Saturday, November 21, 2015

Seek and Find: A Reading Activity

Recently we were working on a passage from Caesar in my class, and I felt that the students really did not have the section we were reading down and needed both more vocabulary review and more reading review of the section. Miriam and I brainstormed and created this really simple review that involved a huge number of repetitions and a little bit of tactile experience with the language.

For this particular text, which included a lot of complex and compound sentences, I took the passage and sectioned it out into clauses (you can see it here if you like). On the day I used it, I handed out a copy to each student and had them cut the sections out with a time limit of 5 minutes (otherwise they find ways to make cutting out rectangles take an entire period).

Starting with vocabulary I knew students were having trouble with, I called out the words in English and had them point to the correct Latin word in the text. We repeated the ones they were getting wrong until everyone was getting all of the words when they were called out. Then I said sentences in English and students had to hold the correct Latin sentences up. I also drew pictures for each clause and students had to find the sentence that matched the image I projected. Lastly I had them arrange the clauses back into the story.

Miriam did a variation where instead of the pictures, she described things in Latin and students had to hold up sentences that contained the thing described.

The idea is not super complex or original per se, but it created great buy in by the students, it was a great break from the regular activities we had been doing, created repetitions without being repetitive, and students came out of the activity with thorough comprehension of a section of Latin that they had been struggling with significantly before then.

Simple and effective, with minor preparation needed. Seek and find is now definitely a permanent addition to my reading toolbox.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Glorious Moment - They are Hooked!

In August Rachel began the year with an adapted novella for her Latin II classes. I also teach one class of Latin II, so I was able to follow along with her and experience much of the same things she did.

Now, in Latin I, we are reading the original Latin novella Pluto: fabula amoris. It is different from Rachel's because it is not a play, but rather a narration, told from people's point of view. I am building teachers' resources as I teach the novel (which will be offered through PBP later this year) and I am learning some things as I go. I borrowed from Rachel's experience, along with the plethora of research she and I did in the hopes of finding activities and suggestions for teaching a novella in a second language. I also am keeping notes on things I see in my students as well.

Building To It

We started the year using edited version of mythological stories Rachel wrote last year. They covered the beginning of the world, the birth of the gods, and introduced us to important characters like Jupiter, Juno, etc. Students were exposed to vocabulary based on frequency lists and the 50 Most Important Verbs list. As we read, the length of the readings increased slightly, but were still fairly short. We also discussed culture and mythology as well as the implications of it. 

I purposefully made sure that we'd learned most of the words in the novella by the time we read it. My intention was to spend a little time at the beginning of chapters filling in words, but by the time we got to the chapters with the action, just be reading with the class. 

Basic Structure

I will post more on this when I discuss the details of the teachers' resources for the book, but we've settled into a general schedule for things in which activities may vary or may be options for teachers and students:

Introduction and Vocabulary Instruction

This beginning section can include a variety of things and may be as simple as 5-10 minutes before reading or, in some cases, an entire day or week before reading. Here are some of the things we've done for this:
  • Culture videos, presentations, and discussions - Some of these will be included in the teachers' resources, others are readily available on the internet. I used a variety of videos, and artwork from various eras to introduce our two main characters and discuss perceptions of them, prior to reading. I also used this opportunity to pose questions that students have been considering as we read. Some will have definite answers in the book; others are open to interpretation. 
  • Activities with Vocabulary - You can see more details of the things I typically do here. This activity greatly varied in time depending on how far into the story we were and how many words needed to be introduced. Today, for example, we had two new words, so I introduced those words, we took brief notes, and then I circled them a little during our reading. At the beginning of the book, when we'd have 5-8 new words, I'd take a week or so to teach new words and circle.

Reading and Comprehension

I am including any and all activities that we use to ensure comprehension while reading in this section. Here is a link to some of the regular activities we use. Typically, I space these things out like this:

  • Dictatio - I only do this for some chapters. Since they were short, I did not want to do one every time. These activities are very useful, but only if done once in a while. They are tedious and students tire of them very quickly.
  • Reading and Discussion - This can take many forms. I try to alternate between them to keep things moving and give students lots of ways to demonstrate their understanding. This usually takes between 1-2 days to do, depending on the activity. 
  • Comprehension Checks - These activities reinforce the reading, help me see just how much students understand on their own, and provide support for students who need more. These can be whole class activities (like the seek and find activity we're doing today - Rachel will post on this later), group activities (like musical/popcorn reading) or individual (use of the reading guides, comic strips, etc.)

Follow Up

One of my first presentations that I gave to my colleagues was on teaching culture in the target language. Since then, I've tried as much as I can to make culture applicable to students and keep as much as I can in the target language. The same holds true when I consider teaching culture in my novella. So far, I've been keeping a list of things students ask questions about and things that I want to teach. I will discuss this in more detail when I finish the teachers' resources, but for now, we've done a variety of activities including:

  • Artwork Discussions - Latin and English
  • Character Analysis - Latin and English -
  • Reflection on Products, Perspectives, and Practices  - Mostly English - Students write, or discuss, in English the products, perspectives, and practices of Roman life based on our readings.
  • Discovery of Traditions (Practices) - Mostly Latin - I am writing a follow up post on this for the teachers resources; essentially I am using dictations, picture vocabulary, and manipulatives to teach culture traditions. 
  • Audio Recordings - Latin - As we've posted before here and here, we're beginning to build students' listening skills with audio activities. We pair these with text, an opportunity to take notes and discuss, and, often, artwork. 


I am still working on teaching this novella and I find myself trying to come up with new ways to teach vocabulary and the text so the kids don't get bored. What I've found, however, is that a compelling text that is in their range keeps them from getting bored. We are now in the section of the text where actions are occurring and things are getting interesting. Students are asking to know what happens next, who people are, why they are doing what they are doing. They want to know when we'll see certain characters again and what people are thinking. They are analysing on their own, without little to no guidance from me and, as I teach this, I am finding their interests and aspects of history and culture that go with this novella that I otherwise wouldn't have thought of. 

Do you have success teaching a novella? Do you have any suggestions for my class? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Standards Based Grading - a mid semester update

It's now been three months with grade books and assessing strategies completely aligned with Standards Based Grading. So far, we've posted three times in particular about how we are using Standards Based grading:

For this mid semester update, I want to focus on the reactions we've had to what we are doing and the things we're noticing in our students. 

Grading Procedures and Schedules
Doing this the way we are, by using Active Grade in conjunction with our county grade books has resulted in a few road blocks that we are over coming, but also some interesting things we otherwise wouldn't be able to do. 

  1. Extra Time - Yes, doing it this way requires extra time from us. It takes me longer because I enter grades into Active Grade (which does all the math for me, so I think it's worth it) and then transfer them to our county grade book. What I have done is that I separate my schedule out and grade one class a day and transfer grades once per class each week. A student or parent can log onto Active Grade at any time, but since our county grade books only update at night anyways, we can do this once a week. We are all handling this in our own way, but this is what I've found works for me. It also keeps the pile of work to pass out from stacking up and getting mixed together.
  2. Saved Comments - Using Active Grade allows me to put in specific comments per student, per standard, per assignment. These comments are saved online for my or their viewing any time. Unlike a traditional grade book where the grade is input and nothing else, I can pass messages to students and save them so that when a parent or student comes to me with questions, a record is saved. Since it is done by standard, comments have moved away from things like, "you missed 5 questions" to "you should try the following extra exercises to help with this" or "you got this grade because you...." They are more detailed and personalised. 
  3. Student Perspective - The by far most difficult part of this, I feel, is changing the student perspective. When I presented the idea both to my former students, and to this year's students, they were on board, but they struggle to understand that the numbers mean different things. Whenever I pass back a test, or quiz, or assignment I get a barrage of, "what does 4 mean?", "I missed 2 questions, what grade is that?", etc. I have to remind them that they  need to check Active Grade and familiarise themselves with the proficiency guidelines. Some are becoming familiar and appreciate how things are being done, others are trying to master this new territory, but need more guidance. 
  1. Terminology - I have really had to change my terminology when considering assessments with SBG. Students have commented how my assessments (see bullet point 2) are more like their quizzes in other classes rather than tests, so we've changed the name from quiz or test to quest. Students aren't panicking and appreciate the brevity, clarity, and content of the assessments. Students are also understanding now how each assessment is broken into sections by standard. It makes it clearer for them, and reminds them, what we expect them to be proficient in and gives a nice guideline of what they need to work on, should their proficiency level be low. 
  2. Structure - It occurred to me as I was writing my first test that, if I'm grading by proficiency in standard, I really ought to separate the test by standard, so I began doing that. Rachel was thinking along the same lines and we've both found it very helpful for students and for us. Organising the assessments this way speeds up grading tremendously and allows for easier commenting on proficiency. Grades are no longer about missing a certain number of questions, but rather about how proficient someone is in a certain skill.
  3. Teacher Perspective - By assessing standards repeatedly and in multiple ways, I view assessments very differently. I no longer view them as this end all activity that students must make a certain grade on for us to move forward, but rather a checkpoint. What standards are they proficient in? What standards do we need to practice more (see our recent posts: The Fault in our Plans and Robert Patrick's Guest Post)? It is like a little reminder each time of where we are, where we've been, and where we are going.
Student Voice
  1. Confidence - Students seem somewhat more confident when it comes to their voice, their concerns, and their needs. Students know what is expected of them more clearly and so they know what they need to do or what they need to ask for. 
  2. Student Choice - Without a textbook, student can have a real say in what they are learning. This year in Latin I, I've decided that I want them to read longer readings and really learn how to communicate in Latin (based on our standards) at a deeper level. To that end, I gave students choices for the Spring semester. All were longer readings (novels really), but they had a wide span of content from science and history to legend to fantasy and adventure. The students really appreciated being able to make their own choice, which means they will enjoy what we do next semester - making for happy students and happy teachers. 
I'd love to hear if you guys are trying Standards Based Grading and how it is going for you. Are you seeing these things? What else are you observing?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Guest Post: Success is often the product of a failure or two

Robert Patrick Ph.D., a colleague of ours, and my father as offered this guest post as a follow up to my post on "The Fault in our Plans". I am excited to share this post with you as he and I have continued this work with our students.

Success is often the product of a failure or two.  Or more.  Unfortunately, in the behaviorist world of rewards and punishments to which most schools belong, we don’t cultivate an awareness that allows us to see the relationship of success to failure.  Our continued journey into Untextbooking and Standards Based Grading is allowing us to work on those deeply ingrained reactions:  when I fail--panic!  When I succeed--be surprised!

Miriam has written of our recent “midterm mishap” as we are now calling it.  I had seen another colleague do this wonderful assessment in which he described animals with colors, shapes, sizes, locations, geographical forms, habitats etc in the target language and students simply wrote down the names of the animals.  It was an exquisitely good example of listening comprehension based on a significant amount of daily input from the teacher up to that point.  I suggested we use the same format for our midterm, describing gods and goddesses, their features, realms, relationships and activities in Latin.  All students would have to do is write down the deity’s name.  

There was one problem.  We had not included a significant amount of listening input up to that point.  No question that we verbally circled all the new vocabulary, but when it came to describing gods and goddesses and telling their stories, we did that primarily through reading and discussion, in Latin.

The midterm was a bomb.  There were moments of panic.  And then we remembered that we did not have a textbook to cover.  We were grading by standards and not individual tests.  We had all the freedom we needed to back up and begin giving students a significant amount of input about these gods and goddesses in their stories.  Rather than reading, we did three days of telling, listening and clarifying comprehension.  We gave the midterm again, and they well exceeded the 80/80 rule (where 80% or more of the students score 80% or higher on the assessment).

Built on that midterm mishap, we have created a new kind of experience--whether through live oral reading or audio recordings (saves the voice a bit) students listen to the story of Pluto and Proserpina as we read together Pluta: Fabula Amoris.  As we describe a scene or character or set of characters Latine tantum, students write down notes about the character and scene.  After listening, we ask students to tell us back what they have heard.  They use their notes.  They add to their notes from what their peers say.  Then, after listening to these scenes, we break out the books and they silently read the appropriate capitulum from the novella. After the reading, they did a 10 timed write in which they wrote all that they could about Pluto and Proserpina.  

Students blew their own minds!  One student who had only been able to write 6 words on his first timed write wrote 93 about Pluto and Proserpina--in ten minutes.  A young lady who had still not performed so well on the midterm was diligently involved in the listening and volunteering to tell what she heard.  She increased her writing from 10 words the first time to 23 words the second time.  There was not a single student who didn’t best his/her own writing record after this combination of listening and reading.

Right now, my personal reminder is written on the wall:  Listen.  Read.  Write.  In Comprehensible Input terms, that amounts to doubled effort on input before any output.  

When things don’t go well in a CI classroom, it really is a golden opportunity.  We should refuse to see it as anything else.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Snake of a Different Color: A Review Game

Not too long ago, I posted about a worksheet I gave out to my students named "Serpens" due to the way I wanted students to choose their activities.

This time, this is a game called "Serpens," named for the snake I draw on the board; I got the game from the beauteous and sagacious Caroline Miklosovic, one of my colleagues at my school.

The game is called Serpens and it requires little preparation on your part, though it should review material that students are very familiar with.

The serpens before the game starts.
  • Create a list of questions concerning your material. For my most recent game, I used vocabulary students would see in the reading we were working on and comprehension questions about the story. I created a list of forty questions, and I think that is a good number--we never ran out of questions but we didn't leave too many questions unanswered.
  • Draw a snake on the board. Or have a student do it. The snake should be divided into two and segmented into twenty sections on each side.
That's it!

Game Play

The class is divided into two teams (Red vs Blue in my class).
The finished snake!

I ask the first student in the Red team a question. If that student gets the question right, his team gets to color in a segment. If that student misses, the Blue team gets to try to steal the question. I let anyone who raises his hand on the Blue team answer. If the Blue team answers correctly, they get to color in a segment.

Then I ask the first student in the Blue team and the pattern repeats. If the student on the Blue team gets the answer correct, he colors in a segment. If he misses, the Red team gets a chance to steal. The final segment is the head, and that may have inspired me to suggest to the class that they are actually battling for control of the snake's mind and their future survival (the losing team is subsumed into the will of the winners). Just to up the stakes a little.

The game is quick; I paired it with a Kahoot to finish up the class. But it's a nice, relaxing way to review a story and another way to create repetition without being repetitive!

Miriam had her students draw the snake and had them fill in their own segments. Some cool art followed!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The fault in our plans

I have the awesome privilege of working with three other amazing Latin teachers. As we continue on this journey of untextbooking and Standards Based Grading, we are documenting a lot. We document everything from amazing lesson plans we fall in love with to assessments that really speak to what we are doing to student feedback to lesson plans that fail. Today is a post about a plan that failed.

Robert Patrick and I administered a Latin I midterm. What we discovered after the midterm was that we, as teachers, had not prepared students for the skill we needed them to have for the midterm like we thought we'd had. In this post, I am going to separate things out as follows: What we did, what we learned, and how we fixed the issue.

What We Did

The idea for this midterm's format was based on a great assessment in another teacher's classroom. The midterm would consist of a listening section where characters we'd been reading about were read to students and students had to identify the character. In preparation for this, we gave student a list of descriptions and asked them to identify each character listed and make a picture for them. We also created a series of kahoot games to help them review shorter descriptions. Below is the script made for teachers at the very beginning.

For the midterm, we read the shorter descriptions and students were to write down the name of the character. We provided a character bank, but while there were 9 characters (Chaos was left out), there were 20 blanks, providing for multiple examples of each character.

What the midterm looked like for this section

What We Learned

It became very apparent to us that students were not prepared for this portion of the exam. I think a lot of things ran through our minds: Did they not study? Did I misread their comprehension? Did we not spend enough time discussing in Latin? What we discovered was that while this skill is necessary and is one we thought we had been preparing for, it differed from what we are doing in class enough that students needed more practice specifically in this skill.

Listening vs. Listening with visuals

I realised after our first of (honestly) about four discussions on this that we had been speaking Latin, regularly, to our students, but each time we provided some kind of visual:
  • teacher created images
  • student created images
  • text
  • cloze passages
  • parallel universe passages
  • questions
  • false statements
Even when we do TPRS stories and TPR, visuals accompany listening skills. Students perform actions, demonstrate items, hold stuffed animals, watch the teacher for visual clues, and have vocabulary written on the board and referenced. All of these things are great activities and help build skills, including listening comprehension, but they do not prepare students for listening without visual aids. 

Fixing the Issue

The solution to this issue, we determined, is two-fold. First, we must re-administer the midterm. Second, we must prepare students better for this skill in the future.

The Midterm

We decided to re-administer this portion of the midterm. Students had the option, if they scored 16/20 or better to retake. If they scored less than 16/20 they were required to retake. In preparation for this retest we decided on two days of review to build the skill, in group levels, and individually. Robert Patrick put together my descriptions into their long form again, but only what was on the midterm, and recorded audio of these descriptions. On day one, students were placed in groups randomly and told that by the end of the period, they should be able to complete this activity on their own. We played the audio one by one and told students how many indicators each set of audio had. The audio played the description three times. Students identified the character and all of the indicators/descriptors each character had. On day two, we'd repeat this activity, but students would do it individually. On day three, we'd re-administer this portion of the midterm.


  1. Play recording (created by Robert Patrick)
  2. Identify character - Saturnus
  3. Identify 9 indicators
    English - Titan king, his mother was Gaia, his father was Uranus, he had a sister, his sister's name was Rhea, he had six sons and daughters, he feared his sons and daughters, he ate five sons and daughters, he ate one rock
    Latin - rex Titanius, mater erat Gaia, pater erat Uranus, deus sororem habebat, nomen sorori erat Rhea, sex filios et filias habebat, filios et filias timebat, quinque filios et filias comedit, unum saxum comedit

Preparing for the Future

We are still working on ways to foster this particular skill in the future (and are putting an all call for ideas!) So far, we've come up with some ways to practice this skill daily, weekly, or every once in a while.
  • extended TPR (longer instructions)
  • review of previous day's story (what kids remember happening)
  • character/item descriptions (much like the activity in the midterm)
  • listen and draw (teacher reads description, students draw what [s]he says)


This, I feel, was an important process for me. I am already seeing my thought processes change because of Standards Based Grading, and for the better. While this plan was, originally, a failure, it has really guided my thought processes even more to be even more critical of what I am teaching and how. It also points to a skill that, often as Latin teacher, we overlook. We are really good at using readings and visuals, but we miss the listening part by itself. Robert and I have discussed ways to ensure that our students are proficient in this skill. I know that I am now looking for ways to incorporate it into my daily practice. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

PBP announcing: Plutonis et Petri Book Review Promotion!

Check out our new promotion and maybe win a couple of books!

First, read the free preview versions of each book here. Then follow the directions below to enter the contest.