Thursday, February 15, 2018

Non-Targeted Input in its Pure Form

 After class yesterday, I took the below photo of my classroom board. If I had to describe my idea of a perfect class/lesson, this would be it.

The writing on the board is the result of a 60-minute class entirely comprised of non-targeted input. Non-targeted input, in a very basic explanation, is teaching in the target language without any preplanned targeted vocabulary or grammar structures. In non-targeted input, teachers put the emphasis on communicating in the language in a natural way. 

Do the words on the board look random? They should, because they are random. Natural conversations are free-flowing and the direction of the conversation changes with something as slight as a laugh, a side comment, a reaction, a person entering the classroom, or even a hiccup. It is completely unrestrained.

Consider this: Did you ever have a conversation with a friend and at some point in that conversation you ask, 'How did we get on this topic?" Then you backtrack from where you are in the conversation and how you arrived at that spot and you see how the flow of the conversation weaves and wiggles and moves from one topic to another.

That is what the photo of the board shows. In fact, it was non-targeted input in its purest form because I didn't even plan to have non-targeted input today; didn't plan to "story listen" or to create a character; my plans were to read a story and later watch a brand new video (by a very important person!). As students needed vocabulary to express their thoughts, I wrote them on the board. You'll see that there are sketches, some by me (obviously I can NOT draw a fork, tenedor, well), and others by the students that sketched things to help make themselves understood. Along with the sketches on the board, there is a command, a verb in the subjunctive form, the past tense, present tense, various unrelated nouns - totally random but imperative to the conversation.

What were the students and I doing that involved such a random grouping of words and structures? At the beginning of class I noticed that a student didn't seem to be himself, so I asked if he was ok. He then proceeded to show us a bandage on his hand and then told us, in Spanish, what happened. At times he needed help with some words. When that happens, I pause to see if any of the students know the word and I give them the opportunity to say it.   When the student was finished, we knew what had happened and why he had a band-aid, and the photo he showed us on his phone perked up the whole class. 

From that one conversation, a handful of other conversations were born. Another student then told us about one time when she was hurt, then another student, and pretty soon several students had their hands up and there was a wait list to take their turn to talk, in SPANISH! They couldn't wait for their turn! We heard about a girl that didn't see a kite string and she ran into it and it got caught in her braces; about a girl when she was little was trying to go up a down escalator, and so much more. 

It was like watching two old men try to outdo who has the most health problems, but it was my students instead, sharing about their mishaps, one story outdoing others. 

After twenty-five minutes had passed, I knew my lesson plans were not going to be of use to me that class period because the momentum continued to grow. There was NO WAY I was going to interrupt that, (not even to show a new music video.) The students were interested and engaged in what their classmates were saying, laughing, and taking ownership in the teaching and learning taking place.  

Midway through the class period I instructed all students to look at the back of the classroom, away from the board. Then I asked them to tell me some new words they heard from the conversation that they didn't know before. I realize they may not have acquired the words yet, but they have a powerful start in doing that.

It's after those types of classes that I leave school on a teaching high. BUT, that doesn't happen every day and I make no claims that it happens every day. It's the right combination of the mix of students, what has happened in their day before they come to my class or what they're looking forward to later in the afternoon, how they feel physically, and emotionally, and how they react to what their classmates say and to what I say. As teachers, we ALL have not so good days, good days, great days, and days that we can't wait to share with others.  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

ESPERANZA the novel: Ideas and Resources

Esperanza novel  - Fluency Matters
One of the novels in my Spanish 4 curriculum is Esperanza, written by Carol Gaab. I selected this book for Spanish 4 because:

1. It is an easy read for my Spanish 4 students. I chose it as our first class novel of the semester because I want the students to feel successful right from the start of Spanish 4.
2. It is based on a true, compelling story about a family that fled Guatemala.
3. Using it at a higher level allows me to include resources about immigration, strikes, etc. that need minimal scaffolding.
4. I love learning about Guatemala, a country that is on my bucket list. This semester is really fun because two of my students went on mission trips to Guatemala with their church, so we're able to learn from their first-hand experiences.

For Esperanza, I rely heavily on the Teacher's Guide by Fluency Matters. I especially like the cultural readings and suggestions for discussions before each chapter.

In addition to the Teacher's Guide, here are several lessons and activities that I use before reading the book and during the reading.

1. Discussions (in Spanish) on strikes.
    - Ask students to write two lists; in one list write 5 businesses/organizations that you would not care if they went on strike and 5 business/organizations that you would be upset if they went on strike. The students readily participate in this conversation.

     - Watch or tell the story "Clic Clac Mu, Vacas Escritoras". I use the video on   Discovery Streaming. Then we follow-up with what would happen if farmers went on strike; the effects are far-reaching!

      - What would happen if your mother went on strike? The Canadian mother in THIS ARTICLE did. Before we read this, I ask students what they do to help around the house, who in the family does the most house work, etc. 

2. Previous knowledge of GuatemalaAsk students to make a list of things they already know about Guatemala. Then show them Ricardo Arjona's music video "Mi País". THIS is the Pepsi version but there are others of the song without Pepsi products shown throughout.
This morning I learned about this video by Gaby Moreno filmed in Guatemala

3. Guatemalan LegendThe currency in Guatemala is quetzales. Quetzales are mentioned when the aunt gives the mother money and again when the mother pays the men on the bus. 

After reading chapter 5, I "story listen" (story tell) the Guatemalan legend, "Quetzal no muere nunca". Telling this story, usually takes 30 minutes or more. After I tell a part of the story, I pause, tell students to tell their partner in English what happened, and then I chose one person to tell the whole class what happened, in English. If you want to try telling this story, don't get hung up on the fact that they're retelling increments of the story in English. It is actually a refreshing break for them and it ensures all understand. 

There are many ways to review the story after telling it if you want to recycle the words and structures again, such as Marker Partner Plus. One of my FAVORITE follow-ups with this story happens when a student is absent on the day I tell the story. Since the returning absent student has not heard the story, I  put the entire class in charge of telling the story to the student in Spanish. The student that was absent and I are the only two that can talk in English. 

Two days ago my Sp4 class had to retell the story to two students that had been absent. I was amazed at what they remembered and how well they worked together to tell the story in Spanish. Out of 20 students that were present to tell the story, I think all but 3 at some point joined in the retell, many times several students were raising their hands to continue the story where their classmate had stopped. Granted, that type of participation in the retell doesn't always happen, but when it does - WOW, sit back and enjoy it!

4. Password. After reading chapter 6, I compiled a list of key words, mostly from chapter 6 but from other chapters too. I'll write a new blog post to explain how we play Password and link it here. 
Hint for planning: schedule this activity for the end of the class period to monitor how long they play. If you don't they'll want to play the whole class period. 

5. Game Smashing with word clouds. I made this game based on chapters 6 and 7 of Esperanza. Refer to this post for the directions. I used a similar game for my students in Spanish 2 and it was a success.  

I had planned to use the game for Esperanza below on Friday, but the students were doing such an excellent job of retelling the story of Quetzal no muere nunca (see #3 above) that I needed to move this activity to next week. 
The game is made and ready to go and I can't wait to try it out with my Spanish 4 students.

6. Put things in perspective. This is an interesting visual to use while reading Esperanza. It is easy for us to forget what 'luxuries' we have in comparison to the majority of the people in the world. 

Click HERE to find it on Pinterest.

7. Si tuvieras que inmigrar a otro país...
I give each student a small slip of paper and they write "Si tuviera que inmigrar a otro país, yo inmigraría a _____, porque ______." I collect the papers and read their answers. The students have three guesses for who wrote the sentence. If they're right, I put those papers on one pile and if they're wrong, I put those on another pile. After the first round, I re-read those the students did not guess correctly for a another chance to figure out who wrote the answer read.

This is an easy way for your students to learn more about their classmates and even find out that they may have some things in common they didn't know about.

My lesson plan for teaching Esperanza is a living document, in that I make additions and subtractions with the purpose to continue improving it. As I find new materials that will enhance the lessons and the students' experience of reading the novel, I add them and, in delete activities from previous years when I find something better to replace it.

For more ideas and resources, you should definitely check out:
 Martina Bex's blog, The Comprehensible Classroom 
 Sharon Birch's blog El Mundo de Birch
 Alison Wienhold's blog Mis Clases Locas
 Elena Lopez' blog Aprendemos Juntos 

Follow this link for information on a verbal book report that I used to do after reading the book. I did not assign this to the students last semester and have not decided if I will assign it this semester. I 'm sharing it because it may spark ideas for you on what you want to do after finishing the novel.

If you are willing to share activities and resources that you have found to be helpful when teaching this novel, I'd love to hear them!



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Post Student Interview Stories

Do you do "La Personal Especial" or Student Interviews with your second language students? I have been doing a variation of this idea for many years. Last school year, I added a new component to it with my Spanish 4 students.  After the 'interview', students stand and each one must ask a question to the student interviewee before sitting again. 

Yesterday, I was curious to know how much the students listened to the actual interview and to the questions AFTER they had asked their own question. After everyone had asked a question, I instructed the students to write a story (made up) that included a minimum of 4 pieces of information that the student interviewee had given us during the interview or during the questions. I suggested that the story length be at least 5 sentences.

From the stories they shared, it was obvious that the students were listening because in their stories they included a wide range of facts from the interview and from the follow-up Q&A session. I called on students to read their stories and then I, or students, said how many pieces of information the person had included. 

This also worked well as an informal assessment. As I listened to the stories, I was able to hear which structures the students were using correctly and which ones they needed additional input and exposure. 

Because the students created stories with the student information, I'm know that the students will remember more facts and details about the student interviewee yesterday than about their classmates in previous interviews.

Advantages of this post student interview writing activity:
1 - no prep needed
2 - all students are engaged
3 - recycling the language; additional input on interview information
4 - the language is used in context
5 - opportunity for students to write creatively in TL
6 - compelling input
7 - the student interviewee heard many stories, about HER!

Game Smashing with Word Clouds

If App Smashing is the process of using multiple apps to create projects or complete tasks, then is the process of using multiple games to informally assess students' understanding called Game Smashing? If so, then this week I did some Game Smashing in my Spanish 2 class.

The Game Smashing is an altered form of the classic Fly Swatter game and a cloze activity. The Fly Swatter game evolved over the last decade in my classroom from the original Fly Swatter game, to Slap, to Word Cloud Cross Out.    

Here are the descriptions of each of the games. The last one is the example of Game Smashing. 

Fly Swatter - Years ago, I played this game with my students to review vocabulary words or even to introduce the words. I wrote words on overhead sheets (that tells you how long ago it was) and projected it to the board. Two students stood at the board, each with a fly swatter, and when I said one of the words in English, they raced to be the first one to swat the word. The two drawbacks with this game was (1) the two students competing with the flyswatters were engaged, and the rest of the students were interested in watching them for the first couple rounds as we cycled new students into the competition, but after 3 or 4 rounds, many students tuned out; and (2) the words were used out of context.

Slap - I wrote the vocabulary words on a sheet of paper, copied enough sheets for 1/2 the amount of students you have, cut the papers into rectangles so there is only 1 word on each slip of paper. Students work with a partner and spread their set of words out in front of them. When I say the word in English, they race to be the first one to slap the word. The first one to touch the word then picks it up and it serves as and easy way to count their points at the end of the game. 

With Slap, I solved the problem of only two students actively participating at the same time, but I was still using the words out of context. It also required extra work to cut out the rectangles, and since we don't have desks in my room, this was no longer a good option.

Word Cloud Cross Out - Instead of writing the words on rectangles, I put the words and made a copy for each student. Students worked with a partner, each student had a highlighter, (it has to be a different color than their partner), and when I called out the word, they raced to be the first one to cross out the word with their marker. This version eliminated the need to cut the paper but the bigger drawback was that I was still using words out of context. 

At times I modified it by describing/defining the word in Spanish or if the words were related to our class novel, I said sentences related to the plot in the novel.

Game Smashing with Word Clouds  
Some background info: My Spanish 2 students come from two different Spanish 1 teachers so the amount of input they have had on the words that I included in the word cloud varies from one teacher to another. Another factor is that some students have not had Spanish 1 for a year or longer and others had just finished Spanish 1 days before starting Spanish 2. The entire "unit's" purpose, for which I made the word cloud, is to give additional input on high frequency words students have seen and heard in Spanish 1, and to introduce them to a few words that they will encounter in their first class novel of the semester.  I often give the students a pre-unit activity to give me an idea of the students' acquisition and knowledge level on the material. 

I created a word cloud. Then I wrote "cloze" sentences for each of the words and put those sentences on a powerpoint, one sentence per slide. I also wanted the answer to appear on each slide, so I added animation for the answer to appear on the slide after students have have sufficient time to read the sentence and find the word on their word cloud. Students worked with a partner and each had a different colored highlighter and 1 word cloud. Instead of me calling out the word or sentence, students read the sentence from the powerpoint and then raced to be the first one to cross out the word that best completed the sentence.

The advantages of this method are: 
(1) words are used in context, 
(2) instead of projecting the sentence, I can first say the sentence to them and then project the sentence so they get both listening and reading
(3) all students are engaged
(4) even though students were 'competing' against their classmates, I heard students discussing among them on what the answer might be, which is a plus in my opinion

The disadvantage is that it takes some time to make the powerpoint, but after the initial time commitment it will be available to use with future classes.

Since each student has a word cloud, I used the words in two rounds: the first round I simply called out the words in English (Word Cloud Cross Out). The students that won the first round had to find another classmate to play against for the second round, and those that lost the first round found a partner that also lost for the second round. For the second round, I used the powerpoint.

The Game Smashing Word Cloud I used yesterday was only verbs, but it can include any type of word or phrase. After the success and student approval of the Game Smashing Word Cloud with my Spanish 2 students, I'm working on creating a new one to use in Spanish 4, with vocabulary from chapters 7 & 8 of their class novel, Esperanza

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Listen to Your Teacher Heart Song

In February, when we're more than a month past the plentiful November, December, and January holidays, and spring break is not on the horizon yet, it can be easy to slip into the winter/February doldrums. When I sense that feeling creeping in, I know a sure cure is to re-visit the student successes, and even more important, to recognize and acknowledge the little happy events in every day. 

Last night I was having difficulty falling asleep last night, and that's when I started listing things that have made my heart sing in the last few days. Obviously, readers may or may not have experienced these same heart song worthy events, but hopefully by glancing over them, it will help remind YOU about the great things that have happened and continue to happen in your classroom in your role as a teacher and mentor.

1. Real World Application
Last week a student from the previous semester, walked up to me with a huge grin on her face. It was obvious she had something that she couldn't wait to tell me. She said at work there was a customer that didn't speak any English and she helped the lady, speaking only in Spanish with her. Real world application at its best.

2. Love of Reading
Thanks to Fluency Matters and their 12 Days of Christmas give-aways, I won two e-courses for my Spanish students. I enrolled my Spanish 4 students for the e-course of the novel La hija del sastre and asked my students to become familiar with the platform. In a few days, one of the students stayed after class and asked if I could upload more books online for her to read. How refreshing is that?!!! I have at least one copy of every Fluency Matters book in my class library, but since this student likes the convenience of reading online, I may have to order a few more online courses for her and surprise her with them. 

3. Declaring Spanish as a Major
Late last year I learned that one of my students that graduated in June 2017, decided to double major in college, one of those majors being Spanish. He stopped in over break and chatted with me about his newly declared major and his plans after college. 

To make this day sweeter, other former Spanish students, that were visiting the school during their winter break to talk with students in a chemistry class, popped in to say hello. So great to see those smiling faces again!

4. Future Spanish Teachers
Another one of my former students that graduated 4 (?) years ago, returned to my class to share about her semester in Chile. How cool is that to have a former student return and actually teach the class? One or two more semesters and she'll be certified to teach Spanish. 

5. Building Class Community
In Spanish 4, I ask my students is to upload a photo of themselves to a Google Slide presentation at the beginning of a semester. I love learning what's important to my students from the photos they choose to upload. I use these photos when we have our student interviews and chat sessions. Photos make the conversation easier and more interesting. 

6. Parent and Teacher Teamwork
This may not be the one of the first things that comes to mind when reflecting on the highlights, but in my journey as a teacher, it becomes more apparent to how powerful the school-home connection is. Connecting with parents is time-consuming but I've already touched base with a dozen parents and the benefits are already evident.

7. Making Memories - Class Celebration
(one of my favorites) In January I brought back the Spanish celebration dinner, after more than an eight-year hiatus. The students and I enjoyed a home-cooked Spanish meal of chicken enchiladas, Spanish rice, empanadas, buñuelos, and other goodies, and then played a game to round off the evening.  Those memories are gold, and, to make the experience even better, I received some thank you emails from the parents.

8. Colleagues - Near and Far
I've said it before on this blog and I'll say it again, the support of my colleague Krista, is a constant reason for my teacher heart to sing. We mentor each other, challenge each other, and encourage each other. 
In addition to Krista is a network of teacher friends in my PLN throughout the United States. They are both my armor, my wings, and my inspiration.
All of these are things that make my teacher heart sing.
All of these are things that help offset the not so glorious days.
All of these are things other teachers experience, as I'm sure you could rapid-fire list yours also. 

Without a doubt, teaching provides teachers with great memories, but they're intertwined with days that are challenging and ones we'd rather not remember. We need to hold tight to the good memories. How? A super easy way to do that is to post photos of current and past students participating in class activities or even ones with YOU in the photo with them. Post those photos near your desk, on your desk, on the side of your desk, around the room, anywhere you can see them, as a constant reminder and a quick pick-me-up. You'll be thankful you did on those days that the end of the work day is your best friend.

A special thank you to Carrie Toth that always seems to know the right thing to say. ;)  

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Immediate Feedback with Clap, Wave, & Hands Up gestures

Say goodbye to dull methods to check answers on formative or summative multiple choice questions, and so hello to a fun, interactive method of whole class participation. In the Clap, Wave, Hands Up response gesture method, everyone participates at the same time, giving the teacher immediate feedback on the class' pre-knowledge of a subject or their comprehension of a text or cultural lesson.

The Clap, Wave, Hands Up gesture response method was one of those on the spot inspirations that affirms that some of my best teaching ideas are made in the moment. 

I have a powerpoint with 11 multiple questions about Navidad in Spain that I wanted to add to my lessons on this last week of school before Christmas vacation. Each of the questions has three answers from which students can choose their answer. My original plan was to project the powerpoint and for students to work with a partner to write the answers. In a class earlier in the day, I had students pair up with one mini-marker board between them, number 1-11 on the mini white board, and write the answers as I projected the questions on the PowerPoint. However, in the last class of the day, our Story Listening activity and subsequent write and discuss took longer than in the morning class. We finished the Story Listening with only 5 minutes remaining in class. It was obvious that there wasn't time to get the white boards out and follow my original plans. That's when a thought flashed through my mind to forgo writing the answers and to have everyone participate, at the same time, with motions.

I instructed students to do the following actions to indicate which answer they thought was correct, and to continue the action until I said the answer:

- If they thought A was the correct answer, they clapped their hands
- If they thought B was the correct answer, they put their palms up in front of them and moved them to the right and to the left (imagine the dance moves with Shirley Temple and the song, The Good Ship Lollipop; at least they are the moves I've seen as others have sung that song)
- If they thought C was the answer, they lifted their hands up and held them out to the side (it looks like the motion you make when you tell someone, "I don't know".)

After I read the question, the students silently read the 3 multiple answers and they indicated the answer they chose with one of the above motions/gestures. It turned out to be the best way, and most fun and interactive, to visually see what the students' answers were. Judging by the students' reactions and participation in the motions, they enjoyed this way also.

We zipped through the 11 questions in no time! 

This can also be used as a Brain Break with questions on anything that will interest the students. It gets them moving and smiling!

This method saves time, is interactive, is fun, and immediately visually shows the teacher which students have the correct answer. (No more boring, "if you think it is A, raise your hand; if you think it is B, raise your hand, etc - Zzz Zzz.) It can be used to introduce information about a country, a cultural topic, and to review chapters of a novel.  

I may have to do the activity again to videotape it, to give you a clear picture of my explanation, plus the students they looked so cute doing the motions. Several times I saw all three motions showing that many students were not being swayed by the motions of their classmates. The questions were about celebrating Christmas in Spain, some obvious and some that they have never learned about in previous levels.  

To mix it up, I'll change the motions after doing this several times. Keeping it novel is always a good idea!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Brain Breaks in the MFL class with Momo

Are you in need of a easy and fun brain break to do in the target language? By "easy" I mean little or no prep work on the teacher's part; by "fun" I mean the students like it and are actively engaged in the brain break.  

How about prepositions? Are you looking for a novel way to provide compelling and comprehensible input of prepositions in context in the target languag? If you said yes, then let me introduce you to Momo.

Andrew Kapp's photography book, starring MOMO!
Who is Momo? He is an adorable and obviously well-trained dog. His owner, Andrew Knapp, is an accomplished photographer that has photographed Momo in hundreds of locations in the US and beyond. Go to the website and you'll find more than 120 photos in which Momo is hidden. Sometimes Momo is behind objects, inside objects, on the left, on the right, under objects, above objects, and more. It's an interactive website so when you click on the photo where Momo is located, it will circle the area if you are correct.

I'm sure I wouldn't have to go into further explanation on how these photos are a fun brain break to the savvy teachers reading this post, because they already know what I am going to suggest. But in case you're off your game today, here's an idea for you: have your students find Momo and then you, or the students, describe where in the photo Momo is hiding. Or you can ask either/or or true/false questions about his location so the students are receiving input on Momo's location.

There are plenty of photos available for free online at and other google searches, but if you can't get enough of this cute compact canine, then there are several Momo books available online at Andrew's website or at your favorite bookstore. I found the following books on Amazon: Find MomoFind Momo Coast to Coast, and Let's Find Momo. (Click on the titles to find the links for the books on Amazon.)

Andrew Knapp has an Instagram account with more photos with Momo hiding plus endearing close-up photos of Momo and Momo chillin' with his master, Andrew.

Not only will it be fun for you and your students to find Momo, but the photography and the landscapes are spectacular, which could spark some interesting discussions in your MFL classroom. Thank you Andrew Knapp for these great photos and for sharing Momo with the world!!!

fyi: if you're looking for Andrew Knapp on Twitter his twitter handle is: @andrewomerknapp

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Marker Partner PLUS (a fun variation of Marker Partner)

In May of 2014, I wrote a blog post explaining The Marker Partner game. It is a fun way for the teacher to check student comprehension after listening to a story or after reading a text and to provide additional input through listening. Earlier this fall, I created a variation of the game that goes one level deeper into checking student comprehension and holds the students more accountable in earning points for their team. I'll refer to it as the Marker Partner PLUS game.

The set-up for the game is identical as for the Marker Partner game. Divide the students into two teams. If you have desks, the students move their desks so they are facing each other with a marker placed where the two desks meet. The students can place the paired desks in a circle formation or in a long row, if your room allows for this. If you do NOT have desks, you can do the activity in the cafeteria and the students sit at the long tables across from their opponents.

Marker Partner PLUS in a classroom w/o desks

Another option, one that I use when I have class during lunch periods and the cafeteria is not available, is to have the students place their chairs in two long rows so they are facing their partners, with an extra chair between them and the marker placed on the chair as shown in the photo on the right.

The students listen as the teacher reads a script of the story they have recently heard or a script of a story that they have read. (Or you can use this with any text, not limited to a story.) The students are actively listening for a changed detail as the teacher reads. When they hear an inaccurate detail, they grab the marker before their partner does. The students on each team hold their marker up and the teacher counts which side has more markers. The team with the most markers earns 1 point. 

Now for the twist. The teacher then chooses ANY student from the winning side that is holding up a marker and that student needs to say WHAT the error was and then must CORRECT the error by restating the sentence, or part of the sentence, with the correct information. The student cannot receive any help from his teammates. If the student can correctly identify the error and make the correction, he earns another point for his team, for a total of 2 points for that round.

However, if the student that the teacher choose to identify the error and correct it is unable to do so, the opposing team can earn 2 points if the student that the teacher calls on from the side that didn't earn 1 point is successful in stating the error and correcting it.

When I call on a student from the team that has the most markers, I always call on a student that is holding a marker. My reasoning is, if the student grabbed the marker, then she knows there was false information. When I call on a student on the opposing team when the first team member was unable to make the correction, I call on anyone on that team, whether they were first to grab the marker or they didn't beat their opponent.

I like this version BETTER! Why? Because the teacher is able to read more than one sentence at a time. I have played this version and read 4 or 5 sentences before I insert an incorrect detail. The students are intently listening for a longer period of time in anticipation for the incorrect detail. The next time I may chose to read only one sentence until I mention an incorrect detail. This keeps the students on their toes because they don't know how long they will need to listen before they grab the marker.

If you and your students like playing Marker Partner, then I predict you will also like Marker Partner PLUS

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Power of Stories in SLA

Recently, I have become more aware of the Power of Stories. Storytelling is a tool that ALL of us have available, at any given time, to help our students acquire a second language. One reason that makes Storytelling so accessible to all is that it requires absolutely no technology. In fact, in my experience, a story told using technology tends to lesson both the student interest and the impact of the story. To improve the storytelling experience, ditch the PowerPoint! Try it and watch the change in your students' listening behaviors and engagement. 

If you are hesitant to part with your your pre-made PowerPoints when telling stories and using Story Listening, then maybe an email I received from Marta Yedinak will make you reconsider. Marta asked her students to write suggestions on how to improve the story listening experience for the students. The quote in the box was written by one of her students. He clearly states that listening to the teacher tell a story, aided with a PowerPoint, is not as interesting as having the teacher draw during the story. 

Although pre-made PowerPoints may be easier for the teacher to use, it is NOT what engages the students and it's not personalized to their class. If you are serious about keeping students engaged during a story, don't take the easy way out with a PowerPoint because it will most likely lower student engagement.

Three recent experiences have made my appreciation grow for the positive impact that Storytelling (*or Story Listening) has on second language acquisition.

1. Last month, Marta Yedinak, a Spanish teacher and my good friend from Wisconsin, and I did a presentation at ACTFL entitled, "Listen UP! Engaging Students in the Story Listening Experience". The evening before our presentation, Marta shared with me in detail, how she told a particular story to her class, along with photos of the sketches she drew on her whiteboard during the story. 

The following day she did a mini-demonstration of the story in the ACTFL presentation and, WOW! I was using Story Listening with my students with newspaper articles, personal stories, Cuentos de Ensalada with felt characters, and other stories. By watching Marta give her mini demonstration, I saw areas in which I could improve.  One way that Marta engaged the students was to have them do motions with her at different parts of the story (with se lo llevó). How cool is that? I'm presenting and learning at the SAME TIME from my co-presenter - love it!

Marta's white board after telling Martina Bex's story about a squirrel

2. The first Friday in December, Krista Kovalchick (the person that has helped me improve as an educator more than any other person I know, a result of our daily conversations about teaching methods, second language acquisition, classroom management, and the list goes on forever...) and I drove to Downingtown, PA, to attend a Tri-State TCI meeting. The topic for the meeting was Story Listening. 

Krista telling a Latin legend 

Krista gave a 20-minute demonstration in Latin on Story Listening, followed by Q&A. I do not know Latin, but days later I remembered a LOT of the words she used in her story.  The power of Story Listening for language acquisition was undeniable. Krista spoke entirely in Latin, kept the pace slow for those listening to the story, wrote keywords in both languages on the whiteboard, drew sketches to clarify meaning, and used gestures and facial expressions which not only helped us to understand, but was engaging (and entertaining). After several minutes of telling the story, she paused and instructed us to tell the story to our partner in English.

3. This week I told a Guatemalan legend, Quetzal no muere nunca, to my two upper level classes. When I started teaching at PHS, I found a dozen of well-worn books, dated 1987 with the school stamp (shown to the right). The length of the stories are perfect for Story Listening.  I read and reread and reread again, the legend "Quetzal no muere nunca" beforehand to become familiar with it. 

When I told it to my classes, I put extra emphasis on slowing the pace and writing words on the board for visual support during the story. Throughout the story I provided time for students to retell the events in English to their classmate(s), as Krista had demonstrated with her latin story. As often happens, I did not set aside enough time to complete the story, so in both classes I was unable to finish the story.   

The following day, since there had been at least one student absent in both classes, I did what I usually do when someone has been absent for a story; the students that were present the previous day had to tell the story in Spanish to the student or students that were absent. The students that were absent and I are the only ones that can talk in English. It is the job of the rest of the students to tell the story in such a way that the listener(s) understands the story and can tell it to me in English. 

The students took random turns retelling parts of the story. As I listened to their retell, I  was amazed at the vocabulary and grammar structures that they were able to use in the retell after only listening to the story 1 time! In one class, when I moved away from the front of the room and sat among the students, several of the students went to the board to sketch while retelling the story. (I was so impressed with their retell and their engagement that I was hoping the principal would walk in to witness the positive effects that Story Listening has, but that didn't happen.) It was the same type of growth I felt when listening to Krista's story. The best part about both stories was it required little effort on the part of the listener, other than staying focused on the person telling the story and it was FUN for the teacher. 

The need for Story Listening Demos
The first two experiences helped me realize that maybe the best way to demonstrate the power of stories in SLA is for teachers to experience it themselves - listening to a story in a language they do not know, told by a teacher experienced in Story Listening! 

I repeat, because this is key: to experience the power of Story Listening, teachers need to experience it themselves, listening to a story in a language they do NOT know, told by a teacher experienced in Story Listening! 

I wish there were Story Listening demonstrations at the national conferences. (Hey Keith Toda or Krista Kovalchick, I think you should submit a proposal to demonstrate Story Listening in Latin at one of the national conferences!) 

Give it a try!
If you haven't tried Story Listening (or Storytelling) why not give it a try? Since we are close to Christmas, you could find a story that happens at this time of the year. As I continue to grow in my Story Listening/Storytelling skills, I found that legends have a special pull for students.

If you experiment with Story Listening, things to keep in mind are:

1. Select a legend or story that you believe will be interesting to your audience/students.

2. Become very familiar with the story. Read it several times. Practice retelling the story so as not to miss any important details

3. Write notes for yourself on an index card that you can use when telling the story. 

4. Preplan what sketches you will need. If your'e not sure how you will sketch something, google it to give you an idea. Keep it simple!

5. Use cognates when possible but remember, some students won't be able to hear the cognates so be prepared to write the words on the board.

6. RELAX when telling the story. This will help your students to relax and set the stage for acquisition of the language.

7. If you decide to ask questions during the story, keep them SIMPLE. The students' main job is to LISTEN.

8. Do not ask your students to take notes on the words used in the story. Instruct students to listen with the intent to understand.

9. After several details of the story, instruct the students to tell their partner, in English, what they have understood about the story. It gives the students a mini brain break, allows the teacher to listen to what they understood, and students feel like they have received a little treat because they can speak in English.

10. Decide if you want students to read a script of the story when finished or if you want to write a short version of the story together.

11. Ask your students to retell the story the following day, but NOT for a grade. The students will be surprised with the new words they hear themselves saying during the retell.

*Story Listening - When I mention Story Listening in this post, I am referring to the teacher telling a story while the students listen to the story. I am NOT referring to the method which requires ONLY story listening as the entire curriculum. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

ACTFL 2017 - Reflections and Strategies

ACTFL 2017 has come and gone, followed by a busy week of in-service, a pie-baking fundraising event at my house (70+ pumpkin pies made by students, another teacher and me), Thanksgiving preparations and the crazy Black Friday frenzy. Finally, things have calmed down and I have time to reflect on ACTFL and to ENCOURAGE you to go to next year's conference. If next year doesn't work for you, I listed the upcoming ACTFL conferences. Maybe you'll find one closer to you. 

2018 - New Orleans, LA
2019 - Washington, DC
2020 - San Antonio, TX
2021 - San Diego, CA

This was the 5th time I attended ACTFL and my strategies to make the most of the conference have evolved throughout the years. Below are my ACTFL17 reflections and strategies on how I tackled ACTFL17. 


Conversations: it's not all daisies & rainbows.
Professional development comes in many different forms. ACTFL, and other conferences, provide teachers with an organized format with sessions that cover a multitude of topics. There are hundreds of opportunities to learn at sessions from experienced teachers that have prepared hour presentations with what they deem worthy to be shared. 

ACTFL roomies and friends, Krista & Marta
However, for me, the most powerful PD is interactions and personal conversations with other teachers. For the last two years, I have attended ACTFL with two of my colleagues, Krista, who teaches at my school, and Marta, who teaches in Wisconsin. Our conversations during travel to and from the conference cities, walks or transportation to the conference centers, lunch breaks, and evenings are often centered around the sessions we have attended and discussing the value of the information from the presenters and how we currently use those strategies or how we want to incorporate them into our classroom instruction.

On Thursday night of the conference in Nashville, Krista, Marta, and I, ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant and shared our classroom experiences with story listening and story telling. The growth during those conversations was spurred on by the ability to stop the one speaking and ask for clarification, ask "what if" questions, and ask for advice when not all of us were experiencing the same results.

I may be going out on a limb on this thought, but one HUGE benefit of small group conversations, one that seems taboo to mention, is the safety and freedom to share our failures and frustrations in the classroom. How many times have you heard someone present on "X" topic and how it has been the answer to all their teaching challenges. You look around the room and see many attendees nodding their heads in agreement, but you have not had the same experience? Right then, surrounded by other devoted language teachers, you make the false assumption that you are in the minority. Believe me, you are NOT! ALL teachers have challenges, even if they don't admit them.

Truly powerful personal conversations, include and embrace learning from others' mistakes and failures and challenges. Are you serious about growing as a professional? Then be honest with yourself about the areas in which you struggle and the strategies that have not worked for you, and include them in your conversations. 

When you do this, one of two things will happen: 

1. The other person will open up and tell you what obstacles he (or she) overcame to make the strategy or method work for him. He will tell you about the difficulties and the times he was ready to throw in the towel. He'll share how he felt when a lesson flopped or when administration questioned him on his techniques. Then, eventually, he'll share how he worked through those challenges and what he found to be helpful, AND how he continues to face challenges with students, or colleagues, or parents, or administrators. He is careful not to make a general comparison your classes with his classes because he knows he is not comparing apples to apples; your school situation, students, community, curriculum requirements, etc. are different and need to be taken into account.  
This type of conversation with honesty and openness, is a precursor to tremendous growth for both you and the others in the conversation. Group growth - now that is powerful and impactful!


2. The other person will suggest what you can do to be more successful. No mention of, or severely limited discourse on, struggles. End of conversation, move on to another subject. Perfectly good intentions on the person's behalf, but not the in-depth, tell it like it is answer from which you would most benefit.
You can learn from this conversation, but the growth is limited and may even have an "expiration date". (I'll leave that, as is, for you ponder upon.)  

Hmmm, this makes me wonder if there needs to be a session at ACTFL named, "Plan C, What to do after Plan A and Plan B bomb." 

The second night of the conference, Marta, Krista, and I accepted a
Photo credit: Annabelle Allen
dinner invitation for those that were helping at the Fluency Matters booth (thank you Carol). Once again, surrounded by other language teachers from the US, there were many mini-conversations related to teaching and our favorite sessions thus far at ACTFL. Saturday evening was yet another gathering of language teachers in a less formal setting at an airbnb (thank you Jim), and you guessed it, more conversations related to teaching, and music by some very talented language teachers.

Make it work for you.  As I was waiting for an ended session to clear and charging my phone, I saw Leslie Davison on her way to a session. Because her phone needed juice, we had the time to chat a little before heading off in different directions. She gave me advice that I followed later in the day. 

I had several great CI sessions that were on my list to attend, but for various reasons I was looking for additional options (for example, I had heard one of the presentations at least one time before). Leslie said that often she finds sessions that are not specifically targeted to CI teachers. Then she takes the information from the presenters and changes them to fit into her style of teaching. After I had the mindset of doing what Leslie does, it made my choice for a session later in the day much easier. 

Strategies for a successful ACTFL experience

Make a list of sessions to attend. At ACTFL there are hundreds of sessions with 60+ sessions at each time slot. When ACTFL published the online program months before the conference I started planning which sessions to attend. To find beneficial sessions to me in my teaching journey, I searched for presenters in my PLN that have similar philosophies about teaching, and searched for keywords such as: comprehensible input, CI, 90% target language, acquisition, etc.   

Those hundreds of sessions means EVERYONE will benefit by going to ACTFL. Not only do the teachers benefit, but their students also benefit when their teacher receives solid professional development and returns to the classroom and with newfound knowledge and eager to practice skills in their classrooms. 

The ACTFL app. I used the ACTFL app to add a few back-up sessions to attend in case my first and second choices were packed with no seating, standing, or floor space remaining, or if after a few minutes in the session I discovered the session was not what I had expected. (When I need to leave a session to search for another one that will be more beneficial to me, I do so quietly and respectfully.)

Check the Twitter feed, #ACTFL17.  Every year there are sessions in the same time slot and I have to make a decision between several great topics. What to do? Choose one and check the twitter feed to find information on the one 
I missed. If you have a friend attending that is also torn between the same two sessions, split up and take notes for each other. Also, check the ACTFL site for uploaded handouts that the presenter(s) may have shared.

Take time to show/voice your appreciation. Presenting at a National Conference, such as ACTFL, can be intimidating, especially if it is your first time (or second, or third, etc). If you enjoyed a session and plan to implement some of the ideas presented during the session, let the presenter(s) know! 

I attended a session of 4 presenters that (I think) was their first ACTFL presentation. They had a packed room with an overflow of attendees standing along the wall, at the back of the room, and many on the floor. With the number attending, it made some of their planned activities less successful, but the overall presentation was not negatively impacted. They shared what they were doing in their classrooms and demonstrated several of the activities. 

At the end of the presentation they listed their emails which made it super easy to shoot them an email to tell them I enjoyed the session. If you have presented, then you know how much that type of feedback is appreciated and may be the difference for someone to submit a proposal in the future.

Find the Treasures in the Exhibit Hall. I have an obsession with novels and readers that provide comprehensible input to my students, so every chance I have at conferences, I seek out new books to buy for my students. 

Those books are my treasures at ACTFL, but there are many other treasures. You can talk to the authors and creators of products that you use in your classrooms. Publishers often use ACTFL as an opportunity to debut new products. For example, before the conference, Sr. Wooly announced there was a special something waiting for ACTFL attendees that others would have to wait until next year to obtain. I investigated that and discovered it was Gorro, (Billy la Bufanda's friend) and I promptly bought a Gorro hat.  

I have to mention the snacks throughout the exhibit hall. Exhibitors are well stocked with small gifts and sweets to those passing by. We hit the jackpot when Concordia Languages had real snacks and coffee for attendees on Friday, just the ticket to keep your energy level up throughout the day.

And so, ACTFL came to a close on Sunday. I arrived home late on Sunday evening after two flights, a long wait in baggage claim, and a 90 minute drive home. I was exhausted, but glad I had some high quality professional development in November and ready to hit the ground running when classes resume after Thanksgiving break.

I presented at ACTFL again this year, but it was a new experience because it was the first time I presented with Marta Yedinak. My plans are to write a short blog post about our presentation, Engaging Students in the Story Listening Experience.