Easing into Technology Integration

My district is working its way to 1:1 technology integration district wide.  We call it TEConnect.  Instead of rolling it out all at once, they determined it would be best to have a few cohorts work this model into their classroom and year by year they’ll add more 1:1 classrooms.  As a TEConnect educator this means that I have an iPad for each of my students (a set of 28).  I wouldn’t consider myself “tech proficient,” but rather “tech curious.”  As in, “Hmmmm, what does this button do?  Oops, where’s the “un-do button?!”  As a result, my students know the following phrase and take ease in hearing it,  “Tranquilo, no pasa nada.  No. Pasa. Nada.”

I feel as though I owe it to my students to use technology in the classroom as an enhancement tool to better prepare them for their future.  These are some things that I have discovered over the past few years of technology integration:

The beginning is rough.

As in, I need a triple latte and three brownies to cope with the chaos.  I underestimated all the little things, like having students sign in and REMEMBER their password.  (Sometimes I think my classroom is like that pen in Men In Black, as soon as my students step through my threshold their minds are erased).   I underestimate how much time it takes to get things organized, how they don’t really know how to troubleshoot things and how things look different on my teacher end vs. what the students see.*  The solution to all of these problems is to expect the worse case scenario and hope for the best.  You will have hiccups, but the integration is for the greater good and education of your students.  Each year when we start out, I hold “student professional development” trainings.  Students don’t know what they don’t know and it is our job to equip them with the tools needed for their success (in and out of the classroom).

Is the technology necessary?

Are you using it just to use it?  We hear so much about a “flipped classroom” but flipping your classroom doesn’t mean scanning a worksheet and uploading it to Google Classroom.  Whenever I am lesson planning, I hear Greg Duncan saying, “If they can do it with pen and paper, why are you using tech?”  Therefore, we predominately use our iPads for student creation.  By this I mean: recording interpersonal samples, researching, looking up words on wordreference.com, creating presentations.  Basically, the iPads are the students’ mode to present and demonstrate what they know and are able to do.  My school district is a GAFE (Google Applications For Education) and therefore all of my students have a Google account linked to their own Drive.  We are creating a digital portfolio that they will take with them throughout their entire language education.

Google Classroom is the most amazing thing ever!

I am in no way being paid by them to say that either!  It is awesome!  However, what I see on my teacher end is a little different than what my students see.  I suggest that you butter up your tech people and have them make you a “dummy” student account.  With this, you will be able to highlight your expectations and show your students EXACTLY what you mean.  I have AirPlay and am able to broadcast it from my teacher iPad (when the internet is working, when the stars align, when there is a rabbit in the middle of the highway and when it isn’t a leap year).  If you are on the fence about Classroom, watch this: Previewing a new Classroom by Google

Have a back-up plan.

And then have a back-up plan for that back-up plan.  In my classroom I have established a culture of respect and collaboration.  My students understand that sometimes technology doesn’t work out the way we intended (and sometimes it is the absolute opposite and projects turn out WAY better than I could have ever imagined!).  That is life and we have to roll with it.  It is easy to get discouraged, but if you have a positive attitude, your students will follow suit.  I also find that if I have no clue how to handle a tech question, I ask my students.  They then feel empowered and I pretend like it was part of the plan all along. #winning

Tutorials are your friend.

I use the Screencastify add-on via Google Chrome.  I am able to record tutorials on my desktop and then it saves to my Google Drive.  I share it with my students via Google Classroom.  I’ve also used it to teach some tech tricks to my colleagues.  This is very useful for those students who are gone and come in at the beginning of class wondering if you did anything important.  You can direct them to the link (in Google Classroom) and that saves that conversation from happening.  If you’d like to see a tutorial video on this, contact me and I can share it with you.

Never stop evolving.

I understand it is easy to become discouraged and give up.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Know that your technology integration is valuable and it is vital for your students.  Start little with the SAMR model.  Then broaden out.  (More about the SAMR model: The SAMR Model).  You wouldn’t eat an entire pan of brownies in one sitting, would you?  No, you start out with one brownie at a time.  Same concept applies to technology.  Start with maybe one class, then add little by little.  Rome was not built in a day.  Remember, you are rocking it!

So, how are you successfully integrating technology into your classroom?

Grammar and the Airport

Here is the continuing saga of the travel unit…as promised.

Would you like to jump into my classroom experience for a moment? “Sra. Rhodes, I’ve never even been to an airport…how am I supposed to know what happens there?”  So….The students have to learn all the different places in the airport, the people they need to talk to, and also the process of going through security, finding their gate, and eventually going through customs and immigration on the other side of their pretend international journy…but they’ve never been to an airport. Ever.

This one took some thought the first time because I can show them all the target language videos in the world taking place parts of an airport, or one of those comedies where a family runs hysterically through the airport, but short of some lovely Spanish-speaking person wearing a Go-Pro narrating their experience through an airport for me, we’re not really getting the essence of the airport experience.  (Please email me if you find the Spanish Go-Pro airport video…that is some #authres I seriously need in my life.)  My solution?  My crazy life.   I tell them a story about my trip last summer to Canada using the slides from my word wall.  My parents live in Canada, which they know, so that lends credibility to the story, despite it being completely made up.  They somehow believe that if I tell them a story about me that it is absolutely true.  I’m not sure why.

As I tell them the process of how I drove to the airport, parked my car, talked to the ticket agent, checked my bags, received my boarding pass, waited in line, passed through security, etc. I show them a picture that represents that part of the story.  I put each picture up on the board as I talk, but all over the board, not in order.  The story ends when I leave the airport, having arrived in my destination city.  Not too complicated, but it did require listening and connecting images with my words.  As their first practice, I have them try to order the pictures as a whole class based on what I said.  There is lots of “No, no…she said she bought a coffee BEFORE she got on the plane” and “first you take off, then you land” and other types of corrections.  They’re correcting each other in English, but here as in the Art Quest example, if they CAN correct each other, it means they understood.  Students who did not understand are typically quiet.

IMG_3674Here’s the amazing part, and the real key for me:  I told them a story in the past tense. Every sentence was “I walked. I talked.  I waited.”  They understood my story.  I haven’t taught them the preterit tense at all yet, but not one kid freaked out.  They got the meaning from the words and the visuals and the setup which was “Mi viaje el verano pasado…” (My trip last summer…)  So, when I saw that they were understanding my words and getting the meaning, I pushed it one step further and wrote out a story for them to read.


This time we went to Bogota.  No idea why.  I numbered each sentence and had them draw out the story like a comic strip, 1 sentence per box, including every detail somehow.  Once they had it drawn, which shows me their comprehension of the overall text, we started to do an analysis in the target language!  I had them underline every word they thought to be a verb based on the structure of the sentence, and my brave volunteers went and circled those verbs on the board.

IMG_3675Then they wrote all the verbs in a column, and at that point, I switched into English to ask them what they saw.  They told me that each verb ended in “e with an accent” or “i with an accent”. Then I asked them which infinitive verb they thought each one came from.  They got them all right because of the context and the stems.  Because I was intentional about including –AR, -ER, and –IR verbs in my story, they were able to see which types of verbs had which endings.

I asked them to talk in their group about what they had figured out and to come up with a rule about verbs.  They came up with “in the past tense, when the subject is ‘yo’, -AR verbs end in “e with an accent”, and –ER and –IR verbs end in ‘i with an accent”.  I may have jumped up and down… We also looked at a few examples in the story that were weird or problematic and addressed those changes as well.

While I know that it doesn’t cover every form, or most irregulars, or really weird irregulars, it does give them a baseline to understand the tense.  The process took less than 10 minutes, and they got it from listening, reading and then thinking about it.  How cool is that?!  You may have noticed they were just writing their notes on a blank paper.  At that point I had not made a cute guided notes page because I wasn’t sure this was going to actually work.  I have attached the pretty version of the notes sheet for you lovely people, that I made AFTER the activity worked so well.  I hope it works for you as well.  Have fun!

En el aeropuerto Read-Draw

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Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Fe_(Bogotá)


A Department Divided

There you are in a professional development session on proficiency. The light bulb goes off! “Why have I not been doing this all along?” you think to yourself. You find yourself looking for more information to help you make the shift to a proficiency-based practice. You find yourself reading blogs, participating religiously in Langchat, surfing the web for more information. Excitedly you begin to share your thoughts with department members and well their response is mixed at best. Disappointed you find yourself rethinking your perspective completely however it felt so right… No doubt this is a tough situation, but know you are not alone!

We are all at different points along our journey of growth so it should not be surprising that everyone in your department may not jump on board immediately with the zeal that you experienced. Before becoming completely crestfallen, carefully review the situation. Is everyone against making a change? If not, who can you partner with to move forward? Can you make alterations in one level? Or just your own class? While it may not be a complete buy in, lasting changes many times start with small steps! Focus on the small alterations you can make that will help move in the desired direction. Also in situations such as these I would encourage you, as I have several of my own teachers, to focus on the parts of the situation you can control. You CAN control what goes on in your classroom, you CAN share without expectations and you CAN control your perspective and how you ask for support.  Hone your focus so you can continue to grow. Focus on your practice, focus on feedback on your practice, and focus on sharing without expectation.

We spend eight hours a day (ha ha… I know 10-12 hours a day is more realistic) at school. This is more time realistically than we spend with our own family. It is natural that we form tight relationships with many of our colleagues and many departments function like a family. Naturally, when we learn a new and exciting perspective that we believe can help our students and our colleagues practice – we share! Whether people want to hear what we want to share or not they hear about it! You have this energy that you have to share before you explode! While it may be in our best interest to share, it may not be in others best interests. Remember we are all at different landmarks of our professional journey. Honestly, like with students, we also don’t always know what the other person is experiencing or their frame of mind so it is not inconceivable that it could be the worst time for a colleague to engage in this exciting information. Do you share? Absolutely, but you share with no expectations. Focus on your practice. Share what you are learning and experiencing trying to improve your practice. Focus on your students and their performance. Sometimes colleagues need to see  change in action because they cannot visualize it in their mind. How will your students’ performance change because of your instructional shifts? What modifictions are you making? Are they major changes or are you tweaking your practice little by little toward the practice that is in your students best interest? Ultimately all you can control in your classroom is you and your actions. Focus on becoming the best teacher you can be for your students. It’s ok to be the odd one who does things differently if it is in your students’ best interest.

Once you begin modifying your practice, the next thing you need is feedback on the changes you are making. Feedback comes in many forms. Your reflections over the shifts in practice is one form of feedback you can use. It is important to reflect in a way that is natural and comfortable for you so that it becomes a habit. Whether you are making notes after each class in a journal or writing on a lesson plan at the end of school or during your planning period. Your thoughts over what is happening and what works or doesn’t are critical to making the shift happen and stick. Another form of feedback you can use is from your students. Our students are honest, sometimes brutally honest. Nonetheless students are our consumers or end users and they matter the most! Ask them for anonymous feedback, even if they want to put their names on it do not allow them. This keeps feedback honest and often more transparent.  You can use surveys, or ask a question at the end of every quarter to even including questions on exit slips or classwork that eliScreenshot-2014-06-10-21.58.13-180x226cit student feedback. One of my favorite forms of feedback is from colleagues! Yes, you can ask colleagues who are supportive and onboard with your instructional modifications to give you feedback. Do not discount those who are not immediately on board with your changes. The TELL Project offers a variety of focused feedback forms that can allow you to engage your colleagues in helping you improve. Focusing on providing you feedback on your practice will engage these (perhaps resistant) colleagues in observing the shifts in your practice and the results. It is also evidence that change doesn’t happen overnight and you don’t throw everything away and start over. Think of the modifications you make to your instruction like a gourmet chef in training. A gourmet chef does not awake one morning cooking everything perfectly. They learn one technique or one dish and perfect it before adding to their repertoire. Teaching is no different. Focusing on your practice and small shifts then asking for colleagues’ support of your desire to be a better teacher for your students. Change has to start somewhere, and you are the courageous one who will start the ball rolling.

Finally SHARE! I believe that every teacher wants to be the best, most effective teacher they can be for their current students. Perhaps the fear of failing them is preventing some members of your department from making changes. Working together to plan modifications and share materials can help make the process less burdensome for others. I like to think about paying it forward. We have all been the recipients of kindness from more experienced educators along our journey. Whether what was shared was good bad or indifferent matters not. What matters is that someone cared enough to try to help. A colleague shares their new favorite worksheet, how thoughtful. It may not be your style and you may never use it but it creates the opportunity to share from your repertoire. Sharing our successes are equally important.  Have data from your latest performance assessment or AAPPL/STAMP assessments? Let’s look at them as a department. Have a student sample that you need second opinion on, as a colleague to listen and help you analyze the clip. Sharing your practice does make you vulnerable which creates the potential for things to go awry. Should that happen, pick yourself up, dust your self off and choose kindness. Use it as an opportunity to fail forward- to learn and grow. Your students will be better because of your efforts and that is why we teach and seek to grow as professional educators – Our Students.

I wish that I could promise that these ideas would guarantee a smooth transition and unification of your department. They may not. You, however, will grow and your students will reap the benefits. Your students will become more aware of what they need to be successful language learners and carry that knowledge forward. On the other hand, they may be just what you needed to make the shift department wide. The only way we know is to try. The best part about this journey is that we cannot fail as long as we focus on growth: personally, for our students and for our colleagues/departments.

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Image credit: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3523709


On their own path this week (01/30/16)

I keep getting the same question: how do you make time to read all these blogs? Well, here is the secret I don’t read all of them all the time. Thanks to great apps like Feedbin however, I can check in on these blogs  when I have a free moment: in the TSA line at the airport, the car-pick up line at my daughter’s school, the sixty minutes of peace and quiet when everyone else sleeping in on Sunday morning. Once again, I found a couple of interesting posts that I thought were worth sharing:

  • Proficiency Descriptors Not Numbers – Students React To The Change

    For the past couple of week’s I’ve shared Japanese teacher’s Colleen Hayes posts on formative assessment. While it’s great to follow along with her and read and I couldn’t have been more excited when she brought her students’ voices out this week. As educators we like sometimes forget that every action we take makes the learners in our classes feel something. Reading these student responses to giving up numeric grades is just priceless and should remind all of us of the real purpose of assessment in a world language classroom: performance & feedback. Read Colleen’s post –>

  • Are We Designing Extrovert-Focused World Language Classrooms?

    Good blog posts make you think. Great blog posts make you think for multiple days. High school French teacher Amy Conrad’s, title of course caught my attention. I don’t have a reaction to it yet, because I’m still thinking. It’s worth a read as Amy reminds us to make considerations for all kinds of learners. Her post also reminded of a similar conundrum about teachers and I wonder if there is another post in her about introvert and extrovert teacher needs. Read Amy’s post –>

  • Why I bristle when I hear the term “legacy”

    It was the week of provocative blog post titles. And if great blog posts make you think, the best kind of blog posts make you react. High school french teacher Stacy Finelli’s post did just that. I don’t agree with everything you wrote (that’s the beauty of blogging), but her emotional response to some of the labeling of teachers resonated with me and you can read reaction to her post in the comment section. It’s an important reminder, that every teacher is on their own journey. Instead of labeling, we should figure out a way to help each otherRead Stacy’s post –>

  • Quick tech to start your year: One-Click Timer

    Uberbloger, Sara-Elizabeth started a nice series of quick technology tips on her Musicuentos blog and this week’s timer extension is a good one. Go read it now. Download it. I did and can’t wait to use it. It will be fantastic for when you give students five minutes to complete a task. Instead of giving them five, students ignoring the task for three and you extending it by two, which turns out to be really five more minutes for a total of ten minutes, …. This tool will keep you and your students on task (or at least on time). Read Sara-Elizabeth’ post –>


Take a Trip with Us!

santiago mapYou know that unit in your curriculum that should be so amazing and interesting and chock full of culture, but ends up being kind of surface and overwhelming?  Well, for me, that’s the travel unit at the end of Level 2.  They have to revisit how to pack for a trip, and read weather forecasts, and learn to make reservations, navigate an airport for international travel, travel by bus and train, tour around a foreign place, look at stuff, do stuff, eat stuff, possibly get hurt, lost, or sick, make it back to the original airport on time, AND THEN come home and tell someone else what HAPPENED on their trip!! Are you exhausted?  I certainly am every time I teach all that.  Not only does it have a ton of content, it basically begs for days of explicit grammar instruction to get the HAPPENED part (fight that temptation, my friends, my next post will talk about what I figured out on that topic…).  That being said, I wanted to show you how I reworked my travel unit this semester, since I was amazed at what my kids produced, and give you the slides if you wanted to try it with your own!  Let’s take a trip!

So as a bit of background, this project came about as I was working to figure out how to teach communication through culture, and to make the travel unit relevant and connected to my kids in some way.  Not many of them will travel abroad, so I wanted to find a way to show them as many people and places as possible within the time constraints of 1 unit.  I chose to take us on someone else’s journey and make a cinematic and political connection.  I decided that Ernesto Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries journey would be a fun way to explore South America, and make some cultural connections.  Within that process, we learned the vocabulary and language functions based on the geography, weather, clothing, and activities that are actually necessary to travel in each country.  We were able to compare then and now, and naturally integrate the movement between preterit and present tense as required by our local curriculum at this level.  As we moved from Argentina to Chile to Peru and finally to Venezuela, we reinforced the content by investigating the geography, weather, and special features of each new place.  As you can see, in this moment, Chile was our travel location.

Chile Intro slide

The way I set it up was that the students had gone to Chile over the summer and had just gotten back their photo books from Smilebox.  To everyone’s horror, none of their information had been saved on pictures, except for the first and last lines.  All of the actual information about Chile was completely erased.  They were then required to investigate each picture, knowing that it was taken somewhere in Chile, and then “rewrite” and narrate their travel journals.  Their narrative had to include the specific place they visited, what they did in each place, and one additional detail.  The detail could be clothing required, weather in the place, food they ate, or any other type of information they wanted to include.

moaiThis was a pretty daunting project for some of my level 2 students, not just because it was requiring them to work for the information about the images, but also because it was going to require a significant amount of writing and speaking.  I posted the PowerPoint with the slides to my class website so they could download and work with it.  For the students who didn’t have technology at home, I printed the slides in handouts, and told them to number them in the order they wanted, and I would rearrange the presentation for them.  I also gave them the choice of recording their narrations directly onto the PowerPoint, recording separately, or presenting their slides live in front of the class.

slide cards

I broke up the project into pieces so they wouldn’t completely freak out.  First, they had to show me their research, which was the information they gathered about the specific places.  Then they had to write their sentences about each slide.  I gave them sentence starters, reviewed the structures we had learned in the unit, and showed them the minimal amount of language they could use to meet the requirement.  That amount of scaffolding kept almost every student away from Google Translate.  I told them they were free to personalize their presentation by looking up additional words with Word Reference that we had not learned, but they were not allowed to run whole sentences through any translator.

atacama desert

They were able to work in pairs to help each other with the research and I required them to have their partner check their rough draft sentences before they turned them in to me.  I find it’s good for students to peer-edit because they can correct the majority of their issues in a low-stress situation.  Turning in work to me for editing is often much more stressful!  After their rough drafts were peer-edited and corrected by me, they were left to finalize their script, practice, and record. On presentation day, the students were to have already shared their presentations with me via Google Drive or were to have their cards ready to speak from. We played the presentations of the students who pre-recorded, and watched the presentations from the students who opted to present in class.   After that, I assessed their Presentational Speaking and Writing on a rubric.

leaving chileI wish I could properly express to you how happy I was with the results of this project.  I won’t say I cried, but I did clap in an excessively excited fashion after each presentation and go in the hall just to make sure that no one was there who I could drag in to watch my kids present.  The pictures you see in this post are a few of the slides they had to work with, and a picture of the presentation cards done by one of the kids who presented live.  I was so happy with how it worked! I hope you have enough information here to give this a shot, and have success.  I have included below the PowerPoint itself so you can play with it how you want to.  Have fun!

Mis vacaciones en Chile

Product v. Process

I have been told at times how much people love our curriculum in Shelby County Schools (SCS). It is really flattering to see that your hard work has received some praise or acceptance outside of your context. At the same time I have also been asked, if it’s good why do we keep revising it? Each and every year we survey our teachers. My curriculum team pours over responses so we can see where we can grow. Where can we push our students beyond what we initially thought possible? I can honestly say that while I love a good product what makes it all worth it is the development process. It is through the development process that we refine our beliefs about language learning, clarify our goals, and devise a plan worthy of our students.

I think that it is much easier to verbalize our beliefs about language learning than it is to align our practice to those beliefs.

If we were to survey language teachers around the world I think we would be hard pressed to find a majority that believed our ultimate rationale for language learning is something other than becoming effective communicators. The process by which that occurs however can vary widely. Do we believe that some kids are just natural language learners and will learn with ease while others will always struggle to attain any sort of useable proficiency? Or do we believe that every one can learn a language? Methods may have to be varied but nonetheless anyone can learn language. In developing curriculum or even lessons, our belief system drives our decision-making throughout the development process. It is completely possible that you are clear on your beliefs but are your colleagues? How clear and aligned are your colleagues in your department or district? The curriculum development process is the perfect venue to clarify and align these beliefs. This does not meant that everyone is on the same page in regard to practice but have aligned beliefs about language learning from which each individual can grow towards practices that support the commonly held beliefs.

In addition to clarifying and unifying our beliefs about language learning, the development process allows us to set and clarify common goals for our program. Sure we can choose random performance levels to target for each level of language learning but how does that translate to our daily instructional practice? Much like our beliefs, our goals must drive what we do and how we do it in our classrooms. Reflecting over our practice, i.e. “what I always do” vs. what is going to help our students meet our goals is critical to our success. There are many practices in which we have mindlessly engaged in for years, a favorite activity or unit that is perfected and comfortable for us as instructors. The rub here is how does this favorite or comfortable practice help current students meet the performance targets. Or for us in SCS, how does it help students exceed the target? I believe very firmly that according to available data we know what is possible with current practice. What we don’t know is what is possible with new targeted practice. For example, two years ago we began teaching our students about proficiency. Every year, every grade/level from second grade through AP begins their year with a weeklong pre-unit on proficiency. What is it? What does it look like? What am I aiming for? With students we answer these questions so that our goals are crystal clear to everyone. Control is handed to students with the knowledge of performance levels and their characteristics. You want to get good grades, here is what you need to do… After we share the vision, we focus on teaching functional chunks of language instead of long vocabulary lists. Our focus is on the sentence stems such as “I like…”; “I went…”; “ In the future I hope…”. How students fill in those blanks may vary from class to class based on student interest. What we are finding is that the student interest is not limiting the vocabulary but because of the variety of interests it is enriching the vocabulary development in meaningful ways and increasing the receptive vocabulary in all of our students. These are two examples of developments or innovations that have resulted from a development process. While my teachers are at varying levels of implementation or mastery, the growth is astounding because as a district we are focused on growth. This belief, underlies the goals we set for ourselves and our students.

The development process finally helps us examine our options for implementation of our beliefs and subsequent goals. If we were to take goals and units from another place and just implement them as our own, we would be like the emperor and his new clothes. We can profess our beliefs and goals but our practice demonstrates the intersection of what we say we believe and what we really believe. I think that looking at what our colleagues are doing around the country is the best way to start the process but no two contexts are identical. Engaging our students in meeting the goals we have set and commonly agreed upon includes the nuances of our local context. So while beginning from someone else’s context can be a great start, it is not enough to just take it and run. The product that has attracted your attention is much greater than the pages you have in front of you. Each team, department, district, etc, needs to experience the process to really own the plan. It is only after we have aligned beliefs and goals that we can truly examine our individual practice for those things that we have always done and how they square with our goals. We know more today than ever before about to how students learn, about the language learning process, methods, and more. Armed with this information we have to carefully examine our practice before, during and after to ensure that the practices we have selected are the best option for helping our students learn and grow.

The debate between product and practice is not much of a debate for me. While I am pleased with the curriculum we use, what I am proud of is the growth of my teachers through the development and revision process district wide. Whether you are the curriculum developer or a new teacher, the process emanates from the resulting products allowing for everyone to engage in the process at some level. While I realize that many districts do not have the benefit of a district supervisor to guide the work, we can all engage in these conversations in our districts and departments. See a new product that catches your attention? How can you use it as a starting point for your own development process to ensure it has long-lasting benefits and not just a pretty product?

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Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ardonik/3274122364


On their own path this week (01/23/16)

Reading teachers’ reflections on what works or doesn’t work in their classrooms is not only a favorite hobby of mine, but also an opportunity for professional growth. Last Saturday, I decided to start sharing some of my favorite posts each week. While a majority of the blogs I read are written by world language educators, I’ll also share some other general education posts as I come across them in my readings.

  • “How Am I Doing? I Know How!” Improving Formative Feedback

    Japanese Teacher Colleen Lee-Hayes continues her series of posts that focus on the power of involving students in the feedback loop. She shares several ideas that will make a big a difference in helping students move from compliant students to engaged learners and will help her “ensure that students don’t wait for me to tell them how they are doing – but rather that they will know and be able to articulate for themselves.” Read Colleen’s post –>

  • Let AuthRes Take the Lead ~ Step 1

    It’s highly unlikely that anyone missed this post, but I’m including this latest gem from the Creative Language Class. Kara is starting a series on the role of authentic resources, which seems to be one of the biggest roadblocks for many teachers in moving from textbook coverage to thematic unit design. I can’t even count the number of times I get asked “Where do I find the resources for this?” In this post, Kara is proposing the turn the game on its head and use an authentic resource to design the unit instead of spending countless hours searching the web trying to find an authentic resource to support your unit.  Read Kara’s post –>

  • Dream Team

    Finding a new blogger is always exciting. Finding a new world language teacher blogger is even more exciting. Finding a world language teacher blogger who I admire for their courage in trying to go down that Path to Proficiency has me jumping for joy. So, of course I was excited then to see a new blog from Spanish high school teacher Jaime Basham right here on P2P. Her first post serves as a good reminder that we can do this teaching thing alone. You have to surround yourself with an incredible team.  Read Jaime’s post –>

  • Can we produce innovative students with teachers chained to a script?

    This newspaper response written by University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky is not as easy to read and reminded me of the realities of teachers. While passionate about teacher effectiveness and student learning, I sometimes wonder: Are we asking the impossible of teachers, given the current system” ” Read Peter’s post –>

  • Why Don’t We Differentiate Professional Development?

    I’ll try not to provide an answer to that question here, because that would be a blog post to itself. Anyone that knows me, also knows how interested I am in changing the way professional development is happening. In this Edutopia post, Pauline Zdonek is asking the tough question: “Isn’t it about time that we practice what we preach?” Read Pauline’s post –>

Make it a great week and keep posting and sharing. I can’t wait to see what next week’s blogging will bring us.

Dream Team

If there is one thing I would want a new(er) teacher to take away from my blog, and especially this post, it would be to create your Dream Team.  Do you remember the 1992 Olympics with the Dream Team?  This was such a big deal for the United States.  The team was comprised of some of the best basketball players; Michael Jordan, Carl Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, David Robinson, and Charles Barkley.  Sports Illustrated coined “Dream Team” and our lives were forever changed.  As a teacher, you need to create your “Dream Team.”  I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful mentor, a colleague across the hall, and that teacher’s student teacher.  We began referring to ourselves as the “P.O.A.” or “Pocket of Awesome.”  Our “P.O.A.” was a unique system of collaboration, encouragement and betterment.  There were days when we would talk about things that didn’t seem relevant at the time, but later revealed themselves to be useful in everyday life or the classroom.  Our group of collaboration over time, turned into more of a familial dynamic that fostered the growth needed to be a reflective practitioner.  Since the induction of our “P.O.A.” my beloved colleagues have moved on to new and exciting career changes, but because our bond was so strong, we still meet and collaborate with each other through technology.  I think our “Dream Team” is successful because of the following pieces at play:

  • We are humble.  Our group accepts that we are not perfect, nor will we ever be.  We are trying to be a better person and teacher than yesterday.  Somedays that goal is accomplished and others, not even close.  We start with a fresh slate each and every day.  We are human and are doing our very best.
  • We always have our sense of humor about us. We are hilarious. Most of our hilarity is directly related to cat videos*, but for the most part we take the time to enjoy the little things.  As a teacher (or human in general) you can’t take yourself too seriously.  Life is too short for that.
  • We genuinely love and encourage one another.  There is no room for jealousy, big egos or pettiness.  Ain’t got time for that. Rather, we have created a sisterhood and bond that is so strong that we genuinely want what is best for our friend.  I find that many groups fail because they lack this attribute.  Without it, your “Dream Team” will be doomed.  Pettiness and jealousy are gangrenous and need to be cut out immediately.  Each member brings something unique to the table and highlighting those strengths only make your group for the better.
  • We talk about non teachery things. See cat videos* above. Other topics up for grabs are movies, television, books, music, kids who farted in class that day, recipes, board games, etc.  We are teachers, not dead.  We have to have fun things happening in our everyday lives too.
  • We troubleshoot. Let me paint you a picture, as a teacher you invest so much time into your lesson plans and you have the perfect one for Monday.  You’re excited. These kids don’t know it yet, but they’re about to have a whole lot of awesomeness come their way and their world will be rocked!  You give your lesson and you’re teaching your heart out.  You feel like you are on top of the world!  You look into your students’ eyes and see that they have glazed over.  Too. Much. Awesomeness. At the end, you’re bummed.  Your lesson plan expectation versus reality did not match and you are at a loss for where it all started to unravel.  Your “Dream Team” can help you flush out what went wrong, when it started to unravel and how you can be better next time.  You’ll enter into a “no judgement” zone and they will help guide you back from the dark side.

All and all, as a teacher, find your “Dream Team.”  It has helped me with my resiliency and improved my quality of teaching and life.  No one can do it alone, it takes a team to be successful and to help you be your best.

Huge shout out to Brandee, Amber, Liisaan, Renee, Chelsea, and Deneen for being part of my “Dream Team.”  To the original “P.O.A.,” you are my rock!

*Cat videos can be substituted with other cute furry animal videos.

On their own path this week (01/16/2016)

It’s not a secret that reading blogs is one of my favorite hobbies and many mornings my Feedbin (RSS Reader) is the first thing I open when getting online. Over the years, I have been able to create the ultimate curated newspaper for myself through hundreds of subscriptions to a wide variety of blogs. Everything from politics, food, TV, education, silly cat videos, Apple products and so much more. My favorite folder however are the world language blogs. Every day someone is keeping me on my toes by sharing ideas, a resource, or just their musings on why life as a language teacher has been hard, rewarding or crazy on that particular day. It’s my hope to start this series of posts where I can share some of my favorite posts from the previous week.

  • What if I’m just fed up with my students’ attitudes about language?

    Spanish high school teacher Carrie Toth summarizes her very own path to proficiency sharing results from her classroom and the many sometimes painful steps it took. Her post is such an inspiration for others who might be afraid to start on this journey, she keeps repeating one important message that  is so important to hear: it takes time! Ready Carrie’s post –>

  • Template Shopping: Pick Yourself a Winnter

    French middle school teacher Rebecca Blouwolff critiques curriculum templates from three world language educators that have shaped my own thinking so much, so it’s nice to have a comparison all in one place. Rebecca provides links to curriculum templates from Laura Terrill, Greg Duncan, and Helena Curtain. Anyone thinking about curriculum planning this summer should definitely bookmark this link. Read Rebecca’s post –>

  • My Evolving Gradebook: From Numbers to Descriptors…

    It’s so exciting to see teachers who are on the proficiency journey beginning to realize the fallacy of grades. Japanese teacher Colleen Lee-Hayes, one of my favorite “brave” bloggers, gives her attempt at moving away from grades and towards true feedback. After all that’s the real purpose of assessment. And while she reflects and says: “it started with removing all numbers from my rubrics. Big step. Removing the ‘calculation’ from the task” she also shows us how to satisfy the need for traditional grades that still exists in school. Read Colleen’s post –>

  • Final IPA Performance Data, round 2

    Another interesting assessment post this week came from North Carolina this week. Laura Sexton, Spanish at an early college high school, shared the results from her final IPA’s from last semester. Seeing her students’ growth represented visually is just inspiring for me as a reader, but I can only imagine what it means for her as a teacher and as she closes her post what it means for her students: “My students grew significantly in one semester, and I think it’s because they knew where they were headed.” Read Laura’s post –>

  • Blogs to Watch 2016

    One of the first world language teacher blogs I’ve ever read is the the now widely-read Musicuentos blog from world language educator Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, so it’s nice to see her share her passion for blogging. I won’t lie, but I was kind of excited to see her include Path2Proficiency on her list of blogs to watch for in 2016. Thank you! We’ll take that as a challenge for the coming year.  Read Sara-Elizabeth’ post –>

It’s my goal to share with you these kind of summaries of interesting blog posts each week. What did you read this week that made you pause, reflect and perhaps even do something different with your students?

Taking ownership of their proficiency path

Coming back to school after the winter break was a fulfilling time for me this year! We revisited the proficiency guidelines, and students reflected on their progress on the path to proficiency infographic. What more could they do now that they couldn’t in October or even in August? As I teach students in Spanish 3, 4 and AP, they already knew a lot, but what they kept telling me was they felt more equipped to put their knowledge into getting their message across. I had students talk about how they needed a task to help them reach Intermediate High, so they could talk about events that happened outside of their daily lives.

“I feel like I can’t reach Intermediate High if I don’t have tasks that push me to that level.”

To that end, we took a couple of days to brainstorm ideas on what they would want to study, and out of that, my students created their own task plan. They had three options for a graphic organizer they could use–a bubble map, a pyramid map, and a preparation plan–in order to process their task plan from the overarching objective to the specific task they want to do. Their focus was the specific proficiency target they selected using the AAPPL proficiency rubrics.
Here’s the process I took my students through:

  • The first thing they did was determine the objective they wanted to accomplish. This was the generic “I can…” statement, which would determine how they would proceed.
  • Next, I had them determine what the outcome would be. Would they have a conversation or write a paper or read and discuss something? Their outcome, then, became the way they would demonstrate what they’d worked on.
  • After they determined the outcome, they designed their task that matched their outcome and objective. How were they specifically going to accomplish what they set out to accomplish?
  • They searched resources that would give them the information they needed to accomplish their task.
  • After creating the plan and revising it based on conferencing with me, each group devised a timeline on what they were going to do each day to make progress on their project. They’re blogging about their progress and what they’ve learned at each step in this process.

I’m excited for my students’ action plans and task presentations at the end of this cycle. What I’m most excited about, though, is how they’ve been excited about learning more and improving their proficiency levels. I’m circulating through the groups and giving feedback, but I’m impressed at how they’re rising to this challenge.