Rigor without homework? Five good reasons

I’ve been experimenting with a monumental shift in my homework policy. My original policy had been in place since I started teaching in 1993: students typically had homework Monday – Thursday nights with occasional long-term projects. When choosing and deisgining homework activities, I did almost everything right, according to the research that does exist about best practices in homework: it was not busy work; it was clearly related to both the content of the lesson in class and the objectives on which students would be assessed later; it was not excessively long; and students had access to a variety of resources to help them complete it. Everything was right…except that there is mounting research that homework has no effect on student achievement.

In mid-fall, I made a paradigm shift and did away with virtually all of my homework assignments (see earlier post). Now that I have been working without regular homework for several months, it is time to analyze, reflect and decide if this approach is proving valuable for teaching and learning. And the answer is a resounding yes–yes it is valuable.

That is not to say that there haven’t been some difficulties along the way. The biggest issue is that it now takes me longer to complete the teaching, practice, reflection cycle with my students because almost all of the practice now has to fit into classtime (and because I’m still not ready to completely “flip” my instruction and have my students try to teach themselves at home….more on that in a separate post). So it appears we are going much slower than in the past.

But that is it. The only negative. The only “con” to this approach. Are there benefits? Absolutely.

  1. Students are completing almost 100% of the practice activities now. Before, some students (the “best” students) did all of the practice. Now ALL students are doing  ALL of the practice. Research shows that the majority of students don’t choose to “neglect” homework, but rather that they don’t complete it because they don’t think they understand the material well enough to bother trying. By doing the work in class students can get immediate assistance from their peers or from me. This minimizes their mistakes in general, it almost eliminates fossilization of errors, and it maximizes quality practice that reinforces correct usage/application of the content in their brains.
  2. Assessment scores have increased across the board. My current students are scoring higher than ever on their various assessments (and I’ve been teaching for 23 years). Although this is not a scientific study, I do have some basis for comparison since I actually teach the same students year after year. This is one of the joys and benefits of teaching French: I love how well I know my students and the community that develops within our room as relationships are given the opportunity to grow over several years.
  3. Students are asking for help more often and students are also serving as in-class resources, helping each other. I’ve always had my students sit in groups. This is a language class after all, and I would like their speaking environment to be as natural as possible. I always thought the students would help each other and that would be a side benefit of seating them in groups, but this is the first year that such peer-to-peer assistance has been commonplace. Better still, the students are learning about each others’ strengths, and I’ve heard all of my students contribute positively to the success of at least one other student by helping–no matter how “low” the student may appear to be.
  4. When students complete independent practice, they are ready to do it at home, without their peers or teacher nearby–and they are still getting it right! I don’t assign as much of this as perhaps I should, and this will be an area of growth for me as I continue to work with this new approach.
  5. Students are generally more confident in class. In fact, French 3 is handling authentic literature with a degree of comfort and enthusiasm I have never seen before!

Too often, the homework assigned is busy work or it is students being expected to teach themselves. And even when the homework is relevant, it is often assigned too early in the learning process, which leads to many students feeling like it is pointless to even try the activity. Students need “guided practice”, which means that they need opportunities to practice (and play) with new material with the support of teachers, aides and peers before they can progress to “independent practice.” Guided pracitce is typically what is assigned for homework, often in a worksheet format. Most guided practice activities have only one right answer. We know that we need to move students away from this and towards open-ended, independent practice. But that doesn’t mean we skip guided practice: it is an essential part of the learning process. The students’ success with guided practice activities are the barometer by which we (and the students themselves) judge whether or not they are ready to work more actively and deeply with the material outside of the confines of our rooms and the support structures of our presence.

Still so far to go

For this post, I think my recent communications with a colleague and subsequent posts (and related comments) on social media will speak for themselves.

Let’s begin at the beginning with this email thread….names removed (except my own), of course.

From: Teacher A
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 3:28 PM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher B
Subject: Foreign language required for graduation

Hi, Teacher B and Nicole:

Our district is in the process of writing new graduation requirements.  Our school would like to know if you are in favor of making foreign language a requirement for graduation.

Thanks,
Teacher A

From: Nicole Naditz
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:55 p.m.
To: Teacher A, Teacher B
Absolutely!!! If we are serious about preparing students for work and citizenship after high school, language and cultural studies must become a part of the curriculum. And if our district is serious about the 21st century skills as adopted in our strategic plan, then graduation requirements should be established that provide students with the curriculum necessary to meet those skills (world languages are listed as second, only behind English, in terms of core subjects in the 21st century skills adopted in our district. Additionally, those skills documents call out cross-cultural awareness as a key skill needed by our business and industry and world language classes are one of the only places this happens).  I have plenty of data and research to back this up.

I sent a follow-up almost immediately…

_______________________________________
From: Nicole Naditz
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:57 PM
To: Teacher A, Teacher B
Subject: RE: Foreign language required for graduation

However, if we actually establish a requirement for two years, for example, we need to honor and recognize those  students who are already bilingual. While we should encourage them to start on the road to multilingualism, they should not end up feeling “punished” because they are already fluent in English and another language.
Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz

And now, the “debate” on the issue begins. Except, my colleague doesn’t really debate the issue. Her arguments revolve solely around the fact that she (and she is not the only one, unfortunately) simply does NOT want to have to teach everyone. As long as world languages aren’t required, she and others will keep having a fairly select group of students. Hmmm. I didn’t think that’s what we were talking about, but I’ll let you decide for yourselves. Here is the thread of our “debate.”

_________________________________________________________________________________

From:Teacher B
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:47 PM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher A
Subject: RE: Foreign language required for graduation

We have discussed this many times in the past. Although it seems to be a good idea for our job security it may be disastrous for our classes. Can you imagine all students having to take a language?  I don’t know about your school but it seems like we are already lowering our standards and rigor to accommodate different levels of students. I think we would have to add lower academic Conversational classes in the mix and possibly Honors level for university bound. Would love to join in on any meetings you may have concerning this.

________________________________________

Hi Teacher B,

I knew we would disagree on this, and we both feel equally strongly.

I’m not thinking about my job security (I probably wouldn’t be a French teacher at all if I was). I’m also not thinking about lowering my standards or anyone else’s. I’m thinking about our students and our role to prepare them for work and citizenship. Business leaders have been quite clear: schools are NOT providing them with employees who have language and cultural skills and they are not equipped to do that; they count on schools to do that, including K-12 because not all jobs/fields require a college degree. We still have a large percentage of students who go from HS to work. Literally 200,000 Americans are denied jobs every year because they lack the language skills the company seeks and those jobs are across sectors and education levels. The companies are then forced to give the jobs to native speakers and pay for them to be relocated to the U.S.

World languages already ARE a requirement in many, many districts, many of which have a much higher “at-risk” population, including the district of our national language teacher of the year 2007 (from Natomas). She and her colleagues in Spanish don’t lower their standards–they teach for proficiency and give students the tools to be successful.

We in SJUSD do the same for our students now. Why are we thinking we can’t teach students? We have all answered a calling to teach students and prepare them for the future–not just teach the cream of the crop or just the ones who select our classes. I think our district language teachers are quite skilled. I encourage anyone to visit my class. Differentiating to meet the needs of learners does NOT mean lowering standards.

Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz
________________________________________

Then, Teacher B decided to provide “data” to prove her point that world languages are not appropriate as a graduation requirement. By the way, Teacher A and B are also both language teachers. In the email thread she sent me as proof, I do have to give her credit for attempting a bit of advocacy for world language education. But only a little bit!

Here goes….

From: Counselor
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:15 AM
ta spot first period

I have a sophomore, (name removed) who injured himself and is unable to remain in P.E. first period. Does anyone have a need for a ta? Please let me know if you could utilize some help.

Thanks,
Counselor

From: Teacher B
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:57 AM
To: Counselor
Subject: Re: student in need of ta spot first period

How about a real class like Spanish 1, 1st period.

[Thank you, teacher B for suggesting a valuable option that will provide him with more learning experiences than being a TA]

From: counselor
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013 9:33 AM
To:Teacher B
Subject: RE: student in need of ta spot first period

Sure. But, not sure that this student is up for that. I can suggest it to him though!

[It should be noted that this is a block school, so although the date is January, the Spanish one class to which the teacher refers just started three weeks ago.]

And then, her coup de grace, the whole reason she feels she has proven her case. This message to me about why she forwarded this thread.

From: Teacher B
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 10:32 AM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher A
Subject: FW: student in need of ta spot first period

Hi Nicole,
Interesting that I just received this e-mail from the counselor.  Please read from bottom to
top. [Note to reader: I have already fixed the order.] I always promote Spanish, but even the counselors would not put just everyone in
a language.
Teacher B

And, finally. My reply to Teacher B:

Hi Teacher B.

Thank you for giving this serious consideration. The dialog is good for all of us.

I still believe students should be given the opportunity to meet the gamut of standards we have in place for success after high school. That doesn’t mean I’ve never had a student fail at semester. I had two students drop F at semester, but that was after substantial effort on my part to work with them and their counselors and parents to meet their needs–the students themselves did not reciprocate. That said, this is the first year I’ve had drop Fs.

On the other hand, I can give several counter examples for every year that I have taught of students whom the counselors actually fought to keep out of language (but parents and myself prevailed and got them enrolled in language classes). They were being denied access because of their grades in other classes and now, they are A or B students in French. No one should be making generalizations about a students’ aptitude. I prefer to their work in the actual course speak for itself.

I still feel we are doing the a disservice if we refuse to even try. And, we have many, many examples of districts and schools who have for years required language for graduation. We can look at their practices and their results. I don’t believe “disastrous” is used by their teachers to describe their situation or they would have abandoned the practice. I would encourage you to talk to Christine Lanphere about how it works in Natomas–almost 95% free-reduced lunch, majority non-white, and yet the expectation to receive a high school diploma is (and has been) two years of language. [I must insert a correction here: I later found out that Natomas requires one year of language, not two; however it is a graduation requirement]. In fact, I share your concern about rigor and standards; we have the lowest standards for graduation now (compared to Natomas, Sac City, Elk Grove and others) because WE don’t have language requirement. Who’s watering down?

Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz

This email conversation made me so sad…are we still so naive and self-centered in our thinking when it comes to discussing educational issues. Well…rather than compose my thoughts again, I’ll let my social media feed save me a bit of time…

Post 1:

So in response to whether or world languages should be required for graduation in our district (as is already the case in most districts near us, including the two comparably-sized/population status districts), this is what one teacher wrote: ” Although it seems to be a good idea for our job security it may be disastrous for our classes. Can you imagine all students having to take a language? I don’t know about your school but it seems like we are already lowering our standards and rigor to accommodate different levels of students.” Really??? We shouldn’t consider it because you don’t want to teach everyone? Or because you don’t want to learn how to truly differentiate (the definition of which is in fact to NOT lower standards, but to design instruction that allows all students to meet and even exceed the standards)? Really? So you want to base our curriculum and our requirements on what’s easy for you and not what’s best for students? *sigh

Follow up:  In other words you want the conversation to be about your needs and not the students’. And not at all a reasoned dialog about the pros and cons of language and cultural study and the relationship between that and students’ (and employers’/communities’) needs post high school.

And another follow up:

And I see the need for debate and there a lot of factors to consider. For example, students already fluent in English and another shouldn’t feel “punished” by a language policy. But the discussion should center around data helping us make an informed decision on the issue and its impact on and/or benefit to students.
One of the great comments to this came from a former student who just arrived for a year in Paris:
 I agree. I think that is important for students to be bilingual and prepared for the professional work. Although it may seem intimidating to high schoolers, it will pay off in the long run and teachers must understand and sacrifice some time to better the future for the student. (like you Madame)! If it werent for you and Sr. Teacher [name removed], I wouldn’t have been accepted into my school abroad where everyone is bilingual and 80% trilingual. I also think some of the teachers have to consider that most countries require students to learn a foreign language at younger ages which is an even more rigorous task. A lot of selfish souls. 😦
My reply back to my lovely student:
Actually, it’s easier for young children to learn language. So, ideally, we should start younger, and have well-articulated language program that provide students really long sequences of language instruction so they achieve really high levels of achievement. And we need to consider scheduling issues: currently, with our inflexible, traditional high school schedules, students don’t have room for one more requirement. But I’m on the blended learning task force. We may one day fairly soon have options to take some classes online. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend world languages for that, but if classes that are more suited to it are offered online, students will have more flexibility in their traditional school day for others. Or …. Wait for it…. We could schedule for learning rather than convenience and really make a difference in what students can do during their education.
And so it goes. #stillsofartogo

Who is the homework for?

Homework experiment: Self-directed practice and reflection

After reading extensively about homework–best practices, pros and cons of assigning homework, and quite a bit of recent literature suggesting that teachers should forgo homework all together–I’ve decided to at last take a new look at my homework policy to see if an update would be beneficial. Almost immediately, a key question surfaced: Who is the homework for? Is it for the teachers in order to have something to put in the grade book? I don’t think so. Is it for the teachers to provide evidence of opportunities students have had to practice? I really don’t think that is the driving purpose of homework either. Is it intended to provide students with additional practice? Yes, this is part of the answer, but that’s only true if the homework is completely aligned with the learning that occurred in class and if the students actually do it! Is it for the students to supplement what is learned in class by teaching themselves new/additional material? I don’t believe so; I have never been in favor of assigning students chapters to read for homework as if that would teach them the material. If we thought that students merely needed to read in order to learn, why have teachers at all? Yet many, many teachers assign textbook “chapters” as homework, often while continuing on with their own lectures (which themselves merit being the topic of an entirely different post on this blog)  that are disconnected from the material the students are supposedly reading (and learning) at home.

Ultimately, I decided that I firmly believe that the purpose of homework is–or should be–to provide students with additional opportunities to practice and apply concepts learned in class in ways that are meaningful and useful to them. It’s not busy work and students shouldn’t be completing it just because the teacher said so. Since I have never felt that it is appropriate for teachers to expect students to teach themselves content as their homework, I have always worked carefully to ensure that the homework I assigned was aligned to our targeted objectives for that day. Nonetheless, every year, there are some students who just won’t do the homework and won’t take  advantage of my policy allowing students to make up missed homework during our weekly tutoring sessions in my room.

Although I saw a lot of good points in the literature advocating abandoning homework (allowing students to develop other avenues of interest, such as sports, volunteering or the arts; ensuring more time available for family events, lack of a statistically significant impact on learning/achievement in some studies), I am not willing to completely toss homework out of the entire learning process. So I came up with a compromise, albeit one that will require a lot more thought and reflection on the part of the students and a lot more diligence in grading on my part. As our new homework experiment plays out, I’m hopeful that this new emphasis on individualized, student-driven homework will result in greater achievement. But I’m also hopeful that this will be more respectful of each students’ learning needs. Students can choose to not do homework on the topic we are studying in class that day if they honestly don’t need any additional practice in order to understand or produce the material with high accuracy. As a result, they are free to use the time getting additional practice on other topics with which they are having difficulty, thereby helping students reflect on their own learning and learning needs.

Here’s what I gave my students today to explain the policy: 

For at least the next couple of weeks, we will be doing homework a bit differently for French 2, 3, 4, and AP.

Note: What I normally would have assigned for homework, we will now complete and discuss  in class, so you will get at least the same amount of practice, and possibly more practice than you are getting now. [Note to readers of this blog: this point is of great importance to me: it ensures that students are guaranteed at least the same amount of practice with each new concept that they would have had under the old policy, while also building in the practice time so that students who weren’t completing that practice can now have support from peers and the teacher to complete the activities. As stated in the policy, this should lead to most students actually getting more practice with this new policy than they did under my old, teacher-centered homework policy].

In addition to what is completed in class, students will create their own additional practice opportunities. Follow these directions precisely for credit:
1. Use the French class reflection and practice form that will be supplied in class. It will also be attached on the “resources” page (for all levels).
2. On Mondays, you will complete the “topics” fields so that you know what to study and practice for the week.
3. For each topic that you practice, complete all the cells in that row of the table.
4. Attach work samples as evidence of what you did, if there are any. If you say you did written practice, you must supply the evidence! If you did the work online, print a sample of your work and the score you earned, if the program gives a score. Be sure to include a “short” URL so I can see where you practiced or the online lesson you viewed.
5. Each day of the form will be stamped as will any work samples submitted
6. Ask questions in class based on the areas that caused you difficulty when you practiced the night before (you’ll record your questions on the form as part of the homework).
7. If you find good resources online, add them to our French class wiki (be sure to add them to the appropriate level, or to all levels if they provide good resources for all years of French): http://bvhsfrenchresources.wikispaces.com

[Note to readers of this blog: In order to help students focus their efforts, every day I will suggest a practice activity they could do for homework, based on what we are learning and where they are at in terms of their proficiency with the new material. They are free to choose to do something else, but the fact that I will provide some suggestions in this area is particularly important for some of my students who are less skilled in study strategies and struggle to identify useful techniques].
GRADING:
You will earn two grades for your homework:
1. Your initial homework grade will be up to 5 points for evidence of 5 days of practice, submitted on Mondays. You will earn one point for each day of evidence submitted. For most students, this will go in the “writing” category.
2. You will then receive an additional homework grade that will be determined AFTER you take assessments on the topics: you will earn the same grade for the “homework assessment” score that you earn on the quiz/test of that topic. Each skill assessed on the quiz/test will have 10 points for the homework assessment grade, of which you will earn the same percent as you score on the subsequent assessments. For example if you score 82% in reading proficiency on a quiz, you will earn 8.2 points out of 10 for your reading homework assessment grade. Speaking will be graded only on weeks leading up to oral presentations and oral assessments, when you will note how you have practiced for the speaking portion each night. If you would like to earn a higher grade after your assessment, you may come in Mondays and Tuesdays at lunch for our tutoring and practice clinics. We will go over your reflection form and the work you did, correct any errors you did not correct prior to the assessment, and determine if there are additional ways you could practice that might lead to more successful results. You will then earn full credit for the homework assessment grade and you will be eligible to retake the assessment for a higher grade as well.

[Note to readers of this blog: Every day, our “homework corrections” will involve having students share how they are practicing/studying in their groups so that they can see the strategies their peers are using. We will also go over any questions the students had while they were attempting to practice. Recording their questions/difficulties each day is an important part of their daily reflection because it ensures that they are thinking about their own learning and where they have gaps to address.]

HOW CAN I PRACTICE?

Here are some suggestions for coming up with your own practice activities in addition to the practice we will be doing in class. You might come up with other ideas.

1. Redo textbook and workbook activities writing new sentences based on the ones you already practiced. Change the subjects (for example, if sentence number 1 in exercise 2 in the textbook used “je”, redo it with “tu”). Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

2. Go over the notes and add additional examples using a variety of subjects, masculine, feminine, singular, plural. For more advanced levels, use a variety of verb tenses as well. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

3. Go online to Quizlet and play the games. Be sure to set them up so that they require you to write in French, not English. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have. You can find our flashcard sets on the “links” page of the class Web site.

4. Go online to the Website for your textbook and do the online practice (French 2 and 3, go to http://www.classzone.com; French 4/AP, go to the “Imaginez Supersite”). Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

5. Make your own flashcards for vocabulary and even for verb conjugations and then practice writing the French and checking yourself against your flash cards. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

6. Write completely original sentences using the material we are learning. Get together with another classmate to go over them and see what questions you both have. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

7. Come in before school or at lunch to practice in the classroom. You can come by yourself or with a group. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

8. Go online and look for French instruction videos made by Madame Naditz or other teachers that explain the same concepts. Watch the videos and do some written practice based on them. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

9. Go online and look for and do online French practice on our topics. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

10. Create new activities like the ones in the book and workbook and exchange them with a partner for him/her to complete. Be sure you also have an answer key.

11. There are even some places online where you can practice listening. Check the links page of my Web site or go to http://www.flagsteacher.com and go to “Resources” then click on “Resources for French”.

12. Create a three-column notes page: divide your paper into 3 columns. In left column, carefully copy 10-15 words you have trouble with. In center put the English definitions (or pictures). Fold paper so only English and blank 3rd column are visible. Look at English and try to write correct French, incl accents in 3rd column. Check your work against the first column and repeat the ones that you got wrong until you are consistently getting them right.

13. For additional listening practice that is authentic (and will NOT be tied to specific vocabulary or structures), try listening to Radio France International or France 24 online. The news reports with video provide an excellent resource since the video increases your ability to understand. You can also try reading articles from online newspapers, such as Le Figaro (http://www.figaro.fr)

3Rs…low tech

I found myself thinking about the fact that when I prepared the video on the theme of “classroom innovation” for my application for the Google Teacher Academy (as of this writing, Google has not yet notified applicants as to whether or not they have been selected), I spent almost my entire 60 seconds talking about Web 2.0 tools I use–and more importantly, my students use–in my classes. I suppose this makes sense given the focus of the teacher academies, but I began to wonder if perhaps the focus on technology caused me to fall into the same trap that so many other teachers fall into, a sort of false equation: technology + students = innovative.

Don’t get me wrong…I absolutely LOVE technology, especially the use of Web 2.0 tools to take my students’ work and perspectives out of the classroom and help them truly interact with the viewpoints and perspectives of others. I just wonder if I put too strong an emphasis on technology as a factor in innovation as opposed to technology as one of many tools to use in the innovative classroom. Furthermore, just who was being innovative in my video? The students? Myself? Or no one? When we talk about innovation in education, what’s really important?

When using Google’s “define” search parameter, the definition of “innovative” is as follows:

Adjective:
  1. (of a product, idea, etc.) Featuring new methods; advanced and original.
  2. (of a person) Introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking: “an innovative thinker”.

Where in the definition is the use of technology? Are some teachers (and others) assuming that students using technology is automatically innovative? Are other methods and approaches that don’t use technology being relegated to “less innovative” as a result? Are our students and community members also connecting innovative with technology, perhaps at the exclusion of innovative thinking or innovative creation that is accomplished without the use of Web 2.0 tools?

What makes an approach (with or without tech) innovative? How does innovation connect to “rich, relevant and rigorous”? The definition above helps with the first question: New methods, advanced, original, creative. Of course, that makes me wonder if anything I do is truly innovative. I don’t think I do anything that’s new….I strive to apply the best methods, activities, and assessments to my instruction at all times. I keep my eyes open to ideas, resources, and strategies that may not normally be associated with world language teaching, but they are ultimately ideas, resources and strategies that others have proposed.

Perhaps the subject-specfic skills maps from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills can be of some assistance in pushing forward the conversation on innovation in the classroom. Although the use of a variety of technologies and media is reference throughout the world language 21st century skills map, a quick look at the “then and now” page, highlights the truly “supporting role” nature of technology.

Technology plays a key role, but not the only role, in the rich, relevant and rigorous 21st century classroom

Many of the characteristics listed in how languages are taught in the best classrooms “today” coincide with strategies associated with “innovative” teachers and programs: assessment for learning; authentic assessment for audiences beyond the classroom and the teacher; interdisciplinary instruction, practice and assessment; instruction that is truly crafted to achieve the desired results (“backwards design”), etc. Technology is an important support and media literacy is a critical skill our students need, but it’s clearly only a piece of the innovation puzzle.

The other day in my advanced French class, we analyzed the lyrics to a classic French song, watched a short film made using the song more than five decades later, and then students connected their own definitions of love (crafted using the song lyrics) to the chapters they were reading in a French novel–first after reading one of two chapters about the relationship of the two characters, and then after getting more information in the second chapter. Other than using a projector to show the video, there was no technology in this lesson.

Was it innovative? Perhaps. Using the definition above, it approached the song, the film based on the song and the novel (which was written before the song) in a new and hopefully creative way. The lesson was rich in content: not only French (as the academic content requiring students to use their linguistic proficiency to understand and respond to multiple authentic documents), but also in connections to literary analysis from their language arts classes and standards in the visual and performing arts. It was also relevant to students, all high school sophomores, juniors and seniors who have had and witnessed various types of relationships and definitions of “love”. Relevancy was further enhanced by the exploration of a theme across several decades, including one interpretation in 2004. And because the song, the film and the novel were all originally created by (and are all well-known among) native French speakers, students viewed, analyzed and discussed the same material native French speakers also experienced, thus giving the American students insight into cultural products and perspectives that monolingual English speakers cannot access. What about rigor? Linguistically, the lesson was quite rigorous: it demanded extensive application of the linguistic concepts across the years the students have been studying the language. It would have been even more rigorous if I had connected this particular lesson to an authentic assessment, but later the students will be completing a student-created museum with exhibits about the novel, its themes, and the author.

Another blogger talked about the curiosity box: a box in which he places random objects for students to use when analyzing a concept. Students pull an object out the box and must find a way to make and explain a connection between that object and the concept they are studying. I first learned about this approach several years ago. At the presentation I attended, it was called a synectic summary. Students love it–I use it to help them make and express connections between authentic art and literature, music and literature, or to create a richer, more meaningful analysis of current events from French-speaking cultures around the world. If innovation and creativity are inextricably linked, we must find more opportunities to push students’ thinking beyond bubbles, lines and text boxes, and into creativity generators, like the curiosity box. We must go beyond being innovative ourselves to help students see connections where they had never thought to look before so that they will become innovative thinkers and leaders. We can model innovation, but students must practice innovation. Technology may help, but it is not required.

Previously on my school blog….

So…here they are–all the blogs I had posted on my old blog before starting 3Rs4Teachers, complete with links to the resources I discussed. There’s a lot here. You may want to take them one at a time! 🙂
1. New online tools….free!!!So I ran across a post from the International Society for Technology in Education that links to an article about the top 10 free online tools for education. Although I was surprized that some of my favorites (such as brainshark and quizlet) weren’t on there, it was nice to see many tools I am familiar with: google docs, wikispaces, jing, and wallwisher among them.But even better, I found some exciting new tools that I can’t wait to try.

In particular, I’m hoping to find an opportunity to try “Idroo“. It is an online program that works in conjunction with Skype. It provides a virtual white board for use during the SKype call. Information that the user adds to the whiteboard is visible to all other people on the call in real time. Imagine the tutoring possibilities! Another free online whiteboard is Scribblar. I might have to try them both!

And, from Google, comes yet another addition to their already pretty impressive G-suite (my term) of online documents, calendar, etc. Now, you can gchat: talk to others and share files in real time AND save the conversations and chats for future reference.

I’m always looking for ways to enhance in-class instruction, student practice and assessment and also to provide “just-in-time” support to students when they’re not in class. With these tools, I may need to upgrade to a bigger (albeit virtual) toolbox!

Want to read the article for yourself? Check it out here: http://edudemic.com/2012/01/online-tutoring-2012/

posted 1/15/2012 2:22 PM | comment | view comments (0)

2. Faster than the speed of understandingSo we had an interesting lesson in French 2 yesterday. I was helping the students learn to talk about what they do on the weekend, and we came to the term “faire des achats“, which means “to go shopping.” Teaching this phrase really required me to also teach about the cultural perspective that underlies the phrase, however. This is because “achats” is in the word family of “acheter“, which means “to buy.”Why is that such a big deal, you ask? Well, actually, it underscores a fundamental difference between our two cultures.

As you enter almost any small store or boutique in France, you are immediately greeted with a polite hello, immediately followed by the question, “ Vous Désirez ?”

As speakers of English, you may recognize désirez…we got our word “desire”  from this French word. And therein lies the difficulty. Whereas in America, the employee would ask “May I help you?” and get either a “yes please” or “no, thank you” as appropriate answers, the French expression “Vous désirez” connotes something completely different, in which “yes” and “no” are not even options. Instead, you are being asked what you would like, because in France, the assumption is that you entered the store because you were interested in something specific, and it is the employee’s responsibility to help you find it. The response “I’m just looking,” even if it was uttered in perfect French, simply does not make sense as an answer to this question.

So as we continue to play out this scene, the end is inevitable. The American tourist, with his/her own cultural perspectives says “No thanks, I’m just looking” in absolutely flawless French. The American is thinking, “it was nice of the employee to acknowledge me, but I just want to look, and I don’t need to take up this employee’s time to help me. I’ll call her if I need her.” But the French employee seems displeased. This may show in the face, or even more overtly as the employee goes to talk with a co-worker. The American tourist is now just as upset as the French employee appears to be. Both have misunderstood the other, even though they were speaking the same language. Both leave the situation with negative opinions of not only the other person involved but also of the other culture—and all of the people who represent that culture. It’s amazing how quickly stereotypes are formed…and then spread. In fact, words—and judgments—travel infinitely faster than the speed of true understanding.

posted 11/11/2011 3:53 PM | comment | view comments (0)

3. Technology that teaches?Right as summer was coming to a close, I came across a new concept…at least it was new to me: flipped classroom. Basically, it involves flipping the concept of teaching and practice, so that the students’ homework is to watch the lesson on video and then they do the practice and application in class with the guidance of their teacher. You can find a more thorough explanation by the concept’s creators here: http://www.thedailyriff.com/articles/the-flipped-class-conversation-689.php. I was immediately intrigued, and I also immediately understood that “flipping” the classroom would involve more than merely putting lessons on video. In fact, providing videos of the lessons proved to be the hardest part. After all, when I teach students face-to-face, I not only conduct frequent checks for understanding so that I know if the lesson is working, but I can seethe students and read their level of engagement and comprehension on their faces. How was I supposed to do this with a video they might watch at 3:00 a.m.?I decided to try a modified version of flipping my classroom: when teaching new language structures, I provide a video lesson of that structure online, but I still teach it to my students in class as well. The videos are merely available to students as a support (in case they struggle while doing their homework), and especially for students who are absent. In this way, all students have access to the video lessons as needed, but I’m still providing the instruction in class. Is this a waste of time–either in class or at home? I don’t think so. Teaching in class and also providing video lessons provides students with multiple ways and multiple opportunities to develop understanding. And because I feel very strongly about checking for understanding while teaching, I’ve endeavored to build in opportunities for students to “try out” the structure while watching the videos and get immediate feedback as to whether they are on the right track.

In order to make the videos as easy to access as possible, I’m using “brainshark”, which you can find at http://www.brainshark.com/ It requires an account, but it is free to upload PowerPoint or video files and it converts all of them to a file format that almost every operating system can open. For those who are newer to this kind of technology, it also has a very user-friendly way of adding narration to PowerPoints. I’ve successfully uploaded PowerPoints to which I’ve added the narrations in Brainshark; PowerPoints that already have narration, and videos recorded during the in-class lesson using the “screen recorder” tool on my interactive white board. I then provide the link to the “brainsharks” on my class Web site. If you’re looking for them, they’re on the “links” page, in French 2, 3, and 4/AP.

So why not do vocabulary lessons too? Well, thanks to my friend, colleague, and outstanding Japanese teacher Atsuko Kiuchi, I learned about Quizlet. This Web site allows any user to create flashcards online, which can be studied at a computer or on a mobile device. Better still, the site automatically creates numerous games and practice activities with every set of flash cards. Students can easily acquire and practice vocabulary there, although it is not the same as how I teach it in class (in class, I teach it entirely in context and in the target language). So, although Quizlet is not intended to be the only way my students learn French vocabulary, it serves the function of providing opportunities for students who were absent, who need review, or want extra practice. Students can create their own accounts and make flashcards for any subject. Or they can search for existing cards. Or, teachers can create cards aligned to the material they teach, which is what I did. Then, teachers tell students how to access the material.

Another similar tool for some languages is at Conjuguemos, which allows students of many languages to search for vocabulary practice activities by theme or by textbook.

What do both of these options have in common? They help teachers provide just-in-time support to students, and therefore. Better yet, they help students learn to use the resources available to support themselves and their own learning. No tool in and of itself will make lessons better, or increase student proficiency. But, when used purposefully and appropriately, almost all technological tools enhance learning. In my case, I’m still working on ensuring that all of my uses of technology, including Quizlet and “brainsharks,” really do enhance learning. Most of my videos are very rudimentary, but over time, I hope to develop a repetoire of online resources from which students can not only learn, but learn meaningfully and practice in ways that are both relevant and meaningful.

posted 11/5/2011 2:13 PM | comment | view comments (0)

4. Connecting students to each other and the worldWhen I started teaching in 1993, the general public did not have cell phones and the Internet was still largely the realm of government and the military. Now my students don’t remember a time without cell phones, or the Internet, and my youngest students don’t even know a time without Facebook. Needless to say, as a world language teacher, the information, visuals, and communication available on the Internet have completely transformed my teaching. For my students In 1993, French seemed like a language that no one spoke but me and the diverse cultures of the world that speak French were largely invisible to them. Internet access at school changed all of that: since 1996, I’ve been able to show the French-speaking world to my students, and in limited ways, they could explore that world using resources available on what was then called the World Wide Web. With the advent of Web 2.0, my students are no longer simply consumers of digital information (although they continue to use it for research)…they now collaborate online and use Web 2.0 tools to create and send their ideas and French projects to each other and to correspondents in Belgium and France.However, the Internet is not just a “tool” for classes or a “toy” to use to “give the students a break”. In fact, the United Nations has gone so far as to declare Internet access a basic human right in June of 2011. As educators, we have a responsibility to purposefully craft lessons and activities that provide students with multiple opportunities practice ethical and meaningful exploration of the vast array of tools and information available and to begin to forge their identities as digital citizens of the world.

As a result, I am actively seeking ways to expand my classroom to…well…beyond my classroom. And Blackboard Collaborate is one of the key tools that will allow my students, their correspondents and I to do this.

I already have more than 40 hours of experience presenting professional development to teachers using the old virtual classroom platform (Elluminate) and have been waiting for an opportunity to bring this to my students. Just imagine the possibilities (I already have!). Last year, I had a student out for an extended period of time due to illness. While she was recovering, I wanted to use Elluminate (at the time) to provide the lessons she missed. As I was thinking about that last year (we never did get to do it because my district did not have a license for Elluminate), I realized that Blackboard Collaborate would allow me to give all of my students virtual office hours, where they could drop in once a week, ask questions, have virtual “French conversation groups” with students from around the world, and we could even use the virtual whiteboard, file sharing tools and web tours to provide examples supporting lesson content or enriching the conversation or use the polling tools and break out rooms to provide additional practice activities and venues.

Then I started dreaming bigger….what could we do with our epals in Belgium or France using this tool? Imagine what would happen if groups composed of two or three of my students could work in real time with two or three Belgian students in a breakout room on a real project. My students are concerned about multiple global issues and the opportunity to dialog with other teenagers with different perspectives on the same concerns is invaluable. Blackboard Collaborate allows students to work together in real time to not only practice communication skills but address real-world problems of interest to them. The time difference is a minor issue, but because my students have greater access to technology at home than their e-pals do, my students and I would log in from our homes early in the morning (so the Belgian students would still be in school) and they would work on their projects (designed themselves) from there. We could even collaborate with other French students in the United States using this tool. When students use their new language as the means of communication to address complex problems or create real products that are intended for an audience beyond the classroom, they gain both linguistic knowledge and the 21st century skills of collaboration, creativity, oral and written communication and media literacy that are so critical to their success post-high school.

I’m ready to collaborate, but more importantly, I’m ready to turn the tools over to my students so they can experience the power of Blackboard Collaborate as they create and share information with each other using me for guidance and feedback rather than as the “source of knowledge”. With the extensive experience I’ve already gained in Elluminate, I know how to use the tools and how to teach others to use the tools….now I just need to get Blackboard Collaborate for my school sot that the student-generated and student-centered collaboration and language development can begin!

posted 7/20/2011 3:15 PM | comment | view comments (0)

5. Reading Salad Wow…it’s been a long time since I posted!So last week, I was at Barnes Noble. I found myself thinking about how my students often have difficulty reading novels in French. I’ve watched students read for years. I’m well trained in reading strategies. I embed many strategies in my lessons for novels we read in order to help students use successful reading strategies, such as predicting, questioning and making connections as they read.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed that students don’t employ these strategies on their own. Even students who read very well in English and use these strategies to help them in English don’t seem to be using the strategies when they read in French. Students just “plough through.” They keep reading, even when they don’t understand. They see words but miss the plot.

As I was thinking about all of this in Barnes Noble, I started looking at the educational literature geared towards helping struggling readers (in English) and also English Language Learners. I found three books that I couldn’t put down and that I couldn’t choose between. I bought them all and started reading them that night. I came across strategies that sounded promising within the first chapter in each book. Best money I’ve spent in a long time!

I changed my lesson for Monday morning to incorporate some of those strategies as we started the third chapter of our novel. Reading salad. What are the ingredients? Text, questions, predictions, and connections. Text was a given, but I chose the last three ingredients. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the act of making the “salad” in class helped some students see that the text alone isn’t enough. One can’t just plough through…questioning, predicting and making connections are critical strategies for ensuring understanding of any text. It’s the mix of ingredients that creates a successful reading experience.

I guess that’s why I love teaching…there’s so many ingredients and so much to put together to make a successful lesson. Not all of my recipes have worked out, but there is no other profession that demands so much preparation combined with on-the-spot creativity of its employees!

Oh, yeah…what did I buy?

I Read It but I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers by Cris Tovani

Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor

99 Ideas and Activities for Teacher English Learners with the SIOP Model by MaryEllen Vogt and Jana Echevarria

posted 3/13/2011 7:34 PM | comment | view comments (0)

6. An Early New Year’s ResolutionSo, if one reads “Breakthrough” by Michael Fullan, one can’t help but be struck by the imperative to individualize for the needs of each individual student: precision and personalization being two key factors in ensuring student achievement. On the other hand, the process, even as outlined in Fullan’s work as a “doable” process, still seems daunting to me. With 165 students across five different levels of French (and truthfully operating at more than five different levels given the varying rates of language acquisition of individuals), I wasn’t sure how I could begin and still find the process doable.Ultimately, I opted to take one small step: a feedback form that each student can take home after an assessment (quiz, test or project). The form will detail the precise skills on which students were assessed, the student’s degree of proficiency in those skills, the alignment of the assessment to California’s world language content standards and the alignment of the assessment to Bella Vista’s vision and mission.

While this will provide more personalization and precision in the feedback process, I still haven’t worked out how I will truly individualize the next steps for each student after an assessment. I’ve never had trouble seeing patterns in assessment and identifying next steps that the whole class (or at least a significant percentage of the class) would benefit from, but the thought of trying to design and then logistically manage truly individualized instruction (and not just the feedback) still kind of overwhelms me. My hope is that by starting with feedback, I’ll grow enough as a teacher to begin to see feasible ways to tailor small group instruction to the needs of my students. The examples provided in the book were all from a a single elementary school classroom of fewer than 30 students total. That said, the model of tailoring instruction to small groups could be done with each of my periods of French…in theory. For example, in one class, I could have one group working on the basics of how to talk about where people are while another group that already understands these basics and can apply them independently works on a more advanced level of expression. Still, while I understand the theory, logistics are another issue. And yet, I still think it could be done…consider it an early New Year’s Resolution. It will give me a goal for spring semester.

posted 12/7/2009 4:54 PM | comment | view comments (0)

7. Tipping pointIt appears that my teaching is taking a drastically different direction–at least in French 4/AP. Perhaps this is because I’m always looking for ways to make learning and practice more authentic (more realistic). Perhaps I simply reached the point (finally) where I felt comfortable enough to not be so traditional, if only at this one level of my instruction.So, as I look at what’s left of this school year, it struck me this week that I we have so many long-term or ongoing projects to do this year that we won’t have time to do as many activities centered around the textbook as I normally do. I should clarify…the textbook never teaches material; I do. However, I often (but not always) use the sequencing of information provided by the textbooks at each level to determine the order in which I will progress. I often (but not always) do the majority of practice activities (for all skills–speaking, listening, reading, and writing) that are provided by the textbook and its ancillary materials. For many years, I’ve wanted to move away from having so much class time spent with books open–even though the students are usually talking in pairs or small groups to accomplish the book activities.

Back to my point. At least in French 4/AP, I may have hit the tipping point. I’ve managed to get so many projects going that we simply can’t do as much from the textbook. The challenge will be for me to seamlessly fold in the vocabulary and structures the students still need around the work they are already doing for their other projects. I’ll need to be very thorough in assessing language needs for each little chunk of every project so that I can determine which elements of language naturally complement their success with that facet of the project.

So what are we doing? Well…

  • we’re starting an online TV show with 14 episodes. Each episode will stream live on the internet and also be recorded and saved on the show’s TV site. The episodes will have a different student director each time who chooses the theme of the episode based on his/her own interests and who assigns roles (on- and off-camera) to all of the other students. If you’d like more information about how this show is related to our standards, and our school’s vision and mission, contact me. Would you like to watch our shows? Go to our show’s channel on the web!
  • we will be doing a student-created museum in downtown in the Spring. This will be the third museum we’ve done. This year’s theme will be WWII France. You can see much of the information we’ll be studying by going to my WWII France wiki.
  • and we just received a grant to implement a project-based-learning event called the café des arts. The students themselves helped me design the project and write the grant last year. It’s incredibly complex–easily the most complex learning event I’ve ever tried to organize. If you’d like to see what we’re doing, contact me for a copy of the application.

posted 11/14/2009 6:48 AM | comment | view comments (0)

8. Technology I’m liking right nowAs I mentioned in an earlier post, I did some exploring of technologies I might be able to use in my classes. I already have an interactive white board and I make extensive use of that. So in addition to numerous sites I love specifically for their frenchiness, here are some online tech tools I’m planning on using this year:

  1. http://www.wordle.net: allows users to create word clouds. I see this working both for giving students a chance to practice with specific functions (like describing themselves) and as a really cool tool for analyzing literature. Downside: no way to search for created images once they’re uploaded to the gallery and the process for saving them to a computer is a bit tedious as well.
  2. http://lingtlanguage.com/nnaditzallows me to create my own speaking and listening practice activities, using my own voice or using video that has been uploaded to youtube. I’ve created a few simple activities so far, but I’m planning on creating more and expanding on the creativity of how I use the program.
  3. http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/allows users to create many different types of analyses based on data sets. I haven’t figured out how to use this yet, but I have a feeling it could be really good.
  4. http://wiki.classroom20.com/ has an awesome collection of links on the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom

posted 8/6/2009 4:35 PM | comment | view comments (0)

9. The same, yet differentUnlike most summers, I had a lot of time this summer to do some reading. In fact, I finally read most of the numerous books I’ve been collecting on various aspects of education and teaching. I read books on supporting my students multiple intelligences; books on assisting students to summarize, evaluate, and analyze information in a variety of ways; books with ideas for increasing the amount of student talk in my world language classes; books on the appropriate design and use of homework to further student achievement; and of course, the seminal “Classroom strategies that work” by Marzano, and its companion “Classroom strategies that work for English Learners” (who aren’t so different from my French learners).Then I spent time online looking further into technology integration, which led me to join ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). The depth of knowledge and resources in the materials provided by this organization will keep my brain buzzing for quite a while. Boredom certainly won’t be an issue!

Did these books books and web sites impact my practice? I like to think so. I took copious notes in them and elsewhere. I designed my first week’s lesson plans using some of the new strategies and technologies (such as my current favorite: wordle) I had read about. I created new wikis for each of this year’s classes. I reconsidered my homework policies…although I was gratified to see in the research that, for the most part, my use of homework is in line with what many consider to be best practices, including not usually assigning homework on weekends or holidays. My main focus on homework this year will be to build in more feedback mechanisms (from me or from the students themselves).

I also spent time this summer closely studying the new World Language Content Standards for California Students K-12 and determining which standards I would address at each level of instruction. Eventually, these standards will be available on the California Department of Education web site, but apparently, they are still finalizing the editing and formatting. Having this new document available to describe the practice of all language teachers in the state (and the level of accomplishment of all of the state’s students) using the common language of the standards will impact–and invigorate–language programs throughout California.

I did take one trip: to New York City, where I visited two exhibitions related to WWII France (one about literary life of French authors under the Occupation and the other about the life of the Jews throughout Europe, including France). Both exhibits featured sections on the author Irène Némirovsky, whose unfinished work Suite Française I also read this summer. Even more devastating than the knowledge that she died in deportation before she could finish this work were the letters included at the end of the book where all who knew and worked with her were desperately (and unsuccesfully) trying to spare her from the consequences of being a foreign-born Jew in France during the war.

Numerous documents and concepts I viewed in the exhibit will be incorporated into my WWII unit for advanced students in the late spring, which will now have an added component on the power of words. Students need to realize how words are used in the literal and figurative senses to drastically influence public opinion.  The Shoah  (the term preferred by practicing Jews for the Holocaust) started with words. Words are used to describe and denigrate those of the “other” tribe in Rwanda and other war-torn regions of Africa. Weapons may kill physically, but words are used to justify the unjustifiable or to break the spirit first. Our students must become more critical listeners and readers because words will always be used in ways that twist and alter their intended meanings. Fortunately, focusing on the power of words will allow us to also examine how words can be transformative in beautiful and positive ways as well.

While I was in New York I purchased the French edition of Suite Française and also numerous other books and magazines in French for my students this year. In fact this summer I purchased dozens of books and magazines for my students, making a significant contribution to the variety of reading materials available for the silent reading French 3 and 4/AP students do every Thursday.

All in all, I’d say it’s been a wonderful summer. These past several weeks functioned exactly as intended: to refresh and renew, preparing me to start another year that will be the same and yet different. Just the way I like it.

posted 8/6/2009 10:07 AM | comment | view comments (0)

10. Hoping to go fartherBeing sick set me a bit behind, but it did give me time to catch up on some professional reading. That, in turn, has reinvigorated my desire to move away from business as usual in the classroom and continue looking for ways to make learning more meaningful, relevant and engaging for my students.Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t found the answers I’m looking for yet. But I realized that I’ve somewhat lost my way on that path. Oh sure, my lessons are always planned, and some of them are even good. Yet, when I ask myself, “Is each lesson relevant to my students?” I have to conclude that the answer is probably “no.”

Have I gone out of my way to tailor lessons to my students interests? Maybe not. I’ve tried. I gave French 4/AP a choice on how to proceed for the next several weeks, and our lessons are based on the results of their discussion and vote. I’ve tried to provide opportunities for French 3 and 4/AP students to have real conversations with French teenagers through their epals wikis. French 4/AP is also trying to make a difference in Burkina Faso. Somehow, though, it feels like these are more my pet projects than theirs. There isn’t nearly as much excitement for communicating with other teenagers (native French speakers) as I hoped there would be.  Our Burkina Faso solar project has generated the feeling that we’re making a difference beyond our classrooms, and connecting with another part of the French-speaking world.

French 1 students prepared questions a little over a week ago that they may able to use to interview French-speaking celebrities and athletes through their fan sites. I still have to put together a list for them and find the fan sites, but this was one way I hoped to make their learning more relevant for them as well. Yet, for French 1, I still need to do so much more. I want to build their foundational language skills so that they will be prepared to take on more complex linguistical challenges in subsequent levels, but I really feel a need to spend more time tailoring to their interests. Perhaps a survey (either learning styles, interests or combination) is in order!

I keep seeing technology as a way to relevance, but I’m not finding it as easy as I’d hoped to seamlessly embed communicative technologies in our lessons. Issues of access at home have somewhat hindered our progress and our access on the mobile computer lab at school can be problematic, especially on the internet. My experiment with the wiki culture projects didn’t quite turn out as I’d hope, but that was mainly because I was overwhelmed in grading so many projects and I realized that I hadn’t set up appropriate structures, such as a rubric, to grade them effectively. Ideally, culture shouldn’t be separate from the curriculum anyway, but rather integrated into the linguistic content of each lesson. While I feel I do that rather well through class discussions and also through the use of authentic documents (menus, TV guides, phone book pages, web sites, advertisements, etc.), I don’t find that I am easily able to assess their cultural knowledge other than by asking specific questions on tests. That seems somewhat limited and contrary to the goals of the cultural components of lessons.

Clearly, I still have a long way to go towards becoming the teacher I want to be. When I get there, I’ll likely have learned so much that I will find many more things I need to learn to take my practice even further. On the upside, I am still going. I don’t believe in treading water just to stay in the same place. I’d rather swim.

posted 2/1/2009 11:34 AM | comment | view comments (1)

11. Wiki wonderland!I discovered wikis at a leadership institute for language teachers in Iowa in 2006. Of course, my students had no idea I knew what a wiki was because when I returned to BV last year, I did not start using wikis with students. I had created several wikis to enhance teacher collaboration and the sharing of information and resources on specific topics and I knew I wanted to use them with students for the same purposes.You are probably asking yourself, “What is a wiki?” No fear…I’ll explain and then I’ll follow my explanation with a really great video from the folks at CommonCraft. A wiki is part of web2.0. Web 2.0 content is generally content that allows users to interact with a web site, usually by contributing, editing, or otherwise changing what is on a web site, often in real time. Businesses use wikis to facilitate project management when meeting in person is impractical. All members of the team can upload their pieces of the project and everyone else can see and comment on what has been accomplished while also uploading their own portions. If you’d like to learn more about wikis, check out this cool video.Anyway, I finally decided that it was time to introduce my students to wikis, but as is my style, I jumped in with both feet, and all of the rest of me. If I was going to try wikis with students, then I was going to go all out…multiple wikis, with different purposes for all of my students.

So now, all students are working on paperless culture projects. All of their research will be uploaded to their class culture wikis so we can all visit their pages and learn from what they studied. French 3 and 4 also have epals in Belgium, but rather than email, we’re corresponding on the wiki. The students love it because they can see what everyone is writing and they can write to everyone, not just to their epal (and I can track what they’re writing by going to one web site rather than opening individual emails). French 4 is also collaborating on a wiki to share their growing knowledge of solar energy with others and they’re even beginning to blog on their thoughts regarding Burkina Faso Solar Project on that wiki (I’m blogging there too).

The wiki provides authentic opportunities to communicate in French, cultural connections to other French speakers who are joining our wikis, and an easy way to collaborate with others on projects without being in the same room or even working online at the same time. Since none of my students had yet used a wiki, some “all together” practice was necessary. But now, they’re all getting the hang of it and updating their various pages from home or from the library. Even students without internet at home are participating, in fact I consider it more critical that they participate. Their lack of internet at home should not be keeping them from working with current technologies. Although technology will always evolve, and wikis will one day be replaced with something else, students’ ability to adapt will be critical to the workplace, and adaptation requires numerous experiences from which to build.

posted 10/4/2008 6:01 PM | comment | view comments (0)

12. So far, so goodIt’s been an exciting start to the school year. So far, the changes I have implemented (such as weekly homework packets) are having a positive effect in class. I am more aware of which students are struggling to keep up with the pace of the work and I already have far more information about my students’ achievement in French than I had at this time last year. In addition, it has been a thrill to see my French 3s and 4s again. The improvement they have made since I met them for the first time last year is incredible. All of them can write coherently (if simply) in French now. When French 3 wrote an introductory paragraph for me this year, I was able to understand all of them, even with errors. Last year, I asked all of them to write me a paragraph introducing themselves and many of the paragraphs were incomprehensible. I congratulated the French 3 class on their success with the paragraphs because I want them to know that even if they feel like they struggled in French 2 last year, they actually have made gains and those gains are apparent in their writing. French 1 has proven the most interesting. I am ashamed to admit that I still don’t know all of their names, but I am getting there. What I found interesting is that my use of French in class has definitely been appropriate because some students–including some with no French experience in their background–have already started automatically responding to me in French anytime I talk to them (when they have the words to do so). This is a sign that they are already mentally switching to the French they do know when they are with me and definitely indicates that they are excellent candidates to become fluent speakers of French down the line. Bonne continuation!posted 8/30/2008 6:31 PM | comment | view comments (0)
13. Giving new meaning to “transitional year”Well, I had disabled the blog last year because I ran out of time to update it, but I’m back and I’m trying again. As I prepare for “la rentrée” (the first day of school), I find myself faced with a list of questions: Do I want to revise my grading structure to better reflect what the students do in class? (yes…that was easy. Oh, wait…how do I revise the grading structure? No easy answer to that one!)

Do I want to rework my homework packet system so students and parents get more frequent information? (yes…and, this was much easier. Students will now turn in homework packets weekly so that they always know when the packet is due.)

How do I send solar-powered lights to our partner school in Burkina Faso? I have money (but not enough); I have a field trip planned to learn about solar lighting, but there is so much more to be done, especially with the intracies of sending large amounts of valuable equipment to a foreign country.

How do I ensure the ACE program for college credit will be successful for my students? Better yet, how do I ensure I am offering college-level content to those classes in a way that is engaging, meaningful, and effective?

How can I better incorporate regular reading? Maybe a return to Silent Sustained Reading? A Spanish teacher in Elk Grove tried that with fairly good success. Maybe Thursdays could be at least partially dedicated to reading.

What can I do to improve my use of the journals I started last year? Perhaps it would be valuable to tie them into the weekly reading…there’s a thought!

How can I enhance the effectiveness of the interactive white board installed in my room? I wanted the interactive whiteboard for its…interactive…capabilities. I never wanted a glorified white board that the students don’t use. The learning curve has been steep, but hopefully, I now have a better idea of how to create student-response activities using the board’s software and hand-held response units. We’ll find out on day 1 since I’ll be using the hand units to survey my incoming French 1 students.

Each year of high school is a “transition” year of sorts for the students…changing grade levels, changing teachers, changing levels of responsibility, preparing for college and other post-high school endeavors. For the first time in a long time, I feel like my students. I’m approaching the year with a clean slate and a lot of questions that don’t have easy answers. Fortunately, all transitions are an opportunity to change for the better, which makes this year a very exciting time!

posted 8/6/2008 7:06 PM | comment | view comments (0)

14. Grades are coming!It’s that wonderful time of year–the first progress reports. For some students, it is the first indication they have of their progress in a class. Hopefully, that is not the case for my students, since grades are available on a secure web site. Of course, I get an awful lot of “failure” messages when I send the “grades have been updated” message. That means I have a lot of incorrect e-mail addresses.Anyway, as the progress reports arrive home, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, the grade listed is a grade in progress; it is not set in stone and it is not going to be in the student’s permanent record. There is still time for improvements to the grade. That said, students play a very large part in whether or not the grade will improve.Another point to consider is that the first progress report can be a little misleading. There isn’t very much in the gradebook as of yet. One missing assignment could cause a student’s grade to plummet. Two missing assignments are pretty much a disaster for any student’s grade.

Students have been coming to realize that they can come in for help and to make up work pretty much any time. For some students, just the act of coming in to complete one missing assignment has made a huge difference for some students.

For other students, the effort to speak French is making a huge difference. There are a few students in each class who are completely committed to French and who are working very hard to only speak French. This has already caused some of those students to be more comfortable expressing themselves in French and more comfortable when listening to others speak French.

Although not everyone will be pleased with the grades on their progress reports, I want everyone to know that I have enjoyed every one of my students. It has been a pleasure to get to know them over these first six weeks and to see the different facets of each student’s personality. Every student has brought something unique to each of my classes, which is something I enjoy during every class, every day.

posted 9/28/2007 5:27 PM | comment | view comments (1)

15. Why I love teachingWhen I started teaching in 1993, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I knew I was fortunate to find a career doing something I actually love doing. In 2004, I was offered the opportunity to be a full-time mentor to beginning teachers. Accepting this opportunity meant that I would have to leave the classroom for three years. I almost declined because I love teaching so much. Fortunately, I accepted the assignment. I spent three years working with teachers all over the district, in every grade level and subject area imaginable. I helped with lesson planning and classroom management. I observed my mentees while they taught. We analyzed student work together so that we could see what their products could tell us about the successes and challenges of our teaching. We went out to observe successful veteran teachers together. We spent hours discussing teaching, parent communication, classroom management, helping all students succeed, technology integration, and any other topic related to education today. Some of us attended workshops and trainings together. I learned at least as much as any of my mentees did!Now that I am back in the classroom, I have a remarkable opportunity to put to use everything I have learned as a mentor and I can’t wait. It was a privelege to be selected as a mentor, but for me, the greatest honor is still being a teacher. This year, I hope that my students will find that lessons are crafted to meet their needs. I hope that students will believe that material has been taught and practiced, rather than “covered”. I hope that my teaching methods and the practice, application and extension activities I plan will provide all students with opportunities to learn and apply the material, but also to make personal, relevant connections to the material. I hope that students will see assessments as a reflection of what they know and can do in the language rather than as an effort to “catch” them not knowing something. I hope that all students will feel that my classroom is a safe-haven: a place where all students are welcome and respected and where they can come to talk, to learn, to practice, and to take risks as they develop their skill in communicating in French.

The first week of school was invigorating, exciting, and incredible. And it was proof of why I love teaching. I loved meeting the French 1 students, who all arrived with such enthusiasm and so willing to try out these new sounds that don’t exist in English.

French 2, my biggest class, arrived with a bang–almost literally. Virtually all of the students know each other, and they are a very gregarious group. Of course, this means it takes longer to progress from one activity to another, and any jokes I (or other students) make require some time to regroup and refocus the class, but we’re working on that together. Soon, even this more gregarious class will progress smoothly from one activity to another (and we won’t have to abandon all jokes and humor to do it!). Their energy and willingness to speak will actually be an asset in the long run. I won’t have any trouble at all getting this class to try speaking French!

French 3, 4, and AP came in a little more subdued, but that was to be expected; they are older, they are preoccupied with heavier course loads and beginning to prepare for SATs or for college applications, and…they have had the most experience with the previous French teacher, Mme Jenkins, who is a very good friend of mine (I’ve known her since 2002). I had selected Mme Jenkins to replace me in 2004 while I was mentoring because I knew she would be perfect for the position. And she was.

Since there tends to only be one French teacher in a school, French teachers have the opportunity to get to know their students over several years. Both the students and the teacher benefit from this unique setting in the hectic high school world of changing six or seven teachers every year, and possibly even at the semester. This shared student-teacher knowledge of each other can enhance lesson planning because it is easier to plan lessons that clearly meet the students’ needs and interests, and it can lead to a better classroom environment because the students know each other and the teacher very well (and vice versa). As a result, I could sense that it was a little difficult for the more advanced students to be as thrilled with my return as I was.

Fortunately, I knew that this would be the case, and I know that it will take time for these classes to learn as much about me and my teaching and expectations as they knew about Mme Jenkins. That said, I was thrilled to see how willing they have all been to try everything I have sent their way. They have been speaking and writing in French since the first day of school and patiently listening while I conduct class almost entirely in French for them.

While some may have dreaded the end of summer vacation, I have been anticipating my return to teaching. Now that the first week is over, I remember what I love most about teaching: the students–their learning, their visible progress, their enthusiasm, their interests outside of class (that may be the focus of lessons inside of class), their creativity, their imagination, their willingness to try the language, their willingness to help eachother. In what other career would I have the opportunity to work so closely with so many unique individuals?

posted 8/26/2007 1:19 PM | comment | view comments (0)

16. Are there jobs for French speakers?Let’s dispell a myth right off the bat. We’ve all heard this one: there is no need to learn French; no one speaks it, and no one needs it in the U.S.How wrong that is! I just did a job search on monster.com. There were 1,118 jobs around the country under the keyword “French”. Of those, more than 400 were in California and very few–less than 100 nationwide–were jobs that did not in fact require French proficiency (such as jobs at French restaurants, jobs on “French Rd.” and so on).That’s more than 1,000 jobs for those who become proficient in French. These jobs are in all kinds of fields: secretarial, accounting/banking, media, graphic design, medicine, legal careers, and more. Anything you want to do, there is probably someone somewhere looking for a French speaker to do it.

And the biggest travesty is that those jobs will often go unfilled because the employers cannot find French speakers to take the positions. Of course, if you are a French speaker who is qualified to do the job, you will likely be hired because there won’t be a lot of French speakers competing with you!

How many jobs are there for French speakers in fields in which you are interested? Check out monster.com.

posted 8/2/2007 11:25 PM | comment | view comments (0)