Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Sometimes I fail.

I try to keep this secret. Not because I try to portray myself as a superhuman, able to juggle all my balls while balancing on a unicycle and reciting the first 100 numerals in pi. I just really hate failing. I don't like it. It's why I don't play chess.

Seriously. My dad always beat me when we played chess. So I stopped playing.

I've written before about the fact that what I do is hard, that it takes a lot of work to write my own lesson plans, a lot of energy to teach interactively and inventively, and a lot of research to stop using a textbook.

I rarely mention failing. But I do fail.

Sometimes a little.

Sometimes catastrophically.

And I fail in the classroom. Sometimes a little. Sometimes catastrophically.

Sometimes I get an idea and I think it's a really cool idea and I think my students are going to love it and it's going to revolutionize how they think about Latin and I explain it and I'm super energetic and my students are picking up on my energy and I want it to succeed and they want it to succeed because I want it to succeed and it. just. doesn't. It falls flat. In fact, I spend maybe thirty minutes untangling their Latin because instead of improving their understanding, I have instead tied their Latin knowledge into knots rivaling the Gordian knot that stumped all but Alexander the Great.

That is catastrophic failure, and I have known it.

And I usually keep it secret from you.

The wisest Jedi, Yoda is.
(You can get the poster here if you want.)
But here's the catch. When I fail like that, I generally apologize to my students. I explain my intent, and laugh at my result. I show them how to fail gracefully. And then I show them how to get back up and try again. I come up with a new approach, usually much more successful (after all, I definitely know how NOT to teach the subject now), and we try again, and we move on.

We celebrate my failures in class, we celebrate their failures in class, and we learn, and we move on.

I was at a presentation last February, and a woman sitting near the front used the phrase "fail forward." I think that is the perfect life philosophy, and definitely an important teaching philosophy. In developing a classroom culture, it is super important to teach students to value taking risks, and how will they value taking risks if they are afraid of failure?

And in sharing only my successes with all of you, how can I convince you to take risks in your own classes when I won't even trust you with my own risk-taking?

I fail. I fail all the time.

But I try to #failforward every time.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Movie Talks, OWI, and Student Interviews

This post is completely in the hopes of continuing discussion here and over on the Facebook group I help moderate: North Atlanta TPRS/CI Teachers. This is a non language specific group for teachers in the Atlanta area who teach using the principles of CI or who are interested in learning more. If this applies to you, I'd encourage you to come join us!

My question for January was: What would you like to see a blog post about?

We've gotten some great responses and I want to use this format to respond to those questions. In this post, I'll discuss one topic myself and then provide resources for the other two. Please let me know of any resources I missed and any other topics you'd like to see this kind of round up for. :)

Movie Talks

A shout out to Greg for asking about this. Greg particularly commented on wanting to know more about how to "make them contextual with the 'unit'". He also commented on tiring of hearing his own voice (which I completely understand) giving input. I think this is a great place to take this discussion. 

First, if you would like resources on the basics of putting together a movie talk, here are a few resources:
Now, on to the topic at hand. I love Greg's question because it gets to the heart of why and how we use movie shorts in class. I know some teachers make the movie short the topic of the unit and turn these things into stories and discussions. I've done this some, particularly if I'm given a vocab list with no readings. I will be honest and say that I am not great at asking a story or creating class stories. I can write them, but I find discussion and debate much better for me and my classes. This may change as I make the rounds back to first year (I am teaching level 3 this year). We'll see. 

For many of us (whether you are using a textbook, novella, or a series of readings), fitting in a movie short can seem like a break from the content that can harm the process. But, often, that break is a good thing. It refreshes the mind and gives the kids a new context within which to use what they know. Here are a few ways I fit movie shorts into my units. 

As unrepetitive repetitions of vocabulary

Sometimes, I'll use a movie short early on in the unit, before we even see a reading. This will be when we are establishing vocabulary, using things like TPR, word webs, PQA, circling with balls, and tasks. I will pick a movie short based (often) solely on the vocabulary I can best use in it. We will spend part of a day with it or maybe use it as a beginning activity over a few days. If I were building a week plan and intended to include a movie short in my lessons, it may go something like this:

Sample Plan 1

  1. TPR/PQA new words
  2. Review words, movie talk (I lead through movie talk)
  3. movie talk (I lead through movie talk), PQA/TPRS/etc.
  4. movie talk (I ask questions while they lead), PQA/TPRS/etc.
  5. continue with reading

Sample Plan 2

  1. TPR/PQA/etc new words
  2. movie talk (I lead through, question and answer, they lead through)
  3. reading over movie talk
  4. follow up activity: seek and find, partner retell, etc. 
  5. timed write

As a break from a reading/novella chapter/etc. to reinforce vocabulary

Sometimes, I'll use a movie short in the middle of a reading. It breaks up the monotony and provides a welcome TL break from the story line. Again, I'll choose a movie short based on vocabulary and, sometimes, I'll try and choose one that goes along with the story we're reading. I won't spend much time on this in class, often only one day. 

Sample Plan 1

  1. reading
  2. quick reading activity (seek and find, T/F statements), movie short (I lead through, question and answer)
  3. reading activity and discussion

Sample Plan 2

  1. reading
  2. movie short (I lead through, question and answer, they lead through)
  3. movie short (they lead through), reading activity
  4. reading discussion

As a point for discussion/as a topic introduction

This is probably how I most use movie shorts in my upper level classes. I really like to use movie shorts to spark discussion or introduce a topic, rather than a specific set of vocabulary. So far this year, we've used movie shorts to:
  • introduce qualities like loyalty, bravery, etc. 
  • debate topics like: love, heroism etc. 
  • discuss what characters possess what qualities
Rather than providing a sample lesson plan, I'd like to take a moment and point to the way I use the movie short in class. Since the purpose of this is different, I don't repeat the movie short. This lesson takes 1 day. It can fit anywhere in a unit. You can use it at the beginning to introduce a topic, or in the middle to introduce a debate or things like qualities. You can also use it in the middle or end to hold the debate or provide another context to use words. When I do this, I do not show the movie short in its entirety prior to discussion, usually because I want this discussion to evolve over the course of the class. 

An Example

When using the movie short "Dragonboy", I don't want them to know that he ends up being the hero in the end. I want the discussion to naturally move along the movie short. Here is how I'd use this example. 
  1. When choosing the movie short, I will have written a script. This will have key words I want to focus on like qualities. I may also write some leading questions to help the discussion move along. I will have also written in some key questions to ensure understanding on the base level.
  2.  I will introduce any new words at the beginning of class. I will write the Latin and the English on the board. Students may take notes on these at the end of class OR I will send them out via Remind. 
  3. We will start the movie short. 
  4. As the moments I chose, we'll pause the movie short. The following will ensue:
    (a) I will either: make a statement and ask comprehension questions OR ask them to describe the scene for me.
    (b) If appropriate, I will ask the debate/discussion question. In this particular movie short, I might ask who loves who, whether they think the person loves them back, who demonstrates qualities (like bravery, loyalty, etc.), who is the hero, etc. 
  5. As the discussion continues, I will try and lead the conversation if necessary.
    (a) bring focus to the main character or a unique situation.
    (b) suggest key words that they may have missed or need more repetitions of.
    (c) ask leading questions that bring up future questions. In this short, I may ask if they think they'll fight or who will win the fight. I may ask how the girl will react, etc. 
  6. When it is time, we'll enjoy the end in silence. They'll get to focus on how things actually occur. Many times, it may not be what they thought and will inspire even more discussion. 
A few final thoughts on this example:
  • I would reserve this for when you are sure kids are ready to have this kind of discussion. We began using this some in Latin one (although mostly with images) and Latin two (with movie shorts). Now, in Latin three, they are ready. 
  • This is a great way to change up a movie short. In this example we are no longer the sole source of input and we are showing the caring aspect of CI by letting the kids lead the discussion. 
  • You can follow this up, easily, with a timed write. You can have them reflect on the story, the characters, or even discuss themselves. 

One Word Images

Thanks Greg for this suggestion! I will be honest and say that I am not very skilled in this area. I love images and using them, but I prefer to use complex images already made and use them to lead discussion. OWI is a great tool, however. Here are some resources on the OWI. 
Are there more resources out there? Share in the comments below!

Student Interviews

Thank you Christina for this suggestion! I am sure there are variations of this, everywhere :). What I am going to point to today, however, is Bryce Hedstrom's la personal especial and how I've used it in class. 


First, here are some basic resources on student interviews
Are there more resources out there? Share in the comments below!

General Process

Generally speaking, you can use this interview to get to know students better, provide task based discussion in class, and allow students to shine. It gets at all three C's: comprehensible, compelling, and caring. There are lots of variations on the process, but generally:
  • student comes up
  • teacher interview student, circling through each question
  • teacher reviews answers with students
  • students write down questions and answers
  • student check each other's work
  • teacher and students review again

Variations and Edits

I've now done this for a few years. I love this, but I do find that sometimes it can become repetitive in a way that takes away from the compelling piece. So, I've experimented with a few different variations of this:
  1. Blogging: I got this idea from Meredith White and it worked really well. Students created blogs and each week completed a prompt. They talked about themselves, a dear friend or pet, a celebrity, and a fictional character. They responded to each other as well. 
  2. Changing and Adding Questions: This year, I edited the questions to include some more things that fit alongside our units. We talked about qualities that people have and in the questions, students told me what qualities they had and showed. You could expand this to include qualities they want to have or don't want to have
  3. Persona Illustris: Towards the end of the semester, when most/all students had been interviewed, I changed how we did this. Students answered the questions about a fictional character or celebrity they loved. The more information they knew, the better. I chose one each week to "embody" and they interviewed me. Then, they took a guess at who I was. 

Final Thoughts

This is something I continue to play with. I have no idea how I will incorporate it in this semester... but:
  • My kids are really good at this now. They know these words and can easily use these words, phrases, and questions. 
  • The questions are EASILY adaptable. For example: rather than asking students where they were born (natus/a est) in Latin, I asked where they were native to (generare). 
  • This can be done as a quick warm up or lead into further discussion

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My "New Year's" Resolutions

It's the "new year" folks! Of course, not really because it's only half way through our year. :) I don't give much credence to new year's resolutions, partly because I don't really do much for the new year. I've never been to a NYE party and this year was the first year I actually stayed up until midnight (with a brief nap between 10-11). My partner and I cooked a romantic dinner and he woke me up so we could spend the new year's together. It was pretty rad (if you will).

But, as I sit here in my empty room the day before my kiddos come back, I think about what's changed for me so far this year and what I want to change this semester.

Here we go! In 2018, I resolve to...

  1. have next week's "plans" completed no later than Wednesday of each week. BWAAHAHAHAHAHAHA am I right? Honestly speaking though, there has been A LOT of talk on the internet waves about planning. Should we even plan? What (in all that is holy's name) is an essential question (really)? If we do plan, what should those look like? How often to we "replan"? etc. It's all led to some great discussions online. Personally, I plan. I work in a group of 5 Latin teachers and we all collaborate and work together. I like to have my plans ready should someone need them in coming years or want to see what I did (which has happened a few times). I also post my plans online for my kids to see. Most don't bother, but those who are absent or who need them find it useful. 
  2. take time for myself. 
    I struggle with this, pretty much all the time. My partner recently said to me that he wants to help me focus and make sure I don't get overwhelmed. I greatly appreciated this and plan to take the fact that he noticed this seriously. This is common in teachers. We have a HIGH burnout rate and we face possible burnout many times in the year. For many of us, especially those who have mental and physical issues, this risk is even greater. I am looking at ways to take care of myself that include some work related things like:
    * standards based grading
    * low-need days like dictatios, R, R, R days, and OWATS
    * working to even further refine my grading and assessment procedures
    * sticking to a strict policy of being on time in the morning and leaving on time in the afternoon. For me, that means arriving by 6:15-6:30 (about half an hour before we are due) and leaving no later than 3:00.

    and... some non work related things like:
    * taking time to care for my hair properly (curly girls anyone?)
    * enjoying my pets
    * reading more
    * enjoying my traveler's journal and the bullet journal process
    * cooking more
  3. take my time.
    I've done a lot of this already. Rachel discussed the importance of slowing down last year and the previous year, Bob and I discussed the importance of really evaluating how we do things and our assessments. I want to do more of this. This last semester I slowed down and went at my kids' pace. Based on their feedback for this semester, I know I made the right decision. I want to do more of this. This includes reevaluating how we are doing things like Free Voluntary Reading and R, R, R days. We were reading a class novella, Itinera Petri. We didn't finish, but MANY kids expressed an interest in continuing to read. I also want to honour the things they chose to read for this year. blog post coming
  4. sleep more.
    Here we go... every teacher's vow. I need it. We all do. One of the things I've discovered this last semester, thanks again to my partner, is that: naps are okay. If I take a nap, I don't need to feel like I wasted time because, it was what my body needed. If my body needs a nap when I get home at 4:00, I'm going to take one. It's better to take a short (26 minute) nap at 4 than it is to fall asleep on the couch at 7 and wake up at midnight. 
  5. enjoy my work more. 
    I LOVE what I do. I really do. That doesn't mean, however, that there are days (maybe weeks here and there) where I wish I could sleep in more (see 5), wish I could work on my house more (see 2), etc. That doesn't make me a bad teacher. What could/might is if I allow myself to get dragged down by the monotonous aspects of work. You know what I mean: the paperwork, the sometimes gratuitous meetings, the early hours, the days where I hear my name every 2 seconds and it is for the same gosh darn question which I not only addressed at the beginning of class, but also wrote on their papers AND on the board.... You get what I mean :). So, I want to enjoy more of what I already love. I want more tasks. I want more discussions. I want to move more. I want more smiles. I want to hear kids say "I can't wait for Latin" every gosh darn day. So, I'm going to find ways to accomplish that with more:
    * QR codes/running dictations
    * Tasks
    * stuffed animals!
    * FUN reading/discussions
  6. listen to more music and podcasts.
    Maybe this could go under number 2. Sure, okay. But it is ALSO professional development. I have my personal podcasts I listen to: food and health, How Stuff Works, story telling podcasts, etc. But, I also have professional podcasts. There are podcasts in my target language (although not many). I listen to those on occasion and I listen to some CI podcasts as well. PBP has started our own CI podcast too. This is a great way to get a little input for myself on the way to or home from work and provides a decent break from the news going on (when I need it). I'd love to add to my list! Comment below with your favourite podcasts! 
  7. reflect more.
    As I write this, I am reading my resolutions to Rachel and this popped up for me: I am being a lot more reflective lately (and in this post) than I have been in the past. We have become very reflective. We reflect on every unit, every assessment we do and I am SO HAPPY with this. I want to do more. I want to share more here and over at Stepping into CI. I know Rachel does too. Bob has always been reflective, and I relish in the fact I benefit from both of their reflections. I want to feel so comfortable with reflections that, if I need to, I can change what I do and how I do it when needed, instead of waiting until the end of the semester. 
  8. avoid toxicity.
    Lastly, and maybe key to each of these, is avoiding toxicity. Rachel and I talk about this all the time. We are members of various online communities and we find value in them all. We also find issues in nearly all of them. So, we want to avoid the toxicity. To this end, I want to suggest a few points you may take to do so, while keeping those positives

    For Social Media
    * edit your notifications - I edited the vast majority of my groups to varying degrees. Facebook allows me to only show the notifications I want: every one, only when friends post, only on things I comment on/post, never at all. I love this feature. I can also choose my favourite groups which appear on the top of my list. That ensures I'm not scrolling through things I don't want to read all the time.
    * keep some social media ONLY personal - for me, this is my instagram which is mostly pictures of my pets and my food. Every once in a while I post something school related that I REALLY love, but for the post part it is only personal. Facebook is a straight up mix and Twitter is mostly school related with some political/personal things mixed in (rare).
    * choose your groups carefully - I am a member of some groups. I am not a member of all groups. At one time I felt the need to be a member of everything, because... well I want to know what's going on! But now, I value my time a little more and I do not want to be overwhelmed with toxicity. Do not feel badly if you decide not to join a group.
    * as a last resort, leave a group - If you feel a group has become toxic. Leave it. Simple.

    For Life
    * eat lunch alone sometimes - I am an introvert. I am very introverted. If I'm not careful, I can isolate myself. That being said, sometimes I need a reset. I love my lunch mates. Sometimes, I need a break from people OR I need to allow myself to reset and get rid of any toxicity I have. Eating alone is okay sometimes.
    * remember, they are teenagers - I am awful at this. I spent many years giving all the value I had in myself over to others. I have spent years trying to undo this damage. I still struggle sometimes. Our kids are just that: kids. Sure, they aren't five year olds anymore, but they are still kids and they say things. Sometimes, a kids' words can become toxic if we give them too much power or if we dwell on them. Having a bad day? Okay, accept that, reflect on it. Give them the same understanding. Oh, that's how you feel? That's okay, I recognise you may feel differently tomorrow or next hour.
    * take time for yourself - Ah, the key mantra. I mean it. We can be our worst enemy. We can be the most toxic in our life if we allow it OR if we don't give ourselves time to be ourselves. Schedule it if we have to. I know I am.
    * find a safe space - Let's face it. Some of us are not in the most supportive environment (for whatever reason). We, as people and teachers, need to have a professional space where we are safe to express ideas and concerns and find solutions to issues. If you do not have one in your physical building -- find one in your teaching friends, even if they aren't in the same school/city/state/country as you; find one online; find one in Professional Learning Groups. The point is: find one. Latin Best Practices has some great tools for building this space (including a checklist for administrators). There are FB groups where you are encouraged to experiment and enjoy. The second point is: be safe. Avoid toxicity and ensure your space is safe. 
So, there you have it! My teaching resolutions. What are yours?

Monday, January 1, 2018

Capstone Projects: My New Approach to Google Projects

This post has been in my head since the beginning of school this year, when I stepped back from the previous Google projects I had done with my classes, that tended to yield mostly good but sometimes really lacking results, and thought about what I really wanted from my class. This year I am responsible for Latin IV lesson plans, and all of my Latin IV students are seniors.

I realized that what I wanted most was to help them find a way to contribute to the Classics community, where they have found a home for the past four years. So my approach this year has been to build the Google project into something ambitious: a year-long project that either contributes to publicity about Latin or creates new resources for Latin teachers.

So I renamed the project "Senior Capstone Project" and put aside a notebook to use exclusively with the project to record my meetings with students.

Pictured here with a strategically placed Starbucks card
to protect the innocent.
They got one day to discuss with others what they would like to do for their projects and to form groups for that purpose. One of my recommended projects was to teach a small Latin class at the nearby elementary school. I had several students interested in that option, so I contacted the school's principle, we had an amazingly animated and productive meeting, and my students were organized to teach at the elementary school once a month. Since I had so many interested, they divided into four groups, each with its own set of 15 elementary students. On the very first day they all returned excited and bursting with how much fun they had teaching the younger students. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the day to discuss their ideas and plans, I met with each group the next day and discussed their plans in detail. This gave me a chance to help them organize their approaches and to help them extend a project if it was underwhelming, and to help them scale a project back if it was overreaching.

Since then, I meet with each group once a week, check in on their progress and see if they need any extra direction to move forward. So far:
  • I have nine students (!) teaching four classes at the elementary school. I meet with them and help them design their lesson plans so the classes will be fun and engaging.
  • I have four groups designing games either steeped in Classics knowledge or in Latin itself. Two are basing theirs off preexisting games and creating their own spin, and two are completely new. We have talked about realistic options for production, the importance of Copyright law, and the need for alpha and beta-testing new games.
  • I have two coloring books being designed, one at novice Latin level and one advanced. The advanced book is very ambitious, and if they are able to create as much as they hope, it should be fantastic.
  • I have a pair working on translating songs into Latin and (eventually) recording them. They began based on the theme of internet memes, which has morphed completely into songs from LazyTown.
  • One student is designing an online magazine based in Classical culture but designed with a modern aesthetic. I get to see its progress each week, and am enjoying it very much.
  • One student is writing a blog over Roman clothing. He has explored themes, like military gear, as well as the basic Roman ensemble. 
At the halfway point, I feel like most groups are where they should be for successful completion by the end of the school year. There are a few that are struggling, and we had a serious discussion over their commitment and my expectations. 

Now I am looking back at my previous Google Projects and wondering how I could bring this level of focus to a younger group, like my Latin I students. One very nice perk to Google projects is that they make it much easier to write compelling student recommendations--each student has completed several passion projects for me to brag about in their letters, and details like that make students stand out to Admissions.

Overall, I recommend this project! It has been a joy and, I feel, extremely successful so far.