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Sunday, October 5, 2014

2nd year story--busca, encuentra

Hi everyone!

Today's story is a short-short. I used it to teach busca and encuentra. You proofers--proof away! All proofing is much appreciated! I wrote this as we were closing in on our exam. The story drew chuckles, because George exists in many of our classes!

Todd estaba muy nervioso. --¿Dónde está mi libro? Lo necesito porque necesito estudiar. ¡Hay un examen en las matemáticas mañana!--
Ni su mamá ni su abuela podían decir. Todd lo buscó en su dormitorio, en la sala (living room), y aún (even) en el baño. El libro no estaba.

Todd was very nervous--"Where is my book?  I need it because I have to study. There is a math exam tomorrow!"
Neither his mom or his grandma could say. Todd looked for it in his bedroom, in the living room, and even in the bathroom. The book wasn't there.

Todd fue a su dormitorio y llamó a su amigo George. --George, ¿puedo estudiar contigo? No encuentro mi libro.
George le dijo --¿Estudiar? ¿Para qué?
Todd le exclamó --¡Tonto! ¡Para el examen mañana!
George le dijo --¿Hay un examen? ¿Cómo sabes?
Todd le dijo –Porque el profe nos dijo, estaba escrito (written) en la pizarra, y nos dio un examen de práctica.—
George habló en una voz suave  --Todd, ¿puedo usar tu libro? El mío está en mi lócker.  
Todd gritó –George, ¡no tengo mi libro!
Los dos chicos estaban muy tristes.

Todd went to his bedroom and called his friend George.  "George, can I study with you? I can't find my book.
George said to him, "Study? For what?"
Todd exclaimed, "Stupid! For the exam tomorrow!"
George said, "There's an exam?  How do you know?"
Todd said, "Because the teacher told us, it was written on the board, and she gave us a practice exam."
George spoke in a soft voice. "Todd, can I use your book? Mine is in my locker."
Todd shouted, "George, I don't have my book!"
The two boys were very sad.

¿Y los libros?
El libro de George sí estaba en su locker. El libro de Todd—en el autobús, con su lonchera y su cartera (wallet). Estaba estudiando y olvidó a llevarlos.

And the books?
George's book was in his locker. Todd's book--in the bus, with his lunch box and his wallet. He was studying and forgot to take them.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A 2nd-year story and activity

This story is one that I am using to get students ready to read "Mitch y el dinero" en my 2nd-year book "El cochino blanco". It was really successful, much more so than I thought it would be.

This was an especially difficult week for us in Tucson, since we were due to receive the force of Hurricane Odile. There was 100% chance of rain on Wednesday, and it had been really humid and cloudy all week. The school decided that we would run on a minimum day on Wednesday and a schedule one (normal day) on Thursday and Friday. My 2's were more raucous than usual for that reason.

My words were "no debes hacerlo", "tenía razon", and "devolvió".  I decided that I would have them read a short story and then write a paragraph to finish the story. They worked in pairs to finish the story. I then read the endings aloud to decide if Danny was a good boy or a bad boy. The students loved hearing their own words, and it was interesting to see how the students thought. Many of them had him do the wrong thing and then receive his just desserts as a consequence. That was great, since it introduced "tenia la culpa", which they normally don't get for a few more lessons!

Here's the story in English and Spanish.

Danny quería comprar un DVD nuevo, pero no tenía dinero. Sabía que no podía comprarlo, pero lo quería mucho.
Danny wanted to buy a new DVD, but he had no money. He knew that he couldn't buy it, but he wanted it a lot.

Un día, Danny llegó muy temprano a la clase de las matemáticas. Nadie estaba en el cuarto más que él. Danny vio la bolsa de la maestra en su escritorio.  El chico pensó “La maestra tiene mucho dinero. Puedo usar su dinero para comprar mi DVD.” Danny sacó cuarenta dólares de la bolsa.
One day, Danny arrived to math class very early. Nobody was in the room but him. Danny saw the teacher's purse on her desk. The boy thought, 'The teacher has a lot of money. I can use her money to buy my DVD.' Danny took $40 out of her purse.

Inmediatamente, un ángel apareció y le dijo a Danny –Danny, ¡ no debes hacerlo! No es tu dinero. La maestra lo necesita.—
Immediately, an angel appeared and said to Danny, "Danny, you shouldn't do it! It isn't your money. The teacher needs it."

Danny le dijo—Gracias, ángel. Tienes razón. El dinero es suyo, no la mía. Empezó a devolver el dinero a la bolsa, pero de repente apareció un diablito. –Danny, tú debes tener el DVD. Es importante. Es para tu colección de Batman. Solo faltas éste DVD. La maestra es muy rica. ¡No necesita $40!
Danny said, "Thanks, angel. You're right. The money is hers, not mine. He started to put the money back in her purse, but suddenly a little devil appeared. "Danny, you should have the DVD. It's important. It's for your Batman collection. You're only missing this DVD. The teacher is very rich. She doesn't need $40!

Escribe el final. ¿Danny devolvió el dinero o compró el DVD? Explica tu respuesta (answer).
Write the ending. Did Danny return the money or buy the DVD. Explain your answer.

I told the students that they needed to show what happened because of the decision that he made. I had everything from him putting back the money and feeling good because he did the right thing to using the money and being caught by the teacher in the same video store to buying the video and then being struck dead.  Interesting day, and we all had a good time. It was the most fun I can remember having on a Friday.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Testing for LD Students

We all have them. There are many different types, and the IEPs and 504s come with specific do's and don'ts regarding their needs. This one needs to sit by the teacher. So do these four others--all in the same class. That one needs to have a secluded space for testing. Another one needs to be in a separate room so the test can be read to him. But one thing in common--nearly all of them need special arrangements and extra time for testing.

The other issues can be dealt with: determine what "sitting by the teacher" means in a class like ours, where the teacher is all over the place. In my room, I try to keep them in the first row if possible, and I try to be sure and stand by them when something is happening that they need to pay close attention to (all the time). But testing arrangements have been my downfall.

I know that my LD students aren't at a disadvantage in my class. A class like mine is actually a benefit for most. But how do you give a song quiz to a person whose dyslexia makes it hard for him to read and harder for him to write? How do you allow a secluded spot for testing in a classroom with 30 other students? How can a student take an exam in a room apart from the classroom when the teacher-tutor available doesn't speak Spanish? These are not just my problems; these problems are universal.

This year, I've decided to take a different turn. I am asking my LD students to meet with me outside of class. At that time, I ask the student what test he feels most comfortable taking. I then make an arrangement with him: he will take the original test with everyone else, but if he does poorly, he knows that he can take a second test after school with me in the classroom. Whatever he needs will be provided. If he needs a multiple choice test, I will make him one. If he needs a secluded space, no one will be allowed in the room besides the two of us. If he needs a reader, who better than me?

You might wonder why I don't put these tests into play from the beginning? Two reasons: tests are unannounced, and as a result, I sometimes haven't had time to make extras myself. This is my fault, but I try to test after every six words, and sometimes I'm getting ready for new vocabulary and realize that I can't introduce before I test. Second reason relates to the first: I give unannounced quizzes, and I do that (like all of you do that) so that I'll know if there's vocabulary I have to reteach. My LD students often have test anxiety. No matter what kind of test I give, if it's unannounced, it's hard for them to do well. So taking the first test with the understanding that there's another test out there for them and this test is "to give them something to do while everyone else is taking the test" is actually their heads up. They now know a test is coming, they know what vocabulary will be on the test, and they can study for a day or two before coming in and taking their own test.

I'm just starting this, and I'm not sure how successful it will be. But I'm the mother of an LD student, and I know that this would have been beneficial for him.  Everyone I've talked to likes the idea and appreciates the person-to-person touch. I'm wondering what you've found to be helpful with your learning disabled students? Please tell me in the comments. Thanks!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Personalization, part 2: Personalization without pain

First of all, I want to thank you for bearing with me. I promised you part two last week, but I was so busy and my plate was so full that I couldn't do it. I did post that my new first year book is out (yes, shameless plug :) ), but I didn't find time to do anything else.

I want to start this post by reminding you of something in my last post. Karen is aware of her flaws and wants us, her students, to be aware of them, too. I decided that is a good example to follow in my classroom. I have certain homework that is due, and the first was for the student to read "How to Succeed in My Class" with a parent and sign and return it. We try to be a green school, so my homework is on my website. However, I keep a file of the signed student/parent signatures (it gives me backup as well as a file of parent signatures), so I ask that they give me the last page as homework.

I try to be organized, and sometimes I run into trouble. If a student tells me that s/he turned in their homework, I take it out and go through it. If I don't find the student's work, I give it to the student to look through. Since there is always a  chance of misfiling, I give them the opportunity to do the work over again for full credit. This is announced on the first homework day.  Amazingly, hardly any of the kids misuse this. What it does is let them understand that I'm human and make mistakes. Sometimes I'm the first adult to acknowledge this.

What does this have to do with personalization? I think that in order to do personalization well, you have to have the students' trust. There is nothing that breaks down that trust faster than refusing to acknowledge even the possibility that you made a mistake. I also give the student credit for acknowledging that in themselves. For example, one student wrote me saying that she saw she had an M (missing) for her homework and was really angry--until she went through her backpack and realized she hadn't turned in her work. I thanked her for her honesty and gave her full credit when she turned it in the next day. Everyone makes mistakes, and I am aware of that. It makes for a good parent-teacher connection.

Now on to personalization.  I saw so much of it going on in NTPRS, and much of what I saw was confirming to me. (That's a really good reason for advanced teachers to go, by the way. There is always something new to learn, but it's equally rewarding just to know that you're doing it right, especially if you're in a language department that doesn't believe in the method or that doesn't treat you with the respect you deserve.)  One thing I realized--had affirmed--is that there are as many ways to do personalization as there are teachers out there. Some, like Karen and Joe Neilson, know their students inside and out. Karen takes a student inventory so that she has a record of what kids like and dream of being and doing. It's on her fluencyfast website, by the way. Joe--I'm not sure. I don't think he takes an inventory. I think that he listens. He hears who is dating whom, who is playing what sports, etc. Honestly, that second isn't hard to figure out at Salpointe. We're a uniform school and every team has its own shirt. It's pretty easy to figure out the football players when their shirts and backpacks announce it.  He then uses what he knows to add interest to his stories.  I do that, too--sometimes. But sometimes it's just as easy to personalize without involving the students.

What??? How do you personalize without involving the students?  Easy. You have the student become the story, and they and the class decide what their character likes and dislikes. For example, the other day in Spanish 1, the class read a story about a boy who wanted a girlfriend, but he was very tall and wanted a very tall girlfriend (this is in the 1st year book--2nd story). In the first story, he wanted a girlfriend, so he went to mass. There was a really cute girl who wanted to be his girlfriend, but she was too short. So he decided not to be her boyfriend. There were other problems in other places, but then he decided to go to a basketball game. There were lots of tall girls. The story ended with him being happy that he had a tall girlfriend.  Well, the next day's vocabulary included "he is happy" "he is sad" "he laughs" and "he begins to cry". The tie in was obvious, at least to me. So I had a student come to the front and be John and another come up and be the girl. John started off as very happy. Why was he happy? He was happy because he had a tall girlfriend. But one day John was sad. Why was he sad? There was a girl at the mass who was pretty. John decided that he didn't want a tall girlfriend. He wanted a short girlfriend. So John dumped his girlfriend (words on board) and went to mass. He told the girl, Jillian, that he wanted to have a short girlfriend. Jillian laughed and said she was short. Jillian was John's girlfriend, and Jillian was happy.

John had gone to the desk of a short girl (who the students had chosen). I asked the story, of course, but the students knew pretty well where they wanted the story to go, and it was the same place I wanted it to go. If not, I would have taken it in a modified direction, keeping in mind the vocab. Anyway, this had all happened at the desk. When John went back to the front of the class, the girl was instructed to get on her knees--there was an obvious height disparity. Then I said, "class, when John and his girlfriend walked to school, did the school laugh or cry?" Everyone yelled "laugh!" So the girlfriend said, "John, I am sad. Everyone is laughing. I don't want to have a boyfriend." And she left. And now John was sad.

How is this personalization? The kids get to decide what kind of a guy John is. He is good or bad, happy or sad, depending on what they want. No, it's not the same as knowing tons about a student and using it in a story. That has its place, too. But this is good for tying vocab from one story to another and teaching the students in the early days that acting is not threatening.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's out! Yippee!!

Hi everyone! I wanted to let you know that my new Spanish reader El gato misterioso y otros cuentos is now available from! I'm so excited!

This is a book for Spanish 1. It can be read independently from the second semester. It can be read with assistance from the first week of school.  Each story is written twice--in present and past tense.  I know that some schools insist on present tense all year, while others want present and past tenses used.

Here is a sample from the book.  The only thing missing--there is artwork! I just can't figure out how to get it on here. But go to You'll see it there.

¡Yo quiero un gato!

Hay una chica que se llama Marcia.  A Marcia le gustan los gatos.  Marcia está triste porque no tiene un gato.  Marcia quiere un gato.  Tiene dos perros, cinco hámsteres, diez peces, y trece cucarachas, pero no tiene ni un gato.

Marcia va a su mamá.  Le Dice ---¿Puedo tener un gato, por favor?  Su mamá le dice --¡No!  Tienes muchos animales.  No necesitas un gato.  Marcia está triste y empieza a llorar. 

Marcia va a su papá.  LE Dice -- Papa, ¿puedo tener un gato, por favor?--  El papá se ríe. –No Marcia.  Tienes muchísimos animales. 
 No necesitas un gato.--   Marcia está muy triste.  Se cae al piso y llora mucho.

Marcia tiene una amiga que se llama Susan.  Susan es una chica muy interesante.  
Tiene un ojo azul y un ojo verde. Le gusta hablar con Marcia. Susan va a la casa de Marcia.  Marcia está triste y llora.  Susan le dice --¿Por qué lloras, Marcia?--  Marcia le dice –Lloro porque quiero tener un gato y no puedo tener uno.--  Ella empieza a llorar otra vez (again) y se cae al piso otra vez.

Susan tiene una solución.  –Marcia, tengo un gato en mi casa.  Mi gato se llama “Fluffball”. Mi gato es tu gato.  Tú puedes tener mi gato cuando estás en mi casa.

Ahora Marcia no está triste.  Se ríe porque está contenta.  Se cae al piso otra vez, pero es porque ella está tan (so) contenta.  ¡Qué buena amiga!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

NTPRS: Personalization with the expert--Karen Rowan (Part One)

First of all, let me say that I left this for last because, for me, it was the subject that I was the least comfortable with and felt that it was the most varied approach in the conference.  I have always felt wary of personalization. I am not a touchy-feely person. I feel that the students' personal lives are really none of my business. I don't feel that I have the right to ask them about boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. I'm not a person who remembers things easily, either. I will not have the name of a particular student's favorite football team or movie star on the tip of my tongue. And this might be TPRS suicide, but I like it that way. 

Now don't get me wrong. I like my students. My classes are in my care, and I treat them well. I treat them with respect. I just don't like having lots of trivia clogging up my brain. I need that brain space for other things, like remembering where I put my keys, keeping my lesson plan in the top of my mind, and not forgetting to put in those all-important structures.  I don't have the brain space to load with my students' curricula vitae. 

Naturally, this makes me question my ability as a TPRS teacher. If I can't get up close and personal with my students, then how can I ever deliver up close and personal personalization? I entered Karen's class thinking that I would get some easy answers.

I should have known better. Karen is not an easy answer person. Her personalization class shows that. It starts off by warning you that you are not going to understand everything (she blames that on herself--she knows her flaws and advises us to know them, too).  It continues with the understanding that this is not going to be a one-session class. In order to get everything she had to give to us, we would need to come to all three sessions.

I'll be honest. I almost left. I didn't know if I really wanted to devote three sessions (1 1/2 hour long sessions, mind you) to a subject that made me uncomfortable. I decided to give the first session a try and then make up my mind about the others.

Well, Karen had me from the first five minutes.  She talked about the classroom in a way that had me immediately back and remembering. She spoke of teaching from the heart--remembering that children respond in different ways--they have different heart languages.  Some respond to touch, others to words of affirmation, others to quality time, others to gifts, and still others to acts of service.  It made me remember teachers I have known. I remembered Mrs. Lee who cared about me enough to talk to me. She knew I was hurting and alone, and she made time to show me she cared.  I also remembered Mrs. She-who-must-not-be-named, who responded to a question, "What does the VIP on your coffee cup mean?" with a scolding for looking at things on her desk. To add to my confusion and hurt, there had been another teacher in the room with her. To top it all off, the other teacher asked the same thing I did, and she responded laughingly and with love. I never talked to that teacher again.

After explaining to us why it's important to know our students and learn their heart language (a lesson she picked up from Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages of Children), Karen helped us learn how to personalize.  She started with a worksheet--a student inventory--that she has the children fill out on the first day of class.  This worksheet can be found at the following website: .  I had heard that before, but I didn't know what to do with it once I'd had the students make it. This was resolved when Karen said that she had the inventory on the front table in file folders.  Perfect!

The workshop was very interactive. We all got up and moved around, we asked each other questions, and we learned how to use personalization to best advantage.  It's been a few weeks since the workshops, so I can't remember exactly what was learned when, but that's not really important, is it?  Suffice it to say that on that first day, I was personalizing like crazy, expending a lot of energy, and feeling pretty okay about myself. Then after the session Karen came up to me and told me that she watched me and was impressed, but she wanted me to learn how to "give away" the teaching so that I wouldn't use up so much energy and the kids could shine (I'm not sure those are the words. Like I said, it's been a while).  I was shocked. I've always been exhausted at the end of every day. Could it even be possible to allow the students to use the energy while I just stood back and let them?

Next time:  Personalization without pain.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

NTPRS: Popular music in the classroom--but first, a word about Lisa

I'm awesomely grateful that I was able to come to this conference. The last one I attended was in 2006, and it was in Vermont that I first meant Lisa Reyes.  She was assisting Karen Rowan with the conference, and she was wonderful.  The year after, she took over the duties herself, and this was her last year. She has retired and is going to Haiti to work with students there.

Karen and Lisa are a great combination. Karen is a force of nature. She is a genius--I'm sure of it. Some of the best ideas in the TPRS world have come from her--most notably coaching (and I think, but I'm not positive, that she came up with the idea of language classes that became Fluency Fast). She has brainstorms, and they can by scary amazing. At the same time, she is a person who genuinely cares about you. She sees your professional need--knows it intuitively--and actively seeks a way to meet it. And all she asks in return is your affirmation of her. She's quite simply amazing.

Lisa, on the other hand, is understated. She is calm and present and beautiful. She is there for you, there to make your conference successful and happy. She cares. She works tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that the conference goes off without a hitch, it's largely because of her that it seems to go effortlessly.  She does everything she can to make sure that everyone has everything she needs, and she is available for you. That's the most important thing in the world--someone who realizes you need help and makes sure you get it. She has a group of people helping her, and together they are the glue that hold the conference together.

Example--at the beginning of the conference, we were told that all our needs would be meant--there would even be chocolate! I can't really eat chocolate, but I had occasion to go past the hospitality desk (don't know if that's what they called it, but it's what it was). The first time I went by, there was a big bowl of chocolate.  The second time, the big bowl had been supplemented by a smaller ball of sugar-free chocolate. Later, I noticed Starbursts for our friends who don't like chocolate. Still later, gluten-free snacks.  I was impressed--once again, everyone's needs were being met.  Believe me, if you're a teacher at a language conference, you need a sugary treat from time to time! Lisa cares about your personal needs.

Well, back to the class. Once again, you can find the presentation handout at

Popular music is the easiest way I know to involve your students in Spanish. It's music, and music, is inherently repetitious. It helps listening comprehension and rate, and the students like it. If you find music they like, they'll download it themselves, thus insuring countless reps.

The important thing is to find music that they like. Not you--they. You might be a big fan of mariachi or ranchero--they won't be, not yet. You can find good Spanish popular music by going online and searching popular Spanish music on Pandora. Pandora is an easy way to find new songs, because it is a genome tracker. You give them the name of a popular singer--say Shakira, for example--or a song and it will give you unlimited songs in that same style. That way, you can find a variety of singers and songs that your students will probably like. If you don't want to go that route, Lisa and Bryant helpfully give you a list on their handout. Like I said, she knows what you need and tries to make sure you get it :).

Most of us realize the value of music, but not everyone has a plan to put music into the teaching week.  Lisa and Bryant do it differently, but they both do it as bellringers.  It's a great way to start the day--you can take attendance and do any morning prep you need in the two-five minutes that the students are listening to the song.  There are instructions on the handout, and I'm going to let you read them rather than putting them here for you.  Instead, I'm going to take a few minutes and tell you how I do it (hey, it is my blog, after all :) ).

I teach at Salpointe, where Joe Neilson teaches. Joe is fabulous, and so I was surprised that he doesn't use music. He was not sure that music was a good use of time until one of his students asked if he could use words from songs I'd taught him as part of a writing prompt. Joe was amazed at the amount that he'd remembered from just listening to a song for one week.  He gave me some pointers on how to best use my time, and that's how I teach songs today.

I start music on the first block day of school. Our school has three regular days and two block days, so we see our students four days a week.  If you don't have block, just pick a day. On that first day, I start with teaching them the song. If the song is more than 2-3 minutes long, you can split it in half. Lisa suggests only translating the parts that you want them responsible for, but I do it differently. First I read the song in Spanish, and I tell them (in Spanish) to underline certain phrases as I read them. Those are the phrases that will be on the test. Then I translate the entire song, but I tell them they only need to write the translation for the underlined words. For the rest of the week, the students are expected to take out their songsheets and follow along. I play the song twice--the first time they listen, and the second time they sing or speak the lyrics.  I explain to them that the first time is for comprehension and reading and the second is to increase their rate. Most of them are willing to sing or speak; they really do want to speak faster and better.

After a week, I quiz the song. Lisa has some great ideas for this on the handout, as well as exercises during the week.  I quiz them by having them complete a CLOZE exercise. I play the song twice, and then I say it once. That gives them a really good chance to hear the words. I tell them that spelling doesn't count--unless their misspelling becomes an entirely different word. Later in the year (2nd year), I also hold them accountable for accents, but only if the accent makes it a different word (esta vs está, for example).  In the second part of the quiz, I give them five sentences and put their target vocabulary in a word bank. They fit the right word into the right sentence.

I really enjoy using music. One thing that both Bryant and I have discovered is that your students will bring you your best music. Remember I said not to use mariachi or your favorite music? You actually can do that, but later in the year, after you've got them hooked. The exception to this rule is if your student brings in something. This happened to me last year. My student and her boyfriend love to listen to M.C. Magic. It was a great connection--he is from Nogales, Mexico, which is about an hour away from Tucson. But the music--it was a very different style. But I introduced it with the proviso that they were to listen respectfully, since this was a classmate's suggestion. Here is the song: Todos mis días.  As the video started (I always introduce the song by reading, then translation, then showing the video. The first time they actually hear the song, it's accompanied by the video).  Well, I heard a few snickers, quickly covered up. But once they got used to the admittedly strange sound of Magic and his vocorder, it quickly became a favorite. By the way, if your students are bugging you for a rap, this is a good one. It's quite slow.

If you haven't tried music in your classroom, what are you waiting for? You can use traditional music, too, of course. There's always room for Cielito lindo and Allá en el rancho grande. But if you want the kids hooked--make it popular!