31 October 2016

How do I make something "fit" into my curriculum and effect change?

I have been struggling with something for a while at my school.  First of all, I'd like to say that my school probably has one of the nicest population of students.  Everyday, I see examples of acceptance of others for who they are.  I have witnessed first-hand a so-called "jock" speak with an autistic student asking him how his day was going and then hug him.  For the most part, students can dress as they like and almost no one will give them a second glance.  This is what makes me proud to work in this building.  

However, there have been some tensions with our recent immigrant population.  For some reason, many students are unable to put themselves in the shoes of these recent immigrants and this impending election has not made things any easier.  It has only brought out more hatred.  The overwhelming majority of our immigrants are from Latin America and have been the topic of discussion amongst many of the mainstream population.  I have had to reprimand some students for voicing in class that these "Spanish kids" are trouble, are screwing them out of work or college opportunities or just generally rude.  "They're always talking in Spanish in the hallways" or "They always stay together" are comments often made.  This has not been just since one of our presidential candidates has clearly voiced racist opinions in an effort to make our country great again.  This has been for a while and maybe it's just a little heightened since then.

I'm an Italian teacher, not a Spanish teacher. However, I have respect for and love language- even the crazy English language with all it's exceptions to the rules and silent letters or mutating sounds.  I was searching for a way to make relations between our mainstream population and our immigrant population better. I have tried in my class when some of those statements were made to point out some things that seem obvious to me but less than to these students.  For one, I tried to have them imagine that they were put into a high school in a foreign country, with no prior knowledge of the language.  There would, of course, be classes in that language for them and other Americans.  I asked them, "Who would you hang out with?" and "What language would you speak in the hallways?" Listen, high school is difficult enough.  Add being an immigrant, often out of your control, to that and I think you've got yourself a pretty stressful time in an adolescent's life.  

Beyond lecturing and trying to point out what was obvious to me, I didn't have a clue as to how to make a difference and include my students.  I thought to myself, "This would be so much easier if I was a Spanish teacher."  I thought maybe do a social experiment outside of the classroom with some of my students as volunteers.  

Then, I picked up a book by chance, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.  I was researching project-based learning because I am always trying to make my teaching more effective and relevant. His book talks about how great ideas for medicine or inventions or teaching have come from a question.  There might not be a Netflix, Amazon or Polaroid if the creators didn't ask themselves a question.  I struggled a little to see how this could work for me in my classroom where my students had limited proficiency in the language. And then, like had happened for many others outlined in the book, I had an a-ha moment.

I was working on my family ancestry this summer.  It was something that I had been interested in for a while.  I knew a lot about some parts of my family but hardly anything about others.  I started to build my tree and contact cousins and ask questions. I was sitting at a Starbucks, waiting for my kids' soccer camp to end, scrolling through hundreds of online birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates, that I was frankly surprised were available online from a small town in Southern Italy, when it hit me. Sometimes, you need a distraction to bring your mind back to the right place.  

I usually have my college-level students read an introduction to a book about Italian immigration. It was mostly because I felt it was really well-written and it's an important part of history for Italians and Americans.  The piece details the immigration time period from the late 1880s until the early 1950s.  I thought I would add after the reading, a personal experience.  I would tell them that my grandfather had come from Poland when he was just 18 years old.  I would recount the story of my grandmother and her immigration experience.  She came from Italy in 1951, leaving behind my mother and grandfather, to start a better life for her family.  Her story could be a novel in it's own right.  I would tell my class how this impacted my life and how I wouldn't have what I have if my family hadn't been brave enough to come here from Europe and start new lives. I owe my freedoms and education to them.  Then, my students would complete their own ancestry project and they would tell the story of their family.  Finally, I would arrange for my students to meet and interview some of the immigrant students.  The hope is to help them have empathy and maybe change the culture of my school.

How can I help change the culture of my school? How can I get students to have empathy for recent immigrants in our community? What if I used a reading on early immigration and an ancestry project to help change the minds of my students regarding the immigrant population of our school?  These were my questions.

So far, we have read the early immigration piece and I think students were a little upset to hear how the Italians were treated when they came here.  I asked them to think about that and think about how it is different for the immigrants in our school. What is the same? What is different? The scary thing is that it's 2016 and a lot isn't different.  When you think of the word Italian, you probably think of fashion, Ferrari or pizza. All great things but not so long ago, Italians, like many groups before them, were looked down on and mistreated. It took a few generations before Italian became synonymous with all things good and then Italian-Americans could be proud. Could this happen with our new immigrant populations?  Just for good measure, my students will be visiting the NYC Tenement Museum this week to see exactly how immigrants lived in the early 1900s. 

My students agreed to interview the immigrant students and last week brainstormed questions we could ask them.  This Thursday, we will be interviewing them and I am nervous and excited.  I think that this could be the change. I was recently watching a video in which teenagers who admitted to texting and driving met face-to-face with a girl who lost both of her parents and was seriously injured herself because another motorist was texting. Sitting face-to-face, many of these teenagers broke down.  It is hard to deny things or not have compassion when you have direct contact.  It is my hope that these interviews will provoke similar reactions. Maybe when we hear their stories first-hand, we will have more of an appreciation and maybe we can help bring them in instead of push them out.  

A student of mine asked me if these students would interview them and I hadn't thought of it but in that moment, I was like, "Gina, that's genius!" After our interviews, the immigrant students will do the same.  They will brainstorm questions to ask my students and we will conduct a second round of interviews.  I am looking forward to this! I am so glad that I found a way for this to "fit" into my curriculum.  

16 January 2016

New Year, new teaching

New Year, new teaching...

One of my New Year's resolutions was to improve my teaching.  Even though I have been teaching 16 years, I am always looking to improve upon what I've done in the past.  Friends of mine have said, "after all these years, you should just be able to teach auto-pilot" or similar statements.  I have re-used projects or even some lessons but I every weekend, without fail, I sit down and plan for the week.  I want to stay current, fresh, relevant and I don't want to be bored.

Something new that I've tried this year was a QR Code Scavenger Hunt.  I don't remember to whom I owe the credit for this.  I think that it was the result of networking on Twitter or from someone's blog. I wish I could thank the person who created it because my students are having such a great time with it! Basically, what I have done was to create an initial QR code which has clues to where they can find the other QR codes throughout the school.  The clues are all in the target language.  In teams, the students run (some, literally) through the school to find the other codes.  Each code they scan has information they must find or a task like taking a selfie of the whole group with a certain administrator or food. I have used the QR Reader app on my phone to create the codes as well as ClassTools.net's QR Code Treasure Hunt.  Here are some pics from a recent scavenger hunt. You can even scan my code to see what I used!


I am so grateful to my students from a few years ago who set me up on Twitter. Before Twitter, I would do what I was used to doing in order to prepare for my classes--scour the internet for research, articles and ideas.  That was time consuming (even if it was worth it).  Enter my period 5 class insisting that I make a Twitter account.  I've been hooked ever since.  Now, I follow some great educators and take part in some awesome chats like #reflectiveteacher and #langchat.  It has never been easier to network ideas (if there is a better way- let me know!)

I'm excited to start using some of the new ideas that have been shared. I'm looking forward to implementing some tools like ClassTools.net's Random Name Picker and using Twitter to have students chat.  My love of music helped me to learn language more than many other activities and I try to bring music into my classroom any chance I get.  I have done the standard cloze-type activities where student fill in missing words they hear.  I have analyzed songs with students, translated parts of a song or had students make music videos.  I even use music videos as #twextracredit.  (#twextracredit is my way of giving my students extra credit through Twitter.) This year, I have tried to be more creative having students go on a scavenger hunt within a song.  I give them lyrics to a song, play the song continuously and ask them to find certain items like verbs, tenses, synonyms/antonyms, certain vocabulary terms and so on.  Basically whatever I can pull out that ranges in difficulty level.  I have had students work together and separately and usually reward the first to find all items.  It's a fun way to have students look closer at language, hear authentic language and for me to share my favorite artists with them.  I use songs in my Kahoots that usually give a clue if they're paying attention closely.  I'm always looking for ideas and would like to thank @SraSpanglish for her blog posts, especially the one on Pop Song Practice. Nice to have some new fresh ideas.

One idea I'm especially excited about didn't require me to go far or even sign in to Twitter. An advantage of being married to another teacher is that you get to bounce ideas off one another all the time.  My wife is an elementary school special ed teacher and recently we were talking about ideas to improve our teaching and she was saying that she wanted to give her students the opportunity to teach their classmates about things they enjoyed.  What an awesome idea! Even though my students might be a bit beyond show-and-tell, the idea is great.  I'm hoping to implement a version of this where my students will submit to me a topic they would like to teach the class about- sports, music, dance, whatever- and will prepare a mini lesson in the target language. I will work with them separately (in and out of the class) to prepare and each student will have their time at least once during the year. 

Another idea I'd like to "steal" is that my wife's students have written their own "books" and she keeps them in her library.  When students have free reading time, they love to read their classmates' books. How cool is this! Now my wheels are turning...  

I'm already feeling motivated to get going on improving my teaching. That's one resolution being worked on and this post is another-dedicate more time to my blog. Feeling accomplished! 
Risultati immagini per smile

02 January 2016

New Year's Resolutions...

New Year's Resolutions...

I'm not sure that I really believe in making resolutions or not. I know that they are intended for making me a better me and there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be a better version of yourself but will they end up making me feel bad about myself if I don't attain them? I did a small activity with my students before the Winter Break where we watched two videos of Italian teenagers talking about their resolutions.  I did it as part of a listening comprehension activity followed by a brief writing activity.  I think they enjoyed the videos. I know they could relate to some of the ideas like trying to use your cell phone less.  The video really captured the attachment many of my students (and probably many adults) have to their phones.  Check out the video here.  After they watched the videos, I told them to write a short list of 4-5 buoni propositi per l'anno nuovo, New  Year's resolutions.  Before writing, I told them that they didn't have to necessarily be  "resolutions" but maybe goals, instead.  I also asked them to jot down a few things maybe they thought should be goals of mine as their teacher.  We reiterated some of the ideas from the two videos and I told them my own, which were as follows:

1.  Migliorare il mio insegnamento, Improve my teaching.   This one fits into the category of goals as opposed to resolution.  I am always striving to be the best teacher I can be. I am always open to new ideas and always searching for the best way to get my students engaged. At the start of this school year, I was not using as much technology as I could've been using but I have since implemented many aspects of technology, like Google Classroom and EdPuzzle.  I'm excited that Duolingo and Quizlet now let you set up classrooms for your students so you can monitor their progress and post assignments directly from their site onto your Google Classroom! My students have enjoyed Kahoot! immensely and I have definitely noticed a difference.  But there is always more that can be done, even without technology and it is my goal to search out whatever that more is and bring it into the classroom. 

2.  Fare un gesto di gentilezza ogni mese (anche di più),  Do an act of kindness every month (or more often).  I do believe in "paying it forward" and I do believe in karma. If you want good things to come to you, you know what you need to do. This may seem a little trite but I do think that it's a good goal.  Sometimes, it's too easy to get caught up in negativity.  

3.  Fare più esercizio fisico, Exercise more. Ugh, this one. This is usually a list-topper for many.  It's not a bad idea but so easy to not follow through with.  Food is too good for me to really be on a diet. A life of eating grilled chicken and salad might be ok for others but it's just not a lifestyle I could embrace. It screams of boredom and depravity. So, the only logical alternative is to get moving. I think that this goal might be attainable because the emphasis is on the idea of more as opposed to something so specific like: lose 20 lbs, go to the gym everyday or run 5 miles a day.  Life happens and sometimes, you just can't go to the gym everyday (I'm sure there are plenty of people who will say you need to make the time and it's true but everyday is not feasible for many so I prefer a goal I can meet- just do more than I already do).

4.  Dedicarmi di più al mio blog, Spend more time working on my blog.  Again, here the operative word is more.  If I say, write a post every day, week or even month, I could soon feel like I've failed at my goal.  However, I do enjoy this blog. I don't know how many readers I really have but this experience has been really helpful. I have been able to connect with other teachers and bloggers and it has helped me gain some focus.  Focus on what I do and focus on what I want to do.  If it inspires other readers, that's great too!

5.  Spendere meno, Spend less. This is a tough one but I have to try.  I have always been of the mindset that if I work hard, I deserve to have some of life's rewards.  Don't get me wrong, i am certainly not extravagant and do not need to have expensive things but if I don't want to cook one day (or maybe two), I'll eat out.  If I go into a bookstore to buy a gift for someone, there is almost no way I'm coming out of there without at least one book for me.  Simple, little things.  But these simple, little things all add up and I have to keep my eye on the prize.  If I spend less, I will be able to have the big things, too.  My wife and I dream of having a property in South Carolina and a property in Italy. And we will have them. I just have to spend less to have more. I just read Frances Mayes' book Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life and in one chapter, Frances begins a paragraph with: "ITALY IS ENDLESS." This is so true. I have traveled extensively in Italy and I know I have just grazed the surface.  I want to have my own place in Italy so I can spend the rest of my life exploring endless Italy. 

View of Vico del Gargano in Puglia
Off the beaten path and a great discovery on our family trip in 2014
Well now I am on the road to incorporating these goals into my 2016. This is my first post in the new year. I wish everyone a great year and hope you can reach your goals as well. Now, I'm off to better my teaching - lesson planning awaits. I have so many ideas for the rest of this school year I can't wait to try out.