One Day In Heritage Language Teaching – November 13, 2019

Here we have it, the second annual compilation of submissions showcasing what we were doing in our heritage language classrooms on November 13th – all ready to go for your midday break reading in the teachers’ lounge.

I posted every submission I received. The only editing I did was to condense the content or fit on a slide. They are in random order.

No further commentary needed – get some inspiration below. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed!

If you prefer to see these as large photos, check out the same content below in album format on Google Photos.

Here are the links mentioned:

The following 1-hr documentary was shown after student presentations:
Courtney’s blog:

Here is that ejemplo de una narrativa:

And Jen’s blog:

Here are the links:

Calls for contributions to One Day in HLT, Nov 13th, 2019

As heritage language teachers, we know that we are lacking in professional development and yearn to connect with other heritage teachers. One way to do that is to share out what we’re all doing in our classrooms.

In September of 2018, I asked for heritage language teachers to share what they were doing in their classrooms on October 3rd. Whatever they were doing, I wanted it. Many of you will recall that it is a spin-off on the “A Day In The Life Of” picture book series, which is where my idea of choosing one specific day came from. Over a dozen HL teachers from across the country submitted one Powerpoint slide that included a description of class that day with some sort of visual. Many HL teachers reported that it was helpful to see what other teachers were doing in their classrooms on that day.

Well, by popular demand, we’re doing a rerun of this! But this time, I wanted to capture a different time of the year, so this time the date will be Wednesday, November 13, 2019.

Would you like to participate? If you teach a heritage language class at any level, please do! Here is what you will do.

  • Send me a (1) brief summary, like a short paragraph, and (2) a visual of whatever you do in your heritage lang classroom on Wednesday, November 13th.
  • You can send it ahead of time, or send me a sum-up after you’re done teaching on that day.  Send to no later than Sunday night, November 17th.
  • You could put it on a Powerpoint slide like below in the sample pictures, or just send me the info in the body of an email and/or an attached photo or video (or YouTube link), and I can organize it.
  • You can include as much ID information as you feel comfortable with, knowing that it could be shared with a wide audience. See sample pictures below, or last year’s “One Day in HLT” compilation here


One of the most common questions is, “I’m on a block schedule. What if I don’t teach a heritage class on that day?” Do it the next day, or the day before. The one thing I ask is that you don’t pick something from another day that you think is more awesome or more kick-butt than whatever you’re doing on the 13th. Let’s be real with each other and let us know what you’re doing on that day. If you’re giving a test, give us a taste of what your test is – without compromising the integrity of the content of your course.

As it was last year, I will compile everyone’s visual into a blog entry and then share it back out with the wider HLT community on ACTFL, heritage teaching Facebook groups, and Twitter. For now, no fancy videos or big production – it will be something easy to read and view during your prep period for some mid-day inspiration.

HL teachers across the country are looking forward to seeing what you do in your heritage class on Wednesday, November 13th! Can’t wait to get submissions in my inbox later next month.

A multi-year plan to measure how our students progress towards proficiency

In order to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’re at.  

In our department recently, we decided to find out to what extent our scope and sequence is moving students towards higher proficiency.  

Next fall, the Spanish 1 teachers will be selecting seven promising students about two weeks into the school year for an OPI / proficiency study.  We said “seven” at our meeting on Thursday, but I think I’m going to come back later and suggest ten. I will do OPI’s with the selected students at the beginning of September, and then again in May during each year that they study Spanish.  

Span 1Sept OPI

Span 2
Sept OPI

Span 3
Sept OPI

Span 4 or AP Span
Sept OPI


I will also be looking to do this with my heritage students.  It’s trickier, because they are more varied in terms of their entrance proficiency levels, but that also makes it all the more worthwhile.  Are my heritage classes moving students forward with their language proficiency – or as Kim Potowski suggests, linguistic development? Will Intermediate students sneak into the Advanced range? Will Advanced-Low students become Advanced-Mid, over 2-3 years?

Sept OPI

Sept OPI

AP Span
Sept OPI


Here are some questions we are attempting to answer.

  • We would like to determine the extent to which our curriculum is (or is not) advancing students upwards along the proficiency spectrum.  What’s the temperature of our curriculum as it currently stands? How do “strong” students, the ones who are invested in their learning and do the work we give, end up doing with what we teach?  
  • Are there certain courses in which language growth seems to slow down?  We have started questioning if the classes after Span 1 (especially year 3 and higher) are focusing on content that is too advanced and thus slows down progress. We should be able to hear a qualitative difference from September to May, in any proficiency-oriented class.  Will we?
  • Will the students themselves, and perhaps their classmates who look on, be more motivated to acquire language by seeing themselves and/or their classmates advance in proficiency from one year to the next?  
  • We suspect that the results we hear will lead us to hear what our students are not able to do and examine where our curriculum might be falling short.  This school year, we already started to implement some changes in Spanish 3 based on our understanding of proficiency. For example, we tossed out an environmental unit and replaced it with a unit of stockpiled Scholastic magazines.  What else should we do?

We are looking forward to learning about our students, about our curriculum, and about  proficiency in the classroom as we embark on this in a few months. Fortunately, our school offers a school-wide 60-minute lunch break, so it’ll be easy to get them all in in half hour slots, still leaving me enough time to eat.  

My intention is to keep recording our findings and our realizations on my blog here, so stay tuned over the next few… years.

Have any thoughts about this?  How about a name for this project?  If you have any ideas, let me hear them!  

Four characteristics observed in an effective teacher at the beginning of the year

Observing expert teachers is a pretty common practice in education – in the middle of the  year.  But what happens at the beginning of the year to jump-start that success?

I had been wondering this for awhile and decided to see someone for myself during the first week of school.  

My school has a choir teacher, Kelsey Tortorice, who has experienced a high level of success with a group of vocalists at our school.   I asked her if I could come in and spy on her, while also doing an audio recording of the class.

I boiled down my general observations to four elements, and they all start with P.  I didn’t plan it that way like a hip megachurch pastor might; it just ended up that way.  I’ll start from most important observations to the least important, although in reality it’s all important.  Let’s go to our 2pm choir class.  

Pre-thinking everything:

It was quite clear when I was in Kelsey’s choir class that she had thought through everything ahead of time.  Everything.  Nothing was left to happenstance.  Not only is she experienced, she has been reflective on her experience and has used her experience to structure class.

  • She had an agenda on a Powerpoint slide, which I rarely see choir directors post (we just walk in, sing, and do what the conductor says, right?):  “Attendance, sing, weekly rehearsal grade, materials overview, room set up”.  She knew what she needed to cover with them, and she made sure that they knew. 
  • The chairs were seated in a circle when students walked in with written instructions to sit anywhere in the circle
  • She said that she wanted students to teach her their last names so that communication and coordination with other teachers would be easier 
  • When she said “take 30 seconds to do X”, she gave them 30 seconds.  
  • She told them that they had a week to get a black binder, 1-inch-thick, that they can use just for this class.  

She also encouraged students to do pre-thinking of their own.  This was the first year I had heard a teacher state to a group of students that they needed to manage their lunch period (right before class) such that they can arrive to her class on time in order to be ready to start class, because at the 2:00PM bell (she stated that) they needed to be seated and ready to sing.  

Within the first 5 minutes of class, I knew what Kelsey was all about.  

Pause to reflect:  What elements of your classroom flow are you not pre-thinking?  Is it possible that your classroom management issues stem from you as the teacher not thinking about something ahead of time, which gives room for chaos? 

Pinpointing what students should be doing

Kelsey is an expert at narrating what she expects her students to be doing at every point along the way.   Nothing – absolutely nothing – is a mystery in Ms. Tortorice’s classroom.  If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing and when you are supposed to be doing it, it’s because you’re legitimately dumb, because she spells it out by the minute.  

Here are some phrases that I saw or heard from her:  

  • “Ok, we’ll take attendance.  Please don’t respond if you’re not the person I’m calling out.”
  • On a Powerpoint:  “By the 2:00pm bell, all belongings should be below or behind your chair.  All phones away.”  
  • She broke down the criteria for their five daily participation points.  I only got to jot down 5-4-3- points.
    • 5 – seated with all materials below seat or out of the way by 2pm
    • 4 – Seated by any other materials are still out, digging out of backpack or phone still out at 2pm
    • 3 – in the room but not seated

What I really took away from my time with her is the idea of narrating student behavior.  In classes that need a lot of direction, the teacher must constantly be definitively narrating the who, what, where, and how of student conduct at any given moment.

In the sound clip below, I really appreciated how she had an established call-back-to-order procedure in place.  The classroom goes from noisy transition back to rehearsing within 15 seconds.  Take a listen.  

She offered a brain break in the middle of the lesson.  But before going there, she specified how students were to spend their brain break, and she notified them how they’d be called back out of it.  Made for a really smooth transition.  Listen below.

Polite redirection

One of the biggest takeaways from my time with Kelsey was the polite and non-aggressive tone of her redirections.  This is a group of vocalists who are starting the sixth hour of their school day (out of nine – yeah, our school day is long).  It’s easy to get frustrated with them when they’re chatting too much or getting out of order.  Kelsey redirects them with a non-threatening, non-angry tone that I have tried to implement this year.  Have a listen. 

She just states what she wants, in a precise way, with little to no emotion behind it, and students understand.  Same thing here. 

Pause to reflect:  Do you tend to get upset with your students and show anger when something is happening in your classroom that you don’t want?  Is it possible that specificity mixed with a polite, human tone could help bring them in?  

Peaceful poise in front of the class

Kelsey showed no nerves or self-consciousness about being in front of high school students.  She had a posture and calmness that conveyed mission and purpose.  There were no sudden jerky physical moves on her part (I’m starting to think that I freak my students out some time).  She walked around the classroom, taking an even pace as she circulated among all students throughout the rehearsal.  

There was a spot in which some students clapped (once) at the end of a song, but some didn’t.  She said in a very neutral tone, “It’s not your fault if you didn’t clap, I wasn’t clear about that.”  It didn’t unnerve her to apologize for something.  

Pause to reflect:  What is your poise like in front of students?  Do students sense that you’re nervous about the day?  Do you have a presence in the room that lets them know that you’ve got this?  

I think the 3 minute video with former students shows it best (see below). 

I’m thankful to work with colleagues like Ms. Tortorice who I can model, and whose effectiveness can be felt in the room.   You might not be a choir teacher, but I hope this post has helped you consider what you can replicate in your own classroom setting!

Are your heritage courses producing any results? How do you know?

So one of the up-and-coming stars of heritage language teaching, Adrienne Brandenburg, asked a very good question recently for heritage teachers, which I’m sure their administrators wonder also:

I’d like to answer that question with more questions:

How do the American Lit teachers on the third floor know that their instruction is working?  What does it look like when a British Lit teacher’s instruction is working?  What research is showing that English 101 is working?  Hm, “working”…

In the heritage classroom, we are less language-y and more language arts-y.  So how do language arts teachers prove the effectiveness of their classes?  I have two impressions based on interactions with my language arts colleagues:  (1) You can show some improved reading comprehension and knowledge of mechanics of grammar and writing through STAR testing, PSAE, PARCC, and other fun exams; but (2) progress is not always quantifiable, but we trust – oftentimes anecdotally – that being immersed in the reading of novels, discussions about them, writing research papers and essays, all does improve our students’ written, verbal, and cognitive skills.

Unless your school funds the National Spanish Exam, AAPPL, or the Stamp exams for your students every year, you really don’t have access to all the assessment resources you would need in order to show hard proof that your heritage class is working like our language arts colleagues do.  That being said, people constantly raise questions about how worthwhile those language arts oriented exams are anyway.

We do have a way to measure how effective our heritage classes are.  It’s called ACTFL’s 5 C’s, the World Readiness Standards.  “But wait- all that ACTFL stuff is for L2 learners!”  Generally speaking, I disagree, but the devil is in the details.  I’m actually going to present a conference session in February addressing this very issue (my first conference presentation ever – I’m insanely nervous), and I guess this blog post is turning into a sneak preview of where that’s going:


  • Reading- Are your students being challenged to read texts in your heritage class that they wouldn’t encounter in an L2 classroom or outside of a classroom?
  • Speaking- Are you having conversations at the Advanced and Superior levels in your heritage class that they wouldn’t have at home or in the community?
  • Listening- Are you exposing your students to media and audio resources that contain topics at a higher level than they are able to speak and write at in order to move them up the proficiency pyramid?
  • Writing- Are you attempting to help your students spell better, revise their work, use more creative vocabulary, and write within genres that they would never have to if they weren’t in your class?

Codigo de correcciones screenshot

I am going to say that most heritage teachers will give a resounding “yes” to the above.  Your class is worthwhile.  You are doing the work that the field (ACTFL) is telling you to do and doing things to improve your heritage students’ proficiency.  Check.


  • Is your students’ knowledge of their own history and culture expanding in your classroom?  Take a look at some of those questions towards the middle of my post here.
  • Is your students’ knowledge of the history and culture of the wider Spanish-speaking world (or worldwide Chinese community, or Vietnamese history and culture) growing?

I bet it is.  Your heritage class is worthwhile.  Check.


Are your students learning about science, technology, the environment, politics, and current events in Spanish?  We talk about drones every year.

5-21 preguntas about drones

Double-points for learning about those things, and improving their language skills along the way.  You are doing the work.  Check.


  • Do you have students compare English and the heritage language?
  • Do you ever compare American culture to the heritage culture(s)?  This is one of our best discussions every year.

4-27 Los padres cultural relationship difference a comenzar

Don’t we do those things all the time?  You’re doing the work.  Check.


  • Do your heritage students have pen pals in Spain, Uruguay, Costa Rica, or the Dominican Republic?

  • Do you ever do “Latino studies” in your class?
  • Do you have your heritage students interview family members or someone in the community about their experience immigrating to the U.S.?
  • Do you do something like one of these things above?  If so, check.


Is it more likely that your heritage students will be able to be Intermediate-High or Advanced-Low speakers and writers by taking your class, thus increasing the probability of earning the Seal of Biliteracy in your state?  Then you’re giving something beneficial to your students and your district.  Check.

Has your state not approved the Seal of Biliteracy yet?  Why not, for crying out loud?

Heritage teachers will have just as hard (or easy) of a time proving the effectiveness of their courses just as much as language arts teachers will.  When I see my students leaving my heritage class knowing who Diego Rivera was, knowing more about the Aztecs, knowing why they all have a little bit of Arab blood, understanding the cycle of dictators in Latin America, identifying what “UNAM” is, having some rules to rely on for knowing where to put accents, and being able to explain the historical figures embedded in the murals and posters in my school’s immediate community, I have full confidence that my heritage courses are effective.