20 May 2017

Hot Seat Support Groups

Blogging is just the beginning. It gives students a starting point, a place to hash out what they can--and want to--say about their goals and progress. Their compañeros can check in on them too. But you may have noticed in your own learning experience: real collaboration doesn't happen in the comment section.

Sure, comments are communication, no doubt. But as a teacher--not just a language teacher--I've seen that the real connection only happens through actual conversation. These can happen via text or Twitter, true. But when they are in the same room already, just talking is an important opportunity.

So, yes, my students blog about their project progress--especially in the self-improvement unit (which I will be presenting on at #ACTFL17!)--for a certain degree of accountability and reflection. It makes them feel confident in their ability to express themselves taking that step first, practicing for themselves before anyone sees or hears their Spanish. But the true accountability and support comes from their group members asking questions and offering suggestions, understanding their path. And using language--the target language--that they all understand.


Setup

It's no secret that my classroom is not my own. I have no windows and no permission to put anything up around the room except on that one bulletin board in the back. And it's small.

College classes meet in my room once a week, and they can leave their papers and trash around my tables, mess with any stuff I don't secret away securely enough. They can complain if I don't leave the prescribed amount of table space for the professor next to the podium. But so far, I haven't heard anything about my strange class setups.

Since I started doing the small group speaking assessments, I have made my class a bunch of weird triangles with wheely chairs in the middle.


For this unit, they are arranged my self-improvement goals (mostly--it got tricky when EVERYBODY wanted a group of 3 instead of 4 in fourth period. One Spanish III group just had to cope and meet in the hall at the appointed hour.)

Now as often as not, the wheely chairs (which are in my room to be at the computers on the side of the room in theory) end up AT the tables, mysteriously switched out somehow. That or as foot rests. BUT I have found the arrangement convenient not only for when I join for stations or assessments, but also for just blog commenting itself--they read over each other's comments and ask for clarification as they go, commenting on what they read from each other! So, you know, bonus!


Procedure

The procedure has become one of the few routines that A) does not eventually dissolve into meaningless boredom and B) actually gets kids at all ability levels talking in Spanish. Maybe it's because we only did it 3 or 4 times, but kids took it and ran each time!

Here are the instructions I give them, word for word, whether in a station instruction card or posted on the screen for all to reference:
Take turns in the hot seat (the wheely chair). Each group member will ask you--IN SPANISH--one of these questions about your goals from the past week:

1) What goals have you achieved?
2) What problems have you had?
3) What do you want to change this week?
HINT: Don't ask the same question twice!
As with the blogs, this was all in English. Long about the third round, I encouraged them to branch out from these questions and come up with their own, emphasizing the intermediate skill of "maintaining the conversation"--in other words, acknowledgment and follow-up. I had meant to tie in Sra. Lenord's rejoinders at first, but I never could quite get it organized enough. I think the follow-up questions they came up with worked pretty well, though!


Results

I made everyone doing the AAPPL speaking test--even putting my money where my mouth was for those who couldn't (or couldn't bring themselves to) shell out. Now, the results trickling in have been...mixed. There were some surprise intermediate. There were *deep breath* some N1s.

But as I walk around the room during the support group conversations, there was practically zero English. There were nervous kids probing and correcting confident kids. There were kids going on and on and on about why they couldn't get their homework done or their eight hours of sleep--in Spanish! There were kids commiserating over how hard it is to exercise when the weather is cold or wet--in Spanish! There were kids confessing their lack of motivation in Spanish, kids sharing strategies they read about in Spanish and explaining things they had actually tried in Spanish.

What's more, there were no tears, not a one, when their amigos recorded them when it was their turn in the wheely chair.

They were supporting each other in Spanish

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