19 December 2011

If I could do it again

I would not do the project with 9th graders, much less a class of 25 9th graders (well, 2 juniors and a sophomore are among them). They need a stronger foundation in the language and more maturity. Perhaps Spanish I could assist a more advanced class.

I would spring for fewer cameras that cost more. The Coby Snapp 5002 was a pain to work with, including one that totally refused to turn on after only a few days out of the box. It constantly sent up file errors and said the memory was full when it wasn't. Students had to record and re-record, maybe just because they didn't wait for more than a minute to begin recording the next video. And the whole requiring memory cards to be formatted as antiquated FAT file systems instead of even FAT-16 or 32 set us back two days unnecessarily.

I would have more time. It took long enough to figure out how to set things up in a way that students would be able to convey something worthwhile with their halfway-through-Spanish-I Spanish. And the whole trying to get it done before break/baby being born certainly didn't help matters. I set the due date before the shipment was supposed to go out (and even before the shipping folk ended up showing up the day before they'd told me they would), but I need also to have time to review submissions AND give feedback ahead of time. Also, I would take some of that time, too, to familiarize myself with what we ordered and how to use it, since I now know that things that look like a Flip are not necessarily as...user friendly...as a Flip. Also, there would be no reason for students to have cameras out at all anymore, much less to leave them at home when the shipping guy comes early.

I would require more fundraising if we were over $20 away from the shipping goal. Or take things out until what we had raised matched what we needed to send. It is just not a good time to have to pay much out-of-pocket to compensate for something that should have been more their responsibility.

Right now, I really feel defeated by this project. There are some pictures on some of the cameras, so the kids at La Laja may learn something about what it's like here. There are still 3 (out of 5) cameras on their way to Colombia as we speak, along with over 100 lbs of clothing and school supplies that students collected. No, they still could not count the money out for the shipping guy, and no, the kids in Colombia may not be able to watch the movies kids made on the cameras and have to wait for someone from Ayudando Ando to bring a laptop to see much of anything. And 3 out of 5 groups were unable to achieve better than the minimum expectations for group collaboration according to our school's group work rubric.

But maybe they'll come through with the scrapbook idea they had, and maybe they'll come up with the funds to send it with the other camera(s?).

And maybe we'll still get really cool videos from the kids in Colombia and have some really interesting Skypes  with the kids there.

26 November 2011

Imperfect childhood

I'm trying to design a project that would foster a little introspection while reinforcing the imperfect tense and connecting a little to La llaman America.

Almost halfway through the year, we're on page 4 of the picture book,  where America's behavior in her current setting in Chicago is contrasted with her behavior when she lived in Oaxaca. I want my Spanish II students to think back to how they used to be and compare, if not contrast, how it fits with who they are now.

I'm thinking the final product will be a video involving the older self talking to the younger self, as represented by a picture (or more) from their childhoods (maybe even some childhood artwork?)

I suppose those who are certain they have neither baby pictures nor art from before age 10 could substitute clipart?

I already had them ask an immediate family member, a peer outside the immediate family, and an adult outside the immediate family the following questions (of course, not all of them have done it):

1.       What games did I play?
2.       What did I watch?
3.       What books did I like?
4.       Who were my best friends?
5.       What was my favorite toy?
6.       What did I eat most?
7.       Where did I go often?
8.       What is something I said a lot?
9.       How did I behave at school?
10.   What did I get in trouble for?
11.   What did I do well?
12.   What did I have trouble doing?

My plan is for them to then sum up who that kid was with a few adjectives and group at least 15 things they were told they did before the age of 10 under the headings of those adjectives.

Then, they will address that kid. Ejemplo (I asked my dad for how I was):

Tú eras una niña amigable. Tenías muchos amigos en la escuela y visitabas a tus amigas todo el tiempo.  Y no te metías en problemas con tus maestras. ¿Por qué no eres tan extrovertida ya?

I want this to be sort of a mini-project on the way to something bigger (a chain tale book), so I'm thinking 10 points for using the imperfect correctly and consistently, 10 for giving appropriate descriptions and reflections for each set of childhood activities, 5 for including at least 15 activities.

I also plan on giving them options for how to format the presentation:
  • Use a flip camera, cell phone, or personal camera to record video of yourself speaking to your picture.
  • Use Audacity or a cell phone to record just your voice and create a movie using the recording and childhood pictures.
  • Use Audacity, a cell phone, or the “grab” function on Glogster to record just your voice and combine it with a picture or collage of pictures on a glog.
  • Create a Voicethread of your pictures and record yourself speaking in comments on each picture.
  • Create a Powerpoint of your pictures and record yourself speaking directly onto each slide.

I want them to start putting this together when we come back Monday. Am I missing anything? 
(I tried to stick to technologies I've already had them use so as not to complicate things unnecessarily.)

23 November 2011


The cameras are all here! The supplies are almost all sorted! If we can get a couple of bigger boxes, double-check inventory, and just get our hands on the memory cards, everything will be just about ready to ship to La Laja in Colombia! That means it is time to plan our introductions to send to our new friends.

There is not much meaningful that Spanish I can say before we are halfway through, especially since we have been focused on vocabulary meant to prepare us for collecting school supplies and a bake sale to ship the school supplies up to this point (lately it's been numbers, which has been very time-consuming to pull off "in context"--though it does have real applications with our donation collections and inventorying at least). So I've been thinking of what students can say and show in the simplest way possible, and I came to nosotros, and all things we/us/our.

The coolest part of this exchange will be being able to see each other's schools and communities--and, well, each other! So I think most of what needs to be communicated will be visual anyway. I'm considering the idea of forming new groups, this time of 5, since we have 5 cameras, drawing up contracts, and letting students film a little at home. Alternatively, we could make videos on the computer using photos that we upload later. If we did the contracts, we could use numbers again to set up what date works best for each group member to record, making a schedule where each only gets the camera from one class to the next. I'm a little worried about responsibility and some group members' ability to get cameras back on time, but I wonder if that could be factored in with the scheduling. And maybe those who cannot certify in writing that they WILL get them back in the allotted time frame will just not get to film their homes/friends/family except at school?

As for the actual language focus, here is what I'm thinking:

I want to see a lot of shots with narration like "Esta es nuestra escuela," so I've brainstormed a list of "our" things the kiddos colombianos might be interested to see:

  • Nuestro salon
  • Nuestros profesores, vecindarios, cuartos, companeros
  • Nuestra escuela, clase, comunidad
  • Nuestras familias, casas
I'd like the groups of 5 to come up with identities--it didn't work so well with the first groups that collected supplies, but maybe if they "choose" (with a few pre-suggestions on my part, of course). This way, they could go back to adjectives from the introductory "Yo soy" glog and do a little more with number/gender agreement! It would also be fun to get some of their personalities in there, though a full description for each of 25 kids would probably take a LOT of time to record and a LOT of memory.

Nos gusta
I'm sure the kiddos colombianos would want to know about our kids' hobbies and interests, but I'm a little wary of all of the vocabulary involved and how long that would take, especially since I'd like to get this shipped before break and before, you know, my water breaks. Maybe if I limit this to 5 things per group? Perhaps 2 activities, a celeb, a food, and a class?

Lo que hacemos
As we talk about money and inventory, we've been dealing with the "we" conjugation already, talking about "tenemos" vs "queremos" vs "necesitamos" (hint: we do NOT have enough money to ship all of the clothes donated!). So this might work in conjunction with vocabulary from nos gusta, but maybe 3 per group? Or maybe we should just work in tenemos, queremos, and necesitamos?

We only have about 9 more class days before break! *shakes fist at alternating day schedule* Our connection at Ayudando Ando has mentioned the possibility of skyping, so what I think I'll do is probably skip "Nos gusta" for now and limit the "hacemos" to the 3 verbs we've been working with. "Nos gusta" might do better for a follow-up anyway.

15 November 2011

Reading a real news article in Spanish in 9 simple steps

Wordle: Violencia de pandillas cobra vidas inocentes en ChicagoI googled Chicago, violencia, and pandillas to find an article to tie to the third page of text  from a picture book for Spanish II.

La llaman América is about a little girl who immigrated to Chicago from Mexico and her experiences in her home, school, and neighborhood. As authentic texts go, it is a unique perspective but, frankly, awkwardly translated from English. Still, there are enough angles to capture teenagers' attention, and inner-city or neighborhood violence is one of them.

The article is "Violencia de pandillas cobra vidas inocentes in Chicago," and I have been tinkering with how to present it, not just for teaching, but also as part of my graduate class in Issues in Foreign Language Instruction. I was to come up with a reading activity and break it down by pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading with follow-ups. Since graduate classes exist in the land of Theory where everything works (you know, "in Theory"), and I actually had a chance to pilot the lesson on real live guinea pigs Spanish II classes, even before getting feedback from grad school peers, I'd like to break down the current status of the lesson.


  1. Introduce vocabulary. I put 8 words (abatido, aumento, callejera, concejales, gente, miedo, pandillas, and periodista) on a powerpoint slide with accompanying clipart to illustrate, then acted them out, adding clues in Spanish as I presented (Nicky Minaj for aumento, Bloods, Cryps, Latin Kings for pandillas).

    It is important to emphasize that students do not need EVERY SINGLE WORD to understand the text, and that choosing the vocabulary they need can help direct them to what they DO need in order to piece things together.

  2. Analyze Wordle. I projected the Wordle pictured above and had students point out the largest words, vocabulary words, and recognizable (past or cognate) words.

    Making a Wordle is easy-peasy, but making a GOOD one takes a little more time. I didn't want students to focus on the superintendent of police or his name, so I had to go back and cut him out, same with the pastors who offered commentary on the shootings. It took going back and removing things from the original text to make it an adequate advance organizer for the young ones, a purposeful one.

  3. Write headlines. I introduced the term titular and did my level best to get them to "headline" with drawing on the board, naming local newspapers, without speaking any other English. Then I had them write headlines about what they article they were about to read was about based on the Wordle. The one who used the most words from the Wordle--and still made sense--won.

    The "classroom talk" emphasized by the NC New Schools Project instructional framework seemed to be a natural fit in getting students to piece together what the article was about, so I'd do this paired in the future. And probably also offer a prize for the pair that got closest to the real headline.
During Reading
  1. Scan for calendar vocabulary. I did not think to do this first with my guinea--students--but I soon found the necessity for it. They need to find familiar things, and they need to be able to reorganize the information. I noticed that when I ended up having students put things in chronological order that they just looked for where things appeared in the order of the article itself. Plus they need to have an orientation to what is going onto the article, and time is a pretty straightforward.orientation. If we write it on the board (diving into the reading together for some guided instruction), then students can start their interpretation off on the right foot and model for each other.

  2. Create individual T-charts of victims vs community members. My professor suggested I focus only on the victims section and not get into the community responses at all--for brevity's sake, but there are still a few community people mixed in, and students should get that one of the victims is not named, just described. And if they have to name the different people's roles, then I think that is a valuable tool to help them break down the reading. So students would include names and brief descriptions where available, I suppose.

  1. Re-arrange events. I have some of the main events from the article paraphrased in Spanish that students can cut out and re-arrange. I made the mistake of trying to do this on a worksheet when I had no voice, but I always confuse myself on how to grade such things when students are one or two off. Plus this way, students can make their guesses, then when we go over the actual order, number the events correctly to ensure they can line up what is going on.
  2. Split-class true-false. This is similar to how I set up debates, which will come later, but it is not so, well, debatable. I also made the mistake of trying to make a worksheet of this at first (I had no voice! I had to do something!), but I found that students probably needed to talk more about why answers were right or wrong and use the text.

    So, as with the original worksheet, I have about two statements per 3-paragraph section, so students are able to do a closer analysis and find exactly the part that tells you what is true or false. The twist now is that students can agree or disagree out loud, and direct each other to specific parts of the text to support their answers (the English teacher side of my loves this).

  1. Fill in a Venn diagram comparing article neighborhoods and America's. I might hold off on this one until after they've done "Pedro Navaja" too in the future, or just re-do it then. Basically, students would look for similarities and differences in the crimes described as well as the communities in which they took place. I'm hoping they'd get that there is violence and that they are minority communities in Chicago, maybe that the violence seems common in both, but that people actually die in the real-life one, there are definite gang ties in reality, not always witnesses, and that the community reacts.
  2. Split-class debate. I have a series of charged statements related mostly to America, but that has students draw parallels to the article to agree or disagree. Things like "La policia no protege a la gente del barrio de America" or "Hay pandillas en el barrio de America" or "Muchas personas mueren por causa de violencia en el barrio de America" are offered to students to create an initial agree/disagree and why response. And now, when I "sweeten the deal," I offer double candies in the jar when students respond directly to a classmate.

    06 November 2011

    Diigo for research in Spanish & English classes

    Spanish III used Diigo to take notes on the lives of prominent Spanish and Mexican artists (plus 1 cubano and 1 uruguayo). English I will use it to take notes on agricultural practices that could be used in Nigeria.

    The advantages to using Diigo note-taking in general for me:

    1. No paper mess for me or students to keep track of/lose/forget to bring to class or take home!
    2. Students can submit a link to their notes list for the assignment through Edmodo, which means both I and my students can get back to the notes any time! (provided, of course, we have secured computer and internet access--much easier with our "open" WiFi network for student computers plus 10 laptops on a cart plus 3--THREE!--desktops that now reside in my classroom)
    3. I have links not only to the original texts for quick validity verification, but also to the material students plan to quote--and then, of course, give credit to--so, potentially less googling of suspicious phrases
    4. We have no library or media center at my tiny school, and the public library does not open until English class is 2/3 over, so electronic sources are pretty much the way to go for our class.
    5. Oh yeah, save some trees 'n' stuff.

    For a Spanish class, there are still more advantages:

    1. Students are locating and accessing authentic texts in the TL!
    2. The very selection of notes appropriate to the assignment is an interpretive task, whether they are going by key words like nació or using cognates to decipher basic information about the artist's influences and education or actually piecing together whole chunks of someone's life story!

    3. Using the sticky note option to paraphrase is a valuable strategy to practice for communication and provides a stepping stone for creating something more presentational at the end

    Before beginning, students will need to create a Diigo account and add Diigolet to their favorites or bookmarks (depending on the browser). If your district is like mine and has Deep Freeze to wipe the hard drive every time computers shut off, they may have to add Diigolet many, many times, depending on how long they will have to work on the assignment.

    For optimal assignment submission, here is what I suggest students do once their accounts and apps are set up:

    1. Have students "Create a new list" (bottom of left-hand column). Ideally, you will assign the title, something like "Laura's Nigerian Sources" that not only tells you who submitted them, but which assignment it was for immediately
    2. Make sure the list is public and in the Schools & Education category. Assigning keywords like your name, your school's name, and specific topics students will get into could potentially be helpful.
    3. Brainstorm possible key terms for searching with students before setting them loose--especially in Spanish, because if they're searching with English terms, they'll get English results, but if they search with Spanish terms...let's just say some students learned the hard way that searching "biography" made it seem impossible to find Spanish sites, but "biografia" made it really easy.
    4. When students have found a viable source, they should begin highlighting information relevant to their assignment, but for everything they highlight, they should add a sticky note paraphrasing in their own words OR a sticky note that asks a question about what they're highlighting or that suggests a connection to the topic of research. It all takes me back to my methods of teaching English classes and "having a dialogue with the text."
    5. After students have highlighted and noted up an article, they should return to their Diigo library and edit the article entry. (There may be a quicker way to do this, but it's not coming to me). As they edit, they should do two things: put an MLA (or whatever style suits your subject) citation for the article in the description. I've been a fan of citationmachine.net for a long time, but I've been tinkering with Word's bibliography function, and then @MrsAlander had to go and rock my world and send me something that might just replace both Diigo AND Citationmachine for me! The second thing they should do as they edit is add that article to the assignment list.
    6. When the requisite number of articles (I told Spanish III three--not a very in-depth bio required--and English I will need 5) has been reached, students will need to open their assignment lists in Diigo, click on the Permalink button, and copy that permalink.
    7. From there, we go to the assignment you have given them on Edmodo (or perhaps Engrade?), and they paste the link in the Turn-in box and submit! Voila! You can access their notes from any computer, give 'em a grade, and comment on what they still need and/or what they can do xt!
    Diigo has served me well in my graduate classes (except for PDF's...grr) and also in planning the aforementioned English unit. I practiced citing and annotating with Diigo to help decide which direction to take with  the agriculture project and come up with topics for students to add to on an Engrade wiki.

    Electronic note-taking is a valuable 21st century skill, a way to help organize our students and ourselves, and a worthwhile assignment

    03 November 2011

    Pre-bake sale nerves

    I woke up an hour before my alarm, anxiety over the bake sale to send school supplies to La Laja in Colombia stalking up and down my brain. I calculated that if every pair from class brings one batch of their goodies, and if every batch includes an average of a dozen servings, and we sell every serving at $1, we will still probably only come up with half.

    The good news is that an ESL teacher from a neighboring middle school (also a student's mom) has proposed a "Change the World" change drive for her classes that I might take and run with my own. In the meantime, I have to figure out how to figure out how to get us up to $300 to ship what we collected. So here's what they anxiety has drudged up for me to do:

    1. Remember to bring slicing implements along with the saran wrap and dishes to parcel out the goodies.

    2. Get mailing labels from the secretary to put nutrition labels on each (calculations courtesy of the Algebra class), perhaps set them up with things like calorias, grasa, carbohidratos, azucar, sal on them.

    3. Create a slide show of photos from Ayudando Ando's page to show who we're helping, maybe set it to Juanes' "Odio por amor."

    4. Find a computer to run said slide show on while I'm dealing with parents and report cards (and have Sr. Sexton run that!)

    5. Hurry and get the thank you's written so we can receive our cameras from Donors Choose.

    6.. Contact Zai Cargo about the impending shipment and seek their advice on what to do about the cameras not shipping to us until January 3rd when I should be on maternity leave.

    7. Get a couple of humongous boxes to pack all of the supplies we've gathered, then re-weigh them, picking out things that are not up to par (perhaps the garbage bags full of clothes that arrived AFTER the due date for supplies).

    8. Put together lessons on nosotros for students to A) write letters about what we're sending, B) perhaps set up "Change the World" begging boxes in Plaza Latina and the carniceria we visited recently, explaining what we need and why, and C) to Skype with the chavitos in La Laja.

    9. Make sure we have a table to set up on for the bake sale tonight complete with a student poster to advertise.

    10. Make sure I'll have a couple of students showing up by 6:00!

    Now, if I can just breathe and get all of this together!

    24 October 2011

    In with the old

    Find the updated project here
    This project was not fully cooked when I started teaching it. It's also lain dormant for at least two years, maybe four. I really did have some good ideas in the olden days, but they do need to be reexamined and revamped to work now.

    I'm teaching Spanish 3 now for the first time, and art-related lessons are sort of de rigeur for such a course. Students will be making voicethreads about artist-activists, for which I pre-selected a handful and let them choose among them. I wanted to cut off the excuse of not enough information, but I would like to open the project up more in the future. I also didn't want 2 students to have unfair advantages because I already had materials on Kahlo and Botero...plus a girl's gotta give examples, right?

    However, I had to adapt my presentation and my approach as I dusted off the electronic cobwebs on my Botero presentation. Here's what I changed:

    1. Updated information
    What's true about Botero's art has not changed significantly in the last 4 years (that I'm aware), but Colombia did go from #3 in the world for antipersonal mines to #2. Yikes. I also added a link to the Remangate YouTube video (which gives me chills and makes me cry every time).

    2. Total TL...almost
    I may not teach even 80% in the TL, even in Spanish 3 yet (I get too tired to keep it up, still!), but I figured that all of the written input could be in Spanish by that level, and that I could paraphrase in Spanish along with it, using context clues like gestures along with the pictures provided to get the point across. And though I aspire to have an "English box" where students have to go to speak English in my classroom, I am not there yet, and I still encourage some of them to shout out what they're thinking, kind of like we're playing charades...which...we kind of are.

    Also, I had a provision in the original project allowing Spanish 1 to formulate their own activist statements in English; it has been eradicated. Just as I am pushing simple Spanish in their outside-of-class activities, that may or may not be "correct," they need to take risks at least making an artistic statement here. And, I had students stop for each pop-up question and respond in Spanish. However, I did still let them talk it out in English (New Schools Project calls it "classroom talk," and it is one of the 6 strategies we espouse).

    3. Break it down
    I am out sick with no voice today, so I'm having students submit their artistic statements through Edmodo, and I made it clear they needed 3 parts: the problem to be addressed, how it'll be depicted (with respect to proportion, position, and color), and how it connects to Botero's art. Statements were a little wishy-washy back in the day, even though they were in English.

    Also, I insisted that students draw before taking it to the sculptural level to make sure that it was not just play dough time. Not that the sculptures weren't cute the first time, but they did not exactly make use of position or color most of the time and were harder to interpret.

    In the future, I think I would like to take more time to debate (in Spanish) good topics to portray and how they can be portrayed, too. When the art is finished, I think we should have a little gallery walk, too.

    14 October 2011

    Making a mess

    One of last year's more memorable Spanish 1 lessons involved blindfolding students and making them touch slimy things. We are preparing for a bake sale so we can ship the supplies we collected for La Laja in Colombia (hopefully, along with some video cameras to share messages between our students and theirs), so I broke the lesson out earlier this time. Plus our school's STEM theme this quarter is nutrition, so, why not? Algebra will help calculate nutrition labels after science and health classes talk about calories, so it works out!

    I've condensed the unit in the interest of making our bake sale happen by November 3rd, and in the interest of keeping our dishes marketable for such an occasion. Also, instead of opening up the whole internet and insisting on country-specific dishes, I checked out all of the viable Spanish-language cookbooks I could from the library (and bought a couple myself). I had Sr. Sexton thumb through them to find bake-sale-worthy foods, and I scanned and uploaded 19 recipes to my Edmodo library for student perusal.

    1. I gave students a list of 23 ingredients gleaned from 2 or more of the 19 recipes--in English. They then worked with partners and the Edmodo folder of recipes to try to figure out how to say those ingredients in Spanish. We talked a lot (I in the TL) about using context clues like cognates, measurements, pictures, and structure to figure out what was what.

    Still some tried using translators. And they got results that were not applicable to the recipes they would be interpreting. We had a long talk (not in the TL) about the importance of forming connections and how translators formed ZERO connections compared to the plethora of ways recipe interpreting would.

    2. I gave students slips of paper with the words printed on them. I told them (in the TL) to divide all the words into 2 categories (most went for solid/liquid) that they could explain. Then I had them copy the catetories into their notes without English, thinking they could review using semantic connections. Then I had them come up with completely new vocabulary categories, 3 this time, and copy those. "Advanced" kids who got ahead had to try 4. I shot down alphabetical arrangements, which have been shown to do nothing for meaning acquisition.

    3. We interpreted part of a Spanish Wikipedia article about dulce de leche to reinforce the idea of interpreting instead of translating and how to use context clues like cognates, discourse structure, and background knowledge, to apply a couple of the other vocabulary words from the list.

    4. We practiced vocabulary with a powerpoint of images for each word.

    Set up
    I procured the ingredients not available in my cabinet and, with Sr. Sexton's help, filled sealable baggies, each ingredient in its own baggie--double for liquids (though I did forget the miel). I numbered these baggies with permanent marker on both sides, aligning with a corresponding list. Then I ripped up some fabric remnants to make blindfolds.

    I gave students directions in Spanish, had them make one long table out of several trapezoid tables before I spread the baggies out on them. Then they chose partners. Each partner had to number a piece of paper 1-24, which would be filled out by their associates who guided them while they were blindfolded.

    Unblindfolded partners wandered away from their impaired partners leaving them stranded. Blindfolded students tripped over cords and dropped baggies of oil, milk, flour, and oatmeal. Most of the baggies ended up at one end of the table, resulting in major bottlenecking. Most of the baggie numbers were rubbed off by the time it was the other partners' turn to feel.

    When blindfolds switched heads, I decreed (and resorted to English) that blindfolded partners line up on one side of our "banquet table," and the unblindfolded on the other. Unblindfolded parties were henceforth required to hold the baggies for their sightless counterparts and stay with them; baggies were to be evenly exchanged and distributed. Spills were to be cleaned up as soon as they happened (hooray for the parent who works for a paper company and got us oodles of paper towels!). I referred to my list, guessed as best I could, and vowed to put stickers on the baggies next time.

    Given freshman maturity levels, it was probably wiser when I did this lesson closer to the semester mark than when they were still basically middle schoolers. Also, even though this worked better than trying to get the whole class to attend to one pair at a time (as I did with much smaller classes last year), my carpet was not, shall we say, grateful for the original modifications applied to the lesson. Perhaps this would be better accomplished in the cafeteria? I should also have Lysol wipes instead of baby wipes on hand, and a broom and/or vacuum, with sweeping and/or vacuum time built into the class period with pre-selected "volunteers" to accomplish said sweeping and/or vacuuming.

     I should probably pick the partners ahead of time, too, and lay out guidelines for good partnership in a blindfold-related situation.  And though I justified doing this experience first so it could inform the Piramides game, students probably needed more practice with the vocabulary before diving into blind guessing, so I really should have done that and possibly Pictionary before this lesson, too.

    Still, I heard students guessing what the substance was, prompting each other to say it in Spanish, giving each other clues, so, though it was a mess in so many ways, I think I'll probably still make it happen again next year.

    09 October 2011

    Critics and Converts

    If I were a "worksheet queen" (and I was) exploring #langchat for the first time, I think I would be offended and hurt and never want to come back again. I do not think I would grow and become a better teacher. I think I would be insulted and overwhelmed and go back to doing what I knew how to do. Had I not already been through all of those emotions starting the National Boards process before discovering Thursday #langchat, I'm not sure I would have been back myself. 

    With condescending references to "grammarians...worksheet teachers" and retweets of (my own) frustrated comments about language teachers who believe in "wkshts & grammr oriented "controllable" classes,"what message are we sending to our colleagues? New converts can be the harshest critics, and I'm proof. But will this ever help our kids or our cause?

    "Opposition always inflames the enthusiast, never converts him." Friedrich Schiller

    Of the four language teachers I had in junior high/high school, there was one I would not group strictly with the grammarians (she is kind of my idol and my daughter-to-be's namesake), and there was another (who wore go-go boots at 80) who did expose us to a movie from Haiti and some memoirs from French Indochina (I was a late convert to Spanish, too), in between all of the schema we had to make of every possible conjugation of every possible French verb. My German teachers? STRICT textbook addicts, though one did show us the little textbook videos about fake German kids.

    I see myself trying to convert the Frau and Herr German teacher of my past education, even the Sras and Srtas with whom I've worked as a teacher myself...and I don't see it happening. What do I say to the teacher racing around the room explaining--in English--her worksheet about infinitives, roots, and subject pronouns? What about the teacher who was supposed to be demonstrating classroom control for me who took glazed eyes and open notebooks while she wrote charts on the board as "engagement"?

    Who am I to challenge these people? How can we reform language education without buy-in beforehand?

    “I believe that the very effort to convert anybody is violence, it is interfering in his individuality, in his uniqueness, into his freedom.” Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

    I have not yet won a single colleague to join #langchat on Thursdays, perhaps because I am my own department and my graduate school colleagues are simply not that "techy." I'm too dubious about their receptiveness to tell almost-complete strangers to join in. And when another language teacher says to my face, "Fortunately, they don't think about it too much and just do the project and forget it," what middle ground is there between throwing a righteous hissy fit and smiling politely as if in agreement? How do I say to someone who has been teaching as long as I have--or longer--with the same credentials--or more--that what they are doing is wrong? 

    If another teacher observing me told me that about my methods, I would be a livid bonfire of outrage. If another teacher had just questioned the validity of worksheets and games back when I started teaching, I would have melted into a confused puddle: that was pretty much the only way I learned myself, and I could not conceive of alternatives, much less how to make them happen.

    “To convert somebody, go and take them by the hand and guide them.” St. Thomas Aquinas

    If we can get our colleagues to a conference, then we have broken through the barrier. If a colleague asks for help and comes to us saying, "I want to make this better but don't know how," we have an in. These are people who are already receptive to change, and getting a hold of their proverbial hands to guide them is not so hard. I imagine offering a professional development workshop for my district, but I am plagued with doubt. Would people even want to show up? Would they be put out at having one more thing to do? Would I even be able to say things that they could hear?
    I could probably get my friend from grad school in on it, since I am mostly an isolated unknown in my district, and we could make it sort of a vertical alignment planning session. Maybe with her help, we could get some buy-in...

    "The greatest religions convert the world through stories." Ben Okri

    Of course I could do a little razzle-dazzle with Twitter and #langchat summaries to show what's available at the click of a mouse, but I suspect that most people I would encounter are not, as my professor put it when I showed her #langchat, "language geeks" like I have become. I will have to show them what I have done and, if possible, get my colleague to do the same. We will have to bring evidence. (So THIS is what National Boards was setting me up for! Sneaky, sneaky National Boards...)
    Things I could show:
    • Tweets and emails from Ayudando Ando, plus photos of the mountains of stuff to send to Colombia sitting in the corner of my room (until our bakesale to collect shipping) and perhaps the Donors Choose projects to get cameras to share with La Laja
    • Cooking shows from last year's Spanish 1
    • Glogs from students' trips to Plaza Latina
    • La llaman America and other picture books teachers could use for context
    • Symbaloos on Afrolatinos and Narcocorridos?
    • Video interviews of students (especially in Spanish 2 & 3)?
    • Video of grammar lessons in the TL?
    "Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning." Frederick William Faber

    If I can put enough resources within their reach, get enough ideas going, maybe they can start experimenting like I did. We'll have to be in touch for when they get frustrated...like I did. And it will have to start small, digestible, like I wish I did.

    If we are going to make converts of our colleagues, if we are going to make language learning meaningful for all students in all classrooms, I think we are going to have to be more careful with how we approach the unconverted. We are going to have to make conversion to things like teaching in the target language, interpersonal communication, community building, and surviving without worksheets accessible. People who still rely on the methods that taught me use them because they think they are the best option, because those methods are what they understand. 

    "Grammarians" and "worksheet teachers" should not be treated as sinister opponents in the battle for the soul of language education or bumps to be steamrolled on our way to communicative nirvana. They should not feel attacked by people who (at least think they) already have the answers. They should be guided, shown what focusing on the 5 C's instead of conjugation and precision can do for their students. They should not be sidelined until they agree to cooperate: they should be incorporated in the movement.

    So how can we make this possible in our weekly #langchats? How can we make this happen in our schools?

    02 October 2011

    "Beefed up" grammar lesson in the TL

    I had to present a 10-minute mini-mini-mini grammar lesson to a small group in my grad class on Thursday. And now, I have to "beef it up" by adding 2 of the following things we've been reading about:

    • positive input enhancement--where you use underlines, caps, bold, and (I think) vocal inflection and gestures to emphasize the specific focus of your lesson.
    • pre-communicative practice--this is where focus on form comes with little or no meaning. I can feel the #langchat PLN cringing already (some may recall my bewildered tweet about my textbook supporting worksheets), but the more I think about it, I hold that a little confidence with at least one thing before the risk-taking begins is probably beneficial.
    • careful and vernacular style activities--careful being those activities where form and correctness is the emphasis, vernacular being those activities where you are trying to get your point across, actually communicate. I agree that there is a time and a place for each--though probably more times and places for vernacular.
    • information gap activities--it seems that activities where the student doesn't already know the answer actually work better than activities where they do! Fancy that!
    Honestly, I probably had the positive input enhancement covered when I put the lesson on gustar/ encantar/ interesar/ aburrir (gracias, @senordaves!) together, and a touch of the pre-communicative/ careful practice. Nevertheless, I "beefed them up," as per the assignment, and added an information gap activity. 

    The document I'm submitting is here, should you wish to adapt it or see the whole, gory thing. Otherwise, here's a sample: 
    1. Post a sign in each corner of the classroom (for me gusta, me encanta, me interesa, & me aburre respectively). 
    2. Say: “Tengo una lista de objetos y personas.” (show list) “Cada persona u objeto…” (point at ítems on list one by one) “o te gusta” (go to gusta corner, point at sign, give thumbs up, repeat) “o te ENCAAAAANTA” (go to encanta corner, point at sign, put hands on heart, repeat) “o te interesa” (stroke chin, point at sign, look interested, repeat) “o te ABUUUUURRE” (go to aburre corner, point at sign, exasperated voice, roll eyes, slouch, repeat). [positive input enhancement w/ gestures & voicing]
    3.  “Si te gusta el objeto o la persona, vienes aquí.”(plant self in gusta corner) “Te gusta, aquí.” (go to next corner) “Si te encanta, vienes aquí” (plant self in encanta corner) “Te ENCAAANTA, aquí.” (go to next corner) “Si te interesa el objeto o la persona, vienes aquí.” (plant self in interesa corner) “Te interesa, aquí.” (go to last corner) “Si te ABUURRRE, vienes aquí.” (plant self in aburre corner) “Te aburre, aquí."
    4. “Pero PRIMERO (hold up 1 finger), ¡necesitamos PAPEL (show paper) y LÁPIZ (show pencil)! Vamos a tomar NOTAS (mime writing). Cuando tú VES(point to eyes), VES algo sorprendente, que es una SORPRESA (mime shock), escríbelo.  Cuando OBSERVAS tus compañeros de clase y VES una SORPRESA (mime shock), apuntas (mime writing).
    5. Por ejemplo: ‘[student’s name], ¿¿A TI TE encanta DAVID BISBAL?? ¡A mí me encanta David Bisbal también! ¡Qué sorpresa!’ (mime writing) *O* ‘[another student name] ¿TE ABURRE la clase de ESPAÑOL? ¿La clase es ABURRIDA para ti? ¡No sabía! ¡Qué SORPRESA! (mime writing)¡Qué horror!
    6. “Entonces, necesitas ANOTAR (mime writing) al MENOS CINCO (hold up 5 fingers) CINCO sorpresas cuando observas las otras personas. CINCO sorpresas de la clase en tus nota.
    7.  Go back around the room pointing at signs, doing voices, and gestures: “O te GUSTA…o te ENCAAAANTA…o te interesa…o te ABUUUUURRREEE, ¿sí?” (nod, get them to nod or say sí) “Te gusta (point), te encanta (point), te interesa (point), o te aburre (point). Bien. Empezamos."
    8. “Número uno: chocolate…Hershey’s, Snickers… Te gusta el chocolate (point), Te ENCAAANTA el chocolate (point), Te interesa el chocolate (point), o te ABUUURRE el chocolate (point). Ahora, muévense.”
    9. Interview one or two students at each corner, e.g. “¿Te gusta? ¿No te encanta?” Prompt for “Me gusta” and “No me encanta” with “¿Sí, qué?” etc [pre-communicative practice, focus on form with a little meaning]
    10.  Repeat steps 8 & 9 with   Enrique Iglesias (with pic),   Japón “Tokio, Nagasaki, Harajuko, Anime, Manga…”,   Leer (demonstrate reading w/ book),    Shakira (with pic),   Estudiar historia (point to student history book),   Pizza, Bailar salsa (do a little dance).
    11.  “¿Todos tienen uno o dos sorpresas? Acuérdense: necesitan CINCO (5 fingers). OBSERVEN (fingers to eyes, then different students) tus compañeros de clase. Continuamos."
    12.  “Ahora es un poco diferente, solo un poco (use fingers to show a little bit). Una letra, de hecho, una (1 finger) letra, N.  Los objetos de la lista y las personas de la lista ya son plurales (wiggle all fingers). Los objetos son plurales y las personas son plurales. Entonces (go to gusta corner, point to sign) te gustAN, (go to encanta corner, point to sign) te encantAN, (go to interesa corner, point to sign) te interesAN, o (go to aburre corner, point to sign) te aburrEN."
    13.   Back to center of room, point to each corner—with voices and gestures: “Te gustAN, te encantAN, te interesAN, te aburrEN. ¿Sí? OK, nuevo número uno: Transformers—Optimus Prime, Autobots, Decepticons, Shia LeBouef, Megan Fox--Transformers. (pointing to corners) Te gustan Transformers, Te encantan Transformers, Te interesan Transformers, o te aburren transformers?"
    14.   Repeat steps 8 & 9 with Frijoles, muchachos GUAPOS, islas tropicales, mujeres inteligentes, deportes de Duke.
    And then they ask the ones that surprised them "why," to be discussed and expanded to using the pronoun le.

    01 October 2011

    Enrichment is a beautiful thing

    We had set aside Fridays for remediation during school hours. We tried a few different ways, and students looked forward to Fridays--as do-nothing days. We handed out "invitation" tickets, let them sign up, signed them up ourselves, but still some wriggled away to the wrong sessions...or further. So last year, we switched to the daily built-in model. And we stuck with it this year.

    It did not take long to discover that first year that there were students in our school who simply did not need remediation, and even a few who generally stayed ahead of the game and were left twiddling their thumbs. And so "remediation" became "Enrichment," and we called on our non-academic skills to offer alternatives to entertain and delight the twiddlers while those who needed extra help could get it in a suitably small environment. The math teacher and I almost always have a full set of kids we hand pick for more help, but others tend to bide their time until AP testing time and have runaway hit Enrichments like Rock & Roll History. And even I am excited by our newest (chemistry!) teacher's Clowning 101 Enrichment!

    Instead of signing up every week, like in the olden days, Enrichment now lasts about a month and meets 3 days a week, keeping the shepherding manageable and "lost lambs" to a minimum. Granted, it can be a little harder to come up with an Enrichment that is worth doing for a month, but it works well for things like getting the school newsletter out and making sure that students really get it when they leave.

    In the meantime, I have picked a full house of young ones for a variety of reasons for this next session:

    • Some need me no more than a foot away to have the confidence/will power to get through an entire assignment
    • Some need to be able to ask a question as soon as it arises so they have no more excuses to quit
    • Some need materials that they can't forget on the kitchen table
    • Some just need a little time to catch their breaths, double check, and catch up to be solidly above water
    • Some are right on the border of total mastery, so they know what it is to struggle to get it, which means they make EXCELLENT teachers for the others--plus they care about grades and understanding enough to put up with a month of me to be able to get to that A
    My list was whittled down to 15 kids, it looks like, due to conflicting Enrichments *shakes fist at math and yearbook*. This makes dealing with all of these needs more attainable, but I'm still going to have to juggle, especially with the 3 or so that need my undivided attention

    Did I mention that Enrichment is like adding a fifth prep to my class load?

    So here's what I'm going to do: each of the undivided set will get my attention for at least 20 minutes, one of them per day. I will set a goal for each of them for the week at the beginning to be achieved by the week's end. If it is not accomplished, then they will spend time after school with me, perhaps involving a contract for each. Perhaps I will have something lower order yet flashy (computer-type game) for them to practice with to reward themselves.

    For the excuse-removing set, I will also give them a list of things to catch up/things they'll have to do that week. This might mean giving them some of the upcoming concepts/tasks before the rest of their classes (they tend to thrive when they think they're ahead of the game...as long as they can be pushed to stay that way). They will need at least 15 minutes of my time set aside to set them up. I will have to find ways to present the materials without my having to be present the rest of the time, ie well-written project assignments or detailed notes.

    The materials set will also need a make-up list, of course. They will probably need computers for the online assignments that they have trouble getting around to. Then maybe they could join the excuse group to get ahead (then those who are a little ahead could teach those who struggle a little!)

    For breath-catching, again, a make-up list, and maybe a little lower order review to build confidence, and maybe some scheduled interpersonal practice with the almost-mastery set. And then, of course, the ahead-of-the-game work.

    Enrichment is a beautiful thing. There is something for everyone in the school, and it gives us a chance to SOMEHOW meet a wide range of needs that are hard to meet during regular class hours. And maybe this one will even keep me ahead.

    30 September 2011

    Bringing my classroom to the community

    A la panaderia
    I have heard it called "the elusive 5th C." When I started teaching Spanish, I was more than a little put off that I was expected to do something so unheard of in any other discipline. As Skype got fancier, however, and Twitter opened up connections and communication possibility previously beyond my rural North Carolina reach, I started to warm up to the idea of obligatory community interaction.

    And I started to make it happen.

    Sure, it was one thing contacting people through Epals or Skype in the classroom, something where "community" had a broader, more global (or at least national) sense. It was quite another, however, to find means and opportunity and excuses to take class on the road, so to speak, and get them talking to people face to face, within blocks of our very schoolhouse. But I did it.

    I got clearance from the man, I bribed the one certified bus driver on staff with promises of free Mexican snacks convinced a colleague to transport us, I got out the permission slips, I made fliers and spoke with proprietors at eight cooperative locations in the "Little Mexico" shopping center a few blocks from my house, I had classes come up with questions related to our text, I whipped up a notes sheet  (and some stickers that said "Por favor, no me hablen en ingles"), I texted/called/emailed parents of students without permission slips, and I did it. I took each of my two Spanish 2 classes to Plaza Latina to "interview" people at local businesses: to find out where they're from, what they do, and how they feel about Plaza Latina. And to have a bite to eat, of course.

    Just as America's walk to school is described in La llaman America, so my students will be describing a walk through the Plaza. Well, theirs will probably be more of a guide to the Plaza. And they actually know the people's names, not just where they're from and what they do. And I hope they got a similar sense of security in the small community that the 9-year-old character from our book got.

    Meanwhile, we've used their notes from the trip to have some semi-scripted interpersonal discussions using saber and conocer as well as object pronouns; students had to find two things for each student in class that both they and the other student knew after the trip. Then I quizzed them on people they met, a round-robin who-knows-whom sort of thing.

    I have to say, that turning the community into my classroom was pretty taxing in the preparation. But the confidence of the students who "ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD!" afterward and the sense of belonging fostered by at least being introduced to people that might have been hidden to them otherwise definitely made the trip worth it.

    I'll just have to remember to get permission slips for the other teacher's class that I drag along next time, and I think that'll take care of the last wrinkle!

    24 September 2011

    Transition to Engrade

    This means I'm going to have to keep up with grading.

    I have set up a gradebook with Engrade for all 5 of my classes this year. I have entered the vast majority of titles for assignments given so far this year. I have entered, oh, maybe half of the grades for these assignments; some still languish in the Edmodo gradebook or on Glogster projects...or post-its. Others, frankly, have not been graded.

    However, progress reports are to go out Monday and Tuesday (A Day/ B Day schedule, don't you know), so it's now or never.

    At least two of my colleagues are completely in love with Engrade. I think these colleagues grade everything the same day they get it anyway. Also, they are kind of my gurus in the push to go paperless...ish. Plus, my principal (though I think he's still seeking an online gradebook where he can just upload CSV files or something for his Theater Arts class) has said as long as we keep the Engrade grades updated, we don't have to enter anything but the final grade each quarter in our compulsory official state-sanctioned clunky online gradebook. Hooray for administrative support!

    I mean, parents and students can't check NCWise at will, so really, we're more accountable and transparent this way. So why shouldn't he grant us that?

    So far, Engrade has not exactly convinced me to go to prom with it, but there are a few reasons that I'm still allowing it to pitch woo.

    Doubts/ don't love:
    • Entering names & student numbers by hand. One. By. One.
    • Not to mention their e-mails and parent e-mails.
    • What the heck is the difference between adding an assignment to Discussions and to Turn-ins? Is it supposed to do what I've been using Edmodo for?
    • Why the heck would it give me the option "Allow students to see Assignment"? Is that for us perpetually procrastinatory types? For those who are so far ahead they don't want to freak out their class when they add things to the book?
    • If there is a way to share students with my co-workers, I don't know what it is yet.
    Of course, Engrade's wingman, our unofficial tech rep (now that our IT staff went from 2 to 1 for the whole DISTRICT) and social studies profesor, is set to answer some of these questions. That and maybe he'll show me how to do useful things with categories like Quizzes, Discipline, Discussions, Comments, Standards, and Seating (though I kind of doubt they have anything compatible with my trapezoidal table set-up).

    Do like:
    • I can just push space after a grade and comment on the reason behind it, thus facilitating the tracking of students whose "late penalty" is served in time after school rather than points.
    • The simplicity of new assignments being the closest, and the old ones being the ones pushed off screen, theoretically past their grading window.
    • Auto-save!
    • Averages: by assignment and by class
    • I can invite parents/students by e-mail (that's the only reason you really need to collect those one by one) OR just give them a code to access grades
    • Once parents/students have access, they can check any time they feel like...and I don't have to call or e-mail to keep them in the know!
    • Oh yeah, and FREE!
    I still have a lot to discover about Engrade, its benefits and its pitfalls, and hopefully our little professional development session will get me the rest of the way. I am, after all, still in transition phase.

    22 September 2011

    Divide and conquer

    I cannot handle a class of 25 freshmen after 1:00. OK, 22 freshmen and a couple of sophomores and juniors. I haven't had a class over 22 in over 3 years so, yes, I'm spoiled. And to pile all of those kids I've never met into one class at the end of the day, I have 3.5 other preps (Debate being the .5), not to mention the hiccuping fetus the size of a large eggplant...AND no AC.

    On top of that, the curriculum says these are the kids that need to learn school supplies and household items, so I'm trying to get them to assemble supplies to ship to a school in need in Colombia.

    In short: I am in over my head.

    In a moment of exasperation, I had students write me letters (not in the TL, I'm afraid) explaining what this project means to them and how we can make it work. By and large, the response to the former was "a lot" and "helping people is good." The response to the latter consisted mostly of "grow up," "focus," and a few suggesting smaller groups.

    That is how I will have to handle this, I thought. Not as 25 at a time, but 4,4,4,4,4, and 5. I used our Sternberg results until I ran out of creatives and analyticals. I tried to make groups that would not kill each other that were also heterogeneous in ability (the sort of grouping I've heard prescribed for learning new materials, homogeneous being for review). I let them write on cards whom they would trade out and then whom they would trade in, but I'm just keeping those until I see problems that do appear to be caused by group dynamics.

    All of this would probably be fine, were it not that we had a copying crisis declared in our district. I've found many ways to cut back, sending most things out on Edmodo and projecting the rest. However, activities on the projector = whole class activities, which, by the transverse property of equality = my mind exploding.

    So of course, 10 minutes before the end of lunch, I have a brainwave as to how to do the semantic mapping/group planning activity A) without the interactive whiteboard (for which I had already finished setting it up--of course) and B) without making copies which students would have to cut up and leave strewn about my room. I enlisted Glogster for something much less glorious than its usual fanciful projects.

    I took all of the items that all of the groups said they wanted to pack into backpacks for La Laja and added them to a glog, text item by text item. I made 2 categories: "mi grupo" and "todos grupos" so students could add items to "mi grupo" if the school would not need tons and "todos grupos" for things they would surely need a lot of. AND they deleted the things that we had decided were "imposible" to ship based on fragility or liquid content. Each student did their own glog, meaning they had to talk about the vocabulary. They also added something to represent the group name they'd picked previously for a little extra solidarity.

    The lab happened to be open yesterday. It is not likely to be open every day. Also, technology cannot save everything. Part of my problem is also that I have been letting my plans flounder a little too much because of all of the unknown territory. So now, I must set some solid goals, some outcomes for this unit, aside from shipping some packages to Colombia. Having spoken with my Twitter contact in Colombia via Skype, I can at least say that we need not worry about sending too much of any one thing.

    So here are the goals:

    • Get students to bring in as many of the supplies from their lists as they can by Thursday .
    • Have students write "apology notes" (that probably won't send) about things we can't send and why (more semantic grouping!).
    • Get a list of October birthdays (so our classes can sing to each other!)
    • Obtain (donated?) backpacks for each group
    • "Quiz" individuals by having them name things as they go in the backpack or as they take them out
    • Weigh backpacks and calculate postage (in Algebra?)
    • Plan how to obtain postage (local churches? fundraisers?) by group?
    • Learn birthday song in Spanish?
    • Brainstorm introductory vocabulary/phrases in groups
    • Learn about "nosotros," "nuestro," and accompanying verb forms
    • Write class group introduction letters
    • Learn about "yo," "mi," "me gusta," and accompanying verb forms
    • Create individual/group? introductory videos: familia, amigos, escuela, comunidad
    • Plan skype questions for children (ustedes, su, les gusta, verb forms)
    These could take a while to accomplish, but now, I think I'm starting to get a picture of where this is going and how to split up the class to make something worthwhile happen. I'll just have to remember to do as much through their groups as I can.

    16 September 2011

    Pop star backtalk

    Two things were missing: interpersonal interaction and sufficient authentic input. Also, engagement had been stretched a little thin, either by note-taking (although in a form not quite as dry as other methods) or a pretty solid week of writing and revising.

    My Spanish 3 pack needed to be exposed to more artists to be able to choose a song for their favorite, and we had started off with a little Fonsi, so we needed someone female, less pop: Adassa, Colombian-American reggaetonera.

    For Spanish 2, I cannibalized a powerpoint from two years back that I had used for starters back then, and I added a little more variety. Spanish 2 gets...
    • A Mexican pop group (Reik)
    • A Spanish pop group (La Oreja de Van Gogh)
    • A Mexican regional star (Marco Antonio Solis)
    • A Puerto Rican reggaetonero (Don Omar)
    • A Colombian rock god (Juanes)
    • A Mexican pop-rock star (Julieta Venegas)
    • A pair of Puerto Rican reggaetoneros (Rakim y Ken-Y)
    And now also
    • A Cuban singer-songwriter (Amaury Gutiérrez)
    • A (fictional?) Mexican bubble gum pop star (Lola)
    • My boyfriend from Spain with a sort of dance tune (David Bisbal)
    To refresh: 4 Mexican acts, 2 Spanish acts, 2 Puerto Rican acts, a Cuban, and a Colombian, 3 females, 2 Afrolatinos. (I am afraid now I sacrificed ethnic and gender diversity for genre diversity...)

    Spanish 3 got the whole song, "No me compares," by Adassa, and Spanish 2 got snippets containing object pronouns from all of the artists listed above. Both classes, however, talked back to the songs.

    First of all "No me compares" is a nice, juicy, accusatory break-up song. So Spanish 3 students first practiced responding to lines I'd picked out to be a bit inflammatory, but responding as an enamored beau trying to win the singer back. Then, they responded as cruelly as they could (which was still extremely genteel from a couple of the ladies). And then, they picked out lines to use to accuse someone else, and they went head to head with a classmate, who had to respond as the accused off the top of their heads.

    It was sort of a semi-interpersonal experience, but I think a nice middle ground, an exercise with training wheels, perhaps, to capture a little of the ability to answer appropriately (although saying the accuser had "the hair of my grandmother" does not usually fall under the realm of "appropriate") under fire.

    Similarly, Spanish 2 had to answer the singers, but with incredulity, questioning everything each singer said using an object pronoun. If Reik said "Me encanta la idea," then they said "Te encanta?" If Rakim y Ken-Y said "Me matas," they asked "Te mato?" It was not authentic conversation, of course, but I contend it was building up skills to be able to converse, that they were learning to confirm and clarify: key interpersonal skills.

    Again, in the name of saving copies, I had them create their own worksheet, listing the artists' names and leaving the number of lines indicated by each name to indicate how many questions they would be asking in response to each.

    In other words, I used input from authentic texts for inauthentic texts, which I hoped would engage them and build up to more authentic tasks. Now, I suppose I just have to see if they can hold their own when they actually need verification or when involved in real spats in Spanish.

    14 September 2011

    P.A.C.E. yourself: teaching grammar

    If you have to teach grammar, teach it authentically. Use models by native speakers for native speakers, and break down

    Presentation. Attention. Co-Construct an explanation. Extension activity.

    P.A.C.E. kind of reminds me of my English methods class. We learned that isolated explicit grammar instruction was one of THE least effective things you could do in a class, that modeling (preferably from real books or students' own writing) was the only way to make grammar stick. P.A.C.E. struck me as a nice systematic version of this approach, and so I've been experimenting with P.A.C.E. since the year before last.

    More recently, instead of using a First Aid manual (authentic, but not so high-interest) as a source of authentic sentences to highlight grammar functions, I used lyrics & literary excerpts.

    Still more recently, I dusted off this method again in conjunction with my La llaman America unit. Once again, I'm using it to illustrate object pronoun usage, but first, we reviewed something familiar that seemed to be giving students trouble when they were biographers for classmates, using America's first page as a model: verb endings. So I made this powerpoint--with directions for how I want P.A.C.E. notes set up (since we have a "copying crisis" on at school--otherwise I could just distribute pages like this one, which, of course, I can still make available on Edmodo to enterprising students).

    In the past, I have been lacking in the "Extension" department, so the latest addition involves students once again using America as a model, but this time, switching a paragraph of her story to 1st person. Though the P.A.C.E. focused on 3rd person, as the book does, my pre-assessment (a really uncreative verb quiz I kind of invented on the spot) indicated most people get how yo forms work already. And after all, they were extending what they learned, right?

    We dipped our toes in the object pronouns lesson today, having completed model notes on something more familiar first. There are a lot fewer examples for Presentation this far in the book, and the Extension activity involves making a list of people one encounters in the morning before coming to my class and what you did to them (like greeted, smiled at, etc.) Obviously I'm still getting the hang of making an effective Extension activity, and I think I'd like to expand to include an interpersonal Extension in addition to the semi-presentational one to be included in the notes.

    An old, semi-related  tweet: @SECottrell says "It's not whether you teach grammar- it's why. Come to a consensus on your approach to grammar. Purpose: avoiding miscommunication."

    11 September 2011

    Popsicle Stick Odyssey

    It seems it was a mistake not to start my English classes with the Odyssey in the past. I have had the most successful start to a year that I may have had in all my nine years of starting classes. Full disclosure: it might be the kids, not me.

    But on the off-chance it is me, here are some things that worked:
    1. Accepting excerpting. The textbook doesn't print the whole thing, and I am not really excited by the whole thing, so I might as well just pick the parts that do excite me, so I can harness that whole I-love-this-so-much-it's-contagious vibe. Ninth grade me would have a fit, having been sorely disappointed with junior high teachers for not exposing her to more Shakespeare before high school. But honestly? I'm typically not dealing with ninth grade me. And even if I were, I pull out the "I wanted to whet your appetite so you could seek out more!"

      I went with "The Cyclops," "The Sirens," "Scylla and Charybdis," "The Suitors," "Penelope," "Odysseus' Revenge," and, because time permitted, "Penelope's Test."

      My standards? Most-alluded-to passages and most gore--despite the fact that I have deliberately relegated my husband's sizable horror movie collection to the least visible, least accessible shelf possible. I like my gore literary and all in my head, thank you.
    2. Tie-ins. I got my first taste of The Odyssey from DuckTales, so why shouldn't my students? (See at the bottom, then fast forward to about 11:40). Also, to prove the ubiquitousness of allusions to The Odyssey, I quick downloaded a little Police to my phone when we got through "Cyclops" and DuckTales ahead of schedule (God bless Android phones and Amazon MP3 store!) Also, I had "7 Things McDonald's Knows About Your Brain" up my sleeve, perfectly linking allusion to The Odyssey and our school's first STEM topic: why we eat what we eat. And did you know that the textbook already came complete with multiple allusive texts? We're talking a poem each for cyclops, sirens, and Penelope! From the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Margaret Atwood! Awww yeah, got some ladies in the house!
    3. Action! Apart from my dramatic and, dare I say, theatrical renditions of the goriest scenes of stabbing, monster attacks, and suitor slaughter, I also had the young ones act things out.

      "The Cyclops" is rather long, so to rehash, I assigned each table a scene from the story for a tableau. Alas, they mostly stayed away from the gore, and I had not come prepared with huge googly eyes for them to use, but I was somewhat impressed with their zeal for depicting the under-sheep cave escape, barely refraining from physically binding their classmates to the chair-sheep.

      I also had them capture the action of "The Suitors" on whiteboards, and some took extra care to elucidate the preponderance of suitors hanging out at O's palatial home. Most got the stool flying at Odysseus, but strangely, mostly only females thought to put Penelope in the picture, so that was an interesting sidetrack.

      Finally, came the popsicle sticks and Chuck Norris. I could not resist the opportunity to harness the ideas that had popped up throughout class discussion, like Odysseus as the Chuck Norris of his day, or the sirens singing the McDonald's theme song (Bada bop ba baaa!)m or 1,000 Ways to Die...in a Cyclops Cave. So rather than a quiz or a timeline or some other such "practical" or "analytical" application, I gathered some images of Chuck Norris, Lady Gaga (x3), Jack Black (for Antinous), and Jennifer Aniston...plus the cyclops from Clash of the Titans and a childhood favorite, Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. And I gave them popsicle sticks.
    (From top left) Cyclops, Odysseus, Scylla, Sirens, Antinous, & Penelope
    That's right: an Odyssey puppet show. They're still filming, but what I've seen makes me glad to be an English teacher again.