Reading Activity or Reading Assessment?

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In a Comprehensible Input classroom that uses Standards Based Assessment, we must format our question-based activities differently based on whether our goal is to provide further repetitions of the text and the structures that it contains (a ‘reading activity’) or to assess whether or not a student comprehended the text.

If the goal is to provide further repetitions of the text, both questions and any potential answers should all be in the target language. These are activities that we can add to our instruction in order to help us stay in the target language 90 percent or more of the time as recommended by ACTFL and renowned language acquisition experts. They also allow students to think about the text in a different way and to practice critical thinking skills.

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 8.27.49 AMIf the goal is to assess whether or not a student comprehended the text, the questions and any potential answers should be in English. 

To the veteran language teacher, this statement seems like sacrilege. Hear me out!

Consider, for a moment, that a student responds incorrectly to a question (gasp!) about a text. As the teacher sits down to analyze how the student could have possibly missed a question after all of the beautiful comprehensible input with which she  flooded that student in preparation for the assessment, that teacher must ask several questions:

  1. Did the student respond incorrectly to the question because she or he misunderstood the text? (This is the goal of the assessment.)
  2. Did the student respond incorrectly to the question because she or he misunderstood the question?
  3. Did the student respond incorrectly to the question because she or he was unable to produce his or her answer accurately in the target language.

Frustrated at her inability to answer those questions, the teacher is now so disillusioned with the assessment that she begins to look cross-eyed at the questions to which the student responded correctly:

  1. Did the student respond correctly to the question because she or he understood the text? (This is the goal of the assessment.)
  2. Did the student respond correctly to the question because she or he was able to ‘hunt and peck’ and match language chunks from the text with chunks from the answers, never understanding what any of it means?

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 8.39.06 AMUnable to answer these questions and having determined that the assessment is not a valid measure of the student’s reading comprehension of a target-language text, the teacher throws up her hands and chucks the exams out the window, then buries her head in her hands and wails in frustration.

This is why we assess comprehension in English. The only reason for which the student could have answered a question correctly or incorrectly is because she or he did or did not understand the text.

If this is blowing your mind, please visit Scott Benedict’s Teach for June website and visit my SBA archives.

Here are some different kinds of questions that you can use as reading activities or to assess comprehension–just be purposeful about the language in which you write them!

  • Read an event from the chapter, identify a character’s most likely emotion
  • Identify whether a statement about the chapter is a fact or an opinion
  • Read a list of events and identify which is not in chronological order
  • Match the first and second halves of statements about the text.
  • Read three statements about the text and identify which 1 of the 3 is false.
  • Put a series of events in chronological sequence
  • Match events from the text with the events or situations that caused them.
  • Identify whether an event happened in the past, present, or future
  • Determine which event in a pair happened first and which happened second
  • Read a passage, then identify which statement is the best paraphrase.
  • Identify the meaning of a specific word from a passage in the text.
  • Translate a passage or select which of several options is the best translation of a passage.
  • Determine whether a statement is true or false.
  • Respond to a multiple choice or open ended question about the text.
  • Recalling explicit information from the text.
  • Identifying the theme of the text.
  • Summarize the text.
  • Identify who said or would have said/thought each statement in a series.
  • Complete a statement by filling in the missing word or phrase.
  • Read a passage from the text and determine which of several conclusions is the most logical (or vice versa).

For more detailed explanations of many reading activities, click here.

Classroom posters en français!

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Wendy Farabough just emailed and asked permission to post her translations of my classroom posters on her awesome blog EN FRANCAIS! (Geez I can’t figure out how to do the squiggle thing on a capital letter.) You can download the posters directly from her blog, or you can download them from my Google Drive posters folder. To see how to put together the posters, visit my posters archives.

Add Wendy’s blog to your reading list, and be sure to follow @mmefarab on Twitter !! For teachers of French, or any other language, please email me any time that you are interested in translating and sharing my materials. You would be a blessing to the other teachers of your language–I get requests for French resources all the time!!

Posters translated by Wendy Farabough http://mmefarab.wordpress.com

Posters translated by Wendy Farabough http://mmefarab.wordpress.com

I’m Going on a Trip–Ideas from iFLT

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In my PQA Hooks presentation at iFLT, I shared several activities that I use to get repetitions of target structures other than traditional PQA or Storyasking. For each of the activities, I asked participants to brainstorm ways that they could use them in their classes, and I’ll be sharing their ideas over the next few weeks.

The first installment is for my favorite game ever, “I’m going on a trip”. I explained the game in this post a few months ago, and participants brainstormed criteria that would qualify/disqualify an answer and skeleton sentences that could be used to play the game. If you use a different criterion and skeleton sentence each time you play the game, you can play it multiple times throughout the year, even with the same group of students!

Feel free to add more ideas by adding your own ideas to this Google Doc (click here):

Unit planning for TCI courses

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My favorite session from iFLT 2014 (of the ones that I taught, anyway) was my session about planning units that introduce a set of target structures and then use them to teach a cultural topic to students. This was my favorite session because the creation of vocabulary-driven cultural units have had a greater impact on my success as a TCI teacher than anything else. They have given me direction as a teacher and increased engagement for both me and my students, and they have made it easier for me to meet all of the lesson planning requirements for my district–writing essential questions, addressing CCSS and content area standards, and fitting into AP themes.

If you were at one of the Vocabulary-Driven Cultural Units sessions, I would love for you to share your unit idea (cultural topic + target structures) in the comments section. I am kicking myself for not keeping a record of everyone’s ideas! 

I just finished up one of my own Spanish 1 cultural units–one that I’ve had in the ‘editing’ stage for over a year now. The story script (click here to view) teaches the target structures “gives to him/her”, “gives back/returns”, and “this seems strange to him/her”, and the cultural focus for the unit is Spanish superstitions. You can download the seven-day unit here.

So yes…as I said, the unit was in the editing stage for over a year, which is a really long time. I have had several session attendees email me post-conference to ask about how to plan for an entire year and not go insane. If you are looking to make the transition to a TCI curriculum that matches all target structure sets to cultural topics, it is overwhelming to think about building that! My advice would be to begin by choosing a novel or several novels that you can teach as units in whichever level it is that you are working with. Block out however many weeks you need for that novel (as few as 5 or as many as 10, depending on how much time you want to spend with each chapter and the topics that it addresses–for ideas, check out my Esperanza or El Nuevo Houdini plans). Then, make a list of all of the new structures (vocabulary/phrases) that you will need to teach in that level in order to read the novel at a healthy pace. Scan the list and brainstorm which cultural topics you could address with the vocab, and begin grouping them into units. Once you’ve done the ‘big picture planning’, you can chill out a bit. I’ve spent several years flushing out my Spanish 1 curriculum and working up in-depth plans for each set of vocab and cultural topic! If you have your unit ideas planned out, you can just teach the target structures for each unit as you would in more traditional TPRS® classrooms, adding in the culture whenever you find the planning time to make it happen. Each year that you teach the course, you’ll add a few more topics until eventually your entire year-long curriculum is packed with culture. Don’t stress out if you can’t get it all done right now!

And if you have any questions…email me or contact me via Facebook (I finally created a page for The Comprehensible Classroom!). I’d love to help you out in your planning!

Output

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One common question that I was asked in my sessions was, “I thought that our goal is to provide students with comprehensible input…so why do so many of these activities contain output?” Great question!

No CI teacher thinks that output is bad. Output is a good thing and one of the end goals for our courses, but it is not the means by which we acquire language. CI teachers focus on input because research shows that students acquire language when they listen to or read language at L+1 (one step above their current level of proficiency). The main focus of our instruction, therefore, is to find ways to provide our students with comprehensible input using strategies like PQA, MovieTalk, Embedded Reading, Storyasking, and more.

That being said, we do not eliminate output from our classes. CI classes are filled with output! As Carol Gaab so brilliantly pointed out in one of her sessions at iFLT 2014, PQA itself–perhaps the most basic and essential tool to the CI teacher–depends on output. Teachers ask questions to students (input), then students answer the questions orally (output) before the teacher takes their answer and discusses it with the class. It is a constant back-and-forth of input and output!

It is important for us to give students opportunities to practice output because, ultimately, we want them to be able to communicate in the target language. If we never give them those opportunities to build their confidence and competency, all of the language that they acquired so effortlessly in our classes will be utterly useless. The key is to limit, structure, and scaffold the output, especially in novice levels:

  • Karen Rowan suggests setting time limits for your output activities. Even though students may be able to spend 25 minutes on a communicative activity, it would be better to limit it to just 5 minutes in a novice class. As students move on into upper levels, they can spend more time with output because they will have built up their fluency.
  • Many of the output activities that I use in novice classes are extremely structured. In many of the examples from my PQA Hooks presentation at iFLT14, students are using plug-and-play phrases to share their ideas (like “I’m going on a trip, and I’m going to bring ___”, in which the only original component of the sentence is a noun). This way, students have an opportunity to speak and form an original idea, but the risk for inaccurate language is minimized. Then, I….
  • Smother the output in input. Anytime a student shares an idea with the class (produces output), take that idea and smother it in input by asking circling questions, comprehension questions, and fishing for details.
  • Output generates input. It is worth it to allow even novice learners the opportunity to produce output before they are really comfortable with a structure in order to generate compelling input. Students have great ideas. Often, they are much more interesting than we are! The ideas that they express via output are often our best inspiration for input. One sentence of output could generate an entire class period of input!
  • Front-load the input. When you introduce a new set of structures, spend time doing PQA, Storyasking, and input-based story activities, and then assign an output-based activity. Consider basing the activity on questions that have already been discussed in class so that students know the answers to explicit recall questions and have already had an opportunity to formulate personal responses to opinion or analytical questions. (This is what I usually do for the Fan N Pick activity.)
  • Output activities keep the class engaging. If all they ever did was listen and read, they would not stay in our classes. Limited output allows us to use many different activities that will help maintain engagement.

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 1.20.46 PMI also received a lot of questions about how I manage and assess the output. As far as management goes, please read this post about the hole puncher police. With regard to assessment, it depends on the level and on the activity. I do not begin to formally assess speaking until late in Spanish 1, and even then it is a very small percentage of students’ overall grade. (I use Standards Based Assessment, and my grading categories are based on skill–speaking, reading, writing, listening.) I do, however, strive to complete a minimum of three formative speaking assessments per marking period, even in my novice classes. As students advance into upper levels, I strive for an additional three summative speaking assessments–key word being strive, since it doesn’t always happen. To do this, I simply make marks on rubric cards during output activities. I might not get around to every student during every output activity, but by spending a small amount of class time each day doing structured (oral) output, I am able to get to each student 3x throughout the course of the marking period. To download the rubrics that I use and an explanation of how I use them, click here (they’re free). The file contains five levels of ACTFL Proficiency-Level based rubrics and one Six Traits of Writing (yes, writing) based rubric.

iFLT14

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Well, Ellis missed the memo that he was supposed to let me sleep in this morning, so here I am! Here are some six word memoirs that sum up my experience at iFLT14 (Carol talked about six word memoirs in one of her sessions):

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 8.36.33 AMI have so many new friends!

Each one gave me great ideas.

My brain is going to explode.

I’ll document the explosion via blogging.

I need a babysitter for today.

Ellis, go back to bed. Please.

In the meantime, I’ll drink coffee.

Be sure to visit the session handouts page (which is not completely updated yet) to read more about the ideas and activities that I shared throughout the conference. But before you navigate away from this page….leave a six word memoir for your experience at iFLT14 in the comments section! I’ll give you two choices: (1) a summary of your experience or (2) your biggest takeaway.

Smash Doodle

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My sister in law is a lot trendier than I am. She finds nifty projects on Pinterest all the time and actually does them. Who does that? Last Christmas, she introduced me to Smash Books. She had recently moved to Maryland to take a job teaching English, and she was showing me the beginnings of her Smash Book from her first few months away from good ol’ CNY. A Smash Book is a fast, trendy way to scrapbook–scrapbooking for the 20-something, or the almost-20-something, or the hipster. Something like that.

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CC 2009 Matthew Oliphant flickr.com

Anyway, Smash Books came to mind today as I was reading Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, another novel from TPRS Publishing. It’s different than any of the other popular readers in that the chapters are extremely short, and each one recounts one moment or memory from the fictitious narrator’s life. It feels like you’re reading the transcript of an Indie film–flashbacks that fade in and out, mapping the life of the hero. The novel is about MS-13; a salvadoreño gang that began in L.A. Gang tattoos, gang territory marked by graffiti, and hidden emotions are deeply embedded in the narrator’s life. Each chapter is so short (just 3-4 pages) that it seems laborious to complete the standard post-reading activities with students. And the content is so serious, so personal, and so deep that it begs for students to enter into the narrator’s world. A Smash Book meets Doodle Notes would be perfect for this novel!

Students could make it as elaborate as they want. If it were me, overachieving student that I was, I imagine the page for Chapter 2 containing a “blood-stained” receipt from a grocery store, a (fake) newspaper article about the events of “my” mom’s death, a picture of my mom (well, one of a lady that I would have found online that looked the part), phrases like “Never forget” and “Gone forever”, and a hand-sketched scene of my mom lying dead on the pavement. It could be similar to the image on this post–a comic strip with a reflection and an action list of how the main character is going to move forward. You could give students time to “smash doodle” in a journal after reading each chapter–creating a diary as though they were the main character–and/or you could dedicate one day a week to putting together more elaborate smash books (generating news articles using the page linked above, finding images to print, taping and pasting in things that they’ve brought in from home). This could be done for homework, too, if your classes have homework.

Outside of reading novels, Smash Books and Doodle Notes are great tools to work into your classes. There are tons of ideas on Pinterest and other sites for special themed pages–like this one that would work great when you’re targeting the present progressive or this one in a food unit for students to describe what they crave in different circumstances.

What possibilities do you see for Smash Books or Doodle Notes?