Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Volleyball Reading

I love to read and was a voracious reader throughout my childhood and adolescence. Unfortunately, most of my students don't seem to share the same interest in reading as I did when I was their age (which wasn't all that long ago!). Since many of them dislike reading in English, getting them enthusiastic about reading in French is no easy task!

I do my best to make the actual process of reading more fun for my students and I often read to them to provide them with input that is both comprehensible and accurate. From time to time I like to take the heat off of myself and have the students do the reading - but I also don't want to have to worry about students making comprehension errors when I step back, which means that I would have to work double-hard to undo something that had been cemented into their heads incorrectly.

Wikimedia Commons

Enter...volleyball. It's a technique I picked up a couple of years ago at a TPRS Workshop and it is probably my students' favorite reading strategy. It works best with smaller chunks of text at a time - say, an Embedded/Extended Reading or perhaps 1-2 pages of a chapter in a novel - and it provides students with LOTS of repetition and CI (provided that the text you pick is comprehensible)!

First, the students and I read through the text together; I give them the French, and they respond together in unison with the English translation, line per line. This is what helps to provide comprehensibility. If it is a text that features a lot of structures the students are already familiar with, I will ask them to read it together with a partner, and circle or underline any words/phrases they don't know. Before we start volleyball, I will clarify the translations of those words or phrases.

Then...we play! Students sit with a partner, and they begin to "volley" back and forth; Student A reads the first line of the story in French; student B translates that line into English, and then reads the following line in French. Student A translates that line, then reads in French, so on and so forth. During this time, I am circling and listening for accuracy; if I hear an inaccurate translation, we clarify, and I send them back to the beginning of the story. After an indeterminate amount of time, I call, Arrête (Stop)! and the students stop reading. If Student A was in the middle of speaking when I called stop, then Student B gets to mark one point on his/her paper and vice versa. I do my best to vary when I call stop, so that the students can't predict when I'm going to say it. If they get to the end of the reading sample before I call stop, they are to go back to the beginning and start again.

Whichever partner has the most points at the end of the game is the "winner" - and students usually ask for a rematch, which I love - more repetitions! and the students love - more game time!

Bonne continuation!

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 New Year's Resolutions

I've never been one for making many New Year's Resolutions as I've found a tendency to attempt to accomplish things that are not actually that realistic - sometimes lofty goals with no supports in place are not the best recipe for success, shockingly! Likewise, as I move into the latter part of my twenties, I'd like to think of these less as one-year goals and more as steps toward becoming a more mature, responsible, and productive adult.

In addition to setting personal goals for my own health and wellness (eat more mindfully, be more active, spend more time reading), I have also created a few professional "resolutions" that I hope to work on this year as well.

Resolution #1: 90% Language, 100% Comprehensible.

I know this. You know this. The students need me to remain in the Target Language 90% of the time. I am inconsistent with this -  there are some days when I hit that target full force with 90% or more, and some days where it's all I can do to just stay standing until the end of the hour, let alone speaking French. I need to be more diligent about reminding myself (and having students remind me!) that since it's French class, that's the language I need to be speaking.

Resolution #2: #authres is where it's at.

I need way more authentic resources. I need to let the students discover the culture, rather than sit and listen while I tell them about the culture. I think learning stations are absolutely golden when it comes to this - they force me to take a back seat, and force the students to do the work and discovery. Additionally, students WANT to spend more time exploring the culture - if not a daily focus, this needs to be a more consistent, weekly focus. Pinterest, here I come!

Resolution #3: Less is more.

Though my do-it-all grammar obsession has waned considerably since I first started to wade into the ocean of technique that is TCI/TPRS (I'm still hanging out in the shallow end, relatively speaking), I still am trying to do too much. My expectations, per proficiency level, are still too high. I am letting the pressure of my non-TCI department get to me, to "get through the textbook" and to "cover" material. I also do not trust myself; I do not trust that they will learn sentence structure if I throw out verb charts! I do not trust that they will acquire vocabulary without a reference list. I need to trust. I need to slow down. I need to remember what the goal really is - and it's not to get through eleventy-bajillion verb tenses and 500 vocab words.

Resolution #4: My work day ends at 4:00 PM.

This is one I'm stealing from the ladies at Creative Language Class, because it's genius and it never even occurred to me. Seriously? It never occurred to me to put a limit on my work day. This is insanity, because I could (and have!) work all day and all night. It's easy to go home and keep that stack of grading handy as I watch TV, or surf for resources, so on and so forth - but I've got to knock it off. I need limits, a work-life balance, and better time management skills. I also want to put that time into pursuing new hobbies (and maybe walking my dog a little more...sorry Lu!).

Bonne année, toutes et tous! What are your resolutions??

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Quoi de neuf?

Each day, in every single one of my classes (even French 1!) I start with the same question: Quoi de neuf? ("What's new?"). It's a simple, but extremely effective way, to get students speaking in the TL in a no-pressure situation. I let them speak about whatever they want, for however long they want, and anyone who wants to talk gets a chance to have the floor - so long as it's in French. I used to do this mostly on Fridays or Mondays, to discuss weekend plans and goings-on, but it has since expanded into everyday use.

I used to - well, who am I kidding, really, I still do - feel the pressure of having to "get to work" and maximize our scant 55 minutes to dig into our current unit topics and spending this kind of time to just talk to one another about whatever was on our minds felt like an enormous waste. But then I thought about it - doesn't language exist for this reason? To have conversations? What use is it to rush into vocabulary and grammar and reading/writing/listening, however authentic and CI-based they may be, if the kids are happy to just use the TL to speak to each other? So now we talk, for however long we'd like; sometimes it's 5 minutes, sometimes it's 25 minutes. The students are happy because they think they "didn't do anything" in French class that day, and I'm happy because we got to practice speaking without me having to actually prep anything special. :)

I've found extraordinary participation during this Quoi de neuf conversation. Even students who wouldn't normally be willing to participate in regular speaking activities or games are willing to raise their hands and tell me what's going on in their lives that day; I have three tests today, or I'm going to dinner with my family, or I have homework in five classes! Sometimes I'm sneaky and get in a little bit of a grammar reminder, like when a student says that she's "going to go to a restaurant this weekend" and it's Monday - I'll say something like, "Going to go this coming weekend?" as if I'm verifying her detail, and typically that will be enough for the student to smile, re-assess, and tell me, "No, I went!" 

My students regularly tell me that this conversation time is their favorite thing about class, and I often get comments such as, "You're the only teacher that actually wants to know about our lives." I feel fortunate that, as the only French teacher in my building, I get to know these students so well and can share these moments with them.

So, go ahead...quoi de neuf?

Monday, November 24, 2014

J'ai entendu dire que...

We just wrapped our unit on Amour et Amitié (Love & Friendship) in my split French 3/4, and I have to say, I am so far thrilled with the results. I administered an IPA for this unit, as opposed to a traditional test, and I have been very pleased with my students' performances. I combined Storytelling with the inclusion of more authentic resources and lots of in-class discussion. For more structured interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational activities, I used an IPA-style approach to prepare them for what to expect on the summative assessment.

One particular part of the unit that we had a lot of fun with was the gossip/rumor-telling portion. During that time, our targeted structure was J'ai entendu dire que... (I heard that...) as well as refining our use of indirect discourse. I started off using Martina Bex's idea for teaching the structure "Dijo" but instead of focusing on the structure "said" (which my students already know pretty well), I focused on starting off each rumor with "J'ai entendu dire que." The kids LOVED this activity and we kept it going for nearly the whole hour! Like Martina, I had a lot of "Person A likes Person B" but plenty of other very creative rumors, too - I think my favorite was "Mademoiselle actually prefers to speak Spanish." In any case, it was a great way to provide lots of Comprehensible Input for students, and have fun, too. I always love to hear kids say, "We didn't do anything in French class today." They have no idea what they've accomplished!

We also took this time to review how to officially "do" indirect discourse - they already knew, but as I have particular grammar points I am required to hit throughout the course of the year, I took this time to do some more explicit grammar instruction (very limited, however).

After that, I had prepared some questions for discussion, which the students prepared first in partners, and then shared with the whole group:

1. Have you ever told a rumor about a friend?
2. Has a friend ever told a rumor about you? How did you feel when you found out?
3. What kind of problems can rumors cause?
4. Are rumors a big part of our culture? How do you know?

I was fishing for a particular answer for number four, which the kids provided readily when they talked about America's obsession with celebrities, hollywood, tabloid magazines, etc. I used that as a jumping-off point for analyzing an article from the French version of Marie Claire, who had done a write-up on an interview that Carla Bruni had given, discussing her marriage to Nicolas Sarkozy and whether or not she believed he had ever been unfaithful to her, in response to the endless rumors about the two of them. The kids read the article in partners and did the IPA-style activities; this particular article was chock-full of our unit vocabulary, so they actually found it quite easy to read!

After they read, they completed the interpersonal portion of the activity, in which they discussed with a partner the various contexts in which they themselves have been part of the rumor mill, and whether or not there was any truth to things they had said or heard. They were also provided with a series of scenarios that they had to rank using adjectives like "scandalous" or "revolting" and be prepared to orally defend why they felt the way they did. It was interesting to hear their perspectives on what would be the most shocking to them - many reported that the president having an affair would not rock their world, but their favorite athlete taking drugs would be an enormous scandal/shock. Interesting!

Ultimately, this whole thing acted as a lead-in to our discussion of François Hollande and his big cheating scandal, as well as marriage and relationship conventions in France.

In any case, I am providing the link to the work I developed. I departed a little bit from the traditional IPA format and CI conventions by including a very brief grammar section to review the construction of indirect discourse - this can be easily omitted if that is your personal preference! I also do not have a presentational part included for this particular assignment - the students in my classes had to write a blog entry on the theme of rumors and their impact on others, but you could add something in of your own choosing.

Carla Bruni et les rumeurs

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Whole-Group Listening Game: Combien de gens comprennent...?

I'm posting today a kinesthetic listening game that can also function well as a formative assessment or review for just about any classroom topic. The idea came from some of the English teachers at my school, who use this activity as a way to practice vocabulary definitions, but it can be easily adapted for use in the World Language classroom, as either a way to review singular vocabulary words, or target phrases/ideas from a story! It is also a good way to provide students with a lot of repetitions of structures, but keep them engaged at the same time.

How to play:
1. Divide the class into two big teams (or three, if you have really large classes. My max is 25.).

2. Provide the students on one of the team's with a word or a phrase in the Target Language. Say it loud enough so that the whole class can hear, but only one team gets to guess first. This can be done with singular vocabulary (Que veut dire, "il y avait" en anglais?) or with details from a story that have already been established. For example, in French 3 we have been practicing the subjunctive with Bryce Hedstrom's Introducing the subjunctive with a story script, so I might ask the students, "Où est-ce que Haley veut que Marcus aille?" knowing that the detail has already been established in class.

3. The students on the team who believe they can confidently answer the question stand up and the teacher randomly calls on one standing student for an answer. I have a set of index cards for each class that have every student's name on one card, so it really is a random "cold-call," if you will.

4. The student gives the answer in English, if doing a vocabulary check, or in the TL if providing a detail from the story. If he or she is correct, his or her team gets as many points as they had people standing up, claiming to know the correct answer. If the answer is incorrect, the OTHER team has the opportunity to steal and get as many points as they have people standing up, PLUS the number of people from the other team who had originally stood up.

This game has been a big hit in all of my classes so far. Sometimes, in the spirit of competition, kids will encourage their teammates to stand up even if they don't know the correct answer, but the fact that by standing up each person makes him or herself eligible to be called on for the answer has tended to keep them pretty accountable and honest.

I have had a few "social loafers" during this activity - you know, the kids who use the idea of a whole group activity to just sit there and do nothing/tune out - but a quick comprehension quiz at the end of the game put an end to that behavior fairly quickly when they did poorly on a "quiz" that I had already given them the answers to and would have been an easy A, had they just paid attention and participated.

Happy teaching - and have fun to all of you attending #ACTFL14! I am beyond jealous - I hope to join you all someday!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

First Marking Period Favorites

Bonjour à tous!

Again with the blogging. I know, I know. This is a big year for me, however, as I am teaching a completely full class load of French 1-4, with no prep hour and a personal goal to stay true to proficiency-based/TCI methods in every class. It has certainly not been easy so far but I am already seeing wonderful growth in my students and am excited to see what this year holds.

As I continue to develop my own proficiency in teaching French, I hope this blog can serve as a place to collaborate with other educators and collect resources to better my instruction.

And as our first marking period winds to an end (seriously? Where did it go?), I thought I'd share a few of the resources that have been helpful to me so far this year.

First Marking Period Favorites

The Creative Language Class: Though most of the instructional resources are in Spanish, the ladies at Creative Language Class have created an incredible collection of tools for any language educator. The proficiency-based rubrics have been especially helpful so far this year, and I've been able to easily adapt them to my many levels of French. They provide students with a clear picture of where their proficiency currently stands and where they're headed as this year progresses.

Madame's Musings: A French-teacher resource blog! Be still, mon coeur. The IPA lesson "packages" that Madame Shepard has made available on her blog have completely changed my French III/IV split and have inspired me to incorporate many more IPA-style practices in my class to prepare them for the actual assessment. All of my reading and listening practices so far have been modeled after what Madame Shepard has done with hers, which are based on ACTFLs recommendations for the interpretive part of the Integrated Performance Assessments. Once we get to our first "big" assessment in November, I think my students are going to do very well.

Français Interactif: Long a favorite resource for French grammar practice, I never realized until just recently that the University of Texas-Austin's Français Interactif offers MUCH more than just grammar exercises. They have vocabulary lists, grammar review & practice, an authentic song for each unit with accompanying listening exercises, a cultural component for each unit, videos and audio samples of authentic French speakers and an "activité internet" that students can easily complete in-class or at home. Formidable!

EduBlogs: This year, my French III/IV students are blogging as way to improve their writing proficiency, in both the presentational and interpersonal modes! EduBlogs allows a teacher to create a class that students can then "join" - which gives the teacher complete access to EVERY student's blog. I can also customize the security settings so that I can moderate each post and comment before they go "live" and so that only members of our class can view the student blogs, making internet safety the least of my concerns with this assignment. It does cost, but it is nothing astronomical and I think the price is worth it for that peace of mind. My French II students this year have the great fortune of having French pen-pals to correspond with! E-pals has been awesome so far; like EduBlogs, I can assign each student a unique and secure e-mail address to use for sending and receiving e-mails to their pen-pals. Can I just say that my students were absolutely OVER THE MOON the day they received their first letters? Also like EduBlogs, I have access to each student's mailbox and can monitor their outgoing and incoming e-mails, making security a virtual non-issue.

So that's a wrap on my first marking period favorites - if you have anything else to add that's been invaluable to you and your students so far, please feel free to share below!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Choice Board

I know I have been nowhere near as diligent about blogging as I had hoped - busy semester!! - but I recently attended a meeting of my county's World Language Advisory Council and came away with a fabulous idea that I want to implement in my classroom as soon as possible. In the spirit of giving, I would like to share it all with you!

Assigning meaningful homework that is conducive to learning a foreign language has been the Achilles heel of many a World Language teacher - including us new teachers! We're relatively limited to workbook exercises and/or worksheets and maybe the occasional presentation or project. Unfortunately, the vast majority of my high school students pursue one of the following options:

1. Google Translate
2. Copying another student's homework in the hallway before class, during lunch, etc.
3. Filling in some completely rubbish answer that demonstrates no knowledge or skill whatsoever because they know I grade based on completion.


And this, my friends, is where The Choice Board comes into play. The credit for this concept goes to one of my colleagues in the Rochester School District, though she says she got the idea from someone else at a conference or professional development session.

Click here to view a sample of a French 1 Choice Board

Here is how it works: I divide up the assignments into three categories - vocabulary, grammar, and culture. The students can pick whatever assignments they would like to do, so long as they create a "tic, tac, toe" formation on their board - which means they do one assignment from each category. When they finish the assignment and show it to me, I stamp the box - but only if it is completed satisfactorily.

Below the choice board, I have a list of "can-do" statements that mirror the new Can-Do statements put forward by ACTFL, as a means to clearly identify a student's level of proficiency in any of the categories (presentational, interpersonal, interpretive). The students, whenever they feel they are ready, must come to me to demonstrate that they are able to do the given task - there are four tasks for vocabulary, four tasks for grammar, two for culture and two tasks that are review from previous units. Again, when they demonstrate the task, I stamp the box. At the end of the unit, they turn in their choice boards to me and I assign the points based on how many items they have completed. You can determine whatever sort of grading system works best for you.

Since the due date isn't until the very end of the unit, some teachers brought up the concern that students would procrastinate and then wind up swamped with French or Spanish class homework, to which my response was, well - too bad. Effective time management is a skill that students absolutely need to learn - usually all it takes is one bad experience, and the student won't make that procrastination mistake again (we hope). Likewise, my colleague mentioned that if a student loses his or her choice board, he or she must re-do the activities, even if they had previously gotten them stamped for completion.

Creating the choice board itself was much less time consuming than I had initially thought it would be. Ideally, assessing student work via this method would take just as much time as checking in a worksheet and going over the answers in class, so no time is lost there. In fact, there may be time gained, as not all students will turn in their assignments on the same day - which means I can put more time towards in-class practice and providing my kids with the repetitions and comprehensible input they need to acquire the language!

If you have any questions or comments about what homework strategies work best in your classroom, leave a comment below!