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!
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public K-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This is her twentieth year teaching, and seventeenth at Marion Cross.