Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Unstructured language time and pushing i + 1

While you might feel inclined to judge me for the following and think: "gasp, what a waste of time, he's such a horrible teacher!" please bear with me.

Something that I generally do after my kids learn how to talk about basic feelings and emotions through storytelling is to ask them as a class or as individuals (and to pop-up why I used "están" instead of "estás" for the group or why I used "estás" for one person, and they why I need "estoy")

At first it's really basic. The students would just say how they were doing and I might recast it for the class. If they weren't good or bad, I might ask a follow-up question or two.  If they were happy, I would ask why and I always give the options: "Por qué" (why?) or "no importa" (it doesn't matter).  It was a way for kids to talk about themselves a little bit. I rarely correct their language because communication is key.

I have noticed sometimes they help one another out (if someone says "you are" another might help and say "I am"). I don't ever squash this because I can tell it is in the spirit of kindness.

If they don't cooperate (but there is still a warmth in class), I might occasionally have someone's job be to draw names randomly with sticks (or I do it).

As the activity grows, my students might get a bonus for asking me, "What about you?" (¿y tú / usted?). Then I can throw in some i + 1.

But lately in the year, my "lesson plans" seems to get put on the back-burner as the students become more of a family. My asking them how they are doing might end there, but I don't try to let myself. If they tell me that they tired or sick, I might ask them why. Were they on their phone? Does their throat hurt? Did they not sleep enough last night? (Can we have a class competition to see who slept the least?).

I have noticed that this can take a lot longer than I ever have planned. Sometimes my kids can do this for a long time. I might have them get up and brain break, but it just feels like we're hanging out in the language.

I've noticed that the problem here is I can't model very well the form for them to use. It's all conversational. So maybe I should try to assist by asking the class more often, "They want to say ___. How can we say that?" And if the class knows, write it on the board and applaud them for their cleverness. If they don't, let them know by writing it on the board.

Regardless of how poorly I might do this activity, this is single-handedly one of the things that I think many of my former students really appreciate about my class. We find our personality as a class through the inside jokes we learn about during those informal chats. While they might never turn into stories, it's just that hanging out in the language and completely wanting to know about my kids. It's also a great way to learn about brother, sister, mother, father, grandfather, cousins in context when it matters to them.

I hear from former students (and others who have only heard from friends who had me) that one of the best parts of my class is how much I interact with the kids in the language instead of just giving them work to do.

While we might not "accomplish" as much in some of my formal lesson plans, what's really better for the kids than hanging out in the language with them and pushing their understanding by i + 1?

Next year, I am going to be at a new school and I am excited to be able to try out Bryce Hedstrom's Persona Especial activity.  I think it will help establish a similar expectation in my class that the students are most important and that we learn about each other because we matter.

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