Skill #1: Listening Well

by lclarcq on November 29th, 2016

filed under Archived Posts 2016, Classroom Management, Creating Stories, Encouragment, Musings

So today I bit the bullet and decided to try to start a story in every class. I told myself (and them) that it didn’t matter how far we got with the story. I said that we would just get started. I told them that it wasn’t easy, at first, to just starting creating stories together. I told them that we would deal with the story-building skills as we went along. (and said a little prayer….)

One of the things that I have told my classes is that I work very hard so that Spanish class will be interesting and that acquiring Spanish can “feel” easy. However, none of the work I do with make any difference if the students against me rather than with me. I need this group to work with me….and they aren’t there yet. (and they sometimes look at me like I’m from another planet for wanting that!)

Over the years, many teachers have crafted a list of “behavior rules” for their classes as a way to get classes to work together. I knew that I needed to outline something similar for my new students but inside I was cringing at the idea that students with between 7 and 9 years of schooling needed “behavior rules.” I mean, I know that kids don’t always “behave” but it isn’t because they don’t know, by now, what appropriate school behavior is!!

So I tried this week to put out the expectation that every day we would be using four sets of skills. The first one is Listening Well. I didn’t want to make it too complicated (as a teacher I love doing that lol) , so I left it at this:

Listening Well means paying attention to what is said and what it means. I figured that that could cover a lot of bases!

Listening Well is Skill #1 because nothing else in acquisition happens without it…especially for Novices. I can check in with my beginners by simply asking them what I said and what it means.

In reality, Listening Well is NOT an easy skill, for anyone, in any language. We can all improve at it. (I know that I can!!)

What Listening Well looks like needed to be clarified for them.

For instance, Listening Well doesn’t happen if you are speaking at the same time. :o)
Listening Well to the teacher doesn’t happen if you are listening to a classmate. :o)
Listening Well doesn’t happen if you have earbuds in your ears. :o)

(I’m also pretty sure that I’ll be clarifying and re-clarifying those points on a regular basis!)

It is why I needed them to be able to focus on me and be silent at my signal. ( For more on signals…Check out this post!)

The idea is, I told them, that if the class can hear me, they will know when and how to add interesting pieces to the story.

And for a while in every single class, they were able to demonstrate that skill!! For the 8th graders ‘a while” was between 15 and 20 minutes. For the 6th graders it was between 10 and 15 minutes!!

I made it clear that when the skill got too difficult, we would change activities…so once I had to refocus any class for the second story I paused the story-asking and told them how we would continue next. (See the post-script at the bottom!) And then we moved on to another activity. They didn’t want to end it (yay!) but I did. I wanted to pause each story before it fell apart (or I did!).

Next post: Skill #2: Responding Well.

FYI….I still did a LOT of waiting until they were quiet, staring at whisperers (with a smile of steel), and walking over and standing next to the easily distracted!! I was not as patient with one group as I would have wanted!!!! It’s a fine line between calling a student out on behavior and publicly embarrassing him/her. In Middle School it’s even more delicate…I’m learning and re-learning!

with love,
Laurie
PS. Our progress:

8th grade class A: Identified a character and setting, identified a problem, attempted to the solve the problem. Final activity: In Spanish, write down one reason in English the character will not solve the problem and tell me before class. (i.e. doesn’t have $, asked the wrong person, etc.)

8th grade classes B and C: Identified a character and setting, identified a problem. Final activity: In Spanish, write down where (location) the character goes to solve the problem and why. Hand in before leaving.

6th grade classes: Identified a character and setting. Given a problem: The character needs ____________. Final Activity: Write down in Spanish two things the character might need.

Starting Over

by lclarcq on November 28th, 2016

filed under Classroom Management, Encouragment, Musings, Relationships, Starting The Year

Hello from California!! I managed to be retired for all of six weeks before I moved cross country and sign on for a new job. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it was a good one!

For the past 30+ years I have worked in small districts in rural, upstate (seriously upstate) New York. For some of those years I taught grades K-8 but the majority of them were teaching high school students. My new job is teaching 6th-8th graders in a suburban, well-populated section of Northern California!

The students had another teacher for over 10 weeks and now we are all starting over.

I had met a few times with the sixth graders and today was our second real day together. They have been out of school for two weeks between Science Camp and Thanksgiving Vacation!!! So yes…we are really, really starting over.

The 8th graders and I got started the week before Thanksgiving. So today was day 6 for us.

I forgot how much there is to accomplish at the beginning…….

These students, all of them, are brand-new to me. Our very first accomplishment will be working together. Seriously. They are used to a different set up in class and mine requires a great deal of self-control…..or at least more than they have had to use. 🙂 I know they are capable. They know they are capable. Now…I have to get them to agree to do it.

The first day I worked with them (class sizes about 30), they were sitting with friends in groups of four. I tried to speak. I tried to get their attention. No one stopped talking. Not one student.

My pulse was racing, my face was flushed, my smile was frozen and my heart was pounding. I did not know the name of one single student. For the first time in nearly 30 years I also did not know their parents, their siblings, or even their other teachers.

I don’t know how long I stood in front of the room before I tried again. It was probably seconds…it felt like hours. I was being completely ignored.

So I tried again. I used a ‘signal’ that their former teacher had used. A few students noticed and responded half-heartedly…then kept right on talking. This was not going the way I had hoped!!!

Try number three….in a slightly louder, more authoritative voice. This time more than half of the class looked at me, shifted in their seats and mumbled a response. AND….made eye contact.

This was the most crucial moment for me. It happened in all three classes. I had to maintain eye contact with the 15 or so students spread across the room. With a smile on my face, I held my ground….for maybe 15 seconds. A small girl near me whispered to me, “I think it’s working!” I tried to just keep breathing!! One by one the rest of the group settled down and then turned around….finally realizing that something was happening. When everyone was quiet I smiled at stared at them while I (painfully!) counted to 5 in my head. Then I finally introduced myself. I think that was the most challenging 30 seconds of my teaching career.

I am dead serious.

I have no history at this school. No reputation precedes me. I felt completely naked and alone in front of those kids waiting for the silence, and for their attention. My head said…wait, wait, wait it out. My heart said…this isn’t going to work…they are going to ignore you forever.

I’d like to say that after that one encounter in each class, that I was able to establish order in a heartbeat with a look. Or at least using our signal.

Um, no. The 8th graders and I have found a direction in the week we have had together…but daily reminders, and those 30 second wait times, while not nearly so heart-pounding, still happen once during every class. The 6th graders? Well….we didn’t get much done today academically. There were maybe 10 “usable” minutes out of 35. i’m still learning names, getting them into a routine, helping them adjust to transitions and working to get them to function with a new seating system (where they all face forward and don’t sit with their friends.)

BUT…in one class 5 of those 10 usable minutes were truly beautiful. Students were asked if their vacation was “excelente” or ‘terrible” or somewhere in between. Only one girl said terrible. I asked her if the reason was a secret, she said no, she wanted to share. (Thankfully the class was quiet and listening….and this, of course, is why we needed it…) She shared in a whisper to me that her aunt had cancer. I told the class in Spanish. Then I asked, in Spanish, ‘Who has a friend, or someone in their family, with cancer?” Over half of the class raised their hands. Even though these kids had only a few weeks of Spanish, I could say to her…The class is with you. They are your friends. You are not alone.

I could tell the class that in 2013 I had cancer. And we learned the word hope.

She needed that. So did I. So did I.

with love,
Laurie

Story Outlines and Teachers Pay Teachers

by lclarcq on November 28th, 2016

filed under Curriculum and Planning

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Hearts-For-Teaching

Hello my friends. It’s a long time since I have posted on here….but I am back. I’ve accepted a new position and you can read more about how that is going, I promise.

This post is to let you know that I have started to post materials for teachers on the Teachers Pay Teachers site. I’m trying to offer a balance of free materials and materials for purchase.

The first set of items is a series of Story Outlines. What is a Story Outline? Simply, it is a skeleton of a story!! One of the things that teachers often share is that they struggle to get started creating a story. I am hoping that these will be of help.

They are actually the format I have used to help students become better (or beginning) writers. It has been very successful and I hope that you may find it helpful for you as you plan for your students.

Here is an example of a Story Outline of a very familiar story!:

storyoutlinecinderella

ideasforusingstoryoutlines

I have posted a free document that includes Ideas for Story Outlines on Teachers Pay Teachers, but I am going to upload it for you here as well. Feel free to look it over and ask me any questions that you might have!

with much love,
from my new home,
Laurie