Reflection by kevin dooley, on Flickr
"Reflection" (CC BY 2.0) by  kevin dooley 

 
Last week, langchat-ters joined in a lively conversation full of reflections on the last year of teaching students in the world language classroom. Participants talked through the changes they made, their “AHA!” moments, the biggest risk they took and how it paid off, and what they’re looking forward to trying and/or ditching next year. Lastly, they chatted through questions/issues they had this past year that they need to find solutions for next year.

A big thank you to Laura (@SraSpanglish) and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) for leading the last #langchat of the year, and as always, thanks to everyone who participated in this years chats, new and old #langchat-ters alike! #Langchat wouldn’t be nearly as beneficial to the world language community without all of your great input.

Question 1: What was a change–large or small–that you made this year?

As a collective whole, langchatters should give themselves a round of applause for all the great changes they made in their classrooms this year. So many teachers tried so many new techniques, that we’ve got a summative list below.

  • Using more CI and active methods to help students learn language more effectively
  • Switching curriculum and adding novels to the class structure
  • Using IPAs with older students for finals
  • Changed grading policies
  • Using new tools in the classroom like stuffed animals, teleneovelas, novels, etc.
  • More discussion with students about why/how things are done in class
  • Using new technology tools like MovieTalk, GoFormative, Padlet and EDpuzzle
  • Implementing real-world homework instead of worksheets
  • Adding lit circles into the classroom structure
  • Putting an emphasis on negotiating meaning to see student growth in use of the target language
  • Skyping with target-language speakers across the world

*To see a full list of all the changes that were tried this past year, checkout the chat transcript – link at the end of this summary.

Question 2: What was your big AHA! moment of the year?

‘AHA!’ moments tend to be big helps for world language teachers so when they happen, langchatters know it’s a good idea to hold-on and make them work for you as quickly as possible! One of the most well-liked ‘AHA!’ moments came from @CoLeeSensei who stated that she realized, “That if you tell ’em ‘why’ & ask them to reflect after, you create ‘magical commitment to using the TL’ [from students].” Similarly, @SraSpanglish’s big ‘AHA!” was that it’s really helpful to, “… [make] expectations simple and CRYSTAL CLEAR and return to them FREQUENTLY.”

Another vein of ‘AHA!’ moments were teachers who realized this year that they aren’t in complete control of student’s progress and that you have to make sure you do as much as you can, but learn when it’s time to step back. For example, @SraWilliams3 shared that that she had to learn to be more, “Accepting [of] things I can’t change and noting things I can and [then] making a decision to do so. I felt free and am ready to move [forward]!” Similarly, @ADiazMora shared that her“…big AHA moment was that I can lead a horse to water, but that is all.”

Additional big moments that affected participants this past year included discovering how well IPAs can work throughout the year, the fact that Skype buddies and PenPals are very beneficial to student’s proficiency, understanding that regular weekly ‘features’ are good learning tools, that scheduling in lots of ‘talk time’ for students is hugely important, understanding that student’s have to take responsibility for their own learning for it to really be effective, and lots more.

Question 3: What was the biggest risk you took this year, and how did it pay off?

Risks are scary for any teacher, and they can be especially difficult to maneuver in the world language classroom, as it is already, in and of itself, a “high-risk” environment for students since they tend to be uncomfortable. Langchatters took lots of risks this year to try and help benefit their classrooms and the progress of their students including using the target language textbook less even though it’s time consuming, being really honest in communication with parents, not giving traditional grades, using story units/novels/CI instead of textbooks, trying to incorporate social justice issues into the curriculum, keeping lessons as close to 100% in the target language as possible, and lots more.

One of the most well appreciated shares came from @Shannon_LTS who said that her biggest risk was, “…[telling students] embarrassing stories about my L2 errors (once mixed up ‘barefoot’ & ‘naked’ – don’t ask!). [So] I’m learner too, mistakes [are] ok!” And that’s really what taking risks is all about – making sure that students know they have the support, and are in a safe place designed specifically for them try spread their wings and try new things.

Question 4: What are you looking forward to try–or ditching!–next year?

Langchatters had lots of ideas for things they are eager to try – and ditch! – for next year. Some of the big things participants are looking forward to including are the ability to use more internet resources, having additional teachers working on their same grade levels, trying to turn student’s ‘passion project’ into a ‘passion semester’, digging into some curriculum revamp, trying more methods/tools like TPRS/PQA/MovieTalk, etc., and switching out their old grading practices for new ones focued on proficiency. And for a lot of contributors, incorporating more CI made the #1 spot on their “to-do” list.

One of the most-stated things that people are looking forward to ditching this next year is the ability to say good-bye to their textbooks, and incorporate as many other kinds of resources as much as they possibly can.

Question 5: What questions or issues do you have now that you need solutions to for next year?

This week’s chat went by quickly (per usual), so Question 5 got a little less airtime – but the questions/issues presented by participants for assistance were developed and interesting. Questions included needing help with establishing grading practices that make sense, will their next group of peers by CI friendly and how to approach that, how to purposefully fit a unifying text into target language class, and how to juggle an IPA/CI approach, to name just a few.

Several of participants “issues” centered on student participation and how to make sure you’re actually getting them involved and committed to the process. For example, @SenoraLauraCG asked, “How to hold [students] accountable for Real World Homework. Some of them are easy to do w/o doing if you catch my drift.” Similarly, @CoLeeSensei asked, “How can I have kids see that it’s still not about the ‘mark’ when that’s what drives them still?” and in that same vein, @ADiazMora asked, “What can I do to have [students] look at learning as the goal, not the grade?”

It’s a hard issue to tackle but helping each other figure out how to do it is just what this #langchat community was created for!

Takeaways

Last week, langchatters had lots of great ideas about helping students adjust to moving away from traditional instructional practices. Takeaways included the realization that as long as you’re on the path to improving you’re doing it right, there’s always room for improvement, it’s important to ‘follow your gut’/explore new ideas/ask for help, and that it’s really important for teachers to be willing to take risks and embrace change in front of their students so they know they can take risks too. @SenoraLauraCG really summed up the overall feel of this chat when she said that it’s important to remember that, “Every step toward real communication is valid. Be patient with yourself but also not afraid to take risks & try something new!”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat this week and shared their reflections on the past school year – #langchat is on summer break until August 2016, so until then, we hope that you continue to enjoy reading the full #langchat summaries as often as you are able. The regularly scheduled chats will resume on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET, and every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET for the #SaturdaySequel.

Our weekly #langchats have gotten busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

fit students by Susan NYC, on Flickr
fit students” (CC BY 2.0) by  Susan NYC 

Last week, langchatters joined in a great conversation about how to help students adjust to, and make the shift from, familiar instructional practices such as worksheets, quizzes, etc. Participants discussed what characteristics of familiar practices they feel need to be changed, what’s been pushing students out of their comfort zones, and how to develop effective learning tools. Chatters also discussed how to help students adjust to new assessment practices, and then finished off the hour discussing what’s been helping them replace practices they found unhelpful with better ones.

Thank you Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell) for leading the Thursday night chat along with help from Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), and also thank you John (@CadenaSensei) for moderating the #SaturdaySequel with some help from Laura (@SraSpanglish). And as always, thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s chats, new and old #langchat-ters alike! These chats wouldn’t be nearly as beneficial without all of your great input.

Question 1: What characteristics in a familiar practice need to be changed?

There are a lot of characteristics of familiar teaching practices that don’t quite work in the language classroom. Traditional tools like worksheets, quizzes, written tests, etc., don’t always lend themselves to real language learning so in order to make the world language classroom experience relevant and effective, there are many “familiar” practices that have to be changed. Suggestions included conjugation, too much reliance on set vocabulary/grammar, things that don’t foster actual communication, one lump grade instead of judging separate skills, teaching something just because it’s in the textbooks, verb charts, calling units by grammar topics, multiple choice options, and many more.

The general feel for the overall answer to this question was that anything being used in a classroom that causes you to teach about the language instead of helping you teach how to use the language to communicate shouldn’t be there and needs to be change. As @CoLeeSensei pointed out, it’s good to get rid of the “Old stuff I have that I used [for studying] about the language not using the language to communicate.” Similarly, @MlleSulewsksi pointed out, “And also…forgoing the [target language] to use [language 1] and talk about features of [target] language.” The best summary of how to think about this switch came from @langladies, who pointed out that the best way to approach making changes to your familiar practices is to, “Try not to focus on form but instead [focus] on communication.”

Question 2: What’s been pushing your students out of their comfort zone?

The comfort zone is that unfortunate area of any world language class where students want to stay (effort wise) so that they don’t “get it wrong” or “look silly” in front of their peers – and getting them to branch out of that comfort zone is one of the harder battles that teachers face. Langchatters discussed the various things they’ve been doing to help push their students out of the comfort zone, such as having to guess meaning from context, real world homework, IPAs, no “official” grades, knowing that there isn’t “right or wrong” answers, any speaking assignment that doesn’t let them memorize ahead of time, oral worksheets instead of written ones, and lots more.

@SraStilson summed up the “comfort zone” challenge best when she said, “Anything that goes beyond [an explicit] “do this” [assignment]. Kids want to know EXACTLY what to do EXACTLY when. I want them to be independent & creative.” Many participants felt the same, and @tmsaue1 agreed when he said, “I see this all the time. When students have to be active participants (instead of playing school) they become uncomfortable.”

At the end of the day, most of what you ask world language students to do is going to get them out of their comfort zone when compared to what they are asked to do/risk in their other classes. @Srta_bradway summed up the overall goal for getting them out of that comfort zone when she said you have to work to get them to, “Be okay with not being able to communicate the same way you would in English.” It’s not English and they won’t express themselves in the exact same way, formula, etc. The earlier you can get them on boards with that knowledge, the better!

Question 3: How do you develop an effective… whatever you want to call it?

Developing effective anything in a world language classroom is a tough job and participants had lots of good wisdom to share on the best way to go about creating their own versions of “worksheets”, “quizzes”, “assessments”, and/or whatever they choose to call a particular learning tool in their classroom. Tools that allow you to sequence and scaffold learning are always good, and making sure to keep everything focused on a communicative outcome is really what it’s all about.

Suggestions included making sure that whatever you’re doing is based on an authentic resources and/or an authentic task, start with giving it a clear/communicative-based purpose statement, work to make any activity focus on doing something with the language rather than just fill-in-the-blank, use lots of images and graphic organizers, and always make sure that anything you’re doing/using is designed to get them to help them achieve an end goal of language usage, not just for completion. Like @bjillmoore said, make sure you make it clear that “It is never [just] a handout, never [just] a worksheet; it is a task with a purpose and a step relating to the end product.”

And as @SECottrell pointed out, there are absolutely ways to make “worksheets” work for you when she said that, “The thing I love about (worksheets) is making them ask [students] to DO something meaningful WITH something meaningful.”

Question 4: How do we help students adjust to new but better assessment practices?

Students are very invested in traditional assessment practices as that is all they have ever known – to help them adjust to new (and better) assessment practices in the world language classroom, #langchat participants shared a lot of great ideas. Suggestions included allowing for lots of conversation until students understand the ‘why’ behind each given new assessment, making sure to give students something concrete that will help them feel grounded in the new process, and mirroring the assessment to the assignment so that what’s being graded for makes sense with what they’re being asked to do. Like @mmeshep said, it’s important to give “Lots of feedback so that they learn we’re looking for what’s comprehensible/interesting/relevant/etc., rather than what’s wrong.”

There was so many more good ideas shared that a summative list is below: (For a full printout, read the full tweet archives – link at the end of the summary.)

  • Reassure students that “Yes, I AM the expert here, I KNOW what’s best. Trust me, and you’ll see, too.”
  • Educate parents and admin as well so we are not lonely Don Quixotes.
  • Provide plenty of tier-ing/scaffolding.
  • M your assessment similar to your class activities – test how you teach and how the students learn.
  • Focus on a growth mindset and how that relates to language class.
  • Build trust in the classroom, practice & practice more, reflect, practice like the assessment.
  • Always share the why, not just the how of changes. Understanding why it’s better FOR THEM and not just you.
  • Set new expectations from the beginning. Explain & answer questions. Ideally if done right, you won’t have many.
  • Constantly remind them of the process and that it will take awhile; doesn’t happen overnight.

@SraSpanglish summed up the answer for this best when she said you have to make sure students understand that the changes are happening to help them, first and foremost. Because “If they see they can succeed your way, they’ll trust you more. Build trust AND SUCCESS.” And that’s really the whole point of world language learning.

Question 5: What’s been helping you replace practices you found unhelpful with better ones?

While replacing unhelpful practices can sometimes be slowgoing, participants shared the things that have been helping them make the changes happen. Suggestions includes things like #langchat, educator blogs and blogging themselves, support from colleagues, technology tools like Zaption/Edpuzzle/Edmodo, making games to help teach difficult concepts, finding like minded teachers to collaborate with, online communities, asking for/using the feedback from students, and lots more.

Taking advantage of other teachers experience and ideas, whether via face-to-face interactions or online communication, was the number one response this question produced – like @SenoraRamsey said, “I could not have done what I do without an amazing mentor at school and UNREAL help/advice from u guys on #langchat.”

Takeaways

Last week, langchatters had lots of great ideas about helping students adjust to moving away from traditional instructional practices. A much-liked takeaway stated the fact that teaching language is oftentimes messy and hard, and that you sometimes experience a spectacular failure but the growth, outcome, and language use that comes out in class is worth it. Another takeaway was that it’s important to keep fighting the “good fight” as it’s what’s best for your students because they are “good at playing school”, and you have to push them. And @bjillmoore summed up the overall takeaway when she said, “Just when you think you have got it… [there is] always room for new ideas and practices. Keep perfecting!!!”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat this week and shared their thoughts on how to help students make the shift from traditional instructional practices. We hope that you continue to join #langchat as often as you are able – if the regularly scheduled weekday chat time on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET doesn’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats are getting busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!