Monday, December 29, 2014

Flipped out & stressed out

It seems as though all of my favorite things about my teaching career have been neglected this year. I have really been struggling with the addition of 3 Spanish 2 classes this year. At the end of last year, our Spanish 1 teacher retired, and we found out that her position would not be filled. SO, on top of teaching 2, 3 and 4 this year, my classes are big. I had 30 students in each of my Spanish 2 classes. Now, I know that for many people, larger classes are the norm, but these are the largest classes I have taught since being at EHS.

On top of the larger classes, the students came to me with very limited Spanish 1 skills. They came to Spanish 2 missing key vocabulary, unable to conjugate the most basic verbs, and the most scary of all, many of them came unable or unwilling to work hard to be successful. Knowing that most of these factors were not the students' fault, we dove right into work. I spent double the amount of time reviewing that I normally would to try to teach the students the skills and vocabulary that they were lacking. After this 6 weeks, the students seemed to be better on top of some key vocabulary and were able to form sentences in the present tense. They all made oral presentations about their family, and only a few really struggled to get through those.

I felt much better about getting into the Spanish 2 curriculum. I pared down vocabulary from the beginning units, gave the students a reference list of common verbs and we pushed forward. That was when things really took a turn.

For the first time, I had a large majority of my students balk at watching content and culture videos. Even as we moved into October conferences and November, I still had students that acted as though they had no idea what I was talking about when I said they had to watch a video. At the beginning of November we moved into the intro to the past tenses, and I told the students that if they didn't show up to class with the notes, they would not to get to choose who they worked with on the unit project. That finally seemed to get their attention, and for once, all of the students came with notes and could effectively do the practice exercises and begin to engage in the class activities actually having a clue what I was talking about. I was feeling more positive and thought we were finally on track.

Well, that didn't last long. I introduce the past tense (preterite and imperfect basics) in the one video, and then demonstrate preterite irregulars in a second video. Guess what? The students went right back to saying video? what video? and I was back to ripping out my hair.

Now I will say that many more students were on board as we finished out the semester. However, so many of them had been doing their work without notes, copying practice work, pretending to read (but really only looking at pictures for clues), etc. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the final exam. The final exam is different than what the students have seen in the past, They are asked to apply their knowledge....there is no multiple choice. The final exam grades were a disaster. Even though I had worked hard with many of the students on a one-on-one basis, it wasn't enough to compensate for their lack of work the entire semester.

So, the real question is what now? Well, I am losing about 3-5 students in each of my Spanish 2 classes because they didn't pass first semester. This is another first for me. However, I had about 5 students that had decided by October that they weren't interested in working (at all) and were just going to take an F. I had a similar number that had been doing the bare minimum for the majority of the semester and then couldn't pull out a passing grade on the final. The kids don't get it, but the grades this semester really broke my heart. I haven't had kids that totally checked out in a long time. I have had even fewer that just couldn't (or wouldn't) do the work necessary to be successful. There were all some kids that barely passed (and even 1 that didn't) Spanish 1 and really didn't come into Spanish 2 with much knowledge.

As much as I feel like I let those kids down, looking forward, I think it is going to make a real difference. Many of the students talked to me on finals day and expressed how they were going to do things differently so that they would be more successful next semester. For my part, I am going to change how we do things second semester. First, students will be required to show up with notes. If they do not, they will receive a 0 for that day and will have to work by themselves in a designated corner to get the notes. If this happens a second time, I will be emailing parents that their student is coming to class unprepared. I am going to begin classes with a variety of speaking, listening and writing activities to continue to bring their skills up to the required levels to move on to Spanish 3. I am going to (sigh) create a seating chart that will keep the students more effectively seated and away from one another. Finally, we will have 20 minutes of silent work time every class period for students to work on activities. (Remember we have 90 minute blocks, so this is very doable for me.)

When we go back, my first plan for each of these classes is to sit down with them all and have them work on a plan for success together. They will have to write down a list of five things individually that they will do to have a better semester and then as a small group, decide on the top three things. Then I will discuss with them the changes I will be making. I am hopeful that this will allow me the time to do a better job working one-on-one with the students which somehow got lost in the last semester.

In evaluating everything that didn't go right with my sophomores, I know that I was not well prepared from the beginning and that has contributed to the issue. This is the first time since I flipped that I had three classes of Spanish 2, and I should have done a better job laying down the ground rules at the beginning, Add to that the fact that I spent way to much time playing Kindergarten teacher (don't take his stuff, stop poking him, keep your hands to yourself, etc.) that I lost what I love most about the flip which was my ability to spend time one-on-one with the students to help them succeed as a group and as individuals. I can do better, and I will do better going forward. The reality is that with budget cuts and not replacing teachers that leave, classes are only going to be bigger, and I have to go back to being much stricter in order to keep everyone on track.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sophia Guest Blog Post

I know the blog has been woefully neglected as of late. It has been a tough year, with larger class, tough kiddos, the loss of a language teacher (retired) and her position. I know the story is the same for many of you. I also have new challenges with a part time job with VIF creating a flipped curriculum.

So, I have some blogging that needs to be done and a have lots of thoughts and ideas I need to get written down here. For now. I am sharing my guest blog post from

Having the ability to share ideas, success, struggles and failures with a large network of educators provides the support that so many teachers need. A personal learning network (PLN) can provide that support and is a vital tool for teachers. Some teachers are lucky and have a good support system in their buildings, and others need to look outside of their school and local area to find a peer group that can support them. Fortunately, technology has made it much easier to find that like-minded group of educators. Here are some great places to go if you are looking to connect with other teachers.
Many teachers use blogs to reflect on what is going on in their classroom and to share successes as well as failures in the hope of continually improving. Here is a list of some of favorites.
This blog is a reflection of four years of flipping and is valuable for all teachers, but especially World Language teachers.
Need I say more? Free and technology...some of my favorite words! If you are looking for a great tech tool, this is the place to start.
This is Crystal Kirch’s Math blog. She is a leader in the flipped class and gives frequent webinars with Sophia.
This primary teacher and has great ideas that apply to all teachers. She has great ideas for classroom setup.
Twitter chats are popular and available on a variety of topics. Don’t be intimidated if you are not on Twitter. It is easy to sign up and use. When participating in a chat, remember that you must add the hashtag so that your Tweets are grouped in the chat and easy to follow. If you don’t have an account, sign up and give it a try.
Mondays, 8pm EST
This is a very popular chat and can be fast paced at times. A variety of topics is covered every week, and teachers that flip their class at every level and in every content area can be found here.
Thursdays, 8pm EST
This is the best World Language chat. They meet every week (they do take a hiatus in the summer) and discuss a variety of topics applicable to the classroom.
Mondays, 8pm EST
This chat is based on the popular book Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The specific topics vary week to week.
State and National Conferences
Although connecting with people across the country and even the world is fun, don’t neglect the great teachers in your local area. Join the local and national organizations for your content area and try to go to your State and National conferences. They are wonderful places to meet other teachers and get ideas in your content area.
About the Author: Heather Witten is an enthusiastic educator, presenter and blogger and co-author of Flipping 2.0. She currently teaches high school Spanish to students in 9-12. In 2013 she was elected to serve on her state foreign language board (CCFLT).Heather has delivered numerous presentations about the flipped classroom, most recently at the Flipped Class Conference 2012, CCFLT, AATSP and ACTFL. Heather is beginning her fourth year flipping her class and is passionate about flipping foreign language classes because it enables teachers to better utilize class time to create better, more meaningful classroom activities and ongoing assessment. Heather shares her journey with the flipped classroom in her blog at

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Intro to WL flipped class webinar

With the start of the new school year, I always seem to get lots of new inquiries about the flipped class. So, although I love reading emails (anything to get out of cooking dinner, doing laundry, or grading papers), I thought I would post this webinar that I did late last year which (hopefully) can help all of you just getting started flipping or looking to start flipping. As always, please leave comments with questions and I will be glad to answer them!


Sunday, August 31, 2014

New Year, New Classes, So Many New Faces

Wow, I can't believe it has been two months since I have posted. Things are crazy with the start of school, getting my oldest off to college and three preps this year. I am also working on a curriculum job (in my spare time) so I guess my poor blog has been neglected. Never fear, I have some great plans for the blog this year including posting some new videos and how to information.

The new year has brought me many new faces. Our Spanish I teacher retired and the decision was made not to replace her. So, I have larger classes than I have ever had before. I still have my small 4 class, and my 3 classes are about the same size, but I have 3 Spanish II classes that are all between 27-30. Now I know many people have classes even larger, but I haven't seen so many kids in a classroom in a while.

I spent much last week struggling trying to get all of these students logged on to computers, set up new email passwords, explaining the blog and how to get to Moodle (where my videos and assignments are posted). So, this week has been full of watching the students and getting an idea of where they are and what they have retained from previous years. I have done this with some worksheets (cringe), listening and writing activities that they students are working on independently. We also began reading short readers in my 2 and 3 classes. My poor 2 students are having small heart attacks because the pace of my class is much faster than their previous 1 class.

We have worked on reading Piratas (by Mira Canion) in level 2 . In my 2 class, we have read the first 3 (of 10) chapters together taking turns reading. This has given me a chance to see where we stand with reading ability and pronunciation. It is slow going because we read basically a paragraph at a time and then students take turns giving me a one sentence summary of what we just read. I am trying to train the students to read like that themselves rather than trying to translate every word (which is really what they want to do). For some, it is tough going, but the majority seem to be getting it done getting the gist of the plot. After each chapter, they have a 3 column chart that they complete. After we completed chapter 3, I turned them loose on chapters 4-6 to complete on their own or in small groups (no more than 3). At the beginning of next week, I will do a comprehension check and then we will read chapter 7 together and then they will finish the rest on their own. When the book is completed, they will complete project(s) of their choice to achieve the desired amount of points. (I have adapted these from Kristy Placido's).

We are doing a similar process with the level 3s using Robo en la noche (by Kristi Placido). I read the first 2 chapters with them, and then they are on their own to read the rest and complete similar choice board projects. The best part about this book for 3 during this review period is that it is that the full story is written in the present tense and then if you turn the book upside down, is written in the past. So I have the students read half of it in the present and half in the past. It doesn't really interfere with their comprehension and allows them to review the past tenses in context so it comes back to them so much faster. ;)

Adjusting to the flipped class has come easier for some students than others. I do have quite a few 2 students that really struggle with the idea that they have a week to get things on a list done. This week, I had some do everything on the first night for homework, and I had others that didn´t complete their work at all. I am giving them all this week as an adjustment period, so if work was not completed, I am giving them half credit and they can earn the other half back if they show it to me at the beginning of the next class completed. Then, there will be no late work accepted.

I am trying something new with the grading of the classwork, and I am curious to see how it flies. I am only giving grades for the work at the end of the week, and it is one grade. This is different than I have done it before where students got one grade per assignment. I was just finding that I was spending so much time putting grades in for students, and the high amount of points was interfering with the grades coming out in a more appropriate fashion. So, for example, I had students that were C students that were ending up with a B- just because they were completing the class assignments. I want grades to be primarily based on what they are able to do on the formative and summative assessments, not the practice class work.

So, we will be beginning week 3 of school on Tuesday, and I am hoping we can get all the norms really established and settled before Homecoming, which is the week of Sept. 15th. Now, all I have to do is figure out how to do Speed Dating with a class of 30......

Monday, June 30, 2014

FlipCon14 Rehash

It is no secret that this is the conference I have been looking forward to all year. I love the WL conferences, but this is the conference where I feel like my core PLN lives. These are the people that "get" me and how my crazy blonde brain works. It was interesting to hear how many people new to the conference felt the same way. So after meeting people I had only known on Twitter and so many others ready to become facilitators of learning and flipping their class, I wanted to thank everyone for a great conference. I am including links as well as Twitter handles so you can see and follow everyone you find interesting.

But, before I do, I had to share a pic of me and my roomie Crystal Kirch. She is a math teacher (Math, the other foreign language!) who has an awesome blog and I have learned so much from over the years. Funny that we had never met in person, but after 3 years of Twitter, felt like old friends when we were finally together.

Without further ado, here is my rehash of the sessions and ideas that I got from the conference. I encourage others that were at the conference to add their thoughts and ideas as well!
  • First Plenary - After thinking about what my favorite session was for this conference, I decided (for the first time ever!) that the plenary given my Molly Schroder (@followMolly) was it! The title was "Living in Beta". The basic idea behind "Living in Beta" is continually trying new ideas, not waiting until you are sure they are perfect. Then as educators we need to model for our students how to recover from a failure or how to share the success. Google is a great example of this idea. They keep trying new products, willing to have users try them, and in some cases love them. However, often the products are abandoned and newer, better products are offered in their place. I loved the graphic of the Google Graveyard where you can mourn (and place flowers) on the Google product that you loved. As a World Language Teacher, the best part was when Molly discussed Global Impact. This is something we are always stressing at our state WL conference, and it was awesome to hear it brought up at a general ed conference. The big question was, "What projects have you participated in that have had a global reach/impact?" (I am paraphrasing here.) Even in the room with so many innovative educators, many seemed to be thinking, "Wow, I need to do that." Hopefully as this message continues to spread, the value of WL in schools will again be on the rise and we will stop seeing the drastic cuts of WL because we are an "elective". After all, if you want a project with a global reach, wouldn't it be best to be able to speak the language? ;)
  • Automate your Anytime, Anywhere Learning for Students - YouTube Videos, Google Forms and Scripts - This session was dedicated to using digital tools that we access everyday  more effectively. Some of the information was review for me, but it is good to think about to make sure the best tools are being implemented. One of the things discussed that I had never thought about was using playlists to help meet the needs of specific students. YouTube fell away for me since we couldn't use it at school, but now that things have relaxed and we can access YouTube, using playlists will be a great way for me to share additional information with struggling students, or with students as they are working on their projects. You can create a playlist that you can share with the world, or with just one student. It also is a good way to curate all the great material you find on YouTube. 
  • What if, what if, what is - This was another great session given my some of my newer PLN members, Dominique Geocaris (@dgeocaris) and Collin Black (@goteslago). So fun to watch a presentation given by a Science and a Spanish teacher together. For me, the best point they made in their session came at the very beginning- it isn't the video that you show, it is what you do with it. There are so many great resources out there, and rather than dismissing them because we don't immediately see their use for our class, we should take the time to ponder how we can use the video in class. This will help us to continually strive to keep our class fresh  and interesting for our students. They used the example from their session prework, which taught the students how to make a paper airplane. I got so interested, I actually tuned out for a few minutes thinking about how I could use this in class. I was thinking this might be a great way to finally give in and incorporate some math in my classroom. Students could watch the video and then I could have them talk through how to make the paper airplane. It would be a good chance to work on directional words (when flying them too!) and some discussion of angles (which is about all the Geometry I can handle. There was also a good point made about how doing some simple, silly things can make your videos more engaging. For example doing the intro for an earthquake video by shaking the camera - this is something very easily translated with an environment video. Another great idea in our data driven world is not just to poll students at the end of the year about class, but to create and send home a parent survey as well. I often wonder how the parents perceive some of the things we do, and it would be an awesome way to document the success (hopefully) as seen through the eyes of the parents.

One of the things I was fortunate enough to do was to co-moderate the World Language networking session. It was great to see our group at this conference growing. We even had participants from Peru, Morocco, and of course throughout the US. So, if you are looking for some other new flippers in WL, check out these great people on Twitter. @CelTatis, @lainemarsh, @jgaddess (1st time tweeter!), @lynn_shirk, @MrDeLauriRHS, @sraclauser, @dgeocaris, @srhernandez, @yenchungju

I remember the first time I went to this conference in 2010 and there was only me and one other WL teacher. So, although we are a small group in comparison to Math and Science, we have seen some great growth in the flipped class in WL over the past 4 years. 

Of course Aaron Sams and John Bergman did a great job with their plenary, and this year highlighted some great work many of the big names in the flipped class world. Steve Kelly (@bigkxcountry), who is a great friend and Math teacher, Kristin Daniels (@kadaniels) who is a guru at flipped professional development, my wonderful friend and Math teacher Crystal Kirch (@crystalkirch), English teacher April Gudenrath @agudteach), and many more. It is always fascinating to see what is working in other teachers' classrooms.

I was a part of the session for the authors of the Flipping 2.0 book, which if you haven't ordered yet,you should! This was another great chance to field questions from the audience both in person and from the virtual audience with some of my co-authors, Jason Bretzmann (@jbretzmann) awesome History teacher, Cheryl Morris (@guster4lovers) and Andrew Thomasson (thomasson_engl) English teachers extraordinaire and THE gurus of co-flipping. Audrey McLaren (@a_mcsquared) queen of the algebros, and many more. 

Additionally there were some great new apps available for us to check out as well.Verso and TouchCast appear to have some great upgrades from things I have seen so far, and I am anxious to continue to explore them and try to utilize them with my students. They are FREE and available on all platforms so check out all that they can do for you and your video creation.

There were so many other great people and ideas that there just isn't room to put them all here! All I can say is if you don't want to miss all the fun, start planning for FlipCon15 in East Lansing, MI next July and you can be a part of it all.

P.S. - One of the most wonderful, special and patient people I have ever met through the flip class network will be moving on to new adventures. Although selfishly, I want her to stay, I wish all of the luck in the world to Kari Arstrom. Hope she loves her new adventure, but still checks in with us every once in a while. It is hard to imagine the flip class world without her! Love you Kari!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

FlipCon 14 Presentation - Planning for Success

Here is the .pdf of my presentation from FlipCon14 today - Planning for Success. Please feel free to contact me with any questions and/or comments. Twitter @SraWitten and Email There are some slides you didn't see, but we covered everything! I enjoyed working with you all today!

Monday, June 23, 2014

True Confessions

As I often do before I present at a conference, I am sitting in my hotel room and gathering my thoughts. I am here outside of Pittsburgh, at the Flipped Class Conference, and trying to decide what questions I want to try to find the answers to in my own classroom. I feel like I have really been neglecting my personal reflections and really want to take this time to recommit to my original ideas and goals from my first Flipped Class Conference 4 years ago:

  • I want my students to increase their fluency in class.
  • I want students to WANT to learn not just the language, but more about the people and culture of the world. 
  • I want to facilitate my students' learning, not dictate it.
  • I want to love my job every day, no matter what other things are going on in my school.
In so many ways, these four things sound so simple, and yet they are often difficult to achieve. I have fallen into the trap of tweaking minimally and not really trying to continually improve my curriculum to adapt to the needs of my students. I work hard for my students, always have, always will. However, I think I need to turn the focus back on their thoughts and ideas. How can I continue to move to the more student centered classroom? How can I help them to love learning and build on their abilities and interests to keep them learning beyond the requirements?

I don't have the answers to these questions.....which is ok. But, I think I haven't been continuing to search for them, which is not ok. 

I am very fortunate to have such a great PLN to turn to for advice and encouragement and so many of them are here with me at this conference. I need to focus not just on the social side of this conference, but try to look at the sessions and speakers through the eyes of the teacher new to flipping trying to find the path that will help students achieve success.

I want to move to more creative assignments, inspired by me, but created by my students. Shall I give more choice boards to show the students their capabilities and help them understand how to express their knowledge on their own? Should I reject all grammar practice and have students instead approach everything from a cultural perspective? Should I model some of my colleagues and find the right way to have online portfolios and true student interaction online?

I sit here tonight full of questions that I have no answers to. It is the search for the answers that helps me see things from my students' eyes and helps me be a better teacher. Join me on this journey.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Time to start gathering the ideas for next year!

As a mom of four who is working on a huge new project, preparing for a conference, and supposed to be cleaning my house......I figured I would put all of that off to start working on some of the cool ideas I am seeing and looking at implementing next year. (Who says teachers don't work over the summer???)
  • Pen Pal News - This has been completely revamped and I am so excited about it. They connect you and your students with classes across the globe based on your language, level, and maybe age (?). They give a free trial, and after that it is $1.99 per student. I am able to easily cover this cost with the fees students pay to be in Spanish class. It utilizes video tools to give some lessons and, of course, students are expected to write to their pen pals. It also helps meet some of those Common Core goals with 21st century learning and literacy.You can choose when your session is and for how long. I chose a six week session beginning in October, because I thought that would give me enough time to get the kids going. Check it out for yourself. 
  • History Pin - This is a resource I found on Free technology for teachers. I think this looks like a great idea to find information, and classes can create lessons as well. Here is the description from Free tech for teachers
    • Historypin is probably my favorite service for locating geo-located historical imagery. After writing my post about Views of Venice I explored Historypin for the first time in a few months and enjoyed exploring some of the Historypin channels and tours of geolocated imagery. On all of the Historypin channels you will find, at a minimum, galleries of historical images geolocated onto Google Maps. Many of the channels also include a tour that you can flip through to view connected image sets. Historypin is largely a crowd-sourced effort. Your students could contribute to an existing Historypin project or create projects of their own. Historypin allows anyone with a Google account to place images within the setting of current Google Maps Streetview imagery. Your students could create a Historypin project of their own by going to your local history society, scanning historical images, and placing them into a map. (Try using the CamScanner app for iOS and Android to scan images without having to use a dedicated scanner).
  • Classroom blogs - I have been using a classroom blog, but not to its full potential. I am looking at increasing student usage for next year in meaningful ways. I think this is a great intro/rehash of why classroom blogs are so important. You can use Blogger, Wordpress, Edmodo - just remember to use the format that makes the most sense for yourself and your students. For example, we are a Google school, so Blogger made the most sense for me since our students already had the login information and can upload easily. Here is my blog from last year. Students in lower levels were not required to comment on others posts, and you can see how well that worked. I always choose prompts based on what we are learning, current events, or school activities.
  • Using music in the classroom - Do you love music? Do you wish you could use more in your class, but don't have time to sift through lots of songs to find the right one? Then do I have the link for you. Thanks to El Mundo de Birch, here is a database of over 1200 songs!
  • Here is a post that just came up with some great Ed Tech tools, especially for videos and engagement. Can't wait to try these out!
These are some of the things that I am checking out so far. If you find great info, please comment and share. Hopefully in July I will have another list of some of the great resources I have discovered in my curriculum planning and from FlipCon14.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Out of this world flipping in Mars and other PD

As FlipCon14 draws near, the excitement is building. As I have mentioned before, this is my favorite There is still time to register, and even if you can't make it, virtual attendance is a great option. If you are already registered, plan on attending all the great networking events through the conference. It will give you a great opportunity to meet the "Stars" at FlipCon and learn from the best as well as meet other people beginning to flip. Growing your PLN is a HUGE part of this conference. We all need support and someone to turn to who really "gets"  the flipped class.

I am excited about the opportunity to presenting "Planning for Flipped Class Success" which is geared toward all beginning flippers. This session is Wednesday, June 25th at 8:30 so get your coffee early and join me! We will be discussing getting support, choosing curriculum and teaching students to be successful. Here is the link to the pre-session homework since this session (and the whole conference) is flipped. Additionally I am going to be part of the panel of authors for Flipping 2.0 which will be Tuesday, June 24th at 2:15 here is the pre-session homework. Finally I will be moderating the content area session for World Language which is Tuesday, June 24th at 10:45.

If you have not starting planning your schedule, or if you are looking to register here is the link for FlipCon14. If you are unable to attend, I will post a recap of the sessions that I attend and my thoughts and ideas, so stay tuned!

If you are looking for some other WL PD to keep yourselves busy, how about LangCamp? Click the link to complete the form and be a part of this great sharing ideas. Want all the details? Check out Sra Spanglish's blog.

As far as some other cool innovative educator conferences and PD, Lisa Nielsen has compiled a great list of upcoming conferences for this year. You can see them on her blog post.

If you know of other great WL PD, please comment and add all the pertinent information. I will add as well as I see more come my way!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The big finish

I can't believe that it has been two months since I have written. I have so many things that have gone on this year that there will need to be lots of reflection and journaling as we wrap up. After today I will finish the last of my final exams. I am glad to put this school year in the books because it has probably been one of the most challenging ones I have had so far.

Trying to change the culture with Juniors that were able to skate by and get good grades last year has been a huge challenge. Some of my students really rose to the challenge, but too many were happy with mediocre grades and middle of the road work throughout the year. No where was this more apparent than in the final exam project.

For the Spanish III final exam, students completed the "Choice" projects that we did last year. On the advice of students last year, I moved this from being a regular project and made it the final exam. Many of my students this year did use the class time to do the research necessary on their topic of choice, but when it came time for the final presentation, it seemed like the majority of them were still put together the night before. I even had a few students that moved to English when they got stuck presenting.

I love the choice project because students do get the opportunity to work on something that is interesting to them. This year I had a wide variety of topics. Between all of the classes I had environment, math, culture, food, sports, music, etc. I have to say I was so proud of the kiddos that did math. They went over different vocab, how to do problems, the history of math. It was awesome!

My grades were a little lower this year than in previous years, and although my students made good strides in increasing their proficiency, they are behind the proficiency levels that I have seen in the first two years of my flip. I believe some of this is a result of the lackadasical Spanish II, but I also think that I missed too much school this year to be as effective as I normally am. So, I am cutting back on my presenting for next year and cutting back on my Student Council duties to be more available for my students next year.

I have a ton of new goals for next year, but they need to marinate a little more before I write them down. I hope all of you are enjoying your last days (or month) of school. ;)

On a personal note, my oldest is graduating this year, and I am looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time. It is hard to imagine my daily life without him in it. So, I am still running around like crazy for the next week as we prepare for the influx of family.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I´m committed - Production formative assessments only!

It has been a crazy school year with lots of ups and downs, and we aren´t done yet. This semester I have really been tougher on my 3 students, and I am seeing some increased improvements not just in their fluency, but in their work habits. Finally, they seem to be understanding that they have to do their OWN work to be successful. After catching a few students, they have realized that they will not be successful if they cheat. I have been more inspired by them these last few weeks than I have been all year. Nothing energizes me like my students and seeing them making not just the language connections, but the life connections.

As my students have learned, so have I. I am going to work this summer on revamping my curriculum, yes - again. I think that good teachers are always tweaking and looking for ways to improve to help their students learn better. I am working on a new plan to use formative assessments with no written quizzes. I want all assessing to be based on production. I think that students have gotten too good at gaming the system and since the flip is no longer a new concept, they are finding ways to try to ¨game¨it as well.

This makes total sense. After all, I do believe that the only thing that counts in a World Language class is how the students can actually communicate. It will be a big step for me to move away from the few written assessments to all performance based assessments. I have a lot of thinking and planning to do to make it happen. But I am committed.....because I wrote it here!

On a final note - as I was preparing for my presentations this week, I found that on I could create a cloud based on the words in my blog. I was excited to see what ideas carried the most importance. Just wanted to share the love with everyone!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

CCFLT Conference - Colorado State FL Conference

This weekend was our state World Language conference. This conference was special because it was the first one I have attended as a Board Member. I knew it was work to put on a conference, but I hadn't realized just how much. Luckily we have so many fantastic Board Members that the conference came together and was a great success!

The sad part about working the conference is that I was only able to attend bits and pieces of sessions. However, the ones I saw were full of great ideas. This year at the conference we also had presenters share their materials online, so I can share information for lots of great sessions that I couldn't attend!

If you want to check out the presenter materials that were posted, check them out here on LessonPaths. A few of the highlights that I saw are:

  • From Shannon Ruiz, our TOY for 2014, get students running to class. Create a "hot seat". The last students to arrive to class get the "hot seat" where the class can ask them any questions they would like in the TL. I think this might solve some of my habitual tardies, and is a cool way to kick off class in the TL.
  • From Real World Interpersonal Speaking - this was a session I wish I could have spent more time in. They brainstormed interpersonal speaking for various themes. Some of the ones they came up with were - Relationships - gossiping girls, first date. Restaurants - students look at a menu and discuss menu items,what they like, what they don't like. 
  • From Noah Geisel's session some interesting new tech tools. Some I have heard of, like the Aurasma app, and Class Dojo. He also showed some new apps - Kindr is an interesting way to share nice notes, but by far the most interesting for me is Sanderling . This is a new website designed for educators. It is a similar style to Facebook or a blog, but instead of following people, you can follow projects. So for instance, if you are working on plans to read Pobre Ana, you can search for Pobre Ana and see the other projects and assignments other teachers have created. This website is still in its infancy so you may encounter a few bugs, but the creators are very responsive and anxious to make the site a success. 
  • I was also able to have a great conversation with the dynamic presenter and author Mira Canion. She has written a new book called Fiesta Fatal. It is set around a quinceaƱera that goes awry. It is written for level 2 with loads of preterite and imperfect. I snapped up 25 to read after Spring Break with my 2s. I am going to read it with another idea I got from Shannon Ruiz called "Pop up Reading". Students are each given a word from the  most challenging vocabulary from the book (conveniently Mira has included the list in the back of the book) and have to define the word and come up with an action for the word. Then when their word is in the story, the student "pops up" and defines the word and does the action.
  • Jon Valentine was the Keynote Speaker and really did a great job. He spoke about how crucial World language is in creating the workforce of the future and gave some great ideas to help teachers find more support for their programs. For example, call your an appropriate consulate for your language and ask to be partnered with a sister school. Many of the French teachers were surprised to learn that in France, all schools are required to have a sister school. I wonder if it is not the same in other countries? He also suggested finding a local company with a global presence to seek their support and work on opportunities to include how important WL knowledge and international travel is to these companies. He recommended a new ACTFL publication that makes can do statements that align with the proficiency levels. It is called Can Do Statements and is available on the ACTFL website.
Overall it was a great conference and there was an energy throughout the weekend that was inspiring. I loved seeing so many teachers excited about their language and their learning. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Challenging Students - Ideas appreciated

I have been working with a few specific students that are experiencing some different challenges, and I am struggling with the right way to help them. Would love any input or ideas from my great PLN.

Student 1 - This young man is a good student. He always gets his work done and always does his homework. However, he likes to work with a group of students that are some of the higher achievers in the class. The kids in this group are his friends, but he takes a little longer to process information that they do. As a result, he is trying to think through a question or a reading passage and the others in his group shout out the answer and then he just stops thinking and just writes down what they say.

I have spoken to this student one-on-one about this issue. He says he is just dumb (which he is not), and I tell him that he just takes a little longer to process, that doesn't mean he is dumb. I have moved him to other groups with similar, or even slightly lower ability in the hope that he will be forced to think for himself (and heaven forbid, maybe even be a leader instead of a follower). However, this doesn't seem to have had the outcome that I had hoped for.

In our last conversation on Friday, I was discussing his latest test. He had made notes at the top of the page about vocabulary (that were correct) but was unable to use the vocab in his writing (which was the assessment). This young man has said that he thinks he really has a learning disability or something....I am not an expert but I am 99% sure that is not the issue.

What do I do now? Apparently he has this slower processing issue in some of his other classes too. He is getting the material, so it isn't as though he isn't learning. Ideas? How else can I help this kiddo?

Student 2 - So, for as personable as Student 1 is, this young lady is not. Last semester she was getting by because she was working with another student and copying work, not doing her own work. As I look back through her work last semester, I would bet she was cheating on some of the written assessments. She struggled through speaking assessments, and bombed her final exam. She ended up with a low C last semester.

This semester, she and I began by having a chat. I explained to her that she had to do her own work to be successful. She was going to need to study and really practice in order to succeed. She got off to a pretty good start under my very watchful eye. She was doing her own work, and I was not letting her get away with the "I don't know anything" excuse. For the first written assessment, she stared at a blank quiz as I positioned myself near her corner of the room.....for a good 20 minutes. When I had to leave to answer a few other student questions, and to circulate, her test was miraculously complete. When I graded it, she had gotten a C, but I was suspicious.

A little over a week ago, she did a presentation with a partner which was given with a Power Point. She was only able to read the Power Point, and for the way she read it, it could have been in Italian or Greek. It was like she had never seen it before. Although her partner refused to throw her under the bus, I have seen enough of these presentations to know she had no part in writing it.

For the last assessment, I was keeping an eye on her. I had everyone move all of their belongings to the front of the room. I moved kids around to separate them.....and to make sure no one felt picked on, I moved A kids, F kids, etc. I kept my eye on this young lady, and she was doing some weird things with her hands, so at first I thought she had written on them. However, upon more careful looking, I noticed her phone (in the neon case) between her legs. So, when I took it from her I found she was using a translator app (don't get me started!) to translate a question on the quiz.

Now, I really hate when kids cheat. It makes me question myself, the test, the material I am teaching, everything. The only thing I hate more than that is a student that has no (and I mean ZERO) remorse when they are caught. After the test, I spoke to this young lady in the hall and she looked at me and said "Well I have never used my phone before to cheat in your class." Was that supposed to make me feel better?

I actually did something I have not done in a long time....I made her call her dad right there. Seriously she did not even look sorry or remorseful when she spoke to him. We had another conversation about how I would help her anytime, but she had to do her work and initiate the need and desire for extra help. She just continued to say how she hated Spanish and how she needed the class for college. Why don't students get that if they get poor (or failing) grades, it isn't really going to help them get into college?

I did follow up with her dad yesterday. He was upset (much more so than his daughter) and was surprised to hear how much help I had offered and that I had even let his daughter borrow my iPad during her Study Hall to try to help her take notes and get work done. Again, I am at a bit of a loss at what else I can do here. Can I do something to make her want help?

Final Notes
I almost always find a way to reach all of my kiddos and help them be successful, but these two are really a struggle for me this year. I know that they are both more than capable, they just have to get out of their own way........

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Positive Progress - and a great surprise!

The second semester has been off to a great (albeit cold) start both in my Spanish II and III classes. We have done some written assessments and it seems most of my students have finally come to this startling conclusion - If you do your work, practice and study, you will do well! Shocker, I know.

I had decided that rather than pushing my III classes forward, we would go back and review (again) the past tenses. I realized after trying to engage them in conversations about their vacations that they were still really struggling. After much deliberation, I decided it was better to make sure they finally (hopefully) got it before we moved on to the subjunctive.

The tricky part was how to get the students to review and really practice something that they feel like they spent all year last year on. So, I revisited one of my old ideas, the skit/song/game. The students created one of their own skit/song/games to help teach preterite conjugation or the difference between the preterite and imperfect. I got some great results and many of the kids commented on how much they felt that they had learned doing this activity. I realized how many great singers I had in my class. I got lots of great games based on jeopardy, monopoly, and some fun race games where students had to run to conjugate verbs. As usual I have a few students with some great video editing skills that I am pleased to share here.

Obviously I am partial, but I thought they were really good. Even better, when I assessed the students they did really well. I am hoping that this success will carry over to their conversation skills next week!

My great surprise this week was a Senior that I had in Spanish III dropped in during one of my III classes when we were working on circle conversations. She is a student that did not continue on to IV, and since we had an odd number in our conversation, offered to jump in. She was not a super A student when I had her, but we were both happy to see how well she did. She really held her own in the conversation and even initiated some great topics even though she hadn't spoken a word of Spanish in almost a year!

Moments like these make me glad to be a teacher. Some days, like many other teachers, I wonder why I teach and if I am getting through to some of these students at all. I am so thankful that when these feelings come, somehow something happens to reinforce the idea that I am doing a good job. I can only hope that every one that reads this is just as fortunate!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Flipped out Spanish 3 new approach

This year, I have struggled with my Spanish 3 class. For some reason, this group of students really struggles with the idea that they need to do their own work. They don't want to read, which is always a big part of my curriculum. They certainly don't want to do any kind of homework. So, for the new semester, I am trying a new approach.

Our first activity was based on the letter they had to write on their final exam. I passed them out and gave students the point breakdown that I used and then had them grade a letter. Not surprisingly, the grades that they gave the letters were quote low. We then had a discussion about why that was. Thankfully, most of them caught on to where I was heading and we discussed (not for the first time) about how to be successful in my class.  You MUST do your own work. You MUST review, student and practice for assessments. You MUST begin your unit assessments early to have time to do your best work.

Then, with that reestablished, we got to work.  I put them in ability groups for reading and managed to be able to do this and keep the friends in separate groups as well. (A minor miracle!) Then they got down to reading. I didn't give them any other work for the first week. So I could monitor the reading and they could get through the first chapters and get interested in the story, we ended class by playing scategories, which the students absolutely loved. One of my classes said we should do it every day for their warm up, and a few students were suggesting other categories.

I also came to a curriculum decision. Usually in this unit, I begin teaching the subjunctive, however since these students couldn't even talk to me and tell me about their vacation in the past tense when we did conversation on the first day, I decided another review of the preterite and the imperfect was more appropriate. I was glad to see so many students really taking advantage of this and finally taking the time to watch the video, take notes, and apply their knowledge. I also assigned one of my favorite projects, the skit/song/game. Students are charged with coming up with a skit, song, or game and accompanying practice activity. I decided that I could not do a full court press with them to try to force them to improve their use of the last tenses because they would shut down on me. So a better idea was to have them review and then teach themselves. I believe that being able to use the past tense is a crucial skill for communication, and in can't let them leave my class without being able to communicate in the past. Hopefully if this goes well, we can cover the subjunctive in the next unit.

I am hopeful that this new/different approach will help the students to finally realize that I want to help them, but I can only do so much. If they want to learn, they have to put them time and effort in themselves.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Frustrations follow-up

First, I wanted to thank everyone who responded and commented to my earlier post about my frustrations with Google Translate and in particular one of my students. I was really at the end of my rope and it was wonderful receiving so much support and great ideas from so many teachers. Now that I have had so time to reflect on everything (and calm down), I am ready to rationally think about this issue.

So, my school does have a cheating policy. However, since most administrators aren't familiar with World Language classes, it can be a bit tricky. When these issues occur, I have learned to try to handle it myself as much as possible. I employ some of my parenting trickery, and ask students not "Did you use a translator?", but "Why did you use a translator?". Then, it eliminates a lot of the angst and we skip right to the tears. I always reiterate to my students that I never give them an assignment that I don't think they can do......that I have prepared them for. Usually, students confess that they didn't really work on it like they should have and were in a panic at the last minute.

The real question is how am I handling the translate issue going forward? It is clear that it is not going away, and since I encourage students to use all the resources available to them, am I doing a disservice to them by forbidding translators? And for me, the important question is why are they using translators? In the past, students have reached for these resources because assignments were too hard and/or they were desperate to be successful. Is this still the case?

Here are some of the issues, both mine and my students:
  • One of the issues remains that students are still trying to write in English first. This results in students trying to match their level of Spanish to their level of English, which for most of them is not possible. So, how to address this issue?
  • Students are overwhelmed by high expectations and the idea that they need to always put forth their best effort to be successful in class. Are expectations too high?
  • Students are not understanding the expectations of the assignment. They are not understanding that I know their ability level and I want them to push themselves, but I want their work. How can I fix this?
  • I am unwilling to spend entire class periods dedicated to students completing a writing assignment because a few students can't do the assignments themselves. I hate punishing the masses for the mistakes of the few. How can I show my students how to achieve success without having to waste tons of valuable class time?
  • Have I been so worried about including more listening and speaking in class that I have overlooked the time I need to spend teaching students how to write?
So, I think solutions require some real thought, not just about how to prevent the use of Google Translate, but knowledge of the students and why they feel that GT is an acceptable way to complete assignments.After some great feedback about my earlier post and really thinking about what some of sources of the problems are, I have come up with a few solutions that I am implementing in class.

  1. I am going to give more feedback on all of the writing that my students do. This is going to be time consuming, but I am hoping that this will be a good way to reach more of the students and make them understand that using translators to complete any assignment is not acceptable. I am going to use online feedback and writing conferences to make sure that the students hear me.
    • I am really focusing on my online journal assignments with this one. When I read them and know that students used translator, not to look up one tricky phrase, but to complete the majority of the assignment, we will be having a face-to-face chat. My hope is that if I call them on it enough, they will get the idea that they have no hope of using a translator and I won't know it.
    • In addition to the conversation with the student, I will be contacting parents. By working together, I think we can put an end to the consistent translator use for the completion of assignments.
  2. I am going to go back to graphic organizers. I always hated having to do these when I was in school, but I know that for many, they are a valuable organizational tool. This will be due well in advance of the assignment, and even though I may not give "detailed" feedback, they are another tool to make the students think about the assignment early and give their writing a more organized layout.
  3. I am going to require students to write the first paragraph of every assignment as a formative assignment. By putting this work in their usual packet, they won't be as focused on it as a separate, "valuable" assignment and therefore are less likely to use translators to write it. 
    • I am going to grade and give feedback on these paragraphs and have students re-write and submit them prior to the final writing assignment being due.
    • In talking with the students, many of them turn to translators because they have left the assignment to the last minute and are trying to write it at midnight the day before it is due. Hopefully by having completed part of the assignment in advance, this will have them on the right track to completing the assignment on their own in a timely fashion to avoid the "last minute bad choices".
  4. Honestly, I am not sure what else to do about making the students more aware of the expectations of assignments. They do not seem to hear me when I go over the directions and rubrics for an assignment, and they seem to never read any written directions on their own. Where I can, I am going to give them more samples of projects and writing to help them understand what I am expecting from them.
    • On the final exam last semester, students had to write a letter. As a quick review this week, I had students (anonymously of course) read letters written by their peers from the exam. I had them decide what grades they should have received and then correct and rewrite the letter. It was a shock to many not only how bad the grades were that they gave on the letters, but how bad some of the Spanish was. (It really quieted the few that thought I graded them too hard on the final as well!) The rewrites were better, and I saw some great peer review conversation going on about how things were worded, conjugation, word choice, etc. I think I need to create some of these "bad" writings and have my students evaluate them and correct them more often. Maybe it would help them see the errors that they are making in their own writing.
  5. I do think students need to have the freedom to choose what they need to work on during class. I am planning on having more preliminary steps for students to complete as well as using class time to do feedback sessions with students to help them achieve more success. I do think that I have maybe been focusing too much on trying to get every mode of communication in every unit, which has resulted in being able to do more but not doing it well. I think the students need a more comprehensive session on all the modes to really reinforce what they have learned and the expectations I have for them and their writing.
I love the kids, and I hate getting a paper that I know they did not write. I think I need to spend more time working with the students individually on their writing (or maybe in small groups) and having them understand that I am not expecting the same quality of writing as their English teachers. I will continue to try to drive home the point that they need to write the paper in Spanish, not English first. Hopefully by implementing these strategies, I will avoid the frustrations that I have felt about the students using translators because they will understand that I know how they write and that they will only improve when they do their own work.

**I am looking into how to use Google Translate as a tool. I am interested in the idea that students use GT for colloquial phrases and then input them into a class Google Form not only to share the knowledge with the class, but to document that they have used GT to find the information. -------but that will probably not materialize until next year. ;)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Reflections on 2013

2013 was a year of big changes and accomplishments for me professionally. I was so excited to present not only at my state foreign language conference, but at AATSP, ACTFL, and a presentation at the University of Colorado as well. I was also humbled to be asked to contribute to the great book, Flipping 2.0, with some of the best flipped classroom teachers in the country. I was elected to the CCFLT board (the state foreign language board in Colorado), and I sit in those meetings amazed by the great, motivated educators I have here in my own state. I am embarking on a new speaking job about the flipped classroom which I have been preparing for all fall and will officially begin in the spring. I have also co-founded (and try to co-moderate) the #fliplang chat on Twitter on the last Wednesday of each month at 8pm EST with Kristin Ponterelli.

I love presenting, but the best part of presenting at these conferences has been the fantastic people that I have met. It was a thrilling year full of meeting my online heroes, such as Laura Sexton, Garnet Hillman and Joe Dale. It was also fun to be recognized as "that girl with that blog" or "that flip girl". (Secretly it is kind of nice to be referred to as girl period!) I was able to meet so many people that I only had know previously through email, Twitter, and my blog.

In my classroom, I have seen students accomplish more than I ever thought possible. We finished last school year strong with some great choice projects done by all of my students thanks to the inspiration of Yo Azama. The beginning of this school year has been a little rocky, but with more tweaks to make the curriculum better fit with the student's abilities, I am confident that they will all continue to improve. This school year I have also been co-teaching the Student Council class with one of the most patient and collected teachers in our building. I am also still working as class sponsor, and although it is tons of work, the students all make it worthwhile.

I still love every day when I walk into my classroom. I love creating new projects, new assignments, and finding new activities to help my students achieve their goals and mine. I love the frustrations that come before the epiphanies, and am especially appreciative of all of the support from my PLN (which now is worldwide!) with my struggles and successes.

I was asked today how I am able to do everything I do, especially with four kids and a husband. My answer is just this- without the constant and continual support of my fantastic family, I wouldn't be able to accomplish anything. No matter what I need, whether a shoulder to cry on, a ticket to a conference, or someone to just give me that hug at the end of the day, my family is always there for me.

So, I say goodbye to 2013 and am looking forward to all of the challenges and successes coming in 2014. I thank you all for your support and wish all of you the happiest of New Years. I hope you all are as fortunate as I am in your career, PLN, and most importantly, family.