Posted in teaching, Uncategorized

## Language Learning: The New Math

#### (Don’t worry, this is just a Google Series intermission!)

As I was cleaning the kitchen, a thought occurred to me: “Write me a problem whose answer is 4.”. What an amazing application this type of backwards learning has in math.

Scaffolded: “Write me a polynomial which can be simplified to 4x + 1.”

Scaffolded again: “Write me a polynomial which can be simplified to 4x + 1 in more than 3 steps.”.

Again: “Draw me a line with a slope of ___ and write the equation (f(x))”.

You may have noticed that I’m not a math teacher. But I amAnd, if you are a language teacher reading this… chances are, you are too.

I hear from parents (and students) all the time: But, my child is SO good at English! Well, that’s great, I reply, but the problem is, learning a second language has more in common with Calculus and Algebra, than it does with English Class.

Sure! I teach transition phrases and how to write a paragraph or how to write a sentence instead of a fragment (where is your verb?!?!?!?). Sure! We read literature and analyze it and look for cultural connections. Sure! We do all of that. In Spanish.

BUT, you see, we also look at grammar. Sometimes, explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Those explicit moments are sometimes needed, but often, they are the reason kids end up hating their language class as much as they hate their math class. And, they can’t figure out why.

This is why. A new theory is on the rise in the world of linguistics, that, as far as I have researched, I happen to agree with. It is the mathematical analysis and comparison of linguistic structures to the math of the world. You see, math makes the world work. Science is math applied. Math makes it all make sense. Languages have to end up making sense in order to communicate a message, and it turns out, that is a job math can do. Grammatical sentences are complex formulas, and just past that equal sign (=) is the message you communicate. When your formula is bad, your message is too.

All of these revelations and random thoughts of math while I clean my kitchen, bring me to a few points.

1. Just as language teachers are moving away from the explicit teaching of Grammar… and seeing amazing results… math teachers are going to have to do the same. Unfortunately, this means that this change will need to be reflected in the standards as well. Just as language standards have become communicative (answer based), math standards will have to do the same. Instead of process based, we’ll need standards like, “Students will engineer a bridge… ect.”; because they can’t meet that standard without implicit math. Math standards will need to be results based.
2. Language teachers need to be cognizant of their students who struggle in math and communicate with these students’ parents. This will prevent the poop-storm that ensues when said kid struggles and their parents are blindsided–because they thought Spanish was an English class.
3. The example problems I mentioned above are similar to the ones language teachers use in their classroom every day. Compare:
1. “Tell me 2 things you like to do.”
2. “Write me a paragraph explaining what you would do if  “X” happened.”
3. “Tell me your favorite memory as a child.”

In each of the above examples, we give the kids a product, and they must fumble with the pieces to come up with an answer. Like in math, we give formulas, functional chunks, that kids use in the gap to achieve the task.

What do you think?

-CL

Posted in Google, homework, professional development

## Google Voice: Part 1- In The Language Classroom

Google voice has rocked my world this year. I had previously wanted to see what I could use Google Voice for, but, like most teachers, I didn’t have time for another “tool” to add to my list and make my life harder. After attending the ACTFL Convention this year, however, my perspective changed.

I sat in on a session by one of the ACTFL teachers of the year, Carrie Toth, who runs http://somewheretoshare.com as she talked about different way she has added authentic assessment to her classes. She shared that when students have projects that many classes traditionally “present” (aka: waste 3 days of class time presenting), she instead uses Google Voice. In a room so crowded with people that I was in a corner on the floor, here I sat, suddenly engaged beyond measure. This woman had the answers to all my problems.

Any student who has ever sat in my classroom knows 2 things (ok, hopefully more than 2 things…)

1. Mrs. Wilson doesn’t waste time.
2. Everything we do has a purpose.

I literally refuse to waste even a second. And, if a student asks me “why” I usually have a dissertation like response of my thought process behind the request.

Presentations had always been an irritation of mine. They worked so hard… shouldn’t they present it? To be honest… these presentations aren’t going to be that great. Who listens to them anyway??? The class can’t hold their attention span long enough to hear more than one. UGH now we are a week behind 😦

Instead, Carrie explains, that she has students call and leave their presentations using Google Voice. Genius. Students are then able to:

• Speak with a lower affective filter.
• Practice several times before calling.
• Call again to record a better version.
• Not waste 3 class days listening to their Spanish 1 classmates repeat all 15 words they know (ahem, I mean…. um… sorry!)

I was anxious to try this, and I was amazed at the results. My students did fantastically. They even worked harder on their accents, because they felt that me having a voicemail was more “permanent”.

#### Tips and Ideas:

1. Carrie suggested using some of the time that would have been spent on presentations to do a “museum” style walkabout, encouraging students to interact in the TL instead (Interpersonal).
2. Use Google Voice for AP level classes to record their cultural comparisons.
3. Google Voice voicemails cut off at 3 minutes. When students don’t have much dead space… that is actually quite a lot of time! But, be careful about assigning something that can’t be recorded in the time limit. For example, during their celebrity family presentations, I graded their project as a written piece, but asked students only to share the 5 most interesting things via voicemail.
4. You can set up Google Voice to ring to a phone… but since the main use for it is voicemail (for a teacher), I recommend setting it to “Do Not Disturb”, so that it will automatically record voicemails.
5. In your voicemail message, remind students to leave their name…haha, seems obvious, but you are a teacher, so you understand.
6. Space your assignments out, so that your voicemail box isn’t clogged with too many assignments at once. One week I gave an assignment to Spanish 1. Once those voicemails had been graded, I assigned a Voice assignment to Spanish 3. A few late Spanish 1 assignments got mixed in, and there was a delay in grading them.

Have any ideas yet?

-CL

Posted in Google, professional development, teaching

Google owns the interwebs.

This was my revelation about 2 years ago when I went to sign up for gmail, and I found that Google already knew my email address. It was a funny “conspiracy” theory then as I laughed it off…but since then I’ve discovered the world of Google–and more than just a search engine or email platform… Google is a set of tools beyond what I could have ever imagined. This year, Google has changed my classroom for the better.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be detailing my Google adventure from the perspective of a language teacher, but so much of what I’ve found has implications for any classroom. This summer, I’m even planning to get Google Certified!

Check back to see my posts on:

• Google Drive / Docs/ Slides
• Picasa

See you soon!

How are you using Google? Tell me below!

-CL

Posted in teaching

## things that worked: teaching conjugations.

Over the last year, I have had the chance to try a lot of things with a lot of different kids. I have been in: Middle school Spanish, Spanish 1, Spanish 2, Spanish 3, AP Spanish and ESOL classrooms working with kids and helping them learn something that matters.

Anybody reading this who has taken a foreign language knows about the dreaded conjugation. However, chances are… unless you still speak or teach that language, you probably remember next to nothing about how to do it, when to do it or why to do it. Which is why I took a different approach.

With the exception of my middle school (beginning Spanish) students… all of the students I worked with this year learned how to conjugate from somebody other than me. And, as a result the paradigm shift between what they learned and what I wanted to teach them was much to large to grasp… so I had to work with what they learned. BUT! In my middle school Spanish class, I got them before they ever learned conjugations from anyone else… and it was awesome.

Here is a small recap of what is usually taught:(im gonna use -ar verbs as my example…)

(Students have a list of verbs: Hablar, llegar, llevar, etc.) We tell them that these are verbs, and that in order to use them we have to conjugate them. How do we do that? Well!

You drop the “-ar” part and add an ending. The ending depends on who the subject of the sentence is.

If the subject is:                                         Then you use this ending:

yo                                                                     -o

tú                                                                    -as

él, ella, Ud.                                                   -a

nosotros                                                         -amos

ellos, Uds.                                                      -an

Here are the problems I see with this method. First of all, it is grammar heavy… in a world where we are phasing out formal grammar and replacing it with basic grammar accompanied by things our students can actually use. These kids, no matter how old, are all confused by the word conjugation, and even though they receive some grammar instruction through 11th grade… chances are they haven’t located the subject of the sentence or the verb in a sentence in at least 2 years by the time we, as foreign language teachers, get them. Now, instead of changing the way we teach to help students learn better… we jam this “formula” in to their heads–knowing full well that they don’t have the grammar background to use it with success.

I have sat with student after student who struggles with this concept and lets is ruin his or her love for the language.

Here’s what I did instead. I thought of something our kids ARE learning in their English classes that is related to conjugations. As a linguistics lover, I have never been able to ignore the fact that conjugations are just manipulations of morphemes to change the meaning of the word being used for the subject of the sentence… (if that lost you: read: Conjugations use root words and suffixes to change the meaning of the word.) Our kids are being suffocated with SAT prep etc. and that stuff is full of prefixes, suffixes, root words, etc. That is something kids know and they know it well. I thought… well, heck! I’ll just use that!

So, to start out, I gave the students all of the vocabulary for the unit, and had them look up the words. This vocabulary included the infinitives (like Hablar, llegar, & llevar). For nearly a week we used all of these words just as vocabulary words, learning what they mean and being able to recognize them.

Then, one day, I had students open up their textbooks to a page in the chapter completely in Spanish. And… I made them translate it. They were angry. and flustered. and very loud about it. The things I heard were, “This is too much!” “We don’t know this much Spanish yet!” “I don’t recognize a single word!” When they calmed down enough to let me talk… I informed them that every word on that page was a word we had learned together before, or was a word from our current vocabulary list. They just stared at me. Still angry I was going to make them do sooo much work.

They settled down and started working. About 30 seconds later 5 hands shoot into the air.

“Yes, Kevin?” I say.

“But this word isn’t on our list!”

“What word is it?”

“Its in the 2nd sentence. It says, ‘Yo hablo con mi amigo.’ We don’t have ‘hablo’ on our list.”

“You’re right. Everyone listen up. (Class looks up.) What word from our list looks just like ‘hablo’?”

(The kids think for a second. Some take out their list to compare…) Suddenly the class yells “Hablar!”

“And what does hablar mean?”

“To speak or to talk.”

“Exactly, so, what do you guys think this sentence means?”

“I to talk to my friend.”–someone says.

“Kind of. Does that sound right in English???”

“Oh! True! Maybe it means, “I talk to my friend.” ? Right?”

“Yep. See you guys have everything you need to do this. Go ahead. If you have a question, ask the people around you before you ask me, ok?”

You see, what I did wasn’t a simple translation. It wasn’t torture. It was in-context learning. The kids figured out that the same word can look a little bit different and mean something just a little bit different too.

After we went over the translations together, I asked the kids, “Was that easy, medium or hard?” They all shouted “Easy!

The next day the kids came in and we talked about the vocabulary words on our list that ended in “-ar”. The students knew that they were verbs, and I said, “Can I use the word the way it is now? Think about it. Did you see the word “Hablar” at all yesterday in the passage?” They suddenly realized… that no. They usually do not see the word written with the -ar at the end.

Using sentences from the passage they had translated, we went over the words again.

“Yo hablo con mi amigo.”

“Tú hablas mucho.”

“Ella habla con la maestra.”

“Nosotros hablamos en clase.”

“Ellos hablan con los chicos.”

I asked the students a critical question: What do they think the root of the word is? And what do they think that root word means?

After a minute of discussion amongst themselves, they answered, “habl” must be the root, because its in all the forms of the word that we have seen. And, it probably means “talk” since that part never changes.

Then I asked, “What are the different suffixes we have used?–Make a list with your partner.”

They come up with a list like this one: “ar”, “o”, “as”, “a”, “amos” & “an”.

Now, I said, ” Just like in English, suffixes change the meaning of a word a little bit. Write down what you and your partner think are the meanings of these suffixes.”

This is what I got:

• -ar = to
• -o = i
• -as = you
• -a = he or she
• -amos = we
• -an = they

Then I showed them the words again. “hablo” -What does this one mean? The class all says, “I talk.”

You see, what they learned are vocabulary words… not conjugations and formulas. They learned to recognize that the ending has its own meaning and tells you something special about the word.

Instead of having entire classes (like in my Spanish 1-Ap Spanish classes… grr!) of students writing things like “Yo hablar mucho” (I to talk alot). These kids would say, “Hey! That one doesn’t make sense. You used the wrong word. You should have used “hablo”.”

And you know what? These kids really had it. It took more time on the front end, but when we got to -er/ -ir verbs… they caught right on. To them, seeing “amos” is the same as seeing the ending “tion” at the end of a word. They just know that it means something important, and they use that to inform how they listen, read, write and speak. 🙂

So. That’s one thing that worked.

-CL

Posted in professional development

## iteach

I am so excited about the iteach initiative at USF. Last semester, I applied for and was accepted to the iteach program for pre-service and continuing education teachers. One of the main goals of the program is to reach out and teach teachers the many ways in which today’s ever-growing body of technology can revolutionize how we reach our students and how effective we are in the classroom. I am extra excited because one of the requirements of the program is that we have to purchase an ipad as part of the program. Mine is scheduled to arrive in just a few days… ! So far, I have participated in two workshops: one about “Challenge-Based Learning” & one about “Facilitating Collaborative Learning Using Web 2.0 Technology”. I can honestly say that I have never been more excited than I am about these new opportunities. As a language teacher, my class needs to be relevant so that students will want to use the skills they learn outside of the classroom. Challenge-Based Learning involves having students identify a problem in their school; community; etc and going through a process to solve it. Imagine a process that is developing critical thinking skills; team work; leadership etc and allowing students to actually carry out their plan…. all in the target language. Simply amazing. The opportunity to facilitate collaborative learning using Web 2.0 technology has also revolutionized how I think about teaching. While in the public school we have to be sensitive to the fact that not all students have access to certain technologies at home, the reality is that online classes are the classes of the future. FLVS** (Florida Virtual Schools) is a great example of how even high school and middle school are successfully  being taught in an online environment. When teaching a class in which communication is the key to learning such as a foreign language… I need to be thinking about how I can facilitate true, authentic communication in an online environment and develop a community of learners in ways people previously thought would be impossible over long distances.

As you can tell… I am rather excited about this opportunity. Look out for links about the group 2.0 workshops and other such awesomeness.

**Look out for a reflective post on my time as an FLVS intern this semester as well!

-CLW