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 was introduced to the Kagan Cooperative Learning method. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. However, as soon as I saw it in action, I was hooked! I knew I could get more engagement, more comprehensible input, and more communication happening in my classroom if I could successfully transfer Kagan principles to my classroom.
Although I had some success incorporating Kagan into my classroom mid-year, the real strengths are showing this year now that I've had a summer to think it over, truly dive into my lesson plans and modify them to be Kagan-based at least a few times each class, and set up my classroom both physically and with expectations/procedures. Here are a couple of examples of activities that we've done:
Objective: Read an article in Spanish.
Objective: Write sentences in Spanish.
If you are interested in Kagan Cooperative Learning, I highly recommend starting with their book and the Kagan Structures for Engagement Smart Card. I also prepared a one-page handout to share with other teachers who are new to the method. I'll be attending the Kagan 4-day workshop in February and cannot wait to learn more!
I could not be more happy about this! The new Señor Wooly website exceeds expectations and then some. I am so excited to be able to share this with my students this year!
There is now a complete curriculum and you can assign "Nuggets" for each song to students for homework, then monitor their progress. It does not let them progress until they have achieved 100% on the assignments. Easy grading and differentiation! Speaking of differentiation, the website also allows you to set not only the class proficiency levels, but you can adjust the proficiency levels of individual students so the tasks meet their abilities. The only downside to all of this is that I'll have to re-think a few of my original lesson plan ideas as they were based on the supplementary packets and many of the same activities are now in the "Nuggets". However, that also means I can reserve my class time for the higher-order thinking activities, such as Movie Talk, writing and speaking activities, and more organic language as students get the basics down from doing their homework.
I cannot recommend this website highly enough - it forms the backbone of my curriculum (more to come on that soon), and this just made everything even easier, more interactive, more focused on comprehensible input, and overall more exceptional than ever. Thank you Señor Wooly!
These two supplies have been essential and we've used them at least a few times per week. Sure, it takes a week or two for students to get the RIGHT notebook (even with being specific, people still brought in the wrong size of notebook) and sometimes kids don't have their glue sticks, but they figure it out. Keep checking supplies the first two weeks of schools and reminding students they need to get these!
I encourage students to keep their notebooks at school and provide study materials online in place of their notebooks. This way, they always have their notebooks when they need them. So. I needed a storage system that allowed easy access to the notebooks but wouldn't create a mess. I am also using personal white-boards this year, so whatever I figured out had to store them, too. My solution came in the form of the plastic hanging file folder boxes - they were perfectly sized to fit the white boards AND the notebooks for all of my periods! Keep in mind, I have my desks in groups of four, so with three periods of Beginning Spanish I had to fit 5 white boards (I always keep an extra), an eraser or two, and 12 notebooks. The crates are quite big to put on the desks - I have them sit on the floor next to the group, but out of any traffic. The system is working beautifully - I can quickly move everything out of the way if needed, students have quick access to everything that they need, and there's minimal mess as students *attempt* to keep their basket semi-organized.
Rather than taking a day to set up notebooks, we did it as we went. On the first day of school, I had students number their notebook to page 20 as soon as they walked in to the class and then start doing the warm-up on page 4. The students without notebooks simply completed the activity on a separate sheet of paper, but were also put on notice that they NEED their notebooks! For homework, students had to number the rest of their pages by the end of the week. On the third day of school, we were working on pages 21-24, so students who had not yet numbered their pages quickly did so through the pages we needed and continued working. Nearly everyone had their pages numbered by Friday, when we did a culture activity on page 153. We added section dividers (Vocabulary and Culture) as we used them rather than all at once. It worked out well and didn't use up a lot of time.
Students glued in pages as we talked about them - I handed out the syllabus in half-sheet form toward the end of the week since most students had their notebooks by then (I posted the syllabus online as well so most parents had already read and sent in the signature page by Friday). Plus, we'd already gone over most of the information throughout the week, so students didn't need to sit and read the syllabus - they just needed to put it in their notebooks. I think I will do this a little earlier in the future (probably mid-week) so we don't' just forget about the syllabus in their notebook.
When I hand out a worksheet, I first tell students which page it goes on (and how to glue it in if it's a foldable) and what to title the page. Then, as I'm handing out the paper, students are already gluing the paper into their notebooks and are looking over it. The entire glue-in process takes about 2 minutes and students are very good about sharing glue sticks when needed. For other notes, I simply tell them which page to take notes on and begin. Students are very good now about asking which page they need to put information on (and getting better at looking at the board to see which page) - they know information can't go just "anywhere"
Keeping Notebooks Updated
I do a notebook check about once every 2-3 weeks. Basically, I wait until there is enough new information since the last check to merit a new check. I may throw on a few items from previous notebook checks that I notice aren't completely done and then check every new item we've added that students should have completed. I also do not check the notebooks myself - I give students a simple rubric and they check one another's notebooks, then turn in the rubric to me! They are pretty honest and very quick about completing these notebook checks - usually I can have my fastest quiz/test-takers check all the notebooks by the time the entire class is done with the test. Other times, I just have them swap notebooks and the whole process is done within 3-4 minutes.
In order to facilitate keeping the notebooks updated, I update a Google Doc with the pages students should have, pictures of what the completed pages look like (courtesy of an excellent student's notebook), and links to any hand outs that students may need to print out. Absent students can check the online notebook to get their notebooks caught up AND students can check the notebook at home if they feel the need to look at the notes. It all works nicely as long as I do my part to keep it all updated!
In summary, I'm very pleased with how the notebooks worked out this year. I know we will continue to use them consistently throughout the year (which hasn't happened in the past) as we use them basically every day. I don't use them in my higher classes at the moment, but they are definitely a valuable resource for my middle school students still learning to organize materials and who must have ready access to their notes.
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.
Over Spring Break, I had the opportunity to observe a French classroom that did Organic World Language. While there are still some things I'm hesitant about with the method, I did get a huge takeaway regarding classroom organization.
I've never been a fan of desks. They're in the way, clunky, and hinder true interaction. This is a major point of the OWL method. So what do they do? Students stand or sit in a circle! The desks are gone. Students are all able to see and interact with one another as well as the teacher.
I decided I had to give this a try in my own classroom and did so as soon as I got back. My initial thought is that I love it - suddenly, my students who don't usually interact are in the front row and able to participate - many of whom did so on their own. They're able to see what's going on with everyone else and comment on it. I can see all of them and move freely about my classroom - as can they. With only two people next to them, classroom management is easy enough to simply ask someone to move to another part of the circle. We can act things out in the circle or I can bring people to the middle. If I write something on the board (which is kept to a minimum), students can move around to see it clearly. No more heads down on desks or texting/reading under desks - and definitely no sleeping!
I can see a few clear issues that are easily solved with the right resources and classroom management techniques - both of which are going to be difficult to adjust in the final quarter of the year, but not impossible.
How does this solve my problems and then some?
What do you think? How would you put in your buckets seats and what activities would you do with students in a circle?
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