Food for Thought

Food for Thought: Acknowledging our weaknesses in teaching

Image source: Bagavill.com

We all have our strengths when it comes to the classroom. You receive students from other teachers and realize that there must have been a heavy writing emphasis when you see the students’ beautifully written paragraphs. Perhaps those students speak very well but are lacking in their written sentence structure. My weakest link? Listening. Except I did not realize this for too many years because I was not inheriting students from other teachers.

French teachers: Yes, I’m talking to you.

This post is intended for every (World Language) teacher, but yes, French teachers tend to be “on an island,” as I have so often referred to myself, typically the only French teacher in the department. I would not trade it for the world. The autonomy is liberating and I develop a deeper relationship with my students because I have them for minimum two years and potentially up to four. The pitfall of this scenario is that when you do not have outside perspectives to acknowledge student and teacher progress based on the content, you cannot see what you lack. I did not truly address my weakness in the classroom until I was faced with preparing my students for Le Grand Concours, the National French Content, when I moved to a new school.

The audio played and the panicked looks appeared faster on the students’ faces than you can say “Bonjour.” The results were no better. I realize that students tend to freeze at the sound of authentic audio because 1) it tends to be spoken more quickly, and 2) they are not accustomed to hearing French outside of their teacher’s voice. I thought discussion would prove that they had heard more than they thought, that they just had to pull out key words and we could piece it together as a class.

Nope.

At this point, I felt like a complete failure of a teacher. Yes, my students were skilled writers, but were they going to walk the streets of France with a pen and paper at all times? Certainly not. Something had to change.

In the last four years, I have incorporated at least one formal listening exercise each week, confronting the reality that listening to my French and overhearing other students in French was not nearly enough. I also start every class, regardless of level, with 1 jour, 1 question, short enjoyable videos (less than two minutes) that address questions of almost any topic. I did not think that these short videos would make much of an impact on their listening skills, but I have been presently surprised. They are engaging and most students look forward to them at the beginning of class, missing them when I’m out with a substitute. (They are now a regular part of sub plans.)

Over time, my intentional plan started to make small chips in the boulder that was blocking the road toward better listening skills. While I had not realized it at the time, I was implementing my now favorite 1% rule – that several small changes would make a difference.

My call to you in this post? Stop and acknowledge your weakest link. While classroom management is important, look at the skills you want students to acquire when leaving your classroom. When I confronted my lack of listening reinforcement, it also forced me to address creating a more balanced skills-based class. Are your tests framed for ease of grading or a true reflection of the students’ knowledge? Thursdays are now intended for speaking assessments based on student-created questions. Writing is constant but does not overshadow other skills. Students read a weekly story on Flipgrid from a short stories packet I created in addition to regular short cultural passages from the textbook.

Do not feel like a failure, as I did. Be realistic with yourself and truly confront what needs to change in your classroom. Take steps to improve then embrace your wins. The truth of the matter is sometimes we do not practice what we preach. Teachers want their students to grow but what are we doing to improve our teaching? Constant self-reflection and taking action upon those lacks will help you grow and not remain stagnant. Little changes lead to huge accomplishments. So, I ask you…

What is your 1% change you need to implement?

Food for Thought

Edcamp: A first timer’s review (Tyler, TX – July 25, 2019)

Image source: edcamp.org

Whether it’s Edcamp, Camp Nanowrimo, or choose the camp of your interest, camp is no longer just for kids. Edcamp is a participant-driven professional learning experience that is held around the world. Not sure what to expect? Read on for a breakdown.

Edcamp – Tyler, TX (July 25, 2019)

Edcamp’s origins

Edcamp, first organized in 2010, began with a group of Philadelphia teachers who gathered for an “un-conference.” Their structure was inspired by BarCamp, a user-generated technology and web conference, where participants drove the direction of the conference. There was no single presenter, no slideshow, no set agenda. The Philadelphia educators decided that BarCamp was exactly the platform teachers needed. They exchanged information and began spreading the word.

How does it work?

The day runs from 8 am – 3:30 pm and is typically held at a local school. Enthusiastic greeters help you check in and you will receive a bag for any swag you might collect throughout the day. The process was seamless and in small chunks, with clear stations of where to go next to complete the process of the interest cards.

All participants are encouraged to write down at least three topics of interest to them. You may get lucky that there is someone else with the same niche as you, but it is recommended to keep your categories in broad sweeping categories with perhaps a little specificity. For example, Design Thinking, EdTech, or Social Emotional Learning were among the popular topics. EdTech had so much interest, though, that there were plenty of subcategories, such as gamification, organizing your classroom with Google, and a beginner’s guide of how to integrate tech into the classroom.

All participants then proceeded to the main room to enjoy a Chic-Fil-A breakfast while they perused the day’s agenda, accessible via QR codes posted around the room. The live Google Doc (an agenda with access to session notes) was updated with the schedule while Edcamp organizers set the tone for the day with introductions, explanations, and yes, some giveaways.

Sessions and the “Rule of Two Feet”

I chose my first session of interest from the Google Doc and planned on staying there for the next hour. Edcamp stresses, though, the “Rule of Two Feet,” of which I personally took advantage. This rule is a no-pressure encouragement to leave a session and join another if that session is not satisfying your needs. I had wavered between two sessions and could actively follow the notes of both via the live Google Doc. I chose to switch, intrigued by what I was seeing in the notes. The environment immediately feels open-minded and judgement-free so yes, get up and move if you need to!

My sessions varied throughout the day. The first two had designated leaders, recognizable in their bright green Edcamp volunteer shirts, who simply kick started the discussion. Neither “leader” ever controlled the conversation but simply launched the topic. A designated note taker is decided, although anyone is free to add to the document (accessible on the day’s agenda). Conversation naturally flowed from one topic to another, but always staying on point with the overarching theme of that hour.

When I showed up to the third session, we were all newbies waiting for a person in charge to walk in the room. That’s when you need to step up. No one was there to organize that hour and that may be the case in some sessions. Pre-session discussions in the room naturally chose a leader and a designated note taker and that’s the idea: participant-driven professional development. You get out of it what you put into it.

Edcamp swag

Oh…and did I mention there are prizes?

Throughout the day, you will see the Prize Squad dressed to the nines, (I wish I had taken their picture), entering rooms and occasionally engaging in the discussion. T-shirts and cards for free bowling rounds were sprinkled throughout the day. Nearpod subscriptions were given away before lunch. The longer you stay, the better the prizes!

At the end of the day, you return to the main room to scan another QR code to access a Google Form. This is where you submit an email address and complete a short survey in order to receive your certificate. Fact: Edcamp data shows that 80% of administrators exposed to the Edcamp model not only approved it for teacher training credit, but also included it as an approved professional development within their district. The day concluded with a wrap-up, rock climbing memberships, awesome tech toys for the classroom, and enthusiasm.

Reflections

What is the number one universal complaint of teachers? Time. If we had more time to collaborate with our peers, can you imagine what else could happen in our classrooms? Even when I go to a conference and ideas are furiously written down in my notebook to catch them all, I still need the time to decompress and process them later. Edcamp lets you bring these ideas to the table and work them out. There is an immediate sense of comfort and no shame, no wrong questions during the discussion. Everyone was incredibly respectful to not commandeer the conversation and shut out others. Ideas flowed and naturally led from one point to another. Don’t forget that you have the notes to look back on later, too!

MakerSpace already set up in anticipation of curious participants.

I connected with other educators in my area and thanks to email and social media, can continue to feel inspired by the amazing works happening in their school. This free un-conference experience reinforced the sentiment that I have always believed in: We are collaborators, not competitors. Thank you, Edcamp, for a wonderful experience!

Discussions about Project-Based Learning.

Interested in finding a local Edcamp? Check out the Edcamp website for more information. empowering educators worldwide.