Crecia C. Swaim
This unit is led by two guiding principles, comprehensible input and gradual release of responsibility. By following them, you will be able to craft and hone your unit based on sound language teaching philosophies. These principles naturally guide differentiation planning, as they will show themselves in different ways for different students.
As students begin to learn French, they need to be surrounded with a lot of comprehensible input (so termed by Stephen Krashen.) In our case, this refers to spoken and written French language that the student can understand, plus just a little bit more. Krashen refers to this as i + 1, where i is the student and what he or she can understand, and the +1 is the little more that is beyond what he or she can understand at first. This is in opposition to the type of teaching in which the teacher just presents the information, and the student eventually learns it. Here the teacher must find a way to give every student the feeling of understanding most of what is happening, with just a little that is incomprehensible until learned. In a class of many different learning styles and language levels, this can be quite a challenge. By choosing poems that use much previously-learned vocabulary, currently-studied vocabulary, and cognates, all students are given input that is comprehensible, with just enough that is new or incomprehensible upon first introduction to engage the brain in meaning-making and problem-solving. Not that students will be able to totally understand everything in the poems upon initial inspection, but that most of the key vocabulary words will be identifiable, with prompting, and enough material will be new, so as to be challenging in a surmountable way. Even if a student has difficulty identifying some words as cognates initially, once this is modeled by the teacher and the student sees how many cognates are really there, the feeling of not understanding is immediately washed away. In this way, using poems can help keep each student at a relatively i + 1 performance level.
Gradual Release of Responsibility
I follow a variation of the Gradual Release of Responsibility model used in reading instruction in planning my poetry units.
This model is broken down into four phases: Demonstration, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, and Application. Each student may perform at different levels during each phase, and students may accelerate through the phases at different paces, allowing for multiple methods of differentiation over the course of the unit. As each phase is introduced, I will present a variety of complementary instructional strategies, as I would or have explored them in my classroom. The needs of your students as well as time constraints will determine how you choose to use and combine them in your instruction, just as they determine the choices I make in this regard each time I approach poetry.
Demonstration - Strategies
The poem is introduced in the Demonstration phase. I like to visualize the phases in terms of a parent holding a child's hand while crossing the street. In this phase, hands are held tightly and the parent, by gluing his or her own arm to the body, keeps the child very close, protecting the child with proximity and situational control.
Recite the poem once, without giving a written copy to the student. Act out whatever vocabulary possible and try to put proper tone and emphasis in the reading. Read it several times, with different intonation each time. Use images to accompany the reading; this allows students to make meaning out of what they can at first just by listening. Then distribute a written copy with which students may read along during a re-reading of the poem. Students will connect the sounds they heard with the actual words on the page.
Follow with choral repetition, breaking the poem down into lines or smaller phrases. This naturally leads to the Guided Practice phase, although the Demonstration and Guided Practice phases should be alternated as needed. Rather than spending a day on demonstration, then a couple days on guided practice, and a few more on independent practice, I go through those stages each day and revisit them frequently. This keeps things fresh and allows students to perform where they feel most comfortable for at least part of the class, with varying periods of warm-up and challenge based on daily individual performance level. I start each class with some demonstration before moving on to guided practice, just to make sure that all students are getting what they need in terms of modeling, variety, and practice, and are starting on the same page.
Guided Practice - Strategies
During the Guided Practice phase, the parent, to continue our visual image, unglues his or her arm from the body and extends it out, allowing the child to do the same. This gives more autonomy to the child, who may now swing arms or even lead. The protective link remains, but it is made less strong. Just as sometimes the child may pull too hard and fall from the parent's grip at this point, so the student may stumble and lose confidence. That is why it is important to return to the safety of the Demonstration phase frequently.
To mix up the Guided Practice phase, in addition to the regular choral repetition referred to above, try incorporating some of the strategies mentioned in the "Rhythm and Sound" section (discussed later in this unit) of varying the sound, volume, or pace of your voice. At tough sections, go back through it and break it down into smaller chunks, focusing on individual sound chunks and then slowly stringing them together until the majority of the students are saying it at least fairly well at a fairly normal pace. One half of the room can say a line together, and the other half can say the next line together. By speaking in a group, students are still given some guidance in terms of practice and pronunciation. This serves as a sort of security blanket, as mistakes are covered by the number of other voices repeating at the same time in the room.
For written guided practice, a cloze (fill-in-the-blanks) version of the poem can be used on an overhead projector, with or without a word bank depending on daily goals. Filling it out should be modeled with the class, using think-aloud techniques for determining the logic of certain choices over others. Multiple choice questions may be written in the same format used in local high-stakes reading tests for practice. These same exercises may be done or modified for Individual Practice as well.
It can be beneficial and interesting to find recordings of different people reciting the poem, to use throughout the unit, so students hear different accents and interpretations. The internet is a great resource for this, especially if you don't have access to French-speakers willing to do such favors! If you have a class webpage, recordings may be uploaded so students can access a model at home.
Independent Practice - Strategies
At the Independent Practice phase, the parent stays on this side of the street and watches carefully as the child crosses on his or her own. The parent still coaches the child, reminding him or her to look both ways and to cross in the crosswalk, but the child ultimately crosses the street independently.
For Independent Practice, students can practice at home, a verse a night, for twenty to thirty minutes a night; parents must sign in the student's agenda that the student did the practice. The student can also teach the verse to someone else; here it could be a parent, sibling, or friend. Although this opens up the possibility of a student not doing the assignment and just getting a friend to sign the required slip, I believe that it can work with minimal "cheating." And I do believe that presenting a situation in which one could cheat, but either does or doesn't, is a valuable situation for that student to be in, and one from which the student can learn a lot. This works better in grades five and six, although it may be used judiciously in grades seven and eight.
Students can illustrate a verse or verses of the poem so that they begin to associate images with words, and writing accuracy or other areas of concern may be checked. As indicated in the previous section, a cloze version of the poem may be used for individual written practice and/or quiz assessment to check for understanding and logical language choices. The vocabulary can also be used in other contexts, including multiple choice questions that prepare students for high-stakes testing.
Once the students have started to memorize the poem, I have them "snake" around the room, and each student has to say one word at a time, from memory. If I mistakenly put this activity too soon and students struggle too much with it, I allow students to use their poem sheets. This is another way in which this unit provides for automatic differentiation: Students who feel they need to may use the sheet longer, and those who feel more advanced can do away with it sooner.
Once the poem has been practiced sufficiently, have students recite it from memory in front of the class, as a sort of check-point. At this point I just track and score memorization and pronunciation, although you may choose to focus on different areas.
I use a copy of the poem and highlight pronunciation errors in one color and forgotten/jumbled words in another color. Well, truth be told, I circle pronunciation errors and underline pronunciation errors, then I go over that with two highlighters! I can't work between two utensils that fast, but the color-coding does help students to study effectively. Although it depends on the length of the poem, usually I will subtract one point for either forgetting or mispronouncing a word. I instruct students to make eye contact with me if they want a word fed to them for a point deduction, so that students don't struggle needlessly. Oftentimes one word is enough to get them going again! Afterwards, the student gets the feedback and now knows what to practice.
To keep students in the "audience" engaged, have them try to list any words they think are mispronounced or forgotten. Then they can give their sheets to the performing student, who can check teacher feedback. If there is a discrepancy, those students can meet and determine what is correct, or the teacher can read the whole poem slowly and students can pay special attention to where they had pronunciation errors. Or students may be allowed to listen and absorb, rereading their poem as the performing student recites. Again, it depends on the group and the circumstances.
Sometimes students will have mastered the poem here, at the check-point. To have these students continue along the same track would be a waste of time. The following are some possibilities for students who are already ready to move on. They can be given a new poem that has similar but more advanced vocabulary and/or themes, accelerating their pace and broadening their vocabulary base. They can use the current poem as a base but change key words into something new, to develop word-play ability and comfort, as well as to give an advancing student the opportunity to get detailed feedback based on accuracy and logic of vocabulary he or she chooses, thereby differentiating content according to interest. Once the new, morphed poem is written, these students can memorize it, illustrate it, and recite it for the class. Or they might be allowed the opportunity to plan a more formal presentation of the poem, complete with costumes and props that elucidate the meaning of the poem, which the whole class could also do.
After students reach the check-point, I like to use the following exercise for the students who have not gone on to any alternate mastery extensions. I adapted it from a theater exercise learned at a teacher workshop with Long Wharf Theater in New Haven. It was originally demonstrated for actors to practice intonation and delivery of lines. I use it differently, to practice and perfect pronunciation in a non-antagonistic way. After already having practiced the poem in different contexts or formats, a student will read a line, then I will read it, saying it correctly whether or not the student did, but not placing emphasis on the correction. This allows the student to correct him- or her-self rather than the correction coming from the teacher. Then the student will re-read it, oftentimes self-correcting; then the whole class re-reads it. The next student follows the same cycle. I don't correct errors, even if a student makes them after my repetition. Students will eventually get it. And of course, all that repetition is doing the whole class wonders!
For Independent Practice, student will also engage in different types of paired practice, as detailed in the section below, called "Paired Practice."
Application - Strategies
Our visual metaphor concludes with the Application phase. The parent stays at home, while the child is off, to a sleepover, a dance, college. The parent replays all the preparation time mentally, fearing that the most important rule or tip was forgotten. The child returns home fine, or calls home for advice. As teachers we prepare our students to perform without us, thought we are still there for support and encouragement as needed.
In the Application phase, have students recite the poem from memory, for a final assessment. The final rubric I use for this can be broken down into the following sections: Pronunciation (30 points), memorization (30 points), fluidity (11/10 points), tone/attitude (11/10 points), professionalism/presentation (11/10 points), and audience participation (10 points). I give examples of each category, from the best to the less perfected, so students are clear on what is expected of them. The reason fluidity, tone, and professionalism have a possible 11/10 points is that in those categories I award an extra credit point for perfection or for going above and beyond. I believe, especially in the middle grades as students are learning a language, that it is important for students to feel confident and comfortable that although errors will still happen, it doesn't mean that they aren't performing at a high standard for early language learners. So a student earns full points in these categories for doing really, really well, and extra points for perfection.
I do the math for each poem to decide how many points are deducted per word mispronounced or forgotten. Pronunciation and memorization are strictly point deductions for misspoken or forgotten words. Fluidity is rated on a scale of 1-11, though the lowest score I will give here is a 6. On my rubric, points 1-5 are labeled as "Courage" points, points for showing up! A score of 11 is absolutely 0 unnecessary pauses or missteps, completely fluid and natural sounding. A score of 10 is 1-2 missteps or pauses, a 9 is 3-4, an 8 is 5-7, a 7 is 8-10, a 6 is 11 or more. Tone/attitude refers to the tone or attitude of your recitation as it pertains to the poem. I isolate certain areas of the poem that require or urge appropriate tone and attitude, at least five. An 11 is all identified areas match. The rest depends on how many areas are isolated, in a descending pattern. As in the Fluidity section, points 1-5 are labeled as "Courage" points. I tell students beforehand that tone is important, and demonstrate throughout the unit all types of tone accord, but I do not explicitly state which areas are going to be scored. If a student demonstrates appropriate tone on a section that I didn't previously identify, I write it in on the rubric and count it. Professionalism/presentation refers to the overall presentation demeanor of the student. In this category, deductions are made for things like asking to start over, giggling, talking to students or breaking character during the recitation, moving around and exhibiting nervous gestures. I award an 11 for 0 deductions, a 10 for 1, a 9 for 2, an 8 for 3, a 7 for 4, and a 6 for 5 or more, with points 1-5 again awarded as Courage points. Audience participation points are deducted if there is misbehavior of any sort during other people's recitations. The points deducted are at my discretion, and before recitations we discuss possible causes for deduction.
Clearly this is just the guideline that I use, that I find to be fair and appropriate for my middle grades French classes. I highly encourage the use of a rubric, if not this rubric, to ensure equitable grading practices and to give students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Also, in the middle grades I allow students to retake an assessment of this nature. I decide beforehand if the new grade can replace the old or if it is just marked in addition to the old. If it is to replace the old, I replace it even if it is lower, to encourage students to only retake when they are prepared to do so.