Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Interview from Pamplona: School in Pamplona and the Running of the Bulls!

                                                        Teaching culture and controversy 

While teaching a group of illustrious 7th graders a few years back, I had a goal of getting them to engage in discourse about real world topics and events.  During this time, the wealth of resources for input, project-based and design thinking in the WL were very scarce (or I just did not know). Like most problem-solving oriented teachers: I created texts and resources for my students so that they could tomar cartas en el asunto.   I was determined to have them chime in on the  controversy of Bullfighting in Spain and the plight of girl's education around the world.  even with limited vocabulary. It was awesome!

Creating shared background knowledge 

Teaching with any group of students means that their exposure to a topic varies greatly. In order to tap into background knowledge and create our own working template of experiences, my students conducted a scavenger hunt on Spain, read about the country and regions and engaged in other activities that contextualized the vocabulary and culture. Having students who have traveled the world and those who have not step foot outside of their neighbors, having an "equalizing" exposure to texts adds balance. We used this resource, which includes:

1. Internet Scavenger Hunt Activity to familiarize them with the people, places and culture 
2. KWL activity to assess pre-knowledge 
3. Read a basic cognate laden text on Spain and answer questions. 

These sequenced activities set students up for reading about the Running of the Bulls- and their upcoming debate. For the debate they had to read both sides of the argument in this text and figure out, based on the language, attitude and claim who was for and who was against the practice. The first iteration of this article was all in the present tense. I have revised it to fit more of an Novice-Mid-High / Intermediate low. That said text below is slighter higher than the one figured in MaryGlasgow in 2011.

 The purpose of his resource was to engage students in both Common Core and IB standards/strands, so they would use the same strategies for engaging in text. This activity allowed students to:

Link to resource

  • Compare different perspectives (ACTFL: 21st century standards) 
  • Cite textual information (in a basic non-intimidating form) 
  • Compare and contrast cultures
  • For me, to be able to collect ideas, process them and debate in the target language
At my previous school they had PYP Spanish from Kindergarten. I saw them 4 days a week, so it makes since that a 7th grader was able to read and debate a slightly softer version of this text.  If you'd like to see how they slammed the International Educational Unit. They wrote papers on women rights. This was my "Malala Unit."  Check out this post with examples of student writing. 

Added Listening Activity for Running of the Bulls 
    This year I had the opportunity to interview a girl from Pamplona. I included this interview and  activity as part the Bullfighting debate activity.  Listen here for her Los Jóvenes Opinan interview below:

Interview with Ainhoa

The good, the bad and the ugly 

The interview is long- 4 minutes, but the activities are divided into different sections. Only the first 1.5 minutes  is comprehensible input for Novice students, after that her pace picks up. Here is how I am planning on using this resource:

  • My Spanish 1 Novice students will be doing this All about me activity next week (we are three weeks overdue). The will read the interview about Ainhoa and then listen to the first couple of minutes of the audio. 

Interview with Ainhoa

For my Spanish IV class, we are finishing up our Spanish Teen Unit. See previous post for lesson and resources. Since Ainhoa is soooo passionate about the Running of the Bulls (she was a perfect complement to the debate article), they will listen to her and compare their lives to hers. Here are a list of the themes for the audio:

  • Introductions 
  • Favorite TV shows 
  • School in Spain 
  • Teens in Pamplona 
  • Running of the Bulls 

Click here for the preview questions.
 Listen to the first edition of Los Jóvenes Opinan here to  make sure it is suitable for your students.

Upcoming resource!
I also had the opportunity to interview an award-winning photojournalist from Colombia this summer. The interview, which goes from Novice to Advanced will be posted in October.

If you use this resource, feedback is welcomed!!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Comprehensible Culture" in the World Language Classroom: How do experiences shape who we are?

Tango Show at Angelitos, BA (yo fui en Abril con mi clase)
Los jóvenes de Argentina 

This post is the second in a five series lessons on Identity for my upper level Spanish class.   Click here to read about the beginning lessons, video and speaking activities that inform the tasks below.

A. The skinny

One of my goals (among many) for this year is to incorporate "comprehensible culture" in the classroom.  Many times as language teachers we get so caught up in the language that the contextualizing culture gets left behind. I am becoming more cognizant of this as I plan. My aim is to include rich language experiences and culture. This unit on Identity does this in several ways:

  • Students have an opportunity to understand how they construct identity (psychological and biological point of view) 
  • They share that construction of their identity with other students 
  • They learn about how teens in the target culture think about identity 
  • Students engage in dialogue on a series of subtopics 
Quick links: Activities referenced on this blog post can be accessed by clicking the links below. If you'd like to get ideas about how to use these activities just scroll down to the letter designated section for context.

*Side note, this year I am attempted to incorporate SAMR into this unit. It is a project based model that include adding problem-based technology infused components to lesson. I will report the "messy-ness" of this project in post 5. 

A. Antes de colgar tu imagen en la web
     Click here for the writing prompts

B. Los Jóvenes Argentinos (Audiovisual activity)

C.. Click here for Listening Activity 

D.. Reading Graphic Organizer

A. With power, comes great responsibility 
Video: Antes de colgar tu imagen en la red, piénsalo

One of my writing prompts asked students to compare their generation to their parents' generation.
Since technology was the reigning king of that comparative discussion, I decided to include the video above and additional discussion questions to explore how technology shapes identity.  Although the video and activity were kinda sidebar, they actually highlight a key point in our upcoming text " La vida de los adolescentes." Said text highlights how young people's identities morph and adapt to different social media fora. Furthermore, the text suggests that having "a solid" identity is challenge for this generation. The writing prompt featured belongs to a series of 11 prompts dealing with Identity.  Click here for the free writing prompts used with this unit.

Video link: Antes de colgar tu imagen en la web

This was totally an afterthought, but this social media inventory might also be a good activity to do before the video (I am kicking myself for not thinking of this beforehand).

Discussion Questions and note about the video

One of the questions asks students to create hastag for the video. In order for this to work organically, you have to stop the video right before the end so that the video's tagline does not appear. It was a fun activity and students were able to incorporate direct object pronouns naturally. 

B. Connecting the language with the culture 
Teve Cuidad 
This next resource activity is very special to me. Last year  I had the opportunity of taking 18 students from my school to Argentina for a cultural immersion trip.  During our pre-trip seminar, we explored  some of the dialectal differences in the Spanish. For this year's Spanish IV class, I was able to incorporate some of those lessons in front loading some of the dialectal differences in Argentine Spanish. I was surprised how this lesson facilitated their comprehension and lowered their affective filter (self-reporting post activity).

Please note that at the end of this post, there are other videos from this source (Tevé Cuidad:Vivir Juntos), should you want to explore Teen Identity in Latin America. 

Viewing protocol

I distributed the document contained in the link below for the as an audiovisual exercise
Los Jóvenes Argentinos (Audiovisual activity)

We went through each statement: 
  • Students gave a rough translation in Spanish
  • Then we watched the video twice (super simple)
After the video, students said that going over the statements first helped them make a connection. Although for an authentic listening activity, I would not preview the language (that is the point). However, the purpose of this activity was to train their ears to hone in on the main idea (we are still in our first month of school). 

C. Listening Activity with La Identidad de los Adolescentes

I love activities that are intravenously connected. This was one of them. Originally I was going to have students read the article La vida de los Adolescentes, write annotations, and then respond to the reading comprehension questions- BORING. Then, I thought about the generally set up an IPA. Let's me clear, this text, for me at this stage is more like my anchor text and not an IPA.  An anchor text for me is an introductory text I used to teach strategies and expectations for future assessments. This text was helped to "anchor" students in many ways: 

  • To review reading strategies 
  • To write annotations (get used to my system)
  • To review what type of questions to ask (none of " qué significa es?)
  • To have a research article to refer back to (the text discusses how adolescents 
But just reading and asking questions sounded boring to me, so this is what I planned instead: 

  • Record the first part of the article to create a listening activity. Click here for Listening Activity  
  • Create a true/ false section to oblige them to dig more into the text 
  • Invite students to create questions for the article 
For homework they had to read the article again (it takes several exposures to a word before it becomes part of the lexicon) and answer questions. More more information on this article and questions see my previous post: Taking of the mask: Deconstructing Identity 

D. Experiment on Bias: How do you choose your friends?

After viewing this video, engaging and fostering conversation about this video with this question and engagement activity  last week, we read the article " Quién Eres Tú from the MYP Spanish Concepts book. The book is chock-full with engaging readings, essential questions for everything. Even if you are not an IB teacher your students would benefit from this book. I bought it last year and I use it to supplement my own created materials in addition to the wide range of online sources (Once I get permission to share the article I will. It is short but lends itself to good discussion).

We read read highlighted the role of "apariencias" in our social habits and friendship formation. Interesting huh? Well, some of my liberally minded students denounced the article's claim saying young people do not choose friendships based on that. Well, drawing off the energy in the room, told them to get into groups to discuss this matter. They choose  their own groups and discussed the issue. Prior to hearing from them, I asked the to: 

  • Examine your groups, are these people socially akin to you? 
  • Are you with people who look like you? 
  • Do you share the same interest? 
You could hear a pin drop in the class. They all gaped in amazement. Now we were able to get into the article.

We discussed why it was easier to choose people who are like us. Here are some of the ideas that flowed: 
  • Security- we won't be judged 
  • Familiarity- we can be ourselves 
  • Convergence- we have similar values, viewpoints and perspectives

Next week: La Identidad Flexible: Diversity and the Politics of Identity:  Debate en Argentina sobre la Ley de la Identidad

Links to videos about Identity

Vivir Juntos Argentina

La Identidad Ecuador 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

16+ Activities that Explore the politics of Identity- relevant CI friendly readings, hyperlinked vocabulary, videos and more!

¿Cuál es la máscara que llevamos? What masks are we wearing?

First published: September 2016

This week I kicked off my unit on identity with some thought provoking images, activities and prompts to help students connect with the theme and most importantly to share about themselves. This is one of my favorite beginning of the year units and I will be sharing the most engaging,  purposeful, and provocative activities that ignited the class over the next few weeks.  This three post series will focus on the theme of Identity. If you want to see some preliminary priming I did for this unit, check out my previous post "I want to get to know you activities."

Free resources for engaging students in discussions about Identity:
View and activities for Argentine students discussion Identity

Teaching with the End Game in mind

To give you a little bit of context, the crown point activity for this week was the viewing, subsequent analysis, and connection to this award winning film on Identity (questions for this are included in the "View Acivities for Argentine Students" link). Students' response and reaction to the implication of the film by making masks and narrating their "mask" stories, is toward the end of this blog post.  The preliminary front-loading activities are outlined below.

My pedagogical shift as a teacher 
This year I have taken a new reflective stance in my approach to teaching. I have shifted from a productive-oriented class only to a more thinking-oriented class. Last year, I felt like I was rushing the students, running through content at lightning speed without affording students time to really "sit" with, digest and ruminate on concepts. This year, I am taking a few steps back to provide what I am calling "thinking space." This space is necessary in order to develop thinking routines as outlined in the book Making Thinking Visible. In the book as well as referenced on this affiliated website, thinking routines help students to:

  • Garner a deeper understanding of concepts 
  • Engage more enthusiastically with the class 
  • Sharpen thinking abilities

To increase reflection time and quality output, I am dressing up each engagement with a thinking protocol or routine.  I started to sow the seeds of my shifting practice in this previous post about our first writing engagement of the year. Below is a tentative sketch of this present endeavor:

  • Provide time to reflect, jot down thoughts before production- oriented tasks (speaking and writing)
  • Offer intense scaffolding before each activity (spelled out instructions, examples, and modeling)

Writing prior to speaking- that goes against everything I know!

    My first strategy to allow students think space, time and using the writing modality prior to speaking may fly in the face of the organic spontaneous speaking approach. I wholeheartedly embrace this approach, however now with several caveats.  Last year whenever we'd watch a video, or listen to input, I would immediately get students to react.  I adopted this quick fire method from one of my college professors. After input rich activities, she'd elicit a response by her "reacciones" rally call.  Well, this did not work for me with my high school students.  I was met with a sea of confused nervously anxious self-conscious teenagers, who'd rather lose "points" than embarras  themselves- totally understandable. This is why I had to seek out a new approach.

      As we start our deep dive into the unit, I have started providing them with time and space to think about how they feel about a particular prompt, questions or visual stimuli. One of my colleagues reminded me that speaking a language is on-going synthesis. Well, providing this time lowers the affective filter, frees up cognitive space and allow those neurons to fire hence creating a response.  Hopefully, as the year progresses students will become more automatic in their production and not have to rely on using writing as a catalyst. Until then, my classroom student-driven research is directing my steps. 

Now on to the activities!

Prior to the start of the unit, students were given this vocabulary sheet. I am a fan displaying the theme and collectively generating lists together. However, this unit I created this very specific vocabulary and expressions they'll encounter in the input planned for next upcoming weeks through:
 You will notice that students have a "Mi pequeño diccionario" section where they'll write down their own new words or incidental vocabulary that resonated with them throughout the unit.

Using vocabulary for real world purposes

Activity 1.1 

The purpose of the vocabulary list was to prepare students for this short writing activity about themselves.  Click here to access 8 writing prompts that accompany the Spanish Teen Identity Unit. Even if you do not use the unit, could be used as Bell work, small group conversation and/or exit slips.

This was a short activity to get students comfortable with using the vocabulary. Most words are cognates, so this activity was more of a kinesthetic movement brain break.

Activity 2
Pictures of celebrities were planted around the class. Students used their vocabulary list words to describe the celebrities.

Getting Down to Business: The Main Dish

Activity 3
Engaging students visually to pique their interest.

 Students had to observe the visual content and:

  • Describe two images 
  • Determine the theme of the new unit and make connections among the pictures 

We practiced circumlocution, so students were not allowed to use any aids for this exercise. After a few minutes, each student shared.

 Deconstructing the short film 

We watch this awarding-winning short film on Identity. It gives a spell-bounding depiction of the complexities of identity in high school. Although the film is in English, it has very limited spoken text, most of it centers on the read- between- the- lines storyline.   After watching the video students had to process the film objectively first and then subjectively.
This website was a great help in terms of how to look critically at visual content.

Since the film is in English, I combined the first and second viewing but distinguished between an objective telling of what happened versus interpretation.  I told students to only mention verificable facts from the movie. We started more like a TPRS story:

T: ¿Quién es la persona en el corto? 
S1: Es una chica
T: ¿Dónde está la chica? 
S2: La chica está en el baño
T1: ¿Está en un baño dónde?
S3: La chica está en el baño en la escuela

* Additional note, I forget that I had actually created a more in depth activity for the video. It is free and connected to another video. You can download it here. 

This went one for a few minutes. Different students chimed in with  La chica tiene una máscara, la máscara es diferente...

One detail I did not notice last year in the film was that one of the students had two masks. As she went from one group to another she took off her mask, which revealed another one underneath. My student locked on to this detail. Then we discuss symbolism: ¿Qué significa la máscara?

*Although I did not this awesome Movie Talk protocol, next time I will include it as it would be powerful for this type of film.

The Mask as a Proxy for Identity 

For my first two classes teaching this lesson, I placed the word  La Máscara in the center of the circle. By the last class, I had forgotten so I kinda gave it away.  I gave students think space and talk time to process their thoughts silently, then with a partner when with the class. Below some of their comments are captured:

  • La máscara representa la ignorancia 
  • La identidad
  • El miedo de mostrar quién eres 
  • Varias Identidades 
  • Falsedades (they said falso, but I wrote this)
I was so pleased, because one of the articles we are going to read from the Spanish Teen Identity Unit, discusses the fluidity of Identity nowadays as opposed to 50 years ago. The article also hits on the role that technology plays in constructing and disseminating different versions of ourselves, so they were right on!

Activity 4: ¿Cuál es tu máscara? 
After viewing the compelling video on Identity, I wanted to engage students hearts, now that there minds were grappling with the psychological construct of Identity.

 I had students think about the masks they wear as students.   I shared about how being a teacher you can never make a mistake and it is easy to slip into the mask of perfection. They had two options for this anonymous activity:

  • Describe some of the masks you they wear as a student at our school 
  • Describe masks that adolescents wear 
The two pictures here feature some responses. Next time, I will have them color them. One surprising element was how the boys in the class engaged. As I walked around I saw: 

  • La apariencia 
  • Estudiante perfecto y atleta perfecto 
  • Cinta pequeña y pecho grande (they did not right pecho... but another colorful expression)

Next week: We will be reading a few articles about Identity (some articles I have researched and written, while others I used from the book MYP Spanish teaching concepts) and watching a short documentary video on Teens in Argentina. 


Click here:

Check out my TPT Store activities, informational historical texts, and video activities for class 

Click here:

Friday, September 9, 2016

Give students a hand: scaffolding WL writing activities to lower filter and increase success!

Providing on-target scaffolding to promote student success

This week marked the apertura de clases at my school.   I was very excited to get to know the students. I had already prepared this "I want to know you activity" and these "Spice it up writing prompts" to thoroughly engage my upper level Spanish class. I just knew everything was going to flow so smoothly the first week right before we jump into the real learning;  I was wrong.

The first day as students started to introduce themselves and I probed them with extremely basic questions with the dual purpose of getting to know them and surmising their potential placement on the language continuum To my surprise, some upper level students students showed difficulty in responding to novice-low and mid questions. One student in particular, struggled to understand a very basic question such as ¿Tú trabajas?  I was baffled, even more so when he told me "Spanish 4 is like Spanish 1 all over again,"referring to the perceived  level of his classmates (some students are in the class because they want to improve their language level before going to AP; others  were not eligible for AP hence a negative outlook on their ability).  One thing was clear,  prior to giving the first fun writing activity, I had a lot of work to do.

Languishing Language Skills 

As I conferenced with students asking them about their summer, I noticed that many students had a uphill battle speaking the target language, using simple albeit accurate structures. The issue was pervasive.  This got me to thinking about the nature of input. When you think about input and learning a language, it is comparable to building a muscle; you use it or lose it. I then realized that many students inaugurating the school year:

  • Have been two and a half months removed from the language context
  • Their language skills atrophied over the summer 

Pass me another brick

In a sense, my student was correct. Students have returned to the embryonic stage of learning a language. I suspect that as the year progresses and they"ll start registering rich, and robust input and coincidentally; the language acquisition device in their minds will start to receive, perceive and reactive again. Until then, I have to proceed with caution and make sure my teaching is supportive, not presumptive and that for the next month or so I need to come along side them to pass them another brick and help them rebuild.

So back to the writing prompt 

Instead of giving them solely the writing prompt, which I'd use to collect soft data on their writing skills. I created the writing scaffolding practice below with the goal of:

  • Engaging students and lowering their affective filter
  • Allowing them to use each other as resources 
  • Helping them to identify their strengths and weaknesses so they can start mapping them out

The document reviews the basics of the present tense before they began writing. We spent about 20 minutes reviewing and working in pairs.  I have never felt a class be so calm. There was an uptick in participation (the first day they were understandably timid). The class was highly engaged and productive. 

I was glad I had done this because as I walked around I noticed students struggled with the present tense and ser/estar usage. We discussed it and they were allowed to use that along with a sheet I had compiled from online resources to guide their first writing. It was a great lesson!

Download the updated writing prompt and scaffolding activity here. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Should we assign homework in the World Language Classroom?


Should we assign homework in the World Language Classroom? 

         The other day I had a very interesting conversation with another educator about the role of homework in the world language classroom.  Historically, I came from a project-based technology school where homework was next to nil. I had some issues with this policy, but soon adapted because, when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. However,  I am currently teaching at a new school and, well, the conversation resurfaced again. The questions driving (and underlying) our conversation, were:

  • When do we assign homework in a world language classroom?
  • Why do we give homework? 
  • What should that homework look like?
  • What is the purpose?

Standard-Based Homework

          My response to all questions centered was production-oriented more than anything.  I assumed "well you give homework to practice a skill." Additionally, if students did not complete work in class, then they should do it for homework. No brainer right?  This philosophy had satisfied at least in my initial attempts to process the questions.  However, my colleague camped out on the why and the what of assigning homework.  "  After some preliminary research on the matter, my colleague made me consider another rationale for extending learning beyond the four walls of the class: only give  homework that connects with an authentic standard-based goal

Here are some examples we discussed as we will be teaching the same level course this year. For example: When learning about personal appearance during a lesson,  a typical homework assignment would be:

  • To write a list of personal characteristics maybe in form of a graphic organizer 
  • Benefits: this is more personalized to the student  
  • Better than giving vocabulary words (I agree, they are isolated from the context) for definitions or verb practice unless it is within the context of this goal. Okay, tell me more! 

While I appreciate this approach, and have used it to some extent- my novice-mid students had to annotate a text we were going to read the next day in class- part of me still thinks that reviewing flashcards on quizlet for vocabulary practice, and completing some cloze texts assignments are meaningful and help students in different ways. 

 I am also tempted to believe that some of those "shunned skill-based assignments" are in fact differentiation for some students' learning styles.  I have always seen homework as an opportunity to practice skills and class time spent synthesizing, speaking and engaging in problem-based activities.  I cannot even imagine a class without some type of skill-based homework (not all classes have to mimic this). 

The Research 

I enjoying reading a variety of perspectives on an issue before making a definite decision. The author of the article titled Homework v.s. No Homework  , which can be found on Edutopia, suggests that we are asking the wrong question all together. The article posits that we should reframe our quest to explore what we believe students should be doing at the end of the school day. To this end two litmus-test questions should be asked: 
  • How will what we assign enable students to retain what they've learned?
  • How will the after school activity prime or position them for learning the next day? 
      These questions definitely got me to thinking about the Flipped Classroom model and how it addresses the priming and positioning students for learning the very next day with using videos to reinforce concepts. 

 I love watching MJ's awesome videos in class. They are funny and instructive, but to free up more class time for PBL and Communicative-based approach, students could preview videos at home to prime their cognition for concepts to be explored the next day. I have used great resources like these mainly as a "during the learning process" type of assignment. What if I used this model to frontload learning?  

Furthermore, instead of just requiring students to watch the video and fill out verb conjugations- mindless work, I am planning on giving them "think-sheet" type notes that combine a host of vocabulary practice and critical thinking. Once I have a good template, I will attach to this post. This could potentially help students:

  • Retain whatever concept we are exploring (multiple multi sensorial exposure)
  • Prime them for the next day. 
In planning some quality standards-based homework, I found these blogs extremely useful : Flipping the World Language Classroom and Flipping with Kirch.

 Okay, I'll admit, this meaningful word is thrown around quite a bit! Nonetheless, this next article was short, sweet and informative. Best of all, it was written from the perspective of a college student. He offered noteworthy guidelines to consider when assigning homework, but the best advice for my practice was considering: 

  • Time management, resources and context 
  • Making Real World Connections 
1.  He emphasized that teachers need to remember that our class is not students' only class. We also have to be mindful of the context, students' lives and if the homework is compatible with their circumstances. It would be impossible to implement a Flipped Classroom when most students have little to no internet connection. This makes perfect sense. 

2. He was also passionate about the nature of Real World Connections. These assignments help to answers the students' biggest questions. The second one resonated with me the most. 

Last year, my novice-mid students had to complete a huge presentational sort of capstone at the end of the course. Students had to pitch a trip to Spain to a group of high school students. There was a prize, so they were fairly incentivized. You can see the free activity here in this post (It under goes constantly revision and add-ons). For homework, I gave them a graphic organizers of how to research basic information about their country- it is all included in the packet. Once in class they: 

  • Conferenced with me and gave me mini pitches about their region 
  • Collaborated in their group- I give them timetables 
These series of homework assignments were just a natural part of the assignment. However, they also had traditional homework with practicing vocabulary, reading  reading, vocabulary and verb activities.  I found these activities useful to what they were doing. 

How can I make this type of homework meaningful? 

This is my personal quest to create a menu of assignments that integrate these core components. Then again, I may not have to do it myself. Check out what other teachers are doing. This Real World Assignment posted by La profesora Frida. It sheds light on the question in part as the assignment allows students to interact with language in a very natural way. This assignment can be modified for students who are not privy to technology, but it is a great start and granito a la conversación

 I am still seeking clarity on this debate about homework in the language class, what is its place, purpose and priority?   I will update this post periodically with ideas, resources,  insights and of course more research!

Your thoughts? What assignments do you give as homework? 

Resources and ideas for Real World Homework 

Students could also look on their TV guides and jot down several programs with Spanish Titles

Identity Collage- student write 20 characteristics that make them unique prior to building their collage in class 

Country Project by Señora Cruz- students use graphic organizers to complete information about their country.