26 May 2017

AAPPL Results Analysis

I have been using AAPPL rubrics for a few years, but I had never administered the test. Ordinarily I'm a very anti-test type person, but in the face of waning school budgets and waxing xenophobia, I wanted something tangible to point to in order to demonstrate the merits of learning a language, something that would put a feather in our cap that only languages can provide.

That feather is the seal of biliteracy, or here in North Carolina, the "Global Languages Endorsement." Now a four-course sequence is pretty much impossible here at the early college, but I felt pretty confident a handful of my kiddos could "Pass an external exam approved by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction"--meaning I1 or better on all 4 tests.

In fact, nearly all of the students who took all 4 tests got at least one intermediate ranking: 2/3 got two or more, and eleven (including six native speakers) actually earned the seal!

Here's what my first ever AAAPL reports look like:


Three  things you should know about my classes before we break down their AAPPL results:
  1. The As and I5 are my native speakers. The I2s and I3s, however, are not.
  2. I made everybody--EVERYBODY--do the interpersonal listening/speaking, coughing up some of my hard-earned teacher dollars in some cases so that I could get a baseline in the one category that was a little interpretive, a little productive.
  3. Students had to pay for their own AAPPL tests. Most were interested enough in taking a stab at the seal of biliteracy ("Global Languages Endorsement") that they ponied up. If they weren't, I made my own pretend AAPPL test for reading, listening, and writing for them.
That being said, the unenthused do not account for all of the wild variation in speaking. All of the N1s are among their ranks and most of the N2s; I kind of suspect that enthusiasm was a larger factor than ability in many of those. There were some N4s and even I1s among them, though.

Seeking to understand the variation, I disaggregated the data a bit, cutting out Spanish III and then separating by class. See, I noticed that while 2/3 of first period was intermediate in speaking, only 1/5 of fourth period did.  Now 1/2 of 4th took no other test, so that might make their results artificially high in the other categories. Also, I'm certain 2 got ripped off because of recording issues in 4th, although 2 got "UR" for their recordings in 1st as well.

The only explanation I can think of is how the classes were assembled:
  1. First period was made up of 23 Spanish II students. Fourth period only had 15 because Spanish III--7 native speakers who skipped I plus one really dedicated senior--was mooshed in with them.
  2. All of the Spanish II kiddos who indicated they wanted to be actors in the language festival (that got moved on us without warning and which I am not at ALL still bitter about a month later) were in first period--though they only made up half of it.
  3. All of the kids in 4th period Spanish II had opted for singing--which is a group event where those who did not feel as confident could potentially hide out in the background.



I confess I kind of expected these would be higher, but I can see where going from "just pick out what you understand" and getting scored only on that versus the AAPPL matching format could set some back.


These results are pretty in-line with what I'd expect, again, with the new, less loosey-goosey format to the interpreting. I had hoped for more intermediate, but this was always a problem area, and I have no doubt that nerves factored in here.


 What the...? I am fairly certain that recording issues factored in here. One of my very very brightest students logged an N3, and another at N2. They have not performed at that level since  the first half of Spanish I. Two other bright ones got "UR" for their official score--I could hear a lot of breathing and cutting out. This kind of makes me want to make writing my default for the future.


Holy camole! How is it they were just barely intermediate in reading, but knocking the top off in writing? For one, looking at the answers they submitted, I have to say the scorers took the part about "in a way that your teacher and others who are used to the writing of language learners can understand" VERY seriously.


Looking at last year's results, you can see that the bulk of the class was still at Novice High, with a few stragglers in Novice Mid--exactly where North Carolina expects them to be at the end of Spanish I.
As you can see this year, over half the class is intermediate in just about everything! Listening is a bit of a problem, possibly because of those  personalized IPAs last year. Taking out the "unenthused" from the speaking data, the chart looks a lot closer to the others, too:

I'm still concerned about those who were not confident or eager enough to take all 4 sections, and the preponderance of those still stuck near Novice Low in speaking, even though I'm blown away by how many are solid Novice Mids! I would like to point out, though, that last year about 1/2 got I1 or better for reading, but now it's 2/3--IF we don't count the native speakers!! 

Considering not only the shift from personalized IPAs to AAPPL format, but ALSO the full calendar year without Spanish class, I have to say I'm pretty pleased that growth was mostly consistent!

Now if I can just get some funding next year...

23 May 2017

Worth It

I don't think I'd ever heard the words "...will major in K-12 Spanish education" on graduation night before this week. Over 10 years teaching Spanish--nine as the only language teacher in the school--and no one before had left knowing they wanted to follow in my footsteps.

Now this kid is brilliant, and has a flair for languages that we in the field get to see only a few times in our careers. An ordinarily very reserved and shy guy, when he got in front of the room to rap in Spanish for the first time, you could have picked 20 jaws off the ground when he finished that one Anita Tijoux chorus. The point being, the guys is gifted, so it's not necessarily a case of "the highest form of flattery" so much as following those gifts.

Except he is gifted in so many things! The other teachers were certain he was going to be a scientist--wouldn't have surprised me either, to tell the truth (he was the one who chose physics for his Genius Hour project back in Spanish I). But when he first scheduled time to talk with me before school about teaching, I knew this had to happen.

At the time he wasn't sure if he wanted to teach science or Spanish or maybe even German, which he had started teaching himself. Despite his talents--which were glaringly obvious to all of his teachers and classmates--he struggled with self esteem issues, even at the top of his game. So knowing not only that he was, well, a dude considering education, but also the kind of quiet, sensitive dude that might not always see someone like himself represented among caring authority figures, I could think of no future more beautiful than one with this dude teaching.

We talked a few more times as he started exploring his options for college. I shared my "wisdom" about dual certification, the future employment prospects for language teachers. I gave my Appalachian homies a heads up that he might be headed their way, and that they must must must take care of him if he goes that direction. He did make it a point to stop by my classroom when he got into App, and so I made him promise to have cookies with me and my family on one of our regular trips up to Boone for creeks, Pokemon, and the Insomnia Cookies shop.

I positioned myself off to the side of the stage on graduation night, snapping what photos I could of all of these babies who made me so proud just making it through. But I wasn't prepared when it was his turn to cross, not prepared to hear those magical words.

Because it would have been magical having any student who sat through my classes decide that what I did was something worth doing for them too. Several students have at least "been thinking about minoring in Spanish," but never before had they planned to teach it. Having inspired any student that way would have made a mama bear proud. But that it was this student?

I started bawling instantly.

What this student's major declaration meant to me was that teaching Spanish means hope to him. It tells me that this cerebral young person who wanted to help others with all his heart had decided that teaching Spanish, doing what I had done with him, was the best way to do that. That the same degree I got from the same school I got it was the best way to keep hope alive. I mean, I can't vouch for his exact thought processes, but knowing what I know about his journey and about his motivations and his talents, I know that this young person--whom so many, including myself, admire immensely--thought long and hard and decided that he could do the most good becoming my colleague, doing what I do.

I have to tell you, my heart has been battered with doubt about what I do this year. Maybe it started with SCOLT, maybe with the frustrations of online teaching, maybe with the suicide of a former student last May followed by the tragic accident that took his classmate in December.

But if one kid--THIS kid--believes strongly enough in what I do to keep it going another generation, that it is the best use of his ample talents and the best way to give to others, to help the world, well then.

Maybe this is worth doing.

20 May 2017

Hot Seat Support Groups

Blogging is just the beginning. It gives students a starting point, a place to hash out what they can--and want to--say about their goals and progress. Their compañeros can check in on them too. But you may have noticed in your own learning experience: real collaboration doesn't happen in the comment section.

Sure, comments are communication, no doubt. But as a teacher--not just a language teacher--I've seen that the real connection only happens through actual conversation. These can happen via text or Twitter, true. But when they are in the same room already, just talking is an important opportunity.

So, yes, my students blog about their project progress--especially in the self-improvement unit (which I will be presenting on at #ACTFL17!)--for a certain degree of accountability and reflection. It makes them feel confident in their ability to express themselves taking that step first, practicing for themselves before anyone sees or hears their Spanish. But the true accountability and support comes from their group members asking questions and offering suggestions, understanding their path. And using language--the target language--that they all understand.


It's no secret that my classroom is not my own. I have no windows and no permission to put anything up around the room except on that one bulletin board in the back. And it's small.

College classes meet in my room once a week, and they can leave their papers and trash around my tables, mess with any stuff I don't secret away securely enough. They can complain if I don't leave the prescribed amount of table space for the professor next to the podium. But so far, I haven't heard anything about my strange class setups.

Since I started doing the small group speaking assessments, I have made my class a bunch of weird triangles with wheely chairs in the middle.

For this unit, they are arranged my self-improvement goals (mostly--it got tricky when EVERYBODY wanted a group of 3 instead of 4 in fourth period. One Spanish III group just had to cope and meet in the hall at the appointed hour.)

Now as often as not, the wheely chairs (which are in my room to be at the computers on the side of the room in theory) end up AT the tables, mysteriously switched out somehow. That or as foot rests. BUT I have found the arrangement convenient not only for when I join for stations or assessments, but also for just blog commenting itself--they read over each other's comments and ask for clarification as they go, commenting on what they read from each other! So, you know, bonus!


The procedure has become one of the few routines that A) does not eventually dissolve into meaningless boredom and B) actually gets kids at all ability levels talking in Spanish. Maybe it's because we only did it 3 or 4 times, but kids took it and ran each time!

Here are the instructions I give them, word for word, whether in a station instruction card or posted on the screen for all to reference:
Take turns in the hot seat (the wheely chair). Each group member will ask you--IN SPANISH--one of these questions about your goals from the past week:

1) What goals have you achieved?
2) What problems have you had?
3) What do you want to change this week?
HINT: Don't ask the same question twice!
As with the blogs, this was all in English. Long about the third round, I encouraged them to branch out from these questions and come up with their own, emphasizing the intermediate skill of "maintaining the conversation"--in other words, acknowledgment and follow-up. I had meant to tie in Sra. Lenord's rejoinders at first, but I never could quite get it organized enough. I think the follow-up questions they came up with worked pretty well, though!


I made everyone doing the AAPPL speaking test--even putting my money where my mouth was for those who couldn't (or couldn't bring themselves to) shell out. Now, the results trickling in have been...mixed. There were some surprise intermediate. There were *deep breath* some N1s.

But as I walk around the room during the support group conversations, there was practically zero English. There were nervous kids probing and correcting confident kids. There were kids going on and on and on about why they couldn't get their homework done or their eight hours of sleep--in Spanish! There were kids commiserating over how hard it is to exercise when the weather is cold or wet--in Spanish! There were kids confessing their lack of motivation in Spanish, kids sharing strategies they read about in Spanish and explaining things they had actually tried in Spanish.

What's more, there were no tears, not a one, when their amigos recorded them when it was their turn in the wheely chair.

They were supporting each other in Spanish

15 May 2017

Project-Based Blogging in Spanish

If my students learn nothing else in my class, they will learn
  1. how to set a goal and
  2. how to follow through. 

Blogging is a pretty useful tool when it comes to goal setting. Blogs are a record of progress, a place for reflection, and an avenue for sharing--all important features of any effective project. They can be especially useful when the project is self-improvement. The blogs become a way to keep goal setters accountable and motivated.
And from a linguistic angle,  Very novice appropriate, too!)

So how do they blog? What do they blog? When and why do they comment?

It all starts at the dollar store.


I wiped out them out. You know those cute little composition books that come in packs of 3 for a dollar? Yeah, I took 'em all. Last year I had to hit another store to get enough. This year I went with the top-bound spiral 3-packs, and I only had to hit one store. I'm willing to drop $15 for two classes for two reasons:
  1. They have no excuse--if their internet is out, they can still write, and they can always carry a cuadernito in their purse or pocket. And we can get started right away!
  2. It's a present--they get a tangible thing that is now theirs, from me to them, to make the whole process just that much more appealing.
Also there will inevitably be someone who has to have a certain notebook that looks a certain way, and some people prefer to just keep track on their phones or online. Whatever works, man. This means, too, that I never have to buy enough for absolutely everyone.

The point is they have a tangible reminder to stick to their routine (we've also been playing with intangible phone-based reminders with Google Keep this semester too--more on that later).

So where does the blogging come in?

Because they are in teams with similar goals, assembled to support each other, EVERYONE posts their week's progress on a blog post once a week (I like Wednesdays). They can take pictures of their cuadernitos or retype it all.

What to write

Establishing a routine is important for changing habits, so I like for the daily posts to be almost a reflex. Keeping the prompt the same for the daily record of progress really helps
  1. reinforce the routine itself
  2. make it so easy they can't not do it (as prescribed by our "textbook" for this unit--an #authres self-help blog post), and
  3. really zero in on problem areas in their writing.
Let me tell you: there's nothing like writing "Hoy yo..."  (#authres "textbook" tip #2!) every single day to finally get that pesky "yo" form solidified! I really wish I had started the semester with it this year like I did last year so that it really had time to sink in before we got into everything else.

If their Novice Mid skills are firmly established, you could write the prompt in the form of questions--but in English. It turns out questions are a key feature of Novice High writing and beyond, so if they are trying to push forward proficiency-wise, if you post, say, 3 questions like this:
  • What was your goal yesterday?
  • Have you accomplished all or part of that goal?
  • What are you doing today?
Sometimes I'll shake things up a bit and have them post once a week--usually in class--some more reflective posts too.
  • What has helped?
  • What problems have you had?
  • What can you do to resolve them?
They could rephrase them in ye olde target language and bump up another level! (I started just posting the AAPPL level their posts reflect--just a comment in the gradebook, a propos of nothing--just to let them know what level they're practicing. They give me seven days worth of writing with all 3 parts I asked for, I give them a 10/10.)


If Wednesdays are for posting about progress, Thursdays are for keeping up with your compañeros. They respond to every compañero's progress post with
  1. a message of support and
  2. a specific relevant question
I've also had them recommend a resource in the comments, but I think that would be overkill every week.

It's important to close the feedback loop and make sure everyone A) sees the support they receive and B) answers the questions they're asked. I'd like to have everyone respond to comments on Mondays, but we've kind of been squishing them in on Thursdays too since everything got bumped to the end of the semester this year. 

The best part, though, is that the commenting and responding provide a solid foundation for further discussion, when compañeros can feel really confident using language they've sort of previewed and also clarifying what has been going on with their own goals and what they're going to do next.

The blogs become a bridge to meaningful interpersonal interaction and reflection in Spanish!

09 May 2017

DIY Reading Practice for the AAPPL Test

Studies suggest that students do better on tests with familiar formats. I'm afraid I was remiss in preparing my students for the AAPPL test, for even though I have been kind of obsessed with AAPPL rubrics for the past couple of years, and my kiddos know their scoring criteria better than normal kids their age, I was really doing my own thing with the format up until last week.

I figured out a way to set up IPAs that were easy for me to make and easy for me to score, so when they tried the demo AAPPL tests last week--days before they would take the real thing for the first time--it was a little stressful. All of the time I had spent encouraging them to focus only on what they knew and skipping what they didn't, it made them panic a little when they had specific questions to answer, regardless of how much they understood.

Don't get me wrong: 81% still met North Carolina's expectations for Spanish II in reading. (Which makes me feel kind of smug about hitting the Camp Musicuentos target!)

But since not everyone was willing to bet $5 that they could hit intermediate on all 4 tests for the Global Language Diploma Seal, I ended up making my own version based on the topics listed on the AAPPL site using Google Drawings.

Here's how you can make your own!

1. Create a Google Drawing for each level

I used the topics for the 2017 A form (since my Spanish 3 kids were at least $5 confident that they had a shot at the seal of biliteracy) on the Tasks & Topics page. I decided on one for Novice Mid, and another for Novice High from the top box, and then one for Intermediate Low and one for Intermediate Mid from the bottom box:
  • NM - describing your school's floor plan
  • NH - chores you are expected to do
  • IL - a letter from your teacher that is about this week's activities
  • IM - texts about news headlines
I divided it this way primarily based on the vocabulary and text types that I anticipated using in each. For example, I knew there would be words we had actually used frequently in the floor plan descriptions and that I would be hard pressed to go beyond a sentence describing each room. I also knew that since I am "your teacher," I would be able to string together multiple sentences but with vocabulary that I had been using all year. The chores and headlines? Anyone's game.

2. Create and find appropriate texts to interpret

I opted for a mixture, partially because I knew that these students selected this option precisely because they were not confident. So where it said "your school," or "your teacher," I went ahead and personalized! So I used part of our actual floor plan and exactly what we were doing the next week for the NM and IL texts! I was trying to achieve a cross section of familiar and unfamiliar contexts, just like the AAPPL test, so I did not even feel bad about that "leg up."

Just PS, if you're doing a floor plan, include, say, bathrooms as a reference.

As for finding, I did an image search for quehaceres for the NH to get some sort of infograph and then went straight to CNN en español for some headlines and blurbs (similar to a structure I had seen in the AAPPL demo over their shoulders). I made it a point to hit the ShowbizLatinoamérica, Tecnología, and Salud categories for some variety--again to imitate what I saw in the demos.

So what I ended up with was
  • NM - (fake) descriptions of exams teachers would be giving where
  • NH - lists of chores appropriate for ages 2-3 and 4-5
  • IL - an actual letter from me to them
  • IM - blurbs about Brangelina, electric cars, Venezuela, and obesity

3. Design the tasks

AAPPL is not exactly multiple choice. There are  multiple choices, but it's never just multiple choice. It's matching, but not matching. You always have to move something--hence the Google Drawing vs Google Docs. But even then, there are always wrong answers.

So I put the texts on the Drawings and made some things that could be matched based on the texts, wrote the instructions in English at the top.

For floorplans, you matched teachers' names and subjects to rooms in our school floorplan:

To match with the chores list, I availed myself of the image search within Google Drawings to find some to match some of the tasks I though they would understand (I kind of forgot the "extra" answers on this one, though. But I liked the way these fit together.)

There's my letter, there are boxes representing a five-day week (maybe I should have added numbers), and then there are more textboxes with paraphrases of what I told them we'd be doing.

I mixed in a translation for the actual headline for most of these--very sneaky. Very few got any of these right. But, again, these were not the kids who felt intermediate, so that's pretty consistent with my expectations.

After scoring these, I was actually pretty shocked to find how clearly the separate assessments distinguished levels! There were one or two who did better on the Intermediate Low example I made simply because of the vocabulary used (I suspect), but several did the Novice Mid and Novice High examples just fine, then floundered on the Intermediate Low and mid with longer texts.

In other words, I think I have a pretty solid practice test to get kiddos familiar with the format for next year now!

05 May 2017

Final Reflection Video Portfolios

Things were going pretty smoothly with my Can-Do based portfolios and Flubaroo badges. But not smoothly enough. Not for me.

This has been a common theme for me this year, despite admonitions from some of the people I admire most not to "sacrifice the good on the altar of the perfect."

So after I sacrificed the"good" portfolios, I muddled through this semester with Make-Your-Own-Objectives portfolios. These were even less perfect than the can-do portfolios, not least of all because I felt like I often ended up evaluating students on how well they understood the objectives they chose rather than their actual performance levels.

Now I'm only sacrificing mediocre on the altar of perfection, I guess.

Brass Tacks

I had to take a hard look at WHY I was still doing portfolios and WHAT would even be worth seeing. I knew that I wanted to see

  1. their best work,
  2. self-assessment,
  3. growth, and
  4. reflection
The trickiest part there is probably the self-assessment, because THAT went over like a lead balloon with the whole Make-Your-Own ordeal. So I looked back over the domains I gave them to choose from, and really the only problem areas were text type and vocabulary--and vocabulary wasn't a very useful avenue for exploration anyway. If we just spend a little more time discussing text type, though, I am pretty sure we can make sense of it--especially if we only focus on one sample instead of three.

So I decided what I really wanted to see evidence-wise was
  • one past sample: either the beginning of the semester or last year
  • an update of that sample: with corrections and additions to show growth
  • one completely new sample: demonstrating the full extent of what they can do
For self-assessment, I decided I really just wanted to see what level they thought they were at versus where they think they are now. I wanted to take their analysis of their current abilities a step further, so I'm allowing them to choose from ACTFL Can-Do statements and the recent performance descriptors to describe their current ability levels as clearly and specifically as possible.


I also knew I wanted what they put together to be super easy to access, and, well, enjoyable. VoiceThread has gotten too rich for my blood, and scrolling through blogger wasn't as convenient or attractive as I would like.

So what about a video? What about Adobe Spark

They could already embed images and type or record whatever they needed, and NOW they can embed videos too! So the speaking and writing are easy, and they have several options for reading, including screenshots with voiceovers. We might have to finagle listening with some screencasting or subtitles in WeVideo, but I think we can work it out.

So I put together a storyboard template on Google Drawings to lay out EXACTLY what I want to see:

We've already started reviewing "how bad" they were from their Spanish I portfolios, and even samples from earlier this year, and we will be taking a day or two to put together a video for each of the four skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. To turn it in, they will take each video and embed it into the blog pages they already have for each skill, so they have something nice and tidy to show anyone interested exactly what they can do in Spanish!

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.