Creating Community

by lclarcq on August 24th, 2017

filed under Archived Posts 2017, Classroom Management, Engagement, Relationships, Starting The Year

Creating community is more than a series of activities…..it is a commitment to finding ways for students to support each other.  That is not always easy!  Supporting and encouraging others is not a part of every community that we teach and live in.  It isn’t always a part of our family history, nor the dynamic of our students’ home lives.  

Like everything else we do, it requires patience and a constant series of safe opportunities for student to be a part of.  Once students begin to experience what being part of a community really means, they begin to buy in and often lead the way…..but that can take some time.

My first period class (so far!) seems to be a group that is willing to step up, so I asked them to start something this morning that blossomed throughout the day.   It was the day of our first quiz.  (I try to give some sort of assessment each Thursday because it helps me to plan for the next week.)    The first period group was a little nervous, but no surprise, they felt good about their answers.  

Today’s quiz was really more about teaching them the logistics of taking a test/quiz in a deskless classroom, and to build their confidence about quizzes in the weeks to come.  After the quiz was over, I asked them to share their thoughts about how it went.  They were relieved that it wasn’t too difficult and some of them admitted that they had been pretty worried about it.

So….

I asked them to write “Good luck!” to the next class on the whiteboards that we keep under the chairs to write on.    When the next period came in, each student had a note saying ‘GOOD LUCK!” on the white board under his/her seat.   At first, they were puzzled.  Why did they wish me good luck?  Who wrote it?  Do they know me?  But after a few moments, they began to share their messages with the students nearby and several took pictures to save and send.  

Then they erased the messages and took their own quiz.   Towards the end of the period, a student asked, “Aren’t we going to make Good Luck boards too?”  Of course we were, but I was waiting to see if they would ask…..and they did!!

The last period of the day wrote “Good morning” on their boards and emphatically informed me that next Wednesday they needed to write “Good luck” for the 1st period class to see Thursday morning.

Just a quick, easy, safe way to build community….and yes…I took a quick look at each board before they left the room…..just to be sure all of the messages/drawings were appropriate. :0)  It is middle school after all!

Check out the pictures below! (I wish the one of all 31 of them had turned out!)

with love,

Laurie

Chair Guy For The Win!!

by lclarcq on August 22nd, 2017

filed under Archived Posts 2017, Classroom Management, Engagement, Starting The Year, Tough Students

Note:  For the next two weeks, the Hearts For Teaching Blog posts will appear here on this site.  I will move them over when the Hearts For Teaching Blog is up and running well again!! (probably Sept. 1st)

I’m really focusing on my “hard to win” students these first few days.  The sooner I can get them on board, the sooner they start making progress.  Once that happens, there is no stopping them.  It’s getting them started that is the challenge!

Right now, these students fall into two categories (mostly): a. students who have been asked to repeat a level and b. students who have had more success with being obnoxious and funny than with classwork.

Some of my sweetest moments this week have come from these kids…..so I wanted to share my “chair guy” story with you.   Chair Guy started Day #1 by being the loudest, smart-mouthed and most vocal kid in Spanish 2…..and of course, all in English.  On the second day of class a new student entered just as we were about to start the first activity.   All of the chairs were full.  The student looked around for a seat, and in a split second it was obvious that no chairs were readily available.  

“Sucks to be you!”, yells out Chair Guy.  The entire class looks at him, and then at me.  Chair Guy isn’t even aware that he has said/done anything questionable.   I go over to my desk and picked up a Wildcat Way (the school’s recognition rewards that can be turned in for prizes etc.)

“Hmmmm”, I say to Chair Guy, slowly waving the Wildcat Way, “I think you meant to say–I’ll find you a chair.”   

Chair Guy looks at me for a second, puzzled, and then he gets it.   He stands up, goes to the corner of the room, picks up a chair from a few that are stacked in a corner.  “Where would you like to sit?, “he asks the girl, “I’ll put it anywhere you would like.”   She points, he puts the chair down, and I hand him the Wildcat Way with a thank you.

Not 10 seconds later ANOTHER student enters the room.  Chair Guy is on his feet in a second.  “WELCOME!!, ” he yells, “I’ll get you a seat!  Where would you like to sit?”  The student gets a personally-chosen seat and Chair Guy gets another Wildcat Way.

Now, the next day, a student comes in late.  Chair Guy jumps up and says, “Welcome!  There’s a chair for you over there!”  No kidding.  I don’t know who is happier, me or Chair Guy!!  

On the way out he says to me, “You know, I’ve never gotten any of these before.  It’s easier than I thought to do the right thing.”  

Welcome to the class Chair Guy!!!!  So glad he’s here.

with love,

Laurie

No Longer Strangers

by lclarcq on February 13th, 2017

filed under Archived Posts 2017, Classroom Management, Encouragment, Engagement, Personalizing Instruction

It’s been three months. Days that sometimes seemed very long but months that have been very short. I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but recently there has been a change in my room. It feels like we are no longer strangers. This is so much better. I really was worried it wouldn’t happen.

I know, maybe everyone doesn’t really work this way, but I like knowing who the kids are in my room. I know their names. I know when one has new shoes. I’m learning who is always hungry and who never has anything to write with. I know whose family can afford a trip to Cozumel this spring and who wants to hang out after school and not go home. I know who will paint their face, wear feathers and paint their nails for Rally Day. I know who stays home on Rally Day because the energy level all day before the rally is too much to handle. I know who thinks they are old enough to be in high school and who still keeps a stuffed animal in their backpack every day. I know some things I am grateful to know, and other things that punch me in the gut when I think about them.

I don’t know something about everyone. But we have gotten to know each other. It’s a wonderful thing. I really didn’t enjoy working with strangers.

Middle schoolers are both a tough and a fragile bunch. Their tears are very real and they are often started by something that is only a big deal from the perspective of a middle schooler. One thing I have remembered is that middle school isn’t always fun to remember. But, the best way to connect with my middle schoolers has been to reconnect with my middle school self.

So, she and I are no longer strangers either.

She sometimes rode her bike to school…and sometimes took the bus.
On the days she rode her bike, her hair was even more of a complete disaster than usual.
On the days she took the bus, the high school boys pinched her on the butt and snapped her bra and she was mortified….but never told anyone.

She wanted very badly to be a cheerleader but just couldn’t jump. And her glasses fell off.
She thought she was smarter than the teachers some days and smarter than the other kids most days. And so she was a smart mouth sometimes. And then she cried because it felt mean.

She doesn’t have 7th grade pictures because her family of 7 were all living in a one-bedroom apartment transition housing and there probably wasn’t enough money……even if her mom did say that it was because the pictures were too ugly. That was less scary for her mom to say, but not less hard for her daughter to hear.

She fell desperately in love for minutes at a time with boys she absolutely did not know at all and totally ignored the ones she did. Or teased them unmercifully.

She daydreamed in class EVERY SINGLE DAY, often all period long.

She felt like she had to save the world and yet had absolutely no power at all.

Every, single, thing…..was changing.
Every, single, thing…..made no sense anymore.
Every, single, thing…..was desperately frightening.

On the inside.

On the outside she was a greasy-haired, four-eyed, smart-mouthed, desperately shy, passionate, closet-romance-reading, cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat, got-detention-for-laughing-in-class child having to deal with womanly issues and a great big world. And most of the time she didn’t do it very well. I guess that was the point. :o)

I was everything and nothing that I wanted to be. Getting to know her again has really helped me to get to know them. Loving her, for the first time, has helped me to love them too.

with love,
Laurie

What Works For One…

by lclarcq on December 7th, 2016

filed under Archived Posts 2016, Classroom Management, Engagement, Musings, Not So Good Days, Personalizing Instruction

I have three 6th grade/Level 1 classes and like most teachers, I’d like to think that I can have one basic plan for that level. I know better, but I don’t really KNOW better!! I’m trying to get to know not only individual students better, but also the makeup of each class better. It would really help me with my planning. :o)

All three classes need a lot of work with the basics. The first class was able to arrange itself in a circle without too much fuss and I led a series of questions/directed a conversation around several of the students.

There is a boy in the class. His name is ________. He is very, very famous in Spanish class. He has a lot of friends. One of them is also in Spanish class. His name is ___________. He is very, very intelligent. ___________is another student in class. He is very athletic. He likes football. Many students in the class like football. ____________ has a football jersey. Her favorite team is __________.

and then one of the kids ran to his backpack, pulled out a Seattle Seahawks jersey and put it on!! Great class. We are still pausing (often) so they can settle down, focus, stop talking, etc….but it was progress.

We transitioned into a conversation (with pictures) about Prince Royce. They understood, they were interested, and although we are still working on behaving like a class….I was pretty happy. We watched a 3 minute video about Prince Royce in English. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBHdga54kik) I could follow with a number of questions in Spanish using the “Super Seven” verbs. (Google Dr.Terry Waltz and Super 7…tons of great stuff!). They had some questions in English about Prince Royce that were interesting to hear. Questions about what he was wearing and how he wore his hair. I was able to use their emerging Spanish to talk about Prince Royce the person and Prince Royce the singer. (and to remind myself how important it is to FIT IN in middle school!)

Then we watched a clip from La Voz Kids where Prince Royce is a judge and a young man sings one of Prince Royce’s songs and talked about that using the same basic questions. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buIs7yqT5jE)

I felt pretty good about how that went!

The next class? Ummm. Different story. They could not handle a change in the seating arrangement. When I tried to start the conversation about the class, we could barely get started. The social make up of this group is a study in middle school insecurity. Everyone is trying to be cool and the socially acceptable way to be cool is to make sure that everyone in the class knows that you are cooler than they are. Cliques, sarcasm, eye-rolling, snorts…you get the idea. Lovely individuals on their own. Toxic when together.

So…..back to the drawing board. In the middle of class. Ok…twenty minutes into a 90 minute block. Desks in rows. Take out a sheet of paper. I write a sentence about Prince Royce (on the computer, projected onto the screen). The students write the sentence in Spanish. I ask individual students comprehension questions. No one else is allowed to speak. On the outside I am neutral, calm, maybe even cold. On the inside I am frustrated and fired up!!!! This is BORING. SUPER, SUPER BORING.

But….the class itself was under control. The individuals in the class could each employ self-control. The language was comprehensible.

When we transitioned to the interview they couldn’t contain their reactions. After calming the storm of remarks, followed by the smiling stare of death for 45 seconds, I had to state in English that

a) Prince Royce is an actual human being and I wouldn’t let them mock him, or anyone else, in my presence.

b) Prince Royce is a professional. He has a job. He might be told what to wear and how to cut his hair, etc. etc. It is not our job to do either of those things.

And then we went back to the video. What color is his shirt? What color are his shoes? Do the shoes cost a lot of money? Do his fans like his shoes? Using the same, one student at a time, no one else is answering, and we write the answer on the screen and they write it in their notebooks scenario.

The same material. Completely different lessons.

The hard part? Not putting my own personal label on either one. I was totally miserable during the second lesson….but truthfully…it was probably the right lesson for that group. If I had tried to keep pushing 5th period’s lesson on 7th period, it would have gotten very, very ugly.

Tomorrow I meet with the third 6th grade class. It’s the most challenging one!!!! I’ll keep you posted. Right now I know the material, but I haven’t yet nailed down the lesson plan….

with love,
Laurie

Tricky Tuesdays

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2016

filed under Archived Posts 2016, Classroom Management, Encouragment, Engagement

On Monday I can actually get pretty fired up. I haven’t seen my students for a few days and I’m excited to get going with some new things for the week.

But Tuesdays….ah…that is an entirely different day. It’s the day to dig in and make some progress. Friday seems a mile away. The kids are starting to feel pressure from other teachers and other classes. We are all a little grumpy.

Today was an eye-opener. I gave a quiz to the Level 1 students and got a very clear look at what they can, and cannot do. Let’s just say we have our work cut out for us. It feels like a a lot of pressure….and I’m an adult with a lot of experience behind me.

No one left feeling upbeat. We refocused, got serious, cleared the decks, dug in and started over. It doesn’t feel good to start over 17 weeks in.

This is where I have to really get to know my students. The more we can work together, the more we will get done. I have to work to create situations where we can successfully trust each other. Baby steps, baby steps, baby steps. It’s always the little things that matter.

It’s too early to see many changes, but I’m trying to lay the groundwork by doing the following:

We are making a birthday calendar and talking about birthdays. We celebrate birthdays together.

We are talking about pets. Pets are a powerful magnet for interest and caring about pets a socially aceptable way to show emotion and affection.

I’m using the school’s character ed “points” to recognize kids who are patient and supportive as well as cooperative….in addition to those who are showing improvement. My opinion doesn’t matter enough to them yet to accept genuine compliments as rewards of any kind. They need a concrete reward. (Not my thing if you know me, but it is a school-wide program with noble goals so I can live with it!! 😉 )

We have about 10 classroom jobs…and those are helping us to feel more like a team. Little by little by little by little by little.

We’ve been able to be a little silly. Five-a-day in Spanish, Sr. Wooly, one silly story. Those too will add up.

In time…it’s only Tuesday.

with love,
Laurie

At The Beginning….Baby Steps

by lclarcq on December 1st, 2016

filed under Archived Posts 2016, Classroom Management, Creating Stories, Encouragment, Engagement, Relationships, Starting The Year, TPRS techniques

If you are just starting out with TPRS, and you feel as if you are not doing enough with your students fast enough….take heart….you have an enormous advantage!!!

WE HAVE TO START SLOWLY. I put TPRS+slow into Google just for fun and discovered HUNDREDS of pieces that address how important it is to start off slowly with students who are new to language and/or new to being in a TPRS classroom.

I am choosing only one skill/concept as a goal for my students per week. The only goal I am really focusing on this week is Listening Well. I have to be honest….it’s killing me to do it. I can think of DOZENS of things that I could add to class right now that would make it more interesting, but I know that if I want them to listen WELL, I’d better stick with that.

Now, I am sneaking in opportunities for next week’s goal which is RESPOND WELL. We all know that no skill really works in isolation. But I don’t expect to see any progress in anything other than the LISTENING WELL.

I’m trying to remember to:
Point out what it looks like. (See here for more info.)
Thank students when they do it. (individually or as a group)
Be patient when they get too excited about what we are doing to only listen.
Remind them that listening and talking should not be done simultaneously.
Wait, and wait, and wait, until they are listening.
Ask any student who responds to or asks a question to wait until their peers are quiet before they speak.

It is so hard to move in baby steps when there is so much ground to cover. But this kind of teaching is about the journey not the destination. I have to be where my students are, NOT try to get them to where I want to be. It’s the only way we will ever be together.

I realized today that part of my ‘inner stress” comes from thinking that I am not in control if I meet them where they are. My perspective was skewed. I cannot change where they are right this minute. I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN CONTROL OF THAT. I can only be in control of where I am and how I interact with them. If I chose to meet them where they are, we will be together and I can help them on the journey. If I stand at the finish line, impatiently waiting for them to show up, expecting them to arrive in a place they cannot get to on their own, I am choosing stress for all of us.

The dear and brilliant Brian Barabe told me once that TPRS is like yoga…and to use the mantra “You are where you are supposed to be.” I need to remember that more often.

with love,
Laurie

Skip Crosby Delivers From The Heart

by lclarcq on August 18th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Engagement, Musings, Starting The Year, The Teaching Profession

Skip Crosby is a wonderful friend and amazing educator from Maine. Earlier this month he gave a speech to several hundred teachers in his state. Below is a slightly-modified version of that speech. I am honored to share it with you with his permission:

http://bangordailynews.com/2015/08/10/uncategorized/how-maine-foreign-language-teachers-can-gain-relevance/

NYSAFLT Summer Institute 2015 Visualization: The Power of the Picture

by lclarcq on August 6th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Curriculum and Planning, Engagement, Teacher Training

Welcome!! Here are the Power Points, and the video, that we used during today’s presentation:

Visualization- The Power of the Picture For Sharing

Jose and Laurie

Log or Crocodile?

When Students Are “Lost”

by lclarcq on June 20th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Classroom Management, Engagement, Grading/Evaluation/Assessment, Language Classes, Participation, Relationships, Starting The Year

Laurie says:
Taken from my post on Ben Slavic’s blog:

In our department we have created a scale of engagement (with the language and activities) that looks like this:

Stage 1 : Attention
(student is looking at/listening to w/intent to understand)
Stage 2: Identification
(student can locate sounds/text that are recognizable)
Stage 3: Comprehension
(student can visualize/dramatize meaning of the pieces they understand)
Stage 4: Clarification
(student will seek information needed to comprehend any missing pieces)
Stage 5: Interaction
(student will respond to aural input/text to the best of ability)

It’s ‘jargony” which makes admins happy. It breaks down expectations, which they are also looking for.

But it’s actually useful. We can ask the student, “What stage are you at with this?” Then we ask, “What do you need to get to the next stage?” Sometimes the answer is as simple as, “I have to try.” :o) But it has encouraged students to a) realize that this is their 50% and b) We can help if we know where they are.

Now, perhaps I should have prefaced this with a HUGE given, a message that we deliver from their first year on and reinforce as needed:

We are professional educators. We understand language acquisition. The district has hired us with the expectation that we will lead classes where language is acquired. We have designed classes with that in mind. Students are required to participate.

Then we work diligently to establish relationships with each student and each class. We adjust our plans based on our students. We are transparent about these decisions with our students.

Students who do not engage/participate will not acquire. Therefore, their assessment grades will be low. If non-participation affects the other members of the class, it is then considered a discipline issue. We address it by working to strengthen our relationship with that student and finding ways for that student to have a place/way to engage successfully in class. It’s often easier for them to participate than to not!! This works in our favor. :o)

We do not tie behavior to a grade. A) The disengaged student rarely cares about the grade B) Disengaged students don’t show growth anyway. C) The disengagement is rarely ever about Spanish. It is a signal that other issues are preventing this student from wanting to be successful and have fun!!!! This is a serious issue. D) The extra attention to the student as a person, rather than as a grade, is far more valuable.

As for our scale….it isn’t a participation grade. It isn’t a rubric per se. It’s used more as a diagnostic tool when students need help.

If you need help/things aren’t making sense, identify where you are:

I didn’t hear it/don’t see it.

Stage 1: I heard/see it but I don’t recognize it/can’t identify it.
Stage 2: I can identify/recognize it but I don’t know what it means.
Stage 3: I heard/saw it AND I recognize it AND I’m pretty sure I know what it means.
Stage 4: I checked what I think it means with the context to see if I’m right.
Stage 5: I totally get it and can respond verbally/physically to it.

In assessments we often only grade students on Stage 5….and there is a lot that goes on beforehand that we want our students to recognize and use to their advantage.

I can use it to set up formal assessments if I want to, but it is most valuable as a tool that we use as we use language to communicate.

Hope that makes sense…

with love,
Laurie

Incredibly, Uniquely Beautiful

by lclarcq on February 5th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Engagement, Grading/Evaluation/Assessment, Musings, Pacing, Relationships

Midterms are over. But I worry that the mindset isn’t.

Even those of us who don’t enjoy assessment, tracking data and recording grades can get caught up in the tidal pull of measurement and the undertow of evaluation.

Well….that might be a little too metaphoric, but we ARE teachers. Since the age of 5 we’ve been playing with tests and trying to win. That is hard to let go of. Many of us were test champions and grade royalty.

(The following is my own opinion and might be considered heretic in this day and age)

I realize that we must assign grades and that students require passing grades in order to move to the next level. We have all worked hard to create systems that allow the progress our students make to be accurately reflected in the grades. Our jobs depend on it. But…in the great scope of life…

THE GRADES DO NOT MATTER. They are artificially “scores” that someone/something determined would measure value in schools. They are part of the system, BUT THEY DO NOT ACCURATELY REFLECT ANYTHING.

They certainly do not reflect value. No human being can be given a numerical value. It’s ridiculous to even think of it (although sadly, it is commonly done throughout American culture, not just in schools.)

Every moment that we see our students in terms of a number, we have lost an opportunity to see them as people.

The system, and most of the people in it, will try to change your mind about that. They will also try to convince you that YOUR value will also be determined by numbers: your students’ numbers. They will tell you that not only are students are numbers, but that we should compare students using these values. Actually, they would like us to line them up according to these numbers. They want us to believe that the students should all on the same place on a line of measurement at the same time. Finally, they tell us that the students should be moving along that measuring line at the same pace. On a day to day basis.

They are also trying to convince us that it is our job to make that happen. If we don’t, we are failures. (Yes, they use THAT word….a word we have secretly been afraid of since we entered a school at age 5)

My dear friends, that is a crock of horsepucky. All of it. Including the idea that we are special because we “earned” good grades when we were students. Grades do not make anyone special.

EVERYONE IS SPECIAL.

Its really difficult to see that. Our job doesn’t always let us remember that, even though that is an elemental part of our profession.

Please remember it.

Everyone is special and everyone is unique.

Our students are not supposed to be alike. They all enter our classes at different ages. They enter with different backgrounds and experiences. They did not learn to walk, learn to talk, learn to read their first language, learn to ride a bike, learn anything at the same rate. Why? Because while we may all be wired in the same way, we are all unique and incredibly miraculous human beings.

Have you ever seen a group of one year olds together? They are all at very different places in height, weight, ability to walk/talk etc. If they are paying attention, if they are in the classroom approximately the same number of days, they are all getting the same amount and quality of input. AND THEY WILL STILL NOT BE IN THE SAME PLACE.

Some students show growth in slow, steady increments. Others will grow in “hops”, showing improvement every two to three months….but very little in between. Others are icebergs. Everything grows beneath the surface and we see nothing…then all of a sudden BOOM! After six to eight months (or more) of nothing….amazing things are happening.

No one is really “ahead” or “behind”, despite what society might want us to believe. If the student is there, and involved, if we are providing a rich environment and comprehensible instruction, then the student is where the student is supposed to be. Period. They will move when they are ready, at the pace that is best for them. We can pay attention, and we can respond, but there is truly little we can do to change that.

And it is no reflection on us.

Hard as that is to remember.

We need to enjoy each student where he or she is….or we will lose sight of the beauty of the human brain, the human mind and the human spirit. How each and every human is unique and heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Nothing else really matters.

with love,
Laurie