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My parents embarrass me: a sort of final exam

This is the last short story of the year and focuses on two structures: se ponen en ridículo and le da vergüenza.

embarrassingBefore students read the story I introduced the structures and themes through a full class period of conversation. That included this powerpoint (which you can download by following this link):  vergüenza y ridículo powerpoint .  If you use it  you´ll probably want to remove the reference to Señor Peto in the first slide. I was surprised that none of the students would admit that their parents have ever embarrassed them (of course, they didn´t want me to embarrass them). Since that line of questioning was going nowhere, I changed the phrase to mis padres nunca me dan vergüenza. I suppose the real theme of the day should have been mi profesor de español me da vergüenza as I came up with silly situations that never occur such as Los padres de Julieta nunca besan al perro cuando sus amigas vienen a su casa. ¿Verdad Julieta? Julieta emphatically denied that her parents EVER kiss their dog. «Entonces… ¿ellos no te dan vergüenza?» A few times we came up with weird situations that never happen (I swear!) and it was a compelling enough mental image to make students laugh. When we laugh in Spanish then I know that they are really learning the vocabulary.

The following day students read this story that you can download by following this link: Mis padres se ponen en ridículo: STORY WITH QUESTIONS . I graded their responses to the back side as the last two big grades of the semester, which is pretty much a final exam since I would not actually have the time to evaluate all of those writing samples in the limited final exam period that we have. The reading comprehension questions are designed to assess their understanding of some big picture points, like did they acquire the difference between iba and fue? I graded the second writing section with a more holistic grading rubric emphasizing the comprehensibility of their writing. Superior students should be able to respond with our so-called advanced structures and wow me with their creativity, but fully intelligible, simple answers with minor errors that answer the question easily earn a grade of B.

Next week, following the advice of Blaine Ray, my students will be giving oral presentations on a topic of their choice. Lots of output, but they have been well-prepared (pat myself on the back) and I am certain to enjoy this coming week.

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Great student engagement

Flow is a crucial element for language teachers to consider, but it will never make it into the common core and no one will ever get a billion dollar contract to measure it.

I have been revisiting the concept of flow since Stephen Krashen tweeted about this and Blaine Ray followed up on the moretprs Yahoo group with a simple piece of advice: “internalize this”.

Flow is the kind of high student engagement where we do not even notice time passing. Flow is essential to great teaching, but elusive.

Last Friday I decided to pay close attention to flow in my own lessons. Specifically I wanted to take note of what I was doing when I interrupted flow (clueless!!) and what I may have done to encourage flow in my classroom. How do I even identify flow when I’m hip deep in it?!

Susie Gross´ famous advice to “teach to the eyes” can be as much about identifying flow as it is about measuring comprehension. In this case I am blessed to be working in an urban school where my students make it very clear when they are not engaged. I started my career in a highly competitive suburban school where it was easy to confuse a well-trained rule-follower for an engaged learner. Nonetheless, flow is a difficult variable to measure… and that may not be a bad thing. Pearson Educational will never get a billion dollar contract to measure flow in our classrooms. The real problem, though, is not in the voodoo of measurement.

I´m not going to achieve flow unless every one of my students truly cares about the subject matter. A few years ago I arranged for a meeting of all of the department chairs in my district to decide what exactly are the essentials for each level. Comically enough, one of the “essentials” that made it onto that list were “items found in a bathroom” (chapter 4b of the textbook that I was eager to jettison). Unless your students have an intrinsic interest in bathroom supplies then this joke of a curriculum is an unnecessary obstacle to creating flow.

citation-krashenAs for my own classroom, I found that I was interrupting flow most whenever my grammar pop-ups lasted more than five or so seconds. Five seconds is just enough to tell them what it means and then get back into the story. My twenty second grammar pop-ups derailed the process!  It turns out that twenty seconds is just enough time for me to go beyond the meaning of the phrase and start generalizing about language rules. However a five second pop-up, twenty seconds of story-asking followed by another five second pop-up was, as the Goldilocks in our class story said, “perfecto”.