SSR: La Isla Más Peligrosa

Book 1 of  the “Lo más peligroso” series, released in 2018 by Padre de cinco Books

I just finished reading this new addition to my Sustained Silent Reading Library. I bought my copy through Amazon. This book follows 17-year-old Caden through a plane explosion which leaves the people on his flight stranded on an island. Of course, this island is seriously crawling with venomous snakes, and it is a real place! I’ve read a lot of books geared towards novice-mid students, and I have to say honestly I didn’t see one of the twists coming! John Sifert definitely shows his expertise in teaching beginning language students with the compelling story he was capable of creating using such simple language.  Moreover, the story deftly intertwines murderous plots with solid family values.

From the teacher aspect: this book is on point. There are so many things I love about it. The biggest for me is the pictures. In my opinion, this book has the perfect number of illustrations and pictures. There are just enough to make sure that any student could follow the story if they really wanted to, but also not enough that the pictures tell the whole story alone. Second, it directly addresses accents and dialects in a way that blends well into the story. It always strikes me that English speakers are well aware of the different way that English is spoken regionally, but are somehow completely baffled when any variation of Spanish is brought up. The way he almost sneaks this facet in is fluid and logical, I love it. Finally, as I mentioned before, I totally adore that this is a real place.

Here are the stats that I always want to know: 

  • 68 pages
  • illustrations or pictures about every third page
  • 13 chapters that range from one paragraph to seven pages (with illustrations included in page count)
  • 10 page glossary
  • Fictional story that includes real details about La Isla de la Quemada Grande and the Golden Lancehead snakes.

As I read new books I always try to consider whether they would be better suited towards my SSR library, or if I should hold it back for a whole class read. In this case, I will happily add it to my SSR library. The only difficulty I foresee in class reads is having to plan for having such varied chapter lengths. That being said, the chapter breaks are totally perfect and logical, I would not want them any other way. 

In summary: this book is great, I can’t wait to see what Señor Sifert has planned for the next book. It thrills me that this is intended to be a series. I will be keeping my eye out for news on the next book.

Bye-Bye Burnout, I’m Fanning Flames

Jumping in with both feet has been very overwhelming. Honestly, it’s not the teaching that takes up so much time for me, it’s the learning! When I was told that my position was getting moved (this past April) I decided to learn as much as I could to be able to teach this new-to-me program in a way that thrilled me. This journey began at the FLAVA Spring Mini-Conference, which was awesome and gave me a lot of places to start in my learning. I looked for any Facebook group that I thought would help, bought a few books and looked for in person PD opportunities. I was ready for a PD-filled summer of attending the only free training I could feasibly reach and had a stack of books to read (teaching books, and novels that I intended to give to my kids). I even created a Twitter account, that I kept for almost 20 minutes before realizing that I have no idea how it works, and no time to teach myself. Then I went off to teach 6 weeks of summer school. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made all my own choices, and I regret none of them. I like being busy, and generally I am more productive when I have more to do. When I only have one or two tasks, I always feel like I can push them off until later, but when I have seven things that need to be done today I can do it! I’m not sure if that makes me weird or normal.

Back to being overwhelmed… I failed to consider that I had acquired/signed up for essentially an intensive two-month crash course in teaching with CEI. That was not reasonable when considering that I had to teach all day every day. Plus, a few days into the summer I sprained my dominant wrist, so I had a full-time job, nearly 3,000 pages of book to read in two different languages, a day-long PD six hours away, two 10-hour online PD courses, six hours of physical therapy a week and a distinct inability to brush my own hair. Oh yeah, and I had to move all my things out of my two old schools and into my three new schools. Looking back on it now, it’s not all that surprising I’m a little tired. It’s so easy to do though! The way I see it, two types of jobs lead to burnout – first is when nothing changes, seriously nothing, the tests don’t change, the program doesn’t change, the expectations don’t change, the books don’t change. I taught Spanish 1 the exact same way for nearly ten years, the first two using the high school version of our textbook, then using the elementary version. I burned out, it was awful, but my burnout lead to the creation of CUE (pronounced COO-eh) which I will blog about some other time, that proved to my principals and supervisor that I needed help not a new career. That is when I went to Va Tech for a new degree and endorsement (yep, did my M.Ed. full time in a year while teaching full time, have you noticed a pattern?), but that’s also when they canned my program and had us rebuild everything from scratch. My poor team had to meet me at the University center for hours of curriculum building instead of at a coffee shop or someone’s house because I had to go to class after all of our meetings, and couldn’t waste time with driving. Our program had to be rebuilt over the summer every year for three years in a row. That much change can burn you out too. This is the first year (in five) where something I’m doing now looks like something I did last year… one of my four preps is at entirely different schools, but it’s still mostly similar. Next year, I might be able to bump that up to four preps are mostly similar, but more than likely, I’ll have six preps between two schools instead of four preps at three schools. This much change also can’t be good for anyone. How do you maintain good mental health while never being able to predict what comes next? My current answer? Freak December snow-mageddons. I honestly didn’t think it would snow… but this is our third day off… so, I’m willing to admit I was wrong. Really though, the only cure or prevention I can find to burnout is excitement.

I bring excitement to the programs I love with meticulously thought out precision. I know that when I am excited I can get others excited. I find that genuine excitement will inspire those around you to respond in kind (as long as you aren’t like crazy-overbearing excited, that’s a fine line for me…) even if they have to fake it. But, that’s okay! Because it is seriously magical when someone who has faked for a while realizes that they aren’t faking anything, and have no idea when they actually became as excited as I am. I’ve done this recently with Capibara con Botas. I even told the kids before we started how nervous I was but told EVERYONE how pumped I was that this was even something that I thought we might be able to do. Now, kids who were noticeably less excited than I was when we started Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) at the beginning of the year are seriously excited about our book and are talking about it using fully correct sentences! What?! How does this happen?! Truthfully, I know how it happened, I made it happen. In doing so, I made myself significantly less likely to burnout again, despite the multitude of changes that I’m sure I’ll face again next year. And in spite of the fact that I still have about 700 of those 3000 pages to read, and my next free online PD that starts in two days, and that my lesson plans are now garbage after three snow days two weeks before winter break… But first, I’m going to remember all the reasons I have to be excited, and all the things I am thankful for, because enthusiasm and gratitude are the best tools I have to keep me who I want to be as a teacher. Happy snow days!

First Class Novel – Winning with Capibara Con Botas!

I have never taught a novel before. Honestly, I didn’t even pay very close attention during my Reading in the Content Area course all those many years ago. I feel bad now, but I had no idea that beginning students could read! Certainly not novels anyway. Besides, I have only one book that was ever assigned to me by any of my Spanish teachers that I actually enjoyed reading, 17 Narradoras Latinoamericanas, a collection of writings from female Latin American authors. (Side note: Still have it, still like it.) That equals a lot of years of teachers implying that interesting chapter books were far from my mostly-monolingual grasp, an implication that isn’t easily changed. Then I started Sustained Silent Reading twice a week with my students. The words and the stories wound up in their writing, so I got them more different things to read. Would you believe they are just as excited to read in Spanish as they were in English? You probably do, that’s why you’re here, and you should because they are.

I had a mission ready for my fifth-grade class as soon as we returned from Thanksgiving break. We were going to read a real, chapters and everything, novel in Spanish. I was super ambitious and planned for four days of intensive background knowledge and vocabulary pre-teaching sessions. We worked our tails off over those four days, and those little 11-year-old minds were churning because we had never done anything so strongly driven before. Every day we worked together to construct meaning through conversation. We talked about the same things over and over and over. Then, they opened their workbooks (that I created for them, which they thought were so neat, using the amazing guide from and I would ask them one of the questions for the day, they would answer me aloud in full sentences, then I would write their answer on the board. They honestly thought they were doing nothing except copying answers off the board! They never even noticed that I was simply presenting their spoken words in written form! I laughed a lot about how they believed they were pulling a fast one.

After four days, I finally gave them the book. They were ready, I was sure of that. To say they disagreed, would be putting it mildly. They went straight in to English, saying they couldn’t do this, and did anyone else notice it had chapters? And was there really no English in the book at all?!? I let them freak out for a moment, as I had predicted it might go something like this. Then, I opened my book to page 6 and instructed them to do the same. Then I called on a kid to read, the next paragraph was another reader, and same with the third. Then, the chapter was over. They stared at their books for a moment, then looked at each other, then stared at me. They got it. They understood it all. They were so completely dumbfounded that they couldn’t believe it had happened. It might have been the most powerful moment I’ve ever experienced as a teacher. Then we continued with our regular plan of going to the workbook and answering the questions. They did such great work. I was actually sad that it was Friday and I would have to wait the entire weekend before we could do it again.

The saga continued when I was too sick the following Wednesday to come to work. My husband even had to take me to school so I could line up everything for my absence, I couldn’t even manage driving. I named two teachers and divided the rest of the students up in the most productive teams I could think of, then left the next chapter and it’s activity as their assignment. I was so thankful that the assignment wasn’t simply questions to answer, but rather an activity that came from the guide. Then I waited in fear on the couch for my cell phone to tell me that it had gone horribly, and they had burned down the school. (They are a dynamic bunch, it’s the best and worst thing about them, and why their classroom teacher and I adore them so much.) My fear was totally unfounded. The next day I was greeted with so many stories from teachers and students about how well it had gone! They managed the entire lesson with nothing more than their own brains and the legally-mandated adult presence. Perhaps, had that adult not been their classroom teacher, things might have gone differently, but it didn’t! This novel has convinced them that they are mastering Spanish!

Today, I accidentally gave them a pop-quiz. I meant to tell them it was coming, but I’m not feeling great, and I almost never give them tests, it just slipped my mind. They were hardly phased. I told them that it was only chapters 1&2, they asked to use their resources and I agreed to books, not workbooks. They did so well! They used their books to look up information, relied on the words they knew to help them with whatever word they weren’t recognizing, and handed in papers they were proud of. We even had enough time to finish our work with the next chapter! All that’s left now is to hope that this snow storm is not actually headed our way, because there are just enough days left for us to finish our book before winter break! …Any teacher have a NO Snow Dance?… Anyone…?

Want a great novel to start your kids out with? Check out Mira Canion’s books. This group is reading Capibara con Botas, and I just posted a donor’s choose project to hopefully bring them El Escape Cubano. I have read several of her books, and seen three of the teachers guides, and they all strike me as high quality material that I am excited to present to my students. (No, she has no idea who I am, or that I’m writing this.) 

Free PD Alert!

I am always on the lookout for free PD opportunities! Even if it’s not obvious to me how something might work in my class (coding on computers with kindergarten?) I can almost always find some nugget that inspires me somehow. One of my favorites is Ditch Summit. Aside from the fact that the host is a Spanish Teacher, he also does a great job with producing the videos. It’s time again for the Ditch Summit, and I’ve just signed up. Want to join me? Here’s what they want me to tell you:

It’s called the Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit. There are nine video presentations from awesome presenters on topics related to tech and solid teaching and learning. Get your free ticket at:


HOW IT WORKS: New presentations are released every day from Dec. 14-22. They remain available until Dec. 31 so you can re-watch or catch up on any you’ve missed. They’re pre-recorded, so you can watch them whenever you want until Dec. 31. After that, the summit ends and the videos are unavailable to watch anymore.


FREE PD HOURS: You can get FREE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT CREDITS for watching the videos. There’s a form to fill out after each presentation, and you’ll get an automatic PD certificate emailed to you.


Sign up for the digital summit at


The schedule looks like this:

December 14 (Fri) — How Students Are Using Technology to Change the World (Ken Shelton, Disruptor, Keynote Speaker, Techquity Voice)

December 15 (Sat) — Building Relationships and Communicating with Students (Kim Bearden, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Ron Clark Academy)

December 16 (Sun) — Six Practical Ways to Amplify Learning with Technology (Matt Miller, Head Textbook Ditcher, Ditch That Textbook)

December 17 (Mon) — Appsmashing Your Way to Redefinition (Jornea Erwin, Head of Educator Innovation, Flipgrid)

December 18 (Tue) — Infusing Coding in Any Class (Bryan Miller, Co-Founder, TopTechEDU, Director of Education Strategy, Wonder Workshop)

December 19 (Wed) — Fantastic Learning Activities with Google Drawings (Tony Vincent, 5th grade teacher /

December 20 (Thur) — Using Visual Thinking to Unlock Powerful Learning (Manuel Herrera, doodler and visual thinker)

December 21 (Fri) — Sparking Student Creativity and Creation with Video (Claudio Zavala, video/creativity/storytelling enthusiast)

Oops, I faced a fear.

Let me tell you about the time I accidentally did the instructional strategy that most intimidates me: MovieTalk. I was initially put off from this strategy because I worried about juggling the timing of pausing the videos, along with the language, and monitoring student behavior. It sounded like too much of a juggling act for me. Then I saw a version of it presented at Ed-Camp in Virginia Beach this past June, it was so cool! But then there was all the “in-fighting” surrounding the name. I’m just starting out, there is so much out there to learn – and as great as Facebook groups are for getting real advice and opinions, I couldn’t find anything about this technique that was free from the drama about what it actually means to “MovieTalk”. That’s fine, I’m not involved in that, my skills and analytical skill of my practice aren’t there yet. Alternately I benefit from those gurus who hone and perfect techniques in this way. But, this fervent discussion about what it is or isn’t only increased my fear. It was at the point where I thought my kids would know whether or not I was doing it right and would call me out if I did it wrong. I’m in all new schools this year, I am back to having to prove myself, I was not risking it. If I wanted to talk about a movie then I screen-shot the scenes I wanted to talk about and we went through it using a slide show, then they could see the video afterwards. You can call that whatever you want, I’m pretty sure it’s not MovieTalk. Regardless, on to the story:

I teach four different grade levels a day, each grouped together so I teach all of one grade then move on to a different grade. Before I started that last set of grade levels for the day, I thought through what I had planned, and I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t have the energy for it, I didn’t feel inspired by it, I was honestly considering faking sick just to get out of walking through that door. (I’ve never actually done that, but I was tempted, and half of my problem was that I didn’t feel 100% either.) I scanned my memory for what else might be on my jump drive with the daily lesson and settled on an animated fairy tale video. I did my standard opening with the group (day, date, weather, how are you) then started the movie. I paused the movie a few seconds in, because we were ahead of schedule and if I didn’t find some reason to stop the movie occasionally then I would have to come up with another activity for the class to do. Seriously, I was struggling to make it through the end of the day. I asked how the characters were feeling, it was easy for them because we had just reviewed all of this. A little bit of story line passed and I paused again, asked about emotions again, asked the kids if they were feeling the same emotion as the first character? No? Maybe you are feeling the same as the other character? Then I played the movie again. Then I paused it again. Halfway through class it strikes me that this is a form of MovieTalk. It’s not perfect, and perhaps it isn’t exactly what anyone else would have called MovieTalk, but here is this group of kids watching a video in a language they don’t speak yet. They are enraptured with trying to figure out how the characters are feeling so they can answer the next time I ask the question. I started all of my remaining classes at that level early for the rest of the week, so I could do the same lesson with them. By the end, I think the last class must have had 200 repetitions of “how is __ feeling?” which is more than I would have ever expected possible with 20 5-year-olds over 30 minutes. Bonus: One class has a substitute, who (I was told) went straight to the principal after school to tell her how great my lesson was and how much she learned. The substitute also came to me and said some very nice things.

This was a major win from a day that I just couldn’t do. And, it summarizes nicely how I feel about teaching with CEI. I have only been actively educating myself on these methods since about December 2017. I have been aware of many CEI techniques for years, but never devoted much time to figuring out how to integrate them into my classes. Now that I have, I’m never going back! I’m so lucky to be in an environment this year, which allows me the freedom to try absolutely anything with two of my grade levels with full support of my administration and my student’s parents. They are fully vested in what I’m doing and are pushing me to learn more, do better, get there faster. If you had told me in August that I would have spontaneously used a video to increase conversation before December, I’m not sure I would have believed you.

CEI is making my job easier and my teaching more effective. Is it doing the same for you? Have you ever been in a situation like mine? Better yet, what strategies intimidate you? Let’s conquer those fears together!


Hello, I’m so glad you’ve found me. I am working as quickly as I can to get all of the information in my head onto this website. Please excuse its emptiness right now, in life and in thinking: unpacking the boxes is a long, slow process. So far, I have focused all of my attention on building the structure. The best part of that is how well it keeps me focused on the specific goals I have for this site right now. The down side is that there are tumbleweeds everywhere! Please trust that the good stuff is coming! For starters:

PD Book reviews: While We’re On The Topic by Bill VanPatten, and The Natural Approach To The Year by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic

Student Book reviews: This list is incredibly long and includes most of Fluency Matters level 1 readers, a wide range of both Mira Canion and Craig Klein Dexemple, and some other finds like Bart Quiere Un Gato and Ataques De Hambre. In total I have around 40 titles already in line to get uploaded.

Blogs: Fall FLAVA – what I saw, talked about, and learned, Professional Observation – my takeaways from observing Brett Chonko in his classroom, and Learning from BVP – a reflection on his talk at Roanoke College on 29 October.

Thank goodness it’s almost Thanksgiving break! I’ll make some of these promises realities as soon as my interim grades are posted.