I began teaching Spanish in Illinois in 1994. I have taught levels 1-4 in a small rural high school, 8th grade introductory Spanish, Biology 1, and 101 and 102 at the community college level. My Spanish classes are partnered with the community college to offer students 8 semester hours of dual credit on completion of Spanish 4. In 2011 I met Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido and have since co-authored the book "La hija del sastre" with Carol Gaab and authored the novels "La Calaca Alegre", "Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos." "Vector," "48 horas" and "Bananas" through Fluency Matters.
In 2006 I became National Board certified and I have been serving as a mentor both for candidates seeking certification in world languages other than English and a virtual mentor for candidates in all certificate areas.
I completed my Masters degree in Spanish education in 2011 and did my research on the use of Understanding by Design to create meaningful cultural units for the language classroom. I am a frequent presenter on this topic, please consider me if you are interested in a workshop on backward design.
In 2013 I was named the ICTFL Foreign Language teacher of the year and in 2014 I was selected as CSCTFL's teacher of the year. In November of 2014 I was lucky enough to be one of the five finalists for the ACTFL National Teacher of the Year in San Antonio, TX. What a "Cinderella" experience!
You can reach me via email at senoracmt at gmail.com.
The summer has been so wonderful! I got to visit Costa Rica with a group of students who were SO excited to use their Spanish in the real world! I got to float in my pool sooooo many days because it has been unseasonably warm! My hibiscus plants were the most beautiful I’ve ever had. The bird feeders have been busy now that our trees are bigger! I had an amazing cohort and got some good quality time (and food) in St. Petersburg at iFLT. I wrote a new book! (Watch for Bananas this fall!) From time with my family and pets to lots of lunches with friends, I have milked this summer for all it’s worth. Now my brain is starting that slow transition back to “planning mode”.
As I consider what units I will shift around this year, I thought I would make a short summary of some of the things that you’ll find in the units I write! Remember that the structures you want or need to teach can be added to any unit! If something seems to have a lot of present tense, add reps of past tense structures by retelling stories, asking what students (or people in general) used to do. Make predictions to get future reps! Need to teach subjunctive? Just ask for recommendations, give suggestions, or find out what they think is important! The value of a good unit is that the CONTENT you are delivering can be the vehicle that helps them acquire language that can be used in any context!
I’m attaching a document with a break down of (and links to) some of my content based units that might help with your planning as you go back to school! I am working on one last one… green energy Costa Rica style! (The research for this one was fun!) Hope I can have it ready to kick off the year and talk to my students about my trip! Like them all? Try the SUPER BUNDLE!
Happy planning! I hope that as you enjoy your last few weeks of summer, these ready-made units let you relax a little longer!
When I saw the Sebastian Yatra/Camilo video for En guerra, I was immediately drawn back to some of my darkest hours as a teen/young adult. I just didn’t love who I was and there was truly a storm raging inside of me. I couldn’t stop listening to this song. I immediately sent it to EVERYONE I knew.
En guerra speaks the truth of so many of our adolescent students and our own children! I knew from the moment I saw the video for the first time that I wanted to use it in class… but when you watch the video, you’ll see why I knew it had to be packaged in just the right unit. I will warn you that you need to evaluate your school setting before deciding to show it. I am holding it back for my Spanish 4 students and I have planned it into a unit on adolescent mental health.
Self-esteem and mental health are such a delicate topic and yet so relevant for the students we see every day. I wanted to honor the message of the song AND let students know that mental health issues are not something to fear or be ashamed of. This is the reality for most of them! In this unit, they’ll explore the song but also some stats about adolescent mental health, a movie talk about Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, and some posed and unposed photo experiments.
(This unit could EASILY be used with a lyric video in place of the official video. The other activities are all 100% universally acceptable.)
I hope that this unit can be the start of opening a discussion about self-image and the importance of keeping lines of communication open with parents and other trusted adults throughout the teen and young adult years!
We’ve all seen the quotes. “It’s not a journey, it’s a race.” “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, just don’t stop.” “Life is a journey, not a destination.” We actually get bombarded by them so often that they lose their effect. We’re immune to the message. We start to just look past it.
But in education, it is true. We are on a journey. Every day in the classroom, we do a little bit better, we try another new thing that moves our students along the path to proficiency, we add a bold new unit or reader… but we feel overwhelmed, rushed, behind. The teacher next door is using 4 readers and I am only using one. The teacher on Twitter posted pictures of her students discussing green energy and mine are just learning to talk about their family life.
If I can convince you of any one thing this summer, I hope that I can convince you to embrace change at your own pace. If you’re beginning a CI journey (or a textbookless journey, or a deskless journey, or any journey), considering the journey, or are ready to dive in head first, set a pace that you’re comfortable with and add new units, readers, skills, classroom set ups and activities slowly. It’s tempting to throw everything you’ve ever known out the window to try to achieve the same results as another teacher but the changes that are most impactful and longest lasting are the changes that we take a little at a time!
My “CHANGE EVERYTHING” teaching journey started in 2005. I had failed the National Board process and I felt lost. I loved my job and my students. I loved grammar and worksheets. I thought I was doing a good job. I began to research some of the terms that had come up in my NBCT testing centers and I realized where I had gone wrong. I was teaching a curriculum, not my students. I went through the book at the same pace year after year, leaving everyone behind who wasn’t strapped in and ready for the roller coaster! In that research, through some simple dumb luck, I stumbled my way into best practice.
I began attending some sessions at my state conference with Susan Gross. She got me excited to “peel the banana” differently! I went back to my room and began by telling a couple of stories and doing some TPR. The next year, I blended story telling with the textbook. Then I added a reader… Then I got bold and ditched the textbook because I felt like it was holding me back from talking about the things my students wanted to talk about… Little by little I purged my curriculum and turned it into what I wanted it to be! I’m now 13 years in and every year I still add new things and make a few more changes. It is definitely a journey.
I teach in a small, rural school. My challenges are different than the challenges you face if you’re in an urban district. I am in a department of 3, you may be in a department of 20 or a department of 1. Remember that we’re all working within the framework we’ve been given and that whatever changes we make for the good of our students have to be framed within the context of that department.
I hope you plan this summer! I hope you plan a TON of input for your students next year! I hope you plan to read with them, to build community with them, and to fill their cups with language input. I hope my scope and sequence for Wildcat Spanish can be of use to you. But mostly, I hope that you know it takes time. Every year, rather than rushing yourself to get it all done at once, stop to smile back on the successes you’ve seen through the pieces you managed to add to your curriculum! Did you ditch the chore chapter and add a reader? HOORAY FOR YOU! Find joy in that victory! Did your department agree to skip ‘the house chapter’ in favor of Viviendas del mundo? Just keep taking steps!! Watch for the joy in your journey to more effective practice!
The school year does two things for me: It inspires me to create new things, to forge new community in the classroom, to do my best in the classroom… and it WEARS. ME. OUT. I’m serious. WORN OUT. I love to work and I will work on a lot of side projects all summer long but I will also do some things that help me clear my mind and re-ignite my creativity. I want to share one of those things with you.
When my colleague, Matt Donoho, asked me if I would take on the role of a female superhero in a podcast that he and his friends write and produce, I looked him square in the eye and said…
OF COURSE I WILL! THAT SOUNDS AMAZING! I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A SASSY, FEMINIST SUPERHERO!!! BRING IT ON!
I hadn’t heard season one of the podcast but when I’m not working on my computer, I am driving somewhere so I had plenty of time to get caught up! I laughed, my son laughed… it was just a great, wholesome show to listen to as we drove to all of our different engagements!
Today, season 2 debuts and I am about to binge listen to the whole thing! I hope you’ll join me… and I hope that if you like it, you’ll give @MrDonoho a shoutout on Twitter. He is a talented guy!
Don’t forget that in the midst of all of your summer reflecting and planning and scheming, you have to do some down-time things for yourself. Things that will help you re-center and cultivate those creative pockets deep inside. Whether it is listening to a podcast or participating in one, embrace a passion project that will help you return to the classroom in August ready to roll on another school year! It will be here in the blink of an eye!
It was a great year in Wildcat Spanish. There were trying days but after a pretty rough 17-18, this school year was a piece of cake. As I enjoy my first day of summer break with a second cup of coffee, my bird feeders, and two (exhausted from a dog park visit) dogs, I am also reflecting on my year. I’ve found that if I completely shut down after I leave school, the urgency disappears and I forget to take the time to reflect on the highs and lows. If I don’t reflect on the highs and lows, I find myself re-making the same mistakes in the new school year!
I just finished listening to “Girl Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis. I loved this book. There are things I don’t necessarily agree with (I am pretty sure only those in privileged positions can chase their dreams the way Rachel has) but there are also things that really, really hit home for me. One of them: Why do you break promises to yourself? Rachel talked about how we always say we are going to do things and then when it comes down to it, we cancel on our own plans again and again. “I’m going to save up to go to ACTFL”, “I’m going to try X in class this year”, “I am going to invite a colleague in to observe and coach me”… what promises have you made yourself this year that you just let fall by the wayside as the year got busy and you ran out of time? Rachel asks what we would think if it were a friend or loved one doing that to us… What if it was your a loved one saying “I’m going to fix X at home this year”, or “I am going to invite you over for a barbecue”, or “I’m going to save up to come see you” and then kept breaking the promises again and again?? You would lose trust in that person!
As I commit to some promises to myself, I’ve made a list on a “stickie” on my computer screen. These are things I want to do differently in the new school year that require me to plan and prepare over the summer. Before I get into vacation mode and stop thinking of them, I wanted to write down these promises to myself right now, while the iron is still hot! I even gave myself some timelines to follow so it doesn’t all pile up in August!
Things that went well:
There were great moments this year. Some days I was SO proud of what they said and other days, Spanish 2 came in saying “This is so dumb.” The great thing about students is that they keep you humble as heck. Just when you think you’ve found the perfect resource to engage every child in the room, one will look at you and say “I didn’t take Spanish 3 because I hate everything we do in this class.” *Sigh*
Some things I plan to improve for next year:
I feel really solid on my level 3/4 units and readers but I feel like I need more engaging content in level 2. I would love to have some units that I love as much as Mar de plástico and Basura cero but I am SO BAD at reigning in the level to keep it strictly novice. When we do the Homes of the World unit, they always love it. One of my goals this summer is to do a unit on travel that will be specifically for these guys (plus a version that I use with my 4s) and a unit on green energy that will be the first little intro into the environment for my level 2s. These are both on my promises list so I have to make them happen. I don’t want to end next year feeling like I still didn’t even make a forward step in bringing the SDGs to the novices!
I feel solid in my ability to find songs my students will like but I feel very weak in using songs to their maximum potential. My friend Kara Jacobs is sooooo good at this… me, not so much. I frequently fall back on the standard Cloze. This is not engaging. Kids complete it then never look at the lyrics again. They download the songs and listen outside of class but I am not sure they are GETTING anything from it. So I am going to try to work with songs in better ways. I’m starting with En guerra by Sebastián Yatra. My goal is to have this unit ready for launch with my level 4s in August. I want to use it to talk about body image and about negative self talk. (I think Rachel Hollis would approve. We need to give ourselves a lot of grace!)
Finally, I feel solid in my ability to build community in the classroom but I want to do a better job of taking that community OUTSIDE the classroom again. When I was teaching in my old school, our giving project “The Classroom without Walls” raised thousands of dollars every year to support different organizations at home and abroad. Since I started in my new school I have not. done. even. one. WHAT? Why have I let this slide? I have actually even PROMISED students that we’d do a fundraiser for an organization and then my busy life flew by and I didn’t get it done. In reflection, this is embarrassing to me. I made a promise to them and didn’t keep it. Next year, we get back on track. We will support local groups and international groups as we extend our lessons beyond the walls of the classroom.
Thank you for reading. I consider it a little extra accountability to tell YOU that I am going to do these things over the summer. (Blogging once a week – minus the three weeks I’m traveling- is also on the promise list.) I encourage you to take a moment in the first few days of your vacation and really consider your year. What better time to make yourself promises than when the emotions are still raw and powerful!? Have a great summer, relax, enjoy, and get ready for that awesome feeling of stepping into the new year in August 100% ready to go at it again!
In September, I received a notification that my class had been selected for the National Geographic Educator Explorer Exchange 2018/2019. I was SO excited. My Nat Geo certification has had so many perks for my students!! In the “pairing” stage, I had to give some topics that I’d be interested in studying with my Explorer partner. I, of course, said Spanish and the environment!
Nat Geo paired me with Janni Benavides of the Colombian group Jacana Jacana (a jacana is a tropical bird FYI). Our job throughout the year was to stay in contact, teach each other new things, and create some type of a ‘deliverable’ for NatGeo.
From Janni, we learned a ton about the rainforest, the dry tropical forest, and the cloud forest. From us, Janni and her homeschool elementary students, learned Baby Shark, learned about the difference in the woods in IL in the fall and in the winter, and we recorded three of Jacana Jacana’s songs in English to help reach both Spanish and English speakers!
Janni was so patient as my students tried first to learn to play the songs on the guitar and then then on the Ukulele! She met us on Skype and told the class about her home, her favorite birds, and her students’ experience in the different community homes participating in the home school program!
My students were so excited as they got to use their new language to communicate with both Janni and her students! Not a contrived situation, a real world experience using the language!
We had our failures! Like when I forgot we had sprung forward and we got all set to Skype and Janni wasn’t online… because we were an hour early! We made due with Sr. Wooly that day…
These are our final video products. The kids did all the lyric translations and learned to play and sing the new lyrics to the tune of the original songs! Thank you, Nat Geo Education for such an amazing exchange and Janni for your patience and generosity with my seniors!
Jacana Jacana’s music is a perfect authentic piece to add to your environmental unit because it is easy for students to understand and to sing! I’m hoping to be able to work on the cloud forest song with my incoming seniors in the fall! Just because the exchange is over doesn’t mean it has to end!!
Thank you so much for sharing my units with your students. When I use them in my classroom, it makes me so happy to see my own students connect with the environment, current issues, and the world beyond my classroom. When you share YOUR students’ reactions to the units, it brings me even more joy because I know that the more these students know about our changing planet, the more likely they are to become good stewards of what we have!
To show my appreciation, my store will be 25% off tomorrow (May 7) and Wednesday (May 8) using the code: GIFT4YOU Have you picked up my latest unit Basura cero yet? It will be a great price during the sale and it will help your students wrap their minds around living with less waste!
Have a great last few weeks! My seniors are in their last week now and they are set to record some videos for their Nat Geo explorer partners from the group Jacana Jacana! We have had an awesome year learning more about the rain and dry forests and the cloud forest! If you haven’t heard of Nat Geo certification, I talked about it here!
My juniors have nearly 3 full weeks left so we are ending with a virtual trip to the Galápagos with my newest reader 48 horas and some of my supplementary resources:
I’m working on a travel unit that I used with my 4s this year but would like to bring down to level 2, a unit about body image based around a music video, and a unit on clean energy worldwide! I wish I could make more hours in the day so I could get them done AND juggle end of the year craziness at school!
Thank you again for sharing my units with your students! Please share pictures on social media so I can see what you guys are up to!!
This week one of my senior boys in Spanish 4 came to class very happy. His English class was reading a Shakespearean piece and he had really been struggling. He said, “but then she gave me this (flashes graphic novel in my direction)!!! It’s the same story but I totally understand it!!!” What a cool thing to do! We know that reading builds vocabulary in L1 and in L2, but with less text, how do graphic novels build proficiency? Well, I am not sure what the exact brain processes are but it works…
“Comics can also convey a great deal of information in a short time, while allowing the reader to control the pace of reading and re-reading,” says Tracy Edmunds, a curriculum specialist. “And research shows that processing text and images together leads to better recall and transfer of learning.”
We read a ton of Fluency Matters readers in my department. 4 per year! But we also read the Señor Wooly graphic novels. As much as my students gain from reading as a class and having common discussion, I feel like the medium of the graphic novel offers them the ability to build proficiency in different ways!
A graphic novel is a story rich in images, a lot like a movie talk. While there isn’t a heavy amount of text on the page, there is a heavy amount of story in the illustrations! This lets us make predictions, describe, and discuss in a lot of different ways! Have you ever given one a try?
In Spanish 2, we read Billy y las Botas… the Graphic Novel. We have seen the very first Billy video and Billy y las Botas 1 when we read it. From their prior experience, I use predictions to have them say what might be the same/different in the graphic novel. That’s high level language for a Spanish 2 class! The rich visuals really help them develop the proficiency to narrate a detailed story!
In Spanish 3, we read La casa de la Dentista. Again, we have seen the video for La Dentista but this reader is part of a unit on the supernatural in our culture and around the world. We are going to do some heavy reading: La Calaca Alegre, adapted versions of Chac Mool, El almohadón de plumas, and La casa tomada. Starting with the graphic novel lets me do a couple of important things!
The first story of the unit is at the reading level of ALL my level 3 learners. Nothing gets them more fired up about a unit than starting with a confidence building read.
The images helped me emphasize adding detail! This is an important intermediate skill! When they can see the story, they can make a movie in their head about what’s happening… learning to do this through graphic novels helps them try to “see” the story in text heavy resources.
“We live in a visual culture, bombarded with ads and content,” says teacher Marika McCoola. “While students are taught to read in school, they’re not often taught to read visuals. In order to prepare our students, we need to address visual literacy in addition to verbal literacy. Graphic novels and comics are one way to bring this visual literacy into the classroom.”
With a brand new Señor Wooly graphic novel in production… make a space for it next year… consider trying out this type of reading! Jim and I share some ideas for how to do it here on senorwooly.com. We didn’t make the cut for ACTFL next year… do you think the title was too risque?… but Jim and I both think graphic novels are a key piece to a classroom reading program. Check them out here.
I had gone to Aldi with my good friend, a Sunday-post-church thing we do, to buy all of my healthy food for the week… You see, my resolution was to show love to myself this year… take time to get my eating, my finances, and my life in order! I had been really, really over extending myself!
When I got home and started to prep the fruits and veggies for the week, I ended up with this:
I felt terrible! If I was making this every Sunday (never mind all the ziplocs I was putting my fruits and veggies in), imagine the footprint I was leaving with my waste habits. So I started reading… I’m a sciency gal, it’s what I do. 🙂
I found lots of cool replacement things… Bamboo toothbrushes, reusable bags and bowl covers… compostable coffee pods…
But I knew I wanted to get my students thinking about their footprint as well. They LOVE units that challenge them to think (in Spanish) about the world and their place in it. Basura cero was born! We did the unit in Spanish 4 and they blew me away with their final assessments. So much of what is here is because of the way they responded as we studied the topic!!
My dear friend Nelly Hughes (check out her amazing products here) proofed the unit and now it is ready to share with everyone! I hope that together we can really start to raise awareness of the many ways to use less, waste less, and compost more!
Check out Basura cero here and if you’re looking to teach the Sustainable Development Goals look at my other units like:
When I read Kara and Megan’s post about the Kitipun Challenge yesterday, I knew that I wanted to make something to use with my students after break! I hadn’t heard it yet and I LOVE it. It has been stuck in my head since I listened the first time!
Thank you Kara and Megan for sharing with me and here are some resources to share if everyone else want to use the song too!!!