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.