90% TL: just do it!

(Just so we’re clear, I stole the title of this blog post from Thomas Sauer, not Nike.)

Well, it’s spring break here, which means that my French ones have been through 3 1/2 weeks of “only” speaking French in class. I will clarify that before that, they did speak French, but there weren’t explicit rules for how much.

A quick look at logistics:

  • If you’re in the classroom, you’re expected to only be speaking French.
  • If you need to ask a complex question/absolutely have to say something in English, you have to go out into the hallway. (This deters students from trying to speak a lot of English, because, well, they don’t want to walk there.)
  • I tally “points” on my clipboard – if you speak English, you “lose points” (please keep in mind that in my class, participation happens à la “Whose Line” – the points don’t actually matter)
  • If I get a TON of blank stares and I’ve explained something in more than one way, I step into the hall to clarify in English. I try to do this as little as possible.

The first few days were terrifying. Loud, boisterous classes that joked a lot with me had been reduced to silent, staring, straight faced children. A few of my middle schoolers flat out refused to speak in French. I, however, was twice as terrified as they were. I’ve heard it said that the teacher is often what holds a class back from 90% TL in class. And for me, it was SO TRUE. I connect with students because I’m so young, and I’ll admit that a lot of that happens in English. I think, however, that I have transferred some of that to my French “personality.”

Also, I think that it needs to be said that students, parents, admin, colleagues, and stakeholders don’t know what we mean when we say “90% target language.” So many of my students were in a panic mode, “how are we going to know what you’re saying?!?!” they shouted the day before we started. An administrator told a colleague who does this same system, “I thought they’d all be whispering in English when your back was turned, but they didn’t.” They key word is comprehensible.

So, what have I learned since this process started?

  • I can speak in comprehensible French for 100% of class time. I held myself back from trying for too long.
  • Students take pride in speaking French and policing each other. About 3% of each day for some students is spent gasping audibly, pointing, and shouting, “anglais!!”
  • Students pick up the craziest expressions!  Seriously, I never knew that they’d learn all the little “flavoring” things that they have! A lot of my Ss can say little things like, “bless you,” “don’t touch [that/me!],” “I’m kidding,” “excuse you!”and expressions that start with, “may I …?” These are the little things that make me well up with pride, and because I say so often, they’ve picked them up too!
  • Students at the novice level can get their point across with the language they know. Negotiation of meaning, anyone?! Instead of saying, “give me back my paper!” they say, “tu es méchant!” When I asked a student why he didn’t invite me to his musical the previous weekend, he didn’t give me a long-winded answer, he just say, “désolé, Madame!”
  • After the initial shock, students are EXCITED to speak French in class. It’s the times that I hear them whispering to each other in French that I have to hold back tears.
  • Laughter is necessary. Not only am I showing students that it’s okay to be silly sometimes, but also that jokes can happen in French, too. Three of my favorites? 1) If I say, “[Student’s name], tu parles anglais!?!?!?!?” they know that the “acceptable response,” (no matter the language they spoke) is, “Non, Madame!” with a bat of their eyelashes. 2) One of my middle school students looked at me the other day, eyes serious, and said “François a DEUX PETITES-AMIES” with the most urgency that anyone has ever said anything. This has become a running joke that we start the day with, asking who else has two girlfriends/boyfriends. 3) I was inviting students to go places with me, and someone said they’d go to a concert with me. When I went to write it down on my “schedule,” he shouted, “JE BLAGUE.” I was mock devastated, but very excited on the inside.
  • I think that 100% really beat the pre-spring break slump. It left me excited to go to class, excited to see my students, excited to learn with them each day.
  • We were allowed to speak English on part of the day before Spring Break as a “reward” or “vacation” and I had a few students who said that speaking English is weird, and that they were no longer used to my voice in English.

This has been SUCH an exciting process for me, and I am never going back!

But, I think the key part of this process has been student feedback. On our “English vacation,” I had them fill out a Google Form about “All French.” I wanted to include some of their feedback here:

I asked them to answer these questions, which I openly stole from Melanie’s end-of-year survey:

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I was really surprised by these numbers, but since I don’t require names on my feedback surveys, I know there are some students who dislike “all French” that didn’t take the survey.

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These results were about what I expected.

The next question I asked was, “What is one thing that has improved since we started?” It was a required question, and this is some of the feedback I got:

Just seeing all of this self-awareness made me so happy.

When I asked students about something that they would change, a lot of it had to do with English. I’m trying to figure out how to validate their opinions and feedback but not spend one day a week in English …

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(PS: that big, long, introspective answer is from my 11th grader who is also in a very traditional AP German class, because she also mentioned that she’s sad we haven’t learned to conjugate many verbs this year.)


So, my advice to you if you’re struggling with, or have been “putting off” 90% TL like I have? Just do it! I think the results will terrify, shock, excite, and transform you. I know they did for me.


Why “easy” doesn’t bother me

Okay, so there’s been some talk amongst my friends, online and real life colleagues, and on twitter recently, and here we go, it’s #confessiontime:

I think that we should stop being so quick to label our class or other classes as “easy.”

There. I said it. Recently, I’ve heard a lot of chatter about how if lots of students get an “A” on something, there are two gut reactions: either the assignment was “too easy,” or “word got out about what was on it/they cheated.”

This really makes me think. Sometimes I hear feedback that doing “x, y, or z” makes a class easy, and sometimes I panic, thinking, “what if my class is easy?” “What if I’m not pushing students?” But then I get into conversations where colleagues ask me “how many failures I have” that I remember: I would rather my class be perceived as easy than lament about how many students are failing. I rather have 80-100% of my students learning, acquiring, and doing well than worry about if I’m “covering enough material.” And I don’t think that should be the #unpopularopinion.

I do not believe that homework, trickery, or “unknown” components of assessments are necessary or make my class challenging. I do believe there is a case for “grit” or “stretch” or “challenge” in the classroom.

I am here to say that I am 100% for transparency as far as assessments go. Students should know what they’re expected to do on each assessment. It should not be a secret. Students shouldn’t wonder just seconds before the assessment, “what will the format be?” “Is it going to be x kind of assessment, or y?” “are we speaking this or writing it?” I think that’s unfair. If my students are expected to do an interpersonal assessment, they’ve had practice. If they’re expected to write what they need to say, then goodness knows we’ve written something similar before. If they’re reading or listening, I expect them to recognize well-known key words and then get the comprehension based off of those key words. There is also place for stretch and for “grit” on my assessments.

So, on the day of the assessment, I expect that students do well. I expect that they know the vocab, can express what I wanted them to say, and/or write a beautiful composition that is comprehensible, even if there are errors. When my students receive a score in the 3-4 (90%-100%) range of my standards-based rubric, I do not question the validity of my assessment or my grading practice. I do not wonder if my students cheated. I smile, jump for joy, and get excited about what students can do (actually, sometimes I cry.) When students don’t reach my expectations, I’m sad, ponder what I could have done or can do better for them, and thank the heavens that retakes exist. I do not blame the students for being unmotivated or for being “lower” than their peers or previous students. I do not think that retakes make my class easier, or that they “inflate” students’ grades. I think a rolling grade book shows progress, and what students CAN DO.

I, personally, do not think that this makes my class easier. I think that I grade fairly, and that I recognize when my students are being all-stars. I do not wonder, even for a second, if students told each other what’s on the test and that’s why class period X did better than Y. I’ve given them the information that they need to do well; the rest is up to them.

I am saddened by the thought that other teachers out there go into grading looking for mistakes. That is not my mindset. If it is yours, I urge you to ask yourself, “is grading is miserable for me? If yes, is that because I hate grading, or because my mindset may need an adjustment?”

I know that this will raise questions and/or comments. “But what about grit?” “You must not value accuracy!” “You’re still so young, you have a lot to learn.” “You don’t teach level 1 Spanish, it’s different than your class.” “What’s ‘easy’ for you is clearly different than what I perceive as ‘easy.'”

Case in point: Today I gave a random, 6 question, cumulative interpersonal assessment that I could not give students explicit practice for. Due to student growth measures in the state of Ohio, I couldn’t even hint at what would topics would “be on the test.” Against my normal assessment procedures, I just told students we’d be having a conversation. This made them more nervous than usual. Against proficiency procedures, I didn’t attempt to negotiate the meaning of the questions (I’m not sure if I’m allowed to negotiate because of the nature of growth measures.)

But I will tell you that around 90% of my level 1, novice mid-to-high/bordering intermediate low students answered all of those questions wonderfully, expected grammar errors aside. They answered in complete sentences. They pulled out vocabulary that I thought they’d long forgotten. They added detail that wasn’t necessary to answer the question. They impressed me with every word, phrase, self-selected vocabulary addition, and “light-bulb-I-finally-understand-this-question-and-I-can-answer-it-beautifully” moment. There was a question that we hadn’t gotten to in the curriculum and for most of my students, it didn’t even phase them. And this wasn’t an assessment that they studied for. 

A few of my highest-scoring students told me after that it was really bad. They asked me if they failed it, or if they could redo it because it was “terrible.” Do you know why? Because they’re so used to focusing on what they get wrong, on what they can’t do, on what they’re missing, that they don’t know how to celebrate what they CAN DO.

I do not think that focusing on what my students can do makes my class easy. I do not think that it makes me an “easy grader,” a “grade inflater” or a “softie.” I would rather celebrate successes than cultivate failure.

If somehow my beliefs make my class easy, than so be it.

As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback in the comments.

Logistics: Manie Musicale

So, I’ve had a few people ask me how my #maniemusicale2o16 is going now that I’m actually into the fray.

The answer: pretty much as I expected, but we’re behind by about a day, maybe two from my original estimation. Here’s what I’ve been doing each day:

Round 1: The Sweet Sixteen

For the Sweet (original) 16 songs, we watched two videos per day. So, this took 8 days total. This round was for exposure, so we just watched two videos per day and voted immediately. We talked about which ones we liked and which videos were funny, cool, or weird. Some were weird and cool and funny (Papaoutai, anyone?!)

I keep all of the votes in a folder in my Google Drive, and it’s a really simple voting template. You can see an example here.

I had students watch the videos individually on their devices. My HS students have MacBooks and my MS students have iPads. I posted the link to my playlist on our Schoology page, so about two days into the start, they knew where to go and find the new videos. I wanted them to have access to the playlist so that they could find the information about their favorites and listen to them on their own if we found their “jam.”

Round 2: The Elite Eight (Les huits élites)

During this round, I wanted to not only re-familiarize students with each song that they picked in the first round, but get to know the songs a little bit better. We listen to one song each day, and vote every two days for this round.

I’ve done two types of activities here: cloze and “put the lyrics in order.” Then, we talk a little about the song and highlight some of the key structures. We’re working on the structures “je veux” and “je ne veux pas” right now, and SO MANY of the songs include that structure. It is WONDERFUL.

For the “put the lyrics in order” pages, I just group students in groups of two, and have them put only the chorus in order. I encourage them to follow along and sing if they want! All I do is copy/paste the lyrics, scramble them, and cut them out. I love to scramble them because some students try to just put the cut lines together and then they find out they’re wrong.

Dernière danse chorus

Place de la République chorus

For a cloze, I love LyricsTraining.com. Students can repeat, etc. by themselves, so it’s really great for students who get conscious if others write more than them. It works well because all of my students have a device, but you could also use paper. Also, did you know that now on LT, you can create your own activities? I love this because I pull out all the words that I want students to focus on in the song, so we can talk about those structures or reuse them afterward!!

Also, with LT, students can choose between typing the word they hear (write mode), or picking between 4 options (choice mode.) A lot of students prefer choice mode, which I love for novices, but I also try to challenge students to write if it’s a song they need a little differentiate. We turn it into a little competition for high scores, and some students like to replay to beat their previous score.

The only downside to this is that all of the songs I use on LT are SO repetitive. For songs like Papaoutai and On danse, I chose to do this because putting the chorus in order would have been too simple.

Here’s an example of a LT I made for Papaoutai. We were focusing on il vs. elle, the question “où,” and the connector “ou.” It was a little tricky for students in that way. I also recycled some vocab like family and descriptions.

Round 3: The Final Four (Les quatres qualifiées!)

We have not started this round yet. I plan on looking more closely at the chorus of each song in the final four and really trying to figure out what they’re saying. That way, students will know what they voted for, and not just which video was cool/which one was catchy/which one would annoy their classmates!

I will post activities here when we get there! :]

Round 4: The Championship Game

Again, we’re not here yet, so stay posted for my ideas on this. I’m thinking they’ll have to happen after spring break, so I’ll be mulling over possibilities for this! If you have suggestions, I’d love to know!

CSCTFL 2016: takeaways

Wow. I cannot say how amazing it was to attend CSCTFL conference this year. The highlight was being able to see some of my favorite tweeps in person, but also that they were so supportive of me. We didn’t get a lot of time to talk about sessions (I’m a verbal processor) but we did have a lot of wonderful conversations and I am so thankful. I finally know why Sara-Elizabeth puts so much stock in her “couch conversations.” They are amazing. This year’s conversations included cookies that I baked for my tweeps, which is apparently going to have to be a conference MUST from now on. Next conference, it’s oatmeal raisin!

Part of Friday’s lineup was presenting a session on storytelling with the lovely Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, which you can find here, on her blog. I want to give a huge shout-out to Sara-Elizabeth for bringing me on board to present with her, and an even bigger shout-out to everyone who approached me to give feedback. I was so nervous, but apparently it didn’t show.

Right before our presentation, I was excited to see Lisa Shepard representing Ohio as our teacher of the year, and though I was sad that she didn’t advance, it’s okay! I was just as excited to scream and clap for Grant Boulanger, the newest CSCTFL TOY. I was honored and humbled to meet Grant this last summer at IFLT and can’t wait to root for him at ACTFL (probably from behind my computer this time.) He really is as amazing as you’ve heard.

As for my conference takeaways, these are the things that completely rocked my world. I will group them into categories, à la John Cadena, who reminds us that at conferences, we need to think about our seeds (dreams that I want to pull off someday,) saplings (good ideas I need to plant and let grow in my head) and transplants (things I can take from the conference and use immediately in my classroom)

Transplants from #CSCTFL16:

  • A good essential question can be answered in the TL. Any other EQs, according to Donna Clementi, are a waste of time.
  • Novices cannot successfully transition to the intermediate level if we only ask them novice-level questions (from Linda Egnatz’s session)
  • If students have a hard time asking questions, it means that the teacher has been the only one asking them. Let Ss question each other as a proficiency-builder.
  • I need to teach students how to circumlocute effectively! The biggest problems with incomprehensibility stem from vocabulary, not grammar! (Thanks, Sara-Elizabeth!)
  • If you don’t plan well, using the TL is hard. – Carrie Toth <– I have learned this recently and will continue to struct my 90% lessons well.
  • The fantastic Amy Lenord said, “In level two, they are notorious for saying only what they learned in level 1 – and we LET THEM.” I need to push my students more here.
  • #CONFESSIONTIME: I don’t always say the learning target. (I know, I know, I’m dodging the things you’re throwing at your screen.) I need to be more transparent with my students about how their learning gives way to a bigger picture, make sure they have a way to evaluate if they met it.


  • Everything that Laura Terrill said in her session was utter gold. I need to get the Keys to Planning for Learning and book club it this summer with Megan and Laura.
  • Students need to see how this lesson ties into the next, into next week, into the next unit, etc. I need to find ways to be more explicit about this.
  • Thomas Sauer was adamant that we need to spend time planning our 10% that isn’t in the TL. I’ll be reflecting about ways that I can more intentionally use this time.
  • If you’re using IPAs, you should be modeling the IPA format in you classroom. This interpretive segways to this interpersonal, to this presentational, etc. This will help students when it comes time for the IPA. This is GENIUS.
  • As a follow up to this, Laura Terrill said that if a text is good, you WILL use it in all three modes. I need to reflect on the texts I’m selecting and use them in all of the modes.
  • In the words of the wonderful Carrie Toth, “be a mouse and go ask for cookies” – I need to ASK my native speaker resources to do things for me. And, I need to find native speaker resources. #yikes
  • “The most literate people are the best guessers” – I need to reflect about what this means for my classroom.
  • And again, from Carrie Toth: “Baby steps are the key to making change that last” – I have to evaluate what changes I’ll be making and which will have to wait.


  • I want to design units as beautifully as Laura Terrill and Donna Clementi
  • Amy made an amazing case from liberating from the vocabulary list. I need to chew this one over before I go for it.
  • All of Carrie Toth’s units have beautiful ties to culture. I would love for mine to be that amazing some day.
  • Linda Egnatz rocked my world. Seriously, one day I would love to coach students like she does. Her September/April evidence of student growth was so amazing I could have cried.

All in all, I learned a ridiculous amount of things at CSCTFL, I hope to return next year, and maybe present something! I would love to collaborate with you!

Update on #maniemusicale

Wow, thank you all so much for such a positive response on “La Manie Musicale.” I am glad that you could use it, and even more excited that your students are loving it

If you have already started, feel free to tweet your results on twitter using the hashtag: #maniemusicale2016. That way, our students can see different results and compare them, if they want to! :]


Also, if you’ll be at Central States this weekend, feel free to #langchat LIVE in the lobby of the Hilton hotel. Come anytime after 7PM, but the chat starts at the normal time of 8PM EST! I’m looking forward to meeting you all there! Yippee!