Sunday, December 1, 2019

New activity types: Speed dating, PearDeck, and Conjuguemos games

As I have more of my materials developed, I've been working on improving or modifying existing activities to better meet learning objectives.  I have a number of activities where I ask students to interview classmates, and in the past I've done this as a free-for-all where they get up and move around the classroom. This worked pretty well in higher ed, but in K-12, what usually ends up happening is that I get a few big clumps of people that are answering the questions as a group. Efficient, yes, but part of the goal of the activity is to get them repetitions asking and answering the questions. So I borrowed an activity that I read about online (with apologies, because I can't remember where I read about it) and set up interviews in a speed dating format. To make it easier for me, I arrange all of my classes to do interviews on the same day so that I can arrange the desks the day before. I make a set of questions for each class, and give them 2-3 minutes to interview their partner. When the time is up, one partner moves on and the other one stays, and the process repeats. This has the added benefit of holding all students accountable for participating, and it's easier to plan for how long it will take. It also makes it easier for me to walk around and make sure people are talking in Spanish, and there's a lot more focus and a lot less off-task talking. Pretty much every time I've done it, I've heard students negotiating meaning in the target language in a way that surprised and impressed me, so it's been a great addition to my rotation of activities! I still do the free-for-all for short activities, but I've really been enjoying the speed dating set-up for more detailed interviews.

My school bought a subscription to PearDeck for all teachers this year, and it has a lot of great features. (It's a Google Slides add-on that lets you make your slides interactive, kind of like Kahoot but with more options.) It has a lot of features that I haven't tried yet, but my two favorites so far are drawing and dragging. For drawing, I'll give students a description of something and have them draw it. So in our housing unit, I might describe a room with furniture and students will draw what they hear. In a clothing unit, I describe what someone in a picture is wearing (or I just make something up) and they draw the outfit. I have also made a mental note of what someone in the class is wearing and described that for students to draw, and then asked students to tell me who in the class is wearing that. You could just as easily go low tech with this and have students use paper or mini white boards, but the added bonus of this is that I can show everyone's responses on the projector, and they enjoy seeing each other's drawings. (There is a feature that allows teachers to select specific responses to avoid projecting anything that might not be school-appropriate.)

The other feature I've been using is the dragging feature. With a draggable question, students can drag up to five icons to a specified place on the slide. There are a lot of potential uses for this, but I've found it to be great for working on location prepositions. So I might say "The red dot is in the center. The blue dot is to the left of the red dot. The green dot is above the blue dot. etc."  I can add shapes or drawings to my slide and then give students directions on where the dots are located in relation to items on my slide. For example, "The red dot is in the center of the circle. The orange dot is underneath the rectangle. etc." Once I've modeled it for students and we've practiced (over several class periods, I have students work in groups doing this activity on their own. So one student will put the dots in a pattern on the slide and describe it to the other students in the group, and at the end, they'll compare their screens and see if they match.

I work hard on creating activities that are meaning-focused and rarely use drills, but I do think it is very important that students know verb endings because so much meaning is conveyed in verb endings in Spanish (tense, aspect, mood, and subject in one tiny verb ending!). For the last two years, I assigned timed Conjuguemos quizzes with a required minimum percentage and number correct for a particular grade. It was not a popular assignment, which in itself would not be enough to dissuade me, but some of my best students were getting frustrated because they didn't type very fast, and their knowledge of verb endings was being conflated with typing speed (it also resulted in lots of cheating, as students who didn't know the forms just handed their computer to a friend who did to complete it for them). However, when students took their first unit test this semester, they did far worse than students in previous years in their ability to recognize who a verb was referring to and produce the appropriate verb ending. So I made two changes. First, Conjuguemos has a set of games that I hadn't been using, including Battleship. Students didn't like the timed practice, but they were pretty excited to play Battleship with each other, and it's a nice low-prep activity for days when I have a lot of other stuff to prepare, or days when I have a sub (I have students submit a screenshot of their game to Google Classroom). The other thing I started doing was having a required but ungraded practice time at the beginning of every class period. I pick a different pronoun to work on and students set the timer to 5 minutes and conjugate as many verbs as they can in 5 minutes.  Some of them still hate it, but now that it's just practice and not for a grade, it's more palatable, and now that they're doing it in class, I can walk around and make sure that each student is doing the work themselves, so it's easier to identify who might be struggling.  My pedagogical commentary on this subject because I can't not make this disclaimer when I'm writing about using drills: My main focus is always on making sure students can interpret language and produce intelligible language, so a lot of my activities push students to associate form and meaning.  We do not recite or chant verb endings, because those types of activities don't push students to make form-meaning connections. Conjuguemos also does not push students to make form-meaning connections, but it does push them to produce forms that will allow their listener/reader to understand what they're saying. Even if you firmly hold the line on explicit grammatical instruction not being converted into implicit knowledge, there is value in students knowing and being able to produce a grammatical form because it makes them more intelligible.

Assessments using Chromebooks and Google forms

Our school switched from iPads to Chromebooks this year, and I am all kinds of excited about the possibilities with Google forms and locked browser mode. A few weeks ago I spent about 30 minutes making my first vocab quiz in a Google form, and it went great and the kids said they liked the format better than paper. So a few weeks ago I spent about an hour putting my unit test into a Google form, and I am ridiculously excited about being able to get it all graded in 30 minutes or less.

In case it's useful, here's how I set it up: I divided the test into sections (4 different Google forms) so that students can choose which section they want work on first, just like they can with a paper test (but unlike a paper test, they can't go back to a previous section).

To streamline entering grades in the gradebook, my first two questions are "What is your last name?" and "What class are you in?" Then I can open the spreadsheet for the form and sort by class period and last name when it's time to put grades in.

I made a draft post of the different test parts in Google Classroom so that it's ready to go on test day, but when I post the draft, I only release it to students who are in class on the day of the test. If students are absent, I just release it to them whenever they come in to make up the test.

I tested it myself to see what students can and can't do. They can decide to exit the form without submitting, but if they re-open it, you get an email notification. Chrome disables the ability to take screenshots in locked browser mode (I tried it to just to make sure), and they can't open any other programs, tabs, etc. without exiting the Google form. I've used this in class for formative assessments where I don't want students to use a translator, and have discovered that it erases their progress on any other Google forms that they have open. Other than that, when they finish and submit, their browser should go back to what it was before they opened the quiz.

I should say that most of my test isn't multiple choice, but it will still be a lot faster to grade than paper because I can use the "grade by question" option in Google forms, which is a lot faster even than my grading-by-page method on paper.

After giving the test and a few quizzes this way, here are a few tweaks I've made:

1. I have a vocabulary section where I ask students to ID a certain number of words and another section that requires students to use what they know. I had these combined into one Google form, but in the future, I'll split it into two forms. The reason is that I give students a bunch of words that they can identify, but they don't need to identify them all. So there are maybe 10-15 points possible on the vocab ID section and another 5-10 points on the vocab in use section, but the Google form just gives me a total, and the total might be 50 or 60 if they identified all of the words that were in our unit vocab. So there are 15-25 points possible, but students might have more than that, and then I have to go in and look and see how they did on the second section where there aren't extra items (they don't get extra credit for identifying more than the required number of words). With the two sections separated, I'll be able to see quickly that they got the minimum number of words identified for 10-15 points, and in another spreadsheet their score on the second vocab section.

2. When grading: Don't try to grade anything while students are still taking the test. I thought I'd be efficient and get things started, but every time a student submits a form, the Google form refreshes, and you lose any work you haven't saved.

3. I only released it to students who were in class using Google Classroom, but it's theoretically possible that a student could share the link with someone who wasn't in class. So I also started adding passwords to Google forms that I change as soon as every student has opened the quiz or test. I used instructions from these two sites to set it up: and

4. Create two sections for every form. I like to scramble question order, but if I only have one section, the last name and class section questions get scrambled in with the actual test questions . So now every test and quiz has section 1 that asks for last name, class section, and a password, and section 2 that has the actual test/quiz items.