Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rewards in the Classroom?

I bribe my students to do their French homework. And no more than once or twice a year, I also offer extrinsic rewards in a "project contest" or particularly challenging educational game/activity. And I may or may not give it up next year; we'll have to see! There, I've admitted it. Now 'fess, up... do you reward your students in some way?
Photo courtesy of  
To be a little accurate and more fair to myself, I do have somewhat of a carrot-and-stick approach. They get a stamp with a positive French message for doing the homework, and a "homework not done" stamp in their agenda if it was incomplete. I have a Homework Stamp Page that I get the students to keep readily available. (Check on my Freebies page, as I'm going to upload it as a Google doc and make it available there if you are interested.) This year, it's the back cover of their Reference Booklet - a mini-reference resource I've created for them since textbooks are soooooo passé (meaning of course, that I didn't have enough and wasn't given money to order more) but in the past, I've actually had it be the first page of their French duo-tangs. I've even considered just making a chart right on the cover of their duo-tang as well... that might cut down on the graffiti there a little bit!

I like the small, self-inking round stamps with a French positive message to track homework that's complete. In a pinch, if you can't get one that's truly French, a simple "Wow!" or "Excellent!" works just fine.
Available for about $7 each at Scholar's Choice
You could use those small incentive stickers from Dollarama that have 300 stickers for a dollar (or there are these little French ones also from Scholar's Choice, for less than 2 cents each) but I was worried about the pooling and/or theft of stickers. Middle schoolers like taking one another's belongings 'as a joke' far too much for my liking already.

As for the stamp students get if the homework isn't done... I don't want anyone to feel left out, right? Basically, either the homework is complete and ready for me to quickly scan, with the stamp page displayed beside it, or I expect to see the student's agenda, open to the correct date. For less than $3, I had a self-inking stamp made at VistaPrint.  I keep forgetting to take a photo of what it looks like, but I recreated it in about 2 minutes on their website. A tip - sign up for their email offers and wait for a great price! Essentially, the stamp was totally free and I just paid for shipping. A zillion teachers will send you to VistaPrint with a link to special offers (which they earn rewards through as well) so seek one out if you aren't patient enough to wait around and check the email messages from VistaPrint.

I started out with candy as a reward, and then moved a few years ago to choices from a variety of candy and non-food items. I honestly can't remember if this year or last was my first not offering sweets at all, but just prizes.

My treasure bin is usually chock fun of fun pencils, erasers, and stickers. If I've just stocked up, they may also find bouncy balls, mini-card games or small puzzles (5 for a $1 in the party store loot bag aisle!) and one of the "hot items" is technically free. I have a subscription to COOL! magazine, which usually has a middle poster insert, as well as a free gift enclosed with each issue. These boy-band or movie-inspired posters and the jewelry or other fashion/decor freebies that come with my subscription go right into the prize bin! Actually, for the posters, I usually display them at the front of the class and the kids whose attention that grabs vie to be the first to finish their required number of homework assignments (Yes, I've even had requests for EXTRA homework, which I ignore.)

I've thought about using privilege type rewards, but haven't implemented anything like that just yet. I'm starting to use a raffle system to encourage being on time and prepared to start, which I will post more about in the future.

Do you use reward coupons, like these really cute ones for primary or junior class? Or is candy your go-to reward? They love it - and frankly I love helping myself to a chocolate after school once in a while too - and it works as an incentive, so I am wrestling with "why not?" as I think about my approach for next year.

I would love it if you would leave me a comment to let me know if extrinsic rewards, for individuals or a class, play any role in your classroom management at all!

Monday, April 16, 2012

5 Cool Things from the 2012 OMLTA Spring Conference

Two weeks ago was the Ontario Modern Language Teachers' Association annual spring conference, and I was super excited to be able to attend! I learned so many cool things and got inspired by the numerous talented and dedicated second language teachers across the province. I've finally gotten around to putting together a list of a few fun highlights that I wanted to share with you...

Magnetic Printables
Great for making your own awesome manipulatives that won't be so easily lost, or blown around by your students for fun. (You remember I teach middle school, right?)

I am a little unsure about the durability of these once printed as far as water is concerned. Being in a portable, I do have to worry about humidity, rain, and kids playing with the spray bottle of water I use to clean my chalkboard. The presenters who showed us this, though, said that so far that hasn't been a problem for them in a classroom or on a cart.

Talking to Learn
This book, subtitled "50 Strategies for Developing Oral Language" is something I have not come across previously. I learned about it in an awesome session called Social Talk lead by several teachers from the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. The book however is co-authored by an educator from my own school board and they highly recommended checking it out, so I'm in the process of trying to do that right now. I've asked our school librarian if we have it already as a school, and am trying to figure out how to buy it - if necessary - as an individual rather than through my school.

I also found an interesting article by one of the authors.

Watermelon Works
Software and a board game that teaches phonics for FSL students? Why not? It's cute, and looks fun... and yes, there's an app for that! (It's not free, but could be very valuable for the right student, so you never know what parents might be willing to invest in for their child's success!) I didn't buy it - yet - but do plan to let a select few students know about the app.

Crêpes and Poutine
I didn't know any teachers personally who use the Ron Cahute and Jane Lapko CD products (which have matching teacher guides) but had heard of them through some online research and some US French teachers. I got a little taste of what the music is like in one workshop I attended, where the teacher was playing a mix of Etienne, Greg LeRock and Crepe Suzette as we got settled in for the work. There are two that I know about - Crêpe Suzette and Poutine - Fries with an Attitude. The song or possibly songs I heard were bilingual, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that, but I can't pretend that I don't speak in English to my students, so check it out for yourself and see if you think your kids will like it. The high school teacher from Wawa who shared this claimed that her students love, love, love it.

Information Gap Activities
Apparently the next curriculum wave coming our way here in Ontario will involve us "professeurs" getting much more comfortable with having students communicate in authentic ways, such as negotiating, asking and answering questions to achieve tasks that are similar to everyday situations. Information gap activities were repeatedly suggested as one way to provide students with this kind of opportunity.

I referred one teacher I met to some simple info gap activities available on TpT through a couple of other sellers that I don't know personally but have either purchased items from myself or at least used some of their free products.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Best Sub Lessons - Part 2

I don't know whether I'm shocked or not that I got absolutely no responses at all regarding the best ideas for a substitute teacher in a French class. I had hoped there would be some great ideas flowing my way, because there is obviously a need for this type of information all around, but I wasn't really expecting much... I think we second language teachers all have similar struggles. But, who knows.... maybe you're just waiting for me to "show you mine" before you reciprocate with your own awesome ideas!

Here goes.... Let's start with advice for the supply teacher.

  1. No matter how desperate you are for work, please do NOT accept a French opening if you plan by starting out by telling the students you can't help them with ANYTHING because you don't speak any French! (Yes, I've actually had supply teachers introduce themselves with this caveat!) You are just inviting chaos and a day full of "bein' dissed". You will also not leave a good impression with the teacher for whom you are filling in (who is likely to pass his or her impressions on to other staff within the school), and so why burn that bridge, when you can just stay on the other side of it?

    You certainly don't have to be fluent, but in Ontario, everyone is forced to generously provided the opportunity to study French regularly until grade 9. That... and an open mind... is usually adequate along with general teaching strategies to get by for a day, or even a week.

  2. Come prepared with some basic materials and ideas! There are tons of lists available online for things to bring with you as a supply, and the same concept applies to the French classroom. Some post it notes, a couple of pencils/pens, paper. Here are a couple of my favourite lists:
  3. Come prepared with an emergency lesson of your own! If you are able to do this, and keep all students safe throughout the day, you will be an absolute favorite amongst second language teachers in your area!  
  • I recently found this web site, which lists activities that you can do based on the curriculum in a variety of grades and subject areas.  In particular, I liked their suggestions for playing DIX, which kids always seem to love, or having a set of blank bingo cards per grade level, as well as what they called the "YES OR NO game".   I created a free list of French questions that could be called out when playing this game.  If you're fearful of your own pronunciation, have a student lead... pick one with a good loud voice! 
  • Try this reading passage and questions on the Simpsons from
  • From TeachersPayTeachers, you could download and carry a copy of a crossword for the main three types of French verbs or this opposites matching worksheet, or even this mini-unit/lesson on the geography of France that would suit middle-schoolers and beyond in a pinch.  Be sure to leave a comment and rating if any of these free offerings get you out of a tight spot!
And now, some lesson advice for the regular French teacher who may be absent at some point unexpectedly.  I'm sure your school has policies about leaving a copy of your schedule, class lists, special instructions for assemblies or other deviations from the regular routine and many other things, so I won't even discuss these basics preparations.
  1. If you have a lot of structure in your class, and everything is working well for your students, feel free to have the class run as per usual.  Kids won't notice or mind that things are familiar but not actually being evaluated (or the supply teacher can even leave some observations that can be incorporated into your assessment as appropriate).  For example, for the past couple of years, my daily routine has included a student-led, student-centred warm up activity.  Even in my absence, I've found that students will ASK the occasional teacher to let them do the usual routine.  Sometimes the OT will be confident enough in his or her French abilities to mark it for the participating students, and if not, that's fine too.

  2. What I said before in my previous post still applies... the specific day right in the middle of a culminating project, where the students already have the vocabulary, the grammar structures, the idea planned out, the timelines, and all they have to do while you are away is actually execute the work (or suffer the consequences of having to get caught up upon your return, ideally during their "moments de loisir") - that's the perfect time to have an illness.  It can't be anything serious, mind you, because although they can handle their own work for a day (or possibly two at the most!) things will fall apart after that, so no influenza or broken leg!

  3. The best substitute teacher lessons are SAFE
  4. Book the computer lab if it's available and assign some specific online learning games that are relevant to what has been recently taught in class.  See my previous post about educational games online for three game sites to get you started!
  5. A short movie with accompanying activities. (Or even just part of a longer movie.)  Here are a few ideas for movies that I found activities for online if you aren't prepared to create your own.  (I have a couple that I use with my own students, but they aren't really in a format to share just yet.)

    • FilmArobics is a web site where you can purchase a movie with pre-set lessons on various segments in French, Spanish, German and Italian.
    • Here is a list of French products available on TpT related to movies, sorted so that the free items show up first.

  6. A series of  simple and possibly low-educational activities related to your regular class work.  (This only works if the assignment needs to be handed in to the supply teacher!) Word searches, word scrambles, themed mazes, title page assignments, simple matching activities that are easy enough for students to complete without support can all work in a pinch.

  7. For a brand new teacher, this will take some time to build up, but if you set aside a day over the summer to scour through your resources with this goal in mind over the summer, or if you are diligent about grabbing things and filing them appropriately as you come across them in the course of your regular planning and resource review, you'll have a nice bank of activities in no time at all!
So, now that I've shared my thoughts, and hopefully a few resources that might be helpful to you, please share back.  Tell me in the comments below about one lesson or day that went extremely smoothly in your absence, and if you can identify why, I'd love to hear it!

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