Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Facilitating group-based discussions

Today we had fantastic group-based discussions. Students presented the ideas contained in an essay that they wrote late last week. This very basic outline produced fruitful, positive conversations. I even asked the class to put their heads down and raise their pinky finger if they felt uncomfortable and no one did. I'm so impressed because they were discussing their personal passions, something that is very touchy for all of us; I think the key was in the listener's responses that I prewrote for them.
Best part: when one of my new students left today she said, "You know, that was actually fun! I'm not used to having fun in school."

Here's the script. I write scripts because it allows me to play out all of the steps of the class before we actually have class; this way, I am much more ready to focus on the students when we do the real thing.

Today, we are going to respectfully discuss each other’s central ideas.
What did we go over for homework?
                -Why does this matter?
                -How is this important?
So this is exactly what each person is going to present to their small group. The listening group members will listen respectfully and silently as the presenter speaks.
Then, one at a time, the listeners will play devil’s advocate. Can someone please elaborate on what that means?
(students respond)
Dictionary definition: “A person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke a debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments.”)
Why would I be asking you to do this for each other’s essays?
(students respond: help make arguments stronger, define why we are interested in these topics)
What larger life skills does this activity foster?
(critical thinking, communication, politely expressing difference)
Mmk so how are the listeners going to act as a devil’s advocate without being a jerk?
(solicit student responses, have them role play specific possible scenarios)
If you are sort of stuck on what to do, here are some phrases you can use to help you get started:

I liked ________ but I don’t understand why __________.
I disagree with your point about _____ because _______.
Have you thought about ______ before?
What if _______ happened?
I see that you’re passionate about _______ but I don’t see how it connects with _______.
Oui, mais _______.

As the presenter, you are then allowed ten seconds of silence to think, if you want it. Be very careful to respond directly to the question. IT IS OK IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE ANSWER.
If you do not know the answer, you need to write the question down and come back to it after the other listener has asked their question.

The presenter will receive and answer two of these questions from the listeners. Then the presenter will return to answer any questions that they could not answer the first time, and all three participants will work to answer the question together. At this point, you will not need to use the “devil’s advocate” format.

I strongly suggest that you take notes during this process, writing down what you learn even if it doesn’t have to do exactly with your project. Especially if you are the presenter, take careful notes of 1. what they ask you, 2. how you answer and 3. how you FEEL. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Keep it up, Profe: Our three-step process to (potential) success

Today, outside the library as everyone rushed to see their electives assignments on the library doors, one of my Spanish II students approached me. He told me that he has learned more Spanish in the past two days of class than he has ever learned before. "I don't really know what you're doing, but keep it up, Profe."

I don't fully believe him because
a. I know his teacher from last year and she teaches them tons of material! ;
b. it's the first week of school and we've forgotten how much work we put in last year;
c. he's one of those really sweet kids who says really nice things to help other people feel good.

That being said, this is an amazing compliment. More importantly, this means my crazy scheme might actually have a shot at some semblance of success. The basic plan is three-fold:

1. Speak only in Spanish (even though they are only in their second year). This quarter is Spanglish, next quarter they get five English words a day, and Spring Semester it's allll espaƱol.

2. The students teach themselves the grammatical material, both in and out of class, however they see fit for their personal learning style. I have divided all of the grammar learning standards for this year and divided them up by week and off they go! We do reinforcement activities in class. It is the fundamental concept of a flipped-classroom, except I don't ever explicitly teach them unless they ask specific questions.

3. When we're not studying in class or reinforcing grammar, we will be building an open-source online textbook for other students of Spanish. Not like a normal textbook, though. In addition to compiling all of the resources they find useful (Youtube videos, songs, web sites, news articles, animated GIFs, etc), we'll be using embedded VoiceThreads to facilitate communication and interaction with other learners.This way it is less of a textbook that just happens to be online but an online language forum (perhaps like LiveMocha but less uniform?) that is created entirely by and for students. Students aren't allowed to use technology in the classroom until the week after next, but we're already chomping at the bit.

In summary, I think the reason that he feels he is learning so much is because he is doing all the learning. This sounds rather simplistic, so I will restate: instead of being given the information, he is actively gathering, processing and learning according to his own individual wants and needs, instead of the style and constraint of the teacher.

I think I might just do as he suggests and keep it up.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Today I have happened to find several fantastic videos.

A College Humor video that takes on modern education in a delightfully culturally relevant way:
Here's the original song if you're not familiar with it. Or you could just turn on any pop radio station and wait 30 seconds. 

From Mashable, I found this really interesting interpretation of Pixar's Rules of Writing. Absolutely fabulous for any creative writing class. Actually, for any sort of writing ever.

And then I kept looking on Mashable and found these sweet videos on really touchy topics (warning: yes, I am liberal).
Try this video on fracking:
And finally, an example of how being a parent can be the coolest thing ever:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Trip to Moscow

Thanks to a lot of hard work, plenty of generosity, and a generous heaping of luck, I was able to go to Moscow with a student of mine to accept an award that she won. The award was for a photograph that she submitted through my class. It was a great learning experience for both of us.

See the gorgeous photographs of our trip on Facebook. The page is managed by FotoCh, the Russian organization that hosted us. Given that the images are by two professional photographers and one pretty good teenager, I'd say they're worth the click.

Read the full press release here.
Below are screen shots of the release.

Online textbooks ≠ a textbook online?

UPDATE: I think that I am going to use VoiceThread, maybe VoiceThreads embedded on a website. Also def. using PowToons and thinking about ThreeRing for uploading hard copies.

Dear all,
My Spanish 2 class is going to write an online, open-source textbook this year. That is going to be our year-long project. They're going to learn the grammar and vocab traditionally taught during S2 on their own because, really, they don't need me to learn that. They can find all of that stuff on Google, or ask one of their native-speaker friends (our school is 75% Hispanic). It is important to me that this be more than just a source of information but instead a place where students can discuss linguistic details, analyze sources, and engage with real material. I want it to be an online textbook that is not just a textbook that is online.

Here is my question to you: what platform do you suggest we use?

One person suggested iBooks Author. Don't get me wrong, it looks gorgeous. But I am unhappy with the fact that it requires an iPad, that you have to "publish" it (thus making it harder to perpetually improve), and that it is basically just a textbook, a movie and a notebook mashed together. I need more dialogue and sharing from our platform.

@SECottrell mentioned GoogleApps. Might be nice because our internal email is Google based.

@Petreepie shared her class' Simplebooklet on Chile. Although their book looks great, again I am left wondering how to make a more dynamic, conversation-focused text.

Here's a sweet wiki I've found on making online textbooks. Still working through all the links and I'll update soon.

Please help support our learners as they actively craft their digital footprint, engage in student-centered learning and gather real-life skills, and practice their Spanish!