Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Unit Design in the World Language Classroom

Unit Design in the World Language Classroom

I'm thrilled to help facilitate a Google Hangout for Langcamp about the Keys to Planning for Learning.  Thank you to Laura Sexton for organizing the group and for offering the opportunity to lead a session.  (Check out her amazing blog here.)  My week will focus on unit design.  In preparation for this hour, I am digging into my own processes and experiences with units.

Understanding by Design

As a student teacher and later intern, I worked in one of the best (in my opinion) world language districts in the country, Glastonbury Public Schools, in Connecticut.  Almost twenty years ago, their curriculum was based on the concept of backwards design and was moving away from textbooks. The world language classroom was seen as a content-area, and essential questions guided daily instruction. 

I started my career by looking at the big picture and the end goals of instruction; there could not have been a better introduction.

Treading Water

My first year of teaching, I went in with big ideas, but, unfortunately, taught day to day. Taking attendance and other feats of management took much time.  After a few months I became a better planner and started organizing blocks of instruction in advance.

Rigorous Units of Instruction

The district where I taught for ten years was also forward-thinking, especially in its approaches to data-driven assessment and professional learning teams.  Around my third year of teaching, school-wide initiatives and goals were connected to unit design.  The structure of common planning made space for individual creativity within a research-based framework. Once or twice a month for a few years, I had the opportunity to work, with a partner, on rigorous units of instruction that leveraged effective teaching practices.   

Designing units took a long time, and even with all that district learning time, I didn't finish as many units as I would have liked.  I did find the process of planning units improved instruction in all of my courses, not just the one that was the focus of PD.

Unit Design: Questions

As I think forward to unit design, here are some of my questions:
  • What is the difference between a curriculum unit and a unit to be taught?  Are they the same?
  • What "themes" should I use for my units?  AP, IB, or the global themes outlined in the Keys to Planning for Learning?
  • How often should I revisit units?  Can my school/district build in monthly time for this type of review and reflection?
  • What language functions should units focus on, and are they spiraled effectively through vertical articulation?
  • What unit topics will interest my students?
I look forward to discussing units with the Langcamp community during our Google Hangout On Air on 7/12!  I hope to see you there.

Want to read more about units or Langbook?

Check out my recent post about ACTFL's iPad app for unit and lesson design or
read about my experiences during the first week of Langcamp's Book Club, about curriculum.


Here are my bookmarks connected to unit design. I hope these help with your own unit planning.
World Language Model Curriculum
From Ohio; has many useful materials for writing curriculum, including sample topic, themes, and essential questions organized by theme and proficiency level.
World Languages: PALS
Fairfax County Schools resource designed to help world language teachers make rubrics for performance assessments.
AAPPL Tasks and Topics
Model Curriculum: World Languages
Curriculum Overview Samples - World Languages | CDE
Unit Samples by Proficiency Levels | Ohio Department of Education
Unit Planning Instruction and Assessment | Ohio Department of Education
Instructional and Authentic Resources | Ohio Department of Education
The Common Core Framework and World Languages: A Wake Up Call for All
Article that ties the CCSS with world language.
The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
IPA examples from CARLA.
Scores | AAPPL Score Descriptors and Strategies
These from ACTFL and AAPPL. Great resource for teachers, to prepare students for success with communication.
OFLA Rubrics for Integrated Performance Assessments
Laura Terrill's Wiki
Includes materials and information from a variety of world language presentations. Includes IPA materials, lessons, sample units, and more.
From the Ohio Foreign Language Association. A great resource for creating integrated performance assessments. Includes resources and a template.
ACTFL Resources Templates and Rubrics
Includes two key PDFS for planning standards-based tasks: Interpretive task template and rubrics for interpretive, presentational, and interpersonal modes.
What is interculturality? - LinguaFolio
A definition of interculturality as part of the Linguafolio Training Modules.
The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA): CoBaLTT Project
Sample world language lessons shared through CARLA.
Alignment of the National Standards for Learning Languages with the Common Core State Standards
This PDF describes how the national standards for learning languages aligns with the Common Core.
NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements | American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages
The Can-Do Statements help learners identify what they need to do to function at a specific level of proficiency. The statements also help educators plan curriculum, units of instruction, and daily lessons to help learners improve their performance and reach a targeted level of proficiency. Through multiple opportunities to show that they "can do" in classroom formative and summative assessment, unit by unit, learners collect the evidence that points toward a specific proficiency level.
ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines
The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are descriptions of what individuals can do with language in terms of speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-world situations in a spontaneous and non-rehearsed context. For each skill, these guidelines identify five major levels of proficiency: Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice.
ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners | American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages
The ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners are designed to describe language performance that is the result of explicit instruction in an instructional setting. These new Performance Descriptors reflect how language learners perform whether learning in classrooms, online, through independent project-based learning, or in blended environments.
Instructional and Authentic Resources
World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages | American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages
Download Two-Page Summary of the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages
Common Core State Standards Initiative | Home
ACTFL 21st Century Skills Map

Sunday, July 10, 2016

ACTFL's Unit and Lesson Planner (iPad App)

While I was preparing to facilitate the 7/12 conversation about unit design for the Langcamp book club on The Keys to Planning for Learning, I came across information about ACTFL's app for unit and lesson design. (Click here to access the app through iTunes.)

I immediately explored the app. 

The app contains:

  • Resources that are within the book.
    • Common Core Anchor Standards
    • Essential Questions Chart, which is tied to global themes and proficiency levels
    • Blank Unit Template
    • Blank Lesson Plan Template
    • Balanced Lifestyle Unit
    • Balanced Lifestyle Lesson Plan
    • Education Standards Based Unit
    • Chinese Lesson Plan for Third Grade
    • Language Functions
  • Steps to "Plan a Unit" and to "Plan a Lesson." These processes guide users through completing all of the fields found within a unit or lesson plan template.  Users can export their plans as a PDF.
  • "My library," which stores all unit and lesson plans created.

What I would add in an upgrade:

I would like the app to also include links to useful resources, such as the ACTFL World Readiness Standards, AP themes, or P21 standards.  Also, typing in the various fields with the iPad could have improved functionality.

PDFs only?

The app only exports as a PDF.  However, though my laptop, I was able to save the PDF then open it in Word, and was then able to edit it further.

The bottom line:

This app makes lesson and unit planning a breeze, and makes a complex process seem very manageable.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Reflections: Langcamp Book Club Session 1

Last night was the first Google Hangout for the Langcamp Book Club for this summer.  It meets every Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST.  Come join!  (You can access the full video from last night here.)

The book club is reading The Keys to Planning for Learning by Donna Clementi and Laura Terrill.  For the first session, Laura Sexton facilitated an excellent conversation about unit 1, which explores a 21st century world language curriculum.

Here are some of my initial reflections; more will come over time.

  • So grateful!  First, I would like to thank Laura for organizing the Langcamp community and spearheading the book club.   I truly appreciate the conversations with my colleagues, who offer diverse experiences and perspectives, especially because I am not currently in the classroom at this time (but hope to go back soon). 
  • Online meetings are great.  I enjoy online meetings.  Google Hangouts are an interesting space for interacting with colleagues and friends, both via video and chat features.  Being online makes it easy to research and share new ideas and also to find specific links. 
  • There are unique processes for online meetings.  These include muting microphones when not speaking and expecting wait time after questions are asked.  It's also interesting to think about how participants engage with each other, and what technological ground work needs to be laid in advance for this to happen.  I have much to learn.  (I'm thinking I may do a longer blog post about online meetings at some point.)
  • I want to write my own curriculum.  The discussions from last night made it clear how important a well-designed curriculum is for student success.  I also think that the act of writing curriculum is critical.  The process of engaging with and making decisions about the elements of curriculum, which includes the various standards, language functions, performance tasks, and authentic resources, leads to greater understanding of the end goals of instruction, and thus better daily practice.
  • Moving towards proficiency requires much thinking work.  We had many discussions about topics such as using the target language, engaging students, the three modes of communication, making tasks relevant to students, and engaging with authentic speakers.  
  • Student goals and self-assessment are critical.  When student set goals and evaluate their progress, their engagement increases, and they take ownership over their learning.
  • More learning!  In addition to the discussions about curriculum, I learned some interesting tidbits, such as:
That is all for now.  I can't wait to learn more this summer.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My Learning from Langcampct

Yesterday's Lancampct was nine months in the making.  I was thrilled to work with Maureen Lamb, Matthew Mangino, and Katy Reddick to plan the event.  I'm already looking forward to the next one.

My world language colleagues and friends truly inspired me today; it will take me weeks to process all of the learning from the sessions and also the informal conversations I had throughout the conference.

Langcampct session board at the end of the day

Some of my initial takeaways are below.  Please visit our virtual Session Board to link to the notes from each session.

  • Student teachers!  There were four student teachers from the University of Connecticut in attendance, and they were amazing!  It was wonderful to learn from them and to have these novice teachers connect with more experienced educators.
  • Session 1:  Strategies for staying in the target language.  My favorite idea from the session: Create a shared classroom document, that students can add to, with language functions in the target language, organized by category, for different tasks, such as playing a game, working on a project, common classroom questions, etc.  Review and model these language functions in context before beginning an activity. I also liked the discussion about using grouping strategies, props, and adopted identities to encourage interpersonal communication.
  • Session 2:  AP French.  I learned about many fabulous resources, especially those offered by RFI for those learning French.
  • Session 3:  Project-based learning.  This session was a great reminder about the excellent information offered by the Buck Institute, with their gold standard PBL.  PBL, in order to be effective, must be carefully designed using best practices.  An in-depth discussion comparing integrated performance assessments and PBL helped to deepen my understanding of both topics while simultaneously revealing how much more I have to learn. 
  • Smack down:  The smack down, at the end of the day, was a celebration of everyone's learning.
  • Public and independent schools.  I was pleased that the event attracted a mix of public school and independent school world language teachers.  I haven't worked much with colleagues from independent schools, and I learned so much. I look forward to continuing these collaborations.
  • Thank you!  This event would not have been possible without the support of the EdCamp Foundation, the Wethersfield Public Schools, or the participation of dedicated educators. 
I feel incredibly lucky to work with such passionate and committed educators.  This event confirmed my belief in the power of teacher-driven professional development.  I expect there will be more blog posts in the future as I think more deeply about the themes and topics from Langcampct.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Thoughts on EdCamp

Thoughts on Edcamp

I attended my first Edcamp this past summer, Edcamp CT.  It was an enlightening experience that has profoundly impacted my views on professional development.

An Edcamp Primer

What are Edcamps?
Information on Edcamps, from the source:  "Organic, participant-driven professional learning experiences created by educators, for educators."  Participants arrive, add a session or pose a question to an available time and room on the conference schedule, attend sessions (or leave them mid-session as desired), then finish with a "smack down" where participants have a chance to share their learning. The Edcamp I went to had a Google "living room" where participants in each session could have discussions and add notes, and access these materials later.
The conference board from the Edcamp I attended as it was starting to be filled by conference attendees.
Who attends Edcamps?
Edcamps are open to teachers, parents, students, and administrators.  The one I went to included a mix of educators from different levels of schooling from the states in my area, including Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.  As a former high school French teacher, I learned much talking to educators with different specialties from elementary and middle schools

My Edcamp experience
Since I have left the classroom, social media has helped me stay connected to the trends in education. I learned about this Edcamp from Twitter, and was thrilled to move off of the waiting list.

Whoah now!
When I walked in and saw the conference board, I was overwhelmed. It was the first time I had entered a conference and been asked, "What do YOU, Amanda, want to learn today?  What workshops would enrich your own learning?  What questions would you like to explore?"  I had many meaningful conversations with educators, and found the attendees to be friendly, interested, interesting, engaging and engaged.  The different viewpoints and experiences, combined with the open-mindedness and honesty of attendees, led to many deep discussions, and, I believe, changes in practice.

What did I learn about?
I attended four different sessions (including one that I proposed):
  • Google Classroom:  It can be a powerful tool as a learning management system, and the personal experiences of the presenters in the classroom makes me believe that this is a useful platform for students.
  • Apps:  Nearpod.  A great tool for interactive presentations with students.  I also learned about Periscope.
  • How can I prevent difficult phone calls and conversations with parents?  As a teacher, it is important to give parents and students a framework for teacher contact, and to create systems for sharing information with parents.
  • World language teachers:  There is a wide range of teacher practices in regards to integrated performance assessments and proficiency-based teaching and learning.
How has this edcamp impacted my beliefs about professional development?
It was an affirmation of the power of teacher-led professional development.

What's next?
I had such a positive experience that I am looking to attend other Edcamps in the future. I have also partnered with three other teachers (two of whom were at the same Edcamp) to make an Edcamp for world language teachers.  It is on 4/9/16 in Wethersfield, CT.  We would love to see you there!

Have you attended any edcamps?  How were your experiences?  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Guest Blogger for Cambridge University Press

My work as a consultant the past few years has brought me much new learning and experiences.  I have visited school districts around the country and connected with educators both online and in person.  I'm excited that in my role as a consultant, I have been asked to be a guest blogger for Cambridge University Press, writing about five teacher frustrations in the world language classroom. Please click the frustrations below to link to the corresponding post.  I would love to get feedback on the posts!  And happy holidays to one and all.

Frustration 1:  My materials are all over the place!
Frustration 2:  My textbook is filled with static!
Frustration 3:  My students love technology, but it's hard to integrate into my teaching.
Frustration 4:  It's impossible to finish my textbook in one year.
Frustration 5:  My students can't communicate!  (Coming soon.)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Student-Centered Learning and the Target Language

It is possible for the classroom to be student centered and for students to stay in the target language.  Here are some ideas for shifting the responsibility to students while maintaining that 90% in the target language.

1.  Establish routines and procedures, demonstrating how to use the target language within those procedures.  Add these routines slowly to classroom practice, and be sure to practice and review them often, especially when they are new.  Having these routines in the target language makes them a part of classroom practice, and because they are such a part of class culture, they will encourage the use of target language during the routines and afterwards.  Example include:
  • Passing out and collecting papers
  • Getting student attention
  • What to do when someone knocks at the door
  • Anchor activities
  • Asking to use the bathroom or to move around the room
2.  Teach students the language that is needed for small-group discussions.  Create a document that is distributed or projected with the necessary expressions in the target language.  Be sure to model how to use the expressions, and reinforce them before each activity.  For example:
  • Phrases for coming to consensus:
    • What is your answer for______?
    • I agree!
    • No, I disagree.  I have _______ for an answer.
    • Can you explain your answer?
    • I chose this answer because_______.
  • Brainstorming vocabulary:
    • Yes, great idea!
    • Do you know any phrases about______?
    • Can we add more information to this sentence?
  • Sharing opinions (a great way to practice AP skills):
    • In my opinion_____________.
    • I disagree because__________.
    • On the one hand, ______ but on the other hand_________.
3.  Scaffold language use in a way that meets student needs.  Focus on using i + 1 with students, preparing them to focus on the message, not translation, and for the fact that they will not understand every word, which is a part of language learning.  

4.  Write directions in the target language.  In addition to saying the directions, whenever possible, prepare to project the directions. This is helpful for the different types of learners and will help to ease student anxiety.

90% target language is possible when we, as teachers, plan and scaffold our language use as carefully as we plan our units.  How have you maintained the use of the target language when in a student-centered classroom?