Systematizing Interpersonal Communication

Making systems is critical if you want to stay sane as an instructor. If you’ve gotten to the point of teaching languages for a living, you’ve invented systems that work for you, even if you don’t realize it. In the last two years, I’ve finally been able to systematize a gradebook item that had frustrated me for years: interpersonal communication.

I tried to make this work with an electronic attendance taker (Skyward when I taught at high school and Canvas at the College), but it was always clunky. Not good for systematization. I finally had a breakthrough when I went back to basics – good ol’ fashioned pen and paper. Below is a mockup of a what an Interpersonal Communication scoresheet looks like. You can download a .docx version for free here.

Let me break down what’s on this sheet, because there is actually quite a bit.

0. I write down what week I’m in at the top of the page. I keep each class’ work in a color-coded folder (which can be a separate post if there is demand for me to write such a post), and the number helps me keep the pages in order if they get lost.

  1. The first column (labeled “A”) is an absence column. I want to know how many absences a student has. In my class, they will lose 1% off their final grade if they have more than three absences. This lets me keep track without having to turn the page.
  2. The second column (labeled “#”) is just to see how many students are in my class. Frankly, it’s not that important, except to start the quarter. It helps me consider how many students I want to overload, if any.
  3. The “student” column is just my learners’ names. I try to leave enough space here to write down their preferred name. After the first week I change names to preferred names so I don’t have to keep correcting it by hand. Systematization and whatnot.
  4. “Days of the week” columns – One column for each day of the week. I keep track of attendance and interpersonal communication here (see below).
  5. The “IC” column is for writing my students’ Interpersonal Communication grade for the week. Each day is worth 5 points, so I write a number in this column at the end of the week.

The Andrew Snider’s Super-Fancy, Awesomest Systematization of Interpersonal Communication™ in Action

This is easier to write on by hand vs. on a trackpad, so forgive the sloppiness. Not that my handwriting is any better.

Let me break this down for you. This is a week-1 Interpersonal Communication scoresheet at the end of the week.

  1. The course started on a Tuesday, so I crossed out Monday. This also happens on holidays or if I have to cancel class. This week will only be worth 20 points.
  2. Dots represent a student being present. Unless otherwise marked, they earn full points for that day. Easy and quick, two of my favorite words.
  3. I start each class period handing back name tags, even after I memorized their names. I say hello to each and every student and ask how they are doing. At the end of greetings, I take the name tags of those not present, and quickly make them absent. This is the fastest way I have ever taken roll. It’s also great for building class community.
  4. For each absence, I write A1, A2, A3, etc. in the appropriate box. It helps me to quickly see how many absences somebody has. If they start to wrack up (it happens, especially at the CC), this lets me know how many absences somebody has without having to add. I don’t like unnecessary math.
  5. There is a T up there for student 5. That means they walked in late, for which they lost points. I’m sometimes lenient with this, but it can and will become a problem if you’re too lax about it.
  6. One of my waitlist students was there every day! Welcome aboard, Waitlisted 1!
  7. One of my roster students was absent every day! They are now losing points for each absence (and 1% off their final grade per absence above 3 – You can’t learn a language if you’re not in class).
  8. I tally up all their absences and write it on the of the week (below). This lets me line up next week’s page with this one and quickly write in the number of absences each student has.
  9. Once per week (never more), I take sit down at the computer and enter in this grade. I type as fast as I can and go right down the IC column on my sheet. I will batch my boring work and do it quickly, or be damned to live a life of data entry.

Below is my week-2 Interpersonal Communication Scoresheet. It’s updated so that non-attendees are gone. SNYDER, SPELLED WRONG finally emailed me and said he’d be there. I didn’t have do an admin drop because he contacted me. As you can see, he’s attending but not demonstrating interpersonal communication. He’s really just a blob in the back of the classroom, and blobs don’t communicate well.

Sometimes I write a reason why students lost points. P (phone), E (English), O (off task when I observed) are quick ways to remember why it happened in the off-chance that a student comes asking. They usually don’t come asking.

The End of the Term

At the end of the quarter, I modify my sheet to look something like the grade sheet above. I copy over absences to this sheet. Then I copy students’ final percentage from the gradebook and convert it to a GPA using the scale from the syllabus. If the student stopped attending, I write down their last date of attendance. This makes it a cinch to enter in final grades. I paper clip all the sheets to gather (from end of quarter to beginning of quarter) and keep that stack in my box of graded materials from that quarter. It’s come in handy many times.

Seeking Student Feedback 1

We’re approaching the end of Winter Quarter at my school, and as always my courses are different than the previous term ( I am constantly tinkering with my classes). In an effort to provide a better experience for learners each quarter, I feel it is to seek their feedback.

Sometimes I do this by asking one or two students how the class is going, what activities they like best, how hard an assessment was, what they are struggling with, etc. This quarter, I’m also asking students to fill out a survey for extra credit. Below are the questions I’m asking. (Sorry for the weird formatting. I’m probably not going to fix it).

This is homework that I created based on level-appropriate readings. Input, input, input.
I’m giving learners a place to tell me if something about these can be improved or if they liked something.
This is the textbook homework that my department has been using since before I started teaching here.. We’re moving away from it entirely next quarter and forever and ever Amen.
Honestly, I’m expecting a lot of negative feedback on VHL. It’s expensive and dry. It’s also very grammar-centric and, therefore, not very useful for language acquisition
I give my learners timed-writes. This is input disguised as output. Learners have to study the co-created story and write me a summary in their own words.
I have been giving learners mixed up paragraphs of 8-9 sentences. They put them in order based on the reading we did. They are tricky, and I’m expecting mixed feedback. They are good for acquisition, though, and I really like that they are input-based assessments.
This is a list of activities we’ve done this quarter, and I have a nervous feeling that I left something off this list. I’m expecting a wide range here, but I’m curious to see if there are any trends.
It’s important that learners are heard. I’m interested to see what people have to say.

I’ll post again when I have some data.

-Andrew

Pre-written Readings and Tasks

Providing students with readings and tasks is another way to deliver input while taking a bit of a break from the co-creation of stories.

It’s still February and my 8am class has missed five days of class due to the snow, it snowed again yesterday, I’m sick, and my 4-year-old forgot how to hold his liquids through the night. Forgive me if I’m a little cranky. Honestly, I need a break. I’m all out of energy to be co-creating stories right now.

Enter pre-written readings and tasks.

Last quarter I posted about the Hero’s Journey, which is an idea for taking learners on an adventure in L2. After the self-proclaimed Diva of Second Language Acquisition was generous enough to have a phone conversation with me before the start of the term, I redesigned my whole course. I even changed how I use the Hero’s Journey in my classes.

We still define a main character, a supporting character, and an antagonist to start the term. But unlike quarters past, now I write the whole story in level-appropriate chunks and follow them up with input-oriented tasks (e.g. comprehension questions, multiple choice, true false, check boxes for which applies to you, etc.). Students read the short passage (under 300 words) and then do the follow up activities. Once they finish a reading and its corresponding tasks, we sum up the activity as a class and move on to the next reading and the set of tasks. Over the course of the term, students will make it through an entire novella. Below is an example from a novella that is currently in draft. Hopefully you can read this image of text.

Notice that I write these in the first person. It’s necessary to give students reps in the language in different contexts, and first person gets overlooked in the input sometimes.

Pre-written readings and tasks can take anywhere from 10-60 minutes, and I generally use them to fill up an entire class period. It enables learners to read and process L2, while giving us all a break from the storytelling process. Co-creating stories is exhausting, and you and your learners will burn out if you’re not careful.

I’ve discovered that these regularly scheduled breaks from co-creating of stories are a wonderful for my learners’ and my own sanity, especially at this time of the quarter when we’re all sick, tired, cranky, etc. I think that the tasks are also useful because they disguise input in a way that looks more like output.

Teaching Prepositions of Place – Pedro Plano Style

Pedro Plano is a character to help teach prepositions of place. Download him and put him places.

Update: Pedro Plano now has a twin brother who happens to be French, for some reason. The Pierre Plat slideshow is also free.

I have created a resource to teach prepositions of place in a comprehensible and compelling way. It’s a three-step process.

  1. TPR a list of prepositions of place.
    • Normally I let students make up gestures for a TPR phrase, but for this I always use the same gestures.
    • Find ones that work for you (i.e. that convey meaning properly and that you can remember easily) and stick with them. It’ll save your brain some work.
  2. I made a 2-D vector graphic using Photoshop. It’s a guy that I have since named “Pedro Plano”. I put Pedro in a bunch of settings and simply ask students “Where is Pedro?” Respond to all student input, and then move the slide to an example sentence.
  3. Once students have seen this for a few days, incorporate the phrases into readings and let acquisition do its thing.

Surprisingly, this has gone over really well with my adult learners and running start students. I’m sure it would be a hit in a high school classroom as well. It has just the right amount of cheese.

You can download the slideshow with 5 locations and tons of examples here. It’s free.

3 Free Resources for Spanish

As many of you know, I write short stories over at Read to Speak Spanish. I think it’s incredibly important for us language teachers to create appropriately-leveled materials for our learners, and that site gives me a way to share with anyone wanting to acquire Spanish.

Additionally, I think it’s beneficial to share resources with other instructors. I want to make teaching languages with C.I. as easy as possible for others. When learners have the opportunity to further their acquisition through C.I., we all win.

With that in mind, I decided to start offering free resources on the Read to Speak Spanish store. The goal is post one solid resource per week.

1. Spanish Place Names

2. La comida — Food names in Spanish

3. Refranes populares en español

C.I. Crash Course

Based on a good amount of feedback from attendees, I’ve decided to push back* the date of C.I. Crash Course in the Seattle Area.

Sign up before February 28 and get the super early bird special. Plus, use the discount code “STORYTELLING30” to receive an extra $30 off (expires February 28).

Below are the details for the 3-day workshop.

Seattle Area – August 27-29, 2019

Storytelling can be scary to tackle on your own. A professional development workshop might be just what you need to help you take the plunge or to level-up your C.I. game! C.I. Crash Course is a workshop for professional language educators looking to incorporate storytelling and comprehensible input into their teaching repertoire.

This workshop is designed with College Instructors and High School Teachers in mind.

Reserve Your Seat Today!

Tentative Schedule

TUESDAY 8/27/19 8:30AM-2:30PM

Meet and Greet — Light Breakfast

Intro to Comprehension-Based, Communicative Language Instruction

Asking Strategic Questions to Tell a Story

Storytelling Demo in Portuguese

Coaching in Small Groups

Discussion

Lunch

Coaching in Small Groups

WEDNESDAY 8/28/19 8:30AM – 2:30PM

Welcome – Light Breakfast

Storytelling-Compatible Assessments

Continuation of  Storytelling Demo

Coaching in Small Groups

Group Practice

Discussion

Lunch

Building Toward Literacy – The Power of Reading

Coaching in Small Groups

Q & A

THURSDAY 8/29/19 8:30AM – 1:30PM

Welcome – Light Breakfast

The Hero’s Journey – Writing Engaging and Communicative Materials for Your Language Class

Continuation of  Storytelling Demo

Coaching in Small Groups

Discussion

Lunch

Closing Remarks and Discussion

Reserve Your Seat Today!

Presented By:

*The original dates were March 1-2, but a number of people couldn’t attend the Friday date during the school year, and there is a WAFLT conference is on March 2nd (Oops). I was in contact with everyone who had signed up, and they have officially been given a full refund.

Storytelling Basics: Going Even Slower Than You Think You Should

Go even slower than you think you need to go.

It’s easy to get in such a groove with storytelling that we leave people behind. It’s less of an issue than with legacy methods of language instruction, but going too fast for learners remains a distinct possibility. Going slower than we think we need to helps keep the language we use comprehensible, which in turn makes the language accessible to more learners.

When learners are building up a mental representation of the language in their heads, they need to process the comprehensible input they receive. They need to receive and process, receive and process, receive and process. Then they need to process the language some more.

Learners need to process the words we think are easy (yo, tú, soy, eres, estudiante, pero, y, etc.).Not even cognates are immune to this need for processing. They often sound different in L2 and must go through the same processing… process. Going slowly ensures that more learners successfully negotiate meaning during the storytelling process.

Slowing Down Readings

I love to write and am enamored with the Artist’s Journey (I can’t recommend that book enough, by the way). During my years with storytelling, I’ve discovered that simple readings are the most difficult to make. It’s tempting to throw in new words and ideas because it makes the stories more interesting for me. Problem is, the readings I write for class are not for me, but for students. Throwing too much at learners in a reading will reduce its comprehensibility and, thus, its utility.

Two weeks ago, I gave students a reading based on some characters that we co-created at the beginning of the quarter (a modified version of the Hero’s Journey). Students read in groups of two and completed a short set of comprehension-based tasks to help them process the language they read.

I walked around the room as learners worked, answering questions and listening in as I am wont to do. Some of my very vocal students in one section expressed that they didn’t understand ni jota. Uh-oh, Spaghetti-o’s.

After hearing the aforementioned grousing, I solicited the opinions of a number of students that have given me good feedback in the past. Based on their feedback, I need to make the readings easier. They need to be able to process the language more easily, which will lead to their processing more complex readings in the future.

In my defense, I tried to make the reading approximately 90% comprehensible. The 10% of words and phrases I assumed students weren’t familiar with, I glossed. My intentions were good, but I didn’t account for some learners who would understand only 70% of the text easily.

Introducing too much at once reduced the comprehensibility of the language, and frustrated learners, especially the adults. Adults do not like having their ability to communicate taken away. Going slower than we think we need to and making easier helps keep the communication in L2 flowing.

I’m convinced that we need to go slower than we think in terms of reading complexity too. I don’t have an exact percentage, but something like 98-99% comprehensible would be better than the 90% I aimed for in this instance. Efficiency is the name of the game in the college classroom, and the higher the comprehensibility, the more efficient the acquisition process is. We want i + 1, not i + 10 (or i + 30).

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

An Example Quizizz

I intend to do a longer post on Quizizz in the future, but for now, here is an example that I made for my Spanish 1 students. It’s based on the story we co-created on Wednesday of this week. It’s my Friday treat for them during the last 10 minutes of class time.

Take the Quizizz

Students use their phones or laptops (if they don’t have one, they can partner up with someone who does). It’s more laid back than Kahoot, and my students love it.

Best of all, it’s another way to sneak comprehensible input into their lives (muahahahaha).

By the way, here’s the story we co-created.

Typos happen. Leave them in and see if a learner catches it. Then you’ll know that at least one learner is really paying attention.

The Best To-Do List to Boost Productivity

I’m always looking for ways to make my time more productive. I want to maximize efficiency and minimize the time spent on work tasks. Obviously, I want to do the highest quality work that I can, but I also need to have time for my family and hobbies.

Done correctly, storytelling can free up loads of time for family and hobbies. But it can also be this monster that takes over your life, writing endless stories and tasks for learners.

In order to combat task creep*, we need a battle plan. When we sit down to do grades or check email, we need to prioritize our “to-do’s”, or they will expand to fill every last available second. The tool I use to organize my day might surprise you.

*I read a book called “The 4-Hour Work Week“, by Tim Ferris. It has absolutely nothing to do with education or storytelling, but I took away many concepts that have made me a better teacher. One such concept is called “task creep”, which Ferris defines as “doing more to feel productive while actually accomplishing less”.

The Paper To-Do List

I choose a paper to-do list because it limits the amount of items I can write on it. There are only so many hours in the day, and this constraint forces me to prioritize what needs to be done.

I take a 4″ x 6″ index card and fold it half (pictured below). This gives me four sides to write on. The folded card fits perfectly into the pocket, and I carry it with me at all times during the day.

Amazon has a pack of 500 for less than 6 bucks.

I only have two preps this quarter (don’t hate me), and so I use the front and back to write that day’s plan. I you have more preps, you can write a separate plan on each side.

My Spanish 2 classes are M, W blocks, so today’s plan was blank for those sections.

When I get to class, I write the plan on the board and slip the folded notecard back in my pocket. Doing this every day makes my classes go smoothly. If I ever forget what we’re doing or where we’re going, I just glance at the board and we’re back on track.

During my office hours (when there are no students) or scheduled work times outside of class, I unfold the card and voila, I have my to do list. The limited space makes me focus only on the important tasks.

This is my to-do list for today, warts and all.

Since I only have two preps this quarter, I have a “Notes” section as well. I use this space to jot down anything that comes to mind throughout the day. These items that pop into my head can be very distracting, but my mind is freed up to complete the items on the to-do list once I write these interruptions down.

Two Final Tips for Writing Your To-Do List

1. Write your to-do list and lesson plan down the night before. Your subconscious will keep working on it while you sleep (also, sleep more) and your classes will go smoother the following day.

Whenever I don’t do this the night before, my classes are noticeably less cohesive.

2. Write your to-do list with “actionable” verbs and be very specific. This will help you know exactly what to do when you sit down at your workstation.

Examples:

  • Write story for French 1
  • Send stories to the point shop, 
  • Post In-Class Essay 1 scores for 101 & 102

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals. 

25 Spanish Books to Build Your Free Voluntary Reading Library

The following is a list of books I have in my actual Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) library. I have multiple copies of many of these titles, and I like to get additional copies of the popular ones. Many of these titles are readers written with language learners in mind. If you missed it, check out my Tool Kit for FVR.

The List of Totally Rad Spanish Readers

This list isn’t in any particular order, except that I put the books I wrote first because it’s my blog, so there.

1. La espía huérfana – Andrew J. Snider (me)

2. Las tres pruebas – Andrew J. Snider (me)

3. La vida loca de Marta – Andrew J. Snider (me)

4. Superburguesas – Mike Peto

5. La vampirata – Mira Canion

6. Agentes secretos y el mural de Picasso – Mira Canion

7. La clase de confesiones – A.C. Quintero

8. Las apariencias engañan – A.C. Quintero

9. Robo en la noche – Kristy Placido

10. Felipe Alou: desde los valles a las montañas – Carol Gaab

11. Problemas en paraíso – Carol Gaab

12. Ataques de hambre – Eric Herman

13. Soy Lorenzo – Virginia Hildebrant

14. Las lagrimas de Xochitl – Virginia Hildebrant

15. En busca del monstruo – Pablo Ortega Lopez

16. La momia desaparece – Arturo De La Rosa

17. La casa embrujada – Arturo De La Rosa

18. La calaca alegre – Carrie Toth

19. Todo lo que brilla – Chris Mercer

20. La guerra sucia – Nathaniel Kirby

21. Estefania: El azote de la frontera – Marcial Lafuente

22. Estefania: Ley implacable – Marcial Lafuente

23. El hacha – Gary Paulson

24. El principito – Antonie De Saint-Exupery (one of my all time favorite books)

25. Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal – J.K. Rowling (I love Harry Potter)

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these books/products and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals. 

Please also note that all the cover art is copyright © the publisher/author and is only used here to help readers find the appropriate books.