Thursday, December 29, 2016

Update: Global the TL

Last year, I shared about how we engaged the children in our school--ages 6-14 in Trick or Treat for UNICEF during Spanish classes. One of my goals this year centers around more comprehensible input and deeper cultural connections, and Trick or Treat for UNICEF again presented a great opportunity for both.

While UNICEF does offer some materials in Spanish, they do not offer them for the Trick or Treat campaign, so we made our own and used UNICEF resources from around the world to engage the children with the UN Declarations on the Rights of the Child and fundamental human needs.

Since I'm focusing more on comprehensible input-- old thinking about there being topics that couldn't be broached or explored because they are too complex is being challenged.  I'm more and more reminded of  Helena Curtain's words: complex thought, simple language.   

So, I slowed things down a bit, and gave time to providing lots of comprehensible input--through drawings, photos, acting and videos.  I used movie talk with the Trick or Treat for UNICEF videos, so that we would use TL rather than listen to the English voice over.  By narrating, asking yes/no questions and then either/or questions, the videos were useful for providing both the content and comprehensible input.   I also used this video to help my 4th-8th graders understand the rights of the child, with lots of checking for comprehension, either/or questions:

 As extensions in their homerooms, the children set classroom goals and tracked them as a class.  We were also fortunate because a fellow from UNICEF was able to come and talk during an assembly, which continued to build excitement and interest outside of our Spanish classes.

I've pinned some resources for exploring these themes in Spanish classes here on my Pinterest Board. 

 The children tracked their collections in their homerooms and as a community we celebrated raising $5000! Next year, I look forward to spending more time unpacking the Rights of the Child and defining need/want.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Few Positive Things...

I'm starting with a confession: I've had  a hard time focusing on the ins and outs of teaching this last month. Rather, it's been just putting one foot in front of the other.  This post is an attempt to refocus, and acknowledge and reflect on some of the work I've done this fall.

1) High frequency verbs:
I've posted high frequency verbs on my classroom walls, and in the few weeks they've been up, I've already seen the benefits.  My 5th-6th graders are using them for putting their thoughts together in class discussions and on writing prompts. I've given the clear message that using them is not cheating--rather being resourceful.  In middle school, this scaffolding will be removed as the students integrate them into their working vocabulary.  One observation I've made is that it allows the students more freedom of expression and encourages self selection in how to put their thoughts together--it's  helping to keep our class in the TL, too.  The children also make suggestions on what other words need to go up there and they're used across grades and units.

2) Looking at culture:  I used the video "Families of the World(Mexico)" with my 5th graders, who are in the midst of our unit, "What Makes A Family?"  I told the class that they would be working to make a Venn Diagram about the two children featured, so they took a few notes during the video.  They worked with a partner to make their own Venn, then as a class, we collectively created the one below.  You can see lots of high frequency verbs to create sentences. I integrated my large scale classroom map of Mexico, so geography came into play, too.

3) Organization:

Teaching many levels is the perennial challenge in elementary.  I've been wrestling with how to give feedback and have the children reflect on their own learning with so many of them, moving quickly in and out of the Spanish room.  Here are some things I'm trying--with success so far:

  • Evidence Collection/Self Assessment
In their notebooks, the children have the unit can do statements for on-going reflection on their learning--note the three categories--yes, with help, not yet. I ask the children to write in pencil as this is a working document and that these are not to be based on a gut reaction, rather on evidence they've collected on their notebooks.  This work could be a written task done in their notebooks, or....
on an assessment, TALK score with feedback from me, stored in their "evidence collection envelope," glued into the back of their notebook(below).

The notebooks are for classroom use only, and are organized like this:

  • A paper girl in a digital world.  
I store all of my units, lesson plans and rubrics in Google Drive, however, I'm an old school lesson plan book kind of gal, and have five levels to keep track of.  This year, I've created two binders--one for middle school and one for upper elementary. My colleague who has taken over K-3, has a similar system. 
The binders are organized by grade level and include the unit plan, lesson plans and progress monitoring--one page of TALK scores and one with the can-do statements for me to check off based on assessments.

This has allowed me to save and organize materials in Google Drive, so I can easily find and edit them for future use, but I can hand write notes and have a hard copy to take with me to classes, and be prepared when technology fails.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How Mexican Indepedence Day Saved My CI Day

I'm so lucky to teach in the culturally rich city of Chicago. On Mexican Independence Day we have no less than three parades--and cars proudly bearing el tricolor can be seen all over the city. 

But, every year on September 16th, I'm haunted by a secret I've been harboring--one that is a source of real embarrassment.  I'm a Spanish teacher who doesn't observe Mexican Independence in class.  I've struggled with how to stay in the target language and successfully relay the significance of the day, during the first two days of Spanish class for the year.  I know, I know--there are great videos of dancers and charros and El Grito...but it has always fallen into the too hard basket for me. Until now.

On September 15, I decided to confront myself and the roadblocks I felt were holding me back. One of my goals this year is to focus more on CI--especially within the first 15 minutes of class--so I knew whatever I presented needed to fit these requirements.  To start, I suspected that the 4th-6th graders would want to complete their Todo Sobre Mi activity we started with earlier in the week, so I wanted  some kind of reading that would help lay the groundwork for the children as they finished that work.  Here's what I did:

1)I headed over to Teachers Pay Teachers. There are literally 100s of options for simple, well illustrated readers for children about Mexican Independence. I chose one I thought would be best for those levels, had clear language well supported by images,  and made copies. 

2)I found a video of President Peña Nieto reciting El Grito, got the words to it and wrote it on the board.

3) I looked for any words that the children would need help understanding--I focused on héroes.  In order to help them make meaning of the word, I made a list of some "héroes americanos," like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson(planting the idea of independence), Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr, César Chavez, Rosa Parks (giving a range of heroes). I also pulled out a small print I have of Padre Hidalgo and put it next to his name in El Grito.

On the day of class(30 minutes)--here's how it went:

1) Children came in to mariachi music playing, and they found their Todo Sobre Mi work on the tables. I used TL to show that they needed to finish up the work and move on to reading the book on the table.

2) When children finished their work and read the booklets, I started a brief presentation about the day, referring to the calendar, the Mexican flag on the wall and my world map, telling briefly the story--that Mexico was a colony of Spain and fought for independence. I also referred to my calendar card for julio and compared it to the 4th in the USA, doing comprehension checks all along the way. (It was exciting--they were with me!)

3) I told the story of El Grito and acted out being the they would see in the video, (highlighting los héroes, Padre Hidalgo)--they were all in. We practiced El Grito--and each class enthusiastically shouted Viva! after each phrase.

4) Finally we watched President Peña Nieto and the children enthusiastically chimed in. The lesson finished up with a 20 second TV commercial for El Grito Chicago--an annual celebration on Sept. 15 held in Pilsen--highlighting the strong Mexican American presence in our city.

During the lesson I heard lots of "Oh I get it!" Saw many thumbs up with "Entiendo!" It was just the start to the year we needed.

Looking back on it, I thought "Why was that so hard?" "Why didn't I do that before?"  But instead of lingering on those questions, I'm choosing to celebrate growth--it was hard for me and I figured it out.   That's what I want to remember the next time I encounter something that's challenging in my teaching.

¡Qué viva México!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

When It's Time To Move On

At the beginning-- shiny and new, full of possibility, I was thrilled. At first, I felt like I had found the one, was on the right path. I was so sure, grounded, in control. But as time wore on, we started arguing.  Where I wanted depth, I only found the superficial. I didn’t believe in explicit, out of context grammar anymore, and where I sought excitement, there was only bland culture and no real life experiences. I got bored. And finally, I faced it. We were over. It was time to break up.

I was on my own again, well, just me and the kids. At first I felt lost, and relied on what I knew from my own childhood, but that wasn’t working either. At last, I sought support. A great  group brought me comfort and guidance--headed up by the likes of Laura Terrill, Donna Clementi, Helena Curtain and the online community for folks like me, #langchat. And then I started just listening to the kids and it made the journey feel alive again.

The fun and excitement are back--no arguing, no regrets. Only growth and forward movement.  For me, and the kids.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Life Outside the Bubble

I believe in language proficiency--real life use of the language.  My professional community believes in language proficiency.

I'm realizing we're still a minority in the WL teaching corps.

This post is a way for me to try to work through the feelings I have about sending my awesome Spanish speakers into traditional grammar-driven high school programs in our city.  I recently administered the STAMP assessment for the first time, to my 8th graders.  It's the best money I've ever spent on my program--the data I'm getting holds a mirror up to my program and is making me look hard at what I do, and celebrate the successes: I have Intermediates and Novice High!  Most of my students are graduating 8th grade on the fence of NH-IL--quite a few falling solidly into Intermediate.  I've been walking on clouds the last few days. So have my students.   The assessment has confirmed our stated goal of NH/IL as the range of proficiency for our graduates.

But, as the students are taking their high school Spanish placement tests, I'm getting a dose of cold water to the face. So are the kids.

Almost all of them are being asked to take written discrete grammar tests--many disappointingly landing into Spanish I.  In trying to advocate for one of my IL/IM students, I sent the STAMP results to the new school, only to get the response that my student "is not proficient in preterite."   My alumni kids who go into such programs always come back wishing they hadn't wasted the year in Spanish I--getting bored and resentful.  The ones who attend more proficiency driven programs thrive--and often enter into Level 2 or 3.

Here's where I feel guilty--I feel like I've failed them and I am pulled to go ahead and do some grammar focused teaching to help them transition into life outside the bubble, where they will likely be in the position to fill in the blank to show what they know about preterite, name it. At the same time, I know that what I'm doing in my program is working to develop real language proficiency, and I don't want to give up doing that to satisfy the needs of programs that don't.

It's a lot to consider, and I'm leaning toward just helping the kids bridge the gap, and talking to them explicitly about what they may encounter(will encounter) as they transition to high school: Split the difference and focus on proficiency while sneaking in some help on how to play the school game.  As much as I hate that idea.

This isn't about judging individual teachers for what they do--I've written before about using textbooks-- but there is a huge disconnect between using language for real life and memorizing certain grammar points because the textbook dictates it. In the end, the students are not well served by this gap. 

A much trusted colleague recently suggested that I educate and empower parents to advocate for proficiency based programs at their new high schools.  I'm thinking to use my parent blog to do just that--and that will be time well spent, but I live in a city of 3 million with a huge, slow to change public school system. Our students fan out all over to different schools, of which our little school is not a part.  I know it will be a Quixotic task.

This is the hardest part about having made the switch.  Not the work. Not shifting mindset. Not convincing my school.  It's helping my students with life outside the bubble. It's helping them to feel accomplished about what they can do, even though they will be judged for what they can't as they move out of our school.   I'm not sure there's much I can do to help this year's graduates, but I've got  decisions to make about next year.

Is this a challenge where you teach?  How are you bridging the gap? 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Summer Vacation...What I Should Do Versus What I Want to Do

I'm reflecting on another school year that passed by even more quickly than the previous one. I'm finding myself crawling to the finish line trying to make sense of all the meaningful, challenging work the children did, and thinking about all the ways I want to adjust for next year. Preparing for summer, I'm making lists, just like I do during the year, but you might find this list a little surprising:

What I want to do this summer:
  1. Work on refining and writing new units for my Spanish program.
  2.  Revise my system for giving feedback.
  3. Write a couple of really great IPAs.
  4. Attend amazing PD--so many to choose from--which one?!
What I should(and will) do this summer:
  1. Read non-school related books(really).
  2. Shuffle around and pick at my garden(in pajamas with endless coffee).
  3. Have travel adventures with my daughter.
  4. Go camping.
I admit it, I am in love with my work--I'm obsessed with it. It's so hard for me to step away for a length of time as it always feels like there's so much to do, so much to learn, so much, so much, so much.   But, no engine can run forever without fuel. We need a break. I need a break.  In introducing so much innovation --by tossing the textbook, writing curriculum, building a proficiency based program, I've teetered on burnout and I need to step back and reconnect with my non-school self.

I am going to focus on the should list(I'm sure my young daughter will appreciate it, too), so I can revisit that Want List feeling refreshed, ready, and focused. For me. And for the children.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sick Day Dilemma: Tools for Covering Your Absence!

I mentioned recently that we don't have a sub system in place for our elementary and middle school  Spanish classes.  If I know I'm going to be out in advance-sometimes our other, part-time Spanish teacher(remember my super creative colleague?) can cover some of the classes. But generally no teacher=no Spanish class.  I'm hoping to change that for next year, but it means that the sub will likely not speak the TL, nor be a WL teacher. For me to stay at  home means that I have a sick daughter, am in a body cast or on my death bed, so making some creative plans for  5-6 levels of Spanish  that morning are well...not going to happen.  Feeling motivated but overwhelmed with creating standing plans that would continue moving the children forward, and keeping the schedule that I know my colleagues depend on...I reached out to my generous, smart and creative PLN on Twitter(looking at you #langchat and @Earlylang).

Here is a list of their ideas for sub plans for sick days(Note: some of these ideas involve products. I have not received any compensation for mentioning these):

  • The SUB TUB. 
    • Julie Hoffman at Mundo de Pepita shared this: A Sub Tub!   Julie mentioned that while this was labor intensive to set up, it's well worth having this tool in place, so teachers don't have to plan anything from their sick bed. Rather a sub can grab and go.
  •  Play Verba.
    • This one requires a little financial investment, but seems well worth it. Verba is a card game, developed by WL teacher Kevin Ballestrini,  that practices high frequency words within sentence context--and has an elementary expansion pack, plus a Youtube video that explains the game in English-to bring your sub up to speed. Information for Verba here.
  • Draw a story from text.
    • The children draw or create a story board from a text. Or use an activity like the Zombie Sub Activities by Martina Bex(Thanks Bethanie Drew). 
  • Do a reading activities using Newslea .
    • Newslea is a current events news service for students-starting at grade level 2. I think it is currently only available in English and Spanish.  I will unpack this one further in another post--it's a really rich source. (Thanks Maria Cristina Rodriguez-Villa!)
  • Use QR code or links to videos .
    • Develop a cache of videos that can be accessed by the students via ipads, computers to work on an interpretive activity. If that technology isn't available, maybe the sub can access it and project it to the group and then students work on a stock interpretive activity--perhaps writing, then talking. 
  •  Continue what they're already working on.
    • Sometime I overlook this one. Can the students continue working on an activity that you started with them during a previous class?   
  • Focus on familiar activities.
    • Talia Block said that she relies on the familiar--activities like Buddy Bingo, creating Venn diagrams, and video activities.  Using something the students are familiar with can make set-up and execution easier for the sub and encourages TL use among the students. 
My goal is to set up a Sub Tub that includes lots of these activities(I'll keep you posted on this experiment!).

What do you do when a sub is coming in--especially if they don't speak TL or work in WL? I'll update this list as more ideas come in!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Getting Through The Hard Days

If you read my recent post, So You Use a Textbook...Stop Judging Yourself, you know that I feel strongly that we have to be forgiving of ourselves. We all have rough days in which survival is the goal.   There are those days where there just is not enough coffee, and looking at the day's classes feels insurmountable. In my school, there are no subs for Spanish. So, no teacher =no Spanish class.  On the rough days, I hike up my big girl panties and face the day.

But am I always my best, well-planned, game-face-on self?  NO WAY.

 This time of year, I find myself having more of those days than during the rest of the year, with special events, field trips, you name it interruptions to the schedule.

When I made the switch to teaching for proficiency,  I tossed out my old textbooks and worksheets.(Nuts! I miss them on days like these.) Since I've recently switched over to thematic units, I'm also low on 'stock activities' I can pull from when the going gets tough.  Facing the last couple of months of school, and a bumpy re-entry from spring break,  here are a couple of things I did in class that took little set up or creative energy on my part.(Plus it put more responsibility on the the children!)

5th grade survival class:
  • We're talking about biomes and conservation.  I put up cards that were used in previous lessons that list animals in each biome(picture/TL label) and show a picture of the biome, with its name.   The children made bingo cards with the name of a biome or animal in each square.   To play, I described the biomes and animals, and the children had to identify them to mark the bingo card. (If they were more familiar with the biomes, I would have had them say something about the biome or animal when they read off their cards.) Even though I was feeling off, we still maintained 90+% TL and worked some vocabulary in context of descriptions with photos. In the past, I would have simply shown the picture and had children identify the vocabulary word--now they're having to listen and glean meaning from the description.
6th grade survival class:
  • 6th graders are exploring the essential question "Where does the world live?" Children came in and started class with a silent writing time, describing this photo: 

Afterward, they shared their descriptions with a partner. After reading to a friend, they returned to writing. I asked them to answer the question "Quién vive en esta casa?"(Who lives in this house?). The children then wrote some very funny descriptions of the people who live in this house and what they do.  What I did: posted a photo and asked two questions. What the children did: All the work. Something else I could have done is to have the children write three questions they could ask the people who live in this house.   I have also used, in a similar way,  the photographs from The Material World by Peter Menzel, which provides a rich cultural context.

One change I made this year that facilitates activities like these, is explicitly teaching transaction and transition phrases, like--Please pass me....(pencils, markers), I don't understand, Can you help me?  How do you say...?, Can I go to the bathroom, water fountain...? What do you think? What are we doing? My turn? Your turn?

Now, I notice that during something like bingo card preparation, or making a poster about something, the children speak in the TL and the process of setting up the activities becomes an opportunity for them to interact with each other.
Going forward, I'd like to empower the children to take charge of some of these activities, too, especially since they've gotten a sense of working toward proficiency and know it's about TL and communicating in it.  I'd also like to build a cache of meaningful activities so that on rough days, I can grab and go, and feel good about my survival tactics.

Are there days coming up when Banagrams in Spanish are coming out?  Definitely. It's about survival in these last 35 days.(Am I counting?) 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

So You Use A Textbook...Stop Judging Yourself

During a recent #langchat that focused on unit development, amid the caffeinated Saturday morning conversation, several teachers hesitantly shared that they use a textbook for their unit ideas, followed by some self-depricating apologies for it.  Colleen Lee-Hayes and I simultaneously tweeted out the same message, "Let it go--let's drop the judgement."

You use a textbook for whatever reason--you're new, your district says you have to,  all your teachers used them, you like it, you teach 100's of students and pee only during your lunchtime of 10 minutes. The list goes on. With on-going conversations about what proficiency is and what's the 'best' way to get there, it can be tough if you're at the beginning of making a shift in your teaching or  are already mid-stream. So. Let it go. Stop judging yourself. You don't need to apologize. We're all learning and growing. Did you see my post on when things go wrong? Seventeen years in, I'm still wrestling with this and continuing to learn.

One of the most freeing things I've heard along my teaching  journey is that you control the textbook--not the other way around. It's a resource. What can we do with it?  Some questions to explore:  Can we take the good cultural stuff at the end of chapter and use it as input and to pique interest at the beginning the unit?  What about writing an essential question and can-dos for the chapter?  How about scanning Pinterest for some rich authentic materials that go along with the chapter theme and support cultural competency and provide needed input? Is it possible to write an IPA or some performance based formative assessments?  Do you have the freedom to re-order or combine some chapters to create a unit?  Do the students have to have the unit's whole vocabulary list or can you get that paired down so they can focus on function? How to flesh out the three modes--are there plenty of opportunities for communicative tasks?

Personally, I am in the process of writing my own units. The amount of time this takes plus teaching sometimes overwhelms me. Using a textbook may be the resource that is allowing you to address other teaching duties (Hello carpool and committees! Recess supervision anyone?).

During the process of writing this,  Colleen Lee-Hayes sent me this post .  Colleen is a #langchat moderator and teacher I respect--her words on judging ourselves are balm for the language teacher's soul.

Teaching for proficiency is a mindset, not a material.  You control the text, not the other way around.  Let's drop the judgement.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

When Things Don't Go As Planned

In case I've given you the impression that things always go as planned in my classes... let me set you straight.  I will you tell you the tale of two teachers presenting the "same" lesson.

I am blessed to have a wonderful colleague who teaches kindergarten and 1st grade. At the moment, the 1st and 2nd graders are working on  "A Healthy Life," a unit we're co-writing, and I'm working on with the 2nd graders.

We had a fun lesson planned working with a great authentic resource from Mexico--a children's video that focuses on healthy choices.  It's below.

My colleague's preparation before viewing the video with her class:

She also found a cute video clip that demonstrated "mover el esqueleto," and previewed some of the phrases the children would hear--priming the pump for them to work with the video.

Here's my preparation:

 I think you can see where this is going.

My colleague's students left understanding that eating foods of various colors and moving their bodies are part of a healthy lifestyle.  My group...well, did not make those connections as clearly.

Sometimes when I've found a resource I'm excited about, I give it short shrift--plowing through it energetically, but lose the opportunity to milk it for all it's worth.  While the children in my group enjoyed watching the video, they didn't make all of the connections to the unit I was hoping they would, and didn't have the chance to learn and use some new and possibly relevant language chunks/vocab. I went too fast.

After lessons like this, I remind myself that it's important to lay a good groundwork for authentic resources, give processing time, and then work the resource until we've rung it dry(and/or the kids lose interest).  It's not a race.  It's perfectly fine if the children spend several classes, doing a few different tasks on one resource, as long as they're still invested.  Working this way takes time, and it's OK(and worth it) to give it that time.

I've decided to be forgiving with myself and learn from my creative colleague for our next go round!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Talking to Parents About Proficiency

 Working toward proficiency is the focus of my K-8 Spanish program. But when I try to explain this to parents and colleagues in my school community, I struggle a bit to find a succinct way to do it--especially since it's contrary to the way so many of us learned language(if we did!).  Last week, I posted this to my classroom blog for parents(keep in mind, in Montessori, the levels are ages, not grades):

At our school, the Spanish program focuses on proficiency--this is a different paradigm from the grammar and vocabulary list driven programs most of us experienced in high school.  Working toward proficiency focuses on the process of acquiring the language and using it for real world purposes. This means that I focus on what the children can do using the language.

So, what does that look like?
  • Extended Day children use Spanish to greet each other,  talk about their feelings and express some of their likes and dislikes.
  • 6-9 students can converse with a friend about what they like to do in class, what they like to eat, talk about where they live, and describe how other children in the world live. 6-9 year olds can also ask each other some questions.
  • In 9-12, children can talk about real world challenges, like biodiversity, conservation, health and hunger and suggest solutions for them. They can also understand some information from recordings of native speakers and interpret context related videos from other countries. They can open and close a conversation. They can order in a restaurant, understand a letter written in Spanish and write a response.
  • Middle school students can be understood by a native speaker accustomed to foreigners, ask and answer questions during predictable transactions, and use Spanish for travel(tested out during our trip to Costa Rica).  These students can get needed information in Spanish from websites and blogs. They can answer some higher order questions using Spanish.  Middle schoolers can also sometimes talk about things that happened yesterday, last week or  last summer and what they plan to do in the future.
 By focusing on what children can do using the language, we are preparing them to use Spanish for study, work and travel in their adult lives.

This, of course, is not the first time I've sent out a message like this, rather I make it part of my regular communication, and a consistent message to my school community. 
Want to see what I send out on parent night?  It's part information, part sales pitch:

¡Muy bienvenido al nuevo año escolar!  We’re so happy to welcome you back and share exciting news about our Spanish program. Last fall RPMS was recognized by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages(ACTFL) Global Engagement Initiative for our 8th grade trip to Costa Rica.***This initiative recognizes outstanding community and culturally-engaged learning experiences within the world language curriculum at all levels on instruction.  We so look forward to sharing this impactful travel experience with your children when they are in Aspen.

When it comes to language acquisition, long term thinking is required.   Starting in Extended Day and 6-9, we envision what the 8th grade graduate will look like, and beyond that- the young adult speaker of Spanish.  So, let’s start with that vision and program goals:

What are the goals?
  • Language development happens over time-much longer than just one or two school years.  By the time the children graduate 8th grade, the goal is for them to function at the Novice High-Intermediate Low speaking levels in class. What does that mean?  

    • Intermediate speakers of a language are know as survivors-they can survive in the target culture.  
    • The Intermediate level is characterized by the ability to combine learned elements of language creatively, though primarily in a reactive mode.
    • The Intermediate level speaker can initiate, minimally sustain, and close basic communicative tasks.
    • The speaker can ask and answer questions and can speak in discrete sentences and strings of sentences on topics that are either autobiographical or related primarily to his or her immediate environment.
    • Novice High speakers are on the cusp of being able to perform Intermediate tasks in a sustained and consistent manner.

Remember-Novice High/Intermediate Low is the goal of our graduates. What that means is that in 6-9, the children are interacting and having fun using the language to explore different topics.  While the priority is interpersonal communication, we start some reading during the second and third years and introduce writing-all of which support oral communication. The children in 6-9 navigate real life situations encountered in childhood using Spanish-play, asking questions, grace and courtesy, talking about themselves and exploring culture through the language.

We hope that you will sign up to follow the Spanish class blog, where we post information on language learning, news on what’s happening in class and practical ways you can support Spanish language learning outside of school.   Please contact us with any questions you have. We love talking world languages!

***Blog reading friends--you should also apply for this on the ACTFL website this coming spring! 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Climbing the Proficiency Ladder Starting in Kindergarten

We don't need to wait for children to reach middle school or high school before we give them real world tasks-it can start right away in kindergarten!  At our school, we're asking 6 year olds to interpret and navigate interpersonal tasks such as greeting friends, asking about their friends' lives(family, pets), and understanding directions from the teacher and some information from context related recordings.  As they progress through 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade,  children navigate age-appropriate real world tasks, such as:

  • Play(Very much real-life when you're a kid!)

Comecocos or Cootiecatchers are an opportunity to teach about and practice asking questions. After using a pre-printed one, children can make their own using questions they've used during lessons. Ultimately, this supports children in asking questions in the context of future interpersonal interactions.

Guessing games can be played in a way that ask the children to create and describe with language.  Games like guess the animal or bingo can be reworked so that children are describing-above is an animal guessing game in which the 2nd graders have to describe the animal they are assigned and then read their description for the rest of the class to guess.  In the past I would have played this as charades, which only asks for vocabulary recall-a very basic function. In this version, we're asking much more of them- they can and want to do it.  An activity likes this is paving the way for students to be able to narrate and describe, using complete sentences.  The context is a unit on the role animals play in our lives--especially pets--of high interest to young children.

  • Navigating daily school routines:

Everyday our elementary classes begin with community meeting ala Responsive Classroom. During this time the children gather in circle to greet each other, review the schedule for the day, hear important announcements and generally come together as a class community.  This has been a rich opportunity for the Spanish program--I circulate among the classes to run at least one community meeting per week in Spanish.  My colleagues are very much on board and have learned how to write their class schedules in Spanish(although very few of them are Spanish speakers).  This has opened an opportunity for the teachers to model life long learning, as the teachers are learning right along with their students, participating in the meetings and greeting their students with their newly acquired language.

During community meeting we start off by singing songs, and then always have some interpersonal time in which the children greet each other, asking questions like How are you today? What did you eat for breakfast? What are you going to do today? What do you like to do?  This time also focuses on what in Montessori we call Grace and Courtesy, or developing good manners--all in Spanish. Practicing interactions that require I'm sorry, Are you ok? Please excuse me? Would you like to work with me? The children are encouraged to use these during their classroom work time.

Our final activity is reading and interpreting the daily schedule.  This includes saying the date, and reading times and class activities. Beyond that, I ask the children to interpret asking some questions in English to see what they understand about the schedule, or what seems different from their normal routine.  This activity has ended the topical units on telling time and school words.  They're doing it, in context and on a real life task.

  • Navigating the classroom:
I focus on making transitions and transactions count.  By explicitly teaching phrases that the children will need to participate in class activities, we stay in the TL and reinforce interpersonal interactions. These interactions between the children are the real life part of language class-negotiating and collaborating using TL.

How do children in your programs navigate real life tasks, helping them to start climbing the proficiency ladder?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Teaching for Proficiency...a Career Long Journey

Proficiency refers to the ability to do, to function. Language proficiency refers to one’s ability to use language for real world purposes to accomplish real world linguistic tasks, across a wide range of topics and settings.    
-Language Testing International

A few years ago when the idea of teaching for language proficiency came into my world, I felt energized and on-fire--it put words to what I felt  deep down about being a language teacher.  Language for real life use--of course!  Why hadn't it occurred to me before? When I thought about how that would play out in my classes, I felt overwhelmed, anxious and guilty. All of these feelings came up during the few hours I sat in that one proficiency focused workshop!
At that point I had already been teaching Spanish for about 10 years.  I doubted my previous decisions, and I was racked with guilt about failing my students all those previous years.  With little planning time I had no idea how I was going to shift my focus to proficiency in my classes for 1st-8th graders.  Feeding my anxiety was working as the only WL teacher in a small private school with few proficiency focused materials available or colleagues with which to collaborate.

Why hadn't it occurred to me before?! I wish someone would have told me then, "Give yourself a break! Be gentle with yourself. You don't have to know it all."  I grew up in language programs that were based on grammar driven textbooks--from middle school through university.  The modeling I received didn't focus on proficiency.  Nor did many teachers I met along the way. 

It has taken several years, working step by step, to build a program (and mindset) that focuses on developing proficiency, and it's still a work in progress(and always will be!).  Along the way, I've plugged into meaningful PD,  and forged relationships with colleagues outside of my school community, who support this way of working. 

 Here's what I wished I had known when I embarked on the proficiency journey:
  • You're not alone.  
    • There are lots of teachers who are working on this and want to collaborate, share and support you as they grow themselves.  These teachers are blogging, tweeting, and presenting at conferences. Find your people. #langchat is a great place to start, as is your state language teacher organization.  This post from Amy Lenord is a rich resource for teacher-bloggers.
  • Be generous and forgiving with yourself and others.
    • You're doing your best. You love your students, care for them and want the best for them.  We all want the best for our students and are learning along the way.  Reserve the harsh judgment-of others and yourself.
  • You're never done.
    • There is no proficiency finish line.  We're all continuing to learn and innovate. And we'll likely never be done.  
For my colleagues who might be a little further along the proficiency journey, what would have helped you at the beginning?