21 December 2017

Every Little Thing

I have been without a kitchen table since before my son ate solid foods. I mean, I had one. It was in the shed because there wasn't really enough room in my kitchen to sit even if we hadn't left it in storage.

We're not fully moved into my new house just yet, but already we have had supper at our new (to us) table maybe ten times. Both my ten-year-old and my five-year-old remark how "weird" it feels, but also how it feels like we have "a real house" now.

Me, I find my heart aflutter every time I don't have to hunt down a hanger to keep my washer lid up while doing laundry. Opening the first pantry I've ever had in my life makes me want to take pictures every time. To say nothing of my very own office--a room of one's own to work and to be.

I don't list the wonders of my new house to brag, though even with the occasional broken toilet seal and full-on nineties wallpaper in the kitchen, this place is still a place of wonder for me. And I don't say that to garner pity for what we didn't have before either. I am thankful, SO thankful that this is where I am now, with my wonderful family.

I do this to remind myself how much relief each of these things brings me, to remember what it was like when I did not have these things, or to go back even further when I had to rely on parents and my then-boyfriend just to afford groceries. I do this not to garner sympathy for the single mother who threw a bit of a tantrum in the teacher's lounge at the suggestion that she skip a trip out to eat and buy crayons when color printing was not an option (it had not occurred to colleagues that even McDonald's was out of my price range at the time). It still hurts a lot to remember being that single mother. I was 27.

Can you IMAGINE facing that at 17?

Of course some don't have to imagine.

Zealously guarding literally every dollar I spent and fretting over formula and diapers cost just about every brain cell and ounce of patience I had in my body. Being able to go to the vending machine without calculating is a simple pleasure I often take for granted now, but it was a wild luxurious freedom when I remarried and then got salary boosts from getting grandfathered in for my MA and then National Boards.

What if I had to go to class 8 hours a day at the same time that a Snickers was beyond my budget?

What if I had had to wake up in the middle of the night regularly to help a sick sibling or parent or grandparent to the bathroom?

What if my parents hadn't been able--or willing--to contribute when I was about to come up short for the electric bill?

What if I had had literally no one to call in the middle of the night when I felt like I absolutely could not make it to morning no matter how much my baby needed me?

What if my depression had not been strictly situational or had been compounded by other health issues?

What if I'd found easy means to turn to dangerous or illegal ways to get through my day?

It might have been really hard to get an essay in on time, or stay awake in class--or even show up.

There are those who perhaps could have gutted through it without a second thought to how hard it was to do what they were doing. They might not have even considered how much of their emotional energy was being drained on a consistent basis and pushed forward with some good old-fashioned grit.

I smile wistfully at my table and my washing machine that can open all the way now because of how much relief they bring to my life.

And I cut my kids who lash out under overwhelming pressure a little more slack, even if their reasons don't seem as drastic to me. Because I remember how much it cost me every minute of every day to have to ask for money to survive, to not be able to afford formula or frozen vegetables or even crayons on my own. That little rush of joy when I open the stocked and organized pantry, it reminds me how much I might be asking from kids without a kitchen table or internet or just a reliable support system.

It reminds me to find every way I can to avoid draining their emotional resources. And maybe, if I can, to add to them wherever possible.

17 December 2017

Moving On - Shedding the teacher I was

I'm moving. It's the first time in nine years, but the third time since I started teaching. I used to keep a lot of stuff in file cabinets, first in my classrooms, then in my shed when I started at the early college.

I dug up some of my Raisin in the Sun folders a couple of years ago for Film & Lit, but otherwise, the "just in case" I was saving everything for has not come in five years.

So I thought for this, my 500th post, I'd document some of what I was before I throw it all out.

First of all, I used to be an English teacher. I mean, I still am, but I was only an English teacher when I started. Not only that, but I had long blond hair that I refused to wear down lest I look under 25 (which I was). And my name was Huertero for a while there.

Also, I used South Park avatar generators to make posters before memes were a thing--I got this printed super huge and in color at Office Depot and made copies for kids' notebooks. #SoCool

I was also an early adopter of the class web page, starting with Geocities and Localendar before the rest of the school got on board. I also printed a lot of things, either for posterity or the CYA file or for general hoarding purposes, including some Localendar pages from that first year:

I was much better about birthdays back then. I spent hours making quote bookmarks with contact paper and posterboard and tiny post-its stapled on. And yet somehow I feel like I'm better with relationships now. Maybe because my school culture makes me a big fat cheater, or maybe because I'm better at presence than presents now.

Although I was techy from an early age (well, early 20s), I still tried to do things the traditional way. I had an honest-to-god teacher store teacher gradebook for years, with honest-to-god teacher grades.

PS SSR was not target language FVR. It was school-mandated weekly English reading, in theory to boost literacy and scores. As a nascent Spanglish teacher, I was mostly OK with that.

I named the assignments on the bottom so I could keep every date of the semester at the top (yes, each class took a few pages). And speaking of names, check out the Spanish names students picked in quotation marks.

And while we're on the subject of grades, I still had some progress reports from that first school, from my first Spanish class in ye olde CMS Gradebook.

I'd like to say the blurry photos are to protect the innocent, but honestly it was kinda dark in the shed. And in theory, I was really there to clean up.

Anyway, take a look at some of the things I graded back then:
  • Alfabeto Memorizado
  • "p18 1-15"
  • Cognates: accidente-aparecer, area-blusa, brillante-cerámica (basically vocab list "bellringers")
  • Objetos y Personas Crucigrama
  • Prueba 3: Articles, "De," Object-Numbers

Now, I point these assignments out not to deride myself or anyone who still has similar slots in their gradebooks, though I admit, the temptation is great to bully my past self, to give my current self a sense of superiority and pat myself on the back for "how far I've come." But I gotta tell ya, A) those first, oh, ten years were a STRUGGLE and B) it is important to honor the journey of every educator, including myself, and including those who are kinda where I was in 2006.

The truth is, I still have students who are disappointed we didn't learn the alphabet, and I think a crossword--even a textbook-type activity--here and there might make some students feel more confident. One comment I've gotten on end-of-course surveys this year is that they wished I'd done "the hand thing" sooner because it helped so much. I've also been wondering if some explicit grammar "quizzes" could also build confidence and help target some trouble areas like "de" with possession.

Here's a handful of folders I chucked wholesale:

Yes, I made students make a poster of how to translate a sentence. It was how my mind worked. But if I could go back and talk to 20-something me, it would do me no good to scoff. I would not have listened to someone insulting my cognate searches or Fecha notes--nor should I have. Nor should anyone. 

Insults are not how any of us get better.

How I started getting better was examples, models, and connecting with others in the field. It didn't all happen at my first FLANC (where I had no idea I'd eventually present with the then-president!)

To tell the truth, I was a bit mystified at the suggestion that I would teach in the target language when I presented on Sandra Cisneros stories then. It was honestly a little scary when I got that question, even with one of my favorite professors right beside me.

But see, fear is not what we want, for our students or for our colleagues--or for ourselves.

We want to feel capable, confident. We want to feel like we've finally made it, kind of like I did when I made these folders for every single assessment in my Spanish I and II courses, complete with multiple versions and scantron answer keys:

You know, BEFORE I moved to a school with no scantron machine. And before my first official PBL training.

Now I did throw all of the scantron folders out after documentation, but allow me to illustrate the depths of my packrat problem.

Yes, that is a journal entry about my feelings on math from 1992. Yes, I kept it. It lives in my new attic now. Also, can I tell you how weird it is to realize how much my son--who's now the same age I was then--writes like me? I kind of love it, truth be told.
What I'm trying to get at is my shed is almost empty now, and I have let go of a lot. I have let go of a lot of what I used to do and be, but I have not let go of everything (though I think I did finally accept that Google and YouTube would help more than my old notebooks by the time my kids get to Calculus).

Pretty much all of my plans and documents are online now, and I have no intention of ever returning to scantron or adjective units. Am I above using Google Forms for a quick assessment or having students group infomercial adjectives in their interactive notebooks? Heavens no.

Do I feel like I've come along way? Absolutely.

But are all of these files and folders and ancient artifacts--whether they ended up in garbage bags or attic files--still a part of my journey, a part of me?

They are. And they can remind me of why I really wanted to go into teaching, since the moment Mr. Bancroft, my 11th grade English teacher first said "No really, I don't know. What do you think?"

I realized that teaching means you can keep growing forever.

11 December 2017

Top 7 Posts of 2017

This year I shared some of my favorite resources: from music to social media, authentic texts to tech tools. I also shared some strategies that have worked really--I mean REALLY--well for me, as well as some that are still evolving. I've also shared posts about what NOT to worry about, with mixed results.

Take a look back with me at the 7 most popular posts from 2017 (plus an honorable mention that was just a couple weeks short of making this list).

Starting class effectively has so much to do with how you feel and how they feel that day. Bellringers can clear the palate from previous classes and get students in the right mindset. More recently, I've had success with a sort of social approach to starting class, but the idea of having a toybox to draw from is increasingly essential for just about any part of lesson planning! 

It took me a minute to get on the Flipgrid bandwagon, mostly because Seesaw was meeting all of my IN-class video needs. However when I got to thinking BEYOND the classroom, it was amazing what I figured out Flipgrid could do for me--and my novices! At first it was pretty awesome having my kids get real video responses to their questions about Peru FROM Peru, but honestly it was a little hard to understand the native speakers not trained in Baby Spanish. But you know who IS trained in Baby Spanish?? SPANISH TEACHERS. And there are THOUSANDS of them at your fingertips online already! 

Now the paid account allows me to download videos from Flipgrid (TOTALLY worth it, by the by, especially if you use a promo code!) for assessments and such, but anyone can see ALL of these videos with the links at www.flipgrid.com/novicespanish or on the free mobile app with user code novicespanish! Use them in your classroom, for assessment OR practice!

Maybe I just have a really great group--who am I kidding? I DEFINITELY have a great group of kids this year. But I think that taking the first week to assure them that Spanish is something they ALL can do and something I will support them with in any way possible--and appropriate--has really made the climate this semester a lot healthier than last year's Spanish I. Of course there are a handful who seem not to believe me and insist on deviating from the translator guidelines, but I think even those few, when they realize they do have the time and the tools to do what I ask of them, they're doing a lot better than they would have without the tone the promises set.

The tears last year, you guys, the tears. I'm not saying my kids are anxiety free come speaking time this year, but at least now I know it's the inevitable kind that they have to practice powering through, not something I brought on with spontaneous questions and an iPad in their faces. Allowing kids to prepare something makes them feel like they CAN say something...even if what they memorize is not what you're grading.

Who doesn't like discovering new resources--especially if they just automatically pop up in your feed periodically while you're playing on Facebook? They can keep your own Spanish skills refreshed and give you great ideas to engage kiddos in class! I put several of the videos I found this way together for our inventions unit with great results.

This post jumped up two spots after a recent repost! Is it just resolution season?

I've done a lot of weighing this year, almost in a continuation of my less-is-more resolution from 2015. Honestly, I want to try it all, but I have found I'm not ready for some things and that other things just weren't getting my students where I wanted them to be. It's a bit like Sra. Toth's chuck-it bucket, but for my own learning path as an educator, not just students'.

Last year was a good year for music in my classroom. There were so many great songs with comprehensible, catchy choruses! Also Instagram challenges were pretty fun, and kids who won't have Spanish until next school year are already looking forward to them!

Honorable Mention

Technically this post was from the tail end of 2016, but it would have made the top 5 if it were posted two weeks later. Basically, my understanding of the role of proficiency in my class has been a long, arduous journey, and figuring out the difference between proficiency and performance has been a struggle to say the least. Now the title is a bit clickbaity, I'll admit, and the retweet of this post with simply "Hm..." still stings, truth be told. But if I can help another teacher figure out why and how to focus on PERFORMANCE, then my struggle/journey will not have been for nought.

My next post will be my 500th post, so feel free to take a trip down memory lane to see how far I (and we) have come!

09 December 2017

HOLIDAY LESSON - Grammar, Culture, and "Burrito de Belén"

'Tis the season for holiday songs, classroom restlessness, and steady review. After the massive four-class product pitch project is over, we have to regroup a little bit in my class and remember what we remember. Also, we need to stop and remember that Spanish is still FUN.

My own children have been running around the house singing Juanes on repeat as we get ready for the holidays, so I thought, why not bring a little earworm fun into finals review? We did need to refresh on a little grammar and practice interpreting something new, after all.

So here's what we did all day one day this week.

Step 1: Review Conjugation Notes

We actually hadn't officially done 3rd person plural yet, but we'd used some examples like necesitan this week. So we added ustedes/ellos/ellas to the conjugation hand notes, practiced with little gestures and o/as/a/amos/an chant.

Doing the conjugation gestures with finger stickers always
makes it a little more memorable.

Step 2: Break down some relevant cultural notes

I guess you could call what we did to start off with a picture talk? I had a random nacimiento picture from Google, and after establishing that it was an escena de Navidad, I asked questions like:
  • ¿Dónde están? ¿Están en el Polo Norte? ¿Están en el desierto?
  • ¿Quién es el bebé? ¿Es Santa Claus? ¿Es Jesús?
  • ¿Quién es ella? ¿Es Sra. Claus? ¿Es la madre de Jesús? ¿Cómo se llama?
  • ¿Quién es él? ¿Es Santa Claus? ¿Es Jesús? ¿Es José? ¿Es el padre de Jesús? (brief sidetrack into the origin of the nickname "Pepe" in English)
  • ¿Quiénes son ellos? ¿Son duendes? ¿Son Dasher y Dancer y Rudolph? ¿Son los Reyes Magos? (brief sidetrack in English about who brings presents in Spanish-speaking countries)
Then quick run through the questions again before the next slide, where we break down more specifics of the song:

Step 3: VERB RACE!

For this, I used a lyric video of "Burrito de Belén":

But it turns out Juanes has one too (my ten-year-old rejects non-Juanes versions, but the kid chorus goes along with the Wikipedia article later).

Now there are a grand total of 5 conjugated present tense verbs in the song:
  • va
  • vamos
  • ven
  • voy
  • ilumina
All of them pop up multiple times (ven over 20). The idea is to have students write the verb they hear/see in the song on a post-it and then race to the front. Now the catch is that one partner from each group is seated at the front, and THEY have to place the verb the OTHER partner(s) wrote on the post-it in the right spot on this conjugation hand on the wall:

When that partner has placed the post-it, they raced back, and the next partner can hand a post-it off to the new partner in the seat for placement.

Now I let the song play through the first tuqui tuqui and then stop them. I go through all of the answers and explain which ones are right, which ones are wrong, and why. (It does help to warn them that there are plenty of nouns and adjectives that end with O.) We get to talk about about -ing verbs and kick ourselves for putting ven on the  finger or vamos on yo.

Balling up the wrong ones in front of them was very dramatic.
At the end, take off the correct ones and sort them by team and by verb to count.

Then we finish the song much stronger!

I collect all the right answers and promise to count them while they work on the next thing.

Step 4: Wikipedia article interpretation

Actively Learn is my FAVE. My homie Maris beat me to the punch blogging about it, but basically you can work comprehension questions into any article you find online (3 per month for free, I think). So I took the Wikipedia article about it--with plenty of context and cognates--and had students answering questions while I tallied the winner.

Since the one real drawback to Actively Learn is not being able to share activities a la EDPuzzle, here are the 10 questions I inserted:

  1. Where is this song from?
  2. What type of choruses/groups sing this song?
  3. When and where did this song become popular?
  4. What is a "cuatrico"?
  5. What type of musical style is this song NOT?
  6. Who is going to Behlehem?
  7. What does the morning start do with his path?
  8. What is the singer doing while the donkey trots?
  9. Why do they need to hurry?
  10. Who recorded his own version of the song on a Christmas Superstar album, and where is he from?
With several of these questions, there are answers that are right and answers that are, well, more right. Fortunately, Actively Learn lets you quickly mark them as "incomplete," say if they only got Juanes for #10 or "basic" if they just said "a typical Venezuelan instrument" for #4.

Also here is a quick screencast to show where they go (note: there are not formatting options when you import directly from the website):

Then when it's time to announce, we get to watch a fun version that tickles me:

Bonus wrap-up: SINGALONG! If you can get them singing along with the tuquituquis WITH the actions, you have officially won the holidays.

The whole thing takes a little over an hour, so treat yourself to a little festive fun one dreary day before break!

07 December 2017

Inspired Proficiency Podcast

Ashley Uyaguari is one of my #langchat tweeps and an innovative blogger at deskfree.wordpress.com! There are more and more cool podcasts out there for us language teachers, but knowing that Ashley and Becky(#langchat AND #LangCamp tweep extraordinaire) are behind this one makes me extra excited for it to happen! Find out more about what they're up to and how you can help! I myself decided to go for "Inspiring Team Member" status. 

Do you listen to podcasts?

I love podcasts! Adore them. Political podcasts, comedy, news, education, you name it. I listen to them while cooking, exercising, driving, grading and sometimes even while showering. It’s the perfect medium for the busy person.

If you know me, you know I am also passionate about professional development for World Language teachers. I love sharing my classroom and talking with others’ about theirs. Doesn’t it make sense to combine these two interests!?

Yes! And my friend, Becky was thinking the same thing. We were at ACTFL this past November, and realized we’d both been considering creating a podcast for world language teachers. We thought about it and found that together we could really do it. So, Inspired Proficiency Podcast was born that night in Nashville!

A week ago we launched a kickstarter to get this project running. Please, read the pitch! And consider backing this project. We are looking for a team of teachers to join our “Inspiring Team” and they will vote on content and decisions as we produce this podcast. If we can get 80 teachers to join our team, we can each contribute a little bit to make this PD available to everyone. $25 for at least 10 episodes of awesome conversations and content, is not much. Consider joining us today!

For those of you still reading, here is a little more info on the WHY. I’ve had the privilege of attending and presenting sessions at a variety of conferences and also traveling to do workshops with schools. I get to share my ideas, but also be inspired by others ALL THE TIME. Unfortunately, not all schools have a big PD budget for their teachers and I’ve met teachers who would love to learn more, but feel alone in their practices. 

We want this podcast to add to the amazing communities that exist for world language teachers, and we don’t just want to talk about theories and SLA, there is a podcast for that (which is awesome!) We want to inspire concrete activities that teachers can use immediately in their classrooms. If I’m ever feeling writer’s block for my lesson plans, I step over next door and hear about what my colleague Stel has been doing with her students. And you know what? I leave with a fresh energy to continue on along with more ideas than I have time for! Doesn’t that sound great? Why not share that with a larger community? 

Let’s do this. Let’s create this project together.

04 December 2017

¡Llame Ya! Infomercial Listening Activity

Infomercials have sparked a new creativity and confidence in my students in Spanish I this semester! ¡Llame ya! is officially part of everyone's vocabulary after some class notes, some guided listening with an authentic infomercial, and then a little independent breakdown of some more authentic infomercials.

So first, I listened to a handful of infomercials and picked out a bunch of classic infomercial catch phrases. I found some of the most classic in the first Ceramicore video, so I made a list of those phrases and scrambled them up (alphabetical order works nice).

Students read over them, talking them out with their product pitch groups, and we talked about words they recognized then words they didn't recognize, like gratis, espere, basta, and sabía--a little infomercial context was all they needed to make them stick!

Then they sorted them into which ones they thought went at the beginning of an infomercial, and which went at the end, just to make some connections in the style of a sorting activity I got from Ruben Garza back when I was a baby Spanish teacher in my first Spanish teacher PD session ever. See, if they're sorting, it doesn't matter if they're "right" or "wrong," just that they made connections to what they knew and understood about it! Each kiddo had to sort his or her own slips, but again, they could talk them through with their groups.

Then I played the Ceramicore commercial at .75 speed (so much less drunk sounding than .5) and had them sort their slips to the best of their ability as they listened. I replayed a second time, showed them what they should have gotten, and congratulated them if they got through at least half (they pretty much all did).

But that's not all!

Then it was time to RE-SORT the slips AGAIN, but this time making decisions with their groups. So not only were they making connections, but they were making judgment calls, planning what actually fit their groups needs. On the surface, they were talking in English, but they were making immediate connections with the Spanish language phrases in front of them and applying them!

So in their notebooks, they had four sections: left/right = beginning/end, and top/bottom=use/don't use. No two groups had the same notes--or the same active vocabulary--by the end, but that's A-OK.

Now, two weeks later, as we're going into our final speaking assessment, there's a small--but very excited--group who decided not to just describe their own abilities or product pitch suggestions.

They want to make their OWN infomercials.

01 December 2017

Other Teachers Need Us Too

I wasn't laughing at her conjugation.

One student in the audience was giving the students presenting a hard time, asking why anyone would want to buy their product if it was so cheap and easy to make. But my history teacher amiga came to their rescue--in Spanish!

 Homegirl whipped out a Novice High sentence in the heat of the moment AND called out the dominant culture without missing a beat! Guys, my little language teacher heart just spilled all over the place in that moment.

Not 5 minutes later, my biology amiga called out another group (albeit in English) for including a plan to air their English ad in the U.S. and their Spanish ad in Latin America:

Guys, this is the same teacher who estimated that 40% of our students would actually use Spanish after they graduated. When I informally polled her and my English teacher amiga last year, they weren't trying to hurt my feelings, or suggest that language learning was any less relevant than, say, British literature. They were simply speaking from their own experience in the community where they lived and I didn't (YET! My kids start school in my district when we come back from break!)

Now I have pooh-poohed presidents and principals who preach numbers to justify language learning in the past, and to be honest, I'm still a little disappointed that Obama remains monolingual despite lip service for language learning. And I'm often guilty of holding adults to a higher standard than teenagers, despite intellectually understanding that they could as easily lack the emotional and academic training that teenagers to too. But colleagues and administrators need and deserve the same assurances as our students. They need to believe in the why and the how, but they also need to know and trust that YES YOU CAN.

Now Sra. Miller is a special teacher in so many ways more than her fearless Novice-to-Intermediate outbursts over the walkie talkie ("¿Qué es mascota?" when reviewing some of the product pitch categories before I got there is a personal favorite). She saw the relevance of the high school Spanish she forgot when she needed to get a student to "escribir cinco cosas" and then was off and running. And Sra. Dixon is an astounding human being and giver who, day 2 of product pitches, dared to help me count down in Spanish to get the class quiet. I mean, it´s Novice Low production, but she is modeling putting herself out there and taking that risk!

Even when my almost-German-major English teacher amigo was helping Miller and me split up the product pitch topics and said tecnología without pausing to translate, that was PROOF.

It was proof that Spanish is not only something they can use in their own lives, but that, yes, they really can use it! They don´t have to spend their waking hours not grading on Duolingo. They don´t have to travel the world (unless they want to!)

They can participate in the students´ language learning. They can understand the parents who need a little help in conferences.

And they can stroll into my Spanish-strewn room, just like our newest Earth Science teacher, and say, "I was thinking..." when after all of the hurricanes and earthquakes and floods and disaster they see a chance to make their classes more relevant with Spanish.

But sometimes they need our help seeing the why and how, and they deserve our support--and celebration--when they show us AND themselves: you can too.