30 January 2014

Genius Hour Agenda, part 2: Research

Once basic project-specific vocabulary is established, students can dig into the research, into some authentic resources about their passion. Now remember, our job is to modify the task, not the text, so if we start students off with some low-intensity texts like Pinterest pins and tweets to ease them into productive approaches to interpreting broader authentic texts.

I'm still updating my Trello board with instructions,  Linguafolio standards (or at least communication mode color coding), and other guidelines to help students choose their tasks. For the first few Fridays I'll be dictating which "card" they do, but eventually I hope to just designate a phase to focus on for the week and let them choose. Before I can do that, though, I want to make sure they understand how to use each to their advantage.

Pinterest board
I like to start with Pinterest because of the natural brevity of the text in a pin plus the added visual context. I'll have students create a board of probably 20 pins in Spanish (not Portuguese, not Italian), at least 10 of which need to have links in Spanish attached (the pictures were nice, but left some kids high and dry come interpretation time). They're doing simple interpretation tasks just by selecting their pins!

I've already had Spanish I set up their class Twitter accounts so they can search key terms again, this time with less assistance from visuals, though the texts themselves will still be short enough for novice consumption. Again, by just selecting tweets they can understand that align with their interests, they're interpreting text. What's more, they're finding potential contacts for later because of the social side of this particular resource. I'm having them collect these retweets with Storify to post to the class blog, too.

Google/Diigo list setup
Pinterest and Twitter are not 100% guaranteed founts of knowledge, but Google will almost never fail you, at least in Spanish. They've done some simple curation with the Pinterest boards and Storify stories, but with Diigo they can branch out into a wider variety of sources, things that aren't supremely pinnable or able to be captured in 140 characters. Still, when they google, I'm advising my novices to add "infografia" to half of their searches so they have the benefit of visual clues with fewer words. For the rest of their searches, we've discussed finding texts with familiar words, cognates, visuals, familiar formats, and fewer words.

When they find an infograph or other source they determine relates to their topic, I'll have them create a public Diigo list where they can collect their passion project sources from wherever. Again, the selection is its own mini-interpretation exercise, and collecting the sources with Diigo leads into the next step...

Diigo highlights/paraphrasing
They can use their pinned sites or their googled sites. Using the Diigolet tool, they can highlight a section of their site and add a note--a target language paraphrased note! I'd recommend novices just choose two important lines, no more than one sentence long--maybe less--to summarize.

Diigo gathers all of these onto their list for them! Choosing what to highlight is a valuable interpretation step because they have to cut out the stuff they don't get and focus on what they do get. Putting it in their own words is tricky--as it has always been in my English classes too--but it's something they HAVE to grasp for ALL subjects. With Diigo, they have the added benefit of having the important parts separated out and right next to their own paraphrasing for comparison!

YouTube playlist/Google video search
Once again, the searching is the interpretation at this stage, using the key words to find something they can use. YouTube is blocked at my school, so I had to find a new way to find videos. Ideally, students could search and make a playlist to peruse later, but there's no harm in finding videos on Vimeo or other sites to add to the old Diigo list for analysis and reflection later. I will give students the option of doing both, if they want to play with their passion topic outside of class, but overall, I'm looking for them to find three videos they could use.

Ivoox.com podcasts
All of Ivoox's podcasts are in Spanish! No, they are not especially novice friendly, but like with the text searches, I emphasize finding just a relevant title and a 1-minute portion where they can pick out key words. (I have students turn in the time frame where the understandable part is, too.) Add, say, two of these puppies to the Diigo list, and you're set!

Diigo summaries
Once students have dipped their toes into a variety of authentic resource pools, thus gaining exposure to common vocabulary in a variety of forms and on a variety of related topics, then we begin the analysis. They would just write one or two sentences that give the gist of the linked source, be it article or video. I'll ask that students summarize at least three written texts and at least two audio/video sources (because, let's face it: even with rewind, the audio is more challenging input).

For the novices, the emphasis is on simply picking out main ideas, maybe the author's attitude toward the topic, if only +/- (intermediates will have to add a supporting detail or two). Students can add notes to the overall sources instead of just highlighted portions, once again, adding to the one-stop value of their lists and making finding what they want to use later that much easier!

I want to encourage students to return to any of the strategies that A) they liked or B) need more work on. They could possibly add 10 pins, find 10 more tweets, Google 10 more articles or 3 more videos or podcasts. Or they could make 5 more highlights on any of the articles or 3 more summaries.

After they've attempted each of the other approaches, of course.

19 January 2014

Setting Independent Language Goals with Students

I'm not really assigning homework this semester. My students are setting their own language goals and figuring out how to accomplish them. It's an idea I got from Jeorg Ellen Sauer at #ACTFL13, but I've had to tweak it a little bit for the high school level, scaffolding a bit more to guide students and tightening up submission procedure and requirements to meet district and parent expectations.

Kiddos started off pretty enthusiastic with great ideas, but they've struggled a bit with the finer points of goal setting. Choosing tasks appropriate for their level and that build to their larger goal is challenging, and deciding a timeline is pretty foreign to them (no pun intended).

Since they had a total of 5 goals with at least 3 tasks to scaffold accomplishing each, I recommended they aim to fit 5 tasks in each 6-week grading period. I may have to do more than recommend next time. I also suggested they incorporate the following steps for their tasks for each goal:

  • establish vocabulary
  • practice
  • demonstrate achievement
Looking at some of the tasks and goals they've come up with, though, I'd like to expand those suggestions and break them down by communication mode (starred steps are kind of either/or options):

  1. Select texts
  2. Establish necessary vocabulary
  3. Respond to interpretation (e.g. summary, discussion)
  1. Listen to examples of similar conversations*
  2. Script your lines
  3. Practice alone or with friends*
  4. Practice in an authentic setting
  1. Establish necessary vocabulary
  2. Create a draft
  3. Create a problem area "cheat sheet"*
  4. Revise according to suggestions*

For myself, the coordination of all of these different assignments is proving tricky. In the future, I'll need to set aside time for commenting and conferencing sooner. For the time being, I'm commenting profusely on individual Google Doc contracts, conferencing individually in class (as much as I can), then adding dates--once approved--to a class Google Calendar. For the Schoology gradebook, I'm going to add assignments by the week and finagle on an individual basis (yay individual assigning option!) for the handful who insisted on doing 2 things in one week, partially because I want them to see when an assignment is impending, and partially to not have to create 61 (and counting) individual assignments.

Some of the kids are slightly less enthused than they were at first, it's true, but once the dust has settled, contracts are established, and the learning is under way, I think these personalized plans will prove both more popular and more productive than any other homework assignment I've ever given.

18 January 2014

20 Time Makeover

I missed the memo that Google had added rules to 20 Time, but I'm totally okay with it. In fact, a little additional structure and scaffolding suits me fine. @SECottrell of Musicuentos directed me to the Forbes post linked above with her post on Genius Hour, and I'd like to take a minute to point out what the guidelines recommended therein mean for my kiddos.

1. Urgency without alignment is wasted energy
The authors point out that Google can't be a jack of all trades and master them all at the same time. For the classroom, if the kiddos don't have a target to hit by the end of the course, then they'll never know when they're done. Granted, I think one of the biggest selling points of Genius Hour is the way it scaffolds lifelong learning, but at the same time, it they don't know what they're trying to accomplish or how to show once they have--or even how close they've come to it, we're just leaving the little darlings paddling on the horizon with no land in sight. Alignment could be very literal, as far as aligning with communication or cultural goals, such as those set forth by ACTFL. Alignment could just be "You have to teach your classmates to do something interesting, using only Spanish."

2. There's room to explore and power to be generated from those "intrinsically motivated"
So it all comes back to tapping into their interests. Surely there's something to be read, heard, written, and spoken about on anything that they come to class charged up about. So communication goals, with the proper community scaffolding, should be no problem. So give them a goal to work toward, an outcome they must demonstrate, the tools to achieve it, and the drive to talk about fishing or tae kwon do or motocross or Star Trek should keep them pushing forward with the task.

3. Focused free-thinking builds a "change engine" into the culture
That's the dream, folks: school not for schooling's sake, but for learning how to learn. We don't want to have to go back to school every time we want a new skill. We don't want to pay for classes every time we want to learn a new language or become more fluent. So with just enough direction and just enough freedom, maybe we can start steering away from grade grubbing and just passing.

The Forbes authors from Kotter International also suggest the following steps to make this happen:

  • Re-build urgency. I'll say it again: if they don't feel like they're getting away with something, they're not doing it right.
  • Share the vision. This is what we do, people. It's all too easy to sit back and assume their favorite topic will keep them going, but we do need to remind them what exploring their passion in the target language can do for them, namely, open up their contacts and connections and basically blow open what they thought they knew while discovering a new way to express what they know now.
  • Clear the path for those with a great idea. If they want to bring props and turn out the lights to tell a scary story, congratulations are in order! If they want to use their angle for their Genius Hour to spice up their cooking project or to tie in to their proficiency practice, all the better! If they want to team up on their presentation and combine their knowledge of car parts and classic designs, awesome! Inspiration is a beautiful thing.
  • Share news of the progress. I'm all about some target language blogging, let me tell you, and I even carve out time and dole out credit for having kiddos comment on each other's blogs. I'm particularly pleased with the results of having them spend a class period responding to each other's Genius Hour reflection posts and then responding to each other's responses. I'd like to do more with follow-up on ideas they get from each other and do more recognizing (as I had intended) of good stuff when I see it. I think some more built-in straight-up chat sessions and class conversations would be a valuable use of time too, maybe some "speed-dating" wagon wheel discussion to see who's got the best discovery each month!
  • Wash, rinse, repeat. I firmly believe that routine is the key to the success of Genius Hour, Project-Based Learning, and anything else that means students are learning how to learn for themselves, especially in the target language. Teach them strategies for discovery, how to process it, and they can continue discovering all their lives!

16 January 2014

Hand over the Reins: Specialized Project Groups

Most projects worth doing cannot be done alone. Most projects worth doing require coordination of time, materials, money, and information. Coordinating all of these elements is one reason collaboration is an essential 21st century skill. The old adage tells us what we must do with anything we want done right, but what kind of lifelong preparation is it for students if I "do it myself"? How can the project carry over into other aspects of their lives and encourage them to go forth and do likewise once they leave my class?

I have to hand over the reins.

But this is the tricky part: I have to prepare them before I do it. So even if I'm not doing the time/material/money/information coordination myself, I have to know how and then break it down into steps my little novices can handle.

So I proposed some groups to the class, and they proposed some more. It's week 2 of the semester, but you will notice that I used cognates wherever possible, so I was speaking Spanish even if they did not necessarily respond in kind--more of an interpretation activity at this stage.

  • Organizar dinero
  • Organizar el calendario
  • Investigar Colombia
  • Presentar la clase/escuela
  • Presentar la comunidad
  • Coordinar materiales
  • Amigos de correspondencia
The pen pals group was their idea, and it was pretty cool because before it was suggested, a couple of kids were pretty "meh" about the whole thing--that group lit their little eyes up, though! I let them choose their groups then shuffled them to keep groups at four or fewer each. Nobody felt moved by the calendario group, though, so we struck it. The research group, however, was so popular we split it into two: one to research daily life and one to research the proverbial landscape. The video I showed them raised a lot of questions I couldn't answer, quite frankly, and making their new Colombian buddies feel bad has always been a concern with this project, so I thought someone had better do some digging.

We're Skyping with a representative of Ayudando Ando this week, so the groups' first task was to come up with questions that would help them do their jobs. I think maybe next time I'll have them create a group job description before Skyping, probably via InfuseLearning, but I wanted the excitement a real-live international conversation would generate sooner rather than later.

From there, we'll go to my new best friend, Trello, where I've laid out a board with tasks I need each group to handle. I'll have them figure out what's missing first, what else they think they should do, and then get down to the business of delegating. For each task, I'll have groups tell me
  1. How many people need to work on this?
  2. Which group members are going to work on this?
  3. How much time do they need to finish?
  4. What vocabulary do they need to understand or use?
  5. What resources do they need?
  6. What evidence will they submit when they are done?
  7. How/where/when will they submit the evidence?
They will then need to complete calendars and contracts outlining how they plan to accomplish their goals. My job will then be to negotiate and approve both, then provide them the necessary vocabulary, technology access, and practice to get where they're going. I will also check in with each group daily with some simple questions in the TL:

  • ¿Qué tienen?
  • ¿Qué necesitan?
  • ¿Qué sigue?
We will also have  to coordinate an overall class calendar, so groups will have time to collaborate with other groups or present to the class as necessary.

It's my group last semester that gave me the idea to split up the class according to their interests to tackle this monumental project. Well I remember the sense of complete failure the first time I undertook this huge project. Now though? It's not just my project. The kiddos are taking the reins, and I'm ready for the ride!

11 January 2014

Genius Hour Agenda, part 1: Setup and Vocabulary

I am determined to prove that Genius Hour is possible at the novice level in world language classes, without completely sacrificing target language time. I believe that the proper scaffolding allows students to pursue their passions in the target language at whatever level. Now, students won't necessarily be making Earth-shattering discoveries in the target language, but they will discover how to communicate about something that matters to them in another language. The task simply has to be broken down sufficiently for them to achieve success.
With that in mind, I have broken down the Genius Hour process into 6 phases: vocabulary, research, contacts, reflection, discussion,  and presenting. These phases are based on activities I tried my first semester of Genius Hour experimentation and my own personal experience as a novice attempting Genius Hour. The six phases, like the phases of the writing process, are recursive rather than lineal. They differ mostly in that the focus is not purely presentational, but rather encompasses all three modes of communication.
I've broken these tasks down on a Trello board for students to keep a record of tasks they've completed. When students complete a task, they will post it to the class blog, and comment on the task's "card" with the date, as I did with the Google Doc card.
I really like the flexibility and layout of Trello (also an app for Android and ios!) for or my planning, and I'll continue to update my board as I get new ideas and discover new potholes in my plan. My Spanish 2/3 class has requested I add in the descriptions for each assignment possible Linguafolio standards the activity could meet and word count along with the instructions, so I will be tackling that this week.

Without a foundation of some key terms related to their topic, students can neither interpret nor discuss their topic. Of course we'll cover some basics in class (like Amy Lenord's QP3), but everyone needs something different with Genius Hour, so curating their own lists is essential, especially if they're ever to be weaned off of their dictionary addictions.

Google Doc
For lifelong language learning, we must model skills like gathering resources. In the L1, it might be building a bibliography to inform an article you're writing or just bookmarking some sites to compare cars you're thinking of buying. Rather than going back to the library, or Google, or the dictionary every time you want to write or talk about something, you should have your own personal reference. Students need to practice scaffolding their own learning, and taking notes to retain new learning so they can keep learning even without a teacher or structured class.

Phrasebook Google Sheet
Giving up on my crusade against Google Translate was a revelation. There are so many tools that it offers that can facilitate language learning! One of those is the phrasebook, where you can save phrases you look up. My 10 Commandments of Translatoring demand that students maintain a phrasebook of things they look up more than once and share it with me. So many students complained of retaining nothing last semester because all they did was look up every word on WordReference. This way, they will have the words/phrases stored in the same place, meaning they'll have incentive to remember a previous time using the same word when they check the list, thus fostering connections!

Semantic Groups
I always, always make my students memorize Sexton's Strategies for Vocabulary Retention: Visuals, Actions, and Connections. One of my favorite things to do for connection is simply scrambling the words up and having students sort them into groups of 7 or fewer words and coming up with group labels that explain their reasoning (hint: it should have to do with the words' meanings, not spelling, as a rule). For the individual vocabulary,  I envision them doing their grouping on a glog and adding visuals that represent each category.

Soundboard Glog
Come presentation time, I found that pronunciation of the personalized vocabulary was a pretty big issue. If they do their grouping on a glog, they could just add sound clips for each word to the grouped glog,  turn it into a  soundboard. As a side note, I think I'd also have them add relevant numbers--like years--so they wouldn't switch to English mid-sentence.

Word Cloud
I got a cool idea from Cynthia Hitz (@sonrisadelcampo) vía Amy Lenord's blog post. Help students find patterns of high-frequency words, be it for their own posts or sites they use for research by creating a word cloud of the text. I'm partial to Wordle, though Tagxedo is pretty cool, too. (I know there are more out there, but I haven't done enough with them to speak to their awesomeness.)

Action Glog (or video)
This would probably have to be a separate glog, as it would involve multiple videos that would take up a lot of space, though maybe it could incorporate the word cloud. For this, I would have students figure maybe their top 20 high-frequency words and come up with an action for each (where possible) and record themselves performing the actions. I like the glog for selective viewing, but a video could also work.

If you're looking for more reading on vocabulary, Amy Lenord (@alenord), Carrie Toth (@SenoraCMT), Colleen Lee-Hayes (@CoLeeSensei), and Sara Cottrell (@SECottrell) all have powerful posts on effective vocabulary approaches. Sara got the why (with depth and research!), Amy and Carrie covered the how, and, well, Colleen did both together!

09 January 2014

Your Own Personal Spanish Curriculum

Maybe it's the honeymoon phase talking...or the small classes...or the weather delays. Still, I feel like I've discovered the cure for the common class! Well, for my common class. I finally feel like I'm headed in the right direction and pointing my kids that way too!

I attribute this honeymoon high to four elements, all of which I discovered through professional development in the past six months (mostly at #ACTFL13):
  1. InfuseLearning vocabulary drawing #GCSK12 #TLC13 from @rmbyrne of FreeTech4Teachers.com
  2. Organic World Language talking circles ("peceras" in my class) #ACTFL13
  3. Personalized homework contracts or Independent Language Goals) a la @Jeorg #ACTFL13
  4. Linguafolio-based portfolio assessment #ACTFL13
Vocabulary: InfuseLearning and OWL
Aside from some technical difficulties with desktops (why can't they draw on them??) the getting-to-know you prompts, which I intend to parlay into Genius Hour topics, have provided a handy basis for some basic but worthwhile conversations. I ask the question; they respond with pictures. I guess what the picture means with cognates, gestures, and circumlocution, and add it to the list (the purple and green posters below) with their names (for connections' sake).

Then we circle up (the inner circle stands, and one of the tiburones closes the circle by standing next to me up front). I then prep them with some verbs like me gusta or voy combined with actions I get them to repeat (no S, but TPR, right?). Then I ask yes or no questions around the ring using terms from one of the posters ("Do you like crime TV shows?") for lots of good comprehensible input. Then I vary it, asking a similar question with a different poster term, one person gets "Do you...?" and the next gets "Does he/she...?"

Now even the nervous kids can say something confidently--and the first week's only half over!

Independent Language Goals
First of all, the excitement and the buy-in that the Independent Language Goals seem to be generating almost have the room audibly buzzing:
  • "I want to be able to talk to my customers without having their kids translate, and make conversation while I make their sandwich." Perfect! Make it work for you!
  • "Could I do, like, one fun goal, like, remake a popular YouTube video in Spanish?" One? Do them ALL like that! That sounds awesome! 
  • "I want to make a cookbook and try different recipes." YES! DO IT! 
  • "I want to go into medicine. Can I look up vocabulary for childhood diseases and development?" Shoot, I'll give you MY child to practice on! (Just stuff like measuring, of course--not sticking her with needles or anything...)
I gave them a Google Doc template to copy and put in their own folders, where they're adding 5 personal goals, figuring out tasks that will get them to those goals, and setting due dates for themselves.

Here are some neat goals I've seen on contracts so far: 
  • Give simple instructions to Spanish speaking children.
  • Understand a poem in Spanish.
  • Add to conversations that Michelle and Dominga (coworkers) have
  • Talk to spanish associates that work at shopping stores
  • first aid for children
  • Do not second guess myself on something when saying something in Spanish
  • Ability to read books on kindergarten level
  • Make a purchase of some kind while speaking Spanish
  • Learn simple vocabulary such as months and colors and how to pronounce it correctly.
  • Research about my homeland.
  • Understanding different sayings from different dialects
  • Learn about Hispanic legends.
  • Read the same novels in Spanish & English.
  • Be able to communicate basic ideas of art, including things like color, tint, shade, and names of tools.
  • Being able to eavesdrop on native Spanish speakers conversations
Proficiency Portfolio
I've put together a template for them to create their own sites, notebook pages for tracking class activities, and a Powtoon video to explain how it works:

06 January 2014

Una Palabra

I had seen a few people picking their word for the year when my Super Pinner colleague suggested I take the project bilingual. So I made a Spanish version of Mique's awesome resolution page. I'm looking forward to reinforcing our school-wide "One Word" campaign in the target language and maybe plastering my one allotted bulletin board with Spanish words that mean something significant to my students.

I also chose my One Word:

Whether it's setting up and scaffolding a new project I want to inspire my Spanish classes, getting the week's laundry sorted, or simply mentally and physically switching gears to attend fully to my six-year-old's violin practice, I need to stop making excuses and start making ready. I need to anticipate the challenges and plan the necessary steps to meet them, getting myself and my environment in order to the best of my ability--even if it's just putting down my phone and maintaining eye contact.

It's my first day with a new crop of kids today, my first in a while with a Spanish 3 class--first ever with an honest-to-goodness combo class. It's fair to say that I am not entirely prepared. However, what with a post a day every day so far this year, I think it's also fair to say that I am preparing. I guess that's why I went with the verb rather than the adjective: it's a moving target.

I'm pretty pleased with my fancy new ThingLink infograph syllabi (though I need to add more links), but the semester is far from laid out. I've got an outline of plans for the coming week, though, and a standards-based  portfolio end game for my Spanish classes. I have strategies set up to avoid some of last semester's pitfalls, my classroom set up, and contacts lined up for 2 of the 3 projects I'm planning on this semester.

I may not be prepared, but I'm ready to keep reminding myself: prepare.

05 January 2014

Top 13 from 2013

I feel like I progressed a lot as an educator in 2013, especially in the fields of Project-Based Learning and sticking to the target language. I'm also still basking in the support from colleagues around the world, both online and at my first ACTFL convention.

If I were really smart, I would have planned a retrospective for New Year's Day like CoLeeSensei--or planned installments leading up to the new year like SECottrell! But here we are at New Semester's Eve, for my school at least, so I figure a look back at last year is not entirely inappropriate.
13. I Need to Know
This is one of my earlier attempts at marrying PBL goals and teaching in the target language. I know it's not only possible but necessary, and while the methods I planned out in this post to get those two crazy lovebirds together have not exactly become part of my planning routine, they did help lay the groundwork.

12. Managing Student Blogs: Tricks and Tools
Here's one of those Sra. Spanglish posts that applies to both English and Spanish. The English teacher in me loves a journal, and the technophile in me loves a paperless assignment (that I can access anywhere without amassing unsightly piles in every corner of my existence). Unfortunately, Google Reader has since closed its doors, but I'm learning to make do with Feedly.

11. Make a Soundboard with Glogster
I continue to dream of a day when there is website that lets you create a page with little soundboard buttons that let you record a different snippet when you click each one. In the meantime, there's Glogster and its infinitely customizable multimedia platform.

10. PBL while Tied to the Textbook (#ACTFL13)
The truth is, I didn't have teaching PBL in the TL 100% figured out when I proposed my presentation for November's ACTFL convention. The whole truth? I probably never will. But one of the big issues that I've managed to dodge thus far is textbooks and district mandates. So I attempted to figure out some workarounds.

9. Empowering Novices for Independent Inquiry
I'm convinced that establishing the right routines and scaffolding can make Genius Hour accessible even to novices. I think one of our most important jobs as educators, and specifically as language educators, is to teach metacognition and plain old troubleshooting. What do you do when you don't know what to do? Where do you start when you have no clue? (I should write a song.) We're building lifelong learners if we can just help them answer those questions.

8. La Vida Universitaria
I liked this project. I think I'm going to do it again now that I'm getting a new crop of seniors. I've got to work on the framing of the project and the audience to address--heck, might even end up as a letter of inquiry to a school of their choice with some chats with real live college students in other countries along the way if I can arrange it.

7. Pen Pals PBL: Found an International Fan club
This project, it was a mess. It was great working with my colleague in Argentina again, and I think the kids still came up with some pretty cool stuff, but, alas, technology and time were not on our side.

6. Daily Chorus Bellringer
When a student I know has been struggling both personally and academically tells me she came to school today just to see what our new song would be, I know I've hit on something. I love doing this because it gets TL earworms burrowed into their brains while promoting fluency in reading, listening, and speaking.

5. I Am a Novice: Genius Hour Experiment, part 1
I'm still a novice in Portuguese, but my experiment is ongoing. It's been eye-opening, especially when it comes to interpretive listening and translator usage. I look at what I really do as an experienced language learner to start at the bottom and work my way up.

4. Establish PBL Vocabulary in the TL (#ACTFL13)
Once again, I was looking for ways to lay the foundations for a good PBL project without slipping into English. It just so happens that Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers presented at my district's Teaching and Learning Conference and gave me an idea. It was a hit, and I hope to make a routine of it this coming semester.

3. Ser vs Estar: Target Language Mini-Lesson
I whipped this up for a community college job interview, now that I have my MA. I thought it was a bang-up lesson, totally TL, though I should have counted on technology access more than whiteboard access...Spoiler alert: I didn't get the job. (North Carolina legislative craziness aside, though, I'm in the best place I could be.)

2. Driving Questions for Novice Spanish (#ACTFL13)
One of the FAQs I squeezed out of my #LangCamp compatriots was basically can PBL even be done in the TL with novices? Once again, I'm going to go with "Yes, if..." I'm still working on HOW it can be done, but a big part of that is choosing DQs that fit your clientele AND their language level.

1. PBL Tips for TL Teaching (#ACTFL13)
With almost as many hits as #2-#5 combined and more than any whole month prior to 2013, this post probably represents the biggest leap for me as a PBL/TL teacher. These are a lot of the strategies that have helped get me closer to the 90% mark.


If I were a smoking woman, I'd have to get me out a Virginia Slim: I've come a long way, baby! Now let's see how much further we can get in 2014!

04 January 2014

Strategies for Standards-Based Portfolio Curation

The standards-based e-portfolio I use for evaluation has been a little rocky since I started experimenting with it last year. North Carolina's eLinguafolio has been on the fritz, and I've tried a few different methods for curation--mostly Google Sites and Blogger--and I've not been totally satisfied with the results yet.

Here are some of the problems I've encountered:
  • Procrastination and incomplete submissions
  • Confusion over expectations for evidence
  • Technical difficulties with evidence links
  • Lack of motivation to revise and resubmit
  • Designing relevant activities for evidence collection
  • Time expenditure for feedback (days of my life here)
I have a plan of attack, though. I've come up with some strategies that I think will both organize me and organize them and help keep both of us more accountable without having everything pile up at the end.

I will provide:
  • Unit breakdown by standards on Schoology
  • Activity tracking pages for your notebook
  • Google Sites templates with all required standards plus formatting instructions
  • Weekly Google Form evidence checks

Write this down
I will label each activity we complete with corresponding Linguafolio communication objectives when we begin the activity. That is your cue to whip out the activity tracking pages and write down the date and name of the assignment. If it is any sort of speaking activity (presentational or person-to-person), you will probably also want to whip out your phone/MP3 player or other recording device.

Set goals
Review the standards and unit breakdown of the standards I plan to address directly through our term project. Then choose which three sections you will focus on for the six-week grading period. Remember, you want to take advantage of the activities in class so you don't have to reinvent the wheel, but you also may not want to save all of the hardest sections for last--it'll be harder to get feedback to re-do them.

You may, of course, adjust your goals as the grading period progresses, but you will need to make up your mind as soon as possible. The week before the end of the grading period, I will require a draft of your designated skill sections wherein you briefly describe the evidence you will submit for each objective (this is where your notebook pages will come in handy). This way I can let you know if you're on the right track and if your evidence is likely to meet all proficiency requirements:
  • Alignment with the objective
  • Thoroughness
  • Accuracy
  • Spontaneity (not rehearsed or read)
  • Consistency
Don't stop until it's done
When you submit one of the portfolio skill sections for evaluation, I will give you feedback using the portfolio rubric on Schoology to let you know if the evidence you provided is sufficient to demonstrate proficiency.

When you have demonstrated at least 80% proficiency on a skill section, you will earn a Schoology badge indicating you are proficient in that skill at that level. If you do NOT receive at least 80% for the section, however, you will need to adjust or replace inadequate evidence and resubmit. Note: you WILL be held accountable the following grading period for resubmitting skill sections that do not earn at least 80%. Likewise, if you do not complete at least 3 skill sections in a grading period, you will be responsible for making up the difference the following grading period.

The final analysis
Your final exam will basically just be your completed e-portfolio, including evidence for all Linguafolio objectives appropriate for your course level and a Proficiency Profile in which you evaluate your overall proficiency level in each of the five communication skills: Interpretive Listening, Interpretive Reading, Person-to-person, Presentational Speaking, and Presentational Writing. Your Proficiency Profile will be evaluated not on the basis of meeting state-prescribed goals, but on the accuracy of your assessment of your own proficiency levels based on evidence included as well as an on-the-spot interview.

03 January 2014

Fishbowl Seating Quick Switch

I have one class of roughly 20 students and two classes hovering closer to 10 (I know, I'm living the dream!) The variation, however, makes seating arrangements a little sticky, especially since one class is a combo Spanish 2 and 3.

I have 12 tables for regular student seating in my classroom, and each seats two students. I want them all to be able to see each other, to communicate--especially if I'm going to implement regular OWL circle exchanges, as well as for Creative Writing workshops. Incidentally, my room is not big enough for a 12-table circle, at least not with seating room too.

So I decided on a fishbowl. Moreover, I decided on three sets of fishbowl arrangements.
The class "bowl" looks roughly like the diagram above, with my SMARTboard at the bottom. My combo class will mostly be arranged with Spanish 2 in the blue, 3 in the purple. I'll also have a scrambled arrangement that will probably involve a 2 and a 3 at every other table. Creative Writing will ALMOST fit in the inner ring, but I will have to get a little...well, you know.

My piéce de resistance, though, is the triple plan for the class of 22:

Configuration 1: Pez-pecera--default "fish" in the middle, "bowl" on the outside. The peces will do the OWL circle first, with one swing pez I'll call the tiburón, who will close the circle during OWL time.

Configuration 2: Pecera-pez--inverse fishbowl (he who was once the bowl becomes the fish!) I will simply call out "Pecera-pez" or pull up a SMART slide with the written cue to indicate switch time, and everyone will go to their OTHER designated seat! (This is one thing PowerSchool is pretty handy for.) I'm thinking of making it a sort of duck-duck-goose, roundabout switch to make sure traffic flows, maybe play some "Vìbora de la mar" or other coro hit in between for travel music.

Configuration 3: Grupos. I have not designed this chart yet, because I think I'm going to have them choose their PBL project groups based on their desired area of expertise, but the shape of it will basically mean smashing one pez table with one pecera table and crowding 3-5 around the pod.

I know there are those who believe that seating charts steal student empowerment, but frankly, I've got a job to do, and the smoother I can make transitions (and easier I can make things like attendance taking for myself), the better I can do that job.

02 January 2014

Class Procedures Plan for Preserving my Sanity

I'm set to have four preps next semester (in two languages), two of which I have taught only once before in my life. In other words, I'm going to need be organized.

There are a few things I can set up for students ahead of time, a few policies to establish from the start, and some routines to dive right into.

I'll Do It Myself (Google style)
Our school has a spreadsheet of all parent e-mails, so I'm going to go ahead and set up my contact lists for the semester. Then the very first day, seeing as "fill out a simple form with some basic personal information" falls under the Novice Linguafolio goals, I'll collect students' e-mail addresses and get them added to my class contact list too. Then I can create a Google Drive folder that I share with all of them for them to put ALL of their class-related work in from the get-go, and go ahead and add them to a Google Site with templates for their e-portfolio. I'm contemplating setting up a single Genius Hour blog for all to contribute to, too, to cut down on obnoxious formatting and the like, though I still believe there's something to be said for the ownership their own blog engenders. With a single class blog, though, I could also easily set up a page with assigned commenting partners in a nice central location.

I think I'll also add to the shared folder a little Google Doc template with the standard header I want and assign a simple assignment like this to practice submitting such assignments to the Google folder the right way:
1. Introduce yourself in one paragraph.
2. Copy and paste the paragraph into a translator and translate to Spanish
3. Paste the Spanish translation of your paragraph below the original introduction
4. Paste the Spanish translation in the translator and translate it back to English
5. Paste the re-translated paragraph at the bottom of your Doc.
Plus, I can create a shared Google spreadsheet where students submit the username/email they use for every other site known to man (or at least the ones I'm likely to make them use). Or, rather, if they don't already have accounts for them, I can require they use a certain screenname like GECFirstName and just check off once they're officially signed up for VoiceThread, Glogster, WeVideo, eLinguafolio.org, Twitter, PowToons, Diigo, Remind101, Pinterest, and Trello.

Let's Get This Straight
LATE WORK: I will take late work--IFF AND ONLY IFF--you spend at least 15 minutes outside of class WITH ME working on something Spanishy (or Creative Writingy if that's your class). Your grade for the late assignment will be a zero until that happens. Ideally, you would stay until you finished the assignment. If you "serve your time" and do not have the work completed before you leave, you must SUBMIT A LATE WORK GOOGLE FORM RESPONSE when the assignment is completed and submitted directly to me THROUGH SCHOOLOGY in the form of a link or an upload (if it's paper, scan it).

If you have not completed the make-up time by Friday morning, you will be referred to study hall to complete it, where, by school policy, you may only receive 50% credit for your work.

LAB TIME: We will use computers, probably a lot. You will have an assigned computer, both for laptop carts, and in the lab. You are not to leave your designated spot without express permission.

As soon as your laptop is booted, you should always pull up Schoology immediately, and head to the day's discussion forum, where you will post at least one SPECIFIC goal for the remainder of the class period. Before you log off, you must reply to your post describing exactly what you have accomplished.

This Is How We Roll
HOMEWORK: There will be homework. Sometimes we won't finish stuff in class--after all, we have some serious projects we'll be undertaking. But mostly, you'll decide your own homework. You'll decide where you want to end up, set some specific goals, figure out what you need to meet them, and then write up a contract with some projected checkpoints.

After an inspirational session from Jeorg Ellen Sauer at ACTFL 2013, I'm pumped to revamp my "opciones." We'll look at ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines with this handy glog, try to decide where students really want to be and where they reasonably think they could be by the end of the semester, picking out some key words and aligning them with North Carolina's prescribed proficiency levels so that we can be sure they're not aiming too high or too low. We'll discuss at least 5 things they want to be able to do by the end of the course (should they be aligned with the communication modes, that would be dandy) and how they can go about getting there. They'll draw up a proposed contract, we'll talk individually, perhaps during Genius Hour, and we'll sign our John Hancocks.

"TESTS": I'm going to go ahead and give them the Linguafolio template from, well, week 1 at least (I envision it taking place somewhere in the middle of the Genius Hour prepping, after the Google Translate commandments). Then they can see exactly where we're headed and get an idea of how important it is to keep up with the expectations, that is, 3 rows per grading period, each row being a "test." Once I get which units I think will fit this crowd ironed out, I'll have a document with exactly which standards we'll directly address over the course of each project. I'll also use my "Linguafolio Leftovers" Google Form for a quick check in to see who's missing what still, perhaps weekly or bi-weekly.

And of course, GENIUS HOUR: We'll take Fridays for independent exploration. Some weeks will be guided research online, some will be structured discussions about your findings, and all weeks will involve blogging. Blogging may involve text analysis, topic reflection, or presentation planning, and it will always involve vocabulary tracking.

01 January 2014

Creative Writing Goals: Smarter Not Harder

Teaching Creative Writing was dangled in front of me once before: 8 years ago, in fact. I immediately started formulating a vision, setting goals, developing plans ...that I never got to use. This year, a spring Creative Writing class was proffered once more, though I dared not get my hopes up too high. That is, until my principal stopped by my classroom with a proposal the day before classes started in August.

Now my first semester as a Creative Writing teacher has nearly ended.

I had some ideas that I definitely wanted to work in like journals, writers' workshops, and real-life publication. I got those all in there to some extent, but I also got a lot more work than I'd bargained for. It was a small class, under 20, so I thought I could handle rampant revision and daily writing checks.

It was handled, but not nearly with the, shall we say, alacrity that I had anticipated.

So I find myself between an ideological rock and a pragmatic hard place. I have to be able to do right by my students and survive another semester. I want to help them as writers and critical thinkers, but I also have some implicit instructional responsibilities as well, as my clientele this time around is largely those who, for one reason or another, have been deemed unprepared for the college class they were supposed to take according to the Early College Plan that ends with an associate's degree.  I'm not repeating my COMPASS Lab class, per se, but I have to sneak in some COMPASS-like preparation in hopes of getting them back on track after this unscheduled elective stop. And then there's the district "Grade Composition":

65%   ≥ 2  major "test" grades
20%   ≥ 4 "quiz" grades
15%   ≥ 6 "daily" grades

Now I had been doing weekly journal checks for the daily grades, pieces before and after workshop--with comments for the "test" grades, and pieces that they continuously revised based on my feedback for the "quiz" grades.

That was a LOT of commenting on my part, especially with my natural novelists. Don't get me wrong: the novel chapters were actually good stuff. But let's just say I'm surprised my feedback spreadsheets survived. And my poor brain was stew after marking up a set of submissions, just for the sheer acrobatics it required to keep up with 1) what some students were trying to say and 2) how it could possibly be clearer.

Now I've heard some suggest dividing up the feedback: round 1 is say, organization and paragraphs; round 2 is support and elaboration; round 3 is sentence structure; and round 4 is style and voice. But honestly, that system seems entirely unfair to me. My brilliant novelists would get almost zero feedback until round 4, and my struggling artists would feel punished by the comparative number of re-do's they had to do. So it looks like the intensive high-wire feedback will remain a fact of life. Now how to cut back without cutting corners?

Here's the plan:

Daily Grades
Journal checks
Workshop comment contributions (constructive, consistent, specific)
Grammar spreadsheet corrections

Quiz Grades
2 workshop submissions
2 post-workshop revision

Test Grades
Genius Hour submission draft
Genius Hour revisions

Basically, I cut back on the number of different pieces students would submit and give them credit both for the before and the after. And instead of me giving feedback over and over again on six different pieces, this way the minor ones just have to demonstrate 1) they completed the assignment goals and 2) they improved their piece using suggestions from classmates in workshop. This means fewer rounds for me but still copious feedback for them. 

Furthermore, some comments I got from end-of-course reflection letters suggested that students have more time between practice pieces (ie "quiz grades") to work on them. I'm halving the number of pieces required for submission, but I'm upping the revision focus by giving revisions their own grade. I'll set the requirements for the "quiz" assignment completion, but I'm thinking I'll have them create their own checklist rubrics for their revisions based on the comments they received: pick 10 things they need to change, and I decide if they've met those goals. (Maybe the rubric creation should be its own grade? Or just a conferencing matter? We'll have to see how that plays out.)

Also, I added Genius Hour. That's right, it's not just for the target language any more!

I found that the publications were a bit rushed at the end, and that the goals students set out at the beginning of the course did not exactly...come to fruition. I think several took the easy way out, and the ones that had the most satisfying results in the end were ones that worked on the same project over at least two grading periods. So if I give them an hour a week to work, and at one free scrap-it card if they don't like where their project is headed, surely they'll have something we can all be proud of in the end.

This means I can focus my intense commentary on one piece per student per grading period, which will surely be less overwhelming for them and for me. They will have to tell me what their goals are for a Genius Hour submission (e.g. exposition chapter, slam poem about beauty), and if they do what they said they'd do, full test grade! Then it's up to them to polish their piece as far as organization, elaboration, style, and mechanics until it is publication-ready!