Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Challenge: Know It's Compelling

Today, my Latin I students read Chapter 7 of the book Pluto: Fabula Amoris. My lesson plan was to project a word cloud with all the words in it and have them record the words they didn't know and, after reviewing those words, complete a Read, Discuss, and Draw and follow with a timed write. The majority of this is done in Latin, but I did spend a little time in English at the end to ensure everyone understood the cultural implications of what we were reading. What follows below is a short post on what I imagined would and what did happen.

What I expected

I really intended this to go smoothly and to take a class period. I expected some questions, a lot of answers, and a small discussion afterwards regarding culture. Something along the lines of:

Me: So, why is her choice to eat the fruit so important?
Students: Because it means she can't leave the Underworld.
Me: Any questions?
Students: No! We understand completely! 

What Actually Happened

Each period was different. I've written about them in no particular order. 
  • Class A - This class is one of my most animated when it comes to reactions. They react in the moment, almost in unison. When we got to the pivotal moment in the chapter, the entire class gasped just slightly, then sighed and there was a collective "aww".
  • Class B - This was probably my most interesting response of the day. This class read the chapter very quietly, and then there was an eruption of sadness and anger. This class really bonded with the characters in a way that no other class did and when those relationships were betrayed for love, they were actually upset and offended by this. There was a great discussion that went from being a cultural discussion to a discussion of vocabulary choice which, as one of the authors of this text, I found absolutely fascinating. It brought to light an interpretation and perspective I had not foreseen or been prepared for.
  • Class C - This class is later in the day and very expressive. We have a lot of great discussions but, equally, a lot of off in the wilderness moments too. By the time I got to this class, I didn't know what to expect. Theirs was the most expressive of the day. I'd chosen to pause and discuss right on the precipice of the action and I saw in their faces the anticipation of what was going to happen. When we finally read it, there was an audible sound from the majority of the class and with each sentence I could hear, I didn't even have to look, their reactions: "what?" "oh no!" *gasp* "awwww" "aaaaaaawwwwwwww"
  • Class D - This class tends to be more quiet in the moment and lets things sink in. Their reaction was almost unnoticeable, but they started a great discussion about the culture behind it. They wanted to know the why, the how, and the meaning behind it all. 
  • Class E - This particular class is very full of kids and personalities. Sometimes they enjoy things and sometimes they argue about things, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this group. What I found was an entire class of kids actively cheering for the romantic love story that reveals itself in this chapter. 

So, here's the challenge. Let's share our experiences, get others interested, and widen the comprehensible input community. Share a picture and/or a message on any social media platform (I'll be using Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) and tag it with the following: #iknowitscompelling

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Seek and Find: A Reading Activity

Recently we were working on a passage from Caesar in my class, and I felt that the students really did not have the section we were reading down and needed both more vocabulary review and more reading review of the section. Miriam and I brainstormed and created this really simple review that involved a huge number of repetitions and a little bit of tactile experience with the language.

For this particular text, which included a lot of complex and compound sentences, I took the passage and sectioned it out into clauses (you can see it here if you like). On the day I used it, I handed out a copy to each student and had them cut the sections out with a time limit of 5 minutes (otherwise they find ways to make cutting out rectangles take an entire period).

Starting with vocabulary I knew students were having trouble with, I called out the words in English and had them point to the correct Latin word in the text. We repeated the ones they were getting wrong until everyone was getting all of the words when they were called out. Then I said sentences in English and students had to hold the correct Latin sentences up. I also drew pictures for each clause and students had to find the sentence that matched the image I projected. Lastly I had them arrange the clauses back into the story.

Miriam did a variation where instead of the pictures, she described things in Latin and students had to hold up sentences that contained the thing described.

The idea is not super complex or original per se, but it created great buy in by the students, it was a great break from the regular activities we had been doing, created repetitions without being repetitive, and students came out of the activity with thorough comprehension of a section of Latin that they had been struggling with significantly before then.

Simple and effective, with minor preparation needed. Seek and find is now definitely a permanent addition to my reading toolbox.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Glorious Moment - They are Hooked!

In August Rachel began the year with an adapted novella for her Latin II classes. I also teach one class of Latin II, so I was able to follow along with her and experience much of the same things she did.

Now, in Latin I, we are reading the original Latin novella Pluto: fabula amoris. It is different from Rachel's because it is not a play, but rather a narration, told from people's point of view. I am building teachers' resources as I teach the novel (which will be offered through PBP later this year) and I am learning some things as I go. I borrowed from Rachel's experience, along with the plethora of research she and I did in the hopes of finding activities and suggestions for teaching a novella in a second language. I also am keeping notes on things I see in my students as well.

Building To It

We started the year using edited version of mythological stories Rachel wrote last year. They covered the beginning of the world, the birth of the gods, and introduced us to important characters like Jupiter, Juno, etc. Students were exposed to vocabulary based on frequency lists and the 50 Most Important Verbs list. As we read, the length of the readings increased slightly, but were still fairly short. We also discussed culture and mythology as well as the implications of it. 

I purposefully made sure that we'd learned most of the words in the novella by the time we read it. My intention was to spend a little time at the beginning of chapters filling in words, but by the time we got to the chapters with the action, just be reading with the class. 

Basic Structure

I will post more on this when I discuss the details of the teachers' resources for the book, but we've settled into a general schedule for things in which activities may vary or may be options for teachers and students:

Introduction and Vocabulary Instruction

This beginning section can include a variety of things and may be as simple as 5-10 minutes before reading or, in some cases, an entire day or week before reading. Here are some of the things we've done for this:
  • Culture videos, presentations, and discussions - Some of these will be included in the teachers' resources, others are readily available on the internet. I used a variety of videos, and artwork from various eras to introduce our two main characters and discuss perceptions of them, prior to reading. I also used this opportunity to pose questions that students have been considering as we read. Some will have definite answers in the book; others are open to interpretation. 
  • Activities with Vocabulary - You can see more details of the things I typically do here. This activity greatly varied in time depending on how far into the story we were and how many words needed to be introduced. Today, for example, we had two new words, so I introduced those words, we took brief notes, and then I circled them a little during our reading. At the beginning of the book, when we'd have 5-8 new words, I'd take a week or so to teach new words and circle.

Reading and Comprehension

I am including any and all activities that we use to ensure comprehension while reading in this section. Here is a link to some of the regular activities we use. Typically, I space these things out like this:

  • Dictatio - I only do this for some chapters. Since they were short, I did not want to do one every time. These activities are very useful, but only if done once in a while. They are tedious and students tire of them very quickly.
  • Reading and Discussion - This can take many forms. I try to alternate between them to keep things moving and give students lots of ways to demonstrate their understanding. This usually takes between 1-2 days to do, depending on the activity. 
  • Comprehension Checks - These activities reinforce the reading, help me see just how much students understand on their own, and provide support for students who need more. These can be whole class activities (like the seek and find activity we're doing today - Rachel will post on this later), group activities (like musical/popcorn reading) or individual (use of the reading guides, comic strips, etc.)

Follow Up

One of my first presentations that I gave to my colleagues was on teaching culture in the target language. Since then, I've tried as much as I can to make culture applicable to students and keep as much as I can in the target language. The same holds true when I consider teaching culture in my novella. So far, I've been keeping a list of things students ask questions about and things that I want to teach. I will discuss this in more detail when I finish the teachers' resources, but for now, we've done a variety of activities including:

  • Artwork Discussions - Latin and English
  • Character Analysis - Latin and English -
  • Reflection on Products, Perspectives, and Practices  - Mostly English - Students write, or discuss, in English the products, perspectives, and practices of Roman life based on our readings.
  • Discovery of Traditions (Practices) - Mostly Latin - I am writing a follow up post on this for the teachers resources; essentially I am using dictations, picture vocabulary, and manipulatives to teach culture traditions. 
  • Audio Recordings - Latin - As we've posted before here and here, we're beginning to build students' listening skills with audio activities. We pair these with text, an opportunity to take notes and discuss, and, often, artwork. 


I am still working on teaching this novella and I find myself trying to come up with new ways to teach vocabulary and the text so the kids don't get bored. What I've found, however, is that a compelling text that is in their range keeps them from getting bored. We are now in the section of the text where actions are occurring and things are getting interesting. Students are asking to know what happens next, who people are, why they are doing what they are doing. They want to know when we'll see certain characters again and what people are thinking. They are analysing on their own, without little to no guidance from me and, as I teach this, I am finding their interests and aspects of history and culture that go with this novella that I otherwise wouldn't have thought of. 

Do you have success teaching a novella? Do you have any suggestions for my class? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Standards Based Grading - a mid semester update

It's now been three months with grade books and assessing strategies completely aligned with Standards Based Grading. So far, we've posted three times in particular about how we are using Standards Based grading:

For this mid semester update, I want to focus on the reactions we've had to what we are doing and the things we're noticing in our students. 

Grading Procedures and Schedules
Doing this the way we are, by using Active Grade in conjunction with our county grade books has resulted in a few road blocks that we are over coming, but also some interesting things we otherwise wouldn't be able to do. 

  1. Extra Time - Yes, doing it this way requires extra time from us. It takes me longer because I enter grades into Active Grade (which does all the math for me, so I think it's worth it) and then transfer them to our county grade book. What I have done is that I separate my schedule out and grade one class a day and transfer grades once per class each week. A student or parent can log onto Active Grade at any time, but since our county grade books only update at night anyways, we can do this once a week. We are all handling this in our own way, but this is what I've found works for me. It also keeps the pile of work to pass out from stacking up and getting mixed together.
  2. Saved Comments - Using Active Grade allows me to put in specific comments per student, per standard, per assignment. These comments are saved online for my or their viewing any time. Unlike a traditional grade book where the grade is input and nothing else, I can pass messages to students and save them so that when a parent or student comes to me with questions, a record is saved. Since it is done by standard, comments have moved away from things like, "you missed 5 questions" to "you should try the following extra exercises to help with this" or "you got this grade because you...." They are more detailed and personalised. 
  3. Student Perspective - The by far most difficult part of this, I feel, is changing the student perspective. When I presented the idea both to my former students, and to this year's students, they were on board, but they struggle to understand that the numbers mean different things. Whenever I pass back a test, or quiz, or assignment I get a barrage of, "what does 4 mean?", "I missed 2 questions, what grade is that?", etc. I have to remind them that they  need to check Active Grade and familiarise themselves with the proficiency guidelines. Some are becoming familiar and appreciate how things are being done, others are trying to master this new territory, but need more guidance. 
  1. Terminology - I have really had to change my terminology when considering assessments with SBG. Students have commented how my assessments (see bullet point 2) are more like their quizzes in other classes rather than tests, so we've changed the name from quiz or test to quest. Students aren't panicking and appreciate the brevity, clarity, and content of the assessments. Students are also understanding now how each assessment is broken into sections by standard. It makes it clearer for them, and reminds them, what we expect them to be proficient in and gives a nice guideline of what they need to work on, should their proficiency level be low. 
  2. Structure - It occurred to me as I was writing my first test that, if I'm grading by proficiency in standard, I really ought to separate the test by standard, so I began doing that. Rachel was thinking along the same lines and we've both found it very helpful for students and for us. Organising the assessments this way speeds up grading tremendously and allows for easier commenting on proficiency. Grades are no longer about missing a certain number of questions, but rather about how proficient someone is in a certain skill.
  3. Teacher Perspective - By assessing standards repeatedly and in multiple ways, I view assessments very differently. I no longer view them as this end all activity that students must make a certain grade on for us to move forward, but rather a checkpoint. What standards are they proficient in? What standards do we need to practice more (see our recent posts: The Fault in our Plans and Robert Patrick's Guest Post)? It is like a little reminder each time of where we are, where we've been, and where we are going.
Student Voice
  1. Confidence - Students seem somewhat more confident when it comes to their voice, their concerns, and their needs. Students know what is expected of them more clearly and so they know what they need to do or what they need to ask for. 
  2. Student Choice - Without a textbook, student can have a real say in what they are learning. This year in Latin I, I've decided that I want them to read longer readings and really learn how to communicate in Latin (based on our standards) at a deeper level. To that end, I gave students choices for the Spring semester. All were longer readings (novels really), but they had a wide span of content from science and history to legend to fantasy and adventure. The students really appreciated being able to make their own choice, which means they will enjoy what we do next semester - making for happy students and happy teachers. 
I'd love to hear if you guys are trying Standards Based Grading and how it is going for you. Are you seeing these things? What else are you observing?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Guest Post: Success is often the product of a failure or two

Robert Patrick Ph.D., a colleague of ours, and my father as offered this guest post as a follow up to my post on "The Fault in our Plans". I am excited to share this post with you as he and I have continued this work with our students.

Success is often the product of a failure or two.  Or more.  Unfortunately, in the behaviorist world of rewards and punishments to which most schools belong, we don’t cultivate an awareness that allows us to see the relationship of success to failure.  Our continued journey into Untextbooking and Standards Based Grading is allowing us to work on those deeply ingrained reactions:  when I fail--panic!  When I succeed--be surprised!

Miriam has written of our recent “midterm mishap” as we are now calling it.  I had seen another colleague do this wonderful assessment in which he described animals with colors, shapes, sizes, locations, geographical forms, habitats etc in the target language and students simply wrote down the names of the animals.  It was an exquisitely good example of listening comprehension based on a significant amount of daily input from the teacher up to that point.  I suggested we use the same format for our midterm, describing gods and goddesses, their features, realms, relationships and activities in Latin.  All students would have to do is write down the deity’s name.  

There was one problem.  We had not included a significant amount of listening input up to that point.  No question that we verbally circled all the new vocabulary, but when it came to describing gods and goddesses and telling their stories, we did that primarily through reading and discussion, in Latin.

The midterm was a bomb.  There were moments of panic.  And then we remembered that we did not have a textbook to cover.  We were grading by standards and not individual tests.  We had all the freedom we needed to back up and begin giving students a significant amount of input about these gods and goddesses in their stories.  Rather than reading, we did three days of telling, listening and clarifying comprehension.  We gave the midterm again, and they well exceeded the 80/80 rule (where 80% or more of the students score 80% or higher on the assessment).

Built on that midterm mishap, we have created a new kind of experience--whether through live oral reading or audio recordings (saves the voice a bit) students listen to the story of Pluto and Proserpina as we read together Pluta: Fabula Amoris.  As we describe a scene or character or set of characters Latine tantum, students write down notes about the character and scene.  After listening, we ask students to tell us back what they have heard.  They use their notes.  They add to their notes from what their peers say.  Then, after listening to these scenes, we break out the books and they silently read the appropriate capitulum from the novella. After the reading, they did a 10 timed write in which they wrote all that they could about Pluto and Proserpina.  

Students blew their own minds!  One student who had only been able to write 6 words on his first timed write wrote 93 about Pluto and Proserpina--in ten minutes.  A young lady who had still not performed so well on the midterm was diligently involved in the listening and volunteering to tell what she heard.  She increased her writing from 10 words the first time to 23 words the second time.  There was not a single student who didn’t best his/her own writing record after this combination of listening and reading.

Right now, my personal reminder is written on the wall:  Listen.  Read.  Write.  In Comprehensible Input terms, that amounts to doubled effort on input before any output.  

When things don’t go well in a CI classroom, it really is a golden opportunity.  We should refuse to see it as anything else.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Snake of a Different Color: A Review Game

Not too long ago, I posted about a worksheet I gave out to my students named "Serpens" due to the way I wanted students to choose their activities.

This time, this is a game called "Serpens," named for the snake I draw on the board; I got the game from the beauteous and sagacious Caroline Miklosovic, one of my colleagues at my school.

The game is called Serpens and it requires little preparation on your part, though it should review material that students are very familiar with.

The serpens before the game starts.
  • Create a list of questions concerning your material. For my most recent game, I used vocabulary students would see in the reading we were working on and comprehension questions about the story. I created a list of forty questions, and I think that is a good number--we never ran out of questions but we didn't leave too many questions unanswered.
  • Draw a snake on the board. Or have a student do it. The snake should be divided into two and segmented into twenty sections on each side.
That's it!

Game Play

The class is divided into two teams (Red vs Blue in my class).
The finished snake!

I ask the first student in the Red team a question. If that student gets the question right, his team gets to color in a segment. If that student misses, the Blue team gets to try to steal the question. I let anyone who raises his hand on the Blue team answer. If the Blue team answers correctly, they get to color in a segment.

Then I ask the first student in the Blue team and the pattern repeats. If the student on the Blue team gets the answer correct, he colors in a segment. If he misses, the Red team gets a chance to steal. The final segment is the head, and that may have inspired me to suggest to the class that they are actually battling for control of the snake's mind and their future survival (the losing team is subsumed into the will of the winners). Just to up the stakes a little.

The game is quick; I paired it with a Kahoot to finish up the class. But it's a nice, relaxing way to review a story and another way to create repetition without being repetitive!

Miriam had her students draw the snake and had them fill in their own segments. Some cool art followed!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The fault in our plans

I have the awesome privilege of working with three other amazing Latin teachers. As we continue on this journey of untextbooking and Standards Based Grading, we are documenting a lot. We document everything from amazing lesson plans we fall in love with to assessments that really speak to what we are doing to student feedback to lesson plans that fail. Today is a post about a plan that failed.

Robert Patrick and I administered a Latin I midterm. What we discovered after the midterm was that we, as teachers, had not prepared students for the skill we needed them to have for the midterm like we thought we'd had. In this post, I am going to separate things out as follows: What we did, what we learned, and how we fixed the issue.

What We Did

The idea for this midterm's format was based on a great assessment in another teacher's classroom. The midterm would consist of a listening section where characters we'd been reading about were read to students and students had to identify the character. In preparation for this, we gave student a list of descriptions and asked them to identify each character listed and make a picture for them. We also created a series of kahoot games to help them review shorter descriptions. Below is the script made for teachers at the very beginning.

For the midterm, we read the shorter descriptions and students were to write down the name of the character. We provided a character bank, but while there were 9 characters (Chaos was left out), there were 20 blanks, providing for multiple examples of each character.

What the midterm looked like for this section

What We Learned

It became very apparent to us that students were not prepared for this portion of the exam. I think a lot of things ran through our minds: Did they not study? Did I misread their comprehension? Did we not spend enough time discussing in Latin? What we discovered was that while this skill is necessary and is one we thought we had been preparing for, it differed from what we are doing in class enough that students needed more practice specifically in this skill.

Listening vs. Listening with visuals

I realised after our first of (honestly) about four discussions on this that we had been speaking Latin, regularly, to our students, but each time we provided some kind of visual:
  • teacher created images
  • student created images
  • text
  • cloze passages
  • parallel universe passages
  • questions
  • false statements
Even when we do TPRS stories and TPR, visuals accompany listening skills. Students perform actions, demonstrate items, hold stuffed animals, watch the teacher for visual clues, and have vocabulary written on the board and referenced. All of these things are great activities and help build skills, including listening comprehension, but they do not prepare students for listening without visual aids. 

Fixing the Issue

The solution to this issue, we determined, is two-fold. First, we must re-administer the midterm. Second, we must prepare students better for this skill in the future.

The Midterm

We decided to re-administer this portion of the midterm. Students had the option, if they scored 16/20 or better to retake. If they scored less than 16/20 they were required to retake. In preparation for this retest we decided on two days of review to build the skill, in group levels, and individually. Robert Patrick put together my descriptions into their long form again, but only what was on the midterm, and recorded audio of these descriptions. On day one, students were placed in groups randomly and told that by the end of the period, they should be able to complete this activity on their own. We played the audio one by one and told students how many indicators each set of audio had. The audio played the description three times. Students identified the character and all of the indicators/descriptors each character had. On day two, we'd repeat this activity, but students would do it individually. On day three, we'd re-administer this portion of the midterm.


  1. Play recording (created by Robert Patrick)
  2. Identify character - Saturnus
  3. Identify 9 indicators
    English - Titan king, his mother was Gaia, his father was Uranus, he had a sister, his sister's name was Rhea, he had six sons and daughters, he feared his sons and daughters, he ate five sons and daughters, he ate one rock
    Latin - rex Titanius, mater erat Gaia, pater erat Uranus, deus sororem habebat, nomen sorori erat Rhea, sex filios et filias habebat, filios et filias timebat, quinque filios et filias comedit, unum saxum comedit

Preparing for the Future

We are still working on ways to foster this particular skill in the future (and are putting an all call for ideas!) So far, we've come up with some ways to practice this skill daily, weekly, or every once in a while.
  • extended TPR (longer instructions)
  • review of previous day's story (what kids remember happening)
  • character/item descriptions (much like the activity in the midterm)
  • listen and draw (teacher reads description, students draw what [s]he says)


This, I feel, was an important process for me. I am already seeing my thought processes change because of Standards Based Grading, and for the better. While this plan was, originally, a failure, it has really guided my thought processes even more to be even more critical of what I am teaching and how. It also points to a skill that, often as Latin teacher, we overlook. We are really good at using readings and visuals, but we miss the listening part by itself. Robert and I have discussed ways to ensure that our students are proficient in this skill. I know that I am now looking for ways to incorporate it into my daily practice. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

PBP announcing: Plutonis et Petri Book Review Promotion!

Check out our new promotion and maybe win a couple of books!

First, read the free preview versions of each book here. Then follow the directions below to enter the contest.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Everyone needs a little R, R, and R

I am very excited to write this post. This is something that I've been working on since we decided to switch to Standards Based Grading: R, R, and R, or, Review, Reach, and Relax.

My original idea was that every once in a while, we'd give kids a chance to get some review, do some extra work that they needed or wanted, and connect with each other in a way they may otherwise not. Since then, we've all been working on ways to make this work well inside a classroom.

What is it?

What it isn't:

  • a free day
  • a day to work on other classes' work
  • a day to check out
  • a sleeping day

What it is:

  • an opportunity to get extra work and prove proficiency
  • an opportunity to make up missing work
  • an opportunity to get tutoring
  • an opportunity to go beyond requirements and prove proficiency
  • a brain break

Set Up:

We began by creating a document with each standard at the top of a page. Then, as we go through activities and content, we add possible review, and reach activities to help students demonstrate proficiency. Here's the Latin I list of activities.

For relaxing activities, we all offer whatever we have. Rachel has more games than I, but what I offer is: card games (regular cards and Crazy 8s), various puzzles, the lego Minotaur game, or books in Latin, on history, and on culture to read. I am trying to expand this whenever I stop by the dollar store or Target and look at the simple game and puzzles they have. I also bring in books, and am looking at games made for Latin as well.

How it works in real time:

We've so far done this two ways. Rachel gave an entire day to Latin II to work and I gave half a day to Latin I. I'm breaking these down a few ways: procedure, observations, changes.

Latin II - Full Day


Rachel and I posted all the standards we had activities for on the board and asked students to check their grades. If they had less than an 85% proficiency rating overall, they were required to work to bring up this grade. If they had better than an 85% proficiency rating overall, they could choose to better their grade or relax with some activities. 


These are observations of my own:
  • Most, if not all students met the requirements.
  • Because of their grades, few students chose to better their grade.
  • Students chose a brain break and really got into it, making for a great bonding experience
  • Because of the variety of activities, everyone had an opportunity to do something.
  • Students seemed to appreciate the opportunity, and were very open to this new way of doing this.


Rachel and I discussed a few things and I am making these changes for next time.
  • More activity options for each standard
  • More relax activities to make smaller groupings
  • More time between R, R, and R days instead of the planned once every two weeks.
  • Take students to a computer lab and go over how Active Grade specifically works so that they can use it properly and not just as a "viewing" of their grades.

Latin I - Half a period


We began our day with a review of a story we'd read. I was out the previous day and so this was a great way for me to see if students understood. Then, I explained R, R, and R day and my requirements. The main difference here is that I did not offer all standards or activities and I added a requirement. Students must have a proficiency grade of 85% overall and if they had a 0 or 1 in any standard (50-60%), they had to work on that standard, or a similar one. If they met both requirements, they could better their grade, or choose a relaxing activity. The other difference is that, in these classes, I did review grades and pulled students who were missing grades and asked them to complete an assignment.


  • Most students met at least one requirement, if not both.
  • Students were very open to completing or re-doing assignments, more than I've seen in the past where make up work or tutoring is extra and outside of class.
  • Students found assignments easy to complete quickly.
  • Students chose a brain break and really got into it, making for a great bonding experience.
  • Because of the variety of opportunities, everyone had an opportunity to do something.
  • Students seemed to appreciate the opportunity, and were very open to this new way of doing this.
  • Half a period seemed like an appropriate amount of time to do this in for Latin I.


These are changes that I either wanted to do this time, but couldn't, or things that I noticed as the day went on. Between the Latin II day and the Latin I day, I did have time to bring in a few more books, Crazy 8s, and a new puzzle, so I even could implement the smaller group change.
  • Take students to a computer lab to go over Active Grade so they feel more comfortable using it.
  • Schedule another R, R, and R day in 2 weeks or so. 

Final Thoughts

I am really happy with this activity. I think, after doing it twice, and typing up this post, that it serves a lot of great purposes. My hope is that the more we do this, the more benefit the kids get. 
  1. Allows me to check in with students
  2. Allows students to really understand grades and proficiency levels
  3. Allows students to have a brain break.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Extra Extra! Read All About It! One Sentence Stories

As we progress through our first year of complete Standards Based Grading, I find myself being more critical of the assignments and tests I give. I also find myself trying to find new ways to assess things, while still keeping the affective filter low for my students. One of our county standards is that students can write simple sentences appropriate to their level in Latin. In Latin II and above, this isn't such a big problem because they already have experience with this through timed writes and they can write for longer. In Latin I, however, I need to ease them into writing and prepare them for timed writes, which we plan to start in a week or so.

To achieve this, I've started including some basic writing and transcribing activities like:

I wanted one more activity, with a little more freedom, to review vocabulary and see what skills they'd already picked up (while not grading those skills for accuracy). So, we did an activity called
One Sentence Stories. 


I set this up very simply by creating a document with instructions and also an approved list of words. I expanded this list to include est (is) and et (and), as well as the new words we'd learned that day on the board. Students were to write a single sentence that could tell a story, much like a newspaper headline. While their sentences could be simple and didn't have to be "above the fold" quality  (if you will), they needed to be interesting and make sense. Students then accompanied them with a detailed picture. The picture gave the assignment a visual quality and a fail-safe which allowed me to understand what they were saying even if the sentence wasn't perfect. These were graded on a 5 point scale as follows:

0 - student wrote English sentence, or only submitted a picture
1-2 - Student wrote an English sentence with a Latin word or two
2-3 - Student attempted a Latin sentence, but used names instead of Latin words or the sentence didn't make sense
3-4 - Sentence mostly made sense, but had an extra word (or was missing one)
4-5 - Sentence made sense and may have had the extra verb "est" (see observations below)

  1. Students got very excited with this activity. The vocabulary list provided assistance, but also kept the assignment simple enough for those still working on vocabulary acquisition.
  2. Most students worked with what they were given. Some wanted to know extra words or constructions. I told them to "work within the confines of what we know."
  3. The most, by far, common mistake was that students would put "est" (is) and another verb. This is a reflection of how English works. In English, we often use a helping verb along with
    another for present tense. In Latin, however, this is not the case. I've seen this mistake year after year, so I am not at all surprised by it. I did not cause a huge deduction on account of this because it is a common mistake for beginners to make. I do, however, want to draw their attention to it. 
  4. Students were excited to be using vocabulary outside of the context of our stories.

  • This was a great way to get kids thinking outside the box. They weren't tied to the mythology we'd been reading and were able to enjoy the vocabulary in a new way. 
  • There were lots of grammar mistakes, but I know these to be later acquired for a Latin I class.
  • I know which vocabulary the students know really well and which they don't. 
  • My purpose was to see if they were able to use Latin vocabulary to create simple, meaningful sentences. They were. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Announcing! Pluto: fabula amoris

Salvete! Hola! Bonjour! Assalam wa Aleikum! Anyeonghaseyo! Shalom! Guten Morgen! Caio!  (and that about exhausts the languages I can say hello in easily and confidently) Rachel and I wanted to take this opportunity to announce, rather excitedly I might add, the publishing of our first Latin novella - Pluto: fabula amoris (from Amazon and Create Space).

I mean for this to be a short announcement post, as I will follow in a few months with a more detailed post and some teacher's resources, but there are a few things I'd like to point out on behalf of Rachel and myself.

This project has been a long time dream of both Rachel's and mine and we are so excited to get to share it with you. In the process of publishing, Rachel and I also decided to take the leap and add our name as publishers. We are officially opening Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing for business.

We've added a page to the blog discussing the novella a little more as well as Pomegranate Beginnings' other upcoming resources. You'll also notice an about us page with a specific contact form.

When we published, Rachel and I were hopeful to receive support, but I can safely say that both she and I are so thankful for all the support and congratulations we've received from, not just the Latin community, but from the teaching community as a whole. So, from the bottom of our hearts, Thank you! Thank you for reading, sharing, and responding. Thank you for letting us succeed and fail in front of you! :) Maximas gratias vobis agimus!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Serpens, an Easy Assignment for Both SBG and non-SBG Classes

Standards Based Grading is making me think a lot about how I design assignments and lessons. I think more inclusively and instead of designing assignments because I think they'll be good and useful, I consider their end results and whether I'm reaching my desired goals.

This is a two-day assignment (really about a day 1/2) I created for my students after we read a scene of a play I previously adapted for my classes. It's pretty straight forward, so I'm not typing a lot here to introduce it. Just a quick caveat. If you grade this with detail (which I chose to do), it takes some time to grade, probably 2-3 minutes per paper, so this can be a big investment. But the activities involved require and inspire an in-depth look at a reading and its vocabulary, so I feel it was a good activity--just not one I'll do too often.

Feel free to make a copy of this to your own files and change it to fit your classes!

Monday, August 24, 2015

SBG - Putting it in Action

In 2014, I posted my first post on Standards Based Grading. I had done my research and wanted to make things work within the confines I felt I had at the time and, while it worked, and my students and parents were happy, I still felt like I wasn't fully committing to SBG. This year, Rachel, I and our colleagues have made the decision to use SBG fully, along with untextbooking. So, here is our update.

After doing my research (shared at the end of the post), I took a look at some examples of how it was being done. The issue I ran into is that we are required to use a certain percentage spread in our gradebooks. So, I got a little creative. I knew I wanted to incorporate our county standards as well as some national standards. So, what I came up with was this:

  1. Final Exam - remains the same; most counties dictate this anyways, so I did nothing to it. In the gradebook it will read "final exam".
  2. Summative Assessments - county/state standards; these are the things that we have to justify if someone were to ask what we were teaching. We don't teach a textbook; we are held to the standards. Most of the time your school will have these ready for you on paper or online. If your county doesn't have them, you might look at state standards. 
  3. Formative Assessments - commonly called "classwork"; ACTFL can do statements; I have really been pushing myself towards using the standards more often. I want kids to have useful tools for evaluating themselves and I want my evaluations to mean something. 
When I presented it to my colleagues, we were all in agreement that this would work as long as each grade counted just enough to make a difference. Nothing gets to kids more than working hard on an assignment and not having it count at all in the final grade. When we broke it down, the standards came out to Summative Assessments being about 4% each and Formative Assessments being about 3%. This is just enough to count and make a difference. 

Tracking Tools
We all have different ways of tracking kids progress, but we all agreed to record our grades and notes into a program called Active Grade. Here's a good analysis of Active Grade. We settled on Active Grade because it let us put in actual assignment grades, but grade standards within the assignment. We also liked it because it allows students to see their progress. It is completely customisable to your grading preferences and I've found it easy to move between classes, transfer students, and enter grades.

In addition to this, we all have our own methods of tracking kids in the moment. So far I've discovered that using SBG makes grading a lot easier, even though I may be assessing more than one standard:
  • I can easily use Active Grade and assign some high flyers a single assignment and give them a grade for moving ahead without penalising others.
  • I can quickly make marks in a notebook on student comprehension and activity and quickly translate that to the Active Grade gradebook.
  • I can separate tests into the standards they work with. Students, parents, and myself are all clearly aware of what skill eat item tests. If I do it before giving the test, grading is simplified as well.
  • Students can come in for very specific help, knowing exactly which skill they need help with. I can easily track that if I wish as well.
On Monday, we are going to have our first check in meeting where we'll see how we are all doing with Standards Based Grading. So far, I've gotten good feedback from the kids which I'll share in my next post on this. There are, however, a few things we're going to try and address over these next few weeks. My next post will not only be an update on how things are going, but about the problems we've come up with and how we've addressed them. My question to you all is this: Would you try SBG? Why not? What's your biggest concern about SBG?

Research Links and Resources

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Some Bumps on the Road to Teaching a Novella

I have never taught a novella before. Okay, correction, I've taught novellas and novels in Language Arts (mostly in students' native languages), but I've never taught a Latin novella before.

Because I've never had one.

There's a plethora of Latin out there--endless tomes--and there are some (by no means a plethora) Latin adaptations of modern materials, so it would seem like I should have taught a novella before. However, none of those materials are good for beginning students, and even though thanks to embedded readings and comprehensible strategies I'm using authentic works, they are short passages and sections of larger works, not extensive in nature.

Needless to say, there have been a few false starts, and I can't even guarantee that I'm on the right path even now, but here's things I have tried and what I'm currently trying:

Groups decoding with reading aloud after

The very first thing I tried was to have students in groups translate (aloud, not written) the first scene of my novella (technically a play, but at 37 pages, it counts as a short novel) together and, once they had worked out the meaning, I read the scene aloud to them with emotion, since it is a play and therefore meant to be heard.

Pros: Students were tackling longer readings than they ever had in Latin I. There was laughter (good, because the play is a comedy) and students generally had a good idea of what the main struggle between the characters was.

Cons: While students had a good idea of the basic plot and struggle, they missed a lot of the detail and did not gain the level of review and reading fluency I was looking for.

Groups decoding with whole-class review after

Because I was worried about the level of comprehension after the first scene, I moved on to doing a whole-class review after students translated in groups. I simply went through lines, clarified meanings, and made sure that the play-by-play was perfectly understood.

Pros: Students knew what it said, if they could stay focused the entire time I talked. There was laughter (but not much).

Cons: It just seemed flat. It seemed to ruin the scene, honestly, and the scene became less enjoyable for all of us. In addition, I felt the comedy was getting lost.

Reading to the class with circling

Instead of letting students work their way through a recent scene first, I read the scene to them, worked them through the meanings of every line, asked questions about every line for clarification, and then discussed cultural necessities to help students understand the situation and humor.

Pros: Despite having each line talked into the ground, students seemed to enjoy this scene more. We even played VINCO (inspired by Martina Bex's strip bingo post, but regular bingo boxes that were marked off as we progressed through the scene) during the scene and some students forgot to mark off vocabulary because they were so involved in the story. Helping them find that humor angle and helping them understand the lines very thoroughly (and acting my heart out as an ugly-crying-unreasonably-unhappy Adulescens) really made the experience much more enjoyable for both myself and my students--while they had a secondary task (VINCO).

Cons: Without the secondary task (we didn't finish the first day and I didn't want to break out the VINCO cards for just a quarter of the scene), this began to fall flat. Also, my throat very sincerely hurts because booming through that scene so repeatedly after only a week and a half back to work did a number on it.

What I think I'm learning:
  1. Students are dealing with longer readings so much more positively than they did last year and that is the only kind of reading they are doing. I have three guesses as to why:
    1. They haven't been in class since last year and have forgotten the average length of the stories.
    2. When they see 37 pages, any time I'm just focusing on two pages seems like a small amount.
    3. The scenes are all based on review vocabulary, so perhaps there's just ease in the reading that keeps them from worrying about the length.
  2. A secondary focus is helpful.
  3. Cultural context is a must. They need to know that it's extra funny for a slave to talk back to his master in Ancient Rome and that crying incessantly over a girl is very unmasculine especially when most marriages are arranged and love is not a normal life goal.
  4. I naturally think in terms of physical comedy (competitive speech student here) and forget that my students probably don't. I need to help them fill that gap.
What I'm doing next:

After I finish reviewing the current scene (we're doing a read, draw, and discuss of the scene--a description is included in Miriam's post over reading activities), I am considering setting up jigsaw experts: students in groups work to really know a section of the scene, then are remixed into groups so that each group has experts for every section of the scene. I'll do an updated blog to report how things progress!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Archery Lesson: A Short Reflection

Today, while I was watching my son at his archery event, I couldn't help but notice a young lady who was struggling. She was young, like the group my son was shooting with, but shooting from much farther away and aiming at a smaller target than they were, like the older archery kids. She only rarely struck the target. She did not look like she was having fun.

After the ten rounds were done and the kids were tallying their scores, the coach (who deftly manages to balance the emotional, developmental, and archerial (?) needs of kids between the ages of 8 and 18) approached her, and I heard this conversation (which I immediately wrote down):

"I did horrible."

"No you didn't. This is your first time to shoot [a] 40 centimeters [target] and your first time to shoot 18 meters [distance]. How do you know what horrible is? You scored 78. Now that's your baseline. We'll look for improvement. So if you score 82 next time, that counts as a good score." [It may help to know that 300 is a perfect score, and most kids there were scoring in the 200s.]

Aside from reinforcing my already good opinion of him and his coaching, this conversation struck home (and inspired frantic note-taking) because it's exactly what I wish for education. Exactly. Personal, progress-based goals that take into account where students start.

Instead I teach in a national system that believes if we tell students how much they should know at what age, that's the best way to Race to the Top with No Kid Left Behind. If we keep throwing tests their way eventually students will just give in and learn on our schedule instead of their own.

I love what I saw demonstrated today. I want that for every kid in every subject in every school.

I'll continue to focus on progress within the structure of our current educational system.

I'll continue to share ideas and hope for change.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Making the most of my classroom

This year, I am starting out at a new school after 5 1/2 years in a single school. This pre-planning week has been a whirlwind of information and names (which I'm going to get down, I swear). This week, also, has been very reflective for me on how I'm going to make this new classroom mine. It is very different from the classroom I had at my old school and I want it to reflect so much; not just what I'm teaching, but also who I am as a teacher, who they are as students, our school, and I still want it to be useful to them.

I spent a good deal of my summer looking at ways to make my room visually appealing and organised while keeping in the back of my mind my goals for making my room useful to my students, especially as I continue with my colleagues into the world of untextbooking. Here is what I've come up with:

My Game Station

  1. Game Station - This is a brand new idea I'm trying out this year. We all hear about things like remediation, differentiation, review, etc. I've spent years searching for a way to make all of these easier in my classroom. Since we are also trying out Standards Based Grading this year, I thought of this new way to do all these things, while still giving kids a choice.

    In the game station, I've included culture books in English, books in Latin, card games, a board game (although I want more), and vocabulary books. When we have "remediation days" (I'm playing with names....) students will choose to work on a standard, for which I've set up groups and activities or, if they and I are happy with their proficiency grades, they may choose an activity from the game station (more to come in an SBG post). My goal is to keep students focused and learning, and allow students to improve proficiency in the standards, while still allowing some freedom and options for those who are happy or who get done early. The game station might also be used on substitute days, or when a student finishes a test early.
  2. Student Supply Center - I've done this for years, but this year I'm expanding it a bit more. A few months ago, I came across this list, and it validated my thoughts on my supply center. I don't know what my kids walk into my room with. Some have lots of money, some participate in extra curriculars, some are failing half their classes, etc. I want to do what I can to make my classroom a safe place. Further, I want the focus in my room to be on Latin, not whether or not Johnny has a blank sheet of paper or Misty has a pencil.

    I don't tape big objects to my pencils or stamp my paper with "property of" stamps. My supplies are free and clear. They have signs that say "take one". They also have signs that say, "provide one if you can." I've done a student supply center for years and I've found that it is one of the easiest ways to foster a sense of community and good will. Just as there are kids who have no paper ever, there are kids who have an over abundance of paper. They will donate it if they can. Students leave pencils behind all the time. My students know that if they do that, the pencils and pens will go straight to the supply center for them or someone else to use. This year, I expanded the center to include a student stapler, a hole punch, and sticky notes. It has always had, and continues to have, paper, pencils, pens, highlighters, and index cards. 
    Student Supply Center

    I know this topic can be controversial to some people. Students need to learn to be prepared. Students will take advantage. Teachers don't have a lot of money to spend on this. These are all true to varying extents. Sometimes kids do take advantage; and sometimes, taking advantage is a cry for help. Just because Misty has taken a pencil every day this week, doesn't mean she is lazy or forgetful. It might mean that she really truly has none, or that she goes home and her little siblings need one. Students do need to learn responsibility. I try to model that through caring.
  3. Posters
  4. Motivational Posters - I chose these carefully this year. I didn't want them  to motivate kids so much in Latin, but to motivate them to enjoy life and be proud of themselves. poster envy has lots of great posters for around $8 each. The two I've purchased so far say two of my favourite things: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid." AND "Life is about using the whole box of crayons." I think the things we choose to put up on our walls greatly influence our kids. I know that I, as a student, always looked around and see how a teacher decorated his/her walls. Was his/her focus on getting my to turn in homework and walk in with a smile, no matter what? Or, was his/her focus on helping me feel better about myself, be confident, and enjoy school?
  5. Bulletin Board - I was blessed this year with two bulletin boards. It does take up valuable wall space, so I decided to do as much as I could to make the most out of it. One board I dedicated to student work. I went a little pinterest crazy and painted clothespins to hang up and pin student work up because I hate having too many staples in a bulletin board. The other I divided into three sections, only one of which I'm focusing on in this post: first, a wall of victory, second, a Junior Classical League section, and third, a place for school news and announcements. 
    The orange is our wall of victory

    This will be my second year implementing a wall of victory. I had great success last year. The wall of victory is designed by me, but filled by students, and is a place for them to proclaim their victories. Last year I had everything from high test scores, first occurrences of Bs and As, finally understanding certain topics, sports victories, vacations, and even thank yous. Thank yous for supplies, food, and even for telling a kid his shoe was untied. These victories may be huge or they may be small. They may be school related or personal. I don't require names. What I've found from this is that it increases morale in the room tenfold and kids love reading about each other. I also get to know my kids more and, on some occasions, pull information from that to email parents or build stories in class.
  6. Word Wall - Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of this yet, but when I do, I plan to make a whole post on them. My word wall may be one of the most important visual features of my room this year. In the past, I've organised the word wall alphabetically, and by theme. This year, I'm doing it completely differently. I'm organising it by question word, but more on that in a later post. No matter how you organise your word wall, no matter what language you teach, no matter what subject you teacher, I encourage everyone to have a word wall. There were countless times as a student when I was writing on a test, or an essay and I couldn't recall a certain word. My teachers were, mostly forgiving if I got it slightly wrong, but my stress level sky rocketed when that happened and I am most certain that my test or my essay suffered for it. As a Latin teacher, my goal is to get kids communicating, not hung up on a word, so I have a word wall. I really do want a separate post on this, and since I don't have pictures yet, here are some ideas for a word wall and its organisation:
  • organise words by part of speech
  • colour code words by part of speech
  • organise words by unit, or lesson
  • have students write words on paper for posting, instead of you doing it
  • have students draw pictures to represent each word for posting
  • take words down that you are 100% sure all students know
  • update it daily/weekly
  • have a student update it for you
  • use the wall to create quick review lessons or activities

I am writing this post because I believe classroom organistation is important. I often joke that I got my organisation from my elementary school mother because I really do like things colour coded, symmetrical, and pretty, and I do tend to make Pinterest my best friend, technologically speaking. This year I've really tried to hone my skills and make my room truly useful, not just pretty. How do you organise your room? Go sit in a student's chair and see what is really visible from it. Are the things you want them to see actually easy to see and read? What message do you send your kids about your class by the things you choose do show?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Untextbooking: Getting Ready for School Part 3

I wish I had more to update, but I've really been overwhelmed in adapting the play and getting my room ready and teacher meetings (my school is one of the best about keeping meetings to a minimum, but they still have kept me busy).

The Novella

The play is adapted! Achievement unlocked! It's a relief and also a new kind of pressure, because now that I've bothered to create a usable novella to begin class, I have to figure out how to use a novella to begin my class. Tonight and tomorrow I'll be reading resources like crazy (and still setting my room up--somehow that always takes longer than it should) about teaching novellas in comprehensible input classrooms.

It's completely new to me because I'm a Latin teacher and we haven't had any comprehensible novellas to use before.

But I'm excited. I adapted all the language yesterday, kept track of the vocabulary like I told you, and today I finished formatting the play to be a lovely book with icing vocabulary on pages facing each of the scenes. It's also 36 pages long, but that will be nine pages once it's printed.

I also used the vocabulary list I created to add a glossary to the end of the book, as I've seen in the TPRS and Fluency Fast books. That way, if a student is really stuck, he or she can just flip to the back of the book to find a word rather than flip through notes.

However, I have another plan to help my students with the vocabulary, which is my other main topic for the evening!

Word Wall

I have a huge wall in the back of my room that I usually put random posters on until I have student work to use as a decoration. But I have decided to use it as a word wall.

This is not a new idea, and Miriam has been using a word wall for years, but I've never really been able to figure out how to make one work for me. I tend to need to soak in an idea for a while (in this case, years) before I can make it my own. This year, for some reason, it came to me that a word wall is the perfect solution for a problem I recognized as I adapted the play. I am doing the adaptation to help students review vocabulary that we learned last year that is high frequency and useful later in their Latin careers. I worry, however, that those kids who struggled by the end of the year with vocabulary (for some students, 200 words in a year is 50-100 too many) will end up overwhelmed and shut down.

This is a failure on my part; I felt pressured by the test to push the kids faster than I knew some students were ready to go, but when you have to cover material instead of work towards proficiency, that is always the result.

My plan is to put all of the review vocabulary up on that wall, but cover it so students can't see it until we're about to use it in the play. I even thought very hard (sadly) and devised an ingenious way (folding and then unfolding paper!) to simplify the reveals.

As students demonstrate complete knowledge of a word on the wall, I can take it down, and put up any new vocabulary we're working on. It's not new or mind-boggling, but I am excited about my word wall.

Aligning Daily Vocabulary Across the Classes

The last thing we've been working on as a Latin team (because there are four of us at my school) is aligning vocabulary and designing a class opening that is simple but helps students develop comfort with naming the days of the week, simple conversation, moods, and weather. Miriam has really been developing this for her class, and is letting me join in, and luckily the other Latin teachers are on board. So now my class greeting will have four-five sentences, instead of my simple "Salvete!"

Monday, July 27, 2015

Untextbooking: Getting Ready for School Part 2

New update on my activities! I have been busy outside of school things, so things are moving slowly, but this is where I am:

The Novella

The big thing I'm working on to get ready for school at this point is writing the novella to review the vocabulary we worked on last year.

I had planned to write my own original novella (which I may still do at some point, just not these last few days of summer), but then something occurred to me that was probably obvious to all of you: it would be more efficient to have students read something based on Roman comedy as our review, since the first unit I'll be teaching that they chose is going to be all about Roman comedy. So instead, I'm adapting Auricula Meretricula to fit their vocabulary and adding in repetitions. My main goal is to keep the sense of humor and reflection of Roman tropes, while culling a great deal of vocabulary.

My process in picture form. Not
pictured: coffee.
So far I've completed two scenes out of ten and am working on the third. I am a huge technophile; that said, my process for creating in Latin always includes hand writing and having a list I can check off by hand--I require all that visceral experience to feel like I'm getting somewhere.

Once I finish adapting the play, I'll compile all the scenes (I'm writing them on separate Google documents right now) and the vocabulary lists (I'm creating separate lists for scenes and one unified vocabulary list all on one Google spreadsheet) into a booklet. Then I'll put our honors society students to use as booklet bundlers, which is totally a thing.

My one concern at the moment regarding the novella is illustration. While I'm not publishing this novella, since the story and situations in it are not my own, I still feel uncomfortable using the illustrations that are original to the book. I am considering making my own, which would be stick figures (I have little motivation to draw anything fancier). I am honestly not sure where I'll end up in terms of illustrating the booklet, but I think images break up longer novels, and just like younger readers, my students are using a lot of their brain power to read a novella in Latin and need the break and comprehension guidance images can provide.

My goal for the novella's length is 2000 or so words, based on Karen Rowan's Las Adventuras de Isabela, which is a charming Spanish novella I borrowed from a neighboring teacher a few years ago. Because of the format of the play, it is difficult to know exactly how many words I'm actually typing (every time I type a character's name to lead into dialogue it counts as a word), but I think I'm on track. Ideally, every word I need reviewed will have no fewer than 15 repetitions; that would mean that when discussing the novel there will be almost endless potential for repeating each word.


The other thing I'm working on, mostly in the back of my head right now, is planning. This will be the first time I've ever taught a novel in a Latin class; if you teach a modern language you have probably done it before, but access to novels that are accessible and graded and scaffolded is severely limited for Latin teachers. Some of us have started creating these novels, though, so it's an exciting time to be a Latin teacher.

Back to the topic at hand, I am using a planning document that Miriam created that is simple, clear, and helps organization both in planning and prepping for class:
What's brilliant about the document is that it lays out what we're doing and lets me link anything I need for my classes. If we're doing a powerpoint (which is generally a Google slides document for me), I can link it in the plan and then just click it when I need it. Anything I need to project goes there. At the bottom, I can help myself plan by letting myself know whenever I need copies for a class. Ideally I'll do my weekly copies every Friday before I leave; I probably won't every time, but this may help me stay organized enough to do so.

In addition to this microlevel planning (which I have not progressed very far on, as you can see), I am still thinking big picture. I'm thinking the novella will take 2-3 weeks and then I can start introducing new vocabulary and working toward authentic texts. My favorite Roman Comedy stock character is a Parasitus, so I'll be looking for my favorite parasite introduction to use with my students, and aside from that one, the braggart soldier and slave introductions can be interesting. I am also deciding which plays to include scenes from and which not to.

Lastly, in planning the Battles and Wars unit, I have determined that Fridays, after we've read something in Latin that week about a battle or strategy, etc., I'll tell students what has happened in the war against Hannibal so far and let them decide their next moves. I don't know yet if it will take entire class periods or not; this is pure experimentation for me. But I am feeling optimistic.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Untextbooking: Getting Ready For School Part 1

This post and the others with the same name will be basically inviting you to look over my shoulder while I prepare a curriculum for the new school year.

I make no promises that my process is elegant or refined, but I do hope it's helpful.

The first thing I want this year is a big picture, both of what needs to be done and where my students stand. Since I am a very lucky Latin teacher who will only have one level of Latin next year, I get to focus exclusively on the status and interests of the students I taught last year.

Big Picture: Themes

At the end of last year I handed out a student interest survey so my students could choose the four topics they were most interested in as our themes for each quarter of this year. There was a clear winner:

So my first semester will be split between Roman comedy and battles and wars.

For Roman comedy, I know I want to let them experience a comedy, read several character introductions and recognize features of stock characters, and experience and recreate common tropes. I have already started gathering materials and will blog about how I organize and scaffold them as I complete them.

I had a much harder time figuring out what I wanted to do with battles and wars. For a Latin teacher and armchair Roman historian, I'm shockingly uninterested in the topic. I offered it because it seems necessary to studying Rome and Romans, and obviously it interests my students. Luckily, I was inspired by some great conversation at ACL Institute (if you haven't gone, you should! There's a scholarship) and a paper I read to turn the battles and wars topic into a game. My current thought on it is that I will choose readings that help students identify good and bad battle strategies, and each class will be fighting its own war against Hannibal to keep him out of Rome. Students will be divided into small groups as well, so the small groups will run cohorts and the cohorts will form the legion. This idea is pretty loosely formed at the moment, but it makes me so much more interested in that unit that I feel I can do a pretty decent job teaching it now. My current plan is to take readings from Caesar and Livy and perhaps Quintus Curtius Rufus. 

Big Picture: Vocabulary Frequency

I can't know what my students know right now, since I won't see them for another three weeks. However, I can look at what I taught (or intended to teach) and compare it to my goals for my students, which have matured since this time last year.

Last year, I wrote about how I was choosing vocabulary in this post. However, I am not sure I emphasized how much I was allowing the end of year Latin test dictate that vocabulary list. It really did control almost everything I chose for my students to learn, and I have no small amount of regret over that. I reassessed what I really want for my students, and I found it's not to be successful at a test; I want them to be able to sit down and read Latin by the end of four years. They can't do that if they aren't learning high-frequency words. 

I decided to use Dickinson College's Latin Core Vocabulary list, a list of nearly 1000 words. This will be my guide when choosing vocabulary for my students in the rest of their Latin classes with me. 

To figure out what words to review at the beginning of the year, I compared last year's word list to the Dickinson College list, and I'm not particularly happy with what I found:

You don't need to be able to read the words to see how much red is on that image. Each red word is a word that cannot be found anywhere on the Dickinson list. Out of 218 words, 58 of them are red. 27% of the words I taught last year are not high-frequency words. 

This matters because in order to help my students maintain previous vocabulary, I make sure to recycle words back into our new readings and stories. If I'm putting all this energy into making sure they learn a word they might never see when reading original texts of Latin, I am essentially being wasteful. Wasting their and my time and energy. 

This is not to say that I think it is bad for students to learn words that are high-interest even if they aren't high-frequency. But they will learn those without me recycling them and focusing on them, because they're interested in them. My concern is what I am focusing class time on. 

So I will start the year focusing on the remaining 160 high-frequency words. I am not sure what shape the review will take at the moment, but I'm thinking Latin novella. 

Next Steps

Today and tomorrow (and for however long) I will start writing a novella for students to use for a review of the high-frequency vocabulary from last year. I will also start reading over potential comedy scenes for use in class. My husband (who is a gamer like I am) will help me crystallize game mechanics for the war with Hannibal. As I complete things, I'll post on the blog both so you can see what I'm doing and as a great way for me to review my own work when I need to.

Please feel free to comment below with reading suggestions as well as what you are doing to prepare for the beginning of school this year!