29 December 2008

Videos from Jesús Adrian Romero

One of the nominees this year for the Latin Grammy for best Christian album (Spanish language) was Jesús Adrian Romero. I think he's my new favorite Spanish-language Christian singer (especially since I found out Marcos Witt is pastoring the Spanish church at Joel Osteen's church, but that's an entirely different story). Anyway, he has four videos on his official website. In the first, he explains his upcoming move to Phoenix. The other three are music videos, one of someone else, who I think is his son, and one a duet with Alex Campos. The video where he sings about his daughters growing up, with them sitting in the audience, is especially touching.

Incidentally, the woman who actually won the Latin Grammy for best Spanish Christian album was Soraya Moraes, who also won the the Latin Grammy for best Christian album (Portuguese language). Apparently her crossover into Spanish is new enough that there are no Spanish songs available on YouTube.

Alex Campos's YouTube channel

Alex Campos is, it appears to me, a rising star in the contemporary Christian Spanish music scene, and behold--he has his own YouTube channel. The best thing about his videos is that they're not all music. He'll sometimes post a video greeting from wherever he's doing a concert these days. Greetings always contain at least some Spanish that should be (or become) comprehensible to Spanish 1 students, but his hopes and desires for what should happen there are great up to Spanish 3. Especially if you teach in a Christian setting, enjoy!

22 December 2008

A story test

My assessment has recently shaped up to be that I have 5 test grades in each quarter. We have a high school policy that except in math, tests form 50% of the student's grade, and daily grades the other 50%. So test grades are pretty important, and I've been accused of not having enough tests in a quarter before. This is because I hate paper tests. It's so hard for me to really assess what was going on in the student's head, communicatively, and assign a number value to it. But it's a requirement, so I suck it up. And figured out a way around it, sort of.
One test grade per quarter is a grammar-based test. (A Spanish 1 example is discussed in this post.)
One test grade is the accumulation of the semi-daily story quizzes. (These are six-to-twelve point quizzes given at the beginning of class to assess their comprehension of a. the question b. the story and c. their notes on the story.)
One test grade is their in-class participation (how much they listen, watch, talk, and focus).
One test grade is a communicative project.
And one test grade is a story test. I write a story using as much target vocabulary and features as my creativity will produce, ask a bunch of questions about it, and take that for a test grade.
The second quarter story test in Spanish 1 can be found here. It's about two kids who aren't at school because it's summer, so they decide to play for three hours in the water with their very clean dog, LJ. Then LJ is not so clean, so mom gets mad and LJ ends up in the bath. Everyone lives happily ever after, LOL.
I'll post Spanish 2 and 3 story tests soon.

16 December 2008

A video for Navidad

I've been MIA a bit lately--sick and in the finals crunch at school--but I did want to post this video. It's Ana Cristina singing on the Telemundo show. The song isn't great (I hope she's better on CD than she is live) but the Spanish leading up to it is good. Even beginners should be able to pick some things out of Ana Cristina's Spanish. The host's Spanish is more advanced, mostly because of the speed.



05 December 2008

Great new song for subjunctive

I just got this new song, La frase tonta de la semana, by the group La 5a Estación.

The woman in the middle does pretty much all the vocals, and the guys play the guitar. The video is pretty good, though not the most interesting in the world. (She likes to change outfits a lot in her videos--LOL)

Anyway, this new song, aside from being really pretty, has a ton of subjunctive, most of it for two reasons--after cuando for something in the future, and after different phrases for something doubtful.

I've found that it's helpful for a song to keep repeating something as difficult as subjunctive for just one or two reasons, rather than jumping around all the myriad reasons to use it. Or, at least, if it does use it for more reasons, I only talk about a couple.

Incidentally, another great song for subjunctive, with a neat video to go along with it, is La travesia by Juan Luis Guerra. The song uses present perfect too, but the best part is the rapid switch between indicative --for the woman he loves-- and subjuctive --for the woman who doesn't exist-- so it's subjunctive by reason of nonexistent antecedent, right before the exact same verb that's indicative for the opposite reason. (See, I do know all the terms--I just don't speak them aloud in the classroom, haha.)

¡Nueva música!

I bought some new songs yesterday, and mostly they're really good:

Abrázame by Camila
No me hagas sufrir by Manny Manuel
La copa de la vida by Ricky Martin
Aguita de tu boca by Amaury Gutierrez
No creo en el jamás by Juanes
Pasos de gigantes by Bacilos
La frase tonta de la semana by La 5a Estación
Me enamora by Juanes.

That last one I don't really like that much, but I have a student who really likes it, and it won a couple of Latin Grammys, including best short video. I'm more a fan of Juanes's humanitarian work than his voice, but I bought it for my kids.

Just thought I'd share my new tunes. :)

A fantastic blog post

One of my best Spanish 3 students --he or another girl will probably win the department Spanish award this year-- forgot to post his blog this week, and so he wrote it in class today and turned it in for me to post for him. It's a late grade of course, but wow--I watched him write it in a matter of minutes without the benefit of ANY book/dictionary/vocab/etc. help. It was an encouraging moment of the day.

Yo olvidé mi blog esa semana. Lo siento. Esa semana ha sido loca. Yo tengo muchos proyectos en muchas clases, pero esta no es una excusa. En sabado, boy a tocar el piano a la fiesta de Navidad de los profesores. Yo he practicado para lo para muchas semanas. Adios, Cristián.

28 November 2008

Ever heard of Patito feo?

Laura Esquivel (left) plays a not-so-attractive girl in a wildly popular Argentinian TV show. She won a contest (I think it was held in Mexico) similar to American Idol, and landed the lead role in this TV show called Patito feo. I think it's interesting to American teens because of the similarity between this and American Idol and High School Musical. Wikipedia has a good summary of it. The concept is that there are two talented singing groups at the school and one of them is led by Patito (Laura) and the other one is led by her rival, Antonella, who is both the girlfriend of the boy Patito likes and the daughter of the girlfriend of Patito's estranged father, who would like to get back with Patito's mother. (Typical convoluted telenovela, ¿no?) LOL.

Anyway, Belinda does a guest appearance on the show singing a duet of Luz sin gravedad with Patito. It's a shining moment for Patito in the face of her rival. My students know who Belinda is because she did another guest appearance on the Disney movie Cheetah Girls 2 (and here's a monologue by her about the movie, in very clear Spanish).

You can see what Patito really looks like in this clip, where Laura sings a song in Hebrew for some talk show hosts. You can also see how young she was when all her fame began on that Mexican talent show, Código FAMA.

You'll be amazed at how motivating it is for students to find out that teenagers in other countries are basically just like them. :o)

Two groups you just can't go wrong with

Two of my favorite groups personally are the Mexican trio Camila and their compatriot duo Jesse y Joy. One of the reasons I like them so much is that I can pretty much play any of their songs, and most videos too, in class. They're fairly positive & upbeat as far as content goes. Right now I'm liking Abrázame by Camila (you've got some tú command, infinitive after preposition, and subjunctive for influence in there). I think my favorite Camila song is Coleccionista de canciones, which we use in Spanish 1 for the repetitions of and in Spanish 3 for talking about professions without articles ("ella es coleccionista de canciones"). The video for Coleccionista is pretty cool too. Curiously, my students also like Solo para ti by Camila, because it's very N'sync-y.
And of course, Jesse y Joy are a big hit. Espacio sideral is one of my best successes in class and great for object pronouns. On the slow side, my students also like Mi sol (you can ignore that video clip and just listen to the song-far as I can tell there isn't an official video), which is fantastic for eres. We use Volveré in Spanish 2 for future verbs. I like Quiero conocerte, and use it occasionally for conocer, but my students don't really like it.
Anyway, if you're wondering where to start with music in your class, start with Jesse y Joy and Camila and you can't go wrong!

27 November 2008

Things to be thankful for

It's Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgiving. :o) Hope you're enjoying your days off of school or whatever you're up to this holiday.

As I think about what's been going right in my class these days, what to be thankful for there, I thought I'd let you know that in my difficult period, I finally had to give up on my seating arrangement and rearrange things.
I'm a pretty firm believer in the collaborative nature of language acquisition, so my students sit in groups of four. I have long tables in my classroom, and I put two tables together and seat two students on each side of the tables. The tables are arranged sideways, so that when I'm at the front of the classroom, the students are facing each other, but have to turn to one side to look at me. It's not difficult for them to turn, and then they can work together on things. It may be hard to visualize this, but that's the best I know to describe it. Maybe one of these days I'll make a diagram.
Yes, well, this didn't work in my difficult period. Several people have mentioned to me that rearranging the tables might help our problems, but I was stubborn and wanted to hold on to my seating arrangement. This week though, we started arranging the tables in rows, only two students together, and as far away from other pairs as we can get. We have to set them that way at the beginning of class, and then put them back the other way at the end, but things have been so much better now that they only have to resist talking to one other student instead of three. It's worth the time loss. It's just disappointing when teenagers make me resort to such a thing to try to manipulate their behavior, when they should be fully capable of managing their own behavior. Grrr.

But this post is about thankful things. And I'm thankful for those high aptitude students I blogged about here, the ones that make me sit back and think, "WOW. Where did that come from?"
This week, I had some of my students meaningfully and accurately manipulating direct object pronouns after 15 weeks of Spanish 1. And I have never so much as uttered the words direct object pronoun to them, nor have I talked about where they go. I've briefly mentioned why they're used, and we've done a few activities involving choosing among lo, la, los, las, but that's about it. Amazing.

On a completely different topic, I'll ask you the question that I like to ask everyone about thanksgiving. What does it mean to be thankful if you don't know who you're thankful to?
This Thanksgiving, as you express what you're thankful for, where is that gratitude directed? Just some food for thought. (In case you needed more food today, haha.)

21 November 2008

Grammar learning vs. acquisition

My 38 Spanish 1 darlings just turned in a stack of projects--they had to describe and illustrate five family members, at least one of them a plural set, at least one outside their immediate family. They had to tell me 1) what their name was, 2) ¿cómo es?, and 3) ¿cómo está?

We worked on it some in class and they turned it in before they did so marvelously on their test, and I think it had a lot to do with those good scores. Also, I was SO happy while I read it. Spanish 1 students are going to make mistakes, naturally, but not all mistakes are created equal. When they map English onto Spanish, la profesora Sarita is not so feliz. If they're overgeneralizing their Spanish, it's still counted points off, but la profesora Sarita is pretty feliz.

Check this out: Not one of my students wrote Su llama es.... Amazing. I don't know if you get that, but my Spanish 2 students incessantly put that in their writing and blogs. It's aggravating. They're taking their English structure and mapping it onto Spanish even though they "learned" this structure in week 2 of their Spanish 1 class (with a different teacher) last year. I did get a couple of Mi padre es llama... and I wonder if they were going for "My father is named...", but I just had one student do that for all 5 family members, and another for 2 out of 5.

So what about the overgeneralization? My biggest grammatical error was Mi padre se llamo but the same student would write Mi prima se llama. Wow! They know that o words are boy words and a words are girl words, and they're overgeneralizing that to verbs. They still lost 6-8 points for it, but there's a mistake I'll take any day over English mapping!

Trust me, a commitment to communication and "natural-ish" acquisition is SO worth it.

Forced to give grammar tests?

Diane from foreignlanguagefun.com left me this comment on my previous post:

"I teach using immersion, stories, TPR, music . . . but then I have to give common assessments. Although they are proficiency-based, there is a lot of isolated grammar, etc. I'm fascinated by the "no warning" tests. Of course, it makes perfect sense and is a much more valid assessment piece. Yet, it's still completely outside the "way things are done" --at least here in my public high school. When I taught at a private middle school, I had more freedom. How did you make the shift? School & parents supportive? I know your methods work, but how do you get others on board?"

I got a similar question when I gave a session called Assessing Comprehension without English and this fall's KWLA conference. For one thing, it makes me realize how fortunate I am to work with people who trust me to run the Spanish program the way I choose, so I was able to reject using the curriculum tests and workbooks last year, and this year rejected the textbook altogether. I didn't know quite what to answer, but what I said was this: Fight for it. I've never taught in a public school, so I don't know if you can even do this, but I'd call the administrator on the fact that he or she has no idea what language acquisition entails and therefore has no right to impose assessment judgments on you. Language isn't learned like any other subject, and you can't test it that way.
Other suggestions:
See if the department will let you use their test, but modify it to fit a more communicative approach. Can you change a question to elicit the same target feature (i.e. the form digo) by asking a communicative question instead of giving a multiple choice?
See if the department/administration will let you alter the weighting of the test. Can you weight the common tests lower and supplement with your own communicative tests?

To answer the other question, I shifted from announced tests to pop tests quite abruptly. I heard a couple of teachers mention it at a TPRS workshop at the 2007 KWLA conference, and I implemented it the very next week. I just told the kids that I wasn't going to tell them when tests were anymore. But I promised that I wouldn't put anything on a test that I hadn't asked several times in class in several different ways, and I always promise my students not to have unrealistic expectations of them. At first they threatened to mutiny, lol, but they got over it. Every once in a while they'll bring it up. This week one of my Spanish 3 cherubs was working on a test and said, "You know, in every other class, the teachers tend to let us know when tests are coming..." But he was joking and trailed off. They know it's not going to change. And parents have been nothing but supportive. Most of the students have also. Really, it's amazing how you can win people over when you have all the logic on your side!

18 November 2008

High aptitude is a beautiful thing

I've been grading these Spanish 1 tests lately. This is the test (for some reason the clip art didn't publish well on Google docs). They did extraordinarily well on it. The average was somewhere around 32-33 out of 38 points possible. And keep in mind, all my tests are given with no warning at all. You may wonder why I'm so excited over it, but think about it--how many Spanish 2 (or even Spanish 3 students, ¿verdad?) could sit down, on the spur of the moment, and use es and está accurately to describe someone? Much less five times!

Anyway, as I'm reading through, I'm astounded by how well they do and how little grammatical explanation went into it. They still fight with the singular/plural difference, but still, there are certain kids who just pull it all off flawlessly. The thing that's most amazing is when I pause and stare at something and thought, I never taught them that. Some do things because they learned them elsewhere, but sometimes there's just enough evidence to believe it's acquisition in 14 weeks of Spanish 1. It's awesome for a linguist to look at hard evidence of what natural acquisition is and does--and with the high-aptitude students, we get to see it extra early. :)

17 November 2008

Another Spanish 1 reading

Here's the story we did in Spanish 1 for the 2nd quarter. My version is about an elephant who wins the lottery and goes out shopping with his friend Minnie Ratoncita. In the student version, students collaborate to fill in blanks and make the story their own.

The questions they confused were the ones about how they went shopping and where they went. They at first confused the word cómo for dónde, but once they read the context and the following question, they ended up correcting it themselves. They did this with a sub while I was away at a conference, and by all reports didn't have any trouble with it. I'm so proud of them!

New media list!

I've revised and updated my song list for Spanish class. Here it is!

For an explanation of my list, read this post.

Hope you find it helpful!

13 November 2008

At the ACSI conference in Dayton

Attending conferences where other teachers share what's working for them is always exciting and enriching, right? Today and tomorrow I'm in Dayton at the regional conference of the Association of Christian Schools International (incidentally, the first organization I'm approaching about publishing the Musicuentos curriculum). Tomorrow afternoon I'm giving a presentation on the moral choices teachers have to make when offering authentic foreign media to our students. As part of the presentation, I'm offering a brand new updated chart of my media list--available to you tomorrow. Meanwhile, you can have a sneak peek at the presentation. My slides are below, also available as a public document here.

I welcome comments, but please keep in mind that my approach with this presentation is to be aware that I'm speaking to a wide spectrum of opinions. When I call something a moral issue, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm against it or that I don't show or play a certain media item because of that issue. I know that some people would look at what I do and say, "What?! She plays that in her classroom?!?!" and other people would look at it and say, "What a stupid reason not to play/show something!" I simply wanted to address anything anyone might possibly have an issue with, in order to spur discussion of the topic at hand. Thanks for looking and contemplating these tough questions with me!

06 November 2008

Story success: Huevos verdes con jamón

If you haven't gotten your hands on Dr. Seuss's Huevos verdes con jamón, you've got to get a copy. In Spanish 1 we're working on te gusta and me gusta(n). Reading this book gets you so many repetitions of those phrases, and the content is understandable, familiar, and highly interesting, so students are engaged. My Spanish 1 students had a great time with it today. Especially if your Spanish is good enough to read the rhymes at native speed after they've grasped them the first couple of times, they get a real kick out of it.

Get one!

Another story source!

It's always exciting to find story sources. I say it all the time, people learn language through storytelling. We learn vocabulary through reading and hearing words in context, not by studying the dictionary. We learn what "sounds right" (the key to fluency) by hearing it over and over and over again, not by doing drills.

So I'm pleased to put in a plug for Cody's Cuentos. They're available in audio, with transcripts, and they're adorable! The blog in general is too cute. If you're learning Spanish, you've got to visit this site.

05 November 2008

Words we don't use

If we're really teaching kids to be communicative, why do we say things like, "This is subjunctive." "Put that in past tense." "Where's the gerund here?" "Spanish requires the a personal between a verb and a direct object that is a person."

Does anyone ever really talk like that? Do you really care if your students don't know what pretérito means?

That isn't to say I don't teach grammar. As I mention in my assumptions, as far as language acquisition is concerned, teenagers are basically four-year-olds with a lot of metacognitive awareness. We're kidding ourselves if we think they don't have that metacognitive awareness, the ability to think about their language, and we're cheating them and us if we don't take advantage of it. That's one of my issues with TPRS--it doesn't capitalize on students' ability to pattern-match given enough systematic input. (Although I may have assumed this about TPRS from the teachers I know that do it--Ben Slavic's best story scripts do show quite a bit of patterning.) So, I teach past tense, preterite and imperfect, subjunctive, direct objects, and so on. But we don't call them that. These are phrases you'll hear more often around my classroom:

"Are we talking about yesterday or today?"
"Is the mochila a lo or a la?"
"Is my mom emocionado or emocionada?"
"Did it happen suddenly or over a period of time?"
"Did you do this una vez or todos los días?"
"I'm dancing. So is it bailo or baila?"
"Verbs don't care if you're a boy or a girl."

My students say things like, "Oh, it's because it's masculine and not feminine." But not because they heard it from me--they learned it in middle school Spanish. Even the ones who didn't take any Spanish before, however, can use the concept. They just don't know what to call it. And that's fine with me. Because honestly, when's the last time you had a normal conversation that included a discussion of grammatical gender?

03 November 2008

Song success: Hace tiempo

Another song that my students beg for is 'Hace tiempo' by Fonseca. We call it "the dancing firemen song" and the video will show you why. They think it's funny that the song isn't really a happy one, but it sounds so cheerful, and while he's singing it in the video he looks so cheerful.

It's a great song for singing, learning to wrap your mouth around Spanish words. There's one line even I have a hard time with. I primarily use it to work on reflexives--there are a bunch of them. Also, the 'yo' present is prevalent without, as well as other present verbs.

El carro de sus sueños

If you want to get teenage boys excited about talking about something en español (or any language), ask what their dream car is. Find a picture on Google images and put it in a powerpoint. Label the parts and ask how many there are, what kind, etc. Then brainstorm as a class in a Word document negative commands--we got "don't paint it brown" and "don't throw balogna on top of it." LOL.

Trevor had fun:

31 October 2008

Overgeneralizing, again

A few posts back I commented on how my Spanish 3 students are overgeneralizing and I'm getting "Yo es" all over the place. Since I made lots of comments about it I've seen less. But I noticed something today--my Spanish 1 cherubs are doing it. I haven't taught Spanish 1 in three years and never communicatively, so I don't know if this is normal, but it seems awfully fast for such a process to happen and actually makes me happy! :)

On another note, they're slowly distinguishing between es and está. I'm eager for next semester when I let them loose on their own on the blog posts, so I can see what they can write. So far I'm really liking how communicative this class is. They blow me away.

Incidentally, this is the quiz they took today, for working on es/está.

1. Es Raúl un chico o una chica?
2. ¿Es Nicolía rubia o morena?
3. ¿Está Paco en la escuela o en casa?
4. ¿Está Jorge feliz o triste?
5. ¿Es Laura alta o baja?
6. ¿Quién es el estudiante más guapo en esta clase?

30 October 2008

Spanish 2 Story: La llama se llama...

You may have seen the story I wrote for Spanish 1 to read and then re-create in this post. Here is the story for Spanish 2. It involves a llama named Sra. Fluffy Stuff and a blue dog named Blue. One question many students answered wrong was "Why did Sra. Fluffy Stuff leave?" A lot of them answered "Because the program ended." Here is the version with the blanks for them to fill.

Song success: Me voy

Another song that has been highly successful in my class is Me voy by Julieta Venegas. I'm excited to see what she'll do on the Latin Grammys next month. My students LOVE this song. I use it primarily for the phrase me voy, with some random vocab thrown in. The video is funny and interesting, although it's the most random thing in the world. Well, I take that back. It's not as random as her video for Limón y sal with the whole talkie-movie/Lion Witch & Wardrobe thing going on. LOL.

Not posting lately

If my posting is a little erratic these days, there are a couple of good reasons. First, nine-weeks grades were due, and the whole jury duty thing had put me so far behind on grading that it consumed my nights and days to get the grades in on time. Second, I'm pregnant. And sick. Not sick-sick, just pregnant-sick. I'll be 12 weeks next week, so I'm waiting for that morning when I wake up and all the yuck is magically disappeared. Until then, I'll try my best to muddle through.

20 October 2008


My Spanish 3 students are overgeneralizing. It's fine, it's a normal part of language acquisition, but it's driving me nuts. In case you aren't familiar with the phenomenon, overgeneralizing is what happens when a child acquires the irregular past "went," then discovers that we form past by adding -ed to verbs, and overgeneralizes to the irregulars and suddenly starts saying things like "she goed" and "he singed."

My Spanish 3 cherubs are doing it with the most elementary things--I'm getting tons of yo es and yo gusto. At least they don't think me means "I," which is what frequently happens after students learn me gusta. So today we're taking this quiz, not really to test the difference betwee soy and estoy, but rather to make them write yo soy and yo estoy repeatedly, as well as me gusta and me gustan.

This is the quiz:
Yo soy / yo estoy…
1. estudiante
2. alto
3. en casa
4. listo (inteligente)
5. chico/chica
6. estadounidense
7. listo (preparado/a)
8. enfermo/a

(No) me gusta / me gustan…
9. los payasos
10. la escuela
11. la Internet
12. burritos de frijoles
13. uvaslos libros en español

Here's hoping it works!

The outcome of Pin Pon

So, my Spanish 3 loved the Shrek video clip. I also played the Pin Pon animation on YouTube (both clips are linked in the previous post). I never know what's going to grab their attention. They actually brought their friends, whom I had in Spanish 2 last year, to my room after school to view the Pin Pon clip. And now they beg for it every class period.

Whatever works!

07 October 2008

Pin Pon in Shrek?

I don't normally show American movies with Spanish dubbed in, because they're culturally irrelevant and many times beyond my students, both linguistically and in attitude--they assume it's the same as the English and tune out the language. But I found this clip of Shrek 2 on YouTube, the torture scene where the prince is dipping the gingerbread man in milk to try to get him to talk. In the English film, the conversation goes like this:
Prince: "Do you know the muffin man?"
Gingerbread man: "The muffin man?"
Prince: "The muffin man. Do you know the muffin man?"
Gingerbread man: "The one who lives on Drury Lane?"

It's one of the funniest parts of the movie. But think about it--how funny would this be to Spanish-speakers who have no idea what the muffin man is? So, when I watched the scene in Spanish, I found out that they actually dubbed in a conversation involving Pin Pon, a Puerto Rican children's song. Awesome! I can't wait to show it in Spanish 3. Funny, linguistically accessible and relevant, and culturally relevant too!

Best practices

At the KWLA conference, so many people mentioned cool things you can do with a computer... if you have a projector in your room, which I don't. I'd asked for one before, but the tech guy told me that no one was checking out the one in the library, so he didn't see a need to buy another. I told him it would be such a hassle to get it every morning and bring it back every afternoon, that it wasn't worth it.

After the conference, I decided it was worth it after all, and I was going to check it out every day unless someone else needed it. So I have, the past two days, and my students have LOVED it. This morning one of the students in my difficult period said, "I learned more than I ever have in any other Spanish lesson." YAY!

So I've arranged with my boss to have a "permanent checkout" of the projector in my room--after all, if no other teacher is using it, what's the sense in me getting a new one and the other one sitting in the library? He said if other teachers start requesting it, the library will have to requisition a new one.

:-) Good times, good times.

03 October 2008

Reading in Spanish 3

I firmly believe that the best way to acquire new vocabulary is to hear it or read it, in context, in multiple contexts, many times. So, personally, I read in Spanish whenever I have the time. I rarely read fiction in English. This year I've been really in to Isabel Allende's Zorro and Inés del Alma Mía and García Marquez--specifically, Noticia de un secuestro, and now I'm reading Amor en los tiempos de cólera.

Along that line of thinking, my Spanish 3 students also read. I dislike asking them to read/view things that are decidedly American (especially WASP American) that were translated into Spanish. If we're really dedicated to all the 5 C's, we need to include stuff that's culturally rich and relevant. So, in the fall of Spanish 3 we read Cajas de cartón, Francisco Jimenez's story of how he came to the U.S. as an illegal child immigrant with his family in the 1950's. The students take a quiz over each chapter as the semester progresses, and then once a quarter I add up the grades for a test grade. In case anyone might find them useful and/or have constructive comments, I'll probably upload my quizzes for the book soon. So far I've only written them for chapters 1-5.

In case you're interested, the book we'll read in the Spring is Esperanza renace by Pam Muñoz Ryan, also an immigrant child story but from a different time and perspective (think "The Little Princess" for a Mexican aristocrat's daughter). The book I'm looking at for AP next year is Ciudad de las bestias by Allende. (I'm not sure my students will be ready for Zorro or I'd pick that one.)

02 October 2008


I've had jury duty for two weeks. Because of that and our wind storm (thank you Ike), I've taught three days in the last three weeks. And during the two weeks I was gone, I came back every day or every other day, in the afternoons, to find a note from the sub about all the difficulty with my 7th period, and some with my 6th period, my very social/talkative Spanish 3 students. Upsetting. But at least I know it's not just me. Anyway, I'm at school today checking blogs and updating grades and anticipating coming back to school on Monday (the kids are off today and tomorrow). And I got such an encouraging little jewel.

Remember my Spanish 2 student from this post, p.w., the one who said Spanish was boring because she didn't understand? This is what she wrote last Thursday:
Hola amigos! Todo semana en espanol nosotros vemos un sustito. Fue muy mal porque cuando Mrs. Cottrell fue aqui yo fui empezando a aprender espanol luego ella desapareco y no volvo! Adios!

Yay for reasons to smile and keep coming back. :)

My media list

I'm working on a media list to share with teachers, specifically for the ACSI regional conference in Dayton next month. You're welcome to view it here.

I teach at a private Christian academy, and my audience at the conference will be other teachers in similar situations, so I have a separate column specifically for moral issues in the songs/videos. Because I know that some people are less tolerant or more tolerant than I am of certain content, I try to go overboard in finding any objection anyone might have in the song. So, just because I put something in that column doesn't mean I wouldn't show/play the video/song for that reason. Sometimes it does (and that will be obvious--no one should show the video for Pingüinos en la cama, in my opinion), but usually it just means I want to give anyone who might be offended a heads-up about the content.

Oh, and an asterisk on "Target features" means that those are the dominant features I use the song to teach.

I'll update it as frequently as I can so keep checking!

Awesome YouTube video

So, even people who don't like animated films love the "I want to move it, move it" song on Madagascar.

Someone put it in Spanish on YouTube! You gotta check it out. "Quiero" was one of our Spanish 1 words of the week last week, so I'm going to show it this week. My students are going to love it!

30 September 2008

My KWLA presentation

Here are the slides from the presentation I recently gave at the Kentucky World Language Association's fall conference in Lexington, KY.

The whole thing can be found here.

Song success: La llave de mi corazón

By far one of the most popular songs in any of my Spanish classes is La llave de mi corazón, by Juan Luis Guerra. No wonder he won so many Latin Grammys last year!

Target features: Subjuctive for reason of influence, tiene, soy de/es de.

Video: Available on YouTube. High interest, upbeat, great!!

Questionable content: None, either in the lyrics or in the video. My favorite kind!

Spanish 1 Story: Insectos grises para el almuerzo

Here's my first Spanish 1 story, written using some of our vocab from the first quarter. This was right after we talked about colors and we hadn't done much on verb conjugations. (I hate the word conjugate and we don't spend much time memorizing or any time drilling conjugations.)

My story

Story with blanks so students can re-create the story

Finding stories

I'll be posting quite a bit in the days to come about all the things I learned at the fall KWLA conference. One of them is that for someone who's a fan of TPRS, my students don't do a lot of the R-reading. So I determined we were going to read more.

I'm normally pretty good at finding stuff on the internet, but I've been highly disappointed in the lack of free, easy-to-intermediate short Spanish stories available online. Everything seems to take you to a place where you can buy a product. If I haven't read the stories, I'm not likely to trust the author enough to spend my money on it. So I decided to write my own. My process is to write a short, simple story using high-frequency, cognate, and recent class vocabulary. I add several questions at the end. Students read the story and answer the questions. Then, I drop several details from the story and tell students (in pairs) to recreate it with their own details, and then answer the same questions at the end. Then they trade stories and answer the same questions, a third time, about someone else's story.

Whenever I write these I'll try to post both documents to this blog. I use Google docs to put the documents to a permanent web link. Hope it's useful for someone!

Also, if you know of any place where we can all find some good, free stories, please let me know!

How do I find the music?

So, if you're looking for good, popular, current music, where do you find it without spending a whole bunch of money on random CD's and hoping to find a jewel? If your area is anything like mine, the only Spanish-language radio in the area is Tejano/Norteño music, and my students barely tolerate music with even hints of that.

I find most of my music by streaming radio from Yahoo! radio's Pop Latino station. I created my own station for free, started rating artists and songs, and Yahoo played more songs based on how I rated certain ones. I don't know how long you sit at your desk / computer grading papers or entering grades, but for me it's a long time, especially since I don't have internet at my house, and I almost always have my radio station streaming. When I hear a song that's especially good and has linguistic features I want to emphasize, I go to Amazon and download it for 99 cents. (Side note: making it clear that you do this is a great way to try to instill into your students the integrity of downloading their music legally, something almost none of mine do.)

Then I search the lyrics on the internet, copy and paste them into a Word document, make the font at least 22pt, listen/watch to make sure there are no errors, fix the accents, etc. and print/copy it to a transparency so my students can see the lyrics while the song plays. (They'll tell you my mantra is "You can watch and listen or you can watch and sing, but you can't not watch!) I believe doing this trains their brains to hear where words start and end, a key to listening comprehension, and as an added benefit my students almost never ask me how to spell anything anymore, nor do they have many spelling mistakes.

So go get yourself a free Latin pop station and let the magic begin!

23 September 2008

TPRS gone wrong

I was looking for other blogs to look at and add to my blog, and I stumbled upon this TPRS teacher's blog:


It shows my major, major complaint with TPRS (which I mostly love and borrow from a lot, btw, as you can see in previous posts). Look at all the "we translated" "students translate" assessment! With all the research showing that translation isn't good for bilingual proficiency, why does TPRS look like this? Why, for a method that's so incredibly communicative and includes the brilliance of circling questions, do TPRS teachers insist on translation in their assessment?

This is my goal in my curriculum development journey: eradicate translation from my assessment, evaluate whether this works, and show other teachers how to do the same!

Modeling the billingual lexicon

Kroll's Revised Hierarchical Model and the Inhibitory Control model are other models I was introduced to in grad school, and they are an incredible help in explaining how students develop proficiency in their second language, why we shouldn't use English translation in a world language class, and why back-translation (L2 to L1) is easier than forward translation (L1 to L2).

Read up on it! The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics has a whole chapter on this topic (by Kroll herself, with Dijkstra).

Why don't they teach this to undergraduate language education majors?!?

17 September 2008

Summaries of some classroom SLA articles

Click the title of this post and it'll take you to a good annotated bibliography of some articles that review the most intriguing current research trends in classroom-applied SLA.

Love/Hate Krashen

There are an awful lot of people with good things to say about Krashen, and an awful lot of bad things to say about him.

For a good, balanced summary of Krashen's theories and some reactions, look here.

Krashen was/is an advocate of bilingual education. I hate almost everything about bilingual education, particularly past 2nd grade. And apparently some have taken that to a hatred for Krashen himself. Look here for a fierce anti-Krashen view.

So why my verdict? As with any SLA researcher, you have to take what makes sense and throw out the rest. And judge it by success. Does Krashen's model match what your common sense tells you about how people learn language? It does mine. And as a teacher I believe I can see it happening. Besides, don't be fooled into thinking these guys believe everything they write. Sometimes they write something super-strong just to have such an opinion. Last year I sat down to dinner with DeKeyser, someone who disagrees with almost everything Krashen writes, and some of my colleagues. He backpedaled so much it seemed he wasn't even willing to espouse his own theory, not as he'd published it anyway. So take it all with a grain of salt, just the way we teachers do with everything someone hands us, right?

Another article that rocked my world

I read this article for a class called Issues in Bilingualism or something like that while I was in grad school. I remember exclaiming over and over as I read it, "That makes so much sense! That explains why..." My husband laughed at me getting so excited over a scholarly article. It has a lot of SLA terminology in it, but if you can wade through that, it's well worth your time/money. If you have access to a university library, you can probably get it free. Here's a link to the abstract.
Author: Norbert Francis
Source: International Journal of Bilingualism, Volume 8, Number 2, June 2004 , pp. 167-189(23)
Publisher: Kingston Press Ltd

I'll be referencing Francis's ideas and model quite a bit when I do my conference presentation next week on Assessing Comprehension without English. This is the article that convinced me, along with Krashen, to throw English translation out of my teaching as much as possible.

More sunshine

Saturday was our school's arts & crafts fair. It's a major fundraiser for the various classes, so a lot of my students were there. I walked by one of my freshman, who was talking to some girls from another school. He said, "That's my Spanish teacher," and the girl said something about Spanish, to which he replied, "Yeah, but she makes it easy."

Well, I'm not exactly the one that made it easy, but when they're finding it easy, I know I'm doing my job.


06 September 2008

When it's not all coming up roses

Lest you think that I think that musicuentos is the fix for every language acquisition issue, I don't. Friday was a good example of holding on to the good ones and trying to let the other stuff slide off my back while learning from it.

This year I'm teaching six periods of Spanish--two Spanish 1, three Spanish 2, and one Spanish 3. Five of the six are having a blast. One section of Spanish 2, however, is not. For some reason this particular group of kids has been a challenge. Here's what I think the problem is: Musicuentos is based on research that says that motivation and listening are vital. In school, students seem to be motivated by one of three things: 1) what they love, 2) what is easy, 3) what is entertaining. So, kids who love math may find something difficult, but they'll still be motivated to do it because they love it. Unfortunately, I can't make kids love Spanish, so I go for the other two--easy and entertaining. God's taken care of the easy part by making their brains perfectly suited to acquire language. Throw in some pop music, the Latin grammys, and a Spanish-speaking monito or two, and voilá, you've got entertaining.

The problem is, in order for this to work, the kids have to listen and watch. This is my mantra. All the time I'm telling them this. But Class 6 doesn't believe me. They keep their heads down. They talk to each other. Incessantly. And we're miserable. Everything takes them twice as long, so there isn't time for the songs. They account for almost all the demerits I give out for off-task and disruption. Friday, one asked me how to say pissed in Spanish after getting a demerit for being off task. Total demerits for Class 6 on Friday alone? Nine. So how do I convince them that if they'll just shut up and watch and listen, it really will be easy and entertaining? Good question. I think today we'll work on the seating arrangement. And I've started working to get parents working on it with me.

Meanwhile, I take encouragement where I can. Earlier the same day, one of my freshman told me, "I've learned more in three weeks of Spanish than I did in three years of middle school Spanish."
(My mind files this little sunshine #1 away for dark times later. Little do I know I'll need it by the end of the same day!)

Then I check the weekly blogs. My students post on a blog every week. It's a fun requirement and a major part of keeping their grade up. I love it and they love it. So, I get this on one blog while I'm reading Saturday:
Hola! Hoy yo durmi en clase. Espanol es aburrido porque no lo comprendo. Yo amo Chris Brown mucho. Me gusta musica. Mi cancionfavorito es Disturbia. Adios.
Publicado por p.w.

Now, I know this student is frustrated because she's approaching my class as if it's like last year, and she keeps her head down a lot. But I also know she's comprehending because I check her comprehension a lot because I know she's struggling more than the rest of her classmates for that reason. (It's like a tangible affective filter, I swear.)

So I keep reading. Immediately after that blog, there's this one:
Hola amigos! Escuela esta muy aburrito, pero el clase de espanol es muy divertido porque cantamos musica. Ahora me casa esta vicia. Estoy solo. Esta muy triste, verdad?Adios para ahora.
(my mind files this sunshine #2 away for when I need it)
And that blog has at least 2 similar things.

Today I was checking my Spanish 3 blogs and something one of my students wrote blew me away. Absolutely blew me away. When I started teaching these kids in Spanish 2 last year, their ability to communicate was almost nothing. They could sing -o, -as, -a, -amos, -ais, -an all day long. But comprehend? Communicate? Very very little. You may not be impressed by this (especially if you don't read Spanish) but wow. Knowing where they've come from, I am. And before you wonder if a computer translator did this, I can assure you it didn't. I know this student, and I'm very very good at spotting computer translation besides, and this is his Spanish, 100%.
Hola! Ibas tu Dia del Trabajo? Mi familia y yo fuimos a mi casa de abuelos.Dios es Sensacional. Hace dos dias, mi iphone muerto. Yo llame el ayuda de Apple y dijeron ellos no me ayudaron porque mi garantia se fue. Mi padre y yo fuimos a el tienda de Apple y preguntamos ellos para ayuda. El hombre dijo no me ayudo, pero entonces me dijo que el fue a preguntar alguien algo. Se fue de mi papa y yo. Entonces, regreso y dijo que ellos reemplazon mi iphone y me da un lo nuevo.Fue un bendicion de Dios. Estoy muy feliz.-Cristian

So much sunshine. It's not all coming up roses, but the flowers are pretty abundant around here.

04 September 2008

What on earth is going on here?

I've written about how I went to grad school and learned about second language acquisition (SLA) theory that revolutionized how I approached teaching.

Then I attended an AP workshop where the facilitator used two Latin pop songs to illustrate how authentic Spanish media could be used in AP. I decided it was catchy and could probably appeal and be useful all the way down to Spanish 1.

Then I attended a TPRS workshop at the Kentucky World Language Association's fall conference last year and that rocked my world.

I decided to put it all together and see what happened in my classroom. What happened is still amazing me and is why I started this blog, why I'm documenting my action research, why I want to talk to anyone who'll listen about what I've learned. And I'm still not even sure what's going on.

I had 48 students in Spanish 2 last year. It was the only high school Spanish class I taught. No one failed. 10% earned a D for the year, and that was because they, without exception, consistently took zeros on assignments or refused to listen in class. As a high school teacher, I'm still required to give grades, much as I hate it, and when a student consistently refuses to do work, I can't give him/her anything above a zero. Also, Musicuentos does not work with students who will not listen, and doesn't work exceptionally well with students who won't watch. The other 90% earned a C or higher, the majority A's or B's. And I don't give extra credit, bonus work, or academic credit for non-academic work. My students get no points for food, none for signatures on papers, none for extra credit projects, zip. The only thing they can do is earn back half the points they miss on paper tests by correcting the missed answers to make them communicative.

As last year drew to a close, I started to pray for 10 students to take Spanish 3. I teach at a smallish private school, about 200 in the high school, and last year (my first year here) no one elected Spanish 3. Two students elected AP Spanish. And I'm like any other Spanish teacher, I know the attrition between the required classes and the electives. So I prayed for 10. This summer our guidance counselor said to me, "We have a problem. 23 students have signed up for Spanish 3."
You could've knocked me over with a feather. 23? I had to cut five because I had to cap the class at 18 because of my room size, and I didn't have an open period to teach another section. After the school year started, 2 dropped, 2 came in, and 4 more asked to come in and couldn't (including one who had dropped).

The math ends up to a 50% retaining rate between Spanish 2 and 3. But what amazes me the most is when these kids walk in Spanish 3, tell me the usual, "Oh I forgot everything over the summer," look at the picture of the clown and say, "Oh look, you got a payaso." And then the first week of school, I can ask them questions at a native rate of speed and they'll answer me. In Spanish.

So what on earth is going on here? I think the only answer I have right now is this:
Second language acquisition theory has a lot to teach us, and we'd better sit up and listen, or only the most motivated, linguistically inclined students will ever learn language.

So, what are the cuentos?

I took the scariest leap a teacher can take.

I now teach without a textbook. Well, mostly.

I use EMC Publishing's series En sus marcas (Spanish 1), Listos (2), Ya! (3), which is what my school gave me, as a rough sequencing tool. So, I use it to more or less order what concepts I cover when, and as a reference for the students for charts of things, and very occasionally for an exercise I find useful.

Other than that, I tell stories, we write, we talk, we watch, we listen, we sing.

A brief overview of the stories:

In Spanish 1, the first day, students draw a boy with me. We do it almost completely in Spanish. I ask them what color, etc., everything should be. They mostly comprehend the questions and answer in English, but they label things and color the drawing (colored pencils are a requirement for all my classes). The second day, same thing with a girl. The students name the girl. One class named her Mari.

Soon Mari meets a penguin named Jeffrey. Then Mari introduces Jeffrey to her friend Garfield and she goes away. The rest of Spanish 1, most the stories involve interactions between Jeffrey and Garfield.

At the beginning of Spanish 2, we find that Garfield has acquired a computer and is chatting online with a monkey. Garfield decides to go to the circus where he meets the monkey. After he leaves the circus, we meet the clown that the monkey belongs to. Most of the stories for the rest of the year involve the monkey and/or the clown.

At the beginning of Spanish 3, the director of the circus gives the clown a horse. The horse can talk, in Spanish of course, so his name is Señor Eduardo, Sr. Ed for short. Soon the clown falls on hard times and has to sell the horse to a cowboy, and the rest of Spanish 3 involves the horse and the cowboy.

Fin. So far. I didn't storytell in AP (except for using Isabel Allende's Zorro) last year, and I don't teach AP this year (no Spanish 3 last year to feed into it) so we'll see where that goes.

The verdict on pop test 1

I teach two sections of Spanish 1, with 19 students in each class (my classroom won't hold any more than that). I haven't taught Spanish 1 in the three years prior to this year and I have to say I'd forgotten how much fun it is.

Anyway, the pop test went reasonably well. There were 54 possible points on the test. In the first class, the average grade was 48.8, range 29-54. In the second class, average was 45.6, range 28-53.

Section 2 didn't have time to complete a writing exercise that the other class did, and that writing exercise was important to the essay portion of the test. If I'd realized in time that the second class hadn't done this, I would've repeated it with them before the test. Hindsight's 20/20. But overall a success!

I'll post an excerpt later, but for now I'll say briefly that I don't use any translation on my tests. Ever. Not even in vocabulary matching. I almost never use English in formal comprehension assessment.

03 September 2008

People I love

I have to throw out some props for the people whose work I believe makes the theoretical field of SLA something we can use to make ourselves better teachers and learners.

Obviously I'm a Krashenite. Not all the way. I couldn't care less what he has to say about bird languages or what the aliens will speak when they get here, but that's California for you (j/k). The acquisition/learning difference, i+1, the affective filter, the monitor, they all just make so much sense. And the power of reading--it's such a part of the power of storytelling.

I love, love, love Michael Long and Cathy Doughty and wish I could live another life at the University of Maryland sitting at their feet and learning from their insanely practical research. Especially on noticing.

Blaine Ray and TPRS. Wow. It's my inspiration. There are flaws and I'm trying to work through them, and Blaine wouldn't call me a TPRS teacher, but a lot of what I do is based in TPRS. I sat through a 20-minute demonstration by a woman just starting in TPRS, in Swedish, a year ago, and I can re-tell you the story she told, and I know what it means, and I walked into that workshop not speaking a word of Swedish. I don't think TPRS is motivating enough and I think it moves too fast (anyone in SLA will tell you there are so many problems with anything called "Fluency Fast"), but he's really on to something and I attend every workshop I can. I'm going to the Kentucky World Language Association workshop this month and I can't wait.

So thanks especially to Drs. Krashen, Long, & Doughty, and Blaine Ray for their work in putting SLA into something teachers can use.

A pop test

All my tests are unannounced (except finals, because that's the way my school dictates it).

My Spanish 1 kids are taking their first pop test right now... I'll let you know later how it turns out!

02 September 2008

Some assumptions

To understand why I do what I do, you first need to hear the assumptions I'm working from, I think.

1) Motivation is one of the top (if not the number one) factors in success in language acquisition.

2) I've never seen a textbook that U.S. high school students found motivating.

3) Not all students are motivated by grades.

4) It is extraordinarily difficult to obtain a grade that accurately reflects language acquisition.

5) Most students are motivated by media.

6) Most students are motivated by past and present success.

7) It's the teacher's job to make language acquisition as stress-free as possible.

8) Especially at the beginning, students' language production needs to be very low-risk for them (cf Krashen's affective filter theory, silent period).

9) Students need to interact with the language on many levels, in many situations, over a long period of time in order to acquire it.

10) Input should be systematized and repetitive (think TPRS) but authentic at the same time.

11) If we always feed students slow learner Spanish, we're cheating them.

12) Translation in the acquisition process is very nearly useless, particularly in assessment.

13) Studying for tests doesn't produce long-term memory in anyone except the extraordinarily brilliant. Therefore, telling students when tests are going to occur is useless.

14) Homework is busywork performed outside of the help and supervision of someone who can monitor the acquisition process and is therefore mostly useless.

That's almost enough for now, but I think the most important discovery I've made, the one that I think makes what I do different from what I've seen anywhere else is this:
High school language students are basically 4-year-olds with a lot of metacognitive awareness, and until we start treating them like that, they're going to keep learning what they need to know for the test, and graduating saying "I took two years of Spanish and I can say hola and taco." The trick is to treat them like high schoolers in every other area besides where their language acquisition is concerned, throw in some Ricky Martin and Maná, and they'll forgive you for reading them Froggy se viste.

01 September 2008

Starting to share my journey

I put myself through grad school working with a group of graduate electrical engineers. Their supervisor spent thousands of dollars paying 100% of my tuition and a stipend for me to live off of, and in exchange, I helped them communicate their research. After spending 4 years in undergraduate engineering classes, they'd entered their master's track to discover that if they couldn't communicate their research, it didn't mean anything to anyone but themselves.

I've come to realize the same thing about myself.

My first three years of teaching, I taught Spanish the same way a lot of people teach it, which is to say, the same way a lot of teachers teach history, science or math.
Open the textbook.
This is what we're doing today.
Everyone got it?
Here's the test.
And the same kids get A's who get A's in every other class. And the kids who fail science, struggle in Spanish too.

Then I went to get my master's in Linguistics with an emphasis in Second Language Acquisition and what I'd been doing made no sense. All these kids had done perfectly well learning English. They'd proven their brains were capable of learning language. People don't learn language the same way they learn science or history or math. So what on earth were we doing wrong?
I was introduced to the research of Dr. Stephen Krashen. My professors weren't his biggest fans by a long shot but his stuff came closest to explaining to me what was wrong with the U.S. foreign language education system. What it didn't do, however, was tell me how to fix it. I've heard Dr. Krashen speak twice and he himself has said he doesn't know what to tell teachers to do in the classroom. So instead of shrugging my shoulders and going back to the same old stuff in my classroom, I decided to keep at it until I figured out how I could change at least my teaching and make my classroom an i+1 acquisition classroom, for every student who would listen.

For the past year and a half, my students and I have had a blast experimenting with what it means to bring Krashen's i+1 and affective filter theories down to practical earth, and it's been quite a ride. But unless I communicate how my research has turned into a 90% C or above grade rate (and the other 10% take zeros for not turning in assignments), 50% retaining rate into a Spanish 3 elective, students who hated Spanish now saying it's their favorite class, and on and on, it won't go beyond me and my students.

Welcome to my language acquisition journey, a method I call Musicuentos (I realize not an original name, but as a teaching method it is). I hope you find something you can use. If you find anything, it's been worth it!