Category Archives: Professional development

Transitioning to Teaching Online

From now until July 1, this blog will double as my e-Portfolio for “Transitioning to Teaching Online,” a STARTALK class through the University of Minnesota for teachers MJReadingof critical languages. I’m excited to blend the tools and methodology I love with an online setting. I’ve already found some new tools in the introductory materials, as well as this set of assessment apps. We have a strong faculty for the class and awesome resources, so I know I’ll have a lot to share and comment on. The class demands six to eight hours a day of my attention, so I’m going to be working hard!

Stay tuned!



Portfolio Assessment

Our district has recently implemented SGO’s: Student Growth Objectives. I am planning to use a portfolio to help demonstrate student growth (and to help set baseline numbers). I’m kind of excited about this. At ACTFL, I will be sharing how to create a teacher website, but I have decided that I’ll show how to set up a class portfolio template instead and demonstrate that it’s really the same as setting up a class website.

Here’s what I’ve set up for students. You can open it and click on “Use this template,” make your changes, then go into Settings, Manage Site, General, and tell it to save as a template so your kids can try it too. There’s help from teacher Anthony Devine embedded on the site, and if you want to do something but can’t figure it out, just google “How do I …” and you’ll probably come up with the answer. Or ask me in the comments below. Over the next few days, while I’m traveling, I probably won’t answer, but I’m doing the same presentation at our state conference in EEK three weeks! so it will help to know anything you want to know but can’t figure out.

I don’t like technology pushing me but I’m going to keep it simple. Students did a fast write in class one day, typed it up for homework (with all the mistakes), and then opened this template from their google drive, and made their first post on the writing page. Just that easy, just that quick. Fifteen minutes’ worth of lab time. We’ll do a quick-time audio on a story next, and they’ll paste that into their speaking page with a picture. They get to seek out their own reading, as directed. I really like it when we don’t spend valuable class time learning the technology. They can tweak things at home, and my plan is to have one of each (reading, writing, speaking, and maybe listening) at the beginning of each quarter, and at the end of the year. That should show kids their progress.

Martina’s QAR

We had our regular Second Friday meeting last week, with Martina Bex as presenter. Martina is awesome. She takes what seems like it could be an interesting idea and crafts it to become a connection device for all lessons. Then she reports on it, as though she weren’t the lead, here!

I have had QAR sessions before, but I must not have been paying attention, or maybe it’s the repetition that is helping. The first thing that I (re?)learned was that the meaning is “Question-Answer Relationship.” (I always thought it was something else that I won’t say here or it will confuse others.) QAR was created to help students with testing, so that they know by the form of the question how to answer it. Wow. QAR can be linked as a support directly to Common Core, to Danielson, and any other number of requirements our schools are heaping on us, but this one actually works, helps engage students better, differentiates for students, and can help us teach better. Talk about Big Bang for the Buck!

As I thought I already knew, there are four levels of questions: Right there, Think and search, Author and Me, and On my own. A big takeaway for me was how to pose the “Author and Me” questions. If they are yes/no questions, we have to add “explain,” or “why?” to the questions as tags. I have missed that step! Martina pointed out that the “On my own” questions are great for finding out more about students. I think that sometimes I’ve glossed over those, feeling that I already do a lot with kids to get to know them.

Another critical step that I’ve missed is to make the practice text with kids very short. I have used longer texts than would fit on a screen with my kids. As Martina demonstrated, it’s very effective to show how much a person can get out of a short text. My poor students!

(Tangent: I was talking about coaching with Laurie this week. She was telling me how she set up the coaching at Skip’s Maine conference to require coaches to give only positive feedback to teachers. When a teacher got to see someone else praised for something that first teacher had not done or needed to have done, it stuck more firmly in the first teacher’s mind, according to the participants. Laurie reported that teachers would have an ah-hah moment and then ask for a re-do to get that right. What I had on Friday was an eighty-minute ah-hah moment.)

Teachers out there who are going to Martina’s upcoming presentations at conferences or workshops in their own districts, you are in for a treat!

Martina followed up by sharing a couple of follow-up activities to extend work on the reading: “Fan N Pick” and “Grab and Go.” Hmm. Another ah-hah for me. I typically move on too quickly after a reading, even though every time I manage to milk something for a long time, I realize how powerful extension activities can be. But these aren’t just any follow-up activities. They require kids to re-read the material, to re-think the questions, and they have a game-like atmosphere.

At the end, we got to learn one last little activity with a Wordle picture, one that Martina evidently has blogged about. I’m going to hike right over there now and read about it.

I did record the session, and at some point will post about fifteen minutes of it. I was participating in the session, and we were moving around a lot, so sometimes the video was pointing at a space with no one in it. We need professionals!

Happy ACTFL week!! EEEK. I’d better call my co-presenter!! See some of you there, I hope.

Attend our Second Friday CI!

On Friday, Karen Cafmeyer presented our Anchorage CI group with two big ideas: a cartoon story for the first week of Spanish and a class novel unit that she does twice a year at every level.

Karen is a well-prepared presenter. Her advice to teachers is so specific anyone can follow it, and she’s so enthusiastic that some of us are going to take the leap and do it this time. As Diana said, it takes listening to the presentation twice before you think you’ve got it. Luckily for anyone reading this, you can see it twice too! In fact, you can come to our meeting by clicking here, since I recorded it and then messed with the sound files so that you can hear everything, including occasional pithy comments from Martina’s sweet Ellis, except for the couple of minutes that I somehow turned off the sound. It’s long, but Karen doesn’t waste any time during the presentation.

We had a small but mighty group in attendance, including three past and one future president of AFLA, our AFLA secretary, with French, German, Russian and Japanese languages represented. (We also had many food groups represented: caffeine, chocolate, fruit and pasta.)

As Betsy pointed out, the novel unit can be used to answer requirements for inter-disciplinary teaching, given the different ways Karen offered to frame it.

After the presentation, Karen asked for feedback on her way of circling, which turned out to be a creative way of using pictures on powerpoint. We discussed the downsides of circling and shared ideas to keep it from getting deadly. We also talked about how to implement and use fast writes. Then we got onto the topic of sentence frames, which Diana demonstrated. Our group drops big names all the time! Classroom jobs: Bryce Hedstrom and Ben Slavic. Circling: Susie Gross and Carol Gaab. Numbered blanks for fast writes: Scott Benedict. Comparison sentence frames: Señor Wooly.

Hope you’ll join us!

Piedad’s workshops!

I just got Piedad’s newsletter and a link to her workshops. We are not lucky enough to have Piedad close by, so I am going to toot her horn by sharing the newsletter for all you east-coast-ers. Check this out!!

And then I am going to go find some visa forms for my students to fill in. What a great authentic activity! Whenever we land in Russia, filling out the customs forms perfectly is a huge struggle, because everyone is so brain dead. It wouldn’t be an issue if they had practiced it.

Following is Piedad’s newsletter and her workshop schedule.

TPRS of New Jersey – September 2014 newsletter

This has been a very exciting beginning of a school year. I have committed to mentor one teacher for FLENJ and another for the district. Having these two mentees has forced me to define what I want to share. The time is limited, and the desire to respond to their needs and inquires in the most effective way has made me prioritize what we really need to know to succeed. The CCCS and all the paperwork it implies does not measure our success or our students’ achievements, it only gives numbers to whoever wants to use them.

Now, more than ever, we need to concentrate in what makes sense.  This is especially true if we only see our students for a few hours a week. Inspired by these reflections, I have decided to definitely offer one workshop a month. What I will present this year is a series of workshops based on my training in TPRS, complemented with theories and practices from brain research and ESL. Please go to the workshops page to see the full schedule.

The September workshop focuses on presenting and selecting vocabulary. It does not matter how old your students are, what really matters is the level of their acquisition; therefore the techniques to convey meaning and imprint the words and expressions on their brains vary according to their command, not their age. The other important aspect I will discuss in the workshop is the rationale in selecting the words and expressions for each lesson.
To register please click the following link.


Authentic materials. Four teachers and I received a grant from MSUNER to study authentic assessment instruments last year. Since I am convinced that the same activities and instruments should be used to teach, practice, and assess; I am going to share the first week activity I had with my 4th grade students who took Spanish 1 last year.

Forms. I introduced the words we found in official forms, but instead of telling them the translation of the word, I gave them the question which produces the same answer. Questions we had learned last year. So, we created a three column chart:


Nombre – ¿Cómo te llamas? –

Apellido paterno – (I gave my last name as a sample)

Apellido materno – Apellido de la mamá antes de ser esposa de papá –

(Cultural moment to explain the use of both last names and how married women keep their last name and add the spouse’s)

Fecha de nacimiento – ¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños? – dia-mes-año

Lugar o ciudad de nacimiento – ¿Dónde tiene el bebé la mamá? –

Edad – ¿Cuántos años tienes?

Domicilio o dirección – ¿Dónde vives?

Número de teléfono –

Nombre del padre – ¿Cómo se llama el papá?

Nombre de la madre – ¿Cómo se llama la mamá?

En caso de accidente avisar a – contacto en caso de emergencia o accidente

 After completing the chart, I gave the students prints or copies of official forms to apply for a passport in four different countries. Each student selected one of the forms and filled out as much as s/he could. Then with a partner who had filled out the form from a different country, they compared and helped each other completing as much as possible.

At the end, we shared and identified words nobody knew and I translated the words for them.

If you know someone who may benefit from having this information, please feel free to forward this message.

Thank you and see you soon!

Piedad Gutierrez
Educational and Bilingual Consultant

Last Hurrah…equals Slow!


If you haven’t staLastHurrahrted school yet and are stressing out, I have a suggestion. And if you have started school already and are stressing out, I have the same suggestion: invite a group of teachers over for a Last Hurrah.

I admit that I wouldn’t know how to gather a bunch of world language teachers if not for the TPRS community, and would not have thought of gathering, had Karen not written to suggest it. I still almost forgot!


In the last week, I have been frantically gathering all sorts of websites, stacking them up, creating little documents, and trying to remember how to do this thing that I’ve done for 30 years. Going back to school is intimidating. We want to get it right for our kids. We’re about to run into that “never have time enough” wall.


So today, eight language teachers slowed down, shared some delicacies, covered topics like grading and opening tricks and SEL games. Victoria reminded us what to do with upper-level grammar. We remembered some Jody Noble and Martina Bex and Laurie Clarcq ideas. We rehashed how Jason Fritz says to keep yourself sane and healthy. (Here’s his wiki.) We went to Cindy Hitz’s website for her first-day suggestions. I showed some of the photos that are coming in thanks to Cindy’s blog. (“Here is a picture of me with my bunny and my chicken.” Love it!)


Best of all, we took time to talk out loud, not on phones, and not on electronic means! We all took notes, sure, and one of us (I) was on her computer trying to send people links and rubrics. But we ate a lot, shared our woes as well as our successes, realized that we can count on one another, and slowed the pace down for a few hours. De-stress. Do it.

Join our meeting!

Hi everyone!

Our local TPRSers are getting together for a “Last Hurrah” at my house on Monday, 4:00 Alaska time. If two of you out there in WordPress Land would like to join us on Skype or Facetime, if only for a few minutes, I’d love to have you. We’re going to brainstorm ideas on our grading system, our first-day plans, and some other stuff I can’t remember right now. We might even do some coaching. We haven’t tried joining forces with those from Outside for a while (you aren’t outsiders, you just live Outside), so it would be fun to have a couple of you.

Potluck items might not be part of the deal. Recipes could though!

NTPRS14 Promises and why we should keep telling stories

I am researching storytelling and the brain today. By Googling “Stories and the Brain,” I have run into many compelling reasons to use stories in our classrooms. Here is just one, from Jan Hills:

“So the next time you want to influence … or are struggling with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, tell them a story that has an ending which is what you had in mind. … Stories are a powerful way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.”

But that was after I checked my email and found many messages all politely mentioning my promise to put links up after my presentations at NTPRS14. Mea culpa!

Note: Another presenter was using my slides as her own in another state. Viewers must ask permission to use my work and give me credit when doing so, whether for monetary gain or not.

PDL presentation

MovieTalk presentation

Embedded Reading site (if this link doesn’t work, look over to the right sidebar and find it under websites. I can’t make it work tonight for some reason)

Laurie has our recent Embedded Reading presentation and much more there. She keeps an awesome site going. Contribute your own Embedded Readings!

Alma video

Audi Superbowl Prom Date video

Anna Koshmal video  (Without you, I am…)

For more video suggestions, click on the “MovieTalk” category in the right sidebar.

Coming to Kitsap County!

I am excited to be delivering a beginning TPRS presentation across the water from Seattle on September 6 for Kitsap County. If you know any aspiring TPRSers in the area, please let them know.

Please also give them my contact info. I am presenting in “flipped” style, meaning that I’ll be directing them to some pre-reading and videos. We will start the workshop with their questions and then proceed to discuss information that the questions don’t cover. I’ve now been to one workshop delivered in this style, and it was a fabulous way to get everyone on the same playing field from the beginning.

Everyone else, I hope to see you at NTPRS! I’ll be participating in three presentations: one on MovieTalk with Laurie Clarcq, another on Can-Do statements with Mira Canion, and one all by myself on PDL drama techniques.

If you’re not going to NTPRS, consider attending iFLT or any one of the workshops that Blaine Ray is putting on this summer. Inspiration is important!

PDL combined

I decided to put all my PDL information in one place, since I couldn’t even find it all myself. This post is very long and full of information; it circles back on itself and has too many sources for anything but a workshop. My apologies!

Here’s the first writeup, after the 2013 ACTFL conference, when I tried some things with kids. There’s a comment with follow-up.

Here’s another post that includes info on PDL and has a comment (but it starts with info on Michael Miller).

A post about PDL with beginners, and a step-by-step addition in the comments.

Here are the answers that Eugene Schaefer, the PDL presenter at ACTFL 2013 sent to my questions about PDL activities and how to follow up with writing. He explained that for a role play, we need polarity, or there isn’t any story. That seems obvious now that I think about it, but wasn’t clear to me at first.

The second email is just recent, with more on my specific questions on what to do with writing, and gives permission to post these answers.

***The way of dealing with writing is another twist on the way that Ashley Hastings does re-writes with students. I like it!

Dear Michele,
Thanks for giving me more time for an answer.  This has given me the chance to work on an answer while riding in trains to and from Berlin and wrapping it all up now at home.
You touched on a number of questions, so I hope you don’t mind if I jump from one to the other in free association.
I read with great interest the description in your blog of your very successful implementation of “The Chairs” in your classroom.   Maybe I’m starting at the end, but you were wondering how writing exercises could be integrated into  that and other PDL activities.
The answer is not black and white.  Any writing activity integrated into a role play would have to grow out of the role play itself.  As role-playing in PDL is unpredictable, so too is any writing task.  Spontaneous creativity is needed on the part of the teacher.  In the case of couples therapy / marriage counseling, there are a number of possibilities.  Either as support group work or individually, the therapist can write up a report, the counseled can write each other (or the therapist) letters clarifying their standpoints, offering reconciliation, stating demands, or they can each write letters to a divorce lawyer.  If written replies fit in with the task, then the activity can easily be extended as homework for as long as interest can be maintained.    The letters can also lead to further encounters, depending.
Another possibility would be to have the students write up a neutral – or biased! – report for a local newspaper, be it a daily yellow rag, a respectable local paper, or even a professional journal.
The couples therapy situation clearly has one element fundamental to PDL role playing –  polarity.  This doesn’t mean a simple yes-no argument, though such can be used as a warm-up activity.  There needs to be something to be discussed and resolved involving negotiating, compromising, problem solving, reaching mutual agreement, achieving mutually beneficial results while having diverging goals.  While achieving agreement is not mandatory, reaching a consensus of some sort should be encouraged.
It was interesting to hear that the two who took the seats as the couple were, if I understood correctly, a couple in real life as well.  I’m usually leery of situations where fact and fiction might become difficult to differentiate, endangering the “play” in role play, but you seem to have had the situation well under control.  There are of course always elements of oneself in any fictive role one plays, but one is freer to “play” with a role if it is not identical with the player.
The three-people-on-a-bus situation can pose problems, as there is not automatically any sort of conflict to be resolved or problem to be dealt with.  However, your students mastered that problem well with the unhappy Russian grandmother and a potentially romantic encounter with complications.  A possible written exercise here could be writing a letter full of advice for the grandmother – how to deal with her family here, how to better adapt to life in Alaska – , a letter to the son suggesting changes in his treatment of his mother, the grandmother giving advise to the young people, a cautious or not-so-cautious letter of interest between them, a written rebuke of undue advances, etc.   Of course, you would be the best judge of what could fit your class’s needs.
Recirculating situations and language is exactly what needs to be done.  I’m always on the lookout for an element I can alter.  There’s no simple recipe for doing this, just a good sense of dramatic tension and classroom management.
Rephrasing, reformulating, offering alternative ways of expressing something – this too is fundamental to PDL.  To students weaned on PDL as beginners, being “doubled” and “mirrored” by the teacher will be second nature.  It’s a great way for the teacher to intervene when lack of language gets in the way of events.  The teacher speaks as the student being doubled or mirrored, allowing him or her to repeat after each short chunk.  The language being offered is occurring spontaneously, though of course the teacher has put some thought into what is needed – vocabulary, grammar, content.   This short barrage of language should be repeated two or three times, depending.
This sort of intervention can be done as a sort of intermission from the role play, a break or cut in the action before resuming where the cut was made or a bit before that.  It can also be done while the players are in their support group strategy sessions.
From what I read of your use of The Chairs, you are well in alignment with the ideas behind PDL.
I am not sure I understood your comments on the value of learning by talking.  Perhaps you could fill me in briefly on the place of talk time in TPR classes.  I have to admit I am not well acquainted with TPR, but was impressed by the ability of your TPR classes to adapt to PDL.  While PDL was originally conceived as an all-encompassing method, classroom reality has let it find its place as a supplemental method as well.
As to the structure of PDL:  PDL for intermediate and advanced follows no strict sequence of activities.  What Bernard’s book should illuminate is the specific selection of warm-up  and energizing activities leading up to different types of role plays.  At the advanced level, he advocates using myths and fairy tales as well as literary excerpts as lead-ins to creating freely associated role plays.  That in turn can be good in creating interest in the original texts being taught in a more traditional mode.
PDL 1 does follow a clear sequence.  The seven basic steps start with individual doubling  and end with the teacher assisting the learners with simple dialogues.  Again, variations of doubling and mirroring play a key role.   As the teacher is always present, learners receive the support they need as they need it.
PDL 1 is traditionally done either on two weekends or on five or six consecutive days. Aside from the core activities of doubling and mirroring, there are numerous warm-up and interlude activities tailored to the core.  Poems are also orally introduced, with the learners repeating the words and the accompanying movements of the teacher.
PDL 1 can be repeated as often as the learner needs before moving on to PDL 2.  Two or three times may be enough for some, especially if another language in the same family of languages has already been mastered.  As PDL is most strongly represented in the teaching of Romance languages, we have seen this in the teaching of Italian, French and Spanish.  However, experience has shown that those with no previous experience with a Romance language may need to repeat PDL 1 up to six or seven times.  I would assume the same of Slavic languages.  My own experience in teaching English as a foreign language in Germany is more atypical, as it is rare to encounter adult learners of English who are absolute beginners.  I can usually send any PDL 1 students straight on to a PDL 2 level class after only one week of PDL 1.  PDL is designed for classes of mixed abilities, so it can prove beneficial to have “true” beginners together with “false” beginners.
So, enough for now.  If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
For a bit about the ideas behind PDL, I refer to Bernard Dufeu’s “Hypotheses” as translated at the following link :
By the way, there is only one PDL teacher of Russian that I know of, Natascha Margulis in Fribourg, Switzerland, .  Her students are, I believe, mostly intermediate and advanced.  If you ever film and post on youtube The Chairs or some other PDL role play in Russian, she would be more qualified to comment than I.

Just to answer your two questions posed in your email of 28 December(!):
For corrections on student papers, I usually don’t write on the papers themselves if I can avoid it.  If it is hand-written, I type into the computer, making corrections as I go along, but rarely highlighting them.  When I hand back both the original and the corrected copies, I give them the task of finding the corrections and having them ask me why the corrections were made if they are not clear.  As some mistakes are usually common to many in a particular class, I often do discuss those common problems right away.
If the students have used a computer, I correct using a highlight-the-changes-in-color function in Word and again request students to ask why I changed things.   What I hand back is a copy of their original text on one side of the page and the corrected version on the other.
I do admit to having small classes, so I don’t know how practical this is for larger classes.
Also, please feel free to quote any and all answers I have given you.