Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why Spanish 3 is the Right Level for Really Focusing on Grammar

Classes started for me this past week, and Friday I taught my first explicit grammar lesson in level 3 (a review of subject pronouns, their forms and uses.) I used a three-page "packet" copied from a Spanish grammar workbook that I bought on Amazon, the kind of workbook you buy if you're a college student or other adult looking to teach yourself Spanish grammar.

My class had just seen and heard the first skit in my 3A lessons, The Guy Who Fished in the Lake, answered my questions about the skit in Spanish, had a 4-minute break to play on their phones, talk to friends, etc., and then I passed out the grammar packet. Not usually the most-fun thing on the list, but they accepted it meekly and without complaining because we're still new to each other this year.

Then we started going through the information in the packet and filling out the exercises together. I do my grammar worksheets with them, projecting mine on the document camera as we talk about it, reason out the answers, and write everything out together.

Friday in class as we were going over the subject pronouns, I had several "aha" reactions to the grammar details. For example, when we wrote out a sentence that started with "TĂș," I said, "Okay, 'tu' has a what...?" A few students: "Accent mark?" Me: "Yes." (Putting accent mark on it under the document camera.) Me: "When it doesn't have an accent mark on it, it means 'your,' like 'tu perro.'" Several students: "Oh!"

Now, it's not as if they haven't been presented with that information before, possibly many times in levels 1 and 2. But these level 3 students now have some decent fluency. I can speak quite a bit of free-form Spanish to them in class and they can understand and respond. (I gave them an entire talk about the history of Spanish and its connection to Latin in Spanish this past week, of course very simplified, but all in Spanish, and they understood what I was saying and answered questions about it.) At level 3 they are ready to dig into the nuts and bolts of grammar because they have something to hang it on. They have a good basic understanding of Spanish--Spanish the language, not Spanish the rules. Learning the rules of a language you already know makes so much more sense than learning rules alone, when you can't even read the sentences you're filling in the blanks to complete.

All this is not to say that we don't teach explicit grammar in levels 1 and 2 at my school. We certainly do, pretty much every block. But it is to say that the focus (in my opinion) at those levels should always be on developing fluency first, not on learning grammar rules. I can fix up and expand their grammar knowledge just fine in level 3 and beyond if they know Spanish. If they barely know any Spanish, I have to teach them Spanish first before they can really grasp and use the rules, and that just slows down the process.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

My Fall Start-Up Checklists to Get Ready for School!

Well, it's August, the month we kinda hate to see coming if we are K-12 teachers. I don't know about most of you, but I report back really early this year--this Wednesday August 12th. We have five (five!) teacher "work" days, also known as teacher MEETING days since they always take up at least 50% of your time with meetings, trainings, and anything but your actual work of setting up your classroom and getting ready to teach. Let's see, technically my work day is 7.5 hours at my current school, so I have 37.5 hours' worth of teacher "work" days, and let me look at the welcome-back letter and do some math...19 hours of meetings, trainings, and school obligations on the schedule, which doesn't include department meetings, PLC meetings, and all the make-work stuff you know will come out of the district trainings and meetings. Like log on to this or that new/changed software program and enter a bunch of data or what-have-you.

Anyway. My point is, I have learned to manage my time with a couple of checklists at the beginning of school. I save the second (longer) one as a Word document and then every year I update it quickly, delete and add a few things, print it out, and literally keep it within hand's reach so that every time I get a moment or two in my room, I know exactly what I'm supposed to be working on to get ready for the first day of class. I don't know about you, but without a checklist I can fall victim to kind of wandering around puttering in my room not really accomplishing much and rather confused about where I left off and what I was doing before the last meeting or interruption (because let's face it, you're going to spend another good 25% of your teacher work days chatting, socializing, and getting caught up with colleagues. Which is also an important part of the job, not to be neglected!)

Checklist #1, Things to Be Done BEFORE Teacher Work Days Unless You Want to Feel Very Behind and Stressed:


1. Go in to your classroom and spend 2-3 hours setting it up.

Tidying, arranging furniture, cleaning out old papers if you didn't do that in May (you DO have an End-Of-Year checklist, don't you? If not, I'll share mine in another post,) going through your supplies to see what you need (red pens, paperclips, stuff like that,) hooking up your electronic equipment (laptop, projector, document camera, etc.) and making sure everything works. You know, all the things that you'll sit in those meetings thinking about and wishing you could be in your room doing. If you go when no one's in the building but the custodial staff, 2-3 hours can be VERY productive, and I always thank myself later a million times over when I'm sitting through the trainings and meetings and socializing sessions.

2. Create and/or update syllabi (1-2 hours)

This is especially vital if you have multiple preps. Have the syllabi in a manila folder ready to copy on the first day of teacher work days, before the copiers break and you're biting your nails hoping you have something to do in front of your students on the first day of class besides tap-dance and ventriloquy.

3. Lesson Plan for the first three to five days and have all your masters ready to copy (2-6 hours)

I know, groan, and after not doing lesson plans all summer it feels like pulling teeth to figure out a few days of lessons and get masters ready, but trust me, if you do it, you'll be sitting back with a big smile on your face during teacher work days knowing you're way ahead of the game.

Checklist #2, Things To Do During Teacher Work Days 

(This is my actual list - yours may greatly vary depending upon your specific school/district situation. Also, I'll be adding to this list once work days start and I see what else I'm expected to do. This is the one I keep at hand constantly so I know what I'm doing when I get a moment in my room.)

¾  Reorganize/clean out filing cabinets (if not done in May)
¾  Set up files for Fall 2015 (Student Work, Late Work, Attendance)
¾  Check/update bulletin boards and walls
¾  Make Seating Charts & Print
¾  Lesson Plans for FD (first day) complete/copies made or turned in
¾  Lesson Plans for first week complete/copies made or turned in
¾  Finalize decorating/organizing/setting up handouts for FD
¾  Check/clean out email/update agenda & calendar
¾  Set up gradebook and enter first assignment(s)
¾  Organize/clean out props & visuals (if not done in May)
¾  Email dept chair my syllabi/expectations
¾  Emergency sub plan to front office/set up in back of room
¾  Put together AP study packets and copy
¾  Look up plans (IEPs, ILPs, etc.) in Alpine
¾  Choose Giga Lab dates for AP and request them
¾  Check if I have enough credit for salary increase/request if so
¾  Courtesy Fund donation
¾  Self-eval in Bloomboard
¾  Teacher Website – get something started on each class page and syllabi attached

Whew. That's a long checklist, which is why I have the other one for before work days start.

When do you guys start work, how many work days do you have this year, and what tips do you have for surviving the craziness???