Monday, November 28, 2016

Becoming a Student Again

"So, Magistra, just how many languages do you speak?"

I probably hear this question at least twice a month if not once a week. I usually respond by asking them to "define speak". Ultimately it boils down the fact that I love languages. I studied Latin, Spanish, and French in high school, German, Latin, Greek, and Arabic in college, and on my own time, I've studied (to varying degrees) Mandarin, Hebrew, Korean, Thai, American Sign Language, Russian, and Irish.

Of all these languages, Latin has become, quite literally, my bread and butter. I love Latin. That being said, I've had reasons through various venues and situations to desire to learn and focus on some new languages: American Sign Language, Mandarin, and Arabic. In all three, I've become a student again learning, mostly, on my own. It has been an interesting journey thus far and one I'd like to share since we as educators so rarely get to experience it.

The Tools

Since I am on my own for much of this, I use a variety of tools (mostly online) to help with this process. Some of these are marketed to teachers as a way of doing homework or sub work if the teacher isn't there. So, I'd like to say a word about each and any thoughts or issues I've had. 

  1. Duolingo - (free) I use Duolingo to brush up on my Spanish, and will use it when I need German and French for my doctorate in Latin. As of right now, Duolingo is working on expanding its language options. I am hopeful that advanced courses for Arabic, Mandarin, and ASL will be ready for when I need them. I mostly use this, when I use it, online since I only keep the apps I use regularly. 
  2. Memrise - (free with paid options) I used this with Rachel when we were preparing for our Latin proficiency exams for our Masters using Dickinson's frequency list. Now I use it for Korean, Arabic, and Mandarin (although mostly Mandarin). I like this because it has lessons and lets me set goals. Duolingo does as well, but doesn't have Mandarin at this time. Memrise also has memory aids submitted by users. I don't always find them helpful, but they can be to others. I do wish that Memrise would let me speak into the app and compare it to the native speaker, like Duolingo does.
  3. Mango Languages - (free for some) I got free access for this through my library. My brother has access through his university. If you don't have access through something, you will need to pay for this. This works almost like, in my opinion, a combo of something like Memrise and a textbook. It takes you through lessons, asking you how to do things, and providing grammar, culture, and pronunciation help. It is by far the least interactive of the three, but it provides notes the others don't. Mango does have Latin, but I will tell you that it is heavily reliant on Caesar and translation. This may be useful for AP work, but I haven't explored it enough to feel confident to recommend it. Mango also includes some culture notes as well and includes things in various phrases, allowing you to practice in contexts that Duolingo and Memrise don't quite. 
  4. Youtube - (free) I use this for Thai and Mandarin mostly. I look at Thaipod or Chinese Podcast conversations to listen to tone (which is key in both), and get some in context experience. 
  5. Podcasts - (free) I use podcasts the same way I use youtube - in context listening. 
  6. Textbook - (free from a friend) I am borrowing an actual Chinese textbook from a friend of mine for practice. I am using this for writing practice with the writing system that Chinese has, vocabulary lists, and reading practice. This particular textbook has short stories and conversations in it along with grammar explanations and practice. 
  7. Other communication tools - I am not familiar with many languages' tools, but there are lots of communication apps for languages. I use Line, which is Chinese friendly to communicate, and Kakao is Korean friendly. Line also has "official" accounts which include some language accounts that offer daily words, phrases, etc. I also downloaded Google keyboards to my phone for Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Arabic. I can quickly switch between them to type messages or look something up. I also greatly recommend doing this through a single service, not separate keyboards. Since I did it through Google, I have a button on the keyboard that allows me to switch quickly, without having to go into settings. 

Issues and Concerns

I am not normal. I am learning these on my own time because I want to. Not everyone enjoys what I do. The same goes for our students. In order for many of these to be useful, students will need to have the desire to go further or to learn what these offer. I find them useful, but I also know how to use them, given that I've had training in this area. Most of our kids won't. If I offer these resources to a student it's because they've asked for them. I've offered Duolingo to a student who wanted to stay in Latin, but also wanted to learn French to speak to his family. I've offered Mango to a student who is learning Arabic for a trip. I cannot say whether these are useful for a whole group, but if you can find your language on them, you may find some individual uses for them. 

The Language Experience

Each of these three languages is different for me. I am using them in various situations and so each experience is different.


I actually already speak Arabic. I learned it in college as my minor for my degree. My brother is now taking it in college, also as his minor. I help him with vocabulary and grammar and I've had the honour to attend his class as a visitor. What is unique about this experience is that while I learned Modern Standard and Egyptian in school, my brother is now learning Levantine Arabic. And so, in a desire to communicate with him, I have taken to learning this new dialect so that I can help and communicate with him. Most of my actual learning is on my own, using Mango and occasionally Memrise, but I get to communicate with my brother via text and actual conversations. Some of them are dictated by his course, so we can practise thematic vocabulary. 


I do wish I was getting more CI in Arabic. Right now I mostly get words and phrases that I then figure out what to do with. The grammar is mostly indirect which is helpful as my brain gets to work it out on its own, recalling and remembering things I learned years ago. I would like to read more Arabic script, but I've had trouble finding CI things to read in Arabic. 

All that being said, I do find the presence of my brother incredibly helpful as I learn this new dialect. It has also inspired me to seek a higher degree in Arabic, but, again, I'm not normal. 

American Sign Language

I've been learning this on and off since I was little. My mother signed for her travelling choir and once when my kindergarten teacher lost her voice and switched to sign language, we learned basics as well. Since then I've had few opportunities to use it. I've signed some songs, taught vocabulary, and had a couple of conversations, but I have not had much of an opportunity to practice. This is a big hindrance in my learning of this language, especially given my desire to become certified in ASL. That being said, I continue to learn using Memrise and as a member of a Facebook group for ASL learners. They post videos, hold chat sessions (which I often cannot attend during the week), and share resources. 

This experience has been interesting because, given the lack of communication for me, there has been a lack of CI. I will readily admit that I am not aware of all the resources, but as an example of what our students may struggle with, the lack of CI makes retaining this language difficult for me -- even as a "not normal" learner. The best I can do in the form of notes is descriptions of hand signs or pictures, which are not always helpful. That being said, Life Print University has recently come out with some CI type conversations, and there is a series on youtube of conversations and lessons which I am beginning to use. 


This language is one where the importance of CI has been made even clearer to me. I am not a normal learner. I thrive on learning new languages and figuring out the puzzle. Our students are normal. If I struggle, and I do, acquiring a language like ASL, then our students most certainly struggle if we don't give them comprehensible messages in the language.

Mandarin Chinese

Speaking honestly, I never thought I'd have a desire to learn this language. I had wanted to learn Korean, but Mandarin was not high on my list. It is now and it occupies the highest spot on my list and I love learning it. 

I have more help for this language than for any other through colleagues (Diane Neubauer @DuYanzi) who provided excellent starting places for me and key hints on learning this new writing system, a former student who meets with me once a week to chat and practice, and my own personal experiences. I use Memrise to learn words and am familiarising myself with the script this way as well. I have a textbook borrowed from my friend that has thematic vocabulary and even little stories and scripts that are CI-friendly (although I have not spent enough time with them yet to say more). I also have, mostly, experiences with food and food culture that have helped me retain more of this language, although my comfort level in speaking is very low. 

I started by listening to a recommended podcast, even though it was above my level (remember: not normal). I would listen in the morning on the way to school and again on the way home, making mental notes. By listening to the same podcast twice in one day, I started to retain the basics (and quickly learned to recognise things like hello, goodbye, my name is, how are you, etc.). Then, I started with Memrise and meeting weekly. I picked up some answers to the "how are you" question and started to put together pronouns and build my own sentences. Through these meetings, I've begun to connect Cantonese with Mandarin as well. When I compare how one person says one word with another, it creates more connections in my head as well. 

I remember one particular instance when an Asian street food type restaurant opened near my house. I had just learned the word for "steamed meat bun" earlier that day and the restaurant bears that name. I think I nearly jumped out of my car when I saw it and it quickly became one of my favourite words (and places to eat). 


I have been told that when I study Mandarin I look like a two year old discovering things for the first time and that it is quite amusing. I don't doubt it. I have, by far, the most CI in this arena, even if through unconventional methods, and this language is incredibly compelling for me. I am terrified, however, of making mistakes and probably impede my own learning a bit in that way. That being said, I have certainly acquired a lot in the few months I've been working on it and I look forward to learning more, even if I don't have as much CI as I might, but, then again, I am not normal. :)

Overall Conclusions and Thoughts

From the outside, these experiences may seem relatively unimportant or relevant to our students, but from my perspective, I have learned a lot about what my kids need. I hope to have more lessons to share. 
  • Students NEED CI - Heck, I need CI. I am the kind of learner who has chosen to spend her free time learning languages on the side. I revel in colour coordinated notes and I absolutely love charts. I need CI. My kids need CI. 
  • Technology is not a fail safe or replacement for real life communication -- Technology is great and without it, this whole experience would be much more difficult for me. That being said, if my experiences are examples, I excel when I have real life experiences (like in Mandarin or Arabic), so do our students. Reading is one of the quickest ways to get CI to our kids, and it is one of the easiest ways for me to intake information, but language is about connection, ultimately, to people.
  • Learning a second language is not like learning a first, and yet... -- Before I started learning these languages, I already spoke three and had studied many more. But nothing compares to that moment when you make a real connection and acquire something without realising it. That is true when you are two and realise what a cookie is. It is true when you fall in love with an author. It is true when you learn a second, third, fourth, etc. language. In SLA we can use our other language as a connection, but we still have those moments in the new language that we thrive in. Those moments, I am more and more convinced, are the same we thrived in with a first language - first being understood, speaking without panicking, responding without thinking, reading. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Preserve the Classics: Don't Allow the Alt-Right to Define Us

I just returned from ACTFL, where I celebrated languages and cultures from all over the world along with another 8500 teachers. I returned excited and energized and ready to share what I learned and the things that I am currently thinking about. And I will, in another post.

Instead, this post is a call to action. There is a group of white supremacists, calling themselves the "Alt-Right," who are using a shallow understanding of the Classics and of Greece and Rome to justify their self-importance and racist propaganda. You can find excerpts on their general stances here. Donna Zuckerberg, editor of Eidolon, a Princeton-educated Classicist, published "How to Be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor" yesterday, eloquently outlining the Alt-Right's interest in and use of the Classics and the reasons we should not allow it. 

She writes, "This is my call to arms for all classicists. No matter how white and male Classics once was, we are not that anymore. In spite of the numerous obstacles that remain, our field is now more diverse than ever, and that is something to be proud of. These men are positioning themselves as the defenders of Western Civilization. Classicists, when you see this rhetoric, fight back. We must not allow the Alt-Right to define what Classics will mean in Trump’s America.

She's right. 

Zuckerberg describes several ways in which, "when we see Classics used to support a hateful politics, we must push back — unless we want to live through a second wave of fascist classical reception." Read her article. It is important, and part of an important dialogue we need to start now.

I'm going to add to this. Bob Patrick pointed out today that we are also teachers in a field that has long been dominated not only by white teachers but by white students. Our field has long been thought of as elite, exclusive. This also helps the Alt-Right build a white image of Classics and Classical studies.

So Miriam and I are making our own call to action. Comprehensible Input and Communicative teaching are naturally inclusive methods, reaching all skill levels, races, and economic backgrounds. Creating a safe classroom culture means that all types of students feel welcome with you as you celebrate ancient people. We can change the face of our student population as we change the nation's understanding of our field of study.

If you teach inclusively, present. If you know how to create a safe classroom culture, share your knowledge. 

We won't have to take back the Classics because we won't let them be usurped.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Coming Full Circle - using Pliny to hold interest

In my first post, I discussed building my unit and in my second, I talked about some variations on dictations that I've been exploring. In this post, I want to talk about a few ways I am playing with student interest and keeping things compelling.

General Recommendations

Often I will hear students talk about things in the hall, during guided study (advisement), and before or after class. They won't be helpful to me at that moment, but if they seem important to the students, I'll figure out a way to write it down or store it in memory until it is. This has helped immensely in building this unit in a few ways:

  • Pop Culture References - These are most helpful when we have our cultural discussion days, but they are helpful in that I can pull stories students know and reference them and bring them into a discussion comparing our culture with Roman culture. So far, My Little Pony (unicornis story), American Horror Story (vrykolacae story), Harry Potter (unicornis story), and a few others have all proven very useful in our discussions. While this may seem weird or off topic, using it to discuss Roman culture and opinions has proven important. Students need to be able to identify with something in some way and this is one way of doing it.  
  • Bacteria - Believe it or not, I've had a group of students who have believed, completely, that bacteria must play a role in our stories. They have argued for it and fought for it, much to my and our class's amusement. When I decided to do a creepy story (vrykolaca) I ultimately chose what I did because bacteria plays a role in the science. I could have decided to step away from this focus, but it fits in our ultimate goal of being able to understand perspectives. 
  • Santa - This is not quite come up in class yet, but students made many references to the European idea of Krampus and Santa. They took what they understood in Latin about the vrykolaca (large and round, hair on the face, stretches out) and decided it was an evil Santa type figure, similar to the Krampus. They were incorrect, but it created great discussion driven by student interest and made this story even more compelling for them. 

In Choosing Stories

There have been many discussions and argument regarding targeted vs. non targeted CI. Without opening up a large forum for discussion here, I want to address one way I use both in my classroom. I never want to curb student discussion based on student interest. I also want to expose students to the wonderful world of Latin literature from all the periods - Classical, Medieval, and Modern. To do both, I take into consideration a number of things:

  • A spiral sort of curriculum that we have in our program - Many groups place heavy emphasis on a vertical curriculum which should prepare kids for the most rigorous course in that subject. I like to argue for a more spiral format. As students progress in a course, they visit and revisit ideas, increasing their skills in that idea. If I know students might revisit this idea in another class, I feel slightly more compelled to offer it in my class. Here are two posts on this topic: one on student choice as we offer it and one on how the spiral worked last year in Latin I
  • Using shorter readings in some units to allow student input - Whit this particular unit, I purposefully did not choose two of the stories and waited until students expressed some feedback on our first one. When students started asking questions like, "did the Romans have a unicorn?" and "Are they all just versions of real animals?" I included the unicornis story and the basaliscus story. 

In Artwork

Not all kids like to draw, but all kids like crafts in various ways. I've worked to provide multiple opportunities for kids to use what they like and what they know in the classroom in this unit. Here are some ways I've accomplished that. 
  1. Lenticular Art - Rachel wrote about this last year and I revisited it this year. I had nearly forgotten about it, but then found it when I was trying to find an activity to see just how kids were connecting to the stories that I had ultimately chosen (even if based in student interest). We did this project and the requirements were:

    * Choose a monster we've read about and illustrate it as one perspective of your work. It can be any part of the story, but the monster should be portrayed accurately.
    * Connect this monster to something specific that has importance to you. It can be anything, but it should be specific so that I, the viewer, am clear on what is important to you and how it relates to what we've read. 

    Ultimately I got a wide variety of works of art. Many related to movies the kids enjoyed or stories they were familiar with. Some related scenes from our stories to current events that the kids were moved by. Some related ancient perceptions of monsters to the animals we consider "weird" or "gross" now. The variety was quite lovely and I am overall very pleased with their work. The kids loved this, despite its logistic difficulties in cutting and folding and appreciated the opportunity to have a say in how they expressed their opinions in my classroom.
  2. Cultural Discussion - I will write more about this in my next post, but I have used our culture discussions heavily to let students express their interest and choice. This week, after reading 3 of our 4 stories (and just before Thanksgiving break), we did an activity where students were to relate our story/monster to one they knew. They had to do research, use Latin, and science to build their argument and they were graded based on clarity and detail. Some examples:

    * Relating the Roman unicorn to the Indrik Beast - The Indrik beast is of Russian origin and relates to the unicorn in themes of savageness, purity, and innocence.
    * Relating the Greek vrykolaca to the legend of Slender Man - The students related these two through their creeping/stalkerish presence and the requirements for them to attack/leave their victims.
    * Relating the Roman polypus to the Kraken of Norway - Many students discovered that Roman authors had also written of the Kraken, which created an interesting connection they had not thought of. They also related these two in size, ferocity, general description, and contrasted them in the nature of their "attacks" and setting. 
  3. Timed Writes - You can read about the specifics of timed writes here. While most of ours this semester have been rather normal, using specific stories, our last one allowed for student choice and resulted in some fairly interesting considerations and experiences. Our last timed write (last week) covered the polypus, unicornis, and vrykolaca. We did it shortly after reviewing all three monsters again and, in the spur of the moment, after watching their excitement and passion talking about the monsters, I decided to open the timed write to student choice. I did this because I knew they were ready by the quality of discussion and their desire to continue the discussion. The prompt I gave students was to pick any of the three monsters we'd read about and write about it. This opened the floor to a whole series of questions and my answers:

    * Wait, we get to pick? of course.
    Can we write about all three? of course.
    * Can we make up a story about one specific one? hmmm..... of course.
    * Can we name ours? give him a name that fits his ferocity.* Can we write a love story? of course.

    And it went on. Students wrote for around 15 minutes in Latin II that day. No one stopped early. Everyone wrote furiously. I was actually excited to watch them write!
  4. The Invisibles - This is an alteration of a CI activity/idea/class/etc. that revolves around storytelling that creates characters that students have complete say in. While I have not read everything on this topic, and would not feel comfortable trying to explain it all away, I can tell you how I altered it and what I did with it. I got sick in the middle of one week when the weather changed (my allergies are bad when that happens). I knew I was going to be out the next day, so I left this assignment for my kiddos to complete. When I came back, I took their descriptions and rewrote them as an activity. I would read the description out loud three times and kids would listen and draw what they think they heard. Then, I projected their student created art on the board and we discussed. Students like seeing their own work, especially if they recognise it from the Latin description, and seeing how close they get to what others drew. 


I have spent a good bit of time reading arguments for or against student choice. I agree with both sides, especially as a Latin teacher. I do feel as though there is a reason to read some works that are teacher chosen/written. I love exposing my students to a world they didn't know existed and discussing with them the nuances of that world and seeing their reactions. I also agree that student choice is key to learning language. Stephen Krashen's Comprehensible Input Hypothesis is the core of my teaching and part of that is student interest (the compelling piece).

So, I try to marry both as best I can. It takes work, but it is worth it to me. I also love learning and this large unit, compiled using what I know and what they want, has really allowed me to learn a lot. I've never considered myself good at science, but I now know more about decomposition, and the differences between Indian and African rhinos than I ever thought I would need. I also got to impart on the kids one of my interests which I proclaim from the rooftops - cephalopods. The kids learned more about cephalopods than they ever thought they wanted to know, but they enjoyed it. So much so that it is now somewhat of a joke in some of my classes.

This seems right to me - through conversation between teacher and students, using student interest and teacher knowledge, we learn language. This is how we learn in most situations I feel.

How are you gauging student interest? How do you include it in your classroom?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Coming Full Circle - Pliny and Dictations

In my last post, I detailed how I built my Pliny the Elder unit for this year and discussed some upcoming posts. For this second post, I want to talk about how dictations have evolved for me and how we are using them in this unit.

I am still a big fan of the dictatio in the way discussed here. It is a great Monday activity and a great activity for days when I need a brain break. It lets the high flyers take all the notes they want and ask those questions burning in their brains and lets those needing extra time move at a slower pace. It is also a great way to introduce key vocabulary.

I also love the dictatio currendo and its alternate version: scrambled eggs. They provide unique ways to still achieve much that the regular dictatio does, but provides an opportunity for movement. I used the scrambled eggs dictation for the octopus story.

Today I want to talk about a few variations of the dictatio that I've been working on in this Pliny unit. They each highlight different things and are used in different ways:

Monster Building Relay Race

This is a play off of Rachel's Relay Race using a dictation. I took sentences students had seen in a dictatio activity and had purposefully left off a vital clue. For this particular instance, students were reading (unknowingly) about the unicorn. They had already received the following information:
  • head of a deer
  • body of a horse
  • tail of a boar
  • feet of an elephant
What they were missing was the monster's single long horn. 

When I created the relay race cards, I included distracting sentences that had nothing to do with the monster in question. This tested student's ability to understand. After they had all the sentences (including the distractors) they were to put together the monster and show me the picture. The process was as follows:
  1. Send a runner to get a sentence.
  2. When the whole group understands the sentence, send a different runner to find the corresponding picture. 
  3. When the whole group agrees that the sentence matches the picture, send a different  runner to check with magistra. 
  4. Repeat this process until ALL sentences and pictures are matched.
  5. Using these, build the monster based on the dictation, determining which one piece of new information also applies to the animal. 


This one is incorrect. The pieces do not fit the description and one is mislabeled.
This one is correct. All the pieces fit the description and they are correctly labeled.

QR Code Dictatio

This is a new activity that I adapted from Meredith White's QR activity (@PRHSspanish). I created QR codes for students that had a sentence with a clue regarding the monster on it and a sentence as to the location of the next clue. Students had to run from location to location looking for clues and writing them down. Then, they had to make an educated guess (without outside resources) as to what the monster was. I did not confirm or deny the accuracy of their guess, but I would send them back to try again if their guess did no make use of the clues.

After all students had discovered all the clues (and checked them with me), we went over each sentence. Since they had already worked on these in groups, there were few questions and going over it went quickly. Students took notes on the new words as well.


Student work from Latin II - vrykolacae story
Here is a link to the clues Rachel gave her Latin III students for the "monster" Fama. 

Sub Day Dictationes

Unfortunately, I was out twice during dictatio days for this unit. What I ended up doing was a variation on sub day plans we've used in past years. This particular plan required:

  1. Students to read sentences that contained new key words (identified at the top). 
  2. Draw a picture of these sentences (since they detailed the physical description of the monster).
  3. Write their own Latin sentence using the new word.
After students complete ALL the sentences, they were to take information they had already obtained using the QR code dictatio the previous day and this new information to make a new guess about the identity of the monster. No one guessed right (and I refuse to tell them if they were right). It kept the mystery and it required the students to use Latin to make connections and let me in on their thought process. I can see how good of use they make of clues and Latin descriptions.



I love finding news ways of doing my favourite or most useful activities. Do you have any other ways to do a dictation? I still haven't written the final story's lesson plans, so I am all ears! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

PBP Announces - Second Facebook live session!

At the beginning of this month (4 October 2016), Rachel and I hosted a Facebook live session on Comprehensible Input. While you can read the entire discussion on our Facebook page: Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing, here are some highlights:

Using OWATS to introduce vocabulary:
I may do this with Latin I next chapter! We have an ongoing storyline and it would be a great way for the students to create sentences for it. ~ Chris Buczek

How have you used One Word Images?
Focus on the things your class finds fun... Then you let them expand your pictures... maybe include something surprising. ~ Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing

I struggle with telling a story. 
 If you want to grow in skills for asking stories, I recommend writing a script that has a basic outline but leaves some blanks that students can fill in. The easiest is names and locations, but you can ask students if characters are happy or sad, if they want or doen't want something - the idea is to let them choose while limiting their choices to things you know they can handle. ~ Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing

What is your favourite CI activity that you'd like new ideas for?
 Michelle Gerard Ramahlo has students move around when they match pictures to sentences, giving an added element of fun! 
Discipulus Illustris (La Persona Especial) is making the rounds in various ways as well.

Upcoming Facebook Live Session!

When:  Tuesday 8 November 2016 8:00-8:30 PM

Where: The Pomegranate Beginnings Facebook page

What: The topic is student interest

Rationale: We've seen this topic on just about every discussion board or group recently and it is an essential part of Comprehensible Input. In this session, we'll be talking about student interest and how to use it within the confines you may have. 

See you soon!