22 June 2015

Spanish Teacher on Vacation: What to do with the cool stuff you find

I took my son to visit his abuelos in Mexico for the first time last June. Now every single time he gets an assignment to write about somewhere he went, it's Mexico. Well, really, it was that way all through kindergarten before he went, too.

So what's the perspective behind
this practice?
For Paolo, the experience was about huge hamburgers on the beach, nonstop cartoons in Spanish, making a friend here and there, and mostly getting spoiled by the abuelos at every turn.

For me, it was definitely about broadening my baby's horizons and spending time with people I love.

But it was also about the realia.

A checker at the store we frequented thought there must have been a huge book sale the way I was stalking up. "No, she's a teacher," my ex-suegra said.

I took about a zillion photos of everything I saw, too--especially signs and anything with the target language on it. I posted some of the more fascinating things to our summer Google Community and pinned others. I'm just glad I didn't get arrested with all of the pictures I was taking (I even snuck one of the police guarding the ATM at the bus station because culture).

Follow PBL in the TL's board Letreros on Pinterest.

This year while I'm in Peru with the local Sister Cities group, I plan to lay off the picture books and keep my receipt and packaging hording to a minimum (I have a problem, I know--but currency!)

Instead, I have a more organized, take-only-pictures approach to what I want to capture. I set up an Instagram account (separate from my defunct daily objectives one) and planned some hashtags someone interested in some authentic resources might follow, then channeled them into some IFTTT recipes to send my photos to separate Evernote notebooks! And then for the really good stuff, I'll go back and add some links to things like Wikipedia articles for more information.

Now what am I going to do with all of this glorious photographic authenticity in class?

Well, it has to do with fun and the first day.

Find out what it means to...I...
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell brought up a really good point about culture recently, and using one of my favorite words in education: inquiry. I really want to set the stage for really considering culture from square one, and First Day Fun Stations are really about setting the tone for the class.

Now, to tell the truth, I don't think I got the mileage I wanted to out of the Google Translate station or the spaghetti tower really. And really, I haven't figured out a way to work SSR back in productively since it flopped last year, so I think this will be a good substitute for the shelfie station.

So what are the young ones going to DO with my carefully curated photograph collections?

They're going to inquire.

I've got the questions, but the answers are first going to come from a combination of what they see and what they assume. Yes, yes, I know what happens when you assume. But isn't that how all cultural interaction works? You observe and guess about what's going on based on your prior knowledge and experiences? But then, if you're a globally minded, you actually research and verify your suppositions.

So here's how the station process is going to work:
  1. Pick an Evernote notebook you want to explore: Arte, Comida, or Sitios.
  2. Pick a photo from the notebook that interests you and explain why you find it interesting.
  3. Explain what cultural product is depicted in the photograph. What is it? What do you know just looking at it, and what can you guess?
  4. Compare this product to something you've seen before: how is it similar and different?
  5. Make some guesses: why does this product exist? who uses it? when do or did they use it? what is its appeal?
  6. Follow the link in the picture's note to find out more about the product and answer these questions:
  • Where did this product come from?
  • What makes it different from products you've seen before?
  • How do you think people who use this product see it? Why?
  • What do you understand about the culture that produced this product that you did not before?

Of course the #SXTNletrero hashtag will come in handy for meeting ACTFL objectives about public notices in their portfolios, and maybe I can work in a few more homework choices, perhaps with a #SXTNvideo hashtag of me interviewing, oh, everyone in Spanish to work on listening.

But really, I'm spending my vacation time finding good stuff for my kids so they can dig into what culture means from the start.

And if this means more of my own babies come on the Sister Cities trip with me next year, all the better!

19 June 2015

Alphabet Soup Units, part 2: Storytime (PBL + TPRS + IPA)

Storytime is the second step in my Alphabet Soup unit model, which combines Project-Based Learning (PBL), Target Language instruction (TL), Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), Integrated Performance Asessments (IPA), ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL), and Teaching Like a Pirate (TLAP).

This process gives my units a clearer vision of where we're headed as well as solid ways to support progress in BOTH students' proficiency AND authentic projects. I will be breaking down each step in the process on my Alphabet Soup page.

Stories are for spoon feeding. Get the kiddos the essential nutrients (i.e. vocabulary, structures) they need to grow strong and healthy for research, discussion, and genuine engagement, using a funny twist to make it stick.

In Keys to Assessing Language Performance, Paul Sandrock breaks vocabulary down into active, essential-to-learn vocabulary and the vocabulary that is important for passive recognition (3). For PBL, the active vocabulary has got to be what students use to communicate A) with their partners and B) with their audience at the end.

Me, I'm working on building both into topical TPRS stories for each PBL unit that I work on.

I work the active vocabulary into a select few repeated TPRS structures and try to weasel in some more of the common passive stuff where I can, though they can also pick up a lot of passive vocabulary from context and visual cues in the authentic texts during their in-depth inquiry--not to mention their own discussions.

So here's my process for coming up with the story.

1. Pick the vocabulary
I pick THREE key structures, usually essential verbs that will help with project planning and presenting, and then brainstorm the vocabulary they're going to need and come up with a theme to tie it all together, like a kid who hates reading or a reality TV talent show. In the future I want to be more intentional about picking my authentic texts that will come up in the IPAs and build some of the words and phrases that would make good active vocabulary from there, too.

2. Make it weird
Once I have a unit theme, I think of ways to tie it together and make it really weirdMartina Bex has been my guru on the TPRS front, and she allows students a lot of input in how weird to make the story. Martina lets her students pick the endings, but I find I can make it weirder if I make it up (eating cookbooks, dude's crush falling in love with his robot). Also, my young ones are self-conscious teenagers, and a bit contrarian, so they have a hard time 1) coming up with a funny ending and 2) agreeing on one.

3. Squeeze in some choice
I do leave blanks for students to pick things like character names: this year we've had classmates' names, country singers' names, Bon Qui Qui, Bob Marley, and Chupacabra--these kids were this way when I found them, I promise. I also pick out other things they can have input in, like instruments they play, dances they do, chores a robot does for you, and books desperate parents read. It was kind of useful. One way I've found to scaffold the choices so I can offer possible names, dances, chores, etc. is to create a Google Form of the story for students to preview. My kiddos tend to struggle with listening, so this helps them feel more at ease with familiar words they've seen written before/recently.

4. Write the story
I usually write the whole story out before I dissect it into questions and fill-in-the-blanks.

5. Set up the materials
I then break the story down into questions so I can ask the story instead of telling it all. This helps ensure that students are getting as much comprehensible input as possible AND engaging with the language actively. Me, I make a SMARTboard slide with a visual to associate with the story, post the questions to the side and hide them to be revealed one by one. I also make a copy of the story that will go in their interactive notebooks, but with the three key structures turned into blanks, and the class choices (names, instruments, etc.) turned into starred blanks (a different number of starts for each choice).

Then comes storytime! Here's a video of how that looks in my class:

I start reading through the story and pause to reveal and ask my questions and then jot down answers on a blank spot on the SMART slide to be saved for review later. Review takes place in four steps:
See, they're STORIES, so they look like
BOOKS in the notebooks!

  1. Listen to the story, pausing to fill in key structures and class choices (then paste in notebooks).
  2. Take turns reading the story to a partner.
  3. Take turns asking questions about the story with a partner (I usually pick key question words).
  4. Summarize 3-5 key points from the story in Spanish.

I've got a few example stories posted so you can see the evolution of the process and maybe get some inspiration, too!

Look out for the next Alphabet Soup post on Group Planning: PBL + TL.