Jumping in with Interactive Notebooks

When I see that something works, like CI, I run with it.

When I see that something doesn’t work, like memorizing vocabulary lists and endings, I toss it.

Last year, after fighting a losing battle with binders, we tossed them.  Literally, we tossed them into the trash and recycle bins!

Originally, I had hoped (like many of us do), that students would take important notes, songs, tests, and handouts and keep them nicely organized in a binder that would travel with them from school to home and back.  At the end of the year, students would have a 2 inch thick binder of useful resources to use when they got to Spanish 2.


What really happened was that 10% of my students took care of their binders and kept everything neatly organized. The rest of the students would try and hide their binders in my room.  I tried using a crate to store them in class to avoid them hiding them.  That didn’t work because they would shove them in or just stack them and it’d look like a mess.

So after doing as much digging as one could productively do on Pinterest, I started bookmarking everything I could find about interactive notebooks in a world language class.  Guys, there’s a ton of info out there about INB’s but the more I kept reading, the less time I had in the year to do anything that would be beneficial to my kids.

I went through a few kids binders and pulled out what I thought was the best of the best and worth keeping.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t a lot 😦   My kiddos don’t take a lot of notes anyways, it’s mostly structures from the Super 16 and stories we have read or created in class.  I knew that their Spanish 2 teachers are more legacy style, so every now and then we would have “Spanish 2 prep days” and look at verb endings and work with grammar.

I also came across Emilie at IslandTeacher.com and she had some awesome resources for our INB’s.  She also posted a few tips for starting an interactive notebook here.  If you’re thinking about going towards INB’s but you aren’t super creative, she has some great items that you can purchase to jump start moving towards interactive notebooks.  Check out her TPT store and go all out and buy a bundle.  I promise you’ll be satisfied!

Now guess what happened…

This year I’m at the high school now and MANY of my students from last year have told me that they’re so glad they kept their notebook.  They looked through it before school started, they’ve used it as a reference for little things like subject pronouns and gender/number agreement.  They even tell their friends in my class now how happy they are that they did this instead of a binder!


Blendspace Rocks My Socks!

Can I tell you how much I love being in a 1:1 school?

It’s great, really.  But sometimes you realize you need to find ways to make technology easier for your kiddos.  This is where Blendspace.com comes in.

I wanted a place where I could post all of the websites we visit for the week without making a list on Google Classroom.  Blendspace makes tiles and you just drag in your content and you can add details to go along with it.  A few ways that I use in class:

  •   Students that missed class can check this and keep up with work
  •   Students that can’t remember where they saw something from class and look at the tile to see the visual
  •   I add the link to my parent newsletter on Fridays so they can see what their child worked on during the week
  •   Instead of multiple tabs being open the students and I can just click through the Blendspace for the week

Currently, I post the link for the week in the About section on Google Classroom and then they just have at it! No hunting down websites or documents or slideshows.  Here’s a my first one:

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 11.21.51 AM

I also like how I can rearrange the tiles and put in a new tile if something pops up during the week and the link always stays updated.

What are some other ways you could use Blendspace in your class?

Meet the Teacher

When I taught in middle and elementary school, Meet the Teacher Night was always right before school started.  It’s during the hectic week of professional development and room decorating.  I hated how I always felt that something wasn’t ready (because there was always something that wasn’t ready!) This event was regularly attended by most parents and their children and made for a long night of talking and repeating myself over and over.

Meet the Teacher

Now that I’m at high school, our Meet the Teacher event is the 2nd Monday after school has started.  I was warned by my team lead that since I teach a level 1 class with mostly freshmen, I’d have a ton of parents showing up.  “Bring it on!” I thought to myself.  Well, the reality is that very few high school parents come to Meet the Teacher.  I actually preferred being able to talk more with parents and they were able to let me know that their child really likes my class!

Parents complimented me on my print rich classroom and they liked how I mentioned in my initial smore that I wasn’t going to be teaching class the way that most of us had been taught.  When I showed them the first embedded readings that their child had done that same day they were SHOCKED at how their child could already read and retell a short story.

It’s all about making the language comprehensible.  The proof is in the pudding!

First Week Faves and Flops

Fave- Martina Bex Unit 1 (Dice).  I was a little worried because I have high schoolers but these kids were all about singing and gesturing to “Los Pollitos Dicen” on the first day of school!  I think it’s because every other teacher is going through their syllabus the first day.  Parents told me on Meet the Teacher during the second week that their child was singing the song in the car!

1st weekFlop- I know that this was my fault, but I tried Ben Slavic’s circling with balls activity and I couldn’t help but circle around the same things! I plan on using this more in class, I just need to have more confidence next time.

Fave- Smore.com newsletters! I sent one on the first day and the last day of the first week.  Parents complimented me on the simplicity of the format.  I really like that I can see how many parents are looking at the newsletter (high school parents definitely don’t read it as much as middle school parents!).

Flop- New technology 😦 I’ve been spoiled with a SmartBoard for the last 10 years and my new campus uses the Epson Bright Link projector and a Stevens Learning System Listening Lab.  I can’t get the hang of it all yet because I keep wanting to tap on the dry erase board! I’ll get there, but it’s just taking some time to find my groove.

No one in our district knows how to successfully save what we write using the Epson! I’m back in the dark ages of having to rewrite all of my structures #firstworldteacherproblems 😉

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

I’m the first to admit that I am still learning a lot about teaching with CI and TPRS.  I don’t consider myself an expert, by any means, but I see how much better my CI students are than my non CI kids. And so, in honor of Labor Day, this post includes links to some amazing teachers and their work that has made my life, and many others, a bit easier.favorite things

My first year with TPRS and CI I used Blaine Ray’s “Look, I Can Talk” book and those kids loved the silly stories. My kids still come up to me years later and tell me stories about el gato blanco.

Last year I used the LICT books again, more personalized stories, and I tried out one of Martina Bex‘s units.  What I like about Martina’s units is that they are super easy to follow and my students enjoy the songs, games, and readings.  Martina also has some great free posters that other teachers ask me about all of the time.

Over the summer I spent some more time looking through Teachers Pay Teachers  and I found some terrific resources to use for this year.  I already knew I wanted to use more of Martina’s units and so I purchased one of her bundles (Units 1-5).  FYI- if you follow sellers, you’ll get an email when they add items to their store and some sellers will offer new items for 50% for the first 24 hours! Be sure you leave feedback for your purchases and you’ll receive credits that you can use towards future purchases.

I also purchased music, warmups, and an integrated performance assessment that I look forward to using from Spanish Sundries.  I had already been using music in class but I really like the variety of activities that she created and we have the same taste in Latin music!

Last year I also started using interactive notebooks in class.  Emilie over at Island Teacher has some great resources for Spanish 1 students.  I bought a bundle from her TPT store and it’s been such a blessing!

Spanishplans has some great activities that I used last year, but the most useful item I have in my room is the subject pronouns posters on my wall.  My level 1 babies look at the posters and totally get what they mean.

Mike Peto has a terrific blog about the Super Sixteen verbs and this year I typed them up and threw them on the wall at the front in the present tense and on the side wall in the preterite and imperfect tenses.  I have the English translations next to them with velcro and I’ll be able to take them down easily as students begin to master the verbs.

New Beginnings

I’m two weeks in to teaching at a new school in my current district.  For the last 3 years I taught Spanish 1 and Native Speakers to 8th graders in the district that I live in.  I LOVED my time there! My oldest, Big C, is 13 yeNewars old and will be an 8th grader at the middle school that I taught at.  My 4 year old, Little C, has been attending the pre-school at the high school that I now teach at.  I’m so lucky to have been able to be at the same campuses as both of my boys!!

Right before the year ended, which was one of my most challenging, a few signs started to pop up and I felt in my heart that it was time for a slight change.  The high school that I teach at now is on the other side of the block where I taught middle school! I have several students that attended the middle school that I taught at and I still get to see several students that I’ve taught over the years.

I went from being the only foreign language teacher at my campus to now being one of SIX Spanish teachers in a LOTE department of ELEVEN teachers!!

Yes, it’s a pretty big school: 2,900 students and our building is 2 stories and 1/4 mile long.

My team is outstanding! I have had the privilege to work with many of the teachers creating curriculum and district assessments.  They are a group of passionate and talented educators and I look forward to working with them for many years to come 🙂

My classes are slightly smaller than what I had at the middle school but now I have students that have 504 and SpEd accommodations, or students that have already failed a year of foreign language.  I have even used Google Hangouts with a student that homebound!

My sweet husband was worried that I was leaving a great school for a campus that I didn’t know much about.  He sees me putting in the extra hours to create lessons that will touch on a variety of learning styles and accommodate my SpEd kids and he still asks if I’m sure that I made a good decision in leaving.  I know I have.  The only thing I have to complain about is the fact that I have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to be at school for the 7:30 start time, jaja!


Last year I started using music as a warmup in class. We would spend about 10 minutes on Monday and Tuesday going over the meaning of the lyrics and my students were enthralled by this! I mean, these 13 and 14 year kids were making connections with words and finding cognates and asking some great questions… if you’ve never taught middle schoolers THIS is mindblowing!! My students last year could’ve easily spent 30 minutes just talking about music and lyric meaning… But that was then… Here’s last year’s Spotify playlist:

The format last year was to spend 10 minutes on Monday and Tuesday talking about the artist and genre, making guesses as to word meaning and translating much of the song.  Then I would play the song on Spotify each day so that they could fill in the the words on their lyrics cloze sheet.  At the end of the week I’d show the video on YouTube and my students would turn in the music and get a grade that included completion of the translations and then the cloze activity.

This year I have new students and I’ve had to change the way we use music. It gives me the sads that my students this year aren’t as engaged with the music as my students last year, but I’ve adapted it to make it work for us.

This year I noticed that many of my students (like 90%) were not even listening to the song.  They’d simply fill in the words from the front and then just talk or play on their phones.  When we translated the lyrics they had mentally checked out after 2 minutes.   As much as I loved this activity and felt that it was a fantastic way for them to get some listening practice, these kids were just not into it.  It really broke my heart. But teaching is about adapting to the needs of your students, right?

So now, instead of wasting class time translating the most of the song, I give them the lyrics in Spanish and English all on the same page.  I pull out some phrases I want them to learn that we can use during story telling or in writing and they then we listen to the song.  At the end of the week, or week and a half, they have a quiz over the song.  The quiz has about 10 blanks to fill in (word bank on the side) and I choose 5 of the phrases or terms for them to define.

The first time we did this, there were a few students that failed.  They admitted that they hadn’t spent any time outside of class listening to the song and that they would usually just glance at the lyrics when I played to song for warmup.

The second time we did this all of the students were actually looking at the lyrics and singing along.  Quiz grades were much better! The students would tell me that they bought the song on iTunes and would make their parents listen to it in the car!

Thinking about adding music to your class? Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Don’t just pick music that YOU love.  But on the other hand, don’t pick something you’ll get sick of hearing (in my case, 6 times a day)
  2. A catchy chorus can really grab their attention
  3. Number the verses in lyrics to help students that may get lost
  4. Watch the video before choosing a song for the class.  My 8th graders love Shakira, but I don’t feel comfortable showing a lot of her videos.
  5. You don’t have to start from scratch!  Kristy PlacidoZachary Jones & El Mundo de Birch have been my saviors!!

How do you use music in your class?

Choice in Homework

I had been anxiously awaiting the start of the new semester as much as my 3 year old had been waiting on Christmas!  Don´t get me wrong, I could have stayed home a few more days for winter break, but this semester I was going to start something brand new for my 8th graders:

Elige tu propia aventura (a.k.a. Choose Your Own Adventure)!!

I had been wanting to do this for a year or so  but I couldn’t quite figure out how to adapt it for my Spanish 1 kids. After attending Bethanie Drew, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, & Laura Sexton’s session at ACTFL (and picking Bethanie’s brain for a bit afterwards) I realized that, I TOO, could incorporate this in my level 1 classes (as well as the Heritage Speakers).

Here’s the kicker: The beauty of Choose Your Adventure is that the differentiation is built in to the concept.  Students choose what adventure interests them, and from there they adapt it to their own needs. My students love this because they’re incorporating Spanish with activities they’re already interested in so it doesn’t seem like it’s really homework.

Musicuentos has a blog post where she posts links to several other teachers that are doing homework choice in a variety of ways and I went through and gathered many of their homework choices.

Now, up until a few years ago I was a grammarian type of Spanish teacher, so my homework (which was almost nightly) consisted of worksheets where they had to use the correct form of the verb or write sentences using X number of vocabulary words.  My students weren’t getting much (if anything) from that type of work.   Old habits die hard so what I have to keep telling myself is that homework is for ENRICHMENT.  I am still teaching and giving my kids a ton of comprehensible input during class.  I have to make my 53 minutes with them count! But anything they do outside of class is a bonus.

I also really wanted a point system but I’m already seeing that I need to tweak this for next quarter. Right now, we’re in the experimental phase but I think that by the start of the school year in the fall I’ll have some kinks worked out.


cya screenshot
Google Classroom’s “Stream”

On Fridays students share their adventures in small groups.  They also post what they did on Google Classroom.  This is also where they post their evidence, such as a screenshot, summary, or video.  They have to post what they did, how many points it’s worth, something they learned and something they need to improve.

choose your adventure form
Google Forms is AWESOME!

They also need to fill out a form I created on Google Forms each time they did homework.  THIS is what I use to keep track of what they have done and how many points they have. 

sheets screen shot
The student input from the Form is automatically tabulated into a Sheet!

Now, I only have 4 computers in my room, and they rarely work, but this week I checked out our school’s MacBook cart and we spent this week looking at websites they could use and exploring their choices.  I encouraged them to go ahead and pick what they wanted to do this week so if they needed help posting to the class stream we could do that in class.  After this week, I will have the MacBooks available on Thursdays so that students can fill out their Homework Form and post to the Stream if for any reason they can’t do this at home.

Takeaways from the Week-

  • First and foremost, I’m glad I checked out the MacBooks for 4 days out of the week.  Our internet went down one day completely and many kids were unsure of how to do this at home.
  • While I didn’t expect everyone to think that this was an exciting idea as I did, NOT A SINGLE STUDENT COMPLAINED.  Even my most vocal students couldn’t find a downside because there are so many choices! But there was a flipside to this:
  • Some students want to do as little work as possible and will do higher point choices so they don’t have to do homework for the next few weeks.
  • Don’t take for granted how well kids know how to use technology.  I showed my kids how to download the Google Drive app for their phones/tablets and how to upload pictures/videos to Drive and then attach that to the class Stream.  I even made a video tutorial that is in the About section of their Classroom.
  • I had to add details to the list about 4 times this week (which meant I had to upload it to the Classroom 4 times) to clarify what students were supposed to do.




Bienvenidos to my very first blog, Miss Señora´s Musings!

My name is Cathy and I teach Spanish at a public middle school is suburban Texas.  Although I have been teaching for 13 years, this is only my second year using comprehensible input in my language class.  I am super excited to write and reflect upon language education and my journey to be a better teacher to my students.

After spending 3 days at the ACTFL Annual Convention and World Languages Expo I realized that my head was swimming with so many ideas and plans that I needed a way to sort through them all and my Google Drive isn´t doing the trick for me! The incomparable Laura Sexton lit the fire under my butt when she tweeted the post below:

My professional interests are varied, I like to use story telling in my classes and I have finally seen the light regarding that the textbook is not the end all and it’s not all about the vocabulary lists!  I love to try out technology in my classes and find engaging activities for my students.  In addition to my experiences and reflections, I will occasionally post resources here and on Twitter (@senorawells).

Thanks for visiting, and please look forward to more posts about my journey.