NBCT Standard 1: Know Your Students

Today I’m diving into the first National Board World Languages Standard: Knowledge of Students  (pages 18-21 here). (Read my last two posts to play catch up on why I’m talking about National Board Standards and what the heck NBCT even is).

First, the Standard statement:

Accomplished teachers of world languages actively acquire knowledge of their students and draw on their understanding of child and adolescent development to foster their students’ competencies and interests as individual language learners.

In three words: KNOW YOUR KIDS. There are some great reminders sprinkled throughout these pages that focus on why investing time in student relationships is so important. For me, there are three main take-aways.

1. Learn about the kids in every way you can.

Accomplished teachers use every method at their disposal to learn as much about their students as possible. The Standard references three ways to do this. Firstly, engage directly with the kids: informal conversation, personality surveys, informational surveys, attending extracurricular events, and baseline language assessmentsSecondly, gather information from the other important adults in kids lives: their families, other teachers, counselors, and administrators.

Thirdly, make sure to stay informed about adolescent development in general. Being aware of how teens communicate and develop socially, and staying informed about the challenges your particular community of students is facing, is critical to developing appropriate learning goals inside and outside the classroom.

2. Leverage what you know about them to engage them.

As you gather as much information as possible about your students, you’re able to leverage it to drive your instruction. The Standard references the enthusiasm and energy that adolescents naturally have about the things they’re passionate about, and their intrinsic desire to talk about themselves and their interests. Luckily, our whole goal as language teachers is to get students to express themselves, so it’s just a matter of tapping into their natural tendencies. I’ve written before about how I love differentiating my instruction by giving kids an opportunity to inject their passions into the thematic units typically required by school curriculum. Our challenge is to find ways to do that day in and day out.

Beyond letting student interests drive instruction, the Standard also reminds us that teaching students skills to help with their social and personal development is key to helping them succeed not only as language students, but also as individuals. Learning a language requires taking risks, setting goals, making mistakes, and developing the confidence and self-efficacy to continue trying and failing over and over again. As language teachers, we give them the tools and opportunity to practice doing so in a supported environment, which engages them on a level that goes far beyond our learning content.

3. Take advantage of your learning community’s network.

For me, the most challenging part of this Standard is the repeated reminder to utilize the learning community connected to your classroom as much as possible. The best way to do this is to increase family involvement. Engaging family members through frequent communication helps you to learn more about the students’ needs and goals, and having support at home can only help you work as a team to get each student where they need to be.

Additionally, family relationships provide you with a wealth of experience that helps you bring language learning to life. Using family members as guest speakers, or even just guest judges in a PBL project, reminds students that what they are learning has real world implications. Students who speak a different language at home can bring to life the importance of being bilingual and the richness that comes with being a part of different cultures. The Standard challenges us to be informed about what resources we have available in the family networks we become a part of each school year, and also to bring those resources into the classroom whenever we can.

Concluding thoughts on Standard One

This first Standard to me affirms the natural tendency we all have to build and leverage our relationships with our students in order to drive instruction. However, there are many things in this Standard listed that are difficult to accomplish on a regular basis. For example, I’d love to say that I had a beautiful monthly e-newsletter and an Instagram account for my parents to follow, but systemic parent communication isn’t something I thought I had the time to prioritize. This Standard reminds me that a little effort in that arena can go a long way.

With this in mind, as you read these Standards, give yourself a high five for the things you know you do on a regular basis, and pick one or two items that you aren’t doing already to help support your teaching. We all have items in each Standard that we are naturally drawn to, and ones that are more difficult for each of us. The goal is to affirm what makes you a good teacher, and help you to become even better, not to get overwhelmed by all of the things you aren’t doing yet. Good luck to those of you on your NBCT journey, and to those who are just getting to know your students to start the year! This Standard is a good reminder that the time you invest in building those relationships is well worth it.

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National Board Standards: a Primer

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently working my way through the World Languages National Board standards and sharing my journey with you. Before we dive in with the Standards content, let’s take one step back and do a quick intro to National Boards for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about (ain’t no shame!).

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards heads up the National Board Certified Teacher process. Directly pulled from their website, “National Board Certification was designed to develop, retain, and recognize accomplished teachers and to generate ongoing improvement in schools nationwide. It is the most respected professional certification available in K-12 education.” Basically, the National Board certifies the very best teachers in the country by putting them through a rigorous (read: difficult, time-consuming, and expensive) process, and then allows those teachers to operate with four precious NBCT letters after their name. 

In many school districts around the country, becoming a National Board Certified Teacher is one of the only ways (in addition to getting a graduate degree) that you can increase your salary. It links you to other outstanding teachers in your area and around the country, and it truly forces you to hold yourself and your teaching to the highest possible standard for your students in a way that no other professional development does. If you’re interested in learning more about why to go through the process from a teacher’s perspective, read the venerable Cult of Pedagogy’s take here.

The National Board maintains and produces Standards documents for a couple of dozen different disciplines and age groups, outlining what makes for an exceptional teacher in each one. To get certified, you submit mountains of evidence to a panel of judges trying to prove that you exhibit these standards every time you step into the classroom. For that reason, merely going through the process of reading the standards is immensely helpful if you’re looking to up your teaching game. You can download and read the World Languages standards here, and two of my absolute favorite language teacher bloggers, Rebecca Blouwolff and Laura Sexton discuss their takes on the process here and here.

Every standards document starts out the same way, with the National Board Five Core Propositions and the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching. In a nutshell, the Five Core Propositions state that accomplished teachers:

  1. are committed to students and their learning.
  2. know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
  3. are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
  4. think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
  5. are members of learning communities.

I recommend you check out the Architecture of Accomplished teaching here; it basically illustrates the keys to excellent teaching in one infographic. To summarize: accomplished teaching starts with the kids; establishes appropriate learning objectives based upon knowledge of the kids, the subject, and pedagogy; implements instruction to achieve those goals; evaluates learning in light of the objectives and the instruction; reflects on the learning; then sets new goals for the kids (and begins the cycle all over again).

My favorite sentiment from all of this is the National Board idea that everything you do should start with THESE students in THIS setting at THIS time. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching a group of professionals or a group of 11-year-olds, every day I’m teaching I remind myself of this line and force myself to think of my instruction in terms of THESE students in THIS setting at THIS time. It helps me to put my teaching in perspective (it’s all about the learner!) and gives me a starting point to make sure that the instruction is actually effective for the people sitting in front of me. You can design and implement world-class lessons, but if you don’t start with who your students are, what they know, and how they’re feeling in THIS setting at THIS time, you risk selling everyone in the room short.

The World Languages Standards take the five core propositions and adapt them into nine standards specifically for World Language instruction. I’ll be going through each standard one by one in future posts, but I do think it’s instructive to start with the overview. I hope this primer helps for those of you who are new to the NBCT process!

 

My First Blog Post Since Becoming a Mom

Happy August everyone! I hope that those of you who have started up the school year are enjoying these first weeks of getting to know your new kids. I don’t have any new First Day of School content this year (though you can scroll through my First Day Prep series starting here), but my teacher brain is definitely yawning and stretching itself back to life in the face of back-to-school sales and a slight (SLIGHT) hint of crisp in the morning air, one that quickly dissipates and makes way for some very heavy Virginia humidity. It is definitely still summer around here!

My last twelve months have been focused on becoming a mom! Our smiley son Augie (David Augustine!) is about to be six-months-old (born March 2!), which is completely insane. It seems simultaneously as if we’ve known him forever and we left the hospital with him last weekend. He still doesn’t have the sleep thing down, but he’s good for a laugh and a snuggle and generally making your heart melt. We are definitely in that place where you feel so happy and lucky that all you can do is be grateful and try not to take it for granted.

Becoming a working mother has been its own transition, one that I could probably write about for weeks, but I will spare you and suffice it to say that I love my job, I love my kid, I love my ridiculously supportive husband, and I finally almost feel like a functional human again. Enough that I was recently exploring a new volunteer opportunity where I could have the potential to work with teenagers for the first time in a while. And honestly, it’s like the Spanish teacher side of my brain woke up and has been annoying me ever since. It’s crazy how being a teacher is something that just becomes a part of you, no matter where you are in life. I still genuinely love my professional development work and am hopeful that I am getting better at it every day, but I didn’t realize how much I missed being in the classroom with kids until the possibility presented itself, albeit in a volunteer capacity.

When I got home after my volunteer meeting, my feet found themselves walking up the steps to our attic to dig through a bag of old school files until I found my trusty National Board certification binder. For some reason starting with the flagship standards of teaching just seemed like the thing to do.

To put this into context, my last year teaching, I embarked on the NBCT journey and was obsessed with the quality of the professional development and the way it forced me to examine my craft. There are many insights I gained during that time that I still actively use on a daily basis when designing my instruction for a professional audience. Although I switched jobs before I was able to complete my first NBCT component, I still have all the materials representing a LOT of work I did getting ready for the process.

Because I have the teaching itch (or at least the teacher blog itch), I’m going to work my way through the National Board standards. My hope is that they inspire some blog post content, refresh my own instructional design process after maternity leave, and give this teacher part of my brain an additional outlet. Stay tuned for a few National Board related posts as I get the creative juices flowing. Hopefully they’ll help out those of you considering the NBCT plunge, and help the rest of you keep some rock solid standards at the forefront while your school year starts. Happy August folks!