Blended Learning

May 20th, 2014

As an ACTFL member, I receive weekly news-feed of articles and blogs related to language education.  A story from the Christian Science Monitor caught my eye as it discussed blended learning.  The blog post, titled Teaching that’s Tailored to Learners, talks about blended learning (using technology to complement the teaching) as organic and evolutionary, calling it “more technique than goal.”  Beyond creating students who are more college ready, the idea is that blended learning allows for flipped classrooms and children learning at their own pace.  The technology in and of itself is not the goal, it is a vehicle to further students ability to use their second language and grow in cultural competency.

A tried and true technology employed by many language professionals is Middlebury Interactive Languages.

“The Middlebury method uses immersion learning to help students gain a stronger base of comprehension and to accelerate language acquisition. Middlebury’s language immersion teaching methodology is proven, academic and curriculum-based; our courses and programs align with national standards set by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). This rigorous academic approach sets Middlebury Interactive apart from other world language providers.” (except from the Middlebury Interactive Languages website)


We are very excited to have this technology available to our World Languages teachers and students in 2014/15.  Middlebury has provided a curricular base from which teachers created culturally based thematic units.  Students will enjoy the games, stories, and technology-based practice.

Watch this video for a closer look at the Middlebury technology, and consider what blended learning could do for your students.


Julia Kuipers, Spanish Teacher

Article Reflection- Global Collaboration Projects

April 25th, 2014

I just read a fabulous article from Education Week called Four Steps to Jump starting Global Collaboration Projects by Ben Curran.  For a cliffnotes version, here are the Fours Steps (below), but it’s worth your time to get some explanation on how these could play out in any classroom in any school.  This is part of a larger “Spotlight” about Global Learning and Language.

Step One: Develop Habits of Collaboration

Step Two: Before You Go Global, Go Local

Step Three: Join Existing Global Projects

Step Four: Use Social Networks to Create Your Own Projects

The author of this article talked about how our students need to be proficient at collaboration.  This made me think about the importance we place on cooperative learning and extending it beyond our classroom.  Ben Curran says, “Before connecting with another classroom, take time to develop these skills so that students become adept at collaboration. These skills will serve them not only in their schoolwork, but in the 21st-century workforce as well.”

My mind shifted from conversations on cooperative learning to practice with the art of questioning.  In his explanation of “go local,” the author suggests to ask an open ended question, pose a challenge, and use digital collaboration tools (such as google drive or wikis) to start practicing collaborative effort.  I love the idea of partnering with other classes (possibly across grades) to practice the skill of collaboration before reaching across the globe to do so.  And the good news is, I think a lot of classes are already doing this!

These ideas lead up to a class joining a global collaboration project that is already in motion, such as Challenge 20/20The Global Read AloudThe Global Virtual Classroom, and iEARN.

What would it look like for an elementary classroom to engage globally?

Maybe Trinity School classrooms have already started this work.

Either way, I would be excited for a World Languages class (or any class) to expose children to global collaboration now and see where it takes them in the future.


Julia Kuipers, Spanish Teacher

Read like a WL Teacher

April 8th, 2014

Interested in Language Education?  Here are some key books that have helped our WL team understand and apply best practice in the language classroom.  Combine with professional development and understanding of ACTFL standards, these authors have impacted what our classrooms look like as well as how we motivate students to be committed language learners.

Some of the books below tackle language education specifically, while others are sound research and techniques for all teachers. If you want to read like a WL teacher, start with some of our favorites:

indexLanguages and Children: Making the Match, New Languages for Young Learners (Helena Curtain and Carol Ann Pesola Dahlberg)

front cover t&c

Dual Language Education For a Transformed World (Thomas, W.P., & Collier, V.P.)


Total Participation Techniques (Pérsida and William Himmele)total-participation-techniques

checking for understanding


Checking for Understanding (Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey)



Understanding How Young Children Learn (Wendy L. Ostroff)uhycl

driveDrive (Daniel Pink)





From Input to Output: A teacher’s guide to second language acquisition (Bill VanPatten)9780072825619_p0_v1_s260x420

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 11.01.18 AM


How the Brain Works (Sousa)






Julia Kuipers, Spanish Teacher

Fluency vs. Proficiency: Understanding the difference

March 31st, 2014

I’m including a great article about the terms fluency vs. proficiency in language acquisition. This article clears up many misconceptions about what it means to be “fluent” in a language. Since we understand so much more about language learning, we understand more about what people can do in a language. The key to learning a second language is focusing on what you CAN DO and NOT on what you can’t do as the article articulates so nicely.

 / May 29, 2013

At what point do you “know” a language?

It’s a loaded question, but maybe a necessary one. After two years of high school Spanish, for example, you probably wouldn’t advertise on your resume that you speak Spanish, since you likely can’t handle any basic communication tasks.

But what about my Cuban tour guide in France? She spoke confidently to a bus full of people in broken English. As a native Spanish speaker, she made a lot of grammatical and pronunciation mistakes in English. A lot of mistakes. Is she then not “allowed” to claim English as a language, even though she’s able to communicate her main ideas and literally work in the language?

For skill-based activities, like language learning and dancing, it’s too simplistic to judge ability as “pass” or “fail.”
Image Source

Language Proficiency

We simply have a hard time figuring out when someone can claim a foreign language as one they speak. Linguists and language educators have known about this problem for years, which is why they have come up with the idea of language proficiency.

The term “proficiency” implies that we’re dealing with skills, because language ability is just that–a skill. In many ways, it’s like dancing, playing the guitar, riding a bike, or driving a car.

When it comes to skills, there’s a spectrum of abilities. My five-year-old son can ride a bicycle, but he’s a little wobbly, he goes slow, he has difficulty turning, and he doesn’t brake very well. And he needs a push to get going. But the other night he pedaled his bike three times around the pond in our neighborhood and didn’t fall once. He’s not going to win the Tour de France, but he’s proven that he can ride a bike. I’d have a hard time telling him that he can’t, just because he’s not great at it yet.

It’s like that with language ability too. Different language organizations around the world have developed scales to help identify a person’s foreign language ability. The scales might vary in the details, but they all basically want to identify whether a person is a beginner in the language, an expert, or somewhere in between.

In the US, an influential proficiency measure is the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale, developed by the US State Department. It identifies five levels of language proficiency:

  • Level 1 – Elementary – Can fulfill the basic needs in a language, such as ordering meals, asking time, and asking for directions.
  • Level 2 – Limited Working Proficiency – Can fulfill routine social demands, such as small talk about one’s self, one’s family, and current events.
  • Level 3 – Professional Working Proficiency – Can discuss a variety of topics with ease and almost completely understand what others are saying.
  • Level 4 – Full Professional Proficiency – Can participate in all manners of conversations with ease and only rarely makes grammatical mistakes.
  • Level 5 – Native or Bilingual Proficiency – Can use the language the way an educated native speaker of the language would.

Additionally, a person in between levels might be at a 1+, 2+, 3+, or 4+ level.

European countries use something called the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It’s the same idea, but the levels are broken down as:

  • A1 – Breakthrough or Beginner
  • A2 – Waystage or Elementary
  • B1 – Threshold or Intermediate
  • B2 – Vantage or Upper Intermediate
  • C1 – Effective Operational Proficiency or Advanced
  • C2 – Mastery or Proficiency

A few things to notice.

First, proficiency levels are about what you can do in the language, not what you can’t. This is a minor, but important, distinction.

Second, C2 is the equivalent of Level 4. Those are considered “mastery” of a foreign language, and frankly, it is very rare to see someone achieve that level. But even at both those levels, you’re still expected to make a few grammatical or pronunciation mistakes. So think of how many mistakes you’re expected to make at the lower levels of proficiency. As I’ve said before, no one is expecting you to be perfect.

Third, the ILR breaks down levels further into different skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. You can be a Level 3 in reading and listening and a Level 2 in speaking (which I have tested as in Arabic). The European scale scores you by your weakest skill level, so if you’re a B1 in speaking and a C1 in reading, then your global language skills are rated as B1. I see merits to both approaches.

Fourth, it becomes increasingly difficult to go from one level to the next. It is somewhat straightforward  to learn enough language to order a meal at a restaurant and ask for directions. It is exponentially more difficult to be able to make small talk about anything. When I was in language school, my instructors taught me that proficiency levels were like an inverse pyramid:

The inverse pyramid of language proficiency.

The pyramid illustrates that the amount of knowledge you need to go from one level to the next grows as you go along.

What about fluency?

So what does it mean to be fluent in a language?

“Fluent” is an imprecise term. I’ve heard people claim that you don’t reach fluency until you’re an absolute expert. The IIR scale even uses the terms “fluent” to describe levels 4 and 5–i.e., absolute mastery.

I think we can probably drop that down a notch, though. In my professional opinion, you are fluent at Level 3 (or C1). And I’d even go so far as to say that someone at Level 2+ (B2) could claim fluency.

Here’s why. Think about what the word “fluent” implies: You are able to participate in a conversation without struggling. You understand what the other person is saying, and you’re able to formulate an appropriate, understandable response back.

Here’s what it doesn’t mean:

  • Being flawless
  • Talking like a native
  • Talking without an accent; (I’d say that Henry Kissinger was fluent in English, despite his thick accent.)

Why does any of this matter?

Why are we even talking about this? Well, for me, I find the concept of levels encouraging.

Because the fact is, when you’re dealing with native speakers and actually trying to communicate in their language, they’re not always going to be patient and understanding. So it’s very easy to become discouraged. When I lived in Germany, I would spend several hours a week studying and practicing German, only to go to the grocery store and get completely demoralized when the cashier couldn’t understand me. Then I’d drive home and become irritated that I couldn’t get the gist of some news broadcasts or television shows.

When we’re out in the world speaking, we tend to think of our foreign language skills as pass/fail. But the levels let us know more precisely where our skill level is at. Just like my son riding wobbly on his bicycle around the pond, we can take pride in what we’ve accomplished while still acknowledging how far we have yet to go.

Bilingual Babies

March 16th, 2014

There are lots of benefits to teaching your little one two languages: Bilingual children have been linked to creative thinking, earlier reading, and better problem-solving. Plus, knowing multiple languages could bolster family bonds, since your child will be able to communicate better with grandparents or other relatives who are more comfortable with one language than the other. Your bilingual toddler will certainly benefit when she’s older as well — fluency in multiple languages is very appealing to many employers. Here are some things to keep in mind when raising a bilingual toddler.

  • Start early. You’ve picked the perfect time to focus on raising bilingual children — small fries have an easier time picking up sounds and mastering languages (they’re hardwired to do just that) than bigger kids. Exposing your sweetie to multiple languages now will pave the way for her toward proficiency.
  • Speak two languages at home. Immersion is the best way to pick up a language, so a home in which parents speak two languages is an ideal learning environment for a soon-to-be bilingual toddler. For parents who don’t already know a second language and want their child to become bilingual, my advice is to invite a tutor, babysitter, family friend, or relative who’s fluent in another language to their home regularly to chat up their child in his or her native tongue.
  • Split up the languages. Easier said than done, but try speaking one language exclusively to your child and have your partner speak only the other. That way, your child will learn to differentiate one from the other. Another option is to speak only a foreign language at home, knowing your child will be learning English in daycare, on the playground, in preschool, and, eventually, in elementary school.
  • Expect some mixing of languages. Even if each parent speaks one language exclusively, it’s natural for a bilingual-toddler-in-training to speak in various combinations of English and the foreign languages in a single conversation. Don’t worry, these language slip-ups won’t last, and she’ll figure out how to separate the two languages in time.
  • Take speech delays in stride. It’s a common misconception that teaching a child more than one language at a time will make it tough for her to master either one. While she may initially have fewer words in each language than other children her age (so her development may seem slower), she’ll likely have the same total amount of words — or even more — when you add up her vocabulary in both languages. And the number of English words your little language learner knows will quickly catch up to the number her monolingual peers have in their repertoire.
  • Make it fun. Introduce songs, games, videos (once she’s two), and books in both languages to boost your child’s enthusiasm for learning and to make speaking each language fun for her.


Carrie Peralta

Why should I learn French?

March 5th, 2014

Bonjour mis amis,

The reasons for learning any second language are many (helps your brain function at a higher level, allows you to communicate with a whole new group of people, makes it a lots easier to travel around the world, etc…), but why should French be the language you choose to study? Here are just of few of the many reason French should be your choice:

  • 200 million people in the world understand, speak, read, or write French.
  • French is the official language of 33 countries.
  • French is the most widely taught 2nd language in the world.
  • French is the official language of the international postal service and the Red Cross.
  • French is one of the two official languages of the Olympic games and the United Nations.
  • Roughly half of the words in the modern English language are borrowed from French.
  • French is lexically more like English than any other romance language.
  • French is the second most commonly used language on the internet.
  • French is the only other language, other than English, that is taught in every single country around the world.
  • There are over 525 French language universities in the world.
  • French is the language of love!

Learning any second language will be beneficial to you no matter what language you choose!

Merci! Au revoir!

Arne Duncan’s take on multilingualism

February 25th, 2014

U.S Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, wrote a piece about the role of English learners in a global community.  It gave me pause.  I love that he quoted Nelson Mandela, who said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”  This speaks to the need for our educational system to both embrace heritage language learners while encouraging multilingualism.  He remarks, “We challenge our schools and communities to invest in our future leaders with biliteracy and multiliteracy skills.”

Take a moment to read this article from the Redlands Daily Facts.

Julia Kuipers, Spanish Teacher


English learners an asset for global, multilingual future: Arne Duncan and Libia Gil

By Arne Duncan and Libia S. Gil

POSTED: 02/19/14, 12:35 PM PST | UPDATED: 5 DAYS AGO

Over the last several days, 230 American men and women competed against and socialized with athletes from 87 other nations at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The Olympics are not only a test of individuals’ athletic prowess, but also a test of nations’ good will, collaboration and diplomacy — and ability to find a common language.

As the late Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

To provide our children an excellent education, and to keep America competitive economically, we would do well to heed his words.

Today, a world-class education means learning to speak, read and write languages in addition to English.

In an interconnected, interdependent global economy, we must prepare our children for a future in which their social and economic success will depend on their ability to understand diverse perspectives and communicate with people from other cultures and language groups. This isn’t a matter of getting ahead — it’s a matter of catching up.

It is common for students in other countries to be required to study two or three languages in addition to their own.

In our country, we have a valuable yet untapped resource within the estimated 4.6 million students learning English — the fastest-growing student population in our schools. These students come to school already speaking a variety of home languages, most commonly Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic or Hmong.

These languages are significant not only to our economic competitiveness but also to our nation’s security. The heritage languages our English learners bring to school are major assets to preserve and value.

Many schools and communities across the country have established programs to encourage mastery of multiple languages. In effective dual-language classrooms, English learners and English-proficient classmates are provided opportunities to learn academic content while simultaneously becoming proficient in both languages.

That’s why our department is encouraging innovations in education of English learners, in part by making it a priority in the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

The extraordinary opportunities — and needs — of our English learner population were the focus of the three-day National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) conference, which convened last week and drew over a thousand participants.

There, leaders from our department described the department’s commitment and met with international leaders to improve cross-border educational coordination.

Educating speakers of other languages in English, and encouraging mastery of multiple languages, has long been important to America’s competitiveness — and will be increasingly vital in the years to come.

We challenge our schools and communities to invest in our future leaders with biliteracy and multiliteracy skills.

Arne Duncan is U.S. secretary of Education. Libia S. Gil is assistant deputy secretary of the Office of English Language Acquisition in the Department of Education.


Unit 3- Learning at school and at home

February 14th, 2014

The World Languages Department has kicked off Unit 3: Little Red Riding Hood.  From this thematic unit we pulled discussion topics such as pets, parts of the body, and housing.  While the content presentation will vary from grade to grade and cultural pieces will differ between French and Spanish, for the most part, the students will follow through the familiar story line as they use new vocabulary to talk about the fairy tale and their own life.

index2To encourage learning at home, try using these websites:

  • Salsa- This is a great video series designed in Georgia to support Spanish language learning.  The Little Red Riding Hood story is presented in different ways to shared new perspectives and vocabulary that students (and parents) will enjoy.
  • Grimm’s Bookshelf App- You can see the French or Spanish version of this fairy tale (and many others) from your phone or tablet.  This was also referenced in their month’s World Languages Newsletter.
  • World Languages Wiki Space: The Link to Languages pages is managed by the Trinity WL team, which is where we share videos and songs used in class.  Fourth-Sixth Graders also have access to these resources on Haiku.

indexAs we learn what we can do with language, it’s always important to consider the 3 modes of communication: Interpersonal, Presentational, and Interpretive.  All three modes are used in class and assessed (for both formative and summative assessment).  When students practice their language skills at home, it’s important to consider HOW they are speaking.  Are you having a spontaneous conversation (interpersonal), are they presenting a practiced phrase or sentence (presentational), or are the students watching a video and deciphering meaning (interpretive). We all use these communicative modes everyday, and drawing students attention to how they are using language can really launch them forward as they begin to understand themselves as learners.

Julia Kuipers, @j_kuipers3, UED Spanish


I Can Statements for Unit 3:

  1. Ask “What is your favorite pet?”
  2. Tell what my favorite pet is.
  3. Ask if you have pets.
  4. Describe my pet(s)
  5. Ask “How many pets do you have?”
  1. Ask how you’re feeling?
  2. Say that I am fine or that I am sick
  3. I can tell what hurts
  4. I can recognize the name of some body parts
  1. Give your my phone number, home address, and email address
  2. Ask where do you live?
  3. Ask what do you live in: a house or apartment.
  4. I can talk about my house
  5. I can write a simple sentence about where I live
  6. I can respond to who, what, when, where, questions

La Tamalada

February 14th, 2014
La Tamalada by: Carmen Lomas Graza

La Tamalada by: Carmen Lomas Graza

The Spanish students at Trinity enjoyed their own version of La Tamalada last week.  What is La Tamalada?  Simply put, it is a tamales-making party.  Over the course of the last few months, students have been studying La Tamalada image by Carmen Lomas Garza.  As a culminating activity, students were given the opportunity to sample savory tamales complements of local chef Noemi Espinoza.

So what goes into a successful Tamalada?  A lot of work!  Most importantly, you need to gather your loved ones and many helpful hands.  It is a multifamily,  multi-generational event in which each person is assigned a task – cooking the meat, kneading the masa, preparing the corn husks.

One reason a lot of people don’t make their own tamales at home is because it’s a bit labor intensive. There are several steps to successfully making them, and it’s time-consuming. To make it worthwhile, a tamalada is the perfect solution because everyone gathers together at one place and forms an assembly-line style workforce to get everything finished in less time. Then you can steam them in your tamalera. When they’re done, it’s party time! Take a look at the fun we had in class!Tamalada


 Carrie Peralta, Spanish Teacher



My time in Sancerre, France

February 4th, 2014

As many of you know, I just got back from a two week excursion in Sancerre, France. It was for the Teacher Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 1.20.45 PMOpportunity grant that I was awarded in August, and I thought that I should go before I have my first baby in April! I had two objectives on this trip. One, I wanted to increase my own language skills/proficiency level in French. Two, I wanted to bring back authentic materials, games, and songs, and knowledge of culture for my students to provide a more real-life context for learning another language. I attended language classes every day (with homework each night!) and had an additional private one hour classes each day specifically focused on teaching French.

Coeur de FranceScreen Shot 2014-01-24 at 1.42.03 PM was located in Sancerre, which is two hours south of Paris by train in the Loire Valley. The area is know for their (unpasteurized) goat cheese and wine. Good one, Janet…go there while pregnant so you can’t enjoy either… pregnant women can’t have unpasteurized cheese and well, you know about the wine thing…

Anyway, Sancerre is a  small, medieval town located at the top of la colline. Technically, this translates to a hill, but it was more like a mountain. I know this because I had to walk up it from my apartment to attend my language school everyday. My favorite part about the town, even though I was clearly there in the off-season due to the fact that it was winter and the holidays, is that people did not speak English. I literally had to rely on my French to communicate. As someone continually trying to improve my French, this was truly an invaluable experience. Also, since there weren’t any tourists, I felt like I got a true sense of the town and culture. Sometimes I would pass someone walking the narrow streets and think to myself, “Wow, here is this person who has had a different life than me. There are definitely many similarities in the culture (I was in Europe after all) but it’s also really different. This person grew up speaking French (while I’m trying so hard to improve mine) and experiencing a culture that I’m trying to learn and understand. This is this person’s everyday life. I’m just getting a glimpse.”

Traveling is just such a perspective shift, and I love that. I want to model tolerance, understanding, and learning about others to my students. Learning about differences and similarities makes me feel closer to humanity. A line from one of my favorite movies, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, goes “In the end, we’re all fruit.” I get that sense when I travel.

Here’s info on the school if you ever want to go and learn French!

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Janet Parks serves the Trinity School community as a World Languages Teacher.