Sunday, February 24, 2013

My favorite Saturday sessions at CCFLT

The last day of the conference had some fantastic sessions, but two stood out as my favorites. First was The Essential Question presented by Yo Azama. This session followed his great keynote, and was packed. (As a side note, when I first read the title of this session, all I could think about was Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.) this session was a great follow up to e session on mode assessments from Friday. When I create my thematic units, I have "essential questions" done, but I realized that I need to expand those questions for each of the different modes. He showed some wonderful examples of projects that he has done in his class with the assignment sheet outlining the summation and formative assessments for a unit. I am going to work on recreating the template for these assessments and one that is completed with an assessment. (Look for them soon in the Helpful Docs tab.)

The summative assessment that he outlined was for his technology/inventions unit. For the summative assessment, students create a new product that could be sold in Japan and the US and create a commercial for their product. For the interpretive, they need to explore Japanese and American products and commercials - demonstrate an understanding of the gist. The interpersonal summarize assessment was for the students to email product ideas to gather market research. The presentational was presenting their market research and their commercial. Lucky for me, this is the last unit I do in level three, so I think I will be "stealing" this idea!  **Check out my recreation of this doc in the Helpful Documents Tab)

Again, Yo is a great presenter, and is someone I would love to have a long chat with about how his class runs. I found the video samples that he showed impressive as well. Guess that is is why he is ACTFL's Teacher of the Year!

My other favorite session of the day was the last session of the day, and I was glad that the snow held off so I didn't miss it. "Three vocab strategies that change how kids communicate" was presented by Mira Canion and Ya-Wen Chang. Now anyone who has been to a language conference in Colorado has probably seen Mira. She has given fantastic presentations about getting kids reading, and I was so happy to see that she was presenting something new this year as well. The presentation centered on how we need to be teaching vocabulary, which even though is the crux of any language, there is so little time devoted to this topic. To demonstrate the technique, Ya-Wen taught us some Chinese (with some help from her friends). They presented words and sentences on the screen with pictures to illustrate what they were teaching. They also used props, like a basketball, chocolate, and a hamburger as well as exaggerated gesturing to convey meaning. They taught us some simple Chinese words and phrases, which I was pleased to realize that I still remembered today. They reminded me that the focus needs to be on healing students acquire the vocabulary, and it was our job to present it in a manner which would interest them and had them using the words right away so they could start adding them to their working vocabulary. After doing a basic presentation of new words and phrases, they suggested that we use them (orally) in a story as well since the brain is wired to remember words in a story.

I am ashamed to admit it, but after participating in this session, I realized what a disservice I am doing to my students. I have thought about new and different ways to introduce vocabulary, but it has never been something that I truly focused on. I had talked about playing games, having discussions, and other ideas for introducing vocabulary, but I haven't followed through. So, thank you, thank you, thank you ladies for making me realizing that I need to get with it and make this a TOP priority.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The New (but not improved) CO teacher evaluation

Here in Colorado, we are beginning a new teacher evaluation process. It has been the hot topic of conversation at my school for a while, but I gather that not every school district has been as proactive. There have been a couple of sessions that discuss what we as foreign language teachers can do to successfully demonstrate our students' growth. This is 50% of our teacher evaluation process, and we must work hard to be able to demonstrate this growth because most administrators cannot come into our classroom and truly understand what fantastic things are going on.

****I also want to interject here that having seen the rubric, there are many of the proficient and above boxes that I will be able to check off because of the advantages that the flipped classroom affords me. There are many things that require that we as teachers have good relationships with our students so that we can help them reflect on their learning and identify places where they can improve. ****

The session I attended was given by two fabulous presenters from Cimmaron Middle School. They did a wonderful job showing us how we can create assessments using Google Forms. They create a multiple choice test for listening, reading, grammar & vocabulary. I know you can also set up Flubaroo to grade them (if you are unfamiliar with Flubaroo I am adding the link. It is super easy.). The create the assessments based on the material that they are going to cover for the entire year. They then administer the test in August, December, and May. They can export the information from the Google Doc (created by the Google form) to Excel, which is easier to manipulate data in. They can then create a spreadsheet with each students scores on each test for each administration. They also have students complete a Google doc to do self-reflection and to choose (from a drop down menu) what things they feel they need to work on. Teachers also add their own reflections. All of the reflection is a key part of the evaluation.

So those are the basics. Before I start my rant, I just want to clarify that it was a good and useful presentation. I am not criticizing the wonderful teachers, just the evaluation "tool".

Now to me, there are quite a few problems here. First, I have worked so hard to move away from multiple choice tests, and now to prove that my students are learning, I have to go back to that. Now I realize that this is only a small part and doesn't necessarily reflect all of my assessing, but it annoys me that I am going to be reduced to this. I can see the value in pre-assessing at the beginning of the upper levels to see what researching needs to be done, but the idea of giving students a test the minute they come back, or their first day of Spanish 1 makes me cringe. I understand that sometimes things have to be done, but was has happened that we must take ten steps backwards to justify what goes on in our classroom???? Not to mention, could this backfire if we have students that are excellent guessers?

In the perfect world, I want to be evaluated by someone that at least has a basic understanding of what goes on in a language classroom. I want them to give me honest and constructive criticism so that I can improve. I know I am far from perfect, and although criticism is often hard to hear, it is necessary if I am going to continue to grow.

This new evaluation is something that we will be forced to live with, at least for now. I just need to find a way to reconcile myself to it while finding a way to undo it.....<sigh>

CCFLT Keynote - Yo Azama

There are many things that I often shy away from at conferences, and the keynote is one of them. I am not sure why, maybe it is because they are often done at the luncheon.....maybe because I have been to some that I really didn't enjoy, and felt trapped for the entire presentation.

That being said, I was so glad that I attended the keynote today. The speaker was Yo Azama, who is ACTFL's teacher of the year. He came across immediately as warm, funny and charming, and drew me in immediately. He discussed how the culture of the world reaches our students, and when I really stopped and thought about it, gave me pause. He showed some great graphics and stats....only 30% of US citizens have a passport, and half of those use them to go to Canada or Mexico. I am not sure where he got his stats, but they were a bit frightening.

That led to the focus of his keynote, which was that we, as language teachers are our students window to the world. Totally makes sense, why didn't I think about it that way? I am realizing how important it is that I really focus on the culture in every aspect of what I am doing, not just give lip service to it. Culture needs to be incorporated into all aspects of the classroom, and I am already inspired to do that.

He also shared a great video that his students created to introduce their school to a foreign exchange student. Since I am always on the lookout for great projects, this really struck me as something that my new Sp. I class can do, and with some tweaking I can see this being my final exam project. Students can analyze some videos about schools in the target language, do some interpersonal with each other to find out what kind of information should be on the video, or reviews of the video, and the video itself will obviously be the presentational portion of the assessment.

Overall, I decided that I would love to have a long conversation with Yo Azama and pick his brain for implementation ideas and another other gems. So, if you get the chance to see him speak as he travels around the country during his time as ACTFL Teacher of the Year, don't hesitate..GO!!

Friday, February 22, 2013

CCFLT 2013-Friday sessions

The conference is off and running. My presentation went very well last night. It was surprising easy to talk for almost 2 hours! I had many attendees come and tell me how much they liked it and were  thinking about trying the flip...from all levels! I am excited to continue to make contacts and keep learning.

This morning, I attended a awesome session about Google Earth. I have always been fascinated with Google Earth and although I have played with it quite a bit, I struggled to really make it work for me. However, this session has inspired me to go back and revisit Google Earth. There is so much value in being able to get down to the street level in a country and look at the shops, people, streets, etc. The  presenters had suggested using Google Earth prior to taking students abroad so that students could have a chance to see routes and landmarks prior to arriving. Since I am leading the trip to Costa Rica next Spring, I am curious about what this will look like for that trip. There were some other great suggestions for using Google Earth, such as a scavenger hunt, having students go to a landmark and then look around to find things of interest to them.

However, by far was the idea to use Google Earth as a springboard for conversation in the upper level (4/AP). For this, the students choose a country, city and then neighborhood. Then they choose an apartment building. The students create characters that live in the building. (I could see this as maybe some students are neighbors??) Then, students can use Google Earth in conjunction with their characters to discuss their character's lives. For example, one of the characters can work at the market which is two blocks away. They can discuss the specials. (You can see so e of the posters and prices from the window.) they can discuss which neighborhood restaurant to eat at, where to go on their day off, etc. I can see this as something that could work really well as an ongoing assignment in my conversation class. My only concern would be the bandwidth issues we sometimes have at school.

This application can be used for so much more than to find the places that a discussed it the books that we read. I am excited to explore the possibilities and hopefully figure out Google Earth once and for all. I hear there is even  YouTube video that explains it! ;)

I attended another great session today that was my second choice, but I am so glad that it is where I ended up! This session discussed different ways to assess the different modes from ACTFL. (Actually I attended two sessions on this which were similar but different and will put them together.) There is this wonderful book from ACTFL which apparently I missed out on the conference last year which is full of ideas, rubrics, and some advice. It is called The Keys and I have linked it for you so you can check it out. So, the session focused on Interpretive, Interpersonal and Presentational assessments. Now, of course I work on all three of these in my classes, but as I now see, I wasn't doing it quite right....especially the Interpretive. However, from the discussions I had afterwards, I don't think I was alone.

The interpretive assessments, even at the higher levels are often completed in ENGLISH! I was a little surprised by this, but the more I think about it, the more it doesn't make sense to me. One of the things my students have struggled with this year is reading. One of the difficult parts for me has been to determine if a student really is understanding the material, or if they are use searching the text to answer questions. (Just talking about comprehension now, not higher level thinking). So yes, I do have some conversation with the students in English to help with their comprehension, but assessing in English? I am going to have to think about that.

There were other great ideas for Interpersonal assessment. For an art unit, the teacher had students do self portraits in finger paint. Then she hung them in the classroom in pairs, and students had conversations discussing the "works of art". They used art vocab, comparisons, discussed what they liked and didn't like about each. I was excited about this because I am just starting an Art unit in 4. There was also a good idea for preterite/imperfect practice as well. Have students research a famous person from Spain (or wherever) and then have the compare their childhood to the person.

Now, to finish my great day, I will celebrate with a margarita with some of my favorite language is National Margarita Day after all.  ;)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

CCFLT begins today!

I am very excited to be presenting at CCFLT (Colorado Congress of Foreign Language Teachers) tonight and attending the conference for the rest of the weekend. I always value the sessions and can find great ideas and nuggets of information everywhere. By far the best part is the networking. Discussing the language classroom with people that really understand where I am coming from doesn't happen as often as I would like.

With that in mind, I will write a post this weekend with the highlights of the conference. You never know when one idea will light the spark for a teacher....and I this respect, I love to start fires!

If you are attending the conference, come find me!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What is Google Voice?

In response to my last post, I have received numerous questions about Google Voice. So, rather than answer everyone individually, I thought I would write a quick post. (I don't want to grade these tests and projects anyway!!)

Google Voice is a website through Google that allows you to create a dummy number that is linked to your cell phone (I am not sure if you can use a landline). The website is . If you already have a gmail account you can use that, if not, you have to get one. Now, I do not remember exactly how to do the initial setup, but I know it was easy. My advice- make sure when you create a number, it is a local number. Last year, I set up a phone number that spelled the school and my name, which I thought was brilliant. However, it ended up being long distance which was the occasional problem. You can change the number (it costs $10), but instead, this year I just registered with a new email (shhhhh...don't tell!) and created a new number that is local, but doesn't spell out anything cool.

Basically I am using the Google Voice as a voicemail service. I record a new message every Monday, and the students have until Sunday night to respond. Then, I change the voicemail on Monday and we begin again. I grade the students fairly leniently. It is a 25 point assignment. 10 for demonstrating they understand the prompt, 10 for content/grammar/pronunciation and 5 for length. I require the messages to be 45 seconds to 1 minute in length. I encourage the students to call and say something, even if they don't understand the prompt, and depending on what they do, I give them 10 points.

Now, I realize that many of my students listen to the prompt together. Many listen multiple times. They talk about what the prompt says and some even ask me if they are right. To this I say, Hooray!! They did a listening 10 times to figure it out!! Woo hoo!!

I also realize that students write down what they are going to say and read that. Well, they are thinking about the grammar and vocabulary. They are still practicing their speaking. So, again...WOO HOO!!!

As for themes for the voicemails, I try to make sure that three out of five during the (five week units) are somehow related to the unit we are studying and then two on "every day" topics like current events, Homecoming, etc.

As I have mentioned in other posts, making sure I get listening and speaking done in class is something I really struggle with, so worst case scenario, using this, I know that they have done some. To be honest, I have yet, in the almost two years I have been doing this, have every student do the assignment. But, the vast majority do it, because as a weekly assignment, it really adds up if you skip it every week. It is also wonderful at conferences because kids have no excuses for not doing it. They have to take responsibility for getting it done when it fits into their schedule. And, yes, if they have time during my class, I let them do it in class.

I hope this helps all of you. Please feel free to comment and ask questions.

**Another good point someone emailed to me- In the settings, you need to set the "do not disturb". That will keep your phone from ringing when the students call the Google Voice number.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Individualizing Curriculum

I have been looking for a way to excite my students this year. They have worked through all of the given material, and even in the units that have been fun in the past, many have acted as though it was all a chore. So, I hit upon an idea. Probably a crazy one, but what else is new!

In their Google Voice prompt last week, I asked them all what they wanted to learn. After all, they are approaching the end of Spanish III, and for many of them, it could be the end of their journey learning Spanish. They should get a chance to learn what they had hoped someone would teach them in their Spanish classes.

First let me begin by saying that the first flaw in my plan was thinking that everyone would actually do their weekly phone call. Every week, I hope that they will all do them, but inevitably, there are some that do not. Well, this really hampers my custom curriculum plan. But, if you chose not to participate, you lost you voice to complain about where you end up. I will however choose carefully where I put these kids....I am almost thinking about a group of their own....hmmmm.

Second, although many of the students gave me some great things that they would like to learn, there were those few, you all know them, that told me what they thought I wanted to hear. No way do I believe that I have ten students just dying to spend more time practicing conjugating verbs in all the tenses. I did get some good topics, such as: more real world conversation, insults and pickup lines, food and culture, sports, animals, space, science and technology, travel phrases and art.

So, here is what I have decided to do. I have grouped the students by their interests, and those who did not call, or express a specific interest are grouped together. I am going to do my Spanish Civil War unit, which will encompass the first half of the unit (and some additional movies and movie clips). For the second half of the unit, students will be working in the groups I have put them in based on their interests. I will expect them to sit together and work together on the readings, vocab, etc that I assign. I will expect each group to come up with a vocabulary list that they will be tested on (approximately 40-50 words). Additionally, they will use these themes in their conflict projects that I assign at the end of this unit. They will get to determine how that will happen.  But basically I will be looking for a cultural connection of what they have learned. So, for example, they can do two sports teams. They can give the background for each team and explain who would win if they met. They could also do food from two countries, and do an Iron Chef type battle of which food is better. (Of course they would have to explain each).

I am hopeful that this will help engage them in this crazy time of Spring and soften the unit of the Spanish Civil War. I also hope this will be a good lead in to the final exam where I let them do their own cultural presentations. I will probably have to tweak that assignment as well.....more to come.

In other news, I am working on the finishing touches for my CCFLT presentation in two weeks, and I am really excited to be presenting at AATSP in San Antonio in July. I am hoping that I will be chosen to speak at ACTFL in Orlando in November...fingers crossed. If you know of any other conference where they might welcome my flip presentation, let me know. I love networking and meeting all of my fellow WL teachers face-to-face!

Also, for Spanish teachers out there......Have you seen the new Blancanieves movie coming out? It is releasing March 15th and is in Spanish with English subtitles and is rated PG-13. It is a different version of Snow White where she is a bullfighter! Can you say FIELD TRIP??? Check out the preview! There are other trailers at Fandango.