28 February 2011

Queen of Glogster

Our school believes in e-portfolios and student-led conferences, but a successful approach has been just beyond our reach the past several years. So we're 1) planning on bribing parents to come to parent night with hot dogs, and 2) switching to GlogsterEDU for our e-portfolio platform.

And since I led the Glogster charge, they let me be in charge.

I've learned a few things with our school's adoption of GlogsterEDU Premium, first and foremost that Deena Kelly is awesome and will help you day or night, repeatedly if necessary.

Also, despite a deep, bone-chilling fear of losing my precious glogs I've designed of late and/or students' accounts and hard work, I've found you can safely switch licenses just by applying a new license code. Your old license turns back into an invitation, and you lose nothing, and students, classes, and glogs can be migrated between licenses.

Bonus: adding a teacher with existing students adds student accounts free, and you can still control these accounts until you transfer them to the administrator overlord/lady

However, when you submit to an administrator overlord (or lady) by joining a school license, you can no longer add your own students, access student accounts as students, delete or edit their accounts, or change their nicknames or passwords. But at least you can make your own classes still and edit students' portfolios. And you still have the option to add a student glog to your class when you have actually opened the glog (you can find it before the comments section).

Portfolios are, by the way, pretty keen. They're a quick, easy, and quite attractive way to flip through student glogs. Plus, if you have published a portfolio, the link doesn't go away, even if you delete the student account!

Part of our new e-portfolio campaign is that parents can comment on the glogs before they get to parent night, show the family leader, get the report card, and go. I discovered that parents cannot comment on the portfolio, though they can comment on individual glogs or the student's profile. Also they will need to have an account and be logged in to comment.

I have approximately 2 complaints total: "Grab" video and audio tools: not so good. Also, I wish there was a batch password change option.

Other than that, I'm pretty enthused about becoming the e-portfolio overlady at my school.

23 February 2011

Ser AfroLatino

I don't wish to presume with my next essential question (much harder to formulate than the last for Spanish 2), but I do want students to compare experiences and to develop a deeper sympathy for other cultures. In that spirit, I will be asking: ¿Qué es ser afrolatino?

I intend to begin to address this question from 4 national angles: Colombian, Cuban, Dominican, and Mexican.

If narcocorridos presentations go well tomorrow (or go so terribly that they take no time at all), we will begin right after. The plan, after introducing new outside-of-class activities, will be to begin with a survey (that I need to hurry up and make) where students rate how racist different situations are, like "making a joke that refers to someone's race,"  "TV shows without black actors," or "Hiring people without considering their racial backgrounds." I hope that will open the floor for a good debate--hopefully in Spanish?

Day 2, I'll probably break out my original AfroLatinos presentation to introduce, well, the existence of Black Latinos. That and the culminating assignment.

Days 3-4, I'm working on a glog to introduce the Colombian plight, much like I did with the narcocorridos unit, where students can control their input (to some extent--darn you YouTube blocking policies!) and respond to what they observe, from an interview with ChocQuibTown as well as a few of their music videos. I'm hoping the desire to see the music videos will motivate students to check out the page outside of school. We'll probably do a class breakdown of the interview before I release them to answer questions in the glog comments section (making sure they don't use Explorer, so the comments section will show up!).

Day 5, we'll have a breakdown of problems facing afrocolombianos, probably a journal of some sort.

Days 6-8, I think I'll break out Me Llamo Celia to introduce the Cuban plight. I'm toying with the idea of jigsawing different stages of her life, and I'm pretty sure I'll have to handle the first couple of pages as a class. Not sure if I want to go the Pies Ligeros route that I tried this summer, scanning all of the pages. I mean, I have a document camera, but it IS a bilingual book that I'd have to cover up...Then again, I only have 1 copy, so the scanning might be necessary for jigsaw purposes.  I can't find Cartas a mi Mama, but I have a new copy on the way and might slip some excerpts in, so they can try reading something that's not a picture book or a song--though there WILL be music! I think a journal on overcoming prejudice might be in order at this point.

By day 9, it should be time for my secret weapon: interpersonal online interaction with THE Jose Vilson. I'd throw in some Junot Diaz if I could figure out a way to do it without getting fired. I'll introduce the students to the interview wiki, and probably show an excerpt of In the Time of the Butterflies, you know, to keep things really multimedia. Day 10 will probably involve wiki log-ons with laptops plus some journal time.

Day 11 is probably time for the Memin Pinguin talk, perhaps a platiza? It would be awesome to find some real pages of the comic online, if anyone out there knows where I could find such a thing.

Day 12 might be summary time.

Days 13-15 could be composition and revision time.

Now somewhere in there, I should probably do some common vocabulary and some kind of grammar, if only to reinforce understanding of the imperfect tense (the Cuban books both have some AWESOME examples!) For vocabulary, I might do something like my revered 11th grade English teacher did, and have students make their own lists based on the texts (interview, music videos, books, articles, wiki discussion), then pick and choose repeated/good ones.

As for the culminating activity, the goal is to get the young ones to put themselves in someone else's shoes, so they will be creating first-person narratives. I'm thinking I want them to have one from a minority in the U.S. and one of the AfroLatino groups, to be paralleled and/or combined as they choose. I will suggest interviews, poetry, children's books, songs, and/or glogs. I'll be on the lookout for more sources to supplement their understanding of their chosen subcultures.

21 February 2011

Racism resources

Sure, Black History Month will be all but over by the time I start the unit, but I really think I'd like to address racism in Spanish-speaking countries next. Maybe pick 4 or 5 to compare to the U.S. to see who is the most racist. I have a few resources I could start with already:

  • Afro-Latinos presentation I made a few years back (will have to check links, etc)
  • Some podcasts from an interview with a friend working in Argentina (if I can just find the part where he talked about people locking their doors when they saw him)
  • One of my new favorites: ChocQuibTown, their song "Prietos," and a recent interview where they revealed Colombia is still racist
  • Oo! Memin Pinguin stamps/comics! (anyone know where I can order some real ones--without breaking the bank?)
  • Me Llamo Celia by Monica Brown, a bilingual book I got this summer--plus a bunch of links on Celia Cruz (and of course, some music!)
  • Alice Walker's essay on Cuban equality "My Father's Country Is the Poor"? (cited/contradicted? in the powerpoint)
  • Jose Vilson. (also cited in powerpoint) Who is awesome. And has written cool things on Dominican and Dominican-American racism (could he be persuaded to Skype in??)
  • Excerpts from In the Time of the Butterflies? (movie or novel?)
  • A little Rigoberta Menchu?
  • Hairs/Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros? (to illustrate multiracialism) Or perhaps some other excerpt from Mango Street?
  • Cartas a Mi Mama by Teresa Cardenas--maybe even the whole thing?
  • "Sangre Americana" by Bacilos? (a little discussion on indigenous victims)
I know there's got to be more music I can use, and I'm pretty sure there are more movies out there. Anyone have any suggestions?

17 February 2011

To swim

I've been teaching Spanish for 5 years, but it seems I was only in the kiddie pool until last year, when I decided to undertake National Board certification, and teaching Spanish has felt a lot like drowning since.  I've learned to tread water, mind you, but I long to master a good, strong sidestroke to keep my head above water and maybe to get somewhere.

I've tried to stay afloat, reading a textbook, starting a master's program in Spanish instruction, poring over lists of authentic texts and designing new units. Now I can breathe, but I'm moving in circles. 

Then I discovered @SECottrell's blog, then the #langchat PLN on Twitter.  I feel like I'm starting to sputter and bob again.

One of the things the PLN keeps saying is that I'm robbing my students by speaking in English more than 5 minutes a day.  I've heard that "conjugation" is a bad word.  Grammar instruction is almost completely pointless and vocabulary is only useful in context.

I do not disagree with these ideas, but neither do I know how to deal with them.

I started teaching Spanish I conjugation the other day, mostly because I hadn't stopped to ponder another way.  It was dry, it was boring, it was a chore.

I tried it a different way in the next day's Spanish I class, where I used one verb to have a conversation with the class.  It went something like this (with lots of repetition in between)

Yo nado a veces, no mucho.  A veces yo nado en la piscina en la YMCA en Conover.  Nado con mi familia cuando puedo.  Nado con Charlie y Paolo.  Nado más los sábados. Tú nadas, [student]?  Yo nado a veces, nadas tú?
A ver, [student], tú y yo, nadamos este sabado? Vamos al YMCA! Nadamos? Andale, tú y yo, nosotros nadamos en el YMCA este sábado. 
Communicating the ustedes part was complicated, and I'll have to work on that, but I could refer back to the ellos part, citing the ones who did say they swam and asking questions with them grouped, then draw the connection from there as they fill in the conjugation chart.

This presentation method was very time consuming, frustrating, and, yes, sometimes boring.  I think I want to try it some more, build up my comfort with it, because this could work.  I mean, I did toy with the idea of only teaching first and second person, but we're making glogs to present what teenagers in GENERAL do in our area, so the plural was kind of important.  This did lead me to another sort of revelation, too, that I think will help conjugating (even though I now feel guilty every time I say that word): TPR subjects.

I plan on using the gestures we came up with to help communicate when the subjects they're talking about don't match the endings they're using to emphasize things like when I say, "YO nado???"

All in all, I'm catching my breath every once in a while, and I think I have a chance with National Boards this time around.  I'll get to the finish line, even if I don't set any records.

14 February 2011


My first problem was that even I was unconvinced by how tightly connected the appliance/peso lesson from my Spanish I cooking unit was.  Solution? Record something juicy from my narcocorridos unit!

Second problem? Though the lesson was, I believe, sufficiently juicy, I was only able to get 7 of the 16 kids present that day ON camera.  Solution? Record it with the other class.

Which brings me to problems 3-9 and the need to brainstorm in the wee small hours of the morning.

Problem: class 2 is woefully behind, partially because of extraneous snow delay, partially because of how our schedule just IS
Solution? catch them up, adjust their schedule, al diablo con keeping the 2 classes on the same schedule (that's what edmodo's for, right?) and bring on the 60-degree highs!

Problem: student(s) complain and shut down when presented with a text in Spanish
Solution? give students a "cheat sheet" to make them think they have an advantage in the interpretation that others don't

Problem: if given translations for comparison, students will rely on translations without comparing
Solution? give students only key words that could become road blocks/excuses not to continue interpreting

Problem: students insist on translating EVERY word when asked to interpret
Solution? clearly communicate larger goals: interpreting & purpose of interpreting (i.e. comparison, connections) to divert focus from literal, word-for-word translation

Problem: students are easily distracted and derail the class for attention/entertainment
Solution? assign students (especially derailers) DIFFERENT important jobs that recur throughout interpretation exercise, e.g. key vocabulary words, essential questions to be answered, comparison texts (depending on ability/focus levels)

Problem: some students' engagement is hard to, well, gage
Solution? on top of important jobs, require something written that demonstrates comprehension and connections, e.g. journal answering select questions or discussion with credit for contributing at least twice?

Problem: limited amount of time to get to the juicy part
Solution? keep an eye on the clock, try to stick to no more than 5 minutes per constitutional article, no more than 15 minutes for pre-writing

Last problem? Teaching this on 4 hours sleep tomorrow...

09 February 2011

Dear E,

You made me miss lunch, and I want to thank you.

Every minute that you stayed after family today was more filling than my Easy Mac could ever be.  That you stayed at all, feeling how you felt, is a testament to your maturity and strength as a human being.  You spoke truths that got to the core of some of my own personal battles this year, and I finally thought that maybe those trials weren't for nothing. I was supposed to be staying and helping you work through some of your hurt, but you also made me take a good look at my pain and see it for what it was: temporary.

You asked the same questions I always ask and made me answer my own questions.  Why do we always have to be the bigger person, E?  Because we are capable where others aren't.  Why should we have to apologize when we're not sorry, or when our apologies might get thrown back in our faces?  Because we should be sorry that we let the uglier side of ourselves get the better of us--even if the third party deserved it. Why not act like a "B" when people seem to respect us more when we are?  We are not B's, E, and it takes too much energy to fake it, and the faking it just feeds the pain and keeps it going longer than it has to.  Are we allowed to let our real feelings show? Yes, E, show, but not stab, not bludgeon.

You were an amazing and loving girl when I met you just a few months ago, E. Some things have happened in between that made it hard for me to remember, and hard for you to hold onto. I knew you had to be in there, somewhere, E, and I'm glad that the real you took control and took responsibility for doing the right thing.

All in the space of a lunch hour.

You made your life better, your classmates' lives better, and my life better when you did that.

So thanks for making me miss lunch, and for being a genuine and brave human being.

Sra. S.

07 February 2011

My classmates don't know me at all!

The truth is that only one student was terribly misjudged by his classmates.  In fact, most were so accurately labeled that all they could do was say yes (hooray for repetition!)

It went down like this:

Last week, we selected activities (verb) vocabulary first through brainstorming, then categorizing, then a little polleverywere action (though I confess it worked better with good old-fashioned "check-mark-next-to-your-favorites" in the smaller class).

Today, we reviewed with Sra. Cottrell's regular vocab review (I like to call it the 5-minute mumble), then, after some gustar notes, a whip-around the room of something each kid likes and doesn't like to do.  From there to a journal linking activities back to the just-completed weather mini-unit ("When it's...I like to...").

And then on to the indiscriminate labeling.

I divvied up the 25 (mostly) democratically elected words into 5 groups of 5, then passed them out for cutting and taping.  Then we talked semantic grouping, and how it helps to associate vocabulary in groups to make connections.

Are we going to tape them on the board?  In our notebooks?

No, on each other.  Tape your words on the backs of whoever in the room you think would like to do those things.  Then, when the melee winds down, pair off, and you'll take turns asking each other about the activities affixed to your back--in front of the class (yay! repetition!)

A couple of things I really liked in this:

  1. Struggling students started to grasp rephrasing to help with comprehension (esp. "ver la tele" to "television" for cues) when their partners didn't get what they were asking about.
  2. By the end, students would really react to what their classmates guess about them (poor SM--not one was right, but his twin brother's was dead on!)  They would show disgust when it wasn't true, kind of giggle and admit when they were "accused" of liking to talk.
  3. They learned something about each other--albeit late in the year.  Who knew SL played guitar and piano?  Apparently someone who stuck the activities on her back, but not I!
In the future, I might laminate cards so they can be re-used.  I might do some hula hoop venn diagrams to do more classmantic grouping.  I'll probably have students reflect on things different classmates liked (practice using le and les, after all).  I'll probably do the whip-around again (maybe what they like when it snows instead).

And for Heaven's sake, I've got to find a way that SM's classmates can understand him!

02 February 2011

Voicethread Weather

Perhaps it was fate that brought us together.  Perhaps it was Madame Techie's post last week. Perhaps it was just time for me to experiment with Voicethread.

I wanted students to go from images to meaning, using a real live context.  I had already thrown some clipart of various weather conditions on a powerpoint for them to play meteorologist one by one, plus a journal of the week's forecast and a cloze listening practice (as recommended by SECottrell).  Next I wanted something more...more simultaneous, where they could all contribute at the same time, but still have an audience and a chance for response and reflection.

So I snagged the 5 laptops from the mobile lab and booted up the classroom computer I finally got my paws on (plus a microphone from the stash in the office supply closet).  I set up the week's forecast journal assignment to be going on simultaneously, so some could be writing in notebooks, and some recording directly to the voicethread.

I'm pretty pleased with the results, though it is still in experimental phase ("Gabriela's" response on the map of Mexico when she can't figure out how to shut off the recording is pretty priceless!)

Here are some steps I recommend for using voicethread, especially for Spanish 1 weather:

  1. Make sure students know they only have to click "comment" then "record" to capture their comments for free (as long as they have microphones built in or hooked up): using your phone is fun, but you only get a little time free.
  2. For a busy classroom, it might be worth hooking up microphones instead of relying on built-in ones for the sake of clarity.
  3. Have THREE activities available, especially if you have a 1:3 student/computer ratio.  Two activities worked ok in the class it was more like 1:2.
  4. Do register for accounts as soon as possible, so your comments can be labeled appropriately for credit purposes.
  5. These are some good sites for getting "authentic" weather maps: lanacion.com.ar, senamhi.gob.pe, conagua, tu tiempo, INAMEH.
  6. One weather comment per map was the right amount for 5 maps--especially since I wouldn't let them repeat each other, and they had to listen to previous comments.
  7. Having students include the place they're describing helps me check for accuracy, but it also helps them get exposed to real city names and try getting their brains around the pronunciations.  In the future, I'll have to add city names instead of just directions to the maps that don't include them already.