In the chic suburb where I teach, students pride themselves on their health and fitness. Most play several sports (or one sport on several teams), fit easily into their Lululemon leggings, eat from Whole Foods, and consider themselves to be in tiptop shape. Ask them how much sleep they got last night, though, and things start to look a tad worrisome. Maybe even shocking. Many get about as much sleep as I did when I returned to work from maternity leave. Not a pretty sight. "Comment dit-on tired?" is one of their first questions in the fall. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that our student body shares the high rates of anxiety and depression that plague many high-performing suburban schools across the US.
What to do? Our district partnered with Challenge Success at Stanford to promote student wellbeing and redefine success beyond test scores across the community. Part of the process involved surveying students and parents on topics such as screen time, family dinners, and hours spent sleeping. Our principal shared the data with staff, and as soon as I saw it, I knew that it would have a place in my current unit on la qualité de vie. Take this tidbit:
Bref, this is a relevant topic of personal concern. Studying the relationship between screen time and sleep provided students with new information that they did not have in L1, and challenged their rosy self-assessments in a productive manner. Although I’d explored this topic with students in the past, I was ready to rewrite it as a PBL unit this year thanks to inspiration from Laura Sexton’s PBL on self-improvement, and in-district support from PBL Works trainer Eric White. Many authentic resources for this 10 day mini-unit are pinned here.
Since PBL advocates opening the unit with an "entry event" meant to get students asking questions about the topic, I collected and shared a bank of curated data and infographics on the topic for this purpose. I was relieved to learn that an entry event doesn't have to be a red-carpet event with an outside guest speaker - a printed set or Padlet of interesting data will do just fine! Although I already had access to school data thanks to Challenge Success, I also had my students and their ePals take a survey that my students wrote so that we could compare ourselves to ePals in France. I can’t say enough about the data tables and charts spit out by Google Forms. They allow students to compare themselves as individuals to their peers, themselves to their ePals, and their US peers to those in France. Students dug into the data and completed a "see, think, wonder" activity about it (see page 1). This thinking routine is appropriate for Novice High/Intermediate Low language learners and honors the question-asking focus of PBL while keeping students in the target language. From here, students completed a rather detailed writing task where they examined different parts of the data and wrote observations using scaffolds that I provided (see pages 2 & 3).
I also had students do a gallery walk among various infographics that I’d curated for the course. They worked in groups to identify surprises, key terms, and questions. Posting infographics in plastic sleeves and giving students dry erase markers allowed for some movement and level-appropriate reading.
While we were diving into the topic, I scaffolded students’ language skills by providing activities like a card-sorting task where students tried to show causality among various factors by connecting terms with arrows. Thanks to Lisa Shepard for teaching me about this activity! Here are a few examples:
Students also completed a crossword puzzle game with relevant terms that plays a bit like Taboo, which I learned from Lisa Shepard (see her helpful explanation here). I gave students scaffolded practice asking and answering questions about this topic by having them play “ask, ask, switch” with teacher-written questions about screen time and sleep. Eventually these built toward an interpersonal assessment with some role-playing using the TALK rubric. See here for more on how I assess students' interpersonal speaking in small groups at one station where I sit, listen in, and provide feedback.
Having established various sleep and screen time problems, students were ready to start looking for solutions. They used the existing bank of authentic resources to identify possible solutions to their identified problems (see page 4), and spent nearly a week testing out various strategies at home for homework. Students were thrilled to have assignments of their choosing such as: take a 20 minute nap, take a hot bath, or go for a walk after school. Each day in class, they shared what they’d tried in pairs and then journaled on its results using a scaffolded formula that I provided (see page 5). This gave them more opportunities to narrate in the past, a fairly new skill, while creating valuable findings to incorporate into their projects:
Once students had tried several strategies, they began to create their toolkits for their ePals. Since time was short, I only provided a few options for the format: letter, video, slideshow, or infographic. I made extensive use of station work to get students writing drafts and then self- and peer-assessing those draft efforts, thanks to inspiration from Megan Budke. Here is a sample project (also a slideshow sample here) and the rubric that I used to score projects (see pages 7-8):
Students’ reflections on this project indicated their interest in the topic and moreover, their appreciation for a teacher showing her investment in students’ wellbeing.
Et voilà...my second PBL is a wrap. Read about the first one, on tiny houses, here. As always, I welcome your questions, suggestions, and shared resources that will support my continued growth!
Inspired by Shelby County Schools' pre-unit on learning a language, I chose to kick off my brand-new French 7 curriculum by really digging into the WHY and HOW of language-learning. Most of my 7th graders had never studied a second language before (although several were bilingual), and I felt it was important to start off by transforming them into language-learning advocates, introducing them to ACTFL proficiency levels, and inculcating in them my daily routines.
While this may not be the flashiest way to open the year, I found that this unit created a strong foundation and common reference point for us to revisit throughout the year. Since I will teach all of these students again in French 8, it's also a twofer.
My overarching unit performance objective for the 7-day unit is "I can explain why and how to learn French" with 3 smaller objectives:
• I can persuade someone to learn French
• I can explain the rules, procedures, and expectations in our classroom
• I can describe how to increase my French proficiency
The unit template is here and my daily lesson plans are here. Most of the resources that I use are on my Pinterest page for this unit.
For our first Can-Do, "I can persuade someone to learn French," we watch this short, humorous, and powerful video to start thinking about why speaking different languages matters. Students read an article about the rise of French worldwide and list reasons to learn it. Then we dig into the positive effect of language-learning on the brain via a short video and infographic. At this point, I want students to see some French, so we try to decode the basics of an article about francophone students from 1Jour1Actu. This leads naturally into a discussion of cognates, which pairs well with this video about English words hidden in French. Students then practice identifying cognates by trying to read an article from 1Jour1Actu about summer camp, and highlighting cognates they can identify and/or guess. All student work for these documents is found in this packet.
For the second Can-Do, "I can explain the rules, procedures, and expectations in our classroom," we do a course expectations scavenger hunt (thank you Creative Language Class for this idea!), choose French names and find clock partners for the year, and start to learn greetings with this Adomania video (1/16, Bonjour). Thanks to Sarah Moghtader for sharing the clock partners document from her district of Brookline Public Schools.
The third Can-Do, "I can describe how to increase my French proficiency," is key to getting students to buy into this way of learning a language and can (and should!) be revisited throughout the year. I do a variation on this lesson from Creative Language Class, where students practice writing in English at our course target of Novice High. Armed with a clear understanding of the course goals, students are ready to set personal goals for the year. I use Shelby County's clever EPIC posters for this. They make a great hallway display, and a powerful reflection tool at the end of the school year:
Wishing everyone a wonderful start to the school year! I'd love to hear your ideas for starting off the year on the right foot.
While there's no exhilaration like doing something for the very first time, I am really enjoying the experience of revisiting and tweaking my "old" thematic units this year. Knowing the arc of the year and having a bit more distance allow me to see redundancies and gaps, and let go of even more "vestigial" vocabulary and grammar still remaining from my textbook.
Coming back to these units also means seeing how rough the first ones were when I first taught them. I hadn't yet discovered the power and beauty of holding group conversation assessments with the TALK rubric; hadn't routinized student accountability for Can-Dos via regular "check-ins"; and was creating interpretive listening guides and graphic organizers on a daily basis. What a hot and happy mess!
This year, I'm helping my students organize all the amazing resources that I've created for them by binding them together into a unit dossier. The idea to create booklets for each unit of the year - nicely stapled together with a sturdy oaktag cover - comes from my Spanish colleagues Eileen & JJ. We presented on "Bye-Bye to Teaching by the Book" at MaFLA in October and exchange ideas across the language divide pretty regularly, from the practical to the philosophical.
Here are links to the booklets I've created thus far this year:
La Vie en Ville
Les Vêtements et le shopping
Les Loisirs et la qualité de la vie
La Nourriture et la faim
I spent the summer of 2014 rewriting my French 8 curriculum. You can read more about my motivation, process, and outcomes in this article I wrote for ACTFL's The Language Educator.
I created 5 thematic units, based on the topics covered in Discovering French Bleu (Valette). You can read all about each one by choosing from the "Thematic Units" pulldown menu above. Our school runs on 4 terms, so I divided the units thus:
La Vie en ville
Les Vêtements et le shopping
Les Loisirs et la qualité de la vie
La Nourriture et la faim
Each unit includes the following:
• Thematic unit planner (I use Helena Curtain's, which is like ACTFL's but a bit cleaner)
• Student Can-Dos, set up as a chart with space for self-evaluation and suggestions for guided practice
• Interpretive reading and listening activities for use with selected authentic materials
• Interpersonal speaking activities using the TALK rubric
• Presentational writing and speaking activities with rubrics
• Daily lesson plans
This is very much a work in progress and I welcome your feedback so that I can continue to examine and improve my practice.
Who's that dame?
Middle school French teacher obsessed with building students' proficiency via thematic units & authentic materials.