I have one copy of Agentes Secretos by Mira Canion. We are going to read it as a class on the ELMO and see how that goes. I read it and found it rather boring. Duh, I speak Spanish. My students are beginners. They DON’T think it’s boring. I forget that, because they are beginners, they are curious to “figure Spanish out”. They are also rather intrigued by the time the novel takes place (1937) and what was going on in the world at that time. They know nothing about the Spanish Civil War. They have heard of WWII (barely). I have to give it to Mira. She knows how to capture “male” interest: war, legends, spears, power. Luckily, my girls are quite happy having the main character be a female.
So, how can I help to make this book come alive for them? I must remember that reading the simple text is just a jumping off point. The real payoff will come from personalizing their experience with the text. I hope this book is as successful an experience for students as Piratas was (a hard act to follow).
We began Capítulo Uno today. We only read and translated the first page or so, but the students really got into it right away. It was AT an appropriate reading level: only a few words they couldn’t figure out. Mira is the master of “cognate use”. However, for 11 and 12 year olds, I have noticed that it is one thing to read words and “know” what they mean. Pretty easy. It is an entirely different thing to really comprehend all of those words together in meaningful text, getting the “whole” sense of it. In a foreign language, that task is much more difficult than in one’s first language. Just to remember the last sentence and connect it to the one that I am reading is an arduous task for my brain. To remember a whole paragraph, a whole page, is high level in my opinion. SLOW, SLOW, SLOW. We will continue tomorrow.
Challenge #1: How do I keep them engaged when I only have ONE book?
Possible ideas to get started:
- Get a really good online copy and hard copy of Picasso’s Guernica.
- Read more about the mural: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_%28painting%29
- Think about how to “round out” the rather flat characters in the book. (have kids make large, color illustrations to put up on the walls which they add to as the characters develop)
- A large map of Europe
- Have class make a timeline of events going on in the world in 1937
- Some period photos – powerpoint?
- Find a lance (make a spear)
Where can you buy this book for a mere $5.95?
As I reported on Ben’s blog, before vacation, I put up a huge plastic ocean scene on my back wall. Superimposed on it, I attached another plastic scene of the deck of a ship with the bulwark (as I believe it is called–so un-ship savvy am I). I hung small triangular plastic banners, emblazoned with ugly, eye-patched, pirate faces, from the ceiling across the length and breadth of the classroom. On the front door of the classroom, I hung a big pirate flag. All of these things came from Oriental Trading Company. http://bit.ly/8SoURI
In addition, I purchased the audio version (cd) of Piratas (Mira Canion/Carol Gaab) from TPRS Publishing, Inc. at http://bit.ly/6wOR1t , loaded the chapters onto my Itunes and then Garageband, hoping to slow down the tempo of the speech so it is more comprehensible to the kids. Garageband doesn’t look promising for that particular task. I then downloaded Audacity onto my computer to see if that will solve the problem. (Still working on it with Mr. Tech from school.) With GBand, I looped the scary music, from the beginning of Chapter One, to play as the kids were coming into the room today.
The prep was successful. The kids were totally impressed with the atmosphere (lots of oohs and aahs) and ready to start.
TPRS Publishing, Inc. sells an accompanying Teacher’s Treasure Chest packet which is chock full of activities. It is a great place to start. As I looked through the activities for Chapter One, I thought about how I might use them (or not) with my students. I thought about what my goals are for my students given their age, language level, life experience, interest in the subject matter, etc. I thought about how to modify the activities for my students–really thinking about how I could personalize EVERYTHING. I began by asking them some of the suggested introductory questions in Spanish. I worried, but shouldn’t have. They were completely willing to share their thoughts IN SPANISH! Here is a list of some of the things I did with them today:
- I drew two wide columns on the board, labeled: “Sí” and “A veces”. I asked them to tell me what they know about pirates (in Spanish) and I wrote them under the correct column. Here are a few of the answers from the two classes. There were many more.
- Under the A veces column: Eran feos. Apestaban. Tenían mucho pelo. Tenían pájaros en el hombro. Eran honestos/deshonestos. No tenian muchos dientes. No tenían hijos. Tenían pistolas. Etc.
- Under Sí: Amaban el mar. Vivían en barcos. Buscaban dinero. Tenían apodos. (Andrew didn’t know this word.) As soon as he mentioned this, there was an immediate outcry to receive “pirate nicknames” in Spanish.
- After above activity, I showed them (on Elmo, my wonderful overhead projector thingie) the list of words from the glossary for Chapter One. They counted the ones they knew already as we said the meanings in English aloud. The truth is that they already know most of them and have probably heard (in context) the few they didn’t know in the moment. No worries.
- Then, I showed them the giant list of cognates (from the Treasure Chest activity packet) for Chapter One. I read them in Spanish, one by one, as they called out the English meaning as a group. They were in stitches–how could there be so many words in Spanish that are exactly the same in English? By the time class ended, they were convinced of their own brilliance and their clear ability to tackle the reading task ahead of them. What more could I ask?
My observations from today:
- These kids know a ton of Spanish.
- Setting up the ambiance was a really good idea.
- My chart was a great pre-assessment tool: It told me lots of things about them. Are they: Producing? Not producing? Using verbs? Using past tense? Using third-person plural accurately? Using adjectives accurately?
- Here’s what I really love: We come back from two weeks on vacation. I start something completely new. They are speaking Spanish without flinching even a wee bit.
- I can’t wait to see how the “pirate nicknames” emerge!
Teaching this novel is about reading, acquiring language, and so much more. There are huge opportunities for authentic comprehensible input during this unit. I hope to exploit them to the max. This is not a blog about how to use the Teacher’s Treasure Chest (although I will certainly be reporting out on the usefulness of many of those activities). It is a blog about observing the learning process of my students and observing my own practice. Questions, comments, ideas?