Posted in Favorites, reflection

Resolution for 2018: Being more effective

Adobe Spark (71)

I write this to say that I am not a guru for organization and being effective- I am far from it.  I am trying to work on my work- life balance, and this is what has worked for me so far.  Throughout the year, I haven’t felt too off balance.  But around the fall, I started getting migraines, and I realized that I was more off balanced than I realized.  It also forced me to take some time for myself to go to some doctor appointments- which is always challenging for a teacher!  Throughout the year, I have made a few changes, and I hope to channel even more changes throughout this year.

First, I started using more Yoga with Adriene videos again.  I love using them because there are some videos that are under 10 minutes and some that are up to 30-40 minutes if I have more time.  It allows me to adjust it to my schedule.  Also, I can change based on how I feel- tired, motivated or energized.

I also wanted to drink more water.  I can never remember to carry around a water bottle or a cup.  However, I can remember to put it by my sink in my bathroom.  This has allowed me to drink more water at the beginning and end of day.  I have also read that I should add some cucumber, mint or lemon to help me drink more water.  Consider that on the to do list for 2018!  I am still not where I want to be, but I am definitely improving.

For this year (2018), I am using timers to become more effective during my down time.  As I have said before, I am not the most organized as far as my desk goes.  I will make checklists which help me, but pretty much, I prioritize what I NEED to do.  Things like organize my desk keep getting added to the list on the following day.  I have decided to add a few minutes to my routine before and after school to help with this.  Since I don’t have too much time before school (and I am mostly making copies and getting coffee #priorities), I am going to set an alarm for 5 minutes to straighten my desk.  Then in the afternoon after teaching, when I don’t have the brain capacity to plan, I will set an alarm for 10 minutes to organize.  It seems like such a small amount of time, but my first attempt was successful.  I had a two hour delay, so I organized for 10 minutes, and my desk was pretty much good to go!  Then at the end of the day, I recycled any papers that I didn’t need- and voila.

I also plan on trying this to keep up with my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  I have had some ideas that I want to develop, but it seems overwhelming to start something in addition to everything else.  During my planning time, I can set a timer for 5 minutes to work on it.  After doing this for awhile, I am getting close to finishing another journal prompts list.  The timer also helps keep me inspired instead of trying to look for creativity.

I have also noticed that when I start accomplishing things, I have a lot of momentum.  My husband notices that I am in the zone.  In addition to trying to accomplish more, I am writing down my to do list each night.  Between setting timers and using lists, it also helps me sleep more most nights (except when I am in the middle of a book!)

Although I feel like sometimes I am too connected to my phone, I try to keep my ringer off.  This started based on practicality because I wouldn’t remember to turn it off when I was in class.  Now, I typically keep my sound off.  This allows me to ignore my phone much easier.  Many times, if I can hear my phone, I will automatically look at it.  When the sound is off, I don’t constantly pick it up.

I hope that some of my tips will help you- and it gives me some more accountability by actually writing it out!  How do you become more effective throughout the day?

Posted in reflection

Appreciate your own progress

Adobe Spark (19)

I really wanted to title this post: You do you*, but I felt that my last slogan title may have been too click baity.  I didn’t want ALL of my titles to be misleading or become too reliant on the pop culture (which I love.)  Without much more ado, I want to encourage you to recognize what is possible within your own teaching while appreciating your progress… with some caveats!

There are a lot of trends in world language teaching.  Many teachers are ditching textbooks, ditching homework, ditching desks, ditching bellringers, ditching traditional assessments, and the list goes on.  You cannot do all of this and stay sane!  If you had told me when I started teaching that I would be ditching textbooks and bellringers, I wouldn’t have believed you.  But even as I continue to evolve as a teacher, I do not see myself going deskless… at least not any time soon.  Technology is a big part of my class, and it is annoying to use a computer without a desk.  Right now, it isn’t in the cards for me.

However, I felt the same way when I read Sara-Elizabeth’s post about primacy and recency- which eventually lead to my ditching of bellringers.  She posted it a good three years before I decided to switch how I ran my classroom.  I stuck with bellringers, and they worked for me… until I reached a point that they weren’t working for me.  If you still love bellringers and they work for you, keep them!  I promise that I do not think of anyone as a bad teacher if they have a bellringer at the beginning of their class- I doubt anyone does!  All I ask (and my asterisk here) is that you consider the alternative.  Maybe a month, three months (or in my case three years), it will make sense for you.  That is what reading blogs does for me.  It gives me a way to look at others’ classrooms, reflect and decide how it works for me.

I could wax poetic about some of the other things I didn’t think I would do: Twitter (I always forgot to use #langchat on my first few Thursday night chats), or even teach a blended class (I don’t think I knew what that meant and did not like the online classes that I saw) etc, but I think you know your own list of ideas that you didn’t think you would ever do.  As I said before, you have to do what makes YOU and YOUR STUDENTS comfortable… with a few additions.  I believe that there are a few tenets that all teachers should follow to truly be reflective practitioners:

  • Connect to someone!  It doesn’t have to be through Twitter or blogs (although if you are reading mine, I assume that you believe in PD via blogs!)  Connect through Facebook.  I have ended up with some great ideas through the recent Facebook groups that I have joined.  Or- meet up with another teacher for coffee in your building.  Talk to a teacher that doesn’t teach world languages.  Meet up with someone else in your district or another local district.  The point is to get out and talk to someone else about FL teaching or best teaching practices in general.
  • Reflect on what you are doing.  You may not reflect every day, but reflect more often than is required by your school.  After you finish each unit perhaps, think about what works and what doesn’t work.  Think of at least one small tweak that you could change for the next year.
  • Even though you don’t have to make HUGE changes, use your reflections to try a small change (my personal favorite!)  Try ditching the bellringer once or twice in a week to see what happens.  Try throwing away part of the textbook unit that you hate to teach before throwing out the whole book.  (Camping unit, I am looking at you still!  Also- all that airport vocabulary… no one needs to memorize the word in Spanish for oxygen mask.)  Try Free Voluntary Reading for five minutes at the beginning of class with some of Mike Peto’s tips.  If you always try structured input, give one word images a try a few times.  For me, this is how bigger changes happen.  Two years ago, I managed to use an interpersonal bootcamp twice.  Last year, I used it much more because it was successful the previous times.
  • When you do make changes, make sure you change it because it isn’t working for you and your students and make sure you base it in research.  You are the teacher, and you are the expert on your classes.  You can see what is working for you and what isn’t.  Make sure that your changes are based on research based practices.  I love blogs such as Sara-Elizabeth’s and Gianfranco’s blog which base much of their study on research.

Most teachers do this!  They connect with other teachers, reflect and make small changes based on research.  After that- you do you!  If the textbook still works for you or you are not in a place to tackle that beast, don’t!  If you are like me, and you are pretty happy to keep your desks/tables, keep them in place!  As long as you continue to connect and make small changes, the rest will fall into place.  Too many teachers try too much and then revert back to their comfort zone or give up on teaching.  I believe that you can have a balance and still find your way.  I hope that my blog helps you find your way without feeling like you must teach or be like me.  My ultimate goal is to let you know what worked for me, what I have learned and things I am pondering.


Posted in reflection

Reflections from 2016-2017 school year

Reflections 2016-2017

This year, I ditched traditional tests and quizzes for IPAs (Integrated Performance Assessments).  Last year, I played around with some limited IPAs while sticking to the textbook.  I felt freer this year to continue to push the boundaries and expand.  Meredith noted this in her most recent post on Path2Proficiency, but I was more positive.  I could focus on what students COULD do instead of looking for places to take a half point off here or there.  One of my main focuses was if I could understand what my students said and if they could understand what they were hearing or listening.

One big plus was that I felt that students felt freer to express themselves in Spanish whether it was written or spoken.  I had so many students try to speak Spanish outside of class.  I actually had more parents come in and tell me that their students were speaking Spanish outside of class for the first time.  In previous years, it would be the opposite conversation.  I had to explain what I was doing, so their students would speak Spanish because they never wanted to talk outside of class.  I believe that this alone would be a big enough sign that I am on the right path for my students and my teaching.

In addition, as I have continue to work with proficiency, I have noticed that students are increasing the vocabulary that they are using.  They are also starting to organize their writing more and writing more complex sentences.  Before, I only focused on if their writing was grammatically correct and they wrote the given number of sentences.  It didn’t matter if they used the same verb or not.  Although I would use different pictures for students to describe, many times they would fall back on the same vocabulary.  This year, they were able to push themselves to use more vocabulary.

As Wendy posted, I want to start by focusing on things I DID accomplish and check off because it can be easy to focus on what you want to still want to change:

  • I replaced my traditional tests and quizzes with Integrated Performance Assessments.  Last year, we did an IPA as a final for level 3.  This year, we extended it down to level 2.  As I wrote above, my students finally spoke so much more and wrote so much more, too!
  • I felt that due to this change, I was able to give more specific feedback.  Before, I could give feedback on grammar and vocabulary, but now I can give feedback on comprehensibility or level of discourse.
  • I incorporated more speaking assessments into my year than I ever have, and I even had students do a presentation that went well for students and me!
  • I incorporated Billy y las botas graphic novel into my classes.  I felt much more successful this year with Billy than I have been with some novels in past years.
  • Due to my changes with curriculum, I had to evolve my blended class.  Although it can be tricky to do so, I felt it made my class stronger.
  • I found and successfully incorporated both ActivelyLearn and Flipgrid into my classes.  I felt that both technologies enhanced my curriculum.
  • I finally applied to and presented at two conferences!  This has been a big goal of mine, and I am so happy to have accomplished it!  Also, I was super lucky to attend ACTFL, NECTFL and GWATFL this year.  I think this helped me make such big changes this year.
  • I focused a lot on how to teach reading and evolving how I work with authentic reading texts.  I started to utilize each authentic text more at the end of the year instead of just asking a few questions and moving on.
  • I became confident enough with my ability to develop units and curriculum that I have ditched the textbook next year in place of novels and proficiency units!

Changes for next year:

  • At the end of the year, I noticed that my students were still struggling with some listening skills.  I used some of the Language Gym’s microlistening activities.  These seemed to help my students improve their listening.  I plan on using more of these next year.
  • I want to create more overarching units to incorporate even more culture.  I believe that moving away from the textbook will help me to do so.  I also want to make sure that students use information from all of the sections of the IPA and unit.  They didn’t seem to make the connection that it was all connected.  I want to be more deliberate.
  • I still want to work on how students process feedback.  At the end of the year, I gave a Google Form for students to process feedback.  I want to continue to do that as well as work on my effectiveness when I give feedback.
  • I am thinking about how to organize my students now that they will be textbookless.  Perhaps interactive notebooks?  This will be a lot of food for thought over the summer!

Thanks to Wendy for giving me the idea!  It feels amazing to reflect on what I checked off this year!  What did YOU check off this year?

Posted in reflection

When homework is not the problem

When homework isn't the problem

One thing that I have thought about since DitchSummit is about the role of homework after Alice Keeler‘s talk.  I still have some reservations about ditching homework entirely.  I believe that it does provide a repeated exposure to the words in the target language that can help students.  In addition, all of our students can use the internet for their homework, so I can have a practice with feedback via Quizizz or EdPuzzle.  I also try to write out thoughtful study guides that prepare students for the test or quiz.

However, 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.  Well, that was me.  I would frequently say that if a student wasn’t doing well it was because they weren’t doing the homework.  While there was somewhat of a correlation especially for study guides, this wasn’t the exact reason.  I decided to take homework off the table while reflecting on why students weren’t doing well.

This year, I have realized that some students who struggle have been relying upon Google Translate (or SpanishDict) too much.  While I frequently discourage it and I will tell students not to use it, I can tell when students rely upon it.  They are not really decoding any parts of the reading or sentence if they are using Google Translate instead of figuring out the one word that they needed and use WordReference or Quizlet.  Whereas, it is obvious when students translate from English to Spanish, it isn’t as obvious when students translate from Spanish to English.  They can typically make any linguistic or meaning jumps that are needed.

I have thought about how to combat this.  Although I hate using the extra paper, I am going to print off the Quizlet lists.  Then, I can tell students just to use the lists.  I am also going to implement a SraSpanglish (Laura) rule of capitalizing any word that you look up in writing.  I am going to continue to play around with having students highlight any phrase from the reading that they look up.  Hopefully this will help them to become cognizant of the amount they look up or need to look up.

How do you combat the reliance on Google Translate?  Any other tools to add to my kit?

Posted in Assessments, Integrated Performance Assessment, reflection

The evolution of my interpretive reading tasks

As I am becoming more of a proficiency based teacher, I have been evaluating my interpretive reading tasks.  (Sometimes along this path, I feel that as I learn more information, the amount of information that I do not know increases!)  When I first read about the interpretive reading tasks, I assumed that they were just comprehension questions on an infographic (especially because I was working with novice students.)  Occasionally, I would include a question about the main topic.  It was pretty easy, and I thought, “Way to go self!  You made an interpretive reading assignment!”  However, I started to realize that interpretive tasks go WAY beyond this.  I investigated a little further and found the following list of questions to include on an interpretive reading assessment.

From ACTFL, I learned that they add on many different questions.  In addition to specific key word identification and the main idea, this book suggests adding true/false items and having students correct false statements.  They also have students indicate where they found this information within the text.  The article also adds questions on how the text was organized, phrases that allow students to guess meaning from the text, and on inferences based on the text overall.  Finally, the interpretive section on this assessment also includes perspectives from the author and the culture and an opportunity for students to reflect on this information.  Also, I found Courtney’s stations example which really clicked with me.  I always need to see a good example to go along with something I am reading.

Whew!  That introduced a lot of questions that I wasn’t including!  (Also, all of those good infographics that I spent hours combing to find were getting a very superficial glance by my students!)  I am still developing my IPAs overall, but I feel that my interpretive reading section is definitely getting stronger, and it is challenging more of my students.  Also, I always like to point out to people that I am a human behind this blog, and I am not perfect!  I am always trying to improve.  Hopefully these ideas will help you as you develop your own IPAs, or you can at least feel that you are not as alone as you are developing how you are teaching.

Posted in Art, reflection

Take an art tour!

Take your students to an art gallery

Whew!  We just got back from taking an art tour of the National Gallery of Art in DC.  It was great!  They have guided tours open to the public that they conduct in Spanish.  (They also have scheduled tours in French, Mandarin, Russian, German, Japanese and Italian!)  I have a group of really dedicated and enthusiastic students in my Middle School Spanish II class.  I decided that they were ready for a real tour.  That didn’t mean that I was nervous- what if they tuned out because they didn’t understand any of it?  What if they didn’t enjoy listening about the art?

I should have known better!  They were all excited about what they could understand!  They all reported that they understood a lot more than they thought they would.  My students realized that they had to really focus to understand, but they could understand it.  Many would ask me for clarification of words that they frequently heard but did not know. However, the students all felt like they learned either about art or more Spanish.  After the first talk as we were walking to the next, the students were all chatting about what parts they understood.  It was meaningful because it was authentic.  They realized that they could take an art tour in another country and understand what was going on.  Having the art there was also beneficial as students could see what the docent talked about.  It can be nerve-wracking to go out of your comfort zone and do something like this- but you will never know until you do!  As a teacher, sometimes you have to take on part of the risk for your students.  You should look for art tours at the local museum to see if they are offered in Spanish.  If you do not have a local art museum that gives tours in Spanish, here is a list of YouTube sites in Spanish:

Posted in Assessments, reflection, Speaking

Reflections on my first Interpersonal Bootcamp

Two weeks ago in #langchat, I talked about how I wanted to try more speaking assessments.  I have done one speaking assessment (other than the exam), and it took me to grade.  I procrastinated, and I never wanted to give another speaking assessment again.  (I know, that is not a good reason.)

Then Rebecca mentioned her interpersonal bootcamp!  I loved it!  I was sold, and my students completed it that week.  Here was how the process went:

  • By keeping this goal in mind, it allowed me to plan better speaking activities leading up to the activity.  It gives them a purpose for each activity, and it motivates them to speak Spanish in the classroom even more.
  • While students were taking the speaking activity, other students were completing a short, written presentational assessment.  I liked having the two samples (spoken and written) for one assessment.  It also ensured that my students worked quietly.  Finally, one student reflected that having the speaking part helped him vary his vocabulary in his writing.  I will take that!
  • I didn’t have fake jewels (will have to add that to the next Amazon Prime order!), but we used pink and purple paperclips.  It allowed students to have a reminder of who needed to talk.  Each student had to talk throughout the session.
  • I was able to get quick data, and I did not have to listen to students’ speaking for an extended period of time after class.  I also didn’t have the technical glitches with students’ recordings.  Plus, we were able to complete this activity relatively quickly and had time in class for another activity.

I was also pleased with the feedback:

  • I had plenty of notes, and this allowed me to give feedback to each group and students overall.
  • It did seem to take awhile for me to complete the feedback, but I typed up notes for each group and student.  I decided to give overall notes to the group, so I was not being repetitive and then individual notes to each student.  However, I really did not mind taking the time to give this feedback.  It didn’t seem as tedious as listening to each group THEN trying to give useful feedback.  I also feel that it is much more valuable than circling or highlighting something on a rubric.  See one group’s feedback below:


Reflecting on Interpersonal Bootcamp

In the future, I would want to change a few things:

  • I think I will participate a bit more.  While I did not want to interfere with the process, some groups got off topic then they hadn’t addressed the topic, but they had spoken on their turns.  This way, they can still participate, and I can make sure I have enough data to assess them accurately.
  • I also think that it is one thing to be able to talk to fellow students who use a smaller amount of vocabulary.  As a teacher, I am able to impart more vocabulary and harder questions.
  • I also needed to emphasize the fact of making it an actual conversation.  Only a few groups asked follow-up questions, so it became more of a question and everyone answers process.
  • I would also like to change it up with an EdPuzzle or Zaption video activity while students are speaking.  This would change up the process and also keep students quiet.

Finally, if you are going to start this, I would have done some of the initial things differently:

  • As my students were practicing their speaking, I would have practiced scoring.  I became a lot better as the classes went on.  However, it would have been easier on me if I had practiced earlier.  This would have also provided more notes for myself.
  • I would have emphasized staying on topic.  Many of my students would just ask different questions and then they would drag others off topic.
  • I would also watch what I wrote as a prompt.  I wanted them to talk about any family members that they visited over break, but they discussed how many family members they have in general.  In that case, I also am not sure how clear I was with the “can-do” statements.

With all that being said, overall, I loved it!  I felt that my students did better than I expected.  I planned on completing one this week with my middle school students, but we haven’t been back to school since Thursday!  I will continue to use this assessment throughout the year.  Thanks Rebecca for the great suggestion!

Posted in reflection

Goals for 2015-2016

I am required to write goals at the beginning of the year, but I really enjoy it!  It is important to do this BEFORE the week back to school.  Who in their right mind can successfully write goals as they are attending 80 meetings, setting up their classroom/website and catching up with the school gossip?!  Here are my four goals for this year:

  1. Keep up with my yoga!  I have started doing yoga more frequently with Yoga with Adriene. (Love her!)  I may have to go to bed a little later or wake up a little earlier, but I want to incorporate it more into my routine.
  2. Use FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) in all of my classes.  I have posted about learning more about it at NTPRS.  I will keep it to five minutes in the beginning, but I am excited to use it!
  3. My department is going to use more Integrated Performance Assessments this year.  I am looking forward to developing them for both Spanish II and III.
  4. Finally, I am looking forward to developing my Spanish III curriculum.  I want to make it more comprehensible input (CI) based even though I do have to use a textbook because I am not the only teacher.

What are your goals next year?  I am most excited about FVR!

Posted in conference, reflection

Day 2: And some reflection

Day 2 of the conference was also wonderful!  We started out by talking about feedback for creating an IPA.  Namely, you must think about what meeting and exceeding expectations looks like.  You cannot assess students if you have not established what you want students to attain.

We then talked about how to plan a unit.  I was waiting to put my finger on what my lessons are truly missing.  I kept waiting for something today that I never got.  It took me awhile to figure out what I really wanted, but I finally did.  Here is my revelation from today:

I REALLY need to revamp my speaking activities.

I have tried different things, but many times they are not successful or seem forced.  Here are a variety of things that I have not done successfully:

  • Info Gap activities: They are ok.  Some students complete them successfully, and others just tell their partner in English and have them write it down in Spanish.  That defeats the whole purpose!  If I had to boil it down to the root, students really just don’t care what time Ricardo takes English.
  • Describing pictures: I have done this multiple ways.  I posted pictures around the room, and students moved in groups describing the pictures.  Originally, I believed that it would give students a lot of information to talk about and also guide them.  Some students wrote about this as their least favorite activity.  I thought it was because it was difficult.  I was definitely lying to myself.  It was probably extremely boring.
  • Find Someone Who: While I really liked that students were moving about, most of the time they reverted back to English.  Again, that defeated the purpose of the activity.  Even when I milled around, they would speak Spanish when I was next to them and then switch.
  • Personal Questions: I would write down questions and have students interview different students using these questions.  Many times, students would switch to English.

So there you have it!  My list of failed speaking activities.  Some of them I have mentioned on here.  I will say that I believe that Voicethread has been a wonderful addition, but students are only speaking one way.  I want them to have a conversation!  I also have a mission this summer- find effective speaking activities!  I believe that I will find some of this at NTPRS.  I am also going to scour the internets and find activities that I believe will be successful.  If you have an awesome activity, please share.  I am a woman with a mission!

Posted in conference, Integrated Performance Assessment, reflection

Day 1: Language Learning for the Modern World and the Modern Mind

I am just finishing up day 1 of this conference.  I am so excited to learn more about not only how to create an IPA (Integrated Performance Assessment– you can read more here if you are not familiar with an IPA) but also how to adjust my teaching to make sure that I am teaching correctly (day 2).  I believe that this is the key.  I definitely understand what IPAs are, but I want to make sure that I am supporting my students before I have them complete an IPA.  It is not fair to ASSESS them that way if I am not teaching them this way.

Today, I had some really interesting take away messages though:

  • At St. Andrews, they assess by communicative competence and cultural competence.  Students should know that as the facilitator put it- you cannot order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in Mexico.  I believe that this puts culture naturally into the curriculum.  You are not just teaching students information to answer a multiple choice question, but you are really giving them great information.
  • Some of the information that I learned revolved around how a student interacts with the text or speaker:
  • When a teacher assesses interpretive assignments, he is only looking at comprehension.  The student does not negotiate meaning with the speaker or writer.
  • In interpersonal assessments, there is negotiation of meaning.  Students work together and asking clarifying questions is encouraged.  When completing an interpersonal assessment, the MS teacher also has students complete this in three times.  They will do a sort of speed dating- with their best friend first then the next two people.  They are able to practice it further and their grade does not solely depend on having a good partner.
  • Finally, presentational does not have a negotiation of meaning either as students are showing what they know individually.
  • When the teachers give feedback during the final exam, they also tell students how they can prepare over the summer for the next level.  The teachers said that students can better articulate what they know and their struggles.

At the end, we created our own IPA.  Mine is a combination of what I have learned online and through other examples.  I created an IPA for a traditional food/restaurant unit:

  • Interpretive: Students read a Yelp review and answer questions about it.  For example: what are the foods that the review mentions?  Would the author recommend eating there?  Why or why not?
  • Interpersonal: Students must be either a waiter or client and mention a problem they have with the service or their food.  The two must interact to solve the problem.  They will then switch roles.
  • Presentational: A student dined at a restaurant last night.  He must write a Yelp review of the place including his recommendation.

So there you have it!  It is a bit of a brain dump from the first day.  As I am working on developing IPAs, I would welcome feedback.  Have you had any AHA moments this summer?