Wednesday, November 30, 2016

PTS - Post Thanksgiving Slump

Are you one of those teachers that as soon as ACTFL ends you look at where next year's ACTFL will take place and pencil in the dates on your calendar, hoping that you will return the following year? If so, you know the high feeling of being at the conference, attending powerful sessions, collecting ideas to add to your lessons and teaching strategies, listening to and participating in discussions on second language acquisition, connecting with friends, meeting people you've only met before online, buying new novels for your SSR library, and a host of other memorable situations (such as waiting in a line that stretches down the street and then funnels out to 8 lines of a dozen+ deep of people, elbow to elbow, in order to buy some renowned pastries from Mike's pastries). 
long lines at Mike's Pastries, Boston, MA

At my school, returning from ACTFL is followed by a day or two of in-service, then Thanksgiving vacation, black Friday, weekend festivities, and our last free day at home to enjoy Cyber Monday. Then Tuesday rolls around and school is back in session and I'm armed with ideas to improve my teaching and how to help the students soar to heights never imagined.

Then - whoosh, reality hits and the big dreams and expectations deflate in no time flat. What? How can this be? What happened here? Who stopped the music? 

Ohhh, I've seen this before. I know what this is. It's the nasty Post Thanksgiving Slump. If you don't know what I'm referring to, knock on wood, you may very well be in the minority or there must be some strong fairy dust blanketing your classroom. 

If you DO know what I'm talking about, then you may be experiencing the same type of week that other teachers have mentioned in different online forums that I've been reading lately.  

I received an email from a friend yesterday in which she shared about her frustrating day. A big part of her frustrations, and mine after one of my classes in particular today, is the attention, or lack of attention and motivation, from the students. I contribute it to the combination of coming off a long Thanksgiving break (our students had 10 days without school) and looking forward to the Christmas season and other holiday events.  To students, school is the only thing standing between them and another long break. The memories from the previous break rush through their heads and clash with the hopes and plans they have for upcoming break, and this all happens while they're sitting in your classroom. That's exhausting, and then we, world language teachers, expect them to be active participants in class. 

It is what it is. (I actually strongly dislike that expression).

Anyway, after thinking about my friend's email last evening, I decided that my students could use a boost also. I put my current lesson plans on hold and decided to enjoy storytelling, (notice I did not say story-asking), with Jack and the Beanstalk with my Spanish 2 students. The idea was to provide them with solid Comprehensible Input in describing the characters, where they lived, a description of their house and their few possessions, how they felt, etc. 

Before class started, I had already placed the chairs in a big circle. That alone created a stir as students came into the room. (I wrote instructions on the board and allowed them to pick their own seat. Check the end of the post to read how I moved students around before the story.) I started the story by telling them their job was to listen with the intent to understand, let me now if they didn't understand something, and to add details as I asked for them. Below is a general outline of the plan. We only got to the part of the story where Jack traded the cows for magic beans. When the students are adding details, the focus is on the actual story and not finishing the story.

Once upon a time there was a boy. What was his name, class?
The boy lived with his mother. They lived in a little house. Where did they live?
They lived in a little house because they were very poor.  The house had a kitchen. What was in the kitchen? Was there a refrigerator in the kitchen? What color was it? Was it a big refrigerator or a small refrigerator?
The family was poor so there wasn't very much food in the refrigerator. When there was food, what kind of food did the mother put in the refrigerator?
How many bedrooms were in the house? (one) If there was only one bedroom, who slept in the bedroom - the mother or the boy? Ok, so the mother slept in the bedroom, where did the boy sleep? 
The family had one pet. What was the pet?
Then onto the action.
One day the mother was very sad. Class, do you know why she was sad? It was because she was hungry but didn't have money to buy food and there wasn't any food in the refrigerator.  She called her son. She said, "Jack, come here". She asked Jack if he was hungry. He was. They both were hungry. The mother told Jack "go to the market with the (animal that the class decided upon), and sell it for money. Bring the money to me."    

At this point in the story, the students had already helped to expand the story with interesting details. I wanted a quick review so I asked for 3 volunteers and then I drew 3 small boxes on the board. I told the students that, without talking to each other, they each were supposed to choose one element of the story and sketch it in the boxes that I had drawn on the board. I gave them 30 seconds to draw.

While they were drawing, I wanted to keep the other students engaged, so we counted from 30 to 1, in Spanish, but with a twist. We stood up for 30, sat down when we said 29, stood up to say 28, etc. 

We looked at the sketches and the first thing the students had to do was put them in order.

Then I asked students to tell me information about each of the sketches. They said several sentences for each sketch - a great review.

My original plan was to continue the story, but we only had ten minutes remaining in class at that point. (The pre-story activities we did to wrap up yesterday's ending activity and the seat changing activity took time from the beginning of the class so we didn't have the full 70 minutes of class for the story.)

For the last 8 minutes of class, the students did a timed write to retell the story. This information was helpful to me to see their ability to produce the language.  After reading their papers during lunch, I wondered if it would have been more helpful to write the story WITH the students instead of a timed-write. I'm still weighing the pros and cons of the timed-write over a class story writing.

The activity did what I had hoped it would do. It kept the students engaged while they were receiving comprehensible input and it was enjoyable for both the students and for me. It was a one-two punch to the Post Thanksgiving Slump. More of this will be needed; one day doesn't dissolve the slump. 

Here is a novel way idea to change up seating after students have selected their own seats. Keep the 90%+ TL alive by saying the statement in the TL.

The students chose where to sit in the circle. Then I read 10 statements and if the statement applied to them, they had to move from their seat to another seat that was open. If possible, they couldn't sit in a chair on either side of their current chair, and they couldn't sit next to the same person as before.

Stand up and move to another seat if...
- your last name has 7 or more letters.
- your first name has the letter "i"
- you are NOT wearing sneakers
- there were 3 or less (including you) people that slept in the same house that you slept in last night
- you have phys ed class this semester
- you have a female dog
- you are wearing yellow or pink
- you celebrate your birthday in January, February, March, or April
plus other sentences (I had a total of 10 but I can't remember the last two sentences)


  1. Cynthia, once again you have come up with another wonderful idea! My students are still in a 'turkey coma' and it has been a challenge this week to get them to participate. Thank you for sharing!! :)

    1. Thanks Vicki. I readily admit that this is a challenging week.

  2. Cynthia, Great idea. Did you picked it up next day?