Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First week back

We're two days in to the school year. I'm feeling a little nervous, a little hurried, a little over-whelmed and a little grateful.

It's so nice to be back with my colleagues. I've missed them over the summer and I'm happy to be able to see them again. Unfortunately, my next door neighbour moved one door down, leaving an empty class between us so I'm all alone on my part of the wing, a little isolated from everyone else, but it's a short hallway so it's not hard to go visit. There are only four teachers in our wing now.

We've spent a few hours the last two days in meetings and workshops on various topics. Yesterday was about common language and common practice for working in teams. Today it was reading records, beliefs and practices when it comes to discipline and some basic "how does our school work" discussion. Very useful and informative stuff. It's hard to sit that long though. Another reminder that I need to get my students up and moving because they must find it hard to sit so long as well.

In our non-meeting time, I've continued my classroom preparation. It's looking better. Yesterday I heard I had two new students. I was very concerned about fitting those two extra desks into my already crowded room. At the end of the day I took this picture:

I'll admit, I didn't go home in the best of moods. I'm not sure why those two extra desks made me feel so much more nervous but for some reason they did. 24 sounded like a lot; 26 sounded impossible. But today I was feeling much better about it. I know that with a large class, routine is crucial. I know that I need to give lots of responsibilities to my students to help the class run smoothly and I know that we can all write our class vision statement, values, rules, and make them meaningful so that 26, while a little crowded, is not chaotic and learning will still happen.

Today I found out I have one or two fewer students. But I feel like even if my numbers go back up, I'll be okay. 

What made me feel even better today was we worked out our schedule for the 3-5 wing. Last year the schedule was a nightmare. We had to juggle me teaching my homeroom, and three other classes of French. We had to make it work around the gym and music schedule, we bargained, bartered and begged to switch other times around to somehow come up with a schedule where we were all getting approximately what we needed. It took us 7 hours of meetings and in the end, the result was so complex that even by the end of the year I was not always sure whose class was where. 

One of the other teachers, when I brought up doing our schedules, was not at all happy and I don't blame him. I swore to him that it would be easier this year. It had to be. Nothing could be more complicated than last year's. And it wasn't. About an hour of easy talks and simple fixes, I have the most lovely schedule I could ask for. Whereas last year's, my students' schedule and my teacher schedule looked nothing alike, this year's the difference is very minor, only that when they are in math with another teacher, I am teaching pre-intensive French to one of two classes. And when they have music or gym, I have a prep. I get to take them to library. My Intensive French block is unbroken and beautiful all morning.

It could still change, but for now, it is golden and perfect.

My classroom time I spent today on my French library. Almost all of the English books are out of my classroom now. I'm storing them next door until February. Last year I had a hard time keeping my French book boxes organized. I sorted them by category and labeled the boxes but the students didn't always put the books back in the right boxes. You all know the drill. Then on Fridays when we cleaned the classroom I would assign a few students to organize the library. But they didn't always know which books went in which box and in the end, I would do most of the organizing.

So this year, each book box has a number, and all the books in the box have the same number on the front cover. So for example, this is box number 14 - Robert Munsch books. I also have an 'F' in the corner for fiction and all the Robert Munsch books have a 14 on their cover.

 This book box has hockey books, both fiction and non-fiction, hence the F & NF in the corner.
This is the end result - at least so far. I finished 25 of the boxes today and I'll hopefully finish the rest tomorrow or the next day. 

That's how my first two days went. One week from today I will have had my first day back with students! So much to be done before then but I know I'll get what I need to have done finished. How are your days back going? Are you focusing on one specific area you want to improve for this year? How do you get yourself organized and ready?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Free for all Friday

This is the last Blog hoppin' post for the week. The subject for today was to post a printable freebie. This was a little difficult as last year I only taught French so all of my printables were French. And as this website is English I don't know how useful my French stuff would be. So I have one printable that could be used in any language.

I used this puzzle piece black-line to do a project on pass-times with my students. They wrote what their favourite thing to do was in a full sentence and then drew it. I told them they had to colour every inch of their puzzle piece.

The end result looked something like this: 
But it looked better once the rest of the students finished. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of the final product for some reason, probably because it was the end of the year. Anyway, you could use the pieces for just about anything. They could be used for a great first of the year art piece where they draw about themselves and then show how they all fit together to make up their class.

It's been a great week! Thanks for all the ideas.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I spent quite a bit of time in my classroom this afternoon after buying my school supplies this morning. (Note: buying duotangs for a whole class is mind boggling!) But I did decide to go with duotangs over binders for this year. I'm expecting 24 students so with about 10 subjects each that works out to 250 duotangs! It was insanity. I went to buy some last night for 0.10 cents each. That was great but they didn't have many colours, mostly just this odd navy blue/grey colour, and when I got to the check out (with about 150 of them) the poor girl had to count and scan them all!

I met up with a few other teachers from my school this morning. We bought our supplies (more duotang craziness), went out for lunch together and then headed back to school.

My classroom is... I'm not sure what to do about it. I worked for about two and a half hours this afternoon. First, I dumped all the supplies I bought. There are a few more bags than that off to the side as well.

Then I set up the desks. I have a small classroom, very small to fit 24 students comfortably. I decided on rows for the first little while. I'm not sure how many other groupings I'll be able to fit in there. I also had to give up my beautiful big table at the back. There wasn't enough room for it. I'm sad to see it go but it was that or have the kids way more crowded. So this is what my classroom looks like now.

My library is still a mess. After I got my desks sorted out, I talked to our new principal and asked if I could store my English books in the empty classroom next door. She agreed and so I spent a long while boxing up books and carting them next door. I still haven't sorted them. They came from the other grade 5 classroom. Some of them are sorted already but there are a lot of books that are just random. There are still two bookshelves worth of English books in the classroom. Some I'll store in my classroom and some I'll store next door. Plus there are all the ones I have stored at home from my class the year before. February will be a very busy month.

When I got home and washed my hands, the soap suds were black. Classroom preparation is dirty work. I also started a new to-do list. I don't want to be going in to school on the weekends and next week is full of meetings so I need to get as much as possible tomorrow. It's a long list. It's a daunting list. It's a list I'm afraid I won't be able to get done.

I'm trying to prioritize and tell myself that I'll get to the important things and the rest will fall into place. But everything seems important and everything seems to take much longer than I think it should.

I'm excited about school starting up. I'm excited about trying new things and meeting my new students and guiding them and the satisfaction that comes when you know that you've made a difference. I'm excited about working with my wonderful colleagues and getting to know my new principal and new parents. I'm excited about sorting through the new supplies I bought and handing out new beautiful pencils and paper.

But I'm also scared and nervous. What if I'm not ready? What if everything isn't perfect on that first day?

When I need some inspiration, I head on over to twitter and my PLN (professional learning network). I have connected with many educators on twitter and they always inspire me when I need it. Someone in my PLN is starting school tomorrow. He wrote this post To be a teacher about his first day of school. His post touched me and the video he posted brought me to tears. To be a teacher is a very heavy burden and also a great joy. This post put the important things into perspective. If my classroom isn't perfectly organized but I still show my students that I care then I'm still doing my job correctly.

Three for Thursday

The topic for today was three favourites - three specific favourites.

Favourite Font:

It’s pretty boring but my favourite font is Comic Sans MS because it is easy for students to read. Capital ‘I’ looks like an I and lower case ‘a’ looks the way we teach students to print. When not using Comic Sans I tend to use whatever is default, Times New Roman or Arial generally.

Favourite Blog:

My favourite blog is http://ifbyyes.wordpress.com/ but my favourite teaching blog is probably http://mrcsclassblog.blogspot.com/ because he is one of the reasons I decided to start having a class blog in the first place.

Favourite on-line resource:

Well I'm going to cheat a little with this one and say that TWITTER is my favourite resource. Any time I need something or just want some inspiration, I hop on there for about an hour.

Look for a post about my classroom preparations soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where it All Goes Down Wednesday

This is my third post for the Teacher Week at Blog hoppin'.

Today's post is about showing off our classrooms. Mine isn't finished. At all. It's frightening how much I have left to do actually. I went in today again for another couple of hours and got three bulletin boards covered with the fabric I bought yesterday. I was excited to have more fabric covered walls. Our school is being closed either next year or the year after and then we're getting a lovely new school after that. But in the meantime, they aren't painting or upgrading our current building at all so I'm trying to make do with what I have. So this is what I came in to last week.

The janitor was dealing with my floors so I couldn't do much but measure for my fabric and come back another day. Today I went in again as I said and my floors are done so it looked more like this.

Better, but as you can see, I still have a lot of furniture to move around. I didn't get around to that today. Instead I focused on putting up fabric. This was the first one I tackled. The wall is cork board that's been painted over a few times and is so full of holes it's hard to have anything stay up there. This is where I keep my calendar and calendar related words which I'll put up tomorrow. Next to it I have my one chalk board in my room. Last year I covered it with a red plastic sheet, the kind you use as table clothes. It worked well. It was thin enough that it was easy to use as a magnetic board for my schedule and responsibilities board. But the plastic got picked at and marked up easily so I took it down at the end of the year. I don't like the look of the chalk board, so I covered it with some more fabric I found - 75% off sale at Fabricville = win!

I think this is a very nice colour. I'm planning on covering behind the world map and bookcase in the same green as behind the calendar.

This is one of my bulletin boards outside my classroom. This fabric is so lovely. The colour doesn't show up well here. In real life it's darker but has a nice shine. It was a little stretchy too so it was very easy to use.

Here are some other shots of my classroom. That's my teacher corner though my desk isn't back over there yet. I also have a filing cabinet that goes over there. I love my SMART board. I also have numbers around my clock to help the students tell time using an analog clock. Over on the left you can see my birthday chart.

This is the other front corner of my classroom. So much stuff that I have to sort through and store. I'm also going to cover that wall, possibly in blue, I haven't decided yet, because that wall is like the one under the calendar. It looks pretty terrible.

So that's my room so far. It's not finished at all, but it's mine and I love it :)

Teacher Talk Tuesday

Here's my second blog hoppin'  post for the week. Today's topic is giving advice to new teachers. I will qualify that as giving advice to teachers who are in their first year of teaching because I am still a new teacher. So here's my little bits of advice.

1. Don't take on too much at once. It's very tempting when you first start teaching to join all the committees, to start all the extra-curricular activities, and to implement every good idea you've ever heard. It's not possible. You still have to teach full time and have a life outside of the classroom. Focus on a few key things that are very important to you and don't be afraid to cut things out if you feel you're getting overwhelmed.

2. Ask for advice and help from other teachers but reserve the right to ignore it if what they say doesn't fit with how you want to teach. Listen respectfully to what they have to say, use it if it's a good idea, store it away for later if you don't want to do it.

3. Have fun! Teaching can be a very joyful career. We are so lucky to be surrounded be children who look up to us and we can get in there and play from time to time. If you enjoy what you do, share that joy. Your students will pick up on that enthusiasm.

4. Try not to get bogged down by the negative things other people say. Whether it's about a student or a new program or the weather, some teachers (and people in general) just vent all that negativity to whoever will listen. As teachers we sometimes have more than enough emotional strain in our lives and don't need any extra. Let it be like water off a ducks back rather than taking on that negativity.

5. Be your own advocate. This goes even more so for substitute teachers who are trying to get full time teaching jobs. Don't be afraid to let administrators know how wonderful you are and what you are willing to do, what extra special things you bring to education. You are special and you are caring and you are amazing at many things. I know this because you are a teacher and only special, caring and amazing people are called to be teachers.

Have a wonderful first year!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Meet the Teacher Monday

This is something I found over at Blog hoppin' a website that links up teacher blogs. This week they're doing a teacher week with different topics each day of the week. Today's topic is "meet the teacher" so here's a little about me.

Tell us a little something about you...
My name is Jeannie Chiasson (Mme Chiasson or just Madame to my students). I teach Grade 5 Intensive French in New Brunswick, Canada. I've been married for just over a year and we have three cats. I started this blog about a year ago after a technology PD. It started off as a classroom blog but has developed into a teacher blog. I love to read. I'm a compulsive reader, especially since I got an e-reader in June. An endless supply of books at my fingertips is a dangerous thing. I have one week of summer vacation left before it's back to school and then another week after that before my students return!

How long have you been teaching?
Starting in January of 2007 I was a substitute teacher for three years, mostly in elementary. Then in December 2009 I got my first long term contract teaching Intensive French in grade 5. Last year was my first full year of teaching, again at grade 5 Intensive French, but this time I was also teaching grade 4 Pre-Intensive French. This will be my third year of teaching full time.

You might not know...
I'm also an aspiring writer. I've written a few novels and short stories. Over the summer months I've been working on a novel I wrote two years ago for NaNoWriMo geared towards late elementary children. I haven't been published yet but I would like to get published one day, possibly soon.

Also, French is not my first language. I grew up speaking English and didn't go into French Immersion until grade 7. I stuck with it all through school but decided to take German in University instead of French. But I did theatre in French and English through my BA degree and managed to get my French level up high enough to teach. I love languages and I'm proud of my Acadian heritage. 

What are you looking most forward to this school year?
I'm looking forward to teaching 3 classes instead of 4. My schedule last year was very hectic and I'm hopeful that my schedule this year will be a bit more sane. I'm also very excited that I will be teaching in the same school, in the same classroom and even some of the same students I taught last year! And for sure I'm excited about working with the same wonderful staff. I am so blessed with having such amazing co-workers though there will be a few changes to our little family. In February, instead of switching classes like last year, I will get to keep my students and teach them in English for half the year. I enjoy teaching the grade 5 curriculum and am very happy to be able to keep the same group the whole year.

What do you need to improve?
So much. I'm a new teacher and every day is a huge learning experience for me. I would like to work on my organization this year, both of my materials and my time. I would like to work harder not longer so that I can keep a good balance in my life. I would like to improve my classroom management techniques. 

What teaching supplies can you *not* live without?

I can't live without my SMART Board and internet. We had a few days when it went down and oh boy did I find that hard. Also makes planning lessons for supply teachers difficult.

My planning binder. Even if I totally change my plan mid-stride I need it there and ready for me in-case my brain falls off the train.

Positive Participation tickets. I've tried teaching without them. I won't go back.

My laptop. By far the most useful tool in my classroom. I am so grateful that our province provides one for every teacher. 

So that's me. If you're interested in participating in this teacher week over at Blog Hoppin' click this link below and join in.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

School Supplies - binders or duotangs?

This year, our whole school has decided to buy our school supplies and ask parents for money instead of supplies. This has a number of advantages. I'm looking forward to knowing that all my students will have good quality supplies, there won't be any jealousy over who has the better stuff because it will all be the same, and I will be sure that all my students will have the supplies they need right from day one.

There are some disadvantages as well of course. For example, right now I am expecting 24 students in my class but I know this can change. I want to make sure I have enough for all of my students without exceeding my budget. For some supplies like pencils and paper, that's not very hard. But for larger items that I would like to last all year it can be a bit difficult.

I've been working on my shopping list after taking stock of the supplies I already have, and I'm debating whether I would like my students to use binders or duotangs. Now I understand that duotangs is a word that seems exclusive to Canada, so for those outside the country, they are folders with three metal fasteners to hold work. They look like this.

I like using them. They can make organization by subject fairly easy. But at the same time they can be a pain in the behind. Students are sometimes very hard on them. They put in papers upside-down, backwards or don't attach them in properly at all. They take up a lot of space and sometimes take up a lot of time. One advantage of them over binders is that it is easier to take home a class set of duotangs over binders and it's easier for students to take home one duotang if there is homework in one subject.

That all being said, I'm leaning towards trying out binders this year with tabs for each subject, at least once I switch over to the English half of the year. For  the first 5 months while I teach French, they'll only need one duotang and one scribbler and one folder. A binder would be unnecessarily large for the amount I would have them use it. But once we switch over I think it would be useful. Part of my reasoning is that my grade 5's will be moving on to middle school next year and I think it would be good for them to get used to keeping a binder organized. I also think that it would be easier to go out and buy 25 binders instead of going out and buying 250 or more duotangs.

Which system do you prefer? Have you tried both? Any other systems that you think would work better?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Parenting Advice Applied to Teaching

A friend of mine who is a relatively new parent posted this article today called Teaching Through Love Instead of Fear by Pam Leo. While this article mainly is talking to parents I think it applies equally to teachers. It is something that I try to be very conscious of in my teaching. I want to model the respect that I would like to see from my students. At times it's hard to model that level of respect but I feel that it is important.

As stated in the article:

"One of the big issues in schools today is "bullying." Parents and teachers struggle daily with how to stop this behavior. Without realizing it, adults teach bullying behavior to children by modeling it when they use the threat of their physical size or power to make children do things."

How can we expect our students to behave the way we would like to, with respect and kindness towards each other, if we do not show them how? It is a sad fact that some students do not see that kind of modelling at home. We as teachers are the ones who have step into that role, become the role-models that our students need. 

Getting our students to do what we want them to do out of fear can be, sometimes, an easier or quicker way, especially with younger grades. Leo states "The power of fear is easy and quick but short-lived." but that "The power of love requires more work and takes longer but children never outgrow its influence." With the older grades, even my students at grade 5, gaining obedience through fear doesn't always work as well. Building real relationships with students, showing that we care about their feelings and dignity goes much further and is much more long lasting. Telling a student "I understand that you would rather talk to your friends right now, but we have to think about the rights of the other students to learn right now." can help to build that relationship more than sending a student out or keeping them in for detention.

I am not perfect in this by all means but it is something I strive for and something I hope all teachers strive for as well.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Morning Routine - Class Responsibilities

Today I've been working on what I would like my morning routine to look like. Both of my homeroom classes last year were chatty, especially the first group, and I liked giving them the time between the first and second bell to do some socializing before we got down to work. While I liked this, I also think that I would like my students to start getting focused before O Canada so that after we can get right into our work after watching the announcements. So I've come up with some ideas of what I would like our morning routine to look and sound like.

I would like to start the day with some French music playing in the background. When I bring the students down the hall from outside, I'll have them change their shoes before they come into the classroom (I'm a stickler for this. I don't like outside shoes in the classroom because it makes the floor messy). They then put their outdoor things and backpacks on their hooks in the back closet. Next, they choose their responsibility for the day by moving their name tag to the job they want for the day. This will help me quickly do attendance as well because I will see which names are not up. Then they will get their desk ready, do their job if it's one that needs doing before class, and then sit and do the anchor work on the board. I'm thinking it will mainly be writing in their journals or a word problem. I did this occasionally last year but would like to do it more consistently this year.

Behind the red sheet is an old blackboard. Everything on there
is on magnets.
The major change in the responsibilities is in having them pick for themselves as they come into the classroom. Last year we did responsibilities once a week. I would draw names randomly and ask the student which one they wanted, they would answer in a full sentence and I would place their name on the board. I liked using it as a chance to have them practice speaking but I think doing this I will also be able to have them say sentences. I can still ask who is doing a particular job or if someone has forgotten to choose one I can ask them which one they would like.

I would like to change some of my jobs as well. Many are the same as last year but I am also adding a few more. Some will not be available every day.

  • mini-prof - runs the morning routine
  • tableau - responsible for cleaning off the board at the end of the day
  • pizza - takes pizza orders and passes out pizza
  • dîner chaud - takes hot lunch orders and passe out hot lunch
  • du lait - takes milk orders and passes out milk
  • l'horaire - puts up the schedule for the day
  • bibliothèquaire - ensures the class library is in order and brings library books down to the school library
  • blogger - writes what we did that day on our school website
  • premier du linge - first in line
  • dernier du linge - last in line
  • annonces - on days when our class does video announcements, these two students will do them
  • messanger - brings notes to the office or other teachers
  • souliers - makes sure our boot rack outside our classroom is tidy
  • placard - makes sure our back cupboard is tidy
  • chaises - makes sure all chairs are down before announcements and up before they leave
  • aspirateur - gets to vacuum the carpet in our reading corner (I can see some fights happening over this job. They all want to do it.)
  • crayons - makes sure there are plenty of sharpened pencils ready for the class
  • A.V. - audio-visual, in charge of lights, taking pictures or videos, using the SMART Board for songs
  • billets - hands out tickets during the morning routine
  • gardien/ne des points - keeps track of class points and points in games
  • recyclage - brings recycling down to the photocopying room
  • extra - helpers for anyone who wants help with their responsibility, this job is chosen last. 

It seems like a lot of jobs but I will have around 25 students and I want them all to have a job each day. I've decided that they can only choose a job once each week. That way I won't have one person being the mini-prof each day and more students will be able to choose a variety of jobs. Some jobs won't be available every day, for example, we don't have milk on Wednesday so that job won't be available that day. Each job will also have a picture next to it as a reminder of what it means. I"m hoping that having a first come, first served way of picking jobs will also encourage my students to be on-time for school, something I've had trouble with in the past.

What classroom jobs do you have? How do you have your students pick jobs? Do you have them apply for the jobs or do they get to choose? How do you ensure that everyone gets a turn at the ones they would like to try?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three Ways to Read a Book - In Intensive French

I've been thinking about my first week of school plans today. One of the first lessons I like to do with my students on their first day with me is to teach them the three ways to read a book. This lesson comes from the The Daily 5 system. I adore the Daily 5 and am so excited to be able to use it more in February with my class. I have another post in my head that I'm going to write soon about ways to incorporate the Daily 5 into Intensive French, but it needs more thinking and planning time before I can write it.

The first few days of Intensive French are conducted in English. We will discuss as a class how the next five months are going to go, we talk about how they feel about Intensive French and we go over some strategies for dealing with the frustration they will feel when trying to function in a new language. One big frustration they feel is that they are not able to read English books in my class, only French ones during silent reading. In order to deal with this frustration, I talk about the three ways that they can read a book.

I ask the students to think back to when they were first learning to read. I have them talk about what they remember. Memories are often a little spotty on the subject of learning to read. Many think they just tried and they could do it. Some remember that it was frustrating and they had to read one word at a time. Others remember picture books very fondly. I tell them that learning to read in French is just like learning to read their first language (English for almost all of my students) except that it's easier because they already know so much about reading.

My class library is better organized than this now with book
baskets, but I don't have a more recent picture
We start brainstorming what they know about reading. They know that they read from the left side to the right of the page, top to bottom. They know that words have meaning. They know what punctuation means. They even know the sounds of each letter and I tell them that the sounds in French are sometimes the same or similar and sometimes a little different but we will work on that together.

Then I move on to the three ways we can read. I show them three books, all French. One is a book we read together in grade 4 pre-intensive French. The second is a comic strip book and the third is a simple book with very few familiar words. I ask them if they know the three ways to read a book. Through prompting and modelling I can get them to come up with the ideas themselves that they can read a book by:
1. reading the pictures (the comic book)
2. re-telling yourself a familiar story (the book from last year)
3. reading the words (the simple book)

I model with each of these books, showing them my thought process as I look at a few pages. I have them help me by saying what they think is going on in the book based on the pictures and words or from what they know from reading the book last year.

This lesson helps amazingly when I start up silent reading time, which I do right away on the first day. I feel it is very important to give my students some time to explore the French books on their own, just as students in Kindergarten are given time to explore books in their first language to help them learn to read. Many students find a sense of relief after I explain this to them. Before I think they feel like I'm going to plop some books in front of them and expect them to be able to read them in the traditional sense. That would be an unrealistic expectation of them at this point. After all, I'm there to teach them how to read, not expecting that they will be able to do it right away on their own without help.

How do you help your students settle into your classroom? What are some of your favourite first day activities and lessons?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Setting up my classroom

I went in to school this week, intending to get a start on setting up my classroom. I have an added challenge this year because I have, probably, six more students than last year so I have to factor the added desks into my classroom layout. I am also teaching one grade 5 class for the whole year, French first half, English the second, so I've inherited a great deal of resources to teach the English half. This is what I found when I came into my classroom.

The janitor isn't finished with my room yet. He's still doing the floors so I'm going to wait to go back in again until next week. What I did do is measure my bulletin boards that don't have fabric yet so that I can buy fabric to cover them. I measured them all, wrote the measurements down on a piece of paper, and left the paper in my classroom. Oh well, I'll get it next week.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all my English books. I'd like to have them neatly put away, somewhere not too accessible during the first half of the year so that my students aren't trying to sneak them out during silent reading time when they are meant to be reading French books. Most IF teachers teach one class all year. Last year I did something called the flip-flop where I only taught French all year to two grade 5 classes. This had many disadvantages but one main advantage was that I only had French resources in my room.

One storage option is my back closet. There are beams up there that can hold heavy boxes of books. I also have two new-to-me bookshelves and I have a few cupboards that didn't get used last year. I could, I think, get all the books stored in my room. The other option is we now have an empty classroom next to me so I could store the English stuff over there until the end of January.

I'm curious about what other Intensive French teachers do to store their stuff. Any suggestions? What do you think would work best? How do you organize your room?  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Video Game Style Motivation

On Monday I bought a new exercise game for my Wii. I've been using the Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus but I felt unmotivated by it lately. I've been playing it for a few years now and was frustrated by the fact the goals I had to set were based solely on weight and nothing else. Early on there were little rewards for reaching a certain amount of hours of activities, and I always made sure that I got in my 30 minutes so it would play the little happy music, rewarding me for my hard work, but beyond that there wasn't much. I don't need to lose weight, I want to be more fit. Sure, I could set my own goals apart from the game's and celebrate them for myself, but that's what I got the game for in the first place, to be my motivator.

I'm easily motivated by small success celebrations. Three seconds of happy music or collecting a trophy or sticker or check-mark both in games and in the real world are huge motivators for me. So I wanted a new exercise game that would let me set goals that were meaningful to me. A few friends suggested Zumba and I considered it (I love Zumba and dance in general) but there didn't seem to be any goal setting or rewards for reaching goals. Instead I bought Wii Sports Active. So far it has lived up to my needs.

But how is this all related to teaching? After all, this is a teaching blog, not a exercise game blog. When looking in to buying a new game, I thought a lot about what motivates me to do things. As much as I would like to be, I'm not often intrinsically motivated, or not as much as I think I should be. I clean my house because I like guests to feel comfortable and enjoy my house as much as I do. I mow the lawn because I don't want neighbours to think I don't take care of my yard. I write because I want people to read my writing and give me positive feedback (or critique it constructively). I do get some pleasure out of doing all these things as well, but when I feel stuck or unwilling to do something, it's often external motivators that get me going. I believe that the same is often true of my students.

We did a book study at our school this past year of a book called The Highly Engaged Classroom by Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering. A few teachers got together and we read and discussed chapter by chapter. It was a good read with lots of great ideas. The one I've been contemplating lately is having the students set goals and make choices about their learning. I believe that setting goals is highly motivating, but I haven't come up with a way to integrate this idea into my Intensive French classroom.

In video games, players don't often set their own goals in the same way. The game sets up the goals for them and they can sometimes choose which ones to go for or how to attain them. For example, one of my favourite video games is Little Big Planet. I get to run around and collect stickers and I get rewarded for finding more stickers and items. In other games, players are rewarded with experience points and get to go up a level. Or they collect gold and buy new items for their character.

Now, I already have a reward system in my classroom. My students get tickets for speaking French during our daily routine and these tickets go in for a draw at the end of the week. The students often cite this as one of their favourite parts of Intensive French. Not intrinsic motivation but often effective at getting reluctant students to participate. I would like to alter this system or add a different system that somehow uses what I know of video game motivation to help motivate my students to speak French in class. I would like to figure out a way to have the students either choose their own goals or have set goals for them to attain.

Have you used goal setting in your classroom? What worked for you? Do you have any suggestions for how I could use goal setting in my classroom?

Monday, August 8, 2011

My summer vacation

We are only into our second week of August and yet fall is in the air. We haven't had much summer-like weather this summer, a lot of grey days and rain, and today is no exception, though the sun did make a brief appearance this evening. As I write this, black clouds are coming in from the east. We will probably get more rain tonight though tomorrow's forecast looks promising.

Along with the fall weather, back-to-school sales remind me that summer break is coming to a close. I have had a lovely vacation so far. I've spent the majority of my summer reading. My new e-reader has opened up a whole world of books that I hadn't had access to, well, not convenient access to anyway. I thought I wouldn't like it. My father passed it along to me when he got a newer, fancier device. I found it difficult to find good French books on the main e-book websites but this site http://www.archambault.ca/archambault-ACH-fr-ct has an excellent selection of French e-books. As with their print counter-parts, French e-books tend to be more pricey than the English ones.

Aside from reading, I've taken up writing again. After participating in NaNoWriMo in November for my third year in a row, I stopped writing on a regular basis, other than for school purposes. I missed writing but felt I couldn't make time for it, even though I had proved to myself in November that I could indeed make time if I wanted to. But the writing group that I had been apart of stopped meeting regularly and without that added motivation of a group I let my writing fall to the wayside. Plus, I didn't have any new ideas that wanted to be written. But then in June I met up with a former colleague who is in a small writing group for women. Another of the members is a good friend of mine. They invited me to join and I decided that it was time to get back into writing.

I love being part of the River Girls group. We meet once or twice a week for write-ins and meetings. We share our stories, we critique for each other, we laugh, we eat and most importantly, we encourage each other to write. I have learned so much from them and I feel like my writing has improved. This past month I have researched writing and even publishing websites. I have a plan to start a writing blog soon where I will write more about writing with tips like how you should not use the same word three times in a sentence ;)

When not reading or writing this summer, I travelled a little, mostly to visit my family and our annual camping trip up north to Caraquet. Vivre l'Acadie! I spent a little time in my garden, though not as much as I meant to because the weather dampened my desire to be outside. And of course I spent a fair amount of time thinking about the coming school year.

Most of my planning for the following year has been in my head so far. I daydream about ideas and do seating charts in my head while cooking dinner or in the passenger seat of the car (not while I'm driving, too distracting). When August began, I started to revisit my favourite teaching blogs, resource sites and twitter streams to inspire my plans.

I feel very lucky to be returning to the same school again this year, the same classroom, mostly the same subjects and even mostly students that I taught last year. As far as I know (and things could change), I will be teaching grade 5 again this year but there will be only one grade 5 class instead of two. This means that I will be teaching Intensive French for half the year and the English compacted curriculum for the other half of the year, same as I did two years ago. I'm excited to teach in English again. Though I love French dearly and enjoy helping students learn it, teaching in my first language has its joys as well that I missed last year. Like last year, I will also be teaching pre-Intensive French to the grade 4 students.

My grade 5's this year will be the grade 4's I taught pre-IF last year. Other than the students who transfer to our school, I will have taught all of them before. I look forward to getting to know them much better than I could when I only taught them a few hours a week. Knowing them already has pros and cons. On the upside, I have a sense of who they are, what the challenges will be, and I know what I taught them last year. On the downside, I have a preconceived notion of what they are like based on how they behaved last year. I don't have that clean-slate feel that I would have with an unknown class.

Tomorrow I plan to go over to the school and start setting up my physical space. At the end of the school year, we piled all the English materials into my room rather haphazardly and added two bookshelves as well. My class list so far has 24 students on it, 6 more than last year, so I need to discover the seating plans that will work well with my space. I imagine that I may spend some time sitting in my chair just looking at the classroom tomorrow. I might try out this on-line seating plan tool, http://teacher.scholastic.com/tools/class_setup/ as well. The rest of the week I'd like to tackle my bulletin boards (I'd like to paint the ones in the hall or put up fabric backgrounds) and I would like to re-organize my filing cabinet.

How have you been spending your summer vacation? What do you do during the summer to get your classroom ready? Please leave me a comment.