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!