29 December 2015

Self-Improvement PBL Unit: Setup

My Spanish students will start the year with a meaningful personal change.

Here's how.

Goal Selection

Day 1 we will take a look at organization issues: time, materials, and money. I've broken the questions down on Nearpod with a poll to introduce the issue and some possible sub categories for each type of issue followed by open-ended questions to tie to students' personal experiences. Notice I also emphasize AAPPL proficiency levels N1-I1 for students to start practicing responding with more depth.

Day 2 we will focus on health: food, exercise, and attitude. I included the same health poll at the end of the previous day's Nearpod presentation to kind of set the mood. The format is the same as the previous day's, but with fewer explicit reminders as to what it takes to achieve each performance level. This way they're getting plenty of reinforcement with vocabulary like demasiado  and te afecta.

Afterwards, we'll do a four-corners (or four-corners-a-wall-and-a-door) activity to begin splitting up into support groups, or simply equipos. If there's time, we'll discuss how they plan to measure their improvement.

Then Day 3, I'm thinking a TPRS story that ties in structures students will need to discuss their progress like debes, puedes, and vas.

And then we can establish procedures that will help students monitor progress and get to their goals!

Routine Procedures

Daily journal

Each student will keep a journal for the project, but they can keep track of their daily progress online on a blog or in a little dollar store notebook like I was going to use for the healthy habits unit idea. (We'll do a little soul searching in class to determine which is the best fit for each kiddo.)

I'll also recommend setting a phone alarm--or we can do a Remind text--each day to remind Even if it's a sentence or two each day, it's writing practice!

Weekly resources

Each student will pin one video and one infograph or article each week to their group's Pinterest board--something that will help them or their compatriots keep on track toward their goals: recipes, exercise routines, money or time saving strategies, organizational ideas. A steady flow of new materials to interpret AND help with their goals! I'm thinking these will be due on Wednesdays.

Weekly reflection

Of course collecting pins isn't going to do anybody any good if no one pauses to make sense of it. I've started a Pinterest board for each group so everyone working toward the same (or similar) goals can share. This also works so that everyone has a better chance of finding something they can use, even if it turns out what they found that week happens to be a little bit beyond their level when they start digging deeper.

They'll report--in the target language--in their journals (or blogs)

  1. New vocabulary they can use (2-5 words)
  2. Summary of information that can help them
  3. How they can apply the information in the coming week

Also, I think this is something worth building in a little extra time for in class on Thursdays after their team meetings.

Weekly in-class meeting

Here's where the interpersonal comes in--along with the human element that keeps the kiddos accountable for their progress. They'll report each Thursday to their equipos about their successes, their setbacks, what they need now, and what they want to do next. They'll also ask their partners questions about their progress and offer suggestions and/or support where they can.

I think it would be really cool if they came up with a way to reward each other when they meet a target, too. An appropriate target though--maybe not cupcakes for the group trying to eat better.

Bi-weekly out-of-class meeting

I'm hoping to connect with some other classes on this project to expand the support network and reinforce the idea that this is not just A Thing For School. (If you're interested, please let me know!)

If we can't hook up with other classes, I really hope to push the "extra school supply" Sra. Cottrell recommended this semester. Or perhaps my young ones could find a buddy on WeSpeke, or any native speaker who can just check in and make sure they are sticking with the plan (one student I was running ideas by said she'd just chat with her friend's mom about her money management plans, and that seems cool).

The person could be kind of a coach or just a sounding board, though it would be ideal if they are actually working toward a similar goal. Maybe they could even celebrate together!

My plan would be to check in every other Monday to review recordings or screenshots of conversations.


I will share any materials I create or find with Spanish classes who want to join us on this journey to make a change. Please Tweet me or comment if you would like to join forces!

23 December 2015

What Students Really Think about Portfolios

For me, the portfolios students submitted this semester were by far the most successful --and most attractive--portfolios EVER. 

I didn't have to request access to files at midnight. I didn't have to scroll and click all over creation to find evidence--AND the evidence on them actually fit what I was looking for! 

Sure, I could get a quick dip test of how students could do in a given context with our regular IPAs, but the portfolios worked well to let me see how much of the ACTFL proficiency cone they were actually filling out, how much variety they could handle.

I'm very happy with VoiceThread portfolios!

But this isn't about me.

On the end-of-course survey this year, opinions of badges were pretty overwhelmingly high. Opinions on portfolio, however, were  a little more mixed, though overall still pretty positive.
Almost half responded to the question, "How do you feel about PORTFOLIO VOICETHREADS?" with praise:

either for the process:

  • They were kinda easy and they helped a lot.
  • They were very helpful and it was cool to see how I've improved
  • Voicethreads were a great way of learning and correcting our errors.
  • I feel like they did some good because they let us reflect back on them when needed.

the product:

  • Portfolio Voicethreads are a good way for you to be able to check up on our progress and I think that they're an easy grade when properly completed.
  • I feel they're a good way to show what we can do.
  • They help me prove that I know Spanish.
  • I feel they're a good way to show what we can do.

or the platform:

  • I love voice thread.
  • I like how they work because Voicethread is a simple tool to use.

Only nine felt completely negative about VoiceThread portfolios, and the fifteen mixed-bag responses pretty much universally acknowledged that they considered the portfolios "beneficial."

Mostly the non-satisfied customers were just annoyed, sometimes with the frequency of the assignment (not quite one section a week), but mostly? Mostly they were annoyed with the technology:

  • I liked making the portfolios but voicethread upload times are less than satisfactory.
  • I hate voicethread. I think I did well until I had trouble uploading everything.
  • I like them expect when I have to record the video as comment and not a video.
  • I feel like voicethread is hard to use because things don't work or videos don't upload and it gets confusing sometimes.

Fortunately there IS a solution!

We need a new way to go about this unless we are able to get paid accounts.

I will be piloting paid accounts with next semester's Spanish I (came into some accounts after discovering how VoiceThread's new comment features can be particularly useful for portfolio curation). Paid accounts should solve pretty much all of the uploading problems, which I think will probably solve the majority of the annoyance problems too.

Of course there are workarounds for the free accounts, like uploading as video comments or just recording the audio as a comment pirate-style if a file was too big to upload as media (I even made a video to demonstrate how! Which really only goes so far in reducing irritation, if I'm honest with myself.)

So it's good to know that the kiddos can see how the portfolio process helps them reflect on their performance and actually see their growth over time. Even some of the Negative Nancies could see how it would be useful to show others what they can do.

And as for annoying? We'll see if larger upload limits don't make reflecting a little less stressful!

21 December 2015

What Students Really Think about Badges

"I thought it was really cool, it gave me something to strive for."

"I feel like they are an effective way to let the student know how they are doing."

"I like these because it helps me see my growth."

"They are great because I feel like I learned something."


"I feel special."

On the end-of-course survey, I asked all 46 of my Spanish students from this semester,"How do you feel about BADGES & PROFICIENCY LEVELS?" 

Nine felt ambivalent about badges, mostly citing the need for more information to improve and the situational nature of the requirements for earning certain badges (which was kind of the point--varied contexts and all). Most here still agreed that they were helpful indicators, though.

Of the 46 students surveyed, only four felt completely negative about them, and I think those were a little sensitive about not getting badges, claiming it was too hard or that badges shouldn't be announced. Mind you, I only announced who had earned badges, and I seriously doubt anyone had the time or inclination to track each of the NINE sets of announcements throughout the semester to keep track of who didn't get what.

The other 72%?

They dug the badges.

From their responses, it seemed to me there were three main reasons they liked badges:
  • They could see where they were.
  • They could see where they were going.
  • And they could see where they'd been.

Where they were

Several cited a sense of contentment at knowing where their abilities fit in the continuum, being able to "Keep up with their level" and "to get a general feel of where you're at." I'm proud of these little buckaroos for that kind of focus on growth. I think this really does indicate a stronger focus on proficiency over grades. 

I printed their final badges on
nametag stickers to put on their
interactive notebooks.
I mean, the 10-point grading scale made it pretty easy to relax about grades, since even by the end, all they needed to do was break out of Novice Low to get a 70, which is now a low C. But you know what's super cool? THEY ALL DID break out of Novice Low! Even in speaking and listening! And the vast majority hit Novice High or better on their final IPA in most sections!

Still, to give a more holistic view--breadth as well as depth--I looked at ALLL of their IPA scores and portfolio scores on my handy dandy spreadsheet. I had each kid's scores separated by reading, listening, speaking, and writing for each IPA and portfolio gathered in one line for comparison. I eyeballed them, looked for trends, and settled on a level I wanted them to maintain for the year they would be out of my class before we met again in Spanish II. (That's right, English teachers can assign summer reading--I'm assigning summer portfolios! Which, of course, they can start now, should they so choose...)

Where they're going

More than one student described badges as giving them "Something to strive for," and indicated that they "make people try harder." Many liked being recognized when they done good, and some said it even gave them "something to look forward to."  A few also said that the badges also helped them see the next step, how to improve with "guidelines for the next level to strive for."

I think I owe that aspect of the badges' success to a combination of ForAllRubrics and the motto I learned from  Karen Tharrington's FLANC presentation: close the feedback loop. The easy rubric setup on ForAllRubrics makes it easy for me to indicate where they're lacking and add a quick comment to suggest what they could do about it next time. And setting up a context that actually required them to look at and respond to feedback really did help them set their sights higher.

I plan on revising the rubrics just a little bit over break to be more precise, adding an "emerging" level before "sometimes," since I want to give them credit when they show a little bit of an objective. Just maybe not as much credit as for those who are almost there (which really makes a better classification too, don't you think? "Almost" instead of "Sometimes"...) 

I may also add a step to the VoiceThread portfolios where students add comment to their title slides about what they have improved, in addition to a comment indicating each sample's objective(s).

Where they've been

After the final reading IPA, I had students pull up their first reading IPA. Their chuckles were the best reward I could hope for.

They really came a long way.

As they said in their surveys, being rewarded "creates a sense of motivation and accomplishment." Each badge represents a step away from that kid they were that didn't know quite as much. And they owned that and could see that step. They had something to point to as proof of their advancement, their growth. And that mattered to them.

Of course Ninja Turtles and kitty stickers are delightful in and of themselves. But knowing that your work has paid off?

That's something worth showing.

18 December 2015

Guest Bloggers: January 2016

I may not know it all, but I bet my Professional Learning Network does!

I've tapped some of my grad school buddies and fellow bloggers to fill in some of the gaps that I don't know here in the new year with a special weekly series of guest posts on Fridays this January.

WEEK 1 - January 8

How do you tame your inner critic?

by Stephanie Schenck (check out her TPT store!)

WEEK 2 - January 15

How do you find cool stuff for French classes?

by Laura Parker

WEEK 3 - January 22

How do you find awesome educators and ideas?

by Maris Hawkins (follow her blog and like her FB page!)

WEEK 4 - January 29

How can a young language teacher survive?

Q&A with Wendy Farabaugh (follow her blog!)

I hope you enjoy learning from these ladies as much as I do, and I would love--LOVE--to learn from you as well! If you have an idea for a guest post--or would like me to give you one, please let me know in the comments or through Twitter!

07 December 2015

Genius Hour Goals: Puedo & Quiero

Puedo is for permission; quiero is for YOUR mission.

Earlier in the semester, it became apparent that I needed a way for students to get what they needed, so I whipped up an interactive notebook page on Piktochart, and we ran through some gestures. (While I was at it, I included some tasks that I wanted to ask them to do.)
usar inglés, usar el baño, imprimir, tomar agua, trabajar en el pasillo
compartir, tirar la basura, grabar, cerrar/abrir la puerta, borrar la pizarra
And man, if the last IPA conversations were any indication (and that's kind of the purpose of IPA conversations--indication), then they have got puedo down PAT.

Which is good. Now they can tell me what they are able to do. Now they're ready to do more.

It was a little after introducing can, though, that the first six-week grading period was winding down, and I wanted them to just start forming the idea of where their passion projects would end up. Of course I could have had them recycle what they "CAN" do, but I needed something with a little more drive to it.

Confession time: I've only had ONE half-hearted attempt to touch on Genius Hour at all since September, and none since the end of October. Unless you count interpreting their passion Pinterest pins for portfolios.

So my students started this page almost 2 months ago, and we are just now returning to it the final week before exams. I think I can play it off as an intentional maneuver, but really it was just a time thing. This way, though, they at least got the idea of where they might want to head early enough that it may have taken root there in the deep, dark topsoil of their little brains

What we got the firs time around, though, was a good brainstorm about what they might WANT to create for their final passion project presentation:
The quiero gesture is stretching your hand out
and folding it rapidly, like"gimme gimme"
  • póster
  • lista musical
  • video
  • cuento
  • arte
  • infografía
  • sitio web
  • libro
  • modelos
  • diorama
  • comida
  • obra de teatro
  • disfraz
  • baile
  • canción
  • presentación

What we need to do now is fill in the gaps with what they want to look for, what's still missing so they CAN do what they WANTED to do.

And what they NEED to do, based on the presentational and interpersonal AAPPL rubrics. The interpretation part of their personalized final IPAs (including the new, more comprehensible listening spin) will be taken care of this week, so all they NEED is to demonstrate their language production skills in writing and speaking--and get their classmates to take part. (Asking and answering questions factor in if they're going to break out of Novice Mid, after all!)

So now they need to demonstrate what they CAN do by

  1. creating something that represents their passion (something from our brainstorm),
  2. writing a description, an explanation of their passion and/or creation,
  3. teaching the class 10 vocabulary words necessary for interactionm for the purpose of
  4. engaging the class in conversation about their passion.

After looking at the elements of the final project (I still recommend a 10-word visual vocabulary session to prep their audience, too) we'll brainstorm what they want to do next, reinforcing at least the yo form repeatedly: "Quiero buscar materiales"; "Quiero buscar canciones relevantes." Then for reflection, it's paired work:
Record a conversation with a partner about what you WANT to do to prepare for your presentation. Be sure to ASK your partner AT LEAST 3 questions about their presentation as well. 
Include what you need for -the vocabulary visual-the writing-your creation-the class conversation on presentation day.
Then they can begin the work on what they want to use to show what they can do.

05 December 2015

7 Steps to Create Videos for Personalized Listening IPAs

I start the semester with passion projects. I end the semester with passion projects.

It brings a sort of unity to the whole semester and gives kids a sense of relevance, of purpose for the whole studying Spanish thing.

Now this does mean a little extra tap dancing on my part, especially at finals time, and especially if I'm going to ensure that the materials I'm using are appropriate and accurately reflect my students' actual progress.

1. Make a master list of general topics
First you've got to narrow down the topics, group them under umbrella topics where you can incorporate a little something for everyone.

2. Sort students' research
It really helps to go through their infographs they Pinned on their passion and maybe sort them into your own Pinterest boards you could share with potential helpers. Plus it refreshes you on what they know and gives you an idea for directions you could take the questions. For now, I just have all of the semester's passion infographs collected on this one Pinterest board, and I just collected the links to email:

 Follow Laura Sexton - PBL in the TL's board Passion infographs 2015 on Pinterest.   

3. Create a list of questions
From those topics and infographs, come up with some questions that will hit on what they've researched and actually like. Work in specifics where you can if they have an actual favorite singer, TV show, or vehicle type in mind--but that doesn't have to be every question. You can still work in a lot of basic vocabulary otherwise.
Here are some questions I have for the topics that I still need takers for (if you see one you could handle, comment, tweet me, email me, whateva! Showtime is next week!)

4. Enlist amigos
Then you've got to find some helpers. They should be fluent, but they don't have to be native speakers, not for novices. Intermediates who are ready for native speakers could just go ahead and use already existing authentic videos that you don't need to create. PS, they don't need to be experts either. They can just use the infographs to "brush up" or play clueless so they can "learn"!

I've found #langchat on Twitter and a Facebook group called Spanish Teachers in the US are the best places to find new helper amigos, but grad school buddies were also key resources.

PPS, I'm still looking for help!

5. Make recording arrangements
Now you have two choices: set up times to do Hangouts on Air with your helper amigos OR send them the questions so they can just make the videos for you.

I thought seeing my adorable visage would help lower my students' affective filter--you know, something familiar (and, of course, gorgeous in every way). I also thought that including questions would be ideal input to get them thinking about what they want to ask in their presentations. And also more familiarness (I know that's not a word, but I like it).

HOWEVER, if I just send the questions for my amigos to read into the conversation, I think my kiddos can do without the extra Sextonian decoration. Seeing a face, gestures, though--that's crucial stuff for baby parrots--otherwise I'd just set up a Google Voice system!

6. Collect and publish recordings
I sometimes go the Pinterest route when collecting videos, but since I'm using Hangouts for a lot of these, I've started a YouTube playlist (fortunately Chromebooks don't block such things from my account at school). I just move my Hangout on Air videos to the playlist and upload the videos my amigos send, and then post it to Classroom!

7. Set up task
Now, I can't get as detailed with all of these different videos as I did on other listening IPAs. That's where I draw the line on how much I have to do. BUT these are THE summative listening interpretation activity. And they're personally tailored to the kids' interests. I think it's fair to let them just pick out what they need, knowing it's on their topics. So the Google Doc looks basically like it did for the first reading IPA (plus the extra emphasis on supporting details for my budding-and-or-blossoming intermediates).

AND they get the whole playlist to choose from--as long as they indicate the video topic/title. The idea is to get them as comfortable as possible. So whatever they feel like they can handle, they've got something that fits their ability level, and they to feel like they have at least that much control in their own assessment.

Mind you, I shall be very disappointed if some of these videos I've gone to great pains to arrange go unused, but I daresay they'll still be useful to have around for future practice. So I am still getting something useful to help my students!

If you have any other ideas on how to streamline this process--or if I can include you in my conversation playlist--please drop me a line!

02 December 2015

CALL FOR HELP: Personalized Final IPA Videos

I was very happy with the personalized Genius Hour IPA last year, but I was more than a little discouraged by the overall listening performance. I know they could do better than Novice Mid! So if their abilities weren't the problem, then what was it?

It was the videos. The videos were to blame.

I have made a very conscious effort to make this semester's listening IPAs more novice friendly, and even so my young ones feel the listening IPAs are significantly harder than the reading ones. I started with BASIC stuff and me mixed in with native speakers, and they were still overwhelmed! I mean, it wasn't shut-down-and-skip-listening-entirely like some did on last year's Genius Hour final, but it tells me it's worth deviating from the personalized Authentic Text video pins.

This is where you come in, amigos.

I want my students to succeed and to feel successful while succeeding (affective filter and all that, you know). I want something that is not just maybe-kinda-partially within their grasp, but a good solid 2 minutes of i+1 input, you know? These kids I've got, they were barely missing a beat when I went full speed on the last IPA interview. Sure, the questions themselves were sort of noviced down structure and vocabulary wise, but their ability to keep up? A sight to behold! I mean, the vast--VAST--majority of their aural input has been from me, so it really makes more sense to assess them using something created for them.

So, my Spanish-speaking amigos, I need your help.

I want to make a brief video--say, two minutes--for each of their passion topics for them to interpret. I'll ask you some questions using some simple--but naturalish vocabulary--and you'll respond, maybe ask me a couple if you're so moved.

Basically it'd just be you and me, say in a Google Hangout this weekend, talking about one of the general topics that all of their passions fall under:
  • Música
  • Comida
  • Belleza (maquillaje, pelo)
  • Arte (artistas, técnicas)
  • Deportes
  • Videojuegos
  • Vehículos
  • Libros (ciencia ficción)
  • Superhéroes
  • Televisión (Supernatural, Metastasis/Breaking Bad)
Also, Monstruos y Leyendas is BY FAR the most popular topic this semester, so if you want to talk Greek gods, Llorona, Big Foot, or werewolves, you'd be helping out about 1/4 of my students.

Now I also have a few outliers with one kid per topic if you want to help me with these too:
  • High School Musical
  • Armas
  • Plantas

If you have a little free time over the next few days--preferably this weekend--just to record a little two-minute video of you and me speaking the Spanish to each other, I will praise your name to the skies--and first period, and second period, and the blogosphere at large. And I'll publish the videos to a YouTube playlist in case YOU need some interpretive listening ammo!

If you would just select a topic and include your contact info and availability in this spreadsheet, we'll set up our Hangout on Air and personalize some interpretive experiences!

PS Super big thanks for the famous author who sent me a video for my girls whose passion was reading--and her book! Sra. Placido, you are the coolest!

30 November 2015

Portfolio Grading Tips for Future Me

It's 11:00 PM the night before grades are due, and you only have 55 e-portfolio pledges for review left on ForAllRubrics...not to mention a few late essays from SAT Prep.

Life doesn't have to be this way, amiga!

Set yourself up for success.

OK, you know now that you can get through about 20 portfolio pages in an hour. So what if you just set aside 2.5 hours on the day you collect a set--or let's say 1 hour that evening plus 1 hour the next day, plus maybe another half hour one morning to wrap up the mixed-in upper levels in the class.

Better still, add yourself in an extra half hour for each. You know you'll need to let your brain resolidify, perhaps with a little responsive lesson planning or reflective blogging...like right now...

It's just like exercise, really.
I mean, one hour! You can do that, right? Even if you have to do half of it during planning and just set aside half at home? I think that'll work a lot better than all of the broken self promises of "Just 5 portfolios...or maybe 3. One, just one! OK, tomorrow."

I mean, if there is time set aside, you'll have to do it, right? Like working out...when there's not a random meeting or practice or family event? I mean, you do that now at least once a week. Most weeks...

And let's make it even easier. You know it's a pain getting out headphones or finding a quiet place to grade portfolios, and you'd rather just flip through the VoiceThreads without extra entanglements, SO you assign the writing portfolios first. The young ones seem to mostly have decided to go the written comment route on reading, too, so maybe they could be second. And really? MOST of the listening you've already heard, so you could probably just dig out the earbuds in emergencies.

That way on the night before grades are due, you'll only have the speaking portfolios left and no more excuses not to plug in ye olde auditory devices.

Make your job easier where you can.

I'm partial to Raphael, but the kids love
By the way, the sticker thing is working out really well to make sure kids are pledging the right levels, and I think the well-placed Ninja Turtles ended up actually being even better than hand-crafted (or inkjet printed) specialized proficiency stickers. Still, almost no one is spacing out on which level to pledge this way. The spreadsheet with the IPA and portfolio scores all together--with color codes for badges earned--is super handy for double checking to make sure they're pledging at the right level, too. Good work on that one!

And though the step down for speaking--Novice Low as the starting point instead of Novice Mid--does still throw a few kiddos for a loop, do I think North  Carolina's right about that particular skill being a step behind, based on the evidence I've seen.
This is gonna take a while.

Just be sure you get some more cool stickers--the smiley faces were less thrilling, and I think those kids felt ripped off. Cat stickers might work.

Also, the VoiceThread format is working beautifully--no more "Request Access" issues at midnight! Although it would be worth splashing a few of the more elegantly executed title pages and commenting examples on the SMARTboard for kiddos to see what looks best. Scrolling down a lengthy VoiceThread comment is no mean feat, and would be a lot smoother if each comment went Spanish sentence--English interpretation--as opposed to a numbered list through 14 in each language.

Set them up for success.

I get the feeling that my young ones aren't looking at the actual objectives they're supposed to be exemplifying. It's hard to get through all 10 steps for portfolio success in one day, especially if you have to work in creating a few more samples. The Nearpod rubric review does seem to help draw attention to the problem areas, but that means the other areas get glossed over the next go-round.

I think it's been well worth it--for progress and equity's sake--to require EVERYONE to submit 3-4 new samples each time. I like how it shows growth and makes sure that everyone is being held to comparable yet personally appropriate expectations. (Fewer complaints of, "So-and-so messes up on purpose to not have to redo much the next time.) HOWEVER, I cannot afford 20 minutes of rubric and past evidence checking every time.

So let's focus more on Step 7, reviewing the recommended samples and tagging them with aligned objectives. Sending out the Nearpod tasks as "homework" instead of a live session might work better to get everyone through the steps they need in a timely fashion.

28 November 2015

Top 5 of 2015

I resolved to do less in 2015, and I achieved that, partially through Google Classroom, partially through more careful vocabulary and language selection, partially through a carefully designed focus on performance and proficiency. 

Some of it was just deciding to stop while I was ahead.

And so this year, instead of a Top 15--or even Top 14 or Top 13--I present the Top FIVE PBL in the TL posts of 2015.

Appropriately enough, most of them involve doing less.

#1 LMS Heavvyweight Smackdown

I'm a diehard Google girl. I tried Edmodo and loved it. I tried Schoology...and tolerated it. But even though Classroom still doesn't have a gradebook, the easy integration and nifty new tools make it all worthwhile.

#2 Don't Teach in the Target Language

My brain works harder speaking Spanish with my novices than with native speakers. It's an anguish L1 teachers will never know, but it makes language accessible and productive even at the earliest stages.

#3 10 Essential Verbs for Novice Spanish

By recycling these 10 verbs every chance possible--input or output, I've seen less dependence on translators and more flexibility in circumlocution. My kiddos are stringing more sentences together in Spanish I just by keeping these words at the ready.

#4 Syllabus Extravaganza

I love some infographs, and I really love an infograph syllabus. Since I started playing with the new syllabic style (and adding bells and whistles--almost literally), others have taken the idea and run with it. Check out what our PLN has come up with--infographic and otherwise! I collected samples from

and more!

#5 Interactive Notebook Page: Performance and Proficiency

Setting up this ready reference early on has proved useful in directing students' growth. They know where they're headed and what they have to do to get there.

(HONORABLE MENTION -- This post was in and out of the 5 spot in December!)

Conjugation Hand

I don't do much with grammar anymore, but other people do, and it's worth acknowledging that reality and helping kiddos sort their knowledge in a memorable way.

26 November 2015

Why Spanish? A personal journey to connection


I believed myself an English teacher when I started.

I mean, I am an English teacher. I've got the degree, the certification, the occasional Creative Writing, Film and Lit, or SAT Prep class. I love the reading, the writing, and of course the discussion. But somehow that's not who I am anymore. Or at least not all I am.

I never intended to teach Spanish. In high school, I never even intended to take Spanish, opting for a few years of French and a couple of German. Mme. Aline, from whose name I took my daughter Lena's, told me I should teach French. "But I don't know how I learned it!" I protested (Mme. Aline was that good).

It was in college that I decided I needed Spanish to teach English. Parent conferences and phone calls home sans translator: that was my goal. Also, maybe Don Quixote in the original (spoiler: I resorted to Cliff's Notes--it was worse than Faulkner). So I did part of my student teaching abroad and got as close to a minor as I could with no high school experience.

Too bad the first parents I attempted to contact in Spanish handed the phone back to their son in danger of failing my Honors English 11 class. "Because your Spanish sucks," he told me.

Since then, I married (and divorced) a Mexican man, attended almost 100 worship services in Spanish, took some classes, got a Master's, and taught the stuff for nearly 10 years.

What a weird way to end up where I am.

But after all that? My original reason for learning Spanish is still probably the best I've had.

I wanted to connect.


The initial relief of discovering a common language and then a twenty-minute parent conference--seriously analyzing a student's strengths and weaknesses as well as joking and having fun: ALL IN SPANISH

Two-week trips to the Mayan Yucatan with my six-year-old and ex in-laws: ALL IN SPANISH

Inside jokes and extra insights from my native speakers from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia: ALL IN SPANISH

Birthday party invites and directions to the park, two-hour bus rides to the zoo on a school field trip with the moms of my son's school buddies: SPANISH

To say nothing of the movies, music, novels, poetry, picture books, coloring books, memes, and even tweets that are mine to enjoy on a daily basis. Not to mention the extra employability that pinch has come in handy more than once.

But what does this mean for my students? "Spanish teacher" isn't exactly on the list of backup plans for most of the kiddos at the early college and they may never meet a spouse on spring break in Puerto Vallarta.

For them, the question may not even be "Why Spanish?" It may be "Why learn a language at all?"


We have very few opportunities in life to start from nothing and watch ourselves grow continuously. Square one happened before we even knew we were learning math, science--our first language. And with a language, you don't have to go buy an instrument or art supplies or even books. You find a few words wherever you can, and you connect.

You look them up in a dictionary, online, pick them up from Dora or a patient friend at your part-time job. But you start off being able to measure your progress on one hand. And you can feel it. You can feel yourself absorbing more, stringing more words together.

You can feel it, and you can use it. And you can connect.

In North Carolina, you'll find the most opportunities in Spanish, but there are a few restaurants, a few shops around where you can seek out someone who speaks another language. But in this day and age, you could find your connections across an ocean with a click of a "Like" button.

Anyone can enjoy the simple connection of a greeting with a language--with minimal training!

Anyone can find cool pictures and perspectives on their hobby with a few weeks of exposure, and feel a little bit more connected with the global community that likes what you like.

After a little more connection, you can sing along with a pop song that pops up on commercials or keep up with a new TV show without subtitles to just be entertained a while and be a part of the group In The Know.

And who knows? If you keep connecting, you could make the right connections to find the solutions to problems, both personal and professional, because you can options you might not have found in one language.

And then? Then you can see--you can feel what you've accomplished. You know where you started, and you know the steps you took to get there.

And you'll know that you have no limits as long as you keep connecting.

Why Spanish?

I can keep growing my connections from where I am, in my classroom, in my community, and in the world. And it never has to stop.

24 November 2015

IPA: Marketing to Latinos in the US

I feel a little bad about this IPA.

My kiddos just spent DAYS breaking down a report in Spanish from the Nielsen Company (and frankly they're still not done).

But everything they need? It's pretty much right here, in this infograph and its accompanying article, "Hispanos de EE.UU. prefieren contenidos online en español".

Still, I feel like the labor was justified, because I think one of the things holding performance levels back is, well, the ambush of it all. I purposefully tried to build in more redundancy this time 1) to set the whipper snappers at ease and 2) to actually get them to apply what they're interpreting to their invention project.

from Internet es mercadeo
I did them even one better: I gave them the interpersonal topics in advance AND had them practice discussing similar topics. All with two sections of that Nielsen report. I even went ahead and warned them that that was exactly what I was doing.

The only difference is the exact text and the big conclusive writing at the end.

Interpretive Reading

As with the previous reading IPA, I'm providing the link to the WHOLE article, not just the infograph itself. This worked well not only for heritage speakers, but also for those looking to push themselves and start stretching into intermediate territory (halfway through Spanish I!)

I've had to add a few more levels to the AAPPL scale on the Doc because I have a handful of kids who, according to their portfolios, are already well into intermediate territory! For them and those just shy of Intermediate level performance, I also diversified the Doc for collecting their interpretation a little bit since the first IPA of the year, adding a separate section to enumerate the supporting details that have been keeping some from advancing:

Interpersonal Communication

I'll be pulling students aside one by one for conversation like last time. Once I got in the swing of things, the Google Form wasn't all that useful to me, except that it was pretty easy to alphabetize results at the end. No need for that if I make notes straight in Classroom, right? I know I'm going to be asking about their products and how they intend to connect with the Latino audience, maybe probing about ideas the infograph has that their group can use.

I hope they will feel more comfortable asking questions after the whole Neilsen report set of activities, but I think I will have a more useful role 1) as an arbiter of what they need in their final presentations and 2) as someone a little more familiar with norms among hispanos en los EE.UU.

Either way, I'm sending them the assignment (minus the actual infograph) in advance this time:

Be prepared to ANSWER questions about
  • the mercado hispano report
  • your interview with a Latino consumer
  • the IPA infograph
  • to improve your product
  • to connect with a specific demographic
Be prepared to ASK questions about:
  • Latino demographics
  • your plans for your product
  • your plans for your presentation

Presentational Writing

The writing is pretty straightforward this time: sum it up and figure out how to use it. An email seems like a logical context but...cheaty? I mean I guess I could have had them actually send the emails, and outside a testing-type situation, that would have been ideal. But once again, I was trying to cut down on the temptation to cheat, and, well, that seemed like a pretty open invitation, getting that authentic. And so:
On the paper provided, draft an email to your product pitch teammates with your plan to capture a Latino audience for your product. Explain to your teammates what you understand about the Latino consumer market from all of your research (at least three significant facts). Explain, too, how this information can help your group sell your product.

Between this and the discussion, I will better be able to see what they've actually been able to use--hopefully including their previous interviews and Nielsen research.

And you better believe they'll be ready for product pitch day!

18 November 2015

#Authres in PBL Groups: Market Research Jigsaw

The goal is not interpretation. The goal is not writing or speaking or interpersonal communication.

The goal is to convince a Spanish-speaking audience that they need this new invention.

Each group of 4-5 has already come up with a new product, but to convince the Spanish-speaking audience, they need some perspective. So I dug up some a good, solid authentic resource: a report the Nielsen Company put out in 2012 called "El Imperativo del Mercado Hispano: El Estado del Consumidor Hispano", but then I had to make it accessible to my baby parrots.

So I broke the report down from 20 pages to three separate 3 or 4 page sections that
  1. my novices and budding intermediates (and heritage speakers) could understand and
  2. the marketing teams could use to their advantage as they planned to pitch their brand new inventions.
"Sección uno" is mostly about WHY  we need to focus on el mercado hispano, so every group gets to interact with that one and get used to the analysis procedure.

"Sección dos" and "Sección tres", however, are more like HOW and WHAT to do to attract that market. So since everyone has a different product to peddle, I'm going to let each group choose which of those secciones could help them most. I'm thinking a text rendering protocol will help students get the gist of each and then negotiate which section will actually help them sell that product.

After the decision, the procedure goes like this:
  1. Vocabulary focus
  2. Information analysis
  3. Strategy discussion

Vocabulary focus

First, everyone from the group chooses a different page that they will interpret. Then they highlight everything they can understand on their page--cognates, verbs, conjunctions--even if it's repeated. Ideally, this establishes how much they already know and helps shift focus away from the unknown and perhaps lower the affective filter a smidge. It also makes the searches to follow a little more targeted.

To that end, I also made a little visual glossary for a few key words I knew were going to come in handy, and they copied it into their interactive notebooks.

Highlighting and glossing complete, we open the Doc and begin the real work.


  1. Everyone picks out ALL of the cognates they think they can find and lists them on their analysis page.
  2. Individuals may then choose up to SEVEN words they want to look up--but CANNOT look them up yet (everyone should jot down at least two).
  3. They must add their best guess for EVERY possible meaning/definition for the look-up words on their partners' Docs (or comment with "de acuerdo" if they think their partner's right.
  4. THEN after ALL the commenting, THEN they can look up the words on WordReference to confirm and fill in the definición correcta for each.


  1. Use the little folder next to the Doc title to organize and add their results Doc to the group folder within the shared class folder.
  2. Review each other's vocabulary and comment on partners' definition guesses (agree OR other suggestions)
  3. Comment on patterns observed in cognates.
  4. Return to your own Doc and look up words and add them to the Doc.

Information Analysis

Remember, the text here is not just a sample for interpreting: it is a source of ideas to improve their product marketing to appeal to el mercado hispano. And so, because I am not using the task to evaluate distinct skills like I would in an IPA, the young ones keep their graphic and textual analysis in Spanish, and they will start processing the information to extract what they can USE for their products and HOW.

Though the young ones did just spend roughly half a class carefully picking out what they can understand, scaffolding is still the name of the game. So break down graphics, THEN text.

Graphics & text interpretation

  1. Review the graphic(s) on your own page and summarize the information they represent in one sentence in Spanish.
  2. Explain why the group needs the information
  3. Explain how the group can use the information
  4. Copy at least 3 key phrases from the non-graphic text into the chart.
  5. Explain why the group needs the information in each key phrase.
  6. Explain how the group can use the information in each phrase.
  7. Review your group members' Docs and add a comment on at least one fact from each member's interpretation with another idea on how the group can use it.

The last step where they read each other's information is designed to set them up for a productive conversation about what they got from their respective pages. Honestly, I got tired of watching conversation videos where they copied off of each other's page instead of probing and answering. This way the conversation can serve as more of an inspiration gap than information gap, and they'll feel prepared to have it. 

Strategy Discussion

I need a set-up that requires asking questions at least as much as answering them, since the inability to come up with questions on the fly has been one of the culprits trapping some of my parrot babies at Novice Mid. So rather than feed them questions, each person gets a topic that needs to be addressed to connect the product to the audience, and they'll take down their partner's responses.

This means they have to ask the right questions, first!

To help prompt them, I provide little half-sheet recording boxes for each group, and they divvy up the topics, hopefully so everyone gets a topic they're comfortable with in an order they're comfortable with.  There are also a few hints that could help them come up with questions that will actually stimulate responses from their partners, descriptions like divertido and atractivo under Elementos del producto that questioners could turn into ¿Cómo es el producto divertido? or ¿Por qué es el producto atractivo? 

After groups have broken down two sections of this report accordingly, they should be well-prepared for their "executive" tasks. Each group member has selected a role for the whole product project, and with this information

  • The CEO should be ready to collect interview results and prepare their market research summary.
  • The Advertising Executive should be ready to coordinate a commercial that appeals to the Latino market.
  • The Manufacturing Executive should be able to design a prototype that would capture their demographic's eye.
  • And thee Technology Executive should be ready to set up a social media campaign that will take the mercado hispano by storm!

13 November 2015

Portfolio Days: 10 Steps to Successful Reflection

You really need a whole class period--and a pack of fun stickers--to update e-portfolios. You could maybe squeeze two updates into one class period, but you're basically just handing them excuses not to finish either if you do.

Not so long ago, portfolios were a thing I expected my precious pupils to get done on their own time. I made them test grades but didn't even allot them any of my own precious instructional time! What kind of message does that send? Furthermore, what kind of work can I expect if I'm not around for any part of the process?

Mind you, I don't have the porfolio process down to a science, but with Classcraft plus the magic words ("¡Uno, dos, tres! ¡No más inglés!"), I'd say we're largely approaching 90% TL at least, and I'm getting better quality in the portfolios this year than ever before (an improvement I attribute both to VoiceThread portfolio setup and the inclusion of "recommended samples" in the Classroom assignment).

So here's what portfolio days should look like.

1. Sticker time
Ninja Turtle stickers actually work much better than homemade
"Novice Mid Reading" stickers modeled on the digital badges.
Before we begin curation on Portfolio Days, I announce who earned a badge for the day's focus skill and award stickers.

My students have progress four charts in the back of their interactive notebooks, you see: leer, escuchar, hablar and escribir. After IPAs, they get to mark the level they achieved on that performance, but on Portfolio Day, they get stickers. I check each portfolio section 3 times during the semester, so there are 3 blocks.

When they demonstrate ALL of the ACTFL Can-Dos consistently in their portfolios, they get a badge on ForAllRubrics...and a sticker on their charts.

This has helped immensely with clarifying what level each kid needs to be working on.

Plus everyone who earns a sticker gets "tres en tres," three quick claps on the count of tres to acknowledge their accomplishment.

2. ForAllRubrics - View results
If I learned nothing else at FLANC 2015 (which, of course, I did), I learned that you MUST close the feedback loop. Karen Tharrington taught us that students must RESPOND to the feedback you give them, which means that they have to LOOK at it. So I have my students pull up their ForAllRubrics pages and see how they did on the skill for the day.

3. Identify problem objectives
Nearpod comes in handy here, because just saying "Look at your rubrics" and watching them pull them up doesn't quite close that feedback gap. They have to make sure they understand. So they respond to a quick open-ended question so I can see that they grasped why they didn't get full credit yet...or what they need to do to get started on the next level if they did get that Turtle sticker! This way I can get a quick read on whether or not they get what's missing.

4. Identify next steps
Another job for Nearpod. I mean, sure, they can copy what I put in the comments, but do they know what to do about it? Do they know what they have that will work to fill the hole?

5. Pledge on ForAllRubrics
Between the sticker and viewing their own results for the day's designated skill, the young ones should have a pretty good idea about what level they're on and what they actually need to focus on. So I have them click the badge that they must focus on to open up a pledge (this ensures they'll be able to see the results when I'm done scoring). They have to put something in the pledge box, so I just have them link to the page for the day's skill (which ForAllRubrics just made clickable for me!) The URL is not going to change, and I know I'll be able to get to whatever they've done.

6. Create/upload new title page
I really like having them separate their previous submissions from their current submissions. I suppose I could review everything every time...but I really don't have that kind of time--especially for the videos that have begun to exceed three minutes. This also helps students organize chronologically, because we want their best, most recent work at the front, so it reminds them to move it, and allows future viewers to see at a glance what level they're about to witness.

In the future I may have students create ALL of their potential title pages at once at the beginning of the semester, but I'd still have them upload each six weeks, to reflect their progress.

Title pages can be as simple or as fancy as you want.
Just be sure to use your time wisely!

7. Review ALL "Recommended Samples"
Making recommendations about which assignments could fulfill the objectives has gone a LONG way to getting me more fruitful results. However, it appears that by and large they're just plugging and chugging what I said could work without making sure what they personally submitted has anything to do with their designated objectives.

So I'm going to start calling on Nearpod even MORE to make sure they're listening to their videos, reading their IPA submissions, and COMPARING them to the actual objectives they're supposed to be proving they can do consistently. I'll have everybody pause, unearth ONE of their own designated samples, and then TELL me which objectives what they just witnessed actually being fulfilled.

Rinse, repeat. (There are usually only 3-5 recommendations.)

8. Identify remaining needs
Once they've seen what they HAVE, they're going to have to plan what they NEED. And put it in writing. On Nearpod again.

9. Upload and comment on samples
They'll take what they have that they can use and add it to the appropriate skill VoiceThread (at the front). And since they've been ignoring the edits I made on IPAs and screenshotting where I underlined problems and freaking ENGLISH words as if everything was ducky, I'm going to have to require a reflection comment on every slide now, to address those highlights and underlines at least. In fact, I'll have them include a comment with the objective(s) they think they're demonstrating.

10. Fill in the gaps and submit
If there are objectives uncovered, they need to create something new. Maybe a better version of something we already did, maybe something completely new. Once they need nothing else, they show me they know it's done after that, they submit the link on Classroom.

Now this process is about half current practice and half hopeful prediction at present. We have one more round of portfolios this semester, and I think I have some substantial gains to look forward to with these steps in place.

I just need to make sure to restock my Ninja Turtles first.

02 November 2015

Fall Conference Frenzy! (part 2) #TFLA15 #FLAM15 #STARTALK15 #ICTFL15

I got to enjoy my own state conference, but that's it for me this semester. Fortunately, the conferency goodness did not end with KWLA, IWLA, and EdcampWL, and I can keep learning from my tweecher peers online (and imagining myself in the selfies, right, Mme. Farabaugh?)

Please take selfies at #ACTFL15 for me! And, you know, maybe edit me in!

I like how #STARTALK15 focused on motivation and making kids want to learn--and moreover making teachers want to help students want to learn. Whether it's stories or feedback, it's about making language learning worth it and possible.

One of these days, I may have to conference in the land of my birth. In the meantime, I'm signed up for CSCTFL so I can at least be among my fellow Missourians if not on native soil. And of course I followed #FLAM15 fanatically.

There is NO ONE who marries Project-Based Learning and Comprehensible Input like Carrie Toth (unless maybe it's Kristy Placido...whose blogging I miss :( ...) Students should be changing the world with their language learning! Video contests to help real people gives language PURPOSE and cultivates a sense of community and soul for service! But even if your students aren't getting clean water to impoverished Central American communities, like Sra. Toth's, you can ALWAYS keep doing better for your students, bit by bit!

Seems like I was just in Texas last year...oh wait...Still, it looks like #TFLA15 was a #langchat POWERHOUSE, and it made me lonely for my amigos! Special thanks to #langchat mod @SECottrell of Musicuentos for tweeting some early language tips for our elementary amigos. @FriEDtechnology kept the keynote focused on MEANINGFUL learning, on keeping kids involved by doing something that MATTERS (I'm sensing a keynote theme here...) You can also check out some links to tips for going textbookless and questioning your way to proficiency. Also be sure to keep the brain in the back of your...brain? when lesson planning and dig into some fun brain breaks. And don't forget the music!

It turns out that all of the tweeting was really happening at #ICTFL15, and why not? @SenoraCMT , @WescottSpanish,@miprofeAP, and @adsamples know where it's at! Authenticity and purposeful struggle were the order of the day in workshops. Day 1 of sessions it was time for some intercultural introspection on how to get kids really connected with cultures outside their own--with questions, stories, and emotion. Also how many ways can you think of to retell a story? Did you ever consider a paper chain? Or creating infographics? Or a game of dominos? And how does learning actually flow? It's really more of a cycle than a line! And as Amy Lenord, the Language Coach has been telling us for years, we really need to be coaches who focus on the positive and push our students toward goals, rather than the disciplinarian of the past that discouraged all but the best and brightest.

Thank you so much to everyone tweeting from their local conferences for all of us to learn! Please remember us little people when you are living it up in San Diego! And, you know, maybe leave room in some selfies for a quick photoshop for your friends!