Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thinking about thinking about Newtown

For hours I have been composing this post in my head. When I sat down to write it, I stared at the blank page. I wrote something. I deleted it. I wrote something else. Then I deleted it again.

What can you say?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to beat the post-conference letdown

This past weekend, I went to the annual ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) conference in Philadelphia, PA. Not only was it my first time attending the conference, it was also my first time presenting to an audience of strangers. I've presented to my colleagues at school and at a very small local conference, but presenting at ACTFL was a totally different experience. I think I was a little star-struck. First of all, it was massive. I think there were around 7,000 foreign language educators in attendance. There were so many sessions to choose from (and so many of them led by people I know through my Twitter PLN) that it was a bit overwhelming. And I was really nervous about my presentation, which was a discussion of the impact of iPads on language learning. I worried that no one would come, or that the technology would fail me, or that people would heckle me. But soon I realized that, at a conference like that, you have a friendly audience. Unlike a faculty meeting or mandatory professional development, you have to want to go to ACTFL in order to go to ACTFL. The experience of being around 7,000 people who love teaching and learning language can be totally exhilarating... and then it's time to go back to school on Monday. Now what?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Crowdsourcing: the 21st-century jigsaw

When you teach without a textbook, you spend a lot of time looking for good materials to share with your students. As I mentioned in my previous post about using news media in lesson plans, it can be exceedingly difficult--not to mention time-consuming--to compile level-appropriate and relevant resources that correspond with curricular themes and focus language structures. This is an area in which a class with 1:1 iPads, or really any handheld device with internet access, has a major advantage over a traditional class: you can just turn all that background work over to the students. I call this crowdsourcing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Relevance through media literacy

Superstorm Sandy blew through my state this week. Luckily, in my area there was relatively little damage and fewer power outages than during Winter Storm Alfred and Tropical Storm Irene last year. School was canceled for two days, and my original lesson plans had to be scrapped. I knew that when classes resumed on Halloween, my students would not be at all interested in the topics we'd been discussing for days: comparisons of American and Spanish governments (Spanish 4) and current global issues (AP Spanish 6). They'd be wanting to talk about either Halloween or Sandy. Or both. So? If the mountain will not come to Mohammed...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Day One Redux

One of the good things about teaching is that you get do-overs all the time. Bad year? Do it better next year. Boring unit? You get to do a different one soon. Ineffective lesson? Reteach it tomorrow. This month, I got to roll out iPads again in one of my classes with a new group of students and a lot more wisdom than I had eight months ago. Here's what I did differently.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

21st century skills... without technology

So, I'm lucky in that students in one class have iPads (which I will distribute to them on October 1), but what happens in my other classes that don't have iPads? Most of them--but significantly, not all of them--have smartphones, but since students don't have access to the school wifi, our work with smartphones is limited. What's a tech-geeky teacher to do?

Monday, September 3, 2012

How Evernote makes lesson planning better

Up until last September I wrote out my lesson plans as a cryptic list of agenda items squeezed into one of those tiny boxes on the pages of the lesson planbook handed out to all of the teachers in my school. Using pencil (to make it easier to revise plans if necessary), I created a kind of shorthand that only I could decipher, sketching out daily and weekly plans as I hunched over my desk or pretended to monitor student behavior during cafeteria duty. (Oops. I mean, as I diligently observed student behavior during cafeteria duty.) At the beginning of a new school year, it was always my intention to go back and reflect on what I had done in the previous year. But the pages of the planbook had rubbed together from constant use, smudging the penciled notes and rendering my old plans illegible. So I relied on my memory and my computer files to guide me through the curriculum. As I realized that I had to consciously integrate ACTFL standards and proficiency guidelines, Bloom's Taxonomy in its revised and digital forms, and 21st century skills in order to improve my teaching practice, I realized that the old paper planbook, with its tiny boxes and smudgy skeleton lesson plans, had to go.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Begin as you mean to go on

Years ago, I abandoned the first-day ritual of reading through the syllabus. Instead, my students and I get to know each other by playing Human Bingo or Two Truths and a Lie or other icebreaker games. This has worked pretty well for the past few years, but I decided to shake things up a bit this year.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

6 New [School] Year's Resolutions

In the last two weeks of August, I start getting butterflies in my stomach. I visit my classroom and visualize the best possible seating arrangement. I start reading all the articles, books and blog posts on education that I've been meaning to get to all year. I spruce up my teacher website and start planning the first week of lessons--HOTS! Active learning! Creative collaboration! Mobile technology! All in the first week! I convince myself that this is the year that everything will go right. Obviously, this fluttery anticipation and idealistic planning do not last long. At all. Maybe to mid-September. But I think that a period of disconnected dormancy (July) followed by a period of excited planning (August) can be healthy for our professional lives. The question is, how can we keep the August spark from dying out?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A virtual art museum

In the last week before exams, everyone goes crazy. It's mid-June--or, if we are unlucky like we have been for the past two years, it's practically late June--and we're all ready to be DONE. I'm a little crazy, for sure, and I think my students are just counting down to the end. In the past, I've tried to cram the curriculum that I didn't get to into the last few days, or I've done "global review" in preparation for the final exam. This just adds to the craziness and the desperate countdown. So this year, I made a promise to myself (and to my students) that we wouldn't succumb to the madness; instead of forgetting about the good pedagogy and just sucking it up until it was all over, we'd actually do something memorable and worthwhile.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


So I haven't written in a while... since May, to be precise. In my mind, I have three posts outlined, especially one about the virtual art museum my students created in the last couple of weeks of school, but summer is removing all sense of urgency from my activities. Let me rephrase: summer is removing the urgency from all school-related activities. Hence, a post about unplugging.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why teaching with iPads is like a layer cake

A lot of people have been asking me how the iPad pilot is going. I usually give the short, politic answer, which is "Great!" And it is great, despite my whining about the problems with going paperless and snafus in management. One of the cool things about every student having an iPad is that you can layer skills in ways that are not feasible in traditional classrooms. A layer of content, then a little frosting of technological literacy, then another layer of collaboration, then some frosting of media literacy, then another layer of critical thinking, plus a layer of accountability frosting... it's a beautiful, towering 21st century skills cake. (Please forgive the extended metaphor. It's almost the end of the school year.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paperless vs. Paper-full

When I first found out that the educational technology department wanted to give me iPads, my immediate thought was "I'm going paperless." Actually, my first thoughts went more like this: "Awesome! ... Oh crap. ... Maybe I can finally go paperless." So far I've had my share of "Awesome!" days and my share of "Oh crap" days. Surprisingly, most of my "Oh crap" days occur when I'm trying to eliminate paper.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tweeting Allende

I've been having a pretty rough couple of weeks, and tonight I don't much feel like reflecting on what went wrong and what I can improve. I'd rather focus on something that I had a lot of fun with today in my advanced Spanish class. We're reading La isla bajo el mar by Isabel Allende, and while the process hasn't been without its struggles, everything seems more attainable when you're working with a motivated, creative and enthusiastic group of students.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To flip or not to flip

I've been hearing a lot about Khan Academy for several years, but until recently I would only get blank stares from colleagues when I mentioned it. But this past Sunday it was the subject of a 60 Minutes segment, and I have a feeling that soon the blank stares are going to be replaced by vigorous nodding.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On getting the answer right at any cost

Something very interesting happened in my iPad pilot class today. We've been studying Spain's royal family, and I created a web-based formative assessment that integrated an audio clip about the recent embezzlement scandal that has shamed the Borbones with a few comprehension questions. Little did I know that this activity would lead to a total breakdown of integrity and academic honesty.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A failure and a success

A couple of weeks ago, I had both a failure and a success in my iPad pilot class--good examples, I think, of what doesn't work and what does work when you integrate technology into instruction. 

My lesson went like this:

Questions and (some) answers

Who are you and why are you writing a blog?
I'm a high school Spanish teacher. I've been teaching since 2003. Although I love my job, my subject, and my students, it wasn't until I decided to integrate more technology into my lessons in 2009 that I really began do exciting things in my classroom. I began reading blogs... I got an iPad... I joined Twitter... things just began to snowball.