30 April 2011

Absolute Corruption & Infographics

I put it up to an Edmodo vote, and students chose a crazy dictators unit over relationships, pop music, and visual arts. And so:

Essential question
Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?

I think we will start out with the list I found of world dictators (pared down by Spanish-speaking countries by yours truly). Students will pick 10-20 of the 56 on the list and create an infographic based on a little research.

I am intrigued by infographics and their power to present information attractively and concisely. I believe they are essential for 21st century information analysis. Sure, they're basically fancy graphs, but the ability to assimilate multiple facets of one problem I think would blow even Bloom's mind.

Once again, the research is likely to be conducted in English; maybe I'll be a purist next year. But I want students to have a background and a little self-determination before we dive into some authentic texts (yet to be determined) and the effect of power.

Perhaps we'll do some plátizas or forum posts on the meaning of "poder" and "corrupcion" so students can decide what sort of information to present in their infographics. Some suggestions (besides country of origin, which all should include):

  • years in power (number, chronology, or both!)
  • number of people killed/tortured/disappeared during their reign
  • personal frivolities, USD$ spent thereon
  • tactics for maintaining power
  • methods of takeover
  • types of power abuse
  • external supporters (U.S. government anybody?)
  • crazy quotes (I'm looking at you, Hugo Chavez)
  • methods of removal, or how their reigns ended
  • forms of opposition (would love to work Las Madres y Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo in)
  • weaknesses (I'm still amused by Junot Diaz's summary of Trujillo's reign as a cu**cracy)
  • international disputes (one Paraguayan leader got 90% of the adult male population of his country killed, including himself, trying to invade Brazil!)
  • military experience
  • facial hair (why not?)
  • racial background (just to see)
  • educational levels
  • children (numbers, names, illegitimate/legitimate)
  • previous jobs
Students will be able to choose from the lists by countries and somewhat chronologically, as I believe they're all still in order, if not dated. I think I'll have each student create an infographic with at least 3 of the above facets (or others, if they can think of better ones) plus country of origin. I envision maps, pictographs, and scatterplots.

And from there, students will begin to decide if absolute power does, in fact, corrupt absolutely.

28 April 2011


It's spring break, but before spring break, I decided to celebrate.

 Spanish II finally wrapped up their Afrolatinos unit early last week, and Spanish I's wikis are a little slow-going at the moment. Plus we had a measly 4 days in the week before spring break FINALLY got here.

So Spanish II began learning about Cinco de Mayo, and Spanish I prepared a Dia del Nino celebration for the kids at the school that shares our cafeteria, gym, & principal. (Yes, principal.)

For Cinco de Mayo, I tried a tic-tac-toe rubric like I learned about in #langchat not too long ago. Although it is probably #langchat anathema, I attempted to lower ye olde affective filter by having students choose 1 English option, 1 Spanish option, & 1 Spanglish option. Ulterior motive? I want students to produce material they can disseminate to their schoolmates too lazy to read or listen to Spanish who don't yet know enough Spanish to learn from something entirely in Spanish.

Here are the choices. The columns are such that students move up the higher order thinking skills taxonomy, adding to research, and require each student to sample a little of each of Sternberg's thinking styles.

En inglés
En español
½ inglés, ½ español
Create a venn diagram to compare & contrast Cinco de Mayo with Mexico’s Día de la Independencia; include at least 5 things in each circle & at least 2 that overlap.
Re-enact the Battle of Puebla with puppets. Include key people & places plus dialogue in Spanish (and French, if you want), but no English!
Create a poster advertising the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo and its history. Be sure to include key people, places, & dates while addressing misconceptions.
Create a timeline of the events leading up to & following the Battle of Puebla .
Write a speech in Spanish by one of the famous figures from Cinco de Mayo reflecting on the significance of the Battle of Puebla.
Create a video about the 4 most important people of Cinco de Mayo and their roles in Mexican history.
Label a map of Mexico with the key places of the French invasion & occupation of  Mexico.
Create 3 historical marker signs in Spanish for significant  places associated with the Battle of Puebla explaining what happened on those sites.
Create & conduct a 5-question survey or quiz of at least 20 people (not in Spanish II) about important facts about Cinco de Mayo; graph the results.

We'll finalize these projects when we get back, but we had an early Children's Day.

Again, I confess, the process was not entirely in Spanish, though I had good intentions.

First, I had groups of 3 research 1 Mexican game (found a list I sort of trusted for a starting point), 1 Mexican kid's song, and 1 Mexican image--that was NOT a sombrero, a cactus, a chihuahua, or maracas. I was GOING to have them give the directions for the games in simple Spanish  and teach the kiddos multiple songs, but I think it worked out better this way:

We had to do some shuffling, as about 8 of the 23 kids in the neighbor school lost the privilege before game time, but things did seem to go well!

One set of kids taught the kiddos to sing "Un elefante se columpiaba":

Another group played "telefono discompuesto" and "cebollitas" with the jovencitos.

We also had a group teaching the kiddos to play "vibora de la mar":

The facepainters ended up taking cues from the songs with snakes and just children's day things, since most groups came up with a flag or a soccer ball for their images.

Pretty soon spring break will be over and the celebrating will give way to review. Perhaps we can make that a party too?

08 April 2011

Sunny Spanish

When the rays of the sun are too powerful for classroom walls to withstand, sometimes, you just have to bask in the learning in nature.

A couple of weeks ago, when springtime was playing a little peekaboo, I took note-taking outside (with the stipulation that someone carry my stool so I could carry my marker, eraser, and portable whiteboard). I was even trying to teach in the target language at the time, one of my first attempts.

I stacked my kiddies on the steps with their whiteboards, markers, erasing rags, and journals (MOST figured out that journals meant to bring writing utensils too), and I set up shop in front of them, set to babble in Spanish.

There were some spontaneous remarks in Spanish from the previous weather unit, as we discussed how to conjugate verbs without using English. They proceeded to write journals with the wind whipping their pages before we wrapped up for the day.

Today was another day that would not be denied, so after a Skype with our 2nd grade friends at a trilingual school in Arizona (very successful, by the way, despite yesterday's confusion over daylight savings and lack thereof), I prepared students for a scavenger hunt. They'd asked for review of previous units before, right? So I made a checklist of adjectives from earlier in the year, made sure there was at least one camera (or camera-phone) per pair of kids, and then took them around the block to snap visual representations of this past vocabulary!

They finished in half an hour, so they had time to start putting them into I-Spy voice threads, where they also make an auditory connection with the visuals, starting with "Yo veo algo..."!

I confess, I threw this all together at lunch, having originally planned for a sick day. Still, I like to have an excuse to let them loose and still learn at the same time, so I'd like to propose the beginning of a list of things I can do in the future, on the fly, when it's Friday and too gorgeous outside to ignore.
  • break out flip cameras (or phone video cameras?) to record students miming verbs in different conjugations, one student narrating while a couple more act them out
  • exercise counting: jumping jacks, jumprope, pushups, catch, whatever! Ooh! Or CABALLO, since we have new basketballs!
  • impromptu caroling--learn a pop song or kids' song real quick, and go sing for the district office folk, or take our act on the road downtown!
  • local business labeling spree--kids go in and teach the staff that's between lunch and dinner shifts words for things in their establishment (call ahead at lunch to make sure it's ok--we have a great rapport established with Artist's Cafe)
  • conversation relays: 4 kids per team, kids spread out across the field. Each kid has a question they have to dash to their next teammate to ask & get answered, last person has to give all of his/her teammates answers correctly
  • Plátiza with sidewalk chalk  (I've done conjugations & semantic charts before, but am trying to break away from decontextualized stuff)
Of course a lot of fun games can just be taken outdoors too, like charades (preferably of an entire sentence, if we're to maintain instructional contextual integrity) or telephone, or TPR practice or anything that does not depend on a projector! Heck, a cultural music dance/listening party might even be in order some days!

I hope to keep adding to this list as the days get brighter and ever more inviting. Any other ideas?

06 April 2011

Nonstandardized Skill

OK, they're all still pretty shaky on conjugation, but the kids that unabashedly belted out Mexican jokes in Spanish class a month ago now identified the line between jokes and racism, citing an interview by an Afromexican pop star, saying that pointing out race does nothing, but connecting race to bad actions is wrong.

There are still 3 or 4 kids in my English class who don't finish reading the assigned chapters, but they have all begun to connect literature and life and to distinguish between human nature and cultural mores.

Some of the same kids who were saying they couldn't ever learn Spanish even a couple of weeks ago are able to follow along on a transcript while the aforementioned pop star--with one of the chilango-est accents I have heard in a long time--and even fill in blanks.

Spanish I has even been debating the relative merits of male versus female siblings and prejudices based on height or athleticism.

Other accomplishments in Spanish II include...

  • singing along with Cri-Cri involuntarily
  • volunteering to write & sing a parody IN SPANISH of one of the pop star's hits, commenting on his recent accusations.
  • making parents listen to their new favorite Mexican song
  • spontaneously breaking into choruses from ChocQuibTown's Oro
  • connecting Mexican mestizo experiences to Afrodominican antihaitianismo
  • connecting Dominican antihaitianismo with U.S. treatment of Mexican immigrants
  • comparing & contrasting experiences of Afrolatinos in Mexico & Colombia
  • analyzing reasons for media bias
Other accomplishments in English I include...
  • questioning their own comfort levels and reasons for them
  • connecting legends, foreshadowing, & human nature
  • contrasting Achebe's Umuofia with current post-colonial society problems
  • supporting definitions with quotes from the novel
  • connecting current events to literary reading
  • questioning the validity of gender roles in different societies
  • evaluating parenting techniques in life & literature
  • forming personal definitions of success & comparing them to another culture
These are not things that a standardized test can really evaluate, much less appreciate.

But I appreciate them.

04 April 2011

Dare I say disciple?

I'm sure @SECottrell knows by now that I want to be her when I grow up--though I think I've got a few years on her. I have tried to imitate her, from her first 2 weeks of Spanish I, to 5 minute mumbles, to outside of class activities, and now to making my Spanish I kids SAY something in class.

I had an inkling I was onto something when I had my weaker Spanish I class do a "Cuento Poco a Poco," requiring every student to use a different geography vocabulary word from our geografía list. I had them start with a story about their classmate, "Squirrel" (teachers, students, that's really what we all call him, and I'm pretty sure he loves it). Since it was about Squirrel, it was easy to come up with crazy things he would do all over the map. When I got an unsolicited "this helps!" as one of my more anxious, less focused students left, I had hope. When every. single. kid. in that class passed the quiz, I knew.

So I tried it with the class that had NOT had 100% passing rate (I'm also trying @SECottrell's non-announcing policy for quizzing) today. They did a good job and were jealous that the other class got to do it first. They, too, claimed it helped a lot.

With that class, I also tried a form of my own personal pedagogical guru's "A Conversar." I made a list of statements, similar to what I've been doing for the Afrolatinos unit debates, but "adjusted to their level" and "made interesting," keeping in mind my guide's "Which is better: a blue coat or a brown one?" And we spent way longer than 10 minutes. Here's how I tweaked it:

  • I had them draw statements to agree or disagree with & add a reason to. 
  • I had duplicates of each, so that at least one person SHOULD be prepared to respond to another.
  •  We got in a circle, and I gave points each time one contributed to the discussion.
Afterwards, they said that these things worked well for them because of...
  • the creativity
  • the vocabulary in context
  • having to listen to each other
  • having to come up with responses to each other
Note: I tried having my 2nd class use the "controversial" topics, each student responding to at least 5 different topics.

Don't do this. Then instead of listening, they just wait for their topic to come up.

Still, I am pleased with the ideas that I have stolen gleaned from my online compatriot, and I sincerely enjoy tweaking them, making them my own, and watching them work!