Saturday, October 25, 2008

Day-to-day consistency and lesson planning

I'm never really been sure as how to structure a class so that it looks the same every day, what with the wide variety of events that might happen in a school day. I know that part of that is designing and teaching a procedure to get back on task after interruptions, but the interruptions range in intrusiveness such that one procedure, even two or three or procedures, to get them back on task continues to escape me.

So my lesson plan has been an ad-hoc document, an objective followed by a list of activities designed to achieve the objective. That's probably fine as far as it goes, but it means that Wednesday doesn't look much like Monday. (Also, Wednesday doesn't often look like Wednesday's plan.) This makes it hard to model the same 3 or 4 classroom-management phrases in Spanish every day, which makes it nigh impossible for me to conduct class entirely in Spanish, which is the goal.

So, I've spent some amount of time looking for a way of making plans that would help establish a more consistent daily class structure. And I finally found a document that was handed to me during the New Teacher Academy meetings, and probably during my teacher education courses in college, based on Hunter (1984):

  • Warm-up:
  • Objective:
  • Instructional input:
  • Modeling:
  • Activities/Questions Strategies
  • Guided practice
  • Independent practice
  • Closure
A lot of this looks like it would fit well into a WL class, and into my class in particular. Every day, I have a warm-up activity and a learning objective to engage students in what they already know. Instructional input is what in world language pedagogy would be called "comprehensible input." "Input flood," a term I've only recently come across and thus may be misinterpreting, transfers to modeling. Activities / questions strategies (called by Marzano "checking for understanding" (2007) ) just involves a preliminary check that the students gets what they're supposed to get and how they're supposed to go about getting it. (I say just; it's no simple matter. I often think I've taken great pains to make sure students understand, only to have to anser the same question I've just addressed 4 times.) Guided practice==in-class checks; independent practice==more practice; homework. Closure = a formative assessment and some groundwork for a summative assessment down the road.

Here's where my issue lies: In the Communication column of my standards, each lesson has to take two things into consideration: context and communicative mode. (Ideally, a lesson should also include some Cultural context; get a student to make Connections between this lesson, other classes, and their own lives; help a student make communicative and cultural Comparisons, and then help move their learning into their Communities. But one step at a time.) If a unit has 3 communicative contexts, it means that there are 18 different lessons that happen in an ideal world: a spoken / listening conversation; an written / read conversation; a listening comprehension; a reading comprehension; a spoken presentation; and a written presentation. Even if you tie together a few (or even all) contexts together for the presentational communication mode, there's still a heap of lessons that should occur.

Given all that, is it even theoretically possible to make tomorrow like today? Probably not, but it's worth the try. But up until now, I've had a different understanding of the structure of a unit. This is a day-to-day model, which seems to sacrifice a big-picture understanding for an illusory class-structure uniformity. I've always understood a unit to be a different kind of thing: a presentation, modeling, and practice of vocabulary in a wide context, followed by a closer examination of the vocabulary and grammar necessary for specific communicative tasks. Communicative practice activities, a few activities that tie in all the different contexts, a day of review, then a test.

Anyway, I'll try this "new" lesson plan format and see if I can make it work for me. It will probably be rough going for a while, but once I get the hang of it, I think it will tie objectives, instruction, practice, and assessment a lot closer together. (That's the point of the format, after all.) Also, I think it will increase my students' capacity for taking Spanish as the primary classroom language in the future.

Update: Two minutes of further reading revealed Marzano's claim that this lesson plan structure "is best suited for kessons that address procedural knowledge" (180). Good for some situations, but not all. I'm still going to try it for a little while; there's a lot of procedural-type stuff in communication: how to say you're going to do something, how to listen for key vocabulary, how to identify the main idea of a passage. I think vocabulary learning may more neatly fit in with "declarative knowledge," which is a different ball of wax.


Hunter, M. (1984.) Knowing, teaching, and supervising. Using what we know about teaching. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Modified by Wilson-O'Leary for teacher conference.

Marzano, R. (2007.) The art and science of teaching: a comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 181.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Of the many things I wish I had more time for...

creating graphic representations of vocabulary is pretty close to the top of the list. I ask my students to do it, of course, but then I give it back to them. It would take as long to scan it into my computer as it would be to do it myself. There's also the potential issue of intellectual dishonesty--you know how it is when a thousand pieces of paper come into and (at least in theory) go out of your hands in a week; you forget who gave it to you, you use an image off of it and forget to give credit where credit's due, etc. I don't know what case law on that is and I'd just as soon not find out.

But because I don't have an infinite amount of time to generate graphics, I depend pretty heavily on clip art and royalty-free images. And my two favorite sources of these images are 1100 Pictorial Symbols by the perennial clip art favorite, Dover, and Clip Art Image Gallery: 500 Model Poses, by Barron's (alas! Amazon doesn't seem to have new copies anymore), who seem to print most of the most useful books on any topic (except education methodology, for which the honor goes to ASCD, and World Language methodology, for which I still seek a reliably excellent source). Both of these books have useable images that describe a wide variety of the vocabulary you're likely to use for day-to-day life, and CD's so that you can use them in a variety of formats.

My biggest issue with the 1100 Pictorial Symbols is more of a feature: It has so many images that can be so widely used, it's a little difficult to find an image to fill any one need is a little tricky. My beef with the Model Poses is a little stronger--it has a section called "Pin-up," with pictures of scantily-clad (by conservative standards--think 1-piece bathing suit in heels) in reasonably seductive poses. So I can't just hand the book and accompanying CD to a student for use with his/her PowerPoint presentations.

However, by and large, they're winners. My job would be a lot more difficult without them.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Funny, in a horrifying sort of way

I was going to write a long, thoughtful post on the role of a teacher's human nature on his classroom, which was going to examine bias, team and morality psychology, and other things I have no right pretending I understand. Then, I was going to explore how one integrates higher-order thinking skills into a classroom whose primary learning task is vocabulary acquisition. But it's late, and I haven't done my lesson plans yet. So, those relevant posts are forthcoming, and this just came across my plate:

Now there's nothing funny at all about a student assaulting a teacher. There's nothing funny about a student declaring that a work of fiction is "blasphemy" and using that as a justification for violence.

But you gotta admit--that this could happen in 2008 (!) is a little comical. It's like the old joke: How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb? Two. One to hold the giraffe and the other to keep a grown man from setting his literature teacher on fire for being a witch.

Wait. That's not how the joke goes. Maybe there isn't anything funny about it. As the person who sent me the article told me, "Be safe out there."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday Bonus: On Praise

This article from New York Magazine bears further consideration. I'm willing to bet that further research shows that praising students for being smart is better than not praising them at all. But this researcher suggests that it's not as good as praising them for being hard-working. Interesting, and with potent ramifications.

Hat-tip to Alexander Russo. (Don't seem to be able to add a permalink, so here's entry information: "Research and Writing: Who does it well?" 3 Oct 2008, 12:53. Link: "How not to talk to your kids: The inverse power of praise." Category "Media Watch.")

Saturday, October 4, 2008


As Euler walked through Konigsburg, tracking in his head the number of times he stood on each island and each shore of the river Pregel, trying to make sure he only crossed the bridges once on any given trip, and in the process inventing graph theory, it's fair to wonder if he noticed the flowers blooming, or the play of water on rocks in the river flowing beneath the bridge.

This is the third year I've been working in my current position. After three years, I thought, I should notice significant start-of-year prior knowledge in Spanish from my high school freshmen--after all, I've had them as middle schoolers for two years before this, and most of them have had other Spanish teachers before me. I was a little disappointed this year--I know my middle school curriculum and instructional strategy are not as strong as they should be, but the pre-tests were pretty disappointing. It seemed like I was only teaching the students who were good at or interested in learning languages.

But on Thursday, we had a video watching / listening activity, not always my students' favorite thing. But they did an excellent job of listening actively, trying to understand using context clues and prior knowledge and all the listening strategies I'd taught them up to that point. After we were done, one of the students, a very intelligent student whose favorite class is not Spanish, said to me, "I've never understood before what people meant when they said, 'I can UNDERSTAND a language, but not speak it.' It just didn't make any sense to me. But after this activity, I do. I understood almost everything in the video, but couldn't repeat anything more than a couple of phrases of it."

I don't know if I properly expressed to this how overjoyed I was to hear this. I know that I tried, but there was a lot I didn't tell her. I wanted to tell her about the silent period of language acquisition, comprehensible input, and all sorts of great theory that comes into play when someone learns a second language. I wanted to tell her that she's doing something right, and that maybe that means that I'm doing something right.

I think all I managed, though, was, "YES! ¡Excelente!" And, really, in the face of the level of metacognition this student demonstrated, in the face of that much learning, in the face of so much happening exactly right, this was a sadly inadequate response. But I hope she knows that it was a huge step forward for her, and a great breath of fresh air for me as her teacher.