I’ve been MIA. I know. Here’s why.

motivating students to stay in the target language

If you follow me on twitter (@kellycondon) you know I’ve been sharing almost daily about what I’ve been up to this summer. Here on my blog, however, I have been pretty quiet. Okay, I’ve been silent. And you’re probably thinking, Kelly, did you forget about us?  And no, I haven’t. I haven’t blogged because I decided to take time off this summer from all things “teacher”. I’ve been very intentional about making summer vacation truly summer vacation. Family and friends have been a priority for me these past few months and I have to say, it’s been amazingly refreshing.

As educators, we spread ourselves very thin throughout the school year.  It is important to refresh and recharge during the summer months so that we can return in the fall feeling energized. I am proud of myself for taking time this summer to be with the ones I love, doing the things I love.  Now that there are two weeks until the start of school, I am starting to think about going back.  I am feeling excited, nervous, and all of the emotions a teacher feels before a new year.  Before I return to the trenches, I am already gearing up for the school year ahead and starting to get back into the school mode. Here are some things I’ve done so far to get ready for the year ahead.

Last week I ordered my Erin Condren planner and have been refreshing the FedEx website like a maniac to check the delivery status.  The cover I ordered for the planner is SO ME and I can’t wait to show it to you guys. If you are unfamiliar with Erin Condren, you can read about how her planner makes my life as a teacher so much less stressful in my post here.  If you want to order a planner, use my link to receive $10 off.

Would you guys like to see a more indepth view of the planner once I get it?  Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see a blog post.

I’ve been into the school a few times this summer working on curriculum development with other language teachers from my building.  (Okay, I know I said I was taking off the summer to recharge but I couldn’t stay away completely!) We are revamping our curriculum to fit with the new ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and Standards.  Our work has been challenging but I think it is going to help me a lot with my teaching this upcoming year. With more direction, my teaching is going to become much more intentional and goal-oriented.  These are good things!

I am thinking hard about my goals for the year ahead.  I always start the year with two or three goals in mind for me and for my students.  I’m not talking about my goals for evaluation. These are personal goals. Goals that will ultimately make me a better teacher.  I want my goals this year to be challenging but attainable. I want them to calm me down rather than stress me out. They should help me to become a better teacher and inspire my students to be better students.  While I’ve spent lots of time this summer thinking about my goals, I can’t say that I have nailed them down yet. When I do, I will share them in a post. What are your goals for the upcoming school year? How are you going to motivate yourself to be the best teacher you can me?  Please share in the comment what your goals are for this year!

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Teacher Feature: Nathan Lutz

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This post is the first in a series that will highlight talented educators across the U.S. who inspire their students and colleagues each and every day to learn new languages.  Each post will feature a teacher I’ve met in person or through Twitter (follow me @kellycondon) who inspires me to be better at what I do.  In this post, I interview Nathan Lutz, an elementary French teacher in New Jersey.  While Nathan and I have never met in person, we exchange best practices and teaching strategies online.  Check out my virtual interview with Nathan below!

What and where do you teach?
I teach French to students in junior pre-K (age 3) through grade 5. Our preschool is co-ed and our school from K-12 is for girls only. I am also my school’s Global Learning Coordinator (junior pre-K through grade 12).

How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been teaching for 20 years.

How many languages do you speak and what are they?
I speak English, French, and Spanish. I’ve dabbled in German and Italian.

When did you first become interested in language learning?
I grew up in Louisiana and the babysitter I had in third grade was of Cajun descent. Her father spoke Cajun French and I was obsessed with learning how to talk like him. My mother checked out three French language learning books from the public library to help me on my quest. As you can imagine, it didn’t work out. I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to learn a second language until 8th grade – and I chose French. I fell in love with French culture and pined to travel to France.

It's communication that makes things happen.

Why do you believe it is important to learn a second language?
Language is the thing that connects people. We have a lot of turmoil in our world and the way to overcome it is to bring people together – to talk it out and to get to know one another. This could be on the kindergarten playground or at the United Nations – but it’s communication that makes things happen.

What makes a language classroom unique from other subjects?
Language is a skill that is acquired rather than a subject that is learned. It takes a long time, a lot of messy constructions, and a lot of practice before the user has refined her use of the language. Language, as a discipline, is also unique in that it transcends dimensions. Each user of a language has unique interests and needs – and the development of her vocabulary and structures is dependent on those unique factors. Students will often ask me things like “How do you say ‘narwhal’ in French?” I answer, “I don’t know. I’m not interested in them.” (I know how to say “narwhal” now!). Language learning does amazing things for a learner’s brain. Learning one second language opens up neural pathways to make other language learning possible. It stimulates parts of the brain responsible for problem solving. Learning a language makes one more empathetic to others. The cognitive and social-emotional benefits are huge!

What do you love about the language you teach?
I love the cadence of French. It has a melodic flow. It sounds corny to say this, but it really is such a poetic language. But the most compelling thing is that it is the gateway to French culture, which I love so much. Without access to the language, one cannot truly understand the culture.

It's communication that makes things happen.-2

How do you teach about culture in your classes?
Culture is such an important part of language. It’s what hooked me as a student. Making culture accessible for novice level learners can be overwhelming for some teachers. Instead of huge overt culturally-focused lessons, I embed cultural elements in all that we do. So if we are learning about pets, we’ll look at pet-related authentic resources from the target culture.

What in teaching are you passionate about right now?
I am really excited about all the creative ways students have for expressing themselves! When I give open-ended assignments, I look forward to the work students bring in – fancy slideshows, movies, 3D projects, you name it! But whatever the medium, they know they have to show their language proficiency.

At the end of a long day, what do you do to relax?
I like to pop open a LaCroix water and walk my three dogs. I’ll allow myself a little trashy television around dinner time, but then I always seem to have work to do in the evening as well.

How do you assess students on their proficiency levels?
In junior pre-K through Kindergarten, we do a lot of informal observation of students’ abilities to follow directions and demonstration of other comprehension-based indicators. With my older students, with obviously more developed skill sets, we assess across all the skills they develop in the course – their reading, writing, listening comprehension, and interpersonal and presentational speaking.

What is one of your goals for next year?
Next year I’d like to use more authentic resources with my younger learners. I manage fairly well with my older elementary students, but the younger ones are tricky!

 

Nathan is also the President of NNELL, The National Network for Early Language Learning.  You can follow Nathan (@nathanlutz) on Twitter here.

Do you know a teacher who deserves to be featured on our site?  Fill out the form below to nominate someone who inspires you!

 

 

5 Myths about the 90% Target Language Classroom

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This post is meant to DEBUNK some of the myths out there about 90% target language classrooms.  If you aren’t sure what that means, a 90% target language classroom aims to keep at least 90% of communication in the target language.  I say at least because my experience is that when a classroom aims for 90%, they are more likely to reach 100%, and can do so frequently.  Whether or not you teach a language, a 90% target language classroom may sound overwhelming. Here are 5 myths you may be thinking right now about why maintaining target language can’t work:

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FALSE.

I have been aiming at a 90% target language classroom all year long.  It has been a goal of mine. This goal has not weakened but strengthened the relationships I have with my students.  We bond over the language. Whether they’ll admit it outloud or not, my students really enjoy that I push them to use only Spanish.  Children yearn to be challenged. When we set high expectations, they reach them. They act things out and they use the words they can use to describe the things they can’t.  Their personalities really come out when they try to communicate in their second language. Not to mention, their kindness shines as they help one another with finding the right words.

A 90% target language is built on trust.  My students trust that I am not going to give them a task that is too challenging for their proficiency level.  I trust that they are going to attempt and try to communicate with me in Spanish as much as possible. Trust is key to building any relationship including that between teacher and student.  A 90% target language classroom does not limit student/teacher relationships from forming but, rather, allows them to grow stronger.

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OH MY GOODNESS, FALSE!

This is so false and it grinds my gears when I hear a teacher say this.  We do a disservice to our students when we wait to speak completely in the target language until they have achieved a higher proficiency level.  Profiency can come a lot faster when you keep to the target language. I know two teacher friends of mine, Dorie (@doriecp) and Julie (@mundodepepita) who both took the leap to go 100% with their first graders this year.  Their students don’t even know they speak English and so if their kids want to communicate with them, they have to use Spanish. What I keep hearing from them is that it has WORKED. Their students have come to understand that Spanish is the expectation and they’ve decided to rise to the occasion.  The learning shows that it is working.

If we think about how we learned our second, third, of forth language…and I mean really learned it, we were probably in some sort of immersion setting.  For me, my Spanish was “formalized” when I was put in a situation when I needed to use it for survival.  When I studied abroad in Spain and met people who didn’t speak a lick of English, I knew if I was going to build a relationship with them Spanish was going to be the agent for me to do so.  That’s what really motivated and pushed me to dig deep into my brain and find the vocabulary and words I knew to say what I needed to say. I wasn’t able to use a translator and I wasn’t able to use my native tongue.

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False, again.

This myth was hard for me to stop believing at first.  I had a hard time at first with establishing and maintaining good classroom management in Spanish only because I knew I was capable of doing it better in English.  What I came to realize was that it wasn’t that I could do it better but faster in English. It may take a while for your students to learn key phrases in Spanish related to rules and routines but when after these are established, they work just as well as they would in English.  If you establish these at the start of the year, then you really can create a classroom environment where students are held accountable.

This is where visuals are KEY.  Create classroom posters or use hand signals as reminders to students about your expectations.  If they have not mastered the phrase “sientate” but see a picture of someone sitting, they are going to be successful without the need for English.

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Yup, so false.

Yet again another myth I struggled to overcome myself as I transitioned to a 90% target language classroom.  I have written another blog post you can read here that talks about the motivator I am using successfully in my classrooms to keep students in the target language.  I highly suggest you read this post if you believe this myth. In short, I’ve implemented a simple PBIS-like system in my classroom that rewards students for using the target language.  I am thrilled with the success of this system and can’t recommend it enough. Everyday I am impressed by the organic language that my students are producing because they are motivated and encouraged to do so.

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FALSE. FLASE. FALSITY FALSE FALSE FALSE!!

YES YOU CAN! The sooner you commit to it and the sooner you tell yourself you are capable of doing it, the sooner you will see results in your students’ proficiency! Get out of your own way!  If you’ve been waiting for someone to give you the pass to try 90% target language in your classroom, consider this it.

Just like you tell your students, the more that you do this the easier it is going to become.  There will be bumps in the road and there will be days you are exhausted and don’t want to spend 5 minutes trying to tell your students to take out their scissors and cut the paper you handed to them.  But those days will be limited and that 5 minutes will become increasingly smaller the more that you do this. It is going to become easier for you and your students as you try new communication techniques.  yOu will find some things work and you will find others don’t. You are going to fail and you are going to struggle. Through that failure and through that struggle you are going to find out what does not work so you can discover what can.  And maybe that’s something different for every one of your classes if you are like me and teach 11 different groups of students, and that’s okay. Like individuals, classes are unique so what works for one class or one grade level may not work for another class or another grade level.  The only way you are going to find that out is if you try. If you don’t even try you are not going to find out if you can do it.

 

So there you have it.  Five myths about a 90% target language classroom officially DE-BUNKED.

 

Do you have other myths about a 90% target language classroom that ought to be busted?  Have a success story about how you transitioned to teach with 90% target language? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

“Yo Soy” Flower Activity for FLES

One of my absolute, all time FAVORITE pages on TPT is Mundo De Pepita.  This page is fabulous for elementary Spanish teachers. Julie, who runs the site, is very active on twitter and we’ve been exchanging tweets and email for about a year now.  I hope to meet her in person sometime soon! She is a fabulous language teacher. Her TPT store has resources in Spanish, French, Russian, and I believe she has a background in German, too.  All of her artwork is original and done by herself. Her activities are pretty much all proficiency-based and great for novice and intermediate elementary language learners.

One of the mini-books that I purchased for her page last year, which I will link here, is called Yo Soy.  I really love this mini book because it teaches my students how to use Yo Soy in a very simple and basic way.  Sometimes as language teachers, we unrealistically want our students to learn everything. In the case of Yo Soy, we want to teach them every single way they can describe themselves with every single word possible.  But what Julie has done with this mini-book is chosen six descriptive words that are interesting and relatable for most elementary students. My students identify with these words because they are very common ways they describe themselves.

I’ve been using this mini-book to anchor most of my lessons with the third grade for the past couple of weeks.  They learned what each descriptive word means, they learned how to describe themselves, and they learned masculine versus feminine word endings.  We’ve done a lot of different activities with these words and I wanted to share an extension activity I did with my classes last week.

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As some of you know, the spring weather in New England is just not coming.  Right now, the weather is so so terrible even though it is April and we should be transitioning to spring. Usually it is a lot warmer by now in Massachusetts and so I decided that I wanted to find a way to bring spring into the classroom to make it feel a little bit warmer than it actually is.  So, I came up with this flower activity.  Students write “yo soy” in the middle of the flower and around the petals they choose words from Julie’s mini-book that describe themselves.  I did tell the students they did not have to fill in every single flower petal but most of them did because they felt every word in the book described themselves.

This activity was great because it provided opportunities for student choice.  I gave my students the background paper and the center of the flower.  Outside of that, they were allowed to create the petals on their own.  They chose the color, the style, and the rest of the decorations on their own. I’ve posted below a few photos of student work so you can see how each child took this activity in their own direction.  My students are truly unique – just like flowers – and they really let that shine through this activity.

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I will most definitely be using this activity again next year as it was extremely successful with my classes.

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Motivating Students to Stay in the Target Language

I want to share with all of you a way that I am motivating my elementary students (and inadvertently, myself), to stay in the target language during our class.

I recently read a blog post by La Maestra Loca about classroom management.  She uses a tally point system to motivate her students to avoid using English and communicate to the best of their abilities in Spanish.

Spontaneously last week, I decided that I wanted to try this.  The follow class, I said “Boys and girls, we are going to do a challenge today.”  There was so much excitement. Ooo! A challenge! “It is going to be all of you verse me.”  Even more exciting! “What we are going to do is if you catch me saying anything in English, you will earn a point.  But (!) if I catch you saying anything in English, I earn a point. Whoever has more points at the end of the class wins.”  My students were so excited and motivated to do this. I was excited that they would be working collaboratively to achieve a goal: beat the teach.

I started by giving my students strategies to use if they heard their peers or me using English.  We reviewed simple phrases like “No ingles” and “Solo español”. Obviously, I didn’t want my students shouting out “You used English!” in English.  They needed the strategies to remind each other in Spanish.

For the first class, this was EXTREMELY successful.

I was so surprised at how well this went.  At the end of the class, there were less than ten tally marks in total on the board at the end of the thirty minute class.  That meant that there were less than ten utterances of English throughout the whole class. I loved that. I decided to try it again with the next class.  It was another great success. I continued to do this successfully with my classes for the rest of the week.

I knew the novelty of it wouldn’t last for long and there needed to be some kind of reward at the end if I wanted to keep my students engaged.  I thought for a couple of days about what I could put out there as a reward. Eventually, I came up with a simple idea.

For each day my class is able to speak less spanish than me, they will earn a “llama”.  I asked classroom teachers if I can hang these llamas in their room. That way, I don’t have to be in charge of carrying around charts to keep track of llama numbers for 11 separate classes.

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Since the llamas are kept in the classrooms, the students will seem them all day long as a reminder all day long that they should be using only spanish in my class.

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When a class earns ten “llamas”, they will be treated to a reward.  For the first round of rewards, I’ve decided to do a Spanish game day.  My students are really excited about it. We’ve played academic games in Spanish class before, but we’ve never had an official “game day”.  I have some games up my sleeve that I know my students will like, but ultimately I will give them the choice about what (Spanish-based) games they will play.  After all, it is their reward.

So far, my llamas have been successful.  It’s easy for me to do and it’s fun for them.  I could see this motivator working successfully with any age group.

What motivators do you use with your students? Share them in the comments below!

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