29 July 2017

Languages Look Good on Paper [MCGRAW-HILL]

Putting on symposiums for Spanish teachers is a fabulous direction for textbook companies to go in this day and age. And getting leaders in the field like Martina Bex to take part? You cannot go wrong. And if it means I get to take part? All the better.

So when I got to join McGraw-Hill's next teacher-empowering initiative online--with still more leaders like Derek McCoy!--how could I be anything but elated?

I took this opportunity to shine a spotlight on what I see as the difference between perception and reality when it comes to support for world languages these days. The truth is, I think those not in this specific field don't really know what support looks like or really what languages are even FOR!

Here's an excerpt:
There was a time when languages were weapons, trained on separating the scholars from the slackers. Language was supposed to be some intellectual litmus test for la crême de la crême, proof of a student’s worthiness to advance. That’s why politicians and parents, tycoons and even teachers, say they believe everyone should learn another language, but then remain wistfully monolingual themselves. 
Language was used to divide, so now divided adults pretend they believe it’s what kids need without believing it themselves, just because it looks good on paper.
Read more about how we can make believers without test scores and statistics on McGraw-Hill's Inspired Ideas blog.

26 July 2017

CI - I Still Have Questions

I got so many great tools and ideas from attending the CI workshop with Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden, so conveniently located in my home state! I know I said I was going to "stay home and process," but I figured I could handle two days within an hour's drive, right?

And still my world's a little more upside down.

Sr. Slavic and Sra. Hargaden were passionate and completely forthright, but I can't help but question a few of the underlying tenets that seem to form the foundation for this particular branch of the CI tree. These are questions I feel I need to research more, whether in my own classroom or through more academic pursuits.

But they're questions I need to ask and attempt to answer to make sense of what I do.

Are we the only ones who care?

"I get it, you're one of the 4%." 

I was expressing my first-day iFLT anxiety to Sr. Slavic: I couldn't remember ANYTHING after my first day of Russian! My drive for mastery was floundering! I could remember after the Mandarin language lab, though, and I felt SO much more confident being able to say "Gimme chocolate!" and "No I won't give it to you!"

Apparently this is not a normal thing?

I mean, I totally buy that the inner workings of grammar and linguistics will only appeal to about 4 in every 100 kids I teach, but to want to speak the language you learn? I mean, isn't that kind of what everyone wants out of a language class? Maybe only 4% of us are as impatient as I am, but I dunno. I think I'm going to have to conduct my own survey when my students come back in *EEK!* two weeks. I may even adjust accordingly and withhold speaking assessment until later in the semester as recommended by our CI Liftoff gurus if it turns out I really am as weird as Sr. Slavic thinks. If my kids are really satisfied only being able to rehash stories and descriptions we come up with together, it may well be worth it to ease that pressure still further.

Is there zero crossover between learned and acquired language?

I've long since accepted that there was a difference between "acquisition" and "learning" in language oh let's call it development. Personally, I thought both were a good thing, especially in the limited context of a non-immersion learning experience, which, hello, high school Spanish 90 minutes a day. I figured the learning could help organize what was absorbed, you know? Graphic organizer style, slotting the information for retrieval later.

No, Sr. Slavic said. That is what happens when we sleep! And we cannot force it! 

Now I am aware that sleep is needed for such input organization, but, I never connected input and, you know comprehensible input.

What's more, Sra. Hargaden says, acquired competence and learned competence "represent two distinct knowledge systems between which there exists no link or interface (Krashen, 1985)."

HOWEVER. I still cannot make myself believe in a magical Language Acquisition Device from God. I think there is an explanation possible for how language is processed, and I'd wager it's strikingly similar to the way other understanding is acquired (I guess that makes me a "cognitivist"). I've noticed nothing but similarities with language when sitting in on my son's Suzuki lessons for violin. I don't know how anyone could argue against an affective filter existing in math and reading. I'd say our brains are built to process patterns like music, math, dance, etc, but language happens to be the most ubiquitous set of patterns.

And then I come back to Making It Stick, a #langbook from years past. One of the first illustrations of real rather than perceived learning was flying a plane--all the manuals in the world aren't the same as being in a cockpit, but still you want your pilot to, you know be familiar with them, right? Language is usually a little less life-and-death, but I'd say flying is a decent analogy for output otherwise.

Still, does their manual knowledge actually transfer to what they're doing in the air? Or is it mainly--or ONLY--what they acquire contextually in simulations?

Perhaps it was kismet that this post came across my Twitter feed after I'd had a few sleeps to process the workshop. The author blew my mind all over again.
Additionally, grammar rules have a big drawback. Using them to make your own sentences, without first having a feeling for the grammar, leads to imposing your own assumptions. Those assumptions are necessarily based on your first language or on your own guessing.
That makes a lot of sense, right?

So all this time, when incorporating conscious learning activities, was I just providing that false sense of security described in Making It Stick that comes of a "lecture or...text is a paragon of clarity" that students think they already understand, and thus never take the time to process it for themselves?

Is language enough?

One time at ACTFL, I started a Twitter tiff between two of the great minds in our field.
I tweeted something Greg Duncan said in his session about motivation that I thought was very wise, very in-line with what Daniel Pink tells us about motivation and what Stephen Krashen tells us about the affective filter. Apparently though, it ran in direct opposition to what Dr. Krashen had just discovered in his case study demonstrating that language is not a motivator in itself, that it's what the language allows you to do that motivates.

Sr. Slavic said he probably agreed with Dr. Krashen, but again, I think there's an element of truth in both points.

Which I guess is why I do what I do.

I firmly believe that the thrill a kid gets from being able to say or understand something is real, and a taste of the mastery that Daniel Pink describes as one of three key motivational factors. However, I also feel that there has to be a purpose as well, and I think Krashen is right in that sense, too.

So here's my conundrum: if language itself is not (alone) what motivates, how can our only goal in our classes BE language? How can we develop instruction only around developing language skills--whether they're hearing, reading, writing, or speaking? How can we just let the class flow based on where the language leads? How can we expect silly stories and "images" to be enough for weeks on end?

I am not ready to give up my hard-won high-frequency focus, even if I do give up the conjugation charts I discover now might not have been helping. Nor am I ready to give up the immediate, authentic purpose of a public product, of PBL. What is the point of stories about happy cheese and unhappy books if all they are able to lead to is understanding of themselves, if all they lead to is more silly stories?

Maybe only 4% of us are impatient enough to demand immediate application.

I'll just have to ask.

24 July 2017

4 CI Strategies from CI Liftoff

I don't think anyone would call me a TPRS teacher, though I've certainly dabbled in comprehensible input for years, and I will gladly sip some CI Kool-Aid when offered a fresh serving, whether through organized national conferences or a workshop conveniently passing through my home state.

I recently got the opportunity to see Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic in action, and the enthusiasm was beyond contagious. What's more, I walked away with four solid strategies I know I can add to my tool belt/toy box to make class time more fun and a little more effective.

Card Talk

Sr. Slavic has long been famed for "Circling with Balls," but this is an update that is both simple and ingenious. Art was a big hook (Dave Burgess would be proud) to engage students in creation and collaboration, and in this case works a lot like when I would collect student interests with Nearpod--only even simpler. At the same time, it also taps into some of the best parts of my successful first day last year, when I did a little PQA to tie into student interests--but again, even simpler.

Basically, the kids get a card, write their name, and draw something they like. Bam. Done. Yet again, even simpler than the first-day homework collage (which I still might do, mind you). If they have trouble thinking of something, maybe try steering them toward food or pets or sports.

Then I start not with the questions but with statements in the TL, observations based on the cards. I remark on something one kid likes, find another kid who likes the same thing to point out, point out a kid who doesn't have the same kind of thing on their card and maybe ease into questions with ¿no? on the end.

SUPER comprehensible and engaging.

Hub Jobs

I could totally relate to Sr. Slavic's lack spatial alacrity. I often tell my students, as Spanish is to you, so all things spatial are to me--absolutely foreign. So having four hubs around the room so he would know where to look when working out his story (which he also worked out spatially by physically walking a path that represented separate steps of the story) made perfect sense.

So on one side of your room, you have the artists--#1 and #2 so one can sketch and the other can fill in--and writers who can write down the story--in English or TL if they need a challenge.

On the other side you have your actors and Teacher 2--the one who gets to make the final decision when the class can't seem to decide.

In the middle of the crowd, you have your reader leader to get choral reading/translating started, your videographer (and assistant) for countdowns and recording to review, and finally your storydriver who keeps track of the timing of the spatial story path to be sure you're moving on!

There's another hub involving longer term responsibilities, like the archivist, publisher, and documentary director who are responsible for taking all of the videos, stories, images, etc. and putting them into a final product for review as the embodiment of what the class was about. (Perfect PBLL project??? Just maybe.)

I have to tell you, I started going through the list of all the sophomores I'll have this year to start picking out roles (yeah, I know, I'm a cheater who already knows all the kids before the first day).

One-Word Image

I confess, this is why I showed up. I saw Grant Boulanger do this at iFLT and Haiyun Lu at ACTFL. I still felt there was more to grasp about how to set it up and make it work. I already knew:

  1. The "one word" is the name of an object you start with--any object (that's interesting)
  2. You build on the one word by asking questions to let the class choose the description
I just...I just didn't know where to start, how, or why. Now I know you pick an image you know will connect with the group--possibly based on the cards, possibly based on suggestions. And you start with basic dichotomy descriptions every time: big/small, happy/sad, this color/that (Maris' post helped me nail this down a little better after the fact). THEN you can create a conflict to lead into a story about the image!


So they start out as student drawing, so I don't know how they're actually "invisible." I guess it's because they become part of the class, even though we don't see them there with is? Anyway, this is more of the art hook, and let me tell you, it worked on me. I roped my daughter into coloring my character for me, too, to make it extra special (she gave my pizza green olive eyes). The kids create an object character (again, Maris' post helped me understand why it couldn't be Beyonce) and begin listing its characteristics, including

  • name
  • job
  • age
  • family
Plus some sort of conflict, like its "big secret" or likes and dislikes.

And then of course you can work these into stories too! I can see how this could fit into the invention unit EASY.

So those are my biggest takeaways from the experience. Of course I also have detailed tweets--collected for you here.

There are also some questions still gnawing at me after this latest sip of Kool-Aid, but those, those are for my next post.

21 July 2017

That's My Jam! Starting Spanish 1 in Style

David Bisbal, I still love you, but it was time to retire "Te mueves tú" last year. 

Last year, Nicky Jam took my pop latino novio's place (I am eternally grateful to Sra. Whisenhunt for the suggestion!) It was the perfect attention-getter all semester and beyond--they physically COULD NOT resist the call and response that we set up on their very first day of class! One of the students who was LEAST excited about Spanish--and school in general--rushed in before school one day to show me Nicky Jam in the 2016 YouTube Rewind video. What's more, I got tagged on Instagram months after class ended when the song came on at a student birthday party, and the girls going to Peru with me for the Sister Cities exchange this year still insist Nicky Jam is their favorite.

The high frequency vocabulary in Nicky's jam was especially handy last year:
  • ¿Cómo tú te llamas?
  • Yo no sé
  • Quiero

Even "ni pregunté" helped lay the foundation for perhaps the most high-frequency word in my classes (even my principal knows pregunta now).

I think starting with a chorus call and response chorus format was part of the secret to the song's success, so I want to do that again this year, too, but with a new song.
At first I read or played the white, then they read the yellow.
I like how each year has its own Spanish anthem, and I believe that keeping the music selection fresh is one of THE most important factors to effectively exploiting teenage musical obsessions. In fact, my selection criteria list is not unlike Sra. Stilson's:
  1. It must be CATCHY.
    It must be simple and appealing enough to never ever leave their head.
  2. It must be COOL.If it gets stuck in their head, but that doesn't make them go home and download it and listen to repeat, just dread class, then what's the point? Of course cool means different things all the time, so I've got to keep my ear to the ground.
  3. It must be COPIABLE
    We do it in English too--if we can't remember the words, we just kind of mutter them then say the last word we hear. So it needs to be words that are recognizable and paced in such a way that my baby parrots have some hope of, well, parroting them.
Ordinarily I'm partial to anything that includes essential verbs and insist on the highest of vocabulary frequency, but to set the tone for the class, I really just need the kids grooving.

So who else?

Alvaro Soler to the rescue.

The girls LOVE this guy, and EVERYONE digs his music. I confess "Animal" was not my favorite track, but I'm a sucker for the girl power in this video. And I cannot deny the cool, catchy, copiability of the chorus:
Llega el momento
Donde eres el viento
Hoy lucharé como un animal
como un animal, animal
Escucha el aliento
Solo silencio
Hoy lucharé como un animal
como un animal animal
There are certainly some useful words in there, if not the highest of frequency, words like donde, eres, hoy, escucha. Also repeating a cognate six times can't hurt the old baby parrot confidence Day 1 either, you know?

But what might be even cooler is how I can scaffold the call and response here.

Step 1: All they have to say is "O-O"
It sounds funny out of context, is super easy to imitate, and gets them to focus on listening for the end of what I say first without freaking them out about actually TALKING Spanish.

Step 2: Put it in order
We got hit hard on listening last year--the final exams matched the AAPPL results almost exactly. So I want them to just get comfortable hearing what they hear, matching sounds with letters.

Step 3: Matching to establish meaning
It'll be the first day--I'm okay with a little straight translation to make them feel safe the first day. So I'll have them match Spanish lines to English lines to figure out what's what and start building a word wall. I might mix some Instagram challenge type activities in to check for comprehension too.

Step 4: Two lines at a time
We'll probably practice with some more "O-O"s first, but then it'll be their turn to actually SAY some Spanish. I want to split this part up over 3 days, though, so they ease in nice and slow and have two new lines for sure each day.

And then everyone can sing!

It's too bad this year's song of the summer--and its video--would almost certainly get me fired, but I think "Animal" will make an excellent jam to continue the legacy begun with David Bisbal years ago.

17 July 2017

Why I Won't Teach Novels in Spanish

Let me be clear: I am a Spanglish teacher. I went into this game an English teacher, and novels have been the basis for my approach to instruction for a goodly portion of my career. It took me a while to come around to the idea of using novels in my Spanish classroom for two main reasons:

  1. I had an "authenticity" hangup.
  2. I have a PBL hangup.
I like to think the PBL thing is more than a hangup, though. Really it's more of a paradigm shift--one that both complements and challenges my proficiency/communication shift. But the upshot is that I understand the goals and means of schooling and learning differently now. My ultimate goal is no longer to have a little fun poking around in the perspectives and opinions of the adolescent minds that get stuck with me (now for three years thanks to my Spanglish skills MWAHAHAHA!) I really did get into the game to entertain and inform myself, so I could keep learning a la Mr. Bancroft in my 11th grade American Lit class. At some point, though, I grew up.

Oh, I still have fun with kids' perspectives and opinions. I make an effort to actively respect them rather than just collect them now, too. But my ultimate goal now is more about outcomes based, more about what specifically they leave with. I want them to have something to show, something concrete they can display and explain as an embodiment of their learning.

I wholeheartedly believe this is possible--and beneficial--to do with novels, both in English and Spanish classes. I've seen it done (at least from afar) from the likes of second language superhero Carrie Toth.

The reason I won't be following in their footsteps? Two main reasons:
  1. I can't, and 
  2. I'm not ready.
This might be the part where I get to say, "Gotcha!" I do like a sensational title now and then. Notice I didn't say "Why I won't be teaching novels in Spanish EVER"--and if I were really honest, I would have added "this fall." I fully intend to figure this thing out, maybe even in time for Spanish 2 in the spring (those are the kids who were all into Agentes Secretos after all, and my whole festival-centered Spanish 2 curriculum did kind of fall through completely last year). 

But this year, I am taking time to re-invent the wheel.

Look, I know that's the first thing they tell you not to do in teacher training, but I have to. I was talking with my amiga who's taking over the online gig from me this year, and she was careful to express how much she liked my ideas, and that she was definitely going to use some. And I knew exactly where she was coming from.

I LOVE the way #langchat amigos CONSTANTLY inspire me. Arianne Dowd is a freaking genius (though I am 100% confident she would try to say otherwise), and I plan to revisit her blog regularly as I plot Spanish 2. But I cannot be Arianne any more than I could be Sara-Elizabeth six years ago.

I have to understand what I'm going to do from the bottom up, and I can't do that by cribbing someone else's strategies. I can weave them in where they make sense to me (as I do with basically everything I see Rose Rhodes do), but more than ever I have to be intentional about how and WHY  I put them together.

Last year was rough for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones was that I never fully wrapped my mind around where I was headed, much less where my kids were headed. And if that is my ultimate goal, OF COURSE everything is going to be off!

So the real reason I won't be teaching novels in Spanish this fall? I am taking my sweet time to process what I want kids to leave with, what I want them to present and to whom, and how I can make sure it is something that matters.

How that fits with novels is a question that will have to wait for another semester.

16 July 2017

#iFLT17 Tweets - Empowerment from Afar

Going to iFLT last year was one of the most revolutionary professional experiences I have had--right up there with three years of grad school!

However, after a year of lots and lots of traveling, I decided I needed the summer to stay put and process...after one more trip across the equator, of course.

So that's what I've been doing. A little blogging, working on a PBL book...and stalking iFLT from afar, on Twitter and Facebook actually!

What? I'm staying put, AND I'm processing!

I felt all a-tizzy after last year's iFLT, but processing from afar, I feel kind of...empowered. I feel empowered to try passwords and maybe embedded reading. I feel empowered to focus on CI methods that fit with my style, whether I'm better with PQA or storytelling, whether I'm more Grant or Annabelle. I feel more empowered to learn new languages myself!
This badge goes out to
@mjtprs, and @profewernau!

And I feel empowered to empower kids!

Also, I really, really want to see Jason Fritze in action next year in Cincinatti.

So a special thanks to all of the presenters and tweeps at #iFLT17, especially the MVP tweeters that helped me the most! Here are all of the great ideas I got from them.

12 July 2017

I Was Wrong about #Authres

Promise not to laugh? This is how I understood using authentic texts seven years ago. I do not know where the magic number 200 came from anymore, and WOW was I out of touch with even the CONCEPT of novice language learners. (Dra. Moser now claims she doesn't remember me struggling in grad school: Exhibit A, Dr. M. Exhibit A.)

It must have been somewhere after that post that I got it into my head that #authres (you know, hip Twitter speak for "authentic resources"--not just texts) was the only way. I know there were some intense bonus #langchats some weekends when I got to hash the concept out with some of the most brilliant people I know (how did I have the TIME??).

Ultimately I think much of the problem then came down to the understanding of the literal meaning of the word "authentic"--and all of the positive connotations associated with it--versus the jargon term that limits its application to resources "by native speakers for native speakers." Sr. Wooly spoke very persuasively on the topic in a candid, non-musical video once, and I agree that it's wrong to effectively tell our kids their language production will never ever be "authentic."

Basically, I think we need a less loaded word to describe written/spoken/sung texts that were created expressly for communication within the target culture rather than for instructional purposes. I still hold that there is a fundamental difference between the function of everyday "realia" and input designed for acquisition. I think there's an inherent difference in the cultural weight of "insiders" and "outsiders." I think there are deep connections at the heart of that distinction related to cultural appropriation and amplification.

Since we don't have a more genteel and global-minded word yet, I'll still use the term "authentic resources."

But I have changed my mind about them.

Somewhere between my grizzly grad school days and my tempestuous Twitter tirades, I had somehow equated #authres with target language usage. Over and over, I'd hear, "We have so little time with them, shouldn't we spend that time in the target language?" And somehow in my mind that became, "We have so little time with them; shouldn't we spend that time on authentic texts?" I don't know if anyone ever actually said that or even implied that to me, but I got it into my head that we had to have all authentic, all the time.

It was bad. There were actual tears during listening assessments one year. The telenovela trailers were too much.

In my quest to keep things "authentic," I forced my students to struggle with resources--especially videos--that were not appropriate for their level. And you know what happened? Nothing. Well, frustration and nothing--no learning, or at least very minimal learning.

I gradually came to accept that the picture books I had amassed were not automatically superior to TPRS novels because they were written by native speakers, about native speakers, for native speakers. My kids did not give one HOOT about Federico Garcia Lorca or a story they couldn't understand about a little girl looking at volcanos and then...swinging? Oh sure, maybe it would have been "good for them," like, I dunno, ipecac. But they did  nothing to make them feel confident OR connected like they were supposed to.

Agentes Secretos, on the other hand, was a hit--even if I only got them through 4 chapters. They felt capable and excited by their own abilities to understand. They maybe learned a little something about Francisco Franco too!

It was a positive experience, an experience that made them feel like the language COULD be theirs. Just like "Guapo" did for the next class, when kids were whipping out vocabulary we'd sung along with just for fun in order to ace their final interpersonal assessment.

Have I abandoned #authres? Me?? No way. Never. David Bisbal just put out another album, after all, and his buddy Luis Fonsi just shocked the pop charts in ways that might just make my class a little more receptive, even if I can't actually play the Justin Bieber collab in class. And what's more, you'll have to pry the infographs and fun videos from my cold, dead hands while we're on the topic.

I don't quite know how novels or stories are going to fit in my curriculum this year, but I do know that #authres ain't enough if I really want my students to embrace and enjoy a new language. I've learned a lot from iFLT and passionate PLNs online.

I was wrong about #authres all the time, and I hope a better balance in the future will help my students feel more authentically connected with other languages and cultures.

10 July 2017

"That's not a project"

I don't know how I lucked out rooming with such an awesome dual immersion Pre-K teacher on my recent trip to Peru! It was so exciting to learn from her and absorb her strategies! Even though she teaches littles who are adjusting to their new context first and foremost, there were still plenty of parallels between our kids because of where they are in their language learning journeys.

I only snapped about 100 pictures. And that was just because my phone froze up. Should have been 200.

I also got to meet the illustrious principal who encouraged my amiga's and her colleagues' awesomeness. Just the weekend before, the principal sent my friend to a local international PBL consortium the weekend prior (had I but known!!)

So when meeting with the principal I'd heard so much about (even  the teacher amiga's father was gushing about her!), we got onto the topic of how Project-Based Learning could be used for language learning, and how it differs by age. I ventured that it was doable with novice language learners--who are already familiar with school norms and expectations--from the beginning. It just depends on how you phrase the question.

I cited the school supply drive project, and the question "¿Qué materiales necesitan para aprender?" Simple enough wording to understand and respond to, right?

"But that's not a project!" she said.

I faltered a bit.

Wasn't it? I sputtered around, stumbling over half-baked explanations and excuses, slowly, slowly recalling why I only gave that "project" an 8 on my project success scale--despite the real-world service orientation and impressiveness of the whole endeavor: there was no real product or presentation at the end.

It was not a project.

You see, there are two things a project has to have to be more than a problem for inquiry, an interesting intellectual exercise: a product and an audience. The students have to have something to explain, to display at the end! To people beyond the classroom! The Buck Institute for Education calls it the Public Product.

Start with a real audience

"Gold Standard PBL: Public Product" BIE.org
I often advise in my workshops to start with the audience, because that's the easiest element to slack on--I should know. Honestly it's the hardest to pull off, but also the most essential.

Sure, I kind of fudged a little video "dessert"-type PSA project after the school supplies were shipped off, but who ever saw it? We could have enlisted local churches or civic organizations or even sent them to other Spanish classes! But I just kind of moved on, never really bothering to see if they actually answered the original question: "How can we help rural schools in Latin America?" I got in a hurry and checked it off on my AAPPL scales and washed my hands to move on to the next thing.

PBL projects are too big to just move on from, especially if you have someone outside the school walls who needs to see how they turned out!

Answer an important question

The telenovelas unit was also a huge hit, but cuts of William Levy and Maite Perroni with plot summaries don't really answer a Driving Question, much less THE Driving Question as to why they should watch telenovelas to begin with. I let the kiddos off the hook with some funny trailers that we watched together on exam day. Was it fun? Heck yeah. Were they engaging with the language? More than I'd dared imagine (mostly to express their contempt for Juan Miguel's wife).

At the same time, though, they were still only presenting to their teacher and classmates, and they were not engaging with language as anything more than an ornament. Speaking in sentences, asking and answering questions: all cool tricks they could do now. But WHY? There were maybe some positive feelings to make them remember Spanish fondly down the road. But PURPOSE? To continue engaging with the language after class ended? Still only for a select few.

We could have conducted surveys--even among classmates, or Spanish-speaking parents, if we didn't dare venture out into the broader community or--gasp--The Internet. It's worth carving out the time to do those things, working up the nerve to take those leaps!

What you can do

Now at a bilingual school, audiences are probably a little easier to come by, since your goal is to use BOTH languages. However, when your express role IS to develop the target language, the question becomes: Who can we talk to in the L2? Or more importantly: Who understands the L2 AND cares about this topic?

Consider the following audiences:

  • ELL classes (elementary if possible)
  • Students' parents
  • Community leaders
  • Online groups
  • Bilingual friends
  • Other target language classes
Then consider what both they and your kids might be able to help each other out with. What would these audiences want to see? What would they pay attention to?
  • Picture books?
  • Comics?
  • "Viral" videos PSA's?
  • Infographics?
  • Strategically placed posters?
  • Public seminars?
  • Support group meetings?
  • Business proposals?
  • Web sites?

We live a golden age for connection and languages!  If you focus on one project that is really worth it, one that is worth creating a public product for, then you will be able to look that awesome principal in the eye and say, "THIS is a project!"

08 July 2017

Hybrid High School English

Mine is the last high school course our students will ever take. They're done with all other high school classes after the 12th grade and basically get to enjoy a full load of free college courses 13th year--plus my senior English class.

I had a more experienced senior teaching English amiga to help me out last year, but this year they are mine all mine. As of last year, I had taught 9th, 10th, and 11th grade English, but never 12th. I hadn't even read Beowulf or Canterbury Tales! It was a lot of feeling around, getting my bearings, figuring out what I could expect and what I wanted.

What I want is to get them ready for college. Really ready.

The early college mission is to immerse students in a college-going culture--especially if they don't experience that kind of culture at home. I see this course as my chance to really enforce effective strategies for  managing college expectations, like communicating with instructors and navigating a hybrid online/in-person structure. Because let's face it: hybrid courses are the best-case scenario for the increasingly internet-dependent colleges, and these kids have had issues navigating hybrid courses thus far.

And this course is nothing if not hybrid. Not only are the students hybrid high school/college kids, but since the course is a high school class meeting on a college schedule, its hybrid structure is not just about online versus in-person. I don't think I'll be meeting with them in college classrooms across campus like last year, but I will still have to limp along with Blackboard and leave my own classroom.

So to accommodate the unique setup of this unique course, I've borrowed from some strategies I figured out teaching online last year and started organizing my expectations for my little hybrid high school students.

It comes down to crystal clear expectations from Day One.

Last year I thought, "Hey, they're super seniors! They don't need all this first day stuff! They've done this a million times, and they can read a syllabus!" True, false, and false.

So I've already started getting ready to lay it on the line, starting with some math:

  1. We will be IN class for less than HALF the time a "normal" senior English class would be: there WILL be homework daily. You will have a little flexibility as to when you get things done, as some assignments will be posted a week or more ahead of time, but the basic order of things will remain the same:

    I have to have 2 schedules--double the kiddos, you know.

  2. You have to meet with me outside of class. I will have office hours during my planning period, and you will come by at least once a month--twice if you want me to even look at late work. Also, I went to the trouble to set up an appointment calendar for the year, so, you know, use it. I cannot hunt you all down.

  3. You will create something cool. Numbers can never tell the whole story, so you need to start thinking of what you want to learn more about, and then what you can contribute and present for a senior project. (PS that's what the mandatory meeting for is each month).

I think with routines established, we will be in good shape to dive right in--and not with the Jonathan Swift satire stuff that about jarred them out of believing I spoke English, much less taught it. This year, I've got some straightforward articles leading into some straightforward historical fiction, leading into, well, some Shakespeare scenes--but just excerpts! And I've got it all set up to tie in with the NC Final Exam at the end too, with a little prep work I did while rereading some Philippa Gregory this summer.

It really will be a great big mixture, but with this setup, I think all of us will be less mixed up.

06 July 2017

5 Reasons You Should Come to My Class This Year

While I would be DELIGHTED to come talk with you and your colleagues about whatever your little hearts desire related to life, language, and all things teaching, what I REALLY would love is for you to come see me and my kids in action this school year. Here's why.

1. Reading only gets you so far

I mean, sure, you could set up your own PBL in the TL at-home correspondence course, poring through blogs and links. And to tell you the truth, webinars are great for getting some questions answered. Still, I for one have to SEE it to work. That's why watching Grant Boulanger in action at iFLT forever changed my life. All the theory in the world did not show me how TCI strategies actually WORKED, but an hour watching him work? Bam, I knew what I had to do. Mind you, it still took a lot of processing on my part to transfer it to my own classroom, but it about halved the trial-and-error time.

I know one o the biggest questions for PBLL is what it looks like day to day, but as eloquent as I may be, it ain't ever gonna really click until you see it. You can see how class starts, how students collaborate and research,

2. Four words: 9 o'clock start time

You see, we at the early college strive to align with the latest research in adolescent neuroscience, acknowledging the success of later start times. Well, that and college course availability pretty much dictates our structure Monday-Thursday (Friday is enrichment day--no classes!) Also, I teach English first every day, so if you're coming for the TL, my Spanish day doesn't even start until noon! What's more is my planning is second period, so we can sit down and chat before classes start AND after school ends! Which brings me to...

3. Mutual brain picking

OK, I admit it. I really want you to come see me so I can sap your brain power. I want you to ask me questions, but more importantly, I want a chance to ask you questions! I mean, we probably won't solve the world's problems with one visit (probably at least, like, three), but when amigas have come in the past, I know we both walked away understanding our practice and our purpose a little better. Also the secret plots we can get cooking--we always come away with ideas to connect our classes for more meaningful communication!

But it also helps to pause and reflect on what you've seen, fill in the gaps, push the boundaries, you know?

4. SCOLT will pay for you to come

Yeah, usually they pay to send their ToY's to talk at you, but working my Sra. Spanglish charm, I got the Powers That Be to say "why not?" to inviting people to come to me! (PS offer only valid in NC, but if you're in Missisippi, South Carolina, Virginia, or Florida, you could also potentially visit these lovely ladies!) Just be sure you fill out this form, take a peek at our 2017-18 calendar, and drop me a line with when you think we can hang!

5. I'm always looking for guest posters

I mean, I'm not looking for a "Sra. Spanglish Is a Liar" post, but honestly I'd consider publishing one--whatever you come away from the experience thinking, especially about your own practice. My son's classmates don't believe I'm famous, so that may or may not factor in for you (you know, the exposure). But really, I think I offer the opportunity as part of the "Come See Me!" package because 1) it is a forum for you to reflect on what you saw that 2) doesn't require you to create an entire blog site from scratch while 3) providing a gateway so maybe you will create an entire blog site from scratch that will continue to enrich my ideas too!

03 July 2017

Flags by Wikipedia

Cultural analysis was officially part of my portfolio scores last semester, primarily for mathematical purposes (it gave me a fifth category for quicker calculation), but it also challenged me to select texts where students can identify specific cultural products, practices, and perspectives.

Our plan was to bring home some more language festival trophies (before the great date-change debacle), but everyone's lines and lyrics were pretty much memorized a few weeks in, so we only needed maybe 15 minutes a day to run through the dance and scenes. You know what that means: time for props and costumes!

My mixed in Spanish 3 kiddos are the designated "directores" for the song and skit, so they get to call the shots, and they said they want each cantante to wear a different flag to represent everyone bajo el mismo sol.

SO, to familiarize everyone with the flags they would wear--AND to get a little interpretive reading in--I collected the description for 20 flags (sorry, Guinea Ecuatorial--you need to work on your Wiki-fu) from es.wikipedia.org. That way, we're really exploring two cultural products, the flag AND the article excerpt!

See, as an English teacher, I'm pretty wary of Wikipedia, but as a Spanish teacher, I can think of no better source for real Real-World interpretation. For one, Wikipedia has a recognizable structure and context students can use as a foundation for their interpretations.Also, if I can get them used to satisfying their curiosity in Spanish, well that's almost as good as getting every girl in the 11th grade obsessed with either Alvaro Soler or Justin Trudeau!   Plus it was a pretty popular option for personal practice blogs last semester anyway).


1. Vocabulary - We pick out important vocabulary from one Wikipedia article. You can use one from the set of 20 or los Estados Unidos, just to really tap into that prior knowledge. It helps to see words like cantón and franja and escudo in context--not that they'll ever use those particular terms outside of this activity, but it's the skill of using that context to fill in less common vocabulary. Estrella can be pretty useful beyond class, though.

It's also a good idea to refresh on the five colors they'll need when distributing markers/crayons/pencils.

2. Drawing - Each kiddo randomly draws a description from my stack and attempts to break down the colors, shapes and placement. Most were able to handle this in about 15 minutes, though there were a few do-overs.

3.  Matching - Did I mention I took the countries' names out of the descriptions? That way when we finished, I could post the "key" to Classroom see how close they were (if I just project it, either the speedsters will have to wait, or the snails will get sneaky).

Then they can compare and figure out where they went wrong OR simply fill in the country name and/or adjectives in their description and attach it!

4. Quizlet - I just happened to stumble across a Quizlet set of flag descriptions sans pictures before I decided to go with Wikipedia, and then just added the remaining descriptions for a complete bandera set. Note: these descriptions use the more common rayas instead of franjas and geometrical cognates, which I think is a good thing.

What with our festival trip getting canceled, we didn't get around to the Quizlet-style review, but we could have maximized onnections and passed around completed flags to help figure out which definition matches which description, and then discussed who got which flag.

In the end, though, it was still pretty fun just randomly passing out completed felt flags, with students requesting specific countries. I think we looked pretty good for our school show even without coordinated festival costumes!