Thursday, December 19, 2019

Waiting for Summer: The Detrimental Effects of Putting Work Before Yourself

I wrote a while back about my struggle with PMDD. Untreated, I spiral into depressions, anxiety, and panic attacks. I have trouble believing myself likable; I tend to think most friendships based on pity or a need to avoid an awkward conversation.

A couple of years ago I was put on seizure medicine, and, as per usual, my body took on many of the more rare side-effects. Most of these have been allayed by adjusting the dosage, but one that I did not realize at the time was interference with my birth control, which I was taking to control my PMDD.

I mean, I was unusually stressed in November, but that could be explained by outside factors. I didn't fully recover over winter break, but maybe that was because break was shorter last year and I didn't really get a lot of downtime, so it made sense that I was feeling a little defeated. I had lots of reasons to tell myself that my feelings made sense and weren't out of the ordinary considering all of the factors I could point out to myself. I just needed to keep going and when summer came, I could rest.

Until February. February 2019 was not a special month at all. Nothing happened that I could point to. I just started spiraling out of control. Crying on the way to work and sometimes in my empty classroom. Crying on my way home--basically whenever I was alone.

I finally decided to talk to my doctor. That summer.

I was way too busy to go right then.

March brought with it a new level of depression and anxiety, and with it, a sensation I hadn't experienced since I was in fifth grade: the wish to die. If you haven't experienced that level of depression, you will mistake it for being suicidal. There is a difference. I didn't wish to take my own life. I was just okay with my life ending, and not having to face the world anymore. The line between these two things seems thin, but it's large and important. Still, it's not healthy, and I let my husband know I was in a bad place and that I was definitely going to see my doctor because I was pretty sure the hormones were not working anymore.

As soon as I could get in to see her that summer.

March is a very busy month.

I somehow stumbled through April and May, crying, wishing to die, and being possibly the worst teacher I have been in my life--I had trouble making myself go to work, so trying to do much more some days was almost beyond me--and finally made it to the summer.

I saw my doctor. She was aghast that I'd waited. She could tell by my demeanor that I was not myself.

I got a new prescription that I had to wait to start.

I had to go be professional before I got to start my prescription and had a depressive attack publicly. I think mostly only good friends realized it happened. I still feel ashamed that it happened and that I lost control in that setting.

I am ashamed of the teacher I was last year. I feel like I let students and my teammates down. I definitely let myself down.

The Moral of the Story

Luckily, once I started my new prescription, things changed. To a huge degree. I have since realized that my depression had started even before November. This school year I missed half of pre-planning and expected to start school even more exhausted and unmotivated than last year. Last year I missed no pre-planning, I just got back to the state right before pre-planning and I was uninspired. I liked my students--that has remained unchanged throughout all of this, thank goodness--but I could not get excited about any aspect of teaching.

This year I was excited. I wrote stories and plans and created things to share with the other teachers in my department. I have finished another unit for Stepping Into CI and am thinking about finally finishing a novella I started a year and a half ago. I have been inventing games again. I am slowly becoming my old self again.

And I compare that to where I started the school year last August and I realize that I was already sinking. I was already viewing things negatively.

I waited almost a year to get help for myself.

I waited until summer.

And that was so very dangerous.

We are trained as teachers to put our jobs, our careers, ahead of ourselves. And I am an especially driven teacher; at least half of my identity is wrapped up in being a teacher (a good part of what remains is being a mother, with some little bit left over for being a wife--my poor husband). It feels wrong to me to give up time to almost anything, including doctor's visits, when I've scheduled things like board meetings, or I need to grade, or plan, and I am almost unable to take a day off for that purpose (the one exception being to take my son to the doctor).

Yet imagine if I had gone at the first sign of danger in November, or when I really realized things were wrong in February. Imagine how much better my classes would have been if I had gone to get help in March when things were irrefutably wrong.

Who else out there should be getting help now, but is waiting for winter break? spring break?

Who else out there is waiting for summer?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Slap Jack: A Small Group Alternative to Flyswatter

Almost every teacher has played a version of Flyswatter. If you haven't, it basically goes:
  1. Project information on the board/screen.
  2. Divide the class into two teams.
  3. Give representatives from each team a flyswatter.
  4. Have students hit the correct information with said flyswatters based on clues.
  5. Hilarity ensues.
I have played this game with my students off and on for sixteen years. I generally have enjoyed it, and there have been some nice improvements on the game, such as Keith Toda's move toward pictures and sentences instead of just vocabulary.

However, as my classes have grown in size and, to be honest, changed in demographic from students who are super engaged in school to students who feel much less represented and are therefore largely disaffected with academia, I find that flyswatter leads to poor classroom management that, at best, means a bunch of students are sitting around not paying attention for large sections of class time and, at worst, means juggling student behavior while still trying to keep a semblance of a "fun review."

So, simply, I stopped using it. But I missed it.

I also wanted to do something that would allow students to self-select a difficulty level and provide a means of differentiation as my classes and those of my colleagues have grown more inclusive of students with learning differences.

Here's my solution: Slap Jack!

I took the images I would have used in a round of Flyswatter and made them into images I could cut out, then created a ppt with sentences to go with the images, and voila! A small-group version where all students are engaged.

Slap Jack
  1. Gather images and sentences you would like to use. I used images and sentences from some short vocabulary stories we had recently read in preparation for a myth we were about to read.
  2. Divide the images into 4-5 groups. For this one, I made four groups. Mark the backs of the images with the number of their group so you can keep track. For example, if there are six images that will be called out first, they are in group 1 and need to have "1" written on the back of their pictures.
  3. Make a powerpoint or Google slides that coordinates with the group numbers (without putting group numbers on it). So the first six sentences are all for group 1 images (I put the answers on the ppt as well), and the second six (or whatever number you set) are for group 2 images, etc.
  4. Cut the images out and put them in envelopes marked with the group numbers. This is the most tedious part of preparation. I made ten sets of images so I could have nine groups and an emergency set.
  1. Put the ppt on the board and give students a chance to choose how hard to make their game. 1 envelope = easiest setting, 2 envelopes = medium, all envelopes = hardest. Make sure they know to keep the envelopes in order and that they need to open them and use them in order.
  2. Have students take their chosen number of envelopes and put out the images face up between them all.
  3. When the sentence goes on the board, say it out loud. The first student in each group to slap the right image gets to hold on to that image.
  4. Whenever you finish a group, give time for setup for any groups who are doing one envelope at a time.
  5. When you finish all the images, students count their images to find out who got the most points in each group. You can give prizes if you want to.
  1. Cleanup is pretty easy--have students look at the numbers on the backs of the pictures and put them in the correct envelopes!
I wish I had taken some pictures but I was just caught up in the moment so I didn't. Sorry. What I can offer is the Google slides and document I made for the game we played earlier this year.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Interactive Vocabulary - a New Take

Firstly, let's start with credits!

Credit to Suzy from TeachStudentSavvy for the idea for this activity. I found it originally on Pinterest, but her blog post explains it very well and gives visual samples! The links I link below are my own creations using Google Docs. You can find her original post here.

I came across this looking for ideas how to help a student with vocabulary. We were coming to a head on how to help them achieve their goals in Latin when our traditional CI strategies were not simply enough. I had looked at a few ideas on Pinterest, but I wanted something that provided extra support and could be a resources as needed in class. Then I found Suzy's idea: VocAPPulary!

Basically, the idea is that students create an interactive vocabulary sheet that has a variety of information on it. Suzy's examples are from science and mine are from Latin below.

Suzy put it best: "It combines the use of illustration, word walls, and flashcards in a trendy, student-friendly package." (TeachStudentSavvy, 2019).

You start with a blank cellphone template. Here is mine without boxes. Here is mine with 8 boxes already added. I drew these on my computer.

Students then add to this template the key vocabulary and notes. Here is an image of some I made for the first chapter of Pluto: fabula amoris. I colour coded my notes and included the following for each word: The Latin word, the definition in English, a note about derivatives, or categories, or similar words, and a note about a single Latin word that is related. Subsequent chapters make use of other primary colours for the Latin word and meaning.

The student then took blank boxes and drew a picture of the word. They cut those images out and taped them to the completed cell phone template.

Now, the student has a resource. They automatically see the words and the images. They can then flip up the image to find the definition and some notes.

In subsequent chapters I also considered including notes like:

  • other forms of the word
  • sentences using the word
  • personalised questions (What do you find beautiful? What do you like to do? etc)
  • examples
With this particular student, I slowly lessened the amount of notes I wrote for them. As we get further into the chapters, they will have to fill in more and more information with me, their teacher, or on their own. This is so that eventually they can make this on their own without my assistance.

If I were doing this with an entire class, we would take the notes together.

Here is the completed set of handouts I made for this activity including the phone template and empty boxes for drawing images and cutting and pasting.

Here is a completed example of the VocAPPulary using the same first chapter as above:

Monday, November 11, 2019

Standards Based Grading - I can take a grade for anything!

I thought I'd share quick ideas today on how to take standard grades without making formal activities or having loads of paperwork.

I try very hard to not take grading home. Firstly, I have 6 animals and they do not appreciate paperwork in the way I think my students would like. Secondly, I have a few chronic conditions that can make completing work difficult. So, I have to be careful with my time. I try to take grades whenever I can. This benefits everyone:

  • grades get updated regularly.
  • students who may not perform well all the time get may opportunities to reassess.
  • students' grades reflects real levels of proficiency repeatedly through the year. 
  • I get grades updated before the end of the school day and can go home a little lighter. 

So.... here are 10 ways you can quickly and easily input grades during class or informally:
  1. During a running dictation (or scrambled eggs or QR code dictation), include some commands. Watch your students and, as they complete those commands, you can give a grade for what they do. This could cover listening, speaking, writing, comprehension. 
  2. During a running dictation (etc.) listen for who is speaking in Latin, reading the sentences out loud. You can easily give them a grade for reading or speaking. 
  3. Students who ask questions in the target language can receive a grade for interpersonal interactions, speaking, gesturing, etc. 
  4. Students who use appropriate rejoinders in class can receive grades for interpersonal interactions, speaking, listening, comprehending, etc. 
  5. Students who complete a brain break that is in the target language might receive a grade for listening and comprehending. 
  6. Students who complete jobs in class using the target language can receive grades for interpersonal interactions, presentational interactions, speaking, listening, comprehending, etc.
  7. Use group work and class discussion specifically to listen for your students who may not present well on paper and vice versa. Fill in grades as you can. 
  8. Turn student work into a listening assessment. You can use student images or monsters created and use them to create descriptions in the target language. Students draw the image they hear and then you can project and discuss. This can be a listening, comprehending, TPR, discussion, etc grade.
  9. If you have a great convo with a kid in the hall or outside of class in the target language, give them a grade for it! They've earned it!
  10. A student who shows understanding non-verbally whether through action, picture, or writing should receive a grade for their ability to understand. It isn't output, but it is skill. Give them that grade as you can. Use that skill to build up their confidence! Applaud them!

Other Posts on SBG from PBP

Friday, September 27, 2019

Discipulus Illustris for Vocabulary Delivery

This year has been different than previous years as an Untextbooked language teacher--last year our school district decided to mandate a particular vocabulary list for each level of Latin and this year I am personally in charge of making sure our Latin one students are confidently able to function within that vocabulary list.

It means less flexibility, but I generally welcome new challenges, and I have already been thinking about how to get even more repetitions of vocabulary into my students' lives without it feeling like that's what I'm doing.

One way I've done that this year is to modify the idea of the Discipulus Illustris activity.

There are a lot (a LOT) of writings about and ideas about Discipulus Illustris. The basic idea of the activity is this: you choose one student at a time to be interviewed. The interview is extremely supported, with a guide on the board at all times for every question, answer, and discussion for the class. The teacher does some question and answer with the class over the student's replies, the students write up what amounts to a short paragraph about the student, and, finally, the student is thanked for his or her time.

For much more detailed writings about this activity, you can read the work Lance Piantaggini has done on Discipulus Illustris here and here. He has by and far done the most development on the activity!

Up to this point, however, Discipulus Illustris has generally featured generalized questions about random aspects of a student's life, such as preferred types of food, sports teams, and astrological sign. As interesting as these topics can be to my students, they haven't helped me forward my students' knowledge and prepare them for the readings I want them to be able to comprehend.

This summer I realized I still wanted to do Discipulus Illustris, but I wanted to overhaul the activity to better serve my program. So instead of having one basic interview setup, I started creating new Discipulus Illustris interviews based around the vocabulary I need students to learn for any given story.

It's already been paying dividends. Using "a quo venisti?" ("Where did you come from?") as one of my questions has helped students prompt each other if they get caught on the word "venit." My students can comfortably express the superlative "pulcherrimus" in addition to "pulcher" and they learned the family vocabulary quickly in relation to themselves.

Where do these fit? I interview one student at the beginning of class, then we move on. Sometimes we do vocabulary practice (via Cartoon Olympics or perhaps a silly story that I've made up to get more repetitions in or any other number of things), sometimes we do a pre-reading activity (a dictatio, jigsaw activity, or some other such activity), or sometimes we are reading that day. I consider Discipulus Illustris a warm-up activity to get my students into Latin mode, and they are used to it as such! Plus, since it relates, vocabulary-wise, to what we read, they see the connection.

Some things I think that are worth noting about the way I do Discipulus Illustris that may differ from the way others do it:
  • I don't force students to come to the front of the class. I allow them to, if they want, and I have a special chair for it, but some students are absolutely terrified of the limelight and we are consistently growing our number of special education students. Those students may be comfortable sharing from their seats, but feel differently about being in front of the other students.
  • I encourage students to be silly. There are several things I do to encourage this. I make it a rule that whatever is said in Latin is "true." So if they have twelve lions at home, I don't question it. If they are married to both Arianna Grande and Zendaya, I don't question it. It was said in Latin. I also give some samples when a question threatens to touch on some serious or uncomfortable territory. For example, the same question I mentioned above, "a quo venisti," can put many of my students in a tough spot, since they may or may not be asked a similar question in an implicitly racist (albeit sometimes unintentional) fashion outside my classroom. So I offer several options that let them decide how they want to answer: McDonalds, my bed, Georgia, 1st period, America, etc. That way, some of them really want to delve into the question in a serious way, but some of them have even offered the name of the hospital where they were born, and all of those answers have been validated. When we discuss their families, I ask if their sisters and brothers are good or bad and remind them that the sisters and brothers aren't there to hear them answer. I ask how many wives or husbands they want. Basically, I take questions that could be serious and push them into a different direction while still maintaining the interest of the class and in the same moment create a safer atmosphere for a bunch of teenagers who are still resolving how they want to appear to the world.
  • I keep it short and sweet. No more than 6-7 questions, and we filter in and out questions, keeping only the most popular questions in rotation while removing the ones that just don't get traction and replacing them with new questions that hopefully will intrigue the students while introducing new vocabulary.
This has honestly turned me around on what Discipulus Illustris can be for my classes. I was, at best, luke-warm on the activity, but I really find it to be an essential part of my classes now and I am currently working out the next set of questions with enthusiasm!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Monster Relay Race

Our ones are beginning to get body parts and numbers. I love teaching these things. It is like a free license for me to go crazy with my favourite stories! I love building monsters and playing with ideas like what is the "norm" and expected. Last year, as an example, I wrote stories from Orthrus and Cerberus' perspectives (these are available via our subscription on our website: ). They are a pair of brothers (and monsters) who protect various things and can be particularly violent.

So... of course I jumped at the chance to do something unique this time!

Enter.... The Monster Relay Race!

It's part running dictation, part Invisibles,  part relay race, and part dice game. I was hoping the kids would enjoy it and it turns out... they ran with it (pun intended). So... let's get down to the nitty gritty.

The Basics

  1. Prep Time - ~10-15 minutes
  2. Instructional/set up time - ~5 minutes
  3. Activity Time - ~1/2 the class
  4. Grading Time - As long as you'd like it to be. 
  5. Supplies Needed:
    1. vocab list that includes body parts and numbers
    2. dice (I used 8 sided dice, but you can use any... the more side, the more varied the work you'll get)
    3. coloured eggs (Try the dollar tree or 5 Below. Amazon has them too year round)
    4. a container for your eggs
    5. colouring supplies


  1. First, students will get into groups of four. They will need the paper with the instructions on it (attached below), and a die. 
  2. Second, students choose jobs. The jobs I allowed were:
    1. cursor - runs to get an egg
    2. aleator - rolls the die
    3. pictor - draws the image
    4. scriptor - writes the sentences
  3. Students race to collect five body parts (in order by coloured egg). 
  4. Once they have a body part, they roll the die which tells them how many of that body part are needed in their sentences and picture. 
  5. They construct the sentence and the scriptor writes it down.
  6. The pictor draws that body part. 
  7. When all five parts are collected, they work as a team to finish the image (background included) and colour it. First team to turn it in, and get it done according to instructions, wins. 


When kids turned it in to me, I was very strict on what I would accept, given the rules. When I grade it, however, I will be not so strict, considering this was  a race. What I looked for was:
  • 5 body parts with 5 numbers. 
  • 5 separate sentences... in Latin.
  • colour in the image.
  • a back ground
  • numbers written out in Latin and spelled correctly (they were written on the board for the students)
This drug out the game a little and allowed groups who process more slowly to catch up to the speedy groups. When I grade these, however, those specifications go out the window. What I'm looking for is:
  • Does the image and body parts match the sentences in type and number?
  • Can I understand what they wrote?
I've given some examples below. The captions help clarify these points. 

This is the winning group. They were not the first, second or third to try and turn it in, but they were the first to get all my points right!

This group made their sentences easy to read and super clear! Their image matches very well. 
This group originally wrote 1 sentence. While any other time this would be fine, for the rules of the game, it didn't work. They had to go back and work out what they did. What was really cool, however, is that they ended up varying some sentences and creating some great examples. 

Here is a copy of the paper I made!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

10 Quick Ideas for a New Year

I thought I'd share some ideas and questions I've been working on this year.

First... some reflective questions for the new year that I have been pondering. I'd love to hear your thoughts on them!

  1. How am I going to foster community this year in my classroom?
  2. How can I turn my space into our space?
  3. How can I encourage play and risk taking with the language?
  4. How can I ensure everyone's safety?
  5. How can I engage my students' interests in class?
  6. What privileges do I enter the room with this year?
  7. What struggles are my students facing?
  8. How can I create a space where they feel safe and free to explore?
  9. How can I make a better pot of coffee?
  10. How can I ensure I take care of myself this year?

And, secondly some quick ideas for the new year!

  • Put up a graffiti wall for students to decorate (courtesy of Christopher Emdin).
  • Share about yourself. Whatever you ask students to do, you should also be willing to do. 
  • Try out new ideas (AKA future blog posts ;) )
  • Always offer alternatives for students who need more time to process or who have disabilities/are disabled. 
  • Bring something you love into the classroom.
  • Try the Fly Swatter Game :) 
  • Consider adding aspects to games that involve chance. Also, consider allowing students who need extra support or extra time with things to be judges in games. You get to go over the material again with them and they get to feel good about what they know. 
  • Research Acceleration (AKA another blog post I'll be writing soon)
  • Don't tell your kids they are welcome to your room. Tell them they belong. 
  • Go ahead, enjoy that second cup of coffee, or whatever. You deserve it!
What of these topics would you like to see expanded into a blog post or a podcast episode? What about a reflective video? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wrap it up already - End of the Year Thoughts

It snuck up on me. I'll admit it. Last I remember it was just after Spring Break and I was refreshed, renewed, and ready.... ish.

So, this blog post is set to go alongside our last podcast of the year. You can listen to it here (or anywhere you get your podcasts). Knowing that, I'll skip the things mentioned in that podcast and focus on a few things I didn't get to discuss really.

Every year I consider the things I've done and the things I would like to do differently.

So, what did I do this year? Honestly, the best place to start is my Twitter. I tried to tweet out what my IVs did as often as possible. But, here's a general overview :)

  1. Adventures gone wrong - We read about Psyche, Orion, Ursa Maior, feles et Venus, and Icarus. Students discussed human qualities, virtues, and mistakes. 
  2. Rebellion - We focused on women mostly, but we dove deep into this. Students learned the history of Rome including the kings, invasion of Britain, invasion of Masada. We also discussed the role of women, the assault of women, and colonisation. 
  3. Food - To finish the year, we talked about food. I hit the points needed about Roman food, but we really focused on the foods we love and have history with. Students brought their favourite foods and wrote recipes in Latin. 

This year I also focused on community. We did brain breaks, held each other accountable, and implemented a 5 minute check in each day, and were honest with each other. I met with my cogen group each Friday to make class better.

So, when considering next year.... I knew I wanted to continue on this trend of community, but make it even better.


A slight detour?

Last week, our neighbours brought to us a tiny kitten. She came to us shivering, covered in fleas, with worms, and without a meow. She wasn't more than 6 weeks old. So, we did what we could. We gave her a bath, dewormed her, wrapped her in a warm blanket, and started her on infant formula and kitten food. By day 3, she had started to come out of hiding and trusted us enough to eat in front of us. By day 5... she had her meow (and knew how to use it), had learned the litter box, and had started to play. 

Generally, she cannot be around our other animals because she isn't vaccinated yet and needs to grow a bit more before she can play with the others... She is also feral. She's never been inside a house, neither had her mother, and she knew nothing of the human world, except to avoid it at all costs. So, every day, one of us wraps her up and carries her through the house as we do chores. She experienced making coffee yesterday (as an example). We make it fun... we feed her on a variety of surfaces, play with her while we do other things, and let her crawl on us to get a better view of whatever we are doing. To her... it's a game, but to us... she is learning vital skills. 

She is learning how to interact with other animals and humans in an appropriate way. She is learning boundaries and how to respect them. She is learning self care and self defence. 


And so... THIS is my focus next year: play. I don't know how it will all work out, but I want to have fun next year as much as possible. I want kids to leave smiling every day, as often as possible. I want kids to walk in, even if they've had a bad day, and know that they are in a safe place where they will be able to enjoy what we do. 

We've already taken steps for this:
  • FVR - free voluntary reading
  • Student Choice in activities and topics we read
  • using a variety of CI activities that allow students to move at their own pace, or move at all, etc. 
  • brain breaks
So, what changes am I making?
  • Getting rid of timed writes - I am making a move to free writes. No more timing. 
  • FVR changes - I don't know exactly yet... but I want to make it more free and more fun
  • Sensory corner - I plan to have a corner of supplies, and sensory materials for students who need them
  • outside time - I want to do more outside. I want to play with chalk. I want to go on walks. I want to MOVE
  • more stuffed animal time
These are just ideas, but I am really glad I've chosen this focus. Watching Mian (the kitteh) learn how to cat is inspiring and I love watching her grow.... I want the same for my students. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Cogen - A Life of Its Own

Last Friday, my school laptop broke, in the middle of teaching. I was devastated. Part of my anxiety is the need to please others and not disappoint anyone, so this was a big moment for me. I held it all in until I finally spoke to the guy in charge and then a full on panic attack ensued.

I finally gathered myself enough to walk back into my room, not caring at that point that my face was bright red and my eyes were fully puffy, and not caring that I was about 3 minutes late to class, expecting to find my class chit chatting and waiting for me. However...

When I walked into the room, I saw the kids of my cogen group leading the class in our five minute check-in. They'd taken it upon themselves to set a phone timer and start class without me. Those few extra minutes let me calm down even more, get class ready, and get to just exist and watch my kids build the community we'd been working for all year. I nearly started crying again, but out of gratitude.

Fast forward to Thursday (today). We had an unexpected snow day on Tuesday, so we postponed our cogen meeting until Thursday. I picked up a variety of donuts for our meeting and I admit I was starting to feel a little more confident about this whole thing.

Like clockwork, students started filing in. They grabbed some breakfast and joined each other in the circle, catching up on life's events. Eventually, I joined and we checked in with each other and how things were going.

I thanked them for their help last Friday and those who took a more passive role in it thanked those who were actively leading. They all said they noticed my stress level and decided to just help out. I reiterated how helpful it actually was.

The question today was moreso what we could all do to keep each other and the students engaged. What they discussed was how Latin time is helpful, especially when I ask direct questions and hold them accountable. I appreciated this feedback, and admitted I was also looking for something they could do to help each other. We decided to continue the conversation next week.

At this point, we'll be starting phase 2 of the cogen. I asked the group who would like to invite someone from the class to our meeting. They were to be someone from our class who was not already involved. We talked about how this person (who invited them) would then phase out of the cogen and have a job in the classroom. One of the girls volunteered to take on this role.

Next week, we'll meet and we'll start this first round of transitions.

Update: Today, I came into 3rd period to find our computer guy waiting for me. He and I were talking and I watched the same students start the check in again. The Cogen officially has a life of its own.

  1. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too
  2. Christopher Emdin's Twitter
  3. Bob Patrick's Twitter
  4. Bob Patrick's first blog post in his series
  5. Bob Patrick's second blog post in his series
  6. My first post in this series
  7. My second post in this series

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Cogen: Here We Go Again

I crawled into bed the other night when it hit me, "I have a cogen in the morning and I forgot to get goodies at the store!" In my state of panic, my partner reminded me that I could pick up snacks while getting a cup of coffee on my way in. Cogen = saved.

I got to my room and set up the circle and snacks and I waited.

By 7:05 we had two of the four ready for the cogen. We surmised that the other two had forgotten, which I nearly had myself, so we proceeded to discuss.

The Review

We briefly checked in on last week's meeting and what we had discussed. The students remarked that they felt like just the fact that we had met had already changed the classroom culture. That they were serving as models for other students and that the atmosphere was already changing. They also remarked at how well the daily check ins were going and reiterated how much they liked them. 

The Discussion

Today we addressed two questions. The first pertained to class today. We will be doing a read, discuss, and draw and I inquired about how they wanted to do brain breaks. Whether they wanted to let me know when they were ready, or if they preferred I set a timer. They commented that they really like class and sometimes we get so into things, that we don't realise we need a brain break, so we agreed today I'd set timers. 

The second question was "What could I be doing more of in class". They reiterated that check-ins are going well and then they told me their favourite brain breaks so we could use them more often in class. 

Lastly, after speaking to Bob about his cogen, I decided to propose the idea of a remind or Groupme to help with communication. They agreed. So, we'll set one up during class today so we can remind each other of our meetings. 

As we were wrapping up. The students offered to bring food next time so that I wouldn't have to. I offered to bring food if they brought drinks to share. It was a nice ending to a wonderful meeting


In the moments between arriving at school and starting the cogen, I still find myself quite anxious. I still want this to go really well and I am still unsure of myself. So, before the meeting I reread Emdin's section on the meetings, questions, and follow up and prepared myself. 

I felt a sense of (maybe) relief, but moreso camaraderie and "family" (if you will) when the students not only expressed happiness but took ownership of the meeting in offering to bring food. It made me feel that not only was this going well, but that the students were feeling a sense of family too - and that doing this was not only going to continue to go well, but was something we should and would continue through the year. 

Over the next two meetings, we'll begin to move to the next phase of the cogen. I am excited to see how it goes and will continue to share my experience. Check out the resources below which include both Christopher Emdin's contact, Bob Patrick's contact, and Bob's own reflections on his cogen. 

  1. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too
  2. Christopher Emdin's Twitter
  3. Bob Patrick's Twitter
  4. Bob Patrick's first blog post in his series
  5. Bob Patrick's second blog post in his series

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Cogen: A First Meeting

Two days ago I sent a message to my partner, "3rd period didn't go well. I'm upset... with myself."

See, what had happened was we were reading a story and I was getting blank stares, mumbles, and I was losing kids who would rather stare at the wall than discuss with me in Latin. While this is not the norm, it has happened a few times in this particular class. I stopped my lesson and asked what was going on. They were silent. I was silent. Finally, they started to speak. What came about was that they didn't understand and I surmised that they were uncomfortable telling me that. What I said to them was, "this my fault." They didn't want to agree, but it's true. I wasn't making what we were doing comprehensible, compelling, or caring.

 My colleagues and I have been reading Christopher Emdin's For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too. In one chapter, Emdin discusses lessons learned from a rap cypher and how one can use that in the classroom for reality pedagogy (Chapter 4). I will admit that I grew up in the 90s when rap cyphers became a part of the popular entertainment culture and I was already familiar with them in that context. What I found quite intriguing and compelling was translating that to the classroom.

I won't go into the basics, as Bob Patrick has already done a great job of that in his own blog series on the matter. I highly recommend you read it and follow it! He and I will be sharing our experience in this journey on these blogs. Instead, I will share my experience with our first meeting.

I had already been wanting to have a cogen with this particular class, but I had been nervous about the whole thing and doing it wrong, when this event happened two days ago. After class I immediately stopped what I was doing and picked out my four students for the first cogen. Following Emdin's recommendations and lessons I spent time considering which students I would ask and ultimately changed my list a few times before feeling like I had a group that represented the variety of the classroom.

The next day, (Thursday - yesterday), I quietly approached each student as they came in and asked them if they'd stay after class for a minute to talk. They weren't in trouble, and that I needed a favour. They all readily agreed.

Now, I must pause here and say, that I was still (and am still) incredibly nervous about doing this. I want to do it right and I have anxiety about messing things up, which often translates to my hiding away and being incredibly self critical. So, when I say I am "following [his] recommendations and lessons" I mean that literally. I have marked pages in the book where I have thoughts and took notes, as well as places where he discusses the cogen and how to have one. Before the end of class, I reviewed his "script" of what to say. When everyone had left, I asked if they'd be willing to meet with me in the morning or afternoon one day to discuss some things that I wanted their help with.

So, this morning I came in with some cinnamon rolls and muffins and I set up a circle of chairs. At 6:55 three of the four students rolled in and greeted me. I welcomed them and invited them to get some breakfast. The fourth arrived shortly after. We sat together and, at first, we just chatted. They talked about food and asked my opinions on coffee. We relished in the fact that we have a long weekend coming up. Once everyone was there and had food, I covered Emdin's three rules, which we all agreed to: (1) we are all equal. I am not above them because I'm a teacher. (2) One person speaks at a time. (3) This meeting was to enact real change in the classroom and that we would hold each other accountable (especially as we are all equal).

The question this morning was "What is something I can do in the first or last five minutes of class to make our experience better". What I found was that, much like Bob discusses, students wanted to continue a 5 minute check in every day and that brain breaks were important.

While nothing "new" came out of the meeting in actual practical practice, what did come out was an agreement that they would help hold me accountable and that I would trust them. Every day we'd continue to check in with each other and build community. Every day, when they said they needed a break, I'd trust them and follow through and they would be honest with what they needed.

To be honest, I really enjoyed this meeting. About 3/4 of the way through, Bob (who is also my department head) came into my room and welcomed them and congratulated them on being my advisers. I immediately saw their posture perk up a little. This was an important moment. We all shared excitement over this cogen and they've agreed to meet with me next week.

As I post about my experience, I will do my best to be honest and as detailed as is appropriate. That being said, there are some resources I also want to share each time:

  1. Christopher Emdin's Twitter
  2. Bob Patrick's Twitter
  3. Bob Patrick's first blog post in his series
  4. Bob Patrick's second blog post in his series

Monday, January 14, 2019

OWATP - a new take on OWATS

Recently, I decided that I wanted to give my students some extra practice with the new vocabulary. We were beginning new stories with new vocabulary and I wanted to vary what we were doing and
Latin I student work included words like: via, soror,
comedit, domus, silva, deus, mons, caelum, ursa, and terra
provide support in following days as well as feature some student work.

If you haven't checked out One Word at a Time Stories (OWATS), then I recommend you do. It's a great activity and something I find myself going back to over and over.

This new activity is based on OWATS, but provides some support and opportunity for students who do not feel confident in writing a story. I'm calling it One Word at a Time Pictures (OWATP).


My purpose in using this activity is to see how students can use words with each other in new ways and also create materials I can use later to give input in new ways too. One of the things I really liked about this (much like with OWATS) is that I can pick words that don't really seem to go together and then kids get really creative to make it all work. 

Latin II student worked with words like faber, ignis, mater,
puella, flos, fortis, domus, magnus, and parvus

This is quite simple to set up:
  1. Have a list of words you want to use/target (for whatever reason)
  2. Type those words out, put the English (especially if they are new words), and make them nice and BIG :)
  3. Cut them out. 


  1. Students sit in groups (size of your choosing)
  2. each group gets one word
  3. They draw that word (and label it) in the center of their paper. 
  4. They draw a second word and add it to their image. 
  5. They continue until they have reached the amount of words you want them to OR have all the words in their image. 
  6. EVERY part of the image must be labeled. 
    1. if they add something not on your list, it still must be labeled. 
  7. Images must be coloured. 

Follow Up

I plan on using these for picture descriptions. You can use a few in one class, or as a warm up! I could also see some other activities as follow up for various levels and classes:
  • puzzles
  • match the word to the picture (re-label)
  • write a story that goes with the picture
  • picture discussions
  • assessment!  

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Gaming in the Latin Classroom: Heroes and Harpies™

When I was trying to figure out how to write this blog, I kept banging my head against the same wall: this particular game was based off of Dungeons and Dragons, a role play game that requires a lot of leadership by a central figure who runs the game and not only organizes play live but has to react to any eventualities that come up--and they come up--when players decide to act differently than you expect them to--which they do. All this to say, it's the type of game that is more difficult to run with no gaming experience.

And I've been trying to figure out how to write a guide for other teachers who may or may not be gamers.

So this post has been put off for over six months because I haven't been able to solve this puzzle.

I have finally come to the conclusion that either one of two things is happening: 1) I am blowing this way out of proportion and I can just give you guys the rules and it will be fine. 2) This is the type of game that gamers can play with students and non-gamers cannot. If that's true, and you are a non-gamer, but want to play an in-depth role-play game with your students, let me direct you instead to my post about last year's game: Bellum Civile: Gaming Caesar's Civil War. This is a much more accessible game with a lot of scaffolding and it was a lot of fun for me as a gamer.

But this time last year I really wanted to dive into a more collaborative, D&D like game, where students would create heroes and fight monsters and even save the world a little. I decided I wanted my heroes to be children of lesser-known Roman gods, and I enlisted my son to help me create the rules--he's great both at helping me brainstorm ideas and at figuring out ways to break the system so I could look for some holes ahead of time--and together we came up with sets of powers that students could buy over time with experience points they earned in encounters. He also helped me come up with some of the encounters and the overlying storyline, and then I created the materials for us to use in class.

I put students into small groups to create their characters; though an experienced gamer, I am a fairly inexperienced Dungeon Master, so running a game with 29 different characters was not going to happen. I ended up with nine characters with between 2 and 4 students running each, and a few half-siblings (I didn't require students to only pick gods no one else had picked).

The first encounter (i.e., fight or interaction) was slow because I had to teach them how to do things, but after a couple, they had things down and could move pretty quickly through the steps. Before each encounter, I wrote a reading, that we handled like any reading, with discussion, clarification, and review, and I gave them a visual reference for each encounter so they could use that to help them plan their moves.

So far, this doesn't seem too difficult. To some degree, this is something anyone can pick up. However, the encounters were designed to highlight the strengths of each character--some emphasized stealth for the son of Muta, and some were convenient to water for the daughter of Fons. Some were good old-fashioned fights to let the daughter of Victoria stand out, and some included large groups because I knew that the daughters of Feronia had both bought powers that would work especially well against a crowd and the daughters of Hecate had just earned their war dogs. Part of running a good game of this type is making sure that each character feels useful and special without being too obvious about it. And this is the part that gets difficult--the personalization.

SO... I am going to provide the materials I made, and the rules, and if you decide to run this game I would love to hear about it! OR if you run this game with adults, I'd love to hear about it, though it's really made for a class. I had exactly three experienced role-players in my class and one other student who had passing knowledge, so they were much less likely to abuse the rules, so they definitely need some serious play-testing before they are ready for that level of play, in my opinion, but I'd love for some beta-testing to happen and then, who knows, maybe I'd release an official version, with credit to any testers!

Below you'll find a link to the game handbook. At some point I'll work on creating a module (a baseline game for the uninitiated) out of the story I made for the class, but it's highly personalized to my students' characters, so I need to work on it a lot before it can become a good module.

Small story: one of my favorite encounters was one of the encounters that went sideways--I'd planned for it to be a basic fight against a cyclops, and that was good, because I'd been out late to see Rent with my son the night before. I wasn't up to heavy thought and was looking forward to simply rolling dice. However my students had a different plan. They decided to negotiate with the cyclops. For the first time ever they didn't just attack. Suddenly I found myself making up rules for negotiating and holding a conversation with them in Latin while searching in my head a way to make sure the encounter would still be interesting and challenging. Luckily they tripped up by offering to prove their wish for friendship! I remembered that one of Hecate's daughters had recently bought an ability to transmute things and answered that the Cyclops always wanted to have a real, true pink sheep to breed with its flock. It took them some time to figure out how to do it; I found that my students often forgot their newest powers. Once they figured it out, they made friends with the Cyclops, who let them cross his island without trying to squish them like ants! It ended up being a really satisfying encounter and cute story, and even though I was totally thrown, barely able to think, and nursing a lack-of-sleep migraine, they never had to know I hadn't planned it the whole time.

Okay, for real now:

Heroes et Harpyriae