23 April 2017

Seesaw Insight: Casting Call Selfies

Two of my favorite Seesaw features are drawing and labels. Combine them with comments and student selfies, and you can have a quick and easy casting call!

The casting call can be used to demonstrate a variety of communicative skills:

  • interpretating character descriptions
  • summarizing interpreted facts
  • presenting biographical information

I myself have used it with Agentes Secretos and with research for the Spanish 2 skit on the difference between Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day.

Here's how it works.

First let me take a selfie

I have some kids the plead to use their favorite Facebook profile pic. I might allow it if I'm feeling generous (or rushed), but there is something to be said for using facial expression and body language to present information. When students had to "audition" for the different characters in Agentes Secretos, they had to pick two different characters (you know, to increase their chances of getting cast). So of course Paula would never pose like Luis--their personalities are described completely differently! Also, you might have some props, like, say, a Halloween wig, that convey the character's differing physical attributes.

So they first had to take and upload their selfies to Seesaw.


I don't have a bald cap, so to convey that they were portraying Miguel Hidalgo, of course Spanish 2 had to draw over their own hairstyles to get the full effect. They colored themselves a little bald spot and some wild white hair, maybe with a cross or a collar to get across the professional identity of el padre de la Revolución. Those auditioning for the role of Paula often drew little hearts, either over her head or her eyes (Es muy romántica, Paula.)

Step three: say something

I hadn't discovered labels last semester, so I just had those "auditioning" for roles in Agentes Secretos add a caption where they said who they were and described "themselves," thus switching the descriptions in the novel from third person to first AND practicing the novice's best friend, the yo form. For Padre Hidalgo and Presidente Juarez, I had them just add some labels indicating the year and even they were associated with.

Más four-te

Voice comments: they let kids create speaking evidence without A) look beautiful for the duration of a video and B) create some crazy avatar or fill up your Google Voice email. Also super easy to embed in portfolios with the Seesaw share function!

In retrospect, I should have had the characters say one of their lines from the novel. The historical characters, though, explained who they were and why they were important (yay, past tense!...IF they were ready) AND said when their event took place out loud (SO sick of kids in Spanish 2 and 3 automatically shifting back to English when they see a number over 100).

A new French teacher amiga at the FLANC Share Fest yesterday ALSO had the brilliant idea to use this for a low-prep living museum like she saw at her daughter's school! Imagine the Degas ballerinas and Gaugin islanders! The Picasso-fied portraits and descriptions! The talking Frida selfies! The Botero families or narco scenes?

Who else do you think might need to make an appearance in your class Seesaw feed?

21 April 2017

#SCOLT17 CI Struggles and Solutions

I've been on a bit of a CI roller coaster since iFLT last summer. I kicked off the year with some kickin' PQA that kids really seemed to get into, a little of the ol' "persona especial"--which they got into less--but which still had some positive effects.

Then I was a kind of adrift.

That's actually a pretty consistent pattern with me--starting off like gangbusters, thinking I've got it, then trying to coast just a little too long, and inevitably hitting midterm chaos.

Midterm chaos last semester involved actual tears that I'm starting to think traumatized me even more than the students during IPAs. Aside from revamping interpersonal assessment, my first impulse was to scrap the invention marketing project altogether: it was simply too much for novices!

But then SCOLT happened, and I got a set of fresh CI spectacles.

SCOLT introduced me to Hot Seat session obsession last year and this year really captured the uncon-within-the-conference session with their Disney-like "Fast Pass" sessions. I was lucky enough to join one with the South Carolina Teacher of the Year (and my #langchat amiga), Keith Toda, and Bob Patrick (CI dream team, right??)

Among the revelations in that session were:
  1. infomercial movie talks
  2. possible collaboration with Sra. Giles (#CarolinaBorderDreamTeam)

So my plan for next year is to find some infomercials to movietalk through for input, instead of relying strictly on the "authentic" (read: translated) advertisements I'd tried in the past. Also, bouncing ideas off of my upper level (but lower state) amiga so our kiddos can test out their ideas on each other along the way perhaps.

On the subject of #langchat amigos, Sr. Fernie's non-uncon-conference session also helped shed a little light on one of my other CI struggles: storyasking. I had developed a marketing story last year, but it didn't have the flexibility, the OOMPH that I was looking for.

Really, what it comes down to, it seems, is having a basic premise that the kids can mold. Protagonist needs something, what? (I could steer them toward some common problems I'd had them brainstorm/blog about before...) Protagonist can't find the something in 2 or 3 tries. Then protagonist finds the something. Yay!

But the secret? The secret apparently is that there's not much freedom in the first one. You gotta build up to that. You stick to the need-then-three-tries formula, but the first story is yours. THEN they retell and THEN they can add variations.

Sr. Fernie also had some other cool input ideas that I think would also oomph the invention marketing unit, like mad libs and describing a picture (like movietalks but much less...move-y). I also like the idea of students listing words to describe a picture themselves, then turning that into a story (how much fun would this be with wacky inventions??)

So SCOLT wasn't exactly a Space Mountain emotional input roller coaster like iFLT, but it filled in some essential input pieces to perhaps keep me cruising along a little longer, without the big emotional midterm dip.

The jungle cruise was probably my favorite ride at Disney anyway.

14 April 2017

15 Facebook Pages for Spanish #AuthRes

OK, our kids are probably too cool for Facebook now. Moms--and grandmas (and dads and grandpas)--and teachers have taken over.

It's ours!!!

OK, not totally. But there are so many resources for us there, we should definitely be taking advantage. Of course there are awesome groups for advice and networking. A few of my favorites are
(Hint: you'll probably want to adjust your notifications for these groups, as they are ACTIVE.)

But you know what I am loving more and more every day? The steady flow of authentic resource access just pouring into my feed every day! I mean, isn't it amazing how your monolingual amigos regularly share videos and posts in Portuguese and Hungarian and Korean and your target language regularly? Proof positive we are a global society. So now when my amigos post something in Spanish, I like the page they got it from too, and BAM a whole other floodgate.

(Caution: I have been burned by some otherwise inappropriate pages with posts that also include "language" and...questionable...topics and have had to unfollow. Oh, who am I kidding? I knew what I was getting into with a page called "Mujeres cabronas", and I not-so-secretly love "language." I do consider keeping the...questionable...ones for my own L2 upkeep, but sometimes they just do things to my feed that spoil the experience for me, so they have to go.)

So I thought I would collect and share some of my favorite pages for #authres so you could have access to the multiple goldmines I enjoy daily!

1. Solovino

This is the BEST. Adorable animals + real social issues in context in Mexico. What's not to love? You can't go wrong with animals.

2. Mis Animales

More animals, more videos, more articles, from everywhere.  Most of the videos are more for interpretive reading than listening, though.

3. Pictoline

"News and Information in epic images." WEB COMICS AND INFOGRAPHS IN SPANISH. This makes me so happy I could cry.

4. 101 Lugares Increíbles

Articles and pictures to tantalize the traveler's spirit

5. Bioguia

All things Earth: more my cup of tea than my students', but ONE DAY I will get them interested.

6. VixPop

Gifs, memes, infopics, article: cute, popular stuff--you name it. Are these translations mostly? Probably. Are translations authentic? Kinda. The question makes for interesting discussion. It's still by the target culture for the target culture, right? Interesting perspectives on what's worth translating too.

7. Cultura Colectiva

EVERYTHING. This site has EVERYTHING. Videos, articles, infographs, on any topic possible--yes, some inappropriate. It's not usually as Big C Culture as this, but when it is, it is glorious.

They also have a noticias page that is a little more...elevated? Although still approximately Buzzfeed level elevated.

8. Genial

Speaking of EVERYTHING, this site has it all. All of those popular little how-to tutorials? Random puppy memes, quizzes, and tips about relationships and internet safety and "what your eyes say about your health"? ALL here in Spanish.

9. EsTrending

Super latino news/gossip source

10. AJ+ Español

Super international news source. Also translations? Probably.

11. La mente es maravillosa

How about some psychological health tips in the form of articles and infopics?

12. Hechos A Mano

LOVE the creativity here--plus some of these videos actually have some Spanish listening!

13. Para los curiosos

Fun trivia videos and posts, gifs and memes

14. No Lo Creo

Click. Bait. Central. I mean, if it works in English, why not in Spanish?

15. Retreando Mix

It's like a rite of passage in adolescence to "discover" what your parents were into, right? And who doesn't get a giggle out of 80s or 90s style nowadays? Why not from the target culture?

Using them in class

Never do I recommend setting kiddos loose on a Facebook Page--too much uncertainty (Sra. Hawkins advises picking out the best stuff, and I'm with her). But pick a post and have the kiddos react!
  • discuss results of the quizzes in small groups or as a class
  • they can create--or find--a response meme or infopic
  • have them react to information with their own 1-2 minute vlog summaries and opinions
  • post a comment screenshot on Seesaw or Classroom and have them post replies
  • make a Pinterest board or Google Keep list to collect further resources on a topic
  • have them contact the author and ask some questions!
Do you guys remember when we had to hope our kids would go for bilingual picture books or translated documents from the DMV to get authentic resources in our classroom? That or rely on the ads we collected on our last sojourn overseas--possibly from 5 years ago?

Authentic resources are everywhere now, and when we find the right pages, we can just watch them flow in. The internet is ours!

11 April 2017

Everything Came Together Today!

So throwing a bunch of ideas into Common Curriculum and then sorting them out as I went, it worked super well today! I managed to connect grammar, music, and project goals as if I weren't kind of mentally checked out before Spring Break Part 2 already.

I could have been a little more conscious of hitting all three communication modes, but I still really like how everything came together like I had some sort of master plan today, from well-timed audio repairs to Sr. Wooly trial subscriptions kicking in to even a canceled festival that we had been building up to literally all semester.

It all worked. But not only by coincidence.

Laying the groundwork

Lesson planning can be super fun. That feeling you get when a plan comes together? But it can also be an uphill hike in oppressive heat when you forgot your map. Sometimes I just can't make myself plan. Just thinking about the level of detail I need to achieve anything approximating "success," it just hurts and makes me want to wear pajamas all day.

So I just have to start with what I know, lay it all out.

I knew 1) I had to wrap up past activities and 2) I had to set up the next unit so we'd have enough time--and motivation--to really get into it. So I started by laying out the calendar of all of the days remaining (26!!!) to give myself perspective (something I've kind of been avoiding, truth be told).

I forgot my computer Friday and
had to use PAPER, like an ANIMAL!
Then I googled around for a bit, seeing if I could find some kind of article or infograph to connect the number of weeks we had left with the magical number of weeks I had in my head to change a habit (I found something perhaps even better.)

Then I just had to write out exactly what I expected kiddos to do (Hay que hacer progreso todos los días) and how I expected them to show it. I jotted a few notes about what I wanted to see in daily progress blogs, what they would submit each day to establish a weekly routine, and how I might totally and completely exploit the wonders of Google Keep that I just discovered.

Then I started listing functional chunks students would need to accomplish the tasks above. And then I chunked the chunks. Basically it boiled down to expressions with "que", object pronouns (e.g. te ayuda, ¿Cómo te fue?), and present perfect.

And then? Then I just made a bunch of entries in the Monday column on the week's Common Curriculum, including things like
  • reflection activities for previous blog posts (vocabulary and personal practice)
  • Sr. Wooly songs that made me giggle uncontrollably (and had que idioms)
  • titles for grammar note pages kiddos would need (see functional chunk chunks above)

The leadup

So my IT amigo was fixing my LED screen audio when I walked in on Monday. I was so excited to have SOUND again, that I just pulled up the next song on the playlist to enjoy and interpret a bit. It was "Diferente"--automatic excuse to introduce hay que.

The plan had been to have students pull up past blogs, make some personal practice recommendations for each other with a blog post assignment called "¡Tienes que ver esto!" wherein they will tag classmates who have to see a show or song or article they found. They also grouped their top 25 most useful vocabulary words in semantic groups and made them pretty with Adobe Spark posts and started writing some original vocabulary sentences.  Not too shabby for wrap-up.

I did make them watch "Guapo," just because that video has been cracking me up since grad school (I blame teacher humor and @SraStephanie). I was testing the waters. PS, it worked best when I made them put up computers before we watched it and put Spanish subtitles on.

How it came together


Today, we started with "Guapo." What can I say, it puts me in a good mood? Computers down, subtitles on, pausing here and there to interpret. Now Sr. Wooldridge advised me to let them absorb that a week first, but I'm not the patient sort. Plus I wanted to get straight to the "accessing prior knowledge" and had them flip to page 9 in their cuadernos to collect the new "ías" and "abas" in the video--and then add their first irregular.

SPOILER: Wooly was right about the sequel to "Guapo" being even more popular. Not only has it replaced "Ya está muerto" as my son's favorite, but it made a few kids who were really not into "Guapo" very happy. It made the ones who were into it cry out in overdramatic grief. Also, I found a new bond with the kiddos giggling uncontrollably like I do when I watch it.

It was glorious.

So the hay que in the Lasso song Monday was pure luck;  the tienes que in the blog assignment was by design. Guess what was in the Wooly songs? Pienso que and creen que. Oh yeah. SO on a roll for the structures we'll need to discuss self improvement!! So I cut up some little yellow paper pieceds (almost forgot 4th period), and we made a little web map in their notes for "que" expressions and added sabes que, for when we need to share some strategies or other facts to inform progress on the self-improvement.

And then, to lead into choosing the change they want to make, I had kiddos briefly reflect with a Google Classroom question on a good change that has happened in their lives. Not only does it give a little taste of the present perfect to come tomorrow, but it ALSO is set up to imitate the structure of the chorus of my son's new favorite song!!!

At the end, I let them decide who they thought they should work with and explain their reasons--in Spanish--in a conversation with each group while everyone else wrapped up the blog review from yesterday.

So what's it mean?

Dave Burgess got "unbelievably fired up" when a colleague told him,  "It's easy for you. You're creative."

Lest there were any colleagues out there who thought any of this was ever easy for me? Well, let this be a lesson to you. Because this wasn't easy, and it wasn't really just a few days of work coming together. It's been a mere fourteen years for me.

It wasn't just the last several days that came together. And everything is not going to stay together.

But for today it was. Or at least felt like it for a few hours.

04 April 2017

Small Group Speaking Assessment

The level of confidence I saw in the final round of assessments last semester--after the tearful season mid-semester--it completely convinced me that this is how I want to assess going forward:

  • with small groups
  • with prepared cues

  • with student choice


Students have 2 days to A) choose a relevant topic from a list I provide and B) prepare a sort of 10-slide ignite/pecha kucha presentation from a template posted to Classroom. To give you an idea of possible topics, here are this week's from Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 online:

Spanish 2
  • Props 
  • Costumes
  • Stage directions
  • Musical instruments
  • Flags (we studied some as part of their costumes)
  • The judges' criteria
  • Suggestions for actors/singers

Spanish 3 online
  • The worst part about traveling to another country
  • The best part about traveling to another country
  • Why you want to visit your country (and maybe not others)
  • How to prepare for travel abroad
  • How NOT to have fun in another country
  • Why you will never go to [Spanish-speaking country]
  • Tastiest/strangest foods in your country (or others)
  • Most exciting/boring activities to do in your country

They can use NO words on the slides WHATSOEVER except on the title slide and "Obras Citadas" at the end. If they pick an image with words, they have to cover those suckers up! Mostly it's because they distract me while they're presenting, and the whole point of the slides at all is just to jog their memory about what they want to say--not actually tell them what to say.

I do encourage them, however, to write out exactly what they want to say--in Spanish--in the presenters' notes. If they get it in the first day (and I'm not prepping for one conference or another) I might even offer explicit slide-by-slide feedback. If they want to memorize this word for word, bully. I'm mostly focused on what they're saying in their Q&A--and their classmates'--afterward anyway.

On my end, I've set my room up in little presentation pods like so:

I've got the wheely chairs in the center for presenters, and then everyone else--including me, can focus from the outside. Ideally I would be able to have 5 kiddos per group, since that seems to be the happy medium for being able to ask enough questions without having to ask a question every single time. However, my little windowless room does not have that kind of wiggle room. I may experiment later with little 2-table triangles if I can fit them, though.

I have been tinkering with a response tracking sheet for myself that looks like this:

Honestly, though, I just grab a pack of index cards and put names at the top in "voluntario o víctima" order--different colors for different groups if I'm thinking ahead.

On The Big Day, I pull up my easy AAPPL rubrics to show them what it will take to get 100% that day, emphasizing verbs, questions, and responses primarily. (It also comes in handy having it in my sightline if I'm having trouble deciding where a student falls.)


The real beauty of this setup is that I almost NEVER have to talk. I put start my stopwatch, so I can gently stop them around 2 minutes (or 3 if I'm feeling generous and not rushed), both with their presentation and their Q&A immediately following. That's about 5 minutes per person.

Yes, it takes me at least 2 hours/days, this time during listening and writing assessment (which, by the way, was nice, because everyone else having headphones on while they talked helped assuage the old self-consciousness for presenters).

While my stopwatch is going, I'm furiously noting the different verbs I hear (more verbs=more kinds of sentences I figure, so possibly the difference between N3 and N4 or N4 and I1 for example). I also jot down and underline glaring errors just to start to collect ideas on what we need to review when assessment is over (spoilers: DEFINITELY definite articles this time around--mostly because they're all intermediate or darn close).

I jot down the questions they ask on one side (to determine intermediate status) and answers on the other (because these are really the sentences I'm concerned with, as they're the spontaneous ones). Since many are edging into I2/I3 territory, I indent under questions or responses when they have a follow-up remark/question too.

And to score, I typically write down two possible AAPPL scores and then mark one out when I've heard enough and possibly reviewed the notes on my card.

And that's it! That's how I get my kids talking about suggestions for the language festival and how they really feel about the date changes, as well as their preferred backup plans, along with their zodiac compatibility with Alvaro Soler and the odd history of flags or castanets.

And no tears!

03 April 2017

The Company You Keep: A love letter to #FLENJ17


I'm not a girl who needs to be wined and dined to feel loved--elegant sushi certainly doesn't hurt, of course. Plush hotel toilets accommodations aren't what bring me back either.

It is the sheer quality of people you let me be around for a weekend.

Now don't get me wrong, my SCOLT amigos and I have something that can never be severed. They are old, true friends I can always count on, and they are what keeps me going most of the time. I'm not saying what I feel for you is any less enduring, but us "southerners," we have history.

That being said, FLENJ, this past weekend was MAGICAL.

It started as soon as I hit the hotel, and immediately fell into one of those conversations about the direction of language education and our profession that gives you hope for the future and revives your passion for sharing, with one of the unquestionable leaders in the field--and finalists for ACTFL Teacher of the Year no less!

The next evening, I stayed up way later than I should have discussing the true meaning of comprehensible input, with another leader and ACTFL finalist who is also the guy who not only helped me create input that made my students feel confident in their listening abilities, but who also made me feel confident about communicating comprehensibly with them daily.

I got to talk families, philosophy, accordions and soap making with some of the most creative and dedicated people I've had the pleasure to #langchat or Hangout with ever. (PS do you REALIZE how many of us have  two kids ages 4-9? It's creepy cool.)

What's more, is I got to gather other educators who love learning and sharing as much as I do in my workshops and plug into their brilliant ideas.

And THEN I got to gather around OTHER brilliant educators and feed off of their experience and ingenuity as well! I've got quite a few ideas to pilot before next year!

Awesome ideas from Arianne Dowd of Discovering CI, Noemi Rodriguez (via Casey McCullough) and Ericka Collado 

And you guys, I salsa danced with Sr. Wooly.

I gotta say, though, I think the FLENJ president, Amanda, was better.

And the selfies! Now they didn't know about my secret unpublished pickmeup posts when we smooshed into the frame together, but I got physical evidence of the moments when I got to share space with people whose words of support I have carefully collected, because there are times that I really need those words from these bright and caring people, low points in my teacher life that I need them to not hate myself.

FLENJ, you have a lot of amazing people doing amazing things within your organization, and you invited even MORE amazing leaders in to really stack the deck.

And you let me be there for it. You brought me in to the awesomeness.

And for that, I love you more than words can say.

Con amor eterno,
Sra. Spanglish

31 March 2017

#FLENJ17 PBL Building Blocks Workshop

I want to help people get started with their first PBL project, but I don't have any one set strategy that I, personally use to get started. Even if I did, the chances of everyone else's brains working like mine are (thankfully) slim.

When I've conducted "building block" type workshops in the past, people have typically wanted to see a few different things:

  • Ideas and examples
  • How everything fits
  • Day-to-day activities
  • Ways to assess effectively
Now, we only get 2 1/2 hours for this workshop, so I definitely cannot guarantee people will leave with all of those things. They absolutely HAVE to have an idea of a project they want to develop before they leave, and we'll take some time to tinker with the rest (because that's really what a workshop is all about, right?). I make only 4 promises for takeaways though:

Everyone will leave with

  1. A Driving Question that is worth developing into a project
  2. An audience to invite to project presentations
  3. At least one text for students to interpret to support project development
  4. A list of language structures--functional chunks--to focus instruction
Now, they may leave with a question or text they poached from their new best friend from the workshop, but they will leave with one. In fact, I am hoping everyone will post their results in the comments here!

4/3 Update: Still waiting on those comments! BUT here are my 10 absolute favorite questions!

  • Is celebrity a blessing or a curse? (Agnes is my new hero)
  • Does social media help or harm people?
  • How did people communicate before social media?
  • Should I go after my passion (music career, being an artist...) or be safe and attend college? (also Agnes)
  • ¿Prefieres usar snapchat o instagram? ¿Por qué? ¿Qué peligros tiene? (Maria)
  • ¿Que factores hay en que una persona llegue a ser popular e la vida? (Ruth)
  • What makes a family? (Bridget)
  • How do athletics influence culture? (Dana)
  • Are zoos bad? (elementary contingent)
  • Why do you dress the way you do?

22 March 2017

The World Doesn't Need More Language Teachers

I said it before, and I'll say it again: I hope school subjects are abolished in my lifetime.

The archaic notion that understanding can be split into neat categories and segregate "math people" and "artist types" is doing no one any favors.

If you want to know something now, in the Information Age, you simply look it up between Pokestops. No library card or fees or rides to and from campus required. Good Will Hunting never had it so easy. But still we insist on playing this outdated game of Schooling.

Because it's what the colleges want. Because it's what we did. Because it's what we can understand.

Because we love it.

We relish the familiarity. We bask in our small bastion of certainty. We define ourselves by our subjects and excuse ourselves from not knowing others.

 We are wrong.

Time and time again, thought leaders tell us that we are preparing students for career fields we can't even imagine now. No amount of conjugation or comprehensible input is going to prepare our students for that. Not really. Not if we're honest about what it is our classes can offer beyond stringing different words together.

Sure, language can be a metaphor for all of the problems students can solve from scratch. It forces new perspectives into our expression and understanding. But unless we EXPLICITLY parlay that into real-world contexts with our students, we are LIARS.

This will get you a better job. This will get you a sticker on your diploma. This will get you into the college of your dreams.

So. And. What.

Those aren't young people's real needs  their driving forces. Yeah, some of us will jump through just about any hoop for a shiny sticker, but the stickers can't hold us together.


These are what Daniel Pink saw as the primary factors to motivation. I've seen it in my own life. I've seen it in every successful person with whom I've had the privilege to correspond. It's what makes me teach, what makes me blog. It's what makes my husband fix the phone system at the local police department AND what made him keep up his Duolingo streak for a month after he got home from his first trip to Mexico.

Don't get me wrong. Your students need you. Mine need me. But it's not because we're healing their monolingualism.

It's because we know the way.

We are adults. We have had problems we didn't know how to solve. And we have solved them, or at least survived them. And that is no mean feat.

Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell tells us the Babelfish is coming (does anyone else remember the Babelfish before Google Translate? No?). The language isn't what our students need most from us anymore--if ever they did.

They need to taste Mastery, perhaps of a language, perhaps of tools and strategies that allow them to go on mastering other things. 
They need to feel Autonomy, that they can pick a purpose, a goal, and actually have the confidence to go out and achieve it through carefully considered plans and reflection. 
They need a Purpose, any purpose--that doesn't get us fired. They need to be the change they wish to see in the world, to identify problems in their communities, immediate and abroad, and not despair.

My fellow teachers, linguists, experts in solving and surviving the problems that life throws our way: pass THIS on to your students. Use another language to do it so you can double their possibilities and horizons. But do not be a language teacher any longer than you have to.

Be the guide that shows the young people in your care how they can live life.

19 March 2017

#SCOLT17 I Won!

I will never be the SCOLT Teacher of the Year, but I have to admit, I found success at SCOLT. No, not in a Moonlight kind of way, but more in a Ralph Waldo Emerson way. After all, I have always loved his definition of success.

To laugh often and much

You guys, the dinosaur ATE his roommate while he was trying to sweep. I just...I cannot. I cannot not laugh.

To win the respect of intelligent people

These ladies. They are tops in my books, and to get to hang out with them just rekindles me every time.

and the affection of children;

They really have been pretty sweet this whole trip--and not only to get to the Magic Kingdom today.

To earn the appreciation of honest critics

This lady and all of my awesome #langchat tweeps keep me going in ways they'll never even know. I'm kind of pulling for her and Sr. Howard at ACTFL.

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

I thought of posting the LEGO rose my husband got me in LEGOland after the general session, but I think this group is actually the most beauty I found in one place on this trip. Just the joy and the compassion and the creativity that exude from these ladies...how cool to get to see it all together.

Emerson has a few more descriptors to scaffold success, factors that aren't necessarily evident in one weekend. I think as teachers we all can rest assured that we have succeeded in this respect:

I don't have a conference photo for this one, but there was a student I mentioned in my Teacher of the Year interview, the one who led me to my advice for new teachers that "It is never about you," who gave my SCOLT post on Facebook a like. I gave her my number years ago, and now she's in the home stretch of her junior year of college to become a social worker.

I mean, I didn't win ToY, but I think it's safe to say I've succeeded. I'd be willing to bet every teacher reading this has too.

13 March 2017

10 Tips for Organizing Online Spanish

There is ZERO room for confusion in online courses. Even if I could answer every email immediately, their emails are the ONLY cue I have if they are confused. Forget about checking for comprehension--much less compensating with compensating with circumlocution or figuring out when it's time to switch back to L1!

In an online course I simply have to anticipate questions, and eliminate them before they're possible.

In my second semester, I've happened upon a few strategies that I think made my job (if not my life) significantly easier--hopefully for my online students, too!

1. Screencast EVERYTHING 

In a pinch, screenshots can fill in a lot of blanks for things I would usually demonstrate live, but they are still going to send me confused emails--or worse, just skip the assignment--if I don't go ahead and walk them through exactly what I want and how to do it with a narrated screencast--in English--of me doing the same thing they have to do. I've done it for blogs, Thinglinks, Adobe Spark, VoiceThread, Vibby; even broke down and got the paid version of Screencastify so I didn't have to convert the videos to uploadable formats every second.

2. Weekly modules

I thought it would be logical to organize tasks and information thematically in an online course, like I do in real life. I thought very wrong. I simply HAVE to have everything broken down to a relatively predictable weekly cycle so there's now way they can say they don't know what they need to do when. They should expect to have their warmups done by Wednesdays, their project-related reading/listening/speaking/writing practice and blogs done by Saturday, and then I'll post the next week's work by Sunday. The Spanish is confusing enough, so everything else HAS to be 100% predictable!

3. Title dates

Patterns and routine can eliminate a lot of question, but again, there can be NO room for doubt. So I've taken to putting the due dates EVERYWHERE. The modules have titles like "WEEK 6  (DUE 3/4)." Headers for weekly warmups include the Wednesday due date, and headers for the project work  and blogs include the Saturday due date. Discussion boards all include "***POST BY WEDNESDAY***" at the end of their titles and then an extra indented text header that says "RESPOND TO 3 POSTS BY SATURDAY!"

4. Announcement video

It probably takes me an extra 30-60 minutes every week to turn announcements into video on Adobe Spark. (It took WAAAY longer on Powtoon, and there's no "costume and makeup"--ie getting out of pajamas--if I don't have to actually appear.) However, I KNOW they don't read or retain every single word when I type it all out, and this way is also just a little more personal. And I think the little visuals with minimal text are helping the message stick better, whether it's mistakes from the previous week I want them to fix or quit making or a heads up for what's coming this week.

5. Anticipation emails

This is probably THE best step I've added to weekly warmups. It was especially useful when I was taking time out every Monday to respond to them, but then it was a pain when some were trickling in Tuesday still, so I confess I've slacked until Wednesday or Thursday a little. This way, at least, I have some record of whether or not kiddos have even looked at the assignments for the week, and I can answer questions before the second-to-last minute, maybe even create another screencast if several are having the same issues. Some make detailed overviews of exactly when and where they are going to work, so if I am checking a little later in the week, I can check the Canvas analytics and see if they are actually sticking to their plan! And if they're not, and I know they have work/rehearsal/meets over the weekend, then I can send a heads up to get back on track before the deadline!

6. Language practice

Those people who can make a curriculum that anyone can use beginning to end, I envy them. What I'm doing the next week in any class depends largely on what I see the prior week. I know about 14 years into the game, I can predict a lot of problems, but not all of them, so I always have a little activity where they can work on something I see popping up in multiple assignments or conversations or blog posts. They try to tell me they NEED notes, but a little quiz (that's really only a practice grade) that they can take as many times as they want in the Weekly Warmup section seems to be working at least as well for getting people to use "O" on the end of yo verbs and to put object pronouns in front of verbs. I always put a "content page" before it that spells out EXACTLY what I want them to do so they can easily ace the quiz--in writing and sometimes with video too.

7. Singalong songs

This might sound terrible, but I find it harder to care about my online students. Part of the problem is I have such limited face time with them. Prescribing a chorus a week that they have to A) sing or chant along with, B) interpret, and C) react to the song. It lets me look at their little faces at least, and hear their little voices. (I know most of them are high school seniors--but they are precious babies, dangit!) I also get a nice quick peek into what they struggle with or excel at while they get exposed to cool music. Win-win!

8. Discussion board protocol

I use discussion boards primarily for interpretation, but also for making class decisions. The key is to have consistent expectation across the board (pun not intended a little). While interpretive discussions are in English and decision posts are in Spanish, the same rules apply. For "original" posts:

  • Reference - If I designated a text to interpret, they copy and paste specific lines to analyze; if they're picking a text, they link it. If it's a discussion topic, they have to pick a stance in response to the prompt, e.g. which topic they like best, which UN millennium development goal we should focus on, which country they want to research.
  • Response - If interpreting, they put what they think the line means in English and why they think it is interesting/important. If deciding, they have to say why that is their choice. Very simple--just a sentence or two.

For reaction posts for classmates (at least 3):

  • Reaction - They have to pick something specific the classmate said and respond in a positive, supportive way.
  • Question - They have to ask the classmate a relevant question--it can be as simple or as complex as they're ready for!
I recently started building answers to the questions for the next week's weekly warmups, and I think that will prove useful.

9. Portfolio week

In another case of trying to teach my online class like my face-to-face class, I thought I would have students submit one portfolio a week: reading, then writing, then listening, then speaking. This was tough. For one, the first couple of weeks, they didn't have a whole lot of evidence. For two, having to explain (screencast/screenshot) procedures for a new type of portfolio each week really messed with the flow of the week--and added to the stress. Since I cut back to 1 IPA per grading period, generally in the middle to avoid the four-class pileup at the end and give me somewhere to work from, the last week of the six-week period is the perfect time to pause, assemble their work, and reflect.

10. Appointment calendar

Would that ALL online classes could take place in the community where they're being taken. In my interview for the online position, I asked if I could mandate "field trips," and Bossman said he thought it was a great idea. It was originally to get some interpersonal practice, but really, like the singalong videos, it's so I get to love them...almost like face-to-face students.

So I asked which days were off limits the set up a calendar with at least 6 dates that students could meet with me: 2 or 3 at the Mexican restaurant, the rest online.

This way I know

  1. Everyone is going to touch base with me in real time at least once or twice a month.
  2. Who needs to make room to touch base with me in real time.
  3. When I maybe don't even need to show up.
  4. What they need from me that is NOT coming across through email or assignments.

Teaching online has forced me to reflect honestly on my organization, communication, and motivation. Language learning online may never be as fun or fruitful as face-to-face, but I do think with some adjustments, it can be possible.

05 March 2017

Pizza Faces - Maintaining conversation for intermediate performance

I think I should have been starting online classes with pizza faces from the beginning.

I mean, sneaking in a few Spanish essentials and practicing with a useful tool early on--those are noble pedagogical goals, right? And starting with such small, familiar language chunks can help hit the ground running but in a way that is totally comfortable and confidence building!

But more importantly, their faces are HILARIOUS. Starting off with reaction videos to your teacher's pizza preferences sets a fun, intimate--yet totally school appropriate--tone for the course.  And taking silly selfies first thing? What better way to get the positive vibes flowing?  Plus it could give me the perfect running gag to acknowledge common ground and individual quirks.

Intermediate skills

The truth is, though, that I was actually a third of the way into my second semester of Spanish III online when I thought of this activity. Several of my kiddos were giving me complete sentences in conversation, asking and answering questions, and they were ready to move up.

You see, one important thing that intermediate speakers can do is maintain a conversation in the target language. It is one of three indicators that separate I1 from I2 on the interpersonal AAPPL rubric (the others being "more than one sentence" and "questions" rather than just "simple questions.")

But what does "maintaining a conversation" look like?

My first thought is of course follow-up questions--questions that are completely spontaneous and completely dependent on what your conversation partner says. But if you're really maintaining a conversation and not just rattling off memorized questions, there needs to be an in-between step that really demonstrates the listening. You have to acknowledge the answers that the other person gives.

So I whipped up a list of some standard responses (based loosely on my interpersonal playbook) that they might need to use in various situations. Since I wanted them to hear it, I made the list a Spark Video too!

Task setup

So I knew I wanted them to speak, and I knew I wanted them to listen, but if there's one thing that makes online language learning so frustrating, it's the near impossibility of getting those to happen in the same place at the same time. What's worse, is trying to work gestures or facial expressions in across time and space to help ensure your meaning is clear.

Fortunately, there's Adobe Spark videos (formerly Adobe Voice). Now Spark has been giving me some issues on Chrome, why I know not, but I've been able to pull it together week to week for the online class video announcements using Firefox. Also, pretty much ALL of my students have iPhones, bless their hearts (my IT esposo is virulently anti-Apple).

So I figured I'd snap a few selfies of extreme reactions and pick a universal topic. Pizza, of course, was the first thing that came to mind. It's not necessarily target-culture appropriate (though I did pick up my pineapple and ketchup + hot sauce + worcestershire sauce habit in Mexico), but it can evoke passionate reactions without actually burning anyone.

Here's what I came up with:

All my kiddos had to do was
  1. Watch and react.
  2. Snap exaggerated selfies of their reactions.
  3. Match their reactions with the suggested list of reactions.
  4. Create an Adobe Spark video, then copy said reactions into their own slides, upload, and read the reactions aloud.
Some actually took it a step further (probably because they didn't fully read the directions, but still) and added reframing of my original statements in their responses, which BONUS intermediate-ness!

So now they have a few auditory and contextual examples at their disposal. And I know who appreciates the finer things, like pineapple on pizza, and who is so perverse as to actually eat olives and mushrooms on purpose.

22 February 2017

Mexican Independence and the Imperfect Tense

History and grammar are not always the most obvious hook for capturing students' attention, but when it's history and grammar in a cartoon, who wouldn't be hooked?

This year Spanish II and III decided they would win first place at the language festival in April by finally teaching people the difference between Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day.

So while the Spanish III kids in fourth period worked on the script, the rest of the class got a little background on both through authentic infographs:

And cartoons! First of all, did you know there is a 2010 full-length movie about Mexican independence? Héroes verdaderos is available on YouTube in its entirety! We didn't watch the whole thing, but we got into the revolutionary spirit listening for key words in "Con fe en el corazón": the goal was to pick out all of the important words they thought they heard then narrow it down to the ONE that best summed up the message of the song.

We had a good talk about the significance of libertad, hermanos, corazón, victoria, and more.

Then I frontloaded a little vocabulary: sacerdote, cura, and indígenas, words that would appear in the next cartoon about el padre de la independencia--and could help answer some of the questions the infographs brought up, like WHY did Mexico want independence?

I had them let the video just wash over them the first time. Confession: I had hoped they'd recognize some words as it played, but really it worked out better as sort of a pre-viewing exercise. I didn't do a full-on movie talk, but we discussed some salient points about el Cura Hidalgo's life then dove right into to grammar part.

In their notebooks

I had them create a simple T-chart, labeled ía on one side and aba on the other. (I said the word "imperfect" for those hungry for that sort of thing, but mostly I side with Sra. Cottrell on not teaching a new language for teaching about language before you get TO the language.) I told them (yes, in the target language) there were (hay4 ías and 6 abas. HINT: they will not be able to hear them on their own; you WILL have to pause the video for each one, and probably replay at least once.

In the T-chart, they were to record:
  1. The form of the verb they heard (e.g. conocía, gustaba)
  2. The present tense form of the verb, and 
  3. An extra space we'd talk about later (spoiler, it was going to be for the infinitive form)


So I started the video then paused when an imperfect word popped up. I replayed it, and when someone was able to pick out at least whether it was ía or aba and guess at it, I wrote it under the write column on the board. Then I would ask, "¿Cómo se dice ___ en el presente?" Now, they hadn't heard some of these words before, in imperfect OR present tense, so they were kind of guessing around--which is GOOD. I always tell them guessing is good for their brains, as long as we verify ASAP. (I'd always write the correct form on the board to model.) The guessing helps them start to notice the patterns.

So really what I was doing was a sort of higgledy piggledy PACE lesson as we discussed, Presenting the verbs with the Hidalgo cartoon and drawing Attention not only with the chart, but by connecting to prior knowledge and familiar forms. I also paused to do some questioning with some of the new words in present tense but also work in a few object pronouns under the radar ("¿Mucha gente TE respeta? ¿Mucha gente le respeta a Sra. Dixon?"--hint: EVERYONE respects Sra. Dixon...it's fun contrasting with others in position of power though...)

I did have students add one more verb form--the infinitive--for each entry, to really draw that Attention to the patterns forming before them. You may notice that we had plural and singular words in both columns, too. That made for a nice little review of that present tense structure that we hadn't emphasized much the year before, but it could also have confused the issue, the rules at play.

So with the imperfect, present, and infinitive forms of each verb, it was up to the students to Co-construct and describe the grammar rules they were observing.

To help, I said they had to include the following in their description:
  • past
  • present
  • plural
  • -ar
  • -er
  • -ía
  • -aba
Note: make sure you go over some co-constructed rules together. For those who are truly lost, it helps to have one rule that everyone can copy, just to make sure their guesses are appropriately redirected.

Up next

I ended up only doing a PAC lesson this time, and not Extending OR Experimenting. Taking the time to go the next step might have resulted in students using the past tense more actively afterward, but for right now, it appears to just be in their "recognize" files--which is fine, too. However, my plan to Extend is to have students do some reflecting using the ías and abas, maybe in their personal practice blog posts or as we look back at past videos of their first run-throughs for the "Cinco de Independencia" skit.

Either way, they got to watch cartoons and get a little more comfortable with Padre Hidalgo and verb tenses.

13 February 2017

Online Students: How do you know what they know?

You could just assign a writing task to see what they can do. And they could just run the whole thing with a translator.

You could have them upload a video of themselves speaking. And they could script the whole thing--and then run it through a translator.

You could have them record themselves talking through a video or text interpretation on video. And then spend hours--even on double speed--reviewing every video for evidence.

Look, "Gotcha" is an unwinnable game in an online class.

So why not just ask them?

I'm used to knowing my kids before they walk in--I'm used to them walking in! Getting a feel for people I haven't met and won't meet (at least before we can arrange a time to meet at a local restaurant), it's a conundrum. I mean, I WISH I could design a curriculum that would work for anyone anywhere, but the fact of the matter is, that's not how I work. I have to know what tastes and personalities I'm dealing with before I can set a satisfactory direction for the course. Otherwise I fall into the same old traps, just like any face-to-face class.

Opening a dialogue in English has been the truest measure I have found to figure out what these new strangers can do. Just asking them what they have studied and what they do--and don't--feel comfortable doing has helped me A) put them at ease and B) decide where exactly we need to start.

I confess. I had no chill last semester. I told them as soon as we walked into the restaurant, we would speak ONLY Spanish, so I could attempt to simulate 90% TL, if only for one hour a month.

But it wasn't worth it.

Sing Along

Now, I still give them tasks to complete in Spanish from the get-go. My favorite, of course, starts with music. But instead of having them get the hang of Vibby and interpret right off, I used it as an excuse to see their faces, hear their voices. That's right, they have to sing Week 1--or at least recite. They say the words to the chorus from a song I hand pick from my list (I give them the words), and they pause between each line and explain in English what it means, then just quickly say in Spanish what they think of the song. This way I can see them, hear them, pick up on how script and translator-dependent they are without having to penalize them.

But this is just a hint--and an excuse for me to see their little faces. The real feedback comes from just asking, but with the right scaffolding.

AAPPL Graphics & Thinglink

I love, love, love the cool people I work with in my district. But I know they struggle with teaching for proficiency. So I know these kids are probably not coming to me with a firm grasp on the three modes or proficiency levels. Fortunately, I made some charts out of AAPPL rubrics so I could understand proficiency levels better.

So I shared these graphics with the kiddos in the form of three separate ThingLink images to help them start to figure out where they fit in the grand scheme of proficiency for each mode.

Their job was to add tags to show where they thought they were, like so:

A few notes on the logistics of this process:
  1. Make sure you set it so that "anyone" can edit it, so when you link it in whatever LMS you're working from, they will actually be able to add their own tags.
  2. If I were a moneyed person, I would get school accounts so everyone could mark it with a different color. Not being quite that moneyed, I did not indicate that they should change colors, though it was nice that a couple took it upon themselves to switch up theirs anyway.
  3. I did have them include their names in brackets at the beginning of what they typed and added tag examples with my own name, and the tags indicated where I expected they would be starting and where I hoped they'd end p.
  4. I only asked them to put one tag, but I really liked that most decided to mark in each category (for example, blue is one person and green is a different person--quite a range there with just one!)
  5. In retrospect, I think I would also do more to emphasize that this chart starts with the easiest at the top and gets more complex as it goes down. Some seemed confused. I did have them comment on a discussion about surprises, but I think I would have them just ask questions in the future. That might take care of some of the confusion more organically.

Now, I have met online or in person only with about half of the class at this point, but I feel like just opening up this dialogue, exploring proficiency visually and personally, has made this semester a lot more...worthwhile.

I feel like we can really hear each other now.

And not just because I made them sing Enrique first thing.

04 February 2017

SEESAW INSIGHTS: Making Memes in Spanish

If there's one thing that catches my students' attention as surely as music, it is memes. Sure you can have students read memes for some authentic input. But how exciting is it to see what kind of jokes and jabs they can come up with?

And it doesn't matter if meme generators or Instagram are blocked on your school wifi. I just posted this template to Seesaw, instructed the young ones to

1. copy & edit my image and
2. add labels to their copy in Spanish
All they had to do beyond that was make sure the result was directly relevant to class topics.

If they were having trouble coming up with an idea, I had them refer to the classmate blogs they commented on the day before to see if they found any errors they could use.

This is my favorite meme to come out of my first attempt at a meme making activity in Spanish II:

I mean, I like Axel as much as the next Spanish teacher, and I did have to have her resubmit this one with toca instead of jugar, but I bet she remembers those words now. And by golly, she's got her some opinions on pop latino!

Not all of the memes were as opinionated. Some were, in fact mechanical--maybe posts I could go back and tag with the chronic offenders' names on Seesaw. Some were cute, and some were blunt. But all gave me insight into what the kiddos understood and what they could do.

And so we have the spelling memes:

We have the grammar memes:

We have the memes making fun of Sra.'s quirks

One of my favorite sayings in "¿Cómo que 'thank you'?" and you can't get out the door without looking me and saying adiós.

We have the memes expressing their distaste for certain types of assignments from blogs to portfolios to assessments:

I didn't realize how unpopular the simplified vocab blogs were, but I probably could have guessed everyone felt more comfortable reading than listening or speaking. But this is valuable insight, you know? They get a chance to quickly express what they're thinking in a fun way and share with the class as I go through approving the memes to the feed!

 We also have the suck-up memes:

And the tell-me-how-you-really-feel memes:

The them's-fightin'-words memes:

And of course the we-have-a-new-crush-after-chatting-with-a-Canadian-Spanish-class memes:

I suspect that other memes might not end up this adaptable, but I bet we could get some brutal honesty and maybe some suffix awareness out of this one:

Plural endings are coming?
vienen las infografiías?

Maybe some more class procedures commentary and/or adjective agreement awareness out of this one:
Dices que quieres a tu mamá, pero le pones "bonitO"
...pero eso no es asunto mío.

And I bet we could get all kinds of opinions and reflection and advice out of these:

The point is that Seesaw makes it super easy to upload, adapt, and share memes, and memes make it super easy for students to express themselves with as much language as they feel comfortable with.

So which templates will you be uploading to Seesaw?