Sunday, February 28, 2016

Authentic Listening

One of the goals of any great language program is for the students to develop an ability to listen to and understand the native voice. This is a skill building activity that occurs over time with numerous interactions with a variety of speakers in different contexts.

In my Spanish IV class, students jump on the elevator of listening starting at the ground floor. While this is something that is scaffold, starting in the lowest levels, it truly is like getting on an elevator: The elevator goes up (skill building), pauses at floors (plateaus), continues up (with additional, deeper skills), and sometimes goes down a level or two before proceeding up again.

Some of the first voices they hear are from cartoons and children's TV shows, such as Pocoyo and Fifi y los floreguitos, easily found online shows. This is meant to be easy as it usually involves simplified speech with lots of visuals to aid comprehension. This moves to a baseball game commentated by natives with some Spanglish. Eventually students are watching news reports, some of the fastest speech out there, and comprehending.

To assist in comprehension, students don't simply listen and *poof* they are great listeners. There are scaffolding activities that happen. For example, in the baseball video, students have a guiding worksheet of items they are looking for while watching. Some of these include listening to the speech of the commentators, but others include nonverbals like identifying the names of products on the signs in the outfield.

This particular guiding worksheet prioritizes what they are looking for as they listen to the video. Some teachers could use this for standards-based grading, but I prefer to use it more as a personal challenge for the students. The top part is obligatory - everyone must get those, then the English words that are used. Finally, at the bottom, are a list of words that are the biggest challenge and require deep listening to the commentators and commercials.

The first time students hear the native voice, it can be a very intimidating experience. However, I explain to them the analogy of a ceiling fan. When you first look at it spinning on high, it appears to be a large disk. If you continue to watch it, you eventually see that there are blades and not one solid disk going around. With additional concentration, one can pick out and follow an individual blade all the way around, without adjusting the speed of the fan. This is all true of language, too. At first it just sounds like one big word and they're all talking way too fast. However, after some training of your ears, you will start to pick out individual words. Eventually, you will begin to hear full phrases and be able to communicate with other people.

As we all know, this is not an overnight process and it takes time and intentional effort to make it happen. Small steps and guided activities such as these can make a big difference in building confidence with students.

Friday, February 19, 2016


We were on a shortened schedule this week due to conferences so we had to push quickly through the reading activity today. Fortunately it was a short and easy chapter for them with not a lot of events that took place.

Goal: I can understand an authentic text that I read.

Two new characters were introduced in this chapter, but we were able to easily understand their role due to previously analyzed events that led up to this point. To begin, we discussed the new characters:
1) Coronel Antonio Cordero Negro
2) Sargento Ignacio Florido Peña
3) Operación Revelación

After a brief discussion and review of each character and the plan, students found a partner and received a piece of paper. They were given a number that corresponded to a character. With their partner, they wrote a characteristic of that person/plan. They crumpled the paper into a "snowball" and threw it to someone else, creating a snowball fight.

After a few seconds, they opened a snowball, read it, and added to the list. No duplicates were allowed. It was possible they got a paper with the same title they already had or even their same  paper back. This is where the repetitions come in, being able to see what other people wrote. The writing/fight pattern continued about five times.

On the last catch, the students opened their "snowball" and completed a minimum of 8 characteristics for the paper they had and included their names. The snowballs were tossed into a basket for me to review and a final brief discussion summed up the lesson.

Valentine's Poetry

In Spanish IV we have a day each week that we focus on developing writing skills. For Valentine's Day, or close to it, I like to have the students do an alternative activity in which they write poetry. It's a nice break to the usual routine while continuing to develop their writing skills.

I can write on a variety of topics.

Part 1: flores
Each student receives a flower as she enters the room. Students are directed to pluck each petal, one by one, reciting the stream of "he loves me; he loves me not".

Part 2: poesía
Students receive a list of the structures for their poetry. They practice these, using the different tenses, creating 3-5 poems. Some students will write about a loved one, a pet, or even a thing that they love such as pizza or desserts.

Part 3: Valentines
Finally, they will create and decorate their own valentines with the poetry that they wrote. These are then displayed in the classroom.

Here is the end result of the valentine poetry writings.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Learning to Read vs Reading to Learn

This semester I have a pretty awesome group of Spanish IV students. I wanted to push them and really assess their reading comprehension. The only variable I can't monitor is if they are using a translator to assist them, or worse, do the work for them, because really, what are they learning from that?

What are they really demonstrating?
Typically we read the novel together, but I wanted to see what they really understood and not what they pick up from our discussion of each chapter. So what I'm doing this semester is having the students read a chapter independently and then coming to class prepared to discuss it. The first thing we do is take a quiz over the chapter, usually 5-10 questions over the main ideas of the chapter to assess what they are understanding when they read. Then they have a group activity to discuss it and fill in any gaps in their understanding of the details and the cultural themes.

Chapter 1
My goal is to have a different activity for each chapter we read. The first chapter usually establishes the setting and the characters so we read that together as a class to give context for chapter 2. The next two chapters we have been using the routine as listed above.

Chapter 2
Chapter 2 of La hija del sastre we did a group acting activity. [A friend asked for an example of an AIW activity so this provides a very detailed description of what we did.]

Chapter 3
For chapter 3, I typed out the chapter and put it into 6 different wordles. The students were in groups and had to circle 4 different words with their partner.
Then, collaboratively explain what was happening in the chapter with that word. Each word needed:
- 5-8 descriptions
- evidence from the chapter
- focus on importance of word in chapter
- no repeats when presenting

We practiced this as I modeled the word "soldados". I intentionally chose the largest word in the word cloud, knowing that many groups would choose that and it would be easiest for them to practice. The potentially most difficult part of this activity was the last part in which they couldn't repeat any word from the word cloud.  As the 12 groups presented, I wrote the word on the board so we could keep track of what was used.

Learn to read vs read to learn
Just like in elementary school students learn to read, but in middle school they read to learn. As language teachers there comes a point where we no longer have to teach words that they need to communicate; we can indirectly teach them the necessary vocabulary through reading and conversation.

Thanks to Carrie and Carol for their great work in writing this novel. The students have been enjoying it so far.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Registration Memes

With the upcoming 2016-2017 course registration next week, I jumped on the bandwagon and decided to make some interesting memes to get kids excited about and remember to register for language courses next year. This is subliminal advertising, suggestive selling, passive aggressive, number-boosting tactics, smart marketing, whatever you want to call it. Here's what I came up with. These are my creations, except the first one (inspired by Martina Bex), so I give you full permission to use them however you'd like.