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.