Nothing like having visitors the first day back from vacation! And what does an insane teacher do? Make up an activity on the spot! Well, at least my observers got to see my classes as they truly are!
I had been thinking about a post in the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching FB group from AnneMarie Chase about a game she played in which students were divided into teams, and they had to make sure that each person on the team understood the reading. Then one person from each team had to answer a question. (She had them come sit in the front of the room.) If they got it correct, they drew a card from a deck of cards, and the corresponding value was the number of points the team received.
I printed this post out a loooooong time ago, but haven't done anything with it. I had been looking at it just before my visitors entered my room.
My sixth graders were doing one final reading activity with Dustin Williamson's Noël Madness commercials. All of a sudden, I had an idea. I collected the readings and wrote two things on the board: Migros and Argos (these were the two commercials that went head-to-head in the final round of voting). I read a sentence, and students had to write down on their individual whiteboards the commercial to which it pertained. They had five seconds to write it down, and then they held it up. I then randomly chose (using the random number generator app on my phone) the name of a student. If that student's team had gotten the answer correct, I gave them a die to roll. That became the number of points I awarded the team.
In the first class, it got a little bogged down. I had only distributed one die, and I had to collect it and pass it around each time a team needed to roll. That took up too much time. Additionally, this is a class that doesn't have a ton of energy, anyway. When I played it with the second class, I gave each team a die; that allowed the point determining to go much more quickly. The students were also much more engaged, which added to the enjoyment. Because I just threw this together last minute, I did not have the chairs set up in the front of the room like AnneMarie did. But I'm eager to try that next time.
I'm pretty excited about this. I loved Anne Marie's idea of the points being completely random. I can see how a deck of cards might make it more interesting, since point values would vary so much. The dice made it so the scores were close, which heightened the anticipation. I'll try to play again soon, and post a video.
Let me know if you try this, or if you come up with some other modifications!
Happy new year! And I'm feeling like it really is a new year/new phase of life. Let me explain.
Some of you know that I have had some significant feelings of inadequacy in recent months. This is a concept that crept into every aspect of my life. I was feeling uninspired in classroom, which was so distressing to me. But then I noticed other areas that were slipping out of control. My exercise and training had completely fallen by the wayside. I had lost my propensity for organizing and, as a result, my house felt in complete disarray. I even felt like a lousy dog mom. And I remember seeing a tweet that mentioned inadequacy, telling folks to make sure that if you're feeling less-than, it should be with respect to your own practice and that you should not be comparing yourself to others. And honestly, that made me feel worse. I HAD fallen victim to imposter syndrome. It has been an honor to be the Vermont Teacher of the Year, but it was extraordinarily stressful as well. I am just incredulous that I am in the company of some extraordinary women. (But we have established a strong bond, and I am so excited to meet and spend time with the other northeast TOYs at NECTFL next month.) I couldn't help putting myself up against this exemplary group and noticing all of the things I WASN'T doing. And yes, I recognize that this isn't healthy, but unfortunately, I learned to do this at a very young age.
So you may be wondering what the point of this post is. I am writing this on the heels of a solid 8+ hours of sleep after averaging three hours over the past few nights. (Nothing like organizing your closet at 3 AM when you can't sleep!) Sleep definitely affects my moods, but I realized that I had slipped into a mini-depression. Depression and I have had a long and torrid relationship; there's a period of about five months in 1997 that I literally don't remember. It's been an ongoing war, and there have been some pretty horrible battles. (I have the scars to prove it.) This fall I frequently asked myself, "What's the point?" Not as in "What's the point of living?" but "What difference will this workout make? Does my teaching matter? I don't have the energy to fold the laundry, so why should I?"
But I'm hoping that's in the past. Where am I now? I might go so far as to say I'm feeling good. I upped my meds. I started with a new therapist. And I'm being honest with myself. I've found myself thinking in the past, "Hey, I can beat my depression. I'm stronger than it, I don't need drugs." Oh, Allison, really? Don't be naive! If you suffer from depression, or anxiety, or any other mental illness, It DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE WEAK. Recognizing that you are struggling is a huge sign of your strength. And that's where I am right now.
So I'm hoping I can continue on this path; I am cautiously optimistic that things are turning around for me. As I write this, it's 6:45 AM, the day we return from vacation. I'm still at home, with my tea, trying to cram and see if I can start a particular lesson cycle in less than two hours. I actually WANT to plan my lessons, which is more than I can say for a month ago. And that's embarrassing to admit. (I have A LOT of work to be doing right now, but I wanted to get this post out ASAP. I felt it was too important not to share, especially with the clarity of a solid night's sleep.)
Know what's great? Picture Talk. It is so low-prep but allows for SO MUCH INPUT (which, in my room, leads to so much organic output!). And you don't need to spend hours combing the Internet for pictures. I mean, if you're snowed in and want to throw yourself down a photo rabbit hole, I say go for it! But here's a little teaching hack for you: The National Geographic Picture of the Day. New day, new image. Job DONE.
If anyone is good at exploring different cultures, it's National Geographic. So do yourself (and your students!) a favor and check this out. Something new, every day, and it's literally just a click away.
On this first day of vacation, I have been doing a lot of reflecting. I was walking the dog, and I remembered this post that I did two years ago. It was a very impersonal “thank you“ to people who have made my teaching life easier/more fulfilling. I feel like it’s time to add to and reinforce that list. So here are the members of this year's #IAmThankfulFor list:
Justin Slocum Bailey
Justin is one of two people whose energy I try to channel when I teach. (You’ll find the other next on this list.) His extraordinary ability to connect with people makes him not only an incredible teacher, but an amazing presenter and just an overall phenomenal human being. I am lucky to have him in my life. Thank you, Justin.
I don’t think I will ever meet anyone as thoughtful and kind as Grant. His calm energy is something I always try to embrace and internalize in the classroom, especially when my crazy energy wants to take over. It is a joy to watch him teach, and I highly recommend it if you ever have the chance. I wish I could spend more time with him.
Thank you, Grant
For those of you in the iFLT/NTPRS/Ci Teaching Facebook group, you surely know Angie’s name. She is forever sharing what she works on, and she spends a lot of time thinking and reflecting on her practice. She is a dear, dear friend, and despite only being an hour away from each other, we don’t see each other enough. Nonetheless I truly value her friendship, insight, and support. She has helped me process so much, and I’m not quite sure where I’d be today without her. Thank you, Angie.
You know when you were a kid and you went to summer camp and you didn't want the time to end? That's the way I felt two years ago after my week with Anny (and Kirsten Plante) in 2018 at the Altamira/Dynamic Language teacher trainer prep. Not only was the setting beautiful, and the group of people extraordinary, but she has become for me an important person whose advice I seek and friendship I value. Thank you, Anny.
Tina is one of the most hard-working people I know. She has poured so much of her time and energy and love into helping teachers. Her Curriculum Club has been a savior for so many teachers out there, and I relish the time we get to spend together. It doesn’t happen often enough, but I still know what a truly amazing human being she is. Thank you, Tina.
Leslie Kronemeyer (you can see her in the picture above with Anny!!)
I haven’t been able to see Leslie teach, but I just love her as a person. She is being recognized all over the place, be in her own state of New Jersey, or on the national conference stage. I’ll never forget the first times I spent with her, and how meaningful our conversations were. Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher. Thank you, Leslie.
Vermont is not quite the same without Elissa in it. She has relocated to New York and that makes me sad, but she will always have a place in the Green Mountain State. I have always enjoyed working with Elissa and Express Fluency, be it during weekend immersion classes at her incredible space in Brattleboro or our August teacher training. Elissa's sweet soul and generosity are second to none, and I always feel full of heart after I talk to her.
I wouldn't be where I am in my teaching, or in my life, without my dear friend Ginny. Our journeys have taken us, and VFLA, to so many places. It has been a pleasure and a joy to work with her and to reflect back on all that we have accomplished. To say I love Ginny is to put it lightly. Thank you, Ginny.
There’s nothing in the world like a Teri Wiechart smile-it exudes warmth, happiness, and love. I was honored to be on the iFLT team this past July in St. Petersburg, Florida and work along side her. Teri is someone I would love to go on a week long vacation with, and maybe someday that will happen. Her generosity, caring, and wisdom have touched so many people, including me. Thank you, Teri.
What should I be doing right now? Writing sub plans. What am I doing? GETTING SO EXCITED ABOUT ACTFL! I just mapped out my days. I didn't want to cram too much in, because I want to make sure I have time to meet with and talk to folks. So here's what I'm focusing on:
What are YOU looking forward to? If you can't come, what do you want to learn/hear about/see?
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, 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.