May 15, 2008

what's the point?

In analyzing my student survey last week, I realized that I never explained to the kids why we were doing all these new activities in the beginning of class. I had set up a routine. On Monday and Friday we have Free reading, on Tuesday we have Free writing, and on Thursday we have Dictation. (We don't have normal classes on Wednesdays.) The students were doing the activities, and they had learned our new routines, but because they didn't understand the purpose behind them they were not getting the full benefit of the activities.

So, here's what I boiled down for them:

Free reading: We do this to improve our vocabulary in the language. We learn most of our vocabulary in our native tongue through reading. We also learn words much quicker through reading than through hearing them used. Another reason to read in the target language is because students begin to absorb the correct syntax and grammar as they see it in use. By reading for a set time without stopping to look words up or write anything down, we allow the brain to start absorbing the new language, without relying on the first language as that permanent crutch.

Free writing: Mostly, my purpose behind the free writes is to reduce anxiety and to get students in the habit of writing. There are several graded essays I have to give throughout the year. These are graded on length, grammar & conventions, verb conjugations, vocabulary usage, Organization (including using introducitons, transitions, conclusions and proper paragraphing), and content. If students are already used to writing in Spanish for a specific length of time, that is one less hurdle to jump when it comes time for these essays. Now they can focus specifically on the task at hand. Another minor point is that Free writes also give students something concrete to look at and measure their own growth. A student who began the year writing barely 13 words can look back at his or her portfolio and see that now he/she is writing 50 words in the same time frame.

Dictation: This is mostly to practice spelling, grammar and punctuation. The affective filter is low because students are not graded on what they do not know - they are graded on being able to correctly copy from the board. But because they have to first listen and write what they hear, it focuses their attention on the specifics of what they do know and what they need to learn in a very non-threatening way. I find that it is working much better than me trying to lecture students, or constantly correcting their spelling in an essay. Some of my lower students are now spelling words like "hay" correctly, even though a few months/weeks ago they may have spelled it "I."

I am taking away two points for me to learn from this activity: first I am reminded to explain my logic to the students - they need to know why we are doing something in order to fully buy into it and get the most benefit from it. Second I was forced to really look at my logic and why I was doing these activities. Yes, I had read about them on the TPRS listserv, or heard about them from colleagues, but that isn't why I was incorporating them into my class.


  1. This will be my 3rd year teaching and 2nd year doing TPRS. I love your idea of a routine and wanted to get some input from you. You said Mon & Fri is free reading, Tues free writing and Thurs dictation. What did you mean by no normal class on Wed. (do you not meet)? I see my students for 50 min Mon-Fri so I was wondering how this would work. How long do each of these activities take each day? Also, do you give them a grade for dictations? In my first year I did a dictation every 2-3 weeks but I would do the dictation on Mon as practice and they would rewrite the correct version afterwards and Friday I would do the same dictation but this time taking it up for a quiz grade. I didn't know if you do something like this.
    Thanks for any advice you can give me. Thanks for your is great learning from master teachers.

  2. Will you be printing off an explanation worksheet for the reasons you do each activity to give to students? Also, where do you have the students write their freewrites? I want to be sure to add that to my supplies list for them. Thanks!


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