22 July 2016

My Job - #iFLT16 Day 3



There is only one thing I really have to do as a language teacher:

Make my students feel good.

As my CSCTFL amiga and unofficial coach for the day, Michelle, said, it's simple, but it ain't easy. So many things go into making a student feel good!

Before I start enumerating the many, many, MANY things I have to keep track of to fulfill that one "simple" task, I want to pause and address those doubts you may have about that task.


  • What about the students' job?
    A) Their job is--by definition--not my job. I HAVE to focus on what I am doing, because that's ultimately all I can control. And B) I'm the only one walking in Day 1 know what my job is, and I think any teacher would agree that establishing clear expectations is undeniably our responsibility. So part of my job HAS to be making students understand their job AND the only proof I can ever truly have  that they understand their jobs is if they are successful at their jobs.

    I've been filling my brain up to overflowing for days now, but until I stood up and tried just a FEW of the things I'd absorbed, there was no way of knowing if anything going in actually registered in more than an intellectual way.

  • What about the language?
    BVP said it Day 1: language is the means to an end, what makes communication possible. Based on what I've seen this week, I'd say it's also what makes making students feel good possible. I marvel at how blank the slate students walk in with is when it comes to another language. We as language teachers have a unique--and kinda thrilling--role in demonstrating to students in the most concrete of ways that they CAN learn anything.

    What they learn about themselves, their abilities, and their place in the world is SO much more important than how many words they can string together or how accurately.

That being said, the principle is simple. But executing it is not.




What needs to happen?

Reading about TPRS for years has not been able to crystallize for me what any of this looked like, so I'm not sure it can help you to read what I have learned without seeing it for yourself. But it'll help me to put it into my words--something we must encourage our students to do too--so here goes.
PS this badge is yours if you email me
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I wanted to 
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  1. Keep students focused on making me do my job so they don't have to worry about theirs: teach gestures to communicate students' needs immediately while maintaining their dignity; teach "You confused me" instead of "I don't understand."
  2. Build in reflection constantly: pause for blind comprehension checks where students close their eyes and respond to words they hear and give you gestures for "understood" or "not understood." Have students interact with and investigate texts with discussion related to their knowledge and opinions and lives if possible.
  3. Simplify and recycle: keep your stories to about 15 sentences and 15 minutes at first, and then use the four circling question types (+ , -, e/o, ?) to reinforce in the moment. Use student actors--even groups of student actors--to recap story events and create parallel stories.
  4. Demonstrate active interest in each of them: teach to the eyes, teach to the eyes, teach to the eyes, but also ask about their lives and react with genuine interest and enthusiasm. Our world needs it!



How do I make it happen?

Again, I absorbed so much just watching people like Linda Li, Grant Boulanger, and Bryce Hedstrom this week. It all sounds very, very good in my head. I didn't think I could execute a fraction of what I had absorbed, even if I had already put it into 140-character chunks to process it.

And I couldn't.

But I got up there and did what I do.I waited until dead last to stand up in front of my new amigos in coaching time. I fumbled to stick to the structures I picked and language that was not just appropriate for language teachers, but the 10th graders I'll be facing in two weeks(!) I put that Theater minor from college to work and picked out the amiga I knew would have the chutzpah to be my protagonist (Lauras are awesome like that).

And I derailed.

I'm told it was entertaining at least. And honestly, my peers and coaches made me believe it wasn't derailing so much as switching tracks where I didn't mean to.

Afterward, I decided I wanted the hard truth from my coach (Amy Wopat is an angel, a brilliant, insightful angel). She gave me two goals:

  • work in those constant comprehension checks
  • and establish meaning thoroughly, whether it's with English on the word wall, quick translation, or gestures and images--as long as the targets are ONE HUNDRED PERCENT clear.

So I'm going going to try again today. The comprehension checks I can only work on in the moment, but here are some steps I'm taking to be better prepared today (after a long impromptu talk with Michelle during coaching yesterday!)


1. Create cue cards
One sentence per card, customizable details like names left out BUT possible answers listed to the side in pencil. (Also, possibly the +, -, e/o, ? circling symbols.) Each card MUST use at least one target structure and at least one blank for students to fill in.


2. Prepare passive and active vocabulary posters
Linda Li had every. single. word that appeared in all versions of her stories on the walls somewhere. The target structures were up front, and extra words like potential characters (that weren't proper nouns) were on the side. She had them in English. So instead of having to be reminded to put something on the chart paper before I started, I have even color coded the words I want to point to in a Google Slides presentation so I'm ready to write this time!


It feels good to make other people feel good, and Bryce Hedstrom encourages us to make our classrooms a factory for those feelings. Making students feel good is really very simple.

But it takes a LOT of work to make it look that way.

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