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