Saturday, November 28, 2015

How to rock a classroom observation

I'm not sure how your school is, but my school has one formal observation per teacher each year followed by multiple informal ("pop-in") observations. A lot of teachers feel completely comfortable allowing other people into their classrooms to observe - others
may feel a little nervous.

I've been observed a few times in the past couple of years and my observations have consistently gone well. While I won't totally discredit myself as an effective and engaging teacher, I will say that a lot of my success is dependent on the types of activities I have my students complete while being observed. The following activities have been very successful and well-liked during my observations. I do want to make one thing clear though - I never put on a dog and pony show. I plan my formal observations around when I complete the following assignments with my students. However, I do have a few tips to make things run a little bit more smoothly in your classroom.

Students activities that tend to go well during a formal observation:

1) Peer editing - In my classroom we do lots of peer-editing. This peer-editing may be on a larger, long-term project or a smaller in-class task. Either way, peer-editing is a sure-fire way to show that students are providing feedback for each other, exhibiting respectful behavior by making appropriate comments about classmate work, possibly working with technology and more.
2) Self-reflection or self-editing - Self-editing shows that students are setting personal goals and are responsible for their learning and progression through a project. Self-editing allows students to self-monitor and see what still has to be improved in an assignment or what he or she is already doing well.
3) Technology-based "response systems" - In my last post, I talked about Plickers. Plickers is a great tool because students love it, it produces nice data to look at afterwards, and it ensures each student is participating. In my district, data are well-liked, so websites/apps like Plickers, Socrative, and more, are helpful because it illustrates just how well the students are doing, and more importantly, how they are improving over time. This data can be used to inform teach instruction and identify students who need additional support. 
4) Group work - Group work is also great because, like peer-editing, it shows that students are working together to complete a task or further their learning. Any sort of mini projects or tasks where students work together to teach classmates something is especially exciting to observe.
5) Clear expectations - Posting classroom behavior expectations, deadlines, daily objectives, homework, and other important things is essential to running a smooth classroom. Students should always know where to look to see the posted homework (within the classroom and digitally if you have a site). In addition, when I have a long term project, I create a detailed calendar of due dates. While this may seem intimidating at first, after revising the calendar the first year you do the project, the due dates pretty much remain constant the subsequent years - you just need to change the actual dates. I always reference the calendar throughout the project so students know of the exact due dates coming up. It also serves as a great visual reminder for students to see the approaching deadlines.
6) Speaking the majority (or entire) class in the target language - Depending on the level of your students, teaching a foreign language in the target language is important. I usually switch to English while teaching my Spanish 3 students when I want to clarify something important or to emphasize a due date. Other than that, most of the class is delivered in Spanish.

Anyways, there are lots of interactive activities to have someone observe during a formal observation. One tip that I always have my students do is greet the observer at the start of class. I usually introduce the observer ("Clase, les presento a ____________") and then ask them to say, "Hola, senor/a ______________." That usually gets a chuckle out of the observer and takes the pressure off of the students if they feel nervous for being watched.

If you have other successful tips for an observation lesson, please leave them in the comments section below! There are countless ways to prove we are great at what we do :) 

By the way, there's a CYBER MONDAY sale on TPT this Monday and Tuesday! My entire store will be 20% off (including bundles!), and with the coupon code, you can receive a total or 28% off of each product in my store. Time to stock up on those holiday products, eh?

Happy teaching!

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth -

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My new favorite app - PLICKERS!

So, Plickers.

At first, I was a non-believer. One of my colleagues learned about this new app through her teacher certification program and told us about it. I was at a different meeting the day she demonstrated Plickers to our World Language Department, so I really didn't understand the hype. During our next department meeting, all ten of my co-workers were creating the Plickers student cards with cardboard and tape. Why were they all doing this? Plickers couldn't be that special. 

But I was wrong.

After I witnessed the first ten seconds of my colleague do some bell work activities with Plickers in her Spanish 2 class, I was hooked. I was absolutely hooked. The next day I rushed to set it up using her Plickers student cards, and soon after, my own students were hooked. Plickers is the COOLEST thing ever.

Okay, so what is Plickers?

Plickers is a website and app that work together. You can do quick bell work activities, exit slips, or other formative assessments with this engaging, interactive app. Once you create a free account on (see below, top right corner), you print off unique Plickers student cards for the number of students you have in your largest class. 

Each Plickers student card is a unique QR code. Each side of the "square" (for lack of a better description), represents a different multiple choice option: A, B, C, or D. The letters are written in tiny gray font along the sides of the square.
I suggest either printing the cards on cardstock paper, or printing them on normal paper then taping them to a heavier paper like cardstock. This will preserve the cards over time. Sturdier versions are available to purchase on Amazon for a price. The cool thing is you only need to print enough cards for the largest class that you have. For example, if your largest class is 24 students, then you only need to print 24 cards. You can then reuse the cards for each of your classes.

Once you print the cards, you can go to and set up individual classes. So far, I have set up Plickers with both of my Spanish 1 classes.
If your school uses a gradebook like Powerschool, you can simply export your class roster into Excel and then copy/paste the entire list of students into Plickers. This is a lot easier than typing each individual students' names. You have to do this for each of the class that you want to set up.

Next, you go to "Library" along the top and create new Folders for each of the Plickers assignments that you want to do. I create a new folder for each time I use Plickers. For example, if I want to review definite articles with my Spanish 1 students, I have a folder that is specifically for definite articles. If I want to review the vocab from the current unit, I have a folder specifically designed for that vocab. You can see each of my folders below.
Once you create a folder with various questions (I usually do 6-8 questions each time I use Plickers), you have to "Add [each question] to Queue" for each class. This is the only negative I've seen for using Plickers because you need to add each question to your queue for each class. You cannot add an entire folder. It is a little tedious, but it's worth it!
If you have added all of the questions you want to use to each queue for each class, then you are almost ready to use Plickers! Here are the next steps:
1) Number each Plickers student card. Write the names of each student on the back of each card. The "Classes" tab along the top takes you back to your classes and rosters where you will see that each student has been assigned a specific Plickers student card number. For example, Johnny may be assigned Plickers student card #1. Therefore, label that printed out card 1, and then on the back write "Johnny." Since you can reuse the set of Plickers student cards for each of your classes, you may have up to 5 names (or more, if you teach more than 5 classes!) on the back of each card.
2) Download the free Plickers app (available for every type of phone).
3) Pull up the Plickers website on a projector screen or Smartboard in your classroom and go to "Live view" along the top.
4) The rest of Plickers is controlled from your phone. On the app, choose which class with whom you're currently working. If you correctly added questions to your queue, the questions you want to review should already be lined up and ready to go.
5) Click on the question that you want to be projected onto the screen.
6) Students then hold up and choose the correct rotation of their Plickers student card depending on if they believe the correct answer is A, B, C, or D. They must have their cards facing you without any obstructions.
7) You then click "Scan" on your phone and slowly scan your cell phone camera across the entire class, and here is where the magic happens: your phone will read the QR codes from each student and will register their answers: A, B, C or D.
8) As you scan students, their names will pop up on your phone's screen, and you will either see a green color if their answer is correct or a red color if their answer is incorrect.
9) Students know that their cards have been read by your phone when a check mark appears next to their name on the projector screen. They can put their cards down when that check mark appears.
10) Once everyone in your class has answered, you can go to "Graph" on the projector screen and see which answer(s) your students chose. You can then click "Reveal answer" and the correct bar graph choice will appear green. You can also choose to "Reveal answer" along with the student names and check marks, but I don't like doing that because it would expose each students' answers (correct or incorrect) to the rest of the class.
11) Once you are done with the Plickers activity, you can go back to the Plickers website and see a graph of each question and which students answered it correctly or incorrectly. This data is always available in the "Reports" tab.

So, why do I love Plickers?
1) It's super user-friendly. Aside from some work needed to print out and set up the Plickers cards, working with the cards, app, and website is really easy.
2) Students do not need devices to use Plickers - only the teacher needs a device. Yes, there are TONS of cool apps that incorporate student devices like Kahoot or Socrative, but a) not all students have a device, b) sometimes students' devices are confiscated, etc...
3) Students absolutely love Plickers. They are engaged. They are excited. They are PARTICIPATING. I started using Plickers with my most disengaged class that meets first period at 7:25am. When I ask them to repeat after me for Spanish pronunciation, they rarely do. The same students always speak up. With Plickers, I can rest assured that each student has to participate and that their voice is heard.
4) The Plickers website (and app) provide me with graphs to see how each question was answered.

A few cons:
1) I cannot divide the question results by student. For example, if I asked my class 5 questions, I cannot see how Johnny did on all five questions. I need to click on each question and see how Johnny did each question at a time.
2) It takes a few minutes to set up at the very beginning, but it's totally worth it.

Anyways, I cannot say enough good things about Plickers. My kids LOVE it. My kids are engaged. My kids are excited to participate in formative assessments (shhh, don't tell them that's what it is!). Plus, it requires each student to participate.

Please get started with Plickers today. You won't regret it.

Happy teaching!

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth -