Monday, November 23, 2015

Post ACTFL - Time to Read Blogs!

Last week many of the nations second language teachers converged in San Diego, California, for the national world language yearly convention hosted by ACTFL. I, unfortunately, was not among those teachers. (Maybe next year.)

If you are like me and missed out on this professional development, no worries. There are many bloggers that I am sure will be sharing their newfound knowledge from the sessions they attended, as well as comments in those sessions that made them step back and rethink about how they teach vocabulary, culture, and other aspects of their language.

Martina Bex, from The Comprehensible Classroom, has already posted her first blogpost inspired by ACTFL on Language Chunks and Target Structures. She first explains what language chunks & target structures are and then gives examples of ones that she has used in her classes.

I'll be checking the following blogs of Grant Boulanger, Laurie Clarc, Carrie Toth, Kristy Placido, Alina Filipescu & Haiyun Lun, Nikki Totthingham, and Michele Whaley in the next few days in hopes of finding more shared notes and thoughts on the sessions

If you know of bloggers that have shared ACTFL notes, please let me know! Thanksgiving vacation started today and I'll have from today until December 1 to catch up on my blog reading.  :-)  

Story-based Assessments - Pulled Sentences & Additional Information

There are several ways of assessing a student's understanding of a text written in the Target Language.  One method that has been used for ages is to have the student read a text and then answer comprehension questions about the information in the text.  

The questions can be written either in the Target Language or in L1. One downfall to writing the questions in the TL and having students answer the questions in the TL is that students may be able to search the text using the words in the question and find the answer without actually understanding the text. (I've done this with texts written in English and with texts written in Spanish.) When that happens, the assessment is no longer providing information for which it was designed.

Lately, I've been experimenting with other ways in which students can show they understand a text.  Both of the examples below have numbers inserted in the text and the students choose the correct sentence to replace the number.

Example A:
This assessment is based on the story "Omar y Diego".  It is story that I wrote after a class story focusing on the structures: se despertaron, se fueron corriendo, and se levantaron.  I pulled some sentences from the text and inserted numbers in their place.  I moved the sentences to the bottom of the paper.  For the assessment, students must write the number on the line of the sentence that fits in that part of the text.  

To make this assessment more difficult, add sentences that were not from the original text to the choices, and/or pull out more sentences and add them to the bottom.  

If students haven't seen this type of assessment before, it would be helpful to use several class stories from the past and "practice" reading strategies to find the correct placement for the sentences.

Example B:
This is a variation of the above example. (I used the same story, "Omar y Diego" but this example shows the beginning of the story and the above example shows the end of the story. It's a full page of typed text!)  

Choose a place in a story where it would be easy to add another detail to the existing information.  Then to the left of the text, write several sentences from which the student needs to choose.  Some sentences you create can have absolutely nothing to do with the text. Students that understand the text should have no problem eliminating those as a choice.  You can list other sentences that are related to the subject matter but do not make sense at that particular part of the story. Also, by adding NONE to the choices, the student will not simply be able to eliminate two choice and by default choose the one that remains.  It is possible that none of the choices are correct and the student will need to understand each sentence in order to know if NONE is the correct answer.

This method may require some Higher Order Thinking skills (HOT)  on the teacher's part because you have to limit the vocabulary in the multiple choices to what the students know, but still create sentences that fit into the story and don't use the same words in the sentence before and after the #.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Flood of Subjunctive Input w/ Bianca Nieves y los 7 Toritos novel

As I mentioned in a previous post, my Spanish 4 students are reading the novel, Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos written by Carrie Toth, (@senoraCMT on Twitter), and published by TPRS Publishing, Inc.  There is undeniable tension between two of the main characters with their true emotions spilling out in dialogue.  At times, Carrie gives the reader a glimpse into Bianca's thoughts when suspicions and distrust escalate and imminent conflict is on the horizon.

These strong emotions make it is easy to imagine what dialogues could have taken place among the characters that are not recorded in the book, and what characters may be thinking but strategically keeping to themselves. This is a perfect opportunity to "flood" the students with comprehensible input that is packed with examples of the subjunctive used in context!  

After students had read the first five chapters, I knew they had enough information on the characters in the novel to match possible dialogues and thoughts to the characters.  I wrote 25 sentences related to the events in the novel.  Students had to match the dialogues and thoughts with the characters that would have said or thought them. (If you would like a copy of the document to the right, you can find it HERE

Of, if you are a Kahoot fan, I uploaded the above sentences on Kahoot. Have the students choose which person said or thought the sentences by playing Kahoot with THIS GAME. (That saves paper and saves YOU time at the copier machine!)

You can find additional resources, in the Teacher's Guide for this book. It is packed with more activities than you need, which allows you to choose the ones that work best with your students. 
(To be clear, I mention books and materials I use in my class because I want to share what I have found to be useful in my classroom.  I do not receive compensation for mentioning products from companies on my blog.) 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input

"The Case for Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input" by Stephen Krashen, Journal of Bilingual Education Research & Instruction, 2013 15(1): 102-110, is a must read for language teachers interested in second language acquisition. 

When I first read this article, I tried to imagine what a lesson designed around non-targeted comprehensible input looked like. How could I prepare for a lesson by not choosing focus words or targeted structures?  

This year with my Spanish 4+ students, I am inching closer to teaching with non-targeted comprehensible input and understanding how to prepare for these classes.  I dutifully come to class each day with a prepared lesson plan, but most times, the lesson serves more as a guideline or a back-up plan because I allow the students' interests, energy and unforced conversation drive the lesson. 

Here are a few examples of what that looks like ...

1.  November has 15 school days so I decided to name November as Reading Month. In Sp4+ class, every day we read 3 fiction/non-fiction online books at the start of class. (I use the website, A-Z reading. Interesting enough, the non-fiction books are the books that create the most conversations with students.) 

Last week I estimated 15 minutes needed of class time to read the 3 books.  Wrong. It took the entire 70 minute class period to read the (short) books  because after reading a page, a student would say, "I have a story to tell" (in Spanish, of course), and then proceeded to share a story related to a word in the book.  The page that described a spider stirred up 15-20 minutes of conversation among the students. 

That is how people communicate in their first language, no scripts, nothing planned, simply sharing experiences with others.  Sometimes the conversation skips from one topic to another and someone will ask, How did we get onto this topic? and we trace our conversation backward.  Now interesting too; interesting to see the direction of a conversation when allowed to flow naturally.

2. Last week my plans were to read chapters 10 and 11 of La Llorona de Mazatlán by Katie A. Baker. Students pleaded with me to continue reading to the end of the book. What? They're asking to read more? There's only one answer for that question: Yes. 

3. A teacher in another discipline stopped in during class to drop something off in my room.  The students saw this interruption as an opportunity to talk in Spanish with the visiting teacher. The visiting teacher provided the compelling input for more than 10 minutes.

4. The day my friend from the Dominican Republic, Nelsi, came to visit, the students embraced the opportunity to talk and interact with her that I swear that class was shortened by 30 minutes. That's how quickly the time flew.

How does this work for language acquisition? Second language experts tell us that the high frequency words and structures will naturally appear and reappear - thus the label high frequency. This has been true in my experience.

For example...

I don't consider "crecer" to be a high frequency word, but in the last 3 days, it has appeared several times in different, unrelated materials. I didn't target this word, but because of the "non-targeted" repeated exposure in different contexts, "crecer" (& various forms of the verb) are now part of the students' working vocabulary.  

The continual implementation of "non-targeted comprehensible input" has transformed my class structure and my thoughts on teaching. My lesson plans are evolving, and each day I have the opportunity to witness first hand how this change has benefited the students in ways I could only dream about several years ago. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Character Thoughts Graphic Organizer

I am excited about the increase in novels now available for students learning a second language.  In my opinion, novels can be a teacher's best friend in providing comprehensible, compelling input (but be sure to choose a book that is at the students' level). 

The novel Bianca Nieves is a great book to study relationships (as well as Spain's culture and bullfighting). My students are keeping notes on evidence of relationships throughout the novel that are strained or that are outright hostile!

I appreciate that Carrie Toth, the author, has not shied away from using the subjunctive throughout the book. At this level, (Spanish 4), I welcome every opportunity to model the use of subjunctive in daily conversations and discussions.  It is important that students understand how commonplace the subjunctive is from children's storybooks to novels.

One way to model the subjunctive in context, is to ask students to provide the thoughts of a character in a book, stating what she liked or didn't like about a situation or about what another character is/was doing. I used the graphic organizer pictured above, after reading chapter 5 of Bianca Nieves, for students to get creative with Bianca's true thoughts on what is happening in her life.  

Exploring a character's thoughts can also be accomplished by asking the students to write journal entries in the character's viewpoint.  However, the advantage to the thought bubbles, as shown in the picture above, over a journal entry is the limited space for each thought on the graphic organizer. (In my experience, students are more willing to write a few sentences in thought bubbles than having to organizer their thoughts in paragraph form.)

I'm also currently reading La Calaca Alegre, also written by Carrie Toth, with another class. I am making a similar graphic organizer for the thoughts of Carlos, "los pensamientos de Carlos".

Two copies of the pdf of the pictured document are available if you have use for them:
Click HERE for the pdf of Bianca in black and white, empty thought bubbles.

Click HERE for the color pdf of Bianca, empty thought bubbles.

      On the left is another organizer that I used with my students with the story "Jack y las habichuelas mágicas".  
1. I downloaded the story from THIS website.  
2. I read the story to my students.
3. We talked about Jack's thoughts using phrases:
-Me gusta que..
-No es justo que...
-Espero que...
-Es raro que...

4. We also talked about the giant's thoughts, fears, what angers him, etc.
No grade; a lot of input (plus the benefit of reading with the story about Jack)

The final piece is an assessment. Please note, however, that this is not the first time we have discussed how a character feels about the actions of another character in a book or story. Also, when students talk about their weekends, I sometimes tell them to add something that isn't the truth so we can DOUBT something that the person did or usually does on weekends.  The students have had a LOT of input on this!

5. I distributed the above sketch with thought bubbles and students wrote the mother's thoughts. I provided a few prompts (similar to what is listed in #3) that I wrote on the board for the students. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Word Sneak" in MFL Classroom

"Word Sneak" is a language game that Jimmy Fallon plays with guests on his talk show.  Jimmy and his guest each receive 5 index cards with random words written on them.  The object of the game is to work, or sneak, the words into a conversation as casually and seamlessly as possible, in the order as given to you.  Watch this fun example of Jimmy Fallon and Bryan Cranston playing "Word Sneak".

Words for "Word Sneak" game
I made a few changes to the game to make it work with my Spanish 4+ class. 

1.  I showed a few minutes of "Word Sneak" on YouTube so students fully understood the game.

2.  For a practice run, I wrote 10 random words in Spanish on index cards and two students volunteered to play the game.  (Some of the random words were:  me dolía, las estrellas, vaca, sangre, etc.).  One of the students started the conversation, used the first word in telling about what happened with her pet, to which the second student responded, "sneaking" her first word into the conversation.

For something extra, after they finished I asked the other students if they could guess what words were on the cards.

3. Then I gave each student TWO index cards. The 16 words I had written on the cards were words that I pulled from the first chapter of La Calaca Alegre, a novel written by Carrie Toth. Since I have a small group of Spanish 4+ students this semester, 8 people played the game, instead of 2. It was FUN! If I hadn't know beforehand what was written on the card, I would have had a hard time figuring out which words were intentionally "sneaked" into the conversation.

After playing the game, we read Chapter 1 of La Calaca Alegre. The students already knew most of the words, but the game served as a refresher/review of the words in which students could hear and use the words in context.

For bigger classes, you could have several groups playing at the same time. If you have enough words, after the groups are finished they could pass their index cards to the next group and play with the new set of cards.

I recommend this for a level 3 or higher class.  It doesn't take long and it's a fun way to involve the students in peer conversation.