29 September 2014

Becoming me...

Day 29 - Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

Here's another one of these prompts that you think you'll be able to answer easily but then you're forced to really evaluate your career.  

I have been teaching for 15 years now and I'd like to think that I have become "seasoned" and "evolved."  When I think back to my first years, I think I had a difficult time because I walked into the job with the expectation that : 1.  I was the supreme know-it-all in the classroom. 2.  my students would be performing at a certain level 3. My students would automatically respect me and want to learn.  In the first few weeks, my bubble was burst and I was left feeling dejected, a bit of a failure and less than perfect.  It was in part due to my unrealistic expectations and in part due to the fact that students knowing you are a brand new teacher will go to the ends of the universe to push your buttons and test you, driving you nuts (or out of the profession!)

I held on because I am not a quitter and I realized (after some reflection) that I had a lot to learn if I wanted to become the educator that I am today but that it was not unattainable.  I realized that the first thing I needed to do was to set my expectations for both my students as well as myself within reach.  I learned that I could even admit to myself and my students that I did not know everything.  I found better ways to present lessons by talking with colleagues and asking for help.  I explored, studied and researched.  I learned that I needed to be true to who I am and find my "teacher voice."  I learned that I needed to have more patience and how to draw a line between friend and teacher- being loved is great but being a great educator is even better.


28 September 2014

Technology and curriculum

Day 28 - Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa?

For me, this is a no-brainer.  I've said many times how I feel a bit behind technology-wise, but I do recognize its utility in a classroom.  That said, what I have been doing is to develop my lessons and curriculum and adding to their effectiveness by incorporating technology. The Internet is a wonderful, rich tool that can make any illustrating a point as easy as plugging a phrase into Google.  Google docs are a great way to share documents and collect information. YouTube is one of my fave go-to's for Italian music or other authentic language. However, all of these resources are almost useless if there is no substance (curriculum) behind them.  I have had the opportunity to observe other teachers who were among the most tech-savvy you could find.  One thing stood out- those who used technology as a means of support rather than THE lesson had hands down the most effective lessons.


27 September 2014

R&R?

DAY 27 Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge 

What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

I wish I could say that on weekends and holidays I just relaxed and rested up for my work week.  Ok, I don't know if I actually mean that.  I'm not even sure that I would even know how to relax.  My weekends are usually just as busy, if not more, than my work week.  28 Sundays a year I teach Italian to kids ages 4 and up. In between, you'll probably find me at the soccer fields (watching my sons), doing the food shopping, cleaning or a myriad of other errands.  And in between all of this, I am constantly thinking of my teaching.  I'll hear a song and think, "Oh, this is perfect for reviewing the imperfect tense."  I'll scroll through the tweets and find a great article and have to print it out to share in class.  I just can't seem to turn off my teacher brain.  Everywhere I look, I find something I can bring into the classroom.  For now, I guess it'll be ok, right? I'll save the rest and relaxation for retirement. Maybe.

26 September 2014

My top sites

DAY 26 - Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

Google - I'm almost sure that there are some very amazing sites out there that might be perfect for me but for some reason, I am really bad at saving sites and so I usually end up doing a Google search for what I need. Google is probably the search engine and tool that I use the most.  I don't even think there has been a day when I haven't used Google.  The funny thing is that I often will do a search and see that many links are highlighted, indicating that I have already been to the site.  Why don't I just bookmark these sites? I have no clue but I think I probably should start to make my life easier- at least in this way.

YouTube -   Being a language teacher, YouTube is an invaluable tool which lets me share authentic language with my students.  I use it to show them music videos, clips from movies or news.  Sometimes, it is not as easy to find materials in Italian as it is in Spanish or French and YouTube can help fill that void.


Twitter - Although Twitter appears last on my list, it is probably the number one internet resource that I have been using since last year.  Following other teachers (expanding my PLN), cultural figures, and news sources have helped me immensely.  There have been many occasions when I have read something in an Italian newspaper that I have then brought into my classroom because it was perfectly adapt for what we were talking about.

Honorable mentions:

ILR.fm - This is one of my favorite Italian radio stations. I play it all the time in my classroom.  It's perfect for variety and for exposing my students to music.

NYSED.gov - http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/lote/pub/lotecassess.pdf  This site is one that I have visited quite a few times. I am usually not a big fan of the state government telling me how to do things but this particular page has helped me with assessments.  It has sample rubrics for all types of language tasks - speaking, storytelling, written, etc.  I have used some as they appear on the site and others have just served to help me develop my own idea of what I should be looking for and how to grade.


25 September 2014

Can a 40 day challenge be the answer?

DAY 25- Reflective teacher Blogging Challenge

The ideal collaboration between students-what would it look like?

Wow.  As a language teacher, this is something I always wish would happen.  Many times, the interaction is student to teacher and vice versa. In a perfect world, my students would interact in the target language ONLY.  I don't just mean when I ask them to create a dialogue and then present to the class but also when they were chit-chatting.  Although I encourage as much as I can the use of the target language only, fear overtakes many a student. The fear of having a poor accent.  The fear of mispronouncing a word.  The fear of not knowing a word.  The fear of others thinking you try to hard or not enough.  Basically, the fear of being judged.  I do try to build my students self confidence by reiterating time and time again that they are awesome just for trying and that the more they use the language, the more comfortable they'll feel using it.

Last year, I tried something different.  I chose to give up English for lent.  I wanted to model for them.  Although I do use Italian in the classroom for the majority of the lesson, I didn't always outside the classroom and I would resort to English for time constraints or just based on my perception of how difficult a grammatical point would be to understand in Italian only.  My fear of me not being able to assure myself that they "got it" would lead me at times to resort to English.  However, I told them about my Lenten offering and that I would use only Italian for the 40 days with anyone who knew or was studying the language both within and outside the classroom.  I promised them if they would agree to challenge themselves in my class as well and not complain, that I would, at the end of the challenge, cook for them.  I have to say that this went over really well for the majority.  Any time I saw my students - in the cafeteria, the guidance office, the hallways- our only interaction was in Italian.  I was so pleased with the results that I will definitely do it again this year.  It not only helped me find alternate ways to assess them and it helped them be more open to the idea of using the language exclusively.  I know that many language teachers will be wagging their fingers at me; telling me that I should be doing this all year anyhow.  I'm here to admit that it's difficult. And it's not difficult because I am not confident in my language skills but just for the mere fact that most of our daily life happens in English.  I know many language teachers whose own children cannot speak the language well or at all.  I try my best with my own kids and I know that can speak pretty well but for them, it can seem a bit unnatural because they go about 80% of their day, if not more, in English so to use Italian for the other 20% can be somewhat forced.  I don't force too much because I don't want them to shut down and I feel the same way for my students.  I encourage, encourage, encourage all year the use of Italian at all times but if I'm too forceful, they might not ask me a question or comment at all.  However, if they know there is a start and an end to a challenge, they are more apt to participate and even though the 40 days come to a close, their use of Italian ALWAYS increases- for all of my students, even the weakest of them.  It's like when I'm running. I set a goal for time or distance and try to achieve it and while I'm doing it, sometimes all I want is for the time to be up or that mile to be completed so I can stop.  But when I finish, I feel good about myself and my achievement that I continue to push myself even after it's over.

Non conformist...

DAY 24 - Reflective teacher Blogging challenge

Which learning trend captures your attention the most and why?

I wish I could easily answer this and sound super-amazing.  I guess my main problem is that I have never been someone who could just follow one method or approach.  Ok, fine, I'll admit it.  During my methods class I know we had to read and study what the then pioneers in education were doing.  I'll never forget being observed by my professor while student teaching.  He said to me that he was really impressed the way that I used this method or applied that approach.  All I remember thinking was, "I'm glad he thinks I did this or that but I just did what I thought would be good for my students."

Fast forward a few years and I find myself in my own class and I think I'm still doing the same thing.  I use what I find fitting for my classes.  I usually think of what I want the kids to get out of a lesson and then design it. I think that's along the lines of UBD.  I use a lot of projects that put the kids in charge of their learning - I think that's something along the lines of PBL.  Some groups of kids are nice and cohesive, working well together.  Some groups are among the most mismatched that you wonder who could have possibly put them together and you almost dread their entrance.  No matter what the group, I adapt my lessons to them.  Basically, I just can't commit to ONE method or even a few methods.   When my class reveals itself to me, my lessons seem to shape themselves.  I know this sounds a little bit like a cop-out answer but it's the truth.

23 September 2014

Community

Day 23 Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

One way that I have been incorporating the community as a whole into my teaching this year is through the Italian Honor Society.  I am fortunate to be the academic adviser for this great group of students.  We are working on many things this year and I am so proud of them for truly being organized! A few things that we plan to do:

1.  Italian Night - This cultural event is aimed at the whole community from ages 1 -100. We will offer live performances of classical music by a quartet, an instructional dance (the Tarantella), fun contests like spaghetti eating and pizza making and of course there will be tons of FOOD!  We will also be collecting donations of non-perishable food items to donate to a local soup kitchen.

2.  Sav-a-Pet - There is a local animal shelter and many of the students have expressed a desire to help out.  I find it only fitting that we help since our chapter was named for Saint Francis, who was a lover of all creatures.

3.  Mini classes for the elementary schools - I was fortunate enough to lead a group of adults this summer to Italy.  Among the group were some of my colleagues who I did not know so well.  One of them is an elementary school teacher.  Since we had hit it off so well, I felt comfortable enough to ask her if she would be willing to have my high school students come in to her class and teach a few mini lessons.  She said she absolutely love to do that and would hold me to it! Right now, we are working out the schedule and we might even have a few other teachers interested in participating.  I can't wait to see how this goes!

Thank you, Twitter!

Day 22 - Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

What does your PLN look like and what does it do for your teaching?

I have to admit that I, too, had to look up what this meant and had to read other blogs to have an idea.  Even though some technology has been around for a while, I had been resistant to really and truly implementing it into my professional life. Now that I have embraced it (most of it), I have to say that I am so grateful for much of it.  My PLN was made up of colleagues mostly in my particular building before Twitter.  I did have some connections outside the building as I was pretty active in an organization called LILT (Long Island Language Teachers) and it was nice to be able to grow my network of colleagues and have an idea of what things were like in other districts.  Now that I have Twitter, and more specifically, now that I have taken on this challenge, I feel as if I have just expanded my network exponentially.  Thanks to all of you involved in this challenge and who have commented on my posts or just cheered me on!  Grazie mille!


21 September 2014

Blessed teacher

Day 21 - Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching?

I'd like to start of by saying that I am truly blessed to teach what I teach. Interacting with my colleagues who teach other subjects has really shown me that I have much more freedom to bring almost anything into my classroom and make it appropriate.  I'm not saying that these other teachers don't do what they can to bring their interests or hobbies into their teaching but I find it even easier being a language teacher. As a language teacher, I can find almost anything as a teachable moment and as something relevant to my students or what we're studying.

Music - I LOVE MUSIC-- even though I have not a musical bone in my body. I can't carry a tune or play an instrument but I can usually recognize a song in very few bars. I have gotten goose bumps listening to certain songs and have even been brought to tears.  I find it difficult to work without listening to music. I could easily forego the television for quite a while but ask me to go a day without music and I just don't think I could bear the thought!  That said, I am able to incorporate my love for music into my classroom often.  I will often play music in the background (Italian only , of course) while students are working.  I will post extra credit where students need to view a music video and answer some questions.  My students have also done projects on contemporary Italian music.  Many times, they even download songs to their iPods and are so proud to tell me.  I also use songs to teach grammar points and themes, as many of my fellow language teachers do.  My iPad is always on at home on ILR Italian radio as is my computer at school and I have encouraged all of my students to do the same to help with their language skills and to just enjoy some really great music.

Cooking - I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't appreciate Italian cooking.  I love to cook and at various times during the year, I will reward my students with some homemade cooking.  Usually, there is some sort of challenge involved like everyone performing at a certain level on a test or a certain amount of time using the target language only.  They then get to vote on what I'll make --lasagne, baked siti or some other pasta dish is usually what they want.  In my upper levels, I have had them create cooking magazines to teach them how to give instructions (in Italian, you have three different ways of giving instructions).  They will usually also create a cooking show where they teach us how to make something and then bring it in!

Travel - Perhaps the BIGGEST advantage to being a language teacher and having an extremely supportive administration is that I get to take my students to Italy every other year.  Travel, for me, is one of the best educations you can get.  Nothing can ever compare to seeing/experiencing something first-hand.  I have been to Italy now on 7 different student tours (aside from having lived there for almost 2 years).  These trips really give me an opportunity to share my passion for all things Italian with my students.  In certain places, like Florence, my students see me transform from classroom teacher to tour guide extraordinaire. They usually can't believe how much I really know about where we are.  It is an amazing feeling to turn my students into world travelers.  Many of my students have gone on to do study abroad programs and many in Italy.  How awesome!  The additional perk for me is that I customize all the tours so that we visit major attractions and some lesser known areas. I always want them to see the most they can and have a unique experience.  It also helps me visit places I haven't been to!


Showcasing student work

Day 20 Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

How do you curate student work--or help them do it themselves?

At the high school level, many people might imagine that displaying student work is only for the art classes.  I do have to admit that our art department does a FANTASTIC job of displaying and showcasing student work.  Usually, in May, the high school gets somewhat of a "face-lift."  The student work is incredible.  I have, in the past, brought my students through the building to look at the art as if it were a museum and ask them to comment on the art in Italian.  It's a great way to get the students out of the classroom and bring recognition to a job well-done.

In the past, ways that I personally have showcased my student work is through portfolios at the end of their academic year which holds pieces of their journey through my course.  I am always tweaking the portfolio and trying to make it better.  I am hoping this year to make it digital so that I can share some of them with parents at a Back To School Night to show exactly what my expectations of their learning are and how they can turnout something reflective and noteworthy.

I do also from time to time hang some student work. When talking about descriptive adjectives, I have the students create a coat of arms that they design based on how they see themselves.  Sometimes, I have them design an acrostic poem with their names and display that.  I have a collection of magazines that have been put together by my classes and use them as examples.  I do a lot of wonderful projects at the upper levels that really get to showcase their work through the presentation mode.  Students often enjoy seeing each others' futuristic transportation designs or listening to each others' radio programs.

I know there are so many other ways to curate student work and I am learning everyday.  I can't say enough how glad I am to have taken this challenge.  My new virtual colleagues are a wealth of information!

19 September 2014

Reflection, reflection, reflection

Day 19 Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

How do I get my students to reflect on their learning? 

I have to admit that this could possibly be another one of my shortfalls in education.  I know that I do often ask questions like How do you know that?  or What do you think would make this a better sentence? or Based on what you already know, what could we do differently here? 

Something that I have started using more in the past two years is Google Docs where I discovered that Google Docs could make me look amazing with their forms.  I have created a reading log form that my students have to fill out once a week in some classes.  Besides summarizing or pointing out grammatical points and such, I do have them give a judgement on how they felt the reading was for them : too easy, easy, difficult, too difficult.  I also ask them to reflect on what they enjoyed about the reading.  

For some classes, I do use portfolios as a final project with parts that really have them reflect back on our year together.  One part is creating a comic strip surrounding an event that happened in our class in the past year.  It is always surprising to see exactly what stands out for them.  And it's always pretty funny.  : ) 

Other than these pieces, it's clear that I need to put this on my to do list. Once again, I am grateful to this blogging challenge for helping me (hopefully) become a better teacher!

18 September 2014

Jack-of-all-trades

Day 18 Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

A teacher is a jack-of-all-trades.

Ever since I was in elementary school, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I loved learning and I loved being able to help others learn.  (I don't know that my sisters always appreciated it.) There was no question that I would end up teaching.  I did, however, change my mind often about what I wanted teach.  At first I thought I would be an elementary school teacher (Thank you, Mr. Pessah.) Then, I though maybe English and I realized that my true passion was in language, just not English.  

Today, my official title is Italian teacher.  I was never really prepared for what this job would entail outside of imparting knowledge onto others.  It didn't take long to realize that some days, I would do much more than teach Italian.  It's a good thing that I have become very comfortable wearing all of these different hats.

I am a counselor or parent when a student asks me for advice on anything from better study habits to boyfriend/girlfriend or just friend issues to college choices and so much more. I like to believe that I always have a steady flow of students in my room after school (and even after they have graduated) because I have become a confidante; someone they can trust to help them or just listen.

I am a nurse.  Even though it's high school, you would be surprised to know how many kids ask me to feel their foreheads to see if they're running a fever or to look at a swollen hand or knee to see if it might need a visit to the doctor or emergency room.  I have helped stop many a nose bleed and have given many a band-aid with some first aid ointment.  I have dispensed of medicine on our field trips to Italy.  

I have been a referee when students have found their way to my room to hash out some argument.

Oftentimes I am a cheerleader for my students because I am constantly telling them that they can do it. They CAN learn Italian because L'italiano e' facile. (Italian is easy)

I have been an advocate for my students when it comes to the administration or the board of education, letting them always know what I feel is best for my students.

Many times, I am able to take one hat off before donning a new one but when I take my students to Italy, I wear all of my hats at once. I am their parent always watching out for them or signing paperwork at the hospital in Sorrento when they're sick. I'm their bodyguard when a mom comes up to one of my students yelling at him for dancing too close to her daughter.  (I know, what mother goes to a club with her daughter?!) I've been their nurse doling out medications at specific and not-so-specific times or holding a bucket on a crazy boat ride. I'm their guide through some of the most beautiful scenery and art. I'm their friend posing for a funny selfie.  There are so many hats that I wear when I'm on one of these trips that I can easily lose track of what the count might be that I liken myself to the man on the cover of the children's book, Caps for sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.  As exhausting as these trips can be, I wouldn't change a thing. I get to share my passion for Italy and all things Italian with them first hand, giving them a truly unforgettable experience.  So, I guess you can just call me Jack. 

17 September 2014

Respect- who needs it?

Day 17 - Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge
What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

I have to agree with many of the other teachers out there citing politics, common core and financial reasons. These are really pressing matters that deserve a lot of attention mostly because the one of the main components of education- the teachers- is removed from the decision making in all of the above. So maybe exclusion of teachers is the most challenging issue.  Who knows better that us what our schools and students need?

However, I, like another blogger involved in this challenge, am a bit spoiled by the district where I work.  My superintendent is by far one of the most supportive and forward-thinking individuals you could ask for.  He is the leader of the  Students Not Scores movement.  Over 60% of our students opted out of the Common Core testing and he couldn't have been prouder.  Aside from a very supportive administration, my students live in a somewhat well-off area in comparison to other towns.  This means that we do have many things that a neighboring district may not.  Of course we are not without our problems.  No district is perfect but I am certainly glad that I work where I do.

So, you're probably thinking what is the most challenging issue for you then?  Well, I would say in my case that the overall perception of teachers is not always a good one.  It boils down to one word: RESPECT.  I don't mean to say that all  students are like this.  I do have some very amazing students but I have noticed a sharp decline in the respect accorded the teachers and administrators by both students and parents.   Who do I blame for this? Well, I don't think it can be pinned on just one group in particular.  Everyone has a hand in this.  The media certainly helps to incite taxpayers by contorting the truth and sensationalizing educational issues leaving teachers on the defensive.  How many times can the news report that teachers are paid a full-time salary for part-time work?  Most parents are working hard to pay bills and keep up with the Jones' that they often don't take as much a role in their children's education as they should.  Oftentimes, their children become spoiled at home and expect the same at school.  Parents are quick to believe their children's account of what happened in a classroom and are soon on the phone to berate the teacher.  This behavior reinforces a lack of respect for our profession and is passed on to the students.  Other times, we can be our own worst enemies by allowing our students to cross a line between teacher and student to friend.  I myself have been guilty in the past and have worked hard to become a teacher who is someone they can confide in and feel comfortable with but understand each of our roles in the relationship.  Being too lenient and acting more of a friend can backfire easily. It's similar to the parent-child role. In a nutshell, teachers have gone from being held in high regard by everyone (think back to when we were younger what would have happened if we did something wrong in school--who's side was your parent on?) to being constantly attacked by many.

16 September 2014

Is Perfection a Superpower?

Day 16 - Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

Why do the prompts always look so easy to answer and then you sit down and wonder how in the world am I going to answer this one?  I open the new window to write my new post, stare at the blank screen, start to write, erase, write again, erase again, write again... I read some other blog posts for ideas (and to make sure I don't seem crazy).  And finally, I come back to what I know is true about me no matter where I am- in or out of the classroom.  I'm always running behind my foe, trying desperately to catch him; knowing I will never catch up in my very rational brain, yet somewhere in my heart, I think if I train enough, I'll grab him - perfection.

Perfection is a constant struggle I have had ever since I can remember.  I'll spare you all the long details but if you have a bunch of time and really want to delve into it, I have written an essay about wrestling with Perfection. For the purposes of keeping this somewhat succinct, I will just say this, if perfection could be my superpower, I'd take it in a heartbeat. What could be better? If I were perfect, I would have all the answers, be able to differentiate like a pro, photocopy on time, prepare perfect lessons, have perfect classroom control, etc.  This superpower would leave me and my students with the feeling of contentment and gratification. What could be better?

15 September 2014

My three strengths

Day 15 - Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge

Name three strengths you have as an educator

Dedication - I am dedicated to my profession, to my students and to myself.  As an educator, I feel that I am never "off."  I am always working even when I'm on vacation. It's difficult for me not to relate something to my teaching.  A perfect example of this is when I am listening to Italian music (all the time) and I'll make a note that this would be perfect for teaching the imperfect or the future tense.  My mind never seems to differentiate between when I should be enjoying something for the sake of enjoyment or when I should be taking notes so that I can turn it into a great lesson.

All of my students (I hope) know that I am always available to them - not just for help in Italian.  I have come to recognize my role of teacher to be many things: educator, parent, nurse, friend, cheerleader.  I have a difficult time turning students away for any reason, even if I may be late to an appointment.  It was difficult at first to not be so engrossed in my students' lives that I barely had one of my own.  I have learned over time to create a balance and it has served me well. 

I am dedicated to being the best me I can be so that I can serve my profession and my students well.


Passion - What I do for a living is what I live.  I live to make everyone love Italian and all things Italian.  I believe in making my students fall in love with Italy so they want to travel there and so they care about learning the language.  I participate in/attend  as many Italian events as possible.  I teach everyone from 4 year olds to adults.  I couldn't see myself doing anything else.  I have come to the conclusion that as much as I love Italy and would love to have a home there, my place is here in the U.S. My place is here so I can spark a love of the language and culture in each and every one of my students. It is not uncommon for me to go off on a tangent in class because I have been swept away in telling a historical story or about a previous trip.  And the reward is that I have a captive audience and you can see by their expressions that they are taking it all in and enjoying it - forgetting for a moment that they're still LEARNING.

Organizational Skills - Being a control freak with borderline OCD (though my wife would raise an eyebrow at the word borderline) makes me a better teacher.  Maybe not better than my less-organized colleagues but better for me. I can't function in a world without order.  I plan in advance and keep everything in nice color-coded folders. I make lists and am never more pleased then when I can cross something off.  My organizational mania helps me stay on top of deadlines and be a better parent and husband.  

14 September 2014

Feedback - Help me!

Day 14 of the Reflective Teacher Blogging Challenge is all about feedback.  This is perhaps the area of my teaching that really needs the most improvement.  It has been a constant struggle for me.  It is all too easy to rely on assignments and tests to help determine grades.  I know that students and parents are focused on grades because they believe it tells them everything they need to know about how well or poorly they are performing.  I know  these are not the end-all be-all yet nevertheless, I too, rely on them.  My feedback is primarily in the form of comments on a writing assignment, tests or oral feedback during class.  I have been experimenting with different tech areas (Google Docs, Forms and Twitter) which I think might help me move in a different direction.  I am grateful for this challenge because it has helped me to realize my strong points and my shortcomings while all the time providing me support in the form of others' blogs.  I would like to extend a thank you to everyone involved in this challenge for sharing, being honest and providing some amazing ideas!  I will continue reading and hopefully growing as an educator. Grazie.

13 September 2014

Me and Technology- oil and water?

Day 13 - What are the top edtech tools that I use...

I hesitate to answer this blog prompt because I have to admit to a whole bunch of tech savvy teachers who will read this that I am not nearly as tech savvy as they are.  In fact, for a long time, I referred to myself as the "oldest young teacher" when it came to technology. I love chalk. I think that for me, technology scares me and also seems too variable.  Chalk is constant.  If the internet or network is down, that could really put a cramp in a lesson based on using YouTube or other sites dependent on internet connection.  If you go to the computer lab, all the computers might not work to their potential or at all and then what? Call me distrusting, but it doesn't come from just fear--things like this have actually happened.  If a piece of chalk breaks, I get a new one. The board is always there and never needs to be calibrated.  And at the end of the day, when I have chalk all over me, I feel as if I have the marks to prove that I did my job.  That said, (I almost cannot believe I am telling any and everyone who may read this-please don't judge too harshly!), I do use technology and am always trying to find new ways that it can supplement what I do in and out of the classroom. So, here are the edtech tools that I use regularly and actually LOVE.

Google Docs - I love Google docs because I can access them ANYWHERE.  I also love them because they make me look like a rock star.  Let me explain.  I have created documents using Google forms that when my students follow a link will see a very fancy looking form and all I really did was type in a few questions.  For an idea, check this out.  The other AWESOME thing about this Google doc is that it automatically creates a spreadsheet for me with the students' responses with date and time stamp! I'm still experimenting with all that Google docs has to offer but in the meantime, my students who know me well think I've finally made it to the 21st century.

Twitter - I will admit that I was completely goaded into creating a Twitter account.  My 4th period class last year helped me make it because they thought my tweets would be funny and they would get a kick out of that.  Well, I told them that if I opened this Twitter account that I would have to use it for academic things as well.  And I have.  I use Twitter to tweet homework assignments, links to a Google doc and mostly to give them what I have called #twextracredit.  This is a weekly extra credit where students have to tweet back to me.  The #twextracredit can be to watch a video, listen to a song and answer questions or to use a word in a sentence or to find a picture that represents a word that I give them.  I find that many do it because they think it's an easy way to get extra credit and partly because they are ALWAYS on some electronic device.

Wow! I think Margaret was right! I just can't write a short blog entry!

12 September 2014

Today's blog challenge question is:

How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?

First of all, when you say "challenge", I guess you mean it TeachThought.  Each night, I sit down to answer these questions and I feel like I should always have something really profound to say.  

I have been thinking about this a lot lately.  I haven't necessarily thought about five years from now but I I'm always looking for ways to improve so some of my ideas may refer to the not so far-off future.  One of my goals was to incorporate technology more.  I feel as if technology is used A LOT by many and can always seem to get the oohs and ahhs of the administrators but is it always effective? I have been back and forth with technology.  Some things really seem fun and inviting while others just seem to be too time consuming and mostly fluff.  In the next five years, I see myself having done adequate research into what works well and what doesn't and embracing a more integrative way of teaching with technology because I don't see it ever going backwards and kids can't get enough.  I have to ooh and ahh my students more than my administrators if I'm going to be successful.  I just hope that when I think I've come to a good balance and am comfortable that everything doesn't change again!

11 September 2014

Day 11 - Blogging Challenge -Who doesn't have a favorite?

What is my favorite part of the school day and why?

This is another tough one! As I glanced briefly at the prompts for the month before I began the challenge, I thought to myself, I can do this! and now I realize that this is actually more difficult than it seems.  And the funniest thing of all is that I often ask my students questions just like these and expect that they can answer with ease.  Who doesn't have a favorite season? Who doesn't have a favorite drink or place to study or day of the week? Or even a favorite part of the day

I've been thinking about this prompt throughout my day today and I have come to the conclusion that I just can't choose one specific time of day that is my favorite.  However, I have no plans to give up this challenge.  I will not answer with a simple, "Geez, I just don't know." Instead, I thought I would share the parts of the day that keep me coming back day after day.  Let's face it, teaching is not for the weak.  It can be draining at times and sometimes even seem to suck the life out of you.  So why would someone willing choose to return each and every day?

The few minutes just before class starts:  This is my hopeful time; a time when I glance at my plans or notes, put my best game face on and say to myself, "I've got this.  This is going to be a great lesson."  It sounds silly but I have to get myself somewhat psyched before I start.

During my lesson: I wish I could say that it happens each and every time but when I'm sitting there on a desk (I almost always find myself sitting on a desk in the midst of my students) with my coffee in hand (an absolute necessity) showing them why they should love Italy, Italian culture and the Italian language or asking them a series of questions or doing just what all of us do- teach- for a moment, as I'm looking out onto this sea of faces, I realize they're actually listening to me, they're getting it and they're enjoying it! This for me is why I have no fear of getting in front of my class and teaching because I know I'll have this kind of experience.  Like I said, it's not an everyday occurrence because let's face it, sometimes your lesson falls just short of amazing.  However, it happens enough to get me to keep coming back.

Lunch with my colleagues: I have been fortunate enough to have common lunch or prep time with some amazing teachers.  This time is invaluable for bouncing ideas off of each other, comparing notes, and yes, sometimes just plain old bitching and moaning.  Teaching can be a lonely profession.  For the most part, it's just you and your kids.  But on your prep or lunch, you become a member of the adult world again, leaning on your colleagues for advice and support.

X-time:  At my school we have X-time, which is an extra help period at the end of the day. We're required to be there whether we have someone to help or not. It's a good time to photocopy or plan or chat with colleagues if you don't have students.  However, many times, I have had students come to my room for different reasons, which make me glad this time is built in.  Some kids need a place to hang until sports practice or cheerleading or drama.  Some kids actually need help AND actually come! Some kids come because they need a safe place where they feel comfortable to share something personal in confidence.  Whatever the reason, I am always glad that they choose to come by because it reinforces at the end of the day that what I'm doing counts for something.

10 September 2014

Day 10 Blogging Challenge 5-4-3-2-1

When I first looked through the questions, I thought that this was going to be an easy one!  I guess I felt like one of my students who are so relieved when they realize all they need to do is provide an answer in list form. You can see the relief on their faces and sometimes it is quite audible- "Yes! No full sentences!" Yet somehow, I have read, reread and reread the prompts. Making this list is going to be a bit more difficult than counting backwards from 5 but when I sign up for a challenge, I don't give up.  So here goes...

5 Random Facts About Me

1.  Last year I ran my very first 10k race on one of the most difficult routes in this particular run series--and I finished!
2.  I started out as an elementary education major before switching to secondary education even though at that point, I was almost sure I wasn't even going to be a teacher but it was a smoother transfer within the university and allowed me to graduate on time.
3.  I love to sit by the pool reading a good book more than ever actually going into the pool.
4.  I am a control freak.
5.  Although I love music to the point of recognizing songs within milliseconds (why is Name that Tune NOT on anymore?!) and have been moved to tears by music, I have ZERO musical ability.

4 Things on my bucket list

1.  I want to be a published author. (Not self-published - I've already written a self-published bilingual Italian/English children's book)
2. I want to visit every region in Italy before I decide where to purchase a property. (I only have 7 to go...)
3.  I want to become a polyglot.
4.  I want to run a half marathon.

3 Things I hope for this year as a "person" or as an educator.

1.  I hope to be a more positive person pushing out the negativity that can surround me.
2.  I hope to be able to collaborate more with my colleagues (both in my district and my new virtual ones through this challenge!)
3.  I hope to be more patient in general.

2 Things that made me laugh or cry as an educator

1. A few years ago, I had to go to the wakes for two of my students' parents. As a parent myself, it was heartbreaking to see their pain and know that their lives were changed too early.
2.  Ever since I have started teaching all age levels, I have really gotten a good few laughs from my 4 year old groups. You just never know what's going to come out of their mouths. In one class we were practicing asking your name and how you were etc. and I asked Come ti chiami ? (What is your name?) to which this 6 year old replied "Mi chiamo Buffalo Chicken Wing."

1 Thing that I wish more people to know about me

I am more approachable than people might think.

09 September 2014

Today is day 9 of the blogging challenge and the prompt was:

Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care).

I believe that every good, invested teacher will have many accomplishments over the course of their career that it will be difficult to look back and choose just one as their biggest.  I feel as if I have come so far in my teaching- integrating (and mostly, accepting) technology, planning and running highly successful student trips to Italy and having colleagues come to ME for help and actually using my ideas!  At this point in my career, while I believe I have come vey far from my first rocky years, if I had to choose one accomplishment, it would be knowing that I have instilled in my students a love for the language, culture and beauty that make up Italy.  So many of my students have done study abroad programs in college to Italy and a few have even graduated college with a major in Italian! 

I'd like to share a story about a former student of mine who contacted me this past May inviting me to her graduation at Stony Brook University.  This is her e-mail to me:

"Ciao, come stai? Sono una studentessa previa di te. Ho fatto la laurea dal liceo di Comsewogue in 2005. Mi ricordi? Penso che saresti molto fiero sapere che adesso ricerverei la mia diploma dall`universita` di Stony Brook con un maggiore in italiano!

It's Amanda *****! I wanted to write to you because I knew that you'd be so proud of me. I just wanted to thank you for being a such good teacher and inspiring me to keep learning the language of my heritage. I don't know if you'd heard, but I was in a horrible car accident back in 2008 and had a traumatic brain injury. I've been recovering through the years, and it's been extremely challenging. But I'm happy to say that I'm come through with just a few small remaining problems, which I also hope to overcome. 
I have done very well in school, and I'm receiving top grades in my classes. 
Of course, I want to thank you so much, because your instruction started me on this course. I'll be graduating on May 23rd. If you're not busy that day at 1:30, I'd love it if you could come and see me graduate in the foreign language convocation ceremony in the Wang Center at SBU. 
 
Take care,
Amanda
 
When I received this email, I was immediately so proud of her and was so happy to have been an inspiration. I have always heard back from former students through email, Facebook or Twitter and I know that I have gained their respect and have had a positive impact on them but I wasn't prepared for Amanda's message. 

Just the other day, I received this Tweet from a student who graduated last year:

******                       Sep 4
None of my professors are like so basically college kinda sucks mi manchi
 
 
The letter from Amanda and emails and tweets like this are the reason I know I'm doing what I was meant to do.  They give me the motivation to keep going and keep getting better.  They are my greatest accomplishments.

08 September 2014

My desk drawer...

Day 8 Blogging challenge: What are the contents of my desk drawer and what can they tell you about me?

This is probably going to be one of the more boring posts because I don't think that I have a very interesting drawer.  I have your run-of-the-mill items like pencils (ok-- a lot of them- I do prefer to use pencil), red pens, index cards with speaking situations, die cut letters, tacks, staples, etc.  How boring! I wish I could say that I had some truly interesting items.  The most expensive item I have is a external DVD player so I can play movies from Italy for my students.  Oh, and I have a lot of chalk. Strange to say in this day and age, right? My classroom doesn't have a SMART board and I can't lie. I LOVE WRITING ON THE BOARD. Sometimes, it's good to take a break from all the technology and just get back to basics because I feel as if many can get caught up in the oohs and ahhs of technology but to me, technology serves its purpose to be helpful, like being green and collecting homework online or to add that extra something like a YouTube video to drive home a point.  Reliance on too much technology can be dangerous in the opinion of this not so chronologically old teacher!

07 September 2014

Day 7 Blog Challenge












The question of the day is: Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?

I did read a few other blog posts about this and I have to say that I do agree that many of our colleagues are inspirational at different times and in different ways.  Over my 14 years of teaching, I have learned so much from my colleagues - from how to handle parents, award participation points and other gradebook issues, to decorating my classroom.  And to each and every one of them, I am grateful.

I have always been a high school teacher. That was until my wife and I created Italian Language Littles, a program where we teach Italian to children ages 2 and up.  At first, I handled the business aspects of the program- accounting, advertising, the web site and talking with clients. I did help my wife throughout her lessons by cuing music and handing out whatever was needed for the craft as well as snack.  As our business grew from 8 students to 30+ today, we had to make a decision on how we would handle this. Hiring another teacher was not cost-effective and so if we were to continue, I would have to step out of my comfort zone and begin teaching as well.  The idea of teaching children that ranged in age from 4 - 7 scared me.  How did I get through this? As I sat at the computer to prepare my first lessons, I thought about how my wife had taught the classes and I realized then that she was the best example I had had over the few years we were in business.  Of course, I cannot BE her and she cannot be me.  Her example has helped me more than probably she even knows.  I have now been teaching all ages from 3 year-olds to adults for some time and I feel confident that I am doing a good job.  So, for this reason, I would say that the most inspirational colleague I have had has been my wife, Teresa.

06 September 2014

September 30 Day Challenge

I came across this 30 day challenge and I decided that being new to blogging, it would be a good idea to help me.   I know that I am a few days late so I decided that I would try to answer Days 1-6 in my first post in as concise a way as possible.  So, here goes:

The first two questions for me are intertwined. One of my goals this year is the undertaking of writing a blog in the hopes of connecting with other educators to share thoughts, ideas, lessons - really anything that could help me be a better teacher.  As far as other areas of technology that I plan to work on this year is integrating the use of Twitter.  I started using it towards the end of last year with my students and I have found some great ways to implement extra credit or to post links to Google Docs or Forms that I have created. A colleague of mine is also working on using Instagram. I can't wait to see what she comes up with!  Maybe I'll get her to start blogging and to take this challenge and she'll share with all of us!

Day 4's question What do you love the most about teaching? is a really difficult one!  There are so many things that I love about teaching itself and so many advantages to the profession in general- namely having time with my family- but if I had to really pinpoint ONE thing, I would say that it is that I get to share something that I am passionate about.  I love everything Italian- the language, the culture, the history, the FOOD, the architecture, the beautiful sights.  I could go on and on. Being a teacher, I have the advantage of having a captive audience! They HAVE to be there and they HAVE to listen! If I just stood on the street and tried to tell as many people as I could how wonderful Italy was, I'm sure I wouldn't have the effect I have on my students.  Actually, people might think I was nuts! Some of my students think I am as well but that's ok- it's a great way to hold their attention! In any case, everyday I am able to share so many aspects about Italy and Italian culture through first-hand accounts, through music, and even cooking.  My students could never accuse me of a lack of passion for what I share with them.  One of the best perks I have is that every other year, I am able to take many of my students on the experience of a lifetime- a trip to Italy! It is on these trips that I get to hear true attempts at communication (and some full length conversations) with locals.  It is on these trips that I get to see my students fall in love with Italy the way I did when I first traveled there.

Day 5's question about my classroom is a difficult one for me this year because I am sharing my room with another teacher and what is lacking is my personal touch and design.  Last year, I was spoiled. I did not share my room at all and I thought I had a great-looking room.  This year, I am working on putting some personal touches but it is difficult, especially since our styles clash.  It is tough when your space is shared but I do think it is important for me to feel "at home" in my room while I'm there so that my students will feel the same, instead of just being in any old room.  I wonder what other teachers who share rooms do and how they feel about it? Ideas?

What does a good mentor "do"?  is Day 6's question.  In my district, we do have a mentor program in place, and while I am currently not a mentor, I do have some ideas of what a good mentor is.  First of all, I believe that it is everyone's job, appointed mentor or not, to help our colleagues.  A good mentor is able to offer constructive criticism and advice.  A good mentor also knows how to listen.  Sometimes, we don't need advice per se but more of a sounding board.  A good mentor shares their knowledge with you - whether it be what forms to fill out for a field trip, which secretary handles what, what school policies are or lessons. For me, the relationship mentor-mentee does not have to be the traditional  veteran teacher-new teacher. Some of my colleagues have been teaching less years than I have been and have offered some very valuable advice and help.  At different times, different teachers have been mentors to me as I hope to have been for others.

03 September 2014

Wordle

I hope everyone had a great first day of school! I know this might be a little late for those who are really tech savvy but I needed some fresh ideas for decorating my bulletin boards.  I found Wordle and was thinking that at some point this year, I could have my students use it for vocabulary building.  Then it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to have a permanent example! So, I created this one:

Wordle: ITALIA



Since I have also made it to Twitter as I use it often to give my students extra credit, I decided to post it on my bulletin board as well to be a reminder. 

Hai bisogno di Credito Extra???

 Seguimi :@Sigdrucker

 Cerca #twextracredit


02 September 2014

The Nights Before School..

This post originally appeared on another blog site but after some help from a friend and colleague (shout out to MArgaret!) i realized that my blog was in the wrong place for what i wanted.



THE NIGHTS BEFORE SCHOOL…

Here we are. Only two days (actually we are less than 48 hours from the first day of school) and I’m trying to figure out how to put together a blog. Here are my hopes for this year:
1. I hope that creating and maintaining this blog will be as easy as others have led me to believe.
2. I hope that this blog will help me grow as an educator.
3. I hope this venture will help me collaborate with other educators (both those in and out of my discipline- there is much to be learned from everyone and many lessons can be adapted for your subject area).
4. I hope that this blog will help me be more comfortable with technology and help me to use it productively.
This summer was probably one of the most unique for me. I am an organizational freak, often photocopying my life away in June for the following year. On the eve of August 1, I start to panic because it is the signal for me that school will begin soon and I must start to be more diligent about reading not just for pleasure but also professionally. I will often re-read through back issues of The Language Educator to make sure that I haven’t missed anything or in case some things have somehow become more relevant to me (like blogging and Twitter). I will start level by level mapping out my outline for the year and make lists upon lists of things to photocopy and projects to start. Then, when Labor Day rolls around, I am at ease and have already set up my classroom, made yet MORE photocopies and have planned the first two weeks of lessons.
That was every other year. For some reason, actually, I know the reason. I was lucky enough to spend 3 glorious weeks in Italy this summer with my family. We had an amazing trip. L'artistico
Something happened to me and I started to slow down (maybe it was the Italian influence). All I know, is I came home and I was still crazy about getting the house in order so I could have the most optimal setting for starting my work for school (after all, we had come home a week after my dreaded August 1 deadline) but for some reason, I wanted to sit by the pool and read for pleasure (even if the books were in Italian).
And here we are, 11:15 pm – 32 hours before my first class of the year begins and I have just finished putting together some lessons and outlines for the year. The pressure is amazing. On the one hand, I feel like a slacker. On the other, I feel like it’s going to be ok. Is it because I have 14 years under my belt? Is it because I needed to slow down for my own sanity? Who knows but, like this new venture into blogging, I feel that this academic year will be a success.