Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dictations in the Spanish Classroom

I love doing dictations with my Spanish 1 students. Dictations:
1. teach my students the importance of spelling in Spanish (since it's a phonetic language!)
2. help my students recognize vowel and consonant sounds
3. strengthen my students' listening skills and focus on recognizing new vocabulary and sounds within teacher-spoken text.

I approach dictations in a very methodical way in my Spanish 1 classes. I complete four sets of dictations (three sentences each) throughout each chapter. The first dictation is an ungraded pre-test. Students then complete three different sets of graded dictations throughout the chapter. Finally, the chapter test has the same dictation as the pre-test. 

Choosing the dictations is a very important step. When writing the dictations, you need to make sure you choose vocabulary that has already been introduced to students. This is especially important if you're grading the dictations like I do.

The reason I grade the three dictations in the middle as a participation grade is important - I want to hold students accountable for learning the new vocabulary and learning the spelling and letter sounds. For example, right now my students are learning the most basic vocabulary like "el hombre" or "la mujer." When we introduce the new vocabulary, we spend time talking about the "silent h" at the start of "hombre" and reiterate that the "j" in "mujer" sounds like an "h" because that's how "j's" sound in Spanish. Therefore, since we discuss these tiny details, I expect my students to learn them and reproduce them during a dictation.

Depending on time, my students and I also practice a few of the dictations each chapter. This is the process of practicing the dictation:

1) I write the three dictation sentences on the board and students copy them down 
2) we talk about what each sentence means
3) we talk about what we THINK common errors were and why (for example: "How do you think people misspelled "hombre?" WHY do you think they forgot the "h"? [it's silent!])
4) we practice pronouncing the sentence or question together
5) students then pair up with a buddy and practice reading the dictations to each other and writing them down again on the opposite side of the paper
6) students compare the dictation with the one they copied from the board and self-correct
7) I then pass back the graded dictation from the previous day and students compare how they did on the practice dictation compared to the previous day's dictation

Many people ask why I practice the dictation AFTER I grade it. First of all, I grade the three dictations as a participation grade, so it's not weighted too heavily. I also grade them because I want the students to study the vocabulary and be responsible for recognizing and spelling it within a sentence. Finally, the process of practicing it AFTER grading it enables us to talk about common errors that were made and why they were made as well as further develop the skills for the final dictation that is on the chapter test. The chapter test dictation is weighted as a test grade which is of course more heavily weighted than a participation grade.

So, how do I grade dictations? I created a 12 point rubric that has been really great and easy to work with:

Needs support
Vowel sounds
Important sounds (ll, rr, h, j, qu vs cu, ch, etc.)
Vocabulary recognition (separation between words, letter choice, no blank spaces)
Sentence structure (periods, ?s, capitalization)

Total:            /12

As you can see, I grade my students on the following components: vowel sounds, important sounds, vocabulary recognition and sentence structure. After working with this rubric for over a year and adjusting it accordingly, I found the above rubric to be most effective at grading dictations at the Spanish 1 level. Some people may argue for a "0" column, but really a 4/12 means a student needs support no matter what - I personally don't feel a 0 column is necessary because it would pretty much tell me the same information.

I have found that students enjoy completing dictations throughout the year. It becomes a part of the classroom routine, and students really develop spelling, letter sounds, and vocabulary recognition throughout the course of the class. In addition, students learn the value of punctuation in Spanish like upside-down question marks, capitalization, accents, and more. I also find myself sprinkling in facts about letter sounds casually within everyday lessons - rarely do I spend an entire lesson solely focusing on dictations.

Hopefully with the above information you are ready to begin doing dictations in your Spanish classroom!

Happy teaching,

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