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End of Spanish 1: some results

Here are a few 5-min writes from Spanish 1. All are pure beginners. Their task: describe themselves. No notes, dictionary etc.

First, Angela. She is Filipina and English is her 3rd language. This is stunning writing.

Q: How did she do it?

A: Duolingo. She estimates 10-15 min/day “but then it gets boring.”

Ang didn’t learn most of the words in here she from me.

Next, we have Ronnie. This kid is learning disabled and has an IEP. They pulled him from French in Gr 8 and 9 so he could get learning support. Ronnie has some spelling issues and he doesn’t have a staggering variety of vocab. But this is clear and easy to follow. We have never done any “writing practice” in class, yet he can do this.

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How Should I Teach School Vocabulary?

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Stuck where some genius has decided that low-frequency vocabulary such as “pen” and “taking notes” is important? Have you been ordered to ensure that students have “proficiency” in listing things they Absolutely Need For School?

Stress no more: the easy story script for this is here.  This was developed with the help of Nicole Kunkel and Donna Yakubowski, and taken for a spin with French 2s in 2015.  Yes, we used prsent, passe compose and imparfait when we asked it.  Feel free to steal this.  I’ll type it in English.  If we have Spanish, French etc teachers, maybe you guys could write it up in those languages and post it in the comments. Students must be familiar with the Super 7 verbs.

This is an outline: the fun is in the details and what you end up with hopefully won’t look exactly like this.

MATERIALS

— a backpack with some random weird non-school stuff in it
— a student actor to be a student
— another actor to be the teacher

WORDS WE ARE TEACHING

— got annoyed/was annoyed
— had forgotten (yes, this is the pluperfect tense)
— “Have you forgotten/did you forget _____?” — “Yes, I have forgotten/forgot ___.”
— arrived late
— some words for school materials and/or classes

 

SCRIPT (blanks, and words in italics are variables– let the class develop these)

There was a boy named Mandeep.  He was _____,had _____, was from ____, wanted _____ (develop character).

One day, Mandeep arrived at school late. He went to his _____ class.  When he arrived, the teacher Mr Smith was/got annoyed.

T: Mandeep!  You are late to ____ class. I am annoyed!
S: Sorry for being late.
T: Mandeep!  Why are you late?
S: Sorry sir, I was ______. (develop)

T: Mandeep! Do you have your (school item)?
[actor looks in his backpack and pulls out a (ridiculous non-school item)]
S: Sorry, I don’t have my ______.

Mandeep had forgotten his _____!
T: Did you forget/have you forgotten your _____?
S: Sorry sir, I forgot/have forgotten my _____. (you could develop this)

[We repeat this a few times.  We can also add other teachers, classes and rooms.  We can also use ourselves as the/one teacher, but it is super-fun to have a student imitate us.]

The next day, Mandeep arrived on time in class.  But there was a problem: Mr Smith was not in class.  He was late! [actor sits behind teacher’s desk]  Mr Smith arrived late.

S: Mr Smith, you are late!
T: Yes I am late. Sorry.
S: Where were you?
T: I was in ______ (develop)

S: Mr Smith, do you have a (school item)?
T: No, I have forgotten/forgot ____

Mandeep was/got annoyed, because Mr Smith had forgotten his ______.

WRITTEN VERSION

For this, we have a student write up what happened in class, and we can add a twist ending, eg student sends teacher to office to see principal, principal forgets things, etc.

 

Major Cox

My good friend and climbing partner is Major Ian Cox, M.D. of the Canadian Armed Forces (yes, Canada has an army, and we are so badassed that we once invaded America and burned down their presidential residence, which they rebuilt and painted White).  Major Cox and I were recently swilling bee– err, climbing in Las Vegas and the Major told me how he acquired French.  Some useful lessons here.

Corporal Cox enrolled in the Army at age 16 because it was free Uni.  He had had some textbookish French teaching in highschool, which he described as “useless.” He became a zipperhead (tank driver) and then did a chem degree at U of Ottawa.

Wanting extra $$ and knowing from a 20 mm wrench, the Corporal got a job in an Ottawa bike store.  Since about two-thirds of the customers were French speakers, he heard a lot of French.  More specifically, he would hear things like can you adjust my brakes and chain? and when are these going on sale? and how much is this? over and over. He had to ask his boss initially what things meant, and once meaning had been clarified, he was able to pick things up easily.  He did a lot more listening than talking, most of the staff also being native French speakers.

Then there were the French girls.  Ten years’ worth of French girlfriends also provided an entirely different incentive to acquire French. The Sergeant was introduced to a lot of French families, where a standard set of questions and a standard set of rituals (with accompanying language) provided a lot of repeated French.

He returned to Uni, doing an M.Sc. in chemical hygiene. The Captain tested into the Army’s French ranking and did well enough that they started sending him on U.N. missions and to work with French-speaking soldiers.  Army work in French was the same deal: limited vocab used over and over.  Whether you are doing tank maneuvers, testing for mines, running first-aid drills or doing contamination surveys, you are using limited vocab, it is being repeated a lot, and it is anchored in movement, objects, ritual etc so it is very comprehensible.

When the Captain went to med school and came out a Major, he also went to U. of O., where again he heard loads of French.  Now, when we drink bee– err, climb, and we meet Quebeckers, I am in the listener’s seat, and am amazed at the Major’s fluency and pure lain Quebecois accent.

So, what enabled him to acquire French?

  1. restricted vocab.
  2. massive meaningful recycling of that vocab.
  3. comprehensible input: what was said matched what was happening and visible.
  4. lot of input, and relatively limited demands for output.

 

 

How Should I Teach Por and Para?

Today’s question, from Facebook: any fun ways of teaching por vs para? This is a classic question, much like how do I teach ser vs estar?

For those not teaching Spanish, these words can be translated as “for.”

So how should we teach por and para?

First, we do not make a list of their similarities and differences, and we do not  make a list of usage rules for kids to memorise.  Why? Because even if kids do something totally boring and dumb, like memorising grammar rules, not even the best of them– in real time speech or writing– will be able to remember and apply the rule.  There isn’t enough time in real time.

Imagine having to memorise and then remember this!  😦

Image result for por vs para

Second, we do not make a “unit” around por and para. The textbook “unit” around a grammar concept, verb tense, topical vocab set etc is a bad idea: it will artificially narrow and limit language: John buys a blouse for Suzie.  He buys it in order for her to like him.  He pays $20 for it. He passes by Nordstrom on his way home from buying the blouse for Suzie.  He wonders, “did I pay too much for that blouse?” You can see how limiting this is.

Third, we start using them, from Day 1, appropriately, in context.  A perfectly good sentence for a beginning story comes from Blaine Ray: el gato quería un iPhone para comunicarse con otros gatos (“the cat wanted an iPhone in order to communicate with other cats”). In any quest story, we can have a character try to buy something:

¿por cuánto salen?      (“how much do they go for?”)                                                                      — salen tres por veinte (“three go for twenty”)

Fourth, when we do translate, we avoid using the word “for” (which will be confusing). Instead, we translate each “use type” of por and para with context (and usage-) specific words.  So we write

le da veinte por tres he gives her twenty [pesos] for three [of those]
es para su madre it is meant for his mother
fue por la calle she went through the street
aprendió por escuchar he learned by listening
por ahí close by
se perdió por haber dormido she got lost because of having slept
te amo para siempre I’ll love you forever

(This is much like ser and estar.  We don’t translate them as “to be (+ a bunch of rules)”.  Rather, we translate them as “to be” for ser, and “to feel” or “to be located in” for estar.)

Finally, we don’t obsess about it. The gringo who ends up in a Mexican market saying le doy veinticinco para dos sounds foreign to a Mexican, but also perfectly comprehensible.  This is the equivalent of a Mexican saying why you don’t have no oranges? to a Canadian Safeway employee.  The Mexican’s not having acquired any yet has zero impact on how comprehensible she is to a Canadian.

 

 

 

How Can I Teach Family Vocabulary?

One of the first questions I was asked in any conversation in India was kya aapake bache hain? (“do you have children?”) and, pre-stepfatherhood, I quickly learned to say mujhe koee bache nahin hai. This happens anywhere.

Now, although family vocabulary is relatively low-frequency, it is still a reauired part of most curricula, and it’s useful for travelers. So, today’s question: how do I teach family vocabulary?

As with any vocabulary “topic,” family words are best taught contextually— in stories— a word at a time. In C.I., we will simply give each character a relative, and then ask them questions about that relative (and add a different relative per story). However, if you must teach this vocabulary in a “unit” by Nov 27th because your Headz and Adminz think Languagez can be learned on strict Timelinez, this is how you do it.

What we’re going to do is build a famly tree on the board/OH/document camera. We will include some kids from class, plus the famous people they choose, and we are going to make it as wacky as possible.

So we ask for a volunteer— say, Jameel— and we ask him who’s your brother? Jameel can use his actual brother, or another kid in class, or someone famous, eg Kobe Bryant. Then, we ask about, say his Dad. Jameel or another student can answer the question who is Jameel’s father?

We will keep going, and then we might get this:

Now, note the labeling. The arrows’ directionality indicates the relationship. In Spanish, we can’t say “Jameel’s brother.” We have to say “the brother of Jameel,” so the arrow points and is labeled the way it is.

Once we have eight or ten people in our family tree, we are going to Q&A the crap out of it. For beginners, the questions will be things like

• who is _______’s sister?

• how old is _____’s aunt?

• is ____ Jameel’s brother or boyfriend?

• how many wives does Señor Stolz have?

For more advanced students (those acquiring lower-frequency grammar), questions (thanks Carol Gaab) will include things like

• who would you like your brother to be?

• if Barack had another kid, how many aunts would Michelle have?

The idea is to generate something student focused, and to provide input (via questions) about people’s relationships, ages, pets, possessions and really anything else you can fit into your picture.

If we want to talk about age, we will have something like this:

This is also a great bail-out activity for dead stories or a time-filler. Kids always remember these: “Sr Stolz, Manmeet was Trey Songz’s girlfriend not his sister!” etc.

Basically, we are inventing and and then Picturetalking a family tree. REMEMBER THIS ABOVE ALL ELSE: this is not an “output activity.” Kids supply details, but 95% of talk is the teacher asking y/n or e/o questions and making statements. We do this to deliver comprehensible input.

VARIATIONS

1. If we/class don’t like wacky, we can do this á la Bryce Hedstrom’s persona especial and just ask a kid straight-up factual questions about their family. This often works because there’s always someone interesting in any family, and because, well, we are always curious about others. Doing this– if your kids are cool with it, and nice about it– will also build classroom community.

2. The “famous family” is a great hook. For this, we just draw a family tree of the Simpsons, Griffins, Star Wars characters etc. Kids will find this quite compelling and will argue details.

3. If we are doing a novel– especially a simple one like my own Berto y sus Buenos Amigos or the more advanced El Nuevo Houdini— we just make a family tree based on the novel.

Anyway. Easy and fun– enjoy!

ACTFL: Almost There!

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages provides American teachers with guidance about “core practices” which ACTFL recommends.  Unfortunately, ACTFL hasn’t done much reading of science (or discussion with successful teachers) in forming these guidelines.

Today’s question:  are ACTFL’s core practices best practice?

Answer: Sometimes.

dumb actfl list

First, ACTFL’s suggestion that teachers “facilitate target language comprehensibility” is solid.  No arguments from science or good languages teachers.  Now, the rest…

  1. The use of “authentic resources” is, well, problematic.  As I have discussed, an awful lot of #authres use low frequency vocabulary, and they don’t repeat it very much.  Yes, you can “scaffold” their “use” by frontloading vocab, removing vocab, etc.  Which raises the question of why bother using #authres? Why not just start with something that is actually comprehensible?Want to teach culture?  Picturetalk and Movietalk work well.  Music…great, because if it’s good, people will listen to it over and over (and maybe focus on the lyrics) but expect a load of slang and other low-freq vocab.

    In terms of acquisition bang-per-buck, or gains per unit of time, nothing beats a diet of comprehensible input.

  2. That  teachers should “design oral communication tasks” for students is not the best idea.  Learner-to-learner communication in the target languagea. is a difficult thing on which to keep students (especially adolescents)  focused.  Why use the TL to discuss something in which L1 is quicker and easier? is what kids often think.  In my experience, for every three minutes of class time students get for “talking practice,” you might get thirty seconds of actual “practice,” and then L1, Snapchat etc take over.  In a full C.I. class, you have a lot more time where students are focusing on interpreting the target language.

    b. will feature poor learner L2 use becoming poor L2 input for other students, which is not optimal practice.  As Terry Waltz has noted, “peer to peer communication is the McDonalds of language teaching.”

    c. lowers the “richness” of input: what a teacher (or good book) can provide has richer and more complex input than what learners can do for each other.

  3. Planning with a “backward design model”– i.e. having specific plans for specific goals– is something we might have to do in some Districts, where there are imposed exams with vocab lists and so forth.  Much better practice is to simply  allow student interests– and frequency lists– guide what is taught. Student interests– self-selected reading; story co-creation and activities using vocabulary in student stories– will by definition be compelling, and high-frequency vocabulary  most useful.The only meaningful primary goals in a second-language classroom are  that 1. students be able to easily demonstrate comprehension of a LOT of the target language and 2. that students read and listen to a lot of the target language (in comprehended form). If this is accomplished, everything else– ability to speak and write– inevitably follows. Planning anything else– S.W.B.A.T. discuss ______; SWABT write ______— gives instruction an unproductive interest-narrowing and skill-practicing focus.

    It is also well worth thinking about the ideal “end state” or goal of language teaching.  I agree with Krashen: we are here to get people to the point where they can continue to acquire on their own.  If they automatically recognise a ton of high-frequency vocabulary (which will by definition include most grammar “rules”), they will understand a lot and be able to “slot in” new vocab. And most importantly, when they get to France or Mexico or China or Blablabia, input will ramp up so much that spoken French, Spanish, Chinese and Blablabian will emerge on its own.

  4.  “Teach grammar as concept and use in context”– not bad.  ACTFL here notes that meaning comes first, yaaay.  Should we “teach grammar”? Other than explaining meaning, no: conscious knowledge about language does nothing to develop competence with language. Although if students ask why do we _______ in Blablabian, a ten-second “grammar commercial” won’t hurt.
  5. “Provide oral feedback” is a terrible idea. Why?a. Anything we address to explicit awareness does not enter into implicit memory.  If Johnny says yo gusto chicas, and we say no, it should be me gustan chicas, he might be able to remember this for the eight-second auditory window, and maybe even repeat after us. But if Johnny is merely listening and repeating, he is not processing for meaning, which is how language is acquired.

    b. Oral correction makes Johnny embarassed— it raises his affective filter– and this is both uncomfortable and unproductive for him.

 

Anyway, we are getting there.  ACTFL puts C.I. front and center; as we C.I. practiioners continue to show just how well C.I. works, hopefully ACTFL eventually ditches its old-school recomendations.

New Idea? Novel Re-telling

I teach English, Social Justice and Philosophy as well as Spanish.  In English, we start every class with silent reading, and I usually read a kids’ novel.

The other day, as we were doing our “what did you do yesterday?” part of our opening routine, I said “last night, I was reading a book” and a kid asked “which book?”

I’m reading The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B (in English) and so I held it up and said “I’m reading this.”  A kid asked in English “what happens?” and I narrated Chapter One in Spanish, in story listening mode (i.e. I drew some pictures on the board, and some lines, and words):

There is a boy named Adam.  He is 14.  He has a Mom, a dad and a half-brother.  His parents are divorced.  He likes playing videogames and reading. He also has O.C.D.  He goes to a therapy group.  One day in his therapy group, a girl walks in.  Her name is Robyn.  She has dark hair and dark eyes, and she is beautiful. Adam falls in love with Robin. But there is a problem: she is older! And Adam does not think she likes him!

Now, this is massively simplified vocabulary– these are Spanish 1s after about 60 hrs of input– but I am able to get the main points across.

So basically, what I did was this:

  1. I narrated the story one sentence at a time.
  2. I left out extraneous detail, words I didn’t know in Spanish, and anything that would clutter the narrative.
  3. I drew simple pictures of the main characters on the board (and a few pictures of other things in the story). As per Beniko Mason’s ideas, this slowed me down and made the language more comprehensible for kids.
  4. I did a few convos in exaggerated voices.
  5. I left the kids at a cliffhanger chapter ending.

Today, I narrated Chapter Two. The kids are pretty into it.  Basically, all I have to do is narrate a chapter a day (adding some wacky-voice dialogue) and boom! I have a good ten minutes of C.I. per class.  On Monday, I’m gonna review Ch1 and 2 in past tense, and I’m gonna narrate Ch3 in present tense.  Stay tuned!

Some Notes on Level 1 Results (Fall 2017)

Meaningful discussion of language teaching is kind of like language learning itself: you need a thing to discuss. Language acquisition starts with stuff: language to be processed.  Language teaching discussion starts with student results.  This semester I have two English 9s, Social Justice 12 and intro Spanish, so I have too little time to “curate” results regularly.  Feb 2017 I have both more 1s and time so I will publish more results then.

Bott…ehhhmm, as they say in Ireland, here are two interesting recent story writes.  30 min, no notes or dictionaries, paper-and-pen only.  These students have had about 50 hrs of input.  Instruction is almost pure C.I.: no metacognition, grammar practice, talking practice, writing practice, K/W/A activities, peer group work, bla bla.  Just a lot of input.

This is the fourth story they have written.  Word target was 400.  Most kids are below average this year.  This is possibly because I am doing mostly Slavic-style “untargeted” input, where we have much less repetition of specific vocabulary targets in the short term.

First, here is Angela’s story.  Ang is Filipina and still has a bit of an accent.  She has been in Canada for two years, and reads a lot.  She is also a Duolingo user.  She tells me she is putting in about four hours/week.  Check it:

img_0111

There is a bunch of stuff I havn’t used in there.  She is generally getting it right in terms of meaning but there are still grammatical holes.  I’m including this because, yes, Duolingo– which frankly bores the crap out of me– does deliver decent C.I.  Krashen noted in a paper that Duolingo works about as well as traditional college Spanish instruction, if the user can manage to stay interested, which most do not.  Angela says she likes the new story feature on Duolingo.

Next, we have Nisha.  She is Punjabi, and has had zero previous Spanish. Lotsa words, a good story, but some obvious issues (eg noun gender).  What is tough for the Punjabi kids (in writing) is that adjective and noun endings in Spanish– -a indicates feminine– indicate masculine in Punjabi (e.g. bacha = boy, bachi = girl, bache = kids) so we get confusion. Also in Punjabi (as nearly as I can tell) there is a lot less verb conjugation (or maybe I just can’t hear it when I ask them about it). Nisha is not a Duolingo user.  Her only Spanish is at school.

But anyway, props to Nisha for doing so well after only 50 hours.

 

Textivate Reflections

I am not a fan of most tech in the classroom.  Kids already spend 5-8 hours a day on screens; there is an epic amount of fiddle-around time involved when loading programs and apps; kids with devices would waaaaay rather Snapchat than do their Spanish activities (and I can see why), etc.

That said, I do like using Textivate, which is a platform that allows you to upload stories (or whatever you use in your target language), and then have students do stuff with these activities.  There are all kinds of activities available, from Hangman games to re-order scrambled sentences from stories. You need the basic paid version ($50 or so Cdn. per year) to get full functionality. The best deal is the group membership, where you get 10 accounts for about $100/year– awesome for a dept.

Textivate allows you to assign (and score, and track) sets of activities called sequences great for homework).  You can also have challenges, where students choose activities and compete for points (the game generates a leaderboard, etc).

I like Textivate because it involves students reading and processing meaning, it is relatively low-tech, it is simple and reliable, and kids don’t need accounts, apps etc (it is doable on a phone).

textivate pic

Anyway, I have used it three times this semester with my Spanish 1s.  Recently, I uploaded a French story my colleague wrote, and I “played” the Textivate challenge to see what it was like being a student.  I am functional in French but not awesome at it.  Doing Textivate made me think. So, today’s question:  what are some guidelines for C.I. teachers using Textivate?

  1.  Make the stories short. The French story I uploaded was 107 words…and it was real work getting through multiple activities.  The Textivate limit is 500 words.  But a 500-word story is waaaaaay too long.
  2. Use only meaning-processing whole-language activities.  If your kids are reading whole sentences (narration, or dialogue) for meaning, this is helpful.

    So, I will not use the following activities:

    • jumble
    • space
    • snake
    • invaders
    • speed read
    • next word

Why not?  Well, these activities have one (or more) of the following problems.

a. They do not involve processing of “whole” language (sentences of narration, or dialogue).  Some involve separating strings of letters into words.  Others involve guessing.  These are not input processing.

b. They put pointless pressure on students (eg speed read, invaders).  I don’t know how rushing somebody will help them understand.  When I read in a second language, I find the opposite: I like to sometimes stop and go, oh that’s what ____ means.  I also find I can’t really “think” or understand any faster than I naturally do.  Mind you, I’m

c. They require students to have the entire story in front of them.  If this is the case, they can simply look for words and match, rather than reading.

3. Make sure that when students use Textivate, they do not have the written version from the class story in front of them.  This is so that they have to actually read the sentences, rather than just looking for one-word visual cues.

4. Mark the activities.  I find that if I don’t mark the challenges, some kids are like hey free time to Snapchat! so now I assign marks.

Anyway– props to Martin Lapworth for making a useful tool for C.I. language teachers.

An Easy Opening Routine

Routines work. Here’s mine. 

1. Write day, date & month on board. Pause, point & say class, today is Friday, the 13th of December. Then circle this briefly. Then, ask what was the date yesterday? What was the day?  #s 1-30, days, months: DONE w/o a stupid “unit” on them. 

2. For the first few days of the course, write the weather on the board: it’s windy and raining. Briefly circle this. If the weather never changes where you are, talk about other places in the world. Weather DONE w/o boring “activities.” After the first 10-15 days, you can skip writing.  

3.  What did we do yesterday? I tell a brief absurd story about myself in the past, eg class, yesterday my nine girlfriends and I drove my Ferrari to McDonalds. I ordered 37 Big Macs and 89 coffees. Then I got tired and fell asleep in McDonalds.  I use this poster to pause & point:


After, I ask my FPs what they did.  BOOM! Past tense, by the time you get to stories with it, will be totally familiar to them. 

If you either aren’t personally comfortable making stories up like I am, get the FPs to talk more…we can always say if you guys are gonna be boring, you have to listen to me. 

4. The news. On Day 1, ask one news question: what happened in the news yesterday?  Kids will say something like the Patriots played the Chargers. Write this on board, then S.L.O.W.L.Y. circle it. Introduce ONE verb form per day. 

With that vocab, you can ask questions such as did the Patriots play the Broncos? (no) Did the Patriots play the Seahawks? More reps? Point to your question words and ask where did the Patriots play? and when did the Patriots play? 

The next day, ask the same question what happened in the news? and circle a different item eg Brad Pitt was dumped by Angelina Jolie! Return to the Day 1 sentence and use that vocab for another set of Q&A. Within 5 classes you will have a solid set of good vocab, kid centered, to discuss.  Only introduce one verb per day

5.  Monday? Do selfies ‘n’ stuffies!

6. Friday? Put up a poster with am going (to), is going (to) etc and talk about weekend plans. I start: class, this weekend, I am going to climb Mt Everest with Jennifer Anniston and Steve Jobs. Then, on Sunday, I am going to sleep late and my dog and I are going to eat Vietnamese food in Russia. I briefly circle this, then point at board, pause, and get my FPs to tell their plans and answer a few questions. (Also remember to send your stuffies home!)

These are great to remember for Monday: class, on Sunday I wanted to eat with Vladimir Putin, but I was unable to, because my dog had explosive diahrea (this has actually happened). 

Here’s my Friday poster:


7. If your class is into it, after a week or two of the news, you can start soap operas, which are loads of fun.  

Anyway: that’s a simple opener. Got ideas? Share in the comments.