23 October 2014

The Horror! Independent Reading for Literary Analysis

Sometimes I do very academic, very Englishy things with my students. Overall, I want to engage students in the work of the real world, tasks with immediate relevance. Sometimes, though, I want to to make sure they are prepared for the academics-for-their-own-sake literary style of analysis that will be required of them in college level courses.

And, you know, critical thinking is good for their brains, and in theory, the same skills they use for literary analysis will be applicable in other nonliterary contexts.

So what if it's with horror stories they're analyzing?

My kids get their assignments from Google Classroom,
but Blendspace could work too.

My Film & Literature class is all seniors, so I get a little leeway with their text selection--though permission forms did go home for R-rated selections. In another English class, movie ratings probably wouldn't have factored in, and there are any number of routes you could go with the types of text selected: genre, thematic, time period, regional.

Whatever types of books you want to have students read, these steps could help you.

Pre-selected book list
Now I am not a fan of horror--fiction or film. But I know it gets my kids going, and, well, 'tis the season. So of the 32 books on the list that I offered them, I have only read 4; I've only seen 3 of the movies. I had to rely on Sr. Sexton to help rule out books that were even less appropriate than their movies (don't ask what happens at the end of It), and I made sure there were at least 5 PG13/TV14 on the list in case not everyone could get parent approval to check out an R movie for class. Either way, it gave students a starting point.

Book reviews
I had students peruse Amazon reviews and IMDB for at least 3 different novel/film combinations. They had to find the ratings and pick out quotes from at least one review for each that either made them want to read the book and watch the movie or not want to read or watch either as well as the year they came out. In the future I'd add page number and movie length if only to help students make an educated selection (and really, don't we judge a book by its volume when we're pleasure reading too?)

Shared Google Calendars
We made a trip to the library (and made alternative arrangements where necessary) to pick up our books. Books in hand, students sat down and create a Google Calendar they shared with me and then set a page number goal for each day until the book was to be completed. They looked for natural page breaks and took into account days they knew they would be free or busy. This was a handy way to also set up individualized reminders to be sent out to each student daily.

Google Form quote collecting
The county's description for Film & Literature emphasizes exploration of setting, narration, characterization, plot, and theme, and we have been breaking those down one or two at a time in the previous 3 essays: now we put them all together. I created a Google Form and posted it in the About section of their Google Classroom page for students to return to each day. Instead taking of a reading quiz, students entered quotes from what they'd read the night before for each of 4 literary concepts (we'd later take those all to form a cohesive picture of the 5th: theme).

I shared the response spreadsheet with them all, and we looked at collected quotes as a class first and then in small groups where each zeroed in on a specific literary concept and gave each classmate feedback on whether or not they should use the quotes in their essay. The groups also tried to express what conclusions could be gathered from each quote in their column as well.

Daily check-ins and calculations
I don't grade students' progress on their reading. While they're entering their quotes for the day, I consult my calendar for each and see where each is. I know they know if they're behind, but they also know that I know. This factor plus planning specifically where and when reading is going to happen to catch up has worked pretty well. It also helps to have students recalculate how many pages they need to read each night now to finish the book in time.

Weekly blog posts
We've also been doing what I call "concept blogs" all along this semester, where students pick one of the Big 5 and analyze its application to the text at hand. Through their blog posts, they analyze 3 before even getting to the essays--and yes, they can use the blog posts on their essays (they generally have to clean them up quite a bit, though, as the blogs are pretty low-stakes writing). This gives me insight before it's too late into 1) how well they understand what they're reading and 2) how well they understand the concepts.

I've got to tell you: their understanding has doubled since we started this project!

Essays will be submitted in about a week. Some students are finished with their books and have begun composing their essays. Some students are halfway through their books but picking up speed.

They may never have to discuss the literary qualities of a Stephen King novel after they leave my class, but they will be able to find evidence, explain it, and manage tasks.

16 October 2014

Nip Late Work in the Bud: Google Classroom Contact

Can I just say how much I love some of the features on Google Classroom? For example, there are two numbers for any assignment I create, right there on my stream: numbers for Done and Not Done. I simply click the Not Done column during my 4th period planning or after school the day an assignment is due (or the day before, if they've had a while to work on it) to see who has not turned it in yet. Then I click to check the little box next to Students, click EMAIL, and I send them some variation of this missive:
SUBJECT: ________ due today! Can I help? 
I noticed your ________ was not submitted yet. Is there anything I can do to help you wrap up? Did you have trouble...? 
Remember you can... 
________should be submitted today so that you can...
Please let me know what else I can do to help you complete the assignment!
 And you know what else? I blind copy their parents the same email (Google Classroom automatically makes them all BCC, so I send the main copy to myself).

I do occasionally get some questions back, but more than that? I get assignments turned in--sometimes within minutes of sending the email!

Maybe they just need someone to set off a little pavlovian bell on their phone to remember to hit submit. Maybe the "Remember you can" section gives them the missing piece to the puzzle so they can finish. Maybe the "so that you can" section makes them see the importance of submitting the work sooner rather than later. Maybe Momma lights a fire under them when her phone dings. Whatever the case, I have me some instant documentation if somehow my little reminder doesn't work its magic.

I confess this is not much use where neither child nor parent is attached to a smartphone or other email receptacle. Though that is a dwindling problem, it does still exist for a few of my students who fall behind. But at least it does cut back on the number of people I have to chase down during class so that I can actually attend to the ones who don't get the benefit of the inbox buzz the night before.

15 October 2014

Genius Hour Agenda 3: Reflection

Absolutely everything students do for Genius Hour, beginning to end, goes on our class passion blog. Now they're not writing blog posts from the start, unless of course you count making a list of words related to their topic. At the beginning, we are in research mode--or the "collect" phase of the Genius Hour process-- so the early posts are mostly embedding other people's words, demonstrating Novice Low reading skills like recognition. After collecting a quorum of resources that demonstrate the vocabulary in context, though, it is time to reflect.

Now, Genius Hour is but once a week the way I do it, though you could take your "20 Time" out at the beginning or end of each day, if you prefer. The rest of the time, you are still doing what you do, so they're getting all of that valuable comprehensible input along the way. For my part, I help hit the basic verbs hard in OWLanguage-type activities and other class practices during class project time. Amy Lenord compiled a list of the following essentials that will work no matter your unit:

I think, too, you can probably express most things you want to say with maybe 10 verbs, and the focus helps novices keep their phrasing simple:
  • Hay
  • Es
  • Son
  • Tengo/tienes
  • Necesito/necesitas
  • Entiendo/entiendes
  • Quiero/quieres
  • Me gusta/te gusta
  • Creo/crees
  • Puedo/puedes
Students use these verbs along with sentence starters and semi-scripts stacked with cognates to reflect in at least 3 forms: Questions, Summary, and Discussion.

Just as in Project-Based Learning, Genius Hour demands a Driving Question to steer the project. I've found that students attempting a passion project in the target language really need to poke around and see what's available on their level before they frame their questions. The question about where dreams came from was really a fascinating one, and those looking to prepare for careers in pediatrics or forensic science are certainly valuable and ambitious...but there's not going to be a lot they can work with in the target language. So I have students form their Driving Question after they've at least pinned a few resources and scoped out some tweets, maybe found contact information for an expert or five.

Then they set a task that will demonstrate the answers to that question and, like PBL, they break the Driving Question down into need-to-know questions, smaller questions that they could answer with different sources to inform their larger questions and goals.

For summaries, I provide sentence starters tied with the kind of collecting I had them doing most recently. The sentence starters, of course, rely on those high-frequency words we use regularly in class and cognates, so my novices still only need to contribute their level-appropriate words and phrases--gleaned almost entirely from their research and established list.

Reflection 1: after collecting pins and retweets
Something interesting for the class is...
I want to know more about...
I never knew that...
Other interesting topics related to my topic are...

Reflection 2: after following Twitter accounts and finding contact information
Experts in my topic are...
Experts can help me by...
If I need more experts or information, I can...

Reflection 3: after Google searches and Diigo highlights
A pattern I've seen in my research is...
I thought that...but I learned that...
I still don't understand...because...

Reflection 4: in preparation mode
Something interesting for the class is...
When I present my topic, I want to focus on...because...
I can show the class how...works...

I like to have students form questions and summarize before discussing so they have a reference point for the discussion already scaffolded in for them. What's more, I have students do a little asynchronous discussion before actually speaking, too. I set up groups of about 4 students with similar interests (always plenty of food and music groups) so that they will perhaps have some personal vocabulary in common, and also something they care about discussing.

Students then need to review what their blogging partners have posted--since the beginning or at least since the last time they checked--and then comment on their most recent summary post. They must respond with 2 statements (Me gusta... and Quiero saber mas de...) and 1 question. Then, each person answers each response on their own summary posts.

For the synchronous conversation, we turn to Vocaroo and break out their interpersonal playbooks to semi-script the conversation ahead of time. Their conversations connect to what they've already seen on the blogs, so they're reinforcing in a different mode, but gaining fluency with speaking on their personal topics as well.

13 October 2014

In-Depth Inquiry in the TL: Classmate Surveys

In-depth inquiry is key to Project-Based Learning, according to the Buck Institute for Education, but in-depth inquiry is tricky in a novice language class striving for ACTFL's recommended 90%. I, for one, have my novices do a lot of research with infographs, which you really can't beat for novice authentic input. However, for depth from a novice-appropriate non-native source, look no further than the shining faces before you.

Your students are sources: of opinions, perspectives, ideas...of starting points, really.

Now, explaining how to use Google Forms may take up all of your allotted 10% English for the day (and then some), although I suppose you could use a bunch of gestures and aquis and luegos, if you must. But having students form questions to obtain information from classmates.

Types of questions classmates can help with at the beginning of a project:
  • preferences - to help steer projects in a productive direction 
  • resources - to figure out what they'll need to get projects off the ground--and what they won't 
  • habits - to connect projects to students' daily lives 
  • suggestions - to improve on existing ideas and plans 
  • knowledge - to establish a baseline or popular perception 

Preview questionsI had students write their questions in their interactive notebooks first (and then on a Doc on Google Classroom too), primarily to make sure that they were comprehensible and correctish, to steer them back toward familiar constructions and away from dictionary dependence.

Revise questionsWe hadn't really done anything with forms explicitly yet, so I had them revise their submitted questions with s's, after reviewing vas, eres, and puedes, which we'd seen multiple times.

Predict answers
At first I let students choose loosey-goosey "text" responses, but then as students started taking each other's surveys, they really had no idea what their classmates were looking for. And after all, I make them anticipate responses in their interpersonal playbooks, so it's only logical to do the same in this context, to require multiple choice responses. I mean, this is going to become scaffolding for conversation, so it's useful to establish the vocabulary too. An "other" blank option is not a bad idea, though.

Give hints
Students should give an overview in their survey description of what their group is trying to do. For our Plan Verde unit, I suggested pulling back in the -mos ending we focused on for Driving Questions the week prior to say Queremos reciclar/reducir/reutilizar [material] por/con ... A little glossing might be in order, too, since different groups function from different vocabulary (the plastic group, for example, had no idea what bombillas were, or that they weren't necessarily explosive).

Test drive 
It would have been wise to have students try the surveys on group members before surveying the rest of the class, then maybe explain how--or IF--they can actually use the information they collect that way. If they can't, then, of course, they revise their surveys before posting them to Google Classroom (or your LMS of choice) for all to take.

Discuss results
After classmates have taken the surveys, then group members pull up their respective spreadsheets (I have each group member do their own survey, even if there's overlap because repeat ALL the input!) and talk about what they have and how they can use it. All they really need is their original questions, their results, and some memorized phrases about what the information "indica que necesitamos hacer" and perhaps de acuerdo and maybe sí, pero...

Hint: I still recommend students include ONE text response question, for names. That way everyone can "get credit," and it sets the stage for follow-up discussion!

11 October 2014

Revised Genius Hour Agenda Overview

Since I decided to start with passion this year, I've been approaching Genius Hour a little differently and rethinking the process and the order of the whole thing. Presenting Genius Hour to non-language-teacher colleagues at our district conference this summer also led to reexamining the stages of the process and realigning with the original structure put forth in the original educational initiative.

Here is the order I was working from last year:
  1. Setup and Vocabulary
  2. Research
  3. Reflection and Discussion
  4. Contacts
  5. Presentation
This was--and will remain--sort of a recursive process, at least to the extent that time allowed. Vocabulary, especially is a constant process, and reflection must take place at each stage. In response to my research, on GeniusHour.com primarily, I broke the process down differently for my cross-disciplinary session:
  1. Ask & Task - form questions, set the goal for the final product
  2. Collect & Reflect - gather resources and analyze and evaluate them
  3. Prepare & Share - organize the final presentation to present to an audience
Now, this is only part of the story for us in the world language trade, because we must also attend to language throughout the process: vocabulary, structure, and modes of communication. So I like to break it down differently for us:

I have abandoned Trello in response to the online-account-overload that plagued last semester's crop of kiddos. It helped me organize, but it just confused students. At some point, though, I would like to turn the whole thing into an app a la Carmen Scoggins or set the steps up gamification style, perhaps in Classcraft, because I think structuring as an app or a game would be more convenient than, say Google Classroom's Twitter-like stream, allowing students to look ahead without overwhelming them. If the sequence this semester continues going as well as it has been, I might try to roll out Genius Hour: The App (or Game) next semester, maybe--MAYBE--even preview at my ACTFL presentation in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I have picked over my original Genius Hour Agenda Overview and come up with this revised Genius Hour agenda overview:
  1. Vocabulary web map: start with their general topic in the middle, branch off 3 subtopics, branch off with 3 key words for each subtopic (I also have them post a grouped list to the blog...for posterity.)
  2. Pinterest board: collect 20 relevant pins in Spanish; embed in a blog post.
  3. Vocabulary soundboard: record yourself saying words from the Google Doc, upload, add to a glog to make a soundboard for rehearsal, add a matching visual for each word; embed! (I'm actively seeking alternatives here due to Glogster's price hike. Quizlet flashcards? ThingLink?)
  4. Retweets: retweet 10 relevant tweets in Spanish, collect them on Storify, and embed in a blog post.
  5. Reflection: use 3 sentence starters about your topic and complete each sentence with at least 3 details in Spanish.
  6. Blog comments: read through all of your (assigned) blog partners' posts so far; comment on their reflection post with 2 comments (Me gusta...Quiero saber más de...) and 1 question: respond to the comments on your own post.
  7. Partner discussion: record a discussion with one of your blog partners on Vocaroo: each partner will ask 2 questions about the other's topic and respond to show understanding after the partner answers.
  8. Twitter follows & intro tweet: find 10 Twitter accounts that tweet on your topic, and follow them. Send out an introduction tweet to each explaining your topic and who you are; Storify and embed.
  9. Question tweets: compose 5 questions you want to know more about (< 140 characters) that you can tweet to people who respond to your introductions. (Post this as a regular blog post until they're approved and someone answers the intro tweets--then you may tweet them out.)
  10. Email/profile contacts: find e-mail addresses, social media profiles, or phone numbers for at least 5 people that could answer questions you have about your topic in Spanish (regular blog post).
  11. Intro email: compose a paragraph explaining to your contacts who you are and why you are writing to them. Expand on your question tweets to compose a full paragraph asking for contacts' assistance in a polite way--make sure to close politely too! (regular blog post)
  12. Driving question & need-to-know: decide on an overall question that requires more than a Google search to answer, and break it down into smaller questions you can answer with googling.
  13. Diigo list & highlights: Create a Diigo list for your topic; google at least 5 sources with visuals and short enough writing for you to understand ("infografía" is a useful keyword); highlight at least 2 lines from each source; select all sources on your Diigo list, and publish to the blog.
  14. Word clouds & soundboard update: pick your 3 best resources (links from Pinterest, Twitter, Diigo) with over 100 words and copy and paste them into a wordcloud site--embed! Add the top 10 new words to your soundboard (& webmap).
  15. Video pins/playlist: Search YouTube or Vimeo (or Google other video sites) for 3 videos and/or podcasts on your topic; pin them or bookmark them with Diigo: embed.
  16. Diigo paraphrase, summary, & citation: return to Diigo list and put highlighted segments in your own words in Spanish, then in the source's Diigo description, summarize the overall source in your own words in Spanish. BONUS summarize 1 spoken source (at least 1 minute) to summarize in your own words in Spanish too; embed. 
  17. Activity idea & instructions: describe in one sentence the activity you will do to engage classmates with your topic and write out at least 5 steps in Spanish the directions you'll give them to participate.
  18. Summary paragraph: write one paragraph in Spanish to introduce basic information the class would need to know to understand your topic (e.g. history, processes, purposes)
  19. Presentation visual (with vocabulary & citations): create a visual which combines the summary paragraph and activity instructions with illustrations of 10-15 key vocabulary words the class will need to know to follow your presentation.
  20. Presentation rehearsal/feedback: use your visual to do a preliminary run-through for your blog partners to get and give feedback--post partners' comments and your plans to address them PLUS a list of all words you had to say in English with Spanish translations.
  21. Presentation: use blog partners' comments to make changes to your visuals and/or presentation.

09 October 2014

Start with a Song: Pop Music Motivates

It started with an L2 twist on a literacy activity for building fluency. It has become an addiction.

My students are spontaneously bursting out singing and dancing in their seats while they work--and in the hall. They are making their parents listen to their new favorite Spanish songs they just downloaded. They are speaking Spanish as a reflex and making connections in every other activity.

My students like Spanish.

This is the playlist I've put together of songs I've used for the activity (this year's at the top), and a sample view of the way I set up the worksheets:

I've assembled all the worksheets I've used so far this semester on TeachersPayTeachers plus a bundle with the whole semester's SMARTboard pages and handouts, too, if you're interested. Also see more about the process on a previous post.

Now you can try my way, of course, but mainly you need two things to get your kids rocking: a rocking playlist and any excuse to repeat.

A rocking playlist
Get to know your kids and their preferences, and seek out songs that suit their tastes. While I am delighted to share my passion for David Bisbal with so many of my students, I'm afraid they don't all appreciate Mana like I do. It's trial and error--and previews. And videos that are attractive, but won't get you fired.

Check out my Pinterest board (lifted largely from that of Sra. Birch) or Latino Billboard or just launch yourself down some YouTube suggestion rabbit holes. The key is to find something that the kiddos cannot resist, something that will STICK. A lot of repetition is good, too, and don't be afraid of a really short simple chorus, especially at the beginning of year one. Choruses of about 4 lines are usually best for novices, and I have been known to cut longer choruses in half.

Me, I try to keep the playlist somewhat balanced, too: gender, ethnicity, country of origin, and genre. I mean, I love Enrique too, but, seriously, let's help kids dig a little deeper...even if they'll never appreciate '90s Mexican pop rock or Argentine ska.

Also, look for high-frequency words--especially verbs--in the lyrics so you can eventually hum a few bars to prompt recall in key sentences. I've made sure that words like soy,eres, voy, and puedes feature in our weekly selections.

Any excuse to repeat
We already start class with coros 3 times a week, and if students go home and read aloud like they're supposed to, they get at least 10 repetitions in before we even record or perform.

I also keep my playlist running through pretty much any independent assignment. Time for portfolio reflections? Playlist. Time for blogging? Playlist. Time for independent reading or ExploraTextos? Playlist.

And you know those cute little rhymes our L1 kindergarten counterparts get to use to get students' attention? Coros: I say "Voy a reir," they say "voy a gozar," I say "vivir mi vida," they say "la la la la." I do this with as many songs as possible. They love it.

01 October 2014

Storyasking: "Mucha basura" Week 1

I think I may be doing something right!

The TCI/TPRS storyasking approach seems to be complementing my Project-Based Learning approach nicely, as students become more familiar with the vocabulary and structures we're working with, and they are engaging more easily in interpersonal discussion as a class.

Here's how it's gone so far.

I prepped the strategy a lot, explaining (in English) that it should help them improve their listening and interpersonal fluency, and that it should make the vocabulary more accessible to their brains. Then I introduced the story with a SMARTboard slide (featuring my recycle-friendly "muchacho") and a locked square covering the questions I would be scrolling through.

I collected possible responses to the following questions and settled on one via informal sí/no poll.
¿Quién es la muchacha? ¿Cómo se llama?¿Dónde tiene basura?¿Qué tipo de basura tiene?¿Qué puede hacer con la basura?¿Quién es el muchacho? ¿Cómo se llama?¿Qué hace la muchacha?¿Qué hace el muchacho?
I repeated and rephrased multiple ways--as per la Señora Placido's instructions!--to confirm the vocabulary and the constructions. Then I wrote the answers we settled on on the board.

After our coro warmup, we dove right in. The kids were excited. They giggled every time we talked about animales muertos (it was a kind of waste on the infographs, I swear) or basura del sanitario and the muchacha having it in her mochila or bolsillos (I let them add those words with well-placed como-se-dices).

Though Señora Toth (or Señora Bex?) had recommended in our LangCamp Hangout leaving the words up until students quit sneaking glances at them, I confess I was pressed for space. I took a picture of the first class's and referred to it myself on Day 2, but I left up the second class's to see how they responded. Honestly, I think second period may have been a little too dependent--not giving people a chance to recall what they really did have in their brains. I think in the future humongo post-it posters may be the way to go, so I can keep my story image and question scroll on the SMART and still control when they can see the options and when they can't.

We had a lot of planning to do for the projects, what with students forming questions and setting calendars and getting ready to survey each other, so our storyasking was kind of dessert after everyone packed up the laptops. We had spent at least 20 minutes the previous two days, but we got through the story in 5 today (without goat noises when they talked about comer el metal and nose holding when talking about basura orgánica en el lócker). Also, neither class had the board to refer to today, and they still were able to piece the story back together collectively!

I've gotten several comments about how funny the story was, how they liked it, and how they felt it working, too!

Overall, I feel like I had to get away from my intended structures for simplicity's sake, but I think it worked well for reinforcing some familiar ones like interrogatives and especially tiene (which actually was one of my original goals)I think the context for the vocabulary has been very useful reinforcement for the project that we're starting. Between this and having students record themselves reading words they recognized off of infographs, I feel they actually had enough vocabulary to start to lay out a project goal and work out their Driving Questions and Need-to-Know questions (though I did let them discuss them in English as long as they wrote in Spanish. I know. I'm a Spanglish teacher. Mea culpa.)

Thursdays I have reserved for Genius Hour and a little bit of portfolio reflection/updating, and Fridays are special school days for volunteering, remediation, and clubs, so that was our week! Next week, I think we'll start with reading the story.