Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Big Leap

at Two Writing Teachers!
My teaching life will never be the same.

Last week, I interviewed for and accepted an ELL position for next year!

I've taught ELL summer school (elementary and middle school) for the past several summers, and I've loved every minute of it.  While teaching Spanish has been fun, I believe this is where my calling really lies.

Right now, as I'm finishing up the year (2 more days!) with my 6th and 7th Spanish students and starting to look forward to next year, I'm bouncing back and forth between excited and overwhelmed.

I finally get to teach ESL!
                                                               I still have so much to learn!
I can't wait to use my Spanish to
help students in their native language!
                                                              This is going to be SO different!
I get a room all year to create a home-y,
comforting, language-rich environment...
                                                              ... in English!  So many supplies to get!
I get to be in one building ALL YEAR!
                                                               It's a high school.  High school is going
                                                               to be different.  For starters, it's HUGE!
I get to use my love of all subjects to
support students in all content areas!
                                                               Do I remember all that math, science, and
                                                               social studies?  And that's SO MUCH to do!
I get to build the kinds of relationships
with students that only come through
sharing reading and writing together!
                                                                How will I help kids LOVE reading and
                                                                writing AND prepare them for testing
                                                                AND support their academic knowledge?
The curriculum is pretty flexible and
my new ideas are welcomed!
                                                                Oh my gosh, where do I start?!
I get to make a BIG difference
in the lives of kids. This MATTERS.
                                                               This is high-stakes. So much pressure!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Velcro Grammar

During our school unit, my seventh graders learn how to use indefinite articles (un/una/unos/unas) for the first time.  This tends to be tricky for many students, as it's the first time they have to think about whether a noun is masculine/feminine in addition to singular/plural.  To help them work out their understanding of this essential concept, I created a hands-on Velcro activity for them to do in pairs.

Each pair gets a "school supply shopping list" with the articles removed from the listed items.  (This is also the first time they see the words for school subjects, so they get to guess which section of the list is for which class, based on cognates and the items listed in that section.)  Most importantly, they get a bag of brightly colored indefinite articles with Poster Velcro (perfect because it's way thinner than normal Velcro) stuck to the back.  The partners work together to choose the right indefinite article for each word and stick on to complete the "shopping list".  While they are working, I hear so many great conversations between partners who are negotiating their understanding, and the Velcro makes it easy to switch out the words once they work their way to the right answer.
a class set after students have completed the activity
We used to just practice with a worksheet on the first day we learned this, and I've found that their understanding of this concept solidifies way faster when we do it this way!  (I've actually cut out several worksheets that we used to do with this concept in favor of this and a few more interactive activities, and students have performed better on quizzes and in recalling the concept during our next unit.)  Not to mention that the students are waaaaay more engaged.  Even (or especially!) my "wild" class this trimester was completely on task and immersed in this activity.

(And yes, it took forever to make the activity sets... but it was totally worth it to see the powerful learning that took place!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Poem from the Front Yard

at Two Writing Teachers!
We've been having amazing summer-y weather lately.  When I feel the sun and warmth on my face after school, I just want to skip through the parking lot!

In honor of this beautiful gift from nature (although honestly, today's kind of cloudy...), I thought I'd post a poem I wrote several weeks ago and haven't gotten around to posting.

This one is kind of a companion to my Spring Break backyard poem, except this is from our front yard!

Today I should have

done the laundry that's climbing out of the basket
listened to my students' voices calling from their ungraded papers
given the bathroom a good cleaning
and tidied up the downstairs


the sweet spring breeze
rustling the leaves
the playful gold sunbeams
warming the grass


the faraway-yet-familiar intrigue of Chile
beckoning from inside the pages of my


I spread out a blanket
under the comforting canopy of our big tree
kicked off my shoes
felt the warm sun filter through the leaves

opened the pages
and left
what I "should have done"

Friday, May 18, 2012

Las sorpresas de mi país

at Latinaish.com
El lunes llegaron dos estudiantes nuevas a la clase de ESL.  Para darles la bienvenida, Mr. B diseñó una actividad que unió la anticipación de las recién llegadas con una reflexión de otros los estudiantes:  nuestros estudiantes ya establecidos escribieron unos consejos a las recién llegadas en inglés, y ellas escribieron unas preguntas para nosotros en japonés.  (Todos son japoneses en esta clase y Mr. B habla japonés también.)

Nuestros estudiantes leyeron sus consejos en voz alta en inglés a las recién llegadas.  Cada vez que alguién leyó un consejo, otro estudiante tuvo que traducirlo a japonés para las chicas nuevas.  (Así que los traductores tuvieron que entender los consejos de sus amigos.)

Después de los consejos, las estudiantes nuevas nos dicieron sus preguntas en japonés.  Nuestros estudiantes respondieron en inglés, y luego alguien tradujo la respuesta a japonés otra vez.  La pregunta más interesante fue: --¿Qué más les sorprendieron de los Estados Unidos cuando llegaron aquí?--  Me sorprendieron tanto las respuestas de todos que tengo que compartirlas aquí:

-- El pelo de los estadounidenses.  ¡Todos son rubios! --  (un chico que ha vivido aquí por un año.)
-- ¡Y las narices de los estadounidenses!  ¡Son tan largas y puntiagudas! -- (su hermana)
         (No tengo muchas oportunidades de sentirme como LA OTRA.  Pero en ese momento, ¡Sí!)

-- ¡Que podemos usar las computadoras durante la escuela!  (otro chico)
-- ¿No usan las computadoras durante la escuela en Japón? -- preguntó Mr.B.  Todos lo negaron con la cabeza.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


at Two Writing Teachers!
This past weekend, I finally did something that's been on my to-do list for quite a while: I joined Goodreads.

After hearing about it from several friends and several teaching blogs, I'd been wanting to try it out.  However, I just kept brushing it aside, thinking "I'll get to it over a break" or "Well, I can do that this summer."  I knew I'd want to add so many of my favorite books and explore so much that it would take me a long time to get started!

Finally though, I realized there might be an app for it, which would make it easier to play around just a little bit at a time... and there is!  I immediately started having fun on my iPod Touch marking books I'd read and new ones I want to read.  Check out my new widget on the right side of my blog to see what books I'm currently reading!

Husband and I got a big laugh when we clicked "compare books" and it told us that we only have 16 books in common!  We're so much alike in so many ways, but we really do have pretty different tastes in the genres we choose to read.  (Although, our tastes are 87% similar for the books we've rated, so we obviously feel the same way about books that we both end up reading!)

I've already noticed that just being part of the Goodreads community makes me want to read more.  For one thing, I think, "ooh, I have to read so I can show people that I finished this book!"  Moreover, my "want-to-read" list (which used to live in Evernote but now has moved to Goodreads) is increasing exponentially as I look at my friends' updates and browse through the site.  And finally, I'm just more excited about reading from seeing my Goodreads friends be excited about reading!   

I've always thought that it would be great to use Goodreads or Shelfari with students to build their excitement about reading, and my initial experience is giving me hope that it would work.  I'd like to play with both to see which one would be best to use with students, and I hope to try it with ESL students someday!

Have you used either of these sites with students?  How did it go?  And if you're on Goodreads, I'd love to be your friend and share books with you!

Friday, May 11, 2012

¡Feliz 100!

at Latinaish.com
¡He escrito 100 veces en mi blog!

Me impresiona bastante que ya he llegado a 100.  Recuerdo los momentos cuando leí en otros blogs los pensamientos de escritores que alcanzaron a 100, ¡o hasta 200! posts.  Pensé... sólo he escrito 30 (o tal) veces... ¡¿cuántas meses me falta para escribir 100?!  Claro, el desafío Slice of Life durante el mes de marzo me ayudó mucho... ahora escribo mucho más frecuentemente que antes.  Pienso como piensa una escritora, y guardo unos minutos del día para escribir con más frecuencia.

Cuando escribí mi primer post, el 2 de agosto, tuve miedo.  ¿Si nadie no leyera mi blog nunca?  ¿Si lo leyeran pero mis pensamientos les parecieran estúpidos?  Pero puse el enlace en Two Writing Teachers y esperé... y llegaron los comentarios.  ¡6 comentarios simpáticos el primer día!  Me dieron ánimo.  Los martes se convirtieron en mis días favoritos... ¡los días del blog!

Ahora veo a mis amigas en estos primeros comentarios: Elsie, Linda, Deb, y más.  Amigas que conozco de verdad, aunque solamente dentro de sus blogs.  Y hay más amigos que conocí después de ese primer día.  Conozco a sus familias, sus estudiantes, sus amigos, y sus vidas... y me conocen también.  Nos hemos enseñado y aprendido, las unas a las otras.

Y empecé a hacer nuevos amigos... los Spanish Fridays y la Creative Language Class.  Me dieron ánimo de utilizar mi español y compartir mis ideas pedagógicas.

¡Gracias, amigos blogueros!  Alcancé a 100 por su amistad y sus ejemplos.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Los Famosos (communicative activity)

Another favorite activity my students do with numbers is "Los famosos".  During their numbers unit, my 6th graders don't learn to tell time but they do learn to talk about numerical personal information like birthdays, ages, and phone numbers.  To wrap everything up and practice towards the end of the unit, we do this activity:

front of a card
Each student gets a card with a famous person from one of our three culture-focus countries for the trimester (Mexico, Ecuador, and Costa Rica in 6th grade).  They are now this person :-) and have to exchange personal information (one-on-one) with the other "famosos" in the class.

Each two-sided card has the person's picture and name on the front and personal information on the back.  Students walk around the room holding the front facing out so they can read their "own" information on the back and their classmates can see "their" picture and name.

back of a card
The students always get such a big kick out of why they are famous!  The most excited students are always the presidents and the athletes, but I included a wide range of celebrities, from actors and musicians to artists and writers.  I also made sure to include people of all different ages; the "famosos" range in age from teenagers to 90-year-olds!

In addition to their numbers unit vocabulary, they get to review other personal information and learn new vocabulary about jobs from why their person is famous.  To give their personal information correctly, they have to remember other cultural/linguistic concepts from the unit such as date format (DAY/MONTH/year), years ("one thousand nine hundred sixty-three"), and phone numbers ("two hundred fifty-five, ninety-nine, fifty-eight").  Plus, they get to learn about famous people from our three countries!

While they are interviewing their classmates, the students have to fill out a chart to record their classmates' information.  As in the "turistas" activity, the chart guides students in asking the questions and ensures that they have to understand the information they hear.

chart to fill in
Like many other activities I've shared, this one is a winner because it gets included as an answer to both "What activities did you LIKE this most?" AND "What activities helped you LEARN the most?" on the end-of-unit survey!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Playing at the zoo!

at Two Writing Teachers!
Sunday was my birthday!  Now I don't know what most 28-year-olds do on their birthdays, but I'm absolutely still a kid at heart.  The sun was beaming down, warm June-like breezes were swirling in the air, and I wanted to do something FUN for my birthday.

"Let's go to the zoo!!!" I announced.  Husband rolled his eyes and grinned, pretending to complain that he didn't want to get that tired out...

We're lucky enough to live ten minutes away from one of the best zoos in the country, and I grew up spending countless sunny days there.  Weekend programs as a two-year-old, week-long summer camps every year of preschool and elementary school, and finally summer-long volunteering from ages 13-18.  I know the zoo as well as my own house and the animals as well as my own friends!  I've petted a rhino, slept over and seen the wolves run after-hours on night hikes, held millipedes and Madagascan cockroaches while encouraging visitors to touch them, spent afternoons surrounded by kangaroos, and held kestrels and screech owls with a falconry glove to advertise for the bird show.  I know the names and quirky personalities of goats, eagles, and elephants.  At every exhibit, I have favorite animals to look for, little-known facts to tell whoever will listen, and special anecdotes heard straight from the keepers.

Friends will tell you that going to the zoo with me is like going with a personal tour guide.  Family members will tell you not to go to the zoo with me unless you want to spend the whole day and wind up completely exhausted!

"We can just go for a little while... we don't have to see every animal..." I always tell myself.  But you never know what the animals will be doing!  Really, the only thing that makes me leave the zoo is a time limit.  Luckily, on Sunday we had one because we had to be back in time for my birthday dinner.

This time, the biggest treat was the polar bears.  I'm glad we didn't skip them, even though it was almost time to go, Husband's feet were dragging, and he had already insisted we sit down while eating our ice cream instead of seeing more animals!  One polar bear was having a riot in the water, splashing and thrashing and playing with a giant ball.
"my ball!"
He threw the ball.  He dove down under water and came jumping up at the ball.  He flicked the ball with his nose.  He curled up on top of the ball and tried to make it sink, only to have it flip him over because it was too buoyant.
"Come here, ball!"
He was just like a huge kid... or my dad, who's like a huge kid... playing in the pool! 
As if that wasn't fun enough to watch, our zoo has a really cool feature in the polar bear exhibit where you can actually go under part of the tank and watch the bears swim from underneath.  So we went down and watched him cavort from below as he dove and swam.

He chased fish, played with the ball, floated on his back, and did flips.

At one point, he even grabbed a big rock from the bottom of the tank, brought it onto the ceiling of our viewing place, walked around in the shallow water above us to find a good spot for it, and set it down right on the ceiling!
"Hmm, is this a good spot for this rock?"
Can you think of a better way to spend a sunny day?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

If you can't say anything nice...

at Two Writing Teachers!
I'm sure you all just finished that sentence in your heads, so I'm not going to write it all out for you.  In fact, I'm not going to write much of anything today.  Because today was the first of several days of state testing, and I'm not going to say anything about state testing.

Sure, I could describe the pervasive cloud of apprehension that hangs over staff and students each morning to the point that it's difficult to breathe.  I could explain how everyone is so drained in the afternoon that neither the students nor I really feel up to doing much learning during our brief, hurry-up-and-get-started-because-class-is-almost-over-even-though-we-just-got-here time together.  I could talk about how one high-stress snapshot is not really a great indicator of a student's progress or achievement.

But instead, I'm just not going to say anything.  You all know how I feel, and you feel it too.

Instead, I'm going relax and enjoy reading all of your posts.  I'm going to play some games on my iPod, stretch out on the bed and read a book, listen to some music while fixing dinner, and watch that calming video my sweet husband found for me.  And not say anything at all.