24 December 2013

Talk to Me: Genius Hour Experiment, Part 7

Google can answer most any question in any language these days. But without the human element, our learning falls flat and remains abstract, almost artificial. Without someone to test our answers on, our knowledge can never leave our heads. Therefore, to learn a language, we must seek an audience, and more than that, we must exchange ideas with that audience. It is our job as language teachers, then, to help students find audiences in their new language and teach them how to engage with those audiences.

I must confess, in my own novice experiment, I've been putting this one off as long as I could. The idea of approaching someone in Portuguese is...alarming. And I've got a few native speaker friends I'm fairly certain would humor me, if only because they're language teachers themselves. I've also got the anonymity of the internet on my side if I choose to go the Twitter or Skype or YouTube route.

But if I start it, it's real. And they might judge me--they will judge me, they will have to. If I put my Portuguese out there, I'm saying it's ready, when I know it's not.

So I've got to build up my own confidence. I've got to collect as much input as I can--without overwhelming myself--from DuoLingo, Pinterest, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (just having the occasional post in Portuguese pop up on my feed keeps me engaged with the language throughout the day).

I've got to make a plan.

Whom will I contact?
  1. People I know
    I know a Spanish teacher from Brazil and  a Spanish/French/ESL teacher from Portugal. They'd write me back (at least one of them may even read this before I write them). There's also my Brazillian cello teacher from third grade on Facebook if I'm feeling really brave...I don't know how much any of them would know about recycling or crafts, but I could surely do a "How is __ viewed in __?" type of survey.
  2. Tweeps
    I've added a few tweeps I have yet to contact, mostly who have reciclagem somewhere in their name or description. Their resources are generally laid out, so I pretty much KNOW what they know. I'll have to choose something specific to ask about, like one of their projects or a category of project that interests me for which they could provided informed recommendations and opinions (best projects for kids? best materials to use?)
  3. Skype in the Classroom
    While reciclagem turns up approximately 2 results, I'm sure I could ask some general questions of anyone indicating they would be interested in practicing English. And if I cannot find a random discussion buddy there, there's always LiveMocha or WeSpeke. I'm not sure how I feel about my students using those, but I will be looking more into them: WeSpeke looks especially promising. It would be especially neat to have them partner with someone in another country with similar interests to compare progress and share their findings, a sort of resource/motivator.
  4. Googled organizations
    Businesses, schools,
    and clubs devoted to selling recycled art or perhaps to green studies (do they even have those in Portuguese-speaking countries?) or to sharing projects might be willing to tell me more about what they do in their line of work, how they deal with reciclagem and/or artesanato on a daily basis.

How will I contact them?

  1. IntroductionOf course different contacts will have different levels of familiarity with A) my topic and B) me. So I would, after the fashion of my own discussion preparation plan, need to introduce myself and my purpose. Even for my Facebook friends, I'd need to introduce in what context I'm addressing them, my Portuguese-speaking self, if you will (poor souls--they've never met that version of me...I'm not sure I have, really. Reason #405 to be scared of this step.) As an aside, my kids that have taken the interpersonal step before me and jumped right in to tweeting questions were met with a little suspicion from their newfound tweeps at times. Just saying.
  2. Commendation
    If some random person from the internet contacted me out of the blue, I'd want to know "Why me?" So, without resorting to stalking, I should indicate what I know about them that leads me to believe they can help, even if it's their native language plus the length of time they spent in a Portuguese-speaking country. If some buttering up should take place, I would think that would be all to the good.
  3. Interrogation
    I mean, don't grill 'em, for Pete's sake, but ask what you want to know. Whittle each down to under 140 characters if you can, for simplicity and tweeting's sake. And try and keep it to maybe three specific--but not weirdly specific--questions. I can't imagine I'd get much but a bunch of question marks back if I asked "What do you know about recycling?" or "Do you like crafts?" At the same time, "What are Portugal's policies on recycling plastic bottles?" probably wouldn't get me too far either.
  4. Appreciation
    I'll have to thank them in advance for their patience with my Portuguese and their assistance in my progress. Even if all they do is say "Eu não posso ajudar," they have reinforced my language skills at least. And if they don't even respond, well, they helped by being there for me to at least attempt to appeal to them.

So I'm thinking this is what I'm going to need to check for students:

  • A contact list with a name and a contact point (number, e-mail address, or handle) from at least 3 of the 4 categories of people they can contact
  • A general e-mail introduction to set up their situation and what they need for someone who doesn't know them, and possibly a 140 character version as well
  • Tweet-length questions: if they can get it under 140 characters, it's probably simple enough, but they also have to make sure it conveys enough of what they're looking for, too; these should probably also be divided by the type of audience their addressing, too
  • Complete e-mail request that combines the introduction, the questions, and adds a logical closing--a sort of less-rough draft
  • Collected responses, probably on some sort of master Google Doc or Storify story (bonus if they get audio put together on a video or glog), with key parts highlighted
  • Summary of responses, wherein they have to put their own spin on what they've learned and elaborate on how this helps them
For now, I guess it's time for me to start assembling my own introduction and questions.

22 December 2013

Google Translate Addiction: Genius Hour experiment, part 6

I confess. I used Google Translate on my last two novice Genius Hour posts in Portuguese. At first it was just one word at a time, just to copy the accents. I looked it up in WordReference first, though, I swear! Then I needed a little conjugation, just a little taste, to make sure I was right. I checked WordReference after, though, I did! The forums and everything!

I can quit any time I want, really!

But did you know you can get the translator to pronounce stuff for you? And you can save phrases to, like, a frequent flyer list? AND you can tell them if a phrase was helpful, unhelpful, or offensive?

I don't know, man, maybe translators should be, like, legalized or something.

Tony Wagner tells us we as teachers must adapt our approach to a world where we are no longer the sole purveyors of knowledge: it's there for the taking for anyone with an internet connection. What students need from us now are the tools to frame questions and form informed responses. I mean, if what they need is on the translator, who are we to deny them access?

But, Señora! What if they're stranded on a mountaintop with no wifi! Or--or their phone battery dies before they can find out where the bathroom is! Or it gets stolen! Or they drop it in the toilet! Or...or they're in a job interview!

Well, that would suck for them, wouldn't it? But as many times as your algebra teacher tried to tell you that you wouldn't always have a calculator with you, exactly what percentage of the time is that true for you now? I'd say maybe 10% of my day, personally. But I will say that rapid calculation skills came in handy while I was working the drive-thru at Wendy's in college. And figuring grades is easier when I can think faster than I can type. But I HAVE a calculator, several of them, and it would be silly not to use them when it's faster. Mind you, I won't be applying for any jobs that require lightning-fast math skills any time soon, either.

Yeah? Well translators are inaccurate!

I love this video as much as the next language teacher, but really? For it to get really unintelligible, it had to go through at least one non-logographic translation, and our kids are not going to go through more than one language to get what they want anyway. And honestly, is that first translation any less accurate than any other novice? And aren't we always talking about how it's about communication over accuracy?

Understand, too, I'm approaching this as a teacher who's taught exactly ONE class of Spanish III, and my students are usually more than satisfied with their two years, thank you very much. Kids going onto AP? They're going to need to operate without a wire/calculator/Google. My kids? Probably not.

I had been hoping that Joann Clifford, Lisa Merschel, and Deb Reisinger were going to solve all of my translator questions in October's Language Educator, and while they didn't tell me how students should use translators, they did confirm that it's a fool's errand to try to just ban them, with literally 100% of students surveyed indicating they should be able to use them somehow. With my Genius Hour experience, I have to say, I'm inclined to agree.

Of course my Genius Hour situation is distinct from my students' in two key ways: 1) they have a teacher who knows the language and 2) I have experience learning languages. They have someone to tell them when Google Translate knows not whereof it speaks, and I have an inkling of when I should doubt the translation I get. Case in point: Google doesn't know the difference between onde and aonde OR that adonde is one word. On the other hand, without Google Translate, I would have kept incorrectly writing Portuguese questions with Spanish structure.

So here are the commandments I plan to implement to make

  1. Thou shalt use Google Translate only for presentational communication: not interpersonal, and not interpretive.
  2. Thou shalt translate no more than 5 consecutive words.
  3. Thou shalt guess how to say the word or phrase before consulting Google Translate.
  4. Thou shalt consult a dictionary to confirm results.
  5. Thou shalt Google unexpected results to confirm proper usage.
  6. Thou shalt maintain a Phrasebook of words searched more than once, exporting said Phrasebook to Google Sheets to share with your teacher.
  7. Thou shalt play the audio for any searches and repeat the word or phrase aloud.
  8. Thou shalt enter your finished writing and change it back to English to find places to edit.
  9. Thou shalt edit your writing until the English translation makes sense.
  10. Thou shalt play the audio of your finished writing before reading it aloud to yourself.
We will definitely have to practice these commandments procedures, and I'll have students submit evidence of their steps a few times at the beginning of the semester. Of course the Phrasebook spreadsheet sharing will be part of it, but early on, I'll also have them submit the following with some of the first writing assignments:
  • the word they need to find
  • their guess
  • what Translate said
  • the relevant dictionary entry
  • Google results (showing the word used in context)
For the pronunciation application, I'll require a few recordings--audio or video--of them playing the recording and repeating.

I think it would be well worth using translators for even the first month of class, if only to make the class understand the critical thinking necessary to evaluate the results they get.

21 December 2013

Genius Hour Driving Questions for World Languages

I think one of the biggest problems my students had with Genius Hour this past semester was choosing a topic that would drive them. Sure, they picked things they were mildly curious about, but as I've said before, if you don't feel like you're getting away with something during Genius Hour, you're doing it wrong.

And so I've resolved to spend more time on figuring out what they really need to be exploring, where their passions really lie, and then giving them the tools to share that passion with others in the target language. Because let's face it, Genius Hour in the world language classroom should probably be less about breaking new ground than it should be about learning to communicate about topics that move them already. They need the prior knowledge of a familiar topic to build on, and the discovery is really more the language itself and the audience and resources that it opens up to them.

So my plan is to spend the first week of the new semester on a series of open-ended driving questions designed to get at what they would really enjoy studying. For addressing these questions, I'm going to try combining InfuseLearning with techniques I learned at #ACTFL13  in a session on organic language acquisition:

1. Establish some basic vocabulary with visuals and gestures. 
2. Pose a question on InfuseLearning to be answered with student drawings (no words, but letters, numbers are ok). 
3. Categorize student responses, and provide Spanish vocabulary corresponding to their answers. 
4. OWL circle: move chairs out of the way for the circle (probably whole class at first) and add gestures to the vocabulary to ask students about their opinions. 
5. Write an individual summary of your ideas after the circle session.

To this end, I have come up with a bunch of questions, grouped them, and decided on some basic verb vocabulary we'd need to discuss the responses:

What websites or type of websites do you like to see?
What type of videos do you like to see?
What TV shows or type of TV shows do you like to see?
What movies or type of movies do you like to see?

Vocabulary: sitios web, programas de tele, películas, te gusta, me gusta, le gusta, ves, veo, ve

Where do you go when you are not at school or at home?
You have $100: where do you use it?

Vocabulary: dónde, escuela, casa, tienes, cien dólares, vas, voy, va, usas, uso, usa

What are you an expert in?
What do you want to know how to do?
What do you want to create?

Vocabulary: quieres, quiero, quiere, eres, soy, es, saber, sabes, sé, sabe

How do you want to help other people?
How do you want to change the world?
What do more people need to understand?

Vocabulary: cómo, ayudar, ayudo, ayudas, ayuda, otras, cambiar, mundo, más, necesitas, necesito, necesita

I have some additional questions, more philosophical and more culturally based, but I think these are the best to get the Genius Hour discussion going and to help them figure out what they need in order to actually enjoy their own passion projects.

15 December 2013

After the Skype Session

You arranged for your class to Skype with a native speaker--maybe a whole class of native speakers--and to carry on a real live conversation in the target language. Your kids introduced themselves, nodded and said "gracias" like they should when their compañeros across the internet answered their questions. But you still have a feeling that they have almost no idea what just happened. Fortunately, you recorded the whole thing.

I explained previously my master plan for preparing conversational habits for the Skype call, including a semi-scripted booklet as a sort of cheat sheet to reinforce the routine. Now allow me to explain how I have students reflect on what they hear and demonstrate their comprehension.

I first experimented with post-Skype session processing with the one Spanish 3 class I've had when they chatted with a class in Argentina and then more after a very small group session with a former professor of mine. More recently, we used it to analyze what students in a rural school in Colombia needed.

Basically, I have students revisit the conversation and edit it to demonstrate they were able to get information they could use out of the whole affair.

When the call starts, I hit "Record" on Audacity when the conversation began, then stopped when we hung up, and exported the whole conversation as a .WAV or .MP3 file.

I have had limited success with Hangouts on Air during class, but being able to record with video (for free) allows you to maintain the context clues afforded by video. Somehow it seems easier to connect with people--and find out if they really are connected--with Skype, so I've just been recording with Audacity and exporting files as .WAV or .MP3 files and uploading them to Google Drive for kids to download and edit. If you can get Hangouts on Air to work, you could edit the video with Movie Maker or WeVideo online.

If I have time, I edit out long pauses, weird noises, and rogue L1 interference.With longer conversations, especially those that go on at least half an hour, I have to divide into smaller chunks. I try to stick to under 5 minutes for upload/download purposes, but I also look for a clean break between questions. I do try to include multiple question-answer sessions in a clip so I'm not predigesting the baby birds' food for them.

I upload the edited, chunked files to a Google Drive folder and share it with the students (having a list of every email to copy and paste really is handy). Students then listen to the recordings, seeking answers they believe will help them reach their goals, whether it is persuading students to study abroad or planning a scrapbook to send to Colombia. I like to number the chunks chronologically, so students who were paying attention to the order of the conversation have a better chance of finding what they're looking for without me handing it to them.

I give students two options as to how they will present their findings: video or glog. Either way, they are whittling down the recording to segments no shorter than 30 seconds and no longer than 90. They must 1) find the file they need, 2) cut out the nonessentials, and then 3) demonstrate visually that they know what is happening in their clips.

For the most part, students just transcribe the questions (usually that they came up with themselves beforehand) and then the answers they can discern. They could, however, also use images aligned with the answers to demonstrate their comprehension, flashing colors up at the point in the video when the Colombian kids list their favorites or surrounding the designated soundbite on their glog with clip art and images that show what a student should bring on a study abroad trip.

Looking ahead, I'd like to take the response a step further and have students explain how they intend to use the information they learned in their final product. It could be as simple as "Voy a usar marcadores morados" or "Necesito investigar el valor del dolar en diferentes paises".

It's always interesting to see what students don't catch in the clips they make, but it's more valuable to see what they do catch. I think the most important thing, especially at the novice level, is that they are able to pick out what does and does not help them. I generally give them credit for having the right number of questions and answers and adhering to the limits, but I think it's worth it, too, to acknowledge the appropriateness of what they selected for their purposes. The accuracy of their interpretations should factor in too, to the extent that they are not making things up and are able to understand the gist of what was actually said. At higher levels, completeness of the response might also be worth assessing, but at the novice level, a few words and phrases is literally all that's reasonable to expect.

I do hope to set up more Skypes next semester and to have students complete a reflection at least once a grading period. After a few rounds, maybe they can handle parsing their own interviews for their own interests!

08 December 2013

Skype in the Target Language: Setup

After an awkward class Skype session or five, I've resorted to having students prepare a sort of script for what to do when. Setting the schema of the conversation beforehand is essential., but since the conversation is spontaneous, it's not a you-read-this-I-read-that script, but sort of a playbook for what to do in different situations. 

I did make an actual booklet template that I posted on Teachers Pay Teachers (sample page pictured here), but this is how I suggest breaking the pages down if you want to, say, have your students figure out what goes where:

1. Introduction: Who/where/what/how are you?
Give your name, where you're contacting them from, and in what capacity you are contacting them. Exchange some pleasantries.
  • Buenos días, me llamo __________
  • Soy estudiante en _________ y quiero hablar con ustedes de _______
  • ¿Cómo están hoy? Aquí estamos emocionados/felices/nerviosos.
2. Topic: What do you want to talk about?
Establish the general theme of your question(s) before launching into the first one. Be sure to have a rephrase ready, plus possible examples to help prompt if you're still not understood (plus it helps understand their answers if you have an idea what they might say).

  • ¿Me pueden contar algo sobre ______?
  • [Pregunta] ___________________________
  • [Pregunta versión 2] ______________________
  • [Respuestas posibles] _______   _______  _______
3. Clarification: Can you repeat/explain?
Be ready to ask them to say it again, slower,  louder, or in a different way. If you still don't understand, repeat what you heard and ask what a specific part means or if they can give examples. If possible, rephrase their answer for assurance. 
  • Otra vez, más despacio, por favor.
  • No se oye. Otra vez más fuerte, por favor.
  • No entiendo. ¿Qué quiere decir ______?
  • ¿Dijo 《 ________》?
  • ¿Quiere decir que _________?
  • ¿Me pueden explicar ________?

4. Response: I understand! 
Once you're clear on what their response is, you should acknowledge it and react appropriately to what they said, indicating whether you are pleased, surprised, saddened, impressed, curious, or simply in agreement. It is also a good idea to offer your own response to the question for comparison, if only to reinforce the connection in your own mind. 
  • ¡Qué bien/padre/chévere/chido/bárbaro!
  • ¡No me diga!
  • ¿En serio?
  • ¡Qué lástima!
  • ¡Increíble! 
  • ¡Felicidades!
  • ¿Por qué es así?
  • Yo también/A mí también.
  • Yo tampoco/Ni a mí tampoco.
  • Yo sí/ A mí sí. 
  • Yo no/ A mí no.
  • Por mi parte...
And of course, they must always end with ¡Gracias!

02 December 2013

Rowdy Writers' Workshop (Now with Badges!)

Writers' Workshop has gone through several incarnations this semester of Creative Writing alone.

We started off in a circle with hard copies and pens in hand. As the stories got longer, though, the screams of the murdered trees haunted my dreams. I also didn't relish the idea of having to paw through folders full of comments to see what students used to improve their writing come final revision time.

So we broke out the laptops. However, it appears in a class of all girls (yes, ALL girls) computer screens become privacy screens, so workshop became a ring of private gossip sessions. Sure, the comments were gathered in one place for easy, tree-free access (no pre-class copy scramble--woohoo!), but the interactions broke down, and the authors' pieces were not getting the attention they deserved.

So I took the tech a step further. We moved down to the computer lab where every desktop was facing the walls. My girls had to hold their workshop strictly in the chat function of Google Drive. I started the conversation with a simple call for compliments, then moved into critiques and suggestions. Still the girls found ways to get off track, even in writing.

I was at a loss. I threatened to move workshops to strictly homework-type assignment, but I knew that would not serve the purpose that a workshop should. I knew my girls needed that feedback. And I knew it was cheating them not to find a way to get that feedback to them. Mind you, they were not in danger of going without comments: they get more than they'd ever want from me for as many times as they'll resubmit a piece. But my feedback can be overwhelming and, well, untrustworthy, coming from an adult who doesn't "get it." If I say it makes sense, it could be because I'm not one of them. If one of them says it doesn't make sense, maybe, just maybe it doesn't make sense. And lets face it, they catch things I don't. I get a little wrapped up in the run-ons and past participle abuse, and 15 heads are better than one.

So how else does one cut down on conversations? How could I get the authors focused attention on what they'd written and honest suggestions on how to improve it.

Divide and conquer, they say. 

So I took the 3 pieces that were to be workshopped that day, and I had the authors choose their peer feedback group team-captain style. The thinking was that they'd pick people they knew would help them--or at least not distract each other (it happened to be a day three of my more studious authors had chosen for their workshops). And, you know, maybe they'd pick a friend or two, someone who got them, who made them feel good. After the group got 15 minutes to read, comment, then discuss, the authors rotated, so they got feedback from each group.

Of course splitting the class has its disadvantages. For one, I cannot be a part of every conversation: it's entirely up to them this way, to stay on track and keep the conversation productive and constructive, float though I may. For two, the authors are removed from all conversations but their own. There are a few girls who everyone wants to comment on their piece, because they know they'll tell them what's what.

We spent some time reflecting on what they wanted out of workshop and what they found valuable in a comment or commenter. And then we came up with some badges that we could award for the qualities they found the most helpful. I threw out the one who kept things on track, the one who gave the most helpful comments, and the one who was the most thorough; they added the one who makes you feel good, a good choice, I thought.

We've done a test drive with the smaller groups, and the worst criticism I've heard, aside from not getting the Super-Commenters' opinions on their workshop days, is that some of the groups were still not very helpful. We'll test drive the badge system this week, authors nominating their picks for each badge on a discussion board on Schoology while I'm out (the workshop routine did NOT work well while I was at ACTFL). I picked their groups this time and insinuated that badge achievement could be tied to extra credit down the road.

So here's hoping my rowdy girls finally have the technology, the focus, and the motivation they need to give each other good feedback.

01 December 2013

Genius Hour Presentation Goals

It's that magical time of year when students' research and reflection pay off and come together in an experience that is both enlightening and engaging for the rest of the class.

I hope.

The topics are diverse, and I want to give students as much choice in the outcome as possible. Still, I want enough uniformity that I can fairly evaluate each presentation, regardless of topic or presentation style. So there are a few things I'm going to ask to see in each, though I am still toying with the idea, too, of offering students the option of differentiated tiers, depending on how complex they want to get with their presentations.

1. Establish Linguafolio goals
Spanish II students have been putting together e-portfolios on their progress blogs, section by section, post by post all semester. I let them choose any 3 of the 9 Novice Mid or Novice High goals designated by North Carolina as the purview of Spanish II the first 6 weeks. The next 6 weeks, they had the chance to re-do any less than successful sections and add 3 more. This 6 weeks, I've designated the ones they must knock out to be complete, assigning them individually based on what they haven't attempted or haven't "passed"  (over half have at least 5 left--not ideal, but at least there's time to revisit). 

I've commented on their blogs where necessary and indicated via rubric what didn't work. Based on this information--and individual conferences if necessary--I'd like for students to choose 5 Linguafolio standards they have yet to demonstrate and figure out how to work them into their presentations. This way, they can self-differentiate and use the presentation to meet previously unattained proficiency goals.

P.S. This will be the only portion of the presentation that I will allow to be in English. I know I want them to label when they present the evidence, so it might be throughout the presentation, or I might just make little labels they could use after the initial slide/page/visual with the standards.

Possible tiers: A=5 standards demonstrated and labeled, B=4, C=3, D=2

2. Select topic-specific vocabulary to teach the class
In order for classmates to be able to follow along with any specialized topic, students will have to frontload the same as I do. 10-15 words seems a reasonable number of vocabulary words for students to begin to process while still allowing enough room for presenters to clearly communicate a wholly unique topic. Plus introducing the vocabulary seems a sound way to introduce their topic, too.

I'd recommend that they hit all 3 of Sexton's Strategies for Vocabulary Retention (visuals, actions, connections), but that might be a way to differentiate too: how many different ways they teach the information.

Possible tiers: A=Visuals, gestures, semantic groups, and strategic repetition/reinforcement for each word; B= Visuals, gestures, semantic groups for each; C=Visuals OR gestures with semantic groups for each; D=Visuals for each word

3. Design an interactive demonstration for all classmates to participate in
I want the whole class involved, with each and every presentation. I could do something with vocabulary in the end like a quiz or taking up notes, but that would not be enough to keep them attending to what is actually happening, to be involved in interpreting their classmates' work or engaging with interpersonal discourse about their topics.

I've talked with a few students about what they could do, like demonstrating their fire gear or "tattooing" their classmates or recording their own (interactive?) scary story in Spanish, and I think there are plenty of things others could do, too. However, since they're already going to have to be exercising interpretation and presentational skills at the very least, I think I want them to have the option of engaging the class with Lower Order Thinking Skills--as long as they're engaging the class. These are some ideas I'd be okay with them using. (I confess I had to hit up the Teach Like a Pirate hooks for inspiration for a few.)

Possible tiers: A=activity with ALL students up, moving, using Spanish, developing deeper understanding of the topic; B=activity with all students using Spanish and understanding topic; C=activity with all students using Spanish related to the topic; D=many students using related Spanish

4. Summarize the information at the beginning and end
The vocabulary could very well get the class warmed up, but it's worth it for the presenter--and for the class--to have a sort of thesis laid out right after and then reviewed at the end.

5. Cite the sources
It's a good habit to cite everything they use in their presentation, and they (should) already have everything gathered on their page of our Genius Hour Google Site.

6. Pre-presentation rehearsal
I want to be sure to set aside a day or two before the big day for presenters to get feedback from small groups, and also maybe to pre-record anything they want to slip in to their Linguafolio itself.

I'm not 100% how I'd weight each of these yet, but a handful of kids are ready for the planning stage, and so to prepare them in my absence (yay, state assessment meeting!), I made this template and this Powtoon (thanks to Heather and Garnet for the tip!) to get them on the right track:

30 November 2013

#ACTFL13 Storify Summaries: Friday

ACTFL 2013 in Orlando was my first national conference as a Spanglish teacher, and a presenter. I'd attended NCTE 3 times as a mere English teacher, but those were also in the days before I discovered potty training and Twitter. Suffice it to say, the experience has changed!

In addition to hanging out with my personal tweeps and idols, I got in on some pretty good sessions every day I was there. Here's the rundown from my Friday sessions, in Storify form.

Creating Proficiency Outcomes

PBL in the TL: Combining Problem-Based Learning with Proficiency Goals

I hear PBL in the TL session was awesome, standing room only by the end, but for some reason I didn't get any tweets out during the session...I did, however, get this comment from Andrea on the TodaysMeet for the session, which I like to look at and soak up like Florida sunshine whenever I can:
The best workshop I've attended yet! Just arrived today, but I left your talk thinking, thinking and thinking some more! Thanks so much!

Global Possibilities for Students: Helping Students Reach Their Linguistic Destinations.

Novices Can, Too!

Friday takeaways

Honestly, I wouldn't call anything I encountered Friday new, but these sessions did clarify a lot for me. The proficiency session brought my focus back to outcomes and designing tasks that lead to those outcomes while staying relevant (I am SO doing the tech survey thing next semester!). I MUST make my own GPS app once I've clarified my own proficiency objectives now. And now I know even better ways to find authentic resources on it and ways to help my kids break them down!

For more Friday goodness, see Sra. Witten's rundown over at Flipping My Spanish Classroom!

20 November 2013

Target Language Need-to-Know Question Progression

The kids are hooked and burning to learn more. It would be neat if we could just set them loose with questions as soon as we see enough smoke to tell us the fire's lit, but world language teachers must first stock our little firebugs with communication kindling to make sure their target language fires don't fizzle. We can do this by setting up a progression of questions based on the entry event that kicks off our projects.

An entry event is basically a carefully plotted activity that introduces the impending project while blowing the class's collective mind if possible. Guest speakers are nice, videos can work, or maybe a picture book or relevant game. It's a starting point for the project and for the language building. The first questions for the project should activate prior knowledge and connect it to what the entry event just showed them. The questions should start as simple as simple can be, and then branch out, perhaps in an order like this:

1. Model yes/no questions
Use entry events and the artifacts thereof as inspiration for questions, but limit questions to yes-or-no to begin with. Model some yes-or-no questions for them to answer about what they saw or heard. Fill in gaps in their vocabulary with gestures and/or visuals and by slathering on the cognates.

For these questions to be possible, you will need to frontload and regularly reinforce some basic verbs from the beginning, like is/are, have/has, wants, can, needs, goes, uses, makes. It is also a good idea to refresh on any relevant vocabulary students already know that could help, even if it's just colors or numbers 1-10.

Display these questions as you ask them to help students process what you're saying and make more connections. It might be wise to provide students with copies or have them copy the questions themselves.

2. Form yes/no questions
When it's students' turn to ask each you--or each other--questions about the entry event input, they, too, will need to rely on the standard verbs and fill in what their vocabulary is lacking with gestures and visuals where necessary, or explanations in the TL if possible (hooray for circumlocution practice!). A simple game of 20 questions where students point to a picture for a conclusive guess can be a fun way to get them to form their own questions using familiar vocabulary to discuss the new topic.

3. Model questions with interrogatives
Use the same standard verbs and vocabulary, but add the who/what/when/where/why/how/etc. words in front to ask questions about the entry event. These should be the questions you have carefully anticipated beforehand.

4. Provide multiple choice responses
This is where vocabulary notes might be handy: we may not have a textbook we're operating from, but we should have a set of common vocabulary from which we can operate, even if it's only 15 words. Also, according to Sexton's Strategy for Vocabulary Retention #3, all new vocabulary needs to be connected to prior knowledge and grouped semantically. You already have questions for semantic group headers this way, thus reinforcing both the answer vocabulary and the question synaptically (Yes, I do believe synaptically is a new word, glad you like it.) Then you can reinforce them AGAIN as they become key words for student searches later during the inquiry phase!

If vocabulary is adequately similar to the L1, then you should be able to get away with slapping them on the board and letting them guess, perhaps with a dash of charades. However, I do enjoy a quick, easy slideshow where the word magically appears for more elaborate verbiage (Sexton's Strategy for Vocabulary Retention #1: connect new vocabulary to visuals). There is also the option of allowing students to generate the list with visuals themselves, too.

5. Form questions with interrogatives
Students should now be able to form questions they really want to ask about the topic. Try collecting these questions via Polleverywhere or TodaysMeet or a shared class Google Doc if you have the technology access. Otherwise, a good old-fashioned butcher-paper poster with post-it notes, should do the trick. Heck, it might be kind of fun to write them on notecards and throw them on the ground to arrange them into groups according to what they're asking about. In some cases, these question groups might help decide how to group students according to their interests!

6. Provide open-ended planning questions
Form your student groups or let them form their own (you know your class better than I do), and then let them answer these standard planning questions I like to use (in the TL of course). I suggest having them answer individually then discuss selected questions from the list, perhaps with conversation cards, periodically throughout the project.

Then comes the answering, lathering, rinsing, and repeating that all make up the inquiry process.

17 November 2013

PBL while Tied to the Textbook

Your district has a list of vocabulary students have to know to pass your class. You are required to cover ser vs. estar and stem-changing verbs. Also, your department says you have to get through Chapter 6 by midterm. These will all be on the state/district/school exam.

Exactly where is an authentic PBL project supposed to fit in there?

While it can be lonely being the entire world language department by myself, I give thanks nearly every day for the freedom I have to experiment and do what I see is best for my students, including project-based learning. Some of my online compatriots who fill my isolated department void, however, do not enjoy this level of freedom and have a host of masters to serve and hoops to jump through in order to be allowed to do what they know is right.

It's been years since I had to face the structured demands many must accommodate, but those restrictions were already deeply ingrained in my approach to language instruction for years before my release. I stayed in the cell staring at the wall even when the door had been swung open behind me. That is to say, I still tried to jump through hoops that had vanished, so perhaps I can offer some insight into how to "do it all." I'm not saying I ever did it all, mind you, but I think I can see now how I could have.
  1. Start with the vocabulary.
    Whether it's the district's, department's, or Chapter 4's list, look at the words and the theme they're organized around (most textbooks have come at least this far). If you have just one huge list of words you have to cover by the end of the course, group them thematically yourself.

    Now think of an audience with whom it would be worth discussing that theme, an angle that would entice your students.Then design (or choose) a driving question that fits the theme and add any other vocabulary or expressions needed to address that question.
  2. Build in the grammar.
    Depending on the structure you're assigned, you might want to let this influence your driving question design too. For example, reflexives might work best with a daily routine theme or imperfect tense with a unit on childhood, future tense on dream careers. Maybe a past perfect unit on cryptozoology--"Nunca he visto una chupacabra, pero..."

    However, with most other structures, you should be able to work them in as part of the planning and/or reflection procedures. I can pretty much only speak to Romance languages, but here are some structures you might have to deal with at the novice level in Spanish and the kinds of activities that might work:
  • Yo/tú conjugations: partners ask questions about preferences to plan responsibilities  
  • 3rd person & plural conjugations: progress reports to class--groups present what they have, need, are going to do next, and class creates a status report. 
  • Adjective order/agreement: partner selection/role assigning--students describe who they want to work with, what jobs they think they should do, e.g. "Lilly es una estudiante popular y una buena líder para nuestro grupo."
  • Ser vs estar: resource summary--groups explain what sources they have found, grouping by category where possible (Estos sitios son de aficionados venezolanos), describing where they found the information (Están en YouTube) and perhaps how the author feels about the subject (Está confundido por los resultados.)  
  • Saber vs conocer: list possible interpersonal resources--who do they know who could help, and what do they know that could help? They could ask each other if they know someone they could use too.
  • Present progressive: simple circulating progress check--during independent work time, ask an individual what he/she is working on and what his/her teammates are working on at that moment.
  • Commands: pre-presentation feedback--groups share what they have with other groups, and those practice audiences tell them how to fix it.

Of course time is always a concern when you are handed a minute-by-minute pacing guide or micro-managed curriculum, so it might not be feasible to conduct your entire course with even these tips. However, successful teachers often talk about teaching beyond the test, and using the commandments handed down from on high for a still higher purpose is probably going to be time well-spent. Furthermore, with procedures used for multiple projects, you are not just "covering" the requirements, but strategically reinforcing them.

This approach takes a lot of planning, of course, but second semester is fast approaching (I'm screaming inside too), so maybe we can both resolve to test out some more of these strategies next go-round?

16 November 2013

15 Driving Questions for Novice Spanish

Good Driving Questions have to be both open-ended and provocative. The trouble in a novice language class, of course, is finding a topic that a novice can handle, a topic that can be broken down into a digestible selection of key words and simple expressions. But more than that, you have to have a question that connects with your audience.

This past summer, @MCanion pointed me to a list of 100 Driving Questions from North Lawndale College Prep Charter HS that are, indeed, both open-ended and provocative...to me. Of these 100 questions, I found maybe 20 that I would even consider using at the novice level, in part because of the level of vocabulary required for meaningful discussion for some, but also partly because my kids just wouldn't care about a lot of them.

I would love to talk for hours about whether or not socialism is working in Latin America, spend days--weeks!--researching it. I could probably even find some nice infographics and other authentic resources, figure a way to set up vocabulary in such a way that students could take a side and defend it even at the novice level. But I think back to the sophomores staring back at me last year, trying to imagine myself getting them riled up for anything political, pulling out all the pathos and passion I could.

I do not see it connecting with any more than 20% of the class.

The same applies to topics on the Spanish Inquisition, NAFTA, Panama Canal, the effects of the events of 1492, "new Latinos," Zoot Suit Riots, Puerto Rican statehood, Guantanamo Bay, Latina power, Chicago culture, immigration policy, Latin American unity, and Basque secession. I could maybe get them to talk about the benefits of visiting a foreign country, but it still might go down like vegetables.

I know, however, that my kids have something to say about whether or not foreign language instruction should be mandatory, but A) how could this be addressed effectively in a single unit, and B) how could meaningful conversation beyond "no me gusta pero le gusta" ever happen on this topic below Intermediate Low? What's more without the recommended two years of practical personal experience in a language classroom, they don't have a real connection from which to scaffold. Plus I imagine applicable research and resources, if they're even available in the target language, would give even me jargon vertigo and would not make attractive pins on Pinterest.

However, there are a handful of topics I think students could handle with the right vocabulary frontloading and conversational scaffolding that would also push some of their built-in buttons:
  • Spoiling for a Fight
  • Who am I?
  • All Around Me
  • Artistic Side

Spoiling for a Fight
Students already have strong opinions connected to some of these topics. Someone they know or care about may be directly affected (citizens and immigration, animal cruelty) or it might be a classic teen crusade (drugs, identity)
26. Is bullfighting an art or inhumane cruelty?
27. Is ethnically based bias or prejudice sometimes warranted?
29. Should immigration be permitted to all who desire entry to the United States?
78. If the United States legalized drugs, would the drug war end?
79. What drugs hurt the United States the most?

Who Am I?
Navel gazing is the national pastime of Teenlandia. They want to find their place but also break free from labels. They want to define themselves and classify what they see around them but also
7. What makes a United States citizen? 
99. How have other countries treated race in the workplace?
100. How is identity defined in Latin America?

All Around Me
Some topics might be things students never thought to wonder about before, but once the question's out, they can see it everywhere they go. Also, a teenager will do almost anything if it means they can eat, and some topics are natural excuses.
16. Child labor is common in Latino America.  Should “Americans” quit buying products where child labor was used to produce those products?
25. Why are there so many words that Spanish and English share? To what extent do words cross cultures and why?
51. McDonalds in Mexico: What does food say about history and development?
91. How has Latin American cooking influenced the U.S dinner table?

Artistic Side
Even if they are not artistes themselves, name one kid who is not an avid consumer of audio and/or visual media. I can't do it: mine are all hooked on Pandora and YouTube.

40. Chicano Mural Painting: When is art on a wall not graffiti?  Can graffiti be art?
49. To what extent does music describe culture?
50. To what extent does modern media like MTV, Tr3s, and Latina, magazine accurately reflect Latino culture?

 The good news is that you can probably only fit at most four or five topics in a novice Spanish course, and NLCPCHS has gone and provided you at least 15 full of teen appeal and potential for novice-level discourse.

14 November 2013

Quick Tip: Google Forms for Error Feedback on Writing

You keep getting the same problems over and over again. You wish you had a stamp made so you wouldn't have to keep writing the same thing over and over. Maybe you've developed a highlighter color code for types of errors. Maybe you have a document of all the comments you make again and again to copy them onto online assignments.

Yet the same errors keep occurring.

I've made a Google Form of errors I keep seeing over and over again to deal with this problem. The idea started with Creative Writing, where I had a lot longer writings to contend with than I do in Spanish class. All of my highlighting on their drafts was just overwhelming them and getting nothing fixed. I had been copying sentences from their stories into Google Docs organized by errors to do creative revision lessons on later: this did not engage them or help those who struggled most. So I made a form with the most common errors from my current creative writing class on it, and now when I evaluate them, I copy and paste the offending sentences into their proper categories while I read their online submissions.

I alphabetize the results by students' names, share the response spreadsheet with the class, and let students access the form to see where their problems lie. I've toyed with the idea of copying individual students' results into their own personal spreadsheets shared only with them, but for now they don't really care who sees their run-ons.

The beauty of this method of data collection for the students is they can tell exactly which sentences need what done to them--without having me do it for them.

The beauty for me is that I can see error patterns at a glance. I can see an individual students' weak points immediately or quickly pick up on what the class is struggling with as a whole. Plus, if I still have the relevant examples of the problem at my fingertips, you know, if I do get a creative revision lesson idea.

As for the handwritten assignments, I've got my highlighter rainbow and some specific ideas for a set of stamps I could get made when I hit the lottery.

06 November 2013

Empowering Novices for Independent Inquiry

"We don't remember anything. We just use WordReference."
I died a little inside when Spanish I told me how they felt about Genius Hour. I knew the project was not yet everything I'd dreamed it would be at the novice level, but I didn't think it was pointless! (Just typing that stings.) Nevertheless, I believe student-centered inquiry is a non-negotiable, and thus I resolved to march right back to the drawing board and build a master plan to make Genius Hour enjoyable and effective even for novices.

First, we had to have a little heart-to-heart. In Genius Hour, you've got to understand that if you're not working on a topic that you would work on if I wasn't paying attention, you're doing it wrong. One of my Spanish II kids said he tools around on Spanish sites on speakers when he's done with his other work in lab, and tells the teacher he's doing Spanish. I don't think he even realizes HE IS! If students are doing Genius Hour right, they should think they're getting away with something while they're in the target language.

Once I've been assured students have topics they're really passionate about, the rest is up to me as facilitator for their inquiry. So aside from some more general tips for collaborative PBL navigation, here are some

1) Establish a series of goals to guide students through the process, a cycle that students can work through, much like the writing process.  Begin with brainstorming, then research, then organizing and analyzing research, reflection, planningfeedback, and building. Along the way, break these steps into smaller weekly goals (if going the 20-Time route), or daily goals if you're spending a whole unit on it. Having the whole process laid out ahead of time might have prevented a lot of  "But I'm done with my post! Why can't I do homework now?" moments, too.

2) Frontload common vocabulary that will be needed for reflection, no matter the project, and perhaps add some relevant vocabulary for the week's goals. Based on my own little project and students' class language suggestions, these are some good starters:
  • Es
  • Son
  • Tengo
  • Necesito
  • Entiendo
  • Quiero
  • Me gusta
  • Creo
2) Establish project glossaries to be updated at least weekly, preferably with each new assignment. I have students maintain Google Docs, but it could as easily be a section in their notebooks if technology is at a premium. Consider limiting new vocabulary to 10 words per week (but requiring at least 3) and mandating students to stick only to vocabulary on their lists for reflection, perhaps after they've reached 30 words. HINT: I've learned that calling it a "cheat sheet" might encourage students to use it more, too, rather than just treating it like another assignment.

3) Focus on collecting resources using key words to build associations and solidify basic vocabulary for the topic. Collect pins on Pinterest and videos with YouTube or a Google Search.

4) Break down how to break down a target language text. Remember, with authentic texts, the key is to modify the task, not the text, and students don't have to understand every word of every section. Have students highlight, paraphrase, and summarize written texts. Have them preview, list what they hear, and summarize for audio texts.

5) Structure written reflection. Every so often, students should stop and summarize their overall findings and opinions, but it's hard to know where to start and what to include. Try these starters--in your TL--for reflective blog posts (or podcasts--a good excuse for some presentational speaking!):
  • I never knew that...
  • I thought _____________ but I learned that...
  • I still don't understand _______________ because...
  • A pattern I've noticed in my research is...
  • Some other interesting topics related to my topic are...
  • I would like to talk to _________ about my topic because...
  • When I present my topic, I would like to focus on ________ because...
  • Something my classmates might find interesting is...
  • I can show my classmates how _____ works by...

6) Facilitate discussion and feedback. Point students to different conversation sites like LiveMocha and Skype in the Classroom or even Twitter to find perspectives from native speakers, but also set up checkpoints for sharing their progress with classmates. Have them comment on each other's posts with compliments, critiques, and suggestions. Set up conversation-card discussions to have them reflect on what they've learned, what they're planning, and what they need to do next.

I will be experimenting with these strategies in my Spanish I and II classes over the next 6 weeks, and I hope to have them compile the results in an e-portfolio that brings together their vocabulary, sources, and reflection along with their final products. The key, I think, will be guiding them through the cycle and getting them to try different strategies when they hit a dead end and deciding what success looks like at each stage.

03 November 2013

Establish PBL Vocabulary in the TL

Anticipation is the name of the game for the WL PBL teacher. Like other Project-Based Learning teachers, we've got to predict the directions students might take the driving question, but we've also got to find resources for students that not only help them find what they need to know and make sure that those resources are appropriate for their level of language comprehension. We have to track down visual-rich contexts, activate prior knowledge of similar texts, and most of all, frontload vocabulary.

Frankly, the mental acrobatics the anticipation itself requires are exhausting enough, not to mention all the resource gathering that has to follow. Plus what's a PBL unit without voice and choice? Students always have ideas that my limited little teacher brain never dreamed, so even my carefully planned paths get torn up and blocked off. So why not enlist them in the anticipation process? Let them provide the vocabulary to be  frontloaded.

But wait, the point is to establish what vocabulary they need to learn, so do we hand them a dictionary and set them loose? We could, I suppose, but honestly how many words do YOU remember from those "scavenger hunts"? Plus brain-based research tells us connections made from one word to another aren't as strong as connections made directly to a concept (or at least to imagery associated with the concept). In fact, of the strategies I make students recite back to me almost daily, visuals are at the top of the list:
Sexton's Strategies for Vocabulary Retention 1) Connect each word to a visual
2) Connect each word to an action
3) Group words according to their meaning

Using InfuseLearning.com to frontload student-selected vocabulary at least 2 of these strategies AND allows students to stay in the target language AND have a little fun in the process. A direct quote from a chronic class critic: "I'm actually enjoying this!" 

Basically they get to doodle on computers in response to prompts in the target language and get to see the whole class's responses projected from your computer.

AVISO: I do suggest setting up some ground rules for the "game" (shh, they don't need to know it's notes!) For example, "We will continue to play only as long you restrict your speech and writing to [target language]. The first time a word slips out in English, you get to copy my list instead." Also something along the lines of "You know where the line is: don't cross it." (Seriously, some of their depictions...Eek.)

Warnings aside, here's what you gotta do.

1) Design some questions or sentence starters that will at least suggest a trajectory for finding the answer to the driving question. In my case, we were looking to compare our daily lives to those of the kids in Colombia, so I started with things like "Los lunes en la mañana, yo..." I think putting each on a poster would be a good idea for record purposes and to keep the board/screen free to display the responses.

2) Create an account on InfuseLearning and log in. You do not have to set up classes ahead of time, but it's useful to be able to see who you're waiting on (and to prevent random annoying nicknames--e.g. DaBestInDaWorld, etc.--from popping up). All they have to do to log in is use the room number InfuseLearning assigns you and the name you actually use for them.

3) Have students write down the first prompt before beginning their doodle response, making sure they understand what it means. 

4) Start a "Draw response" quick assessment and give them, say, 2 minutes to doodle. They can only respond once, so they must use their doodle wisely.

5) As the doodles start to roll in, make your best guess in the TL as to what their doodles show. Use accompanying gestures and inflections to make sure you're clear, and have students confirm by repeating the appropriate TL phrase back to you.

6) Record the TL phrases on the prompt poster with corresponding student names. The names will help form semantic groups and connections with prior knowledge, and it allows you to acknowledge repeated responses.

7) Have students choose 3 responses from the prompt poster to record on their own paper/Google Doc under the prompt. (Look! More semantic grouping connections!)

8) Next prompt, repeat steps 3-7.

I have only tried this with one group, so far, but I think this would have worked well when talking favorite foods and ingredients for our cooking unit or school supplies for Colombia, too, and possibly for the club unit. Some units' vocabulary, however, would probably still have to start with a teacher-generated, pre-brainstormed list, like the children's festival activities for the Y we did earlier this year. But now between InfuseLearning and our own good brains, I think we have the tools we need to lay the foundation for some in-depth inquiry in the target language!

18 October 2013

Now We're Cooking! (with Authentic Texts)

How many problems can you solve with food? What situations could you improve with the right recipe or menu? My Spanish I class came up with seven, ranging from basic independence to obesity, from allergies to world hunger. My kiddos decided to take on world hunger with a cookbook* of cheap, simple recipes.

Recipes are the perfect authentic text for novices: not only are they everywhere, but everything about them is designed to give hints at meaning.

Brainstorming with novices
I confess I let them throw out their ideas in English this time while I jotted them on the board in Spanish, but I've been racking my brain for ways I could have kept our food solutions brainstorm in the target language, but I've got a few ideas.
  • Pictionary: for rapid fire responses, students could use mini whiteboards (or ?) to doodle their contributions, erase when their answer is added to the list, and keep suggesting more until theirs is on the list. 
  • Collage: if you have a little time and access to the internet and/or a big ol' pile of magazines you can cut up, students could put 5-10 pictures that represent their ideas and look up the way to say the word/phrase they mean.
  • Choose from a list: anticipating every answer is pretty much the only way to do PBL in the TL, so maybe just go ahead and make a list of the answers you can think of, using cognates and familiar words as much as possible. Maybe small groups could huddle around dictionaries to add one suggestion each if they want more.
Establishing goals
I've taken to having students vote one by one on a lot of things. They each have to say the word or phrase representing their preference to cast their votes. It's repetitive and time-consuming, but the repetition's good for short-term retention at least, and each student has to form a semantic connection as they form the word because they are making a choice.

After the tally, we have to break the problem down into smaller parts, into identifiable objectives (hint: world hunger will not be solved when the grading period ends). So we define aspects of a recipe that would fulfill our goal, student-set standards. For world hunger, they decided the recipe must be simple to make with ingredients that are cheap, readily available, and also nutritious (I'd recommend the same strategies for initial brainstorms in this step as well.)

From there, we came up with a list of key words that would help us locate these perfect recipes, naming descriptions we'd expect to see in recipe titles and ingredients and nutrients that would fit with our established standards, as well as the types of food that we wanted, well, to eat, like snacks, desserts, breakfasts, dinners.

Finding the right recipe
As I have said before, Pinterest is the novice's best friend--especially for recipes. The visuals and the easy labels make recipe location a snap. Students divided into groups according to the type of dish they wanted to prepare, and I set up a Pinterest board for each of those groups, inviting them to pin on those boards (a process that is slightly more involved than I'd expected because we had to follow each other first). The contest to see who could pin the most recipes was flummoxed by confusion on how to get added to the boards, but I think the group with over 200 would have won anyway. Then we had to weed out the pins that were just tasty-looking pictures, so having a working link tied to the pin would be a must next time around.

Further recipe evaluation is taking place in several stages for this project:

  1. I created a Google Form based on their standards and let them loose on each other's pins to narrow down their boards.
  2. Each student claimed a recipe that was left standing by commenting on the pin (I repinned those on my own board to have a class list).
  3. Meal groups went back to the Google Form and had to rate all of the claimed recipes on their respective boards; students who did not get at least a 19/25 average on their recipe had to choose another.
  4. Then, they had to prepare it and let the class try it (it was a good day!) Each student evaluated each dish according to our standards and decided whether or not they'd recommend it. 
  5. Monday, we discuss and hash out which recipes will make the cut for each meal group (at least 2 per group).
  6. Finally, groups are going to simplify and revise their recipes and then test them out on a class of Spanish-speaking elementary ELL students in small group cooking lessons.
Interpreting the recipes

In retrospect, I should have handled the vocabulary frontloading more like I did back in the day, with more structured vocabulary selection and contextual meaning discerning and fun, slightly less messy assessment. So for progress' sake, let's say we did that, with ingredients, verbs, measurements, and utensils/appliances.

OK, vocabulary frontloaded: time for the breakdown. Honestly, I did this better last year, too, though I hadn't posted about it. I had a more limited pool of recipes then and a tiny class then, so a PACE lesson based on ALL of their recipes was a lot more feasible. Still, I think it was worth whipping up, and having students put things in the "we" form for the final draft would not be a bad idea. In fact, I should have had them do that already, but instead it will be done at the preparing-for-the-little-ones stage when before class sampling day would have been more logical. Qué será, será.
So here's the process we should have/will go through:

  1. Pick out all verbs in your recipe, from the list and otherwise.
  2. Break instructions up to include only one verb per step.
  3. Begin each step with a verb (modify to class's common vocabulary where possible).
  4. Add ingredients to each step.
  5. Add location/utensils for each step (e.g. oven, bowl, fridge, tray).
After simplifying, groups will trade simplified recipes to see if they can get the food to come out right--before we test it on the young ones--and then we'll tweak accordingly.

Groups will then assemble a page of our cookbook for each recipe, including a citation for the original, ingredients, simplified steps, and a photo of the finished product--and possibly the cooks. And who knows? Maybe we can get the word out about our cheap, healthy recipes and put a dent in this world hunger thing.

*I'm also a fan of simple cooking videos, but we have the chance to teach some young ESL students one-on-one how to make our recipes, so we're going with the more immediate audience.

16 September 2013

So you want to be a WLOE NBCT

Image source: Matt Haskell on SourceLink

The honey badger is a creature that has gained internet notoriety for its lack of ...cares...to give. In my experience, the powers that be in charge of World Languages Other than English National Boards are a lot like the honey badger. As both an English teacher and a world language teacher, I have to say that I think the expectations for world language teachers are significantly more stringent and difficult to accomplish than at least some other subjects.

Let it never be said that I do not admire and esteem my compatriots who are English NBCT's (being a Spanglish teacher, that's who most of the NBCT's I know are), but I think their task was a lot more possible than mine was. This discrepancy could be the result of decades of textbooks and lazy language teaching strategies in world language classes that have left a lot of us relatively uninitiated in sound instructional habits. It could simply be the inherently global and, well, foreign nature of our subject. But whatever the cause, I feel world language teachers are expected to make water out of wine to earn our National Board stripes.

Not to bite the proverbial hand that feeds me (until North Carolina takes away the NBCT raise, at least), but the process itself did not make it much easier. I found the generic feedback and expectations to marry all 5 C's set out by the ACTFL into a single lesson not once, but twice (in a whole group and small group setting for two different videos) positively Herculean. The expectation to "advocate" for our subject is not exactly a standard an English teacher has to meet either. Our activities have to extend beyond the academic and typical classroom activities, so we have to wear more hats to be considered worthy.

I have a handful of friends who are taking on the World Languages Other than English challenge this year, and I want to help them avoid the years of self-doubt and anguish that wrestling with National Boards honey badgers caused me.

For entry 1, forget conjugation and accents, spelling and sentence structure. You can throw them in as sort of icing and way of establishing patterns of issues you'll address, but overall, if it ain't cultural insight plus interpretive, interpersonal, or presentational mode, National Boards is as the honey badger of internet fame: it don't care.

For entries 2 and 3, choose a topic that oozes kid/teen appeal and incorporates intercultural comparisons. If it does not connect with their individual adolescent consciousnesses while connecting them with everyday life in the target culture, National Boards don't care.

For video lessons, be sure, too, to avoid any lesson not tied to a greater authentic purpose. If the students won't do it in real life, National Boards  is, once again, a honey badger.

Also, do not--DO NOT--let the camera catch you speaking English. If you can't do it in the target language, National Boards don't care.

For whole class engagement, if you don't have a specific activity that each individual can and will participate in the whole time--or at least a backup plan for how you could get that to happen in the future--guess what.

For Entry 4 (this one's universal), don't even mention an accomplishment that did not directly alter your day-to-day classroom functions. Fancy awards and recognition? Say it with me.

As I think of more ways to appease the honey badgers to whom supplicants must hand over months work of hard work and worry, I will add to the list. If anyone else has any ideas, even if you are more forgiving of the rigor expected of us as WLOE NBCT's, please add your input to help make some good teachers' lives easier and their classes even better.

Because for all of my bluster, at the end of the day, I am a better teacher for having been through the National Board process, and isn't that what even the honey badgers are working toward?

14 September 2013

Unconference Epiphanies: Inspiring Success with PBL

At an unconference you can learn about anything you want to learn about as long as you're willing to facilitate and have enough kindred spirits in attendance. I attended my first Edcamp last week in South Carolina, and I had the pleasure and honor of co-facilitating a session on PBL and CBL (Challenge-Based Learning) with @Carriegaffney84. I got to share some of my experiences, but more importantly, I got a fresh transfusion of ideas and enthusiasm from my unconference colleagues.

I tracked some of our ideas on a session Google Doc, but my takeaway from the PBL/CBL session can mostly be summarized in three goals:
  1. Selecting topics
  2. Building confidence
  3. Exacting excellence

Selecting topics
Learning to ask the right questions is one of the most important lessons students can learn from a PBL experience. In that spirit, I kept track of questions that would help us as educators structure a successful PBL unit. Perhaps my favorite question of the session was "What are the kids pissed off about?" In other words, what matters enough to them that they demand something be done about it? This made me think of the seniors I have in advisory who were clamoring for uniforms during our focus group time last week. And by golly, you can bet we'll be researching uniforms at schools in other countries come Spanish 3 next semester!

I've spent a lot of time pondering driving questions and situations where students would actually need  Spanish. I've dug up audiences wherever I could to try to "drive" students to use the language in real-world situations. But the fact of the matter is that, usually, it don't mean a thing if the topic is not something they came to your class on fire about already.

Building confidence
I don't know why the affective filter hits second language classes harder than any other classes, harder even than math. But it does. Give the kids a real audience for a project in their native language, and they discover their inner grammar nazis and perfectionists. Give them a real audience that speaks more Spanish than they do, and their brains want to shut down.

So my unconference colleagues suggested setting up more practice sessions before the real deal. Practice with little kids. Practice with other kids online. Practice with kids from other classes who took Spanish before or grew up speaking it. And before each practice session, have them anticipate questions from their audience and answers they could give. After each practice session, too, reflect on what they needed to say but couldn't, and add to their "cheat sheets." Help them learn to anticipate like we have to do as their teachers and to circumlocute and solve problems with the tools they have at their disposal. And give them a chance to try it before the Big Day.

Exacting excellence
Don't just expect it. Don't just demand it. Draw excellence out of them. Set high standards and show them exactly what it takes to reach them. One of my unconference colleagues said she tells her students, “Don’t bore me: you’ve got 3 seconds to catch my attention.” Let them know that you will hold no truck with assignments completed just for a grade's sake: these are real goals that must fly in real world settings.

Also consider holding off on rubric discussions until almost the end of the unit (but with time to revise before the Big Day). That way students have to be the ones to figure out the "how" of the presentation, and you can--along with the students, if you're up to it--decide what must be included, no matter the means of presenting. This forces them to make real, meaningful decisions about their goals and their work.

If your topics are ones that not only tap into what makes your subject essential in the 21st century but also what makes students mad, you'll have a lot more buy-in than you would with just any old essential question. If you set up opportunities to practice and analyze information gaps before presenting to a real audience, students can feel confident in their ability to produce something worth presenting. And if you structure the assignment in such a way that students understand from the start that they are the problem solvers and they are responsible for the success of their presentations, then their objectives can shift worthwhile and attainable goals to worthwhile and attainable aspirations.