Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Vital Importance of "Lesson Flow"

When I teach, I feel like I’m on stage. I’m constantly watching for audience participation and engagement, and reading their emotional state as best I can to see which combinations of what types of activities work best, and in what order, for increasing language acquisition.

I call this “lesson flow.” It’s a bit of an obsession for me, actually.

I have experimented with lesson design and sequencing for years now, and I’ve accepted the fact that I will probably always be tweaking it and seeking better and better ways of doing it for the rest of my teaching career. And I think that’s totally okay, because the search for constant self-improvement is just part of who I am, and it makes me a better teacher.

I’m now teaching on the 90-minute A/B block schedule, and through much experimentation I’ve noticed that different arrangements and combinations of lesson activities work better or worse with my students in terms of engagement. I’m going to share my current routine in case you’d like to try it yourself—especially if you are on the 90-minute block.

1 – Vocab Quiz using the vocab from the last lesson. These I am now projecting from my laptop onto a screen; kids take it on a half sheet of paper which I take up and give points for completion. My current students take it much more seriously if I take it up. They are the “why” generation as I have posted about before, and they need a reason for why they are doing everything. Give it to them!

2 – Read a one-page version of the Spanish story I told them last lesson. This way anyone who was absent last lesson gets to see the vocab in context in a story. Reading for me is usually reading with a partner, out loud in English (translating) so I know if they know what it says, but this year we’re also doing “Popcorn,” where each student reads a line (translating to English) and then calls on another student to read the next line. The kids taught me that one in class one day; I don’t know where it comes from, but I love it.

3 – Conversation/Class Discussion Question of the Day – again, projected from my laptop. Friday’s was Si tuvieras la oportunidad, ¿adónde irías en las vacaciones de primavera? Iría a_________porque… (“If you had the opportunity, where would you go for Spring Break? I would go to ____ because…” We’re working on the conditional tense.) I introduce the question, make sure everyone knows what it means, quickly brainstorm some vocab you might need to discuss it (in this case, me gusta/me encanta, el sol, la playa, esquiar o snowboard, ir de compras, cuidades grandes, etc.) and then have them talk about it in 4-groups. (My new 3A&B Lesson Plan books will have all of these Discussion Questions already scripted out for you, ready to go by lesson.) After they talk in their group, I go down the rows calling on every 3rd person in the room to answer it for the class, and sometimes this leads to more discussion in Spanish.

4 – New Vocab Set and I am still gesturing every single vocab item because it works. They either gesture or point at something in the room or a drawing I make on the board. I have experimented with not doing gestures and it’s unbelievable how much their comprehension and retention of the new vocab suffers.

5 – New Story – using the vocab items we just gestured. Right now it seems to work best if I decide before class which students are going to act and just call on them; otherwise, we have to play the “I don’t want to act, make so-in-so do it” game. I’ve been saying firmly, cheerfully, and confidently, “Okay, this story is about Mike and Kimberly,” and it works like magic on pretty much everyone. They just get up and do it.

6 – Q&A about the story – don’t skip this step. Yes, they whine. Insist that they answer your questions anyway. They need to know why, so tell them it’s for more practice with the target phrases and that it will help them be able to tell the story to their partner.

7 – Retell the story with a partner – I am now doing this for every single story even though I don’t have pictures drawn yet, and it is working just fine. Students must retell the story I just told them to their partner, speaking Spanish for 1 minute while I walk around with a timer. Second partner picks up where the other person left off in the story and then starts it over, speaking Spanish for the entire minute. I’m a drill sergeant about this, and each time the timer goes off, I always give feedback on how well they did.

8 – Grammar lesson, Journal Writing, OR “Street Spanish” lesson – I’m alternating these so they don’t get too burned out on grammar or writing. They love learning Spanish slang, so I’m going through the lessons in a book I’ve owned for years called Street Spanish 1 – The Best of Spanish Slang by David Burke. Some of it is a little “scandalous,” so they like that even more. Friday’s list included slang for cigarette, party, hunk, and babe, for example.

9 – Mexican Telenovela for the last 10 - 15 minutes of class. Right now we’re watching Un gancho al corazón on DVD with English subtitles, and it’s soooo good…Sebastian Rulli…sigh…

I will post again soon with the “lesson flow” that my colleague Alexis is using with her level 1 students and my 2009 1A&B books as well as some of the cool extension activities she’s come up with to go with the stories. Every time I walk by her door, her jam-packed freshman Spanish 1 classes are completely engaged and doing something that increases language acquisition, and she’s been getting 10-minute essays in there of over 200 words fairly regularly.