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Best of 2014 #10: The new JCPS curriculum documents


to the 2014 “Best of Musicuentos” series.  In the month of December I do not post much new material as I enjoy the season with my family, but rather I re-post the top ten posts of the year, in case you want to re-read, or in case you’ve joined us this year and didn’t see these popular posts.  We’ll start with the tenth most popular post, which offers you links (and they should finally all work, yay!) to resources many of us have been working on and many more of us have been waiting for, for a long time: the new drafts of the Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools’ world language documents, for secondary, and for the first time, for elementary as well.

Another resource: The new JCPS curriculum documents

Brittany Randolph

Brittany Randolph


It’s a busy season for Musicuentos, can you tell?

I feel like I just said that.

I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief as an excellent cohort of teachers and I wrapped up a year-long project to lay the groundwork for something that has not existed in entirety before: an elementary curriculum map for the Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools.

If you’ve been looking at resources online for any length of time you know that JCPS has developed and is developing one of the most proficiency-focused, communicative, research-based curricula out there.  But the elementary program has been a different story.  The project to develop a district-wide map has started and stopped and fizzled several times over the years, but it’s finally happened and will continue happening.

**Edit 6/23** It seems the district has put all the documents on password protection.  Here’s the username and password:
Just kidding. I can’t even access them!  But good news, the district specialist wants them available to the public and is working on that.  Stay tuned.

You can find all the new documents online here.  Watch for updates as the great teachers at JCPS continue working on powerful assessments, resources, and lesson plans.

A few notes about the elementary curriculum:

  • JCPS categorizes elementary grades beginning with P1 as kindergarten, P2 as 1st grade, and so on.  At 4th grade the teachers stop using the P# reference.
  • We tried to address the problems that plague elementary programs – kids transferring in and out, the program getting hijacked by pull-outs and testing prep, too many students per teacher, not enough time per week. So we divided the program into two levels, with the levels layered.  Then we developed five six-week units for the last six-week period to be used as review and assessment as the state testing schedule allows.  So the first level has the same five units every year for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, but every year the vocabulary and functions in that theme get deeper.  There’s a lot of recycling and then moving deeper.  Same with third, fourth, and fifth grades- the same theme for the unit every year with a lot of recycling and moving deeper.
  • We developed the program as if every teacher had the recommended minimum 90 minutes per week with students, which no one in the JCPS system does yet, so we actually recommend that teachers with less time throw out an entire unit instead of doing less per unit.  If it were me I would skip unit 1 in Level 1 on the assumption that kids will develop the school vocabulary as the year goes on, and in Level 2 I would combine the All About Us and Hanging Out with my Friends units.
  • There are also many core content and connections built in.
  • As teachers develop units and find resources those will be updated too, with a goal to have a really good IPA for at least each semester of 3rd-5th soon.
  • The intercultural goals are something cool and innovative but will need some improvement so you can watch for that as well.

We hope you find it useful.

I’m going to take a nap now.

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December 2, 2014 0 Comments

What we learned at IFLTA ’14: Everyone struggles, Culture leads

Since I had my precious Cottrell-itos on my trip to the annual conference of the Indiana Foreign Language Teacher’s Association, I didn’t get to spend as much time involved in the conference as I would have liked to, but I did greatly enjoy the time I did have.  I reconnected with “old” friends, made new ones, and met face-to-face with some of you in my online PLN.

I don’t like giving handouts (because I don’t usually like getting them) but I always promise to put up my resource on a blog post, so here’s that, with some good takeaways from other sessions as well.

We all struggle

Let me just say it was refreshing to hear Linda Egnatz hear that the ACTFL Teacher of the Year can still have a seventh-period class out of control!  I’m not a failure if I still can’t solve every problem presented by putting a bunch of football players together in a last-period Spanish class!

Also, I heard over and over that teachers recognize there are areas where they need to change, and where the research is driving us to change, and they’re trying.  I apologize if the artifact of microblogging on Twitter or blogging in short bursts gives you the impression that I or any teacher anywhere has all the answers and has changed everything that needs to change.  We’re using the TL all the time in 100% comprehensible ways while teaching every aspect of culture and inspiring every single student to learn language for a lifetime and dedicate themselves to improving the world – NOT!  We’re all growing.  We’re all changing.  And if the fact that it’s hard isn’t keeping us from doing something to improve today, something else or something the same next month and the year after next, then kudos to us and here’s a digital hug from me (here’s an extra one for you, Wendy).

Linda Egnatz: Three types of control

When someone goes so far as to be named the Teacher of the Year by ACTFL, you know you’re going to benefit from sitting in a session (and at lunch!) with her, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Linda talked to us about how ACTFL’s work supports our proficiency-based teaching, what motivates students, integrating the 5 C’s, and more, but what I’m really mulling over is how she explained how she analyzes student performance.

First, her idea of counting parts of an utterance – and having students focus on doing the same – fascinates me.  Push student proficiency by asking them to move beyond one-word responses.  Students can count parts: 1) who did what? 2) with whom? 3) when? 4) why? 5) in what way? 6) in what mood? 7) with what result? and you can see how they’ll get used to producing more complex utterances and pushing themselves to take risks.

Also, Linda looks at the proficiency shown by a performance by looking at what type of control the students are showing, that is, how grammatical accuracy is evident in their performance.  Here are the three:

  • Conceptual control: I know it happens but I don’t do it when I produce language except in memorized chunks.
  • Partial control: I can do it on words that neatly fit a pattern that I have practiced a lot. (In Spanish an example is matching adjectives to the gender of nouns but only when they end in the obvious -o, -a.)
  • Full control: I can apply the concept in general.  It doesn’t mean it’s perfect but the student is aware of the general concept and applies it fairly consistently.

Side note, I knew that students can’t manipulate past tense until Advanced proficiency (which makes me wonder why we do it in Level 2 anyway), but Linda said that speakers can’t handle the aspect of past (such as imperfect vs. preterite in Spanish) until Superior.  I have always assumed that my speaking proficiency was somewhere around Advanced High, but this made me wonder if I may be reaching Superior.  I know the topics I can handle are a factor there, but I wonder.

In another conversation, she talked about using tasks and activities that match student’s cognitive level.  In elementary, we can’t teach numbers by counting money in kindergarten because they actually can’t perform that skill cognitively.  Same with telling time.  But they love to talk about animals in the context of farms and zoos.  Try that with tenth graders and, well, you can imagine.  Linda suggests we use cultural resources that are interesting them on their cognitive level, like using Hungry Planet pictures to talk about food comparisons.

Super Teacher PD: best handout idea ever

A university professor (the IFLTA conference seemed very post-secondary heavy to me) did a session on PD and on his handout, he put a doodle box.  Literally, it was a box for us to doodle in if we wanted to. Whether or not you doodle in a session, you have to admit it shows how down-to-earth the guy is!

This session was set in the context of superheroes (Batman – what “kryptonite” keeps you from doing quality PD; Iron Man – what’s your “arc reactor”?; Avengers – I forget) but I really, really hate superhero movies so the analogy fell flat with me, but I appreciated how he pushed us to…

  1. ask what makes me an effective teacher
  2. set big goals
  3. remember what keeps me teaching
  4. eliminate things holding me back from PD that are within my control (i.e. watching too much Downton Abbey instead of pushing my language/cultural proficiency with a Spanish-language film)
  5. making a few achievable goals with deadlines and someone to report to

What PD goals do you have for this next year?

My session: Reality in IPAs

I really had a great group of teachers attend this session and they gave it energy and great ideas.  To find the links to the resources I offered in this session, see the post from the KWLA conference, and especially check out the Camp Musicuentos wiki (and let me know if you want to be notified when registration for Camp Musicuentos opens).

Here are some of the contributions participants made that resonated with me:

  • Set students in a scenario helping someone, especially a child, as this incorporates real service-learning and lowers anxiety.
  • Could your students potentially get a holiday job being an elf or some other character at a local mall, for example?  What a great opportunity to use language, and a fun scenario (if it’s realistic)!
  • One teacher was in an area where a tornado struck and an apartment building near her was evacuated.  She ended up helping translate for the Red Cross.
  • Remember, novices will not be able to do translation scenarios well.  Get them to picture themselves describing themselves, introducing themselves, and otherwise making friends with someone who lives nearby or whom they meet on the internet.
  • Speaking of the internet, this is a go-to realistic scenario for students in rural areas.
  • Another realistic scenario in a rural area: someone on Craigslist wants to buy [item you love but you got a new one] and is willing to travel from [some city not terribly far away] to get it but doesn’t speak English well.
  • One more: Many students in rural areas not too far from a large city will go there for big shopping trips or to see something in the theatre, for example, and may come across speakers of another language.  What about a sporting event?  Students where I live may travel all the way to Cincinnati for a Reds game.

Another resource we mentioned was Megan’s post over on the Creative Language Class on incorporating heritage speakers into your class.

Commercials in Spanish class

Some professors and teacher candidates over at IUPUI did a presentation on using commercials to teach culture (and language) in Spanish class.  You’ll be able to find their materials on the IFLTA website and in the spirit of don’t reinvent the wheel! I wanted to make sure you also knew about Kara Jacobs’s amazing resources for using commercials (presentation, worksheets, videos) as well as the document dozens of Spanish teachers have worked on for the past four years with a ton of scripts and ideas for using Spanish commercials.

What are you learning lately?  I hope these ideas and resources also inspire you to keep on keeping on!

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November 8, 2014 4 Comments

Communicative teaching in the shadow of [grammar-focused] common assessment

After I get a question repeated to me a certain number of times via Twitter, comments, or emails, I know it’s time for a blog post.

The Great Dilemma

If you have never had to consider how students in your TCI (teaching with comprehensible input) class will fit in a program that forces grammar-heavy common assessments, or transfers students into grammar-translation classes, or asks you to prepare students for standardized college entrance exams, count yourself very lucky.  But I’ve seen and heard this so many times that I know it weighs heavily on the minds of teachers on both sides of the fence, and those straddling the fence: are we preparing them for X?

A not-so-great dilemma

I’d like to offer you some relief, from this burden at least, if you’re a TCI teacher at least.  If you’re a grammar translation teacher who is wondering how your students will do in a TCI class, I don’t have a lot of advice for you, except that you should read and listen to research on how people learn language and then re-evaluate which one of you is teaching more in line with it.  But for you teachers currently teaching or developing a program more focused on teaching with comprehensible input, I do not think this is something you need to worry much about, and here are a few reasons why.

Ubiquitous format

Last year a rather antagonistic teacher at a workshop was unpleasantly shocked that I had not given my students a test -or asked a multiple-choice question outside of AP Spanish- in four years.  Perhaps you’ve heard the comment before:

But if they don’t practice taking them, how will they know how to take them?

I nearly laughed.  How old are kids when they start learning how to take multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank tests these days, 6? 7?  At least half the students at my high school were in private tutoring to improve their ACT scores.  Let their other classes and their ACT tutors prep them for test formats.  They don’t need one more class to do it, too.

High skills to low skills

When students are used to being assessed by circling which answer is the yo form of hablar, they may (usually) have a lot of trouble moving to a teacher or program where someone simply asks them the question (in TL), what do you do in class?  But when students are used to saying “I like to talk on the phone. I talk on the phone with my friend every day after school” they have little trouble choosing the correct form for I speak, or the translation for friend, and so on.

It hadn’t occurred to me to worry about whether my students would be ready for grammar-translation-heavy exams or programs.  The fact is, many of my students have left my class and taken such exams or ended up in such programs in college.  Not one of them has failed to test out of at least one class, usually two, sometimes four.  Not one student.  As for the ones in grammar-heavy programs in college, they hate it, but they’re excelling there, too.  Because when you’re used to refining your communicative skills, learning to analyze words comes much easier than it happens the other way around.

It's a piece of sweet coffee cake. Priscila Mateini

It’s a piece of sweet coffee cake.
Priscila Mateini

Making it even easier

Still, as you face preparing your students for a common grammar-translation assessment or a move into a grammar-heavy next-level class or college class, there are a couple of things you can do to make this even easier, and watch your students succeed with less frustration.

Patterning grammar questions

TPRS now advocates a technique called “pop-up” grammar and my understanding of it is that when grammar issues come up in the natural process of communicative teaching, we take a few minutes to ask pointed questions like “why is it X and not Y? what if the subject were B?”  I love that technique and when I’m teaching I do it a lot.  But it’s also a huge part of how I introduce content.  When I do storytelling, my target features are far from random.  They are all related to a particular grammatical or vocabulary function I’m trying to get students to be able to use in their communication.  So in my story, I may be targeting the pattern of is _____ing  and in the days after the story students will be using music, games, and activities to work on communicating with this pattern.  When students work on communicating in patterns, identifying them on a grammar-heavy test is a piece of cake.

One-day? crash course

In an attempt to broker peace within a strongly conflicted department of teachers on both sides of this fence, I made this suggestion:  what if the TCI teachers spend a day every so often, or the last day of the quarter, or the last two days of the semester, or whatever they’re willing to do in the time right before they go to another teacher’s class, hitting the grammatical terms of some of the things they’ve looked at?  I’d be willing to spend 2 days at the end of the school year going over terms like conjugation and direct object pronoun if it meant the coffee cake at the faculty meeting -and the company- would seem sweeter.  And if it would mean the grammar teacher would get off my back about preparing them for a test.

Are you struggling in a department that’s asking you as a TCI teacher to focus more on test prep?  How are you handling it successfully?

Photo copyright 

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October 30, 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

What we learned at Camp Musicuentos

Camp Musicuentos 1


Well, last Friday came and went and the first official Camp Musicuentos is a wrap!  I had the great privilege of working with 20 outstanding teachers from across my own region and even beyond – I was joined by teachers from Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Virginia!

Our learning, for you

First, let me share with you the Camp Musicuentos wikispace, where we were learning and sharing during the event.  On this wikispace, you’ll find:

  • Resources to help you develop and plan your curriculum for next year, including an editable version of my performance assessment rubric (it looks ugly in Google Drive but should open nicely for editing in Word).
  • Two templates: One to help you set proficiency goals for your program and another to help you plan the whole year
  • A list of the units and their goals I would teach at levels 1, 2, 3, 4, AP, and Spanish for Heritage Speakers.  Included is a sample integrated performance assessment for the first part of Level 1 based on the goals for the first two chapters of Descubre.
  • The curriculum maps that many of the teachers present at the event worked on and uploaded.  They are in varying stages of development depending on where everyone got to.

Now what?

I’ve gotten some great suggestions from readers via email, Twitter, and Facebook, and a lot of helpful constructive feedback from attendees via my post-survey, and my mind is spinning with what to do with Camp Musicuentos next year.  Here are some ideas going through my head:

  • Several readers have asked for an online version or webinar.  I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how to do this and frankly, not having a lot of success.  I don’t have a lot of experience with webinars.
  • There is a strong possibility for multiple locations next year.  I plan to run Camp Musicuentos at least once here in Louisville and once also in the Northeast, likely in Warwick, Rhode Island.  Other options feasible for me would be central Texas and northern Florida; I’ve also had some interest expressed for California and that’s more difficult but also something for me to think about.  In short, I’m seriously planning for one location other than Louisville next year and we’ll see what happens from there (and what I hear from you).
  • Several teachers who attended asked for more structure and I think I understand what they needed – but I don’t think I can give it unless we divide the event by level.  So I think for next year I should offer a Camp Musicuentos Novice and Camp Musicuentos Intermediate Plus (which is what I meant by “at least once” in Louisville).
  • Many of us got the impression that one nine-hour day was at the same time too intense and too short.  I’m considering offering two seven- or eight-hour days instead.  That way we could stay focused better and also accomplish more in terms of preparing you for the next school year.  Having two days would double the cost on my end and might make the workshop prohibitively expensive, so if I pursue the two-day idea I’d like to have the days themed so teachers could still attend one day or the other without it emptying those deep pockets we all know teachers have.

Please, let me know what you think about the resources available on the wikispace and any ideas or suggestions you might have.  I hope to see you at a Camp Musicuentos someday soon!

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June 30, 2014 5 Comments

New Podcast: What kind of corrective feedback works?

Nicolee Camacho

Nicolee Camacho


How do you mark student writing?  What kind of corrections do you make?  What kind of corrections work, that is, help students do better next time? The authors of a recent article in the journal System address these questions.  They compare two models of corrective feedback: explicitly telling a student there’s a problem, and implicitly coaching a student into self-correction.  Their findings about which type is more effective and their recommendations took me by surprise, and I’ll tell you how and why I disagree with them in this fifth episode of the Musicuentos Black Box podcast.  It’s free!

Also, stay tuned (ha!) for positive changes coming for the podcast.  This is a project that is very important to me but it definitely needs some streamlining to work better for you and me both.  An update soon!

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June 18, 2014 0 Comments

Revisiting Photopeach for the AP Final

photopeach.jpgI just taught my last class for the foreseeable future and what a sweet handful of minutes it was.  I decided to revisit the Photopeach final this year, after having not done it for 2 years because of babies arriving at the end of the school year.

I’ve blogged about Photopeach and this particular project twice before, once when the idea was first suggested to me and again to screencast the basics of how to use it.  Basically, Photopeach is an online tool to create slideshows.  You upload photos from your computer, or you can pull them in from Facebook or Picasa.  Add captions, add music, set the speed, and you’re off – you’ve got a slideshow.

For this particular project in AP Spanish, the project replacing a final exam, I was inspired to do the Photopeach “## things about me” for several reasons.  First, the last thing I wanted them to do was to sit and take a long final exam involving multiple choice, translation, conjugation, and other tasks that don’t tell me a lot about how they can communicate and frankly, don’t motivate them to want to communicate.  Also, I want them to think about things that impacted their lives and where they’re going from here.  I am literally on the cusp of losing them forever.  I have no (or almost no) influence over them for the rest of their lives.  The motivation to continue in Spanish is all in their own hearts now - and really, it always was. So I ask them to reflect.  I ask them to show digital citizenship.  I ask them to tell me about their passions.  And yes, I ask them to do it showing they can narrate in multiple time frames and use idiomatic expressions.  I love the project because it keeps them using Spanish in ways that push proficiency but it does it in a way that inspires them, inspires me, and tells me more about them.  I can’t fully express how precious some of these projects have been without showing you the dreams and tragedies students have bared to me through them, like Karson’s strength through her parents’ divorce and her mother’s cancer.  Just today, after spending two years with these students, I learned that one has a sister she didn’t know about until she was 12, and another’s biggest fear is never making it out of Kentucky when she so badly wants to see the world.

If you’d like to use a similar project to get your students reflecting, dreaming, and telling you more about their world, here’s the rubric I use for the project.  What memories will you and your students create together?

Here’s an example from Rachel (whose last name involves the word cow, just so you can see how that figures in).
20 cosas sobre mi on PhotoPeach

And another example from Casey:

20 Cosas Sobre Mi on PhotoPeach

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May 23, 2014 3 Comments

4 ways to tweak the exit ticket

Jade Jackson

Jade Jackson

When I first heard about the exit ticket, I thought it was a great idea.  It seemed like a way to keep myself accountable to assess every student, and it seemed like a way to keep students accountable to do something to show me they’d learned what I’d taught.  It also seemed like a decent classroom management tool – if you didn’t pay attention and do the exit ticket task, you couldn’t leave.

My problem with the exit ticket developed as I began to understand how much I should be focusing on long-term memory and not short-term memory if I truly cared more about life-long learning and less about the grade on the vocab quiz on Friday.  Soon I couldn’t reconcile the two ideas; how could I say that any student, even the best, most attentive student, could do anything with the language if they’d just heard the concept?  The fact is, I can’t tell you when that student will be able to perform a given task from their long-term memory, where it really counts.  So I killed the exit ticket.

But really, you don’t have to.  Doesn’t it seem this is the way it is with almost any idea?  If you don’t evaluate the principle behind the activity, it often spirals in to a very bad idea.  But when you keep your language learning principles in mind you can usually tweak any idea to make it very good.  Here are four potential alternatives to the traditional exit ticket.

  • Stamp sheets

If you haven’t seen what Megan and Kara of the Creative Language Class blog and their colleagues are doing with stamp sheets, you should check it out.  Basically, students have a sheet that organizes, in circles for example, the I Can statements for their current unit.  As students progress and can accomplish the tasks on the sheet, the teacher stamps that circle.  My idea was to try this as an exit ticket.  When I got the chance to teach Spanish 1 at the recent Camp Musicuentos event, I used a smaller version with I Can statements which were the three goals of my lesson plan.  I was able to talk to many students, but not all, to verify that they could do what I was asking them to do.  This accomplished several goals and gave me some tips for you:

- If you have to show daily progress and/or give a daily grade, this is a perfect way to get that.

- Use it to make sure you’re hearing from every student on every goal.  In one class I only spoke with about 1/4 of the students, in the other, almost all.  So I knew exactly whom I needed to speak to the next day.  Also, if a student can’t accomplish the goal, simply don’t accept the paper.  If you don’t have a student’s sheet, you know that student still needs to work on it.

- Use it for the goals in the class period, just like an exit ticket, but don’t look at it as something you can check off and say “Ok, my kids can do that, now on to something else.” If you have a goal on the sheet that you’ve just taught, fine, but remind yourself that all you’re assessing is if students were paying attention today, not whether they’ll be able to do this next week.  You know what they’ll need to be able to do that, too – lots of practice between now and then!

- Repeat and build on previous stamp sheets in order to check their unit stamp sheet.  I thought, if my student can use le gusta to tell me what a classmate likes today, and then I repeat that same stamp in three days, and again twice next week, then I’m more hopeful that they actually can do it and I can go ahead and stamp the same goal on their unit sheet.

I can CM


  • Positive reflection

In a recent #langchat that inspired this post, Colleen offered a tip that I absolutely loved.  I think it’s my favorite overhaul of the exit ticket.  Instead of pretending that students can typically acquire useful language within one class period, how about shifting the emphasis to how they feel about what they did in the class period?  Colleen suggests that we have students wrap up the class with some reflective self-reporting: “Today I was proud that I…”  By making students reflect in this way, you’ll force them to think about their intrinsic motivation and their successes instead of things that went wrong.  Did I mention I LOVE THIS IDEA?!

  • Timed free write

Mira’s suggestion was to have students do a timed free write.  I’m envisioning this as a 3-minute closing activity in which students write anything about anything.  Only requirements are that it has to be in the target language.  Who knows what they’ll come up with?  You could offer a photograph or a story beginning as inspiration.

  • Something old & something new

To really tweak the problem of the exit ticket, simply use it to assimilate the old with the new instead of pretending you’re actually assessing what you just taught.  If you worked on prepositions last week, and you’re working on house vocabulary today, show a picture and ask students to say where something is: “The book is on the table.  The lamp is next to the sofa.”  Recycle in a new context and that’s some memory-boosting exit ticket!  An added benefit here is that you’ll learn which of your students are struggling with an “old” skill and may need you to refocus on it.

What are your suggestions for how to make the exit ticket better reflect our goal of fostering long-term memory?


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May 7, 2014 11 Comments

A week or more of working with Vivir mi vida

Claudio Poblete

One of my most popular posts last year was how to use Marc Anthony’s Latin Grammy-winning song Vivir mi vida to stage Spanish Class Idol in a novice class.  A few people have asked me directly, and the topic has been brought up enough on Edmodo, about more clear directions of how to teach the song.  If I were blessed enough to have a novice class right now, here’s what I would do.  I would string these activities out over the course of at least a week; adding the integrated performance assessment would certainly take longer.

    1. Play first half of song Vivir mi vida as an intro.
    2. Brainstorm a vocabulary list of activities students in the class like to do.
    3. Students take 5-10 minutes to illustrate their vocabulary list.
      Then, review this list each day by asking students to talk about the words with a friend for 3-5 minutes. Example: ¿Te gusta bailar? No, no me gusta bailar, pero mi hermana baila. Tiene clases de baile.
    4. Introduce the target skills.  My target skills are:
      I can tell other people what I’m going to do.
      I can make plans to do something with a friend.
       Write them on the board and then tell a story in Spanish.  As an example:
      One of my students
      (someone they like, Duck Dynasty guy or Taylor Swift or Spiderman)
      are comparing schedules to make plans to
      (something they like to do, hunt ducks or shop at Forever 21 or bungee in the Grand Canyon).
      But they can’t seem to get a time together because:
      person A: “¿Qué tal el lunes a las 4?”
      person B: “No puedo, voy a ir al dentista.  ¿Qué tal el miércoles a las 7?”
      person A: No puedo, voy a practicar el vóleibol. ¿Qué tal el viernes a las 10?
      and so on, especially incorporating the activities your students like to do and/or crazy activities that incorporate this vocabulary (such as, instead of just ‘bailar’ why not ‘bailar en un charco de chocolate’?).
    5. Play the chorus of Vivir mi vida.
      See if some of your more outgoing students will try singing.
    6. Get students’ help in telling the story in 3rd person.  ”Taylor va a…. Julia va a…”
    7. Play a video of Vivir mi vida.
      Sidetrack! How does Marc describe himself at the beginning? This is great authentic novice-level stuff! How can your students describe themselves like this in four sentences?
    8. Incorporate another authentic resource, someone’s schedule or something, perhaps a concert schedule: “Marc Anthony va a cantar en… el (fecha)…”
    9. Play chorus of Vivir mi vida and get students to sing (or lip-sync, I don’t care as long as they’re involved).
    10. Students make a list of activities they’re going to do this week, one each day (recycling days of the week, can also recycle times).
    11. A few volunteers sing their activities instead of the ones in the chorus of “Vivir mi vida” with song video.  They could even fit everything within a phrase:
      “Voy a jugar…el basquetbol… el lunes a… las cuatro, la la”
    12. Students talk to a partner with the question
      “¿Qué vas a hacer?”
      to find out what they’re doing. Students make a grid/chart of what they’re doing and what the partner is doing.
    13. Students use “va a…” to report what the partner is going to do.
    14. Play the whole song of Vivir mi vida and see if students will try to sing.  Perhaps point out some other vocabulary they might know.
    15. Have students mingle and talk again, this time to everyone in class until each pairs up with someone who is going to do one of the same items from his or her list.  So, students partner up based on commonalities.
    16. Students use “vamos a…” to report what they are both going to do.
    17. Students try to sing chorus of Vivir mi vida using “vamos a” phrases, and/or try to do the chorus as
      <point to self> “Voy a bailar,”
      <point to partner> “va a bailar,”
      <point to both> “vamos a bailar,”
    18. Integrated performance assessment: students choose among a set of schedules.  Student chooses activities to participate in and makes plans with me or with a friend (if they have higher proficiency).  Student writes out the schedule both of us are going to use, to show when we are going to do the same activities, and when we might do different activities.  (I might use a schedule from a festival, or a map of a theme park.)

If you use these plans, let me know how it goes!  Were there problems?  What great tweaks did you make?

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March 25, 2014 3 Comments

Putting a number grade on proficiency-based assessment

I’ve gotten this question several times lately and it’s made me remember I sort of blogged on that when I wrote about taking the leap to standards-based assessment but I should go into it a little more.

So, you’re ready to move to proficiency-based assessment and standards-based grading, but if you’re assessment is focused on telling students where their proficiency is hitting and what they can do to improve, what do you do when you’re required to give a number grade?

I inherited a passionate hatred for grades from my dad, a brilliant, creative homeschooler and certainly the most influential person in my life.  A number on a piece of paper doesn’t tell me anything.  Or rather, maybe it tells me everything, but I can’t interpret it.  Perhaps it’s trying to tell me how much sleep the student got last night, or whether his eyes wandered to the girl’s paper one desk over, or to the girl herself, or that he bombed his calculus quiz last period and hates the world right now.  Maybe it says he turned the assignment in three days late.  Maybe it says he didn’t understand the directions.  I don’t know.  For sure what it doesn’t tell me is what I really need to know: what can he do with language?

Following some work I did with the excellent teachers involved in developing curriculum for the Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools (quickly becoming the gold standard in district curriculum development – I am blessed to collaborate with these teachers!), I developed my own proficiency-based performance assessment rubric.  But I get a question at times about how I put an actual grade on it – there isn’t a place on the rubric for a grade.  That’s by design.  If a grade doesn’t tell me anything, it tells my students even less, so why would I write it on their assignment?  I choose instead to give them much more helpful feedback, like what structures and word choices they’re using well and how they can push themselves to the next level.  They know exactly where our expectations are and how they can meet or exceed them.  It’s empowering.

However, I do have to put a grade in a gradebook for my school.  We’re required to give a certain number of grades, in categories of “daily” and “test,” per quarter.  So what do I do?  Well, I sort of copy the JCPS model there too.  Here’s a snapshot of how they assign grades:

grade conversion

So you can see, meeting expectations is a B.  Students have to exceed expectations to receive an A.

But I have to put an actual number.  How do I come up with the number?  If a student is meeting the expectation in all major areas (vocabulary use, structure, comprehensibility, and comprehension) the grade is right in the middle of B.  For us, with 80-89 being a B, that means an 85.  I move the number one way or the other if students tend lower or higher in one or two categories.  So if they’re meeting expectations in two categories and exceeding them in two categories, the number is closer to A.  If they’re meeting expectations in one category and exceeding in three, they can receive a low A.  Does that make sense?

The number will also move one way or the other depending on how students do in the minor categories, language control and task completion.  These areas might become more important depending on the subject.  In AP, task completion is actually much more important than in the lower levels because it’s scored so critically on the exam.  So if my students  in AP ignore some task requirements their grade will move more than if they were in level 1.

So, in my class, exceeding expecations overall earns an A, meeting expectations earns a B, approaching expectations earns a C, and you’ll see that my last catogory in the “score” box is “Unsatisfactory: I need considerable improvement before I try again.” What happens there?  Well, in my class, this score earns a failing grade, and failing a performance assessment is not an option for my students, so it means they have to redo the assessment.  Every time.  I do not allow a grade of “Unsatisfactory” to stand.  Also, I allow students to redo any assignment that receives “Approaching expectations.”  Especially in the advanced electives, I get students who are very focused on receiving As in their courses and they languish over a C.  So they can redo any assessment scored lower than “Meeting expectations.” I do not allow students to redo a  ”Meeting expectations” assessment to try for “Exceeding expectations”- I simply am not willing to try to work that into my schedule.

How do students find out what their grade was?  They actually have to log into our online gradebook (RenWeb) to find out.  Some students who don’t bother with it never find out what their number grade was on a particular assignment.  Is that a bad thing?  Not in my opinion.  If I didn’t have to give it I wouldn’t – why would I care if they know about it?

One last thing: what are the expectations?  You can see above what JCPS’s expectations are.  Mine are very similar. Keep in mind I teach in a school with small, sometimes very small, class sizes.  Our stated expectations are:

  • Level 1: NM first semester, NH second semester
  • Level 2: NH first semester, IL second semester
  • Level 3: IL first semester, IM second semester
  • Level 4 (AP): IM first semester, IH second semester

Here’s another aspect of the beauty of this system:  it’s flexible.  If my expectations don’t work for you, you know what works for you.  Even more than that, when they don’t work for me and my students, I adjust them too!  I actually have had students achieve consistent Advanced Low proficiency in their fourth year.  The factors involved there seem to have been a combination of a very strong foundation in level 1 (Level 1 teachers please stay the course!) and a high aptitude.  One of these students missed a quarter of her senior year due to illness and then scored a 4 on the AP exam.  But you know and I know that not all students are like that (and that is okay).  Then came this year.  The students I have now in AP (4th year) had a very piecemeal Spanish 1 and 2 class.  Then for at least half their Spanish 3 class I tried to force my intermediate curriculum to work for novice students instead of adjusting for them.  Right now in some categories they still perform at novice high.  If I maintained our stated expectations, they’d be getting low grades on everything and get very discouraged.  So, I adjust.  This semester in AP, “meeting expectations” is not intermediate high, it’s intermediate mid.  You know your situation and your students and you can adjust accordingly.

If you want to create a classroom culture that knows what proficiency is and works to improve it, you’ve got to incorporate that philosophy into your assessment.  I hope these scale ideas offer you a practical solution for doing so.


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March 4, 2014 9 Comments