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!

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