29 January 2016

GUEST POST: Young Teachers and Terrifying Reality

Each week in January I've featured insights on the blog from some ladies with great ideas from my PLN.

This week, I chatted with Wendy Farabaugh, (@MmeFarab) who had "A rough start" to her school year, but a lot of the problems she's facing as a young world language teacher are problems that we are all facing in our quest to do right by our students. Wendy helps me answer the question "How can a young language teacher survive?"

Wendy is a third-year teacher loves video games and graduated from Miami University and teaches 8-12th grade French in Mentor Public Schools, near Cleveland, Ohio. She lives with her wonderful husband (whom she met when they were 5. #precious).

@MmeFarab: I feel like I'm being pushed in so many directions and don't know which one is right for me. I think a lot of what's out there is hard to apply to WL.

@SraSpanglish: You're not wrong, amiga. It takes a lot more prep to pull off some of the "Best Practices" in a new language.

@MmeFarab: My current stressors are the "you should only be in front of your students for 10 minutes a day" and "students should be doing inquiry/the work themselves/figuring it out/you should only be a guide" ideologies. If I'm only in front of my students for 10 minutes a day, I don't feel like they get the input they need. Novices don't have the capability to hold long, in-depth, inquiry based conversations in French. They just can't.

@SraSpanglish: Very true. I don’t think I spend less than 30 minutes in front of a 90 minute class more than once a week.

@MmeFarab: And in general, I think it's much harder to find relevant authentic resources in French. I'm not saying that they're not out there. I'm just saying that they are much harder to find.

@SraSpanglish: OK, so the problem is not only is there not enough language there to do interpersonal all day, there's not enough for interpretive either (nevermind presentational).

@MmeFarab: Exactly. It's like "direct instruction" has become this taboo and I don't think all of it is bad. I think lecturing while kids take notes and barely ask questions is a terrible practice, but I consider PQA or questioning or repetition of target structures a "direct" practice.

@SraSpanglish: I think PQA and practicing target structures is a perfect use of direct instruction time, but I wonder if it counts as "being in front of a class"?

@MmeFarab: I also wonder how much of this is my curriculum. It's not very in-depth itself, and you can only talk about family members and have kids explain them so many times, you know? And I feel pressure "get through" things and "add rigor" and be "challenging." Not a good combination for my young teaching.

@SraSpanglish:  2 questions for you:

#1 How do you define rigor?

@MmeFarab: I hate defining rigor, but I can say what it's not. Like, I won't give level 2 kids an assessment they could have taken in level 1. But I want kids to do WELL on assessments. I don't think that making them hard, or "rigorous" is a benefit for them. I don't think that "rigor" is giving tons of homework, or making kids find the information themselves, or having a hands-off approach. I think that IPAs are the perfect kind of rigor for us. But I can't define it.

@SraSpanglish: I think you're onto something with the IPAs for rigor! If you set them up carefully (maybe use AAPPL rubrics to evaluate) then students can perform exactly as high as they are ready to and focus on what they DO know!

@MmeFarab: I need to incorporate real IPAs and integrate the AAPPL rubrics. I haven't found the balance standards-based and proficiency based, but I think it's easier than I'm letting myself believe.

@SraSpanglish: The biggest step I made toward SBG WAS including the 3 modes in the IPA and recording them separately. It's 60% of students' grades, so not PURE SBG, but as close as I can manage with district requirements. I just do 1 IPAs each grading period and count each section as its own "test grade." Et voila! Six test grades that show performance growth (or lack thereof) in the 3 modes. We have 3 6-week grading periods in semester courses. I think it's just the right amount of feedback

@MmeFarab: I would also love to give a grade (SBG from1-4) based on the proficiency level that they hit when doing it, and doing a sliding scale per semester.

@SraSpanglish:  I love the sliding scale, but mine is set up with AAPPL rubrics. N4 is 10/10 1st 6 weeks, I1 is 10/10 next 6 weeks, I2 is 10/10 at the end.

#2 Where is the 10-minute pressure coming from?

Administration? PLN colleagues?

@MmeFarab: Mostly admin. With 1:1, the intent is that students are doing the work themselves, going deeper, etc. They're really pushing mini-lessons and students practicing on their own. There's a strong push for station-based lessons. We're supposed to be doing a "station rotation" once per week.

@SraSpanglish: I wonder if something like Nearpod or Peardeck could help with the push to have students do the work. I post questions in TL and have them respond in TL every so often. Then I get to wander and not be in front, and they get to test drive what we've been discussing.

@MmeFarab: I love Nearpod - we have district accounts, but I usually guide them through it. Are you saying I should use the "homework" option in class? That's kind of genius.

@SraSpanglish:  I have used the homework option on Nearpod in class, but mostly I build in open-ended questions throughout a live session. (PS as for stations, I too have a hard time making them make sense with technology--why move if activities are online?)

@MmeFarab: AMEN on the stations front. Our "ideal" stations will be at each student's own "place, pace, and path" which implies that they don't have to move. WHY make them MOVE? And plus, 1 station lesson per week, per class would drive my kids nuts. They hate it when you mention the word station.

@SraSpanglish: So for the stations do you think you could talk to administration about the "place" part and show them some of the tasks you use--or want to use--that are not dependent on place? The only way I can think to make place relevant a lot of times is including a paper resource they need to refer to, which...why?

@MmeFarab: Seriously. So there are two schools of thought. One is that physically moving helps reset kid's brains. The other is that in a perfect world, every lesson would be differentiated for each kid, and they could complete those activities wherever, and at whatever pace they need to. Which, in all reality would be a nightmare to keep up on.

@SraSpanglish: Your point about stations, movement, and pacing is a profound one. My kids don't move nearly enough, but I'm inclined to think brain breaks may work better than tech-based stations.

@MmeFarab: My #1 question about stations is

How is that different than saying, today we're doing "x,y,z, sit there and do them in whatever order?"

@SraSpanglish: The path, pace, and place is the clearest explanation I've heard, and for the reasons you gave. When I went to observe Personalized Learning in action, that's exactly what it was like. But their stations had manipulatives, like for science experiments, graphing, or just books or iPads.

@MmeFarab: Yeah, though every time I've done stations, the stations that my students say worked the best, they liked the most, or helped them the most were the ones where they did a mini-lesson with me. Either that means my kids need input from me, or all the rest of my stations are garbage. I can't decide.

@SraSpanglish: Hold your bathwater, there's a baby in there! One, you know more about what can help them than they do. In fact, the more productive it feels for them sometimes, the less it is going to stick.

@MmeFarab: I guess that's true. I just feel like there's a not-so communicative basis for my level 2 class and I don't know how to get around that.I generally try to focus my stations on reading/writing/speaking/listening but maybe that's not a good format.

@SraSpanglish: It could be. Sounds like a good start. I would say the important thing to remember in setting up stations is having a clear end goal in mind. It needs to be something they have enough language to handle on their own with a clear end product to submit. What do you think is keeping it from being communicative?

@MmeFarab: Me, maybe? I don't have the right resources and approach. Sometimes it's the I-cans. "I can identify ingredients" is somewhat communicative, but "I can label the Canadian provinces" is less so. Maybe it's also a little bit of me rushing to stay on pace with the other teacher? I’ve never had to keep pace with someone before and it stresses me out.

@SraSpanglish: Is the problem with the difficulty level of the tasks or the interest level?

@MmeFarab: Interest level. Kids just wanna "get through" stuff. My level ones will do stuff if it's not for a grade but my level twos are harder to get the buy-in from. I think it will get easier as kids know my style, though.

@SraSpanglish: 3 things I can tell you about buy-in: 1) you're exactly right--they do need to get used to your style. When you've been there longer than them, built a reputation of what to expect in your classes, you're golden. Sometimes it is just a question of time and our own maturity!

2) If the can-dos lead up to something bigger, like a project or a class-to-class Skype or something (or maybe even just an IPA), then students will be able to connect the tasks to a larger goal.

3) Keeping the focus on proficiency levels means the kids know what they need and how to get there, so they feel like they CAN do it.

@MmeFarab: I do need to spend more time on backward planning. Also, focusing on proficiency levels needs to happen more. I need a solid plan for integration.

@SraSpanglish: IPAs will do a lot of that for you, along with consistent rubrics, whether AAPPL or JCPS or something else.

@MmeFarab: Also, I wonder if part of it was the "no explicit grammar" approach. I think I went too far in the opposite direction and now am trying to find the balance.

@SraSpanglish: Yeah, my kids feel more comfortable with a little grammar. I just gave them actions to distinguish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person and they felt so...relieved? To have a breakdown to differentiate.

@MmeFarab: Maybe I should do that. I haven't even taught plural pronouns yet because it really hasn't come up. It's next now that we're talking about family and kids are asking for them.

@SraSpanglish: Right on--grammar as they need it. Just build in practice where they actually need it--Nearpod, station to describe Awkward Family Photos...

Plan of action

@MmeFarab: Step one: decide on a good rubric. step two: use consistently.
My current terrifying reality is that I know so much about the theory and very little about putting those things into practice.

@SraSpanglish: OK, so less terrifying corollary to step 2: design (and follow through) with one good 3-part IPA. Steal one of Mme. Shepard's maybe!

@MmeFarab: One of my worries is using someone else's IPA and it not being right for my kids. I need to make sure it builds up to something my Ss can handle, or I need to take the time to really build backwards from someone else's IPA. And backwards design is beautiful, but I don't have that kinda time in year three. One day, man, one day.

@SraSpanglish: So for now, try backward planning ONE IPA for ONE class. If it takes 3 years to build, so be it.

@MmeFarab: Gotcha. I will do that.

To follow Mme. Farabaugh's progress or share your own, connect with Wendy through Twitter @MmeFarab or her blog, En Français, SVP

Check out more guest posts from our online PLN this month!


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