24 September 2016

#OFLTA16 Presentations

How cool is it that I got to fly halfway across the country for my Saturday morning PD? I mean, I'll miss #LangChat this morning, but I get to physically hang out with some of my PLN amigos I'd only ever tweeted or emailed with before! The price tag? A keynote speech and a couple of sessions.


Sorry, I've been too excited to sleep.

The OFLTA Fall Conference theme is "Navigate the Proficiency Sea," so I went with a marine theme for my presentation.

Then this afternoon I get to talk about one of my very favorite things:

And then it's time to break out the Nearpod for some interactive discussion on Performance-Based Assessment.


12 September 2016

Winners, Losers, and Participation Trophies

A motivational speaker once stood up and told all of our entire student body that they will have to cut some people loose if they want to succeed, that they need to separate themselves from certain friends who are bringing them down. While I cannot deny the truth--or urgency--of his message, I couldn't help but wonder which lives in that crowd he was suggesting giving up on. Which kids deserved to be cut loose to fail on their own?

My answer is none. They are kids.

Now, do some kids bring each other down every time they are together? Absolutely. They need to part ways because they do not have a healthy relationship and because it's not a kid's job to carry another kid's load and push them forward. A kid's job is to grow.

An adult's job is to make that growth possible. It's our job to support young people and help them move forward when they don't know how to.

Here's the thing, though. Not all adults are willing--or equipped--to do that.

I have had very, VERY heated debates over the significance of participation trophies. I cannot stand by while adults judge children and claim participation trophies have ruined them. I cannot. Perhaps it is not open-minded of me to refuse to accept any argument on the matter, but I won't.  No, no perhaps about it. My mind is closed on this subject for two reasons.

We may not be natural athletes,
but we keep going.
For one, I was an awful swimmer who faked foot cramps at swim practice in high school and whose proudest title from swim meets was "Not Last." There is no way anyone should ever have handed me first place. However, as someone raised to believe I was "gifted" I made it through not one but TWO seasons of sucking. That's something.

I suspect my children are going to prove equally athletically talented, but by God my eight-year-old came back for another year of football and gets better all the time. My four-year-old made it through an entire football clinic in the July heat and doesn't seem to notice she's the only girl on the peewee flag football team. Paolo's team score a single point last season, but he played every game and committed to keep going and getting better, even if he couldn't always claim the Not Last title--or even most improved.

I think that deserves it's own recognition, don't you? Not first place, but wouldn't a participation trophy be fitting?

The other reason the participation trophy debate turns me ten shades of outraged red every time is the idea that any child CAN be ruined--by trophies or by anything. The idea is abhorrent to me.

[from The Art of Manliness]
Read more about brain maturity from NPR.
Human beings are constantly growing and developing through AT LEAST age 25. Therefore bad behavior for teenagers and young children MUST be treated as a symptom--not a sin. Acting out always, always, always has a motivation, and demanding compliance for its own sake does nothing for the child.

This does not mean I have never demanded compliance. Nor that I have vowed never to demand compliance again. There is a time and a place, like when it is just playing around because they're not in serious mode yet...or when you have a killer migraine and can't afford to psychoanalyze just then.

But there was a time that student compliance was how I measured myself as a teacher--how I was certain others measured me (and, well, they probably did). There was a time not so long ago that that was how I measured students.

There was a time when I believed I SHOULD judge my students.

As my son has taught me, the judging young people by their behavior only hurts: our relationships, our mental well-being--to say nothing of the young people. We dwell in bitterness and resentment when we do not get the respect or response we believe we deserve.

Well I did.

The truth was I needed more of that adult support even as an adult. Long story short, divorce exhausted every spiritual resource I had and made serving teenagers in any real way basically impossible. I couldn't see anything past my own hurt for a long, long time. I couldn't understand why I couldn't get a break and so insisted on denying anyone else a break. And the cycle continued.

[from Emily's Quotes]
I still think I deserve a trophy for those years, those years of terrible teaching and judging kids. Because dammit, I didn't stop. I often feel compelled to apologize to everyone who had me in class then--everyone. Even the kids who outright defied me and contributed to more than one breakdown. I get why they didn't give me a break at the lowest point in my life--why I wasn't winning any awards then. But the greatest accomplishment in my life may be getting me and Paolo through to the other side of all that.

I couldn't see the other side when I was 28 though, so how am I going to expect a teenager to see the other side of their hardship? And if I, a trained professional ADULT, couldn't keep from dumping my stress on CHILDREN, how can I POSSIBLY expect them to handle their stress with grace at every moment?

And why would I ever think that throwing stress back at them would do anything but break them further?

I'm sorry. I now have the emotional resources to step back and examine the source of students' disrespect, thanks mostly to my husband who stepped up and modeled patience through my stress. So why would I lash out at an obviously stressed--and emotionally developing--teenager for not following a rule or for overreacting?

When you know better, you do better.

[from QuotesOnly]
And how are kids ever going to know better if all they get from adults is judgment in their most trying times? Where are the models? The guides to help them understand what they're feeling and what they can do with those feelings? How is breaking them preparing them for The Real World? How does adding cracks to their self-image do anything but weaken them in the face of future trials? Or is that what we're trying to do? Are we trying to weed out the ones who "deserve to fail"?

Some people say there are winners and losers in this world, but I want to know how they define winning. Is it a plaque from the board of education or a certificate from NBPTS? Those I've got now. Can you be a winner if you've been put on an action plan and dressed down by an AP, a principal, AND a superintendent? Because I've got those too. Is my beautiful, giving mother-in-law a winner for having been nominated for TA of the year or a loser because the county picked someone else? Are ALL of my brilliant friends who haven't been nominated at all (yet) losers for not having gone through that process?
[from Syracuse
Cultural Workers

I'm not saying give everyone first place. I'm saying that when the kid who couldn't keep his shoes tied a whole game last year makes two tackles in the first game of the season, celebrate it.

If the team that couldn't score all season last year loses 33-8, congratulate those kids and keep them going.

If the student who couldn't make it through first period without biting the heads of three classmates and a teacher freshman year takes it upon herself as a senior to separate herself until she can cool down, acknowledge her progress.

And pat that kid on the back when he decides he can and will pass and then follows through--even if it's not an A.

I'm saying we as educators--as adults--need to recognize and encourage the simple act of not stopping. We need to build up growing people who have the strength and support to handle difficulty when they are older and done growing (at least neurologically).

Participation trophies aren't first place, but they can be just as hard to win.

10 September 2016

3 Infographs for Gamification in Novice Spanish

I wish I could infograph all day. Reading infographs, analyzing infographs, creating infographs--and it doesn't matter the topic. From eyeliner to Einstein, ancient artifacts, augmented reality, or syllabuses: infographs my idea of a supercool hobby. (Note: this is probably why I myself will never actually be supercool.)

Fortunately a good chunk of Spanish I may as well be called Infografías 101. Novices need infographs: small chunks of text with plenty of visual support. And they can learn almost anything they want--IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE--from infographs. Oh yeah, my little biologists and physics enthusiasts were tearing it down Week 3, not to mention my makeup artists and fellow Pokémon trainers with our first IPA, where each kiddo selected an infograph from this Pinterest board. Pretty much everyone rated a Novice Mid interpretive performance. WEEK THREE!

After they got an idea of why they should learn Spanish, it was time to figure out the how with gaming strategies. And where do you start learning anything with the target language?

Input, of course! Yummy, yummy infographic input!

So I've been collecting every infografía I could find on gamificación (and some articles just in case), but there were two that I thought really drove home 

A) what gamification is and
B) what gamification does.

What it does

I started with what it does for buy-in purposes: here's the point of all of this up front. It also give a little transparency and language to discuss what we're doing, and eventually how well it works.

I pasted this into a Google Drawing (I may have a problem) so students could respond to what they were reading just by moving around some symbols: arrows that said either "cierto" or "falso" and a star that said "¡IMPORTANTE!" (Incidentally, several asked if they had to use the falso arrows because they found so much to be true!)

Before they touched their own copy of the Drawing, though, I had them guess which words on the infograph meant 
  • Learning
  • Student
  • Help
  • and Skills
They got pretty good at picking words out based on what was around them and clues in the sentences. You know, like actual English translations, but also cognates like motivan and thinking "Who would be motivated?" They were able to use a lot of prior knowledge and a lot of cognates to figure stuff out.

What it is

I actually only needed half of this infograph to make my point. So the bottom half is what into their interactive notebooks, basically as their vocab list.

We went through each elemento and discussed whether or not they thought that element could help them. Also: super easy to do in the TL!
¿Te gustan niveles? ¿Niveles pueden ayudar tu español? ¿Qué niveles tiene la clase de español?
THEN we discussed if SPANISH class had those elementos. Perhaps one of the proudest moments I had was when a couple of kids tried to say students don't have control with their blogs and two blunt and generally Spanish-apprehensive girls seemed offended that someone even dare SUGGEST that they didn't have control over their personal practice, their cultural topics, their personal vocabulary--each and every day! It wasn't exactly a TL takedown, but oo the fire in their eyes!

PS I meant to have students write notes on what Spanish class did and didn't have next to this infograph, but I didn't exactly time things right to make that possible.

BONUS: Gamification in action

 Now this one's not "authentic" by any means, but it sure is personalized. In the quest (ha! get it? game? quest?) to give students more control (and in a fit of fly-by-the-seat-pants, to be perfectly honest), I decided to let students suggest and vote on what their premios would be for their Classcraft powers.

So basically I took the infograph I'd made before for breaking down Classcraft powers, copied it, and switched a few things out and got this:

A photo posted by Laura Sexton (@srasxtn) on

I'm most tickled by the girl who memorized trabajar afuera IMMEDIATELY. (Also really hoping the timing works out with Abuela's annual trip so she can come show them how to make tortillas like she did a few years ago!)

You will notice the practice with quiero to show comprehension--we also used these powers (and the behaviors that lose you HP) for our examples on the puede page.

After interpretation

I've set up a Hangout with gamification guru Glen Irvin for our upcoming IPA this week so we can talk about how Gamification works in the classroom and see if the kiddos agree when we discuss the elements they want to see--and can or can't see--in class and how those gaming elements can help them keep learning.

Then it's time for them to make their own game plan.

01 September 2016

Gaming Language - A novice PBL unit

I started playing Pokemon GO! for my students and now I can't stop.

That's right.
It's for work.
As I harnessed the power of the Netflix binge with the telenovela unit, I need to harness the power of Pokemon, or rather of gaming, to "catch 'em all" in class this year.

Motivation is the name of the game, and AutonomyMastery, and Purpose are its chutes and ladders.

Pokemon and Motivation

Yes, marvel at
my Pidgeot!
When I play Pokemon GO!, I have no endgame. I really don't know what the point is supposed to be. I do, however, set my own personal goals (and enlist my four-year-old and eight-year-old to help me achieve them):

1) Catch more new critters.
2) Find more Pokeballs to catch more critters.
3) "Evolve" or level up more critters.
4) Get to a higher level to get cooler stuff (like more effective Pokeballs).
5) Find higher powered critters.
I'll also occasionally have myself a little battle, should I find myself near a Pokemon gym, say, at the cafe on campus. But mostly I just like collecting critters of varying types and levels just to have them.

That, my friends, is Autonomy at its purest. I choose what I do with the game and why. I suppose having some predetermined ultimate goal would be cool, but this way, I also get to define for myself what Mastery means--maybe it's getting a critter over 1000 CP, maybe it's collecting 20 water types. But I have something to show that I've accomplished something.

The game itself, however, is not what give me Purpose.

Language and Purpose

The Pokemon aren't the purpose.
Having fun with these guys: that's a purpose.
Much like language, what keeps me going with the game is the opportunity to connect.

There are people wandering around with their families downtown like me who will hang out at a Pokestop with a lure. There was a lady with a design shop near three Pokestops who passed out Growlithe buttons and invited players in for a phone charge and a drink then showed my kids how to use the gift balloon vacuum while they figured out which Pokemon they want embroidered on their backpacks (Lena got Jigglypuff, Paolo got a Team Valor logo).

And just finding people online with the same triumphs and complaints--even if it's over something silly like running out of Pokeballs--just makes me feel like a part of something.

This is EXACTLY what we want for language learners!

So if we can design an experience that 1) encourages students to continually set their own goals, we can get them to an experience that 2) truly connects them with a larger community.

I had been planing a unit on social networking to start the year since Camp Musicuentos, but how much more useful would it be to build up the Why AND How of getting to that network? It's really an excuse to explore metacognition and WHY they have to take Spanish in the first place! (Because they do have to at my school. I know, I know.)

We can make a game of exploring what works for language acquisition and, really, what works for them! The Purpose, then is the language, but it is also getting to know each other--and perhaps more importantly, students getting to know themselves.

By the end of this unit, they'll be able to reflect on strategies and present to fellow language learners what they found does and does not work for them as well as what Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose mean for them in the context of language learning!

Tools for Setup

Of course I knew I'd have to bring back Classcraft for this StarWarscentric, NBA2K16-playing class. But this also gives me an excuse to work in Duolingo (which students were totally loving as a self-selected homework option last year--and apparently has half my students addicted already this year). I'm also looking forward to having a reason to play Verba and Manzanas con Manzanas if only for a chance to reflect on what worked and what didn't for each (I'll obviously have to stack the decks--literally--since it's the first unit).

I've also been looking for an excuse to tie in some new comprehensible input strategies like FVR/SSR, Movie Talks, and Persona Especial that I couldn't figure out how to connect to maintain any sort of thematic continuity. BUT, if they're all part of the quest to collect strategies that work for them, that tie in with their sense of Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose, then I can offer some Classcraft XP for things like...
  • recommending a book or article
  • "reading" different genres, e.g. fiction, poetry, biography
  • offering in-depth responses to questions
  • being interviewed
  • remembering everything about classmates
Students could maybe even suggest reasons they should earn XP, thus adding to our cache of language learning strategies if they can actually explain how what they did helped!

Other "excuses" for XP might include
  • DuoLingo accomplishments (levels, skills)
  • DuoLingo addiction (exceeding the 30 minutes)
  • winning a hand of Verba
  • finding 10 cards you understand in the Manzanas con Manzanas deck
  • misiones musicales
  • watching favorite movies in Spanish
  • reading ahead in the novel and making fake spoilers
This year it's Intensa-mente stickers
I picked up in Mexico.

And when we're talking gamification tools,  of course I cannot forget the badges that represent performance/ proficiency levels.Those pony stickers on the notebook graphs really help students track their progress. I'm not sure if it's in line with Autonomy or Purpose, but it does keep me in line with, you know, state curriculum and such. Plus it can be kind of a model for what growth looks like, right?


I've been thinking where I want this all to end up, and is it just me? Or does Shelby County's Path to Proficiency look like a game board to anyone else? My attempt to recreate Srta. Satar's clever and attractive student redesigns of said path didn't work as planned (too many descriptors, too little time/guidance?).  How cool would it be if students were to design their own game--maybe a board game, maybe not--that helped teach the best ways they found to learn a language?

I found this great infograph from Argentina about gamification that breaks down essential elements and that students really impressed themselves interpreting. So we can discuss what elements we already have in place (niveles, objetivos, etc.) and what elements we need more of, and how we can put that into their game.

I think this could really work.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go take this Pokemon gym back from my freshmen.