Thursday, October 1, 2015

Everyone needs a little R, R, and R

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

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

What is it?

What it isn't:

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

What it is:

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

Set Up:

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

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

How it works in real time:

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

Latin II - Full Day


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


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


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

Latin I - Half a period


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


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


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

Final Thoughts

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Extra Extra! Read All About It! One Sentence Stories

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, September 18, 2015

Announcing! Pluto: fabula amoris

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

SBG - Putting it in Action

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

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

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

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

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

Research Links and Resources

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Some Bumps on the Road to Teaching a Novella

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

Because I've never had one.

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

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

Groups decoding with reading aloud after

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

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

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

Groups decoding with whole-class review after

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

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

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

Reading to the class with circling

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Archery Lesson: A Short Reflection

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

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

"I did horrible."

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

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

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

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

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

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