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Plan Browsing Strategies if you want Students to Browse your Class Library

For the past several years I have entirely abandoned the whole class novel in favor of student choice. The awkward part of teaching a whole class novel — the thud midway through the novel when student interest plummets but I have to keep the show running — that has thankfully disappeared from my teaching life. My students are actually reading more and they are happier with their reading.

And yet…

Running an effective pleasure reading program requires much more from the teacher than providing good books and quiet time for students to read. Start with unpacking the idea of “a good book”; in this context the book must be both highly interesting to the student and highly comprehensible. I have never had enough books to fully satisfy these two requirements… for language learners I don’t think there are enough books out there to satisfy these two requirements. That is why I am leading the charge to get more teachers to write novels with their classes. But even if I did have “enough” books, I would still need to understand my students well-enough to be able to recommend the right book to the right student. I have close to forty students in each class, and I struggle to remember some students’ names well into September. October. Okay, for a select few I am still blanking on a name in January. My point is that “know your students” is another phrase carelessly thrown around by reading gurus that, when unpacked, is easier said than done. I break a sweat trying to connect students with a “good-enough book” from my library.

A pleasure reading program demands endless tinkering, but there are three things you absolutely must pay attention to if you want it to be successful. First of all, the books have to be highly comprehensible. Not kind of comprehensible. Not even pretty much comprehensible. Highly comprehensible. Take a look at my 4 minute video about how to develop a library with class-created texts. Doing this during the last five minutes of class, every day, will lead to hundreds of low-low level readings for second semester. In level one I unveil the pleasure reading library in January (although I have been talking about the books since the beginning of the first semester). Many students may be able to make the leap to professionally published novels, but I still need this basic foundation of a library to serve as a landing mat for the children who tumble off those books and need an extremely, extremely comprehensible read. To be successful, the library must have texts for the lowest level readers.

Second, take a hint from a good librarian and make sure your class library is browsable. Place your easiest novels in a location that is easy to reach for students streaming into the class. I have tables pushed against the walls on three sides of the room with various types of books so that when students do browse, they are not crowded into making a quick choice by the pushing and shoving of their classmates. Try to have as many covers facing up as possible, and occasionally rotate in the books that are stuck on book shelves. Keep collections together by theme, not reading level; I have all of my animal encyclopedias together on the table near the window, all of the manga and graphic novels together on the table against the back wall. Advertise books recently purchased or the subject of book talks by placing them up front with the book that the teacher is reading. Once you get enough, start stapling the class-created texts together in packets of 5-10, provide a book cover and number the collections so students remember which ones they have already read.

Third, expand your repertoire of browsing strategies.

A browsing strategy is any activity that gets your students more familiar with the books in your library. Imagine a class milling about in front of piles of books, perhaps casually gazing at a few book covers while you encourage them to “browse”: that is NOT what I am talking about! Book talks, Readers Theater, and CALP lessons related to a book in your library are much more effective ways to get students interested in what you have to offer. Heck, when a student interview reminds me of a book in my library I take the opportunity to advertise that book. So let’s take a look at some of these browsing strategies.

Book talks: A great way to complete a reading session. Usually after 5 or 10 minutes of silent reading I will ask students to talk about their books in small groups for 60 seconds. They speak in their first language. The idea is to spread knowledge about the books. After a minute they pass their books to the class librarians, who return the books. While the librarians are doing their job, I present a book in very comprehensible Spanish. Either I talk in general terms about what the book is about or I present one vivid scene, but this is often done by memory rather than reading aloud. I will use the whiteboard to illustrate what I am saying. The key is to talk about a book so that any student who is interested can follow up during independent reading sessions.

Reader’s Theater: This technique is often used when teaching a whole class novel, but there is no reason not to use it as a way to advertise a book. It requires a little bit of planning, but it is worth it. Before class I read a scene from a book with potential for a lot of dialogue and a lot of dramatic tension. Then I will rewrite the scene as a dialogue only script. This often involves me adding lines, even adding lines for characters who do not have dialogue in the book in order to flesh out how each character is feeling. I add stage instructions in English to help clarify what I want my actors to do. Print out a copy for each actor. When we start, I set the scene in Spanish, using the board to draw pictures. The fun part of Reader’s Theater, however, is coaching your student-actors to perform the scene in a variety of ways. Ask a character to repeat a line in several different ways. After performing an action, ask students to do it again in slow motion. End by recording the scene on video so that later in the semester you can play it again. Always have a copy of the book front and center so that students associate the book with the theater; the recorded version should present the book as a book commercial. Once again, the purpose of the activity is to give students a taste of the book so that, if interested, they can follow up during independent reading session.

CALP lessons: CALP lessons carefully introduce academic language, but they can be a great hook too. In my opinion some teachers and researchers misunderstand how to apply CALP to second language classrooms. Tina Hargaden’s version of CALP is really just introducing high-interest content to learners, devoid of burdensome follow-up activities. For example, when I preview my novel Superburguesas I use an info-graphic that I found on the internet about how infections are spread when people do not regularly wash their hands. Before class I project the image against a large piece of white butcher paper and I trace it quickly with light pencil. The pleasure is in revealing the drawing using marker in class: while we discuss hand washing in Spanish, I trace over the illustration of the hand. Then I overemphasize the creepiness of the comical illustrations of common pathogens found on unwashed hands, especially noting the ones that cause diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms. Bringing the conversation back to the book, I describe the character who does not wash his hands when he works at a fast-food hamburger restaurant. Slowly revealing the info-graphic while discussing it in easy, comprehensible language adds great dramatic tension to the activity.

Impromptu book advertisements: At the very beginning part of the year when a student interview reveals that someone in my class likes baseball, you had better believe that I will be backing up towards the table with my sports books simply to hold up the books that I have about baseball players. However, impromptu book advertisements are easy to include in your classes in an organic way, as long as you are thinking about the books that you have. Before class stroll around your library and consider the themes so that you connect students with books. A student who expresses that the environment is important to her, or even professes enjoying hiking might like Juliana, a fictional novel about a real cave complex in Spain that houses hundreds of bats. She may not find the novel if you do not point the way. Heritage learners of Spanish often enjoy novels set in the country where there family members are from. A student interested in fashion might enjoy El último viaje by A.C. Quintero. An advanced student who is an avid cyclist will surely enjoy El cóndor de los Andes by Adriana Ramirez. An intermediate student who talks about her sister may not bother to browse your collection of graphic novels, but may be thrilled when you place on the front whiteboard a copy of Hermanas by Raina Telgemeier.

A great time to introduce a new book is when the theme comes up organically, during a student interview.

If you help your students learn to browse your library, they are much more likely to hit upon a book that they really like. That is what will turn them into lifelong readers.

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Let me be your guide as you write & publish a CI novel with your classes

Are you a CI teacher who wants to write a comprehensible novel with your classes? This year-long course (August to March) combines video and monthly, small group google hangout meetings to guide you along a class-tested process to creating compelling, level-appropriate novels. I wrote my novel Superburguesas with my level 1 classes. Imagine creating a novel with true beginners in Autumn and being able to hand each student a finished, published novel by Spring!

My course guides you month by month through the process, from getting your students to supply the first seed of a great idea, working with them in the target language as they acquire language while developing a plot line, rewriting and recognizing themes, through to getting the most compelling illustrations as well as the intricacies of publishing and even marketing your novel. I provide three different approaches to novel writing: one well-suited for middle school students (but still great for high school), one ideal for a teacher who is already comfortable with TPRS-style “storyasking”, and another approach designed to highlight target culture and historical aspects while still encouraging students to take ownership of the narrative.

If you saw my presentation during the Comprehensible Online Conference, then you will have seen the starting point for this course. I propose to walk this path with you, helping to brainstorm and develop your novel throughout the year as I write my own. Each month I will upload a short video delving into detail about the month’s work and demonstrating how I solve the problems that arise in my own work. Then we will schedule small group meetings via Google Hangouts so that you have the opportunity to discuss the progress you are making on your novel each month.

In order to assure my sanity, the monthly google hangout group is only open to the first ten teachers (there are still spaces available). Additional teachers will be able to sign up to watch the monthly videos and follow the process outlined in the hour-long instructional video, but the google hangout sessions will be limited to the original 10. If one of the original 10 drops out, I will offer that space. Please inform me upon signing up if you would rather be a “passive” member of the writers group so that someone else can participate in the google hangout sessions.

Why am I doing this? It is not for the money… the cost to join this group hardly makes a dent in the fees I pay for the various internet services I use to maintain this blog. Since 2015 I have been dedicated to helping teachers become authors because my students need a greater diversity of voices in our classroom library. Not just diversity in terms of race, class, gender or life experience of the author, but also a diversity of genres. We do not have any low-level CI sci-fi books, or horror, or even much in terms of fantasy or historical fiction. Publishers tend to publish books that they believe will appeal broadly, neglecting quirky niche genres. However, it is the quirky niche genres that inspire some students to become strong readers. With this group, I intend to help bring at least 10 quality books to publication by next Spring.

Follow this link to sign up.

With purchase you will receive a download link for a word.doc that contains a link and your password to enter the group homepage. Please log in this summer to watch the hour long video overview of the writing process.

Quotes are from teachers who saw the video presentation at the Comprehensible Online Conference in April, 2018.



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Hey Seattle! July 6 workshop with discount…

If you are considering attending the workshop in Seattle on July 6th, please note that there is a nearly 20% discount if your school does not reimburse you. Just type in the coupon code noschoolsupport when checking out and you will receive a $14 discount!

Follow this link to check out the details about the workshop.

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“I’m loving the One-word Image lessons with my students. It was great being in your workshop in Japan last month, and I’m happy to have made some pretty great changes in my classroom.” – Paul

“Hi Mike, I just wanted to let you know that the workshop that you did with my department has made an impact. One of my colleagues has continued with the OWIs and her students love them. She also did a Movie Talk lesson and then expanded off that with different versions based on the Movie Talk. She is excited because she sees how the students are acquiring the language.” – Cameron

“I was at your workshop in Brattleboro. It was awesome!” – Carmela

“I want to take this opportunity to share how well FVR has been going in my class. That chat I had with you when you were presenting at my school (in Oregon) was the last piece I needed to have direction and take the leap. At first it felt like I wasn’t ‘working’ – I mostly sit at my desk reading a book that I want to read anyway!! But when after a few weeks I asked my students for feedback (via an online survey), the feedback was overwhelming positive. They (especially the introverts) enjoy having time to go at their own pace, to sit in silence, to relax, and many said they like seeing how the sentences work, figuring out words, learning words they don’t hear in class, etc. Thanks again!” – Stephanie

“As a newbie to CI, I need all the help I can get! Thanks for all the ideas and inspiration in Vermont last month. I wish I could keep it all “fresh,” but hopefully your book and the notes will guide me along.” – Barbara

“You are amazing! Thanks for putting new sparks on the fire for me and my students.” – Sharon

“The Maravillas will be an awesome change of pace this last few months of school.” – Viviana

“You are AMAZING! Your maravillas are so wonderful. I never thought of the write and discuss. Mil gracias por todo!” – Laura

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Common assessments, common experiences, and the messy path of acquisition

Teacher: Hi Mike. I’ve read all your stuff but one thing that I am hearing from the more resistant-to-CI teachers is: “How do we address common assessments with this approach? How do we ensure we are on the “same page”?” I realize that until we can all discuss bigger things with answers grounded in SLA research, these questions are futile as they all need to understand the paradigm shift– moving beyond units, etc. Even so, I do notice that you don’t mention common assessments in your “My Perfect Year” book where you discuss this topic. Could you speak to that briefly? When you worked with other teachers in your dept’s journey to CI, did you have any common “end points”?

Mike’s response: Sometimes traditional teachers are unwilling to abandon common assessments because, although they may never articulate it this way, they do not trust that their colleagues will “cover what needs to be covered”. Good for you that you were able to abandon vocab & grammar sections on the common assessments! You have won the nit-picky “let’s use assessments to compare teachers” fight… I have never seen that approach successfully build a department, it only tears people down.

So first the truth: I don’t mention common assessments because we stopped using them altogether. I imagine that your colleagues won’t want to hear that, but there is a wide if silent agreement among many national presenters who have told me privately about their own practice, even when they present on assessment methods. Over and over again, experts suggest less formal assessments, less time giving those assessments, and more time for a variety of CI activities. Assessment is necessary for the teacher to understand their own impact and some assessments help students appreciate what they do in class as they recognize the progress that they have made. Informal assessment is integrated into the meat of every activity we do. I also often use quick, formative assessments such as exit quizzes to verify that specific lessons were comprehensible to the less vocal students (such as after story-listening). But informal and formative assessments are quite different from the big common assessments that many departments develop.

Common assessments, on the other hand, are almost always summative with one of three less-than-useful intentions. They want assessments that will (1) organize students by proficiency level or some other metric of language ability, (2) identify the “strong” teachers so that “weak” teachers can learn from them, and/or (3) inform students of where they are on their path to proficiency in the belief that that helps them chart out strategies to continue onward. This last point implies some conscious awareness of their language acquisition which might be useful for a self-study student who is going into deep immersion over the summer (I have seen it!), but that does not seem very relevant to most high school students. The other, more troublesome take away could be that students are supposed to consciously keep track of their language learning, stuff like “hey you need to remember not to conjugate verbs after prepositions unless…”, that kind of feedback could be very harmful. See a researcher named John Truscott on this point.

In my experience, the second option never works in practice (and when I look at it on paper, a chill runs through my bones). You might be tempted to develop data comparing your CI students with their students, thus encouraging colleagues to go pure CI once they see how well your students perform. I wish humans were so rational. Instead most of us would be humiliated and become entrenched in our thinking when faced with “data”, and we find ways to disprove it or interpret differently. Changing the culture of the department requires a fine dance to prevent anyone from digging in.

The best option in that case is to train your entire staff on different ways to “dipstick” or get informal assessments in the moment so that teachers recognize the exact moment when students cannot understand what is being said, or better yet (following Krashen), when the “illusion of comprehensibility” has been broken and students begin to feel confused. A less-than-effective colleague who develops the tools to better read his/her students will then develop skills to self-assess his/her delivery of CI. Change from within is an approach that takes years and requires a growth mindset from the teacher, but is there really any other way?

The other reason to use common assessments, to organize a student population to better provide instruction, I think is deeply flawed, but there is less agreement among various presenters on this point. I believe that kids should not be penalized for how their brains work. They all need rich CI, even those who do not output quickly or accurately. Some educators would rather divide the student population so that the teacher can provide input that is roughly at the same level. I believe that all classes are multi-level classes, and that separating students creates an unequal and unnecessary social reality that inevitably confirms to many students that “they are not smart”. Students succeed most when they feel successful.

Some educators might argue that “the community is paying me” to assign accurate grades… which is ridiculous. I am being paid to support the development of all of my students. I am not being paid to give a grade that will allow colleges to determine whether or not to accept my student… I am not a gate keeper of any kind. I do not issue grades to determine whether students should move on (the answer is always yes unless they simply did not come to class, the only reason my students would earn less than a B). Some of my assessments, the ones that give me a critical perspective of my students true abilities, are never reported as grades. They are for me, to determine how to push forward and determine exactly what “i + 1” is for my students. Your colleagues who expect common assessments will probably never accept this argument, but I do not think that a common assessment that spits back a number or letter grade associated with each student is valuable.

So here is a brief answer if you HAVE to have common assessments; I would try to get teachers to collect data that could improve their own teaching. (1) Quick writes without any prompt or lesson to serve as a template… just a 5 minute quick write at the BEGINNING of class to get a real sense of the language in students head, (2) another quick write after an activity that introduces new vocab or content (OWI for lower level classes, one of my Maravillas for levels 2 and above). The purpose of the second quick write is to understand whether the teacher is providing enough repetition and is going slow enough to maximize acquisition. Ideally the teacher will recognize that variations in the way the lesson is presented to different classes impact acquisition & will seek to identify those variations. The big lesson for each teacher to learn via quick writes is how to provide grammatically-rich but vocab-limited input in class. In the case of OWIs, the questions that guide the creation of an OWI limit the possible vocab used so that, over time, students hear a lot of unpredictable structures within a very predictable format. (3) Teacher reads aloud a short EASY EASY reading, students listen with no visual text. After each paragraph teacher asks comprehension questions that can be answered in one word (concrete questions, not open-ended questions). The purpose is for teachers to become aware of an optimal reading speed when reading aloud to class. Be careful not to de-motivate students by reading for too long, too fast or otherwise being incomprehensible. Encourage teachers to use a text that is new but ridiculously easy. The idea is not to find the students “drowning point”, but rather to make teachers better at speaking clearly and slowly. (4) However you put this together, do not administer the entire common assessment on the same day. Have the first five minute quick-write on Monday, the second quick write on Tuesday (again, 5 minutes), the reading comprehension on Wednesday. If you have small enough classes you could have upper levels record a short conversation on Thursday. The assessment should not be announced as such to students: you do not want students to overthink the output, you don’t want to invoke the monitor. Just a normal day, as far as they are concerned. No need to ever “tell them the results” either, since the data is all to improve teaching.

You might have noticed that I have avoided addressing the “creating a common experience” thread while discussing assessment. A common experience is often understood as common content, whereas you want to develop common skill sets. Avoid any common assessment that would guide teachers to create a day to day “common experience” that leads them to teach to a test. Any test for which students can explicitly be prepared would not be a valid assessment of language ability. The solution my department adopted was to stress the Sweet 16 verbs throughout the 4 year curriculum. Please click here to read an essay where I flesh out what a common experience looks like in my department. In short, when any of my teachers get students at the beginning of the year, we do not have a list of target structures in our minds that we assume our students have acquired. We do not get angry if our level 3 kids do not understand X phrase; instead we are trained to start the conversation assuming nothing and paying close attention to their eyes. At all levels, as we think about how to phrase our language so that it will be comprehensible, we all return to the Sweet 16 verbs and posters. It is a common experience in all classes, even though I spend a week talking about whales and my colleague spends weeks talking about football (what would you expect from a football coach!).

I have to say, letting go of the concrete “scope and sequence” type goals and instead stressing the Sweet 16 verbs has made my department much happier and functional. Teachers put more effort into their classes now that they feel successful and part of a successful team. Feeling like you are letting your colleagues down because you cannot get that list of prepositional phrases into your students heads is not good for the teacher, their colleagues, or their students.

I hope some of these ideas are useful. I am sure you will need to re-frame the assessment ideas if you present them to your colleagues (especially if they are keen to give students grades and not so keen to self-evaluate). Nonetheless I think these ideas could lead to fruitful self-reflection that might move the process along.

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Published! The 2nd edition of “Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish”

For a limited time I am offering a 23% discount when bought directly from my website!
Click here to go to the purchase page

The second edition of “Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish” is a collection of thirty-four essays by classroom teachers who pay special attention to what Stephen Krashen has written about educating heritage learners. Starting with a description of Krashen’s concept of “Language Shyness” and how it is reflected in our classes, we outline approaches that respect the unique needs of heritage learners. Topics include: the differences between heritage and native speakers of Spanish, a surprisingly illuminating essay about the differences between native-speaking and non-native speaking teachers, reflections on appropriate goals to structure a school year, home-school communication and issues particular to working with non-English speaking families, how to develop an independent reading program and how to structure a class with extremely heterogeneous reading levels, working within school cultures that may inadvertently undermine the needs of heritage learners, and a host a activities that work well in heritage learner classes. There are four essays outlining entirely different approaches to the school year: one that modifies a traditional thematic approach including descriptions for monthly units, a second approach based on pleasure reading designed to develop a love of reading even among low-level readers, a language arts approach designed to work in tandem with teachers in the ELA program, and an identity-based approach explicitly designed to strengthen the connections between home, school and community. In addition there are three essays detailing different approaches to leading mixed classes, with both heritage and non-heritage learners.

The second edition also strengthens our approach to reading, offering big picture advice on developing a pleasure reading program as well as concrete, day to day activities that are easy to follow when you are just too tired to think about the big picture. We want you to not only be an effective teacher, but to thoroughly enjoy your HL classes and design an experience that your students find compelling, stimulating and yes… even enjoyable.

Click here to see the table of contents of the second edition, with new essays and essays with substantial changes highlighted in yellow.

This book is also available on Amazon.

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Beginner Japanese lesson: A Happy to be Mean Scissors – with Kurumi

Click here to go straight to the video.

I am just a few lessons into my year long plunge into the Japanese language and I have already had a dream with Japanese words sloshing about 🙂 Although I have just started this journey, I feel like I am already getting some insights into my own practice as a language teacher. First of all, I love working with One Word Images (OWIs) to create a concrete object of conversation. It has helped me feel out how the Japanese language sounds and, unlike learning a few words out of context, I am already developing an early paradigm of Japanese grammar through the natural process of acquisition. Word order and these little particles are sliding into place, often I mimic them incorrectly in these first few hours of acquisition, but that is to be expected. I am feeling pretty good.

The questions that I am currently asking to create characters
However, as a Spanish teacher I had never sensed how the first scripted questions of the OWI process leads to adjectives that are not particularly useful. Well, I always knew that the questions led to a whimsical initial vocabulary, and I have no problem with that… but why am I talking about colors so much? Physical descriptions are okay, but describing the physical environment is not a high-frequency skill needed by language learners! As a result, in the coming lessons I am beginning to explore changing the initial questions in the OWI process. As a learner I find it useful to have a predictable framework of questions around the unpredictable language of the tutors. I like being able to observe how different tutors answer the same questions but, rather than bringing forward language about colors and size, I want to ask questions that calls forth high frequency actions (i.e. the Super 7 and eventually the Sweet 16 verbs).

The interesting experiment that I will be conducting in the next few months is to determine how quickly I feel comfortable expanding out from the Super Seven to the Sweet Sixteen verbs. If you are unfamiliar with these basic building blocks of a communicative curriculum, take a look at this blog post I wrote about applying the concept to my Spanish classes.

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Learning Japanese, Comprehensible Input and reflections on teaching


In mid-May I began publishing videos of my tutoring sessions as I acquire Japanese through the same CI methods that I use in the Spanish classes that I teach. Here is the link to the first complete session recorded (before I had some technical issues to overcome as I learned how to record via Skype).

If you want to follow along with me on this year-long project then perhaps you might first take a day or two and learn the basic Japanese writing system of Hiragana using this wonderful system. Or you can learn the characters in context… following the videos will give you that reading practice. When it comes to learning Japanese, I am not an expert. Talking to Japanese teachers has helped me recognize that I really am not yet sensitive to the issues that I am about to face.

As a language teacher, I think this video is fascinating. As I was watching the video after class I was amused that it took me so long to be able to hear many of the phrases. My goal was to get a maximum amount of comprehensible input through community storytelling methods. I decided to start with a series of One Word Images until I get comfortable with the basic questions that we use to create a character. In my Spanish classes I often move quickly from creating the first character to creating a problem and a little story around that character, but as we created our character in Japanese (a medium-sized sky-blue peach) I was feeling occupied enough with this static character. In the future I will explore the why’s behind the character’s details and develop a story (and I think our medium-sized peach has enough interesting details to deserve a story of his own when I am ready for it), but right now I am comfortable spending 60 minutes just describing our character.

Of course, the drawing provided a great touchstone for conversation in Japanese. In the video you hear me speaking a lot of English because I literally do not speak any Japaneseyet. I had made three OWIs with tutors before this video, so I had heard enough language to be able to tentatively say a few words, but really you are looking at a pure beginner. Let’s see how far I can go in a year!

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“How do you “catch up” the students who show up at random intervals throughout the year? How can students “recover credit” from absences?”

These two questions were recently voiced by CI teachers struggling with transient student populations. One reported that her former CI department gave up on CI because they could not catch up the students who enter the program late. I suspect that what was happening was that the students who remained in class acquired language, and kept on acquiring language, which made the students who were often absent or entering midyear appear even further behind. That the teachers decided to drop CI because some of their students were actually learning too much speaks to the problem of a fixed unit by unit curriculum. Let me describe what they should be doing instead.

I am known for creating the Sweet 16 verbs. The idea came from Terry Waltz’s fantastic “Super 7” verbs. Terry’s idea was to quickly get your class to a point in which you can tell simple stories, rather than spending months learning thematic vocabulary lists. That was a gigantic leap forward. However, the idea behind the “Sweet 16” verbs is not simply some more verbs tacked on to Terry´s list. When I first proposed the sweet 16, Terry was describing her Super 7 as an anchor for meaningful communication within the first few hours of class.

My contribution was to take an expanded list of sixteen high-frequency words and describe them as a full four year curriculum. Many people miss how this point is a dramatic step forward. In fact, teachers who want a highly-controlled curriculum (i.e., “every teacher does the same exact lesson”) often totally misunderstand this contribution. The Sweet Sixteen, as my department used them, is the essential structure that guides our non-targeted approach to language acquisition. Let me be clear: at the time I taught in a Title I school with a fairly transient population. We enjoyed a 100% pass rate on our AP and IB exams. CI works, even if the student comes in late, even if the student misses a lot of school, even if the students are coming to school high and oblivious (I am thinking about two former students who failed every IB exam except for Spanish… because CI works).

As a department chair trying to design a common experience for students in different classes, with a half dozen different teachers on staff, I could have sought to limit the creativity of students and teachers by insisting that every teacher follow the same collection of story scripts, movie talks, and novels. That is, “all Spanish 1 students will read X novel and discuss Z movie talk. All Spanish 2 students will acquire this list of target structures so that they will be “ready” for Spanish 3″. That is the approach that leads teachers to frustration because they conclude that their transient population is missing too much.

On the other hand, the Sweet 16 verbs represent a different path towards creating a common experience between classes. Of course we do not simply repeat sixteen words for four years, but we do agree that structures with these verbs are the ones that are recycled and given priority at every step in the journey. The only other guideline we follow is to simply strive to provide compelling CI, for four years.

We recognized that in any classroom there will be many different interests, and that when students are following their own interests then they perceive the input as more compelling, which leads to faster acquisition. That is the funny thing about those studies which try to count how many times a student needs to hear a word to fully acquire it… teachers know that swears might be fully acquired the very first time they are understood whereas an abstract transition word that the student never uses in their own L1 could be uttered comprehensibly 500 times and not be fully acquired. The Sweet 16 gives a department the flexibility to allow their teachers and students to pursue different interests in class, to use different language, but guarantees that there will be a common communicative foundation throughout the entire program. For example, the Sweet 16 verbs allow one teacher to develop an independent reading program for her students in which students are all reading different books (and thus developing their own idiosyncratic vocabularies), while another teacher develops his CI skills guiding his students through an authentic telenovela.

There is another major advantage to running a department this way. When any of my teachers get students at the beginning of the year, we do not have a list of target structures in our minds that we assume our students have acquired. We do not get angry if our level 3 kids do not understand X phrase; instead we are trained to start the conversation assuming nothing and paying close attention to their eyes. At all levels, as we think about how to phrase our language so that it will be comprehensible, we all return to the Sweet 16 verbs and posters. It is a common experience in all classes, even though I spend a week talking about whales and my colleague spends weeks talking about football (what would you expect from a football coach!).

This is necessary because students move into our district at every level, and we cannot just leave them behind because they did not start with us. We need to provide a comprehensible experience at all levels, even if students missed the first 3 years of our CI program because they were learning thematic vocab in another district.

If you are interested, a succinct but complete description of my non-targeted approach to CI is available in my book My Perfect Year: A Practical Guide For Language Teachers. I will also be in many locations giving workshops this summer and next Autumn, check my schedule here.

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Comprehensible Cascadia in Portland OREGON is the Language Lovers conference

Get ready for a good time!

Comprehensible Cascadia is a small, intimate CI conference held in July in Portland, Oregon. WOW does it pack a punch! One of the strengths of the conference is the coherent vision among presenters. This is not a conference that will leave you unable to implement the strategies once you are back in the classroom. Each track is well-planned with a morning session in which you experience the methods as a student and an afternoon session in which you practice delivering the methods as a teacher.

This year there are two tracks: a track for teaching beginners through intermediate level students (roughly levels 1-3) and a track for teaching upper level students (roughly from level 3 through to AP, IB or level 5). Within the first track participants choose which lesser taught language they want to experience as a student: either Korean, Cherokee, ASL or Scottish-Gaelic. Participants experience learning a new language in the morning and then practice the techniques as a teacher in the afternoon (led by Tina Hargaden). The Upper level track learns CALP strategies in the morning with Tina Hargaden and practices and extends those strategies with me in the afternoon sessions.

Comprehensible Cascadia is the only CI Conference that has an ASL track. Last year I had the chance to observe Frederick Stamps teach ASL and, as a Spanish teacher, I was blown away by his technique and his ability to make himself comprehensible. In the past I have walked away from ASL demos with the sinking feeling that a sign language is really hard for me to learn, but Fred makes it effortless and fun.

Many people believe that Asian languages are particularly difficult to learn; I will be joining the morning sessions with Janet Kyung learning Korean and participating as moderator. Together we will demonstrate that there simply are no “difficult” languages, only difficult approaches to teaching a language. We are opting for the easy way full of laughter: we will follow the star sequence that includes co-creating visual characters (OWIs), Story-Creation, Write & Discuss, Visual Story Telling, Visual Culture, easy reading choices and plenty of active strategies that get you on your feet and processing the target language. The Korean language will be running through your dreams at night!

Wade Blevins will be leading the morning session in Cherokee. He was born in the small Cherokee community of Butler, Oklahoma and is a member of the Squirrel Ridge Ceremonial Grounds. For the past 11 years, Wade has worked for Cherokee Nation in the Education department helping with his tribe’s language revitalization efforts. Wade is an award winning Native artist and writer, having written 7 children’s books on Cherokee culture. He is also very involved in his tribe’s ceremonies and has served as a ceremonial singer and leader from an early age. Wade feels like CI techniques will be the key to helping his people pass their language down to the next generation. With the support of Cherokee Nation and other partners, Wade recently organized the IGNITE conference, the nation’s first CI conference specifically for Native language educators in June 2017.

Have you ever thought to yourself that you just do not have the energy to do CI all day every day? You need to experience Jason Bond’s unique approach to CI. Meditation and mindfulness is the foundation for Jason’s everyday life. Over the years, he deepened his practice on retreats at Samye Ling temple in Scotland and at Plum Village in France. Lately, he has trained as a meditation teacher under the guidance of Julian ‘Daizan’ Skinner, the first Englishman to become a Rinzai Zen master in Japan. Jason also became one of Daizan’s Zen students. This new direction is dedicated to helping others develop calm, stability, and focus – three invaluable qualities for any stage of the CI journey. Jason will be teaching the Scottish-Gaelic morning session.

We are bringing Pablo Pankun Román to Portland for his only appearance in the States this summer. Pablo is an amazing polyglot that you may know from his Dreaming Spanish videos. He learns his languages through pure CI approaches and will be leading a one day pre-conference Spanish class for teachers on Monday. Pablo has an entirely different approach to CI than that which is presented at the big conferences in the US, partly because his exposure to CI draws from his experiences in Japan and Thailand where the organic nature of language acquisition is emphasized. Throughout the week I plan on exploring the outer reaches of CI techniques with Pablo and contemplating how these techniques might translate to the context of US public schools.

Comprehensible Cascadia is the conference that pushes boundaries and explores new paths. And OMG Portland has good food!!! Come out to dinner and then join us at Ben Slavic’s place afterwards for evening coaching and great conversations.

Come join me for a week of language learning & teaching fun!

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OWI tweak for nervous teachers

I can be a nervous teacher at times. I hate having to keep track of many things at once… I like to be able to simply focus on my students and their responses. I find that if part of my mind is focused on one or two steps ahead of where we are, then I cannot react to what we are doing in the moment and my nervousness ends up making me miss some of those beautiful, enjoyable moments of pure creativity.

A few weeks ago I was in Cameron Taylor’s classroom and we were working on One Word Images (OWI) in four different languages: Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin and French. Normally when I demo we stick to one language and delve deep into that language so that workshop participants can get a sense of the depth of acquisition that can happen with OWIs. Since our Japan workshop lasted two days rather than one, we decided to work in small groups after the initial demo so that more people could experience the process of making a OWI from the teacher’s perspective before returning to their classrooms on the following Monday.

On the board I wrote a quick outline of the characteristics that I was going to ask about to help scaffold the process. Normally in my own classroom I have this posted on a small note card because my heritage students lead OWI creation during lunch tutorials. It never occurred to me, however, how useful it is for everyone to be able to see the scaffolding! Not only do I, the nervous teacher, no longer have to consult my note card to remember what the next question is… but students are now anticipating the questions and thinking of more creative responses beforehand. Cameron added this tweak to his classes the following Monday and reported that they created one of their best OWIs yet!

I created a poster that you can download and hang on the side of the whiteboard. If you print it in color then you get a cool blue glow, but it still looks good printed in black & white.

Remember that the purpose of posting this scaffold poster is to be able to participate in the flow of the lesson with your students. If you use this and find that you are listening to your students less as you barrel through the list of characteristics, then slow down! The whole idea is to be in the moment and listen carefully to your students’ brilliant ideas. Download the poster by clicking here: it is a series of four pages printed in landscape mode.

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Earth Day 2018

A few points of departure for discussion in class today:

(1) Start with this maravilla about the Ka’apor people who live in the Amazon. Una maravilla is a marvelous thing, and so that is how I refer to this series which I use to introduce the people and cultures of Latin America to my students. The Ka’apor people struggle to prevent deforestation from destroying their way of life. This download contains a picture talk, a subtitled video, a short highly comprehensible reading followed by space for a Write & Discuss activity. This should be able to be completed within 15-20 minutes.

(2) Ska de la Tierra (song)

(a) we did NOT listen first, we just looked at the lyrics and translated/discussed with the audio off. While the song goes fast, this first look at the lyrics is pretty easy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyggC2X96To

zoom(b) This matching game is Spanish audio to Spanish text so that students get to hear her voice before actually viewing the video. After matching I chose a student to translate all of the lyrics. We do this several times to acquaint ourselves further with the song.

(c) We watch this version of the video, which has excellent images matching the principal lyrics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqMrxAo4hcQ

(3) Video “Man”. A bit disturbing, but really gets to the idea that we should be thoughtful about how we use natural resources. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfGMYdalClU

Now let´s focus on why we love the natural world:
(4) Los 30 lugares más bonitos del mundo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhhHeKslSto
We sat in quiet awe as we watched this video.

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Anyone want to take this French class with me?!

Are you a Spanish teacher like me who wishes they could sit in and observe an advanced French class?Although it says “advanced”, I personally have taken that as aspiration rather than description. Each class is a discussion of an AP-theme reading that we read before class. Take a look, there are currently only 5 people signed up and we need 6.

Advanced French for French Teachers (and other advanced speakers of French) – Online!

Do you wish you had more French-teacher colleagues? Do you feel like your French is stagnating because you only talk with your students? Join us for this 6-session Advanced French class taught by Anna Gilcher, PhD.

Anna is a well-known national presenter and trainer on teaching with comprehensible input and creating diversity-positive classrooms. Learn more about her at www.annagilcher.com.

**Inscrivez-vous ici**

Prix: $216/personne pour la série (payable par Venmo, Google Pay, ou Paypal – ou payable par chèque)

Places disponibles: 20 (minimum 6)

Dates (jeudi 16h30-17h30 EDT)
le 22 mars
le 5 avril
le 12 avril
le 29 avril
le 3 mai
le 10 mai*
*si tout le monde est disponible le 29 mars, on se verra le 29 mars au lieu de se rencontrer le 10 mai

J’enverrai chaque semaine (le lundi avant le cours) le texte dont on discutera.
Voici les thèmes pour les séances (les thèmes viennent du cours AP):
séance 1: La famille et la communauté
séance 2: La science et la technologie
séance 3: L’esthétique
séance 4: La vie contemporaine
séance 5: Les défis mondiaux
séance 6: La quête de soi

_______________________________

Anna Gilcher, PhD
Co-Director, Elevate Education Consulting
Your brain can learn French & Spanish!
French/Spanish lessons for all ages and brains
www.annagilcher.com
www.elevateeducationconsulting.com

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My Perfect Year: A Practical Guide for Language Teachers

I have just published the book that accompanies the workshop that I am giving this Spring. If you are attending a workshop then you will get a free copy, but if you cannot make it the book is currently on sale. Purchased from my website it is 20% off.

This guide is more than a collection of effective activities for any language classroom; it succinctly describes my entire approach that I use all year long in levels one through three. Starting with routines and class space, I describe how to design an effective classroom environment for language acquisition. I cover my approach to essential activities that provide personalized, imaginative and comprehensible language throughout the year. Also learn how to develop and maintain a classroom library for any language, with special attention to providing lower level texts for absolute beginners. Since an independent reading program is a core element to my approach, I describe a multi-year plan to build your reading program including ideas outlining how to transition from no reading program and reading activities that support independent readers. Special attention is dedicated to the use of authentic videos in a comprehensible classroom. Learn to expand a sixty second video into a language-rich fifty-five minute lesson plan. This guide also outlines an essential technique for the health and well-being of all teachers: how to organize a “substitute day while you are still in class” for those days when you need a rest but want your students to continue acquiring language. Remain refreshed and fascinated with the target cultures where the language you teach is spoken so that you can provide imaginative, compelling lessons to your students! This guide closes with advice on how to lead a department in transition from traditional methods to comprehensible input methods in a way that respects the professional judgement of all educators in your department.

Click here to purchase the book.

Mike Peto is a Spanish teacher who led his department to transition to proficiency-based methods of language acquisition and, with the collaboration of his team, they enjoy a 100% pass rate on AP and IB exams. Known for his blog documenting his teaching, My Generation of Polyglots, Mike is also the editor of a collection of essays for teachers of heritage learners of Spanish, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners, and the author of several novels for language learners. He has given workshops on language acquisition around the world and is a well-known presenter at national and regional conventions for language teachers. His essays have been included in seminal publications on comprehensible input methods such as Fluency Through Reading and Storytelling (7th edition) by Blaine Ray and Contee Seeley and A Natural Approach to the Year by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic. Mike is also a founding member of The CI Posse.

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Hey NEW ENGLAND!!

Energize your teaching for the Spring semester with a workshop with Mike

Angie Dodd is hosting me on Saturday, March 17th at her school in Brattleboro, Vermont. “My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes.

This workshop is currently halfway to sold out. Register here.

I also have some time available the following week (March 20-24) if you are interested in hosting me on the eastern side of the state in either Massachusetts or Connecticut.

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PORTLAND OREGON!!

Energize your teaching for the Spring semester with a workshop with Mike

Portland, Oregon – TWO WORKSHOPS (Choose the one that is most convenient for you)- Monday Feb 12 at Westside Christian High School in Tigard, Oregon and also Friday February 16 at Oregon City School District’s District Admin Office, 1417 12th Street, Oregon City.

“My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes.

Participants that sign up by February 5th receive a free copy of Mike’s book, Activities for a Perfect Year. Early discount available now.

Register for Monday workshop in Tigard by clicking here.
Register for Friday workshop in Oregon City by clicking HERE.

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Persona normal by Benito Taibo

A good addition to a heritage learners classroom library

There are some books that speak to adolescents who are forming a worldview. Over the past year I have suggested Benito Taibo’s Persona normal as an independent reading choice to four of my advanced heritage learners. Three of the students politely returned the book to the bookshelf unread. The fourth student devoured it. He wrote on Goodreads: “nunca supe que un libro puede ser tan estimulante de emoción”. Looking at some of the other reviews (there are close to 2000 of them), this book clearly speaks to certain young people, to inspire them and celebrate a reading life. It seems to alienate some other readers. Well, truthfully I am among the alienated crowd, but I would still recommend buying this book as an independent reading choice for advanced heritage learners. Suggest it to students who may already see themselves as possessing an intellectual inclination and who may see themselves as non-conformists.

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Workshop series – 2018

Contact me if you would like to host an inexpensive workshop.

Yokosuka, Japan – April 14 & 15 (Saturday & Sunday)
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

 

 

Tentatively planned: Focus on Heritage Learners of Spanish workshop in Southern California, June 2018. More information soon!

Tentatively planned: Focus on Heritage Learners of Spanish workshop in Gainesville Georgia, June 2018. More information soon!

 

Friday, July 6th Seattle, Washington: “My Perfect Year Demo Day” workshop

Portland, OregonComprehensible Cascadia Conference July 10-12
The afternoon sessions that I will be leading are brand new for teachers of intermediate & advanced students with special attention to AP / IB programs. There are also sessions that focus on delivering comprehensible input to novice and intermediate learners. In the morning I will be sitting with Janet Kyung’s Korean class, commenting on the techniques that she uses.

 

Burlington, VermontExpress Fluency Summer Conference
Intermediate Spanish course (mornings) & workshops for teachers (afternoons)

 

King George, Virginia – September 7 (Friday) “My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

Savannah, Georgia – Saturday, September 15th.
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

Parker, Colorado – September 21 (Friday)
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

Laramie, Wyoming – September 22 (Saturday)
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

 

Cincinnati area, Ohio – Saturday, October 20th.
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach
Workshop will take place at:
Liberty Bible School
4900 Old Irwin Simpson Rd.
Mason, OH 45040

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Modifying the blog

A few people have written in to tell me that certain parts of my blog are not functioning or missing. Thank you! The explanation is that I am currently working to make it easier to browse. By next week all of the links and pages will be fully restored, and it will be easier to find specific content when you want it. Thank you for your patience!!

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Bryan Kandel´s new novel, Los Sobrevivientes

A new independently published novel for level 3 and above
Last year I was offered an opportunity to test out a draft of Bryan Kandel´s new novel in my level 3 classes. I presented it to my students as a choice reading option for the end of the year. Among the students who chose to read Los Sobrevivientes, they were really into it! The novel is a gripping action story based on the true story of a plane full of Uruguayan rugby players which crashed in the Andes on its way to Santiago de Chile. Presumed dead, two men decide that they must hike their way out– without mountain climbing supplies, food, or even a clear idea of where exactly they were.

This book appeals to intermediate and advanced readers who are looking for a good action story full of courageous moments, tough decisions and ultimately an inspiring message. Great reading for heritage learners as well. Click here to check out the book trailer and additional teaching resources that Bryan has posted on his website.

To be clear: I never receive compensation for recommending books. That is obvious I hope, but I just wanted to throw that out there! -Mike Peto

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My Perfect Year live demo — Nov 4 — Zebulon, North Carolina with Mike Peto & Brett Chonko

Saturday, November 4th from 9am to 5pm. $25, reservation required.

Mike Peto
Brett Chonko
Step into our classroom for a day and we will demo our favorite no-fuss CI activities that make for a perfect year. Whether you are new to CI or an experienced practitioner, you are bound to find something new in this whirlwind “year packed into one day” extravaganza. For NC educators: we are hoping to offer 1 CEU for attendance… we will keep you posted!

Please bring your own brown bag lunch.

There are many AirBnB rentals available in the Raleigh area: join our Facebook group to connect with other educators who plan to attend.

8:30 – 9:00 Doors open, coffee and bagels available
9:00 – 9:20 No-stress daily rituals to start class & Easy CI activities to start the year
9:20 – 9:40 student interviews on day 1
9:40 – 10:00 Use of wall space
10:00 – 10:40 The beauty of One Word Images
10:40 – 10:50 short break
10:50 – 11:20 Write & Discuss: the underappreciated foundation of fast acquisition

Recycle those class-created texts into cartoons & easy readings for FVR

11:20 – 12:00 Moving from static images to narrative vignettes
12:00 – 12:30 BRING YOUR OWN BROWN BAG LUNCH
12:30 – 1:00 My comprehensible approach to authentic music in the classroom
1:00 – 2:00 Light targeting with my personal library of stories
2:00 – 2:10 short break
2:10 – 2:40 Essential movie talk skills
2:40 – 3:20 Telenovelas for low and advanced classes
3:20 – 4:30 Book talks & other elements of a strong reading program

– Why independent reading is my preferred approach to reading in class
– How I read whole class novels without killing the experience

4:30 – 4:45 My no frills approach to assessment
4:45 – 5:00 A typical day, a typical week, a typical month
Schedule may vary due to needs of participants

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Join our project to improve classes for heritage learners!

In June of 2016 a group of CI teachers started a collaborative project. We believed that Spanish teachers are generally not well-trained to teach to the needs of heritage learners. We felt that much of the published material written by academics or textbook companies was not helping our students. Distressingly we have heard about departments who farm out their heritage learners’ classes to the newest, least prepared teachers because these classes tend to be hard to teach. Other departments urge heritage learners to simply abandon their home language in favor of a foreign one. Reaching heritage learners is the pressing but often ignored challenge facing our profession.

We decided to write essays, from the perspective of experienced classroom teachers, describing each facet of our classes. Our hope was to gather so much classroom wisdom in one book that our colleagues would confidently approach their courses with joy. Furthermore, we write as CI teachers who appreciate that the grammar and extensive spelling lessons from the textbooks that infuriate and frustrate our students are rarely appropriate. Too many heritage learners were learning the wrong lesson: that they could never master high-prestige dialects of Spanish, that their own experiences with the language were useless and that the cultural heritage of their ancestors was forever lost.

Our book, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish: Essays by Classroom Teachers, was published in October 2016 and from the profits we have since donated over 100 reading books to the classroom libraries of teachers. We also have formed a Facebook group, Teachers of Spanish Heritage Speakers, with nearly 400 members.

It is now time to consider putting together a 2nd edition of our book. Working together, so many of us have moved forward and now have a lot more to say. If you are having success teaching a course for heritage learners of Spanish, please consider writing an essay for our next edition.

Currently we have a lengthy description of my reading program and an outline of how I have organized the rest of the class period. There are lots more that can be written about reading programs. If you incorporate reading conferences or have adapted a Lucy Calkins´s style reading workshop, a description of your approach would be great. I plan on writing a new essay about including manga in the classroom library. You could write about comparing typical writing samples before a reading program and several months later… hopefully you already have writing samples saved from the beginning of the year! Perhaps you want to describe a literacy initiative that extends beyond the classroom—bringing kids to the local library and tracking how many continue to use the library afterwards & what you can do to bring those numbers up or even tracking how many books are checked out of your classroom library and what you do to increase that number. There is so much to say about reading; write to me if you have an angle to explore.

I also wrote an essay about my struggle with counselors who would not cooperate in properly placing students. Essays from schools in which the placement system is not dysfunctional would be welcome, or modifications that you have made that work. Every school system is different; recording a diversity of approaches may help teachers problem solve in their own unique situation.

When I consider the main goals that I have developed for my heritage learners classes, I distinguish three objectives: to develop students’ identities as readers, to develop their interest in their heritage and the Spanish-speaking world and to broaden their language community to include many dialects and variations of Spanish. How do you create a compelling language experience for students who have been marginalized and taught that school is anything but compelling? Any of these topics could spawn multiple essays based on your classroom experiences.

I have often thought that the final essay of the collection, Beyond the Classroom by Barbara A. Davis, could inspire a larger examination of how school institutions and Anglo cultural practices can come together to present unnecessary obstacles for heritage speakers. I am sure some of us have observed how our school cultures can simultaneously absorb and repel heritage learners… perhaps ELA teachers may have a sharper focus on this topic.

We also have no essays about school-home interaction. Are there teachers who create community through activities organized through La Sociedad honoraria hispánica, for example? How does that impact enrollment?

There are so many other topics that touch upon the life of a heritage learner of Spanish. If you have a particular insight, please share.

We also welcome thoughtfully developed lesson plans which demonstrate a useful approach to classes for heritage learners.

I believe that the format of the essay lends itself better to deep introspection than the online forums that have emerged. Or rather, it is a question of tactics versus strategy; the online forums address problems as they arise while the essay encourages a more thoughtful approach. If you would like to join our group, please feel free to email your idea for an essay to mikepeto AT gmail DOT com with the phrase “Practical Advice” in the topic.

Thanks,
Mike

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How to add 15 new beginner level texts to your classroom library EVERY WEEK

“Recreational reading is the most powerful tool we have in language education”
-Stephen Krashen, presentation at CCFLT, February 2017

These are the readings we need most for our classes, the easy easy readings that low level readers can read independently. Almost impossible to find. This is how you do it:


Like the idea? Click here to download the template for the pamphlet cartoon stories.

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A lovely book: El perro enamorado de las estrellas

This book has gone viral in my FVR library!

coverI need to share this adorable book because it makes such a great connection with so many people. It is a Japanese manga translated into Spanish, but it tells a tale that touches across cultures with the help of a cute, faithful dog. It is a story of loss; in the first half of the book a man loses everything and spends his last year on earth living out of his car with his beloved dog. Believe me: my kids love it.

During second semester I am going to use this book as an occasional kindergarten reading for my level 1 kids. Each vignette is short and can become a recurring, quick reading activity. Projecting an image of the book with a doc cam, the illustrations will be easy to make comprehensible. Here is an example page that you can read full size if you click on it (click twice to get the largest most readable resolution). Japanese manga is read from right to left, so start at the top right of the right page and read across and down:
example-page

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I chat about FVR with Dr Louisa Walker

teachersthatteachDr. Louisa Walker has an interesting 10 minute podcast designed to introduce CI concepts within your commute to work. A long-time “Krashenista” who teaches Spanish in Chula Vista, California, Louisa caught me at a Carol Gaab workshop and we stepped outside to talk briefly about Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). Listen to it on her blog or follow her on iTunes.

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New book posted on CI-Reading

Subscribe to CI-Reading to get an email each time I discover a new CI-appropriate novel published by an indie author that is not represented on the major TPRS publishers websites & build your FVR library!

This is the post published today on CI-READING:

planeta-zombilandia I have not yet bought this book, but it looks good! This is a Spanish version of a book originally written for an elementary ELL classroom. Here is the description of the original book: “A short and easy captivating mystery reader “Planet Zombieland” designed specifically for beginning English readers, ELD, Adult Ed. and Immersion Students. Incorporates the CCSS’s”. One customer review on Amazon states, “this is easily one of the best Spanish learning books I have ever read to my pupils”.

I will update this post when I get a copy! Click here to purchase on Amazon.

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An updated look at my classroom

Back in 2013 I published a photo essay about how I use the physical space of my classroom. Three years later a lot is still the same, but a few things have changed. First here is an animated gif panning around my classroom:
my classroom

One of the biggest changes over the past three years is the size of my classroom library. After years of purchases it is finally a functional size to maintain not only an FVR program for beginners but also a full heritage speakers program. I am proud to be able to offer an independent pleasure reading course to heritage speakers. They sit in this little reading nook in the back:
2 reading area I can only fit two independent readers per period, but you will notice that each bungee chair has a lamp so that they can read even when the classroom is dark. Added 8/13/2016: A few years ago Jason Fritze said something about lice that led me to remove all hats and clothing from my props collection (replacing them with pictures of crazy hats that students hold over their heads). I am thankful that another teacher who wishes to remain anonymous has led me to reconsider the pillows that I place on the bungee chairs.

Below is a photo of the book shelf where I communicate with the independent study students (we also eat lunch together once a week). I currently have five students in this unique course. While they can browse the entire library on their own, I like to leave two or three books as suggestions. They read 20-30 pages per day and are allowed to pick a new book if they grow disillusioned with their current selection. That is, after all, what I do as an adult reader… I don´t finish boring books. Outside of view I have a clipboard where I keep track of what they liked, what they finished, and the suggestions that were rejected. I use the lists to help me make good suggestions and to guide future purchases.
3 reading area

Last year with the growth of my classroom library I encountered a new problem; it is too big for students to navigate! It was manageable enough to separate the TPRS readers into two sections (low and high) for the non-heritage speakers, but my heritage learners read anywhere between a first grade reading level all the way up to college level. Despite my book talks I felt like I could do more to get them to explore the library further. Then something serendipitous happened; Kirsten Plante from TPRS Academy wrote on Facebook about a Tokyo juku (cram school) that she visited. It is worth reading about their incredible reading program. In this school students do not blindly choose a book for FVR but rather the teachers use their in-depth knowledge of the student and extensive library to suggest books. While I do cannot exactly do that, I realized that breaking the classroom library into manageable chunks will help students discover their homerun novel that connects them to the reading life. This inspired me to create a wall of books of the week so that students looking for a new FVR book have a more manageable selection to choose from:
4 active library Currently the “active library” only consists of easy TPRS readers to encourage a good first reading experience, but as the year goes on I will rotate different books to appeal to different readers.

I moved my main book shelves back to my desk so that these shelves become a “passive library”. In the photo below you can also see the sets of colored index cards for each class. Students start the year providing a few details about themselves on the cards, but for the most part these cards are empty right now. As we find out more information about them I will pencil in details so that I can remember and seed the information into future classes. Not only do I include biographical information, I also take notes whenever they were a particularly memorable character in a class story. The best part of all is that I can flip through these cards in class and immediately identify which students have been passing “unnoticed”. A blank card is an invitation to find a way to make that student a star. 5 passive library

Your expectations in a deskless classroom can never be too clear if you do not want chairs migrating all over the room. Grant Boulanger warns teachers not to place duct tape on carpets or risk creating a very bad relationship with some people who can make your life miserable: custodians. I think this is solid advice; I spoke to my custodian before doing this and, with his blessing, we all have agreed that he will never clean the dark marks left behind when the tape id removed. He actually likes the order that this has created and often comments that my classroom is one of the cleanest in the building. There is something about an orderly room that discourages mess. In addition, he loves it when my last class stacks up the chairs against the wall. 6 clear expectations

Ben Slavic says that classroom management always comes first. A TPRS class will not be effective until students have internalized the rules. Nonetheless this rigid, “everything in its place” organization will give way to seeming anarchy by second semester when students are literally sprawled out on pillows laying on the floor, draped in comfy chairs or sitting with their friends. That is fine for second semester when they are well-trained to maintain their exclusive attention on class, but for me August is all about establishing authority.

Here is how I fit 36 kids into a classroom designed for 25:
7 fitting 36 kids With the independent study kids, a kid sitting at my computer and another couple hanging out back, it is not uncommon to have 40 people crammed in focused on one lesson. Organization is crucial to quickly eliminate distractions while students learn to focus on the story… especially on those days when I am not being a brilliant story-asker.

It has always bothered me that only one side of the room is facing the sweet sixteen verbs posters that I often point to with my laser pointer. Over the summer Amy Marshall posted on the TPRS/CI/iFLT facebook page about adapting Terry Waltz´s idea of using rolling window shades to fit multiple word walls into a classroom. I found an old projector screen that was no longer being used (the district bought larger screens for every classroom, so this screen was considered “obsolete”). Now I have the sweet sixteen on both sides of the classroom, and pointing at both screens will be a much needed reminder for me to slow down. 8 sweet 16 on both walls

Anabelle Allen inspired me to radically redo my question words posters in the front of the room. Check out her blog La Maestra Loca, it is worth following!9 anabelle allen

A year or two ago Craig Klein Dexemple from Spanish Cuentos gave me permission to trace parts of his “Storytelling Characters Poster” against my wall. This is so wonderful, I use it throughout the year to spice up a story or unblock a students writing block when they sit down to do free writes. In addition to a poster, Craig sells his image as a downloadable PDF so that each student could place a copy in their notebooks. And why not mention it? Craig is also the author of two TPRS novels in my easy classroom library. 10 klein

Below is a photo of the “¿Quién es el señor Peto?” poster that I hang towards the front of the room. 11 about me

In the back there are a few celebrity fans who occasionally make entrances in our stories to rave about how they follow a student on twitter, want them to make more youtube videos, etcetera.
12 celebrity fans

And no, I did not buy my own Billy La Bufanda. That would be like making your own friendship bracelet! 🙂
13 Billy

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Did you miss out on TPRS training this summer?

We still have a few spaces left in a very small group training (max 20 participants) led by TPRS expert Ben Slavic. Without question Ben is one of the very best teacher trainers out there. What I am most excited about however is that Ben´s approach to TPRS does not rely upon crazy theatrics or an exhausting teacher performance; Ben´s approach is grounded in a deep, calm reserve of love and respect. Ben taught in an urban, high-poverty district; he understands the false bargain we strike with coercive discipline systems and approaches that do not place the student first. Come join us and learn from a man that has led a revolution of love from within the larger revolution that is TPRS!

The registration deadline is August 1st: follow this link for details.

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Winner of the Ben Slavic workshop prize

Yesterday we picked a winner from the entries I received. There were so many people that I would have loved to bring along, but unfortunately I could only afford to bring one person. There may be one or two spaces left in the workshop if you are interested in attending. Check out the registration page and register quick if it is still open!

Congratulations Courtney!

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La locura de mayo

I sat on the sidelines throughout March as Dustin Williamson and an all-star team of teachers shared March Madness music activities and I thought to myself, lamely, “oh, I should do that next year”. Then April came and I found myself thinking, “oh, I wish it were March”. You know what… my level 3 classes are going to celebrate May Madness. If you have not yet tried this awesome year review of music, check out the brackets that my students made today. I included two wildcard spots for songs that were either voted out earlier or songs that did not make it into the original roster… students vote on the wildcards on the day of the big game. You can download a .docx and change the names of the songs or, if it is easier, download this .pdf and just white-out the names of the songs and put in your own. Personally I am rooting for Peret´s song El muerto vivo!
braquetas

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Teacher Appreciation lottery for Month of May

I have been thinking about how to show my appreciation to the many people who have supported me since I started this blog. After a lot of thought I have hit upon an idea that I hope will make a big difference in the life of one lucky teacher. I am talking about something that could save a career!

benAt the end of next August my school is going to host Ben Slavic for a three day intensive workshop. There will be a maximum of twenty participants, which means that everyone will get A LOT of coaching from one of the true masters of TPRS. But it gets even better; if you have seen Ben before then you know that he is amazing, but you have probably not seen his newest approach which he tells me is so tight and well-built that it eliminates the uncertainty of PQA. Tina Hargaden reports that, after Ben´s three day intensive workshop, she finally feels like she is doing TPRS the way it is meant to be done. I am ready to bring my teaching up to a new level, and I want you to be there with me.

What I am offering to one lucky subscriber is a $250 gift certificate towards the $400 cost of the training. I am sure this is going to be of most interest to subscribers from Southern California, but if you want to come from further away then you are more than welcome. All you have to do is subscribe to my blog and then leave a comment on THIS blog post with your name and email address. I will not publish the comments so that you do not get spammed– the comment is just so I can get in touch with you. On May 27th I will place all of those names in a bowl and randomly choose one lucky winner. If you are already a subscriber then just leave a comment with your name and email address.

My school is located in Lake Elsinore, California; when I used to live in San Diego the commute was 73 minutes and traffic was never a concern. For those of you living in Orange County, I hear that we are roughly an hour away from Disneyland. The workshop will take place from Tuesday, August 30th to Thursday, September 1. You can find more information about the workshop by following this link. If you want to attend regardless of whether you win the gift certificate, please sign up quick because there are only 12 spaces available to out of district teachers.

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This is what students are capable of if you do not shelter grammar in level 1 classes

4 18 2016
Click on the photo to go to vimeo and see the video.

This is what you can do if you do not shelter grammar in Spanish 1. These kids are hearing and understanding advanced grammar without any problem. Do they produce advanced grammar? NO! They need to hear a lot more, but at this point they are producing present and some past tenses with confidence. Although you cannot hear the students well, all of the suggestions came from the students. I repeat what they say, at times corrected. Between 10:00 and 11:00 I tried to discard what one of the students suggested and the students insisted on including his suggestion in our story. When students own the story, they acquire more. The reading at the end of the video does not show up well in the video, but this is a lesson that is here on my blog. Follow this link to see a description of the unit (along with the readings): Una sorpresa

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Should I assign a reading log for FVR?

A week or two ago someone wrote in to a facebook group with a question about follow-up activities for FVR/SSR. Several people responded (myself included) that a daily reading log is probably not a best practice. I have been thinking about this ever since, though, since I do think that there is a place for the occasional reading log. Finding the right balance between too little supervision and too much is tricky and depends upon the personalities in the class. However, there is research indicating that small follow-up activities are a characteristic of successful SSR programs (i.e. Janice Pilgreen´s study comparing successful and less successful SSR programs; the kind of follow-up activity that she recommends are short, small group discussions and voluntary book talks).

Last week I decided to assign reading logs to all of my classes, something that I have not done since last December (we start class with SSR 3-4 days per week, but more often talk afterwards & rarely write about it). These are two of the things I learned from glancing through the logs every day before handing them back. (1) I found a few kids who were copying from the book rather than writing a reaction—many of my students are comfortable enough writing in simple Spanish but for those that were feeling such anxiety I discreetly wrote on their logs that they should write in English if they preferred. After all, I really care about reading, not writing. Of those, most changed their book to an easier book. In the months of talking in small groups I had not caught that those specific kids needed easier books, but I caught it the first day with a reading log. (2)  While reading through the logs of my heritage speakers I was blown away at their overall improvement with simple spelling issues. I have been quietly despairing at this class for the last several months because I tend to notice the kids who are not making the most of our class time. Suddenly the girl whose writing was pretty unintelligible in August has self-corrected many of her worst errors. The group of soccer players who refuse to read anything except for the sports books are no longer writing short, clipped sentences but rather are writing longer, more expressive sentences. These changes were striking, and uniform across the entire class, but I just had not noticed them outside of the context of the reading log. There was a celebration in room 804 last Friday, followed by 20 minutes of very dedicated reading with huge smiles.

Key take home point: what I really do not want to do is kill the pleasure of reading. Do not use a reading log to police students, but an occasional reading log will not kill reading pleasure and, if celebrated afterwards, can actually help build the good vibes in my classroom. When used sparingly.

Postscript 11/28/2017: My thoughts continue to evolve on this subject. Please read Struggling to hold students accountable during FVR? and Alina´s inspiring approach to accountability with FVR. One thing that has not changed is my distrust of any activity that makes reading a chore.

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Movie Talk: Hay cosas que nunca se olvidan

Updated 10/19, errors corrected in PPT

1

Start with this reading showing part of the video through a power point. Describe the pictures, read, translate, circle. After circling extensively watch the video, but only minutes 4:26 to 7:12. The video, by the way, is in Italian so this reading is crucial. Here is a link to the video.

Optional day 2: If you choose, you can watch the whole 13 minute video… but just a warning: the old lady dies. And there is some bad language. The kids get their revenge and then the first four and a half minutes makes sense. I think this is satisfying just watching the middle clip… you might even want to run this through movie maker or a similar video editing software to clip off the beginning and the ending. Or not.

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Béisbol, baseball

A little tweak that makes life easier for struggling beginners

béisbolMy Spanish 1 kids are at the point that they mostly understand many cognates when I say them in my wonderful Spanish accent, but there is always someone who cannot hear the elephant in elefante. And everyone, even my superstars, occasionally have their slow processing days when the word hospital sounds nothing like hospital.

We have come up with the perfect class routine to tune all ears to the cognates. When I say a cognate I pause, then say the word béisbol to which the entire class responds “baseball!!”. Now that they are alerted to the presence of a cognate I repeat the cognate and the students who understand (usually most of the class) shout out the word in English.

I love this little routine because students who did not instantly understand the cognate have a chance to process before I give them the answer, the students who did hear it are proud that they can demonstrate their mental agility, the quiet students who are not willing to admit that they did not hear the elephant in elefante are able to comprehend, and the entire routine is so quick that our class story is barely interrupted.

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Contact: a speaking game for native speakers

2This is my absolute favorite speaking game for native speakers. It was introduced to me by a science teacher at Westborough High School in Massachusetts as a short brain break. I use it sometimes to focus on spelling, as you will see in the video. Native speakers are often very reluctant to speak in class; here is an activity that will give many the opportunity to want to speak.

I have added captions so that if you teach native speakers of another language then you´ll still be able to follow along and adapt to your classes. Click here to follow a link to the video that I have uploaded to Vimeo.

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Reading pleasure

Books that Spanish teachers may enjoy reading for pleasure

Teachers should be readers. During FVR sessions we should definitely be reading among our students, not completing school tasks. Diane Chamberlain has inspired me to describe a few books that I have enjoyed in the past few years.

susurroEl susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto. A friendship gone bad… or perhaps it was never a healthy friendship. Echos of high school bullying reach into the present, twenty or thirty years later. The description of Lima really brought me back to that city. There are no heroes in this novel; my IB student had trouble with the moral ambiguity but I found a lot to enjoy here.

transportesTransportes González e Hija by María Amparo Escandón. This novel starts with a wonderful set-up. Told inside a women´s prison in Mexico by an American held for reasons not revealed until the end, we follow the tale of her upbringing while also tracking the developing relationships among the women in the prison. I was initially fascinated by the backstory of her “university professor turned trucker-fugitive” father. There were elements of this book that prevented me from getting emotionally attached to the characters (the characters are outrageous who act and develop in not quite believable ways). I really enjoyed the way American Spanish was woven into the novel. The USA has one of the biggest Spanish-speaking populations in the world; it is wonderful to see that reflected in literature.

reyrosaseverinaSeverina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa. This was a charming book about obsession. After reading the novel I was left with an aching desire to find another path into the fictional world, to spend the summer renting a room in a pensión in Guatemala City, to see what might happen.

el heroe discretoEl héroe discreto by Mario Vargas Llosa. I enjoyed this novel, but the depiction of anyone younger than fifty did make me wonder whether Vargas Llosa is aging gracefully. Ingrate children versus their sanguine, triumphant parents… if you take this theme too seriously, from either side, then don´t pick up this book. Otherwise there were plenty of moments that made me smile and a few that genuinely touched me.

americasAmericas: The Changing Face of Latin America and the Caribbean by Peter Winn. Last December I came across a copy of this book in a hiking lodge in Patagonia. I spent the next day resting and reading. A fascinating introduction to the diversity of peoples in Latin America, I especially enjoyed the chapters highlighting the experiences of women, indigenous peoples and the differing ways race is understood throughout Latin America. Drawing from interviews with contemporary Latin Americans makes this book easy to read and less abstract. Great book.

turn rightTurn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams. I do not read much travel lit, but I enjoyed reading this. Do not worry too much about the groan-worthy description on the back of the book (What happens when an unadventurous adventure writer tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu?); the writer is led and informed by a highly-competent guide and the idiotic hi-jinks thankfully never really materialize. A very readable book that has inspired me to delve deeper into the subject of the Inca Empire.

el pez en el aguaEl pez en el agua by Mario Vargas Llosa. This book starts with an interesting trip into the childhood of one of the world´s most highly-regarded living authors. Chapters go back and forth between his formative years and the presidential campaign Vargas Llosa ran in the early 1990´s. While reading the behind the scenes political pieces I repeatedly had to give myself pep talks to avoid getting sucked into the author´s narrative, but it´s hard to maintain an objective distance while Vargas Llosa personally takes you under his wing. Then going back to his teenage years, I felt like I was peeling the skin back and finally understanding something about Peru. And the language, why not mention that nearly every page had something of interest.

ruidoEl ruido de las cosas al caer by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. The ambiance of this melancholy novel often appeared in my dreams at night while I was reading this book. I never know if the novel I just finished will linger in my thoughts for weeks, months or if it will quickly fade from my memory. Two months later, however, when the emotional impact of most novels have long passed, I was still occasionally looking longingly out a window, imagining the beauty of Bogota. This is a quiet novel depicting the solitary interior life of a ruined generation. There are frequent pleasures; I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Laverde family, urban life up in the mountains in Bogotá contrasted with the rural tropical areas, the beautiful geography of Colombia and inferring some of the broader changes that took place between the 1960´s through to the 1990´s. This is an enjoyable novel; however, there is something selfish about writing a book that leaves the reader feeling so alone.

diabloDiablo Guardián by Xavier Velasco. One of the most memorable trans-border novels that I have read, a modern picaresque novel. Disgusting at times. The main character, Violetta, is a character that for better or worse has stuck with me for years. A really interesting female voice, a schemer or con that negotiates between Mexican and US cultures. I found the code-switching to be a really interesting part of this novel. Here is her voice as she explains how she uses English to manipulate the innocent to help her when she first arrived to the US: ” ‘Daddy wanted to be, you know, my boyfriend’. El ‘you know’ es buenísimo, te permite decir lo que quieres pero no quieres decir y obliga a los demás a tratar de entenderte. Y así te vuelves de un sutil que bueno, you know, ¿verdad?…”.

chicanoChicano by Richard Vasquez. This is the story of a Mexican family that escapes the violence of the Mexican Revolution in the beginning of the 20th century but, as Mexican-Americans, the successive generations find their access to earning “the American dream” limited by overt and structural racism. As the title suggests, this novel was written (back in the 1970´s) with an explicit political message against the idea that Latinos can (or should) simply assimilate into Anglo-America. Putting aside the historical place of the novel, there is quite a bit that I did enjoy reading. Some complain about the melodramatic plot twists and, particularly, the ending… but it seems to me that the over the top, brown versus white characterizations actually pay homage to narrative structures in Mexican popular culture rather than fitting the plot to the demands of the Anglo reading public of the day.

carameloCaramelo by Sandra Cisneros. Simply one of the great family novels published in the last 20 years. My heritage speaking students often laugh aloud in recognition while reading the first few chapters describing a family road trip from Chicago to Mexico. I have heard criticism of the way this novel is structured. Digression upon digression reaching into the past, zooming into the present creating a quilt of memories. One reviewer called this effect “helpfully alienating to the Anglo reader”. There is something very Latino about the structure of this book. Nonetheless, Cisneros once commented that this is not about the “Mexican-American” experience, that the necessity of the hyphen speaks volumes about where our culture currently is. This is truly an American novel.

peorLos Peor by Fernando Contreras Castro. This is my vote for the Best Novel That You Most Likely Have Never Heard Of award. A marvelous, modern novel set among the lower classes of San Jose, Costa Rica that combines Greek mythology with environmental disaster and a very memorable set of characters. This is a story with a great social conscience, a rare work that is both very Costa Rican and yet universal.

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The concrete poem that opens Superburguesas

This is a power point for teachers who are teaching from my TPRS novel, Superburguesas. Click here to see all resources available for teaching my novel.

4 interpretationsChapter 0 starts with a concrete poem, “written” by one of the characters. During an earlier draft I had actually drawn a flower around the poem to make the shape of the poem more clear, but then it occurred to me that I could play with the ambiguous shape of the poem to provoke a more lively student reaction.

Click here to download the power point that I use to discuss this concrete poem in class.

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Deskless and organized

For those of you who are going deskless, here are a few photos of my classroom to share what I do to prevent those chairs from migrating around the room. Especially if you have a big room you will see that it is hard to keep the chairs tidy without a little organization.

At the beginning of the year I organize my chairs in a large horseshoe (with a small section in the middle because I need to fit 40 chairs into a room made for 28). You can click on this photo to get a closer look:
big view

Each group of 6 chairs is inside a colored rectangle. Students place their bags against the wall and notebooks beneath their chair. They are allowed to have their feet outside of the rectangle, but all chairs remain inside the rectangle:
yellow group

tapeI use two different tapes; I start with colored masking tape and really ground it into the carpet with my shoes. Then I covered that with clear packaging tape, which has superior resistance to all of the scuffing that kids will do. For seven groups I used two rolls of clear packaging tape ($2 each at Staples for each 800 inch roll of tape) and 7 rolls of colored masking tape ($3 each, but I have left over to use on future projects).

After two weeks it still looks beautiful and everything is nice and tidy. Here is a close-up of the worst damage, where a student has pressed down while pushing his chair back repeatedly. Most of the time chairs glide right over the clear tape, so he must have tried extra hard to leave his mark:
damage

Ultimately going deskless has given me more control over my classroom, but if I let my desks wander around the room it would have driven me crazy!

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Letter to parents about a deskless classroom

letterhomeA teacher who is going deskless next school year recently asked me to repost this letter that I sent home to parents when I first went deskless. I think that this letter is gold; it places the deskless classroom within the context of solid teaching practices and describes why this change is an improvement. My administrators and parents were happy once the change was explained, and even students recognized that desks often are used to hide phones or homework for other classes.

I have left the letter as an editable .docx file so that you can change names to fit your teaching situation. The first year that I went deskless I left one desk in the back for students whose parents insisted that they “need a desk in order to learn”. Within a day or two of using the desk I always found the student using the desk to hide non-class activities. EVERY SINGLE TIME. However, leaving a desk or two in the classroom may be helpful for a student feeling anxiety about the change. I still would not let them take notes during the class, but that is a paradigm shift that many parents (and teachers) may not understand. This letter is a good way to open that conversation.

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My new TPRS novel has been published

super

Earlier this week I published my first TPRS novel, a story that emerged in my classes some years ago and that has been re-written several times over the years. The story starts with Rodney, a kid who reluctantly works in a local hamburger joint in order to pay for the AP exams that his parents refuse to cover. As an adolescent joke, he decides to never wash his hands so that no one comes to the restaurant and he can use the time to study. That night the daughter of a major drug trafficker comes in with her boyfriend; when she gets sick, a chain of events is set in motion that changes everyone´s lives. Oh, if only he had washed his hands!

Although it is for the most part a tongue in cheek homage to the best adolescent goofball humor that appears whenever storyasking in class, there is also some serious culture built into the novel. Some cultural elements that come up include Mexican masks used in Carnaval celebrations, a painting by Goya, and the way Spanish speakers pronounce English names that begin with J such as “Jessica” (often pronounced as a Y). There is a full glossary at the end of the book and difficult phrases are also translated in footnotes so that students do not have to interrupt the flow of their reading by flipping to the back glossary. This version is written in the first person, but a different character narrates each chapter so that I was able to provide a view into multiple characters perspectives without using complicated language.

There are three ways you can purchase the novel:

(1) I actually get the best deal from the publisher if you purchase it directly through my createspace page
(2) but it is also available through Amazon. For those of you in Europe it is also available through country-specific Amazon distributors such as Amazon.co.uk
(3) If you plan on buying a class set and can pay via Paypal then please contact me directly: mikepeto AT gmail DOT com. Sets of 25 or more copies will sell at a discounted rate of $5.50 per copy, rather than the normal price of $6.49

Click here to see all resources connected to Superburguesas.

I brought the proof copy to NTPRS to show people just how easy it is for independent authors to publish a professional-looking novel. I think a future blog post will focus on the process, step by step, so that more of you will be encouraged to revise and publish your best stories. While I am enormously proud of this novel, I hope it is obvious that the main thrust of my work is to encourage more TPRS teachers to dream, write, edit, practice with their classes, edit further simplifying the text as much as possible and eventually publish their own class novels. Yes, have a native speaker who truly understands the concept of limiting vocabulary comment on your draft, but do not let anyone intimidate you into thinking that a mere classroom teacher cannot publish a TPRS novel. Over the last year as I have read a half dozen submissions to the FVR Cooperative Library I have been impressed by the quality of the stories. We need more TPRS novels by more TPRS teacher-authors.

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NTPRS 2015: my presentation on FVR

title page This is the power point that I presented at NTPRS 2015 in Reston, VA. If you missed my session or you could not make it to NTPRS this year then, as you open up the power point, look at the display mode called “notes page” and you will be able to read the transcript of what I said in the session.

ppt

I present an argument as to why FVR should be a part of TPRS classes for all students, not just high achievers. I also cover the essentials that you will need to create your own FVR program, some advice on how to be frugal and how to assess the effectiveness of the program. Within the presentation there are a lot of embedded links, so even if you came to the session you may want to download some of the materials mentioned. Click here to download the presentation.

Finally, on Twitter after the presentation, Steve Smith asked whether TPRS places more weight on reading than listening. While my FVR program is essential to my classes, the non-heritage speakers are only reading for 5-15 minutes while the majority of the class time is spent with story-asking and PQA.

Someone else asked if I read class novels and do FVR at the same time. I should have mentioned that I usually teach 2 class novels per year with my Spanish 3 kids in units that last no longer than 3 weeks; during that time FVR and other non-class-novel activities are suspended. With my level 1 kids I still read class novels as well (Pobre Ana can start as early as we want), but we do not start FVR until the 2nd semester.

Finally my heritage speakers read more; once they are accustomed we will spend as much as 20-30 minutes per class reading FVR… although 10 minutes is more typical for the beginning of the school year. FVR is suspended while we read whole class novels or on the days that I read a short story to them.

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NTPRS 2015: Tech tools to make popular music truly comprehensible

These are the instructions for people attending my Thursday talk on music at NTPRS this week:

example Click here to see an example of the type of audio games you can make to preview popular music with your students. You will have to enlarge the screen to about 400% to see the game properly.

Before the workshop please download:

(1) a copy of the instructions
and
(2) the .zip file containing the flash games.

The workshop begins with a demonstration and quick explanation. However, in order to actually participate in the workshop you will need a PC with several programs and files already downloaded. Please read the first page of the instructions (link provided above) so that you come prepared. You will need:

(3) an .mp3 audio file that you want to break down into an audio game
(4) Audacity
(5) your own headphones will be useful!

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Language Shyness among Heritage Speakers

Let´s talk about the widespread belief among native Spanish-speaking parents that what their heritage speaking children really need is to be corrected every time they make a mistake. This belief even shows up among some Spanish teachers!

As a non-native speaker (I did not start learning Spanish until I was in my mid-twenties), I have often felt slightly conflicted when I meet parents because of my refusal to correct the speech of my heritage speakers. It is not that I doubt my own language competence or that I am intimidated by the regional dialects of my students; whenever I have corrected heritage students in the past I have always had the feeling that I am employing a technique that “wins a minor battle while losing the war”.

If you teach heritage speakers, and especially if you have a separate class for heritage speakers, you really must read this article by Stephen Krashen on language shyness. Within the article there is great validation for FVR. This is the article that I would use to make a case for funding if I were writing a grant application to enlarge my FVR library.

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ieepco/6217914163 made available through a creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

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Book review: Speed readings for Spanish Learners by Eric Herman

eric hermanThe day that Eric Herman sent a message out to everyone on the moretprs listserve I happened to be online and I rushed to place my order. Today I received my copy and I have to say, I really like what I am reading.

Speed reading is a concept that is new to me. Briefly, the idea is to encourage students to read for comprehension, not decode. They have a 400 word reading and try to read it as quickly as possible (maximum six minutes). The vocabulary is high-frequency so that students should not be encountering new words in these readings. Afterwards they complete a multiple choice quiz to measure their comprehension and they mark their results on a chart marking both speed and grade. Over a suggested ten week span the students take three quizzes per week and try to read faster while maintaining at least a 70% comprehension grade. Like fluency writing, this activity trains students to avoid inefficient approaches such as translating everything.

Eric has done a great job putting together these stories. They are amusing and feature a variety of recognizable characters that add interest. Now for the heart-breaking part: in order to use this book as intended you need to buy a class set. For me, with California-size classes, that would be almost $400. Happy you if you can afford that.

I did not realize that when I bought it, but now that I have the book I am brainstorming how to make the best of it. I can see that this would be especially useful for the one or two students I have every year who have demonstrated thorough acquisition in class yet still insist on translating stories word for word. That actually happens, so now I have another feather in my differentiation cap.

Outside of the original purpose of the book, I may use the stories for read-alouds. If you can afford a class set, you may be very excited about this purchase. If you cannot afford a class set, this might be worth purchasing just to see how Eric has put this together. I am already planning on developing my own set of speed readings suited to my curriculum.

By the way, it follows the LICT curriculum. As I read the stories there are occasional words that I would not have taught my level 1 kids (desilusionado, construir, toboganes), but apparently if you use LICT then the vocabulary is 100% transparent. Follow this link to Eric Herman´s website for a much more detailed description of this speed reading program.

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Un chico que habla demasiado: a story for Spanish 1 and above

habla demasiadoI originally created this blog to share materials that I create for my classes. In that spirit, here is a simple reading that I wrote for the last semester of Spanish 1. The only new word that my students learn from this story is the word demasiado. I love that they are at the point that basically this is just free reading; it is so important that, rather than push forward, we take the time to read and chat using already acquired phrases. It just seems to consolidate everything better in their minds.

I started the class with three structures written on the board:

¡deja de hablar! stop talking!

sigue hablando keeps talking

habla demasiado talks too much

 After establishing meaning I started with a little PQA about strict teachers: ¿Hay profesores que gritan deja de hablar en clase? Looking at one student I asked her: No me digas los nombres, pero… ¿qué enseña el profesor estricto? In a TPRS meet-up group that I attend we were talking about PQA and one of the group members (urg, who was it?!) mentioned that it is so much more engaging when you drill down on one student rather than ask the same question to a handful of students in class. I tried this out, talking just to one student who I know is pretty talkative, and I delved into her story about talking in class. Then I did a quick poll for the whole class: ¿Cuántos de ustedes tienen profesores que gritan deja de hablar en clase? Returning back to the first student, I continued the PQA and easily hit all three phrases multiple times. And, well, of course it was more interesting than simply asking every student in turn a few superficial questions.

The take-home point is that, as obsessed as I am about gaining repetitions, PQA has to be first and foremost a meaningful conversation. Drilling down is a good skill to prevent your PQA from becoming a mechanical exercise. 
*** see note at bottom ***

After the PQA I passed out this story (download the .PDF here or, if you want to make changes, download a .DOCX here). It is about a boy who talks too much whenever he becomes nervous and, through a series of coincidences, he becomes a hero. There are references to the movie Snakes on a Plane as well as the Señor Wooly video about an evil dentist (in my story the kid never stops talking so the dentist cannot torture him). Finally the boy saves the day for president Obama. As it turns out, Obama has a secret fear of public speaking but saves face by the talking kid in the crowd who distracts everyone from a president paralyzed with fear. Hooray!

Like most of my stories, the very top section reviews key vocabulary that they already know… but I review it just in case. I let students read on their own for 15-20 minutes and if they finish early then there is a place for stick figure drawings. Before flipping the sheet to the questions I allow students to ask about phrases that confuse them. Grammar in my classes is unsheltered so many, but not all students, were able to piece together the phrase voy a pedir que salgas. They have seen everything expect for the word salgas, but once I pointed to the word sale on my verb wall they were able to put it together. In a 55 minute class most students finished the comprehension questions on their own and did the personal response questions at home to turn in the following day. A parent contacted me the next day to tell me that she thought my stories are hilarious! 🙂

The following day, after they passed in the completed story, we started with several paired retells. Then we added a few basic details to explain backstories, just as you would with any storyasking activity. When we built up a complex retell students did a five minute quick write including the new details and adding five more of their own choosing.

*** note 9/11/15: as I reread this blog post I realize that the advice to drill down was mentioned by Doug Stone, who was discussing advice given to him by Bryce Hedstrom

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Becoming Better at Asking

Recently I have been concentrating on techniques that guide me to ask rather than tell a story.

Asking rather than telling a story seems like a basic TPRS skill, but it is a really difficult skill to master. The difference between telling and asking has nothing to do with remaining comprehensible. Although I always include lots of comprehension checks and I proceed very slowly, I am telling a story when the majority of the content comes from me. Storyasking, on the other hand, requires that the majority of content comes from students (with the exception of a story framework containing the target structures). Asking a story is often more compelling than telling (even telling a personalized story) because students have invested their own ideas into the story.

I have struggled with storyasking. Sometimes I have a dynamite story to tell, like when I tell a joke in class. A joke is a compact, beautifully told story. Even though I might spend twenty minutes preparing to tell the joke, I have a very specific plot from which I do not want to deviate. A joke is a good story to tell rather than ask. Sometimes when I want to ask a story I have very specific details that I will allow students to add and it comes out more like a mad libs activity: you can add an adjective to my story but it is still my story. Other times I give the kids too much freedom. Rather than adding details they add entire plot structures. In the middle of the lesson I find myself confused as to how to reconcile their story with the one that has the target structures I need to teach. That is not a terrible situation if students remain interested, but not so much if I end up scrapping their story altogether so that I can tell them my pre-planned story.

question words
Last week I decided to spend an entire class setting the scene before even introducing the target structures. I used the question words posted on my wall (and all in Spanish, of course, writing on the board to remain comprehensible). I announced that we are going to make a new story but we need to imagine a few details first. I started with the word “when”. At first the class was confused. When what? So I wrote on the board: When does the story take place? My students already knew the word “take” (toma) as well as “place” (lugar), but they had never seen these words placed together in this way so I wrote an English translation on the board. The first class threw out several suggestions but we ultimately voted on “20 años en el future” (20 years in the future). The next class decided on “en la edad media” (in the Middle Ages… seriously, this is the impact of FVR because I have a childrens illustrated encyclopedia in Spanish about life in the middle ages). The last class decided that it would take place in the 1920´s.

The next question is “where”… following the process the classes voted on “in space” (we later narrowed it down to Mars), “in Yemen” and the last class chose “Brooklyn”. Yemen in the Middle Ages required a quick break so that kids could do a minute of research on google to figure out what Yemen was like in the Middle Ages (this was done in English). One student discovered on Wikipedia that there was a large slave market in Yemen during the Middle Ages, so we all agreed that would be our location. Once we got to the “who” question we chose a student in class who would be the protagonist of our story, and at that point I had a student actor to verify information with.

After going through all of the question words we had spontaneously created a title for our story. All classes created a rich beginning full of possibilities. There were traces of an emerging plot, but not completely because we had concentrated on setting the scene with all of these question words. I had thoroughly circled everything and the white boards were covered with notes. During the last ten minutes students wrote a two paragraph fluency write: the first paragraph summarized the story we had created thus far while the second paragraph was about what they thought would happen in the story. Kids passed it in and I have had the weekend to read through the ideas that they generated. On Monday we are going to review their stories and then I will be able to start with the phrase, “clase, hay un problema”.

The basic story structure that I will adapt to each story is about a kid who wants to do X but is embarrassed to say it to her/his friends because s/he has a friend who makes fun of people who do X. Simple. There are two structures that I will introduce while asking the story and we will circle them like crazy: “is embarrassed” and “makes fun of”. I am still planning on storyasking the rest of the story, but I am starting from a point in which the class has generated a large amount of the content already and I can use this material to spin around the target structures that I want them to acquire.

After we build the story I am going to type the story up, have them read it again and then illustrate a specific scene from the story. Each student gets a different sentence to illustrate. This sounds like a good activity to do on the day before Spring Break (Friday). Then I will have three different, illustrated stories that all focus on the target structures “is embarrassed” and “makes fun of”. All three stories will be stapled and added to my FVR library; given that they will be comprehensible and student-created I am sure that they will be highly-compelling reading for my students. I might even scan them and add them to the online FVR starter library .