This next week it’s time to go back to school – where did the summer go? As a French teacher, there are certain questions and considerations that I have to think about every year. I would like to think that I have become a better teacher with each passing year, but I know that there are also things to improve upon. Here are five things that I think about during the planning week before starting a new school year.
This is one of the worst AND best parts of being a teacher in 2022! I remember when I started teaching, cell phones weren’t really a thing. Well, they were – but they weren’t smartphones and only really rich people had them. I go my first computer with an internet connection in 1998ish. There wasn’t much to see on the internet back then. Now, I have access to the latest music, videos and social media from the francophone world whenever I want it, which is great. My students can follow French-speaking social media stars and use apps and games to practice the language. BUT there is a huge downside – too many of them do not know when and how it is appropriate to use their phones. Each student now has a computer as well, so it’s really easy for them to just tune out of class and go into a device-induced coma. This year I want to be stricter on cell-phones and computer use. I loved using Desmos at the beginning of each class last year, but I’m not sure that I want them immediately opening their computers when they come in. It’s too easy for them to hide behind the open screens. As far as phones go, I purchased a wall pocket chart and I plan to have each student put their phone in the holder at the beginning of class. Not only will this help with students not using phones in class, it has a double benefit of helping me to take attendance. I have prosopagnosia, which makes it very difficult for me to recognize faces. I’ll be able to use missing phones as a way to double check whether or not I’ve taken attendance correctly!
Weekly routine – a back to school must!
I prefer to have a basic weekly routine that I can follow. This has been tough the past few years as the schedule has changed each year. We went from every class 5 days a week to 3 classes every day for 18 weeks to block schedules of 6 classes every other day to the new schedule for 2022-23. This year we will have all classes for 45 minutes per day 3 days a week, then each class for 90 minutes on one of two block days. So I will have to rethink and move around what I did last year a little bit – yet one more back to school task to do. My plan is that Monday will be a good day to introduce new vocabulary. Tuesday we will continue to use the vocabulary in context and get some practice with any new grammar things we need to look at. Wednesday and Thursday are my block days – so I will use part of those days to play a vocabulary practice game – Gimkit or Blooket. This gives the students a little break and a fun way to practice the new information! Friday we will have our music video of the week. I may do a little quiz each Friday, but nothing big. I am using the Curriculum framework from CI liftoff this year, so that will be something new. It can be difficult to mesh things with the district curriculum sometimes, but for the most part it works out. My district doesn’t have a curriculum with lists of vocabulary or grammar, just certain functions and tasks that students need to be able to do. While I’d love to just do the foundations, we have a LOT of movement between schools in our district so I have to make sure that incoming/outgoing students are able to do well.
Grading – back to school means streamlining and thinking ahead!
This doesn’t change all that much, each back to school sees me moving towards easier and more streamlined gradebook procedures. I don’t put every single assignment in the gradebook, I make one big grade for each week’s assignments. Since we use Teams, it’s really easy for students to see which assignments they are missing without seeing it in the actual gradebook. I did IL, IR, PS, PW, IC and homework as my grade categories last year but this year I’m going to make it even simple – interpretive, presentational, interpersonal, and practice. Students will still be able to tell what things they need to work on and I won’t have to go through on tests dividing out listening from reading! I use formative for testing.
Homework isn’t a huge factor in student grades – it’s only 10% of their overall grade. That doesn’t mean I don’t want them to get some individual practice time, so it’s something I think about each year before I go back to school. I have used Duolingo in the past and I think I will make Duolingo part of my weekly assignments. I haven’t decided how many lessons/points I will want the students to do each week yet, so that’s going to be a consideration. Last year I tried to give students 2-3 SMALL tasks in their class notebook to do. I’m thinking that doing Duolingo on Monday, a notebook assignment on Tuesday, and then something in class on the block day will be enough. I may even put all of the assignments on one big notebook page this year instead of different pages for each day of the week. They can do it all at once, or split it up over the course of the week. This may be easier for students who have busy schedules and it makes it easier for me to grade.
Finally, one thing to consider before back to school is the class seating arrangement. Covid has been an issue the past two years and it affected how my seating was set up. This year, I’m going to go back to tables of four students. This makes it easier for group work and partner work and I’m hoping it will make it easier to walk around the class. It is particularly important for me to have a seating chart set up so that I can take attendance. As I mentioned above, I have a really hard time recognizing faces unless there is something distinctive (hair color or style, tattoos, piercings, etc). Even though the school attendance system shows the student photo, I can’t recognize if it’s the same student that I’m looking at in person. So on day one, I have them come in and choose a seat and then write their name on a card next to their seat numbers. I make up the seating chart at the end of the day on the first day back and use it from then on. A big part of my back to school introduction is to explain to students that I may not recognize them outside of class and I will likely have trouble with their names all year long – so it’s very risky to not be in your assigned seat when I take attendance! I plan to have students facing each other and the desks arranged so I can see half of the screens from each sides of the room – no hiding behind an open computer!