Comprehensible Input, Grammar, Spanish

Is It Break Yet?


March 22, 2018

So much for my plan to blog once a month. Things have gotten super crazy around here. Spring is starting to “spring” and now that the weather is nicer and my 8th graders are starting to get ready for high school…well, let’s just say their effort has somewhat declined. On top of that, it’s getting closer to Spring Break for us, which means my role as co-advisor of the Talent Show is starting to take its toll since the parent performance and in-school performance is happening next week, the week before break. We’re off Good Friday and that whole next week and I’m sure you understand me when I say that it can’t come soon enough.

So my awesome ideas that I wrote about last time to incorporate more CI stuff has…fizzled out. I’m going to a local CI conference next month (if you’re anywhere near Mid Michigan, you should definitely check out CI in the Mitten!) so hopefully that will renew my efforts, or at least give me a good idea about next year.

I have, however, been incorporating more music and the students are really responding. My 1s have been studying the verb ser (to be), and just for fun I showed them Soy un Cacahuate from Spanish Spongebob. They loved it! Then, more recently we have been studying question words, so I gave them a modified version of this Question Word Song and they can’t stop singing it, no matter how much they groaned when I told them we were going to sing. (“Whatever, you know you like it!” I told them.)

My 2s seem to be enjoying our new entertainment unit where they get to discuss movies and TV shows. They love to reminisce about their favorite childhood cartoons when we talk about dibujos animados. Today they get to learn about verbs like gustar so they can discuss their opinions and use phrases like “me aburre” and “me repugnan” to talk about various types of TV shows and movies.

Compared to last year, this year has been fairly easy. I guess next year will be interesting to see how things change when they are using/hearing the language 90% of the time. I will use English when introducing new grammar concepts, but more often than not, the plan is to go with Spanish.

After finally meeting as a department (for the first time all year), it sounds like most of my colleagues are using CI-esque methods. I should probably follow the flow so that my students aren’t at a disadvantage when they go to high school.

What methods have worked for you? What are you planning on changing next year? Let me know in the comments!

Assessment, Grammar, Projects, Spanish

Thankful Reflection


November 21, 2017

So today is the last day of school for us for the week before Thanksgiving Break. I thought I would take some time to come up with my professional “What I’m Thankful For” List. And I know this seems to be a common theme with me, but as any good teacher knows, it’s all about reflection.

I am thankful for my ability to reflect on my best and (worst) practices. After the difficult year I faced last year, I am pleasantly surprised (and not to jinx myself or anything, but…) to see that things are fairly smooth this year so far. I feel like I have finally found my “groove”.

One of my previous posts on my Facebook page asked my readers what they would like me to write about. One reader asked for me to write about assessment strategies that won’t take forever to grade but give good feedback to the kids. So, dear reader, here is my best answer to your question.

Any good assessment has a rubric. I find that the more detailed my rubric is, the easier it is for my kids to understand what they need to do to get an A. (We all hope that they use this feedback not just for the A, but for the gaining of knowledge. We can only dream, right?) I try and give as precise feedback as I possibly can. Comments like “Make sure adjectives and nouns agree” or “Watch your subject/verb agreement” is way better than something vague, like “What else?”

Predictably, my 2s are more interested in the specifics of my feedback than my 1s are, but I’m hoping that as the year progresses, my 1s understand how important this specific feedback truly is. (We’re about to start their first foray into subject pronouns and conjugating -ar verbs in present tense. Wish me luck!)

I would love to hear your thoughts as to what you find works well for assessment strategies. I find that rubrics make things so much easier to grade when it’s all laid out in front of you, but I’m sure there are things that I’m either missing or forgetting about. Call me out! What are some of your favorite tips/tricks?

Comprehensible Input, Differentiated Instruction, Grammar, Spanish

Adventures in CI…er, sort of…

Adventures in CI

October 5, 2017

It is now a month into school. I’m not doing a traditional CI classroom model, but I make an effort to speak more Spanish to my students, including my 1s. This has been going well, but I find myself slipping into English more. There are definitely days that I use more English than Spanish, and while I’m not doing traditional CI, I feel like the exposure to the language is making the work itself less intimidating.

My goal is to use more Spanish than English by midyear, but that means I need to use it more on a daily basis. I need to take the “No inglés, sólo español” approach that my high school Spanish teacher did with my class. The only difference would be that my 1s would have less of a language base to work off of, and would probably default to English.

I flip flop between teaching grammar points in English with my 1s but doing all Spanish with my 2s, to thinking about doing all Spanish all the time with both my levels, but I have a feeling that this would lead to confusion with my 1s. I go into English when necessary, but this hasn’t changed my overall teaching method or approach.

I have all these ideas swirling in my head about how my ideal class would be taught, but when it comes down to it, I’m a creature of habit, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But then that gets me thinking, ‘is it actually broke and I’m in denial about it?’

I have been teaching for 14 years and the quality/learning style of students has definitely changed since I first started teaching. I am now competing with YouTube and reality TV for their attention, and just the thought of that makes me so tired! To keep their attention, but still make it fun, engaging and <gasp> educational?! I might as well be a miracle worker!

But then I go back to thinking about my Methods teacher in Undergrad, who I respect and admire: Spanish is fun. Period. I want them to have fun and learn something at the same time. I guess that’s what we all want. But I’m still figuring out how to do that.

For those of you who do more CI-type methods, I would be more than happy to hear any tips/tricks/suggestions of how to transition to a more TL-dense classroom!

Comprehensible Input, Differentiated Instruction, Grammar, Spanish, technology, Web 2.0

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!

Differentiated Instruction, Grammar, PBL, Projects, Spanish

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!

Differentiated Instruction, Grammar, paperless classroom, PBL, Spanish, technology, Uncategorized, Web 2.0

Choice Boards: Round 1


November 7, 2016

Phew! So I know it’s been a while since I’ve last written. Things are getting super crazy and hectic, but what else is new? Since I last wrote, my 2s have turned in their first Choice Boards, and here is what I’ve learned so far:

  1. When using Kaizena, if you set it up linked through Google Classroom, anything students upload in Google Classroom will automatically show in Kaizena. This made for very tedious work basically looking at duplicates of anything the students submitted. Very frustrating and time-consuming.
  2. Have one location for students to turn things in digitally. I find it best to have students either share it with me via Google Docs (which will send you an email notification) or upload directly to Google Classroom. Make sure your students give you access to the docs, otherwise you won’t be able to see anything!
  3. For the speaking activities, I use a rubric to evaluate them. I ended up printing out hard copies of the rubrics and attaching the speaking rubric to the overall Choice Board rubric. I initially thought I could do everything digitally, but the old-school teacher in me needed to see and physically write on the hard copies. It’s still reducing my paper trail overall,  but I feel like giving students a hard copy of the rubrics gives them more concrete feedback.

I had to adjust the pacing overall (see my previous post here about how that went), and I think together we have finally found our groove. It was a bumpy start, but I think things are starting to smooth out overall.

We are now on our second chapter and the students are starting to figure out how things are going to go. (“Wait. We’re going to have a Choice Board for every chapter?” Um, yes. How else am I going to see if you’re proficient in the material?) I think they like the overall structure of the class, but I’m not totally sure. I’ll probably give them a survey right around midterms to see how they feel about stuff. Maybe at the semester I can make some changes. I’ve already started to tweak things based on their feedback.

Differentiated Instruction, Grammar, paperless classroom, PBL, Spanish, technology, Uncategorized

Meeting the Needs of All Students

meeting_needs_studentsOctober 18, 2016

So we are now in the thick of it, and I am already learning a lot about the needs of the students in regard to pacing and instruction with this new format. After one week of introducing the new concepts back to back, it came to my attention that there needed to be some processing time between introduction of concepts. Based on student feedback, I have decided to space out the introduction of new grammar concepts with group guided practice. This will help them get a better idea of how well they are understanding the material and receive effective feedback from me about what they may be doing wrong.

While students are working on their Choice Boards (see my previous post about that here), I am meeting with them to have individual conferences. I ask them four basic questions: What do you feel your strengths are for this chapter? What do you feel like you need work on? How much progress have you made with your Choice Boards? and Do you have any questions for me? As I talk with the students, I’m making a Google Doc recording their answers. I expect to have 2 meetings with them per chapter to monitor their progress and see how they have progressed in their understanding of the concepts.

When students hand in their Choice Boards, it will be a combination of handing it in digitally via Google Classroom or sharing it with me in Google Docs or doing various speaking activities with me in person. They will check in their workbook pages with me in person during their second Individual Conference. I am still not sure how I will evaluate the speaking activities done in person. I included a rubric with the Choice Board in Google Docs, but I’m not sure if it would be more effective to print out a hard copy or make notes to myself on paper and later fill in their rubrics digitally when they turn them in via Google Classroom.

In meeting with the students individually, one thing has stood out to me: The higher students often do well and don’t need a lot of one-on-one attention help, but it’s the lower students that need more structure and less independent work. This was one thing I did not consider when I originally made this plan. I know it seems fairly obvious now, but the details and logistics seem to escape you when you’re planning a general overall schedule. This became apparent when I went to meet with one of my students in my homeroom, who expressed a lot of concern with this less-structured setup. I told him that after I finished the initial round of Individual Conferences I would be able to work with him one-on-one and answer any questions he had or re-explain anything he needed me to. He seemed relieved and determined to be successful, which I appreciate. I like that I can get individual time with each student and they can give me some very good constructive criticism that will ultimately become a better teacher.

I think overall this will be a good plan. But, like any good plan, there needs to be tweaks and changes to make it as successful as possible. I think together my students and I are finally finding our groove that works for everyone.

Grammar, paperless classroom, PBL

Pacing & Planning: Post-Conference Reflections



October 14, 2016

Last night was Parent-Teacher Conferences. We did a new system, where instead of all the parents coming at once, they made appointments via The school set us up an account, and we could schedule breaks. Theoretically, it sounded like a great idea. Until we got off schedule. Part of my problem was that I didn’t set a timer. It sounds dumb, but 5 minutes is less than you think when you get going.

Anyways, there were only a couple of students who attended with their parents. One of them was a Spanish 2 student of mine. I started off the conference by asking for his feedback about the class. He expressed to me some concerns about the quickness of the pacing and how he felt overwhelmed. His mom commented how I was one of the only teachers to actually ask him what he thought. (Seriously? How can that even be? Anyways…) He told me that he didn’t have enough processing time between introduction of grammar concepts and that with the introduction of the Dream House project (see my post from July 30 about this new version of a project I do with my 2s here), he felt very overwhelmed and stressed. When I explained to him that the Dream House project was a two-chapter project, he seemed a bit relieved.

There was one other parent of a 2 that expressed that her daughter had concerns about the class as well. She was worried that I make it seem like they didn’t learn anything last year (which could honestly be part of my presentation, but also the realization that the teacher they had last year and I have very different teaching and classroom management styles). Her daughter is currently doing well in my class, but nevertheless, I told the mom that I’d talk to her daughter to make sure she isn’t feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.

I think that overall conferences went well. I feel like the students are overall responding positively to this new style of teaching. The one thing that I worry about is that this new method of teaching doesn’t hinder my students’ proficiency in the material. In the past, the high school teachers have commented about how knowledgeable my students are coming into their classes. I just hope that this new method doesn’t prevent them from being as proficient as in years past. I realize that each group of students is different, but in the end, I just want to do what is best for the kids, and not do something new just for the sake of being different.