Each year I tinker and improve the class syllabus I give to my Spanish students. I’ve gone extremely detailed and very visual. This year I’ve really focused on: What is the information I need to make sure my students and parents know?
During the last school year I made a change to standards based grading on a 4 point scale. I communicated expectations and explained that to everyone last year but felt that same information was worth clarifying in this year’s syllabus as well.
This year’s version of my syllabus was created on Canva. I like the way that it looks and the practicality of being able to download it as a PDF. Makes it easy to send and easy to print if need be. It’s not as flashy or interactive as my Thinglink syllabus of 2015 but I’m ok with that. After the first day, I’m quite certain no one went back to those Thinglink links anyway.
I wanted my students to create something new and interesting this year using lyrics to popular songs in Spanish. I found a selection of songs in Spanish that include the Spanish lyrics. But unlike most lyric videos on YouTube, these videos presented the lyrics in a stimulating and very visual way. These types of videos are known as kinetic typography videos because the text moves and is interesting.
Here are some examples of Kinetic Typography:
I would create activities using the lyrics to these songs and noticed that the more I listened to the songs, the more engrained in my brain the Spanish lyrics became. I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if I could have my students do something that required them to pay attention to these lyrics?”. So I decided to have them create kinetic typography videos.
I looked into the process and it can be quite advanced when you want the final product to be like the videos posted above. Most of the software used to create great kinetic typography 1) costs money and 2) requires training time that I couldn’t afford to do in the classroom. But could a decent kinetic typography be created on a public school budget (aka: free)?
I figured out a way to do this by creating a lyrics presentation using a presentation tool as simple as PowerPoint. You can animate or make the lyrics “appear” and move. If you go through the presentation and play it while playing your song, you can sync up the movements so they match the lyrics. By using a screenrecording program on your computer (like Quicktime), you can record your presentation. You have just filmed a kinetic typography video!
I’ve listed the directions and process of building a kinetic typography video below. Check back next week to see my reflections on this project as my students turn in their final products.
I’m surrounded by students with smartphones. Not every student, but it seems like the majority. It’s a handheld, personal device that they have with them at almost all times. I’m constantly looking for ways to combine our classroom objectives with the personal lives of my students. I believe that when learning is made personally meaningful to the life of the learner, it’s truly transformative.
The was the main philosophy behind bringing SnapChat into my classroom assignment portfolio. SnapChat is an application where users take photos using their handheld devices. They can add text, annotate or draw on the picture and send that picture to another user. The uniqueness about SnapChat is that the picture can only be viewed by the recipient for 10 seconds and then it ceases to exist. Short shelf life, easy concept.
When introducing a new section of Spanish vocabulary, I often have my students do some type of immersion project: something that requires them to spend some time getting to know their vocabulary better. I always include options in these types of projects. Some students prefer to do more artsy things with their vocabulary words, some prefer typing or online gaming drills, others prefer writing projects, etc. Giving options is important in letting the student create a unique learning experience for themselves.
One project option that I usually put out there is a photo labeling type of assignment. Find words from our vocabulary list in the real world, take a picture (or find a picture on the internet), label that picture and assemble all your pictures in a slideshow for me. My students usually made these on VoiceThread or by putting the pictures together in an IMovie. I see the picture + they have the word labeled correctly = project completed. They have met the objective to recognize and identify the vocabulary.
Giving the option to SnapChat this project seemed like a perfect fit. The application (which the majority of the students were already using and familiar with) is the perfect way to capture a photo and label it. In a matter of seconds, students can SnapChat their photos with Spanish vocabulary captions and “turn them in” by sending them to me. Easy. Instant. Real life.
I was extremely pleased with the results. As with any project, I went back to reflect on weak spots or any potential problems for the future.
SnapChat is essentially social media and I think you have to be careful mixing with students in the social media world. That’s why for this SnapChat assignment I created a neutral Spanish SnapChat account (espanoldhs) to make it “official”. I feel like this established that you are sharing your photos with “Spanish Class”, not “Emily Huff”. By not connecting the SnapChat to myself personally, I feel like it keeps a wall between me and the students.
Once it was established and understood by the students that this was an “official” school related SnapChat account, we discussed posting ethics. Particularly that if anything inappropriate was shared, it would result in school consequences. (Equivalent of standing in front of the class and doing something inappropriate)
One potentially negative effect of SnapChatting the assignments is the short life span of the photos. Ten seconds is enough time for me to view and assess the objectives (did the student label and identify a Spanish vocabulary word?). The work can’t be saved and shared but I think I’m ok with that. The purpose of these assignments is just to make sure my students have some time with our vocabulary. I don’t really need for the project to exist after the objective has been met. And I’ve seen enough students throw projects away immediately to know that isn’t a main concern for them either.
I don’t require this from students. It is one way to complete one of the options they have for an assignment. I don’t give special consideration for students that choose this option vs. any other option. I grade the objectives only, not the method of delivery.
I resist most cultural phenomena on principle, but when a sixteen year old boy talks to you about how amazing a book series is, you have to take notice. I only recently embraced “The Hunger Games” (as in I read the first book last week). Coincidentally, I came across a review game activity based on “The Hunger Games” in my Edmodo World Languages community last week. With a little tweaking, I knew it could be a major hit in the classroom.
Arrange 12 desks in a circle/semi-circle. If you have more than 12 students, place extra desks in tight clusters so that there are 12 little clusters of desks in a circle.
Prepare Questions: I planned on playing five rounds during the game with 12 questions per round. You could do random questions and pull them out of a hat too.
Fill 12 cups with beans. I used jellybeans and put 5 jellybeans in each cup. Label the cups with numbers #1-12.
Prepare the Cornucopia (see later)
Separate the students into the 12 separate districts (12 separate groups). I always choose the grouping. If numbers allow me to do so, I put my advanced students alone and match up my lower ability students so they may work with each other.
Give each district their cup of beans, stressing that they should not eat their beans. The objective of the game is to acquire the most beans anyway, so they shouldn’t want to eat their chances of winning.
Begin with District 1 and ask the first review question. If the student answers incorrectly, just move on to the next District. If the student answers correctly, they may go and 1/2 of another District’s beans. Continue by asking the next District a question.
After District 12 has answered their first question, the Capitol (the teacher) makes an announcement by drawing one of the Capitol cards.
I was preparing 5 rounds of the game and therefore I prepared 4 Capitol cards: one card to be read at the conclusion of Rounds 1, 2, 3 and 4. Here is what I used:
Redistribution of Districts: The Capitol has decided to change the resources of each district as a reminder that the Capitol is in control. All cups rotate one District to the right.
Quarter Quell: The time has come for districts to face each other in battle. During the next round, each District must challenge another District before the question is asked. Whichever of the two districts answers that question correctly gets to take 1/2 the losing District’s beans. In case of a tie, the win goes to the lowest numbered District.
Cornucopia: All Districts are in need of something to make their success in this game easier. These items are in bags in the Cornucopia. At the signal of the Capitol, team members may go and retrieve one bag from the Cornucopia. Bags may not be opened until the Capitol permits. These items may be used for the entirety of the game unless otherwise noted.
Silver Parachute: Sponsors have agreed to give aid to one struggling team. Give extra beans to the team with the lowest number of beans. In case of a tie, the tie goes to the highest numbered District.
I filled 12 bags with a variety of things for the bags in the Cornucopia. I had some bags filled with a few jellybeans, bags with vocabulary or notes and some filled with empty paper. I also had an “Auto-Win” card, where students could play it and automatically get a question correct. There was a “Blockade” card too, where a team could block others from taking their beans for an entire round.
After playing all five rounds of the game, the student with the most jellybeans was declared the victor. I gave out extra credit to the winner.
The Fallen Tributes
I wondered about how to deal with “killing” other districts or being eliminated from the game. In one class, we played that if a student was down to one bean, you couldn’t take that one bean. That kept players in the game. My second class was much more inspired by the notion of eliminating their competitors, forming alliances, etc. It made for a more interesting game. But, since it was a review game, eliminated players still had to answer questions, but they couldn’t take nor receive jellybeans. They couldn’t win but they were still forced to play.
I thought it went pretty well. It took awhile to count out half of the jellybeans when we got towards the end of the game but I can’t figure a way around that. It was a nice review activity and I would probably do it again in the future. It took some prep time but it was exciting and the students really enjoyed it.
Sometimes obscure websites have the greatest hidden treasures. A few months ago, I came across a grammar activity website that included directions for a Grammar Auction classroom activity. I thought it sounded promising and decided to try it out this week.
Setup: I prepared 20 sentences, some written with grammar errors and others that were written perfectly. I made a PowerPoint to help me keep track of the sentences, each one given a random, non-sequential “lot number”. When students came into class, I randomly separated them into groups of 3 or 4.
Activity Introduction: Groups were given $5000 of fake money as their auction budget. For each sentence up for bid, or for each “lot”, I would read a Spanish sentence. After repeating the sentence, we started the bidding at $50.
Final Objective/Winner: Students wanted to spend their money on quality items, not defective items (the poorly written sentences). At the end of the auction, the winning group would be the group that bought the most correct sentences. If there would be a tie between groups, the winner was the one that spend the least amount of money.
Students didn’t know how many sentences were available and never knew when the auction was going to end, therefore they couldn’t just sit on their money and do nothing. Today I had a homework assignment for students at the end and as a reward for the winning group, I gave them a automatic pass on that assignment. It was definitely a motivating factor.
Probably one of the greatest activities I have ever done.
My Spanish 2 students had been working on their proofreading skills so this was a perfect time to introduce the auction. I had wondered if reading the sentences to them was too difficult and thought about showing them the written sentences, but decided that might be too easy. They did a GREAT job with the learning outcomes. They listened carefully and discriminately, they discussed with their group members, reasoning with each other to determine whether or not it would be a good buy.
Gamesmanship was a huge part of this and I think that made the students like it even more. It wasn’t just about buying a good sentence and not a bad sentence – – it was about watching your money, budgeting, trying to run up bids on other teams, trying to bait other teams into buying bad sentences, etc. There were a lot of undercurrent things happening in the class but the activity still revolved around knowing our Spanish grammar. It was kind of like a game stacked on top of a game. I love this for a couple of reasons. 1) I feel like my students that easily understand things get bored with repeated practice activities and games, and the added layers involved in the Grammar Auction allowed them to experience something else in addition to bottom-line learning outcomes. 2) Students that struggle often feel left out or overwhelmed with straight-up practice activities and are sometimes instantly turned off and disinterested in activities they perceive they will not be successful in. The added layers serve as hooks or tributaries that help pull these students into the core of the activity. I saw students that started out just as the money counter or the bidder, but as the activity progressed, they became fully involved without really having to try. It’s a trick on them, treat for me.
I was hugely pleased with the processing and application of learning concepts that I witnessed and thought this was a valuable experience for my students. I feel very good about our upcoming Grammar Test on Friday. But the students are the real judges. They seemed very engaged and excited, but asked anyway: Was this activity something we should try to do again? The answer was a loud “YES!”. Honestly, it was the most enthusiastic YES I’ve ever gotten.
The only downside to the grammar auction is that I budgeted for each group to have $5000 and printed only $50 bills. So I had to count 100 $50 bills. For each group. For three different class periods. Ouch.
Today I needed one more activity to help my student practice conjugating in the future tense. On paper, things seemed to be going OK but I wanted to see how good my students would be at conjugating on their feet.
I created a photo slide show of different present tense phrases using conjugations of the verb “ir”. I told students that instead of saying something is “going to” happen, we will be expressing that it “will” happen in the future but conjugating the verb in the future tense. Students were split into two teams. One at a time, students stood up, set a conjugation goal and were shown the slides of the sentences. They had about 5 seconds to give the correct future translation before the pictures flipped. This activity is very similar to the activity I did with Direct Object Pronouns last year.
At first things were rough but as we got going, students were catching on and doing quite well. I was impressed by how many students adjusted to the irregular verbs and the reflexive verbs that were in the mix. I even had to stop one student at 25 straight correct conjugations just for the sake of time and mercy for the other team. I felt a lot better about how well my students knew the future tense and I think a lot of them felt better too.
I’ve had my students dabble in mindmapping before with vocabulary development. I like them to think about how words are connected and hopefully those connections make the vocabulary more meaningful, thus they remember it.
At first glance, I thought that Popplet was going to be just another word web/mindmapping tool, similar to Inspiration or a few other word maps available online. I discovered the following things while using this application:
1. Easy to use and maneuver: Each popplet, or tiny box, comes with very easy to understand options. In each box, you can add TEXT, or draw a PICTURE or upload MEDIA. After creating the content in one popplet box, you simply drag the grey connector dots out to where you want to make another popplet. This grey line connects the boxes, thus building a very large web.
2. Media: When using technology, you have to ask yourself, “Why is this methodology better than paper and pen?”. I like to justify my technology use. I’ve had students make mindmaps before on paper and they are just fine. But Popplet lets them add PICTURES and YOUTUBE videos to the map. In a recent vocabulary section on adjectives, students took pictures of the words strong, beautiful and weak, and were able to incorporate those pictures into the map. And who doesn’t love YouTube? Students searched for funny videos that would showcase their Spanish vocabulary words. For example, many students looked on YouTube to find pictures of clumsy people for the Spanish word “torpe”. Or they used their favorite YouTube video (the Waffles video by Julian Smith was very popular) and tried to see how many Spanish words they could use to describe that one video. Hands down this was the biggest plus for me and for the students.
3. Customization: Each popplet bubble can be made a different color, so students could color code the different levels or categories of their web.
4. Sharing: Popplet includes nice sharing options for a free application. Students used the embed code to embed their projects on our classroom site at Edmodo. They also used the links if they wanted to post it to their blogs. You can invite others to share and comment on your Popplet and also post it directly onto Twitter or Facebook.
My students worked on these Popplets using the mobile laptops in my classroom. Once they got started, you could have heard a pin drop. There was a such a hushed enthusiasm to work that I haver NEVER experienced before. They were very captivated by it all and worked so hard, so fast and with such effort. I will definitely be revisiting this site again and I consider my use of technology well justified in this case.
Right now, I’m unable to embed these lovely Popplet’s onto this WordPress blog for easy viewing, but I can include the links. These are student created projects. I gave them the bare minimum of requirements and they went with it. Charlie Sheen was very popular in these, by the way. Please check them out, share them and enjoy using Popplet! (I will be adding more examples in the next few days).
Learning vocabulary takes a certain amount of time and repeated practice. I can repeat words with the kids over and over again in class and I can also highly suggest they go over the words themselves. Still I haven’t ever felt the students enjoy the repeating or fully embraced that concept.
I decided to have my students make vocabulary podcasts: recording of them pronouncing the words in Spanish, defining the word in English and then spelling the words letter by letter. I had two goals. 1) Have them review the pronunciations and definitions of the words while creating the podcast, and 2) have the students create an audio file of the vocabulary words that could be downloaded and accessed on a portable electronic listening device (i.e., Ipod).
This was the first podcasting experience for nearly all of my students. We experienced some equipment problems and time issues, but overall the assignment was a success. The students all submitted their groups podcasts to a class created account on Podomatic. From here, students are able to download any of the podcasts as a file that can be added to an Ipod or mp3 player. They can also click a button and subscribe to these podcasts through Itunes.
My students are great at knowing all the separate pieces and rules of the language on their own but stumble when it comes to putting them together for the purpose of writing for communication. Something that always has been a challenge for me is to get my students to edit and proofread their work. When I give them writing corrections, I feel that the feedback is oftentimes ignored and no learning takes place. Recently my students have been doing a proofreading activity that has provided many teachable moments and I am now seeing positive results.
Pre-lesson preparation: My Spanish 2 students have been learning about house vocabulary. While we practiced vocabulary and descriptions in class, I posted a prompt on Edmodo for the students to write about. They had to go to Edmodo (an online collaboration website for our class) and type just one sentence describing their house. After they had typed their sentences, I printed them all off on to a piece of paper and we worked with the sentences in class.
Entrance Ticket: When my students walked into class, each student took a piece of paper and had to brainstorm at least 5 characteristics of a good sentence. I told them to think about what a Spanish teacher would look for in a perfectly written sentence and also what a 3rd grade teacher would look for in a perfect sentence. They had approximately 2 minutes for this brainstorming.
Class Sharing and List Making: As a class, we took the characteristics each student generated to create a class list of qualities that a sentence needs to have. My students were very attuned to the characteristics of quality sentences. Every class identified punctuation, capital letters and proper spelling. Most were able to speak about specific Spanish skills, such as proper word order, adjective agreement, gender agreement and correct conjugation. This class sharing portion of the class was also interesting because many students wrote down good grammar as a characteristic of well written sentences but they couldn’t elaborate on what good grammar was. They have been told over and over again that they need to have good grammar but couldn’t identify what good grammar meant. Many teachable language moments came out of this class discussion.
Finding Perfect Sentences: After generating a class list of sentence qualities, each student received a copy of the sentences they had typed in Edmodo about their house. I told the students how many of the sentences on the paper were perfect sentences, or sentences that had all of the qualities listed on the board. They worked alone to try and read each of the sentences to find the sentences with no errors. Since the paper I printed had each student’s name next to their sentence, there was a lot of personal responsibility for the sentences. Most students focused on their sentence first to see if it was good or not. Then I noticed that they zeroed in on the sentences of students they perceived as being smart and good at writing. Once they had some worktime, we came back together as a class and identified all of the perfect sentences.
Levels of Errors: After the perfect sentences were taken care of, we focused on editing the remaining sentences so that they could become perfect. I talked to them about the importance of the type of errors in these sentences. For most of my high school students, minus 1 is the same as minus 25; if it’s not perfect, it is no good. I drew a chart on the board of the 5 levels of sentences that I use when evaluating writing progress.
Peer Editing: I individually called on students to find the errors in the remaining sentences. Most were able to recognize something wrong. Sometimes I would give prompts, such as “This is a Level 4 sentence, so we’re looking for a small stuff”, or “Remember to check all of the qualities listed on the board to make sure that everything works”. I found that the students were very good about finding the errors. And they also enjoyed the labeling of the sentences in Levels. While the activity progressed, I heard students debating whether or not a sentence was a Level 4 or a Level 3. One said, “You just have to add a word here to make it correct, so it’s not that big of a deal. It’s only a Level 4”. The other countered with “But Level 4 sentences are so good that you just have to change the parts that are already there. Forgetting a word is a bigger deal and it should be a Level 3”. I did notice, however, that some students didn’t like that their sentence was being called out as a Level 3, or the lowest level in this particular activity. While I know that those individual students didn’t like that part of it, I know that they seriously will learn from that mistake they made. I also made sure that we spoke only about this one sentence written about that individual and not the individual in general. Since each student was included in the activity, I felt that they were very respectful towards each other in that regard.
Post Formative Assessment: Some days later I would give a short slip of paper to each student at the beginning or end of class. I would show them pictures of a house on the projection screen and ask them to write one sentence about that house, remembering the qualities of a proper sentence. Almost no student made the same mistake on this sentence as he or she did previously. The total number of correct sentences improved greatly and the students that did make errors made very small errors (Level 4 errors). I was pleased with the outcome of this activity and will make it a routine writing and proofreading exercise in my lesson plans.
On an overcast Saturday in Iowa, I found it hard to stay interested in my school work. I had plans to make, materials to develop and, every teacher’s favorite, papers to correct. As I looked at some of the paper clipped, fringe ladened notebook papers in front of me, I had a thought. I created a little game for myself to keep me interested in working for the next 3 hours.
Last week in school, I was running late with my first class of the day. I quickly printed out homework for them to complete on paper. However, with my later two classes, I had the time to upload the homework to Edmodo, an online classroom module where students can complete the homework online. I asked myself: Is it faster for me to correct these assignments on paper or on Edmodo? And just like that I had a Saturday challenge to keep me occupied.
I set the timer and began to correct 18 of the paper copies in front of me. It took me 23 minutes, 15 seconds to correct the sentences and write the grade on the paper. It took an additional 1 minute 50 seconds to put the scores into my gradebook. That is a total time 25 minutes, 5 seconds for one class of 18 students. It’s approximately 1 minute, 40 seconds per student.
I had more than 18 students complete the assignment on Edmodo, but to keep things equal, I only timed myself for 18 of the students. In Edmodo, the students type their responses in a text box and the teacher has a comment box for comments. I commented just as I would have on paper and graded the assignments. I was done with that portion of my work in 16 minutes, 48 seconds. I then had to transfer those grades over into my gradebook, but since the students are listed in Edmodo in alphabetical order, it took me only 40 seconds. (The paper homework was in a random order.) The Edmodo grading took me a total of 17 minutes, 28 seconds. That breaks down to only 58 seconds per student.
Pros: Edmodo looks like a clear winner in the department of time saving. The difference between grading the paper copies and the online assignments was about 42 seconds per student. I average about 65 students in my Spanish sections, which is about 45 minutes of time saved just grading the assignment and inputting the grades into the computer. That is 45 minutes of “me time” that I can spend watching Bravo reality shows, painting my nails or chasing my dog. And it’s 45 less minutes I have to spend in front of my computer or with nubby, fringy homework papers. Also, the students get that feedback immediately. They aren’t going to have to wait until Monday when I pass back the paper (which takes about 2 – 3 minutes of instructional time) to get their results. These students can log-in anytime to see their score and their comments.
Cons: I like my Sharpie correcting pens because they make bright, dark marks on papers. I like to draw in arrows or missing letters on the assignments so that the students see their mistakes and they pop. In Edmodo, I am limited to making my comments inside of a text box, so my comments cannot be drawn directly onto one of their sentences. In this particular assignment, students were writing sentences and I was assessing their sentence structure and grammar. Being able to make visible corrections over top of their work is valuable and something that is lacking on the Edmodo side. However, as a high school teacher, I usually carefully watch when my students receive these types of assignments back and most of them take a quick glance at the letter grade and start to crumple it up and practice their jump shot with the trash can.
Bottom Line: For future grammar assignments where I am particularly interested in word order, spelling and construction of the phrases, I would seriously have to think about sticking with the paper assignments. The feedback options and the opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes should outweigh my basic need for more free time. But I will not lie: the valuable of a teachable moment vs. 45 minutes of being able to kick back and relaxing creates an internal struggle.