My grad school course this semester is all about TL reading instruction. It’s fascinating! Our big project this semester is to put together a thematic unit with reading lessons for four different authentic resources. I finished my first lesson last week and I would like to share it with you all! For my first lesson, I decided to use the children’s menu from the Mexican restaurant chain Vips. You can find it here on their website, or here in PDF. I taught this lesson to my Spanish 1 students after spending 2 days introducing food vocabulary. The activities include a gallery walk, two videos (to provide context for the restaurant), vocabulary activities, and currency conversion activities. It took me two 80 minute blocks to complete the whole sequence. I hope you (and my professor!) like it 🙂 I actually recorded my class on day 1, so if you are interested in seeing the video (I taught 90%+ in Spanish!), please send me an email and I’d be glad to share the video with you as well.
One of the best decisions I made this semester was to try La Persona Especial/La estrella del día in Spanish 2. When I first started it I was doing all kinds of duplicate work, but I’ve managed to streamline the process since then. Today I want to share in detail how I execute La Persona Especial, how I assess it, and the steps I take to make it fair for all students.
Many students are reluctant to get up in front of the class, but I’ve found a few strategies that have been working well to persuade some students.
Ask them. Asking them while we do our warm up or the day before gives students a chance to consent without feeling the pressure of an audience and also gives them a chance to prepare – both mentally, or by looking over their Estrella handout we filled out the first week of class. I also throw in some carrots – C’mon, I know you’re going to do a great job. Please? I really need to do an interview today. I’d love to hear from you. And it’s a ONE HUNDRED in the grade book? Pleeeeeeassee? After their interview, I make sure to congratulate them individually and tell them how well they did.
Let them take a buddy. If they like, I let a friend sit next to them and whisper translations in their ear. I’ve also done paired interviews – two students go up together, sit in my chairs (the stool/my rolly desk chair – it makes them feel special :)), and take turns answering questions.
During the interviews, I use this slide show I adapted slightly from Kara Jacobs (one of my new year’s resolutions is to use more resources from Kara. She’s an inspiration!). I change it slightly every few weeks, sometimes to try to elicit new and more interesting details, or just to work in a few questions to reinforce vocab from our current unit. I stand at the front and question and click through the slides, or I ask a student to click through the slides and I stand at the back (this helps with classroom management). I set up a secretary on my desktop computer to take notes in a google doc (I have my secretarias trained now and they do great, I just come back and edit when they finish, which is much less work than typing it all myself for two different classes on my planning period). The google doc is embedded on my class website and updates instantly. So if you’re absent, no excuse — all the info is posted online!
I usually do two or three interviews a week, and do a “People Quiz” every other Friday. Before each new interview I review previous interviews. A couple different options:
High prep: I used to make slide shows for each person with a picture. This worked well – I would ask the questions, students respond chorally, and then I show the answer on the slide show, but making these was too much work, so I stopped.
Medium prep: Sometimes, I copy the interview information into another google doc and delete details. So I project a list with things like Le gusta la película ____________. I ask questions and students respond chorally.
Lazy: I run through the questions slide show linked above and just ask the questions. Students respond chorally.
I think the high prep option gets the best results, but the benefit is marginal enough not to merit the extra work. If only I had a student assistance….alas, I do not, so it’s the lazy low prep option for now.
Once I have all the interviews done that are going to be on the quiz (usually 4), I copy and paste all the information into a new google doc. I use the “Sorted Paragraph” add-on to alphabetize (aka scramble) the sentences and number them. I divide students into groups and project the statements on the board, and students decide in their groups which person (or people) each statement describes. I have them trade papers to grade, and give out stickers to every group who got a 100. Here’s the one I used today. I do this activity in two classes, and both are included in the doc. The sneaky part? This becomes my question bank. I copy and paste into a word document, delete vague statements until I’m down to 33 (the magical number that fits on one page), format, and print. DONE.
This week I tried another pre-quiz review strategy that was really fun. Yesterday I printed out the bios for each of the four stars. Students were divided into groups and given one bio and piece of white paper. On their paper, I asked them to draw a visual representation of their assigned persona especial. I posted the finished drawings on the wall for students to view/admire, and then scanned them on my planning period (I discovered my copier will let me scan multiple pages through the top feeder slot and will save as a PDF on a flash drive. EASY PEASY). I projected the scanned drawings today and used that as the base for my oral review. So fun!
Every time I try a new CI technique, I get very nervous. Will it bomb? Will I forget what to say? Will the kids participate? What if they refuse? What if it falls flat? So with a bit of fear, trembling, and a pair of sweaty palms, today I tried my first Persona Especial interview in Spanish 2 (we’re on a block schedule so this was the third day of class). The verdict? Success!!!!! I used this slideshow and student formshared by Kara Jacobs. Students filled out the form on the first day of class, and my estrella used his during the interview. I projected the slideshow so I wouldn’t forget the questions, and the pictures helped with comprehension. I picked a kid I was 90% sure would be successful to go first, and one I thought the class would perceive positively. I also got his permission before I called him up, and slipped him a reward coupon at the end (in retrospect, that might not have been necessary). We got lots of reps for question words, learned some interesting personalized vocabulary, and we all got to know our estrella a bit better. I reviewed the details with the class throughout the interview, and made a slideshow about him for review tomorrow. After I interview a few more students, I’ll put together a quiz based on what we learned!
This is my first year teaching on block schedule, and I have to say that I am LOVING this January fresh start! Today was my first day with new students – 2 sections of Spanish II in the morning and 1 section of Spanish I in the afternoon. I got off on a really bad foot with Spanish 2 in August, and I have to say I did much better today. Here’s what we did:
1. Find assigned seats. I ALWAYS assign seats and have tried several different systems. This semester I added numbers to my desks and to my seating chart and it went soooo much better – no one sitting in the wrong seat! I stood in the doorway and greeted each student, asked their name in Spanish, and told them their number in Spanish. Bonus: taking role is a breeze – just see which desks are empty!
2. Name cards.This helps me learn names and is also an easy way to start out class in Spanish. Levanta la tarjeta. Baja la tarjeta. Levanta el marcador. Baja el marcador. Levanta el marcador y la tarjeta. Baja la tarjeta. Baja el marcador. Levanten los marcadores rojos…. I’m super positive and encouraging throughout the activity and it sets a great tone for the class.
3.Interest inventory – I copied this from one I saw posted on the Creative Language Class. I take them up as students finish and read them right away – if I don’t read them in class, they often don’t get read. I like to focus in on their responses to what do you think you’ll make in this class?, what do you want to learn in this class? and anything else I need to know? IEPs and 504s don’t always make it to me in time, and I really want to know from the first day of class if a student is diabetic or pregnant. I like What do you think you’ll make in this class? so that I know from the beginning which students I need to focus more attention on (they usually answer honestly!). In Spanish 2, I added the question, Are you interested in taking Spanish 3? so that I can make sure that those students know the grade requirements for taking Spanish 3, and also so I can provide a few extra grammar explanations/activities for them to make sure that they are successful with the Spanish 3 teacher.
3. Syllabus – I’m on an 80 minute block, there’s plenty of time to do this and CI too.
4. The speech – “If you took Spanish 1 last semester these next two weeks will be really easy. If you took Spanish 1 last year, this time is for you. Here is what I need to make sure you know before we move on to new material…”
This is the part that I really messed up last semester. I took some resources my department gave me – a long list of verbs and some conjugation worksheets – and ran with it. It was awful. Too many words, too much decontextualized grammar, too much explanation, too much output and not enough input. Grades were predictably bad. The year before I had taught all Spanish 1s, and before that I was my own department and did what I wanted (and knew exactly what every single one of my Spanish 2 students could do in Spanish). With one semester of Spanish 2 with department curriculum behind me, I know what students need to learn to pass the county final exam, and I feel more confident to tailor my classes to my students’ needs, interests and abilities, while still hitting department requirements. The grammar we can review more slowly as we go along, and all those verbs? Not necessary (all that cramming didn’t help anyway). I have a much better idea of what they need to pass the final, and it’s not as much as what I did last semester. I can relax on some of the grammar (while making sure Spanish 3-bound students have it down) and focus on providing more comprehensible input.
Back to my lesson today: we copied a few basic phrases to support the goals listed above, and they ran through the questions and answers in Spanish with a partner. I started calling on students individually and asking them one of the questions – ¿Cómo estás? ¿Cuántos años tienes? ¿De dónde eres? When I got to ¿Qué te gusta hacer? it got a lot more interesting. Some students remembered words from Spanish 1 – Me gusta correr. Me gusta nadar. Some didn’t, and I helped them. I gestured and reviewed vocabulary as we went along, and found out what sport everyone played. It was fun! I expanded on answers where I could and told them my opinion on everything, gesturing for comprehensibility – No me gusta correr. ¡Me gusta comer! Me gusta cocinar y comer. No me gusta practicar deportes, pero me gusta hacer ejercicio. Me gusta caminar con mi perro y levantar pesas y bailar en mi clase de Zumba! No me gusta estudiar, pero estudio mucho para mi clase de internet… When I finished calling on everyone, I pulled up my “activity” vocab list on Quizlet – the verbs we actually learned and used last year. I went through each one with both Spanish and English showing (Spanish and a picture would have been better, but Spanish-English was what I had), and asked who liked each activity, continuing to circle and expand on answers.
5. La estrella de la semana – I know many teachers do “persona especial” interviews, but I really like how Kara explains her procedures. I had students fill out the handout she has linked in her post, and told them that we would be doing interviews throughout the semester, kind of like the discussion about likes and dislikes we had just had.
6. Closing – numbers review. With a few minutes left of class and most students done with their handouts, I needed something quick to fill the time. I pulled up Quizlet, froze the screen, and clicked through the numbers flashcards with the audio on, with students telling me the meaning in English. We did the same thing looking at the words spelled out.
I was very pleased with the amount of Spanish I was able to speak today, as well as the focus of our review, and the positive start. Hoping for my best Spanish 2s yet!
I had a grad school seminar this past weekend (aka class aaaallllll weekend) and despite the stress and hassle, I have to say it was very beneficial. My mind is buzzing with ideas for assessment, teaching, and generally with language learning paradigms. My big epiphany from the weekend (don’t judge!): for students to gain any kind of useable proficiency, it is essential to use the language in class! I always start the year out strong with speaking lots of Spanish, but as the semester progresses my TL use has slipped lower and lower.
Today, my goal was to introduce new vocabulary with minimal use of English. My professor advocates for comprehensible input, but furthermore, for not translating vocabulary – no English, ever. This rubbed me wrong a bit in our first seminar – well, I think English is useful for establishing meaning, let’s avoid the guessing games, ACTFL’s recommendation is 90% TL – but I also know that I speak way too much English in class, so I wanted to see how much I could do in Spanish, establishing meaning in other ways. Here’s what I did:
I’m starting Realidades chapter 3a, which is the food chapter. I decided to start with drinks, mainly because I saw a great demo by Lee Burson and Erin Smith at FLAG a few years ago, which gave me a good idea of how to get lots of reps. I gave them a handout with some glasses and mugs, with lines to write their vocab at the bottom. I modeled on the doc cam, writing the word on the blank, and then coloring the appropriate cup to represent the drink. Throughout, I asked questions, starting with te gusta questions, continuing with ¿Bebes _____ en el desayuno?, comparison questions (¿Prefieres jugo de naranja o jugo de manzana?), and open ended questions – ¿Qué tipo de refresco prefieres? ¿Qué bebes en el almuerzo? I had a plastic apple and orange that helped establish meaning for apple and orange juice, we drew a cow for leche, for refresco I gave brand name examples, and té dulce I gave a quick translation for. Minimal English? Check! Engaging? Kind of. I really have a great group of kids first period, who put up with the amount of questions I asked with out getting too squirrelly, but it would not work (or at least for not as long) with my 4th block group. After all the listening and sitting still, I gave them a simple survey activity to complete with a few classmates – ¿Bebes _________?/Sí, mucho/a veces/todos los días/No, nunca. I had to translate the frequency phrases, but they definitely needed a change of pace and this worked well.
My grad school reading this week is a chapter from the book Making Communcatice Language Teaching Happen (Lee & VanPatten, 2003). I’ve read about 15 pages of it and can already tell I’m really going to enjoy it – I was reading over my coffee before school this week. 🙂 My assigned chapter included a unit plan template: present vocabulary with comprehensible input, do a listening input activity, do a reading input activity, then do output activities. This clicked with me – basic as it is, it’s a fleshed out version of the “input before output” mantra that I think will be helpful for me to keep in mind.
A big challenge for me this year is curriculum. My teaching philosophy is “teach for proficiency with comprehensible input and authentic resources” but my curriculum is decidedly grammar-driven. This quote from chapter 4 is ringing true with me:
The point, then, is that topicalized or contextualized grammar is not equivalent to a communicative or proficiency orientation. True communicative- and proficiency-oriented instruction cannot be grammar driven. Moreover, in many cases a communicative goal cannot be equated with (or reduced to) a particular grammatical item. In those textbooks in which communicative goals are apparently equated with grammar, the linguistic tools provided might not be what is needed to realize the stated communicative goals. What is evident from the preceding examples on daily routines is that the stated communicative goal is actually window dressing for a pre-determined grammatical point; communication is at the service of grammar rather than the other way around.
“Window dressing for a pre-determined grammatical point.” BAM. That is how I feel about my Spanish 2 curriculum and our current march through the preterite. It’s rough. Anyway, my curriculum and final exam are what they are, and can’t be changed for the time being. As I teach this year, my goal is to inject some life into these textbook units with a few communicative goals, comprehensible input, and authentic resources and share share share with my colleagues – an add-on approach, like for healthy eating…add on the good stuff first, then work on cutting out the bad stuff later.
So, in the spirit of sharing “the good stuff,” here are a few things that have been working for me lately:
I’ve been working on doing “comprehensible input” class discussions. These work great for introducing and practicing vocabulary. I throw up some pictures on the board, start making some statements, and ask about 8,000 questions. I have students raise their hands to answer questions, and track participation with Class Dojo. Sometimes I get a student to help me with assigning points, but I’ve found that I can keep up with it if I use the “award multiple” button. Every week or two, I assign a participation grade based on part on Class Dojo points. I have it weighted quite low – a tenth of a regular daily grade – but the fact that my students know they are being tracked has done wonders for our discussions.
In Spanish 2, I’ve just started Realidades 2 chapter 3A – places around town, errands, irregular preterite, and direct object pronouns. I checked the teacher’s guide for the chapter as I was planning, and it had some great suggestions for how to present the vocab with input! I followed the suggestions and started with the place vocab. I gave students clip art copies of the pictures to cut out, and projected some pictures on the board. On Day 1, we talked about (and by talked about I mean made a few statements and then asked 8,000 questions) what time each placed opened and closed. We would pause and I would call out a place and they would hold it up (you could also do this by calling out the activity you do at each place – Cobré un cheque, compré champú, vi al médico). After that, we pasted the pictures in our interactive notebook and copied relevant phrases next to each picture. On the second day, I projected the places on the board and stuck a little stick figure guy up with a magnet. I asked, ¿Dónde está Paquito? ¿Por qué está en el banco? and so on. In my 4th period I asked a student to time how long we good go without speaking English (gracias Melanie!) it turned AWESOME all of a sudden when I asked ¿A quién envía su carta? And of course it was for his girlfriend, and a student commented bonita, and I said no no, she’s ugly, but smart and funny and RICH! And so we added her to the story, in the consultorio of course, getting her teeth fixed! And when Paquito needed money, did he go to the bank? No! He went to the consultorio and asked his girlfriend! As soon as our discussion turned into a story, engagement shot through the roof. #success
In addition to vocab practice, I’ve used this format – CI chats with participation points in ClassDojo – for weekend chats (preterite in CONTEXT!) and most recently to give opinions on our weekly songs. I gave students a copy of the first side of this “Eres el juez” activity from Sharon Birch. We went over what the phrases meant, then listened to clips of several different songs. I can’t tell you how much fun this was – my students were excited to tell me their opinion and hands were up as soon as I stopped each song! I also made a Quizlet set of the phrases so I can review quickly before our song next week.
It is important to me to maintain a good attitude – I don’t want to be a teacher who blames it on my students (“they’re so unmotivated”), my standards (“too vague”), my textbook, my colleagues, or my district-mandated final exam. As the teacher, I’m no robot – I’m a creative force with a head full of knowledge on how students acquire language, and it is my job to find a way to marry best practices with all the challenges of my particular situation.
This past weekend I began my first class for my master’s degree in Spanish Education through Auburn University. The first item on the weekend agenda was a CI demo in German! The presenter, Andrea Wilkinson, was excellent. I was reminded of so many little tid-bits about teaching in the TL just by watching and learning from her. When she first started talking I was totally confused, but pretty soon I was answering questions in German! Here’s the board with her visual aids. Each time she introduced a new word, she wrote it in German under the person it corresponded to – no English!
The topic was physical descriptions. She would present a new word, and then start asking questions. Who is pretty, Cindy or Helga? Is Cindy pretty? Is Cindy young? Is Helga young? Every time she asked a question, she had us raise our hand and called on someone. When you answered a question, she handed you a Euro. As soon as I saw the girl next to me get the first Euro, my attention spiked – I wanted the Eurosso bad!My hand started going in the air and before I knew it I was answering her questions in German!
The timing of this demo was quite serendipitous as I started my descriptions unit in Spanish 1 the following Monday. Having spent the whole weekend in Alabama I didn’t have time to print and laminate Euros or hunt through magazines to find the perfect visual aids, but I made it work. I have a PowerPoint with pictures of people for descriptions, but I wanted to do it like Andrea did in her demo, with all the pictures visible at once – that way, I could write all the vocab on the board and maximize potential for questioning and comparisons. So, instead of starting with my usual pictures, I started talking from this Quién es Quiénimage, cropping off the edges to make the image more manageable.
I wanted to track participation, but I didn’t have Euros to hand out. I kept the hand-raising and calling on someone strategy (if they called out the answer I just ignored them and called on someone anyway – they learned quickly to stop calling out), and wrote each student’s name on the board as they answered questions, and added checks as they continued to participate. Yesterday and today I switched and just wrote a check in the gradebook each time I called on a student. I’ve been really pleased with this for a number of reasons. One, my kids are eager to participate! Secondly, they don’t mind me circling so much because they want to get credit for their participation. I’m reminded to ask more questions and keep repeating so they all have an opportunity to answer. The gradebook is working fine for now, but I’d like to try the Euro strategy sometime because it was just so fun to feel rewarded every time you answered. Another option for tracking participation would be making a big chart on laminated poster board with all my students’ names and making the check marks there – that way, they would be able to see how many checks they have and audit me if I mess up.
One more tip I learned from Andrea was asking tag questions: You ask a question with the question word, like, Who has brown hair?, but add a choice at the end – María o Anita? The advantage of tag questions is that they are hearing the question word, but the choice at the end makes it easier to answer. It’s also a great strategy for differentiation – start with an open-ended question, and then add the tag at the end if kids aren’t sure how to answer. I was amazed at the hands that went up when I switched from Who and What questions to tag and either/or questions – I realized that students were listening hard, and were just waiting for the right question to raise their hand.