Teacher Life ~ Participation GradeTracking

As a Spanish teacher, participation is key for my students’ success. My gradebook allows me to make seating charts with student photos. As you can see in the picture, I have 6 different clipboards just itching for my new seating charts–I teach 6 49-minute class periods a day. Throughout each class, I keep tally marks of participation. In the past, I took a grade every 6 weeks. This year, we’ve moved to 9-week grading periods so I plan to do one every 3-4 weeks. 

So how do I assign a grade? In on level classes, I give them a number to reach for full credit. I do not let them get less than a 70 unless they refuse to participate at all. There are many interventions before it gets to that point in my classroom.

 In honors/IB, they have to get the class average or higher. Again, they cannot get lower than a 70 as long as they are actively trying.

So what gets them points?

  • Answering questions in class
  • Sharing ideas in class
  • Participation in an activity (sometimes I offer 2-3 points for hard, collaborative group work)
  • Speaking to me in Spanish before/after/outside of class
  • Sharing an experience using Spanish outside of school with evidence (photo/video/receipt)
  • Other ideas they come up with and get approved

All in all, I’ve had much success with this over the years and cannot believe I forgot to do this last year! That’s what I get for taking a year off!

It is important to note that I keep the students in the know about their points. They can check on them during passing period or before/after school. I know there are apps that allow us to do this as well. I prefer the paper route simply because the apps I have don’t allow my room configuration and I already have the photo seating charts created for me in gradebook.

IB Language B Internal Assessment Practice


I am new to the IB world this year and jumped in with SL Spanish.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look here).   One of the areas where students need much practice is with picture descriptions for the internal assessment. In the real thing, the students describe a picture and then have a conversation with the teacher about it. The process involves a 10 minute recording. With 80+ students, it is notpossible to practice this regularly with each individual. So I decided to use something old school in a more effective way. Here’s how my students practice using role play.

  1. I partner students on our language lab (this could also be done face-to-face).
  2. I have the students decide who will be the “student”  or the “teacher” first.
  3. I put a picture on my screen (could be physical copies if need be) and give them 5 minutes to take notes.  The “student” takes notes to be able to present for 3.5-4 minutes over the picture/topic.  The “teacher” writes questions to engage with the student for 5-6 minutes.
  4. After the time is up, the student begins the presentation (I record this on my lab, students could record on the voice memo app on their phones).  I keep a stop watch up and when 3.5-4 minutes arrives, the teacher interrupts and begins a conversation with the student.
  5. After the conversation time is over, I have the students use the appropriate IB rubric to peer assess.  I play the recording back and the student self-assesses while the teacher peer-assesses.  Once the recording is over, they discuss where they would put the student on the rubric.
  6. Then they switch roles and we begin again with a new picture.

This activity takes an entire class period, but is worth doing every other week or so.  I am conducting my orals the week after spring break and am confident my students are prepared!

Disecting… the prompt, that is

I have been grading like a banshee this past week, trying to get all of my 2H interpersonal speaking exams graded before my level 3 students take theirs tomorrow.  What became abundantly clear through norming and my hours of grading is that these students do not understand how to disect a prompt.  They completely ignored multiple aspects that to the teacher appeared to be explicitly laid out in bullet form.  Out of 87 honors students, only 8 completed the entire task requirements. 8!!!!

Recognizing a problem and an accidental teacher failure, today I decided to experiment with my level 3 students.  We began class by doing a partner speaking practice.  I put the prompt on the screen, gave them 2 minutes to think, and then off they went.  I recorded them on the lab for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes I stopped them and handed out a sheet with a checklist version of the same prompt.  I then had them listen to their recording in order to check off the components they completed.  Guess what.  The majority admitted to not completing all aspects of the task–many barely completed half of what the prompt required.  Guess what else.  Only 4 students said a teacher had ever taught them how to disect a prompt.

Can you guess what we did next?  That’s right, I put another practice prompt up and had them take it apart and reword it into a checklist.  Then we did the practice.  The students were much more successful the second time around.

So why hasn’t this been an issue before?  Sure, I’ve had students not complete all aspects of a task, but never to such an overwhelming degree.  Why is that?  Well, the answer is simple, our students are requiring more rigor, and we are delivering, but we unintentionally have not properly helped them figure out what tools they need to use to be successful.  We’ve given them tools, they just didn’t realize which ones were necessary.

This is fascinating to watch.  I have watched our performance-based curriculum evolve so much over the last 8 years.  This evolution has been based on research and on the evolution of the students we have in the classroom.  What a great time to be a teacher in a world language classroom–or as we call it in Plano, a LOTE classroom. 🙂


Credit: I did learn how to break down an English prompt at the AVID Summer Institute and intended to create a lesson before our first assessment.  Oops!  Wish I hadn’t forgotten until now!

When classes are too big

This is not a complaint post in the traditional sense.  In fact, some may be surprised by what I have to say.  My classes are all sitting at about 33 students.  My classroom has 36 drop down lab stations meaning my classes cannot go over 36.  I am fine with taking up to 36 students–I know, that may sound insane, but it is the truth.  3 of my 6 classes are level 3 on-level, and I am the only person on my campus who teaches that course so far this year.  We are 3 weeks in, and the 3 honors students are dropping like flies.  The solution from Admin is to combine 2 classes of 3H (and redistribute a few of those students), then open another section of level 3 on-level with a different teacher.  Then some of my students will be shifted to the new section with someone else.  It is the only solution to leveling out the on-level classes, but that does not make it any easier.

Now let me preface the next part with something that must be said: this teacher who will add a section of on-level is FABULOUS!  I adore her as a friend, colleague, mentor and teacher.  The students are LUCKY to get her and she will love them as much as I do too.  Still, I am sad to lose any of my students :(.  I am not sad because I think they won’t succeed with someone else.  I am sad because I have invested so much in them, and am already in love with my classes.  I know I am being selfish though.  Class size definitely can affect student success when students struggle.  I know in my heart that it is better for them to be in smaller classes to receive more individualized attention.  Nevertheless, I will miss anyone who is moved from my class.

This type of thing happens a lot in elementary school.  In fact, I recently heard from some friends about losing teammates 2 weeks in.  The enrollment was not high enough so they combined classes at that school and transferred the teammates to another campus that had higher enrollment.  That’s rough!  Not only did they lose their students, but their whole school and friends.  At least I am not in the market to lose all of my students.  How awful that would be!!!!

Right now, nothing is set in stone.  Our Admin is awesome and respectful of our wishes.  She agreed to give it a weekend to see what happens as performanc-based quiz grades go in.  We want to see if that inspires students to stay in 3H or drop down to on-level.  So I am still holding onto hope that only 1 or 2 more drop so I can keep them all.  If you are a praying person, pray that the students stop dropping! 🙂  Thank you!

And yes, I know I am crazy.  I have 192 students right now, and am willing to add more :).

Peer Editing for Success!


Please ignore the horrible grammar, but enjoy the joke 🙂

Peer editing can easily become a waste of time, but I’ve tried several different ways and have hit on something engaging and beneficial to the students.  The idea I’m going to discuss tonight is a modification to Expert Groups which I learned about this summer at the AVID Summer Institute (are you tired of hearing that yet?).  Basically, I have 6 different tasks for the students to complete as they read.  Rather than have them read 1 paper and complete all 6 , I have them each read 6 different papers, doing something different with each paper.

For example, while reading the first paper, they must circle the first word in each sentence.  Why?  If every sentence begins with, “I,” perhaps they have forgotten to incorporate transition, sequencing and flavoring words.

With paper 2, they underline every verb.  It’s harder to write in L2 than L1.  Students tend to have a few favorite verbs, and this encourages them to consider more variety.

On paper 3, students draw a box (not rounded) around every transition, sequencing, flavoring word they find.  ACTFL doesn’t list that as something novice writers and speakers can do.  Come to Plano ISD, we’ve proven they can!

After reading paper 4, students write a specific positive comment about it.  I give good and bad examples.  I don’t want, “That was good.”  I do want, “I like how you transitioned from one idea to the next by using the transition, on the other hand.”

After reading paper 5, students write a specific suggestion for how the paper can be improved.  Again, I give good and bad examples.

Finally, I repost the original prompt/task, performance expectation, and requirements.  Peers note what the author included and what is missing, along with counting the words.

By breaking it down this way, the students do not get overwhelmed or feel inadequate to complete the peer edit.  Notice, I do not have them check for grammatical errors–though I always tell them that if they see something questionable to mark it with a “?.”  Editing in the LOTE/World Language classroom can easily and effectively be done with a little guidance from us.

The Detention Queen Abdicates


Every year, I average 10 detentions the first week of school.   Almost all are after a private warning of, “I need you to stop talking or you’ll get a detention” when students test just how true to my word I am.  See this post for a more detailed explanation and my true feelings about detentions.  As a level 2 and 3 teacher, I always have some students for 2 years.  On the second day, my second-year-students asked me, “How many detentions have you given out already Mrs. Barber?”

This year, I have not even discussed consequences with my classes.  Not once.  We spent the entire first week setting the tone and team building.  We jumped into curriculum week 2, and I have not given many independent activities.  During the couple we’ve had, I have not had to warn anyone to stop talking.  Everyone did what was expected of them.  Every. Single. Student.  However, I have had to give out 3 detentions due to inappropriate language that I just could not ignore (students, do not say bad words when a teacher is nearby!!!!)

I had to have a substitute on Friday so that I could proctor credit by exam for native and heritage Spanish speakers at my school.  Normally, before I have a sub, I go over my expectations and warn them that if the sub writes a name down, that student will get a detention.  This time, I changed my speech.  In every class, I told the truth.  I said my sub is my good friend and a mentor to me, she knows Spanish, and she’s super-excited to spend the day with my students because she knows many of them from other sub jobs, and she automatically loves my students because she loves me.  I did not mention anything negative whatsoever.  I kept it positive and got the best sub report of my entire career.   At lunch on Friday, she told me that she kept asking the classes if they were always this wonderful–my morning classes are on-level.  At the end of the day, she said there were not enough words to compliment how perfect the day was.  I cannot wait to tell my classes tomorrow!  I cannot wait to brag on them!

I tried something new this year, and it worked.  I know that some teachers thought I was crazy to “waste” an entire week when we have so little time to get in all of the curriculum.  I’m a realist who maintains her ideals.  I know the value of having my students on my side.  I did what was necessary to make that happen.  We will catch up curriculum-wise.  Setting the tone is crucial and not something that can easily be altered if not begun properly.  I want to look back on this year as my favorite.  I want that every year, and this year may give all my other favorite years a run for their money :).

So, I guess the Detention Queen has to pass the title on to someone else.  I’m prepared to give them out if I need to, but I know that people give you what you expect.  I took a week to show my students how important they are to me and that I genuinely care about them.  Additionally, I have held them to high standards as students and people, and so far, every day has been a wonderful blessing.

I hope and pray that all my teacher friends near and far are having as much fun as we are in my classes this year!

Break some ice: Impromptu Speeches

I love icebreaker activities and have plans to throw them into the middle of class periods as espresso shots here and there.  This activity was first introduced to me this year at the AVID Summer Institute.

Teacher Prep:

  1. Create several questions or topics.
  2. Write them on notecards (or type them and save them).
  3. Make enough copies for each group to have a set.



  1. Put the students into groups.
  2. Handout the baggies.
  3. Go!


Student instructions:

  1. Your teacher will put you into a group.
  2. Decide who will be the timer.
  3. You will receive a bag of questions.
  4. When it is your turn, draw a random question out of the bag.
  5. You must respond to the question by talking for 60 seconds.  Other group members may not interrupt you, comment, and/or ask questions.  You must fill the entire 60 seconds.  When it’s the timer’s turn, someone else must act as the timer.
  6. When all group members have gone, return the questions to the bag and give it to your teacher.

I plan to explore a modification in which after each speech, two people must ask follow-up questions.  While thus far I’ve only used this as a get to know you activity done in English as a part of my setting the tone week, I cannot wait to use it in the target language.  It will provide a fun way to possible combine presentational speaking practice with interpersonal speaking practice.

The Four Corners of Collaboration

Today we began content, and I was worried.  Why?  Well, we spent an entire week on team building and setting the tone, and it was a lot of fun.  Last week is a tough act to follow.  All weekend, I thought about my plan for level 3.  Part of the day would involve a a vocabulary brainstorm that I’ve done various ways in the past.  I wanted a way in which I could make it engaging for every single person in the room.  So we did Four Corners*!

There are different ways to do this activity, but here’s how I did it.  I told my students to choose (and move to) a corner of the room.  Naturally, the groupings were uneven so I did “nose-goes**” and sent people to different groups to balance things out.  Next, I gave each group a different category on a medium-sized piece of butcher paper and set a timer for 5 minutes.  In their groups, students brainstormed as many words as they could that fit the category.  Students could use phones to look up unknown words.  After 5 minutes, students rotated to a new corner where they had 3 minutes to read the the list and add words not already brainstormed.  After each group visited each corner, everyone returned to their seats and we processed the activity by discussing which categories were easier and which were harder.  We then segued into what they thought the new unit was going to be about.  They seemed intrigued, and they did not hide the fact that they were having fun.

At the end of every class period I heard students saying, “Spanish goes by so quickly.”  I agree.  My days are flying by because we are having so much fun every period of everyday.  I hope that is everyone’s experience right now!

*I learned of the activity Four Corners at the AVID Summer Institute last summer.

**Nose-goes: when someone says, “Nose goes,” the last person to touch his/her nose must do whatever it is that no one is willing to do voluntarily.

Day 2… What did we do?

Yesterday we collaborated about collaboration in one of the collaboration spaces in our school :).

I LOVE the collaboration spaces in our school; two are empty, two are furnished with tables and chairs.  The empty ones are great for activities like Philosophical Chairs and the furnished ones are great for group collaboration–I especially love to move there for learning stations because it means I don’t have to rearrange my classroom.  My friend and colleague, Rebecca Gould, did a similar activity last year, though I improvised when I could not exactly recall how she did it.

One of the furnished collaboration spaces

One of the furnished collaboration spaces

Yesterday, I arranged the tables to have 4 or 5 chairs, and allowed the class to choose the first grouping.  I gave some guidelines based on class size.  For example, my class of 32 had to sit 4-5 to a group.  No more than 5, no less than 4.  With 7 tables, it worked perfectly.  I gave each group a piece of butcher paper and had them divide it into 4 quadrants.  With the first grouping, they had to brainstorm what collaboration does not look like in the top left quadrant.  I encouraged them to think about their worst group work experiences.  After about 5 minutes, I had each group share out, and I took notes on my own butcher paper.  Here is what students had to say:

  • when one person does all the work
  • when one person is bossy and uncompromising
  • when some of the group is on their phones
  • when members are talking to people in other groups
  • when people blame one person for the bad grade
  • when people don’t talk
  • when people are off-task
  • when people are distracted
  • when 1 person has to supply all the materials

Then, I had 2 people from each group stand.  These students had to find a new group but could not join the same group as the other person leaving the original group.  In this new grouping, I had the students brainstorm what collaboration does look like.  In my first period, I actually did this first and discovered it was a lot easier for students to come up with bad examples than good example, so in 2nd-7th, I switched the order.  Once again, we shared out as a whole group and here is what they said:

  • working together
  • having fun
  • staying on task
  • respecting other people and ideas
  • contributing
  • meeting the goal for the group
  • listening to the other people

Next, I had the two students who had not yet moved find a new group with the guideline that they could not be in a group with anyone they had already worked with today.  In this grouping, the students came up with a concise definition of collaboration.  Here are just some of the awesome definitions they came up with:

Some definitions my students wrote

Some definitions my students wrote

Finally, I allowed them to stay in this grouping (we were running out of time) and I asked them to think about what should be some non-negotiables for collaborating in our Spanish classroom.  I was mostly looking for, “speak in Spanish” but I also had a couple of other ideas:

  • don’t make fun of anyone’s bad pronunciation
  • help others with vocabulary they don’t know
My example from a class period

My example from a class period

Now, let’s be honest.  I could have gone over expectations for collaboration in about 5 minutes, but would they really have thought my rambling was that important?  No!  Would it have been meaningful at all?  To many, no!  After we did the activity, I praised them.  I said, “I feel really good about collaboration in this class.  From hearing your discussions and things you shared today, I know we all have the same goals for successful collaboration, and that makes me extremely excited for the things we will do this year.”  In some classes, we even gave ourselves a round of applause. 🙂

Just say “no!” to homework

After hearing my students complain about how much homework they have already on day 1, I feel it’s time to propose a revolutionary idea: say “no” to homework!  Yes, teachers, I’m talking to you.  Don’t assign homework!  Use your class time effectively, evaluate every activity and if it’s not worth taking class time to do it, then it probably isn’t worth doing at home either.


I am on both sides of the classroom.  I’m a teacher and I’m a parent to a student.  My son had more homework in 1st grade than I gave out in high school Spanish 2 and 3 last year.  That’s absurd!  The only homework that I felt was valuable to my first grader was the required reading time.  He was allowed to choose the book, thus making it enjoyable for him, and I watched him grow exponentially as a reader in the first month.  Beyond that, utilize the time in school.

In an ideal situation, homework may not be that bad if every child got home from school when school dismissed–though research disagrees by saying it is detrimental at the elementary level and questionable at secondary.  My child’s school ends at 2:45.  My contract hours end at 4:30, but let’s be honest, it’s next to impossible to leave then.  This year, my husband is home from Afghanistan so we are not a single-parent household.  When we were, even if I left at 4:30, I had to pick up 2 kids at 2 different places and drive home.  We would be home at the absolute earliest at 5:30.  Then we’d have to fix dinner, eat, bathe, and find time to do homework.  My then 6-year-old would fall asleep on his own around 7pm from exhaustion.  Thankfully, he did most of his written homework at the after school care, but we still had to fit in reading (our commute was 20 minutes so he often read in the car in the mornings with me updating his time in his planner in the carpool lane).


Students are in school all day long, and then we send them home to do more work without the teacher present.  Do you like to go home and do work?  I sure don’t, and I do my best to get as much work done before leaving as possible.

So, now I challenge you to rethink what you are doing in class, but especially what you are sending home.  If it’s not worth class time, it’s probably not worth home time either. Use it as a classroom management tool as well.  When it looks like it may be a challenge to get through everything we need to, I tell the students, “Here’s what we must accomplish today, whatever doesn’t happen, has to go home with you.”  All it takes is 1 time to be the only class that didn’t finish for the students to make sure to stay on task each subsequent time.


Trust me, students and parents will thank you.  I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m on my 6th year of no homework and my students succeed every single year.

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