#AuthRes August

Wow. As I’m staring at that word, August, I’m simultaneously freaking out and jumping for joy at the same time. I bet a lot of you teachers feel the same way.

Last week, Sara-Elizabeth of Musicuentos called us to #AuthRes August, where we share some authentic resources for the world language classroom that our students will love this year.

While I am not going to post 70+ resources like Maris did this morning (Spanish teachers, check it OUT!)  I will share a couple that I’m excited to use this year.

What I’m working on this year is starting the year off with a unit about the Olympics, because it’s current, relevant, and hopefully give my students something interesting and engaging to describe! I plan on using some of these resources:

The olympic website in French – this has a list of the results, athletes, and a link to each of the events/sports that are in the olympics – so much better than just learning basketball and football (American!)

FranceTvSport – This is a French based TV station, so it leans a little more toward the French! You can track the medals won by the team, see a calendar of event days/medal ceremonies, and as a bonus, it has the country names in French! A lot of them are cognates, so it will boost confidence at the beginning of the year.

Speaking of events, there hasn’t been an April Fool’s Day (Poisson d’avril!) that my students haven’t been on spring break. Coincidentally, my birthday is March 31st, so there’s never been a birthday where I’ve been in school. This year, April 1 falls on a Saturday, but I’m thinking about amping up my birthday work day with some fun poisson d’avril stuff! This post looks a little advanced for my novices, but maybe we’ll use it.

I don’t know if we’ll get into all this stuff in my level one class this year, but if you’ve just finished the Keys to Planning Book, my bet is that you’ll try to incorporate the “balanced lifestyle” unit – shoot, it’s already in French! Here’s some supplemental resources for that:

  • An infographic about le goûter
  • An example of a petit déj équilibré
  • Anything from the MangerBouger site – seriously, there are guides to each food group, recommendations for eating better at each age group, recipes, seasonal produce to balance your plate (and wallet) – it is totally worth an hour or two of clicking around!

Last year, I used and LOVED this infographic about habitudes alimentaires. We did an IPA style reading, and then surveyed our class about our own eating habits. We made graphs and compared the data that we found. It was a great reinforcement of the question words and answer in context, too!

I hope this has given you some inspiration to use #authres this coming school year! I plan on posting a few more times on the topic, both on my blog and on twitter! We’d love to have you join us by posting on your blog, or on twitter (or even facebook!) with the hashtag #authresaugust! If that’s too big for your tweet, you could use #authres instead (or both, you overachiever, you!)

Like Sara-Elizabeth mentioned in her post, if you don’t have a public place to share your #authres, I would be happy to share your resources for you – French, Spanish, Latin, German, Japanese – it doesn’t matter, I’m just happy to share! You can leave your ideas in the comments, or tweet at me. I promise that if you use the hashtag, it doesn’t matter if you’re a twitter “celebrity” – someone will see it and benefit from it!

While you’re at it, if you need a public place to share those activities that you develop, you can add to the growing list that Sara-Elizabeth started! Choose your language with the tabs at the bottom!

One last thought: I would not be the teacher that I am today (and I still have TONS of room to grow) if other people hadn’t been kind enough to share their resources with me. I get as many ideas from Sara-Elizabeth, Bethanie, Maris, Amy, Melanie, Megan and Kara, Allison, and Carrie‘s Spanish resources as I do from my French teacher friends! So nothing you share is too small, insignificant, or “imperfect” to help someone else out. Let’s do this – together.


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.

My first EdPuzzle!

Man, this week has been rough. But my PLN always here to bring my back up, whether it’s sharing resources, sending words of encouragement, or tweeting me flowers. I couldn’t be more thankful.

That said, I created my first EdPuzzle this week. EdPuzzle is a website that allows teachers to upload a video, clip it (if necessary), add audio commentary, and give pop up questions along the way. Then, students can watch that video, interact with your questions, play a section again if they missed it, and the teacher can see the results. This site is similar to EduCanon, but since I don’t have EduCanon premium, I enjoy EDPuzzle. Very user friendly for me, and my student could really use the listening practice – at their own pace!

What I really like is that once students have completed the video, you, as the teacher, can see individual progress, including how many times the student watched part of the clip! I think that is genius! You can also view the video as a student to make sure that your kinks are all worked out.

A screenshot of what a teacher can view on EdPuzzle - this assignment hasn't been completed.
A screenshot of what a teacher can view on EdPuzzle – this assignment hasn’t been completed. (click for full screen)

Unfortunately, EdPuzzle didn’t work on my school’s computers, and while I was prepared with EduCanon for backup, most students couldn’t change the volume or play the video via EduCanon. Man, technology is a fickle beast, and I was really discouraged by it.

Anyway, I thought that I’d share the video I made anyway. My French III students are beginning a unit on vacation, and Kirsten D. from twitter (@cardinalfrench) suggested this video. I didn’t even need to crop, I just added my questions, and voilà, complete!

Here’s the video. What do you think of EdPuzzle? Would you change any of my questions?


Fearless – step 2: Listen to advice

Hi everyone! I can’t believe that it’s finally Saturday – even with only 4 days this school week and two of those days where we were delayed for weather, I thought this week was the longest week EVER! Much like that first sentence.

Since my post last year about storytelling, I’ve gotten really into it. My students are still on the fence, but I think that as I continue to do it, they’ll get used to it. Plus, I’ll get better with each story and soon it won’t be so painful for them.

My third story attempt was awhile ago and it just seemed to fall flat. The kids were bored with the story, and I have one specifically crazy class that cannot function if they don’t know the meaning of a word in English. It’s maddening trying to work with some of them. Anyway, I knew something was off, other than my beginner status, and by my 4th attempt, I had found it.

Circling. Circling, circling, circling, where have you BEEN all my life?! Okay, that’s silly: I know where it’s been. Circling has been out in plain view and I just chose to ignore it. I initially read about it from Martina Bex, but questioning is mentioned multiple times over at Musicuentos too! (two of many sources here and here) And instead, I ignored it.

“The questions can’t be that important,” I said. “I definitely don’t need to script questions; that’s a waste of time,” I declared. “You can’t ask a question that many times and expect students to pay attention,” I scoffed. “There’s no pattern to questions that will help students when storytelling,” I boasted. And I was wrong.

The last time I told a story, I decided to script my questions. I followed the circling technique to a T. I asked:

  • A question to which students answer yes
  • An either/or question
  • A question to which students answer no
  • A question with a question word (who, what, when, etc)
  • A personalized question (using new vocab, students had to answer about their lives)

And man, did it work. Did student pay better attention? Yes. Did students hear infinitely more repetitions of the target structures? Yes. Did I know if students understand what was happening as it was happening? Yes. And did student get a chance to interact with new vocabulary and structures? YES YES YES.

I’m actually really amazed at how simple it is to ask a series of questions, and how much better retention students had of those target structures than before. It was amazing, and I recommend it to anyone looking to either tell stories, or to increase the language they use with their students.

Monday, I’ll be telling a story to my level 3s about a magic statue that walks around an art museum. It seems silly, but I hope that they like it. Maybe when I finish the script, I’ll post it here (please encourage me to do so, or I’ll be too “scared” to do so)

Now my challenge to myself is to find great activities to work with after the story is over. I need extension activities, retelling activities, etc. What are your favorite activities for after stories? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Fearless: step 1 – Target language use

Before I get into this post, I am not advocating that you charge ahead into decisions before you think them through. That would be irrational. And I am only occasionally irrational.

Okay, so I’ve gotten some great feedback and varied interest about my #oneword2015 – fearless. Really, this was the push that I needed to take my classes to the next level – public accountability. So, I’m here to tell you of the wonders and failures that have happened recently.

The first thing that I decided to do: some kind of 90% TL system for my kids, levels 1-AP. If they have to speak the TL, then I have to model great behavior for them. So, I jumped right in. The first day of our new semester was familiarizing ourselves with the new program, and filling in a cheat sheet of relevant questions and phrases (“I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” “Can I speak English?,” “Can I go to the bathroom, nurse, locker, drinking fountain, etc.”

Now, choosing a system was not easy. I knew that I could be #fearless and start using the TL myself, but that wouldn’t exactly mean my students would follow my lead. I’ve been pouring over different systems for months. I originally wanted to go with Cristy Vogel’s French-only “Paie-moi” system, but with so many classes, the logistics are hard. I know my students, and I know that they would cheat. If you don’t know the system, any time a student uses English, another student who hears yells “paie-moi!” and once a student racks up 10 points, they have to write a suck-up letter to her in French. Students are allowed to write in English, mind you, but not allowed to speak it unless absolutely necessary, and when that happens, it’s outside of the room. If Cristy herself speaks English and is caught 10 times, she bakes her students brownies. My students would love this, because they know I make the most delicious cheesecake swirl brownies in the world. But this would be a lot for me to keep up with. In a few years, I do plan on switching to this plan.

The plan I went with comes from none other than Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell over at Musicuentos (are you really that surprised?) where each student gets a set number of dollars at the beginning of each class, (#8 on her list) and these dollars “bail them out” when they need to speak English. Once they’re out of dollars, speaking English will cause their grade to fall. This lets kids ask complex questions at the novice level, or tell me that story that they can’t hold in until later, and get through those “DUH, I KNEW THAT” moments without initial consequence. I’ve also started giving myself the same number of dollars, and students love making me pay up. I’ve also started asking my students “Can I speak English?” in French, and they have to say yes for me to continue. Some students nod like their head is about to fall off, and others want to tell me “no” so that they can watch me struggle. Either way, I know that I’m pushing them, and I think that it’s important to give them the option to hear more French before I switch to English.

Even before I was sure that this is the route I wanted to take, I explained the system to my students so that I had no way to back out. I bought play dollar bills a few months ago, and I laminated them with the help of a fantastic library aide (they were individual dollars and we had to push 8 through the laminator at a time to not waste the film!) Then, my loving, wonderful, too-good-to-be-true husband helped me cut them out. All 150 of them. And the next day, though my hands were shaky and I was instantly worried about my decision, I passed them out. No turning back.

My laminated "bank" of dollars. Also, check out my adorable mug that has a sweat coozy!
My laminated “bank” of dollars. Also, check out my adorable mug that has a sweat coozy!

And I’m loving the system so far. I’ve been really reluctant to speak with my French IIIs. I don’t know why. They’re definitely intermediate level, but when they think listening, they think terrible textbook exercises and crazy accents. One girl, giving up a dollar, shouted, “I understood ALL OF THAT” after I explained a concept to her table in French. I’ve also been able to joke with them. I don’t think they thought speaking French all the time would be their teacher talking about how she met her husband (we’re on a unit about love and friendship) and saying that she robbed a cradle because she’s “hyper-cool.”

I did fail this week, and part of my #fearless journey is recognizing where i went wrong and coming up with a solution. I was trying to give directions about filling in some cloze blanks, and I was getting those deer-in-the-headlights stares. I was gesturing, modeling, drawing, and saying the best cognate I could (blanc in French is blank) – still nothing. So we went with English. It was not the end of the world, and the kids still managed to complete the task. This week at #langchat, Amy Lenord shared her strategy: never make directions an interpretive task. She shared that she either uses English directions on the (smart)board while saying them in Spanish, or to have them written at the top of a paper, while saying them in Spanish. I plan to rectify my “fill in the blank directions” this way – she even advocates keeping the directions to your most commonly used activities saved so you can pull them up on a moment’s notice. Thanks for the advice, Amy!

I think the first step to being #fearless is doing something before you have a chance to question it. Before the fear trickles into your mind and you’re afraid to look silly, or to fail, or to wonder if you’re up to the task.

What about you? What #fearless things have you done this year? I’d love to hear your stories! And speaking of stories, look out for my next post on storytelling: coming soon!

My first storytelling experience!

Whew. Today was a day of a lot of target language for me. This has me excited about the potential for storytelling in my classroom. Here are my immediate reflections:

  • I’m not very good at answering my own questions … maybe I should script fake answers?
  • Not sure on the best way to have students draw. Should they draw in frames, or on a whole sheet of paper with arrows?
  • Next time, they definitely need coloring supplies. I don’t know why I didn’t get them out today.
  • I need to review a list of cognates. Thinking of them on the spot is hard.
  • Today was a trial run, but I immediately see the need to have structures that are repetitive/new/intriguing for students.
  • How were kids STILL NOT paying attention to this?!

Okay! So the first story I told was with my French III class, who are more likely than not still novice high after two years of grammar-based instruction. We’re on a “Help Me!” unit about going to the doctor, etc. I want students to be able to narrate a story, in this case, what happened to you before you went to the doctor. So, Bob and his friend Jeff (who had no eyes or hair, btw) went to the movies with their friend Sylvestre who was a penguin. They ate tons of White Castle hamburgers, (apparently they sell those at the movie theatre in town?! GROSS!) getting sick, and throwing up, prompting a visit to the hospital. As was the pattern in most of my stories today, someone died.

In both of my novice French I classes, we’re in a “What do you like to do?!” unit. So we told a story about a guy named Pierre who didn’t like to go outside, was lazy, and only did inside activities. Then he met another girl and she loves to go outside! What should they do together?! In both stories, Pierre dies. In one story from being allergic to cats, in another for going outside to an amusement park. When he died in the second class, one of my kids who thinks my class is boring (see my last post) said “This is AWESOME.”

Things I learned from this experience:

  • I need to be clear that suggestions should be given in French
  • These kids, who think that they can’t understand anything spoken to them in French, did REALLY well.
  • Questioning is key. I don’t know what to do when there are lulls in the story, but questioning might fill those.
  • I definitely need to have a better outline in my head/drawn out before we go. It went much better with the second story that I did because I knew what should be coming next.

I’m still amazed by how many students talked to the person next to them, didn’t draw, stopped drawing and started reading, etc. How was telling a story where a guy dies STILL NOT ENGAGING for them? Is this my fault?

The last thing I’m really unsure about is how to stop extraneous talking during the story. It seems that everyone (ESPECIALLY my novices) needed to translate out loud, or say if they like that, or comment on my (terrible) drawing, or talk to their friend right now. How do I stop that? It’s probably my classroom management, working against me, once again.

Today was a scary day, but I didn’t chicken out, and my students seemed to respond well for the most part. This looks like it’s going to be the start of a great journey into storytelling. Plus, when I finalllllllllllllllllllly get my AppleTV for my classroom, I’ll be able to record my stories on an iPad app, so students that weren’t there can hear them fresh the first time, and I’ll be able to reflect and hear myself (bleck) and the things I needed to improve!

Do you have any advice for telling stories in class? What do you like to do for follow-up activities? How do you get those kids to stop commenting on everything, at least in English? I’d love to hear your input or advice … and I’ll be updating you on the storytelling process again soon.