Sunday, September 29, 2013

Observation in Alaska - What I've learned from 3 Teachers

My school district understands the value of observing other teachers and gives us one day to observe teachers in our district or in other districts.  I'm sure my principal was a bit shocked when I emailed him a request to observe in Alaska.  I've met some great language teachers at conferences in the last few years and I couldn't think of a better place to spend a day observing.

Below are the 3 teachers I observed and a small sample of what I gleaned from each of them.

Betsy Paskvan - Japanese - A J Dimond High School
Betsy is the Queen of Comprehensive Checks! She was constantly checking to make sure the students understood both her statements and questions.  Below are a FEW of the comprehension checks I wrote in my notes:

- What part of that means "so that"?
- Do this (put fist on palm), when you don't know what I'm saying. It's ok." (A reminder for her students to signal her when they don't understand.)
- _____(a Japanese word) means blurry. Try it.
- Why is it ____ (a Japanese word) instead of ____ (a Japanese word)? (Difference between formal and informal)
- Show me with a comp ck (10 fingers) how much you understand.
- What did ____ (a Japanese word) mean? What told your ears that?

Betsy prepared her students for a story by reviewing structures with a PowerPoint slide with Japanese on the left and English on the right with target structures underlined. (see photo) The target structures were: from - to; rode; with a friend. Then she chose a student to fill in the details, followed by a problem that the other students offered suggestions on ways to resolve the problem.

I also have new ideas on how to better implement songs in the target language from observing how Betsy reviewed and introduced new structures in the song lyrics and additional questioning with students.

Cara O'Brien-Hollen - French - West High School
Cara was a bundle of endless energy! I was sure that she must crash at the end of the day but I saw her later that evening and she was still going strong.

Her class included a wide variety of activities: a weekend cheer, PQA on animals in their natural habitat, MovieTalk with a legend "Skeleton Woman", a catchy French song "US Boys"(?), an activity called Chain Reaction to put information in order and later to work on the 1st and 2nd person singular. (It's obvious that I used to teach grammar by the book by the way I stated that lat sentence, right?). There probably were more things she chatted about with the students, but since I have no French background....

She is the perfect example of the importance of bringing 100% to class, every day.  Our students (should) expect it and they certainly deserve it.

Michele Whaley - Russian - West High School
Michele gave a beautiful demonstration of how to teach students and not 'curriculum'. She has mastered the technique of teaching to the eyes. The whole classroom experience is centered on the students, their present needs, and personalization. I saw the last twenty minutes of one class in which she was doing PQA with structures in the future tense based on her students' responses to a chart on weekend activities. She involved all students, personalizing the input for each.

In her second class, she introduced new structures/vocabulary and moved into a story with student actors and  props. She gently directed the students' actions and their lines, always, always, always teaching to the eyes and always checking comprehension. Then she seamlessly moved into MovieTalk with an animated video that had the same structures.  

Another thing clearly evident in Michele's classes is how much she cares for her students, even down to the comfy classroom chairs she bought for her classroom.  A student stopped in after class for her signature for a sports team and Michele said how glad she was to see him joining the team. 
(I have to add that I thought it was so dear that since Martina and I were observing, one student asked if they could sing a song they learned to show the visitors what they knew. The students obviously were happy with what they knew and wanted to share that with us.)

It was a rewarding day and I plan to implement some of the activities in my classes and have new ideas on how to improve my teaching. My biggest take away from my trip is to add more culture into my storytelling and CI.

Two of my favorite bloggers: Martina (middle) & Michele (r)
I strongly encourage teachers of all subjects to take the time to observe others. It doesn't have to be as far as Alaska, even though I strongly suggest it for language teachers because of their amazing language programs and hospitality.

This is a perfect time to send out a huge THANK YOU to Martina Bex for her generous spirit and warm hospitality and
THANK YOU to Michele, Betsy, and Cara for welcoming me into their classrooms.

Flight to Alaska - $$$
Buying additional warm clothing - $$
Learning through observation and discussions with other language teachers - PRICELESS!

Two more photos from Alaska:

The town of Whittier sits at the base of the mountain, accessible by water or through a one-way, 2-mile tunnel made for cars and trains.


If you look closely (between the two heads of the people dressed in dark clothing and above) you'll see ice and snow breaking away from the glacier - known as "calving".

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Reading to Students - part 3

Today I finished reading Brandon Brown quiere un perro with my students. Below is a short explanation of how I presented chapters 6-10.

Chapter 6
I made a "vocabulary" paper by choosing words from chapter 6 that I felt the students either needed to review or words they may not know.  I put 3 or 4 words/phrases in boxes along with the English translations to make it as easy as possible for the students to decode the words. After students completed the matching we went over their answers.  I also had a large version of the same words printed on a big piece of white butcher paper.  As I read the chapter, I pointed and paused at the words on the butcher paper that were the same words on their paper.  
As always, I stopped reading throughout the chapter to ask questions and check comprehension. The screenshot to the right shows the top portion of the paper I gave to the students.

Chapter 7
I took the easy way out on chapter 7. I looked for words that I felt the students needed more exposure or review with.  Then I wrote 12 sentences exactly as they are written in the chapter and underlined the words I had previously selected.  I wanted the students to see the words in context to help them with the meaning. I read the chapter to them using the document camera so they could follow along as I read to them.

Chapter 8
For this chapter, I did a similar activity that I did for chapter two (found HERE) except instead of T/F questions, I had multiple choice questions.  Many of the answers for the multiple choice, I wrote full sentences for more input in seeing the structures in full sentences and not single word answers.  I read the chapter and students listened for the information on their papers.

Chapter 9
This chapter has repetitions of the following structures:
   - está sorprendido
   - está preocupado
   - está contento
   - está nervioso
The students told me the meanings for each of the above phrases (easy for them because many have been used before in the book and their cognates).  Then, as I read the chapter to them, when I saw one of the expressions in the text, instead of saying the expression I asked the students how the character felt.  They chose the answers from the 4 expressions listed above.  It also helped to point out that the "o" changes to an "a" when referring to a female.

Chapter 10
In my classes, I always make a big deal out of finishing a book.  I emphasize how great it is that they read (in this case, they listened to because I read it to them) a(nother) book in their second language.  I felt we needed to go out with a BANG, which meant actions and noise.  I chose the following words and wrote them on the board.
  se despierta, se duerme, de repente, está contento, feliz cumpleaños, fiesta, & regalo

Most of the words they knew already from previous chapters or from last year. For the first two words, they used the same motions from a previous chapter.  Anytime I say "de repente" in class, students have to snap their fingers one time, so that motion and sound was already established.  I added "está contento" with my last class of the day because I realized how often it is repeated in the chapter after reading it in my two other classes.  The class suggested the thumbs up and pointer finger pointing away (as if, yeah, I'm happy and I'm cool about it).  Everytime I read "fiesta" they yelled, "wooohooo". For "feliz cumpleaños", they had to clap their hands 3-4 times and say in English, "Happy, happy, birthday", similar to what some restaurant staffs do when you celebrate your birthday in their restaurant.  The last one was regalo.  I had students quickly sketch a present on a 1/2 sheet of paper and then each class decided what action or noise when with it.  My favorite was the last class' idea.  One girl blurted out, "let's jump up when you say it". I only needed to hear that one time and I was all for it.  The others were not exactly convinced that this was the best choice, but they obliged.  At first, not all students were "jumping up" together, but I didn't mind.  Then one brilliant student said, "we should do it in a wave". Yes....brilliant. After that, each time I read "regalo" there was a beautiful wave around the class as the students jumped up with their sketches of presents. It was a blast! I was so hoping the principal would walk in to see and appreciate all their gestures and sounds.

I felt comfortable that they had a high comprehension of the chapter, but still paused at times to check their comprehension or ask "what does lo mean in the phrase lo observan?"

And with that, we finished the book. One book read (listened to) and we are on our 16th day.  My goal is to read 3 or 4 more books before the end of January.  We're off to a great start!

Monday, September 9, 2013

If you don't want to learn Spanish, you're in BIG trouble.

Last week I overheard some mumbling about the (high) expectations in my Spanish class (sit up, make eye contact with me, respond with "ooohhh" after a statement in a story, answer the either/or, sí/no, or short answer questions, do your 50%, listen when another person is speaking, etc).

When I heard the mumbling, which I'm sure they were surprised that I was able to hear them, I paused and explained that this is how Spanish class is conducted in my room.  Then I said, "If you don't want to learn Spanish, then you're in BIG trouble. You can't stop your brain from doing what it naturally does when it receives comprehensible acquires the language." 

Even if there are students in my classroom that signed up for Spanish to meet college requirements and even if they don't particularly want to learn Spanish, they don't really have a choice because their brain is going to pick up the language whether they want to or not.

From time to time, I remind the students that their first language was acquired after thousands of hours of input. Their parents didn't sit down with them when they were a toddler and explain the grammar rules or give them lists of themed vocabulary to learn. (Why do textbook publishers insist on putting vocabulary in themed units?)  Instead, their parents TALKED to them, interacted with them, and asked them question after question about their surroundings.

Read an example of a mother's interaction with her toddler:
Sally, do you want some ice cream? What kind of ice cream do you want? Do you want chocolate ice cream or vanilla ice cream? Oh, you want vanilla ice cream. That's my favorite ice cream too. The mother then looks in the freezer and discovers there isn't any vanilla ice cream in the freezer. Uh,oh, We don't have any vanilla ice cream. We'll have to go to the store and buy some vanilla ice cream. Sally, where are your shoes? You need shoes to go to the store. Are your shoes in your room? Go to your room and look for your shoes. Sally, we can't go for ice cream until you find your shoes. .....

"Sally" is receiving comprehensible input in this interaction. It's compelling to her because she wants the ice cream. Her mother didn't have to explain the grammar in order for "Sally" to understand the conversation.

Likewise, in our CI/TPRS classrooms, we are providing the input in a comprehensible, and hopefully, compelling, manner so the students' brains eventually acquire the language. 
It takes TIME
It requires REPETITION
It requires the teacher to go SLOW
It requires the teacher to POINT and PAUSE at the new structures.
It requires CREATIVITY on the teacher's part to provide COMPELLING input. 
It requires COMPREHENSION CHECKS so the teacher can pace his lesson.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

We are 9 days into the semester and I can see the undeniable beginning signs of acquisition taking place with my Spanish 2 students.  They didn't study it. They listened, they responded to my questions, they helped to create stories, they read, and, as a result, their brains are beginning to internalize certain grammar structures and vocabulary without having to take the time to translate it before recognizing it. The words are "falling out of the mouths" of some of the students. Others will need more input, a lot more input, before the brain acquires it. But ALL will eventually acquire it at their own individual pace. 

My job is to stay the course and to keep providing compelling, comprehensible input.

High expectations? I suppose some might think that.  But I tell them their brain will thank them. The best part is yet to come, when the students realize their ability to communicate in the language is growing. They'll recognize it, just give them time.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Reading to Students - Part 2

I read the first 3 chapters of Brandon Brown quiere un perro to my Spanish 2 classes during the first week of school. (see earlier post "Reading to Students" for information on how I read the first 3 chapters of the book).

After a four-day weekend due to Labor Day, I wanted to review the events in Chapter 3 before continuing with the next chapter with the following activity.

Chapter 3 
I organized sketches of the main events of chapter 3. The easiest way to do this if you do not want to make the sketches is one day before this activity give the following slips of paper to 9 of your students. (Hint: Use a standard piece of copy paper and divide it evenly into 9 squares - like a tic tac toe board; then when you piece it together again, you won't have to resize the sketches to fit onto one paper.) Write the following sentences in the TL and give them to students, or in English if you think that is needed.
-  Brandon says goodbye to his mother and leaves on his bicycle
-  Brandon sees Jake and his dog outside of Jake's house
-  Brandon and Jake leave Jake's house on their bikes
-  There are many people and dogs in the park.
-  A little dog passes in front of Brandon and Jake on their bikes.
-  Brandon picks up the little dog and talks to it.
-  Brandon picks up the dog and rides to his house with the dog.
-  Brandon enters the house with the dog.
-  Brandon is in the bedroom with his dog and he is happy.

Collect the sketches and tape them together but NOT in the correct order that they appear in the book. Write a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i on each of the sketches.
Write sentences in Spanish that will match each of the sketches.

The following day, project the sketches onto the board with a document camera (or copy a sheet for each student). Talk about the sketches, especially if the students' artwork may not be as clear as you would like. Describe a sketch and students say which sketch you described.

Then hand a reading review sheet on chapter 3 and let the students work in groups of 3 to complete the review.  Below are my instructions and the first few sentences of my worksheet.

I went over the answers on the left first, followed by the answers on the right. 

Chapter 4
I wrote the following words on a large piece of paper (white butcher paper):
se despierta, se hace muchos ruidos, se duerme, recoge, lleva, de nuevo, está nervioso, (la cama) está mojada, ve, tiene vergüenza, observa, cierra
Together the students and I decided on a motion for each of the words and then we practiced them TPR style, adding a new word after I felt each word and motion was solid.

Then the students formed a circle with their chairs and I asked for 2 volunteers for each word.  I instructed them to stand up and do the motion when they heard the word(s) while I was reading Chapter 4. I used the document camera when reading chapter 4 so students could follow along as I read and both listen and look for the word so they could do their motions. The reading kept the class engaged and they even helped out their classmates if I paused after a word and the students assigned didn't hear or read it right away.

After the reading, I distributed a paper with questions and multiple choice answers to review what they read.  

An example of questions on my handout is:

1. ¿Quién se duerme rápidamente?     Brandon       el perrito       Brandon y el perrito

2.  ¿Cuándo se despierta Brandon?      a las 7           a las 6             as las 5

The multiple choice questions gave them reading practice to go along with the verbal input they have been receiving on the book. 

Chapter 5
I chose the following structures to practice from chapter 5. I put the verbs in the past tense since I am slowly adding past tense into our warm-up discussions.

se llamaba ______
vivía solo en una fortaleza
quería comer con 

I story-asked a story about a boy that lived alone in a fortress that wanted to go out to eat with someone. I had a powerpoint to go along with the story to rule out who the boy did not want to eat with, which included capitán Crunch and el presidente, in order to have them become familiar with those cognates that are used in chapter 5. The powerpoint also had places where the boy did or didn't want to eat with the other person. 

Because the vocabulary was introduced with the past tense, I wanted to make sure the students got an abundance of reps of the past tense, therefore we didn't have time to read any part of Chapter 5. We'll continue with that tomorrow.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Make Digital Collages

I use collages often in class (such as with Alma, and El vampiro video).  The visuals make it easier to stay in the TL and to keep the input comprehensible.  Last year one of my readers said she wanted to learn how to make the collages but she felt she wasn't very "techy".  Between several emails and a tutorial screencast that I made for her, she was able to successfully make a collage.
Below are similar directions for those that need help on how to make a collage from screenshots of a video from YouTube or other resources.

1.  Find a video that matches your target structures or one with which you want to use MovieTalk. In order to not violate any copyrights, I am using a video about making pie crusts as the example: not language related but it'll work for the example. 
2. Take screenshots during the video. On Mac, press SHIFT + COMMAND + 4 and then line up the cross hairs to outline the part of the screen you want for each screenshot. My settings put my photos directly onto my desktop. (To make screenshots with a PC, google "how to make screenshots with a PC").

3. After I have the screenshots I need for the collage on my computer desktop, I number and title them so I can easily find them to upload.

4. My favorite site to use to make collages is  Click on CREATE and choose a template. You do not need to make an account to use the websites, but many templates are only available if you have a (free) account.

5. Click on +Add photos (orange tab) to upload photos.  If you choose a template that has room for nine photos, you can only upload a maximum of nine photos. The website will automatically place your photos in the template. When you click on each individual photo, you can move it, resize it, or delete it.

6.  I like to have a color background separating the photos so I click on each one and make it smaller. Then I click on "Change background" to choose a color that goes well with the photographs. 

The background options on the Photovisi website includes pattersn, colors, or you can choose a background from your own photo gallery.


7. Click on "Add Text", then choose a font, color, and type your text.Click on "Add text to collage". After it is added you can click on it to resize it and to move it around. 
If you want to make your text pop even more, type the text in one color, add it, then type the exact same text in another color, add it. Put one of the identical colored texts slightly above, below, to the side, etc. of the first text and it will give it a shadow effect. 

8. Click on "Finish". The share button will enable you to email your collage, to post it directly on Facebook and other options.  There is also a download button to download it to your computer. If you mail the collage to a friend, keep in mind that the website only stores the collage for 4 days, so I strongly suggest that you download it to have a permanent copy.

9. Here is my finished collage:

 10. I project the collages onto the smart board and use them:
- for student or teacher retells of a short film
- as a pre-activity of a short film
- for assessments in which I say a sentences and students write the number (or letter) of the photo that I am describing
-  a collage made with online visuals and leave the last few squares blank for the students to write an ending 
- cultural collages, for example, I have one of food in Mexico
- famous Hispanics, explain for what each person is known 
- how-to collages, great to reinforce commands
- and many other possibilities

There are many other collage websites available, but I use this one because I think it is very user-friendly, plus it is free.