29 November 2017

Swimming with Sharks - Authentic Audiences for Spanish Class

Last year I had an intricate schedule with at least two Spanish-speaking judges for every hour-long slot, including five different ninth graders' moms. I tracked down the freshmen whose parents spoke Spanish, got names and numbers and called them all weeks in advance. Then I composed a full-page letter--in Spanish--about how the day would go down, including when and where each judge would be each day, which I delivered the week before the presentations (Thanksgiving week, by the way). Then I dressed to impress to meet our tiburones for Shark Tank and carefully coordinated sign-in procedures from the front desk to presentation locations, including student escorts.

This year I lost the cards when cleaning and moving houses over Thanksgiving then just used our parent contact spreadsheet to start making calls the day before presentations started. I drafted a couple of Spanish 3 12th graders with room in their schedule to fill in for the slots when no 9th grade parents were available.

Sra. looks a little scary
without eyebrows,
especially by the end
of the day.
And I forgot to put on eyebrows this morning.

I think that inviting parents in to participate in project presentations--especially parents valued for a skill that in other situations might make them feel pushed to the side--is one of the best brain waves I've ever had. Authentic audiences exist within our local and even school community, and we strengthen the bonds with those communities by incorporating them into important academic work. It lets parents see what their students are (or will be) doing and it gives our students a chance to confront that nervous edge that makes them consider if they really are communicating in their second language and work with it.

But I also REALLY hate talking on the phone in general, which is REALLY not helped in a second-language, stranger cold-call scenario.

Now I've got some more work to do on making this whole product pitch project novice-appropriate, and I think I went from Spanish overload last year to monolingual overload this year. I'm considering taking the infomercial angle suggested by my SC amiga at SCOLT still further and maybe backing out of taking Spanish class time for presentations entirely. But still, there's that community piece.

So as I go back to the drawing board yet again in the eternal cycle, I want to keep some things in mind that might help me remember this is both worth doing and not as painful as I anticipate as phone number cards get shuffled house to house.

And if I can remind myself that this is not impossible, maybe it'll help someone else get up the gumption to invite some native speakers into the classroom as well. So here goes.

1. As with everything, Less is More

Guess which list is last year's and which is this year's. I do recommend keeping an electronic version too, in the event of a move.
I've been guilty of trying to open up every single possible option just to get people in the door. So I had 6 slots total this time, an hour a piece. Either they could make it, or they couldn't, and it's okay if they can't. Don't go making 20-minute slots or enlisting backups for backups. Make it easy for you AND for them to keep track of!

2. Streamline guest responsibilities 

I had all kinds of ideas about using the authentic reactions the tiburones might generate in response to presentations. I caught a quick video or two of what they thought last year, in fact. But the truth is that the videos were not in Baby Spanish, and there wasn't really time--or motivation--to have these people donating their time write out vast diatribes, much less ones that would be comprehensible to my little baby parrots.

So I adapted the "active listener" response survey my colleague made for his Public Speaking class, added a little español and bam! Justifications that my kiddos could understand.

There IS space on the back for them to write out advice and "felicidades" for each group. And all they had to do was decide how to split the money between two groups.

3. Ease 'em in

It was so much easier when I actually did call the tiburones this year because they almost all knew it was coming. I had mentioned it to the 9th graders and explained why I was gonna call. Next year I think I'll have a little RSVP invitations to hand out to those with Spanish speaking family at home--might even get some bites I didn't anticipate! But again, I gotta make it easy--name and number to begin with. THEN I call, see if they can show up, and MAYBE throw in a little survey about what they think is important for investing for some plan prepping too!

4. Snacks

I mean, we can't bring them into the college's classrooms, but I can do better than offering them a cupcake from the math teacher's birthday. I need a spread with some beverages and finger food--something inviting that they know I didn't just dig out of my cabinet drawer and that I can't just put back there. And they somewhere comfy they can enjoy them--especially when they show up early and have to wait on my hooligans before trying to figure out their Spanish.

5. Follow up

I'm pretty sure I still have a huge stack of thank you cards I made the kiddos write in Spanish last year and then failed to deliver. Those stacks are pretty overwhelming even without my name on them. I might have the groups that presented for each judge make one group card and explain one thing that this project helps them with in general, but if we're really building a community here for real?

I need to buckle down and make a few more calls.

24 November 2017

PBL in the TL TeachersPayTeachers Resources

In case you were wondering what kinds of resources I have in my store before the Cyber Monday sale on TeachersPayTeachers, I've made a list of links to all of the good stuff! Save up to 25% next Monday and Tuesday (or check the bottom for a few free things you can get your hands on any time.)

I don't have any full PBL units yet, but I promise I am working on one or two!




Interactive Notebook Pages

Music & Media

Free Resources

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!