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.
Today's post comes to you from guest blogger, Celine Miller, French teacher at PHMS. She recently took a group of 8th graders on a French related field trip, and was so encouraged by her students' abilities to connect relevant information to other disciplines, as well as their kindness to strangers, I asked her if I could share her message. I will let Celine tell you in her own words...
"I wanted to let you know that today's French II field trip was such an awesome experience. I would do it again! And I will probably plan to do it again next year! The kids were so wonderful. They surprise me continually!
At our first stop, the Columbia Art Museum, they were able to answer art-related questions while touring the Matisse expo, they were able to relate the artwork to aspects of the history of France that they have learned in 7th grade (the Resistance during WWII), one student was able to recount an entire story about a mythological character Matisse used in his art as symbolism,... and I could go on about these kiddos who just impressed me one after the other!
At the French restaurant, Crêpe et Croissant, the students were respectful and so awesome! Three of the boys offered to help clean up the tables by picking up everyone's dirty dishes and bringing them to the counter, another group of boys saw that a car parked outside the restaurant had a parking meter about to run out. Therefore, they took it upon themselves to add coins in the meter for this person and they left the owner of the car a little note that should have made that person smile a little more hopefully! :)
These children make me prouder than ever to be one of their teachers. I think all of the teachers these kids have ever had ought to be recognized for what they have taught them, which transcends beyond the classroom! I received a huge reward today for being with these children. I hope our teachers know that this reward is not my own, but OURS. It is indeed the product of the efforts, work, tears and sweat at times, that each teacher at PHMS has provided for each student who once stepped into their classroom."
Thank you Celine, and truly each one of you. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Guest Blogger: Amelia Groza, GHS
Here we are, at the end of another semester and GHS French 3HN students have proved once again that environmental issues are important. We've just completed the second edition of the Green Fashion Show (La mode verte).
The students designed an outfit to illustrate an environmental problem. Boys were allowed to design a product, instead of a wearable outfit, if they chose so. The outfits/products were made from recyclable materials or trash. Then they presented their outfit/product in the learning commons, to an audience made of students from other classes, teachers or anyone else interested in what they had to show. The presentation had to be focused on one environment problem, causes, solutions, what the outfit was made of and how it connected to the problem, and a bibliography. They had to model their product and add French music in the background.
We're hoping that our show has raised awareness to the problems presented and, even though the presentations were in French, the outfits/products helped everyone else understand why it is important to do our part in caring for the environment.
In the future, we foresee a tradition being instituted here at GHS. We're looking forward to making more connections to the community and growing the impact our Green Fashion Show has.
What do you notice about these two ducks?
One is the real thing and one is not. Now think about the types of tasks, texts and experiences you provide for your students in the L2 you are teaching. Which duck do they resemble most? Of course there are times when it is appropriate to use language that is designed for teaching purposes, and simplified for our students' level, but if our students never encounter authentic language, will they recognize it and be able to use it when they do?
Today I want to share with you two experiences in which students are encountering authentic language. One in the form of authentic tasks and texts, and the other in the form of community interaction with native speakers, practices, products and perspectives.
What is authentic text? ACTFL defines authentic text as "written by members of a language and culture group for members of the same language and culture group" (Galloway, 1998, p. 133). To learn more about authentic texts, click here.
Sometimes we don't have the opportunity to take students into the community to experience authentic communication with native speakers of the language, or to interact with texts and other resources that were designed for native speakers of a language. In this case, resourceful language teachers bring the community into their classroom, and that is exactly what Mandy Domenech (WKHS) did for her Spanish students last week. She set up stations around the whole classroom as if they were in different parts of town. At each station, she created a task that students had to complete using the authentic texts that she has gathered, either through her travels, or from fellow teachers who loaned her their resources, or from local businesses who publish materials in Spanish.
What do we like about this activity? It is task-based, it requires students to interact with authentic texts, it is student-centered, and it self-directed. It's also challenging and fun at the same time.
What is challenging about this activity? It requires a lot of time up front to prepare the tasks and collect the materials. You also have to teach the unit vocabulary and structures in such a way that students will be able to apply what they learned in class to the tasks and texts at hand.
Is it worth it? This is a very simple way to show students that the language they are learning in the classroom is actually used in the real-world, and that there is an entire population of fellow human beings who use this language regularly in their daily lives. It is also empowering when students are able to accomplish a task using their newly acquired language. By adapting the tasks she required students to complete, she was even able to use the same texts for Level 1 and immersion students. So in my opinion, it is well worth it!
In addition to authentic texts, we can also motivate students by exposing them to culture. For example, students from the Chinese immersion program and Chinese Levels 1 and 2 classes at MGMS got to experience authentic language, products, practices and perspectives on a recent field study to the Confucius Institute at USC. Susan Wang and Na Zhang described the event so that I could share it with you here.
Our first immersion class has recently been working on the topic of famous people in China. We started from Kongzi (Confucius) first. Our students learned some information about Kongzi's life experience, his achievements and his philosophy through teacher created presentations, online video clips, and guided self-study online.
In order to help students understand the profound influence Confucius had on today's society, we designed a field study to the Confucius Institute for our students in the immersion class and regular Chinese language class as well. Considering the students' L2 skills, we organized the students into two different groups, Higher level- Immersion class + level 2 class and Lower level: Novice A+ level 1 classes. Therefore Professor Yetan's presentation content also varied depending on the two levels.
In the photos you see Professor Ye Tan, the director of the Confucius Institute at USC, who gave us a presentation on Confucius. You also see Ms. Liyue, the deputy director of this organization, who guided us on a short tour of the Institute, and showed us some Chinese calligraphy works, authentic Chinese items used for Chinese New year celebrations, as well as Chinese textbooks, and extended readers. The students also had the opportunity to see a Taiji presentation, and practiced Taiji with Mr. Zhang and Mr. Tang.
What do we like about this activity? Students are immersed in authentic language, cultural practices and products, as well as experiencing Chinese in the community.
What is challenging about this activity? The time to set it up, making connections in the community, and funding for the trip.
Is it worth it? Susan states, Overall the students had a very good experience from this trip. They came back did a Field study reflection in small groups, and shared out their thoughts in class.
Is it more fun to learn about Taiji, or to actually learn Taiji? I suggest that the time and investment required to provide these opportunities for our students is well worth it!
Mandy, Susan and Na, thank you for letting your students hold a real duck, instead of a fake. Your hard work is noticed and appreciated.
As we approach another fall holiday, and we are certainly all giving thanks for a break to spend time with our families, fur babies and other loved ones, I thought I would share some of the exciting work that Rebecca Feng has been doing with her Chinese classes and Chinese Club.
Guest Blogger: Rebecca Feng, RBHS
Here you see the Mid autumn festival Field Trip to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, performances of Lion dance and Kung Fu show (dancers flew from China for this festival). Lanterns are also directly from China.
We left school at 1:00 and arrived back at 10:00, but students didn't want to leave because they were enjoying the lanterns so much. This holiday is equal to U.S. Thanksgiving Day because it is the second largest festival in China and a day that family gets together to celebrate because it is the full moon in the middle of the year. Traditionally, we go outside and place a table in the garden and have dinner together and appreciate the moon. In ancient times, large families would do singing and dancing and poets would recite poetry. The trip was open to any Chinese students, and Chinese club and students interested in Chinese culture. Afterward, we went directly to a restaurant that serves Southern Cantonese style Dim Sum. Next year during Chinese New Year we are going to Atlanta to the Buddhist Temple.
In the classroom, Rebecca has been working very hard on a virtual exchange with several classes from China, in which her students actually Skype back and forth in order to practice their Chinese. The students in China are practicing their English. Rebecca shared:
We (the EFL teacher of XinDu No. 1 Middle School & I) started with one Skype session every 3 weeks on Thursdays 8:25am--9am U.S. Eastern Time. The ones we did in past weeks were with my Chinese 1 students. Based on what they learned, the first Skype communication was simply to ask and answer personal information and hobbies. Motivated by this authentic communication opportunity, my Chinese 1 students came to me after class asking questions beyond the learned vocabulary and structures, so as to be able to ask and answer seasonal questions to Chinese students about Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in their second communication session. They also started to greet and talk to me in school in front of other students and explain the meaning of our short conversations to other students. I'm so thrilled to see this important step forward in fostering a positive atmosphere toward learning Chinese (spread on campus as the most difficult language in the world to study) initiated by Chinese students themselves. One more time I am convinced that Authenticity is Powerful.
So far the Chinese 1 class finished their exchange with the Chinese school this year. Due to the 13 hour time difference, Chinese 1 will have to wait until next year Daylight Saving Time in March to resume their Skype with the Chinese school. Made hyper by the authentic speaking communication, Chinese 1 students requested more culture exchange. Students took the lead a few weeks ago and started a "25 Days to Christmas calendar" project with both Chinese and English sessions on each date, to send to XinDu No.1 Middle School as their first hand-made culture & language exchange gift! I was truly touched by their passion and action.
With the successful experience from Chinese 1, now we (the EFL teacher and I) are working to include more Chinese EFL teachers in their school and their students to communicate with my other levels of Chinese classes using Skype, in order to share the load of working at evenings in China while getting more students on both sides to experience this language and culture exchange. We are even working to possibly broadcast some of our other classes, such as physics, to the Chinese school so they can sit in and observe.
Rebecca, your work is encouraging and inspiring! Thanks to all of you who regularly go above and beyond to make language learning real and authentic to our students. They notice!
Guest Blogger: Sarah Buckliew, RBHS
October was a busy month for our River Bluff German Program. Students attended two German workshops; one at College of Charleston and one at USC Upstate. At these workshops students participated in station activities in the target language and learned about the University German programs. The most exciting trip however was a trip to IFA Rotorion, a German company in Charleston. Over the summer I applied for a grant from the American Association of German Teachers, to sponsor field excursions for our students who are enrolled in both German and Mechanical Design at River Bluff. After being awarded this grant, we are able to meet with German companies in the state of South Carolina, to see how their German background knowledge and mechanical design skills can be used in future employment. Our first trip to IFA Rotorion was a huge success. Students were introduced to the company by the CEO Mauro Amarante. Then the human resources department spoke to them about their CO-OP opportunity and how what they are learning in high school will help them get a job in the future. IFA Rotorion is opening a new facility in the next two years and will be employing 600 more employees. Then students were then able to tour the facility, complete with steel toed shoes and eye protection. Students were able to see first hand how what they are learning in class can be directly used in their future. Students can’t wait until our next trips in the spring to BMW and BOSCH! A huge thank you to AATG for sponsoring these trips for our students.
Sra. Shumpert: "Why do you think I painted my face, and prepared this display for you today?"
Student: "Because you're a Spanish teacher and Day of the Dead is a Spanish holiday, so you have to teach us about it."
Sra. Shumpert: "Well actually, there is a bigger purpose behind it. When you don't know about something or understand it, sometimes you become a judge and start to judge it. But I want you to open your minds to what other people do, and even if you don't understand it or do it yourself, you can respect it."
Later in the lesson Sra. Shumpert went on to say, "How can you say you won't like something if you've never even tasted it? In the same way, how do you know you won't be friends with that person over there just because of the way he or she looks?"
These are the questions that we must ask ourselves and our students on a regular basis if we want our teaching to be truly transformational. Teaching a student how to speak Spanish is certainly an important and valuable skill, but encouraging a student to have an open heart and mind...what could possibly matter more?
Today I want to thank Sra. Shumpert, and all of you who share from your hearts every day with your students. I had the joy of observing a class in which Sra. Shumpert shared from her heart about her own ancestors who have passed away and why she celebrates their lives on November 2nd. She explained to students that because she is not Mexican, she does not celebrate Día de los Muertos in the same way that many Mexican families do. Instead she does have a practice from her Puerto Rican heritage in which she lights a candle in remembrance.
Guest Blogger: Jessica Oberly, PM
Last week Ms Jacome and myself taught our students about the practices of Día de los Muertos. We discussed the the signficance, altars, typical food, and the atmosphere of the celebration. Then we gave our students 3 days in class to participate in a Day of the Dead art contest.
Ms Jacome's Spanish 1 student created calaveras or sugar skulls.
All of the Novice A and B classes created Catrina or Catrin skeletons.
My Spanish 2 class and I discussed Diego Rivera's mural "A dream of a Sunday afternoon in Alameda park". The students then created their interpretation of the mural.
Winners are featured below.
Guest Blogger: Dr. Jason Bagley, LHS
The past two years I have taken my upper level students to MES to visit with immersion students and to read stories. It was always fun, but there was a missing connection. I think that younger students just didn’t have the vocabulary for conversation or to understand the stories. As a result of these reflections, last year we switched to fifth grade for our one day visit. The enthusiasm of both groups of students, elementary and high school, made me wonder how we could continue the momentum.
I asked my students if they’d be interested in doing something more long term instead of one visit and they were excited about the idea. Next I gauged interest with Dr. Katrinda Scott to see if she’d be willing to do an “adopt a class” partnership this year, and she said yes!
Once we got approval from the principals for the project I began thinking of ways that we could keep momentum going, yet not intrude too much on instructional time. I thought up the idea of having face to face visits about once per month, and then working some sort of online communication in the interim weeks. We just completed our first visit, where we played "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" in French. MES won the game, and we awarded prizes of t-shirts and candy. Future visits will include cultural celebrations, holidays, and games.
Katrinda and I have been toying with ideas about which platform to use and which apps or software would work. We decided to go with the Google voice chat for periodic video conferences. We have also created a shared Google classroom. HS and ES students have all written introduction blogs and the 4 HS students will be responsible for corresponding and forming relationships with small groups of the MES class.
I wanted to do something that would give students the opportunity to use their language outside of the classroom setting (not always easy with French), and that would allow them to create bonds with younger language learners. They are learning from and are even challenged by the language abilities of their younger counterparts.
We are learning as we go about things that work and things that can be improved upon. I’d love to see this turn in to a yearly thing, and to see other partnerships develop around the district!
World Language Teacher Support Specialist (and Language Enthusiast)