23 May 2016

Personal Vocabulary Blogs

Vocabulary can make my students feel insecure. Though I have abandoned textbooks, I have not entirely abandoned vocabulary lists. I tend to present them more in semantic groups with visuals or in contextual situations now, however.

My students kind of wish they had more, though, something they could refer to and refresh themselves on what they actually do know.

I think a record of self-selected vocabulary is the solution here, something that they decided is useful--for whatever reason--and want to be able to access easily. And since blogging worked so nicely this year, I think it's a great way to keep their vocabulary references in one place.

Here's my plan.

Weekly task

1. Pick 5 words each week.
Words can be new words used in class (in directions, notes, blogs, stories, telenovelas, etc.). Or they can be words they came across in their own exploration (Pinterest, self-selected homework). Or they can even be new words they just looked up out of curiosity.

2. Find and cite (or create) an image that represents each word.
A lot of my kids--regardless of artistic ability--prefer to upload their own doodles just to avoid citing an image. Otherwise, students can track down a photo or clipart that represents the MEANING of each  word (not what it sounds like), as long as they give proper credit. (We might interpret a text like this to get a little ethical and TL input at the same time.)

3. Copy a context sentence.
They can use sentences straight from any text they were reading or listening to: blog, story, show, or pin. (If they use a classmate's blog, though, they'll need to verify and/or improve sentences' accuracy, or go with Plan B.) Plan B, say if they can't remember or find the sentence--or it's one of those words they just wanted to know, well, that's one of the many things that makes WordReference so beautiful: contextual examples! Also: Google.

4. Write their own context sentence.
I want to keep this a quick and easy assignment, but I think it's important to see how students can use their vocabulary in context. A definition doesn't tell me nearly as much as the kind of sentence they write using the word.

Each week, they'll post their 5 words, pictures, and context sentences in a blog post labeled VOCABULARY.

As far as grading, my plan is to just give a 10/10 if all steps are included, even if their sentences are wrong. However, I would like to comment on at least every other vocabulary post with at least one question for them about what they've written plus a general AAPPL score to give them an idea of where they fall. No pressure, just feedback. I do want to build in time for them to answer my questions later, though.

Monthly reflection

Every grading period, I would like to have students take a break from adding vocabulary to pause and evaluate what they already have. In other words, I want them to sort and pronounce what they've got.

1. Create semantic groups.
I like to use the phone number rule: phone numbers (minus area codes) are seven digits long supposedly because that's how many digits our brains can handle. So each student will split all of the vocabulary they've collected into semantic groups with no more than seven words (and no fewer than two).

Semantic groups mean they're grouped by meaning, so they'll need to come up with a (target language) title that fits their reasoning behind putting those particular words in the same group (e.g. foods, compliments, boring activities).

2.  Create group infographs.
Once they've figured out their groups, they'll need to create an infograph (possibly with Canva or Piktochart, or just their own doodles) for each with
  • the TL title
  • the 2-7 words
  • pictures to represent the overall group meaning
Notice there is NO English anywhere. Their brains are going to have to work for the meaning, but they'll have plenty of clues to cue them.

3. Combine infographs in a VoiceThread.
Of course students will be able to pull up their vocabulary in chronological order if they look up their posts by the VOCABULARY label, but the VoiceThread is going to be their real reference. They'll have a page for it within their portfolio blogs for easy access.

They'll be combined in a VoiceThread A) for easy access (they can scroll through them or look at all at once to pick what they're looking for) and B) for audio capabilities.

4. Record pronunciation comments for each word.
Students will record themselves pronouncing each word in a separate comment on the VoiceThread. That way, I can record a response to any word that's not quite right yet to help with pronunciation. Then they can record a response to imitate it and improve! (Well before, say, final presentation day.)

With these steps, students should ultimately have a reference for almost 100 additional vocabulary words--one that helps get the vocabulary encoded in their brains for continued application.

And maybe they'll actually feel as smart as they are in their second language!

18 May 2016

Netflix and Grill: Watching telenovelas in class

What could be better than binge watching on Netflix for class? Maybe actually learning something in the process?

The idea for this unit began when I overheard my students obsessing over their latest Netflix marathon sessions. "How can I tap into that passion?" I thought. Can I get them binge watching in Spanish?

El internado was the obvious choice, since there are SO. MANY. AMAZING. RESOURCES. But while I got my principal hooked enough to binge the whole first season and start the second, she was not hooked enough to let the European perspective on nudity slide.

Still, she found the research I'd collected pretty convincing  (shout out to Sra. Drew). So I had to pick the least-scandalous-yet-engaging telenovela that I could and then make the viewing an in-class assignment.

Challenge accepted.


I cannot tell you how many times I have watched the first 2 episodes of Cuidado con el ángel--even before we started watching it scene by scene in class--twice apiece, in first and fourth periods.

BUT I think I have streamlined the process for streamlining the viewing process for my students, and I think the process will work not just for Cuidado con el ángel, but for any telenovela, movie, or video over, say 15 minutes.

Step 1: Collect time stamps for "scenes"

I made "scenes" for the first episode between 2 and 3 minutes long--occasionally shorter if new characters/storylines were being introduced. "Scenes" did have to have a logical break, but they didn't have to stick to ye olde Greek unity of time and place concepts. The idea was to make them sort of audiovisual paragraphs, with one clear main idea.

After they'd been immersed in the characters and plot for an episode, I aimed more for 4-5 minutes on the second episode. We only had time to watch two episodes in the end, but I think I'd stick to about 5 minutes if we had been able to continue.

Step 2: Create comprehension questions for each scene

To save time, I ended up pausing as I decided each time stamp to form the questions and list them on a Google Doc. I actually copied and pasted the questions themselves to a Nearpod later and only then added multiple choice answers.

All of my questions and answers are in the target language (well, sort of) so students are using interpretive skills to make sense of what they watched, but with more accessible language. The idea was for everyone to grasp the essentials of a scene before moving on to the next one. 

Step 3: Plan interactive reflection activities for each scene

This was by student request. They are Capital H HOOKED and wanted to discuss what was happening more, partially because they have a lot to say about Juan Miguel and Viviana, and partially because they want to make sure they understand. And even though they're not quite baby parrots anymore, they still need some structure and maybe a little inspiration--not just "what happened?"

I got a lot of ideas from Sras. Drew and Zimmerman, but I think my favorite was when one partner pretended to be Marichuy and one pretended to be the mom that abandoned her, and they asked each other questions. A few types of activities I've tried to get them talking:
  • prediction check: true, possible, impossible
  • character role play scenarios
  • describe a character, class guesses who
  • compare to other stories
  • compare yourself with a character
  • discuss how the show is/is not typical

Step 4: Schedule and set up.

So far on the end-of-year survey, almost no one likes the idea of only getting to watch one scene a day. I think it would be really hard to get them hooked or tap into the spirit of the Netflix binge that way too. Therefore, it's important to figure out how many scenes you can fit in a day. I think it worked best when we could get three or four in--depending on duration--and then maybe take some time to blog a recap with predictions at the end. Getting through one episode a week (minus portfolio days) has mostly been a pretty reasonable goal.

Then I collect those scenes onto a Nearpod presentation for students to follow along (I put it on "student-paced"/"homework" mode--live session was a disaster). You could accomplish something similar with a handout with a space for students to react on one side and multiple choice questions on the other, maybe passing them out on separate half sheets to be turned over as you go.


I dithered a lot on the order of this process. Did I want students learning new vocabulary above all else? Did I want them focused on top-down processing first? How could I make sure they could follow along without giving up and improve their interpretive skills at the same time?

In the end, I decided that we were at the end of Spanish II, so my focus could not be individual words: I had to push them toward intermediate level comprehension, focusing on main ideas more than new vocabulary.

First viewing

  1. Spanish subtitles and vocabulary collection. I show one scene with subtitles in Spanish, and they collect words they think they'll need on Post-its, one word per Post-it.
  2. React in L1. My sudents react in English--as they watch or afterward--to what I just played: they can complain, ask questions, or was poetic about Juan Miguel's eyes and tight shirt. Whatever, so long as they're processing what they've just taken in on at least a superficial level. I use Nearpod, but this could work well with TodaysMeet as sort of a substitute for yelling at the screen (ie, "talking back to the text.") More advanced students, maybe level 3, might react in the L2, however.
  3. Discuss vocabulary. I pick out the Post-its words that I think will be useful, especially if multiple students picked the same ones. I explain what they mean, generally in L1, and stick them around the white board for later.

Second viewing

  1. English subtitles to fill in what's missing. I show the same scene again, this time with subtitles in English. They can pick out the vocabulary we just went over or fill in the answers to any questions they had.
  2. Multiple choice TL comprehension questions. Even if the students needed the English to get what was going on, they will see the main plot points in Spanish with these questions to begin to figure out how to process and express what they're seeing.
  3. TL reflection activity. Like I said, the kids love to talk. Creativity is key, and they can incorporate the vocabulary. Sometimes at the end the reflection is just a summary blog and predictions, though.

After viewing

  1. TL summary/prediction blog. Students sum up and retell what happened during the day's scenes. Bullet points are fine for those unready to part from the shores of novicedom, but encourage intermediate explorers to venture into paragraph territory. Predictions for the next day's scenes are not only great literacy skill practice but a chance for further engagement and playing with tenses.
  2. Vocabulary exit ticket. Of course we have to come back to the new vocabulary, so while students are reflecting--or after--each kid picks a Post-it to remove and replace by writing the word (bigger) and its English meaning. Bam! Wall glossary. (This could come in particularly handy if my weekly personal glossary blog comes to fruition...)
  3. Weekly tic tac toe reflection. This was primarily an out-of-class task to be conducted each week. Students could choose any activity from the tic-tac-toe board, as long as A) they end up making a line and B) they have at least one of the 3 P boxes checked (or exed) off. My young ones have made some keen observations about currency, family structure, and religious practices that should do nicely to demonstrate completion of my EPIC goal.


The telenovela unit has been the most popular unit I have ever taught. Love to watch them or love to hate them, everyone has an opinion, and everyone feels like they're learning--and many want to keep learning!

Not all of my students are twenty episodes ahead of me (about three are) or even caught up to me (probably six more of them), but several have already made marathon plans for the summer--either Cuidado con el ángel or another telenovela we read about.

And now they have procedures to get the most out of their viewing experience.

If they can handle pacing their binges.

04 May 2016

Love is

Love is a desire.

A genuine, conscious, consistent, active desire.

I have decided that love is a genuine desire, not only for someone else's happiness, but the desire to actively help that someone achieve that happiness long term. And it's not just the desire, it's acting on that desire.

Love is a verb, right?

image via Pinterest

I love my husband. I love my children. I love my friends.

I love my students.

But sometimes I don't pause and let myself feel that desire enough, though. Sometimes I could spend more time acting on that desire.

Because love is not a wish.

Sometimes, after they leave my class, after they graduate, I just wish my students well. I hope they will find something that keeps them moving, that makes them really get how much they are worth.

image via the Counseling Center at Clark, NJ
That's enough for some of them.

But everyone--EVERYONE--needs and deserves someone who loves them--consciously, actively loves them. I am convinced that those who may not seem like they deserve it have experiences or hard wiring that make the "deserving" harder--but not impossible. If every. single. child. had just a handful of adults who were willing and able to consciously, actively love them--consistently--then soon we will have a generation of young people with the tools to take on just about any personal problem.

image via Wisconsin Media Lab

Perhaps if I'm going to define love, though, I also need to define happiness. Love is acting on the desire for long-term happiness. An ice cream cone is not love. I mean, feel free to take me to Cold Stone any day of the week, but love is more than getting someone to smile, or forget the pain with something sweet and temporary.

And love is not a quick fix that leads to more harm.
Kind of image via Indulgy

I'm not saying we should spoil our spouses or offspring or students. We don't give them what they want because they want it. We give them what we know they need in order to maintain their mental, emotional, and physical health, so they can be happy. (Sidenote: this may also require actually researching what they actually do need).
And as we love them, we make sure they know what love is, what it looks like, so they can recognize it and repeat it, and in that way never run out of it.

Love is why I'm glad I'm at an early college.

I mean, I will preach to anyone who will listen that colleges as we know them will and should die out within the next 20 years. Not a great stance for my long-term job security, but there it is.

Colleges cannot be ivory towers to isolate the elite. They must serve, and they must serve everyone and help them equip themselves to accomplish the Purpose that they pull from deep inside themselves. Being right there where the courses they need for the beginning of just about any kind of career makes making a plan for students' long-term happiness so much more do-able. There's no reason to just wish at them here. And even if they don't find their long-term careers yet, we can make damned sure they know where to start to find who and what they need down the line.

It's been a hard week for a few reasons. But I have decided something else too.

From this point forward, my students will not leave me with a wish.

They will leave with a plan that will help them find long-term happiness.

They will leave with LOVE.