Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
Although we are into our sixth unit, I'm still unsatisfied with the way my students' concept maps look. Next year, I'm definitely going to work harder at the beginning of the year to clarify expectations on Concept Maps and how to make this type of study tool useful. In the meantime, I realized that my students' best efforts were falling far short of what would truly be useful to them. They are getting the information onto the papers, but there is little organization and it's hard to tell if students are really getting anything out of the concept maps at all. Today, with the beginning of Unit 6 (Cognition), I prepared an outline for the concept maps ET 6-1 and ET 6-2 (from Mr. Galusha) with the Essential Task at the top and the basic terms and structure of the concepts for students to fill in the blanks. I was happy to see most of the students actively using them today, even if they'd already pre-read and created their own concept maps. I'm going to provide them for this unit and see how it helps - most of them expressed that it really helped them make sense of the material today!
As I'm reflecting on the year so far, I figured it was a good time to invite input from my Beginning Spanish students on what they'd like to see happen in the future. Overall, I've been very happy with my Beginning Spanish classes and would have been satisfied to keep doing what I'm doing. But, hey, maybe there's something I'm missing? So, I decided to put the question out to my sixth and seventh graders and see what they have to say - and I'm so glad I did!
I labeled three areas on my board ("I like...", "I don't like...", and "We should...") and passed out sticky notes to each group. I invited them to write their feedback on the post-it notes and stick them on the board under the category it went with. I set the timer for 5 minutes and they were very engaged in writing the notes! Afterward, I went through what was on the board with them and responded (eliminating the suggestions like "taking naps" and "no homework", etc.) as well as asked for clarification on what they wanted to see happen. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by all of their great suggestions (and I have to admit it gave me the warm fuzzies to see all of the wonderful things they wrote about class so far, with nothing mean or negative - I love my kiddos!). Here are some of my big take-away's from this discussion:
Students love Señor Wooly! In fact, there weren't any notes that said they didn't like the songs, but a few that asked that I don't use any more non-Señor Wooly songs because they're just not up to par with those on the website. There were a few that said they didn't like the Nuggets for homework, but once I told them that they were going to have homework, they all agreed that the Nuggets are better than anything else I could assign.
Students want to play games and use their devices to learn and review, namely using Kahoot. They report that they do it in other classes and that they pair up if they don't have their own device - and they agreed to "teach" me how to make it work. Overall, I want to do more review, so I will build in all of the requests for games by using them for review. Another activity that they suggested that they do in other classes involves giving hints and pictures of a spot in the world, and have students use their devices to figure out "where in the world" that place is. This could be an interesting way to introduce cultural activities or even have little mini-lessons in under five minutes.
Overall, students seem to enjoy the classroom environment and activities. These are things I already knew, but it's nice to hear them say they enjoy the teamwork, I'm building rapport, that I interact with them, that I'm joyful, and "awesome possum" haha. There were a number of different things they expressed that they enjoyed about class, and multiple students specifically said it helped them learn Spanish.
Students want more learning options. There were a number of students that want to act things out, make up songs, make up dances, do projects, etc. I could address this two ways. First, I could mix things up a little more. Although I address many learning styles, I can often get into some of the same routines with these activities. Students want to mix things up more with different activities. Second, I can assign tasks and projects with menus, allowing students to express their learning in different ways. They also don't want to present in front of the class - I could easily accomplish this by having students present in groups and using a variety of Kagan structures. Some items they suggested for menus include: arts and crafts, act out, make up songs and dances, translate authentic resources like songs and cartoons, etc.
Students want to move and interact. I can easily build in these activities with Kagan. They want both opportunities to do Kagan class-builders to "get it out" of their system (referring to talking to each other) as well as opportunities to practice talking in Spanish. I will have to look for opportunities to get the up, moving around the classroom, and talking to each other in Spanish during class time. Some even wanted to go outside. I'm sure I could accommodate that from time to time.
Students want to change seating. Of course, the request was for "free seating" and I explained that my seating was very intentional so that each person had something to contribute to the group (see information about Kagan cooperative groups for more information on my seating arrangements). As a compromise, I offered to change seats once per month. It sounds like I need to get my Kagan group tools set up so it can automate these seats!
Students want to learn about culture. I need to look for more ways to build culture in. I'm doing this much better in my higher levels, but we've been caught up so much with Señor Wooly that we don't have a whole lot of culture. But students want to learn more!
I feel like a total n00b when it comes to my Advanced Spanish class. I've never taught at this level, nor with this amount of differentiation. I feel like each day is a struggle to try and meet students' needs at the level that they need it. Moreover, since all of them are in Spanish IIIH and AP, I feel an obligation to make sure they are satisfied with their elective choice, especially since it goes beyond the two years most students feel like they need for college. They are here because they truly want to learn what I have to offer. I have to admit I'm a bit flattered that they would choose this over, say art. But yet, here they are. And I often feel like I'm letting them down with first-year teacher issues.
Except, thnere's one big difference: I'm not a first-year teacher and I know I've done more difficult things than this before. I can do this - I just have to figure out what works. I keep reminding myself - at least I know how to teach now! I just need to put the pieces together! And of course, having an additional two years of classroom management makes me feel like a pro compared to that first year.
I've tried three distinct curricula with them so far:
As students finished their tests, I drew a table with three columns on the board: "What I like", "What I don't like" and "What we should change" and filled in a few of my "big" things I've been thinking about in black. As they finished, I invited them to add their own thoughts to the board in any color other than black. When everyone finished adding their ideas, I found that I could accommodate everything they'd written and still do my job well. How awesome! However, it occurred to me that not everyone may agree with the ideas on the board, so I passed out post-it notes and told them to put a check mark next to the things they liked and an X next to the things they don't like. They didn't have to put their name and I positioned myself looking away from the board.
When they informed me I could turn around, I was happy to see that there was a high degree of consensus among students. In fact they all agreed on every item except one - more on that later. Here is their feedback (my comments are in black, theirs are in blue).
Overall, I'm very pleased with the students' suggestions. Students want to talk in Spanish! Which is ironic, because I feel like this is what I work the hardest to encourage them to do. I think that with this expressed desire, I can capitalize on this and structure more activities. I believe structure is the key - they need to know when to talk (taking turns and for certain periods of time), what to talk about, and how to talk abut it (sentence frames, etc.). They also want to explore culture more, which is something I've been moving toward using the Tejidos activities and addressing the AP exam themes. I'm not sure I'm seeing quite the payoff from listening to Un Gancho al Corazon, but it's a powerful motivation tool and the students love it. I can use that to my benefit by encouraging them to work hard for me and then reward them with Un Gancho. They also didn't completely oppose anything that I suggested was good or needed change.
It was pretty evident to me students did not find the reading log valuable. Instead, they requested worksheets. I personally feel that the reading is more valuable and I would get value from it. However, this is a place I can give in, especially since they gave me an alternate type of homework that I could use to be meaningful. I'll probably start with Conjuguemos and grammar-type worksheets. That seems to be what they want - I'll load class with Comprehensible Input and let them work out the grammar at home. Win-win!
There was sharp disagreement in feedback about splitting the class. It appeared that the majority of the class (we assumed the IIIH students with easier work) was happy with the split, while four students (we assumed these were probably the AP students) did not like the split. Some of the more vocal Heritage students were upset because "it's not fair" that they are doing harder work. They asked if they could get the "AP" on their transcript, which cannot happen because they don't have credit for Spanish IIIH (nor are they getting the full AP curriculum). However, this is one of the issues that I'm not going to budge on - I will not sell them short by giving them material that is too easy for them, nor will I give the rest of the class work that will set them up for failure. It looks like I need to have an honest discussion with them about how and why I am differentiating the instruction, and why I'm doing it for them (it's sure to make my life easier!).
Overall, I think this gives me a good "checkup" on where we are, what my students want, and what they need. I'm excited to move forward with these activities with the hope that I'll have more buy-in and motivation since the activities match their desires, resulting in more motivation and learning on their part. Plus, I'm excited to do the things that they want to do as well! It will be interesting to see how these next few weeks go with new strategies based on this conversation.
I did a TPRS story with my Begging/Middle School Spanish class this week. Let me begin by saying I had the BEST training possible for TPRS - student teaching for an entire semester with a TPRS workshop leader. I've seen it work and I'm a believer. If done correctly, it can produce incredible results. It is amazing.
It is also exhausting to "perform" a TPRS story.
Maybe I've just become spoiled lately with implementing Kagan, but I've been really enjoying piecing together engaging activities with minimal direct instruction and then sending my students off on some engaging task while my primary role becomes that of a facilitator, answering questions and managing student behavior while they work cooperatively. Moreover, I know that I'm reaching each and every student on an individual level with a quick glance across the room. The level of excitement, focus, and work is pleasantly surprising (although I've come to expect it). Kagan makes my job easy. And, I still have energy at the end of the day. With TPRS, sometimes I'm out of energy by the end of the period. I'm center stage during the entire story. I'm constantly checking the WHOLE class for understanding, and it's easy to miss a few students that aren't responding. Yet, I can't individually help that student they way I'd like to, especially since the rest of the class would be paying attention to that, too. My students this year are all very sweet and try very hard - if they're not participating, it's usually because I could be doing something more engaging or better structured.
My engagement levels were less than what I've come to expect with Kagan. I think it's a combination of the type of activity as well as my ability to adequately address engagement and assess comprehension. I did have all students looking at me and responding, but the energy and enthusiasm that is usually there disappeared after the first five minutes or so. My students have short attention spans and like to see products come from their work as well as work one-on-one rather than the whole class working with me.
On the plus side, the majority of my class had great comprehension, I got strong responses, I didn't have a lot of behavioral issues, and the story went over better with some classes than others. However, I think I've gotten better results in all of these areas using Kagan strategies.
This doesn't mean it'll be the same for everyone. I can't imagine my supervising teacher during student teaching would be very content if he didn't get to tell a story or two each week. As for me, I just don't think it fits who I am as a teacher and what my students need at this time.
It's worth noting that I did not experience these issues with PQA, and I think I could capitalize on the PQA experience to get my students the repetitious Comprehensible Input that they need (I once had a discussion where I realized that PQA is where the students LEARN the structures anyway, the stories are just where they apply what they've learned to new contexts). The students like talking about each other. And, maybe even more importantly, PQA can be done in short bursts "whole class" and then I can use a quick Kagan structure to have students converse one-on-one with their partners or groups using the structures we just practiced. I think this is the approach I'm going to take in the future. It would be interesting to introduce a structure, model the structure thoroughly with one student, have students use the structure in first and second person with a partner, and then have them report to the class in third person. We could even transition this to plural conjugations (we, you all, they) by having them discuss with their groups of four and then report back on what "we", "you all" and "they" say. Of course, I would then bring it back to whole-class discussion to model correct usage and provide more comprehensible input. The potential for repetitions would be drastically increased (even unavoidable) and every student has the opportunity to "own" the structure in a way that is impossible with storytelling. The one-on-one interaction is hugely motivating for them, and I can ensure that each individual feels successful (part of my philosophy is that nothing motivates like success). The more I think about this, the more excited I get about doing it. I am going to build this activity into my next unit and will report back.
I'm on round three of adjusting my curriculum for my "Advanced Spanish" classes. I have fifteen students in this class. Some are students that started Spanish I with me in my first year teaching, continued with me to Spanish IIH, and now have me for their third year in Spanish IIIH (I have to admit I feel a bit flattered that students would voluntarily choose to stick with me that long). One student is a Spanish IV AP student who I had for the first time last year. Others took Spanish I and IIH at various times with other teachers and have landed in my class with varying degrees of proficiency. Three of my students are Heritage speakers, one of which is an 8th grader who was in my Beginning (Middle School) Spanish class last year and I encouraged her to take a placement exam so that she could go straight to Spanish IIIH this year. My highest studentcan read, write, speak, and comprehend Spanish as well as, if not better, than me. My lowest student struggles to comprehend TPRS-style stories and formulate complete sentences. And, yet, I must meet the needs of ALL of my students.
In other words, this year is going to be a crash course in differentiation.
This week, I switched my approach for the third time, and it's the approach I'm most happy with. During the first two or three weeks, I tried to stick with the AP curriculum. However, as hard as my students tried, it felt like all of us were swimming against the current and simply beating ourselves up. So, I told them to scratch that, and let's start fresh. Some students were briefly frustrated that the projects they'd started wouldn't count, but they were happy to go along with the new curriculum when I suggested we could go back to the old one so that their assignments would still count (love and logic!). The new curriculum was an adaptation of Jalen Waltman's complete lesson plans for Spanish III. I used her lesson plans at the end of last year and LOVED them, so I was back in my comfort zone. I also incorporated a discussion piece (the students call this "Circle Day"), where we all sat in a circle with just our chairs and I started the day with a "Pregunta del Día", usually from the Waltman lesson plans. From there, each student was expected to contribute to the discussion at least two times (I marked this in my grade book) and we simply talked! Used once or twice per week, these worked really well and students got some really great experience with authentic and organic conversations completely in Spanish! The desks removed the physical barriers to conversation and forced students to participate since they were all present in the circle. Now, the students usually ask as they walk in "Is it a circle day?".
Unfortunately, though, this curriculum proved too easy for my Heritage speakers. It is more focused on fluency, and these students need to start interacting with the texts and discussions at a higher level (they've been happy to play along thus far though!). So, I adjusted my curriculum a third time, and I think I've finally found the right balance. In an effort to move my students toward tasks that they will eventually see on the AP exam, I am using the Tejidos textbook which focuses on the AP Themes in a highly structured way. Many of the tasks can be adapted for my lower students, while some are most appropriate for my AP/Heritage students. Thus, sometimes my students are all working on the same activities while at other times they are almost literally two different classes. While AP/Heritage students are tackling more difficult tasks, I supplement the curriculum with fluency-based activities from Waltman's lesson plans for the rest of the class. Luckily, thanks to Kagan, I can structure these activities so that my primary role is facilitation. I can move in between groups and assist them where necessary while they continue learning whether or not I'm there. For example, this week we are focusing on the structure of Hispanic families. All students completed objectives related to the families and built their cultural knowledge. We are halfway through this mini-unit (called an "Hilo" or "Thread" in Tejidos), but here's how we tackled the first three days (and were quite successful!):
Day 1: Write an email describing your family. (All students completed all activities - my AP/Heritage students sit together in a group to facilitate a faster-paced and more complicated discussion according to their level. The remaining students are seated in Kagan cooperative learning groups of varying levels to assist one another and help them grow).
Overall, I was very happy with how effectively students worked throughout the class period, the quality of conversations they engaged in, the cultural ideas they explored, and the products they created with their learning. Moreover, all students felt that the activities were appropriate for their levels - they were challenged, but felt capable of completing the activities. I'm excited to see how this unit and structure continues to develop!
I've recently started incorporating Kagan into my AP Psychology classes and have been happy with the results! As this is a completely new class for me to teach, I found myself back in my first-year teacher shoes stressed about simply structuring the class and getting through the material. My students were interested and paying attention for the most part, but I realized I'd missed the crucial element of checking for understanding. Moreover, I often lost time when students wanted to share experiences related to that day's subject matter. Once I stopped to think about how I could solve these issues, it seemed obvious - Kagan! Using Kagan structures, I could ask students to apply the principals to their lives, thereby checking for understanding with frequent and active application (meeting course goals), and this way all students would have the opportunity to share in a short amount of time. I've noticed my classes are now running smoother, students are more actively engaged, and I can listen to be sure that they are correctly applying the psychological principals, demonstrating that they under stand them. Kagan for the win (again)!
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