Friday, December 30, 2011

Final Success!

So, the race to the end of the semester is finished and all of the grades are in. The last unit assessment and the finals went pretty well.

First, let me talk about the unit assessments. The assignment was for the students to have a conversation with another student about their future plans. The idea was that they would use some of the vocabulary from the unit and the future tense. However, I found that only a small amount of vocab was used and virtually no future tense. I got a lot of, "en el futuro, quiero ir a Harvard." However, the students did have CONVERSATIONS! There were virtually no awkward pauses and dead silence. I did have stronger students whispering hints to slower students. I did have quite a few conversations that seemed to involve very few verbs. But, one of my main goals was for the students to have a conversation, and that did happen. I think in hindsight that thinking I was going to require a specific tense was probably ridiculous....I mean as long as they are communicating, what difference does it make what tense they are using?

Final exams went really well. The average was about an 82 across all of the classes. The students performed at the level that I expected for each one of them (i.e. my lowest students got Ds, high students got As.) The final consisted of listening, writing and reading. There were 10 multiple choice and 5 short answer questions. The students seemed to do well on all of the sections.....however, it was amusing to see some of my 8th block kids provide written answers to the question I had asked my 6th block

I am working on my start for next semester. I am looking at using Google Voice for weekly speaking activities and having 15 min of reading time at the beginning of each class to work on a short story reader. I am still toying with the idea of taking the last 15 for wrap up......might save that for next year when I see how this semester goes.

Can't wait for Spanish Civil War Unit....the hard part will be not going overboard with the history facts. Since the kids have no idea about the Spanish Civil War, I want to give them main players and broad strokes. Maybe it will even help them out in history class!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Finally, finals!

So, after almost an entire semester (finals are next week), the majority of complaining about the flip has ceased. Students grades seem to be spot on, in comparison to past years and the students performance in Spanish II. There are a few exceptions, but they have extreme circumstances. For instance, I have a student that is usually an A student who has a C in class. But she missed some class and never came in to do a retake of a quiz.

I am looking forward to our last Unit Assessment, which is a conversation about the students futures. We have done quite a bit of practice, and I love hearing my students say "Hey I can say way more than I thought I could!". I feel like their listening and speaking have improved quite a bit over the semester....much more than their peers from previous years.

I will say that since there are so few quizzes (6 for the semester) and only 3 Unit Assessments, the kids can be in big trouble if something goes badly wrong. For example, I have 6 students that wrote their fairy tale (the Unit Assessment for the last unit) with a translator and they received a 0. They are all looking at Ds right now. After the Unit assessment next week, there grades should improve, but they can never truly recover from something like that happening.

Some students have asked for more quizzes, shorter vocabulary lists, and there are a few holdouts for a word bank. However, I really don't believe that 35-40 vocabulary words every two weeks is excessive. I keep hoping that they will choose to study over the entire 2 week period instead of always waiting for the last minute.

As I believe I have mentioned, every student can retake every Benchmark Assessment (or quiz). They are required to have "a ticket" which is more practice for grammar, or writing vocabulary words a certain amount of times. I have increased the "price" for the retake as we have continued through the semester, hoping to encourage them to do it right the first time, and for many of them, this has worked. Still, I am surprised by how many students never take advantage of the retake. When I talk to them about it, the answer I usually get is that they are too busy with sports or their other classes. Sad :(

The Final Exam for the semester is going to be an application of the material that they have learned this semester. This is making some of my students crazy, because they want a study guide, a list of exactly what will be on the test, etc. I have told them I am not giving a grammar or vocabulary assessment. They are going to do a writing sample, which will be a letter based on our fairy tale unit. The prompt incorporates fairy tale vocab, future tense and direct and indirect objects. The example I gave them to try was as follows:
  • Cinderella lost her shoe again and the prince found it. Write an email that says: 1. When you will return it, 2.  When you will get married, 3. Where you will live after the wedding.
The listening section will be a listening that I gave them earlier in the year. (I have told them that the listening would seem familiar, but the majority seem to not get it). It is from the Challenges in teen life unit. It is a video where a girl is telling about her life. The first time I gave it to them, I had them make a list of unknown words and define them. This time, I will give them some open ended questions that they will have to answer. When I write them, the questions will include verbs in the perfect tenses.

The reading selection has presented a bit more of a challenge, and honestly I am still wavering between a government reading and a legend. I am probably going to use the government reading but ask simplified questions. I have decided that I am going to give them the reading first and then after 10 minutes give them the questions. I am SO tired of students not reading things, just finding the answers to the questions.

So, my plan is that the final will be fairly easy if they did their work all semester. I think it will be way better than my exam of old which had the reputation of being "scary" and a "monster". I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ACTFL Conference

So, if anyone out there is going to the ACTFL conference and wants to chat, email me at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

And the teaching goes on......without me

As I sit at home with a sick daughter for the second day in a row, I am thankful yet again for the flip. I don't have to worry about finding a sub that some knowledge of Spanish. Nor do I have to show a dumb movie and lose a whole day of teaching.

My students are in the classroom. They are currently working on the future tense and learning vocabulary about the government and future choices. I did not have to race to make sub plans, they already knew what to do. They will (and often do) email me with questions.

I love the flip

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Parent Teacher Conferences

So, as I was finishing up Unit 2, we had fall Parent/Teacher conferences. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting. The flipped classroom is pretty new in my district, and only one other high school teacher, a Chemistry teacher is flipping. We have a lot of students in common and although we are flipping differently - she with flipped mastery, and me with just the flip - I was ready for some parents to be "flipped" out.

Actually the comments I got were almost completely positive. I have one set of parents that thought it was so much better for their child and were almost as excited as I was. Only one conference, where the student said " I don't like having to teach myself" was I sad about. It was a student who has never really said anything about the flip in class. Actually, she has missed quite a bit of class for some family issues, so I would have thought that it was working well for her. During the conference, I reminded her that she is not 'teaching herself'. I am still there to help with work and answer questions every class period. We just use our class time more effectively because the students can take the notes at their own pace. The mom seemed ok, but I don't know about the student.

It made me wonder how many other seemingly fine students were really upset about the flip and just not saying anything. I had already planned on a year-end evaluaation, but now I wonder if I should wait that long. Maybe I should do a little something at the end of each unit? Hmm.....

Onward to Fairy Tales

So, changes made, grades decent, we were all ready to move on to the next unit - Fairy Tales.

The students seemed to be resigning themselves to the idea that the flip wasn't going away. We were settling into a groove. Students were watching videos, work was getting done. I did a cute warm up with vocabulary flash card pictionary that went well. Then, it came.......the Benchmark Assessment.

Who would have guessed....the grades were TONS better. The were mostly Bs and Cs. Hardly a 37 in sight! Thank goodness, I felt so much better. Some kids still needed to improve, but across the board it was so much better. I was actually happy to give the assessments back.

We continued on. The kids did fairy tales in Spanish skits. I found a great book with shortened skits and the majority of the kids dressed up, memorized their lines and everything!! (On a side note, one of the APs got hit with a flying pumpkin from the Cinderella skit, which was amusing!)

Benchmark Assessment 2  came, Sadly, the kids didn't do as well. This time, I was writing notes on the top of papers, telling kids who hadn't done well on any of them to come see me. Guess what, when they came to see me, some were honest about the fact that they hadn't studied. I have a few who have decided to come in for extra help. I have a few I think I have convinced that they should ask questions, not just say "I'm ok" if I ask if they need help.

I know have a briefcase full of fairy tales to grade. A quick perusal tells me that the translator wrote a few of them. I actually had a student come to me yesterday to check over a story that she had pretty much totally written via translator. Did she think I wouldn't notice? Sigh. She rewrote the story in her own words, thankfully. We shall see how the grades turn out.

I am already contemplating re-writes. Should I let them do it? I actually gave them a chance to turn in rough drafts and hardly anybody did it. Hmm.....fodder for another entry later.

When in doubt, talk it out

So, on the last day of Unit 1, I started informally polling the students. What could be done differently? Why can't you do better on the assessments? What can I do? What can you do?

I went back to the basics.....the kids can sometimes identify problems more easily than I can (I often over think things), and getting their input and acting upon it is the best way to get their buy in.

So, some of their suggestions weren't going to work, I was not giving up on the flip. No, I was never going to give them a word bank on the quizzes. NO, not even an English word bank. (Seriously!!)

Some were  great. Yes, I would number pages in the packet so that they could find things more easily. Yes, I will move supplemental materials to the back. (Because they refuse to look at them unless absolutely necessary.) Yes, I will go back to some warm up activities. (I thought they always hated those!)

I also made my own list. Maybe instead of using activities from texts, I should take the time to use the vocabulary in the exercises. (Honestly I was kidding myself that I wouldn't have to do that). When I have conversations with the students, I have to make sure I am forcing them to use unit vocabulary. (Sure it is more fun to talk about current movies and the football game, but they need to practice their new vocabulary too.) I also thought that maybe I should make each of them a  class calendar in addition to the assignment sheet and give them some time to plan the unit and how they want to break down getting the work done.

So, I made the changes, and the kids noticed! I am in this with the students, and it's great to remember that and for them to realize that too!

Thank God for Unit Assessments!

Well, thankfully, even though the kids grades were not improving the way I wanted on the Benchmark Assessments, the Unit Assessment projects looked much more promising.

I had begun the Unit by going over my expectations and putting the kids into groups. I had given them a small amount (and I do mean small) of time in class to work on scripts, etc. The kids had the last two days of the unit to finish up a few tasks and work on their project.

I have to say, clearly, many of the kids were reading their "memorized" scripts, but at least the majority didn't look like they had never seen the script before. They Spanish was all pretty good, and some of the videos were genuinely funny. Check them out under Spanish III Class Projects on my website

So, with the Unit Assessment, my students grades greatly improved, and the grumbling about dropping my class at semester seemed to die down.

But, that didn't really take care of the root problem, did it. I had to find a way to fix the gap in their performance on assessments and their knowledge. After the Unit Assessments, I could tell that the majority of the kids got the why couldn't they do better on the Benchmark Assessments?

What to do????

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is the problem flipping, the new curriculum, or both?

With the early success of the review unit, I was excited to get started on the first full unit. It is called "Challenges in Teen Life" and I thought that with the flip we would be able to get so much more accomplished and the kids would be able to do so many fun things with this unit.

When I passed out the unit assignment packet, there were plenty of wide-eyed looks. I kept reminding them that these were all of the assignments for the entire unit - 5 weeks. The unit assessment was going to be a video project done in a group. I began the unit by having the students choose either a Judge Judy format or a Jerry Springer format. Then I divided up the groups. I wanted to have some amount of say in the formation of the groups so that no one person was left out, and I also didn't want to have a group that was totally composed of weaker students. Everyone had some of their friends in the group, and almost everyone was happy with how the groups shaped up.

Then I went over the highlights of the assignments and due dates. I made sure I pointed out when the assessments were and what would be on them. We also discussed the new format of the assessments. There would be two benchmark assessments and one unit assessment for each unit. The benchmark assessments would be on vocabulary and a grammar concept. The vocabulary would be in fill in the blank format, not just a regurgitation of a list. The students all nodded and got to work.

When the day of the first benchmark assessment came, I knew something was wrong. I was about to hand out the assessment and I was asking if there were any last minute questions. Students asked me to define to ostracize, to define to conform. These were words that were on their vocabulary list. Not only did they not know what they meant in English, but they were only now asking me what they meant!! How do Juniors not know what these words mean?

That was only the beginning. I had no sooner handed out the quizzes that the students started to look like deer in headlights. They started asking for hints, for a word bank, and my favorite "could I please tell them one this word means?". I had given them practice worksheets for the vocabulary that were in the same format as the assessment. Many of the questions on the assessment had come directly from the practice. I told them all to do their best, and I was confident my reign of "tough and mean" teacher would continue.

The assessment grades were a disaster. Yes, I did have a few As - there are some students that will always get them. However, most of the grades were Fs, and not just Fs, low Fs....37, 26, 14. I was really shocked. What went wrong? Was it me? Was it the flip?

After the I handed back the assessments, I talked to the students. It would seem that many didn't really study, and the ones that had studied did it right before class. And yes, in my effort to use vocabulary that would enable them to discuss teen issues, I clearly went over their head.

Luckily, my plan had always been to allow the students to retake the assessment if they needed to. So, I chalked it up to experience and knew that the next one would be better. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The next one was a little better, but still more than half of them were Fs. Worse yet, many of the students didn't take advantage of the retakes, so the grades were in the toilet. We were six weeks into school, and I had kids planning on dropping at semester. What was I going to do to make this better???

Overcoming problems and objections

So, the first mini-review unit went off without much trouble. My idea had been to start with the review so that I could iron out any technological problems and the students could get used to the idea of the flip before we started working on anything new.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should backtrack a little.

I made videos for the grammar topics using Power Point and Camtasia. I had decided to follow many of the ideas for how to run the flipped classroom from the conference at Woodland Park High School over the summer. One of the most important things I learned about using the videos for lectures was not to require that the students watch the videos. I know, this sounds nuts....but, I think it is a good idea because if nothing else, it helps to overcome the "I didn't watch the video, so I can't work" excuse. There are also some people that just won't like the videos. So, if students don't want to watch the videos, they can take notes from the book, or from another website. My bottom line is I don't care where you get the information, I just want you to get it.

I only had two students that weren't able to watch the videos because of technology problems, and these were overcome by using Camptasia to make the videos in a .wmv format and putting them on the students' flash drive. I did decide that next year, I will probably add flash drives to my students supply list to make sure that everyone is prepared should there be issues.

The other main technological problem came from something I have no real control over. My school blocks access to YouTube, which is the easiest way to publish and watch videos. So, I am also using I post the videos on the website using YouTube and then I add a link to the video on Screencast. This way, whether the kids are home or at school they can easily access the videos.

Keeping the students focused and on task is going to be the hard challenge to conquer. They love working together, but they seem to be having trouble staying on task for the class period. I think that some of this has to do with being on the block schedule. 90 minutes is a long time to stay focused. I am finding that even the best students seem to be "done" with about 15 minutes left in class. So, I am going to have to work on ideas to keep class focused for the entire class period.

Challenges and all, I can really see how this is going to pay off. I am excited to keep going.

Beginning the flip!

So, with new curriculum outlined and power point videos made (well, at least for the first unit), it was time to implement the flip. But how was I going to explain this to the parents and the students?

First I started with the parents. I decided to take a proactive approach. Since our wonderful grading system could send a letter to all of our parents easily, I set to work writing the letter. I outlined what a flipped classroom would look like, what my expectations for students would be, and what I would be doing during class time. I read it, proofread it, sent it to colleagues to proofread it, then sent it off to the parents about a week before school started. Then I waited.

I was sure that I was going to hear from some parents. I was ready with my explanation of why I was flipping, how I thought this was going to improve student achievement, how I expected things to work in the classroom. And I continued to wait. Amazingly, I didn't hear from one parent before school started, or in the first weeks of school.

So, the next task was getting the students on board with the new system. Even though I am accustomed to being thought of as the "tough" and "mean" teacher, I knew that if I couldn't get the kids to buy into the flip it would be dead in the water. Luckily, we have a crazy schedule for the first day of school, and I see all my classes for 20 minutes....the perfect amount of time to talk to them about the flip.

I was grateful that although the parents did not say anything to me about the flipped classroom, many of them had talked to my students about it. So, many of the kids had a basic idea of what was going to happen. I talked with them about how much time I felt like we have wasted in class - waiting for students to copy notes, having some students drawing pictures in their notebooks while others begged "don't change the slide yet!".  As I talked about this, I watched as my students nodded in agreement, and breathed a sigh of relief.

We talked about how I would make the videos, and how they could watch them on their time, rewinding them, stopping them, and going at the right speed for each of them. I explained how they would never miss a lecture again. I also gave them their first packet - which made them cringe. I will admit, it looked a little intimidating. I explained how the packet contained two weeks worth of work. I went over the assignment sheet with all of the assignments and deadlines outlined. All of the students seemed to like the idea of being able to work on their own and in groups. I was excited that there was no major pushback at the onset.

With the first day done, there was no looking back. We were off and running, and I couldn't wait to see how successful this new format would be!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thematic Planning Part 1

Thematic planning actually started before I knew anything about flipping. Our department always goes to the CCFLT conference each February, and since it was in Colorado Springs, Elyse and I had decided to share a room so we didn't have to drive back and forth. In hindsight, it might have been the best money I ever spent.

We went to a day of sessions, and then started talking about what we thought our kids really needed to learn. What did they need to accomplish at the end of level 1, 2, 3? Why were we pushing all of our kids so hard when a second language was not the end plan for the majority of the students? Why were we following a textbook that didn't teach things in an order that made sense and was full of meaningless vocabulary?

So, we sat down one night and decided what we thought each level needed to learn (keeping state standards in mind of course). Once we came up with a good list of grammar, we thought about what themes we would like to use. To do this, we thought about: 1)what the kids were always trying to say in class, 2)Themes that would encourage them to speak in the target language, 3) Themes that build well on one another to acheive our "learning goals: outlined above, 4) Things we wanted to do in class but didn't fit in with our current curriculum.

It took tons of work. We had many discussions and thought really hard about what would be the best way to help the students achieve success, and hopefully to decide to continue on with their language studies.

Here is what we came up with for levels III and IV:

Spanish III
Mini Review Unit - grammar, vocab, etc at back to school
Unit 1 - Challenges in Teen life
Unit 2 - Fairy Tales and Legends
Unit 3 - The, school, voting *trying to focus on governement
Unit 4  20th Century - Spanish Civil War is a big focus here
Unit 5 - Detective and Crime Stories
Unit 6 - Technology

Spanish IV
Mini Review Unit
Unit 1 - Communities and Culture
Unit 2 - Environment
Unit 3 - Current Events and Media
Unit 4 - Art
Unit 5 - Short Stories
Unit 6 - Games

Flipping my classroom, why??

I wanted to start writing down my experience with the flipped classroom because I am learning so many new things everyday and I wanted to have a place to document what I have done, right and wrong, so that as I go forward I can continue to improve. I also want to share what I have done with others who are thinking about flipping, hopefully this will provide some help/support.

For anyone who finds this who wonders what flipping a classroom is all about, it is basically creating videos of your classroom lectures for students to watch at home and do what is traditionally thought of as homework during classtime.

When I first heard about this, I was intrigued because I knew that I needed to spend more time working on conversation and speaking with my students, but we spent so much time on grammar, I could never give it the attention it deserved. Also, I was giving my lectures using Power Point, and I felt like we wasted so much time waiting for some students to take notes. I had really had enough of "don't change it yet" and "I am still writing it down" and "go back" which of course was a small number of my students, but enough to hold up the rest of the class.

Last year, I also had to teach AP Spanish for the first time, and after going to the training to learn about the test, I realized that our students were in trouble. It wasn't that we hadn't been teaching them enough in AP, or even III, but that they hadn't been doing enough from day 1 in Spanish class.

This training was also eye opening because I realized that there were so many ways that the curriculum needed to improve. There were so many topics that were on the AP exam that we never even really got to in class, and there wasn't enough time to cover all of them during the AP class.

So, as I made my way through last year, I started looking for a new way to do things to optomize my classtime and include all of the topics and concepts that would help my students be able to be more successful on the AP exam if they decided to go that far.

So, at the CCFLT (foreign language) conference in 2010, my favorite German teacher and I attended some sessions together that led us to the idea that we should have thematic units instead of following our text to cover all the topics we knew we needed to get to. As we worked on that, I still searched for more, because being the teacher that loves technology, I knew that there had to be a way to get more done in a way that would appeal to the kids and me.

After much wasted time on the Internet, I stumbled upon the flipped class idea.

I started to think that this might work, an when I discussed the idea, I discovered that my dad, a science teacher, and a Chemistry teacher at my school were also considering the flip.

Luckily, Aaron and Jon, whose website we found, were having a conference last summer not far from home, so my favorite Chem teacher and I made the trek, and I don't think we have looked back yet!