Thursday, February 15, 2018

Non-Targeted Input in its Pure Form

 After class yesterday, I took the below photo of my classroom board. If I had to describe my idea of a perfect class/lesson, this would be it.

The writing on the board is the result of a 60-minute class entirely comprised of non-targeted input. Non-targeted input, in a very basic explanation, is teaching in the target language without any preplanned targeted vocabulary or grammar structures. In non-targeted input, teachers put the emphasis on communicating in the language in a natural way. 

Do the words on the board look random? They should, because they are random. Natural conversations are free-flowing and the direction of the conversation changes with something as slight as a laugh, a side comment, a reaction, a person entering the classroom, or even a hiccup. It is completely unrestrained.

Consider this: Did you ever have a conversation with a friend and at some point in that conversation you ask, 'How did we get on this topic?" Then you backtrack from where you are in the conversation and how you arrived at that spot and you see how the flow of the conversation weaves and wiggles and moves from one topic to another.

That is what the photo of the board shows. In fact, it was non-targeted input in its purest form because I didn't even plan to have non-targeted input today; didn't plan to "story listen" or to create a character; my plans were to read a story and later watch a brand new video (by a very important person!). As students needed vocabulary to express their thoughts, I wrote them on the board. You'll see that there are sketches, some by me (obviously I can NOT draw a fork, tenedor, well), and others by the students that sketched things to help make themselves understood. Along with the sketches on the board, there is a command, a verb in the subjunctive form, the past tense, present tense, various unrelated nouns - totally random but imperative to the conversation.

What were the students and I doing that involved such a random grouping of words and structures? At the beginning of class I noticed that a student didn't seem to be himself, so I asked if he was ok. He then proceeded to show us a bandage on his hand and then told us, in Spanish, what happened. At times he needed help with some words. When that happens, I pause to see if any of the students know the word and I give them the opportunity to say it.   When the student was finished, we knew what had happened and why he had a band-aid, and the photo he showed us on his phone perked up the whole class. 

From that one conversation, a handful of other conversations were born. Another student then told us about one time when she was hurt, then another student, and pretty soon several students had their hands up and there was a wait list to take their turn to talk, in SPANISH! They couldn't wait for their turn! We heard about a girl that didn't see a kite string and she ran into it and it got caught in her braces; about a girl when she was little was trying to go up a down escalator, and so much more. 

It was like watching two old men try to outdo who has the most health problems, but it was my students instead, sharing about their mishaps, one story outdoing others. 

After twenty-five minutes had passed, I knew my lesson plans were not going to be of use to me that class period because the momentum continued to grow. There was NO WAY I was going to interrupt that, (not even to show a new music video.) The students were interested and engaged in what their classmates were saying, laughing, and taking ownership in the teaching and learning taking place.  

Midway through the class period I instructed all students to look at the back of the classroom, away from the board. Then I asked them to tell me some new words they heard from the conversation that they didn't know before. I realize they may not have acquired the words yet, but they have a powerful start in doing that.

It's after those types of classes that I leave school on a teaching high. BUT, that doesn't happen every day and I make no claims that it happens every day. It's the right combination of the mix of students, what has happened in their day before they come to my class or what they're looking forward to later in the afternoon, how they feel physically, and emotionally, and how they react to what their classmates say and to what I say. As teachers, we ALL have not so good days, good days, great days, and days that we can't wait to share with others.  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

ESPERANZA the novel: Ideas and Resources

Esperanza novel  - Fluency Matters
One of the novels in my Spanish 4 curriculum is Esperanza, written by Carol Gaab. I selected this book for Spanish 4 because:

1. It is an easy read for my Spanish 4 students. I chose it as our first class novel of the semester because I want the students to feel successful right from the start of Spanish 4.
2. It is based on a true, compelling story about a family that fled Guatemala.
3. Using it at a higher level allows me to include resources about immigration, strikes, etc. that need minimal scaffolding.
4. I love learning about Guatemala, a country that is on my bucket list. This semester is really fun because two of my students went on mission trips to Guatemala with their church, so we're able to learn from their first-hand experiences.

For Esperanza, I rely heavily on the Teacher's Guide by Fluency Matters. I especially like the cultural readings and suggestions for discussions before each chapter.

In addition to the Teacher's Guide, here are several lessons and activities that I use before reading the book and during the reading.

1. Discussions (in Spanish) on strikes.
    - Ask students to write two lists; in one list write 5 businesses/organizations that you would not care if they went on strike and 5 business/organizations that you would be upset if they went on strike. The students readily participate in this conversation.

     - Watch or tell the story "Clic Clac Mu, Vacas Escritoras". I use the video on   Discovery Streaming. Then we follow-up with what would happen if farmers went on strike; the effects are far-reaching!

      - What would happen if your mother went on strike? The Canadian mother in THIS ARTICLE did. Before we read this, I ask students what they do to help around the house, who in the family does the most house work, etc. 

2. Previous knowledge of GuatemalaAsk students to make a list of things they already know about Guatemala. Then show them Ricardo Arjona's music video "Mi País". THIS is the Pepsi version but there are others of the song without Pepsi products shown throughout.
This morning I learned about this video by Gaby Moreno filmed in Guatemala

3. Guatemalan LegendThe currency in Guatemala is quetzales. Quetzales are mentioned when the aunt gives the mother money and again when the mother pays the men on the bus. 

After reading chapter 5, I "story listen" (story tell) the Guatemalan legend, "Quetzal no muere nunca". Telling this story, usually takes 30 minutes or more. After I tell a part of the story, I pause, tell students to tell their partner in English what happened, and then I chose one person to tell the whole class what happened, in English. If you want to try telling this story, don't get hung up on the fact that they're retelling increments of the story in English. It is actually a refreshing break for them and it ensures all understand. 

There are many ways to review the story after telling it if you want to recycle the words and structures again, such as Marker Partner Plus. One of my FAVORITE follow-ups with this story happens when a student is absent on the day I tell the story. Since the returning absent student has not heard the story, I  put the entire class in charge of telling the story to the student in Spanish. The student that was absent and I are the only two that can talk in English. 

Two days ago my Sp4 class had to retell the story to two students that had been absent. I was amazed at what they remembered and how well they worked together to tell the story in Spanish. Out of 20 students that were present to tell the story, I think all but 3 at some point joined in the retell, many times several students were raising their hands to continue the story where their classmate had stopped. Granted, that type of participation in the retell doesn't always happen, but when it does - WOW, sit back and enjoy it!

4. Password. After reading chapter 6, I compiled a list of key words, mostly from chapter 6 but from other chapters too. I'll write a new blog post to explain how we play Password and link it here. 
Hint for planning: schedule this activity for the end of the class period to monitor how long they play. If you don't they'll want to play the whole class period. 

5. Game Smashing with word clouds. I made this game based on chapters 6 and 7 of Esperanza. Refer to this post for the directions. I used a similar game for my students in Spanish 2 and it was a success.  

I had planned to use the game for Esperanza below on Friday, but the students were doing such an excellent job of retelling the story of Quetzal no muere nunca (see #3 above) that I needed to move this activity to next week. 
The game is made and ready to go and I can't wait to try it out with my Spanish 4 students.

6. Put things in perspective. This is an interesting visual to use while reading Esperanza. It is easy for us to forget what 'luxuries' we have in comparison to the majority of the people in the world. 

Click HERE to find it on Pinterest.

7. Si tuvieras que inmigrar a otro país...
I give each student a small slip of paper and they write "Si tuviera que inmigrar a otro país, yo inmigraría a _____, porque ______." I collect the papers and read their answers. The students have three guesses for who wrote the sentence. If they're right, I put those papers on one pile and if they're wrong, I put those on another pile. After the first round, I re-read those the students did not guess correctly for a another chance to figure out who wrote the answer read.

This is an easy way for your students to learn more about their classmates and even find out that they may have some things in common they didn't know about.

My lesson plan for teaching Esperanza is a living document, in that I make additions and subtractions with the purpose to continue improving it. As I find new materials that will enhance the lessons and the students' experience of reading the novel, I add them and, in delete activities from previous years when I find something better to replace it.

For more ideas and resources, you should definitely check out:
 Martina Bex's blog, The Comprehensible Classroom 
 Sharon Birch's blog El Mundo de Birch
 Alison Wienhold's blog Mis Clases Locas
 Elena Lopez' blog Aprendemos Juntos 

Follow this link for information on a verbal book report that I used to do after reading the book. I did not assign this to the students last semester and have not decided if I will assign it this semester. I 'm sharing it because it may spark ideas for you on what you want to do after finishing the novel.

If you are willing to share activities and resources that you have found to be helpful when teaching this novel, I'd love to hear them!



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Post Student Interview Stories

Do you do "La Personal Especial" or Student Interviews with your second language students? I have been doing a variation of this idea for many years. Last school year, I added a new component to it with my Spanish 4 students.  After the 'interview', students stand and each one must ask a question to the student interviewee before sitting again. 

Yesterday, I was curious to know how much the students listened to the actual interview and to the questions AFTER they had asked their own question. After everyone had asked a question, I instructed the students to write a story (made up) that included a minimum of 4 pieces of information that the student interviewee had given us during the interview or during the questions. I suggested that the story length be at least 5 sentences.

From the stories they shared, it was obvious that the students were listening because in their stories they included a wide range of facts from the interview and from the follow-up Q&A session. I called on students to read their stories and then I, or students, said how many pieces of information the person had included. 

This also worked well as an informal assessment. As I listened to the stories, I was able to hear which structures the students were using correctly and which ones they needed additional input and exposure. 

Because the students created stories with the student information, I'm know that the students will remember more facts and details about the student interviewee yesterday than about their classmates in previous interviews.

Advantages of this post student interview writing activity:
1 - no prep needed
2 - all students are engaged
3 - recycling the language; additional input on interview information
4 - the language is used in context
5 - opportunity for students to write creatively in TL
6 - compelling input
7 - the student interviewee heard many stories, about HER!

Game Smashing with Word Clouds

If App Smashing is the process of using multiple apps to create projects or complete tasks, then is the process of using multiple games to informally assess students' understanding called Game Smashing? If so, then this week I did some Game Smashing in my Spanish 2 class.

The Game Smashing is an altered form of the classic Fly Swatter game and a cloze activity. The Fly Swatter game evolved over the last decade in my classroom from the original Fly Swatter game, to Slap, to Word Cloud Cross Out.    

Here are the descriptions of each of the games. The last one is the example of Game Smashing. 

Fly Swatter - Years ago, I played this game with my students to review vocabulary words or even to introduce the words. I wrote words on overhead sheets (that tells you how long ago it was) and projected it to the board. Two students stood at the board, each with a fly swatter, and when I said one of the words in English, they raced to be the first one to swat the word. The two drawbacks with this game was (1) the two students competing with the flyswatters were engaged, and the rest of the students were interested in watching them for the first couple rounds as we cycled new students into the competition, but after 3 or 4 rounds, many students tuned out; and (2) the words were used out of context.

Slap - I wrote the vocabulary words on a sheet of paper, copied enough sheets for 1/2 the amount of students you have, cut the papers into rectangles so there is only 1 word on each slip of paper. Students work with a partner and spread their set of words out in front of them. When I say the word in English, they race to be the first one to slap the word. The first one to touch the word then picks it up and it serves as and easy way to count their points at the end of the game. 

With Slap, I solved the problem of only two students actively participating at the same time, but I was still using the words out of context. It also required extra work to cut out the rectangles, and since we don't have desks in my room, this was no longer a good option.

Word Cloud Cross Out - Instead of writing the words on rectangles, I put the words and made a copy for each student. Students worked with a partner, each student had a highlighter, (it has to be a different color than their partner), and when I called out the word, they raced to be the first one to cross out the word with their marker. This version eliminated the need to cut the paper but the bigger drawback was that I was still using words out of context. 

At times I modified it by describing/defining the word in Spanish or if the words were related to our class novel, I said sentences related to the plot in the novel.

Game Smashing with Word Clouds  
Some background info: My Spanish 2 students come from two different Spanish 1 teachers so the amount of input they have had on the words that I included in the word cloud varies from one teacher to another. Another factor is that some students have not had Spanish 1 for a year or longer and others had just finished Spanish 1 days before starting Spanish 2. The entire "unit's" purpose, for which I made the word cloud, is to give additional input on high frequency words students have seen and heard in Spanish 1, and to introduce them to a few words that they will encounter in their first class novel of the semester.  I often give the students a pre-unit activity to give me an idea of the students' acquisition and knowledge level on the material. 

I created a word cloud. Then I wrote "cloze" sentences for each of the words and put those sentences on a powerpoint, one sentence per slide. I also wanted the answer to appear on each slide, so I added animation for the answer to appear on the slide after students have have sufficient time to read the sentence and find the word on their word cloud. Students worked with a partner and each had a different colored highlighter and 1 word cloud. Instead of me calling out the word or sentence, students read the sentence from the powerpoint and then raced to be the first one to cross out the word that best completed the sentence.

The advantages of this method are: 
(1) words are used in context, 
(2) instead of projecting the sentence, I can first say the sentence to them and then project the sentence so they get both listening and reading
(3) all students are engaged
(4) even though students were 'competing' against their classmates, I heard students discussing among them on what the answer might be, which is a plus in my opinion

The disadvantage is that it takes some time to make the powerpoint, but after the initial time commitment it will be available to use with future classes.

Since each student has a word cloud, I used the words in two rounds: the first round I simply called out the words in English (Word Cloud Cross Out). The students that won the first round had to find another classmate to play against for the second round, and those that lost the first round found a partner that also lost for the second round. For the second round, I used the powerpoint.

The Game Smashing Word Cloud I used yesterday was only verbs, but it can include any type of word or phrase. After the success and student approval of the Game Smashing Word Cloud with my Spanish 2 students, I'm working on creating a new one to use in Spanish 4, with vocabulary from chapters 7 & 8 of their class novel, Esperanza

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Listen to Your Teacher Heart Song

In February, when we're more than a month past the plentiful November, December, and January holidays, and spring break is not on the horizon yet, it can be easy to slip into the winter/February doldrums. When I sense that feeling creeping in, I know a sure cure is to re-visit the student successes, and even more important, to recognize and acknowledge the little happy events in every day. 

Last night I was having difficulty falling asleep last night, and that's when I started listing things that have made my heart sing in the last few days. Obviously, readers may or may not have experienced these same heart song worthy events, but hopefully by glancing over them, it will help remind YOU about the great things that have happened and continue to happen in your classroom in your role as a teacher and mentor.

1. Real World Application
Last week a student from the previous semester, walked up to me with a huge grin on her face. It was obvious she had something that she couldn't wait to tell me. She said at work there was a customer that didn't speak any English and she helped the lady, speaking only in Spanish with her. Real world application at its best.

2. Love of Reading
Thanks to Fluency Matters and their 12 Days of Christmas give-aways, I won two e-courses for my Spanish students. I enrolled my Spanish 4 students for the e-course of the novel La hija del sastre and asked my students to become familiar with the platform. In a few days, one of the students stayed after class and asked if I could upload more books online for her to read. How refreshing is that?!!! I have at least one copy of every Fluency Matters book in my class library, but since this student likes the convenience of reading online, I may have to order a few more online courses for her and surprise her with them. 

3. Declaring Spanish as a Major
Late last year I learned that one of my students that graduated in June 2017, decided to double major in college, one of those majors being Spanish. He stopped in over break and chatted with me about his newly declared major and his plans after college. 

To make this day sweeter, other former Spanish students, that were visiting the school during their winter break to talk with students in a chemistry class, popped in to say hello. So great to see those smiling faces again!

4. Future Spanish Teachers
Another one of my former students that graduated 4 (?) years ago, returned to my class to share about her semester in Chile. How cool is that to have a former student return and actually teach the class? One or two more semesters and she'll be certified to teach Spanish. 

5. Building Class Community
In Spanish 4, I ask my students is to upload a photo of themselves to a Google Slide presentation at the beginning of a semester. I love learning what's important to my students from the photos they choose to upload. I use these photos when we have our student interviews and chat sessions. Photos make the conversation easier and more interesting. 

6. Parent and Teacher Teamwork
This may not be the one of the first things that comes to mind when reflecting on the highlights, but in my journey as a teacher, it becomes more apparent to how powerful the school-home connection is. Connecting with parents is time-consuming but I've already touched base with a dozen parents and the benefits are already evident.

7. Making Memories - Class Celebration
(one of my favorites) In January I brought back the Spanish celebration dinner, after more than an eight-year hiatus. The students and I enjoyed a home-cooked Spanish meal of chicken enchiladas, Spanish rice, empanadas, buñuelos, and other goodies, and then played a game to round off the evening.  Those memories are gold, and, to make the experience even better, I received some thank you emails from the parents.

8. Colleagues - Near and Far
I've said it before on this blog and I'll say it again, the support of my colleague Krista, is a constant reason for my teacher heart to sing. We mentor each other, challenge each other, and encourage each other. 
In addition to Krista is a network of teacher friends in my PLN throughout the United States. They are both my armor, my wings, and my inspiration.
All of these are things that make my teacher heart sing.
All of these are things that help offset the not so glorious days.
All of these are things other teachers experience, as I'm sure you could rapid-fire list yours also. 

Without a doubt, teaching provides teachers with great memories, but they're intertwined with days that are challenging and ones we'd rather not remember. We need to hold tight to the good memories. How? A super easy way to do that is to post photos of current and past students participating in class activities or even ones with YOU in the photo with them. Post those photos near your desk, on your desk, on the side of your desk, around the room, anywhere you can see them, as a constant reminder and a quick pick-me-up. You'll be thankful you did on those days that the end of the work day is your best friend.

A special thank you to Carrie Toth that always seems to know the right thing to say. ;)