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!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #7 Not Giving Clear Directions

My final classroom management I still make here and there...and one that never fails to cause a little chaos. This is:

Mistake #7 - Not Giving Clear Directions

Okay, think about the last time you went to a professional development training or meeting of some sort, particularly one you weren't that crazy about attending (which applies to approximately 99% of them, right?) Was there a moment when the trainer(s) told you to do something, everyone started talking and working, and you had to look around at your colleagues at your table and say:

"What are we supposed to be doing again?"

And then your colleagues tried to explain it, and you still didn't really understand it, so you started messing around, laughing and talking, checking your phone, wondering if it would be a good time to go to the restroom, etc.? Is it only me???

Well, that's what happens to my students in my classroom when they don't fully understand exactly what I want them to do. Now, I could say, "You should have listened the first time!" and just get mad, but that doesn't help them get on task and stop messing around any faster. No, it's best to pre-empt this problem by following these steps:

1. Get very clear in my own head what I want them to do before I say it.
2. Get the entire room's attention and eye contact (using Teacher Voice) before I explain the task.
3. Explain the task clearly and simply, say why I want them to do it, and then explain it again.
4. Go around the room and explain it again to students who are still off-task, without sounding cranky about it, which will either put them on the defensive or just make them laugh.

I promise you, half the time that your students are acting squirrely when they are supposed to be working, is because at least part of the room doesn't really know for sure what you wanted them to do. Even though you said it, and you thought you made your wishes known. You can avoid a whole bunch of headache by giving crystal-clear directions, following my steps above. Without getting upset about it.

Now, if I can just follow my own advice this coming week! Ha.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #6 Getting Upset

It happens so fast. You're conducting your class, then all of a sudden a student crosses the line, and you're seething. Or hurt and offended. Or caught off guard and just don't know what to do. But whatever you do, I'm going to recommend you avoid showing it because this is:

Mistake #6 - Getting Upset

I'm not going to tell you I don't get mad, hurt, offended, or intimidated in the classroom. I do. But when I feel it coming on, I do my dead-level best NOT to let those emotions get elevated, and if/when they do get elevated, I don't let it show. I might, at the most, raise my voice and tell a student to "please stop doing that." But after I address the behavior, I go back to my normal tone and keep smiling and teaching the class like nothing happened. As if nothing really fazes me.

Why? Because the generation of students we're teaching right now has a strange reaction to displays of anger, frustration, or hurt. They won't feel guilty that they made you mad or pushed you to the end of your rope. They won't settle down or change to make you feel better. If you show real anger and frustration, they'll just look at you like you're crazy. They'll possibly laugh, and will often try to make you even madder, because they think it's funny and fun. And then guess what. Your emotions get even farther out of control, and it's an endless cycle.

When I'd get to the absolute end of my rope in a class, I used to do things like just say, "Fine. I'm done teaching today. You guys do whatever you want," and go sit at my desk and pretend to work. (Not very often, but I have done it a few times over the past 15 years.) Fifteen years ago, if I did that, the class was deathly silent, not sure what to do until I decided to stand up and teach again. The last time I did that (in 2009) they just laughed it off, started talking and playing on their phones, and enjoyed the fact that they "won" the game of trying to get me not to teach a lesson so they could have free goof-off time.

I also had been known to give a class a "serious talk" the next day and let them know how frustrated and upset I was with their shenanigans in the last class, and basically plead for a change in behavior, etc. Again, that tactic did work for me 15 years ago, but now I'd be wasting my breath. Now, instead, I put all my energy into making sure they never see me sweat. They don't see me getting upset, feeling frustrated, hurt, angry, or unsure. I address the behavior and I just keep right on going with my lesson as if it's no big deal.

Over time, you really do get more accustomed to all the crazy, silly, obnoxious things that students do in class. You've practically seen it all, and it really doesn't faze you as much. But if you're a newer teacher, you want to get to that point now at least in your outer appearance. Fake it 'til you make it. Use your teacher voice, tell them to settle down so you can teach them some Spanish, and march right on with your lesson. Don't be or act surprised by the audacity of their behavior. Act like you've seen it all before. Say the names of individual kids and tell them specifically to stop talking, stay in their seat, stop picking on so-in-so, or whatever, until you can teach your lesson. Be relentless in getting that lesson taught. Have a "We've got work to do and we're doing it!" attitude, positive, firm, fun, and unruffled by their silliness.

That's my advice!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #5 Not Having a Well-Prepared Lesson

Okay, I hate it that this particular thing affects my classroom management so much, because it's a lot of work, but this is:

Mistake #5 - Not Having a Well-Prepared Lesson.

It never fails. When I'm bumbling around at the front of the room trying to figure out what I'm doing because I don't have a well-planned lesson, my class senses a weakness in the Force, and things start going awry. They get louder and more talkative, less willing to do what I ask, more whiny, more rowdy and restless.

Or, maybe I have part of the lesson well-planned, but then there's dead time in the middle or at the end, and it takes me a few minutes to regroup and transition to something else. Or, I never do really figure out what I'm transitioning to, and it's just simply too late. They've already gone haywire.

So how do you make sure you don't get caught fumbling around trying to figure out what you're doing? Different teachers do this different ways. Some people have ready-made filler activities and games they whip out at the last minute. Me, I wrote 4 levels of lesson plan books because I hate not knowing what I'm doing and where this is all going so much. For me, a well-prepared skit lesson with smooth transitions basically runs like this:

1. A warm-up/review of the material from the last class.
2. Read something that reinforces the vocab and grammar from last class.
3. Conversation in Spanish about a question of the day or some sort of given topic, preferably something that also reinforces the vocab they have been learning. At the beginning levels, this would obviously be very scripted and guided.
4. Introduction of new vocab/vocab phrases.
5. Skit.
6. Q&A about the skit, me asking questions and them answering either as a group or getting called on one by one (if only a few are answering out loud as a group.)
7. 4-minute break.
8. Grammar, either intro of new grammar topic or a continuing practice of one that we've been working on.
9. Go over homework/new homework assigned.
10. Telenovela (right now, I'm showing Un gancho al corazón in level 3 and Al diablo con los guapos in level 4. We're all very addicted to these two shows. : - ))

Now, part of what makes me well-prepared when I run this lesson is that I do it almost every day, exactly in the same order. So my students are accustomed to this routine and so am I, and it runs pretty much like clockwork.

(For my Spanish 4/AP culture lessons, substitute the culture topic/reading/writing/conversation for #4, 5, and 6 above.)

You may need to experiment with your own lesson sequencing and content to find your sweet spot in terms of lesson planning, and you may also hate doing the same routine and need to shake it up more. I don't shake much, and that works well for me.

Another great source of lesson planning ideas is Martina Bex's awesome blog. She has a TON of resources, ideas, lessons, units, and activities there, so check her out!

What ideas do you have for last-minute activities that always go well in class? Share in the comments below!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #4 Not Telling Them Why

If you're getting into a lot of arguments and having a great deal of whining in your classes, it might be because of:

Mistake #4 - Not Telling Students Why.

Why? Because they want and need to know "why" in order to have buy in.

I try to tell them "why" before they even start whining and asking me about it. In fact, nowadays I try to attach a "why" onto just about everything I tell them to do. "I need you guys to record yourselves speaking so I can tell how much Spanish I've taught you this semester." "You have to read and reply to this email so I can see if you would be able to read a native speaker's email and reply to it in Spanish if you had to." "Don't play on your phone right now so you can focus on helping your partner if they need it while they are telling the story." "Read the page with your eyes along with your partner who's reading aloud so you can learn new words, too."

The generation we're teaching right now is the "why" generation. They don't like to waste their time, and if you think about it, neither do you. So "why do we have to do this," while seeming to be a really rude question that hurts my feelings sometimes, is also just human nature. I might not have felt free to ask my teachers that question back in the 80's when I was in high school, but that doesn't mean I didn't think it at times. And it doesn't mean that the empowered-to-speak-their-minds students we are teaching right now are really trying to be rude and hurtful. They just need to know why. So tell them.

I would encourage you to start saying why more, before you're even asked, and see if you don't have fewer arguments and whines in class. And when you DO get asked "why do we have to do this?" react with zero heightened emotion or anger and simply tell them why. I've said this before, but if you find yourself (as I have) scrambling for an answer to "why," you might reconsider the activity at hand. Maybe not right then in front of your class (although I have changed course in the middle of class before) but at least think about it later. I should be able to easily articulate why I'm having them do a certain task, if I have clear objectives for their learning.

So that's it, saying why. A simple thing that in my experience yields big results in classroom management!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #3 Not Having a Seating Chart

Now I know teachers who swear by not having seating charts, but the few times I've dipped my toe in those shark waters, I deeply regretted it. Therefore, in my experience, this is:

Mistake #3 - Not Having a Seating Chart.

I know that making seating charts is a lot of work, and it's a hassle to enforce them. But the difference between managing a class in which I have chosen everyone's seat up front and managing a class where they sit wherever they want to is night and day. Dark and Light. Demons and Angels. Hell and Heaven, or as close to classroom management "heaven" as I can get anyway.

If you let them sit wherever they want, you inevitably have to move some talkative, off-task students around anyway, and when you do that you have to argue and listen to whining and get the eye-rolls and sullen behavior just like you do sometimes when enforcing your seating chart. So just front load that eye-rolling session with a seating chart that's ready to go the first day of class. You'll get your turf established right away, and it's much harder for them to fight against it later since your class was clearly established like that, from the get-go.

Also, talk about the seating chart in your rules and expectations on your syllabus, or if you don't like having a lot of written rules (some teachers don't,) at least talk about it while you're going over the syllabus the first day of class. I say things like, "I organize my classroom with a seating chart that I design. I do this because [telling them why up front, because they are the "WHY" generation and that's how they get a little more buy-in,] I want to choose your partners rather than having you just sit by your friends, and leave some kids out. That way everyone meets new people, works with different people throughout the year, and my class runs smoother so I can teach you more Spanish. I expect you to sit in your assigned seat, without arguing or complaining about it, when the bell rings. If you have a problem with your seat, like you can't see the board or something, talk to me about it after class."

Here are my tips for creating good seating charts:

1. Space out the boys. You can do this whether you know the students or not. In Spanish, you'll get some really boy-heavy classes at times, so it's not an exact science, but in general, you want to make your grids boy-girl-boy-girl. I try not to have two boys next to one another either side-to-side or front-to-back.

2. Rowdy boys are in front. I call these the "power seats." Meaning, I have a little more (illusory) power over a loud, rambunctious kid if he's within a few feet of me. I can talk with him, joke with him, and ask him to settle down when needed, sometimes without most of the class even noticing that he and I have an exchange going. He naturally gets more attention from me, which is sometimes all that kid is looking for in the first place.

3. Quiet girls form a padding around rowdy boys. Sorry, quiet girls. Actually, sometimes they really enjoy this, because being partners with an outgoing, energetic guy brings her out of her shell a little, gets her laughing. Or, sometimes he drives her nuts. If I see that, I'll discreetly change that arrangement with my next seating chart.

I make new seating charts at the start of the semester, and I change them mid-semester. So that's four charts per class per year. Changing at mid-semester quells some of the complaining about having a seating chart, so to me, it's worth the extra work.

Also, you will have many students who really like having assigned seats, having a seat that is always theirs in my class that others can't just take whenever they want to, forming clumps of "cool" kids in certain areas of the room while the "outcasts" sit in the front, back, or whatever areas aren't "cool."

To sum up, I'd say making and enforcing seating charts is one of the top priorities in my own classroom management practice. It makes a world of difference for me, but I'd be curious to know what others think, so comment below with your thoughts!