Start Planning Your Sub Plans Now

Inspired by a friend who had to be absent the week before finals because her husband had to have emergency surgery, I put together my best sub plans advice.

I am a sub plan master Ninja.  The last semester I taught, in an 18 week period, there were only two weeks I was there all five days.  When I was on a five day streak the principal told me the students were probably wondering “when this sub was going to leave.”  My principal’s got jokes.  Additionally, I never had a sub who spoke any French, so everything had to be independent.

We don’t want to be absent, but it happens.  Your kids get sick.  You get sick.  You go to the hospital because you have a headache and the next thing you know you’re having a spinal tap and are transferred to the regional hospital because they think you have a brain bleed, but it’s really just a headache and you’re out the whole week.  (That only happened once.)  My point is stuff happens, but you can start getting ready now for when you have to be gone.

Four things to do now to prepare for a sub:

  1.  Learn to screencast.  A simple option is the Chrome extension Screencastify. It uploads automatically to your Google Drive and you can share with students easily through Google Classroom and thereby bypass filter and network issues.  Create your slides and talk students through what you want them to do.  Narrate.  Teach.  Tell them to push pause and do something on a piece of paper.  Students can watch at their leisure or as a whole class. Very hard for a student to say they didn’t understand what to do if you’re telling them in a video.  Practice students experiencing your screencasting skills on a day when you are there.  Maybe a day when you’re going to go over an IPA.  Maybe a day when students are in and out registering for classes.  Maybe a day when you want half of them to do one thing and half of them to do another.  Most importantly, have students practice before you are gone.  A bonus is once you’ve learned to screencast, you can screencast your stories and lessons for students who were absent.
  2. Learn to EdPuzzle.  EdPuzzle allows you to take videos and ask questions with them.  Multiple choice, short answer.  You import the video and then make the questions.  You can even choose from videos that already have questions added.  EdPuzzle connects to your Google Classroom and you get a report of the answers students go right or wrong.  Take your screencast from #1 and add questions to it.  Most importantly, have students practice EdPuzzle before you are gone.
  3. Learn to Recap.  I’m sold on Recap.  Recap allows students to record video of themselves responding to a prompt.  You get to choose how long their response can be.  I used it this year when I was at ACTFL- I had students respond to two prompts and I left them feedback sitting in the exhibitor hall.  You can record a video for students to watch, but I found that a bit glitchy still.  If students don’t want to video themselves, tell them to cover up their video camera and it will just record their voice.  Most importantly, have them practice with this before you are gone.
  4. Put everything in Google Classroom.  I would argue that whatever students do should be in Google Classroom, so that you have a record of what they do.  A few years ago I was out a few days, but had planned “work days” for students to work on their Francophone Country reports.  The day before the report was due a mom called me saying her daughter was worried because she didn’t have Internet at home.  When I checked the revision history I could see that while she was present those days there had been zero revisions to her slides.  When I told mom this she said, “She’ll have it done tomorrow.”  Having students do work here can keep them accountable.  Plus, you only need to pop in remotely on a couple of students’ work in order to remind the whole class that you are checking up on them.
  5. Most importantly, avoid giving students a new assignment with new technology when you’re gone.  That’s a terrible, no good, very bad idea and that’s the experience talking.


2016 Reflections

I should just call this semester reflections since I only teach semesters now.  The biggest “change” to my teaching this semester is how I graded my French 101 class.  First, I ditched the weekly lesson quiz.  Did I care?  Nope?  Did students care?  Heck no.  Do I think it had any impact on student achievement?  Nope.  Students still achieved.  I still knew what we needed to work on from informal assessment daily.

The next change was in my unit tests.  I’ve always had a writing and speaking component, but this semester I did something completely different and I loved it.  Loved it!  In love!!  Here’s what I did.  First, I used Alice Keeler’s Rubric Tab Script to make a rubric for the unit test.  Depending on the unit I had four or five tasks: a “prepared” speaking, an “on the spot” speaking or conversation, a multiple choice quiz and a writing task.  Sometimes I had two writing tasks.

Let’s stop and talk for a minute about the Rubric Tab Script.  I don’t like to math by myself because when I do I get disastrous results.  The Rubric Tab Script creates a rubric for each student and then automagically adds up the score.  So my rubric had a “criteria” for each task: prepared speaking, writing, multiple choice, etc.  All I had to do was put what they had scored based on the rubric. (Note, I changed the scoring for the multiple choice because I realized it wasn’t fair if a student scored 59% on the multiple choice to earn a 0.)  I used a rather generic rubric here.  I had a more detailed one that we used for assignments for improvement.


I had no paper hanging around and my points were added up by themselves.  In fact, the first time I used it I had all of my students’ work graded for the first class within an hour.  And because I was using Google Forms Quizzes for the quiz as soon as students finished, I just went to their rubric and popped in the score!  Amazing.  Additionally, I liked that it was a global score and everything counted equally.  I used an iPad to view the rubrics and the computer to view their documents.  It just made it easier rather than switching back and forth between windows or tabs.

Now let’s talk about the actual tasks.  The first was always a “prepared” speaking.  What I mean by that is that I had the students prepare a slide deck on something or someone.  The last one was to talk about their family.  I told them put some pictures in a slide deck or show them on your phone.  Don’t care.  I’m a big fan of this type of speaking because I feel like, while they don’t get to use notes, forcing them to have something in front of them forces them to think about what they’re going to say ahead of time.  And how many times do you go into an important conversation (job interview, speech, difficult conversation) when you don’t know at least the topic and have thought about what you’re going to say.  For the last assessment, there was also a component to ask questions, so while students may have thought what they were going to say about their families they had no idea what questions their random partner would ask them.  I watched as they answered the easy questions and negotiated meaning for the more difficult ones.

For each assessment we used a grammar carousel for everyone to do their speaking.  Here’s how that works:  students sit at desks or tables across from each other.  You’ll have a two long lines of students. They use their devices to show whatever they prepared and talk and then after x minutes on side moves one down and everyone has a new partner and a new conversation.  I hadn’t ever done an “assessment” this way and the first time I fell in love.  I thought why hadn’t I done it this way?  So easy!! I walked around with my iPad.  I listened to students having conversations and I marked their answers.  Did I hear every conversation fully?  Nope.  Did I hear enough of each students to make an assessment?  For sure.  Additionally, the first time we did this the students were laughing and smiling and I thought they are enjoying themselves while taking a test!

Generally I just let students talk for about 3 minutes and hope that each student talks equally.   (I tell them, “If I don’t hear you talk you get a zero”, so they are motivated to get their equal time.)  For the last assessment I gave six minutes for each conversation and gave them a basic structure for who should be doing what when because part of the grade was to ask questions.  (I had to do that in a training I went to a few weeks ago and I liked that it gave a loose structure to our conversation so I stole it. )  Then once I heard everyone I said, “Stop.”  For about 20-25 students it took about 30-40 minutes.  Imagine!  Assessing 20-25 students on a presentation about their family normally takes hours and is #boring and makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a pencil.  At no point doing it this way did I wish for a pencil.  And the students themselves were all engaged at the same time.

Next we put the chairs and tables back and did the more normal parts of the test which was multiple choice and writing.  These were “passed out” through Google Classroom.  During this I called partners up or individuals and did the other individual or partnered speaking activity.  In one of the assessments, I used these infographics to assess numbers.  (We had practiced for days with a different one each time and I chose Le Louvre one for the assessment.)  The brilliant part (I thought) was that when I had the student who had already had French AP I asked him completely different questions than I asked the students for whom this was their first exposure to French.  I used my Rubric Tab Rubrics to input their grades immediately and I was done nice and quick.

The only (minor) hiccup came when I had a students “go outside to prepare” for one minute on a random subject and I forgot the last student was out there!  He came to the door sheepishly and said, “Can I come back in, it’s cold.”

My takeaway:  I will do all of my unit assessments like this forever.  Well, probably not forever and probably I could come up with a better way.  But for right now, this hits all the sweet spots for me and was so incredibly simple that I was kicking myself for having never thought of it before.

Now that I’ve mastered assessment (ha!- if only), I’m on to decide whether or not I’m going to use a textbook for French 102 next semester.


Technology Obstruction

I didn’t have the intention of being a paperless class and I don’t believe that paperless is a goal within itself.  Nevertheless, last year, out of necessity, I became a mostly paperless class at the college because I had no easy access to a copier.  As it turned out last year I had it great because I ended up taking on another class near a copier so I was able to make copies if I needed them.  This semester my choices for copying are:

1.  Take personal time from my high school job to get to the college early enough to make the copies. Uh, non.

2.  When I’m done at 8:05pm, call campus police to ask them to open the building where the copier lives.  Drive to the upper campus, walk 10 minutes in the dark to the building where the campus police may or may not be waiting for me.  Uh, definitely, non.

3.  Take personal time from the high school in the middle of the day to go on T/TH to go make copies.  Uh, non, non et non.  The whole reason I decided to work a 13 hour day on M/W was to avoid going to the campus four days a week.

So I am committed to not making copies and highly motivated to find another way.

And so far this has worked out remarkably well.  Even great.  Necessity has definitely breeded invention.  Because I had to, I have evaluated anything I made copy of and have created a whole new way of delivering the content using different Slide decks.  However, last week, this no copy business failed.  Not so much failed, but the digital version just wasn’t as impactful as the paper version has been and I was sooooooo disappointed.

Here was the lesson- the end of the first unit has a reading of nine different “biographies.”  Using a graphic organizer, we read the first three, one at a time, and together and fill in a graphic organizer with “Nom, pays, profession, nationalité” with one word answers.  Then I divide the class into six groups and give each group a “copy” of one of remaining six biographies.  They fill out the graphic organizer for that biography.  Then I take away their copy  (leaving them with just their notes) and then they get assigned to a new group with a representative for each biography.  Each student is responsible for telling the group about his/her specific biography information so that at the end, everyone has the entire grid filled in.

It’s a great activity.  By making them fill in only one word into the graphic organizer they are pushed to say create language on their own when they get to the group.

Only this last time, technology made it not great.  I had “passed out” the copies in Google Classroom.  The problems were numerous.  First, for some reason Google Classroom assigned thumbnails to the wrong files.  So Group 2 saw the thumbnail for Group 1.  Next, because the thumbnails were wrong, when I checked the assignment before passing it out, I assumed I was missing one of them and ended up making two copies of the same “biography.”  So we didn’t get all six biographies and ended up with two of the guy from Québec.  Quelle catastrophe!  Finally, because I couldn’t “take away” the reading before they went to the jigsaw group, there was no urgency or incentive to make sure that they understood what to say.  The students simply re-read the biography instead creating their own language based on their notes.

I watched the whole activity in wonder.  I anticipated the last problem, but I didn’t expect the impact the technology would have as a whole.  I was incredibly disappointed because I’ve seen it work so well and in this case the technology just made it weak.

I wouldn’t say the technology obstructed the lesson, but I would say it definitely made it less effective.  It was the first time I’ve had that happen to me.  Next semester, I will make these copies at the beginning of the semester when I copy the syllabus because this is one tech based lesson I will not be repeating.

Back to School-First Day

Last week was the first day of my college class.  I used my basic: hour of boring syllabus + hour and half of French sequence, but this semester I made some big changes.  First, for the syllabus I ditched reading the syllabus (yes, I was guilty of doing that type of beginning of class), for having a “syllabus slide deck.”  I used the slides to touch on all of the important aspects that I wanted to talk about.  This allowed me to breeze through the talk of the syllabus quickly and leaving me plenty of time to talk about the proficiency scale.

I decided to do 50% proficiency grading this semester- each semester the percentage has gone up and I’ve always had a rubric to go with it.  This time however, I’m using the ACTFL Proficiency Scale for grading.  I arbitrarily decided at the end of 16 weeks the students should be at Novice High.  Low Novice High.  Like just barely crossed over.  I feel like this is a reasonable target.

Because this is all rather new for students, I also wanted to discuss what all this meant with students.  Luckily, I didn’t have to think hard about how to do this.  When the ladies from Creative Language Class presented to the Inland Empire Foreign Language Association in April, they did an activity that I thought was so great I took it.  Literally, I asked if I could have the examples in English that we used to talk about the different levels.  And I took them.

So for the first day in French 101, I gave the students the rubric and put the posters up on the wall.  I asked the students to decided which example was which level and they did.  And they discussed.  And it was definitely not boring.

For the second half of class I did the same sequence I’ve done for 17 years: Numbers, letters, Bonjour, je m’appelle and some fun verbs.  During the Creative Language Class workshop, they mentioned not doing numbers and letters to start because it’s not as exciting.  Probably true, but I like my sequence because it’s so concrete and easy to grasp and gets everyone talking immediately.  Most important to me is that at the end of the hour, the students feel confident that I can talk entirely in French with them and they can learn.

Oh, did I mention that the projector stopped working in both classes? I had to think on my toes and in the second class, I ended up drawing on the board and we made class rules in French.  Despite the technology woes it was the best start of class I’ve ever had and I can say that I don’t think I would change anything.

Why I’m not ready to ditch my textbook, yet.

This summer at ISTE I won a free copy of “Ditch that Textbook” by Matt Miller.  I’d heard about this movement of course, so I was interested in reading the book.  After much reflection I’ve decided that I’m not ready to ditch my textbook and here’s why:

I want the extra resources.  I teach at the community college and I’ve got essentially 15 weeks to get students from nothing to novice mid or high?  I can’t do everything in class.  I’ve been focusing on oral proficiency in class and letting the writing be done at home.  The textbook we have has an online component that corrects their homework with immediate feedback. The textbook also has videos, flashcards, and other practice activities that students can do on their own.  I don’t have the time or the motivation to create that amount of resources for students who might want them.  That portion is 1000 times better than anything I could create on my own.

I like my textbook.  I had a textbook before that the department had agreed upon and I spent a significant part of my time writing angry notes in the margin about how awful the textbook was.  I couldn’t figure out how to make that textbook flow or useful.  I felt sorry students were expected to spend money on that crap.  I would get disgruntled and agitated every time I went to plan because it was so awful.  Even thinking about it right now is making my blood pressure go up.  At the end of the last semester we used it, I literally tore out the pages and threw them in a fire.  I hated that textbook and I ditched it as much as I could while keeping with department policy.

I don’t teach from the textbook.  I’ve tried to always use the textbook as a resource instead of The Only Resource.  And this textbook uses a flow that I find easy to adapt.  In any one lesson I’ve got #authres, videos, and a multitude of activities that don’t involve the textbook.  Most of the activities in the textbook I will tweak so that they are more communicative.  And I think I do a pretty good job of doing it.

I don’t know that everyone agrees with me.  I’m also reluctant to give up my textbook entirely because I don’t know where these students are going after me.  It’s all fine to use proficiency based grading and no textbook if everyone has agreed on that, but if my students leave me and go on to an instructor who does not hold that same philosophy they could be at a disadvantage.  I want to provide the maximum amount of proficiency within a generally accepted structure.

I don’t use one method exclusively to teach.  I’ve always tried to have a variety of methods and activities to deliver content.  I do TPRS.  I do partner activities.  I do group activities.  I incorporate technology.  I talk about grammar.  I don’t talk about grammar.  I write out verb charts.  I correct errors by recasting.  I correct errors explicitly.  I do all of this because one method won’t work for every student.  The textbook is one way to deliver content.

I don’t have one tool in my toolbox.  To me a textbook is just one tool in my professional toolbox and I’m not ready to put it in the discard pile yet. At least for right now, I’ve decided to continue to exploit the resources the textbook offers while adding in the authentic resources and CI that I know I can do as a teacher.

And that’s ok.