22 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 22: My PLN

What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?

It looks like Twitter lists and hashtags.

It looks like a wikis and Google Docs.

It looks like Google Hangouts and a YouTube playlist.

It looks like Google Communities and blogs.

It looks like late night Skype planning and Facebook back channels.

It looks like conference buddies and co-presenters.

It looks like family.

21 September 2014

Mucha Basura: my first PBL/TPRS story

I want to combine the principles of PBL and TPRS, so I have written a story about trash in preparation for a unit on saving the Earth. Students will be working in groups to make a plan to reduce the impact of one material that negatively affects the environment (you can still join in to compare, contribute, or compete!), so my story is about a girl who needs to change her ways.

A David le gusta reciclar.
I have picked the brains of Carrie Toth (@SenoraCMT) and Martina Bex (@MartinaBex) through blogs and LangCamp hangouts. I kept this tutorial and these examples from Martina pulled up the whole time I worked on my story, too.

I focused on the target structures tiene, lo tira a la basura, and puede ayudar. We will be frontloading vocabulary from relevant infographs, maybe doing a little cloze with authentic videos for kids on the environment, and then, I'm trying STORYASKING.

Here's my story and my questions. Please send me suggestions before I crash and burn!
Lena es una muchacha muy desordenada. Tiene mucha basura: en su cuaderno, en su locker, en su carro y en su casa. Tiene papeles importantes con papeles del semestre pasado en su cuaderno y su locker pero nunca los tira a la basura. Su profesora, Sra. Sexton, puede ayudar, recomienda el reciclaje, pero Lena no quiere. Lena tiene una botella de plastico con la comida pero no la recicla: la tira a la basura. Va a McDonald’s mucho y tiene mucho papel del restaurante en su carro, pero no lo tira a la basura. Su madre puede ayudar con la comida o la basura, pero Lena no quiere ayuda. También, Lena usa mucho petróleo cuando va en su carro a su trabajo o a jugar al fútbol. Los amigos de Lena pueden ayudar y usar sus carros, pero Lena quiere ir sol@. Lena puede ayudar el medioambiente pero no comprende la importancia. Entonces un dia, Lena ve un muchacho guapo, David. Su amigo, Paolo, puede ayudar y presentar Lena a David. Pero David es un muchacho muy ordenado y no le gusta como es el carro de Lena. A David no le gusta como Lena usa tanto agua y poliestireno y energia. David ve cuando Lena tiene una lata de Coca Cola y la tira a la basura y no la recicla. Entonces el número de Lena David lo tira al reciclaje.

Storyasking questions:

  1. ¿Quién es la muchacha? ¿Cómo se llama?
  2. ¿Dónde tiene basura? ¿Su locker? ¿Su carro? ¿Su cuaderno? ¿Su casa?
  3. ¿Quién es su profesora? ¿Sra. Sexton? ¿Srta. Strader? ¿Sra. Obama?
  4. ¿Qué tipo de envase tiene con la comida? ¿Lata? ¿Caja? ¿Botella?
  5. ¿De qué material es el envase? ¿Plastico? ¿Vidrio? ¿Metal?
  6. ¿A qué restaurante va? ¿McDonald’s? ¿Sweet Frog? ¿Bojangles?
  7. ¿Qué tipo de basura tiene del restaurante?
  8. ¿Dónde tiene basura del restaurante?
  9. ¿Quién puede ayudar con la comida y basura?
  10. ¿Qué usa la muchacha cuando va?
  11. ¿En qué tipo de vehículo va?
  12. ¿Adónde va en su vehículo?
  13. ¿Quién es el muchacho guapo?
  14. ¿Quién es el amigo de los muchachos?
  15. ¿Qué no le gusta al muchacho?
  16. ¿Qué usa la muchacha que no le gusta al muchacho?
  17. ¿Qué tipo de envase tiene la muchacha?
  18. ¿Qué tiene la muchacha en el envase?
  19. ¿Qué hace el muchacho? 
Think it'll work?
Image adapted from fanpop

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge, Day 21: A life outside of teaching?

Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

Years ago, my AP US History teacher affirmed that he thought I would be a great teacher, which meant a lot coming from Mr. Priest. He cautioned me, though, that I would need to have a life outside of teaching. "That won't be a problem for you, though," he assured me.

I think I have failed you, Mr. Priest.

Back then I was swimming, playing cello, doing drama and debate, joining environment club and mock trial. I don't get out much anymore, partially because of work, partially because of parenting, and partially because, well, I'm a bit of a homebody at heart.

I do pin a lot...realia and teaching ideas. I tweet and blog excessively...about teaching. I read and research frequently...about language acquisition and educational policy and current events in Spanish-speaking countries. I shared some of my writing that got published with Creative Writing last year...about teaching.

Is David Bisbal a hobby? David Bisbal should be a hobby. I definitely bring him into my classroom at every opportunity. My 9th grade French teacher, Madame Kultgen, for whom my daughter is named, had Robert Redford to demonstrate Il est tres sexy. And he didn't even speak the target language! I think class boyfriends could count for bringing interests into the classroom, and it made me feel a little more linked to Mme. K.

I used to knit and crochet quite a bit and was kind of an obsessive scrapbooker and jewelry maker before my daughter was born. There just doesn't seem to be any room--in the house or in my schedule--any more for those sorts of things.

But there is at school.

It's not a class, per se, but one of my favorite parts of the week is Art Club on Friday afternoons. I took art classes in 8th and 12th grade. I dated an art ed major in college. Otherwise, I am totally unqualified to lead such a club, but I love it anyway.

I have drawers full of yarn and paints and other crafty things. Just the other day, I got to bust out my old finger crocheting skills with some freshmen in the club. Sometimes I sketch along with my little artists or demonstrate skills I haven't gotten to explore in years, like oil pastels and shading. And it feels good.

I haven't even had all of the Art Club kids in class yet, but some have decided I'm probably going to be their favorite teacher already. We share a passion, and we get to play together.

It might not be outside of school, but I think Priest would be proud.

20 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 20: Curating student work

How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves?

Well, it all starts with Google. Or rather, a combination of a cart full of chromebooks (or PC laptops), a small stash of iPads, a modest display of class desktops, and smartphones--students' and mine--and Google.

And this year, a notebook.

What do they curate?
Of course in a world language class, students collect audio and/or video recordings, but they also need to collect authentic texts and their responses. Here is a list of several things I have students collect:

  • audio of them singing the week's chorus
  • photos of them doing actions representing current vocabulary
  • practice scripts
  • running webmap vocabulary lists
  • emergency class vocabulary
  • personal pronunciation guides to relevant vocabulary
  • recorded conversations
  • short authentic texts related to Genius Hour and PBL projects
  • summaries of/responses to said Genius Hour and PBL resources
  • target language summaries of their findings for Genius Hour/PBL
  • weekly English reflections on communication modes, goals, and proficiency
  • reactions to picture books, magazines, etc. in the target language
  • directions for constructing their portfolios

How do they curate?
There is time and a place for everything. In my class, we work on a class project Monday-Wednesday and then spend Thursdays on Genius Hour and portfolio reflection and assembly. (Fridays are set aside for enrichment, volunteer, remediation, and club activities at my school and it is AWESOME.) 

Most of the regular class project things are collected through Google Classroom, and it is BEAUTIFUL. No more forgot-to-share, no more wouldn't-let-me-turn-in. It's all integrated with Google Drive. They either use a template I created for them--sometimes worksheet style, sometimes just with basic headers or instructions--or submit a link. 

Everything Genius Hour is submitted to Google Classroom too, but in the form of a link to a blog on our class Pasiones blog where the information was typed up or embedded. This is handy for the portfolios later, so embed codes for Vocaroo clips, Glogs, Storify stories, or Pinterest boards can be copied into an embed gadget. Screenshots can work too where the comments need to be captured.

The portfolio itself is a Google Site template I rigged up from elinguafolio.org standards (you can use it too--just search for GECHS under templates when you create a new Google site!) I've found it helpful to create a Doc outlining what activities we've done that correspond with different proficiency modes like so:

Notice my snazzy ForAllRubrics badges! I bold the sections that are completely covered by activities from the unit at hand. I require students to submit 3 sections each 6 weeks, and you will see here they have 4 sections to choose from without having to create anything extra beyond what they've submitted for class or can find in their interactive notebooks.

How do I curate?
Aside from Google Classroom, I do a little extra collecting on their behalf myself, in part to make my life easier. I keep a portfolio webmix on Symbaloo each semester, with links to each student's portfolio alphabetized for easy checking (in case they forgot to link to Google Classroom or I need to refer to them for examples or comparison). I also started keeping an Evernote notebook of  what should be in their interactive notebooks, using stunning examples from their classmates. I haven't gotten the swing of it fully, but it's a way to keep information available to students and parents without having to release the precious notebooks to the wild

And everything else is either on Google Classroom, the blog, or their portfolio sites!

19 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 18: Stone soup

Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a “teacher is a ________…”

After we read the story at school for the first time, I insisted we make stone soup at home that night, helping Mom scrub off the biggest rock we could find in the driveway (making sure she didn't scrub out all the flavor).

I completely missed the point of the story when I was 6, trusting as a villager with a fistful of celery, enchanted by the prospect of driveway rock flavoring. I missed the point still 15 years later when I first made the connection between stone soup and teaching philosophy in my Methods of Teaching High School English class. Ah, youthful innocence, when I thought I would be the one holding the spoon.

Now I understand I am not a devious mastermind seasoning the classroom experience with spicy books, poems, articles and a pinch of the right questions. I am not a clever chef orchestrating ingredients from my innocent students to feast at the end. They are the ingredients, and we are in the soup together.

I am the rock.

Mind you, I'm a rock with a resume who begged to be put in the pot. But there are so many outside forces that controlled my addition to the mix: administrators, legislators, PRAXIS test makers and National Board Certifiers. They stir us with standards and CEUs and schedules at every turn and give us a semester to simmer. But they insist someone like me needs to be present for education to happen, and they convince whole school districts full of people of this idea, and so I settle in to become soup.

There can be no question that meats and vegetables are altered in the soup process, and I would argue they become richer in the right combinations and with the right amount of heat. Some might, however, say the rock remains unchanged by the experience.

I assure you: we too are much tastier with each pot of soup.

17 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 17: What is education?

What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

We need to clear the air on what education really means and who it's really for.

For so long, the game of schooling has been a process to weed out the uncommitted--and the unsupported. A diploma said you could do what you're told, that you could play nice and follow through on assignments, and maybe that you had some habits of mind that could potentially transfer to real-life applications. You served your time.

This is not what education is or should be.

Why are we required to teach to objectives and tests that we know most of the kids in front of us will never even have the opportunity to apply in context? Why do students need a certain number of math and English classes to get their stamp of approval?

I remember learning about lycee and gymnasium in my French and German classes in high school and being horrified at the idea of being pigeonholed before I knew what I wanted. The thing is, I did know what I wanted, and that was the options afforded by an academic honors track--much the same way some of my students know they want to fight fires or work on cars.

We are so entrenched in systems of grade points and college entrance and competition that we forget what education is really supposed to be about learning and growing. If everyone came out of high school with two or three real-world projects under their belts, completed authentic goals that really made them proud, what the heck could any number show anyone that the write-ups of those accomplishments couldn't, maybe a few photos or some video?

I mean, if you really want to study calculus, that should be your project--but do something with it and show that to college boards and future employers. If you want to study cars, master it and produce something you can show for it that's not on paper. If you want to study medicine, well, yes, you'll have some prerequisites, but even those you should be using...though maybe not on live patients right away.

After high school, I could conjugate and punctuate and calculate with the best of 'em. I had done some little slideshows, made some little books that I was pretty proud of too. But what did I do with all that?

I got into college so I could jump through some more hoops and slowly start doing things that were worth doing in a world beyond percentage points.

Education is for everyone. We need everybody prepared to do something to make the world better, not just get by or get over. We shouldn't prepare them to prepare.

We must prepare them to do.

16 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Days 15 & 16: Superpowers

Days 15 and 16 are about superpowers: the powers I have, and the power I wish I had. I got a little behind, so allow me to combine my reflections for Days 15 and 16 into one "powerful" post.

Name three strengths you have as an educator.

Curiosity: I am able to question everything I see, hear, read, and believe in a single bound. I do it a lot. I always want to know more and try new things. It keeps me flexible and growing.

Ambition: I want to get better and expect great things, from myself and my young charges. I know if I keep pushing the limits, we'll keep getting further and further, always outdoing ourselves.

Stubbornness: I lose plenty of battles on a daily basis, but I keep fighting. Granted, I'm getting better at picking my battles, but I can also power through when I need to keep pushing.

Now for Day 16, I got a little wistful and poetic.

If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?

Hearts murmuring worry:

sickness, death, loss

Symptoms some can see:



chronic pain

Bringing with their backpacks

bruised attention spans

dangerous dependencies

fractured motivation

malignant loneliness

They come in

stabbed with Stupid knives

cut with Can't,

Don't Care

bleeding, weak in front of me

If I had the power,

I would heal them all

15 September 2014

Google Community Reader Response

I'm not a big fan of quizzes to check assigned reading completion. I'll use Kahoot to refresh and get an idea of who has fallen behind or misunderstood from time to time, but as long as I don't assign points based on the quiz, they'll generally tell me where they are with the reading. As for credit, well, it generally shows in the unit essay what students skipped around or used SparkNotes.

For A Raisin in the Sun, I had students keep director's post-it notes, five directions for the characters per scene for reader's theater the next day. It was a bit messy, and a family emergency interrupted the flow, but I, for one, liked it better than the quizzes.

For An Ordinary Man, the memoir we're starting this week, though, post-its and Kahoots seem a little too tedious and haphazard. And it would take a lot of maneuvering to get those strategies to connect to the deep issues I really want to touch on.

So I set up a Google Community to address each of the quotes that spoke to me on my first read through. I had highlighted quotes on my Kindle app and added notes for questions I could ask students to help them connect the reading to their lives. I copied these quotes and question notes to a Google Doc broken up by chapter so that I could copy them onto separate topic sections in the Google Community and let students choose which of them spoke to them.
  1. Create a Google Community with the title of the book and/or movie you are focusing on.
  2. Upload a picture of the book for the Community picture and add a tagline about the book and movie.
  3. Make a discussion topic for each chapter with the due date in the topic titles.
  4. Make a discussion topic for each day you will be viewing the movie in class.
  5. Add discussion topics for important focal points of the unit. (I made a topic each for Setting and Narration, the two literary elements that will be the focus of our film/book study for this unit.)
  6. Add links to due date calendars, class blogs, or other pages students can refer to for more information.
  7. Save the community and invite all of the students from your class (incidentally, they didn't have Google Plus set up on their school accounts, so it was handy that I had their personal addresses from working with this particular group for the past 2 years.)
  8. Add directions for posting in the "About this community" section, for example:
    Choose 5 prompts to respond to with at least 3 sentences each for each night's reading. If the reading is over 2 chapters, be sure to choose prompts from both.    
  9. Open the first chapter's discussion topic and add the LAST question from that chapter for your first post.
  10. Add posts in reverse order up to the first question from the first chapter ending with a post asking for an overall reflection on the chapter (perhaps with special emphasis on an important theme or literary element).
I'm going to add posts day by day from the Google Doc as we proceed through the chapters so as not to confuse things too much, but students need only poke the topic with the day's date to see their choices and respond.

If these students had better access, I might make this homework, but as it is, reading assignments are already at least 20-30 pages a night, so this will be our warmup for the duration of the unit.

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 14: Better feedback

What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

Here is every single way I can think of that I give feedback in a day:

  • Underlining on the board
  • Escuchen y repitan
  • Perfecto
  • Excelente
  • Eso es
Spelling & mechanics:
  • Blog comments
  • Color-coded highlights
  • Google Doc suggestions
  • Questioning ("What's another word in English?")
  • Charades
  • Memory jogging
  • Interactive Notebook pointing
  • Word wall pointing
  • Intentional misunderstanding (ME gusta???)
  • Carefully worded cognate-ful responses
  • Se dice [translation]
  • Conferences
  • Mini-lessons ("This is not Spanish")
  • Class discussion
  • Rubrics
  • Back channel questions/comments
  • Google Classroom comments (overall praise & problems)
  • Google Doc comments (suggestions & questions)
  • More blog comments (connections, suggestions)

Now, looking at all of that, I'm feeling pretty good about myself. Looking at how my students are doing--and feeling--so far this semester overall, I'd say I'm at my professional peak so far.

And yet, I am a week behind on grades, and I haven't listened to any Vocaroo conversations, never mind those soundboard glogs that have gone unclicked for two weeks. I'm pushing forward with tweets tomorrow without having put so much as a number, much less as a helpful hint, on their retweet posts. I'm still collecting essays Tuesday even though tomorrow is the only day we'll be writing in class, and once again, I may not get to every one.

So how am I doing on feedback? Let's say better, but still bettering.

14 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 13: Google, how do I love thee?

Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.

In compiling a list of what I use and love, I discovered pretty much everything I love is a Google app--by birth or marriage. Maybe it's because they're free. Maybe it's because they're integrated with accounts all students are provided. Either way, , my edtech recs are primarily an ode to what I love about Google.

Let me Google the ways
10 Communities, maybe only 4 students logged on all summer, but you are an excellent, integrated way for me to get messages and links out...when they're interested...or required.

Forms, I love collecting student information and feedback in your nice, neat little columns with qualitative and quantitative data collecting options!

Hangouts, I admit I find your recording function the most attractive, but screensharing is pretty sweet, not to mention the little sidebar chat for people to interject without interrupting the flow.

7 Docs, now that the simultaneous editing bugs are in the past, your commenting function is a godsend, and the kids and I are deeply enamored of your new suggestion function.

6 Drive, you allow me to upload almost everything I could ever want to upload, share everything I could ever want to share. You do have your foibles with formatting, but we can work around those to make our relationship work.

5 Blogger, I love your labels and your multiple authors, your tabs and your scheduling.

Sites, I love your inserting and embedding, your templates and sharing.

Translate, though some only see our fights, your phrasebook and pronunciation help make us better friends than enemies.

2 YouTube, I could not teach language without your bountiful music videos, playlists, how-tos, and snippets of shows. I can no longer imagine life without you!

Classroom, you came into my life amidst students forgetting to share files, upload issues, and assignment confusion. While I must transfer your grades to another for calculation (and because, well, mandates), know that you have combined everything else I and our children need in a learning management system!

Non-Google Honorable Mentions
Pinterest and Twitter, your boundless context-rich authentic texts and endless ideas make my heart pitterpat on a daily basis.

Dropbox, I know in my heart we were meant to be together, but my district just doesn't understand our love! How I long to save my work on one computer and open it up refreshed on another without having to plug in, upload, download, or open browsers! I fear I took you for granted, too, as now my automatic camera uploads have overflowed your servers. And so, dear Dropbox, it is with heavy heart, that I transfer my files to Drive, who doesn't understand my synching needs like you do, but I don't have to sneak around my district's rules to see him.

ThingLink & Piktochart, you are as two sides of the infograph coin, making information more accessible and appealing to all.

TodaysMeet, you are the answer to listless movie watching and talking to the screen, making learning always interactive.

InfuseLearning, it would have been really sweet to not have to kill a forest of tape trees to review vocabulary doodled on paper and to be able to just cut and paste rather than photograph, upload, insert, crop to display the drawings. Here's hoping our love will have a chance now that laptops are in order.

It's not you, it's me.
There are many tools I use that are not on my list for various reasons, some conspicuous in their absence. Here's why we cannot be together just now.

Audacity is a staple of free and easy recording for any language class, but I find I really need an easier publishing/embedding option for reviewing student recordings to be manageable.

Trello was a staple of my Genius Hour plan last year, and it helped organize my approach, but mostly it just confused the students to have that on top of where the assignments were.

Glogster I'm not happy about discovering that I had to shell out $40 to make the soundboard project feasible this semester, and then there's the whole rigamarole with deleting/not deleting unused accounts, activating and inability to deactivate. DiscoveryEd has a similar, if less extensive function I may be looking into, but I'm still really hoping someone will go ahead and invent me a soundboard creating/publishing app.

Skype is still fine for international synchronous collaboration, but I really wish there was a free way to record the video, like on Hangouts.

Movie apps like Sock Puppets, Adobe Voice and GreenScreen have a lot of potential, but I haven't had a chance to pilot the latter two, and the former frustrates be because I can't figure out how to export students' work without filming their iPads with my iPad.

13 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 12: A lot can happen in 5 years

How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?

Wow. A lot can happen in five years. Classes change, resources change...life changes. So to get an idea of where I could be, I had to take a look at where I was five years ago.

I was a single parent with a toddler starting the National Boards process for the first time while juggling 3 preps: Spanish I and II plus English I--a tested subject--for the first time. I didn't have any language acquisition courses under my belt, much less a Master's in Spanish. I was a department of one still in a school of under 200, and my only connection to state or national language associations was that one FLANC conference I presented on with a professor from some of my courses for Spanish certification--plus my franglais teacher Facebook friend from college.

There was no #langchat 5 years ago either.

So it was up to me and Google to figure out what "realia" meant, and then how to sneak it in between grammar and vocabulary. It was either Google or Teachers.net that led me to a textbook that led to a perfect score on the language acquisition theory section of the NBPTS test, but little practical change in my practice. I was genuinely surprised that my little Hot Wheel map directions activity only got me a 2 out of 4 in the small group entry. I mean, "teaching in the target language"? Who DOES that? It doesn't even make SENSE.

So if the last five years are any indication of what's to come, I predict still more humble pie. I'd like to think my menu will be somewhat more varied after a lot of the overhauling that I've done--perhaps even a little taste of glory here and there, when the realia and the comprehensible input and authentic purpose come together one fine day.

And in five more years, my little boy--who has a loving Daddy and wild little sister at home now--will be in the videos I submit for recertification.

11 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 11: The well-pondered epiphany

What is your favorite part of the school day and why?

The end. No, seriously.

Not "Well THAT's finally over!" though. It usually involves three responses:

  • Well that was awesome! How can I get that to happen again?
  • Well that was dreadful! How can I keep that from happening again--at least for other people?
  • OK, now what?

Now that I have fourth period planning after 2 straight years of planning first, I have time to reflect and collect myself. I don't have to spend planning scrambling for copies I should have made hours--if not days--ago. I have time to evaluate the day's events and assessments and build something for tomorrow based on demonstrated needs. I have the evening and that tranquil time between snooze buttons to let my mind wrap around how to address those needs  I suppose that sweet spot for innovation between 4:30 AM and when that first bell would ring--if we had one--would be pleasant, too, were it not so...morning. Also the high of the well-pondered epiphany is not a guarantee, and, in fact, didn't creep up on me until, oh, about the end of third period yesterday after I was almost done with the teaching part.

But then I got to kind of revel in that moment we had in Film & Literature, when a bunch of goofy seniors admitted some things that had been bothering them--and it tied into exactly what the film was saying. I also got to kind of stew on how I could keep that going, keep them thinking about how they talk to each other and what Lorraine Hansberry was telling them about how people talk to them, by rewriting the speech from the Clybourne Park representative who wants to buy the Youngers' house back from them so they don't move into a white neighborhood.

I also got to go ahead and write objectives on the board for today so they'll be ready and figure out--and arrange--what I need to get together to make portfolio assembly and reflection possible for today. I got to look ahead and rearrange my impending lesson plans to fit the pace of the kids I've been working with for a few weeks now, to reach out to an international amiga to think ahead for the next unit, to reach out to my colleagues to help motivate the seniors in their leadership roles with thank you cards.

It's true I could sleep until 6:00 when I had first period planning, and I could even make it to appointments or my son's school during school hours sometimes without missing class.

But I missed so much pondering time.

10 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 10: 5 4 3 2 1

David Bisbal is my man. It's cool. My husband knows. He drove me 13 hours, half of which were in driving blizzard conditions, to see him in concert one Valentine's Day before we were married. He does not, however, like when my son jokes that David Bisbal is his real dad. He does,however, like when he rocks out to "Calentando voy" with his headphones in.
I love manatees. Manatee t-shirts, manatee crossing signs, manatee earrings, manatee greeting cards, swimming with manatees, looking at manatees, manatee videos and photos, talking stuffed manatees, silent stuffed manatees, manatee puppets, manatee statues...all things manatee.
I took 3 years of French in high school and 2 years of German--no Spanish until college, though most of my fluency probably came from interactions with my first husband and his family.
I had brief obsessions with jewelry making and scrapbooking before my daughter was born and still dabble in them occasionally (though I really should get into some classes or video tutorials at least).

I worked at Wendy's for 3 1/2 years through college. I met my husband there nearly 12 years ago.

Go to Spain, especially the south: Al Andalus, La Alahambra, Granada

Get an instructional technology certificate or degree

Learn Arabic and/or Mandarin

Publish something cool, in book form

Students who discover a passion for language and other cultures, other people.
To soak in everything possible in Perú next June!

Laugh: I actually keep a list of crazy things kids say on my board and occasionally tweet them out on my school account.

Cry: students with hurts bigger than they should have to handle.

I need help. I need other people to ground me, to focus me and fill in gaps I miss (or at least point them out--gently--so I can fill them in). I may bristle, but even then I am ipen to suggestions...eventually. 

09 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 9: One life has breathed easier because you have lived

It was pretty cool getting messages from two different teachers that I've long admired--and often imitated--warning me that they'd nominated be for FLANC Teacher of the Year. I mean, validation from your peers--your competent and cool peers, who know what's what--that's the mountaintop, isn't it?

I mean, if teaching is a mountain, it might be.

I didn't get the TOY nod in the end, but I still got part of that thrill that Emerson called success since I had written proof that I had "[won] the respect of intelligent people" and "[earned] the appreciation of honest critics."
Image from Eclectic Emily
But if teaching is a mountain and success is at the top, I am here to tell you that teachers can accomplish things that mean floating over the  mountaintop. These accomplishments still fit in Emerson's definition of success, really, but their effect goes beyond conquering some peak, or series of peaks. These accomplishments are not about climbing anything or being the best or brightest anything, except that version of yourself that you could and should be.

I laminated and taped a fancy printout of Emerson's definition of success to my rickety wooden stand in my first classroom years ago. Knowing in my heart that I have accomplished just three of the goals within the definition--and that I am capable of accomplishing them again--sets me free, in a way, of trying to get to the top of anything in particular. If I never get any award beyond reminding myself of these three girls and what they brought out in me, I can die an accomplished teacher.

Find the best in others
I don't know if she'll actually end up a translator like she says she wants to. I honestly hope she ends up a teacher, because though she drove (drives?) her classmates and teachers crazy, she is a bright and patient person. She might have anger she doesn't know what to do with some of the time--a lot of the time--but she can deconstruct math and language and concepts that just come naturally to her in a way that makes everything come clear to the most confused in the room. She might buck authority just for the fun of it sometimes, but within her there is a mature woman who can lead and play the game, who wants to get her emotions under control and show the world what she can do. She's in there even when she is barely resisting--or not resisting--the urge to cuss to my face. And she's going to be great.

Leave the world a bit better
I used to look at Hispanics in the store and wish they'd go home. Now I look at them and wonder, "Why are they here? Where are their families?" I have moved classrooms three times since "Margarita" wrote me that letter, so the actual wording is lost to me now, but the meaning is written inside me. After reading and discussing a few of Sandra Cisneros' short stories in Spanish I (this is when I was a newly minted Spanglish teacher, uninitiated in the ways of teaching in the target language), apparently her whole world view shifted. "Margarita" is a mother of two now, and though her political views projected on Facebook are not always what I'd call generous, I know that she will raise those two little boys to look beyond differences and see through other people's eyes.

Know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
I only visited her mom once in the hospital before she passed, and I was way in the back at the funeral. I didn't see her baby born, but I got to go to his first birthday party and her graduation in the same year. We went out to eat and went shopping before she went to college. She is my two-year-old's hero. I am not a replacement mother by any means, but she knows if she needs something, whether it's pizza and an hour or two out of the house or twin sheets and a shower caddy, she will have them. I can't undo her pain, but I can help her breathe.

So if you have done any of these things, or if you are ready to do them, you, teacher, are a success. If you can recall students who have helped you accomplish these things already, you are soaring over the mountaintops.

08 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 8: What desk drawer?

What’s in your desk drawer, and what can you infer from those contents?

I don't have a desk. I teach at an early college in a college classroom that could house a college class or college event any day of the week, should the course schedule or calendar call for it. I use my cart for my classroom library, and I have a little filing cabinet I can lock up. And I have a podium--which is really supposed to be cleared out daily, and, apparently parallel to the wall with the screen. Who knew? There's so much more room if it's pushed against the wall. But I digress.

I captured what my podium looked like--pre-parallel-stipulation--while immortalizing one of the many times my students have broken out dancing this semester. (Seriously, they do this all the time. I put the coros playlist on as background music, and as soon as they hear "Te mueves tú," the moves we learned from my Spanish boyfriend the first week spontaneously erupt in pockets across the room. They will sing under their breaths along with Marc Anthony and Calle 13, too.)

You can see my phone that doesn't dial out beyond the campus, the computer connected to the SMARTboard (blasting "Vivir mi vida," I believe), a big ol' water bottle that keeps me hydrated (plus one confiscated juice bottle), a few signed syllabi turned in late, my keys and ID, and a cup full of pens, pencils, highlighters, lonely markers, and grown-up scissors. So if we call the podium my desk drawer, it reveals that I...
A) have excellent taste in music
B) am not a "letter of the law" sort of person
C) am perhaps still "developing" in organizational skill
D) have to go to the bathroom a lot
Now if we were to delve into my filing cabinet? Well, you'd probably find evidence leading to much the same conclusions. Plus I subsist almost entirely on Easy Mac, chocolate Poptarts (and use their boxes to store half of my Art Club supplies, from paints to popsicle sticks), and Coke Zero.

07 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 7: Just do it

Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?

I'm going to cheat and say my most inspirational colleague is a composite: a combination of every teacher who taught me, by example, to just do it.

Want to get stuff graded and out of the way? Sara Griffin taught me to just do it.

Want to create and maintain a school garden or make learning come alive with chips, hot dogs, and rock and roll? Jody Dixon taught me to just do it.

Want to switch to a paperless, project-based learning class with community mentors for individual projects? Geoff Crosson taught me to just do it.

Want to get kids solving real-world problems and preparing for real-life issues like health insurance and nutritional choices? Kristin Lampe taught me to just do it.

Want to enlist parents to get kids off their butts to take responsibility for getting their work done or find the perfect (free) online tool for that project you want to do? Sharanda Payseur taught me to just do it.

Want to get kids to take ownership of what goes on their school, to lead the way and make it what they want? Russ Paul taught me to just do it.

Want to show kids how to look inside themselves and really see and understand the people around them, to care? Lauren Dixon taught me to just do it.

So many of my colleagues have given me so much over the years: in ideas, in patience, in hope--and that's even without delving into everything my online colleagues have shared! We are all in this together, but if there is one thing I have learned from the people I have worked with day in and day out, it is this. If there is something you wish you could do with your kids, for your kids, or beyond your kids?

Just do it.

06 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 6: Balancing with SCALES

What does a good mentor “do”?

With our new non-academic Friday schedules, we're focusing on getting kids the individual help and attention they need, but also on developing relationships: teacher-student relationships as well as student-student relationships, especially focusing on our seniors. We hope to match each with a college student mentor from the campus SGA, and we have given each senior two or three freshmen to touch base with periodically. Plus they are in charge of what goes on in weekly half-hour "Focus Friday" sessions with mixed grade-level groups.

So in thinking about what a good mentor does, I'm trying to put into words for my seniors, as their, well, mentor, what they can do for the kids they're connecting with, in addition to reminding myself how I need to help them in their new roles. I'm also having some flashbacks to my first year in my first classroom 11 years ago.

In brainstorming from these various perspectives, I've come up with some advice for mentors, advice to sort of help bring balance to a neophytes experience, balance in the form of SCALES:
  1. Sympathize: show me I am not alone or bad but focus on what to do next.
  2. Counsel: give advice but maybe in question form.
  3. Advocate: help me understand my limits but step in when I need to go beyond them.
  4. Listen: let me vent but make me solve problems.
  5. Encourage: tell me when I'm doing something positive but don't let me stop growing.
  6. Support: offer any tools you can but help me figure out when to use them or try something new.

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 5: My classroom

Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see–and what you don’t see that you’d like to.

Here's my classroom pre-students. I've got my map up, my mode Translate Commandments up, my mode symbols, a no-longer-inflatable macaw that we never used in last year's skit, and a CocoKrispies box from Mexico (to make them ask if I really paid 31 dollars for it).

You may also notice my beautiful library display carefully arranged across all the back tables. If I had one complaint about my room, it would be that I cannot leave such displays--or technically any displays but what's on the bulletin board for that matter--overnight once college classes begin. If I had two complaints, the second would be the distinct lack of windows: that one you see in the door is it.

I'm pretty happy with my library solution, though:

This way I can pack it up on my cart AND make sure everyone gets to try different books, during our ExploraTextos time and week to week!

So now my classroom looks like this each Thursday:

Still no window, but I've got engaged kids and authentic texts at their finger tips. Technology too--that's a Chromebook cart I wheel in a couple of times in the week back in the back! Also, I'm gradually sneaking more realia onto the map, like the People en Español cover above the CocoKrispies box, and eventually hopefully some photos from my trip to Mexico with my boy.

05 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 4: The best part

What do you love the most about teaching?

So we were talking about The American Dream in Film & Literature the other day (God I love A Raisin in the Sun!), and we were talking about the kids' dreams (and of course what would happen if they were deferred), and the question came up, "Was this YOUR dream?"

"How did you get HERE?" they asked. 

I told the story of Mr. Bancroft and The Great Gatsby--"when I was just a little younger than you," I said. He was asking about our interpretation of some symbolic passage, maybe the scene where the sidewalk beyond Daisy looked like a ladder, when I suddenly understood that imagery was not just imagery. Mr. Bancroft said, "I'm asking because I don't know. I'm asking what YOU think."

"You can DO that???" I thought. "You can just ask questions and get new ideas ANY TIME YOU WANT???"

And that was it. That was my dream. Hanging out with people, picking their brains: communicating. 

"But I mean HERE. A SPANISH teacher," one student--who had scraped by in Spanish II last year--said.

"Well," I said, "it's still about communication. And now I can communicate with even MORE people and get even MORE ideas."

And I can help you do the same, dear students. I can help you do the same, thus exponentially expanding both your pool of ideas and mine forever.

04 September 2014

#ReflectiveTeacher Blogging Challenge Day 3: The year of the genius

Discuss one “observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

Though I've been directed to discuss but one, I find my goal encompasses at least THREE observation areas! This is the year that Genius Hour moves beyond the language department (i.e. me). I have interested parties in the English department and science department, and our math department is exceptionally cool and open-minded (Art Club did zombie makeup for an exponential growth and decay video project, after all). And, well, that leaves history, which is just one amiga!

So this project will definitely cover Element IIIc. Teachers recognize the interconnectedness of content areas/disciplines:

 ...Collaborates with teachers from other grades or subject areas to establish links between disciplines and influence school-wide curriculum and teaching practice.

Yep, pretty much everybody! Plus we recently got a seat time waiver, meaning Fridays are now Flex Fridays: no "academic" classes--all volunteer, enrichment, remediation, focus groups, and clubs! Genius Hour would be a perfect way to make use of enrichment time and tie in whichever disciplines we want!

I've already got the presentation for Element IIId. Teachers make instruction relevant to students:

 ...Deepens students’ understandings of 21st century skills and helps them make their own connections and develop new skills.

In my session at the district Teaching and Learning Conference, we were able to connect just about every single 21st century skill to at least one stage of the Genius Hour process.

Element IVa. Teachers know the ways in which learning takes place, and they know the appropriate levels of intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development of their students.
...Encourages and guides colleagues to adapt instruction to align with students’ developmental levels.
...Stays abreast of current research about student learning and emerging resources and encourages the school to adopt or adapt them for the benefit of all students.

And you KNOW I have some Genius Hour research to share with them, gracias a Joy Kirr!

Element IVh. Teachers use a variety of methods to assess what each student has learned.
 ...Encourages and guides colleagues to assess 21st century skills, knowledge, and dispositions and to use the assessment information to adjust their instructional practice.

We may need to work on the best ways to assess for each department's purposes, but I have to say, my favorite type of professional development is where I get my hands (brain?) dirty, and if my Pinnacle training taught me anything about androgogy, it's that adults want to apply their learning ASAP!