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?

engagement, management

Three Considerations for Maintaining a Robust Classroom


In the day-to-day hustle and bustle of teaching, advising, coaching, and comforting students in need of some extra TLC, some teachers might let some things slide. Maybe your turn-around time for grading isn’t as speedy as it used to be. Maybe your lesson plans suffer a little bit because you’re rushing to get them done while eating dinner in front of your TV. Here are three things to think of even at your most stressed out times.

1.     Ensure that the Learners are Engaged
Busy does not equal engaged. Just because the classroom is filled with students who are (or at least appear to be) on task, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are fully engaged in learning. You don’t necessarily want your students to read something and answer questions. How about taking things to the next level and creating a presentation on a topic – actually delving into the complexities of the content at hand. Strive to create activities that push students to tap into higher order thinking.

2.     Get Students to be Responsible for THEIR OWN Learning
Traditional classrooms are very teacher-directed. This generally looks like students coming into a room, sitting down, and waiting for the teacher to instruct them what to do next. Some teachers employ a strategy of “bell-ringers” or “do now” activities, which are still teacher-directed. In either case, the teacher is responsible for telling the students what to do. How can we engender independent learners when we’re constantly spoon-feeding them directions for activities? Imagine handing the reins over to the students and have them create their own learning plans, read comments provided by their teacher and start plugging away at a work schedule they helped create. Isn’t this the type of work habit that we are trying to prepare for THEIR futures? The teacher is still involved in the process, but directing (and even redirecting, if need be) when students require additional resources or guidance. This is still a carefully structured environment, but students are responsible for their own learning vis à vis clearly articulated expectations and consequences.

3.     Vigorous Academics

Rigor is an educational buzzword these days, but I prefer to consider the word vigor instead. Considering the Latin roots, rigor brings to mind rigidity (even death), whereas vigor makes one think of strength and growth (life!).  If students are engaged and taking responsibility for their own learning, then a vigorous academic program comes naturally. Old School techniques like drills and memorization of facts and figures don’t increase learning; they merely allow one to show off a lot of facts. As we move through the 21stcentury, we’re going to see a shift in facts vs. thinking and problem solving. We need to consider what’s more important – what students can easily find out thanks to Google (or even Old School encyclopedias) or what problems they can solve using their reasoning skills.


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