Sunday, November 29, 2009

2009 ACTFL Teacher of the Year Toni Thiesen.  Here is her Wikispace.

What is she doing that the rest of us aren't?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bad wisdom, vol. 1

Once upon a time, someone told me that there were only two reasons to teach Spanish to students:  "Either you love Spanish, or you love students.  And there are going to be days, no matter how much you love them, that the students are going to drive you crazy.  So you REALLY have to love Spanish."

I do really love Spanish.  And it turns out that, as much as I love them, the students drive me crazy.

But there's a verb in the phrase "teach Spanish to students."  Turns out, I love teaching, too.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dina. Marzano.

Dina takes on Marzano's take on rewards and positive behavior.

She doesn't like SW-PBS very much.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Teachers sell their lesson plans.  School districts ask for a piece of the action.

I don't really know what I think about this.  I've bought stuff from people who are better at making stuff than I am.  I don't really have anything I'd want to sell, but I have stuff I probably could sell, if I format it differently.  So I don't really see anything wrong with it.

But the music industry just lost the "selling content you can find for free on the internet" fight.  The movie industry is ripping itself apart over the same issue.  I'm not sure that I'd want to wade into waters that somebody else has already filled with chum.

So I'm not sure where this goes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


The other day I wrote a quick blog post from school, making noise about assessments and a new format and the like.  As I was finally assembling the tests, I was having second thoughts.  It wasn't a grammar-and-vocabulary test, which is what I think of by force of habit as a test.  This assessment was only communicative skills--listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  I keep telling students that I don't care if they memorize vocabulary lists or whether they can conjugate verbs or not, that what matters to me is their ability to communicate.  In the first year class, the emphasis is strongly on the comprehension skills, with production being fairly limited in length and scope.  This is in line with language acquisition theory, which says that comprehension will develop before production, and will always occur at a higher level.  It's also in accordance with the ACTFL national standards and the corresponding levels of performance for Novice-Mid to High.

But my tests haven't really reflected that--until this year, the tests have always been (1) listening comprehension (2) reading comprehension with a cultural trivia component (3) grammar and vocabulary sections.  Largely, this is because I took as much of the text-book-provided tests as my students could reasonably do in a day, copied them off and stapled them together.  But I've started redesigning my unit plans the way they're supposed to be designed (see here and here)--which means my assessments needed to be re-written to match learning goals.  And if I don't care if they can memorize vocabulary words, I shouldn't test them on memorizing vocabulary words.

I've hesitated to do this, for three reasons.   1.  It marks a dramatic departure from what I think of as a Spanish test, and I had a hard time wrapping my head around it.  2.  I was worried that a sampling of communicative tasks would overestimate students' abilities to use the language comprehensively.  3.  I wasn't really sure that I was good enough at communicative assessments and using rubrics to assess communicative ability to create a reliable assessment.

I've learned to live with (1) in other contexts--the job of professional educator is not at all what I thought it was.  It's a great deal deeper, more exciting, and science-based than I expected it to be.  (If I'd known what my job was actually going to be, I would have taken a lot of laboratory science and social science classes, and not, for example, Astronomy, Ocean Systems, or Health and Well-Being.)  So, I'm just kind of getting used to the idea that almost everything I thought I'd be doing is the wrong thing, on some level, to do.  (Still trying not to throw out the baby with the bath water...)

Having run a couple of tests, I can now address (2) fairly accurately.  When the learners are participating in good faith in the assessment, their communicative performance gives at least as accurate picture of their language skills as the previous test formats.  And, of course, it has the added advantage of, y'know, actually testing what I want them to know.  So we can pretty well set (2) to bed.

Concern (3) remains a concern.  I'm not sure that this first communicative-based exam I gave really gets to the heart of the matter.  But neither did what I was doing before, and change and learning have to start somewhere.  I've changed, and now I'm learning.  A greater sampling of communicative tasks is probably in order, although the format is about right.  My primary concern is with the speaking/listening section.  The first time I tried this, I asked the students a question, and graded them on how well they answered it.  They then had to ask me a question, and write down the answers.  It was the first chapter test of a high school Spanish I class, so an open-ended question probably would have been too much.  But that section as it stood was much more reactive than creative, I think.

The other part of that is the rubrics I'm using.  Given the nature of a limited testing scenario, I don't think I can break the comprehension skills up the way I did.  So, I'll be looking for another way of doing it, so that the comprehension grade really tells the learners what they need to know in order to improve.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Zoom zoom zoom

Things that didn't die tonight because my car is sweet:

3 horses
1 coyote
1 neighborhood cat
3 neighborhood teenagers
1 neighbor who was burning leaves in the middle of the night
Any number of unseen deer

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Speaking / listening assessment strategies

Today is the first time I'll assess speaking and listening as part of a larger summative assessment.  Already, I can see that the rubric by trimesters that I gave the students will be insufficient to the task of assessing their conversation accurately in this context.  The fundamental conflict is that the assessment task doesn't reflect the grading scale, and the grading scale doesn't accurately reflect the learning objectives. 

I remember that creating the comprehension rubrics were particularly difficult; I may need to revisit them in light of these difficulties.  More clarity when I'm not actually at school.