Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beginning of the Year Assessments with Google Forms

The first week is always a time of optimism. The first week at my school was full of opportunities for my new students. The first week with a new teacher is an opportunity to leave the past behind and start fresh. My students seemed to come to their new Spanish class in three distinct groups: Fearless, Scared, and Resigned. My goal for this year is to bring them all to the group "Capable and Confident". However, before we can start, I wanted to assess the students abilities.

Too often in the past I have assumed I knew students' levels and just worked on problem areas as they came up. I have resisted beginning of the year assessments because I have been afraid that students would be dejected if they felt they didn't know everything that I asked. I was afraid I would lose some students before we even started because they felt stupid.  But, since many of my colleagues have been using some type of beginning of the year assessment, I thought it was time to put my worries aside and try it.

Since we have better access to computers this year, I created an online "Intro Assessment" for each of my levels using a Google Form set up as a quiz so I could have it quickly and automatically graded. I loved that the Google Form gathered all of the responses together so I could look at student answers all together to see if their answers were a pattern of things that none of them learned, or if it was just a few students that needed review.

Although a quick written assessment isn't a total insight into students' abilities, I thought it was a good place to start. I didn't give the students in Spanish 2 the ability to see their scores, but I did let the Spanish 3 students see their results.

For Spanish 2, there was some simple translation, vocabulary, and basic questions that students should be able to answer at the beginning of 2. In looking at the results, I could quickly see that we have a lot to do. Students seem to have some basic vocabulary, but struggled answering questions, even simple ones like "Where are you from?" and "What is the weather?". In Spanish 3, it was all translation/answer the question for Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 topics. The Spanish 3 classes fared better and although the automatic grading still gave terrible scores, the majority of the students demonstrated a firm grasp of the Spanish 1 content and a passable grasp of Spanish 2.

I was glad that I didn't let Spanish 2 see their scores. I think that many of the students would have been very upset and lost confidence in their abilities, or it would have confirmed their worst fears. In Spanish 3, I think the ability to compare their answers with the correct answers I provided provided some insight in where they needed to focus their effort. Many of the Spanish 3 students realized that they had made silly mistakes, and some asked lots of great questions about why things were incorrect.

So, as I prepare for Week 2, I am armed with some knowledge of the classes overall abilities as well as some individual struggles so I can help specific students one-on-one. I have adjusted some of my review activities to better focus on what students need to work on. I am looking forward to doing some more practice conversation activities to see how the students are able to communicate and then help them create some goals for their growth this year in both written and oral communication.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Can you flip listening practice?

This is a common question that I get from people who are asking about the flipped classroom, so I felt it should be addressed.

In my opinion, listening is the most crucial skill in any language. It can also be the hardest to teach and practice. Before I flipped my classroom, when we worked on listening, I played the CD and students answered comprehension questions. I would play the selection three times and then we would go over the answers. Great, right? Well, not so much.

What I realized (not as quickly as I should have) was that listening to a selection 3 times was fine for 50% of the students in class. Not nearly enough students were really understanding the listening. By doing listening in a large group, quite a few students would just copy what their neighbors had written down, and a few more would just give up entirely. This method was not really helping my students learn the most valuable skill in communication. So, the second year I flipped my class, I knew that I had to better incorporate listening into the classroom.

I began by just putting listening selections online and having student answer written questions. However, now there are so many great technology methods that can be used to help with this process. My favorite is EdPuzzle. With EdPuzzle I can easily embed questions into videos where I want them. This makes it easier for students to listen and listen again to the appropriate section to find the answers to the questions. It also means that students have to listen individually and I found that the students worked hard and really focused on comprehension of the listening to be able to answer the comprehension questions. As a result, listening comprehension scores improved, which is always the primary goal.

An added bonus of using Edpuzzle is that I was able to quickly grade student responses and see data which showed where students were struggling. Here is a snapshot of the quick grading on EdPuzzle.

This enabled me to better focus my instruction and continue to help my students improve. Sometimes by looking at the student data all together, I also realize that I need to work on the wording of a question, or that the question was too difficult.

Here is a sample of the video and questions that I am using in the review for Spanish 2 at the beginning of the year. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Utilizing Google Classroom to be the teacher I want to be

I am always in search of the best way to run my class website and help organize student assignments. A couple of years ago our school became a Google school, and I started using Blogger to organize class. However, it wasn't quite doing everything that I wished, so I started looking for another solution. When I started hearing about Google Classroom, it seemed like a natural step. I began using Google Classroom for my school website last year, as a test to see how it would work. 

I found that I really loved Classroom, even though I wasn't using all of the available features. Students were able to easily get on the site, access assignments, and complete them. I could create an assignment in Google Docs or Sheets and have a copy created for each student. I loved that I could make students load presentations in one place that was easy to access quickly when they were giving in class presentations. No more flash drives, emailed presentations, the "I emailed it, didn't you get it?" That feature alone was a huge time and sanity saver. 

I found great sites that work with Google Classroom to make assignments even easier. EdPuzzle is my favorite for listening activities. Quizlet also works with Classroom so you can assign vocabulary practice. I also found some Google add-ons that are helping me better utilize students time and research. My current favorite is Insert Learning, which enables me to take a live web page and add questions, notes, and even word/phrase translations to make it comprehensible for all levels. 

This year, I have more consistent access to computers, so I am trying to incorporate even more online. I have created Google Forms for practice and quick mini-formative assessment checks. This will enable me to set up automated grading so students can get instant feedback. I am also using Forms for student goal setting and reflection for each unit, semester and for the year. I can schedule everything to make sure it is delivered on time. 

All of this will hopefully give me more time for what really matters, one-on-one time with the students. I want to be able to not only more purposefully help students, but also to be able to better monitor their work, especially conversations. I also want to be able to have individual meetings with students quarterly to discuss their progress and make plans to help them to continue to grow. Basically, I am hoping that I can focus on what I should be focusing on, helping the student move up the fluency. Updates to follow.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We're going global!

Flipping my Spanish class was the best decision I ever made. Freeing up class time has given me the ability to incorporate so much more into my classes. More than anything else, I moved the focus of class from me to my students. This shift has affected me more and more as the years have gone by. Whenever I get ideas for projects or assignments, my first questions are ALWAYS:
  1. Do the students really need to know this?
  2. When will the students use this again?
  3. Will this really matter to the students?
This year, I am adding a new question - How can this help students make a global connection?

I teach in a small community at a high school of 700 students, many of which have been going to school together their entire lives. For many of them, their only exposure to other cultures comes from what as a language teacher, I provide. Many think going "all the way to Denver" (a 30 minute drive) is a big deal. Going to visit another country and/or experiencing another culture is something many of them have not experienced, and may not experience for quite some time.

This can lead to students that a)don't realize how lucky they are, and b)are unable to truly understand the rest of the world outside of our little town. This is a problem not only for me as an educator, but for me as a citizen of the world. How can our students ever hope to be prepared for life if they aren't empathetic and open to the culture of others that live in our world?

So, what does this mean for the classroom? It means that I am working hard to add more people into my classroom. No, it doesn't mean I will need more desks. I want to add other students learning Spanish, authors, politicians, sports figures, leaders and more to my classroom. I want to help them not only make global connections for class, but for life. I want my class to be the most relevant it can be by making it a part of the real world.

We are going to incorporate YouTube 360 videos. (I even bought a VR headset.) I want use everything at my disposal to get students truly immersed in the culture, and what better way then to really put them in the action. They can be standing in the middle of the Plaza Mayor, or inside of Sagrada Familia. It isn't the same as being there, but it is an awesome experience for those who need to learn to look outside of our little town.

I am going to incorporate Twitter in the classroom. If students have a comment about a character in a book, why not make that comment to the author? We will be reading more and getting more input. If they student read a story about a politician, celebrity, sports figure, why not tag them in a comment? I am working on the start of a rubric for Twitter usage, which I will finish with the help of my students, but I want it to be more about just needs to generate a level of excitement because what they are learning really MEANS something.

I am also working on making connections through epals to hopefully have some pen pal correspondence for my students. Isn't learning about hobbies and past times going to be more interesting if they are sharing that information with someone abroad? Won't they be more willing to learn the vocabulary and structures necessary if they are talking to a real person?

I want to reinforce that the focus of the class is the students. I love a worksheet, or looking for that "perfect" project or activity, but won't they be so much better off if they are learning because they want to? Because they don't want to look foolish in front of a new friend? Because they wrote to someone, who actually wrote back?

Who's with me? Want to be a part of the connections? Comment below.