Tag Archives: teacher

56: Backwards Design and Planning

In this episode we look at planning in the language classroom.  Whether it is for an entire year, a particular unit or even an individual lesson, backwards design and planning is quite effective.  It also helps to ensure that we are focusing on all of the modes and that our ultimate goals are for students to do something with the target language vocabulary, structures and themes that they are learning.  It’s all about planning ahead to plan backwards.

Backwards design planning and execution happens in three phases or stages.

  1. Identify Desired Results
  2. Determine Acceptable Evidence
  3. Plan the Learning Experience and Instruction

References in this episode:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

55: Setting the Tone and Getting to Know Students

After an exciting and productive summer I am back with new episodes of the World Language Classroom podcast.  In this episode We will talk about setting the tone for the school year along with some ideas for getting to know your students and beginning to build a sense of community in the classroom. I also speak about what I have been up to this summer and what you can expect for this school year on the podcast.  I’m so happy to be back with you.

Topics in this episode:

My goals in the language classroom:

  • To use the target language to communicate authentically and with purpose. 
  • To be able to infer (Comprehensible Inout) and use circumlocution. 
  • To use the target language more than learning about it.
  • To know how to learn about cultural aspects and then to use that information to engage respectfully and confidently. 
  • To create an environment that is comfortable and supportive, not fearful. Low affective filter. Take risks and make mistakes!
  • To participate & be part of a community

Ideas for engaging students from day 1 from Leslie Grahn, Elena Spathis, Justin (Spanish Plans), Tim Eagan, Ms Morgan and Adam Giedd,

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

54: Revisit Activities for Your Teacher Toolbox

This is the last episode in Summer Headspace series. I revisit episodes 25 and 36. These are the 2 Teacher Toolbox episodes where I give you low (and mostly no) prep activities for your language classroom.

Listen to the episodes:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

49: Revisit Competency-Based Grading & Rubrics

In this episode of the Summer Headspace series I revisit episode 20 on Rubrics and episode 37 on Competency-Based Grading.

Listen to the episodes:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

43: Student Choice in the Language Classroom with Maureen Lamb

In this episode we talk about the effectiveness of providing students with choice in the language classroom.  Why should we consider this?  What does it look like in practice?  Maureen Lamb, a Latin and Ancient Greek teacher in West Hartford, CT, joins me to talk through the logistics and benefits of student choice in their language learning.

Maureen speaks about:

  • what led her to look into making “choice” a part of her students’ learning experience.
  • the results of implementing (offering) choices to her students.
  • the various ways that she has used to offer choice to students.
  • the student perspective and experience when given choice.
  • assessment and keeping it all manageable.

Connect with Maureen Lamb:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

41: Practice or Communication?

In this episode I talk about the ideas of practice and communication in the language classroom.  Sometimes what we think is authentic communication in the language is actually just practicing structures and vocabulary.  Is there a place for practice or should it always be focused on communication?  I take on these concepts with suggestions for what this can look like in you classroom.

I speak specifically about:

  • Sandra Savignon’s definition of communication: “The expression, interpretation and very often negotiation of meaning in a given context. Communication has purpose.”
  • Proficiency: what a student can do with language in real-world situations .
  • Distinguishing Practice and Communication and what these look like in our classrooms.
  • Practice, Activity and Task
  • Practice Language and Communication Language

Common Ground: Second Language Acquisition Theory Goes to the Classroom
by Florencia G. Henshaw and Maris D. Hawkins


Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

38: Strategies to Engage Early Language Learners with Carolina Gómez

Even if you are a middle or high school teacher you will surely learn a lot from Carolina Gómez, my guest on this episode.  Carolina is Spanish teacher in Massachusetts and she walks us through planning and procedures that authentically engage learners with compelling, meaningful and comprehensible language.
Carolina speaks about:

  • the benefits of early language learning and any concerns or fears that parents may have.
  • what draws her to teaching early learners.
  • how we can engage early learners and make language comprehensible for them.
  • what lesson planning looks like with early learners.
  • what teachers of all ages can take away from the strategies that she shares with us.

Connect with Carolina Gómez:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

Grading for Proficiency and Competency

There is momentum in the move toward competency-based or proficiency-based grading and assessment.  The foundation of these assessments is to provide feedback about what students are able to do with the target language.  There will certainly be formative assessments of vocabulary of or perhaps some language structures, but ultimately we want students to be able to communicate with the vocabulary and structures.

If we are assessing the language that students can interpret and produce then the majority of students’ grades should rightfully reflect that.  With the understanding that there are other factors that come into play, here is the grading percentage breakdown that I use.

Let’s break down one of the categories to see what a competency/proficiency-based grade looks like.  For this example I will use my Presentational Writing assessment process.

I begin with the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Presentational Writing:

The main takeaway for me is the Text Type, as this the language that students are producing and there are clear indicators of what student output should be at each proficiency level.

I began with the idea of a single-point rubric from Jennifer Golzales at the Cult of Pedagogy and combined it with John Hattie’s notion of Medals and Missions. 

I modified the idea of the single-point rubric and developed a 4-point rubric with a “3” being the goal/objective, which is a B+.  This allows for feedback below or approaching the objective and output that goes above.  Here are examples of Novice High, Intermediate Low and Intermediate Low/Mid rubrics.  You will notice the text-types and language control are aligned with the ACTFL Performance Descriptors.

I then took that 4-point scale and aligned it with letter grades, which is how grades are reported in my school.  When it comes time to average out the grades, I take the average grade of each mode (on the 4-point scale) and average them together with the formative grade using this scale.

Here is an example of how a term or semester grade would be determined using this process of assessment for competency and proficiency in the target language.

As we move in the direction of assessing what students can do with the target language, and not just what they know about it, we will need to find ways to bridge traditional grading with competency assessment.  The above process is working well for me and my students, but I will continue to modify and reassess how I’m doing it, and look forward to feedback from others as I continue to work out the details and efficacy.

37: Competency-Based Grading with Ursula Askins-Huber

In this episode we talk about grading.  More specifically, how we can grade based on what students are able to do in and with the target language.  This requires a bit of a shift in thinking and approach, especially when coming from more traditional grading.  I’m joined by Ursula Askins-Huber, a Spanish teacher in New Hampshire, who has been teaching for over 30 years.  She helps us to see ways to adopt competency-based grading in manageable ways.

Ursula speaks specifically about:

  • what grades have traditionally represented.
  • what competency (or proficiency) is how this has been missing in legacy grading practices.
  • what a grade based on competency tell us.
  • What competency-based grading looks like in the classroom.
  • how accounting for HW completion, behavior, participation, being prepared for class, etc. work into a grade that is based on competency.

Books that Ursula References:

Connect with Ursula Askins-Huber:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

36: Go-To Activities For Your Teacher Toolbox (Vol 2)

This episode is volume 2 in the Teacher Toolbox series.  In these “Go-To Activities for Your Teacher Toolbox” episodes you will hear suggestions for go-to activities and games that can be easily modified for any language or proficiency level.


Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.