Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Choosing the Meaning That Serves You

Sticky note psychology. It works.

To continue on with things I've been learning from Tony Robbins...this.

I went to work one morning last week, sat down at my desk to figure out what I was doing that day, and thought about behavior issues and how I was going to address them. [Some examples of my students' behaviors at the moment: playing on phones and/or having headphones or earbuds in when they are supposed to be listening, watching, or working on something; asking to leave my room (bathroom, etc.) and then staying gone for 15 minutes; sitting there doing nothing when they are supposed to be working on a written assignment.]

I asked myself, How am I going to deal with these behaviors today?

All of a sudden, the obvious answer came to me, forcefully.

"It's just the meaning you attach to it." ("It" = the behavior.)

I wrote that down on a sticky note so I could see it all day. It wasn't my original idea--Tony Robbins has a teaching about life and business mastery where he says that we are all engaging in three behaviors, all the time: 1) focusing on something, 2) assigning meaning to it, and 3) deciding what to do about it. I've heard him discuss this same concept in various YouTube videos over the past few weeks, and I guess it was time for me to really understand how to apply it.

What Does This Mean?

Me assigning meaning to the behavior meant the ball was in my court, because I have control over how I choose to interpret the classroom behaviors I observe.

Some students play on their phones a lot, and some of them keep doing it even after I've asked them to put their phone away. Meaning? I'm a terrible teacher? They don't respect me? They aren't interested in my class? My class is a boring, unimportant task they are forced to endure?

If it's just the meaning I attach to it, then I can choose the meaning I attach. All right. Then I will choose a meaning that serves me. I wrote that down on the sticky note.

Choosing a Meaning That Serves Me

If I'm choosing a meaning that serves my goal of keeping my positive energy flowing as I'm teaching, I need to choose well. I decided to attach this meaning to to behavior of them playing on their phones during the lesson:

Phones and the worlds within them are fun and interesting, and they give you a brain/energy break from the mundane, long school day. You get attention from friends, you get entertained, and you can relax and just enjoy yourself. Even I feel this way about my phone, so I can understand the addiction. I want to play on my phone too. Occasionally I check my phone during long meetings and trainings, when I should be engaged instead. It doesn't mean the presenter is terrible or I don't value the learning or disrespect the person leading the meeting.

Therefore, assuming that the 4 or 5 students per class that I have to remind to put up their phones pretty much daily, sometimes two or three times per class each, are being disrespectful, hate my class, and hate me, is almost guaranteed to be false.

Case in point: one girl that I have to constantly ask to put up her phone, and who rolls her eyes when I do so, also cheerfully and eagerly greets me first when I pass her in the hallway or see her in the commons between classes.

Which brings up a follow-up meaning I can choose concerning phones: students who roll their eyes or scowl when I ask them to put up their phones do not necessarily hate me. They just haven't been taught or don't care to hide their in-the-moment emotions at being corrected or caught doing something off-task.

I encourage you to experiment with these concepts in class:
  1. Realize that how behavior affects you is simply a product of the meaning you attach to it.
  2. Understand that YOU choose the meaning.
  3. Choose a meaning that serves you in your goals. Set aside your judgment of whether what they are doing is "right" or "wrong," for your own sake.
And please let me know how it goes! Teaching is always a journey of trial and error, and we're all in this together. :-)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Power of Noticing

This little note completely changed my perspective.

I'll be honest with you guys, when this school year started I was already exhausted from the two weeks of training plus the summer's farm adventures gone wrong.

I was not in the mood for teaching five back-to-back classes full of freshmen, sprinkled with a few done-with-freshmen upperclassmen. Freshmen energy + volume level = a full 11, while my energy and volume level = -2.

Corralling them enough to get a lesson taught completely drained me of all energy by the end of each day for the first two weeks of school, and my attitude wasn't the greatest as I began each new day, which meant I started falling into a downward spiral that fed on itself.

Then, for some strange reason, I picked up an old book I've had for years and never completely read--Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins. Yes, Unlimited Power, I told myself half jokingly. That is exactly what I need, if it exists.

Well, Tony Robbins definitely believes it exists, and I've been a closet fan of his for years just based on the few tidbits of information I knew about him, brief YouTube videos of his interviews and speeches, and what little bits I had read from Unlimited Power in the past.

There is much more I could say (and will probably get around to it) about how spending two weekends immersing myself in Tony Robbins' teachings started turning things around dramatically for me, but right now I'll just share this particular revelation, because it's simple and yet powerful.

I was listening to an audio of Tony on YouTube where he had the audience look around and shout out everything they saw that was brown. Then he said, "Close your eyes. Okay, now, shout out everything in the room that's red." There was no shouting. He said, "Okay, now open your eyes and look around--shout out everything you see that's red." The shouting resumed, and when he got their attention again, he said, "Are you surprised by how many things around you are red, that you couldn't recall at all when you had your eyes closed? Why? What happened?"

The answer of course, was that they were focused on everything brown before he said close your eyes.

This hit me like a ton of bricks. What was I focused on during class? The one or two (or three, four, or five) students who were off task, distracting others and me, being loud, wandering around the room, yelling out and interrupting, etc. There was a sea of other students out there, NOT doing those things.

I scribbled the note in the picture above the next morning when I got to class. It was a Monday, my worst teaching day in terms of energy level, enthusiasm, and resolve. I planned to notice on purpose every time I saw a student doing one of the things on the note, and make a little tick mark beside that action, so I could see in real time how often the things I WANTED to see were happening.

The first kid of the day walks in, a girl in my first Spanish 1 class. "Hola, Ms. Waltman...¿Cómo estás?" she called out cheerfully, before I had a chance to greet her.

I looked down at my note. There were too many things to check off. She was showing growth, risk taking, joy, learning...heck, all of them. The next student walked in and struck up a conversation with me about my weekend, so I asked her about hers, and we had a great conversation about California, dance, Spanish class, and other things.

The next kid came in, and the next. I noticed everything on my note, for the entire class. Then I noticed everything on my note, constantly, for the entire day.

And then I laughed at myself that I hadn't made a single tick mark, because it was impossible to keep up. I left that day feeling better than I had in weeks.

Are the negative behaviors in your classes capturing your entire focus, to the point you can't see anything else? I challenge you to make a note. Lay it on your desk. Try to make tick marks. And then please let me know how it went in the comments below, because I am really curious. :-)

Happy Tuesday...

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Back in Oklahoma - My New Classroom!

New job, new carpet, new furniture, and a new big screen on the wall.
I moved back to my home state of Oklahoma this summer (without a job) and was unexpectedly offered a position at Norman High School! (Why yes, thank you, I WOULD like to come in for an interview...)

My original plan in moving back was to take a year off to work on my book business full time, but the inexpensive little farmhouse I bought in Southwest Oklahoma just didn't work out for this city girl. There were too many pests and predators in the vicinity--chiggers, (I couldn't wear shoes for two weeks due to festering bites!), snakes, scorpions, mice, rats (yes, actual rats,) wasps, black widows, skunks, and men.

All I knew when I got the job at Norman High was that apartment life suddenly looked real, real good, and that I wanted something new, clean, and way up off the ground. Something that no skunks could crawl under and set up nests. Something with locked doors and gates, and plenty of people around to hear you if you yelled for help.

New, clean, safe apartment secured, I turned my attention to setting up my classroom. They gave me a room that had just been remodeled and had not been used as a classroom yet--everything all new. I didn't have much time to set up before I had to report for new teacher orientation on August 2nd (and I had to make a road trip to close on the sale of my farm August 1st,) so I chose not to worry about putting anything on the walls and just focus on the 14-foot bulletin board on the north wall of the room.
This gorgeous orange bulletin board didn't need a thing but border and a few posters.

My sweet mom drove down from Colorado and helped me shop for supplies including this cute black and white border, as well as helped me unpack the classroom stuff I'd quickly boxed up in May not thinking I'd be classroom teaching for a while. I was relieved to see I'd kept most of my essential props for skits, my Spanish children's books, and my favorite DVDs.
It's not perfect yet, but I have my stacking trays with handouts all set up and baskets of props ready to go. Also, notes and pictures from students in Colorado brighten my workspace and help me remember why I do this job.

The individual tables and chairs are designed to be able to form groups, so after school started I actually had one of my classes help me put them together into groups of 4. I'm planning to play around with different arrangements until I see what I like best. For now, it's been fun just to have all new "toys" to play with in a new environment.
Objectives on the board keep me organized while I'm teaching. These aren't written in a "standards-based" format - they are practical and to the point.

Technology cart with laptop and a document camera that project to the screen. Thank you Norman Public Schools. :-)

I'm really enjoying teaching at Norman High, although learning a new system/school/culture has been overwhelming at times. I've been in Colorado for 15 years, and there are some very clear cultural differences that I'm readjusting to now that I'm back. Oklahoma students are louder and more active (so, a little more draining on the energy levels!) They are also warmer and bond with you faster, and many of them have already completely stolen my heart.

Thankfully we had a 4-day weekend (Friday off) for Labor Day and I had a chance to recoup some energy as well as be productive. I also got out and went on a little mini-vacation in Norman, walking around downtown and having lunch at Earth Café. It's still very warm and lush and green here, and as I walked around enjoying the humidity (yes, ENJOYING it!!! Colorado is high, dry, chilly desert,) I had a peace come over me that everything is going to be all right. :-)

Don't forget to check out my author page on Amazon to get $10 ebooks of all my lesson plans - and $40 print versions too!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

How to Adapt My Lessons for 50-Minute Classes (Instead of 90-Minute Blocks)

Making it fun on whatever schedule you're on!
I just received the following question from a teacher regarding modifying my lesson plans to fit schedules other than 90-minute block:

Dear Jalen,

Thanks for the helpful info and answers to my questions!  I will be meeting with our Spanish teacher tomorrow and will be presenting your lesson plans to use in our hybrid homeschool setting. The class will meet 2 X a week for 50 minutes. She may need to adjust what she tries to accomplish.  I really love all the hands-on and interactive activities you have in your lessons. If you could suggest a prioritization of the activities when we don't have 90 minutes, that would be helpful.  We will have 30 class periods (50 min. each) for 1 st semester.

In answer to your question, I ran across your lesson plans on Amazon as I searched for High School Spanish curriculum.



My response:

Hi! Well I'm excited my Amazon pages are getting some hits because I just started selling my stuff on Amazon this summer and I wasn't sure if it would get much reach at first!

Ok, so if you're only meeting twice a week for 50 minutes, I would suggest:

Class 1:

Warm up quiz

Intro new vocab


Grammar or Graphic Organizer/writing activity

Class 2:

Warm up quiz

Read the reading that goes with the skit from Class 1

Grammar or Graphic Organizer/writing activity (whichever one you didn't do in Class 1 above)

Culture activity and/or conversation practice OR...

Sometimes if the mood is right and I have kids who enjoy giving me crazy ideas for a plot, we make up a new/improve skit to practice the vocab one more time, and that can be a blast. :)

I'll be teaching on traditional 55-minute periods this school year and the above plan is what I'll be doing on alternating days. More on my new teaching job soon!

Don't forget to follow me on Amazon to see all my latest releases:

Summer's not over yet, so let's get out there and enjoy it! (Since I changed states and jobs this summer, I report for New Teacher Orientation August 2 >>> :-0 <<< Is anyone else reporting back to work early August? Post a comment below with your start date...I'm curious!)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

My Spanish 1A Lesson Plans Available As Ebook on Amazon for 9.99!

Okay, don't pass out, but...I finally worked out how I could make my lesson plan books available as ebooks as well as 8.5x11 paperbacks on Amazon!!!!

My Spanish 1A 2009 ebook is available for purchase now for 9.99. You can download my book, then download the Kindle e-reader for free to any mobile, tablet, notebook, laptop, or desktop device. If you want to project the quizzes, vocab, etc. to a screen just go to the lesson or page you want and enlarge it so students can read it.

You can also now order the gorgeous, professionally bound printed version of Spanish 1A 2009 on Amazon for $39.95 (and right now the Amazon page for the print version says "free shipping!")

I will be putting all of my lesson plan books on Amazon over the next few weeks. Follow me as an author on Amazon and you'll get notified every time I publish a new lesson plan book. Here is the link.

Please let all your Spanish teacher friends know that they can get their hands on my lesson plans both electronically and in print for a greatly reduced price now that I am not personally handling the printing, packaging, and shipping of my own lesson plan books. Hallelujah!

9/4/18 UPDATE: All my books are now available as ebook as well as print on Amazon. The easiest way to see the entire list is to go to my author page.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

What To Do When Students Won't Sit Still and Pay Attention to a Skit

I got this question on email this week about a problem I deal with myself in class as well: what do you do when you're trying to narrate a skit in class with actors and a) students in the "audience" are talking, playing on their phones, not giving you input or participating, etc. and b) the "actors" are more of a distraction than a visual presentation because they also are talking, messing around, not listening to your stage directions or the narration, etc.

In my teaching situation, I have noticed this problem growing worse and worse over the past 8 years or so. With the new generations of students who are coming through our classes, TPRS (or telling a skit) just doesn't work the same way as it used to, 10-20 years ago. I have tried to address this reality, with varying levels of success, in various ways. I think it helps a little bit if you let the class choose the actors because that makes the skit into a little more of a "game." I think it helps if you don't do "circling" (asking 8-10 questions about every statement in the skit right after making the statement) or anything else that drags out the skit. I think it helps if you set up the class routine of skits right away at the beginning of the year and you coach and nag and cajole about how you want them to behave during a skit, first day.

But even with all of those ideas, some days, I just get too frustrated to keep trying to refocus a class that simply can't sit still and pay attention to the skit.

So here is what I do. When I reach that frustration point, I sit the actors down and have the class get out a clean sheet of paper so they can translate the skit. Yes, it's for a grade. Yes, you have to do it if you don't want a zero. I then project the Word document (but you could have copies of the skit prepared in advance) of the skit on my screen, enlarge the font, and set a timer for 5 minutes. "You have five minutes to translate everything on the screen into English on your paper. Go." Then all I do is stand there and tell them what a word or phrase means when they ask. And feel instantly less stressed out. Now they are doing all the work instead of me.

When the timer goes off, I tell them to draw a line so I can see how much they got translated for that section, then I scroll to the next section and give another 5 minutes. We proceed with this process until the whole skit is translated, or until the bell rings. Either way, at the end, I have them count their words. I then base their points on word count and/or whether or not they got all of each section done. (You might need to adjust the timer for a section based on how many "fast" students were able to finish in the five minutes, by the way.)

My TA alphabetizes the papers and I flip though putting points in the gradebook. Done. Next class, we get a fresh start. Either they can focus on the skit and participate, or they can translate again.

Is this the best way to provide comprehensible input? No. Is it a reasonably good secondary way? I think so. Can I preserve my sanity with this backup plan? Yes.

I hope this helps those of you who are dealing with this same issue. Let me know in the comments if you have experienced this and if you have figured out any other hacks!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

My Spring End-of-Year Classroom To-Do List

Around here, it's time to print out that final End-of-Year Checklist and start wrapping things up before summer (yay!) so I thought I'd share the to-do list I use to leave my classroom well-organized and ready for Fall.

I posted my Start-Up Fall Checklists last August with this post. Some of the things on that list are unnecessary and/or fast and easy "checks" if I take the time, before I leave for summer, to do everything on my Spring End of Year list.

I have a week and a half left with students plus 3 teacher work days left, so now's the time I look at my list and see what I can start plugging away at and marking off when I get moments in my classroom to myself.

Here's my list--feel free to modify as needed to meet your own needs!

Jalen’s End of Year To-Do List Spring 2016

·       Set up gradebook for Final Exams and Final Grades
·       Grade Email Replies (Writing tests) and enter into Mastery Manager
·       Grade Speaking Tests
·       Enter Final grades in IC
·       Post Grades including TAs
·       Print gradebooks and attendance
·       Reorganize/clean out filing cabinets
·       Organize/purge AP files
·       Clean/purge/organize room top to bottom
·       Clean/organize office
·       Clean out folders in email (AP, etc.)
·       Clean desktop files, P drive, and other temp files on laptop
·       Organize/clean out props & visuals
·       Unhook all cords to laptop cart and wrap/tape neatly
·       Unplug/wipe down/open refrigerator
·       Get signatures and check out with main office
·       Celebrate!