Saturday, September 26, 2015

Student Choice

When given the option, I'll choose _____________ .

An assessment with a new teacher can be quite stressful. It doesn't matter the rubric, the preparation, nor the skill level, if one has an option of activities to show what one can do, given the same objective for each,  students will be more relaxed and confident in their abilities. This idea was reinforced to me this year as I enter a position in a different district. I love saying "yes" to students so I try to find ways to make situations for them to ask yes questions.

Recently we finished reading the second chapter of ¡Viva el Toro!  This was based on vocabulary that the students were working on via this story. After learning the required vocabulary, students then read the chapter. Of course this is a very simplified description of what actually happens, but the purpose of this blog post is on the assessment, not the reading itself.

After repeated circling of the information, the students are very familiar with each of the stories. They use the same vocabulary in different situations. At the time of the output assessments, each successfully presents either the class story or the chapter.

One way students presented a question to me that evoked a "yes" response, is to request the use of pictures notes. These are visual reminders of what happened in the story or the chapter so that they remember all the information they are to use. Some of my best ideas have come from students. I truly believe they know how they learn best and what they need to succeed. I also like to have a reflective question on tests that isn't figured into their grades. This offers additional insight into how they learn best and activities that I can use or ditch to better help them.

Can you tell which story this student chose to retell?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pattern puzzle presentations

I was looking for a strategy to use to get the kids into some higher order thinking skills. Spanish I has been reading the first chapter of Berto y sus buenas ideas. This is their first reading experience and they have been feeling much confidence and success with it. YEAH! First we read a paragraph or two and then they created picture notes for each new character introduced. Below is what we did after the picture notes to transform the information into something new, ie novel and compelling.

The first chapter of the book introduces Berto and his teachers, friends, and family, along with many descriptions of each person. I chose some of the characteristics and some of the people and put them on strips of paper.

With students in groups of 2, they organized the strips of paper. This is where it got interesting! Their learning styles really came out. Some of them immediately starting organizing their papers before directions were given. Some just scattered them so that they could see all of them at once. Some grouped them into different categories.

They were instructed to use either the people and identify characteristics or to use the characteristics and identify which people fit that characteristic. Either way, they had to understand what the paper was saying, evaluate which characteristics fit which person, and organize their information accordingly.



You can see in the pictures that some students have their text out (book) and some have their picture notes to help them remember or refer to when determining how to group the information. Some noted that some information was missing so I encouraged them to write in anything they wanted to in order to make their papers complete. I love that they came up with the idea that there was missing information.

When they finished grouping their papers, they were given tape to secure the papers where they wanted them on a fresh piece of paper. With their papers secured, the next step was to choose one character and prepare a short presentation in the target language using at least 5 descriptions. This meant that some had to add additional information. They then presented to the class. To hold the listeners accountable, they had to determine if what was being presented was accurate or not. Fortunately we didn't hear any errors so there was lots of learning happening!

Once the presentation was complete, they hung them on the wall to be displayed and refer to in the future.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Eraser Game

This is a game that I have played for years with my students. It originates from a game played in some Latin American country that I can't remember where nor the name. The students love playing this game and it can be a very fast-paced game, forcing students to pay attention and think fast.

As you can see in the picture, students have a vocabulary word or structure that is in English and attached to their desk in the front. It is written large enough for everyone to see. Another student is in the center with an eraser. One student starts by saying another student's word in the target language. That student must say someone else's word before the student with the eraser hits his/her hand.

Students sitting at their desks must have a hand in each corner of their desk. If they move their hands or desk, they are automatically in the center. The person with the eraser can not aggressively hit a student's hand, throw it, or hit any other body part: only the hand.

To mix things up a bit and to keep them on their toes, I have the students stand and move 1-3 seats to the left. They now have a new word to focus on. This prevents them from just remembering one word for the day. It also gets some of the quieter students into more popularly-said words so that they are more of an active participator, too. Another mix up is to pull out words that are said a lot. If they keep calling out a few words, I will remove them from the desks and add different words. Again, this keeps them thinking more quickly. Sometimes students will say the words that have been removed so the eraser student hits his/her hand and s/he is now in the center.

Historically, students have said this is a great way to "cement" the vocabulary and pick up the words they have missed due to illness or other reason not being in class. While this does not fit the philosophy of TPRS acquisition, it is a fun way to review vocabulary, old and new, and it does stick with the kids, offering a much needed brain break.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Student Selected Voluntary Reading

Another new activity that I started this year is SSVR. I never thought this was powerful enough to incorporate and I didn't think the students would take it seriously. At #iFLT15 this summer Dr Krashen mentioned that one could improve his proficiency from novice high to the top of the scale in 3 years by reading daily. This could be condensed to a short time frame with longer periods of reading, however. This changed my perspective on having students reading regularly.

Initially I thought we could use our class novel to read daily. However I was quickly reminded that this should be a student-selected reading and it should be whatever level book she wants, even if it means the book is far below her reading level. It doesn't have to be a challenge; it just has to be fun! Reinforcement of old words helps solidify one's vocabulary base.

This week we started SSVR for the first few minutes of class. I knew the answer, but needed a little more guidance so I went to my Facebook group to see how to best start out with SSVR. They had some good suggestions for me. I decided to present the idea to the students and read for 5 minutes. After reading, they completed a brief graph to hold them minimally accountable.

Bryce Hedstrom was unknowingly and instrumentally guiding me to make this work. I adapted his bookmark to give my students. We talked about ways to determine meaning of words they don't know when reading their books. I explained my own struggling experience learning to read in another language and how I overcame those struggles. Yes, I nearly gave up a degree in Spanish because I was too afraid of reading! I am still going strong 23 years later. I am living proof that reading can happen.

Before they grabbed a book to read, I showed the students their options in the classroom library, divided into proficiency levels of novice, intermediate, and advanced. I acquired books by buying them in book stores, library sales, garage sales, donations from my students' families, donations from other sources, and also flea markets and book stores over seas. I explained to them that all the books in the classroom library are my personal books and magazines for them to use and read. Some are very very old, others are brand new. They are available to them as a gift from me because I believe in their learning. The only payment I ask from them is that they respect the reading material and love reading.


After day 1, they are having a good time reading. Many students noted that they found a book that was easy for them to read and that they enjoyed the experience. I was equally excited at the number of students who wanted to challenge themselves with an advanced book. I am fully aware that this is the honeymoon period and that we will have to have more "meat" in the reading time in the near future. So, readers, if you do SSVR with your students, what are some activities that you use to keep them wanting more each day?