Over the next week or so, I’m going to process my student writing samples to try to reflect on what was successful this year and what needs improvement. This first post is going to cover Spanish 1 via a strong student. Then, I’ll do Spanish 2 and 3 the same way. Next, I hope to have a post that analyzes the similarities and differences among strong, average, and weak students at each level.
What I DID in Sp. 1: This was my first year of doing what most CI/TPRS folks would call CI/TPRS. I started the year with Ben Slavic’s “Circling With Balls,” then one or two 1-word-images, lots of pqa, and a fair amount of targeted stories using high frequency verbs—goes, wants, likes, has, needs, etc… That got me to XMAS break. Over break, I found out about Ben Slavic’s Invisibles technique, read his book on it (A Natural Approach to Stories) and did Invisibles stories from March until the end of the year with lots of breakoff activities–pqa, reading activities, the Monologues, running dictation, etc. I’ve written an extensive blog about my usage of Ben Slavic’s Invisibles earlier on the blogpost titled “Thank you, Thank you Ben Slavic for your Invisibles.” Throughout the whole year, we constantly read and translated text of whatever we talked about the previous class—from pqa, to 1-word-images, to whole Invisibles stories.
What I DIDN’T do in Sp. 1: I didn’t give out vocab lists, or vocab quizzes, or grammar notes, or even much grammar discussion. In fact, students never took a single note down about vocab or grammar. I did discuss grammar when students asked stuff like “Why did you put an ´n´ on tiene there,” to which I would have responded “The ´n´ is used when multiple people have something.” But that was the type of language used in those situations, not stuff like 3rd person singular/plural, etc. They did have access to our vocab via a google doc, but I feel pretty confident when I say that nobody ever looked at it outside of class (haha). I didn’t give what I think most language teachers would call a vocab or grammar quiz. Grades were mostly completion-type stuff—question and short answer, translations, summaries in English, writing samples, interpersonal communication rubric a la Ben Slavic.
Regretfully, I never did SSR or novel reading at all with Spanish 1 this year. I tried reading La Capibara (the easiest Fluency Fast style reader) as a class, but they absolutely hated it, and only a quarter of the class or so was paying attention after 5 minutes. I think the book is great; it’s just this class wasn’t feeling it. I just refuse to drag students through something they aren’t interested in when there are so many CI activities that they are deeply interested in. And in my opinion none of the Fluency Fast books are easy enough for independent reading in Sp. 1 until very late on, or even Spanish 2.
I hope to get my level ones into independent reading by October this year via Mike Peto’s cartoon library (google it. It’s awesome) and my own Invisibles archive project on this here blog (Go check it out. It’s awesome)! So, hopefully in June of 2018 I’ll report back saying that SSR went great even with my level 1’s.
Below are the five writing samples I took up. This student is a strong Sp 1 student. She was also one of my artists, so she was highly engaged and loved Spanish class. There was variation from the top student in class to the bottom, but not much. I’d say there were 3 students who weren’t able to do much of anything due to chronic absences and lack of effort, but other than that, the worse student was perhaps 20% worse than this strong student below.
Sample 1: February 2017. Student was instructed to write as much as possible about anything in 20 minutes.
In comparison to the subsequent samples, this sample is very limited in length and language variety. And the lack of language accuracy is very distracting.
It’s a testament to the silent period that this little paragraph is all she could produce on the day. She understood loads and loads more, but couldn’t demonstrate it…I mean, by February she had received around about 60 hours of CI. This makes me think that how I was doing traditional, targeted TPRS wasn’t very effective, or that it had been too long since we did a traditionally targeted TPRS story for her to reproduce one, or that I didn’t do a good job setting the first writing sample up. Of course this student had learned a lot more than her first writing sample; however she wasn’t able to demonstrate it. Really, I’m not sure why this sample is so lacking…
Sample 2: From late March. An Invisibles story. The original Invisibles story is above and the student rewrite is below. To check out all my classes’ Invisibles stories, see this pdf: Chonko’s Invisibles.
- I think this sample demonstrates a huge jump from Sample 1 (which was just a few weeks prior) in language variety and even more drastic in language accuracy. Her language is only infrequently distracting. It’s notable that this first Invisibles story rewrite is immediately way better than the previous sample despite the previous sample coming after 6 months of instruction and only a few weeks between the two samples. It also makes me think that the Invisibles stories have a powerful way of working themselves into our memories! And it is so much easier for a student to reproduce a story we worked on than autobiographical info, just because the stories have plot, a beginning, middle, and end, a narrative that the student can pick up and run with. I don’t think there’s any better way to teach L2.
Sample 3: Another Invisible. From late April or early May. But just her rewrite, no original. You can find the original by searching through this pdf if you’re interested: Chonko’s Invisibles.
To my eye, there’s a nice progression of language usage from sample 2 to this one. It’s subtle and gradual–a new verb here, a new linking word there, longer sentences, more eloquent expression–but I think it’s there for sure.
Sample 4: Another Invisible story from late May. Just a summary rather than a full reproduction.
- This fourth sample is short because the student was required to reduce the story of about 30 sentences in no more than 10 sentences. After the first couple Invisibles writing samples, I found that the only difference between requiring students to write 300 words and 75 words was extra descriptive fluff, distracting repetition, and needless qualifiers. I mean it was cool to see my students produce so much, but most of it was a hoax. Students were doing stuff like this:“Frank is a flower. He is a green flower. He is also blue. He is a flower that lives in the desert. He lives in the desert in Arizona.”Instead of “Frank is green and blue flower that lives in the desert in Arizona.”—which is the type of writing we should be looking for.
So, I experimented with them summarize the story in only ten sentences but still communicate the most essential aspects of the story. I actually challenged them to write it in seven sentences at first, but found that ten was ideal. They were agonizing over not being able to fully express themselves (ADORABLE!!!). I incentivized it by giving a small reward for the most eloquent rewrite.
I like this condensed method of rewrites better because it gets them right to the action, the plot. And that’s where the new language development is. I think character description is important; however I don’t need to see it on every rewrite when I have 120 students’ rewrites to read and I take a sample up every two or three weeks.
Sample 5: A longer freewrite assignment from early June.
- This last sample demonstrates more ability in that the student deviated from merely retelling a story as it was. Instead, she combines the Big Bertha story with a related one-word-image about Big Bertha’s boyfriend that we did in class a couple weeks later (an orca who wore a yellow do-rag while playing the sax in a jazz band). Still, she doesn’t just retell both activities; she finds a way to weave them together in a logical and compelling way. It’s a subtle but significant difference.
Random thoughts I got while writing this:
- Writing sample consistency: I need to be more consistent about taking up writing samples the whole year. I only started take them up in February, and it’s frustrating to not see the whole year via samples.
- High Frequency Words: In reading back over these writing samples, I am floored by the fact that interesting and unique stories can be created in level 1 with only:
- the Top 10 verbs (there is, is, the other is in Spanish (está), goes, has, wants, likes, says, sees, can),
- a poster on the wall with a bunch of connector words you can laserpoint to (to, for, then, tht, in, on, more, etc…)
- and one or two additional vocab structures unique to that story. It’s such a good way to begin language learning.
- In “Big Bertha La Ballena” the unique words were “swims,” and “whale” to create a story of growth and achievement. Big Bertha wanted to be healthier, so she worked out and got fit!
- In “Danny el Dólar,” they needed “flies, wallet, bank, and jail” to create a quest about Danny the Dollar springing his friends out of jail (the bank).
- In “Howard El Extraterrestre” they used “smiles and alien” to build this wonderful story of a character finding a place he is accepted. He can’t smile like all the other aliens on Pluto, so he goes to Mars where no one can smile, and thus he feels accepted. The creativity just goes on and on!
- Limiting vocab: In “Frank the Flower” I allowed them to request too many new words: “flower, petals, dead, desert, thirsty, cactus, hot, iguana, scratches, spines, vacation, and tail.” So, that’s an example of me as the teacher not simplifying their language enough. That’s probably too many new words for the story to really stick. Looking back now, there’s no reason why the iguana couldn’t have just asked the cactus for water rather than scratching the cactus. Then, it would have just been all strong cognates and three high frequency words in “is thirsty, and is hot.”
- Order of Acquisition: I must have said “there is/are” two thousand times this year in Sp. 1 in meaningful and interesting contexts with a TPR-style hand motion to help reinforce the meaning. Yet kids across the spectrum from weak to the best in class continually write stuff like “hay es” “hoy” “hoy es” “hay son.” Consistent among Sp. 2 to a lesser degree. Still shows up in Sp. 3 honors but only a little bit. Convinces me that certain language structures are late acquired regardless of direct instruction or emphasis (a la Krashen). I should stop blaming myself and take a chill pill before reading their writing.
Overall, I’m really happy about Spanish 1 this year, but only once I started using the Invisibles. TPRS the more traditional way (targeted) that I did up until I read about the Invisibles was stressful for me inside and outside of class. During planning, I was anxious about if things would go over well. I was constantly scouring other resources such as Tripps Scripts, Ana Matavia scripts, etc, for story frameworks trying to decide if stories would be interesting. During class, I had to pour my energy out to get interest and make things come off well. But using the Invisibles is pure gold. It’s basically effortless in terms of planning. All I do is edit and improve the stories my secretary student types. In class, I don’t have to pour out my energy to get things to work. I can just sit back and give language to my students’ creativity. In that way, it is a true collaboration. For more on my take on the Invisibles, see my previous blog post “Thank you, Thank you Ben Slavic for your Invisibles.”
I am confident I will see a SIGNIFICANT improvement in my Sp 1 students next June with a few improvements in mind:
- All manner of SSR from day 1 that’s easy enough for Sp 1 via book talks (a la Mike Peto), providing easy enough material for SSR to work in Sp 1 via the Invisibles stories my students wrote this year (of which I have 87 pages!!!) gaining access to Mike Peto’s cartoon SSR library.
- Doing way more One-Word-Images a la Ben Slavic from day 1 to get them to the point of Invisibles stories ASAP.
- Getting into One-Word-Image spin off mini-stories by the end of September and proper Invisibles stories by mid-October or so.
- Enforcing Ben Slavic’s classroom rules and assessing via my own interpersonal rubric (a la Ben Slavic) from day 1 to set classroom expectations early
- Just knowing what the heck I’m doing having my first year of CI under my belt!!!
- Adding a decent dose of Storylistening a la Dr. Beniko Mason
- What do you think of this student’s level for Sp 1? I’m pretty new to this, so I don’t have a huge comparison class. Nor is there a database online somewhere in our CI blogosphere that collects student samples. Should I be happy with it? Is there still a lot of room for improvement given she was a strong Spanish 1 student?
- What do you all do with the writing samples? I just gave a completion grade. As the year went on, I started circling mistakes so I could just glance at a page later on to get a gist of the language accuracy.
- Any and all other reactions are welcome!
Check back after a few days for my “Results Part 2: Spanish 2.”