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Where will the CI community be in 100 years?

Will we be playing a 22nd century version of online games with our students, or will we have learned to have deeper, more humane face-to-face conversations with students?

So much about my teaching has changed since I started writing this blog. When I first started TPRS I felt like my biggest weakness was a lack of resources, above all a lack of interesting stories. The blog was a place to share those lessons with other new teachers. Nowadays the Invisibles have led me to tap deeply into my students´ imaginations and I barely ever use pre-made stories. Almost everything (in beginner as well as advanced levels) is generated from what the students indicate that they want to say, so a huge portion of my blog is simply a relic of how I used to teach. It is not a bad way of teaching… it is just not where I am currently at. I have been trying to write a post about this, but it is so big that every time I get started I see that I need to grow just a little more to really describe how my teaching is changing.

Teaching in a high-poverty district, I understand the desire to impose some structure. Especially with students who appear to be dangerously lacking structure in other parts of their lives (whether it be due to poverty or absent parenting or whatever), but I am trying to move away from the impression that language class is any work at all. For me it started with FVR and Krashen pointing out that any sense of accountability will ruin the experience of pleasure reading. It took a while to fully assimilate that insight into my real classroom practices, but now I am finally at the point that my kids come to class and curl up with a novel before any talking begins and I think that is just so cool. I finally got the heritage speaker girl who always used to skip my last period class to come and I don´t want her to regret it. I want kids to bring that perspective to every part of my class, just curl up and enjoy the experience.

I have not even been pushing the self-assessments based on the interpersonal skills rubric. I abandoned it because I hated going through them and having to figure out which students are “playing the game”, which students are being honest, which students “deserve” to earn a low grade. To my thinking there are less coercive ways that take longer, because they require me to deepen my relationship with some kid who has adopted a deeply hostile posture towards schooling. I just want to suspend it all, all of the grading and monitoring, even the self-assessments, and take one of the comfy chairs myself and enjoy chatting in Spanish with them.

Teachers new to TPRS/CI often ask about testing (not to be confused with the formative assessments that we do every 20 seconds while interacting with students). “What is in your grade book?”, they ask me. Ironically if you ask the people who are conducting CI workshops around the country, many will privately admit that they do not really spend time on testing. At all. Replace all of your testing time with more comprehensible input and you will be amazed at the gains your students will achieve. That is not just the result of more time being exposed to comprehensible input; that is also the result of a more playful, less judgmental classroom.

I am not alone here either… last summer on a CI teacher Facebook group someone posed the question about what you would like to change in your class, if you could. Overwhelmingly all sorts of teachers, from those that meticulously backward plan their lessons to people like me who let it emerge without planning, nearly everyone wanted to be rid of grading. Languages are acquired naturally in a low-stress environment; most of the assessment in my class is invisible to students, it is collected non-stop and used at the moment it is collected to shape my teaching in that moment. The district-required midterm exam for my classes is a class story that we create during the exam, and nobody even gets a paper until we have verified that everyone is ready. For day to day grades, I am feeling good with the One Word Images (OWIs) and stories created based on OWIs, followed by a simple exit quiz that is so easy that it is kind of a joke. Just enough to keep their attention in class, but also a kind of wink that tells them that I really don´t care about that grading crap.

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Free Activities to Accompany Superburguesas

comp qSomebody just bought a class set of my recently published TPRS novel, Superburguesas. I was so excited that I thought to myself: I should do something special to support that teacher! Whoever you are, I hope you are following my blog because I just created a free set of comprehension quizzes for each chapter which you can download by clicking on the links below.

They are short Cierto / Falso quizzes (easy to grade) with one small writing prompt. If you print them double-sided then you will get 6 quizzes per page. I, however, am not going to use them as a graded assessment. Instead I plan on projecting the quizzes against the board after having read the chapter and using them as a launching point to discuss the chapter, circling as necessary to make sure students understood. However you choose to use them, I am very grateful for your support. 🙂

Click here to take a look at the Superburguesas homepage to see all of the free activities that I have posted to help teach my novel. I will be adding more this Autumn.

whiChapter 0
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

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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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How is that TPRS working out?

Comparing writing samples of level 1 and level 3 students taught entirely through TPRS and TCI

Last Friday, after watching a portion of episode 2 of the Spanish telenovela El Internado, my Spanish 1 students wrote a 10 minute speed write describing what they understood. My level 3 students, on the other hand, passed in their reading journals which they complete after reading in class (they return the reading journals to me every day so that I know they are only writing spontaneously in class and not looking words up after class). Spanish 3 journal entries are also speed writes, roughly fives minutes each time without using resources. Here are some writing samples by non-native, non-heritage speakers only.

I am going to start with the high fliers. The first writing sample is by a level 1 kid, Zach, who would be spectacular regardless of who taught him. Note how complex his sentence structure is… all he has to do is listen to me and he soaks it right up. Interestingly, Zack is a student in my “difficult class”. Difficult keeping them all interested in the story, difficult in the sense that I have to go a lot slower than other classes, difficult asking a story while requiring appropriate responses. That we go slower and do not do as many stories or movie talks as the other sections seems to have no impact on Zack´s development.

Click on photo to get a bigger, more readable version
Click on photo to get a bigger, more readable version

By the time Zach gets to Spanish 3 he will probably be like Alex, who is currently reading the Spanish translation of The Host. My Spanish 3 kids choose their reading freely; there is no reward for choosing a difficult novel and no shame imposed on those that are reading Pobre Ana. It is interesting to see what Alex is acquiring… for instance, I have never focused on the phrase así que (I cannot even remembering consciously using it in class).

Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.
Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.

The next pair are by “silent” students. Nobody in class knows that Kinidee is a superstar because she is so shy, but look at her writing:

Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.
Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.

The Spanish 3 student who wrote the following is not as expressive as Kinidee, but just as quiet in class. I used to worry that I was not giving enough individual feedback to the quiet students (I rarely correct grammar on written work, mostly only if requested by a student). Yet this quiet student has developed quite fine simply by listening to a lot of CI:

Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.
Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.

The Spanish 1 students who are less-expressive and have more errors in their writing are still comprehensible. What I see in many of the average writing samples are problems with gender and number, confusion over ser and estar, and a heavy reliance on third person verb forms. Here are two examples from the lower end of the spectrum:

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Click for a bigger image

Don´t you love the way she included the reaction of the class in her description? Nobody else thought to include that, but it is true… we all smiled during that scene!

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Click for a bigger image

The interesting thing is that I am fairly certain that these two students would have failed my class prior to TPRS. Or more exactly, I would have failed them. With TPRS both are writing pertinent comments after watching and discussing a clip of an authentic Spanish-speaking telenovela. How crazy is that!!

Here are examples of average work in my Spanish 3 class. Student errors are not as clearly patterned as the Spanish 1 students. On one hand, after three years of hearing a lot of comprehensible input, everyone can rely on their feeling for the language. Trouble happens when they use the conditional or the subjunctive. All of my colleagues still shelter grammar so, with the exception of the few students that had me as a Spanish 1 teacher, they are hearing the subjunctive for the first time when they meet me:

Click for large image
Click for large image

Click here for a larger image
Click here for a larger image

My take home point is to not worry too much about the mistakes that exist in the Spanish 1 writing samples. Seriously, it works itself out.

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Click for a bigger image
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Click on image for a bigger version
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Spanish 1 story, 2nd week of school

tacosHere is a basic story that I asked kids to translate as a quiz on the Friday of the second week back to school. Ten days of instruction. Keep in mind, of course, that there are plenty of visual cues in my classroom. When I give it I tell students that it is okay to look at the walls, but it is not okay to look at each others papers. I sit in the corner with a class list and check off the names of students who do use the vocabulary posted on the wall… this helps me (1) identify who has acquired the structures so well that they don’t even need to look up, as well as (2) who needs to be encouraged more to use the word wall (for instance they may not be tracking my laser pointer when I use it while speaking in class). In a class of 40 I think that this kind of feedback is essential in order to alert myself so that no student “falls through the cracks” early in the year.

Click here if you’d like to download the story as a .docx file. I left it like that so that you can easily change the name of the teacher and any other details to suit your classes.