There’s a definition for rubric that Merriam-Webster doesn’t know about yet.

I first came across the word “rubric” in 4th year high school Spanish. Actually it was more like rubrica (from Latin rubrica, from rubr-, ruber red), and meant the flourish Hispanics add to a signature. In English rubric means a classification, custom, or the heading of a manuscript that appears in red letters, and now it means something else.

If you google “rubric” you will come up with page after page of do it yourself educational scoring systems, like this rubric tool from the Utah education network. I also found out here that in one school  “the district’s curriculum leaders imagine a day when most teachers will routinely tie their lessons to standards and create or adapt rubrics and guides that allow both students and teachers to measure progress toward reaching them,”  and that “most still rely on ‘generic’ rubrics that can be used as a general guide to writing assignments, oral presentations, or math problems. Some teachers say they don’t have time to create rubrics or scoring guides for specific assignments, projects or units.” Imagine that.  The University of Minnesota, describing how to create a rubric, adds the advice that “rubrics need to be piloted or field tested.” Next semester my class will be piloting such a rubric that has been created from two or three years of curriculum committee meetings.

It sounds good, teaching to standards, involving the students in the process.  Like everything else, the devil is probably in the details.

One thing I have already noticed.  The skills list is binary, that is, the students either know the concepts or they don’t–there’s no gray area, as in Bloom’s taxonomy.

Another thing, I don’t have an evaluation tool yet.  I may have to create one.

4 3 2 1
Task requirements All Most Some Very few or none
Frequency Always Usually Some of the time Rarely or not at all
Accuracy No errors Few errors Some errors Frequent errors
Comprehensibility Always comprehensible Almost always comprehensible Gist and main ideas are comprehensible Isolated bits are comprehensible
Content coverage Fully developed, fully supported Adequately developed, adequately supported Partially developed, partially supported Minimally developed, minimally supported




Highly varied; non-repetitive


Varied; occasionally repetitive


Lacks variety; repetitive

Very limited

Basic, memorized; highly repetitive

(above: “How to create a rubric” from the U of M)

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Free Language Learning Resources

Want to learn some out of the way language like Urdu,  Brazilian Portuguese, or even Arabic or Hebrew? Trying to google those resources is haphazard at best, and often you just end up with some unsatisfying YouTube videos meant for proselytizing.  But here is a more systematic list of university-based online resources, the Master List of Free Language Learning Resources.

I had trouble with the podcasts at first.  All the links just seemed to redirect me to a download for iTunes, a 74 MB program that I really don’t want.  It kept redirecting me even after I installed the program, then suddenly it started working and offered to open the application with, you guessed it, iTunes (but not any of my other players).  (In retrospect, I would go straight to the Apple website instead of downloading it from an unknown site–who knows what else rode in with it. Note to self: run spybot and ad-aware…)

Scrolling down further on the page, you can find more accessible links to more online learning.  If you scroll to “Open University” under the “Free College Courses” heading, there are more links to resources, but hard to find as the given link is broken. A little googling though comes up with the page for Modern Languages (French, Spanish, German, and business English). If you dig even deeper, the same website offers Getting started on Classical Greek and Getting started on Classical Latin. I think I could have a lot of fun here.

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Recipe: Tinga

Mexican chicken with potato for 6 people

Note: Tinga is more than just a recipe. It is the social backbone of Hispanic Chicago. Wherever you find Hispanics who must put together a quick potluck, you will find tostadas and tinga. One person brings tostadas, another chicken, then, depending on how many people are in the class,  lettuce, tomato, crumbled cheese for sprinkling, or salsa. Then you can start to add salads (tuna, napoles, or guacamole), soda, napkins, plastic forks, (if you don’t already have these squirreled away in a file drawer under your grammar books) or for a really special occasion, even tres leches cake. Be careful how you pronounce it though; “chinga” is the Mexican f-word.

This is the last of the end-of-semester recipes; I suppose eventually they will be added to the classroom blog.  If anyone hasn’t noticed, yes, this teaches students the imperative, and yes, they are very motivated to work together to describe the process, get the exact right word for the recipe (we had a huge discussion about “shred” and “grate” for separating the chicken), and copy the recipes in English. In one three or four hour class you can usually do a regular lesson (some students won’t show up if it’s billed as just a party) plus eating, plus two recipes–the students have never been shy about saying which one they want.

1 chicken breast
1 onion
1 lb. tomato (about 5 small tomatoes), chopped in small pieces ½” or less
chipotle pepper (small can–this is not the “chipotle sauce”)
3 or 4 potatoes, cut in small pieces (raw, not cooked)
chorizo (Mexican sausage)
served on tortilla or tostada

boil chicken breast in water
put oil in pan
chop onion
put onion in pan, fry about 3 minutes
add tomato and chipotle pepper
cook until brown
add potato and cook about 15 minutes until potato is soft
in another pan, fry chorizo, separate into pieces with spoon, remove the grease
add chorizo to potato mixture
shred the chicken with your fingers, add to mixture
add salt to taste

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Recipe for Dodo (Fried Plantain)

A recipe from Nigeria for African bananas (ọgẹdẹ) (pronounced oh-geh-deh)

peel a plantain banana (they are ready to eat when they are orange or brown, not yellow; and soft, not hard)
slice it the long way
put it on a plate with salt and dried pepper powder (red)
mix together with spoon ( there is just a little, little bit of hot pepper powder, and the salt/chili pepper powder mixture is sort of mashed onto the banana with the back of the spoon)
put oil in a frying pan
put plantain in pan
fry 5 minutes
turn plantains
heat a little on the other side

Note: This is finger food and has a sweet taste although it’s a little bit salty and not really hot at all, although you can taste the chili powder in the background. The bananas were cut in circles less than a quarter inch thick.


Receta: Horchata

If you have tasted the sweet white Mexican cold drink that is horchata, on the street or in a restaurant and didn’t like it, by all means try it again if you get the chance to taste some made in someone’s home. This was outstanding. My students made it and shared the recipe. Now if I could find some homemade polzole–that pork soup. The church basement kind that you get before mañanitas during Guadalupe’s festival is to die for, I can only imagine homemade.

½ lb. rice
2 sticks cinnamon
1 shot glass vanilla
1 can Carnation evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 large glasses whole milk or 2% milk

wash the rice in water
put it in a pan with water
add cinnamon and vanilla
soak overnight
put in a blender
blend until smooth
strain into a pan (use a wire strainer)
add the water and the 3 types of milk
store in a plastic milk container
serve over ice

note: can be frozen ahead of time without water for parties, to thaw mix with water.

question…how much water?…..

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Receta: Frijoles Charros

A recipe for “Cowboy Beans” from my students–or maybe I should have translated “charros” as “mariachi”. Mariachi Beans, then. Bonus points for identifying imperative (imperativo) verb forms.

bacon (tocino)
Mexican sausage (chorizo)
pork ribs (costillas)
ham (jamón)
weiners (salchichas)
onion (cebolla)
garlic (ajo) optional
hot pepper (chiles) jalapeños, yellow, green, or red
beans (2 pounds for 6 people)

boil 2 lbs. pinto beans in water with a little salt for two hours
cut meat, tomato, onion, chili pepper into small (1″ or less) cubes
put oil in a frying pan
fry the bacon 5 minutes
add the ribs, and fry 5 minutes longer
add the rest of the meat and vegetables and heat
when beans are soft, add the meat and vegetables to the beans
mix everything together

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I’m fascinated by religious articles of any kind. Maybe it’s the non-visual nature of my own religious tradition that shuns physical, visual embellishments in favor of spiritual, musical ones. For instance in my denomination you will never see a crucifix, only the empty cross.  And images of people are rarely portrayed in the sanctuary–no graven image worship for us–although it’s not a hard and fast rule.

amulet-rosary amulet-rosary-beads1So here are two things from my mostly Roman Catholic and Mexican students that I found very curious. The first is a rosary. I have Moslem prayer beads already.  Their bead pattern is three groups of ten, I think for “hamdula”s, for a total of 30, plus larger or distinct beads separating the groups for the three parts of the shahada.

The Roman Catholic rosary has five groups of ten.  But what makes this rosary unique is that it’s made from rose petals of the rosa de castilla, the only May-blooming rose.  The original rosaries were said to have been made from rose petals, hence the name. This one is highly fragrant and after you handle it, your fingers are fragrant too.  They say you can get it wet, but I’m not going to try that.

amulet-san-antonio-tales amulet-san-antonio-headscloseupThe second curiosity is a Saint Anthony is a hand-knotted amulet for obtaining a boyfriend.  It is meant to hang on the wall or from a rear-view mirror.  On one side is the phrase SAN ANTONIO CONSIGUEME NOVIO (Saint Anthony get me a boyfriend) and the brandname “Santoon”. On the other side is an image of the saint–upside down.

Apparently this saint has an on-off swtich.  If he’s upside down, he will get you the boyfriend.  Once you have the boyfriend you turn him right side up to get him to stop working. If you already have a boyfriend but get ticked off at him, you can just turn the saint upside down again. The poor guy looks so uncomfortable on his head. I have carefully propped him upright beside my computer lamp.

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Child’s Oración

Just like American children know “Now I lay me down to sleep” by heart, my Mexican students all know this child’s prayer for protection.  It is said on waking up or for sleep. My translation is after the poem.

Angel de mi guarda

Mi dulce compañía

No me desampares

Ni de noche ni de día

No me dejes sólo

Que me perdería.


My guardian angel

My sweet companion

Don’t abandon me

Not by night nor by day

Don’t leave me alone

That I would become lost.

This was dictated to me by my students.
Here is a bonus adult prayer from an amulet for sale by one of the students:
Cuidame aunque no vaya a misa.
Please! [this is the English “please” spelled phonically by Spanish pronunciation rules–“Spanglish”]
Watch over me even if I don’t go to mass.
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Happy Mañanitas to You

This is the song the Mexicans in Chicago sing for birthdays, saint days, and the December midnight celebration for the Virgin of Guadalupe.  It’s called mañanitas, or little morning songs.  It is supposed to be sung outside someone’s window on their birthday or saint day.  The transcription, including accents, is the way my students wrote it on the blackboard.  The translation is my own with a few cultural hints from the students.

Estas son las mañanitas que cantaba el rey David,

Hoy por ser tu cumpaños (replace with “santo” for saint day)  te las cantamos a ti.

Despierta mi bien despierta, mira que ya amanacio.

ya los pajarillos cantan, la luna ya se metió.

These are the little morning songs that king David used to sing,

Today since it’s your birthday we sing them to you.

Wake up my love who is waking up, look, it’s already daylight.

already the birds sing, the moon already went down.

Que linda esta la mañana, en que vengo a saludarte,

venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte.

De los estrellas del cielo quisiera bajarte 2 [dos],

una para saludarte y otro para decirte adios.

How beautiful is the morning, in which I come to greet you,

We all come with pleasure and delight to greet you.

Of the stars in the sky I would want to bring down two for you

One to greet you and another to tell you goodbye (because I sing outside your window and you don’t come out to thank me.)

volaron 4 [cuatro] palomas por toditas las cuidades,

hoy por ser tu cumpeaños te deseamos felicidades.

Ya viene amaneciendo, ya luz del dia nos dio,

levantate de mañana mira, que ya amaneció.

four doves fly (in the four directions) towards all the cities,

today on account of being your birthday we desire your happiness.

Already the daybreak is coming, the light of the day you gave us (for being a special day),

Get up and look at the day,  that is already dawning .

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ipa-buttonThe International Phonetic System is a system of phonetic notation used to represent sounds in spoken language. Since I don’t have these memorized, and I’m tired of googling it, I hereby create a new sidebar button to the wikipedia article that seems most useful for looking them up.

This page has sounds you can listen to if you have your computer set up to play files with the .ogg extension.

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