Spanish Language Testing Success!

I’m excited to share good news with all of you.  Once again, a group of 8th graders (25 total) took the Avant STAMP4s test.  (STAMP stands for Standards-Based Measure of Proficiency.  It basically is a highly reliable and valid test which measures language proficiency through our World Standards and the ACTFL guidelines.  The test measures proficiency in Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.  It gives results which compare our students to thousands of students across the country and gives feedback to teachers as to the effectiveness of the methods they use to teach.

This year’s test group is special in a number of ways.  They are the first group who have studied for 250 hours at St. John’s.  Most of the groups take the test at 180 hours.   As well, this group is the first to have participated in Silent Sustained Reading for two years.  The group self-selected and as such was a good representation of the class on the whole.

The results?  I couldn’t be more proud and grateful.  They all did wonderfully.  The group mean, across all four skills, was a 4.45.  The Avant company correlates a 4.45 to about 520 hours of study (comparing with students across the country).  That is almost double the amount of time this St. John’s 8th grade group.  We had two students achieve a score of 5 in each of the four areas tested (at least 650 hours of study normally) qualifying them for the Global Seal of Biliteracy Functional Level (side note: the Global Seal is rigorous.  They require proof of proficiency in both languages and only accept specific, reliable tests, STAMP is one, a College Board AP score of 3—a low pass for this level—is another).  There were an additional 10 students who are close to this level.

Most significantly, these students achieved this level of proficiency without using a commercial book, without being given traditional grammar explanations, without ever conjugating verbs, without ever filling in a single worksheet, or taking a single multiple-choice quiz.  How did they do it?  Well, this group has been special since the beginning.  They dove into the method we use at St. John’s.   They took seriously the information given to them about how acquisition occurs and had fun with all the rest.  We always try to keep class light and fun—but 90% in understandable Spanish—and they took this idea and ran with it.  We started with very simple words (all taken from lists of most commonly used words in daily speech), which were then used in engaging contexts.  Because our brains are hard-wired to acquire language through story, the engaging contexts took the form of story co-creation with students.  Very shortly they began to read those stories in versions which push their level higher.  Once completed, the cycle of oral co-created story followed by multiple version reading repeated. This was always done with a few new words in a different context.  As such, common every day useful words were recycled a lot.  As soon as they were ready, we then added chapter book reading—both read on their own, and together as a group.    At every step I tried to find situations in which would give them the opportunity to use all this new vocabulary to talk about their favorite subjects:  themselves.

If this interests you and you’d like to hear the expert’s opinions about what is going on in Spanish class at St. John’s, I am attaching a link to a video.  It is one of the clearest and most dramatic examples of how the choice of method can make all the difference in the world.  You don’t have to watch the entire hour.  The first 20 minutes gets to the heart of what I am talking about here (and if your time is really limited, start at 4:00 minutes and stop at 18:00 minutes.)

8th grade spanish test 18th grade spanish test 2

Dia de los Muertos

As part of the Spanish curriculum, K-6th grade had the opportunity to be part of one of the most important traditions in Mexico and South America. They learned that Dia de los Muertos is a happy day, a day to remember those who left us, a day to remember their lives.
We had an ofrenda in which we put flowers and candles, similar to the actual ones, so the students could get a proper idea of what the holiday represents and how does it looks. We also had a traditional treat for this day: Pan de muerto, a sweet bread. The students made their own papel picado (paper cut) to decorate their classes.
Sra. Pallete

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Peru Project – Part II

In part 1 I outlined this project which St. John’s students have been supporting for the past 9 years.
Once my wife, Patty, and I have a list of projects our work begins. One of the major projects we wanted to take on was quickly started:  the awning to cover the space between the two classrooms.
The biggest consideration was where the awning would be of most benefit. The next was timing:  how to get the structure built and the awning made so that both would be done before we leave in July.  Two different people are needed, a carpenter and an awning maker.  The last consideration was that the entire structure needed to be done in such a way that it can be unassembled and moved when the government comes through with the funds to remodel the school. This could be as early as this September or up to several years.
Lola wanted the space between the two largest classrooms covered. (See the first picture.)  This decided we then began to work on how to best coordinate structure with awning.  The carpenter gave us a time frame for completion just before we were to leave Perú. That meant the awning person would have to work from dimensions given by the carpenter rather than taken from the actual structure. This is risky at best. In the end we decided to have the carpenter build a structure the same size as the structure covering the play structure. (See picture #2)  to our amazement these dimensions fit almost perfectly into the desired space. And even better: because the two structures will be identical it will allow  Lola to design the space in the new school around the shade structures, placing  them end-to-end. It will add continuity in the long-run.
This decision also allowed the awning person to take more accurate measurements from the existent awning for the new awning. We took bids from several awning makers and chose the one who offered quality and the best price. It would cost about $850 for a high quality, water/weather proof material made to special order and installed.  About a week later we returned from a short trip to Cajamarca to find the rolled up cover (photo #3) hand delivered and ready to installed when the carpenter finished his work.  It weighs about 300 lbs.
The carpenter was called and came to the school to get the measurements for the awning structure. We agreed on a price (about $1500 equivalent in national money: Soles) and we went to Trujillo to exchange dollars. (Picture 4 shows the structure being put in place.) While there we went to a local store called Sodimac to see if they had prefabricated shelves the size we wanted. Sodimac is a Homedepot-like store which recently has come to Trujillo. While convenient it doesn’t offer a lot in terms of shelving. Nothing we could find fit the dimensions needed.  We wanted to steer clear of donating something which would just be makeshift. The units we did see were expensive and low quality.
So we began looking for plan B.  A family member recommended a young man in the town who had recently built some cabinets for a local restaurant. The young man’s name is Meikel and he works with a material he calls melamine, a kind of particle board covered in formica-like material. He could build sturdy shelves to the dimensions we wanted at less cost than the prefabricated odd-sized units we had looked at.  It did mean more footwork for us, but assured something which will endure the hard use they will receive, while adding uniformity to the classrooms.
The photos 5 and 6 show Meikel, the handy man, constructing the five shelves in our living room. It took he and his wife two days to put them together and they looked great.
Part three:  going shopping for things on the wish list.

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Peru Project Update!

The Perú project is well under way. For those who dont know, the students at St. John’s have been supporting a small preschool in the coastal town of Las Delicias, Peru for the past 9 years. The school provides education to the poorest children in the small town.   The significant impact these donations have had over the years can be viewed here:
This year we arrived at the school on June 14th, 2019 to determine how we could best help the school.  The fund had over $7,000 which was raised over the past several years by SJLS students. We hoped to do something with technology for the students, and as well to replace the awning structure donated by St. John’s 8 years ago. This original structure was only to be temporary and outlasted our expectations considerably.  Being made of metal the ocean breeze has eaten away at the structure and awning. We planned to replace it with a wooden structure. The first picture shows the original awning and it’s poor state of condition.
The present principal is a real go-getter.  Since the beginning of her time at the school she has recognized the importance of St. John’s donations and has done her part to meet expectations.  All of this can be seen in the video link given above.  The principal, Lola Kong, let us know that the best technological support we could give would be large screen televisions with USB ports. They have free access to educational videos. This seemed a very viable way we could help. As seen in the second photo, far left, the television for the 5 year olds is small and ineffective.
As well, Lola expressed the desire to have a series of shelves,  all of the same size and color to replace the makeshift shelves used around the classrooms. (see the third photo) These makeshift shelves have served a purpose but not being made for storing things, they were second best.
And finally Lola gave us a “wish” list of items they could really use:  dolls for the children to play with (see video link mentioned above—at the very end), as well as puzzles, musical instruments, costumes (firefighter, police, nurse/doctor, carpenter), hand puppets, a First Aid box, megaphone (for emergency drills), basketballs, volleyball, soccer balls, cones for PE, curtains for the 5 year old classroom, play kitchen sets, magnifying glasses, rulers, plastic chairs for adults (12 for parent meetings) and PE/emergency whistles to name a few.
Patty, my wife, and I had our work cut out for us. In my next installment I will show the progress being made.
Doug Stone, Spanish Teacher grades 7-8

What’s New For Spanish This Year: Silent Sustained Reading (SSR)

With the change this year to block I implemented something I’ve wanted to implement for years:  SSR.  I have about 40 different titles of novels in Spanish.  They start at a 100 to 200 word level and work up to 500 + word level.   These novels are based on word lists of most frequently used words in daily language use in Spanish.  When a student works their way up into the more complicated novels, they still see many of the same vocabulary words as in the lower level novels, however in more complex sentences, richer contexts and accompanied by new words. 

How does the program work? 

Students self-select the books they will read.  There are two criteria:  1) It is at least mildly interesting to them.  An un-interesting book equals low language acquisition value.  However, I point out that they need to be patient: A limited vocabulary book is not going to be a best seller.  2)  It must be comprehendible.  A good percent range of known words is between 80 and 90% comprehension of the words.

We currently read 10—15 minutes a week.  The Spanish program includes a lot of reading so I didn’t feel the need to make this daily reading.

When a student finishes a book, they write a short book report.  The questions ask them to summarize the book, talk about their favorite part, write an advertisement for the book, and rate the book from 1 to 5 stars.  In 7th grade they must read 2 novels per semester.  In 8th grade it is 3 novels per semester. 

They receive two grades:  1) for reading.  All they have to do is read.  As long as they are not distracting themselves or others, they have an A for this effort grade 2) writing a book report—a reading grade.  

Expected Results?

Let’s start by seeing what the experts say:

Incidental learning of words during reading may be the easiest and single most powerful means of promoting large-scale vocabulary growth.

— W.E. Nagy & P.A. Herdman Quoted in Extended Reading in the Foreign Language Classroom

There is overwhelming research showing that recreational reading in a second language is a powerful means of improving grammar, vocabulary, spelling and writing ability ― and it is far more efficient and far more pleasant than traditional instruction.

― Stephen Krashen, PhD

For years I have offered a Free Voluntary Reading program in which students check out the same books now used for SSR to take home and read.  As they work through the books they unlock new levels (like gaming) and earn badges.  Usually less than 10% of the entire class takes advantage of this reading.  However, each year when I have tested a group of 8th graders using an independent testing service (Avant Assessment), students who read even one extra book in the FVR program scored stronger in reading and writing than those who didn’t. (This ACTFL approved test is based on the ACTFL performance guidelines, which include the California Standards).  Where I used to have the majority of students reading only the three class novels in 180 hours of study, with the SSR program I now have every 8th grader reading 9 novels.  Our testing has just begun for this year, but I expect to see an increase across the board in reading and writing for all test takers.  Next year’s 8th graders will be even more interesting as they will have read a total of 12 novels. 

By: Sr. Stone, 7/8th grade Spanish