Rethinking the Choice Board

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One of the first things I did when switching to a more proficiency-based teaching model (and the subject of one of the earliest blog posts I made) was to ditch traditional homework in favor of a Choice Board due at the end of each unit. A Choice Board is a great way to incorporate student voices into your classroom, as it allows them to choose which assignments to pursue outside of class time and it can be a way to get students to interact with the language in a more authentic way (and is more interesting than a workbook page!).

My Choice Board has always had two parts – the top part, or the “written work” and the bottom portion, which are speaking prompts. I’ve been giving Choice Boards to all of my students for about three years now and I absolutely believe they are the biggest reason why my students are (generally) very comfortable speaking French in class and why the eventually become very proficient speakers. I do not spend a lot of time honoring the “silent period” of language acquisition and I do indeed force output, which can be a controversial topic in the SLA community. In my experience (and I’m hardly an expert) there are many kids who, if not forced to speak, simply won’t. With the Choice Board, they can accomplish a task whenever they are ready and in a one-on-one environment with me; that way, I can still assess how their speaking skills are developing and they don’t have to put themselves “out there” in front of their classmates if they aren’t ready yet.

That being said, this year I felt the need to start revamping some of my Choice Boards to better reflect improvements in my teaching practice. Before, the top “written work” was separated by the letters A, B, C in which A corresponded to vocabulary, B corresponded to grammar and C corresponded to culture. Students were to get a tic tac toe with each letter (A-B-C) in order to fulfill the top portion assignments. The vocabulary prompts tended to be things like “Draw a birthday party and label the elements” (eeeeek!) and the grammar prompts had things like, “Create a 10-question -ER verb quiz and an accompanying key, then quiz a classmate!” (oh mon Dieu!) The speaking prompts on the bottom were similary separated by topic.

I’ve evolved a little bit since then and have been working on revamping my Choice Board to make it more culturally and linguistically authentic. I definitely still have a long way to go, but the current version for French 2 is I think a baby step in the right direction. The prompts are still labeled A B C for organization (I still want the tic-tac-toe element) but there is (I hope) less isolation between grammar, vocabulary and culture. Some of the written tasks are not as authentic as I would like, but I think it’s a definite improvement over earlier versions.

The speaking tasks have remained mostly the same; I’m working on developing a way to present the information in a less visually-confusing way and to remove the linguistic segregation that is still present on the labels but does not really correspond to the given prompts. I’m open to suggestions!

Petit Prince Chapter 18

If it seems strange that the 18th chapter of Le Petit Prince – by far the shortest chapter in the novel – gets an entire blog post to itself, please just do me a solid and continue reading because this chapter is accompanied by one of my favorite student projects ever.

In this chapter, the little prince meets a flower in the desert. He’s lonely and looking for friends, so he asks the flower if she has seen any men. The flower, being that she lives in the desert, has only seen about six or seven men, and she tells the little prince that men lack roots. This quote becomes the basis for our project.

To prepare for our project, we read the chapter and then discussed the purpose of roots -what do roots do for a tree? What happens to the tree as a result of its roots? We discuss how roots grow strong and anchor the tree, provide it with stability and allow it to grow. We discuss that, as a result of the tree’s growth, the tree can grow leaves, flowers or fruits that can germinate and create more trees. We also talk about how roots can be hard and ugly, not always visible above the surface, but without them, the tree can’t grow and nor can it nourish another tree or plant, or give shade and oxygen to humans and animals.

Then they receive the following prompt (in French): Draw a tree. Put yourself in a hole in the middle of the tree and write your name in its bark. Then, use words or images to create your roots – think about your family history, your interests, your religion, etc. How have your roots allowed the rest of your “tree” to grow? How do you use your tree’s “growth” (leaves, fruit, etc) to nourish the “roots” of another?

We took a day to draw our trees, and then I had them record an explanation of their tree to Schoology. The oral explanation is done with no advance preparation – I do not allow them to write their comments down beforehand or to practice before recording!

I was very pleased with the results of this project and got really good feedback from the kids as well. They seemed to really like the project and put in a lot of effort! It was also a nice way to break up the reading of the novel. 10/10, would do it again! Below are some photos; to see an example of one of my students’ oral presentations, click here.

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Petit Prince Chapters 10-17

French 4/AP continues on our journey of reading Le Petit Prince! It’s been going well, but is a long process due to the number of chapters in the novel and how often we stop to write/discuss/draw/summarize/etc. This is exacerbated by end of year field trips, AP tests, senior exams, and so on. Unfortunately I won’t have time for the mini-unit on soccer that I planned for this year which is a SUPER bummer, but I’m hoping I can start with that in a few of my classes next year, to re-cap the Euro Cup that’s happening in France this year. Otherwise, I plan on giving my exams prior to the official exam day, so perhaps on that long class period we can get out on the pitch and my soccer kids can show us how it’s done.

So, what’d we do for Petit Prince chapters 10-17?

Chapter 10

I printed out the illustration of the king that accompanies chapter 10, and asked the kids to write all over it and surround the king with as many words and phrases as they could in response to the question, “What makes a good king?” We discussed this together as a class, and then I read the chapter aloud to them as they followed along. When we finished, they journaled on a quote from the chapter – It is more difficult to judge yourself than others. They discussed their responses to this journal in small groups.

Chapters 11 and 12

I handed each small group a stack of post-its and had them read chapters 11 and 12 together (for my independent readers, they read alone). On each post it they had to tell me the following things:

  1. Key vocab they wanted to remember
  2. A quote or passage that they found interesting and why
  3. A 10-word summary of the chapter
  4. A question they had about the chapter

It was at about this point that I had a TON of kids out for AP testing and didn’t want to continue the book without them, so with those remaining in class, we did a roleplay in which the Little Prince’s flower is visited by a butterfly – what would the rose tell the butterfly about the Little Prince?

Chapter 13-14

The students read these chapters alone and updated their character maps. There was still a ton of AP testing going on at this point, so it was not as interactive as I would have liked it to be. We played Freeze Frame to re-cap the major events of the book so far.

Chapters 15-17

We had a couple of big discussion questions for these chapters, as the Petit Prince makes his final stop on his trip, on the planet Earth. The first was: How would you describe the earth to someone who had never heard of it?

In responding to this question, I asked the students to draw a visual representation of the Earth and note it’s major physical features, as well as other things they thought were important to know. We did a roleplay in which one person was the “alien” and the other had to explain the Earth to that person. We also did this as a whole-class activity, with me playing the role of “alien.” I really tried to ham it up and make them dig deep with their language – for example, a student would say, “There are big cities with buildings!” and I would respond, “What’s a building? Who goes there? What do you do? Why?”

Our other discussion question was about the role of snakes in film and literature – What do you think of when you think of a snake? In what stories does a snake play a big role?

We also played The Marker Game to review and did a few listening assessments.

Coming up next – we just finished what is probably my favorite project to do with my kids that follows Chapter 18 of Le Petit Prince. Stay tuned!

 

 

First Marking Period Favorites

Bonjour à tous!

Again with the blogging. I know, I know. This is a big year for me, however, as I am teaching a completely full class load of French 1-4, with no prep hour and a personal goal to stay true to proficiency-based/TCI methods in every class. It has certainly not been easy so far but I am already seeing wonderful growth in my students and am excited to see what this year holds.

As I continue to develop my own proficiency in teaching French, I hope this blog can serve as a place to collaborate with other educators and collect resources to better my instruction.

And as our first marking period winds to an end (seriously? Where did it go?), I thought I’d share a few of the resources that have been helpful to me so far this year.

First Marking Period Favorites

The Creative Language Class: Though most of the instructional resources are in Spanish, the ladies at Creative Language Class have created an incredible collection of tools for any language educator. The proficiency-based rubrics have been especially helpful so far this year, and I’ve been able to easily adapt them to my many levels of French. They provide students with a clear picture of where their proficiency currently stands and where they’re headed as this year progresses.

Madame’s Musings: A French-teacher resource blog! Be still, mon coeur. The IPA lesson “packages” that Madame Shepard has made available on her blog have completely changed my French III/IV split and have inspired me to incorporate many more IPA-style practices in my class to prepare them for the actual assessment. All of my reading and listening practices so far have been modeled after what Madame Shepard has done with hers, which are based on ACTFLs recommendations for the interpretive part of the Integrated Performance Assessments. Once we get to our first “big” assessment in November, I think my students are going to do very well.

Français Interactif: Long a favorite resource for French grammar practice, I never realized until just recently that the University of Texas-Austin’s Français Interactif offers MUCH more than just grammar exercises. They have vocabulary lists, grammar review & practice, an authentic song for each unit with accompanying listening exercises, a cultural component for each unit, videos and audio samples of authentic French speakers and an “activité internet” that students can easily complete in-class or at home. Formidable!

EduBlogs: This year, my French III/IV students are blogging as way to improve their writing proficiency, in both the presentational and interpersonal modes! EduBlogs allows a teacher to create a class that students can then “join” – which gives the teacher complete access to EVERY student’s blog. I can also customize the security settings so that I can moderate each post and comment before they go “live” and so that only members of our class can view the student blogs, making internet safety the least of my concerns with this assignment. It does cost, but it is nothing astronomical and I think the price is worth it for that peace of mind.

E-Pals.com: My French II students this year have the great fortune of having French pen-pals to correspond with! E-pals has been awesome so far; like EduBlogs, I can assign each student a unique and secure e-mail address to use for sending and receiving e-mails to their pen-pals. Can I just say that my students were absolutely OVER THE MOON the day they received their first letters? Also like EduBlogs, I have access to each student’s mailbox and can monitor their outgoing and incoming e-mails, making security a virtual non-issue.

So that’s a wrap on my first marking period favorites – if you have anything else to add that’s been invaluable to you and your students so far, please feel free to share below!

The Choice Board

I know I have been nowhere near as diligent about blogging as I had hoped – busy semester!! – but I recently attended a meeting of my county’s World Language Advisory Council and came away with a fabulous idea that I want to implement in my classroom as soon as possible. In the spirit of giving, I would like to share it all with you!

Assigning meaningful homework that is conducive to learning a foreign language has been the Achilles heel of many a World Language teacher – including us new teachers! We’re relatively limited to workbook exercises and/or worksheets and maybe the occasional presentation or project. Unfortunately, the vast majority of my high school students pursue one of the following options:

1. Google Translate
2. Copying another student’s homework in the hallway before class, during lunch, etc.
3. Filling in some completely rubbish answer that demonstrates no knowledge or skill whatsoever because they know I grade based on completion.

Woe.

And this, my friends, is where The Choice Board comes into play. The credit for this concept goes to one of my colleagues in the Rochester School District, though she says she got the idea from someone else at a conference or professional development session.

Click here to view a sample of a novice Choice Board

Here is how it works: I divide up the assignments into three categories – vocabulary, grammar, and culture. The students can pick whatever assignments they would like to do, so long as they create a “tic, tac, toe” formation on their board – which means they do one assignment from each category. When they finish the assignment and show it to me, I stamp the box – but only if it is completed satisfactorily.

Below the choice board, I have a list of “can-do” statements that mirror the new Can-Do statements put forward by ACTFL, as a means to clearly identify a student’s level of proficiency in any of the categories (presentational, interpersonal, interpretive). The students, whenever they feel they are ready, must come to me to demonstrate that they are able to do the given task – there are four tasks for vocabulary, four tasks for grammar, two for culture and two tasks that are review from previous units. Again, when they demonstrate the task, I stamp the box. At the end of the unit, they turn in their choice boards to me and I assign the points based on how many items they have completed. You can determine whatever sort of grading system works best for you.

Since the due date isn’t until the very end of the unit, some teachers brought up the concern that students would procrastinate and then wind up swamped with French or Spanish class homework, to which my response was, well – too bad. Effective time management is a skill that students absolutely need to learn – usually all it takes is one bad experience, and the student won’t make that procrastination mistake again (we hope). Likewise, my colleague mentioned that if a student loses his or her choice board, he or she must re-do the activities, even if they had previously gotten them stamped for completion.

Creating the choice board itself was much less time consuming than I had initially thought it would be. Ideally, assessing student work via this method would take just as much time as checking in a worksheet and going over the answers in class, so no time is lost there. In fact, there may be time gained, as not all students will turn in their assignments on the same day – which means I can put more time towards in-class practice and providing my kids with the repetitions and comprehensible input they need to acquire the language!

If you have any questions or comments about what homework strategies work best in your classroom, leave a comment below!