Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Can-Do-Statements Self-Rating for Students

Posted by @ginlindzey on Twitter
Over the summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could incorporate the ACTFL Can-Do Statements in my teaching.  Our county has been really good about creating and providing us with rubrics to use this year, but I was really wanting a way to get students involved with the process before throwing the rubrics at them.

For my German 3/4 combo class this year, I decided we'd start looking at them during the first week.  Yesterday as a homework assignment, I gave students access to this Power Point.  In it are the various "I can..." statements found directly in the ACTFL guide.  If you'd like a copy of the Power Point I used, it's available here.

For each mode of communication, I explained what it meant (for example, I described interpersonal communication as conversations with other people, whether it be face-to-face or via text messages).  Students were then asked to pick the statement that best fit their ability level.  I qualified it as what they could do spontaneously, without notes or preparation, and without knowing what the topic was ahead of time. Using the blank form, they copied and pasted the phrase that best described them:

This is the blank form students needed to fill out

This is an example of what students read through for each level
I made of point of not including the proficiency levels (novice, intermediate, etc.).  I didn't want students to get bogged down by that and have pre-conceived notions like "Oh, I think I'm advanced so I'll automatically just pick from the orange blocks."

I asked students to only print out and bring in the slide where they copied and pasted in their levels.  I also made some paper copies of the Power Point for students who didn't have access to a computer, the internet or a printer.  The other students were able to get it directly from the class website.

When students brought them in today, we then talked about what the different colors and proficiency levels meant.  Note: Since some students don't have color printers, you should first give them a chance to identify the colors for each of the phrases they chose!  I described each level for them based on the slide below (which was not in the Power Point given to students).

These descriptions are in part based on the tweet above as well as the World Language Academy I attended this summer
Students had to identify which of these levels best describes them based on their choices.  Maybe they had some blues but most of what they had was green, putting them at the Intermediate Level.  They then identified the level on their "Ich kann..." sheet (in the blank box).  Be sure to tell students that since this is a self-rating, they may have rated themselves a little bit higher or lower than they actually are!

We also talked about where we should be by the end of each level of German (based on our county's goals):
The final part of this was goal-setting.  I gave each student two post-its and asked them to write a goals for the year.  I specified that one of the goals had to be related to the proficiency levels ("I want to move all areas into Intermediate" or "I want to move my writing abilities into Advanced").  The other one could be anything ("I want to get at least a B on all my quizzes," "I want to score at least a 4 on the AP test," or "I want to be able to speak better").  I hope this last activity will get the kids motivated for the year :)


- Frau Leonard

Monday, August 25, 2014

Speaking Rubrics

During the summer, I was fortunate enough to attend a World Language Academy run by ACTFL.  There was a lot of great stuff that I can't wait to start implementing and trying out this year (you can go through the Power Point presentation - it's available on their Wikispace).  One of those things would be some of the speaking rubrics they include (slides 157 and 158).

TALK Rubric (Shrum & Glisan)
The first rubric is a TALK rubric.  It's a really short rubric that makes it easy for you to quickly give students some feedback on their TL usage in class.  The letters stand for...

T = Target Language: During the activity, is the student speaking in the TL? 
A = Accuracy: Is Target Language use correct (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar)?  (I love that TL use and accuracy are separated!!)
L = Listens: Does the student listen to what his/her partner says and respond appropriately?  Is he/she actually trying to have a conversation or just saying random things?
K = Kind: If his/her partner needs help, does he/she help?  This could be by prompting with questions, modeling sentences, or helping with vocabulary.

As students are doing a communicative activity, you walk around and monitor a few students and complete the TALK rubric for them.  You can use symbols to make it clear how students did.  A check mark means they did amazing, a + means they did well but could improve, and a - means they need work (or whatever other symbols you might want to use instead).

Depending on class size, it's doubtful you'd get to all of them in one lesson.  Honestly, I think trying to hit every student in each activity would be too stressful for you as the teacher any way.  Pick a few students and give them feedback, then during the next day/activity pick some other students.  


I don't even plan on using these as a grade.  It's really more of a means for me to get an idea of how students are doing and to give them immediate feedback.  You just give each student back their strip and that's it!  They can see how well they're doing in the areas we're focusing on and where they need to work on. 
It's a great rubric for beginning learners and earlier in the unit.  I hope this will train students to keep an eye on how much German they're actually using in class.  If you're interested in a typed version, click here.


Scored Discussion Rubric
The other rubric they provided as a "Scored Discussion" rubric.  It's a little more detailed than the TALK rubric and could be used for an actual grade in addition to being a means of feedback.  On the left hand side it describes the lower end of what students might be doing.  On the right hand side is the upper end.  Basically, it moves from basic skills to where we want students to be.  In the middle is room to give students a grade in each category on a 1-5 scale.


What's great about it is it's so succinct.  Students get descriptions of both ends of the spectrum, but you don't need to put specific examples in for each point value.  Students see what a 1 and a 5 look like, and they understand that a 3 is between those two extremes.  I hope that it will give students something to strive for and help them focus on the areas they struggle most in.  If you'd like a typed version, click here.

I'm hopeful that these rubrics will make it easier for me to give students feedback on a regular basis.  It'd be great if they could use these to improve their confidence in speaking.

- Frau Leonard

Friday, August 15, 2014

Idiom of the Week Board

I saw this really cute idea on Pinterest for an idiom of the week board.

In this past I've tried to do an idiom of the week/month/whenever I got around to it.  I think I tried too hard to make it a part of weekly instruction.  I tried to do quizzes and get the students to come up with examples...  Really, it was all great in theory but was harder in practice.  The problem was always that it was another thing I had to keep track of and make activities for.

What I like about this is it's something I can have up and don't have to draw attention to it.  If students are interested, it's something they can keep track of and use on their own.  If students do use the phrases during class, that's something I can praise.  If students don't use the phrase... well at least I can beef up on idioms on my own ;)

- Frau Leonard

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Visual Discovery: Part 2

In my last post I talked about using a social studies History Alive technique, Visual Discovery, as a way of introducing culture and history.  In that entry I went over the whole process, which is obviously a little time intensive.  I've been playing around with the idea of an abbreviated version for lower level classes.

Here's an overview of how I hope to incorporate Visual Discovery even in German 1:

  1. Preview Question
  2. Show an Image, students analyze it with groups
  3. Take notes related to the image using a graphic organizer
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 for multiple images
  5. Processing / Assessment piece

You'll notice that this is almost the same process as the full version.  The difference will be in the level of complexity at each stage, particularly with the processing/assessment piece and with the complexity of the topic.  The previous example dealt with East Germany - a topic that can lead to a lot of discussion and has a lot of gray areas - whereas the example I'm going to discuss today requires less depth to get the point across.

Example Two: German Schools and Classrooms
When I introduce students to vocabulary relating to classroom objects, I usually show them pictures from German classrooms.  It usually surprises students to see that something that's so common place in both cultures can be both so similar and so different.  Because this is a German 1 topic, the visuals are a great way to show cultural differences in a way that still allows for 90% Target Language in class.

Preview Question:
"Was findet man in einem Klassenzimmer?"

Notice that this is a much simpler preview question than for the East Germany lesson.  It's a very straight forward question that all students should be able to come up with an answer for, even if it's just reciting words from their vocab list.  

After coming up with a list as a class, discuss what types of classes you'd usually find these items in (Mathematik vs Biologie).  Then try to narrow down the list to "Was braucht man in einem Klassenzimmer?"


Image Analysis:
The images you choose are still an important part of the lesson.  Instead of picking the action or dramatic shots that worked well with the East Germany lesson, the goal is to find images that illustrate the main cultural points you want to discuss.  

Remember, with each image you'll be following three steps: 
  1. Gather Evidence (1-2 words)
  2. Interpret evidence (full sentence, "I think... because...)
  3. Speculate (motivations - this ties back into the preview question)
Here's an example of one of the images I've chosen for this lesson:


Remember to pose questions for each stage.  Sample questions might be...

Gathering Evidence:

  1. How many people are in the picture?
  2. Describe the people you see (age, gender, clothing).
  3. What objects do you see (we'll have already discussed Schulranzen in this lesson)?
Interpreting Evidence:
  1. When do you think this picture was taken (season, time of day)?
  2. Discuss how you think the children feel (happy, sad, nervous, etc).
  3. Who is the woman?

Making Hypotheses from Evidence:
(Identify the objects as Schultüten first)

  1. What do you think is inside the Schultüten?
  2. Why do you think the students have Schultüten?

If you're looking for examples of how to structure your questions in each level of analysis, click here.


I already mentioned this in the earlier post, but please note: As students give their answers - and this is for ALL stages - students need to reference what exactly in the picture helped them make the inference.  If you emphasize this process with your lower levels, by the time they get to German 3/4 and do something like the East Germany lesson, they'll be ready to take on the challenge of analyzing those images effectively.

Because this process can be time-consuming, even at this level, you may not want to do the image analysis for each "main image."  It may make more sense to do it for some of them, but for others you might want to jump right into the note taking.


Taking Notes:
For this lesson, there are 11 different aspects of German schools I want to discuss with my students.  I picked 11 main images - one for each topic - and then other images to support the main one.  I plan to go through the image analysis (as described above) for the main images, then use the supporting images as part of the notes process.

Here's how it would look for the Schultüten section:


If you'd like the entire Power Point (includes both the "main images" and the supporting ones), click here.

As students are going through the process of analyzing images and then learning about the cultural differences, they complete a graphic organizer.  The one I created for this topic is very straightforward.  I included the topic, the "main image," and left room for note-taking.


If you're interested in the notes worksheet to go along with the Power Point, click here.

Processing/Assessment:
The point of the Processing is to serve as a form of either formative or summative assessment.  It doesn't have to be a standard "quiz" or "test" - in fact it can often replace that part of your unit.  Notes are completely allowed.

For this lesson, there are two main Processing pieces I plan to use.  The first is a basic exit ticket - students will just need to answer the question with one detail they learned about.  This is an easy way to end the lesson and give them time to think.

The next day in class, I plan on having students work in groups to create a Venn Diagram comparing American and German schools.

Obviously this example is for a different activity, but I like the idea!
Then as the final assessment piece, I'll have students respond to ONE of the following prompts:
Option 1: Letter Home   You're living as a foreign exchange student in Germany.  Write a letter home to your friends/family about the school you're visiting.  Include details about where you're staying and the specific ways your host school is different (or similar) to your school.
Option 2: Classroom Re-Design  There's a foreign exchange student coming from Germany.  You've been asked to help them feel more at home by re-designing one of the classrooms in your school to look more like a German classroom.  Draw a before and after picture of the classroom.  Be sure to include five captions that detail specific changes you made and why.

The idea of using Visual Discovery to introduce culture has gotten me really pumped for the school year - I hope it'll be a way to engage students in the Target Language while getting them to think critically about the world around them.

- Frau Leonard

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Visual Discovery: Using Social Studies to Teach Culture

At the beginning of the summer, I attended a TCi Workshop that showed teachers strategies for teaching Social Studies.  While obviously not a social studies teacher, there is some overlap between our content areas, especially when we discuss history and culture.  One of the ones I really like is Visual Discovery.

The idea behind Visual Discovery is that it shows powerful images, helps students learn to decode them, and then uses them to teach whatever concepts you're focusing on.  Here's the overall flow of a Visual Discovery lesson:
  1. Preview Question to get students thinking
  2. Show an Image, students analyze it with groups
  3. Take notes related to the image using a graphic organizer
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 for multiple images
  5. Students perform an Act-It-Out
  6. Processing / Assessment piece
For the moment, I'm going to go through an example I've developed that uses this method.  Keep in mind, I'm hardly an expert.  I attended a workshop and this is how I plan on modifying this teaching method for my classroom.  Also, you might note that my examples contain a lot of English at the moment.  I'll be presenting this same information at a county professional development meeting later this month - to make it more accessible to teachers of other languages, it's currently in English.  I won't be switching them to German until later.

Example One: Life in East Germany

If we get time in German 4 (i.e. after the AP exam), we sometimes do a brief unit on Good-Bye Lenin.  It's a fun movie and gives us a lot of things to talk about.  I first like to talk about life in East Germany in general, then move on to reunification and Ostalgie.  I plan on incorporating this lesson as the opening to a Good-Bye Lenin unit.  The goal of Visual Discovery in this case would be to give students an insight to what life was like in East Germany.  It talks mostly about oppression and lack of opportunities - to me it seems easier to talk about the better aspects when we move on to Ostalgie.

Preview Question:
"What would motivate you to move to another state or country?"

Students start by individually considering this question and coming up with reasons.  There aren't any right or wrong answers to this question, it's a matter of opinion and, more importantly, it will lead into the lesson.  

After students have answered the question, have them share out answers.  As they share their answers, write them on the board in one of two columns - "pull factors" (i.e. positive reasons to leave) and "push factors" (negative reasons).  Here's an example of what students might come up with:


Image Analysis:
Obviously an important part of this process is the images you pick.  Pick strong images that have some sort of action going on.  With each image, you go through the following steps to analyze them effectively:
  1. Gather Evidence (1-2 words)
  2. Interpret evidence (full sentence, "I think... because...)
  3. Speculate (motivations - this ties back into the preview question)

Part of the process is building up student ability to decipher complex images.  While they might want to jump ahead to the interpret or speculate parts of analysis, they MUST start at the bottom.  Our presenter at the workshop used a "Detective" analogy: before you can indicate who the murder suspect is, you need to find clues that will then lead you to a conclusion.

Here's the image we'll be using during this example:


To help students along this process, you'll want to pose questions to them at each stage.  Here are example questions for each of the three stages described above:

Gathering Evidence:
1. What are the people wearing?
2. What objects do the people have?
3. What are the people doing?
4. What are the ages and genders of the people depicted?

Interpreting Evidence:
1.Where was this photograph taken?
2.What is the time period?
3.Who is the man?
4.Do you think he’s trying to flee East or West Germany?

Making Hypotheses from Evidence:
1. What do you think the consequences of this man trying to flee might be?
2. Why would this man want to flee East Germany?

You would go over student answers to these questions after each stage.  For example, give students the four Gathering Evidence questions, give them time to discuss them with a partner or small group, then as a class discuss what they determined.

As they give their answers - and this is for ALL stages - students need to reference what exactly in the picture helped them make the inference.  For example, if I answer the question, "What is the time period?" I could make a guess like, "I think it's in the 1950's because the picture is in black and white and based on the clothes worn by the people in the background."

Keep in mind that students bring different levels of background knowledge.  For the same question, I might say, "I think it's in the late 1950's or early 1960's because the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 - clearly it hasn't been built yet since all that stood in this man's way was some barbed wire."

Here are some examples of question words to use in each level of analysis, click here.

Taking Notes:
After analyzing whatever image you choose, students will take notes using a graphic organizer.  The notes could be in the form of a lecture, a Power Point, a movie, their textbook...  It doesn't matter how you choose to convey the notes, as long as they tie into the picture and lesson.

I think with this particular image, I would only tell students that this image depicts the escape from East Germany by Conrad Schumann, then have them research the rest.  I would only use this process for *this* particular image in the lesson and only with my upper level students.

I've chosen a very basic format for the notes on this topic.  I have the images I hope to analyze with space to the right for notes.
Typically you would alternate back and forth between image analysis and notes.  This is obviously a time consuming process, especially as students do it for the first time.  It could take several class periods if you stick rigidly to this process.  Depending on your own time constraints, you may want to pick a 3-4 of the strongest images to discuss and analyze as a class and use the rest as an impetus for notes.

If you would like the complete Power Point with the images I chose for this unit, please click here.  I also have the graphic organizer available here.  Please note that both merely contain the images - they do not have the actual notes that I would use.  Since this is a work in progress, I'm still trying to find the best way to give the notes (lecture vs video vs textbook).

Act-It-Out:
In this stage of the lesson, students will perform a short skit based on the images to demonstrate what they learned.  There are a variety of ways to do Act-It-Outs, but I'm only going to talk about the two that I think best fit into this lesson.


Talking Statues Act-It-Out: You would first pick one of the images from the presentation - one that has several people.  For the sake of this explanation, I'll use the Conrad Schumann image from above.  Pick students who will represent each of the people in the photo.  For this picture, you would need a few students to stand in the background, Conrad Schumann, and the person filming the incident.
These students would come up to the front of the classroom and "freeze" themselves in the same position as the person in the photograph that they represent.  For example, the Conrad Schumann student would pretend to jump and the photographer student would pretend to have a camera up.  The students who are in the Act-It-Out should image what their character is thinking and feeling at this moment.  When students are ready, you will walk over to them one by one and tap them on the shoulder.  Then - and only then - can they "come to life" to reveal what they're thinking or feeling.  When done, they go back to their "frozen" position.  Their answers don't need to be long - a few sentences would suffice.

Group Presentation Act-It-Out: This is a great format if you want to include primary sources.  Students would be divided into groups of 3-5 and each group would be given a different reading.  The reading should be the personal account of someone.  They will answer a series of questions that will sketch out the details of this person's life, particularly in relation to the overall topic.  Their answers should be based on their reading, but you could also ask them questions that would require students to speculate about that person.
For this particular lesson, I have found accounts from people who lived in East Germany.  Because I need English examples at the moment, I will be using this reading.  Each group will be assigned a different person, and then required to answer the following questions:
  • What is your name?
  • What is your nationality?  Where are you from?
  • How old were you when the wall fell?
  • What was your profession or area of study?
  • What struggles did you face during your career because you lived in East Germany?
  • Did you want to leave or escape East Germany?
  • How did you feel when the wall finally fell?
Once groups have answered all the questions, one person from that group will come up front to represent the person they read about.  As the teacher, you will interview them by asking them *some* of the questions.  This process gives students detailed information about their reading, but still gives them the perspectives from the other readings as well.

Processing/Assessment:
The last stage is to do some sort of cumulative activity.  Don't think of it as a test - it's more of a way for students to process and show you what they've learned from the lesson.  It's also important to give them some choices in how they complete this task.  

For the processing activity, I have decided to incorporate this article: 8 Creative Ways People Went Over the Berlin Wall.  It's not necessary to include an additional reading at this point - you can use exclusively the information covered by the images, notes and primary sources you've already discussed.  And again, this article is in English.

Option 1: Letter Home  Write a letter home from the perspective of someone who escaped East Germany (pick anyone from the article above except Conrad Schumann).  Include details of your escape, why you left, and how life has been for you on the other side of the wall.  Keep in mind that this is a letter to friends/family you have left behind.  

Option 2: Sensory Figure  Create a sensory figure from the perspective of an East German soldier guarding the wall.  Draw and label different things he would see on both sides of the wall with six captions.  Make sure to include at least one of the escape attempts mentioned in the article above (except Conrad Schumann). 


That's the overall process of doing a Visual Discovery lesson.  It can be a long process, so it's not something you should consider doing each unit.  My next blog entry will give an example of how I plan on incorporating an abbreviated version of this for cultural topics that I want to discuss.

- Frau Leonard

Monday, August 4, 2014

Eine Modenschau: End of Year Fashion Show

It's probably pretty standard to have a "fashion show" project when doing a unit on clothes.  When I took French in Middle School, we put on a big one in the main atrium of the school.  There were probably a hundred students who came to view our fashion show (I assume the other language classes since I don't really remember) and we spent a lot of time on it.  To this day it's the only project that stands out when I think about my French classes throughout Middle and High School and even College.  

Prior to this year, I'd never done this project with my students.  I've thought about it before, we'd done similar "fashion show" activities that involved designing outfits but never an actual fashion show where the students dressed up.  For whatever reason, I decided this year would be the year to try it out.  


My German 1 class this past school year was a little on the weaker side and because we only saw each other every other day, I'd had to cut out a lot of activities I usually do simply due to time constraints.  I wanted to give them something fun at the end of the year to reward them for their progress (although weak as a class, they made some big improvements toward the end of the year).  


I wasn't sure how it would go.  When my French class did this project, we were a group of mostly girls.  With my German classes, they tend to be mostly guys.  In the lower level the genders are a little more even, but I was still worried the male students wouldn't find this project appealing.  I was pleasantly surprised how into this they got.  Even students who had had a lackluster performance all year were interested in the project.  When I did my usual end of the year survey to get feedback, most of the class was very positive about the project and wished they'd done more, similar projects.


We planned and carried this project out over four 90 minute class periods.  However, we never spent a whole class period on the project, so I think it could be done over the course of a week (5-6 days) with a shorter class period.  Here's the overall process:


Day One: Planning

I introduced the project to my students.  We were already in our clothing unit and had learned how to express like/dislike using the verb gefallen.  Before talking about the project itself, we looked at some pictures from fashion shoes.  We discussed what the models were wearing and if we liked the outfits.  This was a great segue into them doing their own fashion show.  I only gave them a general overview of the project at this point - that they'd be working in groups and each group would put on an actual fashion show during class.  More details would come as we went through the project.

I let students form their own groups of 4-5.  I did have to move a couple students around just to make sure the numbers worked out.  For this first day of planning, students had to do the basics for setting up the fashion show: who was emcee, who were the models, what was each model wearing?  There were some vocabulary requirements (needed twelve different articles of clothing, needed to look up new clothing-related words that weren't on our vocab list, etc) to help guide them, but really the sky was the limit.  I did, however, say that they should focus on clothing they already have at home - this was not an excuse to go shopping, this did not require new clothes or anything like that.  I emphasized that they should work with what they have.  



Day One Planning Sheet
As groups worked, I circulated to give them feedback.  The planning sheet helped keep them focused and listed all of the requirements for this stage of the project, but they still needed some guidance.  

At the end of class I collected the planning sheet from each group.  Since there are vocab and outfit requirements, I went through and made sure each group met them.  If they didn't, I highlighted areas for them to work on or finish.  



Day Two: Planning

Students get back their planning sheet from day one and get an opportunity to make any changes they need to.  Groups then moved on to the next planning sheet.


Day Two Planning Sheet
The next phase of planning is writing their script.  Although the emcee will be the person reading out the script during the fashion show, the entire group needs to work together to prepare it.  Students need to figure out the order for the fashion show (who's first) and write a short blurb about each outfit.  From the previous day, they already know what each student is wearing - that's the first part of the description.  The next step is to add detail.  I ask them to describe the colors and to use an adjective to describe each person's overall look (modisch, elegant, etc. - a list is included on the back of the planning sheet).  

They also need to think about the details that could really set their presentation apart from the other groups.  I told them to think about choreography (are there any waves or dance moves involved?) and music.  If they planned on having music as part of their fashion show (something I made completely optional), they needed to provide both the music and the speakers/method of playing it.  I also required them to submit the songs to me first so I could make sure they were appropriate.


At the end of class, I collected both planning sheets.  I made sure necessary changes were made to the day one sheet (if necessary) and went over the day two planning sheet.  I didn't make substantial changes - just spelling and gave help regarding more difficult grammar concepts.  If they made mistakes with concepts we already knew, I would highlight it instead of correcting it.  



Day Three: Practice Run

Students first had time to go over their planning sheets from the previous two class periods.  If they had questions or needed changes, this was the time to do it.  

I then gave students time to do practice runs of their entire fashion show.  The actual fashion show was going to be in the school atrium, so this was the first time students went to this space.  I explained where the audience would be sitting, where they would be starting from, where the emcee would stand, etc.  It was their job to figure out any choreography they planned on doing and to go through the entire script and performance, just to make sure everyone new what they were supposed to be doing.  It was a large enough space that two groups could use the stairs at the same time, while other groups planned.


Note: Although we did a practice run, I would maybe suggest giving more practice time.  


At the end of class, I re-collected the planning sheets (to make sure they didn't lose anything!).  The whole time you should be emphasizing the final date of the fashion show - do a final reminder that they MUST have their planned outfits NEXT CLASS!



Day Four: Fashion Show!
I gave groups a few minutes to prep.  Some students needed to go change and the emcees needed time to go over the script.  I didn't make them memorize it - it didn't seem fair to have one group member do so much more work than the others during the actual fashion show.


I let groups volunteer to go first.  Emcees were given a toy microphone prop I have, just to make it a little more "authentic."  While other groups were presenting, the other students had a peer rating sheet to fill out.  It basically just asked for their opinion of the other groups - were they creative, which outfit was best, etc.  


Here's how it turned out:




Although I liked the idea of using the school atrium as the location for the project (a big space to make the project seem just as big), logistically it didn't work out as well as I wanted.  The space made it too hard to hear what the presenters were saying.  Next year I'll probably find a different space - a hallway, re-arrange my classroom, or maybe the auditorium if it's free.

The kids really did have a lot of fun - it makes me want to incorporate more group projects like this next year!


If you're interested in the worksheets I used, they're available for free on TPT - just click here!


- Frau Leonard

Monday, July 28, 2014

Der heisse Stuhl: Midterm and Final Exam Alternative

I can't be the only one out there who doesn't like multiple choice exams.  They're my least favorite means of testing (when was I ever in Germany and was presented with four choices to respond to the situation at hand?), but admittedly I do a lot of it come midterms and finals.  With five preps and a short grading window, it seems the easiest way to get it all done.  There is something I do, however, for my upper level German students that gets us away from the scantron sheets.

As part of their final, I have students do an activity called "der heiße Stuhl" or "Hot Seat."  One of the teachers where I did my student teaching did a very similar activity during the semester, but the way I use it works best as an end of semester "exam."  The premise is that each student will undergo an interview for about 5-8 minutes in front of the class.  Their classmates will primarily be the ones asking them questions, I only take over towards the last 2 minutes of their interview.  They write their own questions, based on the topics we've covered that year.

Note: In my experiences, most classes are up for the challenge once they get all the information.  However, for classes that are particularly hesitant, you might want to schedule "practice" days when they get to interview each other for 1-2 minutes at a time just to settle them in.

Step One: Introducing Heißer Stuhl
To give them time to a.) wrap their heads around the idea and b.) prepare their questions, I usually introduce this a few weeks beforehand.  The idea of speaking for 5-8 minutes in front of their classmates freaks some of them out at first.  The key is to assure them that it won't be as bad as they think it will.  Since they will be interviewing each other, to a certain degree they have control over the process.  Which leads us to...

Step Two: Writing Questions
Students are required to bring 20 questions to the interview, questions which they have written ahead of time.  These questions need to be spread across the various topics we've covered this year.  I give them a worksheet which contains not only a sample question but lists the topics we've done so far.  Since they have to write their own questions, they get a mini-review as they go through former topics scavenging for decent questions.

There are some ground rules for the questions.  They shouldn't have any questions like "Was bedeutet 'das Nilpferd' auf English?" or "Wie sagt man 'suitcase' auf Deutsch?"  And if they ask questions like "Möchtest du nach Deutschland reisen?" they need to be ready with follow-up questions like "Warum (nicht)?  Wann?  Mit wem?"

I also hint that, "Hey, since these aren't due for a few weeks, wouldn't it be possible for you guys to get together, share questions, and practice interviewing each other ahead of time?"  I don't require it, but I feel that sharing their questions ahead of time gives them more review and practice with the material if they need it.

Step Three: Interviews
Depending on class size, you might want to do interviews across two class periods.  I had about 11 students this year and we needed two 50 minute class periods to get through all the interviews.  Keep in mind, you need roughly 10 minutes per kid.

I have a stool (sometimes a comfy chair - depends on what's available) that I set up in front of the classroom.  Whoever is being interviewed gets to sit in this "heißer Stuhl.  I would recommend starting with a volunteer so that shyer students see "Hey, that wasn't even that bad... I can do that!"

It's important to let students know that they have to provide detailed answers to questions - a yes/no or one-word response is not sufficient!  Even if the person asking the question didn't prompt them for more information, they need to think of more things they can say about that topic.  Make sure you hammer in on this point from the beginning!

During the interviews, I keep track of both who asked questions and how many each student answered.  When students are asking questions, I color code it somewhat just so I can see if it was spread out, if they asked about two questions per classmate, or if they just barraged certain classmates with questions.  I also will not count questions that did not meet the requirements I outlined above.

When answering questions during their interview time, I keep track of:

  • how many questions they answered
  • how long they spoke (I use a timer - I want to keep the time and number of questions similar for each student)
  • if they provided detailed responses in complete sentences vs. if they said the bare minimum
  • if they hesitate or stumble a lot when speaking
  • overall pronunciation, clarity, volume, speed
  • if they understood the questions and answered appropriately
  • if they switch to English or can't answer a question
  • grammar range and vocabulary range (not so much writing down every error as keeping track of what they have control over)

As I mentioned earlier, I end each of their interviews with my own questions.  When students first start writing their questions, after the basic guidelines, I give them this warning:
They start the interview, but I get to end it.  That means if they give each other really easy questions, I'm going to have to come down with the more difficult ones.  If they give each other decently hard questions, I get to give them easier ones.  If they avoid certain topics, I will be compensating with the topics they missed.  They start with the control over these interviews, but if they can't handle that responsibility, I'm ready to take it over.
I haven't really had any problems with them making it "too easy," but I usually have to throw in at least one "harder" question just to keep them thinking on their feet ;)

Step Four: Grading
After interviews, collect all the questions students turned in.  You'll be grading them on:

  • the quality of the questions they wrote (number of questions, if they met the content/difficulty requirements, grammar/spelling)
  • how many questions they asked during the interviews (compared to their classmates - student with the most questions asked usually sets the bar)
  • their own interview (see above for things to look for)

I currently do still give multiple choice exams in addition to Heißer Stuhl, but because of this process I can give them a shorter "exam."  Here's a breakdown how I calculated their final exam grade this year.

I've had a lot of success using this activity as an extension of the German 3 Final Exam.  Students usually do pretty well, or at the very least better than they thought they would.  I'd highly recommend trying it out - if not in place/in addition to your end of semester exams, then maybe throughout the quarter (example: one student interviewed a week).  It's been a worthwhile process!

- Frau Leonard