Bryce's Signs 2

Focus on the kids.   What does this mean?
We are teaching students, not a curriculum.  The students have to get it.  They won’t get it if they don’t pay attention.  And they won’t pay attention unless it is interesting to them.  The most interesting subject to high school age students is THEMSELVES.  We talk TO kids to get information about individuals and we talk ABOUT those kids a lot to teach the language and make it interesting to the rest of the class.  For silly stories we often talk about situations between boys and girls because that is interesting to them and a developmental task they are working on at this time in their lives.
 
One important point here is that we are NOT talking about intimate secrets concerning the actual lives of our students.  We are not intruding into their personal space.  We are “personalizing.”  To me that means talking about light topics—what they like and what they prefer:  silly, quirky, minor, innocuous stuff.  We want kids to stand out, but not be laid bare. 
 
We never, ever talk about the intimate details of the personal lives of students.  That is too close and offers too much information for the general public.  Besides the language, we are also teaching appropriate boundaries—what is OK for close friends to know and what is OK for the general public to know.  We are not here to talk about deep aspects of their real lives.
 
Teach to the eyes.       What does this mean?
The way you can tell if they get it is by looking into their eyes.  Do not teach to the back of the room.  Do not teach over their heads.  Look in to the eyes of individual students.  When they get it there is almost always a little smile of understanding.  You know that look.  It’s a good look.
 
Check for understanding.   What does this mean?
This is educational jargon for teaching to the eyes.  We need to continually be checking to see if the students understand.  Looking into their eyes helps here.  In our classes the students have a signal (fist hits open hand) to indicate that they don’t understand what you said.  I like this signal because it shows they have “hit the wall” and no longer can keep up.  It also wryly reminds me of a subtle threat of violence—if I keep talking over their heads all hell may soon break loose due to a rising frustration level.
 
We check for understanding by the reaction time of the class.  We want them to respond quickly and fluidly.  If they are slow to answer a simple question, they probably do not understand the words in the question and we need to back up a bit.
 
We ask LOTS of questions.  If they do not seem to get a higher level question (How?  or Why?), then we will ask a lower level question (Who? or What?) and if that doesn’t work, we will ask the lowest level questions (Either/Or  &  Yes/No).
 
It takes only three seconds to ask an individual kid, “What does quiere comer mean?” have them respond, and go on.  It takes two seconds to say, Enseñame «le gustaba bailar».  When you know that they know, you can go on.
 
We also give short vocabulary quizzes frequently.  The purpose of these quizzes is not to punish the students, but to see if we as teachers are doing our job.  If most of the kids do not know the words on a pop quiz, then the TEACHER has not done his/her job.  For a pop quiz to be valid at least 80% of the regularly attending students get an 80% or better.  If not, we throw it out and re-teach the words and/or grammatical structures involved until they get it.
 
Stay in bounds. What does this mean?
This is the practical application of the i + 1 concept in comprehensible input theory.   Our job is to skillfully use the target language to teach the kids.  We want them to understand us.  If we use too many that are outside of what they know we are not communicating.  Our goal is not to go too far out of bounds—to never go much outside of what they know.  This is not some kind of game where the students have to guess what the teacher is talking about.  By going out of bounds we are not making them stronger and better language learners, we are frustrating them and they will shut down.  When you use a word that is out of bounds, write it on the board and Spanish and in English.  That will slow you down and help to keep you within the boundary of what they know. 
 
Don’t go too easy on them here.  Don’t over-use English if you can help it.  Most of your speaking will be in the target language, but it will be language that they can understand; it will be vocabulary that they have acquired.  They can understand a lot if you are skillful enough.  Sometimes this will require a bit of circumlocution on your part—you may have to talk around the words and structures the students do not understand yet, but it can be done and it is great modeling for the students.
 
Staying in bounds can also be a classroom management issue.  When students do not understand they quit paying attention.  They give up on you and begin to make up some other way to make class interesting.  You do not want that kind of “fun” breaking out.

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4 thoughts on “Bryce's Signs 2”

  1. Checking for understanding
    I don’t think I do this well in a summative sort of way. Sure, I ask lots of formative questions along they way. But, how often should we do pop quizzes?
    I gave a midterm today that I thought was going to be cake. I took bits and pieces of stories we have come up with and highlighted 50 words. They had to tell me what the words or phrases meant in English. Some kids finished quickly and with a fairly good number correct, but some kids could only fill half of the words in.
    I cut the names off of the tests and assigned random numbers to them so only I know whose is whose, and I am switching them in between classes to grade tomorrow. It’s going to be one big reading party. I can analyze the data fairly easily this way too.
    Besides the story quizzes every few days, this was their first test of the second semester. Something in me made me want to give a midterm. Part of me wanted to ground the students back into thinking that this is an academic class even though it seems like we “don’t do work.” Maybe a bad part of me wanted to shock the students into paying more attention during the class hour (odd of me considering that most of them do).
    I don’t know what to do with the test now. Have I gone out of bounds? Perhaps I’ve not checked for retention along the way enough.
    But this pop quiz idea sounds like a solution to ensure that students actually got the material they are supposed to get.
    How often to pop quiz? What could they look like?
    Thanks for the ideas Ben and Bryce.

  2. Drew,
    I have problems with this too. The other day I did a pre-test on some of the vocabulary for the novel “Patricia va a California” and I was stunned that a one or two students in each class claimed that they did not know some of the words that i thought would be slam-dunks by now. Words like “goes” and “wants” that we have used daily since the first week of school!
    Doing quizzes frequently keeps them on their toes and it also helps to diagnose where the students are at, so giving short 10 question quizzes on the days we tell a class story helps, but I also like to give a larger vocabulary and reading test every 2-3 weeks to be sure they are retaining. these tests always include previous vocabulary and structures.
    I understand the impulse of wanting to “shock” the students, slip into that mode occasionally too when I am frustrated, but it just works better when I let them know that quizzes and tests are mainly diagnostic tools to give ME feedback . Tests and quizzes let me know if I am doing my job of teaching them Spanish.

  3. Drew I think of the molton core of the earth as the base of the language. That is what we form when we do constant CI. It is an unconscious and massively complex activity. But I trust that, if I continue to speak in the target language without stopping, I will build that molton core of language and it will eventually grow into fluency, depending on how many hours the kids are able to experience in their overall French education.
    If they hear nothing but interesting comprehensible input, the molton core gets built. If they encounter a teacher who largely mixes the target language with English or has them memorize stuff (memorization is not of the molton core, it is like a little brush fire on the earth’s surface, soon extinguished), the building of the molton core is stopped until they get back into a CI classroom.
    So, Drew, those tests are brush fires. Summative assessment has a bit of bogus in it. More than a bit of bogus. A lot of bogus. True assessment is no more accessible to us than the molton core of the earth. We can’t get down there. But we can keep speaking in the target language and building it, adding to it with every story. And when they start (some after months, some after years, just like in real life with small kids) ripping the language, Susie’s pearls falling out of their mouths, can we then say that there is assessment happening? ONLY then can we say assessment is happening. The proof, as I like to say to my sceptical colleagues, is in the pudding.
    Just because a kid can’t recall a certain word after a number of weeks is not a concern to me. I don’t care if they can remember it. I just want to know if they want to come to my class and hear the language and learn and grow and thrive and enjoy the part of their lives that they spend with me. I want to see them learning in my class. I can tell you a lot more about a kid’s progress in my class by describing their interaction with me than by some test.
    The kids will learn better, in fact, in proportion to the amount that I don’t bust their chops on petty things like long term assessment. So, increasingly in my own gradebook, I I find myself putting more and more participation rubric grades into the gradebook. That is because teaching CI is a highly affective activity, and the extent to which the kids show up for class should be a part of their grade (here I take up one side of an argument we had on this blog last fall, where some teachers said a grade should be largely academic, measuring what they have learned in class, and others felt that participation was a viable measured quality). I don’t trust long term vocabulary assessments as valid, and I don’t do them anymore. I trust what I see in my classroom.
    Those participation rubric grades (not the self assessments as per Donna that I don’t use so much anymore because they require too much time), along with the daily quick quizzes at the end of class, are basically my assessments. I do tons of formative and hardly any summative assessment.
    My job is to build confidence in the kids, and formative assessing does that better for me in my world. I like to test short term memory because it builds confidence. As long as the kid listens, they do well, which contributes greatly to the (incredibly underated) element of confidence in the kid.
    I just feel that I don’t need to do those long term vocabulary testing tests. I don’t see their value. I do see the value of being able to witness, as I am working directly with the changes, the auditory growth in them, their clearly increasing ability to decode French with each passing week. But to hold their feet to the fire over a bunch of words that some, not others, may recall, as per the recent invaluable comment here by (I can’t remember who said that now, was it Norm?) about how some kids can remember certain words and others can’t and so what?
    What does it mean if some can recall certain words and others can’t? Does it mean that the ones who can recall the words are smarter, have achieved more? My feeling is that we get all wigged out about assessment, when all we have to do is keep speaking the language, making it fun, building their confidence, making them feel good, even if they are made to feel dumb in their other classes – they are not dumb! – , making them feel that they are good at French. This is the issue, isn’t it? Few people can learn quantum physics, but all people can speak a language. So I say screw all the localized summative assessment. Give them one big test after three years, as we are about to do in DPS in a three year study that aligns the data we get with the new state/ACTFL standards. There is no question in my mind that kids who are taught with tons of CI and a lot of formative asssessing will kick it on that exam, whereas the kids who will have done the worksheets during those three years won’t know squat.

  4. I would like to add a second thought to the above: the Achievement Gap can only be destroyed in the heat of the molton core of language. It is that difficult to destroy.
    When teachers teach languages cogitively, via analysis/left brain processes, they don’t play to the strengths of all the students. They play only to the strengths of some of the students. Such exclusionary teaching is an abomination.
    It is an abomination because all people can learn a language. Yes, not all people can learn differential calculus, but all people can learn a language, and I think it is not just an abomination but also a disaster that some kids are moved out of the process after only one or two years of study.
    It is the teacher’s fault that that happens! The teacher must overcome all fears and stay in the target language, using English only as needed and well under 5% of the time (I do not agree with full immersion).
    If the teacher does that, establishing the molton core in the room, then you will see the Achievement Gap melt in upper level language study in the United States.

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