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Recently on Woology, there was some talk of “upper level” songs–the issues relating to what songs people save for upper levels, and impressions of kids that certain songs are too easy. So here are my secrets of working with upper level students and the Sr. Wooly materials.
First, let me say, that I was intentional with my words. These are MY secrets. These are not THE secrets. What works for me may not fly in your context. As they say in car ads, your mileage may vary (YMMV). Also, these are not in some magic formula order. Just the order I thought to write about them.
Secret #1: Kids need to know about SLA. I don’t make my kids read Krashen’s essays or anything like that. But in level 1, when kids are in their first Spanish class experience, they expect things to work like other classes. But language isn’t like other subjects. Even if a curriculum is divided into distinct units, it should be evident to all teachers that effective language class experiences would not involve a learn + test + move on to a totally new topic with limited connection to what we just studied. And regardless of the emphasis you feel may need to be placed on linguistic precision and mechanics, at the very basic level the premise that language messages that you understand (comprehensible input) gets stuck into your head. We teachers can debate the efficacy of an input-based instruction paradigm, but we can’t deny that it works for mothers all around the world by just talking to kids who gradually understand more. So receiving messages they understand is beneficial for kids. Like I said, we can debate if that is what makes sense in schools but I dare you to prove that what I’ve said is wrong, at a basic level. Kids accept this as logical, and it increases buy-in not only for Sr. Wooly songs but anything we read or listen to, especially the easier stuff. (And for those who wonder “but what about the verbs?!” kids really easily can accept the addition of the idea “but since we don’t have years of you toddling around the house like mothers of the world do, we have to sort of shortcut the process by practicing XYZ.)
Secret #2: In defense of “too easy”. Let’s face it…kids in upper levels still make super basic errors. “Me llamo es Brenda.” “Yo es guapo.” “¿Puedo voy el baño?” Hearing “easy” language isn’t gonna hurt them. They just have to engage in a way that makes it not feel like level 4 kids are being made to do level 1 work.
Secret #3: Nuggets, schmuggets. I love the nugget activities. I wrote some of the nugget activities. And it is my go-to My AP class that worked with the Victor trilogy under the “Beauty and Aesthetics” theme to discuss what makes someone attractive (and if a pretty face can overcome an unpleasant personality). Nugget activities are great, but they are limited. They are comprehension activities (anything requiring student output cannot easily be “graded” by computer. And the Intermediate Low activities are the highest level available. Sure, the prompts could get more complex, but there is a limit to how high-level a multiple choice activity can be. My AP kids, with few exceptions, have comprehension levels higher than Intermediate Low. And many this year were native speakers or kids from our immersion program. For them, nuggets would be nothing more than busy work. (See below.)
Secret #4: It isn’t about the song. Okay, this might be the most important one, and possibly the least intuitive one. Kelly, this post is about using Sr. Wooly songs…how can you say it isn’t about the songs? Because, in upper levels, it is much more about the video than the actual song lyrics. And you’ve probably already embraced this to a degree without realizing it. Take “Puedo ir al baño” for example. This, for many teachers, is the very first song they use in level 1. It isn’t the easiest set of lyrics on the site. There are a LOT of words in that song. But level 1 teachers teach it for one small chunk of language. “¿Puedo ir al baño?” And there are a lot of thrilled teachers as they see “Es una emergencia” or “No puedo esperar” in other things kids do. But nobody gushes about how their kids use “le traeré una manzana”. Why not? Because those lyrics weren’t important. Or particularly memorable for kids.
Now, when I get kids in levels 3-4-5, it’s possible that they’ve managed to get that far without having been in my class before. And I’m definitely the Wooly-est teacher in our building. (Shocking, I know.) So, I might work with that video in one of those levels. But my goal isn’t for the kids to acquire the title line. They all (should) know that. If not, well, they’ll get that as a bonus.
How do I work with a video like this then? Kids in level 4 probably have seen it in levels 1 and/or 2. They know the song, they know the video, they know the punchline at the end. If the kids mostly would already know the video (like “Puedo…”), I probably begin by showing it, just to get it back into their minds. If fewer kids would have seen it (like “Encerrada…”) then I would start with some screenshots to talk about before I show the video. The bulk of my work with the video is finding ways to talk ABOUT the story, using whatever language we’re working on at the time. Sometimes the supplementary materials, the embedded readings help this. Many of the sort of activities that were in the Wooly Week lesson plans, specifically the Story Squeeze ones that focus on the plot. The beauty of high-frequency language is that you can use it in many, many contexts.
“Puedo ir al baño” + Subjunctive, for example. The easiest thing to talk about is if something is logical/ridiculous/probable/etc. ¿Es probable que Justin tenga tiempo para ir al baño? ¿Es justo que el maestro permita que Carlos vaya al baño? Not to mention all the comparisons of which teachers at our school are strict about what different rules–cell phone policies for example. Kind of proud of this one:
By focusing on narrating ASPECTS of the video that fit what we’re studying, it actually makes it more comfortable to talk about a video they know well, while using language that is a bit newer.
Also, I don’t show the video 137 times. We watch it once or twice, and mostly work off of screenshots after that. I try to space it out. Just like they will watch the same YouTube video multiple times, or listen to their favorite playlist on repeat, watching a Sr. Wooly video more than once isn’t a bad thing. After all, a sports team doesn’t only do a drill one time and then never again, because they’ve already done it. They do it anytime there is something to be gained from that drill. Same for this…if a song will help me meet my goals with students, it doesn’t matter to me if they’ve heard it before.
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