Category Archives: Class-Created Readings

September 16, 2016

Velcro for the Brain?
Emergent Language Just Feels Stickier to Me

img_4926These videos are actually from September 15, as I was out of the building today for family reasons.  This video begins with our reviewing the artists’ work from the image creation process the previous day, and this video is the continuation of the writing.

The image was a machete named Señora Claws, who was sad because everyone thought she was bad due to her being an enormous knife and all, but in reality she was a very nice machete.  It got even cuter because turns out she was a Christmas machete, not just a normal machete.

When we move into the writing, at about 3:45 of the first video, you will hear us talking about a classroom management strategy I use when writing in front of the class.  (I have been calling this “Write and Discuss” like “Read and Discuss” and “Look and Discuss” because we are basically having a conversation as a group and writing the details that the kids give me about the previous day’s work.)  You will hear me remind them that they do not NEED to write to acquire the language, but that they do, of course, need to pay attention and be engaged.  So therefore, if they cannot do that while simply watching me write, I will have them get clipboards and paper and pencils and copy as I write.  Very few kids find this an exciting option (though I do have a few who like to copy and do so as I write) so therefore the class’ motivation to attend to the input is heightened.

Working with no pre-determined target language does not mean that targets do not come up.  Of course, new language will be needed.  But I am finding that kids comprehend and retain the language that emerges rapidly.  My gut feeling is that they comprehend the emerged languages quicker and more easily because they emerged in a moment that is tied to emotion and were truly needed for communicating ideas in a real moment.

Emergent language that you will her in this class is todas las personas and todo el mundo, Navidad, cuento, and hay.  In big Tina news, I have given UP circling hay!  I figure it is going to be in every story, all year, and it will be natural to comprehend it in the context of saying what there is in a story.  So this is the first time they have seen hay but it seemed to present no problems.

img_4922Here are two videos of French 1 doing a Write and Discuss of a One Word Image from the previous class.  At the beginning of Part One you will hear me telling the class about the classroom management strategy of “forcing” them to pay attention if they cannot attend to the input, and giving kids the option of taking out their own materials and writing if they wish.  You might notice that the Gender Equality Initiative from the 25% of the class that identifies as male has succeeded and we have two Professeurs 2, one boy and one girl.  These kids are so engaged that the Professeurs 2 are EXTREMELY important for them.  In Part Two (the new part starts at 1:15), we are working with the text we just wrote.  First I read the text to them, then we chorally translate using a Reader Leader (me for now as I am still modeling it for the eventual kid who will take the job), then we do a little work with a student actor.

Words that have emerged are:  auberginecochon, corps, fluorescent (which I am recycling from a previous story), déprimée, géante, tandis que (which I put in there knowing that this was brand-new and I waited till a kid asked what it meant, so that I could praise them for asking for clarification and reinforce that expectation.)  Grammar points that came up were the fact that I needed to have a city after the preposition à, some words for punctuation, and (when working with the actor), the difference between applaudissez-le and applaudissez-la.

Here is some writing done yesterday in another Spanish 1 class, my seventh period, about a taco-caballo:  medio taco y medio caballo.  See the amazing taco-caballo below.



September 13, 2016

Stop – Grammar Time!

Who says that Comprehensible Input and grammar cannot coexist peacefully?  While we write up the One Word Images from yesterday, and then read them using Ben Slavic’s Reading Options, there is plenty of time to talk about grammar, while doing Choral Reading.  Though it is not strictly CI, but rather conscious thinking and learning ABOUT the language, you can see in the writing below that there are many opportunities, even when writing in front of the class, to grab language elements that might lend themselves to a quick discussion of syntactical, morphological, or lexical elements of the language.

uni-carotteIn this series of videos, from French 1, a seventh-grade class, you can see what I sometimes call “Write and Discuss”, a process in which I draw the retell out of the class by asking questions and guiding the writing. First we review the  calendar, which is usually quite interesting to beginners at the start of the year and provides confidence as it is very transparent and familiar input, then we review the artists’ work, then we write up the story as a class.  The story is attached below as it is somewhat hard to read on the video.

In the example below, sur M. Canadian Bacon, dont le sobriquet est Candy, from my second-year French class, an eighth-grade class, we discussed lui and how it can refer to a him or her, à cause de versus parce que, and the difference between s’appelle and l’appellent.  The One Word Image from which this story and class-crested reading was built is below.  He is très mignon, au moins à mon avis!




September 8, 2016

Write (and Read) What You Know

This year, I am starting a few new things.

One is a new setup for my chairs.  Last year they were a big U-shape around the outside walls of the room.  Many of last year’s students (miss you guys!) have said that the U-shape was a little squeezed – que l’on était serrés comme des sardines.  I was in Mike Peto’s room this summer and it inspired me to have four boxes with nine students in each box.

So far, this setup seems to give middle school bodies more wiggle room and a bigger personal bubble.  Also, the kids are closer to me and I can move more freely about the room.  Further, a space for acting opened up in the back now, so when we begin stories we will have a spot for Locations 2 and 3 in the back there.

Another new practice for me this year is using Interpersonal Communication as the basis for the entire class grade.  This prioritizes students’ comprehension in class.  I teach 4 first-semester classes and one second-semester class.  At the Novice level, the work is listening, comprehending, and responding to show comprehension using one-word or memorized-phrase answers.  Of course, many students taught with comprehension-based teaching can create sentence-level discourse in the first year or two.  But the job of a Novice, overall, is comprehension.  From that, everything else grows.  In the past, the Interpersonal Communication Rubric has been 65% of the course grade, but this year it is 100%.  (Thanks to Ben Slavic and his amazing PLC for this tool which I have adapted somewhat)

A final new practice is ditching whole-class novels.  I do not honestly know why this took so long for me to come around to.  It’s just that I never stopped to think about it,  I guess.  In Language Arts, I would never teach a whole-class novel unless it was as a read-out-loud text that we just used as a class for shared enjoyment and as a mentor text – a text that we could use as an example for reading and writing moves we want to practice.  I have never assigned one single whole-class novel in any English Language Arts class I have ever taught over the eight years I worked in ELA.  They are not differentiated enough to serve the needs of all the readers in the classroom.  The reading abilities in any seventh-grade classroom I have ever been in span second grade (or even pre-primer in some cases) up through post high school levels.  How can one novel reach them all?  In world language, even though the kids are (supposedly) all around the same level…except for heritage kids, and dual immersion kids, and kids who lived abroad…and kids who are gifted in literacy, and kids with LD in the area of reading or decoding, and kids with emotional or behavioral challenges, and kids who find it hard to focus on the page.  Wait, who is left?  The mythical magical middle seems to be shrinking away.  So who are we supposed to select the whole-class novel for?  Also, this article by Mike Peto suggests that reading novels as a class makes students like the novels less.

I might do some read-out-louds this year, but more likely they will resemble Kindergarten Day and we will do shared readings of a kiddie book  I might do a novel in second-semester French, but I am still not sure.  Many of my students LOVE reading in English – and my current student population contains many, many more of these book-devouring, super-active readers than my previous school.  (Seriously, Battle of the Books is a THING at West Sylvan.)  So I was surprised to find out that the TPRS readers were not better-loved by these super avid readers.  I can only surmise that the books are either too hard for them to comprehend enjoyably and fluently (in ELA we say that 5% unknown words -just five on a page – is enough to make the book a putter-downer and not a keeper) or not compelling enough, or both.  So, no more novels.

Whatever shall we read, then?  Class-created stories!  Thanks again to Ben Slavic for his incredible list of 21 Reading Options, formerly known as Reading Option A or ROA.

Ben uses texts based on stories or images the kids create, but I myself like writing them with my kids.  It is less work for me outside of class time and it is also a nice activity that provides good opportunities for input.  We generally review the artists’ work, then do what I would only be able to call Write and Discuss.  I ask them through the writing process, clarifying the details of the story, maybe adding or embellishing as we go.  Of course, from time to time, I also like to write up the stories on the computer during prep, because that way I can embed new details and new vocabulary (up to about 5-10% new words is the goal – not too much or the reading takes on a heavy feeling as conscious minds kick in and affective filters go up.).

Here is my French 1 class writing up a One Word Image of a giant hot pink nose named Steve.  Here is my Spanish 1 class writing up a OWI of a giant multicolored spork named Frarky.  The Spanish class is the whole period but the review of the artists’ work that leads to the writing work starts at about 12 minutes in.  The readings are below, along with a French 2 reading on a béret named Tyrone and a Spanish 1 reading on a pair of glasses named Phil and Felicia.


September 6, 2016

Small Talk as Curriculum

Today in class I was able to take a YouTube video of sixth period.  This is a class of 35 kids, seventh graders, at a public middle school, on day two of instruction.  We are still working a lot on getting to know each other and establishing the expectations for behavior.  I am still on the absolute lookout for kids not doing their job.  It is a gift, as I have an opportunity to exert leadership each time a kid is whispering or slouching in their seat.  Calmly, and smiling (thinking to myself, “This is a gift, this is a gift, this is a gift.”) I try to walk to the rules each and every time and point, smile, and put some tiny little teeth into the smile, to show that I am not ALL peppermints and unicorns inside, then resume instruction.

At the beginning of class, we spent eight and a half minutes in L1, which is, admittedly, a large percentage of the class period of 54 minutes.  Over the years I have actually incorporated MORE L1 into the classroom.  I started my CI journey committed to using L2 as much as possible.  I have come to see that a little L1 use is time well spent, though.  I feel it is important at the beginning of the year to establish a solid foundation of community and connection, with the kids feeling like I am on their side and an approachable, real human being.  So we talked a bit about the grading this year (I am using 100% Interpersonal Skills Rubric and this was the first time I had broached that topic with this class – that their actual minute-by-minute behavior in class was the basis of their grade), and we talked about getting back into the routine on this, the second week of school.  Then at minute 8:30, we start the input in Spanish.  As the year progresses, we will do a quick check-in and then jump into L2.  But here on day two I am investing in them in L1.

We are working on assigning student jobs and so we started the L2 discussing the people who have jobs already.  I do not have a big Day of Assigning Jobs, I just distribute them as the need arises.  It is easier on me and, maybe most importantly, it allows kids to feel truly needed, because the job was needed in the moment that they emerged as the “Hoy Kid” or whatever.

The “Hoy Kid” was getting a workout today, because we spent the rest of the period on the calendar.  You will notice on the board there is a schedule with nothing on it, because I do not know day to day what activities will be used in class.  Today, we were still talking about the sixth of August by the  end of the period.  It is all good to me.  The kids’ energy was there, we were communicating in L2 for extended pieces of time, and we are building their word bank.

You can see the emergent word wall below me.  It will continue to grow as we add more words daily, based on the actual communication needs of the kids in class.  This is entirely new to me, as this idea popped up in a workshop this summer – I think in Portland – and seemed to fit in well with the practice of basing instruction on emergent language needed at the moment in class.  Because this is so new, I will be interested to see how this plays out this year.

Tomorrow in class, we will be creating a class text based on the discussion from today.  Then we will do some reading work with it.  A job that is likely to be needed is the Reader Leader.  This important job helps save my voice, but most importantly, it helps – like all the jobs – distribute power in the classroom.

In comprehension-based teaching, the teacher is often the center of attention.  This is normal, as the teacher is the one providing the input.  Taking the teacher away and using another means (internet, film, song) is an option, but it reduces personalization and human communication.  So in my opinion we should sparingly do this, and still guide the class’ interaction with these resources.  So, most every day we are there providing input for extended periods of time.  Therefore, for me, it is of the utmost importance that we share power with the kids.  Ben Slavic’s student jobs are so key for me in this.  I cannot imagine teaching without my student jobs.