First, let me start by saying I LOVE my profession. Teaching is more than a job to me, it is my passion. When I am in a state of 'flow' with my students, that is one of my happy places. I've often had students say that Spanish is their favorite, and that they enjoy it so much they barely know they are learning. When I am with my students I feel the same way (most of the time), we have so much fun that it doesn't feel like work. Teaching is a joy.
However, listening to politicians talk about the teaching profession, you would hardly know that so many good things happen in our classrooms. I am aware that most politicians have no idea what happens in schools. Unfortunately, as most parents are passionate about their children (as they should be), education is a powerful chip on the political playing field. When I first became a teacher, I remember being so PROUD to state my profession when asked what I did for a living. Over time, after getting enough negative reactions, and hearing my profession torn apart on TV my feelings began to change. I felt more defiant than proud when asked what I do for a living. Each time I told people I was a teacher, I felt the need to be prepared to battle preconceived perceptions about education. Now, when prospective teachers ask me about going into the field, I feel obligated to warn them about the need for a thick skin in this profession.
Teaching is a commitment of the heart, and there is always MORE that you could do for your students, and the race to meet the needs of all the little faces that walk through our doors can be exhausting. When you add to that the negativity from the outside, sometimes I get TIRED. Tired of hearing my profession torn apart, tired of defending it online and in-person, and tired of all the negativity in the world. Tired and worried about the world that I am sending all these precious hearts and minds into.
So what do we do? Where can teachers turn for the heart to continue? Because make no mistake, if you are a teacher the world needs you. This is a question I have pondered many times. Yesterday, listening to my daughter and her friend make a video for their 2nd grade teacher, as they raved about how she was their favorite teacher of all time, it hit me. We can turn to the reason we became teachers in the first place, to our students!
Every time I am at my most worn out, some interaction with a student lets me know it is all worth it. One of my favorite things to do, is to let students draw me pictures or write me notes after they finish a test (or even on the test if they are waiting for me to repeat a question). They always surprise me with amazing Spanish pictures and the sweetest notes. The pictures below are from this week (and a few older students have sent me after they've moved on from my building). Each one reinforces my belief that teachers are necessary, a force for good, and that I am in the right profession, every exhausting and inspiring second.
Yes, it is important to take care of our bodies and minds, but we must also take care of our hearts! I know it looks like a lot of love for me in the pictures below, but the secret is, your students all love you that much too. I even did similar activities when I taught 7th and 8th grade, and their notes were just as touching (if a little less enthusiastic).
The next time you need inspiration and a reason to keep going, look at those young minds walking through your door, take a minute to connect and let them write you a message or draw a picture to share their feelings with you; and know that you are needed and loved!
Whether students or teachers, we all have those days. The days where the morning just didn't go as planned we rushed to get ready, or to school on time, or ran around stressed out when we were at school to prep for a class, or for students to finish a project or study for a test. Those days when we can feel the tension creeping into our stomach, our neck, our shoulders, and even our attitude.
This is a normal part of being human, and there is a scientific explanation for it, our nervous system! What follows is a brief explanation of the two parts of our nervous system, and how to control it when it gets out of control. For a more in depth look, please click here.
Many years ago, when we first evolved to be human, our nervous system developed two main parts, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The two systems act like a teeter totter, when one is in use, the other is not. The sympathetic nervous system is the 'fight or flight' system and is responsible for keeping us safe in times of danger. When this system is activated our heart rate increases, our muscles contract, our pupils dilate and non-vital systems in our body shut down allowing us to react quickly. The sympathetic nervous system is VITAL for keeping us safe, and perfect for needing to escape a tiger or a similar threat. The problem is that our nervous systems have not learned to recognize the difference between the threat of a tiger stalking you in the jungle, vs the threat of being late to school or work because you are stuck behind a bus. The sympathetic nervous system activates in both instances if we don't know how to control it; and with our fast paced lifestyle of always leaping from one project to the next (I myself am guilty of this) we often keep our sympathetic nervous systems in activation for much longer then necessary. This can lead to inflammation based health problems including, migraines, fatigue, muscle tension, weight gain, and many more. To read more about teacher burn out, please click here.
'On the opposite end of the teeter totter is the parasympathetic nervous system (if you speak Spanish I try to remember that 'para' means stop and think of this as the stop system). The parasympathetic nervous system is intended to restore our body to balance after activation of the sympathetic nervous system. When the parasympathetic system is activated our breathing slows down, our muscles relax, all systems come back online and balance is restored to our bodies. This is the system we should be spending the majority of our time in, but with the speed of today's world this system is often neglected.
Luckily we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system with something as simple as deep breathing. One of my favorite quick ways to do this is the following:
1) Breathe in through the nose for the count of 4 (yes through the nose is important)
2) Hold your breath for the count of 6.
3) Breathe out through the mouth for the count of 8. (through the mouth here is also important).
Next time you are feeling stressed out try cycling through this breathing activity a few times and notice how you feel before and after! This one is so quick I can even do it between classes, before talking to a student that has my sympathetic nervous system firing, or even in the car at a stop light when my own children are being loud in the back seat!
Although I have done yoga in Spanish with my students, I had never thought of doing deep breathing or guided meditation in the TL (target language) until a recent blog post by Justin Slocum Bailey (read it here). Justin's post inspired me and I made my first (very short) video below. This video starts with an explanation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in English (a little too high for my students to understand in the TL), followed by the above breathing exercise in Spanish. I have been doing this with my students at the end of each class (or wherever they need it) the last few weeks and it has been wonderful! I hope it helps you too. I plan to make longer videos eventually....but that is a project for another day! Until then, I hope you spend many happy hours engaging your parasympathetic nervous system.
I have a confession. I did not attend my first conference till I had already been in the classroom for 11 years! Eleven years in the teaching profession without attending a single conference! Eleven years without seeing masters practicing their craft, eleven years without the guidance of those who had taught languages using CI before, eleven years without the support that being part of a language community can bring!
To be fair, I was a little busy using my Teacher Improvement (TI) money completing my Masters degree, and my +30. Plus, at the time, while conferences sounded great in theory, they always seemed slightly out of reach (both finding the budget and making the time). Through a weird, but fortuitous set of circumstances, I received two years worth of TI money at once, and my opportunity to attend a conference.
I first heard of IFLT and NTPRS via a FB group that I developed a slight obsession for (IFLT/NTPRS/CI teaching; in case you arent already a member). All the teachers in this group were raving about two conferences, NTPRS and IFLT. I decided to use all of my TI money at once, and attend IFLT (mainly because I already had a prior commitment during the week of NPTRS). I threw caution to the wind, and bought my ticket (my first time on a plane since my honeymoon 10 years prior). I was excited, but I had no idea what was in store for me.
Although I love my district colleagues, I had been teaching in isolation for quite a while at this point in my career. I was often the only language teacher in my building. I enjoy collaborating and working with others, but when the 'other' language teacher is in another building, working together can can be a major effort. I don't even see all my building colleagues on a daily basis; it is easy for each classroom to become it's own little world. I gradually stopped working with other teachers and became a Spanish world in isolation. I enjoyed my teaching, but forgot the benefits both to my students and myself that come from working closely with other teachers. I was excited to go to IFLT and learn from all the bloggers I had been following, but didn't expect more than a great learning experience. In fact, as a mother to 3 and a dedicated bookworm (who never has enough time to read), I was very much looking forward to quiet post-conference dinners with my book, a quick swim in the hotel pool, followed by more time reading. I did not get a single quiet night with my book (and I didn't miss it at all).
From the first day of the conference I connected with others who I recognized on FB, and who, to my surprise also recognized me. By the first night of the conference I had a dinner date with new conference friends (no awkward get-to-know you conversations at dinner, since we all wanted to talk about language acquisition), by the start of the 2nd day I made a 'forever friend' in the elevator on the way to the conference (one of those people who you feel like you just 'know' instantly, and always will), and by the third night I was playing Mafia after hours with Martina Bex and Dr. Krashen (Krashen and I were Mafia)! I expected to LOVE the sessions at the conference (and I did), but I didn't expect to fall in love with the 'togetherness' of being with other language teachers, but I did. To put it in the immortal words of Zach Galifianakis, I had found my wolfpack. What had initially started as a plan to 'only go this once' to a conference', turned into a plot to return the following year by the end of the week. If you've never been to a conference, know that in addition to amazing presenters and inspiring sessions, you may also find yourself with a support network that you never expected.
"Kindness is a wonderful way to let another struggling soul know that there is still love in this world." - Unknown
I planned to blog about one aspect of conferences, but let myself be swept away in the excitement of blogging about the whole experience. A quote about kindness is the perfect focus for the specific aspect of conferences I wanted to cover: Coaching. Teachers Coaching other teachers was started by the incredible Karen Rowan when she saw a need for guidance for teachers new to CI. When I first attended IFLT I had no idea what the Coaching experience would be like, and to be honest the description didn't initially entice me when I looked it over. Open Coaching, was hosted each evening on the top floor of the building. Teachers new to TPRS/CI could come for an hour at the end of the day, and be put in a small group of teachers (based on experience level) with an expert coach. Teachers would then spend a few minutes practicing a TPRS/CI skill in front of the group, and being coached by the other teachers. My initial reaction was, 'no thank you'. I had already spent an entire day learning, and my book was calling. Staying an hour late to do some extra teaching, and to be critiqued (as I imagined it) did not sound enticing. However, the 'forever friend' I mentioned meeting wanted to stay and try it, and since I didn't want to make her walk back to the hotel alone, I stayed too. I will be forever grateful that she convinced me to stay. While coaching sounded intimidating "get up and try a challenging new skill in front of your peers and a master" it actually felt more like a warm hug. Each teacher is paired with a small group of peers that are at your skill level, plus a master teacher as a coach. You take turns presenting a small part of a lesson (only a few minutes long) to the group. At the end of the lesson, the other teachers and the coach teach to your strengths, and tell you what you did RIGHT. They look at the best in you, and help you make it better. They give you the confidence to try new things (and even to come back to coaching again, which I did everyday the rest of the week). If you have specific questions about how to do something, or a skill you need help with, they are there for that too.
I was a legacy teacher (textbook, vocab lists, and grammar rules) for many years before I became a TPRS/CI teacher (you can read about my initial struggle here). While I was sold on TPRS after my first training, making the switch was HARD. It required totally changing my mindset about HOW to teach a language, throwing out most of what I was doing in the classroom, and greatly improving my language skills. I was (and still am) very excited about all that CI can bring to a classroom, but when you transition from legacy teaching to CI, the struggle is real! My district had quite a bit of turn over the past few years (as people left for babies, new positions, etc), and I see how much of a challenge teaching this way can be at first as colleagues transition to teaching with CI. Supporting each other is VITAL in the work that we do. Teaching is hard enough without adding the burden of throwing out all we learned in college in favor of recent research and evidence and reinventing yourself as a teacher. Coaching, coaches, and time to work together and grow is a part of what can turn this struggle into success for ourselves and our students. It is for that very reason that last year I paid out of my own pocket to attend Coaching 4 Coaches with Teri Wiechart. There is a specific set of skills to acquire when working with other teachers, and Teri is the pro. It was worth every penny of the extra night in the hotel and the workshop fee to be able to acquire those skills to share with the new teachers in my district and in trainings. I feel confident when I go to work with other teachers that I will be able to give them the same 'warm hug' that I received at my first coaching experience; and that I will be able to give them the guidance that was given to me when I needed it most. If you are a teacher new to TPRS/CI, or just a teacher looking to improve their skills, please go to Coaching, you deserve to be supported. If you are an experienced CI teacher, watching new teachers struggle with teaching this way, consider going to a Coaching 4 Coaches workshop. The gift that you will give to those new teachers and all of their students is priceless.
Finally if you think there is even a chance that you might enjoy a conference, that you might be a part of the CI Wolfpack, I hope you can find a way to join us. Alone, in our own little language teacher worlds, we can do GREAT things for the students in our classes, but together as teachers united for change for the greater good, we can change the world.
There are great training opportunities in the CI world. If you see something I missed, please add it in the comments! Full disclosure, conferences with an * are conferences that I am presenting and/or coaching at and/or helping organize. Joy at my first IFLT may have turned me a bit conference obsessed, but I want to share this magic with all the teachers!
- Comprehensible Online- The first online CI Conference! Going to a conference is the best experience possible, but if you simply can't, this is the next best thing! March 24th- April 8th.*
- MittenCI- April 20th (pre-conference), April 21st (conference) and April 22nd (post conference MittenLatin), happening in Saline, MI. Coaching and Coaching For Coaches workshop available! Back for a second year, sold out last year!*
- IFLT 2018- July 17th-July 20th (Coaching For Coaches available on July 16th). This is the conference I raved about in this blog, all the things in one place! Located in Cincinnati Ohio this year! Sells out quickly!*
Comprehensible Cascadia- More coming soon
NTPRS - July 9th-13th in Danvers, Massachusetts- I've yet to go to a NTPRS, but I would love to make it someday! I heard this year it is at a hotel with a waterpark!
Express Fluency Teacher Training: Summer 2018- Aug 6-9th, Burlington Vermont! A great group of presenters in a beautiful location!
CiMidwest- September 2018
Teaching a language using Comprehensible Input (CI) is my favorite way to teach, hands down (and in my 13 years in the classroom I've taught in a lot of different roles including 3rd grade classroom teacher, 5th grade classroom teacher, after school/summer Spanish teacher, Spanish, a French, and German Exploratory class, Science, Middle School Spanish, and Elementary Spanish. Before teaching with CI I would have been hard pressed to name my favorite subject or age level to teach with, as I found things to enjoy at all levels. After teaching this way however, it would be hard to imagine teaching anything else. CI lights up the way our brains are meant to learn. The classroom becomes a joyous place where intense and meaningful learning and community building takes place. I see it in the bounce in their step when students walk through the door; and I hear it in their voices when they walk by my room at conferences and say in hushed and excited tones, "Mom and Dad that's the SPANISH room."
There is a drawback however, teaching this way can be both energizing, and completely exhausting. Some days I am drained and don't have a creative story or interesting thing to talk or read about. When I get that tired, I have to take a step back; and so should you when you feel that way! I know that if I have been up too late grading, or planning, or even with a sick kid, then I don't put quite as much energy into my lesson, and I don't have quite as much patience with my students. Science backs up the need not to over-do! In our brains we all have neurons, which send signals to other neurons that cause us to do...everything! There are even specialized neurons called Mirror Neurons, that help us understand the moods, motivations, and actions of those around us. When you see someone doing something, the same neurons that would light up in your own head if you were doing the action, light up (even though you are only watching someone else do the action). It's part of why you feel scared when you are in a scary movie, flinch when you see a bad injury, or are thrilled by an intense football game. If we come into our classrooms without energy and interest for our subject, the Mirror Neurons in our student's brains will pick that up, and they will not be as interested either, therefore learning less. Notice how you feel looking at the pictures of the exhausted people below. If you want to experience the effects of Mirror Neurons a little more intensely, watch the video of the "Rooftoppers". If you watch the video, the dropping sensation in the pit of your stomach is your Mirror Neurons predicting what would happen if they made a wrong move.
Read on for a list of my favorite low-energy CI activities!
You're in your house...
House vocabulary is something that is on many curriculum lists, and as many of the words from 'the house' rank in the top 100 words in many languages it is also valuable vocabulary. One way I can sneak in house vocabulary, plus lots of repetitions with whatever I want is with 'You're in your house' stories. The fun thing about these stories is that they are low prep, everyone acts at once, and they are very visual and basic (I don't even circle when I do them...much). Before teaching a basic story I introduce the following words (each word has an action):
la casa - the house (draw a house starting with a pointy roof around yourself)
la ventana - the window (make your arms into a square and 'peek' through it)
el cuarto - the room/bedroom ( draw a square around yourself)
la puerta - the door - (open and close a door)
abre- he/she opens (open your hands like opening a book)
cierra- he/she closes (close your hands like closing a book)
de repente- suddenly (I always clap once, suddenly and dramatically after I say it)
The only prep (other than making sure they know the above words) is having some 'monsters' available (either stuffed animals, or print outs). All of the below is done in the target language (TL), and actors (the entire class acts at once) are only allowed to do what the narrator (teacher) says. All the quotations are the teacher 'script' with student actions described for each step.
I keep this from being too scary for the elementary kids by having all the 'monsters' be non-threatening in appearance (as seen below). For older students you could do something similar, but with slightly spooky endings. If I was doing Middle School Spanish still, I would prep the my screen ahead of time so that when the students opened their eyes, Sr. Wooly's Ganga girls were peeking out at the students when they opened their eyes. The 'noise' could be a snippet of the Ganga song. If you are reading Sr. Wooly's newest graphic novel, La Dentista, you could also have that character ready to surprise students when they open their eyes!
Textivate is incredible for CI teachers. Students can practice both words in isolation and in a story. All you have to do as the teacher, is type your vocabulary and story and hit the 'Textivate button', you will instantly be rewarded with almost 30 different games your students can play to practice their CI. Textivate even has voice-to-text! There are many great instructional videos on Textivate's blog so I won't go into a how-to. Creating a Textivate activity with vocabulary the students already know, and a new simple story, can be a great way to have a meaningful lesson for students when you have a sub as well! Below is an example of work I am leaving for my 1st graders when I am out next week!
Charades or pictionary
I have cards made up with high frequency words sitting in the front of my room (I also have student lists laminated). As I create stories with the class throughout the year, I add sentence strips from stories we have done as a class to the 'bag'. A student or student pulls a strip from the bag. If we are playing charades they act it out, if we are playing pictionary they draw it. Simple, and low prep, plus lots of practice of important words and structures. The student lists, are so that if groups of students finish an activity early, they have a 'go-to' . To see the words I have in my word bag (plus some times I made to practice them, click the link below. If you are a Spanish teacher, you can use this list to make your own. You could also buy the one I made, if it's easier.
There are a lot of Comprehensible games that practically run themselves once you have taught them to the students. For a list of some of my favorites click here. From this pages the best for low energy days are:
What's in the backpack/suitcase
What's in the backpack/suitcase/bag/box/present etc. (whichever word you need to practice) is exactly what it sounds like, throw some things in your container of choice. Describe them, using words the students know, and have them guess what you have in your backpack. Lots of repetitions for descriptive words, colors, size, has/does not have, etc.
PQA 4 Square/ Read and draw / Create a character
I have worksheets made up ahead of time that are very generic, they have students practice the you/I forms of Michael Peto's Super 7 and Super 16. Students answer the questions in the 4-square (as seen below) and draw a picture to go with each question. Lots of times these turn into hilarious mini-stories that you can throw into your FVR Library (Free Voluntary Reading Library). I also have blank comic templates that I can quickly write a basic story in, copy, and pass out to students. Students read and draw it. Beautifully illustrated stories can also be added to the FVR library. Finally, I have a worksheet that allows students to practice question words, and create their own "Invisibles" character (thanks Ben and Tina)! Students love making up their own characters, and 'standouts' can become class characters for your stories.
Giving yourself a chance to not be in the spotlight and recharge, while your students still enjoy plenty of CI goodness is a great thing for teachers and students alike! I hope one of these activities will come in handy next time you need a chance to breathe (as may be needed during December). Happy Holidays everyone!
p.s. If you are a Spanish teacher, my 'Felices Fiestas' site below, has lots of great movie talk possibilities for the holidays (a low energy activity, that I didn't write about as there are many great blogs on it).
Classroom jobs are a great classroom tool, both to manage transitions in the classroom smoothly, increase time spent in the TL (target language), and to help create a culture that is special to each class. It helps create a bond between the students and brings everyone together as a team. There are many great blog posts about classroom jobs, however these are the jobs that have worked best for me, in an elementary setting. Many of them were inspired by Ben Slavic's work. Some are unique (as far as I know). I've promised to blog about the jobs that work well in my room many times; and have finally found time at the airport on the way back from presenting at the incredible CiMidwest. To save you some time, I am including a free download to my job badges. My students wear these in lanyards around their necks. In previous years I have used props to identify jobs, but for elementary students the props were a big distraction. They are proud to wear the badges, but mess with them less, so this works better for me. Download your copy (if you are a Spanish teacher) here. If any teachers of other languages would like these, let me know, and I can delete the Spanish words and leave them blank so you can write in your own words.
What jobs do I use? Read below for a list and a brief explanation of each job.
Artist - Draws characters or stories as they happen. Can use these pictures for a retell, or add words to them and add them to your FVR library.
Writer - Writes the story in Spanish or in English. Helps me keep track of what is going on in each story.
The watch- tells teacher 5 minutes before the end of the class. I often have so much fun with my students I forget to watch the time.
The boss - Walks around at the end of class and makes sure class is in order, doesn’t clean the mess, tells others to pick up after themselves.
Host- Greets visitors, offers them a comfy place to sit (can kick kids out of the best seats if they say it in the TL (target language) and a glass of water.
Doctor- If someone sneezes, stands up and says 1,2,3 and class says ‘salud’. Escorts kids to the office for injury or illness if necessary.
The door- Answers the door during class and asks for the password if letting people into the class.
Points- adds class points or teacher points for me when I am too far away from my point place.
Props- Brings me props (or retrieves props we throw across the room).
Calendar - Changes calendar date, and helps me with the calendar (older students can lead calendar)
Mini Teacher - Passes out or collects paper , turns off lights, and brings me things from across the room, and chooses two helpers to quickly pass out badge jobs at the start of class. At first I call out the Spanish words and they pass them out. When they have acquired the words they call out the jobs in the TL too.
Designer- If the room does not look good when they enter the classroom, the designer fixes it up (and can pick a friend to help)
Spy- Takes top secret messages from me anywhere in the school they need to go (the office, another teacher) sneaky like... They also "spy" on kids during class and report to me when kids speak English (so I can give myself points). The spy also reports to me when students speak in the TL OUTSIDE of class. So I can give the class points. This is the MOST popular job. It also gets the kids speaking lots of Spanish outside of the class, because they hope the spy will report on them. I don't care how many points my class gets (see here for a link to La Maestra Locas' blog and an explanation of the point system I use).
No English- If this person hears someone speaking English they have to say ‘No English, Spanish Spanish’ in the target language. If they say it before I can get to the board to give myself a point, I cannot give myself any points.
King or Queen- Makes decisions I don’t want to in the story (usually low pressure decisions like where someone lives).
Expert- Makes up details we don’t know in a story (how fast a car is, how far away the sun is, etc.). Whatever they say, we "believe" for the story. For example, if I asked the 'expert' what the fastest car in the world was, and they say 'a school bus', we are going with a super fast school bus for the rest of the story.
Computer Crew (3-4)- When we use computers they are in charge of re-setting computers for the next class, plugging them in (if necessary) and making sure headphones are wrapped.
Sub- Takes the job of any and ALL absent students
The below jobs fall away when students do not need to hear the English anymore.
What? - When we say ‘qué’ (what in Spanish) the “What” person, stands up, shrugs their shoulders and says “What” in the voice of Gato, from El Perro y el Gato. Not very helpful if you are not a Spanish teacher. Perro y Gato video at the bottom of this post in case you haven't seen it.
Who? - Says ‘who who’ like an owl when I say ‘quién’ in the TL
Where? - Looks back and forth quickly and says where, where, in a scared voice (as if looking for a monster) when they hear the word ‘where’ in the TL.
When? - Taps on an imaginary watch, and says ‘when, when’ in an annoyed voice when we say ‘when’ in the TL
How- Says ‘how how’ in a shocked voice (as if they broke their favorite toy) when we say ‘how’ in the TL.
Why? - Raises their hands and says ‘why’ in an anxious voice when we say ‘por qué’
Because- Says ‘because’ in a annoyed voice when we say ‘because’ in the TL.
How much- Makes money sign with fingers when we say ‘how much’ in the TL.
Translator- helps new students or guests in the room
That's it, my favorite jobs. I used to have classroom actors too, but almost all my students want to act, so I have decided to not make it a job, to give more students the spotlight.
Hope that helps, let me know if you have any questions!
This is the second time I have helped organize a conference (the first time last year at MittenCi). Even with a great team of people (Grant, Haiyun, Marta and Kelly are incredible); it is a crazy amount of work, exhausting, and a bit consuming. Especially as I am a full time teacher, and a mom to three. However, if I am asked to do it again next year, I know I will say yes in a heartbeat. Why do we say yes to these endeavors over and over and keep coming back?
equity and Inclusivity..
Equity and inclusivity, for our students, and for ourselves. If you have never been to a conference there is nothing quite like it. As language teachers, we are often the only teacher in our school, or part of a small group. Sometimes overlooked, or left to our own devices, it is easy to feel isolated and to lose the bigger vision of our full potential. Especially when you see the benefits to your colleagues of being able to talk to others that teach what they teach every day. When you attend a language conference you realize that you have a whole family of people who are making the journey with you. Even though we can connect on Facebook, there is nothing quite like connecting to other people that are passionate about the same type of teaching you do in person. People who understand your struggles and triumphs. Who can renew and inspire you and encourage you to keep on doing the amazing things you do for your students. Your words, comments, or lesson ideas, may have helped inspired someone you've never met. You may have been inspired by someone that needs to hear that they are making a difference. When we connect with other teachers that share our passions, there is nothing quite like the inspiration it gives you to keep doing what you are doing.
"Don't reinvent the wheel" is a popular saying, but as language teachers, we often have to build our materials and ideas in isolation. Talking to others that teach what you teach, getting new ideas, and figuring out how to fit them into what you already do, is empowering. I never leave a conference without a notebook worth of things I want to try. I often bookmark great ideas on blogs or facebook groups, that I never actually make it back to because I need more details before I proceed. At a conference, I always leave with things I can try immediately. Even last night, after a full day of writing down brilliant ideas; I was sharing favorite Movie Talks with the brilliant Carla Tarini (and re-writing my lesson plans for next week in my head). Walking away from a conference, I never fail to feel inspired and ready to bring the world to my students.
Our brains are wired to see the world as "us" VS "them". This is a part of our ancestral drive to prosper. As hunters and gatherers it was critical to our survival protect our family groups and tribes in order to flourish, and to survive we had to be able to recognize dangers in others that are not part of our own groups. However, we can do better.
Neuroscience shows that when we point out the similarities between ourselves and people who look, talk, or act differently; when we explain the meaning behind cultural practices that may be scary because they are the unknown, our brains start to reframe how we see others. We are no longer "us and them" we are "us and us". We all live on this small, but beautiful rock, out in the middle of space. No matter our countries of origin, our skin colors, our religious, cultural (or even political beliefs) we are all in this TOGETHER. In a time when politicians and the forces that propel our world seem determined to point out our differences, and reinforce the "us VS them" mentality, we have a unique chance and responsibility to make a difference. One student at a time, one day at a time. We can connect our students to people and places that they might never have seen, in ways that we might never have imagined, within our communities, and with the world at large. We have a chance to connect our students to their own full potential and to help them see the beauty and possibility of greatness in others. We have a chance to create future leaders that see the "us" that humanity needs to reach a world that is inclusive and equitable for all. Walking through the halls yesterday, listening to the different languages being spoken, and connecting with new and old faces, all I saw was us and us and us and us. And that is a beautiful thing.
"Building relationships is the single most important thing we can do as teachers." - Bob Patrick, Keynote, CIMidwest2017
We all know that students do best when we personalize lessons to where they are at in their lives. To their own interests, abilities, and journeys. This can be a tricky task, and overwhelming, especially when you first start out in the CI world. Listening to other teachers share their struggles, triumphs and best ideas is the path to the skills needed to personalize what we do for our students. It doesn't matter if it is your first conference, or your 50th, the ideas that you walk away with will advance you farther along the road to a program that can meet each of our students where they are at in the moment. Which is where we need to meet them if we are to help them reach their full potential. I was not able to attend any full sessions as I had confernce responsibilities. However for the sessions I was able to sit in on I learned so much that I can use to open the world to my students. As always, I wish I could have attended ALL the sessions.
In Bob Patrick's session I learned about no stress ways to teach CI and avoid burnout. From dictations, to using a same story in multiple ways. These are important words for teachers to here. In Justin Slocum Bailey's session I found new ways to do PQA that my students will love. Craig's Klein's session had incredible ideas on how to use curiosity and humor to compel student interest in their language learning. From Amy Vanderdeen I learned new ways to increase the size of my FVR (free voluntary reading) library, and from Becky Moulton I learned about the need to mentor others, and how to do so with compassion and grace.
As always, my only true regret at this conference, was not being able to see and talk to everyone. We need a whole week, and sometimes even that is enough. I wish I could have spent time talking to all the attendees, and listening to all the presenters. Whether I learned from you, simply crossed paths in the hall, waved at you across the room, or shared a heartfelt moment of collegiality, thank you for being a part of something incredible. The chance to make our classrooms, and yes even the world at large, an equitable, inclusive, and personally beautiful place for all. Hope to see everyone next year on Sept. 29th, at CiMidwest2018.
Friday at school a new para-pro walked into my room, and I had one of those moments where I was pretty sure I was looking at a former student, that I couldn't quite place. In my defense, it turns out I had her two 3-week stretches, during a year where I taught 800 students 10 years earlier, so she understood my not recognizing her. She said she remembered me because she never forgot learning the German* alphabet after 3 weeks in my class (not to interrupt the flow of the story, but if you are wondering WHY she remembers German from my class when I am a Spanish teacher see the asterisk at the bottom of the post).
She remembered the German alphabet after 3 weeks in my class 10 years before, because I am a believer in trying to seize the little moments in the teaching day to squeeze in extra input. I didn't spend much time directly teaching the alphabet (even before being a CI teacher). We only have so much time with the students, and every second counts, and they need all the input we can give them. When I taught her class German all those years ago, I squeezed the alphabet into my 3 weeks by saying it as I spelled out words, singing/chanting the alphabet with the class when we passed out papers, and/or transitioned between activities, and quick games that lasted less than 5 minutes. These small moments that could be left open to students to get off task are the perfect chance to fit in more comprehensible input. When we had it down in song form, we did it in a call and response chant. I even had baseball parents tell me that 6th grade boys team sang the alphabet song, our number songs, and the what is your name song in German on the way to games. I love hearing about students doing class activities in their free time. To me, it is the best kind of success when they want to keep doing the language on their own.
FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) is one of the best ways to increase our student's language acquisition, but there have been lots of great posts about FVR, and this will not be one of them. Instead the focus is other ways to sneak input into the little moments of our day-to-day.
Focused brain breaks help. One way I did this with the alphabet was a "race" that took roughly 3 minutes of class time. Each student was randomly given a letter of the alphabet on a notecard. The goal of the race was to to put the alphabet down on a chair at the front of the class in the right order. The race begins when the student holding the card with the "a" calls out "I have the a" in target language. Stands up and runs the a to the chair at the front of the room, turns and runs back to their seat. They must sit down before the next student can stand up yell "I have the b" and race the letter to the teacher in the same manner (we time ourselves with a stop-watch and try to beat our best time, and other classes).
This could be done with a sequential story the kids know well, numbers, or an activity where one action has to happen before the next action happens (as long as students are familiar with the vocabulary ahead of time).
It doesn't matter what you would like your student to acquire, there are many novel ways to fit in extra input. I have more games for the alphabet like Face Off, which can be played with numbers as well as letters. Brain breaks, and transition times can be used in ways such of these to fit small doses of input in novel ways.
You can read about more mini Games for bursts of input by clicking on the word games for more details about variations.
Another brain break that has been a small moment gone big, is the game "For you/for me". Inspired by the more 'aggressive' hand slapping game I played as a kid. In the kinder and gentler adaptation of the game two players stand across from each other. One player holds out their hands to the other player as if they are offering them something (my students pretend there is invisible chocolate in there hands). The player holding out the 'chocolate' (we can call him Kevin) says in the target language "for you" to their friend (we can call the friend Bob). Bob tries to grab the imaginary chocolate. When Bob reaches for the chocolate Kevin yanks his hands back quickly and says in the target language (for me). If Bob does not touch Kevin's hands before he takes them back; play continues and Kevin says 'for you' again in the target language (para ti/para mí). If Bob touches Kevin's hands (and the invisible chocolate) before Kevin takes his hands back, they switch roles. Now Bob offers the invisible chocolate and Kevin tries to grab it.
My students LOVE this game and it is so quick that it is good for when there is a technology problem or I have to answer the phone. I knew 'Para mí/ Para ti" was a hit when teaching it for the first time to a new rotation of students (so I had taught this game to other 3rd grade classes, but not this particular class). When I started to teach the game, one of the students called out, "Oh...so that's what everyone was playing in the bus line."
What makes this game even better, is that they have acquired the language from this game. "For You/For Me" in class has allowed me to jokingly say "for me" when I see students with treats or trading cards in the hall. This is a great way to bring the language into other parts of their school day. They always yank their item back and say "for me" in the target language when I pretend to reach for it. The other day I walked by students in the hall carrying a plate of cookies. All of them yelled out "¿Para mí?" Joking with students in Spanish is music "para mí" any day. This game has been a hit as young as Kindergarten.
Cootie catchers with PQA questions to spur conversation among students are another small thing gone big that sneaks in extra input. Whenever I use a cootie catcher for PQA I get extra CI in for my students in two ways. First, we fold the cootie catcher as a class, all directions given in Spanish of course. The students are glued to these directions as the desperately want to make a cootie catcher on their own. They count in Spanish as they play with them (check out the video below if you haven't used them before) and play with these at recess, on the bus, and at home (and sometimes even when they are not supposed to, think fidget spinner big people)!
Teaching kids handclap games are also a great way to get them practicing Spanish outside of the classroom as they love to show off their skills to friends. I spent part of a class teaching this to my first graders, made the video below available on the website, and had students sending me videos of mastering it at home the same night.
I learned about story retells from Blaine Ray at a training,and they a favorite way to push Spanish out of the classroom are story retells (where they use dolls, toys, friends, family members or pictures to retell a class story to a friend are also a big hit with kids and parents).
You can also bring Spanish home by encouraging kids to watch shows, or cartoons inSpanish. I give my students optional homework. Each week, they have the option to play on my website (where I make 3 or 4 of the 'buttons' found here (free), available for them). Each button includes cartoons, stories, games and music that go along with what we are doing in class.
Students have the option of playing on the above website, playing on Sr. Wooly (if they are in 2nd or 3rd grade), or playing on Du0lingo. Students usually prefer my website or Sr. Wooly if they are older. I have 500 students, and generally get 500 to 2000 hits on my website a week. Students who go regularly (proudly self reported) show noticeable gains in class, and parents report students love doing "Spanish homework" at home.
A class 'pet' that goes home with a different student each class also increases time spent with the TL. The student names the pet, answers some PQA style questions about it, and prints or draws a picture (or sends one to me to print) with the pet. They speak Spanish with the pet at home and take them out around the town with them. I have had very shy students take the "Spanish pet" to Mexican restaurants and end up going back to speak with the kitchen staff and other servers at the restaurant in Spanish when they explained what the pet was from. To read more about this project, click here.
The video on the left was made by a Kindergarten student and her 2nd grade brother (he narrated and she acted it out). The second video was made by the same two students the following year. They made these videos for fun, and were so excited to share (shared here with permission).
Other ways I try to sneak language in during the day are at the start and end of the day. Whenever I can, I greet students in the morning in the target language with, "hello", "good morning", and comments on the weather. I love it when students start joking around with me about the weather (i.e. saying "It's hot out" when it is snowing, etc. and laughing as if it it is the funniest joke). Then they start joking around with it each other that way as well.
I also take advantage of times the whole school is gathered together and waiting for an assembly or in line to sing Spanish songs that all the students know, both impressive to non-speakers and a great way to bring the Spanish speaking outside of the classroom when the whole school sings or dances in Spanish. Greeting students in the hall, or asking a student how they are or about their weekend in the hall are all great ways to sneak in even more TL.
All these small moments increase student input in big ways. I have been very happy with the results in my own students. Many of these tricks may already be known, but I hope that you learned a way to increase your student's time in the target language!
*If you know me, you may be confused by the fact that the student remembers German from my class when I am a Spanish teacher. In my 13 years in my district I have taught many things as my certifications qualify me to teach in the classroom, and also Science and Spanish up to 8th grade. Although I taught Spanish my entire career in one form or another (be it as an after school program, summer program, or in the classroom); I have also taught 3rd grade, 5th grade, Intro to Spanish/French/German, Quest(K-3 Science), Middle School Spanish, Academic Support, and Elementary Spanish (5 years now).
Our modern lifestyle is generally more sedentary then that of our evolutionary ancestors. Whereas they spent large portions of their day walking long distances, lifting heavy things, sprinting, and stretching as needed; we tend to sit a lot more and move a lot less in general. While we move less, we still are incredibly busy, and the idea of finding the time to work out can be overwhelming. I know that with working full time and three little kids at home, the days of going to the gym or spending two hours doing yoga are over for me (at least for now). Many nights I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to get the kids in bed and fold the laundry (many nights the laundry pile grows instead of being folded). I often do not feel like I have enough time for playing with my kids or leisure activities as it is, but I like being active, and the benefits of an active lifestyle are many. In fact, recent studies say that are sedentary lifestyle is extremely bad for us. Read about this in depth here or here: Sitting is the new Smoking. Unfortunately, the effects of a sedentary lifestyle are not reversed by exercise and diet, so it is important we start moving now. There are many benefits to getting ourselves moving.
Benefits of aerobic exercise, resistance training, and yoga include:
The problem is of course, in spite of all the great benefits I do not have that much time in my day. Although I can't get to the gym, I have found ways to 'sneak' fitness into my day that have given me results that work for me. By this I mean, I feel stronger, more flexible, and have more energy. I do NOT have the "perfect body", this was not, and is not my goal. If your goal is also overall good health, strength and flexibility below are my tips for fitting in fitness when there isn't any time! Of course, I am not a doctor or yoga teacher so consult with a professional if you are worried about injury or health risks.
Yoga/ Resistance Training was the health activity I missed the most, and I added it back in, by starting with these 7 Yoga poses to do every day (look them over to understand the rest of the post).
These are 7 basic poses spread out throughout the day, so that you only do a few poses at any one time. Starting with just 4 breaths a pose, each set takes less than 5 minutes to start. As the poses became easy for me at 4 breaths a pose, I added an extra breath to each pose. I've been doing this set (with a few add ons) for almost 2.5 years daily, and am now up to 20 breaths per pose. While this takes slightly more time to do then when I started, I have noticed increased strength, balance, and flexibility. No extra equipment needed! I do these poses even on days when I am very tired, and I always feel better after I do them.
Once I had been doing the above poses for over a year, and was at 10 breaths, I felt the need to increase the challenge. I added a few modifications to increase resistance training. This is how I fit it in a little extra resistance training without a trip to the gym (this won't make sense unless you click on the 7 Yoga Poses link above, as these poses are in addition to the 7 Yoga poses at the above link).
1) I start with the morning cat/cow from the 7 poses above; after I have finished cat cow. I do plank pose in the morning, for the same amount of breaths I did for cat/cow (20 breaths currently).
2) Mid-morning or after lunch I do the forward bends as is in the set above. After lunch or at the end of the school day I do a more challenging lunge set. I start with Warrior 2 (first picture), then add a bending lunge (second picture) and a twisting lunge (third picture). In the twisting lunge, you can get an even deeper twist, if you twist the opposite way. After I do the lunge poses, I hold downward dog for an extra set, and then do yoga push ups. How many push ups should you do? As many as you can do and still do them correctly. Once they are easy, add another. I started with 5 yoga pushups, and now I do 15 (but I added extras slowly over time). If you want to see perfect Yogis doing these poses, you can Google them easily. Please excuse the selfies below, I couldn't find pictures that would show the actual poses without taking them myself or paying for them. I had planned to re-take them in looser clothing, but realized I would never get around to it, and thus never publish this post, so I went with what I captured on my first (and only) attempt.
I do the evening yoga poses as is in the 7 Yoga Poses to do everyday set before bed.
For those that have the time to add a little bonus strength training to their week, I highly recommend this 5 minute yoga routine for your arms 3 to 5 times a week.
If you are new to yoga, or worried about flexibility you may want to start with these poses. Yoga should be a stretch, and may strain muscles occasionally, but it should not hurt. If a pose hurts, you probably have something that is not lined up correctly. I recommend stopping, and researching or taking a class if necessary to correct these errors, you don't want to hurt yourself!
Aerobic exercise is slightly harder for me to fit in, as I don't have a long block of time in which I can do it. I fit little bursts of increased heart rate throughout the day by doing things like running up and down the stairs (often two at a time). I even do this at school if I don't think anyone is looking (though I don't recommend this if you are worried about falling. I will volunteer to get things on a different floor so that I get an extra chance to move sometimes. In class, if I notice my students looking tired we will stand up and do some in class jumping jacks or fast walking together. There are lots of ways to do little TPRS/CI (comprehensible input) workouts. These are good for you and the students, and can increase energy and learning ability. My students and I dance, run virtual obstacle courses, jump, run, walk, and do yoga all in the target language. Studies show that students often retain information better when it is tied to physical exercise.
I've also started doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) three or four days a week. There are 10 years worth of studies showing that HIIT training can provide many of the same benefits of longer aerobic workouts. I've only been doing this for about a month, so can't attest to it being the perfect answer to needing to fit more cardio in, but it gets my heart beating faster, is fun, and can be done in about 10 minutes. I'll update this post if I keep it up and find benefits.
In addition to all of the above, I go for walks, bike ride, play the tickle monster, and have dance parties with my kids. None of this is done with the goal of working out, but just to have fun while moving!
I hope this post helps a busy teacher (or anyone) sneak some extra fitness into your day. If you have other tips, or favorite fun activities to help others get moving, please share in the comments!
Earlier this week I finished re-reading the book "Social, Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect". Social, is incredibly COMPELLING input but, also a lot to take in, so I am giving myself an extra "repetition"by reading again. ;)
The author argues that our need to connect with others like us, is an incredibly fundamental part of what makes us happiest as human beings. He also argues (and backs up with an impressive amount of data), that we are happiest when we are working with others. He gives compelling evidence that we are capable of incredible things when our brains work together. Our true potential can not be reached when we work in isolation (as many of us do during the school year). The value of this conference both to improving our profession, and to ourselves as human beings is immeasurable. I feel lucky to have been able to share the weekend with so many inspiring educators. Before I forget about all the wonderful experiences this week (and before I totally crash tomorrow night) here is a bit (or maybe a LOT) about IFLT17.
Please forgive the errors in this post, I always think I will sleep at conferences and I always end up a bit sleep deprived instead. If I wait till I have laid down on the couch tonight I am afraid I will miss capturing the excitement of the weekend (and/or this post would not happen). :)
At IFLT17 language acquisition super stars (I promise I didn't photo shop myself into the above photo ;) and other teachers from across the world come together to support each other and work together to push the profession into new territory. All these brains and this knowledge working together to improve the profession is inspiring and up-lifting. Every time block at IFLT this year (much like last year) had multiple sessions I wanted to attend. It is always so hard to choose. But choices were made, and here are a few of the great things I learned. I wish I had time to attend ALL the sessions!
I ended up on the same flight on the way to IFLT as Teri Wiechart. I felt lucky to get to spend some time in conversation with Teri. She is such a kind person, and has done so much to help spread language acquisition. Monday started with Coaching4Coaches with Teri and her incredibly talented team of coaches. This class was something I needed. TPRS and CI are skills that needs a lot of practice. Coaching is an art, and I learned much that I can bring back to my district and to other teachers from her class. This class will be invaluable in helping newer teachers in our district. I am so grateful to her for all her work on IFLT. Also, for the incredible IFLT App that Teri manages. I can not possibly name everyone that should be thanked for IFLT (I do have to go to sleep at some point, caffeine can only get you so far). However, it is impossible to mention IFLT without mentioning Carol Gaab. Even when she talks to an auditorium full of people, she makes it seem as if she is talking right to you. Both kind, incredibly energetic, and a powerful advocate for teachers. I am so grateful for the work that Carol, Teri, and all of their team has done.
The keynote was given by the prolific and compelling Sr. Wooly. He spoke about something that can be a source of stress for language teachers, the worry that we are not "authentic" sources of language for our students because we are not native speakers. If we are not authentic (after all our years of practice), what are we telling our students about their potential for learning a language? His talk connected with the audience and is important to hear. Knowing that someone who has accomplished as much as Sr. Wooly has, worries about their authenticity as a teacher (which is something I think we all question sometimes) is empowering. Greatness does not often happen without a few failures first. A failure is just a step along the path.
After the keynote was the busiest part of IFLT for me. First I guided a forum on Language Acquisition with pre-literate students with teachers from around the world. Although I had a list of 6 or 7 questions, we spent most of our time on the first two questions because we had so much to say to each other. Loved having the time to speak with other educators working with young children. While there are three other elementary teachers in our district, I am the only language teacher in my building with my 500 students. I may be incredibly excited about something I've done in my classroom, or a major leap in my understanding with my students progress, but nobody at my building would get why I am excited. My IFLT support network is an invaluable resource both for sharing ideas and improving my practice (which is probably why I post so much). Hooray for the FB group!
After the Forum I headed off for my first Leader Launch Session on Games in the CI Classroom. Games can be a great way to get lots of repetitions of very, very compelling CI. I was a camp counsellor, have taught for 12 years, and have three kids, so I have a lot of games up my sleeve. It was fun to share some of my favorites with a room full of enthusiastic teachers. After my games forum, I headed off to talk about another of my favorite topics, the brain and learning. The Mirror and Mentalizing System in action in the classroom were the main topics of my presentation. Thank you for taking the time to listen if you spent part of your morning with me. If you are interested in the material from any of my presentations, check out the link here.
After lunch I went to see the energetic, fun, and very, very talented Maestra Loca. If you have not seen her blog, check it out right away. Even if you do not have her energy, or teach a different grade, there is something you can learn for your classroom from this talented teacher. Her session was full of joy. I was so happy to finally meet my elementary teaching partner in crime.
The end of my first day was spent was Keith Toda playing Mafia in Latin. I was killed off in the first practice round, but Keith made it up to me by letting me be Mafia the second round. ;) La Maestra Loca already has a great post about his session, but he definitely gave me a few new ideas for Bad Unicorn (which speaking of) an impromptu game sprang up one night, it was so much fun to play with a group of language teachers from across the country. I happened to have Unicornio Malo cards in my room because I was going to explain how to play in my session if there was time (there wasn't, I chronically plan too much both in my classroom and when I present). I wish we had been able to play in another language (no chart paper or places to write)!
Wednesday I spent the morning with Mira Canion and Kelly Ferguson learning about ways to include culture while staying in the CI. Lots of practical ideas to implement right away in the classroom, good for teaching culture, and inspiring deeper thinking. Mira and Kelly are both funny and personable presenters. They also talked about coffee a lot, which was very compelling for me first thing in the morning. ;) My students will totally be geeked I met the author of "Capibara con botas', which is another bonus.
I record a lot of videos with my students, but have never been to film school (or sadly read any books about filmmaking). Learning the basics with Sr. Wooly and Kelly Ferguson taught me a lot about how to make videos for and by my students WAY better. I cannot wait to see what I can produce with and for my students applying these new techniques. I also laughed so hard during the final session in this presentation that my stomach hurt (which is a good thing). Here is an early attempt at editing from my group's video. It was so fun to make this video with a group of peers that I had met in the facebook groups, but never in person. We can continue to support each other through out the year this way.
Next were "Lunch Time Talks" with Leslie Davison. We had roughly 100 teachers each day, willing to spend even their lunches learning from each other. How powerful is that? Lunch time talks can be more stressful than a longer presentation, because they are only 5 minutes and go so quickly. Everyone did a great job, and it was fun to learn different things from faces across the country. I gave a Lunch Time Talk about using breathing to control stress. To learn more, click here. The lunch time talks were well done, and I learned so much that I am looking forward to investigating. Thank you to the fun and knowledgeable Leslie Davison for organizing these the last few years!
Next up was the phenomenal Jason Fritze of Fluency Fast talk about elementary procedures. I could hardly write fast enough to keep up with his great ideas. Sadly my phone was dead, so I got no picture, but I do have many pages full in my notebook! I finished up my day with coaching. It was great to be able to start working with other CI teachers and learn from each other' s teaching. I appreciate all the coaches, but am especially grateful to Gary Di Bianca for letting me coach and learn with him.
I had heard for many years to go see Alina teach if you ever had a chance, and Thursday it finally happened. Not only did I get Alina, but Mira Canion popped in, and the two ended up working together for much of the lesson. They made a hilarious and entertaining team for students and teachers in the session. All were compelled and comprehending incredible amounts for beginning students. Must like in the previous session my notebook filled up quickly! I wish I had been able to fit in a language lab in Mandarin with the amazing Linda Li. Maybe next year, since Ohio is within driving distance for me.
After the language lab, and helping set up Lunch Time talks, I headed off to a Collaboration Room on Grammar in the brain with Kirsten Plante. It was so much fun to meet someone as into the brain as I am, I am so happy we had time to discuss the brain in your group, the time flew by, and I hope we get to chat again in the future!
As with IFLT last year, my only regret is that I did not have time to see and do more. A lot more pictures than I normally post of myself in this blog, but I can hardly believe I was able to meet so many amazing educators in one place. I wish I could have had time to work and learn with all of them. I have collaborated with many of them online before, but there is something special about meeting in person.
The value to ourselves as human beings to attend a conference like this is something that can only be experienced. Coming together to work with other teachers that are excited about changing education for the good of students and teachers is like nothing else. Discussing ideas in forums and collaboration rooms , creating projects, observing, questioning our practices, and all the excitement and laughter is something I wish that every teacher could experience, every year. Our full potential as educators, is reached when we come together to learn from each other, and to support each other. I will be a better teacher next year, because of everyone I met at this conference. Whether it was learning new things to try with my students from La Maestra Loca, Alina or Jason, deciding to play a last minute game of Unicornio Malo when I was steps away from going to bed (I am so glad I stayed up) in the hotel lobby, making a video in Señor Wooly's Film Class that made ma laugh so hard my stomach hurt, or listening to Dr Krashen and BVP take our questions, each part of the conference helps grow our profession in different ways. "I AM a language expert, language is NOT like other subject matter." Thank you to Dr. Krashen and BVP for your wise words. Thursday was the perfect end to the last full day of IFLT17.
Friday morning went by quickly with a fascinating session on Assessments with Diana Noonan. Assessment may not sound interesting unless you are a language dork, but for us teachers it can be compelling when done right. My last session was with the dynamic Mark Mallaney. I can't wait to bring his CI techniques back to the middle school teachers in my district.
When I came to IFLT last summer, I promised myself I would only go to this 1 conference, and that I really wouldn't go to any again for a long time. Halfway through the week I was already plotting my return. This year, I "for real" promised myself I would not go next year (2018), because I definitely used up all of my teacher improvement money (and then some) to make IFLT2017 happen. However, I know already, that if I can make it work, I will be back again next year. Having the support of your peers, and being able to work together to create practices that are infinitely better because we were able to learn from each other, is something that is incredible to be a part of, and hard to resist. I am so happy I was able to learn with so many amazing teachers this week!
If you asked me for links to materials or to post parts of my sessions and I do not do so soon, please let me know, I just forgot (as I have said, sleep deprivation). :)
Thank you to all the organizers, presenters, and coaches that made this happen. Organizing a conference is a crazy amount of work. I am truly grateful to all involved!
Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel —Socrates
I have so many new ideas for next year, and even though I will enjoy the rest of the summer, I can't wait to get started, and to share the excitement with my students. Thank you to everyone for a week well spent, I feel lucky to have been a part of it. I hope to see everyone at a conference in the future (and on the FB groups of course). Safe travels!!!
After my post about avoiding Burnout through breathing, sleep, and diet, I had quite a few questions about what exactly we eat, and finding the time to fit the food into a busy lifestyle. This post has more details about the diet and practical tips for getting started. If you haven't read the previous post, I suggest you start there, as this post is a follow up, and will make more sense if you start with the first post. The original post gives an explanation for why eating this way can improve your health, and I would not have tried this diet myself without knowing the why, as it involved some big changes to my eating habits. It also includes some information about sleep, yoga, and deep breathing. This post though, is all about the food, which while it is also the most work, it is also where I experienced the biggest changes to my health.
You are what you eat and when you eat the right foods, you go a long way towards good health. Although I spent many years sick and seeking treatment with conventional doctors (at least 10), it wasn't till I started experimenting with diet that I found my way to good health. Although I am not a doctor, and you should of course talk to a doctor before making diet changes if you have health problems, I write this in hopes that the years of research and experimenting I put into my health, will help you or a friend with your health.
In general we DO eat mostly vegetables (2 or 3 servings with every meal), then a single serving of protein, and some fruit). We would eat nuts, eggs, and seeds if we could, but my youngest is allergic so we do not have them in the house. These are great and healthy ways to add variety to a healthy diet if you do not have allergies.
In general we DO NOT EAT processed foods (other than occasional cheats), do not eat dairy (other than occasional cheats), do not eat items with added sugar (other than occasional cheats), and only eat grains once a week (other than occasional cheats). Perhaps you've noticed a pattern of cheating? That's because you can maintain health gains and weight loss as long as you come back to eating healthy. I will go into more detail about how to find the ideal healthy to cheating ratio for yourself later (very scientific ;) ) but for the first month I recommend eating as close to the following rules as possible:
1) No dairy
2) No processed foods
3) No added sugar
4) No grains
Why? Giving yourself a month (or as close as you can get) will give your body a chance to reset itself, and the need for sugar that eating the Standard American Diet (SAD).
mise en place - Everything in its place
Eating healthy ends up taking more time in the kitchen. In spite of being married to a chef for many years, I managed to avoid learning a lot of how to do much in the way of cooking. My clearly inferior skills in the kitchen were not needed, so I just helped a bit. I started this eating healthy with relatively few cooking skills, and preparing healthy food for the week took me a LONG and frustrating time, almost 4 hour of my Sunday to prep food for the week! That prep included veggies, fruits, and proteins for lunch and breakfast. When I t0ok the time to get everything in it's place (mise en place), by picking up a few key items for the kitchen, and a few important skills; I cut my time on food prep for the week in half, depending upon how much I wanted to get done (i.e. how lazy I felt about cooking on that day). The two keys to less time in the kitchen needed (other than time to increase my skills) were good knives, and cutting techniques. Chefs the world over have spent a lot of time defining the 'right' way to cut things. The 'right' way is usually the most efficient way to cut the item (whether it be vegetable, fruit or meat). Although my husband has a book about this, I often find it quicker and easier to just 'Google' how to cut whatever new item I am trying to prepare. This step takes a lot of extra time at first, but if you are not already familiar with how to cut and prep your food, taking the time to establish the correct way to do it now, will save you lots of time in the future. Videos like the examples below make it easy to pick up these skills!
Don't underestimate the importance of a good set of knives (this would not have occurred to me before I married my husband, so please excuse me if this seems to basic), but good knives make life much easier! We used to have a set of Wutoff knives at home, but my husband uses them at work. We bought a cheaper, but very functional set on Amazon. We chose these knives based on my husband's professional opinion, and the recommendations in the book "What Good Cooks Know" from America's Test Kitchen (which is by the way a great book to get if you need to stock up your kitchen). We have the following knives at home (and love them). If you can only get a few knives, start with the Chef's Knife, and the Pairing Knife.
Victorinox 8 Inch Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife - This is the knife I use most often in the kitchen!
Wüsthof Classic Paring Knife Classic - For smaller items.
If you want to stock up on a full set of knives we also like and use:
Victorinox Swiss Army 6 Inch Fibrox Pro Boning Knife with Flexible Blade
Mercer Culinary Millennia 10-Inch Wide Bread Knife - We don't eat bread often, but when we do, this comes in handy!
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and more!
What exactly do I prep for the week on Sundays? I usually cut fresh vegetables for salads (carrots, mushrooms, etc.), cook sweet potatoes and mushrooms for lunches, and prep meat or eggs for the week as well.
Eggs are great breakfast food, and can be prepared quickly in a variety of ways. Sadly, our youngest was born with 22 food allergies (which is a whole different story) so eggs are off our menu for now. However when we could eat them, we had them most days for breakfast, one of three ways:
1) Egg Muffins:
It's easy to make enough to last the week. You can throw a wide variety of meats, vegetables, and/or herbs, into muffin trays, pour scrambled eggs on top of it, and cook in the muffin trays. These can be put in the fridge and reheated each day of the week for about 5 days. We limit cheese in our house (really limit it right now as my youngest is still allergic) but here are 12 recipes to get you started.
2) Hard Boiled Eggs in a Hurry:
If you need a faster breakfast try it's also easy to get perfectly done hardboiled eggs by baking them in the oven when you don't have the time for egg muffins. Read about that here. Hard boiled eggs with left over vegetables and some fruit are a great, quick breakfast.
3) No time on Sunday Eggs:
Finally, for weeks when you just don't have the time to cook for the next week, cooking scrambled eggs on low in the morning usually only takes about 5 minutes. Keeping the temp. very low makes it possible to leave the pan (for making all important coffee) without burning the eggs. Throwing leftover vegetables from last night's dinner are also an easy way to vary scrambled eggs.
4) No time for Eggs:
Having a week when you don't feel like making eggs? Just make some extra protein on Sunday for the week OR plan to cook extra with each night's dinner, and eat it again for breakfast.
1) My favorite thing to eat for lunch is a Mason Jar Salad. Simply put the dressing on the bottom, add some hardy vegetables (I like to put carrots, radishes, and/or tomatoes in my bottom layer, followed by peppers, and mushrooms), finish with your salad greens on top (as far away from the dressing as possible). When you are ready to eat it, simply flip the jar over, shake it up, and dump it out. I pack the protein separately. You will have a fresh, well dressed salad ready in minutes (easy to fit in on a 20 minute teacher lunch schedule). You can make these on a Sunday, and they will still be good on a Friday).
2) If it's not the right time of year for salads, I usually go with a protein, a few vegetables, and some fruit for lunch. This is where the Sunday cooking time comes in, I generally cut up some carrots, and cook some mushrooms, broccoli, or sweet potatoes to put in lunches during the week. Sometimes I will cook a meat like chicken for lunches too. Our lunches usually contain some avocado as well, for a healthy fat. Sometimes we are also lazy and use a healthier prepackaged lunch meat (no hormones, nitrates, added, etc). A good quick lunch is a piece of lunch meat with some avocado wrapped in it (with a bit of sea salt). If you have more vegetables prepped, adding some cooked mushrooms, or roasted garlic to the roll up is also great (or rolling up the the whole thing in a large leaf of lettuce to add some greens to the meal). The kids eat the same lunches as the adults, even at school. My children and I use Planet Boxes which are stainless steel with compartments. These make it easy to pack a meat, a few vegetables, and a few fruits in lunches. When I don't have the time or will to cook on Sunday for lunch for the coming week, we plan to make more at dinner, and use leftovers in our house for lunch. Below is a slideshow of a week worth of lunches at our house. There are a lot of repeats, but this is what is fresh now and in the garden, I'm okay with it (and so are the kids)!
Dinner usually consists of meat, 3 different kinds of vegetables and some fruit. There are a lot of possible variations here, especially as you look at what is available locally. I highly recommend the website NomNom Paleo for easy to follow, kid friendly recipes. The cookbook is great too!
Staple Veggies: We try to provide a variety of fruits and veggies to our kids, but we have some veggies that the kids love and are quick and easy and, and show up frequently.
1) Broccoli: Trim it, put a pot on the stove to boil, add salt till the water tastes like salt water. When water comes to a boil, throw the broccoli in and let it cook for 5 minutes. While cooking, prepare a bowl with cold water and ice. After the 5 minutes put the broccoli into the ice water. Let sit for a minute, drain and toss with olive oil and salt to taste. Quick and easy and good for when you need to use the oven to cook other things.
2) Cauliflower: Two great and quick ways to prepare:
a) Trim it, toss in olive oil salt and pepper with a few cloves of garlic. Cook at 450 till golden brown. Turn at 10 minutes and give it at least another 10 minutes.
b) Cauliflower mashed potatoes. Steam cauliflower till tender, drain and throw in the food processor with olive oil (or butter) salt, and a garlic till taste. Blend till like mashed potatoes (totally fools my kids).
3) Sweet Potatoes: My KIDS love Sweet Potatoes one way and one way only, and this is the way (I think this is the only thing I make that they actually like my way better than 'Dad's way. Pre-heat oven to 450. Peel and slice between 4 to 6 sweet potatoes. Slice the potatoes thinly. Toss in olive oil with 8 cloves of garlic. Lay out on sheet trays, and sprinkle on salt and pepper. Flip the potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper on the other side. When the oven is ready cook them for 20 minutes, take them out and flip them over and cook another 8 to 15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes or so, the finished product will look almost burned but not quite, so good!
4) Mushrooms: My kids love cooked mushrooms, and we eat them both as a stand alone vegetable and as an addition to salads or lettuce wraps at lunch.
What about those nights when you just can't cook?? We all have them, but if pizza isn't an option anymore, we usually opt for a pre-cooked chicken at our favorite grocery store. Combine this with some guacamole, veggies and fruit, and you can have a quick meal in minutes.
After eating this while, I found myself needing/wanting snacks during the day less and less (a sign that your body has a good amount of fats ready to burn), however when you are in need of a snack (especially when first starting the diet) a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit is very satisfying. My time for snacking on the really unhealthy stuff was often after my kids were in bed at night. When I want to binge on sugar now, I try a big piece of fruit (or two) like an apple and/or banana and a big glass of water before giving into temptation. That usually helps me quite a bit.
I've found that I can eat one 'non-paleo' meal plus one dessert a week and still not have negative effects on my health. More than that and I don't feel as good, which helps me stick to the diet. When/if you start this diet, I recommend trying to stick to the diet as cleanly as possible for a month to evaluate how it makes you feel. If it seems like things are going well, slowly add a few cheats back in each week. Notice how they make you feel, and decide what works best for you based on how your own body reacts. A few of my favorite treats for when I'm trying to be good include:
Candied Pecans- Paleo other than the sugar, add these to raspberries and blueberries for a fruity treat that almost tastes like pie.
Banana ice-cream- Better than it sounds, and a great way to use up old bananas.
Liar Balls- Almost like candy but not quite.
A side note on cheating during the holidays...sometimes I cheat a LOT from Thanksgiving till the New Year. That's totally okay, and I know that I will go back to healthy eating when I am ready for it. I just pay attention to how I feel, and stop myself to have a 'healthy food break' if I start to get migraines or low energy again. The point of this way of eating is not to deprive yourself, but to set new habits of generally healthy eating. Eat your cake, and don't feel guilty, as long as you eat something healthy too. :)
Kids and healthy eating
My sons were easy to sell on healthy eating, as we have been eating this way since they were old enough to eat food. My daughter however was a hard sell. She was 4 when we started eating this way, and would often say she 'hated' the new food. Especially as she was used to eating homemade bread and pasta every week. Three things that really helped 'ease' her transition:
1) If you eat the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) your body is programmed to eat large amounts of sugar (and expects and craves it) because most of us eat too much of it (I know I used to, and still do sometimes), but your brain is also made to be able to recognize when something has high nutritional value, and even if you do not like something initially, you can grow accustomed to the taste when their is a high enough nutritional pay-off. I always have my daughter take at least 3 bites of food she says she 'hates' so that her brain can learn to 'like it'. I explained this reasoning to her and she got it. She takes her bites without complaining now and encourages her siblings to do the same.
2)It also helps to include a familiar vegetable kids already like (for example broccoli) with something they are less familiar with (i.e. brussel sprouts) that way you know the kids will have something to eat even if it's not their favorite.
3) Get the kids involved. My kids love to peel potatoes, wash lettuce, snap beans, and assemble salads (which they are way more likely to eat if they help make). My daughter is very proud of her little 'dog knife' (it's the one with the orange 'tail') hanging with all of our knives and loves helping with it.
I was okay with my kids occasionally not eating a lot for dinner when they said they didn't like it, they learned some valuable lessons. My pediatrician is very supportive of our diet, and said if anyone ever questioned it to let them know are kids are thriving on it. They are often surprised that my youngest has gained weight so well, since usually it is hard to get kids with so many allergies (22) to gain weight. He is thriving and happy on this diet!
For your Information
The following books are helpful to read when developing your diet, and will help you understand how foods effect your body. Fair warning, you can't 'un-know' this information (as my family like to say). A lot of this information changed the way I see the world quite a bit.
Grain Brain- A great book for explaining the impact of gluten and sugar on the brain. You will never look at a delicious piece of bread the same again! Mwahaha (wah!!!) :)
Brain Maker- Very interesting description of how important gut bacteria and the micro-biome is to our overall health. It was information in this book, that helped me realize my son had food allergies before he tasted any 'dangerous' food. I was able to clear his skin of severe eczema (that we could not clear with medicine) and give the doctors a pretty accurate list of what I thought he was allergic to before the allergist tested him. The doctors were skeptical at first, but are now all very interested in this research. My pediatrician told me she thinks work with the micro-biome will be the next big field in medicine. It is also the reason the only supplement my family all takes is a good pro-biotic. Born with 22 food allergies, at his testing a few months ago, my son had a 50% reduction to all his allergens across the board. This could be just him growing out of them, but those are impressive numbers. I have been using information from this book to try to help him (I consulted my pediatrician, allergist, and asked Dr. Perlmutter, the author, a question before I 'experimented' with probiotics and my youngest. I am glad that we have tried it, and hope he continues to see good results.
The Omnivores Dilemma- A great explanation of the path of our food from farm to table. Important but also sad. Michael Pollan is a great author, and I've enjoyed all of his food books I have read.
In Defense of Food- An exciting explanation for why eating more traditionally is better for our health.
Nom Nom Paleo - My favorite Paleo cookbook, easy to follow, easy to make, kid friendly, and fun to read.
Against All Grains- A great cookbook with everything from breakfast to dinner (including some pancakes and muffins)!
Paleo Takeout- Good for those new to Paleo that want something that resembles food from the SAD diet (and some tasty treats).
Well Fed Paleo- Easy to follow recipes, and a really great description of how to prep for your week on Sunday.
The New Family Cookbook- America's Test Kitchen- Not strictly Paleo, but once you know the basics of the diet you can 'Google' Paleo substitutions (or in some cases just leave things out). This book will tell you how to pick the best food, along with fundamental cooking tips that will just make all your meals better!
What Good Cook's Know - Everything you could want to know about what equipment to buy for your kitchen. Systematically tested by America's Test Kitchen (reliable and knowledgeable)
Below are a few of the documentaries I've watched in relation to diet, and where I've streamed them. This is not an extensive list and I will try to add to it as I come across more information. It was watching 'Forks Over Knives' with my husband that finally convinced him we needed to experiment with our what we ate, for the sake of our health.
Intermittent Fasting is the last practice I do to improve health. In a nutshell, it is calorie restriction, either with a long fast a few times a year, or by skipping a meal on a daily basis (usually breakfast). Our ancestors did not eat constantly the way we do now, and would often go for periods of time without food. I used to hate when people would say , "I forgot to eat", because I would get shaky and headaches if I didn't eat, and I couldn't understand how others could just forget to eat. The shaking and headaches came from the sugar drops and spikes in my blood stream when I ate the SAD diet. When I switched to this way of eating, I can easily skip meals and not even feel hungry. That is because my body has a proper store of energy built up and ready to burn when I don't eat (and by occasionally fasting I give my body the chance to burn it). This is not something that I would recommend doing until you have been eating Paleo for a few months. When my husband and I started doing it (note the kids do NOT do it) we barely noticed skipping the meal, and not eating breakfast made it easier to get ready in the morning. We fast by not eating after 10pm at night, until lunch time the next day. Eating healthy, I don't even miss breakfast.
Why do it? Intermittent Fasting (not eating for 12 hours if you are doing it on a day to day basis as we do) gives your body a chance to burn stored fat, go into a state where it cleans out damaged cells, increases the production of new neurons in the brain, and has even been shown to lengthen the telomeres at the end of our strands of DNA (telomeres are related to longevity).
In conclusion, I hope this was a helpful post for those considering making a switch in their diet. They were big changes for me, but the health benefits I've seen for myself and my family have been life changing. Thanks to diet changes we've got rid of severe eczema for my son, and severe migraines for myself. We have all lost weight, and have way more energy. Several friends and family have had similar results, but I won't share their stories without permission. Hoping that this post helps someone find their way to better health!
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.