29 May 2015

Novice Performance on Personalized Final Exams

Would you look at that? The majority of my babies performed at Novice High or BETTER at the end of Spanish II!

Except listening. Ouch.

What you see is a graph of the results based on the personalized Genius Hour IPAs Spanish II completed during the week before exams (reading and listening) and on exam day (presentational speaking and writing plus interpersonal), as evaluated with AAPPL rubrics.

Not too shabby, huh?

Check out how they actually used the language presentation day too!

From the mouths of babes

They're masters at prepping their classmates, since they're novices too:
"Hoy soy científico."

And the circumlocution was astounding:
(for bow hunting presenter) "¿Qué animales tú...no más vida?

Videogames were a popular topic:
(comparing versions of Assassin's Creed) "No, tres es abajo. "
(describing features) "Es famoso para muchos muertes."
(comparing consoles) PRESENTER "¿Qué saben de Microsoft?" AUDIENCE "Sólo quieren dinero."

They're even comfortable enough to tease each other in the target language!
AUDIENCE "Mi favorito está tú" PRESENTER"Pero no te quiero."
PRESENTER "Olivia es feo." AUDIENCE "¡Mi corazón!" 
AUDIENCE (during películas de miedo presentation): "¡Quéeeee! ¡Nooo, mis ojos!" 
AUDIENCE "Lo siento, pero Scary Movie no es película de horror."

Are novices allowed to get this profound? Audience questions and responses:
"¿Es feminismo más importante de otros movimientos?"
"¿Es el meta de feminismo posiblemente?"
"Yo quiero crear un quantum computadura."

You can see they still make toddler-like mistakes, but most of them still have a toe or two in the Novice level, and according to AAPPL descriptores, even Intermediate Low means "You can do all of this in a way that your teacher and others who are used to language learners can understand what you are saying."

You can totally understand them right, Spanish teachers?


It occurs to me that the coros and ruletas probably did more good for reading than listening. If I want them to get past Novice Mid, I really need to wean them off of reading the lyrics. That was fine to get them TO Novice Mid, but not beyond. I'll also have to work some more non-musical native speaker videos in between IPAs.

Now North Carolina says that Presentational Speaking is the slowest skill to develop, but you can see that it's actually one of the skills my kids advanced most in. Maybe I'm cheating because I just adapted the AAPPL writing rubric and changed a few "writings" to "speech" or "speaking"? Maybe the speaking came at the cost of listening exposure? Or maybe my kids are smarter than North Carolina knows.

At this stage of the game, Intermediate Low counted as an A and Novice Low an F. The kids all seemed to think that was pretty fair. I toyed with the idea of using a similar scale with Spanish I next year, and I ran the idea by a few intermediates. They said that was cruel for one semester (sorry @tmsaue1). We did agree, though, that Novice Low should not be passing, so it won't be quite the same scale as I'd originally envisioned.

But overall, my biggest surprise is just how well everything worked toward meeting these goals this semester! I know some of my CI compatriots are used to this sort of success, but I had never 1) measured this way before or 2) dared set my expectations this high!

It just goes to show that high expectations, personalization, and careful scaffolding lead to strong performance!

27 May 2015

ForAllRubrics: Proficiency Badges Made Easy

ForAllRubrics has helped refocus students' attention on proficiency and learning. Sure, there's still a little grade grubbing here and there, but now instead of requests for extra credit, I get requests to redo and fix--to demonstrate proficiency! Now students talk in terms of Novice Mid and Intermediate Low instead of ABC or 9/10 or 70%, and they want to get badges for where they really feel they are performing!

Still, there's been a bit of a learning curve, so allow me so share what didn't work, what I'm going to do about it, and what YOU can do to get started in 10 steps!

REFLECTION (Pledgification saves the day!)
Part of my problem this semester was that I allowed self-evaluation and peer-evaulation before the kiddos had the option of pledging for a badge. They weren't exactly qualified to evaluate their proficiency that early in the semester, so there were badges going out willy nilly.

I mean, the ACTFL can-dos are pretty straightforward, but kids who still say "qué es tu llamo" maybe shouldn't be evaluating how consistently someone can ask questions, even if we're assuming a sympathetic audience.

So next year, I may not have to keep a spreadsheet. When I go to the badges page, I will be able to see what they really have  earned at a glance...without interference from willy-nilly badges.

Also, pre-pledges, I set up assignments as "self evaluation," "peer evaluation," and "teacher evaluation." What would have been more useful (post-pledgification) is to go ahead and make assignments as follows:

  • Portfolio - 1st 6 weeks
  • IPAs - 1st 6 weeks
  • Portfolios - 2nd 6 weeks
  • IPAs - 2nd 6 weeks
  • Portfolio - 3rd 6 weeks
  • IPAs - 3rd 6 weeks
Because what I really needed to know was what was completed when. I thought I could just go by the dates that I'd created the rubrics, but that meant remembering the date that each 6 weeks ended (or grades were due), and that taxes my poor little working memory (which is kind of bad with dates and times to begin with). Also, if a kid caught a mistake that I made after the fact--maybe forgot to badge them for IPA performance--then the date wouldn't match up with the grading period it was earned.

Also, I'm very pleased with the dual routes to badgification (it's a word...it could be). Of course students' portfolios should reflect EVERYTHING they can do, but that gets kind of exhausting (I'm looking at you, kids who submitted TWENTY minutes worth of video for ONE section and/or 8 different links to open). And really, I think potential employers and/or college placement evaluators could get the gist without EVERY can-do being "consistently" represented. And, I mean, if kiddos have 2 IPAs that demonstrate a certain level in a certain skill, I'd say that's close enough for government work.

What I REALLY would like next is an easy way to export badges. I mean, sure, I have my video for adding individual images to Livebinders, but if kids could just click for an embed code with all of their badges--rubric meta data included--to copy and paste, well wouldn't that be a wonderful world?


1. Create a portfolio template. Or, you know, steal one of mine. I've got Google Sites with ACTFL Can-Dos and Linguafolio objectives as well as Livebinders with ACTFL Can-Dos. I might do something with Thinglink next year, too (post forthcoming).

2. Students create their own copies. Maybe let them personalize them a little bit, at least with their names, maybe a brief intro, photo, or vido.

3. Collect links to students' portfolio copies: they'll need help, and you'll want to be able to see where they are even if they haven't turned in their latest links yet. Google Sites are nice because if they're submitted under assignments on Classroom, you get editing privileges AND you can see when they were edited. NOTE: some kiddos will end up creating multiple copies, and this one may end up being the "wrong" one--but at least you have something.

4. Set up your classes in ForAllRubrics. I recommend having a spreadsheet with their name, ID number, and email address ready to go for easy importing.

5. Copy applicable rubrics from the ForAllRubrics library. I've set up everything from Novice Mid through Intermediate Mid (sorry, I've never taught anything above Spanish III), and ForAllRubrics has been nice enough to gather them under a @SraSpanglish tab!

6. Share the collections with your classes. Go to Manage Collections under the Admin button at the top. I've grouped all rubrics under Interpretive, Interpersonal, and Presentational.

7. Show students how to log in and pledge. I have mine go to Discover Badges, pick the badge, then copy the objectives, pick "consistently" or "sometimes," and name some evidence they have--or will have--that would show each. Maybe you want them to include links, too, but I've been having mine submit them on Google Classroom so I can give them a grade out of an even 10 rather than random uneven quantities of 20, 40, or 70.

8. Create assignment names based on your grading period. I generally create assignment names as I grade--but I only need one assignment for portfolios

9. Evaluate pledges. Check, check, check!

10. Conference with students about what they need next. I've decided homework choices will no longer be weekly, but between IPAs (every 3 weeks or so), after I sit down with each student and pick a target area.

25 May 2015

LMS Heavyweight Smackdown: Schoology vs Edmodo vs Google Classroom

My house is so much neater since I discovered Learning Management Systems. Well, I mean, it would be if it weren't for the first grader and pre-schooler I share it with. But you get my point: no more piles of papers sliding off various surfaces, and my little paperclip stash is no longer strewn throughout four different rooms.

Suffice it to say, Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Schoology, Edmodo, and Google Classroom have changed my life for the better.

But which LMS is better?

I've tried all three of the platforms above, and there is no denying that I have my preferences. Let me give you a little insight as to what they are and why

There are basically eight things I'm looking for in a Learning Management System:

  • Schoolwide integration
  • Assignment delivery to students
  • Assignment collection from students
  • Messages/reminder relay to students
  • Grade tracking and feedback
  • Mobile access
  • Setting customization (ie gradebooks weights and grouping)

And above all, it must be a FREE platform.

An LMS can also earn brownie points with me for things like having a hopping educator community, possibly communities for students. I'm also a big fan of badges, but I've got workarounds if they're not built into the LMS. Integration with other web apps is another big bonus.

Things I, personally, don't care much about are quiz functions and forum options. The closest thing I've given to a quiz in the last year or two is an EDPuzzle IPA listening section, so integration with sites like EDPuzzle is a lot more useful to me than self-grading quizzes I have to go back and score with my AAPPL rubrics anyway. Also, I try to keep interpersonal exchanges out loud as much as possible, though I think blog comments are a good place to "talk" to each other online.

The fight was rigged. I got a taste of Edmodo, but then moved to a school that already had all of its students on Schoology. I could have rebelled and made my class join yet another site, but schoolwide integration is a Big Thing for me because it means that students are on that site getting notifications daily one way or another. Also, they've been suffering from login overload already, the poor dears.

And so I used Schoology for two years, albeit grudgingly.

I've got to say that the assignment delivery for Edmodo and Schoology were comparable, but the student turn-in for Schoology was slightly more complicated. You'd THINK syncing with Google Drive accounts would make things easier, but mostly it left kiddos dumbfounded as to what to do if it didn't work for whatever reason. And there were so many ways to turn something in.
Actually, on both Edmodo and Schoology, kids would often leave a comment instead of turning in, which was vexing when I was trying to quick check who had submitted something and who hadn't.

The gradebooks on both of these sites were pretty nice, though Edmodo's was more navigable, and Schoology's was more customizable (handy in a district with six-week grading periods, . The ability to highlight, doodle, and add comments on documents for both sites was AWESOME, especially when I was teaching Creative Writing (although Schoology's fickle highlighter caused me a few hours of cumulative frustration those semesters).

What I missed most with the transition from Edmodo to Schoology, though, was the communities on Edmodo. AmigoWeb was a cool thing for students to practice with each other across the country, and there were also some cool communities for educators to connect and find each other. Schoology's communities have been growing lately (I still get the notifications) so there is that, but it's harder to connect students to each other or find random language teachers with whom to collaborate.

The badges were pretty cool on both (until Schoology made it a PAID feature!!), but Edmodo definitely has it all over every other LMS for integration--they're almost a baby Google with how many ways you can post to and from Edmodo! Plus their app was SWEET. I could casually grade assignments from my phone, either as I walked around or tried to stay awake during boring whole-school assemblies. Schoology's was pretty handy, too, but opening files to score on the phone was not as easy.

Schoology totally lost me, though, when access to the school roster of students became a paid feature. A school of under 250 does not need to fork over enough for a whole school account, sorry.

But then Google Classroom came along. We were already a Google school, so slam dunk for schoolwide integration. And, yeah, Google "targets your interests" with ads, but personally that doesn't make me feel squicky or double-plus bad, so FREE. Plus the push notifications from both the site and the kids' Google e-mails makes it more likely the young ones will get their assignments. In fact, my kids would rather have a Classroom class to coordinate our after school club than a Facebook page! Now, you can't trick out the assignment itself with so much as an underline, but you can attach a Google Doc with all the italics and bold and formatting you want.

And Google? Google IS integrated with everything. Although I'm still disappointed that the it's mostly just log-in level at this point, that much is a godsend to the memory-deprived among my young ones. Still, I wish ForAllRubrics and Google would work out a deal so Classroom could use their badges too, like Edmodo does.

But the assignment collection COULD NOT BE EASIER. And I LOVE being able to see how many have what turned in at a glance (and of course being able to send them a quick "can I help?" email). The Drive integration is less convoluted, and students can turn in files and even links to other sites (hint--they know they can turn in a link instead of submitting from their Drive if they don't want you to see their revision history, ie work completed after due date/time). Also, they have a glaring red LATE mark that they can't get rid of until they click Turn in.

And while I KNOW Google is continually improving, I'm still a little cheesed about not being able to GRADE from my mobile app. Also, I would kill for a Google gradebook--there simply is no spreadsheet functionality to see a kid's grades for multiple assignments. So you can forget about setting up grading periods or weighting (although that does make it easier to give feedback in forms they're used to without sullying your standards-based gradebook).

I'm a Google girl. I'll wait for my app accessibility and just keep using Classroom on browsers to grade in the vet's office. I'm required to enter grades in PowerSchool separately anyway (Schoology's PowerSchool integration? PAID.) I do occasionally miss Edmodo interactions and easy badging, but there's no substitute for the familiarity, the ubiquity of the Google machine when it comes to helping kids.

#1 post of 2015

23 May 2015

Local LangCamp

We have yet to pull off a face-to-face LangCamp to get our LangChat compañeros together to plot and plan over the summer. But that doesn't mean we can't have our own LangCamp parties close to home!

I think North Carolina's Analysis of Student Work portfolios for teacher evaluation are pushing a lot of people to begin the shift toward proficiency-based courses. Turning in a bunch of vocab and grammar quizzes is NOT going to align with NC Essential Standards for world languages, and it will NOT get you labeled an effective educator.

It was all I could do not to burst out in song during that snow day meeting of language educators in my district when one colleague voiced what she thought would be an unpopular suggestion: maybe PD in the summer to get ready for next year?

Heck. Yeah.

So I've been thinking about what we could do and how we could do it to meet everyone's learning needs. I really want this to happen.

What I envision is a sort of Edcamp for language educators. Basically, everyone who wants to work shows up, and we decide what we want to work on specifically and break off. Edcamps are typically a day-long event, so we could probably get a few different rounds in for those who want to work on a few different things (more if we could figure out lunch! Maybe we could go in on some pizza?) We could have 2 or 3 concurrent sessions (depending on how many show up) for maybe three or four hour-long rounds, and then a final sharing time.

I brainstormed some topics I think local amigos might go for, but of course with the Edcamp model, people could add more suggestions, and we'd all vote to decide which sessions we'll actually do!

Possible local LangCamp topics:
  • understanding and assessing proficiency levels
  • project-based learning
  • novice units and activities (levels 1 & 2)
  • intermediate units and activities (levels 3 & 4)
  • AP planning
  • finding and using authentic Spanish texts & videos for novices 
  • finding and using authentic Spanish texts & videos for intermediates
  • finding and using authentic [other language] texts & videos for novices/intermediates
  • rubrics and assessments
  • ASW backward planning
  • assessing for proficiency
  • personalization and student engagement
  • teaching in the target language
  • adapting textbook activities
  • infographs in the language classroom
  • interactive notebooks
  • cool apps and websites for language learning & communication
  • community connections
  • focus on interpretive skills (reading/listening)
  • focus on interpersonal skills (conversation)
  • focus on presentational skills (writing/speaking)
  • student portfolios
  • flipped classroom
My question to my LangChat amigos is this: if we build it, will you come? I mean, I'm not 100% sure that we could invite outside parties, but I'm checking on it. I'm sure we could accommodate a few fellow Carolinians at least.

If we still can't work out the face-to-face time, rest assured that we can still collaborate via LangCamp Google Community this summer. Plus we'll have ten LangCamp Google Hangout sessions during the month of July, starting on the 1st. Edcamp style, we're going to figure out who's going then pick the topic for each session, so be sure to vote on days and times for week 2, week 3, week 4, and week 5.

Either way, I can't wait for a summer of mind melding!

17 May 2015

Don't Teach in the Target Language

Forget teaching in the target language. Forget teaching in the L1 too, for that matter. There's a third language that you should be spending 90% of class time using.


I owe Thomas Sauer for the discovery of this language when he turned me on to John De Mado's The Principled Approach via #langchat.

Read it. It is the secret of life...or at least of language teaching.

The whole article is a revelation, but it's #7 of John De Mado's 10 Organizing Principles for Language and Acquisition that has been ringing through my head through every class every day since:

If only I had been thinking of language in these terms when I was a drowning seventh year n00b babbling in the target language whenever I could to meet ACTFL recommendations. We might have avoided those L2 hangover headaches that afflicted me the first few times I went to Mexico. Or even by my tenth year, so those kiddos who graduated last week would not have been reminiscing about my panicked cries of "Ninety percent! Ninety percent!" when they spoke English.

Finally here at the close of my 12th year teaching (10th teaching Spanish), I've got classes full of Spanish II kiddos proud to hit 90% on a regular basis with just a little gamified incentive.

If I were still trying to teach in the L2, this would not be possible.

Instead, my answers to their questions, my instructions before they begin, my cues and comments throughout the day, they're all carefully selected interlanguage* now.

I used to obsess about exposing students to the most authentic language possible as soon as possible. Well I remember trying to parse Mexican Spanish without knowing the definition of pos or pues, so I did my damnedest to keep my kids treading water in the deep end from the start.

Sadly, I think more drowned than learned to swim that way.

Now, I still firmly believe that students need exposure to authentic language as early as possible, if only in Pinterest and infograph form. And while we have a song--or three--of the week each week, my data tells me I need to do more to expose them to authentic audio so they will be able to survive in wilds of the local mercado. For all my Spanish classes and visits with the ex-suegra, the language I create for them will never be authentic, so they have to hear and read the language from others, from native speakers before they have to fend for themselves.

It makes me think of my son as a toddler. The boy could watch Thomas the Tank Engine for hours on end if I'd let him, absorbing every lesson. He'd hang on just about every word of Love You Forever and There's a Monster at the End of this Book. But let me ask that child to put his banana peel in the trash? Suddenly I was talking Martian.

I didn't have the option of resorting to my almost-two-year-old's L1--he didn't have one yet, really. I had to keep it simple, stick to words he'd heard over and over (but couldn't say), and check for understanding every few words. I had to take it step by step and scale back even from the language I know he'd heard from Thomas and Grover a million times.

That's what you do with novices. You speak their language. And for novice L2 learners, their language is interlanguage.*

*My hero and colleague Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell has pointed out that my understanding of what interlanguage means was not in line with Sr. De Mado's original intent. It turns out interlanguage is more a language we as educators need to interpret rather than speak. Check out this interview with John De Mado for more information, and watch out for a post from me on Interlanguage Secret Decoders!

#2 in the Top 5 posts of 2015

14 May 2015

Why I Need More Verba Packs

Verba was one of the most exciting misiones we've had in Classcraft so far.

When I gamified Genius Hour for the end of the semester, I set up about 10 misiones or "eventos aleatorios" for us to start each day. In one misión, the student with the most Action Points on each team had to win a round of Verba or lose 15 AP.

They were hooked.

There was some frustration, but when I followed up with the frustrated parties, it turns out the bitter taste had more to do with the loss of points in Classcraft from the mission. (I mean, the original event just had people losing points--at least they got a chance to keep them!)

So now I'm trying to get my hands on a few more copies of the game to play next year, so I kicked in on the Kickstarter campaign. The problem is, I won't get MY copies if more people don't kick in too!

Of course I could always download and print some packs for free, but we're talking some hefty decks--a lot of ink and paper! Plus there's just something

With more Verba packs I could...

  • Start class with a giggle by passing each student a handful of noun cards on the way into class and drawing a sentence card
  • Reserve one pack for checkout and make Verba a homework choice 
  • Add a new station to First Day Fun Stations to dive right into using the language
  • Have students write new cards to emphasize sentence structures we're focusing on
  • Reinforce TPRS stories by having students substitute nouns from the story
  • See which group can come up with the funniest story from their matches
  • Try stringing some cards together in a story skeleton like @kballestrini
  • Help students set goals by sorting cards according to what they know and want to know
  • Practice new structures by having students change the form of their match to get the point
  • Have students write stories/skits to share with elementary kids around their favorite match
  • Set up spontaneous conversation topics for interpersonal practice
  • Invite parents or native speakers from the community to a game night to show off students' target language skills
  • Play like a a going-on-a-picnic style icebreaker to bring the class together, early on or for review
  • Or simply reward kids who finish a task early with a quick game while others finish

Now I bribed my students with some HP points for Classcraft to write up their honest opinions--extra if it was in Spanish. If I haven't made it clear why you should invest in some Spanish Verba packs, well, don't take my word for it. Just look at what my kids had to say after one round!

12 May 2015

Personalized Genius Hour IPA Final

Each of my students gets his or her very own personally tailored final exam this year.

Students have spent the last three weeks prior to exams rounding up resources (infographs, articles, videos, and contacts--to say nothing of the Pinterest pins and Diigo list from earlier in the Genius Hour process) and then breaking them down to plan their final presentation.

Now, this final IPA is not an IPA in the strictest sense of the term. I mean, I'm sacrificing a little spontaneity in these performances, and they're stretched out over a week or so. But it is an assessment that consists of performances on an integrated topic.

Actually, a bunch of integrated topics. A different one for each student.

Now you may be asking, Do you have a death wish, Sra. Spanglish?

And well you may ask. But I have a plan..and a secret.

Exam Day format
Since this is The Big One, I'm assessing all 5 communicative skills. The presentational speaking and writing pretty much take care of themselves on exam day: they make a presentation--be it Google Slides, Prezi, trifold, or poster--wherein they write about their topic in Spanish; they talk about it in front of the class, then engage the class in conversation about the whole thing.

Now the kiddos know the basics of the AAPPL rubrics from 5 previous IPAs (though I went ahead and linked it on the Google Classroom assignment), and basically they just have to say enough to get the level they want: in writing, out loud, and in conversation.

So on exam day, they'll talk about their topic, not reading from their presentation but using it as sort of a guide--as they've learned to do so well in their Public Speaking class. They'll throw out some questions to the class, get them talking, show they can keep the conversation going, and voilà, interpersonal too, All scored with my handy dandy AAPPL rubrics (or the cheaty versions I made).

Now, I know taking a few days to create a presentation is not strictly IPA procedure, and not exactly spontaneous production of language, but it's a performance I can measure that allows them to demonstrate what they are capable of as completely as possible.

I think Exam Day will be pretty quick grading, minimal prep on my part.

It's what comes BEFORE Exam Day that kind of proves I'm a little loony.

Resource selection
I went ahead and scheduled the reading portion of the IPA a week before exam day and the listening portion two days later (somehow we have a field trip in between the week before exams??) My students are a lot more comfortable with reading, and in theory they could add my brilliant resources and their interpretations to their presentation before The Big Day. Or at least reinforce common vocabulary so they're more at ease come presentation time.

First, I went through the IPA scores in my gradebook to get a feel for what level each kid should be aiming for: are they definite novices who need an infograph or pushing the edges of intermediate and in need of something meatier? I cross-referenced with my portfolio spreadsheet to see which level they've been working on and have been able to demonstrate consistently. I made a list of who should have infographs to take care of them first (although I ended up kind of bouncing around anyway).

I also peeked at their "Pregunta principal" blog post and their recent key phrase and summary posts to see what they were looking for and what they had already found. I at least found something relevant to what they were looking for and pinned it to my IPA board:

Follow Laura Sexton - PBL in the TL's board Final IPA: Interpretive Reading on Pinterest.

I'm still working on the listening one. It'll be a separate board but a similar procedure.

So far, resource collection is taking me about 5-10 minutes per student.  But here's the secret to my success this semester: I only have 33 students. Total. All in the same prep. (I told you I sleep. Also, I will be happy to compost any rotten fruit that must be hurled in my direction at this point.) So I'm looking at about five hours total ...not counting the part where I stop and blog about the process.

Of course this all would have been easier if I had started collecting from the moment they established their driving question, as I had originally intended. But, since procrastination isn't just for kids, and the reading portion is upon us, there are also some corners to be cut:
  • pick a resource they haven't interpreted yet from their own collection
  • pick a resource from a classmate with a similar topic
  • assign the same resource to multiple people with similar topics
And again, I cannot emphasize enough that I SHOULD have been collecting resources on my Pinterest board as I was checking things off. Crunch time would have been a lot less crunchy, and the 5 hours would have been absorbed into regular grading...more or less.

After our great success at the Lenoir-Rhyne Foreign Language Festival (three trophies, in case you hadn't heard), I was a little disheartened at the festival IPA results. In truth, students had overall maintained their proficiency in most areas, and actually advanced, some by leaps and bounds, in reading and writing (though...we weren't really focusing on those, so...comprehensible input? portfolios? magic...?)

Therefore, I'm anticipating overall similar results. I'm hoping some of the struggling students feel more confident with the familiar context they've been immersing themselves in all semester and that they'll be able to move up a bit.

Looking even further ahead, I'm not sure what this is going to mean when I go back to my Spanglish teaching and add another prep and double my student load.

I do know that I'll know to get started sooner and how to do it, though!