25 April 2016

Self-Selected Spanish Homework

I know homework can be a dirty word in this day and age, but with languages, to confine interaction to the classroom is to kill the very purpose for the learning. Languages are not just a secret code confined to certain hours and certain spaces in one certain building. Our classroom is the world now. It's our duty as language educators to open up that world to our students, not just with the language, but with resources and opportunities for observation and reflection.

But it's gotta mean something to our kids. They have to have some say in what they do with the language they're making their own.

Now if you want about a bazillion choices for Spanish homework that I've picked up from pretty much all of my online PLN (mostly Musicuentos and @lovemysummer I think--I blame you, SE & Bethanie), you can start with this page.

If you are my students, though, you do not want a bazillion choices.

You want to know

  1. what is expected of you,
  2. the best way to do it, and 
  3. that it is not going to suck.

Out with the old

I had a grand design, you know. I discovered last year that students really responded well when we sat down after IPAs and discussed their area of weakness, then picked a homework option together. I gotta tell you, that one-on-one reflection time was a beautiful thing. However, I personally do not have the time or energy to keep the process going every three weeks. I suppose I could have just done it every other IPA, but just thinking about fitting it into our early-college-style four-day weeks, I'm already exhausted.

What I needed--and they needed--of course, was less to keep with. And a good, solid reason for what I was going to spend the time keeping up with.

Listening and conversation always seem to be the stressors, so I went ahead and narrowed the field to those two and was going to alternate weekly homework assignments: Sra. Cottrell's "new school supply" conversations and telenovelas. WELL. Turn-in has been steadily dwindling for the conversation recordings, and El Internado spooked my southern Boss Lady into vetoing telenovelas as homework entirely (I'm pretty pumped about the in-class unit, though!)

Enter TELLcollab and my genius tweecher amigo Sr. Jennemann and his hot, hot HotSeat (seriously, he set someone's kitchen afire because they got so caught up watching his wisdom online.)

In with the new

Of course there are untold depths of inspiration in the hour livestream HotSeat video, but my main takeaway was Sr.Jennemann's homework approach:
  • 60 minutes a week for Spanish I, 75 minutes for Spanish III
    (I think I'll start with maybe 30-45 minutes--it is the end of the year for us)
  • 50% can be language skills (grammar, DuoLingo)
  • Make a blog post to record:
    • time for each activity
    • what you learned from each
Self-selected exposure is the name of the game with ProfePJ's system. It's his answer to not enough time for adequate input in class time. Does it matter if the kids write in Spanish or do something aligned with impending portfolio objectives? Heck no! Does it matter if they write in the target language! Totally up to them!

The important thing is the input, says ProfePJ. (And it appears our amiga Amy would agree!)

They need to choose input AND choose how they process it. I mean, they're using their time, right? And by golly, if they feel insecure about their indefinite articles, let them grammar their little geek hearts out...in moderation, of course. Maybe they really do want to improve their listening skills? Who am I to judge if they find some TV show in Spanish--purely by chance--and get hooked? I mean, I'd recommend Spanish subtitles, but, again, it's their time, and they're getting exposure. AND they don't HAVE to have a Netflix account or reach out to strangers who may or may not as if they have a boyfriend.

But, I mean, if that's their preferred means of input, Netflix does have a wide selection, and WeSpeke does have a very effective blocking button.

Sr. Jennemann also emphasizes providing resources for his kiddos, rather than explicit activity suggestions. I mean, they could make 3 different kinds of playlists or Pinterest boards if that's what they want to do. But since they don't really have to do something different every time (and I don't have to keep track of whether or not they'r repeating an activity--because that may well be just what they need, to watch episode 1 of Rubí over and over), why bother stressing about how they choose to interact?

See all 30 resources here!
So I took all of my many collected homework ideas, a handful of Sr. Jennemann's resources, and I made a new resource page for my class webpage, with 30 resource links, broken down by

  • SKILLS and
and slapped on some communciation mode labels where appropriate, and added a tip for each.

For all the assignments from my list that I still like that don't fit with the input-any-which-way model (eg sing a song, write a poem, create an infograph, write an Amazon review or Wikipedia article), my TELLcollab amigo suggested I just need to find a way to incorporate them into class activities instead of leaving them up to the students' selection (and really shouldn't they have me there to help guide production?)

I'm pretty excited about the vlogging idea we discussed at TELLcollab too, so I think I'm going to make that an option the last week before exams--even though they'll only have 2 weeks to reflect on.


Homework doesn't have to be a dirty word. It doesn't have to be dictated to be effective. It doesn't even have to be 90% target language since it's after hours!

What it does have to do is make your students WANT to do it. Don't waste time sentencing students to zeroes for something they see no purpose in.

Help them find a use for the language, a way and a reason to go home and surround themselves with it for a little longer.

You know, maybe a lifetime.


  1. I read through this and it sounds fantastic! However, I am unclear how you grade this homework. They simply blog what they did? What about them creating the pinterest boards or making the playlists?

    1. They simply blog what they did! Activity, amount of time, and what they learned! And I give them completion points just for having spent the time absorbing. The actual assessment comes later, and the benefits should show up there if they're doing what they said they were.