What to do when your level 2 class is junk.

Are you a CI teacher who has to teach kids they receive from a “Grammar-is-God” colleague? Brothers and Sisters, this post is for you. (why do I feel like a preacher just now???)

Here’s my story: I teach levels 2-4. The level 1 teacher I work with is not CI focused, and while she has been to a training, watched me in action, has tried it and remarks about how much fun it was when she tried it, and that the kids learned, doesn’t do it. So when students come to my level 2 class and I give them a 10 minute broad-topic writing assessment on the 3rd day of school, like “Tell me anything you can about yourself, your friends, your family, anything in your life – likes/dislikes, anything at all,” I get an average of 8 words per kid. They CAN some recognize vocabulary words when reminded what they are, and have a basic understanding of some verbs, days of the week, etc. Just not in context. So while I should be getting kids at a novice mid/high level, I instead get them at novice low or less. So in my head I call my class Spanish .5 instead of Spanish 2.

So how do I get students up to speed and ready to take the Ap exam by the end of level 4? If you’re a CI teacher experiencing this situation, what do you do?

I asked that same question and the answer I was given that works is, meet them where they are! If that means you get kids in level 3 that aren’t in the intermediate range, you have to adjust. The worst thing you can do is expect them to magically catch up and soldier on. Thence comes behavior and acquisition problems. So you have to find ways to sneak in more advanced stuff as you go, and combine things. So here’s what I do:

  1. I start off the year as I would a level 1 class. 2/10 kids understand ME LLAMO so we get going with names. I know I need to work in basic greetings and part of conversations into every story for the rest of the year. Same with colors, numbers, basic physical characteristics. I created a list of varying vocabulary (nounds, adjectives, adverbs) and add 1 new thing every story. I would verify details and PQA old stuff every time. For example – Is the boy nice or mean? Then in the next story: Is the boy nice or mean? Is the boy clever or dumb? Over time, this build up the list of things they should know. It helps with their 5 minute writes too because they hear a long string of character descriptions.

  2. Doing it in this way will mean much longer character creation. I very quickly get to the point where I spend 1 full 45 minute class period on character creation and PQAing those details. It’s worth it.

  3. I have to adjust my rubrics. I teach on a proficiency basis, but I can’t start my rubric at Novice high or even novice mid. Grades will tank and that shuts kids out. I take Magister Lance P’s rubrics and adapt them ever so slightly because they’re short, simple, and clear.

  4. I am forced to curate their language a bit more. I find it too overwhelming for us to do too much at once. I skew towards the present most of the first semester, but don’t shy away from past or near future. Anything else is the seasoning rather than the meal. It’s there, but not stressed.

Speaking of – I haven’t yet figured out a way to start with a level 2 curriculum and have it work. In the beginning I need smaller, quicker skeleton stories I can build on. Level 2 stories tend to be much longer. So here’s how I solve that dilemma:

  1. For the first semester, I begin with Blaine Ray’s Look, I can Talk! Level 1 curriculum. Stories are small and I can quickly go off script and and skip a mini story here and there when kids catch up. I typically only do through chapter 3, because I’m also doing music, persona especial, Señor Wooly, SSR, etc,

  2. I make every Friday Movie Talk Day. I start with Martina Bex’s Wildebeest talk and then transition to TPRS’ Movie Talk books, sometimes extending the units to a couple days depending. Again, I only do a few from the book since I am doing so many other cultural movie talks, etc.

  3. Then we do Agentes Secretos by Mira Canion. It’s a perfect level 1 novel to accompany the vocab I have taught so far, with very few non-cognates. That pretty well closes out the semester for me.

  4. I do almost no output except encouraging kids to use the language, requiring 1 word responses to direct questions and class questions. I do 1 5-minute timed write MOST weeks and they log their progress. I feel that logging their progress is SUPER IMPORTANT. Spending a year feeling like they can’t communicate makes them despondent and you have to win them over.

  5. Praise the hell out of them with high fives (a la Alina Filipescu) and bribe them with candy for GOOD non-forced output and/or being a good actor.

  6. Rejoinders, rejoinders, rejoinders. They set the stage for continuing conversation and begin implementing advanced language right away. Grant Boulanger you are a miracle worker!

  7. I eschew arbitrary targets like getting 50 reps of a target structure in one 45 minute class. I have to rely on spiraling into a future story to get enough reps.

At this point, most kids are novice high, some are novice mid/high. The next step is to move them towards intermediate low or novice high. That means I have to stay in a much more narrow range of vocabulary, because they still just don’t have enough of a base to deal with it all. A CI approach is already narrow and deep. I stay even narrower and deeper.

I stop using the LICT curriculum and move to Martina Bex’s level 2 curriculum. Finally my kids are level 2! Why the switch? Because A) kids have caught on to the repetitiveness of the stories and B) there are more opportunities for output built in. Yes, output isn’t ideal, but what I like here is that the output is so easy, that the kids don’t stress about it. At least not the way i do it. Other things:

  1. I switch from short animated films to Extr@ for my Friday Movie Talks. Though I also show Destinos to one class because they prefer it. It’s super engaging, there are opportunities for culture, and I quickly hear the language being in used in class.

  2. I don’t do too much culture otherwise. Given that I’m trying to catch kids up, something’s gotta give.

  3. Another thing that goes are games and storyboarding. We do them, just a lot less.

  4. We read Felipe Alou by Carol Gaab. I think including at least 1 book that has a such a strong ethical base, about a person of color, and involves sports really hooks the boys in class. And you know that boys typically shy away from upper level programs. This is the first year I’ve ever had boys in level 4, and I think it’s because I actively work to talk about things boys like.

Ultimately the end result is that kids don’t get nearly enough reps as they would otherwise. Some kids will not reach a level that will allow them to progress to level 3. Truthfully, that’s OK, because most only want their 2 required years and no more. They pass with a C or B and they had a fun year. Those with aptitude or desire do catch up, and often continue.

These are hard choices, but it’s what works for me. Suggestions and comments are appreciated. Remember kiddies: Pain is temporary, but acquired language is forever. As always, YMMV.

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