31 August 2014

Make an Interactive Infograph Syllabus

Gone are the days of laborious infograph building in Microsoft Word. No longer must I link page after page to convey semester essentials!

Now I make a single infograph syllabus on Piktochart to convey the basics of the course, download the image in .jpg or .png form, then upload it to my ThingLink stream to click and add hotspots with pop-up information boxes and links.

Now there are a few things you will still have to include on any syllabus, pop-up boxes or no, which I squeeze into 3 sections with as few words as possible and as many simple images as possible: introduction, grades, and expectations.

Here, you give students the basic rundown of your course, including contact info, school supplies (unless, perhaps, you're going paperless), and course components.

Contact info: Include every way students can get in touch with you on the syllabus itself (I, for one, still have to send home a printed copy):

  • Class webpage/blog (preferably a shortened URL)
  • E-mail address
  • Twitter, Skype, Facebook, Instagram
  • Google Voice
  • Remind/Schoology/Edmodo/Google Classroom code
On the ThingLink, you will want to tag each of these with a direct link for students to click on to reach you whenever possible. I also indicate which is the best way to get a hold of me for quickest responses in and out of school.

School supplies: Find photos of the actual supplies that you want to see in front of you when they walk in the next day. I put them together in 1 image in paint, mostly because you only get to upload 20 images free in Piktochart. You need not label them in the infograph, but you can add a tag in Thinglink with a specific list (i.e. size/type of notebooks or binders) and maybe reasoning behind less conventional supplies like earbuds.

Course components: for us language teachers, the ACTFL 5 Cs diagram is a pretty addition to the infograph and sums up components beyond just language (though Sandrock's suggestion for a re-working seems more accurate to me, if less infograph-syllabus-friendly), and you can link to ACTFL's standards for more information. Piktochart also has some free clip art you could use to convey the 4 proficiency skills, which I link to ACTFL's proficiency level expectations. I also uploaded a parrot from openclipart.org to link to more information about being a novice. Assessment categories or units are useful information to list nice and big. 

Sometimes I run out of room in the top section for more detailed components, like when I'm in English mode and I include novel covers, or if I include links to ForAllRubrics or the class Evernote of the Interactive Notebook. In the case of Evernote and ForAllRubrics, I searched for logos and combined them in a single Paint image to cut back on my uploads.

Of course students need to know what goes into their grades. It would be nice to be able to post a basic rundown of standards-based grading and how to achieve the different levels in graph form, but, alas, district policy precedes the dream. So I have my Pie Chart o' Weighting, the Continuum o' Letter Grades and percentages, and Late Work and Make-Up Work policies. I think it's also useful to put some key dates in, like when major projects/portfolios absolutely have to be submitted--which you could link to a class calendar on Thinglink. Most of the linking I do on this section, though, is to explain what all is included in the weighted categories and why, perhaps some specifics on assignment length (pages, word count) and/or basic rubrics. I think the video explanations of portfolios that I made with Powtoon were an especially popular link this semester.

Finally, I have a little symbol straight from Piktochart for each "expectation" I have--almost more like procedures in some ways. I have a tardy icon, an absence icon, a materials icon, and a consequences icon. I'm also supposed to get the whole thing back signed, so I leave room for a little slip to be snipped off at the bottom with parent signature and student name. I don't usually link anything on this section, but I could clarify, say, materials policies.

Here are some things you may want to remember as you create your interactive infograph syllabus:

  1. If you can summarize something in an image: do it. You can explain on the Thinglinked boxes.
  2. Use preloaded graphics wherever possible--not only are uploads limited, but the whole search-download-upload process can be about halved if you avail yourself of Piktochart icons.
  3. If you're required to include it--by department, school, district, or state--go ahead and type it out as required.
  4. If you need to print, make sure you stick to a white or light background and high contrast color schemes.
  5. Negative space is key to infograph construction: putting the same amount of text in your infograph syllabus as you did in your regular one defeats the purpose of infograph conversion.
  6. Embed your ThingLink in your class webpage for easy access, add it to your Google Classroom "About" section, add it to your resources in Schoology and Edmodo, or link it in your class Twitter profile or blog.
And with that, I present this semester's interactive syllabi (including the First Day Fun Station):

21 August 2014

ExploraTextos: 4 Ways to Fix SSR

I have over 100 awesome books in Spanish to share with my students, but SSR was going over like a lead balloon. Students should be excited to paw through real live authentic magazines and picture books, but instead, they were dreading raising the weekly 5 minutes to 10. They weren't enjoying it, and they weren't really learning anything either. They held their noses and forced it down.

There's no reason for me to keep doing something like that in my class! I mean, yeah, I have all of those books, but my time and theirs could be better spent.

So I looked at what was preventing free reading time from being the special treat it's always been for me, and I reworked "Sustained Silent Reading" into something friendlier and more fun. So when I wheel my little mobile library into the room, they have something closer to Free Voluntary Reading, but even "reading" is not all I wanted them to do. I'm calling it ExploraTextos.

I envy Sra. Toth's Free Voluntary Reading area and Sra. Placido's crafty rain gutter shelves, but alas, beanbags are not welcome in college classrooms. My classroom has to be ready for college takeover any evening of the week, and I don't see myself hauling armfuls of beanbag around even once a week to make that happen. I couldn't make my kids truly comfy, I figured if I could just spread out my little cart library so kiddos could really browse and find something they wanted.

I put the question to Twitter, and I got a lot of good ideas. In the end, I was swayed by the intrepid Srta. Johnson (though my baskets are plastic).

I also took Sra. Placido's advice and basically had kids "grab a whole armful of books so they can cast one aside if it is not interesting to them" by having one person from each four-person table select a basket with 10 or so books, thus reducing the circling vulture effect around my poor little carrito.

Informed Choices
The baskets are not divided by reading level, but rather by genre:  biografía, literatura infantil, traducciones, poesía, cultura, novelas, revistas.So students can pick baskets by the genre that interests them (though I do steer non-native speakers away from novelas--Harry Potter in tradducciones, yes, but not the Arturo Perez-Reverte). It's nice because almost all of the baskets include bilingual books for less confident readers, too. 

Plus I know they've all already had a chance to peruse and start choosing, because they did "shelfies" on day one and picked out 5 things they thought they'd like to read. They snapped pictures with the iPads and emailed them to me. Then I twisted them to my own evil purposes and made signs to help the young ones navigate the bibliobaskets.

I always told kids to pick up 2 or 3 books to take back to their desks, but I found the stragglers--who were often the hardest to please--almost never got anything that struck their fancy, even with a couple of options within arm's reach. Having a whole basket per table helps a lot in making sure that everyone has something to strike their fancy, and it also gives them more freedom to put down something that's not to their liking and try something else,without having to get up and wander across the room to pore over the cart offerings. All they had to do was make sure they wrote down the title of what they were reading and jot a quick note about what they liked and what they didn't before they picked up the next one.

Another freedom they enjoy--perhaps too much--is that SSR is no longer silent either. They  may discuss what they're exploring with classmates quietly. They asked each other what things meant, clarified things, read aloud to each other, made up their own stories from the pictures and words they could pick out. They engaged with the texts!

Cultural Emphasis
Before we began today, we discussed the 3 P's of culture (products, practices, perspectives) and related them to our coro from this week. They got that "Vivir mi vida" and the video were the products, that dancing was definitely a practice in Puerto Rican/Nuyorican culture, and that this product emphasized an optimistic perspective. So I told them I wanted them to engage with the books and magazines as cultural products, as ways to gather insight into practices (what people do/like to do/don't like to do) and perspectives. So at the end, after the timer beeped, they reflected on what they noticed about products, practices, and/or perspectives based on the texts they explored. I'd eventually like to have them add some vocabulary they picked up, but I'd like them to get a little more comfortable analyzing culture first.

Now, I've just tried the ExploraTextos systems the one day so far, in two classes, but if excitement about interacting with my little library is what I was after, I can at least say I'm on the right track!

18 August 2014

Why and How You Should Do Stations on Day 1

I spent less than 15 minutes in front of class the first day. I explained the stations and set them loose. I wandered around just watching, troubleshooting here and there, suggesting where to go next as a group or individual wrapped up an activity.

I think I'll do this every year.

Observe Work Habits
Notice how they cluster. Figure out who has trouble following directions--oral, on the board, online, or on paper. Make a mental (or physical) note of how long they take to complete assignments. Watch how they handle frustration and problem solving. Feel out attitudes--toward the subject, the tasks, each other, you--themselves. See how high they aim and how accurately they judge their ability level and how realistic they are with their goals.

Previews and Goal Setting
Between SSR and weekly coros, students will be engaging with different books and Spanish music regularly. I want to get them interested in it first, maybe get a feel for their preferences and convince them the Spanish-speaking world has something they want. The idea is to get them hooked and comfortable with taking in the language in context, so they are ready for engaging with cultural products. "Shelfies" tap into the teenage drive to take pictures of themselves while familiarizing them with the picture books and magazines available for their consumption in the classroom, and the Pinterest board o' music videos gives a hint of how to stay connected to the language beyond. Shoot, comparing paragraphs they wrote to post-translator paragraphs even demonstrates what could await them if they attempt the "easy" way out.

Instruction Cards
Copy enough of these cards for each student to get one, cut them apart, and set out stacks at corresponding stations. Students should write something to demonstrate their interaction with the station, and then they can tape them into their interactive notebooks!

Random Grouping

I chopped up some index cards and had my six-year-old help me apply a fruit sticker to each card. I had four cards each for fresas, sandia, manzanas, naranjas, bananas, and uvas. Using fruit allowed me to bring up cognates from the start and do a quick check to see if they got which word was a cognate. Also, it was kind of nice not to have to have a seating chart ready before it all started. I mean, I never have to, and really I already had these kids' names memorized months ago (egad I love working at a tiny school!) But the main thing it does is lend a sense of fluidity and flexibility to the beginning of school--but not too much. There is still an order to things, but it's not an order born of desperation for control. Just a logical way to keep things rolling.

Extra Stations
Have at least one station with an assignment students can take home if they don't get finished. This will allow everyone to complete all the work regardless of their pace and also give the high fliers and speed demons something to keep them occupied and productive. I also had a station that when it came down to crunch time that they could totally skip. Really it was something for me to collect ideas from the class collectively (the marshmallow tower to collect essential teamwork vocabulary), so I had what I needed whether or not everyone got to it. And really, their answers were already starting to repeat.

Technology Alternatives
5 of my 6 stations depended on some sort of technology. When the laptops went wonky, that put 2 stations in trouble. Fortunately, between the desktops and iPads, most everyone was able to access that they needed, but there was the one assignment that ended up having to be relegated to the homework zone for 80% of the class that had to skip a station. I might have had to resort to using my SMARTboard as a radio for one station, get students to share their own phones for shelfies and translator activities (with a printout of the assignment), and break out paper bags or popsicle sticks to do real puppets instead of a Sock Puppets app.
The next day, set up Tweetbeam to run through their tweeted shelfies, or throw the emailed ones together in Photopeach (after you quickly "download all attachments" from the flow of emails to Drive--which it helps to have synced on your computer). Cobble the Sock Puppet videos together (I had to hold another iPad in front of each of theirs to record...I don't have the paid version) and let them giggle at a few. Compile and translate the "emergency vocabulary" suggestions into a master list, maybe even copy it and have them tape it to the inside of the back cover of their interactive notebooks. Have them do an alphabet brainstorm on what they expect to do, see, hear, and try throughout the course.

16 August 2014

7 Ways I Used iPads Week 1

Just ten iPads have made my classes and student interactions easier, more engaging, more exciting, and more enjoyable, and all in just the first week!

Policy dictates we review school rules and procedures during the first day, which is not the first day of classes, more of an orientation day by grade level. I had seniors, so I paired them up and gave them a 35-question Kahoot! quiz on what to do and what not to do. You have never seen a group of seniors so ecstatic about rules!

First Day Fun Stations were a hit! Students got a feel for all three modes of communication, the kinds of texts they'd be interacting with, and exactly how far out on a limb they'd be expected to go. 
  • They used the iPads to record themselves attempting a conversation with cognates and the few words they'd picked up from middle school and Taco Bell using the Sock Puppets app.
  • They took "shelfies" with books and magazines from my class library they might like to read and emailed or tweeted them to me.
  • They even used them to pinch hit when the laptop log-ins went wonky and wouldn't let them on so they could explore the class syllabus on ThingLink.
  • A handful even got started on their translator/dictionary introduction assignment through Google Classroom and Google Drive!

The iPads have been especially indispensable in my tiny Film and Literature class where I have half of the seniors. Of course they're loving the Kahoot reading checks (versus the for-credit quizzes I did back before I was a Spanglish teacher), and it's a much more entertaining way to make sure everyone A) did their reading and B) understood what was going on. It's much more helpful to get everyone on the same page and talk through the answers that just spring a Gotcha on them.  I'm also really enjoying watching them interact with The Princess Bride  through a TodaysMeet.com back channel, and it's really made it clear the parallels between film analysis and literature analysis. In fact, next week, we're going to talk about what good readers do and apply those habits to the commenting.
Image via NASSP

On the SAMR model, it's true that most of these activities like Kahoot and Google Drive assignment completion are mostly at the Substitution and Augmentation level, though back channels and interactive syllabuses are certainly approaching Redefinition. The novelty will wear off in the coming weeks, so it will be essential to move beyond the first half of SAMR to maintain the momentum that iPads helped me get going this year.

But it certainly has been a good start, and I look forward to seeing what else we'll do with iPads!

14 August 2014

Proficiency by the Bikes

They say you can't hit a target you can't see, so as we were setting up interactive notebooks today, page 3 (right after Table of Contents, First Day Fun Stations summaries, and an about me section with a lot of "soy")  became "Proficiency."

I stole the bicycle analogy from Srta. Barragán (who got it from Kelly Daugherty and Martina Bex) and basically chopped up the page. I removed the grades and decided to scrap the level labels--as they won't be used as grading descriptors per se--then scrambled the bikes and level descriptions before making copies.

I clipped the bikes to move around on the SMARTboard, too, and added ACTFL proficiency levels through Intermediate Mid (because that's as high as I'd expect anyone to go since there's nothing above Spanish III available at our little early college.)

Everyone got a little scrambled half-sheet to cut apart and rearrange in the following order.

1. Arrange the bike pictures in order of proficiency (arrange together on the SMARTboard). Do not glue.

2.  Discuss which level goes with which bike (It's important to leave the lonely bike by itself without a label).

3. Now glue--but leave space for the descriptors.

4. Check out this Glog made from ACTFL proficiency guidlelines and exemplars, and let's watch Leonor and identify the descriptor that matches her level (Novice Low).

5. Let's watch Jesús now. What level is he? Nope, still Novice Low! (Glue)

6. Let's watch Oahn. What level is she? Yep,[insert Novice Mid descriptor here]. (Glue)

7. And Guadalupe? Yep [insert Novice High descriptor]. (Glue

8. Let's figure out what's the highest next and fill in the rest. GlueGlueGlue (I probably would have gone a little higher with the example videos if I didn't have strictly Spanish I this semester.)

9. Now take a look at this glorious proficiency continuum I made:

Proficiency continuum a la Creative Language Class through Novice High--
because I only have Spanish I right now. And walls.
What's the red? (Yes, Novice Low) The blue? (Yep, Mid) And the yellow? (You guessed it) Why does it go this high? Because NC says your goal in Spanish I is Novice Mid--Novice High if you're a super high-flier. And I can't put anything on the walls.

10. Finally, highlight the level that you want to achieve by the end of Spanish I.

Now they've got a target they can see right in the front of their interactive notebooks! But as we know from the interactive notebook session, the right side is mine to dictate, and the left is for students to reflect (something I'm being extra careful to allow for since the brain session). So tomorrow, we will review their goals, and on the left they will make a web map around 3 circles: INTERPRETIVE, INTERPERSONAL, and PRESENTATIONAL and begin connecting those modes to ways to use Spanish beyond class to set their first personal goal!

10 August 2014

3 Free Sites for Complete Learning Management

Students need to be able to access assignments and grades. They need to be able to monitor their progress and locate resources to help them advance. They need information to come to them, something to simplify their responsibilities--not add to them.

Unfortunately, I don't think there's a single platform out there at this time that provides all of these services unless you pay through the nose. And so my learning management system of choice this semester will be more like a system of systems.

Google Classroom (Coming Soon!)
Although it doesn’t allow me to add the Google accounts students actually use (only school accounts--or App-enabled accounts?), it is still sort of a one-stop log-in. I've stayed with Schoology the past two years primarily because the rest of my school used it, so I knew students would log in regularly and actually see what I posted for them, from assignments to announcements to grades. I know they will be logging into Google daily for school, so they will at least get the email updates. Google Classroom will cover the assignments for sure, with a tight Drive sync that allows you to create templates and access and comment on student work with a few clicks. 

  • This is a new platform, and there is no app with handy push notifications (yet)
  • The announcements and assignments appear in a single timeline with no folders for sorting
  • And there is no gradebook. Oh, it'll log scores for each assignment, but there's no class spreadsheet, no calculating mechanism.
Learning Management Needs Met: accessing assignments and grades (2/5)

Because Google Classroom does not allow you to weight grades (a la district policy) or show a student averages, monitoring progress is still relatively lacking with this product. What's more, the number of teenagers who intentionally open their email by choice in this day and age is dwindling daily. Thus ForAllRubrics is especially awesome for two reasons: badges and SMS. It's true that this system doesn't have a handy gradebook for averaging or weight tinkering, but what it does have is an even better way to monitor progress, one focused on proficiency rather than numbers. I can make a full-blown rubric, a simple checklist, or a "Basic Badge" that allows me to add criteria and simply award it when they're met! AND I can see a display by class of all badges each student has earned! And you know what ForALLRubrics does NEXT? It TEXTS students when they earn a badge/reach proficiency! What's more, I can set up one-time notifications to go out through and/or text messages to the whole class!

  • There's nowhere to store or share files or links--other than rubrics/checklists.
  • Still no gradebook to run the official numbers.
Learning Management Needs Met: monitor progress and simplify responsibilities (2/5)

So basically all I need now is a place to collect everything, to store resources and possibly assignments. After a fast and furious session on interactive notebooks at my district's annual Teaching and Learning Conference, I finally decided to take the plunge. I think interactive notebooks in themselves will be a valuable tool for Spanish I at least, and the fact that I now have a widget that allows me to snap a picture of each day's page and upload it to the class's online notebook automatically! Not only that, but I can clip webpages and videos for absent students and parents to have everything they want to know (or don't) in a few clicks


  • No grading or reporting of any sort--just straightforward stuff gathering.
Learning Management Needs Met: collect and share resources (1/5)

*Special thanks to Srta. Johnson and Sra. Drew for introducing and/or encouraging me to use such fabulous resources!