Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Takeaways and A-HA Moments from IFLT15 - Post 1 - Observing Teachers

This year was the first time I attended the IFLT (International Forum on Language Teaching) conference.  It is a conference for world language teachers that is attended by teachers from the United States and from many different countries throughout the world. 

First, I want to give a huge shout out to Carol Gaab and Grant Boulanger for the hours upon hours they dedicated to organizing the conference and working out all the details (registration, meals, lodging, scheduling, tech issues, Taco Bar night, etc.) to make it the fantastic conference that it was.  

IFLT15 organizers: Carol Gabb and Grant Boulanger - What a team!
For me, the priceless gem of the IFLT conference is that you can observe learning labs (language teachers working with elementary and high school students). Yes, real students that live in the school district sign up for a week of language classes.  There are extra chairs in the back of the room for IFLT participants to observe the master teachers as they teach the students. Being able to observe teachers interacting with actual school-aged students makes IFLT truly unique and a MUST for those seeking to improve their teaching skills. 

Personally, if my administration asked me to plan a Professional Development day during the school year, my first choice would be to observe other world language teachers that use CI and TPRS.  I can learn ten times more by observing another teacher than simply reading about what goes on in their classroom.  Which brings up a good point that all of us should be willing to allow other language teachers to observe in our classrooms and to invite others into our classroom to observe as we teach.  It will not only benefit the observers, but if you have the opportunity to get feedback from the observers, it will benefit you also.

Below are take-aways and a-ha moments from observing the language teachers. (There were more teachers at IFLT15 not mentioned in this blog post that I did not have the time to observe. )  

Grant Boulanger - Secondary Spanish
Grant Boulanger: Personalization Master

- Grant's first order of "business" with the students was to get to know them by talking to them in the target language, Spanish.  Grant wrote a blog post about creating a small community in your classroom (find it HERE), which is exactly what I observed in his class.

- When students slipped into English, Grant patiently and quietly pointed to a sign on the board to redirect the student to use Spanish.

- Grant had rejoinders printed on colorful papers on the board. With the rejoinders easily visible, student use of the rejoinders to react to information and the story was effortless.  
Examples:  No me lo creo (I don't believe it); Yo, ¿qué se? (What do I know?); ¡Afróntalo! (deal with it!); ¡Ojalá! (I wish)¡Menos mal! (thank goodness). The photo above to the right, and the one below, shows a few of the rejoinders. For more examples and order information, go to Grant's blog post HERE.

Grant Boulanger's rejoinders posters
- Constant eye contact with students, perfect pacing, comprehension checks, it was ALL there to keep it comprehensible and create a comfortable setting for students in a well managed classroom.

- Enjoy the conversation - he didn't rush anything in the student/teacher conversation.  A good example of using the language to get to know the students.

- At one point Grant asked a student to spell a word.  The student hesitated and said he didn't know how to spell it.  Grant's response was perfect - "I know you don't know the letter and that's okay. But how do you get the information from me that you need?" to which the student responded, "¿Cómo se dice (the letter the student didn't know) en español?"

- During the debrief session after the students were dismissed from the room, Grant said from the start he teaches his students that they need to keep three things in mind when giving a response:
    Appropriate TIME
    Appropriate PLACE
    Appropiate TONE

Thank you Grant for sharing your teaching skills!

Jason Fritze - Elementary Spanish
I don't teach elementary but my goal is to offer an after school program for 4th and 5th graders at my school district for a few weeks, maybe 2 sessions 2x/week for a total of 10 sessions.  Observing Jason gave me many ideas on how to make this a reality. I was so intrigued with Jason working with the elementary students and how quickly they were learning that I actually went back to observe him for the 2nd time during the week (during a time when I was scheduled to go to sessions instead of learning labs).  Working with elementary students has a different set of challenges than secondary students, but Jason worked wonders with the students and managed to use the target language easily more than 90%.

- The rule in Jason's class is that students are permitted and encouraged to blurt out answers in Spanish. The only time they may speak in English is if they raise their hand and ask permission. 

Jason Fritze - energetic, expressive, expert, electrifying, etc, etc, etc...
- Jason used speech bubbles when a character in the story talked. This provided double CI - written and verbal, plus it added interest for the students (and the observers). 

- Wiggle breaks - I call these brain breaks in the high school, but when I saw the endless energy of the elementary students, I decided the breaks Jason provided were not only to give the students' brains a break, but to allow them some time to move around.

- Backward planning was evident.  Jason choose his focus structures to align with the book he was going to read with the students at the end of the week.  Then he used those structures to ask students if they had a pet, if they wanted a pet, who didn't have a pet, etc. When he found a student that didn't have a pet, he used that information to create a story with that student as the main actor.  In the story, the student went to different people to ask for a dog. This is where he used the speech bubbles for the conversation between the actors.

- One student did a nice job acting but when it came to speaking or "crying", the student was hesitant.  Jason used this opportunity to pull another student into the story to be the voice of the actor.  Eventually, the actor felt more comfortable and the voice student was thanked and returned to his seat.

Jason Fritze - Indoor Piñata Fiesta
- Jason told the students that if they were able to do all the things he had planned, then they could celebrate with a piñata fiesta.  Jason prepared the students for the piñata party with two videos - one was animated and the other was an authentic video of children at a party hitting a piñata. He used the MovieTalk method to cycle target words related to the piñata.  He introduced a song, focusing on the chorus to keep the words inbounds. Before the students left the class for the piñata party, he explained how they were going to hit the piñata and his expectations - all in Spanish, of course, and with comprehensible language to the students.  

Two days was not enough observation time for me. Jason is energetic, expressive, entertaining, expert, etc - the list goes on and on. I truly wanted to watch his magical teaching for a few more days and to see how the students progressed from day to day!

Linda Li - Secondary Chinese
The One and Only LINDA LI
I didn't have to observe Linda to know she is a master. When I was first learning TPRS methods, I was a student in her class at NTPRS. are someone that thinks learning Chinese is difficult, you will change your mind after being a student in her class.  That's how talented she is. You don't learn Chinese, you acquire it. What a treat to observe her again!

- Linda creates conversation or, better said, finds the conversation, from what is happening in her class.  Several (adult) students had their morning coffee cups with them and Linda was able to keep a conversation flowing related to coffee. 

- Posters of the target language in red and English meanings in black are abundant in her room.  She used a laser pointer to point out a word if a student hesitated on the answer.

- She used TPR throughout the lesson to move students from one place in the room to another.

Recycle, recycle, recycle words.  

Seriously, if you ever have the chance to observe Linda Li, don't let it pass you by. Move heaven and earth to get to her classroom and then sit back and watch a true master.

Karen Rowan - Elementary Spanish
At the end of the week, I cut short observation of one learning lab in order to get a glimpse of Karen's class. She was reading Las aventuras de Isabela with the students, but not only reading...she had student actors to act while she read with the students.   

Karen Rowan - Reader Theater Director Extraordinaire
- Biggest take-away - Teachers may need to coach the actors!!! If the actors aren't doing what you want them to do, coach them, model it for them, get in on the action and demonstrate exactly what you want the students to do.  It increases student interest to see the teacher also acting out the scene and Karen was able to sneak in a LOT of additional repetitions of key structures and vocabulary.

- She involved the whole class in acting following the above activity.  She put students in groups of 3, assigned each a role, and re-"read" the portion of the text for them to act as she read.  She moved throughout the class encouraging and modeling the actions and applauding those students that were already "experts" in their acting skills.  

Karen Rowan has started to offer webinars (example: on Reader's Theater).  Everyone now has the opportunity to benefit from her years of experience of teaching with CI (to school-aged students and to adults in Fluency Fast classes) by attending her webinars or watching them after they are recorded.  Additional information on Fluency Fast classes, free sources, books for class, and other useful resources are available HERE.  

Thanks Karen!     

IFLT16 is 11 months away, which means you have 11 months to make arrangements to attend. Better yet, 11 months to tell your colleagues about IFLT16 and provide meaningful Professional Development for the whole department!

If I recall correctly, Carol Gaab announces the location and dates of IFLT sometime at the beginning of the new year (if not sooner).  Check her website TPRS Publishing (HERE) to find more information. You can also find her on twitter @CarolGaab.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Zihuatanejo, Mexico & "El Pescador y el Hombre de Negocios"

Fisherman in Zihuatanejo, Mexico
When you are on vacation do you find yourself making connections to your travel experiences and the classes you will teach in your upcoming school year? I do this often and even more so when I happen to be in a Spanish country.

Earlier this month my travels took me to Ixtapa, Mexico. The neighboring town is Zihuatanejo and each evening the coastal waters are dotted with lights from fishing boats.  In the morning, the fishermen take their catches to the fish market in Zihuatanejo. See the beautiful pictures of this market shared at THIS website.

My husband and I took a tour of the area and we arrived at the fish market around 11:00 in the morning.  Unfortunately, there were only a few fishermen remaining at the market selling fish.  Our guide told us that the fishermen come to the fish market early in the morning with the fish they caught the previous night or earlier in the morning, display their catch on blankets, and the townspeople come to the market to buy fresh fish for the day.  He said by 11:00, most of the fisherman had sold their fish and had left for the day.

My first thought was "What are they going to do the rest of the day?" and that's
when the story, "El Pescador y el Hombre de Negocios" popped into my mind.  Obviously, I don't know what each of the fishermen had scheduled for the day, but it is possible that they were home with plans to enjoy the rest of the day with family and friends, as in the story.

I read El Pescador y el Hombre de Negocios with my Spanish students to show the contrast in values: the fisherman understands the spending time with family and friends, whereas the businessman is focused on ways to grow a business and make more money.  When reading the story with my students, I had always related to the fisherman, but was surprised to find that when I was at the market my initial thoughts were more aligned with the businessman in the story.  Wow. That stopped me in my tracks and made me reflect on a few things.

I also realized that I needed to make some changes in how I introduce and use the story in class.  In the past, we read the story first and discussed it afterwards.  The next time we read it in class, I'll begin with my picture of the fisherman and the pictures on the slideshow from the above link, describe the fish market in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and then ask the students to brainstorm ideas on what the fisherman does the rest of the day, and see where the discussion takes us. I'm interested to see if the class discussion will naturally bring out the two differing views, (the fisherman and businessman) before the students even read the story.

There are several versions of the story, some take place in Mexico, India, Costa Rica, and other places around the world.  You can find the story that mentions Mexico HERE.