30 June 2017

Grades Are Not the Devil

I teach language: high school English and lower level Spanish. Communication is my business.

And grades are communication.

It is my goal to help students understand and be understood, but for that to happen, they have to understand me, right? They have to understand my expectations. It's the very driving principle behind comprehensible input!

Well, to ensure that the young ones understand what I will be looking for, what I will be assessing, I absolutely HAVE to put it in terms that make sense to them. Performance assessments are a whole new animal from what they see in any other class, and you can't just count how many answers they got right or wrong to produce a magic number for them. And really AAPPL rubrics and performance/ proficiency standards are almost a whole curriculum unto themselves. It is absolutely worth exposing students to this new "content" as well, but where content is new, language must be familiar.

Grades are familiar language.

Students come to us with a concept of what "A" means, what "C" means, and what "F" means. Now, there are connotations that are definitely influenced by their environments--both school culture and home culture. Our interpretations are influenced by our backgrounds as well, of course, including experiences we had with teachers who said no one can get 100, and teachers who gave 100s for showing up. Nevertheless, these terms are familiar and have prior to experiences that we all can connect to. Even parents have context for understanding grades! Seeing familiar indicators like A, B, C, 100%, 60%, 9/10 helps them get a foothold on new strategies and standards that are necessarily different from what they experienced.

There is no doubt that language instruction has come a long way, that what I do looks very little like what my students' parents sat through.So I have to provide some sort of Rosetta Stone to translate what I'm expecting students to do into what they expect their students to bring home. They are not going to get to see how many questions their students "missed," and if they insist on counting the errors that are highlighted to draw their students' attention for revision, they will be WAY more upset than they need to be--with their students, me, or both!

HOWEVER, if I use grades to communicate how students are doing compared to what is reasonable for their stage in the language development process, then students, parents, administrators, they will all have something to grasp onto for reassurance in most cases, and for goal setting in others.

Now do I advocate for sticking a number or letter on an assessment and moving on with our lives? Oh heck no! In fact, my goal is to get better at closing the feedback loop and taking more time out for observing problem patterns and revising and improving. My report card comments typically refer students and/or parents to the proficiency scale, with exclamations like
Jerome has reached Intermediate Low in reading, listening, and writing, and Novice High in Speaking! Intermediate Low is the goal for the end of Spanish I!
Imagine if that was all of the feedback that I had given Jerome or Dad or Grandma at the end of the six-week grading period. At the end of six weeks, Jerome would surely feel comfortable in his own understanding of where he was. He might even be able to whip out the proficiency cone in his notebook to break it down for Dad and/or Grandma if they asked. But I get the feeling that before that happened, Dad and/or Grandma would have a minor jargon-induced shutdown.

And I don't blame them.

Our job is to make our students and stakeholders calm and comfortable with what we require of them. We want to remove any barriers we can to a sense of confidence in their ability to perform to our expectations--and in our expectations themselves!

Yes, grades can get in the way if they take the place of more meaningful communication, but when used properly, they can be the bridge to interpreting feedback and standards that continue evolving. They can be a link to make all of the newfangled projects and objectives sound less alien.

15 June 2017

SCOLT will pay for us to hang out!!

Have you ever wanted to just sit down and talk shop--in more than 140 characters?

Do you need someone from outside your district to preach the gospel of proficiency and performance-based assessment to incredulous colleagues?

Is there something you've seen on PBL in the TL or #langchat that you've always wanted grill me about?

Have you ever thought, "My school/district will never pay for this"?

Well if you're in North Carolina, you're in luck!

The Southern Conference on Language Teaching will send me to your school and foot the bill! Just fill out this form letting them know what you want and when! (We do have to clear it with my principal if it's during the school year, but you can find contact info for my school here just to make sure!)

Be sure you also know:
  1. Location, audience, and proposed date of the event 
  2. The purpose and format of the event
  3. How the funds will be used, including supplies, substitute if necessary, travel, stipend
In case you're wondering, some things I've presented on in the past include:
  • using authentic resources (even with novices)
  • performance-based assessment
  • portfolios
  • and of course PBL
You can see these previous presentations on Pinterest and more information about my professional specialties on my workshop page.

But what if you're not in North Carolina?

I mean, we can work something out that is not SCOLT sponsored, BUT as long as you are within the SCOLT region, you are still in luck! It turns out that these lovely ladies are part of the deal too! You can get the state language teacher of the year from your state to come share with you and guide you on the SCOLT dime too! And let me tell you, they are ALL super sweet and smart and committed to helping students use language!

So see if some of the skills you are looking for can be found even closer to home!

[MISSISSIPPI] Lori Pierce - @piercemsms

French, German, Latin

Lori can help your school or district move to a more proficiency-based classroom! She can also provide professional development on
  • Proficiency standards
  • Technology
  • Interpretive & interpersonal activities

[FLORIDA] Christel Callahan


Christel can help make your language program more visible by collaborating and building learning communities! She can also offer professional development on:
  • Community engagement
  • Interculturality 
  • 90% target language instruction 

[SOUTH CAROLINA] Heather Giles - @SraChiles


Heather can help your school or district with curriculum and/or unit development as well as:
  • Proficiency standards and performance-based assessment 
  • Technology
  • Writing in the L2

[VIRGINIA] Allison Carneiro da Silva - @ACWLTeach

Spanish, French

Allison loves to share how you can integrate the arts into world language classes and also offers ideas for ready-to-use performance-based assessment strategies!

So make your plans!

Bring one of these fabulous, award-winning educators to your next in-service absolutely free and se what SCOLT ToYs can do for you!

08 June 2017

5 Steps to Sort Travel Pics for Student Use!

I'm ready for my next trip to Peru!

I mean, I don't have anything packed yet, and I'm reasonably sure where my passport is.

But I've got everything ready to go to store and sort the photos and videos I will take while I'm down there! And that's what really matters, isn't it?

I swore off buying whole bookshelves when I traveled the first time I went to Peru. I resolved to document my finds with Instagram and was pleased to discover on my trip to Mexico last year that I could use IFTTT to sort the photos into Pinterest boards with the touch of a button! Well...the typing of a hashtag.

So here's what ya' do if you want to simultaneously collect insta-souvenirs and sort them for student consumption.

1. Plan the categories

I know I'm going to be around schools, museums, and ruins a lot. Signs always make great authentic texts for novices, too. Also, let us not forget about food. So I picked:
  • escuela
  • arte
  • historia
  • sitio
  • letreros
  • comida

2. Plan the hashtags

I thought "SXTN" would be a really recognizable way to modify my name back when I got married (and also casually avoided titters about the first 3 letters--my husband thought he was so brave surviving FOUR years of high school with this name). I still have to spell it out letter by letter for my email, and no one gets what it stands for. Whatever, fewer characters for tweeting and hashtags. So I add it to my categories.

  1. So other people's "escuela" photos won't get mixed into the stream
  2. So the "originals" can always be found with a quick Instagram search
This year I also added "PE" (for Peru, obvs), in order to separate my previous trips out, seeing as I have various activities related to said snapshots, activities that have been published and distributed. I wouldn't want to mess up those sub plans for anyone else!

3. Set up the recipes

I can't bring myself to call them "applets," but whatever it is that IFTTT.com makes, they are PERFECT for this sort of thing. So I've got
I keep all of the videos together to make one big listening stash, mostly of me talking to myself, but hopefully with some more interviews this time.

I've also had pics add to Flickr instead of Pinterest when Pinterest was on the fritz, but I don't think there's a way to add them to a specific album automatically. Plus I like how students can easily re-save pins and collect or embed them.

You could also use post to Twitter or Facebook, if, like, your kids are into that #teenageeyeroll #minearent #wishtherewasasnapchatrecipe

4. Make a stunning visual

I will grow old and die waiting to hear back from an email sent over the summer. But if I post a pic on Instagram? 20-30 likes by the end of the day. So I use Canva to make a pretty ad for the experience so people can follow along with the adventures and be tempted into practicing their Spanish!

5. Post to the web

Posting gives me a chance to test my recipes! I hashtag this puppy and post it to Instagram, and BAM my Pinterest boards are created!

So, if you are headed off to some fabulous locale, and can be bothered to caption your snapshots in the target language, I DO hope you will share the hashtags with us here so we can all follow along and live vicariously through your exploits and target language usage! Until then, keep an eye on these Pinterest boards as photos start to pop up next week!

05 June 2017

Video Portfolios Were a Disaster

My thinking was that video portfolios would be nice polished products to wrap up students two years of Spanish exploration. I was thinking that they would be a nice simple way to combine everything into an orderly presentation where they could easily and elegantly show their progression. I gave them storyboards to show exactly what I needed where, and Adobe Spark (or Spark Video on iPads) could put a pretty bow on it.

What I got was a rushed melee of evidence and analysis I couldn't hear or see half the time.

The problem...s

Man, I love me some Adobe Spark, but it was NOT the super-solution I had anticipated. There were a few problems with the platform:
  • Adobe Spark apparently doesn't work at all on  MacBooks, the device of choice for a handful in each class.
  • If they were using desktops, say during lab time, were blocked by the school firewall.
  • Screencastify records videos as .WEBM files. Spark only accepts .MP4 and .MOV files, and for file converting took forever if it worked at all (I have no idea what they were doing that it wouldn't work, though).
My kiddos did figure out how to get around the 30-second snippet "suggestions" for videos, but that made me wish all the more for a fast forward option when I ended up with 7-10 minute videos for speaking and listening. Had I but required that they download the files to submit on Classroom, I could have used Google's x2 function! But silly me, I thought allowing them to just submit the link would be the most humane thing for them.

Also, they almost never checked to make sure I could actually HEAR their speaking/listening samples over the music. And of course if they had issues uploading, well, I was just expected to pause the video, open a new window, type out the Google Drive link they had added into the URL bare (sometimes graciously shortened) so I could bask in their abilities.

Note: I did no such typing and just took off points.

As for the samples themselves, I thought it was a pretty simple matter to take a screencast of a Voicethread from last year or a Vib from the beginning of this year. Then they could just go back and add more detail and do another!

Note: they did not agree on the matter of the simplicity of screencasting.

I will confess, though, that updating a speaking sample was probably actually pretty nearly impossible--unless they happened to own the Spark video and could just rerecord their own slides and republish. Otherwise they had to have a WHOLE new conversation. Heaven forfend.

So all in all, it was a melange of technical difficulties, instructional ignoring, and time constraints that got us, well, wherever we ended up.

I don't think it had to be that way though.

Solution #1: Start at the beginning

I think this all could have gone a lot more smoothly if this had been my plan at the beginning of the semester. However, I had pipe dreams of empowering portfolios and student choice in their own assessment.

Note to self: they still don't know what they don't know in Spanish 2. "Make your own objectives" was also a disaster. Maybe it was how I graded, or maybe it was giving too much choice all at once, or probably some combination of the two plus just a really weird year overall.

BUT if I had, say, had them add one sample at the beginning of the year, revise that sample, and reflect on the level that one sample showed, wash, rinse, repeat each six weeks, we might have been in better shape.

If we had done that, they would have had a video from the very beginning that they just kept adding to, and thus--hopefully--revising for legibility and audibility's sake at the very least. Closing the feedback loop, as Dra. Tharrington says.

But even before all that, I think I'll have them review some of the awesomer examples I collected this year. I'll have them watch them and answer questions like:

  • How much time do you need to actually read the written samples?
  • How much time do you need to tell how well they can speak or hear?
  • How long are you willing to watch and/or listen to one sample?
I'm hoping this will make them see that I really don't need more than 2 minutes to tell how well they can read/write/hear/speak, but I do need to actually have enough time to, you know, process what they're showing me. (One kid thought the 30-second limit was for the whole video, not each slide...that took some pausing and rewinding, let me tell you.)

Solution #2: Substitute slides

I still like the idea of having students describe their own abilities in terms of functions, text types, and strategies. I still like the idea of them stringing samples together in ever-improving sequences.

I also like to be able to control what I'm looking at.

Yeah, it sounded well and good to have something future employers could just hit play on. But frankly I needed to backtrack sometimes, and there was a lot of annoying guessing as to where that think I missed might be in the timeline. Google Slides, however, would allow me to progress at my own pace, moving on when I'm ready and finding the previous sample for simpler comparison without endlessly scooting the cursor back and forth.

There would also be more flexibility for me to compare the actual skills/levels students say they're demonstrating with the actual samples they provide me.

Also, you can embed .webm files straight from Google Drive.


Solution #3: RUBRICS

I was trying to just give the young ones sort of a pass on the "quiz" grades with these. If they had the requisite pieces, they were golden. Follow the instructions, fill in the storyboard blanks, and you can have 100%, right?

Well, just see the list of problems above.

So I want to spell out exactly what I need from my little grasshoppers, what it is a portfolio has to have to be worthwhile, and you know, if there's a point value, so be it.

I really liked the single-point rubrics my amigo pointed out after Dr. November went all scorched-earth on rubrics as destroyers of creativity when professionally developing some of us from the district. So I offer these "single points" to go in between the "concerns" and "advanced" columns:

  • Professionalism - Analysis and examples are clear and attractively organized
  • Self-evaluation - Accurate description of skill level emphasizing function, text type, and strategies along with ACTFL performance descriptors
  • Growth - Revised samples appropriately address errors and demonstrate increased proficiency
  • Reflection - Thoughtful assessment of improvements and strategies for continued growth