Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sprucing up the syllabus

original by Steven Depolo via Flickr license
The first day of school can be so rough on kids. Too often we teachers spend all day doing administrivia--syllabus reading, folder organization, seat assignments, tech setups--which is why, for years, I've spread out those tasks over the first couple of weeks. I cringe when I think about my first day as a baby teacher -- I read the syllabus aloud to every class for 5 periods! It was a four-page document full of text! How terrible is that? Thankfully that was ages ago, and I've learned from my mistakes. But one thing seemed not to have changed since then: that four-page, text-heavy syllabus, full of rules and procedures and explanations. It was time for the syllabus to get a makeover.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Communicating classroom culture with infographics

by Aaron "tango" Tang via Flickr license
I like simplicity, especially when it comes to class rules. As a high school teacher that meets with multiple classes a day, sometimes in multiple rooms, I need my classroom expectations to be clear, simple and fair. In the past, I've written my rules on a Word document, distributed copies, and taped a copy on the classroom door. BORING! This year, I've chosen a web tool to help me clearly communicate my four "rules" for a positive classroom culture to my students. See my rules and the hip infographic after the jump... 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Teacher-on-Summer-Vacation Reading List

Photo by Spirit-Fire license
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I love to read. To me, there is nothing better in the summer than lying on whatever flat/comfy surface is available (couch, chair, beach towel, hammock etc.) and reading my book all afternoon. I could easily spend the whole summer reading mysteries, but I know from experience that the months of July and August should not be a total hiatus from teaching. (That makes September really, really difficult!) So, here's a selection of what I'm reading this summer while wearing my teacher hat:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"Fiesta Fatal": A novel adventure

Photo by Christopher Michael license
What do you get when you combine a Mexican fiesta de quince años, a spoiled teenage girl who constantly fights with her mom, and a drug cartel? 

Fiesta fatal, obviously! 

I came across this TPRS novel by Mira Canion last spring and thought it would be perfect for my mixed middle- and high-school Spanish II class this year. The language is easy for novices to understand, and the plot is action-filled. There are many opportunities for students to understand how the two main past tenses in Spanish, the preterite and imperfect, are used, while facilitating comprehension by employing a relatively uncomplicated use of vocabulary. My students enjoyed it a lot: they called it "funny," "suspenseful," "interesting" and "fun to read." Here's how I used the novel in class. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My students love playing ____.

(Answer: Verba!)
UPDATE! The Verba Kickstarter campaign has started! You can get a set (or more) of Verba by donating to the cause. If you're curious about Verba, watch the video below and send a few bucks to  help get the project off the ground. Thanks! 

Original post follows:

Fill-in-the-blank activities have a bad rap.

When I was a student, I remember filling in endless blanks. Endless blanks. For no good reason that I can remember other than to practice a grammar point (nominally) or just to complete the assignment (closer to the truth). 

As a teacher, I use fill-in-the-blank, or cloze, items sometimes, mostly in listening comprehension activities. They can be useful scaffolding tools when students aren't yet proficient enough to produce whole sentences on a certain topic. Cloze becomes more fun when the activity resembles Mad Libs, where students can plug in silly or creative ideas. But I'd never call cloze wildly fun or exciting. 

Oh, but there IS a wildly fun and exciting way to use cloze in the classroom...  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Have Success with Projects: Bitstrips Edition

You know how projects can sometimes seem overwhelming? Too much work to set up? Kids don't perform as well as you'd hoped? I can't say that all of my projects are runaway successes every time, but I've found that using the right tool and the right processes can make them more meaningful for students. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Low-tech, high-interest

World Bank Photo Collection license
Sometimes a pencil and a partner are more effective teaching tools than the newest app or the sleekest device. I was reminded of this at ACTFL in San Antonio this past November, when I went to a session called Challenging Students: Learning Language Through Discovery. (There wasn't a handout per se, as far as I know, but you can access my notes here.) It was one of my favorite sessions, because the presenters used activities in Mandinka and Mandarin to show us how we, as students, could figure out language concepts on our own. The activities were engaging, memorable, fun and made me feel like I had achieved something. So of course I immediately began thinking of how I could integrate this into my classes.