Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Affirmation Cards

At my school we have affirmation cards that we send to our peers, admin, and students. These are cards (could be any piece of paper or something you design) that one person writes to another affirming something they did. For example, "I really appreciate how you helped me with ____ project yesterday. I was having problems understanding it and you made so clear." ....or perhaps.... "Thank you for your patience when I was trying to figure out my anuncio. I appreciate how you asked me questions to guide me to the answer."

You can give them starter phrases the first few times. After that it will become more natural. 
Thank you for...
I appreciate that...
You really made my day when...
It was a cool thing that you....

I have found that even the most hard-core kids will cherish these cards because they don't feel like they are wanted/needed/belong/care. You do have to emphasize sincerity. You may want to filter them before they send them along as a few of students may make bullying-type comments. Some teachers will have "mailboxes" for students to give each other affirmation cards at anytime. I don't see this as feasible when you have 100+ kids.

I will also have them do these right before we switch seating chart. They have to write an affirmation card to the person on their right and on their left. If they are at the end of the row maybe in front/behind. This assures that everyone receives at least one card. They can also write one to any other person they want in the room that they feel moved to affirm that day. I try to keep them to no more than 5 or you will take all period writing these! If they want to write to more, I give them as many as they want and tell them to write them and bring them back tomorrow and I'll be sure the recipient gets them. For the most part, they are genuine in writing these. For some odd reason I had a student who didn't get one and another students stepped up and said he would write one for her. That prompted other students to write one, too. It really catches on. Kids know what it feels like to get one and they want others to have that feeling as well.

I have also printed off grades and wrote affirmations on every grade report. Yes, some are harder than others, but I really try to find something positive for everyone. They really enjoy getting these.

With the change of seating chart, it's a good time to do it. Some teachers will change their seating chart every 2 weeks! Personally, I don't like rewriting the seating chart this much, but I will change a couple times in an quarter. So, it doesn't have to be often, just enough that they don't get bored with it so that it's still novel, and yet it still means something to them.

Berto y sus buenas ideas

My Spanish I kids have been asking for a project to do. Of course it comes with lots of stipulations like:
a) it can't be stupid
b) it can't take a lot of time
c) it has to be fun
d) it can't be worth a lot of points
e) etc

So, we are reading the book Berto y sus buenas ideas. We are getting into the last chapter. Spoiler alert: Berto really does decide he likes school and goes back. Sorry everyone.

To summarize the book after reading the last chapter, students will write 5 sentences to talk about why he doesn't like escuela, who he met at the estadio, what he saw in the Museo del Prado, what he ate at the pastelería, and what happened in lake at the Parque Retiro.

Using the basic Berto shape below, students will write their summaries on Berto. Additional items can be added if wanted. Each appendage will be a different chapter in the book. However, the middle heart, what he realizes in the end, is that he really loves school. The heart will be chapter 6 summary.

Below is an example I made to show the students. There are examples of writing directly on the appendages (arms, legs, head) and also on the other items that represent each place he went. The curly hair pieces each have a summarizing statement, the lines in the pastry have summarizing statements, and the hexagons in the soccer ball have summarizing statements.

Once they are done creating their Berto, they will match up, and with partner 1 read their summary to chapter 1. With partner 2, read summary to chapter 2. With partner 3, read summary to chapter 3, and so on. They will listen to their partner each time, being sure that they are using correct structures and accurate summary.

After reading the book, summarizing the chapters, writing, reading and listening to summarizing sentences, students will do a proficiency write - 100 words in 5 minutes. I can't wait to see the results! We will be posting these in the room. Hopefully I remember to post a picture of our Bertos when they are done. This lesson has so many ACTFL standards it's exciting to see how it will turn out.


As a great review game, and a way to get in more reps as well as work on comprehensible input and writing, we play the game ¡Caramba! Inspired by srjordan's blog post, this can be a fast-paced, intense game of strategy.

Students are in groups of 3-5 with one student at the front with an individual marker board and marker. The teacher give a structure, sentence, or comprehension question from a reading. The students rapidly write down the translation or the answer. When finished, they hold up their board for evaluation from the teacher. The student who is correct first, without lowering or editing the answer, wins for their team. This means that the next slide in the ¡Caramba! slideshow is advanced. It could be a point value, which will be added to the team total, or a ¡Caramba!, which erases all points earned. Students never know how many points will be earned or if they will lose all their points. Some groups will strategically answer or not answer a question based on how long ago a caramba has shown up. They also try to guess the order so I mix up the order of the points and carambas each time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Compañeros de conversación

Entering a new position in a different school district I knew I wouldn't have the same level of proficiency nor confidence among the student body that I had leaving my position of 19 years. I discovered that students really lacked confidence in speaking. I spent the first seven weeks pushing discussion to get them to a level of structured spontaneous conversation (I know that's not a logical statement), while engaging my resources abroad. What a great opportunity for them! I have been cheerleading their efforts on the whole journey thus far. We were finally able to get partnered with native speakers!

We set up a google doc of American student profiles and the Spanish students logged in and chose a partner with whom they wanted to chat. As soon as the connections started rolling in, the American students started emailing and setting up a schedule of when to converse. A full schedule of conversations is set for them so they know what to expect.

Monday was an awesome day! A student came running into class late, apologizing for forgetting that she had a dentist appointment and then announced "I need to get on Skype! I'm late for a conversation with my partner!!" We rushed to get her on and then sent her in the hallway to have a quieter environment to chat. Fortunately the other students had been working out the kinks to downloading Skype and how to screencast the conversation. Some fortunate work-arounds were discovered. She continued through the end of the class period and into the next class period. While I anticipated these conversations to only be about 5-10 minutes, especially the first few, this particular conversation lasted 45 minutes! I ran to get the administration and lead teacher to have them observe what was happening; it was so cool!

It was incredible to watch the negotiation of meaning, clarifying questions, helping each other out to get meaning out of the conversation, in addition to watching confidence grow throughout the conversation, a sort of culminating activity to verify what I had been telling them all along - YES YOU CAN!

In the end, she hung up from the skype call, collapsed in her chair, sighed a big sigh, and looked at me. I kept starring at her and said, "YOU DID IT! That was amazing!!" She just said, "That was the longest conversation I've ever talked to anyone, English or Spanish!" Yeah, this will be a memorable moment in my teaching career - helping a student see that what she thought she couldn't do really was possible!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Embedded Reading Extensions

Last year I learned of embedded readings and it totally changed how students looked at readings. I guided them through a couple of chapters at first with an embedded reading and then the next chapter I just read outright. Oh my goodness! I was not prepared for the backlash that happened. wowser. Students craved the scaffolding that an embedded reading provided. It also gave them great confidence in diving into the full chapter, after discussing the bare-bones version and then the extended version. This is perhaps the most powerful strategy that the TPRS/CI methodology has to offer.

This year, being in a new district, I am bringing this strategy to my students. I just introduced it today and they commented that they have never done this before. This told me I had to start from ground zero and explain the process to them, giving them minimal rationale for the ones who needed it.

We are currently reading Blaine Ray's ¡Viva el toro! chapter three. I prepared two versions of an embedded reading. Students partner read the very short first version and I circled the basic information. I was pleasantly surprised that they were asking for more information, yes more information! This is the same group of kids that sat quietly and stared at me the first day, some 30 days ago, scared to speak a word. [Isn't TPRS/CI awesome?!]

Concentric Circles
After reading version two, they wrote a 5-7 sentence summary of what they read. We did a concentric circles activity to share what they wrote. This gave them both speaking and listening practice. If they didn't understand what their partner was saying, they had to ask clarifying questions. This could have been as simple as "¿Qué significa ___?"  After speaking and listening, they switched papers, turned around and found a new partner to speak with. They now read their new summary to a different partner, repeating the same activity.

After speaking and listening twice to summaries, the students folded their paper into hotdog/hamburger to create 4 sections. On one side was the summary of their partner and on the back were four blank sections. They drew pictures to visualize what was happening in the story given the details up to this point, based on their partner's summary.

They returned to their partners and retold their summary using only the pictures. The partner then confirmed or guided changes. Wow, this is awesome to lead them into the full text of the chapter. Should be an easy day tomorrow!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Scored Discussions

A scored discussion is a strategy that I first saw in an upper elementary classroom that I thought I could adapt to my language classroom. Students were in a circle discussing a book that they had read and other students were recording notes about who was doing various activities throughout the discussion.
It is my goal to strengthen conversation skills with my students this year so today we tried our first scored discussion. I really like how it pushes teamwork, critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and circumlocution while empowering the group as a whole.

Students took turns communicating and recording. They were in groups of four so one student was recording while the other students were conversing about the topic at hand. The recorder had the "grading sheet". S/he filled out the top part of the graph while the students were talking, tallying how many comments and questions were made (positively affected grade) and how many times English was used in the conversation (negatively affecting the grade). After the allotted time was completed, the recorder then completed the bottom part of the sheet, noting if each communicator paid attention, made insults, and if necessary invited quiet students into the conversation. These were all completely the opinion of the reporter. Before turning in the sheet, the reporter signs his/her name.

For the most part, students are honest with the marking and try to do his/her best in noting the behavior of the speakers. However, today I had one group totally obsessed with points, putting extra emphasis on who was using English (good problem, right?) to the point of distracting the conversation. It was becoming evident quickly that the recorder was getting quite stressed. I finally walked over the group, opened the recorder's backpack to get her laptop, opened it and used it as a visual block to the other students. They got the message that it was more important to communicate than what was being marked. It was also important that the recorder be able to tally without stress of hard feelings with group members. I mention this only because sometimes student get a little too competitive with this and you may have to intervene.

Students used the following conversation topics. For each change of topic there was also a change in recorders. As you can tell there is the theme of discussing the future tense during this particular scored discussion and what their lives will be like in the future.

As a "guide on the side" in this activity, it was great to hear how students were negotiating meaning, using circumlocution to get their message across when they didn't know a word, and collaborating to help each other out while maintaining the target language. For a group of students who were ultra hesitant to say anything 5 weeks ago, this is a huge step forward! They all were able to feel success today in their language abilities.

What other discussion strategies do you use in your classroom?