27 October 2017

Wisdom Teeth: How I learned to take time off

It was after school, and I suddenly felt little pieces of bone? tooth? on my tongue. I moved my tongue around, and felt still more pieces. I spit them out.

Tooth. Tiny shards of tooth.

I didn't even have a toothache!

To this day, the worst nightmare I have is when my teeth start falling out. I used to get it when I didn't do my lesson plans or my grades weren't on time--quite frequently my first few years teaching, actually. It wasn't just the horrifically realistic wiggle of permanent teeth I felt, or the panic at wondering how many people would actually notice the resulting gaps, but it was the sheer GUILT at knowing that I had known exactly how to prevent those teeth falling out, the SHAME at knowing that now everyone would know I hadn't prevented it. I think the worst part of the dreams--as when I get a ticket or make some other avoidable mistake--is imagining my mother's reaction and coming up with a plan to cope with it.

So you would think that tooth shards would be a huge wake-up call.

Nope. I got what remained of that first wisdom tooth popped out, and went back to work the next day without so much as scheduling a cleaning. I didn't have the whole chipmunk effect I saw with my students who had the wisdom to, you know, get them removed before tooth shards happened.

A few years passed, and after giving birth to two kids, I slowly started to realize that Real Life was more than work. Apparently keeping your wisdom teeth delays wisdom. After Lena was born, I started to get actual pain on the other side, along with sensitivity that made it difficult to even eat. I found another dentist who agreed to pop that one out, fill a few cavities that had accrued in the intervening years, and even schedule a consultation with an orthodontic surgeon for those last two stubborn wisdom teeth.

Yeah, dental insurance was still sort of a dream at that point, so I figured I'd just wait until those teeth became a problem and maybe sign up for some insurance in the meantime.

Meanwhile, Lena's about to turn six--I do have dental insurance--and I end up in the emergency room when I can't stop crying long enough to explain the pain stabbing my face at urgent care.

I tell you about this teeth not to confess my failings at oral hygiene, but to illustrate what can happen when teachers don't take care of themselves, when they save up all of those sick days for retirement or for the kids. The truth is that I only went to urgent care that day because I had already taken a sick day because my husband was supposed to have surgery and needed a ride. I had already zombie walked through almost the exact same level of pain the Friday before at school.

I wrote about the tyranny of sick days almost two years ago, and how my colleagues basically had to shove me out of my own classroom. I talk a good game about prioritizing health to other people, but if I'm perfectly honest, the urgent care tears were as much from pain as from a sort of shame that I was claiming that I even deserved medical attention.

That is a feeling I would call stupid if I heard someone I loved describing it. I know it's a feeling, and I would want them to know that they are allowed to have that feeling, but that they didn't deserve that feeling. I would want them to know that it is not only valid, but essential to take care of problems before you physically can't handle them.

Rewind to February this year, when I "won" without "Winning." I took my first personal day, I think ever in my 15-year teaching career. And I went to Disney World with my kids--for the first time ever. I figured you only have a shot at regional teacher of the year once, and I'd have an excuse to celebrate or to force my family to have fun and distract me. With all of the conferences last year, I had gotten pretty good at traveling, too, including scheduling subs and avoiding invasive coulda/shoulda/woulda thoughts about what was going on in my classroom that moment.

In truth, it wasn't the unbearable face pain that opened the door. Accepting that life at home was as important as work was a step in the right direction that got me to obsess over planning and grading less, but that personal day started the slow dawn of the realization that for all I preach about school being real life for students, it was for me too. I only got the one chance at ToY, but I only get the one chance at LIFE too! If my pain is making this one life miserable, I can take the time to schedule an appointment. If it means I have to make two trips to the doctor that can only be scheduled during that problem class first period, so be it. If I have to stay out for a week with chipmunk cheeks and a really strong prescription, well, that might be what has to happen too.

As it happens, I was able to schedule the last two extractions either after school hours or during Thanksgiving break (mashed potatoes will be excellent recovery food!) And I got the initial consult on a workday. But if Ibuprofen hadn't handled the extraction aftermath, I was ready to accept that my students might have to work on portfolios or Duolingo or Sr. Wooly one more day--or two--without me. And if I have to put students out of my mind a few days to do something about my migraines, I'll do that too.

The truth is, some things that don't seem necessary still have to be done. I needed that Disney trip. I needed the appointment to get my tooth out. Could I have powered through without them? Probably. But at what cost? What cost to my health and mental acuity? What cost to my ability to actually be a teacher and wife and mother and HUMAN?

Shame on the media for sensationalizing teachers taking time off. My experience suggest chronic absenteeism is a result of A) active participation in the larger educational community or B) actually fixing the problems I tried to deny for too long. Or both!

The smile might not be the same in these photos (to be fair, one involved a lot of gauze and anesthetic), but these signs--more than the one tooth that's coming out in November--are the true signs of wisdom creeping into my life.

09 October 2017

Selfies and the Silent Period

So you've got an authentic audience: real live native speakers in the same room with your students. Maybe you're lucky like me and have a thriving Sister Cities exchange program. Maybe they're some or your fourth period heritage speakers' moms. Maybe they're local business owners or the ELL class from down the street. Maybe they're college buddies who have been traveling the world. Maybe they're your Mexican mother-in-law.

Whoever is there looking your language learners in the eye, you have rehearsed different questions the class could ask a hundred different ways a hundred different times. You know they've had enough input to be ready, to be more than ready. But still they ask.

"Do we have to talk to them in Spanish?"

Time was, I'd say,"Only if you don't want a zero!"

I mean, if I was going to go to the trouble to make these meetups happen, by gum, they were GOING to flex those interpersonal muscles!

I've been slowly warming to the idea of the silent period, ever since my mini mental breakdown over my Russian blank-out at iFLT last year. After my CI Liftoff experience, I'm still not 100% convinced that only 4% of language learners feel that they have to speak, but the words "Es obvio" have stuck with me since my iFLT language lab experience--the words and how they just came out when a student had a chance to crack a joke about the teacher.

Now I haven't let go of speaking assessment at the beginning of Spanish I, in part so consistent procedures are established, and in part so I have some sort of baseline from the beginning. I also think my graduated grading scale is plenty reasonable and allows me to communicate students' progress effectively and relatively painlessly.

But I did let go of the Sister Cities interview where I made them grill one of our visitors and record it.

I mean, 95% of the semester, these kids are surrounded by people who they have been stuck with since freshman year--even if a few of them did grow up speaking Spanish. So even on field trips where we would see other Spanish classes, I felt like I HAD to make them speak, while they had the chance. Moreover, I felt like it was essential to get this experience RECORDED. Scaling back on the number of samples required for portfolios has helped some with that pressure, but so has re-examining the Sister Cities experience.

Maybe combining the Public Speaking class "Discover Gaston" project with the Sister Cities visit to our school on a non-class day (yay early college Fridays!) Maybe it was because I had some of my own students on the trip last year, and they have been obsessing over the trip contagiously since last year. But looking at what I really wanted to happen when my kids got to just hang out on top of a mountain with kids from another continent, I decided the interpersonal evidence was NOT the most important thing.

It was the connections. The snap streaks and Instagram exchanges. The text groups and gossip. The girls coming up to me months after they got back to tell me they spent the previous night discussing racism in America--and/or cheese snacks that smelled like feet--IN SPANISH with "their Peruvians." THESE are the greatest gifts that Sister Cities and contact with native speakers have given me--to say nothing of the girls who went with me last year!

So this year I did not force output while we hiked to the highest point in our county with kids who live a few hours from the Andes.

I assigned a selfie, to be posted to Seesaw or Instagram. The Spanish would come in when they captioned it with what they now knew about their new friends. Did they have to speak in Spanish to them? Technically, no. But they did have to meet them and find out something about them, even if it was just their age or their favorite food. Could it be a group selfie? Absolutely. As long as everyone did their own caption.

So when one kiddo asked, exhausted at the mere idea, if the selfie was required, yes, I did say, "Only if you don't want a zero!"

But here's a photo of that same kid with the Peruvian who stayed by her the whole way up the mountain--and who got her to make a heart with her hands on the way up for Señora's photo op.

Did they talk in Spanish? I don't actually know. But I do know they both like My Chemical Romance and Hot Topic. And that my little non-Peruvian ended up smiling the whole trip.

06 October 2017

Flipgrid for Novice Listening

I put out the call on Facebook and Twitter for some Spanish speakers. I was inspired by a call this summer for Introducciones from hispanohablantes. What an awesome, easy way to collect samples of native speakers for your students to listen to!

However, I have spent many wasted hours and tears trying to assess students with native speaker audio. I gave up entirely in Spanish I last year and started making PowToons and thenAdobe Sparks with my own, familiar voice for them to demonstrate what they could interpret through listening. I also called in my PLN, getting the inimitable Sr. Irvin to talk gaming with me (much as I had done with giving amigos for personalized IPAs in the past!)

Sidenote: yes, I did cut it down to about 5 minutes 
for them before having them vib.

So this year I've been working on making my assessments more AAPPL like, and the reading part was overall pretty manageable. I graduated into combining 3 into a Google Slides presentation to get multiple levels into one assessment without endless click-and-close maneuvers. Now novice-appropriate articles and infografías on just about any topic are out there for the taking. Novice listening? That's a horse of a different color. Or course there's LAITS, and I did use a few of their videos. But you know who's REALLY good at getting novice Spanish speakers to understand them?


So then it hit me! Just like that brilliant pioneer Lauren Richardson put out the call this summer via Flipgrid to collect samples of native Spanish speakers, I could put out a call to Spanish TEACHERS to start building a LIBRARY of comprehensible videos for ALL novices!

I could stick the videos in my little AAPPL Bite assessments! I could link them for some self-directed practice! I could share them with my homies on Facebook and Twitter and, well, everywhere!

This first time I set some particular guidelines to make sure my kiddos could understand:

  • high frequency verbs we'd studied: gusta, tiene, quiere, necesita
  • "very familiar topics": e.g. food likes/dislikes, local/free time activitie
I got teachers from North Dakota to California! I got my amigo Sr. Irvin to chime in again, and I even got some characters from Once Upon a Time to participate! (Seriously, Sra. Garcia--I mean EMMA--is the best!)

Now, before we go much further with #FlipgridFever here, I have to warn you. I broke down and paid for a subscription--but 1) it was totally on sale with a code that Sra. Placido provided and 2) it's all for the greater good.

(PS a new #langchat PBL amiga has a code to get a 45-day free trial!)

You see, not only can I continue downloading videos to create AAPPL Bites I will readily share with my generous video contributing amigos with this paid subscription, but I can ALSO set up A WHOLE GRID just to collect videos on different topics!

So here it is, amigos, my next request:

Problemas e Inventos

I'll be adding more to the Novice Spanish grid throughout the year, and if you wish to contribute to the greater good further--or borrow some videos for assessment or assignment--here is my stash of novice-friendly Flipgrid vids from the first go-round. Enjoy!

04 October 2017

Important Problems: Adversity, Inventions, and Authentic Texts

First world problems are so 2015.

Still, I thought that brainstorming problems they could personally relate to would inspire and motivate the young inventors in my class to come up with something, you know, useful.

Little did I know that current events across the Caribbean would prove more inspiring.

First World Problems

They were good sports and played along with my Problemas del Primer Mundo EDPuzzle when I was sick last week. They answered "sí" to more than one "¿Tienes este problema?" at least. (PS, can I TELL you how hard it is to find "problemas del primer mundo" videos that won't get me fired?) The Gleam was definitely missing, though.

Now I usually use Nearpod or Seesaw (rest in peace, InfuseLearning) to collect doodles that turn into a vocabulary bank: I ask a question they can understand but can't quite answer in Spanish yet so I can figure out what words they will need to express themselves in the upcoming unit. Being pajama-bound for the day, however, I collected Google Drawings where they simply inserted pictures representing their own day-to-day problems. There was still a definite lack of Gleaming, but I was able to pick out some common themes (aside from homework and time) and turn those into some problem categories we could address.

Here's what I came up with:

We added these to their notes and matched them up with some of the photos they had inserted in the Google Drawings. When 80% of both Spanish I classes picked the same problem to focus on (tecnología, of course), I knew we had to keep looking to find our inspiration.

Real World Problems

Now all of the devastation that had--quite literally--shaken the Spanish speaking world in the last month had been weighing on me. I felt remiss only acknowledging the events with a quick Mundo en tus manos activity. So I collected some infographs from Pictoline and picked out the most comprehensible to explain the situations. I walked them through first the Mexico one, then the Puerto Rico one and had them describe some problems people had in one or both situations, on a Classroom Question.

I had also collected a few articles on water-related inventions (we are due for another reading AAPPL at the end of the week, after all):
I took the first one and added some comprehension questions in English on Actively Learn. The kids did really well! AND I could see a little glimmering beginning!

Real World Solutions

Where the action really happened was on Seesaw. After reading about trapping water from the air, their pumps were primed. We returned to the Classroom Question and I modeled replying to the problems they had described with possible solutions off the top of my head (third period it was flexible electric grids; fourth it was a water purifying vaso).

So I gave them a drawing template on Seesaw to copy and edit with 3 sentence starters on a label:

  • Mi invento puede
  • Tiene
  • Necesita
Working those essential verbs for all they're worth, right?

So they finished the sentences and drew their inventions. Here are a few of my favorites:

NOW their brains were engaged!

And to think I had planned to have them stick to first world problems!