Sunday, April 19, 2020

Stay strong, Stay Input-Focused (with some ideas)

Staying input focused in a distance learning world where almost every on-line company seems to want you to use their platform to teach the subjunctive, give speaking assessments, and study vocabulary is really hard!

I have been a little discouraged by the trend I see in teacher collaborative groups to move away from input focused, comprehension based teaching to...well, the opposite.

And teacher friends, please don't take this as an insult- we are all just doing the best we can with the tools we have.  If you are struggling to remain input focused, please know that you are not alone!

For me, staying input focused means rejecting all the tools that are being thrust at me that don't align with what I know about how languages are acquired.  It means staying strong against the pressure to give speaking "tasks" and grammar study.  

It means going back again and again to what is known about language acquisition.  

It means working harder- because to make something comprehensible that students can do independently is really, really hard.  

But I refuse to give up.   I refuse to send out grammar packets and I refuse to give busywork and I refuse to make students speak before they are ready.  This is where the part of my personality that is stubborn and sometimes downright contrarian comes in: I have to say no. A lot.  But, being a comprehension based teacher in a system that is designed for something else has never been the easiest road, and I accept it.  I accept the challenge!

Now, what on earth am I going to do in my synchronous sessions?? What kind of work can I assign students that will be input focused and comprehensible...independently?

At the end of last week, Dr. Bill VanPatten, a leading researcher, teacher, and author (as well as being the Diva of SLA!) hosted a webinar for the CI SOS group.  I was fortunate enough to participate, and during the Q & A, I asked him: how do we keep input comprehensible?  How can we do our best to make sure students are understanding the input?  

His answer was surprisingly simple:  give learners easy short texts, broken up very frequently with questions that help them understand the reading, and follow that with some kind of meaningful reading task, such as a discourse scramble (or 9-square).

Wow!  So, basically, doing what I already do.  Cool.  Now...which of the BILLION platforms will do this?  

And of those platforms, which has the easiest learning curve for me and my students, has strong privacy protections, is compliant with any kind of copyright requirements, and works with few headaches?  

Well, Garbanzo* comes to mind. Short bits of text, with comprehension questions...check!  What else....hmmm...Sr. Wooly works like that too.   Fluency Matters e-books certainly fit.  Textivate, which I have never used, but hear great things about seems like a great idea, but a) it is a new tool, b) it costs $, and c) do I really need to learn how to do something else????   I might explode.  Kahoot is offering free premium subscriptions right now, and they offer a puzzle feature....maybe?  Google Slides?  Nearpod...GoGormative... Edpuzzle... Peardeck....
Flipgrid...SeeSaw...TeacherTube...oh wow.  Just typing this makes me feel overwhelmed.

Back to square one, so to speak.  What can I do right now, that feels manageable for me and my students, that is input based?

Here are some ideas that have worked so far:  

StoryAsking Adaptation for Synchronous Classes

I took a story from a previous year's class and instead of doing a more open-ended story-ask, I did more of a story-listen, where I basically re-used an old story (from a previous class) and let the kids decide character names.  

I used Zoom and created a document camera from my phone- just google "Document camera hack for zoom" and find a million ways to do it.  It worked *really* well.  I also used a whiteboard that I brought home from school, but my colleague did it on paper with a sharpie and it worked fine for her.  

I modified the classic TPRS story in a couple of ways as well- instead of being a  3 scene story (like most TPRS stories), ours was 2 scenes to keep it short. I also made sure that the elements in the story were things that I could draw quickly on a whiteboard.  

I used the chat function for kids to give suggestions and comprehension checks (e.g. what was the character's name? What did I just say? What does x mean in English?).
Finally, I had them draw along with me.  I would draw something and say a couple of sentences, do a comprehension check, then I gave them 10- 15 seconds to draw it too.  They held their drawings up to the camera and we all had a good laugh.  

Now, I have a story that is familiar to our class, and we can do a few things with it!  Plans for the next couple of weeks: CHECK and DONE! 

So, how to do this yourself?  Here are some tips and ideas for how to use the story in later lessons, both live and for independent work.

StoryAsking Adaptation for Live Zoom Class

  • Find a story.  Here is a link to some stories to adapt:  Collab Drive Unit Files or Tripp's Scripts (click here for TONS more resources about StoryAsking).
  • Simplify the story. 
  • PRACTICE the drawing once ahead of time with thick markers or whiteboard. 
  • Make a document camera out of your phone/ipad. (Google it.)
  • Have kids draw along- but only give them 10-15 seconds to do so, and intentionally pause for drawing time.  
  • Instead of asking for all the details, just ask for new names.
  • Use the chat function for student suggestions and to check comprehension.    
  • When you are done, use the story in a few different ways. 

Ideas for SYNCHRONOUS adaptations using the same story

Make sure that students have read and understood the story before doing any of these activities!  

For Asynchronous lesson adaptations using the same story

Make sure that students have read and understood the story before doing any of these activities!   

  •  9-square on google slides with story  (blank template to use) (original activity
  • Comprehension focused Kahoot* 
  • Read the story and illustrate it (as a mural, as a comic, etc.)  
  • Any of the activities from the COVID-19 Revista Literal Choice Board 
  • Edpuzzle reading of the story with questions and your delightful whiteboard illustrations.   (This seems really work-intensive because you first have to record yourself reading the story, but it would work AND provide listening input!) 

Some Resources to use and adapt  

What's missing? 

What is missing from these lists?  That's right.  Any kind of speaking or writing.  Why? Well, in class, we do speak. We speak a lot!  We talk and discuss and connect and we write too.  But, we are not in class.  (Obvious, but that has actually been incredibly helpful to remember!)  I have a limited amount of time that students are supposed to spend on language class, and a lot of levels to prep for, and I know that speaking does not help them acquire*. Nor does writing.  I am going to stay input focused for the rest of the year. 

*For some research and reading to back this up, please see While We're On the Topic, by Dr. Bill VanPatten (a publication from ACTFL), as well as Research Talks, by Eric Herman (available from Amazon).

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The New Normal Part 2: Synchronous Teaching

(If you want to read part 1, my outlook and what I actually assigned to the students, click on "The New Normal Part 1: Shifting Gears" post.)  

This is the 2nd part of my personal process of dealing with the new "normal", trying to keep it simple, and accepting that this is my life. 

And also teaching online in a synchronous 30 minute slot,  three levels, three times a week. (3 total; one for each level.)  

Before all this happened, I had planed some cool activities. Like- I was super proud of them and spent a little extra time prepping because it was Parent/Teacher conferences, and by the end of 8th grade, there aren't a ton of parents that really need to meet with me, so I had some time.  

Storyasking is actually the most fun ever.
I had story asked in two different levels (three classes total) and we had not yet spent much time with the stories.  

In another class, we finished the story and interacted with it in a few ways, and had moved on to more content-based discussions and resources.  

My plan *was* (pre COVID-19): 

Spanish 1 Honors: Re-read class story, play a quick round of Quick Draw, do a mash-up of "Around the world" and "Who said it?"- only with all the sentences in 1st person, a quick listening assessment, and then have students fill out a 2 truths and a lie form about the story, to be played later.  This was probably going to take a  couple of class periods, and I would have added on some weekend chat with a write and discuss, and maybe finished the week with another story.  All in all, a lot of reading and re-reading our (incredibly hilarious) class story.    We were working in SOMOS 1, Unit 6.  


(I am teaching, they are joining in a zoom/meetup)

Bonus Documents: 
(because I made them, might as well share them; directions are linked in the documents) 


Changing the Around the World/ Who Said It activity to the new format was awesome.  

Reading the story in breakout rooms worked pretty well.  I need to try to work out at least one way for them to do that each session, and also remember that it is kind of time consuming for me to jump in and out of breakout rooms.   

I needed to do more brain breaks. Like more than one. Seriously- how could I forget this?  

Comprehension checks are HARD.  It is really hard to see if they understand.  I did ask them to move so that the light wasn't behind them if possible so I could see their faces.   Using the chat function on Zoom for students to do L1 comprehension checks worked out pretty well- all I did was ask them to type what I just said in English.  They did.  

*Note- if you use Zoom, you can change the settings on Chat- you can make it so that participants can only chat with host, can not chat at all, can only chat with everyone...I decided to try "only message everyone".  I might play with that so that they only message me if I continue to use that function, but maybe not.

And in the "kids say the darndest things" category:  One kid told me that another kid's internet was out, and wanted to know what to do about it.  Um...I told him that was part of this new normal and he needed to be patient.  

Spanish 2 Honors: 

Pre-COVID-19 Plans
Continue with the SOMOS 1, Unit 17 Past Tense lesson plans.  We just finished the reading assessment and discussion about immigration to the USA, and I was planning on using the video suggested in the lesson plans, doing a gallery walk for students to respond to some questions, then leading another discussion based on the gallery walk.  Students were going to work on reading and responding to a PDF document about border controls, and then we were going to do a writing assessment.  We were also going to do a cool jigsaw activity using some texts from Mundo en Tus Manos.  

*This class is more like a Spanish 3+ class in terms of their abilities to create with language- I would *NOT* do something like a jigsaw activity in a lower level class.  

This was the first class I actually taught online this week. It was the least smooth, but also the class that I have had the longest, so I felt confident that they would be supportive and understanding if it was a massive fail.  I really missed them!!! 

We did a little check in chit chat, then I adapted the video activity from the lesson plan and we did that.  The original activity had a series of phrases from the video for students to mark off as they heard them- a very challenging activity!- and then questions to provide input that is more comprehensible than the video dialogue.  

I decided to play a variation of (st)RIP BINGO and had them write down 6 of the phrases, making sure they were comprehended.  Then I played the video twice, and students marked what they heard.  Then the input came from a discussion.


Despite the fact that these kids have a TON of language, I would say this was a bit of a flop.  Chit chat/ small talk was pretty hard.  Having a discussion was hard- it was hard for kiddos to come up with contributions to the discussion even though I am actually 100% sure in this case that it was comprehensible.  More about how I will do that differently below.  I mean, they demonstrated their understanding of the main points of the video, but when it got to the meatier parts of the discussion (do you agree with what the people are doing, would you do it, etc.) I realized that I couldn't use the same scaffolded techniques that I use in class (e.g. turn and talks, gallery walks) to give everyone a chance to form thoughts and contribute. In this case, I couldn't do a gallery walk, for instance.  

What I can do for next time is to give them the questions in advance, put them in breakout rooms to talk to each other about the questions, and then come back to a big discussion. (Hey, this is why I am writing this blog- reflection time!!)  

It wasn't a total failure- having them do something with the video was good and I think they liked that it felt like work, and that it felt like a bit of "normal class".  

OK, I am done writing. This post has been more screentime than I wanted...more later!  

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The New Normal

This post is rather long.  If you want to just get to the "what I taught" and "how I set it up", click for Continuous Learning Plans.
If you want to read about what the on-line teaching portion of my new normal was like, with resources, read this other post on The New Normal Part 2.

Wow.  I don't know about you, but there is NOTHING normal right now.  Honestly, I have been a mess. Between the earthquakes (thanks, Earth. Like I needed to worry about something else.), elderly parents,  being asthmatic, and watching parts of our society on the verge of collapse, it has been rough going.  

Like- really rough.  I have been barely functioning, to be honest.  

I really admire those amazing humans who are making videos and sharing them: Annabelle Williamson, Sarah Breckley, Andrea Schweitzer, AnneMarie Chase, Bess Hayles...and more!  I tried...and ended up crying every.single.time.  

Update- I got one video up! And because I am feeling better, more will be coming soon.  I mean-who can resist a story about this cat?    

Is he happy? Sad?  What does Diego want?  

 I am incredibly thankful for those amazing companies (Sr. Wooly, Comprehensible Classroom**, Fluency Matters, Immediate Immersion, TPRS Books, Spanish Cuentos, Mira Canion, etc.- sorry if I forgot someone!) who are making SO many resources available for free.  (And who are also standing firm on copyright. You rock.)  

Thank goodness for them because I am using them very heavily right now as I wrap my head around this new "normal".  
This is how I feel when teaching online. 

I mean, I never, ever wanted to be an online teacher.  I really hate sitting in front of a screen.  While I am thankful for my incredible online community, my weekly PLC (Professional Learning Community) meetings (three years running!) via zoom with teachers from other time zones, and my amazing team members at the Comprehensible Classroom (all over the US and beyond), I am a people person. 

I am a face to face person. I am a classroom teacher. In fact, one of the biggest reasons I left my last job and decided to become a teacher was because it was a desk job, and I realized that just wasn't working for me.  

And now, I am an online teacher. So are most of us. Surprise! No warning!  Insane requirements! Students with no internet! It seems like every school, every district, and every state is expecting something different from their teachers, and we are all muddling along as best we can.  And some people are trying to homeschool their own kids. (Saints.)  It's crazy.  Seriously.  

So, after a good long time grieving (for my classroom, for my kids, for my SUPER awesome lesson plans that I started blogging about because I was so excited about them and then trashed), I started feeling a little bit like I could stick my head above water.

Then there were more earthquakes and aftershocks. Then one of our cars died forever and the other wouldn't start.  Then rocks fell out of our foundation.  And then I went back to bed.  With wine.

On to the practical details of the new "normal":  

However, no matter how I feel, I still had to have "continuous learning" plans up on my learning management system page for 3 of the 4 levels I teach, plus live meetings.  I still have to do my job, at least for now.  So, I started sifting through the amazing resources and feeling...overwhelmed.  

I mean- which particular free resource should I use?  They are all so cool, and I already use some of them, and it would be really fun for the kids if they could...and I have 3 levels and the kids in that class would really like ....and...and...and....


Minimal new tech
 (Like none if I can help it.)  Students already have access to Garbanzo and Sr. Wooly in my classroom- they are my go-to sub plan so ideally, they should all be able to access these with little or no trouble.  Of course, that isn't how it worked AT ALL, but that was the idea.  

Reasonable expectations for me
  Seriously.  I have no idea how to do this, so my expectations for myself are super low.  That doesn't mean I am not doing my best- but if my live lesson is a fail, well, hey,  I tried!  If my on-line assignment was a fail, same thing. Oh well. And I am not spending hours prepping this stuff if it is optional for them to do.  And let's be honest.  I am not going to return emails constantly.  I will have office hours, and what I can't get done...gets done tomorrow.  I am not super human.  I can have boundaries.   I really *need* boundaries.  

I plan on using things that we already know and/or love.  For me, this means Wooly, Garbanzo, Revista Literal, illustrating class stories, re-using stories from other classes, and chit chat/small talk.  

It means taking the lesson I was going to do on Monday and tweaking it so that instead of students walking around the room with clipboards, they are reading and responding on a zoom meeting, and STILL getting the input.  (More about what I *was* going to do and what I did do here.

Input Focused

It means STAYING FOCUSED ON THE INPUT!!!!!  Remember, if students are getting input that they understand, they WILL acquire the language.

Easy differentiation
Instead of creating 3 separate lessons for each of the 3 levels that I need to work on (my 5th grade class is another story, and not one for here), I am creating 3 assignments TOTAL and letting the kids self-differentiate or use different stories, depending on the level.  And one enrichment page for all of them!  

Like so many things, giving students choices in their own work is going to motivate them.  Resources that let teachers select options and let kids select from within those options are ideal in this situation- because as a teacher, all I have to do is decide what their options are, then students can choose within that menu.  Please note- these options are all focused on INPUT.   So, for example, I can unlock 4 or 5 stories on Garbanzo that I think are appropriate for the level, and students can choose 2 of them.  Does it really matter to me which ones they read? Nope- all that matters to me is that they *are* reading, and understanding.  

IMPORTANT: I don't want to offend anyone, but I don't think that most "choice" boards that I have seen are input focused. Sure, they are cool and families think they are great (watch a movie in the target language! Listen to a song in the target language! Change your phone settings to the target language!), and students enjoy them, but most have little actual comprehensible/comprehendED input value.   

I encourage you to look at potential assignments with a critical eye. Is it input focused? Is it focused on something else? It's fine if there is another purpose to it, but I would argue that at the moment, focusing on input that is comprehensible/ comprehendED (and thus building student confidence) is the most important thing...I mean, we are still supposed to be teaching, right?  I am not going to suddenly send home a grammar packet, right?  

Continuous Learning Plans

That being said, here are my plans for this week for you to see.   My requirements right now are:  3 assignments + enrichment suggestions, plus one 30 minute live meeting/teaching session per middle school level.

This first week, I am doing the EXACT same thing in each level, but using a different text for the class story illustration.  

1) Do 2 readings on Garbanzo.  
                     Since I can see their work from the app, they don't have to submit anything.  I did create  an assignment in my online grade book so I can mark who did the work or not, per admin request, but it is all complete/incomplete.  

2) Read one story from Revista Literal and pick one option for response.  (For the free resources from Comprehensible Classroom, click here
                    For submission, I decided that all their work needs to be handwritten and they can take a picture of it, then upload it to my learning management system (CANVAS).  Canvas makes this very, very easy.  All I did was create an assignment in Canvas, change the submission type to File Upload, and voila.  I can see their assignments no problem.  Again, this is complete/incomplete.  

3) Read one class story (Spanish 1 Honors, Spanish 2 Honors, Spanish 1B and other 1B) and illustrate it. Students can choose to make a mural or a comic with 9 frames.  
                   They will take a picture of it and submit it to the assignment I created in Canvas.  

Enrichment: They can play on Duolingo or Lyrics Training. Since I don't really think either of those are particularly valuable for input (although I have heard that Duolingo Stories are pretty good), it is optional, not graded, etc.  I also put up some awesome videos from the aforementioned awesome teachers, and students can watch them and write a brief summary in English.  Or not.  

Next week, I am branching out a bit more- as in, each level is going to one different assignment each,  but still keeping it SIMPLE.  

I am adding one new thing (edpuzzle) and that's it.  And the reason I am adding it is because I really liked the resource (from William Edward Langley) and have been thinking about teaching it anyway.  

Click on this post: The New Normal Part 2, for a discussion (and resources) on what the ONLINE teaching portion looked like this week. (Coming soon. I am sick of looking at screens!)   It wasn't perfect.  It wasn't even smooth. But, I do feel like it was ok.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Engaging: shared reading and student accountability and teacher mindset

One question (and variation) that I see a lot from teachers has to do with "how do I keep kids engaged?"  It often goes with "how do you handle reading long blocks of texts?"

I was thinking about this because it seems to come up very often for teachers, and because it isn't something that I have spent much time thinking about, to be honest.

I decided to sit down with a video of myself reading a long block of text with one of my most challenging classes (which has improved a lot) and actually write out what I did.  I was asking myself:  What did I expect from kids?  What did I say to them?  What did I do?  What did they do (or not do)?    

You can scroll down to a minute-by-minute guide and reflection of the video, but first, read this:

My "engagement strategies" are only about 10% of what I do to keep kids engaged. 
Teaching my expectations, and practicing them is maybe 25%. 
My belief (mindset) about student engagement in my class is at LEAST 65%. 

Mindset for engagement in the classroom:  

  • I control the culture of my classroom (as Jon Cowart puts it so well in his book).
  •  Most kids *will* respond to whatever I do and ask if they are motivated to do so.
  • Students are motivated, not by grades, but by previous successes, a desire to engage with the community, with the discussions, and with the content (language + topic).  

You can't see me doing "mindset" in a video.  (Can you? I would love to know.)  

What you can see is a classroom that is founded on those beliefs, and kids responding.  

Here are some the strategies that you are going to see:  

  • Gestures for  many words (learned from Alina Filipescu) 
  • Sound effects.
  • Class job for that one kid who really needs something that this case, holding up a crocodile every time I say the word in Spanish.
  • Comprehension questions to confirm understanding.
  • Personalized questions about students and content and connections between the two.
  • Personalized question referring to a prior class reading.
  • Brain breaks.
  • Acceptance of L1 (English)answers to keep the communication flowing. 
  • Denial of L1 (English) and support in circumlocution, as appropriate. 
  • Student signals- they signal me to indicate when I am not clear, and to say it again.
  • Student runs out of class sick.  

This is a whole class reading of a projected text, never before seen, of Lágrimas de Cocodrilo, from The Comprehensible Classroom **.

Scroll down to the minute-by-minute breakdown to see what exactly it is that I (and the students) are doing.

Click here if you have trouble playing the video.

Minute by Minute guide to what is happening:

llora (cries) - I say the word, students do gesture
está triste- (is feelings sad) gesture
Comp question /review: What were the consequences in the previous reading?
Personalized question: is this a problem for you? (Personal connection- consequence is about American football, this kid plays that sport and is amazingly proud of it.)
Personalized question to another kid- who does not do sports. Then...digging for more info about what would be a big consequence in his life. (Acknowledging who he is.)
Lágrimas (tears)- student uses an instrument to make a noise every time I say the word.
Cocodrilo- one student holds up a mini-crocodile toy and the rest make crocodile mouths with their arms.
Gestures and noise:  Lágrimas, cocodrilos, lágrimas, cocodrilos
Pause for kids to do gesture: tiene hambre (has hunger)
Gesture: lo come (he eats it)
cocodrilo, come (gestures)
Cocodrilo again
llora (cries)- gesture
comprehension check choral response, L2, (does the crocodile laugh or cry?)
Whole group, turn to your partner- comprehension check in L1
Listen for response, confirms correct answer "is eating"
lágrimas, cocodrilo
Call back to earlier conversation about manipulators
1) Student uses rewind / go back signal, so I go back and give more support:
 a) Gesture and check that the first word- they want- is understood.
b) cognate gesture to indicate that the word sounds the same and means the same in English, kids shout it out.
Student interrupts in L2 on topic
Affirm interruption and open it up to the class for discussion.
I ask interruptor for more information
 Student uses L1 word (hide) and I push him to circumlocute, so he restates it with words he has- crocodiles under tree. Then I restate.
Student signals that I used a word that they don't know- árbol - tree, so I quickly translate.
I draw what the student is describing (and extend the language)
Personalized question: who is a carnivore in class?
Personalized question: who is not?
Gesture: son (they are)
Comprehension check: what does "son" mean?
Brain break (ant vs. crocodile, a tiktok meme)
Kid looks like he is going to pass out. So..I go after him.
L1 comp check
Student interrupts with a question in L1, and I respond in L2