I originally had a different post I had drafted at the end of the school year, but it was a bit salty, as the kids would say. So I’m gonna table it for now and instead, share something that brightens my morning every day of my work year and I hope it brightens yours too.
There is this dad at my school who is an awesome dad. He loves his kids. Here is how I know: You see, he has this routine. While most parents just drop their kids off, shout an ‘I love you, have a good day!’ and drive off, he parks his truck. He gets out of the truck and rounds his daughters up on the sidewalk for a family pep talk. I am not sure what he says to them because at this point, I’m usually fighting to get out of the car with my stupidly oversized teacher bag but they are always smiling and nodding. Then he kisses each one on the head in turn – even the middle schooler who, at this point, is taller than I am – and tells him that he loves them. Then he waves to me, if I’m looking (at this point I am usually walking past them and trying to not look nosy) and goes about his business.
It’s such a little thing. The whole process takes maybe 2, 3 minutes out of his day. But that consistent affirmation tells me already that I know that I am never going to have to worry about those kids in my class. I wish I could clone that dad and distribute him to all my students who need a father figure like him.
This week, I am battling a severe case of summer slide. The kids are tired, the weather is nice, and I’ve been battling some health problems of my own that make it hard to be my best self. At this point, we still have 2 useable weeks left but trying to fight for attention when doing teacher-guided input is a losing battle. I spend more time redirecting the students than actually producing input.
So I decided to use my teacher brain to combine all of my best practices into one super lesson to save my sanity. In Spanish 2, we are reading Blaine Ray’s Casi se muere. Reading novels is the best way to increase vocabulary and is a generally awesome comprehensible input device. Then, I added paragraph shrinking. I learned this in my Adolescent Literacy Learning cohort but it’s very possible many of you are already familiar with it. If you’re not, paragraph shrinking is a simple summarizing technique where students read a paragraph, then try to distill the information of the paragraph into one single sentence. I loved this because it strengthens student paraphrasing skills as well as forcing them to create complex sentences to get all the relevant information into one sentence. Finally, I used the Kagan strategy of Round Robin + Coach/Consensus, however you want to call it. (It’s okay if you have no idea what a Kagan strategy is or how to use them; I’ve outlined it below.) So here’s what it looked like:
- Students are in groups.
- One student reads a paragraph/chunk aloud.
- The whole group is responsible for interpreting the paragraph and coming up with a summary sentence.
- Each student writes the group consensus sentence on their paper.
- Move to the next student in the group and repeat.
One thing I emphasized to my students is that when they are done with a summary, it should still make sense. It should be a very short, to the point version of the story, but not missing any major action or details. I chose to have my students do their summaries in English (as a formative comprehension check for me) but you could also have them do it in the target language – just account for it taking waaaaaay more time. This technique did take a whole class period to get through 5 pages, but it could take less time if you don’t have the students read aloud, if you do the reading aloud or use a prerecorded reading, or if they’ve done this before.
Here is an example paragraph shrink from a group that struggles with reading comprehension in many of their classes:
It’s the first day of school and Ana saves a life. Pepe Ayala almost dies when he chokes on a piece of meat. Nobody helped Pepe because he had no friends. Teresa says how he has no friends. Someone tries to save his life and the meat falls out of his mouth and hits Jaime on the shirt. Pepe doesn’t care about Jaime but Ana does. Pepe thanks Ana for saving his life before Jamie yells at Pepe for making him look stupid. Then Ana tells the story in a letter.
Wasn’t that awesome?? It has lengthy sentences, it makes sense, and it’s in student-friendly language. My only regret is not implementing this strategy earlier. And the best part is, it works for any topic, any reading, any class! I plan to use this more frequently next year because I was extremely pleased with the results.