24 April 2014

Daily Instagram Updates

The objectives and activities for the day must always be neatly markered on my classroom whiteboard for students and principal to see. Wouldn't it be great if I could put that same information online without having to retype everything I just wrote out in pretty colors? Couldn't I just take a picture on my phone and send it out to all of my eager and absent kids? I mean I suppose I could copy and paste my lesson plans into a Google Calendar that I embed in the class web page, but maybe I'm just lazy. And spoiled. I want to do everything from my phone, without all of that clicking and toggling and mousing around.

So I made an Instagram account.

I have been snapping a shot of each class's "I cans" and agendas for a couple of weeks now and tagging each with...
  1. the grading period it's from: #2nd6weeks, #3rd6weeks
  2. the course: #español1, #creativewriting, #español2y3
  3. the unit topics: #festival, #genres, #pasión
  4. modes of communication for Spanish: #writing, #speaking, #listening, #reading, #P2P; #workshops
    exercise types in Creative Writing: #revision, #workshops, #litcircle
Our school is currently working on incorporating the New Schools Project Common Instructional Framework (we have magnets and everything! Thanks Caldwell Early College!), so I might eventually incorporate those, too, to allow for searching. 

Then I made a page on my class Google Site and figured out how to embed my Instagram feed using the instructions below for Intagme.com:

Hint: Google Chrome freaks out about the security of my Instagram embedding, but I have no problem viewing on Firefox.

I made the display 3 photos/courses across so you could see a day-by-day representation of what we did. I did have to take a separate picture for each course's objectives to fit the little Instagram hipster square, a process which would be much less loathsome if I had ANY kind of reception in my classroom.

I also started to add links for searches from Iconosquare.com by hashtags below the photos for students to find that class where we worked on passion projects, or classes where we did some person-to-person for their portfolios, perhaps. PS I have since discovered that it's probably wise to add my own code, e.g. SXTN to the hashtags so there are not thousands of, say, #creativewriting tags that pop up on searches--for example, *I* would be the only #SXTNcw or #SXTNes1.

Now, did that really save me more time than just typing them all out? Well, no. But it will. I'll have this page set up now, the system for searching lessons by hashtag, and a quick update as I walk out the door...and into 4G territory. So really, I will be getting more use out of the time I do spend.

And it looks kind of cool.

21 April 2014

Proposed Units

To earn a slot on the Governor's Teacher Network, I need to propose units I want to develop. This could be my big chance to promote projects that not only make language truly relevant but that make students lives better. So I took another look at the North Carolina Essential Standards (novice, mainly) for world languages and started thinking about what made them essential, what they had to do with real life and issues that affect every student as well as their communities--local or global.

I think what I've come up with could be modified for different languages and different levels, but let me know what you think!

School Supply Drive: Service Learning and Community BuildingThis unit may be conducted in conjunction with local or international ESL classes, community centers, and/or charity organizations. The goal is to communicate with elementary age students in the target language (interpersonal communication) in order to learn about their circumstances and assist in meeting their needs by sharing their stories with potential community donors (presentational communication) using appropriate media to create letters of request, infographs, webpages, videos, and/or social media campaigns. Interpretive communication may be engaged observing authentic school supply lists and school descriptions sent directly from community partners or found online. This provides context for learning vocabulary for common objects and other disciplines as well as a real-world application and a basis for comparing cultural products, practices, and perspectives related to education.

Going Green: Think Globally, Act Locally This unit would require students to examine their own daily habits and those of their community. Students would interpret infographs and both respond to and develop surveys related to recycling, energy consumption, and conservation in order to collaborate and develop action plans for their class, school, or local community. They would discuss their daily routines in terms of consumption and other habits affecting the environment and compare with classmates and students from other classes in the school, district, or in other states or even countries, using the target language. The interpretation and discussion would be based on infographs, videos, articles, posts, and webpages in the target language designed to promote awareness of environmental issues and offer day-to-day tips for reducing, reusing, and recycling. Interpretation and discussion would also draw on connections to the sciences as well as mathematics, especially through activities like calculating carbon footprints and collecting data.

Healthier You: Fitness and Nutrition for All This unit would draw on math, biology, and physical education especially to promote healthy eating and exercise habits among students. Ideally, they would have "buddies" from the community--whether children, peers, or elders--with whom they would set goals and share progress. Alternatively, partners in other target language classrooms from elsewhere in the school, district, state, country, or world with whom they could keep up at least weekly contact would be suitable as well, as long as they were able to connect in person or online--synchronously or asynchronously--to discuss the week's efforts (interpersonal). Students would use the target language to research appropriate diets for their lifestyles and body types as well as potential fitness regimens through infographs, videos, and websites (interpretation). They would then compose their own menus and agendas, applying useful vocabulary like numbers and dates, and track their progress, possibly through relevant apps and websites or simply through personal blogs. Practices and perspectives on health and fitness from different cultures could come into play through media sources and the way they portray diets. Students could follow instructions given in target language fitness videos and instruct their out-of-class buddies on what they learn (presentational).

18 April 2014

Festival Follow-up

The honorable mention for Spanish II/III’s skit was nice, the first-place trophy for individual poetry recitation (the first trophy ever in our school trophy case) was, well, AWESOME. But what makes me really proud is how absolutely brilliantly every single one of my students behaved, watching each other, supporting each other, and just hanging out and being groovy during down time. They participated and paid attention and generally made our school look good.

What I'm so proud of, however, is how little target language was used throughout the day. Granted, my kiddos worked hard and had certainly earned their descanso, but in the future, I’d like to structure more interpersonal engagement and reflection—written or spoken. I had thrown together a handout to encourage listening during skits, conversation between events, and reflection after competition ended, but the implementation (Here, do this!) was a little too haphazard to get results, except from the über eager.

There are three main communication skills I think I could easily weasel in with proper scaffolding: Listening, Interpersonal, and Writing.

I'd like to help them actively attend to the skits they watch, and possibly the songs and poems, too. I got a lot of "I have no idea what they were talking about" for the skits other than ours, probably largely because they had no advance scaffolding on what a Julia de Burgos was or what's up with this Chavo kid in the hat. A couple of the other teachers there were friends from grad school or mutual friends, so I wonder if we could collaborate to come up with something, say, the week before the festival to prep our kids for the listening, like with a topic and some key vocabulary.

If I can't arrange any kind of mutual study guide for my kids, I think I might have to rely on never-to-be-published audio recordings for students to refer back to. Otherwise I could simply make a high-frequency word checklist (with numbers, dates, etc.), and they could tally each time they hear a word used (while I keep my own tally to compare). Then they could jot down a few questions they heard, a few statements, and maybe give me the style and tone and some words that clued them in to what they were or supported what the melody suggested.

The colleagues I ran into brought pretty big groups to the festival. I wonder if next time we could arrange a bit of a mingle for my kids and theirs to introduce themselves and each other and generally network in the target language. I think it would be good for them to use some basics, ie name, age, family, hometown, but I think it would be even more exciting for them to be able to talk shop, to compliment each other and share ideas for awesome shows in the future. 

I figure I'd provide a list of positive feedback one could give a singing group and/or actors ("I like your costume!" "Your words are very clear!") and some suggestions ("Can you speak/sing louder?" "You should pause before/after you say...") as well as some appropriate responses ("Is it better if I...?" "I agree, thank you!") And if we can get full dress rehearsals going with enough time before The Big Day, we could have our own mini mingles to warm up too.

I really want students to use the target language to reflect on the particulars of the experience, too, and writing seems the most logical way (though it could become a spoken report and MORE conversation the next day). I'd like for them to express opinions on songs and skits, comparing winners and elements that contribute to their success. Maybe they could even compose congratulatory emails to new friends from the mingle citing specific strengths that they admire!

I'd also like to see them take things they liked about other performances and begin a plan for what they (or their heirs) should do next year to plan a better show. We ended up doing this in English the next day this year, but maybe just a list of areas for planning (song, topic, dance, costumes, props, etc.) with "more" and "less" after might get their TL juices flowing. 

As an aside, I am BEYOND thrilled with my students' reflections after the trip, including the seniors who want to return during their 13th year next year as coaches to make sure the next group FEELS confident--and wins a trophy!

06 April 2014

How to Write a Mystery

We love surprises, almost as much as we love being right. As I see it, if I couldn't predict the ending on House or Law and Order, the show wasn't set up right. I like a puzzle, but I like one I have a chance of solving. I've got to say that the formulas were probably at least 50% of what kept me coming back (I also needed a regular character drama fix, part of what keeps me coming back to Bones LONG after the proverbial shark jump.)

It's true I don't read a lot of mystery, but I'm a sucker for some televised brain candy. It may be snooty, but that's what I think a lot of "genre" writing is: brain candy. Still, I think writing with a formula, learning to apply conventions, is an excellent exercise for the budding author. My kiddos really like it too.

Start with a Classic Example
A classic mystery calls for a classic detective, like Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, or Philip Marlowe. Fortunately for me, Red Wind by Raymond Chandler is online in its entirety. I plan to just give students a taste, the first two chapters, because mostly I want to focus on the conventions for setting up the mystery. Plus Chandler's got it all: hyperbolic narration, witty repartee, and herrings so red they glow (you might want to do a little cultural scaffolding beforehand to elucidate the meaning of "private dick" for the less mature, though).

Break down Exposition Conventions 
I really like "How to Write a Mystery Whodunit Novel" for breaking down standard plot devices, characterization, and setting. I made a Schoology "quiz" applying several of these elements to the first chapter of Red Wind, wherein students identify characteristics of the protagonist, killer, victim, and witness. Then I have them "rule out" different plot devices designed to conceal the crime that the article lists but which are not possible based on the set up for this particular Chandler story:


  • The least likely suspect
  • The most obvious suspect
  • The perfect alibi
  • Having a mastermind criminal

HOW is it concealed?
  • Playing with time of death
  • A crime that happened in the past resurfaces
  • "No one ever notices a servant..."
  • Using disguise or impersonation
  • True identities are concealed
  • The missing element

Next, students use contextual evidence to...
  1. Describe the crime scene (location, position, condition of the body)
  2. Describe the killer's methods (weapon, preparation level--accidental, spontaneous, premeditated, and escape
  3. Theorize the killer's motivations and relationship to the victim
Finally, I encourage them to get creative with some typical plot devices for revealing. They choose one of the plot devices below and sum up how the story COULD end:
  • The locked room problem
  • The primary clue is hidden in plain sight
  • A chance remark
  • The unreliable character that says true

Break down Rising Action: Clues and Red Herrings
Scott Mortenson's "Fishing and Farming: Red Herrings & Planting Clues" helped me analyze the art of adding evidence and false leads (though it's a little heavy on the--ahem--"DNA" talk to use with kiddos). I like how he starts with the old joke about the bus driver that's set up like a word problem to illustrate how to hide clues and his advice on red herrings: "...bait, leading the detective (and reader) away from the truth. But treat them like any other regular clue for the best effect."

So in another Schoology "quiz" on Chapter 2, I have students put 10 clues in order then explain how different types of evidence Mortenson cites make a character look guilty and how others make her look innocent:

  • alibis
  • murder weapons
  • fingerprints
  • physical details
  • dialogue
  • lies
  • relationships
  • behavior
I also have them take a stab at what might be the main red herring of the chapter.

Plot Your Story
Once students have analyzed the Red Wind excerpts, it's time for them to start their own stories! I think we'll start with creating labeled diagrams of their crime scenes and a timeline of the murderer's actions from the time he/she decides to kill until the time of the murder ("How to Write a Mystery Whodunit Novel" suggests plotting from the murderer's point of view, but writing from the detective's.)

Then they will come up with one clue for each of the nine categories, two of which will be red herrings. They will then arrange the clues on a "story mountain" plotline.

Flesh out Your Protagonist and Begin
We'll look at a chart comparing Sherlock to Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot and add Phillip Marlowe, maybe House or Bones or some of those CSI or NCIS guys (depending on their tastes), ourselves. Then they'll come up with some quirks, physical features, backstory, and professional roles for their "detectives" to make a character sketch.

Then we'll start the story with the protagonist arriving at the scene and making observations. Work in his/her quirks and physical features and professional role, and you're off and running!