Nature versus Nurture

If you ever meet my mom, you’ll know exactly who I look like. It is 100% obvious that she influenced my “nature” with her genes. My dad was incredibly creative, impulsive, and fearless. I got a lot of those things from him. I know that they came through the “nature” avenue because I lost him very young and still developed a personality much like his. IMG_6750.JPGIMG_6749.JPG

What isn’t as evident is what I got via “nurture”. You see, my instinct is snap smart-alecky comments when I am hurt. My instinct is to get frustrated when things don’t go my way. My instinct is sometimes very un-loving.  This is where my mom has nurtured me to be a better person. Her beautiful spirit has made me stop and think before I speak and to remain calm in the face of frustrations. If I’ve ever made you think that I am kind… it is because of her.

When I look at the teachers in my school I can see this nature versus nurture puzzle at play as well. In the classroom, there are things that will come naturally to us. Things that we will do well without even knowing why. There will also be things that are challenging. Things that we have to nurture in our practice to continue to grow.

For me, creating lessons is natural. I think of writing as a hobby that helps me relax and unwind. What is not as natural for me? Let me count the things:

  1. I am disorganized. While I can tell you where ANYTHING is in my room, you would never be able to find it because it is controlled chaos in there.
  2. I fail at the small stuff. I jump right into my lesson and forget to take attendance, notice if people are violating dress code, etc.
  3. I am terrible about those pre-post tests. I hate them and I just can’t force myself to act like it isn’t the dumbest thing I’ve ever had to do.
  4. I hate when I have discipline problems. Since I started using a story and reader based curriculum, I have very few, but when they do happen, I feel awful. I analyze everything I’m doing to try to figure out what I did to cause them to misbehave. In most cases, the behavior has nothing to do with me but I assume responsibility anyway.
  5. I lose things. All the things.
  6. I can’t remember anything. Ever.
  7. My room is not beautiful. I am a terrible decorator. It looks a little like a swap meet or a flea market.

What I believe is that if I nurture these weak spots, I can learn to do them better. This year, I’ve started organizing my FVR library. I think if I can get this one area organized now, next year I can tackle my desk. I am writing myself notes and using Siri to remember things, and it is helping! I think even if you’re a teacher struggling right now with a negative attitude about being in the classroom or with a department’s negative attitudes, nurturing some positive thoughts can help you end the semester on a happier note!

We’re going to be giving thanks for a lot of things this holiday weekend and I hope that when we go back to school on Monday, we’ll be able to find things to be thankful for there. When we find the hard things, I hope we can nurture the right attitudes to keep ourselves (and our students) on the path to fluency!

 

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Environmental Health in the Curriculum

Whether you already teach with units that focus on biodiversity, water, ocean health, and good work conditions or if this is your first, I want to invite you to explore the SDGs (sustainable development goals) with your students.

In this unit, students will take a look at how some palm oil production harms orangutans habitats. Explore the topic with a movie or picture talk of the commercial “Hay un orangután en mi habitación”. Follow up with several activities designed for both novice and intermediate learners and a cultural reading about the pros and cons of palm oil production (also includes activity for both novice and intermediate learners). Finish with my Circle the Wagons activity!

By adding a song of the week to round out the 42-48 minute class period, this unit will fill 5 class days! I invite you to give it a try with your students! Be sure to let me know their reactions! Tweet me @senoracmt!

Orangutan en mi habitación unit

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Water is Life

I have been updating and adding to my Water is Life unit and I am SO excited by the big change. I’ve always done a “water walk” to kick off the unit. I got the idea when my church was raising money to help put a well in a community in Nicaragua. The high school youth group students did a walk carrying a bucket of water on their heads. Then they asked for people to fill a culligan water jug at church! They were in the paper and everything! (I live in a small town…)

So when I started teaching about the water crisis, I wanted that same impact. The feeling of walking while carrying water. My students have no prior knowledge so they need even the smallest experience with how this feels. And it has always been impactful…  but this year, it was even more so!

I moved the water walk! I decided to start with a new hook instead. We played the role of National Geographic Explorers and walked around our school area looking for places they had easy access to sources of water. They recorded their findings in “explorer journals” and took pictures with their i-Pads as they found many more sources than I noticed on my solo walk through!

In their journals, they drew pictures, speculated what plants, animals, and people used the water source. They recorded whether the water was safe to drink as-is or if it needed to be boiled.

After this hook, we began our unit. With the available water sources fresh in their minds, they were SO much more alert to the problems caused by not having fresh water nearby!

As we wrapped up the unit, just before our final assessment, we did the water walk. Sort of a “closing hook”.  The discussion that followed was FILLED with evidence that they had learned to use Spanish to discuss this relevant, current topic and that they were moved by what they had learned.

One of the greatest moments was when we were emptying our jugs and they were groaning about how many people needed that water and they were just pouring it out on the ground!

Check out our explorer journals here. I have to thank Abra Koch and Nat Geo Education for the idea and Martina Bex for the Explorer journal design! Nat Geo Educator Certification has been very impactful in my classroom! Check it out!

Mer de plastique

When I started thinking about my plastic ocean unit, I was inspired by some tweets and articles that had been catching my eye and tearing at my heart. More and more resources appeared as I was writing and soon it seemed like everyone from Nat Geo to PADI (Scuba diving) were campaigning for control of single use plastics. It had NOTHING to do with my unit but my unit happened to be finished at the perfect time! There was so much to talk about.

I never stopped thinking that I would like to reach more teachers, so I made a middle school science version called Plastic Ocean and now… With the help of Bess Hayles and Blair Richards, I get to present the three versions of Mer de plastique!!! They are the same unit, just different time commitments! If you want to dive ALL THE WAY IN:

Three week unit

If you have a little less time, try the ‘pared down’ versions of

Two week unit

or

One week unit

Don’t forget to share your experience on Twitter so that we can all find new ways to save our oceans!

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To Speak or Not to Speak

Interpersonal Communication… The Silent Period… Presentational Mode… Affective Filter… How do we know what is right for our students? Honestly, I love reading the research but the truth is that we know what is right for OUR students by looking at OUR students.

Skits: For me, they didn’t work. I paired students up, they spoke English while they planned. They looked up a bunch of words in the dictionary. They either read in a monotone or presented with great enthusiasm… but no one understood them because they weren’t using the vocabulary we’d studied in class. So I nixed them.

Oral Presentations: For me, they didn’t work when it was one student in front of the class. It took a whole day in one section of Spanish 2 and 1.25 days in the other. It left everyone else with nothing to do while the presenter was speaking so I had to hush them all of the time. It was often like the skit in that students were presenting on a topic and had looked up words that the class did not know. So I nixed them too.

Then came the good ole’ speaking test. I gave a list of questions they might be asked and they planned how they would answer and responded to a set number of questions. Again, it took up a lot of class time leaving all but one student with nothing to do at any given time… It didn’t really show their ability because they had planned and memorized answers. It was boring. So I nixed that… Wow. I did a lot of nixing.

So what do I do then?

Gallery Style: If they are presenting a product, I have half of the class stand to present and the other half listen as “gallery patrons”. They listen to the presentation, follow up with 2 good questions and the presenter has to come up with 2 good answers on the spot. I wander around the room the whole time listening to the different presentations. In a class of 24-30 I have 12-15 rotations to be able to hear every student speak before I MUST ask them to switch places. I never need that many rotations (and if I ever felt like I didn’t hear someones presentation well, I would have everyone grab their product and record a FlipGrid presenting the work to me… then I’m able to get back to those I was not sure of).

Simple FlipGrid or LMS video: If I just want them to answer a specific question or tell what they know about a specific topic, I have them record their response on FlipGrid or through our Learning Management- EBackpack. I can then listen whenever I am ready! Whole class speaking assessed in 5-10 minutes! (Well… not graded but finished!)

Centers: If I want to have 1 on 1 time with them, I do a round of centers. While students do interpretive listening, presentational writing, and interpretive reading at the other centers, groups of 3-4 come to me and I can have a true interpersonal discussion with them about the topic. I love this best!

Story Retells: A great way to get them speaking is a 3 way story retell! I have mine start by telling the story to something with a face because we all need our warm up to be someone who isn’t judgey!

 

In round 2, they retell to someone sitting near them, and in round 3, when they’ve practiced and feel good about the story, they retell to me via FlipGrid! Each is on a 6 minute timer so even with the transition time, they are done in about 20-25 minutes!

Discussion Thursday: I use Discussion Thursday a LOT (and sometimes on Monday or Friday…) to get students having an interpersonal conversation about something we are reading or studying in class. By asking THEM to come up with the questions, to reply to each other, to agree and disagree, and to know when it is time to move on to the next question, I put the burden of leading the discussion on them. I am free to sit back and enjoy. I LOVE hearing them speak.

Comprehensible Input has a purpose. Of course we want to use the Target Language in class as much as we possibly can but why? So that our students become comfortable and confident using the language themselves! Plan for them to speak as a way to show off how much they’ve acquired in the class rather than as a practice to get better at something they don’t know yet! Fill them up with input and you’ll be amazed by what comes out!

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The Year that is Going to Ruin my Life

Last year was hard. I have said many times that I spent the whole year trying to re-invent my lessons to engage a group of very quiet 4s and a group of VERY boisterous 2s… but this year is going to be the one to ruin the rest of my career.

They love everything. Level 4… loves everything.  The 2s who went on to 3… love everything. The new 2s… love everything.

They think my jokes are funny.

They think 10 min FVR twice a week is relaxing and stress relieving.

They think stories are fun.

They love Internado and Gran Hotel…

And guys…

Yesterday Spanish 2 was excited to do their written retell of Martina’s Oktapodi movie talk.

At first I thought it was just that they “seemed easy” because last year was difficult. Or that they were just waiting to show their true colors…

But they’re all.really.happy.

What am I going to do when I have a normal year again? A year with mostly happy kids and a few grouches? A year with students who don’t laugh at my dumb memes? A year when someone complains about everything?

I’ve decided I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I am going to THANK GOD and plan some great social justice stuff for these guys! 🙂

Hope your year treats you well and that if it is a hard one, next year is like this for you!!