17 June 2018

Community Partners in PBL Projects


Community Partners are pretty much the whole point of PBL in language classes: you WANT students interacting and using the language outside of your classroom! What makes a project authentic is actually engaging with people who use the language in Real Life, right? So I have always advocated enlisting at least one Public Audience of native speakers or language learners before your kiddos leave. 

The Community Partners relationship hasn't always been a very cut-and-dried, though, as we frequently got more out of interactions before presentation day than we did when the Public Products were ready for the public consumption. Whether it was asking local third graders in an elementary Spanish class about what was cool for their age group these days or interviewing contacts in Colombia about the school supplies they needed each day, the interaction before we tried to make books for them or celebrate the school supply shipment arriving always seemed to be a more fruitful learning experience.

So one thing the NFLRC Instensive Summer Institute experience has brought into focus for me so far is the dual role of Community Partners. Of course there is the Public Audience at the end, but there is also the role of Cultural Assistants along the way. In much the same way that real-life engineers can come in and offer feedback for your budding physicists, basically ANYBODY who has sufficient experience with 1) the target language and 2) the designated context for your project can come in and serve as consultants for your budding global citizens!!

It comes back to the NFLRC recommended strategy for formulating Driving Questions that I got from their online symposium:
  • Collaborate with...
  • to investigate...
  • and develop a...
"Collaborate with" clues you into who your Cultural Assistants will be, and what you develop is what connects you to your Public Audience. Now these two may indeed overlap, as with our third graders we were trying to get to read more Spanish, but they may be separate, like my buddy Mauricio at Pedeleando x Icononzo (formerly Ayudando Ando) and the little school he and his wife Erika helped connect us to in the mountains of Colombia (PS hit him up on Twitter! They're building a library and looking for English teachers!).

And so far at this tropical institute, I've had additional revelations about each type of Community Partner.

Cultural Assistants

First of all, in the institute they were called "Cultural Informants," but I wanted a title that A) would sound less...snitchy and B) would come across as less intimidating when I called up ninth graders' parents or former students to invite them to help out. "Cultural Consultants" sounded a little intimidating, but I think even the shy girl who just graduated and works at my favorite taquería would be down with assisting.

So what we had at the institute was stations with a Mandarin-speaking assistant at each to help us with three phases of requesting information:
I'm pretty proud of the page I made using my
Baby Mandarin!
  1. Getting into the interview,
  2. Getting through the interview, and
  3. Getting out of the interview.
All as politely and appropriately as possible (#pragmatics).
    You see, after our mini-project that resulted in my beautiful activity page you see here,  I still don't speak Mandarin: totally Novice Low. HOWEVER, what I CAN say allowed me to access the language I needed to create my page for the activity book. I can say ...Zhongwen zenme shuo to ask how to say something in Chinese and xie xie nin when my friend graciously writes it down for me in Pinyin!

    In this case, all the Cultural Assistants had to do was help me with my pronunciation of the phrases I'd been given for the activity and write down a few phrases that I needed to complete my task! Pretty easy for anyone over Intermediate Mid, right?

    Talking with Marta, one of our instructors, I decided that another use for Cultural Assistants for the project I have planned to help combat diabetes in our area might be to find out from some local waiters--or even patrons--what dishes are most popular in local Mexican restaurants to help focus our analysis of ingredients and dietary habits! It would involve very simple language, for example:

    • What dishes are popular with American/Mexican customers?
    • What dishes are popular with adults/children?
    • What ingredients do they have?

    Public Audience


    The big epiphany about public audience was really a riff on what I have long recognized as one of my biggest mistakes in transitioning to PBLL: starting with my own interests and goals. I know sometimes you have to concede SOMETHING to the textbook/curriculum gods, but deciding what to concede really has to start with the community you´re engaging. At the novice level, I think figuring out that need really has to be the teacher's job rather than the students', and you should come in with that legwork done, the real community NEED defined.

    This means that when I go home next week and actually put a bug in some ears at Viva Tequis, we may not be making placemats for our Community Partners them as I had anticipated, and maybe it will turn out that our Public Audience is completely different than the antsy kids I had envisioned! Maybe we will be making kids menus, or menu signs, or something completely different that I had not even thought about! OR I may have to move on to the new Viva Chicken opening up in August or the Colombian cafe, El Sombrero, that's already around. I need to get started soon, though, so I have time to adapt the project.

    I do have a start on a pitch, though!


    Either way, we are going to engage with our Community Partners from the start. I have decided our Entry Event is going to bring our Cultural Assistants more business, and we are definitely placing a big order to sample and discuss the dishes we will be engaging with.

    It doesn't get much more authentic and engaging than that!


    12 June 2018

    New AAPPL Style Listening Task!

    I feel pretty good about my DIY AAPPL tasks for reading! It's not too hard to get text to do what you want on Google Slides, so making tasks that look like the real thing is totally doable! HOWEVER, the listening can be a whole other ball of wax, because as far as I know, you can't insert audio in Google Slides.

    Video has been working fine for my purposes, but it doesn't really work like the little moveable audio clips--or even the static ones--that you have to match to pictures or descriptions. What's more is it makes it kind of hard to break the listening up into digestible chunks, especially for novices--ESPECIALLY if you don't want to spend all day downloading and uploading and editing and downloading again.

    I think I've figured out a pretty handy video solution, though, that allows me to break up the videos without going gray in the process. For this process, I need three online tools:

    1. OnlineVideoConverter
    2. Nimbus Screenshot Chrome Extension
    3. Adobe Spark Video

    And then what I end up with looks something like this:


    On the right, you can see the video I created in Spark using the audio I stripped using the video converter. I also took screenshots of various phases of the original video so that they can be matched up with the numbers I have used to split the video into one big series of pseudo-clips. So the process looks like this:

    Collect audio


    1. Find a video on YouTube (or upload one!) that is appropriate for novice comprehension levels (thought it could be used with intermediate--it's just that these drag-and-drop type questions are usually novice on the real thing).
    2. Convert the video to MP3 by copying its URL to the converter page.

    Create video

    1. Create a new video in Spark and add 5 slides with one number on each (plus a citation of the video of course, on the final slide).
    2. Upload the MP3 of the video and click on the time in the lower right corner of the slide to adjust the length of the slide to fit the length of the clip you want (I measure this by listening to the video on YouTube and noting the timestamp where I want to stop for each there.)
    3. Download the video and upload to Drive for easy embedding.

    Collect images

    1. Screenshot a section of the video that corresponds with each of the segments you designated with the numbered slides as well as some after the end of the pseudo clips (the AAPPL usually has extra distractors I find).
    2. Insert and scramble the screenshots on the slide, making sure that you have selected images that clearly fit or do not fit with the selected "clips."

    If you wanted to get REALLY fancy (read: tricky), you COULD make a video with more than 5 "clips" so that you could download your clip video, RE-upload it into multiple separate slides with different segments of your FIRST clip video. This is pretty much the only way that I can think of that you could scramble the order of the audio or otherwise skip around the MP3 sample and omit segments without having to turn to a more complex editing program than Spark.

    But there you have it: a way to create multiple "clips" without endlessly uploading and downloading separate videos!

    10 June 2018

    Videos in English for Spanish Class



    Tim McGraw perfectly captured why language learning is essential for everyone.

    When I started teaching Spanish, did I ever anticipate seeing the words "Tim McGraw" and "language learning" in the same sentence? I mean, did YOU?

    But his new video--and his video explaining it: 100% pure renewed faith in humanity.

    Now, I had been toying with the idea of introducing Spanish class without Spanish since I saw this video last year:




    Don't get me wrong, we will still be rocking out to ChocQuibTown and Bomba Estéreo when they walk in, but I've given a lot of thought to the WHY of learning Spanish, and I think it's important to address that question directly and immediately. And though this video has ZERO Spanish, I think it is a crystal clear demonstration of the TRUE power of learning another language:


    In the video, Juliet Lyan describes her work encounter with a deaf man and his smile when he realized "someone in the hearing world would want to know about his culture."

    I want that smile for my students.

    I want them to recognize, to empathize with that feeling of not belonging, and to recognize also that they CAN do something about it for someone else. I want them to SEE how they can positively impact people on a daily basis with just a few words, that they can help heal someone else's isolation, and thereby heal their own.

    This video is actually going to be toward the end of my "Why Spanish?" playlist/lesson, the climax.

    Before I get to Juliet's perfect encapsulation of everything I want for kids out of language learning, I want to show them some practical applications, a true PBLL project that really demonstrates how vital it can be to reach out with their new language and how strong that bond can be. (Incidentally, 10th graders at our school take Spanish I AND participate in service learning at the local retirement center!)



    Now this particular project is the result of a system that is peculiar to the U.S., and so more authentic for English language learners. (Funny, there aren't as many large groups of lonely elders in other countries...) However, it is a further demonstration of how students can seek out others and use language to drive away loneliness, to build relationships with just the desire to reach out.

    And the desire to reach out is what Sr. McGraw lays out in his video explaining why he felt the need to release his hit "Humble and Kind" in Spanish: 



    So this, THIS is where we are starting Spanish I this year. Everyone knows how widespread Spanish is, so the Top 3 thing is not going to move anyone who doubts that they need Spanish. They know how prevalent it is, they see it everywhere. They also know that they can function without it just fine. HOWEVER, there are two things that Sr. McGraw hits right on the head:
    1. "If you can reach in and touch someone with their own language, when it's not yours, I mean that's kinda cool!" The power of just the effort, the willingness to make yourself vulnerable for the sake of communication
    2.  "And to be in a position to be able to give it a shot, may not be perfect, my accent may not be perfect, my lilt may not be perfect, but I think you feel where I'm coming from." That that effort need not be diminished by imperfections, that the message, the connection is actually strengthened by earnestly opening yourself up in spite of potential for error.

    So those messages--plus the part about touching someone else's heart that just makes me melt--are why we're starting with Sr. McGraw. And ending with him.

    Because if there's a dry eye in the house after watching this video, well then we have more important things to do teach than vocabulary anyway.