Saturday, August 23, 2014

Personalization, part 2: Personalization without pain

First of all, I want to thank you for bearing with me. I promised you part two last week, but I was so busy and my plate was so full that I couldn't do it. I did post that my new first year book is out (yes, shameless plug :) ), but I didn't find time to do anything else.

I want to start this post by reminding you of something in my last post. Karen is aware of her flaws and wants us, her students, to be aware of them, too. I decided that is a good example to follow in my classroom. I have certain homework that is due, and the first was for the student to read "How to Succeed in My Class" with a parent and sign and return it. We try to be a green school, so my homework is on my website. However, I keep a file of the signed student/parent signatures (it gives me backup as well as a file of parent signatures), so I ask that they give me the last page as homework.

I try to be organized, and sometimes I run into trouble. If a student tells me that s/he turned in their homework, I take it out and go through it. If I don't find the student's work, I give it to the student to look through. Since there is always a  chance of misfiling, I give them the opportunity to do the work over again for full credit. This is announced on the first homework day.  Amazingly, hardly any of the kids misuse this. What it does is let them understand that I'm human and make mistakes. Sometimes I'm the first adult to acknowledge this.

What does this have to do with personalization? I think that in order to do personalization well, you have to have the students' trust. There is nothing that breaks down that trust faster than refusing to acknowledge even the possibility that you made a mistake. I also give the student credit for acknowledging that in themselves. For example, one student wrote me saying that she saw she had an M (missing) for her homework and was really angry--until she went through her backpack and realized she hadn't turned in her work. I thanked her for her honesty and gave her full credit when she turned it in the next day. Everyone makes mistakes, and I am aware of that. It makes for a good parent-teacher connection.

Now on to personalization.  I saw so much of it going on in NTPRS, and much of what I saw was confirming to me. (That's a really good reason for advanced teachers to go, by the way. There is always something new to learn, but it's equally rewarding just to know that you're doing it right, especially if you're in a language department that doesn't believe in the method or that doesn't treat you with the respect you deserve.)  One thing I realized--had affirmed--is that there are as many ways to do personalization as there are teachers out there. Some, like Karen and Joe Neilson, know their students inside and out. Karen takes a student inventory so that she has a record of what kids like and dream of being and doing. It's on her fluencyfast website, by the way. Joe--I'm not sure. I don't think he takes an inventory. I think that he listens. He hears who is dating whom, who is playing what sports, etc. Honestly, that second isn't hard to figure out at Salpointe. We're a uniform school and every team has its own shirt. It's pretty easy to figure out the football players when their shirts and backpacks announce it.  He then uses what he knows to add interest to his stories.  I do that, too--sometimes. But sometimes it's just as easy to personalize without involving the students.

What??? How do you personalize without involving the students?  Easy. You have the student become the story, and they and the class decide what their character likes and dislikes. For example, the other day in Spanish 1, the class read a story about a boy who wanted a girlfriend, but he was very tall and wanted a very tall girlfriend (this is in the 1st year book--2nd story). In the first story, he wanted a girlfriend, so he went to mass. There was a really cute girl who wanted to be his girlfriend, but she was too short. So he decided not to be her boyfriend. There were other problems in other places, but then he decided to go to a basketball game. There were lots of tall girls. The story ended with him being happy that he had a tall girlfriend.  Well, the next day's vocabulary included "he is happy" "he is sad" "he laughs" and "he begins to cry". The tie in was obvious, at least to me. So I had a student come to the front and be John and another come up and be the girl. John started off as very happy. Why was he happy? He was happy because he had a tall girlfriend. But one day John was sad. Why was he sad? There was a girl at the mass who was pretty. John decided that he didn't want a tall girlfriend. He wanted a short girlfriend. So John dumped his girlfriend (words on board) and went to mass. He told the girl, Jillian, that he wanted to have a short girlfriend. Jillian laughed and said she was short. Jillian was John's girlfriend, and Jillian was happy.

John had gone to the desk of a short girl (who the students had chosen). I asked the story, of course, but the students knew pretty well where they wanted the story to go, and it was the same place I wanted it to go. If not, I would have taken it in a modified direction, keeping in mind the vocab. Anyway, this had all happened at the desk. When John went back to the front of the class, the girl was instructed to get on her knees--there was an obvious height disparity. Then I said, "class, when John and his girlfriend walked to school, did the school laugh or cry?" Everyone yelled "laugh!" So the girlfriend said, "John, I am sad. Everyone is laughing. I don't want to have a boyfriend." And she left. And now John was sad.

How is this personalization? The kids get to decide what kind of a guy John is. He is good or bad, happy or sad, depending on what they want. No, it's not the same as knowing tons about a student and using it in a story. That has its place, too. But this is good for tying vocab from one story to another and teaching the students in the early days that acting is not threatening.

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