Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review Stations to Ring in the Finals

This is just a quick post to tell you about what I'm doing in my classes today. Mostly because I love this kind of review--it's very independent--and it helps the kids by asking them to think in unusual ways and has them up and moving.

They enter with the desks rearranged into six "stations," each with a story selected from the stories we've read this semester and a set of instructions. You can find the complete instructions here, but they boil down to one of the following: write a haiku, song, 2-sentence summary, or parallel story (all in Latin), draw a single scene to illustrate the entire story, or draw a short comic.

The instructions on the board are pretty straight-forward, and I always explain everything pretty thoroughly the first few times students face this kind of activity. I have them turn in a paper with all of their work so they focus and get it done. It's something I can record quickly while they take their finals next week.

To help students know where to sit when, I wrote combinations of letters on tongue depressors that I will hand out and ask them to follow. This helps them mix up each time they are at each station so they work with different people all the time (I posted my current incarnation of the letters here--it's just a list of thirty six letter sets, and I repeat some if I have more students).

And that's basically it! Simple, easy activity for the end of the semester!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Using Asking a Story to Produce Reading Material (And What to Do with It)

I've been writing some heavy (read: long) posts lately, so I thought I'd do something light, describing a three-day sequence of activities I recently did in my class.

Basically, I used the stories we produced in class via asking a story as reading material that could produce more repetitions of vocabulary and give me a break from creating the repetitions myself.

Day 1

I usually draw pictures to illustrate our stories as we go (by that I mean I draw stick figures like crazy) so students and I have a visual both to reference for vocabulary and to remember the details. If a student asks, I will allow the student to draw for us instead, as long and he/she is willing to sacrifice beauty for speed and not be a distraction. Either way, I have a visual record of each story as we tell it. I took advantage of that image and at the end of each class I took a picture of the board. This was very handy because I teach six classes and I forget many details over the course of a day.

At the end of the day, I typed up the stories from each class, using the pictures as reference, and glossing any words that were particular to a class but not universal across classes (what my CI training calls "icing words"--words that are not intended for students to learn, but that they learn because of interest; each class tends towards different interests).

Day 2

We began the day by reading the stories from each class and having the students discuss which stories they liked best (aside from their own, which they of course favored). Then I asked new stories, drew pictures, took pictures, and typed them up.

Day 3

Armed with stories from two days of asking, with repetitions of the words built in sixfold, we started with students again reading the stories from each class and discussing which stories they liked best. Then I gave an extension assignment I like to use when I have time to give to it (because it takes at least one period, sometimes two): writing a children's book.

They really are not advanced enough to write a grammatically correct story on their own (they are in their first year), so I had them choose one of the twelve stories we now had and write one-two sentences per page with clear (not necessarily beautiful) illustrations. I put this instruction powerpoint on my board, and was able to grade the books as they came in pretty simply.

Quick, easy, and a nice brain break. Plus repetitions. Also, once you've done this in your class, you can leave similar assignments for a substitute--one of the hardest things to figure out when you teach CI style--and it's not so much of a strain!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Adventures in Untextbooking: ACTFL 2014

Myself, Miriam, and Bob during our presentation. Thanks to
Jon Valentine for taking this picture!

This year I was very excited at the chance to present Untextbooking at the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Convention.

The topic is one close to my heart; giving up textbooks is everything I'd hoped (awesome!) and feared (work!) it'd be. There are days, I won't lie, that I walk into my classroom, exhausted by the energy I pour in there and other facets of my life (family and grad school, in particular), and I just wish I could say "Class, turn to page 53, and do what the book says." I will write a post with suggestions for those days within the next couple of months, because I am working on activities that aren't as exhausting for the teacher. We all need breaks and downtime.

But in general, I am really, really happy with untextbooking. My students are more engaged, and learning more, than in any year previous. It's not magic; not every student buys in (though some of the hold outs are beginning to yield!) and even my most enthusiastic students have off days--they're teenagers. However, I have learned after over a decade of teaching that perfection doesn't exist. Instead, I look for improvement. And the improvement is all the sunshine and rainbows I could ask for.

My students can use "advanced" grammatical structures, and have been doing so since week six of Latin I (probably before that point, but that is the week I officially started using subjunctives in their readings). This is not because I'm a genius teacher or they are genius students. It's simply that I don't treat the structures like they're difficult, so my students don't know they aren't supposed to know them. We have focused on a much more limited vocabulary list than in previous years when I've been guided by a textbook, but I am able to make sure that the words are used over and over so that instead of throwing a bunch of spit wads at my students and hoping a few will stick, I can create a permanent vocabulary of useful words that students easily recall. I am excited about the things we read and I have the ability to change focus when my students' interest wanes. I love the flexibility and personalization available to me when I don't let a textbook rule my curriculum.

So, it's exciting to share this with other teachers and hopefully help them create a similar experience in their own classrooms.

This year's ACTFL was really, really good. I loved the sessions I attended, and was even going to put together a Storify report for you, but Laura Sexton (@SraSpanglish--she is most definitely worth following for her tweets over language learning and methodology) already beat me to the punch. You can find her Storifies here. The travel was an adventure (lost luggage and half a day spent blind just amplify the value of the experience, right?), however even so, I have no regrets and really can't emphasize enough how important it is to join professional organizations and attend conferences, whether local or national. You meet other like-minded people, form friendships, and get the chance to learn about some of the newest ideas about pedagogy. Between conferences and my Personal Learning Network, I constantly have ideas running through my head about ways to improve my classes.

When I decided to present about Untextbooking at ACTFL, I invited Miriam (who started this experiment with me last year) and Bob Patrick (@BobPatrick), who joined me in untextbooking this year, to present with me. Both are great presenters and I very much enjoyed teaming up with them to hopefully help other teachers try out authentic material in the classroom.

For the purposes of our presentation, I made a Google Presentation:

Miriam created an amazing resource for teachers looking for examples in Spanish, French, or German (we'd love to add to it in those or other languages--just let us know if you'd like to contribute), with a list of short videos for movietalks and resources/blogs we find useful for this particular topic. We presented the basic ideas, then each of us presented a type of CI activity that we like to use in class.

To be honest, there was not much discussed that is not already in this blog, either thanks to Miriam or myself. If you are new to the blog, I'm including a list of previous untextbooking posts below along with their most basic descriptions. As always, please post any questions or comments or recommendations!

Untextbooking: What Does the Fox Say? My introductory post explaining why I started this journey and my first steps.
Untextbooking: Of Monsters and Men An update post discussing a unit I was creating in what is often considered "advanced" Latin and ways I had approached that for Latin II.
Untextbooking - students' first review Miriam polled and recorded feedback about Untextbooking in her classes.
The Untextbooked Classroom: A Glimpse A recent writeup that describes what I do to create a unit without a textbook for my classes.
Untextbooking: Creating a Vocabulary List without a Textbook The basic process I followed to create my vocabulary list this year for Latin I.

Also, the following posts are about ideas and activities that I feel sort of go hand-in-hand with our new untextbooked classrooms:

Movie Talk/Movie Shorts Miriam describes in detail how to do your own movie talk.
Standards Based Grading (SBG) - Making it Work in a Traditional Gradebook Miriam has done what I'm afraid to do--jumped into SBG. I think however SBG is key to focusing on student mastery, which is part of the point of leaving the textbook, so I will be doing this next year.
Reconsidering Retakes A quick overview of how I offer retakes in my classes this year.
Retakes - The Redux Miriam's approach to retakes. Either one offers students the chance to show mastery of a subject later if he or she did not on the first assessment.
Read Dating - and other ideas from the Reading Toolbox Miriam has collected some awesome activities to help you reteach and reread texts you introduce in class.
Vocabulary Toolbox Miriam collected activities for teaching and introducing vocabulary as well!

Monday, November 17, 2014

My letter to the governor

I am 27 years old and have never missed an election. I consider the "right" to vote a responsibility and it is one that I take very seriously. This past election was no exception. I have decided to write both the newly reelected governor, Mr. Nathan Deal, and Georgia's new senator, Mr. David Perdue. While my letter is typed here, I hand wrote it and mailed it (as evidenced by my picture). I decided to write it and mail it because, in the past, when I have emailed senators or representatives, I have only once ever gotten a response and it was from an aid who never followed up after I responded a second time.

I want to ultimately let the letter speak for itself, but my reasoning behind these letters was based on a few things:

  • What I've experienced as a teacher under Governor Deal
  • What I've experienced as a teacher under the new testing and evaluation systems
  • What I've experienced as a foreign language teacher in a world of common core and athletics
  • Mr. Perdue's most recent statement regarding the "clear message" he feels that Georgia has sent to Washington

Dear Governor Deal,

My name is Miriam Patrick. I am 27 years old and I have never missed an election. While I did not vote for you, I feel that it is important that I make my voice clear because you represent all of us in Georgia. I come from a family of teachers. Both of my parents teach in the state of Georgia and have taught for many years along with other family members in other states, so today I write to you as a teacher, in a family of teachers, and as a citizen who is very concerned when it comes to matters of education. Please also allow me to say that I am writing to you as an individual citizen, who is also a teacher, and not a representative of my school or school system.

Mr. Perdue recently said that Georgia has sent Washington a "clear message". I find this statement alarming because a 52% majority is not a clear victory and, if anything, should be a message to you as well as him that the state of Georgia is changing. As our elected governor, I would hope that you could best represent and make decisions regarding all of the people living in this state and not just those who agree with and voted for you. It is in light of this that I am writing to you today. 

I have been a public school teacher for five years. I teach in Gwinnett County where 20% of the population speaks something other than English at home and 15.9% of families live at or below the poverty line for a family of four in Georgia. In my county, 55.46% of students receive free or reduced lunch plans. 

When I look around my classroom, I see that my students do not fit neatly into one category or another. I have students of every race and ethnicity, and economic station; I wouldn't have it any other way. Given all this, I think it is clear where my concerns play a role in regards to your views on education as well as your track record. 

While you have increased the amount of money the state spends on each student by $400 since 2012, the enrollment has increased, along with class sizes, and teachers are not being relieved of cuts made in 2003 while other areas of government are receiving major increases, like the 186 million dollars the department of corrections has seen. What I wonder is why you are willing to increase the budget to deal with offenders, but are not providing adequate opportunities that help prevent incarceration. Education plays a direct role, as you state on the governor's website, in making sure Georgia has a stable future, and you state that your goals are to make sure students are prepared for college, life, and the job market. In order for this to happen, shouldn't we be investing in our students and their future rather than the consequences of budget cuts, economic inequality, and lack of support?

On this same note, you recommended not only, initially, cutting the pre-k program in Georgia to half days, but you then recommended cutting the program to 160 days and also cutting over 300 classes and programs as well. While you did also bring back the 180 day program, the cuts on teacher salaries, program cuts, and increases on class size remained, forcing pre-k teachers into the same situation k-12 teachers face every day. We know that class size makes a difference in regards to teacher and student relations, individual instruction, and individual needs of students (whether they are placed in gifted programs or special needs programs). Why would you continue to increase the demands on teachers while not supporting them to ensure that our students can do the best they can? You say that you want to increase the percentage of students who are on level by the third grade. How can this be done, at any grade, when neither teachers nor students are supported in these areas?

Much of your focus on schools has been to increase science, math, and technology, as well as to increase spending on charter schools. As a foreign language teacher in a public school, I have a strong reaction to this. Based on the cuts and changes you've made, foreign language has taken a back seat and must now fight to keep their programs alive and student numbers up. Given the fact that 1/5 of my county speaks something other than English at home (and that this does not include people who simply speak another language), how can you not include foreign language in this vital set of skills students should be exposed to? You have discussed the importance of math and science, as well as language arts, but you have forgotten how important it is to be able to work with, communicate with, and understand the people we live with and around. 

Georgia is losing teachers. Georgia is gaining students. This system cannot maintain itself at the rate it is going. Having shared with you my thoughts and concerns, I'd like to invite you to spend a day with me in my classroom. I want to extend this invitation to you so that you can see what a day is like for a teacher like me and so many others in the fields of arts, languages, and other specialties, including technology and engineering teachers. I would like this conversation, which I view as one of the most important, to continue, and not end with my letter to you. 

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your reply,
Miriam Patrick

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Vocabulary Toolbox

One of the things that can quickly weigh me and my kids down and easily puts us into a rut from which we might never return is vocabulary acquisition. Sometimes I struggle with coming up with new ways to teach and work with vocabulary that the kids find interesting. Here are some of my favourites:

Circling/TPRS/Asking a Story
Rachel did a post a while back on asking a story and while I am not the best at coming up with stories, I do this activity often enough when an opportunity presents itself while circling. I really like taking 4-5 words that I need to teach, putting them on the board, and just asking questions. There is one time in particular that comes to mind where my Latin I class took the vocabulary and ran with it. We ended up having a nice story that is still referenced whenever we come across the vocabulary. I was teaching words like "comedere" (eat), "placere" (to please), "ferox" (ferocious), and "timere" (fear/be afraid). I went around asking students for animals and whether they were ferocious or, if not, what they were afraid of and whether these kinds of animals were pleasing to the students. I'd then ask if the ferocious animals wanted to eat the non ferocious animals. I got to one student who told me his "feles ferocissimus est" (cat is very ferocious), but, as I discovered, his cat did not want to eat any of the other animals. I asked him why not and my student said, "volo comedere animalia" (I want to eat the animals). To this day, any time the word comedere comes up, someone asks him if he wants to eat whatever is in our story. 

It is simply for this reason that I enjoy circling so much. Unlike asking a story, I don't need a shell or an ending in mind, I just need words and basic questions. The more we do it, the more comfortable I and my students become and the more willing they are to play the game. Some of my best stories have come this way and my students love telling them. 

Circling with Stuffed Animals AND Practice Stories
Another way that I love circling and telling stories is with stuffed animals. This is essentially the same as above except instead of asking students about their animals or interests, we build on a stuffed animal I already have. I usually do this when I know for sure I want a story to come from it or have a story in mind. I can lead students and give them a chance to visualise it with the stuffed animals. This is by far one of my students' favourite ways of practicing vocabulary. The next day, I'll have typed up the story as a "practice story". You can do this just as a reading activity or as a cloze passage. By day 2, the story will be easily comprehensible and a good review for students. Here's an example practice story I wrote for my Latin I students. Allow me a moment to also point out:

I know that we often don't collaborate across languages and tend to stick with those who speak our language and teach our curriculum. I've already stated that I am not very good at coming up with story shells for my students. This practice story I've shared and many of the other ones I've written are based off of a Spanish teacher's stories. He is much better at this, especially the ending part, and I know enough Spanish to easily change it into Latin. I strongly encourage us all to reach out across languages and, even if you don't know the other language, ask for ideas and stories. 

Embedded Readings
You can read about specific reading activities here and learn all about embedded readings here. I tend to introduce 3-4 words/phrases on embedded readings. A lot of times I may be reintroducing ones that I think we need more practice with. I like to use read and discuss activities and circling to practice vocabulary and then read dating or a close passage to practice and review. 

Movie Shorts and Dictationes
I will be following up with a post on dictations specifically, but they are a great way to introduce new vocabulary and you can introduce around 8 new words or constructions. I will update with a link to that post when it is ready. 

You can read my original post on movie shorts here. I love this activity and use it at least once a unit. My students also love the videos and find them as a great discussion tool. You can use them in any level and I usually try to limit vocabulary to 5-6 for these. If I cut a video in half and only introduce one half a day, you can introduce 8-10 (4-5 each day). I will do circling, Q and A, and story telling all with this on differing days. 

Picture Descriptions
This is an activity that Rachel, I admit, is much better at creating than me. I love doing them with my kids and my kids absolutely adore this activity, I just can't, for the life of me, think to write these when I am making lessons. In this activity, you can review and teach (a select few) words using short descriptions that you write and pictures students draw. 
  1. Create simple descriptions of pictures that contain the words you want to review. The weirder they are, the more interesting they are to the kids. For example, if I wanted to review "cat", "woman", "big", and "small", I might write this:
    In my picture there is a woman. The woman is small. In my picture there is a cat. The cat is big. The big cat sits on a chair. The small woman eats the chair. 
  2. Tell students you will read the description three times. The first time, they are to listen and nothing else. The second and third times, they may draw their picture. Read the description slowly three times while students draw.
  3. Reveal your own picture. 
  4. You might circle the words some more, ask questions to see who understands what, or just let them enjoy your artistic talent. 

One Word Pictures
This is becoming one of my go to ways of teaching and informally evaluating vocabulary with my students. It is incredibly low prep and low intensity for the teacher and it can open the door to so many other activities. Keith Toda describes his version of the activity here.
  1. Put up a picture that clearly demonstrates the word you are teaching. Define the word for students and write it down so they can see it. 
  2. Choose a student drawer. You can do this yourself as well, but I find it easier to continue circling and asking questions if a student draws. 
  3. Start slowly circling the vocabulary. I ask simple questions which paint the background and, if necessary, give us characters. Where is the picture? Who is in the picture? What is in the picture? You can expand this to include adjectives and feelings if you want. What sort of man is in the picture? What is he doing? 
  4. Once I get a clear picture, I like to expand on the why (mostly with my upper levels) and get into less concrete ideas. I enjoy seeing how kids demonstrate this in the drawing. What I've found is that if kids disagree with the drawing, they will speak up. Usually this opens the discussion up for more discussion and, sometimes, an all together changing of the picture or some great additions. 
  5. You can go a few different ways with this. You can turn this into a story as a class and, if you have a writer, it can become a reading for the next day. You can also turn it into a timed write where the students make up their own ending (and you can read those the next day). 

I would love to add to this collection of vocabulary resources. I've shared a few more below, but please leave in the comments any experiences you have with these or any new ones you know!

Other Resources

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Untextbooking: Creating a Vocabulary List without a Textbook

Vocabulary is one of the main reasons I left the textbook behind. I have been frustrated both by the size of vocabulary lists in textbooks and by the choices of words for these lists.

I wanted control. I wanted to choose the best vocabulary for my classes.

As I know very well, however, control is a burden. Now it's my own task to choose what vocabulary I should teach my students, what words are the most important, most useful words for my students to know. How many I need to teach and at what rate. What words I want my students to have at their disposal by the end of the school year.

I'm not completely at leisure in terms of vocabulary. We have a county-wide pre- and post-test that is universal, based off of the adopted textbook, and contains a lot of vocabulary that I find extraneous. I think it is important to recognize that many of us are facing a culture of testing that may require compromise in order for our students to succeed in the testing as well as according to our own means of checking comprehension and knowledge. So I am making sure my students learn vocabulary that will help them with this test, but all vocabulary outside of that is based on frequency and necessity.

I have the good fortune to know several really talented and intelligent Latin teachers, both in person and online, and to have access to their ideas and input really allows me to experiment in my classes and become a better teacher. One such group has joined together to create Latin Best Practices, and in particular, a list of the fifty most important verbs in Latin.

Why the 50 most important verbs? Because verbs run a language, to a great extent. Because often there are certain words that are simply repeated in almost all writing. They aren't the first to do this. You can find Spanish and French verb lists based on word frequency with a simple Google search.

So how did I make a vocabulary list? I started with the 50 most important verbs. If my students learn all of those verbs in their first year of Latin, they will have a great foundation for any readings I decide to bring into class. I added in the sometimes arbitrary vocabulary I know my students will face on the post test and that created my preliminary vocabulary list. Now as I continue through the school year I choose words based on frequency and usefulness to my class.

When my students learned the word "vir," meaning "man," a high-frequency word for the very patriarchal Romans, I knew my students would want a word for "woman" to be paired with it. There are several words for "woman" in Latin, with various connotations, but the most frequent is "mulier" (with "femina" coming in about half as frequently).

This really sounds unexciting, and I know that. However, somehow, having the power to teach students only the most useful words, words that will be used repeatedly and I can make sure are recycled into our review stories and the new Latin that I bring to my students, is really awesome. I never have to ask myself "Why am I teaching this?"--something I had done repeatedly when teaching from a textbook.

I am hoping to finish teaching my list as new vocabulary at around a month before school is out for the year. At that point, I plan to spend the last month choosing readings and activities that are focused on reinforcing the 200-250 words we've visited over the year. If my students can start next year with only a little vocabulary loss, then they will be significantly better off than any Latin II students I have previously taught.

I have the power to do that, I think. It's exciting. Of course, it's also a burden--if I'm not satisfied with their learning and instruction in any way, I'll only have myself to blame.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Read Dating - and other ideas from the Reading Toolbox

This post is a follow up to my post on my students' first real responses to untextbooking. In this post, I want to talk about an activity that was not a huge hit last year, Read Dating, and how it has become much more effective this year. I'm also going to link to and briefly discuss some other great reading activities that I use.

Read Dating
I did this activity last year with minimal success. My 4% students felt like we were moving to slowly while my barometer students felt like they were dragging the class down. At the end of the year this was the one activity that they wanted to change. I took their feedback and made some changes:
  • I lengthened the amount of time with each partner
  • On certain days we'll have an activity that accompanies the reading. So far we've done comic strips, summaries, and comprehension questions. 
The students have responded well to the changes, but I find that if I do this as a warm up or review, they are able to move more quickly and enjoy it more, even if I do it exactly as I had done last year. Here's the basic procedure:
  1. Give students a reading that you've read before, gone over, etc.
  2. Pair students up. I tend to do this sitting in chairs, but I've seen it done standing in rows or a circle. I tried this with one class and, while they enjoyed it, it was harder for me to move through and listen in. I will probably alternate between these two ways of doing it. 
  3. Students are given a set amount of time. I have given up to 5 minutes, if the story is longer or newer, and as little as 2 minutes, if it is a short story, or one we've done over and over. 
  4. Student A reads the first sentence in the target language. Student B translates.
  5. Student B reads the next sentence. Student A translates. and so it continues.
  6. At the end of the specified time, I call to them to "movete" or move. They rotate to a new partner. 
  7. When they are with the new partner, they start as far back in the story as possible. If student A got through the 6th sentence, but his new partner only got through the 3rd, they start with the 3rd sentence. This ensures that everyone reads the story in its entirety. 
  8. If they finish the story, they start over.  

After they do this reading, I'll often ask comprehension questions in Latin or we'll do a timed write. Here's another take on this activity from Keith Toda.

Cloze Reading
I used to hate these. I disliked them as a student because they were often done in English and the English wasn't what I had trouble remembering, it was the vocabulary in the target language. I often use these, however, as a teacher, to wrap up a story or review prior to a test. I don't do the cloze passage in English, but in Latin. 

A cloze activity for a Latin III class
I do cloze readings in all my classes, but they vary based on level. Levels I and II only have blanks based on vocabulary and this is often done in a presentation style. They'll write down the sentences and fill in the blanks and we'll discuss together. 

For my upper levels, however, since we are going over explicit grammar at this stage, I have started giving the cloze passages like the one to the left. All the blanks are based on key vocabulary, but some focus on the grammar we are learning/reviewing (in this case verbs). You can leave clues in (parentheses) to guide students towards the grammar points you've been working on. 

The students seem to find this activity useful, especially if we take time to discuss the blanks and, if fitting, the grammar involved. I want to specify, however, that I only use grammar blanks with my upper level students. They are ready for these kids of questions. Lower level students are often not ready and these kinds of blanks cause a lot of stress and do not increase acquisition. 

Read and Discuss/Read, Discuss, and Draw
This is often the activity I use for an initial reading. It can be done a variety of ways, but it essentially boils down to the following:
  1. project the story, or give out copies
  2. do a choral reading of each paragraph, or read popcorn style, or the teacher reads.
  3. pause for vocabulary questions in the target language
  4. circle new vocabulary
  5. ask comprehension questions in the target language
  6. Optional: ask students to draw a single picture for that part of the story
You can include choral translation if you wish, or you can keep it in the target language. I usually keep it in the target language, but will ask for a quick translation if I want to review a particularly difficult word or construction. At the end of this, we usually complete a timed write, but I may delay this if I feel like we need to go over it some more with another activity the next day. If you choose to ask your students to draw a picture, you can allow them to use those pictures to guide their timed write. 

Picture Timeline
This is an activity that I've been doing for a few years, but I don't know that I've ever written it up. I will do this after an initial reading of a text and use it to retell the story. I take a story we're reading and cut it into pieces. Students get in groups and draw a single picture for their part. Then, we put them on the board and discuss. I'll circle vocabulary, ask comprehension questions, etc. until I'm sure the entire class is clear on each picture. Then, I'll give the class one minute to send a representative up to the board and to direct him/her into reordering the pictures correctly. They can only speak Latin. This is a good warm up activity or closing activity after an initial reading. 

Reader's Theatre
You can read my initial write up of this activity here, but I did want to update you guys' on my thoughts. This year, reader's theatre is going much more smoothly. Since we stopped relying on the textbook and we are using myths and histories and Classical and Medieval texts, along with student and teacher generated stories, rather than textbook stories, we have a lot more opportunities for reader's theatre and the kids really enjoy it. I will do reader's theatre as a follow up activity and we often do it as a final reading. I choose volunteer students who don't mind being silly and will commit to the roles. 

Parallel Universe
I started using this activity after reading Keith Toda's blog post on it. I first used it as a review for a class that had done poorly on a test. It was our final review before the class retook the test. The class average went from a 78% to a 97%. Since then, we've been using parallel universes as one of a few final ways of reading stories before tests. Sometimes, it is a quick review, as Keith suggests, and listen to students as an oral informal assessment. Other times, I will ask them to correct the mistakes and turn it in as a written formal assessment. With some of the upper classes, I've even expanded it to include a timed write afterwards, but I ask students to take one of the sentences from the parallel universe and rewrite the story based upon that single fact. Overall, students really enjoy this. Sometimes my changes make the story funny while other times the changes are so glaring that they don't make any sense. I try to vary the difficult of the change to see just how comfortable students are with the story. For example, using Mary Had a Little Lamb, you might make three levels of difficulty in changes. While the first includes major changes, that are easy to spot, the second changes a detail that students will likely remember, but is a smaller change, while the third may be even more difficult, or be a much smaller change. 

  1. level 1 - Mary had a huge lamb, it's fleece was dark as the night.
  2. level 2 - Mary had a little lamb, it's fleece was white as teeth. 
  3. level 3 - Mary had a little lamb, it's tail was white as snow. 

I really would like my reading toolbox to be bigger, so I'd love to add to this list. If you have any activities that you do, let us know! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Untextbooked Classroom: A Glimpse

I have this problem that comes up as a teacher who frequents other teachers' blogs and twitter and Google+ to learn about new technologies and methodologies and research concerning education. I get all these great ideas sent to me from every angle. And I only sometimes know what to do with them.

It's one thing to have a great idea clearly lined out, explained, and detailed with step-by-step implementation--much like the diy blogs I follow--and entirely another to have a vague clue of something that would be better for my students but having no earthly clue how to make that happen in my own classroom. It's frustrating. I want my students to have the best possible chance at success, and for me to know of a technique that could improve their chances but be unable to enact that idea is bordering on torture at times. I have racked my brain repeatedly to decide how I could bring certain technologies into my classroom in a relevant way, I have struggled with big ideas like SBG and Flipped Classrooms and Student-Centered approaches (especially difficult in a foreign language class), I even cobbled together many of my CI approaches through trial and error when I first started teaching--with lots of tears and late nights and stress and failure--because I just couldn't find someone to help me see it step-by-step.

That's why Miriam and I work to make sure we don't just offer up ideas, but show you how we use them in our own classes. And why I'm writing this post. Untextbooking feels like a big idea to me, and while I've posted about it here and here, and Miriam has recently posted about it here, I am not sure either of us have given you everything you need to be successful in implementing it in your classes. So in this post I'm going to give you an idea of specifically what we're doing (of course we're working together), what one of my units looks like, and the technology I use (and how I use it) to keep my class and myself afloat while I do this.

If you feel like you can't, you don't have time, it's too much, etc., I encourage you to just try one unit, one piece of authentic text that you are excited about and think your students will enjoy. At worst, it doesn't work for you. At best, you'll discover the joy I did in sharing something you love with your students.

Preparing a Text

Choosing a text. This part is extremely important. When I decide what we're going to read in my classes, I look for two things: 1) Is it compelling? 2) Can I make it comprehensible?

Steven Krashen has recently done studies that prove something we all should already understand--in order for students to want to read something, it has to be compelling to them. They have to want to read it. I usually start choosing a text to consider because I'm excited by it. It was fun to read, the story was unusual or action-packed or dark (I have a dark sense of humor and my students often do also) or just plain weird. If I think my students would enjoy it too, I look at the text again, but this time from the standpoint of where my students are in terms of their current Latin skills.

Then I decide whether I can make something comprehensible to my students, which is another thing definitely required for them to read and enjoy something--very few students are okay with struggling through a text whether or not the story is compelling. I look at vocabulary and grammar, though my larger focus is vocabulary. Most grammar can be eased into through proper preparation, which I'll talk about in the next section, but vocabulary has to be known. If I have to define every word, then it's not reading, and there's no flow (Keith Toda talks about the importance of flow on his blog here). So I look for pieces that I can teach with no more than 10 added vocabulary words and grammar constructions (which I often teach as "vocabulary" with a particular phrasing that we learn to substitute other words within--a traditional TPRS approach). I think deeply about where my students currently are in their Latin learning, and I consider whether they can handle the text either in its current form (almost never for lower level students) with some vocabulary instruction, or whether I can, by creating a couple of embedded stories (dicussed here within my first untextbooking post), make it completely approachable and comprehensible to my students. If I can't, I have to discard the idea. I recently did that with a great text by Pliny the Younger about a Roman heroine valued for her bravery and Roman values. It was hard to discard the text, because it is so rare to see a woman celebrated in Roman writing for anything other than her beauty. But the vocabulary was too varied for me to be able to bring my students to it in 10 vocabulary words and two embedded versions.

Preparing the text. I first look at a text and underline the things that my students might/should struggle with: unknown vocabulary words, foreign and non-intuitive grammar structures, particularly difficult word order. Out of those, I choose the items I'm going to teach. I have actually put together a vocabulary list based on things my students will be expected to know by the end of the year and the 50 most important verbs that a group of Latin teachers I highly esteem compiled (I may do a post later on about choosing words to teach--I almost segued into it here). As much as possible, I stick close to that list. If I choose words outside that list, it is because they are high-frequency words and I think my students will need them later on. I choose grammar constructions as vocabulary too, but generally I only like to choose one at a time, so the rest are left to the next steps.

After I've chosen what vocabulary (and grammar) I'll be teaching, I look at what is left over. I gloss any remaining vocabulary--in the text because looking down can disrupt flow--and consider the best course of action for the grammar constructions. Certain constructions are best treated as vocabulary and so are glossed. Many can be untangled for students by embedding them.

My last step in preparing a text is to embed it. This means writing lead-in forms of the story. This is where I might arrange words in a simpler word order for students to comprehend (sometimes that's all that's needed) or take grammar and reword it into something familiar that students will understand easily. This year, I'm going to be trying something new that Keith Toda has suggested--I'm going to leave some of the information out of my embedded version. That way there's still a reason to read the original text. There's still a surprise left. It's still compelling. Keith ran into some of the same issues I did when doing embedded versions. Yes, the kids get it, but by the second (or third) time reading the same story, they often aren't interested any more.

After I've done all of this--compiled vocabulary and grammar structures for teaching and embedded the text--I use different methods to create as many repetitions as I can without it getting too boring or repetitive (which I'll cover in the next section).

What a Unit Looks Like

Okay, to be honest, I'm fortunate. I share my Latin program with two fabulous teachers (the beauteous Caroline Miklosovic and the ubiquitous Bob Patrick) and I only have one prep. If you teach a more frequented language, that's not shocking, but all of my pre-Georgia teaching experience was as a singleton Latin teacher with at least four preps at any time.

All of that to explain that I am only teaching Latin I this year. Last year I only taught Latin II. I am working with the teachers in my building and Miriam to develop a textbookless approach (at least a preliminary one), and I only have to work on one level at a time. That does allow me a chance to really focus in on one group and decide what is best for them at any given moment without having to balance another group in my head. If it makes you feel better, I am teaching extended day with an extra class, so I'm not simply at leisure, but that chance to focus my energy and creativity is really helpful.

My units are generally broken down into three phases: 1) introducing the vocabulary and grammar, 2) readings, 3) repeated interaction with readings. Depending on the level of embedding, 2 and 3 may be repeated for a given unit.

I have a few go-to activities for each phase, which I'll list with links below, so that my class doesn't get repetitive. Especially when rereading a story, there needs to be variety in the kids' routine.

Introducing vocabulary and grammar.
1. Dictation. I have described dictations before, but here is a write-up by Keith that I think nicely describes how he breaks down creating and using dictations in his class. The great thing about a "dictatio" is it is intensive and repetitions are naturally embedded in the process.

2. Micrologue. I like doing this as an alternative to a dictation. Students write less, and the images make it at least a little less monotonous. Here is a quick description of the process.

3. TPRS, especially asking a story. I do this a lot, and I like to do it in conjunction with either a dictatio or a micrologue as a means of reinforcing the vocabulary that was introduced in those.

4. PQA. This can be an easier way to practice vocabulary than TPRS, since it can simply relate to real life for students. I especially like it for topics like family, since students like talking about their own families or to make families up (I tell students that if it's said in Latin, it's true for our class, whether or not a student says he has eight mothers or five spouses).

5. Movietalk. Miriam has already written a post about this, and it is a really effective way of engaging students in something with the ability to teach a lot of vocabulary. It generally takes me a class and a half to complete all of the steps.

6. Fill in the blank. This is something that is especially helpful if what you are teaching is a grammatical construction. Write part of a sentence on the board (recently we worked on comparatives, so the sentence was "nemo est _____ior quam _____" or in English "no one is ____er than ____") and let students play with filling in the blanks. I usually give a time limit, then let them compare answers, choose their best, and we share them with the class. I write their shared answers on the board and we review them as a class. In the process, students are getting repetition after repetition of the structure.

This is usually the most consistently structured activity in my classroom. I ask the class to read a text (or embedded reading) silently first, and depending on the class, I give a time limit or ask them to look up when they are finished. Then they work through the text with a partner. Lastly, we do a choral reading, so that everyone in the class is completely sure what the text says. That's how we approach every reading before we move on to activities, and it's simply because I want to make sure students both have a chance to internalize reading flow and be certain that their understanding is correct. I finish everything out with an intensive question and answer session over the story (most commonly referred to as "circling").

Interaction with Readings
I have a few go-to activities with readings to choose from, few of which are my own creation. It is really helpful to follow Keith Toda's blog to find activities, because he tends to do great weekly overviews of things he does in his own classes and there is a lot of variety. It is the most helpful blog I've found for overviews and step-by-step instructions.

For my most recent set of text, after the reading, we did parallel universe, picture review (where literally I draw a bunch of stick figure illustrations of the reading and we circle them--it's also a good way to review vocabulary), sentence matching (I give them a copy of the pictures from the picture review--I like to pair these activities--and the sentences that go with each picture and students have to match and write down the correct sentences with the correct picture), and the word chunk game (which I call "trash ball").

I will be working on a post later this month or during next month that will be completely devoted to the different activities I use to repeat readings without becoming monotonous.

At the end of any unit, there needs to be a means of telling whether students have learned what I want them to learn. I wrote about my retake policy concerning assessment, and Miriam wrote about hers as well. Miriam suggested and I agreed that this year we keep our units and assessments short, since we are required in our district to devote 45% of students' grades to summative assessments. So my assessments are short, ten question quizzes, and students are quizzed almost every week. The questions are written in Latin and are over the final version of the text we are reading. There is no multiple choice, just open-ended questions that they are expected to answer in Latin. I just want a quick glimpse into whether or not they are navigating the language.

Technology to Keep it Simple

Google docs and drive. There are four of us working together locally to help each other untextbook. We are using Google drive (which used to be docs) to share everything mutually. For example, as I make Latin I materials, I create everything in shared folders that all of us can access. Whenever any one of our group needs something for Latin I, he or she can access it there. What makes this better than simply emailing a document or entering it into dropbox is that I sometimes make mistakes, and if I need to edit a document, I can do so in the drive. Once I've edited a document in the drive, everyone only sees the edited version. This does mean that if you want to create a shared folder with someone, and allow that person to edit (you can control that setting), it needs to be someone you trust not to alter your work so much you're no longer sure you created it.

The other wonderful thing about creating on Google Drive is the ability to share my work with my students. Whenever we read a text, I hand it out on physical paper. However, if a student misses a day or if the student loses the handout or wants to read over the text at home, it can be available to him online. There is a small process to make sure it's visible even to those who don't use Google, but it's only one extra step. Under the "File" menu, choose "Publish to the Web" and then choose to publish the work to the web. That's it. After that, set the sharing to "Public on the Web" or "Anyone with a Link" and put the link somewhere your students can access it. Even more wonderful, since it's a Google drive document, if you make a correction at any point, it automatically updates for anyone viewing the document--including your students.

Lastly, I never have to take my school laptop home. I can update Google drive documents wherever I have access to the internet. Last Tuesday, while I was waiting for my son to take the stage at his chorus performance, I quickly created an activity I needed the next day in class. The best part is that I created the activity on my phone. Then I got home and did some quick edits, because my phone typing is not the best. But the moral here is that I can work on the stuff anywhere and it's right where I need it.

Miriam wrote a tutorial on Google Drive a while back that takes you through some of the opportunities it provides with graphics to help.

Padlet. Padlet is one of the easiest tools I have found for quickly posting information for my students. Once you have a padlet set up, you literally just double-click anywhere to post information, links, files, etc. This is my Latin I padlet. You can see that I have a running list of readings for my students that I can add to at any point. I can drag the boxes around, resize them, or just delete them if they are no longer relevant to my class. I have even created padlets with public editing options for my students to turn in web-based work and to view each others' work. It is a very helpful tool.

Google Calendar. I keep my Google calendar open on my computer at school and my home computer and it even takes up a full page on my phone. Just like Google Drive, whenever I update the computer, it updates everywhere. I have my Latin Google calendar embedded on my website so my students know what I have planned and can reference it on any given day. I also share that calendar with my fellow untextbooking colleagues who can use it to help themselves plan. And I have it for easy reference whenever I need to look back to find out what we did a month ago in class.

If I make a class plan, and something unforetold, such as a pop pep rally, interrupts my plan, I can drag my plan from one day to the next. There is no need to delete or to start over. And when I make the change, all of my calendars reflect it. In addition, currently we are assigned duty stations for nine weeks at a time. I can click on the first Thursday duty, type "Morning Duty every Thursday for 9 weeks" and it will literally fill in nine Thursdays for me with the title "Morning Duty." Google Calendar makes my life and my teaching life much, much easier.

(We have not written a Google Calendar tutorial yet, but either I or Miriam will someday in the near future, I am sure.)

That is really it. Those three tools are enough to make my life without a text book as simple if not simpler than it was when I had a book to tell me what to teach.

So What Now?

Hopefully you will feel comfortable creating at least one unit. I think bringing an authentic language reading experience into your classroom is worth it, whether or not you decide to ditch the textbook.

I can say that my students have responded positively to the lack of textbook. My students who left the textbook in the middle of the year last year were glad for the change, enjoyed the authentic materials more than the textbook (compelling is so important!), and at least one now intends to teach Latin without a textbook when she finishes college. This year, I have students who generally are much more secure in their personal vocabularies and able to read with ease; they get excited about the material (at the moment, we are covering basic mythology; I am basing my cultural teachings on the National Latin Exam curriculum); they are not afraid to take on new texts as I present them.

After this year, after I have a chance to sort and compile what I did, I hope to make my materials available to everyone who wants them (I just need time to make sure everything is correct and that I like all of it and that it had the effect I wanted it to have). And as I add more, I will publish those on the internet as well. Hopefully others will do the same and we'll have a richer network of materials than any one company could have provided us.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Untextbooking - students' first review

Last year, Rachel and I began an experiment to untextbook with our Latin II students. We used Classical texts to build a curriculum and supplemented it with videos, dictations, and other Comprehensible Input activities.

This year, we are untextbooking with all of our classes. We are keeping in line with local, state, and national standards and are using materials created by teacher all across the county to help determine common words students will need to know.

I am finding myself drawn to a few staple activities, which I'd listed below and linked to (where I can). Ones that don't have links will be the things I make my next few posts about. Here's a link to a sample lesson plan from Latin III who are reading Ovid's Metamorphoses Book III, the story of Narcissus and Echo

* Dictationes
* Pixar Shorts
* Embedded Readings
* Reader's Theatre
* Read Dating
* Total Physical Response (I'll be posting on this in a vocabulary activities post)
* Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling 

This last week, I gave my Latin II students an opportunity to give me my first set of feedback in this process. Today, I'd briefly like to relay those results to you.

The most overwhelming response with 60% of students discussing this was that untextbooking has allowed us to read stories that they can relate to, that are interesting, and that actually help them remember vocabulary in context. They said that it has been helpful to, rather than reading 4-6 stories in 2-3 weeks, take 2 weeks (more like 7 school days) on one story, read it multiple times, in multiple embedded forms, and use many activities with it. We have combined our stories with certain cultural or mythological things that students need to know or be able to discuss to prepare them for national exams and higher level thinking skills.

The second largest response with 17% of students discussing was in regards to the games we've been playing. I have severely cut back on the number of games we play and decided to only focus on a few "go to" games:

* Ball is Life (I will be making a post about this)
* VINCO (Vocabulary Bingo)

There are a few others I play with the upper level students in regards to grammar, but this is essentially it. I don't give out bonus points because with test retakes, I don't see a need. Instead I give out stickers and street cred. These games ask students to demonstrate their ability on vocabulary words, phrases, and sentences we've learned.

Since I only asked two classes, the feedback was somewhat limited, but the overall response was that this was a better way to learn Latin. We aren't confined to the book or to its contents. We can still learn the same ideas, but we can do it in our own way and in our own time. With district assessments moving further and further away from what any one textbook teaches, I count this as a success.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Retakes - The Redux

Last week, Rachel posted her thoughts on retakes for assignments/quizzes/exams. Her post got some great responses and questions, and, since I differ slightly on how I do retakes (and as a part II to my Standards Based Grading post), we thought it would be best to post an alternative view.

I largely base how I do retakes on the fact that I want my classroom to be a "No Failure Classroom" and I constantly tell my students, "it doesn't matter to me when you get it, or how many times it takes you to get it, it matters to me that you get it." No failure means to me that there is no failure on any level. There is some extent to which my students have to take control of their own learning, but I find that the more opportunities I offer, and the better relationship I have with my students, the more willing they are to take that control. Retakes are a huge part of this in my classroom.

Just like Rachel, I have some rules (if you will) for retakes:

  1. Retakes can be submitted at any time within a large unit and on case by case when the unit ends. 
    1. E.G. - I am giving smaller, more frequent tests this year and each larger unit has between 2 and 4 tests. Students can make up those tests any time, no questions asked, while we are still in that unit. 
    2. I.E. - After the unit ends, I generally will look at students grades to see why they are asking for a retake. For example, I have a student who has generally struggled, but has come to tutoring regularly and has made improvements in class. (S)he and I have worked together to come up with a plan to help him/her get caught up and show proficiency. 
  2. In order to retake summative assessments, students must attend a tutoring session prior to the retake. Students who fail a summative assessment must attend tutoring, no matter what. 
  3. Students may turn in their old test to get a new one based on the questions they missed, or they may retake the entire test. 
    1. I give the same assessment. The information that I want them to know hasn't changed, so the assessment doesn't change. If they turn in their old test, I only ask them to retake the questions they missed. If they do not, they retake the entire test. 
  4. If 80% of the class does not make an 80% or higher, the entire class retakes the test. Those who make a B or better have the option, it is required for all others. 
    1. Nota Bene - I never re-assess a class without some sort of review. Usually I take the first ten minutes of class the next 2-3 days to review and then re-test the third day.
Here are my observations: 
  • Just like Rachel, students relax. I've taken the pressure off of having to be 100% perfect all the time. Just like I have off days, so do they. Sometimes it takes kids a little while longer to get it, and that's okay. 
  • Some students take advantage of the system. When that happens, I reserve the right to take away their retest opportunities until they earn my trust back. What I find happens most of the time, however, is that a student will be honest with me prior to the test and say, "I didn't study" or (and this is more often the case), "I had an AP test today and had to choose which one to study for". 
  • I can quickly and easily see who needs more instruction and who is taking instruction seriously. Students who come to tutoring, take it seriously, and use the retake system have benefited. 
  • With the conjunction of this and the untextbooking I'm doing this year (posts to come), students who, in the past, have said things like, "Latin is hard", and "I don't get it" are now coming to me with things like, "this was awesome", "wow, I can actually read this!", "look at how much I wrote". 
Now, I'd like to respond to some of the concerns you raised in comments or questions you had:
  1. What sorts of things are students allowed to retake/submit? I allow any and every assignment and exam (except finals) to be resubmitted. To make it easier on myself, this year, I am taking assignment resubmissions in class. (You can read about this here). 
  2. How many times can a student retake or resubmit? As many times as they need. I am probably more likely to allow a student to retake/resubmit after we finish a unit if they show consistent work. A student who comes in to tutoring, asks questions, and actively seeks the opportunity is more likely to get sympathy after a deadline than a student who does not. I always try to listen to the student and hear them out, but I am quick to shut it down if I see them taking advantage in a bad way. 
  3. Why not re-write the assessment to prevent cheating? If I need to, I will. But, 99.9% of the time, the information and requirements I have haven't changed, so I do not change the exam. I am not giving multiple choice exams, so it is hard for students to memorise a list of letters and retest in 5 minutes. With the added requirement of tutoring, it also helps ensure they are learning and not memorising. 
  4. What is the cutoff grade for retakes? My students ask this every year. I do not have a cutoff. Some teachers only let students who make a failing grade retake. While I can see the reason they do this, I have had students come to me in tears because they lost privileges at home because a B or a low A isn't good enough. While for me, an 80% is good enough, I know that isn't always the case, for parents or students. I want students to be able to go home and say they did their best, even if it took 5 tries. If student A makes a 70 the first time and is just as upset with his work as Student B who made an 88, I think they both deserve the opportunity. 
  5. Why the deadline? Since I am giving smaller, more frequent tests, students have multiple opportunities to prove their proficiency. Similarly, all my tests are cumulative and include material from previous tests. If a student does poorly, but progresses and starts making consistent grades, I have no problem breaking my deadline and re-assessing or changing the grade to reflect proficiency. The deadline is to help keep my and my children's sanity and also to make sure grades are in on time as required. 
  6. How much credit can a child earn on a retake/resubmission? I give full credit where full credit is due. If I mean what I say when I say that I am grading based on standards and not on a set of assignments and that I truly only care about my students learning, then I cannot justify taking off credit when they get it perfect, even if it is after 1 or more attempts. 
I personally think re-testing is a key part to a successful classroom. I'd like to finish with a story. 

A student who has been struggling made a deal with me this past unit. (s)he and I agreed that, since the tests are cumulative, if (s)he came to tutoring every day for a week, and then retook our most recent test, if (s)he made a 90% (A) or better, I'd go back and change the previous grades to reflect this. The student came in every day and sat with various tutors, asked questions of both them and me, and retook the test. (S)he not only answered all the questions, where before many were left blank, but answered the bonus "What were you prepared to tell me that I did not ask" with detail, proving that he/she not only knew the words, but the story itself. All in all, the student made the A and the grade jumped. I've never seen such a grin, nor have I been prouder. Now, of course, I expect this level of work and if this student were to get into a bind again, I'd expect daily tutoring. But, if the student proves that (s)he knows the material, why shouldn't their grade reflect it?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reconsidering Retakes

As a once over-achieving (okay, currently too. I need A's to live, okay?) student, my first instinct when I heard of teachers instituting a test-retake policy was to exclaim "But that's not fair!" because I remember my teenage self way too clearly and I'd have been appalled that someone else would get a second chance after I'd studied and "earned" my A.

Some of you are just as appalled when you think of retakes.

And you have good reason. I have seen retake policies grossly abused and mishandled. If a teacher allows students to retake anything they like AND the retake is not just over the same material, but is the exact same exam, students just fail the test and retake it after they've seen the questions. I worked at a school where retakes were school policy, not teacher policy, and teachers were not willing to do more than hand the same exam out. If you are forced to do something you don't agree with, if it is going to create more work for you, then you are likely to do the minimum to make your superiors happy.

However, I believe I am making retakes work in my classroom.

Before I go into how I offer retakes in my class, though, I want to go into why. Latin, like any language, like other subjects such as math, is a cumulative class. I am currently, with my Latin I's, laying a foundation. If there are gaps in the foundation, most likely the entire structure will crumble when I try to build it higher. So I really need my students to understand everything. Every piece of Latin that we do needs to be comprehended by my students before I can move on to the next. If I just keep pushing students forward with no incentive to revisit material they didn't master before, they will eventually topple over, and I will lose students to the murky "Latin is hard" realm. I need them to learn the material if they miss it the first time around.

So, I offer retakes. With many provisos.

  1. Students must ask for a retake within one school day from the day they receive their graded assessment.
  2. Students must attend a tutoring session during which we review the material covered and their assessment to find out what was understood and misunderstood and make sure students understand what the assessment is asking.
  3. I then write a new assessment over the same material, with new questions and some previous questions (so they can't count on them not being on the retake). This is the assessment students take to replace their previous grade. They are never allowed to take the same test or quiz twice.
What I see in my classes as a result:
  1. Mostly relaxation. Students are not stressed about quizzes or tests because they trust that they will be able to get the best grade they can.
  2. Instead of students "cheating the system" by just failing whenever they like and then retaking, most students are still earning 90s and above on my assessments. I've assigned, graded, and returned three assessments, and only five students out of 190 (I have large classes this year) have bothered with a retake so far.
  3. I get to work closely with struggling students without having to chase them down myself. I help them work on study habits, correct their misconceptions about the language, and generally get to know them.
I see retakes as more emphasis on mastery, which is what I look for in my classes. Miriam, in her previous blog post, talks about using Standards Based Grading (or as close to that as we can get with our required traditional grade books) and a retest policy for the same purpose. Mastery requires a good foundation, and retakes help me achieve one.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Standards Based Grading (SBG) - Making it Work in a Traditional Gradebook

I think every teacher starts a new year with goals, for both him/herself and his/her students. I am no exception. My biggest goal this year was to find ways I could show real student progress and ensure that 100% of my kids do, in fact, progress.

In setting my goals, I already knew that there were some things I was going to do this year, for a fact:

  • I untextbooked fully this year with all IV levels (more posts to come)
  • I fully switched to culture instruction through research using the National Latin Exam syllabi
  • I fully switched to only using direct grammar instruction in my upper levels (more posts to come)
  • I reconsidered my retake policies and tutoring practices (more below)
  • I re-read my own post on the No Failure Classroom and considered how to make my practices more fully integrated in this idea. 
I also knew, between my own research and discussions with my students, that diving into Standards Based Grading was something we all wanted. I don't want to spend this post talking about the theory, but rather how I am making it work, so allow me to give you some links to the research for your own perusal. This link takes you to my own Google Drive folder with information on Standards Based Grading. There is a PowerPoint with information and a page long list of articles, research, videos, etc. 

So, how am I doing it?

In Thought

I needed to lay out exactly why I wanted to do this and what the benefits would be. So, I spoke to my kids, we brainstormed, and then I applied the research. I kept what worked and reconsidered what didn't. 
  1. Grades, if we are to use them, should be a measure of a student's progress with standards or goals, not their ability to complete an assignment or get something right on a first try. 
    1. How does this apply to the number of grades I put in a grade book?
    2. How does this apply to testing and test retakes?
    3. How does this apply to absences and deadlines?
  2. If students are to show real progress, they must be able to make that progress when they are ready, no matter when it happens through the year. 
    1. Just because it is on my schedule, does that mean a student must succeed at that exact moment?
    2. How do we ensure progress and not a memorisation of isolated facts, words, and ideas?
    3. How do we motivate students to work towards progress and not panic when something requires extra help or instruction?
    4. What happens when one, two, or three people need extra help and time vs. when an entire class needs extra help and time?
  3. How do we address student, parent, and school needs and requirements while making a grade book work with standards?
    1. Do we use graded numbers?
    2. Do we change the weight of grades to fit needs?
    3. Do we put standards in and leave them blank until the time comes?
    4. How can we communicate regularly while meeting these goals?

In Practice

So, keeping these concerns and ideas in mind, off I went. I spent a good deal of my summer thinking about this, discussing it with teachers, and just when I had an idea of what to do, grading schemes were released for our school and I had to rethink it all. So, here's the final shell of my grading this year. 

Grade Book Setup

  • I still put in grades based on assignment 
    • One of my biggest concerns is what happens to grade books through the year. We collect and grade and collect and grade and, by the end, the final is worth very little and students who missed part of the year, came late, got sick, etc. have little to no chance of doing well, even if they do REALLY well. 
    • One of the ideas behind SBG is that you have a set number of standards/assignments and students are constantly working to improve their grades based on their actual progress in the class. The students and I really liked this idea. It places the importance on the progress, not the grade, as it were. 
    • So, I have separated our untextbooked curriculum into larger units. I put in each test separately (and we agreed as a group on smaller, more frequent tests), but I only collect one of each assignment that I want to. This gives a variety, but doesn't overwhelm the grade book. While we are in that unit, when we do a second assignment like one that has been graded, students may resubmit for a new grade, provided they've shown progress. 
      • E.G. Jenny was absent when we completed a dictation, so she got an IP (in progress) in the grade book. When we did a second dictation, she submitted it for a grade. 
      • E.G. Michael got a 70% on the story's comic strip. In our second story, we didn't do a comic strip, but we did answer questions based on comprehension. Michael asks his teacher to grade this new assignment in place of the previous one. 
    • This limits my grading and limits their grades, making it more about progress and less about numbers. 
  • I still put in number grades, but they are based on proficiency, NOT accuracy.
    • I despise how sometimes our system allows people to memorise and resubmit. They've not learned anything knew, cannot use anything in a new way, but they have the right answers. 
    • I also hate how an accuracy system sets students up for failure. Students who make minor mistakes are penalised, even if they fully understand how to use vocabulary and language. 
    • So, I make sure to make my expectations clear with students and assignments, and I give credit where credit is due. 
      • E.G. Sally, a Latin I student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the mother asks". She gets full credit for understanding the context of the story/word, even if tense is wrong, she didn't give a subject, etc. 
      • E.G. Mary, a Latin II student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the mother was asking". She gets full credit for understanding the context, and also for identifying it was past test, even if it is not fully correct. 
      • E.G. Bobby, a Latin III student, answered test question "rogavit" with "asks". He gets partial credit for understanding the context, but as an upper level student, it was expected that he also give subject and tense.  
    • This puts the emphasis on being proficient in the language without making it all about accuracy. Since I am not giving any multiple choice tests this year (unless I have to), I have more freedom in giving credit where it is due, as opposed to simply marking it correct for accuracy. 
  • I allow students to resubmit/retake any and every assignment as many times as they want. 
    • Getting it right is important to me, not WHEN they get it right. 
    • So, retakes are done as follows
      • can be redone any time within a larger unit (if not, on a case by case basis). 
      • cannot be redone before student attends a tutoring session
        • This ensures they hear the information again, from a different source, in a different way, and also get to hash out any issues one on one (with me or a tutor)
      • full credit is given where due. 
        • E.G. Karen, a Latin I student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the father sees"initially, but answered "the mother asks" on a retake. -- 100% credit given
        • E.G. James, a Latin III student answered test question "rogavit" with asks initially, but answered "he asked" on a retake -- 100% credit give
      • Resubmissions are done in class.
        • Since I'm not putting in 1,000 grades, I simply replace the old grade with a new one, provided progress is shown. 
      • I require all students who fail an assessment to come to tutoring and students all know that I expect them all to have an 80% or better in my class. Anything lower comes with tutoring, parent contact, and conferences. 

In Actuality

So, what have the reactions been? In general, I have much more relaxed students who are performing better and take more control over their own grades. I have not been asked once this year for extra credit, or how someone can "bring their grade" up. Students are clear on expectations and they know what happens when they don't meet those expectations. I provide 100% risk proof fail safes and students have the materials and tools they need to succeed. The grade book is clear and instead of getting parent emails asking about what an assignment is or a test or what was missed, I now have only gotten emails acknowledging grade changes or making sure a student is keeping up his/her end of the bargain. 

I discussed this with my parents at curriculum night and got lots of positive feedback. When it comes down to it, I am not interested in tricking my students, only in seeing them succeed. I am convinced a Standards Based Grade Book (or as much of one I can have) is part of a grander plan to do this. 

Have any of you tried SBG or looked into it? How is it going?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Curriculum Night

Well, it's that time of year again: curriculum (or parent) night is slowly rolling around for each of us. I don't know about you, but it is usually a very stressful night for me. I only get 10 minutes with each group of parents and 10 minutes is not a lot of time to fit in everything I need (*ahem* want) to say.

We've gotten a lot of emails the past few days regarding our own curriculum night (which was Monday!) that has elicited some thought from me as well as other teachers here. What should we be telling our parents? What is it that they want from us on that night?

If curriculum night is to be used to build trust and good relationships between us and the parents of our students, then perhaps we should consider/reconsider how we approach things.

Why do you do what you do?
I hear this a lot - at curriculum night, at schedule pick up, at elective fairs, etc.

* I do what I do because I believe everyone has a right to experience a language and make connections and I believe everyone has a right to a positive experience in another language.

How is my child going to learn in this class?
I teach using a method called Comprehensible Input. My goal is to make acquisition of Latin possible for all kinds of learners.
  • Every student has a right to experience being in a second (or third or fourth) language
  • Students only make progress acquiring ability in any language when they receive regular and constant understandable messages in the target language
  • Language acquisition according to the latest brain research, happens unconsciously.
  • I have an obligation to help students (and myself) stay focused on these principles of acquisition, namely, receiving understandable messages in Latin.

To this end, we do a variety of activities in the classroom that incorporate many ways of learning as well as the national standards for foreign languages.

  • Speaking, Writing, Reading, and Listening activities
  • Activities that involve physical movement
  • Hand signs to allow students to communicate their needs
  • A safety net, posted above board, to help students verbalise what they need
  • A word wall including vocabulary we commonly use as well as the 50 Most Important Verbs that support Latin in any time period

  • Culture research based on the National Latin Exam syllabus

How does grading work?
This year, rather than overwhelm parents with percentages, dates, and lists, I'm discussing how I assess:

* I will collect a variety of assignments during each unit. Students will have at least one (more likely two to three) opportunities to resubmit each assignment if they are unhappy with their grade and, when we do a similar assignment, show progress in proficiency. Students who would like to re-take tests may do so after attending at least one tutoring session

* E.G. - Today I collected a dictation from Latin II and III; we will do two more dictations this unit. Students may choose to submit either or both of these other two to get a better grade if it shows an improvement in proficiency in Latin.

What is the Daily Engagement Assessment?
This is an essential way for me to determine whether students understand what I say and also to show proficiency in listening and reading skills. You can read the requirements in this post. I keep my own notes daily and also ask students to self assess themselves weekly.

* The DEA grade is based off a student's ability to demonstrate that they understand what is being said to them. I measure this using a list of requirements. I watch students every day for verbal responses, hand signals, and other physical movements that show proficiency.

* E.G. - Latin I just completed a "Classroom Unit" where I commanded them to do various actions every day. If I said, "surge et lucernas extingue", I would expect the student to stand up and turn off the lights.

What is expected of my child each night? (AKA, is there homework?)
I have not given homework since my first day teaching, with an occasional exception. The longer I teach, the more I am convinced that homework has little to no place in my classroom. I do provide study materials for those interested and multiple copies of readings (in paper and online) and I do expect students to do some review on their own. I will only test, however, the things I am sure we have gone over enough times in class (not at home) to warrant a test.

* We should have time to complete most, if not all, of our work in class. That being said, I expect students to review/read/play Quia every night:

* Latin I - 10 minutes; Latin II - 10-15 minutes; Latin III/IV - 15-20 minutes


This year, I've gotten rid of the PowerPoint, lists for parents, and forms, and taken these questions (plus a few nuts and bolts) and put them on a handout (thanks to my department head for sending it out). Parents and I can just talk, rather than a lecture with furious note taking.

My hope is that by answering questions this way, and as simply as possible, parents will get what they need and also understand that I do care about their students and their students' success. 

What is your curriculum night like? How do you handle all the information in such a short amount of time?