26 May 2017

AAPPL Results Analysis

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

23 May 2017

Worth It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I started bawling instantly.

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

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

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

Maybe this is worth doing.

20 May 2017

Hot Seat Support Groups

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

They were supporting each other in Spanish

15 May 2017

Project-Based Blogging in Spanish

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

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

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

It all starts at the dollar store.


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

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

So where does the blogging come in?

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

What to write

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

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


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

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

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

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

09 May 2017

DIY Reading Practice for the AAPPL Test

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

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

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

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

Here's how you can make your own!

1. Create a Google Drawing for each level

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

2. Create and find appropriate texts to interpret

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

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

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

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

3. Design the tasks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 May 2017

Final Reflection Video Portfolios

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

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

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

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

Brass Tacks

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

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

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


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

So what about a video? What about Adobe Spark

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

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

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