Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Post for the Singleton Teacher -- An Invitation for All!

This guest post by Robert Patrick, Ph.D. addresses issues that are common to CI/TPRS beginners in general and singleton Latin teachers in specific. Dr. Patrick has been teaching for 27 years and has been using CI approaches for 15 years.

By now you may have been in school for 2-3 weeks or even 2 months.  If you are the singleton Latin teacher (that would be most Latin teachers) who has decided to take on CI/TPRS and/or an Untextbook approach in your program, you might be feeling everything from nagging fatigue to panic induced by extreme exhaustion.  How many more weeks until Thanksgiving break?

This business of how to go CI/TPRS and Untextbook while being a singleton teacher can be an almost instant crazy maker.  The common story of such teachers (there are many of us) includes wishing for the textbook, going back to the textbook, going back to grammar-translation, depression,  and leaving the profession.  And those are just the things I’ve experienced and heard about from those who are in contact with me.  

At this writing, I’ve heard from three teachers just this week from different parts of the country who fit this description in one way or another, and I’ve been averaging that number of contacts for several weeks now.  From my perspective, abandoning the profession, if you truly love teaching and feel “called” to teaching, is not the answer.  Abandoning CI/TPRS for grammar-translation is not the answer if you want all of your students to make progress and if you want your program to grow.  Continuing what you are doing is not the answer because the toll on you is destructive, and fatigued, exhausted, panic-stricken teachers don’t help themselves or their students. So, what to do?  

Here’s what I have to offer that may give you a better way for yourself and your students.  Each of these principal ideas/practices may well be parts of things that you mix and match to create what will work for you.  They may also give you ideas for something else that works that I have not considered.  Then, please share!  

1. Collaboration.  The "easiest" thing for you to do is to find another Latin teacher (or four) who have flexibility in their programs (to use CI/TPRS and to Untextbook) and begin sharing files.  If there are 4 of you, each becomes responsible for writing lesson plans, activities and assessments for just ONE level of Latin.  Do this in google docs and share with each other.  Then, while you are each teaching 4 or 5 levels of Latin each day, you are only preparing materials for one and EACH is receiving those same kinds of materials from the others.  This may require a few phone or google hangout sessions to work it out, and it’s a little heavy on the set up, but once you set up this kind of collaboration, you will never go back to “going it alone.”  You will wonder why in the digital world you never did this before.  What will you lose if you do this?  You will lose an hour or two of prep time every day.  You will lose awake hours and replace them for sleep hours.  And there’s this.  You will have to give up some ego control that may be attached to the martyr that you have naturally become as a singleton teacher.  I mean this, and it’s worth taking seriously.  We get some mileage out of the sympathy some people pay us when they see how hard we work, and we attach a certain amount of pride to be “the only Latin teacher.”  Let it go.  Find some willing collaborators.  I promise you, you will be much more proud of what you can do together than what you think you are doing alone.

2. Work Smarter.  Not to imply that you work dumb, but working smarter for singleton teachers in particular is not intuitive for most of us and goes against what most of us think we should be doing.  Quick examples of working smarter:

A. Teach the same content at every level that you teach but appropriate to their development and proficiency levels.  Think of an Ovidian story from the Metamorphoses.  You can teach that same story at every level with everything from short cartoon “like” snippets for elementary or lower middle school and LOTS of drawing (which students do, not you) all the way to the original or near original version with Latin 4/5 students.  You create variations of simplicity and complexity in between.  That way, you really are only prepping one content, but in multiple levels.  Combine this approach with collaboration and each of you is prepping a different Ovidian story for multiple units across all the levels you teach.  And, while doing this, use the same activities each day.  If you are asking a story, ask it in all levels.  If you are doing a movie talk, do it in all levels.  If you are doing a dictatio, do it in all levels--but in all of these, at the level that is appropriate for their proficiency.

B. Never grade anything by yourself. (Okay, almost never). Get a classroom set of red pens and have students always grade their own work with your pens while you pace around the room discussing answers and corrections.  This is NOT students grading their neighbor's paper.  They grade their own paper.  Of course you are going to go over them, very quickly, but this works, cheating is almost non-existent.  They get immediate feedback which we all know is essential, and what would take you hours takes a few minutes.  I've been doing it for years now, and I NEVER take papers home. (Okay, almost never, but that’s far different from you who are taking papers home every day).

C. Have a collection of "breather" activities that you can do anytime you are feeling overwhelmed.  Like Publius Publicanus (aka Pancho Comancho), or Dictatio, or Same Story or Pictionary.  A "breather" activity requires very little of the teacher but continues to supply some time of CI to students. You can look up these activities in this blog, in the Latin Best Practices CI Resources blog, in Keith Toda’s blog, or in almost any CI blog around.  

3. Compromise.  Despite the suggestions above, maybe you have just taken on too much, too quickly.  You may need to go back to the textbook.  You can do CI/TPRS with a textbook.  I did it for years.  I never dared leave the textbook until I had some collaborators in place, and I began working smarter with the ideas above while using a textbook.  Many who are being successful with CI/TPRS are easing themselves into it by going Untextbook with their Level 1 while they continue to teach with the textbook in upper levels.  The point of compromise takes me back to some original issues:  do you love teaching?  Do you want all of your students to make progress and grow your program?  If your answers really are “yes” then you must do whatever you have to do to take care of yourself.  CI/TPRS is completely centered in your ability to deliver understandable messages in Latin.  If you are worn out, exhausted and depressed, you will not be able to do that well, if at all.  So, decide what changes you are going to make for your good and then the good of your students.  

If this article raises questions for you, don’t hesitate to ask.  There is a growing community of CI/TPRS Latin teachers and teachers of other languages.  Our experiences are very common and similar to yours.  Making curiosity one of your leading traits will help and relieve you.  Ask questions.  Ask for help.  Ask to use other people’s materials.  Ask for collaborators.  And when you need to, ask for a day off!


An Invitation -- Pomegranate Beginnings will be hosting a Q and A session on Facebook live next week. Tuesday evening (4 October 2016), from 8:00-8:30 pm, we’ll be live on Facebook to answer questions about CI, Untextbooking, and collaboration! Join us and join the discussion.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Round Table Discussion: an every time of year activity

The round table discussion is one I've been doing for years and one I love. I openly admit it isn't my own activity. My first year teaching, I was looking for new ideas and I came across the Scottish government's website on education. It has since been revamped (and finding this original reference was hard), but included in it were videos from a Latin classroom. Here is the original video I watched 5 years ago. She called it a clipboard quiz, but, with the number of students in my classroom, I changed the name to a round table discussion. While I don't do this (or any of the activities found here really) exactly the way they do it, I love looking for options.

The Set Up

I like my students to be in small groups for this; the deeper/high level the question is, the more students I allow in a group. I don't like more than 4 in a group for this, however. 

I then write as many questions as there will be groups (of course smaller classes won't see all the questions). I will say more about these below.

I prefer my questions to be related to the upcoming test or the story we've been reading. I also allow students to use their notes or stories for this activity, especially if the questions are more open ended or of a higher level thinking. 

The Questions

Having played this game (of sorts) more than a few times, I've started to notice which questions work and which don't. This year, in looking back at K-5 strategies, I've started to adjust the kinds of questions that I write. Below are some of the types of questions I've used or have thought about using: ones that I know work, ones that sometimes work, and ones that don't
  • Quid Significat (what does it mean) questions: These work rarely, but they do work. They work for words that have multiple meanings that students know. I have used this for words like petere, umbra, and other words whose meaning depends on context. 
  • Culture Questions with open answers: These are great if they are open. Questions about products, perspectives, and practices are great. Questions about the hero's journey are also good. 
  • Culture Questions with single answers: These don't work since they have one answer. What ends up happening is groups who get this question quickly check the right answer and then check out of class. Questions like these involve dates, names, or single vocabulary words involving culture. 
  • Comprehension Questions: These are the kind I have usually used and I quickly learned that some don't work. Like with the culture questions, comprehension questions with single answers don't work. Rather, focus on higher level questions or questions where a list is involved. Students won't have time to list everything out, and then they have to read each other's responses. 
  • Words we know Questions: These are great. You can have a single question where they must like a word or two and what it means, or you can do it by categories (write one word we know that has to do with.... houses/school/war/etc.)

The Process

Round 1

Students receive their resources and the question. They are given a set amount of time to answer the question. 

Round 2 - the end

Students rotate papers and receive a new question. They have a set amount of time to review the previous and write their own answers/thoughts. 

Reviewing Other Answers

When students review each others answers, they need to mark one of two things:

  1. ✔ - This signifies that students agree with the answer; that is is correct or plausible.
  2. X - This signifies that students do not agree with the answer; that it is incorrect or not possible.

Changes to the Game

In the past, I've done this for a final exam review and have allowed students to take pictures of answers or I posted answers online. This year, for at least this round, I have changed it up. Instead of giving definitive answers, I've typed up each class's answers and agreements in a document and posted it online. I've left it open to comment for students to take a look at and comment what they want. I also included some notes to point to answers that may not be correct.

Thoughts and Reflection

I have grown to really like this activity. I can use it as a formative assessment, pull assessment questions from it, or use it to inform study guides and notes.

Students like this activity. It is collaborative and low pressure, even with the time limit, since they get to see others' answers and evaluate them. Students also know I tend to pull questions from it for our assessments, so it allows for transparency.

I really like using this activity when we have questions whose answers require reflection and evidence. It sparks great discussions! 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Going Back to Basics - Teaching with Novellas

A lot of us, whether teachers of Latin, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, etc., are working with novellas this year. Some are published, and some are still in beta testing (if you will). As we venture into this new territory, my colleagues and I have often mused on, asked, discussed, and angered over this idea of "how to teach with a novella"? Rachel and I have shared some ideas already (linked below), but this year, I considered some new ideas. I'd like to share them with you in this post. Some are still in research, others are already being implemented and edited, and others are things that we have already tried and plan to continue.

Links to Previous Posts

In Study

Rachel and I have spent quite a bit of time trying to brainstorm and share ideas on teaching a novella. After teaching both adapted and original stories, we've already gathered a few ready to go activities, but we wanted more, especially when it came to initial readings of chapters. To this end, I went to my mother, Lydia Patrick, who has been an elementary teacher for as long as I can remember. She's taught a variety of grades and now works in technology in the classroom. I asked for her help because I realised:
  1. Elementary teachers have been teaching with novellas for years! 
  2. Elementary teachers, even though they are working with (often) students' first language, they are still teaching the very basics of reading and discussion. 
She directed me to some resources for elementary teachers and I pulled it all. I am still sifting through this and other resources from Foreign Language teachers, but here are the ideas I've taken so far.* I'd love to hear what you all are doing with these, if you are already working on these, and what you've discovered! 
  • Reading Experts
  • Reading Workshops (sometimes called Kindergarten Day from what I can see so far)
  • Novella Studies (taken from a FL teacher, similar to a Reading workshop)
  • Reading and Writing Workshop (a website dedicated to these types of activities)
  • Using K-5 strategies to develop higher level discussion skills (looking for clues, asking deep questions, personal reflection, etc.)
  • Reader's Theatre
  • Round Table Discussion
* I will update this post with links to the discussions on these ideas as I have them. 

In Practice

Since I am going to post on many of these ideas, this is a place for introduction and reflection. Please comment with any questions and I will try to answer them in the comments or in the post on that topic!

Reading Experts and Workshops

This is the first activity I've borrowed from the elementary level and am working to put into work in the high school FL classroom. The main idea is that students become an expert in a certain category or field of the story. There are many you could try but I focused on these areas: character development, storyline, translation, vocabulary. Each group had a certain activity. On day 2, the kids were put in groups so that each group had 1-2 of each expert and they were to work on a variety of activities. I am posting on this in detail, so here were some observations I made:

  • I am still working out the idea of a reading workshop. I really like this idea, but self admittedly, I am not sold on the way it has been implemented thus far in FL classrooms. This is not a reflection of the teachers, but rather my own understanding of the practice. 
  • The Reading Experts activity wen well, but it had some kinks. Students were eager to work and said they greatly appreciated this two day activity, but they often moved quickly and missed essential steps. 
  • Students responded well to this and, while as a whole the seemed to find it precarious, they sought me out to say individually how much they liked it (peer pressure?)

Reader's Theatre

I am not great at this. I want to love it.... I was a theatre major in high school and my kids are always commenting on my voices, accents, and "acting skills". And yet... I don't love this activity. There have been new ways of doing it and allowing students to have some freedom with this, so I've been trying my hand at those. In an upcoming post I will discuss these. Here are some thoughts I have now, as I work out these kinks:
  • repetitions are nice, but... without some kind of differentiation, they become boring.
  • lengthy scenes become boring fast!
  • variations tried: freeze frame, silent scenes, video recording, same conversation
  • previous write up: Reader's Theatre

Round Table Discussion

This is the activity I tried today. I have been doing this activity for years, but I have begun playing with it and messing with it. Mostly I have become aware of what questions work and what questions don't. Working with the K-5 strategies has helped me even more. A few basics on this activity since it is often used in different ways.
  • I create questions in the target language and English about a reading.
  • I put students in groups. They get around 3-5 minutes to answer the question.
  • Students pass the questions to a new group.
  • Students get 3-5 minutes to agree/disagree with previous answer(s) and add a new one. 

In Closing

I am really trying to make novella reading useful to my students. I have seen a great many discussions on the use of novellas, Free Voluntary Reading, and Comprehensible Input. I have seen a great many discussions on the use (and place) of history, grammar, and culture in a classroom. From this comes my own inner discussion and debate. I'd love to share these thoughts, but also hear from others. :)