Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why give awards?

This is a departure from the norm for me. This is definitely a post that shares how I am feeling at this exact moment.

This has been a tough year. I am questioning what is going on in my class and looking to improve my game. The curriculum needs a rehash, so I haven´t been posting about the classroom as much this year. I have had many challenging kids, and frankly a part of me has been wondering if I am the teacher I was when I started. Then just when I was ready to chalk this year up and work on doing better next year this happened.

It started in February. It was the time of year where teachers are asked to nominate students for the STARS (Students Taking Accountability and Responsibility Seriously) awards. These are my favorite awards because they are not geared toward the super A students, or the most successful students. These awards are for students that (in my opinion) can slip through the cracks. These are those kids who have a great attitude, work hard, are kind to their peers, and just make being in the classroom a pleasure. Most years I have a student to nominate, and this year, I nominated two seniors.

Fast forward to Monday...

One of the worst things that could happen to a school - the death of a student had touched our lives. One of the young men I had nominated for the STARS award was his best friend. He was completely devastated by the loss. On Tuesday, he was visibly upset and when I took him aside, he ended up in my arms crying. It is one of the hardest things about being a teacher. What can possibly be said to comfort someone whose friend died suddenly in a senseless accident?

All week, I put myself in this students´path. I checked with his other teachers and his counselor. On Thursday, he told me that he had reached acceptance and was trying to come back from the sorrow.

Saturday morning - The funeral

What more needs to be said?

Saturday night - The awards ceremony

They really make a big deal of the awards ceremony. First, there is a dinner and then each student is interviewed, like in a talk show, by the emcee. He reads what the teacher wrote about each student and then asks them some questions. Every award winner gets their turn in the spotlight.

There are about 40 award recipients between 5 - 12 grades, so the ceremony is long. Both of the students I nominated were recognized in the first half of the ceremony.

One of the first recognized was my student who had lost his friend. He was there and tried to plaster on a smile, but it was difficult. He touched my heart though by getting through it and even winking at me during his ¨interview¨. Afterwards, his mother (who is Colombian) called me his beautiful angel and was so glad that someone had recognized how special her son was. His father, who I had sat through two years of parent-teacher conferences, who was normally a gruff, no nonsense guy, hugged me! Needless to say it was very touching. The young man told me at the end of the night, ¨I never thought I was the kind of kid that would win a school award. This has given me the self-confidence to be successful.  (To my credit, I did not cry....but I was so touched.)

The second young man I nominated is one of those really smart kids who is a bit of a smart-alack. He has been in my class for the last two years, and although is a whiz and math and science, he puts forth real effort in Spanish. I was surprised when he had continued to Spanish 4, and although he is not my best student, he is a hard worker that often surprises me with what he can do. When the emcee read what I had written about him, he turned around in his chair and stared at me like I must have him mistaken for someone else. I just shrugged and smiled. His parents were also so kind to me. They told me what a good influence I was on their boys (I have his younger brother as well), and how much they talk about me at home. Their father turned to me and just said, ¨You are really a great teacher.¨ I didn´t cry then, but I am now.

There was one other very special nominee that night, one I had to wait for until the end of the ceremony. That nominee was my daughter Kate. Kate is a freshman at my school and had decided to come to the school where I worked, not our neighborhood school. From the beginning, she has worked to make a difference in the school and she is kind to everyone. I have heard from many teachers how wonderful she is, but for her to receive this award, was confirmation for her that she had made the right choice. She was touched and surprised to be nominated. She handled her interview with poise and grace, and her father and I are so proud of her. I had never realized how wonderful these awards were for parents.....for someone to realize what we already knew.....that our kids is a great one.

For me, this has made me remember why I teach....why I get frustrated-angry-happy-mad-sad-encouraged.....and why it is all worth it. Although my students won the awards, I really felt like I was the real winner - for having the privilege of getting to know them as their teacher. So, to answer the question, ¨why give awards?¨, for me the answer is to show your students their worth and how much you care for them. And, if you are as lucky as I was last night, to receive some of that love and respect in return.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Re-energizing resources

Every once in a while, I actually get a chance to sit and read some of the great blog posts that come across my computer. There have been some really good ones lately and I thought I would share.

  1. Any post that talks about ways to boost class conversation is always a winner with me. I think that there are some great reasons to focus on memorization in the class, and incorporating more advanced phrases is at the top of the list for me. Check this one out!
  2. I am always looking for ways to work on how to better assess student communication without inhibiting their growth. Luckily, even though I can't ever seem to get to #langchat on Thursdays (or Saturday mornings) there is a great recap available. Here is the recap of the most recent chat about assessing student communication. 
  3. On a slightly different note, I love being challenged to make sure my students are not just engaged, but learning. That is why I love posts like this one. If we are not continually evaluating ourselves, it is easy to fall into the "of course it is working trap".
  4. The Free Tech for Teachers blog is one I always turn to when I am looking for more/better resources. This post is a great reminder about the wonderful tool we have in Google Earth. As I discussed in an earlier post, we are the teachers that really bring the world to our students, and Google Earth is a great way to do this. If you have never tried Google Earth, it can be a little daunting. Check out this site full of advice and tutorials. 
  5. While checking out Free Tech for Teachers, I found this great video resource for World Language teachers. 

Hope this inspire you to check out some new resources over Spring Break to re-energize for the end of the year!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My SWCOLT takeaway

Colorado was fortunate to host our regional SWCOLT conference at the end of February. Since it was hosted by my state language board, CCFLT, I was working the majority of the time. It was fantastic to see so many colleagues (I finally got to meet Amy Lenord and Don Doehla in person), see some interesting vendors and pop in on many sessions. I was fortunate to pop in to many sessions, but never got to see a session in its entirety. So, I have many things I want to explore further. I want to learn more about PBL from Don Doehla and have to find time to dedicate to reviewing his presentation. I want to learn more about OWL (they were having so much fun in that session!). There were tons of other great sessions that I was so sad to have missed out on.

But, there was one clear awesome moment for me. I had sneaked into the Avalanche room (a session where five people give 10 minute presentations and participants rotate) to check out what I could tweet about. A few minutes later, Amy Lenord came in and we began talking. We talked about the types of sessions that conferences offer and how there seems to be a lack of sessions for more experienced and frequent conference going teachers. So, this had me asking the question, What types of sessions do experienced teachers want to see? What kind of professional development can conferences offer teachers that are familiar with comprehensible input, trying to stay 90% in the TL and Can-do goals? What do I want to learn?

It is a harder question than I had originally thought it would be. How can I take what I am doing to the next level was the answer that we had come up with. I want some specific "how to" training that will show me how to better show my students not just the language, but the cultural aspects of the language. I want to be able to take comprehensible input, train the students how to derive information from it and then be able to find comprehensible input of their own. I want to be able to begin with giving my students the input and move to them finding their own input that interests them and then teaching it to all of us. Isn't that going to be more meaningful for everyone? Can't we teach vocabulary and point out grammar structures using this method? Would it give students the desire to learn, not just get through the class?

Share with me....what do you wish you could see at your conference? Comments appreciated.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Making the best of less class time - 20% time!

This last week has been a struggle for me, as I am sure it has been for many of you (or will be soon). This has been a week of standardized testing. This has turned into a completely lost week for me since 9th, 10th and 11th graders are all testing. Between kids that took the test, opted out, and just stayed home, my classes have looked like a ghost town. In hindsight I realize I should have taken this time to work individually with the students that were there (5 out of 29 in my Sp 2 classes). However, since I had missed so much of the week prior because of the SWCOLT conference and grades are due on Friday, I chose giving the kids a study hall and have been grading like my pen is on fire.

The testing has been challenging this year, and I am sure it will be a whole new ballgame when we have to do it again (yes, again) the first week in May. However, I will have a better plan when that happens. I always do my choice projects in Spanish 3 at the end of the year, but I am working on a plan for a similar project for my Spanish 2 classes as well. This way, no matter who is in class, they can be working on something for class. 

In Spanish 3, the choices are wide open for the end of the year project. They can choose anything that they want to learn more about. I believe that in Spanish 2 those students will need a bit more structure. So, I am thinking about letting them choose to expand on any topic that we have covered this year. That will give them families/friends and communities, celebrations, travel and health. These are all topics that we have covered the basics of, but there is so much to learn. 

Once the topic is chosen, Sp 3 is required to find two audio selections, two readings and write two letters as they research. Then the create a presentation for the class which includes something the students watching can do to interact with the topic. But again, I think that is quite a bit to expect from the Sp 2 students. Maybe I need to conference with each student about their topic choice and help steer them in the right direction as far as resources? Can I require my high achieving students to have more resources than the lower achieving students? Will I still require the audience participation portion of the presentation? I am trying to juggle what I would like to see with what the students can do and the amount of time they will have. 

I would love some advice from anyone who does a 20% project. (Next year, I am doing this differently and we will work on it on Fridays throughout the semester.) 

As always I will keep posting.....

PS - My PLN is the best! Check out this great idea for student created finals from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell - this is exactly what I was hoping for.