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The next school year is about to begin. While sad to say good-bye to the summer vacation, it’s still exciting to see what the new year will bring.  Before our students walk through our classroom doors, there’s a good deal of front-end preparation and planning that we all do. Struggling with technology is not something that anyone looks forward to at this time.  Here are some tips to avoid some of those struggles and help us along the way:

  1. At the beginning of the year don’t try every tech tool that you might have read about or someone told you about. Pick something you feel confident that you’ll use. When you and your students are comfortable using that tool, then try adding something else.
  2. Practice using any tech tool before you plan on using it in the classroom. You never know what problems you might encounter: blocked sites, incompatible software, login issues, tool too complicated for age-level of the user.
  3. Remember that not only are you teaching your respective target language, but you need to teach your students how to use the tool as well.
    1. When working with a new tool that you plan on using for performance assessments, introduce that tool in a smaller assignment to give them experience.
    2. We want the language to be the product, not the technology. We don’t want them to fail because of complications with that technology.
  4. Integrate technology in your lesson planning process, not as an occasional activity.
  5. Some students don’t have the same access to the internet and other tech tools at home. Make sure that there is enough class time available to get these types of assignments done at school.
  6. Technology should always remain a tool and support instruction, not a toy and not the focus of instruction itself. Before using one, ask yourself how this helps your students meet your learning targets.
  7. Always have a backup plan. Technology can sometimes fail. Having a backup plan can save the day and prevent loss of instructional time.
  8. Have a web site. Use what your school provides or try out Google (free). Use this as a place to keep parents informed: Standards, learning targets, unit overviews, important dates, your schedule, links to other sites, policies, class newsletter, etc.
  9. Develop a personal learning network (PLN). Use twitter! There are so many teachers using twitter as professional development and collaboration tool. You’ll be able to learn, ask questions, and share with fellow educators all over the world! Search for the following world language related hashtags: #flteach, #langchat. There are more, but these can get you started. Visit https://twitter.com.
  10. Find educational blogs to follow. These can provide ideas and inspiration. Here are some ideas:
    1. http://mmeduckworth.blogspot.com
    2. http://langwitches.org/blog/
    3. http://zachary-jones.com/zambombazo/
    4. http://community.actfl.org/ACTFL/Blogs/ViewBlogs/
    5. http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/
    6. http://marisaconstantinides.edublogs.org/
    7. http://languagesresources.wordpress.com/
    8. http://deutschlich.wordpress.com/

Why might you put this time and effort into something that’s not the target language or culture itself? Because this is where our students are today. This is the culture in which they are growing up. This is their language and we need to speak it as well. Not only will we identify more with our students, but we can benefit from the world of technology. World language teachers are often isolated (singletons) in their respective buildings. Technology can bring us connections like never before. Through these connections we can become stronger, better informed, and never really alone.

 

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But, um…

“If we teach today like we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

John Dewey

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

by Socrates

Challenges are good for us, even if we don’t always want to admit it.  For this reason I am thankful for the 30 Goals Challenge. I am thankful for the goals, ideas, and reflections that have all been a part of this. If I am to take this experience seriously, then I can’t ignore this challenge, a global communications challenge, one that I haven’t actively attacked as a World Language teacher. Sounds like a given, huh? It’s not as easy as it seems.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that one of my duties as a World Language teacher is to show my students a glimpse into the world outside their immediate community, outside of their direct sphere of experience. That knowledge will hopefully help them understand other peoples and perhaps themselves a bit more.

Making that actual connection, however, with the global community is a big step. It’s finding the connection, finding a means with which to communicate from both ends, dealing with time differences, school district red tape, etc. There’s a lot to do, lot of hurdles that I haven’t even tried to jump. So, when posed with the challenge of actual global communication my response is: but, umm…

So, once again, I would like to thank Shelly Terrell and the 30 Goals Challenge for posing this to us.  It’s not just that the challenge brings to the forefront something that I have been shoving to the bottom of the pile. It’s that the challenge also provides us with examples and resource ideas to start from.  My first step: start exploring these resources. My end goal: providing my students the opportunity to communicate with someone across the globe.

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

by Dr. Haim Ginott

Reflect on your classroom rules and the punishments outlined for breaking them. Sometimes their behavior is not about them being disruptive or disrespectful, but are a reaction to whatever stresses they are facing. Students, classroom behavior, and their consequences are the topic of this post’s 30 Goals Challenge.

It is true. I am a decisive element in our classroom community.  Whatever condition the student walks into the classroom in, I have an effect on that. I can provide the opportunity for a person ready to be in our community to shine and succeed. I can also take that same person and shut them down. It’s a lot of pressure sometimes.

Perhaps I’m sick, perhaps I just received word of a family emergency, perhaps something personal has just gone wrong.  If I take that into the classroom community, it effects what does or does not happen there. On the contrary, despite my best efforts, I might not be able to bring a student having a challenging moment into the community for the day.  They may be the element darkening what happens in the classroom. It’s my obligation to try and bring some light to the situation. Again, there’s a lot of pressure outside the content area itself.

Stress. We are human. We have stress. Teenagers are stressed from their obligations, family, friends and biology. Adults are stressed from their jobs, families, and responsibilities.  Personally, I believe that if our schools employeed personal masseuses, some of this might be alleviated, but that’s a different matter. It’s important that we all have ways to deal with the stress, and that includes within the classroom community.

Plan. Have your lessons planned; don’t wing it. Included the opportunity to “moments.” Whether these be teachable moments, or moments to just vent. Make allowances for that. Know your students. Your first period students are going to have different needs than those at the end of the day.  Know that there are differences between boys and girls and their needs within the classroom community. Breathe. You need to breathe. You need to allow your students to do so as well, whether that be literally or figuratively.  Allow for movement: 90 minutes with bottoms planted in an uncomfortable seat doesn’t allow for oxygen to get to the brain and for the best learning to occur.  These are just starting points, and only a few at that.  Keep them in mind and add your own.

Play and have fun

“We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up.”

by Phyllis Diller

 

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Plato

 

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”

Leo F. Buscaglia

Play.  When young children play, they run without aim. They dig in and get dirty. They aren’t afraid. They laugh at their mistakes and scream with delight at their successes. They sometimes cry, but that can be easily turned around with some reassurance. There aren’t boundaries. It’s all about discovery and adventure. It’s delightful to watch.

Not everyone gets to work with young children and see this.  Children, however, are still children – at any age.  My high schoolers love it when they get to follow commands posted around the school to find the prize at the end of the trail.  They love it when we get to read outside. They love it when we turn the tables into a fort/castle to have fairy tale story time. They love it when they get to read outside. They love it when we have verb conjugation races. They love Pictionary with new vocabulary. They love stickers, stamps, reward pencils and so much more. They look forward to class because it is not 90 minutes of sit-in-your-seat and take notes on a lecture time.  They are still children – some of them may be bigger than I am, but they are still children.

Play in our classroom community.  It’s one of my favorite things to do with these students. They can’t help but interact with the material if they are playing with it. It gets their blood flowing, oxygenates their brains, and keeps them really involved. There is play to just play – but there really is playing to learn.  Problem/project-based learning is a wonderful outlet for this.

I have the wonderful opportunity to work with a content area that lends itself well to these types of activities. While I will praise the idea of play in the classroom, I think it’s also important to share that there will be those who doubt or criticize the action.  I have heard a number of times from colleagues: “I wish I could teach a language, all you have to do is sing and play games.”  If you read my previous post, it is the reason both that I have feared inviting others in and the reason that I should.

 

Let them in!

“There is no persuasiveness more effectual than the transparency of a single heart, of a sincere life.”

by Joseph Barber Lightfoot

Let them in.  Let other teachers, parents, and administrators in to see the learning that takes place in your classroom.  This is the next goal that I am addressing in the 30 Goals Challenge.  When I was a department chair, I would have encouraged my department to do that. As I have presented at various conferences, I know those words have come out of my mouth. If I am to be honest, however, that is a fear of mine.

It’s a personal, not professional fear, but nonetheless a fear.  What will they think? Will I be good enough? Will they be disappointed? What will they say behind my back?  Will I become the brunt of other’s jokes because they don’t “get” what I’m doing? I’ve heard the answers to these questions about other teachers and don’t myself want to be that teacher.

Did you notice anything in particular in what I just wrote? It was all about me.  Is that what my classroom is about? There are so many other things that go on in my little community of learners. Why should I fear sharing that?

I have the unique privilege as a high school teacher to have students from their freshman year until their senior years. Not everyone at the high school level experiences that. We, my students and I, have developed quite the community together. Our experiences are far from traditional, but there is some wonderful learning going on in our community.  Why wouldn’t I want to share that? The answer? Because it’s different and people fear and judge things that are different. No one wants to be judged, and that includes me. Back to me again.

I have made conscious efforts this year to get my students collaborating, sharing and reflecting together. I haven’t, though, moved those experiences beyond the classes themselves. I’ve shared what I am doing with my department, but no one has visited or asked to visit. While not having discouraged observations, I haven’t encouraged them either.

I could take the easy way out and say that in a way I have invited people in: I regularly invite my “pod” of teachers to our annual Oktoberfest celebration and share food with our administration; I encourage the kids to invite other teachers, administrators, and even the superintendent in for our Valentine’s Day activity (they have to teach someone else how to say “Kiss me, I speak German” in German and then that person receives a Hershey’s Kiss). Those are fun activities, but there are so many other things that go on in our community.

I have classroom blogs, wikis, web pages, and a program twitter account. I do post our unit essential questions online and am available via email. My students are sharing and collaborating using web 2.o tools. I think these are steps, but I know it’s not actually “inviting them in.”

This is a long-term goal for me, but one that I would really like to make (despite my fears). I’m hoping for better parent relationships and peer relationships. We’ll see how it goes.

Reflection and Relationships

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

by Peter F. Drucker

The next challenge in the 30 Goals Challenge is to reflect on my best and worst lesson of this week or last semester. I’m really having a hard time with choosing those and that’s not because I had continually average lessons, but because the last week and the last semester have been a bit unique.  A little background might be helpful here.

The last week has really only contained about 2½ days of instruction: we’ve had 2 “cold” days (days with temperatures and wind chills too cold for students to walk to school or the bus stop), 1 snow day, and I personally had 1 pullout day for District meetings.  The days around them were preparing for absences and re-grouping from unplanned days off.  Last semester I semester I started becoming ill and ended up having major surgery. I wasn’t myself for months due to circumstances out of my direct control.  I can say that I had good days and bad days then, but I was really relying on time and procedures and relationships banked. That’s what I would really like to share today.

Relationships.  The best and the worst of a lesson, unit, day, week, year, class are all affected by the relationships established between the teacher and the students.  With positive relationships established, the best and the worst all become just another learning point from which to go from.  If we want our students to learn from the process even when the result fails, we need to not fear modeling that in the classroom. We need to not fear taking a new direction if something isn’t working: formative assessments and reflections are just a couple of tools for this. Having positive relationships with our students allows us to use these moments and turn them into something positive, maybe even the best moments. The best moments, well those are the ones where we can capitalize on that relationship building process.

Relationship building. It takes time, not in length, but effort.  It takes listening and allowing the students to share their voice. It requires respect. This foundation is a necessary building block in order for the curriculum to take shape. This foundation can make the best days and the worst days all just learning days.

Leave it Behind

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Plato

Today’s 30 Goals goal is “Leave it Behind.  Make a list of ways you can leave your stress behind and not carry it with you into the classroom. To take this a step further, try one of these stress relievers today and share the experience with us.”

I read today’s goal and laughed to myself. This is something that those around me have been after me to better work on for so long!  For 15 years I was a single-parent and worked full-time. To be everything that my child needed, my students needed, my building needed, and that life demanded was more a heavy burden that I was struggling to carry than part of a journey.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve taken a closer look at that journey and made some gradual changes. Let me emphasize that these are gradual changes and that the journey continues…

  • Family. When it comes down to it family lasts longer than our students, our curriculum, our administration, our buildings. They are our foundation. Give them a hug before you leave for work every day and tell them how much you love them. My new husband keeps me in check with this every day. J
  • Prayer or meditation. Open you heart and mind at the beginning of each day to set your focus and remind you of what’s really important.
  • Walk. Walk to relieve the stress, lower the blood pressure, get your blood flowing and stimulate your brain activity.
  • Reflect. Reflect on your day – your day with your students, your class successes and failures, your choices, your direction.
  • Collaborate and Refuel.  Find your PLN! If not at your school or even your District, try online. There are so many out there and I am thankful for all those that all me to lurk, participate, or both.  See this link for information on Personal Learning Networks.

I am not perfect at implementing all of these as regularly as I should or you may even think, but I have seen the positive effects that they all bring: positive for my students, my health, me career, and my family. I’m still on the journey and wish to thank all those that have helped me!