31 January 2016

Sra. Spanglish Tech Tips: Chrome Extensions

I have a handful of secret weapons that make my web experience--and my students'--smoother and more productive, and several of them are free in the Chrome Web App store.


First of all, if you're going to have more than one or two extensions, and you need to function at a speed at least slightly above "snail," you'll want to be able to switch extensions off and on. This handy little yin-yang extension lets me go through and turn off, say, my Pinterest extension or WordReference if I've already collected my pins and and working in English mode for the time being.

That way my computer can function a little faster, and I don't have to go back to setting to reward myself with a little Pinterest time when I'm done!


I confess I was completely lost as to how to help students screenshot on Chromebooks without a PrtSc button. There are a few different screen capture tools out there, but I like Snagit because not only does it save straight to fa file in my Google Drive, but I also have a few options.

I mostly use the "region" screenshot to capture just the part of the screen I want, like an infograph or when I have a student example. Then I can use the basic annotation tools to censor names!

I also like the scrolling capture feature to capture whole blog posts or articles--this comes in handy come portfolio time so students don't have to take multiple screenshots to share what they interpreted.

Tab Scissors

I got this one from one of our district Pinnacle sessions! I recommend it when students are working on interpretive reading for their IPAs so they can have their own Doc for copying/interpreting pulled up and neatly aligned with the text they're interpreting in side-by-side windows. It's really useful for me in grading, too: ForAllRubrics or instructions on Classroom in one window, assignment to grade in the other!

Symbaloo Bookmarker

Much like my beloved "Add Pin" extension, this extension lets me collect links quickly, especially to make quick webmixes of classes' portfolios or blogs. Sure I have all of the links already sorted into Seesaw folders, but this way I can color code so I can keep multiple classes, units, or projects in one place but still tell which is which.

I can even  do back into my webmixes to alphabetize for quick grading, make groups set up according to their seating/self-improvement teams, or add cute little icons to help show what links represent (hourglasses for the time management team, credit cards for money management, and bowling pins for exercise!)

Of course I'm always on the lookout for more tools and timesavers. For example, I can't wait to try one of Sra. Cottrell's favorite extensions, One-Click Timer!

Do you have any other awesome extensions we should try? I'd be forever in your debt if you could point me to a good one for adding accents quickly!

29 January 2016

GUEST POST: Young Teachers and Terrifying Reality

Each week in January I've featured insights on the blog from some ladies with great ideas from my PLN.

This week, I chatted with Wendy Farabaugh, (@MmeFarab) who had "A rough start" to her school year, but a lot of the problems she's facing as a young world language teacher are problems that we are all facing in our quest to do right by our students. Wendy helps me answer the question "How can a young language teacher survive?"

Wendy is a third-year teacher loves video games and graduated from Miami University and teaches 8-12th grade French in Mentor Public Schools, near Cleveland, Ohio. She lives with her wonderful husband (whom she met when they were 5. #precious).

@MmeFarab: I feel like I'm being pushed in so many directions and don't know which one is right for me. I think a lot of what's out there is hard to apply to WL.

@SraSpanglish: You're not wrong, amiga. It takes a lot more prep to pull off some of the "Best Practices" in a new language.

@MmeFarab: My current stressors are the "you should only be in front of your students for 10 minutes a day" and "students should be doing inquiry/the work themselves/figuring it out/you should only be a guide" ideologies. If I'm only in front of my students for 10 minutes a day, I don't feel like they get the input they need. Novices don't have the capability to hold long, in-depth, inquiry based conversations in French. They just can't.

@SraSpanglish: Very true. I don’t think I spend less than 30 minutes in front of a 90 minute class more than once a week.

@MmeFarab: And in general, I think it's much harder to find relevant authentic resources in French. I'm not saying that they're not out there. I'm just saying that they are much harder to find.

@SraSpanglish: OK, so the problem is not only is there not enough language there to do interpersonal all day, there's not enough for interpretive either (nevermind presentational).

@MmeFarab: Exactly. It's like "direct instruction" has become this taboo and I don't think all of it is bad. I think lecturing while kids take notes and barely ask questions is a terrible practice, but I consider PQA or questioning or repetition of target structures a "direct" practice.

@SraSpanglish: I think PQA and practicing target structures is a perfect use of direct instruction time, but I wonder if it counts as "being in front of a class"?

@MmeFarab: I also wonder how much of this is my curriculum. It's not very in-depth itself, and you can only talk about family members and have kids explain them so many times, you know? And I feel pressure "get through" things and "add rigor" and be "challenging." Not a good combination for my young teaching.

@SraSpanglish:  2 questions for you:

#1 How do you define rigor?

@MmeFarab: I hate defining rigor, but I can say what it's not. Like, I won't give level 2 kids an assessment they could have taken in level 1. But I want kids to do WELL on assessments. I don't think that making them hard, or "rigorous" is a benefit for them. I don't think that "rigor" is giving tons of homework, or making kids find the information themselves, or having a hands-off approach. I think that IPAs are the perfect kind of rigor for us. But I can't define it.

@SraSpanglish: I think you're onto something with the IPAs for rigor! If you set them up carefully (maybe use AAPPL rubrics to evaluate) then students can perform exactly as high as they are ready to and focus on what they DO know!

@MmeFarab: I need to incorporate real IPAs and integrate the AAPPL rubrics. I haven't found the balance standards-based and proficiency based, but I think it's easier than I'm letting myself believe.

@SraSpanglish: The biggest step I made toward SBG WAS including the 3 modes in the IPA and recording them separately. It's 60% of students' grades, so not PURE SBG, but as close as I can manage with district requirements. I just do 1 IPAs each grading period and count each section as its own "test grade." Et voila! Six test grades that show performance growth (or lack thereof) in the 3 modes. We have 3 6-week grading periods in semester courses. I think it's just the right amount of feedback

@MmeFarab: I would also love to give a grade (SBG from1-4) based on the proficiency level that they hit when doing it, and doing a sliding scale per semester.

@SraSpanglish:  I love the sliding scale, but mine is set up with AAPPL rubrics. N4 is 10/10 1st 6 weeks, I1 is 10/10 next 6 weeks, I2 is 10/10 at the end.

#2 Where is the 10-minute pressure coming from?

Administration? PLN colleagues?

@MmeFarab: Mostly admin. With 1:1, the intent is that students are doing the work themselves, going deeper, etc. They're really pushing mini-lessons and students practicing on their own. There's a strong push for station-based lessons. We're supposed to be doing a "station rotation" once per week.

@SraSpanglish: I wonder if something like Nearpod or Peardeck could help with the push to have students do the work. I post questions in TL and have them respond in TL every so often. Then I get to wander and not be in front, and they get to test drive what we've been discussing.

@MmeFarab: I love Nearpod - we have district accounts, but I usually guide them through it. Are you saying I should use the "homework" option in class? That's kind of genius.

@SraSpanglish:  I have used the homework option on Nearpod in class, but mostly I build in open-ended questions throughout a live session. (PS as for stations, I too have a hard time making them make sense with technology--why move if activities are online?)

@MmeFarab: AMEN on the stations front. Our "ideal" stations will be at each student's own "place, pace, and path" which implies that they don't have to move. WHY make them MOVE? And plus, 1 station lesson per week, per class would drive my kids nuts. They hate it when you mention the word station.

@SraSpanglish: So for the stations do you think you could talk to administration about the "place" part and show them some of the tasks you use--or want to use--that are not dependent on place? The only way I can think to make place relevant a lot of times is including a paper resource they need to refer to, which...why?

@MmeFarab: Seriously. So there are two schools of thought. One is that physically moving helps reset kid's brains. The other is that in a perfect world, every lesson would be differentiated for each kid, and they could complete those activities wherever, and at whatever pace they need to. Which, in all reality would be a nightmare to keep up on.

@SraSpanglish: Your point about stations, movement, and pacing is a profound one. My kids don't move nearly enough, but I'm inclined to think brain breaks may work better than tech-based stations.

@MmeFarab: My #1 question about stations is

How is that different than saying, today we're doing "x,y,z, sit there and do them in whatever order?"

@SraSpanglish: The path, pace, and place is the clearest explanation I've heard, and for the reasons you gave. When I went to observe Personalized Learning in action, that's exactly what it was like. But their stations had manipulatives, like for science experiments, graphing, or just books or iPads.

@MmeFarab: Yeah, though every time I've done stations, the stations that my students say worked the best, they liked the most, or helped them the most were the ones where they did a mini-lesson with me. Either that means my kids need input from me, or all the rest of my stations are garbage. I can't decide.

@SraSpanglish: Hold your bathwater, there's a baby in there! One, you know more about what can help them than they do. In fact, the more productive it feels for them sometimes, the less it is going to stick.

@MmeFarab: I guess that's true. I just feel like there's a not-so communicative basis for my level 2 class and I don't know how to get around that.I generally try to focus my stations on reading/writing/speaking/listening but maybe that's not a good format.

@SraSpanglish: It could be. Sounds like a good start. I would say the important thing to remember in setting up stations is having a clear end goal in mind. It needs to be something they have enough language to handle on their own with a clear end product to submit. What do you think is keeping it from being communicative?

@MmeFarab: Me, maybe? I don't have the right resources and approach. Sometimes it's the I-cans. "I can identify ingredients" is somewhat communicative, but "I can label the Canadian provinces" is less so. Maybe it's also a little bit of me rushing to stay on pace with the other teacher? I’ve never had to keep pace with someone before and it stresses me out.

@SraSpanglish: Is the problem with the difficulty level of the tasks or the interest level?

@MmeFarab: Interest level. Kids just wanna "get through" stuff. My level ones will do stuff if it's not for a grade but my level twos are harder to get the buy-in from. I think it will get easier as kids know my style, though.

@SraSpanglish: 3 things I can tell you about buy-in: 1) you're exactly right--they do need to get used to your style. When you've been there longer than them, built a reputation of what to expect in your classes, you're golden. Sometimes it is just a question of time and our own maturity!

2) If the can-dos lead up to something bigger, like a project or a class-to-class Skype or something (or maybe even just an IPA), then students will be able to connect the tasks to a larger goal.

3) Keeping the focus on proficiency levels means the kids know what they need and how to get there, so they feel like they CAN do it.

@MmeFarab: I do need to spend more time on backward planning. Also, focusing on proficiency levels needs to happen more. I need a solid plan for integration.

@SraSpanglish: IPAs will do a lot of that for you, along with consistent rubrics, whether AAPPL or JCPS or something else.

@MmeFarab: Also, I wonder if part of it was the "no explicit grammar" approach. I think I went too far in the opposite direction and now am trying to find the balance.

@SraSpanglish: Yeah, my kids feel more comfortable with a little grammar. I just gave them actions to distinguish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person and they felt so...relieved? To have a breakdown to differentiate.

@MmeFarab: Maybe I should do that. I haven't even taught plural pronouns yet because it really hasn't come up. It's next now that we're talking about family and kids are asking for them.

@SraSpanglish: Right on--grammar as they need it. Just build in practice where they actually need it--Nearpod, station to describe Awkward Family Photos...

Plan of action

@MmeFarab: Step one: decide on a good rubric. step two: use consistently.
My current terrifying reality is that I know so much about the theory and very little about putting those things into practice.

@SraSpanglish: OK, so less terrifying corollary to step 2: design (and follow through) with one good 3-part IPA. Steal one of Mme. Shepard's maybe!

@MmeFarab: One of my worries is using someone else's IPA and it not being right for my kids. I need to make sure it builds up to something my Ss can handle, or I need to take the time to really build backwards from someone else's IPA. And backwards design is beautiful, but I don't have that kinda time in year three. One day, man, one day.

@SraSpanglish: So for now, try backward planning ONE IPA for ONE class. If it takes 3 years to build, so be it.

@MmeFarab: Gotcha. I will do that.

To follow Mme. Farabaugh's progress or share your own, connect with Wendy through Twitter @MmeFarab or her blog, En Français, SVP

Check out more guest posts from our online PLN this month!


28 January 2016

IPA: Time Management Tips

I was pretty surprised that no one wanted to watch what they eat for their self-improvement plan. I may have been even more surprised at how many wanted to manage their time better. Not that it's not a good idea, but I thought that was a pretty self-aware step for many of them.

Not to mention a pretty useful idea for pretty much any teenager.

Or teacher.

So for this IPA, I spent a little extra time pondering time management with the IPA and within it. Time management has been an even bigger deal since I experienced the "Kick Back with a Cool IPA" presentation featuring my grad school amiga/guru @SraStephanie (Best of FLANC! Look for it at SCOLT next month!!), especially when it comes to setting up the interpersonal portion for everyone.

Interpretive Reading

I went through my Pinterest board o' organization and attitude and found, as I had with the School Comparisons IPA, a nice little infograph that also had a little more text in the blog around it for students looking to push themselves.

Cómo ponerse las pilas en 3, 2, 1... Psicología y Orientación
My heritage speakers were able to demonstrate Intermediate Mid levels with the blog and the updated interpretation Doc, and over half of my other kiddos logged at least a Novice High performance! They took their time, too--at least an hour for almost everyone.

Plus all of them know how important it is to "dormir bien" to manage time now!

Interpersonal Communication

Once again, I posted general prompts about what to expect to answer questions about:
1) YOUR CURRENT HABITS- exercise/money/time management problems- effective strategies you use
2) YOUR GOALS- ideas from the IPA infograph/blog- other strategy ideas- possible effects of your project

And ASK questions about:
- assignments like the diary, resources, or reflections- opinions on strategies/goals- experience with strategies/goals

I initially liked the idea of using the interpersonal time for them to get clarification on their projects, but they had trouble expressing what they needed for that purpose. I think I need to get them to focus on verifying that they understand the steps of the project.

Also since Sra. Stephanie's presentation, I've been setting up the interpersonal segment differently: as one-on-one interview with yours truly.

The only downside I see--besides a teeny intimidation factor for a few (which I may try to resolve by wearing a silly hat or something on IPA days)--is time. There always seem to be a few interviews I can't get to during the 2 designated IPA days I set aside. And me with my completely reasonable class sizes under 25 too.

So here are my tips for managing interpersonal IPA time:
  1. Don't procrastinate. Circulate, then start the interviews as soon as you see someone working on the "main idea" portion of the interpretive Doc. If you have native speakers, ask them if they'd be comfortable going first (my kiddos have always been very generous about it.) You don't necessarily have to get half done the first day, but your interview load Day 2 should
  2. Keep the conversations under 5 minutes. It doesn't hurt that that's Seesaw's cutoff point for video uploads (and, by the way, Seesaw has proven a GODSEND for video sharing, cutoff times notwithstanding). The five-minute limit also makes you keep moving. And really, who can't get the general idea of someone's performance level in 3-5 minutes?
  3. Grade as you go. I tried keeping track of all types of data and answers with a Google Form when I started the interview process , but really, the AAPPL rubrics (or at least their short forms) are pretty much ingrained in my brain after a year now. So as soon as the conversation ends, I pop the number grade in the Classroom app on my phone and call up the next kid. Plus the kiddos also have their video for a record, too, and if they need more feedback to figure out what to work on, you could always arrange a sitdown to discuss the video.
  4. Lead with "like" questions, cognates, and borrowed words. LIKE - IF they like the text, WHAT they like in the text. COGNATES & BORROWED WORDS - Do you have a PLAN? What TIPS can you USE in your PROJECT?  (Side note: "idea" is not an AURAL cognate.)

Presentational Writing

Almost nobody started their writing on Day 1 this time, and I think they took advantage of seeing the prompt ahead of time. On the one hand, I kind of like that several seemed to have memorized a plan for what they were going to say and a few key (probably translatored) phrases. It shows initiative and that they are making efforts that are paying off. On the other, how clear of a reading of their spontaneous abilities am I getting that way?

I think I might only print the prompt on the paper that they use to write their responses (although some handwriting has me reconsidering the Google Doc option too). I do still like how paper responses makes it easier to add accents. Plus Seesaw worked swimmingly here too! Now they have a clean copy AND my marked up copy! Plus that kid who neglected to hand his paper over? I could still score what he'd uploaded!

Still, I think it really helped me understand their goals and where they were in a LOT of ways, not only to engage in conversation about their personal goals, but also to read their "pep talks" for themselves:
compose a pep talk for yourself at the start of your self-improvement journey. Explain the PROBLEMS you want to work on, the STRATEGIES you are going to try, and the EFFECTS you want to see in your life after one month. Make yourself believe that your goals are not only NECESSARY but POSSIBLE.
I was pretty demanding for a Novice High score for both the conversation and the pep talk, so the majority of my students--who hadn't seen the inside of a Spanish classroom for more than 2 weeks in the last year--were solidly Novice Mid (heritage speakers Novice Low).

So if you're looking to implement this IPA or a similar one, my time management tips to you can mostly be summed up in two tips: start the interpersonal ASAP and keep it moving. Also upload everything to Seesaw.

22 January 2016

GUEST POST: 5 Sources for Finding Great Language Teaching Ideas

Each week in January I'm featuring insights on the blog from some ladies with great ideas from my PLN.

This week, Maris Hawkins helps answer the question, "
How do you find awesome educators and ideas?"

Maris is a native of Virginia Beach, now living in Maryland with her husband, two-year-old son and black lab. She's a former Navy wife who has taught high school in California, elementary grades 1-6 in Virginia, and middle and upper school in Maryland. Maris also studied art history in college and loves to read and cook.

I am one of those people who read a blog, then find another blog and find another one until I have read for an hour or so! I typically have many tabs open (currently six) to hold everything I want to read or want to implement in my class.

So I decided to post my ramblings (and tech wanderings) in a blog.

Inspired by my favorite non teacher blogs like Cup of Jo and Iowa Girl Eats, each Friday I post my favorite posts that I read each week

This leads me to the great list of HOW I find blogs to read!


My first love will always be Pinterest. I found the Creative Language Class there! Many times, I will also find old posts from some blogs that I may have missed or forgotten. It is helpful to follow group boards such as Spanish Learning to expand your network of pinners.


I also use the blog rolls from many sites, which are typically on the side column of a blog. I actually found some of my blogs from Laura's site alone (I like how her list updates with all of the newest posts)!  Mike Peto also has a great list of all of the blogs, and Sara-Elizabeth has a post of blogs to watch each year.


Recently, I have started using Facebook to research more about teaching. The regional conferences such as Central States and Southern Conference post a ton of material! I also suggest following different blogs on Facebook as many times they share more material there as well as their blog.


I subscribe to InterCom through the Center of Applied Second Language Studies. This weekly email gives me a new list of blog posts to read in the Language Corner as well as information on the topic of the week such as using analog games or heritage learners and intercultural competence.


Finally, I find different sources on Twitter. I will say that this is my least used form of social media except on Thursday nights (#langchat!) But, when I do check in, I usually find something great to use such as Elena Lopez's Christmas commercial activities.

I hope that these allow you to find new resources and blogs for you; however, I would suggest to start with one new platform. It can easily be overwhelming to try to use all of them at once. Happy reading!

If you want to stay tapped in to the best language teaching resources, be sure to watch Maris' blog on Fridays. You can also connect with @MarisHawkins on Twitter or through Facebook!

Stay tuned for more guest posts this month from our online PLN!


19 January 2016

Más horas en el día: a PBL/TCI story

I was going to write a story about a chocolate diet for the Mejor Yo unit. But after the setup, it turns out all the muchachos wanted to focus on were three types of improvement: time management, money management, and exercise.

So instead of chocolate, the protagonist is looking for more hours in the day to get everything done.

It had been a while since I'd written a story, so I took the steps I followed for my last story, but also with a little more planning, especially with the vocabulary. I picked a few words out from a few different places:
  1. their vocabulary notes
  2. WordReferenced words in bold from homework assignment #1
  3. the blog/infograph for their first IPA of the semester
It's a little difficult, though, to fit all the words they could need, but that's where some of the choice enters in: they can pick the activities they want to make the mad lib as mad as possible.

I've also been working on the presentation of the stories. I gave up on the one-page format several stories back, and I like how they make a little book when I print them as two columns on a landscape page. I had just been having the kiddos write the title on a blank page, maybe with the target structures, maybe an illustration.

I decided in the end that the title page was perfect for three things besides the title:

  1. the target structures
  2. action images like I use for other verb pages in the interactive notebooks to go with the target structures
  3. plus a legend for the class's personalized choices
It looks like this:
The actions are for debe, hay, and son.

(I guess that's Padre Tiempo? Or El Rey de las Horas? I contemplated putting an Egyptian Michael Jackson--Do You Remember the Time? Who else might control the length of the day?)

So here's the story about the quest for more hours in the day (spoilers: there's a different solution than longer days.)

15 January 2016

GUEST POST: Find Cool Stuff for French Classes

Each week in January I'll be featuring insights on the blog from some ladies with great ideas from my PLN.

This week, Laura Parker helps answer the question, "
How do you find cool stuff for French classes?"

Laura is a National Board Certified English Teacher who writes and reads voraciously in her free time. One of Laura's most powerful experiences in recent years was her visit to Senegal through a Fulbright-Hayes exchange.

Laura is also my bilingual Appalachian State name sister--the original Mountaineer franglais teacher!

Let’s face the facts: French teachers usually work in isolation. Chances are, we are the only French teacher in our school. So, if we want cool authentic resources, activities, or lessons, we feel like we have to do it all on our own.

Sound overwhelming?

It could be, but I have some good news for you, a few tricks and pieces of advice that could help you find some cool stuff for your French class and fellow French teachers.

So, how can you find awesome authentic materials, activities, and lessons?


We all love the French language and we want to be in the target language and culture. Unfortunately, that is expensive, but still possible. If you find yourself going to a French speaking country, take advantage of all free materials and pick up some extra materials for your French teacher friends!
So, where will you find all these free materials? It can be anywhere: banks, hotels, town halls, restaurants, rest stops, etc. If there are free copies, take two – one for you and one for a fellow teacher.

I worked with missionaries in the south of France last summer and I took copies of any materials offered. I got housing magazines from the bank when I used the ATM. The local mairie (town hall) was a treasure trove of materials. They had everything from tourist brochures, local publications, recycling information, to bus schedules, and more! The best thing about the mairie? They want you to take the information. Don’t forget about hotels and restaurants. Hotels often have maps and brochures and restaurants have culturally relevant food information.

Another tip that is crucial – don’t be afraid to ask for something. I have two restaurant menus from France that I got by just telling the waiter that I was a teacher and asking for one. A Spanish teacher whom I work with decorated her room with food advertisements posters from Columbia that she asked for at a grocery story. Just ask!

Once you have some great materials in hand, I recommend sorting them to pull out materials that match units you already teach. You can create classroom reading, speaking, and writing activities from these or use them to create an IPA. 

Next, look at what you have left. Do you have anything left that you would like to develop into a new unit? If so, start working on that new unit when you have time. I have a folder full of items from France to start putting in units next semester for my French 4 students. I found some great recycling information that doesn't fit in my other units for my lower levels, but it would be great as a new unit on the environment. 

Lastly, all those left over items? You've got some options. You can use them as decoration, give them to another teacher, or make a "library" for advanced students or curious learners. If a student finishes an assignment or test early, have them choose one of these items and practice their reading skills.

The Internet

If you can’t get to a target language country, you can still get wonderful resources through the joys of the Internet. Honestly, tap into your inner introvert or agoraphobia. How can you get information without asking anyone else or leaving your house? You’ll be amazed at what you can find.

My rule of thumb is to try searching phrases that you would want to see in the reading. Stick to simple phrases.

For example, when trying to search for a reading that describes family members, you might want to start by searching for something like "Ma mère est belle." 

 For my unit on travel with my French 2 students, I wanted to have them plan trips and figure out how to get around by airplane, train, and bus. 

I found a good airline search website with the keywords “billet d’avion pas cher” and then a website that showed train schedules with “horaires de train”. I also discovered that French towns (or at least all the ones that I checked) have a website dedicated to their bus routes. To find them, just search for “horaires de bus + the city.”

If your search isn't giving you quite what you want, or the level of the text is too difficult, try switching your search platform - just moving from a Google search to a Pinterest search can make a big difference. And don't forget YouTube! I recommend looking for cartoons or even soap operas (careful of content!) as well as interviews that match with your search subject. Also, if you are looking for novice level reading, searching for infographics make a great starting place (l'infographie in French). 

Best practice on searching:
  1. Start by searching your topic in the target language (ex: la famille). I have found that using definite/indefinite articles really can help.
  2. Add pdf to your search get more authentic results.
If your results are too difficult for your students:
  1. Add "pour enfants" to your search to lower the reading level of the results.
  2. Search for an infographic.
If you get stuck, take a break so that you don't get frustrated. 

If all else fails, ask for help!

Ask someone!

It sounds so easy, but the way I get a lot of cool ideas and activities is by talking to some pretty amazing people. Reach out and join a professional learning community with other teachers who are creating cool materials and share with them. We are better if we all work together.

If you are looking for already created activities or lessons, check out the blogs of other teachers, teachers' Pinterest boards, or TeachersPayTeachers. People love to share their ideas and materials. Just ask! Or start with my favorites:

My learning community of amazing educators is made up of two groups of people: friends from my Masters classes at Appalachian State University and #langchat on Twitter. I know that if I can’t find something, or I just need help getting started, that I can reach out and ask for help. 

I have some amazing activities and videos about the French language in Louisiana from Jeff Pageau who was in my courses at ASU. Wendy Farabaugh from #langchat just told me about this paper plate game that I can’t wait to try. There are some awesome people out there, go meet them (in real life or online) and share all the awesome that you can find.

If you would like more help with finding the best French resources, or if you have great ideas to share you can reach Laura at lauraparker1124 [at] gmail.com or on Twitter at @lauraerinparker.

Stay tuned for more guest posts this month from our online PLN!

13 January 2016

Pop Song Practice: Daily listening and speaking

I originally set up daily chorus bellringers based on a strategy designed to improve reading fluency. I had assumed that listening and speaking skills would naturally follow, too, and results from last year's final IPAs suggested I may have been right...on everything but listening.

Enter Gianfranco Conti and The Language Gym.

Since those IPA results--and the 100% positive reviews for musical starters--belonged to the group starting Spanish II this semester, I decided to adapt coros to include several of the strategies Dr. Conti recommended in his posts on listening:


The interpersonal touch and regular conversational practice with coro roulettes seemed to help last year's group a lot too, so the chat aspect stays. However, having used almost all my good stuff in previous year's coro sets, I'm having to scrounge up a lot of new stuff already. In other words, I don't think I can dig up three songs a week--much less three super-duper-catchy songs a week.

Also, the micro-listening strategies are going to take significantly more prep ahead of time, and I don't feel like tripling that.

So here's the 2016 playlist I have so far, with lyric videos included for the "transcripts." (These should be plenty since I skip weeks with IPAs too.)

I took all of these songs and made a master list of chorus lyrics, including the artist name, the song title, and the country of origin--2 Mexico, 2 Spain (plus an Islas Canarias), 3 Colombia, 1 DR, 1 Argentina, 2 Venezuela, and 1 Puerto Rico. (I also color coded for gender, and I'm afraid I didn't find much in the way of catchy female-driven songs this time. But I may keep adding.)


Now Mondays are pretty much all portfolio days, and we got seat time waivers to do "flex Fridays" early college style (read: no class), so I'm still looking at a three-day format (though I will, of course, be playing the playlist on repeat during those portfolio Mondays).

Every day, students will get to
  • hear the song while they see the lyrics
  • analyze/interpret
  • and discuss their reactions to the song
The way the lyrics will be presented will change each day, however. They'll get the benefit of a regular old lyric video the first time, but after that, they'll have to do some micro-listening to "see" them! The analysis, too, will progress, starting at a vocabulary level, moving up to line-by-line interpretation. Similarly, the reaction chats will progress from superficial first impressions to meaningful connections. I'm hoping that the chats will help make forming complex sentences spontaneously a habit.

We'll set up a separate interactive notebook page with a quick reference of musical descriptors like we had for coro roulettes, but we'll move away from sentence starters to focus on the spontaneity of it all.

Day 1 - Introduction

  1. Listen with transcript (lyric videos)I dug up a lyric video for almost all of the songs selected (how about that emoti video for the Alkilados song??). The interesting thing is these are also a form of authentic texts. When I teach English, the emphasis is on Scholarly, Reliable Resources, but aren't lyrics videos a fascinating artifact of target cultures? And a great point for cultural comparison, I must stay. And of course they're perfect for singalongs.
  2. Match vocabulary with pictures
    I went ahead and bolded 3-5 words that would be useful to understand from each of the choruses in the master list. I've started my image stash to go with each (sin and aunque will be tricky).
  3. Fill in blanks
    We called it "cloze reading" in my English methods class, and Dr. Conti calls it "gap-fill," but whatever the name, it's another excuse to review the lyrics while looking at them--without just reciting over and over. I quick copied the lyrics master list, plugged in some blanks where the bolded words were, and voila!
  4. REACTION  CHAT - OpinionIt doesn't take much to say what you like and why (me gusta, es, tiene), so for this chat, students will focus on finding out their partner's first impression, their opinion of the song: style (rhythm, melody, etc.) and sentiment.

Day 2 - Interpretation

  1. Break the flow
    One of Dr. Conti's micro-listening strategies, this is another excuse to start off with reviewing the written lyrics in combination with the song while using some of the principles from Making It Stick to, well, get the lyrics to stick better than with simple rote. And this time, they'll get to see the Official Video!
  2. Spot the verb
    Dr. Conti advises getting students to process "key grammatical / discourse features" of words, which helps students file their understanding to make it accessible. Focusing on verbs seems a good way to emphasize essential verbs, to draw attention to conjugation without conjugating, and to build up mortar for forming more varied sentences. I might also vary it a little to address particular patterns of grammar problems I see, like adjective agreement or the eternal el/la/los/las struggle.
  3. REACTION CHAT - Analysis
    At this point, the students should be forming a basic understanding of the song and the video itself, so they can go beyond surface reactions. This time, their goal is to find out their partner's thoughts on the message and melody of the song and how they fit with the video's images.

Day 3 - Connection

  1. Broken words
    Another micro-listening strategy that involves a little more microscopic? listening. Vowels are some of the trickiest parts of hearing and spelling--for native speakers, too. Also the key to many useful linguistic patterns. So this time when they listen, all of the vowels are removed, and students must write them in.
  2. Order translated linesStudents didn't seem to be retaining the meaning of coros in previous years, but this is a pretty simple way to sneak in some English without making it just a translation. I made another copy of my master list, translated the lines, and then move them around, and students can just number the lines as they listen!
  3. REACTION CHAT: ConnectionThe English teacher in me wants students to make meaningful connections with what they hear and read, so they will ask their partners about how the chorus relates to their personal experiences, the world around them (ie history and news), as well as other texts they've read/heard in whatever language (songs, stories, shows, movies).

Final IPA listening results have already improved with the adjustment of listening texts used, but it is a skill I hope students will be able to grow still more comfortable with and more proficient in by tying it more closely to music in daily practice. And 

11 January 2016

Final IPA Performance Data, round 2

I've officially been using IPAs for a year now, and I could not be happier with the results. I finally got around to graphing last semester's final IPA results, and it is pretty much all good news.

You can see significant differences between last year and this, not least among them being that I consolidated skills, rolling presentational speaking and interpersonal into one data set.

Perhaps the most important difference? This year's results are after ONE semester of Spanish instead of two! The similarities are a lot cooler when you realize that discrepancy. That also begins to account for how many fewer intermediate scores there are, although I think the simplicity of the non-authentic recordings for listening  that made the listening scores go up significantly also made it difficult to achieve above Novice High.

You can also see that among my Spanish I students, not a single one ranked at N1, and almost none ranked at N2! That means that pretty much everyone really is ready to take on Spanish II and is on their way to Intermediate!

This also means I can up the ante on the graduated grading scale next year:

1st 6 weeks 2nd 6 weeks 3rd 6 weeks
N1 = 6/10 (D)

N2 = 7/10 (C)

N3 = 8/10 (B)

N4 = 9/10 (A)

I1 = 10/10 (A)

N1 = 5/10 (F)

N2 = 6/10 (D)

N3 = 7/10 (C)

N4 = 8/10 (B)

I1 = 9/10 (A)

I2 = 10/10 (A)
N1 = 4/10 (F)

N2 = 5/10 (F)

N3 = 6/10 (D)

N4 = 7/10 (C)

I1 = 8/10 (B)

I2 = 9/10 (A)

I3 = 10/10 (A)

It seems especially fair to me since students' first round of portfolios will be due BEFORE next semester starts. I analyzed each kiddo's portfolio and IPA results for the semester and assigned them a level to "maintain" for next year, so they will be accountable for revisiting their speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills at least enough to submit 3 samples for each skill between now and August. (I'll also be sending out reminders through Google Classroom periodically to keep it in the back of their minds.)
  • 95% of my Spanish I students hit at least Novice Mid in most skill areas.
  • 75% hit Novice High or better in reading AND writing.
  • 70% hit Novice High or better in listening (BIG change!)
  • 65% hit Novice High or better in speaking (which North Carolina says is the slowest skill to develop)
I think those numbers definitely add up to overall success, success which I attribute to clear expectations and feedback. The Performance & Proficiency page in their notebooks and clear objectives from AAPPL rubrics made it clear for students how they could advance. IPAs every 3 weeks or so made it easy for students to see their progress, and portfolio badges apparently helped them self-evaluate regularly too.

My students grew significantly in one semester, and I think it's because they knew where they were headed.

08 January 2016

GUEST POST: For Pete's Sake Cut Yourself Some Slack!

Each week in January I'll be featuring insights on the blog from some ladies with great ideas from my PLN.

This week, Stephanie Schenck helps answer the question, "
How do you tame your inner critic?"

Stephanie Schenck is Spanish teacher at Clover High School, SC and PhD student in Literacy, Language, and Culture at Clemson University. She is also an NBCT and reluctant technology embracer as well as an occasional #LangChat participant --when not drowning in grad work. 

Also, she's probably the reason I survived grad school.

It is a hot topic on Twitter, and has a real impact on real people’s feelings:

You Aren’t Doing Enough. 

You might feel guilty because you didn’t hit 90% target language. You might second-guess the activity that you painstakingly set up. You might feel uneasy that your lesson may not be ACTFL approved. 

This, my friends, is what happens when teacher guilt gets to you.

I have seen a lot of this type of discussion on Twitter and heard in presentations at professional conferences. It is so easy to get swept up in the dialogue and be passionate about the almighty Best Practices, used At All Times, by All Good Teachers. 

I get it. I really do. I, too, am passionate about getting my students to learn as much as they can in the best ways I can teach them. I, too, love the idea of best practices. To put my money where my mouth is, I am actually working on PhD on this very subject. (Go tigers!) Best practices are not the enemy. It is the pressure we put on ourselves to adhere to them every minute of every day. Or worse, the pressure from our colleagues.

But you know what? High school students rarely get out of intermediate levels of communication on the ACTFL scale (Rifkin, 2005). Yes, it is true that a communicative classroom with lots of input and feedback and authentic resources will help set these students up for success if they choose to travel, use the target language outside of class, or take more language courses in college. 

But still. There is a ceiling there. And we all need to just chill out.

I’m gonna tell you a little secret. Some days, my students might do some *gasp* worksheet packets, play some vocab bingo, or maybe even do a craft and some coloring. Because there are days when I NEED A BREAK. Maybe I am up to my eyeballs in grading. Maybe I have tons of parent emails that I need to respond to. Maybe, I have a sore throat and just plain don’t want to talk a lot that day. And you know what? I do not feel bad about it.

I know that if I really wanted to, I could tweak my activities to make them more “worthwhile.” I get it. I really do. But if I am too tired to care that the kids did a worksheet packet, am I really going to care if I can MAKE IT COMMUNICATIVE? No. No, I’m not. But a burned out teacher who doesn’t care anymore isn’t going to ever want to make anything communicative. I don’t want to become that burned out teacher. 

I guess the thing is that I know and understand the difference between a great lesson and a poor lesson. But sometimes I just need to breathe and let it be a poor lesson anyway.

In college, I had an amazing methodologies professor named Dr. Morrison. She taught me all about how to make pretty much anything communicative. We learned how to best do a vocabulary lesson or scaffold a writing assignment. She was, and still is, one of my favorite people. Yet even she said that sometimes, we would feel too exhausted to go on. It was ok to give a worksheet on those days and we needed to give ourselves some grace. 

I’m gonna let that sink in a minute. A college methodologies professor is telling you to give yourself some grace.

I sometimes feel like I am the defender of the Good Enough teachers of the world. I don’t always hit 90% TL. I don’t always set up ACTFL approved activities. I regularly have classroom discussions in English about culture to be sure that all students can participate and understand what I believe are worthwhile topics, perhaps even valuing content over language (see what I did there?). 

But I do ENOUGH good things to make my class worthwhile. And I, little by little, gather new ideas from colleagues and conferences, and I slowly chip away at being a Good Teacher All Of The Time. 

But for now? I am Good Enough.

If you're not feeling Good Enough--or even if you are--you can connect with @SraStephanie on Twitter and TeachersPayTeachers.

Stay tuned for more guest posts this month from our online PLN!


06 January 2016

Review-Preview Stations: First days in Spanish 2

Are they still First Day Fun Stations if it's their second time doing them? It's not their first day of Spanish, so the element of surprise is out the window. Plus they've already built up their own ideas of what "fun" means in Spanish class.

But there's still too much to get done to just sit on their First Day!

Stations will not actually be the VERY first thing my students do this semester--got to warm up the drowd a little bit. We're going to lead with a group reconstruction of one of their favorite coros (each kid has a number with a word or phrase on it, and they'll say them in order).

Those numbers will also correspond to their computers, which they'll need to sign up for Seesaw and Nearpod. We'll break the ice a little more with their funniest memories of Spanish I (keepin' it positive) and then lay out what I'm going to need from them these first few days.

And then we'll dive right in, looking back and looking forward at the same time.


GreenScreen Karaoke

Music equals memory for my students. And coros were by far the biggest motivator for this particular group. So this one from my original Spanish II First Day Fun Station stays--although in a slightly simpler form.
  1. Select a song you remember from the Spanish I coro playlist: bit.ly/coros2014.
  2. Use the GreenScreen app on an iPad to record yourself singing or reciting your chosen coro in front of the green paper.
  3. Find an image that goes along with the song to upload as the background.
  4. Add the video to the Karaoke folder through the Seesaw iPad app.


Portfolios are a record of students' previous performance. However, a year after one semester of Spanish, asking students to evaluate their own level may be a bit beyond their scope. Fortunately they also have badges--and a way to get into the new portfolio format.
  1. Log in to ForAllRubrics and save all badge images for Novice Mid Reading, Listening, or Writing and Novice Low Speaking.
  2. Create a portfolio using the template at bit.ly/spanishskillsportfolio; your URL will be in the following format:
  3. Insert the badges you've earned on the first page of your new portfolio.
  4. Submit the link to the Portfolio folder on Seesaw.

Word(less) Wall

Interactive notebooks are textbooks students get to keep. Plus we only used 30 pages last year. So students will use their Spanish I notebooks and keep going for Spanish II--after they've reviewed some essentials they'll need moving forward, essentials like vocabulary.
  1. Review the vocabulary on pages 5, 6, 14, 19, and 21 of your Spanish I notebook (or a partner's).
  2. Select 5 words from each page that you think will be most useful for you to communicate in Spanish.
  3. Post the 5 words for each category (Intereses, Pasión, Contactos, Preguntas, Actividades) to the designated Nearpod questions.
  4. Draw an image in each section of the whiteboard that represents the word you think is most important for each category (No words!)

Adobe Voice Stories

Interactive notebooks also contain context for language learned last year with my first two TPRS stories ever. Those kids still tease the protagonists' namesakes from "Mucha basura" (fortunately they're very good sports), so this should be a good way to tap into their memory as well.
  1. Read either "Mucha basura" or "El mejor invento" aloud to a partner, and listen while they read the other to you.
  2. Choose one story to summarize and retell
  3. Create a video using the Adobe Voice App on the iPads with 4 images to represent:
    1) a description of the protagonist,
    2) the problem he/she has in the story,
    3) what he/she does about the problem,
    and 4) how the story ends.
  4. Record your summary for each picture in your own words in Spanish.
  5. Submit the video to the Stories folder via the Seesaw iPad app.


Letter Home

Here's a way to make sure students AND parents understand what to expect for the course--and establish some two-way contact with home right off the bat!
  1. Read the information provided on the class webpage, including the circle links on the infograph syllabus and side bar.
  2. On the back of your syllabus, write a letter to your parents explaining additional useful information (that is not available on the paper copy) on each the following topics:
  • IPAs
  • Portfolios
  • Practice
  • Unit projects

You must return the signed syllabus--with the letter on the back--by Monday.

BONUS PRACTICE GRADE: Have your parents email me at least 1 question and 1 additional comment about what they learned about the course from your letter. If they do not use email, they may leave a voicemail at my Google Voice number.

Portfolio Title Pages 

This should save a step or two on Portfolio Days and also provide a visual illustration of where we are headed as far as the four main skills.

1. Create a set of 12 images with the app of your choosing that includes your information:
  • Your name
  • Your Class (Spanish II or III)
  • Spring 2016
2. Create four images with the label Novice Mid level (only Spanish II), four with Novice High, four with Intermediate Low, four with Intermediate Mid (only Spanish III). For each level, label one image reading, one listening, one speaking, and one writing.

3. Submit the images to the Portfolio folder on Seesaw.

WeSpeke setup

I want students interacting with the language outside of class at least once a week, but I'm zeroing in on some problem areas. Thinking of what to talk or write about was one of the most common problems on IPAs last semester, so I'm going to have students find their own audience a la Sra. Cottrell. WeSpeke is a way they might be able to find such an audience if they don't know anyone (just not until I have permission forms signed).
  1. Create a profile on WeSpeke.com using your school Google account
  2. Decide if you would rate your ability level as 2 or 3.
  3. Select "I'm learning a language at middle/high school" as your reason.
  4. Select Community, About Me and You, Language Basics, and pick 2 other topics.
  5. Select "Learner" as your role and find Gaston Early College High School
  6. Select "I'll fill out my profile later."
  7. Change your status from Available to Busy ASAP.
  8. Click on the School icon at the top and choose "Join a Class."
  9. Find your class period, and click "Join this class."
  10. Click on the People tab and add at least 5 of your classmates--do NOT add or respond to anyone not from our school at this point.
  11. Edit your profile and add a description of yourself in Spanish.

Telenovela trailers

Listening has been one of the hardest areas to develop in my experience, so my goal is to get each kid hooked on a telenovela for homework. I'm giving them a few options to choose from, and they'll watch at least 15 minutes every other week and respond to their viewing on the Tarea Telenovela blog.
  1. Watch at least one minute of each of the ads in the playlist on the telenovelas blog https://youtu.be/2DAKulV7tRg.
  2. Pick the show you think you would like best, and watch the entire ad.
  3. Describe in one paragraph in English what you think the show you selected is about, including information about protagonist and the central conflict and what clues (words, images, sound effects) led you to you that understanding. Explain also your reasons for why you think you would like the show.
  4. Post your paragraph as a comment on this blog post.


After it's said and done, we'll gradually filter the review into assembled portfolios and interactive notebook pages for vocabulary and story summaries (with target structures) and parlay the preview into out-of-class experiences with the target culture.

And hopefully the hindsight will help clarify our vision for the semester!

03 January 2016

5 Steps to Align Objectives for the NCASW

It's almost that time, NC amigos! This month we have to collect our evidence, write our narratives, and upload everything for first semester!

But let's just make sure everything fits first, shall we?


Take a minute to check your ASW results from last year. They're there! Check under Archived ASW's and then click on Final ASW rating and comments! They'll tell you if your
  • objectives were ALigned
  • evidence showed GRowth
  • Narrative Context makes sense and explains everything it should
Or if you're missing something like evidence or narratives, or if you exploited the temporary loophole that said you could do the same objective for everything. (HINT: you can't repeat this year.)

You had 2 evaluators assess each objective, and as far as I can tell, they each got to give you one comment. That's how you end up with "student growth is apparent" for one comment and "student growth is not apparent" for another on the same sample set. (Unless they were referring to different students? Who knows.)

A very informative session from FLANC pointed out a few key things that held a lot of people back:

  • showing what students know about the language instead of what they can do with the language
  • failing to explain the steps they took to help the kiddos get better
  • plain not aligning with the objective--make sure interpersonal is interpersonal and interpretive is interpretive! Don't mix up reading and writing or writing and speaking!
So before you go submitting anything this go round, make sure you've done a little soul searching as to why you got those codes you got and HOW you can make sure to avoid those same pitfalls

So I'm ALigned and showing GRowth A-OK in CLL.1.1 and 2.3, but growth both is and is not apparent for CMT.3.1. I guess the coro roulette sheets were pretty sparse evidence.


It's a little late for picking objectives (unless your principal hasn't hit "approve" yet, perhaps, but I wanted to reflect a bit on the process I went through to pick out my objectives and make sure they'd work this time.

Step 1

First I went through all of the objectives that I could choose from and picked out all of the objectives that I could easily connect with something I had done or knew I was going to do (IPAs come in especially handy here!)

Step 2

Then I split them up into the three strands:
  • Connections to Language and Literacy (CLL)
  • Connections to Other Disciplines (COD)
  • Communities (CMT)
CLL and COD are by far the easiest for me to cover, but I also had to make sure there was something from CMT.

HINT: Standards that end with CMT.2._  are easiest to fit, because #2 standards are interpretive, and finding texts to interact with is generally easier than arranging interaction with people from the communities within the target culture or even within the larger "language learner" community.)

Step 3

Then I split each of the strands up by skill--which is designated by number:
  1. interpersonal
  2. interpretive
  3. presentational
  4. cultural
I needed to see how many of the four skills I had covered with each. I noticed I had very little on the cultural side, so that's something I made a note to focus on next semester.

HINT: If you have multiple preps in a semester, repeat Steps 1-3 before proceeding to Step 4

Step 4

Select an objective from each strand--that way you free yourself up second semester, so you don't have to worry about missing one. I started with the hardest skill to demonstrate--interpersonal. Interpersonal is a beast for several reasons:
  • There must be a partner involved--it's not interpersonal if one person writes/records it.
  • Evidence pretty much HAS to be a recording. You could do the old note-passing exercise, but evaluators are VERY wary of anything typed that could be scripted instead of spontaneous.
  • File size limit on uploads--had to have my IT-oriented spouse convert my videos to audio to fit. I spent HOURS cutting up videos the year before.
HINT: After making sure interpersonal is covered, make sure to hit two more different skills. Yes, you can pick 2 of the same skill this time, but then you have to do all different skills next time. Don't back yourself into a corner like that.

Here's what my objective selection Doc ended up looking like for Spanish I:

Step 5

It's also a good idea to jot down which assignment you will use for the Before and which you will use for the After for each objective before you submit for principal approval (or before you send a gentle reminder that he/she needs to approve your objectives). 

HINT: If you can't think of a fitting assignment, I highly recommend re-selecting instead of trying to tack on something that doesn't actually connect to anything you were going to be doing anyway. I mean, sure, tweak your approach to something already planned so it aligns better, but don't go wedging in whole new units or mini-units for the sake of evidence. It'll be rushed and messy.

Here's what I came up with for Spanish I:
WL.NM.CMT.2.2: Infer meaning from familiar texts by using visual cues, such as road signs, charts, graphs, etc. that reflect the target culture.
WL.NM.CLL.3.1: Use memorized words and phrases in presentations on familiar topics, such as likes, dislikes, emotions, everyday activities, and immediate surroundings.
  • Visual Vocabulary + presentation draft
  • Final presentation
WL.NM.COD.1.1: Use memorized words and phrases to exchange information about the classroom and school environment.

Now you have one skill left to cover and possibly a whole new set of objectives to choose from for next semester. Peruse your objectives and start daydreaming where that fourth skill will fit. Give yourself a little time to recover from evidence collection and uploading, then start Steps 1-3 again.

The good news? You can pick pretty much anything you want for one whole objective now! ...except anything you've picked already.