22 August 2016

New Translator Policy

The linguistic world is a-changing. We all have pretty awesome translators in our pockets--some even say the Babelfish of Hitchhiker's fame is already here! I mean, my students don't have it, and I doubt they will for years to come (I suspect it'll be a luxury item for the duration of my teaching career). But you can bet they've had smart phones that can turn a Spanish sign into English before their very eyes for a year already.

Sra. Stilson touched on why we still need to learn language (or acquire, excuse me)--luxury commodities aside. Because really, translators kind of get in the way when we depend on them to engage in personal relationships and to just enjoy art.

Still, as learning tools, they're pretty hard to beat. So here's the deal I'm making with my Online Spanish III class.

Google Translate is actually pretty cool. Did you know it can help you...
  • choose the right word you're looking for?
  • practice the correct pronunciation for new words?
  • revise your writing for mistakes?
Do you know what else? WordReference is even better! It gives you...
  • context sentences--in English AND Spanish!--to help make sure the way you use it makes sense.
  • notes about regional usage so you can figure out of the word will make sense to everyone.
  • definitions and context for Spanish idioms using the word you're looking for. 
  • forum discussions at the bottom of the page to find answers about specific situational usage (e.g. sports terms.)

Of course you know that Google Translate's not perfect yet, either. Its algorithms haven't fully grasped every nuance of Spanish or English--to say nothing of the 100+ other languages represented. And you will retain nothing if you spend all of your time looking up every single word for an assignment.
So here's what we'll do.
I firmly believe there is a time and a place to use a translator and that it can help you continue growing beyond even your Spanish work this year. And so, that means that 

    1. I WILL allow the use of dictionaries and translators BUT
    2. ONLY to complete certain assignments AND
    3. ONLY IF you follow these guidelines:

Translators and dictionaries are primarily for writing assignments, though there may be some situations in which a quick check for a word or two would be appropriate in a speaking situation. However, these tools are for learning situations only--NOT ASSESSMENTS. 
Assignments for which translator/dictionary usage is acceptable:
  • portfolio revisions
  • blog posts & comments
  • discussion boards
  • infographs
  • diagrams
  • scripts
  • comic strips
  • storyboards
Some assignments may indicate in their instructions that translators/dictionaries should not be used. Please read instructions carefully. But translators and dictionaries will NEVER be permitted for completing Integrated Performance Assessments.
IPAs are designed so I can evaluate what YOU can know and what YOU can do, not what WordReference knows or Google can do. I cannot give you accurate or appropriate feedback if you rely on those tools to complete those assessments.

Now, will students still misuse the translator? Probably. But we'll have a clear agreement ahead of time as to what is acceptable and what is not, a starting point for communicating about the desire to use translators.

So if you think this policy might help you and your kiddos, feel free to reuse the image with them. For online courses, the content page and quiz will be available on the Canvas Commons soon. And in case you need a print copy, I added a free editable .Doc to my TeachersPayTeachers store--quiz and all!

Translators are not the enemy, and dictionaries are useful in moderation. So let's help students figure out how to make these tools work for them instead of against them.

(P.S. Everything else in my TPT store is 20% off today!)

21 August 2016

Getting to Know Online Students in Spanish

I need to know two things about the students who will make up my first ever online class:
  1. Who they are
  2. What they can do
I've only really taught a Spanish III class once before, though I've had 3s mixed in with 2s and one brilliant and motivated independent study student last year. However in all of those cases--and in fact in all of my Spanish II classes for the past 3 years--I've only had students whose previous Spanish teacher was ME.

I knew them and what they could do. And I got to see them face to face every day.

So here's my plan to fill in the blanks.

What can you do?

Interpreting language generally causes less anxiety than producing it, so I thought it'd be a good idea to start with Listening and Reading. Of course I'm hoping, too, that these exercises will prime the pump for the other two skills that will allow me to answer the other big question about my new online amiguitos' true identities.


There is simply no icebreaker for a language class like a good catchy song. If at all possible, go with summer's latest hit. This year? 

I intend to have students create Vibs to demonstrate their understanding for IPAs, so why not introduce Vibby right away? I'll make a little screencast to illustrate just how easy it is--and pray the video is not blocked or that they can find a way around it! Just to be safe, though, I'll have to have a backup EDPuzzle with a downloaded version of the video.

This will just be a "Practice" exercise, of course--one of those things our district requires us to give at least 6 of each grading period to make up 20% of the grade. They do it, they get credit. I will suggest picking out at least a minute's worth so I can get a clear picture of where they are and also emphasize that 1) there will be no penalty for guessing wrong and 2) there will be no reward for using a translator.

Just show me what you can do.


For the reading portion of online IPAs, I think I'll have students use ThingLink, so why not get the young ones familiar with this tool as well? As ever, of course infographs will figure into my course plans big time, so I figured I'd start with an infograph about infographs to get the ball rolling. I'll provide this image with a bit of the blog post around it as well, since, hopefully, a few kids will have made it to intermediate, since they made it to Spanish III.

They'll practice uploading to their own ThingLink accounts and then using different colored tags to indicate straight-up interpretation vs main ideas vs supporting details--again, just showing me what they can do, no pressure. I will suggest that they focus on sentence-length chunks wherever possible, though.

Who are you?

My superiors gave me to understand in my interview for this job that not only were field trips possible, but they were encouraged. It's one of the many reasons I imagine our district has decided to develop their own online courses instead of just going with NC Virtual Public School. The hope is that I'll get to meet with these kiddos once a month face to face. Otherwise I'll just have to collect as much information as I can in writing and via video.


I want them to introduce themselves to me, and I want them to do it in their own handwriting (then upload a picture). For one, I hope this will reduce the temptation to open a Google Translate tab to do the whole thing. For two, I think it's a way to connect a little more personally and encourage more spontaneous production.

In their handwritten introduction, I want them to tell me about

  1. Their daily lives: home, school, work, play
  2. Their life goals: personal and professional (or their best guess for the moment anyway)
  3. Their experience with Spanish: what they've liked, disliked, and want to work up to

Once again, they're showing me what they can do. I'll recommend 3 paragraphs and let them interpret it as they choose/are able.

In addition to this handwritten biografía, they will also need to take part in some good old discussion board discussion to prepare for our meeting (or their videos). We'll be discussing the same topics as they wrote about by hand (plus maybe a little casual table talk), but I want them to anticipate questions they could expect to hear and begin to contemplate how they could answer them.


My plan is to meet with my online amiguitos--IN the target language!--once a month at a local Latino restaurant (I only know of 3 at the moment, not actually being local myself) and hang out en español. There will be two opportunities each month, but also alternative recording assignments, which are really a lot less tasty cool and--until I figure out Canvas video conferences--less interpersonal.

At our first cita, I want to shoot the breeze a bit about the food, about their lives, their goals, and their interests, but some questions I really want to ask are
  • What did you like about Spanish 1 and 2?
  • What was hardest part of past Spanish classes?
  • Why do you want to take Spanish 3 online?
  • How do you use Spanish outside of class?
  • How do you want to use Spanish in the future?
  • Where have you traveled, and why?
  • Where do you want to travel, and why?
On the videos, I'd have them choose about 10 questions--5 about their lives and goals, 5 about their Spanish experience and goals--and both ask and answer them using Adobe Spark (Adobe Voice isn't just for iPads anymore! Rejoice!).

Also at the citas I'd like to have an element of camaraderie not just with me but among my new amiguitos. So as a follow-up (back to the Writing!) I'll have them post an assignment where they tell me who they want to talk to for the next speaking assignment/assessment and indicate that they

  1. can contact this person at least two different ways (phone, social media, email, etc.)
  2. know something about this person's life
  3. know something about this person's experience with Spanish
  4. have a reason that they think this person would be a good partner for them
Then before that next peaking assignment/assessment, I could post the partners, and they could use discussion boards to make their plans to talk!

All in all, I suppose I'm a little nervous about how I will go about developing that sense of connection I'm so used to developing in the same room as the students.

But for now, at least I have a plan to get to know them.