“I can” goal stamps

Wow, am I sad that I won’t be at #ACTFL16 – it’s only Monday and I’m already seeing so many great tweets and plans to meet up … I’ll have to be there with you in spirit!

In other news, a lot of people have been asking to see my new document that includes I cans for my unit on family and homes. I can’t take all the credit – I’m always inspired by Megan and Kara’s stamp sheets, and I got a few of my I cans from Melanie and Kara’s work this summer at Camp Musicuentos!

Here’s a few Q and As about these new stamps.

So what are you doing now? Currently, I only stamp about half of the I cans in a unit – those that will require an assessment. Here’s an example of the one I planned on using for this unit before I had a change of mind!

So why are you changing what’s working now? I’ve wanted to do I cans like they do at Jefferson County Public Schools (credit again to Kara and Megan), but it’s always the logistics that get to me. But, I’ve decided that there’s nothing like combatting logistics by just implementing something to see how it goes, as evidenced by last year’s 90% TL experiment! I’ve really been working this year to say the “I can” every day, so that students can see what we’re doing and how it relates to the bigger picture, but I also want them to see them all the unit goals at once. Since I only stamp after assessments with my current stamp sheet, they don’t always see how the little I cans transition into the bigger ones.

How did you do it? So, after a little inspiration from Kara and Megan’s new Adios Textbook! site, I went for it. You guys already know that I’m a sucker for Piktochart, and it didn’t disappoint, again! I really took the time to write the I cans that I wanted, to put them in what I thought was a logical order, and to show students how they will progress, including bigger assessments.

How are you going to check each goal? To be honest, I don’t know. I think I’ll accept them as students can show me, but not during the middle of class. I’ll probably stamp them as I see kids complete them, whether that’s during the performance checks I try to do at the end of class, as kids participate during class time, and/or during some kind of stations, where I can check in with a few kids at a time as we go. I really need to get a self inking stamp so I can do it more spur-of-the-moment.

And what about grades? I’m going to be honest, I don’t know if I plan on grading them. I want kids to master each I can. I want them to see how each I can plays a bigger role in what we’re doing. I want there to be a reason that they complete them. I want them to want to show me what they can do. But I don’t know if grades are the motivator. And if so, do I grade each I can based on how well they did it? Or do I take it for “completion?” Since they need to show me each goal as they’re able to do it, can I set dates to enter them in the gradebook? Or should I really look at them all by the end of the unit, since they’ll be able to redo them as they need? I don’t have these answers. So I’ll update you as I decide!

What are the ACTFL proficiency levels for? I plan on helping kids to track their proficiency across all units, so I imagine that either I (or they? maybe both?) will circle the level that corresponds with their end-of-unit performance!

Anything else? I’m really nervous that I set these in stone, and now I have no room to deviate from that – that’s why there are blanks (thanks, Thomas Sauer, for the tip!) Also, what if the unit drags on and I want to skip a couple, or I realize that they’re not what I really wanted? I guess that will make me better for next year.

Well, if you’ve been with me this long, I should at least give you the full document, no? Here’s what I’ve got going for this unit, I’m honored to hear that inspired so many of you!

I always worry that I don’t vary the wording of these enough. As always, I welcome your feedback!


Let’s talk about proficiency!

Man, oh man, this is going to be a great year. I’m 4 days in and I can already tell!

This year, I’m focusing on proficiency, and I am running with it. In the first few days, I wanted to make sure that we covered it. I was asked to blog about it – it’s mostly a combination of other people’s ideas, but here it is!

First, one of my back to school stations was the crepe sheet. Students read it in a station, and we talked it over in a small group. After they read it, they needed to describe their favorite movie as a novice low (~5-6 words) and write it on a post-it note. You can have them write the movie name on the back (just make sure it doesn’t peek through!) They read their description to their group, who tried to guess their movie. Then they posted on the wall for other groups to try to guess. I think this activity is especially important because it shows them that even with a few words, they can convey meaning and get an idea across!

The next day, I had students skim the sheet to get an idea of the levels, and followed the basic protocol of this post by Kara at Creative Language Class. I went through the basics of each level, grouped students, and had them describe school at various proficiency levels. I had each group decide what proficiency level their description was and why! I checked in with each group to make sure they were on the right track.
Then, each group shared their description, and all other groups conferred for 15 seconds to decide what level they thought the description was, and why. We talked a few of them out as a class. Then, they told their group what proficiency level they want to be be the end of the year.

After this activity, I asked students to describe what proficiency was. This turned out decent results, but I think in the future, I’ll have them give another analogy like I did last year. I’ll give them the starter “proficiency is like _____ because _____.” I got some great examples last year, and I think it would have helped this year’s students as well.

Once all my students have their school supplies (interactive notebooks this year), we’ll use the goal-setting proficiency path (second one on the page) from Shelby County. I’m not sure how Shelby County use the page, but I plan on having my students circle their goal for the year, and color in the star for each level they hit along the way.

After that, we’ll bring it up as necessary, especially when talking about moving from level to level, and I plan on having them chart their progress towards proficiency throughout the year!

What are you doing this year to talk proficiency with your students?

First week plans 2016

As I sit down after my first two days of school, I find myself wondering how it got here so darn FAST. I feel like it was June yesterday … anyone else? I also planned on sharing my first week plans long before it was actually the week that I started. Such is life, I suppose!

I go into this post on my first plans, thinking about how the research says that you end up being a mix of the 5 people you spend time with the most. I can totally see that I am a mix of all of my favorite world language teachers/bloggers, so I really cannot credit a lot of these ideas as my own.

As a note, I’m only teaching level 1 this year, so these plans are for them!

Thursday, August 18th: (French music ALWAYS playing in the background)

  • Students come in, I greet each person at the door. I will assign seating for this first day; I think it’s important to give students this kind of structure on day one.
  • I think what Sara-Elizabeth posted about the first day story – letting kids see what they can understand on day one is SO CRUCIAL. I’m starting off with this this year. I plan on kids writing a few things they understood on a sticky and posting it for everyone to see.
  • I plan on doing my first days administrative stations from last year. This year’s stations include: syllabus hunt, student info sheets, crepe talk with questions, choosing French names/making namecards, and getting to know each other. As a high school with three feeder middle schools, I think it’s so important to get kids talking to each other as soon as possible. As for French names, I will direct students to listen to the names of their choice on Hear Names – have you heard of it? It’s names pronounced by a native speaker of the language, and I’m in LOVE. That way, I don’t have to pronounce every name, or worry that I’m doing it wrong (am I the only one who feels that way?!)

Friday, August 19th

  • I anticipate that we’ll only have time for 1-2 stations the first day, so I plan on finishing the other 3 today.

Monday, August 22nd

  • Today I’m planning an intro to me. I want the kids to have a second chance (or first, if they missed the first day) to get the comprehension feeling. I’ll have them fill out a quick formative assessments: 3 things I did that helped them understand, 2 things they understood about me, 1 question that they still have.
  • Then, we’ll introduce ourselves around the room, and say something that we like!
  • I plan on getting into proficiency again this day, reviewing the levels and having kids describe school like this. We’ll set our own language goals on the proficiency path, too!

Tuesday, August 23rd

  • Today we’ll start again with names and likes, and I’ll try to make sure everyone gets to know other people’s names (I think this is so important!) I’ll go around, adding in the “il/elle s’appelle” distinction, and giving several options to keep kids on their toes!
  • I’ll probably give a little processing time where kids listen to a few audio samples. At this stage, I imagine it will be something like, “true or false: this person gave their name.”
  • Since this is the second day, I’ll have students tell their name to a few partners and ask “et toi?” as a performance assessment at the end!

Wednesday, August 24th-Friday, August 26th 

  • In Ohio, we do a version of student growth measures that require us to do a pre-test and give the same test as a post-test to measure growth. I’ll be giving my pre-test these days, and I’ve allotted 3 since I need to do a listening, reading, writing, and speaking section. I expect that most of my students will leave the listening, reading, and writing sections blank, but I do need to interview each student individually, even if they can’t respond. This is always such an awkward down-time for students, but I don’t want to cut the speaking portion to make it less awkward at the beginning of the year.
  • While I’m finishing interviews, I plan on doing an activity with cognates, again à la Creative Language Class!

There you go, my first week and a half of class. The fun stuff starts after this!

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.

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!

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!

Two rivets for change

Have you ever heard of the two rivet rule? I hadn’t until recently during a devotional that I had been reading, and I think that the idea is fascinating.

Apparently, when the Golden Gate Bridge was built in San Francisco, the engineers thought that it would withstand earthquakes. Unfortunately, that was a lofty dream, with the bridge being so close to the San Andreas Fault line. Eventually, the bridge needed to be retro-fitted to withstand earthquakes, and the task needed to be completed with the bridge still functional. I can’t imagine the daunting task of changing a bridge while it was still a main source of transportation. So, they put in place something called the “two rivet rule,” where they decided that in order for the bridge to be used during this process, only two of the 1,000,000+ rivets that were in the structure could be removed at a time.

Imagine the time it took to change this
Imagine the time it took to change this …
Now, the idea of this has sparked a lot of people to think about what that means for change. Most blogs and articles I’ve read that talk about this process recommend that we follow the “two rivet rule” when making change in our own lives. Sure, you could take a look at your life (or specifically your teaching life) and decide that x, y, and z (and maybe a whole lot more) need to change to make you a better teacher. But in order to not fall apart, cause chaos, or burn out, two changes at one time is plenty. And think of how much faster you can get to the other changes that you want to make if you’re not buried under the rubble that 16 changes have caused in your life or classroom. The moral is that life goes on when changes are being made. You can’t halt all other progress just because you want to overhaul something in your life or classroom. 

That being said, there are a lot of things that I want to change to become a better teacher. But as last year and a lot of advice from great teachers taught me, you can’t take on everything at once. So this year, with so many changes involving location, classes, schools, etc. I’ve decided to tackle only two changes at the start of my school year. Once those two changes have become ingrained into my teaching and my classroom, then I’ll tackle a few others that are on the eventual list.

My two changes for this school year are:

1. Standards-based grading with a focus on proficiency. This is a policy that the other French teacher in my department uses, and for consistency and a focus on growth for my students, I’ll be taking on this same (or a similar) grading scale.

2. Meaningful and timely feedback for students. This is one that I’ve decided on after changing out with a few other hopeful changes. But, at the beginning of the year, it’s so much easier to stay on top of feedback and “grading” because I’m not weighed down by … well … other feedback and grading that I haven’t given yet. If I can start out strong at the beginning of the year, I hope that this will create a habit that I can continue, while making other, harder or more intensive changes later on in the year.

What changes are you hoping for this school year? Are you looking at two or more? I’d love to hear your thoughts.