Before I start this post, I first have to say… hello to all my new readers! Imagine my surprise when I logged in after my excessively long nap tonight and saw that my blog has had more traffic in the last 24 hours than I usually get in 2 weeks so that was pretty great. A special thanks to Kristy Placido for giving me a boost on Twitter, and whoever is blasting me out on Facebook. (I don’t join teacher stuff on Facebook just to give myself some space or else I’d literally never stop thinking about teaching, but again, thank you to whoever you are!) I guess all my self-marketing at this crazy conference is actually working. Who knew?
In any case, today was a bit more brain-manageable since there were only four sessions to attend. I started my day trying to figure out more about the lost middle children of the language learning process, the intermediates.
Session 1 – The Wonderful World of Intermediates – Kristy Placido
Kristy started her session by cracking a few jokes about how intermediates are the middle children of the language world, but she’s kind of right. They’re not the carefully sheltered, curious novices, but they’re not the world-weary AP students, either. They’re this weird, messy language… thing… (which also frequently tends to coincide with a time in their physiological lives where they are weird, messy things – since my program starts in year 9, my intermediates are smack dab in the middle of sophomore and junior years. Yuck.) However, the great thing about intermediates is that you can now start teaching subject matter, as long as you continue to shelter the vocabulary, and they will continue to grow their language skills.
The intermediate level is also a great time to really push a self-selected reading program, however that might look for you. There are plenty of other blog posts from various authors on the subject so I won’t belabor the point here, but I did make a note that auto repair manuals were a big hit with Kristy’s rural students, which is also the population I teach (I laughed when she talked about kids driving their tractors or riding their horses to school – yep, that’s my town!) so that’s something I might need to look for. I have a few kids that HATE reading but would perk right up to look through one of those. Other things might be magazines, comic books, etc. (I personally keep all those sample ¿Qué Tal? magazines that I get in the mail and add those to my FVR library, even little things like that.) Kristy starts with doing only 5 minutes at a time, twice a week.
The rest of her presentation focused on ACTFL’s definition of intermediate skills and then what that looks like in Kristy’s room. So for example, when it comes to listening, students are still listening to stories, songs, short authentic recordings, reader’s theater, and class discussions. Kristy noted, however, that the majority of input is still coming from her. Even “class discussions” are still mostly teacher driven in that she will give her own opinion or idea, ask a question of a student, the student will probably give a short response, then she will redirect the question to a different student or maybe ask if they agree/disagree with student #1, and so on. In that way, it feels like a discussion because the students are giving their thoughts but the teacher is really controlling all the language input. I am glad that Kristy explained this because that’s how discussion tends to end up in my class, and I tended to feel like I was doing something wrong – I mean, I KNOW my students can talk, so why can’t they keep this discussion going on their own? But the problem is, I think, that as intermediates, they can keep a discussion going without me if the topic is simple and in context and in class, we’re usually going into unfamiliar territory, because otherwise… they wouldn’t be learning, duh. So they need me to facilitate it.
When it comes to reading, she uses novels, non-fiction writings (this is the time when I start adding in Martina Bex’s news stories to my classes), short stories, and embedded readings on a cultural topic.
Output with intermediates is… messy. They are trying to create with the language and therefore their control of time markers is particularly not-so-great, and organization with regards to order can be confusing. But as language teachers, this is good – to me, this is Making a Good Mistake. I like seeing that sort of stuff because it means they’re learning! Anyway, according to Kristy, asking for output is satisfying for two reasons. One, it is satisfying to the learner to see that they can actually do a thing. Two, it is useful for the teacher as an assessment tool. In Kristy’s class, her assessments take the form of a 10 minute timed writing every week or two. She gives them a topic because she notes (and I will agree, having seen it in my room) that NOT giving a topic means students spend more time panicking about what to write than just writing, and her topic tends to be related to whatever they’ve been studying recently. She comments on content, but doesn’t make corrections or take off for mistakes, since research shows that error correction makes pretty much no difference in language acquisition. So why waste your time? Her grades are strictly based on word count.
Finally, when it comes to speaking, she acknowledges that it is by far the most stressful of the skills and recently threw out her participation rubrics and grading, and encouraged us to do so too. I personally don’t force any student to speak except on certain assessments, but I will always invite a student to speak (and allow them to pass if they want). Sometimes I might use a chat system like todaysmeet.com to simulate a spoken conversation but it allows my slower processors time to think or just my quieter/shyer students a screen between them and their peers, and the few times I’ve done it, the kids have really liked it. (Especially if I let them listen to music in their headphones, as long as they’re participating with the chat!)
Session 2 – Language Lab – La Maestra Loca (Annabelle Allen)
Just kidding. I’m going to put this writeup in its own post because I think it will be less confusing that way. I plan to watch Grant Boulanger’s class tomorrow because I hear his teaching style is the polar opposite of La Maestra Loca’s (hers is extremely energetic and bouncy and AAAHHHH TEACHING IS THE BEST which is very similar to mine and his is reportedly very chill) and I think I will write them up together. But I will say it was very helpful to watch another teacher teach CI with an actual class of actual kids so I can say “yes, that is what my class looks like, I must be doing something right” or “hmm, that does not look anything like what I’m doing, how do I change it”.
Session 3 – Cutting Corners and Simple Shortcuts – La Maestra Loca
After watching La Maestra Loca’s language lab, I knew I had to come back for her ultimate “how to be a lazy teacher” session because news flash: I spend all my energy on the teaching part of my teaching so I am reeeeeaaaallllllyyyy lazy on the planning part. Anything I can do to recycle pictures, student writings, etc. so that I have less to do tomorrow is the name of my game. Apparently many other teachers also feel strapped for time and energy because her room was absolutely jam packed. The pictures on Twitter do not do it justice.
Her first lazy idea is how to get students – even elementary students – writing. Post pictures or comics (without words) around the room, and give kids post it notes. Their job is to walk around the room and fill out as much about the picture as they can on their note, then stick it on the picture. Lower levels, it could just be words or phrases. Higher levels, tell a story. They can go to the pictures of their choice, skipping is allowed. And then here’s where you get really fancy: if your next class is a similar level, when they come in, their job is to a gallery walk and just read the stories. Bam. Next activity.
La Maestra Loca also doesn’t like all the random shouting and whining that might happen when you are picking names/characters/locations/etc. for a story you’re about to tell. I solved my problem through using Kagan strategies, but she offered a few other options. One is to take a huge piece of butcher paper (she takes hers from down the hall from the Latin teacher, I assume you can get yours from wherever) and write down the categories, then the students generate as many ideas as they can. Then, when it’s time to need a [whatever] for your story, just pull from the paper. If you need students to burn some energy, a variation is to do the same thing only each category is on a separate piece of paper around the room. A third variation is to use storycubes which I am not going to elaborate on because one, she just wrote about it on her own blog, so go read it there, and two, I’m going to write about it in my lesson lab writeup so you can read about it later.
Then she gave a lot of examples of various things that you can take one of and just adjust your language level to match your student level – MovieTalks, PictureTalks, story skeletons, cultural presentations. She was also a proponent of FVR.
She has a lot of sweet brain breaks. She keeps a list of them on the wall to remind herself of them all, but of course I don’t live in her brain so I didn’t know what they meant. Thankfully, her blog knows what they meant, so again, you should just go look at it and read about them. (I am going to shamelessly yoink some because I really, really, really need to use more brain breaks in my room.)
Session 4 – Using Novels in the Spanish Classroom – Kristy Placido
This session was a collaboration session, so no notes here. I mostly talked with a few other teachers about teaching novels in general, what’s worked, what hasn’t. I still don’t feel like I’ve found my perfect groove with class novels and actually will be pushing FVR down into my Spanish 2 this upcoming year. I picked up 5 new Fluency Matters books today but realized I totally missed Mira Canion’s little shelf (it’s very sneaky!) so I’ll have to get those tomorrow, as well as snag a few of Señor Wooly’s graphic novels… if he has any left!
If you got through this beast of a post… wow, thanks for reading!