Conferences & Professional Learning

FLAG 2023 Reflections & Takeaways

FLAG 2023 was a delight! I learned so much from some amazing teachers from around the state. Here are a few of my takeaways:

For teaching calendar vocab

  • Consider circling or doing calendar talk with a full year calendar
  • Go beyond What day is today, what day is tomorrow, what is the date – what about, is today Monday or Tuesday? Are we in the month of August or September? Is it spring or fall? Yes or no, is today Thursday?
  • Make a birthday chart for additional circling/input of months, When is your birthday?, and building classroom community

On Gradual Release teaching

  • I do, we do together, you do together, you do alone – I haven’t been taught this strategy with these words, but it makes a lot of sense to me – give input, practice with supports/scaffolding, then work up to performing without the scaffolding
  • If we asses them without scaffolding/supports, then they need to practice without scaffolding

“The Road to AP starts in Level 1”

What can I as a middle school/Spanish 1 teacher do to start preparing students for success on the AP exam?

  • Practice cultural comparisons. Give students language and practice to describe their own culture.
  • Talk about proficiency levels, and strategies for jumping a level (ie, using transition words)
  • Give students practice reading charts and graphics. If you teach multiple levels, use the same texts with multiple levels and modify your task to the appropriate level (can also be used to differentiate for advanced/struggling students)
  • Provide listening practice with different voices and accents, as well as listening to passages with background noise
  • Have students practice asking questions, and thinking of questions to continue a dialogue, as they have to ask a question in the simulated conversation task
  • Loved this quote: “I can’t turn you into a native speaker, but I can help you speak in a way that native speakers will understand.”

Interactive notebooks – I’ve mostly chilled out with my notebooks – I don’t have students keep a table of contents or number pages, and I let them write vocab and add handouts how they choose. Here were a couple of tips I may still use with my more laidback notebook expectations:

  • Make a laminated table of contents poster on the wall and give a student the job of updating the poster. I think I can still do this without requiring students to maintain a TOC in their notebooks – more of a list of what goes in your notebook than a true TOC
  • Put desk numbers on the front of notebooks. The first student(s) to arrive to class pass out notebooks to avoid a traffic jam at the notebook shelf.

For more of my conference thoughts, check out my twitter.

Conferences & Professional Learning, Teaching in Quarantine

Webinar Notes: Virtual and F2F Engagement with Marcy Webb

FLAG is currently offering a fabulous free webinar series for World Language Teachers. I recently watched Marcy Webb’s session on Virtual and F2F engagement. You can watch the recording here, and check out upcoming webinars here.

My notes on the webinar:

  • Importance of vertical alignment, especially in this teaching environment – acknowledging that we can’t achieve the same results as in past years, meeting students where they are, and selecting curriculum and resources appropriate for the digital environment and skipping activities/topics that don’t translate well to virtual teaching
  • There was some discussion on cameras on/cameras off – I enjoyed hearing the host and presenter’s perspective, which was that cameras on aren’t necessary for engagement, and cameras off for student safety/comfort was acceptable, and even preferable for them. A lot of it stemmed from Zoom bombing issues/student on-camera mischief that the host experienced at her school, and I am grateful once again that my district is using Teams and that our students do not have any blanket of anonymity as to their behavior in video meetings.  
  • Engagement in the digital environment is more than just interacting during synchronous meetings – it also includes submitting work, asynchronous communication (like Schoology messages), and students responding to our feedback.
  • Engagement stems from a positive relationship and trust in the teacher. We will need to work harder to build relationships with our DLs (distance learners). One easy way to make DLs feel seen/included is by greeting each DL by name as they join the meeting. Some of the small talk that we normally do about sports/extra curriculars may be harder to achieve with the DLs, but perhaps conducting interest inventories could give us some insights on what to say to DLs to make them feel seen. I also heard of a roll taking strategy another teacher at my school uses – a quick preference question during attendance, like “Coke or Pepsi?” “Turkey or ham?” – something quick and simple to give our DLs a chance to show their personality
  • Activities: switch things up with lots of different apps and websites or stick to a few oldies but goodies? I think we all have to find our own balance of novelty and familiarity that works for our us as teachers and for our students. I recently tried (alternative for the individual whiteboard activities we do) and really liked it – I blogged about it here. I also checked out, which is a website for creating interactive worksheets. I decided Wizer wasn’t for me, at least not yet – my interactive worksheet needs are being met with Schoology quizzes and Kami for PDF annotation. The presenters also mentioned PearDeck, NearPod, GoFormative, Socrative, and JamBoard, which I may check out at some point in the future.

How do you know your distance learners are engaged? What are your best strategies for building relationships in the virtual classroom?

Conferences & Professional Learning

Conference Takeaways: Prioritizing Remediation Time

CNN: Collaboration Needed Now!

Holy smokes. It’s been an intense three days of learning. I attended Solution Tree’s PLC At Work Institute this week, and I’ve got to say, it was the some of the best PD I’ve attended, particularly considering it was not grade or content-specific (hello, SCOLT and FLAG, you will always be my #1 for PD! 😘).

PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) encompass a lot of big educational ideas: differentiated instruction, standards based/mastery grading, common formative assessments, and data-driven teaching. A PLC must identify the essential learning outcomes, develop common assessments, and then analyze the assessment data as a team. Assessment data informs and drives assessment; if students have not mastered the essential content, they need to be re-taught and re-assessed.

I attended a fantastic session with Michelle Marrillia titled, Do Your Common Formative Assessments Really Change Your Practice? Turning Data Into Successful Secondary Classroom Instruction that gave me some practical ideas for how to integrate remediation into regular class time. She talked about the importance of guaranteed recovery systems – tutoring before or after school is not a guaranteed option, because not all students have transportation to attend tutoring outside of regular school hours. In my school’s case, remediation during our study hall time is not guaranteed either, because many of our students attend the career academy for half the day, and travel between the campuses during study hall. In order for the recovery system to be truly guaranteed, it has to be integrated as a regular in-class routine.

Option 1: Pull students for short & sweet recovery sessions several times a week. Identify the students needing remediation based on your common formative assessment (CFA) data, and pull them for some small group or one on one instruction during independent work time. I’ve done this before with quiz corrections: I give the class an assignment to work on independently (or in partners, or in groups – something they don’t need help/guidance from me on) and I call up everyone to look at their grade and make corrections. We talk about what they missed, I give them a remediation assignment to work on, and we schedule a retake. Michelle suggests giving CFAs weekly (formative assessment should be frequent with data used immediately to inform instruction), with the retake for the previous week’s assessment copied on the back of this week’s CFA.

Option 2: Schedule a longer slot of time for remediation once a week

Michelle suggested reserving one day a week as a “no new information” day for remediation and extension. Some teachers at her school use a red-yellow-green color coding system, with red meaning not mastered, yellow meaning approaching mastery, and green meaning mastered. On the remediation day, students get a sticker corresponding to how they did on the formative assessment and are assigned to a group according to their needs. The following points surprised and intrigued me:

  • The color coding system sounds like tracking. However, at her school, she found students didn’t get their feelings hurt by being in the red group, as it meant they would get the instruction they needed to meet the standard AND a chance to improve their assessment grade. She also shared hearing comments like, “I am NOT going to be red next week!” I think the key here is ensuring that you actually follow through with the remediation in a timely manner and truly provide a path to mastery.
  • The year this system was implemented, standardized test scores went up at her school. I would like to see more research on this point – does less content deeper result in higher scores on state tests? This does kind of make sense – particularly in subjects where success in Unit 3 depends on building on the skills learned in Units 1 and 2, ensuring that students master half the content will show up as growth on the end of the year tests, even if you don’t even skim over the rest of the standards.

I teach on a block schedule, and while I don’t see myself devoting 20% of my class time to remediation every week, my classes are long enough I could reserve half a class period for recovery, particularly if it’s not every week.

Takeaway: I need to prioritize grading CFAs quickly and using that data to provide remediation for students who are red on essential standards. Remediation/enrichment time needs to be a regularly scheduled activity.

Conferences & Professional Learning

#SCOLT19: #AuthRes for the Novice Language Learner

Who’s headed to SCOLT? Me! I am very excited to be representing Georgia as “Best of Flag” with my presentation #AuthRes for the Novice Language Learner. If you caught me at FLAG/SCOLT last year, it will be much the same, but I have updated and added a few things. Check out my slides below, or click here to open in a new tab. I’m sharing tons of links to my favorite sources for finding beginner-appropriate authentic resources, as well as activities to go along with them. I’m also sharing three “ready to go” authres activities that I’ve used with my own students on leisure activities, school, and clothing.I will be presenting Saturday morning at 8:00 – I would love to see you there!

Conferences & Professional Learning, Travel & Study Abroad

Perú – 2018 SCOLT Scholarship Winner

This summer, I had the opportunity to study in Cusco, Perú for two weeks with a scholarship from SCOLT. It was my first time in South America and such a gift to experience in a study abroad setting. As required by my scholarship, I made a video about my trip. Without further ado, here are my travel tips for Cusco!


A partial list of travel scholarships for language teachers:

SCOLT Scholarships: – Deadline is January 31, 2019

AATSP Scholarships: – Deadline is January 31, 2019 – may include a stipend for travel expenses

Central States – – Deadline is November 30, 2018

Southwest States Scholarships: – Deadline is December 31, 2018

I feel like many teachers who are interested in travel don’t apply because they assume they won’t get it or that the other applicants will be better. My attitude is that if you don’t apply, you definitely won’t win! Just by putting in the effort to fill out the application, ask for letters of recommendation and write the essays you are putting yourself way ahead of the majority of potential applicants. I have applied for many scholarships and grants over the past few years and got all but one – which I was the recipient for the next year!*  If you want to travel and have the freedom to do so, study abroad programs are a great way to experience another country. Don’t discount your credentials before you ever apply!


*Also, when you make it a habit to apply for things, you’ll find you can recycle many of your essays! And your recommenders can recycle their letters too 🙂

Conferences & Professional Learning

Post-conference To-Dos: #SCOLT18

Untitled presentation (3)


  1. Go through your notes and conference resources. Do it now, while it’s fresh in your mind, or set a reminder on your phone to do it on spring or summer break when you have more time. Here is an awesome google drive folder with materials from the sessions at SCOLT – go ahead and review the ones from the sessions that you loved, and set yourself a reminder to go through the materials for interesting sessions that you couldn’t attend at a later date. 
  2. Debrief with your conference buddy, department, or any teacher friend you love talking shop with. My conference buddy and I took a “divide and conquer” approach to SCOLT this year, and made sure to sit down a couple of times during the conference to share what we had learned in our sessions. We will repeat that process with the other members of our department over the next few weeks, and possibly in our professional learning days during post-planning. If you’re a department of 1, why not share with a teacher from another content area – much of what I learned (technology tips, literacy strategies, management and organization ideas) could be useful to teachers of various subjects. The process of talking it out not only benefits your partner, but also helps you sort and retain the vast amount of information you took in over the weekend.
  3. Curate your fun new resources. You got a great activity or a cool authentic resource for a unit you won’t teach again until next fall – where are you going to put it so you remember to use it? Here are a few suggestions:
    • Make a thinglink or padlet for the conference with links to new resources and notes about activities and strategies you want to try (and then share it with your conference buddy, department, or other teacher friend!)
    • Download the files now and put them in your unit folders on Google Drive, OneDrive, or your laptop. If there are links you want to save, put them together in a Word or Google doc, along with a brief description of how you want to use them, and put the document in your unit folders.
    • Add authentic resources to unit or topic-specific Pinterest boards
    • Write a blog post about the new activities you want to try (if you don’t have a blog you can send it to me as a guest post!)
  4. Set intentions. Now that you’ve reviewed your notes, talked it over with a buddy, and sorted your amazing new ideas, it’s time to set intentions: what changes do you want to make now? What is one resource or activity that intimidates you, but you want to give it a try? Did you get ideas for routines that need to wait until next semester to implement? Pick out 1-3 ideas and either work them into your plans for next week, or put a note in your calendar to do it at a later date. Don’t procrastinate; if you don’t do it right away it will likely not get done at all.
  5. Follow up with the the many amazing educators you met at your conference. Maybe that means searching #SCOLT18 on twitter and following some new accounts. Maybe you promised to share a resource with another teacher – go ahead and send that email. Maybe you want something another teacher mentioned that isn’t already posted in their session materials – send them an email or tweet and ask nicely for it (and maybe send something their way!). Maybe you drop a note to your conference friends you never see any other time of year (hello Lee, Jaime, Celeste, Joe!) and tell them it was nice to see them again. Or maybe you just contact some of presenters and thank them again for sharing their expertise.
Conferences & Professional Learning

What I learned at #FLAG17

I  had the privilege of attending and presenting at my state’s world language teacher conference this past weekend. I had a great time re-connecting with old amigos and learning from some home-grown teaching stars, and left feeling refreshed and energized. Here are some of the ideas and resources I collected over the weekend:

  1. Session A: Juegos & Actividades/Luis Mora
    1. Lots of resources in this facebook group (try the files tab)
    2. One new thing to try: put the class in teams for a long-running competition. Students win points for their teams for positive behaviors, winning games, using the TL, etc. Give the winning team a prize at the end of the unit & then switch up teams for the next couple of weeks.
  2. Session B: Monkey Mind/Katy McManus
    1. We went through her beginning of class routine of stretching, deep breathing, and positive affirmations. I thoroughly enjoyed her demonstration, but I’m not ready to adapt it as a daily classroom routine.
    2. One new thing to try: when I’m stressed, take a break to stretch and breath. It really does make me feel better!
  3. Session C: PBL Units for the World Language Classroom/Rocio Morrison & Chenee Chisholm
    1. The presenters talked about the whys of PBL and shared two example units, one about Don Quijote and one about educating the school community about Hispanic Heritage Month
    2. One new thing to try: Both these units were designed for level 3+ classes, and I only teach levels 1 and 2. However, I loved Chenee’s Hispanic Heritage month video. I want to use the news clip she took here inspiration from at least as a discussion starter, if not for a whole PBL unit.
  4. Session D: Increasing Opportunities to Engage Learners in Meaningful Study of Language/Carrie Woodcock
    1. Carrie is an administrator in Hall county which has a number of special focus schools, including a world language academy. She talked about ways of improving language programs at a school and district level.
    2. One new thing to try: Carrie encouraged us to thinks about what strenghts our communities have and how we can take advantage of those strengths. She also encouraged us to use parents and the school community as resources. Guest speakers can be very powerful, and parents who speak another language, have a different cultural background, or who have travelled make great speakers!
  5. Session E: Step-by-Step Comprehensible Input Starter Kit/Meredith White & Keith Toda/My vote for Best of FLAG!/Click here for their slides
    1. Oh my gosh, this session was chock full of good ideas! Keith did a CI demo in Latin playing “White Elephant.” He projected the target vocabulary on the board and had a bag full of stuffed animals. He called volunteers up to draw an animal out of the bag (no peeking) or to steal from someone else, with circling and personalization along the way. It was so fun and a great way to target wants and has. I went to this session because I had heard Meredith speak again and I knew she  would have some great ideas, and I was not disappointed! Meredith shared about how she uses “safe social media” with her students with a class SnapChat and Instagram. She talked about her classroom management system (incentive tickets which can be earned for TL use and good behavior and cashed in for different rewards) as well as her themed warm ups. She also shared links (you can find them at the end of their slide show) to many of her own classroom resources and other presentations she has done.
    2. One thing to try: I want to use Keith’s white elephant the first week of Spanish 2 next year, and I will ask my administrator about starting a class Instagram account.
  6. Session F: That was me! I had a blast presenting about Low prep strategies for increasing student engagement and TL use!
    1. My slides are linked on the previous post.
    2. One thing to try: In discussing running dictation, I shared that as a follow up activity I post pictures on the board for students to match to the sentences they write down. One of my attendees suggested having students draw the pictures to demonstrate comprehension and save me the prep time of preparing pictures in advance! Genius!
  7. Session G: Detoxing from the Textbook/Keith Toda/click here for their slides
    1. Keith talked about taking a textbook curriculum and comprehensifying-it. He showed an example of a pretty standard and stilted textbook dialogue, and showed how he teaches those structures with compelling & caring comprehensible input. Before showing the dialogue (the “end goal”) he teaches a pre-view story with lots of different reps. By the time they get to the dialogue, it feels easy and is 100% comprehensible
    2. One thing to try: Read things in silly voices to keep the repetitions interesting! Keith had volunteers read the dialogue like a pirate, like a telenovela, and like you’re underwater. It was hilarious and engaging.
  8. Session H: CI Assessments/Miriam Patrick
    1. Miriam teaches Latin with comprehensible input and shared how she creates assessments for her students  that are compelling, caring, and comprehensible.
    2. One thing to try: ask inference questions about a text and have students justify their answers with textual evidence.
Conferences & Professional Learning

TBR: Professional Reading


Down here in Georgia we got an inch of snow Friday night, so of course it’s Tuesday and I have a report-by-ten-o’clock-work-day. This quiet time in my classroom feels like a gift, so I’ve used some of it to do some reading and reflection.

Whale Done

I have to admit my expectations were low when the admins gave us a book with a cheesy title on our first day from Christmas break and along with a deadline for reading the first two chapters. However, upon completing those chapters this morning, I was pleasantly surprised by the message. The authors explain how the whales at SeaWorld are trained with positive feedback strategies, and how those methods can be applied to managing people (I have to chuckle each time I read “animal” and think “student”). Some takeaways from today’s reading:

  • It is more effective to reinforce positive behavior than to punish negative behavior
  • Management is most effective when there is trust and a positive relationship in place
  • “The more attention you pay to a behavior, the more it will be repeated.” Therefore, reward students with attention for positive behaviors!
  • Praise progress, not perfection: give praise when something is done right or almost right
  • Whales need motivators other than food. Workers need motivators other than money. Students need motivators other than grades. (Intrinsic/extrinsic issue)
  • Too often, workers and students only receive feedback for doing something wrong. It is (even more) important to also give positive feedback for doing a good job!


The Language Teacher Toolkit

Christmas morning: yes, I asked for a professional learning book for Christmas. #nerdforlife

Confession: I follow The Language Gym through my feedly account, but I rarely make it through a whole blog post as the attention and focus required for processing each post is usually more than I can give in  those minutes I am scrolling through my phone looking for a distraction! This book is similarly dense, but I am committed  to getting through it. I read for thirty minutes today and found myself nodding and underlining on each page. Here are a few takeaways:

  • My goal in reading this book is to expand my repertoire of best practices – that is, add a few more tools to my teaching tool kit
  • Different methods have different advantages. I agree a lot with the Natural approach described in chapter 1, but my method is a hybrid with communicative language teaching and grammar-translation. The authors acknowledge that your teaching style is going to be heavily influenced by how your students are assessed, and I appreciate that they do so without judgement.
  • “Beware the teacher who claims that research supports their preferred method.” This made me chuckle, as I am guilty of it and know many teachers who are also guilty! The authors point out the difficulties in comparative research on different teaching methods and the many factors that play into a student’s ultimate learning. It is a good reminder to be humble and remain open to learning from others.
  • In chapter 2, the authors start out a discussion on oral work with questioning techniques (circling). “In the process of a ten minute exchange of this sort, students are getting lots of easy, repeated comprehensible input and a chance to practice their pronunciation and embed vocabulary. If students hear the word bag twenty times they are more likely to remember it without having to resort to a more tedious conscious rote learning method.
  • Things to try: chanting & singing things that need memorizing, oral gap filling (teacher reads aloud a familiar text with pauses for students  to fill in the next word. Would work well with a story or song), cumulative games (I go to the market and I buy…), running dictation (post texts around the room, partner A has to go to the text, memorize it, then repeat it back to partner B. No cell phones!)


What are you reading these days? What I should I read next?