Monday, December 11, 2017

Bellum Civile: Gaming Caesar's Civil War

I feel bad that I've been so silent lately. I have many, many ideas for blog posts, and I just haven't had time to put pixelated letter to white screen. There are a lot of reasons for this, and that could be its own blog post (it kind of is here). Suffice it to say, I have tried to rethink what a Latin IV class could be, and it's been exhilarating and exhausting and I haven't had too much extra energy to feed into anything else.

But now I'm at a good breathing point and hope to dive straight back into blog posts. This post is to share with you my presentation from ACTFL on running a role-play game with my Latin III students.

I have always wanted to do something role-play for my Latin classes, for over a decade at least, if not for my entire teaching career (on year 15!), because it is such an immersive opportunity with language, and because I'm a gaming geek and love role-play games; my husband was my first Dungeon Master in Dungeons and Dragons (I played a rogue half-dragon named Seline) when I was seventeen. Gaming has been a huge part of my life since then, and seeking a way to marry our different passions is a natural drive for any geek and teacher.

Last year, I finally hit on the perfect game style (Fiasco-esque) to use in conjunction with tasks, something I had just started experimenting with (you can see my first experiment here, and Miriam and I recorded a book study on tasks here), and, to make it easier both for students to plan their actions, speeches, and dialogues for the game and for me to keep a record of each session's events, I realized Twitter was a perfect medium for gameplay.

Thus was born Bellum Civile, a dive into Caesar's civil war, with seven major(ish) historical figures from the civil war--each controlled by groups of four students--battling for Rome's soul.

Below you will find links to the game and its various accouterments. I have included my vocabulary-building materials, some of the materials I used to build student knowledge before we started, and everything else you might need while running the game. I did my best to create an easy-to-use teacher's guide and to make the game self-running in large part. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Teacher's Guide: Bellum Civile
Folder of Materials (most linked by Teacher's Guide as well)
ACTFL Presentation

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Reflection: Chronic Pain and Teaching

There are a lot of difficult and necessary conversations going on in our communities today. I've seen all sorts of discussions and arguments and debates unfold in recent weeks/months about male privilege, white privilege, cis privilege, straight privilege, and so on. Today, I'd like to take a post and talk about another one: able privilege. It has also been part of these conversations I've seen, although, it often takes a back seat to other topics. This is not a criticism because each of these conversations needs to be had: these privileges need to be challenged! This is also not the reason for my post. Rather, I had my post already written in part when the conversations started. These conversations reiterated to me why I am writing this one.

At the bottom of this post, you'll find links to a recent post by a dear colleague and a blog I help co-write. They are about Comprehensible Input and challenging white privilege and other privileges (respectfully). There is also a link to a post by Rachel on mental health. I would LOVE to add to this list. If you have a blog post or know of a source where these privileges are being challenged and discussed, please leave it in the comments so that we can continue the conversation.

Now... on to my story.

There is a phenomenon that I read about recently in an online medical journal. It doesn't necessarily have a name, but the way it is described is that those with disabilities (ranging from the seen, unseen, physical and mental) often do not discuss their pains and issues (even with doctors) because "someone has it worse than me". I mention this for a few reasons:

  1. Disabilities often go unseen or unnoticed. 
  2. There seems to be an expectation that someone with a disability will tell you about it. 
  3. Disabilities affect everyone. Many of us just don't realise it. 

Some Background

Many of you who know me may be asking, "Who is she to talk about able-ism?" And, even until January of this year, I'd have agreed with you. It has been a long journey for me to be able to (a) talk about this to myself in these terms and (b) talk about it publicly. In fact, I still don't talk about it often, except to provide quick explanations for why I cannot attend something, why I am avoiding something, etc.

Without revealing too much, I deal with chronic allergies daily (environmental and food), moderate to severe adult onset asthma, and a genetic issue that affects my ankles and feet causing daily pain and frequent injury. Right now, my doctor says I should not be walking and should be sitting as often as possible. To add to all this, I was recently diagnosed with chronic daily headaches and chronic migraines.

It took me a while to be able to talk about this. Even now I've erased and re-written this three times. I am still coming to terms with what all this means. Partly because I don't necessarily view some of the things I deal with as disabilities (others have it much worse!) and, more recently, I've had to come to terms with how some of this is changing my daily life and future plans. What I want to focus on today, is how this plays out in our professional lives and steps we may take. I am by no means an expert on this. I welcome further discussion and suggestions in the comments below!

The Way Chronic Illness Effects Teachers

I have good days and bad days. Last week... there was a bad day. I am back in my medical boot because of a mistake that was made in my ankle bracing. The boot is large, and heavy and, while it gets rid of the immediate sharp pains, it does not do much else. By the end of the day, even if I'm sitting while teaching, I am exhausted. That morning, a student in my first period class asked if I was okay and said I looked "defeated". And he's right. It's how I feel. I LOVE my job. I love teaching and I love my kids. I love my subject area. I also love so many things outside of school, but, with the issues I am facing, everything I do is a challenge. Some days are easier. Some are nearly impossible.

Recently, I was attending some professional development. I entered a room on time for a scheduled talk and looked around. There were empty seats, but they were on the inner section of rows, nearest the wall, often 5-6 people in. I walked the aisle trying to find some way I could easily get in without disturbing those people. Getting in and out of the rows was very difficult, even without people. I contemplated asking someone if they would squeeze in and as I walked, I realised something: (1) people saw me and my boot. They stared at it. (2) They were staring at it (or avoiding me all together) so that they wouldn't have to look at me or engage with me. (3) No one was moving inward. I searched for a seat in the back, but there were none. I ended up leaving the talk as standing for an hour is not a possibility for me. I was incredibly frustrated.

What I've realised is that things I otherwise took for granted are now things I must consider every day. This is the same (to varying extents) for every teacher with chronic issues.

  • Do I have a meeting across campus? If so, in my case, what can I cut out during the day so that I have the energy to walk and am not in too much pain to do so?
  • Am I delivering a dictation today? How much time can I walk around in each class so that all my students get what they need from me and I don't push myself too far? 
  • Do I need to make copies today? If so, will the elevator be unlocked? Can I even get into the building where the elevator is? If not, is it worth the injury and pain to walk down the two flights of stairs to get to the office?
  • Do I need my crutches today? If so, how can I carry my things AND support myself on them? Do I need my laptop for a meeting? How will I get there and back holding a laptop and using crutches?
  • Did someone just use perfume? If so, how strong is it? How much time do I have before an asthma attack hits? Where is my inhaler?
These are just some things that come to mind right now. Other things that affect teachers with chronic issues: fire drills (especially if stairs are involved), daily duties (required standing/walking, cold weather, etc.), classroom management, working through a migraine because there is no choice.

The Way Chronic Illness Effects Our Kids

We've all seen it: the kid who always appears sleepy, the kid who always seems to be down or in pain, the kid who asks to go to the bathroom a lot. We've gotten health plans and IEPs that tell us to allow the student to do x, y, or z and we've all, at some point, wondered about it. The fact of the matter is, it isn't our place to know everything or understand it all. Rather, our job is to provide a safe learning environment and that means making accommodations for any number of reasons. 

Chronic illness and pain (of the physical or mental kind) affects our kids daily. There are some students who are always keeping an eye out because, even though we've announced it, some one may have snuck in a snack with peanuts in it. There is a kid who is counting down the minutes until they aren't surrounded by people and noise. There is a kid whose eyes are closed all period because the light is making them feel nauseated. There is a kid who couldn't make it to class today because of the pain and illness. When we don't have these struggles (and yes, I was guilty), we might look at that and assume the kid is sleeping, that the kid is AWOL, that the kid is trying to get out of class. But, if we realise that these kids are dealing with these issues and also dealing with the regular day to day of life, we'll change our perspective and change how we treat those issues and them.

In addition to all that they deal with as teenagers, they have these added issues. It affects their participation and attendance in class, their ability to do homework, their ability to bring in projects, mood, concentration.... everything.

What We Can Do

The fact is that anyone dealing with chronic issues has to make choices every day, every hour, every minute. They have to consider what they can do in that moment and how it will affect what they are able to do in the next.

A student may choose to do one piece of homework over the other because while they have an "A" in one class, they have a "C" in another AND they know that they have a doctor's appointment, treatment, or are dealing with the onset of any number of symptoms that will affect their ability to do the work asked of them.

A teacher may choose to skip lunch with colleagues because the pain is so bad they cannot get up from their desk or they are conserving energy to teach the next period.

In addition to all this, we/you may never even know what they are dealing with because "someone else has it worse" or "I don't want to be a burden".

To be honest though, and to repeat a point above, it isn't anyone's job or business to know the details of someone's struggles unless they want to share. Rather, it is ALL our jobs to make spaces that everyone can be comfortable in, no matter what they are going through any given day.

To that end, I'd like to suggest a few things we can do for our students and colleagues:
  1. Don't presume that any child is faking to get out of something. Yes, some people play the system, but the vast majority do not. Trust a kid who says they have a migraine and can barely focus. Trust the kid who needs to go to the bathroom or the clinic every day. Trust them to tell you when they need the space and time and honour it. 
  2. Make your room a safe space. Avoid jokes about those in pain or those with chronic issues. Be clear. Don't allow it. Don't allow someone to make someone else feel badly about the issues they are facing. Be clear on day 1. Be clear when someone slips up. If we're learning anything from the current issues facing those accused and guilty of sexual harassment and assault it's this: we all need to do a better job of stopping privileged culture and talk in its tracks. This means, in my room, we do not make jokes about any group of people. It isn't allowed and there are no excuses. 
  3. Just because you can't "see it" doesn't mean it isn't there. No one knows another's allergies unless they say something or something awful happens. Don't presume that because on Monday a student has a great day, that on Tuesday they will as well. Many look at me, see nothing outwardly wrong, and presume I am fine when, in reality, I am in pain with each step. Some students will show little to no outward signs of any issues, while they struggle inside. Some struggle to keep it hidden because they are embarrassed and might not feel safe expressing what they are going through, but, again, they don't have to share it. 
  4. Reconsider your rules. If you are a teacher who doesn't let students go to the bathroom, or only allows them a certain amount of passes each day/semester, I would strongly suggest you reconsider. Students with chronic issues may use a "bathroom" pass to decompress, take medicine, or deal with any number of issues. They shouldn't have to come to you and explain why they need to go "again". If you require students to stand when they deliver answers or to give regular presentations, reconsider how you do this. 
  5. Move in. This is pretty specific, but I am using it for a broader idea. These are small, daily things we don't think about. Things we do almost subconsciously. They will require a change, a reboot of the brain, if you will. When you go through a door, glance behind you. Can you hold the door for two seconds and allow someone through? When you go to a talk/conference, sit inside the rows, leaving aisles available. If you must leave in the middle, take a seat in the very back, rather than taking the aisles. If you are giving a talk/presentation, use a mic, even if you must then stand behind a podium.
  6. When in doubt, be kind. There are all kinds of disabilities. Some are temporary, some are chronic, some are fatal. Some are visible, some are invisible. Some change day to day, moment to moment. Whenever you see someone you know struggles with this, or someone in general who is having any kind of struggle.... Be kind. Avoid making that joke, just keep it inside. Make the move yourself; don't wait for them to ask and bring attention to it. 
Just.... be kind. :) If we make these small adjustments daily, the world becomes a slightly kinder, easier place for everyone. We cannot solve the struggles of those with chronic issues, but we can help share the burden and for many of those who are able.... they won't even notice the "extra" they do. 

As I said above, I want to invite discussion into this further. Below you'll find a list of blog posts and blogs that discuss and deal with issues of privilege. If you have another, please comment with it below so we can add to the list! 

  1. The Inclusive Latin Classroom - a blog run by a number of teachers that discusses how using CI creates an inclusive classroom for all types of learners. 
  2. "Why Students of Color Don't Take Latin" -- an article by John Bracey on Latin classrooms, and students of colour. 
  3. "A Personal Blog in Honor of Mental Health Awareness" -- a blog post by Rachel Ash mental health and the classroom. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Stepping into CI - Officially Up and Running

Hello all!

It is with great pleasure and excitement that I announce that the new mother site is up and running, in official terms! Below you'll find a quick overview of what we currently offer or are beginning to offer. You can read the detailed announcement here.

What's Changing?

  1. The blog is still up and running, but you can find access to all of our resources here: Be sure to bookmark this site!
  2. We have become three! Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing/Stepping into CI now includes: Miriam Patrick, Rachel Ash, and Robert Patrick Ph.D.
  3. We are widening our offerings. Up until now, you may have seen our blog posts, our publications, the book studies, and our podcast. Now we are offering a wider range of ways to get a regular dose of CI, and new materials for you and your students. 

Okay, so.... What are you offering?

Glad you asked :) 

  • Free
    1. The Pomegranate Beginnings blog has always been and will remain free. You can always check it out here, and get updates via Facebook, email, or Twitter.

    2. Book Studies with Rachel and Miriam is a somewhat new endeavour for us (we are on our second book study), but we will continue to provide this for free.

    3. Our most recent offering is the Stepping into CI Podcast. This by monthly podcast includes the voices of Miriam, Rachel, and Bob along with special guests. There are a variety of topics up for discussion. Past topics include: Our favourite CI things, reports from the field, Free Voluntary Reading, and Why CI.
  • Paid Subscription
    1. CI Bites is a brand new offering from Bob Patrick, Ph.D. When you subscribe to Stepping into CI, you will get a bi-weekly email from Bob with CI tips and inspiration. Be sure to check out the sample!

    2. The Latin Listening Project was born out of Rachel's desire to have easy listening for learners of Latin. Miriam began the first series of the LLP with her horror series Sonitus Mirabilis. When you subscribe, you'll have access to every episode, including a complete vocabulary list and transcripts for each episode.

    3. Lastly, Miriam, Bob, and Rachel are offering exclusive organised units from their own successes in their classrooms. Each unit will be neatly packaged for teachers to access online and will include a variety of activities, tasks, and resources.

Where does the subscription money go?

As always, Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing/ Stepping into CI strives to be transparent. The three of us are also teachers and we know that money is not free flowing. We want to honour your time and money. We offer two subscriptions options:

1. Monthly ($4 per month)
2. Annual ($36 per year)

The money goes to help run the site and to provide all of these resources and materials, both free and paid.

Okay, sign me up! 

Great! Join us at Stepping into CI. And don't forget to join the conversation online:

Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing on Facebook

Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing on Twitter


Monday, September 25, 2017

FVR - A Whole New World

I have stopped and started my blog post on my FVR project from last year so many times and yet, I never finished it. I think the reason was because I wasn't ever 100% happy with how it was going or the outcome, and I also didn't quite know why, so I didn't feel comfortable reflecting on it until I figured it out.

It is still a work in progress, but I am at a point where I feel that I have pulled some great things from it and changed some things for the better. I do intend to do at least one follow up, maybe two. Today's post is going to detail what I did last year, briefly, what I think went well and what didn't, and my new project for this year. I do want to go ahead and give a plug for Rachel's and my book study this semester because it is playing a HUGE role in how I've changed things. Also, you can hear more about this experience in today's Stepping into CI podcast. The details are at the bottom of this post.

Last Year

The Plan

Last year I knew that I wanted to implement a Free Voluntary Reading project. I knew that I wanted to give kids choice, but also that I wanted to provide assistance to students who needed it. What I put together ended up serving its purpose, but did not end up being what I wanted.

Set up
* groups of 3-4 separated by class and book

* once every two weeks = 52 minutes (class period) of reading and discussing
* end of each period, fill out survey about what they read, what help they need, and what they want to know
* after reading, working on final project surrounding book

My Role
* observe
* help as needed
* grade projects

The Outcome

As I said, I feel this ended up serving its purpose. Students read books they chose, students supported each other with my help, however I wasn't ultimately happy with it. Student projects (as always) ranged from not turned in to so amazing I tweeted images of their work and ran down the hall to show my colleagues. However, it just didn't sit right with me. I didn't feel "good" (if you will) about this way of doing it:
  1. There was little/no avenue for students to change books if they were finished/didn't enjoy the book. Because they were working in larger groups of 3-4, one or two people changing the book severely messed with the process of others. It wasn't logical to have them switch books. It also required more copies of the book in my room at any given time. While this isn't usually an issue, if one of the other Latin teachers needed a class set, we didn't have enough copies. 
  2. The project took longer than expected. My original intent was for them to work on the project after reading and to have the project be a window into what they read and how the interpreted it. What I found, however, is that students, when presented with the idea of a project, were open to it, but procrastinated so much that they didn't have time to switch books. Also, the question presented itself (and I didn't have an answer) of whether or not groups had to do a project for each book they read. 
  3. Groups were a double edge sword. Groups provided support. They allowed students to bounce ideas off each other and help each other when needed. They also allowed for students to fall through cracks (if I wasn't careful) or for students to game the system. I had some students who needed my direction nearly every time at first because they'd let their group do it for them. I had others who needed my direction nearly every time towards the end because they figured out they were good enough to skim some books and get the gist.
Ultimately I realised (and I already knew this), the point was reading -- not projects -- not being with friends -- not discussion. Reading is what FVR is all about. 

This Year

You can hear a lot more about how things are going this year on today's Stepping into CI podcast (details below). In this post, I want to focus on the logistics and details of what I am doing. 

Physical Set Up

Originally, my books were housed in a basket at my desk. This served its purpose, but made students get in a line because it was so small. Recently, I purchased a small toddler bookshelf. It sits on top of another shelf where we store notebooks and makes the novellas look a little more like a library. This not only serves the purpose, but helps set the space in a more pleasing way as well. 

Students sit in chairs (we are deskless) for reading. I also allow them to sit on the floor or lay down, if they choose. This is not a problem for me personally or my school in general. By setting the space with my expectations (see below) I rid myself and them of any behaviour issues as well. 


In my room, we read three days of the week, for ten minutes at the beginning of class. Two of these days are silent reading. One day is paired reading and discussion. This allows for students to confirm things with each other, ask questions, and share what they enjoyed (or didn't) from each novella. 

We read. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. We read. When I say "we", I mean "we" -- the students, and me. I read too. This is really important I feel if we want FVR to be successful. If students see us working on other things they'll feel as though reading is busy work for them. If students see us staring at them or watching them "like a hawk" they will feel punished. But, if students see us reading, especially if we read what they are reading, they begin to see the importance of reading and don't even wonder about the "why". 

Current "Outcomes"

Really, this should be left for another post, but I am already seeing great things from FVR that I just HAVE to share:

  • my students are reading. on their own. 
  • my students are reading. in a second language. on their own. 
  • some of my students are taking books home to read. 
  • some of my students are telling me how much they love the books they read. 
  • some of my students are begging me for more time to read. 
  • my students love to see me read, especially if it is the book they are reading, and love to tell me how they feel about it and hear my thoughts, as if we were part of a secret club. 
and lastly.... my students are reading! :) 

Find More

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A New Year, A New PBP!

Oh my, is it already August? I know some of you are just getting into the thick of your summer break, but here in Georgia, we are back already! Rachel and I are just in the midst of pre-planning while others welcomed students back this week. As we prepare for this school year, Rachel and I have been reflecting on how far Pomegranate Beginnings has come and the exciting things Rachel and I have been working on for this new year.

This post is a break from our regularly scheduled posts, because it is all about new and exciting things for Pomegranate Beginnings! These things are slowly being rolled out and we can’t wait to share them all with you!

A Welcome

Rachel and I are very excited to welcome Dr. Robert Patrick officially to the PBP team! You may have seen his guest posts from time to time on our site and you may already know that PBP published his book Itinera Petri: flammae ducant. Now, he is officially part of the PBP team. Both Rachel and I are connected to Bob in a variety of ways. I am proud to be his daughter and his colleague at Parkview High School. He serves as an inspiration, sounding board, teammate and so much more for both of us. Bob comes to our team with a plethora of great ideas and thoughts on what we already do and how we can move forward. Look for more from him soon!

Pomegranate Beginnings Publishing, LLC

As we welcome our newest member to PBP, we are also taking the step to become more official when it comes to selling our books and guides. Taking this step will allow us to offer bulk purchasing options for schools. You may see some changes to our publications page as we go through this. If you ever have any questions about purchasing books from us, you can contact us here.

Blog posts, Podcasts, and Book Studies Oh My!

Rachel, Bob, and I have long been working on a variety of ideas that come from our own desires and feedback we’ve received from you all. To that end, you will begin to see some changes to this site and how PBP provides its resources to you. While some of these are ready and available for preview NOW, others will roll out as we go forward:

  1. New Mother Site - Slowly we will be moving to a brand new “mother” website. This will serve as the new home for all of our products and resources. You can check out what we’ve got so far at:
  2. New Subscription Service - As we move into our new mother site, you will have the option to enjoy both free and subscription items. This is a marriage between all our ideas and the subscription service will help maintain the website and the work we do. While the subscription service is not running yet, it will be up in the next few weeks! In the meantime, you can always check out our free resources and preview many of the things you would find in our subscription service. More details will come about how you can sign up for this.
  3. Blog Posts - As always, our blog posts will remain as you have enjoyed them these past few years: free. They will continue to be published by Rachel, Bob, I and guest bloggers as well. Please keep reading, commenting, and sharing!
  4. Book Studies - This past year, Rachel and I began a book study project. We have already published our series on James F. Lee’s book Tasks and Communicating in the Language Classroom. You can check it out here! Our book studies will be part of the free resources Rachel and I offer as part of Stepping into CI. Our next book study will begin shortly and will cover two books: The Book Whisperer and Readicide. Join us!
  5. Stepping into CI Podcast - Rachel, Bob, and I have been working on a podcast that we will post regularly through the school year. While this will be Free, and you can already check out our first episode here, for free! Our podcast is meant to work alongside the others you may listen to in that while we will discuss theory on occasion, we are dedicated to providing a podcast with direct classroom applications and practical ideas and experiences.
  6. Latin Listening Project - This is a PBP baby that Rachel and I have been discussing and tossing around for at least a year. It is something that we are both very passionate about having and we have heard the request for such things for Latin. So, I am very proud to announce that I am working on my first series in what I am calling Latin Story Radio. I don’t want to give too much away, but I have been working hard on this and am very excited to present the first episode! These listening projects will be part of our subscription service, but you will always be able to sample the first episode for free.
  7. Organised Units - This is something brand new to PBP and it is because of our readers that we’ve decided to put this out! As part of our subscription service, we will be putting out occasional, organised units for you to take and use! While each unit will be different and level specific, we will include a variety of resources that may include: lesson plans, vocabulary lists, embedded readings, movie short scripts, and more!
  8. CI Bites - This project is brand new to you (and us)! CI Bites comes from the mind of Bob and will come straight to you every Mondays and Wednesdays! The purpose of this part of PBP is to provide bi-weekly, brief posts and ideas on CI practices we can use immediately. Bob is committed to providing quick, easy to read, and easy to implement ideas to you regularly. (personally, I cannot wait for these to come out!) While this will be part of our subscription service, you will be able to preview them before purchasing.

As always, please feel free to contact us at any time by commenting on our posts, or by contacting us directly. We are very excited to roll out each of these things for this and the coming years!

Welcome to the new Pomegranate Beginnings!  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Inclusive Teacher Workshop

One of the pitfalls of presenting over anything that you are passionate about is the likelihood of overselling it:
It's so easy, effective, practically magic in the classroom! It will solve all your teacher woes! I don't know how I ever taught without it!
I am a passionate teacher, and I am always excited to share things that I have found to be successful in my own classes. I do my best to make anything I share accessible, but I have erred on the side of big ideas lately, instead of thinking about structuring digestible and useful first steps towards these big ideas--things any teacher can take and use in his or her classroom without requiring a major overhaul of method and theory. 
I love what I am doing in my classes right now. It isn't without fault, and there are a thousand things I'm going to tweak next year, but I am happy with my progress toward a no-fail classroom and my students' comfort in Latin.
However. It's not been easy. It's not been without teacher woes. I have spent over a decade developing the skills I use daily in my classes, and I have thrown out more ideas, approaches, worksheets, and activities than I could begin to enumerate. I have made a million mistakes, and I have struggled to slowly pare my practices down to things I believe make an impact on my students' success. There's been a great deal of ego-swallowing and more than a few tears and a little blood shed. 
I think I get so swept up in my excitement that all I communicate sometimes is "Come do what I'm doing! It's fun! It's rewarding!" and I forget the "It involves a huge amount of work and self-doubt! I am constantly questioning my practices and progress! I spend hours upon hours researching and planning and creating materials--only to change it all a month later!" Forgetting to communicate those things does a disservice to anyone seeking to do the same things in their own classrooms. What I do is not easy. I don't have all the answers. I feel lucky when I get an entire day over the weekend to focus exclusively on my family. I stopped reading blogs and going on facebook this last semester so I could survive the amount of work I had taken on.
Next year will be my fourth year without a textbook. I plan to do everything differently. Again.
I work very hard to make my classroom inclusive, yet have forgotten that workshops need to be inclusive too. Teachers come to workshops from very different starting points, and we need to meet them where they are--something I know very well as an attendee who comes with ADHD and difficulties with aural processing. So I will be working on my workshops and presentations to make sure I communicate the struggle and the importance of taking small steps instead of jumping off the high dive before learning to swim (everyone loves a mixed metaphor, right?).
So this is my apology: if my enthusiasm has hidden the difficulty of this work, or made you feel like anything less than total CI is wasted potential or time, I am sorry. It is hard work, and I recommend teaching yourself slowly, by adopting a couple of practices at a time until you feel comfortable enough to add more. And contacting myself or Miriam for help, support, and positive thoughts. That's the most important thing I want to communicate to you right now: we are here for you, we want you to be successful, we know and validate the pain and struggle you are going through.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Roll a Write - an alternative to the free write/bingo write

I readily admit, I stalk Pinterest and elementary school sites for fun ideas. Last week I was on Pinterest during lunch and came across this nifty idea that is used in elementary art classes to help kids draw and learn about landscapes. I decided it would make a great timed write activity. It requires little prep and takes the entire period.

Quick Info

  • What is it called? Roll a Write
  • What supplies are needed? the student document and as many dice as you have groups or students. 
  • How long does it take? 6 rounds of 3-5 minutes + remaining time in class for edits and adds
  • What levels could do this? I could see a level I class doing this in the late spring with much lexical help or in small groups. I did this with a level II class in late spring. 


I prepped this activity in about 15 minutes. I am linking to the version I created here. If you'd like to use my form, please make a copy of it, rather than edit this particular piece. I chose words that students knew or we were focusing on working with for our current unit. I also made sure to put in some words that the kids had expressed a love or passion for (unicorn, death, octopus, et.)

That's it. The prep was quick and if you use the form with the dice already put on it, it will be even quicker! 


The process requires a little explanation for the kids, but I found that they were quick to catch on. 
  1. pass out papers and dice. Read over the instructions with the kids. 
  2. Explain that students will roll and then write for 6 rounds. Each round will give them an element to their story. While the general element is dictated by the roll, they can interpret it any way they want. 
  3. Students roll the first die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes. 
  4. Students roll the second die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes. 
  5. Students roll the third die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Students roll the fourth die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes.
  7. Students roll the fifth die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes.
  8. Students roll the sixth die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes.
  10. Students get whatever time remains in class to make changes, add on to their story, and connect the pieces. Some students may focus on grammar corrections (if they are ready!), others may want to add more detail. Some may simply re-write in neater handwriting. Wherever they are in the process is fine.
  11. Have students put this in their timed write folders/notebooks. 

Tips and Tricks

A few things stood out to me as being helpful in this activity:
  • I have enough dice for each student. I bought a bag of 60 dice. Each student had his or her own dice. I prefer it this way. This could easily work if you only have enough for each group, just adjust the writing time. Similarly, if you have no dice, kids can google "roll the dice" and google will roll a die for them. Apple phones also have this feature I believe, or they have an app kids can get.
  • Keep the dice rolls quick. If students get caught up in the dice, they won't have time to write!
  • A brain break is NEEDED for this activity. Asking students to write for this long, even with dice rolling breaks, is hard work. Here is a list of brain breaks I like to refer to.
  • Keep the atmosphere light! While I won't answer any "how do you say" questions, I will answer "what does it mean" questions for kids who don't know the words on the paper. Even though they are writing, this kind of support helps lower the affective filter and keep it fun!
  • Edit the categories as you will. I like having multiple problems in a story because it gives it twists and turns and keeps it compelling for students.
  • When students get stuck: tell them to go back to the description: focus on the detail, who, what, where, why. What things are in a place? What body parts do a person/monster/animal have? What animals/objects are in a forest?
I'd love to hear what stories come of this if you do it, or what categories you add/change! It's a great activity for a day when you need a little quiet, or you want to give the kids a chance to be creative in their writing. I plan to do this again, but in groups. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dictation Follow Up - Quick Lesson Ideas

Rachel and I have posted quite a bit on dictations, and there are an almost infinite amount of ways to do them. My personal favourites are the QR code dictation and, believe it or not, a traditional dictation. I've always wondered about what to do as follow up for a dictation. Do you simply do it, collect it, and call it a day? What might some quick follow ups be to a dictation? Here are some ideas that I adapted from follow up reading activities to be quick checks for Dictations:

Student marks the image
being described
  1. Partner Read - Typically, one might do this with a story and images that the teacher used to help tell the story. One partner reads each dictation sentence while the other partner points to the image being described. They then switch roles. This is a quick exercise that takes just a few minutes. 
  2. Seek and Find A - Again, this is a follow up to a reading, and one can do any number of things with it. For our dictation, we did two activities. First, students cut out images that another student had drawn the previous day (they hadn't seen these particular images), then they matched each sentence to its image. 
  3. Seek and Find B - The second thing we did, after everyone had put the images in order, was to scramble the images up and while I read the sentences out of order, each partner found the picture and held it up for me to see. It was an easy and quick formative assessment 
  4. Latin II students put
    sentences in order.
  5. Story Listening - Another thing you might consider is doing a quick story listening session with the dictation. While you tell the story, you draw images on the board and label them. You can then save the image (I have a smart board, or you an take a picture of your work) and use it later for another story session, a timed write, or an assessment. 
Each of these activities was quite quick. The longest is story listening and that took 10-20 minutes, depending on what you wanted to do. Today, my Latin II classes did all four of these. 

How we did it today:

Set Up - What we did yesterday

  1. Students completed a scrambled egg dictation with numbered sentences so they could know the order
  2. Students drew images with each sentence

Follow Up - What we did today

  1. I chose one student's drawings that were fairly simple and clear and scanned it into my
    A student clarifies which image he
    has chosen by matching it to
    a dictation sentence
    computer. I removed any signs of which picture was which. 
  2. Students were put into pairs and given a set of these images. They cut each one out.
  3. Seek and Find A
  4. Partner Read
  5. Seek and Find B
  7. Story Listening

Final Thoughts:

This lesson was quick paced and met the needs of students. I could quickly see who knew what and who needed support. Students found it fun and engaging and most participated fully. All in all, I think it was a good way to review a dictation in new and quick ways. I did put a brain break into the lesson. I felt it was important for students to have this break and reset before doing the longer activity. 

What ways do you follow up with a dictation?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

R, R, R - No Failure Classroom - An update

One of the things that Rachel and I really believe in is the No Failure Classroom. We've posted on this a few times and, today, it made an appearance in another blog that Rachel and I participate in. If you are interested, you can find these posts here:
  1. Everyone Needs a little R, R, and R
  2. Growing a Latin Program Part 2
  3. No Failure Classroom at Work
One of the things, mentioned in two of these posts, is the R, R, and R day. Since its first implementation last year, we have changed the way we do this somewhat. In this post, I'd like to discuss these changes. 

Basic Premise

Not much has changed from our last post in regards to the reasoning behind offering this day. Ultimately what it boils down to is:


  1. We want our work to be comprehensible. Sometimes, students do poorly on an assessment because something was incomprehensible. This can be as simple as the instructions. It can also refer to the stress level, health, etc. of our students. A student who has a cold will often find things harder to understand. 
  2. We want our work to be compelling. Students may perform at a lower proficiency level because something isn't compelling. Having a day like this allows students to show their skills using something they feel is compelling. 
  3. We want our work to be caring. This speaks to both comprehensibility and compellingness and everything else under the sun. We want students to succeed. Having R, R, and R days allows our work to be caring in the ultimate way. Our classes aren't about a "gotcha" moment or "tricks". It is truly about acquisition and proficiency. 
* Credit to Rachel Ash for the three Cs

What We've Changed

Since last year, a few things have changed. Rachel and I are teaching upper level classes now, while our colleagues teacher the first years. Rachel's and my kids are now in their second year of R, R, and R. Our understanding of Comprehensible Input and the no fail classroom has improved and been updated. Knowing all that, a few things have changed. 

Latin I

In Latin I, much stays the same. Students are given particular activities to complete and meet about specific stories and activities. Latin I classes have R, R, and R days with less frequency than the upper levels, but we all reserve the right to have one whenever we feel we need one. 

Latin II+

In Latin II and above, we've decided that students should choose how they show their proficiency in the standards. This means they come up with their own way, rather than choosing from a list of assignments. I will be honest and say some kids have had a hard time struggling with this. When this comes up, I have a set of questions I start to walk through:
  • What does the standard say?
  • What do you think that means?
  • What ideas do you have that you think will show your proficiency level in this?
  • What have we done in class that has applied to this?
I also always allow them to redo or resubmit previous work. I will be honest and say most do not choose this option. Most students choose a different assignment that they want to do.

I did provide a FAQ for my students who were struggling with what to do on R, R, and R days*. What I have found, however, is that this kind of work requires students to rethink how they think of grades and class. This is good, but can be a process with ups and downs. Some days students seem to have a very good grasp of the process, and others they need a lot of guidance and sometimes get frustrated.

* Please note that these are based on our standards and may need editing for your use.

What's changed in general

One of the things that's changed in general is what we allow kids to do when they don't have work. I still stress that this should be community building, and most kids take advantage of that. I keep a box of activities ready for my classes. But, we also allow kids to work on other work or put their heads down. Here are the things I keep in my box. 
  • Minotaurus and other board games 
  • decks of cards
  • puzzles of varying difficulties

I do spend money on these, but not as much as one might think. I only bring games that I have at home already, or ones that I made (I'm currently working on checkers sets using old fabric, paint, and bottle tops). I get everything else in bulk (cards) or from the dollar store (puzzles). I do spend some money on plastic bins to keep my puzzles in good condition. The box itself was a gift. 

Other Considerations

If this is something you decide to implement, I'd take a few things into consideration. There is no one answer to these, but I've attempted to provide my own thoughts on each issue. 
  1. How often should I have a regular R, R, and R day? I honestly base this on the class. I have been giving one every other week this semester, but, given a few factors, we won't be having one until next week. It really depends on where you and your class are. 
  2. What about special R, R, and R days, for example if everyone fails a test? We operate on the 80% rule. If 80% of a class doesn't make 80% or better, we take the burden on ourselves, rather than putting a retake or remediation on the shoulders of the kids, and work with the entire class. We had one such incident last year, which you can read about here. 
  3. Can kids turn in work anytime? Or just on R, R, and R days? Personally, I don't offer work unless on an R, R, and R day. If a parent emails, I talk about these days as well. If a student comes to me, however, and asks specifically, I always take the work. This happens rarely, as most kids get the work done on the R, R, and R day. 
  4. What about kids who take poor advantage of the system? We've always maintained the right to lessen these in frequency or to not have them should a student or a class take advantage. One of the reasons I am not having one this week is due to this very reason. We will have one later, but I am lessening their frequency since students do not feel like they need to take good advantage of the time that often.

Final Thoughts

Of course, however, I always bear in mind that kids are kids. One of the big reasons many teachers do not accept late work or offer retakes is because of the argument, "but this isn't how the real world works". And yet... it is exactly how the real world works. We receive and lose opportunities based on what we do and how we do it. We offer this day to our kids to allow them to show us what they couldn't do, be it on account of sickness, emotion, absence, or lack of understanding. These days take pressures off of kids who already feel overwhelmed at school - just like when adults take a "mental health" day (for example). When we miss a payment, or we fall on hard times, often we get a grace period, a fee (and a second chance), or, if we can work it out, forgiveness. That's what really stands behind these days: a chance for students to learn how to, and demonstrate, better skills, and get the help they need, just like we might in the "real world".

Monday, February 6, 2017

Comprehensible Input: Understandable Messages

This past weekend, Bob Patrick (@bobpatrick), Keith Toda (@silvius_toda), Rachel, and I all attended the Alabama World Language Association's 2017 conference in Auburn. We were all very thankful to have been invited to submit presentations and to have them accepted.

We decided to present a series on Comprehensible Input from a variety of considerations. Below are the titles, descriptions, and links to our presentations. If you have any questions, or if there are any issues with these links, please let me know in the comments below!

  1. Teaching with Comprehensible Input: Delivering Understandable Messages (Bob Patrick) As one of four in a series on Comprehensible Input, this session can be thought of as an introduction to or review of the basic principles of CI with examples of what they look like in a World Language Classroom. The presenter has been working with Comprehensible Input for the last 15 years. Over that time he has seen it move from an unheard of approach to a buzz-word that has entered common professional conversations among WL teachers. CI work is both difficult and dramatically effective. He will focus on helping teachers understand the principles of CI and how those principles can be turned into an almost limitless number of communicative workings in the classroom. Participants will know the working principles of CI with examples of what each in a WL classroom. Each will have continuing access to the presentation as a resource. Google presentation, discussion, brief demos, and Q and A. 
    Link to Presentation
  2. Comprehensible Input (Reading): Delivering Understandable Messages (Rachel Ash)
    Keeping readings understandable, yet still interesting and compelling to students, is a goal of Comprehensible Input. In this presentation, attendees will experience multiple reading activities that engage learners and reinforce readings, and leave with ready-to-use materials for their own classes. One of the most difficult aspects of teaching language with Comprehensible Input theory is creating meaningful repetition that is compelling and interesting to students. This presentation seeks to help teachers utilize activities that assess reading comprehension and create meaningful repetition without frustrating and boring students. Multiple reading activities will be demonstrated, and discussion of their purpose in class and within Comprehensible Input theory will help attendees gain better familiarity with CI and its application. Attendees will leave both with a better understanding of CI theory, and with multiple activities they will be able to use in their own classes immediately after the conference.
    Link to Presentation
  3. Comprehensible Input (Listening): Delivering Understandable Messages (Keith Toda) 
    As listening comprehension is an important skill for language learners, how can we as language teachers deliver understandable messages for the development of listening comprehension and of language acquisition? Come learn and experience Comprehensible Input listening activities which will both engage students and develop their listening skills. This presentation is designed to teach language teachers the importance of listening comprehension as part of Comprehensible Input second language acquisition. The presentation will begin with a short overview of Comprehensible Input theory and how listening comprehension plays a role in developing language skills. Following this, participants will take part in a number of listening comprehension activities which they can take back to their classrooms. Participants will gain knowledge of listening comprehension activities by taking part in them and experiencing them first hand like a student.

    Link to presentation
  4. Comprehensible Input (Assessments): What Understandable Messages Produce (Miriam Patrick)
    What comes after students receive understandable messages in the target language? This presentation will give examples and show what teachers can expect from students in a CI classroom at various levels and how output can be handled in various ways. Assessment is a large part of the classroom and teachers use it daily to assess what needs to be taught, retaught, or formally tested. Too often assessment has focused on getting specific data rather than using what students know to show what they can do and how classrooms should move forward. Participants will gain knowledge of ways to use assessment in a Comprehensible Input classroom and will walk away with ideas and examples for their classrooms. 
    Link to Presentation

Finally, a special thank you to AWLA for hosting a wonderful event and thank you Elizabeth Connor for the wonderful invitation! 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Task-based White Elephant

"Communicative Tasks" is one of those life-changing (or at least curriculum-changing) ideas: since listening to Tea with BVP and attending ACTFL a few months ago, I have been trying to figure out how to create comprehensible, compelling lessons with a purpose for my own classes. I've been working on the first two since I started teaching, but, aside from "to learn Latin," purpose has usually been missing from my curriculum.

But Miriam and I have been doing a book study lately using James F. Lee's Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms (hereafter TCLC), which is a textbook on using tasks to build your curriculum. And we read chapter 3. And went over our book study time limit by ten minutes--while trying to rush because we realized we had run out of time.

This chapter clarified the entire concept of tasks and purpose for me. I read it late the night before we recorded and got so excited about what I was reading that I scribbled notes all along the margin and then, after trying to go to sleep, wrote in the dark (after finding my handy-dandy pen and notepad by feel--everyone keeps those by their beds for midnight inspiration, right?) about the next day's assignment and about a much longer-term task-based and game-based unit that my students are almost exactly in the middle of right now (I'll write about it later). Then I still couldn't sleep, so I moved rooms and read about Alexander Hamilton for a couple of hours. And I still woke up functional and excited, because that's how I react to bringing something (relatively) new to my classes.

I have shifted paradigms. It feels like I was looking at a fuzzy picture and then suddenly it auto-focused (digital technology is cool) and everything made sense.

I have to change everything I do. I have to. It's the only way I can be sure I'm not wasting my students' time.

That sounds like a dramatic statement, but it's not as dramatic as it seems. I have spent almost fourteen years exploring the best ways to deliver comprehensible and compelling information to my students, supported in large by the research of Steven Krashen, and I firmly believe in the power of Comprehensible Input to make Latin enjoyable and accessible to my students--it's key to creating the kind of inclusive and low-stress environment I seek in my classroom. CI, at this point, is an assumed foundation of my approach to teaching language.

Tasks just add the blueprint. For example, the activity I had planned the next day was a take on "White Elephant" or "Dirty Santa" by Justin Slocum-Bailey. In short, students would choose stuffed animals, and other students could choose to claim a new stuffed animal or to steal another student's animal. Miriam and I thought this would be a nice way to ease back into using Latin the first couple of days after winter break.

Can I just say, as an aside, that I have been completely spoiled by my current teaching team? I teach with some of the best Latin teachers in the country and we get to meet and plan on a daily basis. I am super grateful.

After reading Chapter 3 of TCLC, I created this worksheet to go along with the White Elephant activity and designed a purpose for the stuffed animals--groups would be claiming an animal that they would then use the next day in a motivational poster. With this in mind, I asked students in groups to classify animals according to which adjectives they felt could describe them. This was followed by a whole-class discussion, and then, in groups, the students were asked to decide which animals they wanted most and why.

Only after all of that did I start the White Elephant game and, with the next day's project in mind, groups were extremely engaged. The important thing was getting and keeping the stuffed animal they had chosen, not just practicing and playing with the language. Latin became a means instead of an end.

The next day they created motivational posters (the instructions are here; we brainstormed about the two new vocabulary words first and then they created posters).

I am excited. I feel empowered. And very motivated :)

Our Latin-inspired senses of humor tend to be morbid.

Monday, January 2, 2017

There's More than One Way to Skin a Dictatio

"Dictatio" is one of the few words my students dread in my class. I'm going to admit that it's a nice break for me--requiring only voice and repetition and pretty much no creativity--and it sometimes finds its way into my plans simply because I need a day that does not require all of my energy. Dictationes fall within my Comprehensible Input toolbox because as long as I keep the vocabulary limited, the dictated sentences provide valuable repetition.

But students rarely enjoy it. Writing down a dictation is not a compelling activity.

I have tried to spice it up by making the dictatio its own story, or even a lead in to the main story I'm working toward but missing crucial information. That has its place, and it helps. But it does not keep students from moaning "eheu!" the next time they see "Dictatio" listed on the day's schedule.

This year I have only done a traditional dictatio twice so far, and I am working to slowly replace the practice completely for myself with equally low-stress but much more compelling versions of sentence listening and writing. There is something useful for acquisition in writing something down, and auditory repetition of understandable messages is universally good for acquisition. So I don't want to give up those strengths. I just want less "eheu" and more "euge" while students acquire Latin.

Keith Toda often cites Carol Gaab's statement, "The mind craves novelty." If I simply replace dictatio with just one activity and do it every other week or so, students will grow as bored of that activity as they are of dictatio. Instead, I've been gathering dictatio options.

With the new semester coming up, I thought I'd share the dictatio options I keep on hand. I hope to continue to add new twists and ideas to this list.

  1. Dictatio. This is the basic format of a dictatio, though I have seen it with a few variations (one of which is here).
  2. Running dictation. This is a paired form of dictatio, with a lot more activity and can be made into a race to add some drive. The short description is that students run to sentences posted around the room (or hall), memorize them, and repeat them to their partners, who then write them down. Find a full description here, here, and an extension here.
  3. Scrambled eggs. This is kind of a variation on the running dictation above; instead of posting sentences around the room they are folded in plastic easter eggs along with some duds. Find a full description here. Miriam and I have changed the dud eggs into stuffed animal interaction eggs (commands are things like: get your favorite animal, give the best animal to your teacher, etc.) and that seems to remove student frustration with the duds.
  4. Micrologue. This is an image-driven dictation activity in which you tell one student a story while other students write the story down, then review the story with the student, then let the students correct their writing, and finally ask the student who didn't write to retell the story to the class. You can find a description here, a demonstration here, and the micrologue I recently used with my students here.
  5. QR codes, pictures, and sub day dictations. Miriam recently posted a collection of three variants of dictation she uses in her classes here. All of them are great, but I used the QR code dictation in my class (called a "monster hunt" and linked on Miriam's post) and my students adored it. It had a purpose: gathering clues to guess the monster. More on that in a moment. That said, I think even had there been no purpose, most students were completely compelled just by the delivery. I'm doing this again next semester...once. This is a treat that I want my students to continue to be excited about.
  6. Pictura an Statua? This guest post by K.C. Kless has definitely been added to my rotation of dictatio substitutions and I can't wait to try it out. Students in teams either draw or pose to represent the sentences posted, allowing both movement and creative thought.
  7. Write or Wait. K.C. posted this activity on his brand new blog and I'm adding it here because it's a perfect alternative approach to dictation. Quick description: students get a certain number of sentences that they must write ahead and a certain number that they can wait and write with the teacher. Read the post here, it's really good.
I am continually looking for ways to bring variety to my classes, and I am working to make sure that every thing we do is as compelling as possible. The key to language acquisition is for students to forget that they are learning a language--that requires compelling activities and texts, ideally with a purpose. My recent summary of my ACTFL takeaways describes the importance of purpose and task-driven language teaching to student language acquisition.

One way Miriam and I were able to bring purpose to our dictation type activities last quarter was to either 
  • leave out key information and ask students to use the information provided to make educated guesses about the missing information OR
  • offer the description in its entirety and ask students to use the information to made educated guesses about the monster described.
Bill VanPatten encourages teachers to think in terms of purpose and tasks; Miriam and I are working on shifting our vision and ideas that direction. Another change and big idea to bring to my classroom--another reason to keep improving and making my Latin classes as effective and inclusive as possible!