Monday, August 18, 2008

bis spaeter...

So this blog is going on hiatus.
Maybe a temporary hiatus... maybe a permanent one... we'll see...

Quite a while back (in a very "me" way), I began a secondary blog to use a bit more as a educational theory blog (in addition to this blog which mostly chronicled the day-to-day-ities for me). It was sporadic usage at most... and then today...

So it seems that I've thrust the, otherwise merely lurking, blog into the "real world" by using the (tricky little) trackback feature (which, apparently, shows up as a comment on the original person's blog entry... good to know).

So that's it: here's where I've moved (at least for now): Keep Moving Forward (inspired by the fantastic scene in Meet the Robinsons)

So... here we go!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Just playing

I've heard a lot about Wordle lately... and I do think it is beautiful... and I do think that people could do a lot of analysis about writing with it. It makes for possibly interesting discussions about theme and many other things... before even reading the text.

So I did a wordle from Barack's speech in Berlin. Here it is:

It's easy and fun to make... I'm betting it has a ton of implications and possibilities in the English classroom... thinking it might be fun here and there in the German classroom... perhaps when they are reading articles in the upper levels... do one of these first to find which words they should be sure that they know and understand in order to really "get the gist" of the article.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Political culture 101

Barack Obama was recently in Berlin, and many Germans are still reeling from the experience. Whether or not I think his stop as a rock star (instead of a politician) was necessary (or even a good campaign tactic) is not the point of this post...


I read this article reflecting on Obama's speech, and was surprised at how much I learned about German political culture... some of the nuances that one just kind of "gets", but doesn't really think about.,1518,568876,00.html

Is there a better/worse political culture in this scenario? Who knows.

What is clear, however, is what they said that, even for America, Obama is pretty much one-of-a-kind politician.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

This flattening world...

A Must Read (listen)!

Thomas L. Friedman is offering his fantastic book, The World is Flat, for free download as a promotion for his new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded.

I've read the former... hope to read the latter.

If you've not read at least part of "Flat", take the opportunity now to at least download it so that, someday, you will listen!

Get it here!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Barack in Berlin!

The democratic presidential candidate at a place we were just over a month ago... the Siegessaeule (Victory column) in Berlin!

The Germans are crazy about Barack, experiencing full-on Obamamania.... and they showed up in full force to prove that point. There were over 200,000 people there to support him... and the speech was also shown live on German television. Over 75% of Germans would vote for Obama if they had the chance. McCain has won only 11-13% of their hearts and minds.

What do we think, a real love or just a strong pendulum swing away from Bush?

It's alive!!

Well, I'm pretty sure that it's because of my over-achieving bestest friend, but my brain has begun thinking school (in a pretty low-key mode) WAY earlier than normal. (My norm to "get into gear" is August 1st.)

So she started me with Jott, and then I clicked around and found smilebox, which seems to have some super home applications at this point... and might be very useful for elementary school teachers who send home a weekly update with photos and such. I'm sure I could find a putzy use for it in my classroom... but I'm sure it would be something that would fall by the wayside as things get busy.

So that's as low-key as it has gotten so far... I don't want to push it. The school year is long enough as it is. So, until then...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fight or Flight

So last week I had a discussion with Liesl and Laura at Caribou and I walked away in a pretty deep state of discontent. Laura had talked about some of the new programs that are coming in affecting (read harming) the smaller language programs. This was shortly after I had heard that the new high school would only be offering Spanish (of the currently offered languages).

I had two factions warring inside myself and until I named them, I was simply restless and unhappy. These warring brothers were the instincts of fight or flight. Do I accept it, read the (possible) writing on the wall and prepare for landing... or do I begin fighting it now... pushing further and harder into the space of education?

I had a discussion with Shawn who (wisely) told me to talk to the Doctor about it. I haven't done that yet for a number of reasons but plan on doing so...

And then today it happened again.

This morning at our meetings, we were told that, in fact, they were only offering Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish and (probably) French: clearly leaving out German. My question is what effect this will have on the program as a whole... and what meaning this has as we look at adding another German teacher in the district.

So what do I do?

Prepare for a fight or a flight...
I vacillate with every breath.

Friday, May 2, 2008

haikus and kwl

Today in 3/4/5 we did, after the vocabulary quiz, a quick KWL for the separation of East and West Germany. I'm looking forward to building this chapter/unit and really having a good time with the students learning about history. I will look through their lists of K/W in a bit... overall I'm excited.

After that, we took about 15 minutes and wrote haikus in German... and then had a poetry corner. The poetry corner is what made it great. Prior to that, I could tell that the haikus seemed like a hoop to jump through... but everyone presenting their haiku and having the snapping afterward made it enjoyable.

Very cool.

Off to tabulate KWL results.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Disparity in the District

Last night there was a vote on the new boundaries.
The plan that creates the most economic disparity between the school was approved.

For a school that has already been looked down upon... this is just another kick in the teeth... and one that will go on for decades because this was the chance for them to "make things equitable"... and they didn't take that opportunity.

I'm having a hard time seeing it in the extremely positive light that one other person is.

I feel like we are consistently being told to "buck up" and "be proud"... but when you know that they are telling you that in one breath, you also know that in the very next breath they will be berating you for the situation they put you in.

It's like a lose-lose situation... when clearly all we wanted was win-win-win (thank you michael scott).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moodle: A step in the "right" direction?

Reading today from "THE Journal", an article about Moodle. I already use Moodle in my classes and I agree that the ease of use is fantastic. Another benefit is that Moodle has that "heavenly ceiling" that keeps me interested... always knowing that there is (and always will be) more that I can understand, learn and use.

However there is a quote that struck me. A teacher is discussing the benefits of Moodle and the ease of use... as well as the fact that it often makes one's job easier. "Moodle scores the quizzes, which I can enter into my gradebook without having to deal with mounds of paperwork." Sounds fantastic, doesn't it?? A self-scoring quiz that gives students immediate feedback and gives you the ability to just enter that number in the gradebook.

It is glorious.

But how does that affect formative assessment? Is this really a step in the right direction? Making those quizzes (that aren't really best practice in the first place) easier?

Don't get me wrong. Use Moodle. Definitely. It definitely makes life easier. Take it from me.

But as a challenge for myself with the lens of formative assessment, I will just be looking into other uses of the software for my purposes.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


On my birthday I got to turn someone in who I thought was drinking.

It broke my heart.

I hate seeing kids turn to a place where they need alcohol to even get through a day (whether they think it's fun or cool or whatever is irrelevant). It hurts me to see them there, so I turn them in with the hope that they can get help.

The SRO came to his teacher's door, had him take a breathalyzer and he tested negative.

It was kind of a relief... but then immediately followed by a tinge of guilt for thinking that it might be true (even though I know it could have been true). So I went to his room so we could chat after lunch. I wanted him to know that it was me who had put the process in motion. I think that open-communication relationships are the way to go... and most often I have had the courage to keep it that way. (It's not always easy... but it's healthier...)

I told him it was because of me and that I did it out of a concern place. He was cool and almost cold at the same time. I guess I didn't expect much different. But I was concerned that this would be the end of that connection. Ah well, I knew that, in the end, I did what I needed to for his benefit... and maybe someday he would see that, but I was willing to lose a connection to get him help.

I got a supportive e-mail from his mother that day. I wrote back saying that it was hard because I do think he's so fantastic, but I (like she) want what is best for him.

Then, hurray... the next day he stopped by! The connection isn't lost... and I was still able to show him that I am concerned and do what I think is right.

Kids need connections and it's terrible when their actions that prove that they need those connections even more (i.e. drinking in school) are ones that can (in their perception anyway) burn those connections for good. And then they fall into that vicious cycle.

I'm glad that, thus far, this one isn't lost that way.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Showcase et. al.

Last night we had our speech showcase. Students were put into different "rounds" (with verschiedene types in every round so parents could "taste" a bit of everything). It was great. The kids did a fantastic job and the parents were, #1: proud and #2: thankful to be able to see the great talent that our kids have.
Our principal was even there and ended up staying past just the introduction because a student asked her to watch. She liked it so much that she stayed for the second round! She thought our kids did such fantastic work and really was impressed. That is awesome. Of course they dofantastic work and everyone should be impressed, but it's great to have people notice. I'm so proud... and so glad we did it.

We did it!

On another quick note, today I got a little verklempt as I looked up at the kids in my room after school and realized it would be the last Wednesday I get to spend with them "talking politics" and really just enjoying that thing we call speech. They are such fantastic kids and I am really, really going to miss them. Really.


Today in German 2 the directions lesson went really well. Yesterday we started the vocabulary from the chapter (using photos with the German words so there is less translation happening) and I had signs that I kept the translation of the sign in original German (not L2 learning German). I was surprised today at how many students remembered some of the words that I didn't even go over with them... for instance, I had spoken about the bike paths in Germany and how some are separated and some are together. Then after speaking about it, I quickly went past the slides that said how to say that in German (not having the students do the normal "repeat after me" thing). Today they even remembered that it was a "getrennter Rad- und Fussweg"... wow.

The second "wow" from this class (perhaps an "a ha"?) was when I (instead of going through a bunch of easy left-right sort of things) put the "nach links" and "nach rechts" on the board and then started giving directions. Students followed and then after three times, they tried it with their partner! Some students tried it for me in front of the class and they did a great job! They needed a bit more practice using the words that were there for them, but they had no practiceup until that point and had felt wonderful enough to give it a shot and really do it! Very cool.

So my question is this: is it because the directions are easy? (once you know about 4-5 words you can do so much) Is it because the directions are obviously useful? (but that's the thing about language... it all is used and is useful...) Or is there something else?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Knock on Wood...

But Shawn gave me some great insight into something that he is doing to help work on procrastination. It has helped give me some peace and get a few things done (but today is only day two).
Shawn had heard the story about Ivy Lee.
Ivy Lee went into the Charles Schwab corporation and told them,
"If I can make your employees more productive in three months, pay me what you think it's worth."
He introduced every employee to the 6-thing list...
Three months later he came back and they paid him $35,000 for the improvement. What? $35,000 doesn't seem like much for one day of talking with the employees?
They paid him $35,000 almost 100 years ago when the average worker was earning $2 PER DAY.
Wow. Even with my poor math skills knowing that people today earn a minimum of $5.85 per hour... so for an 8 hour day that's around $45 per day... over 22 times what the average worker earned back then... so $35,000 would be $770,000. Wow.

So here's how it goes:
The following day, Ivy Lee met with Charles Schwab's management executives, spending only ten minutes with each in order to tell them:
Ivy Lee: "I want you to promise me that for the next ninety days, before leaving your office at the end of the day, you will make a list of the six most important things you have to do the next day and number them in their order of importance."
Astonished Executives: "That it?"
Ivy Lee: "That's it. Scratch off each item after finishing it, and go on to the next one on your list. If something doesn't get done, put it on the following day's list."

And that...

Is the rest of the story.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Variances in Perception

Today is the end of the quarter and I had the students fill out a "Grade you, Grade me" sort of end-of-term survey in my 3/4/5 class. This class I chose specifically because I have been using a number of different things in class for learning (authentic texts, news, writing, etc.).
I am finding the results of this survey very interesting.

Questions 2 and 3:
2- Grade the Deutschklasse (not fellow classmates). What activities have you liked that we have done in class? What things have you not liked? What things would you like to see more of? What things could you do without for the rest of the year?
3- Grade Frau Tol as a teacher. What things do you like about Frau Tol? What things do you dislike? How can Frau be a better teacher (no homework is not an option)? Add any other appropriate comments you wish.

If I were filling out the survey, my answers would include some of the following things:
2- Good: Children's book, news, often answering and speaking in German, dialogue journals, specific grammar work and time to improve it, a general theme of stronger focus on the authentic use of the language instead of just memorizing vocabulary
"Bad": I would like more vocabulary interspersed throughout and perhaps more "flow" to the class... a better flowing plan
3- Nice job increasing authentic materials and use. Improve on the flow of the curriculum and more things to get done. Still have fun and keep it (mostly) relaxed... in fact, go back a bit to what it used to be. Perhaps reintegrate more community building things.

In general, these kids have been working harder than any kids in these levels have before. There has been more work and more higher-level thinking and more authentic use than I think I've ever done in the past.

So it was surprising for me to see some kids saying we need to work harder and do more. (And it even came from surprising sources sometimes) "...we could maybe do a little more learning..." (nestled in between two cheesy compliments).

A couple students couldn't have stated my opinion better:
"Frau, your teaching is more hard core this year. Maybe that's why its harder for me to learn...""
"I personally like the way the class is run right now. It's not all busy work, like German 1 and 2."
"I can confidently say though that I have learned a lot, and it has been challenging."
"I like how it is structured to actually learn how to speak in sentences and interpret real German instead of just memorizing vocab out of a book."

So when I am reading comments like the one previously stated about learning or some of the following, I think it's interesting to see the different perceptions... and I'm enjoying considering where some of these perceptions stem from:
"I was disappointed we didn't get to do, or use more German."
"We need more things to keep us busy."

Okay, so maybe it was just three that mentioned that they didn't think we were learning much (my skew of their answer)... but I find it interesting that the perceptions can be so vastly different.

Just a few other things:
  • A number of kids said they missed the games.
  • A few said that although they liked and appreciated the story, it took too long (great feedback!). So that needs to happen in a shorter amount of time instead of a little every day.
  • Many others agreed with my perception that we should not forget to learn vocabulary (I have a plan for that).
  • Some others commented on the general attitude of the class (some saying I should be more mean to get things done, others saying that they are frustrated with their classmates not being industrious or not participating enough, one other saying that he doesn't like his classmates at all.) I think that this is going to be easily changed with two things: a purposefully happy attitude from me (with fidelity) and more community building... once kids get along with each other, I feel like they are able to enjoy some of the antics that happen in the classroom... and that is often what makes the class. Also, next semester we are going to spend more time in purposeful partnerships/seats. I let that slide this entire term (in many of my classes) and I definitely see the downfall in all of my classes.

I look forward to having a fantastic plan for the entirety of next quarter. I would really like to get it all planned out so that it's finished and I can finetune from there instead of planning unit by unit. That's what UbD would tell me to do (plan with the end in mind) and I might as well do it grand scale!!

So definitely some rest over spring break, but some fantastic work as well!

Monday, March 17, 2008


Funny how things can sometimes just come together.
I was worried that today wouldn't go well because I would be predisposed with other worries... and although I almost broke down three times this morning in tears, I didn't. I did end up crying at the end of 3rd hour... but thankfully it was at least some of my super caring students there and not the entire class.

Things in each of the classes went well, and I seem to have a game plan for the next couple weeks. I don't feel like I'm just shooting in the dark at any rate. That's good. I did the lunch tray thing with my German 2's again... it is such a great activity... a great way to get some meaningful preliminary vocabulary and I'm always glad when I do it.

Another "upper": last Friday I met RJ's "foreign exchange student". Today she told me that he said that I had really good pronunciation and that I had really good German. He feared that I would have some terrible American accent, but was impressed. This was a definite high for me because the last I've dealt with a German speaking about me was someone who I never even spoke with but (since he's from the Ruhrgebiet) said he couldn't understand me. Ah well. It's good to be reminded of the good things.

Decisions Made

Well, I think my decision is final.
I will not be going to the new school.

I have been vacillating about this for quite a while now... and I've been pulled both ways by many people (which, it does feel good to be "wanted")... but the premature politicking that has been happening bis jetzt doesn't bode well in my opinion. Not necessarily in reference to myself... but instead within the process as a whole, and I think it is something that I would be healthier to just stay out of. It's weird as I have been part of many committees as they planned the building in the beginning and met with the contractors and engineers and architechts and was, at first, very excited.

It's funny how people can change that.

Ah well, people will be people and life is life and I'm happy where I am... and they're talking about adding a debate team! Wow. It's earlier than I had hoped in my life, but it's definitely exciting!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The sun'll come out tomorrow!

The weather is getting nicer and nicer and I can tell. I took a VERY quick stroll around the neighborhood tonight and it was just nice to be outside again. I need that...

So let's do some positive sandwiches:

Positive: I am the "German Goddess" according to one of our assistant principals (since my numbers have grown enough to have another partial position at Park... how's that for alliteration!)

Negative: I am overwhelmed. I wanted to get a bunch of the tournament stuff done today during my prep, but I was surprised by a student (who failed to show up to my class today just the hour prior) who was obviously just over a crying spell... came in with Kleenex... and we had about an hour discussion about her broken relationship. I reminded myself right away that she is the reason I am at school and in my profession... and that was a great reminder... but it just delayed (and increased) the stress for the tournament.

Positive: Our principal stopped me the other day and said that she had spoken with my cousin about me... saying that I was "top notch" and that my "umbilical cord was planted at Park High School", then she tapped my arm and said, "right?". I said, "Yes." and smiled. She asked if I knew what she was asking. Again, I said, "Yes," and smiled.

Positive: I told my department chair about the conversation with the principal and she said that she had also had a conversation with the principal about me and the principal had said that if my numbers were growing like that and things were so wonderful that perhaps they should train me for IB! My department chair said, "I was like, yeah, that's what I've been saying the whole time!"

Negative: I'm the only one stressing about the number of entries for our tournament... it seems so small. I'm worried. (But to what end? I don't know.) So I entered everything into the computer today and I had like 8-10 judges that were standby for the whole day! I don't know what is going on. I e-mailed "the guru" so that I can have that conversation tomorrow.

Positive: I'm blogging (off and on) again. It's nice to start to get into the swing of things.

(This one might end up a bit more speech focused and... dare I say... cynical?)
Positive: After our tournament, we will have almost two weeks before the next tournament. Breathing room.

Negative: I'm in the doldrums of the season (both meteorologically and speech-wise), and it's affecting everything.

Positive: The coaches we have are amazing. Everyone has really pulled together and is doing such amazing things in getting ready for this. I know that they are probably feeling overworked... I wish that weren't how it was... but I definitely appreciate it. They all rock... especially my rockstar, Liesl!! Thank you so much for everything you do!

So there it is. Me in a nutshell (or in sandwich form... I guess...)

Planning for the multi-level class has been nice enough. I could do better... and i would like to implement another larger project (like the soccer project we did a couple years ago). It's beneficial when it's planned and scheduled... I would like to do and see more.

Formative assessment is going okay. When I do it, it gives me an amazing quick look at who is and isn't getting things and the notes are super beneficial for planning. I find myself thinking about it in all of my classes. It's kind of exciting!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Stress... Time to vent...

Like a pendulum swing, but without the timely notice, stressful days seem to swing in and out of my life in very grand fashion.

This afternoon became one of those grand stressful ones.

I was keeping things under control, had a few pots simmering in my mind, but my mental stovetop wasn't boiling over with too many pots. I had figured out the checks, I had written notes about tomorrow morning, I sat with Steve and took fastidious notes about the computer program, and I had set up (what I could of) my classes.
Then I began to help clean/sort out a bit of the speech closet... and Laura reminded me of so many things that I am now totally stressed. They were all important things and good things to collaborate about this weekend. However... now I'm stressed.
So now I'm thinking about those things and then I fear that I've forgotten about the things I had simmering prior. And all of that is stressing me out. Even (perhaps especially) the little things stress me out right now as I feel that my mind has surpassed that critical mass.

I'm going crazy.

Shawn is stressing out about his job, his resume, his income, and everything that follows along. So that's stressful, too. Ah well.

I've lost my train of thought... I need to go get supper made. And the house cleaned. And the guest bedroom prepared. Family is coming.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Keeping it positive

The past couple days, I've found that things are generally good for me until my prep hour (4th), which is when I seem to get a bit crabby about even some of the little things. I'm wondering if it is part of having 4th hour prep... because I know that I won't have kids anymore to really brighten my day, so I kind of allow myself to go into that spiral of despair. Sooo... after a couple days of being (probably something of a drama queen) crabby, today I ended with a few exciting things that made it easier to keep it positive.
First, I spent a few extra minutes before fourth hour to plan out a skills-based split-level class that went really well. we took the skill of comparatives, reviewed it as a class, then used the level-specific vocabulary within the comparative lens in order for them to have meaningful practice for their level of german. Then they had a brief essay to write... practicing their skill... and it made sense and they did a nice job. I had a couple kids ask why we weren't watching the news. Some really seem to want to... others I get the "yucky" vibe from... but it's not about their (ever-changing) attitudes... it's about their learning. And I feel like a number of them recognize that.
Then, during my prep, I was in with BR and KT walked in. We got our numbers today. My numbers went up! I even have enough that, theoretically, there could be an extra class... which could mean an extra German teacher for one hour a day (for one semester) at my school! Awesome. It feels good. It was called something like "Rock solid" by the powers that be. Which maybe makes sense after she dropped in and asked how many kids I had in my room (37, by the way).
I still can't shake this feeling that I'm missing something... something hanging over my head that I haven't remembered... Aaah. It's simmeringly frustrating.
Next week is going to be CRAZY busy... so I'll keep it real (short) for now!

Monday, February 18, 2008


My natural circadian rhythms must be toward the bottom of the roller coaster right now. I feel like everything is piling up again... and that everything is super stressful right now.

Then I got an e-mail from our tour company.
They are increasing the price.... by more than $200.

I know that the Euro is so much stronger than the dollar right now... but some of my kids were already scraping bottom to get what it cost to begin with. I hate this. I wonder if this happens with EF.

So I need to set up that meeting for my trip kids. Soon.
Just one more thing on the plate.

And then there's this...

Friday we had a fantastic conversation in class...
All spurred on by the German news.
It began with a discussion of stem-cell research that morphed briefly into abortion and then into war. Wow. Three of the biggest, most controversial topics out there. Yikes.
I was proud of the kids, though. They all remained really composed and shared some really interesting ideas. (Like, "Shouldn't we worry more about prescription medication than stem cells? Stem cells occur naturally... they are cells our bodies already make; just waiting for a purpose. Prescription medication is something unnatural we are putting into our bodies and messing with our brains... which we know very little about.")
I was also proud of myself because, in essence, I stayed out of it! I just got to call on the kids who were raising their hands (to maintain some sort of civility) and one time I summarized what someone said for clarification... otherwise that was it.
Toward the end, a couple students asked for a game instead... they were getting frustrated. They were also the students who weren't sharing. So their feelings and frustrations were just getting pent up.
So I shared how proud I was with the class and how these are essential conversations to have while remaining calm and open-minded. And then we went on to a quick round of 20 questions auf Deutsch.

This weekend I looked back at their moodle entries as well. They responded to each other, made new discussion topics and really had some interesting thoughts! They are making it their own and really delving into some of the deep political issues that adults question (electoral college, what is truth, etc.). It makes me ache for a philosophy class.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Influenza A

So I've got the flu... and after talking with the school nurse this morning, I found out that the earliest I can come back is Thursday. (and even that hinges on whether or not I've been without fever for a while)

I hate being gone from school.

I think I'm going to try that recording on the SMART board thing, though... then my sub could just push "play" and it's like I'm there... that would be cool.

I suppose it's good that they have these policies against communicable diseases... otherwise I might show up to work before I really should. Check that. I know I would show up before I really should.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Shouldn't it be easier?

Have you ever had that feeling that you're just fully missing something? That you've been working just too much and there is that sinking feeling that somewhere out there... someone has already figured out exactly what you're struggling with? In fact, maybe a TON of people have already figured out how to deal... how to do it and how to do it well (and easily).


That's my fear.

I started playing around with my Moodle again a bit tonight... added one assignment... and then realized that some of the differentiation I need for my 3/4/5 class can be used right there within Moodle... just create the different class... share some assignments... and create some new and different when they need to be! It *should* be that easy, right?

But then the realist set in.

Even if it IS that easy (which it almost never is because doing something new for an extended amount of time seems to be out of the realm of possibility in my world... but I digress...), my students will never get enough time to be on the computers to actually utilize it!


So do I give up?
Or do I trod on?

I think I'll go to sleep for now. Figure out the plausibility on Monday.

But before I hit the sack, a quick thought I want to get down.
Thematic teaching: Yes.
First 1/3: Ich
Second 1/3: Die Welt
Third 1/3: Meine andere Kurse

Focusing in each on the skills necessary for them to move novice/intermediate/advanced... with the use of the linguafolio(?) and snapshots of learning...vocabulary built in as needed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Formative Assessment, PGIs and UbD

I think we need an acronym for Formative Assessment... and I think that F-Ass just isn't really appropriate. :) Ha.
Actually, I'm pretty excited about the idea of formative assessment and really diving in and getting it done. I read some more today about formative assessment from Carol Ann Tomlinson and the Chappuis super team... both were good articles, however I feel that Tomlinson's seemed to be written in the manner that I better understand and am looking to use formative assessment. It's kind of in that hippy-granola sort of way... and less in that, you can still use tests, but use them formatively sort of way. (Even though the latter is a good reminder for me so I don't go re-inventing the wheel.)
Actually, this month's Educational Leadership issue is all about formative assessment and has the articles by Tomlinson and the Chappuis twins (not actually twins, but it reminds me of the "wonder twin powers... activate!" sort of thing).
Otherwise I feel pretty on top of the homework this month. I have already finished my UbD and have taken some feedback from the students... even the immer-pessimistic ones... and I look forward to really looking at that as a way to reflect and change what I think is a chapter with a lot of potential. It is also a great opportunity for me to look at using that sort of thing in my split level class. One of my students said that he scored better on this test than he has on ANY OTHER TEST so far in German class because he had the round tables, study groups and was able to work at his own pace. GLORIOUS!
So, knock on wood, here's to staying on top of things!

Friday, January 11, 2008


Today was mostly a good day... it was one of those days that, when i thought about it, I got overwhelmed, stressed out... and I ate unhealthy things, drank coffee and soda when i shouldn't (just to make me "feel better" in that comfort food sort of way). Yet, when I didn't think about it, things got done... almost as if on auto-pilot. Things just fell together... and in decent time and with reasonable work. I got a student the level five test she has been needing for almost a quarter... it's amazing what your brain will realize when it's down to the wire... maybe that's why I allow myself to procrastinate... I have a track record of coming up with the most amazing and meaningful things when I do it at the last minute. And up until that point, my mind will be completely void of ideas. It's crazy, really.
I am always so thankful for my friends, but it's times like today when I am so super thankful for my dear Liesl. It's just the little things that mean the most... the notes on e-mail... the picking up of the "dropped balls"... the undying support when I need it most... the threat (or promise?) of a poke in the eye...
For that, and for you, I am thankful.

Aside from that, things are wrapping up for the night for me... much earlier than I had originally imagined... and I am super proud of some of my work. And that makes me proud. I'm proud that I'm proud... is that weird? Ah well... it's probably how things should be.
I had two great interactions with parents today: one via e-mail and one at a brief IEP meeting. That's always nice.
And today we had speakers from Concordia Language Villages. They were super. They really did a great job of selling the program and keeping the kids truly interested and learning the whole time. That's impressive. My Germans were great (as usual). But one of them really made my day today. At the beginning of the presentation, they ask "Why do you take a foreign language?" During the 4th hour presentation, they asked that question (as usual)... and Fritz blurted out in front of the crowd of 150-200 of his peers, "Because we've got the best teacher!"
Awwwww.... shucks.
There were a couple fun comments about brown-nosing from other classes, but he didn't seem to care. He then turned to me and everyone else sitting around him and say, "Yeah. Come on. You know everyone was thinking it. I just said it." :)
He's such a great kid.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

K 11 Today

We started the class on kind of a low note. I had two or three kids ask (essentially), so what are we doing? One student asked why we were doing the chapter this way. So I posed the question back to them: Why are we doing the chapter this way?
Then the answers trickled in. "To be in charge of our own learning." "Because it's easier for you." (Which I had to clarify that it isn't, in fact, easier... it's just a different kind of work... plus I get more time to work with them individually.) And other things as well. I was a little concerned that these questions were being asked because sometimes they can be the beginning of the downward spiral... but I answered them tentatively and I think having the other students answer them was helpful. If the day had ended there, however, I might have written it up as a failure. Good thing it didn't.
After a few calendar changes and some journaling about the skills (which, I don't know if the questions were productive for them or not), we started the day. We had our first round table followed shortly thereafter by our first study group.
Four people joined in the round table, which is a good number. If I have my preference, I wouldn't want the round tables above 6. We talked about das Wochenende. I went into the round table with the idea that if they each say around 20 words, we could call it a success. This was based somewhat on the speaking center of German 3/4 last year. However I was pleasantly surprised! The round table lasted almost twenty minutes with just four people! They found that, by listening to others, they can add to what they might say... and the person with the fewest words (who was nervous about participating) still had 71! And the really cool part? I got to connect with the kids! The thing I was talking about just yesterday came back. I got to hear from one student that he got to talk with his dad and might be able to see him this summer... he hasn't seen his dad in years. Another student shared movies and mentioned she rented Amelie so she can watch it today! Yet another talked about favorite foods, another about the songs she wrote. It was great. It's fodder for those relationships I feel I had been missing. Awesome. So I am proud of them with how well they spoke and how much they said... but I'm also happy to be able to touch base with them again.
Then we had our study group on verbs. Six people showed up... and the cool part was that one student pulled his table partner along saying, "Come on! You can use help with this, too!" Otherwise he might not have come to the group... I'm proud of both of them for that interaction. We went around the table and talked about what was hard for us. Four of the six said "everything". So we talked about verb endings, stem-changing verbs and modal verbs... as well as where they sit in the sentence. It seemed pretty elementary and everyone got it really quickly and easily, so I was afraid that it was redundant and not worth their time. I told them to come back next week and we can talk about "deeper things"... and then, nervously, I asked, "But was this, today, worthwhile for you?" The "yes!" and "Oh, yes!" answers came so quickly and abundantly that I knew that it was really helpful for each of them. That put my soul at ease. I didn't want to be wasting their time... but I didn't want to skim over something they needed more deeply either. So this was goood as well.
My time spent with students today was beneficial. I feel good about how it went and I feel good about what they did.
So here are the questions that are plaguing the back of my mind:
What about the other kids? What were they doing? Were they on task? Does it matter?
I know that the group sitting right behind me were on task maybe half of the time. But does it matter? The quizzes open tomorrow and perhaps then they will realize how much they need to buckle down. Would my being a vulture over them actually have been beneficial? I know others were quietly on task because I returned to my desk to see some invitations and birthday cards that were finished. We'll see.
I might do an entrance card for tomorrow: what was beneficial from yesterday, what wasn't? It might be some good data.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Fidelity (and a check-in with K. 11)

Fidelity is something that has been on my mind lately. I find these fantastic ideas and resources and do/use them... and then never touch them again. If I find something that is wonderful, I should keep it and continue using it with fidelity. Stick with it. If it's good for kids, it's good for kids. Period.
then again... since there are so many wonderful things that can be done out there, perhaps it's best for some of them to be treated more like another "trick" that I have in my "bag". And really split up the goodness between everything that we do during the year. That's a thought as well.

Quick check in with K. 11:
I did a bit of the front loading needed with the kids about why doing the chapter in this format... although many of them were dazey... so I got those questions afterward. I feel sometimes like I've permanently lost an entire half of the room. In all actuality, it's probably 4-5 kids... but it break-a-mah-heart. Ah well.
So a few questions about "So... what are we supposed to be doing?" and then many dove right into workbook work. A few did the birthday card. The quizzes don't "open" until Wednesday... I wonder if they will be caught off guard with the amount of preparation they needed to do for the quizzes... I guess we'll see. Tomorrow should be interesting: our first round-table and our first study group. let's see if anyone takes advantage of it.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

UbD, Constructivism and K 11

Although I had already written my UbD for chapter 11, I restructured it so that it was truly something different... something to push me out of my comfort zone... and push me into a place I think can be the base of a lot of growth.
I took Chapter 11 and put it into the terms of quizzes/test and expectations they needed to reach... and then I gave them a resource sheet for the information. We will be having a hybrid class: some whole-class work, some group work and some individualized work. I'm excited to try it because it's a step toward that constructivist classroom... in a way that I can definitely handle. It's also a way to eliminate truly "busy work" and have meaningful work opportunities for everyone. Theoretically, if it goes well, it's also a way for me to spend some more time on differentiating resources for the students... and that seems like a bite that's easier for me to take than the words of differentiating instruction... which seems overwhelming and unmanageable.
I showed Shawn the plan the students will receive tomorrow and he asked some clarifying questions that helped me touch up some of the semantics... but he also made a connection I hadn't come to yet: this is preparing the kids for college and the real world, where your boss/professor doesn't care how/when you get the project/work done... they just care that you get it done and that it's your work. Exciting idea... preparing them with the skills of goal-oriented work at their own pace. This goes beyond curriculum then and into life skills. If it goes well.
My questions:
1. What do I do when kids aren't working on German?
Is this truly a personal attack on me for not having enough planned or not making it challenging/engaging enough for them? Or is it a case of them truly being able to plan their own time and they're prioritizing, perhaps other class homework, above the German? Is that something I am okay with? Do I just trust the process? What kinds of discussions do I need to have with the kids about this?
2. How will I know if this worked?
What questions can i ask the kids as they reflect on the unit as a whole to know what went well, what could be better and (perhaps) what should be completely dropped? Will the test/quiz grades drop initially and then go up? Will they always be up? Will they cheat?
3. Will I enjoy it?
Will I get to spend time really encouraging and working with kids? Will I get to work with those kids that are at a high level and would love to have a challenge from me? Will I see progress in the skills and talents of the students?
I know it's just one chapter, but there is a little voice in me that says I should have been doing something like this for a very long time... so I and the students can see and know progress more clearly. Then there's the dark horse on the other shoulder saying, "This could just as easily go terribly... and then all of your hopes for it being an answer to a lot of these problems will put you in negative progress in everything. Keeping it status quo would only be neutral progress instead of negative."
Shut up dark horse.
I'm pushing myself.
Trying something new.
If I fail, I will fail gloriously... and learn from it: thus, no matter what, it will be a success.

So, "dark horse", you can just shut up.