30 July 2013

Ser vs Estar: Target Language Mini-Lesson

If I just push play to start the lesson, I think I can get the flamenco version of "Born This Way"* to teach ser for me. One of my favorite ways of explaining ser came from a student who said you use it for "how you were made." This is slightly closer to how it works than simply calling it "the permanent one," and if I can tie it to a previously embedded earworm, well, my job is almost done, right?

I have been challenged to give a 10-15-minute mini-lesson for the college level that demonstrates the differences between ser and estar. The fact that I was asked to do a verb lesson, rather than, I don't know, a conversation or interpretation lesson, makes me question the priorities reflected in the request, but that's okay. Spun correctly, a ser vs. estar lesson can still be beneficial and--dare I hope--engaging. So here's my plan.

While the Lady Gaga cover is working its magic subconsciously, I'll begin by asking how everyone is doing, doing a little scaffolding on the prior knowledge of estar while warming up the crowd: ¿Cómo estás? ¿Estás bien? Estoy bien bien, ¡gracias!

Step 2: "Necesitan una hoja de papel. ¿No tienes? Está bien, aquí tengo una yo¿Lápiz? ¿Necesitas lápiz? Aquí está uno para ti." Be sure to give one a fancy pen or, say, one of these.

Step 3: (This would be a good time to stop the music, if it hasn't stopped already) Make a T-chart on the board and write ESTAR at the top of one column, indicating that the audience should copiar.

Step 4: Write ¿Cómo estás? and Estoy bien and Aquí está underneath ESTAR.

Step 5: PANIC: ¿Dónde está mi pluma/lápiz favorita? ¿Dónde está? ¿Dónde está?

Step 6: Collect the favorite writing implement, trading for a regular one with relief: ¡Aquí está! "Absentmindedly" tuck it behind your ear/in your hair--somewhere they can see it.

Step 7: Write ¿Dónde está? under ESTAR, adding "where you are" next to it and "how you feel" next to ¿Cómo estás?, indicating audience must copiar.

Step 8: Read aloud: "How you feel and where you are: always use the verb estar," and have the class repeat. 

Step 9:  Write (cambia) at the bottom of the column, verifying how you feel and where you are do, indeed, change: Dónde estás cambia ¿sí? Un minuto, estás en clase, otro minuto estás en el bar con tus amigos tomando chocomil. Y cómo estás cambia ¿sí? Un minuto estás bien, estás feliz, y otro minuto estás enojado, estás enfadadísimo porque el barman te trajo chocomil en vez de cerveza. HINT: act out the sitting in class, drinking chocomil, happiness, and anger.

Step 10: Start playing and humming the "Born This Way" cover again while you write SER at the top of the other column in the T-chart.

Step 11: Sing this modified chorus softly while rocking out--just a little bit.
Estoy muy bien como estoy,
soy perfecta como soy,
yo voy por buen camino:
yo nací como soy.

Step 12: Start a conversation: Es una buena canción ¿no? Es muy buena. Me gusta mucho. ¿Te gusta Lady Gaga? Pero no es Lady Gaga. Es una cantante española de YouTube. Es de Barcelona. (Maybe draw a little map.)
Step 13: (Stop the song.) Repeat rock-out some: sing chorus louder. 

Step 14: Seek feedback: Es buena ¿no? Sí, sí es buena and write Es buena under SER. ("A copiar.")

Step 15: See if they were paying attention: ¿Es Lady Gaga? No, no es Lady Gaga. ¿Quién es? ¿Es una cantante mexicana?

Step 16: Write ¿Quién es? and Es Lady Gaga (think about it, draw a dramatic line through it) and Es una cantante and Es española.

Step 17: Ask: ¿Es de Madrid? ¿De dónde es? ¿Es de Hickory? (Allow ample opportunities to answer) Ah no, es de Barcelona.

Step 18: Write ¿De dónde es? and Es de Barcelona.  ("A copiar.")

Step 19: Next to ¿Quién es? write "who you are" and next to ¿De dónde es? write "where you're from."

Step 20: Read aloud: "Who you are and where you're from, then use SER, the other one"; have class repeat and then recite the estar rhyme again.

Step 21: Write ("permanente") at the bottom of the SER column, explaining: Nací en [Missouri]: soy de [Missouri]. ESTOY en [North Carolina]: ¿cambia dónde nací? No, no cambia dónde nací: soy de [Missouri]. Soy una persona exótica y guapísima: ¿eso cambia? (Stare hard to ensure the correct answer) NO. NUNCA cambia. Una persona exótica y guapísima es quién SOY.

Step 22: PANIC: ¿Dónde está mi pluma/lápiz favorita? ¿Dónde está? ¿Dónde está? 

Step 23: Search: ¿Está en mi bolsillo? Take cues from audience: Oh, ¿ES en mi pelo? Oh no, no, ESTA en mi pelo. ¿Por qué "está"? ¿Por qué no "es"?

Step 24: While fielding responses, pull up/distribute copies of the modified chorus lyrics.

Step 25: Singalong! (Si no cantas, cantas SOLO.)

Bonus follow-up: maybe some quickwrites on "who you are" and "where you're from" followed by a quick model conversation and some quick schmoozing with classmates using the responses. Possibly also have feelings, "de ___", nationalities, physical descriptions, "en Canadá," "en mi mano" written on cards they could tack on the SER or ESTAR sides of the board.

*Caution: this is a really cool cover, but it probably wouldn't hurt to edit out threats of "matando un gatito" for not subscribing and suggestions for what to do if you didn't like it. It's just silliness, but it doesn't really advance the lesson at hand.

27 July 2013

Collaboration and Creating a Class Language

We are founding a new country with new laws, new leaders, and above all, a new language. No, this is not political commentary (however timely such a revolution might be), but an exercise I'm trying to flesh out to help kick off the new year.

I would like to do a little structural brainstorming early on, possibly in Spanish,  with some ideas I've been collecting on Pinterest. Ideas like brainstorming on "What kind of teacher do you want?"and a chart for what a good classmate is/does/says/does not do. I could proffer some opposites pairings to choose from and images for context to introduce some relevant descriptors in Spanish. This could lead to the "laws" and leaders by sort of outlining their vision of how things should be, either in their country and/or our class, which would hopefully lead into establishing a sense of ownership and a positive atmosphere.

As a Spanish teacher, though, I'm most interested in what can happen with the language.


Dave Burgess' crashed helicopter scenario in Teach Like a Pirate got me thinking about an activity I did in a group in elementary school myself some 20 years. We were on a deserted island too, I think, and we had to create a language using only 10 words, so we had to choose carefully. I remember trying to figure out what we could communicate without words before choosing our 10. In fact, I seem to remember spending most of our time ruling choices out rather than deciding what we would actually use.

This kind if activity could be just the stone to take out a whole flock of birds, too: from observing and defining collaborative roles to identifying types of context clues and exploring the purpose of language itself.

Set-up
As Sr. Burgess suggests for maintaining the flow of the class and using the boards to direct student attention, I'd have the following questions on the board:
  1. Why do we need words?
  2. How do we communicate without words?

So small groups would have, say, 10-15 minutes to choose their 10 words. I'll give them cards to write their final choices on to hold up later. 

Group work
As the groups discuss, I'll go around stirring the pot with these questions and jotting down responses on a chart with space to answer each question for each group:
  • Who is providing the ideas for your list?
  • Who decides if they're good enough, and how do they decide?
  • How will you remember which words make the final list?
  • What happens when you get off track?
  • What happens when you get stuck?
  • What happens when someone disagrees?
  • Who is the most helpful member of the group and why?
  • Who is being the least helpful and why?

Class discussion
After I collect some responses and time is up, we'd compare group lists to make a class list of words we need to start our new language. The first group would hold up one of their cards, and other groups with the same one would hold theirs up too. If multiple groups have that word, I'd add it to the class list on the SMARTboard. If only the one group chose it, I'd collect the card for debate after all groups have shared/compared.

Once we have an initial class list, we'd turn to the two board questions, maybe have a little individual quickwrite (paper having been readied at the beginning of class to minimize transition drag, of course) on each. I'd also like to add the question: what kinds of words do we need? 

Then we'd discuss the questions as a class, come up with a class statement on the purpose of language and what makes a word necessary. We could then apply to the list to see if our word list jives with our purpose. Then, time and energy permitting, we could do a quick thumbs up/thumbs down for the singleton words I'd collected, both to round off the list and gauge how attuned the class is philosophically now.

Wrap-up
Finally, I'd have them use that same brainstorming paper from their board responses to reflect on how the class functioned together. I'd put the last three questions I asked their groups up and have them write their reflections on how the class performed with disagreements and who/what was or wasn't helpful.

I would analyze the responses that I collected from groups as well as the reflection writings to see where we might need to strengthen collaboration skills, but also to find examples of what works well that the students are doing already. I could maybe hand out "most helpful" and "bright ideas" awards, and we can compare what worked well and what didn't to the group evaluation rubric we'll be using.

The next day, we could go over the list of words they ended up with, only in Spanish. In theory, these would be words that would need to be used frequently anyway, and so would begin our new language.

24 July 2013

Self-Diagnosis: Genius Hour Experiment, part 2

The next step in my Genius Hour experiment is starting my own e-portfolio to track my progress. The setup doesn't really count as a genius hour, but it's necessary to record and measure the success (or lack thereof) in my novice endeavors. I have to establish that I am indeed starting where my kids are starting and that I end up somewhere somewhat further along--even though I don't have the benefit of a guide-on-the-side or structured class time, like they do, the lucky devils!

I wanted to track my Portuguese progress on eLinguafolio.org, as I believe my students will, but it turns out Portuguese is not an option! Fortunately, I'd already cribbed the "I can" statements since the site was so wonky last year. I used the statements from the template I'd made to copy into my project blog and evaluate myself instead. In short: I am truly Novice Low, and I need some speaking and listening practice stat! I did give myself credit for some things students might not have been able to do primarily because of my Spanish background.

I plan to have the self-evaluation conducted outside of Genius Hour time, but I do think I want it combined with their project blogs, just tagged separately. I might even have them blog the modes in separate posts (with separate tags) to facilitate tracking progress in specific areas. This could allow students to update as soon as they feel they've advanced in one area while cutting down on redundancy if they have not yet in another. I could also do a quick check on which areas they've posted in by checking tags, if all goes according to plan.

Also when they update, whether by section or as a whole, I think I'll have them copy what they had before, italicize past "I cans" then move applicable "I will" statements under "I can" and bold them to show they've graduated from goals to accomplishments. Remaining "I will" statements can just stay where they are unchanged.

I'm not sure if the evidence will fit in the blog posts so well, but I think that'll be more important after the first self-evaluation anyway. I might require evidence before they can move on to the next level in that area, but not before. They should have an easier time producing evidence--especially the person-to-person--than their poor lonely teacher, at least.

22 July 2013

I Am a Novice: a Genius Hour Experiment, part 1

If I am truly to understand what it is for my students to research their passion in a language they don't know, I will have to do the same. Yes, I'm a little ahead of the game having at least dabbled in four other languages, and I figure it'll take a language with at least a similar alphabet to be able to compare the experience. And so I've decided I will research recycling in Portuguese, and I'm going to chronicle how I use my time so that I may better guide their time.

I spent my first Genius Hour in Portuguese bouncing around WordReference, Pinterest, Google Docs, Blogger. The first thing I realized was that I had no idea how to say recycling in Portuguese, and the next thing I realized was that I wasn't exactly sure of the angle I wanted to pursue on my project. I did think I'd like to do something with recycling myself at home, so where better to look than Pinterest? So a quick WordReference to find reciclagem (which I can only guess is pronounced ray-SEE-cla-ghem?), pop it into Pinterest, and I'm off.


  1. I spent 10-15 minutes collecting pins on my new board. I looked for things with vocabulary I thought I might need (e.g. vidro) or ideas I might actually do, with materials I actually had, or things that were just nifty.
  2. I set up a Google Doc to collect vocabulary I wanted to use. I added the words from the pins (not a lot) and started thinking about what kinds of pins I might want to look for when I got more specific, when the "reciclagem" search got repetitive and needed to be pared down.
  3. I added the things that came to mind that I had lying around that I wanted to make use of, back to WordReference, back to the Doc.
  4. I thought of how I would explain in Portuguese, what I was going to study and WordReferenced a few key verbs and verb phrases: I like, I have, I want, I need, I think.
  5. I set up a blog to record my thoughts on the direction I was headed with my project and why.
  6. My first post was 68 words, 20 of which I had to look up (I looked up about 30 anyway, if only for confirmation). I easily spent the largest part of my genius hour on the WordReferencing and composing, deciding what I needed to say and what I didn't.
Conclusions:
Frontloading a lot of basic vocabulary is key, and will cut down on the personalized lists students will need for their projects. I suggest the following:
  1. I like
  2. I have
  3. I want
  4. I need
  5. I think
  6. I can
  7. I make
  8. Is
  9. Are
  10. My
  11. And
  12. But
  13. Because
  14. In
  15. Many
I mean, I've seen Portuguese before, and I can parse out a lot, but I surprised myself with some of the things I didn't know, like my, are, and I like (would you believe that Portuguese does what English speakers always want to do with gustar?)

Also, I think it might be worth marrying the project with the themed student blogs to work in language production. I can't think of anything that would really be lost except, potentially, getting them to spend time out of class with the language (if they get finished during their Genius Hour time). However, I do think that 20 words would not be enough to communicate adequately about the project, so I'm thinking of making it 50 words per week for even  Spanish I, BUT they could break it up into 2-3 posts of at least 20 words each.

Students will still need to collect topic-specific vocabulary, though not necessarily for their blogs so much as their research. By the way, I really like starting with Pinterest for the research, because I didn't need a lot of TL to navigate, but I could still get inspiration for the direction of my project, and without resorting to L1. Pinterest time may have to be limited, I suspect, so Genius Hour does not degenerate into Pinterest Hour. Potentially relevant side note: our school has a Pinterest Club which the only other Spanish-fluent teacher in the school runs...I might be able to abu--I mean use this.

From here, I think I'll probably do some more pinning with more specific terms and maybe see what I can find on Twitter, Skype Classroom, or Live Mocha in hopes of establishing some interpersonal contacts. I'll definitely have to hit YouTube and find some pronunciation resources too.

15 July 2013

Passion: Can Spanish Be as Cool as Art Club?

http://devriesdesigndiary.blogspot.com/2011_03_01_archive.html
Early in Teach Like a PIRATE, Dave Burgess asks three critical questions about the passions that drive us as teachers: content passion, professional passion, and personal passion. To be perfectly honest, I had a hard time coming up with anything remotely satisfactory for the content question: "of all of the topics and standards you teach as part of your curriculum, which are the ones you most enjoy?" Burgess describes "meeting the 'energy' head-on," and I tried to think about when I could possibly have experienced such a sensation. I mean, sure, I've had some fun and felt moments of glee when a kid "gets it" or makes something cool. But I don't remember being "fired up," per se, in some time. Except...

Art Club.

On the Fridays last semester when I knew I was going to get to meet with Art Club, I was alive. Believe it or not, I was still pumped after clean-up at the end of most of those Fridays, too, just surveying the sketches and blooming canvases left to dry over the weekend.

Does this mean I need to go back and get an art degree to teach the content that fires me up? Have I ignored my calling as an art teacher? I don't think so: Burgess himself says "Chances are you, like me, are a teacher because of your professional passion." It's not the paint or the proportions that energize me--or the kids. There are three factors that I could probably harness in almost any class if I try that I think would lead to that same feeling. These factors help me answer the professional passion question: "What is it about being an educator that drives you?"

Student goals
I LOVE it when students decide what they want to do and then DO IT. TB wants to paint a hamburger? I have never been more excited about figuring out how to depict a pickle. CR wants to experiment with different media and color schemes to bring his sketch to life? I am all about that debate. DS wants to crochet a hat? I will go GET the color you want. I just love being a part of helping them make something they want a reality!

But how does this transfer to my Spanish classes? It's true that Art Club comes with no expectations other than entertainment, really, so the absolute goal-setting freedom is somewhat restricted by standards, grades, etc. But there are ways. I think things I've tried, like student blogs, classes selecting the driving questions, and Musicuentos' design-your-own exam--even "side projects" back in my early days as a Spanglish teacher, go part of the way to tapping into that passion, but blogs are still my goal, though the exam structure is much closer to what I'm aiming for--as long as student don't pick cop-out topics or means of presenting. I think incorporating Genius Hour is closer still to achieving this sense of student goal-setting.

Experimentation
In Art Club, we tried a different medium or focus almost every week. Kids could go back to a medium they liked after the weekly experiment, or keep going with what we had. Also the freedom to start something new at any time in Art Club was not only liberating but motivating. Knowing that you could drop that scarf that wasn't working out and sketch instead helped make sure people were always doing something they wanted to do. I think when I have more than a semester with my club kids, I'll be able to institute a finish-one-project rule without damaging that motivation. I think having something tangible to show for their efforts beyond half...cheeked... starts is important too.

Were I not saddled with strangely specific grading requirements and 6-week grading periods, I might do something more like I did back with side projects, a "you must turn in 5 of these 7 papers per grading period and get them 'perfect.'" I once thought with all of my homework choices (again, Musicuentos-inspired) I would harness some of this liberating motivation, but this has not been the case thus far. I wonder, though, if I might allow students to choose from these choice assignments and/or blog posts to create one expanded presentational assignment--be it written or recorded. I could cut back to 4 posts per grading period to sweeten the deal, too. And then they could play with what they want to add to (a dish they prepared? a song they heard? a post they had more to say about?) and how they want to present it. They might have to pick a specific audience to address and produce something 50 words long and be required to add their choices from a laundry list of "improvements" like visuals, links, recordings, and the like. This could work: I'm starting to feel a little pumped...

Individualized instruction
In Art Club, I would often set a goal at the beginning of club time, maybe show a little how-to video on creating cool effects with oil pastels or partnering people up to draw each other's eyes. But after that, I spent club time fluttering around the room, pausing to ask questions about what they're doing and why, helping them decide where to go next. If that pickle just wouldn't work, or CR just couldn't decide to go with earth tones or eye-popping complementary colors, or CR couldn't figure out the right medium to convey her vision, why, I sat next to the kid and hashed it out, offering my, well, amateur opinion.

Genius Hour may be the answer here, too, and I hope to get PBL projects to the level that they are also an opportunity for fluttering and roosting. I want to be a sounding board, so I guess my next goal should be to scaffold sounding-board-type questions (perhaps using a soundboard?) in the target language. I'm not sure if I can get the same sense of fulfillment or the same charge if students are struggling to formulate their questions for me, possibly avoiding asking because they are afraid to look foolish, or, Heaven forfend, because the projects are not as important to them as the pickle. This means I also must be more assiduous in devising driving questions that, first, have real student  interests in mind and, second, leave enough room for students to pursue their own passions through the projects.

Burgess' final question asks for your personal passion: "Completely outside of your profession, what are you passionate about?" For someone who is spending the wee hours of her summer weekends blogging about teaching...this question may take a little longer.

08 July 2013

Pen Pals PBL: Found an International Fan Club

Questions about favorite foods, colors, animals, and classes only go so far in developing a real human connection. But get a handful of teenagers going on their favorite celebrities or pastimes, and they can go on and on. However, aside from language barriers, there is also the matter of being able to find common interests across cultures. Sure, there may be a quorum on each side of the Skype of kids who are into the Jonas Brothers, but one side's passion for basketball is met with the same polite indifference that the other's fútbol mania evokes for them.

So what is the problem that needs to be solved in a pen pal--or epal--exchange? Finding and sharing those common interests. What's more, at the outset, there might not BE anything in common,  so the problem becomes a matter of persuasion: THIS is what you need to know about my favorite team/artist/hobby, and THIS is why and how you should find out more.

Driving Question: How can you get kids in Argentina* to participate in a fan club devoted to what you're most passionate about?

The project-type outcome I predict would probably have to be some sort of online presentation, probably a site that could be updated communally, like a wiki or a blog--a choice that could be left up to kids depending on what they want to present and how. They'll probably want to incorporate some video and/or music and photos, and they'll need to explain what the Argentine audience is seeing/hearing and what's cool about it. Of course a little background information will be necessary too, and it can be skeletal stats-type information or narrative (depending on the student's proficiency/comfort level).

I also think this could be an excellent way to form natural collaborative groups--those who like the same thing sticking together to make something they're all proud of and where they can share the latest news related to their passions throughout the year/semester.

Some need-to-know questions that could help guide the club foundation might be...
  • What do I spend the most time doing/talking about when I can choose?
  • What do I like about doing/talking about this?
  • Why do other people like doing/talking about this?
  • What do other people need to know to understand my passion?
  • How can I make other people as excited as I am about this?
  • What media can best explain what is special about my topic?
  • How can I set up my online club to make people want to participate?

Culmination and continuation
After the small groups create a page to attract new members from Argentina, they'll then share them with their counterparts across two continents--maybe across the country too--and see how many they can get to join AND actively participate throughout the course. This may have to involve a prerecorded presentation built into the sites or asynchronous dialogue connected to them, given the different school meeting times.
I'd like to see the fan clubs become a regular out-of-class assignment, where students do something in Spanish on the page at least twice a month. Possibilities for fan club activities might include...
  • Start/moderate/participate in a discussion in Spanish (multiple exchanges--Skype, chat, forum, etc.) on a topic related to your passion, e.g. favorites and opinions or clarification and advice.
  • Provide an update (current or historical) with links to sources (in both languages?), at least a paragraph in length.
  • Add images/videos (5-10? cited and APPROPRIATE) related to your topic with titles/short descriptions in Spanish.
  • Write and/or record a review in Spanish related to your topic (e.g. song, album, game, event, episode, website, location)
  • Create fan art (including prepared recipes for foodies) and describe in a paragraph in Spanish (or if it's fan fiction or a parody, WRITE in Spanish!)
  • Write and/or record a how-to guide in Spanish related to your topic.

But what if no one joins their club? Why then, they have the option of jumping ship and joining someone else's! Maybe they just end up liking someone else's better than their own--that's okay too! If the English class kids in Argentina end up making their own clubs too, I think participation in one of theirs would be mandatory too. If some groups in classes across the country/continents have similar interests,  they could even elect to consolidate, just participating double, half in each language, on the same site! In the end I would like to come up with some kind of awards for most active clubs and most active members (most active club memberships?) to recognize those who go above and beyond with participation, too, though my objective is for the participation to be its own reward.

* I have a cool connection in Argentina :)