Saturday, February 18, 2017

NEWS made Comprehensible

Weekly news publication by Martina Bex
Do you have routines in your language class? I have a several that I follow (almost) without exception. Some of those are Monday's "weekend talk" to start the week, Tuesday and Friday's "El Encierro" game with my Spanish 4 classes, and starting in January of this year, all Wednesday classes begin with noticias (news) with Martina Bex's publication, "El Mundo en tus Manos - Noticias del Mundo Hispanohablante". (Note for French Teachers: A similar publication is available in French by Cecile Laine. Search for her sources on TeachersPayTeachers.) 

Noticias del Mundo Hispanohablante is a weekly publication that Martina Bex creates and makes available each Monday morning. There are five articles in each edition on current events in the Spanish speaking world such as sports, health/nutrition, politics, celebrities, science, and other subjects. 

How do I use this valuable resource? 
First, I chose Wednesdays to be the day to start classes with the news because I already had routines in place for others days that I didn't want to change. Sometime between Monday morning and Wednesday morning, I download the weekly edition and make 31 copies to use with my students. (I used to print out the basic version and the slightly expanded version for my upper level students, but now I print out the basic version for all classes to cut down on copying.)

from weekly publication by M. Bex
I greet the students at the door, every day, and if I have a paper that I need to distribute at some point in the class, I hand it to the students to save that time later in the class period. On Wednesdays, the paper I hand to them is the publication, Noticias del Mundo Hispanohablante. This semester I have Spanish 2, Spanish 4 and Spanish 4+ classes, but this Noticias del Mundo Hispanohablante can be used with all levels.  

Students have 8-10 minutes to read the articles and to prepare to share the information with the class. The first two times I used this resource, I asked the students to be prepared to talk about the article.  Some students need the full 8 minutes to read one article, but most students read at least two articles, and I've watched some of my higher level students reach their fifth article in that time frame.

Summarize in English
Then I ask for volunteers to tell me about an article they read in English. Yes, in English. They read the news in the target language and when they share the information with the class in English, I am able to tell how much they understood. 

The first two times I used this resource, I asked the students to be prepared to name two facts from the article, but the students didn't stop at two facts and it eventually morphed into a summary of the article. (Don't you just love it when students go beyond your expectations!) The majority of the time I expect my students to communicate in the target language, so when they have an opportunity to talk in English, there is little hesitation - in other words, I don't have to wait long for students to share what they have read. 

Extended Discussion in Spanish
If students know something that the first student didn't mention, they can add to the summary. Then the students and I discuss the article and related topics in Spanish, at the appropriate level for the students, for as long as there is interest from students, even if that means I never get to the rest of the day's lesson plan! Then we move onto the next article.   

The following day I save some of the printed copies and place them in a binder for students to use during SSR. 

Why I like this resource
Wednesdays' news article reading and discussions has quickly become one of my favorite resources and class activities because:
- the articles are interesting and educational
- Martina writes the articles with the goal to keep it comprehensible for second language learners
- unfamiliar words are glossed
- the length is perfect: long enough to inform the reader, but short enough to keep the reader's attention
- there is a photo for each article! (with only 1 exception thus far)
- teachers can contact Martina with suggestions for the publication. If your students are interested in a national/international news story, suggest it to Martina and there's a possibility she will include it in the following week's edition, which will provide more input on the subject matter for your students.
- there are articles that correlate with novels that my students are reading. For example, my Spanish 2 students are currently reading Mira Canion's "El Escape Cubano" and the January 15 edition has the article (shown on the right) about Cubans fleeing to America and the change in the US "wet feet, dry feet" policy.

But, wait, ... doesn't it cost money?
Yes, it does. Obviously, you can find free news resources in Spanish on the internet, but you will have to search long and hard to find something that you can copy or project onto your board, exactly as it is written, and use with all the levels you teach, without modifying it. It's ready to go! Martina does the work for you (and sometimes on Sunday nights I actually think about Martina and wonder if she is at her computer writing and adding recent news stories that happened over the weekend).

When I purchased the Spring 2017 edition of Noticias del Mundo Hispanohablante, I justified the cost because I knew it would serve as a weekly resource that I could use with my students. There are 21 issues and with 5 articles per issue, that's over 100 comprehensible Spanish news articles. The extra benefit, is that I'm being informed about news events, many which I would not have read about in other sources and I'm learning new vocabulary in context. As a native English speaker, I recognize that I will forever be a Spanish language learner.  :-)   


1. I bought this resource with my personal money to use in my classroom. I am not receiving any reimbursement from the writer of the publication in exchange for writing about it on my blog. I wrote this blog post because I view Noticias del Mundo Hispanohablante as a valuable resource and I want to alert other Spanish (and French) teachers about it

2. I included screenshots from the publication with the written consent of Martina Bex. As a reminder, if you purchase this resource from Martina on TeachersPayTeachers, and for other materials that you buy, you need to honor the copyright laws regarding what you may and may not do with the purchased materials. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Day Idea in the MFL Classroom - Quick and Easy

Comprehensible Input & Food
How is it possible that the date for Valentine's Day never changes but it still manages to sneak up on me and all of a sudden it's two days before February 14? That's what happened to me this year, but I didn't want to completely ignore Valentine's Day. Other years I had planned weeks ahead of time, especially the year I made a bulletin board in the hall from the hearts my students made (see this post), but when I put up a bulletin board in the hall, it stays like that for weeks, oh, what the heck, I'll be totally honest and admit it stays like that for months!

So what to do that isn't a waste of time and has a deeper purpose than simply decorating a card? I simplified my lesson from previous years to 15 minutes.

1. I asked the students to help me list people that are important in their life.  Then I used one as an example, such as "mother". Students gave me examples to write on the board of what they like that their mother does.  
Me gusta que tú me cuides.  
Me gusta que me ayudes con mi tarea. 
Me gusta que limpies mi dormitorio.

In one of my classes I explained that we were starting the Valentine message with a positive message, something I had learned over a decade ago when reading Stephen Covey's book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

2. The second sentence was something that you hoped or wanted the person to do. The sentence started:  Quiero que tú... and students once again told me examples that I wrote on the board.

Quick and simple - two sentences!

3. I supplied red, white, pink, and lavender construction paper, markers, scissors, and several containers worth of heart shaped foam pieces to use to decorate the cards.  Students had 15 minutes max to write their sentences and ask me to check them, write them on the card, and decorate the card.

The last optional assignment, was to give the card to the intended recipient and take a photo of the card and the recipient. This had three purposes, 1) it would bring a smile to the recipient, and 2) if the recipient was a parent or family member, it was one way for the parent to see a small glimpse of what we are doing in Spanish class, and 3) fun publicity and "advertising" for the WL department.  Students that showed me the photo the next day in class, or they also had the option to email or tweet the photo, received +1 bonus point that will be added to their next assessment. Bonus points are rare in my classroom, so there was a fair amount of students that shared their photos, and videos, with me the next day. So, the fun lasted beyond the classroom walls and into the second day.

As an unexpected surprise, one of my students gave the Valentine's card to me at the beginning of the post. It says "Anon" but the student gave it to me in class after making it, so I know who made it. I love what it says:  I like that you teach me in different ways. That's lay terms for Teaching with Comprehensible Input.
The second sentence, has to do with food: I want you to make food for me. Short and sweet - CI and food.  That sums it up.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wooly Week in Spanish Class

In case you somehow have not heard, this week, February 6-10, is Wooly Week. Wooly Week is the idea of Jim Wooldridge, aka Sr. Wooly, and the creater of Sr. Wooly Website found HERE. I recommend it for all Spanish teachers, regardless of what level or what grade you teach!!!

Now, getting back to Wooly Week. Sr. Wooly decided to plan a week full of surprises for everyone. My students and I got a head start on Wooly Week last Thursday with a competition between the classes to have the highest number of students wearing blue and green, in honor of Billy la Bufanda, a well-known character in several of Sr. Wooly's songs. 

The two photos on the right are Tweets that my students gave me permission to put on social media. The photo on the bottom is of the class that won the competition. (Also, check the photo at the end of the post to see Sra. Moulton's students, from Michigan,  that also had a blue/green challenge!) The following Monday morning, I brought several decorated cakes (see the photos below and for directions check this blog post from spring 2016. Note: The color in one picture of the Billy cake makes the cake look grey - bad lighting. It's the same cake shown in the photo with the two students but the lighting is better and it is blue.) for the students to celebrate Wooly Week.  The students didn't know what the surprise was going to be, other than it was something from my kitchen.

Last Friday, students played the game 99 from Sr. Wooly's website to review numbers. It was a big hit and many requested to play it again. One student said he was going to play the game (in English) with his family at their next family get together.

The first 3 days of Wooly Week included: Day 1 - a new music video; Day 2 - an improvement to a video game on the website; and Day 3 - a music video, and there are two more days to finish out the week. Knowing Sr. Wooly, he's probably saving the best for last, although it will be hard to top the first three days!

Oh, by the way, if you already have an account, check out the raffle prizes and then get to work completing the tasks and submitting your entry before the deadline. More info. is on his website. (Full disclosure - I don't get any kickbacks or benefit financially for posting this. I'm posting it because I want others to know about this remarkable resource!!!)

Sra. Moulton's students in blue/green in Michigan!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Warm Fuzzies for a Brain Break

I know the importance of brain breaks, but sometimes...I am so focused on teaching that I tend to forget that students need a break, especially when I'm teaching a class of super students. 

Yesterday, I was sailing along teaching my Spanish 4 students when I heard a student from the back say "brain break" several times.  He was right; they needed a brain break. 

I told the students to stand up, to stretch, and then before they could sit down, they had to say something nice in Spanish about another student in the class. I started with a comment about how much I appreciate Brad's participation and attention in class. The students followed my example and the compliments were flowing - warm fuzzies in Spanish class. 

It served as a Brain Break and demonstrated to students the power of positive words.
So simple and so effective.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Story Listening: You may already be doing this!

In the last few months, there has been a lot of discussions on social media about Story Listening. Teachers that are using the Storytelling method (aka Storyasking*) in their classrooms, are discovering that Story Listening can be an effective tool in second language acquisition and are sharing their experiences with others on Facebook, on YouTube, and on Twitter.

Many teachers are now asking each other, "What is Story Listening?" and want to learn about it so they can experiment with it in their classrooms. They want to try something new, but...wait.., is it new? It could be new for you, but I believe that many teachers are already doing "story listening" in their classrooms but haven't labeled it as such.

Do you use felt boards and felt objects/characters to tell stories? That falls under the category of story listening.  I love Stephanie Campbell's book "Cuentos de Ensalada" and my students enjoy listening to the stories about the characters in the story.  Who wouldn't like listening to a story that involves scenes such as shown in the pictures below?

(check THIS BLOG POST from 2011 and later ones in 2012 to find out more about S. Campbell's cool story!)

So, you may already be doing "story listening".

Below are two additional examples of "Story Listening", even if you don't specifically call it that.

1. Retelling events from a newspaper article is one form of "story listening"

In February 2012, I wrote a blog post about using the news article (pictured on the right) with my Spanish students. (The post is linked HERE.)
It is a sad short news article about an 8-year old boy that survived for over a week after his mother died. When I read it, I knew it was an article that I could use in class to tell to my students and to introduce and reinforce vocabulary and structures.  It keeps the students' attention because they want to know why the boy was living with the cadaver of his mother and how he survived.

Sharing articles (or "stories") from newspapers, is likely something that many world language teachers do now, or have done in the past.  That, my friends, is one form of storytelling.  You are not asking the students to create the details, you are not asking them to act it out, and you're not asking them to finish the story. You're simply telling them the information in language that they can understand.

I've been telling this story to my Spanish 4 as a first week activity even before I wrote the blog post in 2012. Without fail, it keeps the students attention. If you are doing something similar with news articles, you are not completely new to "story listening". 

2. Sharing past personal experiences is a form of "story listening"
Hasn't every world language teacher at one point shared a past experience with their students, in the target language, using vocabulary that is comprehensible at their level, introducing a few new words as needed throughout the story?  When I discuss "fears" with my students, I always tell them about one particular trip to Washington DC with my family. We visited the normal site-seeing spots in the city, and then took the metro to one area on the outskirts of the city. We did not know before planning our destination that the area was considered less safe. We ascended the staircase out of the metro station and things definitely looked different than other areas of the city. I was with my husband, and three young children, one which was in a stroller.  Almost immediately after we headed toward our destination, a motorist pulled up next to us, rolled down the window, and asked where we were going and then cautioned us that it was not a safe neighborhood. Students listen intently to that story because they want to know what happened next: did we continue or head straight back to the metro?

Sharing your experiences is sharing your stories. Since you are not asking them to add details, it falls in the category of "story listening". Teachers have been using stories in class for years. 

Not everything about story listening is new, and there are a lot of similarities to story listening and story telling: you need to use language appropriate for the level; you need to make yourself comprehensible throughout the story by drawing, actions, or writing the word on the board with it's translation when necessary; and it has to be interesting to the students.  There's not any language acquisition happening with students that are tuned out.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of teachers that are helping to guide others in how to use story listening with their students. They are gracious enough to give us a peek into their classroom by recording themselves telling a story to their students.  Ask to join the group CI Liftoff on Facebook for a wealth of information and great discussions.

One thing I really like about the newly-labeled "story listening" is that it encourages the use of legends and tales from countries throughout the world. It has been my experience that if I tell a legend to the students before we read the legend, the students encounter less problems when reading the legend, especially if it is an authentic resource. When I tell the legend beforehand, I am able to introduce the new vocabulary, the plot and the characters in language I'm sure the students understand. With that pre-knowledge, the students are more prepared to delve into reading the authentic resource.

I love that the community of world language teachers are eager and willing to work towards improving instruction with the goal of helping our students to improve their proficiency of the language.  Thank you to all those that are fine tuning story listening and the skills needed in order to best provide comprehensible input for our students! I plan to continue reading and learn from what you share.  :-)

*Note for clarification: Traditionally, when people talk about TPRS the "S" stands for Storytelling that they actually mean storyasking. (In fact a few years ago some teachers were saying it should be called storyasking instead of storytelling.) In TPRS the teachers ASK for information from the students, and therefore the students help create or build the story.
Storytelling, as I use it in this post, is telling a story, not asking as story as in TPRS. As in the examples above, Cuentos de Ensalada, sharing personal stories, telling the students about a news article, that is not the same as TPRS. Keep in mind the terminology may not be what you are accustomed to and when I mention Storytelling, it is telling information and not asking for information.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Spanish Game for Navidad

In my previous post, I wrote about using The Match Game in a modern foreign language class.  (Click HERE for directions on how to play.) On December 22, our 2nd to last day of school before Christmas vacation, I used the Christmas edition of The Match Game for my Spanish 4 students.

If you teach beginning levels, you could easily change the statements so the ending does not require the subjunctive. My goal was for the students to concentrate on matching their team member and not on the grammar!

 If you would like the complete file in PowerPoint format, then contact me by email, Twitter @sonrisadelcampo or leave a message in the comment section and I'll forward the file to you. No cost to you.  :-)

FYI: The background format in the pdf copy above appears differently than it does on my PowerPoint file for whatever reason. It is less distracting on the PowerPoint file.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Try THE MATCH GAME in your MFL class!

The Match Game is a TV panel game that features two contestants that try to match the answers of a 6-member panel.  The game premiered in 1962 on CBS and was updated several times during it's run. The game show host would read a sentence with a blank in it and the contestants wrote an answer to fill in the blank, earning points for each member on the panel that wrote the same answer.

I used the general idea of this game show in class today to reinforce the nosotros (1st person singular) form in the past tense.  It's an easy game that my students enjoyed and which  allowed the students to provide Comprehensible Input to their classmates. It also was a good game to play to add some pizzazz to my 2-hour class today due to state testing.

Teacher prep for The Match Game  
Write a list of situations in the TL on notebook paper or you can write them on a powerpoint slide. These are the sentences I used today:
- Nosotros fuimos a un partido de los Hershey Bears. (a hockey team)
- Encontramos $2.000 en el parque.
- Vimos a Big Foot.
- Fuimos al concierto de Beyoncé.
- Vimos a Zac Efran en Hershey, PA.
- Fuimos a Disney World.
- Compramos un árbol de Navidad.*
- Fuimos a Hawaii.
- Preparamos la cena.
- Visitamos a nuestros abuelos.
- Vimos a una persona que tenía problemas con su coche.
- Fuimos a West Virginia.

(Translations for above: We went to a Hershey Bears hockey game. We found $2,000 in the park. We saw Big Foot. We went to a Beyoncé concert. We saw Zac Efran in Hershey, PA. We went to Disney World. We bought a Christmas tree. We went to Hawaii. We prepared the dinner. We visited our grandparents. We saw a person that had problems with his car. We went to West Virginia.)

Directions to play The Match Game:
Team Shake app
1. Divide the class into two teams. Every student needs a marker, mini-marker board, and an eraser. (I use the app Team Shake to randomly put my students in groups.)
2. Ask for 1 volunteer from each team. The volunteer sits in the front opposite his or her team (or somewhere in the room that the volunteer can NOT see what his team mates have written nor can the team mates see what s/he has written. I constantly needed to remind the students to not lay their boards down on their laps and to write with the board perpendicular to the floor.)

3. Read a sentence. I did a practice round with the sentence: Fuimos a Burger King. (We went to Burger King.) All students write what "we" did next. 
The members on each team were allowed to look at their teammates answers and (quietly) ask them how to spell their answers. But, the two volunteers needed to write their answers without any help. 

4. I asked Team A to show their answers. I read each of them and then the volunteer from Team A showed his answer. His team received a point for each member that matched his answer.

Note: ONLY the answers with the verbs spelled correctly received a point. (I did this because I allowed the students to ask their classmates for help. If the volunteer had his word spelled incorrectly, it did not count against his team since he had no help.) 

Another Note: The students had to write more than the verb. If they said "comimos (we ate)" that did not earn a point if it matched. They had to say "comimos hamburguesas" or "comimos comida". I was lenient on how closely they matched.

5. Then I turned to Team B and checked their answers. I alternated which team started each round.

6. I kept the score for each round on the board. I also wrote the verb that the volunteer had written on the board under the volunteer's name. That team could not use that word again in subsequent rounds, which forced them to use a variety of verbs and to be creative.

This game can easily be alternated to focus on something other than the nosotros form I used with students.

As my principal said earlier this week, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are when we earn our money, meaning it's a difficult time of the school year to teach.  Do yourself a favor and include a game that keeps the students in the target language and helps you make it to the New Year. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

PTS - Post Thanksgiving Slump

Are you one of those teachers that as soon as ACTFL ends you look at where next year's ACTFL will take place and pencil in the dates on your calendar, hoping that you will return the following year? If so, you know the high feeling of being at the conference, attending powerful sessions, collecting ideas to add to your lessons and teaching strategies, listening to and participating in discussions on second language acquisition, connecting with friends, meeting people you've only met before online, buying new novels for your SSR library, and a host of other memorable situations (such as waiting in a line that stretches down the street and then funnels out to 8 lines of a dozen+ deep of people, elbow to elbow, in order to buy some renowned pastries from Mike's pastries). 
long lines at Mike's Pastries, Boston, MA

At my school, returning from ACTFL is followed by a day or two of in-service, then Thanksgiving vacation, black Friday, weekend festivities, and our last free day at home to enjoy Cyber Monday. Then Tuesday rolls around and school is back in session and I'm armed with ideas to improve my teaching and how to help the students soar to heights never imagined.

Then - whoosh, reality hits and the big dreams and expectations deflate in no time flat. What? How can this be? What happened here? Who stopped the music? 

Ohhh, I've seen this before. I know what this is. It's the nasty Post Thanksgiving Slump. If you don't know what I'm referring to, knock on wood, you may very well be in the minority or there must be some strong fairy dust blanketing your classroom. 

If you DO know what I'm talking about, then you may be experiencing the same type of week that other teachers have mentioned in different online forums that I've been reading lately.  

I received an email from a friend yesterday in which she shared about her frustrating day. A big part of her frustrations, and mine after one of my classes in particular today, is the attention, or lack of attention and motivation, from the students. I contribute it to the combination of coming off a long Thanksgiving break (our students had 10 days without school) and looking forward to the Christmas season and other holiday events.  To students, school is the only thing standing between them and another long break. The memories from the previous break rush through their heads and clash with the hopes and plans they have for upcoming break, and this all happens while they're sitting in your classroom. That's exhausting, and then we, world language teachers, expect them to be active participants in class. 

It is what it is. (I actually strongly dislike that expression).

Anyway, after thinking about my friend's email last evening, I decided that my students could use a boost also. I put my current lesson plans on hold and decided to enjoy storytelling, (notice I did not say story-asking), with Jack and the Beanstalk with my Spanish 2 students. The idea was to provide them with solid Comprehensible Input in describing the characters, where they lived, a description of their house and their few possessions, how they felt, etc. 

Before class started, I had already placed the chairs in a big circle. That alone created a stir as students came into the room. (I wrote instructions on the board and allowed them to pick their own seat. Check the end of the post to read how I moved students around before the story.) I started the story by telling them their job was to listen with the intent to understand, let me now if they didn't understand something, and to add details as I asked for them. Below is a general outline of the plan. We only got to the part of the story where Jack traded the cows for magic beans. When the students are adding details, the focus is on the actual story and not finishing the story.

Once upon a time there was a boy. What was his name, class?
The boy lived with his mother. They lived in a little house. Where did they live?
They lived in a little house because they were very poor.  The house had a kitchen. What was in the kitchen? Was there a refrigerator in the kitchen? What color was it? Was it a big refrigerator or a small refrigerator?
The family was poor so there wasn't very much food in the refrigerator. When there was food, what kind of food did the mother put in the refrigerator?
How many bedrooms were in the house? (one) If there was only one bedroom, who slept in the bedroom - the mother or the boy? Ok, so the mother slept in the bedroom, where did the boy sleep? 
The family had one pet. What was the pet?
Then onto the action.
One day the mother was very sad. Class, do you know why she was sad? It was because she was hungry but didn't have money to buy food and there wasn't any food in the refrigerator.  She called her son. She said, "Jack, come here". She asked Jack if he was hungry. He was. They both were hungry. The mother told Jack "go to the market with the (animal that the class decided upon), and sell it for money. Bring the money to me."    

At this point in the story, the students had already helped to expand the story with interesting details. I wanted a quick review so I asked for 3 volunteers and then I drew 3 small boxes on the board. I told the students that, without talking to each other, they each were supposed to choose one element of the story and sketch it in the boxes that I had drawn on the board. I gave them 30 seconds to draw.

While they were drawing, I wanted to keep the other students engaged, so we counted from 30 to 1, in Spanish, but with a twist. We stood up for 30, sat down when we said 29, stood up to say 28, etc. 

We looked at the sketches and the first thing the students had to do was put them in order.

Then I asked students to tell me information about each of the sketches. They said several sentences for each sketch - a great review.

My original plan was to continue the story, but we only had ten minutes remaining in class at that point. (The pre-story activities we did to wrap up yesterday's ending activity and the seat changing activity took time from the beginning of the class so we didn't have the full 70 minutes of class for the story.)

For the last 8 minutes of class, the students did a timed write to retell the story. This information was helpful to me to see their ability to produce the language.  After reading their papers during lunch, I wondered if it would have been more helpful to write the story WITH the students instead of a timed-write. I'm still weighing the pros and cons of the timed-write over a class story writing.

The activity did what I had hoped it would do. It kept the students engaged while they were receiving comprehensible input and it was enjoyable for both the students and for me. It was a one-two punch to the Post Thanksgiving Slump. More of this will be needed; one day doesn't dissolve the slump. 

Here is a novel way idea to change up seating after students have selected their own seats. Keep the 90%+ TL alive by saying the statement in the TL.

The students chose where to sit in the circle. Then I read 10 statements and if the statement applied to them, they had to move from their seat to another seat that was open. If possible, they couldn't sit in a chair on either side of their current chair, and they couldn't sit next to the same person as before.

Stand up and move to another seat if...
- your last name has 7 or more letters.
- your first name has the letter "i"
- you are NOT wearing sneakers
- there were 3 or less (including you) people that slept in the same house that you slept in last night
- you have phys ed class this semester
- you have a female dog
- you are wearing yellow or pink
- you celebrate your birthday in January, February, March, or April
plus other sentences (I had a total of 10 but I can't remember the last two sentences)

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Reasons and Mechanics behind Unannounced Assessments

This may be an odd opening for a language blog post, but roll with it, and I promise you'll see the connection after a few paragraphs:

Example A.
Up until a few years ago, my husband and I were involved in a sector of the food industry. At any time throughout the year, an inspector would come, without notice, to evaluate the cleanliness of the operations and to ensure that procedures were followed that allowed us to ship a product that was safe for consumption.  The inspections were unannounced because they wanted to evaluate the cleanliness and safety of the operation at any given point of time, rather than conduct the inspection after informing us on which date the inspection would take place.

Example B.
Once a month, at my school, our principals conduct an unannounced "walk-through" in each teacher's classroom.  The purpose is for the principals to see a snapshot of how the teachers are delivering instruction. If it were an announced observation, they would not know if what they were observing was an accurate example of the teacher's lessons or if the teacher prepared something out of the ordinary of what they usually do in order to get good marks on the observation. 

Why are these types of visits and inspections unannounced? Unannounced inspections or evaluations give a clear, accurate picture of the subject that is observed and evaluated on that particular day.

This brings me to the point of this post: Why do I use unannounced assessments in my world language classes?
Answer: to have a clear picture of my students' current understanding and their language abilities at any given moment; not to find out how much the students can retain in their memory after a study session preceding the assessment.

I have been giving unannounced formal and informal, formative and summative, assessments for several years, and each year I am more convinced that doing so provides me with accurate information about the students' abilities in the language.  

Below are a few points to consider regarding unannounced assessments:

1. Unannounced assessments and pop-quizzes are not the same
I've heard and read language teachers' discussions on "pop" quizzes and, for the most part, this type of quiz is given to ascertain if the students completed a certain task such as if they read a particular text, or if the students studied a vocabulary list or a certain aspect of the language, or if they competed their homework, (because by completing the homework, the students would have encountered the questions and answers on the "pop" quiz).  

Unannounced assessments, in my world language class, are given to determine the students' progress and skills in the language at any given point in time.  It is not based on material that was studied or memorized.

2. Unannounced assessments in my classroom are NOT "gotcha" situations.
Since I assess for a student's ability in the language, a "gotcha" quiz is non-existent in my classroom. Either the student has acquired the language and his answers on the quiz confirm that, or the student is still in the process of acquiring the language. It will only be a "gotcha" situation if the teacher is assessing if the student completed a task (refer back to #1 for an explanation).

When I give an assessment, I want the students to be able to shine and to show me their growth. There's no "gotcha" motive in sight, but rather "wow me and show me what you can do!"

3. Unannounced summative assessments require more effort on the teacher's part. 
I am constantly assessing my students, both formally and informally. Comprehension checks occur frequently throughout the class period; students are encouraged, almost to the point of required, to let me know when something I say is not comprehensible to them. When students are working with a partner, I may be standing next to one group of students, but I'm really listening to what is happening in another group several yards away. (I am blessed with terrific hearing!)  This listening and interacting with the students, along with the formative assessments, helps me to understand the students' abilities and guides me on when to give an unannounced summative assessment.  If I had planned to give my students a summative assessment, but through the above methods it is clear that they are not ready for the assessment, I postpone the assessment in order to provide additional comprehensible input for the students.

When students do poorly on an unannounced assessment, than it's an indication that, 1) the teacher didn't teach the material well, or 2) the teacher rushed the assessment and didn't allow adequate time for the students to grasp and acquire the language, or 3) the teacher was not successful in providing sufficient comprehensible input in an engaging manner . 

Has that happened to me? Yes, it has. When it happens, I have to step back and honestly reflect on the reasons for the students doing poorly. I look for patterns in their answers and writings, and for clues as to where the breakdown may have occurred. Then I go back to my lesson plans and look for weaknesses in the lessons. I ask the students for their thoughts on the assessment. When I intently search for the answer, almost without fail, it's clear where things went awry. At that point, I talk to the students, share my insights with them, tear up the assessments, and make the necessary changes to my plans that will help the students be successful in their language acquisition.   

There is nothing "routine" about teaching in a classroom with unannounced summative assessments. It requires me to be tuned into the students' progress, to be on the outlook for any misunderstandings or learning blocks they may encounter, and to be flexible as to when to give the assessment.
4. Students are more relaxed with unannounced assessments.
In my years of teaching, before I taught with Comprehensible Input as my goal, I used to announce dates for future quizzes and the content on those quizzes.  This resulted in students coming into class and pulling out notes or their textbooks to cram every last second of study time before taking the quiz or test.  They often said things such as "quick, give me the quiz/test before I forget everything". They were nervous because they knew the information that was floating in their short-term memory, from cramming the night before, or from cramming in the previous class, was a memory timebomb. If they didn't write the answers as quickly as possible, their memory was going to fail them.

I quickly learned, (but unfortunately was slow to admit and to change), that this type of testing didn't provide information on the students' ability and the the language they had acquired.  It wasn't valid, nor was it reproducible, without announcing the quiz again. Neither were the results of these assessments helpful in guiding my instruction. Those types of quizzes provided a grade for the grade book, but did little to identify the students' true abilities. 

Before I started teaching for language acquisition, I often heard those student comments. It made my heart sink because 1) I knew it wasn't an accurate assessment of the students' abilities, and 2) I realized the time and energy both the student and I invested in order for the student to "learn" the material, could disappear in a few short minutes. 

With unannounced assessments, those types of statements have disappeared. The students know that when I hand out an assessment, I am confident in their ability to do well on the assessment.

5. Unannounced assessments scare teachers more than students.
When teachers announce on which date an assessment will be given, this gives the students time to learn the material, and to study and/or review the material. Then, if a student does poorly on the announced quiz or test, the teacher can easily respond that the student did not do his part in preparing for the test. The blame, for lack of a better word, is placed on the student. If a parent is upset because his child did not receive the grade he wanted, the teacher can point out that it was the student's responsibility to seek out help before the assessment took place since it was announced x number of days in advance. 

Another benefit to announcing quizzes for the teacher, is that it is easier for a student to perform higher than his actual ability in the language. Those higher grades keep students and parents happy, especially those that are focused on the grade and its relation to GPA rather than its relation to one's ability to communicate in the language. 

6. Students, parents, and administrators need to understand the reason (and manner of teaching) behind unannounced assessments.
Each year when I meet a new group of students, it is my responsibility to explain how students are assessed in my classroom and why I give unannounced assessments.  As a whole, students know when they are receiving a grade in a class, (in any discipline), that doesn't match their abilities. I make it clear that my goal is to accurately assess them as I work with them to find ways in which they can increase their proficiency in the language. I encourage students to focus on listening and reading with the intent to understand, with their "focus" on the language (not the grade), and then the grade will follow rather than focus on a grade and hope the language ability will follow.

When students understand that my focus is on their language abilities and that I want to showcase their growth, then the trust in the classrooms increases and they perceive assessments in a different light. I provide assessments for them to highlight that growth. 

It's definitely a positive mindset for both the students and the teacher!

The tip of the iceberg.
Announced versus unannounced assessments is only the tip of the iceberg in the discussion on valid assessments and assigned grades.  Correctly assessing a student's proficiency in a language is a huge topic and certainly not one that can be discussed fully in a blog post. In my opinion, it's an area in which colleges should work more closely with educational students in preparing them on how to create accurate and valid assessments. 

For current WL teachers, it's a topic in which all of us could grow and improve through in-depth discussions and a willingness to listen to others and their experiences.   


Grading Categories:
In the world language department at my school, we are making a sincere effort to provide accurate measurements of the students' progress and to match that information to a letter grade.  It is an on-going journey as we view our assessments with a critical eye and sort them into the proper formative or summative category. We provide a large amount of informal and formal formative assessments, and a smaller number of summative assessments.  Our grading categories are:

4% Homework - because I believe that a student's willingness to do or not do homework should not have a huge impact on his grade
16% Class Work - includes any work completed in class that is graded, also includes formative quizzes
80% Summative - unannounced quizzes or assessments (which means the students have not prepared or studied for the assessment)

(It is possible that we may change the percentages for the next school year, to place a higher percentage in the summative category.)

I'm not saying that all of the assessments in my class are unannounced. For example, all students know when the final exam takes place. However, in a marking period, announced assessments that are recorded in the 80% summative category are few and far in between, if they even exist.

My colleague and I recently presented at ACTFL in Boston on assessments and in the 1 hour session we gave an overview on what we do in our classroom. Click HERE to see a brief summary of the main points in our session. If I had my way, assessments as we understand them now, would disappear from the WL classroom.  Until that happens, I will continue my journey in providing valid assessments that reflect the students' abilities in the language. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Written Story Retells Made EASY with Powerpoint

Below are simple instructions to get some extra mileage of students' sketches of class stories.  I acknowledge that this easy method using Powerpoint may be old news for many, . . . but, in case you didn't consider this option, I'm going to pass along this cool little feature of Powerpoint. 

1. Take a photo of your class artist's sketches from one of your class stories. (added bonus - your student artist(s) get positive recognition for their work!)
2. Email it to yourself (or create the powerpoint directly on your smart phone)
3. Insert the sketches onto a powerpoint slide or slides.
4. Insert Text Boxes to number the sketches.
5. In the notes section (the white section below the powerpoint slide), write instructions and add numbers. Be sure to return after each number to allow sufficient space to write sentences. Don't forget to include a space for students to write their names.

6.  Go to the Print function to print the slides. Powerpoint has 8 printing choices in the drop down menu.  They are:
- Slides 
- Handouts (2 slides per pg) 
- Handouts (3 slides per pg) 
- Handouts (4 slides per pg)
- Handouts (6 slides per pg)
- Handouts (9 slides per pg)
- Notes
- Outline    

Choose the Notes option.

You will be able to see a preview of the document on the left (as seen below).  If you see that you didn't provide enough space between the numbers, make the adjustments on the powerpoint slide notes section before printing.
Check preview before printing your document

7. Print!
With very little time invested, you will have a document with the sketches, a place for students to write their names, instructions, and numbered spaces for students to write sentences. PLUS, since the sketches are on a powerpoint, you can easily project the sketches to talk about them before writing the story.

The teacher can write the sentences on the board and the students can copy the sentences OR the students can work alone or with a partner to write the sentences. It's also a quick informal or formal assessment if you use sketches that you have not used in class. 

Below are two powerpoint slides made into a Written Story Retell paper that I distributed to the students.
Sketches by the amazing artist T.F.
Sketches by the amazing artist T.F.

  Another option is for the teacher to type the story sentences directly on the powerpoint notes section as shown in the example below:

Type story directly in the Presenter Notes section on the ppt slide

Here is a summary of my plans for the structures SAW, GAVE TO HIM/HER, WAS DISAPPOINTED (which are targeted in the story above). For a more thorough explanation, visit THIS POST from 2014.

1. The class & I created a story with the basic plot that someone wanted to give another person a gift so the character when 3 places, lists what the person saw, that he bought a gift and then gave it to another person, and the person was disappointed with the gift. 

I projected the document "Graphic Organizer for Guided Storytelling" and as I told the story, the students provided the names of the characters, where they went, what they saw, to whom the character gave the gift.  
Graphic Organizer for Guided Storytelling

2. As were were creating the story, another student was drawing the story. We use the sketched story during our class review of the story because it doesn't have any words and the students are able to hear the target structures again - repetition in context!  The illustrations on the right are by the one and only amazing Ava K.   
3.  We reviewed and retold the story using the sketches above and answered the questions written by the student question writer. 

4. I distributed a blank Graphic Organizer for Guided Storytelling to students (pictured below). Students worked in pairs to create details of a different story and then they sketched the story. They rotated around the room and shared their stories with other groups of students.

5. One of the groups created the story with the illustrations shown in the first half of this post. I decided to put those sketches on a powerpoint point slide to get additional reps on the focus structures
6. The following day I told the story with Scott and Bill as I projected the sketches from the powerpoint on the board.

7. I distributed the document (it was front and back) of the powerpoint slides that had instructions for the students to write sentences about the story.

8.  The homework that evening was for students to show their written story to their parents and to read it to them in Spanish.