A good idea that could’ve been better

A few weeks ago (okay, so like a month ago at this point – I’ve been busy) I was working on a unit in Spanish 4 where the focus is on using subjunctive nominal phrases. Only I don’t call it that anymore (I used to, which was the equivalent of saying ‘we’re going to learn about alskfaerozvjar hojaewrljzasdde today’ to my students.) Instead, I tell them we’re going to work on giving recommendations by using phrases like it’s good that/it’s important to/it’s necessary that, which all trigger subjunctive in Spanish. I was looking for something to use as input that could trigger some good responses that would need this structure, and I tripped across one of the Cápsula Cultural bits in Triángulo Aprobado, about technology in the classroom.

‘Great!’ I thought. ‘This is perfect! We just went 1:1 with laptops in my school and there’s a lot of debate on both the teacher and student side about whether or not it was worth it.’ So in my brilliance, I decided to have the students read the Cápsula Cultural on Thursday and then we would debate it on Friday. Making sure my upper level students get enough speaking practice is one of my weaknesses (and they are generally pretty weak in speaking due to my prior grammar-focused ways… most of them speak at intermediate low on a good day) so I was thrilled that I came up with this marvelous idea.

After reading, I put the students into a pro group and a con group and asked them to brainstorm ideas in Spanish for our debate on Friday that would support their argument. This went fine. The trouble was when we actually held the debate which was less ‘debate’ and more ‘one person reads their argument, then the other group sits there awkwardly until I prompt them for a response’. I also made the poor decision to let them choose their groups, which meant that one group had far more confident speakers than the other. We got through the ‘debate’ and they ultimately were able to come up with some good arguments and counter-arguments, but not without a lot of coaching from me and a little Google-fu. I realize now that my error was in not loading them with input beforehand. A small blurb wasn’t really enough to get them ready for a speaking-intensive activity like a debate, especially since we’d never done one before.

Somewhat ironically, I ended up finding a few more sources that would work better to put this activity in my ‘generation gap’ mini-unit that we just completed. So I think this lesson is totally salvageable, I just need to place it with the similarly themed items next time rather than with similarly grammatically themed. I also consider the debate a 75% success because I then used the arguments the students made during the debate, cleaned them up, and turned them into a reading and writing assessment. The student arguments were put into a compare/contrast paragraph format, where I then asked students to listen 3 pros and 3 cons in English (from the reading! I check comprehension in English. Next year, I may make this an AP-style multiple choice situation since that’s what they will be needing to do on the AP test.) The writing portion asked for students to give their opinion on technology in the classroom, which we had practiced previously in a dialogue journal prompt.

I am always pleasantly surprised by the quality of my Spanish 4 students’ work, because they have been my experimental class since day 1. (The class before them was my very first class to have levels 1-4 with me, and a lot of stuff I tried didn’t work – not to mention working on my sad newbie classroom management skills!) I always forget to take snapshots of their work, but I think next year I also want to have my students start keeping digital portfolios so they can see their growth throughout the years. We’ll see.

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