Monday, November 25, 2013

Incorporating Student Input into Scripted Stories

Got a question from my friend Dori V. last week:

I have a question for you that kind of relates to your blog post about scripted vs. spontaneous stories.  I have a couple of classes of 8th graders who had me last year for 1A, and when I start to tell a story, a few kids in each class make all sorts of suggestions about the plot line in French, which is fantastic, but which doesn't really follow where I would like the story to go, and that I feel keeps the story in the realm of what they already know (and often includes hitting, which can be funny but so are other things they haven't thought of.)

Do you have any advice about how to encourage those who are speaking French (which I'm thrilled about) but still keeping the story semi-scripted?  I can be pretty flexible about the storyline, but I don't want to be too flexible.

Hope all is well!!!


My response:
I think your problem is a happy one - they sound like they are really engaged and having fun.  I do try to take input when I possibly can without derailing the story completely.  I think you have to just be the judge-in-the-moment of when you have time for a quick side plot or comment or detail, and when you really have to stick to the target phrase list.  Sometimes I take their input even if they didn't already know the word in Spanish, and just say, “Ok, he takes off in a rocket would be ‘sale en un cohete.’  Ok, el chico sale en un cohete…” Then just pick back up where you were in the story:  “y llega a la casa de La Sra. Doubtfire.”  

If you feel like you're arguing with them a lot about this, tell them you need to make sure the target phrases get in the story so they can learn them, so please hold their ideas until later and they can make up their own version. Then maybe let them write their own version of the story the next day in groups and act it out or something (if you have time.)  If you have a bunch of loud, creative kids, give them an outlet for it if you can, and enjoy the fact that they are so enthusiastic about your class.  (Well, that’s how I choose to look at it when they start driving me nuts with suggestions for this or that, anyway!  “Ms. Waltman, we should do this.  Ms. Waltman, you should do that.  Why don’t we ever ____.”  I get a lot of that sometimes from certain students.  It’s actually a sign of affection…see my post on “Affectionate Whining.”)  

Another idea would be right after you tell the scripted version of the story, have them tell the story to their partner with whatever changes they want to make.  Of course, as you walk around, they are going to be asking "How do you say chainsaw?  How do you say duct tape?  How do you say man-eating aardvark?" so you have to either tell them (if you know off the top of your head,) say I don't know, tell them to just say aardvark for that part, and let them have their fun.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Advice For Spanish 3 Class Taking the AP

A teacher emailed this week asking for advice on what to do in her Spanish 3 class that is taking the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam at the end of the year (an experimental idea at her school this year.)  I want to say that I still don't consider myself any form of expert on teaching AP yet, but this is what I told her:

...this week has been slammed (we had open house Wednesday night, so that 12-hour day always makes it hard to keep up with life in general) but here's the short answer about what I'd recommend for your level 3 class who's taking the AP.

1. Use my 3A&B lesson plans you just bought.  For me anyway, the "Preguntas del día" are good for getting the speaking levels you need, and the stories teach the types of vocab you need for AP (art, outdoors, news, weather, environment, etc.), and the writing.  The journal writing prompts in my level 3 stuff are challenging but doable for my students and feed right in to the types of writing and speaking they will have to do on the AP.

2.  Show a video news clip from every day and have the kids take notes on what they understood, then watch a second time and add to the notes.  On the AP this year they will be able to hear the audio selections twice and should be well-accustomed to taking notes.  If you want, and you remind me via email, I'll send you the links to the videos I am using in class.  I've already used 3 really good ones that I can recommend if you're interested.

3. Get a good AP test prep workbook that is aligned with the new test they are rolling out this year.  I'm using TEMAS from Vista Higher Learning this year, but there are other good ones as well.  Use it to practice the format of the exam.

Okay, that's the basics and all I have time to write right now!  Have to finish entering grades and then get to work.

Ideally of course, I would want to have my AP students at least one more year after level 3 before taking the exam if not two, but after using my own (new) level 3 lessons last year with the students I now have in my AP class, I can tell a major difference in their speaking, listening, and writing ability over last year's AP when I had kids who didn't have those level 3 lessons in full (I was writing them as I went that year, and didn't keep up very well at times.)  Not to brag too much, but the class I have now can be conducted completely in Spanish without complaint from them because they know what I'm saying at all times.

My MAIN FOCUS this year in AP is class discussion in Spanish, about culture.  More about how I'm doing that soon...

In the meantime, please chime in with any good ideas for AP that work well for you in your classes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Guy Who Insisted On Taking Spanish

Four years ago, I had a 9th grader I'll call "Nick" in Spanish 1.  He had dishwater-blond hair cut to about ½” all over his head with a perpetual rooster tail sticking up on the crown of his head.  Glasses.  Tall, lanky, a little shy, and polite.  On an Individualized Education Plan, they told me before the first day of class that Fall.

Nick's IEP said that due to his learning disabilities, it was not recommended that he take Spanish at the high school level after he finished 8th grade, but that he really wanted to take Spanish anyway. Due to his persistence, they had decided to let him try it, and he was allowed to enroll in my class.  I was asked by his case manager and his mom that if it didn’t seem like he was going to make it in Spanish, to be sure and let them know within the first few weeks of school so they would still have time to put him in a different elective before he got in over his head; they stressed that he was only in Spanish because he had insisted on being given the chance to try it.

As soon as I heard all this information, I made Nick the “presidente” (leader) of Costa Rica (the grouping of desks on my left) on my seating chart.  Any kid who insists on being given the chance to take Spanish against all the adults in his life deserves to be presidente, in my opinion. 

Other than that, I didn’t treat Nick differently from anyone else.  I was prepared to offer him extra help as needed to make sure he passed, but he didn't need it.  He learned like gangbusters in my class.  He participated, did all the written work, and had a big smile on his face every class. 

Nick broke his left wrist riding his bike after the first week of school.  Being left-handed, he had to do all his written work with his right hand.  He laboriously did every bit.  I have had students (not on IEPs) with full use of both hands that didn’t put half the effort he did into writing stories. 

Nick did awesome in Spanish 1 and went on to succeed just as well in Spanish 2.  Stories like this one that make me so glad I am a teacher.  It is my privilege to give access to and encouragement in learning to kids like Nick, because I believe that a kid who has full access to learning has access to the world. :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Moments of Fulfillment Do Come in Teaching, Thank God

I just have to tell somebody what happened yesterday.  I was pushing my cart through Wal-mart, turned the corner and saw two of my students from regular Spanish 3 this year coming toward me.

"Regular" Spanish 3 means the two 40-student classes I had this year that were comprised of students who did not want to enroll in Pre-AP Spanish 3 because, in general, they were only getting a third year of Spanish 3 for college and really had no personal passion for learning it, as many of them frequently informed me loudly throughout the year.

I pushed those classes hard all year, basically at 95% of the level that I pushed my two Pre-AP Spanish 3 classes.  They read a page of Spanish every day, had at least a basic conversation in Spanish about the "Question of the Day," learned a new set of complicated vocab phrases, heard me tell a story, answered questions in Spanish about the story, and went through page after page of grammar worksheets on Preterit, Imperfect, Preterit versus Imperfect, Subjunctive, Future, Conditional, Present Perfect, and Past Perfect.  (That was in the fall.  In the Spring Semester, they went through every single grammar topic again.)

I grilled and drilled those classes, and yes I did have some major whining at times.  In fact, one of the students I ran into yesterday was hands-down my Most Vocal in letting me know she did not like the class, did not want to learn Spanish, was only taking it for college, wasn't learning anything because she didn't feel she was good at it, etc.  Pretty much every day she played on her phone as much as she could before I'd insist she participate, which only worked occasionally, and usually if I did get her to put up her phone, she would put her head down on her desk.  Lots of sighing and eye rolling from this one, too.  (Now let me also say that personally, I have absolutely nothing against this girl, and understand that when you don't like a class's subject matter or workload, you just don't.  And she did let me know a few times her attitude was nothing personal against me as well.)

The other girl was a good student this past year, but also not necessarily the eagerest beaver in love-love-loving Spanish class.  Neither of the two girls loved Spanish 3 enough this past year to continue on to Spanish 4 or AP, let's put it that way.

Okay, so the two of them spotted me in Wal-mart, and immediately brightened and made a bee-line to talk to me.

"We just got back from Nicaragua," they told me.  (I remembered the Vocal Girl telling me several times in class that she was going to Nicaragua for a mission trip or community service type thing in the summer, and she would usually add, "And nothing I'm learning in this class will help me communicate there."  This seemed to be her opinion because my vocab phrases are too "weird" and not "normal speech."  I get that a few times a semester in class, actually.  "When are we ever going to need to say this???"  I tell them, the reason you're learning Le enseñó a saltar con el Pogo Stick all as one phrase, is so you can learn le enseñó a; I just need the Pogo Stick so you'll remember the other part.)

"Oh, Nicaragua--you already went and came back?" I asked, cringing a little waiting for Vocal Girl to let me have it about how little she understood or was able to communicate.

"Yeah, and I spoke way more Spanish than I expected," Vocal Girl told me.

I could hardly believe my ears.  "Did you understand them, too?"

"Yeah.  I would understand a lot for awhile, and then all of a sudden someone would talk way too fast."

"I was pretty much fluent by the end of the week," the other girl chimed in.  "I was conjugating verbs in my head at night in bed, and they all made sense.  And then the next day, I would use them on people, and they understood me, and I was like, 'YES!'"

Vocal Girl had a lot more to tell me, too.  "At night, when we would get back to the Quinta, I'd still be speaking Spanish.  Then I would go, 'Oh, I guess we can speak English now.'"

The other girl said that all the verb conjugating that was so hard and didn't make sense in class, suddenly made total sense to her.  "And I don't know why!"

I was beaming by then.  "Because you're using it in real life.  I wish I could take the whole class to a Spanish-speaking country for a week, because then they would really get it."

So they held me there for a few more minutes, telling me all about how well they did in Spanish in Nicaragua, until I told them for the third or fourth time how proud I was of them and how they'd better come by my room next year to say hi.  They promised they would, I wished them a great summer, and we parted ways to finish shopping.

And I still have this huge grin on my face.

Lesson learned?  NEVER give up, on any student, ever.  Never give up teaching the best I can, every day, knowing that even when it looks like a total waste of time, it isn't.  I'm just telling you that if THAT kid, that particular Vocal Girl, learned usable Spanish and felt proud of herself in a real-world scenario, then all my hard-fought teaching was worth it because it DID accomplish something.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Transitioning to Past Tense with Stories

Had another couple of questions from my friend Jeanette in Iowa, about teaching past tense.  I've had these questions from others so I'll go ahead and answer them for all interested.

Transitioning to past tense - here is how it works in my books (more or less following Exprésate's curriculum sequence:)

Past tense is first introduced in the last five lessons of Spanish 1B 2009 Version, in the readings only.  I still tell the story in class in present tense, then have students read a version of it in past tense aloud with a partner (reading for me in class = translating it out loud into English so I know if they know what it says.)  This is pretty much no big deal for the students; they can easily recognize and read "miró" in context after seeing "mira" a few million times in the course of my Spanish 1A & B 2009 Version.  I might have to explain that "fue" means went, but that's about it.  

I don't prepare for these past tense readings in Spanish 1B 2009 with any kind of preterit/imperfect lesson; they just get the page of reading, I tell them it's in past tense Spanish and I want to hear them read it in past tense English please, and they read.  No big deal.  My goal here is that they simply start seeing and recognizing past tense Spanish verbs in context.

As they are getting these past tense readings at the tail end of 1B, I might do a grammar lesson on preterit and/or imperfect if I have time, but not until they've already read a few stories in past tense and had time to notice the change in endings on their own.  (I really think I'm wasting my time teaching explicit grammar when they have had no contact with that particular grammar structure already via comprehensible input, but that is just my own opinion.)  I haven't taught Spanish 1 in a couple of years, but I know my colleague Alexis didn't quite get to the final 5 lessons and that's fine.  We plan for her to pick up where she left off in 1B at the beginning of Spanish 2, which will work just as well for my purposes, which is for them to truly acquire Spanish proficiency in speaking, reading, writing, and listening and not just rush through the material trying to memorize for tests.

Past tense continues of course in Spanish 2A and 2B 2009.  The first couple of chapters of Exprésate 2 are a huge review of Spanish 1 (and there are long, long lists of new vocab,) so I wrote the scripts to tell in class as well as the readings in present tense in order to hopefully give students more time to nail down present tense more fully before heading into past tense.  Starting after the midterm, the scripts in 2A are in present and the readings are in past, through to the end of the first semester, much like the last few lessons of 1B.

My Spanish 2B 2009 is all in past tense, scripts as well as readings, with the vocab list shortened and simplified so we could focus 100% on getting preterit and imperfect down pat.  My 2A stories are actually pretty hard to understand and read vocab-wise, so in 2B I took it down a notch like I said to try to make past tense verbs more of the focus than complicated, endless vocab lists.

My Spanish 3A & B 2012 is all in past tense, scripts and readings, with present tense popping back up mostly in the conversation and class discussion topics and journal writing prompts.  I find my students still need plenty of practice in present tense in order to prepare for the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam, and this fall I intend to step that up quite a bit.  You can't make a lot of errors in present tense and make a 3 on the AP Spanish exam, because that's considered "frequent errors in elementary structures" (and a 2) on the AP grading rubric.  So I say you really can't overteach or overpractice present tense, and I'm happy with how much I kept it going through the end of 2A.

Anyway, that's my method for now!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

25 Ideas for Extending the Learning With Each Story

Just received a question from a friend via email asking if I had  written a post about ideas to extend the learning/practice the language more with stories. Which made me think, well, I haven't written a specific post about strategies that would be used more than once with different stories,  but maybe I should.  Here was my response:  

To extend learning and language acquisition in general, I simply keep adding more vocab sets and telling more stories (of gradually increasing language complexity and sophistication.)  If you want to give students more practice with the same stories, here is the most complete list I can think of right now for what can be done with a single story:

1. Tell story with actors
2. Ask questions about the story with choral response
3. Ask individual students questions about the story
4. Do verbal fill-in-the blank with choral response
5. Do written fill-in-the-blank by making the story into a cloze exercise (blanking out some of the key words)
6. Have students tell the story to a partner
7.  Have students tell the story Round-Robin style in groups
8.  Have individual students tell part or all of the story
9.  Do Whole-Class Acting where class stands up and acts the story out as you re-read it aloud
10.  Have students put sentences of the story in order (you have to pre-make sentence strips for this) - they can either do this on their desks, with a partner or individually, or as a whole-class Line Up
11.  Have students arrange pics of the story and then tell story to a partner
12.  Have students arrange pics of the story and then write the story
13.  Have students think through and complete a graphic organizer about the story (I have a gazillion different graphic organizers copied in the file cabinet handy)
14.  Have students write a different version/different ending for the story
15.  Have students reenact their version or ending for class
16.  Send a translation (Spanish to English) version of the story home for homework (double-spaced, size 12-14 font, so they can write under each line)
17.  Have students translate a paragraph of the story (written) in five minutes
18.  Have students read the story with a partner, switching off after 1 minute intervals (translating out loud into English, usually, although I sometimes have them read out loud in Spanish and then ask them questions in Spanish to check comprehension)
19.  Have students make a video of the story and turn it in as a project for a film festival
20.  Have students write a new story using the same target vocab
21.  Have students write a children's book using the target vocab (this can also be a project)
22.  Have students fill in a Mad Lib version of the story
23.  Have students write T/F quizzes for each other about the story
24.  Daily matching vocab quizzes with the most recent target vocab
25.  "Vocab Bowl" game where students translate each vocab unit for points for their team

Some of these things work better with middle school classes, others with differing levels of high school Spanish; some of them depend on the size of your class and how much they can move around.  Almost all of them are included at some point in my lesson plan books along with a set of vocab and a story that I think they compliment well.

The activities above that I use pretty much daily in Spanish 3 and 4 are #1, 2, 6 or 11, 18, and 24.
The activities that I use frequently are #16, 17, and 22.  I would say that as a rule, you want to focus more class time on actual reading, writing, speaking, and listening than on things like the Vocab Bowl (which I mainly used in level 1 as a way to review for a test.)  Everything else for me is once in a while, although now that I've made this list, I'm inspired to shake up my routine a bit this Spring.

With Spring semester starting in a couple of days, it's a perfect time to sit down and generate some creative ideas, so I appreciated this prompting from my friend.  Wishing you all a fun, productive semester...

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