done. I have friends who I highly respect doing this and I can't wait to hear about their experiences.
This was not an option for me, however. I'm the primary earner in my home and quitting work or even going part time was not an option. I also couldn't move. Luckily, I wasn't required to do any of that because I knew the program at Northwest Nazarene University would be a perfect fit considering I'd attended NNU since 2011 (I began my EDS/PHD studies in 2015). Their model is completely online, but you're with a cohort so you still get many of the benefits of being physically present in class with your peers. In fact, I enjoyed this more as we were diverse students in diverse settings (we had cohort members in all US time zones plus Brazil and South Korea and at times South Africa and Singapore!), I could message them whenever I wanted to, and by the end of the program I knew every one of my cohort members' names and faces thanks to the quality and frequency of interaction.
The NNU cohorts complete classes in 8-week blocks. Most of the time, you'll only be in two classes at once (unless you do the PHD program, which means there are two blocks where you'll have an extra class for one of the blocks). Generally speaking, you'll have a discussion post due on Wednesday, two responses due by Friday/Saturday, and some sort of additional assignment due on Sunday evenings. Occasionally, there will be a video conference, including virtual office hours, where everyone is able to attend at the same time and you talk to each other, your professor(s), and any guests. If you can't attend at that specific time, they're always recorded for you to watch later. The only mandatory on-campus times are for a weekend during the first October of your PHD program and two weeks during the second summer, during which you formally propose your study and receive approval to move forward. I defended my dissertation virtually and chose to attend graduation on-campus, which I highly recommend at NNU because it's SO worth it.
Finally, there's the matter of the dissertation. Traditionally, you complete all coursework and then are "set free" to do your dissertation within a given amount of time, usually a few years. You don't get the title of Dr. or PHD/EDD until you defend said dissertation, nor do you get the actual degree (the title and degree are actually separate from one another - I didn't know that until the week we all started defending!). This is where a lot of PHD students fall of the boat - life gets in the way and interest in your dissertation wanes, and eventually it's just not worth finishing to you. NNU doesn't allow that to happen - your dissertation is embedded in your coursework, so by the time you end up with the year "off" for your study, you already have a completely designed, approved, and defended study proposal - all you have to do is carry out the actual work. On top of that, the cohort model requires that you finish your study within one year and meet specific deadlines. At first, this was frustrating to me as it limited my options for the study I wanted to do. Now that I'm done, however, I realize the value in this: By doing a smaller, simpler study, I was able to GRADUATE. The best dissertation is a done dissertation! Keep in mind you'll never write another 150+ page dissertation again. Your dissertation proves you've done due diligence to earn your doctorate. After that, the letters after your name show you've done due diligence so you don't have to re-prove that. While you have to write somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000-80,000 words in your dissertation citing every possible source to show you've actually researched all the topics and authors you should have, space is a premium in publishable articles which restrict you to 10,000 words and you really only want to cite the main authors relevant to your research rather than every.single.study. Plus, you're only going to get better at researching and writing (if that's what you want to do), so your dissertation study is only the beginning and after that you can do whatever you like the way you (ethically) want to do it. So, with all that said, I'm glad we were on a crunched timeline which restricted my study as it enabled me to graduate. And, by embedding the dissertation in the coursework, all that was left was the exciting part of actually researching and getting results from this passion project you've already done so much with. Finally, the cohort model and camaraderie we developed definitely gave me that extra push to keep up with my peers and be able to attend graduation with them!
If you are able to dedicate an hour or two each day to coursework/dissertation writing (or, alternatively, dedicate 6-8 hours each weekend), then the NNU program is practical.
What programs should I look into?
The faculty make every effort to set you up for success as well as redirect you when needed. I've heard horror stories about people going all the way through their defense just to be told they were not approved (evidently, it's not all that uncommon). That would be devastating and humiliating. That will not happen at NNU. If there are any concerns about your progress or ability to either propose or defend your dissertation study, you will know beforehand. In fact, they will postpone your proposal/defense until they are confident you are ready, communicating with you before and during this process. They give clear feedback on what needs to happen and by when. Of course, once you're into the dissertation each candidate's experience with their own study and chair is unique, but the common thread is that NNU cares and does not want to see you fail. If you put in your best effort, they will meet you halfway and help you get the rest of the way there.
BONUS: If you haven't done post-Master's work, then you'll actually start with one of the EDS programs first, complete it, and then apply to the doctoral program to do the more research-oriented work. While many of the doctors in my cohort transferred from other programs, I went this route with NNU and was able to reap the benefits of their EDS program. Mine was in Educational Leadership - Building Administration, which resulted in earning my admin license (it transferred to WA without any issue). I don't know if I'll necessarily use it, but it definitely made me a better teacher, enabled me to work more effectively within my district, and provided new perspectives which directly informed my dissertation. They now offer EDS programs in other areas as well, so I highly recommend talking to them about what would fit you best and possibly roll over into the doctoral program.
**As a side note, I'm not Nazarene and I don't think most of our cohort was either. This has been my experience throughout my graduate studies at NNU. While there is a devotional and often a prayer associated with each class/module, you are not expected to engage with the religious material if you choose not to. At the same time, the faculty do their best to embody Christlike behaviors and be servant leaders. Whether or not you are Christian/Nazarene, I feel the messages were universally applicable to my practice as a teacher who serves their students with love.
Do you have questions about pursuing a graduate degree in education, NNU, or anything else?
Plans for now:
Teaching – First, I’m nowhere near ready to leave the classroom. I’m just not done there yet, especially because I think I’ve finally found the perfect fit for me with my position, school, community, and personal life. I want to enjoy this moment for a while – say at least 5 years or so? That’s not a hard deadline, but it feels right. I also don’t feel like I’ve really seen teaching through to my full potential. I’ve been enrolled full time in school throughout my teaching career as well as working extracurricular and part time positions, so I’ve been stretched a bit thin (my friends and family would say that’s an understatement). I’m excited to be able to focus on my practice and really see what I can do with my students when they have my full attention*. Plus, we just adopted SOMOS by Martina Bex, which I’ve been using in my classroom this trimester and really feel it provides a solid backbone to what we’re doing and gives me the freedom to brainstorm, adapt, and play with lesson plans and our program overall since I don’t have to sit and figure out what to teach each lesson sequence (a post is coming on that soon). Finally, I also want to present to my colleagues and share my discoveries as well as create space to learn from them to continually reflect on and improve my practice.
*We all know I’m still going to take on projects, but balance is quickly becoming a nice luxury now.
Research – I’m so excited to finally have the freedom to review literature, brainstorm questions, design studies, and publish results as I collaborate with others along the way! I hope to submit something for publication on a regular basis, maybe once a year or every other year? I’ll have to set some reasonable goals considering I’m full time K-12 faculty, not higher ed, so any research I do is likely to be on my own time (looking at you, summer!). Collaboration and co-publishing should help with that, though. I also applied to be a volunteer with GLSEN as a researcher and in other roles, so I’m hopeful about opportunities there as well! I also plan to begin presenting at conferences – here I come ACTFL! Who else??
Advocacy – Another reason I don’t want to leave the classroom is because our GSA is SO AMAZING! This is our first year, and we’ve already done so much. I want to continue advising this club as it’s one of the most rewarding things I do. Seeing these students support one another and make their community a better place for everyone is a great privilege. I also hope to get more involved with GLSEN and getting with larger advocacy and LGBTQ communities.
Personal Life – It’s nice to finally have the chance to think about what I want to do just for fun! In short, I want to enjoy my hobbies (sewing, reading, etc.), creating stuff, and time with family including my husband, dog, and horse as well as extended family and going on trips.
I think that about sums it up. Really, I'm ready to do my best at what I'm doing now and see where it takes me. It's been a wild ride so far, and I don't anticipate the rest being any less boring! But perhaps a little more relaxing - It'd be nice to cut down on the caffeine eventually ;)
This year has been pretty busy - and that's an understatement. Like the over-eager educator I am, I decided to both finish my PHD dissertation AND do all four components of National Boards! (I do not recommend doing that, by the way). But last week, I successfully defended my dissertation and this weekend I'm completing solid drafts of my NBCT components.
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it's more than just a pinprick! I'm excited for things to calm down a bit and begin sharing more regularly about my teaching experiences, LGBTQ advocacy, research, and other projects.
Right now, I'm doing a review of this website, cleaning things up, updating other things, and adding things that are missing (I get to add a "research" page!) Thank you for bearing with me as I do so and feel free to send me any comments or questions you have. I will be sharing information about my research study on the experiences of transgender including nonbinary students in Spanish language courses and the link to my defense as soon as possible.
Happy teaching, researching, learning, and living!
I first learned about interactive notebooks during my pre-service training and loved the idea. However, I never quite figured out how to make it work for me as a teacher or for Comprehensible Input instruction, where I don't want my students writing down notebooks all the time. However, with my new plan to end everything we do with a Write and Discuss (coming by way of suggestion from Mike Peto), a clear and purposeful plan clicked. Just in time, too - my new school is an AVID school so interactive notebooks are a regular part of instruction. I've been working on an example notebook complete with all of the supporting documents, and I'm ready to share my draft* with you!!
Please note that my interactive notebook design is slightly modified from what a "true" interactive notebook is, but maintains many of the principals particularly for our daily documentation of learning (the Write and Discuss section). I am also attending a Jump Start conference for National Board certification as well as meeting with my colleagues in the upcoming weeks, so it may undergo additional revisions as things get fine-tuned for the 2018-2019 school year.
Why and When we will use the IN
I mainly want their notebook to be a resource which answers the question "What did I learn?". It will show the material for a particular day and their mastery of it as well as their progress over time. Any other activities they are welcome to keep in their notebook in the back, but I am only concerned about the items I want them to come back to throughout the year, including reviewing their progress and accomplishments.
This means there are only certain times which I allow students to use their notebooks or even have them out. For the vast majority of class, I want them to focus on being present and comprehending input. However, I hope that by routinely dedicating the last 10 minutes of class to write and discuss with our Interactive Notebooks, students also know they will have plenty of time to write down any notes they wish. The only other times they will need their notebooks are when they are evaluating and documenting their learning, which will usually happen during specific proficiency activities.
With that being said, the main items in my notebooks (with a more detailed break down below) include:
I have 30% of my gradebook set aside for "Classwork and Activities", most of which will come from items in their IN. Everything in the IN is going to be graded on completion as part of students' daily formative assessments - this means it's information for me to adjust instruction before the summative assessment of what they achieved. I want students to get comfortable doing their best and honestly evaluating and discussing their progress. If they know that items in the IN are graded on quality of completion, it will send a signal that lowers their affective filter and gives them permission to just do their best and not worry about anything else for a moment. I am going to review their progress each day (see the procedure in the next paragraph) to see what adjustments need to be made or conversations need to be had in order to get them where they need to be.
This policy fits in with the least amount of work for me as well. As students are working in their IN, I can easily move around the room and stamp/check off pages that have received full credit (or that are done enough that I trust will be worthy of full credit). I plan to check off the items on my student tracker and grading sheet as well as give them a stamp on their notebook page so they know it was checked and recorded as full credit. Anything that is less than full credit, I write a small score in the top left corner of the page so they know they still have some work to do if they want more points, but I did check it. Anything that doesn't get recorded in class, they leave open to the page that needs to be check and turn their notebooks in to the basket. I finish recording them and put them in their hand-back folder for them to retrieve the following day.
Students are going to give themselves a self-evaluation each day to let me know what's going on.
Items included in my IN
The spiral notebook will go in the front pocket or clipped into the front if students prefer. However, unless you get a large binder (which I don't want), having the notebook clipped in makes turning pages impossible, so I prefer it to be in the front pocket.
Do you use interactive notebooks in your comprehensible input classes? What do you include and why? Are there things you choose not to include? Share your thoughts below!
TIP: Set up the artist station with pride.
We want the artist and the class as a whole to know this is a sacred position, and we treat it that way! Position your artist in a top-secret location (usually at the back of the room) so that they can see the board and what is happening, but no one can see what they're working on. A great artist station usually requires a bit of an investment - I highly recommend using a large easel with a flip chart pad or white butcher paper. This encourages the artist to create large and dynamic artwork visible to the entire class.
TIP: ONLY provide markers.
Crayons are okay, but makers seem to result in the most dynamic pictures while still remaining simple and straightforward. Colored pencils are a no-no! They break, need to be sharpened creating noise and shavings, and tend to result in students adding more details/shading/finesse than is effective for simultaneous creation/drawing. They also don't cover large areas quickly and boldly (note that crayons also have many of these same issues). Markers avoid these drawbacks and send a message that we're really not here for the details or finesse of fine artistry.
Choose artists that can listen and draw at the same time.
You'll be trusting your students to let you know if they can do this. For the first story, use your intuition to choose an engaged and responsible student. When something has to give, it's going to be the input that's lost because students REALLY want to make a great image for the class (see the tips about having an assistant and putting the scribe next to your artist). You'll get a better feel for who your effective artists are as you go - they will likely be quick processors that don't need to hear the input as often in order to keep up with the class and who are confident readers, making up for some of the input they miss when everyone else is listening. They may also be students who are better processors when they're drawing anyway and can quickly and effectively add details from the class and then go back to listening. I would avoid putting artists in an uncomfortable position during the process - if they're not getting the input anymore but creating great work, one story isn't a huge loss - especially if you wrap it up with discussing the artwork and writing an accompanying text. However, MANY stories over time or even two in a row would be a huge loss, so be sure to pay special attention to new artists during your formative assessment of comprehension for that story.
TIP: Give your artist an assistant.
I do like to designate the "lead" artist in order to make final decisions, but a second artist working on the main artwork can be very helpful in generating ideas quickly, listening for when the story moves on and new details/adjustments, checking to make sure the artist isn't adding any details that haven't been discussed, getting the teacher's attention or checking with the scribe (see the next tip) to clarify what the artwork should show, grabbing markers, keeping the artist on track to finish the art along with the story, and simultaneously adding details so that the artwork comes together faster. You may want to put a list of these suggested jobs at the art station so your assistant knows how to best support the lead artist.
TIP: Position your class scribe(s) next to your artist(s).
There will inevitably be times that the artist needs to double check that their art is accurately representing what is being discussed with the class. By putting the scribe (A person who writes down notes in English about the character/story) next to the artist, they can quickly check in with each other to make sure the art is accurate on track to be completed when the class is done creating it.
TIP: Start with One Word Images.
One Word Images can be very simple yet very engaging - meaning they are a great place to start norming your class. Since we all have new students each year who have not experienced Comprehensible Input and story creation, this is a great opportunity to teach students "the game" and set the tone for the class. They are also a launchpad for future stories, so I take time to create at least a few characters at the beginning of the year with each level. For higher level classes, you can subtlety refresh their memory of vocabulary and grammar before moving into new content, especially if students aren't used to CI instruction. When it comes to artists, OWI's are perfect because students are only responsible for one image and one subject in that image: the character. Background information might get mentioned, but that's exactly where it belongs - in the background, perhaps as a symbol or maybe not even at all. Simplicity is key when first teaching students how to create these images.
TIP: Provide Instructions and exemplars, select the artist, and give tips
There are many ways to provide examples. One of the best ways is to simply have them around the room as decor - this creates an inviting place where students are already generating questions in their heads about these characters on the walls - "What are they? What is going on with them? Why are they here? Is our teacher crazy? Let's find out!". Tina Hargaden has a great script for introducing characters/creating. Once you've given the students the idea of what will be happening, it's time to select an artist. Before doing so, be sure they knew the particular details of this job - you might say something like this:
Once you've done that, you're ready to choose a main artist for your story and perhaps a 1-2 secondary artists for later stories. Give them the following tips in front of the class so that other prospective artists know the criteria:
TIP: Allow your artist to ask clarifying details, but not add new details
Sometimes we will have a great artist that knows when clarifying a detail further will greatly enhance the image. These also provide for additional input with the same detail. However, artists can quickly take control over and derail a story if they're asking about new details that you either haven't asked about yet OR you simply cannot ask about those details for whatever reason. Be sure to invite clarifying questions (how many spots, how big are the spots, what color are the eyes, etc.) but also know when curb these questions with either your own answer, telling the artist it's their decision, or sending the subtle message that those aren't details that need to be added at this time with a simple "I don't know". If your artist doesn't get the message after one or two of those questions, you may consider meeting with them privately after class or choosing another artist.
TIP: Create your character IN ORDER and coach your artist the first few times in English
Called "Question Group A" by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic, asking for these basic details in every story isn't optional and doing so in this order helps set the artist up for success. Each is also aligned with what the artist should draw. During the first few stories, I establish each detail and then tell the artist in English (remember, you are also "coaching" prospective artists) what should go on the paper. This also provides students a quick formative evaluation as the confirm that they understood what you were creating when you tell the artist to draw - you may even have the class fill in the details in English:
TIP: Give your artists a cheat sheet.
This one is entirely optional, but I'm planning on trying it out this year. If I give my artist a basic list of the details I plan on asking then they can anticipate what should/shouldn't be drawn. When we move to stories (including super mini stories), I can also use the cheat sheet to show artists how to lay out the stories and what goes in each box. Here are the cheat sheets I plan on using this year.
TIP: Make a big deal out of the reveal.
This is the magical moment! Don't let anyone see the art until you show it to the entire class at once. Ham it up. Then, once you unveil it, ooh and aww. Take this moment to talk about the art and admire it - lots of opportunities for repeating the details you discussed! Let the art guide the discussion.
TIP: Display artwork on the wall.
Once you're done with your art, display it proudly! There's not a lot of room for these, but I hope to have 1-2 images displayed per class each year. I'm thinking I'll simply layer new images over the old, allowing me to flip back to old images at my convenience.
TIP: After the first story, try out multiple artists at once
I steer away from doing this the first time as I want to really focus attention on the input and the process rather than having a lot of different students more excited about getting to do art than the actual input/creation process. However, once I'm confident that the class is in on the "game", I audition an additional 1-2 artists each story in order to find my best class artists quickly. You'll want to limit the number of artists you are auditioning at once - having a small number allows you to pay more attention to whether your artists are still with you while you are providing input (not all artists can do this) as well as gives you a chance to process all of the art with the class afterward. If there is anyone who really insists they would be a great artist, I let them know I can only keep track of a few people at a time, but I would love to see their art - why don't you draw a picture outside of class to show me? I'll also make sure to invite them to be the main or secondary artist during class time next in an upcoming story. I ensure that my main artist with the butcher paper is one I can count on to create dynamic pictures, but it doesn't really matter how "good" the secondary artists are. Sometimes there's a lot of fun in processing what can sometimes be "abstract" art with pride! As long as I have great class buy in, this can also be an opportunity to send a powerful message about celebrating and valuing everyone's contributions while still ensuring that the main artwork fits the particular "style" you need ass a teacher. (I do have two mini-easels to make these artists feel special as well, although not really necessary.)
How do you prepare your class artists and use their work? Which of these tips do you find most helpful? Are there any you disagree with? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Also, don't forget to check out CI Liftoff and ask Tina Hargaden about The Bite Size Book of Student Artists for more information!
In all the chaos that was my last two years, one of the most profound lessons I learned was the importance of structure. I know there are teachers out there who can plan a lesson on a sticky note and go forth to deliver an amazingly engaging and effective lesson (my supervising teacher during my student teaching was a Comprehensible Input magician). But....
As much as I would like to say that I can walk into a lesson and deliver rich and comprehensible Spanish at the i+1 level while compelling every one of my students to becoming engaged and intently listening, I simply don't have that level of wizardry. Sure, I can wing it with a basic idea of what we're going to be doing and the resources I need, but I often end up frustrated with the amount of CI I was actually able to provide between trying to organize my own thoughts as well as the behaviors of all of my students. It wasn't until I was working at three different schools operating on three different types of rotating block schedules with vastly different students that I realized how much I needed a consistent structure I could count on. It was up to me to put any semblance of consistency back into my life.
Of course, structure isn't only for the teacher. I have a fairly high degree of control over my life - within the boundaries of the "must do's", I get to choose where I'm going to spend my free time, who I will spend it with, when and what I'm going to eat. I have the luxury of choosing who I live with and what is going on in my house. As a professional, I even get to choose how to spend the vast majority of my work day. (Disclaimer: I don't have kids and I realize that affords me a lot more control and luxury than those who do, but even so, as adults we generally have the ability to make decisions that guide our day-to-day and long term activities).
However, students don't have that kind of control over their lives, and many of them are living in chaos. Adults are telling them where to go, what to do, how to do it, and who to do it with, usually on their own schedules and kids have to adjust. They have limited control over the people they spend their time with; even the friends they choose are limited to the community they are in and who will accept them. I would argue that the vast majority of our students have to adjust their lives significantly and without much warning around the lives of the adults and peers in their world. Not to mention the inner chaos - oftentimes, they don't even know why they feel the way they do or when the're going to feel that way! Despite what the movies tell us, I don't know anyone who yearns to return to the "best years of our lives" teenagers. All of this is exponentially more critical for students who live in chaotic, unstable, abusive, and/or poverty-stricken homes - and for the majority of us this is something we must recognize for a large proportion of our students.
While following the same structure each week may seem mundane, especially if you are repeating it many times throughout the day, contextualizing our class within the lives of our students provides a pretty compelling reason to do it for the kids if not for yourself (in my humble opinion).
It's a win-win-win. It's a win for teachers because it cuts down on decision making both in preparation and execution of lessons. You know what the outline looks like and have a menu of things to put in each box - simply select what fits best given your current needs! It's a win for students because they are able to come confident to class knowing what is expected of them and there is a sense of security, predictability, and flow - if just for fifty minutes five days each week. And it's a win for Comprehensible Input because it provides a predictable context to scaffold input and make it even more comprehensible. Transitions, instructions, and directives are easy to give in the target language when the students are already functioning in a familiar and predictable setting.
So, here is my weekly outline for 2018-2019 that provides me enough flexibility within predictability to select the contexts and activities in which I will provide CI and engaging learning experiences. Of course, there are certain times when this will go out the window - I have two weeks set aside each trimester for special culture-specific activities (Day of the Dead, La Navidad, etc.) as well as two weeks set aside for midterm/final reviews and assessments. However, for the remaining "regular units" at all levels can fit into this outline, making lesson planning a breeze. All I have to do is plug and play!
Do you think a predictable weekly structure is/would be beneficial for your students? What would it look like? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
I cannot express how grateful I am to Janet Halbert, Rita Barrett, Tina Hargaden, and Janet Kyung as well as everyone else with Proficiency PDX for the amazing Comprehensible Cascadia conference. Two weeks ago, I entered this conference discouraged and frustrated from my previous year's experience, but I left with excitement and enthusiasm for the year to come. I also cannot wait to share with you some of the amazing insights I learned!
To begin, I have a series of four videos showing an example of scaffolding and documenting input. One of my biggest take-aways from the conference came from Mike Peto who suggested to end everything with the strategy Write and Discuss (credit to Tina Hargaden for this strategy - go buy her book for this and SO much more!). This allows us to do so many things (a more detailed post about each of these coming soon):
As I was discussing using Write and Discuss with Botond, a comprehensible input teacher in Hugary, he was intrigued by this Write and Discuss idea - and I was eager to try it out. He is also familiar with Story Listening (Dr. Beniko Mason), so he also wanted to see how I incorporate it as one strategy among many in my Comprehensible Input classroom. So this morning, we did a mini-unit and debriefed about the process. This unit started with introducing vocabulary with TPR and PQA, a One Word Image, Ask-A-Story, and my adaptation of Story Listening to my classroom. We recorded the entire experience in order to share our collaborative learning with all of you! I would love to hear your thoughts as well - I learn so much from others' feedback and processing of my teaching!
Before viewing the links, I need to add a few disclaimers:
Without further ado, here are the four videos - they can be watched individually in whichever order or all at once, although you'll get the full discussion if you watch all four in order:
I've been a little MIA this year. It's been ten months (and an entire school year) since my last post. I sum, the last two years, and last year specifically, have been pretty rough in terms of both balancing responsibilities (looking at you, PHD program!) as well as trying to prioritize Comprehensible Input in my classroom. To be honest, due to district and administrative demands, Comprehensible Input instruction fell by the wayside as I felt my concerns were met with deaf ears and I tried to align my course with a very grammar- and vocabulary-based curriculum. To be completely honest, I felt very depressed for some time and couldn't even engage with the Comprehensible Input community (much less my own website and resources) without feeling frustration and sadness about my situation.
So, for all of those that have been there, I hear you. It's not as simple as just trying to do what's best for kids when it's at odds with external demands.
Two years ago and with my previous district, I had the privilege of completing my administrative internship with a world-class educational leader. Among the many words of wisdom she shared with me were these: Do your best to meet the expectations of your administrators while still advocating for things that should be changed or improved. If you've done that, though, and it becomes a situation that you cannot be happy in, smile and do your best, get a good letter of recommendation, and then move on.
I can say I did the best I could with the knowledge and skills at the time, although I also learned a LOT. There are many things I would do again. I think there are more things I would do differently if I had to do it all over again. Ultimately, leaving this district was a mutual decision. Of course, while difficult, I took many valuable experiences from these past two years that will influence my own approaches and perspectives.
The good news is, a relatively nearby district was looking for exactly everything that my previous district and I separated over! While the month in between determining that a parting of ways would be best with my previous district and getting the job offer in my new district was one of the most difficult and stressful in my life, I am SO excited to be joining my new district. The department chair is very experienced in TPRS and while the department as a whole isn't as experienced with CI/TPRS, they are on board for the boat travelling in that direction. One major step? They haven't used a textbook in years. They also sent me and two of my World Language co-workers to Comprehensible Cascadia a few weeks ago - talk about putting your money where your mouth is!
So, all that said, I am BACK! And Comprehensible Cascadia has re-energized me for teaching (and in JUNE, no less!). I am excited to be collaborating with my CI colleagues once again and cannot wait to share my experiences and resources with all of you throughout the year. Here we come 2018-2019!
First, I identify "helpful" words (words that will increase story comprehension, but there is no goal to master/learn these specific words - the goal is to comprehend the overall story) and do TPR with them before the story. I don't mind having a large list - some of these words are review and most of the words will be easily understood in context with the story, actions, drawing, and writing on the board to help. This just breaks down some of that process so that students can focus more on the story while it's being told. I plan on doing TPR with these words a day before I actually tell the story (and they're high frequency, so I'll be using them anyway) and then reviewing right before the story to help prevent students getting mentally exhausted. I really want them to focus on enjoying the story when I tell it.
Prior to telling the story, I briefly discuss the title, setting, main characters, and basic conflict to students in English. This was an explicit recommendation from my ELA colleague. Not only does it build anticipation for what the story is about, but it scaffolds the story for students who might have more difficulty with listening comprehension (in general, not just in their second language). When students have a general idea of what they're listening for and what the story is generally about, I believe they're able to feel more confident (and therefore motivated) about understanding the story as well as hone in on important details without getting caught up on what they might be a little confused about. Remember, we're mainly talking about those kids that really, really struggle with reading and listening comprehension here no matter what language it's in.
Some students will benefit from graphic organizers for various reasons. This was another explicit recommendation from my ELA colleague. Some students who struggle with listening comprehension will benefit from having a concrete item to keep track of what they're comprehending and how it fits together. Other students simply feel better having it. As long as it doesn't interfere with comprehending the story, why should I deny them this resource? Of course, that means I need to be REALLY clear about what the graphic organizer is for and what I expect them to do because putting a paper in students' hands may lead them to treat the story like traditional school and focus on mastery rather than simply comprehending and enjoying the story. Here is my STORY graphic organizer that I use, inspired by this one developed for fiction story texts in ELA. I plan on telling students that comprehending and enjoying is the goal, so eventually I would like to help everyone get to the point that they don't need the graphic organizer. However, it's there just in case you feel like you need it. If you're understanding the story just fine, though, leave it alone. I will probably show students the reaction questions (below) so they know how they're being "evaluated" - or rather, how they're evaluating me and the story. I should note, too, that I plan on handing this out to everyone before the story in order to avoid calling attention to students who need it to help them follow the story. (An added benefit of using this particular graphic organizer is that it was inspired by ELA fiction text structure organizers, so you can check off the "Connections" standard box for the day!).
Next, I tell the story! For my novice and beginner stories, I divide my board up into squares that match the reading (below) and draw each scene in the square that corresponds with the reading. Like Dr. Mason, I write the Spanish and English on the board, but erase the English immediately and just leave the Spanish. Also like Dr. Mason, I elaborate and add details as needed to reinforce an illustrate the ideas - you will see this best by comparing the video of me telling the story to the reading afterward. The basic idea is that you communicate the same idea a number of ways, giving students more opportunities to understand what is happening while also providing rich and varied input. I draw my pictures (mine aren't very good, but they get the job done) and do a lot of acting with my body to illustrate what I am telling students. One of my own adaptations is the idea of "recycling", from TPRS, where I retell the entire story up to the current moment at certain points (where those points are depend on the story and the class). I may also ask for a thumbs up or down midway through to make sure I'm being comprehensible - sometimes I think I am but I'm not, so this gives me a chance to reset and salvage the story if needed. As I get more confident in my SL skills, I may eliminate this check.
Immediately after the story, I have students write a reaction. Their reaction is very open and could be any of the following - this year, I'm going to as for a one-paragraph response (5 sentences) and let my students choose which question(s) they want to respond to based on their experience: What was your favorite part of the story? What is something you would change about the story? What would you add to the story? What is something that helped you understand the story? What is something that made it hard to understand the story? (I may add/change this list over time). This is a quick exit ticket and achieves a few things: First, it gives me a quick glimpse into how I did. Thoughtful responses to the first three questions show me that students comprehended the story enough to evaluate it. That's pretty high up there on Bloom's taxonomy and shows evidence of higher level thinking. If students are answering these questions well, then we're doing great! The last two questions explicitly give students the opportunity to tell me what I'm doing well or need to improve on. If these are the questions that resonate with students, particularly if there's something that made it hard to understand the story, I know that I need to make some adjustments and even have some recommendations on what those adjustments should be. Finally, I am going to ask students to rate the story itself on a scale of 1-5. Was it one they enjoyed? Should I tell more stories like this? Should I use it for future students? Assuming students understood the story, this will help me know which types of stories resonate with particular classes and assist me in choosing future stories.
Then, I'm going to let the story rest for a day. A friend of mine is using the Waldorf method for homeschooling her children, which also uses story methods, and told me about how the method emphasizes incubation. Tell a story, and then let it sit and process for a day or two. From my own education and experience, this makes a lot of sense and has a lot of other benefits - by just telling the story, students can focus on enjoying it and not having to worry about what they're going to do with it later. It also gives me a chance to repeat the story and show students what they did learn. Finally, it ultimately gives me more time to work with a story since we're doing it in shorter chunks spread out over time. My plan this year is to let the story rest and move on to something else after completing the above steps. Then, a day or two later, I will put up our visual of the story (don't forget to take a picture of your board! This is a student job in my class) and retell it in a simple, straightforward way while pointing to the images students are already familiar with (I'm a big believer in using the same pictures for this particular retell, even if better ones are available. It will help students recall the details better since they're associated with those particular images). After retelling the story, I'll have students do a verbal retell in English (particularly helpful if a student was gone during the original story). Then, we can move to reading the story. I use a this format for reading so that students can connect what they're reading with the images we drew on the board. It also allows me to use the boxes for a variety of activities - what do I want students to put in the boxes - drawings, text, or...? Also, we can cut these apart and use them for ordering and matching activities.
At this point, I can do whatever activities I would typically do with a One Word Image, Super Mini Story, or a TPRS story. Are we going to act it out? Read it? How? There are so many options here, and what we do will depend on the individual class and story. But, now we've got a new resource!
Dr. Beniko Mason
Dr. Stephen Krashen
Dr. Krashen's Blog
Watch Tina Teach!
CI Liftoff - Facebook
iFLT - Facebook