28 June 2011

Proficiency & tacos

So, about informing our students on proficiency.

One of the great ideas that came from that PD I went to was this 'taco' activity. It's designed to be done in the first days of school, preferable on the first day unless your first day is taken up with 'administrivia.'

Divide students into four groups, or tell them to divide themselves into four groups.
Tell students that you want them to tell you what a taco is, in English. You can choose any other common object or activity, such as the circus. For the first group, tell them that they can only use individual words to talk about the taco. In the second group, they can use phrases. In the third group, they can use simple sentences. In the fourth, they can use descriptive language in compound sentences joined by transition words like 'next' and 'also.'
When students use their 'proficiency level' to describe the taco, assign the proficiency labels to what they have done. Talk about which description gives the best idea of what the object/activity really is and why that level should be a goal. We also discussed having students write on large chart paper their descriptions, so that you can put them up on the wall. Then you can post on the chart 'novice low' and 'approaches expectations' and 'C' or whatever your assessment feedback language will be, and the students can have a visual reminder all semester or year of what exactly your expectations are.
Several teachers mentioned that this activity gives students a real idea of how accessible language is and gives everyone in the room a realistic view of where they could be at the end of the level. For the group of teachers I was with, their expectation is Novice High at the end of level 1 and Intermediate Low at the end of level 2 (they haven't done level 3 yet).
I thought this was a great way for students to be introduced to proficiency levels and get away from the vague 'here's a list of units we may or may not finish this year'-type goals I've done before. What do you think?

27 June 2011

Proficiency levels shouldn't be a secret

I had a wonderful PD opportunity last week to sit in with the truly vanguard Jefferson County Public School world languages department. They have spent at least the last two years developing communicative, proficiency-based, performance based units, assessments, and rubrics at levels 1 and 2 for Spanish and French. I have been so inspired by them that even though I put in a lot of work mapping out our Spanish 1 and 2 last summer (which I don't even teach-I was doing it for a new teacher), I have realized how disorganized, unstructured, and not-proficiency-based it was and I'm doing it all over again, even more deeply, for our (third in three years) new teacher.

One of the big questions of the week was this: How do we inform our students about proficiency levels, and keep them informed?
What, you mean my students are supposed to know what these are? Before about a year or two ago, I didn't know what they were. But it makes perfect sense. Proficiency levels shouldn't be a secret; they should be incredibly clear to everyone: students, parents, teachers, administration. So how do we inform them? My answer is fairly basic - I pushed my students to try to sustain the past tense in order to cross the barrier from Intermediate to Advanced, because that's what the ACTFL (past) president Eileen Gliesen said to do in a workshop I went to. And I made proficiency-based very detailed rubrics. That's about it. And you? How do you inform them?

23 June 2011

Flipbook illustration

This post is part of my project to get rid of old (but useful) papers that have been sitting on my bookshelf.

This is another literacy idea I got from a grad school class on teaching literacy to ELLs.

  • 3 sheets of 8 1/2 by 11 blank paper
  • stapler
  • drawing tools
  • Place the three sheets of paper on top ofeachother, and overlap leaving a small margin at the bottom of the paper.
  • Hold the pages securely so that they remain overlapped, and fold the top sheet so that its top edge folds to a small margin above its bottom. There should now be six "pages" now in the flipbook.
  • Staple through all layers at the fold. On the top page, write the title of the book, the author, and your name.
  • Illustrate and write about an important event (ones you find significant) on each of the following five pages.
This project teaches students to look at literature more critically because they have to identify and illustrate significant events. Also, you can add a variety of activities, including retelling the story with the activities, explaining symbolism, writing new endings, collaboration, etc. I've also had students do this about a story told in class.

Keep reading!

20 June 2011

Ethics in the language class - we aren't their parents

I have a question for you - where do you draw the line in your language class as far as ethics?

photo by Simon Q

Here's my bias: I teach at a private faith-based (Christian) school, and I have to be very careful about what I show to my students and expose them to. More than that, I have personal convictions (actually much higher those of most of my students) that prevent me from showing many things I could show them without really getting in trouble with my school. I won't show commercials or news clips that show women in very revealing clothing. I won't show videos with suggestive dancing or themes, even in our favorite songs like Espacio sideral and No te pido flores and Sigo con ella (a song I love to use in class because of its actual positive depiction of faithful love- hard to find in almost any genre).

Aside from my personal convictions, and my school's guidelines, my perspective on the field in general is that we are not their parents. Parents have a special responsibility to filter our child's world, which is why we set rules, disallow certain clothing, prevent them from buying certain music or video games, and don't expose them to too much too soon. I don't know what the filter is that my students' parents have set for them, but I do know that it is not my place to violate that filter.

Here are some items I've come across in my teaching experience with music and film that I would choose not to allow in my classroom.

Now, I'm not against rated R movies just because they are rated R. I show my senior class Pan's Labyrinth every year as part of a series of activities to expose them to the truth about the Spanish Civil War and contrasting fantasy and reality. But when I was in the AP Spanish workshop a few years ago, the leader showed us a film that she used in her classes, even lower-level classes. The film was De eso no se habla, and the plot basically goes like this, if I remember correctly - an older, well-traveled man settles in an Argentinian village where he falls in love with a talented, 15-year-old midget. He fights his attraction for her in several ways, including traveling and regular visits to the local brothel, where he also runs into the [married] town mayor. He is able to marry her, but then she is for some reason unhappy, and in the end he watches as she runs away on the circus train to be with people who are like her. Sounds great, eh? I mentioned in the workshop that if I showed the movie I'd be fired. Another teacher said she taught at a public school but because of her personal convictions she'd never show it. I thought to myself, exactly what principles and life lessons are in this movie that I want to expose to my students? Because everyone knows that we aren't just there to teach them language, and that's certainly not all they learn from us.

I think of Ricardo Arjona as the Shakira of Guatemala. His music is very well done and mostly trashy. I actually used to use at least part of two of his songs, Quién (excellent for listening comprehension of numbers) and Pingüinos en la cama (which has the rare feature of using almost every option for continuous present in the space of about three sentences). I thought, hey, I'll just play certain parts and leave out the rest, or the language is too advanced and they won't get it, or surely they won't look up the video. Yeah, right. The first year I tried this, I had a student, we'll call him Enrique, who decided he loved Arjona, looked up the songs and their videos and their lyrics, and you can imagine how that went. I put the songs away and never used them again.

So there's me; I just can't in good conscience let myself take the place of my students' parents in the name of 'exposing them to other cultures' and 'well, they're getting worse at home anyway.' What about you? What's your ethical standard?

17 June 2011

Activity #5: Gira la botella

Fun activity #4 is 'Gira la botella,' or 'spin the bottle.'

I forget what the original purpose of this game was (in language class, I mean, haha), but I tweaked it to be a game to practice idioms. I find that one of the hardest parts of vocabulary acquisition is getting students to really use idioms in their speech and writing. Part of the problem is a lack of practice in seeing and using them repetitively in a meaningful context. Imagine my dismay when I found out one of my fourth-year students who had practically memorized Luis Fonsi's song No me doy por vencido still had no idea what the expression meant. Doh! (on me, not her) I guess songs don't cure all ills. (Did I just write that?)

Anyway, back to the game...
  • In a document, make a list of common idiomatic expressions for your language, expressions you want your students to be able to use in appropriate contexts spontaneously.
  • When this game is chosen as a class activity, copy and paste your list into the random chooser. Run the chooser so it selects an expression. (Be sure to use the fruit machine, not typewriter, so you can remove the option after it's used.)
  • Get your students into a circle. It's always good to have an opportunity to change things up, and get them up and moving, eh?
  • Spin a bottle in the middle of a circle. You can use any bottle but for cultural effect we use a Manzanita bottle (my favorite Mexican beverage).
  • When the bottle stops, the person at whom it's pointing begins a sentence with the idiom. For example, "No me doy por vencido en la clase de matemáticas."
  • Going clockwise, the next person has to remember exactly the sentence and add a detail: "No me doy por vencido en la clase de matemáticas por la mañana."
  • The first person to forget any of the sentence is out and has to sit down. Spin the bottle again, choose a different idiom, and keep going until you're done (or we time our game for 10 minutes).
I imagine you could use this for any vocabulary you're targeting and it would work the same way. I particularly like idiomatic expressions because it's such a real way to push real communicative proficiency at every level.

Have fun, and no kissing! ;-)

13 June 2011

Symbol Illustration

This post is part of my project to get rid of papers I haven't looked at in forever (but still contain good ideas) by making them 'digital' here.
The symbol illustration idea is from a course I took in graduate school on teaching literacy to (mostly elementary) English-language learners. It seemed to me an idea easily adapted to various situations, content, and levels.

  • colored paper
  • scissors
  • markers
After reading and discussing some type of literature together (in my course it was Esperanza Rising),
  1. Decide what you think is the most important object in the book.
  2. Cut a large sheet of colored paper into the shape of that object.
  3. In the middle of the object, write a sentence describing why you think that was the most important object.
  4. In the rest of the space, draw other important objects, with a sentence under each that describes its importance.
My symbol illustration of Esperanza Rising:
Some variations:
Ask for an oral presentation of the symbol illustration when it is finished.
Make the illustration a timeline instead - on a long sheet of paper, draw a line horizontally in the middle. Above, put positive symbols. Below, put negative symbols. All should be sequential and should be used to retell the story emphasizing mood changes.
Ask students to choose a symbol that may also symbolize something in their life and describe this.
Use VoiceThread or other storyboarding or digital storytelling tools to make this project digital/paperless.

10 June 2011

Connecting your classroom

photo by kmevans

Often during #Langchat, a question will come up about how those of us who have collaborating schools in target-language countries found these schools. I found two of ours through Twitter and the other through my school's accrediting agency's website.

This week on #Langchat, we devoted the entire hour to discussing how we can best collaborate with teachers and classrooms locally, globally, and internationally. The summary of the chat is full of great resources and tips for getting ourselves and our students outside the classroom (many times without leaving the classroom!)

Here are three websites I've recently come across (through Twitter, of course) that may help you give your students one of the best, most motivating things you can offer: an authentic audience.
Skype recently launched Skype in the Classroom to connect schools all over the world.
Connect All Schools may also help you find a collaborating school.
My colleague @mundaysa has had great success using The Mixxer.

Good luck and have fun!

08 June 2011

Myth #5: The textbook is all I need

For my original post about the myths, look here.
photo by NomadicLass

Textbook companies make a lot of money off of telling us that they've done all the work and they're all we need. Audio? They've got it. Video? That too. Activities? Structure? Assessments? It's an all-in-one package, for a price. And out-of-date as soon as it's printed.

It's no secret I'm not a fan of most textbooks. There must be some magic textbook out there that I haven't seen that is so communicative and fabulous, but the ones I've used before leave me wondering, who wrote this? I know they say they're aligned with standards, but what are my students actually supposed to be able to do after this activity? The activities are stale and forced, the vocabulary is endless, and the assessments are designed for easy grading instead of actually assessing language ability.

There's something to be said for having a structure. I don't think I've met a teacher who has just jumped into textbook-free teaching. For me, it was about a two-year process, and it wasn't even on purpose. At some point I just realized that we weren't taking the textbook off the shelf anymore. I realized that using online resources and storytelling and my own activities turned out to be so much more freeing, motivating, authentic, and up-to-date (after all, language is constantly changing). Not to mention it costs less.

Tying ourselves to a textbook and its cheesy, fake, tedious accessories because 'it's all we need' is a myth that is preventing our students from acquiring the real language it takes to communicate with real people. Even if you use a textbook you love, look beyond it to the world of resources that will enrich and inspire your students more than your textbook ever will. Take a look at what the Twitter PLN is talking about. Explore the resources others have shared with me. Look at some of my blog tags like internet activities, YouTube, and assessment. And soon, I'll be posting my summer project: units with activities, standards-based "I Can" statements, and assessment ideas for Spanish 1 - AP Spanish. Steal, thieve, borrow. Collaboration makes the PLN go 'round.

02 June 2011

Taking paperless to the blog

photo by NoHoDamon

I love to teach as paperless as possible. My students read more off a projector than off of paper. I wish we had the technology available to be much more paperless at my school- something to strive for.

Then I think, well, if I want to be paperless in my classroom, I should be paperless personally. Share all that info from the paper on the blog and get rid of the paper altogether, right? It's not like I actually look at all that paper ever anyway. I just did what we all (should) do at the end of the school year- I cleaned my classroom. I say 'should' because I don't. The last few years I've left my notebooks either on my bookshelf or in a closet and then put them back in the same place when school is back in, not to be looked at all year.

This year I was told I had to move all the books off my bookshelf for the summer so the floor-waxing crew didn't have to box them up when they remove the bookcase. So as I moved the books to a storage room on a different floor, I looked at all of them with a critical eye, and a *lot* of paper went in the trash. I went through my notebooks I made in college for my teaching methods courses and the bad pedagogy astounded me. Really beautiful, thematic, well-presented notebooks -I'm telling you, you would have been impressed- full of information that shouldn't even have been written and hasn't affected my life (thankfully) since.

Also on the shelf were programs and notes and handouts from conferences and vendor booths, things I swore I was going to look at, review, and share later, and never did. So I've brought them home, and I've told myself that before I throw them out, they must become digital. The pile is the source of a lot of hopefully helpful blog posts, so stay tuned.

What about you? What jewels are sitting on your bookshelf that could become your own paperless way of sharing with your professional learning network via a blog?