But that doesn't cover the best part. No. What I love the most is that moment when students feel strong enough, no matter what level they are studying, to start to make connections on their own. I love it when their questions are less about, "what's going on," and more about, "so, if X then... Y?" And when that moment arrives I know it is time to turn up the heat a little bit on the rigor scale and start nudging them towards creativity.
I don't believe my only job is to present new material and get them to parrot it back. I know most of you don't believe that about yourselves either. While I know that anyone who knows ACTFL and their proficiency guidelines knows that we should have proficiency targets for each level we teach, one of the hardest things about our job is figuring out how we get students to hit that target consistently by the end of our instructional year. Something I do believe is that there is a difference between that student in your class that is very intrinsically motivated to learn the language, and the kid who is there to fulfill his graduation requirement, even if he is taking a advanced level course. Getting both kids to explore what they know about the language so they can exceed the limits of what they own in the language takes strategy, skill and a little creative thinking of our own. Our goal is to create creators.
How do we do that?
How do you do that?
How often do you think about that?
This is probably one of my favorite things to think about and one of the most fun things to design because I never know what will come out of a learning experience that is based upon completely turning the outcome over to my students.
Let me clarify something here. I'm not talking about assessment or PBL. This post is about asking ourselves what we do to train students to think outside of the box whether that box be a story, novel, authentic resource, video or whatever other form of input anchored the unit for you. How do we coach our students to look for opportunities to take the language they know apart and put it back together in their own, personalized ways? How do we lay the language pathways they need to really understand how the language works so they are unafraid to take risks?
Here' are some of my ideas and recent experiments with my students:
- 10+ = 100: I've now done this with both my levels, just in a little bit different ways. The basic premise is to take the threat of failure or grading accuracy on a practice presentational writing by setting a grading scale like this:
- Write a well developed TL paragraph / composition about the given prompt and...
- For 100% use 10+ new, unit based vocabulary words of your choice
- For 90% use 8-9 new vocab words
- For 80% use 6-7 new vocab words
- For 70% use 5 new vocab words
- For 60% use less than 5 new vocab words in your composition.
- Highlight or underline the words you are choosing to include and want to be counted towards your grade.
- Question Creation Prompts: Rather than provide students with the questions to memorize or have them practice questions translations or loosey goosey question brainstorms that are not scaffolded well (especially for level 1 students), I create mini-prompts that are intended to guide students towards questions I would like them to learn how to create. My goal is not to force my questions onto them, but to help lay language pathways in their brains for how questions are correctly created. This way they get a feel for the structure of a Spanish question that will help them be confident question creators when they are on their own during interpersonal practices or assessments. Here's a look at one of the slides in my first Question Creation lesson for this school year. The question is animated so that students are allowed time to attempt creating the question before they see the correct way to do so. In case you like what you see, here's a copy of the file you can save to your own Google Drive.
- Whiteboard Splash (Adapted from Chalkboard Splash in Total Participation Techniques by Himmel & Himmel) to add a layer of creativity on top of this, give a bank of vocabulary words that might be the less commonly employed of those you have presented to kids. Redirect their attention to them to encourage them to consider how they can be used in their writing / speaking. By the way, this activity is too much fun!
- Timed Group Writes: Have your students work in groups of 3-4 depending on how much time you have for them to write. Give them a very carefully crafted prompt that maybe gets them to consider the content they have learned in a new way. Have the group pick a writer. This student sits and is the only person who is allowed to write for the first round. The rest of the group members are to tell the writer what to write, help edit or to use their resources to help create what the writer is told to write. After a given time limit such as 2-3 minutes, the first writer stands, and a new writer takes over. The process begins all over again.
- Pair this with the 10+ activity
- Designate one criteria on your normal rubric that will be what you grade (Consider: Vocabulary use, Comprehensibility, or Elaboration), but only grade one.
- Pair with Carousel Feedback from Kagan Learning Structures for peer feedback
- Justify This! - Writing Frames: These are basically the same idea as sentence frames, but they are paired with a word bank they choose from to complete the frame, then justify. The goal with this is to move students away from describing something and into explaining or justifying their thoughts and opinions about something. You can even change the prompt to elicit different kinds of responses like complaints, compliments, reports or other types of communications so that the language they need to use to complete the task changes. The word bank is there to force new thoughts out of them that they might not have considered using before. While of course you want personalized responses, this type of writing prompt just adds a lens with which to view the task you want them to complete.
- Use What You Know to Build What You Don't: This has been the most frequent tool I have used with my level 1 students lately as they begin to use the first and second persons on their own to write, create questions and have conversations not based upon memorized questions. The day after using the Questions Creation powerpoint, I gave an actual interpersonal practice prompt. Even though this robs the "interpersonal" tag from the activity, I gave students 4 minutes to create appropriate questions for the new prompt before them because they are still babies at question creation. As they created their questions, they would ask me for language that I knew they already knew. They asked things like, "How do you say 'where do you go'?" So, I would either ask them, "How do you ask 'where do you live?'?" or I would ask them if they could think of an old question they know that is similar. Every single time I did that, they figured out the rest on their own. So, I would purposely say to them they need to start to use what they know to figure out what they don't. As Novice Mids, they need to how to think about the language as much as they need to learn new parts of the language. So, I try to train them how to be resourceful and think about what they already know.
When I think about creating creators in the language, I know that the tasks and learning experiences I design for them should loosen my control over them in one way, but structure their output by manipulating their focus a bit. Ultimately, it is not the output itself that I am as interested in as the questions they will ask and the processing they will do as they create their output. When I design these tasks, I am thinking more about those questions. How can I get them to think about how the language works, so they grow more confident in what changes and what stays the same? The more of THAT knowledge students have, the braver they are to take risks with the language. Creating creators is the MOST fun.
Happy Coaching, Friends!