Monday, December 31, 2012

Setting Goals for 2013

Usually before a new school year begins in August, I find a notebook and jot down 5 or 6 goals for the new school year.  From time to time I refer to them to see which ones I have reached and which I have completely pushed to the side.  Admittedly, that is the easy way out because if I don't accomplish those goals, nobody knows but me.  

However, for the new calendar year, I'm writing my list here, hoping it will be an extra incentive for me to work to accomplishing ALL the goals on my list.

Directly Related to the Classroom
1.  Continue to provide Comprehensible Input in the Target Language, with pockets of "pop-up grammar".

2. Provide more authentic listening resources to all levels and find a schedule that won't compromise that commitment.

3. Read, Read, Read.   I have a growing library of Spanish books at different levels.  Now I have to be consistent in providing time for students to choose a book that appeals to them and read during class. 

4. Rewrite Spanish 2 curriculum.  I've already made major changes to what I wrote last summer.  I have 3 Spanish 2 classes in the spring semester so I'm hoping to make adjustments and improvements as needed as I use it with my students. My highest priority are the High Frequency Words in the past tenses.

5. Have students in upper levels blog. I've done this in the past with Spanish 4 and Spanish 5, but I didn't have my Spanish 4 class blog this fall.  In the past I had them blog once a week, but then changed it to every other week.  I'll add this to the spring semester and weigh the pros and cons at the end of the semester.

6. Collaborate with other classes in the US and other countries.  Last year my students and I had success with students in several parts of the world through Skype and VoiceThread.  
- Postcard Project- Thanks to Amy Lenord for organizing this!
- Global Blog - My experiment with blogging with my students and students in other parts of the world. I'm still looking for classes of native Spanish speakers in other parts of the world that are studying English to participate with us and others in this project.
- Another VoiceThread?

7. Invite native Spanish speakers to the classroom to share their experiences and knowledge of Spanish countries and the hispanic community and culture.

Professional Development
8. Attend a minimum of one workshop or conference that is specifically aimed at TPRS instruction or has several sessions on TPRS and CI within the conference.  Several options high on my list are:
- NTPRS 2013 in Dallas, TX
- ACTFL 2013 in Miami, FL
- 2013 iFLT Conference in San Diego, CA - would love to go to this but it doesn't fit my schedule
- local workshops

9. Find a new blog by a TPRS teacher.  I have several that I read on a regular basis, but I know there are others that somehow I haven't found yet that would be helpful.  Here is my list I currently have.

10. Find new educators to follow on Twitter that share activities and technology that they use in the classroom.  My twitter name is @sonrisadelcampo.  If you tweet about ideas for teaching and professional development, please contact me so I can add your tweets to the stream.

11. Read in Spanish. I love to read in Spanish and I am convinced that this is the best thing I can do for maintaining and improving my abilities and knowledge of the Spanish language.  The challenge is to find time for reading.

Stepping out of my comfort zone
Admittedly, organization is not one of my strong points, which makes the following items more of a challenge for me than for some.

12. Offer an after-school Spanish program for elementary school students.  I've had this goal for several years now, but I've never moved past the idea stage.  Now is the time to get working on the specifics of the program and then share the plan with the school administrators.

13.  Organize a local group of TPRS teachers.  Michele Whaley writes about a group of TPRS teachers in Alaska that meet monthly.  I can't think of a better way to support each other and share ideas, but the idea of organizing something similar is overwhelming to me. My best bet is to team up with like-minded individuals to make this a reality.

14.  Write a proposal to share some of my classroom activities (in other words: present) at a conference.  This is way beyond my comfort zone. 

There is my list, online and out in the open.  It will keep me a little more accountable to work toward achieving those goals.  


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Freeze Frame to Re-enact the Story

Last week was rough physically.  I was out the first two days due to the flu and pushed too hard to return to the classroom again on Wednesday. Because I rushed to return, Wednesday I didn't have the energy needed to lead a new story with TPRS.  So for my second day back, I felt like I had three days to make-up and in Spanish 1, we blew it out of the water!

There were two things that I felt I had to do to try to get back on track: 1) move to the next episode in the "Cuentos de Ensalada" story, and 2) introduce 3 new structures/vocabulary words in a new through TPRS.

Episode 7 (photo from 2011)
First, I reviewed the last information we knew about "Teresa and Tomás" and then I taught episode 7 from "Cuentos de Ensalada" with the surprise crime scene in the park.  I distributed a copy of the episode and I read several paragraphs in Spanish and then students worked in small groups to translate it to English. When they read it in English, I eavesdropped on several groups and was pleased to hear ALL groups reading through it without any major problems.

Immediately following the reading, I had new structures on the board for them to copy in their notebooks and added the English meanings.  Some we had actually had before, but it was a good time to review.  The structures were:  
- tropieza = s/he trips
- se cae = s/he falls
- es torpe = s/he is clumsy
- derrama = s/he spills

The story was about one of the students in the class that works as a waitress/waiter but is clumsy.  A famous person enters the restaurant, orders soup, which the clumsy waittress/waiter delivers to the table but unfortunately trips, spills the soup on the famous person, and then falls down.  The famous person is quite angry, stands up and leaves the restaurant.  

I started the story without any actors, but quickly added student actors when I saw the student interest.  The class enjoyed hearing the story from beginning to end with the actors.  That alone would have keep their interest, but I had one more activity for them - FREEZE FRAME, an activity that I learned from Carol Gaab's session at ACTFL.

In the first Spanish 1 class of the day, there were 3 parts so I put students in groups of 3 and they decided which person they would portray.  Then the groups spread out through the room and as I told the story, I paused at times to say FREEZE FRAME, and they froze their actions.  They needed no encouragement whatsoever to get into their roles.  The 2nd Spanish 1 class only had two roles and after a few practices, they were just as creative and imaginative with their poses as the first Spanish 1 class.  The best part was their laughter and enjoyment of the activity.  Of course, the fact that they followed along as I retold the story without any problems made the activity "worthy".  

It was two out of the ballpark homeruns in one class period - twice.  Yesterday's frustration is a dull memory. 


Friday, December 14, 2012


I'm using Cuentos de Ensalada with my Spanish 1 classes in the present tense and with my Spanish 2 class in the past tenses.  In one episode, they learn the teacher's schedule, when she wakes up, when she drives to school, when she exercises, etc.

To review the previous episode, I put the sketches on the board and asked the students to tell me about her schedule.  When we got to the sketch of her driving, a girl raised her hand and correctly used "condujo" without hesitation.  I was so glad to see that even the irregular verbs didn't pose a problem for the Spanish 2 students.

That evening, I took home writings from the students in which they wrote several diary entries as if they were "Brandon" from the book "El Nuevo Houdini".  When I read their writings on the diary entries, my excitement from earlier in the day diminished.  Either the students didn't take into consideration that since they were writing as if they were Brandon they needed to change the verbs accordingly (from él form to yo form) or we had a LOT of work to do with the first person singular form of verbs in the pastThe diary writing assignment was on a day that I was out sick so I didn't specifically leave a reminder that they needed to change the verbs, so that may have helped them, but that I'll never know.  

What I do know, is that when they produce answers, as they did during the exercise in class, it's not as a result of memorizing or "studying" but the result of constant input, input, input.  Of which...obviously... they need more.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Los gemelos & the Imperfect Subjunctive

I experimented with a new way to introduce the imperfect subjunctive.   

First I wrote on the board "Los gemelos Sánchez" along with a short explanation in Spanish that they were 15 year old twin boys that were super naughty.  I listed 20+ verbs on the board in the infinitive form to guide them to the verbs I wanted them to useThe students worked in groups of 4 to use the verbs listed on the board to write a list of things they "heard" that the twins did last week.

After 10 minutes +/-, students wrote some of their sentences on the board.  We read their sentences, commenting on the boys' behavior.  

Then I told the class that not only did the twins do those actions last week, but they were in the habit of doing those things all the time. 

Then I asked them how they thought the mother of the twins felt about their behavior, and how others felt about it.  I wrote the beginning of the sentence and then ended it with the verb in the form they hadn't seen before, the imperfect subjunctive.

A la madre de los gemelos le enojaba que los gemelos robaran dinero de su hermana menor.

Sus profesores estaban tristes que los gemelos siempre sacaran notas malas.

Of course I second guessed myself and wondered if it would have been better to take a few of their sentences and weave it into a story.   

Thursday, November 29, 2012

El Nuevo Houdini - 2nd Activity

I read chapter 5 of the book El Nuevo Houdini by Carol Gaab to my Spanish 2 students today.  I didn't do any particular prereading activities because they already know most of the vocabulary.  However, I did force myself to read slower and stopped to circle and reinforce some of the less known structures.

After reading, I paired the students and gave each group of 2 an index card and a blank sheet of paper.  They had to find a sentence in chapter 5 to sketch on the paper and they wrote the sentence on the index card.  Then we put the sketches around the room and the students worked with their partner to find the sentence in the chapter that matched the sketch and they wrote that on a separate paper.  In other words, they had to read the text AGAIN.  :)

The sketch is the sentence, "Limpio por diez minutos, pero sin resultados." 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"El Nuevo Houdini" activity

Today I did an activity with my Spanish 2 class that I learned when I attended Carol Gaab's session at ACTFL12. She shared several ideas for activities to accompany reading the book "El Nuevo Houdini".  One of her ideas was to   write adverbs on index cards before class, then choose a line from the chapter that you are reading.  Distribute the adverb cards to the students, and they have to stand up and read a sentence from the chapter in the manner that is written on their card.  Some examples are, "sadly, angrily, impatiently, etc."   Then the students have to guess what word (adverb) the student is trying to portray as they read the sentence.

I read Chapter 4 to the class today.  Then we went back to the first page of the chapter and I told them to find words that ended in -mente (adverbs - which are -ly words in English).  After we finished going through the chapter, we had 10 adverbs on the list.  I then asked the class to tell me a full sentence in Spanish.  One student chose, "Me llamo (and his name)."  Ok, simple enough, but it would still work.

I distributed the index cards to the students that had the following adverbs from the chapter:  
  entusiasmadamente (enthusiastically)        nerviosamente (nerviously)
  románticamente  (romantically)                 felizmente (happily)
  sarcásticamente (sarcastically)                  rápidamente (rapidly)

The students took turns saying the sentence in the way that was written on their cards.  They had fun with this activity, especially when the person with the "románticamente" card said the sentence "romantically".  They asked to do it again so they chose another sentence and I redistributed the cards.  

When Carol demonstrated the activity at the conference, I thought it was a cute idea, but wasn't convinced that my high school students would agree.  After their reactions today, I see that I shouldn't have been skeptical.  It was a fun activity and it gave repetitions of words ending in -mente, which should help them with comprehension of that structure the next time they read or hear a word with that ending.  Thanks for the idea Carol!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Weather matches the lesson

File photo from winter 2011-12
I planned today's lesson before our Thanksgiving break, which was a week ago. Some of the new structures for today included: 
hace frío = it's cold
hay mucha nieve = there is a lot of snow
está nevando = it is snowing
We also had 3 new clothing words: el gorro (hat); la chaqueta (jacket) & los mitones (mittens).

As luck would have it, the first snowfall of the winter season greeted us this morning and it was still snowing when I taught both my Spanish 1 classes.

Because I'm feeling crunched for time, we didn't stray much from the story I had previoulsy typed during the "story-asking".  At one point in the lesson, I decided to pause and ask the students to think of reasons why the boy in the story is surprised (está sorprendido).  They worked in groups of 2 or 3 to think of a sentence and then shared them with the class.  I was so impressed with their answers because the majority of them were complicated, compound sentences filled with adjectives and prepositions, AND they were grammatically correct.  

At the end of the story they each wrote another sentence on the paper with the typed story to say why the boy was surprised again.

This link will take you to the story if you care to read it. The words in this lesson will help prepare the students to watch the video ALMA which I showed to my Spanish 1 students last fall and was a big hit with them.  We need one more day of learning several vocabulary words and then we'll be ready for video....finally!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Uses of VoiceThread in the MFL

VoiceThread is a handy web2.0 tool that can be used in various ways in the language classroom.  After viewing a powerpoint presentation on web2.0 tools, I realized that I have only used VoiceThread one time this semester with my Spanish 4 students.  Since today is still part of my Thanksgiving vacation, I had time to be creative and find a new way to use VoiceThread.

I started four stories with different themes I'll play the VoiceThread in class for the students to listen to the beginning of the 4 storiesAs a class, we'll brainstorm some possible endings to the stories.  The following day, I'll take them to the computer lab and they'll have the opportunity to choose one of the four stories and create their own ending to the story, preferable with a verbal comment instead of a written comment.  

I know this isn't classified as a pure CI activity because it requires output from the students.  However, at the Spanish 4 level, I like to provide them with different ways in which they can demonstrate their verbal skills in the TL.  Also, when we listen to the recordings in the classroom together for the first time, I will use CI methods, as needed, to assure that the students understand each of the situations.  The group response and brainstorming possibilities provides even more CI as I review and provide support when needed.

Other ways I and others have used VoiceThread in the classroom:

1. Mini-lecture.  I created a VoiceThread on customs that pertain to superstitions and rituals surrounding the death of a person, which included uploaded images and my recorded voice to expalin them.  I had a student that was not in school for several weeks due to health reasons.  Recording on VoiceThread allowed me to provide the notes in a comprehensible way as the student listened to Spanish instead of simply giving a handout with written notes.  

2. A TPRS Story.  In the VoiceThread site I searched the keyword "Spanish" and I found this TPRS story told by the teacher.  

A variation on this is to put sketches on the VoiceThread and the students need to tell the story, (with X number of comments from each student).  HERE is an example of this in an elementary school.  I did something similar to this using the story Clic Clac Moo in Spanish that I found on the internet.

3.  Connect with Students around the World. Last year my students were involved in 3 different VoiceThreads with students from Taiwan, Mexico, Spain.  Two of the VoiceThreads were ones that I made for the students to share with others about their schools, communities, hobbies, etc.  The third one was created by an Spanish teacher in Taiwan in which students used the video feature to show a gesture and then explain its meaning in Spanish.

4.  Conditional Tense.  I uploaded pictures of odd happenings and asked the students, ¿Qué harías tú en esta situación? and they commented on X number of photos using the conditional tense.  (It's a little centered on the grammar side, but the odd pictures provided motivation for the students to share what they would do in that situation.)

5.  Student Projects. (such as a photos and audio to explain how to make a recipe common to a particular country) I have reduced the number of projects that I do in my language classes because, after looking at them carefully, I felt few of them were accurate assesments of the students' skills.  However, if you needed the students to create a project that included pictures, written and/or verbal comments, and an opportunity to allow others to collaborate with them on project, whether the others are members of the classroom or are students in another part of the country or world, VoiceThread would fit the requirements and is easy to use.   

Are there other ways of using VoiceThread in the classroom that I have overlooked?  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Communicative Game (thanks Kelly)

Leave it to my extended family, that loves to play games, to give me an idea for a game to use with my Spanish classes.  After eating our Thanksgiving Day feast, my niece stood up and announced that she had a game for us to play before we left the table.  Before we had arrived at her house, she had taped a question underneath everyone's chair.  She chose someone to select a person and read the question to that person. That person answered the question by choosing someone in the room that they thought best fit the answer to the question.  When the question was answered, the person that answered the question then read his/her question, and so forth. It was a fun game and engaging because it was interesting to see how others answered. 

This game/activity can easily be adapted in the MFL classroom.  I listed the questions below, but you could easily change them or add questions that suit your students. In the lower levels, I suggest using only vocabulary that students already know or vocabulary that can be made comprehensible with little effort.  The goal is not necessarily to introduce new vocabulary, but to provide more input, keep the students engaged, and offer an opportunity for students to respond in the TL.  

Below are the questions that my niece had prepared. (again - translate them into the language you teach and edit them as necessary to make them comprehensible and interesting to your students).

- What sport would the person beside you most likely win gold at the Olympics?
- If the person beside you wrote a book, what would it be about?
- If the person beside you was a cartoon, who would they be?
- Who in this room tells the best jokes?
- If the person beside you starred in a movie, what would it be?
- Who in this room has the best smile?
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
- What is your favorite (holiday/summer/school) memory?
- Who in this room would most likely appear on the Nightly News? Why?
- Who in this room is the most technologically savvy?
- Who in this room is the best cook?
- If you could go to any concert for free, who would you go see?  Why?
- Who in this room would most likely appear on Survivor? Would they win?
- Who in this room would most likely run for public office? What office?
- Who in this room has the worst spelling?
- Who in this room is most likely to pick up a hitchhiker?
- Who in this room is the best dancer?
- Who in this room would most likely win The Amazing Race?  And who would be their partner?
- Who in this room is most attached to their pet?
- Who in this room is most likely to go see The Hobbit?
- Who in this room would win The Hunger Games?
- What animal does the person to your left resemble?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Goodbye Desks

About four weeks into school I decided to change the classroom set-up and pushed all the desks against the walls in the back and side of the room.  The photo on the left is how the room looks when I leave for the day.  When the first class of students enters in the morning, they retrieve their chairs that are stored under & on top of the desks for the evening (to make it easier for the evening staff to clean), and put the chairs in the assigned spots where their desks used to be.  

Why did I think it was a good idea to eliminate desks?  For starters, I have two level 1 classes, one level 2 class, and one level 4 class.  A great deal of time in the lower levels is spent on telling/asking stories, adding details to the stories, and reading.  None of these things require a desk.  

Secondly, my experience has been that the students are more engaged in the class without the desks and things they would normally put on their desk that have the potential to distract them.  Another benefit: no desks means none of the students have their heads down on the desk during class.

My Spanish 4 class only has 16 students, so that is a small enough number for us to form a circle with the chairs, or a semi-circle if I plan to write on the board or use the interactive projector.  

What was the students' reaction? The first day they thought it was odd, funny, or maybe a bit cool.  As the days went by I thought I might encounter some resistance and complaining, but that hasn't been the case.  It could be that the students enjoy the setting because it is different than their other classes.  I like it because it feels more conversational and comfortable.  From time to time a student will ask me when I'm going to put the desks back, then I answer, "at the end of the semester", and they have no additional questions.

When students sketch a story or sketch what happens next in a story, or take a quiz or exam, or write the 3 new structures or vocabulary for the lesson in their notebooks, they use a clipboard which was generously donated by Mark Hershey Farms, a local business in the community.  (Some day I need to buy a milk crate to store them, but until then they're kept in the cardboard box.)

For the second semester, when I'll have completely new classes, I'll go back to the traditional arrangement of desks in groups of 2, in rows, facing forward.  After I have the chance to get to know the students, and they understand the expectations of the class, I'll go back to no desks.  

This arrangement is similar to what I did last spring, but the students still worked at the desks when they worked in groups from time to time.  This semester, the only time the desks are used, by a few, is during formal assessments.