It’s been a week since Central States and, let me tell you, I have needed this week to ruminate on what I learned there. This was my first ever world language conference, and I couldn’t have picked a better one to start with! I met some really awesome people, got to attend a live #langchat tweetup, and learned a lot. Like I told my principal, it was everything I hoped it would be and more.
Lately, a good friend from a nearby district and I have been thinking that it’s time for a curriculum update. We attended an excellent session that got us pumped to work together this summer (and I’m really hoping to make it to (Base)Camp Musicuentos this summer), and I came home and bought three new books that I’m looking forward to diving into. By the way, you should really consider joining Laura and Megan in their Keys to Planning book study this summer – I definitely am!
But I didn’t leave with just ideas for next year, I’m also trying a few new things right away. Thursday afternoon, I attended a session with Sara-Elizabeth, Amy Lenord, and Thomas Sauer that is changing the way I teach right now. A while back, Sara-Elizabeth blogged about making lesson plans that are more in line with research about how (and what) the brain remembers.
The short version: You basically have 2 “prime times” for students to best remember what happens in a lesson – the first third is the best (primacy effect), the middle is not so good, and the last third is also quite good (recency effect). So basically, our traditional lessons that start with a boring warm-up and passing back papers, maybe reviewing homework, etc., and THEN lead into new material/what we want the kids to remember, is kind of doing our students a disservice.
I read that post ages ago, and it’s been floating around in my head ever since, but I’ve never really done anything about it, because, I mean, it’s hard to change your lesson-planning routine when you’ve got one that kind of works. But when I found out about the workshop at CSCTFL, I knew this was my chance to get a jump start. During the workshop, Thomas Sauer introduced us to the idea above, and also mentioned that you can create multiple learning episodes in each lesson – that means you can get multiple primacy and recency effects out of each lesson. Those are good times for input, while the down time in the middle is good for practice – so multiple practice sessions, too. All we need to do is reset the brain – or give it a break. Brain breaks are kind of a buzzword right now, but are another thing that I’ve never tried – I mean, is it really worth it to spend a minute and a half asking kids to play whole-body rock, paper, scissors? But really, if it’s going to improve the quality of what kids learn in the other 47 minutes of class, how could it not be worth it?
So that’s the basic gist. Here are some examples of how this is affecting my teaching right now. First, a picture of what my lesson plans for this week (that I made before Central States and stuck with because I was exhausted) look like. This is all of Spanish 1 for the week, and a couple days of Spanish 2 (and some random math):
And here’s two days of Spanish 1 for next week:
So you can see that I went for a bit more of a visual method. My classes are 48 or 49 minutes long, so I decided to just do two learning episodes – two 24-minute halves split nicely into 8-minute thirds, and I reminded myself of what the purpose of each phase is – Input, Practice, or Assessment. It was an interesting process. I didn’t necessarily change my activities too much, but being conscious of what were doing at each stage of the lesson definitely made me more aware of what activities maybe weren’t worth doing, and also made me consider – is this what Sara-Elizabeth called “active input” where the kids are working with input, but still receiving it, or is this more of a practice activity (which, as I thought of it, meant either interpersonal or presentational)?
As I went through the week in each class, there were places where I fudged the times – does it really have to be exactly 8 minutes? I don’t think so. And there was at least one time where I felt that an activity would require – and was worth – taking a bigger chunk.It happened to be a small research-prepare-present/discuss activity with Spanish 3, so it’s still kind of in the input-practice-input/assessment pattern that I originally made, it just didn’t fit perfectly into my 8-minute increments.
So that’s where I am right now. I’ll let you know how it goes after this week!