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Conexiones by Bryce Hedstrom

A collection of short, non-fiction entries that excite a different kind of reader

People sometimes ask me how I keep students from getting bored of my schtick creating class stories day after day. The key, of course, is that I am not doing the same thing every day. On some days we create class stories together, some days I tell a fable, some days we discuss the plot of short video clips or a Spanish language tv show that we are watching in class, and some days we discuss our own personal stories through student interviews. But there is one kind of story that feels so different: non-fiction.

The readings in Bryce´s book excite a different kind of reader: the child who spends hours curled up with a magazine like Ranger Rick, Popular Science or National Geographic. This book rounds out a classroom library by focusing on interesting non-fiction that is comprehensible to novice learners of Spanish. Whether offered as an independent reading selection, read in small groups or part of a whole-class reading activity, these readings are a necessary complement to the fiction that is central to my classes.

I like to do a few of these readings as a whole class activity to hook students on the pleasure of reading non-fiction. Not all students enjoy reading about the animals of Latin America (for example), and that is okay. Then I leave the book out for FVR. Those who long for “something real” will be attracted like magnets to Bryce´s book and, in turn, will be much more attentive during the fiction stories spun in class because they recognize that one part of the class was designed just for them.

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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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An unusual class job

Many people have written about the positive impacts of creating class community through class jobs (for instance, click here and scroll down to “Classroom management” on Bryce Hedstrom’s website for a very comprehensive list of class jobs or click here to read a post on the public part of Ben Slavic’s PLC blog). Here is one additional job that we created in my classroom that has added an great element of fun: the class cat.

cat class 2Whenever someone not from our class community comes into the classroom, the class cat starts whispering the words gato gato gato (cat cat cat) in a steady voice to inform me that there is someone new in the classroom. I may be deeply absorbed in the story we are creating… or I may just want to finish whatever we are doing, but the class comes first! The rest of the class, however, is sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for their signal to act. They are waiting for me to utter the phrase “había un gato”, at which point every student says “MEOW” at exactly the same time in a loud, confident voice. At that point I address our visitor as if nothing unusual had happened. My kids really enjoy this.

One of my colleagues, Tammy Cullen, has taken this further. Every several weeks she changes class jobs and, with that, the class votes on a new animal. Of course she then teaches them the Spanish voice for each animal so that the class remains in the target language whenever a visitor arrives. Here are a few that they have done:

el pollito (baby chick): pío pío pío

la paloma (dove): cucurrucú

el pavo (turkey): gluglú

el gallo (rooster): quiquiriquí

el burro (donkey): ji jo

el perro (dog): guau guau

la rana (frog): croac croac

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My favorite blog post that I wrote in 2013

Here is my favorite post that I wrote in 2013. I had not been blogging for very long, so perhaps you haven´t seen it yet…  

yougetoutwhatyouputinIt is the beginning of March and it is high time to reflect on where we are going in our classes, how far we´ve come and how far we can sail before summer vacation. A bitter colleague recently said to me, “hey, you get out what you put in” to explain the failing students in her classes. It´s the kind of comment that is a cry for help, both for the teacher and her students.

Here is the truth to that comment (a secret that more language teachers need to hear): you DO get out what you put in… you get OUTput if you put in comprehensible INput. This was shockingly revealed to me today as I reviewed the quick writes that Spanish 2 students did in class the other day. We had spent the week talking about whales (a unit that I will post later, once I have fixed a few things). After a few days of non-fiction I gave them a writing prompt (“There was a boy that hid a whale in the bathroom of his house”, but I actually wrote the prompt on the board in Spanish). Take a look at Klynn´s 10 minute quick write:

10 minute quick write 2

I am so incredibly proud of Klynn. Her choice of verb tense is not always accurate… but did I mention that she has been speaking this language for only a year and a half?! Last year “hola” was confusing to her. Look at what she´s doing now!!!

I have met teachers with all sorts of reasons to explain why Comprehensible Input is not right for “their teaching style”. Some don´t like to dance (um, not a required CI skill). Some think it´s too goofy (also not required). Some believe it might be good for younger kids, but not their own students (if this is you then you HAVE TO check out this free sample of the first five pages of one of Bryce Hedstrom´s AP lessons for super-complex structures like “Si yo lo hubiera visto, lo habría ayudado”).  In the past I have even fought back, saying that “in order to learn to write, children must write”, entirely ignoring that what comes out (the writing) is profoundly shaped by what went in beforehand (all of the reading and listening that was comprehensible and interesting enough to grab the attention of the student).

You do get out what you put in.

p.s. Honestly, I do not have a second job in the Bryce Hedstrom sales department, but  HERE is the link if you want to purchase the entire lesson from Bryce… scroll down to El cuento trágico de Mark. It is a good one with a lot of instruction on how to teach an advanced class through Comprehensible Input.

(note added in December, 2013: you can see the entire whale lesson that Kylnn was writing about by clicking HERE )

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La prodigiosa tarde de Baltazar

updated 4/18/2014: see parts in red

Embedded readings helped me scaffold this story:

jaulaI have always loved this story by García Márquez but, until now, I never quite managed to find the right approach to teaching it. This is such a delight to read and discuss, yet the high-level vocabulary threatens to derail the conversation from the interesting ideas presented in the story to incomprehensible trivia (i.e. what are the “eaves” of a house, and why do i need to know that word in Spanish?). Here is how I approached this story for my AP language class:

(1) Optional pre-reading: Brief discussion about “la pirámide social” using a powerpoint to help guide us.  This focused the class on one of the principal themes of the story and signaled that we are more interested in the ideas than learning complex vocabulary. DOWNLOAD THE PRE-READING PPT HERE: PRE-READING PPT.

(2) First embedded reading: A very basic outline written in my own words that is 100% comprehensible.  Students read this on their own. After each paragraph students wrote six questions which could be answered by the reading (nothing profound, simple things like ¿Cómo se llamaba el hombre?). After reading we went around the room and as each student read one of their questions the entire class responded in chorus. After asking 6-10 student-generated questions on each section the students were experts. DOWNLOAD THE FIRST EMBEDDED READING HERE: FIRST EMBEDDED READING

(3) Second embedded reading: This version is a little more complex as it uses the actual text of the story. Nonetheless it has been abridged so that most of the low-frequency vocabulary is left out. We read this version as a class and I model my surprise at significant details that were left out of the first version. I act out parts and add drama to the dialogue, reading the same lines of dialogue several times in different ways and asking students which performance is the more likely (given what they know about the character and situation). This is also were I pause to wonder about the characters (developing familiarity with their quirks before students are faced with the original version of the story). This is where students develop a rich mental picture of what is happening. Next year I might have them make a storyboard at this point, but this year my students had a very good grasp of the story at this point (and could retell it without the storyboard). I have many heritage speakers in my class who really needed this step in order to not be intimidated by the original version.  DOWNLOAD THE SECOND EMBEDDED READING HERE: SECOND EMBEDDED READING
The following year I turned this reading into a power point that we all read together, along with a few pictures to help visualize what happens: click HERE to download the power point version.

(4) Third reading: This is the original version of the story, with a lot of scaffolding in the form of side notes. Students read this version in pairs while I wandered around the room offering help, but they were pretty independent! Students were engaged because they could see exactly what was new, yet they were able to follow the story easily. Furthermore, this is the only version that actually has the complete ending. I included comprehension questions at the end to keep the fast readers busy while everyone else finished up (I got the questions from this blog post), but I think next year I will find something else for the fast readers to do. I did create a set of questions for literary analysis, which I wrote on the board one by one and we discussed as a class (always referring back to the original story, thus prompting a fourth reading of selected parts). DOWNLOAD THE THIRD READING HERE: ORIGINAL STORY WITH LOTS OF SIDE NOTES

In 2014 I reformatted the final reading to include a few questions and, most importantly, very wide margins on the left hand where I require them to take notes about vocabulary that they do not understand. There are still abundant notes on vocabulary provided in the right margins. Click HERE to download the more recent version of the final story.

During the class period after the last embedded reading I used this worksheet as a warm-up to review a few key vocabulary words from the story. We then created a class story together about what happened the next day when Baltazar awoke shoeless in the street. I insisted that we work in each of the target vocabulary words as often as we could, and we had a lot of fun doing it. DOWNLOAD THE VOCABULARY WARM-UP HERE: VOCAB

Interested in more embedded readings? Take a look around Laurie Clarcq´s website!

Interested in a detailed example of how to co-create a class story? Check out Bryce Hedstrom´s website!

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You get out what you put in

yougetoutwhatyouputin It is the beginning of March and it is high time to reflect on where we are going in our classes, how far we´ve come and how far we can sail before summer vacation. A bitter colleague recently said to me, “hey, you get out what you put in” to explain the failing students in her classes. It´s the kind of comment that is a cry for help, both for the teacher and her students.

Here is the truth to that comment (a secret that more language teachers need to hear): you DO get out what you put in… you get OUTput if you put in comprehensible INput. This was shockingly revealed to me today as I reviewed the quick writes that Spanish 2 students did in class the other day. We had spent the week talking about whales (a unit that I will post later, once I have fixed a few things). After a few days of non-fiction I gave them a writing prompt (“There was a boy that hid a whale in the bathroom of his house”, but I actually wrote the prompt on the board in Spanish). Take a look at Klynn´s 10 minute quick write:

10 minute quick write 2

I am so incredibly proud of Klynn. Her choice of verb tense is not always accurate… but did I mention that she has been speaking this language for only a year and a half?! Last year “hola” was confusing to her. Look at what she´s doing now!!!

I have met teachers with all sorts of reasons to explain why Comprehensible Input is not right for “their teaching style”. Some don´t like to dance (um, not a required CI skill). Some think it´s too goofy (also not required). Some believe it might be good for younger kids, but not their own students (if this is you then you HAVE TO check out this free sample of the first five pages of one of Bryce Hedstrom´s AP lessons for super-complex structures like “Si yo lo hubiera visto, lo habría ayudado”).  In the past I have even fought back, saying that “in order to learn to write, children must write”, entirely ignoring that what comes out (the writing) is profoundly shaped by what went in beforehand (all of the reading and listening that was comprehensible and interesting enough to grab the attention of the student).

You do get out what you put in.

p.s. Honestly, I do not have a second job in the Bryce Hedstrom sales department, but HERE is the link if you want to purchase the entire lesson from Bryce… scroll down to El cuento trágico de Mark. It is a good one with a lot of instruction on how to teach an advanced class through Comprehensible Input.