05 March 2017

Pizza Faces - Maintaining conversation for intermediate performance

I think I should have been starting online classes with pizza faces from the beginning.

I mean, sneaking in a few Spanish essentials and practicing with a useful tool early on--those are noble pedagogical goals, right? And starting with such small, familiar language chunks can help hit the ground running but in a way that is totally comfortable and confidence building!

But more importantly, their faces are HILARIOUS. Starting off with reaction videos to your teacher's pizza preferences sets a fun, intimate--yet totally school appropriate--tone for the course.  And taking silly selfies first thing? What better way to get the positive vibes flowing?  Plus it could give me the perfect running gag to acknowledge common ground and individual quirks.

Intermediate skills

The truth is, though, that I was actually a third of the way into my second semester of Spanish III online when I thought of this activity. Several of my kiddos were giving me complete sentences in conversation, asking and answering questions, and they were ready to move up.

You see, one important thing that intermediate speakers can do is maintain a conversation in the target language. It is one of three indicators that separate I1 from I2 on the interpersonal AAPPL rubric (the others being "more than one sentence" and "questions" rather than just "simple questions.")

But what does "maintaining a conversation" look like?

My first thought is of course follow-up questions--questions that are completely spontaneous and completely dependent on what your conversation partner says. But if you're really maintaining a conversation and not just rattling off memorized questions, there needs to be an in-between step that really demonstrates the listening. You have to acknowledge the answers that the other person gives.

So I whipped up a list of some standard responses (based loosely on my interpersonal playbook) that they might need to use in various situations. Since I wanted them to hear it, I made the list a Spark Video too!

Task setup

So I knew I wanted them to speak, and I knew I wanted them to listen, but if there's one thing that makes online language learning so frustrating, it's the near impossibility of getting those to happen in the same place at the same time. What's worse, is trying to work gestures or facial expressions in across time and space to help ensure your meaning is clear.

Fortunately, there's Adobe Spark videos (formerly Adobe Voice). Now Spark has been giving me some issues on Chrome, why I know not, but I've been able to pull it together week to week for the online class video announcements using Firefox. Also, pretty much ALL of my students have iPhones, bless their hearts (my IT esposo is virulently anti-Apple).

So I figured I'd snap a few selfies of extreme reactions and pick a universal topic. Pizza, of course, was the first thing that came to mind. It's not necessarily target-culture appropriate (though I did pick up my pineapple and ketchup + hot sauce + worcestershire sauce habit in Mexico), but it can evoke passionate reactions without actually burning anyone.

Here's what I came up with:

All my kiddos had to do was
  1. Watch and react.
  2. Snap exaggerated selfies of their reactions.
  3. Match their reactions with the suggested list of reactions.
  4. Create an Adobe Spark video, then copy said reactions into their own slides, upload, and read the reactions aloud.
Some actually took it a step further (probably because they didn't fully read the directions, but still) and added reframing of my original statements in their responses, which BONUS intermediate-ness!

So now they have a few auditory and contextual examples at their disposal. And I know who appreciates the finer things, like pineapple on pizza, and who is so perverse as to actually eat olives and mushrooms on purpose.

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