Friday, January 31, 2014

Interviewing Students provides Compelling Comprehensible Input

Each week I notice more people tweeting, blogging, and talking about teaching languages with Comprehensible Input.  (Actually, shouldn't ALL subjects be taught with Comprehensible Input?)

One component that will make CI even better is CCI - Compelling Comprehensible Input.  What is "compelling" to our students? That's easy - hearing about themselves and their classmates.

With the start of new classes in our second semester, I chose to experiment with student interviews.  My upper level class has 28 students and if I interview two students per week, I'll be able to talk to all the students, with plenty of extra time to spare.  

The interview consists of a student volunteering to sit in the front of the room on the orange swivel chair.  Then I proceed to ask questions about their job, their pets, school classes, sports, where they would go tomorrow if they could choose any place in the world, their favorite movie, and anything that happens to come to mind during the interview.  If I don't know the student's family, I wait until the student mentions a family member from another question, and then may expand on that.

I adjust the amount of scaffolding and assistance I give the student during the interview based on their proficiency level.  My job is to make the student shine by encouraging them to talk about things THEY want to share with the class, stretching them just a bit in their speaking to show themselves that, yes, they can communicate in Spanish, and to keep the activity safe and comfortable for all.  Other students are welcome to ask questions during the interview.  Thus far, the natural curiosity of the students has resulted in a listening/speaking activity that provides compelling comprehensible input.

Immediately after the interview, the students write a short composition about their classmate on the information they learned from the interview.  

Thus far we've had two student interviews, (1/24 & 1/30). This activity is quickly becoming one of my favorites because:
1) the students and I become more connected to each other because we learn a lot from the interviews,
2) the writings are short and I can quickly read & comment on them to learn their strengths and weaknesses in writing,
3) it is Compelling Comprehensible Input! 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Guided Listening Practice

I want to give my students exposure to a wide variety of native Spanish speakers, especially since I am not a native speaker.  Yesterday on one of the forums I follow, someone mentioned the video me gusta - mis pasatiemposMy Spanish 2 class started last week and GUSTAR is one of the "Super 7" words that I am reviewing with them, so the timing was excellent.

The man in the video, Agustín, talks about what he likes and doesn't like. In order to guide the students' listening, I made a sheet (see below) that contained the activities and items that he liked/disliked and added a few additional answers that he doesn't mention.   In this way, the students were intently listening for specific information, helping them to be successful in this task.

Click HERE to access the resource to the right.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Classrooms around the World - broadening our perspective

My school visit in Haiti
This semester I have a combined class of Sp4 and Sp5, 28 students total.  Realistically, I know it is impossible to teach two different curricula in one 70-minute period that other years were separated into different classes.  After a great deal of thought, I decided the best plan of action is to teach a completely new curriculum; one that includes the main grammar structures introduced in Sp4 (i.e. negative commands, the subjunctive) but in a fresh way so the Sp5 students also benefit.  For some it will feel like a review, for others that haven't mastered those concepts, it will prove to be quite beneficial. Above everything, I want all students at the end of the semester to see growth in their abilities.

This hybrid curriculum requires me to find reading materials that students have not read before.  Typically, I choose a book below the students' level as a way to review (some haven't had Spanish since the first semester in fall 2012), and to build up their confidence.  

The first book we are reading in the combined class is "Felipe Alou" by Carol Gaab.  For the first chapter we discussed what students already knew about The Dominican Republic, completed the wordle activity by Kristy Placido on the Teacher's Guide CD (I highly recommend this TG), completed a cross-out activity with the new vocabulary in Ch1, and shared our thoughts on the discussion and comprehension questions. 

Chapter 2 of Felipe Alou describes his family life and his childhood and teenage years.  Two sentences that caught my attention in particular were, "También insistían que sus hijos recibieran una educación excelente. ¡La educación de sus hijos era muy importante." I take every opportunity to stress to my students the importance of education so those two lines set the stage perfectly.  Below are the activities I used to draw out discussion from the students and stress the importance of education throughout the world.

1. Kenya to Kabul: 15 Classrooms around the World.  Students compared and contrasted the classrooms pictured to schools in Pennsylvania. Easy way to elicit discussion. 

2. Frontline: By the Numbers: Dropping out of High School   I made a powerpoint in Spanish with multiple choice questions to share the statistics related to high school dropouts.

3. House Construction with Plastic Bottles by Samarpan Foundation. This 3-minute video shows the construction of a house by using plastic bottles filled with mud. There is no dialogue, but rather subtitles (in English).  When the building is completed, it is actually a school which ties into the discussion theme above. 

4. The Big Picture: Schools Around the World. Another website with beautiful photos of schools around the world and school children traveling to those schools can be found.  This can be used to replace #1 above or in addition. The photos are absolutely wonderful!

At times students will share about their family trips to beautiful vacation destinations, but they have little to no experience in seeing the real culture of a country, away from the tourist spots.  These websites and video provided the students with a glimpse of the world, far away from their small corner of Pennsylvania, and encouraged discussion in the TL.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Working on the Recipe for Success in the WL Classroom

The end of a semester is a perfect time to evaluate the progress that students have made on their journey toward fluency and what teaching strategies and techniques have helped or hindered them.

A few weeks ago on the #langchat Twitter discussion, teachers shared their teaching resolutions. However, this year, instead of resolutions, I followed the lead of my colleague, (@KristaApplegate on Twitter) and I compiled a list of things I need to Add, Tweak, or Delete, in my teaching this semester.

In many ways, I feel as if I'm on a search to find the Recipe for Success in the World Language classroom. I know the techniques, but that's like having the list of ingredients only. The proportion of ingredients and when they're added are essential for success. Many willingly share the techniques, such as TPRS, embedded readings, PQA, etc. (ingredients), but I sure wish they would share with me the specifics of how much and in what order to implement them (the quantity and order to mix them in). Also, at times I suspect that there is a small ingredient that eludes me.

While others may have found that perfect recipe, I'm not there yet. At times I want to stay with the technique with which I feel most comfortable because that is easier, when I know I should stretch myself a bit and turn to a technique that I need to work on.  I'm making strides each semester, but it is definitely still a work in progress

Schedule Kindergarten Day a minimum of 1 time per two weeks. On Kindergarten day, the teacher chooses a book to "read" in the TL. Usually, the teacher does NOT read the words printed in the book, but rather tells the story using words appropriate for the level of students, assuring that it is comprehensible for them. (Tweak)

Choose 1 student to interview with the class in the TL to find out about them and their interests.  The focus is on learning about the student and his/her interest, not on their language ability.  The teacher is charged with keeping the questions and answers comprehensible to the students being interviewed and others. Interview ALL students eventually. (Add)

I have several classes of upper level Spanish this semester which means stories by Jorge Luis Borges, Ana María Matute, Julio Cortázar, are a priority.  Making them comprehensible, enjoyable, and helping students to find a personal connection is the focus with these stories. (Tweak)

Students select a book that interest them to read silently for X number of minutes (depending on level). Regrettably, I scheduled little time last semester for this activity.  This semester, it will be a staple for both my Spanish 2 classes and the Spanish 4 classes. (Tweak)
I've heard about Word Walls for years and I've always resisted because I teach a language - ALL words are important in my class. But, I'm beginning to see the importance of being able to list words and key structures, then post them, allowing me to point to and reference them throughout the entire semester. (Add)

     Helping students to improve their listening comprehension is my focus of my required district action research. Sites like Mary Glasglow and Nulu have both recordings by native speakers and accompanying scripts.  Also available is a huge selection of podcasts, songs, recorded children's stories, commercials, etc. Adding a song a week for all levels is a much needed refreshing activity. (Tweak)

This technique is Blaine Ray's idea.  Basically, from time to time, tell students they can earn +1 on a quiz if they answer the question in English, "What's going on in your life?" on the back of their quiz. I'm a little hesitant to try this, so I'll try it first with my Spanish 4 class and assess its usefulness before implementing it across all the classes. (Add)

Last semester I did less stories TPRS style, and read more novels and increased MovieTalk lessons.  This semester I need to find a better balance of the different teaching techniques I employ in the classroom.

Another goal is to consistently assign student jobs with the TPRS stories: a quiz writer, a story sketcher, (a student will sketch the story on Educreations; I failed to do this last semester and I miss not having the story to share on Educreations with the students the following day), a student to tally which students are participating in Spanish, and a sound effects "technician".

As far as deleting, I'm considering saying adiós to dictations.  There are several class activities I do that students work in groups to write identical sentences, that has a similar focus on spelling and accents, but in an enjoyable way.  If someone convinces me in the next few weeks that dictations are worth the time in class, I may reconsider. (Delete)

New semester - new opportunities for me to improve. :-)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Artists and Painters (Brace yourself for a philosophical post)

Late last December, my mother was scheduled for orthopedic surgery.  I went to the hospital to keep my dad company during her surgery and recovery time which meant I had three hours of quality, and basically uninterrupted, time to talk with my dad.  During our conversation, there was one thing he said that has been replaying in my mind ever since, and I don't think I'll have peace until I put it down on paper or, in this case, my blog.

With three hours available to us, we chatted about a wide variety of topics.  At one point I shared some frustrations that I have at my workplace. (Understandably, there is no perfect workplace - or at least I haven't found one.)  He was surprised to hear that I was frustrated because I tend to limit with whom I share that information.  At one point, he looked at me and said, "The problem is you're an artist, not a painter."

My response: "What?".

He explained, "In every occupation, there are artists and painters.  The painters are the ones that go in, do their job, and go home. They're good painters. You should be a painter."

Wow. I wasn't expecting to hear that from my father, but it struck a chord in my mind and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  He nailed it.  There ARE "artists" and "painters" in every occupation.

Painters are content to use colors, already premixed, straight from the paint store.  Eggshell white is a popular color with them.  It's not exciting, but it looks nice on most walls, gets the job done, and passes inspection.  It allows them to paint a room in an efficient manner and move on to another job.  

The tools they use haven't changed much in the last few years or decades.  They're not interested in being innovative; in fact that's not required to be a good painter.  At times they are mandated to make changes because the government tells them they can no longer use a certain type of paint, so they may grumble a bit, but they adjust, and move on.  After all, it's still paint and it still covers the wall.  

They don't spend time outside of their work day searching for ways to be creative or to make their work stand out.  They do as my dad says, they go to their work site, paint the walls, and move on to the next job. Simple as that. 

They're in demand; after all, many people are looking to hire painters.  Rooms, buildings, and fences need painted, and why pay extra for an artist when a painter will do a nice job?

Artists, on the other hand, can't wait to mix the paint colors, driven by an inner desire to find a color palette that will intrigue others, and catch their attention, an improvement on what others may have expected. They don't view their work as a "job", but rather as art. They want to differentiate their work, make it stand out, shine with creativity, and speak for itself.   

They enjoy going to view others' work in museums and exhibits so they can learn from them, in their own communities and beyond.  They're not stagnate, but rather always in motion, learning and growing; creating and experimenting with new techniques; making adjustments and fine-tuning. 

Painting and personal time blurs into one, often making it difficult to distinguish between the two. Even on vacations, they view things through an artist's eyes, asking how they can incorporate what they see into a future art piece.

Artists are in demand also, but not necessarily more than painters. It's interesting that there are artists that are well-known and sought out, not something that can be said about painters.  Artists may be overlooked, but for most artists, their goal is to have their artwork noticed, not themselves.

Yes, there is a huge difference between an artist and a painter even though both paint on a daily basis.  

The sad question may be, do schools want artists?  The interview process encourages it, but high stake testing and other demands pressure everyone to just paint the wall, complete the work so it passes state inspection.  Ask, or tell, an artist to just paint the wall enough times, and eventually the artist will do exactly that.  Creativity, innovation, excitement - slowly squeezed out, forcing the artist to conform to being a painter, a disappointed painter that continues hoping for an opportunity to be an artist again. 

So there...I wrote it. It doesn't mean I'll stop thinking about it. Over the last two weeks the artist vs painter thoughts cross my mind throughout the day, especially when I meet a painter at the copier making yet another 15 page packet to students to put in their notebooks with the others collected throughout the semester.

It's obvious that life as a painter is an easier road, but will an artist ever be content, for any length of time, working as a painter.  Probably not. No, definitely not.

Proof that I'm never too old to benefit from the wisdom of my dad.  Thanks dad. 

 ....just keep painting...

100% Student Engagement with Reading Comprehension Questions

How often do you ask comprehension questions and the same 5 or 6 students answer the questions? The rest of the students are quite content to sit back and let the others answer for them.  

Today I wanted to have 100% student participation to answer comprehension questions after reading the last chapter of Robo en la noche. It's not often you can guarantee you have 100% student engagement in class, but this quick activity delivered that.  

1.  I read, or I had a student volunteer read, two or three paragraphs at a time to the students in Spanish.  Then I paused and asked the students questions about the text, either in Spanish or English.

2.  Each student had a mini-whiteboard and marker.  ALL students had to write the answer in English or Spanish, depending what I asked for.  As soon as they had written the answer, students held up their mini-whiteboard. It was not a race to be the first person to write the answer, but rather I wanted to ALL the students to write an answer.  I told them if they weren't sure of the answer, they could look at what the person next to them wrote, or they could look around the room to see what answers the others were holding up.  They could change their answers if they saw other answers were different than their answer. 

3. Then I waited until everyone was holding up an answer.  The affective filter was lowered because they had permission to copy someone else's answer, but interesting enough, many of the students that are usually not quick to answer or participate in class, searched for the answers themselves instead of taking the easy way out and copying the other answers. I wasn't expecting that, but it was a welcome surprise. 

Imagine, every student consciously writing the correct answer to a question about the text they just read. :-)

Immediately following the chapter review, the students took a 6 point quiz on information on the chapter.  Overall scores were much better and I assume it was because they couldn't zone out during the review.

Just another tool for the toolbox...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Jigsaw Activity in Reading combined with Quick Key app

Chapter 12 of the Spanish reader Robo en la noche is a long chapter compared to the others. I searched the Teacher's CD guide for ideas and it suggested a jigsaw activity to divide the chapter among the students.

I decided to assign the students the jigsaw activity with a bonus incentive to understand and fully share their section of the text to their group members. How? With an informal quiz, that combines all the scores for one group, worth a bonus point for the group with the highest score.  See the explanation below.

1. I wrote the list (on the right) on the board. I told students there needed to sign up for 1 of the 6 groups but also cautioned them that the groups are not what they may think they are.  

2. Before class, I wrote the following information to show each group what section of the chapter they had to read.

The students sat with their group and read their section of the chapter. When they were finished I collected the books.

3. Students moved to their letter group, so in the A group there was a student that read section 1 (1A), another student that read section 2 (2B), etc.
    Starting with 1A (or 2A, 3A, & 4A in the other groups), the student explained to their group what happened in their section of the text. Then 2A explained the next section, and so forth.

4. Students returned to their assigned seats. They (individually - not a group quiz) took a 13 point multiple-choice quiz on information from chapter 12, recording their answer on a Quick Key scantron sheet. (This can be done without the Quick Key app, but if you want to grade their answers quickly to find a group total, Quick Key is definitely the way to go!) 

5. I called Group A and they brought their Quick Key scantron sheets to my desk. I scanned them using my iPhone and the Quick Key app, tallied the total of the 6 scores, and wrote their total on the board. I tallied the other 3 group scores in the same manner.

6.  The group with the highest total received credit for 1 bonus point on their next quiz.

Two additional comments: 

- Before they got into their number group (their first group), I stressed that it was VERY IMPORTANT for them to fully understand what they read because they were going to be quizzed on it for extra credit.  Only after they moved into their letter groups, did I tell them they their letter group was the group that was going to work together for points. (My tricky way of mixing up the groups.  As I had predicted would happen, when the students signed up for the number groups, they signed up to work with their friends.  When they moved the 2nd time to their letter groups, it was a different mix of students, allowing them to work with others they may not have chosen on their own - a nudge to help them with their social skills.) 

- After I had tallied the scores and found the winning group in one class, a student raised her hand and said she was confused about what happened in the second half. (Several people in her group had spent more time talking in their # groups instead of fully understanding the text.) I chose the winning group to explain each section to the class to clear up any misunderstandings.  They didn't mind being called out on that because, after all, they were the winning group.