Sunday, November 11, 2012

Spanish 3B up for sale!

My Spanish 3B (second semester level 3) book went up on my website as of an hour ago available for purchase (thank you web guy.  I still owe you some homemade clam chowder...)  It's actually been finished since August and sitting on my worktable in manuscript form waiting for the final, picky little touches on the 3B final exam before being hauled to the printer.  I'm going to be needing it soon, can't wait to use it, and hopefully those of you who are using 3A feel the same way.

I just have to say that it floors me how much more Spanish I can teach in a given amount of time when the lessons are all planned out and everything written.  My threes are miles ahead this semester of where last year's threes were by this time.  Miles and miles ahead.  They know more usable vocab, can write, read, and speak better, and know more grammar, believe it or not.  We've been working on Future Tense and Conditional over the past couple of weeks, and I've got several students who already have them both down pat.  My 3B book rehashes all the complicated 3A tenses again (as well as adding a touch of Past Subjunctive at the very, very end,) and I'm hoping to have even more students who are grammar wizards by then.  I love how I was able to work the tenses into the stories and conversation topics as well to reinforce actual contextual usage of the different tenses.  That's always been a struggle for me in teaching grammar--how to get it in context "on cue" while I was teaching the rules.  Otherwise, the rules go in one ear and out the other pretty quickly with no actual gain in proficiency.

Right now I have plans to write 4A and B summer 2013, mostly because I desperately need something better (more targeted, purposeful, efficient, and results-producing) than the materials I'm using now in level 4.  I feel like my fours are actually starting to lag behind the threes now, simply because I don't have materials written for them yet and I'm not great at teaching with textbooks or novels.  My level 4 needs to be a direct stepping stone into AP Spanish Language and Culture as we flesh out our fledgling 5-year Spanish program with level 1 starting in 8th grade for some students ( those who elect to do so.)  And when I say "direct stepping stone," I mean that they need to be learning AP level vocab and grammar and using it fluently in speaking, listening, reading, and writing, as well as getting very familiar with past and present Spanish Speaking World affairs.  So that will be my focus in writing my level 4 books.  I'd love to just teach Spanish literature and art in level 4, but unless the lessons specifically target AP vocab and skills, in my situation I'd be wasting my time.  (AP vocab for me = the 900+ words listed in the back of Pearson Prentice Hall's AP Spanish prep book by Diaz, Leicher-Prieto, and Nissenberg.) 

Level 4 teachers, please chime in about what the ideal level 4 program needs to do in your opinion. Unless you just trust me to work it out. :-)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Doing "Las noticias" - Part 2

Okay, right after I posted the other day about my great idea for how to do "Las noticias" in levels 3, 4 and AP consistently and really work in the language, culture, etc. I morphed it again.  Here is my latest method.  (You need to be able to project from your computer onto a screen to do it this way.)

1.  Go to (this site is my new best friend in the upper level classroom)
2.  Specifically look for articles/news bits that have a video (either by looking for "Lo más visto" usually on the right hand side off the home page, or, if nothing there suits, go to either the América Latina tab or some other tab and just start searching the lists of articles for those that have a white "play" sign on the picture.)
3.  Copy and paste the first paragraph or so of the article's text onto a Word document, make it huge font, save and title it "Las noticas Oct 23" or something along those lines.
4.  When the class comes in, project the Word document on the screen and question through it with the question words as described before, talking about unfamiliar vocab, etc.
5.  Follow up with the 1-2 minute video, sometimes with some prepping of what they should expect to hear in advance (my students seem fascinated by these videos and really do listen and try to understand.)
6.  Pause the video a couple of times to see what words anyone picked up (if desired)

The awesome thing about the videos to go with the news bit of the day is that my students are hearing different accents from all over the Spanish-speaking world.

I look for articles that aren't overly controversial or upsetting.  (I want them to focus on the Spanish, not on screaming at each other about the results of the latest presidential debate.)  I look for articles that will feature cultural facts, places, famous people and leaders from Spanish speaking countries because that will contribute to AP knowledge nicely.

Here are some articles with videos I've used recently in class and really liked:

Art and Culture - Picasso exhibit in New York, et al.:

Cuba's new law eliminating the need for permission to travel abroad (video has "Key Questions" that are written out on the screen for your teaching/reading pleasure):

"Latin Beats" with some Chilean band that has really fun music and an interview with the lead singer:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How to Do "Las noticias" daily using the Question Words

Okay, I'm finally doing "Las noticias" every day at the beginning of the block (in levels 3, 4, and AP) in a way that seems to be working consistently and meeting my objectives of speaking more Spanish in class, talking about current events, teaching real-life vocab that might not otherwise come up on textbook vocab lists, and using authentic resources.  I've been looking up articles on (especially under the "America Latina" tab) and taking headlines or opening lines from them to write on the board before the class comes in.  I spend about 5-7 minutes on this first thing when I get to school, and that prep time has been well worth it.

When class starts, I start pointing at the "News" and saying, "Clase, mira las noticias.  ¡Mira!" until everyone is looking at it.  I may or may not confirm their understanding of key words, unknown words, and/or the entire news bit, depending on how I feel like working with it that day, but either way, I ask whole-class questions about it in Spanish.  I have my Question Words posters on the wall directly above this whiteboard, and I go down the list of Question Words asking questions about the "noticias."

Example of Las noticias questioning:
"Clase, ¿Quién anunció que no disputaría el Abierto de Estados Unidos?"  (Rafael Nadal.  If no one answers, I give choices.  "¿Andy Murray o Rafael Nadal?")
"¿Quién es Rafael Nadal?"  (un tenista español)
"Por qué él no va a disputar el Abierto de Estados Unidos?  ¿Alguien sabe?"  (Here we talked about Rafa's "rodilla izquierda" that's injured, etc., information I got from skimming the BBCmundo article.)
"¿Cuándo es el Abierto de Estados Unidos?  ¿En septiembre o agosto?"  (agosto)
"¿Qué fecha?  El..." (27 de agosto.  If they answer in English, I say, "¡En español!")

I'm spending about 5-7 minutes at the beginning of class on this whole Noticias/question and answer session, maybe 10 when we get off on a tangent (like talking about Hidalgo, etc. from the Noticias this past week: "El presidente de México dio el "Grito" de independencia el domingo, el 16 de septiembre, desde el balcón del Palacio Nacional.") I'm finding it reasonably easy to hold their attention on the Spanish sentence as well as my Q&A, possibly because I act so interested myself in the "news" and then act really impressed when they understand it as well as respond.  I'm re-teaching saying numbers, dates, and of course the Question Words as I go, but all of that is needed (to a highly fluent/natural level) for the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam.  The "noticias" are also good for highlighting names and details of important Hispanic figures, some cultural info, current events in Spanish-speaking countries, etc. without spending much time on it or doing time-consuming, class-time-wasting projects.

I'm leaving the same "noticias" sentence there for 2 days (all A and B blocks) and using it in all 3 levels (3, 4, and AP,) although I might add something to it for AP at times.  So really, I only have to look up a new news bit every other day, and like I said, it's meeting a lot of my goals for things I wanted to include this year.

If you have my 3A book you'll notice I mention talking about "Las noticias" approximately every other lesson, but I'm actually doing it every single lesson now since I figured out exactly how I wanted to do it (using the list of Question Words, by rote.)

Happy teaching...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Getting Actors part 2

Okay, new method for getting actors this fall that is going really well for me:

1. Write a list of characters needed on the board (Chico 1, Chico 2, Chica 1, etc.)
2. First day - ask a confident, bossy student to choose all actors.  Write their names in the list on the board as he/she picks them.  This works best if the choosing student is popular; other kids want to be picked by that person.  (Fair or unfair, just telling you how it is.)
3. After first day - whoever played the main character (Chico 1) in the last skit chooses all actors for the new skit.
4. Variation - whoever played the main character (Chico 1) chooses the main character for the new skit, then that (new) person chooses Chico 2.  Chico 2 chooses Chica 1, and so on.

Getting actors for skits has suddenly gone from big Argument/Whine Time to pretty fun, actually.  Mine really like getting to choose actors, and everyone else in the class seems to enjoy waiting to see who they are going to pick.

Going back to my previous post about getting actors and how students will get up to act as long as they are being "forced" to do it (NOT volunteering on their own)--being chosen by other students is probably the best "forcing" method I've found because they like the attention from each other.  So far this year, I've only had one student beg not to act after being chosen by classmates, complaining he had already acted a lot (which was true) and that he didn't feel good that day.  So, I let him choose someone to take his place, and that person acted willingly.

Another fun thing to do with the board list is add a few story details to it, like "Coche, Animal," etc. and ask for those up front as well.  I owe that idea to my friend Jennifer Noonan who taught with me a couple of years ago here in Colorado, now moved on to Chicago.  (Hi Jenn!)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Roger el Romántico y La Sra. Doubtfire

My door faces my colleague Alexis' door, and she usually teaches with her door open, which offers me a clear view of her acting area and her students' engaged postures as they sit in their desks, leaning forward, fascinated with the lesson.  At the moment, they are in the midst of the Roger el Romántico stories (that teach greetings, introductions, and goodbyes) and it has been such a joy and delight for me to spy from a distance.  Or sometimes up close, because every so often a smiling Roger, complete with purple velvet hat, invades my room to give me silk flowers.

This is her second year to teach through the 1A stories and she's really pulling them off well.  I always found that my second year through the same set of stories goes better as I have more confidence, get more ideas about what props to use, etc.  That is true for me right now with the 3A stories for sure.

Alexis came over yesterday after school to show me a music video one of her classes made to the song "Call Me Maybe" starring Roger and La Sra. Doubtfire.  I wish I could post the video, but unless the kids themselves do it, I can't put their faces on the internet.  I am still smiling this morning just thinking about it.  This is the first time I've taught right next to someone who is using my stuff, and I just can't tell you guys how gratifying and fun it is to see my stories that I wrote coming to life and bringing such fun to someone else's classroom.

And of course, I love getting flowers from Roger el Romántico.  Who doesn't????

Monday, August 27, 2012

Advice for New Teachers and Teacher Voice

As school is starting (for some - I started with kids this past Tuesday) I'm getting some last-minute requests for advice.  Here is a response to one email:

Advice for first year teacher - feeling lost and overwhelmed is normal - I still feel that way in the first few weeks of school (and sometimes later) even after 12 years of teaching.  The way I handle it is putting in the hours to make sure I have good lesson plans ready for class.  Even then, you have to stay flexible in class and accept the fact that some activities will flop badly, others will surprise you in how well they go, sometimes you run out of activities; sometimes you run out of time.  Stay flexible and accept the improvisational aspects of this job as part of the deal.  I recommend getting a good Spanish soap opera off Amazon to fill in the dead spots in class so you can regroup.  However, if you show videos "too much," you'll get a bad rep that way, so use judiciously.

My other big advice for new teachers:  Develop and use Teacher Voice.  You may want to practice this at home until you get a volume and a tone that sounds right, and practice going from normal conversational tone to instant Teacher Voice.

Teacher Voice is:
- loud (able to be heard over a classroom of 35 kids who are talking)
- firm, authoritative without sounding angry
- positive, expectant
- sure of what you want to happen ("OK, I need everyone to go back to their seats now.")
- bossy but with an undertone of affection

Now, not everything you say in class has to be delivered as loudly as you need to get to be heard over 35 voices, but you need to be able to hit this volume in an instant when needed.  A lot of times kids aren't necessarily being disrespectful, they simply can't hear the teacher, and/or they aren't sure you REALLY need them to listen now because you aren't commanding attention.

Okay, Ven Conmigo - I know of it, but I haven't studied the vocab lists or grammar topics enough to know how closely aligned my 1A book is, but I'd be willing to bet that it starts with greetings and introductions, then goes on to numbers, school supplies, family, house, colors, numbers, activities/hobbies, clothes, food, places around town, etc. like every other Spanish 1 textbook does.  If you need to compare vocab lists, my 1A list is at the very back of my book broken down by lesson.

Best of luck to you - let me know how the first day or week goes!  And let me know if you need anything else.

Anyone else who wants to chime in on advice for new teachers, feel free to comment.  Okay, back to the rush of Monday morning getting ready for school...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gestures to Teach Vocab

Getting a lot of questions like this one from my friend Glen Irvin up in Minnesota:
Hi Jalen,
I think I've asked you this question, but I'm not sure of your response so here it goes again. Do you have a description of the gestures you use for your vocabulary in your Level 1 and 2 new books? I also believe that gestures really work, but maybe I'm not creative enough, but I can't seem to think of anything good for some of the gestures. I have had the kids make stuff up on occasion but this sometimes distracts from the learning of the vocabulary and becomes all about the gestures. If you have suggestions or if you have something down I would be interested in hearing it.

My response:
Hi Glen, I've been meaning to write a post about this but I've been swamped with trying to finish 3B and processing fall book orders (a happy problem...)

The short answer, I don't have a list of gesture descriptions.  I don't worry too much about whether the gestures we come up with are "good" or doesn't seem to matter, as long as they do a gesture when I say a phrase.  We use the same gesture for several things, like thumbs up with a goofy smile means a jillion different things, depending on which vocab set we're on.  As long as the 5 or so gestures of the day are different, it works.  So if I made a list of gestures, you'd look at it and go, wow, those are all lame. : - )

The point is, they are doing a movement that we agreed on beforehand would represent that word or phrase, and their brain makes the connection.  I repeat, the gestures do not have to be "good," there just has to be one for each phrase.  (Or sometimes it's a couple of movements for the phrase, if the phrase is long.  Example from 3A:  Joe le mintió a su hermana = cross your fingers then point at Jade, who we all just now decided looks like Joe's hermana)  Also, I draw quick stick figure drawings of stuff on the board for them to point at if we can't gesture it.  (These also do NOT have to be "good.")

Yes, sometimes this process of coming up with gestures takes away from the focus more than I'd like, but that is mostly just in the first class of the day, because after that I use their gestures unless the following classes jump in with a better idea, which they sometimes do.

And there is more to say about gesturing, but that's all I have time for at the moment!  Back to work.  I'm on Lesson 17 in 3B.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Spanish 3A is Online Ready to Purchase Now

I turned in the first print run for my Spanish 3A Lesson Plans yesterday afternoon!  What a great feeling.  It turned out to be a little fatter than 1B (I set those two manuscripts side by side to compare) and jam packed with lesson plan goodness just waiting to be used in class this fall. 

My website has it available to order in the shopping cart and on the printable order form, but doesn't have any write-up/samples/"selling" information (Update - 3A samples are up - click on Samples and scroll down until you see 3A under levels 1 and 2) about it yet because I need to develop that when 3B is ready. I'll cut and paste some things here about 3A, including a partial vocab list.  The first 4-5 weeks of lessons include a lot of grammar review, but starting with Lesson 9 I explicitly introduce the subjunctive, and the other "new" tenses mentioned below follow shortly after that.  Also, you only see some of the conversation topics on the vocab list below, but every lesson has a conversation topic for the kids to discuss with each other in small groups and then with whole-class.  (The ones that made the actual vocab list are from my curriculum vocab list, involving phrases or words that I am expected to teach.)

3A Features:
·        Follows the order and expectations of most Spanish 3 textbooks
·        Focuses on developing conversational, spontaneous speech and expository writing
·        Purposefully builds toward my AP Spanish Language class, by including Spanish conversation/discussion questions and journal writing prompts to go along with the vocab and grammar topics
·        All of the stories and readings are brand new, none repeated from any of my older books
·        Includes several “Mad Lib” story scripts in the second half, when kids get whiny about stories and I need to shake it up a bit
·        Includes explicit grammar instruction, with homework for each grammar topic (including Preterit/Imperfect review, Ser & Estar review, Subjunctive, Future, Conditional, Present Progressive, Past Progressive, and Present Perfect tenses—whew!)
·        Includes 3 “Mini-pruebas,” a Midterm, and a Final Exam
·        Final Exam is loosely modeled after the AP Spanish Language Exam with AP-inspired rubrics for speaking and writing
·        Native Spanish speakers edited my Spanish

First Day Lesson
¿Qué hiciste el verano pasado?
Joe no aguantaba al perro
Le mintió a su hermana
Pescó en el lago
Mientras pescaba, observó la naturaleza

Lesson 1
¿Qué te pareció la película___?
Lo/la encontré muy interesante
Había una tormenta en el bosque
Empezó a llover a cántaros
Había truenos y relámpagos
Claire se enamoró con Jordan
Quiso hablarle de sus sentimientos
Direct object pronouns

Lesson 2
Hizo una caminata
Corría una brisa, y estaba fresco**
No vale la pena
Ella resolvió el rompecabezas
Indirect Object Pronouns
**Other past weather phrases:
Hacía calor/frío, había sol/viento

Lesson 3
¿En qué será diferente este año escolar?
En el pasado, siempre…
Este año voy a…
No se quedó en casa
Remó por el río
La temperatura alcanzó a los 115 grados Fahrenheit/46 centígrados
El disco quemó porque hacía tanto calor

Lesson 4
Era fanático de Taylor Swift
Era bueno para la oratoria
Ellos conversaron
Sin embargo, es imposible acercarnos a ella
¿No te acuerdas que ayer su guardaespaldas casi nos mató?

Lesson 5
¿Cómo debe ser un/a buen/a amigo/a?
Un/a buen/a amigo/a debe apoyarte y…
Debe ser…no debe ser…
Joe tenía una novia muy terca
Joe confiaba en Tyler porque él guardaba los secretos
Joe y Holly se rompieron
Mariah es un poco maleducada
Joe y Holly hicieron las paces

Lesson 6
¿Qué buscas en un/a novio/a?
Busco un/a novio/a que sea…
Tenían mucho/algo/nada en común
Sí, me la paso preparando sándwiches
A mí no me interesa preparar sándwiches
¡No vayamos a la costa!
Viajó a la costa sola
Preterit v. Imperfect

Lesson 7
Se mantenía en forma
Se divertía demasiado
Joe iba caminando por la calle
Alyssa lo dejó plantado
Desde aquel día, Joe se mantuvo en forma
Preterit v. Imperfect 2

3A Mini-prueba 1
FD – L7 Vocab
DO pronouns
IO pronouns

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Questions about Exprésate & Update on Level 3

I'm getting a few emails asking about my stories and how closely aligned they are with Exprésate.  Here is a paraphrased response I just sent to a teacher who wrote me:

Hi R, well you are in luck if you need something that's aligned with Exprésate.  I am in your exact same boat and do not want to use the textbook for anything other than a guideline for curriculum content/goals (and for that I think Exprésate is reasonably good, especially if you have an AP Spanish Language class that you are leading up to.)  For each level, I literally took two chapters at a time (1 & 2, 3 & 4 in the fall, 5 & 6, and 7 & 8 in the spring), mixed the vocab together, made phrases out of it, and created stories using that vocab.  (The vocab is pared down a little bit, but not much.)  I did two chapters at time because I wanted to have as much variety as I could in terms of vocab and grammar structures, but only two chapters so that if we had common midterms and finals, my students would have had all the content a textbook student had by the end of the first 9 weeks.  So that is how closely aligned my stories are with Exprésate.  Very.

The books that are basically aligned with Exprésate are the 2009 Version 1A & B and 2A & B.  I am getting ready to put up 3A for sale this week, maybe tonight or tomorrow if I can get the whole thing printed out, and then I will have 3B ready by August 15th at the latest.  I am teaching levels 3, 4, and AP again this coming year and I WANT JALEN WALTMAN'S COMPLETE LESSON PLANS TO TEACH WITH!  So that's why I'm trying my best to crank out all of level 3 before school starts.  (It's slower going than I had originally hoped...argh, soooo much work taking up soooo much of my dwindling summer!!!)

You can look at my vocab/grammar topic lists online at to compare to your curriculum guides if you like, but I wouldn't even bother because for you it's a slam dunk since you're tied to the same textbook that I am. :-)

I would also say that no matter which textbook you are tied to, chances are my vocab lists and grammar topics are a decent fit.  I say that because if you really look at them, how different are the different publishers' Spanish textbooks in terms of vocab and grammar topics anyway?  Not very.  In fact, they haven't even changed that much over time.  The old Dime Uno I had to use 12 years ago teaching level 1 at Norman North HS had basically the same vocab and grammar topics as Exprésate level 1.  Exprésate has more vocab (very, very long lists for each chapter) and includes some technology terms, maybe some recycling/environment stuff, but there is not enough difference to really matter in my view.

The update on level 3 is this:  Yes, Spanish 3A should be up ready to purchase either tonight, tomorrow, or sometime Tuesday July 24th at the latest.  If you can believe it, right in the middle of trying to finish up this "masterpiece" (of which I am now doing the final edit/printing so I can take it to my printer for publication,) I have JURY DUTY tomorrow.  Wow.

I'd like to say that I think 3A is taking forever because it's SO AMAZINGLY GOOD, but it might just be that I'm way too perfectionistic.  I myself can't wait to teach through it this fall having it all completely done and ready to use, because it definitely reflects exactly how I am teaching and what I'm teaching, day by day by day, in painstaking detail.

Spanish 3B will go a lot faster because part of the reason 3A has taken so long is me deciding exactly how I want to format and organize and arrange and what order and how the tests will be exactly and etc. etc.; 3B will overlay on that finely crafted and honed framework (rather than take forever because I'm inventing the wheel.)  However, I decided to go ahead and put 3A up for sale by itself, now, because I know people are waiting for it with baited breath.  (What is baited breath, by the way?  It doesn't sound appealing, does it?)  Plus, that will take some of the pressure off of me trying to also crank out 3B by July 31 so they can go as a set. 3B, Lord willing, WILL be done before I report back to school August 15.  Not for you, for ME, because guess what, this school year I need to get serious about writing publish-able things for levels 4/AP, and I just can't have this project still lingering.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Acting and Getting Actors For Skits

When it comes to getting actors for skits, and getting good acting, some of us are kind of wondering why it's been such a struggle lately.  (Lately = the past 3-4 years or so.)

Maybe you aren't struggling with this, but I am and a lot of teachers I talk to are as well.  

We are dealing with a different generation of students in our classes nowadays; as I have blogged about before, they are less kinesthetic in class, more self-advocating, and very, very relationship oriented.  With you and with each other.  It's all about who "likes" or doesn't "like" them.  I believe that we've got to approach them from a relationship-oriented mindset or we won't get far in teaching them.

I've chosen to stop trying to change their basic psychological makeup and rather, to try to understand their reality and work within those parameters to teach Spanish as best I can.

I get student actors mostly by having students choose other students to be in the skit, not by asking for volunteers.  Kids hate volunteering to act nowadays because for this generation it is generally not cool to go up there on purpose and draw attention to yourself.  We need to understand that about this group of kids and just go with it.  If you notice, they will act (usually) if it’s not their choice; either you (the teacher) “makes” them act, or you are drawing names from a hat, or in the case of the Mad Lib scripts I've written for the second half of 3A, the actors were put in the skit by the class decision when no one knew exactly what they were going to have to do in the skit.

The other thing we need to understand about student actors with this generation of kids is that bad, unenthusiastic acting is cool; hamming it up is NOT cool.  If we try to force them to “ham it up,” they will resist even more; then they will refuse to act and you have no actors again, ever.  I personally do not “fire” actors (make them sit down and someone else step in) any more for this same reason.  Look, the whole point is to give the class a basic visual representation of the story and to have a fun, relaxed time doing it.  If that means your actors just sort of stand around lamely, only minimally following your stage directions, then that is what it means.  I have decided to roll with it and stop battling my kids.  As long as they do what I say and walk over there when I say walk over there, I keep telling the story.  We still laugh and enjoy ourselves immensely, and I find that I actually get more buy-in (and occasional hamming) by allowing “bad” acting than I do by nagging and scolding about their unenthusiastic, expressionless acting.  My actors will often get more in the moment since there’s no pressure, and then they WILL do the Dance of the Crazy Monkey for me when asked.

Secretly, your most unenthusiastic, unsmiling actors are actually enjoying the attention of being in the story; they just won't show it for a million dollars because that is not cool.  Know their secrets, Daniel-san.  Work with them.  Do not fight a battle you cannot win and lose your basic focus--which is providing comprehensible input in the target language in a low-anxiety situation.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Spanish 3A Almost Done...Some Random Tidbits about It

I can see light at the end of the tunnel on is a photo of my extremely high-tech process of laying things out on the floor to organize them...and just a teaser for you of the extremely awesome stick figures I've been drawing.

This book will have pics to go with (approximately) every other story, starting with lesson 3.  I had kids doing retells all this past year with no pics, and they did fine, but I do think the pics make them focus better on their retells; plus, they are just fun.  I have to tell you I laugh out loud when I draw these little pictures sometimes.  Well, at least I crack myself up.

Also, I am interspersing some Mad Libs in place of the regular story scripts in the last half of 3A.  You know, when the students get so whiny and tired of everything you do?  I had so much fun in April and May with writing some of the 3B scripts as Mad Libs (it was experimental) that I'm adding that in for 3A as well.  If you end up not liking the Mad Lib thing in your actual classes, you can always just use the reading as a script instead. I'll write more soon about exactly how to do a Mad Lib in class.  It was a blast for me and mine.

Also...please don't be shocked...but this book will call for quite a bit of explicit grammar in the lesson plans, as well as...gasp...HOMEWORK.  That is just how it is for my teaching life, right now, at my school.  We teach explicit grammar and we do homework.  I have gone over to the dark side.  You of course do not have to do those parts of the lesson, and I'm being careful to call the homework "optional."  Giving homework definitely has its down side, but the reality in my higher socio-economic community is that parents as well as students expect it, and if you don't give it, you aren't taken as seriously. I think this is particularly true for levels 3, 4, and AP, but we are giving homework in levels 1 and 2 now as well. I still don't let it weigh so heavily that it makes a kid fail Spanish, but it's there, and it will affect their grade over time.

Ok, back to Lesson 26.  I'm on Lesson 26 out of 30.  3A should be finished and edited by July 15.  My plan is to have it printed and up for sale online by July 31, hopefully with 3B as well so they can go as a set.  But if 3B isn't quite done, I'll start selling 3A on July 31 or earlier so that those of you who are waiting with baited breath and needing to start doing some early planning can do so.  I totally get it.  I'm the Queen of Pre-Planning, hence these detailed lesson plan books, right?

I've got two blog posts on my mind that I'll write soon as well:  One on Acting/Getting Actors and another about Gesturing the Vocab.

Ok, really now.  Back to Lesson 26.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Level 3 Spanish Lesson Plans Ready Date...

People are emailing and calling me asking when the Level 3 Spanish Lesson Plans will be ready, so here is the answer:  I plan to have them up for sale online by July 31, both 3A and 3B.  The stories are 95% written minus about 4 or 5 on the ends of each semester; all the quizzes and tests are written; the vocab lists as well as the Spanish discussion "Questions of the Day" are all written...what isn't finalized are the lesson plans themselves.  They are all scribbled in my lesson plan book and have to be typed and shaped up.  I also have to draw a bunch of stick figures for story retells.  All that may be more information than you care to hear, but some people want to know what I still have to do, I mean, wasn't I writing the lesson plan books as I went this year?  Yes...just enough to get by in class...stories and quizzes and tests and the bare minimum activities/project assignments/etc.  Writing basically 50 stories this year (25 each semester) is a LOT of work.  A Lot.  Mucho.  Okay?

What about Level 4/AP?  I did write several stories for Level 4/AP.  I think about 10.  We were kind of all over the place in that level just trying to get ready for the AP Exam, which I am not ashamed to admit since it was my first year teaching AP Spanish Language.  I don't have anything I could publish as a lesson plan book yet for 4/AP.  This Fall we're going to be able to split Spanish 4 (I'll have about 20 students in there) and AP Spanish (34 enrolled last time I checked,) which will be a huge relief, but it also means that I'm sort of reinventing the wheel lesson-plan-wise.  My goal is to have something for Spanish 4 and/or AP the following summer.

Well, I'm off to Costa Rica for awhile...more when I get back!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My Colleague's Spanish Level 1 Lesson Sequence Using my 1A and 1B Books

Okay, as promised, here is my fabulous colleague Alexis’ current regular lesson sequence:

1 – Diccionario. She has her level 1 classes (jam packed with 30 – 35 students per class) absolutely trained to pick up a blank Diccionario page as they come into her room, then sit down and start copying the Diccionario phrases and vocab from the screen (she's using a document camera to project) while she takes roll and gets set up for the lesson. She is mostly using the Diccionario de vocabulario importante from my 1A & 1B books, but occasionally uses a 10 or 20 grid Diccionario for things like food. If you have my 1A or 1B books, those alternate versions of the Diccionario should be on your CD-Rom, either under “Extra docs” or “Related Docs.” Her students keep the Diccionarios until the test, and then they turn them all in at once for a 25-point completion grade.

2 – Vocab Quiz or Translation, whatever the warm-up is for that lesson in my book. Students grade their own and then she takes them up every day (and as I stated in the previous post, I am taking these up every time now too.)

3 – New Vocab + practice with the vocab. This practice might be TPR, gestures, a game, Q&A, point at visuals, conversation, or whatever she feels like doing that day that works best with that vocab set.

4 – Story with Actors. They act out every story, and Alexis just calls on whoever she wants and they have to act or they lose participation points. She tries to go through every student at least once before using the same actors. After the story, she sits in front of the class on a tall stool and methodically asks questions in Spanish from every line of the story while the students answer chorally. I swear they are so trained it's hilarious. I think it's mostly because Alexis has excellent teacher voice (loud) and tone (insistent/firm/expectant/positive.) Also, she has a "Pink Clipboard of Death" that she uses to keep track of Participation Point deductions for infractions, and that seems to work really well for her.

5 – Retell the Story, Write, or Read. I believe she is just following whatever my follow-up activities are in the 1A & 1B books. Sometimes she expands on the follow-up activity or tweaks it. She’s extremely creative. Every time I walk by this woman’s door (which is daily, since our classroom doors face each other) she’s doing something fascinating and her students are engaged.

6 – Grammar. She makes grammar packets by piecing together worksheets and parts of worksheets from our textbooks, other grammar workbooks and resources, online stuff, and whatever else we have lying around. Sometimes she adds a quiz question or two on the grammar point they are studying to the bottom of my vocab quizzes (I have started doing this too…you’ll see a lot more of that in the level 3A & B books when they come out this summer.)

7 – Some kind of enrichment activity or project. Examples: For the house vocab (after the Barbie story, 1B Lesson 5) they had to draw a house with individual rooms and label everything in it. For the chores vocab and the Binko story (1B Lesson 6,) she put them in groups of 4 and they had to draw a planet with an alien doing five different chores the way they do them on that planet (if you’ve read the “Me llamo Binko” story you know what I mean.) Then they had to write a 200-word story about the alien, the planet, and the chores, sort of Round-Robin style, with each person in the group contributing 50 words to the story and writing it in their own handwriting on the same paper.

8 – 10-minute essay. They do this constantly, and they are really, really good writers for level 1B. I can’t wait to get this little crop of students in level 3 and in AP Spanish. J

Homework – It might be very brief but she insists they do daily homework. I know one homework assignment she gives regularly is to go home and translate the story aloud to a parent, who then signs off that they completed the task. Since she’s doing this, I have received emails as well as verbal compliments from parents who know me who are enjoying the “crazy stories” I wrote, as well as feeling pleased and impressed with how much Spanish their kid can read. Yes, sometimes the kids try to cheat and sign it themselves, but overall she seems to get good participation on this one, and in our community the parents appreciate homework (if you can believe it) as well as the chance to see what their kid can do.

We are on the 90-minute A/B block, and Alexis said it might take her two blocks to do all of the above, or one and a half or so. And of course, the above list of activities isn’t EXACTLY what she does every single time, but it’s the general plan she’s following.

We've got state testing over the next two weeks which means a shortened class schedule, then a full week of class, and then Spring Break. Alexis is starting a Spain-geography-and-culture unit during this time as well as doing Midterms. After Spring Break, she’ll start back up with the second half of 1B.

Just want to say thank you *Alexis* for letting me share your awesomeness with people who read my blog…you rock, girl!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Vital Importance of "Lesson Flow"

When I teach, I feel like I’m on stage. I’m constantly watching for audience participation and engagement, and reading their emotional state as best I can to see which combinations of what types of activities work best, and in what order, for increasing language acquisition.

I call this “lesson flow.” It’s a bit of an obsession for me, actually.

I have experimented with lesson design and sequencing for years now, and I’ve accepted the fact that I will probably always be tweaking it and seeking better and better ways of doing it for the rest of my teaching career. And I think that’s totally okay, because the search for constant self-improvement is just part of who I am, and it makes me a better teacher.

I’m now teaching on the 90-minute A/B block schedule, and through much experimentation I’ve noticed that different arrangements and combinations of lesson activities work better or worse with my students in terms of engagement. I’m going to share my current routine in case you’d like to try it yourself—especially if you are on the 90-minute block.

1 – Vocab Quiz using the vocab from the last lesson. These I am now projecting from my laptop onto a screen; kids take it on a half sheet of paper which I take up and give points for completion. My current students take it much more seriously if I take it up. They are the “why” generation as I have posted about before, and they need a reason for why they are doing everything. Give it to them!

2 – Read a one-page version of the Spanish story I told them last lesson. This way anyone who was absent last lesson gets to see the vocab in context in a story. Reading for me is usually reading with a partner, out loud in English (translating) so I know if they know what it says, but this year we’re also doing “Popcorn,” where each student reads a line (translating to English) and then calls on another student to read the next line. The kids taught me that one in class one day; I don’t know where it comes from, but I love it.

3 – Conversation/Class Discussion Question of the Day – again, projected from my laptop. Friday’s was Si tuvieras la oportunidad, ¿adónde irías en las vacaciones de primavera? Iría a_________porque… (“If you had the opportunity, where would you go for Spring Break? I would go to ____ because…” We’re working on the conditional tense.) I introduce the question, make sure everyone knows what it means, quickly brainstorm some vocab you might need to discuss it (in this case, me gusta/me encanta, el sol, la playa, esquiar o snowboard, ir de compras, cuidades grandes, etc.) and then have them talk about it in 4-groups. (My new 3A&B Lesson Plan books will have all of these Discussion Questions already scripted out for you, ready to go by lesson.) After they talk in their group, I go down the rows calling on every 3rd person in the room to answer it for the class, and sometimes this leads to more discussion in Spanish.

4 – New Vocab Set and I am still gesturing every single vocab item because it works. They either gesture or point at something in the room or a drawing I make on the board. I have experimented with not doing gestures and it’s unbelievable how much their comprehension and retention of the new vocab suffers.

5 – New Story – using the vocab items we just gestured. Right now it seems to work best if I decide before class which students are going to act and just call on them; otherwise, we have to play the “I don’t want to act, make so-in-so do it” game. I’ve been saying firmly, cheerfully, and confidently, “Okay, this story is about Mike and Kimberly,” and it works like magic on pretty much everyone. They just get up and do it.

6 – Q&A about the story – don’t skip this step. Yes, they whine. Insist that they answer your questions anyway. They need to know why, so tell them it’s for more practice with the target phrases and that it will help them be able to tell the story to their partner.

7 – Retell the story with a partner – I am now doing this for every single story even though I don’t have pictures drawn yet, and it is working just fine. Students must retell the story I just told them to their partner, speaking Spanish for 1 minute while I walk around with a timer. Second partner picks up where the other person left off in the story and then starts it over, speaking Spanish for the entire minute. I’m a drill sergeant about this, and each time the timer goes off, I always give feedback on how well they did.

8 – Grammar lesson, Journal Writing, OR “Street Spanish” lesson – I’m alternating these so they don’t get too burned out on grammar or writing. They love learning Spanish slang, so I’m going through the lessons in a book I’ve owned for years called Street Spanish 1 – The Best of Spanish Slang by David Burke. Some of it is a little “scandalous,” so they like that even more. Friday’s list included slang for cigarette, party, hunk, and babe, for example.

9 – Mexican Telenovela for the last 10 - 15 minutes of class. Right now we’re watching Un gancho al corazón on DVD with English subtitles, and it’s soooo good…Sebastian Rulli…sigh…

I will post again soon with the “lesson flow” that my colleague Alexis is using with her level 1 students and my 2009 1A&B books as well as some of the cool extension activities she’s come up with to go with the stories. Every time I walk by her door, her jam-packed freshman Spanish 1 classes are completely engaged and doing something that increases language acquisition, and she’s been getting 10-minute essays in there of over 200 words fairly regularly.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Spontaneous v. Scripted Stories

All right, it’s time to admit it. I teach better with pre-scripted stories. My students simply stay on task better and learn more.

All last fall, I experimented with going into class with only the target vocab and brainstorming stories with student input, the way real TPRS is supposed to be done. I’ve watched the TPRS gurus do this in workshops with fantastic results, and I’ve always felt a little guilty that from day one of my TPRS life I had to pre-script my stories in order to feel secure that I could pull off a good story in class. I’ve always wanted to go full-spontaneous-story-creation with student input.

Well, no more. I wrote five scripts and readings for 3B over the winter break as well as the quizzes and activities to go with them, and started using them on my first day back with students. What a difference. I had forgotten how smooth a lesson can go with everything already written and ready, and I am now pre-scripting all my 3B stories as I go.

And as it turns out, the majority of my students like my scripted stories better than the spontaneous ones, so they are telling me. They started complaining about the spontaneous stories about halfway through the fall semester and asking me to just make up the stories myself ahead of time. “It takes too long, Mrs. Waltman, and we aren’t learning the words as well as we did last year [in levels 1 and 2.]” If the spontaneous story didn’t go anywhere, they complained that the story “sucked” and became way more focused on that than on the vocab units I was trying to teach. Also, it was near impossible for them to retell the spontaneous stories since they were so disjointed and rambled on and on at times.

I think part of the problem for me in my teaching situation is that I need to teach so much vocab in a given amount of time, and the vocab is complicated, boring, and dry by itself.

I mean, how do you make “a reliable news report” interesting and/or funny (vocab I’m working with right now from Exprésate chapter 6…)? I can needle the kids for ideas only so long before they get really whiny about having to think up new plot twists. And God forbid I’m begging for funny ideas on a day they are tired, not in the mood to be at school because it’s snowing, etc. With a pre-scripted story, I can draw their focus more to the story and the vocab and off my lame attempts to do Spanish improv and make it work every single class period.

Okay, so here’s what happened last week to illustrate this point. A student from my level 4/AP Spanish class is my TA (Teacher’s Aide) during one of my level 3 classes this semester. She sat at my desk alphabetizing papers through two blocks of me teaching with these new pre-scripted stories for 3B; she watched as we gestured the vocab, acted out the script, did verbal Q&A for a couple of minutes, then retold the story to a partner (like I always did in the past.)

Later in 4/AP Spanish class, Mandy* raised her hand. “Mrs. Waltman, I think you should teach this class the way you are teaching your Spanish 3 classes. They are having so much fun and learning so much more Spanish than we are.”

I smiled. I told her I was wondering what she thought of what she had seen, and I was glad she spoke up.

The other students in 4/AP chimed in. Another girl said, “Yeah, Mrs. Waltman. I learned so much in your Spanish 2 class."

So, I sat down that night and pre-scripted a very complicated 4/AP story to teach dar a conocer, darse cuenta de que, dar las gracias, estar a punto de, and estar de acuerdo. It took me forever to weave that many phrases into a funny story, but the AP vocab list is over 900 words, and I’m only scratching the surface as it is. The story ended up being called, “El chico que quería dar a conocer sus sentimientos” (The Guy Who Wanted to Make His Feelings Known,) and it was a blast to have them act out in class. After I did Q&A and had them retell it, I asked them in English, “Okay, how did that feel?”

All around the room, smiling faces. “Really good, Mrs. Waltman. Felt like we were really speaking Spanish.”

So…I’ve got a LOT of work to do every weekend if I am going to pre-script for both 3B and 4/AP this semester. But wow, that payoff in class over the past two weeks has been amazing and totally worth it.

I’m going to have some very fun stuff for level 3 ready to go to print later this summer, and it will be exciting to have my own books to use next year in level 3 as well.

So…stay tuned!

*Any time I talk about students in this blog, their names have been changed.

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