Staying Culturally Proficient in the Target Language

This month, I’m focusing on the third National Board World Language Standard, Knowledge of Culture. In my last post, I talked about how overwhelming it can be to stay familiar with the histories of unique communities who speak your target language while simultaneously keeping up with the varying cultural trends of the day. I usually approach this challenge much as I approach the challenge of keeping my target language proficiency up to date, knowing that every little bit helps. Here are some of the things I’ve done (from the easiest to most difficult) to get and keep my cultural proficiency level high.

1) Netflix

In my opinion, there isn’t a more delightfully passive way to stay up to date on culture than to turn on some Spanish Netflix while folding laundry, cooking, or eating ice cream on the couch. The easiest way to stay on top of what the Spanish world is watching is to start watching Spanish language shows and movies and let Netflix’s suggestions be your guide. In recent weeks, I’ve watched The Two Popes, Narcos, La Reina del Sur, and Coco (okay Coco is on Disney Plus, but we’ve watched it like 75 times with my son). I also have to once again plug El Ministerio del Tiempo since it is basically a dive through Spanish history but is genuinely fun to watch.

2) #langchat

I find that our online Professional Learning Network on Twitter is the best source for authentic resources and current materials to use. I wouldn’t have known about the song Soy Yo, the movie Coco, or the March Madness music in Spanish tournament if it weren’t for the good people of the #langchat community bringing it to my attention. Teachers usually do a great job of finding authentic resource treasures, and it helps to stay on top of the cool cultural resources that our colleagues are using all over the country.

3) Apple Music

When my classroom playlist needs an upgrade, I’ll skip over to the Apple music Top 100 lists to see what the top songs are in a handful of Spanish-speaking countries. Usually, I check out Spain, Mexico, and Argentina mainly because they are the first ones that you see when scrolling. Occasionally I can find a couple of songs that aren’t explicit that I can work into class, and every once in a while you can find one that gives you enough of a particular grammar structure to actually dive into a lyric study during a warm-up activity.

4) Authentic Resource searches

I’ll do an more in-depth post on my system for seeking out a solid authentic resource, but I find that the process of looking gets me cultural exposure I wouldn’t otherwise have. When you’re poring over videos of Carnval in Barranquilla in order to find that perfect, school appropriate, interesting, comprehensible piece of gold, you pick up a lot about the realities of what goes on in Barranquilla during Carnaval! Remind yourself of this next time you’re in a wormhole searching for a solid YouTube video to show in class.

5) Get in the Spanish-speaking world

When we aren’t in the middle of a global health pandemic, I recommend volunteering with a community organization that serves the Latin community, and travelling to the Spanish-speaking world for staying up to date on culture. During the time of social distancing, you can still reach out to your native-speaker friends, or to your students. If you’ve got a couple of heritage speakers in class who don’t mind acting as resources, ask them if there’s a song or a TV show that they are obsessed with at home right now that you think you should share in class. Maybe they wouldn’t mind sharing how their family celebrates a particular holiday. I’m always careful with this one to ask kids privately if they mind sharing traditions with others, because often teens in particular don’t want to be singled out, but if you do this in a sensitive way, it can be a very positive thing for everyone in the room. Parents can be a resource too, which is why I send out a survey to them at the beginning of the year asking about their experience with the Spanish-speaking world.

When it comes to cultural proficiency, staying on top of everything can seem overwhelming, but I try to tell myself that every little bit helps. Even something as simple as switching your homepage to BBC Mundo so you can read the headlines from the Spanish-speaking world can go a long way. If you have any tips on staying culturally proficient in the target language, please share in the comments below!

NBCT Standard 3: Knowledge of Culture

The third National Board Standard for World Language teachers focuses on Knowledge of Culture (pages 25-27 here). (Psst- if you have no idea what I’m talking about, check on my primer on National Boards here). First, the standard statement:

As an integral part of effective instruction in world languages,
accomplished teachers know and understand the practices,
products, and perspectives of target cultures and understand how
languages and cultures are intimately linked.

If Standard 2 is where the National Board holds us accountable to practice what we preach in terms of our own language learning, Standard 3 is where we’re held accountable for knowledge of culture. Primarily, there are two parts of this standard; first, we need to have a wide depth of knowledge about our target language’s culture, and second, we need to be able to give our students opportunities to develop that same appreciation.

In terms of teacher knowledge, the standard focuses in on the products, practices, and perspectives that ACTFL loves to champion, and demands that we stay up to date on how those cultural commodities change year to year, in every country and community where our language is spoken. This aspect of language teaching can get overwhelming because the term “culture” within a language can vary wildly. As a Spanish teacher, you would have to know the revolutionary history of Uruguay, what people like to eat for breakfast in Puerto Rico, the most important works of art at the Prado, and what music people are listening to in San Antonio these days. A French teacher would need to be able to discuss creole culture of Louisiana and the history of Parisian haute couture. It is a lot, and the National Board Standard includes all of it.

Of course, it’s not enough to know about all of these aspects of our target culture; we have to know how to provide opportunities for our students to know about them as well. We have to be able to instruct student learning on contemporary target culture societies and their histories; we have to give students an opportunity to interact with these cultures in an authentic way, and, perhaps most importantly, we have to give students the tools and abilities to appreciate cultures that are different from their own.

Instead of writing a two thousand word post, I’m going to write two more posts on Standard 3. In the first, I’ll give you my tips for staying up to date on target culture, much as I did in my post about teacher language proficiency for Standard 2. In the second, I’ll try to give a bird’s eye view on giving students opportunities to appreciate this culture, and what that has looked like in my classroom. Looking forward to making this cultural dive with you.

Advice for the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interivew (OPI)

One of the requirements of many school districts (and of Standard 2 of the National Boards for World Language teachers) is that teachers score an Advanced on the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI). This test, if you aren’t familiar, is given in the format of a Q&A interview, either over the phone with a real human proctor, or on the computer where you record yourself talking to a robot. The goal of the test is to figure out where you are as a speaker – Novice, Intermediate, or Advanced. Full disclosure- I’ve failed it twice. I share with you today the advice I got before I finally passed the test as an Advanced, non-native speaker, and the strategies that pushed my language level over the edge.

Let’s start with the format

The OPI starts with some very simple questions (describe a typical day at your job), that gradually become more and more complicated so you can prove your prowess at different language structures (What did you do yesterday? What are you looking forward to doing this summer? What are your hopes, dreams, and wishes for the children of tomorrow? Etc.).

After you’ve gone through this chat for a while, the OPI tester will switch into a role play mode. They will give you a scenario in which you need to get yourself out of an uncomfortable situation. The scenarios I’ve gotten were: 1) your car broke down on the way to a very important meeting at work 2) you arrive at a fancy restaurant with a date and they’ve lost your reservation 3) you get to the movie theater and your tickets are not working. The goal here is to get you flustered (as if you weren’t already) and see how your language level changes when you’re under stress (as if you weren’t already). It’s a very nerve-wrecking test if you aren’t properly prepared. So what are the best ways to prepare? Here’s what worked for me:

1) Practice the easy questions.

You know the OPI is going to ask you about your typical day, about a day you had in the past, and about your hopes for the future. When you’re in your car or in the shower, practice responses to easy questions so you can start the interview feeling confident. Be able to talk about your job and what you do every day. Be able to describe your family and the things you do for fun. Be able to talk about what you had for breakfast that morning. Be able to talk about what you’re doing next weekend. Having a few answers locked and loaded can help you start off on the right foot so you don’t get flustered as quickly.

2) Never stop talking in complete sentences.

They will ask you some weird questions that you won’t know how to answer right away. Remember that the OPI folks don’t really care WHAT you say, they only care about HOW you say it. When in doubt, use filler sentences and just keep talking. Think out loud! An example I remember is “which historical figure do you most admire.” I don’t think I actually answered this question when I passed the OPI. I did say something like: “Wow, what a difficult question. I need to think about that. I could say someone from the present or the past, and there have been so many impressive people to choose from. I suppose if I had to pick someone who is still alive, I’d pick Queen Elizabeth.” Notice that these fillers employ many different types of language structures. It really doesn’t matter if you fully answer the question or not. Just keep talking in complete sentences, and let the testers know that you know how to string them together well.

3) Practice the conditional.

When you get to your scenario, you’re going to have to ask someone for help, or forgiveness, or both. Having the conditional in your arsenal is key. I spent a lot of time practicing using podría and podríamos just to maintain a high level of formality and politeness when the scenario starts to break down. Remember: their goal with the scenario is to see what happens to your language in a stressful, real life situation. You want to prove you’re cool under pressure.

4) Look up language about cars

No, really. The one time I got a scenario about my car breaking down, I had no idea how to say anything about cars or car parts, and it made me sound entirely incompetent. If I didn’t sound incompetent, I felt incompetent, which got me flustered and then I was very quickly tripping all over my words. You never know which scenario you’re going to get, so it can’t hurt to look up a few important words like “engine, transmission, brakes, etc.”

5) Hit up your native speaker friends.

Having casual conversational practice with people who can lovingly correct your mistakes is huge. If social distancing is making these interactions tough, attack your language proficiency practice with everything you’ve got. I talk about my favorite strategies for this here, but it helps to load up on the Spanish podcasts and Netflix as much as possible in the days and weeks leading up to your test. You never know what vocabulary you’ll pick up last minute that could come in handy.

If you practice the easy questions, have some filler sentences ready to use while you think about your answers to weird questions, practice the conditional, think about vocabulary categories that could come up in the scenario portion that you need to brush up on, and overload on your Target Language input and output beforehand, you’ll walk into the OPI feeling confident. That’s what made all the difference for me. If you’ve got more OPI advice that I missed, please share it below. Good luck!

Summer Reflection Project – National Board Standards

A very hearty congratulations to everyone who has finally reached the end of this historically crazy school year. Wow. I know the outlook for 2020-2021 has its own question marks, but hopefully you’re able to put that aside for a while and enjoy putting your feet up. When you’re ready to start reflecting for next year, these posts will be waiting for you.

A few months ago, I started making my way through the National Board standards as a way to reflect upon the basics of outstanding world language teaching. I’ve decided as part of a summertime reflection project, I’m going to continue this process, and add in any tips I feel would be useful to the age of remote learning, with the thought that some of you will likely be remote learning for some of your students at some point next school year.

If you’d like to catch up, check out the following posts:

I look forward to sharing more of my reflections on the National Board Standards in the coming weeks. In the meantime, enjoy your summer!

Teacher Proficiency in the Target Language

Reading up on the second National Board World Language Standard has got me with teacher proficiency on the brain. If you’re a native speaker of the language you teach, obviously this is a non-issue for you. I studied Spanish in school for eight years and then went to teach English in Chile for a semester and realized I barely spoke Spanish. Here are some of the things I’ve done (from the easiest to most difficult) to get and keep my Spanish proficiency level high.

1) Netflix

This is a passive input activity that allows me to tell myself I’m being productive while shamelessly devouring shows online. Honestly Netflix has produced a ton of high-quality content in Spanish in the last couple of years that far surpasses the old Univision/Telemundo novelas (though I still have love for those as well). To get more input bang for my buck, I do usually watch these shows with Spanish subtitles on. As far as what to watch: my all-time fave is Gran Hotel. I’ve also enjoyed Casa de Papeles, Alta Mar, Ingobernable, and Chicas del Cable. I will say, however, that El Ministerio del Tiempo is such a nerdy Spanish teacher’s DREAM. It’s basically a show about time-traveling to hang out with every awesome Spaniard throughout history. Not quite appropriate to show students but so perfect for the former-AP student in each of us.

2) Using an e-reader

Much as I use practicing Spanish as an excuse to watch soaps, I use my Kindle Spanish-English dictionary as an excuse to indulge in beach-read fiction. Download a free Spanish-English dictionary onto your Kindle, and every book in Spanish becomes a perfect vocabulary building partner. Every time you come across a word you don’t know, you can highlight it and get the definition in English. It’s amazing. I usually will have one Dan Brown or Outlander novel in Spanish loaded on my Kindle just so I feel semi-productive killing time.

3) Podcasts

I feel like the quality of podcasts in general goes up every week. My two favorite Spanish-language podcasts are Radio Ambulante and Ted en Español. If you’ve found others you love, please share them in the comments. If I’m headed to a professional situation in which I’m going to be using Spanish with native speakers, I always play one of these in the car on the way there just to switch my brain over. Cult of Pedagogy and We Teach Languages are also great (English-language) podcasts for professional development, especially when there is crossover between the two!

4) Colleagues

The colleagues in my department at school fell into the habit early of only communicating with each other in Spanish. Half of us were native speakers and half of us were not, but it ended up being easier to just use Spanish all of the time for those situations in which you don’t exactly want your students to understand everything you’re saying. The fact that half of us were native speakers also helped us to hold each other accountable and kept our Spanish going at the highest level. There’s nothing to help you learn how to give students encouraging language feedback like being on the receiving end of some on a daily basis.

5) Volunteering

I found a great organization in my community that helps immigrants from Latin America transition to life in our city. I imagine in this day and age most communities in the United States have such an organization. For a couple of years I helped out with their college and career bound program, which helps young teens learn about options for applying to college and steps they need to take to achieve success in college and beyond. Some of these kids spoke very little English. One of my goals for learning Spanish in the first place was being able to help people in my community, and for me, sitting in front of person who really needs your help and is depending on you to communicate helps your trepidation with practicing your Spanish evaporate very quickly.

6) Travel

Of course, if we had all the time and money in the world, we’d do some teacher immersion travel every chance we could. I had a great experience in Central America with Common Ground International (I wrote more about that experience here). I know a few friends who have done phenomenal programs in Spain. Anytime you can link up with a student travel program and watch some of your students have their minds blown abroad is also exciting. If you need to prep for a test like the OPI, indulging in a teacher trip that helps you practice your language is definitely a good investment. I thank my time with Common Ground International for helping me score Advanced on my OPI test for sure.

Of all of these, the methods for sharpening my proficiency that I come back to the most are of course the more passive ones that sub in for activities I already do – turning on Ministerio del Tiempo instead of The Office, listening to Ted en Espanol during my morning commute, speaking Spanish to my co-worker instead of just dropping to English. Every little bit helps.

I’d love to hear more about the things you do to keep your proficiency level high. Any good Netflix shows or podcasts you’d recommend? Please share!

NBCT Standard 2: Knowledge of Language

As part of our deep dive into the first National Board World Language Standard (Knowledge of Students), I’ve spent the last few posts focusing on different ways to gather and leverage information about students. Today we’re going to move on to Standard 2: Knowledge of Language (pages 22-24 here). First, the standard statement:

Accomplished teachers of world languages function with a high
degree of proficiency in the languages they teach. They understand
how languages and cultures are intimately linked, understand the
linguistic elements of the languages they teach, and draw on this
knowledge to set attainable and worthwhile learning goals for their
students.

Standard 2 is where the National Board holds us accountable to practice what we preach in terms of our own language learning. This is not easy, and NBCT does not let us off the hook. To become a National Board Certified Teacher, we are required as language teachers to prove that we maintain an Advanced language proficiency level in our target language by submitting ACTFL certificates with ratings of Advanced Low or higher on both the speaking and writing assessments. (More on my tips for passing these tests in a future post).

In addition to requiring that we are Advanced speakers of the languages we teach, this Standard requires that we do, in fact, use the language beyond the walls of our classroom. It asks us for proof of the ways we use the language in authentic contexts, whether in our community or through travel abroad. Accomplished teachers read, write, listen to, and speak their target languages as often as possible, authentically as possible, just as we ask our students to do when we are in class.

In addition to asking for proof of proficiency and language use, this standard devotes an entire section to knowledge of how language works. It briefly mentions a knowledge of linguistics before moving onto knowledge of how the language fits together in different cultural and geographical contexts. For Spanish teachers, this means that we are well-aware of the many different dialects and are able to teach the differences between the slang in Madrid and Mexico City. This is also the first time the modes of language are mentioned: we should understand and be able to teach the importance of the interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes.

This standard, for me, is the first time National Board really requires you to hold yourself accountable to a higher level. If you aren’t a native speaker of the language you teach, it demands that you practice what you preach in terms of lifelong language learning, which is something that goes well beyond the usual duties of your classroom. In the upcoming posts, I’m going to share my tips for staying on top of your language learning game, and also my advice for passing the ACTFL speaking and writing assessments.

What are your favorite ways to maintain your Advanced proficiency level? Share your favorite teacher language practice activities below!

Post-Unit Reflection Form

As part of our deep dive into the first National Board World Language Standard, I’ve talked in two of my last posts about the student and parent surveys I use to gather up information about students at the beginning of the year. The weakness of those types of surveys is that they are generally one and done. A tool I’ve used to gather information about students throughout the year is the post-unit reflection form.

The post-unit reflection is a survey that I give after our summative assessment at the end of each unit. This is what the kids work on after they turn in their assessments. Usually given as a Google Form, it has three parts:

1) Where do you think you are based on our learning objectives?

In the first section I ask students to rate themselves on the can dos for the unit they just finished (as a self-post-assessment) and on the can dos for the next unit (as a self-pre-assessment). I ask them to rate themselves on a sliding scale: I can’t do this at all yet; I can only do this with a lot of help from my notes; I can do this pretty easily, maybe with a little help from my notes; I can do this and teach someone else how to do it. Doing this keeps kids focused on the things they are, in fact, learning how to do, and they get a sneak peek of the things they’ll be learning how to do next. I find it keeps all of us honest and focused on what our goals are.

Also, giving out this survey as a Google Form gives you a lot of very specific data about each objective and each student. There’s a ton you can do with it. You can see the trouble spots from the unit you just finished that you’ll need to integrate more practice on, and you’ll see the goals that kids are already familiar with for the next unit. You can also pick up on the outlier students: who is struggling and needs to come in for extra help, and which students you can tap to help out the kids who are having trouble. You also might pick up on kids who aren’t giving themselves enough credit; if a student self-evaluates way lower than what you know they can do, it gives you an opportunity to give them a little pep talk.

2) Let’s reflect on how you’re learning.

The second part of the survey contains a few metacognitive questions. I’ll ask which activities helped them learn the most and the least for that particular unit. Sometimes I’ll do this as a multiple choice question listing the main learning activities for that unit and sometimes I’ll just keep it open-ended. This is a huge help for me to check in with them about which tools and lessons are working and which aren’t so that I can adjust my practice accordingly.

I’ll also ask each kid to tell me what they’ve done well this unit and what they want to improve upon for next unit. Usually I do this by asking them to think about the goal they had for learning Spanish at the beginning of the year. With that goal in mind, I’ll ask them what they did well on the way to their goal and what they could do better. This helps me to celebrate everyone’s successes and also gives everyone a chance to grow, going into that growth mindset message that no matter where they are grade-wise, there’s something they’re doing well and something more they could be doing.

3) What information do you want me to know?

In the last section I’ll include a couple open ended questions like “What is the most important thing you’d like me to know about you today?” or “What comments or concerns do you have about Spanish class this month?” You’ll get answers like “I’m stressed about soccer tryouts” or “I really hated that project we did last week.” Not every comment is going to be positive, but you’ll be learning a lot about your kids and your instruction as you go through this exercise.

Concluding thoughts

I find the post-unit reflection to be a very useful pause for me and my students to self-evaluate. For the students, it gives them a chance to reflect on their learning and keep our learning objectives in mind. For me, it helps me to keep my finger on the pulse of how my kids are feeling and to know how to better tweak my instruction moving forward. If you’d like to adapt this practice for your own classroom, you can make a free copy of an editable Google Form template here.

Parent Survey Questions

In my last post, I talked about my favorite student survey questions to better get to know your kids. I’ve still got student knowledge on the brain (from our deep dive into NBCT Standard 1), and one of the best sources of information for students is, of course, their parents. Today I’m going to share with you a bit about what I include in my Parent Survey for Spanish class. I usually distribute a Google Form in four parts:

First, how do I get in touch with you?

I know every school has a million different ways to gather parental contact information, but I always include it on my survey so that I have the most up to date information all gathered in one place. I also make sure to ask communication preferences – e-mail or phone? This helps me communicate more effectively throughout the year.

Second, tell me more about your kid.

In my last post I talked about using a student survey to get to know a kids’ basic interests, how they learn, and their language learning experience. I ask questions of parents from all three of these categories. Some examples are:

  • What is the most important thing you want me to know about your student?
  • What are your student’s strengths?
  • What are some areas you’d like to see your student improve in?
  • What is your student genuinely passionate about?
  • What are your student’s feelings about school? About Spanish class?
  • What would you like me to know about your student’s previous experience learning a language?

Some parents are more forthcoming than others in this section, but usually I’ll gather up a few great gems of knowledge that I’d otherwise never have.

Thirdly, what is your family’s experience with Spanish?

In this section, I’m trying to get some more information about students’ cultural backgrounds so that I can make connections that keeps Spanish relevant in class, but I’m also shamelessly trying to recruit guest speakers to use throughout the year. You never know which parents may have experience with Spanish that you can bring into the classroom as a speaker or as a real life judge for a PBL project. I’ll ask if parents use Spanish in their personal or professional life, and if they’ve ever lived in or traveled extensively to a Spanish speaking country. This also helps me to make connections in class when we’re talking about cultural celebrations and customs. I’m more aware of the kids in the room who have actually experienced them.

Lastly, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about Spanish class.

The last section basically reads like a terms of use document, wherein I make parents check off that they understand certain things about Spanish class. I talk about expectations for language use in class, grading and absence policies, homework volume, etc. I briefly mention that the class will be conducted in Spanish and that students will be supported based on their proficiency level. This reinforces the idea of a proficiency-based classroom that I introduce at back-to-school night. As in all walks of life, I find that it helps to manage expectations up front so no one is surprised about what’s going on in class.

Benefits of a parent survey

Using a survey like this one helps me to make sure that the first contact I make with a parent isn’t a negative one. Of course you’ve got to make an attempt to briefly reach out to a parent who took the time to give you all of the information you asked for, which is time-consuming, but I find it starts the parent-teacher relationship off on a good footing.

Whereas I love giving student surveys on paper in order to capture more of their personality, parent surveys seem to be more effective with an online tool like Google Forms. There are different levels of parental involvement, and with an online form, parents can either quickly click through a form and type as much or as little as they want in each section. If you think you’d like to set up your parent survey similarly, an editable Google Form copy of my parent survey is available for purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers here.

What did I miss? Any questions you like to ask your parents at the beginning of the year?

NBCT Standard 1: Know Your Students

Today I’m diving into the first National Board World Languages Standard: Knowledge of Students  (pages 18-21 here). (Read my last two posts to play catch up on why I’m talking about National Board Standards and what the heck NBCT even is).

First, the Standard statement:

Accomplished teachers of world languages actively acquire knowledge of their students and draw on their understanding of child and adolescent development to foster their students’ competencies and interests as individual language learners.

In three words: KNOW YOUR KIDS. There are some great reminders sprinkled throughout these pages that focus on why investing time in student relationships is so important. For me, there are three main take-aways.

1. Learn about the kids in every way you can.

Accomplished teachers use every method at their disposal to learn as much about their students as possible. The Standard references three ways to do this. Firstly, engage directly with the kids: informal conversation, personality surveys, informational surveys, attending extracurricular events, and baseline language assessmentsSecondly, gather information from the other important adults in kids lives: their families, other teachers, counselors, and administrators.

Thirdly, make sure to stay informed about adolescent development in general. Being aware of how teens communicate and develop socially, and staying informed about the challenges your particular community of students is facing, is critical to developing appropriate learning goals inside and outside the classroom.

2. Leverage what you know about them to engage them.

As you gather as much information as possible about your students, you’re able to leverage it to drive your instruction. The Standard references the enthusiasm and energy that adolescents naturally have about the things they’re passionate about, and their intrinsic desire to talk about themselves and their interests. Luckily, our whole goal as language teachers is to get students to express themselves, so it’s just a matter of tapping into their natural tendencies. I’ve written before about how I love differentiating my instruction by giving kids an opportunity to inject their passions into the thematic units typically required by school curriculum. Our challenge is to find ways to do that day in and day out.

Beyond letting student interests drive instruction, the Standard also reminds us that teaching students skills to help with their social and personal development is key to helping them succeed not only as language students, but also as individuals. Learning a language requires taking risks, setting goals, making mistakes, and developing the confidence and self-efficacy to continue trying and failing over and over again. As language teachers, we give them the tools and opportunity to practice doing so in a supported environment, which engages them on a level that goes far beyond our learning content.

3. Take advantage of your learning community’s network.

For me, the most challenging part of this Standard is the repeated reminder to utilize the learning community connected to your classroom as much as possible. The best way to do this is to increase family involvement. Engaging family members through frequent communication helps you to learn more about the students’ needs and goals, and having support at home can only help you work as a team to get each student where they need to be.

Additionally, family relationships provide you with a wealth of experience that helps you bring language learning to life. Using family members as guest speakers, or even just guest judges in a PBL project, reminds students that what they are learning has real world implications. Students who speak a different language at home can bring to life the importance of being bilingual and the richness that comes with being a part of different cultures. The Standard challenges us to be informed about what resources we have available in the family networks we become a part of each school year, and also to bring those resources into the classroom whenever we can.

Concluding thoughts on Standard One

This first Standard to me affirms the natural tendency we all have to build and leverage our relationships with our students in order to drive instruction. However, there are many things in this Standard listed that are difficult to accomplish on a regular basis. For example, I’d love to say that I had a beautiful monthly e-newsletter and an Instagram account for my parents to follow, but systemic parent communication isn’t something I thought I had the time to prioritize. This Standard reminds me that a little effort in that arena can go a long way.

With this in mind, as you read these Standards, give yourself a high five for the things you know you do on a regular basis, and pick one or two items that you aren’t doing already to help support your teaching. We all have items in each Standard that we are naturally drawn to, and ones that are more difficult for each of us. The goal is to affirm what makes you a good teacher, and help you to become even better, not to get overwhelmed by all of the things you aren’t doing yet. Good luck to those of you on your NBCT journey, and to those who are just getting to know your students to start the year! This Standard is a good reminder that the time you invest in building those relationships is well worth it.


To read about some of the tools I’ve used to get to know my students better, see my posts on Student Survey Questions, Parent Survey Questions, Post-Unit Reflection Forms and Six-Word Memoirs.

National Board Standards: a Primer

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently working my way through the World Languages National Board standards and sharing my journey with you. Before we dive in with the Standards content, let’s take one step back and do a quick intro to National Boards for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about (ain’t no shame!).

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards heads up the National Board Certified Teacher process. Directly pulled from their website, “National Board Certification was designed to develop, retain, and recognize accomplished teachers and to generate ongoing improvement in schools nationwide. It is the most respected professional certification available in K-12 education.” Basically, the National Board certifies the very best teachers in the country by putting them through a rigorous (read: difficult, time-consuming, and expensive) process, and then allows those teachers to operate with four precious NBCT letters after their name. 

In many school districts around the country, becoming a National Board Certified Teacher is one of the only ways (in addition to getting a graduate degree) that you can increase your salary. It links you to other outstanding teachers in your area and around the country, and it truly forces you to hold yourself and your teaching to the highest possible standard for your students in a way that no other professional development does. If you’re interested in learning more about why to go through the process from a teacher’s perspective, read the venerable Cult of Pedagogy’s take here.

The National Board maintains and produces Standards documents for a couple of dozen different disciplines and age groups, outlining what makes for an exceptional teacher in each one. To get certified, you submit mountains of evidence to a panel of judges trying to prove that you exhibit these standards every time you step into the classroom. For that reason, merely going through the process of reading the standards is immensely helpful if you’re looking to up your teaching game. You can download and read the World Languages standards here, and two of my absolute favorite language teacher bloggers, Rebecca Blouwolff and Laura Sexton discuss their takes on the process here and here.

Every standards document starts out the same way, with the National Board Five Core Propositions and the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching. In a nutshell, the Five Core Propositions state that accomplished teachers:

  1. are committed to students and their learning.
  2. know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
  3. are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
  4. think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
  5. are members of learning communities.

I recommend you check out the Architecture of Accomplished teaching here; it basically illustrates the keys to excellent teaching in one infographic. To summarize: accomplished teaching starts with the kids; establishes appropriate learning objectives based upon knowledge of the kids, the subject, and pedagogy; implements instruction to achieve those goals; evaluates learning in light of the objectives and the instruction; reflects on the learning; then sets new goals for the kids (and begins the cycle all over again).

My favorite sentiment from all of this is the National Board idea that everything you do should start with THESE students in THIS setting at THIS time. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching a group of professionals or a group of 11-year-olds, every day I’m teaching I remind myself of this line and force myself to think of my instruction in terms of THESE students in THIS setting at THIS time. It helps me to put my teaching in perspective (it’s all about the learner!) and gives me a starting point to make sure that the instruction is actually effective for the people sitting in front of me. You can design and implement world-class lessons, but if you don’t start with who your students are, what they know, and how they’re feeling in THIS setting at THIS time, you risk selling everyone in the room short.

The World Languages Standards take the five core propositions and adapt them into nine standards specifically for World Language instruction. I’ll be going through each standard one by one in future posts, but I do think it’s instructive to start with the overview. I hope this primer helps for those of you who are new to the NBCT process!