31 July 2016

¡Pokemon VAMOS! Pokemon GO! for Spanish Class

Gaming, fantasy, escapism.

I informally surveyed my soon-to-be students about their interests after exams last year, and these were the themes I gathered from their responses.  Half of my soon-to-be students are way into videogames, from NBA 2K16 to Civ, and the other half are way into fantasy, from Star Wars to Twilight.

This has made me approach preparation for this group differently than I have in classes past. Banking on adolescent egocentricity has rarely leads me astray, but it seems clear these kids are more interested in other worlds than their own inner worlds.

At first I thought this just meant revisiting ye olde Classcraft setup and incorporating an action-packed TPRS novel.

And then Pokemon GO! rocked the world.

Although it seems only 21% of players are under 18, I knew that this was exactly the in I needed with this year's Spanish I crowd.

But I was stumped as to how to exploit it incorporate it. I thought of inventing some sort of augmented reality game using Aurasma (Spanish GO!) but I couldn't quite figure out the logistics of it--or how it would capture students' imaginations. One amiga almost immediately started working on a Pokemon Conjugate! game, but I was hoping to go a more communicative route.

I was about to ask a techy friend what he thought I should do to latch onto this craze that seized my husband and then both of our kids and me. (We have, indeed, made family outings downtown at least twice just to hit some Pokestops--and the prospect of rare Pokemon got Sr. Sexton a little excited about heading to Chattanooga for iFLT.)

To head off the typical vocab and grammar game suggestions, I started of thinking how I would frame the question, focusing on the modes. And then I had a flashback.

My husband likes to pull up YouTube on the Fire TV and poke around videos about backyard slingshot experiments and melting 5lb gummi bears with molten aluminum. Our kids eat it up. And you know who else does?

Teenagers. Specifically the teenagers I have to get learning Spanish in a few weeks. I mean, these kids have YouTubers' pictures as their desktop images and Google Classroom icons.

Can we say jackpot?

So incorporating Pokemon Go! into Spanish class is not going to be about playing in class. It's going to be about self educating and community building, just like my students do daily, and we've been doing in my house since GO day.

Interpretive Reading

All it took was 3 words in the Google Image search: "infografia Pokemon Go," and I had 10 solid authentic comprehensible sources (and possibly a leg up on Sr. Sexton with some of the tips I got!). And now even those maybe 5 kids who aren't playing already can join in, too!

Interpretive Listening

I started cruising YouTube for tutorials and began a Pokemon Go! (español) playlist. I've let students research video games in the TL before, so I've discovered especially in these communities, it's essential to pre-screen what they're interpreting. Gamers are very *ahem* zealous in any language.

Some key terms I'm using (along with Pokemon Go, of course) are:
  • truco
  • como
  • atrapar
It's also helpful to apply the 4-minutes-or-less filter, so you can get to the good stuff quicker.

The good news about these videos? Super-repetitive. Even novices will pick up vocabulary.

The bad news? They're not what I--or anyone--would call comprehensible. Still, a few thoughts I've had on how to "adjust the task" include:
  • key word hunts: give kiddos a list of English words and try to figure out what they are in Spanish by listening to a video...or three.

  • create a cloze script for a particular video with key terms blanked out for students to fill in as they listen. This video in particular might be awesome because it shows a little culture (WHAT? They don't even HAVE it in Mexico yet? But they're PLAYING IT?)


My marido tipped me off as to what we could do here, too. After our second downtown adventure, he stumbled across a local Facebook page for Pokemon Go! That's right, the perfect way to meet people as obsessed as you and ask them your burning questions about the game!

Also, how awesome would it be to schedule a Pokestop meetup to talk about all of the Pokemon you have and what they can do and help each other level up! AND it just so happens we have a Pokestop AND a Pokegym on our campus! (Hooray early college!) So we could maybe take a little class time to go hang out by the fountain to collect a few Pokeballs and potions and just discuss things like...

  • What do you have in your backpack and/or Pokedex?
  • Where can you go for [Pokemon type, Pokestops, etc]?
  • What do you need to get more points now?
These are questions--and answers--that they can put together with their Pokelingo and a few simple high-frequency words!

Presentational Writing and Speaking

The obvious answer here is to add to the community:
  • tutorial videos
  • parody videos
  • funny snap stories
  • infograph tips and descriptions
  • annotated maps
  • comic strips
  • Facebook groups
  • Instagram accounts
The list goes on!

Now it may turn out that I am a little more obsessed than my students, and that's okay. My next step is to take these resources and ideas to the next level and build them into an entire gamification unit--one that focuses on students reflecting on what works for them and what doesn't as they explore their new language, what motivates them and what doesn't.

But I am excited to have found this angle to connect with my kids this year, and I am ready to GO!

In the meantime, here are some more resources on using Pokemon GO! in class:

29 July 2016

GUEST POST: The W.A.Y.: Start an after-school club

Each week of the ASU Summer Institute 2016, I have featured ideas from amigos I met through Summer Institute in years past. This week, Linda Carrillo helps answer the question, "How do I start an after-school club focused on cultural exploration?"

I wanted to start a middle school club. My reasoning was twofold (not including being bored!) One, we needed another option for 6th graders--who are not allowed to participate i sports,--and for the 7th and 8th graders not involved in sports (or the other two whole clubs our school offers).

Two, I have a burning desire for our kids to know that there is more to the world than their little town (county, state, country)!

I teach at a combined middle/high school that serves 700 students in all 7 grades.  We are small! When I get the 6th graders for the first time in my 9-week, 30-minute-a-day exploratory Spanish class, the majority of them are very excited to learn some Spanish! We talk about music, schools, foods, traditions, and learn a bunch of vocabulary.

It’s good.

I also have the 7th graders for the same amount of time, and we learn different units and current events. I only have about 20% of 8th graders, but they have me for 90 minutes every other day for an entire semester, so we can dive in a little bit deeper. Because I still wanted to do more, I decided to bring in authentic resources in the form of people!

This club is called the W.A.Y., which stands for the World Around You.


We meet once a month after school (remember, these kids usually don’t have a ride home other than the bus) and focus on a different country each time. During our 90 minutes our guest speaker shares a powerpoint of pictures explaining the basics of the country:

  • Location
  • Population
  • Language
  • Education
  • Travel
  • Food
  • Holidays
  • Sports
  • and anything else they might find interesting

Sometimes history is mentioned, sometimes not; a lot is dependent on the speaker and who is in our audience for that day. We average about 10 kids each club, which is not many, and sometimes discouraging. But I have to remember that we are reaching these kids and possibly changing their lives…...and that’s what is important.


We also learn some vocabulary and phrases that we practice speaking. Sometimes we learn songs and dances. It varies based on what the presenter would like to share.


After (or sometimes during) the exchange of information and questions and answers, we eat a typical food from that country. Sometimes, we prepare it on the spot;, other times, I’ll make it the night before and we just hand it out and eat. Everyone is encourage to try it, and most will. Sometimes we run out, but other times, we have plenty of leftovers!!


We end our time by doing a craft that is representative of the country we’re talking about. This is a good way to get the kids involved with hands on activities, talking with each other and our guest about what has been shared so far and about traditions.


I thought recruiting guest speakers would be really hard, but it has been surprisingly workable, even in our small community! All I ask of guest speakers  is that they either prepare a short powerpoint presentation or send me pictures and info and I’ll put it together (thankfully, I haven’t had to do that yet, but I do offer).  It’s finding them that I expected to be impossible!

As a disclaimer; I am not from North Carolina and do not know a lot of people outside of school. Every day I am still finding out that person X is related to person Y and that I had NO IDEA!! So you do not need to know a lot of people who are from other countries or who have lived in other countries. But you do need to let your ideas be known within your circle and sit back and watch! Here’s how it happened with me.

First, we had 2 exchange students in our school last year, so those were an easy 2 months to fill. Germany and Russia, check. However, I did not even know they were in our school until November, (how is that possible in such a small school? right?) So I started with a missionary family that one of our teachers’ church sponsors. They just happened to be home on furlough, so Bolivia was our first country! Our speaker was one of the daughters and she brought a friend with her who had just recently graduated from our school and had spent a month in Bolivia with them.

Next month was our exchange student from Germany.

Then I had one of our moms speak about China because she traveled there periodically to work on a business with other students there (I heard about her travels when her children had taken my class, and my child was in band with them). Is she Chinese? No. Does she live in China? No. But she’s an awesome speaker and very organized, so she was able to relate to our students quite well.

Next I asked one of our substitute teachers who had been a missionary in Africa for 30 years to speak and he and his wife graciously agreed.

A french teacher from our neighboring HS came the next month to share her experiences in France.

During the second year of the club we had the following guest speakers:
  • our art teacher who lived in Australia as an exchange student during her senior year in high school
  • another art teacher’s parents who are missionaries in Taiwan who traveled there a few different times with his high school aged children, spending a month each time
  • the mother of a student who moved into our school district in the middle of the year from Venezuela
  • another 2 exchange students from Spain and Brazil.

We were all set up to Skype with a friend of mine from Philadelphia who is originally from Argentina, but that fell through at the last moment, so we had to listen to me speak about my year in Mexico. While performing with our local orchestra, I was speaking with a pianist who lived in the Czech Republic for 12 years, so guess who came to speak that next month? She also performed for us as well which attracted some students who didn’t usually attend!

It is amazing to me that I have been able to find so many people with so much ‘foreign’ exposure! Word of mouth has helped tremendously.

Not long ago I was speaking to a person at the gym about my upcoming trip to Costa Rica, and I found out that he had spent a month there also, as well as having spent time in Afghanistan, Spain, and all the Carribbean islands. I’m hopeful that he’ll be a guest speaker next year!


I ask speakers for a typical food that’s easy to make and a typical craft. Some of my guests have prepared the food and crafts themselves, others have not and I have had to do so.

Also a grant for this club helped with  money to spend on food and crafts. Often I will have ‘regular’ snacks to feed the kids as they arrive, so they can focus a bit better in the beginning. Sometimes, cookies and juice, other times I’ll have pizza.  

It has been a struggle to get a lot of participation, so I announce the club at school, send home an all call to the entire school a few days before the club, and offer extra credit to those students who are currently in my class. The biggest challenge has been that the kids forget to get parental permission and our office won’t let them call home that day to arrange rides. I’m still working through getting more participation, so if you have any thoughts on that, they are welcome!


Contrary to what a lot of my students think, the countries we learn about are not all Spanish speaking places. Even though I teach Spanish, even I know that there is more to the world than the 21 Spanish speaking regions! I want them to experience everything about our world, and to see that while kids all go to school, some schools don’t have sports programs, and some start at 7:30 and end at 5:00, and some even go on Saturdays all the time! Differences are not good or bad and people are basically the same all over the world around us. The more we are exposed, the more we can understand and appreciate others and the better we will be able to cooperate and collaborate. We are a global society now, and our students deserve to see what that means in as many ways as possible.

Linda, Rosman Middle School's Teacher of the Year, has been teaching Spanish for 10 years in a combined middle/high school. She learned Spanish living in Mexico, and got her Masters in Spanish at App State. She has 3 children,one of whom just spent her senior year living in Oaxaca Mexico as an exchange student. Linda just returned home from a 9 day trip ziplining around Costa Rica with 15 students and 5 parents. Her next trip is to Italy/Spain in June 2017.

Connect with @SraCarrillo on Twitter for more ideas for your own after-school culture club!

Check out more great ideas from Appalachian Summer Institute alums

22 July 2016

GUEST POST: Take Language out of the Classroom - immersion weekend

Each week of the ASU Summer Institute 2016, I'll be featuring ideas from amigos I met through Summer Institute in years past. This week, Jeff Pageau helps answer the question, "How do I develop a student immersion weekend?"

In spite of our efforts to create authentic language experiences to engage our students, the fact of the matter is that these situations are often contrived and often do not resemble real life. If we're being honest, even in the best developed speaking activities modeled after culturally appropriate contexts, the variables are still controlled in the classroom environment. The students aren't generally exposed to the “surprises” that naturally occur in a truly authentic conversation in the target culture.

So, how can we provide authentic situations for our students to develop their language skills naturally and in a way that more closely resembles real life?

Consider developing an immersion weekend with your students. It's easier than you think!
Jeff and Franca Gilbert cooking up
authentic experiences for their students!
I am a French teacher at a public high school in rural northeast North Carolina. Three years ago, my friend and colleague, Franca Gilbert, and I were looking at ways to promote French, provide authentic language experiences for students, and collaborate with teachers who typically are working in isolation. As study abroad gains more prominence among high school students (which is great news!), the reality is that these experiences are often limited to those students whose parents have deep pockets. We all would like for our students to be able to spend time in the target cultures developing their language proficiency, but this, too, is often not realistic for many of our students who are from economically disadvantaged communities.

The immersion weekend addresses all of these goals.

We began our program with three high schools. This past year, our program grew to include 9 high schools and 2 middle schools. Here's how we did it.



The first thing that you will want to do is to consider just how many days that you want to have your event. We have always held our immersion weekend starting Friday evening at 5:00 and end Sunday morning around 10:00. If that sounds too ambitious for your first attempt, you could scale it back to an overnight event, but I would encourage you to consider a full two days. Doing so will maximize language opportunities for your students.


Next, you will need to secure a location. For us, this was our greatest challenge. We needed a location that had suitable housing for high school students and that had a kitchen. After much searching, we discovered a location that was ideal. It is a retreat center operated by the Archdiocese of Raleigh. It is located about a 1.5 hours drive for the three schools and it offered a meal program! I do strongly recommend that you choose a location that offers a meal program. If you and your colleagues are stuck in the kitchen preparing 3 meals a day, it takes away time from your role as the language facilitator.


Once we had our team assembled and a location secured, the real fun began! We needed to secure funding. While we had the academic support of our schools for the project, we did not receive any financial support. Fundraising will be of vital importance if your school is unable to fund the project for you.

Fortunately, Franca is a fundraising guru. We wanted to make this program as affordable as possible for students, and through Franca’s efforts, we were able to keep the student cost limited to the affordable fee of just over $100.

She reached out to local businesses, French-owned companies in the Raleigh area, and her school's parent organization. We also reached out to our state chapter of the AATF and our state language association (Foreign Language Association of North Carolina) who offered us grants.

For my part, I relied to the power social media fundraising services such as GoFundMe. I wanted to assure that my entire AP class attend this year. I created a GoFundMe account with the hope of raising $1000. Within 3 weeks, I had raised the full amount.

Effectively using social media to promote your program and thanking those individuals publicly in your social media who financially support you is a surefire way to raise funds. When you tag your donors in your post, it shows up in their feed. I was able to generate many new donations outside of my own Facebook network with this approach.


With the location secured and finances in order, we moved to the planning stages. As the program grew and more teachers wanted to participate, we had to set some ground rules that I strongly encourage everyone to establish. You are not offering a babysitting service, so you must insist on full participation for collaborating teachers. This includes coming to planning meetings and attending the weekend.


Setting the tone

The program now runs like a well-oiled machine. After the students are settled in their dorms Friday evening, we assemble in the general meeting room. We provide an overview of the weekend in English and our expectations. The students sign a pledge to communicate only in French the entire weekend. Then, before their peers, they publicly swear the oath.

From that point forward, no English is allowed.

We have students from all levels. Some students only have a few months of French and others were in AP or IB French classes. We divide to students up by proficiency levels, following the ACTFL model. The teachers are divided up among the various levels to serve as the facilitator for that group during the weekend.

Breaking the ice

We then proceed to the dining hall and require that students not sit with students from their own school. We do this for obvious reasons: we want to encourage conversation. And, you know what happens? They speak French! Advanced students are quickly aware if their table mates are beginners and instinctively adjust their conversation accordingly. The teachers sit among the students to 1) make sure no one is speaking English and 2) to encourage conversation and support beginning students who might be feeling anxious.

Building the group dynamic with speed dating before breaking into groups by
proficiency level.

After dinner, we do a variety of ice breaker speaking activities. We do these as a whole group and do not divide the students by proficiency level. The teachers model the activities, which are based on basic conversation skills (greetings, introductions, likes/dislikes, etc), so that beginners can better understand what is about to happen. These short ice breaker activities are important to building confidence and supporting the group dynamic.

Fun and culture

After dinner, we do an authentic cooking demonstration. We have always made crêpes because they are easy to make and the students love them! We do the cooking demonstration, explain what we're making, where they come from, etc. Then, we let the students do the actual cooking.

After the crêpes, we have our French film of the weekend. Use the same discretion in selecting your film that you would in the classroom. We typically choose not to play the film with subtitles. Films we have played are Petit Nicolas, Les choristes, Un monstre à Paris, and Le petit prince.

Activities by proficiency level

Saturday is a full day. The students are up fairly early (breakfast is at 8:00) and then the day's itinerary is underway. Saturday is when the students are divided by proficiency levels. The students are essentially doing the same activities, but they are scaffolded to their proficiency level.

For example, we do a scavenger hunt. For the beginners, they have a list of items to find. For the advanced students, they have riddles to solve that describe the item we are looking for them to find.

Another popular activity is the improv. The students are given a paper bag with 4 random items inside. They must incorporate the 4 items (and the bag) into the sketch that they collaborate to rehearse and present.

Students have fun with improv games in their proficiency level groups!

Weather permitting, we also organize sport activities as well, such as soccer, basketball, and volleyball (we are fortunate that our retreat center has these activities on its property). We teach them the relevant vocabulary prior to the game so that they can effectively play in French.

Whole group fun

As for whole group activities on Saturday, we teach a traditional folk dance and this year tried yoga! The students were very receptive to yoga! In the evening after dinner, we teach traditional folk songs to sing at the bonfire. Another popular group activity has been karaoke to French pop music. The key to a successful weekend is to be well-planned and have the students doing something always.


Euros from Teacher's Discovery
to spend in le magasin
Throughout the weekend, we reward students who we hear speaking French or helping other students to communicate. We have a stack of euros we purchased from Teacher's Discovery. We “pay” the students when we hear good things happening. On Saturday evening, we open our magasin francophone where the students can go shopping. We purchase things like baguette shaped pens, candies/chocolates from France, mini Eiffel towers, and the like. Our store is always a popular event that returning students report looking forward to each year.

On Sunday morning, the teachers get together at breakfast and choose students who we feel really made the most of the weekend and fully committed himself or herself to the program goals. Franca secures prizes from area businesses that we give away on Sunday. Our most sought after prize is the first place prize: a gift certificate for lunch for two at a French restaurant in Raleigh.


I know there may be some skeptics reading this blog saying, “this sounds very nice, but I doubt the students really are speaking French the entire time.” Let me assure you, they do. The students typically police each other to stay in the target language. They want to speak French. They want to improve. Even behind closed doors, my students have reported that French happens even in the dorm rooms when teachers aren't around.

At the end of the weekend, our students have shared how much their confidence in speaking French has increased in just two days. They realize that they have the ability to have unscripted conversations in French in real life situations. They realize that they have the skills to handle themselves in unfamiliar contexts where their vocabulary might be limited. The students leave the weekend feeling so empowered by their own abilities to communicate in French. It builds their confidence to return to French class for the remainder of the year with an entirely different outlook.

In closing, I will leave you with this thought. Planning for an immersion weekend is a tremendous undertaking, but the end results that you will see in your students are worth every minute of it.

Jeff Pageau is a French teacher at Roanoke Rapids High School since 2004. His work in curriculum writing has been recognized by the AATF as the 2012 winner of the Concours Pédagogique. In 2013, he was named  the Foreign Language Teacher of the Year by the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina (FLANC). He has a passion for traveling and learning about new cultures.

Connect with @Jeff_Pageau on Twitter for more help setting up your own immersion weekend!

Stay tuned for more great ideas from Appalachian Summer Institute alums 

My Job - #iFLT16 Day 3

There is only one thing I really have to do as a language teacher:

Make my students feel good.

As my CSCTFL amiga and unofficial coach for the day, Michelle, said, it's simple, but it ain't easy. So many things go into making a student feel good!

Before I start enumerating the many, many, MANY things I have to keep track of to fulfill that one "simple" task, I want to pause and address those doubts you may have about that task.

  • What about the students' job?
    A) Their job is--by definition--not my job. I HAVE to focus on what I am doing, because that's ultimately all I can control. And B) I'm the only one walking in Day 1 know what my job is, and I think any teacher would agree that establishing clear expectations is undeniably our responsibility. So part of my job HAS to be making students understand their job AND the only proof I can ever truly have  that they understand their jobs is if they are successful at their jobs.

    I've been filling my brain up to overflowing for days now, but until I stood up and tried just a FEW of the things I'd absorbed, there was no way of knowing if anything going in actually registered in more than an intellectual way.

  • What about the language?
    BVP said it Day 1: language is the means to an end, what makes communication possible. Based on what I've seen this week, I'd say it's also what makes making students feel good possible. I marvel at how blank the slate students walk in with is when it comes to another language. We as language teachers have a unique--and kinda thrilling--role in demonstrating to students in the most concrete of ways that they CAN learn anything.

    What they learn about themselves, their abilities, and their place in the world is SO much more important than how many words they can string together or how accurately.

That being said, the principle is simple. But executing it is not.

What needs to happen?

Reading about TPRS for years has not been able to crystallize for me what any of this looked like, so I'm not sure it can help you to read what I have learned without seeing it for yourself. But it'll help me to put it into my words--something we must encourage our students to do too--so here goes.
PS this badge is yours if you email me
about 10 cool things you've tweeted
from #iFLT16.

I wanted to 
show my gratitude to people
@SraDentlinger, @SenorTalone,  
have been keeping me--US--in the loop
on some of the amazing things they're
learning in the sessions they attend.

  1. Keep students focused on making me do my job so they don't have to worry about theirs: teach gestures to communicate students' needs immediately while maintaining their dignity; teach "You confused me" instead of "I don't understand."
  2. Build in reflection constantly: pause for blind comprehension checks where students close their eyes and respond to words they hear and give you gestures for "understood" or "not understood." Have students interact with and investigate texts with discussion related to their knowledge and opinions and lives if possible.
  3. Simplify and recycle: keep your stories to about 15 sentences and 15 minutes at first, and then use the four circling question types (+ , -, e/o, ?) to reinforce in the moment. Use student actors--even groups of student actors--to recap story events and create parallel stories.
  4. Demonstrate active interest in each of them: teach to the eyes, teach to the eyes, teach to the eyes, but also ask about their lives and react with genuine interest and enthusiasm. Our world needs it!

How do I make it happen?

Again, I absorbed so much just watching people like Linda Li, Grant Boulanger, and Bryce Hedstrom this week. It all sounds very, very good in my head. I didn't think I could execute a fraction of what I had absorbed, even if I had already put it into 140-character chunks to process it.

And I couldn't.

But I got up there and did what I do.I waited until dead last to stand up in front of my new amigos in coaching time. I fumbled to stick to the structures I picked and language that was not just appropriate for language teachers, but the 10th graders I'll be facing in two weeks(!) I put that Theater minor from college to work and picked out the amiga I knew would have the chutzpah to be my protagonist (Lauras are awesome like that).

And I derailed.

I'm told it was entertaining at least. And honestly, my peers and coaches made me believe it wasn't derailing so much as switching tracks where I didn't mean to.

Afterward, I decided I wanted the hard truth from my coach (Amy Wopat is an angel, a brilliant, insightful angel). She gave me two goals:

  • work in those constant comprehension checks
  • and establish meaning thoroughly, whether it's with English on the word wall, quick translation, or gestures and images--as long as the targets are ONE HUNDRED PERCENT clear.

So I'm going going to try again today. The comprehension checks I can only work on in the moment, but here are some steps I'm taking to be better prepared today (after a long impromptu talk with Michelle during coaching yesterday!)

1. Create cue cards
One sentence per card, customizable details like names left out BUT possible answers listed to the side in pencil. (Also, possibly the +, -, e/o, ? circling symbols.) Each card MUST use at least one target structure and at least one blank for students to fill in.

2. Prepare passive and active vocabulary posters
Linda Li had every. single. word that appeared in all versions of her stories on the walls somewhere. The target structures were up front, and extra words like potential characters (that weren't proper nouns) were on the side. She had them in English. So instead of having to be reminded to put something on the chart paper before I started, I have even color coded the words I want to point to in a Google Slides presentation so I'm ready to write this time!

It feels good to make other people feel good, and Bryce Hedstrom encourages us to make our classrooms a factory for those feelings. Making students feel good is really very simple.

But it takes a LOT of work to make it look that way.

21 July 2016

Coming Together - #iFLT16 Day 2

I panicked.

Tuesday night, after an hour and no fewer than 68 repetitions of the target structure, all I could get was something like Hatshepsut capisce kaput. I still remembered Shto eta? from Camp Musicuentos and could name blue and green balls. But NOTHING new from an hour's worth of comprehensible Russian input was sticking AT ALL.

I mean, after a DuoLingo lesson or two, I could say SOMETHING. But at the end of the day, all of my new Russian was gone, and all I remembered was that Bill Van Patten needed to get Bette Midler an iguana martini at The Phantom of the Opera.

Now yesterday, Diva #1 demonstrated for us how all communication serves a purpose. Bully! I'm on board! Daniel Pink: Mastery, Autonomy, Purpose. Yes. Good.

Where Bette Midler and iguana martinis fit wasn't clear, though. And it was even less clear when I could call up shto eta but not "wants to buy" or a single other question word.

What was missing?

Well definitely Mastery, that's for sure.

Yesterday, however, I couldn't stop muttering huchit kupit under my breath on the way to dinner and after pool time with the little Sextons. I also added tantsevat and kto and liubet. And oo...yest...kind of (Natalia is trying to help me).

So what made the difference (besides a sleep cycle or two?)
  1. First of all, at Camp Musicuentos, I got to interact with the language individually with Linguacafe. I'm pretty sure that's how shto eta got stuck.
  2. Then Tuesday night, I looked at my notes (tweets, whatever)  before going to bed. I NEED that visual. Brain science tells us most learning IS visual, and that we retain little of what we hear.

  3. Moreover I looked at the words in context. I could NOT call up that word wall when I got back to the hotel. But this helped:
  4. And being able to see a different written story today combined the best of both!

  5. And so I could calm down.

However it was in Language Lab yesterday that what REALLY mattered started to come together for me. And what really matters is coming together.

Watching Grant Boulanger in action--with these kids he'd just met yesterday--allowed me to see Mastery, Autonomy, AND Purpose. In Sr. Boulanger's mini lab class, it was crystal clear that each gesture and rejoinder was helping him

  1. get to know his kids: what made them comfortable, what tickled them (sometimes literally!)
  2. establish his expectations: for their responses, including when he hadn't given them enough support to feel comfortable
  3. build their trust in each other: teasing without being cruel, sharing each other's space (ie "toca la cabeza de Bob")
One of the most magical moments for me was seeing my student freeze when he gave her a new and unfamiliar instruction. Of course she wasn't really the little girl from my freshman lab last semester, but in that moment, she could have been. But she only paused a moment, then put her fist to her palm--and almost every other kid did too! They recognized their limits and THEN sought assistance! That gesture meant "clarify"! They didn't have to resort to the L1 or wrestle with the L2 to get what they needed--and they kept going with absolute faith that what they needed would be provided! Not painfully extracted through a series of charades and pictograms.

The purpose of all of the entertaining TPR activities was DEFINITELY relationship building here, definitely under BVP's psychosocial heading. And the mastery was evident in students' choral and individual responses. And the autonomy? Well, when they got to practice the commands with partners (not unlike Linguacafe), let's just say Sr. Boulanger also had to give the requisite Pillsbury "Hee Hee!" after one partner instructed another to "toca el estómago del Sr. Boulanger."

After that, coming together with some of the smartest people I've met helped even MORE of the experience come together for me.

My online PLN has been so very supportive in person, with Kristy, Martina, Justin, and Carrie thoughtfully checking in with me and following up on my questions and reflections. It was in such a check-in--where we even got Russian teacher extraordinaire, Michele Whaley, to back me up!

In our little chorus room cadre, we decided 500, 300, 68 reps of a structure--that's not what makes the language stick, but rather the emotion. I think in many cases, the feeling of success from Mastery is enough to carry a lot of us, but also having a hot plate of an Italian dish you previously didn't know the name of coming straight at you while the waiter names it and tells you to move--that could work too!

Also Herr Bailey was also able to add to our community and confidence building signal repertoire with a little ASL:
Again [from Baby Sign Language]

Slow [from Baby Sign Language]
As well as the "up to here" sign we all now and love to indicate when students are "full" and can't handle any more!

Having these signs means students really CAN trust that we won't ask them to do anything they're not ready for, so we CAN come together!

Yesterday I also got to absorb a lot from different breakout sessions--even if I wasn't there! (Shout out to Elizabeth especially!), but I think the coaching session was perhaps the most powerful session of all.

In it, I learned how to scaffold risk.

I've had a list of what I want to come away with, but I just couldn't go first! I froze! 

But I didn't have to make a gesture before Amy started breaking down where we could all start, including possible structures to start with. And half of us who weren't ready got to start out as students, the other half as observers. Three Brave Souls just jumped in! But Skip and Amy took turns chatting with the Brave Souls and us students and observers and discussing exactly what was expected.

And then we only focused on the positive so WE could all come together and feel confident in OUR new learning! After all, psychological safety is crucial to any team's success!

I look forward to taking everything that started coming together yesterday and putting it to work in coaching today!

20 July 2016

Big Questions - #iFLT16 Day 1

As expected, I've come out of the first day with big ideas, but also big questions (which you might be able to help me out with at the end of the post).

As of today, I'd say I'm pretty firmly in the Novice Mid range when it comes to the whole CI experience. So going in, I had a decent sense of WHY we needed to focus on Comprehensible Input, but what I'm longing to know is HOW. I feel like today was pretty WHY heavy overall for us beginners, but given the number of people who indicated they were pre-novice in matters of CI, I see the need.

Also, I'm totally pumped for a coaching session geared more toward us Novice Mids tomorrow!


I feel there was definitely some preaching to the choir going on here, but I also think it was sort of an opportunity to arm ourselves to fight the textbook/grammar fight and get buy-in on real purposeful communication (which, PBL, hello!) 

You can see all of my tweets and retweets from Dr. Van Patten's talk below, but what I was left wanting to understand better is: 

What relevant purpose does storytelling fulfill?

We agree that language is not what we're learning about, but rather a means to gain information or maintain relationships. So language functions can't be our primary purpose, right?

Basics for Beginners

I started getting some HOW in this session, including a little clarification on the recommended order of things (establish meaning, ask the story, read and discuss) and a demonstration involving BVP's desire to bring Bette Middler a martini with iguanas at the opera.

A few things I think I've been missing in my stories based on the demonstration:

  1. The protagonist at the front of the room - this adds emotional interest for the class, gives me an excuse to recycle second person structures (and first person if I can hide behind them and have them lip sync their lines!) as I ask protagonist about their preferences to guide the course of the story.
  2. The freedom of focus - if I can narrow the whole thing down to ONE structure I want to hit hard, a structure that gets to the purpose of the story, the unit, etc. then that focus allows me to let go of the need to control where the story goes, because all I HAVE to do is come back to THAT structure again and again, and keep the rest familiar verbs and interrogatives with cognates.
  3. Whole class response routines - if you have to say "ohhh!" to everything that is "interesting," you kind of HAVE to catch up every once in a while--or get caught!
Afterward, though, I was still left with my burning question from the keynote, plus another, as I--an adult language nerd--found myself drifting during the 45-minute story:

How can you set up a story that's both short enough to maintain engagement and long enough to achieve sufficient input?


Lunch gets its own category because I got to see and actually talk with friends! Sra. Placido made me feel super supported in my persistent questioning, and hanging out with Mme. Laine (with whom I'd only done Google Hangouts before!) really helped me feel comfortable just with the whole setup! Also, I have never felt more honored than when a tweep in the lunch line made it a point to tell me my blog had helped her through some hard times! (I missed your Twitter handle! Tweet me!)

Tea with BVP & SDK

What intrigued me about this time was the more "expert" angle of it. A certain amount of prior knowledge had to be accessed to make sense of the questions. In other words: I felt smart. In-the-know. I am still a little mystified by the push to "call out" ACTFL as if its communicative focus was at odds with a CI communicative focus. I get that there's been tension--I've been in the thick of it more than once online! I just don't see a remarkable difference in principles, much less anything that fundamentally makes the two schools of thought mutually exclusive.

A big revelation for me, though, was when Dr. Krashen stated the ultimate design of language programs: to make intermediates on independent learners. And really, I think it is supremely sensible to say any of us can keep learning at that point by 1) reading and 2) talking with friendly people! Aside from music, that's generally pretty much my own game plan!

I did get to ask my burning question from the keynote, but it sounds like it's not one our SLA Divas have worked out either. Dr. BVP did talk about the value of entertainment, so I guess my question became:
How does entertainment fit with communicative purpose?

Back to basics

I really liked ending the day with a little Q&A, and my fellow beginner colleagues thought of a lot of the technical questions that I wished I'd thought of. The main thing to remember? READING. Don't know what to give for homework? READING. Don't know what to leave for a sub? READING. Don't know what to give chronic absentees? Guess what. 

Getting to hear more from Dr. Krashen was useful too, as it helped drive home those points we'll need to drive home to our colleagues back home, especially about the efficacy of learning and applying rules.

At the end of the day, of course I still want to know more. I've had some kind souls try to help me work through these burning questions already, but I also want to open them up to anyone else who is willing to help clarify these points for me in more than 140 characters in the comments below.

I love the big ideas, but it's the big questions that keep me wanting more!