Year in Review 2016-17


May 31, 2017

So I’ve seen some “it’s the last week of school” posts from my teacher friends in other parts of the country in the last few days. While I envy them for being on break already, I know they go back earlier than us, so I guess it all balances out. Here in Michigan, we still have about 3ish weeks of school left, but because of an 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C., that leaves next Wednesday, I’ve had to give my Final Exams a bit earlier than in previous years.

While my kids are starting final preps for Final Exams, I thought I’d take the time to check in and let you guys know what has been going on here lately and recap this year, which I already sort of did in a previous post.

So here’s the plan for the last few weeks. My kids (both my 1s and 2s) take their Finals next week Tuesday and Wednesday. After that my classes will probably be smaller as a large percentage of our school’s 8th grade class is going on this trip. I haven’t told them yet, but all we’re basically doing is watching movies in Spanish.

The first movie we’ll watch is Finding Nemo. I’ll put the Spanish language track on with the Spanish subtitles, and then have them watch it, completing this sheet as they go. One of the things my students have picked up on in previous years is that the Spanish language track and the Spanish subtitles don’t always match up. Additionally, they start to pick up on the slang that Crush uses with his surfer talk. When I get the sheets back, I notice them making notes in the margin like “compa=dude”. I’ve also found some really talented artists in my classes. Check it out below!

The end of the sheet asks them to describe their favorite part. In Spanish, of course!

The second movie we’ll be watching is Beverly Hills Chihuahua. This time we watch the movie in English. Because the majority of the movie takes place in Mexico, I have the students take notes on a lined piece of paper. I tell them to divide their paper into two columns: One for new Spanish words they learn, and another for new culture points they learn.

I think the twist on it this year will be that I will tell students that how well they pay attention will determine whether or not I collect it at the end. This forces students to pay attention, do the worksheet, take the notes, and then if they don’t pay complete attention, I make it for points at the end and collect it.

So overall, I think this year went well. As I mentioned in my previous post, there were definitely some bumps in the road and it was a learning experience for all. In planning for next year, I’m going to attempt doing Comprehensible Input (CI). I think this will help my students be more confident conversationalists overall, and encourage more of an immersion culture. I feel that this will also help their listening and reading comprehension skills as well.

Those of you who are following this blog may be recruited for some help. If you have experience in TPRS (Total Physical Response Storytelling) or CI, I may be wanting to pick your brain about things. Things like how to do a Movie Talk, whether or not to read a story like Pobre Ana, or something similar. I know I’ll definitely have to figure out how to do assessments that support CI/TPRS. I got a lot of good ideas at a local conference, CI in the Mitten (see my post here about it), and got some amazing ideas from the presenters there. I also currently follow Martina Bex and Maris Hawkins.

So this is my starting point. I can’t promise another post before the school year is over, but just in case, I leave you with these wise words of wisdom:

“Learning from our mistakes and holding on to our memories help us become deeper individuals with a better sense of who we are and how we choose to live our lives.” –Ron Clark

CI in the Mitten: Another #mindblown Day


April 22, 2017

You know that feeling when you come back from a conference and your head is swimming with all the amazing ideas you were just learning about and you can’t wait to try them out in your classroom ASAP? Yeah, that’s me right about now. After realizing that–aside from my brief foray into PBL with my 2s earlier this year–I haven’t really changed my teaching methodology the whole time I’ve been teaching. That’s 13 years of doing the same thing with the same methods. My kids have changed, why shouldn’t I?

If you read my last post, I gave you a brief overview of what has happened to the clientele in my school over the last few years. Since I’m not dealing with the same types of learners I had when I first started teaching, it seems only logical that I work with a different methodology to fit the currently clientele.

Let’s face it: kids today want to be entertained. All. The. Time. And what better way to do that than creating stories with Comprehensible Input (CI)? I think this is a more viable option for both of my levels, especially my 1s. And while every hour will not go exactly the same, I think this will keep me on my toes more!

So what exactly got me so super geeked? To start the day off, I was in the same room with Dr. Bill Van Patten! Having done my Masters in Second Language Acquisition (SLA), this guy’s name was all over everything that I read research-wise. To say I was fangirling out was kind of an understatement! Then, I got to go to CI bootcamp with Carol Gaab. She taught us by putting us in the students’ seat by teaching us Hebrew. In the 3ish hours that I was in that workshop, I learned more than I did when I took the same conversational Hebrew class twice in Sunday school!

After getting a good intro to how the method works, I then went to learn about Movie Talks from Jen Kron. She made references to Martina Bex and Maris Hawkins, both of whom I love! After lunch, I got some good hands-on practice with a Coaching Session. Super helpful and although it may take some practice, I think this is a better way to go.

Finally, the last session that I attended was presented by Kristi Shaffer about using Realia with CI. She gave some really good examples of what she uses with her 1s and 4s. I got some amazing ideas on how to use things with both my 1s and 2s.

So, to recap: I think CI is a great method/technique to use because while it’s still teacher-driven, the kids get more of a role in creating the stories, and as a result they stay engaged and it’s more about having fun and–Oh, by the way, you’re learning!

Reflections on the Year (So Far).


April 18, 2017

With only weeks remaining in the school year, I have started my reflection process. This is me thinking out loud and for you to learn what I have, but not through trial and error. I think it would be safe to say that I have learned almost as much as my kids have this year. After teaching at the same school in the same room with (mostly) the same teaching assignment for 13 years (as long as my kids have been alive!), it’s good to know that I’m still constantly expanding, learning, and growing as a teacher. I consider myself lucky. Not many people can say that they’ve had the same experience that I’ve had with their job. I like this familiarity.

I am also pleased to know that my kids can teach me some things and that–contrary to popular belief–I don’t know everything. And I will never claim to. But this year has taught me that even more.

So, you may ask, what have I learned? Here’s what I have learned this year so far:

  • Don’t assume students know something. Explain as much as possible.
  • When students ask a question, be straightforward with them and answer their questions. (This also goes with the thought above.)
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work.
  • Don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board after trying something new. I realize that the style of PBL that I was doing wasn’t working for my kids, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it another shot.

Without going into a detailed history of why these changes in my teaching have occurred, the short version is this: A couple of years ago my district decided to re-draw the boundary lines for who attends what school where. This dramatically shifted our population and–I believe–my teaching style as a result. The assumptions I made (correctly) with the previous population can no longer be made with my current clientele. This forced me to change my teaching style and go back to basics. I would consider this my Renaissance.

One of the main things I was taught in Ed School (thank you Western Michigan University for giving me an amazing education with priceless experiences; Shameless Plug. Sorry not sorry.) was that a good teacher always re-evaluates and continues to reflect. And that is what I have to keep reminding myself of every day, with the start of each new year.

While it may seem that I’m getting nostalgic a bit, it’s true. As frustrating as this year has been, I really appreciate the experiences I have had, because they make me a better teacher. Each group of kids that I get leave a special place in my heart and I can say that these guys have made me a better teacher. And isn’t that what this is all about?

MACUL Recap: #MindBlown


March 24, 2017

Recently I had the privilege of attending the MACUL Conference, since it was located in Detroit, near where I live. For both days, it was around $200, which I thought was pretty steep. Until I went there and realized for what you are getting, $200 is pretty much a bargain!


Speaker highlights include Sir Ken Robinson, Jennie Magiera, Jane McGonigal, Barbara Chamberlin, Ph.D, Hall Davidson, Leslie Fisher, and Matt Miller. Ok, so I’m kind of fangirling out with that last one. If you’ve been reading my previous posts, you know how much I love what Matt stands for. He is passionate, energetic, and an amazing educator. Did I mention he’s a Spanish teacher by training? Yeah, that last one really earned him a lot of points with me.

But I digress…

There were so many great sessions to choose from and so much to see that I know I didn’t do half as much as I wanted to. Each day I came home, my brain was sufficiently fried, but in the best possible way. Between students presenting their coding/technology skills, the MakerSpace, and meet and greets–not to mention the exhibition hall with an insane amount of vendors–there was so much to do you literally needed a Top 5 in each category just to make it doable.

If you ever make it to this conference, definitely plan in advance! Just planning which sessions to go to was tough enough, since I am so passionate about everything EdTech. I should have also planned on which exhibitors to check out, which exhibits in the MakerSpace and MaculZone I wanted to go to, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the half of it! Plus, the venue was so large in and of itself that to physically get from one location to another was a workout!

So the sessions that I ended up going to were Ditch that Homework with Matt Miller (obviously), Deep Learning with Google Tools with Matt Miller, Flipped Classroom in the Foreign Language, Google Classroom with Leslie Fisher, Seesaw Interactive Learning Journal, and The Digital Pirate with Matt Miller.

Matt Miller and Leslie Fisher get me really excited about all the tips/tricks/shortcuts they showed us, and their passion for their topics was clearly evident. On top of all of this, part of the fun of the conference included a game through an app called GooseChase, which is like a digital scavenger hunt. So many possibilities with this! The more things you find, the more points you earn which can lead to a prize.

So as you can see it was a lot of fun, super educational and got me super geeked for using all this new technology and playing around with everything. If you are in Michigan, I would highly recommend this conference to anyone with a passion for EdTech.

What’s your favorite conference that you’ve been to? What was so amazing about it? Tweet me, Facebook me, and let me know!

Healthy Choices for Food & Exercise


March 9, 2017

My Spanish 1s are culminating a unit talking about food, healthy and unhealthy food and activity options. For a final project before their Common Assessment (which serves as the Post-Test in a Pre/Post-Test), they are to create a poster talking about what you should/shouldn’t eat and what kinds of things you should do to stay healthy. It turns out I have some very artistic students in my classes who turn out some amazing final products!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The idea is laid out as part of our textbook that we use, Realidades. (This is one of the few things I actually use textbook materials for!) In the Guided Practice side of the workbook, a template is laid out for students to start their brainstorming using the following sentence starters

  • Debes comer… [You should eat…]
  • No debes comer mucho(a)… [You shouldn’t eat a lot of…]
  • Debes beber… [You should drink…]
  • No debes beber mucho(a)… [You shouldn’t drink a lot of…]
  • Debes… [You should…]

Students make sure that the sentences are grammatically correct, lay out a rough draft on a piece of lined paper, and then–once approved by me–they may start on their final draft on a special piece of paper that I give them to make their poster. I include samples from previous years’ students so they can get an idea of how they can lay it out, what they can include, and ideas for how to include pictures even if they’re not super artistic (I tell them they can cut out pictures from magazines or use clipart found online). Their poster must be colored and I show them this rubric so they know what I’m expecting them to do.

As you can see, the results are awesome! I am constantly amazed with the hidden talents of my students! They are so creative and really get into it!

What are some of your favorite projects to do with your kids? I’d love to hear about them below!

Continually Improving


February 16, 2017

Teaching is a reflective process. You cannot expect to get better if you do not constantly reflect on what you have been doing. This has been a huge year for my growth. Trying something new made for a bumpy road at first, but it has gradually smoothed out. My Spanish 2 students have been brutally honest about what works for them and what doesn’t. I’m glad they are willing to advocate for themselves and not hold back when I ask for their feedback.

It has been a year of learning for all of us. I am always looking to incorporate new methods, and while some have worked and others not so much, I know that I’m becoming a better teacher for it.

One of my files in my Google Drive is “To Do for Next Year”. Here I include notes about what to include, what to skip, and what to tweak based on current students’ experiences or if a particular activity was effective or not. I always leave myself notes in my Google Doc or my lesson plan so that when I’m using it the next year, I can go back and change what didn’t work and keep what did.

I’m thinking that at the end of the year I’ll do a survey with both my 1s and 2s. I want to know what they really liked and what they didn’t. Hopefully they take things seriously (if you have middle schoolers you’ll understand this; end of the year 8th graders can be very snarky with their comments when you are looking for honest feedback).

End of the Semester Reflections


January 27, 2017

So the last few weeks have been insane and a bit stressful, as evidenced by my lack of activity. Today is the last day of the semester and while my last few classes take their Midterms, I have decided to reflect on what has worked so far and what hasn’t.

I started out the year hopeful that this new method of teaching for me, Project-Based Learning (PBL), would be an engaging new way to teach my Spanish 2s. It started out okay, and I was thankful that my administration–as well as my students and their parents–were on board for a little experiment. It started to go okay, and while there were some concerns and tweaks that I made based on feedback I received, things slowly started to unravel.

Constructive criticism that I received included things like “there’s not enough direct instruction”, “we need more pronunciation practice” and “is it possible to slow down a bit? I’m not sure I have enough time to process everything that we’re learning”. That last one really made me think. And make some more tweaks.

By the second chapter, I thought I had the hang of it and we were finding a good groove. However, the parent emails continued expressing concern about how their child “feels like they’re not learning as much as they should”. By the end of that second chapter, I had to come to the realization that this was just not working out.

I had given it a valiant effort and it didn’t work. I got particularly frustrated after a meeting with a parent, their student and both administrators. The parent was concerned about her daughter’s progress because of the methods we started the year off with. I was back to my “regular” method of teaching that I had used before, but it still wasn’t “good enough”. The student was getting a B+ in the class.

Fortunately, my administrators backed me up and supported me. “I like that you tried something new. Yes, it didn’t work out, but at least you tried,” my principal told me after the meeting. That made me feel better, but it’s still awkward between the student and I.

So here we are back at the beginning again. Sort of. Monday starts a new semester–and the way I see it–a fresh new start. Time to show these kids what I am truly capable of with my teaching methods. If I start them out strong this semester, we can finish strong together at the end of the year.

I have still not given up hope on using PBL. I would like to continue thinking of new ways to incorporate this technology that my students have at hand. March brings the MACUL conference to my area, and one of my pedagogical mentors, Matt Miller (of Ditch That Textbook) is scheduled to be a speaker. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say. Maybe he has some more ideas that can get me inspired to continue moving forward. I refuse to simply give up. In the words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Reflections of an Almost-Complete First Semester


December 14, 2016

So we have about a week and a half until break. Our first semester doesn’t end until the end of January, so 2nd quarter is almost half done. I swear it was just September 2 weeks ago! (I’m sure other teachers feel the same way out there…) There have been a lot of learning experiences, for both me and my students.

I thought my plan was foolproof, and my students seemed to be intrigued about the idea of something different. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but now I think I have my answer. Knowing the different teaching styles and classroom management styles my students were used to last year, I think it sounded good theoretically. It was similar to what they were used to, but the one factor they didn’t anticipate was that I am a very tough grader, and this was something they had to get used to. I’m used to the difficult transition students face when coming from their Spanish 1 class. It’s not 1 anymore. It’s a whole new level of difficulty and I think sometimes students forget that this is a high school class even though they’re not in high school…yet.

So in processing this with my mom, I told her how things were going and she pointed out something so obvious, yet so wise. She told me her experiences as a parent when my brother and I were in school about how some teachers were sticking to what they knew, and while they were not doing the “latest and greatest” teaching technique, it worked. Sometimes better than these new techniques did. And she told me how she was bummed to see these really good teachers let go simply because they weren’t using the “latest and greatest” techniques even though what they were using was highly effective. She summed it up by telling me that sometimes you need to think about the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And I think that’s what I have to do here. Stick with what works. It may not be all cutting edge and it may be a bit more boring to the students, but the results speak for themselves.

I consider myself lucky to be where I am. I got this job 8 months out of school, have been in the same building, in the same room, in the same district for 13 years and counting. I can now say that I’ve been teaching for as long as my students have been alive. Crazy to think about it like that, but it’s true. I am also lucky in that my administration gives me the freedom to allow me to experiment like I did and not micromanage my teaching.

I rolled with the punches, and after a decent amount of feedback, realized it wasn’t working and changed to what I know worked. I think this was a valuable learning experience for all involved. My students were mature enough to give me constructive criticism about what was working for them on their end and what was giving them frustration. Their parents were equally flexible to let me try something new out, and, when it didn’t work, didn’t hold it against me, but appreciated the honesty.

I think this is best summed up with a quote from Thomas Edison that goes something like this: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” So now I know what not to do with students. As I said in a previous post, I think this technique could work well if you were working with high schoolers. But I think you also need to know your students. Are they mature enough to handle something so unstructured? Are they able to budget their class time wisely? These are things you should take into account before jumping in.

I’ll continue to update you on happenings in my class, both with my 1s and 2s. I think sharing my ideas are what helps us to become better as teachers. Hopefully I’ll give you some ideas for something that really works well with your kids and that they really enjoy. Also, feel free to share what your best ideas are that worked really well with your students. I can always get some new ideas to incorporate!

Reflections: PBL So Far


December 5, 2016

So things have gotten crazy busy since I last wrote; it’s that time of year! In the past month or so, students have completed 2 Choice Boards, done one project, and given me tons of valuable feedback on how things have been going so far. And the verdict is (drumroll, please)…

It’s not working for them. While I’m kind of bummed that this is how it’s turned out, I didn’t know how it would go until I tried. I was super optimistic, the students were willing to work with me, but it just wasn’t working out.

Feedback I received included some of the following:

“It’s too stressful to make sure that I have everything done in time for the Choice Boards to be due.”

“I need more structured practice and more feedback more consistently instead of right at the end.”

“I feel like I’m not given enough opportunities to practice with your guidance.”

“I like that I can work at my own speed at things I know I need practice on.”

Okay, so some of it was positive. But that, in combination with parent emails about the lack of structure/guidance with frustration on their students’ part made me go back to my original setup.

It’s more consistent work on a daily basis rather than everything “all at once” as one student put it. I think that this setup might work better with high school students who are more independent and are more able to handle this type of setup.

As Matt Miller put it in his book Ditch That Textbook, you never know how something is going to go until you just jump in and try. And what’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work and you find out what not to do.

So, in conclusion, it’s back to the drawing board, so to speak. Plan A didn’t work, so Plan B, which I know is solid from previous years’ experience, is the new Plan.

So after all that reflection I still want to tell you how my new version of the House Projects went.

In the past, I had done individual projects, which was fine. I had smaller classes and it wasn’t that big of a deal to grade them all. But this year I have bigger classes (think 31-32 kids in each section), so I didn’t want to grade about 80 individual projects. So, after talking to my parents, they gave me an idea of how to make this a group project and incorporate real-world situations/experiences. (See my blog here about the initial ideas; you may have to scroll down a bit to get there.)

The projects turned out great! Students were able to choose their groups, anywhere from 3-5 members. Each member had a role and had responsibilities leading to the final product. There was a visual aid, a written component, and an oral presentation of the final product. Here are some of the amazing final projects that were submitted: