Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela, Teaching Reflections

Sometimes things are hard

I am having a week where everything feels hard (and it’s only Tuesday). Deciding what activities to do, planning enough for our 90-minute block schedule, and just sitting down to tackle the pile of grading has gotten really hard. And then there’s the elephant in the room: straddling the moat between grammar-driven and proficiency models of curriculum is really hard. I keep finding myself asking, Why am I even doing this?

(Note: I wrote that paragraph a week ago. It’s Tuesday again, and things are still hard.)

I’ve begun teaching conjugation this week. I know direct grammar instruction is out of style, but I have reasons (departmental colleagues who will teach many of my babies in Spanish 2 and  3), so I’m going to write about how I’m trying to teach grammar better – specifically those conjugations and verb paradigms they will NEED to have mastered to be successful in Spanish 2 at my school.

Step 1: Preview 3rd person singular and plural forms with Soy yo.

Have you seen this video? I love this song so much!

I also love every resource Kara Jacobs has ever published, and her Soy yo activities are no exception. At the link above, she has activities centered around the story of the video: The girl likes her hair. She rides a bike. The  two mean girls don’t like her. The girl plays her flute. The mean girls don’t like the music and leave. The girl dances. The girl enters a basketball court. She steals the ball and plays. The boys look at her. The girl leaves. The girl sees boys who are dancing. The girl looks at the boys. The boys look at the girl. The girl dances. The girl leaves with her father.

This story came at a great time for me – finishing up Me gusta + Infinitives, so the vocab and reps of le gusta/les gusta was perfect. What was also perfect was how this song gave a great opportunity to preview 3rd person singular and plural verb forms. La chica juega or juegan al básquetbol? Insert pop-up grammar about how makes a verb plural.

Step 2: Teach conjugations, but not the whole paradigm at once, keep it visual, and save pronouns for later

My grad school professor, Dr. Barry, taught us the Lee and VanPatten method: teach grammar through comprehensible input, and only teach 1 concept at a time. By one concept, she mean just 3rd person singular verb forms, not all six boxes on the present tense chart. I felt like they could handle more, so we’ve been working mostly on 3rd person singular and plural forms, as well as a little bit of 1st person singular. For the Realidades readers, I’m teaching the vocabulary in chapter 2B – things in the classroom and prepositions of location with the verb estar. Almost everything we practice with is visual, either based on a picture or our own classroom. I’m asking questions like, El reloj está o están? Los libros está o están? The singularity or plurality of the subject is something visual, not just an s at the end o the word on paper they have to imagine. So we transfer from there to talking about los chicos, las chicas, los estudiantes, la profesora. We are using a few forms of estar, as well as some of those What do you like to do? verbs from the chapter 1a vocabulary.

In the past, I have taught conjugations with pronouns (yo, tú, él, ella, etc) and then sprinkled nouns and proper nouns later. Some students got it, some were totally thrown off. I would also always start with people as subjects, and kids would be totally confused when they got a sentence in chapter three like Las uvas ____ buenas. So I decided to start teaching verb forms with nouns first, and then add in the pronouns when they were comfortable talking about las banderas, el reloj, la profesora, mi amigo.

Step 3: Sprinkle in some pronouns once they’ve got the singular/plural thing down. Keep it visual.

My students have seen most of the singular pronouns already in various activities and readings. So we started with a matching activity I printed off from Quizlet. I wanted to see how much they could figure out on their own, and also see if they could make the jump from Usted to Ustedes and from ella to ellas. They did pretty well, and we went over it afterwards and talked about the pictures (talking TO someone vs. talking ABOUT them). Next, still keeping my focus on 3rd person verb forms, we did this page in our notebook:

img_20161004_135124-1
Left side is one person doing the action, right side is multiple people.

 

 

First, we labeled each picture to the side with él, ella, ellos, or ellas. Then, I gave them an infinitive bank and asked them to to label each picture with the correct form of the verb. I was really impressed with how many students got the juega and duerme forms correct – they have seen it enough times in class (especially juega from the Soy yo activities), and they just knew it without needing an explanation about stem changers and boot verbs.

Step 4: Continue to practice, and add in the rest of the forms slowly, visually, and in context. Give lots and lots of input.

I really don’t like teaching conjugation explicitly, as it necessitates so much time spent on grammar explanations in English (NOT engaging) and so often still results in frustrated and confused students. I am quite happy with how my students are doing so far with these re-paced lesson plans.In the next week or so, I want to figure out some more stories to tell my students to model and contextualize the remaining forms (2nd person and 1st person plural). I’m not super comfortable with storytelling or TPRS, so this is hard for me, but I think a bit of teacher-led input/storytelling along with lots of supported reading input will be a big step forward.

I’m not as good as I want to be yet. But I´m better than I used to be. 

 

Planning for Learning, Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela

Pushing Proficiency to Novice-High: Reworking the Stamp Sheet

Last night’s #langchat was about moving students from Novice-mid to Novice-high proficiency.   This topic was of particular interest to me because although I’ve read extensively about the proficiency levels, I haven’t had any formal training and it’s difficult for me to  distinguish between Novice-Mid, Novice-High, and Intermediate-Low.  Last night’s chat gave me a LOT to think about:

  • I need to think about students’ interpretive skills in proficiency terms.
  • To improve output, spend more time on input (so true!)
  • I need to define the proficiency levels better, for both myself and my students.

I wrote a few weeks ago about stamp sheets, and how checking off all the goals out loud and individually was making me crazy. So as I was writing my goals today for the unit I’ll begin next week, I decided to reorganize the sheet by modes, and throw in some proficiency descriptors to clarify my expectations to students.

Here’s the interpretive section:

School Unit Interpretive Goals
I think I’ll have students self-assess their proficiency a couple of times during the unit as we do reading and listening activities. I want them at least at Novice-Mid, and at Novice-High for an A.

 

And the presentational speaking/writing section:

School Unit Presentational Goals
I think I’ll assess these for a quiz grade. I’d like to give students the option to do it out loud or in writing.

 

I plan to use the same proficiency descriptors for IP speaking. Here’s the complete document: Modified stamp sheet

Proficiency teachers, what do you think?  Did I get the proficiency descriptors right? Should I add or delete anything from the description? Is there something else I could say to be more specific? I welcome your input.

Class Activities, Sp 1 Unit 2: Who am I?, Teaching Reflections

Today my lesson was dreadful + Reflecting on my strengths? #reflectiveteacher Day 15

So I thought my lesson today was going to be awesome, until I taught it and it wasn’t.  Perhaps the anticipation made the subsequent failing all the worse? Pride goeth before a fall, and whatnot…

Anywhere, my goal was “I can describe my personality,” and for my fast processors, “I can describe someone else’s personality.” So I was presenting personality adjectives, and not being something readily illustratable or TPR-able (on first thought), I went with an idea I saw on the Creative Language Class awhile back – sorting the vocab words into meaningful categories. So I assembled a vocab list on quizlet, printed flashcards, and planned the different ways we would sort our words.

Screenshot 2014-09-15 15.55.35
Used that black square at the bottom to hide the future categories – just wanted them to focus on one task at a time.

I even had a Wordle projected on the board as they came into the room:

Screenshot 2014-09-15 15.55.47
whoops that accent mark…forgive me, please.

Problem #1: Too complicated to explain in the target language.

But I had to ask them in English what they understood in the word cloud…how do you check comprehension without L1?  Please, wise language teachers, educate me.  But back to Spanish for the sorting activity, yes?  Because clasifica is a cognate, and they know comprendo/no comprendo – but I gave instructions in Spanish, and they didn’t get what I wanted them to do. So I told them in English. And they did it…but then I wanted them to sort again, but they didn’t quite get it, so I switched to English, again. And again. And by 7th period, it was 90% English, with the only input coming from the cards. *facepalm*

Problem #2: Poor timing, poor transitions

This one I actually was able to rectify throughout the day (I teach the same lesson 5 times) – I realized that I was moving on too quickly, while some students were still engaged in the current task. I also realized that I needed to be very clear with instructions about the activity up front. Solution: give detailed instructions explaining the WHOLE activity as we begin it, more wait time, observe where my students are in the process (don’t rush it because it “feels” like it’s been long enough), and do a transition between each round of classification. 

Transition/summarization activities:

After Opposites – ran through flashcards on quizlet with both English and Spanish showing, and asked students for the opuesto (en español, por favor).

After Soy/No soy (I am, I’m not) – turn to your partner and say a sentence starting with Soy and a sentence starting with No soy 

Screenshot 2014-09-15 15.55.20
My very fancy high-prep visual aid for this carefully planned speaking activity.

After un buen/mal profesor and un novio excelente/terrible – discuss, write adjectives on board, then point to each word I’ve written and have students translate. I also gave them sentence starters for a quick speaking break with their partner.

Screenshot 2014-09-15 15.57.26

 

Problem #3: Asking for production of new words before they have audio input.

So when I was asking for them to say the opposites of each adjective, en español? Terrible pronunciation…and entirely my fault, because while they were getting input from the flashcards, it was only reading input, and they had maybe heard each word once or twice. Once I realized this, I ran through the cards on Quizlet and had them repeat, but honestly, I should have known better and planned to introduce with audio input. 

Problem #4: Should have picked the target vocab better.

In the set of flashcards, I included Soy and Es, plus some adjectives for physical descriptions (tall, short, pretty, etc). I wish I hadn’t done that, and rather had focused purely on personality adjectives. It was confusing for some of the categorizations, like opuestos, because many of the words didn’t have an opposite. Furthermore, they know appearance adjectives pretty well, and it probably would have been better to give them fewer flashcards to work with (I gave them 30….but in my defense, half or 2/3 were already familiar or cognates). Perhaps if I had been more careful in choosing the words, I would have had more success in giving instructions in the target language.

Reflection:

TeachThought‘s Reflection topic for day 15: Name three strengths you have as an educator.

Honestly, I wasn’t feeling very strength-y this afternoon. Today ended up being very whack-a-mole-y (with discipline and classroom management – that’s what I get for a poorly planned lesson), and I was exhausted and frustrated. But then I read reflections from some other world language teachers:

http://beirregular.blogspot.com/2014/09/jour-quinze-three-strengths.html

http://misclaseslocas.blogspot.com/2014/09/3-strengths.html

http://getyourspanishon.com/2014/09/16/heavy-lifting-makes-you-stronger/

http://lasclasesdestilson.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/reflective-teaching-day-15-my-strengths/

http://cbeyers.blogspot.com/2014/09/day-15-passion-persistence-and-joke.html

And thought, oh, me too – yes, I’m good at that too – oh, yes, that sounds like me – over and over (except the part about being super organized, haha. I’m with Señora Spanglish on that one, over there in “still developing” organizational skills! ). And I decided that a bad teaching day does not make me a bad teacher, and the humility to recognize and learn from a failed lesson is a strength in itself. So my three strengths:

1. Reflection – I learn from my mistakes (see above).

2. Resourcefulness – I cannot do everything on my own, I cannot plan engaging, CI, proficiency-based lessons all on my own, and I’m not a Spanish-English dictionary and cannot answer every ¿Cómo se dice…? inquiry instantly, on the spot. However, I’m aware of my limitations, and I know how to find help – on the internet, with my colleagues next door, and in my online blogging, pinning, and tweeting PLN.

3. Growth mindset – for myself and my students. I’m not where I want to be as an educator, but I’m working in the right direction. Mastery is an asymptote, and learning to teach is a life-long pursuit.