Map Talk

When I started the process of National Geographic educator certification, I was only thinking about the obvious resources… the magazine, the documentaries, the photos… I never knew their MapMaker kits existed! Thank you so much Abra Koch for this inspiration…

But it wasn’t just finding the maps! Abra told me she does “map talks” or “map stories”…. why have I never thought of that!? It is such a great idea!!!

This week, in conjunction with my Arctic Crime Unit, I have used a street map to “map storytell” the backstory of Mrs Claus’s disappearance and the North Polar Region table top map from the MapMaker kits. Both led to a lot of aha moments and a great visual of where things are happening!

Try bringing maps into your stories! I think you’ll love it!


FAST Fridays and Second Chances

Before I tell you about Fast Friday, you need to know a couple of things about my practice! About 10 years ago I gave up homework.  I have no right to judge anyone else’s practice so please don’t think that I am… I did it because it was right for me and the students in my room.  Those who excelled did the work, those who didn’t, copied… and that was getting us nowhere.  Instead, I began to kick out the parts of my curriculum that wasted my precious class time and began to use those moments to get more input into my students.  Now they go home and listen to our song of the week or watch our class snapchat for stories (with Spanish captions) but they have no requirement to take my class home with them.  Its just what works for me… So it may not surprise you that I also accept late work.  If I am really going to make my grade a reflection of what my students can do in the language, it isn’t about what day they turned the work in it was about how well they were able to do it.

Anyway… about those FAST Fridays (Fostering Academic Success Today)… I am sure that at your school you have a group of bubble students.  These kids who aren’t the hard cases, determined not to do any work… the ones who just didn’t feel like charging their iPad last night so they didn’t hand in todays assignment because hey, a D is passing…  Our superintendent (you should all have a sup’t like ours… he is a forward thinker with an amazing school culture) wanted to try something to reach those kids.  The bubbles.  So he proposed that we try an hour early release for every student with all grades of C or higher and then use that hour at the end of the day to work in small groups with students to complete missing work, retake tests, get extra help… For me, it was a GREAT idea.  I know that for teachers who are firm believers in homework as a responsibility builder this has to be a difficult  adjustment but as I mentioned, I am about what they can really do in the language not about what they do behavior wise!  I LOVE IT!

We have now had 2 FAST Fridays… My homeroom group (we do grade check in all homerooms once per week) had two bubble students last year.  Boys who were PLENTY smart enough but just didn’t put that extra effort into keeping their work turned in.  Guess what… they started the year with some Ds and as we came up to our first FAST Friday, both kicked in gear and got their grades up to Cs!  They didn’t fall below the line between the Fridays either!  I have given a thousand hoorays and high fives because I KNEW they could do this and they’re proving it to me and themselves too!

On the other side of the coin I had some students who needed to stay yesterday for FAST Friday number 2.  These were kids who did not turn in work (although we do it together in class) but I allowed them a second chance, a chance to interact with that material that I considered important enough to assign in the first place!  We spent the entire hour speaking Spanish, catching up on those assignments, and re-visiting those cultural topics.  You know what happened?  All 4 students left the room with work turned in and grades back up above the bubble line… and each one learned something from the work they were handing in.  If I had said no to retakes, no to second chances, it would have been a lost teachable moment.

I don’t know if your school has ever considered something like this but I give it a hearty two thumbs up! What a positive way to show our students that we care enough about what is going on with their grades to help them dig out of the hole they have gotten into!

Narco Bling to Infografías

Some of the more shocking moments for my Spanish 4 classes have come from our study of Narcotraffickers. Two consecutive years, mid study, El Chapo Guzmán was in the news for prison breaks and arrests! The Ayotzinapa kidnappings were also smack in the middle of our unit… it raised the question among my level 4s, where is the news coverage of this and why don’t the newscasters highlight the stats about who is buying the drugs!?

As 17 and 18 year olds, they haven’t had much experience with how media works and so finding out that this drug war is a result of US consumption and that the money and weapons are coming from the US to Mexico is a shock for them. I think it is important! Often we see only the “build a wall to keep the bad hombres out” side in our media.

Beginning with the National Geographic documentary, Narco Bling and building pieces around Kara Jacobs’s Narcoviolence unit, we look at the cause/effect relationship between US consumption of drugs and the heavy armament of the cartels.

Their final product, an infographic on a Genius Hour topic is an infographic that they will present “art gallery style” a’la Sharon Birch!

As you consider whether to tackle heavy units with your upper levels, be sure to temper them with the good as well! One of my favorite parts of this unit is a commercial Zachary Jones of Zambombazo shared about the reasons to believe in Mexico! While we want students to understand that things happen around the world that are glossed or ignored in our media coverage, we also don’t want them to come away with the impression that they are not safe nor that people have worse violence problems in other countries than we have here! It’s all relative!

CYBER MONDAY at somewheretoshare


Tomorrow and Tuesday are the annual Cyber Monday sale on TPT!  Consider shopping online to help fill the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas!  I added two of my favorite movie talks:


My favorite little movie talk, El Regalo, is great for a connection to the novel Brandon Brown quiere un perro but it also makes a great stand alone as we approach the holidays!

With cold weather upon us, it is also a great time to movie talk Lily and the Snowman!  Such a sweet video!

Whether you’re a movie talk pro or just a beginner, I hope these movie talk packets help you incorporate some great CI into your classes as the old year goes out and the new year comes in!


How to Tackle ACTFL!

I have been to ACTFL 5 times and I never stop being amazed at the magnitude of this conference! If you’ve never been, please consider this something worth doing for yourself! We live in an age where schools don’t pay for PD very often but it is worth every penny to attend this conference at least once!

I have 5 helpful hints if you’re headed out for your first ACTFL and are feeling overwhelmed!

1. Don’t miss the opening session. It is at the opening session that you will get to meet the five candidates for National Teacher of the Year! They’ll name the winner right before your eyes! Plus, the ACTFL Keynote is always able to open my eyes to something I didn’t know before!

2. Don’t skip the exhibit hall! There are so many exhibits you could spend a whole day wandering around! Of course there are textbook companies but don’t skip the smaller publishers! You can walk out with armloads of Comprehensible readers at great prices! Read a lot of stories and decide which your students will love the most!

3. Pick out 2-3 can’t miss sessions per day! If you get caught up chatting with a like minded colleague after a session, you may end up missing one time slot but identify at least 2-3 a day that you will go to to keep yourself in a learning mindset! Sometimes that nap or that stroll around Nashville can be tempting but there is just too much great information available in these 3 days to skip out!

4. Have a dinner with a group of people you met at the conference! Some of my closest friends and collaboration pals live in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania! You never know which session your new conference bestie might be hiding in!

5. Send a thank you tweet! ACTFL and particularly Julia Richardson spend a LONG time making this so awesome! How great would it be on Sunday to see a ton of shout outs for all the hard work!

Hope to see you at ACTFL!

Material World- A unit on world homes

If you don’t have Peter Menzel’s photo books Hungry Planet-What the World Eats and Material World, please buy them.  The images are ALL OVER THE INTERNET but his work is spectacular and I want teachers to support him as a photographer!  I’d love to see him update these projects!

I wanted to do a unit in level two where students could talk about their own homes and possessions but also dig deep into what people in other parts of the world are lacking!  I’ve been amazed by how they performed as we worked our way through image talks, comparison and contrast, and deep thinking about how much we really have!  This is just the first draft of the unit but I’d like to share in case you’re looking for a way to bring the world’s people to your classroom!

I relied heavily on some suggestions from the National Geographic community for the supplemental resources.  If you’re not a National Geographic certified educator, I’d highly recommend it!  Access to the community and the suggestions alone is worth the time to create the portfolio!

Homes Unit Proofed

Teach like a scientist


As I am polishing my keynote speech for the WAFLT conference on November 4-5, it has become obvious that the topic I am speaking on is not limited to language teachers… we all need to lift our eyes up from what we’ve always done and embrace the idea of failure.

I have publicly stated on many occasions that I did not achieve National Board certification on my first attempt.  I was so sad/angry/self-loathing that I almost didn’t retake but my background in science pushed me to try again… you see, for scientists, failure isn’t an end.  It just means that ONE theory was wrong.  There are millions of theories out there to try.  I went into my second attempt at certification with some new tools in my teaching belt and passed!

I have been a hardliner.  There was a time when every spelling, every accent, every verb ending was a point off.  It left me feeling like I was missing something and it left my students feeling like they weren’t cut out to learn language.  I feared trying new things because I might not be good at it or the activity might flop.

After my “big failure” I left those hardliner days behind…. and do you know what?  My classroom is 180 degrees from where it was then.  I love going to work, my students have fun and learn all at the same time… I try new things (some are still flops) and encourage colleagues to do so as well.

Listen when I say that IF I HADN’T FAILED, I WOULD NEVER HAVE CHANGED!! What?  Seriously, I was comfortable in my rut and only when I was pushed out did I take some much needed steps to re-invigorate my attitude and to win students for languages.

Don’t look at your failures as an end.  Think like a scientist.  This didn’t work so what will I try next???  But don’t stop there.  You can’t expect your students not to fail.  Give them that re-take.  Explain a concept again if they didn’t get it the first time.  Take more drafts of that writing.  Our goal is to build their proficiency so giving them repeated exposure to the content is a great way to do it!!

My biggest failure was the first step of my biggest successes.  Don’t be afraid to try, try, and try again.