Thursday, July 28, 2016

E3 Technology Conference: Day 1, 2016

On the final Monday and Tuesday of July, Warsaw Community Schools hosts a technology conference called "e3Tech" as a part of the "Summer of eLearning" conference series from the Indiana Department of Education. Educators from all over the state gather together to learn and be encouraged about the role of technology in education immediately before the school year starts back up again.

I have attended e3Tech the past three years, and my fourth year did not disappoint!  Last year I decided to present 2 different sessions:  1 on a video editing program called EdPuzzle and 1 on the power of Twitter chats.  This year, I was asked (WHAT?!) to present my Twitter chat session again, and I was happy to do so.  Not only am I extremely passionate about this topic and the opportunities it provides to our teachers and students...but I also get 2 days of this wonderful conference for free because of my presentation! Win-win, as they say.

My lovely sister is getting ready to start her second year teaching at Faith Christian Academy in Lafayette.  She was able to come, have a sleepover, and learn a lot with me during these two days.  I loved having her and discussing all we learned together in the evenings.

On the first day we got there early, grabbed some coffee and then headed in to the Warsaw Performing Arts Center to hear from our first keynote speaker:  Rushton Hurley.  His presentation was titled "Singing Songs of Success" and included sporadic singing from all in attendance (I instantly liked him!)  He emphasized how technology can be utilized to tell stories.  He opened up Today's Meet so that at various points throughout the keynote he had us pause, converse, and add our thoughts to this ongoing conversation.  I picked up so many hidden ways to better instruction just observing how he delivered his keynote...let alone listening to what he included.  He pointed us to so many online video resources he has on his website that I felt nearly every teacher in the building could benefit from. There were so many thought-provoking quotes and reminders I took away from his session.

After the keynote, we headed to our first session, "Connecting Classrooms to the World" by Matt Miller.  We had so much fun learning about "mystery skype" and the many ways that video chatting can be used in each level of education.  This session was so practical because not only did we get to participate in a mystery skype session at the beginning, but our surprise guest shared tips for getting started:  start with someone you know, practice ahead of time, have a map/atlas in front of you, discuss good types of questions, etc.   If I had a classroom to go to in a week, I would feel equipped to try this out in the first couple of months of the school year.

Then we enjoyed a DELICIOUS lunch (Panera...woot woot!) and conversation time.  We headed to our second session after that.  I chose to attend "Twitter 102: Riding Solo" with Lorinda Kline.  I had been to this session before, and am very familiar with Twitter and the huge benefits it offers for teachers, but I wanted to support a close mentor of mine as she presented and become familiar with the Twitter-comfort level of the majority of the attenders.  I so value how Lorinda approaches this topic:  she never assumes that others should have it figured out and she instructs them through the basics in a way that makes people feel safe and respected.  Many teachers created Twitter profiles for the first time thanks to her!

For the final session on the first day, I presented #chat.  It was one of the same presentations I did last year.  Honestly, I was initially disappointed at the very small turn-out, but when I think back I realize that there were so many good sessions to go to, it was a hard choice for me each time.  I really tried to emphasize the potential that lies in student-focused Twitter chats.  After talking with the creator of the first student chat I know of (#SciStuChat), Adam Taylor, I was re-inspired at how powerful this learning could be...but at this point I can only find TWO student Twitter chats (shout out to the awesome #SpanStuChat!). Period.  I'm shocked!  I truly hope more teachers find a way to incorporate this network of professionals, ideas and resources into their classrooms at every level.  For all the resources I offered at my presentation, see the links attached to this post.
The following day held a variety of learning and reflection.  I'll be back to share my thoughts, soon.

Monday, July 18, 2016

3 Skills Every Student Needs (Inspired by Aaron Hogan)

As I prepped to participate in one of my favorite Twitter chats (#tlap), I found a blog post that truly resonated with me on many levels.  Aaron Hogan wrote a post titled, "4 Skills Every Student Needs" that highlighted the importance of the vital dispositions our students accumulate in our classrooms that may never be in our textbooks. I found this to be an especially timely post in light of the tragedies, violence and conflict in our country and across our world. I would HIGHLY encourage all teachers to read his post thoroughly before heading back to school, as the summer can be a perfect time to intentionally map out the "soft skills" we want to prioritize in our classrooms.

Here are my honest reflections after reading Aaron's post:
  • My greatest weakness, personally, of the skills he listed is that all too often I tend to disagree with people, not ideas.  Ugh! I hate even writing those words. It is an important distinction that my passionate heart and language-loving-mind tend to ignore.  I want to model this. I want to teach this. I want to find this in more people.
  • The concept of seeing multiple perspectives should be an easy fit into a world language classroom!  I love how he mentioned it's involvement in literature, but I couldn't help but think a classroom that elevates learning another's language has to be the embodiment of this value.  This is one way I tried to bring up this skill in class. My inspiration came from articles like this one & quotes like this one...
Find pin here.
  • If we do not plan these conversation, they simply do not happen.  After all, they are tricky to write about when I have hours to do much more challenging would they be to suddenly initiate out of no where?  When there is a tragedy in your community, discuss it.  Process out loud with your students in an age-appropriate manner.  Set aside your curriculum and show them that these types of things matter even more than their upcoming vocab quiz.  Be real.  But, in addition to planning conversations around these points in response to an event, we must be prioritizing these lessons this summer for the entire year.  I think we would all agree our job is much, much wider and deeper than our content area.  So, shouldn't the time and effort we put into these lessons reflect the level of importance we claim they have?

Inspired by his articulate reflection of often intangible concepts, I wanted to add 3 skills that I believe every student needs in addition to what Aaron wrote.  So...

3 (more) skills every student needs:
  1. Defend your beliefs without becoming defensive.  To do this, students must first and foremost know what they believe.  This might involve researching the issue above and beyond repeating what their parents or more vocal friends have said. In addition, students need the ability to listen to and understand people who oppose their thoughts.  Finally, this skill takes a lot of thinking on your feet!  Being "put on the spot" is stressful sometimes, and a lot of people react by raising their voice, attacking the other person or shutting down. Perhaps in our classrooms we can stage debates and play "devil's advocate" just enough to coach students through these scenarios.  I am a firm believer that after the scheduled conversation or activity is completed, though, we talk to kids about what we just talked about.  Verbally walk them through why you just directed the conversation in that way.  Or, re-frame a point that was brought up so that it really sinks in to the class.  Help them learn to be well-informed and confident enough that they can have conversations about their firmly-held viewpoints without getting their feelings hurt.
  2. Ask pertinent, thoughtful, and thought-provoking questions.  To really listen well, understand other perspectives and learn at a deep level, students will need to know how to know what they don't know!  Instead of coming up with the questions to scaffold one of our students to success, why not let another student volunteer that information?  I love trying to peak student's intelligent curiosity as it relates to cultural concepts.  Or, as we often try to fabricate real-life conversations in our language classrooms, let your students gain that practice of thinking and writing deeper questions.  Open-ended questions, by the way.  Opinion-inducing questions.  This is difficult for many people in our native-tongues...even more so as we learn to ask these questions in a different language.
  3. Honestly reflect and alter personal weaknesses.  We talk a lot about "self-motivation" or "self-paced" curriculum.  And our culture greatly values independence and self-reliance.  But, in many of our middle school, especially, there are students who have never been taught how to take an honest (read: HARD) look at themselves and evaluate what they should change.  They allow our feedback to replace their own self-evaluation.  We can change this!  This skill can relate to Spanish class (vowel pronunciation, word order), school in general (organization, friend choices) or it can be much larger than that (fitness habits, relationship with parents).  How can we lead students to begin a life-long journey of admitting shortcomings, forming a plan to fix them and persevering until they are no longer problems?
After reading Aaron's post and my thoughts, what would you add?  How are you going to bring up these important topics in your classroom? Let's truly "facilitate thinking, support struggle and engage minds"!

Pin here.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Brave is Vulnerable

As mid July fades to late July, school stuff tends to be on the minds of many a teacher.  While some spend hours prepping their classroom and some pack their summer full of activities they never get to do during the year, sooner or later everyone will be thinking How should I start my year?  What do I need to do to get ready?  What do I want my students to learn from me from day one? And although I really want to write a detailed activity post later, I want to dedicate this post to a larger, more all-encompassing idea:  being brave.

You see, I read this post from Spanish Mama earlier this week and it really struck a chord.  She talks about many different ways that she wants to be brave:  in the classroom, with her children and with Spanish.  She even shared one of my all time favorite quotes:

Because those with accents speak at least one other language better. Think about it.

She caused me to reflect on the ways that I, as a teacher, should dare to be braver.  Ways I should lead by example.  Should set the tone in my classroom not in level of perfection, but in desire to learn.  So, I wanted to encourage YOU to do the same.  Spend time before the school year starts deciding how you are going to be brave in front of your students on a daily basis this year.  In my school we use the terms "growth mindset" and "life-long learner" a lot.  But how valuable are those words if we are not living them out?  Have you shown your students that you are learning something?  That would mean getting up in front of your class and potentially *gasp* making a mistake.  Looking foolish.  As teachers, we should be demonstrating to our students that sometimes being brave is being vulnerable. In language learning, in other classes, in life!

Here are some ways to be vulnerable with your students:
  • Tell a failure of a study abroad story.   Be specific.  Tell them a time you messed up pronunciation or couldn't remember a word.  Find a picture to go with it.  Don't skim over it:  tell them what you were feeling and how the situation was (or wasn't) resolved.  
  • Start fresh with another language. Many Spanish teachers may be at a point where Spanish is second nature to them.  I know I had personally lost part of that frustration or "it's on tip of my tongue" problem...until I tried French. Or Turkish! *face palm*  Then I remembered my frustration very vividly.  Use Duolingo or another tool to try a language you are completely unfamiliar with and then relate it to the issues they are having in your class the first few weeks.  Share with them a few sentences you are learning to say and the phrases that you can never remember.  Tell them how long you're practicing and what your goals are. (You can read how I incorporated Duolingo into a lesson here!)
  • Demonstrate a hobby that has nothing to do with your class. Bring in your clarinet or put your hand-lettered canvas under the document camera.  Tell your students how long you have been practicing and show them some before and after evidence of your progress.
  • Challenge yourself to really USE your Spanish once a week and report to the class.  I have known many Spanish teachers who are so skilled in the classroom and their level of content, but don't have the time or intent to use their language outside of their school.  Call a friend, go to a local restaurant or volunteer to translate somewhere.  Whatever makes you a little uncomfortable to commit to because you might mess up or it doesn't suit your it. Then tell your students details of how it goes each time. That's being vulnerable. That's being brave.  
This Pinterest board might come in handy as you push yourself and your students towards braver steps this year.  Maybe you could print one out each week and put it at the front of the class to initiate a class discussion about your individual bravery goals.   

And perhaps the ultimate leap of vulnerability  for a Spanish teacher is the commitment to daily teaching Spanish in Spanish.  Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell posted a really though-provoking article about her position on how much target language should be used in classroom and when/how.  It is definitely worth a read (or two!) as we approach the school year.  It will shake up some of your preconceptions (it did mine!)  I am still working on my position statement and I truly think we all should be.  May we see our role as teacher as a platform from which we can (and MUST) model life-long learning by being bravely vulnerable.

Original pin here.

P.s. The title graphic at the top is one of my favorite examples of being vulnerable.  The girl with her back to us and the girl we can't quite see are two of the students that traveled with me to Spain earlier this summer.  This is a picture of them in El Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid striking up conversation with a woman who was shopping there to ask her questions about why she comes to the market and what her life story is.  Pretty BIG conversation to strike up out of nowhere.  No teacher waiting to help.  No manual on how to go about it.  Just two girls on their first day of language immersion learning being brave by being vulnerable.  And they got an AWESOME story out of it.