"My teaching, and quite frankly my life, has never been the same since
[observing Allison’s classes]."
[observing Allison’s classes]."
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
I have always understood the value of self-reflection with respect to my teaching. It's one thing to think about one's work, it's another to see it. Watching videos of me teaching is one of the hardest, yet most valuable, things I can do to improve on my craft.
I also find it incredible rewarding and inspiring to see other teachers in action. That being said, I want to share the videos of my classes with those of you out there who might want to see what happens in another teacher's world! NB-I have not edited these videos, nor have I chosen my best classes to film. As you'll see, there is some really messy stuff in there! But it's all for the sake of improving.
Take a look at my YouTube channel, and let me know if you have any thoughts about what you see!
After returning from iFLT18 this year, I noticed a different post-conference feeling. When I first began my CI journey eight years ago, I remember leaving big conferences with a full and exhausted brain. There was so much information and so many amazing ideas, I felt like I was walking around in a stupor. What should my take-aways be? What's most important? Where do I begin?!?! It was critical for me to remember to start small: implement one or two specific ideas into my lessons. Every journey begins with a single step, right? At the same time, the big ideas presented at these conferences helped me to develop my philosophy and shift my approach to my teaching. I knew what I wanted to do, and why I wanted to do it. Nonetheless, I was still overwhelmed.
Now I feel like I'm at a point where I walk away from days upon days of sessions and workshops energized. Seeing teachers in action allowed me to reflect on my own practice. And yes, I certainly had the doubt that Megan Hayes mentions in her post-iFLT blog post.
But when I flip the post-conference-thinking coin, I find excitement the other side. Apprenticing under the amazing Paul Kirschling during adult French beginner language lab was one of the most powerful experiences of my career. I received direct feedback on my teaching from a seasoned CI French teacher. (How often does THAT happen?) My co-apprentice teacher, Blair Richards, wrote up her reflections on her blog.
I have some concrete changes I would like to make in my classroom when the students return. Last year was a particularly challenging year for me, so I'm excited to feel optimism and enthusiasm about teaching filling my soul. The pre-school adrenaline has begun to pump through my veins. (But don't worry, I have PLENTY of summer left to enjoy, including celebrating my 40th birthday.)
I hope that all of you who attended iFLT this year (thank you Teri and Carol!) can find that excitement in all of that post-conference "overwhelmedness." For those of you who were not able to attend, it's a unique and powerful conferences and I hope you will have the chance one day soon. (And New Englanders/Northeasterners who are unable travel thousands of miles, there's a wonderful opportunity right around the corner at Express Fluency's summer teacher training in Vermont. I'll be there this year, dragging Movie Talk with me! You'll also be able to see Annabelle Allen and Justin Slocum-Bailey in action (two amazing teachers whom I'm lucky to call dear friends), as well as Martina Bex, Tina Hargaden, and Mike Peto.
In the meantime, may the CI force be with you.
I almost did this as a series of tweets, but thought that would just get crazy.
Consider this episode 1.5 of My CI Journey.
Since my return home from ACTFL and seeing some amazing people, I have been thinking a lot about who I am as a teacher, where I am, where I want to be, and how I got here/will get there. There are a lot of people out there who have helped me become a better teacher, showing me innovating ways of approaching and thinking about SLA and teaching. So, here are those people, listed in chronological order:
Dustin has a leading roll in episode two of My CI Journey. Without him, I may never have discovered TPRS and CI. Thank you, Dustin.
Carol Gaab and Fluency Matters (formerly TPRS Publishing)
Carol organized my first TPRS/CI conference; it was her second intercultural conference, in Cancún in 2011, and the following school year, I ditched my textbook and everything I knew, and embraced TPRS with fervor. Thank you, Carol. (Oh, and please bring back the Club Med conference, even if just for one year!)
Laurie is just Laurie. Anyone who knows her knows she is a loving, generous, amazing soul. I feel lucky to call her a friend. There are no words. Thank you, Laurie.
Blaine Ray, Von Ray, and TPRS Books
In 2012, I went to the NTPRS conference in Vegas. It was my first experience at a TPRS conference where the example language was NOT French. This was a game changer for me; S-L-O-W became my mantra, and changed how I approached delivering input to my students. Thank you, Blaine and Von.
Eric introduced me to Movie Talk at a NHAWLT conferences a couple of years ago. I have since done countless MTs with my students, and presented on it several times at various conferences. I adore MT, and would not have known about it if I hadn't seen Eric present. MT is my favorite. Thank you, Eric.
La Maestra Loca
I feel so lucky to call Annabelle Allen my friend. Her energy, enthusiasm, and exuberance are contagious. She is a generous person who has inspired countless teachers, including myself. I adore Annabelle to the ends of the earth, and am always looking forward to the next time I see her. Thank you, Annabelle.
Not only is Mira a prolific and talented writer, she's really freaking funny. And she's so much fun to hang out with. Thank you, Mira.
My soulmate lives in Cincinnati. Her name is Megan. I owe more thanks to Mira here, as she introduced me to Megan. Our lives and experiences overlap in so many ways, and can't wait to see her and her little munchkins at iFLT next summer. Thank you, Megan.
There are definitely other people who have touched me along my CI journey, but without these people, I wouldn't be the teacher I am today. And I am grateful.
Wishing everyone a happy and delicious Thanksgiving.
Nashville. It's fantastic to be here, and to see CI sessions on the schedule. Not as many as I would like, but we have to start somewhere.
I was walking with Carrie Toth yesterday, as I wanted to learn more about moving people to proficiency-based instruction, and I found myself talking about how I found myself so passionately involved in the CI movement. (It was more of a monologue than a conversation, I'll admit that!) I decided that I wanted to chronicle that journey,
So let's begin this CI Journey...
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.