Interviews: assessment FOR learning

Term 1 is just about done! This year is really flying by. Everyone is making great progress and hopefully having a lot of fun at the same time. I just finished giving oral exams, in the form of a 10 question interview to both my Spanish 1 and Spanish 3 Honors classes. Overall, students did very well, with class averages between 89-93%. I asked my Spanish 1 students to reflect on the experience of taking an oral exam, since this was their first set of interviews and the feedback was very positive. They said they really liked not having to have a long written test, that they were so excited to get their results almost immediately and although they were nervous to sit down face-to-face with me, it was worth it to know that they really can SPEAK in Spanish, even this early in Spanish 1.

Thanks to my amazing colleague, Tricia Moloney, and the awesome Chrome “add-on” she found this year, sending our students the results of their interviews got even easier and faster. This add-on allows us to type in a student’s email and the Google form that we use to grade students will be automatically sent to them on submission. Students can go right back to their seat and see only the questions they were asked (10 of 20 that we practiced all semester) along with some feedback as to what type of error they made.  Because they recorded the interview, they can go back and listen to identify and correct any mistakes. This is a great opportunity for growth and a skill in itself. In this situation, technology has really improved the learning opportunities students have.

Last night, I was giving students credit for their test corrections via Google Classroom while watching catching up on the day’s events on CNN. About 2 minutes after I left a a comment letting a student know why he didn’t receive complete credit for his corrections but also congratulating him on his efforts, I got a reply from the student. Check out the screenshot below:

interviewmotivatesme screenshot

Ok. It was late, so we can ignore the typo. But the message is clear. This assessment and ability to reflect on it is MOTIVATING him to keep up the effort. YES!  This is the opposite of the “crumple up the test and throw it in the trash” that we all have seen so much of. I’m sure he had no idea how happy his comment made me and how much of a motivator it is to keep trying new ideas when it comes to assessment FOR learning.

Skyping with Spain!

It’s been a very busy fall! I can’t believe that I haven’t had a chance to post about my trip to San Sebastián, Spain. Missing an entire week of school in September was a challenge, but it was SO worth it! I hand-wrote a blog entry on the plane ride home but never got around to typing it! So, if you’d like to know more about Nipmuc’s exploratory trip to Donostia in the hopes of creating a student exchange program with the Sta. Teresa school there, please check out AP Moran’s post on Mr. Clements’s blog or Superintendent Maruszczak’s blog! I’m going to write a little bit about how the relationships that I’ve formed there are impacting what’s going on in my classroom right now!

Although it took a little while to figure out how WHEN to Skype due to the 6 hour time difference, my new friend Begoña, the head of the English department at Sta. Teresa, and I were able to connect in real time in class twice last week. The first try was short due to come technical difficulties, but the second time we worked around those and also came up with a better strategy for running our conversation. Instead of having the entire class on camera, we set up pairs that were prepared to speak on a certain topic in either Spanish or English. Since we both want to practice L2, we are going to have to thoughtfully decide which language to speak and when. Of course, the students didn’t necessarily follow our instructions in the excitement of the moment and there was more English spoken than Spanish this time. But that did not impact my students’ enthusiasm – staying into break to keep talking with their peers in Spain! I experimented with @Snagit to record both sides of our Skype conversation and I’m hoping that in the future, I’ll be able to review the recordings with entire class.

Later on in the day, one of the students who traveled to Spain with us for the exploratory trip showed up in my room to let me know how awesome it was to see a “familiar” face on the other side of the computer when she saw the photo that I had tweeted of the Skype call. I’m not exactly sure how things are going to go from here, but I know they are just going to get more and more exciting and REAL! I’ve started a Flipgrid in order to help us connect and not have to worry about the time difference.  In addition to personal introductions, I’ve asked students in Spain to share their views on topics like bullfighting, Columbus Day/Día de la Hispanidad/Día de la Raza and the current situation in Cataluña. How amazing it is for my students to be able to hear from their peers in the target language on the topics that we have been discussing in class! Actually, we have another teacher at school whose daughter is currently teaching in Córdoba and after our discussion in class today about the Arabic influence in Spanish culture, I’m hoping to convince her to send me some Flipgrid videos of her students showing us examples of Arabic architecture, art and culture that abound in that city. And of course, in return, our students will be able to answer questions about the English language and life here in the USA.

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Our next step forward in our planning for our in-person exchange next year is an informational meeting for parents and students.  We hope for a good turnout to match the enthusiasm we have seen so far in San Sebastián. In the meantime, I hope to continue to improve both the quality and quantity of our digital “exchanges” and help my students to find an authentic use for their language skills!


El estudiante secreto…

IMG_0579I spent some time this summer thinking about ways to motivate my students to speak in the target language in class. Specifically, I’m interested in helping to motivate my Spanish Immersion students to stay in Spanish when they are speaking to one another. In general, they are happy to participate in class discussions and address me directly in Spanish, but when they are given time to work in groups or individually, their conversation tends to be in English. My efforts over the past few years to encourage them to talk to each other in Spanish have turned into nagging and students get tired of it pretty fast.

While on Pinterest, I found a post about a “mystery student” classroom management method and decided to give it a try. We are only a week or so into using this strategy, but students have really seemed engaged by it and the amount of Spanish I’ve heard has gone up drastically.  Here’s the details: I tell students that we are going to pick an “estudiante secreto” and then determine a length of time (or set of activities) we will use the mystery student for. I pick a student’s name randomly and place it in an envelope without sharing the name with the class. If the student whose name I picked stays in the target language during the determined length of time, that student earns a prize (so far it was a couple points on the first vocabulary quiz of the year). The catch is that there’s also a happy and sad face on the board. As we work, if I hear other students speaking in English, I put a hash mark under the sad face. If I hear good use of Spanish, I put a hash mark under the happy face. If there are more marks under the happy face than the sad face by the end of the set time period, I reveal the secret student. If not, then we simply skip it.

So far, every “estudiante secreto” has been revealed and won a prize! Last block today, the “game” lasted almost the entire hour class! And… during the last 5 minutes after I had revealed the name of the “secret student”, and students were having their own conversations, they continued IN SPANISH! Hooray!

Making memes out of refranes

In Hispanic Civilization, Culture and Literature (the 10th grade immersion class), we started out the year by posing the question: what is culture? So far, we have discussed culture’s visible and invisible aspects as well as the forces that impact one’s culture. We determined that studying and understanding culture can help improve communication as well as be a lot of fun (more to come soon on my AMAZING intercultural experience in Spain this week!!). I asked students to identify 5 elements of their own personal culture and share them with the class, giving me another opportunity to learn about them as individuals (and some new English vocabulary– do you know what it means to be “sendy?”) Lastly, we discussed the impact it can have when someone ignores or judges you for an aspect of your culture.

Our first vocabulary list of the year is a list of refranes or dichos, which are sayings or idioms. Each language and culture has their own and I felt like this was a great list to explore as we discuss the impact of culture on society.  While I was away this week, I asked students to choose one of the “refranes” and create a meme for it. There were some excellent and entertaining results! Here’s a few of their creations:

Playing games

H2P_cribbageI recently came across a blog post titled “Board Games Will Save Us” and it caught my eye because of the large picture of a cribbage board at the top of the page. I have such wonderful memories of playing board games with my family growing up and I hope to share those types of experiences with my son in the future. Most significantly, I cherish the many hours that I spent playing cribbage with my father (and my sister – we had a one of those 3 player boards!) My father used the game as a way to spend quality time with his daughters, and he taught us important skills without us having a clue we were “learning.” We were having fun, competing and giggling. But, as an elementary school student, this time playing cribbage helped me learn how to add, subtract and multiply in real time. How to make 15s? How many points to peg? How many points is a double run of 4? I was authentically motivated to memorize that basic math so I could beat my dad and I also gained valuable experience with winning and losing. I didn’t really like to lose, but I learned to take it in stride and ask for help so that I could learn from my mistakes.

Over the past few years, we have talked a lot at school about growth mindset and helping students develop the mentality that will help them see mistakes as an opportunity for learning. Games are a great way to do this! At school, online formative assessment tools like Kahoot, Quizlet live, and Quizizz turn a “quiz” into a game and students often can’t wait to start the game “again” in order to improve their score and learn from their mistakes. Can’t say that happens often with a paper and pencil quiz.

Students really enjoy playing these games, but we all know that sometimes we need a break from technology. More and more, my classes are asking me to take out the “low tech” games of the past, because interacting with each other face to face is also lots of fun and very important to our relationships. This year, our world language department is turning to games like Jenga, tangrams, Story cubes, Scrabble and others to get the year off to to an engaging and productive start! I’m excited to include more games (both high and low tech) in to class this year!


Student Spotlight!

Bret Hackenson is a member of one of my Block B Spanish 1 Honors and a real pleasure to have in class!

bret hackenson pic for blog

Nombre:  Bret Hackenson

Clase:  Spanish I

How many years have you studied Spanish?:  I have studied Spanish for three years.

(Hobbies) Pasatiempos:  I enjoy cooking, playing video games, drawing, and going for walks.

(Favorite Food) Comida Favorita:  My favorite food is roasted unsalted peanuts.

(What are you hoping to learn in class?) ¿Qué quieres aprender en la clase de

Español?:  I am hoping to learn how to speak Spanish fluently enough to talk to a Spanish-speaking person.

(What I like most in this class) Lo que me gusta más en esta clase:  I like games of Quizlet Live most in Spanish class.

(What are we currently doing in class?) ¿Qué hacemos ahora en la clase?:  We are currently learning about idiomatic expressions with the verbs ir and tener.

(Dicho Favorito) Favorite Quote or Saying:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci


Can you believe it? April vacation is almost over and we are already a few weeks into the last term of the school year! As advisor to this year’s senior class, I’m very aware of how close we are to graduation! As seniors get ready to flip their tassels and head on to the next step of their lives, the work that we are doing right now in 21st Century Skills related to goal setting and future career plans seems extremely relevant. Students started off the unit by making bucket lists and this term, I added a gallery walk of those Padlets, asking students to find others in the class with similar dreams as them and encouraging them to “steal” others’ ideas. I’m including a few examples in this post. We next created SMART goals from those bucket lists and most recently have written newspaper style articles visualizing ourselves as having completed one of those goals. I’ve posted them in the classroom as a daily reminder for both myself and the students of the great work they have ahead of them! And we all know that money plays a large role in our ability to reach our goals, so students have worked through 3 modules in the Everfi Financial Literacy Program, learning about different types of banks, various savings vehicles and beginning a conversation about credit cards and their impact on our spending habits.

In Spanish 1, we finished up Term 3 with our cara-a-cara (face-to-face) interviews and students impressed me with their efforts. The 20 questions for Term 3 are really more than that; most questions have a blank that can be filled in by one of the 30 regular verbs we have learned so far. That really opens up the possibilities that students need to be ready for as they are asked 10 of those questions. Students in Spanish 1 are solid in their verb conjugation skills and ready to move on to irregular verbs in Term 4. We will cover -zco, go-go and boot verbs as well as comparing the verbs saber and conocer, which both mean “to know.” Before vacation, we watched the classic movie, “Man of La Mancha” as a way for students to become familiar with the characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, as well as the life of the author of the first novel written in the Spanish language, Miguel de Cervantes himself.  We will use the characters as topic of conversation as we continue our study of vocabulary and grammar in Term 4.

Our Hispanic Civilization class is finished with their study of Spain and right on time as several of the students in the class traveled to Spain with Ms. Reardon for April vacation. I have seen some of the pictures and can’t wait to hear their recap of the trip! After our study of the Arabic influence in Spain as well as importance of bullfighting to the Spanish culture, I hope that their visits to the Alhambra and the Plaza de las Ventas were even more thrilling! During Term 4, we will turn our focus to Latin America, starting with a survey of the Incas, Mayas and Aztecs and then moving to more current political and cultural topics. I hope to be able to share some of my experiences traveling to those countries with students as the year comes to a close.


My sophomore immersion class is currently studying the Spanish Civil War. After getting down the basics, we will be watching segments of a movie called “La lengua de las mariposas,” which is set in Spain at the beginning of the war. It follows a young boy as he begins school and starts a relationship with his teacher, who is a Republican. As the Nationalists gain ground in the war, the townspeople have to choose sides, splitting both friends and family. In addition to watching this film, students are also studying Pablo Picasso’s representation of Guernica, commissioned for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. In class today, students identified elements of Picasso’s mural and then put together a 4’x 8′ poster of the masterpiece. Picasso’s original is in black and white, but I asked the students to color in the poster. It was a way for them to single out the various elements of the picture but also, to relax after a long day of taking MCAS. Check out their work!

World Language Week 2017

World Language Week here at Nipmuc is always a lot of fun and this year has been no exception! The sophomores presented their food trucks this afternoon and did an amazing job coming up with fun themes, delicious food and excellent research!

My sophomore immersion students are almost at the end of a unit of study on the cultures of Spain and today we created posavasos or coasters out of ceramic tiles in the style of the azulejos found in Moorish-style buildings in southern Spain, such as the Alhambra. Students used the app “IOrnament” to design the tiles and then with the help of Mrs. Clish, one of our art teachers, we printed the designs in color and the decoupaged them to actual ceramic tiles. With a bit of felt added to the back, they are instant (and gorgeous!) coasters! Students enjoyed creating them and definitely had an appreciation for how much skill it would have taken the original artists to create these geometric designs by hand.

Tomorrow, Spanish 1 students will be participating in the International Buffet, where they will wear the t-shirts they have been creating all week. Each student was given a country and asked to do basic research on its culture and economy. On the t-shirts, students created a license plate with elements representing unique aspects of that country, as well as the name and outline of the country shape on the back. On Friday, they will each bring in dish from that country to share with their classmates. Its always a lot of fun and students are able to try food from all over the globe!




Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten to know the students in my new 21st Century Skills classes. Its been a lot of fun to find out more about each individual student and things that interest them inside and outside of the classroom. They started by stumping me with some pretty fun “2 Truths and a Lie” on their name tags, and making a class playlist (so that they wouldn’t have to listen to music in Spanish all the time!) Next, they shared their areas in which they considered themselves to be experts. Students answered questions about HOW they became experts in these topics, drawing attention to the most important 21St century skill of them all(at least in my opinion!), learning how to learn.  We defined many of the most commonly known 21st century skills, giving personal, academic and professional examples and students made Imovie trailers showcasing these skills as demonstrated by individuals famous in their field of expertise. Additionally, students created Pinterest boards containing information that would help a complete novice get started in that field. Lastly, students made an infographic on the Canva app showing the 21st century skills they feel they excel at already and those that they think they need to work on the most.

It really has been great to see the variety of topics that my students feel passionate about: creative writing, snowboarding, cooking, swimming, horseback riding, soccer, jazz, acting, volleyball, playing various musical instruments, and drawing just to name a few!