video of Latino Family Event: Ballet Folklórico

My department hosted a Latino Family Event back in September (back when I was wrangling walking pneumonia… I believe I was actually home sick from work that day, and drove in special, armed with tons of cough drops, because it was such a big deal.) 

I relearned iMovie like three times in the process and this is the first significant project I’ve created. Hope you enjoy!

Ballet Folklórico with los Hermanos Avila: School District of Fort Atkinson on September 27, 2013. Pictures and video by Beth Hennes and Kari Johnson.

The Beloved Children’s Books of My Past

My grandmother was a retired 7th grade English teacher and she LOVED reading to me when I was small. Also, when I was stuck in Colby, WI, for three weeks every summer with no friends to play with (because of a crap joint-custody deal and because I didn’t go to school/live there), my grandma’s friend at the public library let me check out as many books as I wanted without my own card. I think I read the entire children’s section at that library one summer. I used to walk down with my wagon and fill it up in the morning, read all day, and then walk back in the afternoon a half-hour before close and fill it up again. I was a reader from early on (and a library rat–but the good kind)!

I have memories of a few books being read to me over and over: Ferdinand the Bull, Harold and the Purple Crayon and some book about some preschoolers that have a parade with their tricycles (the female protagonist was named Martha… man, I loved that book. If anyone can solve the mystery for me, I would be forever grateful. However, through working at the CCBC and seeing the volumes and volumes of children’s books that come in and out of their, I think the odds are pretty slight, especially since it was probably not an award-winner).

At school, I loved Where the Wild Things Are and Stone Soup (Does anyone remember that Weekly Reader Book Club version that had pigs as the characters?–that one!), but probably because my teachers loved them and did fun activities with us. I also loved Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day. I think it was also read aloud to me, but I don’t know by whom. I still love it, especially now. Today, I adore reading it out loud to my ESL students because it’s so adorable and most of them have never read it before.

As a newly independent reader, I loved the Ramona books (all of them), but my favorite was Ramona and her Father, probably because my 2nd grade teacher read it with us. I also loved a little paperback book called A Kitten for Rosie that that same teacher gave me as a Christmas gift (I actually still have it). I was also a fan of the Garfield books back then too.

I gobbled up the A Wrinkle in Time books and for a long time, I said that Madeleine L’Engle was my favorite author, though I barely remember the storylines of any of them. I also read a ton of Roald Dahl before all the movie craze (and I don’t think I watched the movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory until I was an adult). My fave was Matilda. I think I got into both of these authors because we read James and the Giant Peach and excerpts of A Wrinkle in Time in reading class.

The common thread here for me was that adults who were important to me connected me with pretty much every book that was important to me. It’s powerful to think of how much adults matter in cultivating a love of books in our children, no matter the relationship.

As for multicultural elements, I don’t think there was any taste of that in my childhood faves. Maybe Ferdinand. From what I already know about multicultural lit, I don’t think this is surprising at all. Children of color are still very underrepresented in children’s books.

P.S. My current picture book faves are Cookie the Walker, Zander’s Panda Party, Niño Wrestles the World, Building Our House and Listen to My Trumpet (an Elephant and Piggy story that I can’t read without busting out laughing). Read them, you’ll love them! Share them with someone young, they will love them too!

The Test-Tube Spice Rack

test-tube spice rackFor the curious, here’s how I made my test-tube spice rack à la Dean and Deluca. Mind you, it wasn’t that big of a savings, but I do have 50 spices in my rack–and the cupboard is organized now. I’ve seen other DIY versions of this project out there with other rack styles, but this is my take on it.

From what I understand, it’s best to keep spices out of direct sunlight if you want them to stay fresh, so my rack lives in the pantry. It’s easy to grab the whole thing though and find the one you need without shuffling through a bunch of spice jars and then put it right back.

  1. Wire Test Tube Rack from Nasco, 27mm diameter holes, holds 50 test tubes: $29
  2. Bath Salts Tubes from E.D. Luce Packaging, clear glass with corks, 6 inches long: $.90/each x 50
  3. Avery 5408 round labels, .75 inch diameter: $6.49 for pack of 1008
  4. a condiment spoon (for scooping spices when the measuring spoon is too big) …I’m storing it in one of the empty test tubes in the rack for handy access
  5. a cupboard full of spices
  6. a funnel (well, I just picked up one there in the store)
  7. spice measuring spoons (optional if you want to scoop directly)

If you’re wondering, here are the spices I’ve included: allspice, basil, Cajun seasoning, caraway seed, celery salt, chia seed, chili powder, cilantro, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground coriander, ground cumin, hot curry powder, dill weed, fish spices, garlic powder, garlic salt with parsley, ginger powder, Greek seasoning, herbes de Provence, Italian seasoning, Jamaican jerk BBQ, marjoram, mustard powder, ground nutmeg, oregano leaves, chopped onions, onion powder, paprika, parsley, ground black pepper, whole black peppercorns, lemon pepper, ground red pepper (cayenne), red pepper flakes, ground white pepper, poppy seed, rosemary leaves, sage, iodized salt, sea salt, seasoned salt, ground savory, spicy seafood seasoning, sesame seed, shrimp & scallop seasoning, Thai seasoning, thyme, ground turmeric. (A couple are not shown in the picture if you look closely, because I need to make a trip to the grocery store.)

I’m still wondering if I should swap something out for cardamom, tarragon, mace, fennel seed (or something else), but I’ve never cooked with these so I wouldn’t know… If you have a vote, let me know!


Research Report on What Heritage Learners Want/Need from a Spanish Course

Case Study: Perceived Needs and Expectations of Rural High School Heritage Spanish Learners Informing a New Program


During the 2013-2014 school year, the high school I work at launched a Spanish course reserved for native or heritage Spanish speakers who already have measurable proficiency in Spanish but have not fully developed their academic skills in the language. The class is composed of 16 Latino students, ranging from freshmen to seniors with cultural backgrounds from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, some of whom have received little to no formal schooling in their native language. The course is in a pilot year and is being taught by myself (the author) and the Level 3-5/Advanced Placement Spanish instructor. We have no official school board-approved materials and have been using the Spanish Level 4 textbook at an accelerated pace with supplemental activities for heritage speakers.

Unfortunately, discipline and motivation have been significant problems so far. We often struggle with off-task behavior, vulgar language (in Spanish), disrespect toward the teachers and other students, extraneous talking, etc. It is often unpredictable whether the planned activities will either flop or surprise us. Many students are not completing assignments, whether given in class or as homework, and rarely take initiative to understand instructions, whether verbal or written. As both of us are experienced language instructors (I, in my 8th year, with experience as an English as a Second Language teacher and former French teacher, and my co-teacher in her 20th year of teaching Spanish), it is exceedingly frustrating to be dealing with such ongoing classroom management concerns. We as instructors continue to realign, seek informed advice and try alternative strategies in hopes that the course will go more smoothly and our students will benefit from the instruction we are trying to provide.

The Research Question

I designed this research project as a case study, using student questionnaires and behavior observation data, in response to our real information need. Going into the study, I assumed that the behavior problems we saw were stemming from inappropriate materials and/or activity selection, since students were continually complaining about tasks being unclear/too easy/too difficult. Our hypothesis was that if we know what students actually want or need from a heritage language course and we can deliver that, then our situation and the behavior problems will improve. Ultimately, this research seeks to answer the following question: What do heritage learners actually need from a Spanish language course (that can be used to drive instruction)?

The Search Strategy

I collected feedback directly from the heritage learners, as well as from several advanced nonnative speakers enrolled in the Level 5/Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish course for comparison purposes. Data was solicited from an additional two heritage learners who had previously been taking World Language Spanish courses and are now currently enrolled in the AP Spanish Language course; these two students were given the same surveys as the other heritage learners.

Where possible, I worked with my co-teacher to develop tools that we could use to collect data for this project and to help us make decisions for the class. At the beginning of the course, we conducted brief conferences to review placement test results with the heritage students and asked them to briefly analyze their data and set goals for the course. The primary data collection tool, however, was a four-page survey that asked students to consider their reasons for registering for the course, what their strengths, weaknesses and learning styles are, as well as their opinions of the course content. Students were also given a type of holistic self-assessment rubric called the WIDA Can-Do Descriptors, which is used to qualify student linguistic ability in reading, writing, listening and speaking, and asked students to rate their own Spanish abilities (WIDA, 2012). To assess and rank learning style preferences, students completed an online inventory (Memletics Learning Styles Questionnaire, 2013). Nonnative students from the Level 5/AP course were given a similar needs survey and the Can-Do Descriptors rubric.

I compiled all of the data using Google Forms, which also makes an interesting graphic analysis of the data collected. I also had access to all of data in a Google-created spreadsheet that I could sort and organize to draw conclusions. I used this spreadsheet data to create the additional charts included later in this report.

Here is the Placement Conference and Goal worksheetHeritage Learning Expectations and Needs Survey and Nonnative Learning Expectations and Needs Survey. You may also view a PDF of the compiled heritage learner survey data here. The nonnative survey data is available here.

The Findings

When asked to self-assess their language abilities in listening, speaking, reading and writing, the heritage learners ranked themselves highest in the oral language domains of listening and speaking, which were likely the primary ways that these learners acquired Spanish as young children. In contrast, the nonnative speakers felt more comfortable in the literacy domains of reading and writing. A chart of the average self-ratings of both groups is shown below:

Self-Rating of Abilities

One part of the survey asked students to check off areas or skills from a list that they felt they needed to improve and areas or skills that they saw as strengths. Top areas of improvement for the heritage learners were: using accents (94.4% or 17 of 18 respondents marked this), editing/finding mistakes in my own writing (77.8% or 14 of 18), spelling correctly (66.7% or 12 of 18), formal/presentational writing (61.1% or 11 of 18) and interpreting English to Spanish (61.1% or 11 of 18). Their commonly perceived strengths were: interpreting English to Spanish (55.6% or 10 of 18 respondents), informal/everyday writing (50% or 9 of 18), watching TV or listening to the radio in Spanish (50% or 9 of 18) and fiction/informal reading (44.4% or 8 of 18). While several of the nonnative speakers marked formal/presentational writing (60% or 3 of 5 respondents) and interpreting—speaking (80% or 4 of 5) as an area of improvement, they were not as concerned with spelling correctly or using accents as the heritage learners were. In fact, 60% or 3 of 5 of the nonnative speakers listed spelling and accents as strengths. Charts comparing the two groups’ perceived strengths and weaknesses are shown below:

Weakness Chart

Strength Chart

When asked about what they saw as the most valuable part of the course so far, heritage learners cited the work they had done with writing (7 mentioned this) and learning about accents (4 mentioned this). Interestingly, the most common frustration (mentioned by 5 students) was the poor behaviors of other students, such as not working or too much talking.

My Interpretations

Overall, according to the survey results, there is a general consensus that heritage learners are looking for help with their writing, especially using accents and spelling. Students are also interested in reading more and practicing interpretation/translation skills. Based on the data, it is fair to conclude that since heritage learners are most confident with oral language, we could use oral language as a tool for accessing content and higher-level thinking. For example, students could listen for input (using a strength) and then respond in writing (addressing a weakness). Likewise, students could read for input (addressing a weakness) and then discuss orally (using a strength).

While discipline has been a problem in this class, I was pleasantly surprised to see several serious, insightful reflections from students on their surveys, as well as two students who actually expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to share their opinions and have input on our course content. Unfortunately, three students have dropped the course from the original 19 we began with, but we think/hope we may be left with solid core of students who care about their own improvement. These results warmed my heart and made me wonder if my assumptions were correct—that if we gave students what they wanted and needed from the course, then the poor behavior would improve.

Reacting to the Data

Incidentally, in the week leading up to the administration of the survey, we attempted to change our teaching approach from text-guided to project-based. The students, while sometimes dawdling, seem to be much more engaged with a project that seems meaningful and authentic to them. Two of them made comments on this move as “most valuable” on their survey before they had even completed the project! After receiving the survey results, we also began including some drop-in mini-lessons on written accents and spelling, since a significant number of students had cited these as weaknesses.

In general, we did see some improvement in behaviors; there were definitely less discipline referrals during this unit. Students were also more focused while working on a larger, integrated digital storytelling project as opposed to completing photocopied worksheets about the “present perfect subjunctive” verb tense. However, we still quite frequently encounter destructive and negative attitudes from some students who say, “I can’t/I won’t/I’m too lazy/I don’t care/This is dumb because I already know everything/This is too hard” (sometimes out of the same students’ mouths within the same five-minute period!)

My conclusion—just because someone claims to value something, doesn’t mean that they will follow through and pursue said thing.  My heritage learners may be able to identify that written accents and spelling are weaknesses for them, but they are not all quite ready to commit to the concentration and critical thinking necessary to pursue mastery. The presumption that my research question would provide me with the solution I was looking for was perhaps misguided and there may be other components coming together to cause the classroom chaos that we have been experiencing.

Suggestions for Future Research

Given the defeatist and defiant attitudes expressed above by those students still resisting our attempts to teach a meaningful needs-based Heritage Spanish curriculum, it might be valuable to investigate motivation as a factor causing some of our classroom problems. For example, sometimes when presented with an optional extension activity for those who finish the required work (this would be intrinsically motivation—the pursuit of self-improvement), students refuse and choose instead to try to distract other learners. A similar phenomenon occurs when students are offered a “reward” such as a piece of candy or a mystery prize (an example of an extrinsic motivator). In the context of the digital storytelling project, several students worked very diligently and meticulously on the written and visual portions of the project, but then shut down and refused to complete the audio requirement, despite the knowledge of the rationale for the audio part of the project and facing a significant negative effect on their grade. These refusals to succeed are puzzling, yet worth looking into.

While the move from using a Spanish textbook aimed at nonnative speakers to project-based learning was a definite improvement, stringing together a series of projects will not create a unified, intentional curriculum. Locating a research-based, integrated skills Heritage Spanish textbook written specifically for a high school audience is important to the success of this program. Students will need a top-down, or macro-, approach to language development that both employs their oral strengths and activates their literacy weaknesses, with a targeted bottom-up, or micro-approach, that develops linguistic needs (such as accents and spelling) specific to heritage learners. Additionally, for the sanity of the teachers involved, who both are charged with multiple courses to prep for in a day, having a quality textbook in place to guide the course would be a welcome addition, instead of creating everything from scratch.

Although this study hinted at comparisons between heritage learners and nonnative speakers of Spanish, the sample size was not statistically significant, nor was the data collection focused on extracting the differences between the groups. This would be another viable option for future research. I chose not to include a formal literature review as part of this research report because I tried to based my findings on action research instead, but a reasonable next step would be to conduct an in-depth literature review on, for example, the differences between heritage learners and nonnative speakers, the specific needs of heritage learners and the most pedagogically sound approaches to teaching heritage learners. Even though heritage language instruction is not extremely common at the secondary and post-secondary levels, there do exist leaders in the field to consult with.

Suggested References for Further Study

Beeman, K., & Urow, C. (2012). Teaching for biliteracy: strengthening bridges between languages. Philadelphia: Caslon Publishing.

Carreira, M. (2007). Spanish-for-native-speaker Matters: Narrowing the Latino Achievement Gap through Spanish Language Instruction. Heritage Language Journal, 5(1). Retrieved from

Carreira, M., Jensen, L., & Kagan, O. (2009). The Heritage Language Learner Survey: Report on the Preliminary Results. National Heritage Language Resource Center.

Jensen, B. (2013). Research Project Organizer. Big6. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from

Maxwell, L. A. (2012). “Dual” Classes See Growth In Popularity. Education Week, 31(26), 1–17.

Memletics Learning Styles Questionnaire. (2013). Retrieved October 11, 2013, from

Polinsky, M., & Kagan, O. (2007). Heritage Languages: In the “Wild” and in the Classroom. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1(5), 368–395. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818X.2007.00022.x

Potowski, K. (2005). Fundamentos de la enseñanza del español a hispanohablantes en los EE. UU. Madrid: Arco/Libros.

Ricento, T. (2005). Problems with the “language-as-resource” discourse in the promotion of heritage languages in the U.S.A. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 9(3), 348–368. doi:10.1111/j.1360-6441.2005.00296.x

StarTalk/NHLRC. (2009). Teaching heritage languages: An online workshop. [Online course modules]. Retrieved October 26, 2013 from

WIDA. (2012, September). WIDA’s Can Do Descriptors by grade-level cluster. World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. Retrieved from

What did I learn from my research project?

Without going into too much detail about my struggle with this project, the primary thing that I can say I’ve learned from this project is that I have a few ingrained preconceptions of “what research is” and “what research papers look like.” For example, when I’m told to include my citations in APA format, I assume that this means “read stuff and write about it, making citations with quotes, paraphrases and summaries,” but really, this wasn’t the approach that my research topic/question/process required. My instructor would probably say that I overthought this project and that my major challenge was keeping it small for the purposes of this class. She’s probably right, but I think I’m just wired that way.

I was disheveled on a couple of levels throughout this project (I wonder if anyone else in my class got as overwhelmed as I did on this one… probably not, I think I’m just having that kind of fall–like it would be great if I ever was healthy again.) I did really appreciate being able to talk to my instructor for some guidance along the way–she and I spoke a few times on the phone, which was great. Really, though, I value that kind of interactivity, so as a student, I think that a face-to-face class makes that a little handier!

In five years, what will I remember? I’ll probably remember the realization that my final project required a big rewrite. Sigh.

I don’t feel like my research successfully gave me feel of the “student experience” of going through a research model, because I had some timing complications of collecting the case study data from my students. Therefore, I’m not really sure that I can say that this assignment has influenced my philosophy of education/vision of myself as an instruction librarian. If the purpose of the assignment was to help me get my arms around the concept of embracing a research model, I still don’t think I’m there. I kind of wonder if actually leading a student through something like that would help me out. (Stay tuned, I believe I’ll get the opportunity in the next week or two. A new project is awaiting.)

P.S. I’m still not done with this beast.

P.P.S. I think that I want a Grad School Barbie for Christmas. She looks/feels just like me. Except I have her life and a full-time job, just like Real Job Skipper.

the draft

A progress update:

For the research project I’m working on, I chose to study how what heritage speakers need from a Spanish course that is different from what non-native speakers need. As a sort of case study, I have collected survey and observation data from the class of heritage speakers I teach at the high school.

Truthfully, I wasn’t really ready to write the draft when my instructor asked us to, nor have I been real good about using the research model as a framework (also as we were asked to do). I have collected and compiled a lot of great data though and the draft has helped push me along so that I am not leaving all of this project until the last minute… but holy cow I feel like there is still a lot left for me to do. That said, I’m glad there are built-in check points. I think we all need that, no matter how old we are.

Speaking of research models, I went with the Big6 model because I’ve heard some buzz about it in the local K12 communities and I thought it would be good career prep. I’m kind of wondering if I am working with a square peg and a round hole.

Sigh… I don’t feel like I’ve got my arms around this. Where does the time go?!

The Renaissance

This blog has been reborn. Actually, this post has been reborn too. Reborn in the way that the internet ate the first post I wrote just as I was ready to post it (and apparently there was no draft temporarily saved) and now I have a second chance to write it again. I just want to go to bed after all that, but I feel like I need to try to re-create what was lost, even if it is more succinct and less jovial.

As of September 9, 2012, this blog (formerly known as “Lead me not into temptation, especially not bookstores” located at migrated to The new name, “Li-buried Alive,” is a play on the mispronunciation of the word “library” by little kids. As for the “buried alive,” the focus is more on the “alive” part, since I believe that libraries are very much alive. You could say they are a “buried treasure” that just needs to be sought after.

Even though I do not have my former instructor Kyle prompting me on blog post topics and timing, I still have plenty to say (without the pressure of writing something that I knew was being graded). In fact, I have a small stock-pile of notes that I want to translate into posts.

Obviously, there was a bit of a silence from me since my last post in August. Let’s just say that August was rather tumultuous for me personally (and I’m glad it’s over). And well, September was back to school–the day-job kind, not the higher-ed pursuit. Things are a bit more under control around here and now that both organization and inspiration have struck, we’re back online!

Speaking of my day-job, if you weren’t aware, I am a high school ESL teacher. I am working on a new teacher website for the ELL program that I run at It’s not live for the students/parents yet, but I’m liking how it looks so far.

Oh yeah, introductions…

This morning, I am sitting on the terrace at Memorial Union waiting for class to begin. Not because I’m an early bird, but because I got a ride this morning and that’s how things went. It is a beautiful morning though, so I shan’t complain.

A little more about me, for those who are interested. I am beginning my studies in LIS this summer, as I concurrently take a Children’s Literature course and a Digital Tools, Trends and Debates course. They overlap for about three weeks, so for a little while, I’ve got a ton of reading to to. Good thing I like to read, right?

I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in Library Science, but I always let myself (or others) talk me out of it. *You’re in the middle of a program, just finish it. You don’t need a second Master’s. There are no jobs! Especially now that everything is online. You wouldn’t like the politics (HA! You think I don’t know about politics–I’m a Wisconsin schoolteacher!). You’re too old to start a third career.* I could go on and on. But forget it, long story short, I’m doing it. It’s what I want and you only have one life!

I didn’t figure this out and get decisive until this February and it was too late for me to be admitted for fall at that point. So instead, I am a “special student” until [hopefully] fall of 2013. Special, indeed!

Since I am a schoolteacher (I teach high school English as a Second Language), it makes the most sense for me to pursue my certification as a Library Media Specialist (school libraries). I also wouldn’t mind working in a public library someday if I decided I wanted out of K-12 land. I plan on keeping my job and working full-time, doing grad school part-time. That’s the plan at least.

You have no idea how exciting and refreshing this library stuff is for me! I always joke about how what I do (ESL) was a plan B for me and even though I do like it, it’s so cool to go after a dream!

Oh yes, I’m back in Academia…

My first impression after reading an “academic article” (for credit) after some five years is actually an appreciation: It’s sooooooooooo nice to read something that has been revised and edited to include correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. (Can you tell that my day job as a high school ESL teacher can wear on me sometimes? Most of the writing my students do is on Facebook, where their primary models are other kids who don’t know what they’re doing either.)

Reading academic articles also has reminded me that you can’t daydream or allow distractions when you are reading because you will only have to read the same paragraph over and over until you stop letting your mind wander. Or else you will fall asleep and have to scramble to get those 50 pages of reading done at the last minute. Falling asleep on my reading is the bane of my existence as an academic.