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!