Monday, May 23, 2016

An Open Letter on Testing and Education

Dear Congressman or Congresswoman; Dear Mr. President; Dear Bill and Melinda Gates; Dear Arne Duncan; Dear Anyone Who Has Touched and Impacted Education in the Last Decade:

I'd like to try an exercise with you. Close your eyes, block out all outside distractions, and think about your favorite teacher. I want you to picture that influential man or woman, and remember why that teacher was your favorite. Was he especially good at creating connections to you emotionally? Did she encourage you to explore your interests, even when they diverged from her lesson plan?

Or did that teacher, your favorite, win your heart because he or she got great results on standardized tests? Do you remember this person because he was especially good at following the prescribed curriculum?

I have several teachers that stand out in my past. Ms. Jeanne "D" DeVilliers gave up night after night of her own time to meet with us and work with us on competitive speeches, student congress, and our debate cases. To meet the demands of a subject area that requires creativity, intense research, and heavy practice, she led an unusually-structured class, with students moving between her room and the library, hall, and theater, to conduct their own personal research and rehearse until each gesture had been refined into perfection. We did not cram for standardized tests, and she did not employ traditional assessments, yet there was no question whether she was one of the best teachers in the school and the state.

Mr. Charlie Dugan, world history teacher and track coach, inspired students with his enthusiasm and passion for ancient cultures. He loaned students books from his own library when they sought to learn more about world religions and cultures. He drew comics for every handout and used science fiction to help us understand the impact of history on the modern day. It was his assignment to interview an older relative or friend about his life that gave me access to one of the most meaningful and impactful moments of my life and taught me the true meaning of living well.

I've had teachers who weren't afraid to be goofy--some of whose antics I use in my own classes because they were so effective for my learning. I've had teachers who weren't afraid to find out why I was withdrawing to the corner of the room and teachers who allowed me to work ahead when I was inspired.

These teachers built a foundation in education for me which remains with me, woven into my identity, and I remember them all because they were great teachers.

I don't remember the name of my reading teacher in the fourth and fifth grades, who had us complete innumerable practice readers to prepare for the Iowa State tests. In fact, the readers are the only thing I remember about that class--which became a problem when I changed schools a year later and was expected to know how to analyze literature. I couldn't explain the theme of a story, but I got top marks--99th percentile--on the Iowa test.

To tell the truth, I don't remember the names of any of my teachers in that school, a school that was known throughout the area for its outstanding test scores. We spent weeks every year preparing for standardized testing, and I got very good at multiple-choice tests.

But I didn't know the material on a deeper level; I hadn't learned to use information well, how to analyze ideas and evaluate them myself. And I did not form any lasting relationships with the teachers there. I was never inspired.

When I enter my classroom and greet my students, when I read brain research to learn how students' minds learn language best, when I ask my students about their lives and really listen, when I show I care in the lessons I create and the relationships I build, I am not following a prescribed curriculum. I am not working to improve students' test scores.

I am working to improve students' lives.

I want my students to know I care and I want my students to care, not just about Latin, but about learning. I want my students to embrace and love education. I want them to feel safe being themselves in my room and to pay that safety forward by standing up for each other's rights. I want my students to know that every inch of curiosity pays rich dividends of information and I want them to learn how to find that information.

I want my students to be healthy, happy, and lifelong learners.

How can that happen in a nation where the discourse about teachers is so negative that the legislators have decided it would benefit their future campaigns to dictate to teachers what and how they should teach in their classes, without one year of experience or one experienced consultant? How can students learn to love school when a billionaire turns his ambivalent feelings into bitter rhetoric that has no source in research?

When did accountability begin to mean micromanagement? Teachers are told when to test and how to test and what they should teach on the way and how to train students to produce the correct form of the correct answer and there is no space left in this crowded syllabus for teachers to innovate, create, or personalize learning.

"No Child Left Behind" became "Race to the Top" but the baseline is the same: test scores for money. So schools put teachers in boxes and punish them for stepping outside them.

No matter that students learn to hate school. No matter that there is a nation-wide epidemic of teen anxiety that is endangering young lives. This has never been about what is best for students. This is about appearances and votes and seeming like you're doing something. No matter that it's the wrong thing.

No matter that you're strangling education.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Reflections on being a first year teacher.. again!

While this was my 6th full year (7th including all teaching time) teaching, this was my first year in a new school. Not only was the location different, but the school population, size of my department, and school atmosphere was different.

  • This was my first year working with another Latin teacher in the building (okay, well 3 other Latin teachers)
  • This was my first year having less than four preps (5 classes of Latin I and 1 class of Latin II)
  • This was the first time I proctored an AP exam. 
  • This was my first year without a window in my room. 
  • This was my first year sharing a door with another teacher. 
  • This was the first time I did not know every single Latin student in my school.
  • This was my first time, in a number of years, being in the same building with fellow foreign language teachers. 
There are a lot of lessons and firsts that I experienced this year and I thought I'd write this post to reflect on those and maybe, if it is useful, pass on some things to those who have yet to experience their "second first year". 

  1. Collaboration is key. This was true last year for me as well - since we untextbooked. But, it continues to be true. Even though we are all in the same building and we teach a variety of things, collaboration is key. I don't say this to say something like, "you have to follow every lesson plan to the letter and be on the same day every day." I say it to say things like:
    * A fresh pair of eyes can be helpful.
    * Sometimes you are tired and need an alternate plan.
    * Hearing someone else's perspective might give you new ideas.
    * Stealing your colleagues ideas is okay! 
    I can't tell you how many times this year my colleague Bob Patrick (and my father) would take my lesson plan and tweak it and then we'd collaborate briefly at the end of the day and I liked so much of what he did that I did it myself the next day. Similarly, he'd tweak a plan and then see what I'd done with it and do it himself that way the next day. This made light work for both of us and gave us many new ideas. Similarly, we collaborate across levels. I would watch things Rachel did and steal them for Latin I or hear about what Caroline did in Latin III and adapt it for my kids to read. 
  2. Communication is bread and butter. I came from a school where I was an individual Latin teacher. I worked well with my colleagues, but there was much in the Latin world that I was on my own to do. It is important, whether you are going or coming from a place with more than one teacher, to communicate. There was so much I had to learn (and am still learning) about how things are done here. It can be frustrating because I am used to trying to figure it out on my own and I don't always remember I have a group with me now who knows what it is I am dong. I am so thankful for how kind and understanding they've been with me! 
  3. The stuffed animals may remain the same, but their personas will not! I took my stuffed animals with me and I've added to my collection since then. The animals that were my previous students' favourites are no longer sitting on a golden throne. The kangaroo has been traded for the llama; the koala for the grizzly bear; the sheep for the hippo. Similarly, the stories we tell aren't the same. This has been an adjustment for me, but it has been fun. I have had to forget 6 years of names and back stories only to discover new ones. 
    On a side note: I am more convinced than ever of the healing and therapeutic effect stuffed animals have. Students who are allowed to hold one are often calmer than without and they can be a quick and easy way to tell which students are feeling down or need a break. 
  4. Learning a new campus is STILL hard. I have gotten lost so many times (and this is with a guided tour)... I've been late to meetings, ended up on the wrong side of campus, and even exited a building only to re-enter from another door and not realise what I'd done. This is one of my biggest learning curves, but it has given me something to bond with my youngest students over and we laugh about it. 
  5. Duties, Drive-ins, and Dues. Chances are, no matter the school, district, etc. that the way duties, parking, and various "dues" are done is different everywhere you go. There will be things you like and things you don't. What I've found is that, even with the things I wasn't fond of, they work for this school. They wouldn't work for my old school, and so I am glad they are done this way here. Even as I adjusted to this way of doing thing, and grew tired of it, I still remember being glad of the change: having an assigned parking space, having my new duty station, proctoring the AP exam (yes, I enjoyed it!). Ya, I still groan sometimes, but what would school be without them?
  6. It's okay to occasionally enjoy the cave that is your classroom. I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of change. Even change I initiate (and I am always looking to be better), has to sit with me for a bit before I'll take the chance. I am also a fairly strong introvert and I recede into my brain as often as possible; not because I hate people, but it is how I think best and recharge. Yes, making friends is important. Yes, being a presence in the school is key. But, also taking time to become comfortable and to make your space feel like your own is important. My first few days here were spent in and out of meetings, but we were also given a good bit of classroom time. I put my headphones in and took my time setting up my space. I didn't have it completely ready by day 1, but I enjoyed getting to know my space and make good use of it. I still put in my headphones during lunch and after school while I grade, or plan, or whatever. The school is new, my colleagues are new, but my cave is mine. There are some things, if you are like me, and find change and new people daunting that you can do to ease into it:
    * Meet one new person a day/a week.
    * Have a mentor of your choosing: someone you already know or are already comfortable with.
    * Make a 10-20 minute time of day, especially in the new year, where you don't check email. Get up and clean or decorate something. Read an article or catch up on teaching posts.
    * Leave early/on time (depending on your school's rules) one day a week. You can stay late, get caught up in work, plan far ahead all the other days. 
New schools, rules, people, and students can all be overwhelming, and they certainly were for me. There were days when I arrived, went into my room, and locked the door to prepare. I still get lost going to a new room or lab and I feel my students' frustration when I don't have the answer of where the lab is or how to get to a testing room. But, in all of this, I've learned a few things and come to enjoy a few things:
  • I have great colleagues! 
  • I have supportive administrators! 
  • I have hilarious students! 
  • I have a space that is my own and that I've made my own. 
  • I actually liked proctoring an AP FL exam. (yes, I'm weird)
And all of these things don't mean that I didn't have them at my old school, or have them all the time. We all have bad days, weeks, and even months. I loved teaching my former students and I enjoyed working with my colleagues. I also love working with my current students and enjoy my current colleagues. Both are okay. 

I think I've learned that as much comparison as we all do when we move schools (it's natural). I've also learned not to compare them. My two schools have different demographics, different layouts, different rules, and different people. I like them both. and that's okay.

I want to close with this quote I saw. I don't know who said it, but I saw it on instagram and it spoke to me:

You'll be fine. Feeling unsure and lost is part of your path. Don't avoid it. Breathe. You'll be okay, even if you don't feel it all the time.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Picture Relay Races

One of the biggest challenges for a teacher using CI (quick overview here) is providing the optimum number of repetitions so that vocabulary remains comprehensible while still remaining compelling. The goal is repetition without being repetitive. 

Because of that, I am constantly scouring the blogs I follow and collecting activities to use in my classes. And sometimes I make something myself, which I then share with all of you, because sharing information and ideas is why the internet is my favorite thing in the universe (followed shortly by quantum entanglement and the word "stultiloquence"). 

This semester, as part of my resolution to slow down and make sure all my kids comprehend everything, I'm taking time after we introduce new words to add in extra practice, but, to make sure it doesn't get repetitive, I'm working to make sure that every repetition of a story or vocabulary is different. I've set a goal for myself (which I haven't achieved this year, so it will be a goal for next year too) to avoid using each activity more than twice a semester. I need a LOT of options.

Last week, I was looking for something active, like a relay race. My students have been testing now for several weeks, and I wanted to give them an outlet for energy that was not only pent-up, it was suppressed. 

But I couldn't find anything that worked exactly like I wanted it to. I really wanted something that felt like a relay, but provided an extra repetition for a story we had been working on. 

Finally, I found if I meshed concentration with running dictations, I got something that would take up only about half a class and allow my students to walk around! I named it picture relay races, and it was surprisingly easy to set up once I figured out what I wanted to do. Which is good--I didn't figure it out until about an hour before my first class started.

Basically, students are matching pictures to sentences from the story, and have to show understanding in their matches. 

A pile of sentences students must sort through!
  • I broke down the story into ten important sentences and drew pictures for each of them (I am the queen of stick figures. I can draw just about anything as a stick figure). Feel free to see the break down and pictures here.
  • I copied the sentences onto ten sheets of orange paper and the pictures onto ten sheets of blue paper (school colors ftw!). This was more than my number of groups, but that doesn't matter because they just have to work harder to find sentences and pictures!
  • I cut the sentences in one mass thanks to our beastly paper cutter (one of the best I've ever used--it is SHARP) and the pictures in one mass too. They can be all mixed together within their categories.
In Class
Students were instructed to get into groups of 3. Then (after some finessing at the conclusion of my first class) the rules went:
One team is almost finished!
  • The first student chooses one sentence from the sentence pile (piled on a desk on one side of the room). If the student is not sure about the meaning of the sentence, he or she can check with the group.
  • The first student then chooses the picture that matches that sentence from the picture pile (piled on a desk on the other side of the room).
  • The first student brings both pieces of paper to the teacher to make sure they match. If they do, the student takes them to his or her group. If they don't, the student must take the picture back and try again.
  • The group keeps the correct match and sends a second student to choose a sentence and picture.
  • The first group to get all ten matches wins.
This is really just included because I got a great idea for prizes from a teacher commenting on the facebook iFLT/NTPRS/CI teaching page. A teacher there commented (if anyone reading this can give me her name, I'd love to have this correctly attributed) that she uses bubble wrap and the little packets of air that come with things she has shipped to her as prizes in games. It's genius! Between offering packets of air and stickers as prizes, there was complete prize buy-in. Usually the prize is "a sense of pride" but I was feeling generous.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Activity - Who Is Better?

This is a two day activity (it could easily be a three day activity or a one day activity with an upper level class) that I came up with to review vocabulary for both our story and the final exam. I am calling it: Comparisons - Who is better?

Some Notes

There are a few things I want to point out in case you are exploring Standards Based Grading, Untextbooking, etc. 

  • This activity would be great for standards that involve writing, writing with accuracy, list making, descriptions, and comparisons.
  • This activity is great for novella reading with lots of characters or descriptions. It can be a review activity that leads into a chapter with lots of descriptions
  • This activity works really well with nature vocabulary, body parts, colours, places, prepositions, and adjectives. 

My Set Up

We did this activity before reading chapters 6-7 of Magus Mirabilis Oz and also before the final. We've done a lot of nature, body parts, and colour vocabulary to read this book and I wanted something to review that before reading these chapters because, in these chapters, we meet the Cowardly Lion, review everyone's desires, and we have our first dangerous adventure with the Kalidae (fearsome half lion, half bear creatures who chase the characters across a ditch). 


Day 1

approved animals with feet, hands, ears, eyes, hair, horns, wings,
teeth, fins, and a variety of colours!
On day 1, put students into small groups and give them some object to focus on. In m classes, we used a variety of stuffed animals that I chose based on the number of descriptors students could use and how easily these animals lent themselves to the "most" portion of the activity. 

Students were to describe the animal as best they could using their vocabulary notes and any resources I'd given them to describe the body, colour, etc. of the animal and then to describe where the animal lived (nature vocab). 

Finally, students were to pick from a list on the board of "most" adjectives and give a reason, in Latin, why the animal was the "most". 

Example using image to the right:

homo est mirabilis. Iacobus vocatur. aures duas habet. oculos magnos habet. os magnum habet. Iacobus dua bracchia et duos pedes habet. est homo mirabilis. Iacobus cornua longa habet. Iacobus est coloris caerulei. Iacobus est homo mirabilis. Iacobus sub aqua habitat. Iacobus magnam domum habet et cum coniuge habitat. tres filias habent. Iacobus est fortissimus quod cum trebus filiis habitabat. 

This man is strange. He is called Jacob. He has two ears. He has big eyes. He has a big mouth. Jacob has two arms and two feet. He is a strange man. Jacob has long horns. Jacob is the colour blue. Jacob is a strange man. Jacob lives under the water. Jacob has a big house and lives with his wife. They have three daughters. Jacob is the strongest because he lives with three daughters. 

Day 2

On day 2, I took their responses and created this comparison presentation. We circled the descriptions themselves before I asked the question.... quid est.... melior/maior/sapientior? We then debated the reasons why one thing might be better than the other. You can see some student work below as I put it in the presentation*.

* all images used are either my own photos or obtained via google image search with creative commons or public domain status. 


I did this activity at the end of the year, so there was some push back because we had to write. That being said, students jumped into this activity immediately. Students got to choose an approved animal and, since I had gotten a few new ones recently, they were excited to grab one. Students very quickly described the animals and used me to extract the vocabulary they needed. 

I did give an example of what I expected because I wanted them to understand the three parts of the writing: description of the animal, description of where they lived, and an explanation of why the animal is the most whatever. 

Having the students do the writing (when they are ready) gave me plenty of material to pull from for a more formal discussion the next day.

Students REALLY liked this activity. They enjoyed choosing their animal, writing their description, and choosing their "most" adjective. They were visibly and verbally happy to see their work presented the next day and "show off" their skills when describing their animal. They loved having control over which animal was "the most". I think their excitement and pride came from the fact that we did this when I was 100% sure they could do all these things. This is definitely something I will use again. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Personal Blog in Honor of Mental Health Awareness Month

I'm writing this in the hopes that this will help someone, but it is personal and less related to teaching than normal. So I thought I'd warn you if that is not for you. I have several teaching-focused posts coming up after this one.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. I thought about writing a post like this last year, but as much as I believe it is the right thing to do, it is sort of terrifying to reveal myself and leave myself vulnerable. The point of the month is to help destigmatize mental health issues as well as help those who are suffering find comfort and companionship in knowing they are not alone, though, and perhaps after enough of these posts and discussions, mental health and treatment will be honored, and sharing these stories will feel necessary and respectable.

This morning I awoke with a more immediate reminder of the need for these discussions. The weight of the oncoming day felt like it was centered on my chest and just sitting up and leaving my bed was a small struggle. I fight this struggle at least monthly; sometimes waking up and facing the world is a burden.

I have Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and at least once a month my hormones push me into depression and anxiety. It's under control; there are several hormonal treatments for the disorder, and I am on a regimen that keeps me from suffering the extreme lows that I am prone to when I am not taking anything.

My PMDD first developed around a decade ago, when (fortunately for me) there was a name for it (a relatively new development) and a new attempt to treat PMDD directly (hormonally) instead of just the symptoms (depression and anxiety medicines, which only sort of help it, since they aren't treating the source). I started developing some physical symptoms (extremely bad acne that wasn't there when I was younger) and then the emotional symptoms started. They began with just an inability to shake my anxiety about my job (I was working in a school that was almost entirely the opposite of everything I believe in concerning education) and an overriding sense of unease and unhappiness. I did my best to work through these feelings; it wasn't the first time in my life I've been depressed--I've always been different than my peers and was ostracized from third grade through sixth. That experience informed my self-perception, which meant a long, slow process of accepting myself and eventually loving myself and that kind of growth is emotionally exhausting and involves almost constant setbacks.

But my anxiety didn't work itself out. Instead, it grew, inflated, and became unbearable at times. I would sit with my family and a sudden, intense panic would grip me, making me literally gasp for breath. I did my best to hide it from them; I usually retreated to a different part of the house and suffered the wave of panic and depression and sobbed into a pillow so they wouldn't hear. I still didn't do anything about it, preferring to hide it from my husband and avoid the doctor.

This continued for almost a year, until a wave hit me at work, and I found myself unable to cope with the oncoming day. Generally I am uncomfortable showing emotion in public (reference the long-term ostracism above), and being at work had kept my emotions at bay. Suddenly I couldn't control myself at work either, and it was this, the inability to function at work, that convinced me that I wasn't getting better and needed to contact a doctor.

Since my diagnosis, I have researched PMDD. The disorder is still being defined, and research is ongoing, though there is some level of dismissal due to its link to menstruation. It has been discovered to be genetically inherited, which makes sense: both my aunt and my grandmother had uncontrollable depressions that developed in their late 20s and both had committed suicide by the age of 32. My family and I now believe their symptoms and behavior indicate the same disorder, and that they would still be alive if modern treatments had been available to them.

I am not completely free of depression. There are days like today, when leaving my house seems like a Herculean task. But I am mostly free.

I think my disorder makes me a better teacher, much as I believe my past ostracism makes me a better teacher. I can better love my students, accept them no matter who or what they want to be, and sympathize with them when depression or strong emotions are making them behave in a way that seems erratic and irrational from the outside. Someone who has not experienced depression has a hard time understanding the difficulty just getting up and functioning can be, and how easy it is to be so overwhelmed by duties and obligations that you simply shut down. When a student exhibits avoidance behavior, I am more likely to reach out to the student with understanding and am willing to walk the student through recovery in my class.

Luckily I love my job, so even on days when I feel like I can't face anything, I get up and go to work, and generally feel much better once the students are there. Today I got a card from a student that was personal and heart-felt and it made my day. It reminds me that it's always worth coming to school, because it matters to my students.

So this week, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I'm going to share my story with my students, and maybe help one or two just by modeling the acceptance I want them to show for themselves, strengths, struggles, and all.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

CI Curriciulum, Untextbooking, Student Choice and Teacher Planning

This post comes to us from Dr. Robert Patrick. Dr. Patrick teaches with both Rachel and me and is a great influence on me as both a colleague and my father. ~Miriam Patrick

One of the hot topics these days among CI teachers in general and perhaps Latin teachers in particular is how to create and then prepare to teach without textbooks.  I’ll spare a defense of dropping textbooks as a quick search through this blog will catalog the problems with all our textbooks.  The driving force of a CI classroom are the principles, of course, but really two things:  compelling material and understandable messages in Latin.  Those messages come through the teacher who speaks to students in Latin that they can all understand and through readings that they can all read.  The talk and the reading must be interesting to them.  Coupled with some classroom practices that make learning Latin a friendly and supportive experience, this approach has grown our program over the last 11 years by 400%.  

We will begin the Fall of 2016 with about 700 students and 5 Latin teachers.  We will also be continuing ongoing work, evolution through trial and error, our CI work, Untextbooking and Standard Based Grading.  In what follows, I want to outline how we create and prepare our curriculum.  For the third year now, we will be doing our work with no textbook.  This work is entirely a collaborative effort of Caroline Miklosovic, Rachel Ash, Miriam Patrick and myself.  Next year we will be joined by Keith Toda.  What we are doing would never have happened as a result any one of us doing what we do best, but has evolved and continues to as we pool our efforts, skills and insights.  I share here with this declaration, that this work belongs to no single one of us and only results from a daily commitment to collaboration and sharing.  Quite frankly, we believe that the future of Latin in this culture depends on such collaboration and sharing.

We began with a list of topics that met two criteria:  1) they included topics we thought students might have interest in and 2) they were topics we felt we could teach from Latin authors (or many periods) either directly or (more commonly) through embedded versions that we would prepare from them.  You can see immediately the two core principles at stake: compelling materials and understandable messages.  So, for example, if a topic depends on you working with an author that you are unprepared to work with, don’t offer it for student consideration. If you know that offering “Roman Couples” means working with the Heroides, which you love, and your Latin 2 students choose that, you will need to do much embedding, and that’s a lot of work.  Balance what you offer them with what you are prepared to do and/or co-create with a colleague. You do not have to have multiple Latin teachers at your school, but it is really important to have some other Latin teachers that you can collaborate with.  The marvels of the internet and things like Google Docs make that easier than ever.

Here was our original list:

  • Roman thoughts on other cultures (Cicero)
  • Roman Virtues (what Romans valued in themselves)
  • Couples relationships/myths
  • Battles and Wars
  • Roman History
  • Roman heroes and legends
  • Romans Science and Philosophy
  • Roman games
  • Roman Women
  • Roman Daily Life (Cf. JoAnna Shelton)
  • Roman Religion and Philosophy
  • Fables
  • Roman Government and Law
  • Modern Literature in Latin (Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Dr.Seuss, Charlottes Webb, Treasure Island, Fairy Tales)
  • Roman Comedy and Drama

We posed those topics to students in the Spring of the year who were in Latin 1-3 asking them to identify topic they wanted to encounter in the next year of Latin (2-4). We tallied their results, demarcated topics by level (so as not to have too much overlap--though we did allow for some overlap), and established what our curriculum for the next year would include.  That year, the curriculum looked like this:

Latin 1--Mythological stories written by the teacher based more on high frequency vocabulary than any particular author; Fables from Aesop, Phaedrus et al (much thanks to Laura Gibbs for her wonderful online materials).

Latin 2--Fables; Mythological stories from Ovid; Roman History from Livy

Latin 3--Mythological stories from Ovid (not used in 2); Heroes and legends (Ovid, Livy)

Latin 4--Roman Games; Entertainment; Roman Virtues (Seneca, Cicero et al); selections from Harrius Potter

This past year, we did the same, and offer the following:

Latin 1--Mythological stories based on high frequency vocabulary; novella: Pluto: Fabula Amoris; Roman legend/ history focused on stories from the Aeneid and Caesar; Novella: Magus Mirabilis--the Wizard of Oz.

Latin 2--Roman Comedy based on Plautus; Roman War based on Caesar; Roman Heroes based on Livy, Roman women based on various authors; Novella: Camilla

Latin 3--Roman History based on Livy; Roman love stories based on Ovid; The Druids from Caesar; Roman War based on the Pro Caelio of Cicero et al.

Latin 4--Roman Games; Entertainment; Roman Virtues (Seneca, Cicero et al); Novella: Itinera Petri; selections from Harrius Potter; Roman virtures traced all the way through the year as a common sub-theme.  List of 16 virtues chosen from Latin literature with Cicero being the predominate source along with Seneca and Quintilian.  

This spring (2016) we surveyed students again.  Our surveys continue to have the basic list we started with, but now with novellas in hand, we can make those a part of what we offer.  So, we asked current Latin 1 students about their Latin 2 year which novella they would like to read:

Ille Hobbitus (and embedded version of some chapters)
Eurydice: Fabula Amoris (to be written this summer)
Itinera Petri
Camilla (on women and war) currently being written

Other topics from them to consider

Under Science:
Fantastical people (Pliny)
Geography and race (various authors and vocabulary driven)
Fantastical creatures (Pliny)

Under War:
Hannibal vs. Rome (Livy)
Boudicca vs. Rome
Alexander the Great
Octavian vs. Marc Antony

Under Love:
Hector and Andromache
Abelard and Heloise
Jason and Medea
Claudius and Messalina

From these, you can see that our original list of items is present, but we are getting better at identifying what we are ready to work with.  If you knew us you would recognize among the authors we are working with the contents of our doctoral dissertations and masters theses, our many years of coursework and teaching experiences.  In other words, we are largely working with what we know or have the time to explore.  

As has become our custom, the 5 of us will gather this summer to plot out exactly what we are doing with the surveyed topics, authors and materials.  We are anticipating the novellas of others to come out soon which will enrich our possibilities as well.  Each year that we do this, we have the repository of the previous year’s work, so in some cases there is less work to do from scratch.  That allows us to edit, refine and add to existing materials.  

I want to add this one note which may be sub-titled program promotion, politics and/or professional development.  At every opportunity, we try to let our administrators and district leaders know what we are doing, why, and with what results.  We need them to support this work.  What we are doing is working with all kinds of learners, and we need it to be supported and celebrated.  At the same time, we look for every conference opportunity to share what we are doing.  As I suggested in the opening of this post, we believe that the future of Latin depends on this kind of creative, collaborative work, and we need and want more Latin teachers involved in doing this kind of things as well--not to jump on our bandwagon, but to ensure that Latin thrives and that it is no longer the domain of elite learners.  I wrote this blog post because of private requests to share how we plan this sort of curriculum.  I can no longer respond to the number of requests that I and the others on our team receive privately, but why should these be private conversation, anyway?  I encourage everyone doing this sort of work to blog, present, share, collaborate, and make sure your local administrators and leaders know what you are doing, and that it’s a national movement.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pluto: Fabula Amoris - The Good, The Bad, The Update

Back in October, Rachel and I announced our first publication as both authors and publishers of Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing. Since then, we've continued teaching and are both working on future publications to share.

I used Pluto: fabula amoris with my Latin I students from October to December of this school year. Both the midterm and final exam focused on this text and we incorporated a variety of activities to help students not only read and understand the story but to also enjoy it.

After teaching the novella and testing out resources, I am finally ready to share the Pluto: fabula amoris Teacher's Guide. It is available online for free and in print for those who'd prefer it in print from both Create Space and

The Teacher's Guide includes lots of notes and items that teachers may find useful while teaching with Pluto: fabula amoris; but it is not exhaustive. There are plenty of other ways to teach with Pluto: fabula amoris. The guide is meant to assist and guide, but not dictate the way you use the text.

This has been quite a journey with our first book and we are so thankful to all of the people who helped us get there. I am also thankful to my colleague, and father Robert Patrick for working with me to teach this novella this fall and give me honest feedback on what was and wasn't working. I also want to publicly thank Robert Patrick, Keith Toda, Rachel Ash, and Alina Filepescu for allowing me to publish links to their blogs and use them for activity inspiration. From all this I developed what I wanted for the Teacher's Guide.
Teacher's Guide Cover

I believe the guide is self explanatory in that I tried to detail as much as possible, but I do want to preview it by giving a list of the types of things you can find:

  1. grammar/vocabulary usage notes
  2. outside culture resources
  3. culture questions to consider
  4. word clouds for each chapter
  5. images for each chapter
  6. reading guides for each chapter
  7. a variety of other activities for the chapters
  8. a list of activity resources you can use to make more activities
  9. audio readings for each chapter (nota bene: we've tried to make the downloadable, but at the time this is not available through our means. I will update if this changes.)

Teaching a Novella

I want to spend some time talking about my experience teaching with this novella. I used it with my Latin I students after they'd had about 2 and a half months of Latin study. 


I encountered many struggles when deciding to and while teaching my novella. The first was the lack of materials available on teaching with a novella. There are some out there, mainly geared towards modern language novellas, but overall the resources and ideas were lacking. I felt completely on my own and it was overwhelming. 

Additionally, I didn't want the materials I created to be worksheet heavy or made to feel like kids were doing book reports. Many of the resources I was able to look at involved something akin to a reading report for each chapter or were the same activities and worksheets for each chapter. This is not a criticism of others' work, but rather an explanation of where I drew from. 

The Reading Guides

I ultimately decided, based on what I was seeing for other languages and English courses, to make a reading guide for each chapter that would focus on basic vocabulary, and comprehension. None of the guides require paragraphs or reports, but try to make use of various activities to form different assessments. The first section on each guide allowed students to take vocabulary notes when they were reading or during our activities. The second always involved some form of drawing. I included:
  • comic strips
  • single scenes
  • character cards
  • dictatio/pictatio
The final piece involved some variety of comprehension activities:
  • Questions in Latin on basic comprehension
  • Questions in English on basic comprehension
  • False statements in Latin
  • Questions in English asking for deeper discussion on the culture themes of the text. 
Creating the guides this way kept them compelling for students and easy to work with and grade. Each one could be used for different standards in grading as well and highlighted different skills. 

The Structure of Each "Chapter Unit"

Before reading each chapter, I would prepare students for things in a certain way. While each unit was comprised of the same or nearly the same ideas, each activity varied. 

Introduction and Vocabulary 
  • Culture introduction (activity or discussion)
  • Teach new vocabulary: movie short, TPR, TPRS, dictatio, etc.
  • Reinforce new vocabulary: same conversation, Publius Publicanus, audio activity
  • Silent Reading and new vocabulary discussion
  • Reading Activity: Reading Option A, Read, Discuss, and Draw
Post Reading
  • Follow up Culture discussion (sometimes)
  • Comprehension activity: dramatic tableaux, False statements, comprehension questions, character cards, audio activity, etc. 
  • Final listening of audio from chapter for enjoyment
  • Timed Write


We assessed every 1-2 chapters depending on their length and whether we thought the students were ready. We made the assessments from material we'd done in class. I made the decision not to include the assessments in the teacher's guide. I didn't want teachers to feel like the tests were mandatory for teaching the novella and I didn't want teachers to feel restricted and like they had to "teach to the test". Rather, I wanted to encourage teachers to make their own tests match the way they teach. I am happy, however, to answer any questions regarding my assessments or the content of them. I will, however, lay out a variety of ways we assessed students. 
  1. Vocabulary Assessment: varied, but included giving Latin to English as well as translating sentences. Sometimes, it asked students to pick 5 of 10 words and draw a picture to define. 
  2. Comprehension Assessment: usually included questions in English about the text and/or false statements from the text. 
  3. Culture Assessment: we really stuck to discussions on this, basing our assessment on students' discussion and answers given in class. 
  4. Audio Assessment: we used this on our midterm and final (same link as given in introduction); but included descriptions of characters and students were to define who was being described. We always practised this in class before putting it on an assessment.


Feedback and Thoughts on this Method

Students responded well to these activities and enjoyed the book. They did well on the assessments and appreciated how we as teachers listened to their wants and needs.