This week I had the pleasure of attending two fantastic learning events at Red Bank Elementary. The fourth grade team collaborated across all content areas on their Westward Expansion unit which culminated in a Musical presentation of "To the West." After the musical, fourth grade immersion students presented their interactive, multi-media projects in Spanish and English on various aspects of Westward expansion, also integrating topics such as animals and their habitat, food groups as well as the types of home and weather conditions from that geographical region during that time period.
I also got to witness first grade Spanish immersion students sharing their integrated science and literacy unit on plants with the immersion kindergarteners. They performed a poem, then they shared photos of the plants they grew along with drawings and observations. They also read books about plants to their kindergarten friends. It was inspiring to say the least to see how teachers are integrating content, language and literacy. Great job Red Bank! Thanks for all your hard work.
Today's post is meant to inspire you to push your Level 1 students. While we know they are still beginners, they are capable of doing some exciting things, both at Middle School and High School. Several of you have begun scheduling Skype or Facetime interactions with other schools or classes. Here is another great example of a successful exchange. In a Spanish 1 course at MGMS, Esmith Centeno orchestrated an intercultural chat with a school from Colombia. Esmith has shared with us how she arranged the chat. Students first wrote a letter to a pen pal in Colombia discussing the similarities and differences between the two culture’s families. Then they engaged in a video chat with these pen pals in Colombia to share some basic questions in the target language for both school communities. She helped students create a basic script that they could then personalize for their particular questions and interests. As you can see from the pictures, when they met their new friends, they had a great experience! Thanks Esmith for making this exchange possible for your students!
I was also recently invited to RBHS to view the Spanish 1 Symposium, created by Lisette Geib and Sarah Hulls. Students presented a case study to their classmates and teachers. They were required to research a Spanish speaking country and then pretend to be someone from that country. The goal was to have them incorporate all of the cultural information they learned as well as the language goals. So they had to describe what life is like for them, as if they were from a different country. They were also required to create an artifact that represents them and their country. As students rotated through to listen to their classmates, they practiced interpretive listening, as they asked questions, they practiced the interpersonal mode, and while they were presenting, they took part in presentational speaking. This was a fantastic way to wrap up the course, and provided multiple data points for proficiency scores.
How do you motivate and assess your Level 1 courses? Leave a comment!
Guest Blogger: Jill Hnat, WKHS
This year, as White Knoll High delves into new strategies to encourage student self-direction and success, the power of reflection has been a common motif. As teachers we are asked to regularly reflect on a wide variety of issues in our profession. At first I went through the motions and, like most things, I “faked it until I made it.” I recognized how deliberate reflection was impacting my teaching and students’ learning in my classes (with a side benefit of NOT waking up at 2 a.m. to rehash what went wrong with my previous day.) But, how could I use reflection IN my French classes? I want my students to seriously consider what works for them when learning something new. My students didn’t have the language to do that! Is it worth the time? Is it defensible? YES! The 15 minutes we spend at the start of the week on Monday to set goals and the minutes on Friday to reflect on how successful we were at meeting those goals are well worth the effort.
My colleague Mandy Domenech started the weekly reflections to create a sense of community with her classes. When she shared her ideas with me, I decided to take a different approach - “Action Plans” for my students.
Every Monday my students copy the weekly goals I have posted on the board, then they set up what will help them reach those goals. Typical plans are: I will not give up and stick to French when I ask questions. I will use the resources posted around the room. I will review what I did the day before. The most popular part of the exercise is the affirmation statement that they can add to their action plans to give themselves a “push” to continue. Yesterday, as a part of 17 Days of Kindness, several of the students posted their affirmation statements to encourage their peers.
Is reflection a part of your teaching process? If so, leave a comment explaining how.
This week, students and teachers arrived from France for the annual exchange with LMS. We are so proud of all of our language teachers, students, families and administrators that make this type of exchange possible. School Board member, Cyndi Smith, shared during the welcome breakfast that the French exchange was one of her daughter's favorite memories from middle school. What will your students' favorite memories be?
Spanish and French class are some of my favorite recollections from high school as well, which probably led to me becoming a Spanish teacher eventually. But this passion for languages is also what motivated me to travel to underdeveloped countries during my high school and college years during the summers to help bring aid and relief. It also sparked the work I did with the non-profit community in Columbia for English Language Learners. My interest in other languages and cultures has also given me a wide circle of friends and acquaintances who are diverse, interesting, intelligent and who share their unique perspectives with me, and help me to see beyond my own life experiences. I would not be who I am today if not for the eccentric, fun, crazy and loving Spanish and French teachers I had in school. Charlemagne is credited with saying, "To have another language is to possess a second soul." In my case, this is certainly true, and I think most of you feel the same way about your second, third, fourth or even fifth language.
As you grow weary in these last few weeks of school, just remember, you are not just teaching French, German, Spanish, Russian, Latin or Chinese, you are also giving your students the opportunity to possess a second soul.
Guest Blogger: Melissa, River Bluff Senior, GAPP exchange partner
This semester River Bluff has taken part in an exchange program through GAPP, or the German American Partnership Program, an organization that sends German students over to the United States and in return, American students are sent over to Germany. This is the first time River Bluff has taken part in a program that sends American exchange students overseas. In March, 21 German students came to River Bluff to learn about American culture and education in schools, as well as the daily lives of some of our students.
Over the course of two and a half weeks, students from Germany lived with, went to school with, and followed River Bluff students. As the German students shadowed, they learned about American school curriculum and what is required to be a student at an EL School. Exchange students were able to try new foods, participate in different actives, and see all Lexington has to offer. Both exchange and host students took field excursions to the State House, Williams Bryce Stadium, and USC to learn more about the United States’ government and culture. The students also participated in team building exercises at Saluda Shoals. During these activities, the River Bluff students and their German exchange students had to communicate, trust each other, and learn to overcome language barriers. Exchange students were also taken to different places around South Carolina by their host families. Host families took their students to places such as Charleston, and did activities in Lexington such as roller skating and going to the mall. After staying with their host families, the German exchange students spent some time in Atlanta, Georgia before returning home. Before they left, we had a farewell breakfast for them. Everyone was in tears and it was a very heartfelt “auf wiedersehen”.
The German word “auf wiedersehen” literally translates to “until I see you again”. This word is perfect for this exchange because in only 2 months we will see our German host students again. This summer, 14 of our River Bluff students who hosted German students, will be traveling to Germany. We will learn about German schools, culture, and politics, while immersing ourselves in the German language. Students will live with and shadow Germans students, just as the Germans students did in March. By traveling to other countries, students have the opportunity to be immersed and begin to understand an entirely new culture.
Some of the students who participated in the exchange said:
“The GAPP exchange has given me opportunities I didn’t even know were possible. It’s crazy how close you can get to someone in the span of two and half weeks. It allowed me to create life-long memories and gave me friendships I never knew were possible. Just being around them (the Germans) allowed my German to grow exponentially. I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to host a student and I can’t wait to see what the second half of this exchange holds” –Will, RHBS junior
“Hosting an exchange student has been the most rewarding experience. While I improved my German, I also made friends.” – Blythe, RBHS Junior
“This was truly a wonderful experience for our family! I was very nervous before the German students arrived, because I have never done anything like this before. I am so glad that we participated in this, because it was great getting to know Nils and learning about his country. It warmed my heart to see how all of the German and American students bonded.” – Kimberly, parent
Our students have already made relationships with their German exchange students that will last much longer than just a few weeks, and even though our exchange students are back in Germany, they will always be a part of our River Bluff family.
Do you know any gators who speak German? We do! The RBHS German program, and fearless leader Frau Buckliew, welcomed 21 German exchange students to Lexington, SC this week. I had the joy of attending the welcome dinner and was truly amazed by, not only the Gator Cake, but also the warmth and enthusiasm by which all of the students and their two teachers were greeted by their host families. Frau Buckliew shared a few pictures of the fun activities they are doing to get to know each other...
I can think of few better ways to gain a global mindset than by spending time with people from other countries and cultures. Many of these American students who are hosting German students will also be traveling to Germany in June. Thank you WL teachers for broadening perspectives and giving our students a chance to see the world.
I imagine you all have students engaging in interpersonal conversation on a regular basis in your classrooms; however, sometimes students need to experience something outside of the norm to actually believe that they are using language for a meaningful purpose.
About a week ago I got an email from Amanda Haaji at LHS stating...
My regular level 3 students at LHS LOVED our new virtual exchange using the SeeSaw app with Ms. Groza's French class at Gilbert! We were fortunate enough to teach the same level in the same block of time so we could have an exchange "real time". Students were getting excited sharing what their "exchange student" was telling them with the rest of the class. They were encouraged because their peer understood what they were saying, even if it wasn't perfect French. They were working together for meaning, WANTING to know new vocabulary. When I wouldn't tell them what the "unrecognizable" word was that they came across in their discussion with their exchange student, they would follow up and ask their peer to explain what it meant. Students were truly interested in discussing their childhood, exchanging information (and pictures) from bell to bell (80 minutes of communication!). They even asked if we could keep the exchange going. Ms. Groza and I decided that from the amount of excitement, we will continue the exchange throughout the semester. Needless to say, what a great morning!
Amelia Groza from GHS added, "And what a morning! I feel so energized! I too loved that my students got so involved in the discussions, learning new words and putting 2 and 2 together and having AHA moments!"
I asked Amanda and Amelia if I could share this story on the blog and this week I received this reply:
"We have unexpectedly started a kind of movement, which is exciting...Since both of us don't have the exact same schedule we have reached out to other schools as well. I emailed last week and now have White Knoll on board to be pen pals with my other French 3 class and am working on convincing Riverbluff French 3s to join too so my class can have a real time exchange as well (RB schedule is quite different from ours so it is a bit harder to set up).
Amelia just sent out an email also trying to get her French 1s a partner, so hopefully that will get another high school in and we can have representation of all schools in the district. A happy Lexington One French student community :)."
THIS makes my heart happy!
People have always told me that I have the gift of encouragement, and I do believe that to be true. Sometimes that means sharing a positive, feel good truth about someone else. For example, I've always given compliments easily and they come from a true and authentic place. But sometimes that means my place is to encourage others to grow and change. That doesn't always feel as good, but it is a necessary part of our development as human beings if we want to grow.
Today I want to encourage you to think about race and what role it might be playing in your classroom dynamics. I know this is an uncomfortable topic, but it's possible that race is affecting how you teach and how students receive from you.
I will use myself as an example. I am a white female, middle class. I have the privilege of seeing myself represented in this country in a positive manner. I see others who look like me and sound like me on TV, in books and movies. I also see others like myself doing well in schools, teaching and even in leadership as principals, coordinators, etc.
But not all of our students have this privilege. Some students do not see themselves represented at all, or if they do appear in media, it is through negative stereotypes. In fact, as World Language teachers, some of you might feel marginalized if you are here from a different country or background, if you have an accent or are still learning English. Sometimes in classrooms, students of color, students who struggle financially, or English Language Learners are marginalized and quieted. While we are a loving, well-intentioned group of teachers, we all hold implicit biases. What does that mean? "Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner" (Kirwin Institute for more info click here).
Last week I had the privilege of attending a workshop on equity. As part of our preparation, we were asked to watch a TED Talk by Verna Myers, called "How to Overcome Biases? Walk Boldly Toward Them". Click HERE to watch.
Those of you who know me well, know that I love TED Talks, and this one is no exception. Ms. Myers challenges us to stop pretending that we are color blind, and instead to actually look at race and consider how it might be affecting us. As teachers, I believe we must do this work. It is not easy to examine ourselves, but it is worth it. This video gets a little personal for me because she is talking specifically about black males and how the media has helped to create a negative bias toward them in our country. My son happens to be black, and so I have been forced to consider how this might affect him both now and in the future. I believe that we will all face challenges in this life, but as a momma, I can't help but want to minimize some of the negativity that I know he will face. Will you walk with me on this journey? As I confront my own implicit biases and begin to move toward them in order to make change, will you do the same?
Guestblogger: Ann-Marie Cormier-Bausch, LHS
“You are the only teacher who acts like you like us.”
A student said this to me in class a few years ago. True story. While this statement made me melt inside, it made me sad too. My classroom is my happy place and I truly love my job. But I know not all teachers feel the same way I do, and the students notice.
It took a long time for me to regard this as my happy place. I begrudgingly forced myself back to “the grind” year after year, longing to be anywhere but in the classroom. I wasn’t even very passionate about my subject area. The only reason I kept coming back were the students.
Teenagers are fun. They are witty, creative, inquisitive, passionate, silly, and totally unpredictable. Once I figured out that my relationship with them was the key to my happiness, my role as a teacher changed completely and I fell totally in love with the profession because of them. I am not sure when this happened. There was no “aha!” moment and if someone had tried to explain this years ago I’m not sure I would have believed it. I had become so focused on curriculum and objectives that I had lost sight of the most important element of my professional existence: teenagers.
Yes, they have pimples, they wear too much make-up, their voices squeak, they are awkward and sensitive, they smell bad sometimes, they stay up too late, they say inappropriate things, they test the boundaries. But they make me laugh everyday.
We all know that high-school teacher who constantly complains about the students. Why would you come to a building everyday that is FULL of teenagers if you don’t like them? Seems crazy to me now, but I did it for years and my students noticed. A few changes in my behavior helped improve my relationship with the students, which led me to my current happy place. Maybe these changes can help you find your happy place too.
Connect with them personally.
On the first day of class have the students write privately about themselves. Most teachers do this in some way, but what we do with that information is critical in making connections with them personally. Make note of at least one thing you have in common with every student and read it in class the second day. It can be a simple fact like “Emma, you and I have the same birthday!” or “Joe, you like the Steelers? Me too!” They may shrug it off at first but, if the Steelers win, you will hear about it. By valuing the student’s individuality, you have a good chance of increasing engagement in class.
Use the information you learn from the students in the lesson. Alex plays lacrosse so use his name and sport in an example. Alex gets validation that you were listening and you care. Simple, but effective.
Getting to really know the students pays off in so many ways over the semester or year. Go to their games, their art shows, and their dance recitals. Eat at the restaurant where they work and ask for them to be your waiter. Let them show you who they are besides your student. The iPad they left in your room? Take it to them in their next class. It really does matter to them. Teenagers who feel that you care about them will be much more receptive to your requests and tons more respectful of you as a teacher. Bonus: students who feel valued by you will be more willing to take risks for you, and we know how essential this is to the learning process.
Give out compliments freely but sincerely.
You may not expect it, but the teenagers in your class are starving for approval. Give it to them! No matter how much attitude Janie has given you lately, compliment her sincerely on anything that matters to her and you will make great strides in winning her over. They love to hear you compliment their hair or shoes, but they also love it when you know the score of their game last night and that you heard they played well. Read the announcements and be able to mention some of the amazing things they do when they are not disrupting your class, like being a part of a club or group, participating in a talent show, making the honor roll, or winning a pageant. Compliments are easy to give, and show you are paying attention to them as members of society. As teenagers, this is a new role for them and your compliments will show them you care about how they are fulfilling that role.
Give them choices.
Offering options to teenagers gives them a feeling of power, something of which they really have very little in their new roles as members of society. You must remember how, as a teenager, each new tiny bit of freedom was exhilarating. Tap into this! Allow them to feel like they have some control over their learning. There are lots of ways to do this if you step back and think about it. It doesn’t have to mean more work for you. In high school, we have some flexibility in the curriculum to allow for student input. Would you rather read about the death penalty or euthanasia? Would you rather give your opinions in writing this time or orally? With some well-planned sneaky questioning during a recent brainstorming session, I was able to lead the students to “choose” the next topic of discussion (for which I had already found my sources and planned my assessments). It didn’t matter—the important thing was that they believed they were mapping their own learning and that made all the difference in the world.
Ask their opinion about a completed unit or activity. Did you like doing it that way? Would you have preferred doing it this way instead? Should I do this again with my next group? Was this a worthwhile activity? You’ll be surprised by the maturity in the answers you get. Most teenagers don’t want to waste their time in class and they will be brutally honest if that lesson you spent hours planning was a total flop. Listen to them and take their feedback seriously. You will earn their respect quickly if you are sincere.
It is always fun to shake up routine with options as well. Let them arrange the classroom for a change (teenagers love this). Have them design an order for the day’s agenda. Offer two possible due dates for an assessment. Little things that won’t really be a big deal in the end will make them feel like their lives are important to you.
My mother once told me that the fastest way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. It’s the same for teenagers. Feed them and they will love you unconditionally. Connect the food to your curriculum and your administration will tolerate it. A good bit of my yearly teacher supply supplement goes to morning croissants, pizza parties, and salsa-tasting activities. I keep a drawer full of granola bars for the chronic breakfast skipper and a few healthy drinks for upset stomachs and headaches. Their diet is not my responsibility but it shows I care about them as a whole person and not just their learning or lack thereof. Food brings people together, breaks down barriers, and promotes conversations. Isn’t that what teaching is all about?
Adolescence is a magical time. Revel in it. Engage, nurture, honor and listen to your students first, then worry about the teaching. It’s time to turn those trenches into your own happy place.
World Language Teacher Support Specialist (and Language Enthusiast)