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)
  17. Describe four of your teachers for the incoming freshmen who understand Spanish. Write their names and explain what you do in their classes. Write at least two sentences about each of them.(Describing people)
  18. Write a review of a local restaurant an online guide for Spanish-speaking visitors to our community, including what you liked/didn’t like about the food and experience. If you can, add a story about a time you remember when you were there with friends and/or family. (Your community)
  19. Write about four clubs that are available at our school and the activities students do in each. Write about each activity and why you like it (or if you don’t like it). Include four good questions to help the incoming freshmen decide which club they should join. (School)
  20. Write a college application essay to your dream program at your dream school. Explain why you are a good candidate for their school and their program. (Subjects)
UPDATE 5/25/18 - Outline prompts

You have been asked by the local Hispanic newspaper to write a piece for Teacher Appreciation Week about your best class ever. Follow the outline:
I. Explain activities and events that made the class special for you.
II. Describe the teacher’s personality and habits.
III. Write about your favorite memory from that class.

Several of the incoming freshmen for GECHS have parents who understand Spanish better than English. Write a welcome letter to the parents of these new students to help them understand what to expect. Follow the outline:
I. Explain the classes their students take the first year.
II. Describe in detail your favorite class from your first year and explain the projects and activities from that class.
III. Write about one specific experience from your first year. Be sure to tell the whole story and why you remember that experience so well.

You have been asked to help promote an upcoming adoption drive from the Parks & Rec pet shelter through social media. Write an Instagram post that you would include with a picture of a dog or cat that is up for adoption there in order to inspire people to adopt. Follow the outline:
I. Describe what makes the dog or cat a good pet.
II. Explain how easy it is to adopt a pet..
III. Write about one specific experience you or someone you know has had with an adopted animal.

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)?