Our last question is one that all language teachers struggle with year after year. Many of you said this was one of the biggest difficulties in teaching. We have all seen/posted something like this in hopes to solve our ongoing issue…
l don’t know about you but I think I deal with this almost every day…
So here’s the big question we would all love to have a new solution for…
I’ve posted this before and will again– establish a department oral production policy beginning at Level 1. Students earn ‘speaking points’ for the using the TL in class. With my departmet’s policy, students have the chance to earn 1-3 points each time they speak. One point for trying, and 2-3 for using correct grammar and/or correct pronunciation. Point rangers for each week are 15 (Level 1) – 50 (AP5) points for a 100% depending on the level. Various communicative instructional activities are included in lesson plans to allow students to use the TL with each other and not just with the teacher.
How do you keep track of this each class period? I have classes of 30. Do you call on students forcing them to speak? Or do they earn the points only if they volunteer?
I keep a roster on my clipboard. I do the check mark system. At the end of the week or marking period I count and the one with the most check mark gets 100 and a student with the least may get a 70.
I suppose each student could get a punch card so that they know where to stand on their points? You could punch it as they earn them?
I agree that it would really help if teachers across a department valued listening and interpersonal communication in the same sort of way. I do an interpersonal assessment at least twice a trimester (1 on 1) and by the end of the year kids are much more comfortable speaking.
Alyson – Do you have specific kids dominate the conversation just because they want their points? Can shy or absent kids make up points with you in a smaller setting?
I would love some more ideas on how to effectively do interpersonal assessments more frequently in class. With huge class sizes, though, does anyone have any tips on how to do this one-on-one with students and not have it take multiple days to get through everyone? And once it gets too long, it becomes a little challenging to keep coming up with activities for the rest of the class to do that don’t even need me to circulate/monitor..
This is tricky – and I can’t tell you how many discussions I have had with other teachers about this! I’m learning that I need to do MORE interpersonal mini-assessments (less formal) instead of LONG ones at the end of a unit/semester. I like using “stations” or “centers” so that students have different tasks to complete and I can focus on a small group.
I always go back to… What is best for the students? Do they listen and get better practice in a big group or small? If they need smaller groups than I know I have to make it happen even if it takes a few days. Do you have a computer lab you can get into? Sometimes letting them research a topic and find new vocab is a good use of their time! It puts the learning on them!
As I put down in my post further down, I’ve done speaking assessments in groups. I assign 5-6 students to a group. I post the topic on one day, then a certain group does the assessment individually/paired on subsequent days. I do this during my first 15 mins of class, when students are working on “bellringer” extra credit.
I recently tried out an activity in class that I plan to use for speaking assessments in the future. I have a phone number with Google Voice, which allows me to give out a number to students and parents that is not my personal cell phone number, but which forwards to my personal cell phone when they call (and vice versa–I can make parent calls in the evening and call through my Smartphone using my Google Voice number). You can get a free Google Voice phone number here: http://www.google.com/voice.
One day during class I had students use their cell phones to call my Google Voice number and leave me a voice message in Spanish, and I was able to listen to each voice mail later. Since Google Voice links to your Gmail account if you have one, I also had a record that I could view/listen online of each call. For students who did not have phones (only a few), I had them record their voices into my computer microphone. Students got a real kick out of leaving me a voicemail. It was not a problem to have more than one student calling at a time.
If I were going to use Google Voice for a more formal assessment, I would give a slip of paper with the questions to be answered (although you could argue that makes it not technically interpersonal), OR (and I have not tested this) record the assessment questions as the voicemail greeting.
The biggest issue I encountered was classroom management during the process of all students calling and leaving a message–next time I will make sure that students have a quiet independent activity to work on as soon as they were done, since I was occupied helping the students without phones to record on the computer.
I hope that’s helpful!
I’ve done Google Voice too in a similar method as you, only I allowed them to use my cellphone since I don’t have a microphone. I have also used it as a center/station.
What about little things that don’t require grades or points?
I have started with “phrase of the week” so students can learn a new phrases. They have fun with it. No everyone is into it, but they hear the phrase and most pick it up just from hearing and seeing it!
I used one of those phrases a day calendar last year to help jump start classes and had the students make up new phrases with the expressions. They loved it. It did get old after awhile, but once a week sounds good! It was my warm-up.
Where did you find your “phrase of the week” calendar?
Anyone know of a good online source for this?
(I’m looking for a good one my Spanish 3 class can sign up for and get their email without me having to give it to them. Teachers shouldn’t be the only one with access to new info!)
Donquijote.org is a place to start for an email thing. I get them on Mondays I think. Or maybe they sign up for a “Spanish word a day” twitter feed. There are several if you search.
Here’s something my friend Josh does…
To get kids starting class 100% in the TL, he watches how many minutes they stay in the TL after the bell rings. When he hears someone speak English he stops the timer and adds the minutes to the class total. The minutes add up and when they reach 200 they can “spend” the time they have earned with a TL movie day or another cultural celebration. Its a great way for them to really hold each other accountable and he’s gets their focus for the first part of class when they are the most able to learn!
Awesome idea! Not necessarily tied to points, but there is still another incentive. I really like that it’s one that leads to more exposure to the culture/language, not necessarily just to their grade!!
I find that it is most important that I stay in the target language. I remember Blaine Ray saying that students will start speaking when they are ready. To get students to speak it, I try to make speaking activities like games and mix it up constantly.
My favorite is an oldie: clothes pins. Each student gets 3 clothes pins. They can only speak Spanish for the next 15 mins. If they hear another student (or me!) speak in English, they say “Damelo” (give me it) and take a pin. The student with the most pins gets a little something extra. This activity gets them watching each other too. I try to do this every month or so.
Clothes pins activity is a great example! Shows kids they can really handle and participate in a 100% TL conversation! It needs to be more than just “Como se dice…” though! You have to give them something they actually want to talk about – something new!
I have been trying this in my class, and I have found it beneficial to also have them keep track on post-its in their groups (have a “secretary”) of positive “points”: the secretary will write a point under each student’s name each time they participate in Spanish. This helped me encourage more participation as I went around to the groups, and it also helped prevent those students from winning the clothespins game by saying absolutely nothing in Spanish except “dame tu pinza”. 🙂
I never tire of discussing this topic and hearing what other teachers have tried. I know many instructors award participation points and I always have the same question as Kelly: how does one keep track of points in larger classes? In many if not most of the systems I’ve heard described, students are awarded points based on their frequency of participation rather than on the quality of the language they’re able to produce – mostly, it seems, because keeping track of accuracy becomes so unwieldy with larger groups. I understand the rationale – that we need to find a way to get students involved and speaking and that some students will only do so if silence makes their grade suffer. But what if most of the answers a particular student offers are a single word or way off base? We could ask similar questions about homework: should we be grading assignments based on effort, accuracy or both? (Or should we grade homework at all?) Back to the point, though: do other teachers feel the participation points trade-off is worth it (in other words, assessing quantity versus quality?) I don’t use a points system and a fair number of my students participate rarely if ever in whole-group discussions so I’m definitely looking for a better way. I’d love to hear more from Alyson about how she manages her system.
I should add that I’ve tried many of the speaking (and other) activities Kara and Megan describe in detail on this site and have watched as students (even very shy students) use the language they know to make meaning. The “What am I like?” activity was an especially huge hit. The biggest challenge I face is encouraging all students to participate during whole-class discussions (which I try not to use too much) and to maintain the TL during that transitional, in-between time when many tend to switch back to English.
I LOVE this blog! Have any of you tried classdojo? It’s a website and an app that you can use in the classroom. It’s pretty cool, although I haven’t officially tried it in my classes, yet. You can customize it to fit whatever–speaking, listening, other behaviors. Little avatar monsters are assigned to each of the students. You can project it on the board and whenever a student speaks, you can ‘ding’ them. There are positive and negative dings. It may be worth looking into as far as tracking student points. I always struggle with this myself. Any input would be appreciated! By the way, thanks so much for having this blog! You have inspired me so much to re-think how I teach and create and deliver curriculum!
I have toyed with this idea for a bit until I realized that the apps of this kind do exactly what you said: keeping track of the behaviors. Do we teach behavior or language? If we teach language, that’s what we should be tracking/assessing. Behavior is not on our list of standards. However, if we want to do it for other purposes, like to tell the students and parents why the kid doesn’t perform well – look he was distracted, did other homework in my class etc,- then it’s a valid tool.
I agree Natalia. Also, student’s grades should reflect their language abilities, not their amount of participation. I like having some sort of way to provide feedback to students and have used “pikme” app to rate students’ responses/conversations on a proficiency scale. Again, it was for their practice, but powerful for them to see where they are so they can begin to see how to get to the next level. However, it’s only effective if it helps students.
Saw this tweet the other day…
“If teachers would grade less and teach more, students would DO less but LEARN more!”
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that quote! (And love this blog, too, BTW! Inspirational!)
Language is a skill, which is also a behavior.
If a kid goes to a sports practice and just sits and picks the grass, they aren’t practicing.
If a kid comes to class and speaks English, they aren’t practicing as much as they could.
We use a system where the kids get a certain number of points per day. If they slip into English, they lose a point. The first years get more points than the upper levels.
If they kids are using English to explain a concept to each other, I don’t take the points away. If they are talking about things and could be using Spanish since they know those words, points taken away. For a majority of kids, this is a decent motivator.
I have a class of 30 and 2 classes of 17. The class of 30 is kind of hard to keep track of, but I do what I can. If they are caught they lose points. If they are sneaky enough to not get caught…then I can’t take away points. If they are whispering rather quickly and not pausing to remember a word, I usually assume they are in English and take the point away.
Students can make up half the points they lose if they come have a short conversation with me in Spanish.
When I go around and check their homework, I ask them questions in Spanish on each student’s level. If it’s a kid who is shy, I ask yes or no questions on their level.
I do something similar, introduced at a conference. I laminated some sheets of red card stock and cut them into squares (2-3″). Each time a student says something in English that they could say in French, they get a red card. They can get a maximum of 5 per day, though I’ve never given out more than 3 to one person in any given day. For each red card, they lose a participation point.
I do a total of 10 participation points per day: 5 for the cards and the other 5 for whether or not they’re actually participating and practicing, or just sitting there and/or chatting. I don’t think it’s bad to do that because we’re also teaching them life skills such as responsibility. After all, the point of high school is to prepare them for the big wide world after K-12.
And Thank You for being a part of this! I’ll check it out.
As I use proficiency criteria for grading, keeping track of points of any kind does not fit. The student is either able to perform the task or not. All and any speaking done in class is practice, and as with all practice it is meant to improve the skill (speaking) by taking chances and risks. It means failing sometimes or even many times before mastering the skill. I feel that the students should not be penalized for that. Besides, the best conversations come out of the ones that are unrehearsed with no pressure where students fell safe to express themselves without fear of “getting all the points”.
Yes, there are shy kids in my classes too and I do have to call on them for the sake of my own informal assessment: I need to know, can all my students do “x” before I move on. In the end, do I care how many times did the kid answer in class or can he tell where he went last weekend using past correctly? In my experiences, most of my shy students who don’t talk much at all blow me away on one-on-one assessments face to face or with recordings.
Just because we keep tally of points, is not going to make student a better speaker nor will it motivate them to speak more (tried that: lots of extra work for the teacher, not the students). Our goal should be creating meaningful situations when they will feel compelled joining in in TL because it interests them and because they feel that their comment will be validated not by points but by what they bring to the table.
So for me, the question is how do we motivate students to use TL in pair/group activities to practice as I can’t possibly do it every day with 30 of them. Having them record their conversations to be reviewed by them and me? Keeping track of time in TL as a pair/group throughout the week? Any ideas?
Thomas Sauer used to say this all the time… ANY time in the TL in a small group is probably MORE time than they would have been speaking with the whole class. I know mine do more when I’m watching them, but really we need to find a way to let them see that their TL time = proficiency level.
Maybe you pick a random group each day and each person has to share a little bit about what someone in their group said. That way there is a little accountability without consuming all your time watching videos.
I just reinstituted the ooooold school Blaine Ray “pagame” system in my level 4 class (we, and I do mean we, were all getting lazy). In the old system, students were given 100 participation points, and then lost them (“pagame”) 5 at a time for each usage of English. They could earn them back by writing an essay. The change that I made is that my students are saying to me, “pagame” each time *I* use English (unless I ask permission first [think pop-up grammar]). Each “pagame” I earn cancels out one of theirs. This way, we are all held accountable.
I use a stamp sheet for each unit I teach which includes the speaking goals for each unit. On the stamp sheet I have included stamps for speaking French an entire class period. I usually start this in level 2 and I increase the number of those stamps as the year goes on. I encourage students to do the French speaking stamps on days we are going to do speaking activities because that is a little easier for them; however, many ask to do them at different times. Now like anything else, some students really like to do it and others are shy at first but the more they do them, the more comfortable they get with French. I also have little books that I have made with useful expressions, useful questions, etc. that they can use while speaking French. I did this so that the students would stop depending so much on English and more on their French speaking abilities. It really helps them with their language skills as they move through the upper levels. My level 4 students (who mostly use the TL in class anyway) have almost all French speaking stamps and they are always telling me how when they leave my class after speaking French they find themselves continuing to speak French in their other classes. My lower levels actually say the same thing. Since I have started these stamps I have had students come back to visit me from university and thank me for making them do the French speaking stamps because now (in university) they are not shy about speaking and feel comfortable joining in discussions in their French courses. Of course this is something that the students have to buy into and yes it is for a grade but I have students do the French speaking stamps before they do the other speaking stamps. They really like to see how much of the TL they know and can use in class.
What do you mean by a stamp sheet? Can you please share an example? Thanks!
Yes I will. Sorry I thought Megan and Kara had already talked about stamp sheets. I will put it up a little later when I have more time at home.
I’m also curious about what phrases you decided to put in your phrase book for them. Is this a doc you can share as well? Thanks!
Here’s a link to the post about the stamp sheets. My students love these! And it makes my planning SO much easier.
Here are some things I do and vary by levels (1-3):
–Weekly conversation “quizzes.” I use the term quiz loosely now because, I graded it as such when I first started teaching. I got the idea from my own experience taking Japanese and I had to call in to talk to a native Japanese speaker each week on a given topic. Now, I do it as an objective for class, giving good feedback to students as to their proficiency level. I’ve varied when I give the “quiz:” all on one day (students waiting/finished work on something else), dividing into groups of 3-5 students and each group having an assigned day, or at their leisure. I’ve had students come back and tell me that’s the best way they felt they used the language. I’ve also done these where students themselves can pair up in groups of 2-3 and I sit and listen, jumping in when I want more clairifcation on an answer or a relatable question.
–Group discussion. This is an expansion of the quiz in where I give them a topic we will discuss together/debate, and we do it on a set day. To earn credit, students have to provide a set number of statements/questions, depending on the level.
–Q&A charts/Bingo. I have students write down varied questions in a chart, and they must go around asking each other to try to get an answer from their classmates. Sometimes I use it as a Bingo game. For example, my level 3 did a variation on the game “Never have I ever” using the present perfect tense. They came up with things they have never done and had to ask each thing to 5 different students and tally how many matches they got. When I got results, I asked some of the questions back to students to see if it really was a match. This activity is usually quick, but meaningful. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from students on it.
In addition, I always give out a list of useful questions, commands, and expressions students must use in class. It still blows my mind that they’ll ask me “Can I go to ____ room for my binder?” in English, but they usually stop themselves and ask in TL. I also do a useful phrase that’s normally a modismo. Like Megan wrote, some are into it…some not.
Your weekly conversation “quizzes” have me thinking!! I like the idea of me being hands-off to let them take the lead.
You all have many good ideas. I have tried some of them including a clothes-pin like system, which worked quite well. I have noticed that the shy/self conscious students always need reassurance – they may not speak English, but they don’t speak Spanish either. This year, I began using Edmodo, a classroom social network. In my building each student has an iPad, so using Edmodo, I give students a short speaking task. They record themselves answering it (right in the classroom) and submit it the same way they submit other assignments on this app. I don’t grade their responses, I just listen to each one and use the app icons as way to provide feedback, or I might write a quick sentence supporting a student’s efforts. It’s quick and I gain insight into each student’s ability as well as help the insecure individuals gain confidence.
Edmodo has been really helpful for me too. I like that the students who are sometime shy when speaking can feel comfortable “writing” and holding discussions online. We start class once a week with an edmodo convo. They can start a discussion or comment on others’ ideas and I ask a few questions to get them started. It’s fun!
I use a combination of two systems.
First, to discourage their use of English, I use “El papel de ingles.” This is similar to Kara’s clothespin idea. I give an “English paper” to a student whenever I hear him/her speaking in English. The only way to get rid of “El papel de ingles” is to catch another student speaking in English and give the paper to him/her. Whoever has an “English paper” at the end of class has to come visit me before school, after school, or during lunch to talk with me in Spanish. Each offense is one minute. Therefore, if it is your first time with the “English paper” when class ends you will meet with me to talk in Spanish for one minute. If it is your second time, we will talk for two minutes… third time = three minutes, etc. I have found that this really discourages their use of English.
However, students not using English does not necessarily mean that they are going to use Spanish. So I’ve come up with a policy to encourage their use of the Target Language. Here is a link to that policy. http://www.lcps.org/Page/103618
It is not a perfect system, but it has worked with a great degree of success in my classroom. It also really helps encourage them to do their homework! (Which is always meaningful, and never longer than 10-20 minutes).
Hmmm 🙂 I like this papel idea. I love all these ideas! Thank you all!
This is hands-down my biggest challenge every day. Here are the strategies I’m working on, though definitely NOT anything I have perfected…
-me staying in the TL at all times
-simplifying directions and modeling as much as possible in order to stay in the TL when giving directions
-making what matters to students and what they want to talk about the main focuses of class discussion
-scaffolding with word banks and pictures to facilitate student responses
-taking steps to lower students’ stress level so that they feel comfortable enough to speak Spanish, such as playing little games in Spanish, small group talk instead of whole group, lots of praise/aplauso, and encouraging/not criticizing mistakes.
What sort of things do you do to show encouraging while still correcting mistakes? I can do it easily when they have writing corrected (great ideas, nice long sentences, etc.), but it is harder to correct their speaking without it coming across as too strict!
This is definitely an important question. My first thought is that I definitely care more that students speak and communicate than if they do so correctly–a line that sticks in my head is this one: “good grammar doesn’t make communication, it just makes communication more accurate.” Wish I knew who said it! And grammar isn’t the only source of student mistakes, but it is one on which language teachers tend to focus.
My best methods for correcting student mistakes in real time are usually one of the following: I repeat what the student said after they speak, but in the correct form, and not at all in an admonishing way, more of an I’m-aknowledging-what-you-said-by-repeating way. Or, I’ll prompt the student about the verb (sorry, I’m stuck on thinking about grammar mistakes!) after they’ve finished speaking, as in, “Yo comes?” to try to prompt them to correct themselves.
For games I have a set of buzzers. The students liked them so much, I now use one of them for buzzing speaking mistakes during whole class time. It lightens the mood and the kids love it (i let them choose the sound). For correct answers, I occasionally throw out candy or give tickets that students can redeem for a surprise reward (if they remember to bring them to the next class or don’t lose them). Something small like “how to conjugate verbs” bookmark.
Forgot to say that when the student gets buzzed, they correct or attempt to correct their own mistake. I help as they need.
I absolutely LOVE this blog as well, thank you so much to authors Megan, Rachel and Kara! I teach middle school (level 1) and I use a marble jar for each class. The kids earn marbles when they speak in the TL. Each time they fill up a marble jar they get a letter. When they spell a certain word then they get a party. After the party, we set a new goal with a longer word. 6th graders have a littler marble jar than 7th grade. This works well for 6th grade. 7th grade does well but then in the second half of the year sometimes slip into English so I sometimes do a variation of the stopwatch activity, timing them to see how many minutes they can go in the TL. Sometimes we have one class compete against the other. Only thing is, if you only have two classes and one is higher than the other then this could be unfair.
8th grade we had 10 points on the board and if I heard English I would erase a point for the class. When they reach the point goal they get a party. I also have a larger marble jar that I fill when I hear more complex sentences or good behavior and when that jar is full they get 25 points (towards their goal).
Thanks Heather! I love your marble idea! It’s a great visual way to see their progress.