Thursday, September 3, 2020

Why I don't do RRR days anymore (kind of)

 Previous posts

  1. Everyone needs a little R, R, and R
  2. R, R, R update
RRR was a plan/activity/what not that I came up with many years ago. I presented it to my team as we embarked into Standards Based Grading and it was incredibly useful. In the past two years, however, I have all but stopped using it. In fact, last year I did not have a single RRR day for my kids. So, what changed? 

The original idea behind the RRR day (originally rest, reach, and remediate) was to allow students who were comfortable with material to get enrichment, students who had missed work to catch up, and students who needed individual support to get it. This is, as any teacher will tell you, no easy task on the best of days. With ~30 students in a room it can be quiet difficult. So, as we worked with my original framework, we experimented with a few things:
  • making a list of activities students needed to do for each standard - This was always outside of normally assigned work. The problem with this is that it put exponential amounts of work on us to create these new materials. 
  • making a list of options for students for each standard - This was easier in that I would provide a choice of a general activity (e.g. make a comic strip of our most recent story), but still required extra work on my part. It also sparked questions and, on occasion, confusion for students. 
  • RRR days on a schedule - Originally I really wanted to do these days every other week. The problem I found was that some students developed a sense of entitlement that we'd have this day and they didn't need to pay attention or work any other day because they could just get me to explain it to them on this day. For other students, the entitlement came in the form of wanting a "day off".*
  • Extra Grading - This was a major issue. I would find myself grading entire assignments just to move a grade from a 99 to a 100. Again, some sense of entitlement came out when, a few times, a student would say that I was preventing them from having a 100 or ruining GPA because I wasn't giving them a perfect score on RRR work: "But... I did the thing. That's a 100 right?"

* I don't use the word entitlement easily. It is a word often used against my generation. I want to be clear that I always try to give students the benefit of the doubt for as long as I can. Once a pattern becomes apparent, however, I will take appropriate action. 

So, I got rid of it. I started by saying that we'd have an RRR day when the grades showed we needed it. This didn't go over too well for some students. I found myself battling between letting certain students have a "free day" so that I could work with others and give them the support they needed. I was suddenly trying to manage behaviour while trying to do good work with students who needed it. 

And so, last year, I decided I would not do a single RRR day. Not a single one. Now, let's break that down. Let me address some of the very questions I got when I announced this to students:
  1. So does this mean we can't redo any work? No, not at all. There will always be opportunities for resubmission and opportunities to try again. It will, however, look different. 
  2. What about free days? I think I may have laughed out loud. I'm not super proud of that.... but I did. I don't do movies 99% of the time. The exception to this is that I occasionally do a movie short and sometimes I'll show an episode of Class of the Titans (NOT Clash). Even then, they don't take the entire period. This is not a slight on teachers who do show movies. I have on occasion shown one. It is a reflection, rather, of what I think I can do better. I can do a better job supporting the students in my room. That is what I'm always working on: how better can I support the students I see in my room. 
  3. But XX does RRR days!?!?! And that's fine. My teammates can still do RRR, and some do. For me, I feel I can meet my students needs better in a different way now.
But... how did I address all the concerns that RRR is meant to address? Well...
  • I always reserve the right to let students resubmit the exact same assignment at any time. If a student needs to fix something, or understands something new that they didn't before, of course I'm going to let them redo an assignment. I reserve this, however, and this is not available for every thing every day. This is simply for my sanity. 
  • Instead... I ensure that I make plans to reassess things as part of class. If I notice that a majority of students did poorly or missed something I will adjust and reassess again shortly after (see post: the fault in our plans)
    • Sometimes I'll even say, "check your grades. If you are missing or would like me to reconsider your grade for Standard XX, make sure you turn this in. 
  • I set my focus on accommodations. My focus is becoming more and more centralised on what accommodations I need to make for any and all of my students. Some of these include small group or one on one instruction, alternative formatting, student choice, representation, etc. 

Ultimately I am doing a little bit more to make sure that students are accommodated in my class. By doing that and regularly reassessing through my lessons, we don't need to set aside a day for them to catch up and I ultimately have less work overall. Now, if we needed one, I would have no problem doing so. But I've found that I can accomplish RRR without needing to set aside a day 99.9% of the time simply by focusing my day on accommodations. If you're sensing a shift in the way I talk about things and how I go about things, you are correct. It's a shift I've always been pointed towards, but now I am actively on this path and I haven't ever loved my job more. <3

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Teaching Digitally as an Adventure (Part 2)

Time for an update! I have done a lot of things since my last update--it's been two weeks. (See my first week entry here)

First, I continue to really enjoy the challenge. I won't pretend to be okay; no teacher is right now, in the midst of a deluge of anger, vitriol, and disregard. But I can find some sparks of happiness in my day-to-day purpose, and that is not a surprise. I am a teacher by calling, not by circumstance or necessity. It's my passion.

I love my students. I am getting the chance to get to know them and I am working on building relationships, even from a distance. I asked them to fill out a form today to just tell me "vents and brags," and while I haven't finished reading their responses, one of the best things has been finding out that all the work I'm putting into the digital lessons has been noticed. That wasn't the goal of vents and brags (a term I got from Bob Patrick), but it was so encouraging to read. 

Keith Toda often quotes Carol Gaab, "the brain craves novelty." I have done my best to keep that in mind as I plan my digital lessons this year and create activities that are engaging and feel different every day. I have worked to make every plan feel authentic to the space we're in, instead of trying to translate my in-person activities directly, though that doesn't mean I don't take inspiration from things I've done in my classes.

All that to say, here is what I've been doing in Latin IV!

Latin II is not my own lesson plan right now, so I don't feel comfortable sharing it. But you can mod these templates to work for you. Many things are made to work with Google Classroom because it is magical. Others work with Zoom. Hopefully you can see ways to adapt all!

At the bottom of the page are a quick couple of videos, including one to demonstrate how to modify these templates to fit your personal needs. I know that it's not perfectly intuitive and I want you to be able to use these successfully.

Introducing the Story: Engaging Background Vocabulary
It's been a while since these kids have had Latin in a classroom environment and we were mostly winging teaching online starting in March, so to make sure they are prepared to read anything, I can't assume they all know the vocabulary they were "taught" so it was important to me to make sure we did some things to find out what they did know and to reinforce it. Yes, that included Gimkit, an online resource that is always evolving. But I am not willing to use it exclusively. Here are the other things I did:

  1. Vocabulary Know-it Board I filtered out the vocabulary that I knew was supposed to be new to
    students and set it aside. For literally every other word, including words like "in," I asked students to sort the vocabulary into piles of words "I know," "I really know," "I kind of know," and "I don't know." From there, I created a database of words they did not know and kind of knew and used that information to decide: 25 important words to review (they went into the Gimkit) and the 10 most important words to review (they are brought into focus by me on a repeated basis in context). This template is easy to modify for your own use; you can clear out any group of words and change the words to words you need your students to sort through. If you copy one of the rectangles and then press ctrl+v it will paste in this lovely diagonal design. I simply did that over and over while typing a new word each time. Then I would select the entire stack of ten and move them where I wanted. This board is best used in Google Class as a copy for each student.
  2. Vocabulary Bricks I took the 25 important words I got from the Vocabulary Know-it Board and
    I created a game where students could compete to collect words. This was loosely inspired by the Vocabulary Highlighter Game but I needed a way to play in the current digital environment. So I created a game board with a goal space for two players and boxes for each word. Students choose a slide to pair up on, put their names as either Player 1 or Player 2, and listen for me to call out words in English. When I called out a word, students grabbed the Latin word and dragged it to their goal on the slide. We were on the Zoom meeting together, but we all looked at the slide instead while we played. (If you would like to add visual support, please watch the demonstration on how to easily do so on the video for Accidit Romae below.) This template is also easy to modify for your own use; simply change out my words for your own on one of the student slides, then copy that slide and paste it several times--enough for your class to be divided into teams of two. This game is best used shared with all students able to edit the same Google Slides. 
  3. Vocabulary Puzzle This is one of the few times I literally took a game I play in class and put it
    in a digital format! It just works so effortlessly as a digital manipulative. This one I gave out to students and had them do on their own, although I encouraged them to give a friend a link to their own puzzle to help each other and then they could jump to the friend's puzzle to complete it too. The template I am giving you has the easy-to-edit format first, and then an example of how I stacked the pieces once I was done. To edit the puzzle, just double-click on the words and replace them with your own. Remember that students are trying to match the Latin with the English meaning. This puzzle can host 24 vocabulary words. Then turn the puzzle pieces different directions and stack them in a random order or lay them randomly around the board--however you would like to mix them up. You don't need two slides; I included the second slide so you can see what I did. This puzzle is best used in Google Class as a copy for each student.
Introducing the Story: New Vocabulary
Of course, there is new vocabulary as well. I employed some usual CI approaches that I thought might translate well as well as some brand new ideas.
  1. Venatio Traditionally the school year for most of my classes starts with Circling with Balls. It's a
    quick get-to-know you routine that lets me find out more about my students and lets them find out more about each other while speaking Latin. However, this year we are in a different format, the flow of class is different, and getting students to answer questions in a digital class without feeling so much more on the spot and uncomfortable (trust me, I have attended many classes online, and I am not usually afraid to be the center of attention) is just harder. I don't want my class to be something my students dread. So this was one of those things that I stepped back from, thought about the purpose, and reconfigured. The purpose of Circling with Balls is to get to know my students and provide clear, comprehensible, repetitive Latin. So I decided I could do something similar with a scavenger hunt. I don't want it to be all period, but doing a simple class opening where I ask students to find one thing that fits thematically with the vocabulary we are studying, and then discussing what they show me, gives me the chance to get a similar feel that makes sense in our digital environment. On the first day, we did a super easy sentence that all kids would know: Find something you love. I got lots of pets, a couple of siblings, some sports balls and phones, and a lot of smiles. To modify this for yourself, simply write a sentence for each day that incorporates one word that you want to focus on, but make sure everything else is completely comprehensible. You can make a virtual slide if you want and let it be your background in Zoom, like I did, or you can write it on the board behind you, or on paper, etc., and then repeat it and make sure students know what they are searching for. Make it vague enough for more than one answer (the one I am showing here is: Find a thing you have too much of) so you can have interesting responses from the students. This is best used live in session when you can see all of your students.
  2. Vocabulary Slides I have already made a post about this type of activity before. These are just the vocabulary slides I created to go with the beginning of this particular story. This is best used live in session with teacher leading and discussing in the target language.
  3. Vocabulary Scenes Instead of OWATS, which can be easily collaborative (I am still always
    looking for ways to help students find community in this setting), I decided to ask students to create Vocabulary Scenes using a Google Slide that I had set up for them. I put them into Zoom breakout rooms randomly so that it would assign them partners and a "room number," then asked them to find the slide marked with the same room number and work on it. They were to create a scene using the five words on the slide and vocabulary they knew from previous years of Latin. I spent the class period jumping from breakout room to breakout room answering questions and making sure students were safe and on task. After they were done, I took the scenes they created and added sentences and used these as simple introductions to class and reminders of the new vocabulary, three scenes at a time. To modify this for yourself, just figure out how many rooms you might need and change the focus words on the right of the student slides! This activity is best used shared with all students able to edit the same Google Slides. 
  4. Sentence Frames So this idea is honestly one of my early ideas with manipulatives. I still think it
    was a good idea, but I made a big error when composing this: I focused so much on pushing some of the more challenging aspects of the upcoming reading that I made this activity incomprehensible--the opposite of CI. I still feel it has potential, which is why I am sharing it here. But it is one that I will be more careful about in the future. Generally I created sentences that students could either fill in or slide answers to, then illustrate in the open white spaces below. What I have linked is a finished version with a template slide included; I will include how to modify it in the video below, because it is more complex than the activities above. This activity is best used in Google Class as a copy for each student.
Reading the Story
When you finally get to the story, one of the important things to do is to make sure you have a chance to repeat the story many times without feeling repetitive. With that in mind, I combined several approaches, some simple CI approaches from the classroom that transfer fairly comfortably to a Zoom classroom setting, and some I definitely really had to change or create fresh for the digital class. A side note: I decided to keep this first story quite short while I gage the students' capabilities and ease them into our current setting.
  1. Picture Story This is a link to the the story I told to my class using pictures. We are starting a

    series of stories about Andromeda, the Ethiopian princess rescued by Perseus, but told from her point of view. Circling (asking questions to emphasize and reinforce vocabulary) is clunky at best in this setting, so instead I did my best to elaborate using the picture as a jumping-off point. To make your own, this is more labor-intensive, in that you will need to create your own images and take pictures and insert them or draw images on an app and insert them. However, images are useful not only for clarifying a story but for creating discussion. This is best used live in session with teacher leading and discussing in the target language.
  2. "Choral" Reading I need a better name for this. We did not read chorally. I was inspired by choral reading to create a space in class for me to find out who knew the story, who understood the story, and yet still make sure that I was clarifying the meaning. What I did, which worked very well, actually, was highlight a section, ask students to type the meaning in the chat (which I have programmed in Zoom to only send to me, so it is not public. This has been a wonderful feature because students who are sometimes afraid to speak up in class are much more comfortable in this setting), and then clarify the meaning after I got student input. It was slow, but that was also kind of nice for students who are slow processors, and it allowed those who are fast processors to get their answers in there asap and be proud they were able to write everything probably before everyone else. Then, afterward, I just opened the chat log (which I have Zoom set to save) and I had a grade ready to go! Prep is easy--a nice, large font version of your story! This is best used live in session with teacher leading and clarifying the meaning in English. 
  3. Accidit Romae (and question template) Okay, so stay with me here. I was inspired by the Las
    Vegas game that Meredith White had shared last year among a pile of review games she enjoyed. The basis is simple: students, paired up, ante up bets on how likely they think they will be able to answer the next question. The question is posted with an A,B,C,D answer option and they pick one. The answer is revealed and whoever gets it right gets the pot. All of this is done with pretend money, obviously. However, I wanted to figure out how to do this digitally. So I created a board with two players and an A,B,C,D setup, made stacks of 10 denarii apiece so each side has a total of 50, and then I had to figure out how to show them questions. The answer became this: I need a master slide that I can edit live. I have a video below to show you what I mean, and how to run the game. It was very successful! If you teach another language, watch the modifying templates video to learn how to change this game to work with your own language. This game is best used shared with all students able to edit the same Google Slides. 
  4. Andromeda Prima: Interpreting the Reading Finally, after reading the story twice and playing
    a game to make sure students understood the story overall, and a gimkit that I didn't link here because that is something that we have all been doing in our classes before this whole thing happened, it was time to do an activity that required a little bit deeper reading and asked students to use quotes from the story to support their opinions. This is a really easy activity to set up; if you read the instructions you can see that you can ask for whatever types of details you want students to find within the text. I do recommend showing students how to create comments; even after doing so, a surprising number still had trouble and placed their comments in interesting spots and almost received lower grades than they deserved when I couldn't find them at first. That said, it was a pleasure to read and grade. This activity is best used in Google Class as a copy for each student.
How Do I Do Make These Things Work for Me?
That is such a good question. I know I just threw a lot at you at once. Here are two videos to help.



Hopefully this extremely long post has helped you get started on some fun ways to expand the activities in your digital classroom! I'll keep posting as I come up with more ideas!


Friday, August 21, 2020

Choice and Consequence

Yesterday evening I gave a three-minute "comment" at my board meeting to try to make a case for protecting students, staff, and faculty, while slowing community spread, by maintaining digital learning until scientific data shows the time is correct for opening schools. It is hard to fit all of that into three minutes. I have embedded and linked a video of my speech below, and beneath that is a full transcript of the speech for the hearing impaired or those who prefer to read.


View on YouTube Here

Thank you for hearing me. My son is a Gwinnett senior this year, and he has worked very hard to create his perfect senior year. Starting in his Freshman year, he has taken extra classes so that he could create a schedule with room for two musical courses, Latin, and an environmental engineering course that he has been excited about since January. Seeing his senior year ruined is enraging. My son has repeatedly made hard choices to arrive here.


You have made choices to arrive here too. Some have made me proud—such as the bus-based food distribution program—and some have shamed me. Throughout the entirety of the summer, you chose not to address the county’s virtual infrastructure so we could teach digitally with success. You chose not to purchase enough chromebooks for students without home devices to provide equal access to digital learning. You chose to sit and hope that instead of increasing, the cases of Covid would decline, and you could simply open the schools.


You chose inaction.


And you chose to justify your inaction with two-month old surveys, outdated research, pandemic advice from an OB/GYN, bully tactics, and an increasingly incredulous obliviousness of the experiments already running in Paulding and Cherokee County.

By opening schools, you are making a new choice. A choice to ignore the current science. A choice to ignore the CDC’s recommendations for—not even the “best-case scenario,” as it is worded in your own reopening plan—but the bare minimum for safely reopening. A choice to put teachers and their families at risk. A choice to put bus drivers and school staff at risk.


But most importantly, and the reason I cannot comprehend how you can claim to care about the well-being of the students you govern, this is a choice to put children at risk. A choice that will result in child illness.


Yes, there is risk in everything. But there is a difference in driving a car with the knowledge I might someday be in an accident and driving a car knowing today is the day.


Statistics are clean. They are faceless. But know that in this room are people who have lost family members to Covid-19. Look at our faces and tell us you choose us as your sacrifice. You choose our families.


You choose our children.


My son’s senior year should have been his best. But I choose his life over his convenience and momentary happiness. I choose people over politics. My hope is you can choose the same.


Thank you.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The New Frontier: Teaching Digitally as an Adventure (Part 1)

Look, I don't want you to see my title and run away because it's so positive and you're already worn out by the peppy, faux-positive, "we can do this" posts that paint teachers as go-getters who conquer all obstacles because we're just so darn selfless. 

That's not me. I'm also angry.

But, I like challenges and puzzles and technology, and here I am, with a huge Gordian Knot plopped in my lap, and I can't resist the chance to pull at the edges, work the thread, and pry it until it starts to soften and reveal what's inside. Plus, my kids deserve great teaching from me.

And if I can deliver great digital teaching, doesn't that prove that perhaps we can wait to open schools until it's safe?

So I have a lot of reasons to work on this.

If I'm truly honest, though, I am more excited about teaching than I have been in a while. I have missed the intellectual challenge of a conundrum this big. I love the kids, so emotionally I have been fulfilled. But figuring out how to create digital community is fun.

Okay. Enough about me. 

Making a Google Classroom
When I started posting about how much I'm enjoying my digital days, people started asking if I would share the things I'm creating. My answer: absolutely! Why should anyone else have to create stuff again? So if you already have a Google Classroom, skip the video below to the couple of goodies. If you don't, watch the video below to find out how to create a Google Classroom in the quickest way possible.



Assignment Option: Favorite Things Introduction Slide
So my main goal overall this first half week of instruction has been to help students get used to Zoom, get on my Remind, join my Google Class, and learn how to use Google Classroom effectively. That means that we have done some simple activities to help them learn how to use different functions. The video above discusses the Stream and assigning questions and material. 

This assignment is meant to be assigned as a copy for all students. It's independent work. I was inspired by a video like this one to think about how I could make things editable for the kids without them messing up the parts I want them to leave alone. There is a second approach aside from inserting the image in the background, by the way. I made this slide and the following one by editing the slide in Master View because it lets me add more elements. Then I added the parts I want them to be able to change in the regular view of the slide.

Favorite Things Introduction Slides

Opinion Board
I also wanted to try out the concept of a shared document that students all edit together. Honestly, this spawned from the fact I wanted to build class community, but I will get to more of that later. Below you will find what I created as a result: 

an Opinion Board. The opinion board construction is based heavily on things I learned from this video, and it honestly was so much fun. I asked questions in Latin, students moved tokens to their preferred answers, and eventually started moving each other's tokens. If you worry about them posting inappropriate things on a shared document like this, Google's "version history" is what protects you. Just click the link at the top that tells you when the "last edit" was made and you will be taken to the version history of the document. It will list when every student edited the document and whenever you hover over a name you can see what their contribution is. I warned students this was the case so they wouldn't get carried away. I also used this to keep restoring the document to my original version to "reset" it so we could ask another question. The students laughed and enjoyed themselves and one class was inspired to trade social media account information. This created class community on the second day of digital learning.

To change the options on the Opinion Board, open the Master View and edit the words there.

Opinion Board

Final Thoughts--For Now
I have a lot of these. Honestly. First of all, I love what Google Classroom is letting me do. I could gush on and on, but I won't. I will just say that it feels like freedom.

But. More importantly. The biggest mistake you can make when trying to create digital lessons and digital classes is to think of it as simply taking your regular, face-to-face classes and putting them on the computer. That way is pure frustration for you and your students. The setting is different. You're different. They're different. The best thing you can do is recognize that.

Instead, think, what is the point of this activity that I would normally do? What is its function? What are its key components?

Then look for ways to fill those needs with technology. It will feel more authentic.

Lastly, I named this Part 1, because I plan to keep sharing what I learn and what I make. This is a year where we will all be trying new things, learning as we go, and hopefully becoming better teachers against all odds and with public opinion, as always it seems, against us. We can at least support each other!

(I wrote a follow-up with more templates! See Part 2 here)

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!

Salvete! 

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