back to school, classroom, engagement, management, new teachers, Uncategorized

Making Every Minute Count


If you think about how little time we have with our students, you probably wonder how they ever meet all the learning objectives we’ve set for them. On a traditional schedule of 40 minutes a day, that equates to 200 minutes a week of instruction – or 120 hours a school year. Now subtract all the time taken away for assemblies, standardized testing, and absences – and you’ve got even less time. Now add up all the wasted time – transitions, sharpening pencils, bathroom breaks, and waiting for slower students to finish up tasks. Suddenly you’re faced with even less time to do all things it takes to get them speaking, listening, reading, and writing in their world language.

Never fear – there are some strategies to keep things moving along. With some judicious planning and consistency, you, too, can keep your class on track so that all your teaching objectives get attended to!

Supplies are a necessary tool for both you and your learners to use in order to get work done. Where do you store them? Are they easily accessible to students? Would having a stack of pre-sharpened pencils be helpful? Do your students know where to get blank writing paper? Make a place for these items and allow students access to it.

Target language use is really important. ACTFL, our national world language educators’ organization recommends that 90% of class be conducted in the TL. Many teachers chose to conduct portions of class in English because they believe it facilitates student understand. The problem with doing so is that it undermines the utility of the world language; you’re essentially showing the students that the target language isn’t important for communication. To increase student understanding, one merely needs to employ a series of Comprehensible Input strategies, such as adjusting teacher talk, using gestures and pictures, and giving examples. With these scaffolding interventions, students feel more supported and willing to open their receptivity to the target language. For other strategies, please consult Douglass Crouse’s “Going for 90% Plus: How to Stay in the Target Language.”

Directions and Routines are a part of every teacher’s classroom – whether her learners are in elementary school or high school. Those directions and routines will look a lot different depending on the age of the learner, but they are there for a purpose – to let students know what to do and how to do it. They keep order. Now doing this in the target language can complicate things, but if students are adequately prepared, then it can work. So make sure they know what you’re talking about – demonstrate, use visuals, do whatever it takes. Julie from Mundo de Pepita inspired me to make illustrated instruction cards so my learners always know what steps are necessary to complete a task. Read her blog entry here. The other important point to make about directions is this – if they’re too complicated for students to understand in the target language, then the task is too difficult for your students. Instead, do something they can do.

Do Now Activities/Bell Ringers are an excellent way to get students focused fast and eliminate the transition time into class. For a list of some tried and true bell ringers, please consult this Edutopia article and for world language specific bell ringers, try FLTeach Digest.

Filler activities are a great way to fill in spare time in class. A former mentor of mine once recommended to me to always plan for extra activities just in case you finish the regularly scheduled lesson faster than expected. This is especially important for teachers who teach on a block schedule.  For some quick time filler activities, try these from Education World.

Quick finishers are those students who sail through classwork and then need something to do when they’re done. I’m sure they’d rather listen to music, chat with friends, do homework for another class, or cram for next period’s test. Instead, they should be on task for your class. Over the years, I’ve tried different things depending on the age of the students and level of the class. I have a classroom library stocked with books and magazines in the target language. For teachers who want something a little more structured, you may have enrichment assignments or puzzles that pertain to the unit you’re currently working on.

Transitions can eat up a lot of your class time. My fabulous colleague, Señora Gragg, often bursts into song while passing out materials or collecting them. Her students join in and they make good use of an otherwise wasted moment. I love her effective use of time! She often has little kits waiting for her students – so that all the supplies needed for a certain activity are there and ready to go.

With this list of tips, I hope you can better fill your class time with meaningful activities that help lead your learners to higher levels of proficiency.

So, have you developed some strategies to maximize learning time in your classroom?

back to school, classroom, new teachers

Back to School: Organizing Your Space

a_mess1Photo credit: Nathan Lutz, Classroom, 2012.

For years I pined away, wishing to have a classroom of my very own. I shot dirty glances at fellow colleagues who had spacious but uninspiring rooms, or worse, messy rooms. Here I am, on a hot sweaty day in August, sitting in my classroom, overwhelmed by the mess I created by rearranging, organizing, adding, and purging, and my eventual sprucing up of the place. My books need to be sorted and straightened. My supplies for the fall need to be counted and put away. I’m a little backed up on my filing. My plants have seen better days. I have several bulletin boards that need facelifts.

Am I starting to resent the responsibility of all this space? Yes and no. What I’m doing now is painful, but in a few short weeks, it will all be worth it when this room is full of kids, eager to be back at school to see their old friends and make new ones. I want my room to be a place where they can learn and grow, show off their work, and admire the work of others. I want to create spaces where they can collaborate on projects, or sit in solitude and get work done.

If you’re lucky enough to have your very own classroom space, you might be contemplating these same issues. If you don’t have your own classroom, can you work with the person with whom you are sharing the space? It doesn’t hurt to ask. More than likely, that other teacher would love help in designing a better learning environment.

Some things to keep in mind:

1. Resources area(a): Remember that this is not just your room, but the room of your students as well. Have an area where they can help themselves to basic supplies like tape, stapler, paperclips, paper, pencils, etc.

2. Classroom library: Even in this digital age, books are still a great resource. Be sure to have dictionaries and any books that are relevant to your discipline. Magazines are a great resource to have when quick students have downtime after tests or work is done.

3. Workspace: Be sure there is ample space for students to do work comfortably in class.

4. Collaboration space: Humans are social creatures. As such, we need to collaborate from time to time. Ensure that you have an area for students to get together to discuss projects or do pair/small group work. If you are short on space, can your chairs and desks/tables be easily rearranged to facilitate these types of discussions?

5. Storage. I’m a firm believer in the adage “Everything has its place.” I’m blessed to have a lot of cabinets. I have colleagues who do not have anything, so they’ve had to get creative. I’ve seen some teachers hide things behind curtains.

6. Esthetics: It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a classroom homey. A few cheap plants and posters can really spruce up even the dullest of spaces. As the years progress, give curatorship to your students. Display their work. Enlist students to care for plants or decorate bulletin boards. A word of caution: try not to overdo it with decorations and make the place overstimulating.

7. Change: Don’t feel like you have to keep things the same all year. If something isn’t working for you, change it. Ask your students what they think of the space. What works better for them?

Just as every child has the opportunity to make a fresh start every year, so do I, and so does my classroom. The kids I have from year to year like to come in a spot new things or differences.

Sure, I could leave things the same, but where’s the fun and interest in doing that?

Photo credit: Nathan Lutz, Classroom, 2018.