Saturday, December 2, 2017

Benefits of being a “new” teacher

“New” is a relative term, obviously, since I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years. (How did that happen? 😂) But this is my first year teaching high school, and while there are a number of differences between teaching at the college level and teaching at the high school level, one of the bigger differences is the amount of prep time I have. Because I’m teaching all day, any prep (and grading) needs to be done during my 55-minute plan period, or outside of school hours*. By contrast, I usually spent 9-15 hours per week actually teaching at the college level.  This may sound ridiculous, but I easily filled the remaining 25-30 hours/week with prep, grading, meetings, etc., without taking into account all of the research I was supposed to be doing to publish enough articles to get tenure.  The great thing about my schedule is that I have students in class 55 minutes/day 5 days/week. Both the amount of time spent in class as well as the fact that we meet every day have huge advantages for language learning, and I have been amazed at the difference it makes in terms of students being able to use the language!  But the comparative lack of prep time has meant that I’ve had to scale back a lot in terms of how elaborate my lessons are, because I physically don’t have enough hours in the day to plan everything I’d like to do.

So I’ve been doing a lot of recycling and repeating, and guess what? My students actually remember things, because we’ve gone over them more than twice! For example, at the college level, I spent two days max going over the alphabet in Spanish 1. The most that can be said is that students were familiar with it, but they didn’t really know it, because we had to move on to other topics. It might seem silly, but it’s really crucial that learners know the alphabet to be able to function in another language; without it, they can’t exchange contact information, because they can’t spell out usernames or email addresses. So we’ve been going over the alphabet, numbers, days/months, and other basic language elements that are essential to be able to function in another language, and my students are rocking listening comprehension!  I use bingo a lot because the students love to play, and it means that they hear the words over and over so that they can actually understand the words when they hear them, as opposed to reading them but then not recognizing them when they hear them. (As I add more bingo games, I'll post them here.  Other resources: memory/Go Fish cards, flash cards, and crossword puzzles.)

That’s not to say that I won’t be glad to have a little more experience under my belt so that I can come up with more interesting ways to recycle content. But I'll need to remember that me having more experience doesn't mean that I should move faster through the content.

*It's worth noting that I'm more fortunate than many teachers in that I actually get 55 minutes of uninterrupted planning time every day, as well as an hour or two of uninterrupted work time almost every Friday afternoon. (I love my job!) This Cult of Pedagogy post indicates that many teachers end up with little or no planning time, and have to do all of their planning and grading outside of school hours. Food for thought from the same Cult of Pedagogy post:

"But isn’t that just the nature of the job? Not everywhere. According to a 2010 research brief from Stanford University, U.S. teachers spend 80 percent of their work hours delivering instruction to students. The average in other high-achieving nations? 60 percent. And brace yourself: In South Korea, Japan and Singapore, that average plummets to a staggering 35 percent. Yes, you read that right. In these countries, just 35 percent of teachers’ time is spent teaching students. The rest of their work hours are spent collaborating, studying, and planning, making their instructional time as good as it can be."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Note to self: Remember to try things you're bad at

I've been teaching high school Spanish for about three months now, and as part of my responsibilities, I'm the Spanish club sponsor.  In October, we went to see the Hispanic Flamenco Ballet perform, and learned about Flamenco Omaha, a dance studio that offers flamenco lessons.  Students were interested in learning to dance the flamenco, so we've been having lessons for the past three weeks.

(Not very big) secret:  I am terrible at the flamenco (or anything that involves any kind of physical coordination, really).  I can manage OK as long as we're repeating the same step, but if any kind of transitions are involved (or I'm supposed to be moving my hands and feet at the same time), I need to practice over.and over.and over.  I still don't look graceful or elegant after practicing so many times, but I'm at least following the basic steps (but missing lots of details like hand movements).

It has been fun and good exercise, but it's also been a good reminder for me as a teacher.  Picking up language features has always been very easy for me.  But for some of my students, learning Spanish is like learning the flamenco is to me: we need to repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces to be able to do something remotely resembling the model.  And then repeat 8 million more times and then we'll have it down.  :D

Having some success with hand movements because I didn't have to move my feet at the same time.
Assisted by my 3-year-old.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A syllabus for teaching online

I'm teaching two totally online classes for the first time this summer, and while the majority of the course is pre-packaged and ready to go, I wanted to make a few customizations to make the course easier for students to navigate, and to make it a little more personable.  So I created a video introducing myself (and providing a little bit of cultural information about how not to address teachers in Spanish) and a screencast walking through where everything is located in Blackboard and MySpanishLab.

The syllabus is given to me by the course coordinator, so all I really need to do is fill in my contact information and post it to Blackboard.  But I went to a faculty development workshop a few weeks ago on creating a good syllabus, and learned that there is a syllabus website at the school where I'm adjuncting that generates a web-based syllabus.  The information in the syllabus is the same one way or the other, but in a 10-page document, it's nice to have tabs that you can click that will direct you to the section you're interested in, rather than scrolling through a pdf for days.  So I went in to the site and used it to create my syllabi, and then posted the links in Blackboard, and thought I was all set. But my courses started today, and several students emailed to tell me that the site would not let them in to see the syllabus (it requires a login).  I checked with tech support, and my students are apparently using the appropriate login credentials, but still can't get in.

I would prefer to have my syllabus in a place that doesn't require a login, and obviously I have a little experience setting up websites, but I wasn't sure I had quite enough know-how to create the syllabus site I wanted to make.  In particular, I didn't know how to link navigation tabs to different spots on the site. It turns out that it's pretty just have to do a little basic HTML editing.  I had no idea what the feature was, but I now know that it's called an anchor tag, and if you google it, you can find the code and modify it, which is how I customize all of my sites.  So armed with this new bit of code, I created a new website for my syllabi this summer:

(I also created a copy of the site and made it a template, available here: )

Sunday, May 21, 2017


I realize that almost everyone has heard of Kahoot by now, but I just realized that I never did a blog post on one of my new favorite technologies.  A few years ago I posted about Poll Everywhere, a polling site that lets you create polls for students to answer.  Kahoot is similar, but in a more game-like format (it includes game show-type music and keeps score).

It's a great tool to do comprehension checks, especially for more complicated topics.  I created a Kahoot for preterit and imperfect in Spanish, focusing on interpreting whether an action had been completed or not (based on a grammaticality judgment task I took as a grad student way back in the day).  For example:

Anoche leía una novela.

Then students decide:
A. I finished the novel.
B. We don't know if I finished the novel or not.

(You could also add "C. I didn't finish the novel." to make it more interesting. For the curious, the answer is B;  the use of the imperfect indicates that the action was in the past, but leaves the finality open-ended.  In other words, when the imperfect is used, we don't know if the action/event was completed or not.)

Kahoots also are great for doing exam reviews, but I wanted my students to be able to use them on their own if they wanted, and not just during class.  It's designed for use in a classroom, with the questions & answers projected on a screen and students responding from their devices, but they can use it individually with a few modifications.  They have to create an account in Kahoot, and then they can access your activity in preview mode.  One thing to note about preview mode is that it will not show up as an option if your browser window is too small, so if you're looking for it and it's not there, make your browser window bigger.  I give students my Kahoot user name so they can look for my materials, and make sure to title them something obvious like "SPAN 1110 Exam 1 review."

In case it's helpful, I made a video for my students showing them how they can use Kahoots in preview mode for individual review.

Friday, May 19, 2017

EdPuzzle: Saludos

I'm teaching 100% online for the first time this summer, so I'm starting to create materials for my courses.  I decided I want to do short video lessons, but I also wanted to integrate an interactive element since just watching/listening to a video isn't very engaging and won't help learners process the language.

After a little looking around, I decided to use EdPuzzle, which allows me to take existing videos from a number of sources and add my own interactive components.  Students can sign up for an EdPuzzle account, or you can choose to make it available to anyone with the link. EdPuzzle provides an embed code so that you can embed it into a course platform such as Blackboard. If you want to assign the videos as homework, you can create a class and require students to enroll, and the best part is that it's free for you and your students.

I'll be posting all of my materials in Blackboard for my courses, but I'll also post them here for more general accessibility.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

More marketing garbage: Scholarship scams and paper mills

1.  Scholarship scams

I received this email last month, and am finally getting around to blogging about it.  The email is from Kimberly Grey (, and is asking me to post a link to a commercial site on my website because the company is supposedly offering an essay scholarship contest.  

If you've read my past blog posts on these types of emails, you'll note a few departures from previous strategies.  In the past, the people that contact me posed as well-meaning students or volunteers who are letting me know about a great organization.  (They are actually paid marketers, promoting a client's website.)  They provide a link to a reputable, established organization, as well as to an unknown one.  The unknown one is a site that promotes their client's business.  For example, some of these sites claim to be sites devoted to helping people quit harmful substance addictions, but if you click around, you can find links to commercial products such as in-home drug tests, which I assume is the client's product. As I noted in a past blog post, the marketer is posing as a student or volunteer so that you'll be more likely to post the link to your resource page, because they know that if they were to email you and say that they're paid marketers trying to improve their client's SEO ranking, you would tell them to get lost.

...the marketer is posing as a student or volunteer so that you'll be more likely to post the link to your resource page, because they know that if they were to email you and say that they're paid marketers trying to improve their client's SEO ranking, you would tell them to get lost.

This email is more direct; the sender doesn't pretend to be a student or volunteer, and instead clearly states the name of the company (which I've removed to avoid generating traffic for them).  Instead, the new approach is apparently to get educators to post links to their client's website by claiming that their client is offering a scholarship.  In addition to this site, a couple of sites that I've dealt with in the past now say that they're offering scholarships, and one of them says that they've awarded a few.  I thought about trying to verify it, as one of the sites includes the names and academic affiliations of the students, but I'm not sure how I would be able to do that because FERPA would prohibit the schools from telling me if there is a student by that name enrolled there.  Isn't that convenient?  While I can't prove anything due to the aforementioned FERPA law, I strongly suspect that these scholarships do not exist.   Consider:

My organization awards an annual scholarship of $500 to the person who comes up with the best email reply to these obnoxious marketers.  The first winner of this scholarship (Spring 2016) is Rebecca Jackson, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Interested students should send a 200 word response to, and include their name, address, telephone number, email address, and the name of their school.*

It took a few minutes to actually set up the email address, but other than that, it took me about 60 seconds to create that paragraph and make up a fake name for a real school.  If I wanted to make it fancier and more convincing, I could create a new website and buy a new domain name for $10-15/year, and create content that would make it look like I am a non-profit organization awarding a scholarship.  

Because I believe that these scholarships don't exist, I reported them to my state attorney general and to the FTC, and I strongly encourage other recipients of these messages to do the same.  Here's the link to report to the FTC and find your state attorney general:

2.  Paper mills 

This email is from Keira Brennan (  When I go the domain website (, it says its new site will be launching soon.  In the past, I've received similar emails that have been from "volunteers" from fake community centers. When I went to the sites, they mostly looked like they could be a real community center site, except they didn't include any information about the location of the community center.   So I suspect that is another fake non-profit.  Again, this takes very little time or money to create, and anyone can buy a .org domain.  I've included the site link here for two reasons:  First, the site is not the client site; this site is intended to make the request appear like it's coming from a legitimate source (rather than a paid marketing firm).  My other reason for including the domain name is that it will be easier for other people that receive these emails to find this blog post if I include the domain name.

The email from Keira included two apparently legitimate sites for English language resources, and a link to a grammar tutorial on a paper mill site.  I've left the link to grammarly, but the other link was for a paid curriculum, and while I believe it's probably fine, I don't want to generate traffic for a paid product site without knowing more about it. I guess I should congratulate Keira on the sheer audacity of asking an educator to post a link to a site whose sole purpose is to help students plagiarize.  Again, the purpose of asking people to link to these sites is that the more links these sites have, the higher they'll appear in a search ranking. So if you're an educator that maintains a resource page and you post a link to the paper mill site (even for the grammar tutorial), you're actually helping this site make money by making it easier for students to find it in a Google search.

So if you're an educator that maintains a resource page and you post a link to the paper mill site (even for the grammar tutorial), you're actually helping this site make money by making it easier for students to find it in a Google search.  

If you're not familiar with paper mills, most sites will say that students should use the papers they purchase as a resource, and not submit them as their own work, but the purpose of the sites is for students to submit their assignment and have someone else write the assignment for them.

If you're an educator or curator of a resource page, I recommend not accepting link suggestions from unknown sources.  Most of them are not good resources in terms of content, and you may end up actually supporting something that undermines what you're doing in the classroom by including these links on your resource page.

*In case it is not immediately obvious, I am not awarding a scholarship; I'm displaying how easy it is to claim on the internet that I am awarding a scholarship.

Previous posts on this topic:

Update on 3/21/2017:  I just received another fake scholarship email, this time from Lindsey Johnson (  If you've also received these emails, could you please leave the sender's name and email address in the comments?  It makes it easier for people Googling to see whether this is a real opportunity to find this page.

Update on 5/9/2017: I've received another fake scholarship email, from Jeniffer Lewis (; though note that in her email she says her name is Jennifer). As always, the link to the site offering the fake scholarship has been removed to avoid generating traffic for it.  The domain appears to redirect to (University of Rhode Island). I've contacted the email abuse address to let them know that these spammers appear to be trying to misrepresent themselves as part of the University of Rhode Island.

Updated on 6/13/2017: I've received a follow-up email from Lindsey Johnson asking if I'd had a chance to consider her previous email.  I forwarded her my two original email messages sharing my (very pointed) thoughts, and then replied with a new email proposing another tag for this post entitled 'Persistent stupidity.' Congratulations on the new tag, Lindsay!