An In-Depth Look Inside the New Themed Scaffolded Spanish Class Activities
Here’s the complete video transcript:
Jared Romey: Okay, we’re live. There you go. Hi, my name is Jared and I am the person behind speaking Latino. And I also am the host of online virtual summits for foreign language teachers. Today, I’m here with Sheri Plath, who is coming to us from Guatemala, where she is currently a teacher. And what we’re going to go through real fast today is the new activities that Sheri is creating that are built around AP themes that we are sharing with our audience and members. So, hey, Sheri, how’s it going?
Sheri Plath: Hey, how’s it going?
Jared Romey: And Sheri is, I’ll let you go into a little bit more detailed, but Sheri’s a teacher who has taught Spanish and English all around the world. From memory, I know you’ve taught in Korea, Chile, the Middle East somewhere, I’m not sure exactly.
Sheri Plath: Yeah, Dubai.
Jared Romey: Dubai. In the US, of course, and right now you are teaching in Guatemala.
Sheri Plath: Right. So I’ve taught anywhere from Spanish kindergarten level actually is what I started out with, teaching elementary school the first two years. And then I’ve been teaching for the past 20 years at high school level. And either I’ve been teaching AP Spanish or IB Spanish, I’ve taught MYP, and so I’ve always book-ended though, I’ve always taught the lower levels, at least Spanish one, maybe Spanish two, and then the higher levels with that, because I just love to book-end it. So you see the start and get them really passionate about the language and then taking them across the finish line for those AP courses. And then you’re right, I taught outside of Seoul, the Seoul metro area, in Gyeonggi Suwon International School. I taught in Dubai at the American School of Dubai, and I taught in Chile in the South, very cold, lovely people, warm people, cold climate in Osorno. And yeah, now I’m here in Guatemala at the American School of Guatemala. So thanks for having me.
Jared Romey: Today, as I said, we’re going to go into these activities a little bit, Sheri, and I reached out to Sheri a little while ago and just said, “Hey, I’d be interested in you creating these activities for us.” And we just kind of did a little bit of back and forth about, “Okay, what am I hearing that teachers are interested in and at the same time what would Sheri be interested in for herself?” And so we came up with these activities that are built around kind of real-life experiences, places, even biographies about people from around the Spanish speaking world, but the core part that Sheri brought into this was to build them around the AP themes and sub-themes. So if you could just mention a little bit about that and why you thought that was such an important component.
Sheri Plath: Yeah, I think in a lot of schools, people and students, especially view AP as kind of this unachievable level of language or coursework in general and in world language, that’s not the case at all. We’re actually seeing and working with those AP themes from the very first day of classes with students in Spanish 1. And so just to actually point out and being mindful of the fact that, okay, what we’re currently looking at, and this activity actually ties into families and communities, or it actually ties into beauty and aesthetics, or it actually ties into this particular AP theme. I think that that helps students to see to kind of build their confidence at the lower levels, knowing that, “Okay, I’m working towards it, even if I don’t end up being able to reach that level.” And it helps teachers to see how they can scaffold at the lower levels to reach that AP level.
Sheri Plath: And so of the six AP themes, we’ve just decided to do that rotation. So, each month we’ll focus on a different AP theme and a different sub-theme, subtopic within that. So that we’re hitting, again, a bunch of different themes while we’re hitting several different countries because we all try to expose our students to a variety of Spanish speaking countries. And because I have been fortunate enough to teach all over the world and travel all over the world, I have a lot of firsthand experience with these places and with these people and a lot of contacts, people still living in all of these places that we may be highlighting throughout the course of the subscriptions.
Jared Romey: You brought up a good point, I just want to highlight it. That we are, besides the AP theme and the sub-theme, and the AP theme and the sub-theme are the same for four exercises in a row. We don’t change the sub-theme at all within that month, but we’re also highlighting one country as well. And so-
Sheri Plath: That kind of gives you a chance to, and if your course, if beauty and aesthetics happen to come out, if the subscription box for that month is beauty and aesthetics, and you’re not touching on that theme until a month or two later, go ahead and just keep those activities in your back pocket for when you (need them). They can also serve as a really great review for vocabulary and those topics, as you’re getting closer to those AP exams.
Jared Romey: That’s a good point that made. These are standalone activities. And so you don’t have to use them in the same order that we’re publishing them and sharing them. You can say, “Great yeah, this beauty and this sub-theme and this topic or this biography, I want to hold that off for next month.” And so you can do that easily. And the other point worth mentioning, I think I mentioned this earlier already, was one of the four activities for each month is going to be a part of the next activity. So we’re going to pull something out of probably the last three or four weeks before we share these, something going on in that specific country at the time and do an activity around that. So let’s just-
Sheri Plath: Now, for example, the current events activity for Guatemala happened to be authentic text messages from the Guatemalan government that I received on my cell phone. And so these are resources that you’re not typically going to be able to find all of these authentic tech types of texts and images and things on the internet as they’re just things that happen in life. And so, that was the current event for the change and the “toque de queda”, the curfew and the shelter in place as it’s happening in Guatemala for COVID-19.
Jared Romey: Well, let’s just walk through one of these activities a little bit. This is about, this is a really cool one. I think maybe the first one that you did about a slum in Columbia that became a tourist destination because the inhabitants of this area decided to paint graffiti on the buildings and basically just pretty up and make it a cool place to visit and show off their artistry as well. So this activity happens to be, well first, the two AP themes, beauty and aesthetics, and then, visual arts. Let’s see, and-
Sheri Plath: Yes. So this particular activity, I also try to choose what I think will be a high-interest to students. And after teaching high schoolers for 18 years, I have a pretty good idea of what that might be. And so they’re all about Narcos and Pablo Escobar and so this particular activity ties right into that and harnesses that interest that they already have for the Colombian drug lords. And so this is the neighborhood where it all went down, but they fought to kind of combat that negative image-
Jared Romey: Overcome that image, yeah.
Sheri Plath: Yeah, exactly. And so, the article itself is, if you look at the AP level, so that would be the novice high to advanced, and these levels that you’re looking at in the top left corner will coincide with the actual proficiency levels. So if you’re looking at, there we go, if you’re looking at the intermediate-high or advanced, most of our students who take the AP exam are going to fall into that intermediate-high range, unless you’ve got native speakers taking the exam, then they may, and they may not be at that advanced range, but nonetheless, the materials and the texts and the resources used for that intermediate high and advanced activity will be a pretty much uncut authentic source that was published by Spanish speakers for Spanish speakers.
Sheri Plath: And then along with that, there’ll be a variety of either tasks or well, always tasks, but sometimes reading comprehension, sometimes it’s doing a “Comparación Cultural”, sometimes it’s a writing task, and sometimes it’s just a task that does not mirror an AP exam type of task, but it’s just building the language in general. And so this activity that we’re looking at right now is basically a copy-paste of what you would find from this article online.
Jared Romey: Let me just hop up to the beginning and walk through just briefly what one of these files looks like in terms of the structure. So here, we have the novice level activity, and you can just see that briefly. And most of these activities for each level are one or two pages. And then below that, there are teacher notes.
Sheri Plath: If you wouldn’t mind, Jared, just going back up to the top. So as you notice, for example, this first activity, if we scroll down just below the picture, you can see, okay, well, let’s focus on what we do know because a lot of times at the novice level you might think, “Okay, well, I can’t use this type of a text at the novice level,” but when it’s filled with cognates, and that’s one of the ways in which I’ve modified the original authentic text, is replacing some of those more advanced words with cognates or simplifying the language a bit so that the student can still get the information. And while bringing it to their level.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with new ZLA, but you can select the Lexile level in that program based on the student’s reading levels. So, that’s what I’ve done with these activities. And then go ahead and boost the students’ confidence with first identifying some cognates and giving a little bit of, like I said, building up their level, like “Okay, I actually can understand this.”
Sheri Plath: And then if you scroll to the next page. So the questions are broken up based on the categories, how they’re chunked in, how they’re presented, and on the first page, then the questions are then chunked as well to match with those three sections there. Using a lot of what they’re seeing visually, like “What colors do you see in addition to some multiple choice?” So they’re very attainable for the students. So they do see a lot of success with them.
Jared Romey: Then, as I’ve mentioned, these teacher notes are specific to the novice section. And so there are teacher notes after every level of the activity. And so-
Sheri Plath: Yeah, included in those teacher notes, they’ll have the answers to all of the questions.
Jared Romey: Sorry, that’s a good point. And then intermediate low to mid level-
Sheri Plath: Yeah. This intermediate low, sorry, Jared, but intermediate low to mid would be most of your level two and threes. The novice would coincide mostly with level one, although you could be used at level two as well, depending on where your students are at, but yeah, level two or three is where this would coincide.
And let’s just hop over to this other one, just to show you a different one that we’ve done, and this one is a profile of Luis Von Ahn, who, if you don’t know, is the Guatemalan inventor or creator of Duolingo. And just from my conversation with you seem to be kind of a big person, a well-known person in Guatemala as well.
Sheri Plath: Yeah. Fun little fact here is that, so I’m currently teaching at the American School of Guatemala and I’m for the first time in quite a while, teaching ESL to scholarship students who earned that scholarship because they’re top students around the country, but they might not have the financial means to attend our school. And Luis Von Ahn actually was a product of our scholarship program. So yeah, he just spoken in a symposium the other day, mentioning his background at our school.
Jared Romey: That’s so cool. And that’s been my experience in Chile a little bit, but in Puerto Rico, they’re small enough that you can reach out to people and you cross over people. And it’s just really neat to be in that situation because that certainly wasn’t my experience in the US-
Sheri Plath: Oh, it’s too vast.
Jared Romey: In the big cities. Yeah. Yeah. So, again, this is the novice level, intermediate low to mid, and then moves on to the intermediate high, to advanced level with the answers in each and the teacher notes for each. I think that’s about all I had written down for us to talk. Is there anything else you’d like to throw in there?
Sheri Plath: No, I think you touched on all of the major points. A lot of times with reading comprehension, it can be overwhelming for students if they’re not taught how to approach it by chunking the material and by identifying things that they do know. So in the teacher tips in the teacher notes, it really gives the teacher the tools to help make these reading, this one in particular, reading task, there were some other activities.
Do you want to go to the “Carretas de Comida”? And while you’re doing that, I’ll just… So it gives them an opportunity to really push their reading comprehension, because the more exposure students have to the language and to authentic language, the quicker they’re going to reach that conversational level, but without overwhelming them and kind of putting on the brakes and having them shut down completely.
Sheri Plath: And so you’ll see how the novice takes a step even further to giving the student more and more scaffolding it as we go. So this one, for example, it’s got quite a lot of photos taken and then a little bit of information and then jumps right into the speaking task. And that novice has the instructions in English. Whereas you’ll see, I believe the intermediate low… Nope. That one’s still in English as well. And then the AP one mirrors that “Comparación Cultural” task, which is part of the AP exam. And so, we’re always looking at making connections with our own culture to the target culture as early as the novice levels. And so you’ll see those reflected in these activities as well.
Jared Romey: The other thing I wanted to dimension, and you did mention this a little bit, but I just want to highlight is that not all of these activities are reading comprehension. We are varying those along the way. So the idea is to cover the four basic skills and also build in cultural comparisons as well in that process.
Sheri Plath: Yeah, I think that’s all I got.
Jared Romey: Cool. Thanks a lot. I appreciate you taking out the time and doing this with me today. If anybody wants to follow Sheri, her website is Sher The World, which is S-H-E-R-T-H-E-W-O-R-L-D.com.
Sheri Plath: Yeah, it’s my clever name, because I’m Sheri.
Jared Romey: And you can also find Sheri using that same name on Twitter and there was somewhere else.
Sheri Plath: Instagram. Mostly.
Jared Romey: Instagram. There we go. Okay. Anyway, thanks a lot, Sheri. I appreciate it.
Sheri Plath: Yeah, no worries. Thanks. Take care.
Jared Romey: Okay now. Okay. Bye bye.
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