Posted in Learning and Development

Rubrics, Parte Dos

Per my previous post, I have completed the assessment process, via a rubric, for my Spanish 1-7 projects. They were asked to create a digital story, aka slideshow entitled, “Todo Sobre Mi.”

Given that students in the middle school where I teach are not required to sit for a traditional final exam, but are expected to have some sort of project which signals closure to the term and to the year, I like to assign tasks which allow students to use the Spanish they have learned to write and to speak.  I also like the idea of students getting up and presenting before a group, as the idea of oratory and public speaking seem to be by-gone skills in today’s educational process.  And, since the idea, in a language class least, is to use what one has learned for real purposes, such projects are the best way to go, I have found.  Besides – it’s real and personal, aka authentic.

The rubric I used for the aforementioned worked reasonably well.  The project and the rubric were both items I had adopted from another Spanish teacher, and found I needed to amend the rubric a bit for my purposes. For example, there were no categories for assessing grammar or spelling. Which I found interesting. I mean, why wouldn’t these be assessed? In our post-modern K-12 education system, many teachers, and teacher educators, seem to be phobic when it comes to assessing these skills.  On the other hand, they are key skills whenever language is being produced.  I realize I differ from many of my colleagues – English and foreign language alike – which adhere to invented spelling and not marking too firmly – if at all – with respect to grammar and spelling. But, correct spelling and correct use of grammar directly impacts how the language looks and sounds, no matter how much or how often educators try to ignore or lesson their impact and importance.

Now, on to Spanish 4…



Posted in Learning and Development, Writing


My relationship with rubrics is up and down.  There are times when I can appreciate their value and their usefulness.  And then, there are other times when presenting a rubric to students for a given assignment gives me the feeling that I am removing all forms of creativity and original thought from their hearts, minds and souls, for the rubric has told them so.

Well, I guess, at this moment in time, my view of rubrics is up, and I can appreciate their value and usefulness.  But, it was not my own initiative which has spurred these thoughts and feelings.  A student from one of my two Spanish 4 classes, asked if there would be a rubric for the final exam project.  I hemmed and hawed. Then the student added, ” I need a rubric so I can aspire to do my best work.”  Thus one of the reasons why    I don’t possess full love and admiration for rubrics.  After all, isn’t aspiration to do one’s best work inherent and self-guided?

I created a rubric for the project in question.  My student asked for one, and, since I am compliant, and serve (mostly) at the pleasure of my students, I dutifully created one. I am fairly happy with it, but, I wish I had had more time to reflect and ponder on it.

In fact, I used said rubric this morning, as each student presented.  And while I may go back and adjust some of my scores slightly, it did, in fact, facilitate the assessment process.  To my surprise.

I am now getting ready to roll out my second rubric; this time, for my Spanish 1-7 students.  I will let you know how things go.

Posted in Learning and Development

Blizzard Bags

This post isn’t about blizzard bags specifically. On the other hand, for those of us who live and teach in geographical localities where harsh winter weather is par for the course for about 4 months out of the school year, and with the guarantee of a few days of cancelled classes, winter weather triggers the question as to how students will make up those missed days of learning.

Well, obviously, they can’t.  A bunch of photocopied packets of worksheets does not replace an 80-minute class.  I also don’t believe in assigning students work for the mere fact that they’re home, all day, and what else are they going to do, anyway frame of mind.

Given that many of my students are busy, sleep-deprived, and constantly teetering on the brink of illness, I tie off the missed class, and allow them to do whatever they want to do, without any interference from me.  Which, in my opinion, is what a true snow day from school should be.  At least, it is for me. Why shouldn’t it be for the students?

Having said the aforementioned, if the situation moves from one snow day to say,two or more, then I do need to assign some work. But, it’s rarely a worksheet.  And, I like worksheets. I do. I just view a series of snow days as offering more learning opportunities than that. Especially for acquiring Spanish.  And, especially for my advanced-level students.

So, my dear students, on this snow day: Rest up, eat up, and, get caught up, if needed. I will see you soon.

Posted in Learning and Development

Who Are We There For?

Someone on Twitter this evening seemed surprised and confused by some statements I made re: students, classrooms, and teaching.

Teachers seem to think that saying that they are members of a shared learning community with their students makes all right and good with the world. And yet, it doesn’t.

Without question, I learn from my students; they teach me things. Every. single. day.

On the other hand, I create experiences that promote learning for my students.  And my classroom is the way it is – culture, climate, arrangement, activities, and the rest – in order to accomplish this end.

I mean, if I am not in the classroom for my students, who else am I there for?  Who else is there?

She then remarked, “It (your classroom) would be different?

I finally tweeted to her the following:

Of course. Think about it. If you were to create your ideal learning space, for you, wouldn’t it be different?


Posted in Learning and Development

What are we preserving?

Several days ago, I engaged in a conversation on Twitter with a fellow educator.  It all started when I saw this tweet.  Admittedly, I felt some sort of way about it. Which prompted the conversation.  It went as follows:

Me: “Doesn’t this come too little, too late?”

Fellow Educator (FE): “Maybe, but despair isn’t an option.”

Me: “My Dear Brother, who is not an educator, btw (by the way), said 20 years ago that public education in the United States will matter when it hurts enough.  Are we there?”

FE: “We are there, but the powerful are exploiting that and reveling in it. It’s very sad.Worse.”

Me: “I’m a 13-year product of public education.  Those years were good ones.  I was one of the lucky ones who received a good public school education.”

Me:  “On the other side of it, I am a 23-year career teacher in independent schools . Mediocrity exists there, too.”

At this point in the Twitter conversation, we discovered that we each have both public and private school connections.  It was cool to discover these parallels.  I then tweeted the following:

Me: “So, while this conversation is certainly about preserving public education, what, exactly, are we striving to preserve?”

FE: “What we are preserving is an excellent question for discussion.”

Me: “It’s a question nobody seems to want to ask.  Because nobody wants to answer it.”

I wonder, truly wonder, if the impending appointment of Ms. Betsy De Vos will force  us to confront the question, at long last, which aspects of public education we are striving to preserve.  Like all things, there is both good and bad in public education.  That said, will the fear and loathing that many are feeling for Ms. De Vos at this time convert into decisive action for improving public education? If so, how so?

It is true: I am an independent school teacher.  That said, and, as I was saying to someone just the other day, independent school education is only as strong as public education.  In other words, public schools educate the vast majority of children in the United States.  There aren’t enough independent schools to do the job, even if they were affordable.  And, on par, independent schools are not affordable.

Children need and benefit from quality public schools in their own neighborhoods and communities, and not the charter across town, or, the independent school an hour away.  Moreover, the creation of yet more schools – whether independent or charter – isn’t the answer, either. New schools don’t necessarily bring new solutions, or better teaching and learning.  Whatever it is we are seeking, it doesn’t seem we have found it.

Perhaps a simplistic question, but I will deign to ask it, anyway: Why can’t we renovate and innovate the public neighborhood schools we currently have? Ralph Tyler, an American educator, once said that change is homegrown. Thus, it’s not imported via a charter school conglomerate, and dropped into community for instant change, like food coloring is dropped into a glass of water.  We need to become more thoughtful, deliberate, and intelligent in our thinking.  But…can we do it? And, more importantly, will we do it?


Posted in Learning and Development

It’s About Relationships

Last week, I talked via telephone with one of my all-time favorite people in the whole wide world.  He is my mentor, sponsor, friend, colleague, co-conspirator, and, quite simply, all-around cool dude.  We have known each other since 1996, and were introduced by a mutual friend.  He’s supported and guided me through some pretty difficult situations. Through it all – the challenges, the phone conversations, the project collaboration, and, striving to create more just and equitable independent schools – he helps me to be better as a person and as a teacher, every time we speak.  But, more about him in a minute.

My school will hold an “equity and social  justice day” program in late January, and, there was a call from the committee of the same name to faculty in late November – November 30, to be exact – to submit proposals for workshops.  Well, it was now December 11th; I had just returned from Atlanta where I delivered a workshop at the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference (NAIS PoCC), and, quite honestly, I was mentally and physically exhausted. All that being said, the deadline for submission, December 15, was fast-approaching, and, I needed to get something together.  However, I was stuck: On the one hand, I wanted to deliver something that focused on how we see, or more specifically, don’t see each other, with middle schoolers- grades six through eighth – as the focus audience. On the other hand, I was struggling with creating content. Specifically, how do I appeal to this particular age group in a way that is not only engaging but also would give them something on which to build?

Enter my fabulous friend and colleague: I sent him a quick email last Monday, to which he quickly responded. After going back and forth via email re: the day and time of the impending conversation, we decided to talk on Wednesday afternoon.

As my friend and I talked, he posed a question: Do we teach in a way that is predicated on relationships? A related question was: How can kids know each other if they don’t know themselves? This points to relationship with self first, and with others second.  How well do we, as teachers, actually help kids to do either of these things?  We then talked about invisibility, and the cognitive abilities kids develop when they know self and each other.

My friend emailed me some resources, and made some suggestions re: activities.  The workshop proposal, as well as the workshop itself, came together. Here is my proposal:

How do we make real connections with others? Through surveys, reflective writing, small-group work, stories, role-play, and case studies, we will explore invisibility as a form of bias.

I am still working on the specifics, but, I was finally able to assemble the words in order to frame what I want to accomplish, and how I want to accomplish it with the students. The workshop itself  will continue to unfold in the weeks ahead.

As a youth, it really did not matter to me how my teachers felt about me, or, how I felt about them.  In fact, I was rather indifferent to my teachers. After all, I was there to learn, and they were there to teach. Besides, I came from a loving, supportive, and structured home, and, quite frankly, had no expectations of my teachers for emotional support.

As a result of my own relationships with teachers, becoming the teacher that I am today has not emerged without a lot of pain, struggle, and deep self-reflection.  A case in point: During the 1999-2000 school year, when I landed at a new school following three years at my previous school, the upper school division head and I had many conversations about the topic of student-teacher relationships. Despite all of the time she spent with me, talking, I just wasn’t getting it. For me, my subject-area knowledge and expertise were the most important aspects. I finally asked the division head the following: “Which is more important –  my skill as a teacher, or, my relationships with students?”  For her, unequivocally, it was the latter.

Looking back almost 17 years later on those conversations, I realize now that the relationships I build and maintain with my students are the most fundamental. The fact that I see them, I hear them, I worry about them, and I hurt when they are hurting, enable me, in fact, to teach the skills and the content.  Moreover, in a strange twist of fate, it was the relationship that the division head strived to build and maintain with me and, it is the 20-year relationship that my friend and I have built and nurtured, that have allowed me to be seen, heard, worried about, and cared for.  It’s about relationships.

Posted in Learning and Development

Where’s The Beef?

At one point in my teaching career, I was in the faculty lounge. While in the faculty lounge, I overheard one colleague remark to another colleague that he doesn’t assign work to be graded during the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Why? Because students typically don’t complete the work.

I didn’t say anything. Sometimes, it’s best not to say anything.  Sometimes it’s best to just listen. At the same time, the remark on my colleague’s part did leave me wondering.

Students not completing work en masse during the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas has not been my experience.  Not in almost 23 years of teaching. In fact, I have found it to be a very productive period of learning for my students and for me.  During this first week of the three-week stretch, the following took place:

Spanish 1-7 students completed a review homework assignment on AR verbs, in preparation for a quiz on the same.  All of them completed the assignment, and, with the exception of one student, all of them scored high.

Spanish 1-6 students completed a homework assignment on definite articles.  All of the students submitted the work.

Spanish 4 students spent this past week learning about two popular legends of the Spanish-speaking world. They had two homework assignments.  With the exception of a student who was absent, and another who forgot his assignment at home, all of the work was submitted, and completed well.

So…I ask the all-important question: Where’s the beef?

My students will work continuously and steadily throughout the three-week stretch, up until the the final bell signaling Christmas vacation sounds at 12:10 pm on Friday December 16th. I have found that order, structure, routine and high expectations are fundamental, as students begin to focus ever more intently on Christmas vacation with each approaching day. Of course, engaging content helps, too.

Next week, my Spanish 4s will begin work on researching a legend of the Spanish-speaking world of their choice.  My Spanish 1-7’s will write dialogue skits.  My Spanish 1-6’s will work on words for things in the classroom, forming plurals for nouns, and learning about indefinite articles to increase their understanding of gender, and their depth of expression.  And, Spanish 1 upper school will learn how to describe themselves and others.

The infamous third week, I will most likely do some cultural Christmas-oriented activities, while infusing the reading, listening and speaking of Spanish in those activities.

It will be another full week next week.  And, students will rise to the expectations set for them. Even during the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know: I have been witness to it, time and again.


Posted in Learning and Development

Just Give It A Try

I admit: My natural inclinations as a teacher are not wired for kinesthetic or visual learning.  But, in thinking about the students I teach this year, in particular, the sixth grade Spanish 1 students, I knew that such activities would have to become a greater part of my repertoire.

Right now, the sixth grade Spanish 1 students are learning verbs to describe activities, in preparation for using me gusta (I like).  So, I searched the Internet for introducing Spanish vocabulary in a way that tapped multiple pathways.  I found one here.

However, before I could implement the aforementioned, I needed to create a photo slideshow to present the vocabulary I wanted to teach. This meant writing each Spanish word on its own slide, along with inserting a visual representation.  I know that what I did was neither novel nor life-changing; it’s all been done before. That said, given the visual and kinesthetic dimensions of the process, the students engaged fully, and participated actively.

I gotta tell the truth: I have given plenty a side-eye to teachers who spent time and energy to creating vocabulary presentations/slideshows. No more.  Today, I was a direct witness of this tool’s effectiveness.  Not only of the vibrancy that learning new vocabulary can have, but also that when students engage more than one of their senses, the learning does in fact take root much more deeply.

With my high school Spanish 1 students, I used the visual/kinesthetic approach to introduce Spanish subject pronouns.  The activity can be found here. As I introduced each Spanish subject pronoun, the students gestured and said them aloud in Spanish.  We then did a walk-around activity, where the students touched and gestured each Spanish subject pronoun I said in English.

As a teacher, open-mindedness, and a willingness to try new things, are the elements that keep my teaching fresh, and my own level of engagement high.

Posted in Learning and Development

There is an Equity and Social Justice Committee At My School, and I Am NOT On It.

I have been intimately involved in equity and social justice work for most of my adult life.  Back in the day, the work was called, “anti-racism,” or, “multicultural education”. It began during my senior year as an undergrad, with a conversation with a psychology professor, and her sharing with me her copy of Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children.  That conversation, and that book, altered the trajectory of my personal and professional life, and began my “career”, as it were, as a classroom equity and social justice educator.

Over the years, I have closely observed diversity/anti-racism/multicultural education/equity and social justice work at independent schools. In addition to being a classroom teacher for 22 years, I served as a director of diversity for three years. Additionally, I was a member of a year-long coalition with a group of independent school educators from schools in and around the Boston area, as well as Connecticut and Vermont.  What I learned from each of these experiences is that it takes a great deal of education, training, expertise, personal insight, perseverance, intellectual fortitude and courage, to be an effective doer and advocate of the work.

What I have discovered, however, is many people, even many people of color, are lacking in the aforementioned. Yes. I said it.  There is a belief that people of color as a collective have it going on in this arena.  Well, let me tell you:  Such isn’t the case.  I have been witness to it, on personal by and professional levels. It’s like the myth that all Black women can throw down in the kitchen, when the truth of the matter is: Many cannot. There are many people of color, who, despite the bigotry, racism and white supremacy pouring out at the seams at their respective institutions, will sabotage – directly or indirectly – the efforts of a person of color, leading the equity and social justice charge. Consider Malcolm X’s, “The House Negro and the Field Negro.” For many people of color, as long as they’ve gotten their slice of sweet potato pie, life is good.

But, let’s get back to the topic of institutional equity and social justice work in independent schools.  During the 1980s and much of the 1990s, independent school leaders were committed to the work – even if in name only. Many of these schools stepped up their efforts to increase in student of color enrollment, and, to a much lesser extent, of faculty, staff, and administrator of color recruitment.  This all led to the creation of affinity groups and multicultural clubs, the installation of multicultural, anti-racist curriculum, and the establishment of diversity committees for faculty and staff, even if there were no Black or Brown people to speak of in the school or community at-large.  Additionally, conferences, workshops and institutes proliferated; I have attended many of them.  Then, during much of the 2000s, many independent school leaders disbanded their clubs, affinity groups and committees, and ceased recruitment of students, faculty and administrators of color, the belief being that “racism was over” in the United States, and all was good, right, and proper at their respective schools.

Then, Travon Martin happened.  And Tamir Rice.  And all the rest.  Independent school leaders – most of them White – began to grow concerned at what was happening in the United States, and tried to revive the programming of the 1980s and 1990s. They now needed people who could be hired as equity and social justice experts – with 20 or more years of experience in independent schools.  But, there were, perhaps, only four such experts in the entire United States.  Since the tenure, on average, of such professionals is approximately five years, and, since many independent schools had dismantled these positions, the proverbial pickings were quite slim.

The truth of the matter is this:  Equity and social justice work just isn’t that important for many White independent school heads, and, as a result, they have not made this work a high priority.  There is something called a legacy, and, one would think that this legacy for independent school heads would include instituting lasting and enduring change at one’s school to promote equity and social justice – on campus, and beyond the campus.  And yet, if one were to look behind the furniture, lift up the rugs, and open the closets at many of these schools, a lot of dust, dirt and skeletons, denoting a not-so-nice equity and social justice history, would be revealed.

Additionally, there is a very concerning trend at independent schools: Many are attending the conferences and workshops, and learning all of the right things to say.  Yet, their knowledge is superficial, and their capacity to do the work in deep, complex and complicated ways is minimal.

So, no; I no longer sit on so-called equity and social justice committees. I have an agenda, and that agenda is rarely the school’s agenda, even when there is a committee. On the other hand, I am able to do the work on my own terms, via classroom curriculum, presenting at conferences, and, of course, writing.  Like Sgt. Elias Grodin in the film, Platoon,  I move faster alone. Moreover, I am learning not to give away my skills and labor for free, which is all too common for people of color at independent schools, which has been the greatest liberation.

Posted in Learning and Development

New Directions with Spanish 4

Well…I am six weeks into the Fall Trimester, and, I need a new groove with my Spanish 4 classes. I have been using a modified Advanced Placement® (AP®) curriculum, and, while the students have responded positively to it, I think it is much too rigorous for them.  Especially given the preparation with which they enter Spanish 4.  I’ll leave it there.  I experienced the same with last year’s Spanish 4 class.  And, I will leave it there.  Given the wide range of students I teach, and, given the fact that there is no there is no actual curriculum per se – we kinda make it up as we go along from year to year, which isn’t actually the best approach – I have decided to approach things differently during the remaining seven weeks of the trimester.  And beyond.

So, I thought very carefully about what the students needed most, which are: multiple opportunities to actually use Spanish in a variety of contexts, write for different purposes, and, learn new grammar skills and vocabulary, while also reviewing those previously-learned.

So…I have decided to approach Spanish 4 from a  three-pronged perspective: Grammar, vocabulary, and culture, using authentic Spanish resources and quality literature, and activities in and out of the classroom to develop speaking and writing skills.  I am contemplating the idea of a portfolio, where students can store their writing: brainstorming, class work, homework, and graded assessments.  I am contemplating the same for speaking assignments.  I am also contemplating the use of journals.  I had a fair amount of success with them last year, but, maybe I will introduce those during the second trimester.

I think the issue with Spanish 4, as I see it, is that there are so many different interpretations of what it is, and should be, as revealed by the numerous curricula I have reviewed in my attempts to create one that is the best fit for my own students.  If I remain focused on and dedicated to the aforementioned, I will be more successful in my teaching at this level.

Today was a good class for my Spanish 4s, of which I have two sections. We began with a “question of the day”, using the imperfect subjunctive and conditional.  First, the students wrote their responses.  Then, each student shared their responses in turn. When students do this activity, I like to extend their responses by asking them additional, related questions.  This was followed by a lesson on comparatives of inequality.  The students were varied in their recall and ability/confidence to use the construction. Therefore, we did a short lesson, followed by hands-on practice, and review of the answers.  This proved to be a good activity.  Not only were the students reviewing a previously-learned concept, but they also learned the difference between demonstrative adjectives and pronouns, and how to use them, since they were part of the lesson examples, and, the sentences to be translated.  They also learned the difference between older and younger, via me speaking about them in relation to their older and younger siblings. With my second section of Spanish 4s, we had a good conversation why estar  and not ser, had to be used when talking about a person being rotund. After all, two students posited, a person can lose weight, right? After a short five-minute break, we watched a short CNN en Español video on the use of therapy dogs in airports.  We decompressed the video with the classic journalism questions: Who?, What? , When?, Where?, How? and Why?.  The students enjoyed the video, especially since it involved dogs, and, many of them are dog owners/lovers.

Following some bumps and mis-steps during the first six weeks of the trimester, I think I am on the right path with Spanish 4.