12 August 2015

¡Aventuras! My take on Real World (choice) Homework

There has been a movement by language teachers all over the world to use real world experiences as a way to practice using the target language outside of school. This is particularly useful for those who live in communities that are not lucky enough to have a population of native speakers available.

From: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/23000.html 
First column is Maine statistic, second column is USA

Over the past two years, I have assigned "Adventure Points" to my students. There are a variety of ways students can complete the assignment, but each student must complete a total of 3 points every two weeks.  I had them due on THURSDAYS this year because students also have Problems of the Week (POWs) due with most of their math teachers, so I figured if they were both due on the same day, it would be easier for them to remember. We are on an A/B block schedule, so any time they had Spanish on a Thursday, their points were due.  I was not overly strict about when they submitted their points, just as long as they were in before I added up the points from the Google Spreadsheet created by the form.

The various assignments and their point values are not unique. You can see the descriptions and the point values here. You will notice that they are similar to ones used by +Laura Sexton, +Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, and +Megan Kara of the Creative Language Classroom. For any one that they choose, students must answer the questions listed on the description page in addition to the questions asked in the Google Form.

The Form: 
I LOVE Google Forms. I create at least one a week. Using a form for this assignment has saved a lot of time for me, but I feel that I might get more buy-in if I had to collect something else-to "prove" that the students actually did the work. I am going to think more about this as I roll out the assignment to my classes this year. 

On the form, found here,  Students choose their class, and then their names from a drop down menu. This is a lot of work up front for the teacher, but it is SO MUCH EASIER to sort the spreadsheet in the long run. The first year I did this, students wrote their own names. Even if I asked specifically for their LAST name, some would write their first name, or misspell their name, which would ruin how I ultimately wanted to be able to use the information-sorted and easy to add up the points! I also made a menu of assignment choices so that students could not "forget" how much their activity was worth and "accidentally" submit a Facebook language change as a 6 point activity. Again-a little bit more work on the front end, but more seamless for you throughout the year. I also made sure to add an option for each point value: Other Approved by Señora. Students are creative and can sometimes see options that are not listed yet. It also allows for me to throw other events at them during the year. 

In addition to specific questions asked for each activity, all had to answer the following reflection questions: 
 As students submit their answers, I can go into the spreadsheet to see who has their activity done. Before sorting, it looks like this: 

There are 5 columns asking for last names-one for each of the Spanish classes that did the activity. There are also 6 columns for the activities-one for each point value. As you can see above, most students just choose from the 3 point list.
After seeing the quality of some of the entries, I spoke to the classes and asked them to be more specific about what they did for their activities. After sorting the entries alphabetically by last name in each class column, I entered a 10/10 for completion in my grade book. When a grade was entered I would color-fill the table. You can see the first and 4th entry are from the same class more easily and I could keep track of the hundreds of entries throughout the year. 

Every year I make adjustments to what I am doing. This year I am going to still have the Adventure Points, but have them more specific to the unit we are on. I bought some of the Real World Homework from The Creative Language Classroom TpT store, and plan on using that as a guide to have one for each unit I teach. I would also love to change up how I collect some of the points. How would your students submit their choice homework? How has it worked for you? 

28 July 2015

How I will "Make it Stick" in my class

My annual trip to Costa Rica to visit my in-laws has been consumed by reading and analyzing Make it Stick by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel.  

How do their ideas of learning work in a world language classroom?

The premise of Make it Stick is for learners to accept the challenges of learning and adopt various methods of remembering and applying information. When things are difficult, it makes the brain work harder to create connections to eventually be stored in long term memory. Desirable Difficulty, named by Elizabeth and Robert Bjork, is "short-term impediments that make for stronger learning" (68). The opposite of this is Undesirable Difficulty -which is basically when a task is too difficult for students to overcome or "don't strengthen the skills you will need...in the real-world application of your learning." An example given was teaching a football player effective golf swings (99), this is not a desirable lesson because it does not relate to the overall goal of the football player-to play FOOTBALL better. This reminded me that students need to be able to relate to the lessons and tasks need to be authentic. How can we bring our essential questions around to be less about the exchange student that you're hypothetically hosting and more about what students are actually doing in their lives already?

Making connections to the world language classroom is no easy task. There is a shift happening where L2 teachers are pushing their students to be more communicative with interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational tasks. The idea of testing frequently throws me for a loop--at first I could only think of how to use this in reference to vocabulary. Did I just read an entire book to have it tell me that I need to test MORE when I've been trying to eliminate testing all together??  On the other hand, it was much easier to make  connections to the first book I read this summer: Who Owns the Learning by Alan November.

What will I try??

1. The job of Tutorial Designer (November) is one thing I want to attempt and it is supported in Make it Stick with the idea of elaboration (31). The more students can explain how new learning connects to what they already know-in their own way, the more it sticks. In a recent #langcamp hangout, @KrisClimer mentioned that he uses his textbook series as a lower tech Flipped classroom. Students use the textbook at home and use that for their grammar lessons. This takes away the need to use valuable class time to explain the concepts. It also goes along with the theme of a student centered classroom. I would love to start assigning students to find a couple of videos and/or websites that they find helpful to explicitly teach grammar concepts. Then, when they come back to class, they would have to explain the concept in their own words. I think this would also help students find ways that are useful to THEM in their own learning instead of only learning the way I teach. 

2. I may be bringing back the idea of flashcards using the premise of the Leitner Box (64). Students separate the flashcards into 3 boxes based on how well they perceive they know the vocabulary. I would have them label them "I don't know", "Almost", and "Learned" in the TL and keep the boxes at home for studying. Maybe with 20 non-negotiable vocabulary words every 2 weeks? Vocabulary is necessary for proficiency. I think that if we wrap up the two week periods with a quick vocabulary quiz where they have to define the word in Spanish and write a sentence or paragraph (depending on proficiency level).

3. The idea of using testing as a tool FOR learning as opposed to a tool OF learning seems like a good concept. I have frequently used "Repasito" or "Caliente la mente" as bell ringer activities, and these could easily be the quick "Pre-test" the book talks about. Students could come in, use their phones, and put them away on the door where I have hanging shoe rack ready to collect them. If this is the direction I want to go, I need to think about how to make it more relevant and authentic for students. Doing the same thing day in and day out gets really tiring for everyone!

Overall, the best part of this book? The group of #Langbook people who are also reading it. It is nice to have a shared World Language focus. There was a #Langbook Twitter chat before I even started the book, and I used that as a starting point for my thinking as I read. You can find the chat that took place here:

The last thing I will say about this book is that the chapter about retrieval and consolidation of memories just made me think of the new Pixar movie Inside Out. The little orbs of memories is a great representation of what our brains are doing with everything we are learning as well!