Multiple Methods

What if you just don’t get it the first time?

I have been teaching Spanish for 15 years and each year there comes a time when there is a grammatical structure that kids struggle with. Communication, that is the important part, communication. BUT you also do need some grammatical structure in there as well. We have come to the time of the year when upper level students are putting it all together. The past, the present, the future. And lucky us, the subjunctive mood as well. Individually, students have done well with these concepts, but once they are flipping back and forth (like we do in real life) they begin to get anxious and stress out. NO FUN! That is the last thing that I want.

So, I began to brainstorm. What can I do to help students navigate through the multiple verb tenses and moods? They have folder notes. They have sentences we have practiced in class. They have diagrams. They have homework samples. BUT some students are still hitting their heads against the wall in frustration. Ouch.

I began to think of Ashley Collegnon’s Teacher Workshop presentation from the Greater Madison Writing Project on How to Improve Justifications. During Ashley’s presentation, we were presented with a mathematical equation that we needed to solve and show our work for using three separate justifications. Her research with the article Developing Students’ Use of Justification Strategies by Jodie Junter and Glenda Anthongy gave examples of increased student understanding and learning if students participated in multiple methods of justification; numerical, verbal and visual. So, as I began to brainstorm, I started to think of what other methods I could use. Students had already worked on plugging the write answer in, they had created written sentences on their own, they had worked on speaking with the tenses, they had visual diagrams to follow. Hmmmmm. . . now what?

What did I want? What did I envision helping students? I know! Students needed to physically walk through the charts or diagrams to better understand what they were doing. Some were stuck at a road block while looking at it on paper. Hmmm. . how was I going to do this? Idea! Create the diagram on paper and tape it to the floor. Students were going to literally walk through the diagrams. They were going to have to read, think, talk aloud to partners and physically walk through the grammar. Kinesthetic learning! That was what I was going to do! How? The next road block.

My room was not big enough for this activity and we were going to use it for several days. So I started my quest to find a location. Cafeteria, no they wash the floors, the paper wouldn’t hold up. LMTC — no it is quiet in there and I didn’t want my students to be quiet during this activity! I wanted them to talk to each other, discuss, celebrate their understanding and groan at their frustrations so that someone else could took their hand and help them on the walk. 2nd floor, not as many students using that hall, no — still too quiet. Gym, no too many activities planned for the week. Stage, maybe? But being on stage may add to some student’s nerves. So I found the cave, the back portion of the commons where students did eat but there was just enough space that did not have tables and would not get wet during floor washing. Perfect. I checked in with the custodians to make sure they were on board. I “checked out” the area so that no other groups would use it. I talked to the open study hall teachers to let them know that we would be in there with them for 20–25 minutes in case they felt it would be intrusive. Nope. Great!

We were set, I had the papers, a sample diagram, and a few student volunteers to tape 6 walkthrough activities to the floor. We had sentences to walk through and we were ready for a mini field trip. Sink or swim, we were ready. Students were either going to enjoy the activity or think their Spanish teacher was crazy. At first, there was some confusion. Really, walk through? Yes! Walk through! About halfway through most students were high fiving each other on when they followed the right pathway. I was able to quickly find those with looks of confusion on their faces and help them walk through a few examples. By the end of the activity, several students asked if we could stay and take the quiz on the walk through diagrams, quite a few said, “I finally get it!”, and two students asked me if we could always learn grammar this way.

Thanks Ashley! They learned in a new method. As you said in your blog, students were catching their own mistakes and students were able to understand how the problem could be solved/explained using different methods. Awesome!