30 December 2016

Make Your Own Objectives! Language domains and student portfolios

ACTFL Can-Do Statements are holding my students back. I've been using them to evaluate porfolio submissions and award badges, and the badges just aren't matching students' abilities this way.

I need a system that connects what we know about proficiency with what students can and want to do with the target language.


Students submit evidence for reading, writing, listening, and speaking on their e-portfolios each six weeks, and if they don't show me that they can definitely, consistently perform at the designated level for all 3-4 objectives in a given category-100%, they have to submit evidence for the same level, the same category the next six weeks.

The objectives for each category and level are based on the ACTFL Can-Do Statements, though I whittled them down the as far as I felt I reasonably could. I like the idea of having something "Official" to ground these linguistical rites of passage, but they are hindering recognition where recognition is due.


There are kids who are consistently performing at an intermediate level on IPAs who can't break out of Novice Mid based on the Can-Dos (and, yes, I'm using the bold ones, not the niggling example bullet points below). I've been justifying it with "The Cone"--you have to show how far out you can go out with different contexts, not just how far up with text types.

But is that all The Proficiency Cone is?

The more I said it to kids who were convinced they'd at least hit Novice High (P.S. how cool is it that they want to defend their performance levels?), the more I heard myself omitting language domains.

Get your copy
on the ACTFL site!
Having taken part in the #LangCamp book study on The Keys to Planning for Learning this past summer, I knew there was a lot more to proficiency than text types and contexts.

But what could I do about it?

I hadn't been awarding badges based on proficiency guidelines or performance descriptors primarily because I thought it was more fun to have more levels to conquer, and neither document was willing to break down levels further than the broad headings of Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced (okay, and Superior and Distinguished, but my early college kids ain't getting there in 2 years--3 if they beg).

My kids have a pretty good grasp on proficiency/performance levels in general, but what if they also grasped language domains?

Could they then define their own goals for badges?


I stand by my belief that novices  don't know enough to know what they don't know, and they usually don't know even enough to know what they want to know. With language domains to choose from, I think they could have just enough ammunition to set some goals that are
  1. realistic, and
  2. relevant.
As with the ACTFL Can-Do's, though I'm going to choose to ignore the parts that I don't want. For one, I think language control is a domain that novices by definition can't evaluate. For two, if my kids want to talk about dinosaurs and roller coasters instead of their families and hobbies before they hit intermediate, I see absolutely no reason why they shouldn't. So I'm refusing to limit contexts in the accepted sense as well.

I find the descriptors for cultural awareness limiting, but I do like the idea of connecting whatever reading, listening, speaking, or writing they are doing to
  • "Knowing Myself"
  • "Exploring Communities," and/or 
  • "Engaging with the World."
The rest of the domains I broke down into novice and intermediate descriptors by mode (and I have to say, it really helped me grasp what I should expect when a lot more clearly!) 



Each six weeks, students are still going to 1)  pick/create 3 samples of their work for each communicative skill (a different skill each week).

Then, for each sample they are going to 2) construct an objective that that sample reflects, and they will pick at least one descriptor from each of the five domains in the infograph above.

Then they are going to 3) reflect on what the sample demonstrates about their performance level and where it shows they are with that skill, as well as their cultural awareness.

I made a Google Drawing that students can copy for each skill to pick their descriptors and just cut out the ones that don't apply. This way they'll automatically have a relevant header for anything that they embed in their portfolios, AND an easy way to reflect on their skills!

Before and after: I designated the level as Novice High because it drew from Novice AND Intermediate descriptors.


With domains and their command, students will be able to form their own relevant and appropriate objectives to apply to the evidence they want to display.

And then maybe they can tell me what is worth a badge.

27 December 2016

2017 To-Do List

These are not resolutions--I'm still working on my #OneWord for next year. But I am trying to organize what it is I want to accomplish so I don't end up stuck at the drawing board again. So these are a few goals that I want to start shaping up in order to sketch my semester.

1) Plan for Grading

It has occurred to me that when I plan an assessment, I should also plan when and how the actual, you know, ASSESSING is going to happen. Schedule an IPA in class? Schedule three hours of scoring. Collecting rough drafts? Gather some time for commenting before final drafts must be revised.

I suppose this is what normal people call "Logic," but this "Logic" is not my first, second, or even third language--I'm at like intermediate maybe.

Basically what this means is keeping my calendar more carefully and maybe working on my follow-through after kids are in bed.

2) Build a New Starter Cycle

I broke up with coros this year because they weren't having the results I wanted as far as listening. I wonder, though, if that breakup hurt my kids's speaking, since they really struggled with that the last 6 weeks (though for the final, it wasn't quite as bad as I thought--more on those results soon). Another problem was that they always seemed to lose their luster a month or two into the semester, and kids only ever seemed really smitten with the songs from the beginning of the year.

That's why I want to set up some sort of rotating schedule--one that takes more than a week to rotate, so don't get bored.

Some things I think I'd like to work into the rotation:
  • Classcraft check in - I think the gamification aspect is useful, and I regret letting it fall by the wayside. I should have regular time set aside for people to claim their badges/rewards.
  • FVR - I had some success with a Michelle Kindt inspired version of response for this...but this too fell by the wayside.
  • Game time - Kids L-O-V-E-D having some time to play Duolingo, Verba, and Manzanas con Manzanas, and I think it really filled in some gaps that I really didn't want to spend class time on, but gave the grammar-oriented a sense of confidence--and some extra vocab.
  • Blogging - Even if self-selected homework worked and vocabulary blogs ended up working out, making blogging a daily assignment was a bust, but setting aside time for cultural response and/or commenting on each other's ideas could be time well-spent.
  • Adobe Spark talks - I'm not sure how I want to set them up, but I want kids talking more frequently, with less stress. I think these might make better "enders" than starters, but they're on my (this) short list.
  • Conversation listening - the playlist of teachers who talked to me a few years ago was useful for my 1's this year, but this class has already heard them. Maybe I can get some topic suggestions and enlist more amigos to add to the list?
  • Random #authres fun - Sra. Wienhold has a Loco Lunes with random videos from Pinterest--a perfect excuse for some memes, comics, or infographs too!
  • And of course MUSIC - I don't know if I want to go the March Madness route or try some of the call-and-response or little dances made up to go with the words that worked this year, but I know there's gotta be music.

3) Connect with Online Kiddos

I've really been missing the part of teaching anything that made the drudgery of stuff like GRADES worthwhile, namely the connections with neat young people. Despite getting to know their skill levels, I just can't engage with them online the same was I can with people right in front of me!

So I think I'm going to start with the "Million words or fewer" assignment. I haven't really needed it in a while, since I got to observe and hang out with kids for a year in 9th grade before I taught them in 10th, but having parents email me anything I should know about their kids--in a million words or fewer--would surely help establish connections a little more firmly. And then maybe I need to implement the weekly random discussion board I learned about at Camp Musicuentos, to keep millions of words flowing and connecting us.

4) Differentiate Directors

My NOT-online Spanish III kids are really native speakers who will be earning Spanish III credit by doing mostly the same thing as the rest of the Spanish II class, just a level up on the AAPPL scales. This time, though, I have requested to have all of them in one class, not just for my own sanity when entering grades. My plan is to have them become the writers, choreographers, and directors for our winning skit, song, and even trivia at the language festival this year.

That way all of the tough stuff that is really not novice appropriate--like negotiating topics, developing storylines, and planning the moves--can actually be delegated to, well, NON-novices. And the novices can use what the Spanish 3's come up with as input!

17 December 2016

Top 6 of 2016

Among the most visited posts from 2016, some are policies that I've been implementing but just hadn't put in writing before. Some posts are the direct result of inspiration at #TELLCollab16 his spring. Another was trying to jump on a trend (that turned out not to be as trendy as I'd predicted) and another represents a more metacognitive in my Spanish I focus that has served me well this semester.

Click on the links below to see what hit home for the most people this year!

#1 New Translator Policy

August 22

#2 I Don't Do Standards-Based Grading, BUT...

April 7

#3 Self-Selected Spanish Homework

April 25

#4 ¡Pokemon VAMOS! Pokemon GO! for Spanish Class

July 31

#5 EPIC Telenovela PBL Unit & Final Exam

April 22

August 31

15 December 2016

Final Exam Stations: Presentation, reflection, and anticipation

That's right, I'm conducting final exams in stations (although really only one station constitutes part of the final exam grade). The rest are more "daily" sorts of assignments, but they are designed...
A) to promote reflection and anticipation and
B) to keep 80% of the class busy while 20% of the class presents their speeches in small groups
So far, they're working great. It takes a little pressure off of my presenters (although their amigos still have to make eye contact and giggle from their stations, of course), and it keeps students thinking about how to keep their Spanish alive in the twelve months between Spanish I and II!

Presentation Station

So obviously station 1 is where the presentations happen, not unlike Mme. Blouwolff's conversation stations (though I haven't mastered the barrier area yet). One student at a time has their "Ignite Lite" presentation pulled up on the SmartBoard directly in front of a table where 4-5 classmates listen raptly and then ask a few questions. I keep a little chart where I track each kiddo's participation as far as
  • questions
  • answers
  • overall speaking level
My chart notes mostly consist of N1-I2 codes according to my beloved AAPPL rubrics in each slot, adding an approximate code next to the appropriate name each time someone in the group speaks. This is working nicely, as it allows me to see what they can do with a week of straight preparation for the performance but also how they respond to questions on the spot.

And I gotta tell you, these are the best questions I've heard all semester, too! They're getting their point across and really picking something in the presentations to latch onto, since they're covered if they ask each presenter one question. I think this may be how I conduct assessments moving forward!

Debriefing afterward since all of the presentations have been going so smoothly has also been really beneficial for me and, I think, the kids.

Reflection Station

This is mostly survey filling time. In the past, I've asked about which activities and tools they enjoyed the most and/or learned the most from and solicited suggestions for the future. This year, though, the focus has been why and how, so I think that's the direction I really want to head this year. I still have some quick 1-5 Likert polling on a select few tasks and tools, but I'm mostly be looking at questions like:
  1. Why do you think Sra. Sexton made you  ___?
  2. How well do you feel ___  accomplished those purposes and why?
I want to choose my proverbial battles so I don't get a zillion hurried, thoughtless responses, so I'm focusing on recurring tasks like:
  • interactive notebook pages
  • novel reading
  • vocabulary blogs
  • personal practice blogs
  • Adobe Spark conversations
  • game time
Portfolios and IPAs still get their own sections, because I believe there will be a lot to say there. And of course, they get a chance to tell me what they think I should do more/less of before Spanish II.

So far it looks like I'm on track with the gaming, but I need to do more with their notebooks.

Contact Station

A calendar year between Spanish I and II is a fact of life for us here at the early college. But if it means I have all of the sophomores at once and all of the juniors at once, I'll take it.

Last year I had students do refresh portfolios in their absence, but I thought since we had the novel now, they might prefer to stay up on their Spanish reading, say, a chapter a month and maybe doing an activity here and there. Most wanted to stick to portfolios or blogs. Go figure.

I decided I wanted to make sure that they were interacting fairly regularly with the language, so I want to see dates: blogs it is. I also decided that there are twelve months and four skills I want them to practice with, that I'll require 3 posts about each skill before next year. And to make it even easier, we'll meet once a month (most months) and do some fun stuff that also helps fulfill a blog requirement.

So at the station, their job is to

  1. sign up for any meet-up dates they're planning on attending
  2. make suggestions for what we can do at that meet-up
  3. help brainstorm a list of activities for reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and then
  4. make a personal plan for an activity for each month
So far it looks like everyone is planning to cram some practice in in the final months before Spanish II, but I think I'm okay with that.

Competition Station

I wanna win. So at this station, everyone will have to decide what activity they want to compete in for the language festival, then start building a team and a plan. They have to pick acting or singing, and if they pick acting, they havt to suggest a skit topic' singing hast to suggest a song. Then whoever wants to do each creates a video (in Spanish) promoting their idea to upload to Seesaw, and get people to like their video. They can create the video with as many people as they can get to agree on their idea, but all have to talk. The video with the most likes on Seesaw will be our focus in Spanish II!

I'm a little worried about our skit chances next year, as it's looking pretty darn music heavy...but at least they're passionate.

Cuaderno Station

Here, they make a cheat sheet. They fit everything they need to remember from their notebooks on one page. We talked about sketch notes last year when I tried to help them survive their college Health class, so I think this is a perfect opportunity to bring those lessons back (and give them something they can keep in their pocket of or take a picture of to review when they're bored).

They've been taking to this one like ducks to water. They knew what to do and mostly seem to zero in on conjugation so far.

I'm looking forward to another full day of presentations and stations, and I think the kiddos might actually be feeling pretty good about it too...considering it still is exam day.

13 December 2016

Forget about Proficiency

I spent YEARS fretting and fuming about the difference between performance and proficiency and what exactly I was supposed to DO with them. I'd like to give a shout out to my tweeps who put up with this spillage from my inner turmoil, especially Sra, Cottrell and Herr Sauer. And Lord bless Paul Sandrock for gracefully dealing with my neophyte self face to face when I was still more than a little belligerent about the whole thing.

You know those super smart kids that hate language class because it's the first time they didn't automatically get what was going on? That was me in my early performance/proficiency maelstrom. Ooooo, I did NOT take that lesson lying down.

Still, as with many acquisition type concepts, I figure if I'm not getting it--brilliant scholar that I am--someone else isn't getting it, and they might not be as...vocal...about getting someone to talk them through it (again: bless you guys, AND anyone else who got caught in the Twitter or NC WL Collaborative crossfire.)

So after years of bugging people who have my utmost respect and/or actually let me call them amig@, here's my quick and dirty breakdown of what you need to know about Proficiency, Performance, and why one is not your problem.

#1 Proficiency is a far-off dream

You do not assess for proficiency in your class. You are not qualified to assess for proficiency in your class, unless you are one of the select few who has made it through some sort of Official Training where Someone Official officially declares you are. Yes, you are teaching toward proficiency as your ultimate goal, but it's kind of like the way you are teaching for your students' general success in life. You want them to be happy and comfortable and prepared--only with proficiency, specific guidelines defining said linguistic happiness, comfort, and preparation actually EXIST, and you have to do what you know is most likely to get them to that simultaneously vague yet very specific promised land, probably without ever actually getting to see their arrival.

#2 Proficiency doesn't fit in a classroom

What kind of jerk tests a kid on something they don't prepare them for? (Sit down, me from 5 years ago. We didn't know any better.) But really, proficiency is by definition a big, broad, nebulous thing that kind of has to incorporate everything. To measure it, you have to keep pushing upward and outward, gauging how many topics the language learner can handle until you bump up against what they can't do.

We're not there to limit language learners, people, or to judge what they can't do. We're there to support and increase what they CAN do. So we prepare them for specific, isolated performances with a familiar, predetermined topic, and we do not GOTCHA our precious babies. We funnel input into their little ears and eyes as much as we can and then measure what comes out according to reasonable expectations based on what we have actually provided. It is our responsibility to assess performances that are within the scope of what we know they have been prepared for through our classes. It is the duty of the proficiency assessor to determine what they can do beyond their specific preparation in any context.

That would just be plain cruel to grade for class. And it'd really make building a #NationofAdvocates pretty impossible.

#3 Performances lead to proficiency

I have this theory that if I measure enough performances, I can call that proficiency. It's why I do portfolios and IPAs and grade how I grade. My precious babies are very proud of their intermediate performances and get frustrated when those don't automatically get them even their Novice High badges. I tell them proficiency is a cone, but performance is a line, and they grumble and move on without actually getting the difference.

But the point is: you can get the right text types and vocabulary to move up the cone, but you have to show you can do it in more and more contexts to continue filling out the cone.

I've tried a plant analogy too: a stem needs branches and leaves to nourish itself and survive. So as they are able to understand and express themselves on more and more topics in more and more situations through more and more performance assessments, they're adding more branches to their tree so it get be stronger and, well, bigger. But if they're measured with only one performance, they stay a stem, and their language learning will never last.

So my advice to anyone caught trying to teach for proficiency or implement performance-based assessment is to keep your eyes on one branch at a time. You are planting forests, nourishing them from the ground up. We may never get the aerial view of what our efforts accomplish, but we can see the forest in each tree.

11 December 2016

Back to the Drawing Board: #ACTFL16 strategies

After iFLT this summer, I was ready to sprint back to the drawing board. I needed a good solid month to just sketch, doodle, redraw EVERYTYHING.

I got a week. And two completely new preps complete with two completely new LMS platforms.

So this year has been a bit of an unoutlined mess.

Now more recently, there were about three #ACTFL16 presentations that got me feeling that drawing board itch again, almost like iFLT. These were NOT tidbits I could try out Monday or sprinkle in in those moments when a few extra minutes magically appear before class ends. I have had to stop and ponder the innerworkings of my whole philosphy of teaching and language to find where these fit into, you know, EVERYTHING.

I mean, I could just whip out a random one-word image on a whim, or immediately abandon my current the IPA structure and AAPPL rubrics that my Spanish I kids have come to depend on, and dive right into a complete reformatting with Talk-Read-Talk-Write and TALK rubrics. But then I know I would be heaping on another helping of that same drifting chaos feeling that has made this semester seem so off already.

So here's a little doodling on how these strategies are starting to fit into my philosophy.

I've been intrigued by the one-word image since I saw Grant Boulanger and his imaginary Pikachu at #iFLT16. I didn't quite grasp how it worked at the time, but there is nothing quite like actually doing the activity to figure out it's inner-workings. Instead of actually doing it and creating the horse that Haiyun Lu tasked us with, I dragged my partner along analyzing how it was supposed to work. We figured out how the questions would go, and then got to hear other people's examples, so it was like we, you know, actually followed directions.

Now what I've been turning over and over in my head is how I can exploit this strategy in a PBL context. There have got to be certain words or types of words that could help equip students with language they'll need to use for their research or presentation, nouns that can enhance students' active vocabularies for researching, collaborating, creating, or presenting. The nouns themselves don't have to be what I'm trying to shoehorn into their active vocabulary--they probably should be recognizable words that students already understand so that I can come up with questions they can A) understand and B) actually answer.

It could be something like premio or guerrero to start the discussion on Classcraft privileges and characters. Maybe something like ejercicio or tiempo libre (that's kind a a compound word, right?) to get into the self-improvement unit or ayuda to get into the product pitch unit.

Of course this will involve further sketching and shading--like some actual questions I could ask to flesh out the "image." So expect more doodling on that topic.

Amy Lenord had piqued my curiosity about Talk Read Talk Write several months ago, but it was another concept I couldn't wrap my brain around until I was IN it. Having experienced it from the student end in Greta Lundgaard's session, I felt a lot more confident in my ability to inflict it on my kids--in a meaningful way.

Since ACTFL, I've been thinking about using this format to replace IPAs. I like how the process consists of two conversations instead of just one, and I think it could take a little pressure off the conversation side of assessment that led to tears almost immediately preceding my flight to Boston. And starting with a sort of philosophical question to set up the text could make the conversations more interesting to have to begin with and give the young ones a chance to warm up their mouths and brains before it's for the proverbial money.

Now Sra. Lundgaard also recommended Talk Read Talk Write as a once-in-a-great-while type activity, but after the IPA-induced tears, I was already thinking it might be time to apply my less-is-more philosophy to the number of assessments instead of relying on the reduced point values (10% instead of 20% of the grade for each) to reduce stress, so having just one TRTW scenario each grading period--maybe between the middle and the end--could also actually give them time to relax a little between assessments.

Since this summer's LangCamp book chats--and probably before--I've been fascinated by the idea of Rebecca Blouwolff's interpersonal bootcamp and the TALK rubric. Once again, I had to feel it to get it, even if I was the pretend teacher in the scenario instead of the student.

I have to say that one of the most powerful revelations for me in the session was Mme. Blouwolff's class setup for this assessment, and I really think it lends itself well to IPA (or TRTW) functioning--a way to take the front-of-the room pressure off, get more conversation done at once, and generally keep the class functioning!

I'm also contemplating a break from my beloved AAPPL rubrics because of this session--at least for interpersonal mode. On the one hand, I do want to have some sort of consistent evaluation with the N1-I5 scale. But on the other, I think "Target language use, Accuracy on specific structures, Listening and responding appropriately to peers, and Kindness in being an equal and inclusive conversation partner" are a lot more descriptive and provide more thorough scaffolding for meaningful interpersonal engagement. So I may end up using this as a pre-assessment assessment, kind of like an interpersonal "bridge quiz," as my genius grad school amiga (and SC Spanish ToY!) Sra. Stephanie always recommends.

So as you can see, my drawing board is still in a bit of an upheaval, but I will be doing more doodling throughout break.

And I will have a draft before Spanish II begins in January!

10 December 2016


I'm trying a choose-your-own-adventure format for my talks on authentic texts at the Texas Spanish Language Symposium today! On paper, I'm giving the same presentation three times today, but depending on which direction everybody's facing, we could go three totally different directions.

I had originally planned to get my audience interaction from Nearpod, but then I got to thinking about how hard it is to read through all of the submitted responses in a timely manner--forget adjusting! I thought about going the classic four-corners route (if you answer this way, go to the far left corner; that way, go to the near right, etc.), but I also know how hard it is to crawl over the laps of people you may or may not have introduced yourself to.

So I went to the craft store and got some big ol' pieces of felt to make traffic lights.

There are two different points in the presentation where my new amigos get to decide which way to go, and there are three options for each, designated as red, yellow, or green: 

My big red felt "light" goes on one side of the room and the big yellow one on the other: red goes at the back. So when we get to those slides, everybody has to stand (move a little--without injuring unsuspecting strangers) and face the color that corresponds with their choice, maybe greet the person they end up facing, try and persuade them to turn the same way as you. (PS you're totally getting called out if you stay facing forward.)

I'm hoping there will be a pretty clear consensus on which way we should go, but there's always the classic teacherly snap decision--and the links here to explore later!

Also, in the vein of teacherly snap decisions, I decided I might need some brain breaks too, so I have some sneaky buttons worked in at various junctures if I feel the audience lagging, and we'll decide look at some texts and decide if they're "Authentic or just awesome?" Because  
  1. I know that the term "authentic" has connotations that can be hurtful to those whose work doesn't technically fit the accepted definition and

  2. though I was asked to present on authentic resources, I want it to be clear that there's a purpose, a time and a place for ALL engaging texts.
And so, without further ado, go ahead on choose your own adventure on how you can set your students up for success with authentic texts at every level!