Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Calling All Latin Speakers.... again!

Salvete omnes!

The next official Latin Tweet Up is coming!

When: 29 February 2012
Where: Twitter! Here is the custom tweet grid.
Time: 6:00 pm
Hashtags: #LNTL #LatinTweetUp

Come and join us in speaking Latin! Jump in or sit back and enjoy. All are welcome!

For more info, check out this posting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

WAYK - branching out and reaching out Part 2

The Monday after Evan sat down with Rachel, Keith, and I (see my previous post), he came and viewed one of my Latin II classes. I had warned the students of a few things, but the most important (in my mind) was "Do not try to be perfect, just be you." Since this technique is so new and since I've practically turned my students' world upside down (in a good way apparently), I wanted, and still do want, as much feedback as possible. If my students were trying to be perfect, they would get nervous and shut down. That I did not want! I spent some time thinking about how to write this post and what message I wanted to get across. Evan had so many great ideas and such useful feedback, my head is still spinning, but I think I'm starting to get a grasp on things.

After he left, I sat down with my students and we had a discussion. It was an expanded plus delta session where everything and anything was game, down to the shoes I wear (interestingly, it was noted that when I am barefoot or wear my clogs/sandals, I am much more comfortable and it shows in my teaching than when I wear heels). We talked about our textbook, the requirements of our course, and the techniques I was using. I shared with them things I'd learned from Evan and the suggestions he'd had and they responded. In this post, I hope to share those suggestions with you and how I have adapted them for classroom work. I hope to share with you my students' thoughts and reactions to these changes and what's it has meant for us as a class.

One of the essential pieces to Where Are Your Keys is the meadow. One of the things Evan pointed out was that maps are a great thing to have in a meadow. I'll be honest, I was surprised and a little skeptical of this,  so I put it to the test. I watched students who were in my makeshift meadow and saw how many of them stared at a map of the city of Rome I had up. I then polled the students. They agreed that maps were calming. So, I took down all the maps in my room.... and moved them to the meadow. Now students can see not only a map of the empire, but a map of trade routes, the city, and the stars. I've put them at varying levels. Some are slightly above my head, for taller students. Some are right at arm level. I put some near the floor for students who wanted to sit. What was, originally, a dark corner has turned into a welcoming place with magazines, books, samples of student work, and maps. Since I've moved the meadow and livened it up a bit, I've noticed students don't just go and sit. They go and explore. They open Latin books, look through Latin magazines, check out student work from other classes, and come back faster. Just today, I saw one student flipping through an old Latin book I have sitting out. Even though he wasn't actively participating in the class, he needed a break and he found it, in my room, in a Latin environment. I'd managed to create a calming place without removing a student from the context. 

One of the issues Rachel and I had asked Evan about was how to work within the confines of a textbook and curriculum while making use of Where Are Your Keys. One of the great things about the game is that you can go where it takes you. Go as fast or as slow as you need to go. Unfortunately this is not always an option in the classroom. Evan suggested that we work within these confines by freeing ourselves a little. His suggestion was to make a large wall posting of all the vocab and grammar topics needed to pass a particular chapter. Mark the date when classes get to those things and keep track for next time. By doing this, you will find a natural progression within the confines which will make learning the language easier and put less pressure on students and teachers. My students thought this idea was great, and I promptly made mini posters that read "Primus Annus", "Secundus Annus", and so on. I also wrote which colour books were used for each class. Then I took two colours of butcher paper. One large one, with all the vocab for two chapters written down, and one with examples of the grammar. As we hit each one, I tick it off  with a check mark. We are still working through our first two chapters using this, but students enjoy seeing the ticks appear every few days and it gives them a real sense of their progress. It is a bit time consuming creating the posters, but it is worth it.

My version of Rachel's Discussion Board with student drawn characters
One of the other suggestions Evan had for me was to switch it up: leaders that is. Allow students to take over their own learning and lead sessions. I must admit that, much like a mother elephant, I was nervous about letting the kids go. What if they got confused? What if they gave up? Evan was quick to show me that it works. I was sick last week and left instructions for students to lead the class and then for them to take volunteers who wanted to lead. I got great feedback from the sub and the students who said it went smoothly. I heard about students, who I was not expecting to take the giant lead, go up and lead the entire class of 30 students.  I was, and am thrilled. It is extremely pleasing and I am so proud of my students for taking control of their own language learning. As a foreign language teacher, that is my goal: to teach students to take ownership of their own learning and use it to find what they want to know. Where Are Your Keys is a great way to do that, which leads me into my next post... oh goodness, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The vocabulary Wall!
Questions words: Quis? Quid? etc.
Evan had many great suggestions for my classroom and teaching. Ultimately he helped me find the tools that I already had to help my students go where they want and need to go. I've reorganised my room, and it took some time, but I included the students and we took a moment each day to appreciate the changes as that were made. Each wall has a name, of sorts, and its made for easier learning. I think one of the most important things that Evan's visit and the change to WAYK has done is it has opened the door for even more dialogue between me and my students. It helped me remember some things I'd wished my foreign language teachers did in high school and college. I revisited those ideas and updated them. Here are some other changes we've made: a wall of vocabulary, both visual and otherwise, a wall of visual derivatives, a wall of grammar hints and reminders, question words always visible to students (not a change, but something I'd had since day 1 based on my father's *Bob Patrick* work), and visual vocabulary lists (one column has the word, the second has a visual, the third uses it in sentence and lists previous vocabulary related to the word). I hope to address each of these in separate posts, but some pictures are posted throughout. I do promise, though, to come back and link to the posts as I write them! Keep an eye out for part III -- My plus deltas of WAYK! Be Sure to check out Part I: My Weekend with Evan Gardner

The Derivatives wall: Students create pictures of vocabulary words using derivatives as the outline.

Guest Blog Post: Community

Our friend and colleague Keith Toda is gracing our blog today with his thoughts on community as it concerns Latin teachers--specifically Latin teachers who use spoken Latin in our classes.  I am excited to share this with you and the only alterations I have made is to link a few sites to certain words for clarification.

A few weeks ago, on Evan's last night with me in Atlanta, I asked him where he would like to go for dinner. His response: wherever you and other Latin speakers go to eat and to hang out speaking Latin. My response: Umm...I don't know of a place like that, because we Latin speakers in Atlanta do not get together to do this (at least, not that I know of). In fact, I admitted to him that when he, Miriam, Rachel and I were conversing in Latin the night before, that was actually the first time since Rusticatio 2011 where I had actually spoken Latin in a conversation (so roughly 6 months). He was actually quite shocked and kept prodding me that I needed to do something about it and that I should organize a regular Latin conversation night of some kind. Honestly, I wanted to ask him why he was taking such an interest in something like this, but I ended up changing the conversation very quickly because I felt like I was being grilled.
It was not until after Evan left and as I began to process everything from that weekend that I understood what he was trying to tell me: how do you expect to improve your own Latin speaking skills if you do not have a community which will help you to achieve this? How will others do the same? And how can you introduce newcomers to speaking Latin if there is no true Latin speaking community in your area? 
I understand how correct he is in this, but the reality is that life in general does not always allow for this, as we all have our own commitments (job, family, personal). But Evan is right, and the keyword is community; what we do not need is a Latin-speaking group but a Latin speaking community: a group of Latin speakers simply converses, but a community of Latin speakers is interested in the improvement of others' abilities and is committed to working towards that end for each other. In a group, a speaker is simply a participant, but in a community, a person is a member. In a group, speakers focus only on themselves, but in a community, people are interested in ever expanding the boundaries to include new members.
In many ways, we as teachers strive to create a community in our classrooms. And in a world language classroom, I think that this is vitally important for us to create an environment where students feel safe and that they are a valued part of the whole. Trust needs to be established, as we are asking them to learn and then to produce a skill, and if students are not on board with what we are doing, then it is all for naught. We must do everything we can to lower their affective filters by creating a safety net environment. I love Nancy Llewellyn's opening Rusticatio talk where, holding a small circular bathmat, she tells participants, "See this spot?" and then throwing it on the floor, she says,  "I will never put you on it. Let me put myself on it." I love Evan's techniques slowly, say it again, three times, pull me through, mumble, etc. because they add to the safety net environment by allowing students to tell you, the teacher, that they are not understanding something in a totally non-threatening way. One of the mantras which I always tell my students is that "If you are not understanding something which I am saying in Latin, then that is my fault, not yours."
Right now, the model which we have set up for the classroom is a teacher-student modality, but what would a classroom community look like if it also included student-student, where students were helping (and even teaching!) each other based on the same kind of communal understanding? One of my goals for this summer is to think about how to achieve this.
Anyhow, yesterday I took Evan's advice and hosted a Prandium Latinum at my house. Six Latin teachers from my district showed up, and quite honestly, more wanted to attend but had other commitments due to the holiday weekend. I really had a good time, and what I liked most was simply enjoying each other's company purely Latine. All of us (except one) are Rusticatio alumns, so I think that we all had been craving Latin conversation of some kind (speaking Latin to students in a classroom as a teacher is NOT the same at all as conversing in Latin). In fact, we are already planning our next gathering for March and hopefully, this will become a monthly meetup and more folks will attend.
Right now, we are group of Latin speakers; as time progresses, I would like to see this group develop into a community of Latin speakers, and I think that we are on the right track.

Shortly after I finished editing this post, Miriam posted about her own classroom community!  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My Interest in Pinterest: New Social Media for the Tech-Savvy Educator

Today's blog has been hard to write.  I've started it at least six times.  Maybe it's because Pinterest is so different from other social media.  Perhaps it's the fact that Pinterest, as a social media, is surprisingly image-driven as opposed to verbal--it's causing my own verbal resources to break down.

I have seen a couple of posts by friends on Facebook using Pinterest recently, but generally ignored them (I'm not all that into social media in and of itself, and Facebook is realy it for me when it comes to being actually social online); then I read an article by the International Society for Technology for Educators over Pinterest that made me start thinking about the site and its possible educational applications.

The article mostly recommends Pinterest as an idea-sharing resource, and yet another place to build your Personal Learning Network (a really worthy goal, and I would add a dedicated Google+ circle to the resources described in the linked article).

When I look at Pinterest, however, I see it as a wonderful way to gather resources for my students at the click of a button.  When you join Pinterest (which is still a bit wonky--you have to use either a Facebook or Twitter account to join, and it takes a process of approval), you are given a button to add to your web-browser.  The button simply says "Pin It", and that's what it does.  You will set up "boards" according to whatever themes you think are most appropriate, and whenever you are surfing the internet, reading websites, articles, blog posts, etc., you can just click that button to "pin" the resource to one of your boards. It's that easy.  Suddenly, gathering materials for my classes has become something I can do as a second thought--and that is what makes Pinterest a great format.  

So often, I'm reading something that inspires me to share it with my students--but I don't, because it would either require me to print it out or link to it on my website, etc., and I am essentially a normal human being (read: lazy).  Now I just have to push a button!  

What's even better, once I have supplied a board with resources for my students, I can let them "like," "repin," or comment on each resource.  This excites me because, as a Latin teacher, there just aren't that many resources out there for simple Latin reading.  I have already begun my board for Simple Latin Reading, mostly taken from TarHeelReaders.  I am excited to unveil it to my students--they will have the chance to chime in and let each other know which stories they enjoy reading and which ones they recommend (using "like" and "comment")--and it will all be organized on the board, in one place, and all I had to do is push a button on my browser!  This is what technology is for--to make our lives better, more efficient.

That's not to say there aren't still some bumps when creating and running your Pinterest account.  Aside from the aforementioned awkwardness of enrolling only via Facebook or Twitter (I recommend Twitter if you don't have either account already--it's a great place to build education-related resources and contacts), the site still feels experimental despite the fact it has existed for two years already.  I can rearrange the order of my "boards" but not the articles pinned to my boards.  I had to wait around 24 hours before I was okayed to join.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the "pins" by my friends on my home page, and it can be confusing to navigate the site itself.

That said, I think it's an invaluable resource for educators--imagine the thematic boards you could create (science and math as well as art, language, literature, etc.)--and it is emphatically family-friendly: when you join you agree to keep your boards clean and nudity-free.

And, did I mention, it's free?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Eat Your Grammar

I'm not naturally a grammar person.  Check that--I am completely a grammar person, but I'm not naturally a grammar teacher.  On a personal level, I love grammar.  I love to take language apart into little tiny pieces, examine it, poke its innards a little, then put it back together like a Frankenstein project.  I love to make grammar jokes at my poor husband, who hates grammar and my jokes.

But I know that in each of my classes of 30 or so students, maybe two or three of them feel the same way I do (a high number, but I do teach Latin, and generally the more logically-inclined students are the ones who sign up).

So when I teach grammar, I try to find ways to make it easier to digest.

One method, which I'll publish here later on, is to do daily snippets of Latin I call "Daily Grammar Practice"--a method I completely stole from my year of teaching English and re-imagined to fit Latin.

Another thing I do, which I am sharing here in this post, is to help students draw connections between the grammar concept and something more concrete.  The rare 2nd declension noun that ends in "r" (like "puer" and "vir") is a ninja in my classroom ("he's sneaky and infiltrates the 2nd declension in secret").  Adjectives are stalkers--they want to be just like the nouns they describe (but are ultimately themselves--to avoid declension confusion).  And conjugations are like cookies.

I would love to take full credit for this idea, but it's honestly not my own.  A wonderful lady presented at Nationals about how she uses Oreo cookies to help students understand conjugations.  At the time I was completely anti-explicit-grammar, so I sort of went "that's neat" and filed the idea away but did nothing with it.

Fast forward many years and different experiences.  I find myself in a situation where I have to teach some grammar explicitly.  And last week I was facing the daunting task of teaching conjugations, which tends to make some students want to bang their heads on their desks (I know, because they do it).

Enter a food-based bribe.

I didn't tell them anything about what I was doing.  I just had them sit in pairs (I cannot afford to buy enough cookies for each of my 120 Latin I students, alas) with a paper towel and four cookies in front of them.  Each cookie was different--one was the classic Oreo, one was double-stuffed, one was mint, and one was chocolate.

Then I had them make observations: how were the cookies different from each other?  What was special about each one?

On the board I had drawn a picture of each type of Oreo and given an example of a verb in the correlating conjugation.*  From there, they picked out the dominant vowel for each conjugation and I helped them figure out the main features of the infinitive for each conjugation (conjugations, infinitives, sum, possum, volo, and nolo are all grammar features in this particular chapter).

The completed chart on the board looked like this:

Which is a lot of grammar to digest.  So that was it for grammar for the day.  We sang songs and made up some Latin stories together (generally via TPRS and what the TPRS gurus refer to as either PQA or mini-stories).

We didn't touch the grammar again until the next day.  I had the desks arranged in groups when they entered and they self-selected who they would be working with simply by sitting down.

This is where I added my own twist to the lesson.  Yeah, we connected conjugations to cookies, something concrete, but it's still a little forgettable.  I really wanted students to synthesize the information and make it their own.

So I had them make posters.  I actually do something similar to this quite often with abstract concepts.  I told students each group had to make a poster that answered the age-old question, "How is a Conjugation like a Cookie?"  After fielding the normal range of questions, like "How do we draw that?" ("That's the fun part--you get to figure it out!"), "Can we use other types of cookies?" ("Yes"), "Can we come up with our own concept?" ("Yes, but let's keep it food-based, just for simplicity."), I told the kids to go at, and the biggest rule was that I didn't want to see my chart from the day before repeated.

My goal was for them to find their own connections between the conjugations and a symbol that they have chosen.

Some groups stuck with the Oreo theme, but recreated the concept in their own words with their own connection.

Most groups came up with their own cookie examples: sugar, chocolate-chip, oatmeal-raisin, etc.  Some groups wanted to really move outside of cookies and find their own concept.  I have a pasta poster, a sandwich poster, a pocky poster, and a bread poster.  Most importantly, though, they took the concept and made it concrete for themselves.

*For Latin teachers interested in doing the same activity, the Oreos break down as follows:

  • The Original Oreo: the original Oreo is the regular oreo.  It is standard.  It follows the rules.  Much like the first  conjugation , you know what to expect and what you are going to get when you get the original Oreo.  That and "a" is the first letter of the alphabet--another connection to make.
  • The Double-Stuff Oreo: double the stuffing represents double the "e" or, better, "ē".  The extra room is for the long vowel.  The "e" is everywhere, too--even in first person singular.
  • The Mint Oreo: the mint is different, unexpected, out of the ordinary recipe of chocolate and vanilla.  The third  conjugation is also different.  It is a little 2nd conjugation, a little 4th conjugation, and hard to pinpoint.  Another Oreo that would work for this conjugation is the one that has chocolate and vanilla cookies sandwiched with the creme.
  • The Chocolate Oreo: the cookies are chocolate.  The cream is chocolate.  The whole cookie is chocolate all the way through.  Just like the "i" in the 4th conjugation.  It's in every form.
My students felt left out because I wouldn't take actual pictures
 of them, so this was my compromise.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

WAYK - branching out and reaching out

Oh my goodness what a week! My original plan was to write this post Monday, but things have been off the wall! I went to an awesome workshop with Evan Gardner (creator of Where Are Your Keys) on Saturday and got to pick his brain Saturday evening. Monday, he observed one of my classes and I've considered (update: decided on) making some changes to my classroom. Needless to say, it has been an exciting week! To make it easier, I'm going to break it down into 3 posts:

1. My weekend with Evan Gardner (This one! yay!)
2. My students' Monday with Evan Gardner
3. My + Δ of Where Are Your Keys

1. My Weekend with Evan Gardner
I had the wonderful privilege of attending a conference Saturday with Mr. Gardner and sat down with him and some teacher friends Saturday evening. We got an opportunity to pick his brain about the beginnings of Where Are Your Keys, its uses, and where he wants to see it go. About halfway through our "jam session" (if you will) my 5 year old daughter joined the party and we got to see some of Evan's techniques in action. What an experience! Granted, she's heard me speak Latin in my classroom, to other teachers, and to the family dog, but she's never been fully immersed in a conversation. She blew me away!

What was incredibly inspiring was the way Evan Gardner jumped into a language. Having had roughly 10 days or so of Latin instruction, he dove right into speaking with us (often half in Latin, half in English). It was amazing to see him in action and shamelessly pick his brain. One of the things that has led me to this point, and gotten my excitement up about WAYK, is watching my daughter learn her first language. In a natural setting, things flow easily from one point to another with questions and corrections built in. In a classroom, often, teachers are forced to teach topics, vocabulary, and constructions based upon a curriculum, not based upon when the students are ready. Where Are Your Keys provides a more natural alternative for foreign language learning.

We discussed many topics Saturday afternoon and evening, often starting with techniques - ways to do things, ways to progress:

Technique -- Long cut, short cut: "If you know the long way of saying it, say it the long way first because you can't create a shortcut without the long way first."
       It's all about connections. Make as many connections as you can with as many repetitions as possible. This builds a sense of confidence in students knowing that, as they go, listeners can pick up on what they are saying and fill in the blanks, if necessary. The sooner you can get to back and forth discussions, the sooner you can start modelling shorter ways of accomplishing things. But these things take time. Introduce as much vocabulary into the "long cut" structures as possible. Do it again. Keep going and, naturally, you will come to a place where a shortcut can be introduced and be well received.

Technique -- shut off your English mind:"That's what sign language does... it shuts off your English mind."
      Okay, not technically a technique, but it so should be. Focusing on signs allows your mind to reorganise itself without immense amounts of resistance from itself. Students forget that they want to connect the new language to English and instead focus on what is in front of them: an object or picture, a complete sentence, and a sign. The technique also reaches a wider range of students. By combining a visual, audial, and kinesthetic technique, more and more kids get the thing they need to make the connection and learn in the target language, without relying on English.

Technique -- Prove it: "Okay, I've set you up with a scenario... this is what you need to do in order for this situation to work out. Okay do you get this?... Prove it
     Often times, especially for Latin teachers (where word order doesn't matter), we think that students understand a point, when, in reality, they have simply applied something from English and not learned the new topic. With this technique, teachers can test the boundaries of what has been taught by having students set up their own scenario and try to apply what they know. This "teachable moment" can be reworked when necessary by the teacher and then turned into another teachable moment. I will expand on this in part III.

Technique -- Anyone can do it: "There are tricks to teaching, why don't we pass them down?"
     Where Are Your Keys originally started out working with Native American languages that were dying out. Often times, there would be 2 or 3 people left in a nation who knew the language and it wasn't getting passed down - it was dying out. What was needed was a technique that would allow people to hunt out the language quickly and pass it on to others. What was needed were students, who could turn around and be teachers. What was, and is, needed in classrooms are students who can take ownership of their learning. If 1 second of time can be saved, then WAYK has been successful. It creates a "Tree of language support". If Student A doesn't know, they ask Student B. If Student B doesn't know, they ask Student C. Eventually, perhaps, it gets back to the teacher. The teacher teaches one person and it gets passed down the tree, saving everyone's time and getting knowledge passed, understood, and taught faster and faster.

Technique -- it's gotta break down to some little tricks: "If we're going to do this, and we're going to teach people how to do this, then it's gotta break down..."
     Here are the flashy, gaudy tricks! The big trick to WAYK is speed: making language learning quick, easy, and effective. The more time saved, the better. This is where techniques come in. Where Are Your Keys does not have a single way of working. It has many ways of working, via techniques. What Evan Gardner realised is that, especially when you are learning a language from 2-3 people who are grandparents, in order for the method to be most effective, it has to break down to something simple, flashable, and fun. The techniques provide a quick, fun way of teaching a few people something who then are able to go and teach others.

I learned so many things Saturday night and I hope to write about them all, but I don't want to overwhelm you (or spend a year writing one post!). In my next post, I will talk about how my kids are reacting to the WAYK method and our experience with Evan Gardner the Monday after this jam session. I hope to put in a few more words about what I learned from him, but with a little better classroom context.

What about my daughter? She made a bracelet yesterday and brought it to me. She asked me, "I forgot... what is this?" and I reminded her: "faba rubra". Almost instantly, she remembered the other colours from our game. She chanted them perfectly with a little giggle. I've been wanting to teach her Latin and I think I've found a way to do so, without overwhelming either one of us.
Originally WAYK worked to bring back dying languages, but it doesn't need to stop there. Take a look at the  Where Are Your Keys players' map. It is already being played/used all over. See that little spot in good old Georgia, USA? That's me and my little classroom (okay, short, but WIDE classroom). There is already a growing community of people who want nothing more than to strike up a conversation... So, go ahead, I dare you... Ask it.... "Quid est hoc..."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Calling all Latin speakers!

The date: Wednesday 7 February 2012
The time: 7:00 pm EST
The place: Twitter
The reason: lingua latina nobis placet et volumus dicere!

Join @AIRomanCulture and us at a Latin tweetup party Wednesday night at 7:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. Do a search for #LTNL or #latintweetup. Guest speaker to be the awesome Nancy Llewellyn!

Join us for a great time of speaking Latin!

For more information, check this blog post and I'll see you there!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Working Hard for My Money: January's Totals

I have been keeping track of my hours this year.

Not just the hours I am supposed to be on the clock and in the classroom, though of course those are included.  

The hours I spend grading, planning, and at professional development opportunities are also included.

The hours I spend answering student e-mails, working on education-related side projects, reading and writing educational blogs and listservs, and generally researching my profession are not included.

Which means that I am only including hours that directly affect my practices inside my classroom on a day-to-day basis.  The hours I put in to succeed as a teacher.  The necessary hours.  The required hours.

I have been doing this for exactly six months now.  It's a good time to check in.


Hours Worked

Average Worker






















I have been using a pretty simple system.  I record my activities (generalized) on an Excel spreadsheet.  I record my start and stop times, then calculate the hours those times included.  At the end of each month, I use the amazing "sum" ability from Excel to calculate how many hours I have worked in total.

To calculate the hours an "Average Worker" would be putting in--and by that I mean an average salaried worker, not someone who makes money when he or she works overtime--I total the days in the month during which a salaried worker would be expected to work (i.e. no holidays) and multiply that number by the generalized 8 hour work day.

As you can see, I usually work more than my fair share of hours.  In total, including November, when I had a week off for Thanksgiving, and including December, when I had two weeks off for winter break, I have worked 317.73 hours more than the average salaried worker.  That averages to 7.94 weeks (if work weeks are 40 hours long) extra.  Almost two months of time.

Which basically means in six months' time, I have worked enough hours to fill eight months.  With three weeks off, I still have managed to work an extra two months.