Giving Thanks for my Local PLC during the Winter Blues & 10 Mini-Flashcard Activities

Wow, two months have flown by and teaching three preps, certainly keeps me on my toes. There are few moments of my life that I am not thinking about my classes and what I could possibly do to help students or better engage them in class. For me, this has been even more important during these winter months or what I call the Winter Blues, not mention the upcoming month of March when all are counting the days before spring break. In addition to the many blogs and Facebook groups that I try to keep up with, I am fortunate to have an amazing group of teachers who meet monthly in our local comprehensible input-based PLC: Professional Learning Community – click here for a list compiled at http://teachingcomprehensibly.com/plcs/ of PLCs.

For so many this PLC provides 4 hours of conference like learning locally, which I know is so important for professional growth. So many of these teachers are not able to attend conferences. (If any administrators are reading this, please allow your teachers to attend professional conferences offered by the associations in your state, region (there are 4 annual world language regional conferences) or national level or summer conferences like NTPRS or IFLT). It is so sad when funds are only allotted for the “tested” subjects. Our field has changed so much over the past 15 years that if teachers are not engaged in professional development that is specific to world language then their students and possibly teaching practices are being left behind.

Thanks BIT

Fortunately in Northeast Ohio for five years now, we have had a Personal Learning Community that was spearheaded by French teacher, Christy Miller. Christy and her team have made professional development free for area teachers. Christy has encouraged other teachers to present two-hour sessions or to share shorter sessions through teacher-shares. Not only are we in Northeast Ohio providing our students with better instructional strategies, but teachers are now becoming presenters at state and regional conferences because they now have a place to get their feet wet as presenters. What I also find great about this model is that I can attend a monthly session and quickly adapt an idea to my teaching the next week; this even applies to many ideas that I have heard about or even done before and have perhaps forgotten.

For example at this month’s session, Christy Miller presented on how one set of mini-flashcards can be used for at least 10 engaging student activities. Now in the past (from another PLC meeting), Christy and I learned about this activity from the very creative Vicki Antequera, and over the years Christy and Vicki have continued to create new ideas to use with their mini-flashcards. In the true sense of a growth mindset, we are all growing from one another’s best practices and then trying to take ideas to new and different levels and making the practices work in our classrooms.

As I said, I have seen various presentations on this topic and have actually used this technique [this year in fact] but it has yet to become a staple in my class. Why not? I do not know. It is truly a great practice for my Spanish II students because it does require active learning and focus. Christy Miller has outlined these directions for using the mini-flashcards to front load structures/vocabulary, play games that require students to listen to comprehensible input and even use the flashcards for retelling.

Using mini-flash cards for many activities to front load your vocabulary and engage students – provided by Christy Miller

  1. Give Students your vocabulary words/structures in your Target Language on ready-made flashcards (you can simply use a table on a document; here is a Blank Google Doc version)
  2. Have students cut the flashcards & write the English meaning on back (or put picture on back)
  3. Play some games with the flashcards, students will do the following:
    1. Alphabetize your flashcards
    2. Categorize – Separate into 2/3 categories – Tell teacher why your chose your various categories
    3. Lift up the card teacher calls out & translat
    4. Point to the card teacher calls out & translate
    5. Use with prepositions –  Put the “soup flashcard” NEAR the “chair flashcard,” Move the “chair flashcard” into the “living room flashcard”
    6. Bingo  – Lay out your flashcards 5 x 5 – no free spot – Flip over when teacher calls it
    7. Answer Questions – Teacher can write questions about students using the new vocabulary; then students find the flashcard with a word from the sentence and write student answers the question on the flashcard [for example Did Paul see the movie Black Panther? Students guess an answer and write yes or no].
    8. Form Sentences – Have students line up 3 or 4 cards to make sentences
    9. Put in Order – Tell a story and have students put the flashcards in order of your story
    10. Match your flashcards to a storyboard / picture based on what the teacher is describing

Some Positives as We All See Growth

It is amazing how much we as teachers do in a short amount of time and in any one day – I mean think about how much planning goes into setting up a classroom environment and just one day’s lesson.  In trying to meet my goal of a monthly blog post, I had to let teaching, other professional obligations, and seeing a few musicals get in the way of writing the blog – so here is October’s post.

For me there is no lack in self-reflection, because all I do is reflect and obsess about teaching – this year my major adjustment is ”How do I teach like a Rock Star for my three preps?”  As we all know, each day there could be greatness in some periods, good/okay periods, and many shakes of the head in others.  What so many do not understand is that even though I have taught all of the courses before, and for some, many iterations of them, as a teacher, I keep growing and my teaching keeps evolving and is based on the needs of my current students. This means I have to change and adapt.  

So enough of that, I am going to simply take this time to write up a few positives from the year.  Here are some new pieces of my Mosaic of World Language Teaching.

My Infinitive Door Mixed with my Expressions of the Week (Passwords a la Bryce Hedstrom)

So this year I decorated the inside of my door with Infinitive signs with pictures.  Yes this is right, although I am a firm believer in presenting verbs in the highest frequency, manipulated/conjugated forms (tiene –s/he has; yo quiero – I want; Ojalá que haya – I hope that there is/are), I must work on double structures with my students and I must do it often.  So my Infinitive door is perfect for this practice.  It has worked well for Expressions of the Week (again a variation of Bryce Hedstrom’s Passwords), when I greet my students at the door and they must use the Expression via rote reading, repetition, or responding to a question.  Since my door is able to be at a 90-degree open state, it is right behind me and students can respond easily.  If my Expression is QUERIA (I wanted to), PODIA (I could) or VOY A (I am going to) – my students can answer with DO Snapchat (hacer), WATCH Netflix (mirar), or PLAY football (jugar).  Also since I am a loud teacher, my door is always closed so my students can look at the door whenever they may need an Infinitive.  Is all of this language being acquired during the first week? – No, but through weekly and daily exposure, bit by bit they are getting it and polishing their Spanish.

Door

Mnemonic Device/Acronym Connections with Names

Over the past few years I have been working with embedding Names into my stories that are, gulp … wait for it… related to grammar.  Yes I have said it and done it.  Many of my students like grammar and finding patterns, and for some, it helps them.

Helping students see patterns and making linguistic connections can be a good thing and an appropriate way of incorporating grammar. The problem is teaching language with constant grammar drills and conjugating that in no way helps students communicate in the target language.  So here are a few mnemonic devices/acronyms in Spanish that I have used and incorporated into stories and contexts with success.

Please note I am always toying with the accents even if they do not make sense, and adding colors really makes them pop or provides a puzzle for students to figure out throughout our stories.

-Gérmán Ástu y yo iremos – for Spanish Future Tense Endings

-Javier A. y Sara – for Imperfect/Past Subjunctive Endings

Hermanas (Superscript HE, AS) y Hermanos (Superscript HEMOS)  (Hermanas y Hermanos) – Present forms of Haber for the Present Perfect Tense

-Alibaba trabajaba y María corría  – Imperfect Tense

-La serpiente Sé Pó Tí Ció – Preterit Tense I and S/he – This snake has a lot of fame with my students, and I have many great stories that one day I will feel good enough with to share.

Changing Seats and Seating Assignments

I am reminded that certain classes need assigned seats and changing them can result in new class dynamics.  This is pretty much Classroom Management 101 but why is it one that I often forget?  For quarter two, I created groups of four seats and I asked students for three students with whom they feel they could sit and would find success with speaking only Spanish while not being distracted and then also with whom do you feel you will be too distracted and/or with whom you do not work well.  Although this strategy took me some time to make the seating chart, I think it really has been a positive change versus some other attempts with seating.  The self-reflection piece for students was positive.  The Quarter two change was also the addition of daily self-reflection which has been positive and helping their target language use.   

Q & A ~ Interpersonal Minutes

I like to include Q & A or what I call “Interpersonal Minutes” during stories or my TCI context.  I usually have a few prepared slides that are questions using the day’s structures and a set-up answer for students to follow (this way it is scaffolded for all students’ success).

For example there are written in the target language:   

Student 1: Where did you want to go last weekend?

Student 2: I wanted to go to ________ last weekend.

As the year goes on, I am making this more Interpersonal based on my levels with language that reads like  “Ask a follow-up question,” “Report the response to the class or the person behind or in front of you” or “Ask/Explain why.”  Please know that I do scaffold these to the best of my ability in order to promote feelings of success and them producing accurate output.  Even if the output is not grammatically correct, I do not think that the short timeframe harms any of the student’s language.

My Morpheme, Suffix, and Prefix / Word Relations Packet

When I present this packet to my Spanish IV students – I tell them “If you consider this packet to be busy work, it kind of is, but it is one that will help you and because of this I keep using it!”  It is a packet of cognate work and word connections in Spanish and English.  I use a list that I adapted from the late Rita Braves, who was one of my high school Spanish teachers, who shared her passion of language, learning, and culture with me.

A few years ago I did not use the packet and I know my student’s reading skills suffered.  For the past two years my students report that they feel their reading skills are better off because it helps them decipher words while reading.  With regard to their output, I often experience this phenomena with my Spanish IV students (Intermediate low-high) who want to know how to say something in Spanish, and after the word study, I can often just respond with “Spanishfy it” or make it Spanish.  Since we have made these language connections they can make up the word and their vocabulary is truly amplified.  Although I cannot publish the packet, since many of the worksheets are from other sources, I will put a copy of my Spanish Word Relationship List in the resources.

Overall the year of three preps has had some bumps along the way and one very tired teacher, but wow my students are starting to show growth in all of their abilities, and for that I am thrilled, and they too are seeing the growth.

Until later in the fall when “Christmas Bells are Ringing” a bit more.