Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Teaching Virtually: A TPR alternative

 This year I am teaching Latin I again. I am so excited, but we are starting, if briefly, online. Total Physical Response (TPR) is still part of our plans, but we need to be creative. A few realities:

  1. We cannot, in any way, see 30+ videos all at once to ensure that students are hearing and understanding us. 
  2. Some students may not have their video on (a point for another time). 
  3. We are using web cams and it will be difficult to get them to film us doing actions. 
  4. Gauging comprehension is going to be... interesting. To say the least. 

I am collaborating with two colleagues this year for Latin I: Bob Patrick and Liz Davidson and we've been meeting regularly to figure out what we will do. Yesterday we met to discuss the plans for next week and Bob came in with six words: canis, leo, serpens and currere, ire + ad, stare*. He said that his thought was that these six words would be easy to work with and do some TPR in some way. 

We discussed the idea of an asynchronous scavenger hunt where we'd give commands in Latin and students would use picture or video evidence to show them doing the actions. This excites us because it gets kids moving, involves their personal lives and choices in class, and requires movement, rather than sitting in front of a PC all day. 

But, the question remained. How do we establish meaning? How do we provide enough comprehensible and compelling input BEFORE the TPR? 

So, we added to the list. Those six words are our target words, or the words we are going to require. We came up with approximately nine more to be icing words... BUT... here's the kicker --> ALL the words came from our county vocabulary list! This means that even those these words are not targeted now, they will be later and, by then, the kids will already have acquired them at least somewhat! We added words like pulcher, laetus, iratus, medius, anxius, silva, and via+.

Bob had talked about these six words being perfect for an action story. So, we took a few minutes and wrote three different stories, each focusing on a specific animal. The word list we'd come up with were the only words we wanted to use and, while 1-2 more words were needed, they still fit. 

What came out of this work were three very simple stories and from that a natural order (which we did not plan) to those stories. First, our students will read my story, the story of a canis who is in the road, but wants to be in the forest with the lion and the snak. Second, our students will read Liz's story, the story of the serpens who is sad that he cannot run, but whom the dog finds beautiful. Third, our students will read Bob's story, the story of the leo who is already friends with the dog, but is afraid of the snake. The dog connects the two and they all become friends. Again, we did not plan our stories to connect in such a way, but the did naturally and that felt wonderful. 

Lastly, we finished our meeting by deciding that we'd each create a series of activities for our stories. As individual teachers we can choose which activities we like for each story, but all our students will be reading the same story. We also decided on a comprehension check for Friday. 

This is not the only way to collab, but I was so inspired by what happened naturally that I thought I'd share. I've boiled it down to 5 simple steps which I've shared below. :) 

* canis - dog, leo - lion, serpens - snake and currere - to run, ire + ad - to go to, stare - to stand still
+ pulcher - beautiful, laetus - happy, iratus - angry, medius - middle, anxius - worried, silva - forest, and via - road
(1) Identify target words (2) Add complementary icing words (not required) (3) Write simple stories (4) Determine order of stories (5) Create and Collab on activities

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Announcement: Help during COVID!


In an effort to help support each other during this time, Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing is offering PDFs of any and all of our published books, for FREE, to teachers for use with classes! 

We ask two things in return: (1) That you do not share the PDF with others (except your students), and (2) That when we go back to class and you need copies of our books, you purchase them. 

As of now there is no time limit on this offer, as we want to do our best to support everyone. So... If you'd like to contact us for a PDF copy of any of our books. Click the image below :)

In addition to this, we offer a reading library on our main site: www.steppingintoci.com

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Politics Over People During a Pandemic

I have been angry since May. Strike that. I have been in a rage. I have watched the nation politicize the health and well-being of its citizens, politicize equal rights, and I reached a boiling point and have stayed there. I could possibly write a book over all of my feelings at this point, but for the purposes of this post I am going to focus on one topic: the rising numbers of infected people and the opening of schools.

My feelings on this matter are simple. Opening schools amid rising infection rates is a guaranteed death sentence. Some teachers will die. Some support staff will die. Worst of all, some students will die. Some teachers and staff and students will be infected and survive but have debilitating after-effects; coronavirus attacks the lungs, heart, brain, and immune system. Nick Cordero, the Broadway star whom Covid recently killed after a three month battle, had already lost a leg due to the virus before he died. Corona isn't the Spanish Flu. Corona is Polio. Even survival doesn't mean full recovery--it can mean a lifetime of disability.

And I lay these results at your feet, decision makers. School boards. State education boards. Anyone who could be stepping in--should be stepping in--to stop schools from opening, but would prefer to play politics and please both sides. Sometimes there aren't two sides. This is murder. Every life lost because you would rather please the people than make the right decision will be your fault. Every child hospitalized will owe their isolation and terror to you.

But that is not all I lay at your feet. Trauma and anxiety, the fear of attending school and bringing this epidemic back home to vulnerable siblings, parents, grandparents, I also lay at your feet. If a student infects their immuno-compromised mother, brother, grandfather, the student suffers a traumatic event. Are you prepared to provide the counseling students, teachers, and staff will need? Every aspect of school will remind students that they are in danger, every section of school will be regimented.

Inequitable access is your fault, too. Instead of insisting we return to school when the danger is so obvious, this time could be spent solving the problem of access for all. Funneling money towards 1:1 devices instead of new desk dividers. Devising an action plan for contacting and even visiting and equipping households with less engagement last year to make sure they have the tools and knowledge they need to be successful this year. When we inevitably revert to online classes due to opening schools too soon and the deaths that will be soon to follow, you will have provided no help to those families and they will be in the same place they were before.

Finally, when we revert, since it will again be sudden, teachers will again be forced to change modes suddenly, and lesson plans will have to adjust suddenly, instead of being planned meticulously for an online curriculum, which would be the ideal. You could allow teachers a month or more of real preparation for online teaching and quality instruction, but instead you are choosing to put us in the same position that befell us in March--except in March no one could blame you. This time you are choosing it.

Decision makers, school boards, state boards, national boards. You are choosing poor instruction. You are providing inequitable access. You are causing mental trauma. And you are killing people. Don't open schools because you choose politics over people during a pandemic.

A pandemic shouldn't be political.

It's that simple.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Covid 19 and Me: A Reflection

Where do I start with this? Right now it is cool for a summer evening on account of the storms that are rolling through. The sun is setting within an hour and I am sitting at my computer with a bottle of water playing video games and writing this post. I have dogs at my feet and cats in the cat tree behind me. Sounds like an excellent evening. And yet, I am terrified. 

To say that I did well during quarantine is an understatement. I am a solid introvert and in addition to chronic conditions like asthma and extra bones, I have both generalised and social anxiety. And... to just add a big ole cherry to that, I broke my foot severely in the fall and hadn't been able to walk for 6 months. Quarantine allowed my foot to heal, gave my anxiety fried nerves much needed rest, and allowed me to reset myself. I haven't had a really bad panic attack since February/early March. And yet, I am terrified. 

And... I am sad. I was in a trailer this last year and we were essentially told via automated phone system that we shouldn't return to school... at all. I finally got the okay to come clean out my trailer to move back into the building and I was met with a classroom ready to pick back up on a "next day" that never happened. I was greeted by unfinished artwork, tests that were never made up, and a list of notes of things to check in with students about. It felt like walking into a frozen scene where you expect things to start again any second. I remember packing up my room thinking, "at least next year I'll be in the building and I can start again.. right?" Now, I'm not so sure. 

And... I am angry. I am angry that we weren't better prepared. I am angry that this is still a joke to so many. I am angry that, back in March/April/May, people said teachers "needed a raise" but they were the first thing considered for budget cuts. I am angry that teachers were given little to no support (again) and expected to figure it out... and WE DID. Overnight, literally. We did everything we could to support the students we love with whatever support and guidance we could get. And now we are literally being given no real, viable options for the new year for our safety or our students safety. Options vary across the country, but the message is clear, "Get back in the classroom, with fewer resources, and do more". Any "lessons learned" during quarantine are gone it seems and it's "back to business as usual". And that's it isn't it? Business. Teachers have to go back and sacrifice their health and their students' health because business won't support families during this time. 

I don't want this post to turn into a rant that is angrier than it already is, so I want to look at a few things that are going to happen. Some are pulled from things I've seen online or things being "offered" to teachers. 

  • Those masks being given to teachers? I can tell you what we'll do with them. We'll wear them until someone comes into our room who needs one. Someone who is sick. Someone who needs protection. Then, we'll give them our mask. 
  • Those safety precautions? Those self checks? They'll work until someone is running late for work, gives their child some Tylenol and sends them to school. 
  • Those self isolation guidelines? Those will work, except... what happens if the schools aren't notified about illness and contamination? Where will we get the subs? I have some sick days built up, but the sick days teachers get every year don't even last for one full quarantine period. 
  • Buses are NOT going to be staggered, distanced, etc. That means that we are looking at 50+ students being exposed at any given moment on the bus. Those students then go into a room with 30+ others and a teacher. At the high schools, they'll meet 30+ new people in second period, and so on. 
  • Those "one direction hallways"? They'll work until J needs to talk with Mrs. X or with B. They'll work until Q needs to go to the bathroom, but it's behind them in the hallway. They'll work until the halls bottleneck and all of a sudden the bell rings and students are risking tardies and discipline. And that's NOT the kids fault. But... they'll bear the consequences. 
  • Those socially distanced, same way facing desks? Those are great... except C needs to fidget and H needs to stim. L needs help reading. Your teachers will have to choose to either let students work without help or break social distancing to help them make progress. That is not a fair position to be put in as a student or a teacher.
  • Oh, and all those things you KNOW we'll need to keep the kids safe? Hand sanitiser, gloves, masks, disinfectant spray, extra supplies so students don't share. That will most likely be provided by the teacher themselves, as usual. The difference now is that in some places, budgets are being cut and teachers will get no assistance.
And, on top of all that, many of us will be figuring out how to teach in person AND online, if we go back as planned. 

Do I want to go back? Yes. I want to see my kids. I want to teach, to do what I love. That is also what makes this so hard for us teachers. We WANT to be with the kids. We also want the kids to be safe and healthy. We can't teach your students if we are fighting for our lives. We can't support your students if we are stuck behind a glass wall six feet away. It isn't ideal, but we can try and support them online and we have been. I can do more for my kids on a computer and with a camera and my phone then I can wearing a mask, staying 6 feet away, in a classroom. Do I want to... NO! I want to be with your kids. I want to see their faces every day, give them high fives when they have successes, and, yes, I want to be there to listen to their woes and help them through their struggles.... But... Health comes first. 

I'll close with this. Everyone should take a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Before we can meet their academic and creative needs, we must meet their basic needs of safety and health. We are woefully failing as a country right now in doing that. We have to start there. 

Monday, March 2, 2020

Update Regarding Stepping into CI Subscription Service

Good morning Stepping into CI!

After discussion and thought, we have decided to cancel the pay portion of our website at this time. This is partially due to the fact that, as providers, we have not been as active as in past years on the website and we do not want to charge anyone if we are not fulfilling our end of the bargain. Rather, we'd like to focus back in on our origins, the blog, and share there while we continue to focus on our own professional development and program. This is not the end of PBP or Stepping into CI, for sure.

We want to thank you all for your unending support and love as we've embarked on this journey! Without you all, our website, podcast, CI Bites, or units would never have happened. Thank you!

 After March, those subscription portions of the website will close and content will potentially be offered elsewhere depending on the creator's choice. More information on those offerings and anything new we come up with will be announced, as always, on the blog.

Thank you! We hope we have and will continue to serve you well.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Norms, Expectations, and SEL

This year I took a different approach to classroom norms and expectations (often called classroom rules, or daily expectations, etc). I created a series of promises that students and I made to each other. In August, we had a day where we discussed these expectations and agreed to work together toward these goals. You can see these in the presentation below.


After taking a course on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and giving it some consideration, I decided to do something new in January. Below is my reflection on how it went in each class and I've included some pictures of their work.

Supplies used in class

  • foam poster board (can stand on its own; is more durable)
  • markers, pencils, crayons, etc.
  • permanent marker
  • white board and markers
  • google survey
  • extra decorations:
    • shout out cutouts
    • washi tape
    • stickers
    • stamps
    • highlighters

Steps taken in each class:

  1. survey reflection on August norms/expectations
  2. brainstorm key words and phrases that are important to the class
  3. class discussion and review of norms and expectations
  4. creative design of class poster board detailing the new norms and expectations for the class. 

1st period 

First period, like I imagine most first periods to be, is relatively quiet. Students are, at best, mostly awake and, at worst, completely asleep. Many didn't eat breakfast or are panicking about a test or assignment for a later class. 

To the right, you can see the key words the class came up with. It took some prodding, but eventually
IMG: A whiteboard with multi-coloured words on it. Words are:
different, honesty, respect, community, ready to learn, kind,
responsibility, supportive, self-control, unique, productive,
safe, engaging, jokes, awake, details, considerate, open,
positive, and creative.
they started to come up and write on the board. What was key for them was seeing me write as well and include my thoughts. I wrote words like "awake", "safe", and "fun". Others wrote words like "respect", "community", and "jokes". These key words helped us come up with unique norms for 1st period. 

After discussion, the class decided on 4 detailed norms/expectations. Personally while I prefer a simpler, if longer list, this class decided to include the ideas in the details. The class did not finish creating their poster, so we will pick up on Monday. I'll post their final draft on Twitter (@miriampatrick). 

2nd period

IMG: A whiteboard with multi-coloured words on it. Words are:
democracy, be fun, be fye as frick, Latin, positive, lit, be nice,
happiness, games, no communism, share, no cussing, no bugs,
don't be wack yo, open minded, respect, talking, diplomacy,
communication, listen to each other, and clean.
My second period class is smaller than my first, but also a Latin II class. While these students are certainly more awake, they can also be very quiet. That being said, when given the opportunity to fill the board, every single one of them came up and started writing almost immediately. They engaged in conversation much more openly and quickly than my first period, but this fits their general personalities and relationships with each other. This class enjoys joking with each other and some of the words on their board reflected that conversation.

This class also used a lot of colloquial language and inside jokes that are unique to their community. Words like fye, frick, wack, lit, and even communism have unique meanings to this group of students. While these words did not necessarily make it into their list of norms and expectations, they were an important part of our discussion and their desires. Fye and frick together refer to engaging and participation. Wack refers to respect, communication, and kindness. Communism is obviously a reference to current situations and expresses students desires to be unique, individual, and open. Similarly, however, they also recognised that sharing and equity were also very important and that this space belongs to us all and we need to work together to create and good space.
IMG: a white poster board with brightly coloured rules (listed
in blog) entitled Class Norms. 

This class came up with 7 unique rules. (1) Listen to each other. (2) Be open to what others have to
say. (3) Everyone has their own voice. (4) Participate to the BEST of your ability. (5) Respect the classroom space. (6) Leave the room better than you came! (7) Leave your issues at the door.

3rd Period

My 3rd period is a Latin I class with a vocabulary unique to them; so much so that I had to ask what a few words meant. This class is large and vocal. There a quite a few students who needed a gentle reminder that this was an activity that required their individual and serious participation. Once we go into discussion, however, we came up with a wide variety of things that all centered around creating family. This class, as negative as they can each be about anything, really want to be a family. This circled around ideas like protection, support, and acceptance. This was a really good conversation to hear them have.

6th Period

My 6th period is my smallest class. They are the most vocal when it comes to how they feel (positively or negatively). They are also the most skilled at successfully encouraging me to go off topic! They are also all friends, so this was quick work for them. After some joking around they got right to the task and finished brainstorming quickly. They then began work on the poster, ultimately deciding upon four classroom norms: (1) Have fun and laugh. (2) Help others. (3) Respect and listen to everyone. (4) Work together to stay focused. 

They even worked to figure out, to the best of their ability, how to say "We love Latin." While not 100% correct, this is their own work and I am incredibly proud of them!

IMG: A large white posterboard with class norms listed in
shoutouts. The posterboard is decorated with stickers
stamps and markers and includes "nos amat Latinam". 

IMG: A whiteboard covered in words: Love, Latin, Play,
clean, respect, learning, intellectual, contribute, gimkit,
awareness, cooperation, people, English, friendly,
games, no sleep, awake, chill, nice, communicate,
fun, normal, crazy, engaged, respectful, funny,
enjoyable, good energy, good vibes, pay attention,
clean, honesty, creative, engaging, and listen to each other. 

7th period

My last class of the day is my largest. This class included just about any student you can think of. It took a little longer for them to collect ideas and to understand what I was asking, but when they did, we got a board FULL of words and phrases! Their expectations focused on working together to create a fun and interactive environment. 

They are still working on their poster, but their brainstormed is pictured left. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Waiting for Summer: The Detrimental Effects of Putting Work Before Yourself

I wrote a while back about my struggle with PMDD. Untreated, I spiral into depressions, anxiety, and panic attacks. I have trouble believing myself likable; I tend to think most friendships based on pity or a need to avoid an awkward conversation.

A couple of years ago I was put on seizure medicine, and, as per usual, my body took on many of the more rare side-effects. Most of these have been allayed by adjusting the dosage, but one that I did not realize at the time was interference with my birth control, which I was taking to control my PMDD.

I mean, I was unusually stressed in November, but that could be explained by outside factors. I didn't fully recover over winter break, but maybe that was because break was shorter last year and I didn't really get a lot of downtime, so it made sense that I was feeling a little defeated. I had lots of reasons to tell myself that my feelings made sense and weren't out of the ordinary considering all of the factors I could point out to myself. I just needed to keep going and when summer came, I could rest.

Until February. February 2019 was not a special month at all. Nothing happened that I could point to. I just started spiraling out of control. Crying on the way to work and sometimes in my empty classroom. Crying on my way home--basically whenever I was alone.

I finally decided to talk to my doctor. That summer.

I was way too busy to go right then.

March brought with it a new level of depression and anxiety, and with it, a sensation I hadn't experienced since I was in fifth grade: the wish to die. If you haven't experienced that level of depression, you will mistake it for being suicidal. There is a difference. I didn't wish to take my own life. I was just okay with my life ending, and not having to face the world anymore. The line between these two things seems thin, but it's large and important. Still, it's not healthy, and I let my husband know I was in a bad place and that I was definitely going to see my doctor because I was pretty sure the hormones were not working anymore.

As soon as I could get in to see her that summer.

March is a very busy month.

I somehow stumbled through April and May, crying, wishing to die, and being possibly the worst teacher I have been in my life--I had trouble making myself go to work, so trying to do much more some days was almost beyond me--and finally made it to the summer.

I saw my doctor. She was aghast that I'd waited. She could tell by my demeanor that I was not myself.

I got a new prescription that I had to wait to start.

I had to go be professional before I got to start my prescription and had a depressive attack publicly. I think mostly only good friends realized it happened. I still feel ashamed that it happened and that I lost control in that setting.

I am ashamed of the teacher I was last year. I feel like I let students and my teammates down. I definitely let myself down.

The Moral of the Story

Luckily, once I started my new prescription, things changed. To a huge degree. I have since realized that my depression had started even before November. This school year I missed half of pre-planning and expected to start school even more exhausted and unmotivated than last year. Last year I missed no pre-planning, I just got back to the state right before pre-planning and I was uninspired. I liked my students--that has remained unchanged throughout all of this, thank goodness--but I could not get excited about any aspect of teaching.

This year I was excited. I wrote stories and plans and created things to share with the other teachers in my department. I have finished another unit for Stepping Into CI and am thinking about finally finishing a novella I started a year and a half ago. I have been inventing games again. I am slowly becoming my old self again.

And I compare that to where I started the school year last August and I realize that I was already sinking. I was already viewing things negatively.

I waited almost a year to get help for myself.

I waited until summer.

And that was so very dangerous.

We are trained as teachers to put our jobs, our careers, ahead of ourselves. And I am an especially driven teacher; at least half of my identity is wrapped up in being a teacher (a good part of what remains is being a mother, with some little bit left over for being a wife--my poor husband). It feels wrong to me to give up time to almost anything, including doctor's visits, when I've scheduled things like board meetings, or I need to grade, or plan, and I am almost unable to take a day off for that purpose (the one exception being to take my son to the doctor).

Yet imagine if I had gone at the first sign of danger in November, or when I really realized things were wrong in February. Imagine how much better my classes would have been if I had gone to get help in March when things were irrefutably wrong.

Who else out there should be getting help now, but is waiting for winter break? spring break?

Who else out there is waiting for summer?