Believe In Me Archived Post 11.2.11

(Originally posted 11/2/11)

I tried not to, but I have gotten pulled into Oprah’s Life Class on her new network: OWN. It’s become addictive. I haven’t signed on to the website and started my own private journal or tweeted but I find myself looking for the next show so I can learn more. I channel-surfed looking for another channel but landed back on OWN. You see, sometimes the world aligns so that you hear the absolutely perfect message.

It didn’t really start with the Oprah class. It started with the program preceding it: The Rosie Show. Another show that I didn’t really plan to watch. It was a tribute to Phyllis Diller. I was too tired to move and just let it play. Until Phyllis spoke about a comedian who gave her a compliment when she first started her career. She said, ‘For the first time, someone that I believed in, believed in me.” And Rosie repeated “Sometimes that is the turning point, when someone you believe in, believes in you.”


As adults we have two jobs. In order to be a person that can better the lives of children is to a) Be someone a child can believe in. b) Believe in the child.

That woke me up and tuned me in. And kept me so focused that I stayed awake to watch the next Oprah class…which…as God or the universe…..whichever you prefer….would offer…is about

The last hour has been so aha-producing that here I am writing a post before it is even over. It started with a quote by Toni Morrison. A question actually. She asked, “When a child walks into the room, do your eyes light up? Does that child know that you care that he or she exists?”

Now there is this man talking to his abusive parents (who aren’t there but his wife is standing in to be a person who actually hears him). Listen to the things he says :

“You didn’t have children because you wanted children. You had children because you thought they would make you happy. We can’t and now you punish us every day. We are not people to you. We are just one more thing that you hate and you can punish us for it.”

Oh my. How much of the reason that we do our job is because we love how being good at a language makes us feel? How important is it that our students “respect” us by following our rules(write in black pen, don’t hand in pages ripped out from a spiral notebook, don’t be absent on test day)? How bent out of shape do we get when a pep rally or field trip or Honor Society induction get our perfectly constructed schedule out of whack? How frustrated do we get when they don’t do homework, fail tests or don’t come in for extra help because it destroys everything we’ve tried to do? Or did we get into teaching because we truly love our students?

Is teaching about us? Or is it about them?

If I’m being honest.

Then I have to ask myself… Do I communicate my joy in my students and in teaching? Or, am I transferring my own frustration about not being seen and heard as an educator to my classroom?

Am I, while I am in front of my students, forgetting to put people before points and relationships before data?

I think it can be very easy for our students to become the targets of our own anger, about situations that they have no control over, because they are our captive audience. Sometimes there is a fine line between keeping them informed of how the world works and keeping them informed about how the world works us.

“What I need is for you to teach me how to love. How to show love, how to receive love, how to appreciate love. Show me how to treat other people with respect. Show me how to make other people feel precious. I want to be able to do that but I just don’t have any idea how. All I know is what you show me.”

What if, just what if, I am the only adult that will hear this message from a child? What if, just what if, I am the only adult he or she might be willing to listen to about this kind of learning? Am I there? Am I doing what I need to do?

Do I hear my students asking, “Do you believe in me?”

And what answer do my actions give?

Thanks Ms. Diller. Thanks Rosie. Thanks Ms. Morrison. Thanks Oprah.

with love,

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Relationships Not Candy Archived Post 10.25.11

(Originally posted 10/25/11)

This was written in response to request from a teacher who had written her with classroom management struggles. The teacher felt that her best day had been when she brought in candy as a reward. She didn’t want to continue that practice, but was desperate to find something that works.

My heart goes out to anyone struggling with classroom management. At one time we have all had a group or groups that made us want to tear our hair out…..and praying for the magic formula to make a group ‘work”….or at least not be the stuff our nightmares are made of. We try any number of approaches…..including attempts to win them, or at least their behavior, with rewards like candy. If you haven’t been there, at least once, you’ve lived a blessed teaching life.

There is no magic bullet, no simple answer, but this teacher and I can tell you that candy is not the answer. Candy works only when it makes a rare occurrence…..and it is presented as a gift. “I thought about you today and brought this to show you my appreciation of your spirit and willingness to be a part of this class.” This is love. This has nothing to do with classroom management.

When candy is a reward it can lead to an ever-escalating “Me me !!” situation. What happens when a teacher can not afford candy, when the principal says no candy, when students start to get angry because it isn’t their favorite candy, etc.? In my case it turned into bitter and angry and resentful feelings IN ME!!! because they were ungrateful….when in reality I had set them, and myself, up for it by bribing.

Classroom management is so hard. It once was governed by clear rules and boundaries, parental and administrative support, and a general respect for the institution and adults.

None of those things are guaranteed today and it truly is about the relationships in the classroom.

THE most influential relationship is the relationship that each student has with him/herself. If the student values himself enough to want to have self-control (even if it is hard to attain) the student has the most valuable tool in the toolbox.

The most important relationship in our classroom is our relationship with our students. Whenever possible treat them with love, with love, with love. When we do that, and make our decisions because of that, everything else comes much more easily. When students know that a teacher cares about them, more than anything else, they are willing to collect and use tools in the toolbox. Caring about our students will not, however, eliminate our challenges.

The next most powerful relationship is between the student and the language. When that is strong and positive, discipline problems virtually disappear. But that takes time, and the erasing, for many students, of many years of negative conditioning about school and language “study.” That is why, as Susie so often says, “Success is the best motivator.” They need to know, and to see, that their tools, and skills work!

The next most powerful is the relationship between the students themselves.

Again, they come to us with their own histories and we must handle what already exists. We could try to make them “behave” a certain way because they like us as teachers, but in middle school and high school, the opinion of peers FAR FAR FAR outweighs the opinion of any adult. What we can do is to establish very clear boundaries about the language, facial expressions, gestures and interactions that we believe will help to create a positive relationship among our students.

The least important relationship is the one between the teacher and the language. Sadly, in many rooms around the world this is the strongest relationship in the classroom. Our passion for the languages and cultures so dear to our hearts is a lovely thing….but it is OURS. Not our students’.

It should be our tool that we use to help strengthen the relationships above.

How does this help with classroom management? Make a list of what you do as a teacher to “manage” your classes. Which category do they fall into? The most energy and effort should go into the first two categories….finding ways to connect students with the language (using CI +P) and helping students to be safe with each other. By conducting ourselves in the most caring, professional way possible in the relationship with have with our students, and by not letting our own interests in a topic erase our efforts to connect kids with language, with each other and with us …we can really improve our classes.

In time. In our own way. In small steps. In a way that allows for dignity.

With patience. With optimism. With appropriate boundaries. With consequences.

By being honest. By being appreciative. By being kind. By being responsive.

and never, ever giving up,

with love,

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Grading Questions Archived Post 8.14.11

(Originally posted 8/14/11)

The questions:
We live in the reality of having to produce a grade. How do you grade your students?What does your grade represent?

My answer:
First, grading has to fulfill the district, building and departmental requirements…especially in larger

In my program, we have a few requirements that are outside of my control ie how much each marking period is weighed, whether or not to give midterms and finals and how those exams are weighed. I worry about what I do have control over.

1. I give a quiz every Thursday. I do NOT tell students what is on the quiz. The purpose of the
quiz is for me to evaluate where students are so that I can plan for the following week. IF 80 % of the students achieve an 80 % or higher, I put the grades in the gradebook. If not, I don’t. The quiz may take 10 minutes or 40, depending on how much information I require. (they usually average 15…I hate to give up interaction time!)

This gives me between 6-10 quiz grades per marking period. I vary the quizzes so that at least three skills: Reading, Writing and Listening are evaluated at least once per marking period. Speaking evals are included in Levels 3 and 4.

2. I collect at least two assignments per week…FROM WORK WE HAVE DONE IN CLASS. This could be adding details to a story, a written translation, a picture drawn from a reading, a poem written from lines of a song or any number of different activities.

3. I usually have 1 homework assignment per week that I collect and mark as a 0, 50, 75 or 100.

4. Once each marking period, especially in the upper levels, students have a short “project” to complete: The requirements are broker down into steps and credit is given for each step completed. It may have an output component but always involved some form of input as well. (I’ll try to post some of these later ….)

This actually gives me at least 20 “grades” in the book for each student per marking period. I have tried all kinds of weighting systems only to find that none of them really makes a difference. I simply total them all (they are out of 100) and divide by the number of grades. If a “project” was really involved I will simply put it in twice. j

I put as little emphasis on grades as possible. I don’t go over tests/quizzes/homework in class.


I will discuss things with students after school. My quizzes often involve choice: Here are 15 sentences,…illustrate or translate any 10. If I have planned well, conducted classes well, written quizzes well and designed projects well…it all leads to acquisition.

It does take some students (and parents) time to adjust to not knowing their own personal “point value” at every given moment. If it is extremely stressful for an individual, I will encourage him/her to meet with me after school and we go to Quia or another online format that fills that need for evaluation and quantitative feedback By the end of the first marking period however, they see that their grades are high and that they have really acquired a great deal of language and success.

It works for me. Keep asking questions about what is not clear…

with love,

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What Really Matters Archived Post 8.14.11

(Originally posted 8/14/11)

The final piece of the puzzle is to continually focus on my students as people who are acquiring language, not students fulfilling requirements under my watch. I do not need to know all of the personal details of their lives, but I do try to remember that they have lives. In a few short years, they will be out in the world working with my future grandchildren, helping my generation to pay for retirement, defending our country, earning a living and each of them already affects a world of folks around them.

I try to remember to ….

Treat each student as if he or she has the potential to change the world.

Because they all do.

I’m not sure that that answers all of Laura’s questions, or yours…so keep in touch.

with love,

Less Homework, More Participation Archived Post 8.14.11

(Originally posted 8/14/11)

In the last 5 years I have required less and less homework…and instead grade all in-class assigments.

Inspired by research and exhausted by the battles which always seem to accompany homework, I have chosen to actively and clearly offer as little as possible. When I give homework (usually one day per week if it is a 5 day week) I make sure that it is accessible from the Internet and easy to do without help.

My students have NOT learned nor acquired any less. In fact, they spend MORE time outside of class using Spanish. They actively listen to music and watch programs in Spanish or read online in Spanish because it interests them. Yes…even in my little rural district. Parents often report siblings speaking to each other in Spanish at home.

By de-emphasizing homework I have eliminated several things:

a) an ENORMOUS battleground where no one ever won a battle nor a war.

b) frustration over who did it and who didn’t.

d) students entering class a failure before class even starts.

I can also frequently remind students that when we use class time well, I can continue to keep homework to a minimum.

Now, before TPRS, this really didn’t seem possible. What progress students made, they made because of the ‘memorization’ that took place via those assignments. Homework really appeared to make the biggest difference in gains.

With TPRS, those output activities are just a little decorative icing on the cake. A little goes a long way. It may go “against’ the “traditional” approach….but it has been working for my students for over a decade, so I’m sticking with it!

with love,

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Class Contract Archived Post 8.12.11

(Originally posted 8/12/11)

A reader asked a number of great questions on a post where I wrote about NOT using participation points. I will try to address some of them here.

How do you get there?
Which system do you have that replaces participation points that works?
How do you deal with discipline (attitude, absences, English)?
Which is the social contract you have with your students and parents?
How did you reach this social contract?
How do you enforce the rules that make daily living (la convivencia) possible?

Below is the contract that I created to address these issues. When I have an administration that requires a signature, I’ll collect that. Our Dean of Students and Principal have a copy. A copy is on my website and a copy is sent home to parents.

The key to this, however, is taking time the first week of school to address each point below:

Your Rights and Responsibilities

1. You have a right to be treated as an individual who interesting, capable, and important.
You have a responsibility to treat others the same way.

2. You have the right to a positive learning environment every day.
You have the responsibility to learn and accomplish something positive every day.

3. You have the right to be informed about the academic and personal goals of this course and your progress towards
those goals.
You have the responsibility to complete the class work and homework designed to help you achieve these goals and to monitor your progress.

4. You have the right to communicate with me in a respectful and appropriate manner about issues that affect you in class or in this building.
You have the responsibility to communicate with me whenever you have a problem, question, or concern about issues in this class, or your achievement in this class.
You have the responsibility to communicate if you, or anyone else, is in danger of physical or emotional harm.

These are posted in the room and referred to as necessary. We address them as “new information”, one per day the first week…IN ENGLISH…along with any number of team-building and get-to-know-you activities in Spanish.

I address infractions to the above immediately and directly…although not always publicly. A one-to-one conversation often goes a long way. The first two are the most important. As the teacher,

I have the final say if there is disagreement on what kind of behavior falls “outside of the lines”. I briefly mention and discuss “boundaries” so that students understand that there is a need to have lines drawn for appropriate/inappropriate behavior.

What we allow, we encourage.

The first few weeks with a new teacher, it is the students’ job to find out exactly what that teacher will allow. For example: talking when the teacher is talking, writing on other students and/or their belongings/desks etc., arriving late to class, not engaging in class activities, pretending to not know anything, sarcasm, mean remarks, making fun of others, inappropriate clothing, not doing homework, passing notes, texting, eating and drinking in class………………………………………..

I don’t take it personally when students test the boundaries. As adolescents, that is what they are wired to do. They want to know how I will handle trouble when it comes. They need to know that they can trust me to keep the classroom a safe place. Ironically, it is the “troublemakers” that need to know this the most. Many of them are extremely bright and knowing where the boundaries are is how they function. Many of them have learned survival skills outside of the classroom and want to know from the beginning which of those skills they will need to survive this venue. Some of them have a reputation to uphold. If I am consistent about the rules, their classmates will not look to them to act up. If I am NOT consistent, then it becomes their role to see what I’ll be like today. They learn by watching adults….and each other. Adults who are inconsistent become playthings and entertainment. I let them know up front that we have other things to do.

So…Step 1: The Rules and Responsibilities

Step 2: Identify the Boundaries and Stand Firm

Step 3: Offer the Better Option….Calmly.

Step 4: “Conduct” the Class

I tell students that this class is much like a band/chorus/orchestra and I’m the Maestro. I literally “conduct” the class. They need to follow my words, facial expressions, gesture etc. and respond appropriately. The first piece we learn is the “Signal” (check out the post below)


I take my job as Maestro seriously and choose my activities (pieces) carefully based upon the strengths, interests and abilities of the students. From Day 1, I make it clear that I have chosen everything for THEM. Not because it is next in the book, what the other classes are doing, I think it’s cool, it makes me look good or another group liked it. For THEM. I choose activities which I know that my students will enjoy and will be successful at.

Every day for the rest of the year, I keep those rules and responsibilities in mind. I know that we will need to review them regularly.

with love,

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Think.Feel.Say.Do Archived Post 8.3.11

(Originally posted 8/3/11)

Here is a key element in our program: Creating readings/stories/conversations around THINK/FEEL/SAY/DO.

In a story characters will THINK, FEEL, SAY AND DO things. The first structure is something that Earl SAYS, “I need to tell you something.” The beauty of it is that it immediately implies a feeling. Earl NEEDS to. AND a future action: TELL. This is a seriously powerful structure.Not all structures are this powerful…especially in the lower levels. For example, I choose the structure “wants to eat”. That is what Earl FEELS. It will help things flow if my next structure is not about feeling. So I could choose….

Earl wants to eat.

If I need to park on “wants to” I can stay there for a long long time…but if I want to move on (for any number of reasons) I need to pick another structure.

THINK Earl thinks about his favorite food………….or

FEEL Earl is really hungry………..or

DO Earl goes to SuperWalmart……….

ALL of which are now connected to the first structure and make sense. Truthfully, teaching beginning students is such a challenge. Their language pool is pretty shallow…it’s hard to dive in deep!! Using the THINK, FEEL, SAY, DO model really helps.

with love,

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How Do I Plan? Archived Post 4.2.11

(Originally posted 4/2/11)

Darn good question. I look for/try to create activities. I’ll base them on previous successes, find them on other people’s blogs and posts, borrow from a colleague’s brilliance, get an idea in the shower and I a constantly utilizing the Internet for interesting tidbits of stories, songs, headlines etc. I try to keep the majority of the activities geared toward the focus topic (like food for next marking period), but I’m not married to that. I keep this checklist in my head and review it to verify four things:

a) Is this activity GOOD CI or unavoidable output?

b) Is this activity going to connect with my students?

c) Is this activity connected to a function or too powerful to ignore?

d) Is this activity helping my students to develop/work on a variety of these functions/skills?

If so, then it is probably a worthwhile way to spend classroom time. Then I get feedback from the students. Sometimes it is feedback that I just observe; although I have learned to give an activity two or three tries before abandoning it. Some ideas just need to catch on. :o) However many times, because the students have gotten used to how I work, they speak right up. How long are we going to do this? Can we do more tomorrow? We’re not done with this are we? Can we do this again? And yes…I do get constructive criticism as well!!Is it standards-based? Yes….look at the functions…they hit all of the standards. But the functions work better for the way my mind works.

How do I plan long-term? Well…the same way anyone does. I put my plans on the computer.

Then I have the privilege of deciding whether what I planned five months ago has any bearing on where my students are now and what they need. If it does…proceed! If not…adapt!! Planning long-term gets my goals in order. Teaching short-term gets my students connected to the language. I need a little of the former and a lot of the latter.

How do I evaluate? Like I’ve always evaluated. By skills. Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking.

How do I fit in all of the topical vocabulary? I don’t. No one does. If they say that they do ,then they are doing one of more of the following:

a) Providing lists and asking students to work with them outside of class in some way.

b) Using too many of them too quickly for any significant long-term retention to occur.

Hence the never-ending frustration of “teaching” students who never remember anything that you have “taught”.

So I choose a core list of words that will help them to be understood and focus on those as production tools first. (another post….)

The truth is (I seem to be writing that phrase a lot this week!!) that IN REAL LIFE a variety of vocabulary occurs. So believe it or not, the organic nature of language provides what they need.

It really does. I am beginning to see this more and more. I am also able, in the level 2/3 to play a little bit with language. For example in this last marking period we did several activities using a huge list of cognates that end in -ion. Short activities that affirmed their ability to recognize and use cognates. It really was a confidence booster for them and I have seen these words appear over and over again in the students’ work.

Hope that helps a little bit…

With love,

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A Theme Emerges Archived Post 4.1.11

(Originally posted 4/1/11)

My goal this year was to incorporate aspects of the U.N. document of Human Rights. What emerged was an unexpected theme. When “planning” this year, I have tried to think in terms of 10 week marking periods instead of units. It has really helped me to pull things together and yet provides some latitude for playing with the language. At this point, nearly three-quarters of the way through the year, I am looking back to see where we have been, and where I would like us to go:

The first marking period my student teacher (¡Hola Famoso!) and I centered on the theme of work. We started with what they knew how to discuss: school work, sports practice, music practice, play practice. This helped us to get to know what the students were involved with this fall. Here are a few of the structures that we worked on: had to, had the desire to, forgot to, will, planned to, therefore, Because this group is old enough to have had summer jobs, we then carried over the structures and dove into the work world.

We did this using stories in class and using the book El Trabajo de Roberto. I liked the fact that Roberto’s story also dealt with family relationships which a) is always a part of what we deal with and b) made the story more than one-dimensional. It will be a couple of years before I really like what I am doing with that book, but so far, so good.

In the midst of the marking period we got caught up in the story of the Chilean miners. It gave us so much to work with!!!! We could touch on types of work, worker safety, co-workers, working conditions and so much more. I actually had songs on tap, readings on tap, articles on tap….all of which got set aside because of the amount of great stuff available!! What emerged this marking period was an idea about working hard and never giving up. (cue the Luis Fonsi music please: Yo

No Me Doy Por Vencido)Early in the fall I found the Discovery Channel Amazing Race. ..perfect for the Travel focus I was hoping for for the second marking period. Truthfully, I could have easily built and entire year on that piece….the segments had my students riveted!! Little by little they got hooked on the adventure and most of all the couples and their relationships. The father and son team of Edison y Edison was the favorite and we all practically went into mourning and refused to watch the rest when they were eliminated!!! From a teaching perspective, everything you could ever want was available to talk about: losing passports, planes, trains and automobiles (taxis, trams and metros), hotels and tourist attractions.

And the unexpected theme persisted: Face your obstacles and never give up!

This marking period we have been focusing on the environment. There is just so much information out there for us to read and use that it has been hard to narrow it down. Because I work better with an organizational structure of some kind, I chose to bring in a project. Now projects are tricky. Projects tend to be output-motivated. So my challenge was to pour as much input to the output as I could. The project has been to create a book about an environmental Superhéroe.

I’ve tied in a series of stories about our Science department and their secret identities (the League of SuperScientists), several songs (El Progreso by Roberto Carlos is my favorite), articles from and have danced around field trips, assemblies and the like. One level watched

The Tale of Desperaux (the hero theme AND the upcoming food theme) and the other group is about to see Fern Gully. The creation of the book has been a input then output activity (but that is another post…) So now we have a bulletin board full of books to read about a Superhero, a Supervillian and an adventure. And the theme continues: Earth matters….so treat it right andnever give up!!

Now here comes marking period number four. My original plan was for Food!! I figured that this was a topic sure to hold their attention even as the sun appeared. And it will…it would…but let’s see what develops…nothing has really played out as I originally planned so far…so I know that there are still unexpected and wonderful things ahead for the last few weeks.

And then there is that underlying and every-emerging theme: Never Give Up. I’m not seeing the food connection right now but I’m sure that it will come. Now how has that theme become a planning tool?

1. Vocab and structures:

a. Verb phrases like these: try to_______, should________, must_________, has to_______, refuse to _______________, plan to_____________, realize that___________,stop ___________ing, ___________again, able to overcome, has just survived, etc..

b. Adverbial phrases like this: without stopping, without a doubt, with courage, with hope, carefully, Un/fortunately, without knowing the reason, upon arriving at the scene, according to the victim, etc.

c. Key vocabulary like this: challenge, goal, decision, development, leader, partner, skill, ability, achievement/accomplishment, support, let go, change, surrender, vanquish, conquer, etc..

2. Material choice:

When I see a video, hear a song, read an article, choose a book etc. I keep the Never Give Up theme in mind. How does this connect? What lessons does it hold for students?

3. History and Culture:

There is so much out there to choose from. Having a theme has really helped me to narrow in on pieces that fit the theme. It makes the art/music/event more memorable for the students. The bishop did not believe at first that Juan Diego had actually spoken with The Virgen. Why would Frida Kahlo paint so many self-portraits? Why did Justo pursue a career singing to students? How can immigrants overcome prejudice? How many different tunnels did the Chileans try to drill?

4. Grammar goals:

Depending on your needs, there are many, many ways to go here (if you need to do that for your district, yourself, your students): I’ve spent a lot of time this year working with the past tenses….we have used so many stories! There have been repeated opportunities to use the future and conditional tenses…and it naturally leads to use of the subjunctive as well. Many of the“focus” verbs have reflexive forms so students have gotten a lot of practice in that regard as well.

Now I just have to keep the theme in mind as we roll towards the end of the year!!! Never Give Up!!

With love,

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Are They Ready? Archived Post 4.1.11

(Originally posted 4/1/11)

I am trying to step back and take a look at how the Level 2/3 curriculum has evolved this year. Did it center itself around a theme or concept? Were the students able to connect with the activities intellectually and emotionally? Was I able to utilize enough high frequency structures? How well did the students acquire them? Was I able to meet the varied needs of the students? Are they confident in their growing language skills? And yes….how will they do on the NYS Regents exam?

I’ll start with what I know about the last one first. Both the 2s and the 3s took a Regents exam for the Listening/Reading sections of the (Writing is not one of my worries!) midterm. I did not modify the Level 3 exam at all. Everyone passed. The majority scored at the mastery level. Unless they have a really bad day or the test is horrific, there should be no need to worry on that account. The

Level 2 exam was modified in the following way: The long reading passages were chosen because they were similar to topics that this group was familiar with. I also restructured the set up so that the multiple choice questions were located directly under the associated paragraph . Usually all of the questions are located at the end of the 4-6 paragraph( 1-1/2 page) reading. All of the students who have been our program for at least a year passed the midterm as well, with more than half scoring above an 85.

I try not to fret too much about the vocabulary. (okay…try is the operative word there!!) I’ve been going over tests and looking at vocabulary that tends to reoccur. I want to include these words when I can without teaching to the test….

This month the Level 3s and I will be working with the Speaking section. The truth is that in regular, natural conversation the kids are fine. I want to be sure that they understand the rules of the Regents Speaking “game” and how to play to win. I’ll try to keep you posted.

I can take very little credit for the success of this group. They were Patty R’s students for Level 2 and came so prepared to Level 3!! I can only hope every one of the signs up for Level 4…I really enjoy them!!

with love,

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