29 March 2011

One lab, every language


What if "Language Lab" was a place where students learned any language they wanted? They could go to this Language Lab take online language classes, but could get practical advice--applicable in a variety of languages--from an experienced language instructor. Said language instructor might not even speak all of the languages offered, but could help students find resources like level-appropriate authentic texts and native speakers ready and willing to engage in conversation. She would also provide ideas for how best to engage with a given language.

I examined the effects of forcing students to take 2 years of Spanish on student attitudes when I had to conduct a study for my Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition class this fall. Granted, I only studied the attitudes of MY students who ARE forced to take 2 years of Spanish to graduate: it was a baby experiment really, a dabble in qualitative research for the sake of the course. But the results I found (apart from making me regret asking students open-ended questions right before report cards go out) made me curious about alternative possibilities.

In short, I found it IS good to require a minimum of two years of foreign language instruction, BUT, it would be even better if they could choose the language.


Now there are a total of 8 teachers making up--not my department--but my entire school faculty. I am the sole certified language teacher. Contracting a French, German, Latin, and Japanese teacher ain't gonna happen

While I took French & German in high school myself and have toyed with the idea of brushing up enough to get certified in French, many of the students' preferred languages are not something in which I could become proficient before fall. Granted, I might be pretty good at Chuj if I get the Kenan Fellowship to Guatemala this summer, but that was not exactly on anyone's list of preferred languages.

However, North Carolina Virtual Public Schools will be offering Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Latin, French, German, and Mandarin Chinese this fall (not to mention Spanish). This would cover at least 85% of the desired languages that I'm not certified to teach--nearly 100% of what students WANT to learn!

The catch? Online classes are online.

According to my observations, online language classes tend to subscribe to textbook-like instruction. Can you blame them? Direct interaction is limited, and meaningful discussion takes days instead of minutes. There are, of course, videos on occasion (which the school tends to block, naturally), and some cool cultural links. But the quizzes and tests appear to be pretty lower-level from what I've seen.

Perhaps if the lab required at least 3 students be enrolled in the same language (not necessarily level), I could do more with authentic resources & setting up "spontaneous" conversations. I could do exercises with reading skills & interpretation, supplement authentic sources links, and require more in-depth (health science related?) presentations as well.

And who knows? Maybe I'll be qualified to teach some Russian & Mandarin by the time it's done!

28 March 2011

The world is not enough

Time in class is not enough.
Extra classes are not enough.
Edmodo updates straight to their phones are not enough.

Exciting topics are not enough.
Contextual activities are not enough.
Steady input is not enough.

These kids just won't do their work.
Or they won't turn it in.
Hard to tell which sometimes.

So what do I do? Do I dumb it back down to translation vocab quizzes & grammar lessons? Do I fall back on those cushy, cushy worksheets I've amassed over the years? I think I hear them calling me...

But no. My next step is feedback.
Perhaps they don't see the relevance of their journals because I respond to their journals a week after I assign them. I must get to what they're conveying quicker and make a real conversation of it!

Also, I must arrange more one-on-one time. If this means taking the extra enrichment time to let 10 kids run wild while I walk 1 through a paragraph, so be it. Perhaps I can get away with one-on-two time, provided the twos are selected carefully. Perhaps I will need to make two-by-two seating arrangements at our trapezoid tables.

Of course I know about stations, and have had a fair amount of success with them in the past. I just think it's really unfair that I have to be able to triple plan when I'm working so hard to SINGLE plan things like the Afrolatinos unit.

And small groups are really not enough for some of these kids I have falling behind. They need me there...at least until I can find them some kind of magic feather. I can't group the needy ones together because they become mobius strips of distraction, and I can't separate them, because the greater the distance between me and them, the less work gets done--even when I lay out what they have to do & how much time they have to do it!

Yes, yes, perhaps I am not clear enough & need more sentence starters for these journals I want them to write with this time in class & limitless reminders. Perhaps I need a rubric for every journal topic. They are, after all, only in Spanish 2, and did not have to do all this in Spanish 1, before I knew any language acquisition theory or anything.

Will feedback be enough?
Will one-on-one time be enough?
Will more structure be enough?

And will there be enough hours in the day to pull all that off?

22 March 2011

Teacher Meme Revisited

  1. I am a good teacher because I always experiment and have learned to adapt to my students' needs and caprices.
  2. If I weren't a teacher I would be a translator, or perhaps an editor. I suspect it would be easier to find translator work, though.
  3. My teaching style is different, changing, heavily influenced by my online twitter PLN at #langchat and the few grad classes I've taken as well as the National Board's insidious WLOE requirements.
  4. My classroom is rather large, increasingly organized (if you don't look at my desk), and could use more computers, perhaps a printer.
  5. My lesson plans are on an excel spreadsheet, with a different page for each class. Descriptions are brief, but allow me to figure out what went on when and to plan a semester relatively cohesively.
  6. One of my teaching goals is good essential questions for every unit of Spanish I and II. Lessons are so much more meaningful that way, and it keeps me away from grammatocentrism.
  7. The toughest part of teaching is the TIME it takes. I could be much awesomer with more hours in a day to plan...and to eventually make myself grade.
  8. The thing I love most about teaching is the experimentation and the creativity required.
  9. A common misconception about teaching is that anyone can do it. I'm saying it takes on-the-job experience PLUS training with experts and ready access to useful sources, PLN's, etc.
  10. The most important thing I've learned since I started teaching is it never stops. I will always have to add and adapt, though I can occasionally fall back on past experiences, but I must ALWAYS consider the audience before I walk in the room.


When I started this meme almost 5 years ago, I had been teaching a mere 2 years and some change, had not yet begun teaching Spanish, had neither experienced divorce nor motherhood, and still was not ready to attempt National Boards or grad school

This is what the younger me said:

  1. I am a good teacher because I am creative and constantly seeking new and more effective ways to reach each of my little babies the young men and women in my classes.
  2. If I weren’t a teacher, I would be some other kind of academic in the ivory towers of education, maybe locked up in an office researching and writing esoteric essays on multicultural literature and learning other languages.
  3. My teaching style is not exactly sarcastic, but kind of teasing and, I would say, constructive.  I try to build on the skills and abilities my students have already, but I'm not above a few zingers to put the mouthy ones in their place--all in good fun.
  4. My classroom is typically comparable to the wreck of the Hesperas.  The walls are very colorful and, some would say, elementary, but all horizontal surfaces tend to have piles of books and papers up to a foot high.
  5. My lesson plans are constantly changing.  It is good for me to plan the week ahead of time, even if it never stays the way I planned it Sunday night.
  6. One of my teaching goals is to organize myself--courses, grading, paperwork, and the day-to-day, in class and out.
  7. The toughest part of teaching is motivation.  I feel like I'm stranded in a culture of apathy and entitlement.  It's hard to make the young ones want to learn.
  8. The thing I love most about teaching is being creative and witnessing creativity.  It's so cool to see what kids come up with, things I would never have thought of, whether it's a slant on a reading passage or a way to shut a mouthy kid up.
  9. A common misconception about teaching isthat there is a formula that anyone can use to be successful at it.
  10. The most important thing I’ve learned since I started teaching is F-L-E-X-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y.  I need to overplan, but I also need to be able to shift plans around at a moment's notice and still find a way to accomplish what needs to be accomplished

19 March 2011

Dictionary Survival Skills: Teach a student to fish

I always assumed that using a Spanish-English dictionary was sort of an intuitive exercise. However, if you see "Ella be muy bonita" or "Mi amigo es muy fresco" enough, you start to remember what happens when you assume.

I modified my vocabulary techniques for Spanish I's introduction to geographical terms. We still made semantic groups of the English words (it's fun when they argue about where island and beach go--so invested!) before I had them look through the geography sections of Spanish Wikipedia on Venezuela and Mexico to find as many of the words as they could from the now semantically organized list.

For the rest? Merriam-Webster.

I know dictionaries aren't the best way to learn vocabulary, I know. Vocabulary isolated from context inhibits meaningful connections, etc, etc. But at some point or another, you're going to want to know how to say something you don't already know how to say.  And we all know translators are evil and untrustworthy. So they've got to learn the proper way to answer their own questions.

We went over the meaning of [bracketed] items,  italicized initials, things in all CAPS, and the bold parts: pretty much all the things that have been mistaken for translations or that can help you choose which translation suits your purpose. So here are the basic rules of thumb for surviving a Spanish-English dictionary:

  • First of all, there are two sides of the dictionary. If you can't find the English word you want, it might be because you're in the Spanish side.
  • ignore the [bracketed] parts (unless you know something about the phonetic alphabet)
  • the italics are essential: you should know before you look whether you're looking for a v, n, adj, or something else (choosing the wrong kind of word is one of the more confusing mistakes you can make, especially if your audience doesn't know any English)
  • CAPS words are not the translation (that's why they look like English: they are). However, they help you choose the definition that best suits what you're looking for with respect to denotation, sense of the word (ie cool/awesome vs. cool/temperature).
  • you can basically ignore the bold words, too, as they are just different forms of the word you're looking for. Example: when you can't find "was" and it says "see be," it means for you to look up be in the English side of the dictionary.
  • Finally, the first definition is usually the most common one.
I know the lesson was productive, not only because students found the words that weren't in the contextualized look-up, but because they were saying things like, "No, wait, that's the verb. I wan't the noun" and "I was right! That IS how you say east!"

We all want students to keep learning, even when we're not there to teach, and teaching them to use a dictionary is a way to help them at least snack--if not feast--for a lifetime.

16 March 2011

Assessment assessment

Spanish I: Clothing
  • Notes on clipart of different outfits
  • Magazine collage of at least 20 words from list
  • Voicethread commenting on famous músicos latinos' outfits
  • Random outfit interviews with flip cameras
  • Scavenger hunt on Zara's website
  • Journal on outfits by weather
  • Event invitations with clothing suggestions
  • Interview/voicethread reflection
  • Quiz (left) asking questions about outfit from Zara's lookbook.
The *pop* quiz indicated to me that anyone who failed to complete EITHER the magazine collage OR the scavenger hunt failed: nearly everyone who completed both passed.

The quiz (when factoring in confusion over the part indicating NOT to list what people were already wearing in the part where I asked them to say what people needed when going to Alaska, a party, etc.) seemed to be a solid indicator of what students did and did not get.

I could feel at the time that I needed more structure to the interview, voicethread, journal, and invitation assignments. For the interview, maybe I should have it be more of a scavenger hunt with the flip, or maybe just photos, and with possible compliments students could give to the people they record. For the voicethread, I might require students to name a certain number of different items over the course of the slideshow (kind of like the collage), and for the journals, I will require a photograph or drawing to accompany each picture. I might make more destinations and have students just make lists of appropriate clothing and then exchange those to have classmates guess the destination.

As for the quiz, the make-up will be aural: I will have pictures (probably of latino celebrities again), and have students talk about everything they're wearing.

Spanish II: Reading authentic afrocubano texts
  • Englishless visual vocab intro powerpoint pre-reading for Cartas a Mi Mamá
  • P.A.C.E. breakdown of object pronouns (supposedly review)
  • P.A.C.E. breakdown of reflexive pronouns (new, building on OP's)
  • Reading out loud + breakdown (English was involved--couldn't resist)
  • Response journal from mother's point of view
  • Scan-venger hunt through text of Me Llamo Celia: English to Spanish words & verb tenses
  • During-reading multiple choice questions
I think the vocabulary powerpoint was helpful, even in the class that only saw it once, because the visual connections were reference points as we read. The pronoun breakdown used lines from the text, so it wasn't entirely unfamiliar: it helped linguistically inclined people, at least. In the future, I will have to do less text at a time so even I can stand explanations in Spanish--teaching in the TL is VASTLY time-consuming. I haven't seen the journals yet, but what I saw/heard while they were working indicates engagement with the text.

I'm not sure the scanning/scavenger hunt was so useful. It made one kid FLIP OUT at the "impossibility" of the task, but some of the usual suspects were really enjoying figuring out which words corresponded with the English words, and some former naysayers were even impressing themselves. The grammar part was probably just a holdout for me from my old ways. Sigh. As for the quiz, 1) do NOT use proprofs.com--only 10 free responses logged! and no way around it but $20/month!, and 2) I really should not have used a "what does this phrase mean" question first. In fact, that should have been a separate thing for post-reading, I'd say. Still, most people got at LEAST a passing score (the flipped party got 100%, possibly because I said he could go ahead and make a list of every word he didn't know the night before...)

I helped them work through "Mulata" by Nicolas Guillén when they finished Me Llamo Celia, too, and tomorrow we'll look a little more at Celia Cruz, plus Pérez Prado, Benny Moré, Machito, and Enrique Jorrín. I'm hoping that they'll be able to put these together to wrap up the Cuba portion of our unit and contrast the public image of afrocubanos with the private preference for white features.

06 March 2011

Entry vs Entry

I have recorded and scrapped at least 5 lessons since finding out in November that I failed National Boards. I had gotten halfway through writing up at least 2 of them before deciding they sucked. And now? I'm halfway through two more, and it occurs to me that I'd probably be better off switching the Entries I've been writing them up for.

Trying for National Board Certification in WLOE, I think, is harder than any other subject area. I came in with a handicap, having trained as an English teacher instead of a Spanish teacher and having obtained minimal exposure to things like ACTFL and Krashen before diving in. Not only do we have standards that other applicants would not even dream of (don't believe advocating for their subject is required in any other certificaiton area), but have you ever MET an NBCT in Spanish? I've met one. Only online. Through #langchat on Twitter. 16 months after I started.

I know at least 3 NBCT English teachers personally, certified in the last year alone.

And so, I  pause now to break down Entry 2 vs Entry 3, as I wish it had been done for me 2 years ago.
I will refer to the portfolio instructions for  World Languages Other than English--Early Adolescent and Young Adult as well as Emporia State University's Working Wisdom: A Guide to Accomplished Teaching for WLOE.


Entry 2
Both
Entry 3
Emphasis on realia, authentic materials

"open-ended personal expression"

culture affects communication

"broaden experience," "encourage insight"

Standards to demonstrate:
VII. Articulation of curriculum & instruction
X. Assessment

Emporia U.'s suggestions:
"Ideally, the goal is for students to have an "aha" moment where they realize, 'In the [target] culture, they do/make this because____. Cool!'"

This entry is completely unique to WLOTE.

5 C's

Identify modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive, and/or presentaitonal)

Tell how this sequence of instruction allows students to experience or expand their awareness of the products, practices, and perspectives in the target culture.

[Culture is] the norms, the actions, the unexplainable rules within a society. Those actions, norms, rules become evident through art, through food, through gestures, through the media, through daily life, etc.

A wisely selected video segment will show your interaction with the students in the target language. It should not focus entirely on you but should allow the assessor to see how comfortable you are at using the target language with your students on a regular basis.

You must be convincing that you can use and adapt a "variety of authentic materials." To me, that implies "use at least two or more." 

You need to be convincing that your students are being exposed to multiple aspects of language and culture.
Gotta have communication

Gotta have culture

"Culturally appropriate real-world tasks"

Communication depends on context

>1 authentic material

Standards to demonstrate:
I. Knowledge of students
II. Fairness
III. Knowledge of language
IV. Knowledge of culture
V. Knowledge of language acquisition
VIII. Learning environment
IX. Instructional resources
XI. Reflection as professional growth 

Emporia U.'s suggestions:
you do not need to show the students using the authentic materials in the selected section of videotape. but the authentic materials must be clearly referenced in your written commentary.

One of the goals for this entry should reflect a cultural element. A second goal should relate to communication. And, most importantly, the two must tie together in some way.

Use target language for questioning, instructions, feedback, and paraphrasing
"Meaningful, interactive...tasks"

whole, class, group, individual activities

"MOSAIC of authentic materials"

"negotiate meaning with the teacher, one another, and with texts" 

active/interactive participation

Standards to demonstrate: 
VI. Multiple paths to learning

Emporia U.'s suggestions:
"Emphasis is on demonstrating your skill at using multiple paths to developing communicative competence, of which one or more of those paths is/are supplemented w/ authentic materials."

Lesson=variety of learning strategies + constructive communication + multiple authentic resources

Accept that this exact sequence may not already exist in your repertoire.

Identify an over-riding goal for the lesson. Then determine how you can use a variety of methodologies to engage all learners and move them towards that goal.  At least one of those methodologies should include authentic materials or realia. It sounds so simple...

A wisely selected video segment will show your students actively engaged in a constructive, communicative lesson. It should also show some form of student grouping BESIDES straight teacher-to-student interaction.

Show that you can actively engage all students. If one student is off-task in one activity, show or tell how he was more engaged in another. Tell why his/her behavior was not surprising.

This entry specifically asks you reflect on the value of your selected resources. Pay close attention to the effectiveness of each activity/resource.


I hope this helps some other WLOE teachers out there and encourages some of you to increase our representation among the National Board Certified.

05 March 2011

Sweetening the Deal: Debate in Spanish


Chocolate increases target language usage. As do edgy topics and plenty of preparation beforehand.

Before the debate, students completed a survey, ranking different situations that could be considered racist either "aceptable," "cuestionable," "maleducado," "cruel," or "peligroso." Then they created their own definitions of racism, and shared them (in one class through a plátiza, the other through a blog/forum on the class webpage, just because I already had them in the lab to work on glog responses). They listened to an interview by ChocQuibTown on the glog and answered questions. Then we went through a modified version of my Afrolatinos powerpoint (I took out countries we would not address, and switched the debate questions to Spanish). Students planned comments on each of the agree/disagree statements at the end so they could participate actively in the debate.

And then I brought in extrinsic rewards.

I purchased 2 storage jars and a big ol' bag of Hershey's kisses. And, adapting a #langchat friend's suggestion of using marbles, I promised the class could have the jar of kisses once they filled it up. Every time they speak Spanish (a thorough, significant response, of which I am judge), a kiss goes in the jar. Every time they speak English, one comes out. Oh, and they only get kisses if they speak (I put initials on the jar with vis-a-vis marker).

The result so far, has been a well-balanced discussion on racism and reflection on what we have learned from ChocQuibtown and discussion. Students were able to communicate their perspectives, even citing the interview they had previously struggled to interpret.

And there was almost NO English!

Better still? One of the students who was struggling to even engage with Spanish just last quarter said (before we got to Spanish debating), "Can we do more lessons like this? This is actually fun!"

03 March 2011

2 do for Spanish 2

1. Increase target language interaction during Spanish 2 discussions
I need this to happen, in part because National Board certification demands it. According to my new National Board bible:
A wisely-selected video segment will show your interaction with the students in the target language. It should not focus entirely on you but should allow the assessor to see how comfortable you are at using the target language with your students on a regular basis.
 I don't know if this means my teacher-led discussions are necessarily a bad idea, but I for sure have got to get them to answer me in Spanish!

This means I probably need to do still more frontloading (the survey and plátiza not having passed muster) as well as scale back the depth of the conversation a bit. Engagement is good, but I need to start them where they are.

Which brings me to...

2. Break down ChocQuibTown interview further
The vast majority of my Spanish 2 classes did not respond to the ChocQuibTown glog questions as assigned, despite getting 20-40 minutes in class to do so AFTER an initial class viewing of the interview, with picking out vocabulary. Those who did answer the questions missed the point of some or just didn't answer them. Part of the problem, I think, is simply lack of practice interpreting aural input: they just need to do this more. However, the lack of practice lowers confidence, thus raising the famous affective filter, so I need to scaffold a little more.

I wonder if making soundbytes from the interview (using Audacity) would be a good way to isolate the parts that answer their questions. I didn't do this at first, because part of what I wanted them to do was to be able to pick out the sections where the answers could be found. Then again, that might be too much to ask while they're just getting exposed to aural interpretation.

The good news is that if they responded on Glogster, they can resubmit on Edmodo, and vice versa.

3. Make a good rubric for the Experiencia Afrolatina unit based on the 5 C's
Especially after today's discussion on what is and is not racist, more than anything, I want students to put themselves in someone else's shoes for this unit. Of course I want them to express themselves in Spanish and to make connections with familiar situations (not necessarily their own experience, maybe history or hearsay). I want them to have some freedom of format, and I'm thinking any C's not covered in the 1st person narrative can be incorporated into the culminating glog. So here's what I'm thinking:

Communication: presentational
Cultures: details from at least 1 country we discuss
Comparisons: parallels to experiences in the United States demonstrated
Connections: tie to American History/Civics?
(I'm going to let Communities sit this one out, though it will come up with the AskSrVilson.wikispaces.com along the way.)

4. Fit grammar & vocabulary in
This would be a good time to A) review object pronouns and B) (finally) introduce reflexives. I'm thinking the texts that I'll use (besides the ChocQuibTown interview and wiki w/ Sr. V.) will be an excerpt from Cartas a Mi Mama, and MAYBE Me Llamo Celia, so I need to be extracting these from one or both.

Which brings me to...

5. Finalize text selections for the unit
The first is cool because it's an actual Cuban novel--muy autentico--and gets at some of the attitudes I want students to see. The second is a picture book about Celia Cruz. Apart from an excuse for some awesome salsa, who doesn't love a picture book? However, it is bilingual, and NOT from a Cuban perspective (I'm sorry, Monica Brown, but your Spanish is possibly worse than mine. Kudos for putting yourself out there, but I want the highest quality input for my kiddos).

Still, Me Llamo Celia offers two significant things that Cartas a Mi Mama does not: an actual historical figure's story and an afrolatino perspective that is not just doom and gloom.

Also to do, 6. Figure out where I can record in this unit one last time for National Boards