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Simple digital assignments

April 16, 2020

Virtual school is kicking everyone's butt: the teachers, the parents, the students, the admins, all of us. We didn't go to school for this; we didn't sign up for this; we don't want this. And yet, here we are.

There's a lot of different rhetoric going around; a lot of advice for making the most of this miserable situation we are walking through right now. As teachers who care deeply for their students, who love their students, it can be so tempting to take the burden upon yourself to help your students to get through this; to plan super-lessons that will make everything better for everyone.

But guess what? You are not responsible for making your students' day better. You are responsible for what you bring into their life.

You cannot control what is going on in your students' lives any more than you can control their emotions. You are not responsible for making your students laugh and love life in your live classes every day; you are not responsible for entertaining them or drawing them up to Level 5 on Schlecty's scale of engagement! You are not responsible for carrying them through this crisis, even if you are the only adult in their life that cares enough to try.

I know that you want to... but this is not your burden to bear.

What you CAN control

My parenting mantra is this: "You bring the peace". And by "you", I mean "I". I am not responsible for my children's emotions, but I am responsible for what I bring down the stairs each morning. I bring the peace. I am responsible for the words I speak to them when they're acting like total maniacs. I bring the peace. As their caregiver, I am responsible for the plans that I make for each day and how those plans take into account their needs. I bring the peace.

As your students' teacher, you are responsible for what you bring into their day. You are not responsible for their emotions, but you are responsible for the content that you send to them through your Learning Management System each day. You bring the peace. So, how does one go about bringing peace by sending content?

I've got a set of 5 free activity templates and a whole lot of explanation to make it easy to bring the peace through your lessons. Get the templates here, and read on to see how they can help you to help your students!

There will be problems

No matter what you choose to do with your students, there will be problems. You'll try to get them on Garbanzo, and the kids will sign up as teachers instead of students. You'll send them the link to the Google Meet for today's class, and the system won't let them in. You'll send them a listening activity, and the dang ol' dang ol' audio will tell them it's reached its play quota and to try again later. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at some point, probably right after you test it and determine that it's working great and safe to proceed.

And even still.... You bring the peace.

Don't use all the things

You know that there will be problems, so limit the variables. There are many great resources out there, but trying to use all of them and keep the same level of novelty that you have in class just exposes you to more technical failure. Bring the peace by using the same small set of resources and assigning the same kinds of assignments, and mastering the art of flexibility within them.

Keep it simple! Work with a platform that students are already familiar with, or focus on one new platform only. Use tools that students are familiar with, or focus on one new tool within a familiar platform for everyone to try.

They're on their own

While some schools (mostly private) are doing full-on synchronous learning, most schools have limited or no live classes. This means that as you strive to provide your students with input, they are on their own when it comes to understanding it. In class, you'd be looking in their eyes to gauge their understanding. You'd be asking questions, rephrasing, using tone and body language to help them understand! In class, you bringing the peace looks like you helping them to understand what they read and what they hear in the target language. But Distance Learning?

You bring the peace.

Start with resources that are designed for students to understand

You've got to start with resources that are reasonably comprehensible to your students. For some languages (Spanish), this is easy– many resources have been shared! For other languages, this is not so easy... but still possible because the World Languages community is all in this together, and everyone is sharing what they can with their spheres. Now is not a time to help your students understand the stress of trying to communicate in the target culture with limited language skills and figuring out how to work through it. They're already stressed to the max just trying to process what is happening in their lives right now!!

You bring the peace.

Find resources that will gently lead them to higher levels of proficiency.

Create processing tasks, not assessment tasks

Once you connect them with input that they can understand, maybe that's enough. Maybe your school has no requirements in terms of accountability– and if so, be thankful! Your students can build their proficiency through listening and reading with no strings attached, as God intended.

Maybe, however, you need some sort of evidence that they have read what you asked them to read or listening to what you asked them to listen to.

You bring the peace.

In class, you would never administer a summative assessment until you were reasonably confident that students would be able to accomplish the task. You'd never give them a reading with comprehension questions if you thought that students would probably struggle to understand it! Your goal is always to provide your students with processable input, but much of the input processing that their brains are able to do is thanks to your skillful use of communicative techniques like questioning, gesture, repetition, and linking meaning to L1!

You bring the peace.

Especially now, traditional comprehension questions are not the kind of question that will be most valuable to your students. Instead, consider using clarifying or processing questions. Clarifying questions are those questions that help your students to process and understand the information with which you are presenting them.

When students are in class with you, you're likely using clarifying questions all the time. Your clarifying questions circle around the information that you're sharing with your students, giving them the time and multiple perspectives that they need to understand it.

Since you are not present with your students to ask clarifying questions, put the clarifying questions on the page to walk students through the understanding of text in the same way that you would if you were reading it together in class.

Ask either/or questions

Want your students to respond to questions about a target-language reading? If this were an assessment, I'd recommend asking comprehension questions in English. When processing is the goal, consider writing either/or questions instead of open-ended questions. It's okay if the answers are easy or obvious!

As students respond to the either/or questions, they will clarify their understanding of what the text is saying by better understanding what it is not saying.

Build background knowledge

Is there some word or concept in the text that students might not understand? Lead into questions about those words or concepts with statements that provide background knowledge. For example:

  • In the text: "Tres emus y dos avestruces (ostriches) nacieron en el zoológico."
  • The question: Un emú es un ave (bird) grande. ¿Cuál es otro ave grande que vive en el zoológico?

Students can probably visualize an ostrich, but not all students might know what an emu is and be able to visualize it. This Think and Search question serves several purposes:

  1. Establishes what an emu is.
  2. Introduces students to the word bird.
  3. Provides a second exposure to the word avestruz (as students search the text for the answer).
  4. Supports deeper understanding of the text by exposing connections.

Make connections

You're not there to lead your students in Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA), so use the questions on the page to connect your students to the text. For example, one article from last week's edition of El mundo en tus manos was about a man in Spain who was fined after he took his chicken out for a walk. Some connection questions for this article might look like:

  • El hombre caminó con su gallina. La gallina es su mascota. ¿Tienes una mascota? (The man walked with his hen. The hen is his pet. Do you have a pet?)
  • El hombre salió de su casa para caminar con su gallina. ¿Qué haces tú cuando sales de casa? (The man left his house to walk with his hen. What do you do when you leave the house?)

Notice how each question explains something from the article before asking the actual question. This serves the triple purpose of allowing students to better process the language through repeated exposure, to better understand the question (because it is contextualized), and to more clearly see the connection between the question and the text.

Create simple activities

Ready to try it out? Use this set of five FREE activity templates to create simple, text-based activities for your students. As you modify the content, look for opportunities to write questions and design tasks that help your students process and better understand the original text, instead of trying to "catch" them not understanding through quiz questions. Click the image to get your activities!

Need more?

If your students are already comfortable completing digital assignments in Google Docs, you might be ready to mix in some Google Slides-based assignments, too! Slides is a little tricker than Docs because you have to train students to view the activity in Editing mode instead of Viewing mode. If you can work through that, your students will be golden!

Check out these 13 Graphic Organizers that are both Slides and print-ready!

Keep bringing the peace

Distance Teaching and Distance Learning is really, really hard. You are not alone in your struggles! We are going to continue bringing you helpful tools to get you and your students through this challenging time. If you haven't already, join our COVID-19 mailing list to start getting our Resource Roundups! We have sent out five newsletters so far, and another one will be on its way soon.

Together, we've got this!

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