Feb 19, 2010

Back to basics

I started back at work this week with fresh resolve to get back to the basics in my classes.

I had a story script I followed in three of my four level one classes. (In the fourth class, our discussion about the blizzard was too interesting to leave.) I made sure the script included lots of repetitions of the key structures.

But, where I really focused my energy was on only adding one detail at a time, and circling a structure until I was getting a strong response. I think I totally blew it. But, I was much more conscious of the entire process than I have been up until now. I would say a sentence, ask one question, add another sentence... And then I'd realize "Oh no! I've just added four details back to back. I'd better slow down."

And then I would go back and circle. I have formally asked students in several of my classes to be my barometers and to slow me down whenever I go too fast. I told my principal (who is scheduled to observe me next week) to expect me to call on the same student multiple times, and why. I told him that I observe my students, and then I select the student who is processing information the slowest, but who is still trying, to be my "barometer." So I ask that student for comprehension checks, etc.

It's amazing. When I am concentrating on slowing down, I am looking in their eyes. I am thinking so many thoughts, and that slows me down too. Because I have to take the time to select the thoughts I want to entertain, and then watch their faces. And then circle.

I completely bombed in one class. I decided to tell an anecdote, in English, that had nothing at all to do with the story. It fell flat. And all I could think of was Ben's no English project, and how breaking into English destroyed the class.

Things I have really focused on this week:
*I have been adament about being respectful of each other. And also that nobody talk while I am talking. I am trying Susie Gross' idea, just looking at the kid until he/she is quiet and then saying thank you and continuing with my lesson.
*Comprehension checks. I've done a fist to five several times each class period.
*Spontaneous assessments of acquired knowledge (pop quizzes).
*Prompting students on my expectations, but in a non-judgmental way. "I know this is a new class, and we haven't seen each other much because of the weather, so I'll remind you that when somebody says hello, the polite response is to say hello back. Let's try that again." "I expect everyone to answer the questions. That's part of how I know you understood what I was saying. If I don't hear everyone answer, I'll assume you didn't understand, and I will repeat the information."
*Circling. I still suck at this. I know from my experience with Mandarin this summer that there is no such thing as too slow or too repetitive. And yet, my mind balks at asking too many questions. I ask two or three, and then I feel I *must* go on.
*Adding one detail at a time. Again, even though I know I cannot go slow enough, I just get these urges to move on. The kids must want more.

Today, I slowed down more than I thought possible. And I almost felt students following what we were reading. We got almost nothing accomplished... but I felt this invisible pull where students were engaged in the reading and understanding what was being said.

Not a complete success. And yet, a success. Next week I go back to the drawing board, I teach to their eyes, and I circle the crap out of the structures. :)

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