The Power of a National Conference


In 2010, I joined my state language organization for the first time in several years.  I taught alone, in a rural school, and it seemed to me that the only reason to belong was to get a lower price for fall conference registration… BUT I WAS SO WRONG…

Since 2010, I have been 2nd Vice President, President Elect, and am about to take the presidency over in January… and I have some big shoes to fill!  What I’ve found through my service as a board member is that ICTFL is fighting the good fight for Illinois teachers.  Linda Egnatz, our immediate past president, brought us the Seal of Biliteracy… which is literally sweeping the nation and advocating for our language programs in a way that will have a lasting impact on our field.  Todd Bowen, another past president and board member of many hats, has brought us teacher leadership training through TALL-IL and valuable OPI training to help teachers understand how proficiency really develops!  This organization is fighting to have IL dump the language standards from the 90s and adopt the national standards, it is working to provide training to teachers around the state to help them build strong language programs, and it is connecting teachers to their region as a member of the Central States conference on Teaching of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL) and the nation as a member of ACTFL…

Being a member of all 3 of these organizations and attending all 3 conferences is incredible.  To see the number of teachers hungry to learn about using comprehensible language to teach their classes, to build high proficiency in language learners, and to reach out to the maximum number of language students possible is heart warming!  I saw sessions on film making, using commercials as comprehensible input, creating assessments that really assess proficiency, social justice, global engagement, and more!   As a profession, we are moving in an amazing new direction!  We are bringing the world and the language alive for our students and I love it!


I know that finances are always tight at school (and at home) but I want you to make a pledge to yourself.  Before you retire, you’ll take one opportunity (at least) to attend the regional and then the national conferences.  Imagine learning along side 8500 other language educators… Present, attend sessions, visit exhibitors, but most of all network!  Meet like minded teachers who will help you continue to grow as a teacher! In 2010, I thought ACTFL was a building in DC that housed books of state standards… Today I know better.  It is a living thing… It is tens of thousands of teachers working together to share, learn and grow.  And it is unbelievable!

Review Balloons

After finishing the first four chapters of Brandon Brown wants a dog, it was time for a review!  I selected 12 important events, printed them out, and cut them into strips.  I put one strip in each balloon (throw in some empty balloons for a fun and frustrating challenge)

In two teams, students raced to pop the balloons and bring the strips back to their team’s basket! 

Once all papers were collected in the basket, teams had to order the events as quickly as possible. 

It was a fun and fast (5min) interpretive reading with a twist!  

Novels, Stations, and Tech via Aurasma

One of the ways to connect students to the novels we read in class is to front-load some of the culture.  While we, as teachers, have a lot of life experiences that give us a broad view of the world, our students often have no prior knowledge on which to draw as we share problems, products, practices, and perspectives from the countries where our language is spoken!

I am about to start the novel Esperanza and my sophomores will get their first real foray into using language to talk about a deep topic.  But I have to keep it comprehensible and I have to arm them with the necessary facts if they’re going to feel comfortable and confident.

A few years ago, my friend, Kristy Placido, was about to do some high tech centers with her class to kick off a unit.  I expressed my jealousy since I had NO tech… and she took no excuses.  She told me if I wanted to, I could come up with a way to use stations too.  Even low tech!  So I did!  I created 7 stations for the novel we were about to read with videos I downloaded to my own laptop, memes that I printed, activities from the novel’s teacher’s guide, and music that accompanied the study.  It went GREAT!  The best station was the speaking station where students were able to spend one rotation just talking to me!!! I was able to feel them out and see what they already knew before we even started to read!

I’m in a new position and I have LOTS of techy stuff now… so the bar is raised!  How will I use what I have to further engage students and deepen their acquisition of the language!  I don’t want to use these 1:1 iPads just to fill in digital worksheets!!!

I decided to create 3 stations powered by the Aurasma app.  Here’s what I did and what I didn’t do but should have:

Station 1: Speaking Station (I should have sat out one rotation so I could have solved some tech problems earlier on!)

Station 2: Students read an article that gave them some background on Guatemalan Trash Miners and answered three questions (all in English).  We will take this base knowledge and build TL skills over the rest of the week!

Station 3: Students looked at a picture of a family in their home in Guatemala and wrote 5 strong, detailed Spanish sentences about what they saw.


Station 4: Students read a slideshow from the Teacher’s Guide for the novel about houses in Guatemala.  They had to summarize what each slide said in 1 line of English.


Station 5: Students had a map of North and Central America.  When they held the Aurasma app over the map, over Guatemala, a video appeared as a layover.  They watched a silent film of all the sites of Guatemala.  When they finished, they had to write about what they saw… What is there in Guatemala?

Station 6: Students had a map of northern Central America.  When they held the Aurasma app over the map, over the capital, the trailer for the movie Reparando appeared as a layover.  They watched the trailer and in ENGLISH wrote a paragraph about how actions of the past have affected Guatemala even today.

Station 7: Students had a map of the United States.  When they held the Aurasma app over the map, over California, they saw a YouTube video called “Which kind of Asian are you?”.  Kristy recommended the video to me and it is great!  It is NOT what it sounds like.  Students watched the video and then in ENGLISH wrote a paragraph about what this video says about prejudices and stereotypes in the US.


  1. Easy to create your “AURAS”… Go to  Upload your image and then upload your overlay… BUT before you save, the default is set to PRIVATE… you need to click on SHARE… then SAVE.  Now it is a public aura and your students will be able to see it.
  2. When students download the app, they have the option to “skip” making an account.  This is what we did at first…. but when they tried to read the auras, nothing happened.  After some investigating, my Network Specialist (at my school even) husband discovered that they MUST make an account AND they must follow YOU!  Then they can see your Auras.

The first time you do an Aura in class, I recommend not tying yourself up with a speaking station… I had a very hard time keeping up with my responsibility there AND trying to troubleshoot kids with the iPads.

I plan to make a LOT more Auras… Now that I know the tricks, I can think of lots of ways to use it!


Planning for Proficiency!

Here I am, putting the finishing touches on a new room I never expected to be moving into… And I am SO excited to be taking this journey toward proficiency with a new group of students!  I have a smart board, 1:1 iPads, co-planning time with my colleague… It is going to be a great year!

For these students new to my ways, I wanted to create a clear path to proficiency so I moved my bulletin board!

Then I hung my proficiency descriptors and some words and expressions that will help them climb the ladder toward our final goal of becoming independent learners and users of Spanish! One thing that has stuck with me after IFLT was Dr Krashen saying that our classroom time isn’t going to allow us to make them as fluent as natives but we CAN get them enough proficiency to continue learning via reading, listening, and travel!  And I think this is true for a slower processor as much as a super star student!!!  (words and expressions are available in my TPT store

Looking forward to lots of fun with and without technology this year as we begin our first steps toward seal of biliteracy and dual credit at SCHS!

iFLT 16

This has been an amazing week!  I have gotten the opportunity to meet so many wonderful educators and am so excited to see so many people ready to go back to the classroom pushing students toward proficiency!

I am blogging about the sessions I saw today on CIPeek but I promised my session attendees that I would share two documents.  First,

Grading Rubric Class Discussion

And second:My performance descriptors


Thank you guys so much for coming and for making this conference so much fun!

iFLT 2016, Webinars, and Back to School: Are you Ready??

Whether you’re able to attend iFLT16 or not, I hope you are planning to watch twitter and the blog-o-sphere for takeaways!  The sessions are so perfectly focused on using really COMPREHENSIBLE input in class… I love this conference and am so blessed to be part of it!

Some things I’ll be sharing:

In a 3.5 hour workshop, I will be talking about how to pull AP themes from novels written for language learners as they bridge from reading novels completely in Spanish designed for them to reading authentic lit.

In a 1.5 hour session, I will be sharing ideas for truly interpersonal speaking.

And in a 1.5 hour session, I will be sharing the nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritty, of using novels in class.  It can be intimidating to plan a novel-centric curriculum, hopefully this session will be a great scaffold to get participants started.

I’m also excited about sessions by my best amigas Martina Bex, Carol Gaab, and Kristy Placido… and sessions by SO MANY incredible, well known and respected presenters!

Our special guests, Bill VanPatten and Stephen Krashen… Of course you don’t want to miss them!  And they’ll even be broadcasting live if you can’t make the conference.  To join remotely, go to on Tues. July 19, at 8:50 am and 1:15 pm EST.

After iFLT we have a great webinar series on using novels effectively. Lots of great ideas from the comfort of your own home!

As these wrap up and we get ready to head back to school, Kristy and I are excited to introduce you to our newest novels, Vector- set in modern day Panama and in the construction era, and Hasta la sepultura- set in Salamanca, Spain and Morocco.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and I can’t wait to see you at the conference or on Twitter!


Does it matter who is right or is it about finding your niche?

In my first 17 years teaching, I only had 2 students go on to study Spanish in college.  One graduated and decided not to teach immediately and the other is now a much loved colleague.  I was teaching as I had been taught and I was not engaging students in culture or in language.  I was just covering a textbook.

In the last 4 years, I have had one student per year (2 this year) choose to major or minor in Spanish at the University level.  Tyler, health care major, Laura Spanish education, Kayla health care and Spanish, Aly business and Spanish major, and Jessica Spanish education.  What changed?  ME!  My passion for the language and its value beyond the high school curriculum.  What I do works for me and if what you do works for you and is continuing to raise retention rate, proficiency, and the number of students continuing in languages in college, why does it matter if our methods differ?

I want to introduce you to Kayla.  She is a product of 4 years with me in a TPRS/TCI classroom.  Heavy TPRS stories in level 1 followed by language and culture through CI in levels 2-4.  We do very little explicit grammar and no direct grammar style worksheets and activities.  Maybe you disagree with that… It is working for me!  My retention is high, my students are scoring well on the AAPPL, and most importantly, they’re starting to see value in studying Spanish in college.  This is a big deal!  Where we live, being bilingual is not seen as the blessing that it really is!

Kayla went from my classroom directly to a college course that had a core grammar focus… but you know what, Kayla’s teacher loved what he did and how he did it and she flourished there too.  Most importantly, she stayed in the course.  Kayla was in a 300 level course with students who had studied abroad and who had already taken university level courses and she got A’s!  (Sometimes I think she doesn’t give herself enough credit here but that is neither here nor there!) I invited Kayla to tell you about her experience and I don’t want to spoil her main point so I’ll let her take the stage!

You Are Doing Just Fine

Hey everybody! My name is Kayla VonBurg, and I am currently a rising sophomore pre-professional chemistry and Spanish major at the University of Mississippi. I graduated with the Illinois State Commendation Toward Bi-Literacy and now, have scored intermediate highs and advanced lows on the AAPPL examination.  I was lucky enough to be a student of Señora Toth’s for four years in high school and still lucky enough to be able to call her a mentor and friend as I continue my Spanish education through college.  There seems to be a bit of a healthy debate going on whether foreign language classes need to be more focused on grammar and structure or more focused on culture, learning the language by using, in order to prep students for college, and Señora asked me to lend my honest perspective as I jumped right into a 300 level Spanish class right out of the gate in my first year of college.

I’ll start with a quick synopsis on my first year in the class.  Rewind to freshman orientation in May of 2015, I was sitting in my advisor’s office, and the subject of a foreign language class was brought up.  My main concern was that my grammar would not be advanced enough for an advanced class.  The conversation of placement with my advisor was about 13 seconds long and went as follows:

A: How many years of Spanish did you take in high school?

K: Four.

A: Are you good at Spanish?

K: I mean, I guess?

A: 303 it is!

“Wow I am so screwed,” I thought to myself as I left his office.  The class was named Spanish 303: Conversation and Composition I, and I thought it would be the end of my Spanish education.  I frantically emailed my professor beforehand, saying I thought I was placed incorrectly and asking for a little reassurance.  The email I received back was that I was placed correctly and that I would be fine.  I thought that well, if this guy has a PhD in it and is telling me I’m fine, I guess I’ll be fine then.  

First day of class rolls around, and I learn just that—I would be just fine.  The class consisted of two exams, four compositions, some little quizzes over BBC Mundo articles, and a final.  Although the class would be conducted completely in Spanish, students would be able to ask questions in English at any time if the need arose.  Initially, my struggles were to keep up with what he was trying to say during lecture.  This professor spoke a lot faster than Señora ever did, and sometimes it would be hard to understand what he was saying as quickly as he was saying it.  Another big difference between this professor and Señora Toth was that he was tough but fair and that his class was going to be focused on cleaning up grammar.  Not saying that Señora T did not push us to be better Spanish learners, this professor had very high expectations, and class sometimes could be very intense.  This professor often put students on the spot and would be frustrated if students could not give a correct answer quick enough.  A moment in class I remember vividly was when we were learning accentuation and the word “rápidamente” was put on the board.  He called on me, I said the word was sobreesdrújula, and boy, was I wrong.  He called me out on not knowing it, and me being the sensitive soul that I am, I burst into tears in the middle of class.   However, I have this mantra-esque thing where I refuse to be outworked, so I went home and studied this aspect of Spanish until I had it down forwards and backwards.  Very weirdly, his teaching style was incredibly effective for me as I was scared into learning it.  From there forward, I worked my tail off to keep up with the conjugations, accentuation rules, and tense usages because I wanted to see just how much I could improve my Spanish in a year.

You are probably thinking to yourself right now, “Wow this guy must have been cold, robotic, and just plain mean!”  In reality, my professor and Señora T actually had a lot in common—they were decent human beings when it came to dealing with their students!  Señora Toth would start each class with a comforting “Hola clase!” and never let us leave a frustrating day in the classroom without telling us how proud of us she was and how much improvement she was seeing in us.  On the other hand, I would go to my professor’s office for just a quick question, and professor would not let me leave without asking how I was doing (and really meaning it!).  Sometimes, we would just talk about the language and where certain words came from, and it was cool to see the passion in my professor’s eyes as he went on about why it is “la polio” instead of “el polio.”  It made me want to work so that I could eventually become as knowing and intelligent as my professor was.  I think the common denominator between Señora and my professor was that they both actually cared about me.  Personally, when I am dealing with someone who truly cares about my well-being and how I am doing in the class, that’s when I start to care a heck of a lot more about the class.  I’ll touch more on this a little later.

The first composition rolled around, and we were told to write a 400 word paper on a third person’s routine.  It was pretty easy for me because we had just gone over it in class and it was something Señora Toth touched on.  However, professor told us that the first composition was the “first and last composition we’d fail,” which terrified me.  Much to my surprise, I got the composition back and I received a B minus, and it was probably the first time in my life I was ever ecstatic to receive a B minus, especially because a lot of the class did fail the composition.  I did notice that my paper was covered in red marks, fixing a plethora of grammar problems.  Although they weren’t super serious errors (mainly errors with “gender” agreement of nouns and adjectives, errors with gustar like verbs, aka stuff that was super fixable), it was still discouraging to know that as good as I thought I was in this language, there was still so much to be fixed.  I also found trouble with preterite v. imperfect, ser v. estar, conocer v. saber, subjunctive v. indicative, and other things that were apparently learned in early Spanish.  As I started to fix this little problems, I never received another B on a composition.

Although I did not know arguably some of the most fundamental things in Spanish, I had no trouble picking them up.  Easy fixes.  Could this possibly have been because Señora Toth focused more on boosting confidences and learning culture?  Absolutely.  I will not deny that because it is very true that one downside of TPRS and culture study as a strategy for foreign language education is the possible loss of a solid foundation of grammar.  However, there were some aspects of class that I actually did better than some of my classmates (some who had been abroad and others who had taken university Spanish classes before).  Some struggled with, for example, “Comí en el restaurante” v  “Comí a el restaurante.”  I knew better than that because of Señora’s class, but because some of the other students had strictly grammar based classes, they would try to write their “Spanish in English” if you get my drift.  From day one in Señora T’s class, we were using the language, and I believe that made a bit of a difference between my classmates and I.  

So Kayla, now that you’ve told us your life story, where do you stand on this issue?  I have learned from both different teaching methodologies, and I have excelled in both. Here’s the deal—both methods clearly have their merits.  I believe that had my Spanish professor been a little more cruel, I definitely would have been punished for the basics that I did not know.  However, I still do not think it is necessary for high school students to learn how to conjugate “hablar” until the cows come home because that is really not all that useful until it is actually put into play and used in a real life conversation.  A healthy mixture would be ideal for the student, but how to do that?  I am afraid I am not educated enough on foreign language education to give you an intelligent answer.

Going back to what I said earlier, your students are going to care more about your class and learning language if it is clear that you care about them.  Plain and simple.  The methodology, yes, is important; however, it is not going to make a difference which one you choose if your students can tell that you are not passionate about the subject.  The fact of the matter is, whichever methodology you choose, do it right; do it with passion.  Students will still be messy intermediates and novices, and students will still be missing out on some part of the Spanish language, whether it be grammatical or usage.  The more passionate your students are about the language, the more they are going to want to learn on their own; the more they are going to want to work for it.  I’m going to say this once, loud and clear: if you light the fire within your students, they will be just fine in college.   

I’m going to step down off of my soap box and pray that  this was a solid addition to the intellectual conversation going on between teachers.  I apologize that this was like a poorly written paperback novel and hope that this helps teachers understand what exactly goes on in student’s minds.  

Yours in language,


To quote Kayla, “The methodology, yes, is important; however, it is not going to make a difference which one you choose if your students can tell that you are not passionate about the subject.”  Be passionate and be you.  The key is that you love your students and help them see that they can and will be successful studying language!