Monday, July 27, 2015

Untextbooking: Getting Ready for School Part 2

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

The Novella

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Untextbooking: Getting Ready For School Part 1

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

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

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

Big Picture: Themes

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

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

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

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

Big Picture: Vocabulary Frequency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Simple, Easy, and Quick: Introductory Vocabulary Activity

Here's the deep dark truth about TPRS.

Let me first say, I love it, I love asking a story and engaging my students in a collective collaboration.

Okay. The truth is...TPRS is hard. It's exhausting. It takes all my energy to ask a story. And I get very, very tired using that every time I teach new vocabulary.

So I don't use it every time. I always seek to teach comprehensibly, however, and I am always looking for more comprehensible ways to teach vocabulary so on days I'm tired, or know I'm going to be tired, or I just want a change of pace (my goal is always repetition without being repetitive!), I can turn to another method for establishing meaning and getting those repetitions in.

I was reading Martina Bex's wonderful and prolific blog on teaching comprehensibly and came across this post. The post inspired me to create this very simple activity for introducing vocabulary. I like it because it's easy to prepare (I've done it on a day I woke up sick, but not sick enough to skip work, in ten minutes before school started) and I think it's a really good and non-threatening comprehensible activity to try if you aren't really comfortable with asking a story (or not yet comfortable with it).

I simply created a powerpoint with several vocabulary words contextualized in a sentence and with compelling imagery. It's important that the images are not boring.

Then I projected the powerpoint on the board, and asked as many questions as I could about each slide using as much variety and personalization as possible.

This activity is comprehensible because of the questions I ask and the repetitions I get of my focus vocabulary from those questions. I aim for as many repetitions as possible, and by including my students in the discussion and finding unusual ways to look at the image and the contextual sentence, I can keep the repetitions from becoming boring.

Here's an example of an actual slide I used, but in English for those of you who don't speak Latin.

For this slide I might ask (and state):

Class, this is a book. Is this a book? Is it a book or a llama? Is there a llama on the book? Is there a llama or a boy on the book? Is the book happy or sad? Is Little Bobby in the book? Is Little Bobby a good boy or bad boy on the book? Are the girls on the book happy? Billy, do you have this book? Do you want this book? Oh, you want the other book? Class, Billy wants the book with the dinosaur. Do you have a dinosaur Billy? No? Are you sad like the dinosaur on the book? Class is the dinosaur on the book sad or happy?

I can add in repetitions by asking other students about the book, asking more questions about a possible llama appearance in the books, or even looking at possible interactions between the characters in the books. Even with the script I wrote above, that's already fifteen repetitions of the word "book". I'd want closer to thirty, but fifteen for about two minutes of writing is pretty neat.

The cool thing here is that it is a really flexible activity. If you don't have experience with this sort of activity, you can write your script ahead of time (even the personalized ones) and read off a page. That's how I and Keith Toda and Bob Patrick all started speaking Latin in the classroom. Eventually you won't need a list of questions.

The important thing is to help your kids get a true understanding of the vocabulary.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ball is Life - The Wordchunking Game

Keith Toda detailed last year one of the most popular games for our students: The Word Chunking Game. For my students, it was titled Ball is Life and for others it is called trashketball or any other combination of words. Keith did a very nice job of detailing the process, so I'd like to talk about some alterations and different ways of playing. Not all of these are mine originally, but I have tried them all.

Firstly, there are a few alterations a Spanish teacher at my school made that I adopted:

  • Group names come from the vocabulary being taught that unit - He is better at doing this consistantly than I am, but I find that this makes it easier, especially for beginning students, to come up with a name in the target language. It is also a quick and easy way for the teacher to see what words the students are really soaking in. 
  • Groups write responses on whiteboards - I like this because it keeps a little of the noise level down. It isn't perfect, however. It also give the kids in the class a little more focus when they listen to and see others' responses so that, if there is an opportunity for another group to respond, they can edit where necessary. With this, however, both he and I require that the person who writes changes each round and that the writer must give the answer orally as well. I still allow groups to confer together before writing their answer however. 
  • Instead of sentences, ask for words - I don't do this 100% of the time, or even 50% of the time, but I like this change. Instead of giving sentences to translate, try giving the gesture students learned. They might write down the word in the target language and give the English orally
  • Point systems - Both he and I allow students to shoot from different areas and earn a different amount of points. This system works better in some classes than others and I am definitely going to re-think the specifics for next year. 
Secondly, there are some alterations I've made over time that, I think, vary the game and allow me to assess different things. 

  1. Using it as a formative assessment prior to an exam
    I can target certain things that I know will be on an exam and see if the students are actually ready to take that exam. I also will use it midway through a unit to see if we're really ready for the second half.
  2. Varying the questions/translations
    I use a variety of things and, when I create a Word Chunking Game file for myself and other teachers, they tend to look like this. With the bolded words I can choose to give a gesture for a single word or ask for a translation of an entire phrase or sentence. The questions are for comprehension and allow me to assess that as well. I can also then give this sheet to students who were absent or upload it as a review. 
  3. Allowing groups to answer more than once
    I don't think this is directly stated in Keith's post, but I'm sure I'm not the only teacher who does it. What I stipulate, however, is that students must allow all the other groups to have a chance before they can go again. 
Some observations:
  • Students love this game. However, if you aren't careful about groupings or point systems, it can quickly become "stacked" against certain people. I will vary how groups are done, including letting them pick, every once in a while. I try to avoid doing the groups intentionally and usually use some pairing method like drawing cards or putting kids together based on favourite animals or numbers. 
  • This game can get loud. I find that the more students in the room, the more structure you need to make sure this game works. 
  • It can be helpful to have a student who watches for hands/keeps score. I am one person and in a room of 30-40 kids, it can be hard to see hands. 
Overall, this game is definitely one of the favourites and is an excellent example of Comprehensible Input. It meets lots of different learning styles and serves to give the teacher a break. It is something I keep at the top of my list. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Perspective is Everything: Lenticular Art

A couple of months ago, the talented and resourceful Laura Sexton (@SraSpanglish on twitter) posted the following video:
She was looking for a way to use the video in her Spanish class.

Perspective is everything. Figuratively, in that even though I had seen the video before, I didn't have a thought about using it as a springboard for a class activity. Literally, in that lenticular art changes based on the angle at which you view it.

The concept seems complicated, and you will find that almost every tutorial online for creating lenticular art (I tried not to have to reinvent the wheel) is based on technological knowledge and special equipment. However, you don't really need Adobe Photoshop and a 3D printer to create lenticular art--you just need to be able to fold paper.

My lesson idea was really aimed at a brain break for my students. Due to the way things timed out in our district, my students had been taking two high-stakes tests per day the previous week (I'm sure I don't need to tell you my feelings on intensive testing, but if you're not sure, you can read about it here), were about to start another round of high-stakes testing, and it just seemed like they needed something calm, creative, and different.

I started by showing them the video above to introduce the idea.

The instructions were simple:
1. Create a two-part message in Latin. It can be a serious or as humorous as you like.
2. Design an image to go with each part of your message. The image will be in full color (no white paper)--this is important so the lenticular effect is clear.
3. Follow the instructions on the handout!

Here is the handout that I gave my students, explaining how to make art of their own.

I think it turned out great!
Now I have wonderful multi-dimentional art to decorate my wall.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Storifies for Day 1 of #SCOLT15

Since I live tweet at the conferences I attend, I thought it might be nice to create some storifies rather than just leave the information out there in the twitterverse. Plus, then I get to include information I found interesting from attendees in other sessions!

Today I attended Bob Patrick's session on Reading and Writing in the Foreign Language Classroom. I compiled Miriam's and my tweets here:
Storify: Comprehensible Input

While I was listening to Bob describe what and why for a comprehensible approach, I was also reading some tweets describing great tips on helping students engage in conversations in their target language.
Have a Real Conversation Tweets

Other tweets I was glad to read!
Other Tweets of Interest

I'll hopefully get to keep bringing you these Storifies as we continue through the next two days!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Update: My Letter on the Governor

     Back in November I sent a letter to my governor's office. I anxiously awaited for a response from him and got one shortly after.

      Let me begin by saying that I haven't been avoiding an update, but rather, I've been considering how exactly to update.

     Governor Deal did send a reply via mail to me. He thanked me for writing him and acknowledged my work in education, but regretted that he would not be able to meet with me and said he would continue working with "forerunners in education".

     My consideration in responding has been difficult. I want to say so many things, but I also continue the conversation in a productive way. I should admit that I was disappointed in his response, but not surprised, especially with the state Congress' continued focus on incarceration (although more transparency is a good thing) and the proposal of continued cuts to teacher benefits.

     There have been a lot of posts on the work teachers do - the hours we work, the quantity of work we have, the amount of work we take home, the kind of work we do with students, etc. My arguments to Governor Deal remain the same. I hope he takes what I said seriously, especially with the recent protests in Atlanta from teachers and other school support staff.

     At the risk of "preaching to the choir", I'll use this post to, hopefully, dispel some of the of the commonly misunderstood things about teachers. These are based on things that have been said to me, or my friends/family, or things that I've recently read on other blogs and comments.

Teachers get paid a full year's salary for only doing 9-10 months of work.
- While the school year is 180 days, teachers do get (or have the option to get) a paycheck for each of the 12 months of the year. That being said, those summer paychecks are just money that was held back during the school year. Teachers may get a paycheck in June/July, but it is for work they did from August to May. Teachers also only get paid for the hours they are required to be at school (8 hours or so). However, many teachers arrive before they are required or stay after for clubs or tutoring. They do not get paid for this, but it is expected that they do these things. Teachers also don't get paid for advisement classes (roughly 20 minutes each day in some schools), lunch hour tutoring (or any other tutoring), duty stations (before school, during lunch, or after school). These are all considered part of the expected work. This doesn't include the extra time teachers spend at home grading papers, reading emails, making parent phone calls, or coming up with lesson plans.

     Rachel wrote about this in 2012 in detail. She totaled her hours spent working; you may be surprised.

But, after the first year, don't teachers have all the lesson plans written or downloaded? I mean, what do they really do during planning?
- Some teachers do, yes. You'll find, however, that teachers who love their job, and really care about their students are always updating and editing plans. The plans that worked in one class/last year, won't necessarily work the next year. Similarly, information that was good the previous year won't be good in the coming years. For example, while I know what a VHS is (along with a cassette tape, an 8-track, and a boom box), kids in my class have almost never seen a VHS. Any lessons that talk about VHS or cassettes or a floppy disk are all out of date. If I simply download lessons off the internet, or use my textbook, then I'll be teaching outdated information. Good teachers write their own lessons every year AND download lessons and materials AND refer to textbooks and print materials AND collaborate with teacher in their building, or in their discipline and outside. That is what we spend that planning hour doing. That... or grading...

Teacher salaries are competitive and they have tenure! Bad teachers can't be fired!
- The average starting salary  is about $39,000. The average starting teacher's salary is around $36,000. The Washington Post gives a nice little visual for what this might look like across the country. With years experience, and higher degrees, teachers can move up the pay scale. In Georgia, teacher salaries top out (with years experience and doctorates) around $100,000 a year. Payscale gives a nice little chart about various doctorate salaries in different professions. You can see that professorship and education are at the bottom of that chart. Teacher salaries can be and are in some places competitive, however we are not paid bonuses (hiring, or otherwise), are subject to raise freezes, and furlough days, and are limited on the amount we can claim on taxes for expenses.

   There is a process for firing a teacher, like in any organisation. Public school teachers do not really get tenure and contracts are year to year. In the state of Georgia tenure means that once you've taught for four contract years they get the expectation that they will get a new contract each year unless just cause is shown. It is not a permanent position with no chance of termination. When a teacher is presumed to be "bad" there are steps that are taken. Data must be gathered and a plan produced for how the teacher can improve. This happens in most professions whether through re-training or "probation". If the teacher doesn't improve according to the plan he/she can be let go. However, teachers can be fired immediately for all sorts of things, just like in any other job.

Teachers get every weekend off AND two months in the summer and they get done at 3:00 pm every day! 
- I want to answer this, not from the perspective of a teacher, but from the perspective of a daughter of two teachers. I know the things I do every year, but I think this question is better answered differently. My parents have been teachers as far back as I remember. My dad started out as a minister, but I was an infant then. My mother taught elementary school and my dad taught high school. Let me preface this by saying that I loved my childhood and my parents. While there are things that upset me as a child, I would not have had it any other way, knowing what it prepared me for as an adult.

   I spent a good majority of my weekends and summers at my parents' respective schools. At one point, I would ride with my dad to his school in the morning to carpool with someone else to my school. At another, I would carpool with a student to my mother's in the afternoon, and wait for her, and then go home. When my mother because a computer technology teacher, I spent even more time with her at her school, either helping, where I could, or staying out of her way, and most of the time failing. I remember following my dad around his school and spending time with other teachers or in administrators' offices when he had meetings. To me and my siblings, my parents' schools were like second homes to us. We mostly enjoyed "hanging out" there and I learned lots of skills that have become handy as an adult (like how to fix a broken copier).

     I also remember how often one or another parent was absent. My parents could never drive on school field trips or come to performances/class parties during the day. As a kid, I was upset by this, especially when other parents and kids couldn't understand why I couldn't bring in baked goods, or my parents couldn't volunteer to chaperone this or that. I remember weeks and weekends when my parents were at conferences or taking students abroad. I also remember my parents working very hard for many years towards higher degrees (they have their doctorates now) both for their own learning and to make our lives better.

   My parents brought home grading every night. I remember my dad grading essays and my mom figuring out how to make her walls useful to her students. Their jobs didn't end at 3:00 when the kids left. They were constantly working and making sacrifices for their students and it was difficult as a child sometimes. However, if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be a teacher today.


     Teaching is not an easy job, and there isn't a teacher out there who expects it to be. Good teachers become teachers despite all the difficulties and problems because they want to work with kids and help them become adults. My hope, through my letter to the governor, and through this post, is that the dialogue can continue. With transparency (on both sides) and discussion, maybe we can begin to fix the problems with education policy.