30 September 2017

Foolproof Portfolios - Who am I fooling?

So you make a template--with instructions repeated on the template--and they still get confused. 

I mean, I thought portfolios could have been smooth sailing if I could have just shared a template on on Adobe Spark or Blogger or VoiceThread. I thought Google Slides might FINALLY be able to offer that perfect mix of customization and control for e-portfolios that I had been seeking since Glogster!

Benefits to a Google Slides portfolio:
  • Easy template sharing: assign  on Google Classroom and "Make a copy for each student."
  • Easy navigation: go back and forth to the parts you want to see or compare by clicking thumbnails on the left.
  • Easy media embedding: add images or even videos straight from Google Drive--which ALSO means I can play the videos on 2X speed again!
  • Easy display: with the new Google Sites, it was SUPER easy to walk kiddos through how to put their reading, writing, listening, and speaking slideshows together into one easy to make, easy to use site--IN the target language, I might add!

But Google Slides can't fix student error:
  1. Not sharing the videos they're trying to show me.
Now, I say student error, but when it's things that simple, I have got to be honest. Those are errors that can be solved with just a little bit of extra teacher input. After all, I'm the professional; I'm the one who's been doing this since Glogster was free. So I have to ask myself...

1. Did I give them enough time? 

I'm done trying to convince myself that they have "Plenty of Time at Home" just because I assigned it on Monday and gave them until Thursday. Man, I know "This isn't our only class!" is a whiny cop-out, but frankly, it's A) true and B) a signal that we should ALL be able to go home and breathe a couple of hours without looking at work (I'm looking at you, 2009 Laura Sexton).

And I know they should email when they have questions--some are getting pretty good about that. But they're 10th graders, and I need to remove as many obstacles to getting the help they need as I can by providing a little time on different days TO ask those questions is surely something I can provide if I really believe the portfolios are gonna do them some good (PS a 90% TL chill pill doesn't hurt here either.)

2. Did I make the instructions simple enough?

I was super pleased with how I pared down my expectations to a simple single-point rubric (even if it was more "soft skill" based than proficiency based):

Now these expectations do not have a 1-to-1 correlation with the templates or the instructions: I have an additional title slide that doesn't have a "criterion," and I called the slide to demonstrate growth "Revision" (because that's what they are supposed to put on that slide!). Some kiddos were expecting to see a slide for "Professionalism." I don't know, maybe I could switch a slide title or too, but I don't think this is where the real breakdown came in.

I think in my attempt to make the instructions uniform among the four communication skills, I added unnecessary complications. Providing the same link on all 4 templates to ALL of the ACTFL performance descriptors--that was just asking to get them to describe their interpretation in terms of presentational skills, especially when there are separate interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational PDFs online. Also, it might be a little tricky bouncing between general Novice and Intermediate descriptors and more precise AAPPL descriptors between self-evaluation and revision, so maybe I should wrap that into the reflection slide afterward.

3. Did I break down the process enough?

After 3 rounds of portfolios with kids who just LEFT THE INSTRUCTIONS ON THE TEMPLATE-- without following them--I decided to walk the kiddos through each slide one by one by one. (Three rounds, I know. Who's the slow learner in this scenario?) I thought having them start the thing together--literally typing a title and inserting their first sample--and then just having the instructions right there for them was gracious plenty guidance. But who am I kidding? I am the reason the staff meeting can't just be an email. I skim, skip stuff, and generally forget. My colleagues laughed out loud when the new guy suggested I learn coding, just envisioning how scattered a code I produced would be.

The moral: How can I possibly expect something of sophomores that is still hard for me at 36?

It's the main reason that online classes--teaching or learning--are such an ordeal. I can write instructions until I'm blue in the face, but without the opportunity to attempt and get immediate feedback, learning is a crapshoot. Adding videos that said the same thing helped. But anything--ANYTHING--that is new needs time for them to attempt, ask questions, AND respond to feedback (and, you know GET feedback) before they are evaluated. Otherwise it's a soul-wearying gotcha game for everyone.

What's more, if I had had an intermediary step where students turned in every video they planned to use in a portfolio, I would not have had to request access to files the morning grades were due (I know, I know--it really isn't just the kids.)

So. Are Google Slides the answer to all my e-portfolio needs?

I think so. As long as I'm not fooling myself about what I need to do to make portfolios effective.

21 September 2017

Mandatory Office Hours and The Gleam

My planning periods have only lasted about 30 minutes for the past two weeks. Even though grades are due next week, I wouldn't wish that time back for anything.

What I'm doing with that time is too important to lose.

I have over 40 "super seniors" in my English classes this year (they have requested that we call them "Elders"). Mine is the last (hybrid) high school class they will ever have, as they dip their toes into their first full college schedule. So by golly, they're going to accomplish something before they leave my class! And that's where the senior project comes in.

Now this is a group who got to experience Genius Hour in Spanish I and II, so I've seen a little bit of their passions before. Honestly, I hadn't been seeing much of those passions this year. I made a point to start off with a contemporary novel to ease them in, instead of throwing them in with Jonathan Swift immediately like last year. One underclassman still reported that his Elder cousin says everyone hates the class. I've got to prepare them for the test, but I still need that spark.

I need The Gleam.

I set up a Google Calendar with appointment slots, leaving myself that precious 30 minutes each day but also plenty of room for all 40-some to sit down with me and talk about what they love--even if they miss their first appointment! They got a teeny test grade just for making the appointment this grading period, and in that appointment, I literally do half the work for them on their next test grade.

They have to turn in three possible topics as well as MLA citations to support each topic by the end of the month. When they come to their appointment, I type straight into their Google Doc, so all they have to do is find some citations when we're done.

I don't always need half an hour for each appointment, but I'm glad I have it. Because, you see, I can't stop until I get The Gleam. If their ideas--or mine--don't make something change in their eyes, if they're just saying "I guess" or "Okay," then we are NOT done. They may or may not come in with ideas, but my job is to keep asking and pushing and rewording until I can type something in that makes them glow. I don't care if it's makeup or musical theater, the anatomy of a heart attack or teaching themselves ASL. I have to see something that lights them up.

These kids--adults, technically--might not know where they want to go to school or what they want to do for a living, but all of them have something within them that gets that Gleam. And isn't that what all of us teachers want to find?

I do not want to suggest that we all need to stay up past already absurd bedtimes to get grades done, but if there is somewhere in your schedule where you can really see your kids--maybe not even "office hours," maybe right there in class--then it is well worth moving some things around.

Because we all have The Gleam. And even when grading or complaints or life in general start making your world seem darker, setting aside time so to see The Gleam will make enough light to see the path ahead.

16 September 2017

Visitor Videos - Cultural comparison PBL

They will be here in two weeks. They do speak English, but it is not their first language. They may have traveled to the U.S. before, they may not. One thing is for sure.

They have never seen anything quite like Gaston County.

It's as true for our community as it is for anyone's: there are some things about it that would be familiar even to international travelers, but there are other things that you just won't get if you "ain't from 'round here."

Our Sister Cities amigos from Peru (and Germany) will be here soon, and we've made arrangements to take a field trip with them, to show them our area and to just be together. We're all hiking up Crowder's "Mountain," which, FYI is about the same level at its peak as the lowest point of Cusco. There were a few things that our kiddos mentioned might have made them feel better prepared for Peru had they been warned, so we (okay, I) thought we'd get our amigos ready before they leave.

I had brainstormed a list of possible topics with some teacher amigas, and everybody raised their hand for the topic they were interested in:

  • Social media & technology  
  • Style and trends (clothes, music, etc) 
  • Money/prices 
  • Appropriate clothes/weather
  • Emergencies
  • Bathrooms 
  • Transportation
  • Families/homes
  • School
Then I grouped them in 2s and 3s accordingly.

They've listened to my stories, done a teeny bit of research, and sent some Flipgrid video questions via our kiddos (which will hopefully get answered in the next week or so), and now it's time to start planning our visitors' videos.

They've started working on their scripts, making sure that
  1. Each group member will speak for at least 30 seconds of the video.
  2. All group members speak in complete sentences in understandable Spanish.
  3. Each group member writes their own lines AND adheres to translator policy.
We brainstormed some "datos importantes" about Gaston County first, then played "Similar o diferente" (I picked one response at a time from their Google Classroom question, asked "¿Es similar a Perú o diferente de Perú?", counted to 3, then let them respond). They very wisely said yo no sé to some and I think started to really realize some of what we take for granted in our Gastonian culture! (WHAT? No Cheerwine in Peru???)

Once I've had a chance to look over their group scripts and discuss them with them, they can begin filming and/or editing. I will have them submit their notes in a note on Seesaw with a recording of them rehearsing so I can give them some pronunciation pointers, too--just so they're understandable.

They'll submit their videos next week and have them posted to our amigos in Peru, perhaps via YouTube, and the videos themselves will be scored according to this single-point rubric (but only for a daily work or quiz grade):

I think our amigos will get a kick out of the videos and maybe even feel a little more at ease when we're climbing that "mountain" in a few weeks. But however they feel, I know our kids will be a little more open-minded when they get here.

14 September 2017

Target Language Reset Button

YOU are a MASTER teacher. You are a better teacher than I am, better than I ever will be--better than ANYONE--at least once a month.

Picture that day.

Or that lesson.

Hey, maybe you even had a streak going at one point. I think my record is two. It was halfway through my 13th year in the classroom.

My students engaged in 100% target language discussion in their project groups for 30 minutes straight. Some groups came up with clever choreography for the song they'll perform at the language festival in April, and some came up with the plot for a funny skit about quinceañeras.  They shared ideas in Spanish, questioned each other in Spanish, disagreed in Spanish, and even teased each other in Spanish. And THEN?? They did it AGAIN the NEXT DAY!

It. Was. Beautiful.

I worked out a system where I could reward them for sticking to the target language that I think was supremely fair: you actually participate in the group discussion AND keep it 90% in the target language? You get a free pass on the daily project progress blog for a day. The best part is, they had to use MORE Spanish to get a chance to use LESS! Win-win.

It didn't take too long to whip up a some in Canva, copy them, and change the date. Then I e-mail the winners their own little graphic to substitute for the blog post itself! I could see turning this in instead of a document or video on Classroom too.


Problem #1 Losing the groove 

We have special 3-hour sessions on Fridays where the whole junior class come together, either for a field trip, a service project, or a class project, ie winning the language festival. They got to use L1 to coordinate plans during that time last Friday while I was about 3 states away. It might have made them lazy.

Weekends might do that too.

So switch things up for a while, do something different where they get to take in some input instead of producing output, and then reset.

Problem #2 Boredom

The great Carol Gaab says in her sessions on higher order thinking "Who wants to ask a story every day?" In that vein, who wants to talk the same way about the same thing day in and day out? You can't just expect them to run themselves once you get them to do this once. They could learn any number of things on their own, but you are the one with the know-how to set them up with a favorable structure to make that learning more likely, nay, practically inevitable! So, again, vary the input and the output so this isn't ALL they do. (PS, note to self, this means you have to schedule enough time into projects to allow ROOM for this!)

08 September 2017

Pizza, sushi, ceviche and CI - Weird combinations that work

I guess I shouldn't be shocked that pizza and ranch is a thing. But when one of my students drew it next to her name for her first card talk, it got my wheels turning.

We OBVIOUSLY had to start with the verb gustar if we were going to talk about pizza and ranch. I knew we would need some comprehensible input to reinforce its usage, so I pored through my semester selection of videos on SenorWooly.com and JACKPOT! "Qué asco", I immediately flashed back to the maki hangovers my Peru students got after stuffing themselves with sushi when out with their Sister Cities amigos this summer. Sr. Wooly may have liked sushi viejo in his licuado, but the kids who were STILL obsessing over their international trip and their international friends had had sushi de helado!

So on to other scandalous Peruvian foods and ingredients. I raided my Instagram (OK, and a little Google search) for pictures of some questionable classics:
  • ceviche
  • lomo saltado
  • aji de gallina
  • causa

And thus quieres and various basic ingredients were introduced to their repertoire! Oh the facial expressions we were able to evoke discussing which ingredients and what they liked and did NOT like, what they did and did not want to try!

Also, one class had a little more time than the other (eclipses and whatnot, don't you know), so I quick dug up a collection of extrañas combinaciones to introduce other possible foods/ammunition in a way my little novices could understand.

The next week we reviewed with an infograph I had pinned. I just had them work with a partner to ask questions--in English--on Google Classroom about it. I figured they wouldn't be able to interpret much, but they could start making some educated guesses. Plus it gave me an excuse to work cuy in--and all of the introspection that goes along with their first reactions to it--even though it only has the one main (cuddly) ingredient.

And then? Then they were armed. One week into class, they were ready to show me what they could and couldn't do--if they were ready to earn an A by making sure they had sentences with verbs or at least a B by combining words into phrases (though the first assessment was still a couple of weeks off). I posted my own gross Seesaw drawing as an example, reminded them of their proficiency babies, and set them loose.

Here are a few favorites:

AND because I have the Seesaw pro account, I was able to do a quick preliminary 1-4 rating of their novice (or intermediate if they were awesome...or, you know, heritage speakers) writing abilities! No grades, just an initial read to compare to down the road!

Now we've got a solid month of prepping for our amigos peruanos under our belts, the formal assessment has begun, and at least two speaking presentations so far have included pizza and ranch so far--and at least half of them are about foods that are new to them--or will be to their Peruvian amigos in the fall.

I think we've got a lot of great ingredients and are cooking up something that really works!