Follow the Leader


You don’t have to be a school administrator to lead school reform.  My former school principal, @MsKWeldon had a wonderfully positive approach.  She said she was speaking to anyone willing to listen.  (There would inevitably be naysayers who would find problems with anything and everything, and she wasn’t going to twist their arms.)  Her idea was that the enthusiasm of those who were “on-board” would serve as an impetus to those who were not.
Let’s watch this idea in action:

When you are trying to incite a positive change or adjust streams of thought, focus on those who are willing to join.
My last year of teaching, I worked very closely with my colleague @senoralopez designing rubrics to increase proficiency and thematic units based on authentic texts and authentic performance assessments.  The first followers joined because they overheard the enthusiasm in our conversations about planning, not because a new initiative had been forced upon them.  They were embraced!


Make classwork homework! (and make class time more effective)


How to use class time more effectively is something I always ponder.  I try to find new ways to compact information and give bursts of instruction in order to make the face time with our students more productive.  Class time is precious, so we have to ask, “What is it important for students to complete in class, and which are the things they can reasonably complete at home?” was my inspiration for this blog.

Can a lecture or direct instruction be done at home, and the practice and application be done in class?  Why not?  Doesn’t it make more sense to use the class time more effectively?  In math class, this would look like a video lecture at home, and practice problems done in class where the teacher is available to help. 

But what would this look like for the foreign language class?  If you are covering a grammar point, have the students watch a video, powerepoint or prezi at home. You can differentiate instruction this way because students can watch it on their own time, without distractions, as quickly or slowly as they would like, using a template or a self-generated graphic organizer.  You can even have them post on a discussion board asking questions, giving answers and sharing thoughts that would facilitate the learning. Students that were more advanced could learn by teaching others, and more reluctant learners would be more willing to participate in a less stressful and intimidating setting.  By flipping the work, class time could be devoted to what is most important and what should actually be assessed, the students using the language.

Here’s an example: I assigned these videos for homework with an accompanying blog discussion or a notes template or graphic organizer:

The next day, I provided cut up sentences as the activation activity, in which students had to match the verb ending with the stem but also have the sentence make sense. (This can be done as a whole class activity with colored paper in fron tof the class, or at desks in small groups.) 

The processing activity was a speaking activity in which they asked each other questions.  What would you do if you were…..???  They were given the prompts ahead of time to read and formulate answers.  Then they were each assigned one question to ask each student.  In a speed dating style activity, they asked and answered a question.

As a closing activity, they could, in groups of four, tell their classmates what they learned about other students in these hypothetical scenarios. Or this could be the start of a writing assignment, and the closing could be the beginning of a brainstorm to prepare.

Back to School Makeover


Set the tone in your classroom from day one!  High school students are overloaded with policies and procedures the first day of school.  Why not begin by getting them immersed in the language and excited about the class?

Think about what is important in your classroom……for me, it’s that my students feel comfortable with me and each other, and that there is an excitement for learning each and every day. Students must feel that positive affect if they are to thrive in a world language classroom.  Play music, decorate with color, and use interesting technology to enhance the student experience.

I use a Prezi slide show and a Voki avatar the first day to model what I expect them to discuss with other students.

The students then interact by asking each other questions in the target language through a “speed-dating” activity  that helps them get to know each other in a relaxed, fun, non-threatening atmosphere.

As a closure, they write about one new friend they made.

Hopefully, they immediately see the focus in my class: an authentic, respectful, and exciting learning experience!

Technology in the Classroom


Any teacher that can be replaced by technology deserves to be!!

Technology in the classroom on Prezi


 This was a presentation that my co-worker Liliana Lopez and I gave to the supervisors in our district about how teachers can use technology in their classroom


The Fun Factor!


Learning can and should be fun! As educators, we need to first and foremost inspire students to become life-long learners.

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”        -Chinese Proverb

So what’s wrong with making learning fun? Not to say, that it shouldn’t be challenging and fulfilling, but why not have fun??!  Fun is universal.  If it is fun, students will want to do what is needed and what is often more difficult.

Our job as educators is to motivate students.  As world language teachers, that shows itself in the form of the following:

  • authentic activities and assessments
  • student choice
  • catering towards student interests
  • relevant topics and resources
  • ability to reach all students
  • fun!
Fun does not necessarily have to be a competitive game, but activities that make students smile.  How can we make our classrooms more fun?
Here are some of my own examples:
  • Use manipulatives instead of worksheets:  When teaching a new verb form, cut the stem and the ending into two parts and add subjects and objects to make complete sentences.  Students can put together sentences in front of the class as a demonstration or in small groups at their seats.
  • Allow for collaboration: Learning is best when it is a social process.  As a processing activity with new concepts, I have students rotate in stations, where the use verbal or written skills to put their learning into practice with other students.
  • Sing and dance: Musical and kinesthetic learners appreciate this the most, but it is fun for everyone.  Use the private sector as an example.  How many commercials use jingles that we cannot get out of our heads??!
  • Focus on topics that students are interested in:  When they have a personal connection to the material, it will not only be fun, but more meaningful as well.  Learning must take place within a context, and adjusting instruction to tie to student interests will help do so.
  • Use cell phones in the classroom: Cellphones aren’t just phones anymore, they are the world at our fingertips.  And students love to use them!  With Polleverywhere, Voki and Google Voice, interpersonal and presentational speaking and writing can happen in the classroom everyday in an engaging and fun way.
  • Surprise your students:  Students need routine.  Establish routine in your procedures, but mix up your activities, projects and assessments.  I try and continually add a new activity to my “bag of tricks” at least once a marking period.  The true reward is when you hear, “That was so fun!!  Can we do that everyday??”  Of course not, but when you intermittently splice in their favorite activities, they look forward to class and wonder what they will be doing each day.
  • Put your and their pictures in PowerPoints or Prezis that introduce new vocabulary: When I did a unit on technology, I made a conversation between myself and another teacher on a presentation by using our pictures.  Then the last few interactive slides, I surprised students with pictures of themselves “talking”.
  • Laugh with your students, and don’t take anything too seriously: A classroom can be a place of discipline, organization, challenge, diligence and fun!  On this particular day, both my students and I laughed so hard, we cried!

Voice Thread as an Assessment in the World Language Classroom


Voicethread is a fabulous tool for a world language teacher for several reasons.
1. It is a performance assessment.
2. It can be differentiated to varying levels and needs.
3. The student is the creator and the audience.
4. It can be viewed publicly.

In my French I class, we completed a unit on the children’s story, Il y a un Alligator Sous Mon Lit (There is an Alligator Under My Bed). The students learned the rooms and furniture of the house, prepositions, fears, and how to compose a message before reading the story. Then they listened, read, watched, and acted out the story through various activities. There were many formative assessments along the way to test acquisition of vocabulary, and the summative assessment was to create a unique story based on the format of Il y a un Alligator Sous Mon Lit.

This assessment showed me what the students are able to do with the language. Rather than testing the students for discrete information, in a test or quiz that shows what they don’t know, they took what they learned and produced the best product they could at their proficiency level.

This class is extremely varied in needs and proficiency level and, I was able to modify the requirements to fit each student. Some students had more requirements than others. I provided templates for certain students, while more advanced students were given less direction. I compacted the past tense for one extremely advanced student and she wrote he story using the preterite and imperfect complete with irregular verbs!! Voicethread allows individual needs to be met on both ends of the spectrum!

After the student creates the Voicethread,they were required to view and comment on all of the other students’ Voicethreads. Because they know their project is public and viewed by their peers, the quality is better.

Using this tool in the classroom enables students to become better equipped to use Web 2.0 in a productive and responsible manner.

Below I have included a few examples of varying proficiency levels: