Light reading does its job!

I am looking through my light reading book reports that I just got in last week and I had to share.

First of all, if you are a TPRS teacher and you haven’t adopted Bryce Hedstrom’s light reading program… YOU NEED TO. This very moment, you need to go build your library and get it started.

One of my Spanish 3 students that doesn’t have a particularly great attitude about my class just read Agentes Secretos, which is a low level book. He decided to do Report #5 and rate the book and explain why.

Here’s what he wrote:

Rating: 5. I rated this story low because of the ending. The book had a lot going for it, but there was just a bunch of hype for nothing, as the ending was short and didn’t really explain anything. Also, the book repeated the same phrases over and over. By the time the first chapter was over, I had read that the spear was magical about a thousand times. I believe the author wants us to be entertained which I guess as a kid’s book is done relatively well. He does manage to give a decent amount of historical info and geographical info on Spain.

I have to admit that when he complained about the phrases being too repetitive, I secretly cackled. YES, that is the point.

However, the real gem (and reason I’m sharing this) is what he wrote at the bottom of the page. On Book Report #5, Bryce has a quote from Stephen Krashen:

“There is overwhelming research showing that recreational reading in a second language is a powerful means of improving grammar, vocabulary, spelling and writing ability ― and it is far more efficient and far more pleasant than traditional instruction.” ―Stephen Krashen, Taipei Times editorial, Sept. 14, 2004

My student drew me a little arrow and wrote me this message:

I believe so if the story is good. This was way better than what we read as a class.

SUCCESS! My worst attitude student who hates my class and rated his book only 5, still found reading on his own “way better.”

Also, I should add that only 6 of my 14 students in that class finished reading the book that they started (some are reading longer ones than others), and yet this student with his very angry attitude toward me was one of those six. I know I may never be able to get him to like me or Spanish, but… he read it! And even wanted to let me know that he likes light reading better than reading in class.

Happy moment! I only have 3 more quarters with him so I hope he finds some other books he likes from my library while he’s still in my class.

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Good day for stuffed animals!

Today was going to be my Spanish 1’s story day for Chapter 4 Lesson 2 in the new LICT. The structures in the story were “was wearing winter clothes, believed summer clothes weren’t important, & felt like buying his girlfriend a present”.
I collect lots of little stuffed animals to use in stories and today right before class, one of my students stopped me outside my room and said “I bought you a present from the Dollar Store!!!” …It was a little stuffed alien and I immediately thought… this is perfect for today’s story!!

I went into my room and put up some new phrases on the board that most of them sort of knew or were close enough in English (was cold, was cold, was ___ degrees, climate, planet, alien).

I could start my class right away with: “I HAVE A PRESENT. LOOOOOOK. I HAVE A PRESENT FROM SARAH!!!!! I really like my present. It’s my favorite present. Sarah gave me a present!!!!” All extremely exciting, of course. Who doesn’t love a present first thing in the morning?

Here’s a summary of the story that ensued:

Bruna Mars was an alien. She was named that because she lived on Mars. On Mars the climate is different. It’s 23 degrees maximum on Mars, so Bruna always was cold and always was wearing winter clothes. She believed it wasn’t important to have summer clothes because she was always cold. Finally she decided to leave Mars. She arrived on Earth in England in July. It was summer but she was wearing summer clothes. John, an English man, saw her and fell in love, but she did not want a boyfriend. (She wanted Earth cats.) He felt like buying his future-girlfriend a present to impress her. He felt like buying summer clothes because she was wearing winter clothes in July. She told him she believed summer clothes weren’t important. She liked the heat. She left Mars because she didn’t like the cold. His present was a bad idea. She wanted cats, not summer clothes.

And then the bell rang.

What luck that I got that little alien toy today! The student who gave it to me played the part of Bruna. She’s very shy and was hesitant to be the actress but I think she had a blast in the spotlight.

Good day today!

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Speaking Exams!

I do 4 major speaking exams during the year, one for each quarter.

To start, all students bring a cell phone or borrow one from someone else. I had out the directions paper and then a folded piece of paper with the test. We either go outside or into the gym. I tell them to open their test paper and on the paper there is a comic strip that they are meant to tell as a story and usually also another small sheet of paper with 5 personal questions to answer. I give them a certain about of time (3-4 minutes, unless it’s the final exam, then longer) to look silently at the pictures and the questions and mentally prepare what they would like to say. No writing, no talking. Then, I tell them to start the calls. They call my Google Voice account and leave voicemails. Unfortunately, it cuts off after 3 minutes, so they have to call back to finish up. Obviously, the higher the level of Spanish, the longer they talk, but all their calls must be completed in about ten minutes (unless it’s the final).

Despite being quite good at Spanish as a high school student, speaking tests always terrified me. I felt very judged and nervous and put on the spot, so I know many of my students get stage fright. I already know from class who is going to say a lot and who is going to say a little, but the speaking exam is a good experience for them. Almost everyone whines, “I did horrible!” and then I go listen to their 5 minute Spanish story and shake my head. Nah, the grammar may not be perfect and their pronunciation is generally quite far from perfect, but I don’t think they fully appreciate the fact that they can talk! In Spanish! 

I haven’t listened to this year’s freshman tests yet. I’m wondering if they’ll be much better than usual because they’ve had about 10 speaking tests between 7th and 8th grade, some face to face and some recorded on my computer. I wonder if they’ll have my best Spanish 1 Quarter 1 exams so far because they’ve had that extra practice!

Right now I’m halfway through my Spanish 2 exams. These take forever to grade. I listen to each, using a mini-rubric with each students name on to circle where there are at in Content, Structures, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Pronunciation. It’s pretty time consuming to grade and every time I am in the middle of it (like now… as I distract myself and blog), I think “Why do I do this to myself?” Inside I know it’s a good experience for them, but it does take time to grade.

I’m always really excited when someone who barely speaks in class whips out some awesome story. One of my Spanish 3’s has always been one of the lowest in my class. As I was grading my Spanish 3 exams last night, I got to a really good one and thought, “Wait, I already graded this student…” and then realized it wasn’t actually the high-performing student’s voice… it was the student who was usually very low. Apparently this year it clicked! Tons of Spanish coming out and with a darn good accent too. Moments like that make it worth it.

Because my Spanish 2’s did their reading today in class very fast, I decided to show them some of the videos from ACTFL’s speaking proficiency guidelines. I think it gave them a lot of confidence to see other language learners and see that, according to those guidelines, they are not such bad speakers like they think they are. (Although, as a student, I also was overly critical, so I get where they are coming from.) I think I may show those videos to other classes as well, since it seems to get my 2’s feeling proud of the minutes they spent talking.

I know I am only writing this blog to procrastinate, so I will return to listening. 

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The two sides of elementary kids.

Side 1: Little kids in language class are adorable.

We start our PreK & Kindergarten specials after our school’s fall standardized testing. Last week was my first week with PreK and today was our second class.

I always start with introductions and feelings in PreK because they are my only new students. Our first day of class, our 2 conversations around the circle rug are this:

Me: ¡Hola!
Kid: ¡Hola!
Me: Soy Señora Proto. ¿Cómo te llamas?
Kid: Soy Kid.
Me: Mucho gusto, Kid. ¡Adiós!
Kid: ¡Adiós!

By the time we make it around the circle, everyone has this down pretty easy AND I know their names. I use “Soy” in PreK and K just to set it up for later. They use “Me llamo” in first and second but carry over the “Soy” because they know it means “I am.” It also means I can get things like “I’m big / I’m little” in PreK with one structure. Second, we go for feelings:

Me: Kid, ¿Cómo estás? ¿Bien? ¿Mal? ¿Más o menos?
Kid: …..whatever they say

If they say “Bien” I ask “¿Bien [one thumb] or muy bien [two thumbs up]?
I would like to pretend it’s only practice for feelings, but it is also because I need to practice their names. It’s also great to compare students to each other.

Me: Kid 1 está mal. Kid 2 está mal también. ¿Está Kid 3 mal?
Class (usually screaming): NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Me: Kid 3 no está mal…. ¡Kid 3 está muy bien!

Eventually, we can get through this little set of conversations extremely fast until it’s very simple for them. Commenting on each other’s feelings is good too. I also do some counting for how many feel what way. It’s ends up a fast warm-up and eventually I stop doing the introduction part and only do the feelings.

The last thing we do in the first class (and what I do for every other PreK class, really) goes toward TPRS, but with… no real story… and much less student questions. Here are the sentences I’m using with my picture:

Es un gato.
Es un perro.
Es un gato rojo.
Es un perro rojo.
Es un gato verde.
Es un perro verde.
¿Es el gato verde o rojo? etc etc
¿Es un gato o un perro? etc etc

I have laminated colored animals, so I show them pictures and just ask tons of questions about the pictures. Which animal is it, what color, etc. By the end of day 1, they have cat/dog/red/green.

This week we did nothing extra but add blue at end, focusing mostly on review. Next week I focus blue and yellow because gato/perro/rojo/verde will be pretty set for them.

PreK is adorable to work with. 30 minutes a week is really limited time but as long as we just communicate teeny things in Spanish, it at least serves some purpose.

Side 2: Lower elementary students get really mad when they don’t get what they want.

On the other side, I had a 3rd grader melt down at me today because they were writing narrations for pictures from Episode 1 in Cuéntame and could not accept that they were only allowed to use Spanish that they know, and no, you can’t write it in English because you don’t know how to say it. My 3rd and 4th graders are always the most likely to get really mad at me when I say “Use the Spanish you know” because they feel insulted that they can only use a little Spanish yet and that I won’t translate something totally new for them to just copy down. It gets better as the year goes on, though, when they realize I’m not “being mean” by not telling them all sorts of stuff.

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First 7th grade test!

Today was the Chapter 1 test for my seventh graders. They are using the old version of the Cuéntame Más books. If this story (written by the class) is any indication of how wacky they are, you are only imagine the stuff that they will write about when left on their own. I like to lazily use the listening test supplied by the book. I have rewritten all my own reading passages for the tests. For the writing section, I use a “first / last picture” format for each chapter test.

I was really tickled at a lot of the stories I got from my students. I only have two new students in my 7th grade class that haven’t had me before. The two I didn’t have before had a Rosetta Stone program at their school instead of an actual teacher. Either it really did help them out or they are just fast processors, but they are both doing awesome in my class. One of them actually has the best accent out of any of my students in the whole school!

Anyway, I had to scan their writing tests because I loved some of the stories I got. Of course, they are at school and I’m at home so I can’t share them.

I really have fun when I’m reading any of my students’ writing because it really is a blast to see what silly things they have in their head for me!

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How could I forget elementary changes?

Ha! I totally lied in my last post.

My biggest change really was in my elementary classes which are now totally different. The changes are a result of feeling convinced from NTPRS that I need to get everyone reading more.

I got a “no” on getting new books for my 1st and 2nd graders, so I modified a bunch of the first stories from Blaine Ray’s old first year Look I Can Talk (the yellow one) using the pictures from the first 2 chapters (mostly 1st grade in Chapter 1 and 2nd grade in Chapter 2). Of course, 1st and 2nd graders gasp and ooh and ahh when I tell them that just a few years ago, that was the high school material. It’s pretty adorable. Using some of the basic TPR words that I used to use with my little ones, I rewrote the stories to go along with the pictures with a more limited vocabulary for their level.

My plan is to go through all the TPR words (probably 3-4 a week = 3-4 a class, since I see them once a week) and do mini-stories along the way.

The most recent stuff was like:

The class sleeps. The class is happy. The class smiles and sleeps. Josh snores. Kelly wakes up and is mad. Kelly stands up. Kelly yells, “NO!” to Josh. Josh snores more. Kelly is very mad. Kelly jumps and screams “No, no, no!” Josh wakes up. Kelly yells more. Josh is sad and cries. 

It really is quite similar to what I did last year with them, but I have the whole thing mapped out in advance because I wrote all those stories… all in one night on the third day of school. Yeah…

So, despite my random story-writing rush for my 1st/2nd grade, I actually think it will be their best year. Plus my 1st graders were a strong Pre-K class and strong kindergarten class, so that’s a perk too.

Also, third through fifth grade got a huge addition. Like I said, I was extremely convinced that EVERYONE SHOULD BE READING /caps. I used to do the Version 1’s from the Cuéntame reader at the end of my 5 week (5 day) lesson for each episode. Now, I made the great/horrible decision to write my own tiny stories each week and send it home for them to read a tiny story per night (5 paragraphs a week). The hole I dig for myself is writing 20 stories for each of the 18 episodes we do in 3rd through 5th. If I can actually write those 360 stories by May and not go crazy, I will be extremely proud. It might be a resource other people can use too, so that’s a plus. And I’ve had quite a positive response from parents, especially from my principal who is Cuban and who has children in 3rd and 5th grade. His kids do their “reading homework” with his mother and she’s impressed at their reading. Hoorah! Other parents have written nice little comments in the margins or draw pictures of what their kids tell them the story is about. I even have a third grader who wants to rewrite out every story in English so her parents understand it all, which is way more work that she needs to be doing, but if she’s getting a kick out of it, more power to her!

Overall, I think doing even just that tiny reading (less than 5 minutes) each day is going to pay off huge for my younger ones. My problem is I always take on more than I can handle so I hope I have days where I sit down and pound out 50 mini-story paragraphs and get ahead of myself so I’m not writing stories that week, or worse, that day, to hand out.

I won’t even talk about the changes with 6th grade going from a once a week class to a half-year daily class. To be honest, since I don’t see them until January, I’m not going to think about it for a while until I get into a better routine with all my other new stuff.

With everything else I put on my plate, my attention is also extremely splintered between coaching both the high school cheerleading squad and the middle school cheerleading squad. I’m trying to juggle, but it’s new for me to have both teams and the longer hours and no-free-Thursday-night’s is something I’m adjusting to slowly.

This post was inspired by coffee, which I should never ever drink and I know this. Yet it is 1am and I did, in fact, drink coffee around 7pm. I just don’t learn.


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Changes for this year.

I was in a really comfortable routine last year, but this year I’ve had some new changes put on and and some new changes I’ve decided for myself.

The schedule changes is a little funky. 3 days a week our junior high and high school classes are 41 minutes Monday/Thursday/Friday, 48 minutes on Tuesday, and 45 minutes on Wednesday. I’m definitely still getting used to the wacky time changes and fitting my previous plans into to.

What I’ve changed or added this year that I learned from NTPRS:

  • Spanish 1 – 3 has a weekly reading log and will be doing Bryce Hedstrom light reading book reports.
  • The independent Spanish 4 class is totally new. They are doing reading logs and checking out books and also using Edmodo to communicate with me. I wanted to have at least one Edmodo thing every week, but I am juggling a ton right now. I know I will get into a groove better.
  • Classroom jobs! I did use structure counters for a couple of days but the numbers I get from them are the numbers I expect and I don’t know if I want to keep doing it. I definitely appreciate the job of the details writer and quiz writer. Thanks again, Bryce.
  • Using embedded readings as a way to access the harder vocabulary in the long readings. Use Blaine Ray’s new Level 1 & 2 books and old Level 3 book, there often is lots of new or random vocabulary that appears in the long reading. I had a bunch of different things I would do to prepare my students to handle that reading but now I put my list of new words on the board and have a mini-story that uses the structures on the projector and the classes have been writing embedded readings that slowly add the “reading words.” So far this is great and I have some great stories that the class has written. I think next year, once each lesson has its 4 or 5 version embedded reading, I can save some time and instead of creating new ones each time, just read the ones the class wrote. I may occasionally write them ahead of time this year but my students like to be creative, so I will let them keep helping me write them until they seem to get bored.
  • Something as a bell ringer while I’m doing attendance, etc. This is actually the thing that is working out the least for me because it “takes away” time I was used to having. The negative change means that we do songs a lot less. My class used to have tons of songs and we just haven’t been doing them the same anymore. This is something I have to commit to fixing because songs gave my students some awesome vocabulary that we wouldn’t have otherwise practiced.

Well, that’s where I am so far.

I gave my Spanish 1 students their first timed write this week (we started August 16). To say “first” cheating, though, because this set of freshman did the old version of Cuéntame Más with me in 7th and 8th grade so I already know they can write a full page story. The only new student I had to the school in their class was absent that day (and had been for a week), so I’ll just have to wait and see how they’re going.

I always feel the most proud of my Spanish 3’s because each year’s class is more advanced than the previous year. (Can I say, “thanks to me”?) It will keep like this at least for the next couple of years before it plateaus, so I’m going to bask in the joy of it while it lasts! I like being able to celebrate how awesome they are!

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A wild blog appears!

I finally decided to make a TPRS blog because I think reflecting back on what I’m doing in class will just help me become better. So here we go!

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