I had the most wonderful privilege of receiving further training from Susan Van Zant, who works with COREK12 and had already visited our school twice this year. Her training in the fall was most helpful to me with regard to questioning strategies, and her winter training fell while I was on maternity leave (shucks!). This visit, she was commissioned to give us an overview of the Common Core Standards that have been adopted by most states, with Alaska being amongst the most recent to join the list. She presented on what the standards are, what they are not, what they mean for educators, and how we can begin preparing for them. Love them or hate them, we’re stuck with them.
As a language teacher, I am always excited to attend this kind of presentation because I know that I am able to support these common core goals in powerful ways. Regardless of whether or not I agree with their implementation, the ‘rule follower’ in me loves a good pat on the back of affirmation for doing what people thing should be done. Spanish may be an elective course at Clark Middle School, but I’ll be darned if it isn’t the most valuable, academically rigorous elective course offered! I left Tuesday’s presentation affirmed in my instructional goals and armed with new strategies for supporting common curricular goals. There were several points that stood out to me:
- Read more non-fiction than fiction. With the adoption of the Common Core Standards, students will be expected to read (in English) 50 percent literature/50 percent informational texts in 4th grade, 45/55 in eighth grade, and 30/70 by twelfth grade. I was so excited to hear this because I have been recently trying to make all of the post-storytelling phase readings that my students do culturally based. As a TPRS teacher, there will always be stories, both oral and written, for my students to interpret, but I must strive to match the target percentages for my grade levels. As a middle school teacher, this means 45/55. Since I’ve returned from leave, I can confidently say that two of my courses (my lower levels, interestingly enough) have been reading at least 30/70, thanks to my new Three Little Pigs and Solar System unit plans (coming soon!). The beautiful thing about being a language teacher is that my students can study any content, really, because language is used to learn everything. All I need to do is make the language comprehensible to my students! I recently attended a training with a different presenter that discussed the literature/informational reading requirements and concluded that World Language teachers must use authentic resources in order to be in alignment with the new standards. While I agree that we must use authentic resources in our classrooms, their value is very limited. If students cannot comprehend the majority of the text (read: 90 percent), there is no language goal being met through that activity. It doesn’t matter if we use 70 percent informational texts in our classrooms if students are not able to understand them better than for simple “get the gist” and word identification questions. Those kinds of activities help students to practice skills needed to survive when immersed in another culture, but I would argue that they do not improve their language proficiency in any way. The text must be comprehensible enough for students to interact with it; to engage with it on deeper levels than most authentic texts allow. I must present students with informational (cultural) passages that are comprehensible enough for them to be able to draw evidence, write arguments, and expose themes. The beauty of Comprehensible Input classrooms is that we focus on the highest frequency structures in our languages of instruction so that when it comes time to simplify authentic resources, we discover that we really don’t have to do much editing because our students have learned those words and phrases that most often appear in target language resources. Our students can read “authentic-ish” informational texts in the target language because they learn the basic building blocks of language (structures like “has”, “is”, “can”, “wants”, “must”, etc.) early on. A few synonym switches here, a couple topic-specific footnotes there, and voilá! Comprehensible input that allows for….
- Higher order thinking. My students may speak preschool Spanish, but how dare I insult their intelligence by simplifying the tasks that they must complete to match the level of their language ability! My courses are filled with brilliant, scholarly minds that must be challenged in order to be engaged. I absolutely ask ridiculously simple questions to my students while introducing new structures (circling involves many yes/no, either/or, and identification questions), but once we have a completed story or a text to read, I strive to raise the bar (see these posts on questioning). This time, Susan encouraged us to require our students to cite evidence, analyze text structure, explain what the author means, compare and contrast information from two or more sources, determine word meaning within passages, trace and evaluate informational resources, and integrate information from different media and graphic formats. Again, I was affirmed here as my students in Spanish B this week were required to interpret a graph about Alaskan dangers and a map about hurricanes in Puerto Rico, then connect the information from those sources, our class discussions, and personal experience to respond to several thematic questions.
- When possible, I should look for ways to incorporate classic myths and stories, seminal works of American Literature and Shakespeare, functional U.S. documents, and primary and secondary sources into my lessons. I can easily do this by matching the topics that we study with those that my students are studying in their core classes, and dousing everything with culture. Students can compare and contrast the characters from Don Quijote with those from Romeo and Juliet. My eighth graders that study the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in the fourth quarter can compare those important documents with the governing documents of Spanish speaking countries. I can scaffold my instruction to make those documents accessible to my students, or I can find or write expositions of their themes.
I am thankful that the great flexibility afforded to me through TPRS/CI. I can explore topics that are interesting and important to my students while building L2 proficiency. I am also thankful for my position at a school that provides me with such high quality professional development!!
I am excited to post my face-lifted Three Little Pigs and Solar System plans on here…hopefully within the next week, but between the baby and end-of-the-year shenanigans (We only have two weeks left! Yikes!), things have been a bit hectic around here…