The Hartford Area Career and Technical Center connected to Hartford High School here in White River Junction, VT, opened its doors and welcomed us. The classrooms were perfect, we had a fantastic place for lunch, and the staff was accommodating and incredibly helpful. We are grateful to Charlie and Doug and the whole crew over there.
Additionally, I was lucky to work with an incredible crew. Elissa Maclean choreographed the week, and I was honored to be on a list of teachers that included Justin Slocum Bailey, Joey Dziedzic, Tina Hargaden, and Linda Li. And shoutouts to Jen Schongalla, Jason Tamez, and Becca Rice for all they did behind the scenes; we couldn't have done it without them.
In case you don't have the desire or time to read the entire post, here’s the Cliff Notes list of what I learned/was reminded of this week (though I do hope you will read the whole thing!):
This was my first experience teaching a language lab: 14 4-11 year olds for 2 1/2 hours for four mornings. I had been wondering for months leading up to the first class what this experience would be like with long classes, short duration, and a wide range of ages and experiences. Four of the students in the class were either past or current students of mine. Five were kids in families that had just moved to Norwich and will be at Marion Cross in the fall. Two were the children of a colleague who spent two days in the teacher training. The other three were kids from the community. Five boys, nine girls; two bilingual English/Spanish speakers; four students with past French experience, two who had had Spanish at their previous school. Talk about a motley crew! But we all came together as a community by the end of the class.
One of my biggest challenges (as I noted last year after iFLT) is going S-L-O-W-L-Y and man, did that slap me in the face after the first day! I realized at the end of the class that I had given the kids WAAAAAY too much! The moment that really made this stick for me was when one of the students said as he was leaving, “I don’t want to come back tomorrow. This is too long!” Needless to say, I was crushed.
I did have a bright spot when a student handed this little card to me after class. (Translation: Bonjour Maîtresse.)
I knew going into this week that I didn’t want to prepare too much because I was going to want to see what the kids were like and, more importantly, who they were. I planned to base what I did on the students: their lives, their interests, their identities. And I managed to do that. We talked about their hobbies. I took pictures of them and we Picture Talk-ed them. I talked about what they were wearing every single day. I validated their opinions and honored their thoughts.
The young man who had expressed distress on Tuesday was smiley and engaged on Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday. What do I think caused the change? I gave him a nickname. He was wearing all blue on the second day, so he became Monsieur Bleu. I connected with him on a personal level and made him feel special and unique, and that gave us a bond that grew each day. (On the last day he wasn’t wearing all blue, but all gray. I asked him if he wanted to change his name to Monsieur Gris, but he opted to keep his original identity. It was very sweet. He's the one hugging my neck in the class photo above.)
When I write up what I did each day, I will post it. I need to do that sooner rather than later, before I forget and get wrapped in preparations for this coming week’s proficiency workshop with Tina Hargaden in Maine.
In addition to the language lab, I presented on reading in the elementary language classroom and Movie Talk (or Video Chat). You can find those presentations here. I delight in talking about both of these topics and I especially love sharing knowledge (and resources!) with other teachers.
All in all I feel really good about how the week turned out. My observers gave me positive and encouraging feedback, and the number of hugs I received as the students left on the last day made me feel great. And one little girl gave me this note on her way out.
Have you ever observed a language lab? What have been your big take-aways?
Photo credits: Dahiana Castro, Karen Rowan, Jason Tamez.
When I came back from iFLT in St. Petersburg, FL, one week ago, I wrote about how I don't always have a positive relationship with summer. As I lounge in my sweet Airbnb in Pau with a glass of rosé, I happily sit with the realization that this summer is turning out to be pretty amazing. The Agen Workshop wrapped up yesterday and while I’m so excited to have a few days of relaxation and hiking, I will readily admit that I’m both exhausted and energized from the past week.
Last year after iFLT in Cincinnati I reflected on my phenomenal apprentice teaching experience. I had the pleasure of working with the calm, cool, and collected Paul Kirschling and the genuine, generous, and gentle Blair Richards. All three of us have extremely different teacher personae but we enhanced each other’s lessons and everyone benefitted. The adult students in our French class noted in the debrief on the final day that they appreciated and enjoyed our three different personalities and what we each brought to the class.
This year I was honored to teach alongside Sabrina Sebban-Janczak. She and I complemented each other with seamless transitions between our lessons, additions to each other’s ideas, strong collaboration, and similar energy and delivery. I gained so much from working with her, from new techniques (Readers’ Theater with simultaneous drawing during a Story Listening-type activity) to reminders of some strategies that I know work but may have let fall to the wayside (student/class jobs of responding to certain words with individual/choral responses). It was extraordinarily reaffirming to hear her reassure me that part of a class I taught that I thought had been a total flop was engaging and rewarding for the students and she considered it a true success. Merci, Sabrina.
I did not (regrettably) attend any of the evening coaching sessions, but one morning I heard about the amazing demos that had happened the night before. The last night, a group of us ended up in the evening coaching room as they were wrapping up. The room was packed, and it was clear that it had been a productive two hours for everyone involved, and the energy was palpable. I have had the opportunity to coach several times this summer and it never ceases to amaze me how beneficial it is for all parties involved: the demo teacher, the “students,” the observers, and the coach. I look forward to more opportunities to help teachers see their strengths and feel positive and empowered.
There are so many people I want to thank for helping to make this such a special experience, but I especially want to extend my appreciation to Sabrina, Karen Rowan, Jason Tamez, Justin Slocum Bailey, Dahiana Castro, Teri Wiechart, Alina Filipescu, and Reed Riggs. And of course, the largest thanks goes to Judith Dubois for organising such a unique and powerful conference in a very special location.
For those of you headed back to school soon, all the best for a strong start to the year. There are some of you who still have some summer left and I send you wishes of relaxation and restoration. If you went to a conference this summer and have anything to share, please comment on this post!
This is the second draft of this post; the CyberMonster ate the first, but maybe my frustration and poor memory yielded a better post. Thanks to Justin Slocum Bailey for showing me the Panda cheese commercials to make me laugh!
Believe it or not, I’m a teacher who doesn’t love the summer. Sure, it’s always nice to have a break from the intense days of the school year. But I have always struggled when I don’t have structure in my life. Strange as it might sound, I need someone else to tell where I need to be and when; the break in the routine of the school year that occurs during the summer has always posed a challenge for me and can wreak havoc on my emotional well-being. Here enters summer PD.
I am participating in six different conferences this summer and the third one, iFLT, just wrapped up in St. Petersburg, Florida. The past five days have been enlightening, empowering, exhausting, and engaging. I had opportunities to work with teachers in so many different capacities, and I relish them all.
Not only was I able to share my favorite teaching technique, Movie Talk (or ClipChat), I discussed strategies on reading in the elementary language classroom as well as approaches to making the most of a FLES class despite the challenges many FLES teachers face. Additionally, I had the honor and privilege to coach some incredible teachers and collaborate with a sub-cohort in the beginning track.
As I sit on the plane and reflect on the week, I wanted to share my two biggest take-aways.
1. While there were so many incredibly masterful teachers at Gibbs High School this week, it is important for ALL of use to remember: there’s only one of each of us. The biggest part of my personality that comes out in my teaching lines most closely with the inimitable Maestra Loca and her energy, Nonetheless, I often find myself trying to channel my inner Grant Boulanger, who possesses a flawless ability to be calm and connect with students simultaneously. I strive to be a blend of those two wiz teachers, with a solid dose of Justin Slocum Bailey’s animation and expressiveness, but I know I can’t BE any of them. (NB-These specific qualities of these teachers are not necessarily what I could consider each of their strengths. I just believe that these particular traits, combined together, create the teacher identity I think works for me and my students.) Each of us needs to take the skills and strengths that we admire in other teachers and create our own unique teacher persona. You do YOU, that’s what your students need!
2. “Repetition and novelty are not mutually exclusive.” As teachers of acquisition-driven instruction, we are aware of the importance of repetition. Simultaneously the brain craves novelty (as Carol Gaab taught me). I have developed ways in which I can “do” the “same thing” multiple times with my classes, but it’s never really the same. My students can read a text after doing a Movie Talk and follow with activities with sentence strips from the text, putting them in order or associating them with images from the video. Throw in a dictation and finish up with a Socrative assessment, and I have recycled and reused the text in multiple ways, allowing my students to process the text differently each time. (If you're not sure what Socrative is, check it out; it's a free website that has some amazing assessment tools. You can watch my tutorial video here.)
Above is an outline of how I structure working with texts with my younger students. It’s pretty formulaic but I strongly believe that this scaffolded progression of activities allows for the slow and deliberate transfer of output from the teacher to the student. When my students can describe pictures without any prompting from me or read sentences in a story book they are illustrating and know what they need to draw because they have worked with the material so much in different ways, I can see that they are really learning and acquiring language.
Once my plane lands Boston in an hour, it will be less than 24 hours until I find myself at Logan once again to take off for conference #4 in Agen, France. This is yet another opportunity to see other teachers in action and pull what I love from their teaching and personalities to create me.
May the rest of your summer, regardless of how much is left, bring you the restoration you deserve!
Eight years ago I went through a pretty significant break-up. I dumped my textbook. Sorry, Valette and Valette, it's not me, it's you.
When thinking about my teaching, I have found myself in situations recently where I take a step back and say to myself, "Wait a second....am I organizing my lessons by groups of vocabulary?! NOOOO!!!" I mean, I "do" modes of transportation and body parts with kindergarten. My first graders learn rooms of the house. My fourth graders do some significant work with fruits and vegetables. But I have come to the conclusion that while I do work with themes, I do not really have units based on certain categories of vocabulary. Seem contradictory? I know, I get it. But let me explain.
You may want to start thinking about this by reading my post about the unit with which I start the year with my fourth graders. We start by talking about their culinary food preferences and things go from there. We then look at photos from the book Hungry Planet, which shows what families around the world eat. Finally, we finish with a Movie Talk with the animated Disney short Feast.
So now let me elaborate a little more. Sure, when I think about it, I am working with sets of words that could be considered categories. But I really believe the difference between teaching focusing on themes and teaching focusing on vocabulary is how the teacher introduces the words and how the students interact with them. Let's take my kindergarten unit that highlights transportation. The culminating activity is a Pocoyo video, "La Course" ("The Race"). It has a tortoise-and-the-hare flavor to it, and we do a lot of activities leading up to that.
Here's a PDF file of the Notebook file I use when introducing the structures featured in the video. I use one of the stories in the Stories by Gus on the Go app, which is actually the tortoise and the hare. Through that story I can teach the words fast and slowly. We talk about which modes of transportation move quickly and which go more slowly. We have races with actual toy planes and trains and automobiles. We play "What's in the Bag?" with different toys, and I ask students to make predictions. I happen to have a taxi that is smiling, so let's bring in emotions. I have a Thomas the Tank Engine toy, and his friend Percy. Enter colors. Everything we do circles back around to things we've already discussed, recycling vocabulary and making our discussions totally comprehensible for my students.
NB-The video on the left is in the gym and there's a PE class going on the other side of the curtain, so it's noisy! Plus, this was the day before vacation, so...!!
We talk about what animals move quickly and slowly, and how they move (jump, swim, walk, fly). We play some games on the Linguascope website that focus on different vehicles but also require students to think and process vocabulary differently. Students do some categorizing, drawing different things (animals, vehicles) that travel at various speeds.
So what's my point with all of this? That it's OK to work with different groups/categories of vocabulary and words, as long as the students are given a context in which they can use the words. We teach language, not words. We cannot teach things in isolation, especially when dealing with young children. So sure, I can tell someone that my kindergarteners learn modes of transportation, but the way they process the vocabulary goes so much deeper than simply looking at a list.
Sometime soon I hope to write a similar post about my "body parts unit" with kindergarten, or my "farm animals unit" that starts my year with second grade. But I needed to get this post out
Back in April I had a couple of lightbulb moments with some modifications to one of my favorite Brain Breaks, Qui a volé les biscuits de la boîte à biscuits? (And I'm just now getting around to posting them!) There's a significant shift in the structure of these activities, but the kids like them!
Both of these new games are rooted in specific units of our curriculum. My second graders were watching the second "season" of the Muzzy video series. In the early episodes of that season, Corvax kidnaps Bob and Sylvia's baby Amanda. (Don't worry if those names don't mean anything to you, just know Corvax makes off with Amanda.) I have a little Playmobil baby that represents Amanda. Students sit in a circle, and one student leaves the room; he or she becomes Bob or Sylvia, on the quest to locate their poor missing daughter Amanda. I hand Amanda to one of the students seated in the circle, and all students in the circle clasp their hands together in front of them. We call Bob or Sylvia, the student who had gone into the hall, back into the room. That student stands in the middle of the circle and looks around, trying to figure out which classmate has Amanda. They have three chances to find Corvax. When they have chosen someone to accuse, they look at that student and say, "Tu es Corvax?" ("Are you Corvax?") The accused responds with either, "Oui, je suis Corvax" ("Yes, I'm Corvax") if they are indeed the kidnapper, or "Non, je ne suis pas Corvax" ("No, I'm not Corvax") if they didn't take Amanda. If the accuser is unsuccessful in locating the kidnapper, the kidnapper opens his or her hands and reveals Amanda. Regardless of whether or not the accuser correctly identifies the kidnapper, the student who played Corvax and stole Amanda becomes either Bob or Sylvia in the next round, searching for their kidnapped daughter.
The modification I made for my sixth graders came to me while we were reading Pirates français des Caraïbes, the French adaptation of Mira Canion's Spanish reader. This plays out almost identically to the Corvax scenario above. In the novel, François the pirate captures a sailor named Charles, who is under the employ of Antoine Médina. I place a little toy pirate (who happens to be holding a telescope, which is what Charles actually has in the book!) in the hands of one of the students sitting in the circle. When "Antoine" comes back into the room, they ask, "Tu as capturé Charles?" ("Did you capture Charles?"). The accused responds either, "Oui, j'ai capturé Charles" ("Yes, I captured Charles") if they are indeed the kidnapper, or "Non, je n'ai pas capturé Charles" ("No, I didn't capture Charles"). Once again, the kidnapper becomes Antoine.
Can you think of other ways to adjust Qui a volé les biscuits? to fit into your curriculum?
Allison Litten teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public K-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This year she is teaching kindergarten and grades 1, 2, 4, and 6.