Month: March 2017

Soap Operas (3): a simple verb trick

I’ve been playing with soap operas (details here and here).  Our telenovela is La Muerte y las Rosas (death and roses) and every day we add a few sentences to it.  I write these sentences on the board, circle them a bit, and when I have enough for a full page, I type it into my telenovela Word doc and hand the kids another page of it.

I am storyasking (and doing Movietalk and Picturetalk) in the present tense, but we are also doing our ¿qué hiciste anoche? class opener routine in the past and the telenovela in whatever tense(s) we need.

Written on the board (from yesterday) what happened in the present tense: Will Smith está en el hospital, porque se le cayó una coco en la cabeza.  (Will Smith is in the hospital, because a coconut fell on his head).  Yesterday, when this had come up (student Kajal’s dad is Will Smith, and her Mom is Rihanna, ssshhh don’t tell Mrs Smith), I had written it down, and circled it.  So today, a simple trick:

I just changed the verb endings into the past tense and added a tense marker word: Ayer, Will Smith estaba en el hospital, porque se le había caido una coco en la cabeza (Yesterday, W.S. was in hospital, because a coconut had fallen on his head).  I circled this for a bit.

This might be a not-bad idea because we have 95% of meaning established when we generate the sentence, write it down, and circle it.  When we switch to the past tense, we only really have to circle the verb a few times so the kids can hear the difference.  I’m going to make this a regular routine: generate ideas in present, then rehearse in past.  Blaine Ray has done something like this– storyasking in present, and reading in past.

Anyway, simple trick: translate from one tense to another, keeping rest of vocab the same.

 

 

How Much Does T.P.R.S. Cost?

books pic

Image:  Omaha Public Library

Being poor sucks.  It is well-known that the poorer (and darker-skinned) you (and your school District) are, the worse your educational outcomes are, anywhere in North America or Europe.  In language education, the bias is even more specific: in a traditional “communicative” language program, by 5th year, the few remaining students will be affluent, white, with educated parents, and often female.  Yet everyone has the same innate capacity for language learning, so it’s got to be teaching that separates wealthier and whiter from darker and poorer.

Grant Boulanger has done some exemplary work in Minnesota, showing how good C.I.-based language instruction will enable all learners to do more-or-less equally well.  And the research is clear:  C.I.-based teaching narrows marks ranges and raises all of them.

We tend to argue for C.I.’s effectiveness by saying it works better and showing how amazingly well kids can write Chinese or Spanish, or speak it, etc.  Kids who get C.I.– through free voluntary reading, Movietalk, T.P.R.S. stories and reading, Picturetalk, etc– never do worse than grammar kids, occasionally do as well, and generally do significantly better.  But what if there were an economic argument to be made for adopting a C.I. program?

Our beloved Monsieur Tabernac has 30 kids in his French 1 class.  Every 10 years, his District replaces his French textbook program.  This year, he has options.  He can get the Communi-quête program (traditional “communicative” teaching, with videos, audio listening stuff, cahiers, etc) or he can go in for, say, Blaine Ray’s Look, I Can Talk books (which include readings, and let’s throw in a Movietalk book too) .  Let’s take a look at the costs of these options.

We are assuming that
1.  The resources will serve 30 kids, for 10 years
2. At the end, everything will get thrown out and bought anew
3. Each year, in each program, the kids will buy the workbook.

Communi-quête 

Text: 30 books x $65/book = $1950
Teacher book:                            $350
Audio CDs:                                   $200
Video DVD:                                   $190

TOTAL                                             $2700
Workbooks: $13/student/year

Look, I Can Talk

Textbook:                                  none
Teacher book:                            $30
Movietalk book                         $30
Green Bible how-to kit          $40
props for stories                       $100

TOTAL                                          $200

LICT workbooks (these
include readings)                     $14/student/year

So…the textbook option costs thirteen times as much as the T.P.R.S. optionwhile the per-year cost to the students is $1 higher for T.P.R.S.

So if Monsieur Tabernac was given $3,000 for his language program–use it or lose it; if you don’t buy stuff, the English department gets to order 400 more copies of Lord of the Flies etc– what should he buy?  The answer is obvious: the T.P.R.S. curriculum, and novels!

If he ditches the text, Tabernac has $2,800 to buy novels.  At about $5/novel from Blaine Ray or Carol Gaab, he can buy 18 class sets of 30 novels each.  Or, he could by 36 sets of 15 novels each (so the kids can have more free voluntary reading options).

Given what we know about how much student choice and readings and personalisation matter, the answer is a no-brainer: a C.I. curriculum will be cheaper, more fun, and waaaaay more effective.

This is also a significant issue for poorer Districts.  In wealthier areas, the richer, whiter kids can hire tutors, go to France in summer, etc, if the textbook is useless and they want to get better at French.  Poor kids don’t have those options…and if we want them to have a shot at college or Uni, money shouldn’t be wasted on bad textbooks that aren’t fun, don’t work, and cost too much.

But ssssshhhhh….don’t tell ACTFL or the textbook companies…

Dictionary bad; story good

How’s these for fun? Would you prefer these to, say, movies or novels?

BilingualDictionaries.jpg

Here’s a question recently asked on a Facebook group for C.I. teachers:


My answer to this:  the $$ would be better spent on a set of novels.  

But first, a caveat: if you have Adnimz or Headz of Defartmentz who run your job, and insist on dictionaries– it’s just common sense, you know, we need dictionaries to learn new words— well, you do what you must to keep your job.  But for those of us with choice, I maintain dictionaries are a terrible use of money and a waste of time on the classroom.  Here’s why:

Note that we can do two things with dictionaries: decoding language we don’t know, or generating language we cannot yet produce.

  1. Kids can’t really use dictionaries.  When Johnny looks up the Spanish sentence “I can eat fish,” he writes yo lata pez (I tin can living fish).  Hell, even among adults, language boners abound.
     

    Better: ask the teacher.  If you, the teacher, doesn’t know the word, well, you get to up your mad skillz yo, and you get to model to kids that it’s OK to say when I don’t know something, I admit it and I figure it out with the best possible help I know.

    Also, the teacher can head off mis-translations at the pass, and can work on ensuring that the word gets used properly after it’s been properly introduced, and ensure that it gets used as much as possible.

  2. Dictionaries even when necessary– e.g. during reading–are slow.  Let’s face it: you have to thumb through a big book, and look at words in tiny print, and find the one word you want among a hundred others on the same page.  This apparently trivial feeling is for a 14 year old kid–in their 2nd or 3rd language– tough and slow going. Then there are the obscure (to kids) notes, like vt and prep. And we are talking Spanish here…I have no idea how dictionaries work in say Chinese but they can’t be simple.
    Better
    : in the back of C.I. novels (e.g. the Gaab et al. ones, or the Ray et al ones) there are alphabetical vocab lists of only the words in the book.  Faster and much easier to use than a dictionary.
  3. If we need dictionaries, we probably aren’t doing optimal C.I.  We know that to build language acquisition, input– aural or written– needs to be comprehensible.  If you need a dictionary for reading activities, the reading by definition isn’t that comprehensible.  And we know that if people are going to read on their own, reading has to be 98% comprehensible and generally not an “authentic resource.”
    Better: 
    use student-friendly texts that recycle high-frequency vocabulary.
  4. It is sometimes argued, well we want kids to be able to find and use vocabulary personally relevant to them (ie we need to personalise) and therefore they need dictionaries.  Wrong, and here is why.
    Better:
     any chance where the teacher and/or other kids learn– and acknowledge– something about a student is good personalisation.
  5. Dictionaries do not properly model language use.  If  you want to pick up a word (or grammar “rule”), you need it to be comprehensible, and in context.  Dictionaries don’t show you sentences, dialogue, etc.  In Spanish, for example, the word for living fish is pez and the word for fish that is caught/being cooked and eaten is pescado.  You can’t tell from the dictionary which you use where.
    Better
    : do what Blaine Ray does and teach one sentence at a time (using parallel characters for more reps), writing it on board if need be.
  6. Even as decoding tools, dictionaries have limits.  In Spanish, the classic one is this:  Melinda sees Yo le traje un regalo (I brought him/her a present).  So she goes looking for traje. But traje isn’t in the dictionary, while the infinitive– traer— is.  It is assumed that the reader knows the “rules” of getting from a conjugated form to the infinitive (or v.v.), and/or how to use the verb conjugation tables.  99% of kids in my experience can’t do this, and while sure they could learn it with years of tedious, boring practice, life (and class) is too short.
  7. “But the kids can use wordreference.com on their cellphones!” says somebody.  Well here is what happens when Monsieur Tabernac gets his students to look up the very important French verb for “to dine on gourmet food whilst picnicking in Fontainebleu and looking as good as a Manet painting”:

    a. Maninder hears bla bla bla bla phone bla bla bla
    b. He turns his phone on and finds 37 texts, 15 Snapchats, a worrisome tweet he’s been tagged in, plus a missed call– with voice message, quelle horreur, why do parents use these stupid things instead of texts?– from Mom.
    c. ten minutes later, Monsieur Tabernac asks Maninder eeeuuhh, comment est-ce qu’on le dit en français?
    d. Maninder looks at Mr Tabernac, and thinks, wut?

 

In terms of bang for buck, I would say, get some novels.  They are $5 typically when you buy 30.  Dictionaries are at least $10.  So for the price of 30 dictionaries you could get two sets of novels, which will be waaaaaay more fun, and plus kids will pick up grammar, idioms etc from novels, as they present multidimensional, “whole” language.

In my class, I have one dictionary and I use it maybe once a week.  More often, I ask Hispanic ppl on Facebook etc how they use words.  Oddly enough, the Hispanics often disagree with the dictionary.  Hmmm…

Soap Opera Part Two

soap-opera-pic

March 2017:  I have Spanish 1 and we are about 20 classes in.  I am doing two parallel sets of activities: “classical T.P.R.S.” story asking à la Blaine Ray (with Movietalk and Picturetalk to re-use the vocab), and playing around with my telenovela (soap opera) idea which came from our daily routine of asking “what did you do yesterday?”

Anyway, what I am now doing is writing everything down every couple of days.  When I have one page worth of material, I copy it (onto that free brown crappy paper whose clicks don’t count against my total) and hand them out to the class.

Because this has been student-developed, and because I have generally previously written many of the sentences on the board, it is both interesting and comprehensible.  So when I hand it out, the kids can easily read it.  Note:  while storyasking (and the readings from stories) are in present tense, the telenovela is totally unsheltered grammar.

So, here is what we came up with so far.  I encourage the kids to lie/invent stuff/exaggerate, and they have final say in whathappens/does not happen to “them” (ie the fictitious versions fo themselves).  So Ronnie has been murdered in a fit of jealous rage…but he is happy about this, because he gets to be reincarnated.  So here it is, our  Spanish 1 telenovela:

 

Lunes, el veinte de febrero, fue un día muy interesante.

Primero, Ronnie estaba en una de sus cinco casas.  Ronnie tiene una casa en Sydney, y tiene otras casas en Whalley, Washington, Corea del Norte y Paris.  En Paris, la casa de Ronnie es el torre Eiffel.  El torre Eiffel es muy bonito.  Ronnie estaba con sus veinte novias.  Una chica que se llama Avlin fue a la casa de Ronnie:

Ronnie le dijo a Avlin:        Hola. ¿Qué necesitas?
Avlin le contestó:                 Necesito un novio.  ¿Ya tienes una novia?
Ronnie:                                  Tengo 19 novias.  Pero, quiero otra novia.  ¿Quieres ser mi novia?Avlin:                                     Sí, quiero ser tu novia.

Mientras (while) Avlin hablaba con Ronnie…

Una chica que se llama VogueIsha fue a Marte para (in order to) beber café en CafeMarte.  A VogueIsha, le gusta much el café.  Pero no fue a Marte sólo (only) para beber café…fue a Marte porque en CafeMarte hay dos baristas guapos e cómicos.  Se llaman Pootin y Dave Franco.  A Vogueisha, le gustan mucho Pootin y Dave.

Mientras VogueIsha estaba en Marte…

A una chica que se llama Noor, le gusta mucho Park Chan Yeol.  Noor y Chan Yeol tenian una cita.  Fueron a la playa en Corea del Sur.  Park es alto, guapo y muy cómico.

Viernes, el 24 de febrero, fue otro día muy interesante.  Avlin y VogueIsha fueron a un centro comercial en Paris.  Las dos chicas estaban en el centro comercial, ¡cuando vieron a Ronnie con otra chica!

VogueIsha:               ¿Es Ronnie?  ¿Está con otra chica?
Avlin:                         Sí, es Ronnie.  ¡Él está con otra chica! ¡Yo estoy furiosa!
VogueIsha:               ¡También estoy furiosa!

Las dos chicas estaban MUY furiosas.  Estaban celosas. Entonces, tiraron a Ronnie desde encima (from the top of) el torre Eiffel.  Ronnie murió.  ¡Las chicas son muy violentas!

Martes, el 28 de febrero, Noor vio a Chan Yeol frente del cine Strawberry Hill con otra chica guapa.  ¡Noor estaba muy celosa! 

Noor le dijo a su amiga:    ¿Está con otra chica Chan Yeol?
Su amiga le contestó:        Sí.  Él está con otra chica.

Noor no hizo nada (didn’t do anything) porque le gusta mucho Chan Yeol.

Mientras Noor estaba en el cine Strawberry Hill, VogueIsha estaba en Marte con Dave Franco.

Emma Watson le dijo a VogueIsha:      ¿Besaste a Dave Franco?
VogueIsha le contestó:                             Sí. Yo lo besé.  ¡Fue un beso increíble!

VogueIsha estaba felix, porque le gusta mucho Dave Franco.  Ahora, Dave Franco es su novio…pero hay un problema: ¡Dave ya tiene novia!  Él está con Alison Brie.  Y Alison Brie no sabe que Dave tiene otra novia.