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.


Unknown said...

Times like this, I wish you had a "LOVE" option to check. This is exactly what I need!

Things I wonder:
Is it a good idea to have a "witness" sign off on the cards too? I'm worried about falsifying.

Could doing more than 1 in a week be a good way to get extra credit?

"To improve" sounds weird to me, for lack of a better word, but could it be rephrased another way? Because it's not just "to get help with" and maybe not just "to practice more," but maybe "to investigate further"?

Also, since I only teach Spanish 1 and 2, what kind of changes would you recommend to possibilities? Should the amount of time be the same at these levels? Should I just make sure I provide simple (picture?) books in Spanish?

Unknown said...

How do you hold the students accountable, i.e. validating that they actually did what they say they did?

Susan Lynn said...

We had a program like this called Spanish Outside the Classroom. We gave different activities different points, depending on the difficulty and time required. We assigned 50 pts per semester. For each activity, students knees to bring "proof" in the form of an artifact, receipt, reflection sheet, signature or presentation in class. Find a song in Spanish, play it in class and give a brief bio of the singer-10 pts. Turn on the Spanish soundtrack of your favorite movie and learn 10 new words-10 pts. Research recipes from a Spanish speaking country and make a meal with at least 3 authentic dishes-20 pts. It was fun, but hard to get all the kids to do what was required.

Talia said...

Great reminder of what I always eNt to accomplish - cultural Awareness, language learning, fun! Thanks for the reminder!

Sra Cottrell said...

Hmm, what I mean by 'improve' is specifically that I want them to reflect on what their biggest struggle was, and perhaps what they could do to keep understanding more in that area. "get help with" certainly implies another person and the intent of this activity is purely self-motivation, and "investigate further" emphasizes too much the cultural aspect and not enough language... let me know if you think of something better! :)

At levels 1 and 2, when the class is required, and in other situations, it's a good idea to investigate ways to keep students from lying about it. Did they choose wikipedia? Print it, highlight favorite parts, and comment in at least 2 places. 30 minutes of music? Name (#) of artists and/or songs, phrases and words you heard, where you found the music. Conversation? With whom - someone in the class? Topic? Vocab? Medium? Place? Adjust the level for the students on some is a good idea - simpler books (picture books are good), website and audio ideas - check my Delicious 'elementary' tag. Several of my Delicious 'corporate' tags are sites like Disney or Warner Bros. And you just have to keep reminding them that you know they're teenagers, you promise they can be teenagers in math and science and every other class, but when it comes to language acquisition, they're children - and throw in a bit of Ricky Martin. :)

Sra Cottrell said...

Oh, so my comment about students lying - I'm not terribly concerned about it because in my small fourth-year class my students have been with me so long they're reluctant to lie to me at this point so I can give them some leeway. But I'd definitely be wary in a required lower level.

One more thing, the students aren't allowed to repeat an option in a nine-week period. Otherwise they'd do facebook and their cellphone all year. ;-)

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this list with us. Great ideas I will share them with my students.
Miriam Ramos-Warth

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

I thought of a new idea! (I'm in the process of formalizing and introducing the assignment.)

Explore iTunes Latino store and iTunes essentials for 30 minutes & find 2 albums or 5 songs you would like to own

Talia said...

These are awesome! I do something similar, but more for extra credit. The kids get a matrix with 60 ideas and each has a point value (5, 10, 15). They can do as many activities as they want up to 30 points. Each time they do an activity, they have to record it, show evidence of doing it and receive my signature. The activities for 5 points are easier and the 10 and 15 points follow the same idea, but are more difficult. I give the same sheet to 6th-8th grade - they just pick the ones they feel they can do and do them at their level.

Thanks for the list to get us started - it's easy to forget that class doesn't necessarily end when the bell rings!!

Unknown said...

My kids had a few more ideas, though I remain unsure of their validity:

Switch their XBoxes or video games to Spanish for a week? I'm afraid they might learn unsavory language from shooter games and don't know a lot about it.

One wanted to start a Facebook group page for conversing--would that be any different than the 30 minute chat, except online?

Jennifer Maughan Duke said...

I found an idea similar to this that I have implemented this year in my High School Spanish classes. Each Thursday the students have to complete assignments from a homework grid-or in otherwords I have a document set up that kind of looks like a calendar. Each box has a suggested activity and guidelines for use. My basic one had 5 columns titled VOcabulary, Technology, Culture, Listening, and Writing. Under each column they had to choose two of each activity for the quarter (10 weeks in a quarter) and then choose two additional activities to complete at any time. As the year has progressed I have narrowed the sheet down to 12 slots-they have to complete an activity on their own in each slot-they still follow the 5 columns (2 from each) but there are more instructions as to how to make it a better learning experience and how to better practice your Spanish. For the additional two assignments that they can complete at any time-this quarter they have to teach the class a lesson on Spanish and inclue an activity that they have created to help their class review and learn the information. Many of the activities are very similar to the fluency activities. I have seen some kids really use this activity to enhance what we are learning in class-and some of them just do it because it is the assignment-and others who don't do it because they forget because it is not something I remind them of everyweek-just once at the beginning of the quarter and only if I see that they are not doing the activities.
As far as keeping track of the "truthfulness" of what they are doing-I have a writeup sheet that must accompany some of their activities-it has a place from parental signature (or mine if they happen to do it with me around), a slot for resources sited, and a large response area where they are to write 10 complete sentences about their experience including what they learned, how they felt it was beneficial, and how much they enjoyed it. It is really hard for kids to BS for 10 sentences and it is fairly easy for them to proove to you that they have done the work...if there is a doubt-I conference with them and ask them more detailed information-and make sure it all checks out. My first year students are forging ahead quite quickly...and I think in a large part it is due to this homework project-it leaves more time in class for fluency practice with me, and it gives them the chance to show me what they are learning. Besides that, I HATE grading boring grammar worksheets and stuff-these assignments are so much easier to grade-they are interesting and you really get to know your students and their iniciative. I will send the information I have on file for this homework assignment if anyone would like a copy, or if you would like to post it on your blog-I don't mind sharing.

Sarita said...

@SraSpanglish I love the iTunes idea and the facebook one sounds neat too. I'm also unsure of the Xbox one - but I suppose it uses as much language as the cell phone one. Maybe if it was Xbox Live, that would give them great opportunities for interpersonal communication with real people. I'd jump on that.

@Talia & @Jennifer your ideas sound great! Jennifer I would LOVE to see your document and post it here. Do you have it on a Google doc? My email is cottrellse at gmail dot com. :)

Tracy Brady said...

What a fabulous post -- and great comments as well. I will definitely be incorporating some of these ideas into my classes next year. Gracias.

Kara Jacobs said...

Just found your site via elmundodebirch. What a great resource!! I am going to use this weekly activity in my classes. Muchas gracias,

Sra Cottrell said...

Thanks so much! Feel free to add any gems you find/come up with too!

France2Bama said...

I love those suggestions!! I teach college level, and have been trying to find ideas for my students to do outside of class and these are perfect!!!
Thank you so much!!

Rebecca Brooking said...

Sra. Cottrell, I recently discovered your blog through Calico Spanish,and I am really enjoying perusing your blog entries! With your permission I plan to adapt your beyond-the-classroom activities for my own classes. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Muchas gracias por compartir estas fantásticas ideas. Con su permiso voy a usarlas durante el segundo semestre y ofrecer a los alumnos algunos créditos extras como premios para sus calificaciones finales.

Unknown said...

I am so thankful the Lord guided me to your blog!.
I teach Spa all levels and I have been looking for fresh ideas. I thank you so much for sharing. I will definitely implement your ideas in my classes.
Peace and the Love of our God be with you.

Unknown said...


I absolutely agree with everything you said about learning language in the United States... The teachers who aren't bought into teaching because we know that language is best learned through immersion, we aren't trained well to teach language like it needs to be taught, we don't feel we have enough time in a 41-minute class period, etc. Thank you for sharing what is true for me! Would it be alright if I "steal" these ideas to implement them in my Spanish 4 class? I came across your blog and just thought that this would be a wonderful thing to implement in my class. :)

Thank you,

Lindsey Hook

Unknown said...

Jennifer Maughan, do you have a copy of your homework grid? would like to incorporate this into my program.