Thursday, March 27, 2014

Language learning is NOT linear; neither is riding a unicycle!

How do you impress upon others that those who study a language and its origins, learn the rules of the grammar, identify the parts of speech, and watch videos of places of where the language is spoken, is not what translates into acquisition of that language?

Sometimes object lessons are more powerful than words. Recently, it became clear to me that I needed to share the following lesson with my students.

For four days, I set aside 4-6 minutes each class period to discuss an unrelated topic: unicycles.

First, I asked students if they could ride a tricycle.
Then I asked if they could ride a bicycle.   
Lastly, I asked if they could ride a unicycle. 
After all, tricycles, bicycles, and unicycles are all forms of transportation. The obvious difference is the number of wheels.

I continued the short lessons for the next 4 days:
Day 1 - Define the word "unicycle". Explain that "unicycle" can be used as a noun and a verb. Read the history of the unicycle.
Day 2 - Project an image of the unicycle with the parts labeled.  
Day 3 - Discuss the physics of riding a unicycle. More info. here.
Day 4 - Show a short video on the basics of how to get on and ride a unicycle. Define "idling" and "free mount". 
I read the quote by Katherine Peck:
"For many people it is all in the mind, because they have to get over the fact that there is only one wheel. Others just have to find their inner balance. There really isn't anything linear about the unicycle and that is partly why it is considered to be so hard to learn. YOU are the steering wheel, YOU are the brakes and YOU are what makes it go."
Day 5 - As students entered the classroom, I had a video playing of several guys doing tricks on a unicycle; and later I showed part of this video.  Then I gave them a "quiz" on the material they had learned throughout the week. (fyi - the quiz was not recorded in the grade book as a language quiz)

To grade the quizzes, the students and I left the classroom and walked to the atrium area of our school. Most of the students had a perfect score. "GREAT!" I said.  I told them how happy I was that they had learned so much about the unicycle.  Then I said that since they knew so much about it, that meant that they should be able to ride one.  After all, they got an "A" on the quiz, so they should be able to ride a unicycle, right?

Everyone knows it doesn't work that way. The students knew it didn't work that way and I knew it didn't work that way. So why do some believe if they learn about a language and can conjugate verbs and identify parts of speech, that means they "know" it and have the ability to communicate in the language? 

The beginning stages of learning to ride a unicycle include a LOT of support for the rider. It's uncomfortable and you will fall, but it's part of the learning process.  I have yet to meet someone that can jump on a unicycle and smoothly ride away on the first, second, third, etc. try. It takes time, patience, an open mind, and a desire to learn. But you absolutely MUST get on that unicycle to learn.

The same is true for acquiring a second language.  In the beginning levels, you'll need a LOT of support. It's uncomfortable at first because the sounds are different, the structures are different, and the words are different, and you will make mistakes, but it's part of the learning process.  I have yet to meet someone that can hear a language spoken for the first time and be able to smoothly communicate in the language on the first, second, third, etc. try. It takes time, patience, an open mind, and a desire to learn. But you absolutely MUST actively use the language (listening, reading, and responding when ready) in order to acquire the language.  

So...back to my students in the atrium holding their perfect quizzes on unicycles.  I told them to look at the last question which included the quote listed above by Katherine Peck and I read it to them with a few changes.  I read: 
    "For many people it is all in the mind, because they have to get over the   fact that it is a different language. Others just have to find their inner motivation to learn. There really isn't anything linear about learning a language and that is partly why it is considered to be so hard to learn. YOU are the steering wheel, YOU are the brakes and YOU are what makes it go."

Then, I called to two students that were waiting just around the corner with a unicycle that I had previously directed them to collect in a nearby classroom. The other students were surprised to see the unicycle. Any takers? Anyone willing to give it a try? One student that said he used to be able to ride in the past wanted to try, but he was unsuccessful. 

Any other takers? 

The students knew that their knowledge about unicycles wasn't going to magically transform into the skill of riding a unicycle. They hadn't practiced it so they couldn't ride it. 

What's a teacher to do to demonstrate that practicing a skill, such as communicating in a 2nd language or riding a unicycle, is the key ingredient for success?  I suppose riding the unicycle would make an impact. 

What are the chances I demonstrated that for them? I guess only the students and I know the answer to that, especially since they all had left their smart phones in the classroom. How often does that happen? Coincidence?

I repeat, sometimes object lessons are more powerful than words.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sketches Help Guide Students for Story Retells

"Mónica" in the book, Fiesta Fatal
I've been reading the book Fiesta Fatal, written by Mira Canion, with my Spanish 2 students.  Mira's goal, when writing the book, was to create a book that was level appropriate for second year Spanish students and she succeeded in accomplishing that goal!  If you're looking for a comprehensible level 2 book that has an interesting storyline, this is one book you should strongly consider.

Today we read the last chapter of Fiesta Fatal.  Some students volunteered to read the lines for the main characters in the chapter.  I always look for ways in which students can interact with the text, so after reading, I projected the below sketches onto the board.  We reviewed what happened as students said sentences in Spanish that matched the sketches.  If they were uncertain about what to say, I allowed them to refer to the book. 
Find the download of the worksheet to the left HERE.

After the students were familiar with the sketches I paired them up with a partner and distributed squares of paper that had the same sketches on them and gave them the following instructions:
1. Put the squares on the desk face down.
2. Randomly choose two cards and turn them over.  
3. Decide the order of the two cards.   
4. One partner says a sentence in Spanish to describe the sketch that they decided happened first in the chapter.  The second student says a sentence to describe the second sketch.
5. The students choose a third paper, turn it over, and say a sentence to describe the sketch.  
6. They they decide if that sketch is before the other two, in between the other two, or at the end of the first two sketches.
7. When the 3 sketches are in the correct order, they take turns saying a sentence for each of the sketches. (Student A describes sketch #1, Student B describes sketch #2, Student A describes sketch #3.)
8.  Students continue turning the papers over, one by one, putting the new card in the correct place, and taking turns once again to say a sentence for each sketch.
9. When they were finished, they called me to their desks and I listened to their retell of the story.

To download the two sheets of sketches shown below for the retells, click HERE.  (The sketches on the sheets below are not in any particular order. Feel free to substitute any, or all, sketches that you are able to sketch better than I have done.)


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Graphic Organizers and Reading in the MFL classroom

I remember when "graphic organizers" was the buzz word and at the school district in which I worked, if the teacher had "g.o." on his/her lesson plan, the principal was happy.  I didn't like them at that time because they were basic and generic.  Boring blocks or circles with spokes coming out of them that looked like bicycle wheels.

The dull graphic organizers of the past are gone.  I now see their value and use them often when reading novels with my students, and create ones that are specific to the text.  

When I start reading a new book with my students, my goal is to help them fully understand the characters, the problem, the tensions, etc.  When that information is pulled together in a graphic organizer, it helps the students to connect to the characters and draws them into the story.

Below are examples of graphic organizers that I use for the first chapters of several books.   (my disclaimer: My artistic skills are challenged and the idea in my mind always looks better than what ends up in the paper.)


LA GUERRA SUCIA        Download HERE

Robo en la noche      Download HERE

Vida o muerte en el Cusco  Download HERE

Robo en la noche      (ch1-3) FInd the download HERE

La vampirata    Download HERE 

Two additional graphic organizers I use are from Martina Bex found on the link below:
El nuevo Houdini - chapter 1 esquema 

Esperanza - chapter 1 esquema 

Information on many of the books listed above is used with permission by TPRS Publishing, Inc.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Story script - to prepare for La Dentista song by Sr. Wooly

In a few days my Spanish 2 students will listen to the song, "La Dentista" by Sr. Wooly.  First I will narrate the action and ask questions about the video without sound, (aka MovieTalk), then they'll listen to the video/song, complete a cloze activity, and read the story that I wrote about the video.

To prepare them to be successful when reading and talking about the video, I created a story using: se quejó de, tienes que ir, and le dijo to introduce and/or review the structures. It is about a boy that complained about everything.

The story script and questions are linked below the directions.

1.  Copy the following focus words into composition books:  
- se quejó de = s/he complained about
(or -se quejaba de = I or s/he used to complain about)
- Tienes que ir = you have to go
- le dijo = s/he said to him/to her

2. PQA - Ask students what they used to have to do when they were younger and/or what they had to do last week or last weekend.  Ask them if they complained about it and who told them they had to do it.

3.  Create story with class about someone that had to go different places, why s/he did/didn't want to go there, who said to him/her "you have to go", and if s/he complained or not.

4. Distribute the images (an example is on the left).  The teacher reads the story about Dante to the students.  As they hear the words mentioned in the story that are pictures on their paper, cross them out.  Go over the answers w/ students.

5.  Distribute the story about Dante to the students.  They should read the story to a partner, paying close attention to the events and the order of the events.

6. After all students have read and understand the story, tell them to put the story in their folders so they are not visible.  Then distribute the questions that students must answer in Spanish.  The students worked with their same partner as the one they worked with to read the story. (I put the questions in English because I was checking their comprehension of what they read, not their comprehension of what is asked.)

7. Students switched papers with another group and we corrected the answers together.  I awarded a bonus point on the next quiz to the student(s) that had the most correct answers.

Dante story script                 Questions on Dante story

If you are interested in the story script that accompanies the video, you will need to leave your name and email in a SEPARATE comment. I will not publish your comment that contains only your email and your request for the story script in order to avoid your email being published on the web which will possibly open you up for spam. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Emphasizing the use of the Imperfect Tense to Describe People

What is the overarching goal for our students pertaining to the imperfect tense? For me, one is that when they want to describe someone (or something) they automatically begin describing using the imperfect tense rather than pausing and trying to visualize a chart that lists the reasons when to use the imperfect tense and when to use the preterit tense and then deciding (or guessing) which one they need.

One activity that helps students stay focused on communication and creating using the language, rather than on grammar, is called "Mi vecino extraño". In February, I used the below activity to show students how to describe other people.  I model the activity, ask lots of questions, and eventually give the students the task of describing their (imaginary) strange neighbor.


1. Focus words that students already knew before the lesson:
- Ella se llamaba...
- era
- llevaba
(also had exposure to tenía, and trabajaba)

2. New focus words were:
 - tenía # años
- vivía en
- mi vecino(a) era extraño(a);  

3. Ask students if they have neighbors; close neighbors?, their names, what they're like (complete this in the present). If there are students in your class that have moved and can describe the neighbors they USED TO HAVE, that is even better.

4. I began by telling students about my neighbor when I was a little girl. You can choose a photo from google images if it makes it easier to talk about your "neighbor". Ask students to guess where "my neighbor" worked, describe his physical features, how old he was etc.  Be sure to use new structures from #2 above. 

5. Show the sketch of "mi vecina extraña"; read the description. Ask more questions regarding the sketch.

6. For additional practice, show more Google images of people and ask students to tell you information about the person, using structures listed in #1 and #2 above.

7. Students works in groups of 2 to sketch their crazy neighbors on construction paper and to answer the following questions (in the TL):
- what was his/her name?
- where or in what did s/he live
- age
- what s/he did that was "odd"
- what clothing s/he always used to wear
Those are the questions that they had to answer. Some students wanted to add more information. 

8. I had students post their finished sketches and descriptions around the room. Before they post the sketches, give them a letter to write on their sketch and a number to write on their description.

Example for 28 students: 
First seven students get the following combinations of letters and numbers:
A7   B3   C1   D5   E4   F2   G6
After they write their letter and number, those first 7 students tape their sketches and descriptions at a designated place in the room. Remind them not to put their description right next to the sketch.  

 Continue the number and letter system for the rest of the students, using AA  BB etc. if you have a huge class.

9. Students number their paper 1-28 (or however many students are in the room) and then read the descriptions to find the matching sketch.

 I liked that the students were able to use their imaginations and that they received more repetitions of the words by reading their classmates' descriptions. Since this was completed in one class period, I didn't have time to collect their descriptions and suggest changes so there were some grammar errors, and, to date I'm not sure if I should divide the activity into 2 days or, if at this point, it's not an issue.   ??