Saturday, February 21, 2015

Motivation in the classroom: It's the small stuff

In looking at my classroom, I notice there are many things that I have set in place and things I do that are intended, consciously or unconsciously, to motivate students. One morning this week I started taking pictures of all these things. Below are twenty things you will find in my classroom. Enjoy!

 Rules - I have one rule in  my classroom: RESPECT! Everything else falls under this one rule. We take time at the beginning to talk about what respect means - respect self, others, space, learning styles (and learning rates), personal backgrounds. I have the word "RESPECT" posted in a few locations around the room to remind them. When I deal with disciplinary actions I always go back to this rule. My conversation starts with, "What is the one rule in this classroom? Were you being respectful? How are you going to fix this lack of respect that you have demonstrated to ______?"

Photos  - Senior photos are posted as they are given to me. After a few years I have to take some down because the top of my chalkboard fills up. The kids love looking at who the top kids were, at least who respected me enough as an educator and adult in their lives to give me a snapshot in time. I even have a few photos from underclassmen that I also post. :)

 Chicle - A few years ago I started bubblegum machines in my classroom. Each period has their own bubblegum machine that I add gum balls (chicle) to when something great happens, called Cafe Points inspired by Sr. Noble, or when a student aces an assessment. Once the machine is full, I bring an authentic dish that we prepare in class or one that the students can participate in creating. This is not a competition between classes, but rather each class pushes each other to fill the machine as many times as possible.

Media - I. love. books. I'm a book junkie. There are shelves of books in my classroom that are authentic resources for students. Some are free-reading type of books, some are resource books, others are magazines and pamphlets categorized in library-style magazine boxes. Students' interests are represented in these resources: cooking, automobiles, fashion, travel, etc.

Student of the Month - Each month I recognize a student who has been a leader in class, shown consistent effort in using the language, strives to do his/her best, and takes risks in and out of class. Notice that I do not include an overall grade percentage, letter grade, or anything related to grade. I am looking at behaviors - what are students doing to improve himself or herself. I am conscious, however, of the ratio of males/females that are recognized, but it does not play a large factor in deciding who receives the award. Students have used this award to apply for National Honor Society, scholarship applications, part-time employment, and other honors. The student will receive a certificate to archive the recognition and a pin that can be used to display on his or her letter jacket.

Passes - My district has moved away from formal pink passes to teachers just grabbing a random piece of paper, writing the necessary basic information "Molly to band 4th period 11:18 from Spanish". I decided to use inspirational quotes about language learning or travel to use as my passes. This not only gives the student something to look at as they are slowly making their way to class, but also serves as a publicity for my department. I am indirectly advertising and educating other people.

 Student work - This is the selfie generation - pictures mean everything. They like to see themselves and their work. There are always examples of student work on display, either in the classroom or in the hallways. I've noticed that hallway displays attract the attention of not only my students but all students who walk by them. Given this, one can assume that even though there are examples of Spanish IV work on display in the classroom, that even the Spanish I students and middle school exploratory students are looking them, trying to decipher what the message is.

As I'm writing, it occurs to me that even when students interrupt my class to have a prior signed or discuss a quick issue, this is also another way to "display" their work since I will only use Spanish to talk to them. Typically it is an upper-level student who comes in wanting or needing something in a lower-level course. It is fun for me to see the jaws drop that someone they know in their "English world" is all of a sudden communicating in another language. It has to be fun for the student I'm speaking with to see the underclassmen admire them for their skills in the language. What a confidence booster!

Standards for Foreign Language Learning - Above one of my chalkboards I have displayed the ACTFL standards. This is a constant reminder of the proficiency we are working towards: communication, cultures, comparisons, connections, and communities. If a student or parent asks why we are learning what we are, or why we are doing certain activities, I can immediately point them to these standards. It gives purpose to what we are doing.

Realia - This stove-pipe cactus was something I had inherited when I came to this position nearly two decades ago. I found it to be a bit boring so I had to dress it up a bit with a print out face, donated sombreros and blankets. Over the years kids have given the cactus names, using a name tag or decorated him with lights at Christmas time. He has even become a star in some of our stories that we tell. Sometimes in a particularly difficult class, we can lighten the mood in the room by blaming the cactus for loud students, paper on the floor that no one wants to pick up, or other shenanigans.

Flags - speaking of realia, flags from various countries are hung. The first year I had these, the students were very intrigued by which country was represented. It took some a little while to figure out they were all Spanish-speaking countries. Ironically, I do not have one from the US. This, of course, is the fastest growing Spanish-speaking country in the world!  These flags have also been used to take trips. For example when we learn the structure "va a" we can talk about going to Colombia, Puerto Rico, España, Perú, Guatemala, Cuba, México, or Argentina. Our student actors actually go to the flag to show that they are in that country.
Cultural Bulletin Boards - One thing that I lack in my classroom is bulletin boards. So, instead I have large walls to fill. I use them to display images of things we are working on in class. For example, the picture collection at the left is a series of war posters from the Spanish Civil War that Spanish III used to talk about at the beginning of the year. The images and words were discussed and analyzed to better understand the mindset of the time, comparison between the Spanish Civil War and the Iraq War, and to set the stage for the students who will be traveling to Spain with me this summer to see the Valley of the Fallen.

Street signs - not all street signs look like the narrow green signs stuck at the top of a post on a street corner. These are the street signs in Madrid, Spain. While there, I took pictures of some of them and now have them displayed in my classroom in the corners, as if it was an intersection of two streets. As students inquire about what the artwork is, we have a mini lesson on street signs.

TV - Remember the days of Channel One being pumped into your classroom for 12 minutes during homeroom/seminar? Our equipment was removed, but the TV stand was still there. It was quite an eye sore so I decided to repurpose it with our own Spanish Channel :)  I often take pictures of my students so periodically I "change the channel", putting up a new pictures of students from class or from social events like dances, games, or fundraisers. Again, the kids love to see themselves published so this is another way to show them off.

Classroom layout - Let's face it, we teach language and languages were meant to spoken. Something that I have felt strongly about since graduating from college is that the classroom should a group event: we are all working toward the same goal - communication. Students should help each other because, hey the teacher doesn't know it all! It also produces an environment in which students become teachers and leaders in the classroom. The more you teach another person, the deeper you understand the content. Having the desks arranged in a U-shape encourages this communication. I also have never wanted a back-row seat. While this is next to impossible in today's classroom, only have 2 rows helps to prevent a student from becoming unnoticed; you can't hind behind someone if there is only one person in front of you.

Pencils - this may sound like a petty thing, but I really don't care what students are writing with, use crayon if you want, just write! It really irritates me when I hear a student was removed from the learning environment because he or she didn't have a pencil that day (not a pen, but a pencil! Seriously? The principal has bigger fish to fry than that). I have a small box at the front of my desk that has a supply of writing utensils and erasers. A student may have to sharpen it, but there is always at least one writing utensil in there. I never have to hear the complaint, "I don't have a pencil!" They just know they can go to the box.

Mini lessons in a box - ok so these are really post-it notes. I have a big variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. When a student comes to me with a question, I can grab a paper, make some visual comments for them, and then stick it to their computer, notebook, or whatever they have brought to me. It serves as a constant reminder of what we have talked about until they choose to dispose of it. I also use these to leave notes for students or them to leave notes for me. Sometimes students prefer to talk to me via a message so they know they can use these at any time.

Photo collages - Similar to the cultural bulletin boards listed above, I take all kinds of photos abroad (3000ish images per trip). This makes it relative easy to create inquiry-based stations around the room. The one to the left is about native people abroad: clothing, street performers, transportation, shopping. The one at the bottom is about dining, food, tipping, and language students were given free tapas at a restaurant in Segovia because the waiter was impressed with their language skills! He was accustomed to students on "fly-through" trips who couldn't really speak the language, just wanted a quick tour of a foreign country. I always tell my students, "You never know what a language will get you; in this case a free meal!"

Memes - When I find a cute language meme, many in Spanish, I print it off and add it to my wall. Students are allowed to "wander" during class to take care of their needs, such as sharpening a pencil, blowing their nose, etc. This wall is located near the entrance to my classroom, which is also by the pencil sharpener and main garbage can. While most students don't abuse this, I know a few will pretend to have a cold or a weak pencil just to check these out. lol 

 Music - I have a small library of music. This was purchased a few of years ago. Now that CDs are on their way out and online resources are plentiful, my library has become more digital. Students love music and have a strong connection with music. It not only creates mood, but also gives the students a model for pronunciation and new vocabulary. It's a different way to look at reading and listening.
Life-long learning - I have mentioned my love for books and resources. It is so important to model for students what you want them to do and how to act. If we want them to develop a love for learning, we have to model this. I have a personal library of professional books and resources that I use. My students know that I am passionate about not only teaching and learning, but also the Spanish language and culture. They may catch me reading blogs, listening to TedTalks, music, or webinars, reading twitter posts from my Spanish colleagues and friends abroad, or sending emails in Spanish.

 What are some ways you motivate students to want to come back tomorrow? I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

10 Reading Comprehension Strategies for the World Language Classroom

10 Reading Comprehension Strategies for the World Language Classroom

Being relatively new to the TPR-S/CI method, I have been struggling to motivate my students to read. We are on our second novel of the year and they cringe when I announce we will be starting a new novel. Below are some strategies that I have used the past few weeks. I welcome any constructive critiques or suggestions you may have.

1.    Fact or Crap
After reading part or all of a chapter, a check for understanding is necessary. Students receive two papers: hecho and mentira. I read a line or fact from the reading. Some are made up, others are word for word from the reading. If what I tell them is true, they hold up the “fact” card. If what I tell them is false, they hold up the crap card.

2.     Cinco nuevos
Recently I have discovered the power of embedded readings. These help to build confidence in reading, build vocabulary with the students, and gain additional repetitions of learned grammatical structures. While this becomes quite repetitive for the teacher, it is incredibly powerful for the students. However, lately, I’ve had to hurdle two obstacles with my students:
1) Why is it called an embedded reading?
2) by the time we reach the final version of the reading, students don’t want to read it because they feel they have enough information from the first two to “just get by”.  
So, this week when we got to the third and final version of the reading, I had them look for five new things that we didn’t know before. This really helped them focus their reading and dive into the reading with fresh eyes. Not only didn’t have to find new information, but also identify what they already read before. The discussion that happened after was a deeper discussion than merely recall questioning.

3.     Prediction – Anticipation Guide
Another strategy I used to keep learners interested in the embedded readings was an Anticipation Guide for them to predict events of the story. They first completed the eight questions to predict what they thought might happen in the next chapter. Each embedded reading had additional details on the Anticipation Guide that they could accurately answer.  This kept their interest and wanting to read the next version to see what was accurate and what was not.  Plaza was a new use of an old vocabulary word that they already knew. I wanted to be sure they understood this word in this context so I translated it for them on the form. They didn’t question its use and embraced the new translation completely, using it later in correct context. YEAH TPRS/CI!


1.     Todo era un sueño y Laney no se le pegó la nariz.

2.     Laney ganará una plaza (spot) en el equipo Mantarrayas.

3.     Desi ganará una plaza en el equipo Mantarrayas.

4.     Luis le pone a Laney en el equipo de las Mantarrayas.

5.     Luis piensa que Laney sea tonta.

6.     Laney encuentra la llorona.

7.     Luis habla románticamente con Laney

8.     Desi y Luis eran novios.

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

Sí         No

4.     Story Cubes
A number of years ago, I had my shop teacher cut up marker board material and create marker cubes for me. The students were in groups of 3 and they had to summarize the chapter by drawing pictures and then retelling via a mini presentation at the end of the class period. This was done completely on their own without notes or referring back to the chapter/reading. While they all had different pictures and ways to approach the retell, but all were able to effectively and accurately retell the chapter/reading.

5.     Picture notes
If a picture is worth a thousand words, it seems logical for learners to draw pictures. Having visual images to accompany comprehension aids in the comprehension and also details about the events of the story. When they create their own images, there is ownership in their learning. I used this strategy with the students almost exclusively last year (my first year as CI), having them draw each time we read a chapter, and the students not surprisingly quickly tired of it. I knew I had to change some strategies to keep it novel and interesting for them. We have done minimal drawing this year and almost always combined with something else (see below) to keep it fresh and different.


6.     Sequence a story
With parts of the story written on strips of paper, learners reassemble the sequence of events. This activity not only offers additional reps, but they must also understand not only the story, but also the vocabulary and grammatical structures within the story.

Another version of this was done electronically using googledocs. Being in a 1:1 laptop district, this was an easy activity. I modeled first with the numbers 12345678. Students went to my google calendar to fetch the day’s activity. The letters were listed in random order on the document and each student in the group had to claim one letter to display on his/her laptop.  Once the letters were placed in order and confirmed by me, the next round began.

As they were working on ordering the letters/events, I added another round to the calendar link. Starting with the second round, the letters were replaced with events from the story to be ordered correctly. Once they had the correct sequence of events, they won a point for their team.

What I didn’t expect, but was pleasantly excited to see what the deep discussions about how to order them. Even the struggling learners were debating with high-achieving students. What a great activity to see differentiation and success at its highest.

7.     Story strips
I am an avid garage saler who loves to find good deals. A few summers ago I found a giant box of maybe 50 or so new cash register tapes for 50 cents. What a deal right? At the time, my daughter was into writing stories, as long as she could make them, so this seemed like a great idea to buy these for her. Later I thought it would be great to have students do the same thing! Well it was.

After reading the second version of an embedded reading, the students were in groups of three. I gave each group a category that contained either a location in the story, a main character, or a problem that happened – anything that they could elaborate on.  I wanted them to be able to use all 4 types of questions from “Right There” types of questions to “Think and Search” and also “On My Own”. Using the categories that I did allowed the learners to answer all of these types of questions as they were preparing their retell.

To keep everyone focused I felt they needed to have a task in their group so created jobs: director, writer, and drawer. One group needed a fourth member due to odd numbers of students so I made that person the corrector. If there was a mistake written, she had to correct that mistake.


8.    Frayer Model
Being able to identify characteristics of an item is important to understanding it. This includes dissecting it according to what it is, what it isn’t, examples and nonexamples. I’m using this with characters, locations, and events in stories.

What it is…

What it is not…


Laney Morales (La llorona)
Who she is…

Girl that loves to play soccer
From Oklahoma
Works in Braum’s ice cream shop
Goes to Mazatlán to a soccer camp
Caught the eye of Luis

Examples that best describe her…

Mantarraya Team
Desi’s cabin roomate
Who she is not…

Top soccer player

Nonexamples that describe her…

Upper class (Luis)
Returning camper (Desi)
Outgoing (Jake)

9.     Veinte Vacas
This is a game in which I give details about the story for them to determine if it’s true or false, answer questions, or complete a sentence. In groups, students complete the task, with a “voicebox” being the official speaker for the group. If their answer is correct, they receive a vaca worth one point. If their answer is incorrect, they receive a cerdo, worth a negative two points. At the end of the game, points are totaled. The goal to reach 20 vacas.

10. ¡Caramba!
I can’t claim this one because I read about the initial idea on @srjordan’s blog. I adapted it a bit to meet my needs, however. Similar to other ideas above, I created a PowerPoint presentation that included various points on each slide and a few slides with “¡Caramba!” on it.  Using individual marker boards, one person from each group sat at the front of class and answered a question I gave them about the reading. The one who answered correctly first was awarded the points on the next slide. If it said “¡Caramba!” that group lost all their points. It became quite a ride as they tried to strategize when a caramba would show up on the board. Also they were aggressively trying to earn their points back to win in the end. Gracias al Sr Jordan. J

I would love to hear what you are doing for reading strategies! Share your ideas in the comments below.