19 November 2017

#ACTFL17 Self-Centered PBL for Novices

There are very few PBL units that I could package and recommend to pretty much anyone. So many, like the product pitch and visitor videos, are heavily dependent on my colleagues and context. But there is one topic that is perfect for both teenagers and novices:


What luck that teenagers love talking about the very thing that novices are supposed to talk about!

Now I usually do this unit at the beginning of Spanish II (once I tried it at the end, and my kids felt cheated that we didn't start with it--they would have done so much better the rest of the semester, they said!), but this could work with almost any group with everyone performing at least at the Novice Mid level. I tried it in my online Spanish III class, and if the product pitch project weren't so ingrained in the very culture of our school, I totally would work it into Spanish I in time for New Year's resolution making too.

So here is my best effort at sorting out how you can set up this popular unit in your own class.

14 November 2017

La Casa de la Dentista - Graphic Novel Student Survey

Sr. Wooly cracks me UP. He has a handful of videos I could watch on repeat all day and just laugh until I cried the whole time. However. There are some stories on his list that I just don't GET. I can see where they would be beneficial vocabulary wise, but they just don't tickle me the way that, say, "Guapo" or "Las Excusas" does.

Suffice it to say that "La Dentista" is not on my go-to video list.

And yet, there is "La Invitación." I think it's pretty cute, but mostly I like the vocabulary, and it fit in with exactly the sort of thing I wanted to practice before our Peruvian visitors showed up. I had NO idea that THIS would be the song that my kids would come in requesting and start spontaneous dance parties in the back of the room before class for. It seriously rivals CNCO for popularity.

In other words, my kids surprise me.

So I got to thinking that it really didn't matter what I thought of Sr. Wooly's new graphic novel. What I really wanted to know before I went out and purchased a class set is what my students thought. So I got my hands on a copy and made a "picture walk" station inspired by my kindergartner. She is a big fan of all things calvo, but her review was very brief: "Why does it have to be creepy?"

Now in retrospect, I would have asked my kiddos more specific questions, maybe having them rate both their ability and interest in interpreting the book based on the pictures and/or words. Basically I just asked them if they wanted to read the book in class or individually, though.

My plan, though, was to gauge the reactions of five groups of kids:
  1. Kids who are overall struggling with the language
  2. Boys who are positive but somewhat hyper
  3. Native speakers who have to take Spanish because that's all we have
  4. Kids who do well and work hard but don't necessarily love the language
  5. High fliers who love all things Spanish
I have to say that the post-picture-walk reviews were highly mixed--except in two groups. My high fliers and my hard workers: some seemed to like the idea, some did not. Some of the kids who struggle were intrigued, and some shared my daughter's sentiments, were apprehensive about their ability to understand, or just didn't seem too impressed.

But you know who unanimously LOVED the idea of reading the book for class after the picture walk? ALL of the native speaker girls, and ALL of the boys who have trouble sitting still--EXCEPT the native speakers. The boys who have to move and talk all the time who already speak Spanish? They were not fans! The boys who didn't though? They all liked the story, the genre, and even cited how they thought the book could help them! The native speaker girls all seemed to get a kick out of the story, calling it fun or funny!

Here are some specific comments I got from the survey from different groups:
  • I'm not sure if the vocabulary used in it will be beneficial. I think it should be one of the books that you can choose to read for choice reads.
  • The book was very weird, but it made me laugh, so it gets a 3
  • I want to know why they have have the weird relationship with the dentist.
  • I wasn't able to read most of it but it doesn't seem like a particularly bad book
  • I like some of the pictures and some of the words. I could actually read read.
  • It looked interesting and I want to read the whole thing
  • The book looks very interesting, and in my opinion it will help us with reading and listening skills.
  • I am curious to know what happens, but feel as if my classmates will not enjoy the book.
  • The book had pictures that helped with you learn what they were saying, so it could be useful to us learners.
If you're looking for a more in-depth look from a teacher's perspective, check out these posts from some of the coolest Spanish teachers in our PLN!

If you've seen (or written!) any more reviews, please help add to my list!

Also, if you're thinking La Casa de la Dentista sounds right for your kids, check out Sr. Wooly and Sra. Toth's tips for teaching graphic novels--Wooly brings the willies, but YOUactually provide a lot of the comprehensible input!

PS Come visit me at Señor Wooly's booth at ACTFL17 Friday afternoon after my session with @ProfePJ3! We can watch recreate "Las confesiones de Víctor"!

08 November 2017

PUEDOS - Differentiated Social Warmups

You know when you get a great idea at a conference that you can immediately implement Monday and change E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G? Well this isn't one of them.

I implemented it on Tuesday.

We had an interdisciplinary marketing project thing scheduled with Public Speaking for Monday.

Our AATSPSC keynote speaker pointed out that getting validation for the good work you are doing is also a really excellent reason to go to conferences. But I've got to say this idea was a special kind of rewarding. It solved so many problems:

  • What can the kids do that's productive while I take attendance to avoid an email nastygram?
  • How can I get them both settled AND energized for Spanishing?
  • And how can I get even the kids who are so anxious about speaking that they prefer a zero to actually doing their small group assessments participating?

I admit that I wasn't sure what "proficiencies" could be when Alanna Breen started explaining how they started. It started coming together when she showed us this template:

So basically you lay out pretty much ANY 10 tasks and have students go around proving to each other that they can do them. But there are a couple of catches:

  1. They have to get two people to sign off for every task.
  2. They can't get the same person to sign off on their sheet more than once.
  3. Once the sheet is full of signatures, the teacher spot checks a couple of tasks at random.
  4. If they can't do the task when teacher spot checks, they lose points AND the two signers lose points!
  5. They won't be able to get them all finished in one session, so they'll need to practice on their own until their sheets are filled out.

What I really loved about this idea was the differentiation that was built in: I could put a few things that the high-flyers would have to pause to think about but also some tasks that the kids who make me pull the answers--which I know they know--out of them syllable by syllable feel successful (one of those validation things Profe Hannahan had specifically cited in the keynote!)

A direct quote from one of those exact kids I had in mind a few minutes into my Tuesday attempt: "I already have one done!" Another quote from the same kid halfway through: "I already have five signatures!" He assured me he was still "suffering," but by golly he was doing it.

Another kid who complains and claims to struggle occasionally: "Sra. Sexton! We just had a whole conversation, and you missed it!"

And would you believe my native speakers were getting into it too?? The Spanish I kids were getting picky with their accents (could this be a way to get them to actually remember oft-elided "a"s in "voy a" and "A ella le gusta"?), and they were carefully coaching their amigos rather than having to tell them lo siento and send them to someone else.

Of course I made a few changes, and since "can" is a big thing with our invention and marketing unit, and we've been hitting the "yo" form extra hard to make sure at least THAT is down for everyone before this is said and done, the first thing I changed was the name. Instead of "proficiencies," I decided to call them "Puedos." I also made them ask "¿Puedo hacer número__?" The emphasis is, after all, on what "I can" do, right?

So here are some tips based on my magical not-Monday Puedos experience.

1. Have at least 3 INSANELY easy tasks. 

I picked some words we were going to encounter in the day's infograph (and, you know, basically the entire marketing project) and just had them say them aloud for one. Warms 'em up with a little anticipation to find out what crecimiento means, you know? The other super easy ones were conjugating ser and tiene--but I only asked for the 3 singular forms that we'd been using all semester, AND I listed "I am," "You are," "It is" so they could see they had been conjugating all along!

2. Have a good variety of tasks.

Some good suggestions I took form Sra. Breen:

  • Prounounce
  • Conjugate
  • Respond
  • List
  • Look-up

For look-up, she has kids do things on their own time like find the titles of major newspapers in Brazil or a Portuguese speaking actor (obviously for the P side of AATSP), and sometimes just some topic that's not strictly "curricular," but that is near and dear to her, e.g. preserving the Amazon. (I'm envisioning some good questions about poetry and manatees). For more advanced classes, they might have to actually ask their *gasp* parents how they met to report

This time, I just asked them how many consumers there were in Latin America which would be answered by, guess what? The day's infograph! More anticipation!

3. Mix in past topics.

I wrote questions like "¿Qué te gusta y NO te gusta en Gaston County?" as a callback to our visitor videos and had them list some three first world problems from our notes a few weeks ago (no, they couldn't carry their cuadernos around).

4. Provide EXPLICIT instructions.

Another thing Profe Hannahan pointed out was that some patterns that seem obvious to us are not obvious to them. I walked the kiddos through a specific model of a student telling me "Buen trabajo" and then repeated with it with messing up and a "Lo siento."

I also left this on the board for them (when I was done with attendance, or course):

It didn't hurt to make sure they stood up first too and to emphasize NO repeats on signatures. They also tried to just read to two people at once, so I did have to clarify that I actually wanted them to DO the task twice before they got to me--and that they actually had to do ALL of the tasks before I would check any.

All in all this is a super simple routine to get started that can take 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class or anywhere you find yourself with a need to fill a few minutes. My kiddos got 10 minutes the first time to make sure they got the hang of it this first time, and most got 6-8 signatures in those 10 minutes. I plan to go ahead an get started on next week's pretty soon so the high-flyers can move on ASAP, and possibly to come up with a more targeted one for the native speakers in Spanish 2--probably focusing on more sentence connecting and narration and description, since they were pretty much all already hitting I3 on ye olde AAPPL scale last 6 weeks and seem willing to keep pushing closer to advanced, if only for braggin' rights.

Overall I am SO glad I got to attend this AATSP-SC conference, for the validation, for the fresh ideas, and for the friends. And even though I had to wait until Tuesday to try the "Puedos," I highly recommend starting yours sooner!

02 November 2017

AAPPL Bites: DIY Listening Assessments

I've kind of abandoned IPAs this year. I have always been really pleased with how my open-ended assessments compared to AAPPL rubrics allowed me to focus on what kids can do, but I've never really seen any crossover on their performances no matter how integrated the topics were. What's more is I felt like I kind of blindsided kids with the actual AAPPL test last year. Sure they were familiar with the rubrics and what to expect as far as the levels, but not the format for the questions.

So I made the decision to switch performance assessment formats this year. I already had a plan for how to make my own AAPPL style reading assessments, so it was mostly a question of adapting the listening. (I still use much the same writing template, just with three specific prompts instead; and I still like the small group speaking assessment for practical and technological purposes.)

In adapting listening assessment from the reading model, I've made three main changes:
  1. I use Google Slides now instead of Google Drawings so I can have multiple topics in one file (I actually do this for listening now too.
  2. Of course listening involves videos instead of text (how relieved was I when I found out you could just double click videos while you were in edit mode instead of having to switch between edit and present mode to listen?) Like with portfolios, you DO need to make sure the videos are shared with kiddos too, though.
  3. I have to go easy on authentic samples: I discovered a few years ago that my novice kiddos weren't really even supposed to be ready for non adapted samples until at least the middle of Spanish 2. Sure I mostly had my own baby Spanish writing on the first reading "AAPPL Bite" ever, but by #2, I was able to stick exclusively to authentic texts (including a Pictoline infograph, of course!)

Now the good news is that grading still takes approximately 1-2 minutes per student this way. It is SUPER easy to do a quick visual scan to see if the pictures or textboxes are out of place, and then a few seconds to compare to the AAPPL rubric, then copy and paste suggestions.

The main struggle is finding the balance between challenging and appropriate. The trick with a well set-up AAPPL style assessment is to have something everybody can understand AND a way they can demonstrate it, preferably without resorting to L1. This means your samples have to be accessible to novices AND intermediates (at least some of them) and that your responses must make sense to pretty much anyone.


The truth is the AAPPL listening samples are typically scripted video or audio clips imitating authentic texts, so the pressure to actually use authentic texts is not too high.

Now for samples, Flipgrid has been a godsend (remember, if you send me a sample and end up in my assessment, you get a free copy--if you provide your email!) Having videos that aren't me is priceless, and these prompts generally ensure I have something even the least confident kid can pick up on. It's cool to get some different takes on the topics we're actually working on, but I might dip into videos that my amigos contributed for a previous, personalized assessment.

LAITS is also bae. The videos are native speakers, but are sorted by level and topic. They're also handy for differentiating for my native speakers (how about a Castillian accent to stretch their skills?). It also doesn't hurt to have a little practice before assessment day with one of the tougher videos in the category.

Another sample I have also been using--more to build confidence than to actually assess--is the videos of our one-word image story retells. I can't really assess their listening skills with a story they've already heard and made booklets for, but I kind of can with the story from the other class.

And this time? I did sort of resort to using Nimbus Screen Recorder to get an AAPPL demo video in, just to see how it went. (I think it did help separate novices from intermediates...or at least Novice Mid from Novice High.)


Now the AAPPL Listening generally involves picking out pictures or even answering English questions with pictures. I have to say, though, that finding pictures is trickier than I thought, even though you can search right in Google Slides now. I mean, what kind of cultural assumptions do I have to make to pick the pictures? Do they know what a mango is, what lomo saltado looks like?  Do they know Harry Potter is not just a movie?

My favorite questions are probably straight up paraphrase matching with different videos. AAPPL has kiddos move actual audio files around, but it works best for me to just have them move the textboxes--adding numbers next to each video also helped A) make sure that I had the right number of responses and B) keep the kids from asking a zillion times how many went with each picture or, you know, randomly deleting ones they didn't like (not even kidding).

I need to work a little on differentiating more intermediate levels. It's one thing matching headlines with intro paragraphs in the target language, but it seems like writing questions in English and answering with pictures is about as advanced as the lower level test gets at least.


I've been working on closing the feedback loop with portfolios this semester, so students need to know what kept them from getting the next level. I've honestly been getting a lot that got things 100% correct, and while I can't be 100% certain there's no foul play involved, I think they are actually advancing with their listening. When someone doesn't get 100% though, feedback is pretty easy: I click on the mistaken picture or textbox then change the color and size of the outline to red 8px (or just fill the textbox with red). Bing, bam, boom: done. And really, this is the only reason some take 2 minutes is the few extra seconds it takes.

Most of the feedback comes when they are completing their listening portfolios, figuring out what they did wrong. It's been a bit of a struggle getting them to go beyond "I switched them, so now I'm I2," but they're starting to pick out more details to support their points. Also I think it'll help if I at least add a "Novice" or "Intermediate" label on the slides so they can tell which videos are geared toward which audience (regardless of the tasks).

Make Your Own

So really all you need for this sort of assessment is

  1. Appropriate videos - from Flipgrid teachers, LAITS, or maybe YouTube--so long as they're uploaded to your Google Drive and shared!
  2. A slide for each level - with videos Novice Lows can handle, Novice Mid-High, and Intermediate Low at the beginning of Spanish I
  3. A task to interpret each video - whether it's images to match with words, phrases, or sentences from one video or paraphrased textboxes to sort among three different videos, it doesn't have to be too complex. Just be sure the vocabulary you highlight and the text types fit with what you can logically expect based on what you have done with this group (performance not proficiency in the classroom, right?)
  4. A Google Classroom assignment - make sure that you have your Slides set to "Make one for each" and that you have attached/shared your folder of videos.
This will require individual devices for the kiddos, and probably some emergency headphones, but the good news is most teenagers come equipped with ear buds these days. It's up to you if you want to give them the option of watching the videos on their phones while they respond!

27 October 2017

Wisdom Teeth: How I learned to take time off

It was after school, and I suddenly felt little pieces of bone? tooth? on my tongue. I moved my tongue around, and felt still more pieces. I spit them out.

Tooth. Tiny shards of tooth.

I didn't even have a toothache!

To this day, the worst nightmare I have is when my teeth start falling out. I used to get it when I didn't do my lesson plans or my grades weren't on time--quite frequently my first few years teaching, actually. It wasn't just the horrifically realistic wiggle of permanent teeth I felt, or the panic at wondering how many people would actually notice the resulting gaps, but it was the sheer GUILT at knowing that I had known exactly how to prevent those teeth falling out, the SHAME at knowing that now everyone would know I hadn't prevented it. I think the worst part of the dreams--as when I get a ticket or make some other avoidable mistake--is imagining my mother's reaction and coming up with a plan to cope with it.

So you would think that tooth shards would be a huge wake-up call.

Nope. I got what remained of that first wisdom tooth popped out, and went back to work the next day without so much as scheduling a cleaning. I didn't have the whole chipmunk effect I saw with my students who had the wisdom to, you know, get them removed before tooth shards happened.

A few years passed, and after giving birth to two kids, I slowly started to realize that Real Life was more than work. Apparently keeping your wisdom teeth delays wisdom. After Lena was born, I started to get actual pain on the other side, along with sensitivity that made it difficult to even eat. I found another dentist who agreed to pop that one out, fill a few cavities that had accrued in the intervening years, and even schedule a consultation with an orthodontic surgeon for those last two stubborn wisdom teeth.

Yeah, dental insurance was still sort of a dream at that point, so I figured I'd just wait until those teeth became a problem and maybe sign up for some insurance in the meantime.

Meanwhile, Lena's about to turn six--I do have dental insurance--and I end up in the emergency room when I can't stop crying long enough to explain the pain stabbing my face at urgent care.

I tell you about this teeth not to confess my failings at oral hygiene, but to illustrate what can happen when teachers don't take care of themselves, when they save up all of those sick days for retirement or for the kids. The truth is that I only went to urgent care that day because I had already taken a sick day because my husband was supposed to have surgery and needed a ride. I had already zombie walked through almost the exact same level of pain the Friday before at school.

I wrote about the tyranny of sick days almost two years ago, and how my colleagues basically had to shove me out of my own classroom. I talk a good game about prioritizing health to other people, but if I'm perfectly honest, the urgent care tears were as much from pain as from a sort of shame that I was claiming that I even deserved medical attention.

That is a feeling I would call stupid if I heard someone I loved describing it. I know it's a feeling, and I would want them to know that they are allowed to have that feeling, but that they didn't deserve that feeling. I would want them to know that it is not only valid, but essential to take care of problems before you physically can't handle them.

Rewind to February this year, when I "won" without "Winning." I took my first personal day, I think ever in my 15-year teaching career. And I went to Disney World with my kids--for the first time ever. I figured you only have a shot at regional teacher of the year once, and I'd have an excuse to celebrate or to force my family to have fun and distract me. With all of the conferences last year, I had gotten pretty good at traveling, too, including scheduling subs and avoiding invasive coulda/shoulda/woulda thoughts about what was going on in my classroom that moment.

In truth, it wasn't the unbearable face pain that opened the door. Accepting that life at home was as important as work was a step in the right direction that got me to obsess over planning and grading less, but that personal day started the slow dawn of the realization that for all I preach about school being real life for students, it was for me too. I only got the one chance at ToY, but I only get the one chance at LIFE too! If my pain is making this one life miserable, I can take the time to schedule an appointment. If it means I have to make two trips to the doctor that can only be scheduled during that problem class first period, so be it. If I have to stay out for a week with chipmunk cheeks and a really strong prescription, well, that might be what has to happen too.

As it happens, I was able to schedule the last two extractions either after school hours or during Thanksgiving break (mashed potatoes will be excellent recovery food!) And I got the initial consult on a workday. But if Ibuprofen hadn't handled the extraction aftermath, I was ready to accept that my students might have to work on portfolios or Duolingo or Sr. Wooly one more day--or two--without me. And if I have to put students out of my mind a few days to do something about my migraines, I'll do that too.

The truth is, some things that don't seem necessary still have to be done. I needed that Disney trip. I needed the appointment to get my tooth out. Could I have powered through without them? Probably. But at what cost? What cost to my health and mental acuity? What cost to my ability to actually be a teacher and wife and mother and HUMAN?

Shame on the media for sensationalizing teachers taking time off. My experience suggest chronic absenteeism is a result of A) active participation in the larger educational community or B) actually fixing the problems I tried to deny for too long. Or both!

The smile might not be the same in these photos (to be fair, one involved a lot of gauze and anesthetic), but these signs--more than the one tooth that's coming out in November--are the true signs of wisdom creeping into my life.

09 October 2017

Selfies and the Silent Period

So you've got an authentic audience: real live native speakers in the same room with your students. Maybe you're lucky like me and have a thriving Sister Cities exchange program. Maybe they're some or your fourth period heritage speakers' moms. Maybe they're local business owners or the ELL class from down the street. Maybe they're college buddies who have been traveling the world. Maybe they're your Mexican mother-in-law.

Whoever is there looking your language learners in the eye, you have rehearsed different questions the class could ask a hundred different ways a hundred different times. You know they've had enough input to be ready, to be more than ready. But still they ask.

"Do we have to talk to them in Spanish?"

Time was, I'd say,"Only if you don't want a zero!"

I mean, if I was going to go to the trouble to make these meetups happen, by gum, they were GOING to flex those interpersonal muscles!

I've been slowly warming to the idea of the silent period, ever since my mini mental breakdown over my Russian blank-out at iFLT last year. After my CI Liftoff experience, I'm still not 100% convinced that only 4% of language learners feel that they have to speak, but the words "Es obvio" have stuck with me since my iFLT language lab experience--the words and how they just came out when a student had a chance to crack a joke about the teacher.

Now I haven't let go of speaking assessment at the beginning of Spanish I, in part so consistent procedures are established, and in part so I have some sort of baseline from the beginning. I also think my graduated grading scale is plenty reasonable and allows me to communicate students' progress effectively and relatively painlessly.

But I did let go of the Sister Cities interview where I made them grill one of our visitors and record it.

I mean, 95% of the semester, these kids are surrounded by people who they have been stuck with since freshman year--even if a few of them did grow up speaking Spanish. So even on field trips where we would see other Spanish classes, I felt like I HAD to make them speak, while they had the chance. Moreover, I felt like it was essential to get this experience RECORDED. Scaling back on the number of samples required for portfolios has helped some with that pressure, but so has re-examining the Sister Cities experience.

Maybe combining the Public Speaking class "Discover Gaston" project with the Sister Cities visit to our school on a non-class day (yay early college Fridays!) Maybe it was because I had some of my own students on the trip last year, and they have been obsessing over the trip contagiously since last year. But looking at what I really wanted to happen when my kids got to just hang out on top of a mountain with kids from another continent, I decided the interpersonal evidence was NOT the most important thing.

It was the connections. The snap streaks and Instagram exchanges. The text groups and gossip. The girls coming up to me months after they got back to tell me they spent the previous night discussing racism in America--and/or cheese snacks that smelled like feet--IN SPANISH with "their Peruvians." THESE are the greatest gifts that Sister Cities and contact with native speakers have given me--to say nothing of the girls who went with me last year!

So this year I did not force output while we hiked to the highest point in our county with kids who live a few hours from the Andes.

I assigned a selfie, to be posted to Seesaw or Instagram. The Spanish would come in when they captioned it with what they now knew about their new friends. Did they have to speak in Spanish to them? Technically, no. But they did have to meet them and find out something about them, even if it was just their age or their favorite food. Could it be a group selfie? Absolutely. As long as everyone did their own caption.

So when one kiddo asked, exhausted at the mere idea, if the selfie was required, yes, I did say, "Only if you don't want a zero!"

But here's a photo of that same kid with the Peruvian who stayed by her the whole way up the mountain--and who got her to make a heart with her hands on the way up for Señora's photo op.

Did they talk in Spanish? I don't actually know. But I do know they both like My Chemical Romance and Hot Topic. And that my little non-Peruvian ended up smiling the whole trip.

06 October 2017

Flipgrid for Novice Listening

I put out the call on Facebook and Twitter for some Spanish speakers. I was inspired by a call this summer for Introducciones from hispanohablantes. What an awesome, easy way to collect samples of native speakers for your students to listen to!

However, I have spent many wasted hours and tears trying to assess students with native speaker audio. I gave up entirely in Spanish I last year and started making PowToons and thenAdobe Sparks with my own, familiar voice for them to demonstrate what they could interpret through listening. I also called in my PLN, getting the inimitable Sr. Irvin to talk gaming with me (much as I had done with giving amigos for personalized IPAs in the past!)

Sidenote: yes, I did cut it down to about 5 minutes 
for them before having them vib.

So this year I've been working on making my assessments more AAPPL like, and the reading part was overall pretty manageable. I graduated into combining 3 into a Google Slides presentation to get multiple levels into one assessment without endless click-and-close maneuvers. Now novice-appropriate articles and infografías on just about any topic are out there for the taking. Novice listening? That's a horse of a different color. Or course there's LAITS, and I did use a few of their videos. But you know who's REALLY good at getting novice Spanish speakers to understand them?


So then it hit me! Just like that brilliant pioneer Lauren Richardson put out the call this summer via Flipgrid to collect samples of native Spanish speakers, I could put out a call to Spanish TEACHERS to start building a LIBRARY of comprehensible videos for ALL novices!

I could stick the videos in my little AAPPL Bite assessments! I could link them for some self-directed practice! I could share them with my homies on Facebook and Twitter and, well, everywhere!

This first time I set some particular guidelines to make sure my kiddos could understand:

  • high frequency verbs we'd studied: gusta, tiene, quiere, necesita
  • "very familiar topics": e.g. food likes/dislikes, local/free time activitie
I got teachers from North Dakota to California! I got my amigo Sr. Irvin to chime in again, and I even got some characters from Once Upon a Time to participate! (Seriously, Sra. Garcia--I mean EMMA--is the best!)

Now, before we go much further with #FlipgridFever here, I have to warn you. I broke down and paid for a subscription--but 1) it was totally on sale with a code that Sra. Placido provided and 2) it's all for the greater good.

(PS a new #langchat PBL amiga has a code to get a 45-day free trial!)

You see, not only can I continue downloading videos to create AAPPL Bites I will readily share with my generous video contributing amigos with this paid subscription, but I can ALSO set up A WHOLE GRID just to collect videos on different topics!

So here it is, amigos, my next request:

Problemas e Inventos

I'll be adding more to the Novice Spanish grid throughout the year, and if you wish to contribute to the greater good further--or borrow some videos for assessment or assignment--here is my stash of novice-friendly Flipgrid vids from the first go-round. Enjoy!

04 October 2017

Important Problems: Adversity, Inventions, and Authentic Texts

First world problems are so 2015.

Still, I thought that brainstorming problems they could personally relate to would inspire and motivate the young inventors in my class to come up with something, you know, useful.

Little did I know that current events across the Caribbean would prove more inspiring.

First World Problems

They were good sports and played along with my Problemas del Primer Mundo EDPuzzle when I was sick last week. They answered "sí" to more than one "¿Tienes este problema?" at least. (PS, can I TELL you how hard it is to find "problemas del primer mundo" videos that won't get me fired?) The Gleam was definitely missing, though.

Now I usually use Nearpod or Seesaw (rest in peace, InfuseLearning) to collect doodles that turn into a vocabulary bank: I ask a question they can understand but can't quite answer in Spanish yet so I can figure out what words they will need to express themselves in the upcoming unit. Being pajama-bound for the day, however, I collected Google Drawings where they simply inserted pictures representing their own day-to-day problems. There was still a definite lack of Gleaming, but I was able to pick out some common themes (aside from homework and time) and turn those into some problem categories we could address.

Here's what I came up with:

We added these to their notes and matched them up with some of the photos they had inserted in the Google Drawings. When 80% of both Spanish I classes picked the same problem to focus on (tecnología, of course), I knew we had to keep looking to find our inspiration.

Real World Problems

Now all of the devastation that had--quite literally--shaken the Spanish speaking world in the last month had been weighing on me. I felt remiss only acknowledging the events with a quick Mundo en tus manos activity. So I collected some infographs from Pictoline and picked out the most comprehensible to explain the situations. I walked them through first the Mexico one, then the Puerto Rico one and had them describe some problems people had in one or both situations, on a Classroom Question.

I had also collected a few articles on water-related inventions (we are due for another reading AAPPL at the end of the week, after all):
I took the first one and added some comprehension questions in English on Actively Learn. The kids did really well! AND I could see a little glimmering beginning!

Real World Solutions

Where the action really happened was on Seesaw. After reading about trapping water from the air, their pumps were primed. We returned to the Classroom Question and I modeled replying to the problems they had described with possible solutions off the top of my head (third period it was flexible electric grids; fourth it was a water purifying vaso).

So I gave them a drawing template on Seesaw to copy and edit with 3 sentence starters on a label:

  • Mi invento puede
  • Tiene
  • Necesita
Working those essential verbs for all they're worth, right?

So they finished the sentences and drew their inventions. Here are a few of my favorites:

NOW their brains were engaged!

And to think I had planned to have them stick to first world problems!

30 September 2017

Foolproof Portfolios - Who am I fooling?

So you make a template--with instructions repeated on the template--and they still get confused. 

I mean, I thought portfolios could have been smooth sailing if I could have just shared a template on on Adobe Spark or Blogger or VoiceThread. I thought Google Slides might FINALLY be able to offer that perfect mix of customization and control for e-portfolios that I had been seeking since Glogster!

Benefits to a Google Slides portfolio:
  • Easy template sharing: assign  on Google Classroom and "Make a copy for each student."
  • Easy navigation: go back and forth to the parts you want to see or compare by clicking thumbnails on the left.
  • Easy media embedding: add images or even videos straight from Google Drive--which ALSO means I can play the videos on 2X speed again!
  • Easy display: with the new Google Sites, it was SUPER easy to walk kiddos through how to put their reading, writing, listening, and speaking slideshows together into one easy to make, easy to use site--IN the target language, I might add!

But Google Slides can't fix student error:
  1. Not sharing the videos they're trying to show me.
Now, I say student error, but when it's things that simple, I have got to be honest. Those are errors that can be solved with just a little bit of extra teacher input. After all, I'm the professional; I'm the one who's been doing this since Glogster was free. So I have to ask myself...

1. Did I give them enough time? 

I'm done trying to convince myself that they have "Plenty of Time at Home" just because I assigned it on Monday and gave them until Thursday. Man, I know "This isn't our only class!" is a whiny cop-out, but frankly, it's A) true and B) a signal that we should ALL be able to go home and breathe a couple of hours without looking at work (I'm looking at you, 2009 Laura Sexton).

And I know they should email when they have questions--some are getting pretty good about that. But they're 10th graders, and I need to remove as many obstacles to getting the help they need as I can by providing a little time on different days TO ask those questions is surely something I can provide if I really believe the portfolios are gonna do them some good (PS a 90% TL chill pill doesn't hurt here either.)

2. Did I make the instructions simple enough?

I was super pleased with how I pared down my expectations to a simple single-point rubric (even if it was more "soft skill" based than proficiency based):

Now these expectations do not have a 1-to-1 correlation with the templates or the instructions: I have an additional title slide that doesn't have a "criterion," and I called the slide to demonstrate growth "Revision" (because that's what they are supposed to put on that slide!). Some kiddos were expecting to see a slide for "Professionalism." I don't know, maybe I could switch a slide title or too, but I don't think this is where the real breakdown came in.

I think in my attempt to make the instructions uniform among the four communication skills, I added unnecessary complications. Providing the same link on all 4 templates to ALL of the ACTFL performance descriptors--that was just asking to get them to describe their interpretation in terms of presentational skills, especially when there are separate interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational PDFs online. Also, it might be a little tricky bouncing between general Novice and Intermediate descriptors and more precise AAPPL descriptors between self-evaluation and revision, so maybe I should wrap that into the reflection slide afterward.

3. Did I break down the process enough?

After 3 rounds of portfolios with kids who just LEFT THE INSTRUCTIONS ON THE TEMPLATE-- without following them--I decided to walk the kiddos through each slide one by one by one. (Three rounds, I know. Who's the slow learner in this scenario?) I thought having them start the thing together--literally typing a title and inserting their first sample--and then just having the instructions right there for them was gracious plenty guidance. But who am I kidding? I am the reason the staff meeting can't just be an email. I skim, skip stuff, and generally forget. My colleagues laughed out loud when the new guy suggested I learn coding, just envisioning how scattered a code I produced would be.

The moral: How can I possibly expect something of sophomores that is still hard for me at 36?

It's the main reason that online classes--teaching or learning--are such an ordeal. I can write instructions until I'm blue in the face, but without the opportunity to attempt and get immediate feedback, learning is a crapshoot. Adding videos that said the same thing helped. But anything--ANYTHING--that is new needs time for them to attempt, ask questions, AND respond to feedback (and, you know GET feedback) before they are evaluated. Otherwise it's a soul-wearying gotcha game for everyone.

What's more, if I had had an intermediary step where students turned in every video they planned to use in a portfolio, I would not have had to request access to files the morning grades were due (I know, I know--it really isn't just the kids.)

So. Are Google Slides the answer to all my e-portfolio needs?

I think so. As long as I'm not fooling myself about what I need to do to make portfolios effective.

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…..