Lesson Study: A Good Team

A few weeks ago I agreed to participate in a doctoral thesis research of a colleague. It consists of taking part in a lesson study with a group of fellow teachers. At first I was attracted by the idea of learning something new and collaborating with other world language colleagues. I didn’t think though that I would find it so engaging.

I’m collaborating with four other teachers of: Italian, French and Chinese. Our primary goal is to exchange strategies to improve the instruction and assessment of the interpersonal speaking mode. We basically want to increase the use of the target language by our students, in class.

We were instructed to first create one common lesson that each one of us could teach. Then, we would observe each other and provide feedback. Prepare one common lesson…what a monumental task!! We thought it would be simple. We agreed on the proficiency level, the topic and started exchanging ideas. The problem is that not only we teach different languages but we teach different levels. What are we going to do? Not sure yet but I guess is part of the process to figure out how to make it work.

On the other hand, it’s been a very positive experience so far. It really feels like we are part of a PLC (Professional Learning Community). Although we’ve just had a few meetings, everyone is enthusiastic about it and willing to contribute something to the group.

I also find it interesting how everyone’s personality has surfaced. At least it’s made me reflect on mine. I’m the type of person that has to have a plan even if at the end the plan is not followed. I need structure and accountability. Thankfully, other members of the group are much calmer, don’t attempt to create everything from scratch (like me!), and are just better at keeping things simple; which I’m learning is a good thing.

Nevertheless, I always look forward to meeting with my team. There’s camaraderie, respect and most importantly we all love coffee!!

I’ll keep you posted…

What?! ! I can’t read Spanish!!

Whenever I give my students a reading in Spanish for the first time they react with a “How am I supposed to read this, I don’t know Spanish!!” I then have to calm them down by explaining that I will teach them some “tricks” so that they can understand a reading without having to translate word for word.

The thesis I completed for the MA in World Language Education from NJCU, was about the transferability of reading skills between English (first language) and Spanish (target language). The results of the research led me to the conclusion that students do transfer skills from their native language to the target language. You’re not surprised, right?! I wasn’t either. My question, however, was how could I teach students to make use of these skills consciously so that they can understand a text in Spanish even though they don’t have enough vocabulary.

Based on the findings I chose the following strategies, and designed a lesson I could teach in the beginning of the school year: looking at the text format, title and illustrations, scanning for cognates, tapping into their background knowledge and focusing on the context. I also created a study guide, and what I call a “reading warm up” sheet.

The execution of the lesson has varied but it basically consists of: introduction of the vocabulary, completion of a reading warm up as a class using a selected text, and individual practice. This year instead of giving the information to the students first, I posted the keywords on the board and asked them to write down their own definitions. Surprisingly, the students came up with great ways of explaining the different terms. We all learned that they underestimate the knowledge they possess.

After the initial lesson I usually reinforce it throughout the year by the use of reading strategies in the following ways:

• Weekly reading journals in which students choose a reading from a magazine and complete a reading task (combination of reading warm up with a summary and inferring of the main idea).

• Regular reading assignments (same text for all students) accompanied by the reading warm up and an interpretive task specific to the reading.

At this point students no longer yell at me for asking them to do the seemingly impossible but start asking questions that can help them complete the reading task successfully.

Happy reading!

For the forms go to http://erickacollado.weebly.com/reading.html

Asking The Right Questions

When I was in sixth grade, the teacher gave us one assignment that I’ll never forget. Each one of us had to create a poster to decorate the classroom. We had to find a quote that we liked, write it on poster board and illustrate the message. All the posters were displayed but the best ones got little star stickers on them. Some of those quotes still guide me positively yet there’s one that I never forgot because I didn’t quite comprehend it. The quote read in Spanish: “Cuando supe todas las respuestas, me cambiaron todas las preguntas.” I haven’t come across the English version but it would translate into something like “When I finally got all the answers, all my questions changed.” Today, I fully understood the quote.

I was very fortunate to attend a two-day training session with Paul Sandrock, ACTFL Associate Director of Professional Development, as part of the NJ Model Curriculum project. I was looking forward to get first hand information about assessments in the world language classroom as well as feedback on whether what I’ve been doing is right. As Mr. Sandrock exposed the different ideas and strategies I realized that I had been asking myself all the wrong questions. I consider myself a reflective practitioner always looking for ways to improve instruction and assessment. However, I have been making changes at a superficial level and somehow underestimating the ability of my students based on the fact that they are at the novice level. Interestingly enough (at least to me) there were no specific answers to my questions but I now understand what needs to be done. That is, to facilitate the learning process and help students improve their proficiency by allowing them to achieve to their highest potential instead of limiting them (inadvertently) with assessment criteria that was meant to be used as a guide.

Below I share my new assessment “to do” list, based on the ideas discussed:

– Think of what the real life purpose of the assessment is.

– Choose an interpretive text that consists of something that the students have never seen before.

– Allow students to be themselves on interpersonal assessments.

– Encourage storytelling through presentational tasks.

– Make sure that rubrics are aligned with tasks and evaluate what’s being measured.

– When in doubt go to “The Keys to Assessing Language Performance”, Sandrock’s new book.

I’m so looking forward to FLENJ’s Spring Conference and Mr. Sandrock’s keynote address!

Copyright © 2015 Ericka Collado
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