2nd day Back to school - 2019-20 School Year

August 28th, 2019

I think things went much smoother today. Although I again felt very nervous before meeting the last two classes I hadn't taught yesterday, I feel like the flow of those two classes was very easy. I felt more confident in myself, which in turn allowed me to take more time to engage with the students, take the time to talk with them, instead of jumping from one item on the agenda to the next.

With the French 6 class, I integrated a Students VS Teacher game of 2 truths and a lie, which allowed me to learn a few things about the students in a rather entertaining way and have mini conversations with them about some of the statements they made. With the last of my three groups of French 3, I inverted the agenda from:

1. Present myself (with True or False slide show)
2. Present the class (Syllabus and Learning Practices rubric)
3. Present the students (with a name tag decoration activity)

to 3. 2. 1. It suddenly made sense to me to have students make their nametags first so that I could then use them to call them by their names during class and start learning their names. I always explain how to do the nametags the same way - fold them hot-dog style, so on, so forth - but something unexpected happened today. I gave the directions in French, and so I pronounced the word Hot-Dog the French way - without the H - which lead me to give more examples of that at different moments of the class, and each time it got us laughing. I think it's a keeper.

I introduced the concept of smiling and saying "oui oui" to avoid breaking up the flow of conversation and used that advice as an argument to defend that French is easy. I wrote that phrase on the board and referred back to it several times during the lesson, which also got us to laugh every time.

I actually had such a good time teaching today that I forgot to have brain breaks during the class. I realized I hadn't given them any after almost a full hour of class. The poor kiddos looked so tired. I vowed not to ever do that to them again. It is of the utmost important I print a list of suggestion brain break to keep at my fingertips tomorrow. 

1st day Back to school - 2019-2020 School Year

August 27th, 2019

Ouf! What a day. I taught 3 classes of mostly freshmen at levels 1 and 3. I feel dizzy from all the new faces and the heat emitted by the broken heater despite still being summer. Classes were slightly shorter than usual with 65 minutes down from 85. I sorta had a plan for the period although in all honesty, with only 2 days of in-service on the calendar yet so much to prepare between an office move, a new classroom, and the predictable "improvements" pushed by administration, the area to which I dedicated the least amount of time was lesson planning.

So the moment of lull in the lesson - what feels like the opposite of a momentum - should have come as no surprise but it still disappointed me when I saw the heads get heavy and the eyes glaze over. After 14 years of teaching, I am still blindly yearning for that magical lesson where all the students are sucked in, eager for more from the first moment of class to the last. And on day one, too. P-lease. 

I was smart to leave school quickly after classes ended and come meet my family. We hopped on our bikes and rode down to our gorgeous lake Champlain. While they rode a paddleboard, I sat and started to digest my day.  I was feeling heaviness with a hint of disappointment. But soon the majestic beauty of the view put things in perspective for me: had the day really been that bad? Had the lessons truly totally bombed? What if I tried to go over my day in my head again and this time really try to separate the good apples from the bad.

As it turns out, I can't even really find a totally rotten apple, but in the category of - let's say - those that need consideration:
  • the circle to go around students' names asking them to name themselves & having the class reply nice to meet you - not the most original. I like that the students get up, but it's pretty unilateral, one person talking at a time and not much more;
  • guessing students' names was rather entertaining. The students were curious, wondering if I was really going to get it right or what;
  • Trying to find students with the same name and rejoicing because they make my job of learning names easier -students laughed at that;
  • asking them to vote on my true or false - it made the whole activity much more interactive;
  • the brain breaks were a good idea and let's make sure to have a list of them ready;
  • pointing at the key words was good but I went perhaps a little too out of bounds. Or maybe it was ok that I was testing their limits and see how far they could go with me.
I think that is all I can think of tonight. I still have a freshmen class tomorrow, and one of seniors. Let's see what tomorrow will bring.
Image result for lake champlain vt

Matt Tillett

July 3rd, 2019

Celestin Freinet is a French pedagog who is an authority in the field of "alternative" school, i.e. an academic environment that is based on autonomy, curiosity, and free-choice.

I have been wanting to learn about his philosophy and methodology for years. I have started this book over 2 years ago, and I am motivated to read it through this summer. The deceptively small but potent book is a collection of teacher accounts on how they initiated their "Freinet" classroom.

So far, I've gathered from my reading that in a Freinet classroom, students learn individually and cooperatively. They are guided through investigations but not protected from errors. More to the contrary, errors lead to group conversations on the origin, causes, effects, etc. of the unexpected results. 

The teacher's mindset is:
- to be willing to not have all students do the same thing at the same time;
- to be willing not to be the only person who beholds the knowledge and transmits it to the children;
- to set up the learning environment so that students can manipulate, research, compare and be autonomous.

*Question: HOW can I move away from the center stage of my foreign language classroom, when I am the only one who knows the language students are here to learn? HOW can they all be learning at once but not doing the same thing - how can I keep track of all their learning - do I need to?*

Tools and structures are set in place by the teacher to avoid children being overwhelmed by too much independence: 
- The "What's new?" session, where students can freely and respectfully share about what is going on in their life outside of school;
- A "Wall Diary" where students can write down comments and questions as they arise, organized in 3 categories: I critique, I congratulate, I propose. Notes are reviewed during the weekly "Class Council";
- The "Class Council", in which all students participate. It is an opportunity to review or forecast the week, discuss class dynamics, design class rules, etc.
- The Self-Correction cards that students use to check their work, and find answers to their questions as they progress through the activity.

One teacher shares his account of using a "Bother" (loose translation) symbol for students who interrupt group sessions. When 2 "Bothers" are accumulated, the said students cannot participate in the weekly group session.

*Question: In the Freinet classroom, students are encouraged to be curious and investigate things they are curious about. HOW could I transfer this kind of attitude and mindset to the language classroom, where students don't have the linguistic knowledge to be autonomous?*

June 27th, 2019

In my opinion, technology needs to be harnessed. I know it is here to stay and to keep infiltrating all layers of our lives. But for the sake of children's brain development, it needs to be controlled - at home, and at school, until young adults learn how to use it with moderation and safely.

This NY Times article is a great resource for parents (and educators to some extent) who are willing to fight the good fight with their offspring.


View this profile on Instagram Karine Poulin (@ livinglanguagesvt ) • Instagram photos and videos