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ACTFL 2017 Part 1: Plan of Attack


1000 sessions.  Three days. One.  Thousand.  Sessions. Just the idea of the size of ACTFL's Annual Convention is overwhelming to think about.  Even for someone who attends state (Wisconsin) and regional (Central States) conferences regularly, ACTFL is a bit overstimulating.  There are thousands of attendees.  It's insane.  How do you even approach something like this?  This will be my third ACTFL conference, so while I'm not necessarily a "seasoned pro", I've got some experience with this, and still remember how thoroughly overwhelmed I was by some aspects of my previous two conferences (San Diego & Boston).  If you want more tips, Carrie Toth wrote her own list on her site.  Check back here for daily updates from the convention!

1.  Attend the Opening Session

I still remember Rick Steves's speech in San Diego.  He was outstanding.  During his speech, #ACTFL15 was trending on Twitter.  It was remarkable.  The opening general session from 8:30-10am on Friday morning will feature journalist Bill Weir presenting "Stories from Cultures Around the World".  The five regional finalists for the national Foreign Language Teacher of the Year will be there and the winner will be selected.  For first timers especially, there is also a convention welcome & orientation from 7-8am.

2.  Have a Goal

Between sessions, presentations, and exhibitor workshops there are over 1000 possible learning opportunities.  And that doesn't count the pre-conference workshops and paper presentations.  Looking at a time on the schedule with 100+ things to see can be really challenging.  Is there something in particular that you would like to learn about?  Maybe you're trying to incorporate new technology.  Maybe you've got a textbook you dislike.  Need to inject more reading? Want to find more review games? Pick a mission or two. Whatever your goal is, define it clearly.  Use that to hack away at the sessions that don't meet your goal.  You can't become an expert in everything in 3 days.  If you're looking for a list of sessions that focus on Comprehensible Input-based themes, check out this list compiled by Palmyra Languages.  The Fluency Matters booth will also have a printed list available as well as the one linked on their website.

3.  Rest Your Brain

There are 14 different session times on the schedule.  That means you could soak up 14 hours of professional learning over the span of 3 days.  Here is a secret:  you don't have to attend a session every single time one is offered.  If none of the sessions at a time meet your goal (see above), or if you feel your brain getting full, it's okay to take some time off.  You may want to just process what you've learned.  Maybe you need to get some physical movement by walking a lap around the convention center.  If you're staying close enough, there is nothing wrong with a little siesta.  Maybe sitting down and blogging, or writing lesson plans inspired by a session will benefit you.  I know, you're thinking, "But Kelly, I paid SO much for this convention & the travel!  I need to get my money's worth!" I say this:  Think of how you pace learning in your class.  Quality teachers don't just "cover" material because students don't acquire it  well.  Your brain is the same.  "Covering" more topics during the convention won't necessarily allow you to acquire any of the topics and incorporate those into your teaching.  You might actually get a better VALUE for your money by processing what you've learned.

4.  Meet people, attend "other" events, or just be a tourist

There are frequently other groups that get together and hold events during the conference.  Sometimes states or regions hold receptions.  Online PLCs may have a get-together.  Maybe you've got a long-lost friend from another state who will attend with his school.  Take advantage of meeting people you don't get other opportunities to bond with.  On Saturday night at 8, there will be an event called "Hot for Teacher: World Languages Edition" where some funny and talented teachers will share stories from their classroom...and no hot topic is off topic.  Tickets are available for $10 from Third Coast Comedy Club while they last (only 100 available). Or, visit a site in Nashville!  After all, you may not get here again soon to see the Country Music Hall of Fame!

5.  Exhibit hall--be there!

There are so many exhibitors to visit!  Way beyond what you've ever seen at state or regional conferences.  Companies you have never heard of. And several you have.  Check out the things they offer.  Or just cruise by and get some swag.  (Okay, I know...but we all do it!) And if you want to say hi to me, I'll be spending some time at the Señor Wooly booth!  It's worth it to take a lap through the hall.  Besides, after sitting and learning, you'll welcome the exercise!  

 

CI? I thought you used TPRS!


Among several proficient and reputed experts of TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading & Storytelling), there has been some discussion about how one defines oneself. There is no shortage of acronyms to go around, of course, but recently there has been a significant number of teachers dropping the TPRS label and instead referring to themselves as CI teachers.  CI?  No, people are fans of this site enough to have become CI teachers in my honor.  In this case, CI stands for Comprehensible Input. Comprehensible Input isn't a technique.  It isn't a method.  It isn't even a philosophy. Stephen D. Krashen wrote about comprehensible input in his Comprehension Hypothesis long before I began teaching.  Here is a link to Krashen's writing if you want to read the source.  Since then he has refined his hypotheses to include the indispensability of compelling input.  But the point is that if we are able to understand messages, and do so repeatedly enough, language soaks into our brains.  This happens faster if we're interested in those messages.
ci umbrella draft

Image by E. Dentlinger

So claiming oneself to be a CI teacher, is a statement that a teacher acknowledges that language is acquired through comprehensible input, and that teacher develops plans in order to provide students with a maximum amount of comprehensible input.  And TPRS teachers fall under this umbrella. TPRS is a specific 3-step method.  And the goal of TPRS is to provide students with repetitive, comprehensible input.  But why are some TPRS experts dropping that label?  A couple of reasons.
  1.  It is too narrow.  Many teachers are moving to doing student interviews, reading and discussing novels, talking about social issues, movie talks, and a myriad of other activities that aren't technically the 3 steps of TPRS.  Some teachers who are well-versed in the techniques of TPRS, and who present workshops about TPRS find themselves using  TPRS techniques like "circling" to discuss and converse but never truly ask a story.  So TPRS feels like the wrong label.
  2. Peer pressure.  I can say from personal experience that it can be tough being the only TPRS teacher in a large school in a large district.  And TPRS seems like you're really bucking the system.  And when someone gets swept up in the euphoria of this new method, it can be hard not to preach about the new language acquisition theory you learn.  It can be hard to keep from turning others off with your born-again teacher excitement.  Everyone wants to buy something, but nobody wants to be sold anything.  By saying you're a CI teacher, you can point to the ACTFL position statement which few would be able to find fault with.
  3. Political Correctness.  Since TPRS began growing as a method, it has faced opposition.  Some thought it was just another fad. Some heard of the trend toward bizarre stories and figured it worked for clown-like teachers and looked on practitioners as the hippies of the teaching world.  Some even thought it was a cult. (See the enthusiasm thing above.) It is not lightly that I say many TPRS teachers have felt like they need to stay in a teaching methods closet.  It can be hard to "come out" as a TPRS teacher, especially in one's initial attempts to use this inspiring new method, before their own results can prove they made the correct decision.
So, TPRS is CI.  But not all CI is technically TPRS.  And my thoughts?  A TPRS-based class with other CI activities for variety is probably the best of all possible worlds. So what are CI activities? How does one use CI if it isn't TPRS?  You'll just have to read more about that in my next update!  

La casa de la Dentista...part 1: My Review


When Jim Wooldridge (Sr. Wooly) asked me to review his new graphic novel, I JUMPED at the chance!! You can't blame me for not resisting a sneak peek of what he calls "...the best story I've ever created in any medium. ", right?  So I was over the moon when the book landed in my mailbox.

La casa de la Dentista

But does it hold up to the hype?  Is it really that good? Yeah.  It is. A young girl has nightmares about her...la Dentista.  And at school the folklore continues as the world remembers the incident...so long ago...well, you'll just have to read about that part.  I was going to tell you more, but then I got a phone call... But this book really is good.  The art is AMAZING.  I couldn't wait to read the whole book.  I was so impatient, I decided we were going to have a little extra FVR time in class, just so I could read!

Best excuse for FVR...Profe wants to read!

The story has humor, and twists at every point.  Just when you think you have it figured out, something new happens that you didn't expect! But is it scary?!? Well, it's suspenseful.  And while to describe the plot it is more intense and psychologically mindblowing than the original video (on the surface, "A girl doesn't want to go to the dentist because the dentist is a kind of spider-like sadistic creature with no teeth." doesn't sound like much), it feels less scary to me.  The music and sound effects of the video make it a much more bothersome experience in my opinion than the graphic novel.  The action in the graphic novel, does build to a much more suspenseful climax, and doesn't give a lot of relief from that tension.  But the nice thing about a book is that you can control how quickly you get into and through that tension.  You can put the book down, or skip past a scary image by turning the page.  While I wouldn't recommend it to younger elementary classes, my estimation is that this would be fine for use in middle school and older.  And some elementary kids will also LOVE this.  As with anything, you need to know your kids, and know if this is right for them. But should we really believe you?  Didn't you just do this for the free copy? No...okay, yeah...but I love and respect you all too much to lie to you about this.  I promise, I'm already plotting how I'm going to use this with my students when it is available.  And to put more behind my review, I've asked students to review it for me also.    So stay tuned for part 2 when I share with you what my students say about this book...I'm showing it to level 1 and level 5!! To be continued...

TPRS/CI-Friendly Sessions at WAFLT 2017


I've noticed a recent trend among other TPRS/CI type folks to put together a list for big conferences like ACTFL of all the sessions that may be of special interest to those of us focusing on COMPELLING, CONTEXTUALIZED COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT. So, for those similarly-minded folks, here are a list of sessions at the upcoming annual conference of the Wisconsin Association For Language Teachers that might be of interest.  These are sessions presented by CI teachers, as well as some personally recommended sessions by presenters who have good stuff to say, regardless of their CI-ness.  Of course, there are lots of other good sessions too...so don't assume things off my list are not worth seeing!  And if you see any sessions I should add, let me know! Thursday Pre-Conference Workshop:  10a-4pm  "Moving Along the Road to Proficiency: Where Do We Need to Go? How Do We Get There?"  by Helena Curtain, Jessica Bradley, Carol Hartmann, Theresa Kruschke-Alfonso The Greendale Schools have got their stuff TOGETHER!  It's worth seeing if you're able to attend Thursday. Friday Workshops 8:30am-11:30am ($ extra cost) FW-1  "Looking Forward, Planning Backward"   by Carrie Toth FW-10 "Using Children's Books in the Target Language..." by Jean Hindson   *Disclaimer: I don't know about Professor Hindson at all. But usually reading sessions have value for CI folks. Friday Afternoon Sessions  1:45-2:45pm A-9  "Let's Breakout"  by Jennifer Peterson & Paula Meyer  *Okay, not really truly CI, but a LOT of CI teachers use Breakouts, so you may want to experience one! A-10 "Social Media? For Professional Development?  Yes, really!" by Kelly Ferguson  *Yep, it's me!! And while CI things might get even more of a mention, this session really is for anyone!! A-12 "Strategies for Building or Activating Background Knowledge" by Melody Leung  *It's an ESL session, and ESL people tend to really get language acquisition/comprehensibility stuff.  I don't actually know Melody personally. Friday Afternoon Session 3:15-4:15pm B-1 "Taking the Lead: Proficiency-Oriented Programs in Practice" by Lisa Hendrickson.  *I love Lisa.  We all love Lisa.  Go watch Lisa. B-5 "Boost Creativity & Proficiency with Augmented Reality" by Deana Zorko.  *Come see why Deana was a CSCTFL Teacher of the Year. B-10 "National Board Certification in World Languages" by Meg Graham.  *Might wanna think about it.  Also, if you're in the Madison area, we've got great mentorship going! Friday Awards Ceremony & Keynote Come hear Carrie Toth speak!  DO IT!! Saturday Morning Sessions 8:00am-9:00am C-1 "Breakout EDU! Break Into Classroom Creativity" by Andrea Behn  *Another chance to check out breakouts.  I don't know if this session lets you actually experience one though. Saturday Morning Sessions  9:30-10:30am D-13 "Warm Up With Culture in the Target Language" by Nicole Thompson & Taylor Rutter  *I don't know these teachers, but I bet there are some ideas for comprehensible authentic resources in this session! Saturday Afternoon Sessions 1:30-2:30pm E-1 "TOYs Talk Proficiency" by Josh LeGreve and several former WAFLT Teachers of the Year (TOYs). E-7 "Inclusive Pedagogy for the Language Classroom" by Joshua Brown, Connor Zielinski, Tristan Devick  *Okay, I don't often want to recommend sessions by University folks, and I don't know ANY of these presenters, but diversity, inclusion, and culturally-relevant teaching is kind of a "thing" for me, so fingers crossed this session does its topic justice! E-9 "CI Tailored for Classicists" by Daniel Tess Saturday Afternoon Sessions 1:30-3:00pm T-4 "Can you Breakout EDU?" by Kari Ewoldt  *Yep, another breakout session.  This one includes doing a breakout and debriefing, then talk about how to connect to your curriculum. Saturday Afternoon Sessions 2:45-3:45pm F-2 "Life Hacks:  Classroom Edition"  *Woo-Hoo!  Me again!  An assortment of tips and tricks to make every minute filled with language from even before students enter your room!                      

Give 'em a Break!


I've heard it said that people can pay attention, typically, one minute for every minute of their age. My students are 14-18. I teach on a 90-minute block. Which means that on average, after about 15 minutes, my students are physically incapable of paying attention.  I teach on a 90-minute block.  90/15 = 6. 6 changes in tempo.  6 breaks in the action.  This was a daunting number to see.  I use a lot of activities in class, I work hard to engage students.  I've even considered myself creative from time to time.  But to do 6 changes of gear during one class period? What if what I'm doing requires more than 15 minutes? How many different ways can I change up what I'm doing with a topic?  How can I recharge the students and keep our class productive? With brain breaks. What IS a brain break? I'm a child of the 80s, and I love playing Atari games at my neighbor's house, and later challenging my brother on our Nintendo (he ALWAYS won).  But the one thing that all those systems had in common, and most current video games I've seen also have in common, is the reset button.   It stops the game, lets the player refresh, get into a better place, and then move on.  The player could use the reset as a chance to take a breath, apply knowledge (you die if you turn right; a coin is hidden in those bricks),  and get a fresh approach a the problem, with a full stock of lives or health points. Our students need us to hit the reset button.  Their brains need a breath.  They need to approach our classwork full of life. Inspired by Annabelle Allen and her work with brain breaks, I have compiled a list of some of my favorites.  The first 19 came from Annabelle's blog, and you can find more complete descriptions there.  The next bunch are from a variety of sources, including several from the Colorado Education Initiative and my own ideas of games, camp experiences, and shamelessly stolen from a number of random presentations by colleagues for which I can no longer remember whom to give the credit.
  1. Copy my dance moves (or other moves not so dance-y)
  2. Rock-Paper-Scissors (when music plays, dance.  When stops, challenge)
  3. Use musical chairs type of partner chat (move during the music, chat when it stops)
  4. Look up a goofy word
  5. Stand up, high 5 someone, sit.
  6. Stand up, touch your head, sit
  7. Stand up, jump a few times, sit
  8. Stand, do 1 rock paper scissors match, sit
  9. Choco-choco, la-la, te-te chant with actions (fist bump, palms, back of hands)
  10. Stand up, switch seats with someone wearing same color shirt as you, sit.
  11. Stand up, move 1 seat (direction), sit.
  12. Stand up, turn to partner and make dumb face, sit.  (1st to laugh loses!)
  13. Take a group selfie (slideshow at end of year, use on website or blog, or for picture talk)
  14. 2 lines, touch body parts with partner
  15. Invent a high 5 with a partner
  16. Drive by compliments (write 1 for each person in group and then extras.  Stick on each other as a drive by)
  17. Handshakes & Introductions
  18. Handshakes & Name favorite ____
  19. Stop and Text/Tweet/Snap (something curricular) on phone (or post-it for a low-tech variation)
  20. Take a lap around the room
  21. Stretch together or individually
  22. Massage pressure point between thumb and pointer finger 30sec and switch hands
  23. Breathing exercises
  24. Cross feet and hands, bend elbows so hands by face.  Breathe deeply holding for 30 sec
  25. Clockwise circle on foot, draw 6 with hand
  26. Be the Mickey Mouse on a watch.  Or mirror the hands on a watch.
  27. Nose/ear touch with opposite hands.  Then switch sides.
  28. Mime hiking, swimming, cycling, paddling (sitting or standing for all)
  29. Put fists together, point 1 thumb and other index finger.  Switch. How fast can you go?
  30. Blink 1 eye while snapping fingers on other hand (or hop on opposite foot instead of snap...or add that)
  31. Forward/backward circles
  32. Win by getting to 21:  high 5 once or twice each turn counting up.
  33. Aw-so-go  Aw= arm horizontal at chest.  SO=arm horizontal at belly.  GO= Arm straight forward.  Stand in a circle & signal another player.  Get it wrong and you’re out.
  34. Toss a ball around circle and answer questions as you get the ball
  35. 4 corners (strongly agree/agree/disagree/strongly disagree) with various statements
  36. Cross crawls (touch raised knee with opposite hand, switch)
  37. Boot scoot (touch hand to opposite heel behind your back)
  38. Mirror drill (mirror your partner. Can limit to just hands or whole body)
  39. Tippy Toe Walk
  40. High Knees Walk
  41. Heel Walk
  42. Foot Rock Paper Scissors (feet together, feet apart, feet crossed)
  43. Chair Roller Coaster:  harness on, climbing turns, drops, finish (lift harness), exit (grab stomach)
  44. Arms straight up, one leg straight in some direction, turn body as horizontal as you can
  45. Act out action verbs in a text
  46. Higher/lower  (ss has back to board, teacher writes number.  Student guesses.  Class indicates higher/lower by jumping or squatting
  47. Make a beat  (clap, snap? Unh, whoop).  See how long it takes to become a recognizable pattern. (Credit:  Sr. Wooly)
  48. Get up, touch 10 chairs not in a row, sit.
  49. Touch 8 elbows from other people.
  50. Touch 6 different colored shirts in the room.
  51. Rainstorm (the bigger the group, the cooler this is!)
  52. Human Tic Tac Toe groups of 8-9
  53. Ninja
  54. Kickboxing moves (jab/cross).  
  55. 360 turn and dunk like you're an NBA star
  56. Fast feet (Like football players running through tires, but in place)
  57. Alice the Camel song
  58. Captain’s Coming (Consider starting small & adding new actions each week or so to limit vocabulary for novices.  Feel free to leave off/modify any actions you don't like.  The "mermaid" one described here is one I'd skip, but the description of the game is good.)
  59. Camp Songs, especially those with hand or body motions
  60. Baby Shark song
  61. Children's songs
Most of these would take less than 5 minutes, many could take only 5-15 seconds, but they can provide that needed mental reset button that students need to stay engaged and work out some physical energy in order to be able to concentrate.  Do these help students acquire language?  If done in the target language frequently enough, they may directly do so.  But the general brain science behind these does mean that they can help students learn better, in general.  So share these with your non-world languages colleagues too!

A day (or week...or month) in the life of a Sr. Wooly Song


If you know me, you know that I LOVE me some Sr. Wooly. The why is easy--the songs and videos are fun, comprehensible stories that engage students and help them acquire language. But the HOW could be a different matter.  What do you DO with the songs?  That is a loaded question.  Loaded, because there is no right answer.  There is no wrong answer.  There are just a LOT of things you can do with any given song, so putting too much stock in what I do could lead you to believe that your ideas aren't correct.  PLEASE, do NOT take this as THE way to use a song.  There is no magic to my order or flow.  I have just been using this stuff long enough that I can see how things will/may flow in a logical way.  This is just how I am currently picturing me doing this. Heck, this isn't even how I *am* doing it.  I'm writing this in the middle of July!  But here is how I would approach the story/song. A bit of my context first.  I teach levels 1-AP Literature.  And I do it on 90-minute blocks.  As I describe my plans, I'm going to write about 10-30 minutes of activities as a whole day.  If you're on a 45-minute period, you may not want (or be able) to devote that much time on any given day to Sr. Wooly.  And that is okay.  We won't tell Jim that his site isn't your everything.  It can be our little secret. "¿Puedo ir al baño?" According to a completely non-scientific poll on the Woology facebook group, this is the first song many teachers use. So, it's a great way to show how I teach a song. Hopefully this helps you get ideas at the start of the year. Kelly's first step:  Activating vocabulary
  • I always check out the supplementary packet.  While I don't always use the clip art matching activity, it's good especially in level 1.  In this case, rather than just doing the matching activity, I will put up the clip art, or my own images found online for these words.  
    • I do a little talking/questioning about things related to this vocabulary.  So, looking at the first image, it is "maestro".  Since I use "Profe" in class, I will mention that maestro = profe, and then talk about teachers at my school.  "¿Cómo se llama un maestro de arte?"  I might ask if they are good teachers, or if they are strict teachers, or if they are crazy teachers.  As much as I think students will easily understand so they can hear the word "maestro" without me being boring and repetitive.  Lather, rinse, repeat with the other words.
  • Because I love reading in class, and because I love holding off on the big reveal of the video, I would then read the embedded reading.  Because this could be one of the very first readings they do in Spanish, we will go through and as a class say what it means in English.  I don't say we're going to "translate" it, because I want to avoid word-by-word translation.  I want to get at the meaning of the story.  And we are going to start with the 2nd reading, the "Versión Pequeña".  You will see why later.  How do I do this?
Justin está en el pasillo de la escuela con un amigo.     (Okay, the words in bold may be new.  I will simply make "pasillo" comprehensible by writing it in English.  I might ask which "pasillo" our class is in. Or which "pasillo" their English class is. (Our school has labeled wings, so they can say "A wing" or ""pasillo A").  Then we would talk about amigos.  Knowing what is coming up next, I might ask the names of their friends.) Su amigo se llama Patrick. Los chicos van a la clase de español.  (I'd probably ask friend names and if they go to Spanish class with friends.) La clase de español es su clase favorita porque es muy interesante. (This is easy to read...lots of cognates.  But I might ask if OTHER classes are interesting.  Or what classes are their favorites.) Pero hay un problema. (GASP!) Justin necesita ir al baño. Le dice a Patrick: —Necesito ir al baño. (Necesito looks like necessary, so it's pretty quickly acquired, at least from a comprehension point of view.  I'll probably ask a bit about if they need to go to the bathroom now.  Someone will say yes, and I'll let them go. When we get to "le dice", I don't worry about spending a LOT of time here...also I can't think of a lot to say which would get me a lot of input for the kids of that word.  Maybe ask "Who says ' Yabba dabba do'?" Or things like that.  Don't worry about the indirect object pronoun.  Trust me.  Just tell kids it means "says to someone".  This is about comprehension, not grammar mastery.) Patrick le dice: —La clase empieza en un minuto. (We'll probably spend some time on this, maybe asking if Patrick says "la clase empieza en un minuto" or if he says "yo quiero Taco Bell".  I can't think of how to make "empieza" really all that engaging, so I just would tell them what it means.  If my kids knew a lot of numbers or how to tell time, it's a great thing to compare when different classes start.)   Justin no tiene tiempo para ir al baño. (Super high-frequency word here.  Honestly, my kids learn "tiene" on like the second day, but we'd spend some time here anyhow.  We'd review what kids have.  Terrence has a hat.  Kaitlyn has a red notebook.  Lindsey has a small backpack.  Colton has a big backpack.  In class we don't have time to take a nap.  Justin doesn't have time for going to the bathroom.) Justin está frustrado. Es una situación mala. (Yeah, lots of new words...but super comprehensible cognates.  I'd help them with anything they don't get, but I'm guessing kids can follow these.  Neither of these are huge targets for me, so I'd just make sure they understand and move on.) Justin y su amigo van a la clase.  Justin le pregunta al profe: — ¿Puedo ir al baño? (By this point in the story, they'd be able to guess what Justin says.  I'd just ask them to predict how "pregunta" and "dice" are different.  I often accompany the word "pregunta" with a giant question mark in the air.  And often a sound effect.  For a glimpse of this, watch Victor Borge's Phonetic Pronunciation video.  Or, just watch it because it's funny.   Okay, that's enough for day 1.  Now for the NEXT day... Warm Up:  I would have students read the reduced version (the shortest one) of the embedded reading.  The great thing about embedded readings is that the text from one version is embedded into the next longer version.  So having read the 2nd one in class together yesterday, the 1st one should be more comprehensible.  They would write a summary.  Yes, they already know it.  Yes, they probably have yesterday's story with the answers on it.  I don't care.  I just want them reading the words. Then, I'm going to steal the yes/no/sometimes sentences from the Supplementary Packet and we'll talk about those.  Where/when can kids go to the bathroom?  When/where can they speak English? Or Spanish?  (My target is really "poder ir" and "necesitar ir" in various forms.) FINALLY, I show the video.  I might do some pause and talk moments during the intro especially.  But I'll let the song play.  In level 1 they watch with both English and Spanish subtitles.  And then that's it for day 2.  Always leave 'em wanting more, right? DAY 3 Yep, I drag these out for about a week.  So we're about halfway through.  Today I would give them some true/false sentences about the video which we will discuss.  "T/F--Justin necesita ir a Target".  "T/F--El profe tiene mucho pelo".  Whatever makes sense that they'll understand. We will watch the video again.  THIS time, I will be annoying and stop it about every 6 seconds so that I can give even more comprehensible input and conversation about EVERYTHING that happens or can be seen in the video.  Yes, this is annoying.  Too bad.  I bet their math classes have annoying things that happen too.  And English.  And social studies.  They can deal.  Embrace the fact that you are probably going to frustrate them. Before they are totally over how awesome this song and its video are, we will start in on the nuggets.  I typically give them about a week to complete any online assignment, since not all my students have internet access all the time.  We are on our way to being a 1:1 school but in the meantime I have a chromebook cart in my room, so pretty easy access to the technology to do these things in class. For this first one, I will assign them to complete Nugget 3, and give about 30 minutes to work on it. We have Dyknow at school so I can block all other sites from their Chromebooks and see who is on-task and who is goofing around.  I would set all my level 1 kids to the Novice Low level early in the year, but later would allow kids to request a "bump up" to more complex tasks.  Some kids I just bump up during the year anyhow, because I know they're ready. DAY 4 Today I will probably pirate one of the nugget activities, such as the one pictured below to use as a warm-up.  I would choose one from later in the nuggets that they haven't seen yet.  This is Nugget 9, Read & Review.  I'd reformat it so that I could have a couple of questions on the screen as the warm-up. Because I'm doing other things in class besides this song, we probably won't spend as much time on it today as we did yesterday...remember, I've got a 90-minute block.  I would probably just show the video one more time, maybe with pop-ups as a treat.  Sometimes we sing the song, with different groups being responsible for singing different parts of the song. That depends on the class.  Since I do this quite early in the year, some classes aren't ready for the locura that is life in my room.  What about homework?  I would give kids copies of the remaining embedded readings and assign a "ROBERTO"...an idea I got from Jorge Perez de Jesus.  ROBERTO means "Read Or BE Read TO".  They need to read the long version of the story to an adult and have that person sign the page, or take a selfie with that adult and the reading and send it to me.  But the medium and extended versions are on the sheet.  I let them know that they can do one of the other versions, secretly hoping they will choose the long ones to show off to their parents...and make ME look good in the process! Mwa-ha-ha! DAY 5 Our warm-up today could be the "translate" activity from the supplement packet. We might listen to the song today as a class, just for a quick review.  If I haven't shown the pop-ups, they will see that version today.  Then, I often retype these scrambled sentences from the supplement packet into SMART Notebook so kids can physically move them around and create the lines of the song.  This could also be easily done on pieces of paper.  I would color code each line so that they keep lyrics from each line separate.  Or don't...that could be an added challenge especially for higher level students, or those who have heard the song before in previous classes. To finish up with this song, we would play the Rocola video game.  I do this game in a few different ways.  Sometimes I have one class compete for a top score against another class, with students taking turns at the SMART Board touching the right answer.  Other times I do 2 groups in one class.  Still other times I have kids play on their own to get to a certain level or beat a benchmark score.  I've even given extra credit for kids who beat my top score on a given level.  (I didn't get perfect scores on purpose.  No, really, I planned it.  Seriously!  I did!) As they say, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).  This is a fairly typical week of me approaching a Sr. Wooly song.  This is NOT how I do every song.  I don't spend this much time on all songs.  Others really connect with my students and we do WAY more in terms of extension activities, because if kids really get into something, I want to run with it.  But as they say in theater (or is it "theatre"?), always leave them wanting more.  If you beat a song to death, kids are NOT going to spend a lot of time outside of class obsessing on the song, doing the videogame just for fun.  Sometimes, less is more.  

El capibara con botas--critical thinking in early level 1!!


This year I read El capibara con botas by Mira Canion in my Spanish 1 class.  We started this book on roughly our 8th day of every-other-day of block scheduling classes.  Which means in a typical HS schedule, this was about Day 12.  I can't stress how impressed I am that Mira was able to write a   book that is comprehensible this early in the year.  There are very few books that would be approachable this early in the year.  The only other one I know of is Pobre Ana by Blaine Ray. What I like about this book is that there is not only a cute and silly story (Carlos the capybara cannot swim well, but goes on a long trip to help save his rainforest lake home from the Puma and the Jaguar), but deals with real issues. This story is ripe with "other" topics to discuss--friendship and bravery, deforestation and environment, acceptance of self and others who are different.  It is fantastic. I'm not going to lie, this bright idea of mine was a case of necessity being the mother of invention.  We were doing "Instructional Rounds"...classes are observed by small groups, and then they discuss things that they saw in classes to determine trends across our school.  And one of our goals this year is to increase student collaboration and how students "interact with each other's thinking and a text".   So I knew I needed students to interact.  And think.  With each other.  And a text. So I divided them into groups of 3 based on where they were sitting and handed each student this chart.  Each student had to follow the example and fill in the first 2 rows with quotes from a book that also give some science information, even if it isn't explicitly stated.   As the example says, "Carlos doesn't swim well.  He isn't normal.  So the science information is that capybaras DO swim well.  After completing their own, in their groups of 3, they had to share their 2 facts.  Rows 3 & 4 on their form were to be filled in with information, one from each other person in the group's brain.  Row 5 could come from any brain in the group, their own or a partner's. It was really impressive that students were (mostly) able to infer items not explicitly stated from the reading, and while this was only one instance, this is definitely an Intermediate-Advanced level skill, and certainly calls for critical thinking on the students' part, without needing to have a huge amount of language at their disposal.  Because it was based on comprehensible input, although their discussions were mostly in English, there was a lot of analysis and interpretation of target language text.      

The Best Ideas are Stolen Ideas (Vol. I)


In a workshop recently, Mike Coxon said he was told by a professor that the key to success in education was "CASE:  Copy And Steal Everything".

Of course, you want to make sure to give credit where it is due and respect other teachers' copyrights and intellectual property.  So in this first homage to that philosophy, I bring you the best new thing I've stolen--Strip Bingo.

No.  Not THAT kind of strip.  Although kids will appreciate that name! It's funny!  But be careful if you send a bunch of kids home telling their parents that they played Strip Bingo in class...could really raise some eyebrows.

Before I tell you the deal with this game, let me tell you my problem with pretty much all games: They are a waste of time.

Sure, I've played bingo. Does this sound familiar?

T: Take a couple of minutes to fill out your card.  (10 minutes pass).  Let's start. S:  I'm not ready. T: Hurry.  (Three minutes pass)  Okay, the first word is Apple. S: What? S: What does that mean? S:  (to another) What did she say? T: The next word is Banana. S: Did you call Kumquat yet? S: Wait, did she say Banana or Blueberry? (Someone finally yells BINGO!) T: Read back what you've got. S: Apple, wait--what is this? T: Banana. S: Yeah.  Um, Carrot.  (And so on) S: She cheated! And 30+ minutes of class are gone.

I've done flyswatter.  I've done Jeopardy.  I have turned college drinking games into language games.  Seriously.  And they DO have value.  They are a brain break for kids.  They are FUN. They generally aren't that mentally taxing for us as teachers. But they also don't often allow students to get good input, and to give output that isn't super challenging.

So I am always excited when Martina Bex posts about games in her blog.  Why?  Because Martina doesn't post many time-killers.  She is most known for spreading the Mafia game around the TPRS community.  But this post is about Strip Bingo.  My new favorite and potentially really, really low-prep game.  Martina gives credit to Kristin Duncan for this game, so I shout out to Kristin as well.

If you prefer fancy schmancy polished things, you can get yourself a copy of a template here.  It is 2-pages and suitable for framing.  If you're really bad at decorating, that is.  If you want to read Martina's post about this game, you can find that on her site.

How to play: Kids still make their own cards, but instead of a 5x5 grid, they use a strip with 5, 6, 7, or so segments in a row.  Heck, you could probably make a game last for weeks if you use enough squares!  They use vocabulary words of the current topic.  After cards are filled out, the teacher reads something that contains these words.  If the word on the END of a student's strip is called, that student rips it off.  Which leaves a new end!  Words from the middle may get called, depending on how the student wrote them.  That's fine, but they can only tear off the ends.  The first student to tear off all pieces and then have their last single piece called is the winner! We played in AP Spanish Literature, while learning about the historical context of El burlador de Sevilla y el convidado de piedra.  Just for contrast, I used this with my Spanish 1 kids doing some of Martina's day of the dead stuff!

CI on the Block


90 minutes.

An hour and a half. To some people the idea of trying to engage students for this immense amount of time is frightening.  It must be impossible!  And to do a TPRS class for 90 minutes?  How does one sustain that energy?
On the other hand, there are plenty of other teachers who find themselves on the opposite end of the scale.  90 minutes would be a luxury, the Jacuzzi tub of class periods.  How wonderful it must be to have all the time you want (and more) in a day with your students, instead of rushing through a 42-minute class. No matter your comfort level with a long class period, a block schedule does create some logistical issues for the lesson plan.  In order to know how to plan a block class effectively for a TPRS/CI classroom (and I will distinguish later why I’m not just saying TPRS), we need to understand a few universal truths about a block schedule:
  1. Just because the period is twice as long, it doesn’t mean you can just teach two days in one day.
  2. You won’t see your kids daily, or you won’t see them all year.  You get 90 days, not 180.
  3. Block scheduling gives teachers fewer preps and possibly more planning time (in theory). And often (in theory) class sizes are smaller.  In theory.
  4. With fewer different classes (and fewer class periods), some “housekeeping” tasks like taking attendance and dealing with absent students happen less often.
  5. In a 4x4 block schedule, students can often “double up” on subjects that interest them, taking multiple levels in one year. This is an advantage to students who would like to reach high levels of World Language classes or take more than one language.
  6. You can NOT expect to talk for 90 minutes every day.  It is bad for your voice and students will not love you for that.
There are as many different block schedules, and odds are some administrator will pick a really confusing one. There is a year-long alternate-day block, a 4x4 block (4 classes/day, for a semester), a trimester plan where students take 2-3 courses three times/year, or any other wacky combination an administrator can dream up with rotating daily schedule.  Some schools even attempt a hybrid schedule with some “regular” classes and some “block” classes.  In the 2016-17 school year, my schedule is Spanish 4 every day 1st block, for the fall semester, and in the spring semester, another different section of Spanish 4.  My 2nd block class will be AP Spanish Literature & Culture on A days, and Spanish 1 on B days, both of those lasting all year.  I only teach 2 classes per day because I'm department chair, so I've got extra administrative time rather than an 3rd block. So how DO we plan for a block class as TPRS teachers?  My first answer is that you cannot sustain PURE TPRS for the entire period, unless you are a superhuman individual.  Blaine Ray can probably do this.  Katya Paukova can probably do this.  On a rare day, I could maybe do this.  Most people will never be able to make a TPRS story last a full 90 minutes and hold student attention.  Yes, I mean all 3 steps.  Establish meaning, ask the story, read.  This is really hard to do ALL of these things about the same structures and same plots for 90 minutes.  Does this mean we shouldn’t try? No…the more you can go slowly and make the circling of target structures last, the better those will be acquired by your students.  But it will not happen every day.  It likely won’t happen regularly or even often.  You might never have a story that lasts that long.  I don’t think I have.  And that is fine. What I find more helpful is to have a variety of activities that provide students with comprehensible input, even if they are not truly TPRS activities.  This is why I make the distinction between TPRS and CI.  LET ME BE CLEAR:  CI or TCI is NOT a method.  TPRS is a method.  Teaching with Comprehensible Input is more of a philosophy that says we believe students acquire language when they receive comprehensible input.  Most TPRS teachers will add in “repetitive” and “compelling” to that description.  But CI-based teaching does not necessarily rely upon the repetitive (circling) and compelling (personalized) input that TPRS relies upon in instruction. When planning my lessons, I consider all of the CI activities I can think of and try to rotate those through my week to give students the variety their brains crave.  Here is a (not complete) list, in no particular order) of CI-based activities that I often draw from.
  • Ask a TPRS story
  • Watch/talk about a Sr. Wooly video
  • Movie Talk
  • Read a novel
  • Listen to some sort of listening activity (textbook activity that I’ve probably changed the directions of, podcast, news in slow Spanish, University of Texas/Austin listening proficiency exercises)
  • Read & then study a song
  • Read yesterday’s TPRS story
  • TPR activity
  • Game (Kahoot, Quizlet Live, Mafia, Verba, Apples to Apples, whatever!) Okay, some of my games aren’t really that CI-based.  But they are fun, in Spanish, and give my kids a break during our long class. So sue me.
  • Free Voluntary Reading
  • PQA/Conversation
  • The circumlocution game—okay, another confession. This is TOTALLY output.  But my kids like it and does give them practice of a vital skill.  I play this with my upper level kids only.  They can use any gestures and/or Spanish words they want to in an effort to convey the meaning of a word or phrase they probably don’t know how to say, to their team.
  • Class yoga (think Simon Says, but more stretching-based, and nobody gets “out”)
  • Mindfulness practice—a guided relaxation activity or breathing exercise to focus students or energize them.
So what might a week in my class look like?  The key is to divide and conquer.  You cannot simply do 2 TPRS stories, each 45-minutes long.  That is too overwhelming to students and draining for you.  My advice is to think of your class period as 2 or 3 different segments and to draw out a longer activity over multiple days.  This allows things to “marinade” in the students’ brains and will allow them to process the material they learn, even subconsciously, to allow for deeper acquisition.  So here is a chart of what my first two weeks of my Spanish 1 class might look like.  My class times might be different than yours, but this is one way you can go about structuring your life.  (Note: My class is on an A/B day schedule, so really, to get 10 days for me it's 4 weeks...but this is easier to visualize, so while it won't match exactly what my life is like, it's completely representative of my teaching.)
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
PQA/Conversation Warm Up (4 questions about yesterday’s PQA) Warm Up (3-4 questions about TPRS story) Warm Up (3-4 questions about yesterday’s PQA) Warm Up
TPR Break Finish TPRS story (has, goes, wants) PQA/ Conversation PQA/ Conversation Finish TPRS story from yesterday
TPRS Story (has, goes, wants) Mindfulness break TPR Break Mindfulness break TPR Break
PQA/ Conversation Read TPRS parallel story TPRS Story (different story than before with has, goes, wants but also add in says) PQA/ Conversation
Kahoot game with TPRS/PQA vocabulary
 
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Warm Up (questions about PQA kids they haven’t answered about yet) Warm Up (questions about TPRS Story 2) Warm Up (Questions about PQA or Sr. Wooly) Warm Up (Questions about new story or Sr. Wooly) Warm Up (questions about PQA)
PQA/ Conversation Pop Quiz on TPRS vocabulary (comprehension) PQA/ Conversation Sr. Wooly pop-up video Review story & read it.
TPR Break Mindfulness break TPR Break TPRS Story  (finish) TPR Break
Señor Wooly song: (read lyrics to establish meaning, watch video w/ both subtitles) PQA/ Conversation TPRS Story (has, goes, wants, says, gives, sees)  TPR Break Quiz on TPRS vocabulary.
TPR Break Sr. Wooly song (review tough lyrics, do an activity or 2 from the packet, watch video w/ no subtitles PQA / Conversation Sr. Wooly video game competition
TPRS Story—read story from last Thursday and Friday Señor Wooly song (review lyrics, do some exercises from supplement pack, listen & watch video w/ Spanish subtitles & movie talk the video) PQA / Conversation
Okay, I know what you’re all thinking, especially if you’re new to TPRS—no homework?  I might give homework during these 2 weeks.  I might not.  Depends on the kids.  Maybe reading a story will happen at home.  Maybe they’ll do a Sr. Wooly worksheet or one of the “nuggets” on the site.  Maybe they will draw pictures to illustrate one of our TPRS Stories and we’ll do a quick picture-talk or retell of the story from those.  I don’t know usually much beforehand what my students will be ready for as far as homework until I meet them.  The rest of this plan is pretty realistically what I will do this year (and I’ll actually update it as this year goes along…so you’ll see what I really do.  But as I write this now in the middle of August, this is the best I can do.  Check back in mid-September and you’ll see more accurately what I did and what I assigned. So, what about upper levels?  What do I do in Spanish 4?  There is no shortage of resources and curricula for a level 1 or 2 class.  But how on earth do you structure level 4? Basically, the same.  As a matter of fact, you'll see very similar activities between my 2 very different levels.  The idea of "work smarter not harder" is my mantra.  When I do a Sr. Wooly song in level 1, I do the same song in level 4.  When I movietalk in level 1, I will show the same movie in level 4.  What changes?  The complexity of language I use to discuss these things.  For example, in Sr. Wooly's "Puedo ir al baño", I might ask my level 1 kids "¿Quiere Justin ir al baño?" (Does Justin want to go to the bathroom?) and ask my level 4 kids "¿Quiere Justin que Carlos vaya al baño?" (Does Justin want Carlos to go to the bathroom?). So, here is week 1 Level 4 (again, check back after I've been in school and I'll show exactly what I really did)
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
PQA/Conversation Warm Up (4 questions about yesterday’s PQA) Warm Up (3-4 questions about TPRS story) Warm Up (3-4 questions about yesterday’s PQA) Warm Up (questions about yesterday's article)
TPR Break Finish TPRS story (had, went, wanted) PQA/ Conversation PQA/ Conversation Start a song study, "Dale la vuelta a la tortilla"
TPRS Story (had, wanted, went, including subjunctive) Mindfulness break TPR Break Mindfulness break TPR Break
PQA/ Conversation Read TPRS parallel story Read an article and discuss PQA/ Conversation
Plans for the weekend
 
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Warm Up:  Questions about weekend   Warm Up (4 questions about yesterday’s PQA) Warm Up (3-4 questions about readings & song we've done) Warm Up (3-4 questions about yesterday’s PQA) Warm Up (questions about TRPS Story)
PQA/Conversation Review song PQA/ Conversation PQA/ Conversation Finish TPRS story from yesterday (reading)
  TPR Break Mindfulness break TPR Break Mindfulness break TPR Break
 Review song from last week PQA/ Conversation TPRS Story TPRS Story (continued from yesterday) PQA/ Conversation
Introduction to Guatemala (leading into reading Esperanza)
 

CI? I thought you used TPRS!


Among several proficient and reputed experts of TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading & Storytelling), there has been some discussion about how one defines oneself. There is no shortage of acronyms to go around, of course, but recently there has been a significant number of teachers dropping the TPRS label and instead referring to themselves as CI teachers.  CI?  No, people are fans of this site enough to have become CI teachers in my honor.  In this case, CI stands for Comprehensible Input. Comprehensible Input isn't a technique.  It isn't a method.  It isn't even a philosophy. Stephen D. Krashen wrote about comprehensible input in his Comprehension Hypothesis long before I began teaching.  Here is a link to Krashen's writing if you want to read the source.  Since then he has refined his hypotheses to include the indispensability of compelling input.  But the point is that if we are able to understand messages, and do so repeatedly enough, language soaks into our brains.  This happens faster if we're interested in those messages.
ci umbrella draft

Image by E. Dentlinger

So claiming oneself to be a CI teacher, is a statement that a teacher acknowledges that language is acquired through comprehensible input, and that teacher develops plans in order to provide students with a maximum amount of comprehensible input.  And TPRS teachers fall under this umbrella. TPRS is a specific 3-step method.  And the goal of TPRS is to provide students with repetitive, comprehensible input.  But why are some TPRS experts dropping that label?  A couple of reasons.
  1.  It is too narrow.  Many teachers are moving to doing student interviews, reading and discussing novels, talking about social issues, movie talks, and a myriad of other activities that aren't technically the 3 steps of TPRS.  Some teachers who are well-versed in the techniques of TPRS, and who present workshops about TPRS find themselves using  TPRS techniques like "circling" to discuss and converse but never truly ask a story.  So TPRS feels like the wrong label.
  2. Peer pressure.  I can say from personal experience that it can be tough being the only TPRS teacher in a large school in a large district.  And TPRS seems like you're really bucking the system.  And when someone gets swept up in the euphoria of this new method, it can be hard not to preach about the new language acquisition theory you learn.  It can be hard to keep from turning others off with your born-again teacher excitement.  Everyone wants to buy something, but nobody wants to be sold anything.  By saying you're a CI teacher, you can point to the ACTFL position statement which few would be able to find fault with.
  3. Political Correctness.  Since TPRS began growing as a method, it has faced opposition.  Some thought it was just another fad. Some heard of the trend toward bizarre stories and figured it worked for clown-like teachers and looked on practitioners as the hippies of the teaching world.  Some even thought it was a cult. (See the enthusiasm thing above.) It is not lightly that I say many TPRS teachers have felt like they need to stay in a teaching methods closet.  It can be hard to "come out" as a TPRS teacher, especially in one's initial attempts to use this inspiring new method, before their own results can prove they made the correct decision.
So, TPRS is CI.  But not all CI is technically TPRS.  And my thoughts?  A TPRS-based class with other CI activities for variety is probably the best of all possible worlds. So what are CI activities? How does one use CI if it isn't TPRS?  You'll just have to read more about that in my next update!

Long overdue post: A syllabus is worth a thousand words


At the start of every school year, I find myself faced with a dilemma.  No, not what to teach.  See my post on How I started the year to see why that isn't a stressor for me.  My dilemma surrounds my syllabus.  Syllabi. I know there is important information I want students to know.  I know that students don't want to read a long document.  These are 21st century kids.  Snapchat kids.  Twitter kids.  They want fast, brief information.  How can my grading practices possibly be described in 140 characters.  Well, okay, they can't.  I'm just not that good.  But I am moving my syllabi toward a format compatible with their "just in time" brains.  They no longer learn and memorize things "just in case" they need it.  They have smartphones at their hips.  Well, if those phones ever leave their hands, that is!  They are "just in time" information consumers.  Information doesn't become important to them until it becomes relevant.  And on the first day of school, my grading percentages are NOT personally relevant. I looked at my old syllabi and found pages upon pages of information.  Stuff that I had thought I "should" include, but really I can't imagine caring about when I was a student--and I was a nerdy kid who would have read the whole thing!  So I got to thinking...like this e-card says. Why DO I write a syllabus?  To let kids know what to expect? To tell parents what to expect? To cover my butt in case of an issue? Because it's what we've always done? Because it seemed like the thing to do?  A little bit of all of those!  As someone who has been a reflective teacher for some time, I was used to analyzing my practice:  My use of target language, my use of compelling comprehensible input, my assessment techniques, how I grade.  But my syllabus was never something that got much attention, reflection, and evaluation.  Until now. So my first attempt to make my syllabus more than a long document full of lots of information, led to a poster-inspired, infographic-inspired document I made using Canva.  Here are the two I developed for this year's Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 courses.  Are they perfect? Gosh, no.  Are they good? Maybe.  Are they better than what I've had before?  Yes.  I think if nothing else, the more graphic format makes them stand out to kids and their parents that I'm a teacher who works creatively and carefully, putting effort into what I do.  Maybe that is a good thing in its own right. Where do I go from here?  I am considering making the document even more tech friendly, including a couple of QR codes linking to a page with my gradebook percentages, or to a post on my class website about how comprehensible input works, and will include a large invitation for parents to visit class and see what their kids are learning, especially in next year's Spanish 1 group.  The family connection is something I really do want to work on.  Perhaps I will begin a regular blog for students and parents to keep them posted on what is happening in my room.

What does CI mean to me?


In preparation for an upcoming workshop in her district in Washington, DC, Amy Wopat asked teachers on the IFLT/NTPRS/CI facebook group to give a quote about what CI means to them.  This got me thinking.  In my journey to teach using Comprehensible Input (CI)-based methods, what DOES this mean to me?  While many think of CI teaching as another name for TPRS, I think of it as much, much more. So what does CI mean to me?
  • It means getting to know my students.  We have real conversations.  We talk about who they are.  The class follows their interests.  We talk about things that relate to their lives and their opinions. I love that students tell me about their tests in other classes.  I know about their prom dates.  We all know about each other.  They know I'm afraid of bees.  I know that W loves to swim.  I know that N is goofy and will go along with anything to get a laugh.  I know that C is a living example of "still waters run deep".  He hates speaking in class but his writings show a lot of thought.
  • It means flooding the students with Spanish.  As much immersion as they possibly can handle.  And along the way, pointing out ways that cognates are formed, how words relate between languages, and pushing them to understand more complex Spanish.  Everything is comprehensible and written on the board.  Everything we do supports student comprehension of target language use.
  • It means being tired.  Being "on stage" a lot, with a mind constantly racing can be physically tiring.  Yeah.  I'll admit it.  By the end of the class, I'm a little pooped.  I put a lot of energy into my enthusiasm as I tell the story, after all, if I don't find it compelling (or at least make them think I do) then they will probably not be compelled either.  If you want them to be spirited, you have to be spirited.  Sure, they still may be half comatose no matter how into it you appear, but if YOU are lethargic, they won't be engaged.
  • It is a 3-ring circus living all inside my head.  As I teach, I am conscious of what structures I'm using, what vocabulary they're likely to understand, who I'm asking to respond, the higher and lower level questions I ask.  I've heard teaching described as a web browser with 4, 187 tabs all open at once.  That is me.  On a slow day.
  • It means proficiency.  Students are expected to produce as much language as they can, as soon as they are ready and comfortable doing so.  I warn observers when they walk into my room that it may look teacher-centered because I'm doing most of the talking.  But taking into account everything going on in the questioning and the conversations, it really is a student-centered classroom.  As the student proficiency improves and they become comfortable with the class and the Spanish, student production increases naturally.
  • It means differentiation.  While there are standards in my classroom that I expect students to shoot for, all students can feel successful at their own level.  Students are set up for success.  Questions are asked slowly and dramatically with pausing and pointing at the board.  Sure, the fast processors probably knew the answer half-way through the question, but by asking this way, slower processors have time to think about what is being asked, and can also answer the questions.  When individuals are called on in class, the faster/more advanced students are asked harder questions requiring more language to answer.  The students with lower skills are asked simpler questions, in terms of language.  NOTE:  I'm not saying this means only questions of what or who.  They can be higher-order thinking questions, but they will be questions that students have the information and language to answer, possibly reading right off the board, and not necessarily in complete sentences.
  • It means more energy and rest for me.  I know, I mentioned being tired above.  But it doesn't mean exhaustion.  There is a difference.  Blaine Ray once said that the sort of tired that comes from being active and enthusiastic and in the TPRS zone goes away after a good night's sleep.  The kind of tired that comes from student push-back, frustration because you just taught something last week and students aren't using it this week, the desperation of finding another vocabulary or grammar review game...that goes away in June.  And while Teach for June is a mantra in the CI crowd, it is about students having until June to develop proficiency in skills. It is NOT about us clinging to the glimmer of hope that June will arrive someday.
  • It means easier lesson planning, eventually.  When I started using TPRS many years ago, I worked really hard on lesson plans.  I would script my story.  And every question I was going to ask.  It was a lot of work.  But as I practiced more, I got to the point that I can do circling on the fly...and you will too!  My start-of-the year class interviews require absolutely ZERO prep.  I can't prep--it is 100% about what students give as information.  We talk about them.  I ask lots of questions for information and they provide the material.  Since I don't know what they will say, it is impossible to prep that part of the class.  What a great way to get rolling in the school year.  Now, after using TPRS/CI in some form or another for about 14 years,  I'm confident that I could walk into class, pull a couple of structures out of a hat, and run with them.  I won't guarantee a home run, lessons that are truly amazing are also truly rare.  But I am confident I could make a successful lesson on the fly.  So walking into class with 2-3 structures in mind that I've had time to think about how they could relate to each other--no problem.  It just takes a lot of training and practice and refining to get to this point.
  • It is liberating.  I don't have to spend a lot of time and effort talking around certain tenses or forms, or hope kids don't notice that I just used a totally different ending than we've practiced (which they never do anyhow).  Our story  yesterday in Spanish 3 had Elvis wanting a rich girlfriend in Las Vegas.  So of course he went to Toad Suck, Arkansas.  Wouldn't you know, we accidentally came up with a perfect use for imperfect subjunctive.  Not a structure I planned to teach, but yeah, we learned "It would be logical if he went to Vegas, but he didn't go to Vegas".  We didn't drill the whole tense.  But "If he went" and "he went" offer a lot of compare/contrast opportunity.  And I can just roll with it.  It isn't too hard for these kids, and they don't even need to know that it is called "imperfect subjunctive".  It is just a vocabulary phrase.  I love Donna Tatum-Johns's way of describing pop-up grammar. Treat it like you kid just asked you a sex ed question--just answer the question that was asked and move on.  Don't give them any more information than what they asked.  "Do babies grow in mommies' bellies?"  "Yes they do."  The kid didn't ask about the birds and the bees.  In a recent workshop, Scott Benedict mentioned that level 1 students in most languages learn some imperfect subjunctive forms without realizing it.  "Je voudrais..." in French or "Quisiera..." in Spanish.  Kids learn these easily, because they are taught them as vocabulary with meaning, not part of a language pattern.
Using CI as the basis of my courses, even when it isn't an actual TPRS story, has been life-changing.  I connect with my students more, spend less time writing daily plans (although probably equal time assembling "units"), differentiate almost unconsciously, and can go with the flow as my students' abilities and interests dictate.  They have more engagement, so I enjoy myself more.  And in the environment of public education these days, that is a big deal.

3-Tiered Assessment


Oh. My. Gosh.  You guys, this BLEW MY MIND today during our meeting!  I had to share it with you immediately.  Forget about my "CI in other subjects" post I said I was going to do.  Forget about the post about the awesome Canadian article that is started and sitting in my drafts.  This is fantastic. Today at my department chair meeting we were told to bring with us a task.  This was to have been a task that we asked students to complete that brings one of our "Lancer 9" Common Core Standards to life.  Our building has narrowed the CCSS for Literacy in All Subjects to 9 most critical for our students.  The standards we chose, if you are interested, are Reading 1, 2, 10; Writing 1, 9, 10; Speaking & Listening 1; and Language 4 &6. I had a great lesson from my Spanish 4 class that is completely irrelevant to my mind being blown, but since this post is mostly going out to other World Language teachers, I will share that.  Skip this paragraph if you're not interested in this mundane drivel.  My department, as part of our Educator Effectiveness stuff chose to focus our Student Learning Objective (SLO) this year on Writing 9--Cite evidence from texts when reading to support analysis, reflection, and research.  In my Spanish 4 class, we spent a lot of time getting to know each other.  These personal interview conversations (PQA) melded into talking about personality, which goes to personal history/family heritage, which then becomes study of immigration and reading the book Esperanza.  During this personality part, we read an article from the Spanish-language wikihow website about how to make people love you.  Students read this article and marked places that were good ideas, bad ideas, and things that were unclear.  For many students this is the first authentic reading they've ever done in Spanish. After reading the article they wrote a journal/reflection about it, using their own opinions and the advice in the article as evidence.  I haven't graded them yet, but this is the "pre-assessment" for my SLO this year. Okay, on to the amazing.  One of our science teachers brought an example of his 3-Tiered Assessment.  In science classes, students take an assessment at the beginning of the year.  This is a science pre-test.  The brilliant thing is that the assessment has nothing to do with actual science knowledge.  Like the ACT, the pre-test is an assessment of students' ability to read scientific materials, and think like a scientist.  The test has 3 parts.  A graphing section, a reading section, and a writing section.  Based on the results of this assessment, students are told they are a Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 in each of the different sections.  On the first "real" assessment, which focuses on half-life, all students can begin at Level 1, or their assessed level.  When a student achieves a 9 or 10 out of 10 on a section at that level, he/she moves up and must take the next higher test in the future.  Level 2 is sort of the benchmark in class.  Once a kid is earning an A on the level 2 test, that kid has shown sufficient mastery of the material to earn an A on that test, so moving to the level 3 test is not an academic risk, but has them doing more complex work.  When students are able to get an A on the different aspects of Level 3, then the teacher moves on to giving them the actual ACT test (he has amassed enough of a collection of ACT sample questions and past tests to make the test content about the same subject as the material in class. The test has looked at the expectations the ACT exam has for student skills, and formats his tests in the same sort of way.  The first question on all of his tests is about reading a graph.  For those unfamiliar with the ACT, it doesn't test any specific science knowledge, but tests the skills needed for interpreting graphs, charts, and scientific readings.   So his tests are formatted to focus on the same skills:  question 1 is about reading the y-axis of a graph in all 3 versions of his test.  At the Level 1, a question might be a very straightforward bit of information, right on the graph.  At Level 2 it might require a bit more interpretation, but is still about reading the graph.  Level 3 will ask students to predict something or otherwise do more complex interpretation.  But regardless of the level, the teacher knows that if a student gets the first question wrong, that reading the y-axis of a graph is something that needs reinforcing in class. The teacher based the structure of the test on Costa's levels of questioning: costa 2costa 2  Image from www.livebinders.com So am I this stoked about teaching to the test?  No.  Of course not.  I'm not a fan of standardized tests.  But my school has done a great job of making lemonade out of the lemons that standardized tests give us.  We have analyzed the questions kids tend to do the worst on.  We have looked at what those questions really ask students to DO.  Our kids struggle with identifying main idea and author's purpose.  They struggle with argumentative writing and backing up their claims with evidence.  They struggle with interpreting scientific graphs.  All of these are not only ACT skills, but things that generally we would hope our students can do.  And our science department differentiates their tests while continuously providing scaffolding and support for students to increase in these skills. What does this mean for World Language teachers?  Or other teachers in general?  It means a great idea that I've been ruminating on for a couple of days (yeah, this post didn't get done the same day I started it.  So sue me.).  I love the idea of making a class so self-differentiating.  All students get similar tests, and nobody knows which level any other student gets.  They all test content, but allow all students to be successful and push themselves to do more. What a great confidence builder!  Students don't fear that the test is going to be miles beyond their ability.   We talk a lot about standards-based grading, but how many of us truly do standards-based assessment? An assessment that is embedded within, shall we say, proficiency levels.  A student with strong reading skills might take the "Intermediate Low" reading assessment, but respond to the "Novice mid" writing prompt.  Multi-level classes? Not as big of an issue with multi-level assessments.  Heritage speakers put into low level classes because the office doesn't know where else to put them? They can be challenged by assessments too! Now, how to do this?  Not a clue.  But this is my new goal to figure out.  I will probably begin with a novel, because those are the most defined units I teach.  I do know that this science teacher did say it took a LOT of time, and his department built the plane in midair while implementing this assessment strategy.  If he didn't have a study hall supervision period, he would have gotten much less work done on making 3 versions of every unit's test.  They do 3 per quarter. (Our block schedule means that there are 6 total during a course). I'd love to hear from you...are you as blown away by the potential of this as I am?  Am I just nuts?  Both?  What are your thoughts?  

How I started the year


One of the most common issues teachers new to TPRS/CI have is how to start.  The neat thing is, that there are ways to start that make it very comfortable (What?!  It isn't awkward to just jump right into Spanish?!) and to help build relationships with our students.  Remember, it is in these first days that students make their initial assessment about liking this class or disliking it.  Sure, those impressions can change, but why not get off to a good start in ALL ways at once. My beginning of the year is something that, like all ideas, I stole from colleagues (namely Ben Slavic and Scott Benedict, among others).  Before students arrive I prepare card stock that will become their name tents.  I use the same template in all levels I teach, and construct the same activities in all classes, regardless of level.  In Spanish 1 I give students the instructions in English.  In 3 and 4, the instructions are in Spanish.  But it's all the same.  The great thing is that I can do this with virtually ZERO prep.  Which lets me NOT be super stressed as the year begins.  #winning! The template looks like this: IMG_1803 Students write their names nice and big, and then draw a response to a level-appropriate prompt.  At level 1, I usually have them draw an activity they do.  This year at level 3 they drew something they fear, and level 4 we did the first thing they would buy if they had $1,000,000.  Here is an example: IMG_1804 Clearly, Nate would buy a house.  I haven't discussed him yet in class, so I don't know the details. On the board I put "if I had...", "if I could...",  "would buy...", "would have...", "would be..." in both Spanish and English.  I did later end up writing in the "you" form. Then, using circling techniques, I pick a student and ask for details.  Maddie drew several cats on her card. Maddie, if you had $1,000,000, what would you buy? Cats. One cat or many cats? Many cats. How many? 2? 10? 1000? 1000. Oooh, class, if Maddie had $1,000,000, she would buy a thousand cats. Class, would Profe buy 1000 cats? No, class, if Profe had $1m, she wouldn't buy 1000 cats.  Who would buy 1000 cats? Maddie. And the discussion went on.  She would buy cats of every color, except orange.  And tigers are her favorite animal.  But she wouldn't buy tigers.  Because she is crazy.  She is the crazy cat lady.  It would cost $4 total to buy the 1000 cats.  Maddie has $4 now at home, but she doesn't buy 1000 cats now, because of the cost of food.  Cat food costs $5/cat/day.  So it costs her total of $5000/day to feed the cats.  That means with $1m, she can feed the cats for about 180 days.  So she doesn't buy cats now.  500 of the cats would be named Phil, and the other 500 would be named Ellie. And Ally also would buy cats if she had $1m.  But Ally would only buy 2 black cats named Spike and Reggie.  See, 4 is the limit to be normal with cats.  5 cats or more, you're crazy.  (Maddie is 20x crazy!)  So Ally is normal.  She will just have 2 cats. In a normal class period, this would have finished the period.  I teach on a 90-minute block.  BRAIN BREAK TIME!!  We got up, stretched and had a 37-second total break from class to talk, look at phones, etc. So now what?  I could have easily gone into more interviews, but wanted to change it up totally.  So thanks to Carrie Toth, I used a lesson designed by a colleague to do movie talk, embedded reading, and a cloze activity on this commercial for a bank. <iframe width="420" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mJz8bpZlnS8" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> And, without even stretching at all, we were able to have some of the things from class come up in the video!  How much WOULD that many marshmallows cost?! It was great.  And I noticed that I have one gal (Ellie) who drew ONE dog, and another (Avery) drew several.  So on day 2, you KNOW that we also talked about what it takes to be a crazy dog lady.  Apparently, the same limit.  Avery will buy 10 labradors, 1 named Maddie and the rest named Ellie. And Ellie will have 1 white chihuahua named Willa.  Labradors cost $1200, so IF Avery WANTED, she COULD buy 1197 dogs, but she WOULD only buy 10.  White chihuahuas cost $837.22, and Ellie only WOULD BUY one. So much fun!  

Engaging Students from the Start


Although it is not the first thing my students will see, my syllabus is the first thing I prep for the new school year.  This year I followed the amazing lead of Dustin Williamson and made my class syllabi on Canva.  Canva is a poster/publishing/infographic-making program.  So I have definitely got the prettiest syllabi this year that I've ever had.  Check 'em out! You can download a PDF of my Español 4 Syllabus 2015 here. You can download a PDF of my  Español 3 Syllabus 2015 here. What's the deal with making a collection of posters as your syllabus?  I know that having a pretty syllabus doesn't make a Compelling class, but I think handing out a text-filled white page doesn't do much to hook students into the course. Which got me thinking about the engagement we strive for in our classes.  It's been a long time since I've sat in a classroom as a student.  But looking back at most of my classes, even those I enjoyed or teachers I really liked, there didn't seem to be much emphasis on engagement.  In 7th grade, my math teacher left an indelible mark on my soul, thanks to a couple small and one large incident that I considered bullying and abusive.  While he didn't cross the line legally, to this day I remember the unfair treatment I received, his snap judgement of me, and the tears I shed as I was kicked out of his class.  Me!  A good kid!  It was traumatic--the incident is still clear in my mind to this day.  As a student who always struggled with numbers, these scars took quite a while to heal.  My 8th grade math teacher was a sweet but strict woman, but I was still reeling from my experiences to fully engage in her class.  My freshman algebra teacher, Mr. Lee Harth (God rest his soul), spent most of the class period sitting at his overhead projector at the front of the room, working through problems and formulas with us.  But it was obvious to me that Mr. Harth was a good guy.  He cared about students.  I felt comfortable asking for help.  But was the class compelling? No.  It was the opposite of that.  Sure, he would make up entertaining story problems to illustrate the formulas we used.  I liked Mr. Harth.  I did not feel engaged or compelled in algebra. Another teacher, Mr. Jeff Elmer, came along my junior year.  He was one of the younger teachers in our building, teaching physics.  He was engaging.  Our physics class was filled with active participation, goofy videos, and life examples.  One of our first lessons had him showing the stability of a brick by balancing it on it's flat side, long side, and end, standing on it.  And falling off of it!  We saw how centripetal acceleration worked by spinning ourselves on a turntable.  We could SEE the impact of the formulas and concepts we were studying.  Often our story problems made fun of him ("Uncle Elmer") and the author of our textbook (Paul Hewitt) who was a goofy guy that appeared in the ancillary videos for the book.  Seriously, who remembers the name of their high school physics textbook author about 25 years later ?!  His class was compelling.  It was inspiring.  Although it was very difficult, I chose to take Physics 2.  I did NOT have talent for this class, but Mr. Elmer made it COMPELLING. I had lots of good experiences in school.  I enjoyed learning.  I really liked a lot of my teachers, but there were very few teachers throughout my career who went all the way to "compelling" in their instruction.  So what makes a course compelling and engaging?  For me it was teachers who put themselves out there.  Those who weren't afraid of being silly or goofy in class to forward their goals.  They cared more about their students than they did about their image.  They would be "uncool" for their kids.  They would put effort into making the class connect with students.  And they would get to know the people behind the young, sometimes not-so-eager faces in front of them.  And that is the best part of CI teaching.  As I have attended workshops and conferences, I have been impressed by the language development that students can have in a relatively short period of time.  But what is even more impressive is the "Teach to the Eyes", "We teach students, not curriculum", PQA-centered instruction that goes such a long way to making our CI activities COMPELLING for our students.  I feel blessed to be a part of such a caring, student-centered community.

Start of the School Year


This year, as my classes begin, I am already amazed at the power of Compelling Instruction.  Only two days into my Spanish I classes and already students are understanding a good chunk of 30+ minutes of only Spanish.  By making language comprehensible (writing translations on the board) and compelling (by making it about the students) they are interested in what we're doing and they are acquiring language. I have been using Comprehensible Input as a basis for instruction for several years.  But it has taken me several years and many different incarnations of lessons, methods, and styles to stumble upon the Compelling Questions that have made all the difference in my teaching. Dr. Stephen Krashen has said that for language acquisition to happen the language needs to be comprehensible and compelling.  What is more compelling in the mind of a teenager than talking about himself or herself?  In anyone's mind really?  So spending the first two weeks of class doing nothing but discussing what the students like to do, what they did over the summer, where they go, what they think, and so on, I am able to focus narrowly on the most compelling subjects there are--the kids themselves! As an added bonus, this compelling instruction also makes kids feel important.  Kids believe they really matter in class.  When we spend fifteen or twenty minutes discussing how Nora rides horses or how Steven likes to skate, that shows the students that their lives, their hobbies, are important in class.  These students really do matter.  This strengthening of student-adult relationships in the classroom is something that I consider the greatest blessing of teaching World Languages.  While it may seem out of context to get into long personal discussions about what they did last weekend in a math class, in my classroom it fits perfectly into the curriculum.  I think we are truly lucky that we can get to know our students on such a deep level.   Which makes this instruction compelling for me too.