fun in Spanish class doing a 'running dictation'.
Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @liamprinter
Students sit all day and sitting for hours on end is exhausting. We as teachers are up and walking around continuously so we (at least most of the time) manage to stay awake while we teach. Yet we wonder why our students lose interest, stop concentrating, glaze over and zone out when we are half way through a riveting explanation of demonstrative pronouns. It's because they are sedentary, passive agents in the learning process when we keep them in their seats in a warm room listening to us ramble on.
After studying the benefits of 'Active and Cooperative Learning' while completing my Teaching Qualifications, I've always tried to have an active classroom. To me at least, the benefits are clear - engagement is improved, students receive context with new language structures, they aren't falling asleep or glazing over with the "I hear your words but am not listening in the slightest" look and above all, in most cases, the students are smiling, laughing and having fun. In my view, if students are laughing and having fun then at least they will find it really challenging to hate your subject and your class. Even if they have zero interest in quadratic equations or ox-bow lakes, if they know they'll be moving around, laughing and having fun in your class then at least they will not resent the fact that they have to be there. Once this has been achieved you may even get them to like the subject a little and who knows they might even learn something once you've got that far!
Video: All students moving around, fully engaged, awake, concentrating and having
fun in Spanish class doing a 'running dictation'.
My views on 'student movement is the key' were copper-fastened when I read Grant Wiggin's excellent blog post here. The veteran teacher shadowed students all week and his number 1 key takeaway was that "sitting is exhausting" and students need to get up and move in every class. Furthermore, last week we were lucky enough to have the wonderful Lisa Lee visit our school and give us her TEDx Talk on "Getting at the heart of teaching" where she also waxed lyrical about the vital importance of student movement in the classroom.
The next time you see that I'm glazing over look start to appear on your students faces just think of any way you can get them to 'GUAM' (Get Up And Move). It might be the simplest thing like "Ok guys stand up and go and sit with someone new. Now compare your work with what they have". A simple 5 second instruction that will take about 30 seconds of your class teaching time but could save you hours of repeating yourself later and wondering why they didn't get it when you explained it 'so perfectly' the first time!
Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @liamprinter
TPRS stands for 'Teaching Proficiency Through Storytelling' and basically it uses stories with lots of repetitions of key structures to teach fluency rather than detailed vocabulary lists. It is based on the theory of 'comprehensible input' which fundamentally outlines that to learn a language you need 'input' (words written and spoken) on repeated occasion in an understandable format. I was first introduced to it last year in our language department here at Leysin American School. I'm not going to lie, when I first watched the 'over the top' teaching of TPRS Godfather Blaine Ray, I was a bit skeptical but the other teachers in my department loved it so I gave it a shot.
At first it was nothing short of a disaster. I felt exhausted and flustered throughout the lesson and I think my students simply thought I'd taken the wrong pills that morning. But I persisted with the help of other teachers in the department and we then received two separate training sessions on the approach, one from Blaine Ray himself and another from Beth Skelton. I was hooked. After just 35 minutes of mandarin I was able to read and understand a full page of text and say various key sentences like "I need", "Have you got", "Where is" etc and I could understand more than 95% of someone speaking only in mandarin. After just 35 minutes! It really blew me away.
If this is the first time you've heard of it you should take a look at Blaine's videos, follow Beth Skelton on twitter and check out Martina Bex's site too. I've never used any other method that worked so well at embedding difficult grammar. I've just spent the last two weeks doing a story with my Spanish 1 class about a guy who was lazy, and used to only sunbathe and watch TV, but then he went to the house of the Aunt of Jennifer Lopez and suddenly became a fitness freak. He went to the Olympics in Puerto Rico and won every gold medal before wanting to participate in a Taco eating contest with... well with Jennifer Lopez's auntie... of course! This was all done in the past tense using a mix of 'preterito indefinido' and 'imperfecto' and the students can all tell me that story now using those structures and speaking about their own life with the same structures.
Here is a picture of a previous story we did 3 weeks ago written as homework by a student. No google translator, no outside help. Simply a method that repeats the key structures with memorable silly details. Trust me, it works.
Please leave me your comments on get in touch on twitter here or tweet @liamprinter
Over the last month or so our language department meetings have focused on trying to agree some common ground on what the ideal language classroom looks and sounds like. What is 'good' or 'effective' language teaching and learning? How do we achieve it? Whittling all those 'good things' we try to do down to a list of just 3 or 4 is actually a much tougher task than it seems. An easy way to find out is of course to just ask the students! So here are my two key points from my 8 years of teaching, lots of conversations with other language teachers, a look at the relevant research and literature in the area and, of course, asking the students what they think. I'd love to know what you guys think so please leave your comments below:
1. 'Use' of the Target language is key:
Both by the students and the teacher. The teacher should speak almost entirely in the target language but at a level understandable to the students so they get that all important 'comprehensible input'. Students need to wrap their mouth around the new words and sounds they are hearing so should speak the language with their peers and teacher in every class. Pair work and group work is a great help here as are things like 'exit tickets'. As I often say to my students: Do you play an instrument? Do you play a sport? Will you improve your guitar or football playing by just watching someone else do it and studying how their feet or hands move? Maybe a little, yes. But how do you really improve? You need to actually play the guitar or kick the ball. It is the same with learning language.
2. The classroom should be Active, Supportive and Cooperative:
If, like me, you are a language teacher trying to find this elusive ‘ideal language-learning environment’ maybe all we need to do is follow the advice we routinely give our students: “If you are unsure, just ‘ASC’”.
Below is a paper I wrote entitled "Towards a model for the ideal language learning environment for secondary school adolescent pupils" for anyone who like to read a bit more on this topic. Please do leave your comments below or tweet me @liamprinter.
Towards the Ideal Language Learning Environment
Like many other Irish expats, I've always thought about going back to 'scoil' and doing an Irish (or 'Gaelic' Irish to those of you not from Ireland!) refresher course at some stage... but low and behold our prayers have been answered as Duolingo has released a new course in Irish now!
For those of you unfamiliar with it, Duolingo is an excellent language learning app in the style of a game. It's free and really easy to use. I have my classes use it all the time for 5 minutes at the beginning or end of class and award extra points to those who are top of the leaderboard at the end of the week. As language teachers we are always trying to find ways to get our students actively involved in the language outside the class. With Duolingo it seems I have really managed to achieve this as I can see that almost all my students are using the app on their own outside class in their free time.
Of course, in my opinion at least, it is no substitute for the real live classroom or for immersing yourself in the language by going to where it is spoken. However it is a really excellent complimentary tool if you are currently studying a language or as a way of refreshing language skills you learnt a few years ago, as I've been doing for German and now, for Irish!
My students have become really interested in it and they compete against each other to see who can get to the highest level. It has been a really great way for them to learn new vocabulary and to practice grammar we are doing in class. The great this is that you can easily login with facebook and you can also follow your mates and see their progress.
If any of you have an account please feel free to look me up and follow me:
And now it is 't-am' for some Duolingo 'as Gaeilge'!
I can't take all the credit for this one I must admit but I wanted to share as it worked so well. My Department Head and excellent French teaching colleague, Mrs. Sarah Goodman, allowed me to steal her wonderful idea for teaching the house vocabulary so I now want to share with all of my fine readers. The brilliant thing about this project is that the students are more or less teaching themselves and they learn so much more than the mere vocabulary associated with the house; they also learn prepositions of place, the verbs "hay" and "estar", places in the town, expressions of opinion, quantities, sizes, colours and so much more... all in one project.
The project is called "The house of my dreams" and the students have to plan and draw out their dream house on a large poster, labeling all the rooms and pieces of furniture on their minimum two floors. They are encouraged to be as creative as possible. Next they have to write a 'sales pitch' with at least 25 phrases outlining why the buyer should purchase their house. They have to list what amenities are close-by, what is in the neighborhood, where items are located etc and all using very persuasive vocabulary.
Finally on 'Sales Day' they dress up and present their house to their classmates and teachers who are circling the room asking them questions. Teachers from other classes stopped by and some even brought their native Spanish speakers with them to increase the authenticity of the speech yet further. They were not allowed to have any notes or their speech in front of them, they had to go from memory using their house plan as a guide. In the end, after they had all played the role of both buyer and seller, they each received one voting card where they could vote for one house they would buy listing their reasons (in Spanish) as to why they would purchase it. Every vote they received earned them an extra point on the marking scheme.
I circled the room and talked to them all about their houses and used a grading rubric to mark them on their spoken Spanish as well as their written speech which they had to submit. To say the project was a success is an understatement. They excelled, especially the students with a lower language ability. On their 'one minute summary' feedback post-its they said they loved telling others about their house and loved having others come and "inspect" their plans. They also stated how they liked "getting dressed up as a real estate agent" and they said they surprised themselves at how much they could say. They learnt so much in this two week project that I wouldn't hesitate to do it again and their confidence with speaking grew exponentially. Thank you to Mrs. Goodman for such an awesome idea! Let me know if you've done anything similar in the comments below guys!
So after a week of various activities designed to teach and practice the future tense ('will do' etc) such as TPRS, making up stories, worksheets and reading, I needed to come up with a fun way to assess the students learning. The previous week the class had voted to be assessed orally this time. Where do you always hear lots of the future tense in life? A fortune teller of course! The off the cuff plan was hatched!
How was the room arranged?
We arranged the chairs so the fortune tellers were seated around the room by the walls facing two chairs. The two chairs would be filled by pairs of students who were to be two newlyweds desperate to know what the future holds for them. My highly skilled psychic fortune tellers were hand selected by me as I wanted to use those with the best level of Spanish so they had a chance to show off what they know whilst also subconsciously teaching the pair of newlyweds. They were instructed to come up with the wildest, craziest, weirdest futures they possibly could.
Teach skills as well as content
My 'newlyweds' all composed of at least one person who was a 'mega rich billionaire' who had paid over $350,000 (figure the kids came up with!) for 15 minutes with this world renowned fortune teller. At these extortionate rates it was vital the fortune teller gave lots of information and spoke continuously for the 15 minutes. If he or she didn't do this then it was the role of my 'billionaires' to give out and say 'I am paying you a lot of money. Give me more information'. Some of my recently married couples were also in very modern relationships containing two men, two women or in some cases even 3 people. (This is a lovely way to tackle head on those kids who laugh or complain when placed in a 'modern' couple... challenging and questioning openly their stigmas towards homosexuality if they had any).
Any specific language based instructions?
The only specific language instruction was that the future tense "you will" had to be used. In addition the couple were instructed that they must repeat in utter shock every detail they are told. So it sounded like this "aha... yes I see, you will both go to Jamaica next year" to which they had to respond "What?? We will both go to Jamaica next year". I modeled this with a student at the front of the class before the activity and it served to ensure the entire class was laughing, smiling, enjoying class and most importantly... speaking the target language.
Decisions based on student feedback
I chose to set it up like this rather than 1 on 1 as in their feedback last week the students had stated that they felt comfortable with the singular forms of the future tense (I, you, he/she/it) but struggled and needed practice with the plural forms (we, you plural, they) etc. After about 5 minutes of laughing and repeating these shocking things that were going to happen I quietly went to each group and role played being their boss. I told them they had a phone call. The fortune teller came to me and I whispered "we have a problem, we have told them the wrong future. We mixed it all up. This couple will actually have a great life, it will be happy and filled with joy. You have to go back now and apologise and then tell them their real future".
The students (all aged 16-18) loved this part with me being involved. In addition it kept the activity going longer and made our eclectic psychics go through a whole new 'future' with the couple and repeat the process all over again. After another 5-7 minutes the happy couples were instructed to leave without paying and say they will never be back again. At this stage all the couples rotated and went to the next fortune teller where they had to tell the new fortune teller what the last one had told them... "he told us we will have 5 children, then he told us we will go to Jamaica etc." = more practice.
Using TPRS circling technique to review
The final piece involved getting the fortune tellers to stand up at the end and say what their clients will do in their future. Here the class is now listening to and practicing the 'they' form. I would interrupt every so often at this stage using the TPRS technique of circling - repeating the phrase with a question that I know is false so the class then had to respond together and correct me: "What? They will go to France"... "No Sir, they will go to Jamaica"... "ahhhh, yes, that is right. They will go to Jamaica". Or asking an 'either/or' question like "Will they go to France or will they go to Jamaica?".... "Ahh, yes, I remember, they will go to Jamaica". Once again here this is all in order to increase the repetitions and the comprehensible input.
How did we review and solidify the learning? First step was an 'Exit Ticket' - students had to tell me one thing that will happen according to the fortune teller in order to be able to leave the room. Second step was homework - write out what the fortune teller told you or write out what you told the clients.
Final thoughts and reflections:
The students absolutely loved this activity and some of them mentioned it directly in their class feedback at the end of the week, stating how much fun it was and how much it helped them to learn. In addition, I also loved my day at work that day. I laughed so much and had such a fun time with them listening to their crazy creative minds being let loose on someone else's future! So much so that I will definitely do it again... see what I did there huh huh? "Will" definitely do it again? Ahhh... never mind! Until next time! Please leave me your comments!
As teachers we always want to provide detailed feedback to the learner that really moves them forward, right? Hattie's famous (2007) study on feedback found that "feedback has more impact on learning that any other general factor". Agreed, right? We all know it is important, but how do we know our feedback is useful and effective, and that it is actually moving the student forward in their learning? And more importantly, how often do we actual engage in giving high quality detailed feedback to each student?
One thing that can be a challenge to us as teachers is that many of us have a different meaning for the word "feedback". In Geoff Petty's (2007) book - "Evidence Based Teaching" he breaks feedback down into three distinctive parts that I have found to be highly effective in my classes:
1. Where am I going? (Goal) - Feed up - Clear and challenging criteria
2. How am I going? (Medal) - Feed back - Informative comments; Process (how) as well as product (what)
3. Where to next? (Mission) - Feed forward - Challenging but achievable clear targets based on last piece of work
Right now of course most teachers reading this are saying "this is all well and good, but when am I supposed to find time to give this kind of detailed feedback to each learner?". Yes, you are right. It can take time to furnish your students with the high quality detailed feedback they need but I think I may have found a way to at least put us on the right track
Feedback Loops & Proformas:
When students submit a piece of writing they must first complete a self assessment sheet (or a 'proforma') answering questions like "I achieved the teachers objective", "I made 3 clear points" or "I made a plan before starting". Immediately there is some accountability on their behalf and they know that if they didn't answer yes to all the questions then they may not achieve the grade they thought it was worth.
The 'teachers objective' is the 1 or maximum 2 specific language focused goals I gave them after their last piece of writing. It can be as specific as "Use the phrase..." or it could be based on format like "include a title". This specific, achievable and realistic goal moves the learner forward. At the end of the proforma I will then give them a new objective for their next piece of writing which they copy on to their next proforma and so the loop continues.
Ok, ok so this all sounds great but what about correcting the actual piece of work? This is the key element. On their proforma they fill in the question "Teacher, please look at and give me feedback on these 2 things in my writing". They then tell me exactly what they want me to look at. So it could be "verb endings" or "adjective agreements" or more general like "the format" or "my conclusion". Now when you correct you have to hold back that red pen and only correct and give feedback on those elements they asked for. We all know how discouraging it is to get a piece of work back covered in red pen but when it is just a few flicks of red here and there, looking at specific, student centered, goals then they can, and will, really improve.
The final part of the process is the "medals and missions" sheet I complete for them. Once again, I ensure I only give them feedback on the items they asked for. Medals are things I like and that they are doing well. Missions are areas to improve on. All specifically related to what they asked me to look for. You can be sure that once you give them this kind of feedback and they do their corrections they will give you something different to look at next time as they feel they have mastered this part, or they might ask you to look at it again if it wasn't very good the last time. The key in all this is that the student is negotiating the feedback and correction process with you. They feel like they are receiving the guidance they need and you have less corrections to do! Everyone is a winner!
Students across all my Spanish classes got involved in some super fun speed dating on their very first day of classes this year... even the complete beginners! It is such a great activity to help them get to know each other, practice speaking and build their confidence.
With my slightly more advanced classes (those with 1 or 2 years of Spanish) I got the students to write 5 questions in pairs on a mini whiteboard. The questions could be anything really but they had to have at least 1 question in past tense and 1 question in future tense. Once they were finished they practiced a little with each other. Then I set them up so they were all facing someone from a different group. The whiteboards stayed on one side of the desks and the students moved around place to place after exactly 1 minute when an alarm would go off. This meant they were reading and using other people's questions too. It worked incredibly well and the students loved moving around the room and chatting to each other.
Some of their hand-writing leaves a lot to be desires so the activity also served nicely in showing them that if they don't write clearly they can't receive the marks they deserve as the examiner might not be able to read it!
With my beginner class the questions were scaffolded for them on the board with the first word of the answer to help them. It still seemed to work well for them even though they were asking the same questions at each spot but I didn't do as many rotations. Definitely a great activity I will be using again to drill certain structures.
Dr. Liam Printer: