27 February 2014

Video Analysis: What's happening in Venezuela?

They originally wanted to make their skit for the upcoming language festival a talk show, full of celebrities and gossip. So we looked up some celebrities on People en Español (and on MSNLatino because of People's lack of diversity--but that's another post) and narrowed down countries we'd like to focus on. We got it narrowed down to Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Panama, and Venezuela based on celebrity potential before I mentioned that there was a lot going on in Venezuela now.

After a brief description of protests, murders, and media censorship, their decision was made. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't proud of it.

At that point, I had only the barest understanding of what was going on in Venezuela, so I had some research to do myself. I searched YouTube for a video to summarize the problem and found "Venezuela en las Calles":

Now this video is technically beyond even my Spanish III kiddos, but the visuals provide a solid base to help even the Spanish II chicas in this mixed class interpret general ideas and start to understand what's happening. So I had students make four sections on their paper, and as they were able to pick out words from the video, they wrote the words in one of those sections according to what problem it fit. I originally had them use economía, estudiantes, violencia, derechos, but estudiantes was more relevant for the reading we followed up with, so I might change to these categories that a student found from El Nacional's Facebook page searching for relevant infographs if I did it again:

I divided the video into segments from 30-50 seconds in length, pausing to make sure students got at least one word for each. (I stopped at :31, 1:08, 1:47, 2:23, 3:10, and 3:52) When they couldn't hear any for a particular segment, I'd replay it. If they still struggled, I suggested collecting vocabulary from protest signs and words they could see. This stopgap seemed to help relax struggling students enough that they were able to hear words in the segments thereafter.

After individual segments, we would stop and share words they'd heard and explain where they put them and why. I confess, the discussion was not entirely in the target language, but the connections they were making were higher-order stuff, and it got them asking powerful questions. Plus the semantic grouping meant that they were able to recall some relevant words the next day when we searched for infographics to learn more.

After the whole video, I had students summarize what they understood to be the problems leading to the conflict in Venezuela (Spanish II wrote in English to demonstrate interpretation, but Spanish III wrote in Spanish). Then they asked one question about a related topic they'd like to explore and find out more about what is going on. It was uplifting to see questions about how this could happen, where it started, the extent of the violence, and the government's role. They definitely got their wheels turning about how this relates to their own lives and the world they live in.

So now, we're still going to do a talkshow for the language festival, but it will have guests like Presidente Maduro and protestors and commentary on censorship and violence.

25 February 2014

Singing for Their Supper: Song Selection

I get to take my Spanish I, II, and III kiddos to compete at a local university's annual language festival in April, to be followed immediately by a celebratory meal at a Mexican restaurant (as in yay! We survived our first language festival! Actual prizes are optional.) 

The Spanish II/III mixed class is planning a skit involving gossip and their possibly celebrity lookalikes, but that's all a bit beyond Spanish I. So instead, my little newbies will be preparing a musical number, so they will at least be relieved of the pressure to compose something impressive in Spanish. 

They have up to 10 minutes on stage, including set-up, and the group has to sing--no soloists, no lip syncing, and ALL memorized.

They will be evaluated on...
  • memorization
  • pronunciation
  • expressiveness
  • dress/special effects
  • musical quality
  • overall impression
So I figure my job is first to pick a BUNCH of songs they 1) might like and 2) be able to handle and 3) make look cool. 

They then have three jobs as a class: 
  1. pick two songs
  2. plan the performance
  3. rehearse
I feel the first task must be a whole-class effort, and so we'll start off with a class discussion of some of their favorite songs and artists and how they would describe it. Then (gracias a #langchat) we go into station mode to discover and discuss the artists and songs I manage to scrounge up. I have 4 discovery stations that they cycle through as much as they can (at least 3 times) while I do some collaboration conferencing. I'm experimenting with the flexible time discussed in Thursday's #langchat, and I think it went well, but letting it go on an hour might have been a bit much.

At the discovery stations, they can either focus on a single song or previewing 30-second samples of 5 different songs. For the single songs, they'll evaluate them based on criteria related to our judging criteria, and for the samples, they'll just pick their favorite.

Station 1: Music videos
Search LatinGrammy.com nominees, search Vimeo for nominated songs/interpretations, pin
Google videos (search tool, anything but YouTube) for "Premio lo nuestro," "Latin Grammy," "Billboard Latino" + 2013, 2014, etc.,  pin

Station 2: Spotify genre playlists: reggaeton, pop, rock, salsa, corridos, bachata
Search Spotify by genre name and year, choose playlists, open play list, check for popular artists/titles and explicit tags (I'm looking at you, corridos), tweet to get links (I ended up logging on to Spotify and having students log in to a few computers and pulling up a different playlist on each computer.)

Station 3: Amazon artist samples
Search LatinGrammy.com nominees, search Amazon MP3 for nominated artists, albums, bookmark and tag "preview" on Diigo

Station 4: Throwback jukebox (my old CDs from the turn of the century)

After stations, their mission is to find two more songs the class might like to share with class the next day. They can go on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, LastFM, or simply borrow a CD or two from me if they don't have internet access (incidentally no one needed to borrow a CD).

Finally, the class will discuss songs, artists, and genres that their classmates that they discovered and enjoyed. Students will nominate their favorite songs, giving nomination speeches explaining what the songs have going for them while I play the nominee. After nominations, the class will evaluate nominees based on things like vocabulary, simplicity, dramataic potential, and quality, then vote, debate, and perhaps vote again until we have the songs narrowed down to two.

18 February 2014

Not Novice Enough, Genius Hour Experiment, part 8

A Spanish teacher learning Portuguese really does have an unfair advantage. I mean, there's no question that I'm still in the Novice Low, maybe Novice Mid range, but I do not have the pleasure of the utter blankness that takes over when faced with letters strung together in swaths of seeming gobbledy gook. I came close with my listening endeavors, but I still had a pretty strong arsenal of cognates to work with.

So I made a Pinterest board in Swedish.

Follow Laura Sexton's board svenska återvinning on Pinterest.

And suddenly that paralysis I have seen in select students' eyes during pinning and retweeting time hit me right between my own.

Here are some new novice conundrums I discovered with this exercise:
  • I see a handful of words whose meaning I'm pretty confident I can guess (papper, Hus, lampa, ringar) but I see a LOT more that could lead me astray if I guessed (I guessed med en fot av was "made in the photo of"--nope: "with a foot of." Woohoo! 1/4!)
  • I'm not entirely clear on the capitalization rules, or with names, locations,or brands in Sweden, so I can't be entirely sure if what I think is a name really is a name.
  • I don't know any prepositions or linking verbs to fill in any basics. I got av was "of" and år was something like "are," but even those I had to confirm with Google Translate (although to be fair, WordReference has yet to add Swedish). In other words, other than the pictures and the odd cognate, I had almost nothing to hang my hat on.
  • I have not the faintest familiarity with Swedish morphology or how it compares to anything I've ever seen before. With Portuguese, I'd picked up on Spanish Ns turning into Ms and -nh- and -lh- combinations before the Genius Hour experiment was a twinkle in my PBL eye. Man, but Swedish? I don't even know how to form a plural or what å IS. I couldn't even begin to tell you what's a verb and what's a noun--aside from paper, lamp, and house, of course, though those 2 years of German in high school have kind of helped justify connections AFTER I look something up. Which brings me to...
  • I do a lot better forming my connections after the fact rather than trying to guess before. I suppose the shame of thinking a foot was a photo might be enough to build some solid synapses, but that doesn't really ease the sneaking sense of a tidal wave of the complete unknown swooping up before my very eyes. 
These revelations lead me to two and a half conclusions:
  1. Revisiting vocabulary regularly is vital. We need to write down A) words we can figure out from context (and confirm with dictionaries and/or translators), B) words we can't figure out that turn out to be useful after we look them up (I doubt I'll need to know skedar is "spoon" or Bostadsguiden is "living wizard," and while knowing knasig means "nutty" is fun, it won't really help with my endeavors), and C) connector words like conjunctions and prepositions.
  2. It would be helpful to keep track of different forms of the same word to observe patterns and eventually describe the patterns, independent PACE style, if you will. So far, I've got 
    återanvänt, återvinning,
    and återvunnet in the "recycled/recycling" family...
2.5. Rather than insisting on a naked list of vocabulary in the target language, maybe it would be worth allowing mnemonics to help build our little synaptic bridges. I'm not completely sold on this one, though, as I think the naked TL list still could offer the appropriate connections over time, but the metacognitive benefits of consciously connecting to prior knowledge could be a powerful tool.

Every once in a while, I'll have to at least return to my Swedish pinning to become the deer in the target language headlights, but for the sake of the experiment (and readiness of resources), I shall return to Portuguese.

08 February 2014

Interpersonal Playbook

International Skypes go smoother with a plan. They go even smoother with a plan plus a few days of targeted preparation. I've put a lot of thought into my interpersonal playbook, a sort of semi-scripted routine I'm working to establish for my Spanish classes so they can feel at ease whenever they get the chance to use a conversation to find out something they need to know for a project (or just satisfy their curiosity). Also, they'll sound smarter, if all goes according to plan.

I'm pretty happy with the structure the playbook establishes:


I'm finding, however, that I need to continually adapt it according to the level using it. For example, Spanish I may use only steps 1 and 2 on the Presentar page, the whole Preguntar page, and just the top of the Clarificar and Contestar pages. Spanish II and III are much the same, but I encourage them also to repeat what they heard using the middle of the Clarificar page. I anticipate Spanish I will eventually work up to also introducing their purpose and the casual exchange of emotional state at the bottom of the Presentar page and work up to repeating what they heard. Spanish II may work up to giving their two cents as indicated on the Contestar page. Spanish III should definitely work up to seeking explanations and giving their opinions by the end of the course too.

Also, setting up the playbook is not a simple fill-it-out-then-skype activity. I cannot tell you how relieved Spanish I was when technical difficulties prevented us from skyping the day after they started the playbook. We went around the room practicing piece by piece: giving names one round; giving names and purpose next round; giving names, purpose, and a little "como esta" action. Since we had an extra day, I took up their playbooks and gave them feedback on their question rephrasing and suggestions for possible responses they could anticipate. We practiced those the next day.

In Spanish II/III we took the practice a step further. We went around the room with page one again, but partners practiced the Preguntar page--multiple times, multiple ways. We even used practice questions about their college research before officially adding the questions for the impending college skypes to warm up (so they could actually have answers in the role play and reinforce their interpreted research).

Here are some of the ways we practiced:

  1. Practice with table partners taking turns being the interviewer.
  2. Record conversations with table partners.
  3. Switch partners and take turns being the interviewer.
  4. Volunteers act out interview situations with different characterizations (e.g. just drank 5 Red Bulls, dog died, stressed out from finals, big-time flirt, super snob, paranoid conspiracy theorist, about to fall asleep, adrenaline junky)
  5. Model conversations in front of class while class jots down key words, summarizes information.

And we'll probably do another round or two before the actual conversations (hopefully this week!)

Having a playbook does seem to build confidence that they'll be able to get the answers they want and avoid some of the awkwardness novices feel when trying to converse with native speakers. Plus it gives a pattern for them to fall back on to make sure that they've covered their bases.

02 February 2014

Pick a College in the Target Language

I believe that simple resource curation and evaluation are among the most useful skills for 21st century learners to practice. Curation and evaluation are also valuable ways to exercise interpretive reading and listening for a real-world purpose in the world language classroom. Using key words to search provides context, maybe even visuals, for vocabulary, and deciding which sources they actually want is a good way to focus on finding the main idea of an authentic text.

And what is a more relevant goal-oriented research project than helping a senior find a college?

My early college seniors have another year before they have to worry about where they'll go for a four-year degree, but really they've already been in college for nearly four years. I forgot that meant that they really haven't had to shop university websites before, like other kids at their level (even though I definitely walked the first class I tried the university unit with through the schemas of college sites).

We talked about relevant vocabulary I'd found on college sites in Spanish before, and they used their knowledge of college topics and cognates to figure out the relevant terms, and then we used actual websites in Spanish to take advantage of context clues to figure out the few remaining.

From there, each student decided which were the three most important factors for her (I get a lot of all-girl classes, don't I?) in deciding where she'd consider going. Here are the most important factors they named from most popular to least:
  • Scholarships
  • Majors (specifically medical ones)
  • Location--Find the address at the bottom of the page and plug it into Google Maps. 
  • Requirements
  • Courses offered
  • Foreign students/population
  • Buildings
I'm having the girls attempt curation and evaluation in a variety of ways (some similar to how I'm approaching research for Genius Hour):

  • Curation: Google "universidad" and a country they're interested to find college web sites; link interesting ones on a ThingLink map (caution: while you can share these, simultaneous editing is not a given--had to just put links in Schoology assignment comments). I think I'll have them use words for their priorities in future Googles too. Bonus discovery: southern Spain's linguistic heritage is a big deal, so some "universidades" are universitat, a la Catalan.
  • Evaluation: Students check out 3 colleges from the ThingLink map/Schoology list that they think they might like. I made a Google Doc template chart for each to track the names of the universities, homepage link, and information related to each to jot and/or copy/paste information related to her top 3 priorities. One student thought the assignment was terrible because she discovered only one she checked out even had the dentistry major she was interested. Me, that's what I wanted her to find!
  • Evaluation: I also put together a Voicethread of screenshots of the colleges they'd all added to the initial collective list and had them comment on each as to whether they'd like to go or not with at least one reason. (They could check the Thinglink map if the screenshot didn't provide enough information).
  • Evaluation: I had students write about and discuss which universities they liked and decide which they liked most. I grouped the students based on their level (it's a mixed II/III class), and most had one person with a gotta-have-it university. So groups checked out that university's webpage, seeing if they could find their priorities. One group decided they could not find interesting enough activities, so they switched to another in the same country.
  • Curation: Then, thanks to inspiration from Pilar Munday, I set the kiddos loose on web.stagram.com/search to find photos of their chosen university. It was a great Friday afternoon activity, and I really liked how some simple key words opened some relevant everyday culture to them. Their ultimate goal is to create a recruitment video for their university of choice, so they promptly decided they needed to make some shared Pinterest boards to pick out their favorite photos among the hundreds with their university tags. It was also kind of cool coming across universities with their own accounts.
It looks like the interpersonal will be the next step, as I've also contacted the girls' universities of choice via Twitter to see if we could arrange a Skype with a student from their school, and two of them have responded already and referred me to the proper contacts! As always, the international real-world connection has my kids kind of pumped (plus a "bonus" option for their videos was real testimonials from real students, so they're happy to have the opportunity provided in class).

While it's true that this class remains pretty insistent that they want to stay in North Carolina for school, I think they'll at least start seeing study abroad as a possibility for them. After all, as Steve Jobs said, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them."