Monthly Archives: May 2013

Backward Design of Lessons and Units

Last summer, an award-winning world language teacher graciously agreed to have coffee with me. She patiently listened to all my rookie questions and offered her expert responses. She provided guidance on a handful of matters, but three recommendations stand out:

  • Join the statewide professional organization for language teachers (WAFLT)
  • Buy Teacher’s Handbook by Judith L. Shrum and Eileen W. Glisan
  • Get familiar with Backward Design and plan lessons and units accordingly

I joined WAFLT right away. I just renewed for another year and would love to attend the Summer Language Leadership Institute in August. I also purchased an older edition of Teacher’s Handbook and consult it often.

In my university coursework, we’ve been required to write lesson plans, deliver lessons during fieldwork, and do some microteaching with peers. In planning for these, I’ve attempted to follow the guidelines of Backward Design. My current understanding of Backward Design is based on a presentation at the 2011 ACTFL National Convention titled Lesson Planning with Backward Design: From Paper to Practice.

1. What will students know and be able to do at the end of the lesson/unit?
2. How will you know that the students know or can do?
3. What instructional activities will be used?

In addition, on Thursday evenings, world language professionals from around the world come together via Twitter for a wonderful and generous chat using the #LangChat hashtag. In early May, the chat topic was: How can backward design inform our curriculum and assessments? Perfect — more good input! Here are some of the posts regarding Backward Design:

  • I always like to remind myself what I want my students to be able to do with the language at the end
  • Backwards design = 1) What students will be able to do 2) Assessments 3) Activities
  • Identifying desired results makes the planning of learning experiences and instruction so much easier!
  • Backward D has great implications for the classrm–working towards it.
  • When the many steps of backward design are used to develop curric, assessment & all leading to it should lead to better stdnt successes
  • Backwards design works. Knowing where a student needs to end influences every decision and activity up to that point
  • Backwards design also allows students to see big picture and how it breaks down into many goals
  • Bckwrd design also helps students see that language is a practical tool to accomplish a task they just might face in the real world

The chat also included experiences with “I can” statements:

  • I began providing students with the Can-do statements this year. Students def appreciate knowing the unit goals
  • “I can” statements = confidence boosters for the kids, +makes them feel like they can use 2nd Lang in the real world
  • I usually have 1-2 big [Can-dos] per unit but then tons of little ones like I can say my clothing size
  • We use success criteria: “I can” statements at the beginning of the unit re: what the kids will be able to do by the end
  • One thing that has helped me is to craft can do statements for my objectives. I reference them at the end for an exit tix

I look forward to learning more and getting more practice with Backward Design. Advice welcome!

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Posted by on 31 May 2013 in Self-Directed PD


Recycled Instrument Orchestra in Paraguay

[connecting across disciplines: Music | ACTFL Standard 3.1]

Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura (Paraguay)

On the outskirts of Asunción, Paraguay, the residents of Cateura live alongside a landfill. Quite by accident, a local musician stumbled upon an idea — how to take advantage of the items thrown into the landfill to fashion instruments for the local youth. The idea caught fire; now Cateura has a youth orchestra that plays Beethoven, Bach, the Beatles, Michael Jackson (among others) on flutes and saxophones made from pipes, bottle caps and coins, violins and cellos formed from oil drums, guitars of industrial-sized food service cans and many other instruments crafted of materials reclaimed from the landfill. They have also done some touring to share their music and story.

A feature-length documentary (Landfill Harmonic), slated for release in 2014, will tell the story of the Cateura Recycled Instrument Orchestra, its founder, the musicians, and their families.

What an inspirational story to explore in the classroom! Here are some links (Spanish and English) to learn more about this story:–ganchero–en-Cateura-a-lutier-de-orquesta


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LTMOOC Week 4: Effective Assessment Tools and Methods

[I’m participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for language teachers worldwide that focuses on blended learning in the World Language classroom. This blog post is an assignment for that course.]

Effective Assessment Tools and Methods

Assessment was the topic for Week 4 at the LTMOOC.  I listened to Kathryn Murphy-Judy of Virginia Commonwealth University and read four articles: Assessment (Flinders University), Assessment of Collaborative Learning Project Outcomes (EDUCAUSE), Conduct Assessments of Learning and Teaching (Carnegie Mellon University), and Classroom Assessment Techniques, CATs (Carnegie Mellon University).

What a rewarding week it was! — So many good ideas and concepts. Here’s a recap:

Dr. Murphy-Judy – 3 big take-aways:

1) Technology strengthens the possibilities of language and teaching.

> The ability to slow down TL audio allows students to focus on listening to and listening for common word groupings and phrases.

> Anonymous error correction activities promote greater risk-taking by students.

2) Recycle a written or audio piece for different purposes.

> Possible ways to recycle: Listen to sounds, later listen to vocab, focus on nouns or verbs, look for/listen for cognates, look for/listen for cultural aspects.

> Choose authentic samples with this “recycling” purpose in mind.

3) Online learners need to learn the skills needed for autonomously learning online.

Flinders University – A well-designed assessment is:

  • Authentic and realistic for the learner group
  • Relevant to classroom activities
  • A productive use of student and teacher time
  • A learning experience in its own right
  • Flexible enough to allow degree of student choice and differentiation

EDUCAUSE – Recommendation for collaborative projects with collective outcomes

Establish an accountability contract which spells out specific roles and areas of responsibility for students and teachers; protocols regarding communication, documentation, and technology; timelines; quality standards (rubrics); and accountability checkpoints.

Carnegie Mellon University – Two tools for assessing learning and promoting self-assessment

CATs: Formative assessments that make visible the learning that has occurred during the class period, solicit lingering doubts, encourage student-involved assessment, and uncover relevant prior knowledge.

Exam wrappers: To encourage students to process their graded exams more deeply, faculty members devised exam wrappers, short handouts that students complete when an exam is turned back to them. These exam wrappers direct students to review their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) with an eye toward adapting their future learning for better assessment results and overall study skills.

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Posted by on 19 May 2013 in Self-Directed PD



LTMOOC Week 3: Social Interaction and Blended Learning

[I’m participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for language teachers worldwide that focuses on blended learning in the World Language classroom. This blog post is an assignment for that course.]

Social Interaction Aspects of Blended Learning/Online Learning/Distance Learning

This week’s readings and expert interview discussed the social interaction aspects of online learning. This focus was very interesting and it was beneficial to think of how the social/interpersonal mode can be applied in the online setting.

I listened to Ed Dixon of UPenn and read two articles: Social Pedagogies (Indiana University-Bloomington) and Incorporating Interaction Into Your Distance Learning Course (Worchester Polytechnic Institute, WPI).

What are the three types of interaction the WPI article discusses?

1. Learner-to-Content Interaction – students examining course content and participating in class activities

Examples of Strategies for Incorporating Learner-to-Content Interaction:

  • Use clips to provide expert perspectives (note to self: cultural perspectives!)
  • Content in multiple formats provides variety and eliminates monotony

2. Learner-to-Learner Interaction – interaction among students

Examples of Strategies for Incorporating Learner-to-Learner Interaction:

  • Group work
  • Students take turns moderating discussions
  • Build sense of community

3. Learner-to-Instructor Interaction – intended to reinforce student understanding and provide feedback

Examples of Strategies for Incorporating Learner-to-Instructor Interaction:

  • Instructor maintains presence in discussions, but doesn’t post too much
  • Public feedback – compliment students on quality contributions
  • Private feedback – written comments on what student did correct and what did wrong

How does social interaction relate to student motivation?

I noticed overlaps in the recommendations and observations by the three expert sources. For example, they advocate the use of authentic resources:

  • Ed Dixon – authentic interactions based on real life of students (in place of textbook-created)
  • WPI – simulations, web searches, wiki assignments, research reviews, case studies, etc. that require students to interact with content
  • Indiana U-Bloomington – engage students by using tools and creating products for real audiences

Similarly, they see social interaction as motivational and engaging:

  • Ed Dixon – the focus on interaction encourages students to study the language but, more importantly, to use the language
  • WPI – interaction provides students with the feedback they need … students become more actively engaged in the learning process, leading to higher levels of learning.
  • Indiana U-Bloomington – because their efforts will be viewed by someone other than the teacher, students feel more accountable for the quality of their work.


LTMOOC Week 2: Inputs and Outputs

[I’m participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for language teachers worldwide that focuses on blended learning in the World Language classroom. This blog post is an assignment for that course.]

Inputs and Outputs and Language Proficiency

Reaction to Fredricka Stoller’s piece on Content-Based-Instruction:

How exciting to be able to build proficiency in a second language and take-away so much more! Ms. Stoller makes the case that language teaching (and study) yields many benefits: cross-curricular connections, enhanced abilities in the L1, critical thinking skills, collaboration skills, deeper learning, ability to apply knowledge to real-world problems, enhanced self-confidence and motivation, and preparing students to be life-long learners and more knowledgeable citizens of the world. I agree and this is what is so exciting!

Reaction to Input – What it is and why you need it by Tomasz P. Szynalski:

I’ve heard many adults comment that they studied a second language in high school or college, but regrettably cannot sustain a simple conversation in that language. It’s likely that they were exposed to a grammar-focused curriculum. Mr. Szynalski believes input is the most important ingredient in learning a language and explicit grammar instruction is not needed. He advocates heavy doses of listening and reading in the target language to build a large store of sentences and words, so that you “will use them automatically, without thinking. Correct phrases will just appear in your head.” This perspective is very similar to Stephen Krashen’s comprehensible input ideas.

Reaction to Input vs. Outputs Activity

Authentic (native) content is vital. Students are more motivated to work on real, “here and now” tasks – they can see right through the artificial ones.




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