September in February

 

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There’s a special and challenging time ahead for me starting next week as Intensive French comes to an end and I break out the “Compacted Curriculum”. We’re doing the switch over to English right now in grade 5 classrooms all over New Brunswick and it’s like we have a second September, but it’s February and I don’t have the same amount of energy I had at the beginning of the year.

Luckily, this is not my first kick at the can. I’ve been through this particular kind of turn-over, one where I get to keep the same students but switch subjects, three times in the past six years. The other three years I kept the same subjects but switched students. Both kinds of switches have their positives and negatives. Teaching just Intensive French is easier in terms of planning and marking but it’s hard changing students, whereas keeping students and changing subjects is a lot harder for planning and marking, but at least I have already an established relationship and routine with my students.

Things I’m looking forward to with this change:

The subjects: There’s so much in the grade 5 curriculum I enjoy teaching. I love doing literacy with my students and getting know them as readers and writers. I love sharing that part of my passion with them. And science! There are always a few students who struggle to get excited about other subjects but shine when we do science and I know this year is not going to be an exception. I’ve already noticed a few who rarely speak in class, especially during French, but who have confided a love of science to me. I also have the opportunity to pilot the new Health curriculum this year. I’m looking forward to that.

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Projects and independent learning: Yes, in intensive French we do little “projects” and sometimes in math as well, but it’s not the same. For first time language learners, they are so reliant on me and my knowledge of the language that it’s hard for them to work independently on projects and nearly impossible for them to do project work at home. We may officially be a bilingual province but the amount of parents I have who speak French is extremely low. I’m looking forward to doing a LOT less talking and a lot more listening over the next 5 months. I often feel like I’m a performer during the IF block. I have to speak slowly and clearly, with a lot of gestures and actions to convey meaning. I draw, I dance, I sing, I act like a fool to keep the energy and focus up in my room and it is exhausting. As much as I know I will need more time and energy for planning my lessons, I’m happy that it will take less energy to teach.

More variety: The great thing and the challenging thing about IF is the routine of it. Every day is pretty much the same. We have three hours of IF everyday plus one hour of math and sometimes a specialist subject like gym, music or art. Everyday we start our day the same way. We do a warm-up (which has been duolingo lately, more on that another day) then we do our “mini-prof” routine where a student asks other students questions about the date, the weather, preferences, mood, etc. and then we do our message of the day, we circle the sound we’re working on, we learn a new question and answer dialogue, we read a book, we listen to a song or play a game and we write a little bit. Everyday with only minor variations. I love routine and I know a lot of my students like to have things so structured and routine so they know what to expect next but, frankly, it gets a little boring especially after teaching the same thing for six years, sometimes twice in one year.

Things I’m not looking forward to:

Planning: Planning for IF right now is so easy! As I said, this is my eighth time teaching the same program and the program hasn’t changed since I started teaching it. I’ve changed up some of my methods, but the core hasn’t changed. It’s a very scripted program and I’ve moved away from the script of course but I’ve taught it so many times that I don’t even have to think about it. Planning mostly involves writing my morning message and finding new songs and games to play. Frankly, I’ve become a bit lazy when it comes to planning. Not so much for math, but that’s only one hour of my day. Now I’m going to actually have to plan for the whole day and go back to consulting curriculum guides more often.

New Curriculum: This is kind of related to the previous one, and is also a positive. Since I last taught the compacted curriculum, there’s a new curriculum for social studies, and as I said before, I’m part of the pilot trial run for the new health curriculum (which is written for a full year of teaching, not compacted yet for grade 5 so that’s going to be a challenge in and of itself). This is an interesting new challenge, especially in social studies, because I don’t have the resources and previous knowledge of what I’m going to be teaching yet. It’s exciting in a way, but also daunting. Plus, I miss the old social studies where I got to teach about ancient societies and medieval cultures. That was always so much fun! Instead I’m going to be teaching about how to use artifacts and aboriginal societies which will be interesting too and it’s important stuff, just not what I’m used to teaching.

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To top this all off, January has been a busy month and February is looking much the same. I started stage managing a new show with my community theatre group, we had a visit from another school to look at how we’re doing flexible math, I got my students ready for Drama Fest and we had our dress rehearsal / performance for the school on Friday. Looking forward to February, I’m helping out a friend by doing sound for his show all next week, I’m taking my students to Drama Fest on Monday, we finish up flexible math groups this week, and I have friends visiting from PEI and from Korea this month. All great stuff, but also stuff that’s making me feel a bit like I’m burning the candle at both ends.

On the whole though, I am looking forward to this change. I know that once I get going, a lot of my fears about more work will dissipate and I’ll enjoy the new challenges that are coming my way.

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Schedules and routines

We have two weeks left of intensive French before we switch over to the English half of the year. I’m excited for the change and I think most of my students are too, though I was surprized and a little pleased when a few of my students today said that they wanted to stay in French.

In anticipation of the change-over, I started looking at my schedule for teaching the Compacted Curriculum. I had to decide when I was going to teach what and how to squeeze all those subjects into what seemed like too few minutes. There were two possibilities that I came up with and after talking it over with Mrs. W, I’m happy with what I’ve chosen to do, even though it sounds a little odd at first.

In order to explain my new schedule, I have to tell you that I love routine. I like starting the day the same way every day and I like knowing what is coming next and I know that my students do too. I try to be aware of which students are able to handle changes easily and which have a hard time with even the smallest change in our routine. When I move my seating plan around, I try to keep some students in similar spot while others get moved around the room.

I have a dream schedule in a lot of ways this year. Right now I teach Intensive French to my class all morning, uninterrupted by anything other than recess. After lunch each day (other than Wednesday because the students don’t have school Wednesday afternoons) my class has Math with another teacher while I go to teach pre-intensive French to one of the two grade 4 classes until 2pm. Other than Tuesdays, they then go to gym and/or music and I have my hour of prep time. Tuesdays we go to the library and then have art for the last half hour.

It’s a little hard because all of my preps are at the end of the day and I have no prep on Tuesday or Wednesday. But all of my preps are an hour and my time with my students is uninterrupted by taking them out in the middle of a block somewhere. And it’s very routine. We do the same thing or almost the same thing every day. I wanted to continue to be able to do that after the change over.

The grade 3 and 4 classes have their literacy block after recess. We may do some flexible grouping across our grades so I wanted to have my literacy at the same time, so it was easy enough to put literacy every day from recess until lunch. I was left with the time from first bell until recess and I somehow had to fit in 150 minutes of Science, Social Studies and French and 75 minutes of Health/PDCP. My first draft had blocks of 45 minutes or an hour of each subject in frustratingly random spots. I tried to make it somewhat uniform but it just wouldn’t work. It annoyed me to have French two days in a row with different subjects after each time.

In the end, what I’ve decided to do is to schedule 30 minutes of Social Studies each morning followed by 75 minutes of either Science, French or Health. I’m a little concerned about the short amount of time for Social Studies. I’m worried that it’s such a short time that we’ll just get into something and then we’ll be moving on, but at the same time, my plan, like the last time I taught this, is to give out a project assignment on Monday and have them present on Friday so they’ll be able to come in first thing every morning and work on their projects. I’m happy with this schedule and I think it will work well for almost everyone, the exception being those students who are chronically late and will invariably miss a lot of Social Studies time, however, I’m hoping that the projects will get them interested enough that it will encourage them to be to school on time more often.

Test Prep?

I read a few teacher blogs of teachers from the States and when things like test prep or State testing come up I am very thankful that I teach in Canada. The insanity of some of the testing just makes me want to take someone and shake them. Luckily, Provincial testing in Canada hasn’t become quite that bad. We only have, generally, one Provincial test per year, though Grade 5 Intensive French has two, one of which is coming up in two and a half weeks.

Also luckily, the prosperity of my school and my job do not hang in the balance over the results of this assessment, in fact, in the past two years where I’ve had my class write this assessment I have yet to see any of the results of how my classes have done. I want my class to do well, but I’m not spending all of my time prepping my students for it either. Good thing too because that would defeat the purpose of Intensive French.

In a nutshell, the point of the Intensive French program is to have an intense period of only French to help our Anglophone students get to a level of French where they aren’t going to be sliding back in levels every year. Researchers found that with the old Core French program, especially in the older grades, the same concepts had to be taught and re-taught every year. Some students would make some progress, but the majority never did. Intensive French is centred around using and re-using phrases until they become ingrained. We also do reading and writing in French but the majority of our mornings are meant to be spent talking in French.

Some classes are assessed orally, but everyone is given a written assessment at the end of the Intensive French block. They’re given a story starter and are asked to write a fictional story based on the story starter. My opinion of this particular assessment and it’s validity is beside the point. I need to get my students ready to write this assessment.

My main focus to prepare them for this isn’t that I need them to do well either. I do want them to do well, of course, but my main focus this year is that I don’t want them to feel over-whelmed and stressed this year. My first year of teaching I had my class for three weeks before the assessment. I didn’t know what the assessment was going to be like and I did very little to prepare my class. I thought they might do okay on it but I wasn’t prepared for the tears and the frustration that both they and I felt. Last year was a little better because I knew what was coming so we could talk about it before. But still, they were frustrated. There were tears. They wanted me to be able to help them like I did normally when they were writing. I realized that I had failed them. I had talked about how to do this assessment, we had done practice stories, but I hadn’t had them practice writing independently. They were lost without me as their guide and as “Mme leDictionnaire”.

So this year, against my judgement, I decided to introduce independent writing, just like I do with Daily 5 in English Language Arts. We did an I-Chart, talked about what to do when they’re stuck, and I enforced the idea that they needed to stay where they were, working in their spot, using the resources around them, but not asking me for help. I would walk around and conference with them, but I was not going to translate every sentence for them. They can write about whatever they want. We did model stories together and model brainstorming and I let them go.

And they amazed me.

Their writing is not perfect. There are lots of mistakes and most of them wrote more descriptions of people or pets than actual stories (my mini-lesson for tomorrow is going to be on the difference) but they wrote. Not all of them wrote their own stories, some copied the model story and that’s fine. It’s a stage of learning, but they did it and some of them did an amazing job. Not only that, some of them ask for time to write and I happily give it to them.

We’ll continue with our “assessment prep” over the next two and a half weeks, enjoying their new-found independence and I will hope that there will be fewer tears this year.

Dressing like a teacher

It’s back to school tomorrow.

I have had a wonderful and well deserved vacation and I feel like I took advantage of every minute of it. I read a few books, went out to TWO movies (that never happens) spent time with my family and my friends, got lots of exercise and lots of sleep. I slept at least 8 hours every night that I was home. It was heaven. In fact, it felt like longer than two weeks which is amazing because normally the time passes so quickly that it seems like it’s over before it has begun.

So tonight I’m getting back into my routine of making sure everything is ready for the morning. My nightly routine involves making sure everything I need is in my school bag, my lunch is all packed in my lunch box (yes, I have a lunch box, in fact, I have four) and my clothes are all ready to go in the bathroom.

I’m not sure if I’m being quite accurate by saying I’m not a morning person. If absolutely necessary, I am capable of getting up and being in a decent mood and getting going at a decent pace. I don’t hit the snooze button. I get out of bed right when my alarm goes off, but I don’t like making decisions in the morning so I set my clothes, my lunch, my school bag all out and ready for the morning. And I eat pretty much the same breakfast, granola with frozen blueberries and almond milk, every morning.

As I was setting out my clothes tonight I was thinking about how it’s been nice wearing jeans for the past two weeks, but I’m looking forward to putting on my teacher clothes again. I would say that I dress relatively formally for an elementary teacher. I wear blazers or jackets almost every day, dress pants and blouses. Sometimes, when it’s warm, I like to wear skirts or dresses. I’ve always enjoyed getting dressed up nicely. I like how it makes me feel about myself. It’s like putting on a character. When I wear these clothes, I become a teacher, I put on my teacher costume and mask. I stop being Jeannie and start being Mme Chiasson.

I’m going to miss being able to lie around the house and read all day or staying in bed past 10 if I want to, but I’m looking forward to going back to school, seeing all my students and co-workers, hearing about their vacations and getting back into the swing of my routine. I, like my students, enjoy having that daily routine to fall back into. I’m hopeful that some of the routines that I’ve started on vacation, like exercising every day and taking time for myself, will continue with school as well.

What routines do you have to get yourself ready for the next day? Do you feel different in your teacher clothes than in your regular clothes? Are you back to school tomorrow to or already back?