25 February 2011

Two new options for out-of-class fluency

In the past week I added two new options to my AP class's out-of-class fluency homework options. One is from personal experience and the other came as a result of tech recommendations from @usamimi74 on Twitter.

photo by Israel Avila

The first is to post-it 10 items in your house that you don't know the word for and leave it there for a week, then report to me from memory what all the items were.
I have been speaking and learning Spanish for twenty years. But over the last two years I have been on a different journey--raising a bilingual child by speaking only Spanish to her. It's struck me how many words I don't know because I never needed them before. Burp. Stroller. Hiccups. And words even around the house as I talk to her about things. Zipper. Knob. Eggplant. Believe me, I've learned a lot. So if I don't know what so many things around my house are called, I can be sure my students don't either. So I think this option is a good one. I'm hoping it will inspire them to keep learning in the future, because that has been so valuable to me.

The second option is to complete a song on lyricstraining.com. If they know the song, they have to do intermediate. If they don't know the song, they can do easy. I set it that way even at their advanced level because the activity seemed difficult to me. But the first day I showed it to them in class, at least one student went and did it right away-- two songs. One of my least motivated students lately, even. Thanks @usamimi74. :)

23 February 2011

Great resource from la Sra. Birch

photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta

Sra. Birch commented on this post adding my lyrics file to Google docs, offering a link to her awesome wiki that has a link to her spreadsheet of music. It's an amazing store of music categorized by singer, title, grammar focus, and other info, including YouTube links. It's cool enough to merit its own post, for sure. Enjoy! (And mil gracias Sra. Birch!)

17 February 2011

Dismantling Myth #1: What's a qualified teacher?

If you didn't catch my post about my ACTFL proposal, Dismantling the Myths that Prevent Proficiency, you'll need to back up a bit and read this.

Myth #1: A speaker who isn't proficient can be a language teacher (or, "I have a degree in this; of course I'm qualified.")

Photo by Susheela Willis

I remember when I went to interview for my first teaching job. I went into the administrator's office and he introduced me to a woman from Mexico who had been doing some cleaning for them. She barely spoke English. So I spoke to her in Spanish for a bit.
Here's the twist--this woman had had some sort of cancer in her head and had had a surgery to remove it that involved removing the palate from her mouth, and she then had a prosthetic palate, which she was not wearing that day. Try speaking a language that isn't your native tongue to someone without a palate. That was tough.
I later found out that the admin had been testing me, so to speak, to make sure that I was proficient. Whew. Glad I got some communication across--I'm sure he can't fathom how difficult that was.
My second interview wasn't like that. There was not a word of Spanish spoken at any time. No, that's not true--the principal did take me and my husband to a Mexican restaurant and I voluntarily spoke Spanish to the waiter. But it wasn't part of the interview.

In each of the last two years we have had to hire a Spanish 1 and 2 teacher at my school. I could not believe how many applicants we got for the job who could not communicate in Spanish. I took one applicant out to lunch on the premise (she knew this) that the lunch would be conducted in Spanish, because everything else about her seemed right and I needed to check her proficiency. Her listening proficiency was fine; she could understand nearly everything I said. But speaking--oh my. I finally told her she could switch to English when she wanted to tell me something involving frustration and opinions that pushed her language too far. She was making mistakes we work on in Spanish 1 - gender and number agreement and the like, without noticing or self-correcting.

A few years ago at the annual fall conference of the Kentucky World Language Association (our awesome state language teachers' association) I went on their 'immersion dinner' with a lot of other Spanish teachers. The concept was to go and speak only Spanish with all our colleagues. I sat at dinner with three other teachers, two native speakers and one other American woman, a teacher here in my city. We ended up switching to English or translating quite a bit for her because as she said, she "couldn't speak Spanish" as well as we could. Really, she couldn't carry on a conversation. This Spanish teacher couldn't speak above a survival level of the language. What must her classroom be like?

Why do people who cannot speak a language proficiently think they can teach it?
Because we've led them to believe that. Because they grew up taking language classes in which the teacher doesn't speak the language. Because we think language teaching doesn't work anyway and so the most important thing a teacher does is motivate students to study abroad, because that's the only thing that works. Because apparently they got through college only listening and doing pre-planned speaking projects. And that's how they think it's taught.
So my question is this - if the way they learned and plan to teach didn't make them a proficient speaker - why do we think it will for anyone else?

I truly apologize if this sounds harsh, but for the sake of the integrity of our profession, if you can't speak the language well enough to proficiently negotiate your way through a conversation beyond "where's the bathroom" and "I have three black dogs," get out of language teaching. If you are an administrator looking to hire a new world language teacher, find a proficient speaker to interact with applicants before they're hired. Otherwise you'll just be digging our hole deeper.

15 February 2011

Keep singing: 189 pages of Spanish lyrics

photo by Holger Lükerath

Callie and Krista recently commented on a song post, asking for my lyrics file. So, here's another Google document for you - my lyrics file updated as of today, all 189 pages of it. Thanks Callie and Krista for getting me to put it in the cloud - that's an awful lot of file to lose if my computer crashes. :)

Broken record: Remember I teach at a private Christian school and so you'll see a lot of Alex Campos and Jesús Adrián Romero and the like. If you're a Christian teacher you'll enjoy them, and if not, you can appreciate their music and do what you like with those pages. Enjoy!

14 February 2011

#Charlando para aprender


Soy profesora de español en el estado de Kentucky en los Estados Unidos. Unos cuantos otros profesores y yo hemos decidido pedirles a nuestros estudiantes que se involucren en Twitter - twitteando en español, con otros hispanohablantes, para que aprendan comunicarse mejor en la comunicación interpersonal.

¿Es usted un hispanohablante que quiera twittear con nosotros y nuestros estudiantes para ayudarles y formar cyber-amistades? Conéctese ahora a Twitter y siga nuestra conversación usando el hashtag #charlando. Cuando quiera entrar en la conversación, añada #charlando a cada tweet- y ¡bienvenido!

Vote for this week's #langchat topic

11 February 2011

It's time for them to use their time

There are a lot of problems with current world language teaching in the U.S. I think the biggest problem is that we're trying to teach it the way we teach everything else, when language used for communication is not learned or stored the way other subjects are, and the answer is to look back at the way this happened the first time. Don't agree? That's okay. But I'm looking back at 100 years of failed language teaching in the U.S. and at a profession full of teachers who don't believe in what they do - because if you ask a language teacher where to learn to speak a language, they won't tell you to take a class. They'll tell you to put yourself in an immersion situation. We know that immersion is the only thing that works, but we won't do it in class. Why? Lots of reasons. We're not trained. Students are conditioned to think school should happen a certain way and when it doesn't, they revolt. Our expectations are too high. Our assessments are completely invalid.

And the biggest complaint I hear is this: we don't have the time. Young children are flooded with massive amounts of input from the moment they're born, and we have them for mere minutes a day. What about that?

One answer is that the minutes we have them add up over years to a whole lot of time, so one solution is to figure out how to motivate students to continue into advanced levels of language learning. Another solution is to impress upon students that if they're really going to succeed, they can't rely on language class to keep this up. At some point, they have to take ownership of this language journey in their own lives and not let it be just something a teacher is making them do, because if that's all it is, they won't keep learning after they leave us, and it will be a waste of time. One way I've tried to do this is to assign my students to do a "fluency activity." Once a week, my fourth-year students have to do something outside of class to show me that they can find ways to interact in the language. They have to tell me on a card 1) what they did 2) one thing they learned and 3) what they need to improve on. @SraSpanglish asked me to publish the options I give them, so here they are. Keep in mind that I teach in a private faith-based school, so several of these options are faith-related. One premise there is that the vocabulary used will be very familiar to my students, which primes their brains for higher comprehension. You might have other ideas for how to do that also - please share them in comments!

  1. Listen to Spanish-language radio for one hour (music) or 30 minutes (talk).
  2. Watch television in Spanish for 30 minutes.
  3. Change your facebook language to Spanish and play on Facebook for an hour.
  4. Read a Spanish-language newspaper for 30 minutes (may be online).
  5. Play on one or more corporate Spanish-language websites for 45 minutes.
  6. Read a book in Spanish for 30 minutes (may get one from Sra. Cottrell, may not be Ciudad de las bestias)
  7. Read 3 familiar chapters of the Bible in Spanish.
  8. Change your cell phone or mp3 player’s language to Spanish for an entire week.
  9. Read the directions in Spanish of four items in your house (e.g. detergent).
  10. Read the last 50 tweets using a Twitter hashtag for a Latin-American country or city.
  11. Read the last 30 Spanish-language tweets by one or more Spanish-speaking artists or politicians on Twitter
  12. Read an article about a famous Latino musician or politician in Spanish on Wikipedia.
  13. Watch 3 videoclips on sports and 3 videoclips on current news on Univision.com.
  14. Compile a list of 30 words involving the profession you hope to have, on 3x5 cards for your review.
  15. Explore the Spanish-language section of a bookstore (music, kids’ books, and/or adult books) for 30 minutes and find two things you would like to own.
  16. Listen to a sermon (at least 20 minutes) in Spanish (see oneplace.com).
  17. Conversar (o ‘chatear’) en español con alguien por 30 minutos
  18. Asistir a un Spanish Group
  19. Asistir el servicio de una iglesia
Added recently:
  1. Find a recipe on a site like Mi Cocina Latina or Qué Rica Vida and prepare it.
  2. Listen to at least 5 clips at least B1 or higher on Audio Lingua.
  3. Watch at least 5 clips Intermediate B or higher from UT proficiency site.
  4. Play around on the iTunes Latino store and find 2 albums or 5 songs you would like to own.

10 February 2011

For tonight's #langchat: A game for description

Tonight's #Langchat topic is using games to support instruction. I have no idea how to describe a game in 140 characters so I thought I'd post it here.

This is a game good for low levels. It works great to reinforce describing people. It's useful for students to have the verbs 'have' 'wear' and 'is.' The game is called "¿Quién tiene la moneda?" (In Spanish, "who has the coin?")

One student leaves the room and the teacher gives a coin to someone in the room. All students should know who has the coin. The excluded student comes in and can ask anyone a yes or no question. Everyone except the student who actually has the coin must tell the truth. The student who has the coin can lie--this throws a twist of strategy into it.

So the student who is asking should ask questions like
--is it a boy?
--is he wearing blue?
--does he have blue eyes?
--is he blond?
--is he wearing glasses?
You can make things interesting like limiting the number of questions, and then forcing a guess. If the student guesses correctly, he chooses someone to go out next. If not, the student with the coin goes out next.

You can also substitute items for the coin -- pencil and other early vocab, for example.

Have fun!

04 February 2011

Short listening activity tailor-made for beginners

I'm going to an unconference tomorrow - my first full one. I managed to attend part of one before and enjoyed it. It's being put on by @tmsaue1 with the public school district and they're kind enough to invite private school teachers to tag along. This post is for the unconference (and you).

Last year when Camila hit it big (again) with their single "Mientes", they had a YouTube contest- sing the song, upload your video, see who gets on Camila's channel. (There might have been a bigger prize but I'm not aware of it.)

The part that struck me was that all of the finalists begin by introducing themselves. They say where they are from. A few say how old they are. What does that sound like to you? Chapter 1 of Spanish 1, ¿no?

I'm aware that this audio is difficult, but this audio is authentic. This is how real people who speak real Spanish sound like when they introduce themselves and tell their age. My mantra again - if all we ever feed them is learner Spanish, it's all they'll ever understand. Be prepared for students to freak out the 2nd or 5th time they listen to the 15 seconds each introduction takes. But keep at it. Help them find the numbers. Help them find the countries. If no one can get it, give it to them, but then listen through it again once everyone knows what they're hearing. We've got to train their ears, and we'll never do it by saying "that's too hard for them." Telling myself "nah, that's too hard for them" is how I ended up with fourth-year students with unnecessarily low listening proficiency for authentic audio.

And then - have some fun with it. Which version of "Mientes" do they like best (me gusta...)? Describe the people in the contest. Which guy do the girls vote el más guapo? Which girl do the guys think is la más bella?

Here's the playlist for Concurso Camila - Mientes (look on the right).

Ciudad de las bestias: Guides public & streamlined

I wrote here about what I've done with the book Ciudad de las bestias by Isabel Allende in my AP class. I recently put all of the chapter guides with their "palabras claves" in one streamlined Google doc, public on the web. It should be easier to use and as always happens with time, more accurate as my students find mistakes (like incorrect page numbers) and I fix them. If you have any suggestions or comments, as always those are welcome.

A few notes about the guides/words:
- The guides get longer because 1) the students become more capable and less in shock and 2) the chapters get more complicated in regards to the plot
- I use a "did you read" question at the end of every guide, worth at least 10 points, more according to the length of the chapter
- sometimes there's a ¿? instead of a definition of a "palabra nueva" because while the phrase itself is new, it's related to words the students know, and so I think they should be able to figure it out (e.g. desangrar).
- at this level my students read mostly on their own but we try to make time for it in class, and the day it's due they come in with questions and we read through tough sections together - this lessens their frustration

Have you thought about writing guides to literature for your own class-- and sharing them for other teachers? Collaboration is the 21st-century skill. :)