EdTech, Music in Spanish Class, Teaching Reflections

Web-Filter Woes

Y’all, I love teaching with music. Spanish pop music has been a part of my classroom since year 1, and my use of music for increasing student engagement, reinforcing grammar and vocabulary topics, and touching on cultural issues has only increased over the last ten years. Many students tell me that music is their favorite part of my class – “Yes! It’s Wednesday! It’s song day!” They beg me to play songs on Wednesday, and every other day of the week, give me song suggestions/requests, and tell me they’ve added their favorites to their personal playlists.

Over ten years of teaching, many things have changed, and other things stay the same: my students still love listening to Spanish pop music, and I still have to do battle with the internet filter every. freaking. year.

Admittedly, it has gotten better: at my previous school, I emailed the tech guy every single week with a list of videos to unlock. I think he got a real kick out of Mi novio es un zombie! And there was a stretch at my current school- I believe it was during the “Youtube for Education” era – where just about all my music videos were blocked, and I had to remember to download my videos at home so I could show them in class. Currently, I can access most of my music videos, and occasionally, when one is filtered, I can usually find it on another site with a video search excluding youtube (protip: search with -youtube to find videos hosted on other sites).

My current beef with the web-filter involves one of my favorite sites for extension, enrichment, choiceboards, and early finishers: LyricsTraining. I have talked about LyricsTraining in presentations to world teachers at FLAG, SCOLT, and within my own department, and it never ceases to impress. If you’ve never used it, it is a fill-in-the-blanks-in-the-lyrics activity. Students watch the video and, as the lyrics scroll underneath, they enter the missing words. It is a great listening activity, exposing students to accents of native speakers, and also gets them to engage with speech at native-speaker speed in a non-threatening way. But don’t get too excited: LyricsTraining relies on embedded YouTube videos. If your school filters videos the way mine does, you might find that many of your favorite, school-appropriate, teenager-pleasing Spanish pop songs are blocked for students. Songs like Te mueves tú, Corazón sin cara, Soy yo, and Tengo tu love.

The 2001 Child Internet Protection Act requires schools to install filters that block “sexually explicit” content. I absolutely support that, and I understand that no filtering software is perfect. However, schools need to choose web filters that empower teachers to choose age-appropriate educational content, with means to whitelist websites and YouTube videos that are being unnecessarily filtered out. Schools also need to differentiate between how the internet is filtered for students and staff members, but I think that is a post for another day. For now, I’m stuck pondering the latest email from my school’s wonderful technology support person, telling me there is no way to selectively enable blocked YouTube videos, and mourning the loss of my beloved Lyrics Training activities for my students this semester.

My Spanish 1 Playlist:

Spanish 2, Teaching Reflections

Teaching Commands – #SnapThoughts Reflection

In this post: a quick video reflection on two activities I used for teaching commands, plus resources for those activities.

Over at PBL in the TL, Laura shared a post about using snapchat for quick lesson reflections, and then Maris Hawkins encouraged me again on Brillante Viernes to do one, so here it is! Maybe I’ll remember the filter next time.


Quizlet list – list of infinitives for commands activities

Worksheet for affirmative commands – just maybe take out the part about passing around the cards 😉 The second page is a more traditional drill-style worksheet that I did as a quick practice after I introduced negative commands, before the more communicative-focused walk-about activity. Use what you can, ignore what you can’t, and if you make it better send it back my way!


Teaching Reflections

Lernen Deutsch: My German Journey

Hallo, mein Name ist Andi. Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch. Wie heisen Sie?

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Guten Tag! I have been studying German a few months now, and since I find accounts of other language teacher’s language learning journeys fascinating (such as Martina Bex’s French and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s Russian), I thought I would share some thoughts on my progress with German.

Why German?

I started studying German last October. It’s hard to say exactly why I started (I’m a bit surprised myself I’ve managed to stick with it this long!), but it had to do with curiosity – first, because I love languages and I’ve never had a German class, and secondly, because I wanted to get inside my students’ heads and remember for myself what it’s like to learn a brand-new language. Also, my husband studied a fair bit of German in high school and spent a summer in Germany in college, so I have a person available to help me when I have questions.

What materials?

I started with Duolingo, and I’m sad to say I recently lost my 100-plus day streak (I swear I had a streak freeze!). That being said, after three months of using Duolingo, I was bored with it. I did learn quite a bit of vocabulary, especially at first, but I hated the lessons on conjunctions, cases, and prepositions, as those words never “stuck” with me and I often didn’t understand why an answer was correct, particularly with cases (and this is coming from a language teacher and grammar-lover!). I have heard that the desktop version does a better job explaining grammar, but I prefer to do it on my phone as it is more convenient. For now, I’m taking a break from Duolingo to use some other resources.

Over black Friday weekend, I spent some money on two German courses: Coffee Break German Season 1 ($69) and Lukas Kern’s TPRS German course ($83). Coffee Break German offers all their lessons as free podcasts, but the paid version gives you access to PDF lesson notes, as well as a video version of the lesson with the vocabulary showing on the screen. For me, this has been money well spent as I didn’t feel I was learning much from the audio-only podcasts. I like to watch the video and pause it to write the words down in my notebook, and also pause it when they ask a question so I have enough time to think of the answer, checking my notes if needed. It drives me nuts that Mark (the German learner) talks more than Thomas (the native speaker and teacher) on the lessons, and that they ask me to translate English to German as soon as they introduce new phrases, but now that I’ve started taking notes as I listen/watch, I’m getting a lot more out of the lessons. No program is perfect, but this one is pretty good for the price, and the structure of the lessons works well for me personally.

I haven’t used the Lukas Kern lessons as much – I’ve actually only done one story, Schneckenwitz, which I believe is free on his website. I found it hard and frustrating, and even the “easy” story for beginners had a ton of words I didn’t know. I really wanted to believe his claims about how effortless language learning could be, but I think the old rule of, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” applies here (Caveat: I am sure he would say I was using his resources wrong/Not following his rules). I will circle back to these resources eventually, probably when I finish or get tired of Coffee Break German, but for now they are going to wait.

I also keep a notebook, a good old composition book like I require for my students. I have a pencil bag full of pretty pens, and I take great pleasure writing in my notebook and making it beautiful (this is coming from a dysgraphic child!). I love the autonomy of studying for fun, and I write down whatever it is I want to learn in my notebook. I have notes from Duolingo, Lukas Kern, Coffee Break German, as well as things I’ve looked up because I wanted to know how to say them (Youtube, WordReference, Google Translate, and Quizlet are my go-to resources). I draw lots of pictures, and sometimes translate to English or Spanish.



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I made an Instagram to document my learning (andi.aprende.deutsch), and I post occasionally. Here is a video of me attempting to say my Spanish 1 unit 1 stamps in German. I sound a lot like my Spanish 1 babies – imperfect pronunciation, imperfect grammar, but comprehensible to a sympathetic interlocutor!

It gave me such a thrill the first time my husband told me, Fruhstuck ist fertig, and I understood him! Making that video above (without studying beforehand) and realizing I can do this! was seriously exciting! I hate being corrected when I’m not specifically asking How do you say ____? How do you pronounce this? which is something that I need to think about in how I communicate with my students – If I say something to my husband in German, and he understands me, by George I want him to respond, not correct my cases! Back in November I ran into a German teacher friend, and it made me so frustrated when I tried to show him what I had been learning and all he did was correct me! I crave praise, comprehensible input, and simple interactions. I want to understand, express myself, and be understood.

So that’s my German journey thus far. Do you study another language? What are your favorite self-study resources?

Teaching Reflections

Dear November Teacher

Dear November Teacher,

It is August, the second week of school. Do you remember how the second week of school feels? I love my job. I don’t love the getting up early, but I don’t mind it so much either, because I love seeing and teaching my kids every day. My advisement group? They’re the best. And goodness, Spanish 1….we LOVE Spanish 1! And that kid in my advisement who is taking German but has taken it upon himself to rewrite the date in Spanish every day on the board, and did five of the unit 1 stamps because he was so excited at how much Spanish he knew just by watching me type up the slides each morning before class? Or that girl in first period asking if she would be able to understand Spanish soap operas by the end of the class, because they’ve just added so many new ones to Netflix? Or all those sweet babies you taught last year in Spanish 1 who are so excited that you are their teacher for Spanish 2, and all the others who have stopped by to tell you they miss you – even that girl you thought hated your class? Or the girl doing her stamps last week  – veintiuno, veintidos, veintitres, veinticuatro, veinticinco, veintiseis, veintisiete, veintiocho, veintinueve, VERDE!!!!! Oh wait that means green…TREINTA!!! She got there, didn’t she? Or those Spanish 2 kiddos who sang the song and did the gestures and were actually smiling – even the one whose Spanish 1 teacher said she passed out of pity? I think he’s going to be all right this semester! I think he can do it!

Anyway, November teacher – I wanted to tell you that back here in August, exciting things are happening – relationships are being built, enthusiasm kindled, and sweet, sweet learning. I know it gets hard when it’s dark and cold and tempers are short and the beginning of the year enthusiasm has worn off and you start thinking how nice it would be to just work on a computer in an office with adults, and how much would that paralegal program cost? But please know that it’s a phase – this too shall pass – and in a few more weeks the valley will pass and it will get better. You love this job, you love teaching teenagers, and you are very, very good at it – I promise you’ll remember soon.


An August Teacher

Teaching Reflections

Thoughts on becoming Señora Brown

The theme of this semester has been “I’m getting married!” And in the stress of working full time, pursuing my master’s degree, and this poisonous post-truth political atmosphere, I have been walking through the halls smiling every day, because I am deeply happy.

The bachelorette in the coolest home made tiara ever

My principal encourages us to share of ourselves with our students – show who we are as people as we get to know them as individuals as well. And so, it has been a joy to share my personal happiness with my students this semester.

  • Telling my Spanish 2 students. Back in January on the second or third day of class, I decided to introduce myself to my level 2 students with a few photos and some CI. I had taught maybe half of the students in Spanish 1 the previous semester or previous year, but the rest were brand new to me. I began with a picture of my very caucasion family and explained slowly my age, where I was from, that I learned Spanish in school and by traveling, that my family speaks English but my father studied Spanish and now my mom does too (her duolingo streak is in the 100s), that I went to Berry College and studied in Spain and Costa Rica, that I still like to travel, and a bit about my teaching experience. I flipped through a few pictures from the slides I use in my family unit, until I got to the photo of Daniel and me I had finally decided to include after 18 months of dating (well, they all want to talk about their novios too, right?). I held up my ring and said Es mi novio…pero ahora es mi futuro esposo. The shrieks of joy from the girls I had taught the previous spring in Spanish 1, who I never got a chance to tell because Daniel proposed to me the day after the last day of school… glorious.
  • The countdown on the board.

    Wooly Week: #boDANdrea, 45 days to go

    One of the first wedding details Daniel and I nailed down was our hashtag, because PRIORITIES. And so boda (wedding in Spanish), Daniel, and Andrea quickly morphed into #boDANdrea, and about mid January I threw it up on my whiteboard, added a bookmark in Chrome for Days Until, and began keeping a daily countdown. I have students, both male and female, who check the countdown as soon as they walk in my class, remind me of it – Only 43 more days, Ms. Brown! Are you excited?, and let me know if I have forgotten to change it – Ms.  Brown, I think it’s 37 now, it was 39 two days ago. And that time when a student asked me if I had graded their tests, and another replied, Of course she hasn’t, she’s planning a wedding! Priceless. I love this countdown so much, I think I’m going to have to replace it with a #graduaciónclasede2017 countdown when #boDANdrea gets to zero.

  • Checking the forecast together.

    I tweeted earlier this week that since my wedding had finally entered the ten-day forecast window, I was ready to teach weather phrases. And so Thursday and Friday I grabbed a screen shot of the forecast and projected it on the board with two questions in Spanish as a warm up – What’s the weather today? What’s the forecast for my wedding? You better believe we’re gonna do it every day next week, and their going to have the link on Schoology to check when I’m out taking midterms and getting my nails done Thursday and Friday.

  • The conversations it brings up. Señorita Brown, what’s your new name going to be? Still Ms. Brown, but I guess I’ll have to graduate to Señora. Do you and your fiance speak in Spanish? Yes, sometimes. We are bilingual so we have twice as many words to express ourselves. Haha, this activity card you gave me is green, it’s a green card! You know my fiance is applying for a green card? We’re kind of nervous about it with all the anti-immigration and anti-Mexican political rhetoric. It’s a big deal to us.
  • The way my personal life influences my professional life. Just as stress at home affects performance at work, a happy personal life shines through in my work. When I eat properly, get enough sleep, exercise, and enjoy fulfilling relationships with friends and family, I am able to give my best to my students and teach joyfully, respond to problems gracefully, and react to challenges thoughtfully.


I met this man at a salsa event on a warm summer’s night in 2014, because in 2006 I went to a salsa event hosted by the Berry College Spanish Department and Profe Tate showed me some moves, because in 2008 I studied abroad in Sevilla and met a lifelong friend who invited me to go salsa dancing with her on that fateful June night many years later, because I went to Costa Rica in 2009 and my Tica sister tutored me on salsa, bachata and cumbia in her bedroom on hot afternoons after school, because I had spent my whole life obsessed with learning Spanish so that when a cute guy asked me to dance on a warm June night in 2014, I said Do you speak Spanish? and from there, both of our lives were forever changed. 


Teaching Reflections

New Year’s Resolution: Type my Lesson Plans

When I was 22, I wrote a ten year plan that looked something like,

Year 1: Write awesome lesson plans
Year 2: Edit/improve awesome lesson plans from year 1
Year 3: Sell all the awesome lesson plans on TPT

Seven years later, I still haven’t written that binder of awesome lesson plans. It’s looked more like:

Year 1: Tread water as I teach seven classes with no planning period or curriculum

Year 2: Throw out everything from year 1 because it’s terrible and start over

Year 3: OMG PINTEREST! The CREATIVE LANGUAGE CLASS! MUSICUENTOS! Throw away eighty percent of my lesson plans and start over again. Also, teach that AP/Spanish 3 hybrid class.

Year 4: All the changes in my personal life. Getting better at teaching and actually re-using some of my materials.

Year 5: NEW JOB! ONE PREP! TWO PLANNING PERIODS! JOY OF JOYS! I teach Spanish 1 lessons that I am quite proud of.

Year 6: Block schedule. Back to teaching Spanish 2. Semester 1 is rough with Sp 2, semester 2 is better.

Year 7, Semester 1: Teaching all Spanish 1. Life is beautiful.
Year 7, Semester 2: Teaching two preps again and wondering why with eight rounds of Spanish 1 and six rounds of Spanish 2 have I never sat down and made that binder of lesson plans??

I have always written down lesson plans on something – I had a form at my old school I would fill out, but I was inconsistent and sloppy (I have never been required to submit detailed lesson plans, which I think would have been a helpful chore my freshman year of teaching). I have been writing lesson plans in a day planner the last two years, which has been slightly more consistent, but still quite sloppy. Also, having not taught Spanish 2 since last spring, I have to have both my planners on my desk in order to plan.

I cannot handle this much cuteness on my desk. No really, they take up too much room.

Which brings me to the New Semester’s Resolution: Type my lesson plans already! And since they are neatly typed now (or will be as I teach each unit), I thought I would share them with you all. Sorry, they are on One Drive and not Google Docs as I am also sharing with my admin. Never too late to build good habits!

Spanish 1

Spanish 2

Above are what I have so far. I am typing them primarily for myself so I will have a record next time I teach them and to make planning less stressful. As such, they have abbreviations, typos, and comments as to how far we got each day, as well as special circumstances. My slideshows are linked at the top of each unit plan. Especially in Spanish 1, my slideshows are a bit sloppy, with slides from previous years intermixed. There is no pattern to how the slides for vocabulary, warm ups, and class activities are ordered- it is what works for me. I am sharing these in case they might be of use to another teacher, in the state that they are in, and also as another means to hold myself accountable for this goal.

What processes help you streamline your lesson planning? What was your ten year plan at twenty two? 😅