12 December 2012

Making the most of the mandatory Exam

The North Carolina "Measures of Student Learning" for world languages have not come down the pike yet (in fact, I'm in on the project that is assiduously gallumphing toward their development). However, in the spirit of egalitarianism or something, we still must give "pencil-paper tests" like everyone else. Mind you, the pencil-paper-test does not have to be the sum of the final exam grade, but there still has to be something to set down. Besides, it could be a good chance to ensure there is some spontaneous language production instead of revised-to-death assignments that have little to d o with what would happen if you were addressed on the street.

So much like the glog projects I tried a while back, I will start with the three modes of communication and the semester's themes (which should cover the rest of the 5 C's to some extent). I am leaving out the presentational in the individual themes, because I think I would like students to complete a multimedia reflective piece for that mode that covers all 3 themes. I am considering combining this with the e-portfolio (that never quite fit into the semester) incorporating eLinguafolio.org and a summary and reflection on their blog posts.

Theme: Movie of my life
Mode: Interpretive/Interpersonal  (listening)
I have a playlist with a few movie trailers that students would watch. The interpretation maybe be Novice Mid, but the interpersonal could be Intermediate Low even. They would make notes of things like the genre of the different movies, the story or subject, the characters, and/or the events that they notice and then discuss with a classmate which one of the movies they want to see. It could be a recorded audio/video conversation or perhaps a passed note or text.

Theme: First aid
Mode: Interpretive  (reading)
I have a selection of online first aid guides from which I'll choose 4-6 that I will post on Schoology for them to familiarize themselves with in advance. They could get any one of them the day of the Exam, and they will basically have three questions to answer as completely as possible in a list or a paragraph:
  • How can I tell what the problem is? 
  • How can I tell how bad the problem is?
  • What do I do?
Mode: Interpersonal
I'll set up a list of health scenarios ahead of time on Schoology as sort of a way to refresh on the major problems we looked at, then one will be the 911 operator and the other someone who is calling on behalf of someone who had/is having a medical emergency. The goal would be to diagnose the problem and keep things stable until EMT's could get there.

Theme: Identity and Afrolatinos
Mode: Interpersonal
This might even be a small group activity where 3-4 students discuss what the identifying characteristics are for the American identity (choosing from the 10 we have been looking at) and come to a conclusion about which 2-3 are most important in our identity, comparing to some of the examples we've been looking at from different countries.

Theme: Día del Niño
Mode: Interpersonal
In groups of 3, students will discuss advice they could give the next Spanish I class about what they will need if they also plan a Children's Day celebration. They could talk about supplies, foods, activities, and if they think of anything else, we could discuss some ahead of time.

Theme: Food
Mode: Interpretive (reading)
I'll have a selection of recipes posted to Schoology for students to familiarize themselves with, and then the day of the "Exam," they would demonstrate comprehension by choosing from a page of images with ingredients and cooking utensils and appliances what they would need to create the recipe, drawing lines from words in the text that indicate what they'd need to the images, e.g. "hornear" would lead to an oven, "azucar" would lead to a bag of sugar, "cucharadita" would lead to a teaspoon.

Mode: Interpersonal
I'll have a selection of photos of completed desserts and snacks (that's mainly what we focused on) on Schoology for them to contemplate. Then the day of the Exam, they'll be given one to discuss with a partner (recorded or written) to try to come up with a list of ingredients they'd need to buy and possible steps.

Theme: Travel
Mode: Interpretive (reading or listening)
I'll collect a few travel sites (Chile or Spain for example), maybe some tourism videos from which students can select the day of the Exam and then answer three questions as completely as possible in a list or a paragraph:

  • Would I want to go there? (Why/why not?)
  • Would other students want to go there? (Why/why not?)
  • Would parents want to send their children there? (Why/why not?)

Unless I come up with anything else, each student has at least two choices for interpersonal and two choices for interpretive. I had originally been thinking they needed something from each unit, but if one gets into the Linguafolio "I can's", then there's not much call for the final assessment to be comprehensive to that extent. Plus one interpersonal and one interpretive would be about perfect for the 90-minute period!

19 November 2012

Experiencia Afrolatina, Part 2: PBL adaptation

Driving Question: Is the person who other people see the person who you really are?

The goal of the driving question is, in fact, to drive students, to impel students to desire to know MORE. I've finally gotten past the idea of organizing essential questions for the language classroom around vocabulary or grammar goals, but then I found myself developing questions driven by the authentic texts I had selected. And we are not looking for DRIVEN questions, now are we? So I wrestled with how to turn the Afrolatinos unit I had been developing over the past few years into something that connected with students, that would drive them to want to know more.

While I, myself, am interested in exploring questions like "How is African heritage expressed in Cuba/México/Colombia/Dominican Republic?" or "How are Black people perceived in different Spanish-speaking countries, and what is the history behind those attitudes?" they lack drive. They are more academic, esoteric, and not personal. For a question to drive, it must have a personal connection. Some teenagers are into exploring other cultures, but ALL teenagers are into exploring themselves. The trick was to tie the two together, and thus the topic of appearance versus identity.

And now, to do it in four weeks. (I got a little carried away with the EMT App unit, for better or for worse. And then there are exams.)

So I must narrow my selection of texts to explore for time purposes as well as for streamlining to fit the new question-that-drives. I also need to break down the goals of the unit into tangible objectives (because Heaven knows that the Common Core Essential Standards do not spell out what students should produce).

Entry Event
At this point, students have done a little introspection by describing themselves and analyzing what roles and characteristics they subconsciously choose first. Then I showed a candid shot of each student (some knew I was snapping pictures, some didn't) and had individuals describe the person they saw in the photo in two words. I'm also putting together a video to show them (with WeVideo--a godsend as online video editing goes) with images of Afrolatinos with 10 different possible aspects of Afrolatino identity:

  • Appearance (shape, size, color)
  • Community (family, neighbors, organization)
  • History (personal, intergenerational)
  • Land (origins, home)
  • Religion (ceremony, beliefs)
  • Food (preferences, traditions)
  • Language (accents, slang)
  • Style (clothing, hair, accessories, attitude?)
  • Entertainment (hobbies, sports)
  • Art (music, dance, visual)
Ultimately, I would like for them to compare their perceptions and experiences to those they observe as we explore the Afrolatino experience in different countries, to draw parallels and define contrasts, choosing at least three of those categories to emphasize.

Somos Pacifico
Believe it or not, pretty much all of the 10 categories of aspects I chose I picked out of ChocQuibTown's "Somos Pacífico," so that will be the first text that students analyze. Students will get the 10 categories from my video and then see how many they can pick up in ChocQuibTown's, first upon viewing, then with the lyrics in front of them.

Memín Pinguín
Since the dichotomy we're exploring is appearance versus reality, the controversial Mexican cartoon character seems the most obvious place to emphasize appearance. I've scraped together a few different images from the comic books with some Google searching, and this is always a good place for some interpersonal discussion.

We'll skip "Negrito Sandía" in the interest of time.

Kalimba (tweet and interview)
After we've seen a little bit of the historical perspective in Mexico, then we can look at something more contemporary, with a racial tweet about pop star Kalimba and the ensuing interview with his reaction to it. I'd like to mention the big scandal that came shortly after that one, but not spend very long on it.

Cartas a Mi Mamá
I usually focus on the parts where the narrator describes people's reaction to her appearance versus her own, and that seems particularly relevant here. There are some interesting passages pertaining to the orishas of West African pantheons that would help inform the religion aspect as well.

This song incorporates community, history, and land as unifying forces, which poses a nice contrast for what's next with...

Masacre del Perejil
We have pop songs, comic book pages, tweets, an interview, and novel excerpts so far, so how about a wikipedia article to highlight some of the historical community issues between Haití and the Dominican Republic? To be followed by...

...an excerpted version that focuses on the issues of identity and disparity rather than the foundation of Haiti or the current state of the French-speaking nation.

Me Llamo Celia
I think this picture book would be a nice cap-off text, not only for the pictures and relative simplicity of the text, but the way it incorporates history, community, appearance, style, art, entertainment, land, and even a little food (¡AZÚCAR!). To focus attention on identity, there will be some excerpting here too.

As for the project itself, basically, students will choose how to express at least 3 aspects of their own identity and relate it to the same aspects they observed in one or more of the countries we explore.I have laid out the description of exactly what I expect here, along with a growing collection of resources that include the above, plus the bonus material that either time would not permit or that did not strictly fit the direction of the question. 

13 November 2012

Acting App

Spanish II has almost finished putting together their apps for EMT's, so now it is time to test them out. But how to test products designed for emergency situations without...death?

In the words of Jon Lovitz, "...aaaacting!"

Now, the apps will not be officially published on the due date, as they must undergo the Appsbar team's scrutiny before being added to the Appcatch marketplace for use on any and all smartphones. However, my brand-spankin'-new classroom is equipped with a board of the SMART variety, ie, an overgrown touchscreen. All the better to keep the class (and observing principals) in on the action, que no?

So what else do we need for an engaging, reflective, interactive demonstration of what the different groups' apps can and can't do when it comes down to the wire?

  • Scenarios taken from the areas of expertise represented in all app groups (in this case, breaks, bleeds, burns, poisoning, allergic reactions, and heart attacks), to be distributed al azar, with the drawing of a card. We could use the scenarios kiddos came up with to tell an actor how to fake their respective traumas, but we will, instead, go with ones modeled on symptoms described in various online sources.
  • A checklist based on the project rubric for quick, efficient evaluation of app quality by all audience members.
  • A role for each of the 3 app group members: one can touch the SMARTboard, one can touch the patient, and ONLY ONE can speak English (as the apps are designed for EMT's who do not speak Spanish but need to).
  • A patient (or five), either the lovely lady pictured here or some of the very fine thespians of your class. I have some Grade A actores in this crop, so I'm going with the latter. Plus I don't trust Srta. Olivia's vocal talents.
  • A system whereby each group tests a different group's app.
Then what happens?
  1. Align the rubric with the checklist. I suggest a little color coding, e.g. "Easy and accessible" is yellow, so all of the checklist questions that apply to that category get outlined/underlined/highlighted in yellow.
  2. Alert students to the necessity of participation, probably with a completion grade for A) filling out the checklists for all groups besides their own and B) participating in the discussion of each group's evaluation.
  3. Assure them, oh yes, there will be discussion--IN SPANISH. Prepare them to give their overall ratings 1-10, name the problems and positive attributes as well as specific questions/ instructions/ responses that demonstrate these problems or strengths. For example:

    Q: ¿Qué número le das a esta app, Beto?
    A: Ocho.
    Q: ¿Por qué, Beto?
    A: Porque es fácil de usar y puedo escuchar todo, PERO no tiene respuestas para todas las preguntas.
    Q: ¿Qué pregunta no tiene respuesta, Beto?
    A: La pregunta “¿Cuándo empezó el dolor?”
    At which point I might ask for examples from the class of possible responses.

  4. Dangle a prize of some sort, perhaps a fabulous cash *coughpesocough* prize or extra credit, for the app with the highest composite score as compiled from class whiteboard scoreboards. (Bonus for fabulous patient actors?)
  5. NOTE: "scores" are NOT the final grades.
Then, once everyone is clear on what's about to go down, the first group (volunteer or victim) draws the first scenario, passing it off to the designated actor without looking. They determine who mans the SMARTboard, who mans the patient, and who mans the...English language, I guess. Then the acting begins, the group discusses (in Spanish, except for the one English speaker) which button needs to be pressed on the projected app. The patient responds, and the scenario goes on until there is an accurate diagnosis and some form of treatment (hopefully no more than 5 minutes--we'll say the patient dies in 5 minutes, even if it's a sprained ankle).

Then the class gives their respective checklists a once-over, each person tallying the points out of 10 earned and displaying the score on their boards. (I might need a scorekeeper.)

After the final demonstration, a quick review of group evaluation terms before the group evaluation form filling and the self-reflective writing, to be wrapped up with the App Más Excelente award before moving on to the entry event for the next unit.

05 November 2012

Piñatas in the target language

Real world application: Spanish I
coming in handy for my son's 5th
birthday party
I have become the Spanish teacher that lets her class make piñatas. We spend a total of nearly two weeks on them. I should be ashamed, shouldn't I?

But what if I told you that this  mini-project came about as a result not only of student choice but a step toward a project that will engage children from the community with the target language? And that it easily addresses no fewer than 8 essential standards from the Common Core curriculum*, on Novice
Low alone! Furthermore, it is organized around an authentic text, a video to teach native speakers to make piñatas, thus engaging the interpretive mode of communication, and that the process toward completion involved engaging the interpersonal as well for making a decision. And it all culminated not only in gorgeous, culturally appropriate crafts to be busted apart, but also in a collaborative presentational demonstration!

I broke down the video below into 5 parts (well, 4 and 2 "halves"):

  1. 0:00-2:01 Gathering materials and covering the balloon
  2. 2:02-3:48 Making the cones
  3. 3:49-7:01 Attaching the cones
  4. 7:01-9:26 Decorating the cones
  5. Jigsaw sections: 9:26-9:55 style 1; 9:56-10:50 style 2

I prepared the standard powerpoint of pictures with words to introduce necessary vocabulary without resorting to English. Some of the words came from lists students themselves compiled of materials they would need to execute activities they planned for our Children's Day celebration. 

We did a little online collaborative contextual practice with some of them, as we discussed how many/much we'd need of each supply and researching how much it would cost to compile on a Google Doc presentation. 

We also had "sorting cards" that students made with the Spanish words on one side and drawings on the other, so they could group and regroup the words according to their own semantic connections.

Another idea is to have students watch the whole video through at some point, just listening for numbers for review's sake.

For each section of the first 4 sections of video, I then made both a cloze reading for students to fill in while listening and then a scrambled steps page for them to cut apart and put in the right order after watching at least 3 times and filling out the cloze. 
The idea was for them to gather context clues and get a feel for the order of things to anticipate from the images in the video the first time watching, listen for familiar words the second time, and fill in missing pieces the third time. 
Then they would use the words they did know to analyze what went where. It was cool to hear them saying things like, "That says scissors, and the cutting didn't happen until the end."
After they showed they could figure out the order, I figured that showed they were ready to put the steps into action, and they completed those steps with the time remaining.
  1. Have students make a list of supplies they'll need from the first 45 seconds of the video to reinforce vocabulary and prepare for what is coming.
  2. Emphasize that they really do need at LEAST 3-4 layers of newspaper when papier-macheing the balloon, ESPECIALLY near the hole at the top! (I made a piñata from this video for my son's birthday party, and we basically had to beat it open after it fell...oops.)
  3. Emphasize marking and measuring the cones so they have enough cone to make the tabs for attaching them to the body and they can all come out even(ish) and the size they actually wanted.
  4. I recommend taping cones on with masking tape rather than using the flour paste and newspaper for two reasons: it's less time consuming and less threatening to the structure of your piñatas!
  5. Allow at least two hours for the final decorating.

I used WeVideo.com to make an excerpt for each style of piñata described in the video, but you could also use these YouTube breaks for Part 1 and Part 2, though this way there's nothing stopping Part 1 from "cheating" and seeing Part 2's design.Rather than the usual cloze or ordering activity, I created a little evaluation half-sheet to help students break down the elements and qualities of the style they observed to they could report back to their partners. The partners then had to decide which style to go with and why after reporting their observations and discussing their evaluations.

After the piñatas were finished and displayed for the enjoyment of all, we reviewed the steps together, first with photos I took along the way, then with stills I snapped from the video. They outlined the steps with our photos and then paraphrased specific steps to go with each visual, collaborating on a single Voicethread to write out and speak each step.

And there you have it, my guide to making making piñatas an immersion experience. If you would like to re-create some part of this lesson, feel free to download the cloze pages, scrambled steps, vocabulary powerpoint, and step-by-step powerpoint from the Google Doc folder here!

24 October 2012

PACEE: PACE grammar method needs another step

My basic P.A.C.E. layout
(yes, I constructed the rule wrong here)
I have developed a very specialized structure for giving grammar notes now:

  1. 1. I make a powerpoint slide titled "Presentación" with a collection of sentences that have a similar pattern from an authentic text related to our theme (e.g. children's book, first aid manual, recipe). Please note: it should only be ONE pattern at a time. And at least 5 examples are ideal. HINT: Students like it when you indicate how many lines they should number for examples and how much space they should leave.
  2. Students need do nothing more with this slide than affirm that those sentences are kind of familiar and get ready to look for a pattern.
  3. I duplicate the slide and change the name to "Atención." I then draw a rectangle over a word or phrase that demonstrates the pattern I'm emphasizing. I animate this rectangle to appear on my click. I copy the animated rectangle and fit it to all of the other examples of the pattern on the slide, like so:

    Then all I have to do is click on the textbox containing all the words and "Bring to front."
  4. On the "Atención" slide, students write down the rectangled parts straight from the Atención slide. When we are studying a verb form, I also have them indicate the infinitive of the verb to show the contrast. They might do the same with adjectives or articles (el-->los) if you're showing agreement.
  5. What do the original/infinitive verbs all have in common? 
  6. How have these verbs changed in the sentences? 
  7. Are these verbs narrating or commanding?
  8. Then comes the Co-construcción slide. I have been writing it in Spanish for Spanish II--very, very simple Spanish, but I cannot bring myself to do that in Spanish I. Either way, I have students write out the rules in English at these levels, because the processing of the pattern is complicated enough without trying to add production of L2 to it. I structure this slide with questions, very specific questions to get them to notice the pattern and the reason for the patterns, for example:

    *What do the original/infinitive verbs all have in common?
    *How did these verbs change when they were used in the sentences?
    *Are these verbs narrating or commanding?
9. Also on this slide, I have found I really need to come up with sentence starters, like "Use -í when..." and "Use -é when..." to make sure they break down the parts they  need.

10. At this point, if you want to differentiate between two patterns, say -AR versus -ER/-IR or yo versus él/ella, go BACK and make 3 slides just like the others with the sentences for the second pattern. I think you could probably get away with doing it for 3 or 4 patterns in the same vein this way, at least at the Spanish II level, but be sure you do not overload their little minds.

Now here is where I think P.A.C.E. needs a new step.

Spanish II got very frustrated when I tried to introduce yo and él/ella forms of the preterite. I had to go back and do some re-teaching, which kind of amounted to letting them try to detect the patterns in still MORE sentences themselves. After they had this step, with a repetitive children's book from Spain, they felt much better about it, so I inserted it with my Spanish I as they learned informal commands from recipes. I call this step Experiment, hence PACEE.

11. Once students have had a chance to experiment, THEN they should try the "Extensión," some sort of authentic(ish) activity where they apply the pattern. For example, Spanish II described all of the calamities that had befallen this guy, and Spanish I explained how to make pancakes.

Now, Sra. Placido recently questioned the idea of having students pick out stem-changing verbs as unrelated to the standards, and she has a point. P.A.C.E.E. Of course, goes beyond this with the Extensión, having students write or say something using a structure, so its goal can fall under Communication as well as Comparisons if addressed properly. But in truth, neither P.A.C.E. nor P.A.C.E.E. exists to fulfill ACTFL standards. I believe they serve an important function, however, in helping students process what they see or hear, perhaps not in a way that is necessary for all learners, but for those that Sternberg would call "analytical" to be sure. In short, P.A.C.E.E. may well be a vestige of the way I learned languages 10, 15 years ago, but I think it is also a useful tool to have a class about the target language largely in the target language.

21 October 2012

For the Non Believers: The Point to Learning Spanish

"I'll be honest, I don't see much point in him learning Spanish," Incredulous Parent said to me about halfway through our conversation. We had established that Incredulous Jr. was overall doing well, of course with the usual teenage ups and downs along the way, and  Incredulous Sr. seemed to be feeling pretty at ease with me. So I suppose he felt safe confessing that he did not see the point in everyone learning Spanish (which, aside from virtual classes, is all our tiny school can offer). Incredulous Jr. had alerted me to these sentiments, which Sr. assured me were not intended to give offense. None taken, I replied, it is a common enough concern.

But here's what you may not realize:even if your son never, ever meets someone who does not speak English, there are a host of other skills that he is honing by participating in Spanish class.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, without knowing it,
kind of sums up why everyone should learn a language.

You know those blogs he writes each week in Spanish? The very simple ones where he talks about his hobby and looks up practically every word? Think about how simply he is having to express himself, how carefully he is having to choose his words and his phrasing. Imagine how that will carry over into his expression in his native language, knowing now how to work his way around what he wanted to say in the most straightforward way possible.

"I hadn't thought about that!" said I. Parent. "I have always thought that they should be spending more time getting better at using their own language first before worrying about learning another. Like spelling: Junior needs some serious help with his spelling."

I've got you covered there, too, Señor! Why, just today, students were trying to find the Spanish equivalent of a set of vocabulary related to their app creation projects--a veritable cornucopia of 21st century learning in itself, what with the technology, project management, and cooperation skills involved! Junior was stumped on the word for "dehydration," so we went back to the Greek root for water in the word, hydra, and discussed the spelling differences one might expect in Spanish, with a little talk of prefixes as well. And all of the Latin-based goodness of the rest of the language helps not only with spelling but with preparation for SAT analogies questions!

"That does make sense!" No-Longer-Incredulous Sr. replied."Thank you for helping me see the point to learning Spanish."

Aside from a bit of poetic license, this is essentially an actual conversation I had with a parent recently, and the timing is excellent. Not only is it about time for me to assemble and finalize my Product of Learning for my Master's work, but the latest assignment for my last Spanish course of the program is to persuade a district to reinstate a previously cut language program.Oh, and it's between the language program and the music program. I am to employ logos, pathos, ethos,and kairos to make my point, meaning I need not only studies and statistics (for which I think ACTFL has my needs covered), but also stories like Señor Incredulous Parent's to tug at the ol' heartstrings.

Sometimes I think we go about it all wrong, convincing people that language is worth it. We cite studies about Alzheimer's and global economy, but what people really want to know is what good will it do me or my kid now? The people we have to convince that language learning is for everyone probably have more pressing concerns than how sharp their minds will be at 80 and their chances of getting a job as an international jet-setter. And they may somehow avoid having to communicate with people who speak no English. They need to hear that learning a language makes them better at things that matter to them, that they will see results even before graduation.

I estimate that on the "Framework for 21st Centuy Learning" put forth by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, language learning directly addresses 3 out of 3 "Learning and Innovation Skills," 3 out of 3 "Media, Information, and Technology Skills," and 5 out of 5 "Life and Career Skills" if delivered effectively. There is a point to learning a language, for everyone, and it is not just travel or test scores or job opportunities. Learning a language is about perspectives and communication, failure as a learning tool, analysis and connections, clarification and shared communication. It is about accessing and evaluating information, influence and effective expression. It is about negotiation of meaning, goal setting, interaction, and participation.

The NC Department of Instruction head-of-all-things-world-language asked me, years ago, "Don't you think everyone needs to learn a language?" At the time, I was not so sure. I thought it was just a fun thing for the linguistically minded. I could pay lip service to it being a sort of key to academic and occupational success from random statistics I'd heard too. But after talking with Mr. Incredulous Parent, I can finally say I do believe, that there is not just a point but a power in learning Spanish, in learning any new language.

03 October 2012

Spanish PBL with a Purpose

I called up a former student who is an EMT and for whom Spanish class did not quite go far enough: excerpts of our conversation can be found under "Los problemas" in the app I made on appsbar.com as an entry event for the First Aid unit. You can see, and use, a preview of the app below.

So the plan is to get students to create a free app that EMT's can use to communicate with patients who speak only Spanish. When I mentioned the aim of the next unit and my student's request (which, truth be told, I kind of squeezed out of her), I got questions like "why us?" and "why don't you do it?"

My answer? Besides the fact that they chose the driving question "How do you respond to a medical emergency if the people around you speak only Spanish?" I said that all of them put together could come up with something better than what I could do alone.

I will need to do better sticking with the Need-to-Know checks along the way--while eschewing overkill. I'm going to be extra careful to anticipate some categories of Need-to-Know. I think I will approach it more as a web map exercise this time, maybe starting something like this:

Make a map like this at bubbl.us

The movie trailer unit that just ended was not a disaster, but this class indicated that they are not ready for planning their own schedules. They said they could, however, benefit from having their groups set from the beginning. To that end, groups may be the very first thing they figure out. I figure with groups of 2-4, they can each specialize in two categories of emergency or so and collaborate on arrival questions and responses. Plus that way we can get at least 3 different apps to eke out maximum possibility--balanced with manageability and responsibility.

Of course AppsBar is in English, but I have concocted a little list of 31 steps in Spanish to interject some interpretation. Of course there is always my favorite First Aid manual for interpretation too. I shall have to meditate muchly on how best to incorporate interpersonal in this unit as well, not to mention how to fit three major grammar concepts into 6 weeks along with the necessary vocabulary!

But if I can pull all this off, maybe get a handful of actual EMT's to evaluate the apps when it's said and done, I think the class will have a greater sense of accomplishment--of purpose--when THIS unit is done!

25 September 2012

Narrate and Describe

The assignment for my Advanced Expression class (2nd to last before my Master's is done!) is to plan a lesson in which your students learn or practice/develop their ability to write a description or narrate a story. We're to tie it to a couple of the new Common Core Essential Standards, of course, and ideally I would like to fit it in with something that I actually plan on doing. To that end, I picked out all of the Novice Mid standards I thought might work for the purpose.

NM.CLL.3.1 Use memorized words and phrases in presentations on familiar topics, such as likes, dislikes, emotions, everyday activities, and immediate surroundings.
DESCRIBE: Enter a contest to win $5,000 make over your bedroom. Explain what you like about the current setup in your room and the changes you want to make. Create a before and after of how you see your room in your mind to help your description.

NM.CLL.4.1 Compare basic cultural practices of people in the target culture and the students’ culture.
DESCRIBE: I love the story of the Nacirema, and I found a  Spanish translation of it. I might have a Spanish II or III class jigsaw some descriptions from the "account" of this "tribe" and have them illustrate the rituals they read about. Then perhaps we would use some magazine ads from People en Español to have students describe "rituals" they see represented there using terminology from the Nacirema "article."

NM.COD.2.3 Interpret short, non-fiction passages from academic content areas using context clues (signs, charts, graphs, etc.).
NARRATE: I love infographics. Calling the text "passages" seems acceptable at lower levels, and they are the definition of context clues! I think the infographs on the iPhone 5, the evolution of the electronic market in Spain, the iPhone vs Android,  social media in Mexico, preventing online crises might be good for a technology crossover. Those on the effects of ultraviolet light on the skin and  depression would be good for health (yay STEM!). I think the depression one has the most potential for writing and engaging and HELPING students. They could tell the story of someone progressing from sadness to depression and throw in a friend to show what they would do to help that person. They could use some of the 10 "trampas" as plot points.

NM.COD.3.1 Use memorized words and phrases about the weather, date, seasons, numbers, and daily classroom activities to give a spoken or written presentation.
NARRATE: I had Spanish I (a particularly wild class) imagine a class session without me. They got to pick why I was out of the room and then explain what everyone else is doing. It could also be fun to have the class act it out.

NM.COD.3.2 Use memorized words and phrases to describe common objects and actions related to other disciplines.
DESCRIBE: Students could help shop for new calculators,computers, or even novels for the school and create a comparison (infograph?) describing two possible choices and highlighting why one is superior over the other. Maybe they are helping the school decide how to spend fundraising income? They could even compare books to tablets or something.

NM.COD.4.1 Compare tangible products related to the home and the classroom from the students’ and the target cultures & NM.CMT.4.2 Identify products made and used by members of the target culture and the students’ culture.
DESCRIBE:  This could be a grab-bag exercise with maybe some snacks or jewelry or trinkets from both cultures. Students grab a package from the bag al azar and proceed to describe them. With snacks, maybe students could choose 2 snacks--based ONLY on classmates' descriptions--that they want to try. Or perhaps they could create TV ads for the snacks that describe them. Or they could make a characterization of the person who would wear the jewelry?

NM.CMT.3.1 Use memorized words and phrases to describe arts, sports, games, and media from the target culture.
NARRATE: How about a soccer radio broadcast? Or a red carpet or fashion show rundown? Or an olympic narrative? Or a biography of a famous athlete or artist that includes a significant event from his/her career?

NH.COD.3.2 Produce a sequence of simple phrases and short sentences relating common themes in other disciplines.
DESCRIBE & NARRATE: Describe the state of the victim of an accident and narrate how you found them and the steps you took.

15 September 2012

Alphabet Soup: PBL in the TL?

I once thought my training as an English teacher handicapped me as a Spanish teacher. Actual tears were shed over my inability to see what New Schools Project best practices like literature circles had to do with my grammar and vocabulary lessons. I was baffled by the prospect of calling "How do you conjugate -AR verbs?" an Essential Question. So I signed up to complete National Boards, bought myself a language instruction textbook, and signed up for grad school, in roughly the space of a year. 
And what did I find about my errant English teacher ways? Well, whaddaya know, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the ganso! Decontextualized grammar lessons do nothing? You don't say! A steady stream of exposure to quality texts is essential to improving one's linguistic skills? That's incredible!

So by the time I got dunked Baptist-style in the Buck Institute's model of Project-Based Learning, the whole I-would-get-how-to-apply-this-if-I-still-taught-English mentality was not the Everest it was when I first dipped my toe in NSP waters four years earlier. This is do-able, I thought: language instruction is not exempt from 21st century overhaul and effective engagement strategies. Meaningful, attainable, public goals can improve Spanish class just as much as they can the English class.

But here's where my rebirth as a Spanish teacher conflicts with my baptism by PBL: how can I stick to the ACTFL 80:20 Rule, make my class a mini-immersion experience, AND instruct students in the finer points of collaboration and project planning?

Me? I cannot. Not yet. I mean, to offset today's solid 45 minutes of intense small group debate, negotiation, and goal setting, plus the 15 minutes of setting up the contract which I designed completely in English for clarity's sake, and the 20 minutes of whole-class rubric design, neither I nor my students could speak a word of English until next Friday.

However, I think there is a way it can be done. Maybe. Some day.

My #langchat compatriots contend that a project that cannot be executed entirely in the Target Language is too complicated for the students' proficiency level. And so I have made a conscious effort, not to dumb down my goals, per se, but to align projects with linguistic level appropriate possibilities. Not everything needs to be a philosophical quandary or debate of societal maladies, after all.

But you know what? Everything does have to be relevant. I do not see my juniors engaging in such impassioned discussion as they did today about their movie trailers about exaggerated stories from their lives and how to make them reality if we were focused instead on their "daily routines" or what they did last weekend. I don't think the drive to achieve comprehensible pronunciation would be nearly as strong if my Spanish I girls (no boys this semester) were not preparing to get some input from actual Argentinian kids about ways to make their own Children's Day festival fun.

And it does have to fit my allotted time frames. Sure, I could have spent 2 more weeks breaking down filmmaking and teamwork-oriented vocabulary with images, semantic grouping, and TPR. But then the 6-week grading period would be over without the major project (or, rather, major test equivalent) mandated by my district. And can you imagine the level of burn-out on the whole movie-making topic if it lasted an extra month? And my poor Spanish I girls! Their vocabulary and pronunciation, their ability to pick up key words and derive meaning from what they hear are steadily improving each day. But if we had to get away from festival-related questions and vocabulary to ALSO rehearse how to ask the right questions in Spanish to get an event off the ground? We would certainly never get an event off the ground.

Mind you, I am making efforts to work some of that vocabulary in. I am fortunate to have 1.5 fewer preps this semester than all last year, so I am breaking things down, constructing simplified directions with cognates and key words wherever possible. I even have both Spanish I and II keeping a running list of "Instrucciones Importantes" so they have a ready reference for words I'll need to use again and again to explain tasks.

So is effective PBL possible in the TL--even at the novice level? If we can haggle the 80:20 Rule down to 60:40 or maybe just 70:30, then I think so. Otherwise, I give it a 50/50 shot.

11 September 2012

Found poets

My COMPASS Lab usually gets to choose what to blog about day to day, but today is not just any day.

Up until now, we have primarily focused on getting used to reading challenging texts of the prose fiction, natural sciences, social sciences, and practical reading varieties.Today's article would probably fall under the humanities category for COMPASS Test text types, but the focus was diverted a little more into writing territory, especially rhetorical skills like style and strategy.

Say what you will about poetry in the classroom, but I  think having students write found poetry from "Gravity's Rainbow" by Richard Lacayo was probably not only a way to have students reflect on the significance of that other Day that Will Live in Infamy 11 years ago, but also to make them think about word choice and the power of language. I mean, they were picking out some juicy lines--a useful reading analysis skill in itself--and the way they were combining them...at first they probably did it just to be done, but when I looked over their shoulders and read what they had actually put together...it was juicier still. Meaty, even. I think we'll spend some serious time analyzing their poetry in preparation for the COMPASS Test after this!

If you are interested in what they came up with, I am collecting students' entries on a 9/11 Memoriam Diigo list as they turn them in, and I created a Voicethread for students to respond to some of my favorites. (They were supposed to comment on either the author's line breaks, word choice, pace, or tone.)

If you are interested in what I came up with, here is my found poem contribution:

A whole is a lost opportunity,
But scale has a power.
2,983 dead would be inscribed on walls:
A mingling that speaks of many lives,
An intimacy
That will open,
Irresistibly drawing
Before the backdrop
Plunged through the surface.

Cleanly manufactured voids,
Two giant, churning memory machines:
Cut all the way through, actually.

The perimeter of both voids
Linked to the surrounding neighborhood,
Dead close to those of friends,
Co-workers who also died that day:
A cynical collection,
Scorched by the fires of the attack.
Who surrounded the voids?

A primordial force might be kept open:
Sacred ground and secular hangout,
Called-for pools--
As though they were drains
All in various stages--
Can’t quite summon
How much a bare bones design can
Leave you there,
Far below,
Through it every day.
Reach into your feelings about the grave.
Soften its hard edges.

Reason alone,
Reasons of cost and crowd,
First into separate rivulets,
Swept away
In this immense memorial.

Visitors will require
Drawing of an impossible idea,
Deposit feelings
Not consecrated to money making.

It might have been possible
to place the names,
Possible to enter
Contemplative space,
Its ancient power to console,

That wounded pit
Surrounds them ever.
Footprints of the towers
Ignored the instruction.
Potent excavations will end,
His own scheme
Like that restive, riderless horse
In the funeral procession.

26 August 2012

Google Reader Blog Grading

Google Reader is making grading blogs possible for me. Other teachers have discovered the wonder of feed readers like Google Reader before, of course, but here are some tricks I have been using with Google Reader to manage my COMPASS mini-class blogs.

When I just have a single weekly blog post to keep up with, it's been easier to just alphabetize blog links on Symbaloo and check off whether or not the posts are there each week. However, when blogs are pretty much daily, it helps to be able to see the blogs as they come in and go back and give credit as one goes. It's also nice to have the number of how many you have to go right there under "new"!
  1. Have a smartphone? Get the app. It's relatively slow-going, but I can still knock out a comment or two while on bus duty with the Google Reader app.
  2. Tag posts for organizing grades. For instance, my students must have 4 posts a week, each post on a different assigned topic--though the order during the week is up to them. If I tag each post with the week number and topic, then I can easily look up if they have met the week's requirements with a search of their name and a peek at the numbers in the tags!
  3. Tag posts for problem areas. The assigned length for posts is 300 words each, so in addition to tags for "run-ons" and "choppy," I also have "-300" so I can easily see if students are not saying enough. I find it best to add X in front of the problem area too, so these tags will appear after most of the tags with names or categories, and they'll all be together.
  4. Tag posts for what they do well, too. If the post shows how a piece should be organized or a good way to get the reader's attention, tag with an * in front of them, like "* organization" instead of "X organization."
  5. Star items that you want to use as examples for class. If someone wrote something that you want to show the class as a model of what TO do, star them, and you will have a stash that you can easily pull up! (Consider also labeling them with tags of what they are a good example of like "voice" or "organization".)
  6. Tagging can also be useful as an indication of whether or not you have commented yet. If you simply hold off on tagging until the comment is sent, then you can easily find where you left off, even if the Reader thinks you have read the post because you scrolled past it one time.

12 August 2012


Forty-five minutes a day, four days a week, I get to teach a class that is not a class! I will be preparing students to pass the reading and writing portions of the COMPASS test for entry and success in college courses.It is how my new school is dealing with the disparity created by hybridizing a high school and a college (we have to meet every day, they, well, don't). And I get to maintain my Spanglish cred.

It won't have its own slot on report cards or transcripts, though I did work out a deal with another English teacher so that students can get credit in his class for the work, so as to avoid the I-don't-have-to-do-this trap and not waste their time.

Plus, I get to have my mini-class in the computer lab, and you know what that means. That's right, my friends: blog them to death.

I confess a certain perverse attraction to testing, despite knowing intellectually that it is not the sum of my worth as an educator. The test is kind of like an aloof, dysfunctional parent whose approval I cannot help but crave. Nevertheless, I prefer to teach beyond the test most of the time. You know, break out the oil paints and hand-carved frame for Mother's Day instead of just macaroni and glitter glue.

So my plan is to have students writing and reading constantly. That's probably at least 50% of it. Then I see where the recurring problems are, where they could step up their games, and we have us some mini-lessons. I predict some work with run-ons and fragments, paraphrasing, rephrasing, mood and tone, author's purpose, main ideas and supporting details, and style.

I intend to set aside 15 of the 45 minutes each day for them to blog and for me to play Isabella from Phineas and Ferb: "Whatcha doooooin'?" Each of those four days, they will choose from one of four topics (though they must hit all four some time during the week)

  1. Something we read--We'll be looking at different articles, excerpts, and stories, at least one a week. The COMPASS site says for the Reading section to anticipate: "Practical reading, Prose fiction, Humanities, Social sciences, Natural sciences" to be covered. We've got eighteen weeks, so I'll aim to hit each type at least 3 times.
  2. Something you read--I figure they can handle one extra book of their own choosing over the course of a semester. Heck, I'm okay if it IS a picture book, as long as they have something different to say about it each week. And if they are more prolific readers, by golly they can have a different one each week, too, if they want.
  3. Something from class--Mind you, it doesn't have to be from our class, but I would like them to reflect on things they are learning. It might just be a rehash of something they found interesting or a breakdown of something they'd had trouble with (or perhaps were the only ones NOT to have trouble with). It might be a deeper look into something that raised questions. It might be something that they contributed to discussion or wish they had contributed to discussion.
  4. Something that won't get me fired--They can write about anything they want! As long as it is within the realm of high school classroom decency, of course. It would be cool if we had some poets or fiction writers, but it might also be a suitable spot for regular old journaling. Granted, we'll probably have to have a thorough chat on Day 1 about what is and is not high school classroom decent, but that is a small price to pay to get some worthwhile writing.

Now, of course Writing Skills for the test will cover usage and mechanics ("Punctuation, Sentence structure, Basic grammar and usage"), but I anticipate needing more time for the rhetorical skills: Strategy, Organization, and Style, as they may also be Writing Essays. To that end, I will have them choose one blog post each six-week grading period to refine and turn into something awesomer still, and we'll probably take one week of the term away from blogging to accomplish said refinement.

I think I will be able to fit a little choice in there, too, but probably only one of the three terms--maybe the middle, maybe the last. Here's how I foresee the revisions being revisioned:

  1. Persuasive essay--turn your post into a piece that makes your audience want to make a change.
  2. Researched essay--pick a topic with greater depth, find some sources, give them credit. (Not sure if this should be the second or the last one.)
  3. Poem or short story--get creative, master your own style and strategy, maybe imitate some "prose fiction."

I have to say that the more I think about this non-class class, the more excited I get about the possibilities! And if it means our kids blow the top off of the COMPASS test, all the better.

08 August 2012

More High School Spanish Driving Questions

I'm on a roll! Not just workshops, but booths at my new district's Teaching & Learning Conference have inspired still more driving questions. Plus I've been ruminating over how to phrase questions for materials I've used before (with minimal to moderate success but potential somewhere in there deep down). I may have too many choices for project-based units now, but perhaps I could enlist my online PLN to help me narrow them down? (Hint, hint!).

First, previous units:

  1. How do you respond to a medical emergency if the people around you speak only Spanish? (II or III)
  2. How can big cities fight back against gang violence? (with materials) (II or III)

Inspired by Ramona Winner's Global Awareness workshop:

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon
  1. What would make little kids care about keeping their teeth healthy? (I or II)

    Throw Your Tooth on the Roof has some cool info about baby tooth traditions from Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and Spain (the tooth fair is a rabbit or el Ratoncito--who knew?)
  2. Do home remedies really work? (I or II)

    Los remedios de mi nana (this one is bilingual) might encourage them to tap into their own families' traditions and/or explore homeopathy.
Inspired by booths:

  1. Health Department: How can we, as teenage sons and daughters, help parents of teens reach out to and communicate with their children? (They already have offerings for parents in English AND Spanish!) (I-III)
  2. Health Department: Can teen parents raise happy, healthy children? (II or III)
  3. Botanical Garden: What power does the weather have over our lives? (I--Weather is mentioned specifically in the Common Core.)
  4. Botanical Garden & Farm Bureau: How can food make my life better? (I or II--An excuse for some cooking and science and health class crossovers?)
  5. CaroMont Health: What is the #1 killer of people like me, and how can I avoid it? (II or III)

So that puts my choices for Spanish I up around 15 and Spanish II up closer to 20. I had them narrowed to 10 each before, and I think that is a good number to offer, so if anyone has suggestions on which to sub in or out, I'm all ears!

06 August 2012

Driving Questions for High School Spanish

The first day, I'll give students a survey to let them rate the which Driving Questions capture their interest the most on a scale of "Now that I know this is an option, I cannot enjoy class without exploring this" to "I could get into this" to "Please, I think I will hate Spanish forever if we have to study this." (I would make it a Google Doc form, but my understanding is internet access is pretty much out of the question for a few weeks due to construction issues.)

There are topics related to units I've already tried out:
  1. Is it harder being black in a Spanish-speaking country or in the U.S.? (II)
  2. Should drug ballads be banned in Mexico? (II)
  3. Could a dictatorship ever happen in the United States? (II or III)
  4. (from La llaman America) Is it harder to immigrate to the United States legally or illegally? (II)
  5. (from La llaman America) Is poetry a waste of time? (II)
  6. (from La llaman America) Are people born into poverty destined to stay poor all their lives? (II)
  7. How can we, as teenagers, recognize and address bullying in our schools? (III)
There are topics I dreamed up during my training with the Buck Institute:
  1. How can we, as successful high school students, teach middle schoolers how to use Web 2.0 tools to improve their learning experience? (I)
  2. What would a Spanish movie about the story of my life look like? (I or II)
  3. What is the biggest change in human society since I was born? (III)
  4. How can we, as Early College students, convince 8th graders to come to our school? (I or II)
There are topics inspired by #PBLchat:
  1. What is the best way to use Spanish to promote brain health for the elderly? (I-III)
  2. How can we, as residents of Gaston County, help people who just moved to the area adjust to living here? (I or II)
  3. Is the DREAM Act the best way to help teenagers brought to the U.S. by their parents illegally? (II or III) 
There are topics tailored to fulfill Common Core Essential Standards:
  1. What can we, as teenagers, plan to benefit children of our community in honor of Children's Day? (I) 
  2. Could we, as students, plan a week-long trip for our class to a Spanish-speaking country that would be as appealing to the parents and administrators sending us, for its educational value, as it would to our peers, for its entertainment value? (I) 
  3. NM.CMT.4.4 Identify how knowledge of the target language is useful in a global economy: Could we help our county plan a bilingual career fair for our community to show the benefits of speaking two languages and connect citizens with potential employers? (I-III)
I have narrowed the choices down to 10 each for Spanish I and II (since I won't have III until the spring--going back to semester blocks is a bit of a shake-up).

I've done my best to try to create engaging topics that will, at the same time, get students hooked, align with Common Core Essential Standards, and meet students where they are in terms of ability. As I have not met any of these students yet (also a little jarring after 3 years of having a hand in the selection process), any feedback I can get before presenting these options to my new kiddos would be much appreciated!