Three Changes “For Good:” Desk-less, Bathroom Pass Procedure, and Assessing with Extension Structures

As in any school year, I have tried many new ideas, techniques, and changes in my classroom environment.  In fact, I am currently attending the wonderful Central States Conference to continue to learn more. In this post, I want to highlight 3 changes that I have done For Good!  I am not saying that I am not still working through the kinks for some, but over all, I have seen positive results!

#1) I have finally gone “desk-less.”

So this year, I have tried the desk-less experience and I am very pleased with the results. There is so much to consider when making this change: acquiring the chairs, maintaining classroom management and dynamic, figuring out how to still have some flat surfaces in the room, and so much more. One aspect that I have been grappling with is does going desk-less benefit all students?  My conclusions so far are the following: Firstly, I love the desk-less classroom and feel that it has been a positive change for student engagement and focus. I have much more control on student use of cell-phones during class and I think there is more engagement since students do not have the ability to put their heads down on a flat surface. Plus I think the communicative value of easily being able to chat with the neighbor helps break many barriers.

Another issue I’ve been dealing with is how to place the chairs.  Since August, I have tried many different seating arrangements with the chairs. In fact I had to start the year off with uncomfortable school folding chairs before my newly ordered chairs arrived.  My chairs are replacing rather large desks that are still around the perimeter in the room (which has been good and bad). I still want my students to have the “desks” or more ideally tables for longer essay writing class assignments.  Since I have not yet been able to get tables, I still need the desks. And since they are there, many students want to sit in them. In the beginning I allowed some to try it and right away I saw a lack of engagement and some students falling asleep (which never happened with the chairs). So those students are no longer sitting in desks, but others are.  I have found that many of the students with attention issues are faring better while sitting in desks that are on the sides in the room. These students have requested to sit in the desks and thinking about their overall success and some of their documented services requiring preferential seating, I have made a modified seating arrangement having 5 desks in play in addition to the chairs.  If I see these students not finding success in the desks or taking advantage of the flat surface, I will talk with the students and then remove this option, but for now, I do believe the modification is helping a few students. Yet, I think the chairs are helping the majority of my students in class.

#2. My new bathroom pass procedure.

I have grappled with this one for the past five years in my current school setting.  The “can I go to the bathroom phenomenon” is just a normal daily occurrence for us as teachers.  Or course we are all left to wonder does this student really need to use the bathroom or do they just want to use the cellphone.  When I am in the halls of my school, too often students are engrossed in walking around and texting. So in order to respect the need for my students to use the restroom, I have a trade your phone policy for the hall-pass.  If a student wants to use the restroom, they put their cellphone in basket in the front of the room and take the hall-pass. I have been very pleased with the procedure and it has been implemented with very little pushback from students and I believe there are fewer students leaving my class because of it.

#3. Offering Extension Structures on Weekly Structure and Cumulative On-Going Structure Quizzes

I have a lot of internal debate about Structure Quizzes because students can easily just memorize a Quizlet set before class without really acquiring the structures. In order to meet the needs of my students with such a vast spectrum of Spanish and learning abilities in the same classroom, I have developed this system. Many of my students have reacted very well to the Structure Quizzes as I have set them up this year in my Spanish II, III, and IV classes (please know this is not my only way of assessing my students).  Unfortunately, it is a bit complicated to explain the scoring, so I will try my best to explain it.

Working within the confines of our school schedule, I see students for 50 minutes 3 days a week and for one 90 minute block (so I see them 4 times).  What I have determined is that most of my students can successfully learn, and for many acquire, 4 target structures a week with this type of schedule. But for many of my students, focusing on on only 4 target structures is too easy and not challenging them.  So this year I began offering Extension Structures (one being my weekly Password Expression). These are structures that offer linguistic variables and/or additional pieces of language to help them communicatively. During first semester, I only included my weekly Password Expression and 3 other structures but for the second semester, I have doubled the extension structures to the Password plus 7 others.

My goal for all students is that they know the 4 target structures.  If a student knows the “Weekly 4 target structures” then they have met my expectations and earned a 13/15 on their structure quiz, on which they must write the English meaning.  I then have 4 extension structures on the quiz and they can earn 1 point her English meaning of the extension structures. So a student can exceed the class expectations and earn a “14,15,16,17” /15 on this quiz.  But if a student misses 1 of the “4 target structures” then their extension structures are only worth “.5 credit” and since I will not work with halves in the grade book, they must get two extension structures correct for a full extra credit point.  I have devised the system using the approach that the lowest score a student can earn is a 53% or a 8/15 [for missing all 4 target structures nor any of the extension structures]. Mathematically the point values help to have few failures and more students are pushing themselves to learn the 8 to 12 structures instead of simply the 4 target structures.  Even when 12 structures could be assessed, I still only test 8 structures so it mirrors the 15 point quiz format with the math explained above. This same system applies to the weekly “On-going Cumulative Quizzes” (8 questions using a variety of 4 former target structures and 4 former extension structures).

What have I found?

I have found that providing the structures has helped focus many of my students and that most love and value the ability for extra credit and want to exceed the 13/15 – B score.  When I surveyed students at the end of semester 1, they almost all reported that the chance for extra credit was a motivational way of extending themselves to learn more. Again we have to think about what helps the students with which we are currently working.   

With regard to the “4 target structures,” I work very hard to help students acquire these structures during class. Now it is not same for the Extension Structures although my weekly Password Expression does get a lot of exposure.  I do not focus on targeting my Extension Structures although they are often pulled from the 3rd or 4th version of an embedded reading, a linguistic connection/pattern that many students can learn, or something from our textbook that frankly not all students need to know.  In some classes, I do use Quizlet Live as an activity with all structures because I keep an accessible On-Going Cumulative list per quarter for them on my Quizlet class page.   

I feel the On-going Cumulative Quizzes are essential to help some long-term retention. As I have mentioned, I do not think all students are acquiring all structures, but I believe most are working to their full-potential and the extension structures are pushing the honors and gifted students in a way that I have not been doing as intentionally.  I am still working through the correct amount of Extension Structures and how it helps or hinders overall long-term retention and motivation.

Here is an example of new Quiz Format for Target and Extension Structures and an explanation of the scoring guidelines.

As I started the post, these are 3 changes I have made this year For Good (the WICKED musical reference was fully intentional).  Thanks for reading.

Some Positives as We All See Growth

It is amazing how much we as teachers do in a short amount of time and in any one day – I mean think about how much planning goes into setting up a classroom environment and just one day’s lesson.  In trying to meet my goal of a monthly blog post, I had to let teaching, other professional obligations, and seeing a few musicals get in the way of writing the blog – so here is October’s post.

For me there is no lack in self-reflection, because all I do is reflect and obsess about teaching – this year my major adjustment is ”How do I teach like a Rock Star for my three preps?”  As we all know, each day there could be greatness in some periods, good/okay periods, and many shakes of the head in others.  What so many do not understand is that even though I have taught all of the courses before, and for some, many iterations of them, as a teacher, I keep growing and my teaching keeps evolving and is based on the needs of my current students. This means I have to change and adapt.  

So enough of that, I am going to simply take this time to write up a few positives from the year.  Here are some new pieces of my Mosaic of World Language Teaching.

My Infinitive Door Mixed with my Expressions of the Week (Passwords a la Bryce Hedstrom)

So this year I decorated the inside of my door with Infinitive signs with pictures.  Yes this is right, although I am a firm believer in presenting verbs in the highest frequency, manipulated/conjugated forms (tiene –s/he has; yo quiero – I want; Ojalá que haya – I hope that there is/are), I must work on double structures with my students and I must do it often.  So my Infinitive door is perfect for this practice.  It has worked well for Expressions of the Week (again a variation of Bryce Hedstrom’s Passwords), when I greet my students at the door and they must use the Expression via rote reading, repetition, or responding to a question.  Since my door is able to be at a 90-degree open state, it is right behind me and students can respond easily.  If my Expression is QUERIA (I wanted to), PODIA (I could) or VOY A (I am going to) – my students can answer with DO Snapchat (hacer), WATCH Netflix (mirar), or PLAY football (jugar).  Also since I am a loud teacher, my door is always closed so my students can look at the door whenever they may need an Infinitive.  Is all of this language being acquired during the first week? – No, but through weekly and daily exposure, bit by bit they are getting it and polishing their Spanish.

Door

Mnemonic Device/Acronym Connections with Names

Over the past few years I have been working with embedding Names into my stories that are, gulp … wait for it… related to grammar.  Yes I have said it and done it.  Many of my students like grammar and finding patterns, and for some, it helps them.

Helping students see patterns and making linguistic connections can be a good thing and an appropriate way of incorporating grammar. The problem is teaching language with constant grammar drills and conjugating that in no way helps students communicate in the target language.  So here are a few mnemonic devices/acronyms in Spanish that I have used and incorporated into stories and contexts with success.

Please note I am always toying with the accents even if they do not make sense, and adding colors really makes them pop or provides a puzzle for students to figure out throughout our stories.

-Gérmán Ástu y yo iremos – for Spanish Future Tense Endings

-Javier A. y Sara – for Imperfect/Past Subjunctive Endings

Hermanas (Superscript HE, AS) y Hermanos (Superscript HEMOS)  (Hermanas y Hermanos) – Present forms of Haber for the Present Perfect Tense

-Alibaba trabajaba y María corría  – Imperfect Tense

-La serpiente Sé Pó Tí Ció – Preterit Tense I and S/he – This snake has a lot of fame with my students, and I have many great stories that one day I will feel good enough with to share.

Changing Seats and Seating Assignments

I am reminded that certain classes need assigned seats and changing them can result in new class dynamics.  This is pretty much Classroom Management 101 but why is it one that I often forget?  For quarter two, I created groups of four seats and I asked students for three students with whom they feel they could sit and would find success with speaking only Spanish while not being distracted and then also with whom do you feel you will be too distracted and/or with whom you do not work well.  Although this strategy took me some time to make the seating chart, I think it really has been a positive change versus some other attempts with seating.  The self-reflection piece for students was positive.  The Quarter two change was also the addition of daily self-reflection which has been positive and helping their target language use.   

Q & A ~ Interpersonal Minutes

I like to include Q & A or what I call “Interpersonal Minutes” during stories or my TCI context.  I usually have a few prepared slides that are questions using the day’s structures and a set-up answer for students to follow (this way it is scaffolded for all students’ success).

For example there are written in the target language:   

Student 1: Where did you want to go last weekend?

Student 2: I wanted to go to ________ last weekend.

As the year goes on, I am making this more Interpersonal based on my levels with language that reads like  “Ask a follow-up question,” “Report the response to the class or the person behind or in front of you” or “Ask/Explain why.”  Please know that I do scaffold these to the best of my ability in order to promote feelings of success and them producing accurate output.  Even if the output is not grammatically correct, I do not think that the short timeframe harms any of the student’s language.

My Morpheme, Suffix, and Prefix / Word Relations Packet

When I present this packet to my Spanish IV students – I tell them “If you consider this packet to be busy work, it kind of is, but it is one that will help you and because of this I keep using it!”  It is a packet of cognate work and word connections in Spanish and English.  I use a list that I adapted from the late Rita Braves, who was one of my high school Spanish teachers, who shared her passion of language, learning, and culture with me.

A few years ago I did not use the packet and I know my student’s reading skills suffered.  For the past two years my students report that they feel their reading skills are better off because it helps them decipher words while reading.  With regard to their output, I often experience this phenomena with my Spanish IV students (Intermediate low-high) who want to know how to say something in Spanish, and after the word study, I can often just respond with “Spanishfy it” or make it Spanish.  Since we have made these language connections they can make up the word and their vocabulary is truly amplified.  Although I cannot publish the packet, since many of the worksheets are from other sources, I will put a copy of my Spanish Word Relationship List in the resources.

Overall the year of three preps has had some bumps along the way and one very tired teacher, but wow my students are starting to show growth in all of their abilities, and for that I am thrilled, and they too are seeing the growth.

Until later in the fall when “Christmas Bells are Ringing” a bit more.  

My First Two Weeks: Respect, Routines, Plus Language

What a couple of weeks! It is incredible how much goes into the first full two weeks of school. This year I am teaching Spanish II, III and IV (the past two years I have only had Spanish II and IV).  So in addition to a third prep, figuring out my routine and new class schedule (similar for students) is the greatest challenge as we all find our new rhythm.

Regardless of figuring out a new fascinating rhythm, I am able to rely on many language activities, routines, and procedures that have made the last two weeks feel very successful and rewarding. The goal of the first few weeks or month of school needs to be more about developing the procedures necessary for maintaining classroom management instead of just trying to teach language.

Don’t get me wrong, these last two weeks have been full of language acquisition, learning, and practice – but the truth is that setting the tone, procedures, expectations, establishing community, and learning students’ names have been my ultimate classroom goals. I learned this essential piece the hard way, even as a seasoned teacher who went to teacher school when I transitioned to my new position four years ago. What I soon realized was that many of the same routines and procedures developed by master teachers in elementary and middle school grades could and should apply to a high school setting. I must thank Bryce Hedstrom (http://www.brycehedstrom.com) for his careful articulation of procedures and expectations for students that he has shared because so many of them have helped me be a stronger teacher.

Fortunately I do not have to take a management approach of “not smiling until December,” and I am able to still build the ideal rapport with my students while consistently reinforcing my expectations. The truth is that maintaining consistency is challenging and at times not fun, but then I remember the times of feeling helpless with an unruly class, which was much worse that just being consistent. My high school students need as much follow through and reminders as fifth graders; in fact, I have the luck of being married to a fifth grade teacher, who is a master in developing classroom routine and structure so over the years we have had many conversations on the topic. Knowing this, I cannot expect my students to follow all of the rules and procedures only after telling them once nor can I feel that my directing and retraining of student behavior is a waste of precious time for language learning or providing comprehensible input. I believe this a fallacy for many teachers especially in school cultures rushing to teach for the test and get results. Teachers and administrators must set the limits and enforce them in order to provide safe learning environments for all students. I do not feel we must all be authoritative disciplinarians but we must create learning environments with limits and respect.

Over the past two weeks, I have worked through many activities and limit setting pieces within my lessons in order to develop some of the skills necessary for language acquisition and/or learning to occur. I do not find this area to be my strongest suit and I am always adding new pieces to my arsenal. This year I have included a new call and response system that I saw beautifully demonstrated by Alina Filipescu at IFLT this summer. She uses many catchphrases (the call) that she trains her students to listen for and when said, students must reply with another piece (the response). Of course, this takes training but once the expectation is set, it becomes second nature and helps demand that students are listening and watching. There are some elements of body language used in the system; for example, I raise my hand for an all-class response and Alina leans forward with her body. For the past two years, I have successfully incorporated Bryce Hedstrom’s “Clase/Sí señor/a” when the teacher says “Clase” and students respond “Sí, señor/a.” This is how I have requested students’ attention and now I have incorporated many more into my daily routine: Alina’s “1,2,3 / No inglés (No English)” and “Mira, Escucha / Estamos en la lucha (Look, Listen / We are in the battle/fight),” some classics like “Hola, hola / Coca-Cola,” “A,E,I,O,U / El burro sabe más que tú” and a few of my own: “4,5,6 / no móviles (no cell-phones),” “Estamos juntos / hasta el fin. (We are together, until the end),” “Otra cosa / poderosa (another powerful thing)” and “Es viernes / gracias a dios (It’s Friday, thank god.)” My new ones were developed as I was backwards planning structures that I know my students will need in the future (juntos, cosa, poderosa, dios).

Setting a respectful tone and safe classroom is very important for me as an educator. We discuss that using inappropriate or sexist/racist/homophobic language is not permitted in our community and there will be consequences. I use the same infraction system as cellphone usage in class: first offense is an after school detention, second is a call home and detention, and third is an office referral. From a curricular stand-point, I have chosen to begin my Spanish II and III classes with the song “Colores, Colores” by Bacilos because the song talks about diversity and how people feel they are superior because of their skin color yet students do not get this message when just listening to this fun and catchy song. I do four to six days of short language listening lessons with the final day viewing a student made video of images (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgRfGGxr76Q&feature=youtu.be – yes there are some language errors in the written Spanish). The images are powerful and simply having students define the meaning of the lyrics with the pictures allows them to see that this fluffy and fun song is much deeper. Along those same lines, Spanish III and IV students were engaged in a Movietalk using the “Paper, Rock, Scissors” Android commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk5yeiydxV4). I know many have used this in it the past, but it was a first for me, and it worked like a charm. Again, incorporating these resources help set the tone of respect in my room the same way when I correct a student’s behavior for being rude during a competitive game of Quizlet Live.

I do not want it to seem like language and comprehensible input were not an important piece of the equation from day one; it absolutely was and students were not introduced to a syllabus until day three. In all of my levels, we worked toward 90% target language for us all using James Asher’s TPR (Total Physical Response), Ben Slavic’s Card Talk (aka Circling with Balls), name games, discussing the date, day, weather and emotions, reporting what happened or will happen over the weekend, passwords, asking a story, reading a story, a Movietalk, a song, learning how to use wordreference.com, our first ten minute free write, and seven minutes of silent-sustained reading. All of these pieces needed routine building and training. The first two weeks provided the initial experiences of these important aspects of my classes.

Now it is my job to continually go over the routines for each of these activities and be consistent in expectations while also incorporating more. I know that it has taken me my whole Mosaic of World Language Teaching to get to the point to have such a full and what I think meaningful two weeks. What I always have had to remember as a teacher is that we are all at different places in our careers and our experiences. For teachers reading this, please do not feel you ever need to incorporate every aspect that I have included above (because we often want to include it all). We must all look at our teaching and process by polishing one piece of our mosaics at a time. These two weeks reminded me that a bit of self-care is also needed – when I was on the brink of losing my voice. Teaching with lots of comprehensible input and establishing the routines required lots of talking and I had to make some lesson design decisions around the fact that I needed to save my voice. We all must do what we need to do to be effective for our students and ourselves.

I am leaving the post with this message from Wicked the Musical. After reflecting on my first two weeks, I know that I must set the limits for my students (and myself) and then with my students we’ll be “Unlimited. Together we’re unlimited. Together we’ll be the greatest team there’s ever been.” I believe that working on procedures, routines, respect, and limits will allow us all to be unlimited and grow together. Over the next few weeks I will include some classroom jobs, which will enhance our community and team even more.