Scaffolding Conversation, No Matter the Distance

One of the challenges in our current teaching context is that our time in class has been significantly reduced–for me, I see my students for about 90 minutes a week instead of 90 minutes a day. One of the casualties of this change has been the multiple scaffolded conversations that we would pepper in to class, from “talk to your partner” and “find someone who…” to taking a deeper collaborative dive into what students read/heard/viewed. I’m feeling this loss. We talk every period, but it’s just not the same, even with breakout rooms. It’s particularly easy for intermediate students to stay in the comfort of novice-level speech, but I want more. I want to continue to cultivate conversational skills and connections among my students, but am trying to figure out how to do this when I can’t be everywhere at once AND I want them to build their self-sufficiency with their language skills.

My favorite resources to use and create are ones that are flexible and versatile so that they are easy to adapt to multiple units. In an effort to support intermediate students in maintaining TL use in conversations, I’ve made a slide deck that can be used to spark/scaffold conversation after any reading. Each slide also has some sentence starters to help students get started speaking while remaining open-ended enough to allow them to include their thoughts. I’d like to send a shout-out to Sally Barnes (@MsBSpanish) because her ACTFL presentation reminded me how powerful these sentence stems can be for students!

The progression for this activity is for students to read/annotate a piece of text before coming to class, including preparing three discussion questions about what they’ve read. Once in class, I put them into small groups and provide them with the slide deck. Then as a group they talk through the questions with the goal of sustaining TL conversation. I rotate from group to group listening and assisting as needed. While it isn’t a total solution, it is helpful in supporting student growth and risk-taking with the language. Hopefully it will help you too!

Visitas Virtuales (Adapting Strategies to Remote Learning part 3)

I have a love/hate relationship with field trips. On one hand I love the deep, experiential learning that takes place when we go out exploring. I love the change of pace and renewed energy that comes with stepping outside our classroom. I hate the stressful time leading up to the trip itself, especially in a day where the field trip paperwork takes longer than the trip itself.

But a field trip in a pandemic? Yes. I would venture that “field trips” are especially important in a pandemic. When we basically haven’t left home in months, the opportunity to “travel” is so enticing that my students & I can’t resist. And here’s the good news: some field trips that were previously out of reach are now totally accessible thanks to virtual options. Here are some to consider:

Be creative about what defines a “field trip”. For second quarter in my AP classes, students will choose one of five options to attend. They have a menu here and the followup is in the form of a Google form that asks them to note products, practices, perspectives, and comparisons with their home culture. One of the things that I’m most excited about is that some students have stepped forward to be the guest speakers for others. For example, a girl who recently had her quinceañera will present about the tradition and experience for her “field trip”. Other students can elect to attend her presentation to count as theirs.

Some other options from our Visita Virtual menu:

Peace Corps (see site here). The site has a ton of resources, but we hit the gold mine by collaborating with a returned Peace Corps volunteer in our area. She and I recorded a presentation about the highlights of her experience in Peru. Students watched the video in advance and took notes about the products, practices, and perspectives that they observed and learned a bit about what the Peace Corps does. They also prepared five questions each. Then our volunteer came to class via Google Meets and hosted a live Q&A session with our students. Our students LOVED it. It also gave us the opportunity to hear from different voices. Our volunteer is African American and served in a region of Peru that is primarily AfroPeruvian and shared a wealth of perspectives and experiences that I have not had and therefore cannot share with my students. We have turned that experience into extended discussions as well as the basis for two FRQ practice questions for the AP exam. We are currently working on scheduling our next speaker from another country, and I am hoping to offer this experience multiple times throughout the year with a variety of countries that I have not visited/lived in.

National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood (site here) When I lived in Chicagoland we went here every year for the museum’s Día de los Muertos exhibits. Their exhibits and docents transform the experience into one that highlights the depths of the symbolism, culture, and history associated with this celebration that is too often addressed superficially. I moved to the east coast over 20 years ago and have been trying to figure out how to make it work to get my students here to go to the museum there. Enter this year’s virtual visits for the answer. I “took” a group of students on a live private tour with a docent and it was fantastic. The private tour cost $100, but was worth it every centavo. (I will request a reimbursement grant from our PTA.) If you teach La Calaca Alegre, las mariposas monarcas, and/or know Hector Duarte’s art, you will definitely want to check out his ofrenda installation in this year’s exhibit.

Local museums while visiting NMMA is super cool, be sure to check out what your local cultural institutions are offering. The art museum in our city is offering virtual mini tours focusing on three works of art in the collection. We worked together to choose the pieces, and they put together the lesson plan. Win, win, win!

Each of our trips so far has been well-received by students and are excited about the prospect of OPTIONS. They are tired of being cooped up in the same four walls and so are we. This style of field trip has many of the rewards of an in-person trip with a fraction of the headaches. It’s a nice change of pace for students AND for teachers, and reinforces the idea that there is so much to explore and learn beyond our classroom.

So… where will you go on your visita virtual? Let me know if I can help!

Peer Review of Email FRQ in AP (Adapting strategies to remote learning, part 2)

One of the strategies that I find helpful in working with students to improve their writing performance is peer reviewing. Using it as a step between “first draft” and “hand it in to the teacher” has been beneficial in reducing oversight errors and improving the overall product.  I want to continue using it even though we are at a distance.  My first attempt this year crashed & burned because I made it too complicated.

Thankfully, I have a group of experts who are willing to help me grow & improve: my students. When it was clear that what I had designed (pairs in Google Meets–18 of them running simultaneously) was NOT going to work, I asked for their help and we recreated the design together. And it was much better.

I shared the resulting document (which you can find here) with students via Google Classroom, making a copy for each student. Due to our current tech limitations, we abandoned the required video conference, but the feedback was still good.  There are directions in the document that are specific to our class and our logistics. You can easily edit them for your context, and I opted to leave them in to give you an idea how it worked in our class.

Do you remember? (Adapting strategies to remote learning, part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts on strategies I’m adapting in my classroom during remote digital learning.

My current school schedule is on alternating days (A day/B day) with 55 minute periods .  As a result, we always have 2 days from one class to the next, and sometimes have 3 or 4 if we have a long weekend.  That’s a lot of time for new content to fade!  When we are face to face, Puedos help to bridge the gap, but our current technology limitations don’t always allow us to use them in a way where the ends justify the cost in time.

Enter retrieval grids.  The idea is somewhat similar to Puedos, but with a bit of a longer term twist.  Whereas Puedos are built around a particular unit and its I can statements, retrieval grids are designed to draw attention to the most current lessons AND key content from previous units in order to keep it fresh.  I use Puedos as warm-ups, but see retrieval grids as being warm-ups, transition activities, and self-checks.

I plan to put students in their small groups and use a grid as a bit of a review as we wind up our first unit.  While this grid only has content from the first unit, future grids will pull in content from other units.  Here’s an example of my grid for an intermediate unit on community service & volunteering in the community:

While the activity is currently set to be a small group social task, this is also a good benchmark of our progress through the unit so far.  It would be easy to convert these into a series of brief assessments, and my hope is that students will gain confidence in seeing that they can do the tasks outlined here.


Tech Vocab for Maintaining TL Use in Distance Classes

Last week I realized that we had a hole in our class vocabulary: tech terms necessary for functions associated with distance learning.  When we are in class together, we don’t need terms like “mute” and “unmute”, but we certainly do in a remote setting, especially one where we are trying to maintain a high level of comprehensible and comprehended TL use.  Since my classes are levels 4 and AP this year, I’m striving to use Spanish for the vast majority of our time together, “saving” English only for when we need it the most.

After input from my Twitter PLN, I’ve made a resource to support students with some high frequency terms.  In addition to sharing this with students in class, I’ll add it to our digital tech notebook for their reference.  You can get a full size copy here.

Essential tech vocab.001.jpeg

Update 8/23: The power of the PLN is strong!  Ada Morley (@MmeMORLEY) has made a French edition, which you can access here.

Street Food Latin America

Netflix recently launched a drool-worthy series about food and culture including five Spanish-speaking Latin American countries: Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru. Though there is debate around whether certain foods highlighted are actually “street foods”, I think the series was fascinating and captivating.

I teamed up with two incredible colleagues–Kara Jacobs (@karacjacobs, and Maris Hawkins (@Marishawkins,–to collaborate, conquer, and create viewing guides and activities to accompany each episode. There are intermediate level resources for each episode that include pre-viewing, during viewing, and post-viewing activities. There are interpretive reading tasks, cultural comparison activities, a touch of geography and much more!  Maris made also viewing guides with more scaffolding for middle school students for the Bolivia and Colombia episodes.  We also included activities to use to compare 2+ episodes to each other.  It’s been a lot of fun and I’m really proud of what we’ve produced! You can see it all for free here.

AP Preguntas Esenciales + Comparaciones Culturales (Structures & Strategies for supporting student success and teacher sanity)

As we are preparing to return to school remotely for at least the first quarter, I’m taking a fresh look at several resources that I use regularly in class to see how they might work in our current environment.  I’ve had students maintain a spreadsheet of topics for the cultural comparison task before, but students either loved it or hated it. As a result, it’s been in the back of my mind to revamp it.  I wanted to keep the positives and address the complaints and reservations that students had about the document.  I also wanted to make stronger connections between the essential questions and the things we are learning in class.  Finally, I wanted something that could be done remotely and still be organized and streamlined.

Enter one of my favorite productivity and design sites: SlidesMania.  SlidesMania offers dozens of free templates for PowerPoint and Google Slides, including interactive slide decks that allow me to edit rather than start from scratch.  It is a total gold mine!  Using one of their templates, I created a digital notebook for AP to bring this whole project together.  You can check it out here.  As always feedback is helpful, especially before I roll it out to classes in a couple weeks.

Color Esperanza: a musical module for distance learning

As the countdown is on for classes to resume, my district has made the decision to use distance learning to start the year.  As a result, I’m working on adapting resources to function better in this altered environment.  Thanks to Lisa McHargue’s influence, I started playing with Go Formative this spring and have decided to pilot it as a key component of online learning this year.

I also feel like we could use a positive beginning to this year, and Color Esperanza fits the bill.  The original song is an oldie but goody 🙂 by Diego Torres.  It was re-released this spring with an all-star cast of performers in order to raise funds for COVID relief in Latin America.  I’ve taken activities like I would use in class and adapted them with Go Formative so that we can use it as one of our first week activities for Spanish 4/AP.  You can get a copy of the module here.  Feedback is always welcome & appreciated.

Building a Language Bridge

One of the silver linings of our unexpected extended work-from-home situation has been more time to read and tackle some lingering projects.  One of those projects was to develop some sentence builders as inspired by Gianfranco Conti. Not only do they help to bridge from input to output for students, they also can be very helpful in bridging gaps created by our sudden change in teaching and learning during the pandemic.

I’m still learning how to maximize this technique, but thought I’d share some of what I’ve developed so far.  I’d love to have your feedback!

For level 1: family, pets, & tener

For level 2: entertainment: movies & tv