20 June 2016

REFRESH! Portfolios over the Summer

Señora! How will you get your kids to use Spanish this summer?

I mean, sure, in December, they all seemed to think it was reasonable to get 4 portfolio sections completed in the calendar YEAR they were going to have between Spanish I ending and Spanish II beginning. (There are advantages and disadvantages to the way my school is set up.) But since December, only 3 people have bothered to turn even 1 section in!

Back then

So I assembled all of their portfolio and IPA scores for Spanish I, eyeballed them a bit, thought back on my experiences with them and overall impressions of 

A) their ability levels and 
B) their anxiety levels. 

And I assigned them a level to "maintain" over the year-long hiatus, complete with cute custom badge printout for their notebooks.

So they agreed to submit a new set of evidence for each of the four skills at their prescribed level. They also agreed it probably was a good idea to spread out the refreshing and maybe avoid an end-of-semester crunch this fall by at least offering a little extra credit carrot to get as many sections as possible done by summer's end.


In the meantime

I set up the spreadsheet I'll be using to track their progress in each skill next semester, and I added a column to enter their semester-end designated level.

I added another column next to the "I" levels and labeled it "Re" for "Refresh" so that I can record their results.

For spring break I had posted the Reading assignment, complete with
  • objectives for each level (Novice Mid through Intermediate Low)
  • suggested tasks for each level
  • linked resources to complete the suggested tasks
You know, just in case they got bored. I also posted Writing before exam week: after all, they had all that spare time when they finished college classes! Mind you, in that time THREE people got some portfolios in, and those only Reading.

Time for some


About now

I'm about to archive last year's classes and hit the old "Reuse Post" on Google Classroom to transfer Reading and Writing to the "Class of 2019" class that the whole school uses for that cohort's announcements. Oh, and "Schedule Assignment," so they can go out while I'm on the plane to Mexico!

Speaking of scheduling things to go out while I'm in Mexico, I also just discovered the Boomerang Chrome Extension that allowed  me to send reminder emails from the plane as well! You see, unless students took their notebooks home with their cute badge printout stickers (or, Heaven forfend, they wrote it down themselves and kept track of it), they're probably not sure which level they should be submitting for what anymore.


 So I...
  1. pulled up my spreadsheet master list of accomplishments and accomplishments-to-come

  2. opened up the Class of 2019 students list in Classroom

  3. checked off all of the kiddos who had NM on the spreadsheet

  4. clicked "Actions" and "Email"

  5. jotted a little email reminder with NOVICE MID READING in big huge red letters and

  6. programmed it in Boomerang for plane time too! 
And voila! Private reminders that don't take forever!

Then of course I went back, did the same thing with NH and IL! And then again with all of the Writing accomplishments NM-IL. And, you know, eventually will do the same with Speaking and Listening.

And SPEAKING of LISTENING...I have a few more fortuitous posts for my young ones in need of refreshment coming up!


And THEN

After the plane lands, I'll not only have some more authentic text signage for their Reading portfolios on my Instagram @SraSpanglish#sxtnletrero (PS my wish for Instagram to Pinterest recipes from last year was granted!!), But I'm ALSO going to take my first dive into Periscope and send out some TL videos about my experiences whenever I get a chance! (#envivo #prayforwifi) 

Who knows? Maybe I'll even Snapchat!

So basically, my plan--aside from fair warning and discussing plans with kiddos ahead of time--is to 
  1. offer a familiar assignment--for a quiz grade or four,
  2. keep the assignment updates flowing via Classroom and email, and
  3. provide new and intriguing--and accessible--resources to tempt them to interact
Will it work? Time will tell.

And, you know, maybe some tagging on Instagram.

14 June 2016

Try It! Interactive Notebooks for World Languages


Interactive Notebooks were a disaster my first year. It was mostly because I jumped in feet first and just made it up as I went.

And that's okay.

As Thomas Sauer is fond of saying, no one ever died of bad language instruction.

But with more anticipation, planning, and having a reason for each choice that goes into each entry, my approach has come a long way in three semesters. Do I still make some stuff up as I go? Oh yeah. But I don't randomly decide "Hey, maybe this should go in the notebook!" anymore...hardly.

But after three semesters honing and refining what goes into my students' interactive notebooks, this is what I can tell you.



What is an interactive notebook anyway?

I don't use textbooks anymore. It's more work for me trying to figure out how to make them work,
and the kids can't take them with them when the class is over anyway. If they're going to have a reference, I want it to be A) something they can actually use and B) something they can keep using when they're out of my class.

So for me, an interactive notebook is a personalized reference source. It's something students can use to refresh and that I can use to scaffold increasing proficiency. Can't remember how to use that verb? Check page 11. How do you say "run" again? Check page 4.

Is it a place for practice with the language? Yes. That's another way that maintaining an interactive notebook is superior to a textbook--the students build their reference, so they are actively processing the information instead of passively "absorbing." However, if it's not something that will make a handy resource in completing other activities later--in my class or beyond--it generally doesn't go in. (That's what Classroom and Seesaw are for, right?)


What DO you put in them?

It's important to decide what's important for your class and what types of pages you will include--before you start the notebook. You don't necessarily have to divide the notebook into separate sections for each category; in fact, I prefer a chronological order so students can use their connections to when we learned something to find what they're looking for. Side note: I did try a divided "Índice" this semester, but it was a bit of a mess, so I'll probably just try color coding the chronological list and pages.

The point of having categories of what types of pages you'll have is actually to help YOU decide what students truly need for YOUR class. Me, I've got it narrowed down to seven categories (or eight, if I split the coro starter lyrics off from other texts), but categories like Calendars are mostly because of my PBL setup and including the "Escribe en Cinco" quick writes is a personal decision so students will have a physical record of where they started and how much they've grown.

A few categories I would recommend for anyone, though, would be Vocabulary and Texts

I absolutely FORBID translation (not English) in the notebooks, so having vocabulary with visual references and meaningful groupings of words allow students to refresh connections in their brains, as opposed to look-it-up-and-forget-it.

As for texts, they can be song lyrics, TPRS stories, topical authentic resources, or even QR codes and cloze readings to go with videos. The important thing is having a reference with the language in context. All the vocabulary lists in the world are useless if you don't know how to put those words together, and to understand that, you need examples, input.


How do you plan what goes in?

There are so many cute things you can do with interactive notebooks--especially on Pinterest. It's fun to collect those cute ideas, I admit, but in the end, the power of interactive notebooks is not in the bells and whistles, but in the function of each page. Believe it or not, I'm not one for gimmicks, because the gimmicks are not what make the learning happen. You must always start with your purpose, the absolute essentials of what you want students to be able to find later (remember, Less is More).

I like to plan my pages as I do my weekly lesson plans. I figure out what I'm doing day by day, and then I figure out what I want them retain and come back to. I usually only have about 3 or 4 pages a week, because whatever goes into the notebook has to be worth returning to. It has to fit into one of my categories, and it has to help students process the information in a meaningful way.

Here are some questions you could ask yourself as you're contemplating a page:
  • If students only remember 5 things on the page, what should they be?
  • How can you draw attention to those 5 things visually?
  • How can students manipulate that information in a meaningful way?
  • What information should be provided for context or to save time? 

For drawing attention, I mostly rely on clip art, but you could also use large fonts, bright colored paper, or organization elements like boxes. In fact, deciding what to provide ahead of time plays a part in highlighting the essential parts--what they manipulate is what gets the most brain space (followed closely by visuals).  These are some of the most effective ways I've found to have students manipulate information:
  • Simply fill in the blanks--leave the most important words out of a sentence or set of words and have them copy it in their own handwriting.
  • Color coding--with just one or two highlighter colors, students can create their own categories or emphasize what they know and what they need to look up in a text.
  • Scramble for sorting--have students arrange words or phrases or even sentences into categories to help them form semantic connections.
  • Vocabulary flaps--if students have to cue their recall with a visual and THEN they get to check the word, they have a better resource than a glossary style list. These work for questions and answers too: context instead of translation!
  • Accordion folds--these allow more information to fit on the page, but they also allow for increasing complexity, say, moving from a visual to a word to a phrase to a sentence.
  • Sliders--I like these for things like verb endings so students can see how the roots interact with suffixes, but they're also good for randomizing questions with different vocabulary.

So if you want to try interactive notebooks, remember...

  1. Start with the essentials--what are the most basic things you want student to remember?
  2. Plan categories for the kind of information you want--for your own organization.
  3. Use Pinterest to inspire you, but use only what your students will need.
  4. Incorporate context and memory cues that do not involve translation.
  5. Make information easy to find and easy to use.
  6. Focus students' attention to what's most important with visuals.
  7. Provide ways for students to verify the accuracy of their work.
  8. Design ways for students to interact with and use new information
  9. Build in opportunities to refer back to and apply learning from each page.
  10. Jump in and try! No one ever died from bad language instruction!

01 June 2016

5 Big Reasons I'm a Big Fat Cheater


I've had a very good year.

Students who used to hate, HATE Spanish class--MY Spanish class--are begging for Spanish III. Every single one of my students improved in at least two of the communication skills, and over half reached intermediate levels on reading, writing, AND speaking on the final IPA (My more novice-appropriate listening approach might have gotten more over that hump too).

No one failed.

You can see that the lower end is a lot less low since I first started assessing with IPAs last year, and that--listening aside--the higher end is even higher than last semester's Spanish I results.

I think I'm on the right track!

However. While it is clear that something is improving in my Spanish classes, I have to make a confession.

It's not all me.

I think the results I'm getting (listening aside) are pretty great. But here's a list of things that made it easier for me to get those results:


  1. One prepSure, I had to manage a total of 95 students this semester, but 52 of them were in an alternating study hall on the days their college Health class wasn't meeting. I gave them some note taking tips, monitored their grades, kept them quiet. But I had no lessons to prepare, no feedback to return. I mean, I usually have 2 preps, what with my English classes, but every once in a while...
  2. Classes under 25
    The two Spanish II classes I did have to plan for, grade for, and generally make work had under 25 students each. They weren't the magical ideal number I figured out student teaching (15) but they were close enough that everyone could get what they needed most of the time.
  3. Looping
    I was only teaching my babies. That's all I ever teach: my babies. I find a way to get to know the freshman class every year, whether it's with lab, focus time, enrichment, or clubs, and I analyze. I've been analyzing this particular group for 2 whole years. No one else taught them Spanish, either. I have all of the records and all of the memories of what worked--but mostly what didn't work--last year in Spanish I. When I had aaallll of these same kids. And? They know they can never escape me. MWAHAHAHAH!
  4. College schedules
    I haven't had a new student after the 10-day mark in four years. We can't have new students. They miss part of one college class, and they're behind their entire early college career. What's more is they have that built-in lab time in their schedules because college classes are only Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday. Oh, and whaddaya know? Their lab time was during my planning time! Oh, and college classes don't meet on Fridays? Well come on down for Academic Hour to get help or make up that work! I guess you could come before or after school, but look at all this space built into your day to come see me!
  5. ChoiceYes, I teach teenagers. Yes, they are fickle and come with all of the issues you'd expect any teenagers to come with. They applied one time to get into our school and then got tossed into a lottery--not hand picked. But you know what? The kids that made it into the lottery were the ones that had the follow-through to obtain, complete, and submit the application. They're the ones with the parents who were involved enough to A) be aware that a school such as ours existed (even if it was only by getting a paper shoved into their hands to sign) and B) sign the application.

    The application does not guarantee that these kids are "The Cream of the Crop," and certainly not that they will LOVE school and always do their homework. But these are kids who at least one time decided school was a good idea, and they have parents who at least one time decided to help them make a change. It's a small thing, but not only di our kids make a choice to come to our school, but once they get here they are not limited to staying or dropping out--they can go back to their home high school. 

Could I do what I do with kids who weren't filtered through an application process? I think so. Could I do what I do if I met these kids for the first time on the first--or fiftieth--day of class? Not as well as I do with my own babies and not as quickly, but probably. Could I do what I do with four preps or multiple classes of 35? Heck no.

But you know what? I think my situation STINKS.

It doesn't stink that my kids are getting what they need. It doesn't stink that I can spend time reflecting on my kids' needs and trying new things AND still sleep.

It stinks that it is not the norm.

Doesn't everybody's kid deserve this kind of support and attention? Doesn't every teacher deserve the time and space to do the best possible work without sacrificing their health and home?

A lottery should never determine who gets to succeed--teacher or student.

So what can we do to make the advantages I enjoy status quo?

What can we do to ensure that every student and teacher has what they need to succeed?