Yearly Planning 3 – August and September

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10 thoughts on “Yearly Planning 3 – August and September”

  1. Oh boy (warning: venting / rambling ahead). This is what I needed to read right now. It is comforting in a warped way to hear you affirm “Higher levels for non-CI trained kids suck.”

    I am feeling myself fall into the black hole of indecision with this group. “Level 4” kids who had 2 /12 months of CI the year before last. That was when I jumped into CI, quite abruptly in April of 2010. So they had a few weeks of CI at most.

    I know the kids really well, and had thought I would try Robert’s virtual move, but now I am not really “feelin’ it,” so if I am not excited about it, I won’t get them on board. These are kids who will play the game, so it’s not them, it’s me. I am just feeling lost and blah. I’ve basically been doing kind of random stuff to see where they are. It is just ok and I am not proud of this. I have been reading a lot on here but kind of sitting back trying to grasp where I am. But I need some direction or else it will suddenly be June and I will have just done random shit. One thing I remembered to do from some of the older posts, is to stick with a few structures at a time, so on that score I am a notch better than total randomness. But I feel shaky. One thing that has emerged, which is pretty cool: I have this one kid who is OBSESSED with FC Barcelona. Has been for years. He knows tons, not just about La Liga, but about Spain, Spanish history, etc. So I have been asking him tons of questions (that he can answer yes/no or very briefly), and making a big deal about how much of an expert he is. So I was thinking of running with that for a bit, having him “present” (via my questioning), and we can all learn from him. Then I could do the same with the other kids using their expertise in Ferraris or genetics or whatever. Maybe do a week on each kid’s subject of interest? Is that too random? This is the really excessively small class (3) so I can’t do stuff that requires groups or energy. After that I think stories will be good. They’ll get into that. They love movies, so I will definitely add that in, but maybe for this first few weeks I go with the “expertos” theme? My 4%-er type girl has been super enthusiastic, and today when I assigned her the job of “señorita vocabulario,” she just lit up! This is the “human dictionary” job of writing down all the structures and any other words that I write up on the board. This girl also studies Latin on her own, so I call on her (or she volunteers) a lot for vocabulary connections, etc.

    There is very weird energy at school, so I will attribute some ( by no means all) of my lack of focus to the toxicity in the air. In a nutshell: BIG change is happening, abrupt overhaul and hiring of 3 new administrators; long-time faculty suddenly made to move out of their offices (and for some, jobs they’ve had for 30+ years, with no warning) to accommodate said administrators in the “fancier” spaces. NEASC visiting committee coming in mid-October. No communication happening between me and my dept. head (that is normal, but it feels creepy now for some reason). Lots of faculty wondering who is next on the chopping block. Lots of new rules and “tightening up procedures” that have not been explicitly communicated. A feeling that there is an underlying plan / agenda but only the secret few know about it and the rest of us are all shaking in our boots…all the while the school claiming to operate from a deep reverence for life and valuing each person. But I guess some ppl are valued more than others. What would Paul Farmer say about that? Hmmm.

    Ok. So, I’m in my own little bubble, happily norming my classes as per the rules clearly posted, the rubric, and a “yellow card” system that I use for some of the younger students who really need the visual reminder. I think that it is Carla’s system, with the paper and the check marks. Works well for middle school kids! That is all pretty slick so far.

    But I feel stuck. Like I forgot or never actually learned how to do the CWB so that I don’t ask stupid questions that are out of bounds. I have all the cards, but I have only talked about a few of them in each class. Some of those classes went well, others not so much. No big deal. I understand that I am not an entertainer. But I guess I freaked out and jumped into scripts for lack of direction. Eeek! Why can’t I remember how to ask questions? It is as if I get stage fright. I am not nervous or over planning beforehand. I look forward to hanging out with the kids. But then I just feel like “open mouth insert foot” half the time.

    Today I freaked out in level 2. Not visibly, but I bailed too quickly to a dictee after getting no responses to some questions and to “job opportunities.” I just didn’t have the energy to wait them out and right after class I was smacking myself upside the head for bailing too soon. Because I was feeling out of sorts today I kind of wanted to have FVR or SSR the whole period, but that was not an option.

    It is only my third week of classes. I am still a very beginner at CI, after the aforementioned 2 1/2 months plus one full year. I am coming off a summer of three summers. Yes. Three wildly different trips and I have not really processed any of my experiences, so that is probably some of my weird unsettled energy too. Bouncing around from one thing to the next.

    Anyway, back to this post: it’s helping me to have a plan. So, level 1 and 2 I will focus on CWB. Question: level 2 French, I had these kids last year and started Pirates at the end of the year and never finished. A few kids have asked about it : “Can we finish the Pirate book?” Is this a wise move or should I just make it available for FVR. Currently I don’t have enough copies, so was thinking that I might re-read the first 4 chapters as a read-aloud (kindergarten style), talk about the characters, get the new students up to speed with the plot, then by the time the books arrive I could do the Ben-style SSR. These are primarily 9th graders. Their classmates are in my level 2 Spanish, so I had this idea that both groups could read it and we might get some killer PQA/ parallel stories going since they would love to talk about each other. Of course I understand that I cannot plan this nor expect it to happen. But it is a possiblity. Am I micromanaging?

    Why am I feeling so much doubt and uncertainty?

  2. …these are kids who will play the game, so it’s not them, it’s me….

    This is huge. Has this happened to others? I think, though, that there is a very simple answer to this – you are GOING TOO FAST and not staying in bounds.

    …it will suddenly be June and I will have just done random shit….

    Been there done that. Wasted the whole year on it. Lost sleep. Brought donuts. Traditional kids in level four. Doing TPRS/CI teaching may simply be too much of an obstacle at that level, even at level three, to overcome.

    Those kids want their free lunch and ain’t nothing we can do to impress upon them that they have to earn it. I’d let it go, jen. Just let it go. It ain’t gonna change. They’re done. Spoiled. Sorry but that is what that’s about in my opinion.

    You can’t change them. I welcome rebuttles on that, but don’t comment on it unless you have tried to recycle an upper level class using CI when they never did it before.

    ….maybe do a week on each kid’s subject of interest….

    School is not something kids equate with interesting things to do. With the exception of the FC guy, they would bring in shit like they bring in for a project, bc they have to. You don’t want to do that. I’d work with the soccer dude all year. Tune out the dead people. Enjoy. Give tests on what you co-create with soccer dude. Grade them using jGR, which you invented. Make them sweat when you reward soccer guy with a 4 and them with a 2. Apply the fangs that you just put into foreign language education.

    My opinion is that the change in the school is that the business model is now being applied. Your school is not the only one being so attacked. Forget the poor kids with brown or black skin. Seems clear to me that this is about poverty. Sorry. And if you disagree with me, tell me where I am wrong on this corporate takeover of what used to be a democratic process. Unless you tell me where I am wrong, shut up. Frank just sent me this link about that:

    Re: your presentation of Kevin’s “Great Question” and your (opening) reply, I pass on to you this gem from the “School Matters” web site.

    Blog: Schools Matter
    Post: Today in NYC: Protest the Lies

    …I guess I freaked out and jumped into scripts for lack of direction….

    Working with CWB cards is not easy. In recent years I have jumped to scripts early myself bc it seemed flat and I didn’t feel like doing extended PQA based on the cards bc I like the energy that we can find in stories.

    And then we find that questioning in stories is also an art form and a challenge.

    All I can say is continue to focus on:

    Staying in Bounds
    Checking for Understanding all the time of the entire class – no exceptions – on everything you say

    Really, your point about not feeling like you have command over the method is shared by everyone. Everyone. I challenge anyone reading this to comment below and say that asking questions in a story doesn’t freak you out.

    I would call you a liar. It’s just that way jen. Now get over it and go practice some more until your heart softens and you move from your mind (that which judges you on the quality of your teaching while you are teaching) into your heart where real things happen.

    …Is this a wise move or should I just make it available for FVR….

    My opinion is that they can finish it for FVR but definitely don’t tie it to anything else.

    Yeah, I think that you are micromanaging. Look how your classes are going. On some level they don’t feel in charge. Be in charge but don’t make it seem that way. I know, I know – easier said than done.

    And do you have a daily schedule that they can trust is going to happen?

    Remember how Susie says, “If you don’t believe it, they won’t”? That is another thing.

    I remember a violin teacher telling me once to avoid making up my own dynamics and to stop overinterpreting (dynamics are the marks like crescendos and stuff that the composer puts into the composition to indicate sound changes and speed changes and things like that) and to just play it the way it was written.

    Maybe you are trying to get too fancy – back to the controlaholic idea. You want it to happen so much that it isn’t happening. Is that possible? Maybe you should just let the three steps work for you. Do the PQA (tell them what the structures mean, gesture them, and PQA them), then do the story, then do the reading. Maybe that will help.

    I don’t know. I can’t wait to read what others say. I can only speak for myself by saying that after about ten years of doing and feeling exactly what you describe above, I got to a place in the last few years where I have a different way of looking at it.

    Like, “O.K. I’m in a shipwreck of a class right now and drowning is looking like a real possiblity so I think I’ll bail to dictee or OWI or WCT, but before bailing I will feel the burn* and I WILL GO SLOWER.

    There is another one of this group feeling much more harsh pain right now and that is something I am going to bump up in the queue in the next few days. We need to give this person some support.

    So, welcome to October everybody! We’re hurtin’ and October is not even here!

    I personally wouldn’t have it any other way. As I told my cross country teams in South Carolina, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I think it is true on a mental level as well. Embrace those shitty classes. See what happens. Breathe.

    Final thoughts for now: I think you are wanting it to work too much, and want is a function of the mind. You’re not just being there with the kids. This link is superimportant in that respect:

    * see

    1. Thank you for this honest response. You are right. I am going too fast. I think that I jumped into the scripts for this reason. I have a hard time with the cards because there are too many random structures that come up. But they are so powerfully engaging that I don’t want to bail on them. So I need to figure out t structured way to keep going with them.

      You also brought up the weekly schedule. Yes. That is a weak spot for me. If left to my own devices I will just follow every tangent and get spinning way out into the ether. I am using your weekly schedule for the most part. It is tricky because of our weird rotating block period, but I decided for myself that I need to stick to the basic format of PQA / stories or cards at the beginning of the week, then reading and then use Friday as a “wrap up the week” day so that we always start fresh on Monday. Too often I let things go on too long and something that had great energy one day just doesn’t on the next day, so better to move on. So Friday for me will be a day for word chunk, free write, metacognitive, music. Not necessarily all of these, but in level 2 and up we will do “freewrite Friday” and word chunk or other game, maybe metacognitive every other week. The tricky part is that each class has a 90 min block on a different day of the week and I have not quite mapped out how to work with this so that it is a rhythm. I’m going to spend some time this weekend mapping that out. I really want to be able to say Mondays are X days, Tuesdays are Y, etc

      1. …I have a hard time with the cards because there are too many random structures that come up….

        I didn’t realize this key point when I first presented CWB to the TPRS community in 2006. Let’s just say it – CWB causes us to go out of bounds too much. It has so much value as a personalization tool, however, that that fact outweighs the out of bounds/too many random structures piece.

        I now use CWB periodically if I feel like it and it takes all year to get through all the cards and often I don’t get to all the kids. That’s the reality of it.

        Look, jen, the big power is in the Three Steps. That’s the deal. Make those bad boys work. And keep bringing up the topic of flat classes here with this group. Keep asking specific questions like the ones above. We will get better each day, but we need the specifics. That is true for all Reports from the Field, from the soldiers in battle, and I don’t use that term lightly.

        The saddest thing of all is that there are newer teachers who think that TPRS/CI instruction is all about “getting it right”, finding the magic bullet and off we go into great stories, when the reality is far from that. Our stories are generally more flat than lively, and we are in a constant struggle with the kids (when it is free it has no value to them) on the discipline piece. But, compared to a traditional classroom, it is pure and wonderful Rock ‘n Roll.

        I might add that I, for one – and I know there are others – have yet to succeed at forgiving myself for not being perfect at TPRS. My instruction -and I feel that this speaks in an overall way to your question above – must have an element of softness to it (that’s the only way I know how to say it). I must be kinder to myself when I teach. The right things will emerge if I just let go of the control thing a bit. Fine things, unexpected things, emerge when I do that.

        And we also need to keep on keepin’ on with:

        Staying in Bounds
        Checking for Understanding

        So I suggest that you stay with the stories, but with more compassion for yourself. I’m speaking directly to myself here. This work is much more like a yoga practice than a power-your-way-to-success thing.

        I have a teaching practice. I do my best to work through the hard days. I enjoy the days when it works, seeing them as gifts more than as something I have accomplished, and I am trying hard to not expect anything from the new day except what the discussion gives us.

        It is the exact opposite of what we were taught, what was modeled for us – that “We are all getting 4’s and 5’s on the AP exam!” This is where my passion for this stuff comes from, bc for 24 years I was destroying myself completely and utterly teaching AP French and now I’m not.

        Kind of got on a rant there.

  3. Wow. Three kids would be really hard.

    Heard a great presentation from Martina Bex this weekend on how to unit plan. She’s a lot tighter in the planning process than I am, but one big thing she said was to google your three structures for the week and see what comes up, whether it be news, songs, blogs, or websites. Then you can tie stuff together. I am also relearning what Ben says above about going really slowly, no matter who is in the group. Sometimes you have to limit the kinds of questions you ask, or keep getting deeper and deeper on one question instead of branching off into new exciting stuff.

    If your kids aren’t CI trained, then the virtual move would be really hard to do. My best virtual movers are in their fifth year (fifth year!!) of TPRS. They are so hot it’s hard to hold them down so that the second-year kids in the room can understand. I actually have a Russian video crew coming to film them tomorrow because a visiting teacher was so impressed by their output. I hope we don’t do anything embarrassing. And I am really glad that the crew won’t be around to show what happens in my intermediate class, because we’re moving like molasses in there, so all is not glossy.

    I think that the second year of language learning is still the hardest for students and me (not that I have a single class of second-year kids). They moved so fast the year before that they feel they’re moving slower. I have to remember to go slowly with them so that they don’t get lost.

    This is the first year that I’m really trying out my rotating vocabulary list philosophy. That means that, after the first year, we just cycle, twenty-five words/structures per quarter, through the entire list of only 200 (or 300, can’t remember). Eventually we will come back to the first-year list, though we’ll be doing it at a different level of language. I like this idea, because we’re never going to go too far out of bounds for what kids are responsible for.

    I am so tired I lost what I thought I was going to say. I am really impressed by you though, Jen. Your rubric is what I sent out to parents tonight to get some of them to rein in their kids. It also accounts for why my intermediate class is so attentive (for the most part). With only two months under your belt from last year, you are doing great. Just keep your head low in the political stuff. That’s my mantra with similar slinging going on at our school.

    And…if it helps to know, this is what I did my first year: every time someone suggested something new on Ben’s list or on TPRSTalk, I switched horses. Sometimes I think that’s why I was successful; there was never a rut to get into! I was spending all my time reading and tweaking, and it almost drove me crazy. It’s okay though…you figure out what you like and what works for you with a given bunch of kids.

    Have fun, hang on, and enjoy the ride! It will be a wild one, but you’re going to be the winner for it. You will get to know kids, you will get to know yourself, and everyone’s language will improve.

  4. PS I really like your Piratas idea. I have a half-class re-reading Houdini, and they actually appreciate it. I put the kids who have read it into groups with kids who haven’t, and the kids who have read it are showing the newbies how to learn through reading. We haven’t done any parallel stories, but we need to. (We’re still working our way through the questionnaires.)

    1. Wow, Michele, how do you ever get kids to buy into a re-read?!?! I feel like if I tried that there would be serious refusal / probably complaining to the administration and such.

      In one class I have two kids whom I’ve worked with for almost three years. They were caught in our previous wonky system, so they had 1/2 year in 8th grade then they were in level 1 last year and now level 2. One kid is a blazing fast processor who is also ADHD. I tried to convince my dept head that these two kids would be better off with their peers in the level 3 class (not linguistically, but more for their perception of how they are somehow being “held back”) but that ain’t gonna happen. I have spoken privately with each of the students and they sort of get it intellectually. But I know that they still feel like they are stuck in a too easy class and aren’t learning anything. I told them that I would count on them for specific jobs like the reader leader, and that in their free reading they will get the complexity they need. I am also doing the Nathan Black “input homework” so that they can get more input in an area that they choose. Would love specific strategies from the multi-level perspective.

      Last week when we had a metacognitive discussion / self-reflection one kid said that he just tunes out after about 5 reps of a structure. I appreciated his honesty and his response was perfectly appropriate in the context of the discussion, and I tried to explain that he is a unique person and that most people need many more reps.

      I am sticking to the rubric, though, so he will just have to suck it up in terms of the interpersonal skills. I have noticed that he is very much more plugged in so far this year, listening, with eye contact, responding, etc.) and so I really appreciate his self-reflection but how do I engage him so that he doesn’t space out, while still getting the necessary reps for the majority of the class who needs them?

  5. …how do I engage him so that he doesn’t space out?…

    I have two responses – I don’t know which one is true and accurate:

    1) You can’t do that, in my view. You can’t force him to engage. This guy is yanking your chain. He wants your attention and when he spaces out he knows he is doing it. Don’t believe it. Hold him accountable.

    2) You can get him more engaged by varying the delivery of your questioning so that it directly involves him. Switch over to a PQA thing in the middle of the story and start asking him personal questions using the structures for a few minutes while you get some more reps. Get in his face with a big smile and he will know that you have figured him out. Because you are engaging him directly, he has to respond. Then return to the story.

    (The thing about the mechanical way of Circling that we learn when we first go to workshops and do the trainings is not what we do in real life. The way we keep kids with us in Circling is by keeping them off balance and using kind of right brain questioning, if that makes sense.)

    I don’t know which one is true.

    1. Oooh, yes! #2!!! Makes total sense. I will try this! Thank you! And also thank you for my new mantra from your other post:

      “I have a teaching practice. I do my best to work through the hard days. I enjoy the days when it works, seeing them as gifts more than as something I have accomplished, and I am trying hard to not expect anything from the new day except what the discussion gives us.”

      Seemed like I was more in this flow last year and now I am freaking out. I think it is because I’m allowing myself to feel external pressure whereas last year I really didn’t give a shit bc I was seeing how the kids responded and noticing their improvement. Also, I think Michele nailed it when she mentioned how level 2 is really hard bc the novelty has worn off, it seems like you’re not learning as much, etc. And kids are saying this type of thing. One kid actually said that last year was exactly like the half year he did before. Totally not true. I taught both! the half year was bogus textbook and eclectic stuff. Last year was pretty kick ass CI, considering it was my first year. So he is way off base, yet, if that is what he perceives who am I to say the perception is not valid. But it affects the overall energy of the class, and no doubt the hallway / lunchroom venting sessions.

      Whatever. One of my yoga teachers reminds us that “what others think of us is none of our business!” So I will add that into my new teaching mantra!

      Totally new subject, which I keep forgetting to ask about…word wall! I put one up, printed from your resource site, but keep forgetting to use it and don’t really remember how, except that you picked a few random ones to gesture each day and use for OWI? And…last spring there was also a verb wall. This is different than “word wall,” but does anyone have both? Is that too much?

      Also, this year I only have one space for both languages, which I am finding challenging. I don’t have time to take down the Spanish stuff while it is French time and vice-versa, except for the question word poster. So I have stuff up in both languages, and this feels weird.

  6. Yeah I minimize wall space now for the simplicity piece (see that category for more) and bc I don’t have any level one’s this year. I put up the question words, the Classroom Rules, the Rigor posters, and your rubric.

    I don’t put up the verb wall, but I have a kid do that job of checking off verbs as they occur as structures in stories off a printout of that list. Only when a verb exists in the context of a story can I be sure that it has been acquired (not learned, not memorized).

    On the other subject of going too fast and having that skew your results formatively, we need to remember that it is a fairly safe statement that if a child has a deer in the headlights look or is not getting it (we see that in their eyes) then it may not be entirely due to their lack of showing up in terms of jGR, but rather bc they don’t understand bc we are going to fast, going out of bounds, or not doing a good enough job of checking for understanding.

    I like to keep this Virginia Woolf quote close by in that regard:

    …no need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself….

    So the Word Wall is for level one classes (not that useful in level 2 and above). The reason I started doing that was bc for level 1 classes I need a nice list of adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs to use when I make up One Word Images or when we play the Word Chunk Team game. Also during stories the kids can use them to suggest cute answers. The words also often rain down into stories in a neat way.

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