Thursday, April 24, 2014

Can-Do Statements

Today we had county-wide professional development workshops for World Language teachers.  Among the variety of things discussed, we looked at proficiency levels.  Our county is striving towards a huge shift in how we approach our classes - the goal is to no longer divide students into levels such as "German 1" and "German 2" and "German 2 Honors" but to instead divide students by their proficiency level.  While I like the idea of proficiency levels, I'm skeptical as to how effective this change will be (or how they would even begin to implement it).  But that's not really besides the point at the moment.

What they gave out to each of us was a copy of the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements.  Everything is divided first by the different skill (Interpersonal Communication, Presentational Speaking, Presentational Writing, etc.) and then by the proficiency level (Novice Low, Novice Mid, Novice High, etc.).  What's great for teachers is that they list the benchmarks for everything.

My favorite part, however, are the "Can-Do" Statements.  For each skill and each proficiency level, they have a list of "I can" statements in the form of a checklist.

This is a great resource for students to better understand where they are in terms of proficiency levels, and I think something that will be a lot of help next year as we transition more and more into this system.  It helps both teachers and students find out where students rate with specific benchmarks.  There's an obvious difference between the levels, and it helps students see how they can improve.

I plan on using these statements with my level one and level two students this year as they do their end of the year portfolios.  I want to make copies of the appropriate levels for each class and have them try to determine where they are (I think it'll be really interesting to see if they rate themselves higher or lower than I would rate them).  Then I'm planning on have them find samples of their work from this year that show that they are at that level.  I haven't totally worked out the kinks yet, but that's what I have in mind so far.

At the beginning of next year I think it'll be a good starting activity for each level.  Students should analyze where they think they currently are in their language capabilities, then periodically throughout the year (most likely at the end of each quarter or around midterms and before finals) students could take another look at where they fall.  I hope this will be a way to encourage students, giving them a tangible way to measure their improvement.

If you're interested in a digital copy of the booklet, click here.

We also talked about "expected" proficiency levels - that is, where students should be at the end of each level as things are currently designed.  Here's how it breaks down:
When we actually looked at the benchmarks and can-do statements, though, several of my colleagues and I found that these expectations seem to be a little low.  I, for example, see my current German 1 students ranging from Novice Low to Novice High and my current German 2 students ranging from Novice High to Intermediate Mid.  AP teachers also felt that being Advanced Low by the end of an AP course is too low to be successful on the AP exam.

It's also a frustration of mine how these systems tend to reflect Spanish and French (in our county, they run French 1-4 and then take level 5 as an AP course) and not German, Latin or the other "minority" languages (in our county, there's German 1-3 and then German 4 is the AP course).  So for German or Latin, only getting to Intermediate Low by the end of level 3 and then expecting them to be Advanced Low by the end of their AP course the next year is much more of a jump than for students taking French or Spanish.

But when all is said and done, I'm looking forward to using proficiency levels with my students.

- Frau Leonard

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wikispaces and Class Websites: A Guide

When I first started teaching, I wanted to keep a record of what was going on in class for students who were absent.  The first month or so of my first year, I kept a binder in the back of my room.  The binder had a section for each class (all five that I was teaching at the time), with notes on the activities we did and the homework assignment that night.

At the time, I was also using paper to keep my own notes on what I planned to do each day with each class.  So basically, I was keeping two different sets of notes for what was almost the exact same information...  It was a lot of writing and didn't really seem worthwhile.  After that month or so, I decided I needed to come up with a new way to provide absent students with the information.

I don't remember how, but I stumbled upon Wikispaces.  I decided I'd try a class website to keep track of everything.  Six years later, and I still use the same Wikispaces page, though what's actually on the website has evolved over that time.

What I'd like to do is go over how I use this class website and why I think it's a great resource not only for students and parents, but also for me.  I'll start at the homepage and then move through the different links.  You can view what follows as a guide to setting up and running an effective class website for your students.

My Wikispace:

Home Page:
This was initially just a place to put a general description of the site and my contact info.  While that part is still there, I've started putting announcements at the bottom.  Announcements might include upcoming community events (World Language Fair or German National Honor Society Induction Ceremony) or other important information (due dates for applications for German NHS, final exam dates, etc.).  What I also like to do is put pictures up from German Club or class events.  This is a great way for parents and students to see what we're doing in class and at school.

Older layout, but same general idea
Class Pages:
Each class I teach gets their own page.  The same type of information is displayed on each page:
- Link to the class's Quizlet site (tailored for each individual class)
- Upcoming test/quiz/project due dates at the top
- The most current week's agenda (includes brief description of activities we did, page numbers in textbook or packets if relevant, and an indication if there was an accompanying video or Power Point; homework is at the bottom)
- All previous weeks are listed underneath (most recent on top)
- At the very bottom is a short "For Parents" guide to some of the abbreviations I use and German words that come up a lot

Here's an example of how Deutsch IV's page looked after the first week of school:

And here's an explanation of what it all means:

This page provides extra information for German AP students.  I have general practice tips and occasionally put up practice exercises that we've done in class.  I'm not very good at updating it with examples once we do them in class, but the General Sources and Suggested Books are always available for students.

I upload my syllabus for each class here.  This way parents and students can get another copy if theirs wanders off during the year.

German Honor Society:
General information about the Honor Society.  Includes due dates for applications and the application itself.  Most important part, I think, is the FAQ.

Exactly what it sounds like - a list of links, divided by class, to online practice material.  I don't update this as much as I should, but I leave up what's there and add to it when I remember to.

Why a class website?
It's a great resource for students who are out for any reason (field trips, sick, whatever).  They know they can go there to find out what they missed even before they get back to school.  I have students who admit that they don't bother writing down the homework when they're in class because they can just check it on the class website when they get home (not sure if this is a good thing...).

I also found this is helpful for parents, especially of younger students who are transitioning from Middle to High School.  During Back to School Night, I make sure to talk about the class website, what it's used for, and what it looks like.

I will say that a con to having a class website is that it takes time to update it.  I usually do it at the end of the day and it doesn't take more than five minutes, but if you're still getting used to it, it may take longer.

Another point you should be aware of - it's a great resource for students... but they have to know it exists AND how to use it.  During the first few weeks of school each year, I take my new students (usually just level one) to the computer lab.  We sign up for Quizlet, practice typing umlauts, maybe use or Beolingus to get practice with online dictionaries... But the FIRST thing we do is go to the class website and practice how to use it.  Here's the questions I have students answer:

Keeping track of classes like this can help you as the teacher as well.  Before I switched to completely digital lesson plans, I kept a copy of the previous year's lessons by printing out the class Wikispace page.  This gave me an idea of what a class had done the previous year and how to pace the same level the next year.

Why Wikispaces?
Admittedly, I've only used Wikispaces.  I'm sure there are a lot of great sites that provide the same service.  I'm just going to list the reasons I like Wikispaces specifically (and not had a reason to search for another site).

Pros of Wikispaces:
- The URL it provides is pretty easy to remember
- Friendly towards educators (once you create a page, you can let them know it's for educational purposes - it'll give you a free upgrade to their "plus" plan)
- It allows you to upload files and put them up.  This includes word documents (in case you want to put a project rubric up in case students lose their copy), audio files (great if you want to put up a listening activity as homework or classwork), and images (put up images of your most recent German Club meeting!).
- While I do know some HTML, you don't have to know any to be able to set up a page.  The commands are pretty basic and intuitive.
- Anyone can view, only you can edit.  You can change this setting a little, but I recommend you keep it this way.
- Discussion board feature.  Each page (and therefore, each class!) has one.  I use this occasionally with my AP or German 3 students.  It's a great feature - you pose a question, they provide an answer online, and then respond to other students.  Especially nice since you can assign it as a homework assignment.  Feel free to check out the utter nonsense my students have posted so far this year in the discussion sections.

- Another good part of the discussion board feature: you, as admin, can delete posts and lock them (stops more replies from being posted).

Do you use a class website?  What site do you use, Wikispaces or something else?  What type of material do you have up?

- Frau Leonard

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Der Lehrling: Marketing Internship for German 3/4

In German 3 or 4, we do a unit on professions.  It starts basically how you'd expect such a unit to start - we learn German words for various professions (der Lehrer, der Arzt, der Richter, etc.) and do various activities describing/grouping these professions.

As we move through the unit, however, we get into what I like to think of as more practical applications of the vocabulary and themes.

This part of the unit, called "Der Lehrling," is based largely on the free unit provided by College Board.  I first did these activities three years ago, had success (and my students had fun doing it), so we did it again this year.

The overall premise is that students are given an "internship" at a local marketing company that wants to produce a new soft drink.  During their internship, they will study marketing (video and print ads), create a new soft drink, and then create a marketing campaign to promote their drink.

The unit provided by College Board has most of what you would need to do this unit, including rubrics and a student packet.  I would highly recommend taking a look at it.  I only want to talk in detail about some aspects of the unit as a means of facilitating teachers who want to try this out for the first time.

Tips and Suggestions:
  • I break students into groups of 3-5 (depends on class size).  These groups will be working together throughout the entire project.
  • Before I even introduce the idea of creating a new soda, the first part of the "internship" consists of studying ads.  It's important that students become aware of the way people respond to different print and video ads - it'll definitely help them plan out their own versions later on.

    As homework the night before, ask students to bring in two ads from magazines.  It doesn't matter what the product is at this point.  With their groups, students complete this worksheet for the ads that they brought in.  Go through some of the ads together (or analyze some German ones you might have).

    I also like to include commercials.  I usually pick a couple for us to watch and analyze as a class.  I recommend finding German commercials (via YouTube) for products like Fanta, Pepsi, Coke and Red Bull.  (I usually do drink specific commercial ads as a transition into the rest of the project.)

    There's also a great activity available on TES for the 10 Worst German TV adverts.  Students can now see what does and doesn't work.
  • When students make the "new sodas," they're basically mixing current sodas together in different amounts to get a new flavor.  I briefly explain what they'll be doing and ask students to sign up to bring different sodas.  I recommend that every member of a group bring in something different, but that they should also consult with other groups to try and get a larger variety.  Tell students at least a few days in advance of when they'll start mixing - students forget to bring in the soda!

    On your end, there are some materials you'll want to have handy when they actually start mixing: paper towels (one roll per group); funnels; lots of plastic cups (for mixing samples and tasting); plastic spoons; food coloring (just for fun).  If you have a smaller class, you might also want to bring in an extra soda or two (try to bring in something weird that no one else would have thought of - I brought in this pineapple flavored soda I found).

    Students will probably need a whole class period to mix and try different combinations.  Warn them to make small samples of each drink - they don't want to waste all their soda on a combination that tastes horrible.  They'll also need an empty container to put their "final" drink in.  Usually it works out that they've used up enough of one of the drinks they brought in that they can dump out the rest and use the freshly emptied container. 

  • Students will need at least a couple of days to make the labels for their drinks as well as the ads.  Warn students that the ads should in some way demonstrate what we talked about when analyzing ads earlier.
  • Once students have turned in the ads, I like to show them to the other German classes.  Each class gets to sample the sodas (this is entirely voluntary - some students might shy away from blue soda), and then judge the product on taste, the label on how it looks, and the ads on how persuasive they are.

After this part of our "professions" unit, we move on to analyzing German resumes.  Ultimately the unit ends in them writing their own Lebenslauf and having a job interview with me - and on their Lebenslauf, they need to include what they did during this "internship" and answer any questions about it that come up in the interview :)

- Frau Leonard

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cooking in Class

In Deutsch III we have a pretty large unit on food.  They finally get words for fork, knife, spoon, etc, talk about fruits and vegetables, discuss fitness in relationship to diet and exercise, and then learn about table manners, restaurants and typical German dishes.  All in all, it's probably a month or so unit.  Now, I don't know about you, but I can't stand to talk about food for a month without getting to eat some :)

Our FACS (Food and Culinary Science) teacher is generous enough to let us into her room to use her kitchens.  We have the day to cook and eat some German food.  I usually open this up to my Deutsch II and Deutsch IV classes.  For various reasons - behavior and class size - this is not something I typically do with my Deutsch I students.

Students pay an activity fee (to pay for ingredients) and each class cooks something different.  This way they're not just cooking the same thing each year - they get to cook a variety of things over their tenure in German.

So what do we cook?
Deutsch II: Spätzle mit Erbsen und Speck; Sauerkraut; Eis (Vanilleeis, Schokoeis und Erdbeereis)
Deutsch III: Bratwurst; Kartoffelpuffer; Kompot mit Vanilleeis
Deutsch IV: Bratwurst; Käsespätzle; Milchreis

The day before we cook, I divide each class into groups.  Each group will be responsible for cooking a different part of the meal - the main dish, the side dish or the dessert.  Groups go through the recipe they'll be preparing to make sure they know what equipment they need, what ingredients, how to prep and the steps for cooking.  If you're interested in the recipes we use, click here.  Students also need to decide who will be doing what: who's the dishwasher, who's the dish dryer, who's the chef, who reads the recipe, etc.  This saves us a lot of time when we actually get in to cook.

Since we're usually working within 50 minute periods, there's a little bit of a rush factor for some of these dishes.  After several years of doing this, I'm at this point familiar with the problem areas and can work more closely with those groups to make sure they're staying on top of things.  The Kartoffelpuffer and Milchreis, especially, take a lot of time.

It's a lot of work but definitely a lot of fun!

Deutsch III working on their Kompot
Deutsch III making the Kartoffelpuffer
Deutsch II made a really good Spätzle this year
Deutsch IV's main course: Bratwurst and Käsespätzle
Another huge consideration - student allergies!  I send out a sheet home to students for their parents to fill out.  It explains what we're doing, the cost, and has a portion for parents to detail any allergies their children might have.  I've had gluten and peanut allergies - and a few rarer ones - come up, so this is definitely handy to know before hand!  Here's the sheet I send home (prices are old, but everything else is the same).

- Frau Leonard

Thursday, April 10, 2014


I talked about using Twitter in the Classroom back in September, something I still like to do as an exit ticket.

Lately I've taken to using actual twitter.  I plan on using it to post (or should I say "tweet") about German-related resources I find or what's going on in my classroom (German club activities, etc.).  I thought it'd be something that, in conjunction with this blog, I could use to spread some German-related teaching material.

If you have a chance, you can find me @spacegrl01

- Frau Leonard

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stem-Changing Verb Posters

I bought a poster from Teacher's Discovery last year for the Hunger Games.  I love the books and movies, and I know my students are fans too, so it seemed like a cut poster to have in class.  Aside from having the German movie title, it also has three verbs conjugated in the present tense: gewinnen, leben, essen.  Overall, great poster that I've proudly had on display.

It took a year of this poster staring me in the face, though, for me to get a project idea.  I decided to have students come up with their own posters in the same style - picture, title and three verbs conjugated.

The first thing I had students do, before I even introduced the project, was answer the following questions:
* Was sind deine Lieblingsbücher?
* Was sind deine Lieblingsfernsehprogramme?
* Was sind deine Lieblingsfilme?
Students enjoyed sharing out their answers and comparing with classmates, and it was a great transition into the project.

Basically, for this project students had to create a "poster" for one of their favorite books, TV shows or movies.  Their poster had to have the name of the movie (bonus if they found the German version!), a picture from the movie AND three verbs related to the movie, fully conjugated.  Since we were working on Stem-Changing Verbs (and it is in the original poster, after all!), I required students to pick two regular verbs and one stem-changing verbs.

To give some variety, I had students pick different books, TV shows and movies - NO repeats within the class!  I then gave students time to work in the computer lab.  It was a good opportunity for students to use or beolingus to look up new verbs.

Obviously I had the poster hanging in my room as an example, but to further illustrate what I wanted students to be able to produce I made a few other examples:

Check out some of the projects students came up with!

Quick, in class project that was fun for students - they got some verb practice while getting to talk about their favorite movie.

- Frau Leonard

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Zwerge sind zum Lernen

One of the grammar units covered in Deutsch Aktuell 2 is "Infinitives Used as Nouns."  It's a relatively useful topic, but it's not very difficult nor does it take very long to cover.  I usually use it as a starting point to talk about Infinitives with Zu and with Um... zu.  

A problem I was having, though, was that the text doesn't provide much practice for this topic.  There's maybe four short practice exercises total.  So last year, in attempt to give a more comprehensive look at this topic before moving on to the slightly more difficult one, I scoured the internet to see what other people do.  Luckily, I came across this activity.  

Basically, it's a cloze activity that goes along with the song "Steh auf, wenn du auf Zwerge stehst."  Instead of going through the entire set of lyrics, though, it only focuses on the parts that have infinitives.  The song is ridiculous and the video doesn't disappoint either.  If you're looking for an "answer key," you just have to look up the lyrics as a whole.

I like the song and activity, but I did end up adding to it a bit.  I found that some of the verbs were new to students, so I added a matching activity.  I then make students try to guess which verb goes where before we listen to the song and watch the video.  And at the end, I include a short sentence completion activity to get them using the structure on their own.  If you're interested in my version, click here.

There's another video of this song that's on YouTube - not as interesting, but it does include the lyrics.  Good as a self-check for students.

 - Frau Leonard

Sadly, I couldn't back-track my steps well enough to find out where exactly I got the original activity from.  If you happen to know the original author or the site where it's found, let me know so I can credit them!