22 June 2015

Spanish Teacher on Vacation: What to do with the cool stuff you find

I took my son to visit his abuelos in Mexico for the first time last June. Now every single time he gets an assignment to write about somewhere he went, it's Mexico. Well, really, it was that way all through kindergarten before he went, too.

So what's the perspective behind
this practice?
For Paolo, the experience was about huge hamburgers on the beach, nonstop cartoons in Spanish, making a friend here and there, and mostly getting spoiled by the abuelos at every turn.

For me, it was definitely about broadening my baby's horizons and spending time with people I love.

But it was also about the realia.

A checker at the store we frequented thought there must have been a huge book sale the way I was stalking up. "No, she's a teacher," my ex-suegra said.

I took about a zillion photos of everything I saw, too--especially signs and anything with the target language on it. I posted some of the more fascinating things to our summer Google Community and pinned others. I'm just glad I didn't get arrested with all of the pictures I was taking (I even snuck one of the police guarding the ATM at the bus station because culture).

Follow PBL in the TL's board Letreros on Pinterest.

This year while I'm in Peru with the local Sister Cities group, I plan to lay off the picture books and keep my receipt and packaging hording to a minimum (I have a problem, I know--but currency!)

Instead, I have a more organized, take-only-pictures approach to what I want to capture. I set up an Instagram account (separate from my defunct daily objectives one) and planned some hashtags someone interested in some authentic resources might follow, then channeled them into some IFTTT recipes to send my photos to separate Evernote notebooks! And then for the really good stuff, I'll go back and add some links to things like Wikipedia articles for more information.

Now what am I going to do with all of this glorious photographic authenticity in class?

Well, it has to do with fun and the first day.

Find out what it means to...I...
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell brought up a really good point about culture recently, and using one of my favorite words in education: inquiry. I really want to set the stage for really considering culture from square one, and First Day Fun Stations are really about setting the tone for the class.

Now, to tell the truth, I don't think I got the mileage I wanted to out of the Google Translate station or the spaghetti tower really. And really, I haven't figured out a way to work SSR back in productively since it flopped last year, so I think this will be a good substitute for the shelfie station.

So what are the young ones going to DO with my carefully curated photograph collections?

They're going to inquire.

I've got the questions, but the answers are first going to come from a combination of what they see and what they assume. Yes, yes, I know what happens when you assume. But isn't that how all cultural interaction works? You observe and guess about what's going on based on your prior knowledge and experiences? But then, if you're a globally minded, you actually research and verify your suppositions.

So here's how the station process is going to work:
  1. Pick an Evernote notebook you want to explore: Arte, Comida, or Sitios.
  2. Pick a photo from the notebook that interests you and explain why you find it interesting.
  3. Explain what cultural product is depicted in the photograph. What is it? What do you know just looking at it, and what can you guess?
  4. Compare this product to something you've seen before: how is it similar and different?
  5. Make some guesses: why does this product exist? who uses it? when do or did they use it? what is its appeal?
  6. Follow the link in the picture's note to find out more about the product and answer these questions:
  • Where did this product come from?
  • What makes it different from products you've seen before?
  • How do you think people who use this product see it? Why?
  • What do you understand about the culture that produced this product that you did not before?

Of course the #SXTNletrero hashtag will come in handy for meeting ACTFL objectives about public notices in their portfolios, and maybe I can work in a few more homework choices, perhaps with a #SXTNvideo hashtag of me interviewing, oh, everyone in Spanish to work on listening.

But really, I'm spending my vacation time finding good stuff for my kids so they can dig into what culture means from the start.

And if this means more of my own babies come on the Sister Cities trip with me next year, all the better!

19 June 2015

Alphabet Soup Units, part 2: Storytime (PBL + TPRS + IPA)

Storytime is the second step in my Alphabet Soup unit model, which combines Project-Based Learning (PBL), Target Language instruction (TL), Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), Integrated Performance Asessments (IPA), ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL), and Teaching Like a Pirate (TLAP).

This process gives my units a clearer vision of where we're headed as well as solid ways to support progress in BOTH students' proficiency AND authentic projects. I will be breaking down each step in the process on my Alphabet Soup page.

Stories are for spoon feeding. Get the kiddos the essential nutrients (i.e. vocabulary, structures) they need to grow strong and healthy for research, discussion, and genuine engagement, using a funny twist to make it stick.

In Keys to Assessing Language Performance, Paul Sandrock breaks vocabulary down into active, essential-to-learn vocabulary and the vocabulary that is important for passive recognition (3). For PBL, the active vocabulary has got to be what students use to communicate A) with their partners and B) with their audience at the end.

Me, I'm working on building both into topical TPRS stories for each PBL unit that I work on.

I work the active vocabulary into a select few repeated TPRS structures and try to weasel in some more of the common passive stuff where I can, though they can also pick up a lot of passive vocabulary from context and visual cues in the authentic texts during their in-depth inquiry--not to mention their own discussions.

So here's my process for coming up with the story.

1. Pick the vocabulary
I pick THREE key structures, usually essential verbs that will help with project planning and presenting, and then brainstorm the vocabulary they're going to need and come up with a theme to tie it all together, like a kid who hates reading or a reality TV talent show. In the future I want to be more intentional about picking my authentic texts that will come up in the IPAs and build some of the words and phrases that would make good active vocabulary from there, too.

2. Make it weird
Once I have a unit theme, I think of ways to tie it together and make it really weirdMartina Bex has been my guru on the TPRS front, and she allows students a lot of input in how weird to make the story. Martina lets her students pick the endings, but I find I can make it weirder if I make it up (eating cookbooks, dude's crush falling in love with his robot). Also, my young ones are self-conscious teenagers, and a bit contrarian, so they have a hard time 1) coming up with a funny ending and 2) agreeing on one.

3. Squeeze in some choice
I do leave blanks for students to pick things like character names: this year we've had classmates' names, country singers' names, Bon Qui Qui, Bob Marley, and Chupacabra--these kids were this way when I found them, I promise. I also pick out other things they can have input in, like instruments they play, dances they do, chores a robot does for you, and books desperate parents read. It was kind of useful. One way I've found to scaffold the choices so I can offer possible names, dances, chores, etc. is to create a Google Form of the story for students to preview. My kiddos tend to struggle with listening, so this helps them feel more at ease with familiar words they've seen written before/recently.

4. Write the story
I usually write the whole story out before I dissect it into questions and fill-in-the-blanks.

5. Set up the materials
I then break the story down into questions so I can ask the story instead of telling it all. This helps ensure that students are getting as much comprehensible input as possible AND engaging with the language actively. Me, I make a SMARTboard slide with a visual to associate with the story, post the questions to the side and hide them to be revealed one by one. I also make a copy of the story that will go in their interactive notebooks, but with the three key structures turned into blanks, and the class choices (names, instruments, etc.) turned into starred blanks (a different number of starts for each choice).

Then comes storytime! Here's a video of how that looks in my class:

I start reading through the story and pause to reveal and ask my questions and then jot down answers on a blank spot on the SMART slide to be saved for review later. Review takes place in four steps:
See, they're STORIES, so they look like
BOOKS in the notebooks!

  1. Listen to the story, pausing to fill in key structures and class choices (then paste in notebooks).
  2. Take turns reading the story to a partner.
  3. Take turns asking questions about the story with a partner (I usually pick key question words).
  4. Summarize 3-5 key points from the story in Spanish.

I've got a few example stories posted so you can see the evolution of the process and maybe get some inspiration, too!

Look out for the next Alphabet Soup post on Group Planning: PBL + TL.

16 June 2015

Interactive Infograph Proficiency Portfolio

When students leave my class, they should have a record of what they've accomplished, tangible evidence of their proficiency. I want them to have that evidence at their fingertips when they're applying for jobs or looking to skip some college Spanish courses down the road.

A portfolio is a useful tool.

Also, as I am often reminded, proficiency is by definition something demonstrated consistently, with a variety of functions, contexts, and text types, so any IPA is inherently going to fall short, as each only represents a single performance of each skill.

So how can I ensure that kids have something worthwhile to take with them and that both of us still have our sanity at the end of the semester?
Move VoiceThread links up the proficiency scale
and post badges to the side to show your progress!
Streamlined standards
Here's the thing. My kids hate doing portfolios. I hate grading them. It takes so much time on both ends, and some of the Can-Dos are so niggling and specific.

And fake. I can't explain why my kids should have to point at stuff in "pictures or posters" to get to the next level. Or why they HAVE to introduce someone they know and give their "basic information." Also providing evidence that they could understand courtesy phrases consistently got a little tricky a few months after we quit trying to pretend we hadn't all known each other for three years.

So, yes, after I spent hours setting up ACTFL Can-Do based rubrics--barely a week after I posted about how well they worked--I'm making new rubrics (still with ForAllRubrics, mind you).

One way to  streamline this process and to cut to the proficiency-based chase is to switch from scoring 5 skills to 4. I deal in novices. Novices generally don't do much with presentational speaking anyway, right? Most is interpersonal. Shoot, OPIs, the be-all, end-all of proficiency evaluation, are interpersonal!

Plus the holistic IPA scores based on AAPPL rubrics have been a lot more meaningful for my kiddos this past semester than the Can-Dos that drove them crazy, and I think they'd mean more to employers and other people who need impressing later.

Improved displays
The kids liked Livebinders, and they discovered VoiceThread was really useful for assembling evidence of, well, any kind!
Speaking? Upload a video!
Writing? Upload a photo, .doc, or screenshot!
Interpersonal? Take turns commenting on an image!
Reading? Screenshot or photograph the text and comment your interpretation!
Listening? Upoad a video and comment that interpretation too! 
Too bad kiddos only get five free VoiceThreads. Otherwise I'd have them make a VoiceThread for each level of each skill. Instead, I'll just have them create one VoiceThread for each skill, then add 3 samples to the beginning of the VoiceThread for each level.

But since they only get so many, it's kind of silly to split it all up into LiveBinders tabs. And I'd really like something more visual and more immediate. Like ThingLink!

I made a proficiency cone template they can use--or they could upload their own creation from the beginning of the course (post forthcoming)--so all they have to do is upload and link their four VoiceThreads! Then as they progress, they can move the links around as they move up the proficiency scale AND they can add their ForAllRubrics badge images as they earn them just by adding a link with the image URL (and maybe the proficiency descriptors).

I am entranced by infograph resumes, and you know I love me a good infograph syllabus. Really, if I could get all of my information via infograph, I think I would--so simple and straight to my brain!

Do you think students and potential employers will feel the same way about infograph portfolios?

12 June 2015

5 Tips on How to Write Narratives for the NC ASW

I never got my Analysis of Student Work results back from the pilot last year, but I think my National Boards experience prepared me well for exactly this sort of thing. So while I can't tell you for sure that I'm going to get a "Distinguished" or even a "Proficient" on anything, I can say with some confidence that they'll allow me to continue working in the state of North Carolina, whether or not the Race to the Top funding runs out...

CONNECT your examples to the objectives you selected.
Alas, it is too late to pick new objectives. Hopefully, you have a solid stockpile of evidence for your selected students that you can actually connect to the objectives you picked. If not, this year you may have to make do. If so, make sure your interpersonals are interpersonal (that's ANY objective with a 1.something), your interpretives are interpretive (2.somethings), your presentationals are presentational (3.somethings) and your culturals are cultural (4.somethings).


In your narrative, make sure the evaluators see that you have matched the communication mode of the objective to what you're showing them. Use language from the objective itself, e.g. "phrases and short sentences" or "main idea and supporting details."

No really. The 'splainin' is what they
really want anyway. [Image]
GIVE the background and time frame for your assignments.
You might be able to squeeze everything the evaluators need to know in your Supporting Documents, especially if they happen to include due dates. Just be sure they know what they're looking at and what kind of time went into it.

If it only took your young ones a week to get better, then all the better! If we're talking one end of the semester to the next, that's important too so the growth is, well, believable. If there should perhaps be more growth in the designated amount of time, you might have some 'splainin' to do, but that's why the narratives exist FOR 'splainin'. Just, you know, hint at all the other cool stuff you did in between.

Which brings me to the next tip.

ADD relevant stuff that makes your class look more rounded.
I was careful to throw in all the countries that were represented in the ruletas activities and to allude to gamification successes and all the other authentic resources students tapped in their previous Genius Hour steps to build up their interpretive skills. Don't spend TOO much time or energy on this part, as it is not what is specifically required, but I bet it might help nudge an evaluator who is on the fence about whether you "meet" or "exceed" growth.

If you can exceed growth,
always exceed growth.
EXPLAIN the problems each student demonstrates in Point 1.
The whole point of the portfolio is to show that you made a kid better. Well, three kids better. Nine if you're counting the kids from all of your objectives this year. Fifteen next year, presumably.

This means they can't be perfect from the start. Now I've found three ways to approach this:

  1. I set this task up so they all they did was something very basic, or 
  2. Check out this individual kid's problem areas, or
  3. All of the above
Whenever possible, go with All of the above simply because you can make a more solid case for something actually changing because of something you did.

But you need to show that they got better in the objectives you selected. If you MUST you can include how they went from present to past tense, or their spelling is much better, but that's icing.

HINT: you want to pick something that is no longer or a problem--or is less of a problem--by Point 2.

INCLUDE strategies you used between Point 1 and Point 2 to fix the problems given in Point 1.
Come on, credit where credit's due, amigos! Think of every little thing you did in class that could account for those problems cited in Point 1 having gone away--or at least decreased in some way. Ideally, you would have carefully analyzed each sample of student work throughout the semester and carefully selected activities designed to remedy each and every linguistic ailment each or your precious angels demonstrated.

Yeah, me neither.

But you DID do things that helped. Point out what got better and connect it to something you did, whether it was daily conversation practice, peer editing and revising writing samples, or singing a pop song chorus now and then.

Like our students, we have the capacity
to get better too.

If you got this far, you're probably a pretty decent teacher, or at the very least have the potential to become one. If for some reason your evidence does not lend itself to 'splainin' or even very well aligned this year, remember we've got two more years to "meet growth" and consider this the "before" in your "before and after" progression and start bulking up for next year.

May I suggest LangCamp for your workout plan?

10 June 2015

How to Collect Evidence for the NC ASW Portfolio

The North Carolina Analysis of Student Work portfolio is a beast. The process is not too complicated until the Very. End. Of the YEAR. You know, when ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING must be wrapped up. Lucky me, I couldn't even have the system randomly select which students I'd have to submit proof of growth for until exams were well underway #EarlyCollegeProbs.

So there I was on my final workdays thinking, "I picked my objectives, NCEES picked my students. Now what?"

I started listing the assignments I'd assigned that matched each objective on a Google Doc thinking "How brilliant! I'm halfway done!"

Until I realized Student A didn't turn in the assignment for Point 2. Student B turned it in, but in .amr format, which is not an accepted format and pretty much un-convertible. Student C's partner from her video didn't turn in the media release, and Student D actually kind of sounded worse in that particular assignment.

HINT: Keep shuffling students until you've actually reexamined what they turned in: watch, listen, and/or read carefully at least once.

So, yeah, that little stopwatch in the infograph I designed with my Collaborative homies for the ASW process? That should totally be about 5 different steps.

Just remember to sell, sell, sell the improvements and your strategies to achieve them on those narratives!

That being said, I actually am almost halfway done now, so I'd like to share how I set up my submissions in hopes that it makes life a little easier for my North Carolinian colleagues (who have an extra week to get this in that I don't have since I'll be in Peru #SisterCitiesProbs).

1. Create a folder in Google Drive for all things ASW

My ASW folder contains
  • 1 blank copy of the ASW release form
  • 1 spreadsheet of who had turned in their ASW release forms
  • 1 ASW evidence outline Doc
    -headings are objectives
    -subheadings are student names
    -and bullet points are assignment titles (and links)
  • 3 objective folders

Each objective folder contains
  • 3 narrative Docs, 1 for each student (updated as I review each assignment again...and again)
  • 1 supporting documentation Doc with assignments copied and pasted from Google Classroom (or screenshots for the ruleta paper assignment)
  • 3 student folders, with PRE and  POST files

2. Collect everything
Download from Google Classroom/Schoology/Edmodo and convert to accepted formats as necessary (remember that 20MB file size limit! This free compressor they link won't get even a 3-minute video down that far, though. That's where a husband in IT comes in handy--convert to MP3s and no photo release needed!)
Screenshot and edit out names on blog posts in Paint.
Scan paper assignments and media release forms.

As you do all this, re-title each file like so: WL.NH.CLL.1.1 Michelle PRE
  • objective number
  • student name
  • PRE or POST
And drop them in their respective student folders. Me, I have mirror student folders on my desktop with individual supporting .doc documents since the ASW platform is not Google compatible, meaning you'll have to upload from hardware like an animal! #GAFEAddictProbs

3. Copy, paste, upload
Copy the narratives into the narrative slots, upload the supporting documentation to the supporting documentation slot, and upload your files.

So, before we all click "Done" next week, does anyone else in The Upstate have some good tips on getting the ASW stuff submitted?

08 June 2015

Novice PBL Unit: Make a Change

Novices CAN make a change. [Image]
High school sophomores might not be ready to change the world. And novices are really only qualified to talk about themselves.

That's why, as the King of Pop said, I'm starting with me.

Well, yo.

The point of Project-Based Learning is learning, yes. But more than that, it's about doing. I outlined a few different possible novice-based units last year in an attempt to meld novice-appropriate skills with action. Because my sophomores were going to be working with Keep Gastonia Beautiful through Public Speaking that semester, I decided to go with Plan Verde.

I know my lessons won't always work,
but it still hurts! [Image]
It wasn't a flop, per se, but it felt kind of..icky throwing away their abandoned projects after our Save the World project was finished. And in the end-of-year survey/discussion, pretty much all of them were eager to point out its pointlessness. (That's not a tear! I'm not crying!)

I confess the commitment to the international school supply drive was not exactly life-changing for most students either. Maybe it's because brain chemistry makes teenagers inherently self-centered. Maybe it's because the effects of such projects are too removed from them and their lives to trigger motivation. Shoot, maybe I just didn't set it up right.

Whatever the reason for past inadequacies, it's my job to remove barriers to engagement and success.

And so, I'm both narrowing the focus and expanding on the idea of the healthy habits unit. I really liked how it focuses on the yo and observable changes. But I got to thinking about some of my students from last year, some of the students I know I'll have next year, and I know they wouldn't go for it. I know some of them may feel they have more pressing problems than diet and exercise. And really, isn't it kind of tough to change diet AND exercise all at once?

So now students can choose whether they want to improve: their health or their organization. If they want to focus on their health, they can choose from three types of habits:
  • eating
  • exercise
  • attitude 
If they prefer to focus on organization, they can work on getting themselves together in one of three areas:
  • time
  • space (room, locker, etc)
  • money

Based on the problem area they choose, they'll split up into groups--support groups, if you will. They'll analyze their habits, choose one thing to change each week, talk about their plans and results, and keep a record of their process.

I hope also to involve the community, perhaps enlisting a Spanish-speaking expert for each of the groups (like my amiga who's way into couponing for money) or maybe making some connections while I'm in Peru in a week to set up international buddy groups.

Here's how I envision the process:

  1. Diagnose the problem - Break out the dictionaries (or doodles) and list their habits--good and bad--in the designated area and then put a number on what is wrong--and right--with their habits. We'll get a little number practice as well as a little personally applicable vocabulary.
  2. Research recommendations - This is where starting with Genius Hour will come in handy. Each kiddo finds at least one infograph to express where they should be and/or what they should do. Of course they'll interpret it, maybe webmap some vocab and/or pertinent tips and info.
  3. Powwow - Use that newly harvested vocabulary (and essential verbs) to discuss what they do, what they need to do, and what they can do first. Since the groups are interest-based, they should have plenty of vocabulary in common, and plenty to talk about! They can also begin to outline potential plans of action together.
  4. Acquire target #1 - The focus is going to be first on short-term attainable goals: what can I do this week? when can I do it? where can I do it?
  5. Write it down - Like the previous healthy habits unit, I'll have students keep a log each day of whatever they are currently doing to further their progress and what they are going to do next.
  6. Reflect together - Then at the end of the week, they'll sit down with their amigos again, talk about what they are doing, what need to do (why they aren't doing it), how that is going for them, and what they are going to do now.
  7. Lather, rinse, repeat 
It would be really sweet to get some guest speakers in to sit down/Skype with each group (post-Peru mission #1?) at some point during the unit, perhaps as part of their reflection groups. Or maybe they could come up with some questions to send out to some experts they find?

Even if I can't secure community amigos, though, students will definitely be reading about a problem that personally affects them, writing about their habits, and talking about their goals and accomplishments with each other. I'm sure I could work in some listening with some sort of advice video for each group too--to say nothing of the TPRS story I have brewing at the back of my mind (Think: a girl who's got it all together--except all she eats is ice cream)! 

So my novices will be communicating in a way that is appropriate for novices AND making a change that is appropriate for "wise fools."

What other changes can novices make and communicate in the target language about?

06 June 2015

2015 LangCamp Online!

I'm thrilled to announce our first topic for 2015 LangCamp online!

That's right, folks! On July 1st, at 8:00 PM Eastern Time, we're talking Authentic Resources!

  • How do you find good resources? 
  • How do you know what a good resource is? 
  • And what do you do once you've got a good resource?

Now Google Hangouts are awesome for connecting in real time with anyone anywhere. But there are a few catches.

Every single person who's ever joined in #Langchat PLUS their whole department PLUS their friends, families, and neighbors can watch the Hangout using this link. HOWEVER only TEN people can actually participate in the video component of the Hangout (if you need an invite, hit me up on the LangCamp Google Community).

Of course you can still ask questions and make contributions using the Q&A app on the Hangout, and you can watch the video of our Hangout--and all once and future Hangouts--any time on my YouTube channel or on our LangCamp wiki archives!

But we are going to NEED a few curious and/or brilliant folks to step up and join in the Hangout itself. I'm not talking to myself for an hour, people. Also, I'm all for PD in your PJs, but just be sure your PJs are PG, as we will be recording for posterity and the edification of all.

If you want to take part in a LangCamp Hangout, but that Wednesday is just no good for you, or you still feel a little wobbly on the topic of authentic resources, rest assured that there will be NINE MORE HANGOUTS in July!

But I need your help.

We've got enough feedback to start scheduling Week 2 of the LangCamp Hangout series, but Week 3, Week 4, and Week 5 are looking pretty sparse. I know, I know, we all need some vacation time--I'll be hitting the beach myself somewhere between Week 4 and 5 and might need to tap some other LangCamp moderators--but if you want to see some more topics or get some more ideas, I gotta know when.

And I gotta know by June 10th to start setting up topic votes.

Hangouts aside LangCamp is online 24/7 on the Google Community, throughout the summer and beyond! Post any questions or ideas you have to connect with some of the brightest minds in our field day or night!

And let us know: what do you want to talk about this summer?