Sunday, January 19, 2014

Flipped out Spanish 3 new approach

This year, I have struggled with my Spanish 3 class. For some reason, this group of students really struggles with the idea that they need to do their own work. They don't want to read, which is always a big part of my curriculum. They certainly don't want to do any kind of homework. So, for the new semester, I am trying a new approach.

Our first activity was based on the letter they had to write on their final exam. I passed them out and gave students the point breakdown that I used and then had them grade a letter. Not surprisingly, the grades that they gave the letters were quote low. We then had a discussion about why that was. Thankfully, most of them caught on to where I was heading and we discussed (not for the first time) about how to be successful in my class.  You MUST do your own work. You MUST review, student and practice for assessments. You MUST begin your unit assessments early to have time to do your best work.

Then, with that reestablished, we got to work.  I put them in ability groups for reading and managed to be able to do this and keep the friends in separate groups as well. (A minor miracle!) Then they got down to reading. I didn't give them any other work for the first week. So I could monitor the reading and they could get through the first chapters and get interested in the story, we ended class by playing scategories, which the students absolutely loved. One of my classes said we should do it every day for their warm up, and a few students were suggesting other categories.

I also came to a curriculum decision. Usually in this unit, I begin teaching the subjunctive, however since these students couldn't even talk to me and tell me about their vacation in the past tense when we did conversation on the first day, I decided another review of the preterite and the imperfect was more appropriate. I was glad to see so many students really taking advantage of this and finally taking the time to watch the video, take notes, and apply their knowledge. I also assigned one of my favorite projects, the skit/song/game. Students are charged with coming up with a skit, song, or game and accompanying practice activity. I decided that I could not do a full court press with them to try to force them to improve their use of the last tenses because they would shut down on me. So a better idea was to have them review and then teach themselves. I believe that being able to use the past tense is a crucial skill for communication, and in can't let them leave my class without being able to communicate in the past. Hopefully if this goes well, we can cover the subjunctive in the next unit.

I am hopeful that this new/different approach will help the students to finally realize that I want to help them, but I can only do so much. If they want to learn, they have to put them time and effort in themselves.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Frustrations follow-up

First, I wanted to thank everyone who responded and commented to my earlier post about my frustrations with Google Translate and in particular one of my students. I was really at the end of my rope and it was wonderful receiving so much support and great ideas from so many teachers. Now that I have had so time to reflect on everything (and calm down), I am ready to rationally think about this issue.

So, my school does have a cheating policy. However, since most administrators aren't familiar with World Language classes, it can be a bit tricky. When these issues occur, I have learned to try to handle it myself as much as possible. I employ some of my parenting trickery, and ask students not "Did you use a translator?", but "Why did you use a translator?". Then, it eliminates a lot of the angst and we skip right to the tears. I always reiterate to my students that I never give them an assignment that I don't think they can do......that I have prepared them for. Usually, students confess that they didn't really work on it like they should have and were in a panic at the last minute.

The real question is how am I handling the translate issue going forward? It is clear that it is not going away, and since I encourage students to use all the resources available to them, am I doing a disservice to them by forbidding translators? And for me, the important question is why are they using translators? In the past, students have reached for these resources because assignments were too hard and/or they were desperate to be successful. Is this still the case?

Here are some of the issues, both mine and my students:
  • One of the issues remains that students are still trying to write in English first. This results in students trying to match their level of Spanish to their level of English, which for most of them is not possible. So, how to address this issue?
  • Students are overwhelmed by high expectations and the idea that they need to always put forth their best effort to be successful in class. Are expectations too high?
  • Students are not understanding the expectations of the assignment. They are not understanding that I know their ability level and I want them to push themselves, but I want their work. How can I fix this?
  • I am unwilling to spend entire class periods dedicated to students completing a writing assignment because a few students can't do the assignments themselves. I hate punishing the masses for the mistakes of the few. How can I show my students how to achieve success without having to waste tons of valuable class time?
  • Have I been so worried about including more listening and speaking in class that I have overlooked the time I need to spend teaching students how to write?
So, I think solutions require some real thought, not just about how to prevent the use of Google Translate, but knowledge of the students and why they feel that GT is an acceptable way to complete assignments.After some great feedback about my earlier post and really thinking about what some of sources of the problems are, I have come up with a few solutions that I am implementing in class.

  1. I am going to give more feedback on all of the writing that my students do. This is going to be time consuming, but I am hoping that this will be a good way to reach more of the students and make them understand that using translators to complete any assignment is not acceptable. I am going to use online feedback and writing conferences to make sure that the students hear me.
    • I am really focusing on my online journal assignments with this one. When I read them and know that students used translator, not to look up one tricky phrase, but to complete the majority of the assignment, we will be having a face-to-face chat. My hope is that if I call them on it enough, they will get the idea that they have no hope of using a translator and I won't know it.
    • In addition to the conversation with the student, I will be contacting parents. By working together, I think we can put an end to the consistent translator use for the completion of assignments.
  2. I am going to go back to graphic organizers. I always hated having to do these when I was in school, but I know that for many, they are a valuable organizational tool. This will be due well in advance of the assignment, and even though I may not give "detailed" feedback, they are another tool to make the students think about the assignment early and give their writing a more organized layout.
  3. I am going to require students to write the first paragraph of every assignment as a formative assignment. By putting this work in their usual packet, they won't be as focused on it as a separate, "valuable" assignment and therefore are less likely to use translators to write it. 
    • I am going to grade and give feedback on these paragraphs and have students re-write and submit them prior to the final writing assignment being due.
    • In talking with the students, many of them turn to translators because they have left the assignment to the last minute and are trying to write it at midnight the day before it is due. Hopefully by having completed part of the assignment in advance, this will have them on the right track to completing the assignment on their own in a timely fashion to avoid the "last minute bad choices".
  4. Honestly, I am not sure what else to do about making the students more aware of the expectations of assignments. They do not seem to hear me when I go over the directions and rubrics for an assignment, and they seem to never read any written directions on their own. Where I can, I am going to give them more samples of projects and writing to help them understand what I am expecting from them.
    • On the final exam last semester, students had to write a letter. As a quick review this week, I had students (anonymously of course) read letters written by their peers from the exam. I had them decide what grades they should have received and then correct and rewrite the letter. It was a shock to many not only how bad the grades were that they gave on the letters, but how bad some of the Spanish was. (It really quieted the few that thought I graded them too hard on the final as well!) The rewrites were better, and I saw some great peer review conversation going on about how things were worded, conjugation, word choice, etc. I think I need to create some of these "bad" writings and have my students evaluate them and correct them more often. Maybe it would help them see the errors that they are making in their own writing.
  5. I do think students need to have the freedom to choose what they need to work on during class. I am planning on having more preliminary steps for students to complete as well as using class time to do feedback sessions with students to help them achieve more success. I do think that I have maybe been focusing too much on trying to get every mode of communication in every unit, which has resulted in being able to do more but not doing it well. I think the students need a more comprehensive session on all the modes to really reinforce what they have learned and the expectations I have for them and their writing.
I love the kids, and I hate getting a paper that I know they did not write. I think I need to spend more time working with the students individually on their writing (or maybe in small groups) and having them understand that I am not expecting the same quality of writing as their English teachers. I will continue to try to drive home the point that they need to write the paper in Spanish, not English first. Hopefully by implementing these strategies, I will avoid the frustrations that I have felt about the students using translators because they will understand that I know how they write and that they will only improve when they do their own work.

**I am looking into how to use Google Translate as a tool. I am interested in the idea that students use GT for colloquial phrases and then input them into a class Google Form not only to share the knowledge with the class, but to document that they have used GT to find the information. -------but that will probably not materialize until next year. ;)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Reflections on 2013

2013 was a year of big changes and accomplishments for me professionally. I was so excited to present not only at my state foreign language conference, but at AATSP, ACTFL, and a presentation at the University of Colorado as well. I was also humbled to be asked to contribute to the great book, Flipping 2.0, with some of the best flipped classroom teachers in the country. I was elected to the CCFLT board (the state foreign language board in Colorado), and I sit in those meetings amazed by the great, motivated educators I have here in my own state. I am embarking on a new speaking job about the flipped classroom which I have been preparing for all fall and will officially begin in the spring. I have also co-founded (and try to co-moderate) the #fliplang chat on Twitter on the last Wednesday of each month at 8pm EST with Kristin Ponterelli.

I love presenting, but the best part of presenting at these conferences has been the fantastic people that I have met. It was a thrilling year full of meeting my online heroes, such as Laura Sexton, Garnet Hillman and Joe Dale. It was also fun to be recognized as "that girl with that blog" or "that flip girl". (Secretly it is kind of nice to be referred to as girl period!) I was able to meet so many people that I only had know previously through email, Twitter, and my blog.

In my classroom, I have seen students accomplish more than I ever thought possible. We finished last school year strong with some great choice projects done by all of my students thanks to the inspiration of Yo Azama. The beginning of this school year has been a little rocky, but with more tweaks to make the curriculum better fit with the student's abilities, I am confident that they will all continue to improve. This school year I have also been co-teaching the Student Council class with one of the most patient and collected teachers in our building. I am also still working as class sponsor, and although it is tons of work, the students all make it worthwhile.

I still love every day when I walk into my classroom. I love creating new projects, new assignments, and finding new activities to help my students achieve their goals and mine. I love the frustrations that come before the epiphanies, and am especially appreciative of all of the support from my PLN (which now is worldwide!) with my struggles and successes.

I was asked today how I am able to do everything I do, especially with four kids and a husband. My answer is just this- without the constant and continual support of my fantastic family, I wouldn't be able to accomplish anything. No matter what I need, whether a shoulder to cry on, a ticket to a conference, or someone to just give me that hug at the end of the day, my family is always there for me.

So, I say goodbye to 2013 and am looking forward to all of the challenges and successes coming in 2014. I thank you all for your support and wish all of you the happiest of New Years. I hope you all are as fortunate as I am in your career, PLN, and most importantly, family.