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.
This is a follow up to my post The New and Improved FVR Program.
Well that was interesting....
Give a kid assigned reading, and they do what they have to to get the assignment done (maybe).
Eliminate the homework and give a kid time in class to read with options and support, and they check out books to take home.
That about summarizes my experience this week. It was magic!
Context: These students have had approx. 70 minutes of Spanish every other class day for 2.5 months. I assigned reading as homework three weeks ago (30 minutes), but eliminated all homework this time and decided instead to give students structured free-reading time during class with options for various materials, levels, and scaffolding by working with partners, in groups, or individually (see below for more details). Then, I said "go".
Yesterday, a future Spanish teacher was subbing in the room across from mine. Her kids were at lunch, so I invited her over to see what was happening in my room. The reading time was well under way. I asked her the most important question in education, "How do you know they're learning?"
She looked at them for a moment, and then said, "Because they're doing it?"
YES! It seemed so simple, too obvious to be the right answer. But, glancing around my room, I could see students demonstrating sustained focused on a page to read it, and then turning the pages when appropriate. Students were reading the books out loud to their partners. Students were laughing and reacting to the information in the books. Some students were switching from materials that were too hard or not interesting to materials that better fit their needs. Everywhere, it was very obvious that the kids were DOING IT. They were READING. So then I asked, "If I know they're learning, then do I need to give them a quiz, test, or some other form of assessment to know that they're learning?" NO! I already know that they are learning. Their behavior IS the assessment, and it doesn't take a trained teacher to know that some awesome learning was happening in there.
Oh yeah, and no fewer than 7 students asked to check out items from me this week, even though they have access to all of them online. In fact, I had a sub on Thursday, and on Friday two girls approached me with books in their hands. They apologized because they "accidentally" took the books home with them, but I could tell from their body language that they didn't want to give them back. So, I asked if they'd like to check them out, and they were so excited! My library is getting smaller and smaller.....
Here is how I structure reading in my classroom:
First, I explained to students the intention of the structured reading activity: I want to help them feel successful reading and find something they enjoy reading, so much that it inspires them to keep reading on their own simply because they want to, not because anyone is forcing them to. I also explained that this might take a while for them, so don't expect it to happen today or even this trimester. As they learn more language, they'll find it easier and easier to read and I will keep working to find something they enjoy. I posted Bryce Hedstrom's poster "How to choose reading material" and briefly went over it with them. I plan on educating them about effective reading for 2-3 minutes each time we do Free Reading.
I assigned some Reader Leaders ahead of time and gave them instructions on how to conduct a reading group and model effective reading and troubleshooting. These were students that already have high reading ability (based on my formative benchmark assessments, which I've created by adapting Eric Herman's speed readings) AND who I felt would be good leaders. I assigned each of them a three-chapter segment of Eric Herman's "Ataques de Hambre" - I chose this book because the students already know the fairy tales and three chapters to a story is less intimidating than a whole book, so it was like a "gateway" to novel reading.
I gave students the options of reading alone or in the groups led by my Reader Leaders. Most students chose to join a group - I found it was best to limit the groups to only 4-5 students (including the leader), smaller for groups that might have trouble focusing (which included, not coincidentally, my lowest readers). There are some students who are on my private "must read with a group" list, but nearly all students chose to read with a group anyway so I didn't have to ask them to do so.
For students not reading in the groups I gave them access to my extensive class library of Fluency Fast and TPRS novels (I only put out my Nov-Low and Nov-Intermediate novels, and then personally invited my advanced students to select from my higher-level novels if they would like to), embedded readings of stories they've already heard in class (one group of three ladies chose these), the "benchmark assessment" readings (Some REALLY wanted to keep passing off stories all period), and access to a Google Drive folder (no one used these - they all preferred hard copies since they were available) where I have more short stories for novice readers, "Mundo en tus Manos" from Martina Bex, and some other resources. I also introduced my highest readers to Newsela. I've reserved the computer lab for all of our future reading days so that students don't have to use their devices to access these materials. I plan to continue observing what students choose to read (including what they put down and pick up throughout the period) and tailoring my library according to their decisions.
After hearing Dr. Beniko Mason present last weekend, I knew I had to set up a Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) library. Before I can launch it (which I'm planning on doing next week), I have to answer two questions: What will my students read? and How will I hold them accountable for reading?
For the first question, I'm drawing on a number of resources with increasing difficulty. At the easiest level, I am making the stories my classes have co-created available on my student website along with embedded readings (and audio recordings) for them. It sounds like a lot of work, but if each class only has one story or so per week, the payoff is huge because I end up with four original stories of similar proficiency levels along with embedded readings. The students are doing all of the work to create our stories and the illustrations - I'm just organizing them and simplifying them for the easier levels! And, in future years, all of the past stories will be available for additional reading. Our class story library will be HUGE, at an appropriate level with increasing difficulty, interesting, and I don't have to pay a single penny to build it.
There are also a number of other resources available, such as some readings I have personal access to. For example, I do have a few students who are advanced enough to begin reading Martina Bex's weekly "Mundo en tus manos" Newsletter. I organized this along with other reading materials into a Google Drive folder. I also included in the folder Bryce Hedstrom's reading log information, including why we read, how to choose a book, and useful reading strategies (he also has novice-level handouts for free on his page!). Finally, they can check out novels from my class library.
For the second question about how to hold students accountable, I found another use for our Google Classroom! I set up a weekly assignment with the requirements to read 30 minutes per week (my students are novice 7th graders, so I felt this was a good place to start) along with a Google Form that they fill out to receive credit for their reading. They must include their name, the date, the title of what they read, the number of minutes they read (they can get 1/4 extra credit point for each extra minute they read), and a brief summary of what they read in English. Why in English? First, it makes the reading less painful. Second, it's backed up by research. Dr. Mason did a study where students summarized their reading in a cloze format, L2, and L1 - and the students who summarized their reading in L1 actually wrote better in L2 than either of the other two groups even though they'd never written in L2. It's also important to note that I'm merely holding the kids accountable for their behavior (reading something with the intent to understand), but not assessing their comprehension through artificial questions. The students don't need to prove that they gained any particular knowledge, but rather just show me that they are getting the input that they need.
I'm launching my reading program next week - I can't wait! I'm hoping that I've provided enough free choice so that students can find something at the i-1 reading level AND something that they find interesting. I will be sure to report back!
UPDATE (October 16, 2016): Due to my experiences over the past few months, I've had a "rebirth" of sorts into the CI world. Due to this, I have taken some significant steps away from using Kagan as a main method in my classroom and instead focusing on simply storytelling and communicating compelling and comprehensible methods. However, Kagan and the underlying principals of cooperative learning do still have their appropriate places and are used often in my classroom - just not as extensively and not in the same way that I was using them before. I do still feel that cooperative learning is essential in my classroom for a few reasons - it demonstrates my faith in students to figure something out on their own, allows them to build relationship through supporting one another, adds variety to the classroom, and especially because it gives me an opportunity to hear how they verbalize their internal processing of the language - I occasionally realize that the class was "understanding" something in a different way than I intended, and this gives me a quick break from instructing to monitor and adjust instruction as we move forward. I generally use teacher-centered instruction to co-creation of stories, which forms the backbone of the language that we use in class. The cooperative activities (and therefore Kagan) come into play when students are processing input together, such as re-reading a story that we co-created. There are excellent structures beyond Kagan that utilize cooperative learning, such as the "Running Dictation" or any variation thereof. As long as students are engaging in Positive Interdependence, have Independent Accountability, have Equal Opportunities to participate, and are Simultaneously Interacting, then all of the benefits of true cooperative learning are present and valid.
UPDATE: For a summary of most useful Kagan structures for CI instruction as well as specific activity ideas, click here. For a comprehensive list of Kagan structures and ideas, click here.
I started my CI journey at the beginning of my career when I taught in a TPRS classroom. In fact, we could actually go even earlier when I observed my would-be master teacher at work during my teaching program and was amazed by what he was doing, so I requested that I be placed in his class for student teaching. I'd never heard of Comprehensible Input or TPRS, but I was hooked! I have been 100% on the CI boat from the very beginning and it shapes everything about my classroom, from the activities we do to assessment to the posters I have on my wall. When it comes to foreign language teaching CI is king. Of course, I know I'm likely preaching to the choir here, but I wanted to make it clear where I stand in terms of the importance and superiority of CI. I also want to make a comparison:
I was introduced to Kagan two years ago during a staff development activity. Since then, my school as worked to become a "Kagan" school, complete with our own certified Kagan coach on staff and complete professional development days dedicated to official Kagan training and credits. At first I was resistant to using Kagan in my classroom - I argued that I needed to be the one providing input because students can't possibly learn correct language without a proper model! I resisted for the entire first semester. Then, I had the opportunity to observe our Kagan coach at work (he teaches middle school math) - and I was hooked. Again, I was amazed by the energy and engagement levels of students at all levels and I had to have that same thing in my own classroom! Kagan, like learning about CI and TPRS, has again revolutionized my classroom and I won't go back to how things were before.
Before I go any further, I should point out that Kagan can be a LOT to process, but it's best to take it little by little. Just like CI (and especially TPRS), misunderstanding and misapplying the Kagan methodology is likely to end in frustration and abandonment, claiming "it didn't work for me." I believe it can and will work for you as long as you are careful and really know what you are doing. If you are new to CI, focus on developing your CI skills first. That is the foundation of your language instruction. Once you are ready to dip your feet in the Kagan pool, keep reading and follow the "next steps" at the end of this article.
What is Kagan?
For those of you unfamiliar with Kagan, it is a style of cooperative learning that provides structures/strategies to increase engagement and accountability. However, the full Kagan methodology is just that - a methodology. Like with CI, most teachers have to re-think their classroom paradigm and have some philosophical discussions about the what, how, and why of teaching and learning. However, those that teach and assess using CI have already made most of those same paradigm shifts. In particular, Kagan emphasizes student-centered teaching and personalization, learning through communication and interaction, building a positive and supportive classroom environment, and moving from teacher-controlled classrooms to student-driven lessons where mistakes are OK! For many teachers, these can be radical ideas - I would argue that for many CI teachers, these ideas are standard and best practice. In many ways, Kagan and Comprehensible Input are made for marriage. However, just like with any real marriage, careful considerations must be made in order to make the marriage a success:
There are four fundamental components to every Kagan structure for engagement, summarized by the acronym PIES (which every other teacher understands to be a fruit-filled pastry, while I understand to be "feet"!). If one of these is missing, the structure will not work as intended:
How do I use Kagan in a CI classroom?
To really make this process efficient, I keep a catalog of CI strategies and Kagan structures handy to flip through during steps 2 and 3. I recommend that you develop your own personal catalog of the structures you've tried (meaning that you didn't just give it a shot once, but actually did it 3-5 times and ensured you followed every step every time) and found most effective for your classroom, along with the specific activities and objectives that you've used them for. I'm working on categorizing Kagan structures by the types of CI activities that they pair well with, including whether they are suitable for input or output activities. At most, you may only ever use 5-10 different structures during a given year - this again emphasizes that you are not expected to use every Kagan structure, just the ones that work best for you and your content area!
How do I get started?
First, get familiar with what Kagan really is and how it looks in the classroom. Do a little bit of reading to understand the fundamentals and familiarize yourself with some of the most common structures (see The Essential 5). If possible, attend a conference (you'll want to start with the "Kagan Structures Level I" 4-day workshop). If you can't go to a training or attend a conference, then you should read the Kagan Cooperative Learning book. However, DO NOT read this book front to back - that would be far too overwhelming! Start with the essentials - I recommend reading about the Seven Keys for Success (Chapter 5) and previewing the Structures (Chapter 6). That should be enough to get started - look over the other chapter headings and read/apply as it suits you. There is a LOT more to true cooperative learning that just what is in those two chapters, but it's enough to get the very basics down.
Next, group and label your students appropriately. If you've read about teams and grouping in the book above, you'll know the what and why for this. I skipped the heterogeneous groups and went straight to the structures my first time around - it was ok, but not really what it could have been because I had the blind leading the blind. I really saw the benefits of Kagan when I had my students grouped properly - my high students were processing information on a deeper level as they had to explain to their partner(s) why they know that word means "they live" instead of "he lives" (it has an n!), while my students at lower levels were getting quality input, all while building a positive relationships and value for one another. Don't make the mistake I did - if you're going to do Kagan, do it right the first time and carefully assign those groups (I recommend purchasing the Team Tools software to make this a breeze!). Then, make sure students know their letters and numbers (Kagan style - see the book!) - these help with the facilitation, management, and efficiency of Kagan activities. For those without desks (I'm hoping to join your ranks next year!), you can label your chairs with the group names, numbers, and letters and then teach your students who their "group mates" are so they can quickly move their chairs to be with their groups.
Finally, use the lesson planning steps above to carefully select the structures that will support and enhance your instruction. Start small with simple structures (your first few structures will likely come from The Essential 5), and only try one or two Kagan structures at a time. It will take 3+ tries to really make a structure work, so don't give up! Double check and make sure you are following all of the instructions and steps. If you realize you missed something or students are confused, don't be afraid to pause the class and clarify. I usually teach structures like this:
Follow the steps above, and you should be well on your way to an effective CI/Kagan classroom. Please leave any questions below and let me know if I can be of any assistance - I would be happy to be your "virtual Kagan tutor"! I will update this post once I have the "catalog" of Kagan structures matched to CI strategies that I referenced above. Happy teaching!
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'm working on building a library for my students to read from. With a focus on Comprehensible Input and minimizing frustration, I plan for students to select their free-choice reading material from my library or to purchase their own books (giving them even more choice and flexibility) from an extensive list of leveled reading resources. These resources I'm suggesting come from the novels popular with TPRS teachers, short stories (again from TPRS resources as well as my own), carefully selected popular novels that students should be able to read, and authentic resources that include embedded readings and context for students to understand them. I'll help guide students to what best fits their level and interests, allowing for considerable differentiation and flexibility in choice. Of course, if students have something they REALLY want to read, then their motivation can overcome the difficulty of the book and it's still valuable, but most students find that my recommendations are usually the most enjoyable since they feel more capable of reading them.
Below are "Amazon Wish Lists" of the books I plan on recommending to my students. These were compiled based on what's available through Blain Ray, TPRS Publishing, and Susan Gross's list of Spanish novels.
Middle School Spanish (Intro to Spanish)
Additionally, I am selecting authentic resources from NMSU's reading list for students in their Spanish Literature Master's degree list. Almost all of the items other than the books (they're formatted correctly, so books titles are all underlined) are in the public domain, so you can easily find them online. These can be very challenging, so I'm making these available to students to read if they want (there's some wonderful poetry and enlightening essays!). I will be teaching some of these to my Spanish III students separate from free-choice reading as well.
On a side note, I'm trying to raise funds to purchase many of these books so that students have more selection in my classroom. If you'd like to donate, please visit my GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/ba121w (I will love you forever if you do!)
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