Mindset graphic


Are you sitting down?

After 9.5 years in the classroom, I have decided to resign from my teaching job and work my side business (Plexus anyone?) from home while being there full time for my family. This news has seemed to shock many, but it’s what is best for my family right now.


Here’s a chair for you

While I am sad to leave my students, and I am excited to be room parent, go on field trips, pick up my children from school in that awful carpool lane, keep them home when they become ill without thinking twice, have dinner ready at 6 instead of walking through the door after 6pm, et. We can do their homework at 3:30 instead of 7pm–if you’ve read this blog or follow me on Twitter you know how anti-homework I am, but until I can get everyone on board, I am stuck with it for my kids.

I will still be around as I have a passion for language acquisition and proficiency based learning. I am even looking into registering for ACTFL out of pocket–that’s how you know my passion is for real :). I plan to stay relevant by attending workshops and professional development so that if I return to the classroom, I will be ready. :)

Ted Talks: The World’s Killer Diet

This semester, we have been discussing health choices in Spanish 2H.  Jane Shea found this awesome Ted Talks video that was short and relevant to our topic.  Here is her awesome lesson that I totally stole!

1. Students watched this video and took notes in English or Spanish (the video is in English).

2. Next, students were divided into groups to respond to this prompt (in the target language): “Why is what we eat important for our health?”

3. We relocated to a collaboration space.  Students collaborated to come up with the best response to the prompt.  As a part of their teamwork for excellence, each student had to write the same exact essay response as the other group members.  They had 25 minutes to complete the task.

4. Then all papers from each group were stapled together and turned in to me.

5. Finally, I edited, graded on our presentational writing rubric and gave detailed written feedback to each group.  For each class, I had 6 papers to grade instead of the normal 31+.  While I only edited 1 per group, I did flip through to make sure everyone wrote everything.  I had a few slackers who earned lower grades than their other group members, much to their dismay.

This provided a quick and meaningful way to give feedback prior to our formative assessment tomorrow.  We’ll see if it helped :).

4 Corners Continued!

So after this post, I continued the activity at the end of the next class period.  I had the students write an exit card on a post-it note that explained what their favorite meal is and why.  Students then posted their card on labeled butcher paper hanging on the wall in the hallway.  Each class period got a different color post-it.

The next day, each class was allowed to pick 1 post-it of a color different than his/her class.  The students stuck it to a sheet of paper and wrote why they agreed or disagreed with the person’s opinion.  Today, the students got theirs back (it would have happened Friday but I had to leave to take my daughter to the doctor) but due to a lack of time, only had time to read them and discuss with a partner before we went onto another AMAZING activity by Jane Shea that I will discuss on my next post :).

25 minutes: reaching the full potential

I stole this activity from a presentation by Jane Shea and Greg Shields.

1. Have your students participate in an interpersonal speaking activity and record them for 5 minutes.

2. Have students make a T-chart.  Students should listen to the recording and take notes on their partner and themselves.

3. Give the students 2 minutes to take additional notes. (I added that step)

4. Have the students put their pens/pencils down and look over their notes for 60 seconds.

5. Record the students in a 2-minute presentational speaking (comparing and contrasting themselves with their original partner).

6. Playback the recording with some guidelines on what to listen for (like vocab usage, details and elaboration) or give them a copy of the rubric you typically use to grade them to assess either themselves or another (they can trade headsets).

This entire activity took 25 minutes and covered the following:

  • Interpersonal Speaking
  • Interpretive Listening
  • Synthesizing Information
  • Presentational Speaking
  • Self or Peer Evaluation

We clapped for ourselves and patted ourselves on the back for an awesome half of a class period. :)

4-Corners Brainstorm

4-Corners Brainstorm in the collaboration space

4-Corners Brainstorm in the collaboration space

The other day, with only a few minutes to spare in class, I wanted to see what food words my 2H students remember from Spanish 1.  I placed butcher paper in the 4 corners of the room (after 1 class, I relocated to a collaboration space).  Each piece was labeled with “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Dinner,” and “Snack” in the target language.  I gave the students 30 seconds to get to a corner.  Then the groups had 3 minutes to write as many foods as they could that related to the meal.  After 3 minutes, groups rotated.  At the next corner, the students read what had already been brainstormed and added to it.  They cycled through the remaining two corners before we gathered whole group.  At that point, I went through each of the foods and the students yelled out “healthy” or “unhealthy” in the target language.  We got cut off by the bell, which I felt was  perfect timing.  They left Spanish excited and energized and were ready to continue on with the next part of the activity.  To be continued…

A World Cafe Jigsaw

I know, you are probably thinking, “What?!?!” but trust me, this combination of two activities really played out nicely and happened to work in both Spanish 2H and Spanish 3 on the same day.  In Spanish 2H, we were reading one of the Blaine Ray novels (El viaje de su vida) and in Spanish 3, we were reading an article about the Moors in Spain.

1st, we went into one of my school’s furnished collaboration spaces. Students were allowed to create groups of their own choosing; however, in each class (based on size) I limited group sizes.  For example, in my classes of 32-34, I said groups could have no more than 5 students but also no less than 4.

2nd, the groups read a specific section of the text and took notes over pertinent information, including listing out new words they figured out from said text.

3rd, one representative stayed at the table and everyone else shifted over a table.  The representatives shared the information they learned while the new people took notes.  Then the visiting group shared what they learned.  Throughout this part of the activity, students shifted tables 5 more times and learned about all sections of the text.  Representative stayed put and learned as the groups cycled through their table.

This is a useful alternative if the traditional jigsaw is too complicated.  I like to mix things up, so I plan to still use both methods.  Soon I am going to do a true World Cafe activity.  More on that later :).

Intelligence is Irrelevant

This fall I attended an awesome professional learning day led by my coordinator Greta Lundgaard.  This day was spent teaching us about current brain research over mindset.  We took a survey to see where we fell on the spectrum between fixed and growth, and I was not surprised to see I definitely have a growth mindset now.  Google “mindset survey” and you can find documents and online surveys to assess your own mindset.

I spent an entire week setting the tone with my students last fall, and while I do not have that time this semester, I wanted to do something to set us on a positive path.  Thus, entire the mindset survey.

I began the class with my normal Tapa del Día, which randomly related perfectly (I have them all saved on PowerPoints and just change the dates year to year).  Then, I announced my new mantra: “Intelligence is Irrelevant.”  I gave the students time to Think-Pair-Share, and every class had different opinions/insights to this idea.  My 6th period in particular took the discussion to deeper levels than I had even contemplated.

Next, I introduced the idea of mindset and handed out the surveys.  The students took several minutes responding and scoring.  After learning where they fell on the spectrum, we discussed what exactly fixed and growth mindsets are, what research says about mindset and success, and how it is possible to change from a fixed to a growth mindset because mindsets are learned.

I followed up the mindset lesson with a quote about how a teacher answered the question “when will I ever use this?” that I read at my professional learning day.  So how did this guy respond?

* “‘Never.  You will never use this.’  Then he points out that people don’t lift weights so they’ll be prepared should, one day, somebody knock them over on the street and trap them under a barbell.  ‘You lift weights so that you can knock over a defensive lineman, or carry your grandchildren without being sore the next day.  You do math exercises so that you can improve your ability to think logically, so that you can be a better lawyer, doctor, architect, prison warden or parent.  MATH IS MENTAL WEIGHT TRAINING.  It is a means to an end, (for most people), not an end in itself.'”

If I were a math teacher, I would have that hanging in my classroom.  As it is, I am fashioning my own version of this with regards to learning a language.  Stay tuned as I will share it on this blog once it gets done :).

We ended class with an exit card in which students wrote one thing they learned and why it resonated with them.  Here are some of the responses I received:

“I learned that intelligence is irrelevant.  Throughout a lot of my life I thought if I was smarter I would be better at school.  I am smart, I just have to try harder.”

“People with a growth mindset learn more.”

“I learned that we will probably never use what we learn in class, but that is not the point of learning.  The point of learning concepts is to make your brain always be ready to learn new material no matter what it is.”

“Keeping an open mind is good for learning.”

“I understood that what we learn doesn’t have to affect our lives directly to allow our understanding to grow.  It is the way it helps us to think that makes a difference.”

“Growth mindset people do better because they think they can.  Mind over matter.”

“This lesson really struck me. I should stop comparing myself to others and believing that intelligence is innate.  I need to work harder.”

“I learned that math is a means to an end.  It doesn’t matter if it is useless in and of itself; it still helps indirectly.”

So from now on, intelligence is irrelevant in my classroom.  It’s about hard work and never giving up.  There are no excuses, success is in our own hands.


*from Selections from Teaching that Sticks, Heath & Heath

Paper Airplanes & Jigsaw Puzzles

Image I may have mentioned that my school district does not particularly want us to use social media with our students.  The district promotes engaging students with technology, but then severely limits anything that involves communication.  The world language classroom is all about communication, so this attitude can be quite problematic.  So what is a teacher to do?

I recently attended awesome leadership training facilitated by my coordinator, Greta Lundgaard, in which we reflected and commented on each other’s reflections Twitter-style.  We each wrote a short reflection and then passed our papers around the room, mimicking Twitter.  Yesterday, I decided to do a similar activity in my class.

Using one of my Twitter accounts, I posted an opinion on public transportation in Buenos Aires–an opinion with which I accurately felt the students would disagree.  I then took a screen shot and made it into a work sheet.  In class, I told the students to imagine they were perusing twitter and happened upon my tweet.  They wrote a short response.  Then, they made paper airplanes and sent them flying through the room.  Everyone grabbed a new plane, read the conversation thread, and wrote an additional response.  Then we sent the planes flying again.  Students ended up commenting 3 times before receiving their original planes back.  Then, in small groups/pairs, students shared the comments and their personal opinions.


Next, we went into one of my school’s collaboration spaces and participated in a reading jigsaw activity using sorting pencils.  I divided up a challenging authentic article about one aspect of transportation in Buenos Aires into 5 groups.  The 6th group (I have classes of 33 students and did not want humongous groups) had an info graphic on the topic.  Students first were paired by number and read their segment of the article.  They came up with a title for that section and bulleted out important points that supported the title.  They were allowed to use Spanglish because I would rather them take the time to figure out what something meant than simple lift entire phrases from the article without having a clue what they are writing.  After 10 minutes, students regrouped by color and each person shared the information s/he learned.  Some groups did not have every section covered.  When this happened, I would find a representative from another group to come share the necessary information.

Finally, I handed out post-it notes to each student.  This post-it was a ticket to re-enter the class.  The students had to write 2-3 sentences in Spanish about the most important thing they learned today–it had to be new information–and why they felt it was important.

On Monday, we will start class with impromptu speeches about various aspects of transportation in Buenos Aires.  That is, unless we have the ice day all my students are expecting :).

TFLA Conference in Frisco, TX

Friday and Saturday I attended the Texas Foreign Language Association conference in Frisco, TX and had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some absolutely fabulous educators including Clarissa Adams, Amy Lenord and Noah Geisel.  I also got to meet a #Langchat friend, Amber Hawk.

I often take opportunities for optional professional development because I love to learn, but recently, I have felt that other than those offered by my coordinator, there hasn’t been a whole lot that has helped me grow as an educator recently.  I began to wonder if I was becoming someone who thinks I know everything and thinks I have nothing more to learn.  I had been doing a lot of self-reflection when TFLA rolled around.

I was so excited to attend and learn some new ideas to incorporate in my classroom.  I’m a life learner and a perpetual optimist so I had no doubt I would get at least something out of each session I attended–this was a weekend dedicated to world language teachers after all so it had to be a winner.  I went to 4 sessions on Friday and left feeling more or less disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong, I heard about some cool ideas and some interesting brain research information, but overall, I did not get as much out of the day as I had hoped.  Maybe I was becoming someone who thought I knew it all already…  I spoke with some other Plano ISD colleagues, and it seemed to be a general consensus that there was not a whole lot offered that helped us grow.  And then the light bulb went off.  It’s not that we aren’t just as eager to learn, it’s not that I think I know everything.  The reality is, we have come so far with our curriculum development and professional development in the last 9 years that we are ahead of the majority of other world language programs.

So now what?  We need to pay if forward.  Others are going to catch up with us and will be hungry for more like I am now.  It’s now our responsibility to share the wealth of knowledge and experience we have to help others continue to grow and catch up.  I met so many people who want what we have in Plano ISD.  We have a performance-based curriculum that is based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.  We focus on communication, not grammar.  We grade on rubrics and assess with real-world tasks.  We teach in the target language from day 1 and witness our students in level 1 able to converse for 5+ minutes and write 100 words using transition, sequencing and flavoring words after 1 semester.  We are constantly reflecting, rewriting, and evolving.  Every teacher has a drop down Steven’s Learning language lab system in our classrooms.  We have a coordinator who works everyday to make sure everyone knows that world languages are relevant.  We have had amazing opportunities for professional development.  And now, we need to share.

So I am submitting a proposal to SWCOLT about getting on-level students to willingly participate in communicative activities through the use of various techniques including AVID strategies.  Or something to that effect.  I also plan to present with Shelli Brown on activities that support brain research.

On day 2 of TFLA, I went to 3 wonderful sessions that did not disappoint and reenergized me for the rest of the semester.  I enjoyed what I was able to learn at this conference and was quite participatory in the twitter conversation.  So much that I won a free conference t-shirt on Friday.  Check out the great collegial conversation #TFLA13.


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