Category Archives: Varying the routine

Keith’s blog

Someone just shared Todally Comprehensible with me. In case I’m not the last person in the CI world to find it, I am marking this post with its complete list of pre, during, and post reading strategies so that I can find it forever more. Wow, Keith!

The rest of the blog is similarly awesome.

Using the phone

ACTFL part 2

At ACTFL 2015 last weekend, I tried to attend every session with Bill Van Patten (I missed one because I was presenting, and hope someone will share their notes.) One of those sessions was “In-class testing versus online testing.” A large test group of students across multiple classes resulted in almost no statistical difference between the grades that students got last year on paper and pencil tests and this year on the identical tests, offered on computer. There are some caveats but this post is not about that.

Instead, I got sidetracked by what was for me more interesting: the use of the Can-do statements for in-class assessments. Walter Hopkins (of TeaWithBVP) promised to share the complete list of Can-Do statements that MSU is using with their Spanish classes, and he also explained how they use Google Voice to collect assessments.

I told students that at the end of class, they would share something about Shostakovich. Walter had said that students practice in class on the day of the assessment, and then the prompt is slightly tweaked. I didn’t tweak it on this first time out. We spent the entire hour talking about musicians in general, and Shostakovich in particular, and then I put up the number and asked students to call and tell me three things about the man. It took less than five minutes for the entire class to call in and report, whether they used their own phone, my phone, or someone else’s. Some personalized their information; others included something about yesterday’s concert (our excellent UAA Faculty Trio played Shostakovich). The MSU rubric worked well for me: “2” means “completed task with ease,” “1” means “struggled a bit,” and “0” means “didn’t complete the task.”

I have a clear idea about how much my students can fluently say about Shostakovich, and I know what structures they are acquiring. I can label most students’ level of proficiency for this task. In short, I’m pretty happy with this new toy of mine. It didn’t take up a lot of class time, but it gave me an easy way to collect speech samples.

Working with a song

I’m going to go back to at least occasionally recording what I did in class.

I was satisfied with work with a song today. Tom Garza, at U Texas, prepared an awesome site for Russian students and teachers, called “Rocking Russian.” It has recordings, song lyrics as subtitles or not, and exercises.

I created a cloze for the song with only about 15 words missing, since I’ve realized it’s hard and frustrating to be still writing down one missing word when the next blank comes up, even if we do listen to a song several times. Because the song I picked has a lot of unfamiliar words for the lower level kids, I put the English translation in a separate column. I put blanks for the same missing words.

We listened to the song twice to begin with: first, just to hear it. The second time, I asked kids to randomly write down any words they heard clearly, without trying to go for volume.

Then I handed out the cloze exercise. Before the kids listened to the song, I wanted them to find direct translations of words from one column to the next, so I asked them to circle one word in each Russian line and the corresponding word or phrase in the English line. That was just to get them to work through the meaning of the entire song and see how much they already understood.

Then we listened to the song again and filled in the missing words in Russian. With partners, they filled in the translations of those words on the English side.

Next, we watched the song with Russian subtitles, so that they could see whether they were right. I was pleased that there was really only one word that caused trouble.

Someone asked about an infinitive, playing into my hand. The grammar point I have in my head right now (because some of the most advanced kids haven’t acquired it, while others have) is infinitives after modals, in subjunctive phrases, and after other verbs. I explained the first infinitive, and asked kids to find and explain all the other ones. It was five grammar minutes for the AP level kids. It was aimed at meaning, more than at grammar, but gave us an excuse to read through the song again.

After that, we talked about the song in the more advanced group. Some kids really didn’t like it, because they couldn’t understand it, so the more advanced speakers got to try to start explaining the song. Every time I find ways to motivate re-reading of a text, I am impressed anew by the power re-reading gives students. The less-advanced kids understood the conversation, but the more advanced ones finally had a chance to talk about the text, and because it was in front of everyone, with translation, the conversation felt real. It probably didn’t hurt that I didn’t understand the song at all, and so the questions I asked were genuine. Why is she singing? Is it a happy song? What makes you think that? Why is she burning ships? How can she do that if her matches are all soaked? More to come!

Martina’s QAR

We had our regular Second Friday meeting last week, with Martina Bex as presenter. Martina is awesome. She takes what seems like it could be an interesting idea and crafts it to become a connection device for all lessons. Then she reports on it, as though she weren’t the lead, here!

I have had QAR sessions before, but I must not have been paying attention, or maybe it’s the repetition that is helping. The first thing that I (re?)learned was that the meaning is “Question-Answer Relationship.” (I always thought it was something else that I won’t say here or it will confuse others.) QAR was created to help students with testing, so that they know by the form of the question how to answer it. Wow. QAR can be linked as a support directly to Common Core, to Danielson, and any other number of requirements our schools are heaping on us, but this one actually works, helps engage students better, differentiates for students, and can help us teach better. Talk about Big Bang for the Buck!

As I thought I already knew, there are four levels of questions: Right there, Think and search, Author and Me, and On my own. A big takeaway for me was how to pose the “Author and Me” questions. If they are yes/no questions, we have to add “explain,” or “why?” to the questions as tags. I have missed that step! Martina pointed out that the “On my own” questions are great for finding out more about students. I think that sometimes I’ve glossed over those, feeling that I already do a lot with kids to get to know them.

Another critical step that I’ve missed is to make the practice text with kids very short. I have used longer texts than would fit on a screen with my kids. As Martina demonstrated, it’s very effective to show how much a person can get out of a short text. My poor students!

(Tangent: I was talking about coaching with Laurie this week. She was telling me how she set up the coaching at Skip’s Maine conference to require coaches to give only positive feedback to teachers. When a teacher got to see someone else praised for something that first teacher had not done or needed to have done, it stuck more firmly in the first teacher’s mind, according to the participants. Laurie reported that teachers would have an ah-hah moment and then ask for a re-do to get that right. What I had on Friday was an eighty-minute ah-hah moment.)

Teachers out there who are going to Martina’s upcoming presentations at conferences or workshops in their own districts, you are in for a treat!

Martina followed up by sharing a couple of follow-up activities to extend work on the reading: “Fan N Pick” and “Grab and Go.” Hmm. Another ah-hah for me. I typically move on too quickly after a reading, even though every time I manage to milk something for a long time, I realize how powerful extension activities can be. But these aren’t just any follow-up activities. They require kids to re-read the material, to re-think the questions, and they have a game-like atmosphere.

At the end, we got to learn one last little activity with a Wordle picture, one that Martina evidently has blogged about. I’m going to hike right over there now and read about it.

I did record the session, and at some point will post about fifteen minutes of it. I was participating in the session, and we were moving around a lot, so sometimes the video was pointing at a space with no one in it. We need professionals!

Happy ACTFL week!! EEEK. I’d better call my co-presenter!! See some of you there, I hope.

Back to basics – again!

I was searching for curriculum maps, and ended up finding great support on Martina Bex’s site (right after she suggested I turn to Yahoo Groups). Always go to Martina first.

But then I got distracted by links, and found Martina’s suggestions for starting stories. She gave me some new ideas for introducing vocabulary. I created a powerpoint with the three main structures and their definitions on each slide. First, as suggested, we did a little grammar talk, a demo, and a drawing with the structures. The next slides gave the kids sentences to translate. (I should have had them draw pictures of the sentences; that would have been fun.)

After that were questions: What stresses you? Whom do you envy? What must you do after school? We ended up drilling deep on those questions with individuals, but for some reason, having them in a powerpoint with the definitions on the slide made a huge difference. We interviewed a number of kids, and now we can add those answers to the kids’ “official” interview pages.

As a brain break, the students had to stand up and talk to as many of their classmates as possible for a minute, telling the partner either just one fact about themselves, or re-telling or making up a fact about someone else. That was not for real output purposes, but for movement and connection, but it was fun to hear.

Suddenly class was over, and now we’re in a really good spot to start tomorrow’s story about a jealous pumpkin who is nervous about having to be sitting on the doorstep.

Poems and connections

Another random ideas post here.

First, I wanted to share a “stand up and practice” activity. This is just getting kids moving with the side benefit that they will practice a poem and maybe learn most of it. It’s not CI! They should have already done prep stories or vocabulary and they should understand it well and be able to say the lines if you gesture them–in other words, they should be ready for output. This is not a beginning activity with a poem.

First, give the kids the text of the poem, either in a handout or (better in my case) on the projector or wall. Assign each student one line of the poem. It’s okay if more than one kid has the same line. The students write the lines legibly onto 3×5 cards. Run through the entire class for pronunciation checks. Then each student passes the card down two kids, and check again to make sure that the cards are legible and that a new kid can pronounce the lines. Rewrite if necessary.

The class stands in either inner/outer circles or facing lines. The complete poem is still accessible, on the board or projector. Half the kids read their lines to the other half. The opposite group tries to recite, but is allowed to look for, the following line (this teaches scanning). Then the second student reads his line and the first one says the following line. If a student has the last line, her partner responds with the first line in the poem.

The class rotates so they have new partners. After five or six rotations, everyone passes their cards to the right or left, and the class begins again.

This can be a two-minute activity, once the kids know the drill, or it can be a longer one, if you’re working on memorizing. Pretty quickly, students learn the line that follows, and you can challenge the group by turning off the projector. Kids can help their partners.

I haven’t tried, but it could possibly be used with pictures from a storyboard if you want kids to just tell one piece. Hmm…

In other thoughts…

This AP brief talks about how parents don’t need to limit their sentence length for young children. The idea that we talk comprehensibly, but above the level of the speaker, is exactly what should be happening in a world language class.

I thought about the idea of being ready for information while my book group discussed The Good Earth this morning. I read it in high school, taught it in my first years in high school, and yet found it to be a completely different book now that I’m an adult. The process of taking in as much as you are ready to comprehend is not limited to language, but to ideas and experience as well.

And (after a too-long FB search to find the post), I am waiting to hear the “con” side of this story. I love this post! It’s a typical TPRS story, if that exists. I admit to being jealous of those who learned about TPRS before having taught 23 years, but am glad I did at that time. The correct link to Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s blog is now on the right column, under Musicuentos.

Now I’m still trying to fit all the various CI pieces together. I’m realizing that different parts of CI work in different situations, for different purposes, and with different sets of kids. I was trying to force Movie Talk and TPR and Scaffolding Literacy and TPRS stories and Embedded Reading into every lesson. The down side to pure TPRS is that it can’t work for everything, with every kid, or in every situation.

Anyone who used to think I’m smart is probably dumbfounded by how obvious that statement is, but I’m a slow learner. CI is king. TPRS was the tool by which I learned (and keep learning) to do CI. TPRS is magical at the beginning levels, but isn’t necessarily the only way to teach the beginning levels.

The main “con” for me is that “TPRS” puts off so many language teachers. I’m sad that people are offended before they even hear the rest of the story, or before asking questions about how TPRS teachers address reading, writing, speaking, or the biggest target, grammar.

TPRS is what we do with our own kids. “Let’s tell Mommy where we went today! First we got into the …. CAR! Then we drove, and drove, and then we stopped at the…ZOO! And Katie made a…funny face…” Every time I think about how we retold our together time, either for someone else or at bedtime, I realize that we were telling stories.

Enough said. I could go on, but if you’ve read this far, you’re part of the choir. Happy belated Valentine’s Day. In Anchorage, we spent Valentine’s Day on three hours of Danielson training, first in a series of five. ‘Nuff said on that too.

More on reading

Nathan and I started a thread here a while ago about how to get students to re-read a text. Yesterday I attended a class with the wonderful Sarah and Laurel. Sarah was the teacher who convinced my daughter to go to Argentina, where she interned in a music studio a few years ago!

Sarah shared two techniques with us that made us re-read and re-think about texts.

The first was to write a 30-word summary of a two-three paragraph piece we’d read. It had to be 30 words, no more, no less. (Honesty requires that I admit to not having followed the instructions. I thought I knew what to do, and did it my way. It was a little embarrassing to find out I hadn’t…oh well. Now I understand how my kids can miss things.) After we wrote our summary, which was on one of several different pieces on 21st-Century Education, we stood in double lines to share with a rotation of other students. All of us had similar pieces that made us think about what this new world of education is.

I’ve done something like this in class: often I have kids look for the ten lines in a story or three sentences in a text piece that sum it up, and I usually have them share with a partner. I haven’t had them write a summary, but I’ll try that to change things up a bit. I also had them share only with one person, not several.

The next exercise Sarah had us do was something she called “Stand and Deliver.” We had to jot down a list of aspects of 21st-Century Education that we considered important. When the time was up, we had to stand and share one each. If anyone said the same thing we had written, we checked it off. (We could also add ideas that we wanted on our list.) Once there was nothing on our list that had not already been shared, we sat down. I can imagine using this with interesting ideas from the text, questions we could ask about a text, proof from a text to support a claim, and so on. “Stand and Deliver” lets weaker students hear more ideas, and gives stronger students the props they need without putting down others. They’re just going to be standing longer.

In the end, Sarah typed up our group definition of 21st Century Education. We each contributed an idea that we thought was the most important. It was okay if we had the same one someone else had mentioned. That way, we got to hear ideas one last time, and we also got to watch Sarah put them into parallel form.

It was great to be learning with colleagues again.

Michael Miller and (separately) reading

First, for the Germanists and all the rest of us:

Michael Miller sent me links to a series of videos he has made to help out German teachers on sub days. He knows there are some mistakes, so will run scripts by Germans from now on. Still, these are AWESOME! I wish he taught Russian (not the first time I wished that). Michael is thinking of taking a sabbatical to create a bunch of these that would fill gaps in German education. These are fun for sub days in the meantime, and I learned a lot of German and teaching by watching them.

If you like the videos, please post in the comments on the YouTube pages. Support from teachers might help Michael get a boost for funds for equipment and website funding. He wants to make a huge collection for free!

In completely unrelated news, I have been prepping kids for our final. In Russian 1, I noticed that in other TPRS years, my kids sometimes surprised me with what they didn’t know in reading, so this time I provided them with flashcards for the main structures I’ve focused on in these eighteen weeks. I told them one part of their final is just reading the words as quickly as they can. Well, wow! They’re doing great reading Cyrillic, and their pronunciation is even better. I’m limiting them to one minute. I used to do this with flashcards in my old days. I know it isn’t particularly CI-friendly, but what happens with TPRS is that kids get so good at talking that if they can’t read, they can sometimes hide that fact, and I need them to be able to read Cyrillic. So I’m happy to say that the ones who have been reading very slowly are picking up speed (because it’s timed, for a grade), and the others are helping out their compatriots, making their own reading even better.

This way, I will be able to be sure that kids aren’t just guessing on the real reading part of their final (answering questions that are in English about a text).

And in another completely unrelated bit of spontaneous combustion, I have to report that the PDL trick in my advanced class has taught me how to do discussion circles much better. On top of that, the advice to keep recirculating the activity is helping my kids chat. For the kids’ St. Petersburg project, they had to go to a restaurant (virtually) and report about it using specific vocabulary. We read a couple of restaurant reviews and blogs to get the vocabulary going, and then they got into their families and had to have an argument about where they were going to go for dinner. They had to use their “restaurant experience” as support for where they were going to go. (I told them that they were practicing living in functional family units: “functional” families can have arguments and still come to an agreement.) They were talking up a storm! I was so happy as I walked around the room. It felt like they had jumped up a level. Then I switched them out to different groups, and they had to have a similar discussion about going out to eat locally with the set of friends in the new circle. I got drawn into a couple of the discussions, hearing about where they all go after dances and games.

There’s truly something in this role-playing that I hadn’t quite ever mastered before. I hope it’s not just this wonderful set of kids. Now we’ve gone through a cycle of role-play/read/discussion/re-set a couple of times, and I am beginning to agree with the claims of the PDL that it’s much more student-centered. By wandering around as they have their short conversations on real topics, I can hear what they want and need, reflect it back in the reading and discussion that follow, and then come up with another way to practice it, or just have them do the same conversation again, with a tweak.

I tried PDL in my adult Russian class, and there they decided that three were on a bus to our local ski resort: one was a young unattached man, another a girl who had a boyfriend, and the third was a very unhappy grandmother whose son had brought her over from Russia, and she felt badly treated. We laughed so hard! It turns out that knowing how to play the TPRS game helps in PDL too. Like the high school kids, the adults were deeply satisfied to find out how to express some specific interests and ideas, and it seemed as though the vocabulary was so high-interest to them that it “stuck.”

I wish that I knew more about PDL or that there were some folks who knew Russian observing me. I would really like coaching! I think more drama experience would help too, but part of it is just being open to “flow,” meanwhile thinking about how to write up the story with enough reps for them to get the new stuff nailed down.

Time to go home!!

Martina on using Authentic Resources

Martina Bex is one of the reasons I’m lucky to live in Anchorage. At yesterday’s First Friday TPRS/CI monthly meeting, she practiced the presentation she will make at ACTFL in just a couple of weeks. We were glued to her for over an hour, and would have been for any amount of time because her ideas about how to use authentic resources were creative, while she nailed down the teaching practices that we all need to remember.

Here are two:

-If it’s worth using, it’s worth talking about.

-If the Authentic Resource is for pushing acquisition, the teacher must talk about it in the TL and make the whole process comprehensible. (If the teacher is using the AR for assessment, the questions should be in English to stop false positives and to make sure that the kids understand the assignment.)

Martina shared five different ways to approach Authentic Resources with five different ways to do pre- and post-planning. I was thinking that was plenty to assure staying out of ruts. When Martina demonstrated creating a parallel story, we all came alive. She reminded me why those work in our classrooms. And, just like my kids, I was surprised when her parallel story matched the song that she moved into.

Martina’s handout is up on our AFLA 2013 conference page.

Anyone who wasn’t there…well, sorry. We had great food for our brains AND our stomachs: two kinds of Chinese noodles, halibut chowder, raspberry bread…

I shared a couple of brain break games from a site that I found because of Ben Slavic’s blog. You have to scroll through the entries that sell the book, but there are still plenty of activities. 

ABE for Fitness

I am always trying to find natural ways to get my students moving around the room because of everything we know about how brains work (Brain Rules is one of my favorite books).

David Katz is my new hero, and I’ve just discovered that he has a series of videos for three-minute activity breaks here. This ABE for Fitness site is fun; the video on the home page explains why we should be doing it. Dr. Katz has a site called ABC for fitness, and there he has some suggestions for teachers.

I was thinking that I could combine one of the fitness videos with an ongoing MovieTalk, but it would be kind of like TPR, because I’d be asking the kids to actually move and follow the video. Katz commented that he asked adults in a committee to do a three-minute workout and that they came to life after that. It sure seems as though such an activity would be useful in the classroom as well!

Yeah. It’s summer!