(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,
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