I don’t know what I (don’t) know

Can you believe that it’s already “mid-to-late” July? I cannot and I know that the summer always flies by, but this one seems to be speeding ahead at a pace I cannot keep up with!

Last week I had the amazing privilege to attend a College Board AP Training presented by Davara Potel, who, before she retired, taught in a district that was near mine, and she is just the sweetest woman that I’ve ever met – and really knows her AP stuff! I was blown away by so much that she said and I just wanted to record her so that I could get every bit of information imaginable.

What really struck me about AP is how much everything needs to be vertically aligned from level one until AP. I knew this, or at least, I thought that I did. But this workshop had me looking back at last year and feeling even worse about it than I did at the end of May. I was not focusing on the right things. I wasn’t getting kids prepared now to build on their knowledge as it relates to AP. I wasn’t doing enough grammar, probably.

And it really hit me: I’m so young. I have four years of teaching under my belt, and like that old guessing adage, “the first two don’t count.” I don’t know a lot of things that most people give me credit for, and for that I sort of blame the internet. Each 140 character interjection makes me seem like the world’s best teacher, but believe me that I’m far from it. This four-day workshop took a lot of the things that I “thought” I had figured out and turned them upside-down, as it relates to AP.


What I thought I knew #1: We should be spiraling the same themes from level one to AP. I feel like this one was pretty self explanatory.

What I learned from this workshop: It’s not enough to cover the same things – we should be covering the same themes with different contexts! For example, in the theme of science and technology, year two would be “what are the benefits of recycling,” year three would be “how can we save the planet” and year four would be something like “eliminating food waste” or “what future inventions could change our world?” If you’re blessed to have AP in years five or six, you could go even deeper! I need to rethink what my level one units look like for this purpose.

What I thought I knew #2: We should continuously be asking questions to elicit information from our students. Again, self-explanatory. But teaching level one, it looks a lot different than it does in the upper levels.

What I learned from this workshop: It’s not enough to just ask the question and get a response. For upper levels in particular, it’s about the follow up questions – the spontaneous answers that show what and why our students are thinking a specific thing. Davara was great at asking a question and then following it up with a great 5 W question – “Who are these people?” “Farmers” “Oh, they’re farmers? What is it about them that made you think they were farmers?” I need to be intentional about the follow up questions I choose, in level one and beyond.

What I thought I knew #3: The role (or supporting role) of grammar.

What I learned from this workshop: Everything. Nothing. More. Less. I’m doing it wrong. I’m not doing enough. I don’t know the role of grammar in each (or any) level. (sidenote: a few years ago I plunged a ladle into the “grammar is bad” punch and sipped so much kool-aid that now I hardly touch grammar. I’m not saying it’s a good system. I need to rethink all of this completely and totally.)

What I thought I knew #4: If kids are speaking (to me, to each other, to the video recording of me), they’re getting interpersonal practice. I know that level 1 is primarily memorized chunks of language, so “spontaneous” just means not knowing which question I might ask.

What I learned from this workshop: The key to success on the interpersonal speaking part of the AP test is just that – it needs to be truly interpersonal. I need to develop and implement more ways for my kids to speak spontaneously without knowing what I’m going to say beforehand. I’m thinking implementing a can of questions à la Creative Language Class will help in all levels. 5 minutes left? Boom, pull a topic. Need a brain break? Boom, pull a topic. Half the class is gone for an assembly? Boom, pull 4 topics. I’m thinking of color coding these by either a) the level in which the learned the information (this year’s AP interpersonal speaking was about CAMPING for goodness sakes!) or b) by the type of interaction (invitations, question to elicit information, opinion, etc.) I’m also thinking that Wednesdays (our classes are shortened) might be purely to practice interpersonal skills.


What I thought I knew #5: Novices need structure in what they read. I rely so heavily on infographics in level one that if I had a nickel for every one I used, I could buy my own classroom supplies! (har har)

What I learned from this workshop: Infographics are still great. But, I also looked closely at the kinds of texts that students are reading in AP, and my level ones should be exposed to more text as we get to the end of the year. Sure, I might edit the text to break up the paragraphs or make things double spaced, etc, but I think they need to get exposure to text-driven texts as well as visual-driven texts. This workshop did reiterate that there are GREAT infographics for all levels, though, not just level one. Still relevant at the AP level, so booyah!


So, this year, I’m going to be a little bit like Laura reinventing the wheel where it needs a little work, and hopefully coming out with lots of knowledge on the other side. And, hopefully, like Laura does so well, I’m going to try to show my ups, but mostly my downs as I try to figure it out and make it work for me and my students. A lot of that goes back to being intentional, no?


Interpersonal: my assessment

Wow. Doing REAL interpersonal assessments with my students has provided so much insight and excitement for me.

In the past, I’ve been known to ask a set list of questions. Students should “know” how to answer all of the questions (from the unit, duh!) and are expected to give me details, information, and fun all in one sentence, while I never use a word that they haven’t heard before. How inauthentic.

As you can imagine, I was often disappointed. Conversations felt rehearsed. I was worried about “giving too much away” during them. If students didn’t understand the question, I moved on. “How much can you expect me to give you,” I’d think to myself, “you should know how to answer this question, we’ve done it before.” Sometimes, I’d ask all the questions and a student wouldn’t respond at all. Where’s the negotiation of meaning, past Wendy? Do you even know what “interpersonal” means? How young and naive I was (read: still am sometimes.)

But for the past three days, I’ve been giving non-scripted conversations, that, while on the same topic with the same general questions, differ from student to student. ACTFL says that we’re supposed to be “sympathetic listeners,” and I think the term sympathetic differs from student to student. Please feel free to give your (better educated?) opinion on this.

What led me to change my ways? A lot of things, but the catalyst was reading this post by Megan at the Creative Language Class prior to planning my assessments. It’s called “4 Steps for Smooth Interpersonal Assessments,” and man, it worked for me like a charm. I gave advance notice of sign up times and let the conversation follow an OPI-style theme. We start easy, I ask tougher questions, and when I can sense students feeling uncomfortable, we head back into their comfort zone. (Disclaimer: while I’ve never received formal OPI training, part of my methods class was spent on learning the phases of it, recognizing questions and sorting them by phase, along with practice/assessments, and we had to take both the OPI and the WPT to graduate. So I’d like to say I’m pretty familiar with its parts. And how sweaty your hand gets while holding the phone during the OPI. Yikes.)

These are my pluses (+) and deltas (∆) from the experience:

  • + I love talking to each student on on one. In this particular assessment, at the end, I had them describe a celebrity, and we negotiated together who they might describe (Like basketball? The Cavs? Talk about Lebron or Kyrie. Like football? Browns or Bengals? Johnny Manziel it is! Video games? Zelda is your favorite? Describe Link from WindWaker) and they got excited to tell me about their celebrity.
  • + I was amazed by what kids could do with the language, and what they could understand from me, even if they’d never heard that word before. Powerful.
  • + Keeping these Novice Mid, borderline Novice High conversations to 3 minutes was perfect. Conversation kept moving, barely any awkward pauses, kept me to my scheduled number of kids per day.
  • + Follow up questions!! I used to not interrupt students’ trains of thought, but follow up questions definitely ensure that I get the detail that I want.
  • + Asking questions and talking about myself was great, too. It helped relax students and made it truly interpersonal, not just “talk about this and I’ll listen, now talk about this and I’ll listen and maybe nod.”
  • + The growth that students could show in the range of one conversation really blew me away. Even if it started rocky, kids were able to give more info, answer my follow-up questions (mostly with more than one word! YEAH!) and comprehend/reuse and repeat necessary words/chunks when I asked intermediate level questions. I can’t explain how excited this makes me for future conversations.
  • ∆ Explicitly teach conversational strategies. I’m not very good at this in general, and they need them, especially when speaking to each other.
  • ∆ I need a rubric more like Kara and Megan’s so that I can check during the convo and don’t have to write/transfer so much! Our rubric requires a lot of writing, and I’d like to have a different one, at least for interpersonal.
  • ∆ I wrote during some and recorded some, both options let me transfer the info to another rubric. While I like not having to write during it, the jury’s out on which method is better.
  • ∆ When my room gets new furniture, I’d love to talk in a lounge-y area in the back of the room. A booth, or table with ottomans setup will be a relaxed atmosphere so students (maybe) aren’t so nervous.

Oh! I almost forgot my biggest delta: What do you have kids DO during the 3+ days of conversations? This unit didn’t seem conducive to interpersonal and presentational summatives, so I didn’t plan a project. And with each student having their own devices, leaving them to their own … well … devices … was not a good option. I had individual activities per day, but would love better ideas.

What are your favorite things about giving interpersonal assessments? What works best for you? What’s one thing that you’d really like to change? I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, successes, and deltas if you have the time to share them!

Impressionism fair!

There’s a quote that I can’t remember that I’ve been thinking of today – something about me being a sum of all the people I’ve ever met.

So, today in my French III class, I used an activity I found from Lisa Shepard. We’ve been talking about art, and she did a unit where she focused on impressionism, so I borrowed some all of her ideas. Today, we did the activity she describes here, where students look at two paintings, pick which one was an example of impressionism, and support their case. I grouped students into partners, and they spent yesterday looking at their paintings, and coming up with supporting reasons that the painting they chose was impressionism. We talked about subjects, scenes, colors, point of view, brushstrokes, etc.

Then, today, I moved the desks into a circle, with one desk on the inside and one on the outside. I modified Colleen’s “fair” activity, so that students had a few minutes to review with their partner before they presented. Then, the students on the inside (partner A) walked from desk to desk, asking which painting was impressionism and the reasons why. Their partner, on the outside (partner B), stayed with their paintings, and defended which they chose. Once these students had finished, they switched roles with their partner, so that partner A stayed to defend while partner B walked the room. I circled around, sitting across from students and letting them explain to me. Every group chose the correct painting!

Then, I added an element of John’s fairy tale activity (which he modified from Colleen’s fair activity as well) He had students circumlocute different fairy tales, and student A would guess what student B had described to them. I had students guess which one of the paintings they thought was impressionism, and had them decide if the “defender” of the paintings described the correct one.

I think a great extension of this activity would be to give students new paintings and to choose on the spot which one is impressionism. One thing I would change for next time is that I would limit how much the students got to use their cheat sheet, arm the inside circle partner with questions to ask, and/or have the “questioner” rate how well the “defender” described their painting.

Here are a few pictures of the madness:

IMG_0265 IMG_0266

Overall, this mash up activities worked out well. One of the things I want my French IIIs to work on is their ability to have a spontaneous conversation. While this wasn’t spontaneous, I think that it’s a step in the right direction.

One day, I’ll have my own amazing activities, but until then, I’ll keep modifying and sharing others. :] Thanks Lisa, Colleen, and John for your great ideas!