26 November 2014

#ACTFL14: Crystallization of Purpose, a Groupie's Paradise, and Selfie Extravaganza

ACTFL 2014 was full of powerful learning and powerful connections. It's not so much that I learned anything new as I felt previous learning reinforced and my resolve to move forward strengthened. Just being around people doing such progressive and pro-active things with their students and their practice overall has helped me believe I, too, can--and develop a plan of attack! So here are my day-by-day takeaways, both from in-person encounters and online creeping.

First off, loved the morning show format for the opening! Even the commercials were great! I did go and explore the AAPPL booth and plan to try it when they roll it out in a month or two. It's like Google Voice assignments with built-in feedback mechanisms!

Also, I confess I was skeptical about a keynote speaker with no outward connection to teaching. The cool part though is that Annie Griffiths' connection is to LEARNING. I cannot emphasize enough the need to take risks as a language learner AND a language teacher, and Griffiths' has got that down pat. What's more she gets the purpose of language beyond its own end, an inspiration for the communication-based classroom. And the level of self-reflection and sympathy--nay, empathy--she brings to her photography and experiences is a perfect model for us educator-types. Especially the patience and the faith in your "subjects": just trusting that opportunity will arise given time, trusting that your efforts will lead somewhere--our profession is just a job without that.

What are we doing in the classroom if we are not building something that will last longer than a semester? I always love Carmen Scoggins' metaphors for learning, and the sustainable living collective may be my favorite yet. It's curious, too, and important to acknowledge the distinctions between our experience and our students' when it comes to what lasts. I love, too, that Carmen emphasizes our roles as educators in the grander scheme of things (the girl gets me!) I love that she makes us look beyond the "disrespect" of someone falling asleep in class. It's our job as responsible adults in these kids' lives to recognize the source of their actions--even when they don't--and not take them personally. Also, some day, I hope to be as with-it as Carmen to get a Wix together for each unit. So far, Google Classroom has gotten me the closest to with-it as I've been, though, so there's that.

Of course someone who makes it to Teacher of the Year status is going to have great ideas. It was also cool to get some sit-down time with old Twitter buds like Clarissa and Noah, too. Some of my favorite ideas include Yo Azama's "Wonder Wall"--a perfect idea to help generate ideas for Genius Hour and to support PBL! (Especially answering their questions with more questions!) I've been wanting to have a karaoke event, too, so my wheels are turning on how to make that happen. I also really love the idea of getting community support for badges so there is a real, immediate, and tangible benefit to developing language skills. I found it helpful too to sit down and talk about how to use the ACTFL I-cans (I am so re-doing my portfolios...probably this weekend!)

Also, shout out to Caleb Bloodworth, paying it forward after enjoying last year's livetweeting. He helped me find a great session--and filled me in on what I missed before I even knew I was missing anything! Important lesson: titles are deceiving. There are so many things we can learn from sessions not geared toward our particular circumstances. Without Caleb to show me this, I would have missed Greg Duncan's session the next day! Also, shout out to Rachel Ash for keeping me in the loop with other cool activities to keep input comprehensible.

The SWCOLT guys take the entertaining and edifying cake for the conference for me. Their videos had me in stitches, and their points not only helped me see learning targets through kids' eyes but also FINALLY helped me see how I could make standards-based grading work within my district policies. Hint: score everything, record only the proficiency information. (This will still take finagling, but I can see how to keep records and show learning separately! Even if it messes up my beautiful TL monitoring system...) I'm also contemplating how to balance portfolio grades and spontaneous demonstration grades...which means I'm probably redoing my syllabus this weekend too. Is it weird that that sounds like fun to me?

I'm also looking forward to trying out WeSpeke. I tinkered a bit before bedtime with my minimal Portuguese skills. More fodder for the syllabus...or personalized adventures?

And finally, Greg Duncan just reminded me of everything that is important in a language class. It's not that I didn't know it, but, kind of like Amy did for me last year with authentic texts for novices, Duncan just kind of crystallized everything for me, cleared my path to make it more visible, more obvious.

OK, I saw the presentation ahead of time, I follow these ladies religiously, and we're kind of homies. But I was STILL learning from them during our session! I'm linking it even though it makes me want to cry blood, but I think it's important to show the journey. She knows it, has known it for years, and if you don't, you should: I am a Musicuentos fangirl. Three years ago I used the word "disciple." We've collaborated many times since then, and seeing her face-to-face for the first time as I left Denny's with my other idols, it was more of a reunion than a groupie fest. The feeling I will take from being at ACTFL 2014 makes me want to sing Peaches and Herb, even though most of the people I've only ever seen on a screen before (though we did pass in the hall last year, right, Amy and Kristy? And, well, Bethanie and Cristy and I are driving distance/edcamp distance from each other!) I should have been starstruck trying to buy a book--or 4--from Carol Gaab and Carrie Toth or walking by Megan Johnston and Kara Parker. But instead, they called me by name and hugged me!

Now that I got that out of the way, it was also cool sitting down with Megan, Kara, and Tom Welch of ACTFL Innovates gave me a chance to refine ideas and look to the future, which is what I LOVE about being other passionate--and brilliant--educators! Like Joe Dale! Now that I have iPads, absorbing his ideas has a whole new dimension. Now if only it didn't take an act of congress to get a $3 app.

Special thanks to people getting up at 8 AM on a Sunday to hang out with me. The takeaway from my session for me is mostly my new connection with Cadena Sensei and our mission to tie Genius Hour to reading (this is where my TPRS purchases may come in!) PS Whoever put the PBL session at the same time as my session is cruel and heartless.

I'm glad I got to squeeze in one last session from my North Carolina compatriots, too, because I finally got some ideas to make some community connections in a community that 1) is not where I live and 2) is not quite as diverse as where I do live (hint: service learning and key word--iglesias).

And as one final parting gift, here's my wall-o-selfies Thinglink, complete with links to people's blogs and profiles!

25 November 2014

Guest Post: Collaborating with #Pasión and Robots

@SraWillis came to visit and check out my class
...and decide if I'm human?
Kelly Willis is a Spanish teacher at Charlotte Latin School who shares my passion for technology, authentic learning, and  for novice learners--only her novices at the lower school are a lot smaller than mine. The cool part is that we're only about an hour's drive from each other, so we have been hatching plots to collaborate since this summer. Sra. Willis finally took the bull by the horns and came to visit my class a few weeks ago, and I asked her to share her reflections on the experience.

Here's what she had to say:

Jumping in
I’m not sure how it happened, but this summer I jumped into the deep space of the Twitter-verse and stumbled onto #langchat.  Initially, I’d only plan to scan a little of the twitter feed, or look for a quick link or post that piqued my interest. Yet, several hours later I’d wonder how and when it got dark out, look over at the pile of laundry still waiting to be folded, and decide my three year old could go digging through the mountain on her own to find her favorite blue Elsa dress the following morning.

I was awed and intimidated by all the information being shared, and I continued to teeter around the edges of Twitter, Google Plus, #langcamp, and Google Hangouts observing, not totally sure if I wanted to contribute to #langchat with all of these amazing teachers who seemed to be doing so much more than me. What if I said something stupid, or too obvious, or not worth the 140 characters taking up space on the Twitter feed? In particular, I wondered who this @SraSpanglish was, and furthermore, when did she eat and sleep? Was she a robot?

I finally got brave enough one night to decide to join a Google Hangout about technology moderated by Sra. Spanglish this summer.  It was starting some time after 9:00PM, but it worked out for me because my daughter was asleep. I figured I’d just audit the conversation, and maybe offer something up to the conversation about how I was using iPads in my elementary Spanish classes.  Mostly, though, I was just planning on watching while I cooked for my husband and myself.

No such luck.

It turns out that only Sra. Spanglish and I were ready to chat at such a late hour. By the end of our hour-long chat about technology, iPads, and apps, I discovered she’s not really a robot, and she teaches right up the road from me! The wheels in my head started to turn….. Fast forward a few months….

Class time
At the end of October, our students were off thanks to parent-teacher conferences, so I found myself with the three days open for professional development and a #genius just up the road. We teachers can easily find a reason to stay in behind in the office for a few work days. We always need to catch up on paperwork, write curriculum, plan lessons, search for resources… The list goes on. However, one of the most helpful things we can do to grow as teachers is to connect with others in our profession, and when given the chance, actually get out there to watch them in action.  

I made a plan with Sra. Spanglish to come out to observe her high school students working on their #pasión projects.   They had already identified a topic of interest to them and written down some key vocabulary words and driving questions they wanted answered, so the work being done on this day involved research and listening comprehension. 

Each student had to complete a search for several videos linked to their #pasión. They had to watch and listen carefully (no subtitles allowed!), write down ten vocabulary words they could understand, and also see if any of this information answered some of those questions they had previously written down about their pasión topics.  When the students protested that they couldn’t understand, Sra. Spanglish just reminded them that this is training their ears, and they don’t have to understand it all.

Despite being a Novice level class, all students were engaged and working diligently, and topics ranged from cosmetology, pop music, and cars to cooking, art, and quinceañeras.

I spent several hours watching Sra. Spanglish guide two different sections of Novice level learners into this day of #pasión, and by lunchtime I came away with these observations:

1. Novice learners are the same, whether they are 7 years old or 17.  

Don’t be afraid to observe another teacher just because he or she teaches students who are not the same age as your students. I laughed when a few of her students looked at me in fear and worried I was going to speak Spanish very quickly to them. My little guys in elementary school do the same.

2. Visiting another teacher in person can help you come away with even the smallest “tricks” and resources for classroom design and management.

I loved the idea of using a “call and response” tactic with lyrics from authentic music to regain students’ attention and focus. I took down the titles of some of the picture books in the front of her class, and couldn’t stop writing down songs from the playlist running in the background while the students worked.

3.   Collaboration doesn’t have to end with just one observation/visit! We’re already talking about a joint project between our students sometime in the near future. 

There is so much to learn from one another, and social media is a tremendous asset to connecting foreign language educators around the world. Yet, if we can get out of our own classrooms and into the classrooms of our peers, we have the chance to see first hand some #genius and #pasión that could leave us inspired. This is true about my visit to Sra. Spanglish’s classes. 

However, after witnessing how she manages the online individual portfolio assessments, projects, rubrics and resources for her students and courses, helps keep thousands of online colleagues connected alongside other super talented professionals, on top of being a mom and wife, I take back some of what I said.

She really is a robot.

PS Our secret collaboration plan involves picture books and possibly little library boxes...and possibly world domination.

21 November 2014

Genius Hour Agenda 4: Prepare

After students have collected a certain amount of information and begun to absorb relevant vocabulary through repeated authentic exposure, they need to start thinking “So what?”

I don’t mean we should turn our precious angels into little nihilists, of course. I mean that input is well and good, but it needs to be processed—and it needs a reason to be processed. We need to train students to ask the right questions and find their own answers, but we can’t stop there, or all of their genius will end up out of gas on the side of a dead end road.

Discussion with classmates and experts and community members—whether in person in real time or online and asynchronous--is a good place to start processing their learning for a larger purpose, to keep the genius alive and circulating. In fact the discussion could be an end within itself in the right context, say a community meeting on preventing Type 2 diabetes or tips for teens in crisis. Novices, however, are not equipped to deal with the discourse required for discussion beyond reviewing their discoveries (Es interesante que…, Otros temas relevantes son…) and planning the next step of the discovering (voy a…, quiero…)

So in my Spanish I and II classes, we build toward a sort of semi-authentic presentation, just for me and their classmates.

Basically they have to involve everyone actively in their passion—in the target language—in under 15 minutes.

This is a tricky thing to do, even in your native language. Presentation Day often becomes Relax-Your-Brain Day, instead of a real day of pasión. So it helps to break down the process of engaging your classmates and build the presentations step-by-step. Please note: I have already forced several of these activities on my students, and some I just thought of and may or may not have time for. You take what you need—what they need.

Focus vocabulary
By now, everyone has collected at least 30 words related to their passion, but there’s no way the class is going to retain even 30 cognates from 25 different presentations. So they have to choose what the class will really need—beyond our high-frequency words—to get what’s going on. I have them narrow it down to 10 words (15 if they’re desperate and have some cognates in there). They need to think about what they need to convey their summary and their instructions to the class. And they need to forget the translator exists except to quick-check for spelling mistakes.

Vocabulary videos
Create a mini-video (think Vine) for each word, where you pronounce it, offer synonyms and circumlocution for the word in Spanish, make gestures, maybe draw a picture. Also, include any numbers that you’re going to use in your presentation. It is not cute to stop your presentation and say “nineteen-ninety-nine” in the middle of an otherwise illustrious target language explanation.

Illustrated vocabulary guide
Create an image with all 10 of your words. Find, doodle, or take a picture that illustrates each word’s meaning, and match up the written words and pictures on the image. Upload the image to ThingLink, and link your mini-videos to each word!

Annotated Bibliography
Give credit where credit’s due, but also pick your direction. You’ve collected, oh, 30-something resources. Which ones are worth using? Which could fit into an interesting presentation and lead into a super-cool activity? Cite the sources you decide on (at least 2 text, 1 video—gotta hone both kinds of interpretation skills) MLA Style and write a sentence about what you can use from each. Hint: your Diigo paraphrasing and summaries are fair game.

As we super-teachers know, pre-teaching is a non-negotiable when you really want someone to understand. So the young ones must decide what basic facts about their topic the class needs to know before they start bossing them around. Also, they probably need some warning about what they’re going to do. Sum it up in a few short sentences, what is loosely known as a “paragraph” in the trade. Hint: your Annotated Bibliography sentences are fair game.

Activity ideas
What can the class do to get everyone moving and either interpreting or producing some target language—or both? What is something they would actually want to do? Give me a list of at least 4 ideas of what you can make your whole class do (affordably), ordered from most awesome/likely to most “if I have to.” We’ll talk about which you should do.

Activity steps
Boss ‘em around. Break down the process into at least 5 steps. Hint: if you can’t break it down into 5 steps, you’re either giving your classmates too much credit or have an activity that is too lame.

Put it all together in something that looks cool. Make you an infograph or a Powtoon; make a spiffy website or go old school with a trifold (please don’t make me watch a Powerpoint unless you absolutely have to). But get the vocabulary + images in there, the summary, the citations, and your instructions. Make it look pretty.

Record yourself attempting to present with a partner. Jot down every word you can’t think of in Spanish that you absolutely NEED so you can look them up to stay in the TL for the big day. Give your partner a few plus-deltas when it’s their turn.

Use your partner’s plus-deltas for you. Look up those words that kept you from keeping 100% in Spanish. Practice saying them. Practice saying them some more. Review your mini-videos while you’re at it.

And then, mes amis, it is time for Presentation Day, or as I like to call it El Día de Máxima Pasión.