Dec 9, 2013

Authentic resources and embedded readings

I created an embedded reading to use with Neruda's "Oda al tomate."  I am very excited to see how it turns out.  I began by isolating the words my students are familiar with already, creating the intermediate reading.  Then, I pared it down to an even simpler version tat should be quite accessible.  I went back to the middle version and added some details back in so the final version is not such a stretch.  Now, to get a day of school so we can begin reading!

Nov 27, 2013

More Thoughts After ACTFL

It's amazing - I went to ACTFL this year feeling worn down and like TPRS and Comprehensible Input just can't fit into my mandated curriculum anymore.  After all, the absolutely wonderful novels are not on the approved reading list.  Free and Voluntary Reading is discouraged, and I am supposed to keep my students on grade level reading and writing Common Core standards, even if that means leaving the target language and reading and writing in English.  My storytelling has gotten lackluster, my questions are predictable, my students won't participate... and I wondered "why do I keep fighting the bureaucratic machine"

Now, here I am, a few days post-conference.  The difference is amazing.  I went to some great sessions.  (The trick is don't feel guilty, if a session doesn't seem to fit your needs, leave and find a different one that does!  Another trick is, if there is a time slot with no interesting sessions, hang out in the exhibit hall.  I think I set up camp at the TPRS publishing booth!) 

Randomish thoughts:
I went to a session on writing and the Common Core.  I figured I needed to see what other people are doing.  Well, they advocated staying in the Target Language and *supporting* the standards but by getting our students to be proficient in reading, writing, and thinking in our target language.  How refreshing!  Now if I can just communicate this effectively to the "higher ups"

I already mentioned the embedded reading and cultural reading sessions.  I keep thinking how much more accessible reading will be with the layers of reading.  Start small and build up.

The last session I went to, on Sunday afternoon (yes I got kicked out for last call) was about making homework meaningful.  

I have fallen into the trap of, I guess flipping my classroom in a way.  The high school teachers here all use traditional language learning models.  My students leave my classroom and have to take daily vocabulary and grammar quizzes.  No longer is it about acquisition or communication.  And I have struggled to find a way to balance my beliefs and research with the expectations of my district.  The final exam is also very much based on grammar rules and vocabulary memorization rather than acquisition in the language.  Some of the questions come directly from the student workbooks.  And so, since I do not use the textbook or workbook in class, I assign workbook pages as homework in order to familiarize my students with the layout and expectations of the book's author (and therefore the exam), as well as their future teachers.

Which brings me back to the session.  The presenter used backward planning starting with those "can do" statements in the program (My textbook says things like "students will be able to order food at a cafe") then planning backwards to figure out what instruction with actually be able to get the students to that point.  Her homework reflects that same philosophy.  Rather than assigning the grammar activities because they are there, and are expected, she has students prepare for the oral classwork the following day.  She asks students to "be ready to____" and such activities as "discuss three things you own" in this case, students will be using the verb tener (to have), but the homework focuses on the skill of using it in context rather than isolated lists of verb forms, and students are pressured into doing the homework because they have to stand up in class and speak.

I woke up at five o'clock this morning thinking about homework, my curriculum, and how I can get my pedagogical philosophies to match what I am teaching again..  (I am such a nerd!)  How can I get my students more involved in what they are learning, more vested in it, etc.  Also, if they are truly able to acquire this language, in theory they should be able to do as well on the test.

Nov 23, 2013

I'm baaack

I took some unscheduled time off from this blog as I moved, finished my thesis, settled into a new school, and added a new addition to my family.

I am currently in Orlando, Florida where I am attending the ACTFL conference.  It is awesome, and I have loved meeting so many of my virtual friends.  I made a presentation of how to effectively differentiate instruction in a world language class for visual-spatial learners.

One of my favorite sessions so far has been on embedded readings.  In embedded readings, the teacher edits a story into several nested versions of the same story.  Each version is comprehensible to the students, but adds new levels of complexity.  By the final reading, students are able to read complex stories.  If you would like to learn more about this, go to:  Another great source for this is

Aug 30, 2010

a new year, a new level of slowing down

I think I am finally learning how to go slowly. Or maybe, I already knew how to go slowly, and I’m finding a new level of understanding in it. Part of it is probably that I feel more comfortable with myself as a teacher and with being the odd man out in the department. But, part of it is students who are willing to be honest with me. I’m starting the second week of school now, which means I am going on lesson three (block schedule), and every day I find myself slowing down again and again. I have been using TPR with my level Is (TPR and circling with balls with level II), and one of my classes has been very slugglish in response. I was just chugging away and suddenly I heard Susie, or Ben, or some wise sage whispering in my ear that boredom means they don’t understand. I stopped then and there and asked for a show of fingers – not for how much they understood, but to see if I was going slowly enough. Man, I was getting one’s and two’s all over the place. I slowed down, got through half of what I thought I would, but at the end, there were mostly four’s and five’s (I do a count of five fingers, not ten, so this was good.)

In another class I heard somebody grumbling. It sounded like a complaint about having to do the actions all class period. So, again, I stopped. I asked the class if they felt like they were learning and if I should continue working like this, or if they would prefer a more traditional approach. A resounding reply to keep going. So, I slowed down again. I’m checking for comprehension two or three times a class period. I’m not quite in the range I am aiming for yet, and it really does feel painfully slow. I keep reminding them that I’m the only one in the room who speaks Spanish, but I keep forgetting that. I use a word ten times and I think they have it. I think I can speed up. They don’t and I can’t. A student hesitantly volunteered today, and somebody chuckled and said that I should give her “hard ones.” I stopped. I put on my concerned teacher face, and a Time Out signal to speak in English. I told them that I would never try to trick them. That I am not trying to see how much they have forgotten, or how much they didn’t learn. I told them that my job is to make learning so easy that they don’t even realize they are doing it. I don’t think I was imagining the look of relief on people’s faces, or the more relaxed atmosphere in the class. I am shocked by how little people were understanding me, even when I thought I was going slowly, and I thought I was recycling my words enough. Back to the drawing board for me!

Jul 8, 2010

On Going S-L-O-W in a GT class

The point was made that if I slow down my delivery to the point that even the slowest student in my class can understand, then I am hampering all of my other students. Is that really fair for me to do, especially considering I am trained in teaching GT students and am working towards my master’s in GT education?

Yes, it is. Because the underlying assumption is that if I slow down my delivery there is nothing left for the advanced students. But therein lies the beauty of TPRS. In any traditional class, during the direct instruction all the students are learning exactly the same information at the same time. Or at least, they are being exposed to the same information. The students at the top of the curve have already mastered the material, and they are now bored. The students at the bottom of the curve aren’t ready for it and they react by looking bored or uninterested. But really, they are just overwhelmed.

In a TPRS class, however, this is not true. Although the teacher is standing in the front of the room talking (sometimes), this is not direct instruction in the way we have always envisioned it. The teacher is leading a group into a collective effort, but each student is focused specifically on the information that is new to him/her. Slower processing students are focused solely on the words and trying to construct meaning. Faster processing students are focused on the underlying grammar behind the words, and how to construct meaning. Faster processing students are honored because they are often the students who can think of clever new scenarios in the stories the class is creating.

There have been a few studies that have shown that mixed level TPRS classes have been the most effective. I know that Michelle Whaley has posted about the results of her mixed level Russian classes on Ben Slavic’s blog, and Blaine Ray has referenced another teacher who had astounding results with her levels I-IV in the same class. When the vocabulary and the speed were not an issue, students could truly acquire some of the more subtle parts of the language. These kids often nail grammatical points that usually stick out as the immediate flag that a person is not a native speaker (in Spanish the use of the subjunctive, por and para, ser and estar) and they do this because “it sounds right” and because the many pop-up grammar lessons infused throughout every class stick.

As a teacher, I can pop-up anything I feel my students need to work on. So, for my slower students I pop-up, “Why did I put an –n at the end of that verb?” (It’s plural) and for my students who are beyond that I will point out that although this is an –ar verb, it ended in an –en, why is that? (It’s a plural command)

Gifted Education 2.0 Ning