30 November 2016

Fuegos: Ignite lite for Spanish I finals

Ignite talks are short and fast. They're like Pecha Kucha, with 20 carefully timed images, but they're even shorter.

I mean, yeah, you can rehearse and rehearse (and rehearse) an ignite talk to time it perfectly  (and that's actually a good option for kiddos just breaking out of Novice Land), but everything that comes out of your mouth has to come out of your head.

Not off a card or a screen.

My wise amiga Sra. Hawkins says it's hard to fill up the 20 seconds in Pecha Kucha in your native language, so my plan is to go with the 15 seconds. And because it's hard to hold five solid minutes of anything in your head in high school, I want to cut the slides back to 10. That's 2 1/2 minutes in the target language.

My kids can do that.

I want this to be an opportunity for reflection, some metacognition in the ol' L2. So I've come up with a list of suggested topics I know they can talk about--and that might benefit next year's kiddos:

  • What you can do in Spanish now
  • What not to do in Spanish I
  • Problems you can have in Spanish I
  • What helps you learn Spanish
  • How Spanish helps you
  • How you like to use Spanish
  • How you are going to use Spanish in the future
I also tried to think of some more project-specific ones to, to tap into more topical language:

  • How Spanish I is like a game
  • How Spanish I can be more like a game
  • How to use games to learn skills
  • What you need to know about Hispanics in the U.S
  • How to find ideas for a good product
  • How to make a good product
  • How not to make a good product
  • How to make a good presentation for your product
  • How to attract Hispanic consumers to your product
  • How to communicate with people in your group
I would also be really interested in what students could come up with, but they would have to be able to have a discussion with me--in Spanish--about what they want their topic to be and what they are actually able to say about it--in Spanish. I'm all for it if they can come up with something cool and useful that's actually, you know, within their powers!

Now for someone who has disavowed presentational Spanish at the novice level, this whole "exam" is definitely incomplete. I could easily get presentational writing in there by having them writing and revising what they plan to say, and we can add the interpersonal with a quick 2 1/2 minute Q&A on their topic to fill out the rest of their five minutes, as I've done in final presentations past.

The reading and writing are a little trickier to work in, but I think I can edit together some of the post-product-presentation interviews with our guest "investors" for the listening, and I might go the personalized route once again with the reading section once I have their topics, picking out blogs and infographs and whatever I can find that would tie in with what they plan to present.

Can you think of any other topics you would like to hear at the end of Spanish I?

23 November 2016

#ACTFL16 Tidbits

I came to ACTFL 2016 with a conference path set for Everything Interpersonal, having had various students freeze up, blank out, and even two start crying during the interpersonal part of the most recent IPA--in spite of low-stress strategies that worked the last two IPAs--just hours before I boarded the plane to Boston.

Perhaps it is the curse of the hyper-connected educator, but I did not walk away from this conference in a haze of hope and renewed vigor to take on teaching.

I suspect it's because I get cool ideas from the coolest people all the time, so I don't have to wait for November for my brain to be full like I used to. I kind of exist in a perpetual state of mind half-blown every time Amy Lenord or Wendy Farabaugh or Annabelle Allen--not to mention the dozens of other pedagogical geniuses on my blog roll and the #langchat feed--adds a new post.

I've developed a tolerance for brilliance, I think.

And yet I'm generally still able to walk away from each session I attend with something I can use in my class. So here are a few tidbits I picked up from a few cool people who shared at this year's convention.

Given my conference path, you'd better believe I was front and center (well, side) for this former ToY's spontaneous session. Three things I want to try that might help my kiddos just feel more ready before assessment time:

  • Conversation Carousel, or ask-ask-trade
    I've used questions on cards before, but something as simple as using answers on the back to cue their partners is a valuable skill. Also instead of writing extra questions on the card, switching cards with someone else is a way to practice asking more questions without having to come up with them all yourself!
  • Cootie Catcher Questions
    A sense of play could surely lighten things up for my kiddos, and what better way than bringing back the origami fortune teller of our youth--just with Spanish questions?
  • Class Greeter QuestionsMy kids already can't leave my room without looking me in the eye and saying adiós--like they physically can't anymore. How much of a stretch would it be to add an entry question and set up a rotation of askers?

I confess I mostly go to PBL sessions for networking and finding My People (which, mission accomplished in this one). But it was also cool just to see how simple starting to plan a unit really could be with this organizer:

Also, I've used Mixbook for creating children's books in the past, but did you know Storybird has a fundraiser form letter? Could be a good tie in with our school supply project!

Mostly this session gave me some ideas on how to scaffold reflection. I think requiring regular video blogs where students NOT reading what they're saying is specifically part of the grade could help kiddos get more comfy being on the spot. I also like the idea of not grading the first version of the vlog and providing mini-lessons on problem patterns I observed, then grading the redo. Even if actual changes are tiny the second time around, it's more low-stakes practice before the big moment.

(UNcon by Sr. Anderson)

Sr. Geisel helping me see Snapchat as a video editing tool instead of social media just made SO MUCH SENSE. Really low-stakes, familiar and fun context to get kids talking without fear! (Plus I had super fun snapping buddies!)

Everyone knows I love an infograph, and surveys have been some of my more successful speaking opportunities this semester, so  why not follow up with graphs with titles that actually reflect CONCLUSIONS students can draw from the surveys! Sentence titles for the infographs can also promote moving up ye olde proficiency scale!

AND how cute and easy would it be to let people respond to survey questions with Legos, upload a picture of Lego bar graphs to Seesaw and just title them there? Could be a great first day fun station activity before kids CAN respond in sentences to just have some Solo cups with target language questions where kiddos can plop in a colored lego to represent their response--with cognate-rich questions, even "silent period" kiddos could engage!

Face time with your PLN is always a great takeaway too

Now, tidbits weren't all I got from ACTFL this year, and in fact I got some burning questions answered with some thorough and engaging demonstrations in three other sessions I attended. I do have a little cogitating to do about those sessions and how they can keep my kids from bursting into tears when we talk, but check out this Storify of some #ACTFL16 highlight tweets to get a preview of what I'm pondering and a few more more tidbits from all of my sessions.

12 November 2016

Vocabulary Blogs and Communication

Personal vocabulary blogs have allowed me some unique insights into students' approach to life so far. I especially enjoy what my little shutterbugs have shown me--even if it was only to avoid having to cite online images. Also seeing the kinds of words kiddos come up with when they're under the gun after a week (or weeks) of procrastination and how they express them is...revealing.

However, the vocabulary blogs have not been having the impact on students' expression that I had hoped for. Don't get me wrong: there have been some words that have worked their way into students' blog posts and IPAs, especially in my online Spanish III course. And sometimes when I slip a new word into conversation that someone has posted before--by chance or by design--I get exclamations of delight from those who recognize it. But still the ones who need it most don't seem to be getting much out of it.

I have a few ideas on why and what to do about it.

Purposeful Selection

I love living in the Information Age. I want to know something--anything--I click a link. One of the most important things we can do as educators is show students how to do that.

So it's well and good if students want to name a dozen marine mammals in Spanish or throw in "spooky" and "skeleton" at Halloween time. But Thomas Sauer's assertion that we have created generations of Novice Low language learners has stuck with me, so I pass it on to my students, and they do seem to get the problem with only having laundry lists at their disposal...even if they insist on just looking up the names of objects in their house or classroom at the last minute.

So I'm going to remove a little of the choice and add another step.

Now, this means I will have to lay some clear ground rules for acceptable purposes, and unfortunately "curiosity" just isn't going to cut it anymore. In fact, just using it on DuoLingo won't cut it anymore. They will have to have a communicative purpose in mind before they get to put the word on their blogs.

Of course I'm totally fine with an interpretive communicative goal--understanding Plim Plim or Gran Hotel or a random article on dinosaurs for their personal practice homework is 100% acceptable. Preparing for their upcoming marketing presentation is also a good choice. Telling our Sister Cities amigos about what's fun in our community is also a pretty purposeful communication goal.

Naming everything in your bedroom is not, mostly because no one wants to hear you do it.

So I offer the following "I can" starters to choose from for stating their purposes:

  • I can understand what's happening in [book, news article, show, music video, sports recaps]
  • I can learn more about ___ from [book, news article, show, music video, sports recaps]
  • I can discuss ___ with [name a real person you're actually going to talk to]
  • I can explain ___ for our assignment on ___.
And that's pretty much the only purposeful reasons I can see for wanting to acquire new vocabulary at the novice level. If they picked up the word from something we did in class, fine, but they have to explain what they can do  with it now that it is at their disposal. And whatever they learn from Duolingo, they learn from Duolingo, and that's separate--I still haven't found an occasion to use abacaxi.

Purposeful Reflection

I polled students on how many nouns, verbs, and adjectives they had in their first quarter of vocabulary posts. SO. MANY. NOUNS.

"And what is the ONE thing you need to make a sentence in Spanish?"

Sheepish grins as they muttered, "Verbs."

I thought it might also be fun to do a Polleverywhere survey to get a word cloud of the most popular words so they could reflect on what words a lot of them had picked (calabaza figured in a lot last month), and whether they had actually been able to use them.

One thing I've learned in 14 years is that pausing for reflection is an absolute necessity if any learning is going to stick. I mean, it's why I blog to begin with! So stopping to think about and share what is and is not working is definitely worth a little slice of our time.

The VoiceThreads for reflection haven't been working out as I had planned, though, even though there was class time to make them happen--it was just on a day that I wasn't there. I'm sure normal people understand this, but in case you're like me: NEVER TRY ANYTHING NEW WHEN YOU'RE OUT. Just saying. It should be a continuation of routine if you want anything to happen--besides complaining.

I think the reflection VoiceThreads are worth salvaging, mostly if I remember this:

But there are a few specific tips I would recommend to make them more effective:

  1. Provide detailed revision. Google Docs worked a lot better than blog comments for this. Also requiring essential verbs made all of the sentences make a LOT more sense. In fact, I think I'll take the requirement to write their own personal example sentence out of the initial vocabulary collecting blog posts and save this for a step after at least 3 posts and before combining them into a VoiceThread.
  2. Make grouping terms a separate step. I was going to have students group their vocabulary and create their VoiceThreads all in one assignment. That is WAY too much brainpower for a single practice assignment. Like the reflection, if it's worth doing, it's worth taking the time in class.
  3. Close the feedback loop. Set aside time in class to fix the sentences. Set aside time to listen to the "corrected" audio comments and re-record (again--when you're there #endnotetoself). All of your suggestions are for naught if you don't show students that you value what you're asking of them enough to make time for them to respond, closing the feedback loop, as Karen Tharrington taught me.
  4. Encourage original artwork. I'm still okay with finding images for the weekly posts (especially now that we got a little clarification with this post on image citation...and pulled up a few posts where hotlinked images mysteriously disappeared). However, I think it's worth having something more memorable for the reflective coming-together piece, and something that requires some personal investment--whether it's photos they staged or quick doodles.

So, even though the vocabulary blogs are not yet doing everything I had intended, I think with a little extra reflection time and intentionality students should come out with words they can and want to use in situations where they actually want to use them.