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

You Are Truly Doing Enough

by lclarcq on January 27th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Musings, Not So Good Days

I really hate January. Between post-vacation blues, a germ-filled building, exhausted colleauges, flu-stricken students, midterms, data analysis, reports, grading, meetings and attempting to “gear up” for a new semester, I get really worn down. When I’m worn down, everything gets blown out of proportion and I take things way too personally.

I’m the queen of taking things personally, having spent most of that past five decades elevating it to an art. :o) I have had to work very hard to listen to the voice in my head that says..’Oh that’s a good idea.” and not the one that says, “well duh!! You know that. You should do that. Why didn’t you think of that? Kids would pay attention if you did things like that. Thirty years in the profession and you still don’t have it right. ”

I’ve taken large numbers of suggestions as face-slapping criticism and used to cry on a regular basis after post-observation conferences with my principal. It’s taken a long time, and a lot of practice, to just listen to people without a strong, emotional self-flagellation reflex kicking in.

The folks in this profession are very passionate people. That inner energy sometimes leads us to extremes….whether it’s extreme dedication, extreme worry, extreme committment or extreme self-evaluation.

When I’m swinging towards the extremes, I have to remind myself of the following:

“If you are doing the best you can today, and hoping to always do better when you can…..

You are truly doing enough.”

Regardless of what your administrator, colleagues, students, their parents, and that nagging little ugly voice in your head are saying to you.

“You are truly doing enough.”

(and yes…I’m saying this to myself as much as I am saying it to anyone reading this….)

Don’t let yourself hear anything different.

with love,
Laurie

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

What do students need ME for anyway?

by lclarcq on January 21st, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Engagement, Musings, Relationships, TPRS techniques

This post started as part of a response to my friend Skip….and then it grew from there. Thanks Skip for asking me the questions that make me think.

I never wanted to be a Spanish teacher. I wanted to teach kindergarten…or third grade. I wanted to sing songs, read stories, and introduce my students to history and heroes. Actually that is what I do, I am just lucky enough to do it via Spanish. But that is not what most of my colleagues were doing when I started thirty-plus years ago. I truly admired and respected those teachers, I just couldn’t be one of them. Maybe it was because I didn’t start out as a Spanish major (although I ended up with a Spanish and an Education degree), or maybe it was because I wasn’t very confident about my language abilities at the time….but my goals as a language teacher were a bit different.

Truthfully, I never thought that I would be able to convince teenagers to commit to memory the hundreds of rules and thousands of words necessary to master the language. I loved it, but I never thought all of my students would. And I wanted ALL of my students to love Spanish class the way 5 year olds love kindergarten (okay…think 30 year prior to Common Core!)

Thirty years ago (and more), we used to consider it our job to teach the understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the language…its history, structure, details. And we did that. Sadly, few students were able to draw on any of this knowledge after a few months….much less a few years.

We then made it our goal to teach the students the vocabulary, verb forms and highly irregular patterns so that they could also communicate with others. We created texts and materials that we thought would help our students to be able to put all of the pieces of the language in order to function while traveling, doing business etc.. But we still taught as if mastering the al to help students to communicate. It was a great deal of work, and yes.. fun, to create activities that allowed students to pretend that they could communicate in a real-life situation.

Sadly, once again, students failed to retain the language for any length of time.

It was the first reason I was so impressed with the results of TPRS and teaching with Comprehensible Input. The language stuck. For a long, long time. I was pretty excited about that!

Then along came technology.

I think that our job as language teachers has seriously shifted. And I am afraid we may not even know it.

Any knowledge about the language that students need can be found easily on the Internet. All of it. Communication can occur with a cell phone and an app. And almost instantly. And with about the same accuracy that our students used to have….probably more.

I had a great reason to switch from learning to acquisition in my classroom. But if my students can just use a machine to communicate…..why would it even matter if they acquire a language?

What IS our job now? Why would students need to be able to communicate…device-free…in a world quickly becoming overrun with devices? Why do they need us? Can’t they get all of the language they need via technology?

I think we need to be asking ourselves, and our profession, that question. What are we doing that students cannot now do for themselves…..without us?

For me (and you’ve heard me say this I think), I want my students to acquire Spanish in order to explore the hearts, minds and souls of people who speak Spanish. I want them to acquire Spanish so that they can think more deeply, express feelings to others, ask questions about the universe and SHARE that journey with people of other cultures…..and they can do that so much better in more than one language. AND WITH A PERSON…not a machine.

I believe that our job is less about teaching the language and more about using the language to teach the skill of making personal, social, historical, artistic and even political connections.

I believe that our job is about establishing relationships, nourishing relationships, growing as a result of relationships …..Relationships that are a)built via communicating so that we are understood in another language and b)built because we understand others in their language .

It’s about understanding….and being understood as a human being. It’s a job that no machine can do.

They need us for that.

with love,
Laurie

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.

Kindness: Why It Matters At The High School

by lclarcq on January 17th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Relationships, Uncategorized

It isn’t easy to be kind at the high school. It isn’t at all cool. (and it doesn’t matter how old you are….) Nice people are perceived as stupid, or weak. These are things to be avoided at all costs.

At the high school, the operative word is tough. Tough is smart, tough is strong. These are things to be achieved and admired for.

Tough appears to be the overall winner. Tough attitudes, tough faces. Tough courses, tough tests. Tough teams, tough practices. Tough kids, tough teachers. No question,tough prevails.

Why even try?

Because Tough APPEARS to be the overall winner. Tough attitudes, tough faces. Tough courses, tough tests. Tough teams, tough practices. Tough kids, tough teachers. No question,tough prevails….on the surface. But underneath, BECAUSE tough prevails, kindess really matters. It’s desperately needed as a matter of fact.

You wouldn’t know that by teen behavior, but it is.

If you’ve ever parented a toddler, it is a little easier to understand. From the age of one to four years old, childen live in these adorable little teflon-coated cocoons. Nearly everything we say bounces right off of them. We don’t expect REALLY expect toddlers to say please and thank you. We don’t expect toddlers to be patient. We don’t expect toddlers to be responsible. Yet…we spend several years “pleasing and thank-youing” to them anyway. Even though…..we will see them throw tantrums, refuse to share, make faces, pick at their food, throw things and a number of other challenging behaviors. It is as if they do not hear a word we say. FOR SEVERAL YEARS! But we keep on trying anyway. That is what parents do. When children emerge from their “toddler-armor”, they have actually absorbed many of the behaviors we have been raining down on them since before potty-training.

I’ve often felt that toddlers and teens have a lot in common. Obsession with potty talk and bodily functions for one. Then there are the passionately emotional/stubbornly indifferent twin sides to their personalities. Both groups have moments when they are completely committed to doing things independently, even when it is impossible or riduculous to do so. AND this selective hearing issue occurs in teens just as virulently as it does in toddlers.

Then…at some point, a young adult emerges from this tought cocoon and it turns out that,yes indeed, they really had been listening all those years.

It is a rare, rare adolescent that is thankful for the kind people in his/her life. Some adolescents are too busy being focused on their struggles and miseries to be appreciative. Others don’t have the social skills to say thank you. Many would be just too embarrassed to try. But they do notice. And they remember.

True, it makes being kind a very thankless job (pun clearly intended!) So, if as human beings, we are being kind so that others will appreciate us, we may be disappointed. But, if we are kind because kindness speaks to how we want to affect the world, rather than how much we would like to be appreciated, being kind isn’t all that difficult to achieve.

Being kind opens the door for choices. It says, I can make decisions, I can be in control of my responses. It shows my students that…and it shows me that. On the days that I am worn out, feeling low, frustrated and grumpy, the choice to be kind is reassuring to me.

Being kind opens the door for additional kindness. It clears a space for the positive. It makes more good things possible. We all could use a little more of that.

Being kind feels better, physically and emotionally. Life is too short, illness too prevalent and pain too powerful to not open up a door that makes us feel healthy and strong.

Being kind communicates hope. Where there is hope, there can be change. When there can be change great things happen. I vote for hope.

It’s true that things at the high school level can get a bit more serious. If we are going to get serious, why not get serious about something as far-reaching, and life-saving, as kindness?

with love,
Laurie

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

Kindness: Put it in writing

by lclarcq on January 12th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Not So Good Days

kind mother t

I don’t know about you, but I need A LOT of reminders. I use Post-It notes, Evernote, the calendar on my phone, the calendar w/my inbox at school and yes, I still sometimes write on my hand.

Today, create a reminder that what you are doing today matters. Write a note to yourself. Email it or text it or write it down and put it in your pocket. Tape it on your computer monitor, draw it on your white board or write it on your hand. Every time you see it, it will be a reminder that YOU MATTER. Everything that you do really does make a difference….even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

Don’t wait for someone else to get around to telling you that you have touched lives, warmed hearts and changed the world. Someone else might just be too busy staying afloat today.

Gently, but firmly, remind yourself. Put it in writing. Put it where you will come in contact with it all day long. If you are not sure how to word it…try one of these:

You matter.
You said just the right thing to someone today.
Your smile touches hearts.
You are someone’s rock.
You are loved.
You are important.
Today you had the answer to someone’s important question.
Thank you for being you.
You are the answer to someone’s prayer.
You have done the right thing.
You make a difference.
Yes, you have done enough today.

Sorry if it seems silly, but if YOU cannot believe that you matter, no one else will be able to convince you of it.
It is often so easy for us to say these things to others, but so hard to say them to ourselves. Even if you don’t believe what you are writing, pick something that you would like to hear, that you would like someone to say to you. Say it to yourself. Put it in writing and let it be a part of your day today. Just for 24 hours. It can’t hurt.

with love,
and looking around for my Post-It notes,
Laurie

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

Kindness: Start here

by lclarcq on January 11th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Musings

kindness 1

This is a wonderful time of year to be kind. The December holidays are over. The Valentine’s Day commercials have already begun (and not everyone is excited about that.) In some parts of the country (mine), it is cold (highs of 10-20 degrees last week) and dreary and even when the sun is out, it has set long before dinnertime. It is also a very popular time for giving exams. Gee….does it get any better than that?

The first person to be kind to is….yourself.

I know, I know…who does that?

I confess, I’m horrible at it. (But remember, I often write these posts for myself!) But I do know that it is wise. I have found out that it is necessary. If you don’t, nature will do it for you.

Look around you. The flu is everywhere. So are colds, infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and a number of other infectious little goodies.

This week will probably have its share of germy opportunities and stressful situations. More than its share probably!!

Try to do one kind thing for yourself every day. Just one. Any of these would do:

Go to bed early one night.
Drink a soothing hot drink that you love.
Or a cold one. ;o)
Use hand lotion.
Use Chapstick.
Drink a large glass of water.
Eat a piece of dark chocolate.
Bite into a beautiful piece of fruit.
Look at a favorite work of art for a few minutes.
Bring a favorite photo into work.
Take a deep, deep breath.
Cuddle under a blanket.
Leave the paperwork at school. Just once. It’s ok. I promise.
Smile at yourself EVERY TIME you see yourself in the mirror/window.
Hug someone who will hug you back.
Light a candle. (and don’t forget to put it out)
Bring a stuffed animal, or a real one, to bed with you.
Take a 5 minute walk. Anywhere.
Stretch.
Sing really loud to the radio/Cd/whatever.
Hold a hairbrush and use it as a microphone.
Watch a ridiculously stupid-funny video.
Call a friend.
Google “really awful puns”
Wear something you really, really, really love.

Not so hard, right?
I”ll do it if you will. :o)

with love,
Laurie

Do You Use TPRS? Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.

by lclarcq on January 4th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Curriculum and Planning, Sharing CI/TPRs, Teacher Training, TPRS techniques, Uncategorized

Larry Ferlazzo is a high school teacher in California who hosts a very active and informative education blog. Larry asked the question: Do You Use TPR Storytelling In Teaching ESL/EFL?

so I answered. :o)

I’m sharing here so that you can see where my education journey has been. Please stay tuned to Larry for more interesting posts and questions!

Dear Larry,

I have used TPRS® in a variety of classroom situations. Some might see me as a high school Spanish teacher. I have been seen that way for over 32 years. However, I see myself as a person who helps students to learn about and navigate life using the Spanish language. (or if I am teaching English to local farmworkers..English) TPRS® (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) has been my primary approach to teaching for over 15 years.
I know that working through of lens of teaching via TPRS® has allowed me to improve my interactions with students on a daily basis, thereby increasing their abilities to comprehend and communicate in the language.

How? There is a more detailed explanation below, however, here is basically what is happening:

A. The teacher interacts (as a role model and guide) with students on a topic that students are connected to.

B. The teacher’s job is to structure the interaction so that students will acquire new language, successfully contribute to the interaction, feel valued, and ultimately have a high level of comprehension of the material.

C. The teacher believes that LANGUAGES ARE ACQUIRED through comprehensible input rather than “learned” through lessons. Because the human brain has a natural ability to understand and to develop language, teachers should make classroom conditions as ideal as possible for acquisition to occur.

On the surface, there are three “basic” steps to TPRS® :

1. Introduce any new language in context.
2. Interact verbally with students using the new language in context so that all language communication is completely comprehensible.
3. Incorporate the new language into a literacy-based activity.

Below the surface are multiple layers of understanding, interpreting and integrating:

1. The unconscious and conscious functions of the brain in the area of language acquisition.
2. How a student’s emotional state affects interaction, attitude and memory.
3. How a student’s levels of social, emotional, physical and cognitive development affect nearly everything.
4. The value of relationships in any setting, particularly educational.
5. The relationship between emotion and language.
And much more…

Keeping these layers of knowledge in mind, TPRS® teachers plan lessons using one or more of the steps and deliberately incorporate any number of specific teaching skills that most stellar teachers incorporate. It is not a big mystery; it’s simply good teaching.
Skills such as:
1. Eye contact
2. Appropriate pacing
3. Checking for comprehension
4. Constant interaction with students as a means of formative assessment
5. High-quality questioning strategies
6. Repeating, reusing and recycling information and skills
7. Asking for and encouraging responses that use higher-order thinking
8. Creating situations where students interact with each other
9. Connecting curriculum with the interests and needs of the students
10. Personalizing and differentiating instruction

I believe that TPRS® is less about “learning a language” and more about Life’s natural growth processes in the classroom, for the teacher and the students. I have been involved with the training, coaching and mentoring of teachers for over 20 years. The knowledge and skills that I work to develop as a TPRS® teacher help me to work with teachers of all disciplines.

True TPRS® instruction is about knowing what is going on below the surface, not just planning what activities are occurring on the surface.

Good TPRS® training is ongoing. No one incorporates TPRS® well after a two hour presentation, just as no one becomes a good teacher after one Intro to Education course. Each teacher using TPRS® will come to the concept, acquire the knowledge, and work on the skills in his or her own way and time.

TPRS® teaching is about being part of the educational community. TPRS® was originally developed by classroom teachers and shared by classroom teachers. It continues to evolve through the contributions of classroom teachers. TPRS® belong to coaching groups, listservs, Facebook groups, Twitter, wikispaces and more. They write numerous blogs, host websites and continually invite teachers into their classrooms to observe and to give feedback.

Every teacher using TPRS® has his/her own challenges. In an ELL/ESL classroom there is often not one native language to rely on for comprehension checks so additional teacher skills are required. Languages that do not use the same alphabet as English have different approaches to incorporating literacy in order to address that challenge. Some languages rely heavily on cognates in early instruction, while others, such as Chinese, cannot. The more that we communicate with each other, the more we help each other address our challenges.

Despite the variety of challenges, certain things remain constant:
1. Clearly comprehensible language in context
2. Scaffolded student interaction
3. Oral/aural confidence tied to literacy-based activities
4. Positive classroom relationships
5. Continued growth and development for teacher and students

Thank you for asking for input. We believe strongly in what we do. We see it change the lives of teachers and students every single day.

With love
Laurie Clarcq
http://www.heartsforteaching.com
http://www.embeddedreading.com

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.