Planning for Learning

Textbook Unit Breakdown: Realidades 1, Chapter 4b


Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell mentioned me in a post she wrote about textbooks, so I thought I’d write about how I use Realidades, and what strategies help me incorporate CI and keep the focus on communicative goals.  Here’s an overview of what one of my “textbook units” looks like.

Start with I can goals. This can be on a stamp sheet that you give to students, or just in your lesson plan book.  The act of writing out communicative goals and referring back to them throughout a unit really helps me keep my eye on the bigger goal, without falling into old habits of marching through the textbook.

Chapter 4b vocabulary covers sports and a couple of other leisure activities. The focus is pretty communicative – making, accepting, and declining inviations, with ir+a+infinitive as the grammar goal.  Here is how I fleshed out the goals:

4b goals

Use what you can from the book.  

Although the goals, the grammar, and vocabulary all came from the book, I taught mostly with my own materials. I find the readings in the book too complicated – how do those dialogues count as input if they’re incomprehensible??  I used one or two of the partner dialogues, with extra modeling and scaffolding.  I did like several of the listening activities and used those, as I couldn’t find authentic audio that fit my goals (I read the audio script aloud as we do not have the audio CDs. This also allows me to adapt the input to what I want it to be).  The workbook pages I ignored, as they all seemed like busy work.

Add CI, #authres and your creativity as needed

Sports were easy to teach – they’re all cognates. To introduce, I showed a slideshow with different sports, we discussed in Spanish who played each one (famous athletes and people in the class), and they filled out a graphic organizer, writing each sport under Me gusta jugar, Me gusta mirar, or No me gusta. We also did a speaking activity where they asked ¿Juegas _______?.  For the invitation language, I felt like the input in the book was inadequate, so I designed a reading and a few communicative activities to practice (You could also model very easily through a story).  Time was a quick review, again, primarily with my own materials (reused this activity) – we worked on it back in August or September, but I know a lot of them struggled with it, so I felt it merited re-teaching. As for the future tense, I taught it pretty traditionally with an explanation in English, with a quick reference to their all-time favorite song, Vivir mi vida. I will probably need to re-teach when we go back to school next week after spring break, with more modeling (INPUT!) in the TL. As I listen to stamps and grade quizzes I notice what goals students struggle with, and then go back and re-teach (provide more input!) the topics they need more practice on.

Confession: I teach more grammar than I would like because I want to get along with my department.

I don’t believe level 1 students need to understand all the forms of every stem changing verb, nor do I think teaching a chart means that they can use those verbs in a communicative setting. However, I do know that those grammar topics are important to the rest of the teachers in my department, that there are expectations about what level 1 students can do, and that there’s a good chance most of my students won’t have me for Spanish 2.  While I do advocate for curriculum changes, I am also a team player, and I want my students to be well-prepared for Spanish 2, no matter who their teacher is.  The balance I’ve found is reducing the number of verbs I teach, practicing with an appropriate novice-level communicative goal, but still showing, explaining, and using verb charts.  So for this chapter, I taught the full conjugation of jugar, querer, and poder, and yes, I quizzed them on it, but we also focused on the goals of  I can talk about the sports I and my friends play ( verbs Juego, ¿Juegas?, Juega, Jugamos, Juegan), and I can ask someone to do something with me (verbs ¿Puedes…? ¿Quieres…?), and I can accept and decline invitations (Sí, quiero ir! No, no puedo, estoy enfermo…).  


My department-mandate textbook is still just a resource. Use what you can from the book, throw out what you don’t like, and enrich and supplement!  Teach what your students need, not what the textbooks dictates.

Planning for Learning

Survey Students with Poll Everywhere

Have you used Poll Everywhere? Here’s a survey I did today:

Screenshot 2014-11-05 13.15.17


What I learned:

1. “Vote more than once” is not a good idea. I was thinking that they could respond 2 or 3 times to indicate they want more practice with multiple topics, but there’s a limit of 40 responses.  If the first 20 students vote twice, the last 12 don’t get to vote. Also, at least one student misunderstood the directions and voted for “Describing my classes” 18 times to skew the vote.  *Shaking my head*

2. Seventh period I stood outside class with my laptop and had students vote as they came in. That went much more smoothly than having them all do it on their phones (no signal, didn’t read directions, didn’t understand directions, etc.).

3. As for the results? Inconclusive. About a third said they were ready for a test, while the rest are divided about which topic they need more help or practice with (or INPUT).

Do you survey students? What do you use? And how do you use the data?


Planning for Learning

Realidades + Proficiency?

So a few weeks ago, I got some news that did not make me so happy: all departments MUST give common assessments, and my department’s solution to that will be following Realidades.  As the only non-traditional teacher (CI and proficiency goals, not grammar goals)  in my department, this was VERY depressing news. I might have gone on a rant to several sweet friends and family members about how much I HATE textbooks, how outdated they are, how they stifle creativity, how the vocabulary lists are terribly irrelevant, etc (I must point out that my principal said on the first day of school that if we’ve lost our passion, we need to find a new job. Not a problem here, Mrs. Principal!).


So, three weeks later (and a fall break long weekend spent NOT thinking about curriculum and assessment), I’ve calmed down (the best teaching advice I’ve ever gotten was just that: Calm down, it’s just a job).  One of the reasons I left my old job was because I was tired of being a department of one – it was exhausting being the only language teacher!  I wanted to work with other teachers, to share ideas and collaborate on teaching and assessments. However, the honest truth is I haven’t been collaborating with my in-building colleagues very much. We share some activities, but I continue to primarily work alone, collaborating more online than with my neighbors down the hall. So while these common assessments and unit plans are being mandated by administration, I also have to acknowledge that more collaboration with my department is a good thing. Here are some realizations I’ve had about this Realidades/common assessments/mandated collaboration thing:

  • I assess reading comprehension, speaking, and writing constantly, but I’m not great at assessing listening or culture.  In my department, one of the other Spanish 1 teachers is really passionate about culture, and the other is passionate about listening.  Mindset: I have things to learn from them.
  • Realidades isn’t that bad – I can use their vocab lists as the “comprehension” base, but I’m not limited to teaching that vocabulary – I can still expand and personalize vocabulary to what is relevant and interesting to students. Mindset: Realidades lists are for comprehension – I’ll keep giving my students the words they need to meet the standard, whether or not they’re on the official list, and students will acquire what they need to communicate.
  • When my department suggested using Realidades tests as the base for our common assessments, I died a little inside. You want me to give my precious babies a TEXTBOOK TEST????  But then I looked at the tests…and they’re not that bad.  There’s a format for assessing culture and listening that I can work with, and as long as I get to formally assess writing or speaking each unit, I’m happy. I’ll certainly advocate for assessing grammar in context (please let’s not do verb ending clozes all year), but I’m willing to compromise as long as we write tests that meaningfully assess students’ ability to understand and communicate in Spanish. Mindset: It will actually be easier to adapt the textbook test into something I’m happy with than continue writing tests from scratch.

Over-all takeaways:

  • Don’t be too quick to judge.
  • Respect others’ expertise.
  • Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water – supplemented with creativity, energy, lots of CI, and authentic resources, the textbook curriculum isn’t bad.
Planning for Learning, Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela

Pushing Proficiency to Novice-High: Reworking the Stamp Sheet

Last night’s #langchat was about moving students from Novice-mid to Novice-high proficiency.   This topic was of particular interest to me because although I’ve read extensively about the proficiency levels, I haven’t had any formal training and it’s difficult for me to  distinguish between Novice-Mid, Novice-High, and Intermediate-Low.  Last night’s chat gave me a LOT to think about:

  • I need to think about students’ interpretive skills in proficiency terms.
  • To improve output, spend more time on input (so true!)
  • I need to define the proficiency levels better, for both myself and my students.

I wrote a few weeks ago about stamp sheets, and how checking off all the goals out loud and individually was making me crazy. So as I was writing my goals today for the unit I’ll begin next week, I decided to reorganize the sheet by modes, and throw in some proficiency descriptors to clarify my expectations to students.

Here’s the interpretive section:

School Unit Interpretive Goals
I think I’ll have students self-assess their proficiency a couple of times during the unit as we do reading and listening activities. I want them at least at Novice-Mid, and at Novice-High for an A.


And the presentational speaking/writing section:

School Unit Presentational Goals
I think I’ll assess these for a quiz grade. I’d like to give students the option to do it out loud or in writing.


I plan to use the same proficiency descriptors for IP speaking. Here’s the complete document: Modified stamp sheet

Proficiency teachers, what do you think?  Did I get the proficiency descriptors right? Should I add or delete anything from the description? Is there something else I could say to be more specific? I welcome your input.