Disecting… the prompt, that is

I have been grading like a banshee this past week, trying to get all of my 2H interpersonal speaking exams graded before my level 3 students take theirs tomorrow.  What became abundantly clear through norming and my hours of grading is that these students do not understand how to disect a prompt.  They completely ignored multiple aspects that to the teacher appeared to be explicitly laid out in bullet form.  Out of 87 honors students, only 8 completed the entire task requirements. 8!!!!

Recognizing a problem and an accidental teacher failure, today I decided to experiment with my level 3 students.  We began class by doing a partner speaking practice.  I put the prompt on the screen, gave them 2 minutes to think, and then off they went.  I recorded them on the lab for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes I stopped them and handed out a sheet with a checklist version of the same prompt.  I then had them listen to their recording in order to check off the components they completed.  Guess what.  The majority admitted to not completing all aspects of the task–many barely completed half of what the prompt required.  Guess what else.  Only 4 students said a teacher had ever taught them how to disect a prompt.

Can you guess what we did next?  That’s right, I put another practice prompt up and had them take it apart and reword it into a checklist.  Then we did the practice.  The students were much more successful the second time around.

So why hasn’t this been an issue before?  Sure, I’ve had students not complete all aspects of a task, but never to such an overwhelming degree.  Why is that?  Well, the answer is simple, our students are requiring more rigor, and we are delivering, but we unintentionally have not properly helped them figure out what tools they need to use to be successful.  We’ve given them tools, they just didn’t realize which ones were necessary.

This is fascinating to watch.  I have watched our performance-based curriculum evolve so much over the last 8 years.  This evolution has been based on research and on the evolution of the students we have in the classroom.  What a great time to be a teacher in a world language classroom–or as we call it in Plano, a LOTE classroom. 🙂


Credit: I did learn how to break down an English prompt at the AVID Summer Institute and intended to create a lesson before our first assessment.  Oops!  Wish I hadn’t forgotten until now!


Musical Partners

I am trying to think outside the box with partner work this school year.  I have a FABULOUS language lab in my classroom that my students feel I overuse.  While I will never give up opportunities to use the amazing tool, I have decided to mix it up from time to time and get students up and moving (and picking their own partners).

Today, my students completed an independent activity about their summer.  Normally, I would pair them on the lab and have them ask and answer questions with each other.  Then, I would mix up the partners a few times so they got an opportunity to learn about other people.  When sharing activities like this, I try to spend as much time as it took them to do it so they see that it was in fact worth their time.

Today, I decided to utilize that collaboration space around the corner by playing Musical Partners.  That is my name for the activity that I stole from an icebreaker at the AVID Summer Institute.  We went into the space (with their worksheet), and I played music on my iPad.  While the music played, students walked around and/0r danced around.  When the music stopped, they paired up,  asked questions of each other and shared information related to the activity.  I gave them about 2-3 minutes to speak before starting up the music again.  They walked/danced until the music stopped and found a new partner.  We did this 3 or 4 times (depending on the class) before returning to our room.  It was a lot of fun :).

In case you were wondering, my song choice was Shakira’s Estoy Aquí, a classic from when I was in Spanish 2 oh so long ago :).

First Day Fun

On the first day of school, I try to avoid covering policies and procedures in my classes.  Why?  Well, to be honest, students get that from every teacher in every class on the first day.  If they are in my first period, they might have an interest but 2nd-7th periods have zero interest in hearing me babble on about rules, grading, and how great our year is going to be.  In LOTE, we dare to be different and think outside the box!

I have heard some teachers who start the first day with a story or a children’s book filled with cognates so that kids can see that they already know a lot of words (this works especially well in level 1), others who play the name game, some who have students make name cards and introduce themselves in the target language.  I also loved the idea of creating a PowerPoint about my lifestyle to go with an introduction to me and my class.  Like many of my students, I get stage fright when I have to be center stage.  On the first day, I am too nervous myself to put on a show (later on, usually by day 2, I get over it and am wiling to make the biggest fool of my self whenever it makes the environment for engaging).  I am visual, so the name cards would probably help me but the name game does nothing for me since I’m not an auditory learner.

So what do I do?  Well, first I hand out the calendar and we have our first Tapa del Día.  But after, I do a mingling activity I call Lotería Social–or “Social Bingo.”  I create a 4×4 bingo card with a question or topic in each box.  Students must roam around the room, asking each other questions to find someone different who answers “yes” to each box’s criteria.  I model it by asking a random kid a question I think they will answer “no” to.  Then I explain (in the TL of course) that I must now ask a different question.  I ask until the student says “yes.”  I next ask for their name and demonstrate writing it on my paper.  The students then get some time to complete the activity–and I participate too.  After several minutes, we regroup and I ask who they had on their papers for each box.  It’s a lot of fun to see who said “yes” to which question.  The greatest feature of this activity is that it’s easy to adapt to different levels (from level 2 and up).  For level 2, I used sports, movies, activities, books, etc and the kids usually fashioned questions about whether or not the person likes, plays, participates, reads, etc the item in each box.  For level 3, I make it all in the past–former teachers, did you see __ movie?, did you read___?, etc.

Lotería Social is only one of the activities I do on the first day.  Throughout the entire class period, I work on setting the tone for the year, something I will get more into on another post soon.

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