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.