Friday, August 1, 2014

Changes for the New Year (Or how my students make me a better teacher)

Two days until the kiddos arrive. Today I am working on their second vocab quiz, based on the 50 Most Important Latin Verbs list I have, as well as lots of Comprehensible Input activities for the first two weeks of class. After writing the last post on the things my kids wrote about on my survey, I took some time to consider things that I will and won't change based on their feedback. My hope is that, even though I am not taking all of their advice, they will appreciate the pieces I do take and it will improve the relationship between us.

Very quickly, here are the questions I asked of my students. In this post, I'll be focusing on the third question.

* What have we done this year that was helpful?
* What have we done this year that was not helpful?
* If you could change one thing, what would it be.

Timed Writes

The bag was pretty mixed on this, with roughly a 50/50 split on liking it. It did not appear on the third question, which may mean that even though they didn't like it, they understand why we do it, or they understand that I am not likely to change this activity. The biggest complaints were from students who write so quickly, they run out of things to talk about and often do not want to expand. The complaints that resonated with me most were requests for more time before writing. So, I am pairing this activity with the request to slow down. I need to remember to speak slowly for my students and to spend more time on certain things. My hope is that by doing this, I can help alleviate that concern.

Themed Units

It was fairly clear to me that themed units are the way to go (100% approval rating from my kids). This year, I am taking a pretty big leap and am going to used themed units to teach, rather than follow a particular textbook. Rachel has been blogging about our experience with it from last year. This year, I will probably update with some lessons and thoughts as we go, and as I teach IV preps this way. This is big leap for me and, as much as I shout that a textbook isn't what I teach, it is kind of scary to think about not using that crutch as much as I have in the past. I am both excited and slightly (okay really) nervous.

Sustained Silent Reading

80% of my students did not like this activity. I think this was for a few reasons:

  1. We were given an extra 10 minutes in classes last year to make up a large amount of snow days. I gave my students this time to re-read stories from our textbooks as a review. They were required to keep a log of unknown words and were not allowed to move on to a new story until they felt comfortable. 
  2. As "free" as it was (students moved at their own pace), I still mandated what students had to read. 
  3. Silence is hard. 
I know that SSR can be beneficial, but I keep coming back to Krashen's writing on reading by choice. The problem for Latin is that very few books and stories exist that are on a comprehensible level for students of 1, 2, 3, and even 4 years of language study. There are many movements among us to improve the library of easy readers (with no more than 200-300 words used in each), but these things take time and I have students now. I am not quite sure yet what this will look like.

Speed Date Reading

The majority of students who responded to this were my 4%ers. Their biggest complaint was moving at a slower student's pace. I will probably use this activity a little less than I did last year, but I will also want to vary the activities that introduce it and follow up to it, giving those who understand more quickly a chance to get what they need. I will also lengthen the amount of time each pair has to read. 

I plan to have my students re-evaluate me on a regular basis (at least four times this year). My hope is that these changes, as well as the things we are doing more of, are helpful and make positive change.

Happy new school year!