This is Part 2 in what I hope to make a three-part series about my long, long journey toward National Board Certification in World Languages. In 2014, NBPTS began to revise its process and started rolling out revised Components at the rate of 1 or 2 new Components in World Languages per year. As a result, completing the 4 Components will take me at least 3 years. National Board used to be a grueling 1-year sprint. Now it's more of a grueling marathon. While I won't lie and say that I'm savoring every minute, I can see that what I learned the year before really informs my work going forward. I am getting better because I am not in a rush. In a slow process, there is enough time to make mistakes, notice them, change your practice, and try something a second, third, or even fourth time. And I have found lots to change as I examine my teaching in a deeply critical and reflective manner.
In Part 1, I addressed the what, why, and how of my first year of this process when I completed Component 2, Differentiation in Instruction. Now I'm going to describe what I learned from filming my lessons for Component 3, Teaching Practice and Learning Environment.
Watching yourself teach is painful, and there's just no way around that. I found myself groaning, wincing, and covering my eyes with my hands nearly every time I watched a video that I'd filmed of my class. My husband could actually tell when I was watching them just by the expression on my face. However, I also saw things about my teaching that I had never noticed when I was busy leading the lessons myself. And these were important things that really helped me refine my practice. For example:
1. My activities dragged on. National Board only lets you submit 2 videos of 10-15 minutes each, so I needed to show more than 1 task in each video in order to provide evidence for every standard. This was very difficult initially because I was playing out each task to the fullest: allowing every student to finish, correcting every question with the full class, recording answers on the whiteboard, etc. I knew intellectually that I was supposed to keep things short, cut activities off when the energy reached its peak, and so on...but I wasn't doing it. Now I'm working on designing activities that still have merit if some students only get partway through in class, and wrapping things up with the first students finish.
2. My lessons didn't reach my least proficient or compliant students. I had a few meltdowns watching videos where I had planned everything to the hilt, maintained my best French...and then discovered too late that one or two students were off-task or speaking English while I was leading the lesson. Clearly, I needed to keep these learners in mind when planning subsequent lessons. As I reviewed my tasks for the lesson, I'd ask myself: "What will W... be able to do during this task, given that he's really at the word level in a class with an Intermediate Low target?" or "How will I keep A... focused during an interpersonal speaking task when I know that he will gravitate toward his friends, whether or not he's paired with them?"
3. I did pseudo learning checks all the time. "Everybody got that?" "Are we good?" "Okay?" I chimed in with these non-questions at nearly every pause or transition, yet...mysteriously...no one ever answered in the negative or asked a clarifying question. I'm sure you're not surprised that my 8th graders didn't want to admit when they were lost. Or didn't even know if they were lost. This issue revealed how much I needed to elicit tangible output from my students so that I could assess their learning and respond accordingly. And half a dozen "ça va?"s weren't going to get me there.
4. I needed to plan for target language use during interpretive tasks. Readers of my thematic units already know that I'm a huge fan of the ACTFL IPA template for interpretive reading. Via key word recognition, important phrases, and a brief summary, students write in English to show what they've understood from an L2 text. Which is fine and dandy unless you're trying to make a film that shows 100% target language use by teacher and students. It's virtually impossible to hold class in L2 while working on a task in L1. So, for my National Board submission, I used paraphrased sentences in French which students marked true or false (thanks to Mme Shepard for this wise suggestion!). It was positively dreamy to hear students reading the French paraphrased sentences aloud and debating them. Which reminded me of Laura Terrill's suggestion to "teach in L2 but assess in L1." Now I'm thinking I should save my IPA template for assessments (and practice assessments) but do the bulk of my interpretive questioning in French.
I could go on about my own epiphanies from this process, but what I really want to do is challenge YOU. Film yourself! Watch yourself! And when you're done cringing, think about what you could do differently next time. I can almost guarantee that you'll want to make some changes to your practice immediately.
And if you're considering starting the National Board process, I highly recommend reading Cult of Pedagogy's blog post on this topic. While not specific to WL, it's spot-on. You can also read Sra Spanglish's post here in which she bemoans the higher standard to which NBPTS holds us WL teachers. You will notice that words "beast" and "wrestling" appear frequently in these posts. And with reason! Wrestling the beast of watching my own teaching was a major challenge...and a valuable one.