Suggested Block Schedule – Sean

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29 thoughts on “Suggested Block Schedule – Sean”

  1. Thank you for this! I will use this as a template. So helpful for a newbie to block schedule!
    And Ben, I love the fabulous report on your first class! How exciting!
    I just had my new faculty orientation yesterday and have to say that I’m more and more thrilled about my new school. While I found myself getting angsty about certain things (which I will post soon, as I will need help framing some stuff), I was immediately able to let go of these minor details because the overall vibe and the clear message ***from the principal, the assistant principal and from the two fellow teachers who had volunteered to come in and run the orientation because they wanted to CONNECT with us***…was…(and I paraphrase)…CONNECT with your kids; GET TO KNOW your kids; BE THERE for your kids…ATTEND (theater, concerts, sports, etc) AND NOTICE THEM OUTSIDE OF CLASS….
    I definitely picked up on this vibe the first time I was in the building, and am happy to report that so far in every interaction with everyone…building and grounds director, administrative assistant, the super cute and friendly 2nd floor custodian Travis who loved the fact that I was planning to remove the desks!…everyone in the building feels like a team. It feels like a place where there is an intention to treat everyone with equal respect whether they are students, custodians, administrative assistants, teachers, support staff, payroll personnel. I guess the fact that the school district office is in the same building makes this feel more seamless. There is a lot of pride in the school, built in 1939 an “old school” funky building with “vintage” feel and a “we don’t have money but we are scrappy and do right by our kids” attitude. I may be painting an idealist picture. Oh well. I am an idealist.
    But I digress. Back to the block schedule.
    A couple of questions:
    What is 1) “checking in with gets” ? I assume activity report is like weekend chat (focus on a few structures like “did” “went” “saw” (etc?)
    My main question for Sean and for anyone in the group who has block scheduling are the brain breaks. Can you describe what you do specifically? L1 or L2? Is TPR a brain break? I want to do LOTS of TPR and not just at the beginning of the year.
    I am planning to use at least one of the brain breaks for mindfulness exercises, which I will likely begin in English and then morph into Spanish over time, as we repeat the exercise over and over. By centering and getting into the body the parasympathetic nervous system will kick in, lowering affective filter, and with repetition over time I’ll be able to move pretty seamlessly into Spanish.
    While at risk of seeming too “woo-woo” I have a very concrete way of doing this stuff with teenagers so that it is not weird or even public. I call it “stealth attention practice” because most of the exercises can be done in public without an outside observer noticing that you’re doing them. Super important of course for the hyper-self-conscious teenager 🙂 I have to commit to doing these because it can only help, especially in light of the community stresses that seem pretty heavy.
    Over time this activity will “cover” body parts and associated verbs like “pay attention to” “observe” “feel” “notice” “expand” “contract” “fill” “empty” etc. I am going to start very small with like 2-3 expressions max. after we have done them repeatedly in English. I know, not HF, but the nervous system benefits outweigh this for my purposes (to give kids tools for self-regulation, balancing nervous system, decreasing stress, increasing awareness, confidence, sense of always having a choice, connection to something bigger etc). Also over time, I can do short guided visualizations after we have done some stories where we have drawn and/ or used images. It is another way to “make a movie in your head” that by nature requires no output! And it’s more reps on the structures we’ll have used 🙂 Sneaky.
    But for a block class, and I will have to feel it out of course with each group, I’m wondering whether to intentionally let go of L2 for some of it? I feel like I need to make a clear call on this to start out because I have a tendency to be too scattered, try to do too many things in the time I have, etc. One fear I have is that If I try to do 98% Spanish for 80 minutes right off the bat with students who are brand new to me and to CI it could turn into an incomprehensible mash up pretty quickly with me hell-bent on “trying to keep up constant L2 for 80 minutes” while kids brains are fried to a crisp.
    I have no problem letting kids have an actual break from the action as long as it is done intentionally and has a structure and clear beginning and end. Part of me thinks this may be the way to go at least at first. I would rather have very clear delineation of “this is a break and you can talk to your friends in English for a few minutes” and “now we are back in Spanish” (with my Christmas light signal which maybe is a student job?) But I have no idea, and the kids have no idea what they are in for! From what I can tell from other teachers including my colleague who teaches French, NOBODY has a clue about what I do, or the rigorous nature of the process. Just an observation. No judgement. Nobody knows about CI and what a great opportunity for me to kick start it!
    Sorry for the long digressions. Any ideas / suggestions re: L1 or L2 brain breaks in a block schedule are most welcome!

    1. I never thought of TPR as a brain break. They’re still focusing. There are lots in my book. Angie had some cool ones from last year, remember? There are lots on YouTube. But my definition of a brain break is no L2 for a few minutes while they move around, trying to get their arms or legs crossed via dancing or throwing a ball of something to drop everything on the desktop from that class up to that point down into the hard drive of the deeper mind.

    2. I have found it helpful to give at least 5 minutes of an 80 minutes block class or so of “cell phone time.” I don’t call it that. I say, “Alright, we can calm down a bit now. Go ahead and get out x, y, z, etc. for the next activity and we’ll get going after I get attendance down and get this stuff all passed out and talk with a few kids casually about how life it going and a few kids go to the bathroom blah blah blah.” This is a good sort of “open bathroom” time, which really helps the kids NOT ask to use the bathroom during instruction. This is time out of L2 listening and reading, but it’s time well spent on transition, settling, recharging, and being human.

      1. Hosler alert! Hosler alert! He’s been spotted! OMG! Yea! And you make a good point James. They need the down time and they need the time to be human with each other and with their instructor. Most of us have that fear of being “caught not teaching”. That is so messed up on so many levels and reveals more about the building one is in than the teacher. I think that from what I hear from jen today is that such a brain break would be quite understandable to her admin team. I am also in that kind of building now. (After 37 years of penance I have been given everything I wanted in a school and in an admin team. Here is what I don’t want to say but need to say: my years in small classrooms with over 30 kids in each class with three or four of them – at least – with 504’s and stinky carpets or filthy floors and hallways with kids who lack basic respect in their own backgrounds, etc. is much more difficult (now that I am no longer in one of those schools but an extremely high functioning school) than I had any idea when I was in the midst of it. Only now can I see it. Y’all who struggle in dysfunctional buildings must keep in mind that if you come home from school in these early days of the year and feel crazy you are probably not crazy but in a crazy settng. Looking back I don’t see how I did it. The building one is in means EVERYTHING.

        1. 🙂 I’m back in the building so I’m back on the internet. Good to be here for another year.
          On the being caught not teaching: That’s why during this “cell phone time” I give an instruction like “get out a pencil” and/or say “now I have to pass this out and get attendance,” so if somebody does happen to walk in, we ARE doing some transitional-type activities.
          Are you teaching AGAIN, Ben? Just to keep your street cred? 😉

    3. “checking in with gets” should be “checking in with kids”… I need to read over my writing before posting!
      Parasympathetic nervous system… so there’s an identification of the nerve fibers that relate specifically to unconscious actions, and that is the parasympathetic nervous system? (I did a quick wikipedia search on the term) This seems like an important thing to know about if we want our kids to channel their unconscious in our classrooms.
      I would love to see a video of you doing any part of these mindfulness activities, or stealth attention practices. Seriously.

    Haha…stealth! I’ll definitely try to record some. I have no idea how it will work / how long it will take to really take effect but I have to try it. So yeah. I’ll do it. “Pay attention” is what everyone tells kids, but nobody teaches them how to do it.
    I’ll also check with Skip about Maine. I’d love to offer that. Sean, there are some super concrete things to do re: getting parasympathetic system online. Typically I use exercises to have kids focus attention in a particular way, then shift, so that they feel how they can always choose where to “shine the flashlight of attention.” One of my faves is to have them close eyes (or just look down at the floor) and find a sound they hear, focus all attention on that, then pick a different sound. You can do 2 -4 diff sounds over a period of 30 sec to a couple mins. You can debrief and ask “what did you notice?” Could do something similar with sensations, drawing attention to various parts of body. I learned in a trauma-sensitive yoga workshop that breath is not necessarily the first place to go with this stuff bc that can actually trigger ppl who are still in traumatic situations. Same with closing eyes. So most important is to pick something very concrete and give choices. Always choices. Kid is in control. We don’t know who is going through what, so better to be more concrete and tell why we are doing this.
    I recommend the book by Kirke Olson: “The Invisible Classroom.” It’s super readable and is specifically about the neuroscience and mindfulness in the school context. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Another book I really like is “The Way of Mindful Education” by Daniel Rechtschaffen. There are tons of books, but honestly, most important is to cultivate a practice for yourself as a person, then see how you could develop your own way of bringing that into your teaching.
    Re: L1 and brain breaks. On my way home from classroom set-up (purging! lots of purging!), I had an “aha” which was I think I want my first few minutes to be more casual, chatty hanging out with kids as they come in. It may be something like x mins of “hey great soccer game yesterday!” “whoa, did you make that bag?” etc. let them mill around a bit. I’ll tell them they get some chat / bathroom time until I ring the chime, then it’s silence for x mins. Then we’ll move into the activities as per the template.
    In the past I have blasted right in, too soon I think. And then I found myself back and forth L1 and L2, so one goal is to be crystal clear about “time in” and “time out.” This way, at the very beginning when it’s a natural transition, they get to be “casual” (but intentional, as per the chime). This is when I can do attendance and dress code!
    More questions coming re: student learning objectives and “formative / summative” percentages. and data and stuff. Hmmm. Lions and tigers and data oh my!

    1. I think for me a “time in/time out” system is what will work best. My problem, stemming from my own laziness, is that I give the impression sometimes that not even I really like the “time in.” We need to make sure as teachers not to give off the impression that the “time in” time is just what we have to do to get to “time out” time. Does that make sense? We need to really love, like actually love, working in the language with our kids. We might be able to fake it sometimes if necessary, but we (or at least I) need to make it a habit to be positive about my job.

    2. jen, I tried posting a list of kinesthetic and interpersonal brain breaks I’ve liked using, but a security warning pops up every time I try to post them. Let me know if that’s what you’re looking for and I’ll try rewriting and posting them again.
      I was thinking of James when you asked about the block schedule. And then here he appears! James’s ideas helped me think through my block last year.
      Regarding brain breaks, I look forward to the day when I can masterfully and effortlessly interweave the TPR, the kinesthetic, the interpersonal, the visual, and all sorts of fun into my CI teaching like I saw Grant and Sabrina do at iFLT this summer. Right now I have to put some effort into it. Alas, the brain breaks.

      1. No worries! At this point I’m mainly trying to get a structure set up. And I was confused as to whether brain break meant L1 or L2 but was feeling L1 is ok in an 80 min block.
        I also realized that it’s more natural to me to greet kids in L1 as they come in the door especially at the start of the year. Kind of like what you described Sean, about feeling that “bell to bell” nonsense, and that tension we create, that we just don’t have to if we let go of self-imposed fear-based rigidity! I know the greetings and check-in can sometimes morph into L2 as students acquire and are able to banter without thinking. But I will still keep it light.
        Also–huge–is that I forgot about the funky study hall set up in my new school. In each of my classes i will also have 3-5 kids assigned to a study hall. Yes! In my class! So definitely at the beginning, in addition to greeting/settling in of my Spanish students, there will also be a cohort of random kids in there to study. Hmmmm??? Oh well. That is the system they use. We’ll see how it all works out!
        My biggest issue is lack of discipline for myself in following through with my intended time frames. I too often let things bleed into each other. This includes letting a story asking session go too long, etc. So I want to develop a class flow idea and stick to it for awhile. I know I can always change it, but I tend to switch things up too soon without establishing a system and then it feels completely chaotic.

        1. Sounds like your school is strapped on funds for space and personnel. You could do a acquisition study on those study hall kids sitting in the back. Maybe they’ll acquire more than the students in the front just by sitting back and relaxing (who studies during “study hall”, right?).

          1. Several years ago I had a TA (Teacher’s Assistant – a student who needs to fill a hole in his schedule, so finds a teacher he can do “grunt work” for) who had flunked Spanish. One day when he had been in the room the entire period but working on a project I had for him, I had him take the class quiz, and he got everything correct, even though his “attention” was on something else. He was so proud of what he had done that he asked me to post his paper on the wall behind my desk – which I gladly did.

        2. Jen, last year I had a couple actual study halls because I don’t have quite enough French classes to fill my day. For most kids it was a waste of time and for me it was frustrating.
          This year I got the okay to teach those kids French, too! They are the ones who traditionally don’t take any foreign language and often get plugged into the “I’m not a smart kid” mindset or “I don’t care about anything.” Some of them anyway. We’ll see how it goes.
          What if you suggest your study hall kids join your class? Or maybe like Sean said, they’ll learn more on the sly.

          1. Ruth, that’s awesome. I always disliked study halls (don’t have them at my current school). Teaching them language sounds way better! I had a kid visit Chinese classes sometimes – he was like those you have, exempted from foreign language that school year. At the end of a class, he was so excited that he understood. He was one of the most sparkly kids in the room. I wished he’d stayed in Chinese the next year.

  3. James – when you had your 5 minute brain break/transition times, did you enforce starting class again right away after 5 minutes? My fear is that 3 or 5 minutes will bleed into 10 minutes.

    1. Yeah sometimes it does bleed a little longer than 5 minutes. A better teacher than me would time it and the kids probably wouldn’t care too much. I have a lot of respect for any teacher who would actually time things like that to keep everyone accountable. Maybe I can get there this year… 🙂

    1. Shortish answer: I’d have three questions on the Do Now slide with a visual for students to answer in their notebooks. One on the weather. Another on the calendar day. A third question about a visual (something bright and cheery, like of flowers in Springtime, or of dancers in anticipation of homecoming, or of a celebrity in the news). During this time I’d walk the desk aisles and say hello and small talk with kids. 3 minutes maybe.
      Long answer: The year before last my routine was 1) bell rings and close door, 2) take attendance at the door, 3) walk slowly to the front of class to greet the class as a whole in L2 and begin the L2 conversation based on the Do Now questions. I’d often be fighting with kids to cease the English and settle down. I didn’t realize until this past year how nice it is to give up that fight. Bryce Hedstrom emphasizes this, that we need to check-in with kids at the beginning of class with fist-bumps, hellos, how are yous, on an individual basis. Before, I felt it was my classroom management duty to teach bell-to-bell and all that jargon. I was glad when at my current school an admin told me I can relax with all that and just connect with kids. That was a relief.
      This is an important reflection for me: how I start the class. Thanks for asking, Jen.

      1. This makes me feel good about my teaching style. I didn’t always get that vibe here, with the 99% and all that. The main reason I love teaching is that connection with the kids. They need good role models. Thanks Sean!

      1. And CWB/CWC doesn’t have to be done with balls or cards at all. This year my classroom had a bunch of portable whiteboards that worked perfectly for the activity.
        They really love being talked about! But the change for me this year is to only do CWB at the end of the class period, and then only if there is time. It will take me all year to properly process the CWB information with my classes.
        I’m going jobs/Three Steps hard this year. Those two things, which I wrote a post about last night, have more energy in them than anything, and as long as teachers have enough experience with the jobs (see category) and with doing either Super Mini Stories or regular stories, that is where the mojo is.
        I mean, all CI has potential mojo, but classes at the beginning of the year that combine those eight jobs above with stories have a kind of hybrid mojofication factor, a rocket ship effect, because with the 8 kids doing their jobs there are really 9 teachers in the room. It’s almost a mojority!

  4. “Stealth attention practice” is a mindfulness / meditation practice that you can do and nobody can tell you are doing it. I made up that term last year when I taught yoga and meditation to a group of 9th graders as part of a freshman orientation. I wanted to give them simple takeaways that did not involve physical postures or anything that would be visible from the outside. Nothing outwardly noticeable, no folding, twisting, inverting, no chanting, no audible breath, etc. So it can be any type of practice that involves paying attention to something (i.e., a sensation in the body, a sound, the feel of the chair underneath you, breath, etc).
    I’ve done these in my Spanish and French classes in the past, but have never committed to having it be a regular part of our day, so I’m planning to do that this year. I’m starting very small, with 20-30 sec. or whatever they can handle, then work up from there.

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