Connections and Planning Archived Post 9.20.10

(Originally posted 9/20/10)
Hmmm….Carol and Michele and Carla got me thinking about how the connection of activities can make a difference in our instruction. A higher level skill? I’m not sure. I think to some extent it is a skill, but it is more a way of thinking that takes practice. I think that sometimes, in the classroom as in life, we can’t see the forest for the trees.

How did we end up in this place where what happens in class is focused around a focused series of structures? I think because I have a student teacher, I wanted to keep the focus narrow. This way he would have a better idea of what vocabulary was “in bounds.” We started with a series of goals: a) get to know the students b) use the present, past and future in a natural way in conversation/instruction c) connect topics with the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights d) connect the curriculum with the students’ lives.

I looked at the topics on the NYS Syllabus that my students needed to work with in order to be prepared for the NYS Regents exam and decided to begin with Work/Professions because I saw a way to connect it with each goal: a) we could find out about our students’ skills, interests and dreams b) we could discuss past, present and future jobs c) we could discuss the right to work, the rights of workers and the responsibilities of workers and employers d) every student is connected somehow to the world of work.

Next, we need a structure for the classroom….for organizing each period so that the student and the teachers were working within a routine. A routine helps us to rotate in activities and topics so that we can reach all of our students. It provides us with an avenue to drive down with the structures that we use to introduce class, make transitions in class, recognize students for their efforts, interact with students and include the language patterns inherent in the “niceties” of daily interaction.

We created a template for the month of September that included some pieces that are fairly typical of language classrooms and some that might not be. Class begins with a message on the SmartBoard about the first activity of class and what materials the students will need, including the formation of desks. (see Desk Drills) We have a quick review of the information that was on the morning announcements, taking special note of students who have been recognized. We ask for any other announcements (birthdays, driver’s tests etc.) We review upcoming, activities, competitions, meetings and deadlines. (lots of future tense)

Transitions in class are made with the use of Signals and the signals have been chosen with cultural,structural and emotional impact in mind (We will never forget, Viva Mexico, Here I Am etc) Thursday is quiz day…the first quiz was a reading quiz…using a letter written by my student teacher.

The second quiz was a writing quiz….my students introduced themselves to him in a 5-10 minute write. After the quiz they grab books for Free Voluntary Reading.

We notice that the students have a hard time remembering the word “son” they are.

Mondays we have been asking the question, “Where did you go this weekend? “ And throughout the week asked…”Where did you go last night?” (builds beautifully from the discussion of upcoming events) This week we added the question: “Who did you go with?” My student teacher created a short reading about his weekend…staying focused on “I went” I went with, I went to, I went for, I went because….When we ask students where they went, a ton of them respond with “I went to work”…a perfect connection for where we are headed.

When they talk about their friends, their teammates, their co-workers, they don’t use the word “son” either.

We’ve been looking at international news. Our focus? The miners trapped in Chile. How did we tie this in? What structures are connected? They went to work. They to the mine. They went to a refuge under the ground. The families went to sit vigil. The president of Chile went to the mine. He went to talk with the families. He went to see the messages from the miners.

Engineers went to the mine. They went with ideas. The engineers will meet. They will meet and make plans. They will meet and share ideas. They will organize a rescue. The miners will watch a soccer game. They will exercise to keep in shape.

We decide that we need to create a reading with a lot of reps of the word “son”…but that that word might be a “teach for June” goal.

We need to talk about danger and dangerous jobs. We revisit a song from last year “Aqui Estoy Yo” . All kinds of great lines. Don’t be afraid. Here I am. I’ll take care of you. Please accept. We use these phrases to write letters to the miners and their families.

We will talk about why the girl the songwriter talks about thinks that love is dangerous. We are going to talk about the four singers in the video and make sure that we are going to get a bazillion reps of the word “son.”

Another phrase that keeps coming up over and over again? The same. Going to the same meeting. Went to the same game. Ate the same number of pancakes at the pancake breakfast. Bought the same lunch. Scored the same number of goals. Both meetings are on the same day. In love with the same girl. Hoping for the same thing. Three plans for the same goal. Six weeks in the same place. Thirty three families with the same prayer.

We didn’t plan for that. We didn’t see that pattern ahead of time. But we put it up on the board when it came up and now it is popping up organically all over the place.

By reusing and refreshing a routine, by repeating a theme, by revisiting an ongoing story, by recycling a song, by realizing patterns, by recreating similar activities on a variety of topics, by using familiar structures WHILE AT THE SAME TIME staying within a narrow framework of new structures….we are creating a path for everyone in the class to follow throughout the forest….without getting lost among the trees.

I’m not sure that it takes any special skill. I think that it takes focus. And practice. And the ability to stay in the moment and get your bearing. The willingness to look back after the lesson and see where it went and where you should be going. And friends to remind you that it works.

Not every unit, or lesson, or moment will mesh seamlessly. But if we get out of the trees for a few minutes we can see that every tree is a part of the forest…in the great scheme of things it will all, eventually fit together. Every time we can plug into the connection, we just make it easier for our students’ brains to do what they do naturally…acquire language,

with love,

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Climbing the PQA Mountain Archived Post 3.2.10

(Originally posted 3/2/10)

I have to confess…..I really had trouble with PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers).    The idea behind PQA is to use a targeted, high-frequency phrase in conversation with students so that they hear (and comprehend it) many, many times.

At first, I didn’t spend a lot of time nor energy analyzing my PQA resistance….I just avoided it whenever possible.   (Fortunately now there is Ben Slavic’s PQA in a Wink!! …but pre-Ben all I could do was marvel at how Susie and others wove wonderful questions in workshops and wish that I could do the same.)

Then one day I had an epiphany!   PQA is NOT about the focus structure.  IT’S ABOUT THE STUDENTS!   So…..instead of asking myself, what questions can I create using this phrase, I began to ask myself…

Can I get to know my students better using this phrase?  If so, how?

This cleared away many of the thoughts and emotions that were holding me back.   First…I realized that not all phrases are good PQA material.    I was able to find other ways to get repetitions with those phrases.  (Work smarter not harder Laurie Ann!!)

Second…when I started to think of questions in light of getting to know my students better, the questions became more interesting!!!  I was more interested, the questions were more interesting, and so, of course, the students became more interested!!

The third piece that really helped me was incorporating other TPRS skills into my PQA forays.  Combining PQA with teaching to the eyes, using signals, choral responses, and circling helped me to focus on my strengths rather than my weaknesses.

More later…

with love,

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

When We Are In It Together Archived Post 2.10.10

It Ain’t Easy…Bein’ Sick  (this post originally posted 2/10/10)

For the last week and a half I’ve been fighting mano a mano with a sinus/double ear infection.   Between the two days with subs and the fact that talking sends me into long-lasting coughing spasms, my students and I switched from our usual dose of verbal interaction to activities that are more reading-centered and group/pair-oriented.

I like all of the activities.  I think that they are educationally sound.  I think that my students are getting a lot of good, quality, written Comprehensible Input.  But I am astounded at the difference in the classes.

First of all, discipline is off.  I have to employ signals and silences more often.  I really don’t enjoy that.  Neither do the students.   It isn’t a lot of extra tension…but it is enough to change the classroom atmosphere.

What is REALLY missing, however, is the strong sense of “being in this together.”  When they work in pairs or groups, when they work at an individual pace, there is no sense of collegiality.  There are no group “inside” jokes.   The class feels very different without that!!!

When I am “conducting” the class, and everyone is working on the same story/idea/conversation/topic, it is like being on a family car trip.  Sure, there is a little bickering.  Yeah, it’s annoying when someone has to stop and go to the restroom.   No, everyone does not like the radio station.   But….. there are  shared moments of hilarity and common experience that create an atmosphere like no other I’ve taught in.

I can’t wait to get back after a week of vacation (next week).  Hopefully the coughing etc. will have subsided and we can get to work on using as much Spanish as possible hanging out together.   The story of Ana and her adventures in Casi Se Muere are just more interesting when we read it, and talk about it,  together.   Not just at the same time in the same room.   But really together.   It goes from being Ana’s story to our story that we read about Ana.

Oh we’ll still do activities that allow students to work ‘out of the group”……but not as often.   We need that together time.   It’s who we are.  We all miss it.

with love,

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

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