If I Teach with CI/TPRS/Acquisition-Driven Instruction, Will My Students Be Ready to Take the AP® World Language and Culture Exam?

I wanted to share this new post I wrote as a guest writer on the Teacher’s Discovery World Language Blog. I had the chance to reflect on a question that I am often asked about Teaching with Comprehensible Input and the AP World Language and Culture exam or class. So check out my thoughts about “If I Teach with CI/TPRS/Acquisition-Driven Instruction, Will My Students Be Ready to Take the AP® World Language and Culture Exam?”

Sharing Something Short and Sweet: Organizing my Props

Well this will be a first for me: my shortest blog post. I just wanted to share that I found these awesome jumbo-stacking baskets at my local Home Depot to organize my props and costumes. I am always thrilled to find a new stuffed animal, costume, or prop and add it to my collection, but so often, this collection gets hidden in plastic tubs around the classroom and never used. So I have organized my semester 1 props and will keep them at the front of my room for storytelling inspiration next fall. At $3. a piece I could not beat the price! 


Three Changes “For Good:” Desk-less, Bathroom Pass Procedure, and Assessing with Extension Structures

As in any school year, I have tried many new ideas, techniques, and changes in my classroom environment.  In fact, I am currently attending the wonderful Central States Conference to continue to learn more. In this post, I want to highlight 3 changes that I have done For Good!  I am not saying that I am not still working through the kinks for some, but over all, I have seen positive results!

#1) I have finally gone “desk-less.”

So this year, I have tried the desk-less experience and I am very pleased with the results. There is so much to consider when making this change: acquiring the chairs, maintaining classroom management and dynamic, figuring out how to still have some flat surfaces in the room, and so much more. One aspect that I have been grappling with is does going desk-less benefit all students?  My conclusions so far are the following: Firstly, I love the desk-less classroom and feel that it has been a positive change for student engagement and focus. I have much more control on student use of cell-phones during class and I think there is more engagement since students do not have the ability to put their heads down on a flat surface. Plus I think the communicative value of easily being able to chat with the neighbor helps break many barriers.

Another issue I’ve been dealing with is how to place the chairs.  Since August, I have tried many different seating arrangements with the chairs. In fact I had to start the year off with uncomfortable school folding chairs before my newly ordered chairs arrived.  My chairs are replacing rather large desks that are still around the perimeter in the room (which has been good and bad). I still want my students to have the “desks” or more ideally tables for longer essay writing class assignments.  Since I have not yet been able to get tables, I still need the desks. And since they are there, many students want to sit in them. In the beginning I allowed some to try it and right away I saw a lack of engagement and some students falling asleep (which never happened with the chairs). So those students are no longer sitting in desks, but others are.  I have found that many of the students with attention issues are faring better while sitting in desks that are on the sides in the room. These students have requested to sit in the desks and thinking about their overall success and some of their documented services requiring preferential seating, I have made a modified seating arrangement having 5 desks in play in addition to the chairs.  If I see these students not finding success in the desks or taking advantage of the flat surface, I will talk with the students and then remove this option, but for now, I do believe the modification is helping a few students. Yet, I think the chairs are helping the majority of my students in class.

#2. My new bathroom pass procedure.

I have grappled with this one for the past five years in my current school setting.  The “can I go to the bathroom phenomenon” is just a normal daily occurrence for us as teachers.  Or course we are all left to wonder does this student really need to use the bathroom or do they just want to use the cellphone.  When I am in the halls of my school, too often students are engrossed in walking around and texting. So in order to respect the need for my students to use the restroom, I have a trade your phone policy for the hall-pass.  If a student wants to use the restroom, they put their cellphone in basket in the front of the room and take the hall-pass. I have been very pleased with the procedure and it has been implemented with very little pushback from students and I believe there are fewer students leaving my class because of it.

#3. Offering Extension Structures on Weekly Structure and Cumulative On-Going Structure Quizzes

I have a lot of internal debate about Structure Quizzes because students can easily just memorize a Quizlet set before class without really acquiring the structures. In order to meet the needs of my students with such a vast spectrum of Spanish and learning abilities in the same classroom, I have developed this system. Many of my students have reacted very well to the Structure Quizzes as I have set them up this year in my Spanish II, III, and IV classes (please know this is not my only way of assessing my students).  Unfortunately, it is a bit complicated to explain the scoring, so I will try my best to explain it.

Working within the confines of our school schedule, I see students for 50 minutes 3 days a week and for one 90 minute block (so I see them 4 times).  What I have determined is that most of my students can successfully learn, and for many acquire, 4 target structures a week with this type of schedule. But for many of my students, focusing on on only 4 target structures is too easy and not challenging them.  So this year I began offering Extension Structures (one being my weekly Password Expression). These are structures that offer linguistic variables and/or additional pieces of language to help them communicatively. During first semester, I only included my weekly Password Expression and 3 other structures but for the second semester, I have doubled the extension structures to the Password plus 7 others.

My goal for all students is that they know the 4 target structures.  If a student knows the “Weekly 4 target structures” then they have met my expectations and earned a 13/15 on their structure quiz, on which they must write the English meaning.  I then have 4 extension structures on the quiz and they can earn 1 point her English meaning of the extension structures. So a student can exceed the class expectations and earn a “14,15,16,17” /15 on this quiz.  But if a student misses 1 of the “4 target structures” then their extension structures are only worth “.5 credit” and since I will not work with halves in the grade book, they must get two extension structures correct for a full extra credit point.  I have devised the system using the approach that the lowest score a student can earn is a 53% or a 8/15 [for missing all 4 target structures nor any of the extension structures]. Mathematically the point values help to have few failures and more students are pushing themselves to learn the 8 to 12 structures instead of simply the 4 target structures.  Even when 12 structures could be assessed, I still only test 8 structures so it mirrors the 15 point quiz format with the math explained above. This same system applies to the weekly “On-going Cumulative Quizzes” (8 questions using a variety of 4 former target structures and 4 former extension structures).

What have I found?

I have found that providing the structures has helped focus many of my students and that most love and value the ability for extra credit and want to exceed the 13/15 – B score.  When I surveyed students at the end of semester 1, they almost all reported that the chance for extra credit was a motivational way of extending themselves to learn more. Again we have to think about what helps the students with which we are currently working.   

With regard to the “4 target structures,” I work very hard to help students acquire these structures during class. Now it is not same for the Extension Structures although my weekly Password Expression does get a lot of exposure.  I do not focus on targeting my Extension Structures although they are often pulled from the 3rd or 4th version of an embedded reading, a linguistic connection/pattern that many students can learn, or something from our textbook that frankly not all students need to know.  In some classes, I do use Quizlet Live as an activity with all structures because I keep an accessible On-Going Cumulative list per quarter for them on my Quizlet class page.   

I feel the On-going Cumulative Quizzes are essential to help some long-term retention. As I have mentioned, I do not think all students are acquiring all structures, but I believe most are working to their full-potential and the extension structures are pushing the honors and gifted students in a way that I have not been doing as intentionally.  I am still working through the correct amount of Extension Structures and how it helps or hinders overall long-term retention and motivation.

Here is an example of new Quiz Format for Target and Extension Structures and an explanation of the scoring guidelines.

As I started the post, these are 3 changes I have made this year For Good (the WICKED musical reference was fully intentional).  Thanks for reading.

An Easy and Effective Listening Assessment

Short and sweet is the goal of this post. If you have followed me in the past, you know that brevity is not my strongest suit but today let’s hope.

I wanted to share an easy and effective way to test listening comprehension using a simple Quizlet derived “Test.” This means there is very little work for me.

To begin, I use Quizlet and love the many resources available to students by me just creating a new structure/vocabulary set. For the students, there are games, flashcards, practice tests, Quizlet LIVE as an in-class game, and now it even speaks to you in pretty good Spanish. For me as a teacher, I love that I can have class-pages, upload sets to Google Classroom, combine sets to easily create new ones and comprehensive lists for games like Quizlet LIVE or Around the World, and make tests in four formats: three types that allow for easy grading (which is great) multiple choice, true/false and matching, and also, fill-in, where students have to write.

This past semester I have taken advantage of the multiple choice format for listening comprehension quizzes. Here is how:

Using a Quizlet set (often my Comprehensive “On-going” quarter list), I generate a few “Quizlet multiple choice tests” with responses in English and print them out (FYI although the online version has bubbles for the multiple choice responses, they print with A, B, C, D). Making many versions of these tests happens with just the click of a button, so I then have tons of multiple-choice questions to chose from like this:

Target Language Structure: “Quería ser”

A) he liked to 

B) he wanted to be

C) he needed to be

D) he wants to be

Then to make the listening assessment, I cut out the ones I want to use and stick them on a sheet of paper. Using a black marker (which is easier for me than white-out) I remove the “Target Language Structure” for all of the chosen multiple choice questions. Then I provide my students with a bubble/scantron sheet – we use the wonderful www.gradecam.com but I know there are so many other options for all teachers available.

When I give the assessment, I just make up sentences on the spot in target language and have the students choose the correct translation from the four choices. I do try to jot down my sentence so I can repeat it two to three times. So following my example above I would say in the target language “In his past, he wanted to be an artist” and students would bubble in “B” as the correct answer. To differentiate this, you could use more or less developed sentences.

What I have loved about this is the assessment reflects the structures I have taught and provides a quick listening assessment that is very simple to grade using a scantron/bubble sheet. It is not my only form of listening assessments for the quarter, but it is one that captures what has been taught. It has been win-win all around. Short and sweet!

Some Holiday Food for Thought about Final Assessments

I cannot believe that the semester is already complete, and of course my blog has not had much attention. I certainly know how I operate, and I need the personal challenge of setting goals with deadlines because without them too many other goals and priorities must happen first. This year I did not set the every month goal of posting, so during this time of New Year’s goals and resolutions – I will do some self-reflection with regard to all of my current projects and set some sort of goal for my 2019 blog posts. Now for my five year reflection on semester assessments!
The end of the semester always brings a mad rush of grading and assessments. I know, I know, if I would not assign 4+ assessments per prep, I would not have to grade so much. And yet, I still continue to assess, assess, and assess at the end of the semester – and overall I still think it is a good thing for both my students and me as an educator.

Five years ago, my department agreed to develop semester exams using a modified IPA or an Integrated Performance Assessment. I cannot say that we are using IPAs in the original way that ACTFL has described in their publication “Implementing Integrated Performance Assessments,” but I will say that many of the elements are there in a way to at least assess the modes of communication in addition to content of structure, grammar and vocabulary. In fact, when I look at only grading my students based on a multiple-choice structure, grammar, and vocabulary exam – their grades would be quite low and not reflect what they in fact know and can do. 

So, with five years of tweaks and adjustments, I am pleased to see how my students’ midterm/final exam grades actually reflect just that – what they know and can do. With regard to quarter grades – I do not think they always reflect exactly what my students know and can do. Even though, I categorize and weigh my quarter grades based on “input – listening & reading (31%), output – speaking & writing (31%), content/structures (31%), and homework (7%)” – these grades tend to be higher than most of their midterm or final assessment grades. I do know that during the quarter, I always give my students opportunities to grow and improve (even by implementing a redo policy) so students show what they know and can do in an environment that celebrates the idea of showing what one knows and not what one does not. This all being said, I do want my midterm/final assessments to differ from the quarter grade. In my district the midterm and final exam grades are each 10% of the official final grade for the course. As you will see, I feel how I calculate this summative evaluation helps to more accurately report my students’ Spanish abilities. 

 In most of our world language courses, our midterm/final exams contain four sections being administered over four days (at least including one 90 minute block). The sections and grading percentages are as follows: Interpretive Reading 25%, Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking 25%, Presentational Writing 25%, and multiple-choice structure, vocabulary and grammar 25%. Although our students can prepare for this assessment by knowing how to communicate about a series of themes and knowledge of content structures, I feel the final calculated grade is a fair and valid representation of what a student knows and can do; rarely does a student’s grade not reflect this, and as I mentioned, it is a more accurate representation than a quarter grade. 

In this current climate of constant student testing, I often think about how school or even my classes would and could be different without grades – even without the highly coveted A+ (97% – 100%+). Even though testing stresses out our students, they really have a hard time operating without the stress. It is similar to my early comments about needing to set goals for writing blog posts. Without deadlines and some accountability measures (quizzes and tests in most classroom settings), most high school students would not choose to study school subjects outside of school. Would today’s teenagers be different if they were trained from early on in their education to learn for the sake of learning and not for the sake of testing? I do not have this answer, but I do know that even I need deadlines and goals as a successful adult.

Ok, I have digressed enough from the topic of the actual assessment. Again, ours are not IPAs (Integrated Performance Assessments) in their truest forms but we do use the Interpretive Guide Template, which can be found here on the Ohio Department of Education’s site. I really love this template and think it does a fantastic job of helping students engage and delve into understanding a text. The set-up of the Interpretive Guide also assesses critical thinking skills that helps see world language learning in a true academic context, and yet at the same time when world language learning’s context is so academically charged it does not allow for all students to find success and attain a second language (more on that another day). Anyway, I think the Interpretive Guide does a great job to help make texts that are beyond a student’s reach more comprehensible. Students are required to identify keywords, the main idea, and supporting details while also making cultural, content-based, and linguistic inferences all based on any authentic text (an article, brochure, or website). Careful crafting of the Interpretive Guide must occur. For teachers, these exams do take a lot of time to prepare, but of course like anything, once created, one has a wonderful assessment piece. 

With regard to the output-based sections of our exams, the tasks do depend on the language levels of our students. These summative Presentational/Interpersonal Speaking and Presentational Writing sections have been a great way to help our department focus and plan instruction based on the communicative tasks and expectations for our students. Following the Proficiency Guidelines, found at http://www.actfl.org, students at novice levels are able to reproduce more memorized and rehearsed language on these tasks. For both of the output tasks, our students are measured by their ability to provide evidence at sentence level and they can exceed our expectations by providing more developed sentences with accuracy for approximately 5 sentences per task. We use the rubric found on my resource page to assess the Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking and Presentational Writing sections. Each section is created using the agreed upon themes for the semester. In our level 1 and 2 courses, students are given the tasks ahead of time to prepare – so yes, for many students, they are using a mix of acquired and memorized, rehearsed language for which speaking is more Presentational than Interpersonal. I still believe that this is very appropriate for meeting the needs of all of my students and not just the strongest students. In all levels on the assessment days, students are not able to use notes or anything they prepared – my verb word-walls are not up for these exams either. In levels 3 and 4, the speaking task is more of an Interpersonal task where students must respond to unrehearsed questions based on the themes studied throughout the semester. Depending on the year and timing constraints, we have done one-on-one interviews with students and recordings. Live recording with the teacher reading questions and students responding via Google Voice, FlipGrid or Audacity has been the easiest way for us to assess their speaking with a large number of students. Overall, because of this type of assessment, we have seen better quality output from our students over the past four years. It has been positive to have these common assessments given twice a year instead of a more traditional chapter approach, which in my opinion would cripple me as a creative educator trying to meet the daily needs of my students. 

A point of internal struggle for me has been whether or not to assess using a multiple-choice content section using structures and vocabulary from the semester. Over the past five years, I have worked through this personal dilemma and my conclusion is that I do in fact like an objective multiple-choice section based on content. We have a 90 minute block at which time we must give an exam and depending on which exam time-slot we have and when grades are due, the multiple-choice exam format has been needed but not without the other three components. I feel that the content-based sections of information are positive for students but in no way should be given without the other communicative tasks of the exam. Many of my students would fail the exam if it were only based on the content piece. Without the other three components, the content piece is not a true reflection of what my students know, can do, and can process in Spanish. Yet, having the multiple-choice section, even if simply generated by Quizlet’s test generator, helps my students organize, reflect, and, “gulp,” study for Spanish. It serves as a “deadline” and ongoing content component for the course (although this year I have been giving frequent ongoing structure quizzes which all students have reported as positively helping their growth). Having this comprehensive multiple-choice section, especially for the midterm, helps provide me with feedback on students’ recognition and retention. With these results, I am able to better plan my next quarter and reflect on the effectiveness of my instruction.

To sum this up, I could not go back to the way that I tested for many years – a two-hour block of just writing and content: structure, grammar and vocabulary. Using elements from the IPA model (the Interpretive Guide for example) and always including speaking and writing components has not only helped the trajectory of our department in assessing for communication, but it also helps produce a more accurate grade in student performance and content knowledge. 

As I mentioned throughout the post, I need goals and deadlines. In fact, my life is full of them and I do live from deadline to deadline. So I will make this public goal for posting for second semester: I will post once a month. I will also try to remind myself that a post does not need to be three pages long either. 🙂 Have a great semester and happy assessing!    

Socratic Circles as Assessment ~ the Why and How

Happy 2018-19 school year!

I wanted to take the time and share a strategy, or better yet, a framework for learning and assessment that I use as one of the tenants in my Spanish IV classes and at the end of Spanish III.  This framework is preparing students for a Socratic Circle or Socratic Seminar, and this post will explain how they function in my class setting.

When I think about the proficiency levels of our students, my level III and IV students’ proficiency levels fall in the range of novice-high to intermediate-high.  Fortunately, I have found that a Socratic Circle performance assessment allows for success for all students that have been present in class learning about the topic. I continue to use Socratic Circles because they empower students to think and use real language.

I would like to take a moment and give a shout out to my dear friend, Amy Wopat, @wopatdc, who teaches in DC public schools.  It is because of Amy that I began using Socratic Circles with the framework that she designed for her classes.  Together we have presented on the topic and the Socratic experience has evolved in different ways for both of us.  This blog post explains how I use the Socratic Circles in my environment, and my hope is that readers are able to take these ideas and make Socratic Circles their own to enhance their world language curriculum.

The goal of a Socratic Circle experience is for students to lead a formal discussion for 30 to 45 minutes in the TARGET LANGUAGE without help from me.  As the teacher, I say very little during the Socratic Experience because the students have prepared to be the experts, ask questions, ask one another for clarification, and listen to each other while having a civil discussion. (Elfie Israel has a good working definition of a Socratic Seminar here).  When thinking about 21st century skills in education, a Socratic Circle provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking, collaborative learning, and communication.  Through a World Language lens, the 5 C’s are also fostered (Communication, Connections, Comparisons, Community and Culture), especially if the topic and question posed for the Socratic Circle is relevant to culture and community – which mine are.

Socratic Circles and Backwards Design: Logistics and Preparation

For the Socratic Circle performance days, I look at how many students I have in my class and decide how many “Seminar Circles” I will need.  I believe the best number of students per “30 to 45 minute Seminar Circle” is 7 to 11, meaning a class of 24 students would need 2 to 3 “Seminar Circles.”  Depending on your bell-schedule, you may have to dedicate multiple days to the performance assessment with different tasks for your students each day.

Setting up the classroom in an Inner circle/Outer circle(s) arrangement– see picture here – allows for the “Inner circle” students to discuss the posed question while the “Outer circle(s)” students are tallying how many times their “partners” are speaking during the Socratic experience and/or writing information that the “Inner circle” students are saying (this additional part may be key in keeping a third Outer circle of students engaged if your class numbers require three circles).  I will continue to define this in the Grading and Rubrics section of this post.

The daunting experience for students to stay in the target language for 30 to 45 minutes about a real topic requires preparation.  Since my Socratic Circle experience is a culminating assessment, students are saturated with the topic at hand so they have the necessary vocabulary and structures to easily communicate their thoughts about the topic and posed essential question(s) for the unit.  Throughout the unit of study, students begin to make connections and think about how to respond to the essential question(s) because I reference it often during class. For any Socratic Circle or Seminar experience, students must be reminded that the experience is not a debate but rather a discussion, and multiple viewpoints should be considered throughout the discussion.  This piece is important for me as an educator because I hope it builds empathy and the capacity to see topics from multiple perspectives for my students.

For example, in our district we end our Spanish III course with the students’ first Socratic Circle about Immigration to the US.  This is a controversial topic that requires all of us to see the issues from multiple perspectives.  Throughout the unit, we include many sources that show different perspectives. The sources that we choose to work with serve as the anchor sources for students upon which they can build their fundamental understanding of a topic.  This of course does not mean that our students do not bring prior knowledge about the topic nor that we do not encourage self-study on the topics – in fact, students must find additional sources and refer to them during the Socratic Circle experience to support their comments.

In preparing for the Socratic experience, students must evaluate and annotate sources, and then make reference and cite their sources as they make claims during the discussion.  These are crucial skills for preparing students for many of today’s standardized exams including the AP World Language and Culture exam.  For example, on the AP World Language exam, for the presentational writing task, students must write a persuasive essay requiring them to cite from three sources while presenting an argument including multiple perspectives or viewpoints.  The presentational speaking task requires students to compare and contrast a topic from the perspective of a target culture and a student’s own culture. In preparing students for the Socratic experience, I provide language and structures needed to help a student compare, contrast, express agreement/disagreement, change topics, defend a point of view, and support an opinion.

My role as the teacher is to prepare the students to be successful and accomplish the daunting task that I have given them.  I continue to use Socratic Circles because my students are amazed that they can successfully do it. They are so proud of what they have accomplished in the target language and it empowers them and helps them see that they can use real language and communicate on topics relevant today.

Here is an example unit plan for my Spanish IV unit on the Cuban Revolution. The unit plan also includes the requirements for the actual Socratic Circle experience.  It is important to note that students are still learning language when reading, viewing or listening to the anchor sources. These sources provide a great deal of the unit’s content and needed background for the topic. For this reason, I must assure that the sources are comprehensible for all students by using strategies to help students successfully interpret them.
Resource:  Sample Unit Plan with Culminating Socratic Circle Assessment: the Cuban Revolution

Assessing the Socratic Circle

In many ways I feel that a Socratic performance assessment is just like an IPA (Integrated Performance Assessment) because all skills of communication are needed and can be assessed: interpretive, interpersonal and presentational.  This all being said, since I feel these types of assessments are more performance-based and students can prepare for them, I have worked to hone my rubrics and grading strategies to help more students “listen and respond to” instead of simply “responding with memorized or language that is read aloud.”  Ultimately, I want an interpersonal dialogue to be taking place while they use their resources to defend their claims and/or point of view.

The following is the breakdown of the requirements and grades for a Socratic Circle:

Prior to the Socratic Circle Experience:

Interpretive Reading Grade: Students must find, read or view, and annotate 2 articles and/or 1 audio/visual source (usually in target language) that have to do with the essential question of the Socratic Circle.  I also provide them this Current Event Analysis Sheet that they must complete per source.  Points are generally given in this fashion per article:  5 points for annotations on the article that include questions, connections to the essential question, and marking main ideas [you may have to teach how to annotate] and 10 points for the Current Event Sheet.  These annotated sources should be used when the student is in the Inner Circle.

During the Socratic Circle Experience:

Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking Grade 1:  When a student is in the Inner Circle, she has a list of requirements that they must accomplish during the 30 to 45 minutes allotted.  The task of keeping count of these requirements is assigned to a student-partner who is seated in the Outer circle.  [What I have found works best is when I determine the mix of who will be in the Inner Circle and who will also be their partners; this way I pair up students based on abilities, which helps with their capacity to listen for key factors.  It also helps to have a variety of students in the Inner Circle at one time].

There is one Speaking Grade based on this content.  For an A grade, the Cuban Revolution example requires students to complete these tasks:

  1. Ask 3 questions
  2. Respond to 3 students’ questions or comments
  3. Make 3 statements referring to a class/anchor source
  4. Make 3 statements referring to their own sources

The grades are determined based on how many times a student did the above task requirements.  Again the student’s Outer circle partner (and often the student herself) is checking off the requirements, which she will turn in to me.

Here is an example of a Socratic Circle Student Reference Sheet with the Outer circle grading.  Each of the 4 task requirements is worth 5 points with a student earning 3 points once she makes reference to each task.  Students’ grades will vary based on how many times they complete the 4 required tasks.  It is important to note that yes, students can accomplish two tasks at once for example by (B.) responding to a student’s questions while (D.) referring to one of their sources.  Also, during the Socratic experiences the Outer circle partners can silently communicate with their Inner circle partners and when there are 5 to 7 remaining minutes, I allow them to have a quick conference so that students know what else they may need to include in the discussion.  Generally speaking, prepared students score very well with this grade because there are many supports in place for their success: clearly-defined task requirements, a conference time with their partners, and use of their source articles (and sometimes notes, depending on the level and time of year).

Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking Grade 2:  My last note about students using notes is precisely why I have created this 2nd speaking grade.  After many tweaks, I am pretty happy with this rubric.  During the Socratic Circle, I am filling out these rubrics for all Inner circle students based on whether or not they are (1) Speaking or Reading from notes (when they are permitted to use them – Spanish III end of year and first Socratic in Spanish IV) and (2) Use of Vocabulary as it pertains to the unit and Academic vocabulary (that I provide).  This grade is worth 14 points.

In my opinion, these 2nd Speaking grades are optional, and please know, that it is not grading students on “correct usage of language.”  I have found that this grade was necessary to push my students to not read from their notes but rather really speak in the target language; it also pushed students to use more of the Academic language that they need to begin to internalize.  I have seen great results with implementing this grade with respect to students accomplishing the task of genuinely speaking and listening about a topic.  By design, it does not require me to be punitive with their communication errors and gives me a chance to write down some feedback to share with each student.  In all truth, some of my students over prepare for the Socratic experience and rely too heavily on online translation, and this is exactly what I am trying to hinder.  On a positive note, some of my best Socratic discussions have come from those students who did not prepare at all because I know they are creating all of their language on the fly.

Interpretive Listening Grade: When students are in the Outer circle or (Outer-Outer circle, if you have 3 groups), students must write down 5 to 10 comments or questions that different students have said while in the Inner circle. This additional measure is in place to emphasize that all students must pay attention even while not in the Inner circle.  In general, I give 2 points per comment, so the grade is 10 to 20 points respectively.

Post Socratic Circle Experience:

Presentational Writing Grade:  Following the Socratic Circles, there is an in-class written essay or short-answer assessment about the essential question and what has been learned from the experience.  This assessment is completed in the target language. I will often ask students to reference comments made from all Circles (again 1, 2, or 3 based on class-size) and to continue to incorporate academic vocabulary in their responses.


I hope that this post has provided you with some resources to possibly implement a Socratic Circle or Seminar in your own classes. My colleagues and I feel that by incorporating them, our students are able to develop their target language voices on relevant topics to life and history and make more connections to other subject areas than we are able to do with just narrowed topics.  Of course this post is no where near the be-all to understanding Socratic Circles or Seminars but it could serve as a starting point for you to help push students to listen and think on their own in the world language context.

Have a great school year!

Here is a quick template to help design a Unit with a culminating Socratic Circle/Seminar!

A special THANK YOU to Cindy Hitz, @sonrisadelcampo, for the weekly reminders this summer via Twitter to get this post written – the public accountability worked!

How “Coaching” Can Complement the Classroom

Returning to the well for a yearly conference is rejuvenating and special. This week I am in the middle of two weeks of attending two amazing weeklong conferences – NTPRS and IFLT. I am sure both will provide tremendous amounts of growth opportunities for me as an educator and as a trainer and coach (which are my main roles at each conference).

I am fortunate to serve on both Coaching Teams at these conferences that value the need for participants to reflect and practice skills. It is crucial that teachers take the time to try out all of the new ideas and skills that they are learning in order to best prepare them for when they return to their classrooms. In “Coaching” we provide a safe space for teachers to practice and grow with the support and nurturing from a Coach and fellow participants. Each conference provides coaching times embedded throughout the workshops and Open Coaching sessions throughout the week. And yet, although I see these moments as opportunities for growth and development, the reality is that some may see a coaching experience as torture.

Why torture? There are a few reasons. We are asking educators to get up in front of peers and teach in an artificial setting. Let’s add the reality that some educators may have concerns speaking in a non-native language they teach or if English is their second language, they must communicate in our English-speaking environment. Lastly, participants are learning so many new concepts, skills, and strategies that may be outside of their comfort zone to try to implement. So when you put all of that together, we as Coaches know how overwhelming a Coaching experience could seem.

Over the course of many years, TPRS/CI Coaches have created a model that puts participants at ease and works to best meet their individual needs. In fact, we know that people learn so much by reflection and observing that observation plays a big role in the Coaching process and, for those who do not want to “teach in front of peers,” they can observe or learn language as students. The model has all participants focus on everything that they CAN DO WELL. Everyone is reflecting on what they see and throughout the process, they are all learning by looking for the good instead of the bad. [If you are attending NTPRS, IFLT or AGEN, be sure to feel the power of Coaching].

Now in this post, I wanted to think about connecting elements from our Coaching model to the classroom. I have to really take a step back with this because I do not think I am always as encouraging or positive with my students as I am on the Coaching Team. Do I always just look for the positive and what my students can do or do I point out the negative and their errors? If I am often criticizing my students’ language or possibly creating a culture of scrutiny, what is their impetus to even try? My desire to “help” them and correct their Spanish could be having a reverse effect. I also have been reflecting on my level of “positivity” working daily with teenagers whose commitment to their smart phones often takes precedent over focus in class or, even worse, the priority is to just talk over me as I am trying to provide input and conduct the class as the teacher. I am aware that their actions do not always put me in the most positive state of mind.

In many ways our Coaching experience is just like how my classes need to be. In Coaching, we set ground rules and expectations and work to shed light on everything that participants can do while providing guidance to hone a new skill. Although our conference audience is most often happy to be there, we know that there is a tremendous amount of pressure put on them. Frankly their Affective Filters (from SLA research) could be quite high but if we provide the support needed, nerves can be calmed and then their success celebrated. When I ask students to perform by comprehending, reading, and speaking Spanish, they too could experience high Affective Filters, especially if the environment sometimes goes toward the negative or is not set up to celebrate their successes. My thoughts on this are resonating a bit more now as we just finished the end of a the school year, which was more challenging than the “bright eyed” beginning of the year. Students’ actions and the constant need for classroom management in some classes really brought me down this spring. Knowing this, I think back to all of the negative energy that was in the classroom environment and how perhaps the Coaching Team mindset could have helped both my students and me as an educator. Even though I serve as Co-Coordinator for the Coaching Team at NTPRS, it has taken the support from our coaches and our time together to refocus, recharge and remember all of the good that we can do by looking for the positive in others. Bit by bit I am preparing for the school year. Cheers to Summer PD.

Giving Thanks for my Local PLC during the Winter Blues & 10 Mini-Flashcard Activities

Wow, two months have flown by and teaching three preps, certainly keeps me on my toes. There are few moments of my life that I am not thinking about my classes and what I could possibly do to help students or better engage them in class. For me, this has been even more important during these winter months or what I call the Winter Blues, not mention the upcoming month of March when all are counting the days before spring break. In addition to the many blogs and Facebook groups that I try to keep up with, I am fortunate to have an amazing group of teachers who meet monthly in our local comprehensible input-based PLC: Professional Learning Community – click here for a list compiled at http://teachingcomprehensibly.com/plcs/ of PLCs.

For so many this PLC provides 4 hours of conference like learning locally, which I know is so important for professional growth. So many of these teachers are not able to attend conferences. (If any administrators are reading this, please allow your teachers to attend professional conferences offered by the associations in your state, region (there are 4 annual world language regional conferences) or national level or summer conferences like NTPRS or IFLT). It is so sad when funds are only allotted for the “tested” subjects. Our field has changed so much over the past 15 years that if teachers are not engaged in professional development that is specific to world language then their students and possibly teaching practices are being left behind.

Thanks BIT

Fortunately in Northeast Ohio for five years now, we have had a Personal Learning Community that was spearheaded by French teacher, Christy Miller. Christy and her team have made professional development free for area teachers. Christy has encouraged other teachers to present two-hour sessions or to share shorter sessions through teacher-shares. Not only are we in Northeast Ohio providing our students with better instructional strategies, but teachers are now becoming presenters at state and regional conferences because they now have a place to get their feet wet as presenters. What I also find great about this model is that I can attend a monthly session and quickly adapt an idea to my teaching the next week; this even applies to many ideas that I have heard about or even done before and have perhaps forgotten.

For example at this month’s session, Christy Miller presented on how one set of mini-flashcards can be used for at least 10 engaging student activities. Now in the past (from another PLC meeting), Christy and I learned about this activity from the very creative Vicki Antequera, and over the years Christy and Vicki have continued to create new ideas to use with their mini-flashcards. In the true sense of a growth mindset, we are all growing from one another’s best practices and then trying to take ideas to new and different levels and making the practices work in our classrooms.

As I said, I have seen various presentations on this topic and have actually used this technique [this year in fact] but it has yet to become a staple in my class. Why not? I do not know. It is truly a great practice for my Spanish II students because it does require active learning and focus. Christy Miller has outlined these directions for using the mini-flashcards to front load structures/vocabulary, play games that require students to listen to comprehensible input and even use the flashcards for retelling.

Using mini-flash cards for many activities to front load your vocabulary and engage students – provided by Christy Miller

  1. Give Students your vocabulary words/structures in your Target Language on ready-made flashcards (you can simply use a table on a document; here is a Blank Google Doc version)
  2. Have students cut the flashcards & write the English meaning on back (or put picture on back)
  3. Play some games with the flashcards, students will do the following:
    1. Alphabetize your flashcards
    2. Categorize – Separate into 2/3 categories – Tell teacher why your chose your various categories
    3. Lift up the card teacher calls out & translat
    4. Point to the card teacher calls out & translate
    5. Use with prepositions –  Put the “soup flashcard” NEAR the “chair flashcard,” Move the “chair flashcard” into the “living room flashcard”
    6. Bingo  – Lay out your flashcards 5 x 5 – no free spot – Flip over when teacher calls it
    7. Answer Questions – Teacher can write questions about students using the new vocabulary; then students find the flashcard with a word from the sentence and write student answers the question on the flashcard [for example Did Paul see the movie Black Panther? Students guess an answer and write yes or no].
    8. Form Sentences – Have students line up 3 or 4 cards to make sentences
    9. Put in Order – Tell a story and have students put the flashcards in order of your story
    10. Match your flashcards to a storyboard / picture based on what the teacher is describing

New Year’s Reflection #5 – Plans for 2nd Semester

One day more! It has been a great ride reflecting over this last week of my winter break, and with this fifth post, I have reached my New Year’s goal. For the remainder of the semester I will stick to my once a month goal that I set in September (but perhaps I can manage two shorter posts – so they will not be so long).

In this last post, I am going to set some goals and thinking about my three classes for the rest of the semester. I am sure I will accomplish most but this will be similar to how I plan with webbing; I brainstorm and web many ideas for units and courses and only some of them get developed or used.

Overall I am going to remember that Intermediate language is messy with regard to accuracy but if the message is there and they are communicating they are meeting the main goal! I hope to also strike the balance of fun and academic in order to help students reach meaningful communication.

Also in all levels, I will continue using weekly expressions/passwords of the week, which I have done faithfully thus far and these expressions have been infused in communication throughout the whole year. I do also like greeting my students at the door each day.

Spanish IV

  • It is a goal to use improvisation and theatre games with students to improve their spontaneity while speaking. In order to help move them along the intermediate level, I would like to practice more with more ungraded activities and contexts using problems and I CAN statements.


  • I will start the semester off finishing up a bit of ideas from the former Crime and Punishment Unit with a song and story around “No llores mamá” about a repenting gang member (on this Youtube video, turn on the closed captioning). We will also play a few rounds of MAFIA or what I call PANDILLA. Martina Bex explains the game here.  


  • During the Cuba and Revolution Unit, I would like to seek out a Cuban speaker, who would share their story with students. This unit also includes reading Chris Mercer’s La Casa Dividida published by TPRS Books, the film Viva Cuba, other texts and videos, and a Socratic Seminar.


  • I will continue to do weekly Choice Homework assignments. As a conference junkie, I was fortunate to see a Choice Homework presentation by bloggers Laura SextonSara-Elizabeth Cottrell and Bethany Drew* in 2014 and since I have made it work for me and my students. Currently my Spanish IV students must complete one or two tasks a week in one of the six categories: speaking, writing, reading, listening, structure, or vocabulary. I try to coach students to complete something very meaningful to help their Spanish. So for example if I see them using an aspect of grammar incorrectly, I would suggest that they find a tutorial on the topic and write a few sentences using it. My Choice HW ideas, which are a compilation from many including the ACTFL 2014 presenters, can be found here and on my resource page.
  • Edit:   I originally had Amy Lenord’s name attached the above presentations which was my mistake.  I still want everyone to know about Amy Lenord‘s blog  because I have learned a lot from her over the years and she has inspired me also.


Spanish III

Thematically we teach about Rites of Passages, Personal Responsibilities, a new Environmental Responsibilities PBL, and an Issues of Immigration Socratic Seminar.

So here are some of my ideas going forward.

  • As I already pledged, I will bring back Free Reading as an integral weekly piece.


  • Last semester, we began watching EXTRA because I think watching a comprehensible series has great value. For each episode I am requiring them to use www.wordreference.com and make word connections by exploring related words from a word from the episode. I believe that students should be exposed to word connections and think about what are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, antonyms, synonyms, and expressions that use a given word. Will this lead to acquisition? – Probably not, but could it help build vocabulary, build stronger reading abilities in making connections to other words, and how to appropriately use a dictionary or http://www.wordreference.com, I think it does. So far, we have just done activity as a class with pairs of students each looking up one of the aspects mentioned, I will have to see when and if I think this could be done individually and for homework. A blank template and an example can be seen here.


  • One piece for the Rites of Passage unit will be when I will co-construct an ongoing Wedding Mystery story context with students. I will try to get all students involved by having a cast of about 12 student actors and the rest of the students will have class job responsibilities. I have developed this for many years and I will publish some of the material when they are ready.


  • Supporting a district initiative, my colleague and I have been working on an Environmental context project applying the standards of Project Based Learning. Together students will create video products that describe and provide solutions (from many lenses) to an environmental issue in a Spanish-speaking country. One piece that will be very important for the success of this project is that students do not use Google Translate to express themselves. We are providing them a lot of language structures that will help them accomplish their I CAN statements and tasks and with careful monitoring I hope we will not make students feel they must use sentence translation with the help of Google.


  • Students in our AP Spanish and Spanish IV classes will view these products and give their opinions and feedback on the content. By having Spanish IV students be the audience, we are embedding this new theme into Spanish IV this year and if it goes well, we are creating a pinnacle experience for both levels. The PBL experience will also provide an avenue to teach about Costa Rica to all of our Spanish III students as we are preparing for our 2nd Costa Rican Immersion trip during spring break of 2019.


Spanish II

  • This summer I purchased Scott Benedict’s wonderfully developed Spanish II Immediate Immersion lessons and curriculum. I have not had enough time to sit down and really look through the wealth of resources there, so that is a goal this semester. For more information check out www.teachforjune.com


  • We just finished reading Fiesta Fatal, and I would like to use Nelly Hughes’ Breakout EDU for it. This will be my first Breakout EDU with the official Breakout box so fingers-crossed that it goes well. You can check it out on her TPT site: Comprendes Mendez SpanishShop.


  • I think I am going to present one of my favorite lessons, which is the windmill story with Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. I have done this lesson many times but never in Spanish II. I have been thinking about a few connections that I could do with regard to Spain, Quijote’s Route, and travel. It also will support my need to work with 3rd person singular and plural in the past tenses more (see my post from January 1, 2018).


  • There are many staples that I have been doing for many years that I will continue to use this year:
    • Señor Wooly’s “No voy a levantarse”
    • Stories about getting ready for a day, date, and dance
    • Cinderella story-tell with this student song favorite: “Eres mi Cenicienta” by Voz de Mando
    • We then spend a lot of time dedicated to travel by air, bus, train, being in a hotel, and Fluency Matter’s Los Baker van a Perú. In December, I experimented with Michelle Kindt’s ideas for using Literature Circles that I saw at NTPRS 2017. Her system worked very effectively and I cannot wait to get to try again with this novel in the spring.


I am going to stop now because I feel I have plenty to get me started and ready for next week. Of course because of the Facebook groups, Twitter, PLCs, TPT, Señor Wooly Week, conferences, and conversations, there will be so many more ideas that come my way or ignite a new spark in my mind. Thanks for reflecting with me over these five 2018 posts and have a great 2nd semester.

Gary DiBianca

New Year’s Reflection #4 – The Human Side

Over the past four days I have certainly reflected a lot and what I finally wrote down is what constantly goes through my head. I want to take this New Year’s Reflection #4 in a different direction. I am writing it as a reminder for myself to always keep in mind because I know that my love for Spanish, language teaching, curriculum maps, lessons, and learning connections could get in the way: the human side of teaching and the daily needs and struggles of my students. I am not talking about their needs with regard to differentiation and language learning but really who they are as individuals. To help me with this post, I will refer to my favorite source material: musicals. If you are not enamored in the same way as I am with musicals, do not fret, luckily for all, no one has to hear me try to belt a show-tune!

Last May I was traveling to NYC and I was very fortunate to score a very hard-to-come-by ticket to see “Dear Evan Hansen.” A month later this musical and its stars would win Tony Awards for their remarkable and genuine performances and portrayals of high school students and parents dealing with real issues. (In case you have not yet experienced Dear Evan Hansen’s amazing songs, check our Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast Youtube Playlist.) The musical tells the story of Evan, a 17 year old senior with social anxiety, who gets tangled in a web of unfortunate (or fortunate) circumstances following a teen suicide in his school. One of the show’s anthems rings with the message “You will be found” and it leaves the audience in a mixed whirlwind of emotions at the end of act 1.

With tears in our eyes (and tears are not a common occurrence for me), I began talking with the people next to me. They said “Wow, what a show. Being parents this show is really hitting us.” I said, “Yeah. I am not a parent but I am a teacher and it is really hitting me too.” This couple was immediately empathic to my experience as a high school teacher and I was empathic to their roles as parents – we both play key roles in children’s lives. I told them that I was lucky to buy this newly released ticket the day before, and they looked at me and said, “you were meant to be here.” I took that message to heart and feel that I carry a bit of Evan with me every day. The struggles presented by all of the characters in the musical can be found in any school on any given day.

The beauty of musicals is through the magic of song, stories are told, shared, and experienced by an audience. Of course, movies and TV can do this but for me there is something about an actor pouring their emotions out on stage and when done well, demanding we empathize with them and understand their story.

Do we as teachers try to understand our students’ stories?

Do we realize that our young people do have stories and they have identities that are as complex as ours or even more so? There are insecurities, doubts, the incapacity to understand their changing selves, struggles, many life factors that our students cannot control, and also all of these wrapped up in each family member and friend in their lives.

As I start the new year, I want to remember all of this. I must remember that my 90 students are more than a grade or language proficiency level, their role in the school community or as membership on a team, or the behavior that they exhibit in my class. This of course does not excuse students from being respectful or holding them accountable to adhering to school rules or working to learn, but ultimately, I feel that the better I know a student and about their struggles, the better teacher I can strive to be.

I want to end with this song from the musical “13.” It is sung by another Evan and a group of pre-teens about turning the big 13. I think these lyrics from the song “13/Becoming a Man” paint a nice picture of what is going through the minds of kids this age. There is even a shout out to Spanish class – but I would have to guess she has a very demanding, legacy world language teacher.

Have any other musicals helped your perspective and provided a better way to see, feel, and think about someone else’s story?  Leave a reply and share it.  


Read the lyrics to “13/Becoming A Man” as a poem or my preference is to listen and watch this video with lyrics on Youtube

I’m Evan Goldman. I live at 224 West 92nd street,

In the heart of Manhattan.

And my life just went to hell.

Picture me just another cool kid in NYC,

Near the park and the MET.
Life is sweet, Yankees in the Bronx, Pretzels on the street,

Just how good can it get?
Who’d have guess dad would meet a stewardess?
Mom’s depressed and her lawyers are mean.
Now I’m stressed, life is a disaster
And I’m cracking from the strain,

Going totally insane
And I’m just about to turn
Everything switches
Everything turns around
End up in stitches
Find a way underground
Can I get through it?
Life has changed over night
How do I do it?
Nothing is going right
The best and the worst
And the most and the least
And the crazy and the scary
And I’m standing on the edge!

Twelve years old,

everything that used to be as good as gold

starts to crumble and crack
Pressure mounts, once it was a joke,

Now it really counts and there’s no going back
Life goes wrong

Boy: Suddenly they’re yelling cause your hair’s too long

Girl: Or your room isn’t clean

Kids: Roll along

Evan: Every conversation is another lost cause or

A list of my flaws
God, I’m going to turn thirteen!

Boy: I want a dirt bike
Girl: I want to kill my mom
Boy: I want a mustache!
Girl: I want a wonder bra
Girl: When do I get it?

Boy: All of the grown-up stuff’

Girl: How will I make it?

Boy: When am I old enough?

Why is the world feeling totally stranger?
Why are my friends acting totally weird?
Why do I feel like my life is in danger?
Why do I feel like my brain disappeared?

Girl: How can I get through a year of Spanish?

Boy: How can I not look dumb in track?

Boy: How can I gain 20 pounds by Friday?

Boy: How can I make my voice not crack?

Kids: I wanna fly, wanna run, wanna drive
Wanna get rich, wanna get drunk, wanna get out
Wanna get my braces off
Wanna get my nose pierced
Wanna grow my hair long
But all I keep hearing is

No, you’re not ready!
No, it’s not time yet!
No, it’s not right now!
Wait until you’re older!

Just settle down and hold your horses!

In the middle of this city
In the middle of this street
There’s a sound of something crumbling,
Rumbling underneath my feet

In the middle of the sidewalk
Outside p.s. 84,
I hear a roar
I can’t ignore

I hear Evan it’s not your fault
I hear Evan can’t you see
I hear Evan do you want to go with mom or stay with me?

I hear kiddo, I’m not angry
I hear buddy, you know best
And there’s the rumbling getting louder

But there’s one day in October
Where the pieces all will fit
When they have to be together
And pretend they didn’t quit

I’ve got one day in October
And I know it’s got to be
The perfect party

I’m becoming a man
I don’t know what a man really means
The rule book grows, but no one knows
What all the rules allow

I’m becoming a man
No one tells all the scared in-betweens
Just how we should be strong, be good
With so much pressure now

One day it gets better
One day it makes sense
One day I’ll stop talking in the friggin’ future tense
One day in October
It’ll all be great
And I can’t wait

I can’t wait to come to your party
I can’t wait to come to your party
I can’t wait
I can’t wait
Can’t wait for thirteen!

Something is coming
Something is going up
Something is humming
Somebody’s growing up!
The best and the worst
And the most and the least
And the crazy and the scary
And we’re just about to turn


Lyrics modified from https://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/13/13becomingaman.htm