Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why language teachers should teach with props

  • Props generate interest!  Students and passersby will wonder what's going on in your classroom if they see, for example, a picnic scene set up on the floor.  Grabbing the interest of your students is an important key to motivating them to want to learn.
  • Props allow you to use less English.  Those of you who are world language teachers know that it is important to use as much of the language being taught as possible in the classroom.  If you can point to a plastic apple, you can say, "This is an apple.  It's red.  It's a fruit." in another language, and students will be able to understand without an English translation.
  • Props reach students with different learning styles.  You can appeal to many of the senses with props.  In my opinion, students will remember what was taught more easily if you engage more of their senses in your lesson.
Props can be used in many ways in a world language classroom.  I use them frequently to introduce new vocabulary (for example, I use plastic food to introduce food vocabulary).  Often I use the same props to review this vocabulary by playing review games with them, or by asking students to participate in other activities which require them to handle the props.  I also use them in skits that I act out with my classroom mannequin.  I often ask my students to act out skits using props as well.  In the photos below, my French III students (juniors & seniors) are acting out a story that we'd just finished reading (Les cowboys from Le Petit Nicolas).

Students were able to demonstrate their understanding of this story in this way without reverting to English.  You may be wondering where I got all these.  Well, it took a long time for me to collect them all.  Many were bought at toy stores, garage sales and Halloween stores over the years.

I think I started using props as a young teacher instinctively, because I knew that my students would need to see an object and think of the word in French immediately without thinking of the English word first if they were to really master the language.  I understood this to be true as a result of my amazing experience of learning French in France, in a university program where no language other than French was used (this is called immersion, for those of you who aren't language teachers). 

What do you think?  I invite you to leave a comment and let me know :).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

10 tips to recharge yourself this summer!

I saw my  first "back to school" sign of the summer while shopping at Target yesterday.  Carpe Diem.  It's time to seize the summer, or whatever you have left of it :).  Here are some principles I'm trying to follow...they help me to feel ready for the new school year when it arrives.  

Sunset in Frankfort, MI
  1. Give yourself permission to sleep.  The alarm will be ringing before you know it.  If you're like me, you find it difficult during the school year to get 8 hours of sleep each night.  Protect your long-term physical, emotional and mental health by allowing yourself to get enough sleep on a consistent basis.
  2. Get away.  Take advantage of the time you have to travel.  A change of scenery is good therapy.  My husband and I try to enjoy the incredible splendor of northern Michigan as much as we can.  Watching the sunset over Lake Michigan (above) is one of the highlights of the summer for us.
  3. Spend time outside.  Having the summer off is definitely one of the best perks of this profession.  Take advantage of it if you live in a climate that allows you to by spending as much time outside as possible.  I'm even trying to serve family meals outside when I can.  Soak in the sunshine and all the vitamin D it's good for you. 
  4. Make time for a hobby.  Whatever it is that you enjoy doing in your free time, make sure to do it.  I make extra time for gardening, reading, crafting, cooking, entertaining, spending time with family and going to the movies.
  5. Slow down.  I think it's safe to say that we teachers are generally not slackers, so we really need to discipline ourselves to slow down a little.  Star-gazing, cloud-watching and stopping to smell the roses or watch the fireflies come out are all great ways to accomplish this.
  6. Spend some time planning for the new school year.  Complete a project or some plans you had that you were never able to get to last year.  I try to make some new presentations, or brainstorm a new project or figure out how to implement a new idea.
  7. Exercise!  I find it hard to be consistent with this during the school year as well, so during the summer I work harder at it.  This summer I'm swimming laps almost every day :). 
  8. Reflect on the previous school year.  Ask yourself what worked and what didn't, and be honest  with your answer.  Set goals for yourself and make plans to improve or to try something new.
  9. Eat well.  Take the time to prepare healthy meals and eat at regular times.  Include LOTS of fruits and vegetables.
  10. Complete a project not related to school. I like to accomplish a few household projects, such as painting or remodeling a room, and freezing or canning fresh fruits and vegetables in preparation for the winter months.
Simple though they may be, these ideas have really helped me to create better balance in my life as a full-time high school teacher.  I hope maybe you'll find something helpful here, too!

Monday, July 11, 2011

10 Tips for the New Teacher

When I started my teaching career, I was fortunate to have a boss who mentored me.  I got into teaching through the back door, so I needed more help than the average first-year teacher!  Doug spent one on one time with me each week (even though I'm sure he really didn't have the time to do so!), giving me advice.  All these years later, I'm still following these bits of wisdom that he passed on:
    1. Be STRICT, but be NICE.  Doug always said he was going to write a book about this one day.  It is possible to be strict, or in other words, to be consistent in requiring that students do what you ask them to, without being mean.  Make this your motto.
    2. You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.  As much as possible, reward students for doing what you want them to, rather than attempting to punish every time they don’t.  This helps keep the tone in your classroom positive.  Elementary school teachers are great at this, but high school teachers sometimes forget to do this.
    3. What  you do in the first 10 days of class sets the tone for the rest of the year.  Start the year with this in mind.  If you want your students to be excited about learning, this is the time to pull out all the stops.  Lead by example, and your students will follow.  You are the teacher, and you can decide how you want your class to go!
    4. Make sure students know what they should study for a test. Students should not have to guess at what they need to study.  They should also be given plenty of advance notice regarding the date of the test (I suggest at least a week). 
    5. Make it possible for your students to succeed if they do their part.  Be clear in your directions.  Keep your expectations high while offering the suggestions and the help that students will need to meet those expectations.  Teach students HOW to study for your class.  Give written instructions for projects, in addition to giving an oral explanation of the same.  Include an explanation of how you will grade the project.
    6. Find ways to make learning FUN.  Doug gave me the idea to use “Jacques” the mannequin in my French classroom.  Doug used to teach history, and after the students studied the Civil War, he brought in a bag of musket balls and had students create “musket ball art”.  Think up your own ways to make learning interesting in your subject.
    7. Pace the lesson properly.  Maximize the learning and minimize the problems by moving at an appropriate pace.  Pay attention to how much time students need to get the intended benefit from an activity.  If you allow too much time, students will get bored and start engaging in other undesirable behaviors.  If you allow too little time, students will become frustrated and angry. 
    8. Exemplify organization.  Know what you are doing in each lesson (write out your lesson plans!) and have all your materials ready for each activity in advance.  If you appear disorganized, students will believe you are disorganized, even if you are not.
    9.  Make it count.  As much as possible, make every activity you do in your classroom count towards their grade.  Very few teenagers are mature enough to do their best at completing an activity if it doesn’t affect their grade.  And if they aren’t completing the activities you’ve planned, then they probably aren’t learning like they should.
    10. Realize that there will be days when you won’t feel like teaching.  During Doug’s years as principal at SCS, his 3 month old son died unexpectedly.  He shared with me that there were many days during that time when he felt that he just couldn’t face a classroom.  Life happens, and we’re all certain to have periods of time when personal difficulties make it hard to face a classroom.  That’s the way this profession is, and Doug told me that on those days, you just have to put on a smile and fake it. As obvious as this may seem to some, this was some very important advice that I really needed to hear as a first-year teacher.
    Doug was not your typical high school principal.  He rode a Harley-Davidson to work.  He was cool.  He led by example and served others behind the scenes, often without recognition.  He had been a master teacher himself before becoming principal.  He was without a doubt one of the most influential people in my life, and if I ever write a book, it will be dedicated to him :).

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Activity for the iPad with Adopt an Escargot

    I mentioned in an earlier post how excited I am about finding ways to use my new iPad2 in the classroom!  I also mentioned my favorite app so far, called Face Jack.  Here's an example of how students could use the Face Jack app on their iPads in conjunction with the adopt an escargot project which I currently use in my third year French class.

    If you're unfamiliar with adopt an escargot, it involves students "adopting" a snail shell and inventing the life of the snail.  My students love it!  I used one of the shells that came in my adopt an escargot kit in this video.  I also used one of the profiles that came in the kit to describe this particular snail.  I plan on asking my students to make a video about their adopted snails next year, and to use Face Jack in the video.  Obviously, students would be speaking French in their videos.

    What do you think? 


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