Thursday, December 15, 2016

Getting teenagers interested in conjugation

Yesterday I was absent and the sub was-- well. I was absent. Anyway, so my Latin 3 class were apparently all on their phones. The principal walked into the room. One of my students whipped her phone away, and began loudly singing, PORTO, PORTAS, PORTAT and the entire class sung along, through all four conjugations, in sync. Although I don't know if he fell for it as them NOT being on their phones, I bet it was funny to witness. They do, for the record, know what they're saying, too- it's not just rote. Why am I telling you this? Because sometimes (a lot actually) I break the rules and do non-CI stuff. This technique for dealing with verb endings is one of my favorite things, and I strongly recommend it so long as you're willing to put away that pesky dignity and have fun with your kids.

Actually acquiring endings enough to use them for output is probably one of the hardest things we try to achieve through CI. CI-wise, I make an effort to use the other forms and clarify who the subject is by pointing at myself, at "you", at "y'all" etc. I'll still point at "portat - carries" (or better portare - to carry") on the board even as I say porto and point to myself, and the meaning gets through. TBQH, the kids don't really "hear" the endings for the most part anyway, especially -t vs -nt, so doing this doesn't confuse them. If you're having trouble fitting non-third person singular entries into your CI, it helps to make sure your stories, whether written or acted out,  have dialogue. Circling by subbing in multiple subjects also helps for plurals. Once they've heard the other endings some, I also use them in written stories and usually gloss them.

Then when they've heard the different endings a lot, I take a page out of my non-CI background and I teach them the present tense active indicative charts for all four conjugations. nefas! 

Now, calm down. I don't give chart quizzes (although I've done it before and I'm not against it really as a just for fun, make up until you get it perfect type grade), and I don't say "and this is first person present active indicative of the third conjugation, characterized by the null vowel sound which results in..." [I'm too lazy to find a picture of Ben Stein but imagine him doing his thing here]

What I do is I teach them a song, and we sing it and practice it with hand motions, and they (mostly) LOVE it. I do it partly because they love it. The other reason I do it is because now they have the endings in their brains for reference if they're confused, and they recognize that amo and amatis are "the same word" even though they look different. This is not CI. Charts in themselves are incomprehensible. It is, however, engaging, brain-sticky, and many students find it helpful and fun. The tune is the Mexican Hat Dance and the "words" are:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Classroom Setup 2016

Salvete omnes! It's been a while, I know. My beginning of year has been tiring for mostly classroom management reasons. It's not really getting any less tiring, so I'm doing a kind of "for fun" post which I hope you'll enjoy.

I'm pretty happy with how my classroom looks this year. I'm generally a very disorganized person so I have been trying to streamline things a bit. I've also tried to give my classroom a more unified aesthetic. Below the cut are some images of my room with descriptions of what you see and why. If it looks great to you, thanks, but remember that it took me halfway through October to get it /even this/ together. If not... well, be nice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What to do when everything is terrible

Salve! It’s the beginning of a new year, or almost the beginning, or was the beginning and now you’re getting into it a bit… regardless, if you’re new to CI, or new to teaching, or just trying one new thing… there’s a pretty solid chance you’re going to have some bad days. Hopefully you’ll also have some awesome days. But if you’re learning a new skill, like circling or PQA, the first few times are gonna be ROUGH.

In case you’re panicking, here are some steps.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

There will be no "Roman women" unit.

I’m pretty much constantly planning my curriculum and replanning it. I am trying to consciously integrate culture more this upcoming year, so I’ve been thinking about what units I might do. Right now, my list of units for Latin I looks something like this:

Roman names; Places & Time; Housing; Food & Clothing; Family; Slavery; Freedom; Entertainment; Death & the afterlife; Love & Marriage; The Olympian Gods; Origins & Transformations; Greek Heroes I & II; Roman Heroes I & II; What have the Romans ever done for us?

The order will almost certainly change and I may not get to everything. These are mostly drawn from the NLE syllabus. Each unit will only be two weeks or so and mostly in translation. I’m not going to be doing too much in-depth textual work with anything in particular except where the novellas align.

What’s missing is a unit on Roman women. Well, and on the military, but that’s not what this is about. Given Cloelia, you might find it surprising that I'm not focusing on women at any particular point in my curriculum. I’m not doing a unit on Roman women because as soon as you put women into a unit, you’re taking them out of the whole.*

Friday, August 19, 2016

Teaching Goals for 2016-2017

Every year, Keith Toda posts his teaching goals. Then at the end of the year, he posts how they went. This is a great example of reflective practice. I’m going to try it this year and see how it goes.

To begin with, my long term goal: by the end of my fifth year of teaching, I hope to have my act together. I’m about to head into my third year. My “act together” means basically being able to define myself as a good teacher. I do not feel I’m there yet. There are many things about me that are “good teacher” material, like a willingness to try new things and dedication to personal professional development. I’m absolutely a better teacher now than I was two years ago when I started.

BUUUUUUUUUUT. I’m not where I want to be yet. Some things that are wrong with my teaching: I don’t have a good handle on classroom management. My planning is… not. abest. I’m disorganized. Last year, I taught essentially no culture at all. For goodness’ sake, I still don’t know how I’m going to be grading students (yes, grading; assessment I have plans for. Grading, not so much.). I rarely make it to after school events. I’m dreadful at dealing with make ups and grading stuff on time. I’m lousy at follow-through generally.

Goals for 2016-2017 (in no particular order)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Takeaways from Express Fluency: Latin Teacher Training with Justin Slocum Bailey

Over the past two days I was fortunate enough to attend a historic event: the first iFLT-style teacher training conducted in Latin. iFLT style means that we teachers observed while an experienced TPRS instructor taught a class made up of real language learners who didn’t know Latin- in this case, mostly adults, but usually I believe it’s school age children. Express Fluency, run by Elissa McLean, was the sponsor. Elissa herself was one of the Latin students, which I really appreciated as an observer. It was a lot of fun to watch her learn and get excited enough to use Latin with us during breaks! I hope in the future I’ll have time / energy to take Spanish or something from Express Fluency, since it’s local-ish to me and affordable (the credits were INCREDIBLY, pardon the pun, affordable, too: $62 each! what!). I also got the chance to briefly meet Laurie Clarcq, the co-inventor of Embedded Reading, who is charming and humble and full of great ideas.

You can find information about the detailed schedule here, but basically the format was this: over two days, there were nine hours of Latin TPRS and general CI-oriented instruction. We teachers sat behind the class and observed what the instructor did. In the time before and after the Latin class each day, we discussed with the instructor and each other what we’d seen and had opportunities to ask questions and discuss how TPRS works in the real classroom.

The instructor was this guy Justin Slocum Bailey, who came all the way from Michigan to Brattleboro, VT to educate us. If you’ve spent any time with him or his website, you know how lucky we were. If you haven’t, I am excited to introduce you.

Okay, so down to the actual stuff I saw. I’m not going to cover TPRS basics too much because there’s a lot out there already on circling etc. This entry is more specific ways I saw Justin using these techniques very effectively, or just things that I particularly enjoyed.

A quick disclaimer: these are my impressions of what Justin was doing. I can’t speak for his actual motivations or thought process. I’d like to think I’m accurate, but definitely don’t judge Justin solely on how I describe him here.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Latin Novellas: Getting the most out of the editing process

The Latin teacher community is really nice. A lot of people give themselves and their time abundantly to help other teachers. For this reason, sometimes it's easy to take the community for granted. Here are some suggestions from me on how to make sure you get the help you need for editing your work without inadvertently taking advantage of others.

(FWIW, I didn't really follow all of  these steps in writing Cloelia. I am trying to save you woes and rewrites by suggesting a better way of doing things.)

More under the cut.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Latin Novellas: How to improve your Latin

Ah, so you have read the other two entries and you're on board with trying to write really solid Latin. Awesome! Tips below! And I've decided the bit about how to ask for help editing/pre-reading should be its own post, so hold out for that on Thursday.

More under the cut.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Latin Novellas: Why attention to attested usage matters

When it comes to English, I try to be a descriptivist rather than a prescriptivist. If I am in a store and I hear a kid say, "I should of broughten mo' money." (and yes, I've heard kids in my rural, lower income, largely white area say "broughten."), I don't correct them because I'm not a jerk. If however I were writing a novel about similar kids for an ELL audience, I would never ever write "I should of broughten mo' money." Why? Because I don't want to teach them weird things that aren't considered "standard" English by the community of English speakers at large.

(To be clear, I don’t think anyone has written anything at the level of “I should of broughten” in Latin, but I wanted to share that weird example of English doing its living language thing because I think it’s super cool.)

With Latin, the community of Latin speakers is MUCH smaller, and the community of native Latin speakers is dead. All the same, my goal for my kids is for them to be able to read Latin which was written by native speakers and maybe to communicate with other Latinists around the country and throughout the world. Why? Because Latin is a language, and it deserves to be treated as such, even if it’s dead. I’ve struggled a lot with the “point” of teaching a dead language. One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that it doesn’t matter if it’s dead, so long as my kids are still getting the language-learning experience that helps their brains work better (I’m not a neurologist, clearly.). To that end, I want them to be exposed to the things about Latin that aren’t like English: the word order, the morphology, the preference for verb forms compared to English’s love of substantives, everything, etc. Just as we understand other cultures by learning how they differ, I believe we benefit from understanding languages on their own terms.

Now, we’re not perfect Latin speakers. No one alive is, probably. You’re going to make errors. By all means, do so as you teach and in your TPRS stories and whatever you do in your classroom. I’m not saying every Latin teacher needs to be Reginald Foster himself. So long as you are working to improve, ideally by reading more Latin, there’s no problem. (More under the cut)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Latin Novellas: Nuts & bolts

Salvete omnes! I wrote way too many words about Latin novella-writing so this is part one of a three part series.

First things first, these are the ones currently available. There are a lot of people working on more, which is awesome.

Also, just recently a FB group was created for people working on Latin novellas to discuss the process and help each other out a bit, etc. If you're planning to write something or already writing, join it! More under the cut.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Summer fun is speaking Latin!

Salvete internet!

I have been busy! Or rather, I have been at leisure, but in a non-English speaking way, and then lazy because I was tired from all that Latin leisure. The below is as usual a rather rambly reflection on my time at Rusticatio and the other spoken Latin stuff I've done recently. More under the cut.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cloelia update

Woah, would you believe I've sold 100 copies of Cloelia? It's only been out less than a month! Thank you so much, everyone! I am delighted that you like it. If you don't like it, I can't offer refunds but please give it to someone else for free rather than burning it.

Anyway, important news! Life being the way it is, there were errors. I've put out a new version, which I'm calling v.1.1. The links to the new PDF & glossary are on the Cloelia page over here.

Click under the cut to see the detailed changes, but here's a general overview.

General Reasons for Changes

  • Word Choice: forms of alius have been reexamined and often omitted or changed.
  • Pronoun Position: personal pronouns, wherever possible, have been moved to second position to better reflect idiomatic word order. If they are in the first position, they are in most cases meant to be somewhat emphatic. The exception is "et eōs relinquō" on p. 37, which I simply couldn't do neatly. Additionally, "someone and I" phrases, e.g. "pater et ego" have been changed to "I and someone," e.g. "ego et pater" to better reflect Latin idiom.
  • Vowel Length: corrected macrons on nefās, alterīus, and forms of lacrimāre.
  • Prepositions: instances of "ēmittere ad" have been changed to "ēmittere in" to better reflect Latin usage. instances of "contra + accusative ... pugnare" have been changed to "cum + ablative ... pugnare" to better reflect Latin usage.
  • Glossary: added, removed, and changed some definitions to reflect other changes made in this version.
  • Other Changes: All other changes are marked with an asterisk and explained at the note.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Classroom Management Book Club #1: Setting Limits in the Classroom, 3rd Edition: A Complete Guide to Effective Classroom Management with a School-wide Discipline Plan

One of the things I'm doing this summer is trying to read up a bunch on classroom management so I don't suck at it so hard. Last summer, I read Teaching with Love and Logic, which I got a lot out of but I didn't really apply consistently enough. This summer, I have a much longer list. I just finished the first one I was reading, and I need to pick up the pace if I'm going to get through the others. Anyway, some thoughts on my first book. If you like this and want to be part of the book club yourself, join our Facebook group here. I very much recommend it because I'm not actually a super critical reader in this subject so you should really listen to other people's opinions too.

TitleSetting Limits in the Classroom, 3rd Edition: A Complete Guide to Effective Classroom Management with a School-wide Discipline Plan
Author(s):  Robert J. Mackenzie, Lisa Stanzione
Official Website
Amazon Smile link (supporting Red Cross)

My answers to discussion questions.
1. In five words or fewer, what is this book's number one most important classroom management strategy?

Setting limits satisfies students' needs.

2. What was an Aha! moment for you reading this book? More than one is okay. :)

One of the biggest messages is that kids are looking to find the "stopping point," the place where the consequences outweigh the rewards. Kind of an "aha!" for me as a big fan of words is that just words- whatever words they are- don't constitute a stopping point. Lectures, warnings, etc. are "yellow lights," not red ones.

3. What is one technique from this book you feel you could use RIGHT NOW if thrown into a classroom?

Quit wasting time with warnings & needless talk: go straight to the choice: would you like A (continue behavior and receive specific consequence) or B (stop behavior and not receive that consequence)? I need to figure out exactly what those consequences are going to be so I guess I can't do that immediately, but hopefully by September I'll be all set.

4. What are some problems you can see arising from using these methods?

I think someone punitive could read this book and come out of it still really nasty and punitive, even though they emphasize that it's not meant like that. There's some stuff about avoiding kids' attitudes and managing your own, but I think managing one's own adult, neutral attitude is a really big part of making it work. The specific methods in the book I have the biggest problem with involve writing names on boards. I've done that and I don't think it helps. Following through on it helps, of course, but it's better to skip the humiliation.

The biggest NOPE NOPE NOPE moment I had reading this came relatively early with this quote: "Some [students] are suspected of having emotional or learning problems, and a few do, but the vast majority are not suffering from any problem at all. They are simply exercising their willpower in the hope they can wear adults down and do what they want."

Okay, maybe, but not a good attitude to go in with. And even if their problem isn't a capital P problem, being a kid is basically 18 years of brain development, hormones, and unequal treatment that definitely FEELS like problems. So let's have some empathy.

5. If you have already read this or used similar techniques, how have the results been?

When I have done the limited choices thing, it's worked really well. So I should do more of that.

Chapter by chapter reactions below the cut.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A cry for help: a giant multimedia source... sheet? on cultural topics

  1. Does a useful list of ancient & secondary sources including a/v and web for various cultural topics specifically those on the NLE syllabus exist? I know about sourcebooks. Those are only part of it.
  2. Want to help make one? Not comprehensive, obviously; there's much too much info out there. But just stuff that's relatively easily available and readable by and appropriate for MS & HS (or elementary if you want). Because I started already using my own books & resources: click here. I'm basically good on secondary book sources but I want help with Latin & a/v and web sources. If you want to help send me a google email address and I'll give you editing privileges.
    1. Bonus points if you have As the Romans Did and want to help me comb through that because dayyyyum 
    2. OR if you know a lot of easier Latin authors and post-classical texts to consult. 
  3. For the Latin sources ideally 
    1. I'm looking for stuff that would fit the kind of thing Ivy and Melanie have done here
    2. but non-classical and modern texts in Latin are also allowed...
    3. especially if they're compelling and story-driven, e.g. Pluto: Fabula Amoris.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

ACL Roundup

Like almost every other Latin CI blogger, I went to the ACL annual conference last week. If you're not familiar, ACL is the American Classical League, and it's the big national organization for non-college teachers of Latin. I believe it's technically for post-secondary too, but since it focuses on Latin pedagogy, it's de facto secondary & primary level Latin teachers. It'd be cool if more post-secondary types worried about pedagogy, but it's not where we are right now. Even some MAT granting institutions don't actually talk about pedagogy and outsource it to the Ed department... which, well, anyway. ACL.

It was fun! And HUMID. But fun! I saw lots of excellent talks that I feel like I haven't even begun to process properly yet. I actually feel like all the information slid out of my ears on the plane home, unfortunately. Thankfully, a lot of presentations are online here at the meeting's Sched page, so I can jog my memory. I took the liberty of organizing those materials into a big google folder, which you can find here. The starred ones are those that had direct CI applicability.

Here are some random thoughts and take-aways.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

How I succeeded with CI & TPRS this year: everything else

I've already posted some random things I felt went well this year, which mostly turned out to have to do with assessment. I'll aim to post some other things now.

Well, what DID I succeed with?

It's a good time to be a Latinist!

Within the last three or so weeks, the number of Latin novellas on the market has more than doubled!

Here is my cat modeling with the titles on offer. What's great about these is that they are, unlike most textbook readings:
1) actually interesting
2) actually readable by first or second year Latin students
3) starring (some) characters who aren't boys

Well, only two have what you can call female protagonists... and only one (Cloelia, full disclosure it's mine) has ONLY a female protagonist and an equal number of named male & female characters, but it's still better than the Latin textbooks out there. There are more coming out soon from Pomegranate Beginnings with female protagonists, too. We're still working on not white, not hetero representation, but this is a good start. I've got something in mind but it's not my next project. If you have an idea for representing a more diverse Rome in text or whatever medium... DO IT. We need it. Latin is for everyone, not just cisgendered, heterosexual, white English upper-class school boys in good enough shape to row for Oxford when they're done at Eton pip pip cheerio. Let's get our textbooks to reflect that.

You can find them here:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How I succeeded with CI & TPRS this year: Assessment

Okay so it's been a week since I got out of school, and now I will try to write a "successes" post!

I've talked about the plan and how things went wrong. It is probably only fair to myself and my students to do the opposite as well.

Assessment Successes

At some point early on I decided not to do any tests because Unit planning is not... a thing I do... yet... and also because in the previous year I found that I kept pushing them off because my kids weren't actually ready to demonstrate mastery yet. I think no tests was a pretty good idea. It definitely lowered the overall affective filter.

Another thing I decided to do was only unannounced assessments because if people only do well because they cram for something, it doesn't give me useful information about their proficiency. Also, telling them in advance tends to get them stressed out. This was a good idea.

I also called all my quizzes "comprehension checks." Not saying the Q-word turned out to be a great idea. Even though they were effectively quizzes, even halfway through the year I still had students bragging to the Spanish students that we never had quizzes. They still stressed out once they got the papers, but...

since I allowed unlimited retakes it wasn't really a big deal for most of them. Next year I will definitely do retakes again, but I'd like to make it more extra-help oriented (i.e. you have to come work with me or do this extra assignment or something before you're allowed to retake it.). I also need to make multiple versions so they're not retaking the same thing over and over.

Initially my comprehension checks were all in Latin including the questions. I changed that mainly because of what Martina Bex describes in #1 here:
When assessing reading comprehension of target language texts, we almost always ask the questions in English so that an incorrect answer can only be attributed to a misunderstanding of the text, as opposed to a misunderstanding of the question or an ability to ‘hunt and peck’ to find the answer. There are a few exceptions, and they are noted throughout this packet.
Hunting and pecking was DEFINITELY happening before I started doing this. English comprehension questions made it much clearer to me what my students actually were able to understand, and I think many of them liked the change because they didn't have to stress out about the question's meaning. The difficulties here are that it's hard not to "give away" answers by using English questions- e.g. if the target structure was vult and I ask "what did Mary want?" a clever student should be able to figure out vult = want. On the whole I'm okay with that, though, because that in itself is a kind of reading comprehension skill.

Another great idea was no error correction. I based this off some things I read in Conventiculum Bostoniense's excellent pedagogy course, especially this article by Corder. If you've ever graded papers and watched students throw them away after looking only at the grade, this work comes as a breath of fresh air... and it's from 1967. If you don't feel like reading, try this Black Box video from Musicuentos & Indwelling Language on written corrections specifically. Justin has promised there's one coming on Corder's article which talks about oral corrections too I believe. Basically, and you already know this in your heart, most students don't get much out of corrections except a sense of failure. This is so, so so so so so contrary to how we teach Latin traditionally. Mark every tense error! Every voice error! No long marks?! F! F MINUS!

That sucks. It sucks to be that teacher because it's so discouraging. Even the best students make mistakes. And it sucks to be that student even more. "If my paper is going to be covered in red pen regardless, why even try?" So, cut it out, praise instead of blame, and "correct" errors by selective recasting and mostly by providing more correct input and more, and more, and more. Learning language is a slow, weird process. A three year old's English-- no matter how precocious the child-- is charmingly inept. Our students have had MUCH LESS input than a three year old. Why hold them to a higher standard? Additionally, students' errors tell us a lot about what they do know- so dwell on the positive! Here's some more links about how errors can tell us what students know, and how they're NOT random: one, two, three. I could go on, so let's leave this here.

Whew. I feel like that's enough on assessment. Oh, nope, one more.

I didn't do this enough, but it's a five finger system. 1 finger = "That might as well have been Chinese," 5 fingers = "I could teach that right now." 3 fingers is something like "I got what was going on more or less." After a reading, or after I've been speaking with the students, I ask them to rate it by "giving me fingers" (this was not an intentional phrasing and no one noticed that it sounded like I was asking them to gesture inappropriately). I like this rather than thumbs up thumbs down thumb in the middle because it has more of a range. A "1" and a "2" are pretty different in terms of self-perception. A "1" sometimes means "I've given up," whereas a "2" means "I'm still engaged but I really want some help." On a thumbs up/down/side scale, those would both be thumbs down. I think I'll use up/down for agree/disagree next year, but stick with five fingers for comprehension self-evaluation. hat tip to Justin Schwamm, from whom I got this system.

Okay, so this is a lot to chew on for one entry, so I think I will leave it here and do another one on other kinds of success I had. Assessment is one of the weirdest scariest parts of getting into CI-based Latin teaching, so I hope this is helpful.

If you're curious, you can dig around in this folder for comprehension checks. It's a big pile of everything I've been doing for Latin this year so it's not user friendly, but if you search for "CC" you will probably find a bunch.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How I failed at CI & TPRS this year.

The title may be a little dramatic. I have not actually completely failed at CI & TPRS. I am however feeling a little down on myself for how the last part of the year has settled out, so I want to talk about that.

The Plan

The plan was to go full CI all at once, even though I'd been told that wasn't probably a good idea. I've already posted about how changing my grading system entirely was a big NOPE.

In practice this is how my year went: term 1, lots of CI & TPRS story asking organized around important verbs. Hooray! term 2, still okay although pretty disorganized. term 3, started teaching declensions semi-formally because I felt like it was time- that took 3 or 4 weeks of the 10. After that I'm not sure what I did exactly. I was still doing PQA and some TPRS stories and comprehension checks, though. Term 4, totally lost momentum and started doing pure vocab work using Quizlet vocabulary lists based on my Cloelia novella because I really wanted them to be able to read it. Did some TPRS activities still but not all the time. No more timed writes. Less PQA than before. Less spoken Latin than before. Yowch. So basically, started strong but disorganized, ended with more of a goal but less actual CI and more traditional modes. Just as happens to everyone, I guess.

Here's a fun list of the structure I hoped to implement this year, which I apparently last edited on Sept 24, 2015. Here's a document I kept running throughout my first year where I wrote down things I wanted to implement. 

The Reality

Let's go by how they're organized in that latter document. Red is total failure, Black is "meh", Green is success.

  • Vocab by gestures & pics, avoid English as much as possible
  • Dictatio?
  • Read along? (not sure what I meant here)
  • Myth storytime?
  • Central theme with target text? Tight connection between culture & Latin
  • TPR - for key vocab, verb persons, case?
  • TPRS
  • Movie Talks?
  • Circling with balls
  • Storyasks

  • Timed Writes
  • TPRS participation
  • Teambuilding through chariot colors: bigae et quadrigae
  • Games: especially tactile ones
  • Certain holiday celebrations
  • Occasional role-playing days even if I don't do a full RPG
  • Jocelyn’s RPG (edit to add: This is not Jocelyn's excellent myth RPG. This is a draft version for Roman families that she is not ready to release yet because it's not fully developed but it'll be super cool if she does. It failed because I don't have my act together. Jocelyn is super awesome and you should check out her site.)
  • surprise RPGs like the triclinium idea? (idea was students would have surprise game days where they'd have to act out Roman customs like dining etc.)
  • Student jobs
  • Elective homework: choose from a menu of homework options
  • DEA
  • Timed Write portfolio
  • Vocab quizzes written drawn or picture matched
  • 80/80 rule?
  • Tests & Exams with separate skill pages, given out individually as they’re ready? No giant test packets. e.g. a forms section, a vocab section, a reading comp section, they can do them in any order. Only exception is aural comprehension.
  • SBG
  • Safety net words & gestures (+ understanding checks ala Justin Schwamm?)
  • DEA
  • volume levels (
  • Assigned seats
  • 1 nurse pass, 1 bathroom pass
  • Brain breaks
  • I wonder if I can make them keep their bags at the back of the room with phones etc.
  • Remind (or similar)
  • Class website w/ forum (Check with admin)


So I guess how I feel is that I failed at nearly all of the things I planned to implement this year. OUCH.
Things I did but didn't do as well as I wanted are: assigned seats, TPRS storyasking itself, MovieTalks, Timed Writes (but not portfolios thereof), and dictatios. Things I succeeded on mostly are getting them to keep their bags at the back (but not their phones), safety net words, 1-5 understanding checks. 


Of those things I failed at, how many do I want to try for real again next year? Well, I definitely want more culture ideally tied to a central text. I'd like to do elective homework and student jobs. And naturally, I really want to get better at those things I only kind of succeeded at.

Let's make a nice numbered list of goals for each of those headings.
  1. Input: Use spoken Latin every day. 
    1. Stretch goal: provide backup listening & reading input online. 
  2. Output: Aim for everyone in Latin-only time every day, even if it's only 5-10 minutes. 
    1. Stretch goal: Figure out how to make TL writing attractive and assessable. 
  3. Engagement: Use routines to keep from losing momentum in "down time." 
    1. Stretch goal: Find a way to get ~100% participation when storyasking... 
  4. Assessment: Plan units ahead of time with clear means of assessing proficiency in a variety of modes. I say that, but I have no idea how to do that.
  5. Environment: Use Teaching with Love & Logic techniques to improve classroom management.
  6. Communication: Use a proper LMS to help organize student work, streamline assessment, & make parent/teacher/student communication easier. 
  7. New category: Culture: tie units to cultural themes and actually get work done with them.
  8. New category: Organization: Have actual units with target structures and themes.
So... those are some thoughts on best laid plans. Next post I'll write about successes, I guess. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

No excuses.

This might sound crazy: something my assistant superintendent said inspired me this year. No, really. It's not something very deep or new, but it really hit me and it's informed my teaching and self-reflection a lot this year. What he said was this:

No excuses.

He might have said something like "I'm not interested in excuses." Either way, when I first heard it I thought "Yeah! No excuses! Kids need to come to school ready to work hard!"

That wasn't what he meant. He was, after all, talking to the district's teachers. He elaborated. I'm definitely not quoting here because this was months ago now, but basically he reminded us of our context. It's like this- we're in a tough district, with a lot of kids with a lot of problems at home. It's easy to blame them, or blame their parents or lack thereof, or blame the lack of funding, or our old facilities or lack of materials. It's easy to blame teachers they've had before us, or their lack of personal responsibility, or their phones, or society at large for telling every kid they deserve a trophy, or society at large for telling every poor kid they don't deserve a damn thing so don't bother trying. These things all contribute to making our jobs harder. We definitely face challenges and there's a lot of things that make problems for us.

That said, no excuses.

We're here to do our job, which is to teach these kids. However the kids come to us, it's our job to do the best we can to teach them. That doesn't mean "the best we can to teach them given that their parents aren't supportive, and they're addicted to their phones, and our district doesn't have enough staff, etc. etc." It means "the best we can." Full stop. No excuses.

There are a million, million reasons why my classes don't go smoothly that have absolutely nothing to do with me. But you know what? I can't really do anything about those million, million reasons. What I can do is take responsibility for my own teaching.

Self-flagellation comes naturally to me. I'm a life-long anxiety & depression headcase. I've done a lot of work training myself not to constantly bash myself mentally. This isn't about bashing myself. This is about taking responsibility for my actions: honoring the good and acknowledging the bad.

I have failed in a lot of ways this year, as I've posted about before. I've also been successful in a lot of ways. I'm not going to give my students credit for my successes because I worked hard to make them happen. But neither should I blame my students for my failures because I made those happen too.

What does this look like practically? Here's an example.
S: *has phone out, is openly texting during class discussion*
Me, 9/10 times this year: *ignores*

So when it's May, and little Sally has her phone out again, and I'm about to pop a vein in my forehead because I wish she'd just put the damn thing away and LISTEN for godssakes, I have to pause and think about it.

Who took the phone out? Sally.
Who showed Sally it's okay to have her phone out in class? I did. Every time another student had their phone out and I did nothing, I might as well have told Sally, "Take your phone out anytime. I don't mind. It's not disrespectful or distracting in any way for me. You just do you."

So. I can react to Sally's phone in one of two ways. I can be angry and I can blame her and society and kids these days. Or, I can take responsibility and try to fix the situation. Maybe I can't fix it long term today. But I can certainly ask her to put it away and remember to write her up (school policy) if she doesn't. And I can take responsibility and try to make sure it doesn't happen again by being firmer in the future and being more consistent and doing the hard thing and taking action 10/10 times I see a phone, even if I don't feel like it or I'm in the middle of a sentence.

So, no excuses. It sounds rough, but I actually find it quite freeing and positive. I can do something. There maybe are a million, million problems out there making my job harder and about which I can't do anything. But what I can do is take some personal responsibility for my classroom and my behavior, just as I'd like my students themselves to do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

CI Methods: an obvious epiphany

Friends, I just figured out why "CI methods" isn't a thing. Yes, I know I've been looking into CI for over a year. Yes, I know you already understand why it's not a thing. Just in case you don't, though, I'm going to share my epiphany. Don't laugh.

CI Methods isn't a thing because CI isn't a methodology. It's material we use to reach a goal.

Think of it this way: there are a lot of kinds of chefs. Some chefs focus on Italian food. Some focus on dessert and we call them pastry chefs. Some focus on making weird foams that no one really wants to eat. All chefs, however, work with food.

CI is food. Without food, we are hungry. Without CI, we do not acquire language.

Maybe we should stop abbreviating it because acronyms feel specific and official and definable. Ditto capitalization. There's no such thing as Comprehensible Input. There's just input that's comprehensible, and input that isn't. As Latin teachers, we've traditionally been doing the latter. Oops. That's like a chef making supper out of clay and paint: it might look like something delicious and nutritious, but it's not.

This lowercase comprehensible input is not a method. It's stuff. Stuff we have to use to do our job as language teachers (or communication facilitators or whatever BVP is calling it this week).

It's the material. It's not the method. We don't talk about "food chefs." All (effective) chefs work with food. Maybe a pastry chef focuses on food that's in dessert form. Maybe an Italian chef focuses on food that tastes like food in Italy. But it's all food, and it all fills your belly. So you can't have a "CI teacher." You can have an effective language teacher- one who works with comprehensible input, or you can have a non-CI teacher who is perhaps still effective, but not at language acquisition. Maybe they're an effective teacher of grammar- that's like being a teacher of food science. Even if you know all the chemistry, though, you still can't make a souffle without some eggs. Lowercase comprehensible input is the eggs. And you don't call a chef who makes souffles an Egg Chef. You call him or her a chef.

I can't believe I just got this. This might be totally incomprehensible to someone who isn't me, but I felt like I needed to get it out. I hope this is helpful for someone else, or perhaps you'll get a laugh.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Failures 2015-16: Classroom culture & management

Hands down my biggest problem is classroom management, and inextricably tied to that, class culture. Roman culture in class is also a big failure of mine, but that's another post. From the random list I made on my "The highlight reel is a lie" post, here are the bullets I think I'll address this time:
  • Building positive class culture
  • Consistency, fairness, and firmness in classroom management
  • Building routines
I'm so, so bad at this, guys. If I want to board the excuses train I could tell you that our population isn't super academically motivated, and most of them haven't learned manners at home, and kids these days are just too into their phones blah blah blah

But those things are true for all of us at times. And this is a blooper reel, not a highlight reel, so here's how I've failed. (under the cut)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Failures 2015-16: Grading

Last time I posted about how we really need to share our failures. This post is a reflection on one massive way I've failed this year, what I've learned from it, and how I plan to not fail the same way next year. Based on last time's list, today's featured failures are:

  • Standards-based grading and consequently my whole grading system
  • Getting papers back to kids on time
  • Rigor (I'm okay with learning the material being easy, but I'm not okay with it being easy to pass when you don't do any work)

Okay, time for some self-recrimination!

Best Laid Plans

The plan looked like this. I was going to use rubrics and these rubrics would each be 25% of the grade and it was going to be ever so forward-thinking and objective and proficiency based.

What Happened

Overall, students hated it.

They really didn't like being penalized for classroom behavior in the "Communication" section. "Communication" wasn't actually objective at all since it was largely based on my recollections.
"Presentational" was really hard to figure out how to grade since all I had were Timed Writes & Free Writes, which the kids hated to do, and I'd made the rubric before actually seeing what they could do.
"Comprehension" was basically okay since it was based mostly on written "comprehension checks." I didn't even assess any culture, so that 25% was empty. I also hadn't realized yet that Output should really really really not be graded as hard as comprehension, so the 25% each categories was a terrible idea.

My gradebook now is a mess. My categories eventually just became Classwork and Understanding. The former is stuff we do in class that isn't meant to be major and is mostly a completion grade. The latter is comprehension checks. There used to be categories where Dictatios went and I tried doing DEA-style grades for Communication for a while, but it was bad. It was a mess. It's still a mess, honestly, and I don't feel like the grades really reflect student proficiency or effort. I have kids with B's who know almost nothing and do even less. That is a problem.

My students generally have no idea how any given assignment will affect their grade, and neither do I! Since I'm so bad at handing back papers on time, they're also usually entirely in the dark about their grades until progress reports time. Some surprises are good, like when you find a dollar in your pocket. Grade surprises can be good, but even then they shouldn't be happening.

In the future...

Oh boy. Man, I don't know. All I know is I need it to be much more flexible from the beginning, and I need to design things so that both the kids and I have constant, current access to their grades. I'm thinking it might be one big category of points rather than differently weighted categories for different types of work. One day in the future I may try SBG or PBG again, but I now know two things:

  1. It's really important to design your rubrics based on actual student work, not what you hope they can do.
  2. New grading schemes are bewildering and upsetting for all concerned. Do not implement them all at once. Bad idea!

As for the organization thing, I'm planning to try to go (mostly) paperless. I want to use Schoology or another Learning Management System to collect student work in one place where we can track their progress and communicate about grades on a regular basis. The plan is for them to always have access to the grading scheme, their own work, and my comments. If they come up to me and ask what their grade is, I want to be able to say, "Go check." If they ask what they can do to bring it up, I want to be able to say, "Go check." I don't mean I want to push them away; rather, I want them to have a means of taking ownership of their progress themselves. Once they've looked, we can talk about it. But I shouldn't be the one holding all the keys. And I definitely shouldn't have custody of papers.

Anyway, that's one big way I feel I've failed this year. How about you? What's your biggest grading mistake?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Highlight Reel is a Lie.

There's this idea I came across- can't find the link, unfortunately- that the selves we show online are a "highlight reel." The context I found was parenting. If you are on social media, you probably have connections who seem to always be posting something delightful they're doing with their kids or students or crafting time. Pinterest is basically built on this kind of posting. Depending on your mood, that might make you feel awesome and glad for them. But if you're human and having a rough day, you might also see it and think, "Why can I not be like this? How is X always doing all these things? I don't have the time to do that. I'm not good enough to do that. I could never do that."

Well, no, you couldn't be that good all the time. And you know what? Neither can they. Let's consider this totally randomly chosen thing I found searching Pinterest for classrooms. Here's a picture:

Behold. The mason jars labeled with their particular, unmixed contents. The different colored ribbons, beautifully tied. The perfect new pencils, all the same way up in the jar. The markers, not yet dried out, with their caps on properly. The crayons, whole and unbroken. The clean, pink, erasers which have never yet shed their skin in hard labor. It is a beautiful vision. I yearn for this.

It is also a lie.

You teach. You know this. Think about how this is going to go.

Those markers and pencils are never going to be the right way up again, and consequently, will not fit in the jars. Within a month or less, they will probably all have migrated elsewhere- in your classroom if you're lucky. The crayons and erasers will be traumatized and mixed up. There's a pretty solid chance one of these glass jars is going to end up breaking. Probably the crayons one because that will make the most mess.

This is beautiful and I want my life to be like this. But I am on my own a major force for entropy, and once kids are added into the mix, things are never going to be this neat and perfect again.

Teaching is like that too. Our best practices look amazing on paper and sometimes we even carry them out as planned. When that happens, we celebrate! We post on social media! We share on our blogs about this awesome activity we just happened to come up with on the fly, you know, no big deal just a genius!

What we don't do is share our failures. Or, if we do, they're few and far between. There are a lot of really good professional reasons NOT to share our failures. But there are also a lot of really good professional reasons TO share them, provided we do so in a reflective way.

Here's a great post from Rachel Ash about when she felt she was failing her kids. And here's another recent one from Keith about how to deal with the ugly feelings we have when we see those super teacher posts where everything seems to be going right all the time.

So, I'm going to try to share some failures. This is mostly for me, if I'm honest. I need to reflect on all the things that have gone wrong this year and figure out how to fix them for next year (I hope). I'll post more in depth about some of these things in the following few days, but here are some things I've failed at this year.
  • Standards-based grading and consequently my whole grading system
  • Student jobs
  • Getting papers back to kids on time
  • Teaching World History in an engaging manner
  • Using Timed Writes effectively
  • Building positive class culture
  • Planning ahead both long term & day-by-day (oh boy have I failed at this)
  • Including culture in my curriculum, particularly by using an RPG
  • Consistency, fairness, and firmness in classroom management
  • Building routines
  • Rigor (I'm okay with learning the material being easy, but I'm not okay with it being easy to pass when you don't do any work)
  • Using spoken Latin every single day for the majority of class time (Depending on the week it's sometimes almost none or 5-15 minutes a day)
I could go on, but you get the idea. I suppose I should post some successes, too, but let's leave this on a negative note just to make sure there's at least one post on the internet that is NOT a highlight reel. :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spoken Latin in the classroom

The core tenet of CI is that kids need comprehensible input to acquire language-- a LOT of it. As Latin teachers we traditionally only provide input in written form, and it's rarely if ever actually comprehensible. So how can we deliver more input? By speaking Latin... a LOT. Terrifying! Right?

Well, yes. It's hard. But we've got to do it. I'm going to say right now that I'm really very weak. We've done classroom commands and stuff but I hardly ever use them. We do attendance in Latin now, but that's limited to "adestne Marcus?" "adsum." etc. When I'm doing a story or PQA, I speak Latin, but I pretty regularly break into English, and very few of the kids use Latin beyond sic, non, and adsum. One of my goals for next year* is to really push the spoken Latin and use it whenever possible.

Oh wait there's the rub. "Use it whenever possible." There are two huge constraints on this before we even worry about the kids' use of English. The first is the teacher's ability to speak, and the second is the kids' ability to understand.

As Latin teachers, we are usually pretty horrible at output. Most of us never even take prose comp courses, and forget about speaking practice. I posted previously about how to improve your spoken Latin (tl;dr: the answer is get more comprehensible input yourself!).

What about ensuring that the kids can understand you? You can read Cicero to them all day and they won't acquire a damn thing. You have to make sure that the input you provide is truly comprehensible. How do we do that? More under the cut.

Friday, May 6, 2016

"So, do you speak Latin?"

Recently I wrote a post for CANE's blog, CANENS, and I posted it to Latin Teacher Idea Exchange on Facebook. A fellow teacher replied,
When you have time, would you be willing to expand on your use of oral Latin? Like most Latin teachers, I was not taught to speak Latin so I am super hesitant to start. But I know I should get over myself for the sake of my students. How did you start?
So here I am. First, the title of this entry. sodales, you know that question and the embarrassment that attends it. "Well, no, but you see, I can read it. I mean like I've been reading it for a really long time. So I KNOW it, I just don't speak it. You see?" I cringe inside every time I have to answer that. Or I used to, anyway. No one's asked me in a while. But I hated that question because well, NO, I didn't speak Latin, even though I'd been studying it for half my life. Ouch.

But now I do speak Latin. Kind of. I can have conversations about random stuff especially if it's not technology-heavy subject matter. I'm still not fluent at ALL and there's a pretty heavy English influence on my word order. But I certainly speak it better than I do any other language besides English, my L1.

So, how did I start? Some tips to get over the hump.

1. Yes, you do know Latin. I have been studying Latin for 15ish years. I may not speak Latin, but I know it. You do too. It's there, even if it takes a while to come out.

2. Be patient with yourself. Go look at this entry and turn those tips on yourself. Guess what? You're going to get case endings and tenses wrong. All the time. ALL the time. It's not the end of the world. Do your best to get it right when you're teaching a new structure, but if it's just in passing or practice with other Latinists, give yourself a break. I've heard excellent Latinists who have been speaking for YEARS make case mistakes. It's what happens. How do you think Italian was invented?

3. Baby steps. You don't have to be able to give a lecture in Latin to start using it with your kids. On the contrary, you really shouldn't! You need to pick a way to say yes & no (I use sic and non.), a couple of adjectives, and you're done. Like this:
Board: -ne = ?, sic = yes, non = no, procerus = tall, brevis = short, est = is.
T: estne Shelby procera? :gesture with your hand way above Shelby's head: (Your speaking speed should be something around where the bad kind of tourist tries to speak English to non-English-speaking locals: EHSSSTTTT NAY SHELBY PROOOOO-CEHR-AHH?)
Ss: non.
T: bene! Shelby procera non est! estne Shelby brevis? :gesture below Shelby's height:
Ss: sic.
T: sic! Shelby brevis est! estne Shelby brevis an procera? :use each hand to gesture one or the other:
Ss: short?
T: bene! :big smiles: Shelby brevis est! Shelby procera non est! Shelby brevis est!
Repeat with other students. Pick some more adjectives or nouns. Consider throwing in some comparatives- estne Shelby procerIOR quam Julia? etc. Congrats, you're using oral Latin in the classroom. It gets more complex from there as you need it to. Check out this lesson plan by Keith Toda. You'd be doing the same as above, only add in some question words (again, provide them on the board). You can ask: estne elephantus laetus? estne elephantus tristis? vultne Earl elephantum? etc. Which brings us to 3.

4. The bar is not that high. In Keith's story, you are only dealing with three verbs (est, habet, vult) and two adjectives (laetus, tristis). It's not brain surgery. You can do this on Day 1 of Latin class even if you have never taken Latin and have only read this post & Keith's.


Your kids don't speak Latin either. They won't know you're keeping it simple. They need you to keep it simple, and go slow, and repeat yourself.

There is no one to feel embarrassed in front of or to feel inadequate compared to. Spend a couple minutes practicing Latin with your kids every day or so, point at your board a lot, and your speech will become smoother.

5. Take any opportunity to improve. The above stuff will get you over that embarrassment hump. Now let's talk about how to become a functional Latin speaker. A bullet list! In ascending order of effort required!
I hope that gives you some ideas on how to take the plunge. Next time, I'll talk more about how I use it in class on a daily(ish) basis.

edit 8/4/2016: Look under the tag "Spoken Latin" for more similar entries, especially this one with a much better list of resources & opportunities. You may also find this "Useful Phrases for Spoken Latin" document helpful for saying a lot of things Cicero never taught you how to say.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Latin, Latin everywhere

Two announcements relating to Latin reading material.

I wrote a novella.

This is not a final draft, if ever there will be such a thing. It's definitely a work in progress, but the story is complete and it's been proofread by many people. That being said, since I am still making changes, there will be errors. Please comment if you find any, or if something seems unclear.

Some questions you might have:
1. May I use this for my class?
Absolutely. Give me feedback on how it goes. Click here for copyright info in friendly, comprehensible language.

2. Is this appropriate for all ages?
... That depends on you and your administrators and your students' parents. It contains two stories about rape: chapter five about Lucretia, and chapter six about Callisto. They're not graphic or anything: all it is is scelus contra feminam fecit, cupivit, and violavit. If you want to, you can print it off without those two chapters. It's designed to work even if those are skipped.

That being said, I think that they're important discussion points for how Romans viewed honor and womanhood, and they explain the importance of vows, which will become relevant later in the story. I'd say definitely you can read it with 9-12 graders, and with middle schoolers if you feel confident no one will flip out. The concepts in it are probably overall a little confusing for elementary schoolers so I'd suggest just using adapted excerpts with them.

3. Is there a glossary?
Yeah, here. Use that spreadsheet to make whatever style of glossary you like best. I will probably do a version of the text with side by side vocab eventually, and I do plan to make a printable booklet version of that full glossary as well.

4. Are you going to publish this so I can buy real book versions?
Eventually, I hope so. If I self-publish it and can sell hard copies, I hope I'll be able to include illustrations. Know anyone who wants to do illustrations? For a one-time fee? Email me!

In any case, it will still remain online for free, because it's important to me to make more reading material available NOW, and I am lucky enough to not need the extra income that exclusively selling it might offer (nor am I so deluded to think that amount of income would even buy me a soda!) 

For right now I suggest booklet-printing it on your school copier. Make sure you keep that last blank page.

5. I want to do work! Is it okay if I make something to add to it, like illustrations or grammar notes or audio recordings or videos or a full/partial English translation or tiered versions of the chapters?
YES. PLEASE DO. Just credit me as the author of the story, and share your work with others (and ideally me!). Click here for a summary of adaptation & sharing & attribution rights.

6. Copyright Information

And secondly...

Mille Noctes is live!

What is Mille Noctes? Think of it as a children's library for Latin. It's my attempt at creating a central place for Latin teachers to share free, low-level Latin readings. My direct inspiration was listening to Kevin Ballestrini's "Gradus Parvi" presentation at CANE 2016, which can be found here. In it, he presented a variety of ideas about reading material for Latin learners, but one thing he made a call for was a central place teachers could go to just find a ton of stories. That's what I'm trying to do, basically.

Right now it's almost all my own stories, but I have several more to put up from other teachers. Many of the stories began as story scripts for TPRS and can be used that way, but there are also several that are better for reading.

So, this is my request to you. Check it out. See if it'll be useful to you. Share it with your students as a place to go for more Latin. If you have piles of original Latin stories- whether you're a CI teacher or not- consider sharing them with the world. If you don't want to share them directly on the blog, I'd be happy to share them as links to a Google Doc or other site. The more stories, the better.

For a more thorough description of what MN is and why it is what it is, click here for its About page and here for its How to Use page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

More on building my CI curriculum

First, a clarification...

I think in my previous post I gave the impression that a CI Latin curriculum has to be an untextbooked curriculum. That is definitely NOT the case. I was focusing on that because that's the kind of curriculum I'm doing, but you can and should do CI with textbooks. The only reasons to abandon your textbook are
(1) if you're too Type A to let others control your scope & sequence (that's me), 
(2) you just don't have enough books or access to online books.
(3) you have an awesome team of CI colleagues with whom you can work to build your ideal curriculum

Your life will be a lot easier if you keep hold of the textbook as a guideline and a life preserver in the seas of curriculum design.

No matter where you get your curriculum, keep these principles in mind, and you'll be a-okay. Oh, and read Lance's thing on the actual logistics of a CI program.

Teach meaning, not grammar. 

In CI, kids don’t learn about language. They learn the language itself. That is, your goal is to hook them up with meaningful, understandable input as much as possible. When they want to know why you keep changing the endings on words, they’ll ask. If you start with that, they’ll tune out or listen but decide it’s too hard. You’ve seen it happen. Tell them what they want to know, when they want to know it. Don’t tell them more than they want to know or again, you’ll lose them.

And once they do ask- your English grammar explanations need to be comprehensible too. Let’s say we’re working with puella delphīnum vult and you say “estne delphīnus piscis?”
You could say:
“When it’s ‘wants the dolphin’ dolphin has to be delphīnum because in Latin direct objects of transitive verbs have to have accusative endings. But when it's 'is the dolphin a fish?' the dolphin is the subject, which means it has to have a nominative ending, hence delphīnus.” 
But to a kid who’s not good with English grammar already, that translates to “you’re too stupid to understand, so don’t ask next time.” Instead, try something like this. Include the [] stuff if the kids are good with parts of speech, but they're not necessary:

Ultra short version:
T: in Latin when the action [of the verb] is happening to something [a noun], that something gets an M on the end. :smile: 
Version for the kid who says "but WHY?"
T: In English would you ever say ‘the girl wants he’?
S: No?
T: Right, what would you say? The girl wants...
S: …him…?
T: Exactly. delphīnum is like ‘him’ and delphīnus is like ‘he,’ except in Latin all the words do it, not just the he’s and him’s. Isn’t that cool?
The student will then think you’re an idiot for finding that cool, but you won’t have scared them off.

Be patient.

Grant Boulanger has this great saying:
When ACQUIRING another language:
First, we learn to LISTEN.
We learn to READ what we've heard.
We learn to WRITE what we've read and heard.
We SPEAK because we've heard, read and written it.
In short, your students will not be speaking fluent Latin anytime soon. They will mix up case and verb endings for a long time, probably years. That doesn’t mean they haven’t learned anything. If they can mostly understand you and the readings, they’re progressing well. Ability to comprehend will always be much better than ability to produce. Luckily, as Latin teachers, there’s little pressure to force our kids to produce perfect language quickly. Don’t weight output tasks heavily. Composition practice is an interesting change of pace and can be useful, but it’s definitely not how you should measure their OR your success. The biggest way they’re going to learn is by listening to you and by reading comprehensible texts. Focus on that, and the rest will come in time.

Be flexible, but don’t lose sight of your goals.

Things aren’t always going to go as smoothly as you’d like. That’s okay. Build a lot of extra cushion into your curriculum. That being said, it’s easy to go off track and end up teaching random stuff that you didn’t really need to. Consciously limit your vocabulary: if you have debet, you don't need necesse est. But really, if you're properly unsheltering grammar (which I'm not doing a good job of at all), your kids will get the high frequency things they need.

Keep good notes as you go.

Reflect on paper, whether digital or real. Keep track of what your kids know versus what you think you taught- not so you can flagellate them or yourself, but so you have an idea of what sticks when. Keep notes on what worked well and what bombed. Then start a blog and tell us about it because we could use the insight. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Planning a CI Curriculum. I hope.

My school requires us to put a Unit-by-Unit plan into an online system with learning goals and assessments and activity plans and essential questions and objectives and and and and and etc. Doing this for a CI course is a total headache. No one has put anything of this level online and I can understand why. Such things exist for other languages, but you have to buy them. One day maybe you’ll be able to buy Latin ones too. A girl can dream!

This year, however, I have been building my own curriculum ē culō, if you will. I am going to share with you how I have been doing that. Here’s the tl;dr version:
  1. Define goals and limits…
  2. … and create a curriculum that suits them.
  3. Choose vocabulary based on frequency and utility.
  4. Choose target structures based on frequency and utility.

Define goals and limits...

Consider these questions.
  1. Are you using a textbook?
  2. Do you have the freedom to transform your curriculum?
  3. What are your goals for your students?
  4. How much can your students realistically acquire in a year?
Here are my personal answers.
  1. No. My kids seem to hate books, and I'm a control freak so I don’t like doing what textbooks tell me to. This is crazy and I recommend you let a book help you.
  2. Yes, I am the only Latin teacher, and I can basically teach however I want. 
  3. The usual goal for a Latin teacher is for students to be able to read classical Latin literature by their fourth year. That’s my “reach” goal. For right now, it’s more like “get them to see English isn’t the only language” and “have at least one academic class they don’t hate.”
  4. With TPRS the average number of structures you can hope for a class to acquire in a year is between 150-200. That means that if you have 40 weeks of class, you can do roughly 5 structures a week (at best!).*  
* Edited to add this note: This number comes from my Blaine Ray TPRS workshop. I strongly suspect that this number depends A LOT on (a) how much input the teacher is able to provide, (b) how comprehensible that input is, (c) how interesting that input is, and finally (d) individual student aptitude and attention. That means it should be considered an upper limit, probably. Realistically I think this year my kids have got about 50 vocabulary words really solidly known in many forms, and they can deal with present & imperfect tense active indicative pretty well. They have also seen perfect & future but I wouldn't say they've internalized how those work yet.

… and create a curriculum that suits them.

So, my curriculum should:
  • have a maximum of 150-200 target structures
  • follow whatever scope & sequence I think is most useful
  • not scare kids away or make them hate me or themselves
My first year I taught out of CLC and none of those requirements were met. Good heavens, not by a long shot. This year I have been going by the seat of my pants and things are more or less working out. That middle point though- the scope & sequence- is really very hard to do on your own. I looked around at different books and things. The thing I’ve found that works best for me is to just follow the NLE syllabus for scope & sequence, plus some additions to Latin I that make life more interesting (complementary infinitives) and grammar more comprehensible.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Staying in the Target Language: Tips from someone bad at it (& thoughts on an EdCamp)

On Saturday I attended langcampct, an "EdCamp" for language teachers. An EdCamp is an "unconference" (I know) which is sort of a thing where the participants themselves decide, on the day, what sessions they'd like to have, and there's no dedicated panel leaders or schedules or talks. On the whole, I think such a format would be most valuable as part of a larger pedagogy conference: one or two blocks of "unconference" with more structure for the rest of the day. That aside, it was interesting and valuable, and most importantly, free!

This is what our session schedule ended up looking like.
You can find notes from all the sessions linked there, and there are some additional ones here.

The session I got the most out of in terms of concrete ideas was about ways to encourage students to use the target language (editable doc: please be careful). I didn't love everything I heard- since it was not all CI people by any means, there was a lot about forcing output. But, this leads us to the main topic of this post.

One major goal for a lot of CI practitioners is to stay in the TL for 90% of the class time. This is something I struggle with big time for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I'm not that good at Latin-speaking yet. Working on that. But also, my kids aren't super interested in participating because there's no motivation for them to do so. I've tried a lot of different participation tracking systems but they're hard to keep track of in the moment and they're mostly fundamentally punitive. So... Gotta find a good way. Here are some things I've been chewing on lately, plus my favorites from this past weekend's "unconference."

Friday, April 8, 2016

Pattern Sentence Scramble Game

This game is the one I mentioned several posts ago, here. When I say "pattern sentence" below, I mean the kind of sentences I described in that post. This is a game you can play without doing that method of teaching declensions, too, however.

Grammar-brained students find this laughably easy, although they'll still mix up the vocab order sometimes. I have a handful of students who do poorly with both text and listening, and this really works well for them. They felt very good about themselves, which isn't usually how they feel when we do grammar. Middle range students find it helpful, although somewhat boring because I haven't worked out how to make it competitive.

Students practice composing English to Latin sentences with heavy scaffolding. Through this activity, they get a sense for how Latin uses endings to change meaning. The limited vocabulary and fixed syntax makes the importance of endings really clear. Once they're really good at this, you can make sentences that don't follow the exact pattern and reuse the same cards.

Is this CI? No. It's not CI because it's not input. I tried to bear in mind the concept of comprehensibility, however, which is why all the heavy scaffolding. This really has no place in a truly "pure" CI classroom. That said...

The fixed syntactical order of the sentence removes the difficulty of figuring out which ending to use. Once the kids figure out that order, all they have to do is decide if a noun is singular or plural. The goal here is not for them to compose sentences by understanding the function of the cases; it's for them to understand the function of the cases by composing sentences.

The English on the back of the vocab cards and the case functions on the back of the ending cards are there for the same reason: this isn't an activity about showing what you've learned already. It's about having all the information and tools ready and waiting, with clear instructions (color, fixed syntax, fixed order, helpful teacher <-- necessary! not a sub plan activity!). If giving a kid a chart and a dictionary is like sending someone to a lumber yard with a picture of a night table and a shopping list, this is like sending someone to IKEA for a night table. It's still possible to make mistakes, but you'll probably end up with something not entirely unlike a table in the end.

Actual game prep, materials, and instructions follow!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Careers in Latin

Don't get your hopes up- it's not new jobs for Latin lovers :)

A very simple post today. I'm starting a res gestae project with my kids and the first step is having them pick careers (so, Auggie's career was "princeps" right?). Here's the list of careers I've been working on based partly on student requests.

click me click me

Please do feel free to add or comment. I'd appreciate it if you not change my entries as they stand; make a note in the "notes" field if you have a correction. Thank you :)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Teaching declensions contextually... and maybe comprehensibly? using pattern sentences

This year as you know I have been trying to do CI. However, like all Latin teachers using CI, I'm still struggling with the whole no-explicit-grammar-teaching-really-are-you-sure thing. There are a variety of ways to deal with this. I'm going to tell you today about one thing I did this year that seems to have helped to make the concepts of case endings and declensions semi-comprehensible. Just the concepts. It is still not real CI, but it helps bridge the gap.

It's also definitely not proper grammar instruction, and even though I'm explaining the entire first declension, you're not going to see any words ending in -tive for the rest of this post, so maybe take a deep breath if that's going to bother you. I'll do a proper post sometime on why I'm committing such heresy, I promise. The short version is as follows: most of my kids aren't going to a four year college, if they go to college at all. Most of them aren't going to a college that offers Latin, if they go to college at all. I love grammar, but they don't. What they need is time in school where they are doing something that they don't hate and that stimulates their brains. I tend to lay off the grammar heavy stuff because it scares them away. If that doesn't work for you, don't do it. My students may not be your students. Feel free to take some or all or NONE of my ideas here. I'm not trying to start a revolution against grammar- just trying to get through to my own kids and share what works.

Teach them Latin using CI for a couple of months. Get them used to hearing you use nouns in different cases without making a big deal out of it. Mix in those first and second declension nouns with third declension nouns, those neuters, maybe some i-stems if you're feeling spicy. Be a big kid and even use a fifth declension dies! If you don't tell them it's hard Latin II stuff, they won't think it's hard. Really!

When enough of them have asked about "why you keep saying canis instead of canem" or whatever, it is time for the first declension unit. One day, write the following on the board. Include the English! I call this a "pattern sentence," btw.
simia piratae astronautae ariēnam in lunā dat.
The monkey of the pirate gives the astronaut a banana on the moon.
Ask them to imagine the scene. Do it as dramatically as you can pull off. Circle it: Quis dat astronautae arienam in luna? Cuius simia astronautae arienam in luna dat? cui dat simia piratae arienam in luna? Datne simia piratae astronautae arienam in VILLA? non. etc. As they get bored of it, break it up by adding details like so:
Ask them what color the monkey is. What color the moon is. Maybe draw it on the board, but encourage them to build their own mind picture with their eyes closed too. Why does that monkey give the astronaut a banana? What's the pirate's name? Get this image into their brains. Ask them to draw it themselves, if you like (they would like to). Display their drawings. They may be 17, but they still love it when mom/teacher puts their drawings on the fridge/bulletin board.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

MadLibs! How to get reps in without feeling the burn

MadLibs is a fantastic activity for when you are low on brainpower. It is a terrible activity for a day you are losing your voice, so don't use it then. It's also a great activity for your lowest achievers to get some class work done for once! TPRS stories are perfect for this since they're essentially MadLibs to begin with.

The steps to using it are as followings:
1. Earlier in the week, tell a story, TPRS style (or however). Maybe your story turns out like this:
Jack wants dogs. Jack goes to McDonalds. In McDonalds there are many dogs, and they are hungry. The dogs eat Jack.
2. Review it at least one more time through choral reading &/or translation or reenactment or something else to get them familiar with the target structures, story pattern, & vocabulary.

3. Hand out MadLibs sheet, which looks like this:
__________ (1) person
__________ (2) person or thing, plural
__________ (3) place
__________ (4) adjective (describing word)
__________ (5) transitive verb (I would never use the word 'transitive' for my students though)

 __________ (1) wants a __________ (2). __________ (1) goes to __________ (3). In __________ (3) there are many __________ (2), and they are __________ (4). The __________ (2) __________ (5) __________ (1).

Now draw the ending of the story to show me you understand what happened.
So you could end up with:
Hello Kitty (1) person
sandwiches (2) person or thing, plural
Rome (3) place
fuzzy (4) adjective (describing word)
kidnap (5) transitive verb

Hello Kitty wants sandwichesHello Kitty goes to Rome. In Rome there are many sandwiches, and they are fuzzy. The sandwiches kidnap Hello Kitty.

(imagine there is a beautiful drawing of Hello Kitty in a sack being carried by sandwiches here)
n.b.: The picture part is important because it shows you whether the kids comprehended their own story or not.

4. Reenactment time! Ask for volunteers to be actors & to have their stories read. Actors do not have to be the ones who wrote a given story. Read each MadLib aloud as the actors perform it. Reps, reps, reps!

Extra tips:

  • The MadLib should be in the TL, but I always allow them to fill in the parts of speech in English so there's no limit to the madness. It also means even your weakest, most "I don't know Latin I can't do this" kids have no excuse not to write down some random words. 
  • ... but  if someone puts an English word that you know everyone should have acquired by now (e.g. stupid = stultus, and they all know that), replace the English with Latin when you read aloud. I also always fix inflection of nouns, etc.
  • Make it shorter than your original TPRS story. If your story had 3 locations, cut it down to one or two. Filling in the blanks gets pretty arduous.
  • I often put them in pairs to do the MadLib part, since they're going to be asking each other for help thinking of adjectives anyway. I still require each individual student to make up their own worksheet though. Plus if some kids are slower to finish than others, you can have the finished pairs read & translate their stories together before you do the whole class part.