When classes are too big

This is not a complaint post in the traditional sense.  In fact, some may be surprised by what I have to say.  My classes are all sitting at about 33 students.  My classroom has 36 drop down lab stations meaning my classes cannot go over 36.  I am fine with taking up to 36 students–I know, that may sound insane, but it is the truth.  3 of my 6 classes are level 3 on-level, and I am the only person on my campus who teaches that course so far this year.  We are 3 weeks in, and the 3 honors students are dropping like flies.  The solution from Admin is to combine 2 classes of 3H (and redistribute a few of those students), then open another section of level 3 on-level with a different teacher.  Then some of my students will be shifted to the new section with someone else.  It is the only solution to leveling out the on-level classes, but that does not make it any easier.

Now let me preface the next part with something that must be said: this teacher who will add a section of on-level is FABULOUS!  I adore her as a friend, colleague, mentor and teacher.  The students are LUCKY to get her and she will love them as much as I do too.  Still, I am sad to lose any of my students :(.  I am not sad because I think they won’t succeed with someone else.  I am sad because I have invested so much in them, and am already in love with my classes.  I know I am being selfish though.  Class size definitely can affect student success when students struggle.  I know in my heart that it is better for them to be in smaller classes to receive more individualized attention.  Nevertheless, I will miss anyone who is moved from my class.

This type of thing happens a lot in elementary school.  In fact, I recently heard from some friends about losing teammates 2 weeks in.  The enrollment was not high enough so they combined classes at that school and transferred the teammates to another campus that had higher enrollment.  That’s rough!  Not only did they lose their students, but their whole school and friends.  At least I am not in the market to lose all of my students.  How awful that would be!!!!

Right now, nothing is set in stone.  Our Admin is awesome and respectful of our wishes.  She agreed to give it a weekend to see what happens as performanc-based quiz grades go in.  We want to see if that inspires students to stay in 3H or drop down to on-level.  So I am still holding onto hope that only 1 or 2 more drop so I can keep them all.  If you are a praying person, pray that the students stop dropping! 🙂  Thank you!

And yes, I know I am crazy.  I have 192 students right now, and am willing to add more :).

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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!

The Four Corners of Collaboration

Today we began content, and I was worried.  Why?  Well, we spent an entire week on team building and setting the tone, and it was a lot of fun.  Last week is a tough act to follow.  All weekend, I thought about my plan for level 3.  Part of the day would involve a a vocabulary brainstorm that I’ve done various ways in the past.  I wanted a way in which I could make it engaging for every single person in the room.  So we did Four Corners*!

There are different ways to do this activity, but here’s how I did it.  I told my students to choose (and move to) a corner of the room.  Naturally, the groupings were uneven so I did “nose-goes**” and sent people to different groups to balance things out.  Next, I gave each group a different category on a medium-sized piece of butcher paper and set a timer for 5 minutes.  In their groups, students brainstormed as many words as they could that fit the category.  Students could use phones to look up unknown words.  After 5 minutes, students rotated to a new corner where they had 3 minutes to read the the list and add words not already brainstormed.  After each group visited each corner, everyone returned to their seats and we processed the activity by discussing which categories were easier and which were harder.  We then segued into what they thought the new unit was going to be about.  They seemed intrigued, and they did not hide the fact that they were having fun.

At the end of every class period I heard students saying, “Spanish goes by so quickly.”  I agree.  My days are flying by because we are having so much fun every period of everyday.  I hope that is everyone’s experience right now!

*I learned of the activity Four Corners at the AVID Summer Institute last summer.

**Nose-goes: when someone says, “Nose goes,” the last person to touch his/her nose must do whatever it is that no one is willing to do voluntarily.

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 :).

Fun LOTE Homework

Before I share my idea, I feel it necessary to mention that I teach a performance-based curriculum, guided by the ACTFL guidelines for languages other than English. All of our assessments are performance-based graded on a rubric.

Recently, we had our first interpersonal speaking exam of this school year in my Spanish 3 classes. In order to receive the maximum credit in the task completion portion of the rubric, the students must maintain the conversation by asking personalized questions and by making appropriate comments. After listening to our first assessment, I learned that my students are still struggling to ask personalized question and that they need some help with making comments beyond, “How great!” and “How fun!”

I was looking for something fun and engaging when inspiration struck. I told my students to watch a TV show (if their parents allowed–if not, the alternative is to read a book or about a real person) and during each commercial break to think of or write one comment they would say to one of the characters and one question they would like to ask the character.

I’m not going to lie, the students were a little flabbergasted by my idea and many chuckled to themselves when I explained what I wanted. Nevertheless, I could see how intriguing the idea was in their eyes. Students can bring in the questions/comments, write them on the board and we can critique them together and add our own commentary. I’m excited to see how it goes!

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