Thursday, January 23, 2014

En mi maleta yo necesito...

Spanish Club this semester is taking a virtual field trip to Madrid. Apparently I did a better job of "selling" it than I did last semester because in the end I had 75 kids sign up! I could only take 30 but my plan is to recruit Spanish students from the local universities (there are 2 local and another 2 slightly local) to volunteer so I can take everyone in the fall.

The first part of our field trip had us packing our suitcases. I introduced the new vocabulary by actually showing them a suitcase I had packed with some old clothes. I taught them the new word and then passed around the clothes to each student. They had to say the name of the item before passing it on. This turned into a noisy bit of throwing clothes around but since this is after school I let them have their fun as long as my clothes weren't being destroyed. They seemed to really pick up the words this way as well. Then we watched the following video on cómo hacer una maleta. 

After watching the video we made a cute paper maleta. We took construction paper (pre-cut with rounded edges) and glued white paper inside - mine had a word bank on it but blank white paper would also work. Black construction paper letter C's, cut from the Ellison dye cutter, served as our handles. Then the students drew the clothing they wanted to take with them on the inside and labeled it.
In the next Spanish Club we will make passports and then get our plane tickets and "fly" to Spain! (I have an in-flight movie and safety instructions ready to watch and one student already begging to be a flight attendant!)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Whole brain teaching - Air punctuation

The whole first part of the year the first graders have been working on the days, months and weather phrases. Since I committed myself to slowing down it has taken us a REALLY REALLY LONG time to get those three things down. But the good news is that they can respond in complete sentences with confidence now. Their performance based summative assessment will be to write a weather forecast and present it to the class as though they are the local weather forecaster.

To work up to this they've been giving me sentences such as "Hoy es martes." I write them down on the board and then we read them together. Right before winter break I started playing around with Whole Brain Teaching air punctuation as we read it. I want to help reinforce what they are learning with their classroom teachers in terms of punctuation as well as get them accustomed to Spanish conventions. So far they've really been into it. Here's how we act out the punctuation as we read.

Capital letters - we put our hand up parallel to each other and then move them down towards each other.

Commas - we don't have these a lot since our sentences are very basic but when they pop up eventually they will be a "swoooop" while drawing a comma in the air.

Period - we "put the brakes on" and say "eeeeet!"

Question mark - WBT says to draw a question mark in the air and shrug your shoulders. With Spanish we do the same thing but draw it upside down at the beginning and shrug as well as at the end of the sentence. So far this and the period are the students' favorites.

Exclamation point - Similar to the question mark draw it in the air but give an excited face and say "Wahoo!" before and after the sentence.

Accent marks - Students are pretty accustomed to the above - minus the upside down marks - but accents are completely new to them. For accent marks we put up two hands with our fingers resting on our thumbs and then flick them out while accenting the correct syllable in the word. If you teach French, a friend suggested putting your arm up across your face to show if it is an accent aigu o an accent grave.

The ñ - For ñ I tell the students that "el bigote" changes the sound of the n. To remember that we put a finger over our mouths like a mustache and pronounce the ñ correctly. Hopefully this is something that will stick since I have so many older students who ignore the mark and pronounce it like a regular n.

Here is an example of a third grade class using air punctuation...

We're not linguistically able yet to write our own oral essay but hopefully the use of our air punctuation will help my kiddos recognize and become comfortable with conventions in Spanish. And who knows maybe I'll be posting an oral essay of my now first graders in a few years as fifth graders "writing" their first oral essay in Spanish!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

#mycart - Show off how you roll results

At the beginning of November I put out a call on Twitter for FLES teachers on the go to show off how they roll under the tag #mycart. I must say I was really impressed with the creativity and ingenuity of these teachers. It's not too late to post your own pictures of your cart/bag/room. Post in the comments or on twitter with the tag #mycart.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Giving directions in the target language

My first elementary school teaching job was an ALT in Japan. I would show up once a month to a school, give one lesson in English to each class and the next day move on to the next school. 90% TL wasn't a problem since I didn't speak any Japanese. All games and activities took extra long because I had to act out everything I wanted the kids to do, although sometimes I was lucky and the classroom teacher spoke some English and could translate. One time I was not so lucky and not only did the teacher not translate she disappeared for the hour, leaving me alone with 28 second graders who to their credit tried very hard to decipher how to play Duck, Duck, Goose.

Despite that experience I still sometimes think that my kids won't understand an activity if I give them directions in Spanish. Not true! They might take longer to understand. Or they might not get it quite right the first time but interpreting simple directions and commands is right there in my standards and I shouldn't avoid it just because it's easier to switch to English. Below is an example of how I explained a simple game of throwing a ball in a circle and asking "What's your name?" and answering "My name is ____."

Start slowly - When I explained how to play the game, I started by first introducing the ball, a word they had never learned before. The exchange below was in Spanish but for teachers of other languages I'm posting it in English.

This is a ball. This is a ball. Ball. Ball. Is this a ball, yes or no?
Is this a pencil?
Is this a marker?
Is this a ball?
Mirror OK!
Ball! Ball! Ball! This is a ball!
Ball! Ball! Ball! This is a ball!
This is a ____.

From then on during the directions every time I might have said the word ball I pointed to the ball and asked the students for the word in Spanish. This makes sure that they are listening closely to my directions because they are expected to respond often in the course of me explaining the game.

Model what you want them to do - Once we were all clear that we had a ball. I drew on the board an oval and told them we were going to sit in an oval and throw the ____. We weren't going to throw the ___ hard like we were playing baseball (cue me acting out throwing a pitch then crossing my arms and saying no!) We were going to throw the ____ softly and nicely (cue me throwing it gently and underhand then holding up my thumbs and saying yes.)

Then I told them we were going to say "My name is "your name." What's your name?" and then pass  the ____ to another person. I then passed the ball to several students in the class so they could hear the question and answers.

Draw pictures for reference - I wanted the students to throw the ball boys to girls and girls to boys so I drew stick figures on the board tossing the ball. (When students laughed at my drawing I told them, "No me llamo Ms. Weber (our art teacher.) Me llamo Ms. Kennedy.)

Check for understanding - After drawing the stick figures and explaining that boys throw to girls who throw to boys. I asked them, "Does Sam throw the ____ to Mary? Yes or no?" "Does Sam throw the _____ to Jack? Yes or no?"  "Do we throw the ____ hard like in baseball? Yes or no? Do we throw softly? Yes or no?"  Then I ask if the students understand the game. Most of them will say yes at this point with their thumbs up. The real test of course is when you start the game.

When do I use English?

After the game started there were a few instances where students didn't quite get what was going on. Usually their classmates would set them straight but a few times I had to step in and explain with a sentence or two in English what was expected. The main part though is that it took either no English at all or just a little English on my part to explain the game, well within my 10% allowance.

When there is time enough to play the game but not enough time to explain in Spanish AND play the game I usually go with the game but explained in English. Most of the time the activity or game has the students speaking and I'd rather sacrifice time spent listening to me so they have time to speak. As I do the same games and activities in class though I don't explain a game we've played before in English a second time.

So that's how I've started to give directions in class and it's how I need to remember to do it more consistently. I need to trust myself and more importantly trust my students to be able to figure things out. They'll let me know if they don't understand! How do you give directions? In the TL or English? What helps you stay in the TL? Leave a comment below!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Projects - Books as Bridges

So we're still out of school for sub-zero temperatures and I'm starting to worry we might be out again tomorrow because the forecast only has it warming up slightly. But since I'm at home in my pajamas eating peanut butter out of the jar let me catch you up on our pen pal project with the local organization Books as Bridges, part of the International Book Project.

Originally, we thought we were getting pen pals in Ecuador but it turns out they are in Panama, but since they speak Spanish and are learning English I don't mind! Our teacher contact is actually a Peace Corps volunteer working with the English teachers at this school.

For our first letter my students wrote 3 paragraphs - an intro paragraph in Spanish with phrases like "Me llamo _____", "Tengo ___ años" and "Yo vivo en Lexington." The second paragraph they wrote either in Spanish or English about their likes and dislikes. Our third paragraph was in English talking about Thanksgiving.

Our first letters from our friends arrived about the same time we were sending our first letters. They were more profiles than anything else and it looks like some of them were written last spring so I wonder how long this school has been waiting for pen pals. Most of the letters were written in English, although a few did have some Spanish. So my students should have had no problem reading them, right? Wrong! They were written in cursive, something we just don't teach here in the States anymore. So many of my kids struggled to read their letters.

To combat this problem I put them into groups and passed out their letters. Together they were supposed to help each other read and share aloud about their new friends. Then I went around the room and read the letters for the students who were having trouble. In the last few minutes we shared with the class 1 or 2 things about our new pen pals.

The students were very excited to read their letters, although I did have a few ask me if they were real (this being a consequence of our performance based summative assessments being video messages to a not-so-real girl named Maria who was moving from Spain to Lexington...oops!)

The next part of the project will be another letter and a cultural package to teach our new pen pals about life in Kentucky. Ideas the students have thrown out already include menus from Kentucky Fried Chicken, bottles of Ale8, and basketball schedules for UK and U of L, as well as pictures of our school. We'll also have a cultural lesson on Panama from a representative from The International Book Project. More updates to come as we continue!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Whole Brain Teaching - Part Three

Today I'll finish up my short series on Whole Brain Teaching in my Spanish classroom. You can find earlier installments in the following links - Part 1 on my routines and Part 2 on the Class Rules.

 The Scoreboard

A big part of Whole Brain Teaching is rewarding students for following the routines quickly and quietly. That's where the scoreboard comes in. In fact, it's the biggest and most important part of the whole system. On one side of the board are smiley faces. On the other side is a sad face. Students earn smileys or sad faces based on their behavior in class. Every time they get a smiley face they get to have a mini-fiesta and say "'¡Ooooooh sí!¨ and pump their fists.

When they aren´t doing what they´re supposed to - maybe several people are forgetting rule 2, raise your hand for permission to speak or they don´t get quiet quickly after clase, clase - they earn a sad face. With each sad face they shake their heads, frown and say pitifully "Que pena."

In some classes just earning more smileys than sad faces is enough. In most classes if they have more smileys than sad faces then they get a dolphin - our school-wide system of reward points. I always post our schedule and sometimes I will put video, game or dance party at the end of class. Then we decide together how many smileys they have to earn to play the game or get their dance party. They work pretty hard to listen and follow directions if it means they get a dance party.

The trick to the score board is to to base it on how the class is doing.  You don´t want them to get discouraged so you don´t want more than a difference of 3 between the smileys and sad faces. If they get more than three smileys I start getting very picky and will give a sad face because one student isn´t doing what they are supposed to. If they have more than three sad faces I do the same thing but I give smileys for every little thing done correctly.

For individual students who don´t respond well to the group scoring I give them their own separate scoreboard on a post-it. I place it on their desk when I walk in. We have a signal so they know when to give themselves marks, although I usually walk over and give them the sad faces. They get a special reward, a sticker for the younger ones or something out of my treasure box for the older ones.  If students get more sad faces then we talk about what they need to improve next time (kindergarten) or they spend part of their recess with me (fifth grade.) This, I should mention, is my own incarnation of a separate scoreboard for "tough" students. Since I see 670+ students on only a semi-regular basis I can't handle it exactly the way Chris Biffle suggests but so far this system has worked.

There are variations to the scoreboard although I haven´t tried them yet. Since I only see my kids twice a week they haven´t tired of it yet. I do sometimes have my own scoreboard and I give myself sad faces if I forget a student´s name or left something in my office that I need for class. The kids get a kick out of the idea that the teacher could also have a sad face.

So that´s the scoreboard. It works so well that one of our teachers in the building has twins in kindergarten and she informed me recently that her daughters had implemented a scoreboard at home. If mommy doesn´t do want they want she gets get a ¡Que pena! Oops!

So those are the Whole Brain Teaching basics. It's made a world of difference in my classroom management this year. Do any of you use WBT? What are your thoughts?