mega888 Blog – Page 6 – Path 2 Proficiency

Hitting the Wall

Spring is upon us, and teachers everywhere lament how difficult it is to keep students engaged as they are getting ready for state assessments and AP exams. It is also difficult for us teachers to stay engaged with new lessons and innovative ways to keep students engaged because we have been burning the candle at both ends for so long, and we see how our students are being drilled in other classes.

What do we do when we have just hit the wall? Yes, Spring Break is coming up, but what do we do between now and Spring Break? Or how do we structure our lessons for the last marking period between the return from Spring Break and the end of the school year?

In my last post I wrote about focusing on the right things in the class. But, how can we determine what are the right things to focus on when our students seem to swing between climbing the walls and slumped over their desks? Some teachers might even be thinking about the next school year already, declaring this year a wash. How can you keep your spirits up for the rest of the year without writing it completely off?

Take time to regroup.

You need time for yourself in order to take stock of what has worked so far this school year and what you need to work on for your students to achieve so they’re ready for the next level. Also, take time for yourself to regroup so you have the energy to help your students the best way you know how. That may include taking advantage of the longer daylight hours to take a walk after work. Or it may mean having a cup of coffee a little earlier in your favorite, quiet corner of your house in the morning, or it may mean sweating it out in the gym. But you need that time for yourself in order to be at the top of your game for your students, your friends, and your family.

Reach out. 

Ask your students what they need in order to be successful for the rest of the year and what might help them grow through the rest of the spring semester. Collaborate with others in your department for planning lessons in order to work smarter, not harder because this time of year is hard enough. Think about common planning around those field trips or assemblies. Also, it might be time for your department to observe each other in order to get some fresh eyes for your lessons in order to help you keep reaching all of your students.


One thing I have liked to do is try something new during the last grading term of the year in order to work out the bugs, so I could start off knowing how to present it to my students in the fall. I like this type of playing with a new idea because it keeps me on my toes in the profession and helps me develop my craft while helping to keep the students engaged in learning. I’ve had students ask me “Where were these great ideas at the start of the school year?” because they somehow felt cheated that they only got to try something out at the end of the year. Of course, I do various things throughout the year, but my big life-changing ideas, I like to save for the end of the year because I learn from other teachers as I watch and talk and listen and collaborate. I want to have my own spin on something in order to put my own stamp on it. Chef José Andrés uses a separate kitchen as a laboratory in order to experiment with new dishes, and he records his ideas and steps in a journal. Your classroom is your laboratory, and I guarantee you that your students will let you know if your idea was a win or a flop. The key, then, becomes how you tweak it and take it back to them to try again rather than give up.

One thing I have to remind myself, when I feel myself hitting the wall, is that I am my own self, and my students are mine, so when I see another teacher doing some activity I’m not doing or other students doing certain work mine aren’t doing, I have to remind myself of what my students and I have achieved together and of the work we’ve done in our class. And the truth is, we’ve worked hard together, and we’ve grown a lot.

Technology Doesn’t Create Learning; It Captures It

Ah, yes, technology.

Coming fresh out of a fabulous #SCOLT17 in Orlando, there were lots of technology ideas that floated around in sessions and conversations. These are great, because we do, indeed, live in the Information Age, a time where we can find nearly any piece of information at our fingertips. Therefore, we should definitely be using them with our students, and, even better, design learning opportunities with the technology in the hands of our students (not just us). Yet, school and how we ‘do‘ school largely hasn’t changed. We still require a certain number of hours, days, and credit hours, and students sit in front of adults all day largely sitting-and-getting, playing the game. We offer professional development sessions for teachers on how to get your students “up and moving” because what learning and learning in classrooms ‘look like’ has been ingrained into us to not include that, necessarily. Don’t believe me? Do a Google image search ‘students learning’ or ‘effective classroom’ or ‘good class’.

Seriously – search that now.

All done? All those fresh, scrubbed, smiling faces; don’t they look like our classrooms every day? Fed, prepared, excited, motivated. Ah yes, our students. Some days, absolutely. Other days? Not so much. Learning is hard work; learning is uncomfortable; learning is personal; learning is rewarding; learning is an EXPERIENCE, period. Students don’t remember activities, necessarily, they remember the holistic picture of a learning experience. Adults are no different; we don’t remember individual placards at the Smithsonian or specific landmark podiums at the Grand Canyon, but we remember those sites as a whole and what those experiences felt like. Students come in and out of our classrooms on a daily and yearly level, and they will remember what they felt like. They will remember what they can do and what they cannot do as a result of that experience, just like any person does in any phase of life, hopefully, as a result of an experience plus reflection.

So, where does technology fit into all of this? We teachers learn about all of these innovative maps, apps, and snaps, but aren’t always charged to reflect on where they fit into our overall educational philosophy. For me, that reflection came last year when a colleague asked me if I had been using the internet that day; it hadn’t been working for him. I responded that no, I hadn’t, but would check when I got a chance. He was dumbfounded, and said, “What? YOU, of all people, haven’t used the internet today?!” In that moment, I realized he perceived me as not just a technology-using teacher, but perhaps a technology-centered teacher, and within that a classroom technology-centered teacher, which isn’t true, and I hadn’t really had to think about those nuances before.

I use very little in-the-moment, in-the-classroom technology on a regular basis, except for in the preparation of lessons, and, because I am a strong believer in the classroom experience, am very anti-phone in the classroom. Sure, the occasional round of Quizlet Live can be rewarding, but only for about 10 min., because after 10 min. or 2-3 rounds, they are done: they’re clicking over to other apps, they’re bored and not moving toward their new group, and the novelty has worn off. Similarly, if you’re telling a story, giving new input, front-loading vocabulary, asking PQA, circling, or any other [insert REALLY input-/focus-heavy activity here], cell phones are a distraction.

I recently gave a session at #CSCTFL17 (here or here) in Chicago on what talk shows and classrooms have in common, and it touches on this: Talk shows have not largely changed in the last century, and we still tune in to watch two people talk. Are those two people on their phones? Are those two people listening to music with one or both earbuds in? Absolutely not. There is still novelty in talk shows, because the guests bring the magic, and everyone is on-board, tuned-in. Our classrooms can be the same way. Students are the guests, they bring the magic, everyone is tuned-in, and technology is capturing the moments, not creating them. We must reflect on if we are welcoming students or tolerating them (no judgment if it’s the latter!). We are the hosts of our own classrooms, the curators of learning: we design and coordinate the experience, and then invite our students to participate and bring the magic. If they are staring at a screen, or secretly texting in their lap, they aren’t 100% present, period.

Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres: these are all great hosts who, like great teachers, bring their own personality, style, and observations to their work. The format of talk shows, for example, remains largely unchanged: there’s a band, big opening, monologue, interviews, games, laughter, wrap-up. Sound familiar? When studying best practices and brain primacy, a WL classroom should run much the same: big bangs in those first 10 min., a rundown of objectives, transitions, interactions, some humor infused, wrap-up, and so on. The parallels are clear. Don’t have your own personal classroom band? Have some music in the TL playing. Don’t have a sidekick to give you that drum rimshot when you’re funny? Good news: you definitely have a student dying to have the job of sound effects (I bought mine here). Can’t do your monologue because you’re busy with attendance and setup? Class jobs: attendance taker, personal assistant to set out markers and water, prop person to get class ready with the items you’ve listed on a sticky note left for them, hospitality helper offering anyone having a bad day some tea (bought my tea kettle on Amazon), cheerleader encouraging classmates on their bellringer and subsequent warmup, and more. Jimmy Fallon isn’t running like a madman every night adjusting the camera and putting on the final touches for games and interviews, he has people for that. So do we! I have 36+ people in each class dying to participate, not just attend, and class jobs set them up for that. Then, they own those jobs, and procedures, and improve them with new ideas – people don’t renovate what they don’t own, and if students don’t feel ownership in your class, they won’t improve it, they’ll simply put up with it.

Class jobs set students up for structure, and structure (even when it’s loose) begets efficient activity execution. All of those jobs mentioned are experiential, and can’t be done with an app – they rely on FaceTime 1.0, the analog version: real people, real faces, interacting. Technology, however, CAN capture those experiences, and it should. I’d be remiss to pretend as if we don’t live in 2017 where we can take pictures at the drop of a hat, so let’s use that superpower for good and not evil. So, another class job can be the captionist: choose a relevant caption with a current, isolated structure, or story piece, or whatever you want to emphasize, and assign a student to find a picture for that caption, like a caption contest in reverse. They get your device, or a class device (I have an iPad for work use only), and they work to find a moment in class to fit to that caption. Instant engagement. Furthermore, you can have a class photographer in general who sets up your phone/camera on the tripod if you want to record a certain activity, or take pictures of role play, and so on.

To that end, I also like to capitalize on what they’re already using, with the example of our class snapchat (@PRHSspanish). The filters provide plenty of input opportunities for repetition or new vocabulary, for fun/frivolity/enjoyment/entertainment, and its ability to scan QR codes and send messages said pictures allows for scavenger hunts, for example, and interpersonal writing, respectively. My students go on QR code scavenger hunts once a unit or so, and will soon do one that’s more of a race, Amazing Race style. Each QR code may be part of their current story within each themed topic, for example, therefore when they scan them, the text appears. They can then take a picture of their group personifying/acting out what the caption said, and send it back to me. I then have student-generated non-linguistic representations to use with writing prompts, speaking prompts, free writes, blog posts, social media posts (more input!), and much more. Want them reading others’ responses? Save the pictures they send back, head to Walgreens/CVS, plug into the kiosk, and print them out. They’re relatively inexpensive, and can then be part of a gallery wall for students to read, analyze, critique, whatever you want. They’re personalized and therefore compelling, and I didn’t have to make anything new. Again, the host isn’t inventing the guests, he’s bringing them onto the show to share their gifts. The museum curator isn’t creating the art AND displaying it, s/he is designing an exhibit to capitalize on the art’s features. There is a big difference, and teaching in 2017+ won’t be sustainable if teachers keep working harder than the students.

The same can be said for creating electronic art or student blogging – these are great artifacts, and the technology is convenient and useful, but then what? Now what? How can we fuel more organic, experiential learning with these products? And what is the audience, how are we sharing?

For teaching and learning to be effective, information must be memorable and not memorized. Our students must not merely be going through the motions of school, but rather active participants, apprentices in their own learning under the expert, us, their teachers. Technology can facilitate much of this, but it is not the touchstone of a master classroom: personal connections, effective practices, and organic, loving moments are and always will be.

Just Follow Your Own Advice

Recently, I had coffee with a colleague from another elementary school to talk shop. She’s pretty new to the school where she’s the only Spanish teacher, teaches preschool through 8th grade, and is being asked to create a curriculum.

To say that she is concerned and feeling a high level of stress, is an obvious understatement.

I listened supportively as she unfolded her struggle to find the time and resources to create thematic units while figuring out what to do with the children in the meantime.  My friend is a good teacher, and of course, is looking to attend training and build a network of colleagues who can support her efforts.   All things that take time.

Our coffee was an effort to get information and advice on where to head next, and I answered her questions, suggesting some nice, inexpensive materials to use while she works on developing her own curriculum and set reasonable goals for the class time allotted her program.

I ended our conversation by simply saying, “Remember, at the end of the day, if you speak Spanish, the children are interested and understand and maybe use some themselves, that’s what it’s all about.”

As I walked away, I thought about my own stress level and sometimes my reaching for some unattainable perfect lesson, perfect outcome, perfect perfect perfect whatever. And then, I heard(yes, sometimes I hear voices) “Valerie, you need to follow your own advice.” What we do is complex, layered and sometimes like trying to put an octopus into a box–and it involves little people who look to us to be models and learn something about being good people in this world.  It’s a lot. Sometimes, if I speak Spanish, they’re interested and understand, and maybe use some themselves. Sometimes, that’s enough.

Clashing the Personalities in the Target Language

Elena Giudice considers herself fortunate to have lived and worked in international schools in France, Puerto Rico, USA, The Bahamas, and Malta. Her studies in Intercultural Communications influenced her personal and professional growth in such positive ways that she strives to reach her students not only in their language growth but in the development of their social-emotional and cultural intelligence skills. Elena is currently Chair of the World Languages and Cultures Department at Saint Andrew’s School.

I always look to lower school for inspiration. I firmly believe that many lower school learning experiences model best teaching practices that can be adapted easily to the WL classroom at any level. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we are modeling lower school experiences.  For example, the lower school circle time is the moment in upper school when we begin class as a group, warm up, hook the students, share current events, and then move on to more differentiated or pair work, or small group activities. We may not be sitting on a carpet in a circle but we are starting class as a community – together.

I have always loved the concept of student roles in the lower school. I was always amazed as a Spanish lower school teacher that went from classroom to classroom how home room teachers created a variety of roles to make everyone feel relevant, and how children loved taking their roles seriously in their learning community. I always admired my own children’s Montessori classrooms where students have always had a big role in sustaining their environment. The plant waterer, the guinea pig or fish tank caretakers, and the snack bearer were certainly prestigious roles.

A while back, I led a department meeting that focused on sharing successful techniques and approaches that would help shift our classrooms towards a more student-centered class. In other words,  less “teacher talking” and an increase of target language use amongst the students. Two of our upper school colleagues shared their experiences leading Socratic Seminars including using a student chart to track student participation. This chart holds students accountable in a group discussion for a) offering new ideas,  b) asking questions to deepen the discussion, c) supporting a comment referenced by the text,  and d) building on someone else’s idea.  My first thought was: “great for upper levels, but too sophisticated for my novice level courses”, which I was teaching at that time. I noticed the different roles listed on the chart.  That, combined with my memories of student roles in the lower school, got me thinking about how to create and assign some roles to novice level students that would help them help me talk less in class. I came up with personality roles. Based on the roles, students would be “responsible” for commenting at relevant times certain expressions with the main purpose of maintaining the use of the target language. I created personality role cards with useful expressions that a person with a particular personality might say. These were my initial roles:

[lists style=”style6″ line=”0″]

  • The Curious – the student who constantly asks questions
  • The Cheerleader – the student who animates and encourages
  • The Pessimist – the person who complains all the time
  • The Optimist – the “everything is good” student
  • The Incredulous – the student who doesn’t believe anyone
  • The Philosopher – the deep thinker who challenges others to elaborate expression.
  • The Boss – the student who tells everyone what to do
  • The Romantic – the sweet, loving student
  • The Slang Guru – the slang master (can be updated regularly)
  • The Flirt – the student who compliments everyone[/lists] 

My goal was to slowly introduce and test this idea out rather than overwhelm the class by assigning roles to everyone. It was early in the first semester and most students were still feeling uncomfortable speaking out. I was getting impatient with the lack of oral participation. I decided to call out three students, the most vocal or advanced in my class and bring them into a mini-conspiracy. I explained the idea of the role cards and stressed that it was not about calling out the expressions randomly, rather finding the right time to go with the flow of class discussions. The students seemed to understand and were eager to go along.

During that class, I actually heard them call out a few expressions at the right time, but no one noticed as they did not pronounce them well, they didn’t use correct tone, and they lacked confidence in general. At the end of the class, somewhat disappointed, I thanked my students for their support and collected the cards and put them to the side wondering if I had wasted my time by creating these cards! Obviously, they were not ready and I should have thought of that. After all, these Spanish I students were only 6 weeks into their semester and still at a novice-low level.

I set the cards to a side and forgot them for while, still hoping to use them again, but thinking about when and how best to re-implement them.  I recently pulled them out and passed them out to my Spanish IIH students, a class that shifts from novice-high to intermediate-low, and a very lively class. I decided not to create a conspiracy this time. I simply arrived and told my students that in the next twenty minutes of class discussion they had a specific role to play and handed the cards out. No explanations needed. The conversation prompt was shared and an explosion of comments followed: Seriously? I hate that! Why? How sweet! Are you nuts? How romantic! They actually kept to the task and did a super job. They found it quite funny, too! They knew when to interject with the appropriate comments, they were not too distracted by the cards and they used the expressions when relevant. Most exciting, the flow made sense and it sounded really natural!

Looking back and reflecting between my first  “flop” to the surprisingly positive experience (my cards were not a waste of time!), I adjusted the cards for the novice-low to mid levels. The cards were too ambitious and overwhelming, and the timing was not appropriate for the novice level. There was also the lack of group development and collegial comfort found too early in the year.  Students need to feel secure and as uninhibited as possible and for that, you need some time for the group to get to know each other well.  I simplified the role cards for the novice-low to intermediate groups by splitting the expressions in half or less and dividing the expressions by level of difficulty,  from the very basic novice-low (A) to a more advanced novice-mid/high (B)  or the full set (C), the original set, for novice-high to intermediate-low. After intermediate-low I use the actual Socratic Seminar form.

When class begins, my students are now calling out to be the “pessimist”, a fun and popular role and we keep a few blank cards to add new unit expressions.

I hope you found this useful, try it in your classroom, and are inspired to create roles that best fit to the personalities of your students. Please leave a comment and share your experience. The best collaboration is when someone starts an idea and it evolves into something even better!




Focus on the right things

As a teacher, it is so easy to focus on everything I’m doing wrong: Have I graded that batch of tests yet? Have I planned enough activities to fill the hour? Have I contacted all the parents I needed to? Do I have enough grades? Did I get in that announcement on time? A lot of times, the answer to these questions is “No,” but so many of those things mentioned are good things and need to get done. It can be difficult to manage an ever-growing to-do list, however, along with making time for my family and myself.

The good thing, though, is that while all of these things are good to do, it is important to realize that we should focus on the right things. As teachers, we know that all of our activities in the lesson must match the objective, so when we plan our lessons, we should focus on the activities that will help our students along to the meet the objective, not just what we think would be fun to do. Likewise, the vocabulary or grammar we teach them should be within the context of meeting the objective, not just what we think they ought to know for sometime on down the road. It’s often in these times of “they need to know” or even “I need to do” that we lose sight of what our big goal really is: to help our students become confident communicators in the target language.

Though there are a ton of ways to practice vocabulary lists, how are we helping our students practice the vocabulary they would need in a situation outside of class? Though there are a ton of grammar drills, how are we helping replicate the ways our students might need to use grammar to accomplish a task? Though our principals may say we need a certain number of grades in the gradebook by a certain marking period, how many of those grades accurately reflect how the students can communicate in the target language? When we replicate these types of situations in our class and provide an environment of rich input in the target language, then our students are ready for any situation they may come across outside the classroom and feel a sense of pride. That kind of feedback–other than the one we give them in class–often tends to be more positive, thus providing more intrinsic motivation to learn more language!

Yes, we are helping our students along the path to proficiency, and sometimes it feels more like an arduous journey to Mordor than a lazy afternoon in the Shire, but if we shift our focus to helping them discover what lies around the next corner rather than burdening them–and ourselves–with meaningless work, we will help them reach, or even surpass, their goal.

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Food for thought: Feeding proficiency with effective feedback

OK.  I’m just going to say it.  I hate grading.  When I was a kid and helped my mom grade it seemed like so much fun.   Then I became a teacher and it seemed like the punishment for a job well-done.  I think it’s because I’ve always felt like this was the area where I am least prepared.

Don’t misunderstand, I know my subject content. I can talk about grammar and vocabulary and word choice and syntax.  I love all those things and I know the rules backwards and forwards.  Imperfect subjunctive is exciting to a language nerd like me.  And of course, my education courses in college talked about positive, negative and constructive feedback. Teacher training boiled down to the basics:  “good job” and “that’s interesting, but perhaps next time you could try it this way (insert correct answer)” were acceptable.  “That’s stupid” and “Wrong!” were obviously to be avoided.   Quizzes and tests were marked for correctness, distributed back to students and the next lesson/unit begun. But I don’t think I really understood what effective feedback looked like and just how valuable it could be.

Then a few things happened that radically changed my whole practice and perspective regarding feedback and its essential nature:

1. In 2009, I pursued National Board Certification.
2. A couple of years ago, I started down the path to proficiency.
3. This winter, I am participating in a book study with some teachers in my district about effective feedback.

Each of these made me stop and rethink the role of feedback and the importance of it in my practice. Next to comprehensible input and the goal of 90-10 TL, I’ve realized that feedback is one of the most important things I do.   More importantly, I don’t just grade anymore, rather I comment, guide and encourage.  And I am starting to enjoy giving feedback and seeing how it helps my students grow and take ownership of their learning.

Daily feedback in class is usually given verbally and in the moment.  And that feedback is so important as well to fostering a classroom environment where students dare to speak in the target language and actually enjoy it!  But I think I’ll save that topic for another blog.  For the purpose of this one, I’ll stick to written feedback.

There are so many elements to effective feedback, and when we have anywhere from 130-180 students, it can seem overwhelming to think about addressing everything for every student on every assignment.  Honestly, I don’t think there are enough hours in the day, not if we still hold to the commitments in our personal lives.  So I have boiled it down to a few key questions to ask myself when I’m assessing students’ work.

1. Have I tied my feedback to the specific learning goal of the lesson?

I used to get so bogged down looking at everything that I overwhelmed myself and the student.  I know that I can only focus on a few things at a time.  So, I started making sure that for each assignment, I was focusing on the specific learning target(s) for that lesson.  Then both the student and I could better evaluate mastery of the lesson’s goal.

2. Have I found something positive to say about this work, using concrete goals for proficiency?

I always start with the positive.  And to continue to build a common understanding and vocabulary centered on proficiency, I use the concrete examples of what communication at a given proficiency level looks like. (I find the AAPPL rubrics from ACTFL are really helpful!)  I want my feedback to be clear, descriptive and constructive.  “Effective use of connector words!” is a much more tangible comment for students than just “good job!”  Now they know specifically where they excel and can build on that.

3. Have I focused on both the task and the process?

This question is one that I don’t think I articulated enough to myself in the past.  Often, all the tiny elements of the task took precedence over the thinking process of the students. Especially when I was making a rubric. (The phenomenal Paul Sandrock helped me address that problem when I read his book The KEYS to Assessing Language Performance.)   I realized that I can’t really help the student address areas of weakness if I don’t understand why he/she is making the mistake.  In addressing the thinking process behind the work, I have more insight and can offer better suggestions for improvement.

4. Have I asked at least one question to stimulate the student’s thinking about his/her work?

This question is my newest one and I have found it to be the most helpful in transferring ownership of learning from me to the student. I used to write out the better phrasing or syntax.   By posing a question such as “how could you elaborate on this idea?” or “how could you make this phrase into a sentence?” or “what connector words could you use to tie these two sentences together?” provides students’ the opportunity to think about their language skills and what they know and can do.

5. Have I given a concrete suggestion for improvement and proficiency growth? 

In my book study, I read something that has stuck with me regarding feedback.  “Feedback isn’t feedback if it isn’t feeding anything” (Brookhart, p.57) I never thought about it before, but that is the whole reason I spend so many hours grading papers.  We want to feed students’ with ways to grow and improve.  Without a concrete, tangible suggestion of how to improve, students are often left struggling to figure out on their own how to make that 80 into a 90.  A comment such as “you do a good job of using complete sentences, often creating your own original ones.  Try to use connector words to tie them together in your next assignment” gives the student a specific, measurable goal to work toward.  (Again, the AAPPL rubrics are awesome for this!)

By thinking about my feedback in this way, I have seen a difference in how students regard it. Gone are the days of throwing it in the trash—as I watched in horror as all my hours were completely disregarded! Now, they actually read what I wrote, ask questions about it, and file it away for future reference.  To make the most of this renewed interest, I plan lessons and future assessments to give them an opportunity to use the feedback; to show that they have internalized my comments and can apply them in future performances.  I have also started asking students to pick one thing from feedback on the previous assignment and to actually write it down on a card as the one thing they are going to focus on improving in the next assignment.  I have found that the simple action of articulating to themselves one concrete thing to work on gives them focus and purpose, as well as making feedback more important to them.

It is still a work in progress.  Even after 20 years of teaching, I am still trying to find the perfect formula.  But at least now I feel like we are learning how to make feedback work for us.  As Alyssa and Thomas say it’s “feed-forward” not “back”.  Now at least, my students and I are walking together, in the right direction, on our path to proficiency.

Works Cited:

Brookhart, Susan M., How to Give Effective Feedback to your students. ASCD. 2008.

Sandrock, Paul. The Keys to Assessing Language Performance: A Teacher’s Manual for measuring student progress. ACTFL. 2010.

On their own path (02/11/2017)

Here are some of the blog posts that I “loved” this week.

  • A year of Growth

    This practical post by Spanish elementary school teacher, Jennifer Kennedy, may be one of my favorites of the new year so far. Reflecting on her own growth as a teacher, Jennifer gives three recommendations that any teacher can follow to help them become a better teacher. What a great model of reflective practice! “We are happy when we are growing.”  Read Jennifer’s post –> 

  • The Global Goals

    French and Spanish teacher, Lynn Johnston, shares a great resource that has inspired her in this original post and a follow-up post to think how she can move from just a standard topical approach to language learning to larger thematic and a truly real life focus. Move from vocabulary to service learning. And do all of that with her novice-level language learners in mind. The authentic resource link she shares is gold!  Read Lynn’s post –> 

  • Blogs to watch 2017

    If you can’t get enough of world language teacher blogs like me, you’ll like Spanish educator, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s annual list of blogs. I always like finding new ones and who knows, whose post will end up in these weekly summaries this year. I know, I’ve already bookmarked a couple I didn’t know. Read Sara-Elizabeth’ post –> 

  • Teaching to the Eyes

    I’m finding more and more posts these days that address a renewed focus on relationship building with students and Latin teacher, Miriam Patrick, shares some very practical advice in her post on how to “include all students, no matter what they walk in the room with.” Read Miriam’s post –> 

  • Theme by Meme

    Not only does Spanish teacher, Carrie Toth, share her ideas on how she used memes in her class to provide additional and sometimes even subliminal input for her students, but she reminds us how to work smarter and not harder. Read Carrie’s post –> 

  • This week on the Path 2 Proficiency: A Foldable City

    Rose continues her posts on strategies that wish I could visit her classroom every week. In this post, she provides step-by-step instructions on using foldables as a way to not only engage her students creatively, but carefully prepare them for a fun speaking task. You’ll want to do this with your students! Read Rose’ post –> 


A Foldable City

So it’s not a surprise to anyone that I am a super fan of foldables, but I’ve realized that Twitter is not really the place to try to explain how to make and use them, so here we go.  Some of them are really complicated (the secret door foldable), but this one is really basic, so here it goes … a step by step of how I make my city foldable, and a way to use it communicatively.

What I’ve found is that foldables give me three really great things that I want in my classes.  First, they store the vocabulary and structures in a way that is simple, organized, and somewhat artistic. Second, that vocab-storage thing requires listening to me speaking in Spanish the whole time, and trying to make their creation look like mine. (Sra. Spanglish and I started a #foldablefailures hashtag for when the listening and the creating get out of sync) Finally, the foldable is the tool they use as their scaffolded security blanket resource for speaking.  

I have started to put speaking activities in the middle of things instead of after just to help chunk the content a little more and squeeze in more targeted conversation practice.  So, with that all being said, this is my city foldable for Level 2.  Level 1 has a city foldable as well, which looks exactly the same structurally, but the stores are different.  It’s helpful to do twice because they remember it from level 1 and get why we’re doing the folding.

Materials you will need

Materials for the initial set up: a few markers, scissors, and a legal size (or larger) sheet of paper.  It can be done with copy paper but it feels real small. 

Step 1: Folding the Paper

To start, I have everyone fold the paper into a side-by-side refrigerator with a 2-finger space in the center.  The space is important because that is going to become one of the main roads in the city.  After they have the space, they fold it in half to make a tent.

Step 2: Creating the Flaps

Then they cut the top flaps in half, making 4 total flaps.  I tell them they need 4 blocks for the city.  Make sure you remind them to cut from inside to outside and ONLY ON THE TOP!  I say that a lot, loudly, in Spanish, and try to catch the ones who are about to get it wrong. (#foldablefailures abound at this step)


Step 3: Creating the Streets and a Language Teaching Moment

Next we cut to make a finger space sized road running east-west across the middle, which makes the cross street.  

This is a good moment to add the lines and dashes to make streets, label them in the TL (I use north avenue, south avenue, west street and east street) and add the stop light (and its label) in the middle of town.  It gives us a little coloring break from cutting and folding and allows me to teach “Will you lend me _____?” because they always want the correct colors for the stoplight, and didn’t pick the red, yellow, green at the beginning.  Don’t tell them which colors they need to start with, just have the “Will you lend me ____?” phrase on the board and draw their attention to it when they start scrambling for colors (and asking in English).

Step 4: Labeling the City Elements

After that, we cut each block into 3 parts, so we have 12 flaps for the different shops.  I put the list of all the stores on the board and ask them in the TL “Where do we want to put the _____?” and someone raises their hand and says “on the top left part in the middle” or something like that and we write in the name of the store.  My next question is “Looking at the word __________ what do you think is sold there?” In Spanish, it’s pretty easy: zapatería-zapatos, pescadería-pescado and so on.  If they get it right, we draw a little icon next to the word so they remember what it is.


Once they have 6 of the 12 places, we take a 2 minute timed stand-up break, and with our foldables, we wander around asking 3 different people “Do you like to go to this store?  Why/Why not?” or “What is your favorite shoe store? Why?”  They’re simple questions that don’t require new vocab, but do require them to talk to another human and move their bodies out of their desks.

Step 5: Expanding Vocabulary

When the timer beeps (I recommend the full-screen timers that you can project that make horrible noises when they ring), everyone sits back down and I have them open one flap.  I write “objects” on one side and “actions” on the other, and we brainstorm together what is specific to that place.  I add in new vocab for that place, and we draw in reminder icons. We did 3 together before I let them loose in their groups to work.


At that point, they get a new timer, and are free to do the other ones in their table groups.  If they come up with vocabulary they don’t know, they are allowed to look it up, but I designate one person as the Word Reference person, and they have to draw a reminder icon for the word they look up.  That way they’re not all on their technology being distracted, and the kid looking up the word is feeling pressure from the group members to do the job so they can all move forward.

Step 6: Let’s Talk!

Once all six places are filled in, it’s time for another speaking activity. While they were working I put up the 0-9 conversation questions.  The questions are open-ended or have follow-up questions, and are only labeled 0-9 because I have spinners that have 0-9 spaces on them.  I’d do 6 questions if I used dice, and it works the same.  I separate them from groups into pairs, and they have to go sit with their new partner.  The first person spins and reads the corresponding question.  The partner answers the question and shoots a follow-up question back to person 1.   They spin and speak for 3 minutes, then everyone gets up and finds a different partner (I usually have them match shoe color or birthday months or something) and the process is repeated. 

The ticket out the door, after a few rounds of conversation practice, is that everyone has to write their answers to 5 of the 9 questions with the best Spanish they can manage.  They should be pretty comfortable, having done so much speaking, so it doesn’t usually take them long.

The next day is the rest of the foldable, the same way, but with no more handholding.  They already know the process and can do it in groups more quickly.  They come up with the vocabulary that they think is important, and when it’s time to move around, they are already used to the rhythm of spin & speak.  The only thing I have to do is change the questions to fit the last set of 6 places, and they have all new things to talk about.The most important thing remember while doing this foldable with the speaking interruptions and the group work is to use the timer.  When I started this with my first class I didn’t use a timer and was just judging roughly based on the wall clock.  The flow was off and I didn’t get the right things happening in the right amounts of time.  It wasn’t bad, it was just clunky.  I used a timer with my second section of the day, and it went much better.

Hope this helps!  Have fun!

On their own path (02/04/2017)

What a busy week in the blogging world. There were so many great posts from educators that it made it really tough to pick the ones that really made me think, smile, or wonder. Hope you’ll find them helpful in your own journey.

  • Using Proficiency Levels With Students? I NOW Get Why! (Or “You Don’t Play Video Games Just to Play Do You?”)

    Inspired by the work of teachers in both Jefferson County (KY) and Shelby County (TN), I’ve been talking about the importance of getting learners involved in understanding proficiency. Japanese teacher, Colleen Lee-Hayes make a pretty powerful argument for inviting her students onto the Path to Proficiency instead of just “asking them to play the video game over and over but I have failed to validate this but giving them a ‘new level’ to achieve.” Read Colleen’s post –> 

  • Student-Teacher Relationships Are Everything

    We have all taken the class. We have all sat through the professional development and yet it’s easy to forget. Educator, James Ford, provides a very blunt reminder that the “relational part of teaching may very well be its most underrated aspect. It simply does not get the respect it deserves.” And I really really want to create a t-shirt now that says “Maslow comes before Bloom”.  Read James’ post –> 

  • El Camino a la Competencia

    Spanish teacher, Alissa Farias, shares some main takeaways in this summary reflection about her experience at TELL Collab Seattle: Learning Targets, Pathway to Proficiency, Level Up, 90% Target Language.  Read Alissa’s post –> 

  • When homework is not the problem

    A quick read from Spanish teacher, Maris Hawkins, that will leave you thinking about why students make some of the decisions in your classroom when it comes to using translators. “one thing that really stuck out to me was that Alice said essentially that many times we blame homework on why students aren’t doing well, but that is not the reason that they are not doing well.”  Read Maris’ post –> 

  • Task-based White Elephant

    Creating task-based lessons is a big part of being on the path to proficiency. In this post, Latin Teacher, Rachel Ash, outlines and provides access to her work, as she designed a lesson where her students weren’t just learning language or about language, but where “language became a means instead of an end.”  Read Rachel’s post –> 

  • 3 Ways to Encourage Creativity in Your Classroom

    While this is a non-language teacher post, from Educator Steven Anderson, it spoke to me as it served as a reminder for what so many language teachers are trying to do. When are students most creative (aka engaged)? When they have choice, mobility and an audience!  Warning: the post is an advertisement for a product. Just ignore that part, the message still applies.  Read Steven’s post –> 

  • Resolutions 2017: Support the Community 

    Continuing her series of resolution posts, Spanish educator, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, reminds us how else we can be respectful and support each other in our work as educators and encourages her readers to take some very specific actions in 2017. Hope you will join me in not just reading the post but taking one or more of those actions.  Read Sara-Elizabeth’ post –> 


On their own path (01/28/2017)

After spending a wonderful weekend at TELL Collab Seattle last week (thanks to Japanese teacher, Colleen Lee-Hayes for her reflections of the learning on day 1 and day 2 last), I’m back to reviewing some of the posts that caught my attention over the last two weeks. And with just about everyone back to school, so are the bloggers who have been sharing insights and reflections from their classrooms.  Take a look at these posts that made me stop and think and consider joining me in NYC in March for another TELL Collab.

  • Spinning Plates: 30 preguntas for planning

    Planning a lesson is likely one of the most difficult aspects of being a teacher, and it’s no secret that most teachers don’t have enough time for it. Spanish teacher, Laura Sexton, shares a series of categorized questions that help her stay focused. Everything from how she can make herself comprehensible to the learners, to infusing culture, and differentiating, to keeping the focus on getting her learners to “a real, concrete communicative situation”. Of course, I’m already contemplating how to turn these questions into a lesson planning template.  Read Laura’s post –> 

  •  New Year’s Resolution: Type my Lesson Plans

    Speaking of lesson planning. In my New Year’s Post, I encouraged teachers to start thinking about establishing systems instead of setting goals for the new year. Spanish teacher, Andrea Brown, is sharing her process for being more intentional about lesson planning this year by finally typing them and after realizing that she had never “been required to submit detailed lesson plans, which I think would have been a helpful chore my freshman year of teaching.” Read Andrea’s post –>

  • Resolutions 2017: Do Something Empathetic

    To say that the political culture in our country is divisive would be an understatement. Sadly, very often so is the culture of our world language teaching field. In this powerfully honest post that will leave you thinking for days, Spanish educator Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, challenges all of us on many levels and reminds us to “talk to the person, not the pedagogy.” Read Sara-Elizabeth’ post –>

  • How to Grow Your Language Program

    Sustaining or growing a quality language program is influenced by so many factors. Spanish teacher, Holly Viebranz, reflects on her situation and challenges in an attempt to figure out why “certain teachers had a much higher percentage of their students continue to study the language, and other teachers had hardly anyone chose to continue after spending the year with them .” Read Holly’s post –>

  • How I Try to Decrease Anxiety on Assessments

    We used to talk about students having test anxiety and then somehow we outlawed the word test and now students have assessment anxiety. Spanish teacher, Maris Hawkins, shares some important ideas how she tries to help keep the focus on the real purpose of assessment: performance & feedback. Read Maris’ post –>

  • From the Path 2 Proficiency: Holding Myself Accountable

    A new semester is also a good time to check and see how you are doing on meeting those EPIC goals you set last summer. Valerie gives an update on her journey that is helping her students to be “working more at their individual level, engaging with the material and participating without lots of pressure to perform during every class.” Read Valerie’s post –>