19 April 2018


It was me and two other English teachers. We about had a knock-down-drag-out with a teaching guru visiting our district who told us in no uncertain terms:


We were told that the rubrics were slayers of creativity, that they stunted our students, and moreover, they were for lazy teachers who just wanted to finish grading as quickly as possible.

I may be exaggerating the tone a touch, but my English homies and I were not going down without a fight. It's not because we disagreed that we wanted to grade quicker (we do) or that we did not believe that they capped students' desire to push their own boundaries (they might). It's that we were 100% convinced that our students NEEDED rubrics to understand what was EXPECTED of them.

Teenagers are not mind readers, after all.

Our point was that we were indeed lazy teachers if we could not--or DID not--define what successful task completion looked like for our students. It was pure anathema that Guru Dude would suggest that we should be so vague and wishy washy with our students and just tell them to impress us then sit back and watch them blow our minds. I knew for a fact that that was not how MY students would react to such instructions. In fact, as another guru guy, Sr. Burgess, reminded us at our local conference this past weekend, there is freedom in framework. We all need a place to start at the very least, right?

The NFLRC Project-Based Language Learning Online Institute really drove the point home for me in Lesson 13, where my NEW guru (who doesn't yet know she's my guru), Yao Zhang Hill, laid it all on the line for me and got to the heart of what snooty Guru Guy's real problem with rubrics was.


 Dr. Hill described two types of descriptors that sum up everything wrong with bad rubrics:
  • Deficiency Descriptors and
  • Empty Descriptors
My contention is that single-point rubrics are the solution to both of these blemishes on rubrics' reputation AND Guru Guy's insistence on pushing our students beyond our own expectations.

Deficiency Descriptors

Tell me I'm not the only one.

I describe EXACTLY what I ideally want to see in each category I'm scoring, then I copy and paste it into the next column and change one word or one number to designate the separate levels. I know I did it back when I was using ForAllRubrics (actually, columns just said "nearly," "consistently," and "emerging").

Dr. Hill makes the point that these are great for US to ASSESS, but they don't do much to help our students hit their goals. They explain why we mark them down, but what do they do for students who are trying NOT to get marked down? Do they actually convey the clear expectations my English amigos and I so vociferously championed? Or do they kind of enable us to be a little lazy as graders without actually helping the kiddos read our minds?

Empty Descriptors

Dr. Hill's whole take on rubrics is really the point we English teachers were trying to make: rubrics are necessary for learning. But the thing is, if they're not in terms that help BEFORE evaluation time, are they really serving that purpose, or are we just arguing with Guru Guy because we can't stand the thought of spending six hours grading for every class every time we assign an essay or project? 

Kids don't know what they don't know, so they CAN'T count the problems! They can only edit as carefully as their training and retention allow and then hope for the best when we're counting what's wrong with their work AFTER they've turned it in to us. I mean sure, we could close the feedback loop, but the rubrics are still not assisting the learning, as we insisted they must.

Single-Point Solution

Not only does our district bring in all kinds of guru guys to keep us in the know (George Couros next month, anyone??), but we have our own stable of gurus among our Instructional Facilitators. So while the more boisterous among us were having it out with the Guru #1, my facilitator amigo Chris was googling in the back to send me a solution that would

  1. Communicate clear expectations to students without points or empty deficiency descriptors getting in the way and
  2. Encourage the kiddos to surprise us.
I've shared the single-point rubric I use on Spanish portfolios before, but I've since expanded them to pretty much anything I want to grade without an AAPPL rubric, including:
  • Senior Project products
  • Senior Project presentations
  • Plan for Change presentations
  • Spanish portfolios
  • Mejor yo videos
  • Amigos animales dog show booths

You may notice that I had to add points to calculate scores on one rubric for my principal's benefit. Basically if all of my expectations are met, students get a B (I don't care if it's grade inflation, so there). If they do something that goes beyond my expectations (hint: just changing the theme or colors in a presentation is still pretty expected), I explain briefly what impressed me, then a 10 gets averaged in with the 8s. If, however, my expectations are NOT met, I explain what more I need, and average in anything from a 0 to a 6.

And voila! Grading is still quick, but this time it's more targeted and personal! They can get feedback on what they personally need to do to improve!

I do want to point out that there are a few practices you will still want to put in place for maximum rubric efficacy here:

  1. Close the feedback loop - Sometimes I just set up a Google Form to have them basically parrot back to me what they need to work on--then I make sure they have time to work on it.
  2. Recursive opportunities for improvement - Even if they're not doing the same thing with new portfolio artifacts next grading period, maybe they can take their presentation feedback and do some revision before they actually have an audience.
  3. Provide models - Some students may feel stuck on how to exceed expectations, but we wouldn't want Guru Guy to think we're stepping on their little creative spirits by spelling out what that is. However, I've found I get better results when I pick out examples of student work that SHOW the above-and-beyond factor, especially if we pause and compare it to the rubric itself.
So that's it. That's my -- or rather Chris's -- solution to rubrics that stunt creativity and punish kids for factors beyond their control.

And I can still finish a stack of projects in under three hours!

09 April 2018

#Snapthoughts - Video Reflection

I blame Snapchat filters and Carmen Scoggins. First of all, Snapchat filters are fun, and even with two teen wannabes at home, I wish I had more excuses to play with it. So what did Carmen do at our FLANC spring fling? Give me the excuses.

The filters are kind of my motivators to sit down and sum up my day: what I liked and didn't like, highlights, lowlights, and overall temperature taking to look for trends in my practice that aren't necessarily full-on Blog Post materical. Playing with silly filters is incentive, you know? And doing it on Snapchat makes me keep it brief (or it cuts me off an makes me start a new story).

I've been enjoying using Snapchat for things like Snap stories to interpret/retell songs, and I've been meaning to play with it as a student video editor like Noah Geisel suggested at a mini-unconference session at ACTFL a few years ago. This gives me an opportunity to play more with it, to immerse myself in the tool--or at least wade around a bit--so I can get more ideas.

So if you're looking to dip your toes in, too, it's pretty easy to get started (once I figured out I didn't have to download each individual snap and edit it together in WeVideo--the music is nice, though, right?) So here's my process.

  1. Pick a fun filter! (Hint: weird voices make the re-listen more fun.)
  2. Record and post a story between 30-60 seconds.
  3. Save the story with the little "download" arrow thingie and quick switch it to "My Eyes Only" (I don't especially want it on my snap feed--I think it would annoy most of the people who follow me more than anything.)
  4. Export the video to another app, i.e. YouTube. (I use my "professional" PBL in the TL one--not school or personal.)
  5. Add it to my YouTube playlist for further reflection later.

In the future, I think I would like to maybe establish myself a goal before the day begins, or even make that goal for the next day. I do like the freedom of just saying whatever I think of when I have a little time during fourth period planning, or what have you, but I think some sort of theme for the week might even make the reflection more effective.

Also, I want to play more with the after-effect filters and adding stickers and text to the video. Just because.

Below you can see my first four "snapthoughts," and I cover my dive into Spanish 2 novel groups, senior projects for my English class, our current project for the Just Plain Dog Show coming up in May, and just kind of an "eh" start back from spring break.

If you start your own "Snapthought" series, tag me on Twitter or Instagram or FB! I'd love to see what you're up to--and what filters you choose!

28 March 2018

Flipgrid for Managing "Puedos" Starters

I start my class with "Puedos" almost every single day. It makes for an active start to class that also gives me a little time to take attendance and get situated while making sure students can do some basics like pronounce tricky vocabulary, conjugate some essential verb forms, and answer relevant questions.

Students get about 5-10 minutes a day for a week to get everything checked off and then have me spot check a few for each of them. This is plenty of time for them.

It is not for me.

Enter Flipgrid.

I still collect everybody's Puedo sheets at the same time, but then I have a whole grid just for Puedos (paid version: TOTALLY worth it), and I make a new Puedo Topic each week (which you could totally do with the free version too).

To set up each Topic for my Puedos grid, I 
  1. Upload a photo of the week's Puedo sheet as the photo for the Topic. Each week is a different color to help kiddos tell them apart, but it's also there because, well, I collected their sheets, and they're going to need a reference.

  2. Indicate three tasks from the list in the Topic description for them to demonstrate for your spot check. I usually try to get a good mix of tasks that I think they should definitely be able to do but will also need to use a lot.

  3. Post the link to Classroom! 
For some more tips on managing and grading Puedos (perhaps with the help of enterprising six-year-olds), check out my Classroom Tips video below!

19 March 2018

Novel Groups - Robo en la noche & Bianca Nieves

I ordered 50 books from Fluency Matters in anticipation of my Spanish 2 animals unit. The thinking was that these would build students', well, fluency, as well as their contextual vocabulary and grammar as they prepared to make a plan to help their amigos animales.

I have been kind of wary going in whole hog on novels, but I think I've finally got a plan of attack for my students to get a personalized experience that fits their needs.

Group Setup

On the one hand, I want everyone to be able to read the novel that catches their interest, that they consider relevant to their goals and find engaging. On the other, I want them to feel like the reading is easy, like they don't have to look up every fourth word in the glossary. I want them to build from where they are, not drop them in the middle of an ocean with just that little lexical life preserver.

And on yet another hand, I only have 25 copies each of Robo en la noche and Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos to split among 47 kids. Someone was not getting their first choice.

So I made some executive decisions based on our mock reading AAPPLs and the incidence of irregular preterite. I figured it they were getting intermediate, they were likely better equipped to swim to shore than those still stuck in novice according to our assessments.

I had also had students submit a note on Seesaw where they summarized the main idea and some supporting details then recorded themselves reading the chapter onto the note. Frankly, though, not enough of them actually followed through and submitted it, and those who did, there was no telling how long they spent on it.

Enter Plan B: the Twitterverse. And Carrie Toth's FREE One Novel Reading Club packet fell like manna from Heaven!

Seriously! Check out Carrie's survey and more on TPT!
I made the survey a Google Form--in baby-ish Spanish. I had to be out for PD the day they were doing it, so I okayed WordReference for interpretation "just this once."

Grouping was still tough for a few reasons. There were so many possible combinations of how to read and how to respond! Some people who liked to read alone wanted to do the creative responses. Some people who wanted to read together also wanted to do the comprehension responses. Sometimes only one person reading a book wanted to get help talking through it.

And you KNOW they'd change their minds after they're in groups anyway.

So I did what I could with what I had and squished everyone in groups of 2-5 based on their preferences. Not everyone was thrilled, but everyone appeared to at least be functional.

Chapter Routines

It was a little tricky getting books with 10 and 15 chapters to match up schedule-wise, but I made myself a calendar that I had students copy into their cuaderno calendars and refer to occasionally, and I think it's pretty fair. And the plan is to give them 20-30 minutes a day to read/respond/etc, so more than fair, right?

And here again, I borrowed from the great Sra. Toth's packet to try and get myself into a rhythm (in part so I could do small group speaking assessments). It goes something like this:

  1. Groups read the chapter: together or independently, depending on what they decide as a group. If I'm available, I can walk one "Alfa" group through pausing for questions. (I tried it today, and I was really pleased with how that went.
  2. Groups respond to the chapter: either creativa or de comprensión. For comprehension, I just have them create fact-based questions related to the chapter. Creative, I shake up a little, again, of course, taking a cue from Sra. Toth. We started off with a comic strip review (www.wittycomics.com was blocked on BYOD but not school devices--go fig), and we'll have other options from Sra. Toth like character tattoo suggestions/descriptions as well as maybe some diagrams, texts, diary entries, Adobe Spark summaries, extra scenes, character interviews, musical responses, and whatever else I can think of along the way.
  3. Class notes: mostly to learn past tense forms. I revived the PACE method that I tried several
    years ago. I've decided to focus on exactly one form at a time rather than all 5, and it seems to be extremely fruitful so far. Here's today's for singular third person preterite (regular):

  4. Make a repaso quiz for the next day. I use their best questions, turn them into a quick Google Form quiz with 3 multiple choice questions for each book--maybe pick out my favorite creative responses to show off, and then I'm ready to start again the next day!

14 March 2018


The surest way to make language learners SEE the value of a language is to give them real opportunities to USE the language. That's why I think the 5th C is probably the single most essential C. Without Community, there is no REASON for language learning. So in tomorow's #langchat, we'll be talking about ways to get community into your classroom--and maybe to get your classroom into the community too!

And when we're talking about community, we're not just talking about the occasional guest speaker from another country.

Community is target culture AND language learners.

Community is guest speakers, groups, and class connections.

Community is partners and participants, sideline coaches and expert judges.

Community is local employers, professors, friends, parents, and even former students!

You can connect with community asynchronously or in the same room at the same time!

So join us on Twitter at 8pm ET, 5pm PT by searching the #langchat hashtag to share your experiences with breaking down the barriers between class and community--good and bad! And tap into our Professional Learning Network's collective creativity to get more ideas to open up your classroom to the world.

Here are a few links to ways I've connected with local and global communities in the past:

And here are the questions for you to begin thinking about what you know and want to know!

06 March 2018

What PBL Is and Is NOT in Language Classes [SECONDARY SPANISH SPACE]

Projects are not Project-Based Learning.

My amigas at Secondary Spanish Space invited me to contribute a post about what PBL is--and is not--in language classes. Here's a sample:

Posters and videos and in-class presentations make learning tangible. They can become treasured artifacts of growth. On display, they can even inspire others to learn more. But if they are created as an afterthought, if they are tacked on after the “real” assessment as a sort of treat or distraction--as an intermission from Serious Work--they are not PBL. They are what the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) describes as “dessert” projects. 
In PBL, though, projects are the main course.
Project-Based Learning means the learning takes place through preparation of the final product, through preparation for the final presentation. The presentation part is especially crucial for language classes because there is nothing like an authentic Spanish-speaking audience to make believers of our students. 
BIE emphasizes eight elements that are essential to a Gold Standard PBL project, which I think can be broken down into three categories for world language instruction: Context, Input, and Output.

To learn more about how Context, Input, and Output align with BIE's Gold Standard criteria, check out the post on their site!

26 February 2018

Cheating in Spanish Class

It's a little rush of adrenaline when you catch a cheater. We language teachers, we can spot a translator sentence just skimming. That rush, though, it's always a teeny tiny tempest of emotions: a little bit of anger and insult with a touch of vindication and "I told you so!" I mean, it's not a good feeling, but it's a pretty strong one.

I don't really get it much anymore though.

But I'm not some mastermind who has figured out all of the latest tricks for sneaking a peek at a translator during assignments or assessments. I just think for the most part I've finally made it easier for them NOT to cheat. I don't think it has anything to do with fear of being caught either: it's just that it would take them more time and effort to look up the answer than to figure it out on their own.

What's more, the stakes aren't too high for them to handle. Every question missed is not automatically points off. With my imitation AAPPL assessments for reading and listening, they receive a holistic score based on the AAPPL rubrics, so it has more to do with which questions they miss and why. Did they pick an answer with a false cognate or the first number they saw? Does the answer they picked show that they misunderstand the underlying message of the text? Did they pick an answer that was almost right, just not precisely accurate?

Plus I have a fairly generous graduated grading scale, but one that also means that a student has to be performing at Intermediate Mid levels by the end of Spanish I to get 100%.

But you don't have to entirely overhaul your grading to get rid of that ugly "gotcha" rush. I figure there are four things any language teacher could do to make cheating a thing of the past:

  1. Establish proper "time and place" policies for aides.
  2. Over prepare before assessments.
  3. Discuss a range of appropriate targets.
  4. Monitor assessment scrupulously.

Time-and-place policies

Don't ban translators. Don't ban asking their advanced friends. After all, wholesale bans never work in the real-world, where people weigh decisions about risk versus reward daily (or don't weigh them because they like risk that much...)

Establish when it is and is not appropriate to consult another source and WHY.

I want my students to use a translator when they're practicing--I still use WordReference and Google regularly to confirm my Spanish. Heck, I couldn't write this blog post in my first language without consulting thesaurus.com--much less teach my English class without it!

However, I have very firm guidelines for how they should, which basically boil down to:
  • 10% or less of the task
  • Capitalize every time
On assessments, though, I stress over and over that all I care about is what they DO know. I do not care one whit about the questions they get wrong, other than to see where the limit of what they can do is. I want to know so I can provide input and exercises that are appropriate and not overwhelming for them. I will never take points off for guessing.

Translators are useful. Asking your friends for help is useful. But only insofar as it helps you build up what you CAN DO.

Over prepare before assessments.

I want them to think the test is easy--at least part of it. I want a sense of glee at how much they do understand and how much they can say to erase all intimidation (or at least as much as possible among the stress-ridden youth of today).

I'm not here to weed anyone out of anything. There are no weeds.

I'm here to cultivate, so I practice the skills they're going to need so much in the days leading up to the assessment, with texts that push their limits just a little beyond where the assessment is actually pushing--yet scaffolding it all the while with easy EDPuzzle or Actively Learn questions.

And there's always something for the novices to latch onto, so nobody ever bombs completely.

Discuss a range of appropriate targets.

Limit judgment: Provide a range of goals, levels that are all valid goals appropriate for their stage of development. Talk about these goals, what they mean, how to meet them, where to go once they're met. Show them the proficiency babies, and remind them constantly of where they should be if they're keeping up (and Sra. Cottrell at Musicuentos.com tells me at least 80% of them should be able to keep up without problem, especially if you're over preparing as directed in step #2).

For some people, getting any Spanish out is fine, and it will always be better than a zero. For some people who have to have 100% at all times, they should have something that's a little, well, impressive to achieve in the time frame allotted.

Monitor assessment scrupulously.

Finally, give them an excuse not to cheat.

I do have reading and listening assessments online, but writing is on paper, and speaking is face to face.

Also, things like walking around, using tools like DyKnow to keep them honest, it shows you're paying attention. My own son is a living reminder that all students who trust us really need is a little proof that we see them in order to do what is right. Just walking by, making sure those tabs in the browser are the tabs they're supposed to have up, glancing briefly at everyone's screen and just generally taking account of their progress: it makes my teenagers AND my ten-year-old from getting too far from what they're supposed to be doing.

A quick caution, though: this does NOT work when your students assume you're out to get them. If they know you will pounce on that "gotcha" high, if they know that you're just checking boxes to cover your...self, that would NOT be scrupulous monitoring. And they WILL rebel: either because they feel compelled to spite you or because they don't feel the connection holding them to you, and they feel adrift.

16 February 2018

Strategies for Reading and Self-Improvement

I had a choice.

In theory my students have been working on one self-improvement goal since the snow days in January. In practice not so much. The cool thing is that they can totally express to me in Spanish "No he cambiado" perfectly clearly and explain how they need their goal, but they don't like it.

So. I could accept the scripts where students confessed to making zero improvement over the last month of the "Mejor Yo" unit, or I could keep pushing them to grow before sending them on to the recording phase for the public service announcement. I mean, the goal of the project IS to help other people who have the same habits they want to change, and I suppose knowing what doesn't work is not a BAD thing. But really they hadn't answered the question: How can I change one habit to improve my life?

Now I've been tuning into the PBLL training from NFLRC lately, and I got a really helpful tip for phrasing the Driving Questions that put this quandary into perspective for me. The recommended BIE format never quite did it for me, but Cherice Montgomery suggested this format:

  • Collaborate with...
  • to investigate...
  • and develop a...
So. We are collaborating with other Spanish students across the country to investigate strategies for self-improvement and develop a video to help teenagers make positive changes.

That means we have to keep investigating, right? Or else what we develop really won't help teenagers make positive changes!

So I started googling around (like ya do) and came across "10 increíbles apps para mejorar tus hábitos." Not only did it have 10 new ways my kids could try again to get on track with their goals, but it was using structures we had been practicing with, like perfect tense and, well, nosotros forms!

I decided to set the interpretation up in five phases:

  1. Highlight all of the words you understand. I want to A) emphasize what they DO know and B) literally, physically see where any unanticipated gaps might be. For this, I just gave them the two intro paragraphs.
  2. Make a list of 10 new words with your partner. I had them discuss they word that they had NOT highlighted, fill in some gaps for each other, and write up to 10 words they thought would be useful on little whiteboards.
  3. Chorally interpret the intro and respond. Basically I'd read a phrase at a time, have them say it in English (a la CI Liftoff), pause to repeat a whole sentence and say ¿Cierto o falso? with a thumbs up/thumbs down. Let me just say: there was a lot of nodding and agreement. Of course sometimes I suspected some playing-along nodding, so I'd add some follow-up questions for specific students here and there.
  4. Jot down new words to use. Students pasted down their highlighted paragraphs in their cuadernos, and on the blank page opposite, I had them write down 2-5 words they thought might come in handy revising their scripts or on the next Writing AAPPL Bite. During the choral interpretation/response, I filled in any gaps they weren't able to themselves, and I could see several of them wanted ALL the new vocabulary.
  5. Circuito--pass the app. I had split up all 10 app descriptions into little card sets to give to each group. Each group member took 2 cards and read over both, deciding which they liked better (either because they understood it better or they liked its features better). The one they liked less, they passed to their left, and they just kept going until they had seen all the apps. This took about 5 minutes all told, but I think in the future I would make them hold on and compare each pair for at least 60 seconds.
After all of this interpretation, we debriefed, and I told them I would postpone the video due date if they agreed to try out one of those apps for a week. Though there were some whines, most really did seem to like the idea. We did find out a few of those apps have since gone defunct (also, I don't know how I feel about them contacting an ACTUAL coach beyond the classroom with Coach.me), but we discussed as a class who wanted each app and why, so they were able to at least find something with  characteristics that appealed to them, ie hecho para mi telefono or puedo usar la app en mi computadora or me gustan las alarmas  or no me gustan las alarmas, pero necesito.

All in all, so far I'm glad I decided to keep pushing them to improve. I think there's some real potential for growth in their personal habits because of this extra step. However I have already seen some definite growth in their interpretation skills just today!

05 February 2018

#FlipgridFever! Language Connections

Did you know that Flipgrid has a place for you to find and share connections?? There are so many ways you can learn and share with other languages! So not only did I take it upon myself to post my Mejor Yo grid, I made sure Maris posted her more general Spanish grids for levels 1 and 2 as well!

And then I went hunting.

Basically I went through all 13 pages under Global Grid Connections looking for

  1. grids tagged as "Language" grids that
  2. were actually world languages and not language arts,
  3. had at least a couple of videos,
  4. did not require a password, and
  5. were geared toward intermediate and below 
(A girl's gotta draw the line on her obsessive grading distractions somewhere, and since I'm never teaching 4, 5, or AP, it seemed a reasonable place to start.)

So for your connection pleasure--and because I seriously think I could refresh my high school French and German poking around these grids, and maybe finally start to pick up some ASL--I have collected links to all of these novice/intermediate grids for ASL, German, French, and Spanish!

Some of these grids are some simple greeting practice grids, some are for specific vocabulary. Some respond to particular speaking prompts or even discuss movies like Bajo la misma luna!

Just think of all of the input and interpersonal scaffolding your kiddos could get by engaging with these grids!


ASL Introductions
Food vocabulary


Deutsch 1
Deutsch 2
Fortgeschrittenes Deutsch


Je me presente
De Pere Oueste/France
French 101
Francais 1 Monsieur Profitt
Francais III
Français à High Point

Español 2 - 1st hour

29 January 2018

AAPPL Writing Topics

I WANT that Seal of Biliteracy on my students' diplomas! But since our school schedules are set up in such a way that kids basically have to beg for even Spanish III to be squeezed in between college classes, a test is the only way to make that happen.

And I kind of like the AAPPL test anyway (in case that wasn't patently obvious).

The truth is that I haven't had to modify my approach to writing assessment a great deal from how I did IPA's in the past. Really, the main difference is including multiple topics, and perhaps a little extra attention to the level and context.

See, on the AAPPL test, teachers and students of Hindi, Italian, Japanese, and Thai get some pretty specific topics to prepare for on the upcoming test:
NOVICE: Write about your day, what makes you happy, and send an email organizing a car wash for your club. 
INTERMEDIATE: Compose an invitation to a surprise party, give advice, and write some questions to a friend traveling abroad. 
ADVANCED: Write about a song you like, your favorite day of the year, and write a letter of recommendation for one of your teachers.
I'm not saying I want to practice organizing a car wash, but, you know, I know exactly what I could do to get kiddos ready for that sort of thing...even if I probably wouldn't do it anyway.

Here are the 2018 writing topics for us Arabic, Chinese-Mandarin, English, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish teachers (Grades 7 and up):
NOVICE:  • About you • Describing people • Your community and you 
INTERMEDIATE: • School • Seeking information • Favorite subjects 
ADVANCED: Vacations • An application process • Social media and you
Those topics could go a whole lot of different ways with a whole lot of different audiences and contexts--and they have!

The AAPPL demo includes prompts like...

  • Emailing an exchange student: 
    • "Please write down four things to do here or places where someone might like to go."
    • "Please write about four friends here at school. Write their names and say why you are friends with each one of them. Write at least two sentences about each one."
    • "Please write about four activities that keep you and your friends physically fit. Write about what the activity is and why you like it (or if you don't like it)."
    • "Write down at least four good questions that will help us get to know someone. Try to ask for more than basic facts."
  • Building a wiki for English Language Learners:
    • "Follow the outline" - Explain a shopping mall including layout and a personal experience
    • "Follow the outline" - Describe your favorite club, how its schedule of activities is organized, and a specific experience as a member.
(Side note: the "follow the outline" thing is new to me. I will have to add that in future topics!)

Because I know they're not going to just smack one of those noun phrases on the top of the test section and set kids loose, I try to set up a variety of relevant situations that connect not only to AAPPL's designated topics, but also our current projects  In my practice AAPPL assessments. So here are the prompts that I have used so far this school year.

I like to think they are all pretty open, and both novices and intermediates could find something to say on these topics. I tried to connect at least one of the recommended novice or intermediate topics with each, but some are a little loose in their application, but there's a lot of overlap too.

Maybe you can adopt or adapt some of these prompts for your current students or units, maybe even an IPA!


  1. Write a letter to a potential host family in Peru about what foods you do and do not want to eat if/when you go to their house with Sister Cities. (About you)
  2. Write out a plan of what you want to do with visitors from Sister Cities for a whole day in Gaston County.  (Your community)
  3. Write an email to your Peru project group member(s) about what you want to investigate and what other information your group needs. (Seeking information)
  4. Write an email to a friend in Peru about simple everyday problems that you have at school and at home. Find out if they have the same problems where they are. (School)
  5. Create an announcement for Global Giving, an organization seeking donations to help with recent natural disasters in Mexico or Puerto Rico. Describe the problems that citizens are experiencing. (Subjects)
  6. Create an advertisement for your favorite invention--real or imagined. What does it do? What do you like about it? (Subjects)
  7. Write a cover letter for a job that you want to apply for: describe your abilities and how they are important for the responsibilities of the job. (Describing people)
  8. Write the instructions for a familiar product, including what you should and should not do in order to care for the product and best use it. (Subjects)
  9. Write a step-by-step plan for how your group can attract more clients--especially Latino clients--to invest in your company and to buy your product. (Subjects)
  10. Write a letter to  a student in next year’s Spanish I class about what they are going to learn and do as well as what they should (and should not) do to have the best possible experience. (School/Subjects)
  11. Create a contract for people who want to work in a project group with you. Explain what you can do for the group and ask about responsibilities and abilities they need to demonstrate if they want to be in a group with you. (Describing people)
  12. Write the script for a commercial for a restaurant that makes and sells strange foods. Explain the ingredients they use and what makes the food special.
  13. A friend is looking for some help keeping her resolutions this year. Write to her to find out more about her goals and also to give her some advice on how to achieve them based on your personal experience and/or research. (Seeking information)
  14. A new reality show about pets, Mascota Especial, is looking for unique pets to feature in their program. Write to the show to explain why your pet (or someone else’s) should be on the show. What can this pet do? What makes this pet special? (Describing people)
  15. The local animal shelter is looking for volunteers to help with a fundraiser to benefit local cats and dogs in need of adoption. Write an announcement that could be used in flyers to attract more participants to help. (Your community)
  16. Your friend in Peru is considering getting a pet. Write down your advice and personal experiences with animals to help her decide whether or not she should get a pet and what kind. (Describing people)

16 January 2018

Everybody On Board - Teacher Proficiency Paths

I asked Meredith Clark if her session was really for people like me. I'm not from a very large district, and I'm only an "LOTE leader" there because they're no longer paying anyone to fill any such role officially. But I really want to get my colleagues on board with proficiency-centered teaching. And I don't feel like anything I've tried in my unpaid capacity is changing anything. So I stayed.

It was the session that made my ACTFL, y'all.

I feel like I've spent the last several years spinning my wheels. When it looked like we were going to make some progress and actually overhaul our outdated district pacing guide for one brief shining moment, suddenly there was new management, and it was all out the window. The colleagues who helped out with the previously-authorized overhauling were discouraged from deviating. I mean, it probably wasn't "Square One," but it didn't feel like we would ever actually be allowed to get all the way to Square Two. And while my amigos agreed that proficiency-based instruction made a lot of sense, it was still pretty much out of reach.

The district let me put on some "Best Practices" PD and do some training with middle school Spanish teachers, and it felt like we might be making some inroads. But by November there were only about six people showing up, and by December, there were three of us.

But fortunately, I have the path from Dr. Clark and Dr. Anderton to get me back on track, moving--and pushing my friends--forward.

But before we get to the path, I'd like to take a look at what Drs. Clark and Anderton were pushing their teachers toward in the Dallas ISD, a set of goals they put together with the acronym "SPEAK UP":

Now these are some goals I can get behind! I might even be able to get my colleagues behind most of them, and from there maybe even administration. (I'm thinking we might have to start with simply "SPEAK," though.) Our fearless session leaders told us

In their roles as actual official district specialists, of course, Clark and Anderton were able to sort of...enforce this philosophy. But this revelation to start with getting everyone on the same page PHILOSOPHICALLY, with specific tenets that everyone could agree to (or, well, leave) gave me a new place to start, a new fulcrum for propelling the change that we could all agree was needed.

But then they laid the Path on me.

The "Educator Path to Proficiency-Centered Teaching" Dr. Clark put together based on the Shelby County Schools "Path to Proficiency":


In much the way I had started language teaching the way I learned it, I had been so wrapped up trying to replicate the conversion I'd experienced (minus the missteps) that I failed to see the logical progression needed for a more solid, collaborative evolution. I was treating transitioning from what we knew to what we wanted as an on-off switch, KNOWING full well it wasn't that easy for me either! I mean, I tried to skip all of the messy mess-ups I'd been blogging about for years and basically tried to get my amigos to just DO IT, just SWITCH. And then I got frustrated when it seemed like they just wouldn't.

Hm...this sounds like...another situation I've faced. Something where someone wouldn't just do what I said because I said to? Some time when I couldn't just take what I knew and transplant it into someone else's head....Oh when was that?


I know, I know, I know in my brain that teaching teachers is logically like teaching teenagers. If they don't have the background experience, the new thing is not going to make any more sense to them than that other new thing did to third period. Of COURSE teachers need models and context. Of COURSE there is a continuum to Getting It for a new method or paradigm.

And this path makes so much sense.

So for all of my andragogy training and techniques, I'm still not going to "succeed" until I provide something a profiency (or PBL) newbie can copy. I'm not going to have amigos on board the Good Ship Proficiency until I can offer them a template that they can actually use on a daily basis. They can't just skip to Intermediate Mid--any more than my students can or, to be perfectly honest, any more than I could.

13 January 2018

Music, Maestro! Student song of the week

I don't feel like keeping up with coros or listening practice this year, but I do want to keep the weekly infusion of energy from learning a new song. What's more, I want to tap into the message from the recent AATSPSC keynote and give kids a little more control, a little more ownership and leadership practice by having THEM present the song THEY liked instead of just running through my favorites for the year.

But where to begin?

Well when I don't know where to start, I start with Twitter, so I put the question to #langchat on Twitter. Of course I got some EXCELLENT suggestions:

One of my SC amigas who was at the same conference had a helpful caveat too:

So I took my PLN suggestions and narrowed down exactly what I wanted for every song to

  1. Chorus lyrics - presenters recite line by line and class repeats
  2. Relevant images - either from the video or to capture the message (or both)
  3. Main idea explanation - with supporting details, IN Spanish (since mine are level 2)
  4. Vocabulary - 5 words in Spanish and English: something unfamiliar but useful
  5. Choral reading - a la CI Liftoff, wherein they have a leader, but recite in English
  6. Activity time - for later in the week to review and demonstrate understanding, in the style of last year's Instagram challenges

Then I made a Google Slides template (free on TPT!) and an example with "El mismo sol," a song they heard Spanish 2 perform last year at our school festival:

We even did a practice Snap Story on Seesaw!

I made a Google Form from my 2017 and 2018 playlists to give students options, then had them listen to four songs (two from each playlist) that they liked. I did include an "other" slot as well, though Spanglish songs from Coco were a no-go, and my kids who went to Peru with me came back with a Bad Bunny obsession that could get me fired (I did let one kid do a throwback to "Tortura" though--talk about oldies!) Each student then ranked their top three.

I then went through the resulting spreadsheet and started color coding kids to match them up. I wanted to make sure everyone got at least one of their top 3, but that I had no more than 2 people doing the same song. Interesting note: with all of the weather delays and early dismissals, one class had to do their picking mostly on their own, and I got a lot more diversity in the requests from that group...whatever that means. They're a slightly smaller class, so I guess it's not too strange that they ended up with more singletons. Still, I'm not sure what this means for future surveys...

So I shared the groups with everyone (I did let a couple of singletons join forces, and I basically voluntold the one kid who didn't do his form he was doing my new favorite Friday song "Libre") and shared a Google Doc with all of our Monday dates on Classroom for them to edit and choose when they would present, pointing out they'd have to turn in their presentations the Thursday before to iron out any issues.

Then, maybe because I'm a glutton for punishment, maybe because I insist on eliminating excuses, I went through the completed signup list and made a separate assignment on Classroom for every. single. song. I assigned it each only to the one or two kids presenting, made it due the Thursday before they said they'd present. Honestly it only took me about 15-20 minutes tops for each class because it was mostly copy and paste, so it wasn't overly grueling.

Of course we don't have class this Monday, but I'm looking forward to what the first presenters come up with for "Internacionales" and "Corazón"!

09 January 2018

Flipgrid for Self-Improvement

My dream is coming true! I cannot TELL you how pumped I was to see this post on the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook group about joining my self-improvement project--which I presented at ACTFL and we are kicking off TOMORROW!

After I quit squealing (internally, of course), my mind started racing through ways we could set this up. Lining up time slots would be too tricky, so asynchronous would have to be the way to go. Should we try a shared blog or Seesaw class? Would we need a padlet board with notes and/or videos?

But then it hit me: FLIPGRID.

How cool would it be to have a grid where students across the country could post on their progress and get feedback and support from peers all around the country?? We could have a topic for each type of goal, and our kids could post weekly updates and ideas, and who doesn't love getting that little rush from a response on social media? PLUS watching each other's videos is a fun, super-relevant way to sneak in a a little more input and authentic motivation from beyond the classroom walls!

Now I'm thinking that some teen-types might feel a little intimidated by the whole my-face-on-someone-else's-screen thing, never mind the using-my-second-language-with-complete-strangers. Honestly the face thing is what kept me from coming down with #flipgridfever sooner than I did. But it turns out they can upload pre-made videos, so why not combine it with Adobe Spark??

I envision this not so much as interpersonal practice, but sort of a scaffolded interpersonal practice that resembles presentational in the preparation, but helps get students confident enough to speak spontaneously down the road, a la small group presentations. I figure these will be scripted or at least semi-scripted anyway.

I'm thinking posts for my kids will need to cover at least these 3 topics.

  1. Progress update
  2. Goals for the coming week
  3. Requests for suggestions
Kiddos from anywhere else could follow the same format OR maybe just respond to other kiddos' requests and goals. Heck, if someone has some kids who could maybe understand my Spanish 2's (or my new amigos in Wisconsin and possibly Iowa and MOROCCO!!--so far) but only say, "¡Buen trabajo! Me gusta tu meta/idea/progreso/pregunta," how motivating would that be for the kids trying to make a change in their lives?  And maybe even some really kindly teachers could post some follow-up questions for them! (Hint, hint, kindly teachers!)

So the Flipgrid and the topics are made, and they are just waiting for some brave souls seeking a "mejor yo" to upload their goals and progress.

I'll go first if that makes you feel better!

04 January 2018

Mascota Especial

I've failed at Persona Especial. I can think of nothing more admirable and relevant and beneficial than making your students your curriculum. But as I have failed at becoming Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell in the past, I have failed at becoming Bryce Hedstrom. I run out of patience and so do the kids, and I just don't have the intellectual fortitude to keep hammering at it until it works. I just don't think I work like that.


I might have the fortitude to keep it up with pets, mostly because there's more novelty and variety to pets. I LOVED the Persona Especial for pets that Nissa Quill from the CI Liftoff Facebook group tried and vowed to make it mine. So that's how we're starting the semester today: with my cat Cleo.

Thus Cleo is our first mascota especial because, I mean, look at her. Also, my kids are going to care way more about her than they do about me, or, frankly each other.

What's more, I think she can build confidence. I mean look at her. Well, her description. I can CI about Cleo all over the place (although it is a little difficult to express comprehensibly that she likes to be held--but not carried--and that she will claw you mercilessly if you try to administer medicine). The point is that a lot of these Spanish Twobies have been making a lot of noise in the off-season (read: nearly 400 days without a Spanish class) about how they remember nothing and weren't about to do homework for a class they're not even in. Reading about Cleo, though, I think even the most vocally clueless will HAVE to admit they remember SOMETHING.

My plan is (after some review PUEDOS) to
  1. Picture talk Cleo: with an unlabeled photo, tell/ask them about basically everything I have in the description, perhaps with flourishes about her TV habits.
  2. Read aloud then chorally interpret the description a la Tina.
  3. Have students actually COUNT how many words they understood (out of 53, not including names).
  4. Make notes on the board of the verbs they understood/need to understand.
  5. Discuss strategies used to figure out unfamiliar words like sonido or cama (we didn't do the house unit in 1: sue me.)
  6. Assign the Seesaw activity.

PS if you haven't tried Seesaw activities, they're super cool. Previously I would just make a template that students would have to hunt down then copy and edit (see: memes). That got tricky when the template got lost in the stream of copy/edited submissions, and I would just have to copy and edit myself to create a newer one for fourth period, for example. 

You can see that I have both Spanish 2 classes in one Seesaw class, and I like it this way. I made a folder where all of these submissions will go, and I also added 2 skills (a neat feature of pro): Novice and Intermediate Writing. This will let me get a preliminary read on where they are without grading them!

Now, I'm pretty sure that most of this class is pretty pet crazy. I'm especially looking forward to seeing Chickoletta one Twobie's Paw Patrol inspired chicken who participated in her Public Speaking video on "How to Prepare a Chicken for Dinner."

However, if someone A) does not have a pet or B) does not have a picture of said pet readily available, they will have the option of using someone else's pet, whether its the pet of a classmate with multiple pets or, say, a celebrity pet. I made an example to demonstrate:

To be perfectly honest, I don't actually know whether that's Clyde or Bonnie. But they do totally have an Instagram account, whence I derived the photo.

I figure they can have about 20 minutes to find the right picture, compose (preferably in another Doc because those Seesaw labels are wonky as heck), and format. Those who get done early can start browsing my playlists to pick their song for the semester, maybe one by Clyde's human.

01 January 2018

10 Songs for Spanish Class for 2018

Music is the magic bullet for all language learning. Whether it's my daughter's endless loop of counting and color and Christmas songs from her bilingual kindergarten classes or Sr. Wooly songs that end up in student presentations about the music that best represents them ("Puedo ir al baño"--not even kidding), the earworm always wins. I mean, Maná was better than my professors in college.

But for me and my classes, it has got to be the pop songs. I don't feel right recycling them year after year, though. I mean, I will still play on their musical memory with a non-icebreaker version of "Hasta el amanecer," but  I feel like I owe it to my students to find something fresh to tantalize them, to start the year off right, and to give them something to look forward to. 

Now I got away from the Instagram challenges of last year's songs, and I'm actually thinking about reviving some form of coros or coro roulette, maybe even some little listening drills, to build in a little more routine and maybe settle in after Puedos or even a kind of brain break.

Either way, I knew I had to have something new and rocking--and easy to get stuck in their heads! I only had a few NEW hits this year, so of course I hit Sra. Birch's Pinterest board *coughwhenIwassupposedtobegradingcough*

And I think next year's Spanish classes are in for a treat--10 treats, really!

~Top 10 for 2018~

"Libre" by Olvidate

Porque soy libre y hago lo que quiera.

Vivo la vida a mi manera.

Porque soy libre y hago lo que quiera.

Vivo la vida a mi manera.

Porque soy libre, porque soy libre.

Can I just say, this one checks SO many boxes. We've got a woman singer, a little cumbia, a super simple and catchy chorus, perfect non-love-song Friday feelings, AND it's from URUGUAY! Who knew, right? It's super comprehensible overall, but my plan is to get the chorus stuck in their heads and maybe discuss why a summer video like this came out in December.

"Toc Toc" by Macaco

Toc Toc, abre la puerta. 
Toc Toc, saca tu loco a pasear .
Abrelala Abrelalala.
Toc Toc, abre la puerta.
Toc Toc, saca tu loco a pasear.
Abrelala Abrelalala.

I really want to see the movie this is from (though some reviewers think it mocks the disorders it depicts), but it looks like it just came out a couple months ago in Spain. Still, it might help with some of the blank looks I get when I want to stay in the TL and need someone to handle the classroom door situation...

"Corazón" by Maluma (with Nego de Borel)

Tú me partiste el corazón, 

Pero mi amor no hay problema, no no. 

Ahora puedo regalar .
Un pedacito a cada nena, solo un pedacito.

First of all, I'm a little geeked out that there is some Portuguese in this song--and I understood it! Also, it's nice to find a Maluma song and video that won't get me fired. Who doesn't love a little clean Colombian reggaeton? Also, this could potentially lead to some interesting gender role/relationship discussions with the right comprehensible questions.

"Internacionales" by Bomba Estéreo
Yo soy un colombiano, yo soy americano
Yo soy un ciudadano del mundo
Yo soy un mexicano, yo soy dominicano
De la misma raza, el mismo color
¡Baila, baila! Qué para bailar no necesitas lengua
¡Baila, baila! Vamos a bailar en la misma fiesta

I mean, how can you deny the group behind "Soy yo," right? Also, again, what a fun message and video! Plus the repetitive, high-frequency vocabulary and nationalities with an infectious beat? I could see maybe imitating the green screen skater with a project if it takes off with this group. It went over reasonably well with this year's group, though not obsession level, I'll admit.

"Sólo amigos" by Adexe & Nau

Ella no comprende que yo solamente 

quiero ser su amigo y luego se enfada conmigo 

ella no comprende que yo solamente 
quiero ser su amigo y parecemos enemigos

 So how's this for a switcheroo? These sweet boys are "friend zoning" girls instead of the other way around. Again: RIPE for gender role/relationship discussion. Talk about your cultural practices and perspectives! Even their ages could make for important conversation. Also interesting to note their unusual names and that they're from las Islas Canarias.

"Tenemos historia" by Raquel Sofía

Y ahora me dices tú
Y yo te pregunto que cómo vas
Así nos fuimos de amigos a amantes
A seres distantes y nada más.
Y ahora me dices tú
Yo ya no puedo mirarte igual.
Así nos fuimos de amigos de amantes
A seres distantes y nada y nada y nada más.

Something a little slower, with a little plural past tense--but still plenty of cognates. I think object pronouns are going to be key in moving kiddos up the intermediate scale in the semester to come, and I think there are some constructions here that could help. Also, since "Agridulce," I have been absolutely unable to resist Raquel Sofía!

"Hey DJ" by CNCO

Hey DJ, póngale la música que le gusta
Una para que se mueva y se luzca
Y baile conmigo, sólo conmigo, ¡hey!

This was the runaway hit of Spanish I this past semester. I made a last-minute switch to make this our official call-and-response jam for the fall instead of "Animal" and didn't look back. I mean, we DID "Animal," but I think especially for level 2 it's worth having slightly higher frequency vocabulary and more relevant responses to my calls than "ooo-O". Also, I definitely got a few kiddos hooked on CNCO, so bonus!

"Tu foto" by Ozuna

Tengo tu foto para volverme loco
Pensando en ti, solamente en ti, 
Mi corazón roto.

CAUTION!!! This is the third song on the list that I've actually test driven in class and I LITERALLY had to let half the class go to the bathroom to clean themselves up each time. I did a story talk with the video--very successful from a CI standpoint--but OH MY GOD THE TEARS. I seriously only watch this when I'm ready for a good cry. It doesn't help that the little boy looks a LOT like my son. BUT, if you prep the class enough with some meaningful conversation and follow up with some serious emotional processing. These are not sexual situations, but they are VERY adult.

"100 años" by HA-ASH 

(with Prince Royce)

Yo quiero estar 100 años contigo 

Contigo la vida es mejor .
Yo quiero estar 100 años contigo 
Bailando la misma canción.
Bien pegaditos, 100 años contigo 
A tu lado el tiempo no depende del reloj. 
100 años contigo, lo medimos tú y yo 
100 años contigo.

A little more girl power, plus something a little more upbeat but still slow. Also, who can resist Prince Royce? Grammatically it could potentially help with those tricky auxiliary verb and infinitive combinations, perhaps PACE style.

"Casi humanos" by DVICIO

Y no hay remedio para esta enfermedad
Pero yo sé que tú te sientes igual.
Decir <<te amo>> no es nada original
Pero a tu lado, es mejor.

I feel like my list is a little Spain-heavy this year, but honestly, how can you deny Andrés? Also my kiddos this fall kept asking if this was the Spanish version of "Man in the Mirror" (WHAT??) Anyway, they enjoyed it musically, and how the video was made is super cool, could make a good movie talk too, right? I plan to stick to just the second half of the chorus for this one, though.

So those are my picks to play on repeat going into 2018. Did I miss anything (without Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee trying to get me fired)?