New Year’s Reflection #1 – Spanish II

Happy New Year and 2018! Since this Blog is now a semester old, I am going to take the next 5 days and reflect on the semester and where we will be going for the second semester. I know that taking a step back and thinking about what I did in classes and what my students were able to do (and not do) will help guide the next semester. One reality of the year is that I have three preps, teaching high school levels Spanish II, III, and IV. This reality often leaves me feeling like what I am doing is Never Enough to quote from the new musical film: The Greatest Showman. But then I read over my student’s midterm surveys and even after a long series of midterm assessments they are pleased with the variety of activities in the classes and their growing Spanish proficiency. This does please me very much and I will use their feedback to continue to improve as a teacher. Moving on, in this series of New Year’s Blog posts, I will write about each level, some thoughts about assessments, and then what I hope to accomplish and try during the second semester in my classes.

Spanish II – 10 Top

I teach two sections of Spanish II and other colleagues teach the other three sections, meaning I have to teach similar content during each semester in order to prepare students for our midterms, yet our midterm design does allow for nice autonomy for teachers. Teachers are able to agree on themes and language structure/grammar and within the broad theme I try my best to make my teaching style and preferences work. Our classes are an interesting mix of students ranging from all four grades and with a wide-range of language abilities with many students having now studied Spanish since Kindergarten. With regard to language proficiency our students range from Novice low to those approaching Intermediate low/mid. It is my fourth year teaching Spanish II so I know the “expected content” and each year I work to define the language outcomes for students remembering how vast their abilities are in all of our different skill levels. I do feel that we expect a lot from our students when we think about 21st century world language classrooms and the many abilities they must prove and content they must show – I am not against requiring students to perform in speaking, writing, reading, listening and/or interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes while showing knowledge of content, grammar, and vocabulary but I am aware how difficult this could be for many students. I will continue this thought later this week.

To best reflect on Spanish II, I will use a Top 10 style list based on what I did in no particular order this first semester.

10. Cultural Comparison using a Film

To have students think about the 3 Ps of Culture (Products, Practices, and Perspective), a two-day film study before Thanksgiving was exactly what my students and I needed to survive those two days before a few days of freedom. This was a wise classroom management decision.

Prior to watching the film, The Book of Life (which I will probably replace with Coco next year), I had students talk with their classroom partner about the Products, Practices, and Perspectives that had to do with Thanksgiving and their own personal lives. Together we discussed some of their responses in English or Spanish if able to better understand the 3 Ps.

For two days we watched The Book of Life in English with Spanish subtitles. During the film, I simply provided them a worksheet with a table with columns for the 3 Ps and then three columns that reflected the current or new structures from class: Past Tense Verbs, Words We’ve Learned This Year and New Words You Have Not Seen. I really liked that I required students to fill this table out each day of the film because there was a piece of accountability that many of my students need. Here is a copy of a chart that could be modified and used for any film.

9. Cultural Readings for Homework

In general, I do not give too much homework in Spanish II but this year, I have started to use the cultural readings from Janet Healy Mulholland Teacher Discovery’s Chico Chile Dice series (which I cannot find on the site but here is one that I found).

The series includes a very comprehensible reading with pictures to reinforce possible unknown vocabulary and a quiz about each Spanish-speaking country. I created quick Google Form Quizzes with an answer key for each reading that student completed on days I was out or for homework. I thought this was a good use of their time for days I was not in class and/or homework because it provided some good facts about geography, cultural aspects and provided them comprehensible input that I would usually not do in class –plus it was self graded due to Google Forms newer feature. During semester one, we did Central America and the Caribbean, and for semester two, students will read about the South American countries and Spain.  Including more culture and geography was a goal for us in Spanish II this year, and these assignments have helped to accomplish this goal.

8. Reviewing Present Tense “I forms” and Pre-loading Irregular Past Tense Verbs as Word Chunks with an Established Vocabulary List

Ok, I know that is a long title but I did what it says. I took a textbook vocabulary list about free-time activities during the summer and I created structures/word chunks with present and past tense irregular verbs. This process is neither new nor novel because it is a way many TCI teachers have created structures for their TCI context (especially if working with established vocabulary lists). So what did I learn from this experience??? I certainly met my goal of teaching the free-time activities during the summer with a solid review of the present tense (which many students have had great exposure). What did not work so well was my hope that students would magically learn the “I forms” of the past tense in Spanish because it was way too many structures (at 40 per tense). Please do not get me wrong, I did not just provide them these lists. I used many of the structures in context in various stories and worked with them but alas nowhere near what was needed for solid acquisition although students certainly had exposure.

So overall I think this provided some of my students with many elements of foundational high frequency verbs, the summer vocabulary that I do continue to see and hear in use, and a good review of present tense verbs in the highly irregular “I form” but I cannot expect “mastery” of “I form” past tenses from this exposure. However this experiment did lead me to a rather successful introduction to the past tenses that was new – see number 2.

7. Bargaining Situational Role-Play

I still believe requiring students to practice verbalizing some situational “role-plays” can have some great educational value for students. I think it helps to give students a better sense of how a situation will and could play out in the real world. In general, I do not have students do these in front of the class, especially if it is the same situation, and I provide students with an English “script” of language functions/I can statements to lead the dialogue.

Bargaining in a market and asking about price is an essential real world skill that I feel should be practiced by students. So this year, I chose to use a shortened dialogue for a speaking grade and I was pleased with the results. Prior to expecting the students to perform, we listened to and watched the video of www.senorwooly.com ‘s Es una ganga and asked, told, and read various stories that incorporated the same language that students would need to have success with the role-play at a level that would meet the expectations and/or exceed them with strong development. Overall I have been pushing students to develop their sentences and thoughts in Spanish and this was very apparent in many of my student’s responses. Because of the nature of how I prepared students for the “role-play,” many students were using acquired language and I do not feel students were just memorizing for the sake of the role-play, which helped make this year’s a great experience.

6. Jobs and Daily Participation Rubric

Well an October shake-up was what I felt was needed in at least one of my Spanish II classes. When I say this I mean classroom management needed to be my first priority – which seemed like a national problem because it was around this time that many world language teachers were posting on Facebook groups about classroom management concerns, and I was in the same situation. There were a few strategies that I chose to implement at this time: class jobs (do a search for Ben Slavic or Bryce Hedstrom and class jobs), a new daily rubric and quiz, and new seating arrangement.

Overall my students liked the jobs and they seemed to react well to the daily rubrics, here a copy of this simple rubric. For me as a teacher, here is what happens with these new pieces, they become yet another thing that I must find time to conduct, leaving me feel more like being the ringmaster of a circus; I should just go with it and pretend to be and be able to sing like Hugh Jackman or Zac Efron in the Greatest Showman? All joking aside, even after trying class jobs and daily rubrics in the past, they have never become a part of the fabric of my classes as so many have successfully done. We did them for most of October and November but not December because so much of December was devoted to reading a novel, Mira Canion’s Fiesta Fatal (Happy New Year’s Birthday Mira Canion!)  But when we return to school in 2018, I will incorporate both jobs and the daily rubrics from day one because I do find them to be effective in Spanish II.

I quickly mentioned a new seating arrangement and that was positive for the most part. For this arrangement, I collected information from students and asked them these two questions: 1. With whom do you want to sit and you feel they will help you only speak Spanish? 2. With whom do you not want to sit and you feel it would not help you only speak Spanish? I took their thoughts and was able to form teams of four students, which has helped in team activities and quick interpersonal partner speaking tasks.

5. Dictation and Running Dictation

I love to do one Running Dictation lesson per semester because it is great fun for the students and all are engaged. Here is Martina Bex’s explanation.

I also find great value in using dictation activities because they require students to listen, write, read, and self-correct. Whenever I do them (which is not often and must be more frequent as I am reflecting on this), the students learn a great deal from them. I am going to outline how I prefer to do these, which I got many years ago from one of my presenting partners, Teri Wiechart.

  1. Prepare an eight to twelve sentence story; this often is a follow-up reading from a class story.
  2. Tell students to write the first sentence on the first line of a sheet of paper.
  3. Read the sentence two to four times in target language.
  4. Tell students to skip two lines.
  5. Read the second sentence two to four times, and skip two lines. Continue this until the end of the story.
  6. Show students the first sentence. Tell them they must correct their sentence by rewriting the misspelled words including missed accents on the line below the original sentence. For grading purposes, students must correct all errors and as long as they correct everything they get full credit; they are simply copying down the corrections at this point.

The system helps students see spelling and make connections from the aural to written word, and they feel they learn from the process.

Some of my mistakes as a teacher for both Dictation and Running Dictation are that I make the sentences way too long. Who me? as you read through my never-ending sentences in this post? Just be aware of this.

4. Incorporating Songs

I often think about cutting pop songs from my Spanish II content because for the most part they are not comprehensible. I do however use many Señor Wooly songs that are comprehensible. But then I see how well my students react to the pop songs and I know that I should keep them. In order to justify using them (in my own mind because I hate wasting class-time), I use songs to enhance vocabulary/structure learning, to recognize keywords for listening purposes, and to lead into or enhance stories.

In general here is the format that I have used with level II songs while also possibly weaving the song into a story:

Day 1: Listen and tally how many times does the artist say “word (the most commonly      said word in the song)?”

Day 2: Listen for “this or that word.” I write a list of about five to six pairs of good           vocabulary words that students should be exposed to or know. From the pair only one of  the words in is the song. They listen to the song and circle which word is said in the song.

Day 3/4: Listen to the song and fill in or circle the missing lyrics; read over       for meaning.

Day 5: Watch and discuss the video or a karaoke/lyrics version.

To get a better idea for the set-up of a song, here are my worksheets for Frozen’s “Libre Soy” (Latin American version of “Let It Go”). This song is usually loved by all students even by those who “don’t like” it.

This year semester one songs have been:

Colores, Colores – Bacilos; Dónde estás, corazón – Shakira; Camarero – Enrique (old school 80s); Amnesia – Señor Wooly (do not use the full video until after Es una Ganga); Eres – CD9; Libre Soy – Frozen Latin America; La Invitación – Señor Wooly; La Calaverita – Santa Cecilia; Me equivoqué – CD9; Es una ganga – Señor Wooly; A mis quince (XV) – Eme 15

3. Storytelling and Story-Asking

From the results of all of my student surveys (levels II, III, and IV) students reported that hearing stories was one of the best ways to help their language skills. The survey, a copy is here, had students reflect on the four skills and content during the first semester, and again class stories were often referenced and the word did “story” did not appear on the survey.

So I know that I must continue to use class storytelling and asking next semester because even if some students seem disengaged, they are still responding to the input and working on acquiring language. I make this mental note because my Spanish III and IV courses become very thematic and stories become a bit harder to incorporate in the same way as in my Spanish II classes.

2. Stories in the Past Tense “I forms”

Since I also teach Spanish IV and III, I have noticed when speaking in the past tenses that students were overusing the third person “she / he form” in place of the “I form.” This is probably because in Spanish the “she / he form” in the Preterit tense ends in the “o” but I also have many students that say “yo fue” instead of “yo fui” so this year I wanted to experiment. My goal was to introduce the “I form” in the past tense Preterit before the “she / he form;” this is not a problem for the Imperfect tense because the forms are the same.

When I began telling and asking stories in the past tenses, I did so in the first person “I form” this year and not the “she / he form.” For the most part I was able to use similar stories that I have used before and just changed their perspective. I found that I was also able to make an easier transition to the 1st person “we form” and 2nd person “you form” because of the connections amongst the common vowels in the Preterit.

I will say I am very pleased with this decision because the “I form” past tense output is great from my students. In fact, for those aspects of the department midterm (both spoken and written), there was at least 80% accuracy for the “I form.” I cannot say the same for the third person “she / he forms,” but I do know that I have not spent enough time with input of these forms. So for quarter 3, I know much of my instruction will focus on 3rd person singular for many stories. I will report back later throughout the semester when I see how they are using the various forms.

1.Daily Calendar

For the past three years, I have incorporated daily calendar and weather discussion for at least 3 quarters but I did not often see a transfer of my goals (I can tell day, date, time, weather, etc in present and past) in the students’ actual output. So in many ways, I have wondered if I am wasting time.

This November, I wanted to try an idea from Northeast Ohio TCI PLC coordinator Christy Miller. I provided my students with a blank calendar and each day there was a quick “warm-up” task attached to it. Each day students had to write the date (numbers in words) and respond to a question in Spanish. I used this question to start off of the class and because of this all students were comfortable responding to the question because they had prepared it. Yes many students were reading but I feel this was an appropriate scaffold for many students and also a way to help prepare them for our midterm speaking assessment. Students also wrote down the password/expression of the week on their calendar. I made this calendar idea my #1 because even though students do not like having to have their calendars out and begin writing when the bell rings, it helps them all focus and get in the Spanish mindset. It also was reported on the survey as an important part of the helping the students feel like they are learning Spanish. So I see this as a great success.

Thanks for reflecting on these 10 pieces from my work with my Spanish II students this year. Tomorrow’s 2018 New Year’s Blog post will be about Spanish III.