Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The fault in our plans

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

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

What We Did

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

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

What the midterm looked like for this section

What We Learned

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

Listening vs. Listening with visuals

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

Fixing the Issue

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

The Midterm

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


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

Preparing for the Future

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


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

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