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.
**NOTE - Though this is a management post, it has some very specific and important implications on my use of Spanish and CI in the classroom as I get to the specific examples of what is happening in my classroom now
Last May, I hated my job. I was overwhelmed with all of my responsibilities for a number of reasons, including personal circumstances. However, I'd also created a monster at school through my lack of solid plans, including classroom management.
When discussing what the most important aspect of teaching was during my teacher prep program, I decided on classroom management since it forms the structure of everything else we do and provides us an environment conducive to learning. I did not realize how true that was - and that the classroom management plan cannot be a half-baked idea with the expectation that students will fill in the blanks like young adults might in order to make class time useful. Last May I absolutely realized that and vowed that I would not let my classroom deteriorate like that again. I do not want to hate my job in May. It's such a wonderful, rewarding, miraculous job - and I want to want to keep coming back!
So, this last summer I overhauled my classroom discipline and management plans. This led to a number of small but significant changes in my classroom, all adding up to a class that I'm absolutely loving now that we're 2 weeks into the school year. My classroom feels more like a place of learning than it ever did before. My solid plans are what kept my sanity through two straight weeks of non-working technology, students being added/dropped/switched daily (even just yesterday!), starting XC practices on the second day of school with a first-year team, and still managing things in my personal life (including a trip during the entire weekend with no time to prep for week 2!). Students are still learning the procedures and expectations, but they're working like a charm and it's only going to get better from here!
The book I've been using to overhaul my classroom is "Discipline in the Secondary Classroom." By working through the chapters step by step, I developed a vision of what I want my classroom to look like, clear expectations to communicate to my students, procedures that will help my classroom run smoothly, and more physical management artifacts such as my Course Expectations and even the arrangement of my room. Here are some examples of things that have worked wonders these first two weeks:
Behavior Log/Rules and Guidelines for Success
I used to groan at things like behavior logs and grading behavior/participation at first. Now, I will never teach without one. The first week made me a fan - the second week made me frenzied fanatic over this thing. The basic concept is that I keep a clipboard with all students names on it and a column for each day of the week Friday-Thursday. I have codes for specific behaviors I want to encourage and discourage. Students start the week with 15/20 points, and their behaviors are tallied and then totaled Thursday nights. My items are directly linked to the rules (LISTEN: Look me in the eye or where I direct your attention, Involve yourself, Show me when you get it and when you don't, Tune back in, Español only, No talking over), which are 6ft high on my wall right next to the door. We began with a discussion of the rules as well as the Guidelines of Success (Susan Gross's "Responsibility, Respect, Results"), also posted on a large poster next to the rules. In addition to these individual points The results of this practice has been miraculous:
Similar to the individual points, class points are earned when the whole class is being awesome. These are awarded as marbles in that period's jar. There's not a hard-and-fast rule to this, but I do try to give some points every class period. Oftentimes, I'll give multiple points at once (usually 2-3 marbles, 5 marbles for something that I really want to recognize, though I did give 10 marbles to one class yesterday for a very lively rendition of the "Taco Song" that out-did all the other classes). When the jar is full, they'll get a PAT activity that they'll vote on as a class, but will still encourage CI (i.e. a game, kindergarten day, etc). When marbles are messed with they also make a loud, tinkling, and unmistakeable sound - whether they are being put in or taken out of their jar. It instantly gets the attention of the entire class and the response is immediate (especially if I feel like I'd have to work to get their attention again when they've gotten a little out of hand - the marbles quite them down immediately!)
Posting Grades and handing back work
Even though I only posted one grade on the first Friday, nearly every student wanted to see what they got for their behavior and participation. I collect all work on Fridays (including their daily journal, quizzes, and any assigned work), as well as hand back the items from the previous week (though they should know their grade before it's handed in with the way that I grade and because they do immediate peer-corrections for items that they may not know the grade for). This was extremely reinforcing for them as well as myself as I knew that they were invested and interested in their achievement. Since all work is handed back on Fridays, they're able to immediately compare the posted grade with the grade on their work and let me know if there are any issues as well as check the no-name pile for items they thought they turned in and rectify the situation. These weekly postings keep me on top of my grading and the students are responding to this beautifully.
Passing out work
A system that is working for me is to front-load the passing out. There is a pass-out folder that I put copies of each day's handouts in (great job for a teacher's aid!). My "Capitán de Pasar" (Captain of passing) grabs their folder at the beginning of each class and then passes out the items in the folder WHEN INSTRUCTED (still teaching that to a few of them). The folders don't go back until the end of the day. Passing in work follows similar procedures, but is only done on Fridays.
Students have been taking their time to fill out my short surveys after each Friday quiz indicating which activities helped (or didn't) help them and why as well as giving me a percentage "grade" for how much of class time we spent in Spanish. I've gotten a lot of really constructive comments and am adjusting my teaching accordingly. It's great to know what my "customers" think and it seems to be fostering a truly open learning environment where we are all learning and making an effort for one another - even me!
Essentially, my entire class is guided by PowerPoint slides. At first, I started doing this because I have very limited board space, so I needed something I could change quickly. However, they've essentially become the lesson plan that I can follow easily and maintain the flow of my class. Moreover, I can explain more in Spanish and make sure students are understanding as they can see the Spanish (and sometimes English) "subtitles" for the instructions I'm giving them. For my more novice classes, I can start with bilingual instructions and then transition to straight Spanish as students become familiar with the instructions and specific slides. Plus, I can copy and paste slides we didn't get to onto the next day's slideshow. As a teacher, these have drastically improved my instruction - and my students have noticed. Though I never said anything about my slides in my surveys, at least two students in different periods commented on how much they like them.
There are a number of other little things I've done, but the bottom line is that I'm enjoying my job more than ever and I feel like I'm achieving my goals as an educator. Both returning and new students have commented on how much they enjoy my classroom. Though I got over being "liked" last year by students, more effective management and therefore teaching seems to be resulting in more positive student experiences and "liking" my class more because they are organized and successful! And, I would have to say that I have pretty high expectations for their behavior and don't compromise (like I did last year) - It's my classroom I refuse to let my students (or sometimes a student) take control. We play by my rules, and we're all happier for it, especially since they're LEARNING!!
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