21 September 2017

Mandatory Office Hours and The Gleam

My planning periods have only lasted about 30 minutes for the past two weeks. Even though grades are due next week, I wouldn't wish that time back for anything.

What I'm doing with that time is too important to lose.

I have over 40 "super seniors" in my English classes this year (they have requested that we call them "Elders"). Mine is the last (hybrid) high school class they will ever have, as they dip their toes into their first full college schedule. So by golly, they're going to accomplish something before they leave my class! And that's where the senior project comes in.

Now this is a group who got to experience Genius Hour in Spanish I and II, so I've seen a little bit of their passions before. Honestly, I hadn't been seeing much of those passions this year. I made a point to start off with a contemporary novel to ease them in, instead of throwing them in with Jonathan Swift immediately like last year. One underclassman still reported that his Elder cousin says everyone hates the class. I've got to prepare them for the test, but I still need that spark.

I need The Gleam.

I set up a Google Calendar with appointment slots, leaving myself that precious 30 minutes each day but also plenty of room for all 40-some to sit down with me and talk about what they love--even if they miss their first appointment! They got a teeny test grade just for making the appointment this grading period, and in that appointment, I literally do half the work for them on their next test grade.

They have to turn in three possible topics as well as MLA citations to support each topic by the end of the month. When they come to their appointment, I type straight into their Google Doc, so all they have to do is find some citations when we're done.

I don't always need half an hour for each appointment, but I'm glad I have it. Because, you see, I can't stop until I get The Gleam. If their ideas--or mine--don't make something change in their eyes, if they're just saying "I guess" or "Okay," then we are NOT done. They may or may not come in with ideas, but my job is to keep asking and pushing and rewording until I can type something in that makes them glow. I don't care if it's makeup or musical theater, the anatomy of a heart attack or teaching themselves ASL. I have to see something that lights them up.

These kids--adults, technically--might not know where they want to go to school or what they want to do for a living, but all of them have something within them that gets that Gleam. And isn't that what all of us teachers want to find?

I do not want to suggest that we all need to stay up past already absurd bedtimes to get grades done, but if there is somewhere in your schedule where you can really see your kids--maybe not even "office hours," maybe right there in class--then it is well worth moving some things around.

Because we all have The Gleam. And even when grading or complaints or life in general start making your world seem darker, setting aside time so to see The Gleam will make enough light to see the path ahead.

16 September 2017

Visitor Videos - Cultural comparison PBL

They will be here in two weeks. They do speak English, but it is not their first language. They may have traveled to the U.S. before, they may not. One thing is for sure.

They have never seen anything quite like Gaston County.

It's as true for our community as it is for anyone's: there are some things about it that would be familiar even to international travelers, but there are other things that you just won't get if you "ain't from 'round here."

Our Sister Cities amigos from Peru (and Germany) will be here soon, and we've made arrangements to take a field trip with them, to show them our area and to just be together. We're all hiking up Crowder's "Mountain," which, FYI is about the same level at its peak as the lowest point of Cusco. There were a few things that our kiddos mentioned might have made them feel better prepared for Peru had they been warned, so we (okay, I) thought we'd get our amigos ready before they leave.

I had brainstormed a list of possible topics with some teacher amigas, and everybody raised their hand for the topic they were interested in:

  • Social media & technology  
  • Style and trends (clothes, music, etc) 
  • Money/prices 
  • Appropriate clothes/weather
  • Emergencies
  • Bathrooms 
  • Transportation
  • Families/homes
  • School
Then I grouped them in 2s and 3s accordingly.

They've listened to my stories, done a teeny bit of research, and sent some Flipgrid video questions via our kiddos (which will hopefully get answered in the next week or so), and now it's time to start planning our visitors' videos.

They've started working on their scripts, making sure that
  1. Each group member will speak for at least 30 seconds of the video.
  2. All group members speak in complete sentences in understandable Spanish.
  3. Each group member writes their own lines AND adheres to translator policy.
We brainstormed some "datos importantes" about Gaston County first, then played "Similar o diferente" (I picked one response at a time from their Google Classroom question, asked "¿Es similar a Perú o diferente de Perú?", counted to 3, then let them respond). They very wisely said yo no sé to some and I think started to really realize some of what we take for granted in our Gastonian culture! (WHAT? No Cheerwine in Peru???)

Once I've had a chance to look over their group scripts and discuss them with them, they can begin filming and/or editing. I will have them submit their notes in a note on Seesaw with a recording of them rehearsing so I can give them some pronunciation pointers, too--just so they're understandable.

They'll submit their videos next week and have them posted to our amigos in Peru, perhaps via YouTube, and the videos themselves will be scored according to this single-point rubric (but only for a daily work or quiz grade):

I think our amigos will get a kick out of the videos and maybe even feel a little more at ease when we're climbing that "mountain" in a few weeks. But however they feel, I know our kids will be a little more open-minded when they get here.

14 September 2017

Target Language Reset Button

YOU are a MASTER teacher. You are a better teacher than I am, better than I ever will be--better than ANYONE--at least once a month.

Picture that day.

Or that lesson.

Hey, maybe you even had a streak going at one point. I think my record is two. It was halfway through my 13th year in the classroom.

My students engaged in 100% target language discussion in their project groups for 30 minutes straight. Some groups came up with clever choreography for the song they'll perform at the language festival in April, and some came up with the plot for a funny skit about quinceañeras.  They shared ideas in Spanish, questioned each other in Spanish, disagreed in Spanish, and even teased each other in Spanish. And THEN?? They did it AGAIN the NEXT DAY!

It. Was. Beautiful.

I worked out a system where I could reward them for sticking to the target language that I think was supremely fair: you actually participate in the group discussion AND keep it 90% in the target language? You get a free pass on the daily project progress blog for a day. The best part is, they had to use MORE Spanish to get a chance to use LESS! Win-win.

It didn't take too long to whip up a some in Canva, copy them, and change the date. Then I e-mail the winners their own little graphic to substitute for the blog post itself! I could see turning this in instead of a document or video on Classroom too.


Problem #1 Losing the groove 

We have special 3-hour sessions on Fridays where the whole junior class come together, either for a field trip, a service project, or a class project, ie winning the language festival. They got to use L1 to coordinate plans during that time last Friday while I was about 3 states away. It might have made them lazy.

Weekends might do that too.

So switch things up for a while, do something different where they get to take in some input instead of producing output, and then reset.

Problem #2 Boredom

The great Carol Gaab says in her sessions on higher order thinking "Who wants to ask a story every day?" In that vein, who wants to talk the same way about the same thing day in and day out? You can't just expect them to run themselves once you get them to do this once. They could learn any number of things on their own, but you are the one with the know-how to set them up with a favorable structure to make that learning more likely, nay, practically inevitable! So, again, vary the input and the output so this isn't ALL they do. (PS, note to self, this means you have to schedule enough time into projects to allow ROOM for this!)

08 September 2017

Pizza, sushi, ceviche and CI - Weird combinations that work

I guess I shouldn't be shocked that pizza and ranch is a thing. But when one of my students drew it next to her name for her first card talk, it got my wheels turning.

We OBVIOUSLY had to start with the verb gustar if we were going to talk about pizza and ranch. I knew we would need some comprehensible input to reinforce its usage, so I pored through my semester selection of videos on SenorWooly.com and JACKPOT! "Qué asco", I immediately flashed back to the maki hangovers my Peru students got after stuffing themselves with sushi when out with their Sister Cities amigos this summer. Sr. Wooly may have liked sushi viejo in his licuado, but the kids who were STILL obsessing over their international trip and their international friends had had sushi de helado!

So on to other scandalous Peruvian foods and ingredients. I raided my Instagram (OK, and a little Google search) for pictures of some questionable classics:
  • ceviche
  • lomo saltado
  • aji de gallina
  • causa

And thus quieres and various basic ingredients were introduced to their repertoire! Oh the facial expressions we were able to evoke discussing which ingredients and what they liked and did NOT like, what they did and did not want to try!

Also, one class had a little more time than the other (eclipses and whatnot, don't you know), so I quick dug up a collection of extrañas combinaciones to introduce other possible foods/ammunition in a way my little novices could understand.

The next week we reviewed with an infograph I had pinned. I just had them work with a partner to ask questions--in English--on Google Classroom about it. I figured they wouldn't be able to interpret much, but they could start making some educated guesses. Plus it gave me an excuse to work cuy in--and all of the introspection that goes along with their first reactions to it--even though it only has the one main (cuddly) ingredient.

And then? Then they were armed. One week into class, they were ready to show me what they could and couldn't do--if they were ready to earn an A by making sure they had sentences with verbs or at least a B by combining words into phrases (though the first assessment was still a couple of weeks off). I posted my own gross Seesaw drawing as an example, reminded them of their proficiency babies, and set them loose.

Here are a few favorites:

AND because I have the Seesaw pro account, I was able to do a quick preliminary 1-4 rating of their novice (or intermediate if they were awesome...or, you know, heritage speakers) writing abilities! No grades, just an initial read to compare to down the road!

Now we've got a solid month of prepping for our amigos peruanos under our belts, the formal assessment has begun, and at least two speaking presentations so far have included pizza and ranch so far--and at least half of them are about foods that are new to them--or will be to their Peruvian amigos in the fall.

I think we've got a lot of great ingredients and are cooking up something that really works!

29 August 2017

Slow Down - Asking cultural questions ain't easy

Once upon a time I went too fast. It was long ago, too long for most to remember: let's call it last Wednesday.

It was week 2 of Spanish I, you see, and I had been watching eyes and noting attitudes, making gestures--going despacito. Everyone seemed to be with me, or at least catch up quickly when I caught that absent or betrayed look when I got ahead. I'd asked them about a bazillion question about foods they liked and didn't like as well as about their designated personas especiales for the first go-round. We'd talked about what they like to do and doodled it on Seesaw to collect vocabulary.

I talked so much about the Peru trip and the amigos who are coming in October that when I asked "¿Quién quiere ir a Perú?" I had to make an extra 20 copies of the applications I got for all of the hands that were raised.

So I thought they were ready to ask a few questions about Peru, right? They'd heard a bazillion or so examples,  and they definitely wanted to know more about Peru. I had my essential verbs and Creative Language Class question posters on the board, some key umbrella terms in their notebooks. What else do you need?

It turns out a lot. I deleted those first questions I let them collaborate on as a group. We do not speak of those questions now.

I went on to break the questioning and research process down still further in a Google Doc. I was still going too fast. My promesa ratings today indicate that even when I slowed down the Google Doc process, I was STILL going too fast.

So here's what I decided I should have done to slow down the process and prepare students.

  1. Practice stating familiar facts.I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere with cultural comparison and analysis! But if students are going to ask questions about other cultures, they have GOT to know theirs. They must practice saying what they already know with words they already know. So many wanted to dive in and ask like they would in their native language. I forget about that impulse when I'm making myself speak baby Spanish all the time.
  2. Analyze assumptions.
    We have got to hold up that cultural mirror and categorize what we know about our surroundings according to whether those familiar facts are necessarily true elsewhere. I myself had never heard of Pelican's Snowballs 6 months ago, but I had kids asking how many there were in Peru! If we had spent time sharing and comparing the familiar facts, the language would be a lot more familiar AND some things we though we knew would come to light.
  3. Prioritize new vocabulary.
    They wanted to know so many new words, and some legitimately needed--and could handle--more than others. The girls in one ropa adecuada group are all about some mangas cortas (or Magna Cartas as they like to tease), but a casas and familias group has to cope with the idea that "garden" and "yard" are the same thing. I'm thinking each group could have a vocabulary wishlist that I could just slice and dice down to the essentials and refer them to alternatives. (Of course I might need to know the context of the questions they're thinking of here.)
  4. Brainstorm key phrases.
    Supposedly this generation just types questions into Google? I don't usually find this to be the case, but if the kiddos could figure out exactly what they want to type into Google to find more information, then they would have the vocabulary they need in order to ask the questions they want to ask.

There's a reason that asking questions is considered an intermediate writing skill, but it's a skill we need to start practicing and developing as early as possible if we are aiming to produce language learners who keep learning.

Let's just make sure that we develop the skill in a way that keeps students feeling curious AND confident.

18 August 2017

GUEST POST: Hope for Higher Ed

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I have the pleasure of picking Dr. Karen Tharrington's brain regularly on #langchat, and once as a co-presenter for SCOLT! @kltharri is a Senior Lecturer and Methods Instructorat North Carolina State University and an advocate for online Professional Learning Networks, technology and online learning, as well as future language teachers everywhere.

Also, she constantly renews my faith in university-level language learning.


I love the idea of PBL, I preach about it with my methods students. We develop ideas that could be used in the language classroom. We read this blog.

But I’ve never been able to fully implement it in my own classes.

I am an educator to the core, but sometimes teaching at the Higher Ed level is challenging. We don’t see students every day, the contact hours are so much shorter, college kids are “too busy to collaborate” these days, blah, blah, blah….

And then I met my academic soulmate.

Dr. Goknur Kaplan Akilli is a TEFL professor from Turkey and she was invited to give a talk at my university this summer. I was intrigued by the description – designing an instructional technology course for pre-service teachers who are technology-resistant – so I made the drive to campus during my summer break. And wow, was I rewarded for it!

She began with a Polleverywhere, talked about wanting PBL to lead her course design, instead of the other way around; I couldn’t stop nodding my head. And then she shared her syllabus – an INFOGRAPHIC!!

People, I’ve NEVER seen a college professor use an infographic, in the words of Taylor Swift, “like, ever.” And it was beautiful. It showed learning as a journey.

She went on to explain how the course is set up. Think Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones in an academic setting. Students receive a letter à la Hogwarts at the beginning of the semester, inviting them to bring their WANDS (Wifi-Accessible Now Devices).

Throughout the course, students engage in digital learning and teaching WHILE digitally learning and teaching…whoa. She takes gamification to a new level and does it IN HIGHER EDUCATION. They compete in “challenges” with each other through collaboration, their reflections receive “Wordsmithing” badges instead of grades, and there’s a “Master” certificate at the end.

For example, one challenge required students to watch the Ron Clark movie and answer questions; simple and typical, but the way she formatted it was literally a game changer. With stars in my eyes, I started imagining all the ways I could implement this in my classes (insert dreamy music here).

I snapped back into focus and was reminded of what she said at the beginning – if she wanted students to use technology in their classrooms, they had to learn via technology in their classroom.

Just. Like. World. Languages.

By the end of her talk I was ready to ask for her hand in academic marriage. I want to collaborate with this woman! I want to learn from this Yogi! She has the same challenges but she gets it. There’s hope for Higher Ed yet.

Now, excuse me while I level up my online course…..

13 August 2017

You Can Do This: Promises for the first day of Spanish class

How and why are still probably the most important questions to answer for learning a language, but I forgot a very important question last year. There is one burning question that every novice language learner needs answered before they can even begin to explore purposes and strategies.

And it's a question that no one else can answer for them:

Can I do this?

Of course we've got the 4% who just thrill at the mere thought of diving into a new language, but when they find out Spanish class is not just going to be memorizing lists and facts, even the 4%-ers are bound to have doubts.

It is my job to cast those doubts from their minds, to show them the answer. This means I have to

  1. get them using the language and
  2. assure them that I am on their side all the way.
Now, my idea of what "using the language" means has evolved over the years. So after a little call-and-response to get them simply parroting the language as evidence that, yes, Spanish can come out of their mouths, this year, I tried a card talk to prove that, yes, they could understand when I spoke Spanish to them. 

And because I have decided to chill about the 90% TL thing for the sake of complete trust and transparency, we discussed--in English--how they felt about the activity and how much Spanish they were able to absorb. We even talked about whether or not they needed to speak the language as desperately as I felt I did at first, and decided to revisit the conversation later (over half said they did want to speak sooner rather than later though).

And then I made some promises--in Spanish.

Each promise was on a separate slide, with 3 clarifying mini-promises underneath. I had been careful to use cognates and as few words as possible, but I walked them through exactly what I meant by each. 

Basically, I promised to exercise the 3 basic skills M. Slavic and Mme Hargaden emphasized in the workshop I attended this summer:

I tried very hard to demonstrate doing these things as I went, and boy those eyes said a lot when we were talking about how I needed to watch them and use it! I did ask them to help let me know when I wasn't going "despacito" (see, we got Justin Bieber and Luis Fonsi in there somehow!!), complimenting kids who stopped me to clarify when they needed it.

Overall, I think they were believers by the end of class, but I'm doing three other things to emphasize those promises and keep them at the front of my mind and theirs:
  1. We revisited them Day 2 and made them the first page in their interactive notebooks. I had them match the mixed up mini-promesas to the three main promises with table teams and then discussed again what each promise looked like and why I would do it.
  2. I made posters that will go up Day 3 for us to review again so that they can...
  3. ..grade me on my promise keeping. I made little score cards which I will use as exit slips periodically, hopefully at least once a week. 
I decided to keep the score cards anonymous, too, though I would really like to be able to pinpoint who needs more help. I think it's more important to get an honest overall read, though. But if they want to talk or let me know they need more from me individually, I'll leave the option of signing their names too.

My hope is that these promises will help keep me honest and connected with my kiddos this year.

And that they will continue to answer that burning question the same all semester and after:

Yes I can.

My first day promise packet is now available on TeachersPayTeachers.

10 August 2017

BRAIN BREAK - Name that Spanish cover!

If you could meet with all of your students before they got to your class, what would you do to get them pumped about Spanish?

My first thoughts were food and music--and keeping it as familiar and fun as possible. I didn't want them to Learn so much as I wanted them to observe, to realize. I wanted to get them thinking, "Hey, this could be fun!" completely sans stress.

So I kept it completely interpretive with no production, broke out the candy I brought home from Peru, and turned an activity I had previously used for a brain break into a little team competition. (They were in groups of 5-6, but it ended up being 45 + an English teacher against the 5 native speakers who tested out of Spanish I. They tied.)

Now this activity could be a whole game with 10 songs or just be a quick little break you keep in your bookmark bar at the top of your browser. You can even rearrange slides so songs you've used move to the end if you use your own copy of the presentation!

When I used this type of activity as a brain break in the past, I found 2 or 3 songs were pretty good--as long as they were easy.

I did hit some snags with my "sans stress" activity, so I have added additional slides with one key word highlighted that I think will be useful hints and replaced some songs entirely because they didn't have enough good clues. I think the 10 songs I have now should work, especially with the highlighted hints and perhaps a few high-frequency verbs under their belts as the year goes on.


  1. Split the class into teams: EVERYONE on the team must raise their hand to be called on.
  2. Project the chorus of one Spanish cover and read it out loud.
  3. Each team gets one chance to guess the original title (or artist if you like).
  4. If no one can guess in 30 seconds, show the hint slide and explain the highlighted vocabulary word (e.g. amar, hablamos, algo)
  5. When a team guesses right--or if no one can guess it--play the song (fast forward to the chorus if need be).
  6. Move on to the next song (or activity if you just want to do one.

Search tips

Now there are plenty of other covers out there, but they all have sort of a limited shelf life--though I have considered making an oldies version for my classic rock kiddos. Maybe some Taylor Swift songs can be resurrected in the name of nostalgia down the road, but I think it's important to keep this sort of activity fresh, so here are a few tips:

  • Filter searches with "This year." If someone is still recording them, they're probably still somewhat relevant songs.
  • Find versions that actually sound good (and familiar). Sometimes funny videos can make up for bad singing...but not usually. The instrumentation should be at least kind of close to help with that prior knowledge connecting.
  • Lyrics videos are handy. Some will spontaneously start to sing in Spanish if they can follow along, I kid you not.

Also, in my recent searches, I found some go-to Spanish cover artists. Of course everyone probably knows about Kevin y Karla, but here are a few more artists that seem to have a good Spanish cover repertoire:

And here's my actual updated playlist:

And updated presentation with lyric hints!

02 August 2017

Interactive Notebook Pages: Past with Participles

There's no point fighting the past tense. You're going to have to sneak at least a COUPLE of words (read: functional chunks) in even in Spanish I.

HINT: "Fue" will cover a LOT of your past tense needs. Some kids can survive Spanish 2 with pretty much only that one verb in past tense, and some smarty pantses might grasp "fui" before they beg for Spanish 3 to be added to the early college schedule, either through Duolingo or just constant grammatical questioning.

But then they start throwing in the "tengo comer" interlanguage, and it's all your inner linguist can do not to rip her hair out and start babbling in the present perfect.

Now, the single most successful project I've found to start Spanish 2 with is the self-improvement project (I'll be presenting on it at ACTFL this year!). However, one of the main components of the actual self-improvement is the reflection--they have to keep track of what they HAVE (or have not) done each day.

So I made a gesture to go with he, has, ha (thumb jerked back over your shoulder) and some sliders to help students form regular present tense verbs:

A post shared by Laura Sexton (@srasxtn) on

Basically you can have them fill in any relevant (regular) roots you want. I know that things like caminar and correr come in handy for the exercise crowd!

Then of course there were the irregulars, so I went back and created some little door flaps that could be added on a separate page or perhaps separated to scaffold a little better:

  1. Gesture icon + AR slide on one page
  2. ER slide + irregular doors on next page
So, for this year's TPT Back-to-School sale, I went ahead and put all of those doors and slides together for you to copy and print! 20% off today!

Find more information on how I have used interactive notebooks in Spanish I here and check out these other resources on sale--or free!--on TPT:

01 August 2017

IPA Template

Integrated Performance Assessments typically have three components based on the modes of communication:

  • Interpretive
  • Interpersonal
  • Presentational
In my class, each component is a separate test grade, making it easier for me to compare and contrast progress in the three modes--since I can't technically do standards-based grading.

I have a sequence that served me well last year, so I combined the documents into a bundle for TeachersPayTeachers for Back to School this year in hopes they might help other people!

Here's what you will find in the bundle!

1.  Interpretive Reading Template

You can select any text to go with this document and simply plug in the type (e.g. infograph, blog post, Wikipedia article), title, and URL if it is online. Some texts I have used on previous IPAs include:

    NOTE: I do tend to change them up every year, for interest's sake, and it helps avoid cheating.

    I mostly post this to Google Classroom with the text linked and give them a 90-minute class period to work on it. Some will only fill in the 5 slots provided, but most will keep going, in my experience. I grade whatever they want to give me--it's in their hands.

    I have also printed this on a 2-sided page before and copied the text I wanted to use. I let them highlight and copy when I do it on paper, but it's a little more tedious. I also had to print extra copies of page 2 for MANY to get out everything they understood!

    This template could also work for listening in a pinch, but again, it's almost necessary to copy the Spanish to know what part of a video they're referring to, and looking up time stamps is tedious. I tend to use Vibby for the listening portion, which is not something that can be turned into a template.

    2. Speaking Template & Score Cards

    Interpersonal mode is by definition spontaneous, but spontaneous speech in the second language is by definition intimidating for most normal people. Having them prepare a presentation helps provide
    1. direction for what they want to say
    2. nonverbal cues when they forget or get lost
    3. a sense of confidence
    The truth is that I'm generally not scoring the presentation itself, but the (spontaneous) questions they answer afterward in a small group as well as the (spontaneous) questions they ask when it's their other group members' turns. See more about how I set up the small group speaking assessment here.

    The bundle includes a very, very basic Powerpoint template which I post for them on Classroom at least 3 days ahead of time as well as printable score cards like I use (when I don't resort to index cards) while they speak. If you don't have access to Classroom or another LMS, you could also just have them draw on index cards for their cues, or, heck! Bring back cutting up magazines! I do, after all, count the preparation as a separate "homework" grade, but students are still required to speak when it's their turn, with or without it--and I have had some AWESOME results that way too!

    I recommend setting aside at least 2 class periods on the block schedule for getting through all the groups and probably 3 on a non-block schedule.

    3. Writing Template

    This one is mostly lines. I do print this and have them write by hand instead of posting this to Classroom because it helps avoid Translator temptation and gets them to work more from their brains. The AAPPL descriptions are on the side, though, and I have them highlight how they think they did at the end (I do think it makes a few go back and add more!) 

    I find having them write anything they can think of gets a lot more out of their heads, and having a few suggestions of topics they could write on at the top gets them thinking when they run out of things to say.

    The good news is that this typically only takes about half an hour for most students (although some who fill up the back will take a whole class period if I let them.)

    4. Google Classroom Instructions & Score Conversion Scales

    In case you want to copy and paste these into Classroom, this page has what you will need beyond the attachments themselves above.

    AAPPL descriptions are included on the Reading Template, the Speaking Powerpoint, and the Writing Template, but the performance level I expect shifts every six weeks in my semester-long course, so I provided an easy to copy version of each shift that you could add to Classroom assignments for clarity.

    29 July 2017

    Languages Look Good on Paper [MCGRAW-HILL]

    Putting on symposiums for Spanish teachers is a fabulous direction for textbook companies to go in this day and age. And getting leaders in the field like Martina Bex to take part? You cannot go wrong. And if it means I get to take part? All the better.

    So when I got to join McGraw-Hill's next teacher-empowering initiative online--with still more leaders like Derek McCoy!--how could I be anything but elated?

    I took this opportunity to shine a spotlight on what I see as the difference between perception and reality when it comes to support for world languages these days. The truth is, I think those not in this specific field don't really know what support looks like or really what languages are even FOR!

    Here's an excerpt:
    There was a time when languages were weapons, trained on separating the scholars from the slackers. Language was supposed to be some intellectual litmus test for la crême de la crême, proof of a student’s worthiness to advance. That’s why politicians and parents, tycoons and even teachers, say they believe everyone should learn another language, but then remain wistfully monolingual themselves. 
    Language was used to divide, so now divided adults pretend they believe it’s what kids need without believing it themselves, just because it looks good on paper.
    Read more about how we can make believers without test scores and statistics on McGraw-Hill's Inspired Ideas blog.

    26 July 2017

    CI - I Still Have Questions

    I got so many great tools and ideas from attending the CI workshop with Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden, so conveniently located in my home state! I know I said I was going to "stay home and process," but I figured I could handle two days within an hour's drive, right?

    And still my world's a little more upside down.

    Sr. Slavic and Sra. Hargaden were passionate and completely forthright, but I can't help but question a few of the underlying tenets that seem to form the foundation for this particular branch of the CI tree. These are questions I feel I need to research more, whether in my own classroom or through more academic pursuits.

    But they're questions I need to ask and attempt to answer to make sense of what I do.

    Are we the only ones who care?

    "I get it, you're one of the 4%." 

    I was expressing my first-day iFLT anxiety to Sr. Slavic: I couldn't remember ANYTHING after my first day of Russian! My drive for mastery was floundering! I could remember after the Mandarin language lab, though, and I felt SO much more confident being able to say "Gimme chocolate!" and "No I won't give it to you!"

    Apparently this is not a normal thing?

    I mean, I totally buy that the inner workings of grammar and linguistics will only appeal to about 4 in every 100 kids I teach, but to want to speak the language you learn? I mean, isn't that kind of what everyone wants out of a language class? Maybe only 4% of us are as impatient as I am, but I dunno. I think I'm going to have to conduct my own survey when my students come back in *EEK!* two weeks. I may even adjust accordingly and withhold speaking assessment until later in the semester as recommended by our CI Liftoff gurus if it turns out I really am as weird as Sr. Slavic thinks. If my kids are really satisfied only being able to rehash stories and descriptions we come up with together, it may well be worth it to ease that pressure still further.

    Is there zero crossover between learned and acquired language?

    I've long since accepted that there was a difference between "acquisition" and "learning" in language oh let's call it development. Personally, I thought both were a good thing, especially in the limited context of a non-immersion learning experience, which, hello, high school Spanish 90 minutes a day. I figured the learning could help organize what was absorbed, you know? Graphic organizer style, slotting the information for retrieval later.

    No, Sr. Slavic said. That is what happens when we sleep! And we cannot force it! 

    Now I am aware that sleep is needed for such input organization, but, I never connected input and, you know comprehensible input.

    What's more, Sra. Hargaden says, acquired competence and learned competence "represent two distinct knowledge systems between which there exists no link or interface (Krashen, 1985)."

    HOWEVER. I still cannot make myself believe in a magical Language Acquisition Device from God. I think there is an explanation possible for how language is processed, and I'd wager it's strikingly similar to the way other understanding is acquired (I guess that makes me a "cognitivist"). I've noticed nothing but similarities with language when sitting in on my son's Suzuki lessons for violin. I don't know how anyone could argue against an affective filter existing in math and reading. I'd say our brains are built to process patterns like music, math, dance, etc, but language happens to be the most ubiquitous set of patterns.

    And then I come back to Making It Stick, a #langbook from years past. One of the first illustrations of real rather than perceived learning was flying a plane--all the manuals in the world aren't the same as being in a cockpit, but still you want your pilot to, you know be familiar with them, right? Language is usually a little less life-and-death, but I'd say flying is a decent analogy for output otherwise.

    Still, does their manual knowledge actually transfer to what they're doing in the air? Or is it mainly--or ONLY--what they acquire contextually in simulations?

    Perhaps it was kismet that this post came across my Twitter feed after I'd had a few sleeps to process the workshop. The author blew my mind all over again.
    Additionally, grammar rules have a big drawback. Using them to make your own sentences, without first having a feeling for the grammar, leads to imposing your own assumptions. Those assumptions are necessarily based on your first language or on your own guessing.
    That makes a lot of sense, right?

    So all this time, when incorporating conscious learning activities, was I just providing that false sense of security described in Making It Stick that comes of a "lecture or...text is a paragon of clarity" that students think they already understand, and thus never take the time to process it for themselves?

    Is language enough?

    One time at ACTFL, I started a Twitter tiff between two of the great minds in our field.
    I tweeted something Greg Duncan said in his session about motivation that I thought was very wise, very in-line with what Daniel Pink tells us about motivation and what Stephen Krashen tells us about the affective filter. Apparently though, it ran in direct opposition to what Dr. Krashen had just discovered in his case study demonstrating that language is not a motivator in itself, that it's what the language allows you to do that motivates.

    Sr. Slavic said he probably agreed with Dr. Krashen, but again, I think there's an element of truth in both points.

    Which I guess is why I do what I do.

    I firmly believe that the thrill a kid gets from being able to say or understand something is real, and a taste of the mastery that Daniel Pink describes as one of three key motivational factors. However, I also feel that there has to be a purpose as well, and I think Krashen is right in that sense, too.

    So here's my conundrum: if language itself is not (alone) what motivates, how can our only goal in our classes BE language? How can we develop instruction only around developing language skills--whether they're hearing, reading, writing, or speaking? How can we just let the class flow based on where the language leads? How can we expect silly stories and "images" to be enough for weeks on end?

    I am not ready to give up my hard-won high-frequency focus, even if I do give up the conjugation charts I discover now might not have been helping. Nor am I ready to give up the immediate, authentic purpose of a public product, of PBL. What is the point of stories about happy cheese and unhappy books if all they are able to lead to is understanding of themselves, if all they lead to is more silly stories?

    Maybe only 4% of us are impatient enough to demand immediate application.

    I'll just have to ask.

    24 July 2017

    4 CI Strategies from CI Liftoff

    I don't think anyone would call me a TPRS teacher, though I've certainly dabbled in comprehensible input for years, and I will gladly sip some CI Kool-Aid when offered a fresh serving, whether through organized national conferences or a workshop conveniently passing through my home state.

    I recently got the opportunity to see Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic in action, and the enthusiasm was beyond contagious. What's more, I walked away with four solid strategies I know I can add to my tool belt/toy box to make class time more fun and a little more effective.

    Card Talk

    Sr. Slavic has long been famed for "Circling with Balls," but this is an update that is both simple and ingenious. Art was a big hook (Dave Burgess would be proud) to engage students in creation and collaboration, and in this case works a lot like when I would collect student interests with Nearpod--only even simpler. At the same time, it also taps into some of the best parts of my successful first day last year, when I did a little PQA to tie into student interests--but again, even simpler.

    Basically, the kids get a card, write their name, and draw something they like. Bam. Done. Yet again, even simpler than the first-day homework collage (which I still might do, mind you). If they have trouble thinking of something, maybe try steering them toward food or pets or sports.

    Then I start not with the questions but with statements in the TL, observations based on the cards. I remark on something one kid likes, find another kid who likes the same thing to point out, point out a kid who doesn't have the same kind of thing on their card and maybe ease into questions with ¿no? on the end.

    SUPER comprehensible and engaging.

    Hub Jobs

    I could totally relate to Sr. Slavic's lack spatial alacrity. I often tell my students, as Spanish is to you, so all things spatial are to me--absolutely foreign. So having four hubs around the room so he would know where to look when working out his story (which he also worked out spatially by physically walking a path that represented separate steps of the story) made perfect sense.

    So on one side of your room, you have the artists--#1 and #2 so one can sketch and the other can fill in--and writers who can write down the story--in English or TL if they need a challenge.

    On the other side you have your actors and Teacher 2--the one who gets to make the final decision when the class can't seem to decide.

    In the middle of the crowd, you have your reader leader to get choral reading/translating started, your videographer (and assistant) for countdowns and recording to review, and finally your storydriver who keeps track of the timing of the spatial story path to be sure you're moving on!

    There's another hub involving longer term responsibilities, like the archivist, publisher, and documentary director who are responsible for taking all of the videos, stories, images, etc. and putting them into a final product for review as the embodiment of what the class was about. (Perfect PBLL project??? Just maybe.)

    I have to tell you, I started going through the list of all the sophomores I'll have this year to start picking out roles (yeah, I know, I'm a cheater who already knows all the kids before the first day).

    One-Word Image

    I confess, this is why I showed up. I saw Grant Boulanger do this at iFLT and Haiyun Lu at ACTFL. I still felt there was more to grasp about how to set it up and make it work. I already knew:

    1. The "one word" is the name of an object you start with--any object (that's interesting)
    2. You build on the one word by asking questions to let the class choose the description
    I just...I just didn't know where to start, how, or why. Now I know you pick an image you know will connect with the group--possibly based on the cards, possibly based on suggestions. And you start with basic dichotomy descriptions every time: big/small, happy/sad, this color/that (Maris' post helped me nail this down a little better after the fact). THEN you can create a conflict to lead into a story about the image!


    So they start out as student drawing, so I don't know how they're actually "invisible." I guess it's because they become part of the class, even though we don't see them there with is? Anyway, this is more of the art hook, and let me tell you, it worked on me. I roped my daughter into coloring my character for me, too, to make it extra special (she gave my pizza green olive eyes). The kids create an object character (again, Maris' post helped me understand why it couldn't be Beyonce) and begin listing its characteristics, including

    • name
    • job
    • age
    • family
    Plus some sort of conflict, like its "big secret" or likes and dislikes.

    And then of course you can work these into stories too! I can see how this could fit into the invention unit EASY.

    So those are my biggest takeaways from the experience. Of course I also have detailed tweets--collected for you here.

    There are also some questions still gnawing at me after this latest sip of Kool-Aid, but those, those are for my next post.

    21 July 2017

    That's My Jam! Starting Spanish 1 in Style

    David Bisbal, I still love you, but it was time to retire "Te mueves tú" last year. 

    Last year, Nicky Jam took my pop latino novio's place (I am eternally grateful to Sra. Whisenhunt for the suggestion!) It was the perfect attention-getter all semester and beyond--they physically COULD NOT resist the call and response that we set up on their very first day of class! One of the students who was LEAST excited about Spanish--and school in general--rushed in before school one day to show me Nicky Jam in the 2016 YouTube Rewind video. What's more, I got tagged on Instagram months after class ended when the song came on at a student birthday party, and the girls going to Peru with me for the Sister Cities exchange this year still insist Nicky Jam is their favorite.

    The high frequency vocabulary in Nicky's jam was especially handy last year:
    • ¿Cómo tú te llamas?
    • Yo no sé
    • Quiero

    Even "ni pregunté" helped lay the foundation for perhaps the most high-frequency word in my classes (even my principal knows pregunta now).

    I think starting with a chorus call and response chorus format was part of the secret to the song's success, so I want to do that again this year, too, but with a new song.
    At first I read or played the white, then they read the yellow.
    I like how each year has its own Spanish anthem, and I believe that keeping the music selection fresh is one of THE most important factors to effectively exploiting teenage musical obsessions. In fact, my selection criteria list is not unlike Sra. Stilson's:
    1. It must be CATCHY.
      It must be simple and appealing enough to never ever leave their head.
    2. It must be COOL.If it gets stuck in their head, but that doesn't make them go home and download it and listen to repeat, just dread class, then what's the point? Of course cool means different things all the time, so I've got to keep my ear to the ground.
    3. It must be COPIABLE
      We do it in English too--if we can't remember the words, we just kind of mutter them then say the last word we hear. So it needs to be words that are recognizable and paced in such a way that my baby parrots have some hope of, well, parroting them.
    Ordinarily I'm partial to anything that includes essential verbs and insist on the highest of vocabulary frequency, but to set the tone for the class, I really just need the kids grooving.

    So who else?

    Alvaro Soler to the rescue.

    The girls LOVE this guy, and EVERYONE digs his music. I confess "Animal" was not my favorite track, but I'm a sucker for the girl power in this video. And I cannot deny the cool, catchy, copiability of the chorus:
    Llega el momento
    Donde eres el viento
    Hoy lucharé como un animal
    como un animal, animal
    Escucha el aliento
    Solo silencio
    Hoy lucharé como un animal
    como un animal animal
    There are certainly some useful words in there, if not the highest of frequency, words like donde, eres, hoy, escucha. Also repeating a cognate six times can't hurt the old baby parrot confidence Day 1 either, you know?

    But what might be even cooler is how I can scaffold the call and response here.

    Step 1: All they have to say is "O-O"
    It sounds funny out of context, is super easy to imitate, and gets them to focus on listening for the end of what I say first without freaking them out about actually TALKING Spanish.

    Step 2: Put it in order
    We got hit hard on listening last year--the final exams matched the AAPPL results almost exactly. So I want them to just get comfortable hearing what they hear, matching sounds with letters.

    Step 3: Matching to establish meaning
    It'll be the first day--I'm okay with a little straight translation to make them feel safe the first day. So I'll have them match Spanish lines to English lines to figure out what's what and start building a word wall. I might mix some Instagram challenge type activities in to check for comprehension too.

    Step 4: Two lines at a time
    We'll probably practice with some more "O-O"s first, but then it'll be their turn to actually SAY some Spanish. I want to split this part up over 3 days, though, so they ease in nice and slow and have two new lines for sure each day.

    And then everyone can sing!

    It's too bad this year's song of the summer--and its video--would almost certainly get me fired, but I think "Animal" will make an excellent jam to continue the legacy begun with David Bisbal years ago.

    17 July 2017

    Why I Won't Teach Novels in Spanish

    Let me be clear: I am a Spanglish teacher. I went into this game an English teacher, and novels have been the basis for my approach to instruction for a goodly portion of my career. It took me a while to come around to the idea of using novels in my Spanish classroom for two main reasons:

    1. I had an "authenticity" hangup.
    2. I have a PBL hangup.
    I like to think the PBL thing is more than a hangup, though. Really it's more of a paradigm shift--one that both complements and challenges my proficiency/communication shift. But the upshot is that I understand the goals and means of schooling and learning differently now. My ultimate goal is no longer to have a little fun poking around in the perspectives and opinions of the adolescent minds that get stuck with me (now for three years thanks to my Spanglish skills MWAHAHAHA!) I really did get into the game to entertain and inform myself, so I could keep learning a la Mr. Bancroft in my 11th grade American Lit class. At some point, though, I grew up.

    Oh, I still have fun with kids' perspectives and opinions. I make an effort to actively respect them rather than just collect them now, too. But my ultimate goal now is more about outcomes based, more about what specifically they leave with. I want them to have something to show, something concrete they can display and explain as an embodiment of their learning.

    I wholeheartedly believe this is possible--and beneficial--to do with novels, both in English and Spanish classes. I've seen it done (at least from afar) from the likes of second language superhero Carrie Toth.

    The reason I won't be following in their footsteps? Two main reasons:
    1. I can't, and 
    2. I'm not ready.
    This might be the part where I get to say, "Gotcha!" I do like a sensational title now and then. Notice I didn't say "Why I won't be teaching novels in Spanish EVER"--and if I were really honest, I would have added "this fall." I fully intend to figure this thing out, maybe even in time for Spanish 2 in the spring (those are the kids who were all into Agentes Secretos after all, and my whole festival-centered Spanish 2 curriculum did kind of fall through completely last year). 

    But this year, I am taking time to re-invent the wheel.

    Look, I know that's the first thing they tell you not to do in teacher training, but I have to. I was talking with my amiga who's taking over the online gig from me this year, and she was careful to express how much she liked my ideas, and that she was definitely going to use some. And I knew exactly where she was coming from.

    I LOVE the way #langchat amigos CONSTANTLY inspire me. Arianne Dowd is a freaking genius (though I am 100% confident she would try to say otherwise), and I plan to revisit her blog regularly as I plot Spanish 2. But I cannot be Arianne any more than I could be Sara-Elizabeth six years ago.

    I have to understand what I'm going to do from the bottom up, and I can't do that by cribbing someone else's strategies. I can weave them in where they make sense to me (as I do with basically everything I see Rose Rhodes do), but more than ever I have to be intentional about how and WHY  I put them together.

    Last year was rough for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones was that I never fully wrapped my mind around where I was headed, much less where my kids were headed. And if that is my ultimate goal, OF COURSE everything is going to be off!

    So the real reason I won't be teaching novels in Spanish this fall? I am taking my sweet time to process what I want kids to leave with, what I want them to present and to whom, and how I can make sure it is something that matters.

    How that fits with novels is a question that will have to wait for another semester.

    16 July 2017

    #iFLT17 Tweets - Empowerment from Afar

    Going to iFLT last year was one of the most revolutionary professional experiences I have had--right up there with three years of grad school!

    However, after a year of lots and lots of traveling, I decided I needed the summer to stay put and process...after one more trip across the equator, of course.

    So that's what I've been doing. A little blogging, working on a PBL book...and stalking iFLT from afar, on Twitter and Facebook actually!

    What? I'm staying put, AND I'm processing!

    I felt all a-tizzy after last year's iFLT, but processing from afar, I feel kind of...empowered. I feel empowered to try passwords and maybe embedded reading. I feel empowered to focus on CI methods that fit with my style, whether I'm better with PQA or storytelling, whether I'm more Grant or Annabelle. I feel more empowered to learn new languages myself!
    This badge goes out to
    @mjtprs, and @profewernau!

    And I feel empowered to empower kids!

    Also, I really, really want to see Jason Fritze in action next year in Cincinatti.

    So a special thanks to all of the presenters and tweeps at #iFLT17, especially the MVP tweeters that helped me the most! Here are all of the great ideas I got from them.