The Detention Queen Abdicates

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Every year, I average 10 detentions the first week of school.   Almost all are after a private warning of, “I need you to stop talking or you’ll get a detention” when students test just how true to my word I am.  See this post for a more detailed explanation and my true feelings about detentions.  As a level 2 and 3 teacher, I always have some students for 2 years.  On the second day, my second-year-students asked me, “How many detentions have you given out already Mrs. Barber?”

This year, I have not even discussed consequences with my classes.  Not once.  We spent the entire first week setting the tone and team building.  We jumped into curriculum week 2, and I have not given many independent activities.  During the couple we’ve had, I have not had to warn anyone to stop talking.  Everyone did what was expected of them.  Every. Single. Student.  However, I have had to give out 3 detentions due to inappropriate language that I just could not ignore (students, do not say bad words when a teacher is nearby!!!!)

I had to have a substitute on Friday so that I could proctor credit by exam for native and heritage Spanish speakers at my school.  Normally, before I have a sub, I go over my expectations and warn them that if the sub writes a name down, that student will get a detention.  This time, I changed my speech.  In every class, I told the truth.  I said my sub is my good friend and a mentor to me, she knows Spanish, and she’s super-excited to spend the day with my students because she knows many of them from other sub jobs, and she automatically loves my students because she loves me.  I did not mention anything negative whatsoever.  I kept it positive and got the best sub report of my entire career.   At lunch on Friday, she told me that she kept asking the classes if they were always this wonderful–my morning classes are on-level.  At the end of the day, she said there were not enough words to compliment how perfect the day was.  I cannot wait to tell my classes tomorrow!  I cannot wait to brag on them!

I tried something new this year, and it worked.  I know that some teachers thought I was crazy to “waste” an entire week when we have so little time to get in all of the curriculum.  I’m a realist who maintains her ideals.  I know the value of having my students on my side.  I did what was necessary to make that happen.  We will catch up curriculum-wise.  Setting the tone is crucial and not something that can easily be altered if not begun properly.  I want to look back on this year as my favorite.  I want that every year, and this year may give all my other favorite years a run for their money :).

So, I guess the Detention Queen has to pass the title on to someone else.  I’m prepared to give them out if I need to, but I know that people give you what you expect.  I took a week to show my students how important they are to me and that I genuinely care about them.  Additionally, I have held them to high standards as students and people, and so far, every day has been a wonderful blessing.

I hope and pray that all my teacher friends near and far are having as much fun as we are in my classes this year!

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Day 2… What did we do?

Yesterday we collaborated about collaboration in one of the collaboration spaces in our school :).

I LOVE the collaboration spaces in our school; two are empty, two are furnished with tables and chairs.  The empty ones are great for activities like Philosophical Chairs and the furnished ones are great for group collaboration–I especially love to move there for learning stations because it means I don’t have to rearrange my classroom.  My friend and colleague, Rebecca Gould, did a similar activity last year, though I improvised when I could not exactly recall how she did it.

One of the furnished collaboration spaces

One of the furnished collaboration spaces

Yesterday, I arranged the tables to have 4 or 5 chairs, and allowed the class to choose the first grouping.  I gave some guidelines based on class size.  For example, my class of 32 had to sit 4-5 to a group.  No more than 5, no less than 4.  With 7 tables, it worked perfectly.  I gave each group a piece of butcher paper and had them divide it into 4 quadrants.  With the first grouping, they had to brainstorm what collaboration does not look like in the top left quadrant.  I encouraged them to think about their worst group work experiences.  After about 5 minutes, I had each group share out, and I took notes on my own butcher paper.  Here is what students had to say:

  • when one person does all the work
  • when one person is bossy and uncompromising
  • when some of the group is on their phones
  • when members are talking to people in other groups
  • when people blame one person for the bad grade
  • when people don’t talk
  • when people are off-task
  • when people are distracted
  • when 1 person has to supply all the materials

Then, I had 2 people from each group stand.  These students had to find a new group but could not join the same group as the other person leaving the original group.  In this new grouping, I had the students brainstorm what collaboration does look like.  In my first period, I actually did this first and discovered it was a lot easier for students to come up with bad examples than good example, so in 2nd-7th, I switched the order.  Once again, we shared out as a whole group and here is what they said:

  • working together
  • having fun
  • staying on task
  • respecting other people and ideas
  • contributing
  • meeting the goal for the group
  • listening to the other people

Next, I had the two students who had not yet moved find a new group with the guideline that they could not be in a group with anyone they had already worked with today.  In this grouping, the students came up with a concise definition of collaboration.  Here are just some of the awesome definitions they came up with:

Some definitions my students wrote

Some definitions my students wrote

Finally, I allowed them to stay in this grouping (we were running out of time) and I asked them to think about what should be some non-negotiables for collaborating in our Spanish classroom.  I was mostly looking for, “speak in Spanish” but I also had a couple of other ideas:

  • don’t make fun of anyone’s bad pronunciation
  • help others with vocabulary they don’t know
My example from a class period

My example from a class period

Now, let’s be honest.  I could have gone over expectations for collaboration in about 5 minutes, but would they really have thought my rambling was that important?  No!  Would it have been meaningful at all?  To many, no!  After we did the activity, I praised them.  I said, “I feel really good about collaboration in this class.  From hearing your discussions and things you shared today, I know we all have the same goals for successful collaboration, and that makes me extremely excited for the things we will do this year.”  In some classes, we even gave ourselves a round of applause. 🙂

Just say “no!” to homework

After hearing my students complain about how much homework they have already on day 1, I feel it’s time to propose a revolutionary idea: say “no” to homework!  Yes, teachers, I’m talking to you.  Don’t assign homework!  Use your class time effectively, evaluate every activity and if it’s not worth taking class time to do it, then it probably isn’t worth doing at home either.

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I am on both sides of the classroom.  I’m a teacher and I’m a parent to a student.  My son had more homework in 1st grade than I gave out in high school Spanish 2 and 3 last year.  That’s absurd!  The only homework that I felt was valuable to my first grader was the required reading time.  He was allowed to choose the book, thus making it enjoyable for him, and I watched him grow exponentially as a reader in the first month.  Beyond that, utilize the time in school.

In an ideal situation, homework may not be that bad if every child got home from school when school dismissed–though research disagrees by saying it is detrimental at the elementary level and questionable at secondary.  My child’s school ends at 2:45.  My contract hours end at 4:30, but let’s be honest, it’s next to impossible to leave then.  This year, my husband is home from Afghanistan so we are not a single-parent household.  When we were, even if I left at 4:30, I had to pick up 2 kids at 2 different places and drive home.  We would be home at the absolute earliest at 5:30.  Then we’d have to fix dinner, eat, bathe, and find time to do homework.  My then 6-year-old would fall asleep on his own around 7pm from exhaustion.  Thankfully, he did most of his written homework at the after school care, but we still had to fit in reading (our commute was 20 minutes so he often read in the car in the mornings with me updating his time in his planner in the carpool lane).

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Students are in school all day long, and then we send them home to do more work without the teacher present.  Do you like to go home and do work?  I sure don’t, and I do my best to get as much work done before leaving as possible.

So, now I challenge you to rethink what you are doing in class, but especially what you are sending home.  If it’s not worth class time, it’s probably not worth home time either. Use it as a classroom management tool as well.  When it looks like it may be a challenge to get through everything we need to, I tell the students, “Here’s what we must accomplish today, whatever doesn’t happen, has to go home with you.”  All it takes is 1 time to be the only class that didn’t finish for the students to make sure to stay on task each subsequent time.

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Trust me, students and parents will thank you.  I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m on my 6th year of no homework and my students succeed every single year.

Extreme Makeover: Worksheet Edition

Fridays should be fun.  On Fridays, when I see what I have planned, if it’s not fun, I feel especially inspired to change it and make it better.

Yesterday, I was planning for us to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different jobs, followed by a timed writing.  It was a lovely worksheet, one that I excitedly and proudly created during our summer curriculum writing in June.  Well, while the purpose and intention are in the right place, I just knew I could make it better.  And inspiration struck!  Naturally, it struck at about 8:30 while I was dealing with 2 detention kids, with 30 minutes left until my 1st period class began.  Isn’t that how it always happens?

Well, I wasn’t going to let something like time get in the way of turning an okay activity into something awesome!!!!  I ran around like crazy, managed to reserve the collaboration space, winged the instructions in first period–the experimental class–and managed to pull it off, working out a few kinks along the way.

So what was this genius idea?  Well, rather than do it as a worksheet, I divided the students into groups, assigning each group the task to come up with either the advantages or the disadvantages to a specific job.  After discovering that 15 minutes messed up the flow of the other two parts of the activity, I shortened it to 10 minutes in 3rd period.  True, some groups had difficulty compiling an extensive list of 10 advantages or disadvantages in that amount of time, but most had at least 6-7.

After the 10 minutes, the students moved to one of my school’s collaboration spaces to hang up their posters.  We then had a gallery walk (something I learned about at the AVID Summer Institute).  They quietly walked from poster to poster, reading the information provided.  The students could add to the posters if they had a good idea and were required to write down the top 2-3 advantages and disadvantages of the jobs they would consider for themselves.  I allowed 15 minutes for this process.

We then returned to our classroom and had our 15-minute timed writing (that we will peer edit on Monday).

Sure, the original plan would have taken maybe a total of 25 minutes, leaving time for other activities, but would it have been as meaningful?  Would we have gone into as much depth?  Would it have been as personal?  Would it have been as fun?  No.  I was so impressed with how many useful words and phrases my students figured out were important just by trying to come up with the advantages and disadvantages to 8 different jobs.

We often feel overwhelmed by the breadth of what we or the students must do.  Yesterday was all about the depth, and I’ve never seen my students dig that deep into this topic in 5 years of teaching it.  It was AMAZING.  And… It was fun :).

Musical Partners

I am trying to think outside the box with partner work this school year.  I have a FABULOUS language lab in my classroom that my students feel I overuse.  While I will never give up opportunities to use the amazing tool, I have decided to mix it up from time to time and get students up and moving (and picking their own partners).

Today, my students completed an independent activity about their summer.  Normally, I would pair them on the lab and have them ask and answer questions with each other.  Then, I would mix up the partners a few times so they got an opportunity to learn about other people.  When sharing activities like this, I try to spend as much time as it took them to do it so they see that it was in fact worth their time.

Today, I decided to utilize that collaboration space around the corner by playing Musical Partners.  That is my name for the activity that I stole from an icebreaker at the AVID Summer Institute.  We went into the space (with their worksheet), and I played music on my iPad.  While the music played, students walked around and/0r danced around.  When the music stopped, they paired up,  asked questions of each other and shared information related to the activity.  I gave them about 2-3 minutes to speak before starting up the music again.  They walked/danced until the music stopped and found a new partner.  We did this 3 or 4 times (depending on the class) before returning to our room.  It was a lot of fun :).

In case you were wondering, my song choice was Shakira’s Estoy Aquí, a classic from when I was in Spanish 2 oh so long ago :).

The Great Homework Debate

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I hardly ever give homework–besides studying/looking over notes/activities we completed in class.  I am very aware that my students have 6 other classes that require a lot of homework.  We have the agreement that if they use my time wisely, I won’t take any of their time outside of class.  Sure, high schoolers need to be challenged and prepare for college, but they still need to play.  What’s the rush to make them grow up and take away all of their free time?  Let’s allow them time to explore, relax, read for fun, take a brain break.

I know that homework can be extremely valuable for learning if it’s meaningful.  I recognize that practice is necessary for success.  I merely choose to maximize practice time in the classroom so the students aren’t overburdened outside of school.  In the LOTE classroom, it is possible to avoid homework most of the time.  We pick up where we left off the next day.  I can guarantee that most of my students will complete most activities because I am there to make sure they do.  My students don’t get zeroes unless they actually try and earn one (which sadly that happens occasionally when someone is a little lost).  If a student doesn’t do an assignment during class, they get the warning, and then if they still don’t do it, they get a detention.  Guess what we do during detention… You got it, that assignment.  Late work is a non-issue.

So where is this post coming from?  Well, if you are my Facebook friend, you know the answer.  I have a first grader who has had homework every night this week.  On Monday, we were instructed to explore his new planner together.  We spent 30 minutes on this task during which Gavin complained that he’d rather be watching TV.  Tonight, we had a scavenger hunt through the planner to find things.  I actually think the scavenger hunt is a really cute idea… FOR OLDER KIDS.  Gavin could not read the majority of the activity and is not a fast enough reader to sift through the planner to find information such as how to set up a lunch account.  Let’s be honest.  This activity was NOT for the kids.  It was to get the parents to look at the planner and find “important” information.  I tried to get Gavin to write the answers, and he got frustrated.  He couldn’t spell well enough to do most of it, so I did it. I mean, this activity was not student-focused at all; it was parent-focused.

This true life example validated my decision to limit homework.  Some homework is just busy work.  If it’s not meaningful, if it’s not going to help him improve in an area, don’t waste our time.  My husband is deployed, making me a single-mom of two kids for the year.  We don’t get home until 6 (or 7:45 on Tuesdays after dance and martial arts).  If we have to tack on some homework after we manage to finally eat dinner, please ensure it’s worth our time.

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