Saturday, July 3, 2021

Part 2: What I taught as a Grammar Teacher

If you have not yet read part 1 of Title: Grammar Teacher, Goal: Language Acquisition to see my context as well as the planning process that I used to arrive at this unit plan, please take a moment to do so as that is key to understanding why I made the instructional choices that I made! 

This post is meant to address the question of "What did you actually do in your class?" as well as outline some of the differentiation techniques that I used to manage a split level class. It is *really* long. No apologies. This stuff takes time to explain! And I wanted to include what I did for differentiation (faster and slower processors) as well as modifications for an adult class. 

Quick recap: I had 2 levels of students placed in a class called "grammar class". I had a bunch of grammar concepts that I needed to teach but I know that isn't the best thing for the students. I had to make some instructional choices to balance the syllabus, student expectations, and what I know as a professional. 

Day 1


Image Description: photo and text on a light green background. Photo shows a  family photo from the 1950's.
Text reads Soy Mexicana-Americana. La familia de mi padre es del norte de México y el sur de Colorado.

I took the time to introduce myself, share some class norms, gave an introduction to my teaching philosophy and did a  little bit of myth busting of some common misconceptions about how language acquisition works. 

Image description: text on a green background. Text reads: 1. Have fun. Smile. Laugh. 
2. Tell me when I am unclear or you are unsure. 3. Short answers in Spanish are GREAT! 
4. 2-3 words in English are ok! 5. Don't expect to speak much until you have heard and understood a lot of Spanish.

Five minute timed free write

I did not collect this paper, so it isn't a formative assessment for me. It *is* a tangible piece of evidence to answer "What Did I Learn in Spanish Class" and when I have been an adult in a class and later as a teacher in an adult class I thought this was super valuable.

Read more about Timed Freewrites here: Time Freewrites: One Practice that Serves Many Purposes by Elicia Cárdenas (Deskless Classroom)  

2 Truths and A Lie (Preparation)

Students filled out a google form to share 2 Truths and a Lie about themselves. I *really* did not want them to use any kind of translator so I gave them explicit directions to not do so, encouraged 1-2 words in English, and gave them a list of sentence starters with definitions. This was also a bit of a formative assessment for me, because I know that when I look at it later I will get information about the students. My job is to create  slides with each student's statements to provoke conversation.  

You can make a copy of the google form that I used to edit and share with your students.    If you tried to make a copy of this earlier, my apologies- I had my settings set incorrectly! 

Read about 2 truths and a lie here: ¡Mentiroso! by Martina Bex (Comprehensible Classroom)  

Reading activity disguised as Song/Music

I knew that I wanted to include at least one song activity that was really a reading activity in disguise because songs are fun and I wanted to see what kind discussion might be sparked by the reading. (It turns out that students were super nervous and we didn't have much of a conversation, oh well.)

I introduced the title of the song (Oye como va) and, as outlined in the lesson plans from SOMOS 1, Unit 21 (free download from Martina Bex's Teachers Pay Teachers store), discussed the meaning and then shared the chorus. I went on to share a reading about Celia Cruz, the artist, and a little bit about meaning of specific words used in the song. Then I gave students a choice of just listening, counting instances of the word oye, or a more challenging task of counting instances of a handful of words. Instead of giving them a printout or computer activity to do while listening to the song, I decided to keep it simple and just invite them to count (if they wanted).

If you are familiar with the sequence of SOMOS units, you might notice that I did this sequence of learning activities out of order- usually, plans call for establishing meaning, translating, asking personalized questions, then doing a song. I decided to change the order up because I wanted to start with a bit of a splash, and music is always a great way to get buy-in.

Modification for adult class: none, really, except maybe to re-order the activities from the suggested outline. 

Differentiation: I made sure that the text was written to be as comprehensible as I could, and included glossed words, cognates, and made available the meanings of many high frequency words (Being comprehensible). I also asked processing questions to check for comprehension while I was reading (Asking processing questions) and started to ask differentiated questions to students who seemed to have more language. (Differentiated questions). Finally, I gave students the choice of how to interact with the song (Student choice).

Establish Meaning

I introduced vocabulary from SOMOS 1, Unit 21 by telling them what the words meant, then we translated sentences to see the words in context. 

Modification for Adult Class: I did change some of the sentences that were caregiver/child focused to be more adult focused. 

Differentiation: students worked individually with think time (Processing time), then volunteered to be the translator (Inviting participation), and all had access to the meaning of the words (Being comprehensible). For faster processors, I started inviting responses to questions based on the sentences once I clarified the meaning (Asking differentiated questions). And always: Accepting responses in any way- gestures, one word answers, L1 within reason, and full sentences (Accepting all responses).

Think Time for Personalized Questions and Answers

I had questions prepared that used the core vocabulary (goes to sleep, wakes up, and hears). I asked the questions. They answered. Sounds simple? Keep reading. 

This activity was very intentionally designed to give a ton of support because I had no idea how much language these students actually had, and I knew this would be the first time that I would be asking them to create with language. Balancing the need for input with having a conversation (which, by definition, means at least 2 people talking), keeping the affective filter low, and also not knowing how much language students already had was incredibly important to me.  

©The Comprehensible Classroom, used with permission and adapted by The Deskless Classroom Image description: black background with a yellow tent and yellow & white text with sticky notes and vocabulary words in English and Spanish. Text reads: ¿A dónde vas para acampar? and the sticky notes include responses to the question.

Personalized Questions and Answers (Discussion)

Finally, I led a discussion. I showed the questions and asked "who said that they get up at 8:00?" (in the target language) based on a response from the Jamboard or asked open ended questions, e.g. "When you wake up in the middle of the night, what do you hear?" (Differentiated questions, Accepting all responses). To facilitate the discussion, I had first, 2nd, and third person forms of the core vocabulary as well as high frequency verbs, and question words. I established meaning as new words came up. (Being comprehensible, Establishing meaning). I did all the typical things that I do when doing this activity, including reporting to the class, talking about myself, clarifying (did you do that or are you going to do that), asking processing questions, and more. 

Differentiation: I prepared a Google Jamboard with all the first person forms of the verbs (and their meaning) and any other vocabulary in the question that they might need to understand and answer the question. (Establishing meaning, Being comprehensible). I stated explicitly that answering in English, in 1 or two words, or in complete sentences was ok (Accepting all responses).  I also mentioned that they respond to the questions that they chose and that there was no expectation that they respond to every question (Student choice).  Then I gave private think time. (Processing time). 

Modification for Adult Class: I modified the questions from those suggested in the lesson plans- again, focusing less on caregivers from a child's perspective and more on adult perspectives.

You can read more about Personalized Questions and Answers in this article: Personalized Questions and Answers by Elicia Cárdenas (The Comprehensible Classroom Solutions) 

Some reasons why I decided to do kind of activity on the first day:

1) While there is a perception that comprehension based classes are all about input, that doesn't mean that students don't have opportunities to speak and create with language. It just means that they invited to do so, at their level, when they are ready, with appropriate scaffolding. 
2) I really needed a way to do some formative assessment and discover if my unit plan was on track or if I needed to re-do the whole thing. 
3) Personalized Questions and Answers is a great way to get to know each other and start to build community. 
4) My class was not a beginner class. Yes, I am going to focus on input, but also make space for creating with language (like I do in a beginner class!). 

Write and Discuss

Oh, how I love Write and Discuss in virtual classes. I have become a lot more comfortable with it over the past couple of years and while I use it sparingly, it is truly one of my favorite ways to end class. In this case, I asked "What did we learn about each other or the world?" in L2 and L1. As students replied (with me asking leading questions, especially at first when they didn't really get what we were doing), I wrote out their answers.

 Read more about Write and Discuss by Elicia Cárdenas (Deskless Classroom)

Image description: Text on white background.
Text asks "¿Qué aprendimos sobre la clase o el mundo? and then describes
various members of class in Spanish and other information with names greyed out.

Day 2

Ask a Story

Oh how I love to ask a story. I mean, story asking is what really inspires me and has brought me un unimaginable amount of joy in my classroom. It is the one thing my students beg for. I have to admit that I was pretty nervous to do it with adults but wow- once they got into it, it was an absolute blast. We created a fantastic story about a woman, some owls with a penchant for vegetarian pizza, a troupe of dancing rodents, competition between the rodents and puffins, and synchronized swimming.

Image description: Black text in Spanish on white background. Text reads: Alicia agarró su carpa y su saco de dormir,
 y corró del bosque a su carro. Pero tenía un problema: los búhos tenían las llaves.
Ellos tomaron al carro para comprar pizza vegetariana y todavía las tenían.
 llaves-keys todavía still 

Differentiation: Differentiation with story asking is something that I have been working on for a long time. I provided think time when asking processing questions (Provide think time, Ask processing questions, Comprehension checks), and went back to the beginning to recap several times. (Spiral information? Restate? Going slow). I invited students to submit ideas for story details (Student voice, Student choice, Accepting all responses) and I made all the vocabulary comprehensible by making sure they could see all the words I was using (Being comprehensible). I asked some different kinds of questions  to faster processors and yes/no questions to those who needed more support (Differentiated questions). 

Here is a collection of ALL the story asking resources that Martina Bex and I have compiled: What is Story asking and How do I do it? by Elicia Cárdenas / Martina Bex (The Comprehensible Classroom Solutions)  

Read more about differentiation techniques: Differentiation in the TPRS/CI Classroom by Elicia Cárdenas (Deskless Classroom) 

Cooperative Mural

I love this activity for when the story is over but you want to keep working with it. Although I have tried a few different ways to do it online, my gut told me that trying to do it with any kind of tool might not go so well, so I decided to use Zoom annotations. I don't love it, but *most* of the class could do it. (Some struggled a bit with just opening a google doc, so I didn't want to push it.) Basically, in this activity, students have a short amount of time to draw a moment from a story and then I narrate it or ask questions about it. It is SO fun!

You can read more about cooperative murals here: Cooperative Mural by Martina Bex (Comprehensible Classroom) 

 You can see me doing this in person in the video here: Cooperative Mural Short Demo by Elicia Cárdenas (Deskless Classroom)

Here are some of the pictures we drew!


Image description: white background with sketched images of a car with owls,
a figure in a tent seeing rodents, and another car. 

Differentiation: In this case, I don't think I did much to differentiate except for making sure that I was continuing to point to language on the board (Being comprehensible) and probably asked some processing questions. I invited rather than required participants as well.

Read parallel text

After the collaborative mural, I shared a short reading with similar language to the story we had just asked and we read it together, clarifying for meaning. I got the text from the original story script, included in the curriculum. 

Differentiation: I asked processing questions as necessary (Ask processing questions), did comprehension checks, and made sure the meaning of words was available for students to look at during the reading (Being comprehensible).

Horizontal Conjugation

This is one of my favorite activities to do, but this one kind of bombed due to the lack of tech skills and me not taking time to explain one really important thing well.

Here's a breakdown of how it went:
After reading the parallel story, I switched to English and explained that we were going to change the perspective of the story from 3rd person to 1st person. We did the first paragraph as an example together, then I gave students a choice: work on a story in a breakout room changing from 3rd to 1st person or changing from past to present. The part I missed saying was that there was a word bank on the last page activity for support. So my differentiation plan was this: student choice, homogenous groups, and the word bank for support (establishing meaning, being comprehensible). 

What actually happened was that two of the students couldn't even get into the breakout rooms nor could they view the document, so they stayed with me in the main room and we worked together. That wasn't terrible, but the other students struggled because I didn't tell them about the word bank, because they chose the task that was too challenging for them, and because I couldn't join them to offer support as I had planned. 

Upon reflection, I could have done this differently, or saved it for later in the week once I had a better sense of what would and wouldn't work, and which students were likely to bite off more than they could chew.

This is one challenge with giving students choice if you don't know them very well, but hey, live and learn, right? They still got some Spanish input, and I learned a lot about them as learners.

Read about horizontal conjugation here:  Horizontal Conjugation by Martina Bex (Comprehensible Classroom)  or how I use it to differentiate here: The Great Grammar Compromise by Elicia Cárdenas (Deskless Classroom)

Wrap Up

I listed the "grammar" things we had done that day in English. It was a pretty long list and they were surprised. It included: preterite/imperfect, present progressive, reflexive verbs, stem changing verbs, verbs with irregular yo forms, and ser/estar.  

Prepping for the next day

That night, I typed the story in present and past tense versions so that I could use it for some games (below) and so that students could read it if they chose, and I finally got answers to the first day's 2 truths and a lie (because some folks had tech problems, so they had to email me), typed those out, and made slides of each person's information.

Wow!  This amazingly long blog post has gotten *really* long, so to finish up, I am going to just bullet point the rest of the week. I think you all probably get the idea of how I differentiate and plan. Ask questions in the comments for more information!

Day 3

Played 2 Truths and a Lie

I prepped slides with each person's statements, and encouraged them to ask each other questions to find out more information. I saw this twist- the asking questions part- done in a Mandarin Chinese lesson recently and was BLOWN AWAY by how awesome it was. We spent an hour in my class on this activity. To vote for the lie, we used the "polls" function in zoom in a way that I learned from Diane Neubauer (read about that here). We applauded the good liars and learned a ton about each other. It was amazing. Note that because I prepped the statements before class, they were in comprehensible language.   

This was SUCH a blast and lasted the best part of the hour, with much laughter and strategy to ask the best questions.  

Differentiation: I provided word meanings for high frequency words and established meaning for any new words that came up (Being comprehensible). I also pointed to words on the board as support, and asked faster processors for more information. I invited students to create with the language by asking questions, but I did not require anyone to do so (Inviting responses).

Image description: Text boxes Gray background with hanging plants. Text reads: Elicia escribió:
Me gusta ir a los casinos. En el pasado, he trabajado con un elefante, un serpiente,
El String Cheese Incident, y Dra. Maya Angelou. Trabajo por MIT.
Worked with Story: Read Together and Before and After

We read the story in past tense from the previous day together. I shared the text and we literally went through it sentence by sentence. Then I gave them each a digital copy and asked them to tell me: what happened *immediately* before [event from story]? What happened immediately after [event from story]? I love this activity because it requires strong understanding of the text, re-reading, and inference. At one point, we had to go back and reconstruct a chronology of the story because the narrative jumped time frames (like stories do sometimes) and we had to discuss what happened first, second.

Differentiation: established meaning of new words, being comprehensible, asking processing questions, comprehension checks, differentiated questions, and...using a familiar story (from the day before) and providing it for students to read in present or past tense. 

Read about Before and After here: Before and After by Martina Bex (Comprehensible Classroom)  

Circumlocution game

I had prepped an emotions analysis activity as well (well, it is super low prep!) but enthusiasm was waning, so we played a game from Kristy Placido called the Circumlocution Game. I LOVE this game.

To play it on Zoom, I prepped a slide with sentence starters (similar to ones suggested by Annabelle Williamson here) and modified it to be a whole class activity. I private messaged a volunteer one of the words to be guessed, and they had to describe that word in Spanish without using the word (even if they knew it, which pretty much they did not). Other students in the class had to guess in English what the word was. Words like "safety pin", "snowman", and "garden hose" are the kinds of words that we used. I finished the class by sharing with them that this skill of circumlocution is incredibly valuable because it's hard to know all the words, but being able to explain an idea even when you don't have the language is great to know how to do!

Day 4

This was the last 2 hours of class and it got here much too soon! I had probably another 8 hours of lesson plans prepped, but I sat down and looked at where we had been and what I still wanted to do, and decided on the following:

Picture Talk:Hedgehog Goes Camping

I showed adorable pictures that I found somewhere on the internets of a hedgehog going camping. We started developing a little narrative about Herman the Hedgehog) and how he was camping to get some space from his ex, he was afraid of water, and more. Mind you, at this point, the students were driving the narrative. I was asking questions like "what happened immediately before this moment?" and "what is he doing right now?" to continue to encourage instances of past/ present/ progressive/ narration in a natural way. I also wanted to expose them to some vocabulary that was important for the final reading, and the pictures gave me a very natural way to use those words. 

Differentiation: established meaning of new words, being comprehensible, asking processing questions, comprehension checks, differentiated questions...the usual!

Picture Talk 2: Comparison of camping in the Western US and Patagonia

I knew that I wanted to finish our discussion of camping with a comparison of camping culture based on pictures and experiences from my own time spent camping for several months in Patagonia, as I had some materials that I had already created and because it was pretty interesting. I used pictures of camping in Patagonia and camping in the Western US (where I live) and discussed them. 

This was less of an open ended picture talk in that I wasn't trying to develop a narrative; I already had the narrative and text; it was more like me telling a story using pictures to clarify and compare/contrast. 

Differentiation: established meaning of new words, being comprehensible, asking processing questions, comprehension checks, differentiated questions.

VolleyBall Reading

I wanted students to do some more reading, preferably in a small group or independently, so I had a text ready that was a write up of the 2nd picture talk. I also wanted them to do something social, so a volleyball reading, something I don't often do, seemed like an easy, low tech way to check off all the boxes. Plus, I could do some homogenous group differentiation, which was something I really wanted to do since I had a strong sense of their levels of language at that point. 

I shared the document and modeled the activity with a student who is also a colleague.  I started assigning groups, making sure that one person in each group could share the screen and had the document open, and sent them off. 

Differentiation: homogenous groups: higher level students together, mid together, lower together, and the lower level students got more attention from me.  The reading included a glossary of all the words.  

Read more about VolleyBall Translation here: Volleyball Translation by Martina Bex (Comprehensible Classroom) 

Scaffolding Vocabulary

Notice how I scaffolded camping vocabulary to be able to read this article that focused on cultural comparisons. This was very intentional.

First, I found a resource that allowed us to talk about the most important vocabulary in a natural way (Hedgehog camping picture talk). Then I used that language again, very contextualized, to give oral input and discuss the cultural comparisons in a large group, then I sent students to do a reading, again using the same language. In this case, it was camping vocabulary, but it could have been any list of vocabulary.

Consider how different this is from giving them a list, or a quizlet/kahoot/etc. of camping vocabulary to memorize. Consider how my students heard the language in context, connected first to a narrative then in a non-fiction text.  This is how I take advantage of how our brains acquire language and honor all my students' brains, rather than privileging those who can or choose to study and memorize.

When was the last time you...?

After reading, I decided to do a little interview style game called "When was the last time you...?"  I shared a slide with a question in the target language such as "When was the last time you went to a shopping mall?" and "When was the last time you went to a restaurant?". The discussions that ensued were rich! Useful language was used in a meaningful way! We learned who does the grocery shopping, who went shopping for a dress to wear to their child's wedding, and who at outside at a restaurant vs asking for carry out.  This was basically another Personalized Questions and Answers activity.  

Differentiation: you guessed it! I established meaning of new words, was comprehensible, asked processing questions, did comprehension checks, and asked differentiated questions. Also, I asked for volunteers to share rather than putting people on the spot without warning (invited participation).

Timed Free Write

It was nearly the end of class and I wanted students to do the identical activity that we started with. They had 5 minutes to write about anything. Again, I didn't collect it or even look at it, although I invited students to share it with me.   

Where next: a discussion to continue the journey of acquiring Spanish

This was such a hot topic for the students that it made sense to spend the last 15 minutes of class talking about it.  It is tricky to help students, especially adults, reframe the idea that speaking with other students to practice will grow their language. But of course, this is unlikely to be successful unless they are getting input that they understand. Add to that the fact that two learners are likely to be exhibiting a bunch of developmental forms (aka errors) and giving each other junky input (junkput, throughput, as described by Terry Waltz), and there are better ways for students to use their time. But saying that isn't necessarily going to be helpful. 

Instead, I suggested that reading a book together and meeting to talk about it might be very fun.  I did quick book previews of some of my favorite books for language learners (ok, by favorite, I mean the ones at the top of the pile!) and shared some resources for purchasing those books.  I reiterated again and again that practice does not lead to language acquisition and reading and listening to things that are comprehensible does.  I did this all in English, by the way, because doing it in the target language would have been incomprehensible. 

Image description: Green text on a gray background with hanging houseplants. 
Text reads: We acquire spoken fluency not by talking but by understanding input, by listening and reading. 
Dr. Stephen Krashen, Principles and Practices of Second Language Acquisition

And it was time to go!

I hope this extremely long post was helpful to you! Thanks for getting to the end! Great work! 



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