Saturday, February 22, 2014

That's How I Roll - Funny Voices

I recently read a post from blogger LoveTeach about how to spice up your teaching with zero effort. Her suggestion to teach with a fake British accent reminded me just how often I use funny voices in my classes. You just can't underestimate the power of the funny voices.

My funny voices started in Japan. I wanted my students to practice questions and answers in English. Since I spoke little to no Japanese I had to act out what I wanted them to do. They also happened to sit boy/girl/boy/girl there so when I acted out the students having the conversation with the person next to them one naturally had a very deep voice and the other a very high voice. One day I acted it out without the voices and I got a very upset little 3rd grader who said, "sensei, sensei blah blah blah" which I translated as "Teacher, where are the silly voices?"

I use the same strategy in my Spanish classes when I want the kids to practice questions and answers during our Enseña period. And since we´ve started doing descriptions in 4th and 5th grade they have become invaluable when learning that gender agreement in our ajectives - Yo soy delgada said in a high pitched voice versus Yo soy delgado said in a deep voice. Do the students think I´m crazy? Yes. Are they having fun? Yes. Are they learning the difference between femenine and masculine adjectives? Yes.

Funny voices are also great for anything that require repetition. So when I'm introducing new vocabulary we say it quiet, loud, high-pitched, low-pitched, angry, sad, like robots etc. Let the students give you ideas. This past week in my after school enrichment program we sang Cabeza, Brazos, Piernas, Pies (or Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes) many many different ways, my favorite being as old men with canes and Tyrannosaurus Rexes, both student suggestions. As dinosaurs we roared after each verse and as old men we groaned when we couldn't reach our toes. I was almost in tears from laughing by the end.

Do you use funny voices in your classes? How and when? Share in the comments below!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Assessments - Stamp Pages

I have a LOT of students - almost 700 in fact, so assessments can sometimes be overwhelming. One of my professional development goals this year is to get better at assessments. One thing I didn't do much last year was self-assessments. The solution? Stamp pages!

I won't lie - I took this idea straight from the Creative Language Classroom and the JCPS Skydrive. I would have loved to use them exactly as I found them but 1) I don't want JCPS on the header when I work in a different county and 2) some of the I can statements are beyond my little one's cognitive abilities even in English. I can't very well teach them how to tell time in Spanish if they haven't learned it yet in English.

Also, since I have less time with my students, I also have to be aware of how much time it will take to finish a unit. Last year, I re-made the Unit 1 - Getting to Know You stamp page with basically the same I can statements and it took the ENTIRE year! This year, I made a smaller stamp page template and planned shorter units. I also changed it from a teacher assessment tool, where I tried to listen to each student individually and then gave them their stamp to a self-assessment tool where students decided if they earned the stamp or not at the end of the unit. I have 4 buckets on my cart that have 3-4 stamps, an ink pad and a sheet of Spanish stickers. At the end of a unit, we watch a video and pass around the buckets.

Before each stamping session I review with the kids how to use the stamps (i.e. Don't put your fingers or nose in the ink pad; Don't stamp your hand or friend's forehead; Only stamp your stamp page.) We also review why we have the stamp pages. I want them to take their pages home at the end of the year and be able to show their families all the things they learned. If their mom asks them "I can introduce myself" then they should be able to do it. If they have a stamp there and can't do it then they are going to be embarrassed. I'm sure some students just stamp away but most of them are actually very conscientious about it. I also have a blurb at the end that asks them to write about what they are proud they can do. Once we finish with all the stamps I will have them look back and reflect on what they can do and what helped them learn.  So that's my stamp pages.

Update January 2015: This year I have converted to shorter half page stamp sheets. The procedure is the same but now students can take their stamp pages home after each unit rather than waiting to the end of the year. It also gives me more flexibility to change my mind on what to teach throughout the year if I want.

If you are interested in downloading a copy I have made them available in Google docs. Just click here for a full page and here for a half page. Once you have them downloaded just insert a text box, type in your I can statements and move them to the middle of the bubbles. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

That's How I Roll - Storytelling

I've been trying to incorporate more storytelling and books in my classes this year. I've used an A to Z Reading book in my School Supplies unit, read Sombrero Rojo, Sombrero Verde to my kindergartners and I've tried my hand at my own interactive stories with the after school enrichment class and now with my 4th & 5th graders. The students have responded really well, but the trick is finding something relevant to what I'm teaching and is comprehensible enough to hold the kids' attention.

Here is what I am doing with descriptions...

I start by teaching the vocab using my Whole Brain Teaching techniques with gestures, pictures and having students teach other. Right now we are focused on the verb tener with eye color, hair type and other descriptions like bigote, barba, pecas and gafas. We very briefly go over how to conjugate tener, emphasizing the difference between Yo tengo and Él tiene/Ella tiene.

Students then write the words into their dictionaries. Our dictionaries are booklets we made at the beginning of the year where they write any new vocabulary I give them plus if they have free time after finishing a project they can look up words in my picture dictionaries and add them to their own.

Finally we read together a story I wrote about how someone has stolen their teacher's favorite pencils with special erasers (this circles back to our school supply unit.) As we go along I ask yes/no questions and then for words/full sentence answers to make sure they are understanding the story. Words that are familiar and/or I'm trying to emphasize are in a different color so students read those with me. Since it is a mystery whenever I shake my hands at the class they respond with a "dun, dun, dunnnn!" (That's their favorite part!)

Within the story are descriptions of the suspected thief. After we read each description, I change the screen to what looks like a Guess Who game board. Students work in pairs to decide which person was described. After we finish the story we write our own description together as a group on the board and then they split into pairs to write their own. Once they finish, they read them aloud for their classmates to guess.

For reference, this whole process takes about 2 rotations or 4 classes to get done although with some classes more time is needed. I've also done stories where students help "tell" the story by filling in the blanks. Then they illustrated the story we told together.

I've not been trained in TPRS so I'm not sure if what I'm doing qualifies. I do know that I don't have translations of the key words in English on the board to refer to. Students can refer to their dictionaries if they need help.  I'm not really "teaching" them the vocabulary using this method but taking the vocabulary we've learned, practicing it and solidifying it in their brains by seeing it in context.  Both ways, I use the TPRS style circling (as I understand it from videos and blogs I've found,) which I think works very well and helps me to make sure students are understanding.

Do you tell stories in other ways in your classrooms? Share your strategies in the comments below! I would love advice!