Never be afraid to fail!

I read a blog post today about the things that innovative educators do. On the list was one of my personal favorites: innovative educators aren’t afraid to fail!

I’m an expert at failing. My principal knows, and expects, disasters in my room! Take horchata day for instance! It was a great idea! No one had ever tried it… But 7 gallons on the floor later, I was reflecting on how this could have gone better!

Only by taking big risks can you see big changes in your classroom! Never hesitate to try something new, to venture down a different path, to take that proverbial road less traveled by! The more you fail, reflect, and try again, the more HUGE successes you will see.

I’m with Teddy Roosevelt! I would rather dare to do mighty things so that I can experience those glorious triumphs. Because THOSE are the days they remember forever!

Keep on failing!


Encouraging Question Asking



I’m on a mission to create better question askers in Spanish 3/4 this year. Wherever possible I am trying to come up with contexts in which they can ask and answer questions related to what we are working on.

This activity is built around the first 5 chapters of Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha but you could easily adapt it to your curriculum!

1. The larger pictures will be on the floor in the center of the room, students will sit around them in a circle. (We do this often to review material.)

2. Students will take turns picking up one of the pictures (there’s no order) and talking about what it symbolizes in the main character’s life.

3. When we have some good ideas for what each picture might mean and I have modeled some questions for them, students will return to their desks and I will hand out their assessment.

4. Students will complete the assessment in class and hand in.


I stole this idea from Kristy @placido who may have stolen it from Crystal @srtabarragán…..

We are reading Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha 13. Students interact with the text by tweeting from one character to another and retweeting comments that could be related to the novel. They interact with each other’s work by replying to classmates tweets.

We’ve only just begun but they are already doing some deep thinking! I’ve even had a couple of “subtweets”!

I added the project information!

Twitter Logo

Vida y muerte twitter feed


How can you evaluate understanding in a novel study without pushing novices beyond their limits or killing them with comprehension worksheets??

Try Instagram!!! In our paper Instagram, students choose scenes from @TPRSPublishing “El Nuevo Houdini” and they Instagram them…. How? They draw a picture of the scene and create four sentence length hashtags that reflect what they’ve drawn.

It is a lot of fun. The drawings aren’t always great but the hashtags often are!!

I updated to add the rubric and project guidelines!
Proyecto Instagram

instagram rubric

instagram proj2

Free voluntary reading area





The building trades class made me a magazine rack last year and a huge shelving unit this year. I bought a Walmart bookcase and many books and magazines and violá! We have a reading nook! Well, we added the beanbags this year and NOW we have a reading nook!

Readers are leveled beginner, intermediate, advanced based on the length and difficulty of the books. I include the scholastic magazines in each level’s options. Most of the readers are from Club Leo. I buy magazines in the summer when I travel so I have a wide variety but I also subscribe to People en español to keep new stuff coming in regularly!

We have 1-2 ten minute reads per week and students really do a great job! I hope to double the library by next year! Slowly but surely, it will overtake the room, I hope! I’d love to channel Donalyn Miller and do some real, hard core learning what my kids like to read!

What should we be expecting of our students? ACTFL OPI

Let me preface this post by saying that I am referring to ALL the students.  We all know the future Spanish teachers and natural talents who will blow away all of the proficiency guidelines after only 4 years of Spanish.  I am talking about your regular group, your average Joes… and even your special Joes… What can we expect? 

Attending the workshop OPI Adrenaline with now ACTFL TOY Linda Egnatz was a real eye opener for me!  Here is the link to the Wiki of the workshop:–+Adr%C3%A9naline  For instance, did you know that many universities now require a study abroad for language majors because without a semester abroad, most students cannot reach the ACTFL goal of Advanced Low.  Yes, after 4 years of high school and then 4 years of college, if a student doesn’t study abroad, he or she has a hard time reaching advanced low…. Have you been expecting perfect preterite/imperfect after Spanish two?  I was!  Have you been disappointed when your seniors aren’t getting the ins and outs of imperfect subjunctive?  I was!!  I had such lofty goals that there was no way my Joes were ever going to be able to compete… and so I had some pretty high attrition rates between level 2 and 3. 

I have a lot more realistic goals now.  Linda Egnatz has been a powerful player in the new legislation in IL called the “Seal of Biliteracy.”  Students who score at an i3 on the AAPPL exam (all parts)  or a 3+ on the AP (all parts) are eligible to receive this seal as an endorsement that they are biliterate.  Imagine what having this seal can do for our students seeking internships in fields where their Spanish skills will be advantageous (and where aren’t they??).  I want to see how many kids can achieve it!!

An i3 or 3 is an Intermediate Mid.  Look back at your ACTFL proficiency standards.  If we can get them CONCRETE on the things that constitute intermediate mid (the Joes, I mean), this language can really serve them in the future.  Trust me, the stars are going to remember everything.  You may have some intermediate highs and even some advanced lows but the Joes are who I’m after.  How many of them can I pull up to that 3 without doing a disservice to my stars….

Knowing what to expect, realistically, has helped me focus better on the skills I want to see in my students when they graduate.  Sustaining longer and longer discussions on familiar topics will stretch them out to that strong intermediate level… the more who make it there, the better!! 

Don’t miss this page of Linda’s OPI presentation:  Her top ten have become my top 10 as well! 

Reblog: Why I choose acquisition (but want you to make up your own mind).

In light of many recent discussions on Twitter, I found myself coming back to this post from last year. We are ALL teachers trying to be the best we can be. We are trying to make our students love and speak a foreign language. For that, we’re noble. How we get to that end result is our own style and we are all entitled to believe what we want to believe based on research IN OUR OWN ROOMS. Why do I NOT blend CI and textbook/output? Because I taught 13 years from a textbook and was very unsatisfied with the results, I taught two years in a blend of CI and text and I was more impressed by the engagement/retention from the CI parts than the text. So as a flashback post, here is why I chose acquisition vs memorization in my classroom. If you ever want to come visit, my doors are wide open. Everyone has to do what is best for his/her own students so I ask that you remember that my kids make mistakes, your kids make mistakes, every language learner makes mistakes…. it isn’t about creating 100% error free Spanish for me… for me it is about creating the maximum number of learners who stay in the class for four years and who leave with real fluency (with or without errors.)

From March, 2013
There aren’t enough characters on Twitter to tell you why I choose Aquisition, I need a whole blog post! So I, Carrie Toth, former grammarian, will share the 5 things that caused me to shift my thinking.

5. When I taught grammar explicitly, I had to do it in English. This meant a lot of class time was spent in English. When I spoke Spanish to them, they were not always receptive. They thought they needed the English. Now I start Spanish 1, day 1 all in comprehensible Spanish. They learn that Spanish is the language of the classroom and love it!

4. They still learn grammar but they don’t realize it. In my old classroom, they made grammar errors, even after 4 years. They still forgot the name of grammar concepts after 4 years. That hasn’t changed! I don’t teach formal grammar lessons yet they make less errors, not more. I’m not talking about my top 10. They would do well with grammar however I taught them. I’m talking about the rest of the kids. I clarify for those who need it, I point out patterns, they get all the same grammar… It’s just hidden like the zucchini in my meatloaf!

3. The kids love Spanish. Now that I’m free from the chains of Realidades, I can design lessons around whatever structures will benefit them most. The perk is that I can design cultural units that engage the kids. They are becoming speakers of the language sooner and are seeing many more ways that they will be able to use Spanish after high school.

2. Through Comprehensible input… Especially the content based comprehensible input (CBCI) that Kristy Placido and I are using, I get the opportunity to personalize lessons to the students in my class. It has built an environment of trust where I think we have some very low affective filters and a lot of attempts to use language without fear! I love that we have “insiders” that vary from class to class… For example, 1st hour has a character, Jengo Fairlax, who is the hero of every story. Jengo died but it turns out it wasn’t the real Jengo, there is a factory that makes Jengo clones. The real Jengo is safe in hiding. Only the clones are ever in danger!!

1. No child left behind… I used to give Fs. Not a lot but especially in Spanish 1 where I told myself “some kids just aren’t cut out for learning languages.” When I attended my first TPRS workshop and heard “everyone learned their first language and so they all CAN learn languages” it was a wake up call. I went back to class with a new attitude! You know what? Susie Gross was right! Some pick up language fast and some slow, but they ALL get something. From “Boricua” my star student who is better than some of my low Spanish 4s to my two “Héctor” who are weak in both English AND Spanish, everyone is learning at his or her own pace and no one is failing. Well there’s one but he has chosen that path no matter what I’ve tried! The Hectors cant spell so their writing is atrocious but they can read with the class and can understand and participate in class discussions/stories. In a traditional class they would have been left behind in week 1! 😦

So really I can never go back. That enthusiasm kids have coming into day 1 of Spanish 1 doesn’t get squelched. We have a great time all year. And a side perk is that I rarely and I mean RARELY have a discipline issue because I don’t have kids who are frustrated by the material now!

I’m not saying its for everyone, this is just why it’s for me! We aren’t enemies because we choose different methods! We all want what’s best for our students and do what shows the greatest result in our own room!

Classroom Clips: #1 Kindergarten Reading

On Thursday, my Spanish 1 kids had a kindergarten reading day. The book is Biscuit goes for a walk, Bizcocho sale a pasear. I have a large (and growing) free reading library but in addition to FVR, I read with the kids!

If you’ve never tried Kindergarten reads, I encourage you to give it a shot!! They are so much fun and you can just focus on the input no matter what book you’re reading with them!!

Here is a demo of the first few pages of our read:

It’s a book I got from scholastic’s Club Leo!

Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha with Kat Dahlia and @losrakas

Vida y muerte twitter feedMy students LOVE the novel Vida y Muerte. The whole thing is so engaging and the accompanying study of gang life reaches everyone. I have always used the film Sin Nombre with the novel and this year I am adding a music study.

Week one (this is my first week of the semester after a week of snow days!) I will assign the Vengo de Panama project but our song will actually be Gangsta en Español by Kat Dahlia. Week two (on Monday we’ll do the project) our song will be Vengo de Panama by los Rakas. Week three, our song will be Soy Raka, also by los Rakas.

We will listen to the songs each day of the week, we will do the cloze first, we will look at Panamanian slang in the two Rakas songs, we will learn some Panamanian culture through Vengo de Panama. We will watch the lyric video for Gangsta (she does mention a blunt, FYI) and the SXSW video for Soy Raka. In week 3 (when we will also be finishing the novel and the film), we will discuss the common themes of all media!

Our ongoing project throughout the unit will be the attached “Twitter Feed”. I’ll tweet out some pictures of our phony Twitter wall. (I hang the Twitter logo and use sentence strips to post tweets all over the wall) It was a great success last year! Hoping for an even better wall this year! @placido has done this as well and I believe she would say that it was very engaging too!

Gangsta en Español cloze

Gangsta en Español

Soy Raka cloze


Twitter Logo

Soy Raka

Vengo de Panama project

Los Rakas Vengo de Panama (1)

Summer Conferences, CSCTFL, state conferences, and ACTFL in 2014

When was the last time you attended your state’s language conference?  Have you ever considered presenting?  How about your regional conference?  Have you ever shared what you’re doing in your classroom with others there?  ACTFL?  That’s a big one!  Have you thought of proposing before the January 15 deadline? 

Conferences are so important.  Yes, they often cost us money out of pocket because there isn’t funding these days for teacher training but you come home from a conference energized and full of new ideas to create little language learners in your classroom!  As I sit and stare at the foot of snow in my yard, I am thinking warm thoughts of CSCTFL in March, iFLT in Denver in July, NTPRS in Chicago in July, and ACTFL in November in San Antonio!  I encourage you to start saving your pennies (and dollars) to attend one (or many) of these conferences!  If you are in IL, don’t forget ICTFL in October! 

Wherever you go for training, don’t forget to step OUT of your comfort zone.  If the workshop title is 20 tricks for memorizing vocab lists or  The magical world of preterite and imperfect, run away!  Find titles that represent a truly communicative classroom alive with language!  Attend things that will encourage you to grow and to seek out ways to beef up the amount of TL in your classroom rather than tricks and games that don’t promote authentic communication!

Do you already teach in a high TL environment?  PROPOSALS, PEOPLE!!! We need people (new and old) to propose sessions and workshops at ALL conferences!  Sessions that will advance the study of language and promote acquisition!  Maybe you think you don’t do anything special in your classroom, but I am sure you do!!!  Try to think of just one thing you might share with peers about what makes your students love learning language and try to develop a session from there!!! 

Hoping to see lots of CI based sessions at ALL of the upcoming conferences!  Attend as many as you can!  Hope to see you there!!