Tuesday, April 30, 2013

CI and TPRS methods with Available Resources

There are a huge amount of valuable resources available on the internet that can easily be integrated into a CI/TPRS classroom.  An excellent video series that falls into this category is BBC Mi Vida Loca.

This year I am using this video series with my Spanish 2 students.  However, I wanted to add more repetition and comprehensible input to the information, concentrating on the high frequency vocabulary and grammar structures.

One way I am experimenting with this, is by taking screen shots of the episode, and then asking questions about the events.  Since this video series is designed that you (the students) are visiting Madrid and (you are/the students are) involved in the action, it is a perfect way to include practice of the "yo" and "nosotros/as" forms.

Update: I reviewed previous episodes and also episode 7 this activity this morning with two of my Spanish 2 classes.  On the first slide of the powerpoint, I asked for a volunteer(s) to describe what happened according to the photos.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but in both classes, the sentences the students said were better than I expected.  In one class, one student rattled more than one sentence per photo and...used the preterit, and one time the imperfect, correctly.  The students took some of the focus words from the previous day's story using yo le di las flores a ella, yo las compré, and cuando yo llegúe and used them in another context. (Whew. I needed that reassurance.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Voice Comments on Google Drive (Google Docs)

Update:  I used GoogleDocs as described below for a short writing assignment my students did.  This may be a nice option for online or distance learning, but for me, it was more cumbersome and time-consuming to complete it using the GoogleDocs.   

Heads up:  This post deals with technical matters in commenting on students' writing.  It is an OPTION for teachers that feel comfortable using technology. The purpose of the post is to explain how to use Voice Comments on Google Drive for those interested, particularly for those with online classes. It may prove to be too time-consuming for the regular classroom teacher.

When the students in my upper level Spanish classes complete a formal writing for my class, I want to give them constructive feedback on their writing.  The ideal situation is to have a one-on-one conference with them during class, but this takes precious time away from more important class activities.  The other drawback is when you do have a one-on-one conference with students during the class, you need to plan an assignment for the other students while they wait for their turn.

For two to three years, the way I got around taking time in class to do this, was by using KidBlog, screencast.com and Jing. I commented on the students' posts, embedded powerpoints, and other writings, highlighting their words. When the recording was finished I uploaded the recording to screencast, received a link, and posted that link to their KidBlog or sent it via email. 

This week I found a similar way to comment on student writings, but it is streamlined if the student and the teacher use GoogleDocs.  My students worked on a written assignment on GoogleDocs on Thursday and when I receive them, I will try out the Voice Comments app in GoogleDocs for audio feedback.

Note: I do not expect to use this option every time students hand in a paper.  Even though it is streamlined from what I used to do, it still involves a considerable amount of time. (Can you imagine doing this for several classes totaling 70+ or more students?)  I imagine I will use it on a limited basis and only with my higher levels.

Here are the steps to accomplish this:

1. Add the Voice Comments app to Google Docs. Open Google Drive, click on Create, click on Connect More Apps.  Then search for: Voice Comments.

2. When you search for the Voice Comments app it will have a blue rectangle on the right that says "connect". Click on "connect" to add the app. (The screenshot to the left shows the words "rate it" because I already have it installed.)

 3. To comment on a students' work that they created on Google Drive, right click on the folder to open, choose "Open with" then chose "Voice Comments".

 You will need to click "yes" to give permission for the Voice Comments app to work within your Google Drive.  You can click on "yes" and "remember" and you will not need to repeat the step in the future.

4.  When the document opens, you will see learn.ly at the top left. Click on "rec" to start recording your comments.

5.  After you start recording, you will see buttons below the recording tab which you can use to highlight words as you comment on them.  (i.e. When I commented about no need to capitalize the "S" in "Septiembre" and other needed corrections, I used the highlighting tool so it will be easy for the student to follow along with me.) When you are finished, click the pause button, and then remember to click on "Share with Collaborators".  This will attach the recording to the student's work.

6. Remind the students that they need to click on the "Comments" tab when they open their document. Then click on the link provided in order to be able to listen to your comments.

7. After clicking the link, they will have to click "remember" and "yes" to allow their program to access the video. Then they will see the screen with learn.ly at the top left.  Click on the green arrow to begin the recording. If the student clicks on the "recording" tab, they can also add a comments.

(You can see the first error highlighted to help the student follow along with the recording.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Conversation Circles

My upper level classes regularly have conversations in the target language about various topics. The most challenging part for me is how to encourage everyone participate in the TL discussion on a fairly equal basis.  The majority of the students participate without hesitation even when they see that I am not tracking their participation.   

Two weeks ago, I read Amy Lenord's post on Conversation Circles (find it here).  I implemented some of her techniques last Monday, April 15, and again during today's Conversation Circle.  These inlucde:

1. I wrote the names of the students on index cards and put the names on the chairs. Their new "assigned" seats were waiting for them when they entered the classroom.
2. Students had to write at least 2 questions before starting. 
3. I  wrote the rules on the board in Spanish (see Amy's blog), and also told them I would try my best NOT to be part of the conversation. 
4. I keep record of how many times students contributed to the

Our first topic was death because we were ready dto start a unit that has Unamuno's poem "El niño enfermo", Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "La viuda de Montiel", a discussion on cementeries with solar panels, and other related readings).  After 40 minutes of the conversation circle, I had to end the discussion even though they were still going strong. They were invested in the conversation, enjoying learning more about each other, and had prepared excellent questions. (i.e. Would you rather live forever or die? Why would you or wouldn't you want to live to be 100? Did you ever have a pet that died? What are memories you have of a loved one that passed away? etc)

On the tally sheet I marked:
? = asked a question
l = contributed to the conversation
x = spoke in English (there was only one "x")

At the end of the activity, I addressed a few of the errors I had heard by writing part of the sentence on the board and the students made the corrections.  

Today's topic was "lo sobrenatural" which will lead us into our next area of focus which is magic realism.  Students discussed their opinions on ghosts, ghostly encounters, haunted houses, unexplained events, movies with ghosts, and on and on.  It reminds me when teenagers get together to hang out and the conversation naturally flows, but of course in class it is focused on a particular subject and, it is in Spanish. 

Benefits of the Conversation Circle:
1 - The students are quick to express their opinions about subjects that are interesting to them; dead spots in the conversation are almost non-existent.
2 - Since I'm not leading the conversation, (I actually sit outside of their circle), I am able to listen more intently to what each of them says; I'm not preparing to ask the next question. I am able to pick out common errors and adjust future lessons accordingly.
3 - The conversations are VERY interesting. The students (and I) are learning things about each other that I know we wouldn't have the opportunity to do so without our conversation time.
4 - It's student-centered; the students don't depend on me to lead the conversation. It's interesting to see how students participate in the conversation and monitor when it is time to ask a new question.
5 - The students write a wider variety of questions than what I would write.  (The old "two heads are better than one" idea.)
6 - It's true communication - not contrived.  They share their opinion or experiences and others respond to them, often requiring the first student to defend or expand on what they originally said.
7 - It's fun. It's relaxing.  We're teaching a 2nd language to the students so they can communicate in the language and that is exactly what they're doing in this activity.         

Drawbacks: The most difficult part of this activity is for me NOT to join the conversation. It requires quite a bit of restraint on my part! I admit that there are times when I can't help myself and I cheat and make a small contribution to the conversation.

If you need some ideas for types of questions for the students each other, click HERE for a handy resource to go along with this type of activity.

photo found at: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/cemetery-power-stations-dead-join-fight-against-global-warming

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Language Classes are NOT Created Equal

At times I read the curriculum for language programs of schools throughout the US. But often when I compare what students in other language programs are able to accomplish in one semester or traditional school year compared to what we are accomplishing, it can be frustrating.

The key for me is to remember that all language classes are NOT created equal, especially when you consider the number of instructional hours available for each level. The chart below, gives a good indication of how quickly shorter class periods fall behind throughout the language levels.

                                           A                 B                 C

The numbers in the columns represent the amount of instructional hours the students have received by the end of each level.  The first comparison I'll address is Level 4 students in column A and Level 3 students in column B.

In column A, students that complete Level 4 have had 420 hours of instruction, and students in column B in Level 3 have had only 15 hours less of instruction than students in Level 4.  Those 15 hours of instruction are equivalent to 10 days (if on a 90 min block) or 20 days (if on a 45 minute traditional schedule).  

In other words, if students that completed Level 3 in column B were to have an additional 10 classes (block schedule) or 20 classes (traditional schedule), they would have had the same amount of instruction as students FINISHING level 4 in column A. 

The second comparison is between Level 5 students in column A and Level 4 students in column B.  The Level 4 students have had MORE instructional time than the Level 5 students! The Level 5 students would need an additional 15 hours of instruction to equal the instructional time available to the Level 4 students. (Once again the difference equals 10 block classes of 70 minutes or 20 traditional classes of 45 minutes.) Retention rates suddenly carry even more importance for schools with schedules like that of column A if they are trying to guide their students toward proficiency.

Clearly, we should not compare our students with others when the instructional time is not identical. (That statement is directed towards me.) But we do need to be aware of the different abilities, as a whole, of students after X amount of hours. If you are planning to collaborate with students in another class in a different school district or state, don't automatically assume you should pair your Spanish 3 class with another Spanish 3 class.

The tricky part for me is trying to gauge at what ACTFL proficiency level my students are at and if they are where they are supposed to be given the number of instructional hours they have had. I want my students to progress, but at the same time I've seen how counterproductive it is to deliver the material at a more rapid rate. Overall, as I read ACTFL's proficiencies descriptions, I am happy with the progress I see in my students.  Happy, but not content.

I suppose this post was born out of a feeling that it's crunch time as we near the end of the school year.  I look at the amount of things I still want to "teach" to my students, how many readers I want to read with them, etc, and my head starts to spin.  I want my students to soar, but their wings are still maturing.  These things take time. 
Instead, I need to remind myself to celebrate the progress that the students have made and continue working toward proficiency with the precious hours that are available to me as their teacher.  For me, it puts a greater emphasis on using effective teaching methods that truly help the students to acquire the language, daily reflection on what "worked" and didn't work in my lesson plans, and a continual willingness to be flexible when designing my lessons. 

(Note: In this post my main focus is on the amount of instructional hours. The method of instruction plays a critical part in students' abilities, but that is an entirely different matter for another time and another post.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Embedding Culture in TPRS & CI

Last weekend I took some time to look over the curriculum in an effort to find areas that my Spanish 2 students needed additional emphasis or exposure. The obvious answer was irregular preterit verbs, especially in the nosotros form, but I wanted to add cultural information that enabled me to teach those forms.  We had just finished reading El Nuevo Houdini and in the teacher's guide, there are two cultural readings on Mexico.  My students had read one of them, but the day I had planned to read the second one we ran out of time.  (Both of the readings were written by Kristy Placido.)

My goal was set: create a lesson with a story and other materials on
- irregular preterit verbs in the nosotros form
- continued use of the imperfect 
- recycle the "mientras...on-going action = imperfect" structure
- include cultural information about Mexico

I missed one day of school, but even with that missed day, the students had a good dose of CI on the above structures throughout the week with a variety of methods.  Here is a brief listing of what we worked on:

Previous Week: See structures and vocabulary at this post.  I wanted to make a concentrated effort to include at least some of those structures in the stories.

Powerpoint on Mexico: Since the powerpoint is not in story format, but rather pieces of cultural information that most of the students had little or no knowledge of beforehand, I used PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers) while introducing the new material. It was interesting to learn which students had eaten mole and ensalada de nopales, to watch their reactions when they saw the Lucha libre slide, to survey their opinions on the different types of music, and to share a short video on the serpent, in shadow form, descending from El Castillo en Chichén Itzá. I had to stay focused on either/or questions, and comparing students' answers to each other to keep the information personalized, the students engaged, and to avoid slipping into a dry presentation of a powerpoint. (We've all suffered through quite enough of them in our past.)

TPRS: Find the story that I wrote HERE.  
The focus words were:
- fuimos-we went (we've had this before, but it was needed)
- no quisimos pagar-we refused/didn't want to pay 
- le dijimos a (name)-we said to (name of person);  
- vimos-we saw.  
Each class created their own story, as I guided it along to keep it going in the direction to work in the grammar and vocabulary above.  
The first page of the file is the story I wrote before the students created a story. The following day we read the students' story and the story I had made.

We did several review activities to keep the information about Mexico fresh in our minds.  To add a little variety, my plan was to buy green, white, and red balloons, blow them up and work them into one of the review activities, but alas, I forgot to pick them up at the store.  Next time....

Imperfect Review: A story of a boy and what he liked to do when he was little; made for 2nd language learners.

Short Story on Gustar Another story on Storybird about "Tomi" and what he likes and doesn't like; in the present tense. IMO there is no danger of repeating this verb too much. For some reason, it continues to be one of the trickiest structures for my students to acquire. Find it HERE.

Mexico Story Chart.  The last activity of the week, was to complete the chart   
 below.  It is set up so it creates a story as you fill in the information.  Students had to pick a place or event listed on the powerpoint and then write what "we" saw there, what "we" did, what "we" refused to do; whom "we saw", etc. We worked as a group to complete the information for the first two columns, and then students worked with a partner to fill in the last column. I encouraged creativity!

For the last 5-10 minutes of class, students handed their charts to me and I told them who went to Mexico, where they went, what they did, etc. and then asked short answer, true/false, either/or questions in the TL and compare one groups' answer to another groups'.  On Monday, I'll do the same activity in a quiz format.

An extended writing idea is to have students choose one of the 3 sets of information and write it in story form, adding more details (descriptions using past tense, conversation/dialogues, or a problem that needs to be solved).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Back to the basics...

In Chapters 8 and 9 of El nuevo Houdini, there are several examples of the following structures:

- mientras +imperfect, pensaba en + infinitive
(while someone was doing something s/he was thinking about doing something else or thinking about someone/something else)

- le envió un texto a (s/he sent a text to - person's name)

- pasó el día en (s/he spent the day at...)

 We read chapter 8 and did activities for that chapter as described in an earlier post. Before reading chapter 9, I wanted extra reps of the above structures. Following is a description of the activities.

1. Homework: make a sketch of something you were doing, but at that time you were thinking about something else (doing something else or someone/something).

Mientras leía, Trish pensaba en la playa.
2. Monday: Use sketches w/ the document camera and talk about what each person was doing and thinking about. Note: I realized later, when reading the homework, that I rushed through these sketches. 

3. Monday evening homework: I made a collage out of some sketches and put it on Edmodo. Students wrote 6 sentences to describe the sketches that used the "mientras" structure. When I graded the assignments, I realized the students did not understand how to form or use the imperfect.

4. Tuesday: (Unfortunately, I lost my vision & slipped back into my old style of teaching.) Grammar lesson on the imperfect. It was painful for me and for the students. (I was upset about this for the rest of the day.)

5. Wednesday's lesson plans: Back to TPRS basics. I even wrote on the lesson plans: 
          ___TPRS story – GO SLOWLY!!!
se pusieron + adjective
mientras ______
le enviaron textos;
pasaron el día …
 I "story-asked" in my three Spanish II classes and, because I focused on going slowly, checking for comprehension, adding quick pop-up grammar, it was successful in every one! (Whew!)  We never did get to "pasaron el día" because the students were engaged and giving me great details for the story.  

It also helped that I had 3 students that volunteered to help with the chores: 1 person kept track of how many times I said the structures, 1 person tracked each time an individual participated (many times it was the group responding together but other times it was individuals); and lastly I asked for someone feeling "hard-core, with no heart" and that person tracked any time a student said more than 2 words of English. That organization had a huge impact on the focus of the students!

After creating our story, we read a story I had previously typed (click HERE to see my story). The students breezed through it. In the last 10 minutes, students worked w/ a partner to write a similar story guided by the steps I wrote on the board:
1 - Who were the two people?
2 - Where did they go?
3 - Whom did they see?
4 - What was that person doing when they saw him/her?
5 - How did they react?
6 - To whom did they send a text?
7 - What did the text say?
It was amazing how focused the students were and ready to write their own story.

Thursday: PQA style session. We talked about where/how they spent the day yesterday. Their job: be creative and don't tell me you were in school (in other words-lie). They took this and ran with it. It was soooo enjoyable. We also read several of the students' stories I typed from yesterday. Then we breezed through chapter 9 of El Nuevo Houdini

Lesson learned...for me (again)...DON'T RUSH through TPRS. Take your time and enjoy interacting with the students!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Poetry, Pablo Neruda and "Oda a la galleta"

I have a small unit in Spanish 5 on poems that I begin each year with the poem "Oda al tomate" by Pablo Neruda.  

Since the poem has many words that I know my students do not know because they are not very common, it is always a struggle to read it with my students.  This year I took a different approach and it went so well that I will use this lesson plan for the poem in the following years.

Holding a red, ripe tomato in my hand, I announced that we were going to read a poem about a tomato entitled, "Oda al tomate" by Pablo Neruda.
Then, I distributed the poem in Spanish to the students and instead of reading through it with the students, I asked for a volunteer (and usually when my students volunteer they do not know for what they are volunteering). I handed the poem with both the English and Translation to the boy that volunteered. Then I read a few words or phrases in Spanish, paused, and he read the English translation.  While we read, the students followed along on their copies.  Fortunately, the volunteer was the perfect fit for reading the poem and he did an OUTSTANDING job.  The students enjoyed the poem from his way of echoing my words in Spanish - slow and a bit poetic-like. From their reactions, I think one of their favorite lines was "debemos, por desgracia, asesinarlo".

After the reading, I told them that they were going to write their own poem, similar to Neruda's style, but their poem was going to be titled, "Oda a la galleta".  Of course, for inspiration purposes only, I pulled out a container of chocolate chip cookies for them.  Now, not only were they happy because they enjoyed listening to the reading of the "Oda al tomate", but they were also happy because they were snacking on home-made chocolate chip cookies.

In about 15 minutes, they were finished with their poems and we were ready to read them, in the same fashion as the student and I modeled, first a few words or phrases in Spanish, followed by the English translation.  One group requested to go first because they had even made their poem rhyme in Spanish!  In true coffee-house like fashion, when each group finished we didn't clap. Oh no, we snapped.   

The best part, one girl that I heard mumble as she walked in at the beginning of class, "I hate school" (because she wasn't happy with her previous class, was laughing and smiling.  Before she left I asked if her day had improved and she said, "Sí, gracias señora". 

And that, dear friends, is enough to put an extra spring in my step. :)

As a side note: It was perfect that I read a tweet by @senoraCMT about Pablo Neruda just days before my class read Pablo's "Oda al tomate". (Find the link about Pablo Neruda HERE.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Acting to encourage additional reading

Today we did several activities after reading chapter 8 of El Nuevo Houdini

First,  the students read chapter 8 with a partner or alone.  Most of them feel comfortable reading the book and I provide support for any words that they don't know.  Many times as soon as a student asks me about a particular word, I write the word in Spanish and English on the board so as the other students encounter that word, they know to first check the board before asking me.
After the first reading, we did one of the exercises in the Teacher's Guide for a quick review.

Then I tried a new activity that required the students to read through the chapter an additional time.  Two students volunteered to play the roles of Brandon and Jamie.  I had copied 8 sentences from chapter 8 in Spanish and they had to act out each sentence, but with no talking and with no props.  

The rest of the students worked in groups of 2 or 3.  After they watched the students act out the first sentence, they searched for the sentence that was acted out in chapter 8 of El Nuevo Houdini.  Then one of the students in the group wrote the sentence on a marker board.  After a minute or two, they held up the marker boards and received a point if they wrote the correct sentence.  

I'll use this type of activity again because the students were engaged, reading different parts of the chapter the second time in order to find the right sentence.  In my first two classes, I had the students work in groups of 3, but the last class they worked in groups of 2 which worked much better because with only two, both of them had to work together to find the sentence and write it before the time was up.