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:

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