Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Game Changer: Winbridge Personal Amplifier

This is the WinBridge Personal Amplifier System.

Its super small and light, but loud enough for my classroom.  Recently, I was really sick, and the medication I have to take leaves my throat raw, and dry, so I lose my voice a lot.  And I teach French.  Since, I can't do that without a voice, I have to use an amplifier so I can talk after first period.

It is great.  Its loud enough for my students to hear me with straining my voice.  Its portable, so it works while I'm walking in the hallways or library, or outside-- anywhere!  It is saving my voice.  And I think that one thing teachers take for granted is their voice.

We speak a lot.  More than many other subject teachers.  And that can wear on your vocal flaps and damage them.  Especially if you are raising your voice often.  I've retrained myself to speak normally with an amplifier.  And it has made such a difference.

With my students, they can hear me.  Even if there is a little chatter.  Some of my students are hard of hearing, and this has helped them too.  My classroom is calmer because I'm speaking more calmly-- not having to project my voice so much.

I paid $45.00 for my PA on Amazon.ca.  It comes with the microphone, a belt so you can wear your speaker, and USB cable for charging.  One full charge lasts me all day.  You can play music through the speaker from a USB drive too.  If you are worried about your voice, or if you have never thought about the wear and tear on your voice, consider getting some type of amp.  Your voice with thank you.

** This is not a sponsored post.  I'm just an Amp convert.  It has helped me immensely.  I hope it can help someone else.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

All About Unit Planning

I got a couple requests on Facebook, to write a post about unit planning.  I am NOT an expert in unit planning.  I do my best.  What I am, is a hyper-organized, teacher who likes a solid plan before diving in and teaching my classes something, but I like to have enough flexibility to add and take away as I teach.  Here, I will share what I've learned (so far) about unit planning, and a unit plan that I have used a few times, and that has worked well for me in my core French classes.

What I've learned about unit planning (so far):

Start with the “skills” you want your students to learn in mind:  This is different than starting with the end product in mind, since maybe the learning that will be displayed may not be a physical product.   For example, you will see with my unit plan “Je me presente” I don’t have one final task or product, but several tasks focused around skills.  One example is being able to talk about what you like to do in your free time.  Another skill looks at voicing agreement, or disagreement.  These skills are transferable, and are included in the skills required for level A1 expectations for the DELF exam.  For me, measuring the students’ ability, is more important than measuring a student product.  For me, the end is usually a series of skills in line with the CEFR foci, which become our learning goal and success criteria.  I always plan to answer the question, “Why do we have to learn this?” If I can’t answer that, then I don’t have a solid goal in place for the students.  My end goals always have purpose and relevance to my students lives.

Assessments for days: Assessments are woven in throughout the unit: I think that assessment (especially in languages) has moved past the unit plan ending with something tangible to mark.  Assessment should be woven in throughout the unit, so by the end of the focus, the teacher should be able to chart the students’ improvement through the series of assessments.  In my plans, the curriculum expectations each activity covers is included in the plan for each section of the unit.  I also include how the students will demonstrate their knowledge. 

Create activities/ lessons that help students meet your objectives: I get my activities and lessons from anywhere!  Sometime theres a good reading in a resource I have, and I can use that.  Sometimes, I will make the resource up for the students to use.  Once, I used a Tim Hortons job application in French and we did a lesson about filling in forms in French! 

Figure out what resources you want/ need to use: Do you have a great reading resource?  Did you buy a really cool looking game?  Students bugging you to make slime in class?  Use what you have, trade with colleagues, gather what you can, and this can help you plan your lessons.

Plan your materials: What is the progression of the lessons?  They have to have the vocal before jumping into a procedural activity.  Think about every lesson building on the one before.

When possible, plan something interdisciplinary: For one unit, my colleague was doing a shoe collection and fund-raiser for Senegal.  I planned with him to add a shipping vocabulary and  letter component for the kids my students were already invested in helping.  And the letters were a hit!  The students in Senegal loved having someone in Canada to write to.  Totally authentic because the student needed to work in French to ship the shoes and explain the project to the corresponding charity in Africa. 

My example unit plan:

My plans have changed a lot through the years.  And they change every time I write a new one.  I don’t usually use a template: I use a 3 column table to plan my activities in my unit.  I used to be very detailed in writing down my unit plans.  I made sure that I had ALL the information I needed written out, and I NEVER deviated from the plan.  This was very difficult to maintain because teaching does not always let you follow your plan— especially in terms of timelines. So you will see in my two examples, how different my plans have become.  (Click the image to see the plan- Prêt à voyager, Grade 7 and 8 Core FSL)


Template are a really good way to write a unit plan, and as a newer teacher, I used this template often to write my plans for Core French.  It was helpful to me for a number of reasons:
  • If I used the template, I knew that I wouldn’t miss any of the important parts of planning.  
  • The template helped organize and streamline my thinking when planning.  Kept planning from being overwhelming.
  • Having a template that I had on my computer, made it easier to change part of the unit that may not of worked, or the timeline I had initially put.  Which made it easier for me to follow the plan.
Now that I feel more comfortable teaching, and more confident with the Core French curriculum, I just type out what I think is needed to get to the ending skills.  Now, most of the time, I plan out the big lesson activities (especially if they take a lot of preparation) and the little practice games/ strategies based on Oral communication are not included in the unit plan.  But, as I was learning to be more comfortable and confident in unit planning, I found a few ready made templates really helpful.
  1. Lakehead universtiy template- I didn’t go to Lakehead, but this was a great comprehensive template with tons of information on it.  No guesswork in creating a good plan.
  2. TLC Unit Planner UOIT This was great for me to get my thoughts down, and figure out the process to which I would get my students to the end result.  It can be hard to figure out what lessons you need to plan, and how to break down teaching each step.  And this helped me see the progression of my lessons into an overall cohesive unit.  
  3. My own template: is a mixture of the templates that I had used in the past.  It has all the information I need, and its not too rigid.  I can add to it when I need to.

Secret sharing time!: I don’t always sit down and plan a whole unit at once.  Sometimes, I know where I want the students to end up, so I plan lessons based on where the students are.  I collect them, and they become a unit for me to use at a later time for my classes.  There is no rule saying that your units have to be completely planned before you teach them.  You can try things, and then add them to your plan.  Sometimes, you’ll have a winner of an activity, and you will add it to the unit.  And sometimes, you’ll try and make a weird game that was too confusing and not fun… And you won’t add it to the unit.  

Like much of teaching, unit planning is about creativity, adaptation and meeting your students where they are.  You can have the most amazingly written and meticulously planned unit, and it can flop.  Or, you can have fun with it, keep it loose, and come up with some pretty great activities and units.  

What does your unit planning process look like?  I would love to see what other teachers think in the comments below!

Friday, 3 November 2017

Oral Communication Activity: Les montres

Its tricky finding ways to get early Core FSL students (Grades 4 and 5 in this case) to speak to each other in French.  That's why sometimes I get students to make props to facilitate those conversations.

One of the lessons we were working on was telling time in French.  We did a few lessons learning about the clock and how to tell time from both analog and digital faces.  Then to practice, we did this activity I call for students to have authentic conversations in French.

For the first part of the activity, I had students make a faux-lex watch (a joke they found very hilarious. Every old can be new again...) Each student got half of this page; they coloured and decorated it, and wrote a time on the face.  Then they cut it out and voilà!... a fake watch to use.

Then students walked around the room asking each other the time.  A conversation went like this: "Bonjour (nom)!  Quelle heure est-il?"  "Il est six heures"  [The student writes down the time on their tracking sheet] "Merci beaucoup! Au revoir!"  And the student found another person to talk to until their page was complete.

And that's the activity!  Students really enjoyed making their watches, and talking to each other.  They were really proud that they could have a conversation in French.

Here is what the worksheet looked like:

Want to try it in your class?

If you are interested in downloading a PDF to use in your class, you can find the worksheet here

...and the watch reproducible here.

How do you get students to practice telling time in your class?  What activities have worked for your students?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

New school year, new school! New activity: Connect 4

Wow, quite a long absence from this little blog!  Désolée! I changed schools this year, and everyone knows what a task that can be.   But, I'm starting to settle into the swing of things here at my new school, and slowing changing the students' attitude about FSL education!

I thought that I would share a numbers review and introduction activity that I did with my grade 4/5 classes.  We started with numbers 1-20, and this was a little game to get them practicing their numbers and simple addition in their heads.  Math and French!

This quiz game only needs this worksheet, and 2 dice for each pair and a different color pencil crayon or highlighter for each player.

The rules are really easy, students play in pairs.  I always say the youngest person goes first.  Player one rolls the dice, and reads the numbers on the dice in French.  Then they must say the equation in French (For example: a player rolls 5 and 2.  They must say "cinq plus deux font 7").  Whatever the total is, that student can choose one circle with a 7 in it and shade it in their color.  Then player two repeats the process.  The goal is to colour 4 circles in a row to win the game.   That's it!

My students loved this game.  They ask to play it.  And they do it in French!  So it was a winner.

For the older students, I created a similar board for our Je Me Présente focus questions.  They also
enjoyed the game too.  And it got them talking.  For the older students, I added squares that say "Extra!" so that they got a free space.  I have a difficult student, who threatened his French teacher last year, who comes in now and sits with a friend and PLAYS THE GAME, in FRENCH!

So if you would like to try it, you can download the worksheet here.  You can save paper by
printing a class set, and using counters or something instead of colouring the sheet.

If you would like to use the Je Me Présente version, you can download it here.

Monday, 27 March 2017

French Beyond France: Intercultural Resources for La Francophonie

It has been a while since I have posted-- but with good reason!  I have been working with a group of teachers on a TLLP, a Teaching Leading and Learning Project for the past 8 months.  The title is French Beyond France: Intercultural Resources for La Francophonie.   In essence, it is a document that catalogues free resources that teacher may want to use to support their teaching of intercultural awareness and understanding in FSL class.

There are some really great free multimedia resources out there, but who has the time to sort through it all to see how it can be used in class, and whether or not it supports the curriculum?  So, part of our project was to look at those free resources and make them useful to teachers.

This weekend our team will be presenting our findings and our project at the OMLTA spring conference in Toronto.  We are presenting on Friday, so if you are at the conference, and are interested in learning more about teaching intercultural understanding, come on out!

With permission, I have created a page for our TLLP on my blog.  It is under the tab French Beyond France.  On that page, you will find a brief introduction to what our project entails, and a PDF viewer and download to the actual document.  If you do read or use it, please let me know.  I would love to hear your feedback!    

Saturday, 7 January 2017

My students, My kids

This year was… difficult for me.  I had taken a break from reflecting and my blog because in a few cases it was too hard to think of how I wanted to talk about what this year has done to cement my feelings on what my students are to me.  Of course they are my students.  But they are much more than that in most cases.  

The first time I introduced myself to the Parent Council at my school I said, “I’m Stephanie and I teach French.  I don’t have any kids, or on the other hand, I have 300 kids depending on your point of view.” I was referring of course to my students.

Most teachers I know refer to their classes as “their kids.”  When I was a newer teacher, I didn’t really understand why that was.  I mean, we teach these students for a year, maybe two and then they move on.  The parents of the students are the people who have the most impact on these kids, and care for them throughout their lives.  They are the people that can call their children, “our kids.”  

But I was wrong.  I’m their teacher.  And they are “our kids.”

After 7 years, and 500+ students, I get it.  I get it.  

At the beginning f my career, I was transient, and never stuck around a school longer than 3 months.  Such is the life of the Long-term Substitute Teacher.  I loved my classes early in my career, but I thought that since I was there for such a short time, I was a blip in the education of the students I taught.  

I was wrong.

In 2010-2011, I taught a class of girls in Toronto.  They were all gifted, an had amazing parents and support in their lives.  I taught them as a Maternity-leave sub for one year.  Professionally, it was a great year.  I was able to try many pedagogical ideas like inquiry; no set schedule for subjects; student-driven learning projects; and social-justice infused lessons.  They kids were so eager to learn and do anything.  I felt I was my freest and most creative as a teacher that year.  Private school can be a gift like that.  I had great relationships with the parents, and they were very involved and supportive of all my ideas.  We had a fun year.  But at this school, students usually had the same teacher for 2 years, and once my year was up, they regular teacher would return, and our fun education adventure would end.  They would be enthralled with whatever their regular teacher did, and I would move on to the next chapter.  

Of course the last day, the girl cried- but eight and nine-year-old girl do, so we said goodbye, I cleared out my room and looked for work again. They weren't “my kids” anymore.

Except they are “my kids.”  In 2016, in June, I got an email: 

Hi Stephanie,
I don't really know if you remember me. I'm Kate, you taught me grade 3 at the linden school. Well anyways, me, Sara, and Lia all just graduated grade 8 and I've been really sad and thinking about grade 3 a lot. I just re-read "the past is Present" and some stories I wrote with friends that year. I found a bracelet you gave me and a painting of the letter S that you did in class. I'm leaving this school not by choice and I'm never going back so I wanted to thank you for such a memorable year and I can't believe it's over and was 5 years ago!!!!!!!!
Thank you so much,

As soon as I saw the email address I knew exactly who it was, albeit a nine-year-old version of who she is.  I remember changing her lessons to be more challenging for her, and her struggle of learning to challenge herself.  I remember the tears of frustration and anxiety when she was overwhelmed, and how proud she was when we decided to send her project on flight to the city-wide science-fair in Toronto.  She loved painting, especially on canvas.  That year she climbed the CN tower to raise money for WWF.  And so on.  

She emailed me because she was nervous about moving on to high school.  Moving from private to public school, and not knowing anyone.  I could see how she changed, citing her parents “irrational reasons” for making her change schools. I smiled as I read the emails, because she’s talking like a teenager.  

It clicked.  My students are “my kids.”  They contact me when they need reassurance.  And I keep tabs on them.  And I care about them.  Long after I teach them.

I’m writing this reflection because I saw this story in the news this week:
http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/newsreleases/36854  A former student of mine was shot in Toronto in October [(warning graphic video)
http://toronto.ctvnews.ca/watch-suspects-seen-in-pizza-pizza-murder-video-1.3125675], and they arrested the men responsible.  I heard the story in October, and was numb at that time, as I had two former students (in the town I live in now) die tragically in the summer.  Having three (former) students die in their youth was a tragic thing to go through.  I was very upset for a long time.  Some friends and family did not understand my sadness.  “You were just their teacher” is something I heard often when I tried to explain my feelings.

Yes, I was their teacher.  For a year I saw them every weekday, and helped them struggle with new ideas and concepts while they were learning.  I celebrated with them when they accomplished something.  I comforted them when they were hurt.  I became involved in their lives by necessity— because how could they learn if there were challenges in their lives?  If we found they were hungry, as a school we found ways to feed them.  So when I say that teachers feel that these are “our kids,” we mean it in the sense of the community/ village it takes to ensure that our kids grown up healthy and happy and educated.  

So I was more than just their teacher.  I was responsible for their education, and much more.  When they hurt, I empathized with them AND help them find solutions.  When they are scared, I try to assure them that they have the skills to succeed.  And when they die, I hurt.  

My students are my kids too.  They are part of my village.  And I won’t let anyone tell me differently.