Sunday, August 19, 2018

Shiny, Happy the Classroom Learning Space

After one year and a half of blogging silence, I'm here to at least do one post in 2018. Last year, after almost a decade of on and off again battles, my mom lost her third bout with cancer.  I also got engaged around that time, and have acquired some children. And then I spent this entire summer planning my entire upcoming wedding. So, I'm sure you can imagine, blogging was not high on my priority list this past school year. (By the way, do any educators out there know how to mix tunes in playlists? We're not hiring an actual DJ for this event, so yours truly has to speedily develop amazing lists of music for hors d'oeuvres, dinner, and dancing. Who has some advice?)

While finishing up 85% of the work I wanted to do in my classroom today, I became inspired to write a quick blog post on its transformation from the dusty, sad summer storage space it was to the clean, happy environment it is now. While I had lots of informative and fun information hanging around the room last year, I just didn't have it in me to get too excited about our little block of school property. This past summer, I planned my entire semester for the two preps I'll have, and I feel more energetic than I had this time last year. So, please, have a look, and share some photos of your classroom this year, whether you've made changes or not -- it will be appreciated by more educators than you know. Inspiration comes from around us, and we all want shiny, happy people in our lives. 

Let's start with something pretty. It would be nice if I could take credit for the BEAUTIFUL bulletin board you see below, but I cannot. Two elementary ed students, one of which was in my French 1 class last spring, needed to decorate a teacher's board, so they chose to tackle my ugly, brown eye sore. I provided them with the border which represents an African cloth. What an extreme makeover!

Voilà the French café corner. We enjoy it for speaking assessments and alternative. It was a $35 purchase from Craigslist a few years ago when I left a private school that had provided me with a beautiful bistro set.

One of the best classroom supply purchases I've ever made was the one for the high bistro table which serves as an alternative learning space. No chairs allowed here! My French learners LOVE the table. There can be some silliness happening while standing back there, but you have to look past it to see how much learning and collaborating occurs. They often use the white board back there to drill each other or visualize their collaborative work. Furthermore, students who need to move during the 90-minute block have the opportunity to do so.

A week before teachers returned to campus, I stopped in to spend 4 hours dusting off the books and putting the furniture back in order. Much to my surprise, a long table and two lone chairs were left in the room for me. I'm not complaining. I now have a new work space for my learners. Win, win!

Here are a few displays I have for easy access to information that most all world language educators post on their walls. Students in their third year of study, or higher levels of proficiency, need to be able to express dates more often as they begin to share short bits of historical information or biographies and more. How sweet it is to watch the progression from constantly consulting the number display to rarely needing a glance at it during a presentation or discussion. The other three I'll post are also self-explanatory, but let me know if you have a question.

Expectations and consequences represent a required posting on any campus I've been on, so I'll include them in this post. The signs are not very big at all, and we don't refer to it really after the first week of school, and that's because I'm fortunate to work in a special community whose one-word theme for this year is #family. :)

The new and improved fake euro incentive program has been in the words for several months. At our state WL conference last February or March, a Spanish teacher from Georgia shared her system which included some creative, fun ideas that I added to the one I already had in place. I can't wait to share it with my learners because I'm certain they will appreciate it. I especially love the choices that allow us to focus less on punitive grading practices which I strongly reject. I already did this for quizzes last year, and it was a success.

 We're going to skip about 55% of one wall in my classroom because it will become a word wall of sorts in the coming days. I have the pleasure of hosting at least one (maybe more?) student who will serve as my assistant during a class period. She will design and post relevant and helpful information for each unit on the wall. I haven't done a word wall since I was required to do it way back at the beginning of my career because there just isn't enough time in the day, and I strongly believe in leaving work at school on most days. Thank goodness for helpful students!

On the remaining area of that wall and on part of the front one, I have a world map in French (not pictured) and blank frames that we will fill with class photos. Note to self: Print and post pictures much sooner than usual.) Once students complete the info sheet on the first day of school, I write their birth dates on calendar month print-outs to place on the yellow poster. That chair you see will move around, inevitably, but learners often sit there and charge their laptop while working.

Every classroom needs a station where learners can have access to supplies and turn in work in a clearly defined location.  Here's mine with a French and Francophone flair. :)

With the continual goal to build community in the classroom,  I added a donation box last year (or the year before?) that students can access when they need a pencil, pen, or whatever else has been dropped in the box. It functions somewhat like the cash register plate,  "Give a penny, Take a penny," does: students often borrow a pencil or pen and put it back at the end of the class period. I tell them that they can keep what they take out of the box if they really need to do so. Most do not. It must be noted that this box comes in handy when I frequently find perfectly functional pens and pencils on the floor at the end of the day. Instead of losing them in the back of my desk, students have instant access to them!

Not only did I score a long table and two chairs last week, but I now have a smaller, old school desk. FINALLY! I had one of those huge ones that I really didn't need. More space for kids to gather around my desk, AAAAND they do. Ha. I keep a "French shrine" up on top of the armoire so it can be admired without worrying about things disappearing or breaking. I'll post the color shot of it, too.

Now, we've come full circle in this classroom. I'll just add that the small table and office chair below are sought after, but I usually place kids there who do not want to sit in close proximity of others. That's OK. They still end up working with others in collaborative moments. Additionally, I'm able to keep a close eye on these students when I'm at my desk. Win, win.

As you can see below, I begin the year with quad seating.  In an earlier post, I shared about the seating survey I do around two to four weeks after school begins. Most learners LOVE this arrangement, and I prefer it because they are set up visually for communication and collaboration. However, there are students who prefer to sit in pair or side-by-side seating, so the seating becomes much more flexible very early in the year. What works for your students?

The relationships that we build in the classroom can, and should, begin with an inviting atmosphere. I am reminded of R.E.M.'s radio and MTV hit, "Shiny, Happy People," from 1991 when I think about the vibe I hope to welcome into our learning space each day, and I hope you are able to create such an ambiance for your young people, too:

"Shiny, happy people laughing
Everyone around, love them, love them,
Put it in your hands, take it, take it...."

Best wishes for a wonderful school year, everyone!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Flat Classroom Experience: Virtual Valentines 2017 (...with an update on Snapchat)

Does anyone still read this blog? Ha. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't...seeing how I haven't posted for going on a year. When you decide to switch schools each year (two schools in two years,) you might be like me, and need the time to adjust to the new campus culture and curriculum. Oy. Both transitions were rather smooth, actually, but the blog, Twitter, and the additional flat learning experiences I like to include have been neglected.  Until now!

So, in my last post, I said that I'd share about the task learners' did in my class last spring when I entered the absolutely entertaining world of Snapchat. We're going to scratch that idea because I've decided that the (video) camera, along with its filters and tools, are a great addition to any project, but not really a tool I want to use in class just to use it. I still believe it offers fantastic opportunities for learning on a variety of topics of interest, like outdoor adventure, for example, but that's a personal choice for learners. I'll leave a photo here, though, to show you a student example of a snap with a short French expression and the category for the photo. They had to submit their snaps with the text on Canvas, the chosen LMS of the district. They enjoyed it, but it didn't take off in any way that inspired me to make it an integral part of the world language experience. By the way, my new school is out in the countryside, so there isn't good phone service to use Snapchat anyhow.

As I mentioned above, we are beginning to enjoy some flat learning experiences again now that I feel settled into the new school. As a matter of fact, last week, we participated in the K12 Valentine Project 2017, and sent virtual valentine cards to English learners in Morocco and French learners in Kentucky. Below is the link to the wiki I made for the cooperating teachers to access all of the cards and some links to learn about our town, school, and state. I must share that one of my learners has been to Morocco because his father comes from there, and we learned that one of the students in Morocco is from South Carolina originally. How cool is that!  If you'd like to see more of this project as it happened in classrooms around the world, check out the Twitter project hashtag #k12Valentine. 

Stay tuned! I might blog again soon about the Skype session we will have with a United Nations peacekeeper later this week. I'm just not going to make any promises. hehe

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lifelong Learning with Snapchat

Spring Break 2016 started out like several others have over the years with a flight to Colorado and a happy reunion with best friends, Keri and Aaron. On the agenda: hugs, good food, and plans for local adventure! This year's week of Colorado vacation, however, included an exciting discovery of a new-to-me social media tool. I must tell you that prior to the past few years, it was becoming the norm that I would sign up for a new learning tool while in Colorado or at least while I was with my besties. In fact, the first time this occurred was when I road tripped from South Carolina to Colorado with the aforementioned BFFs, and joined Facebook during a stop in Texas. Jump ahead two years to the Spring Break Colorado Snow Storm of 2009. That's when I joined Twitter and revolutionized my professional life, thanks to discussion and collaboration with educators from around the world.

                        On the road through Texas. CVogel 2007

While my interest in connecting with educators on Twitter has waned a bit since then, it's still my number one go-to forum to discuss all things education. That said, I am not so interested in using Twitter to connect my learners with French speakers around the world at this point. Hmm. I miss the excitement of using social media as a learning tool in the classroom. I get great value out of it, personally, but I want to continue down the path of teaching digital literacy and global citizenship by way of meaningful projects and, possibly, with the help of the latest tools.

Guess what. I am happy to report that the SOCIAL MEDIA EXCITEMENT IS BACK! As of early April 2016, I can call myself an active Snapchat user! Yay! It was fun exploring Snapchat while being in one of my happy places -- Colorado! What's more (significant,) I've already invited my students to use Snapchat to learn and share, but I'll tell you more about the initial, classroom experience in the next blog post.

                              Snap logo interpretation by me!

My millennial best friend Leah, (who's my go-to contact when I need to know what's cool to people much younger than me,) told me a while back that I should join Snapchat, but I really wasn't inspired based on what I understood of its use and the lack of education-related social media posts on the tool. (It's possible that they existed earlier last school year, but none popped up in any of my feeds.) So, you might wonder what or who convinced me to sign up for the seemingly most popular social media tool for teens at the present time. In fact, inspiration came from a Facebook post by Outdoor magazine about two professional American climbers -- Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards -- who decided to attempt to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and snap their way to the top. Oh my gosh! This sounded so fascinating to me, so I immediately made an account, and texted my millennial BFF for assistance with setup.

It took me a little while to understand how to navigate, add neat "famous friends," and post, but I was able to watch the climbers from the comfort of my home on the other side of the globe in the meantime. Because of the time difference, I mostly watched them in the morning before I left for work and sometimes late at night. I looked forward to learning about the joys and fears of that most amazing (and quite reckless) adventure. I won't spend too much time on my Snapchat inspiration, but just know that my own personal learning was tremendous, thanks to their snaps.  Oh, and Cory summited without supplemental oxygen on this first EVER Everest climb while Adrian, who had already climbed it 6 times with supplemental oxygen, had to turn back just meters from the top due to the beginning stages of frostbite. (See my list of people to friend below.)

From there, I decided to google famous Snapchat users to increase my learning and entertainment. Wow! I never dreamed that I would see so much of the world and learn so much! Snapchat IS indeed a great tool for lifelong learners like me to discover new things, or learn more about something you already love, through the lens of a new-ish camera. It should be noted that you can also use the drawing tool to unleash your inner artist.

                              Snap and drawing by me! :)

Here's the list of some of the people I follow. For now, my account is private, but I will probably make a school account soon, and will update the blog with that information at that time.


For Lovers of the Outdoors:
adrianjb : Adrian Ballinger - professional climber / adventurer
crichardsphoto : Cory Richards - professional athlete & Nat Geo photographer
emilyaharringto : Emily Harrington - professional climber, adventurer, speaker
everestnofilter :  the account Adrian & Cory used for the Everest climb in April/May 2016
columbia1938 : Columbia Sportswear - They share great tips for outdoor adventure along w/products.
usinterior : Interior Department - USA park rangers share what they are doing in the national parks.
thenorthface : The North Face - They also share outdoor adventures, but aren't too active, overall.

For French Learners and Francophiles:
crdepirate : Coeur De Pirate - Canadian singer-songwriter from Montréal
jeromejarre : Jerome Jarre - Comedian YouTuber from France
noholitablog : Noholitablog - Fashion blogger in Paris (Even if you have little interest in fashion, it's great to listen to her speak French. She loves Drake's "One Dance," fyi. :)
davidlebovitz : David Lebovitz - Pastry chef and food blogger in Paris (He snaps the city of Paris,
uses French vocab at times, and shares great cooking/baking tips.)

For Comedy:
batdadblake : Bat Dad - a father who dresses like Batman & playfully "monitors" family activity
itsdougthepug : Doug the Pug - All I know is that this little dog has a lot of costumes. :D
lilswag79 : Kevin Hart 4 Real - comedian (He does curse a lot, so be warned if that offends you.)

For Food: 
allrecipes : Allrecipes - one of the most well-known free sites to find all sorts of recipes
davidlebovitz : David Lebovitz (again) - It's great to see what he's cooking up in the City of Lights.
migrationology : Mark Wiens - Food & Travel - He travels. He eats. Repeat.
thekitchn - The Kitchn - site that offers recipes, tips, and other information on food-related topics

Screenshot from a video snap of prosciutto & mozzarella in Italy.

For Art:
geeohsnap : GeeOhSnap - Norwegian Snapchat artist, graphic designer and illustrator
lacma : Los Angeles County Museum of Art - snaps of art with hilarious captions
salliasnap : Sallia Goldstein - Snapchat star (engineer by day; artist by night)
(Check to see if your local museums (or ones in nearby major cities) have a Snapchat. I follow three of them in the Carolinas.)

For Government & Politics:
whitehouse : The White House - See all sorts of neat events that happen on the daily.
(Some politicians snap, so look for your favorites, too.)

Lastly, you should know that there are Snapchat stories anyone can discover. Depending on what's going on in the world, you can watch it unfold from the comfort of your own home.

Hope you feel inspired to set up an account and explore what there is to offer if you haven't already done so. If you are already snapping, who are your favorite people to friend? Please share in the comments! I would love to know what else is out there. As you may already know, there are lots of people who have not tried out this fun and educational tool yet!

In my next post, I will share the details of a Snapchat task my learners completed last spring along with student samples. Stay tuned!

Happy Snapping! Happy Learning!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

On Student Voice : Seating and Other Classroom Comforts

Student voice. Seems like it's been a hot topic of discussion for the past several years. However, I'm not so sure it makes its way to many classrooms. Perhaps it's like many other trendy topics that explode and then slowly fade to an occasional ember. When I was in the process of obtaining my alternative certification after earning my B.A. and M.A. in French literature, the conversation was focused on the concept of backward design. Were educators talking about turning the tables to empower young learners to use their voice for good in those days?  Hmm. Well, Twitter wasn't around back then, and who reads listservs, so I guess we'll never know.

Last Friday, I conducted a confidential survey at the start of each class.  It was top secret because one section asked students to write down two people with whom they do not work well. I did not think that one up on my own. In fact, a student asked me to do it last semester, so I decided to include it on the survey, especially since this student takes French again now, and can see that I listened to her. While teenagers are learning how to handle (difficult) relationships, it's fine with me to lessen the trouble I'm going to have when a new seating chart comes out. Furthermore, students occasionally have valid reasons for keeping distance from some of their peers.

Anyhow, the survey allowed me to find out the following preferences:
-location in the room (front, middle, back, near the teacher)
-desk arrangement (quad, pairs, semi-circle, alone, other)
-lighting (one or two sets of overhead lights, lamps, natural light on bright days)
-who not to be seated by in the class

After school on Friday, I read through all of the surveys, and tallied the number of times students wanted a particular seating arrangement. Please note that they could check all that applied. (By the way, there are 42 students in total in the French program at my new school this semester.) 

Quads (the arrangement of all desks until now:)  23
Group of 3: 1
Pairs: 11
Semi-Circle: 6
Alone: 4
No preference: a few (I didn't take tally these.)

Original quads that were kept as is
for learners who prefer them.

Perhaps for the first time in my public school teaching career, I did not have too many complaints about the new setup. It was a tad challenging to rearrange the room, and I don't know how I'll do it when I need more desks for bigger classes, but we'll tackle that when it happens. The semi-circle only has 4 desks in it, and it's not a very circular shape, but it works, and students made comments in favor of it.

If you'd like to see and/or use the survey, you can access it on my wiki here. Here's a look at the new setup!

for students who want to sit near me
and/or use the outlet and/or make up work
the semi-circle with a grouping for pairs in the corner

for groups of 3

Finally, here are a couple photos of alternative seating. I'm under the impression that students hurry to class in order to score some of these before everyone else arrives. Moving forward, we might need to come up with a plan to share these options with other classmates. 

The French bistro set and table are near
our beautiful view of the school grounds. 
My kind Spanish teacher colleague shared
this extra seat with me. It's been a hit!

Hope you enjoyed this look at our classroom. Feel free to share a photo of your classroom design in the comments. Educators love peaking in each other's rooms -- such a great way to get inspiration! 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Update: The French-Only Classroom Revisited

If anything motivates me to carve out time for a blog post, it's when a member of my PLN asks me to explain how I do something. Thanks, @CathMus , for inspiring me to publish an update!

She asked me how I keep my high school learners in French during our time together. I half-jokingly replied that I do it with carefully planned lessons. All kidding aside, that is the main ingredient, but there's also a need for accountability… the form of food.

We've been attempting to stay in the target language for almost five years now, but our methods have evolved over the years. I will share the changes I've made below. Here's the original post I wrote about the first, successful French-only method I employed:

This past August, I began a new educator journey at a public high school, located one hour north of the private school where I taught for the past seven years.  The fall semester was a 90% TL fail, in part, because I was overwhelmed with all that comes with a transition to a new school. I had to adapt my lessons from the 50-minute, year-long courses to a 90-minute, semester schedule. It takes carefully structured lessons to make 90% TL happen, and that was just not my priority in the fall. That said, the spring semester is off to a promising French-only start. With a few changes to the original policy, it seems to be going well so far.

The Updated French-Only Policy:

Teacher: If "caught" speaking English 10 times, the teacher must make brownies for the class in order to start back at 0 points.

Students: If the student is not "caught" speaking English a total of 10 times at the end of four weeks, s/he will receive candy or another sweet. (Students can reach 9 English points and still get the reward.)

English Freebies: Students can write a question on the mini whiteboards in English without earning a point. They can also speak English in "Le coin anglais," or "English Corner," but both feet of any English speakers must be in the zone.

Results (as of Week Two:) 

-Many of my learners are already showing signs of better classroom command comprehension that wasn't clearly observed last semester. (I must add that my clothesline of frequently-used expressions has also been downsized. I group survival phrases by theme now. Why I didn't do this before, I'll never know…  For example, the restroom and water questions are posted right above the door now, instead of along the clothesline with every other question.)

-Students are buying in to this reward system. Who doesn't want candy???

-I'm back to holding myself accountable for my use of French in class.

-I'm intentional, more so than last semester, about how I design my lessons for a 90-minute class during which comprehensible, French transitions need to occur.

If you have an accountability plan (other than grades) to keep learners in the target language, what do you? If your system has evolved over the years, please do share what has worked for you.

Happy Communicating!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Relationships: World Language Advocacy in Education

Bonjour! Hello!

After spending a few months settling in to my new school, I'm happy to sit down and write a quick post. As of last week, I stepped down as a moderator of the weekly Twitter #langchat, so I'm hoping that I'll use the extra time to blog more regularly while exploring new possibilities in world language teaching and learning. Please feel free to contact me if you have a mini or long-term project in mind. If you like to think outside of the box and have an idea that's just been taking up space in your head, let's chat!

So, the inspiration for this post came to me yesterday while in attendance at the annual fall workshop for members (and possible recruits) of the South Carolina chapter of the American Association of French Teachers. We were a small group, sadly, but we had rich discussions, mostly in the target language, before heading to the local French restaurant for some crêpes and/or croissants.  The workshop was geared more towards university French, but there were elementary, middle, high, and university educators all in attendance -- Bravo!

What was fantastic about our time together was the fact that we chatted about advocacy and, specifically, the need for better relationships between high school and college/university faculty. While our language teaching and learning methods don't always compliment each other, we were all on the same page regarding our desire to build and sustain world language programs in all of our schools. Of course, there are many examples of strong relationships between secondary and post-secondary institutions, but this is not the case in many areas of the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere in the world, and it's easy to know this fact if you talk to a few language professors.

What can we do right now to better advocate for world language programs of study? I argued that all of the efforts to tell folks about conferences, resources on social media, and any other opportunities do not always make a difference. The desire to make change MUST come from within, and this is applicable in so many situations, including educator professional learning. A driving force for change in one's personal or professional life can most certainly come from interactions with others. The bottom line: relationships matter. 

While we sometimes have community or school events to enjoy together, there is not always a strong relationship between professors and, specifically, high school educators. We're all busy, but it would be great if we could reach out to one another and propose a coffee meetup to discuss what we could do to not only entice high schoolers to study a language beyond the required number of years, but also to encourage them to continue their language study in college.  Email is great, but it doesn't have the same power as a one-on-one conversation in a nice coffee shop atmosphere. 

It is not forgotten that not all educators live near a college or university, so this can be a real challenge for face-to-face communication, but a coffee meetup via a videoconferencing tool could be the solution. What a great opportunity to find out how both (world language) departments could better establish partnerships for the benefit of the learners -- who are the reason for what we do -- as well as our programs that we work so hard to grow.

Here are some ideas for an initial meetup:

-Find out what types of college majors are offered that include a language component. Let's face it, only a small percentage of people are going to study literature or linguistics after high school. We need to get the information out that there are lots of pathways one could take if s/he enjoys languages. (One might think this info is widely shared already, but it just doesn't seem to be the norm.)          

-Find out if a university professor or adjunct faculty member could visit the local high school to share ways that a students could incorporate a world language in to his or her program of study. (I learned that there are more and more programs that are now offering degrees that include a world language (e.g. political science and French or dental hygiene and French. Who knew?? )) At any rate, we ALL need to know what kind of choices young people have these days. It's 2015. The world is changing, and language programs have to change, too.  

-Get a conversation going about what we actually offer in our classrooms. If we don't REALLY know what's happening at the high school or university, how can we help each other prepare our learners to choose a pathway that includes world languages? Conversations need to happen. And it wouldn't hurt to have those chats over coffee or tea in a nice ambiance. 

-Find out what opportunities are actually in place for study abroad. There has been talk of summer programs for language learners that would help lower the cost that goes along with a semester or junior year abroad. Do our learners know about these options? 

-As for elementary and middle or middle and high, world language educators also need to have a coffee meetup to discuss (and take action) to strengthen enrollment. 

This can all seem overwhelming, especially since our time is stretched thin, but the message I gleaned from our conversation yesterday was that we just need to get conversations started and take small steps to build partnerships. Our profession depends on it. I can say that my plate is super full at the moment due to the transition to a new school, but I am inspired to reach out to the language department at two nearby universities. As a matter of fact, if a university professor reached out to me and asked if I'd meet at the local coffee shop for a chat, I would be more than happy to take an hour out of my afternoon to do so. I'm hoping that the university professors I'll soon contact will feel the same way. (I'll update this post once I make some progress on that front.)

Are you inspired to reach out to one of your state's colleges or universities or to an elementary/middle school? Why or why not? Do you already have a solid partnership (beyond the once-a-year university language event for a certain number of upper level language learners) with a school in your area? If so, please share what you do in the comments.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Unit Understandings: Documenting the Learning

Welcome back!  After a whirlwind spring semester and summer full of big changes, it's time to get ready to embark on a new journey as the French teacher at a large (soon-to-be 1:1) public high school near Charlotte. Before I begin this next chapter in my career, I would like to share the template I created last year to help both my learners and me better document the learning, particularly cultural understandings, as we progressed through each unit.  So, here's a breakdown of the development and implementation of this task along with a look at its efficacy. A link to the resource to follow!


The main motivation for developing this template came from a desire to better document (deeper) learning. Since it seems that we're going to reach more learners if we give them guided notes or a template rather than just tell them to take notes, it made sense to create a template that can be easily updated and shared at the start of each unit. Our K-12 learners need to be taught how to organize their thoughts, so it makes great sense to give them an outline with which to work.


The following sections of the unit framework needed more attention by both my learners and me, so these were included in the design: essential and guiding questions, cultural knowledge, and personalized vocabulary. It can be challenging to come back to the essential and guiding questions over the course of a unit; in my case, it's because I forget about them. We also needed to better document cultural knowledge, especially since we don't have a textbook to just refer back to when studying for an assessment. As for the vocabulary, my intention was for learners to have a one-stop location for any vocabulary that they would need to express their interests and ideas.


Please note that this template was implemented in all French courses (1-4AP) in a 1:1 iPad independent upper school. It was converted into a PDF and placed in the DropBox folder for each class after I typed up the unit title along with the essential and guiding questions. Then, learners moved it to their Good Notes app (hopefully, in a unit folder) where they took notes as we moved through the unit. All notes were guided either by whole class discussion or small collaborative groups with whole class debriefing.

End-of-Year Thoughts

Overall, the template positively impacted the learning. In the initial year, the attention to essential and guiding questions over the course of the entire unit was inconsistent, leaving major room for improvement. The cultural knowledge section was completed rather consistently, so this one was the most successful. In fact, learners referred to the document when studying for an assessment. This section helped me evaluate unit themes and essential questions for future revisions. As for personalized vocabulary, I required learners to record new vocabulary when they were researching topics of personal interest, but this did not happen for every unit of study. I do not know if learners recorded any new vocabulary on their own, but I would assume that very few, if any, did do it.  

Moving forward, I plan to better allot time to complete the document and provide more opportunities for learners to demonstrate understanding of what we discussed. I will not be grading work done on this document since it is really just guided notes, therefore, the follow-up tasks will make this work essential.

The Resource

Click here to access the document and feel free to revise it as you see fit. If I make any revisions to it as we move through the school year, I'll update this post.


Please share what you do to document unit understandings in the comments below. I'd love to learn how other educators are helping their learners see the bigger picture.