Monday, December 16, 2013


I am so frustrated right now. We are in the final stretch of the semester (final exams begin tomorrow!) I am not sure what the issue is with some of my students, but I am very upset by the overuse of Google Translate. I am not sure what the problem is.......or how to fix it. I have never had a group so reliant on GT before.

My current frustration is a student that wrote his three paragraph fairy tale for the summative assessment for the fairy tale unit. The minute I looked at it, I knew there was trouble. The writing was far superior to anything he had ever done before. As I read the three paragraphs, my eye was drawn to three misspelled words, one in each paragraph, in English. This pretty much confirmed what I had suspected all along, that he had used Google Translate to write the story.

Now, against my policy and my usual mean "teacher" self......I spoke to this student, and after he confessed to using the translator (and he broke down and cried), I decided to give him the opportunity to write the story again....IN HIS OWN WORDS!! I reassured him that I would not have given an assignment that I didn't feel that all of my students were capable of doing and that dictionaries are fine, but translators are not. Students have to use their own brain to show me what they know.

So, today was the deadline for him to give me his rewrite. (I gave him an entire week, which I thought was rather nice of me.) What did I get for all my niceness? I have a paper, that is almost word for word EXACTLY THE SAME as the original paper he turned in!!!!! He did fix the words that he misspelled in English and translated them to Spanish.....and he also added his own sentence to the end. Now to ensure that I knew exactly what had been done, he made sure he gave me back the original with the new version.

I am so upset I could spit nickels.....Now, I have to call parents and explain that I gave their kiddo a second chance and that he still chose to use the translator. I don't know how to be more clear about translator usage. me!!!!

Friday, November 29, 2013

ACTFL13 Saturday Sessions

As promised, here are my reflections on the Saturday sessions. Sadly, I had so much fun hanging out with Garnet Hillman and Laura Sexton on Friday, that I did not get to the early session. (I also was up late tweaking my presentation, because as you know, I am a control freak!)

Tech Tools and PLN

So, I confess, I don't even know the exact name of Joe Dale's session. I was so excited to,get to be in one of his sessions personally, that somehow I missed it. He is a total rock star of tech in the WL classroom, and his presentation, although a little overwhelming, left me with tons of new resources to check out, new ways to expand my PLN, and even some factual justification for tech in the WL classroom. If you ever get a chance to see him, don't miss it. Until then, the link to his presentation is here.

So, with so much great information and great tech  tools, here are the ones that totally resonated with me.

  • SAMR and TPAC - I had heard of SAMR before, but TPAC was totally new. Basically these two acronyms are the justification of using tech, not just for tech sake in the classroom. There are some catchy videos (linked in Joe's presentation) that explain it far better than I could When I did my own Google search, I found many more. The best part of these were that they helped teachers really think about the tech that they are bringing into their classroom while helping them justify the need to administrators.
  • Apps for multiple intelligences - Never before had I seen such a fantastic breakdown of iPad apps. These are a great way to open up the conversations with students about how they learn best, and finding tools that appeal to them. Also check out Kathy Schrock's take on Blooms with apps here. Just an amazing resource, especially if you are lucky enough to have a classroom with iPads.
  • Quad Blogging - As someone who is on the lookout for more real world authentic conversations and audiences for my students, this one got me really excited. You sign up to be matched with three other classrooms that are blogging. Then, there is a four week cycle of blogging. Each class blogs one week, and then reads and responds the other three weeks to the other students in the other classrooms. I am thinking that this might be a great way to incorporate that audience that I need for my PBL projects on the TL. 
  • - so, you are looking for some new tech tools to use in your classroom? Look no further. This site is full of tested websites for classroom application.
  • #mfltwitterati - I consider myself fairly savvy about the chats that happen on Twitter for World Language, and what hashtags to follow, but I was completely in the dark about this one. I think I had seen it, but had no idea what it meant. This hashtag is used by WL teachers in the UK, and really around the world to share ideas, find other teachers with common interests, and just basically support each other. Joe wrote a great article about it for The Guardian. Start searching for it to see what is going on, and when you are sharing something awesome, so it globally with this hashtag. (If you are not on Twitter yet, you really need to be! It is where all the "cool" kids are!)
Yes, this is only the very tip of the iceberg of Joe's presentation, so you really should check it out for yourself. If you have questions, he is very responsive on Twitter @JoeDale. 

Digital Storytelling

This was a session that was not quite what I had expected. There were quite a few samples of student projects given, but in Chinese and French, so I was unable to get as much as I would have liked to. However, I did come away with one great project idea. Students should create a photo story of a day in their life in the target language. This is a great idea and I can see how it can be easily adapted to any level. It also provided students with the freedom in assignments that I really like (and the students like) so that students can feel free to really use their interests to learn the target language. 

The suggestion was made at this session to really have students check in with teachers prior to the completion of the final project. I would agree, and think that students should turn in the script for the presentation prior to putting it all together to help ensure students are staying in track. 

One of the things I like most about this project is that there isn't a ton of tech required for it. Students can create a simple Power Point, or they can use some of the more complex tools available.this way students can't use a lack of tech knowledge as an excuse for not turning in a quality project. I think it would also be a great project to use as an introduction to a student in another class..wherever that might be.

Let's Build a City

This session was recommended to me, and I am so glad I attended it. This session described a project where students create a city as a class. In my Spanish II class, I had students create a house and then we created a town map together, but I love the idea of an actual 3D city even more.

Students learn about the layout of cities in the TL country and then make a plan for a city with each student creating a building from a shoe box. It gives students the opportunity to really look at a city and to think about why cities are laid out the way they are. For example, in French cities, the cathedral is the center of the city, and in most European cities, streets are not in NS and EW rows, but at differing angles. Unlike the project I did where students created an American town, this project encourages them to learn about the culture of another city and then apply their knowledge in the project.

Students are given a list of possible buildings to choose from, and the presenters had students in multiple classes create one large city. Once the city is created, they can then do activities together to practice commands, directions and vocabulary in a more "real" setting. The suggestion was made that students can practice with a car on the end of a yardstick, or put the buildings on tables in rows so that it was easier for the students to work with the city without turning into Godzilla and squashing the city.

The presenters also use QR codes which linked to audio files in which oral directions were recorded so that students could work on their listening skills and figure out starting and end points of directions. The teachers also provided some written exercises that were similar to the oral so that students could do some practice on their own first. It is a great project, and one that works really well in the flip for students to work collaboratively and teachers can be available for questions and assessments. I love projects that are student led!

They kept a chart where students would mark off when they had completed activities, such as the listening practice, reading practice, building creation. They also created some "extra" activities for students that completed early, such as creating a town Monopoly, town t-shirts, etc.I can't wait to implement this next year.

Flipped for Fluency

My presentation was on Saturday as well. It was wonderful to see so many people interested in the session. It was packed with people in the aisles, along the walls and crowded in the back. It was fun to present to such a great audience, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone that attended. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, ideas, or just to chat. If you missed it, there is a link in the Upcoming Presentations tab under ACTFL.

Final Thoughts

So many good sessions were at ACTFL, but my favorite part is always the collaboration and sharing of ideas that happens between sessions. I wish there was some way to increase that type of collaboration, and it is something I am thinking about for our state Spring Conference at CCFLT.

Getting to meet so many people that have been reading my blog, attending my webinars, or interacting with me on Twitter was so wonderful. I want to thank everyone again for making the effort to connect with me, and those that I had the chance to have some good chats with.

I am thinking about doing some Google Hangouts to discuss the flipped class or any other WL class topics in the new year. If you are interested, please let me know. In the meantime, I will hopefully see everyone at the #fliplang chat on Wednesday, December 18th at 8pm EST.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

ACTFL 2013 - My reflections on the Friday sessions

I am at ACTFL in Orlando, Florida this weekend, and it has been such a great experience. Not only have I attended some great sessions, but I was able to meet so many of the people I interact with online in person. It feels like meeting a rock star to have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with Joe Dale, Laura Sexton, Garmet Hillman, Pam Benton, just to name a few. If you are not familiar with these people, who ARE World Language rock stars, you should be. Get on twitter, follow their blogs, read the articles that they have written.

Since I have been doing so much socializing, I haven't been able to get all my thoughts together about the sessions as quickly as usual. However, there have been great sessions at ACTFL and I want to share them with everyone.If you are here, please share any other sessions that you went to because it is so hard to choose which sessions to attend and I want to hear about all of them.

So, this first post will cover the sessions that I attended Friday, and a subsequent post will discuss the Saturday sessions.

Google, and Google maps is a virtual cork board tool, which is similar to Glogster, Padlet, and Wallwisher. directly interfaces with Google, so students can login with their Google emails, and can easily incorporate their Google Docs and YouTube videos into their "board". Students can work collaboratively on their board, and teachers receive notification when students make changes or updates to the board.

In the sessions, a suggested use from this tool was for students to create a photo story visual tour of a city or country. It could include an apartment, furnishings, stores, restaurants, food, etc. Students could then present to the class using only the pictures as their guide. Students could then plot the points that they selected on a Google map, which is also a collaborative project. Then, when the students have added their country/city information on Google Maps, you can import the information into Google Earth and go on a virtual tour of all of the places that students investigated.

There was quite a bit of discussion about how students need to be exposed to more geography in our classes since many schools seem to be eliminating this course, and students still need to acquire this valuable information. In an AATSP session this summer, they also discussed using Google Earth in the classroom, but when I tried to do some things with it,  I found it a little persnickety. I also worry about the bandwidth needed to really make a Google Earth tour work. (This is a big concern at my school.) However. I really think that I need to spend some time figuring out Google Earth and finding ways to incorporate it into the classroom effectively. There is too much great information that students can use both geographical and cultural, to let the tech get in the way.

PBL in the TL

I should begin first by saying this session was led by none other than Laura Sexton (@SraSpanglish for all you Twitter people). Here is the link to the live binder from her presentation. She referenced quite a few things from her blog as well, which is here. If you are not following her blog, you should be!

After a quick explanation of PBL (which is well defined at the BIE website.), we dove right into how to create driving questions for a PBL project. Now, the biggest thing about PBL is that you need to have an issue that students are fired  about and an audience. The audience has always been where I have struggled with it. Who is a good audience for what my Spanish students are doing? There were some great suggestions made, which include: parents, other schools in other countries, other schools in our country, historical societies, competitions, ESL classes, and many more.

There is a ton of information intone Live Binder and her blog, which explains everything much better than I can. I am excited to really continue to investigate and plan some of here PBL projects because I do believe that when the language learning has a purpose, the kids will be much more invested in the outcome.

One of the great pieces of knowledge shared that was not totally PBL was Laura's advice to,her students about how to work on listening comprehension. She suggests to her students that when listening to a selection for the first time, they should just listen and let it wash over them. The second time they should write down any words that they knew from the listening, the the third time, use the words they wrote down to help them determine the meaning of he selection. I really like this method, and I am always on the lookout for new ways to help my students increase their listening comprehension.

20% projects for the World Language classroom

20% projects and/orThe Genius hour are a great way to let students incorporate what they are interested in with the target language. Students are given broad strokes for an explanation, they need to use the target language, talk to native speakers and "save the world". Basically students can do any type of project in any format that interests them. The key, much like in PBL is to have contact with native speakers of the target language.

As the presenters were quick to point out sometimes the students try to contact people in the TL but don't receive a message back. This can be disheartening for the kids, but is a possibility they (and teachers) should be prepared for.

Students use blogging for teachers to be able to monitor their progress. The assessment of these blogs seemed to be secondary, it was just a place for students to be writing in the TL about what they are working on. It also gives teachers a place to give students feedback about their progress.

When students present, the class needs to be taking detailed notes and they are required to ask deep, probing questions about the presentation. These need to be directly related to the content. For assessment of these projects, the presenters had students self assess and then had conferences with the students about how they thought they did. Students should be able to justify why they have given themselves the grade that they did. I think students also need to do a reflection piece for this project detailing what worked, what didn't, and what they could do differently in the future.

One of the presenters had their class work on the project throughout the class, and another gave a set period of time. I am going to implement a 20% project next semester and I want to have a specific day allocated for students to work on these projects. Because my school is on an alternating block schedule, I think I would have Fridays dedicated to working on this project. So, that is one 90 minute class every other week. My plan would be for students to present their projects as they completed them, but they must be done sometime around the beginning on April (depending on testing schedules).

The best of SCOLT - The Flipped Foreign Language Classroom

This was, of course, a presentation I could not pass up. I love to see what other flippers are doing, and it was my chance to meet some other flippers that I had been following on Twitter for a while.

This was a great presentation, and a great illustration of how there is no one right way to flip, teachers have to find what works best for themselves and their students. These three great teachers began their flipped journey by doing a book study of "Flip Your Class" by Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams. They met every week and read and discussed chapters and how they could implement the ideas in the World language classroom.

They decided to incorporate the videos that were already out there and to require that their students use Cornell notes There were some great examples of Cornell notes (which I have to admit, I have heard of, but never seen). My favorite part of these notes is that after students write down whatever the content notes are, they are REQUIRED to write a summary of the notes which includes how they can use what they just learned. I think that is a fantastic idea. I think I may have to wait until next year to incorporate that into my classroom.

The best part of the presentation for me was how these teachers worked together to find ways to make the changes that they thought were needed in their classroom to help their students learn. It is so much easier to do something new if you have a great support group. These ladies have co it used to meet to hash out problems, tech issues, and just give each other much needed support. I a excited to have met them and am glad that now we are in each other's PLN. :)

More about the Saturday sessions later.....

If you were at the conference and attended a great session, please add comments and share!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Ah Ha Week

The last week of October always is a big week in my classes. We are at the halfway point in the semester, students really understand what my expectations are, and they understand what they need to do in order to be successful in class. I like to refer to this week as the Ah Ha week.

This year has been very different from my previous years, and I have found that although fewer students object to the flipped class, more and more of them are trying to "manipulate" the system to make things easier for themselves. Both of my Spanish III classes keep trying to convince me that Google Translate is ok, they don't need to use a dictionary. It is so frustrating, and I hate constantly arguing with them. So many are determined not to try to use their brains, but to look up answers to everything that we are doing, even though I know that they can do it on their own.

But this is the week where the students are finally realizing that that doesn't work for them. They are receiving points for daily work, but if they didn't use their OWN brain- if they copied, translated, or looked up everything, this is the week where they finally realize that it isn't working for them. I can't tell you how many of my students during the first week of November have said to me,"Maybe I should watch the video, take my own notes, and do my own work." Shocker! When they do this, they do a better job with assessments, discussions, etc.

The real question is, why does it take so long? Are students so accustomed to using these cruthches at the lower levels that they just can't let them go, even with lots of encouragement? What can I do as a teacher to help?

First, I believe that even though I hate assessing students a lot at the beginning of the school year, I think it needs to be done. I think students can't give up the "crutches" because they are afraid of failure. At every level, students need to be challenged, but also be able to be successful. Too late this year, I realized that the only listening practice my level three students got last year was through music. Now, don't get me wrong, songs are great learning tools, but they can't replace practice listening to native speakers having real conversations. I also learned that the teacher who taught level two last year (who is no longer at my school) artificially inflated grades so students are confused why their grade is not as high as last year,and this is also a cause of their reaching for those crutches.

So, I am rethinking what is going on in class. I have reassessed my goals for my students, and realized that they need to receive more practice and more interactive activities where they can feel some success so I can continue to challenge them......and they will try and succeed......without the crutches.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Great Blogs = Great Ideas

There are so many people with so many great ideas on the web, but the challenge can be to find them. As a follow-up to my article on blogging for the CCFLT newsletter, I wanted to share some of my favorite blogs, not just for World Language, but for Technology and Education in general. The people that write these blogs are full of passion and great ideas and quite often have solutions and ideas to problems that I am facing in the classroom. I encourage you all to check them out.

The Creative Language Class - The teachers that write on these blogs are fantastic. They are full of great, real-world ideas for Spanish class, especially Spanish I. They also share some of their great assessment tools and rubrics.

Flipping with Kirch - Yes, this is a Math teacher's blog. She has so many great ideas and has inspired many of the philosophies that I employ in my flipped class. It is definitely worth checking out.

Calico Spanish - This blog is full of great ideas for the classroom and collaboration. They also house the archives for the #fliplang chat on Twitter which is another valuable resource.

Center for Applied Second Language Studies - The title says it all. This blog is full of great resources for all language teachers. There are writing prompts, conversation starters, and much more!

Free Technology for Teachers - Need I say more? Free and technology...some of my favorite words in English!

Kleinspiration - This teacher is at the lower levels and has great ideas that apply for all Foreign Language teachers. She also sponsors giveaways from time to time.

Sra. Spanglish Rides Again - This blog is from a fantastic Spanish teacher that uses PBL in class and has loads of other creative ideas for her classroom. Don't miss this one!

Hopefully this gives you a good place to start when following blogs. It is so easy to follow and well worth the while. If you know of other great resources, please share them. If you are starting your blogging journey, share that too! I love finding new resources.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Blogs: Powerful Reflection and Sharing Tools

This is a copy of an article that I wrote for the CCFLT October Newsletter:

Three years ago, when I began flipping my Spanish classroom, I also began another project – a blog. With a new classroom format, new students and all of the craziness that comes with the beginning of the school year, I realized that if I was going to keep track of my successes and failures in the classroom, I needed to start documenting them right away. I love my paper and pencil as much as anyone, but I wanted an electronic method to keep track not just of what was going on in my classroom, but online resources I found along the way.

With very little knowledge about actual blogging, I jumped right in. I looked at a few other blogs for some ideas on the basics and set up a blog website. My writing was for my own reflection and documentation of my classroom when I began, so I just wrote without regard to anything else. I did not write on any set schedule, I wrote when I had something I wanted to get out and had the time. Frequently, while writing about the day-to-day of my classroom, solutions and ideas would reveal themselves. Blogging has also allowed me to vent my frustrations from the classroom in a productive way.

After a couple of months, something surprising happened. I received a comment on one of my posts! I was shocked. Someone was actually reading what I was writing? Now of course I knew that what I wrote was on the Internet, but honestly did not think that anyone would find what I had to say interesting enough to be bothered reading, let alone making a comment. With newly found purpose, I began to write more regularly and share my blog on websites and with other teachers. I write and share about sessions I attend at conferences such as CCFLT, ACTFL, AATSP and others so that teachers that are not fortunate enough to attend these great events can gain some insight into all of the great ideas shared at these events. As a result, not only do I have an archive of my day-to-day classroom and conference notes, I have a huge cadre of teachers that have helped me and/or been helped by what I have written.

So now I issue the challenge to you, my fellow CCFLT members. Start a blog! Keep track of your ideas, successes and challenges, not because we have been mandated to reflect, but because we want to. We all want to continue to improve as teachers, and taking the time to share our classroom stories is a great way to do that. You will be surprised how helpful it can be, and I am sure when you start receiving comments and realizing that people from around the world have read your blog, it will empower you as it has empowered me.

Where to begin:

  1. Choose a platform – I use Blogger which is a Google product, but WordPress is also another very popular platform. I am sure there are many others as well, but these are very user friendly. 
  2. Set up an website for your blog – It doesn´t have to be anything fancy, but it should be something easy to remember and share. Look at other blogs for inspiration and ideas. Start writing – Just write that first blog post. Write about what is going on in your classroom or what you are planning. Just dive in and get started. 
  3. Share your blog – We all learn so much from one another. Take your time to share what you are doing and what you have learned. Share on Edmodo, Edutopia, and other websites as well as in person.
  4. Read and follow other blogs – Once your blog is up and running, you will see how easy it is to follow other blogs. Read and keep up with what other teachers are doing. Don´t be afraid to reference their blogs in your posts. 

Reflection on what we as teachers do in our classroom is very important. Utilizing technology to help keep your reflections documented and organized is almost a necessity today with all of the demands of the classroom. A blog is a great tool not only for your reflections, but to share them with others. Please feel free to check out my blog at and send me a link to your new blog. I can´t wait to start sharing and learning with you!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Flipped Out September - Assessment time for Spanish II

This month rivals April for how fast it goes. I really want to be posting more often, especially about my Spanish II class, but finding the time has been a real challenge! We completed the review unit in Spanish II, and are almost to the halfway point in our first unit - Where I live. The kids are starting to really understand the system, but so many are struggling with basics that they should have learned in Spanish I. We spent four weeks reviewing conjugation and vocabulary while working on listening, speaking and reading skills. I had decided not to give them a formal assessment for this review, and now I think that might have been a mistake. There seems to be so much that I feel like they should know that they do not, and now I am left trying to figure out how to solve this.

To preface, I just gave my first Benchmark Assessment, which is a short assessment which tests vocab and grammar. It is designed to see how the students are progressing on their way to the Summative Unit Assessment. First, I was surprised how many are such poor test takers. The vocabulary section was fill in the blank sentences, and they had a word bank. Now, this is very different from the Spanish I ¨kill and drill¨ daily quizzes that they are accustomed to. So, I anticipated some issues. However, what is wrong with students that leave half of the section blank when they have words to choose from? It is very frustrating.

Now, in these sentences, they are expected to conjugate the verbs correctly, make adjectives agree, etc. Is this too much to expect from a Spanish II student? I expect this from my Spanish III students, but I think that if they students are ever going to learn how to choose the right vocabulary and use it appropriately, they have to be held accountable somehow. Unfortunately, this accountability comes in the form of grades. I wish I knew some other way to make students see why it is important. Now, they don´t lose much credit, just 1/2 a point on a 2 point question.

Their lack of studying well always leads to other conversations with students, like how to study. It is amazing how many students feel that just staring at a vocabulary list for ten or fifteen minutes is studying. And for me, what else do I need to do to help them ¨get¨ the vocabulary? They do some written practice, listening practice with the words, reading with some of the words, Google Voice prompts for speaking with the works, and online journals where they need to use some of the vocabulary. At what point does it become their responsibility? Should we be doing more bell-ringers with the words? I want them to be successful, but I also think that it is their responsibility to learn vocabulary. Still searching for new and better ideas to help my students succeed. Ideas welcome.....

Monday, September 2, 2013

Loving Flipping 2.0!

So, I wouldn't be me without a quick note about how excited I am to finally hold Flipping 2.0 in my hand. I had such a rough week this week, and I have to say getting those books in the mail was the highlight of my week. I know I have been working on this project for a while, but it honestly did not feel real until I held the book in my hand. I feel so privileged to have been asked to participate in this great book and I am so happy to count all of the authors as not just members of my PLN, but friends as well.

I hadn't mentioned to the majority of my co-workers that I was working on this book, and I loved the look on my principals face when I showed it to him. I am not usually a big seeker of the "gold star", but I have to admit in this case I was really looking for it and was quite pleased when I got it. I would love to say that I have read the entire thing, but with all of my new responsibilities at school this year (Junior Class sponsor, Student Council) and the fact that this week is my wedding anniversary, it hasn't happened.

I am looking forward to reading it all, and I am pretty sure it will happen this week! Yay! If you are looking to purchase your copy, you can click on the link on the right. Don't miss out on this great resource for everyone that is flipping or thinking about flipping their class.

Flipping out with 31 Spanish II students

Although I have been flipping my classes for a while, this is the first time I have flipped a Spanish II class. Admittedly, I was nervous because there is a big difference between giving Juniors and Seniors freedom in class and giving Sophomores freedom. The first two weeks of class have certainly been challenging. My plan has been to spend three weeks doing review and assessing to establish where all of the students are on the proficiency scale. We are doing lots of reading of a simple novel to not only help me assess the students, but give them the opportunity to see more grammar and vocabulary in context since I knew that many of them did little or no reading in Spanish I. The reading also has the added benefit of being a "tech free" activity, so any issues with technology in the first weeks would have minimal impact.

After the review unit, I want to have a conversation with the Spanish II students to see what their feelings are about the flip and what changes I can make so that the class has the best flow and highest, achievable expectations. Many of my Spanish II students had experienced the flipped classroom in their Algebra I class last year. Depending on which teacher they had, they seem to be either very receptive to the idea of flipping Spanish, or completely opposed to it. After addressing some concerns and explaining that the video watching was less "intense" than in the Math and Science classes at the school, the kids were more willing. However, I thought one thing I wouldn't have to worry about too much was the access to Moodle, which is where we house the videos and assignments. However, I couldn't have been more wrong. The tech team decided that since some students might not remember their passwords, they would reset everyone's passwords and make them start from scratch. I don't know how it worked for other teachers, but even taking class time to go over how to do it, repeating usernames and passwords numerous times, and asking at the end of every class if everyone had access did not keep me from problems. As I was checking work on Friday, I had two separate students telling me they couldn't do their work since they didn't have access to Moodle. I was not a happy teacher.

With some of the tech issues, I gave students more time on the assignments for the first week. As I began checking work on Friday, many were surprised that they would be receiving 0's for work not completed (even though it was on the syllabus and clearly explained). This caused lots of focused working in class, which I hope will continue from now on. In the end, very few 0's were actually given out. I think one of the biggest struggles for all of the students in a flipped class is the autonomy that they have in class. I had thought that by giving the students the basic overview and then monitoring them as they worked, the class flow should be apparent, but clearly I needed to give more direction.

One of the problems is that the class is large, so it is nearly impossible to be on top of every kid at all times. I was really surprised by how much more difficult it was to find the one-on-one time with all of the students, especially last week. I thought I had been doing a good job, but if I didn't know that two students weren't on Moodle and not getting that work done, I clearly need to step up my game.

Next week, now that I have a better idea of the levels of the students and which students clearly cannot work together well, I am going to structure some groups to better enable students to focus on work rather than other "distractions". I wish I knew them all a bit better before I jumped into this, but I think that with the large class and the "excitable" nature of my Sophomores, this will make for a better flowing class next week and in the future.

The bottom line is the flipped class is tougher with a larger class and with Sophomores, but I think with some tweaking and a few more limits the class will run well.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Monday, August 5, 2013

Listen Up!

Besides the actual format of the flipped classroom, I get more questions about finding quality, authentic listening selections than anything else. I believe that working on listening comprehension is one of the most important things we as language teachers do, and it is also one of the hardest. Even before I walked away from our textbook, I was always searching for quality listening selections. It began when I started teaching Spanish III, and I realized that we didn't have any of the CDs for the textbook anymore. Now I rely on the Internet for more and more things for my classroom, but none more than listening.

Anyone that has talked to me about this, or seen me present, knows that I spend most of my free time searching for listening selections. When I moved to thematic units, it became a little easier because I could narrow my search, and when I started focusing on one country per thematic unit, it was easier still to search for listening selections. Please don't mistake me, it is NOT easy to find good listening selections that are on the right level, topic and something that the students can identify with. It is a constant struggle, and that is why I am ALWAYS searching for new things.

Now, where do I find the ones that I use? First, I begin with the text supplemental material. Even with the upper levels, sometimes it is good to start slowly with lower level listenings to get them back in the groove at the beginning of the year. I also am going to start using easier ones to demonstrate grammatical concepts that we are working on. This way, students can focus on not just the content, but the construction.

After I have exhausted what I like in my textbook, which doesn't take long, I move to the other books that I own. So, look on your shelf and see what books you have inherited from others, or received free at conferences. Then, check out websites like or and search for the accompanying CD. Yes, it requires spending some money, but I have gotten some great resources for class this way. For example, I owned a book called Conversacion y Repaso. I looked through it and there was a supplemental DVD which had some government things that were right on point with what I was doing in class. So, I searched for it and found it here. Now, it doesn't work for every book - the supplemental materials aren't always available, but it is worth checking out.

Third, I scour the web. I love some of the stories on BBC Mundo (pretty sure there are versions in other languages), but for the lower level students, these are often difficult. I have met many teachers that love, but I have only found one or two selections there that really worked for me. I find many listening selections on YouTube. For example, one of my current favorites is for my Challenges in Teen Life Unit for level 3. The video is entitled Gang Stigmata. At my school, tattoos are huge, so this video really sparks their interest. I also like documentaries that are on point - for example this one on Dali. It is not in Spanish, but has so much great information, I decided it was worth it. It just goes to show the awesome videos you can find for listening. Just narrow down to specific topics and countries to help you in your search. Also, do not do these searches at school because sometimes you get some unexpected (and not things you want someone to ask you about) results.

Here is a list of some other sites I have found for listenings. Check them out and see which ones meet your needs.

Finally, don't forget about movies. In my 4 class, which is primarily conversation based, we have movie Fridays. Now, we are on the alternating block, so this is at most 2 times per month, and sometimes less due to holidays and snow days. In my 2 and 3 class movies happen less frequently, but I like using them. I use the subtitles, because I believe that even when they are reading, they are still listening and making connections. The trick, of course, is finding appropriate movies that the students will actually watch. The best way to find these is through your PLN (Personal Learning Network) and at the video booths at conferences. I am not suggesting relying on watching English movies dubbed (although on occasion I do that). This is a chance to incorporate real authentic (can you say that about a movie?) into the classroom. Some I really like are:
  • Carol's Journey - I use during my Spanish Civil War unit
  • Cinco Amigas - Silly and fun, but the kids like it
  • Under the Same Moon - I know a movie is doing it's job when the kids cry at the end.
  • Circo - A documentary, but the students really found life in the circus interesting
  • Casi Casi - Another kids favorite about awkward kid running for class president
  • Valentin - Cute love story - easy to understand
Again, not an all encompassing list, but you get the idea.

The bottom line is if you are looking for great, authentic listening activities, you are not alone. Talk to everyone you know and ask them what they are using. Better yet, comment here and share with me too!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Let's talk World Language flipping

Are you interested in flipping your World Language class and have lots of questions? Are you already flipping your class and would like to connect with other World Language teachers that are also flipping? Mark your calendars for the first #fliplang chat on Wednesday, July 31 at 8EST. Please complete the following form to help us tailor the chat to best meet your needs and expectations.

Don't have a Twitter account? Have you never participated in a chat on Twitter? Don't worry it is very easy! I had never used Twitter before when I started participating in chats. If you do not have an account with Twitter, create one. People and companies are identified by the @ symbol before their name. For example, I am @SraWitten. There are no spaces in the user names. To find someone on Twitter, just go to the search box and enter either their real name or user name if you know it. Then when you are sure you have the right person, click on the follow button. Now, every time that person posts to Twitter, you will see what they say.

To follow a conversation, you use hashtags. Hashtags are the number sign followed by a phrase, with no spaces. So, to follow our chat, you would use #fliplang hashtag. Keep this in mind when responding because you are only allowed 140 characters.

When you are participating in the chat, the moderator usually begins by asking everyone to introduce themselves with their subject area, grade level and where you are. Then questions are asked by the moderators to start the and keep the conversation going. Questions are usually numbered in the Q1, Q2 format and answers would begin with A1, A2. This helps to keep things organized and make the chat a little easier to follow. It is not necessary to reply to a specific person about the general questions.

Hopefully this helps those of you that have never participated in a chat. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me, or ask questions here and I will respond to you.

We are looking forward to this and can't wait to see you on July 31st.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Reflections & AATSP recap from 6/10 & 6/11 sessions

Sadly the AATSP 2013 Conference is now over. I am sitting in the lobby of my hotel enjoying a margarita and reflecting on the great sessions I attended, and maybe even better, the connections I made with other teachers. The conference was wonderful and challenging for me. I was not prepared for most of the presentations to be in Spanish, and all the great conversational Spanish. I have to admit, by the time the Spanish part of my brain kicked in, the conference was practically over.

My biggest complaint for the conference is not a complaint about the conference at all, but an admonishment to myself for being so lax this summer. How can I expect m students to practice over the summer, or at least do a little listening and reading over the summer if I am not doing the same? Yes, I am reading an Isabelle Allende novel in Spanish, but other than a little "Dora the Explorer" Spanish to m three year old twins, I hadn't spoken Spanish since the third week of May. This is something that needs to change. So, I am asking my Spanish speaking friends out there to help me. When you write, send me emails in Spanish. If you talk to me, make it be in Spanish. Sure, I may have to think a bit more before I speak, but wild that really be a bad thing? ;)

Now to the sessions.

I did take it easy on the 10th to gear up for my presentation. I had planned on the AP session, but sadly, I found that I was so exhausted, I just couldn't get there at 8am. I was pleased with how my presentation went and had many good questions from those in attendance. I also found that I was now known, not as the "flipping woman", but "that woman with the blog". Strange to think that my musings here are how people think of me. (I must be more careful about what I write!)

At the end of the day, I attended a session I was happy to find as a last minute edition to the program - STEM in the language classroom. This is something I was very excited about because with. The new Colorado teaching evaluation, I need to find ways to incorporate Math in my classroom. (Yes, it terrifies me!)  the session had a small but mighty audience and we were presented with lots of ideas for incorporating Science and technology in the class as well as some Math. As often happens in these sessions, my fellow attendees had some fantastic ideas as well. Here is a list of ideas and websites from the session:

  • Puzzle of the day - Math word problems translated (possibly taken directly for lower level may classes)
  • Temperature conversions- use in conjunction with weather and clothes. (Explaining temperature to a foreign exchange students with proper attire.)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar book - incorporate life cycle of butterfly
  • Magic school bus - I had forgotten about these, which are often very scientific in nature - not sure about this for high school, but elementary or middle could use this
  • Using current scientific happenings - volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, etc. in various countries
  • Planets with days of the week - planets are aligned with days
  • El Niño/La Niña - weather cycles which originate with Ecuadorian fisherman  
  • Correlation between space station and houses - different parts of the space station owned by different countries - The space station idea is really cool because it can also include time, clothes, body parts... Check out
  • Incorporating constellations and astrology in superstition unit with horoscopes, calendars, etc.
  • Globe Program which has resources for data reporting and experiments for things around the world. 
  • Nighttime lights of the world shows the world map as it is seen at night with lights. This map is a great way to talk about culture - why are there no lights in some places? Why are some lights highly concentrated? Which  countries have the most lights? How does electricity, or lack of it, effect the life of the people into those places? These are all great higher level thinking questions.
Basically, once I really started putting my mind to it, there are many ways to incorporate STEM in he language classroom the best point made was that we need to try to surprise our kids and help the. Think about some of the basic content on more unusual and fun ways. Why not teach body parts and clothes with an astronaut?

Flipping Spanish your way - Good presentation by Ruth Valle, a college and high school teacher from Tennessee. She highlighted many video tools such as Jing, as well as the iPad apps Show Me and Markup. 

I then attended the Bridging the Gap session about writing in the target language. much of the information, although obvious, is good to hear periodically. We must work with our students on HOW to write. Students need to be reminded to stay away from complicated techniques they use in English. we as teachers also need to remember that many of our students struggle with writing in English, so how can we expect them to excel in the target language? Two highlights from her presentation were 1) to always keep in mind what you want to convey and 2) how you want your audience to react. This is great advice for video creation to help keep on track and focused.

My favorite idea from this session was making reverse outlines. Although the presenters suggested this as a tool for learning how to create an effective outline, I was thinking that this could be a good technique for an interpretive activity. It would show if students can choose the main idea and supporting points from an article. It was also suggested that students should not be given any content to read which would take them longer than ten minutes. This would be difficult in 4 and AP, but I see the value in this for the lower levels because when authentic reading takes longer than that, the students tend to get frustrated and want to give up.

The last two sessions for the day were the most exciting for me. First, there was a session on Incorporating Proverbial Language. I loved the ideas for using proverbs to help teach vocabulary and grammar points. My favorite idea was to teach a few proverbs to the students and then have them write a story where the proverb was the moral to the story. This would really help me include more authentic language and culture in my Fairy Tale unit. I am thinking that I will teach two proverbs a week during that unit and then have students choose one when creating their own story. First, I will need to acquire a few more proverbs myself! (Here is a site with some good ones!) It was suggested that for teaching purposes, short and simple proverbs are used. Some of the longer ones get very difficult for students to remember and use correctly. In my AP class I think this would be very helpful for them on the exam where utilizing colloquial language where appropriate can help to boost scores.

The final session of the conference was my personal favorite - Interpreting Art in Spanish. This session brought me back to my college days where I spent many hours learning about art in the Prado Museum. I teach an art unit in Spanish IV, and this session was a good refresher for many of the terms and easy ways to explain art in Spanish. **On another note, in the depths of my basement this summer I also found my books from the Prado which are written in Spanish and will be a great resource for my students during the art unit. ** The presenter has a "museum day" where students dress and pose like various famous works of art for students to discuss similarities and differences to the real piece. This idea may be a great addition to my art unit and I may include this as a choice for the final assessment.

I enjoyed all the sessions, and wished I could have attended more sessions. I was sad that I was unable to attend the first day of the conference, but it is difficult to be away from home for too long with four children. If anyone else has thoughts on these sessions or others from the conference, please share them!

If you are looking for more information about flipping in the language class, check out the new book Flipping 2.0. Ordering information is available at the top of the blog on the right!


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Flipped for Fluency AATSP Presentation 6/10/13

To all my new friends in San Antonio-

Here is the link to the presentation from today. ***Since it is a big file, I got a message saying some people may experience difficulty downloading the presentation I am adding links to the Power Point and videos separately. If you still have trouble, please let me know.

Parent Video

Por and Para

Vocabulary Video

Argentina Airlines Commercial

Gang Stigmata Video

Power Point

If there is any other information that I talked about today that you would like a copy of, check the "Helpful Documents" tab. If it is not there, contact me and I will send you a copy.

Please also check out the new book "Flipping 2.0" by following the link to the right. This new book focused on the flipped class in specific content areas including a chapter I wrote which focuses on the world language classroom. Pre-ordering is going on now and the book should ship in mid-August.

I really enjoyed all the great questions and conversations during and after the session. Please come find me if you have more questions or want to chat. After the conference you can always reach me via email, Twitter or the blog.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

AATSP June 9th Recap -3 Modes and Tablas de Noticias

Even after flight delays and very little sleep, I was excited to start attending sessions at the AATSP conference.There are so many offerings that are different than sessions I see offered at my state conference. I began with a session by Maritza Sloan from Plano, TX about the Three Modes of Communication and how to connect them to everyday learning.

She began with the Pecha Kucha. This is 20 pictures that students talk about for 20 seconds. The time goes by very fast (we tried it in the session), and is a great practice for the interpersonal portion of the AP exam. I am thinking about including this as a warm-up or closing activity for class. I did a few quick searches online and found photos quickly to use in this activity for a variety of topics. I like this picture which could be used to help explain the concept to students. Because the photos go by so fast, even if there is one the students are stuck on, it moves on quickly, so students stay focused on the conversation.

Think, Pair, Share
She had some great examples of using Think, Pair, Share. Although this is not a new idea, I liked how she broke it down to make it work in different situations in class. 
  • What I think
  • What you think
  • What the group thinks
I am looking forward to using this to help students make more cultural comparisons as well as a review for students after reading short texts or listening passages. I think that if I give this task to the students in a more formal manner, such as in a chart, it may help keep class conversations more focused and on track. 

Sloan also suggested using this in conjunction with a Quick Write. Students are given a question and then have 1-3 minutes to write on the theme. Students can then use the Think, Pair, Share to compare their ideas and improve them and then be able to participate more actively in a class discussion about the topic. Some suggested question starters were:
  • ¿De qué manera......?
  • ¿Cómo podría...?
  • ¿Qué influencias...?
  • ¿Cuál sería la mejor forma....?
An interesting point that she made was that we shouldn´t give students selections longer than 10 minutes to read. I think that this is a great idea, especially when pushing the students to read more challenging selections in level 4 and AP. Shorter readings will keep students from becoming too frustrated with the text and less likely to give up.

Word Charts
She also gives her students word charts where she gives students challenging words they will need when completing activities only in Spanish. She divides the words into verbs, nouns, etc. The class then works together to define recognizable words, identify root words that lead to being able to define the vocabulary. This can then lead to a pre-reading activity where students can use the vocabulary to hypothesize titles and themes in the reading. 

Presentational Ideas
Photostories and Online Posters
A few of the presentational ideas suggested were creating a photostory presentation, with Glogster or another online poster program (I think students could even do it with Power Point or a Poster). Students are given a question, such as ¨How do climate changes affect the poverty stricken in Honduras?¨ (Just made that question up--not in presentation.) Students could then decide their answer and create a series of pictures to help them present their point. So a photostory for this question could be pictures of arid fields, empty shelves, hungry children, empty pots and dishes, etc. Although students would need to do prep, this would be a great way to increase presentational skills without notes, reading from slides, etc.

Let´s Fight About It
I also liked her idea ¨Let´s fight about it¨. Students are given an easy situation and they get five minutes to come up with a scenario that they present to the class. The given example was a husband and wife-the husband comes home and forgets to buy the milk like his wife had asked him. This is great because they are ¨real¨ conversations and the students can participate at various levels. The presentations are two minutes long and are excellent to help students practice ¨spontaneous¨conversations. 

My favorite quote from Sloan´s session was ¨Vocabulary is the gas that makes the conversation go.¨ This is a great way to approach vocabulary acquisition and I think is something my students can relate do so they better understand why we are doing some of these activities.

The second session I attended was Tablas de Noticias presented by Parthena Draggett. I am pretty sure that she may be my favorite person in the whole world right now. She does a fantastic project with the students where students work on finding resources and doing interpretive work on their own for homework. They are required to find numerous sources with different types of content for interpretation (videos, songs, articles, stories, podcasts, etc.) for each theme. Her handouts for students included the essential questions as well as more specific breakdowns of the types of information in each category. Check out this document here. Students are required to complete the chart on the assignment sheet (here) 

Although the assignment is written for AP, it is certainly doable in levels 3 and 4. Students are required to do 1 per semester in 3, 2 per semester in level 4, and one per month in AP. This is also a great summer homework assignment for AP, and I always have a hard time finding good summer homework assignments for AP. Draggett grades this homework as formative, and uses the information from them to spark pair and group conversations and activities. She evaluates the work for completion and gets ideas for conversations to encourage based on the information that they students have found. 

For example, with the new vocabulary, she has students make flash cards and teach their partner the new word, including using it in a sentence. The students then switch places so each person in the pair is learning the new vocab.Then, as a class (in conversation circle type format) all the students in the class can teach each other the new words. This is fantastic because since the students are using the words repetitively and in context, it helps them truly learn the new words. 

She also writes the themes on the board and has students group the vocabulary from the worksheet in the appropriate theme´s column. I love this idea, and it reinforces the idea of having an online dictionary that the students can have access to when they want to review vocabulary learned in class. (Now all I have to do is figure out how to create this.....).

She also discussed using this assignment as a jumping off point for deeper cultural discussions. I know in my class, I focus on making comparisons between various countries and the US, but I need to do a better job of having students compare the cultures of different Hispanic countries. 

The final session for the day was from Joe Roberts, The Language Classroom Upside Down. Joe is someone I have interacted with online via Twitter and I was very pleased to meet him in person. He did a great job of giving the basic overview of the flipped classroom and some ideas for how he incorporates this into his high school and college classes. There was not too much new for me, but I enjoyed his presentation and watching him interact with the participants.

Wednesday is a full day, including my presentation at 12CST. I am looking forward to it and to continuing to learn from the other knowledgeable teachers here at the conference. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Finding the Sweet Spot

In preparing for my presentation at AATSP in San Antonio on Wednesday, I have been exploring some new visuals as well as thinking about how best to start my presentation. I have found that presenting is just like teaching. No matter how many first days, first impressions I have made successfully, I am always nervous in those first moments. So, I am always looking for the right way to start so I can look at the audience and know I am making that connection.

I began by thinking about my classes and all of the things that have worked and all of my students that have been so successful not only in Spanish, but in other classes at high school and some now in college. Giving the students control of their learning empowers them to continue learning and exploring long after they leave my class. I am always excited by how many continue with their Spanish after leaving my class.

How do I convey the changes that the flip has made in my classroom and with my students to people watching a 75 minute presentation? I want to convey how my students struggle at first-unsure of the new structure and unable to manage their own time. How difficult it is for me sometimes to realize that the students look to me less and less and time goes on. I know that this is the goal...that it is good for them to be making the choices and learning on their own, but it is hard sometimes. I love watching my students grow and mature before my eyes, and I am so thankful that I found the flipped class, because it has not only made me a better teacher, but my students better learners.

I created this Venn diagram to show the "sweet spot" which we all hope to achieve with our students.


The "sweet spot" is of course where all three circles meet. There needs to be a balance of choice, practice and content knowledge for our students to be able to effectively. My class is not always in the middle..sometimes it is more practice and choice and less content knowledge. It can be hard to push the students to use harder grammatical structures and tougher vocabulary. But how are they going to truly learn if they are not practicing that content on an ongoing, continual basis. Other times, I feel as though my class is content knowledge and practice. Although they are using things in context and getting the repetition they need to be able to put the content in their long term memory, the students aren't having any fun, and I believe that when their hearts are not in it, no matter how meaningful the work is, they won't truly learn it.

It is a delicate balance, and one I am closer to now than ever before. There are some days when I can just "feel" that we are there, but unfortunately there are many more where I know we are not. Can every day be a "sweet spot" day in class? Is it possible to always merge the three? I am not sure, but I know it is something I need to strive for just as much as being in Spanish 90% during class.

Back to my original can I convey all of this to people new to flipping? Is it even possible? I know that when I began, all I could think of was how to make videos and what to do with the additional class time. Do teachers need to just begin with that and progress on to more challenging tasks as time goes on? Is it too overwhelming to try to convey all the more complex and rewarding parts of the flipped class?

I believe I will start at the beginning and then move on from there. If anyone wants to have their mind blown with all the possibilities on the journey to the "sweet spot", it may need to be done over margaritas on a patio somewhere! ;)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reviewing the past and looking forward to the future

This week I celebrated my birthday. I have always found that birthdays are a great time to look back over the past year and reflect on what I have accomplished and look forward to the new challenges that the new year brings. (I never seem to have the time for this reflection at New Year's!) I also just wanted to take a moment to thank my family for all the love and support that they have given me over the past year. I have been so busy with teaching, blogging, presenting, interviews, and writing, and I could never get it all done without a fantastic family standing with me supporting me all the way.

Over the last year, I have done four webinars with the help of Sophia and the Flipped Learning Network. I have been interviewed for three articles as well as an interview for a podcast with Troy Cockrum with the Flipped Learning Network. I did a presentation for my school district about the flipped classroom and another presentation for my state foreign language conference (CCFLT). I have also been elected to the Board of CCFLT. I have also been fortunate enough to have great conversations with many teachers not just from across the country, but around the world about the flipped class. These teachers have provided valuable insight, suggestions, and a sounding board that enables me to keep my sanity! (My husband likes it too because I have other people to talk to about the flip besides him!) I am also very excited about the new Flipping 2.0 book which is available for pre-order now! Being able to contribute to this great book with so many Flipped Class celebrities has made me feel awesome!

Although all of that has been wonderful, for me, the best part of last year was the success that my students felt in my classroom throughout the year. So many of my students did things that they never thought they could and surpassed not only their own expectations, but mine as well. There were still some things that did not go as planned, and as always, there are changes that I am making for the next year. However, I believe that if I ever stop thinking that I need to evaluate and make changes to the curriculum, it is probably time to find something else to do!

I have been fortunate to be accepted to speak and the AATSP and the ACTFL conferences this year as well as helping to organize/present a Flipped Class PD at CU in Boulder. I am also going hoping to present again at the CCFLT state conference as well as the Flipped Class Conference in Mars, Pennsylvania.

Looking towards next year in the classroom, I am working on moving all of my thematic units to a more "Essential Question" approach. I love the idea of focusing on interpretive, interpersonal and presentational aspects for each unit. Some of my units are already using this method (unintentionally) but I want them all to be incorporating all of these elements. I am also (this was a goal from last year) working on incorporating more PBL in my classroom. I am doing a bit of this, but I struggle with how and where to have the students present the work in the "real world". I am hoping that as I present and attend AATSP next week I will have some more great ideas. Nothing gets my creative juices flowing like a good conference!

In particular I need to work on my Spanish IV curriculum. In the past I have been a little looser with this class and moved from topic to topic as the students showed interest, but since my class has grown to 17 this year, I need to have a slightly more formal structure while still allowing the students to explore their interests and continue to increase their conversational skills. My planned units are Technology, Environment, Short Stories, Superstitions, Current Events, Ancient Cultures and Art. I am adding Technology to the Spanish IV curriculum because I did not get to it last year in 3, and I think it fits better in 4. I am adding the Ancient Cultures unit because I have already had some students show some interest in the theme, and I am thinking about a unit in conjunction with Math about Mayan math and culture. After going through the new state teacher evaluation this year, I am exploring ways I can cover some Math in the class without having to actually teach tons of math. (Scary stuff!)

In Spanish III, I am doing some tweaking and moving the Environment unit down from IV. After seeing what many other teachers are doing, I think it makes more sense in the lower level. I am also working on a collaboration project with Math for this class as well. I am still working with Steve Kelly and Zach Cresswell, but so far I am thinking about a statistical comparison of US culture with a Hispanic country (student choice) culture.

Although it is only July, I have so much to do and I am so excited about the new school year. I only managed to take about a week or two off from thinking about school, but I think I am ready to jump back in and see what cool things I can come up with to make this year the best yet. Stay tuned!

PS - If you will be at AATSP in San Antonio, let me know! I am looking forward to meeting lots of you face-to-face. Contact me here, email, or via Twitter at @SraWitten. I will be posting about the sessions I attend at the conference for those who can't be there next week.

Friday, June 21, 2013

FlipCon 2013 - The keynotes, the tech and the Flipped Out!!

The Flipped Class conference in Stillwater, OK has come and gone, and even though I was only able to be a virtual attendee, there were many highlights that I wanted to share.

The keynote by Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams was as wonderful as always. They never cease to help me get excited about flipping my class all over again! I would like to be able to find someone that I could work with that I could have that type of relationship...the ying to my yang so to speak. The biggest thing that resonated with me from their keynote was not something new, but something I think that we as teachers need to be reminded of from time to time. The key to teaching is relationships. Open, trusting relationships are crucial to student success and great classroom experiences.

However, I even though I have found that although the flipped class gives me more opportunities to establish relationships with my students, I think teachers can do more. I have gotten so much more buy-in from my students because I went to their game/concert/play. Not to mention it is a great time to see parents (the ones that never come to conferences, but never miss a game) and say something positive about their student. Students know that we work hard and appreciate that we take the time to be a part of their lives outside of the classroom. My students love to meet my young twins, who inevitably are with me at the various games.

The rest of the post is about my two favorite sessions, which are all about new tech tools that I can actually USE in my class.

Marc Seigel's session about Google tools for the flipped classroom was just what I was looking for. We have been using Google Docs at my school, but the students are still resisting it and I think the main reason is because we as teachers haven't been proactive about harnessing the power of Gdocs. Marc's session was full of great elements of Google that will be such time savers, they are worth putting in the time to figure them out. This is not a full list, and I haven't played with them all yet, but the ones I really keyed in on are:
  • Formmule - With this, I can grade and send students feedback quickly via email
  • MoveNote - This is an app that you can add to your Google Drive (go to Settings, manage apps, then scroll until you see it and add it) that will enable you to use your webcam to leave a video recording of feedback for an assignment. I thought this might be especially helpful with students that are having pronunciation issues so that they could see your mouth move as you pronounce the words.
  • VoiceNote - Also an app that you can add to your Google Drive that will enable you to leave voice comments on a document or other assignment. The suggestion was made to take a screenshot of the document and make your comments so students could really understand the feedback, (and not just throw it in the trash.)
The best part for me was that Marc explained (both in the session and then a little more through a Twitter chat) how to create folders with my Gdocs for classes and then for each student. After creating them, I can share the student's folder with them and that is where they can put their completed assignments. One of my goals this year is to use less paper and to keep online portfolios of student work. Marc also suggested that the student's folder could also be shared with the parent, so they could see and/or hear the feedback for all of the assignments. This is a great idea and can minimize some of those parent phone calls, but I think it might be a little tricky for me since I really want to try to give as much of the feedback in Spanish as possible. ;)

Ideally, we as a department can use these online portfolios to keep track of each student's progress throughout their time in the language program. I think it would be a great if we could do it across the school as well. In my school, there is so much turnover, that being able to access student work from previous teachers could be a real asset to the new teachers when they are trying to determine strengths and weaknesses of students.

Jason Bretzman and Cory Peppler also presented about technology, but different, non-Google tools. Again, some of these are new to me as well, so I have not had the chance to play with them all.
  • Symbaloo - This is a cool curation tool. Although I have not used this one, I have used others. I think that the look of this would be very appealing to students. I could see them using this for 20% projects as a place to share all their links, or even a resource throughout the school year for when they find websites that are great for Spanish information.
  • Piktochart - A easy way to be able to create your own, or have student created infographics.
  • Xtranormal - This is a way to create cute little characters that will say whatever you want. I think this would be an interesting way to deliver conversation topics or topics for brainstorming.
  • Wordsift - This is another word visualization tool.
  • YUDU - This is an online publishing tool. I am searching for ways to minimize paper so I am very interested in this. You can also include video and sound, so it would be awesome for Spanish class. I would love to create my own e-book for my classes and get rid of packets and papers forever. Just not sure if I can truly do it without being 1:1.
There were so many sessions, and honestly, since I was attending virtually, I did quite a bit of moving back and forth to try to gain as much new information as I could from many of them. I would love to see flipped PD as presented by Kristin Daniels, but I don't know if my admin is ready for that. I will bring it up and see! I am always interested in the choice activities presented by Ellen Dill, and love incorporating choice into all of my units. I want to watch the co-flip session presented by Cheryl Morris and Andrew Thomasson again before I make any real comments. I was so intrigued, that I didn't write anything down, I just listened and tried to absorb. Sound issues prevented me from hearing the session by Steve Kelly and Zach Cresswell, but we reconnected via Twitter and maybe working on a Math/Spanish unit awesome is that.

On one more note, Ramsay Musallam, who gave the second keynote of the conference was truly fantastic. He has an interesting way of looking at things that, even though familiar, makes you reconsider things that you thought you knew. He used the movie "The Karate Kid" to make connections with his Explore-Flip-Apply method. But I think that it was the clip from his favorite comedian that really summed up so much about the flipped class- "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will never go hungry. Give a man the tools and leave him alone, and eventually he will figure it out." Focus on making the students find the information and really think about what they need to know before you give them all of the information. I am still pondering how to make this work in my Spanish class, but I really like it.

If you are interested in any of this information or any of the presenters, I made as many clickable with their info as I could, or you can find them all on Twitter. Join our PLN at the #flipclass Twitter chat at 8EST on Mondays.

**Start thinking about the Flipped Class Conference 2014 at Mars High School near Pittsburg, PA. I know that I will be there!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Must read Hispanic novels - Could these inspire my students to read more?

I am a big proponent of reading. I believe that reading, in any language, helps you to learn immense amounts of vocabulary and grammar structures without a single lesson or quiz. I am an avid reader myself, and I am always looking for new books for my classroom. I have begun my class library with shorter readers which the students can work through and comprehend. However, one of the challenges is that these readers are often abridged and can be a little choppy and confusing. The other issue the students have with these books are that they are boring. It is difficult to find interesting reading material which is on a doable level for the students. Even the mystery stories lack the plot depth that they crave. But seriously, in a 75-90 page reader, how much can you really expect?

Like many of you, I spend a good portion of my time over the summer trolling the Internet for great ideas and resources. While doing that today, I found a great list of 50 must read Hispanic books. Sadly, the majority of which I have never read. So, I am committing to read them all and then make them a part of my school library for the students to read. If you have any thoughts on which I should start with, let me know!

Maybe I am underestimating them, maybe if the novel was interesting enough, they would plod through the beginning to get the knowledge to make it through the book. I am going to finally really begin the SSR in class, and maybe some will go for the tougher books, not just the easy books! We shall see.....if I can say nothing else about my students, I will say that they often surprise me with the amount of work they will do if something sparks their interest.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Leaving teaching behind

Flipping my classroom has changed everything. It all began with trying to find a way to increase the fluency of my students and create a more rigorous Spanish program at my high school, but it has evolved into so much more. I have discovered so many great ideas and methods for incorporating not just the required information, but fun, real world based activities that the students love. It has become a personal journey of learning for me as well, and the best part of it all has been the people I have met along the way that have helped me continue to improve.

The biggest change for me through this whole process has been my discovery that I don't want to be a teacher anymore. Standing up in front of the class all day delivering content and leading class activities used to make me feel so happy. But, as I have continued teaching, I have realized that I just don't want to do that anymore. The traditional teacher role has brought me joy, and my students were all good enough at the content to be satisfied with their progress. During second semester, I picked up a Spanish I class, which I did not flip to maintain continuity with what their teacher had done with them the previous semester. I found that lecturing in front of the class was not where I was comfortable anymore because I knew how ineffective of a method this was.  Things change and new challenges present themselves, so choices have to be made.

I have accepted the challenge of being a facilitator and leave my teaching role behind forever. I have realized that my students can take control of their own learning and they many push themselves harder than I ever would. I understand now that to move past "getting through" my class to really "appreciating  and excelling", they need to be given the freedom to find ways to apply their learning to their life and I need to facilitate this happening, not dictate.

I am committed to doing this by giving students as much choice as possible in my class. As long as they can show me they are increasing fluency, I am not going to force them to conform to my ideas of fun. Let's face it, many times that are more creative than I am with their assignments, and only when that students start tapping into their creativity do they truly learn. I am moving aside to let my students be the "stars" of the classroom, and I think it is the best choice I have ever made.

Do you want to join me? Become a part of my PLN (personal learning network) and let's all work together to make our classes a place where students can express themselves with the content and surprise themselves with how much they learn because our classes are something the look forward to, not something they have to get through.

Looking for more information? Join #flipclass chat at 8EST on Twitter or #langchat on Thursdays at 8 EST on Twitter. Want more concrete information? Preorder the book Flipping 2.0 - Practical Applications for Flipping Your Class coming this August. This book is full of ideas for every content area, with a chapter by me dedicated to World Language! Select me as your author when you preorder.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Demonstrating Growth -Searching for a better way

The new teacher evaluation systems that are being put in place require all teachers to demonstrate student growth. This of course is something I have been doing already, but not as formally as I should be. So, I have been looking for some ideas to be able to demonstrate growth not only throughout the year, but from level to level. I have attended professional development sessions, both in general on the new requirements, as well as specifically for World Language. I am concerned that many teachers are willing to spend hours and hours of class time to effectively demonstrate growth. I am looking for something that my department and I can do that will cost minimal class time and be equally as effective.

One of my ideas is to do a common project at the end of each level. Given the curriculum of Spanish I, the project that we use for this will probably be based on family. My struggle is to work on how to evaluate the projects fairly for the different levels. A new colleagues of mine has shown me a rubric which I think may fit the bill, but it is going to require some training, not only for me, bur for our students as well. Demonstrating the quality and content of projects that will constitute an A, B, etc. will take samples and some class time. However, I think that it will be worth it not only for administration and teachers, but for the students to see how far they have come as well.

I gave a portion of this rubric a try with the final exam for my Spanish III students. Their assignment was easy - they were to create a video or presentation (for those without video capabilities) to show to foreign exchange students to introduce them to our school. Since I didn't have any samples of previous student work to demonstrate what I was looking for to the students, we spent some time talking about my expectations. Check out a copy of the assignment sheet here. Although the task was easy, completing it on a Spanish III level took more thoughts than the students had originally anticipated.

It was not enough to show rooms and people, there needed to be more detailed information using the grammatical concepts that we had learned. I really liked this project because I am trying to incorporate PBL into my class, but I have struggled with the final element, which is where the students present their work to the community. With this project, I told students that the best ones would be on the school website for real incoming exchange students.

The rubric overall worked really well. When I am grading projects, I have a tendency to be much more lenient than I am with written work because I can't help but get carried away by the quality of the presentations that the students do. This rubric kept me focused and really enabled me to give the students the grade that they deserved. I think it probably needs to be tightened up a little bit, and I still want to be able to give the effort grade, but honestly it is probably better if I don't.

I had one student/parent complaint about their grade on the final project, and I had another teacher in my department evaluate the student based upon the rubric. His evaluation matched up almost exactly with mine. That is enough for me to know that I am on the right track with the rubric. Next year I will do all summative assessments using this new rubric.

Hopefully, with more student examples and training with some formative assessments that I will use the same rubric with. Then, all of the students should understand what I am looking for, and be able to use the level of grammar and vocabulary that I know that they are capable of and be able to use the same project for multiple levels. If we begin these projects at Spanish I, by the time they get to the upper levels, it should be easy to make the necessary adjustments for them to continue to grow and be successful.

Finding a way to demonstrate student growth without detracting from what I am trying to do in the classroom  will take time and lots of thought and planning, but it will be worth it. In addition to the common project, I am also looking into creating online student portfolios utilizing Google Docs with written work as well as audio files. More to come......

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Essential question projects evaluated

As I described in an earlier blog post, I decided to have my students complete a project based on the Essential Question session presented by the ACTFL teacher of the year Yo Azama. However instead of having the students follow my content, I let them work in groups and choose their own topics. Students found their own readings and listenings based on their chosen topic. They they made presentations to the class in a formal and fun way.

So now that all of the projects are completed and graded, I have had a chance to reflect on what worked and what didn't. Overall, the projects were a great success. The feedback from the students was very positive. Since they had chosen their topics, they were all interested in their material. Many of them listened to extra selections and videos and read more than the required articles to find just the right one that met their needs. Of course I had a few doing the very bare minimum, but overall, they worked harder than I think they ever had, and best of all they were focused on real world target language activities. Additionally, since they had to do presentations as a group, so they were evaluating each other's work as well.

A recurring problem for me is how to keep the kids in the target language when they are working on projects like these. They work together with the content, often do more than required, and are peer editing each others work, but al oat always switch to English when they are talking about the project. This is a problem that I have to fix and is at the top of my list for goals next year.

The overall structure of the project worked well. Each student needed to have a summary of a reading and a listening, as well as a written letter. Their summaries were in Spanish, but I only reared bullet points. As a group, they needed the presentations as well as a vocabulary list of new words and a bibliography. However, I didn't really do anything with this information for the class overall. Next time, I need to find a way to incorporate the vocabulary and other elements into an assignment for the entire class to ensure that they truly learn from each others work. I still had the feeling that many of the students weren't gaining all they could from the presentations.

The factual presentations were all done well. I think I have finally convinced the students that a good Power Point has mostly visuals with a few key words. Although they were nervous they all presented well because they were really familiar with the information. However, the part of the presentation I was most excited about, the fun/interactive presentations were another story. I had hoped that these would be the best part of the project, however, for the majority of the students, they were the worst. The idea was for them to do something fun to involve the entire class in the presentation. Maybe my directions were faulty, but I needed their entire group to participate in giving that presentation as well. Some thought that they didn't have to participate in the presentation. Some thought that if they served a food they discussed in their factual presentation that was good enough.

Next time, I think instead of making them two presentation, I will just make it one. Hopefully that will eliminate some of the confusion. The big reason I made it two was really just to be able to fit the presentations better into the class time, so changing that isn't a really big deal.

One of the most surprising facets of the project was how the groups worked so well together. They were groups that were formed based on their topic choice, not by me or the students themselves. They were some of the most unusual groups with good mixes of high and low students, outgoing and quiet students, and many groups with students that had never worked together before.

A not so happy surprise was how much computer the the students needed to get this project completed. We spent almost two weeks either in the library or with the laptop cart in the classroom. So, if you are tech challenged at your school, this would be really hard to do.

I am excited about continuing to use this project in class. Next year, I will base all of my units on this format, and then lead up to the choice project that we just completed. I am still unsure about using it for a final exam, but the students were all in favor of it being a final. I will have to keep it in mind while working with my students next year.