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!