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More multi-tasking children’s lit

If you use children’s stories in the classroom, are those stories skilled enough to do double – or triple – duty?

Piggybacking on what Helena Curtain advised, to use literature that’s deep enough to come at life and language in multiple ways, I’d like to add a couple of suggestions for books to add to your classroom.  I’m primarily addressing this to the elementary audience but if you’re a secondary teacher (as am I by my beginnings) you’ll easily see how these books might fit in your curriculum, as well.  Another note: I read these books in Spanish, but since I’m advising you to simplify the stories, they’re a great option for teachers of any language; just buy the book in English.

Unless you’re in an immersion school, your students likely do not have the proficiency to handle these stories (my bilingual 5-year-old: “What’s rabino? What’s bulliciosos?”).  So take your targets and make the story simple and repetitive.  Add gestures and sound effects and you’ve got a winner to keep you and the students in the target language and your environment acquisition-rich.

Los otros osos (The Other Bears)

In Los otros osos (English here), Michael Thompson introduces us to the koala family, where the mom and dad are not feeling very much like making friends with bears who are different.  They don’t like the pandas’ ears and shoes.  They’re annoyed by the polar bears’ claws and coats.  And don’t get them started on the noise the black bears make!  But their kids have a different opinion- the pandas have awesome food, the polar bears tell great jokes, and the black bears sing fun songs.  Here’s what I love about this book, for the language classroom:

  • Description: The koalas are brown and black and small, the polar bears are white and tall, the black bears are… well, you get the picture.
  • Likes / dislikes: For every new type of bear, the mom doesn’t like something, the dad doesn’t like something else, the kids like something else.
  • National symbols: Each bear has something that is related to a country where it is native.  The black bears wear red, white, & blue marching band uniforms.  The brown bears are dressed in their bright, warm Russian outfits.  The sun bears have their Southeast Asian umbrellas and ride bicycles.
  • Cross-curricular: As an extension of the national symbols aspect, the front and back covers of the book contain information on different types of bears and where they are found.
  • Celebrating difference: I don’t even want to call this tolerance because that implies quietly dealing with something you don’t like without hurting other people over it.  No, the koala bear kids celebrate difference – there’s something about the culture and personality of each type of bear that they really like.  This is a message our kids need to explore.

Siempre puede ser peor (It Could Always Be Worse)

Unless your library has the Spanish edition like mine, buy the English book as the Spanish version will run you close to $100 now that it seems to be out of print.  A poor family lives in such tight quarters (I learned the word apiñado here) that everyone’s at each other’s throats.  The father will do just about anything to make things better, including following the Rabbi’s advice to bring in the chickens… and the goat… and the cow!  Will they all go crazy?  It doesn’t hurt that the book won a Caldecott honor for illustrations.  Here’s what I love about this book, for the language classroom:

  • Family members: One dad, one mom, a grandma, six kids, and a Rabbi.  Give them all names and ages.
  • Animals and their sounds: you’ve got chickens, a rooster, goats, and a cow.  Add other animals, if you like.
  • Vocabulary: Take, put, or some other version of “brought in,” whatever’s common in the language you teach.  The dad takes the animals out of their (barn?) and puts them in the house.  Also something with “crazy.”  Also activities from the illustrations: “is sleeping” “is eating” “is yelling,” etc.  House and furniture, with comparisons to the student’s own home if that’s appropriate.
  • Do you have / I have: This is an aspect I love about repetitive books.  Every time he goes to the Rabbi, the father is asked “do you have” and responds “yes, I have.”
  • Thankfulness:   In the beginning, the whole family lives in one room.  In the end, the whole family lives in one room.  What changed?  It was their attitude.  They understood that perhaps their problems weren’t that terrible after all, and perhaps they could find peace in the situation they lived in.  We could all use a dose of that.

If you want one more recommendation, check out Bears on Chairs for concepts in numbers, math, problem-solving, and sharing (and someone please put this adorable poem in Spanish!).

What literature are you using to teach core values along with language?


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October 20, 2014 3 Comments

Next on my PD list: New proficiency videos

COERLL banner snapA new resource has become available to the Spanish teacher community and I really wanted you to know about it.

Last night’s #langchat was about how we can push our students from Novice Mid to Novice High in all three modes (for a summary, keep an eye on the Calico Spanish blog).  Several participants expressed that they wanted to work more on distinguishing the proficiency levels.  What a worthy endeavor!  We’re all so busy – teachers are so busy – and so much is expected of us, but any amount of time at all that you can spend exploring proficiency levels will pay in dividends in your renewed focus in class and your students’ language development.  I’m particularly grateful for resources like this: free, quality, organized, and available on my timetable, since I have not been able to attend an official ACTFL OPI workshop (when they’ve been offered here it’s prohibitive for me to find/pay for that much childcare or I’m presenting at the same time at a conference).

COERLL site snap 2So what’s the resource? It’s a new group of websites from the University of Texas at Austin’s (same people who brought us those great proficiency exercises videos we all love to use) Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning. The Introduction to Oral Proficiency Levels will -quickly!- guide you through specific features of a given proficiency level, and then offers video examples of students performing at that level along with some type of guide, questions to help you figure out why the speaker was rated at that level.

COERLL site snap 1You’ll also want to check out the Spanish proficiency training website and learner corpus, where you can watch videos of students and rate them yourself, then check to see if you’re right.

COERLL snap 5 COERLL snap 3

Snag a few minutes one morning before school, check out one video on one page, and see if you don’t learn a ton in those few minutes about how to evaluate your students’ performance more accurately, a practice which most importantly informs our students and informs our teaching.  Good luck!


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October 17, 2014 2 Comments

What we learned at KWLA: share, think, respect


It’s a wrap!

I was back at my “home conference” in September for the 2014 Kentucky World Language Association annual conference and it felt like I hadn’t missed a beat- in a very good way.  I got to hang out with old friends and make fantastic new ones, help and be helped, take a few minutes away from kids and learn with the best.  For your benefit and mine, here’s an attempt at organizing my takeaways from this conference.


From some sessions I went to:

  • Kentucky is using a new teacher evaluation system called TPGES.  I’ve had some questions about it and went to the session to learn more so I could be more helpful than “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  So now I have some idea of what you’re talking about.  Summary: keep being effective, resist the temptation to choose what will work for you instead of what’s communicative and focused on your students’ real proficiency, and don’t let administration or other teachers drag you into making this another bureaucratic pile of words on trash paper or disk space that may or may not reflect how you actually teach in your classroom and who cares anyway.
    TPGES outcomes linked to evaluation

    TPGES outcomes linked to evaluation

    Reflect on yourself, and change if you need to, and do it slowly.

  • The new JCPS curriculum documents were still not available (boy that was a downer) at the conference but it seems they’ve quietly gone live since the conference… I think.  In any case, take what works, do what you know, reflect on yourself, and change if you need to.  And do it slowly.

From my sessions:

  • Create realistic assessments:
    Session’s “Twitter pitch” (the message in 140 characters or less): When assessments let students see themselves using language in a realistic situation, learning is more fun and lasting.
    Here’s a linoit board with suggestions from participants (and you, my awesome PLN!) of how we’ve actually used our language without traveling abroad.  Because let’s face it, renting an apartment in Madrid or creating your own clothing advertisement – don’t get me started on Picasso dioramas – are not exactly realistic linguistic production for the vast majority of our students.  I’m not saying there’s not something to be said for fun projects that motivate, but for production assessments, let’s keep it real.
    Notice a lot of these are adult uses of language, because, well, my responders were adults.  Can you think of reasons our teenagers (or younger kids?) would actually use language?  In the seminal article in the Language Educator, the queen of the IPA wrote about a sample assessment in which elementary children are encouraged to imagine they’re doing something in their future profession. Um, not something a lot of fourth graders are into right now.  Why would a fourth grader actually use Spanish?  Let me know what you think.
    We used these ideas as a springboard to brainstorm realistic assessment scenarios for common units.  Some participants gave me great ideas which have been added to the Camp Musicuentos wikispace, linked below.
    Here’s the Prezi, if you like.
  • Curriculum planning outside the textbook:
    Session’s “Twitter pitch”: With or without a textbook, you can  pace, plan, and execute engaging, proficiency-based curriculum without being overwhelmed.
    We had a fantastic time in this session.  Those three hours went so fast and we accomplished a lot and not enough!  I can’t wait to see some of them at Camp Musicuentos (speaking of which, come to Camp Musicuentos).  We added two great IPA ideas to the Camp Musicuentos wikispace, on the Level 1 page, including one that would work for any language (and for my family would actually need to be Arabic – loved having a UK Arabic professor in the session!).  Note the link to a document with activities for the novice level familyish unit (listed as Unit 3).
    Here’s the Keynote, if you like.

Random lessonsphoto (2)

  • My PLN colleague Jordan Yeager wasn’t at KWLA (boo) but explored with us via Twitter anyway.  While looking at something he noted, “A crappy textbook curr[iculum] made all pretty w/ nice fonts is still crappy curriculum.”  Yes.  Great if it looks good, but keep it real, too.  It’s worth noting that the opposite is true – I saw some pretty fantastic stuff helping novices interact with authentic resources that didn’t look like it was developed by graphic design specialists because, well, it wasn’t, but it was still fantastic for learning.  We can’t all be Zachary Jones (we all love you, Zachary).
  • We’ve heard it, we’ve said it, but apparently not all of us believe it; in the BYOD (bring your own device) movement we believe that cheating is a heart problem, not an equipment problem, and the same goes for respect.  If we don’t teach students how to use devices respectfully, but instead we use our authority to simply take them away, and we strong-arm them into silence instead of teaching respect for the people speaking, we’ll end up with adults (teachers) who sit in an awards luncheon and completely ignore / talk over recognition of amazing colleagues who are fighting and winning big, important battles.  Next time you’re in a conference session, at an awards luncheon, or in a faculty meeting, remember how much you wish your students would learn to respect you when you’re speaking, even when you’re boring them, even when they don’t care.  And remember that when you’re talking to the person next to you, you’re either making them share in your distraction or forcing them to figure out a polite way to tell you to shut up so they can show some respect. /soapbox
  • If you know you’re going to eat cheesecake, enjoy it more by knowing you’ve earned it; get up at 6 and hit the hotel fitness room.  Better yet, bring along a friend (maybe one day I’ll be able to run as far as you, Jana).
  • When will conference hotels enter the 21st century and offer free in-room wifi like every little Holiday Inn Express does?
  • It’s not all about work.  Go out for dinner with new and old friends and tell stories that don’t have anything to do with school.  Enjoy the festival and dance.  No one’s really looking at you (unless you’re on the stage, and then you just volunteered for the audience!).  But at the festival do not pay $50 for a fantastically attractive Ecuadorian pullover if it scratches your arms like a briar patch.  You know you won’t wear (1)
  • Even while you’re having fun, be a professional the whole time.  Watch your conversation while you’re drinking too much in the hotel bar at night.  If I feel like listening to your casual conversation is a complete waste of time, I probably don’t want to hear your “professional” pitch either.
  • Speaking of respect, regardless of what you’re there for, be quiet in your hotel room at 2 A.M.  Remember that walls are thin and the people in the room next door might have to get up at 6 for work and even if they didn’t they didn’t sign up to listen to you… whatever.  I refuse to elaborate.
  • When a conference is over, go home and relax with your family and/or friends.  You have plenty of time to implement all the great ideas you’ve gotten.  Give yourself some time to let it all soak in.

I hope to see you at a conference this year!

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October 9, 2014 1 Comment

The game-changing authentic resource guide for Spanish 3+: it’s here!

cajas coverIt’s finally here!

To find out all the details about the brand new Musicuentos ebook, Cajas de cartón: a chapter-by-chapter guide to the memoir by Francisco Jiménez, check out the Cajas page.

Or, to summarize, it’s 59 illustrated pages of proficiency-focused, vocabulary-boosting activities paired with comprehension and critical-thinking questions to accompany the 12 chapters of Francisco Jiménez’s poignant memoir Cajas de cartón.

Just looking for something to go with the short story of the same name, which is chapter 9 in the book?  You can get that too.  Or, if you’re interested in something for students with higher proficiency (think fourth year, intermediate mid or higher, AP, IB, heritage), then you’ll want to check out the first Musicuentos ebook guide for La ciudad de las bestias.

Already know you want the guide?  For the launch week of October 4-11 you can purchase the download to reproduce for all of your students for as long as you teach for 25% off - $29.95.  After October 11 the regular price will be $39.95.

To purchase now, click here:

Or, fax your school’s purchase order to: (815) 346-3401.

Enjoy – and let me know what you think!

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October 3, 2014 0 Comments

Three days and then…

cajas coverIt’s been a rough road this summer for Cajas de cartón: a reader’s guide to the memoir by Francisco Jiménez.  I think I began the guide in April or May, but then June was slammed with workshops and travel.  July I lost my father and traveled some more.  August I finished traveling and went back to work on the guide.  And then September.  I finally finished the guide this month but the editing process took longer than anticipated.  But it’s all over now!

Hear that? It’s a harmonious rendition of the Hallelujah chorus.

Whew! What a labor it has been!

The ebook guide for Cajas de cartón will be released via the blog THIS FRIDAY, October 3.  For one week, the purchase price to download the file will be 25% off, $29.95.  Next Friday it will go to its regular price of $39.95.  And that’s not per student – the cost includes a license for you to copy the file for all your students for as long as you teach.

Just a foretaste- my favorite section is a new feature, new from the Ciudad guide, I mean, called “Investigación,” in which your students research how something that happens in the chapter connects to the way immigrants live in your area.  For example, students may investigate how new immigrants enroll their children in school or find medical care, or they may explore the actual process an immigrant goes through in order to obtain a green card.

Want to take a peek?  Check out the sample of Chapter 3.

Francisco will see you Friday!

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September 30, 2014 0 Comments

The technology that’s making us irrelevant…and more relevant

Moodboard Photography

Moodboard Photography


happy birthday, Musicuentos

Whew, I’ve been blogging a long time.  My blogging birthday passed unnoticed but Musicuentos turned SIX on the first of this month!

A lot has changed in six years.  My teaching scaled back.  My blogging scaled up.  A kid came… and another… and another.

Whenever people talk about all that’s changed, the conversation inevitably turns to technology.  Look at where it’s brought us.  Facebook. Twitter. Prezi.  Flickr.  Drive.  Schoology.  Glogster.  All the ones popping up every day that I don’t have time to try: Kahoot.  Kaizena.  Lucidpress.  Videolicious.  Duolingo.  Even Instagram.  And every language teacher’s favorite tool to hate: Google Translate.

Google Translate stinks… right?

Ever since I started blogging, and #langchat started, and as I went to conferences, and as I got more involved in Twitter, I’ve seen them and you’ve seen them – post after post, tweet after tweet, videos on YouTube, of how bad Google Translate is.  How inaccurate.  How unhelpful.

There’s just one problem, and we’re not talking about it, because we’re afraid.  We’re afraid we’re wrong.  And we are.  Because somewhere along the line, somehow, Google Translate got good.  Like, really good.  Like, you-can-use-it-to-communicate good.

Let me show you what I mean, if you understand Spanish.  Here’s that first paragraph in this section, translated to Spanish by Google translate:

Desde que empecé a bloguear, y #langchat empecé, y cuando fui a conferencias, y como me fui involucrando más en Twitter, los he visto y los he visto – puesto tras puesto, pío pío después, videos en YouTube , de lo mal que Google Translate es. Cómo inexacta. Cómo inútil.

Look at that.  It’s not perfect, but it’s communicative, isn’t it?  The words “post” and “tweet” don’t come across great but the rest of it, wow, it’s there.  Check that idiomatic phrase: me fui involucrando más.  Want to feel even more like we’re being made irrelevant by technology?  Most videos and posts that joke about how “bad” Google Translate is do it by making fun of something run through Google Translate several times and then back into the original language.

Because you know, putting something from English into Chinese, then Macedonian, then Polish, then Creole, then Tamil, and then back into English is something people need to do.
But look what it did when I put that same paragraph back into English:

Since I started blogging, and #langchat started, and when I went to conferences, and as I was involving me on Twitter, I’ve seen and I’ve seen – post after post, tweet later, YouTube videos, how bad Google Translate is. How inaccurate. How useless.

Not bad, eh? Bottom line?
Google Translate got good.

don’t despair: why they still need us

I wonder if we’ve been so adamant that technology can’t teach language because we’re afraid of being out of a job.  Language teachers are the world’s most outspoken critics of Rosetta Stone, but I’ll have to tell you, going through half a level of Rosetta Stone Russian gave me enough language skills that people on my travel team were asking me to translate (“What? You get that I DON’T ACTUALLY SPEAK RUSSIAN, right? I can order you a green chocolate bar.  I CAN’T MAKE YOU AN APPOINTMENT.”)  Honestly?  The tech can teach them.  People who want to learn can use technology to learn.  And people who don’t want to learn can now use technology like Google Translate in more and better ways to speak for them.

So Sara-Elizabeth, what are you saying?  The tech has replaced us?  We really are getting tech-ed out of a job?

No, I’m not saying that at all.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Technology has made our job both easier and more necessary.  I felt this was true, and then I caught this article via Twitter that expressed exactly what I mean.  The title says it all: I need real people to help me learn a language.

Here are some of my favorite points from the article and I think you’ll see right away where I’m going with this:

I’ve found that my initial fondness for using the app – a sort of “hooray, shiny new toy!” enthusiasm – has waned.

It doesn’t really affect anyone whether I review old lessons or press on to new ones in the app. There’s no teacher to admonish me or (perhaps more importantly) peer group to keep up with.

Language learning, much like language itself, might be an inherently social pursuit.

Languages require speaking to other people, which is completely absent from how Duolingo works.

Without any real community of Mandarin learners to stay on pace with, I didn’t really feel motivated to practice before the next lesson.

I’m a little sceptical that any person can really learn a language without other people playing a part.

I feel this issue with Russian.  When I came back from Russia in 2008, I decided I was going to be proficient in Russian by the Sochi 2014 Olympics.  Not a huge feat, right?  I had no kids.  I had 6 years.  I wanted to go to the games as an interpreter.  I thought hey, with English, Russian, and Spanish, I’d have what, a third of the globe covered?  Guess how much Russian I speak?  Right.  A whole lot less than I did in 2008.  I can say horse, green, hi, and bye.  That’s it.  That’s what we call no measurable proficiency. Why?  Same reason the guy who wrote the article gave: I had no community to give me a reason to learn it.  Or to help me learn it.  Sitting down at the computer to learn Russian didn’t do what language always ought to do: connect us with people.

I suppose I could use Google Translate to try to make friends in French on Facebook.  I suppose I could put in what I want to say and copy and paste it into Twitter.  I suppose if I had a smartphone I could even use it to order food in Chinese at a restaurant or tell the Japanese guy at the koi show which fish is my favorite and why.  But somehow, in the act of running communication through a machine, even that connection with people loses its luster.  It’s just not the same.

Insofar as technology connects language learners with language speakers, it’s invaluable, particularly for students who will not travel much.  But even to do that, students need our help.  Where is the community?  How can I connect with them?  How do I talk to them?  And before they even ask those questions, go back to the original author of that article.  Why did he need a teacher and people?  Often they need us to help them find something that’s there but hiding: the key to it all, motivation.

That is why people who want or need to learn a language will always need people.

They will always need us.

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September 16, 2014 5 Comments

Thank you, reflective teachers

Kirk Teetzel

Kirk Teetzel


I thought about trying to tweet this but I couldn’t do it in 140 characters.

Many of you are in the middle of the 30-day #reflectiveteacher challenge.  You’re blogging and reflecting on what makes you a teacher, what you’ve accomplished and where you can improve.  By subscribing to your blogs, I’ve been able to follow your journey, and I have you tell you I’m loving it!  And I’m hating it.

There are several reasons I’m not doing the #reflectiveteacher challenge.  One is that I’m buried in the final stages of the Cajas ebook (drowning is the word that comes to mind when you add family, homeschooling, curriculum work, three upcoming conferences – five separate sessions/workshops).  But the main reason is I simply can’t.  Because I’m not a teacher.

Did I just write that?  I take it back.  I most certainly am a teacher, it’s just that I’m not teaching at the moment.  Well, Spanish, in a school, anyway.  So I can’t reflect on my classroom because I don’t have one.  I can’t reflect on my desk because I don’t have one.  I’m not going to have any teacher evaluations.  That’s why it’s sad for me.  I’m watching all of you go back to school and do such amazing things and for the first time since… well, since I was three years old, I’m not in a classroom.

And then you reflected about, of all things, me.  Allison wrote about me on her day 7 reflection and then Andrea wrote about me on her day 9 reflection.  Chalk it up to a whole lot of sleep deprivation huddled over Cajas de cartón or whatever, but your thank-yous brought tears to my eyes, because in a year when I’m not teaching, you made me feel what I know, that I am still a teacher.

September 10, 2014 2 Comments

See you this year? Conferences & Camp Musicuentos

It’s been over a year and a half since the last time I attended a conference (and three years since I attended one neither pregnant nor nursing, haha!) but the maternity leave is over!  I’m back on the conference schedule for this year and I hope to meet you at one of four conferences.

Kentucky World Language Association: September 18-20, 2014

KWLA is my nostalgic favorite, my home state conference, a place where I have learned and changed so much.  And frankly, you’d be hard pressed to find a conference with as many proficiency-focused, outstanding educators and learners.  Kara Parker and Megan Johnson-Smith of the Creative Language Class will be very busy there.  You’ll also catch great stuff as always from Thomas Sauer, one of the most influential people in my teaching, and consulting, career.  I’ll be doing one session and one workshop at KWLA ’14, as well as participating in a third:

  1. Infusing Reality into IPAs: In this one-hour session, we’ll explore how using realistic scenarios in integrated performance assessments is motivating for students.
  2. Curriculum Planning outside the Textbook: This three-hour workshop will be a very condensed version of Camp Musicuentos.  The title pretty much says it: we’ll work through how you can feel more organized and less stressed about planning curriculum without (or with, for that matter) the textbook.
  3. I’m supporting a session in which we will present the new JCPS elementary curriculum.

Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association: November 6-8, 2014

This will be my first time at the IFLTA conference, and I’m excited to reconnect in Indianapolis with teachers from districts that have previously hosted me as well as some from Camp Musicuentos 2014.  At this conference I’ll be repeating my KWLA session on Infusing Reality into IPAs.

ACTFL Convention & World Languages Expo: November 21-23, 2014

Can you believe this will be my first time at the Big (FL) Dance?  I hope to see many of you in San Antonio at the Calico Spanish booth in the Exhibitor’s Hall and/or at one of these three sessions:

  1. Kick the Vocab Quiz: I’ve long maintained that whether or not you have vocabulary lists is of no consequence.  What’s important is to approach vocabulary assessment in a way that reflects how the brain learns language.  When we do that, then our instruction will follow likewise.  In this solo session we’ll explore why and how to eliminate the traditional vocabulary quiz from the world language classroom (and take selfies, too!). (Session 0424: Saturday, 5:15-6:15 PM, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Room 206 B)
  2. The Personalized Language Adventure: Adding Student Choice in Homework: Laura Sexton, Bethanie Carlson-Drew, and I are taking on the big H-word and turning it on its head.  We’ll present why and how we each have accessed students’ intrinsic motivation by letting them choose how they interact with language outside our classrooms. (Session 1154: Saturday, 2:00-3:00 P.M., Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Room 212 B)
  3. #Langchat: Your Always-There Professional Learning Network: I’m also supporting this session with Colleen Lee-Hayes, Laura again, Don Doehla, Kris Climer, Amy Lenord, and more of your #langchat moderators. (Session 1794: Saturday, 10:00-11:00 AM, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Room 211)

Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages: March 12-14, 2015

I’ll be presenting an all-new session based on what I learned from researching for an episode of the Black Box Podcast at this conference in Minneapolis.  It’s called Arming Students for a World of Incomprehensible Input.  Learn how and why we should teach circumlocution, and teach it often – oh, and play Taboo! with me.

Camp Musicuentos 1Camp Musicuentos 2015

One of my favorite things I did this year was the inaugural Camp Musicuentos: a one-day workshop on curriculum design and organization.  I’ve learned that calling it “A year in a day” was a bit ambitious, but you’ll still find it a workshop that revolutionizes how you look at planning curriculum, helping you feel -and be- more organized as you start the school year.  I’m bringing back Camp Musicuentos in 2015 with some exciting changes, the biggest being a new second location!  The workshop design will reflect great feedback I received this year, and we’ll particularly focus on putting your units on your calendar and creating the foundation for each: the integrated performance assessment.  Participants will see examples and choose whether and how to use them, as well as creating their own, especially in groups who can collaborate on and use similar assessments.  The workshop will still be limited to 20 participants to maximize your benefit, and registration will open in February.  This year’s workshop sold out in three days, so keep an eye out for the news, or contact me if you want to be emailed directly when registration opens.

(Base)Camp Musicuentos 2015 – June (25 &?) 26, 2015 – Louisville, Kentucky

We’ll be back at our “basecamp,” the Hyatt Place in Louisville for Camp Musicuentos 2015.  Here’s where I need your help: Some of this year’s participants said that the workshop was too short, and many said they could have benefited from more individualized help.  It was also suggested to me to break the workshop into two days, targeted at teachers of novices on one day, and teachers of intermediate to advanced students on a second day.  That way teachers could come to either, or both.  I’m contemplating how these suggestions might work together: if the teachers at the workshop are all teaching similar levels, the workshop will automatically be more relevant and individualized.  However, this would double the cost on my end, which means it would cost more for participants, and I’m not sure what the demand is for it.  If you are seriously considering attending the workshop, would you please fill out this survey to help me decide?  It’ll take just a couple of minutes.  Thanks in advance.  And please, help me make the right decision by not filling out the survey if you are sure you won’t attend.

Camp Musicuentos Northeast 2015 – July 24, 2015 – Warwick, Rhode Island

Teachers in and around the Northeast will be able to participate in Camp Musicuentos by joining me on July 24, 2015, at the Hilton Garden Inn Warwick/Providence Airport.  Again, contact me if you want to be emailed directly when registration opens in February, and please specify that you are interested in the Northeast location.

Still wondering if you should come?  Here’s what the 2014 participants had to say:

It was fantastic! I don’t want to miss it!

The structure is really helpful.

Interaction with everyone was amazing. So kind and helpful.

Loved the emphasis on standard-based backwards planning. I have been hearing this from the beginning but am just starting to grasp it, and the way that you shared with us how you brainstorm was really helpful.

I am grateful for the opportunity for this workshop. I hope to be able to encourage some change in my department, as well as in my own teaching.

I will attend this again if you decide to have another one!

It was so helpful to sit down and hash out ideas with other language teachers especially since I am the only one at my school.

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September 4, 2014 5 Comments

How I teach La ciudad de las bestias

coverI’ve been asked several times lately, particularly by teachers starting out their AP Spanish classes, exactly how I teach the novel La ciudad de las bestias as part of the course.  Here’s the answer.

  • If a class has higher proficiency, I set deadlines for chapters.  We do read on one set day per week, but students are responsible to finish on their own for the day a chapter is due.  Students finish the book in one school year.

  • In a class with lower proficiency, I coach them through the reading every week (whatever day is our reading day).  Students do not finish the book in the school year, but after the AP exam, they finish a set of questions I wrote to get them through the plot to find out what happens.

  • We read aloud taking turns in class.

  • Students sometimes have a reading day in a group together when I need to grade some of their work or if several students are absent.

  • We frequently stop to explore the book and enhance comprehension in the ways described in my guide under “Para comprender más.”  We’ll look up pictures of a guacamaya or find Manaos on Google Earth or diagram who is on the explorer team and what their jobs are.

If you’re interested in teaching this novel using the ebook reading guide I developed, you can find more information here.  It’s on a back-to-school sale at 20% off ($39.95) for the rest of this week only!

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August 28, 2014 0 Comments

Putting homework in their hands: Sample systems

hwoptions snapWhen I posted last year about my latest update on the Elige tu propia aventura homework choice activity, the post quickly became one of the top 10 of the year.  Accordingly, I frequently receive requests for my list of options and how I divided them into a point system.  The problem is that I was experimenting with InDesign to develop my ebook resources and chose it to make my AP syllabus and the Aventura document – and your average teacher isn’t going around with InDesign on her computer.  So the best I could offer was a PDF.  Plus, I’ve only done this activity with intermediate and pre-advanced students and many teachers wonder what the options would look like for lower levels.

Wait, what?

Screeching halt.

If you haven’t been with me for the journey through giving up the pretense that trying to excessively manipulate my students’ out-of-class time is going to predict to me what they learn, you could always browse through my choice tag.  If you don’t have that kind of time, here’s a run-down:

  • Autonomy and intrinsic motivation are high predictors of success in learning.
  • Language for communicative purposes cannot be learned in isolation.
  • Frustration is common in traditional homework because there’s no one around to help.
  • Frustration blocks language acquisition.
  • I give two and only two homework assignments per week.
  • These assignments are always the same: do an aventura activity and post a free-topic blog
  • Student autonomy in these assignments is very important to me.
  • These two graded assignments free me from grading or entering grades for most other formative activities.
  • As time passed I realized that not all assignments are worth the same either in time commitment or in usefulness for language acquisition.
  • Assigning choices a point value allowed me to require students to challenge themselves and to adapt the same list for various learning levels.
  • This idea is one of my most widely-used and several other teachers have developed their own lists and systems.

I’m so excited and impressed with how other teachers have adopted and adapted this idea and thought it would be helpful to link all the documents for you here.  Plus, I took all the content from my InDesign file and put it in a Google Doc for you to copy/paste and adapt for your situation.

Choice activity documents

My options and point system

Kara Jacobs‘ system

Noah Geisel‘s system

- some Pinterest ideas Noah found useful

Laura Sexton’s options

Tana Krohn‘s list

Bethanie Carlson Drew’s updated list (and I stole the name from her!)

Katherine Matheson’s version

And how could I leave out-

The Creative Language Class’s Real World Homework

(developed completely on their own creative genius!)



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August 26, 2014 6 Comments