Thursday, July 26, 2012

Amazing Teachers at NTPRS

This week I am attending my first National TPRS Conference (NTPRS12) and one of the many benefits to attending is meeting other teachers in the U.S. and other countries that also are using TPRS in their classrooms.  Three of the TPRS teachers I met are pictured below:

3 amazing TPRS teachers
 Marta is in the middle and we plan to stay in touch and share ideas throughout the school year.  She will be teaching exploratory Spanish and other higher level classes.

The other two teachers are (l/r) Kelly and Susan.  They comprise the Spanish part of their language department.  They learned about TPRS last summer and with only 1 workshop under their belts, they dove right in and used TPRS with all their high school classes last year.  You can find an interesting article about them here

I've had some great conversations with these three teachers, as well as with others at the conference.  Learning about TPRS from experienced teachers is the reason I came to this conference, but the opportunity to meet and share with other TPRS teachers at the conference is an added bonus that is just as important!

Monday, July 16, 2012

only2clicks - A Great Organizational Tool

This post has little to do with actual teaching strategies and everything to do with organization.  Because of the website only2clicks, I have been able to find resources when I want them without having to check my history on the computer or sort through bookmarked sites or old notebooks hoping to find the URL to a website that I saw a few days or weeks ago.

I enjoy following other educators on Twitter and I have found a huge amount of useful material to use in my classes such as links to sites with Spanish stories, videos, apps for Spanish class, games, information on grants, teachers' blogs, etc.  The problem is that when I follow the links, I don't always have time to thoroughly look at the site and I want to mark it so I can go back to it later.  I used to bookmark the site, but my list of bookmarks grew and it wasn't organized.  Then about two years ago, I found the website only2clicks.  Below is a screenshot of my only2clicks screen with the Spanish Blogs tab opened.  A great feature to the site is that it provides a snapshot of the site so you can quickly browse through the different marked sites to find what you are searching for.

I keep only2clicks open on my desktop so when I come across a site that I want to file, I copy the link and then add it to the appropriate tab.  I use this tool daily because (I admit) organization is one thing that I lack.  This tool helps me to stay better organized and now lose sites that I will use in the future.  

I also watched a webinar in which a teacher explained how she uses Symbaloo.  That site looks like similar to only2clicks because you can organize your sites onto different pages.

So, if you're like me and want to keep better track of interesting sites that you come across as you're searching for resources, only2clicks may be a solution to helping you stay organized.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Staying in the Moment"

For the last two weeks, I've been reading (or rereading) several instructional books on TPRS, but since it is summer, I can read them at a more leisure pace and let the material sink in.  In one of the books by Ben Slavic, "TPRS in a Year", he mentions "Staying in the Moment", which is one skill I need to work on.  I can easily name several times during last school year that I knew at the end of the class that I didn't rush the PQA or the story, but for each time I didn't rush the PQA or the story, there were many more in which I did.  

This week I had the opportunity to practice PQA with a Spanish student. I think because I've been reading a lot about TPRS, the "staying in the moment" skill came a little easier.  A girl from my church, whose family and my family are good friends, asked me if we could get together to talk in Spanish to improve her speaking skills.   For our first chat, I asked her to bring 2 storybooks from her childhood that she really liked.  On the scheduled day she came with her 2 storybooks and a 2-inch binder, full of grammar packets and vocabulary handouts from her Spanish class.  Some of her comments regarding the papers were:

 - the POR and PARA packets: "That was on the final and I just guessed the answers, BUT I got an A on the final!"
- hace + time + que: "I was absent that day and the teacher told me to ask one of the other kids how to do it, but they told me they didn't understand it so I never did it"
- 8+ full pages of lists of vocabulary: "Most kids didn't bother with them, but at least I made an effort and memorized them for the quizzes."

She told me that she knew how to conjugate verbs, but as far as actually speaking the language, most of that was limited in class to reading sentences in which they had conjugated verbs or filled in the vocabulary words on worksheets.   

Before our conversation in Spanish, I told her that I would be using a different method than what her teachers used.  I explained that I would ask her a lot of questions that at first she only needed to answer SÍ or NO, and we would progress to either/or questions and short answers.  Then I picked up one of her children's storybooks, "Adam Raccoon in Lost Woods", (written in English) and started with questions (in Spanish) such as:
     Who used to read this book to you? 
     Did your dad read the book to you?  
     Oh, so your dad didn't read the book to you.  
     Did your mother used to read the book to you?  
     Oh, your mother used to read the book to you.  
     Your dad didn't read the book to you but your mother used to read the book to you.
     Did your dad or your mother used to read the book to you?
I circled the information she gave me (a lot of circling), and then added another detail:
     When did your mother used to read books to you?  
     Did your mother used to read books to you in the morning? 
     So your mother didn't used to read books to you in the morning, right?
     Did your mother used to read books to you in the afternoon? 
     Your mother didn't read books to you in the morning...
     and she didn't read books to you in the afternoon.
     Why didn't your father used to read books to you?  + more questions & circling
     Where did your mother used to read books to you?  + more questions & circling
     Did your mother read books to you or to you and your brother?

Before I knew it, 45 minutes had passed, just talking about reading the book and not even talking about the book itself.  Maybe it was because it was just me and one other person that I didn't feel that I needed to rush on to the next detail.  I was focused on how she responded to the questions and then adding as many repetitions of the information in different forms until I could see that she was comfortable with the information and we could move on.  It wasn't about the clock, and it wasn't about a certain number of reps, but rather it was all about HER and how she responded to the questions.   That is when it "clicked".  A step (for me) in the right direction.

The conversation then took a different path when I asked her if she likes to read, which led us to talk about a book she read recently, "Water for Elephants".  Since I had never read this before, I "helped her" give details about the story in Spanish.  She said that one character was a veterinarian, so I said "¿Cuál hombre era veterinario?, so she could hear the word in Spanish.  Then I started to circle the word "veterinario" so she could acquire it.  After using the word a few times in statements and questions, almost on cue, our veterinarian for our cows drove in our lane!  Needless to say, his appearance made it even easier to get more repetitions of the word as I told her that was our "veterinario". 

After 1 1/2 hours, I glanced at my watch and told her what time it was.  She couldn't believe how quickly the time flew.  Before she left I asked her to retell the information about how her mom used to read to her and a short summary of the book, "Water for Elephants".  Her comment at one point:  "I've learned more in 1 1/2 hours than I did in all my Spanish classes." I don't believe that for a minute, but I DO know that she had just experienced her longest conversation in Spanish.  I think she was pleased that she was able to communicate in the language about something that was not scripted or practiced on a worksheet beforehand.  All those reps in the PQA enabled her to hear the structures and vocabulary so when she spoke it was less work on her part and more natural.

My thoughts after the one-on-one session:

1. Communication has to be our focus as language teachers, and in order for the students to be able to communicate, I'm convinced they have to hear the language in a manner that they understand.  Anything else is forced and shows little about their abilities.
2. Madeline Hunter's quote: "Not paying attention to the needs of the learner is like leaving for the airport without the that you'll get there on time." relates to Ben Slavic's "staying in the moment" and the whole idea of S-L-O-W with TPRS.
3. Learning how to do PQA and "staying in the moment" is a lot easier when there is only one student to focus on.  My challenge will be to do as well with 20-30 students.
4. I may want to offer an after-school Spanish Conversation Club next year with the focus on different themes.  (Will students sign up for that?)
5. "Water for Elephants" sounds like an interesting book which is why I just ordered "Agua para elefantes" on and it should be here in a day or two.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Valuable Resource - Videos of TPRS in Action

Several months ago I followed a link and found several videos of Ben Slavic teaching his high school students French.  I watched them even though I do not know any French.  They were helpful because he narrates the story-telling method and describes what he thinks went well in the class and what he would do differently.  At that time I saw other language videos, but had to get back to my plans for the following day, so I never did watch the other videos.

Yesterday, as I was reading  The International Journal of Foreign Language Teachers online, I saw a link to the same group of videos and spent hours watching several different teachers.  Once again, it was helpful to see the method being used in a classroom instead of just reading about it.  The biggest thing I learned from them yesterday is that I need to remember to take it SLOW.  

Here is the link for the videos of the Denver Public Schools teachers on TeacherTube.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In Search of Global Collaborators for the new School Year

If you are a teacher of students that fit category #1 or #3 below and are interested in a global project with my Spanish students, please read this post and follow the instructions at the end to contact me.  (I plan to do other collaboration projects within the United States also, but I first would like to get the new project started.) 

Before school started last August, I had written a list of personal goals that I wanted to accomplish during the 2011-12 school year.  One of them was to collaborate with other classes in the world.  I was looking for three specific categories:
1 - Students in English-speaking countries learning Spanish (like my students).
2 - Students in non-English speaking countries learning Spanish.
3 - Native Spanish-speaking students in Spanish countries learning English.

A student in my class made the bulletin board (see photo) of a map of the world and yarn stretching to the countries that our class connected with. We were able to find students from each category above for 4 different projects.  In addition, if I had a culture-related question, I was fortunate enough to receive responses to those questions from teachers in Uruguay (the yarn fell off that country in the photo above), Mexico, Guatemala, Spain, and several other countries.

For the first three projects, we used VoiceThread.  In project #1, students from Seoul, Korea and Taiwan left responses.  In project #2, students from Mexico and Spain left answers. For project #3, the teacher from Taiwan started his own VoiceThread and several of my students added comments to his VoiceThread.
first project 
second project 
third project 
The 4th project was more interactive and personal because my students used Skype, FaceTime, Edmodo, and Mindomo to communicate and work with students from Argentina.  My students enjoyed learning more about Argentina and spending time talking to them.  Some of them changed usernames to play videogames against each other.

These collaborations were so successful that months before school ended, I began working on a new idea for global collaboration next year.  Once again I am looking for students in categories #1 and #3 above.  My idea is to do some type of Quad-Blogging with a mix of students from different English-speaking countries (New Zealand, England, Australia, Canada, etc.) and students from Spanish-speaking countries that are studying English.  I have contacted several teachers and plan to make more firm plans on this project during July and early August.  If you are a teacher of students from categories #1 or #3 above and are interested in hearing more about the Quad-Blogging, please leave a message in the comments below with your e-mail, or contact me at:

I'm looking forward to meeting new teachers and working on a Global Project with my new students this fall!