29 August 2017

Slow Down - Asking cultural questions ain't easy

Once upon a time I went too fast. It was long ago, too long for most to remember: let's call it last Wednesday.

It was week 2 of Spanish I, you see, and I had been watching eyes and noting attitudes, making gestures--going despacito. Everyone seemed to be with me, or at least catch up quickly when I caught that absent or betrayed look when I got ahead. I'd asked them about a bazillion question about foods they liked and didn't like as well as about their designated personas especiales for the first go-round. We'd talked about what they like to do and doodled it on Seesaw to collect vocabulary.

I talked so much about the Peru trip and the amigos who are coming in October that when I asked "¿Quién quiere ir a Perú?" I had to make an extra 20 copies of the applications I got for all of the hands that were raised.

So I thought they were ready to ask a few questions about Peru, right? They'd heard a bazillion or so examples,  and they definitely wanted to know more about Peru. I had my essential verbs and Creative Language Class question posters on the board, some key umbrella terms in their notebooks. What else do you need?

It turns out a lot. I deleted those first questions I let them collaborate on as a group. We do not speak of those questions now.

I went on to break the questioning and research process down still further in a Google Doc. I was still going too fast. My promesa ratings today indicate that even when I slowed down the Google Doc process, I was STILL going too fast.

So here's what I decided I should have done to slow down the process and prepare students.

  1. Practice stating familiar facts.I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere with cultural comparison and analysis! But if students are going to ask questions about other cultures, they have GOT to know theirs. They must practice saying what they already know with words they already know. So many wanted to dive in and ask like they would in their native language. I forget about that impulse when I'm making myself speak baby Spanish all the time.
  2. Analyze assumptions.
    We have got to hold up that cultural mirror and categorize what we know about our surroundings according to whether those familiar facts are necessarily true elsewhere. I myself had never heard of Pelican's Snowballs 6 months ago, but I had kids asking how many there were in Peru! If we had spent time sharing and comparing the familiar facts, the language would be a lot more familiar AND some things we though we knew would come to light.
  3. Prioritize new vocabulary.
    They wanted to know so many new words, and some legitimately needed--and could handle--more than others. The girls in one ropa adecuada group are all about some mangas cortas (or Magna Cartas as they like to tease), but a casas and familias group has to cope with the idea that "garden" and "yard" are the same thing. I'm thinking each group could have a vocabulary wishlist that I could just slice and dice down to the essentials and refer them to alternatives. (Of course I might need to know the context of the questions they're thinking of here.)
  4. Brainstorm key phrases.
    Supposedly this generation just types questions into Google? I don't usually find this to be the case, but if the kiddos could figure out exactly what they want to type into Google to find more information, then they would have the vocabulary they need in order to ask the questions they want to ask.


There's a reason that asking questions is considered an intermediate writing skill, but it's a skill we need to start practicing and developing as early as possible if we are aiming to produce language learners who keep learning.

Let's just make sure that we develop the skill in a way that keeps students feeling curious AND confident.

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