Upper Levels

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5 thoughts on “Upper Levels”

  1. I am trying to design a culture project for my 4th year students in response to a mandate. It is true that they can now speak and hypothetically do a presentation in German. However, I have noticed that it is very difficult for students to “dumb down” their language when they want to say what they want to say. I, a 4%-er, am great at that. I can give you a presentation in Spanish or French that is exactly at my (woefully low) level of proficiency, looking up the occasional word, circumlocuting like a son-of-a-gun.
    My students, somehow, can’t do this.
    Me: Use language you know!
    Them: But I want to say so-and-so!
    Me: But you could put that in simpler language.
    Them: I don’t want to. It sounds too stupid. Can’t we just do it in English?
    Or worse, they look up all of those god-awful words and USE them in their presentations, effectively shutting out their peers…and me, if the words are long enough and their pronunciation bad enough!
    The problem is that their language skills are not commensurate with their intellectual curiosity and capacity.
    I get so mad at the state standards here, which crow about students learning other subject matter in the target language. What the heck?
    Biology: Frogs are green, live in the swamp, jump around and eat insects.
    I’m happy if my students can comprehend, let alone say, that.
    All this is the long way of asking if anyone has had success with cultural projects in the target language. I’m tempted to just do it in English and keep it separate from the CI, lest the forced and contrived nature of it contaminate our pure, wholesome, playful CI.

  2. Last year, I had my Spanish 3 students work in pairs and present for 5 minutes on a Spanish-speaking country- one per class. They had topics like geography, food, holidays, sports/pasttimes, music and famous people. They did the research outside class and presented with a partner on power point to the class. They also shared 1-2 minutes of a song from that country. At the end, each group asked the class 5 questions and I collected the answers every few weeks. They also shaded countries in as we went on maps that were not labeled. The audience had to label the country.

  3. Anne, how long do you have to implement this project? I tried some cultural presentations out of the gate last year in my III/IV class that I allowed them to do in PowerPoint and a lot of the stuff I saw even the presenters didn’t know what they were saying, much less the audience.
    Simply put, they weren’t used to giving presentations. That’s a big part of the ACTFL standards, but underpracticed in my lower level classes, so that when I’m trying to pull the trigger in the upper level classes they just don’t have any circumlocution skills to speak of.
    So I retooled and during the second half of the year practiced just having them used to giving a group story presentation a la Scott Benedict, where each group of four draws a four-picture story using target terms we have been working on, and each group member needs to give a 30 second explanation of what the picture is while telling their part of the story. People got good at it, learned how to simplify, and still got to get in their creativity.
    This year, then, I’m going to warm them up on that presentation activity for awhile (safety in numbers, short times, practice presenting, etc.) and then will translate that activity that they’re used to into a cultural context. My favorite German presentation is to send them to the online website for Castle Neuschwanstein. The website has (http://www.neuschwanstein.de/) highlights the various rooms–Throne room, bedroom, office, Cavern, etc.–and I assign people or groups to be tour guides for each room, making up things that “really happened in each room.”
    In the past, I just did the PowerPoint thing, but this year I’m going to have people come up with a four-picture story that “really happened” in that room, coming up with stories they invent. We can use cultural stuff for our base just as well, and if they’ve been building their presentation skills already, I can present this as a variation on something that they’re already familiar with rather than something out of the blue, when they default to their standard school mode which is to just throw big words at a project and see what sticks.

  4. Ugh, a huge waste of time in my opinion. My Spanish 3s last year had to do a video presentation about a country on Amazing Race Latinoamerica (the down side of sharing with your department is having to be flexible to give department-wide projects/assessments). The language was all GoogleTranslated and so horribly pronounced. I was miserable for those 2 days in class when I had to show the videos. I knew they were reading–I just couldn’t prove it!
    At the end of the semester, though, we gotta look like we are giving a project/presentation/something otherwise we look like the “easy” teacher or the non-team players. It’s how we are perceived, unfortunately. When 5/6 of the other Spanish III teachers are doing X, don’t we have to, too?

  5. A couple of ideas: last year I had kids making Power Points for me for our class songs, a picture or two per line of the song (with the text and the twext, Duke style — that means the translation is smaller and possibly in a less readable color). Only one or two worked, but they are gems.
    Our immersion teachers had kids do the same thing but without the translation. I like having the translation for later “generations” of students who might want to learn the song. The kids have to do it in Google docs so that I can link to them on my web page to find them again easily. They also have to make me an owner or editor so that I get to keep the things.
    Another project I have simmering for the advanced kids is yet another Power Point. First, I would show the kids examples and non-examples of how a picture can work or not work with a caption.
    Next, I have my Russian-speaking aide (or heritage speaker) find about twenty sites that have text about cultural topics with a lot of pictures. Wikipedia–with apologies to our librarian, who hates it — works well a lot of times, because the language is accessible. It’s also possible to find blogs by native speakers on their visits to a variety of places.
    The sites go onto our class web page. Students have homework to find something of interest. They can choose one or find their own. Emphasis: they have to be interested and they have to be able to understand at least 50% of the webpage.
    If they don’t pick one at home, they choose one in a five-minute period when in the lab. I don’t care if five or ten kids choose the same topic.
    Day one (85 minutes) They make a PowerPoint or Prezi introducing the class to some cultural topic. They pick up to five pictures and cut and paste text that they understand and that describes the pictures onto the slides or as captions. The sentences must be size 24 (or 32?? can’t remember) font so as to be readable. The students must understand every word of what they’re pasting. They must feel comfortable saying it, and should practice so that it’s natural. I know this is plagiarism, and I tell them so, but they’re working to get CI for themselves and to present it to others. I do exactly this process when I’m unlayering a text for embedded readings.
    Day two (50 minutes) The students share their projects with their partners and then revise for clarity. If there is even one word on a slide that the partner doesn’t understand, the kids have to think about how to make it comprehensible or consider changing the caption.
    Day three (probably about 30-50 minutes) Students present to the class. This goes really fast, since the presentations are so small.
    Now that I’ve written this up, I can see doing a mini version of this with only two slides, on a site that I pick myself for them. They can start it by saying that they want to talk about X, and finish with “Thank you for listening. I liked learning about X.” That way you get the presentational introduction and conclusion in, and everyone’s (relatively) happy.

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