Nathan Black on Homework

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4 thoughts on “Nathan Black on Homework”

  1. One missing piece here is a good list of what might be accepted as homework. I’m sharing here a piece that Michele and I worked on together; this is the list she gives her students.
    • Listen to Russian music
    • Find new songs for us; translate, share, or just listen
    • Watch a YouTube clip I showed in class/find new clips (be careful on the Internet)
    • Watch Russian movies or sitcoms
    Surfing the Web
    • Go to the links from my class website
    • Research a Russian city you’d like to visit
    • Set your Facebook language or phone to Russian for the week
    • Set your World of Warcraft/Runescape/Whatever-computer-game-you’re-sinking-your-life-into-at-the-moment settings to Russian
    • Find an online shop in Russia that sells whatever you like (T-shirts,, etc.) and see what you can understand (careful!)
    • Find a new site where you can learn Russian
    • Write a daily note to a friend in a Russian class. You can use our bulletin board as a mailbox.
    • Text or email a friend in Russian
    • Get on and read/write with Russian peers
    • Teach a sibling or friend Russian phrases / alphabet / numbers / etcetera
    • Attend or volunteer at a Russian community event
    • Volunteer in a Turnagain Immersion Program classroom or with an individual student
    • Hang out with a Russian-speaking exchange student
    • Hang out with local Russians
    • Cook a Russian recipe for your family (or class)
    • Draw pictures for me to illustrate a story we asked in class
    • Write a new story
    • Write poetry
    • Make a PowerPoint to go with a reading
    • Make a movie in Russian
    • Read Russian cartoons online
    • Check any book out of my reading library (including class-generated stories)
    • Find and read lyrics to your favorite Russian songs
    • Read Russian Poems
    • Read familiar books (Harry Potter, Twilight) in Russian…check our school library
    • Take ????????? (class mascot) home over the weekend, take pictures and tell what you did on Monday
    • Make a video (skit, mashup, whatever) or PowerPoint about something that you’re interested in (can extend over several weeks on this one)
    • Put on a concert with a Russian song
    Vocabulary / Grammar
    • Practice on
    • Do grammar exercises
    • Memorize numbers, days of the week, months, car parts (etc) and demo them
    • Practice vocabulary on Quizlet or the 2,000 most frequent Russian word list
    • Practice on
    • Find a way to cross disciplines and “double dip” by studying or reading the same information dealing with Russia or Russian to help you in another class. (This is a new IB requirement.) Examples follow.
    • Read a play by Chaikovsky
    • Share history of a certain time period in Russia
    • Experiment with a Russian art form
    • Memorize a piece of music on your instrument
    • Share the insights of a Russian scientist and apply them to your world
    • Show how math can be learned “Russian style”

  2. Thank you for more details on this! This list is really helpful. I am doing this in my classes, and LOVE reading the weekly reflections! Granted, I sprang this on the kids just a month ago, and many kids are choosing things that are way too hard (and thus not really CI), but I think there is value in kids figuring this out for themselves. For example, one girl was so excited to watch TV shows like Seinfeld with the Spanish voice over. In her first reflection she noticed how hard it was even though it was an episode she knew what was happening. She said things like “It was way too fast.” “I could pick out a few words here and there, but I really didn’t get most of it. But it was still funny. ” I responded to her by acknowledging her effort and agreeing that when it’s too fast you don’t really gain anything. This way the kids can gravitate to other ideas that are easier. I think that some trial trial and error is fine, because they develop more awareness about what helps them and what is overwhelming. Better to learn this on your own that take my word for it, right?
    Even though a lot of what they are exploring is too hard, I will be able to streamline the practice if I choose to do it again next year. I still think this is so much more worthwhile because the students are choosing 1) whether to even do it and 2) the content of what they do based on their own interests. I am a firm believer in following your curiosity!
    A few kids are having pretty neat experiences: one student who is really and truly a rocket scientist has chosen to learn lots of tech-y vocabulary about computers and aviation. One week he worked on computer vocabulary and noted in his reflections that he began to use the terms in Spanish “without even realizing it.” Another student who is a musician is learning pieces by Isaac Albeniz. He is going to play them for us this week. I also have a soccer player who in his real life is obsessed with FC Barcelona. He watches lots of games on the Spanish ESPN or whatever (he does this anyway, and now he can “count” it as homework). He writes in every week about the games, and about how it is very difficult for him to understand the commentary. “It’s way too fast so I don’t get a lot of it, but it’s getting easier.” Sometimes he hears them speaking Catalan with a Spanish interpreter. I worried about this language confusion, but he actually can hear the difference. Last week in class, as Susan Gross would say, “he opened his mouth and Spanish fell out!” This kid is super quiet. A boy in an early morning class before he is biologically awake, who can barely muster a si / no response. Unbidden he just blurted out in Spanish how after this big tournament, a player dropped the trophy under the bus! Another student watches telenovelas and some of those cheesy game shows on Telemundo. She is in my 4th year class and is unusually dedicated and writes detailed reflections each week in amazingly accurate Spanish that she begs me to mark so she can fine-tune her writing. She has recently requested “una clase completamente aburrida estudiando verbos,” but the other guys would revolt so I’m using “Los Ojos de Carmen” in class to practice the structures in context, and I gave her some websites to practice “gramatica” on her own, and she is supercontenta 🙂
    The process I have been using needs tweaking, for sure. Some kids write reflections in their journals and some write me an e mail. It works OK, but some classes chose to have the reflections due Mon. and others chose Friday, and honestly I can’t remember which is which. I like the idea of the clipboards and having everyone do it at the same time. I would probably still use the journals, though, because I know myself and what happens to small slips of paper in my possession 😉 I remind myself constantly that the kids are learning a ton more than they would usually learn at this time of year because typically I would be in panic mode trying to cram in a million verb charts so I can tell my dept. head that I “covered” certain topics. Bleh!
    I want to get some feedback from the students before the year ends, so I can use it to help plan next year, but am not very good at creating objective ways to do this. I tend to “lead the witness.” Any ideas? I suspect that many kids will feel like “they didn’t learn anything because they didn’t learn any grammar charts.” So I am kind of afraid of this response. I will definitely have samples of student work that I can present at end of year meetings, so this will help, but if anyone has any feedback protocols that work, I’d love to hear them.
    Thank you all!
    🙂 Jen

    1. Jen,
      I am as excited as you about the responses I get from this homework assignment. I teach 7 rotations of exploratory Spanish (14 classes) along with Spanish I and at the end of each rotation, I give the students a survey to fill out. I keep tweaking it as I go along, but the latest version is something like this: (btw, the kids seem to really take their time thinking over the answers; I tell them that I use their responses to tweak the way I teach the next rotation.)
      Choosing from the different class activities (such as the student cards , making up stories, acting out skits, translating stories, listening to music, doing the learning songs, dictados, writing in diccionarios, Bell work questions , drawing pictures of stories, Spanish games—be specific, other…) ANSWER:
      1. The activity that helped me learn Spanish the most was_____________________________
      2. The activity that was the most fun was_________________________________________
      3. The activity that I learned the least from was____________________________________
      4. Do you have any advice for me or for the students in the next rotation? _______________________________
      5. Was class TOO DIFFICULT TOO EASY JUST ABOUT RIGHT? (circle one). What makes you say that? __________________________________________________
      I hope you get more responses–I am always trying to improve my pre- and post-surveys as well.

      1. Lori,
        Thank you for this survey. It’s simple and the final question “What makes you say that?” will also get at some of the details I’m looking for.
        🙂 Jen

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