26 August 2013

Pinterest, the Novice's Best Friend: Genius Hour experiment, part 4

I may have gotten a little carried away pinning in Portuguese: I now have over 150 Portuguese pins on recycled art on my Reciclagem board. Some of them are just fun to look at, but some I can see myself actually doing. What's more is I was immersed in accessible authentic texts for over an hour, learning new language and applying it.

The Benefits
I learned about 10 new words from my pins this time around, but only had to look up 4 to figure them out. I reinforced my own vocabulary acquisition not just by adding them to my list, but by using them as search terms to find more pins. I felt like I was getting a prize each time my search worked! I also attempted to pronounce my new vocabulary as I searched, and some of my random Duolingo words actually came in handy, mostly animals (macacos de meias, anyone?)

Pinning might not be BIE's idea of "deep inquiry," but I feel good about how it establishes necessary vocabulary for interpretation while requiring purposeful but novice-appropriate interpretation tasks--with authentic texts, no less! The way search results reinforce vocabulary is also sure to build more lasting connections with the words too, just as one student researching midwifery was throwing around the many uses of the word parto on day 2 of the pinning. The vocabulary foundation and interpretive skills can then serve as the basis for interpersonal tasks where students discuss their topics with others and presentational tasks for framing the information along the way. With the Pinterest foundations, students should even have the tools to pursue even deeper inquiry and interpretation down the road.

Furthermore, the rewards of curating a Pinterest board are more intrinsic than extrinsic--look what I found!--and cost 100% less than, say, Mexican candy.

The Application
I did have students in Spanish 2 start their boards and vocabulary lists the first week and will have Spanish 1 start this week. Prior to pinning, though, students had to begin a Google Doc and look up 15 vocabulary words related to their topic (which I did kind of concurrently). The beauty of this step was generating search terms that would be reinforced visually in the searching and also semantically by tying them together to refine searches e.g. reciclagem de garrafas or reaproveitar caixas).

The rules for pinning were...
1) they had to search in Spanish,
2) the pins/links had to be in Spanish,
3) they needed at least 10 pins on a board they created just for Genius Hour, and
4) they had to post a link to their board/list on Schoology.

Some of the topics students chose did, however, necessitate branching out from the pins (car speakers and FJ340s come to mind), so I also accepted Diigo lists of resource links. While Google does not automatically link visual context with its sources or increase the chances of finding novice-appropriate resources (the ghost story topic has proved tricky), I think I could do some more scaffolding to help maximize Google search results. I hesitate to refer them to image searches to begin with (ghosts and cars are sure to turn up kinkiness), but I could refer students to do the search with terms of things that would have pictures, e.g. diagramas, mapas, fotos, manuales, gráficos. Fortunately, too, kids researching unpinnable topics tend to have pretty extensive backgrounds in their topics, so they can build on prior knowledge and make a lot of inferences.

What's Next?
Spanish 2 has already posted their first blog about what they're exploring (some students have already posted three or FOUR entries, one totaling nearly 400 words!), and that has been fruitful in getting them to use the language for a purpose. It also gives me a clear indication of who needs review with what (mostly with conjugation, it happens). So here are some ideas I have for future steps in the process--theirs and mine:

  • Revise a previous post and turn it into a podcast--pronunciation practice and presentational speaking, too!
  • Collect more pins/sources and divide them into at least 2 categories (possibly new boards), explaining your categories in your blog and the reason behind them.
  • Comment on three classmates' blogs and write a post about ideas you got from them.
  • Create a visual that illustrates your topic, blog a description, and then use it to explain your topic to a classmate; classmate asks any questions they need to for clarification, then creates a written description for your visual.
  • Make a YouTube playlist of videos in TL related to your topic.
  • Make a glossary (illsutrated?) for top 20 most important words to know for your topic.
  • Ask a question in TL about your topic on an online forum, e.g. mx.answers.yahoo.com, Reddit.
  • Find an "expert" (might just be another amateur who is interested), on Skype or LiveMocha to answer a survey or set of questions in TL about your topic.

Previous Genius Hour Experiment posts:

16 August 2013

Elevator Speeches on the Dangers of Privatizing Education

If you're feeling powerless as a public educator lately, let's do something about it. As Señora Diamond pointed out to me, "we have to talk about it to anyone who will listen." Most of our Facebook friends and followers are probably already at least a little sympathetic on issues like vouchers, charter schools, and merit pay, so we must take our messages beyond our virtual walls.

Catch anyone you can who has any interest in the recent changes that are threatening our loved ones as well as our livelihoods. Lay out in as few words as you can the fundamental evils that would rob the next generation of a shot at equality. Get yourself an elevator speech that could persuade someone to save our schools before you get to the third floor.

These are my attempts at convincing the uninformed in under a minute (each). Any counterpoints you can think of would help me hone them, so please share them. If you can't think of any, you could use these speeches yourself when the elevator finds you with an audience if you like.

Vouchers will never cover the cost of private school tuition. They are not full rides--not even half the cost most of the time. Families that have the remaining $5,000 or $20,000 to pay the difference are statistically not the ones whose students are getting"left behind" in public schools. Meanwhile, vouchers do drain the collective pool that provides additional teachers when class sizes threaten to exceed logical boundaries. Vouchers sap the funds that mean up-to-date resources for roomfuls of children. They are "scholarships" only for those who already have bootstraps to pull themselves up. Vouchers are "scholarships" that strand the shoeless in a depleted system.

Charter Schools
If "highly qualified" teachers are essential to student success in other public schools, why aren't they in charter schools? If salary should not matter to a truly dedicated teacher, why are competitive wages even a consideration in charter schools? If charter schools are for parents who want something better or just different for their children, what does that leave for children whose parents don't know or don't care? Where will those children go after high school? What options will they have after a lifetime of underfunded, overcrowded public schooling when they're old enough to choose for themselves?

Merit Pay
Rewarding educators for a job well-done is not a bad idea in itself. Limiting rewards to only the top of the heap, however, obliterates incentive to cooperate and ensure everyone's success. In fact, it incentivizes those who would stab a colleague in the back for financial gain and encourages closed doors instead of the collaboration and support that would benefit all. Students whose teachers need to improve but don't know how on their own would be left adrift or bring their colleagues' ranking down by their own success. Children are neither products nor customers: they are children. They all deserve every possible advantage in their education, not a cutthroat system that dooms struggling teachers to struggle alone.

15 August 2013

Daily Chorus Bellringer

Literacy expert Tim Rasinski gave me an idea for a bellringer that I think will improve students' vocabulary, fluency, listening, reading, and speaking skills and get them hooked.

Rasinski proposes an acronym for those wishing to improve students' literacy skills, and although Rasinski's research and strategies revolve around L1 literacy, I think his theories align perfectly with L2 acquisition.

AMAPPS stands for
Accuracy as in being able to sound out words correctly
Modeling fluent reading
Assisted reading e.g. choral or partnered
Practice with a variety of texts as well as repeated exposure to the same texts
Phrasing or chunking words in common combinations
Synergy of all of these elements
I had the opportunity to hear Rasinski speak as part of my district's Teaching and Learning Conference, and he gave us a poetry lesson as an example containing all of these. Rasinski advocates strongly for using poetry and songs as texts that are intended to be spoken, thus making them a natural fit for modeling the fluency. And who doesn't love songs? Moreover, who doesn't love a catchy song? So my thinking is that I could use either the some simple children's rhymes or pop songs that have a catchy chorus. This way students can hear native speakers speaking in context and probably absorb some useful phrasing.

I'd like to make this a routine, but I still want to have room for Genius Hour on Fridays and SSR on Mondays, so I split the lesson up into a three-day cycle that captures the modeling as well as the assisted reading and repeated exposure to increasingly difficult texts (as long as I choose my choruses carefully). I tried to split it up to spend about 10-15 minutes a day on each activity, but we'll see how it actually goes and if sections need to be redistributed.

Below is how I envision the division going as well as a Spotify playlist with some of my favorite songs with catchy choruses (which may date me a bit, except for those I found through El Mundo de Birch)--in no particular order.

Day 1
  1. Play whole recording (video, if possible) with lyrics displayed as class enters.
  2. Read the chorus 2-3 more times.
  3. Read chorally 2-3 times. (antiphonal reading?)
  4. Choose 3 or 4 words to add to word wall.
  5. Discuss nature, content of passage as a class. 
  6. Take copy home to practice with parents/family.
Day 2
  1. Play recording as class enters.
  2. Read chorally.
  3. Student pairs: partner 1 read 3 times while partner 2 supports, switch.
  4. Word study activities.
  5. Practice with parents/family/friends at home.
Day 3
  1. Play recording as class enters.
  2. Read chorally.
  3. Individuals/groups perform for class (recording?) other audience
  4. Partner read for fluency/accuracy check

Now you can get your copies of
coro handouts
SMARTboard slidesor a bundle with both
on TeachersPayTeachers!

11 August 2013

"Eu gosto de abacaxi" : Genius Hour Experiment, part 3

It turns out that reading and writing Portuguese is not so hard to figure out on my own. I did, however, need some help figuring out how the heck to say what I was reading and writing. Not having the benefit of either a guide-on-the-side or even a sage-on-the-stage as students usually do, I turned to the latest thing in language learning: apps. I started with Duolingo and Busuu, both of which gave me insight into what is and is not useful to Genius Hour project progression.

I have got to say, I am not a huge fan, and I do not wish to imitate this app's structure as I seek to supplement my students' personal vocabulary lists. Sure, after completing "Basics" and "Basics 2" I enjoy wandering around saying "Ela é uma menina" and "Eu bebo leite," but I don't think I'm any better equipped to answer my questions--much less ASK them--than I was before. And while I can pronounce mulher and even maçã with confidence. That is to say, I can put some letters with their sounds--SOME--and I can speak, but I still can't converse. Unless you want to talk about who eats bread or pineapples. Seriously. Duolingo taught me "pineapple" before even a single interrogative.

Still, I've got articles, both definite and indefinite, plus subject pronouns pretty much down, and that will be worth something come blogging time.

So Duolingo lessons:

  • Do provide multiple opportunities to hear the same word in different sentences. 
  • Do connect hearing the words with both the spelled out words and visuals.
  • Do get question words in as soon as possible.
  • Don't provide vocabulary input without a goal or purpose beyond just saying stuff--have relevant conversation topics to guide progress.
  • Don't expect people who are not already motivated to learn to care about points or spouting nonsense in the TL for its own sake.

This app I like a little better, if only because I was taught "thank you" before "milk." The other cool thing was the almost immediate chance I had to put what I learned to the test. Mind you, if I hadn't done a half hour of Duolingo first, I might have had a harder time "introducing myself to the Busuu community." And I made a couple of mistakes when I did anyway, seeing as I tried saying things I hadn't actually seen used yet. How did I find out about my mistakes? Near instantaneous feedback from native speakers! It wasn't exactly interpersonal, but it was kind of like a personalized real-time WordReference for what I was trying to say!

Thus Busuu lessons:

  • Do structure tasks for students to be able to create with the language (beyond the blog posts) and get feedback.
  • Do provide feedback from native speakers whenever possible. 
  • Do provide feedback beyond the mechanical, getting at communicative intent.
  • Do model conversation structure as early as possible. 
  • Do consider multiple modes, input and output in designing series of tasks.
  • Don't evaluate vocabulary or structure usage before multiple exposures in multiple forms (written, spoken, read, heard).
Previous Genius Hour Experiment posts:

08 August 2013

Why the Y? Community Connections for Spanish Classes

"If you've got the manpower,
we've got the bouncy house!"
I went to a session on what the local YMCA had to offer, on the hunt for some community connections. Of course I asked if they had any special programs for the Latino community in the area, and they said they had recently hired someone to run that very program.

"Is there anything my Spanish classes could do to help with that?" I asked.

Their eyes lit up like they could not believe their good fortune. Apparently they've been looking to expand their service in the local Latino community, having reached only 5% whereas the county demographics show latinos represent more like 12%.

I spoke with the Y representatives, exchanged information, and we tossed around a couple of ideas. We talked a little about my kids helping out at member events or even the Children's Day plan I've been tinkering with for a few years (last year, we ended up taking the festivities to the local elementary ESL classes for lack of a venue, but one rep said they have the perfect place--bouncy houses and all!). Of course, we only scratched the surface of the million other ideas I had, but here are a few I'd like to run by them and then maybe let the kids choose from (hooray for voice and choice!).
  • Diabetes education--The reps mentioned that this is a pet project for the YMCA and that our county is affected especially profoundly by the disease. My kids could maybe put together workshops, web pages, informational literature, or social media campaigns in Spanish.
  • Video tutorials--Maybe the Y would like some videos to put on their page? Kids could make their own little how-to's on stress relief, exercise, or dance (then we'd have an excuse to bring in the Y instructors from Mexico to teach US!)
  • After-school classes--The Y is apparently the biggest provider of after-school care in the county. My kids could put together a presentation in Spanish for the kiddos on something important like nutrition, wellness, stress, or relationships. Once again, also a potential excuse to get Latina Y instructors in the class for demonstrations!
  • Senior classes--See after-school, but modify for la tercera edad!
  • Parents' Night Out--These humongous kid parties might be a great place to set up stations to teach different authentic games, songs, and crafts!
  • Continuous supportive relationships program--I learned in this session that only 10% of people are intrinsically motivated to exercise BUT that "continuous supportive relationships" are the best way to motivate the other 90%. What if we could provide a way to build a network, maybe online, for people to check in, share progress, and support each other.
  • Y member recruiting--How ever it is that the Y recruits, maybe we could help with the Spanish language contingent: presentations, literature, what have you?
  • Global services--They mentioned there are YMCA's all over the world. Maybe we could connect with a "Guay" branch in Mexico to talk or maybe even plan exchanges?
The Spanish 2 kids I'll have this semester are all personality, so I can think of nothing better than getting them out in the community, especially with kids. As for the PBL aspect, can you imagine the Entry Events we could cook up?

If this works, this could be the coup of the Spanish class century.