Kagan strategies and TPRS

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop hosted by my ESU on Kagan strategies. (I keep telling myself I’m going to take a break from going to workshops/conferences, but I apparently can’t help myself.) I’m also planning to attend iFLT in Denver this summer and Kagan day 2 through the ESU, even though I said I wasn’t going to work this summer. I first heard of Kagan strategies from a friend I met through the AP Spanish workshop a few summers ago. Her classes were gigantic compared to me. My current biggest class is 14 and my largest ever was 23. For my friend, 23 would be absurdly small – hers usually were in the 30s. She swore up and down by the power of Kagan grouping and Kagan strategies, so when I saw the workshop on the calendar, I signed up.

After the workshop, I am a Kagan convert. And you should be too. Here is why: there is nothing about Kagan that you are incapable of doing. When teachers attend workshops, we want strategies that we can implement TOMORROW with no preparation or extra work. Kagan does that for you. What Kagan strategies do is give you a structure to work within that seems fun to the students (because they get to work together) but increases learning because nobody can ‘hide’ and not contribute without it being super obvious to you, the teacher. (And then you can use your other teacher strategies to get them back on track.) I also like that it helps me to be more organized – if all “2” students in each group are called on to answer, I know who should be responding by their physical organization. And for the world language teachers in the crowd, it encourages teambuilding and lowering of the affective filter, which is extremely important in our classrooms.

I’m not going to take the time to explain the actual strategies here other than to say that for the most part, literally, they are structured turn-taking. That’s it. No magic, no tricks, just structured turn-taking and clear expectations of what each student should be contributing. If you’re interested in learning more about it, you can look at this short overview, or visit youtube or google. I have faith in you.

In the two weeks since I’ve completed the training, my goal has been to use Kagan strategies with intention (rather than my usual ‘oh, that would be a good idea…’ planning that I tend to do). I have learned that whoops, a lot of the ones I would LIKE to do, I can’t currently do because I haven’t put my students in teams, one of the key parts of the Kagan strategy. However, I have been using RallyRobin and RallyCoach when possible in my class and they have been phenomenal.

RallyRobin+Consensus was especially wonderful when I paired them with a TPRS story. One problem I have when I story-ask is that I am really awful at handling all the answers thrown at me. Invariably what happens is that there are a handful of really creative students whose answers I always like the best, and then everyone else stops responding and that defeats the whole purpose of the ASK part of a story-ask. Instead of everyone shouting in controlled chaos, I selected a few parts ahead of time that I would get student responses for. Then, I used RallyRobin (brainstorming in a pair, alternately sharing responses) to come up with names, places, foods, whatever I wanted. Then each pair came to a consensus on their favorite brainstormed name and wrote it on a piece of paper. At the end of class, then I was able to collect all their brainstormed ideas and be able to hear EVERY student’s ideas and contributions. Since I didn’t have to pick something on the spot, I could take the time to use as many different groups’ ideas as possible, so that everyone could say ‘oh hey, she picked mine!’
I could ramble about Kagan strategies for another zillion blog posts, but I’ll spare you. And I’ve only been to one day of five total days of Kagan training! I highly recommend you go to a training, whether your classes are tiny or gigantic, you teach math or French, elementary or college. Kagan strategies just give a name and a structure to stuff you already do, because good teaching is good teaching.

On writing and grammar

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend not one but TWO of Anita Archer’s trainings through the Adolescent Literacy Learning program. I was able to learn from Anita the summer after my first year teaching. Like any workshop worth attending, I was able to pull different ideas and strategies to use in my classroom after six years of teaching to supplement the ones I implemented after my first. The first time I went focused on reading, but this year had one day of reading strategies and one day of writing. While I was at these workshops, two (two and a half?) big ideas stuck with me enough concerning the area of world languages that I wrote them down.

Thought #1: Explicit teaching

Okay, so, we know that explicit teaching of grammar at the high school level (in world languages) is not useful. Students have to know the rule, be concerned about applying the rule, and then have the time to accurately apply said rule. At the novice and intermediate levels where our students are learning, we are pretty much only working on step #1: learn the rule. And you can’t learn the rule, you must acquire it through practice and repetition. Learning grammar is only useful once a speaker has reached the advanced level and is ready to edit their speaking and writing. But to be honest, how many of our students are native English speakers who are still working on acquiring and applying the rules of English?

However, research shows that explicit vocabulary instruction DOES improve cognition and performance. So this caused a little bit of a disturbance in my brain-force. Explicit grammar instruction not so good, explicit vocab instruction great. Huh. Because it’s all related, right? How can one be true but not the other?

My theory is – and I could be entirely wrong and would love discussion in the comments or via twitter – that the establishing meaning portion of CI/TPRS is teaching the implicit acquisition of grammar through explicit vocabulary instruction. The sorts of strategies Anita outlined for explicit vocabulary teaching, such as defining examples and non-examples, using it in a sentences and then a short reading, and showing how it is related to other words is the exact same sort of strategies we use in foreign language. In addition, she talked about how you should really only pick 3-5 big ideas for each vocabulary chunk (which mysteriously coincides with the recommended 3-5 target structures for most CI activities). On top of that, words that students already have a passing familiarity with or a simple definition should be given the ‘light touch’ – this would be like our quick translation into English.

Another big idea I took from the reading presentation was about pronunciation. Some language teachers are all about practicing pronunciation, others give it barely more than a passing glance. But we learned that students who are unsure of a word’s pronunciation are less able to keep the word in their working memory and therefore it is less likely to be put into long term memory. Which makes sense, if you think about it – it’s hard to make a connection to a word if you don’t remember how to say it!

Thought #2: Content vs. writing processes

The second training focused all on writing, and I was pleased that some of my strategies for learning to write better sentences (to push from novice to intermediate) are the same ideas that Anita’s research supports. However, I ran into another mental conundrum. We know that for students to be able to write well, they need to write frequently with plenty of feedback and support. That takes up a LOT of time, even if we’re only writing paragraph level discourse. And if we teachers are going to provide multiple opportunities for clear and structured writing practice… how are we going to have time to teach content? The obvious answer is to have students read, then use that content to write, but for acquisition, students need to have a heavy dose of input first. And for native language teachers (English language arts, or heritage language teachers), students still need input of ideas and knowledge and thoughts before they can have an opinion on something to write about. We can’t write all the time. The brain craves novelty.

Another language-related thought (the half idea) is about how this affects storywriting in TPRS classrooms. I tend to commit ‘assumicide’ which is where I figured, hey, we’ve read a zillion stories, surely students know how to write one now. And unsurprisingly, those stories were not so great. If I want students to write good stories, I have to show them how to script them. (The easiest way being ‘there is a [whatever], it has a problem, it goes here, it doesn’t solve the problem, it goes somewhere else, it solves the problem’ format suggested by Blaine Ray.) But doing that also takes time, time that we have to split between all the different activities and cultures and knowledge we want to share with our students.

As always, I feel like I don’t have all the answers, or any answers, really. I’m just a regular teacher doing the best I can. But it’s important to ask the questions.

Adolescent literacy learning #3 – comprehension and critical thinking

The other week, my colleagues and I attended another Adolescent Literacy Learning session with Dr. Kevin Feldman. This session focused on comprehension strategies and critical thinking skills. As always, I’d like to share my important takeaways. These ideas work for all subjects across all grade levels, not just for foreign language.

  • Before we can even work on comprehension, students have to be in the game. We should be pushing them into active cognitive processing – students should always be doing SOMETHING mentally (not spacing out) and just as importantly, they need to be able to show us, the teachers, what they’re thinking. This could consist of responding verbally to a question, responding to a written prompt, creating a product, or any other kind of way of making their thinking visible. We were asked to self-evaluate and I rated myself very highly in this regard because with TPRS/CI strategies, active participation is the name of the game.
  • We talked about how comprehension consists of extracting and reconstructing. There are many pitfalls for students in both areas. Students might have trouble extracting the information they need due to deficiencies in vocabulary, or they might be able to understand the information but have difficulty justifying or qualifying their responses.
  • One thing that makes a huge difference is background knowledge. This is probably the key hurdle to comprehension. For example, my students tend to come from farming backgrounds. Sometimes they talk about problems with their farm equipment, and even though I technically know the words they’re saying, they might as well be speaking Russian. If we were being assessed on a reading passage about farm equipment, my kids would destroy me because their background knowledge is much deeper than mine. I also think this is an easy, easy pitfall for teachers to run into – to assume that because it was technically taught in a previous grade or class, that students will correctly remember that information. I try not to make that mistake. So that’s why, for example, I take a day and talk about fascism vs. communism and the Spanish Civil War when starting my art unit in Spanish 3. On the surface, economic systems have nothing to do with art, but when we look deeper, students need to understand the personal lives and beliefs of the artists to understand their art and contributions. Another difficulty related to background knowledge is a student’s ability to make inferences. If they don’t have sufficient understanding of the key points of the passage, they can’t read between the lines to understand a more subtle point that the author is trying to make.

Okay, so after discussing the background information that WE needed to be able to discuss the particular strategies, we delved more deeply into the strategies themselves.

  • Summarize – this one is pretty self explanatory, since every teacher since the beginning of time has asked for summaries. Some specific strategies included paragraph shrinking (write a gist statement in 10-15 words) or RAP (read, ask what’s the main idea, put in your own words).
  • One really cool summary strategy that would be awesome for literature circle type work is reciprocal teaching. In this strategy, students are in small groups where each person is assigned a role. The roles are predict, clarify, question, summarize. We also watched a video illustrating the strategy where the teacher switched out ‘clarify’ for ‘read aloud’ as the students worked through The Great Gatsby. I couldn’t find the exact video we watched, but this similar video gives a great walkthrough of the concept.
  • Teach students metacognition. Frequently stop to reflect and ask/answer questions. (For those of us in foreign language, this is also great practice to push students into the intermediate level where they can create their own questions rather than copying ours!) If they can’t answer the question on the first read-through or listen, how can they go back into the reading or audio and find it?
  • The one that I’ve been focusing on in my class is close reading. I think the concept of close reading is probably more familiar to reading teachers or elementary interventionists, but I hadn’t heard of it before the last ALL session. However, it’s possible that you already do a form of it and just don’t know it! Close reading is used for difficult readings – you know, the like the kind teachers have students do, not for fun and easy reading. In a close reading, students are asked to complete different tasks like underline the 3 most important ideas, draw a shape around words they don’t know, draw a shape around essential vocabulary, put a ?  by things they don’t understand, etc. Basically, it requires them to annotate and again, justify their thinking. They have to do multiple, thorough reads in order to accurately complete the work. Of course, after having them annotate, it’s very easy to segue into active cognition by having them share their ideas with a partner and then share out some ideas with the whole class for discussion.
  • Something that is particularly important for foreign language is teaching the vocabulary for having a good discussion – I agree because, I disagree because, I have a different opinion, I’d like to add, please explain, etc. It’s much easier for students to stay in the target language if they have the language tools to do so!

I hope you find these strategies as useful as I have. Again, these ideas are simple tweaks that make good teachers into great teachers. Stay tuned for a post about how I’ve implemented close reading strategies in my Spanish 2 class in the near future!

¡Brillo!

Last fall, I attended the annual NILA (Nebraska International Language Association) conference in Omaha. Unfortunately, I was sick, so I only ended up going to two sessions and leaving after lunch. However, one of the sessions was called Shine a New Light on the Classics: A Lazy Teacher’s Guide to a fun class. This session was hosted by my fellow UNL alum, Marcie Castillo, and some other teachers from Lincoln North Star. This session was built around taking two legacy staples of language teaching – the worksheet and the flash card – and making them into more engaging versions with little or no prep work on your part.

One of the games that they introduced to us was Brillo! (or Sparkle, if you’ve played the English version). While the original Sparkle game is apparently some sort of spelling game – I’ve never played – this one uses flash cards. I am going to take a moment here because yes, I know that flash cards are not always the best form of comprehensible input and they have no context. However, they are very simple to make, my students like competitive games, and sometimes it’s just nice to have an easy, fun day. I am okay with veering a little bit away from the paragraph-length input for a while if we’re still getting things done.

brillocards

In any case, here’s how you play Brillo (or whatever word you want to substitute in your language).

  • Make some flash cards (or use old ones lying around).
  • Add some cards that say BRILLO. I have small classes, so 5 was a good number. If you have more than 15, you probably will want to add more.
  • You show the first student the card. They answer. If they’re right, they stay in. If they’re wrong, they’re out. Move on to the next student. So on and so forth.
  • When a student gets a BRILLO card, all they have to do is say BRILLO and the student AFTER them is out.
  • Continue until someone is the winner!

I really like the concept of the BRILLO card because it can be boring and disheartening for slower processors in a competitive game, especially if there’s a time component. It’s no fun for the same handful of students to win all the time. So the BRILLO card adds a bit of randomness into the process. Students who know more of the words will have a chance to stay in longer, but a BRILLO card can knock them out and let other students have a turn to shine.

This is a good activity to keep in the back of your mind for those days when your planned plans just aren’t working or you change your mind at the last minute.

Adolescent literacy learning #2 – vocabulary

Last Tuesday, some members from my school and I attended another Adolescent Literacy Learning conference in Norfolk. This workshop’s topic was on all about vocabulary instruction. As a foreign language teacher, this is kind of my thing. I will be the first to admit, though, that I am really great at vocabulary instruction in the lower levels (thanks to TPRS) but I am medicore in Spanish 3 and so far, an abysmal failure in AP Spanish. Ironically, I know that AP Spanish probably requires the most vocabulary instruction because of the level of materials we’re covering (for example, this week we’re attempting to tackle Sor Juana’s Hombres necios que acusáis) but as a teacher, the task is a little overwhelming.

One of the problems teachers might run into is not knowing what words to pull. My friend, the science teacher, scoffed at this assertation. In other content areas, it’s a little easier to decide what words students will need for the topic. For foreign language, we’re tasked with teaching all the words, but there is no way we can actually teach all the words, so after we cover the most frequent 100 or 1000… then what? Where do we go from there? It seems like in foreign language, we don’t realize we don’t know a word until we need it… and then explicit instruction is a little too late. I also find it really hard to keep up with the words we need to cover for each piece of input. (I teach all 4 levels, so 4 levels times prepping 1-3 pieces of input per class can quickly add up, even over the course of just one school day.)

The workshop started with an anticipatory guide with some questions about vocabulary learning and instruction. Me being the so-called expert I like to think I am, I was about half wrong (although two were on a technicality!!) about the research. What we did cover was that explicit vocabulary instruction is worth the time it takes. As a language teacher, I had to do a bit of exploratory thinking here, because I know that explicitly teaching grammar for foreign language, at least at the novice and intermediate levels, is not the best use of my time. But what about vocabulary? Then I realized that the very first step of TPRS and other comprehensible input strategies is to establish meaning. And establishing meaning is another way of explicitly teaching vocabulary. But just like in TPRS, this workshop showed that it’s not enough to just say the word once and go on; we need to have students do something with that language. And not just do something, but do something engaging and repetitive. As Dr. Feldman said, ‘get the words in their mouths’. No matter what discipline we teach in, students need to be making connections!

There were a number of strategies that we went on to discuss, such as having a vocabulary log, prioritizing words to teach, using academic language on our own and providing strategies and opportunities for students to respond using academic language, and using mnemonics. (You can view all the items from this workshop for free on the wikispace.)

The biggest takeaway for me was my whole philosophy on education and conducive to a growth mindset. Dr. Feldman mentioned ‘You have to be wrong to be right. It’s okay to be wrong, that means you’re in the game.’ This greatly echoes our keynote speaker from NILA, Linda Egnatz, who said that anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first. And me, I named this blog Making Good Mistakes for the exact same reason. Once kids are on the field and willing to play the game, that’s when we can work our teacher magic.

I wish I could find the link to a video that shows how including some of his simple strategies, like providing sentence frames, can turn mumbles, grumbles, and one word answers into collegiate, scholarly language in a snap. I think that was the most impressive part of the workshop. But since I can’t find it, you’ll just have to take Dr. Feldman’s advice and go for it! Are you in the game?

Carol Gaab TCI presentation thoughts

Last week, I was one of about 120-140 lucky teachers in the state of Nebraska who attended a two day workshop put on by the one and only Carol Gaab. The first thing I want to say is that it makes me kind of sad that language students in Nebraska don’t understand how awesome their teachers are. The kind of people who take two days out of their ‘summer’ to learn a technique – which was a new thing for the majority of teachers – are the kind that are teachers who care about their students. Who want the best for their students. I saw so many instances of these teachers being helpful, kind, and often just funny. Some of the people at my table traveled quite a ways to be in Lincoln last week, but I hope it pays off for their students.

The second thing I need to say is, of course, if you EVER have this opportunity, dooooo itttttt. Carol is a wonderful presenter and truly a master of her craft. Like many CI/TPRS workshops, she started with telling a story in a mystery language. She actually launched into the first verbal mini-story before doing any of the PQA, and even though I knew what was going to happen, I wasn’t sure if she was speaking a real language or just made-up sounds (cause after all, that’s all language is – a bunch of sounds strung together that we all agree means a certain thing). Then we went through and did the steps – establishing meaning, PQA, and telling of the story. By the time we got to the end of the hour (that’s it, just one hour) she retold the story again and it was completely comprehensible. I don’t know how anyone can go through that sort of experience and not say ‘Wow, that was amazing! This totally works!’ Then the afternoon of the first day and most of the second day was spent on going over the different ways to have this effect on our students. As an experienced, if not amazing, TPRS/CI teacher, I felt there was a lot of stuff I already knew, but at this point I was looking for the little tweaks to take me from ‘eh’ to ‘yeah!’ and Carol provided them. I will say, if you are brand new to the technique, an TPRS workshop (not conference) is also highly recommended, or practicing with a teacher who is already well-versed in the technique. In this case, we learned about techniques that we could use, but in the workshop I went to last year, we had the time to go through the entire process PLUS practicing how to circle PLUS practicing telling a story. So I felt that this conference was a good supplement to the workshop I went to last year.

I can’t summarize the entire two days worth of learning, but here is what I think is most key for me:

-I have said in previous posts that I don’t think I do a very good job of verbally story-asking. I think the problem is that like many new CI teachers, I am either way too focused on my target structures that I make the story less compelling, or I completely lose control of the structures and we don’t get the repetitions we need. I think an important step I am missing is the parallel story/going between the story I’m telling and PQA. In almost every instance, Carol would say only a sentence or two before asking a question (either to keep the story going, or a PQA question).

-My verbal stories became way too long. After we got past the initial vocabulary (quiere, tiene, puede, etc.) then my stories suddenly became over half a page long – that’s just too much input to be comprehensible. I need to keep it a reasonable level. Carol showed us how a story of only 6 sentences could take up half an hour’s worth of time because of all the question-asking and redoing of the sentence. (Tarzan sees Jane and calls, ‘Jane!’ Does Tarzan call romantically? Does Tarzan call loudly or quietly? Does Jane answer? How does Jane answer? – Even though the main sentence was ‘Tarzan sees Jane and calls ‘Jane!’, this sentence took 5 minutes to act out and get past, but with tons of repetition.)

-When doing readings (which again, were getting kind of ridiculously long in my class) the trick is to make your low readers forget that they’re reading. So you read a sentence… and then you ‘go off topic’ (you’re not really going off topic; you’re going into question-asking) to make them think you’re just having a conversation about what you just read. But you’re really steering them into, you guessed it, more repetitions of the target structures.

-Everyone loves to quote Carol as saying ‘The brain craves novelty!’ which is true. By the end of the year, I was very predictable. Sometimes I would ask a story (rarely though, I had given up by then) but mostly we did readings. Everything I did was a thinly veiled repetition of reading in some format two or three times until the students started audibly groaning. What I learned from Carol is that the steps we’re doing are quite honestly, exactly the same every time. We just have to fool our students’ brains into thinking we’re not doing the exact same thing (even though we are). A lot of the ideas offered (act it out, using images, using video, reader’s theater, TPR, PQA, draw it, etc) are things I already do… I just need to mix them up. And apply them to the story rather than to my ‘not doing a specific story’ activities. Although if you want to get technical, almost everything we say is telling a story, so maybe I just need to change my thinking. I may outline my month’s worth of stories and decide what activities I’m going to do with each story so that I don’t repeat any during that month.

-Another caution from Carol is when using circling, it can become very boring and predictable very quickly. So you have to circle for a bit… then go do something else. Then circle a bit…. then go do something else.

-One really ‘duh’ teacher trick she taught us was about sentence strips. When doing a story, you can give them some sentences on strips of paper and ask them to put them in a logical order. This is a great activity, but takes sooooo much time to prepare. I usually only prep one set of strips per pair/group of 4 (depending on class size) but that’s still usually 5 or more sets of papers to cut out, and those of you with monster classes might have 10+ sets. So I don’t do it very often because, if the activity takes me longer to prepare than it does the students to complete it, then I’m going to opt out. Here’s Carol’s trick: instead of printing new strips for each story, get a set of differently colored strips (you can just use colored printer paper). Each group gets a set of the colored papers (1 of each color). Then project the sentences themselves on the board, each sentence highlighted in a color that matches one of the strips. Then the students arrange as usual, putting the colors in the order they think the sentences should be in.

There were so many more wonderful tips and tricks that Carol shared with me, but truly, there is no way to record them all here. You have to experience her teaching for yourself. You will not regret it!

P.S. We had a catered lunch by a local restaurant and it was amazingly delicious. I just wanted you all to know. Best conference ever. Super shoutout thanks to Janine Theiler, the NDE, and LPS for providing this opportunity for us!

Summer standardization

Greetings and salutations from watery Nebraska! As a long-time listener to grunge, I can identify with the wet weather of Seattle, but I’m really not too interested in living in it. I’m well into my summer and it boggles my mind that some of you are still in your regular school year!

In any case, I have been doing the proper amount of panicking that it’s the summer and I need to have maximum laziness while simultaneously freaking out that I need to have the maximum amount of productivity/fun possible. So I end up having two really productive days per week… and the other five, I eat ice cream for breakfast and play video games all day. I am truly the most responsible of adults. (Don’t worry, I don’t have any kids that I’m neglecting.)

Here in my ‘summer’ of 2015, I’ve been doing a lot of professional development. The first week I went to a four day AP Spanish workshop; last week I went to a one day thing on adolescent literacy in Norfolk. The adolescent literacy name is a misnomer, in my opinion – this particular session was about engagement strategies. This Thursday and Friday I will get to meet the amazing Carol Gaab and try to do my best not to fangirl. I’m also headed to Columbus next week for a day with the teachers from the Mexican exchange group, just for fun.

I have two and a half takeaways from these workshops so far:

Takeaway 1: The AP workshop was very beneficial to me as a new AP Spanish teacher. I’m sure each presenter does things differently, but I was with the talented David Marlow and learning from 10 other equally talented Spanish educators. The entire seminar was conducted in Spanish, which really helped my confidence level in speaking Spanish. Even though I definitely had some moments where I know I said something wrong, I proved to myself that I am not a fraud, I can speak Spanish at an advanced proficiency (or maybe even superior, since we were talking about pedagogical implications which requires a specialized vocabulary) with native speakers for a lengthy period of time. And I had to employ the same strategies I always try to foist upon my students. It was good for me.

Personal problems aside, I thought the workshop did an appropriate job of attempting to prepare us to prepare our students. There’s no way to truly be 100% ready for the test. It’s big and it’s scary. Part of the training was to sit down and actually take portions of the test. I scored much better on the interpretive than I expected, especially the audio sections. (I was worried because if I bombed it, how in the world was I supposed to prep my students??) After taking each portion at different intervals throughout the course, we then looked at the exemplars and discussed why they were rated the way they were. Since I teach 100% non-native speakers, I will be happy if my students earn 3s and ecstatic if they get 4s. I am not sure how a non-native speaker with normal amounts of preparation is supposed to earn a 5, but that’s the nature of the beast, I guess. This portion of the course was nice, but since I had already gone over the requirements and materials on my own, it was mostly repetition of stuff I already knew.

The real meat of the course, though, is that David was kind enough to create a unit that we slowly worked on throughout the week that clearly met the standards of the AP requirements in terms of authentic resources, rigor of materials, etc. One of my weakest areas is the transition from TPRS/heavy CI with my novices/intermediate-lows to the ambiguity that comes with intermediate and advanced levels, and working through a well-refined unit helped give me some ideas on how to handle that transition. We also worked in groups to create a bare-bones unit for each of the six themes, so at worst, we all have seven total units that we can flesh out/adapt for our own classrooms. Some of the teachers were also experienced teachers taking a refresher course, so they were happy to share their own syllabuses with us. If nothing else, I know I am going to have a really good syllabus! (And of course, once it is accepted by the College Board then I will be happy to share it.)

Takeaway 2: I picked up some good engagement strategies from the conference I went to on Friday. It’s part of a year-long project that I will be completing with other teachers in the building, and then I assume the eventual long-term plan is to disseminate the strategies we’re learning into the whole teacher population, and see how that affects our teaching as a group. The presentation was by Kevin Feldman, and I enjoyed his presentation. His strategies are hand-in-hand with those of Anita Archer (who I was lucky enough to see my first summer as a teacher – totally worth it) although some have a little twist. I have three strategies I’d like to share with you all that will work in any classroom, not just foreign language:

Strategy 1 – The 2 to 10 – At the high school level, never go more than 2-10 minutes without asking the students to do something. Hopefully while you were teaching, they were thinking about the topic, but we need to stop frequently and require a visual check of their internal brain processes. The actual step of showing their thinking can take many forms (write it down, tell a partner, report to the class, use a clicker system, etc.) but there shouldn’t be any time to just space out and not do anything.

Strategy 2 – Precision partnering – When working in pairs (or small groups, but usually pairs – no one can hide in a group of two!) designate one partner as A and one as B. Be clear what you want the As to do and what you want the Bs to do. Alternate who answers the question first – this helps when you have partners who want to dominate the conversation. The other super important key is give both partners a job to do. If partner A is explaining something, partner B’s job shouldn’t be ‘sit there and wait until A is done talking’.

Strategy 3 – Active listening – So if partner B isn’t supposed to space out, what can they do? Some potential jobs are to paraphrase/restate what partner A said, to agree/disagree with a justification, to provide an example or non-example of what A said, make a connection to previous information, or elaborate/add details to what partner A said. In foreign language, partner B’s job might be to help correct obvious pronunciation errors.

What I really like about these strategies is that they are all based around ‘everyone does everything’. There’s no hiding. Every student has to do the same amount of work (or at least, we are trying to get them to do the same amount of work) rather than having the class dominated by the same 5 students all the time. Are students still going to get by doing the least amount of work they can? Absolutely! But if we make the minimum very, very high… then that’ll be okay. And will it solve all of our engagement problems? Of course not! But they are small tweaks for a proficient teacher to make things go that much better in their classroom, and they might be life-saving strategies for a novice who feels like they’re drowning. These strategies fit very well within the cooperative learning framework of foreign language and the group-answer techniques of circling.

Half a takeaway: As I look through all the #langchat logs that I’ve been missing, and going to all these workshops, I see a lot of us moving away from standardized units and textbook work. But it’s interesting, because the more we collaborate, and go to the same workshops with the same presenters, and use the same techniques – in a way, we’re restandardizing ourselves. Hopefully it’s to a new, higher standard that serves our students better.