01 September 2014

Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge Day 1: Goals for the school year

Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you’d like to be!

I want you to own the language

On your iPod and ePortfolio
Online and in conversation

When you want to know something
When you need to say something

Easy enough to attempt
Exciting enough to improve

Borrow books
Bust out dancing

Pose new questions
Solve new problems

Ask the language why
Ask culture why not

Face challenges with what you know

Start somewhere and build
Set goals and make a map

What works
What doesn't
What will

Make the language yours
And make it work for you

31 August 2014

Make an Interactive Infograph Syllabus

Gone are the days of laborious infograph building in Microsoft Word. No longer must I link page after page to convey semester essentials!

Now I make a single infograph syllabus on Piktochart to convey the basics of the course, download the image in .jpg or .png form, then upload it to my ThingLink stream to click and add hotspots with pop-up information boxes and links.

Now there are a few things you will still have to include on any syllabus, pop-up boxes or no, which I squeeze into 3 sections with as few words as possible and as many simple images as possible: introduction, grades, and expectations.

Here, you give students the basic rundown of your course, including contact info, school supplies (unless, perhaps, you're going paperless), and course components.

Contact info: Include every way students can get in touch with you on the syllabus itself (I, for one, still have to send home a printed copy):

  • Class webpage/blog (preferably a shortened URL)
  • E-mail address
  • Twitter, Skype, Facebook, Instagram
  • Google Voice
  • Remind/Schoology/Edmodo/Google Classroom code
On the ThingLink, you will want to tag each of these with a direct link for students to click on to reach you whenever possible. I also indicate which is the best way to get a hold of me for quickest responses in and out of school.

School supplies: Find photos of the actual supplies that you want to see in front of you when they walk in the next day. I put them together in 1 image in paint, mostly because you only get to upload 20 images free in Piktochart. You need not label them in the infograph, but you can add a tag in Thinglink with a specific list (i.e. size/type of notebooks or binders) and maybe reasoning behind less conventional supplies like earbuds.

Course components: for us language teachers, the ACTFL 5 Cs diagram is a pretty addition to the infograph and sums up components beyond just language (though Sandrock's suggestion for a re-working seems more accurate to me, if less infograph-syllabus-friendly), and you can link to ACTFL's standards for more information. Piktochart also has some free clip art you could use to convey the 4 proficiency skills, which I link to ACTFL's proficiency level expectations. I also uploaded a parrot from openclipart.org to link to more information about being a novice. Assessment categories or units are useful information to list nice and big. 

Sometimes I run out of room in the top section for more detailed components, like when I'm in English mode and I include novel covers, or if I include links to ForAllRubrics or the class Evernote of the Interactive Notebook. In the case of Evernote and ForAllRubrics, I searched for logos and combined them in a single Paint image to cut back on my uploads.

Of course students need to know what goes into their grades. It would be nice to be able to post a basic rundown of standards-based grading and how to achieve the different levels in graph form, but, alas, district policy precedes the dream. So I have my Pie Chart o' Weighting, the Continuum o' Letter Grades and percentages, and Late Work and Make-Up Work policies. I think it's also useful to put some key dates in, like when major projects/portfolios absolutely have to be submitted--which you could link to a class calendar on Thinglink. Most of the linking I do on this section, though, is to explain what all is included in the weighted categories and why, perhaps some specifics on assignment length (pages, word count) and/or basic rubrics. I think the video explanations of portfolios that I made with Powtoon were an especially popular link this semester.

Finally, I have a little symbol straight from Piktochart for each "expectation" I have--almost more like procedures in some ways. I have a tardy icon, an absence icon, a materials icon, and a consequences icon. I'm also supposed to get the whole thing back signed, so I leave room for a little slip to be snipped off at the bottom with parent signature and student name. I don't usually link anything on this section, but I could clarify, say, materials policies.

Here are some things you may want to remember as you create your interactive infograph syllabus:

  1. If you can summarize something in an image: do it. You can explain on the Thinglinked boxes.
  2. Use preloaded graphics wherever possible--not only are uploads limited, but the whole search-download-upload process can be about halved if you avail yourself of Piktochart icons.
  3. If you're required to include it--by department, school, district, or state--go ahead and type it out as required.
  4. If you need to print, make sure you stick to a white or light background and high contrast color schemes.
  5. Negative space is key to infograph construction: putting the same amount of text in your infograph syllabus as you did in your regular one defeats the purpose of infograph conversion.
  6. Embed your ThingLink in your class webpage for easy access, add it to your Google Classroom "About" section, add it to your resources in Schoology and Edmodo, or link it in your class Twitter profile or blog.
And with that, I present this semester's interactive syllabi (including the First Day Fun Station):

21 August 2014

ExploraTextos: 4 Ways to Fix SSR

I have over 100 awesome books in Spanish to share with my students, but SSR was going over like a lead balloon. Students should be excited to paw through real live authentic magazines and picture books, but instead, they were dreading raising the weekly 5 minutes to 10. They weren't enjoying it, and they weren't really learning anything either. They held their noses and forced it down.

There's no reason for me to keep doing something like that in my class! I mean, yeah, I have all of those books, but my time and theirs could be better spent.

So I looked at what was preventing free reading time from being the special treat it's always been for me, and I reworked "Sustained Silent Reading" into something friendlier and more fun. So when I wheel my little mobile library into the room, they have something closer to Free Voluntary Reading, but even "reading" is not all I wanted them to do. I'm calling it ExploraTextos.

I envy Sra. Toth's Free Voluntary Reading area and Sra. Placido's crafty rain gutter shelves, but alas, beanbags are not welcome in college classrooms. My classroom has to be ready for college takeover any evening of the week, and I don't see myself hauling armfuls of beanbag around even once a week to make that happen. I couldn't make my kids truly comfy, I figured if I could just spread out my little cart library so kiddos could really browse and find something they wanted.

I put the question to Twitter, and I got a lot of good ideas. In the end, I was swayed by the intrepid Srta. Johnson (though my baskets are plastic).

I also took Sra. Placido's advice and basically had kids "grab a whole armful of books so they can cast one aside if it is not interesting to them" by having one person from each four-person table select a basket with 10 or so books, thus reducing the circling vulture effect around my poor little carrito.

Informed Choices
The baskets are not divided by reading level, but rather by genre:  biografía, literatura infantil, traducciones, poesía, cultura, novelas, revistas.So students can pick baskets by the genre that interests them (though I do steer non-native speakers away from novelas--Harry Potter in tradducciones, yes, but not the Arturo Perez-Reverte). It's nice because almost all of the baskets include bilingual books for less confident readers, too. 

Plus I know they've all already had a chance to peruse and start choosing, because they did "shelfies" on day one and picked out 5 things they thought they'd like to read. They snapped pictures with the iPads and emailed them to me. Then I twisted them to my own evil purposes and made signs to help the young ones navigate the bibliobaskets.

I always told kids to pick up 2 or 3 books to take back to their desks, but I found the stragglers--who were often the hardest to please--almost never got anything that struck their fancy, even with a couple of options within arm's reach. Having a whole basket per table helps a lot in making sure that everyone has something to strike their fancy, and it also gives them more freedom to put down something that's not to their liking and try something else,without having to get up and wander across the room to pore over the cart offerings. All they had to do was make sure they wrote down the title of what they were reading and jot a quick note about what they liked and what they didn't before they picked up the next one.

Another freedom they enjoy--perhaps too much--is that SSR is no longer silent either. They  may discuss what they're exploring with classmates quietly. They asked each other what things meant, clarified things, read aloud to each other, made up their own stories from the pictures and words they could pick out. They engaged with the texts!

Cultural Emphasis
Before we began today, we discussed the 3 P's of culture (products, practices, perspectives) and related them to our coro from this week. They got that "Vivir mi vida" and the video were the products, that dancing was definitely a practice in Puerto Rican/Nuyorican culture, and that this product emphasized an optimistic perspective. So I told them I wanted them to engage with the books and magazines as cultural products, as ways to gather insight into practices (what people do/like to do/don't like to do) and perspectives. So at the end, after the timer beeped, they reflected on what they noticed about products, practices, and/or perspectives based on the texts they explored. I'd eventually like to have them add some vocabulary they picked up, but I'd like them to get a little more comfortable analyzing culture first.

Now, I've just tried the ExploraTextos systems the one day so far, in two classes, but if excitement about interacting with my little library is what I was after, I can at least say I'm on the right track!