Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela, Teaching Reflections

Assessment: What makes a good quiz?

Assessment is a constantly evolving process for me. It is important to me to give assessments that give me meaningful information about what my students can understand and communicate in Spanish.  My framework for a valid assessment has changed each year, and I’m still researching, experimenting, looking at other teachers’ examples, and generally trying to figure things out.

So here’s my question: What kind of assessment makes a valid quiz grade?

Admin mandates that tests are weighted 60% and quizzes are weighted 20% (the other 20% is homework and daily work), and also that each department give common assessments. I know my students are pretty solid on the vocabulary, and we’re working up to some more in-depth writing and speaking assignments, but I’m not sure what to do for a quiz grade. I want it to be comprehension-based, but more than translating individual words. I’ve looked at the Realidades resources….I don’t love them. The chapter test is ok, but I don’t care for the quiz materials at all – too much focus on conjugating, questions are confusing, and it doesn’t clearly measure what students understand. I’m thinking perhaps a reading passage with some comprehension questions in English (although I do find it difficult to write good comprehension questions), or maybe filling out a graphic organizer – like a paragraph about a school schedule, and they fill out a chart?


So writing is reflecting, and after I wrote the above post, I went over to Musicuentos.com and read through the Assessment tag, and found this description of how Sara-Elizabeth did vocab quizzes in Spanish 1 and 2:

1) Ask random questions to elicit vocab, and the answer just has to make sense or be true. (¿De qué color son los ‘arches’ de McDonalds?)

So I could do something like, ¿Qué clase tienes primera? ¿Qué necesitas para la clase de matemáticas? ¿Quién enseña tu clase de literatura? ¿Cuál es tu clase favorita? ¿Por qué? Short and sweet, easy to grade (a must to sell it to my department!), and leaves vocabulary open-ended for students. I hesitate, however, because a wrong answer could mean either that they didn’t remember how to say the answer in Spanish, or that they didn’t understand the question.  So maybe give the option, (or require?) that they also write what the question means in English?

What do quizzes look like in your classes?

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.
Teaching Reflections

Stamp Sheets Part 1: Pros & Cons

Do you use stamp sheets? I began using a form of stamp sheets three years ago, and this is my second year using stamp sheets consistently.  While there are many reasons I LOVE my stamp sheets, they also drive me a little crazy.  In this post, I want to share a little bit about what I love and don’t love about using stamp sheets.

Unit 1 Stamp Sheet - adapted from JCPS world language documents
Unit 1 Stamp Sheet – adapted from JCPS world language documents


I love how stamp sheets clearly communicate learning goals and organize my units. Just as Kara said in the post linked above, stamp sheets make me plan out my goals for each unit ahead of time. The I can statements guide my lesson plans, and communicate very clearly to students and parents my learning expectations. If a student is out and I don’t have a worksheet they can just do at home (which is often), I can tell them which goal we practiced and point them to vocabulary resources online to work on that goal independently. I also like to show stamp sheets to parents to show them what their child is learning how to do in Spanish class, and maybe even challenge a parent to complete a few of our goals – often, they’re impressed at how much they remember from their high school or college Spanish courses!

I love how stamp sheets give me an opportunity to listen to each student speak, and give individual feedback. Stamp sheets are a great “check in” for student learning. Quiet students often hide in the crowd of a big class, and having these mini-assessments built in gives me a reason to hear from all students, even the quiet ones. I don’t always notice who is struggling, until I hear them attempt their stamp sheet goals, and I’ve been blown away on several occasions by quiet students who never volunteer in class, but speak beautifully when it’s time for them to do stamps.

Stamps are a relatively low-pressure speaking assignment. I do take stamps for a grade, so there is some pressure to “get them done,” but I also consider them part of the learning process, and a teachable moment. So I give feedback, I coach, I prompt, we practice and I let them try and re-do.

That being said…I’m at the end of a unit and finishing stamp sheets is driving me crazy.  Here are a few things I don’t love about stamp sheets:

Memorize and forget. This makes me nuts! Most of my students *know* their stamps when they do them for me, but there are always a few who have clearly memorized a statement and will forget it a minute later. How do I teach for long-term retention? I love how mini-goals are explicit and manageable, but by giving a checklist of mini-goals, am I promoting “memorize and forget”?

Finishing stamp sheets takes forever. I do my best to limit the number of goals on my stamp sheets, and yet, they still take so much time to do! In the post linked above, Kara says,

A. If you observe a student doing the goal during class, stamp it.
B. Give everyone a written or spoken quiz at the end of class or on a specific day. You can cover one stamp or several.
C. Students self-assess themselves. Keep one specific stamp design out that they can use.
D. Pick a few students every day to show what they can do.

She makes it sound so easy, but I haven’t figured out how to balance it! Here’s my unit two stamp sheet:

2014-09-23 15.51.50


16 goals, five classes of 32 students each, equals 2560 mini goals to listen to. If each goal takes ten seconds (some students are fast, some are slow, some need multiple tries), that’s 426 minutes of class, or two whole days of class doing nothing but stamps. For one unit. I try to do stations, and have stamps as a station, where I can listen to individuals and have the rest of the class be productively occupied, or give written work, where again, I can listen to individuals while the rest of the class is occupied, but I’m finding it really difficult to find ways to balance individual assessment and feedback (which is so important!) with simultaneously instructing and managing 31 other students.

What to do? I’d like to write more on stamp sheets later this week – I have a few thoughts on ways to modify how I use them – but I would also love to hear from other stamp-sheet using teachers. What stamp sheet strategies work for you?