Thoughts on Teaching

The Magic of Teaching

I’m feeling a little bit mushy about teaching lately, although I guess if you were to ask my students, they would say that’s not too different from how I normally feel. I’ve been working on writing the curriculum for the brand new/revamped (long story) version of our upper level CP classes, which will see two classes (Latin 3 and 4 CP) combined into one. It’s our first year of offering 4 CP and I’m really excited to see what the kids can do.

I’m not using Cambridge for these classes, so I’ve been working on figuring out what I will teach. I’ll spare you the boring details, but basically I’ve figured out that I will be teaching with a combination of textbook passages, novellas, and unadapted classical Latin literature. As I’ve been working on this and reimagining what FVR will look like for this class next year, I’ve been doing some deep dives into the ACTFL/ACL proficiency guidelines, thinking about what my students are able to do with Latin.

Some days teaching my CP class is really hard for me. It’s really different from almost any other class at our school, because normally, our rosters get mixed up between semester 1 and semester 2 each year. What this means is that I might be teaching Molly, Jack, and Joel in the same class fall semester, but in the spring, I might have Molly in one class and Jack in another, while Joel now has one of the other 2 Latin teachers and I have a new kid in his place. For the most part, I like this set-up (although I never like “losing” kids, just because I love getting to know them and spend time with them every day), because I get to know a lot of students. But my CP class is different. There is only 1 section of CP at each level, and I have looped up with these kids, meaning that this coming year is the third year straight that I will be teaching this specific group of kids.

When I say it’s hard, I mean that sometimes I really lose confidence in myself as a teacher with this class. The kids are good kids, but when you have the same group of them over and over, they develop a prickliness toward each other (and sometimes toward me). It’s a family in the way that families can be: full of love and understanding, but also messy and chaotic. Many of them also have ADHD, and some just have other things going on in their lives that make school hard for them. It can be really hard for me some days to get them on track because of all these factors combined.

What this means is that a lot of the time, I worry about whether they are learning anything at all. With this class, I have gradually (and toward the end of the year, not gradually at all) moved away from “chartiness” toward a reading comprehension approach that I’m not really ready to call CI. Sometimes when I’m plodding through a class period, I can feel like they don’t know anything, don’t care about Latin, would rather be anywhere else than my classroom doing this thing that I happen to love and care a lot about.

Which brings us to the final exam. The final exam that I wrote for this class this year was entirely reading-based. It had 3 unprepared (sight) passages and 3 prepared passages. The students had a combination of questions to answer about each passage: short answer reading comprehension, short translation in context, vocabulary identification. I wasn’t really worried at all about the prepared passages because we had read them so many times in class in a variety of ways, but those sight passages were keeping me up at night.

When it came time for the final, I was ready to hear the complaints: this exam is so long, it’s so hard, we weren’t prepared, etc. But the most pleasant surprise happened: after the exam, almost everyone felt great about the exam. And when I graded them… wow. They killed the sight passages. I mean they knocked them out of the park.

The title of this post is what I felt at that moment and continue to feel as I think about proficiency levels. There is a real, true magic in shaping a kid’s ability to do something. It’s crazy to me to think that I got these kids two years ago and they knew nothing – I mean nothing – about Latin, and here they are, finishing up Latin II, reading multiple passages at sight and knowing what they are saying. And while I will be the first to say that 90% of that has to do with the kids, I am wholly satisfied by the notion that I got them there. I don’t mean it in a bragging way – it’s just an incredible feeling to know that I was the one who gave them those tools, and together, we’ve gotten to this point.

You know, I think a lot about the fact that there was a time in my life that I didn’t know Latin. It feels weird to think about, but I’m only 27, so I’ve known Latin for less than half my life. I don’t really remember why I decided to take Latin – I do know that my teacher hunted me down and asked me to take it – but I do remember the first day of class (my teacher put the Lord’s prayer on the board in Old English) and my very first day of studying for it, sitting in my mom’s classroom after school, working on flashcards. And here, 12 years later, I am teaching this language that I love to my own students. I got from that point A to point B with the help of a lot of people, but the magic in it all comes down to my teacher, who is still the best teacher I’ve ever had and taught me everything (and I mean everything) that I know about Latin. The magic of going from knowing to not knowing, incapable to capable, unconfident to confident, because of my teacher’s influence, knowledge, and skills – all that worked in small ways, seen and unseen, over the course of three years.

That’s a real gift that we give to our students, the bundle of small miracles that makes up their progress. The magic is watching small miracle (knowing what “aqua” means) after small miracle (we didn’t burn the classroom down today) after small miracle (we breezed through our first indirect statement) being stitched together and knowing that for the most part, it didn’t happen by accident. The magic is knowing that it happened because of us.

Technology in the Latin Classroom · Vocabulary

A New Quiz Game: Gimkit

Or, as my students call it, “the money game.”

We play Kahoot, Quizlet Live, and Quizizz from time to time in class, and I do like each of those sites (some more than others). Recently, though, I found a new site called Gimkit that I absolutely love, and I’m excited to share it with you all.

I first found out about this on Reddit, where the students (yes, high school students) who created it posted about it on one of the teaching subreddits. They asked for feedback and we gave it to them (including, importantly, changing the name from something else to what it is now), and the resulting product is just outstanding.

Let me tell you some of the best features about this site:

  • There are multiple ways to play – not just team or individual, but different four different modes of play that keep the novelty alive. Students can race to be the first to hit a “dollar amount” you decide (the game calls its points “dollars”); they can work together to reach a dollar amount as a class; and more.
  • You can create different types of questions: multiple choice or typed answers.
  • You can “import” from Quizlet. I think it’s a tiny bit disingenuous to say you can import directly from Quizlet, but basically, you can go to Quizlet, export your Quizlet set as plain text, then paste it into Gimkit. Gimkit will then create a multiple-choice game using your Quizlet terms. This takes all of maybe 3 minutes if you are really familiar with Quizlet – and if you’re not, it might take you 5 minutes, thanks to Gimkit’s excellent instructions on how to do this.
  • The questions repeat! Unlike Kahoot, Quizlet Live, or Quizizz, where you see each question once, your students are going to see the questions multiple times, giving them repeated exposure to whatever you’re quizzing them on.
  • IT’S FUN! This is currently our most beloved game. I don’t know what it is about this game, but my students just love it.

I do want to tell you that the site costs money (it’s run by high school students!), but I think the fees are pretty fair, and they give you multiple payment options (monthly vs. yearly). I’m paying about $8/month right now to finish out the school year on the monthly subscription, and it’s completely worth it. If you want to try it out with no commitment, the site lets you create 3 kits (games) for free. That’s how I decided to take the plunge and purchase the subscription.

If you want to know more and watch a demo game, I’ve made a video for you walking you through what the game looks like.

Let me know what you think!

Technology in the Latin Classroom

Getting Started with Pear Deck

Pear Deck is one of my favorite technology tools right now. I have presented about it multiple times to other teachers (see my CV page and scroll to Professional Presentations), and, if I can brag a little about myself, I am one of the “go-to” people at work for tips on how to use and troubleshoot the site.

If you’ve been hearing about Pear Deck but don’t really know what it is, this post is for you! If you’re already using Pear Deck and would like some ideas about how to take it to the next level, the next post will be for you. 🙂

  • What is Pear Deck?
    • I explain it this way: Pear Deck is a web-based tool that allows you to make presentations (or almost any other file) interactive. Now, if you’re thinking…
      • “This sure does sound like a way to put lipstick on a pig (i.e. dress up a lecture)”: First of all, I think there is a time and place for a good lecture (a good lecture), even one with limited audience interaction. And if you are looking for a way to get audience interaction with a lecture, Pear Deck can definitely help you do that. But Pear Deck is not just for lecturing, so please stay with me here!
      • “Another piece of technology to learn? Great…”: Pear Deck is simple to use. If you have pre-made PowerPoints or Google Slides presentations, you have done 95% of the work.
    • Before you read further, please know that I have the premium version of Pear Deck, and almost everything I am referring to involves using the premium version. The good news: there’s a 30-day free trial of the premium version, so you can try it out without the commitment.
  • Interactive… how, exactly?
    • Pear Deck lets you take a slide in a Google Slide presentation and make it so that students can respond to it in one of 5 ways:
      • Text: students respond by typing their answer. When you project their answers, students see everyone’s responses.
      • Choice: students respond by choosing one multiple-choice answer. When you project their answers, students see how many people chose each choice.
      • Number: students respond by typing a number. I’ve actually never had occasion to use the “number” response, but I’m guessing when you project it, it works like the “text” responses (projects everyone’s).
      • Draw: students respond by drawing on the slide. This works even if they are using a laptop and not a tablet – it’s kind of like using MS Paint. When you project their answers, students see everyone’s drawings.
      • Draggable: students respond by dragging any number of icons you choose around the slide. When you project their answers, students see everyone’s icons overlaid on top of one another, which makes this really useful for having discussions or doing anticipation guide-style activities. Here’s an example of something I did with my Latin II CP class (I stole the presentation from Keith Toda):mavis habitare .png
  • Why would I want to start using it in my classroom?
    • Here are my two selling points when I present about Pear Deck: 1) you can project all students’ answers at the same time and 2) those answers stay anonymous when presented to the whole class. 
    • Here are three of my students’ answers about why they like Pear Deck:Pear Deck for Archdiocesan In-Service February 16 2018.pngPear Deck for Archdiocesan In-Service February 16 2018 (1).pngPear Deck for Archdiocesan In-Service February 16 2018 (2).png
  • Okay, so what does it look like? Can you walk me through a presentation? 
    • Well… I did just record a 20-minute screencast walking you through a presentation, but Screencastify is so frustrating sometimes. The audio ended up being distorted, but if you want to suffer through the choppiness, here’s the link. So I will hopefully record another version of it at some point, but in the meantime, here is a Google Slides presentation I made for a story from CLC Unit 1 using Pear Deck. This shows you the kinds of questions I ask using Pear Deck.
  • How do I make one?
    • See my tutorials page for a very short tutorial on how to use the add-on for Google Slides. This is how I (personally) think that everyone should be using Pear Deck, as opposed to the standalone Pear Deck website/presentation creator. The add-on is incredibly easy to use and works with existing Google Slides presentations – you can also upload PowerPoints to Google Drive so you can use the add-on with those files, too.

That’s about it for starting out. Let me know what questions you have!

Community in the Latin Classroom · Latin Club/Junior Classical League · Seasonal Activities

March Madness, Latin Style

I am not really a sports enthusiast. I do watch a lot of basketball and I love UGA football, but I don’t know much about the logistics of the game. I do love a good competition, though, and I really, really love Latin… thus, March Madness, Latin style, also known as Martia Dementia.

I used Martia Dementia in Latin I CP last year, and I’m using it again this year with the same class now that they are in Latin II. I actually wasn’t planning to do this again for whatever reason, but some of my students asked about it today. They all really enjoyed it last year, and I am all about anything that gets them to have fun while using Latin.

Here’s how we did it. Our awesome librarians printed a large poster of a blank single-elimination blind draw bracket for me from Print Your Brackets. I kept this poster on the wall in my room and filled in the bracket as we progressed through the tournament. You could also print the seeded bracket, but I would randomly seed students for this (e.g. draw a name for 1 seed, 2 seed, and so on). I then had students claim a character from CLC Unit 1. I kept track of who represented whom in a Google spreadsheet.

Once we did that, I randomly assigned matches to students. Once they saw their opponent for the first round, they got to work on answering this question in Latin: “Why is your character more likely to survive the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius than your opponent’s character?” They were tasked with answering this in one sentence.

I gave them sentence starters (_______ supererit quod…) and we brainstormed vocabulary that they might want to use (fortior, callidior). This was a great way to practice using comparatives and superlatives in a fun context.

I gave them about 15 minutes to work on this in class. Then the next day we held the first round. Students faced their opponents in the front of the room and explained in Latin why their character would survive the eruption. Once each “match” was completed, the students voted anonymously on who had won – although, as with all decisions in my classroom, I have the final say (this is also known as the “I am in charge of everything” rule). We played one round of the tournament each day, so it only took about three or four days total for the entire activity, using between 5 and 20 minutes (depending on the round) in class each day.

One thing I was really worried about with this activity was that students would try to pull the thing that I always did in elementary school when we played dodgeball: purposefully trying to get out early to avoid having to play. I was pretty pleasantly surprised that each student really did try hard to win their match, and they were excited to come up with new sentences to beat their next opponent.

This year, we are bringing Martia Dementia back, but we are using (mostly) the characters from Unit 2, while bringing a few Unit 1 characters back from the dead. Our question this time is “Who would survive the vias periculosas of Alexandria?”

I think you could play Martia Dementia using any number of premises: FVR books, historical figures, mythological creatures/figures, etc. It really just depends on your class and their interests.

A final consideration: I don’t grade this event. It’s just something fun for us to work on in class. If I did grade it, it would be a classwork/daily work grade.

In other Latin March Madness news…

  • We are doing another version of March Madness in Latin II CP. This version is “real” March Madness. One of my students requested that we make a class bracket, and after doing a quick poll with the class, I approved. The catch was that they had to justify their choices in Latin. To facilitate this process, I split the class into four groups, each one choosing a region. Each group will complete the bracket for their region, and we will decide the Final Four and championship outcomes together. The groups have to turn in a list of sentences justifying each choice. Now, some of my kids aren’t that into basketball, and they are not going to be able to give an eloquent Latin explanation of why they made each choice. This is where I think you have to have a little fun with things like this. They are free to justify their answers however they wish. If they like the mascot better, fine. If they just dislike a certain school, fine. As long as they can explain their choice in Latin, I’m happy. To help them out, I gave them some sentence starters they can use if they want (____ est melior quam ____ quod…; ____ vincet quod…), and we (again) brainstormed vocabulary (fortis, longus, etc.).
    Each group must submit their sentences before I enter our class bracket into…
  • The Latin Club March Madness tournament. I had this idea yesterday morning, and I’m pretty excited about it. We are hosting a Latin Club March Madness group through the ESPN Tournament Challenge website. I emailed the kids about it and put up flyers with a QR code to the site and the password for the group. So far, we’ve got 30 students signed up. We can’t play for money or prizes per our school rules, but I’ve got designs to start a small “Hall of Fame” in my classroom for the winner. I’d really like to make this an annual tradition. It’s one of those things that might not be directly Latin-related, but it’s something fun that builds community and fosters friendly competition.

Let me know if you have questions about how to set any of this up.

FVR/SSR · Technology in the Latin Classroom

FVR Setup and Tour

I’ve written a few posts on how I do FVR , so I thought I would post some visuals to help you… well… visualize our routine.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my Latin 2 CP class does FVR, which I refer to as “silent reading” with them. We do silent reading for a minimum of 5 minutes each time, but I increase the time by 1 minute each week or so (it really just depends on how I feel and how they are getting on that day).

I tell whoever gets into class first to grab the doc box, which lives in this podium that I picked up from the band teacher, who was giving it away a few years ago:

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That student puts the doc box on one of the empty desks in our room. The students know that they are supposed to grab their reading log and current book out of their hanging folder from the doc box as they walk in.

Some students choose to start reading before the bell rings and class begins, but most of them wait until I have taken attendance and we have prayed. Most of them don’t mind silent reading, and some of them really like it, but only a few of them are fond enough of it to do it before I start the timer.

If it’s the beginning of a new month, students know they should grab a reading log from behind my desk. The space behind my desk is pretty open, and I generally don’t mind students being back there as long as they aren’t at my actual desk. I love that this class knows exactly where they are supposed to go to get reading logs and that they do it without being prompted. The reading log folder is behind the no name papers folder. By the way, I bought this contraption at Wal-Mart for about $15. It has three paper trays (I use those for ZipGrade forms) and five folder slots at the top. As you can see, I use those folder slots for what I think of as “universal” items – things that apply to most of or all of my classes and aren’t specific to a certain stage or unit.

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Once the kids are in their seats with their books and reading logs, I start the timer (just Google 5 minute timer or whatever you need). Sometimes I project it on the board. As students read, I circulate. Some teachers read while their students read, but this is not a class that can go without me watching them like a hawk for 5+ minutes. It’s just not going to happen.

A few students will finish reading their book or story before the timer is done, and that’s okay. They know that they are supposed to fill out their reading log (feel free to use), give the book they just finished to me, and then request a new book by first looking at the options on what we affectionately call Lil Bib (read about libib.com here; view my library here). After they find the book they want, they request it through a Google Form on my Haiku page (our LMS).

This is where I come in. I have set the Google Form to alert me whenever a student requests a new book. I find the book they want either in the milk crate where most of the books live or on the cardboard display I got from the Chessex booth at Dragon Con (for free!). Both of these things are immediately behind my desk for easy access.

I use the barcode on the back of the books to check them out quickly. I am very Type-A and have a secret wish to be a librarian, so when I realized that libib gives you the ability to print barcodes to use to check out books, I went to town.

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I place the returned book in a “check-in” spot on the window ledge next to my desk and place the new book with the student’s last name written on a post-it note on the cover in a “check-out” spot.
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I have my work study student place the check-out books into the students’ file folders in the doc box when she comes in after school.

This whole process sounds like a lot of work, I am sure, and it is definitely more work than having students simply put their books back on the shelf each day. But since I share a classroom, I just do not have the space to have a set-up like that. Surprisingly, though, the process really only takes about 5 minutes total to check in all the finished books and check out all the new books.

I’ll close this one out with some photos of the books I have either printed from places like Tarheel Reader or created in Google Docs. Our library is awesome and binds these for me for free. These are easily some of the most popular titles in the FVR library. I think it’s for two reasons: 1) they are pretty easy, since most of these are either written by students or for novice-level readers, and 2) they are colorful and have pictures.

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Assignment/Assessment Ideas · Vocabulary

Sub Day Options

I hate taking off work. It’s a pain to prepare work and instructions for a sub, and I would like my students be able to work on something meaningful and worth their time. On the other hand, sometimes it can be hard to give them something that I can trust them to do if I’m not there – and, if I’m being honest, that doesn’t require me to grade a whole stack of papers when I return from wherever I’ve been.

So here’s my list of go-to assignments for when I need to be out. Some of these options might fall into the “busy work” category for some teachers, to which I can only say… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I don’t feel bad because we do almost no busy work otherwise in my classes, and I truly believe a worksheet once in a blue moon is not going to kill a kid.

Low Prep 

  • Workbook pages and/or worksheets from our textbook series (Cambridge) and other series.
  • Crossword puzzles created using the website Armored Penguin. I usually make these puzzles about vocabulary, but you could really do any number of things, like questions about a story you’ve been reading. I like crossword puzzles because of their self-checking aspect.
  • Old National Latin Exams. The easiest way to assign these is to just print them off and pair them with a Scantron or something like ZipGrade, but over the past year I’ve slowly put together some Google Form versions of these so that they are self-grading.
  • Reading comprehension questions about Cambridge stories from Quia and Quizizz. You can print these off or have students take them online (I think you need a paid account on Quia to do this, but this option is free on Quizizz).
  • “Tests” from Quizlet. Every Quizlet set has the option to create a test, and you can adjust the settings so that the test creates different types of questions (fill-in-the-blank, matching, short answer, true/false). You can print these off for students. I’ve also had students complete activities on Quizlet, but you need a paid teacher account to keep track of what students have done.

No Prep – good for emergencies or the “sub folder” because they can be adapted to any chapter, stage, story, etc.

  • Magic puzzles. This is something I think you have to have done together in class once or twice before to make sure students know how to do them when you’re not there. Magic puzzles are a vocabulary activity, although you could also use them to match something like a character and a description. I usually have students hold their magic puzzles until I get back. Then they cut them up and switch with a neighbor to try to complete their neighbor’s puzzle. Here’s an example I made a few years ago for my students.
    Magic puzzle example.jpg
  • National Latin Exams, like I mentioned above. Reserve a set for your emergency sub plans.
  • 4-word stories. I have created a template for these for my students (feel free to use it) that has up to 12 frames. Normally when we do these in class, I just do an adapted version of what Keith talks about in his blog post: I give the students XYZ number of words they can choose from and then tell them something like “you must have XYZ number of sentences that are compound sentences.” To create instructions that could apply to any lesson or unit, however, I would just say that students must use at least XYZ number of words from the vocabulary list or Quizlet set for that chapter/story/stage. One last thing: if assigning for sub work, I would not let students work in groups, only in pairs (if they can be trusted to behave for a sub) or alone.
  • Reading guides (here’s my template), which we use in our program as a regular assignment. The idea of a reading guide (h/t Maria Kepler) is that students read a story on their own before coming to class and write down vocabulary and structures that give them trouble or are unfamiliar. When we do these as homework in Latin II (about twice a week), I just assign them a story and a number of lines, usually no more than 20. For a sub folder assignment, I would use instructions that say that students should use the next story in their book.

There are also options that are a little bit more prep-heavy like having students complete an EdPuzzle or a student-paced Pear Deck. I haven’t done either of these for sub days, but depending on what you do with them, you could get close to replicating a normal day in class.

Classroom Organization · FVR/SSR

More Apps and Websites I Love

I left off two websites from my first post on this topic in December, and I can’t believe I forgot to include them. I use both of these on at least a weekly basis.

  • ZipBooks. In my first two years as Latin Club moderator, I used a combination of pencil-and-paper records and spreadsheets to keep track of club spending. You might not expect it, but Latin Club (what we call our JCL chapter) has a pretty decent amount of cash inflow and outflow every month. I allow students to sign up at any point in the year (although I highly encourage them to sign up by the Phase 1 deadline for GJCL), which means that if nothing else, we usually have dues to charge. But there are also field trips like Fall Forum and GJCL Convention for which we have to charge students and then send off checks, and there are pizza orders, bus reservations, T-shirt orders, NJCLHS registration, and more. I didn’t really have a great setup for keeping track of these simple debits and credits from our Latin Club account, so I did some “shopping” online for a free basic bookkeeping website. I tried out quite a few, including Wave, but I landed on ZipBooks because it is easy to use, allows for custom categories, and has a simple interface. I don’t need something complicated, and while it looks like ZipBooks could be used for business bookkeeping (especially with a premium subscription, which gives you a general ledger, 1099 summary, and a bunch of other goodies), the free version gives me everything I need: a button for deposits, a button for expenses, and a balance sheet. I highly recommend it if you want an easy-to-use site to keep track of club expenses.
  • Libib. We share classrooms at our school, which means I do not have room for an FVR library. Instead, I keep my FVR books in hanging folders in a milk crate for compact storage. But this presented me with a problem from the very beginning. I wanted students to be able to “browse” the books that are available to them, but I wanted to know who was reading what at any time. I looked at several different websites for classroom libraries, but nothing gave me exactly what I wanted… until I found Libib (pronounced luh-bib, but my kids and I call it Lil’ Bib). Here is a link to my classroom library. I want to say upfront that I pay the $5 each month for the premium version, but it has everything I dreamed of and more. I haven’t found another library site that gives you all of the following:
    • Custom entries. Most free library sites I found required you to enter an ISBN when creating a catalog entry, but because so few FVR titles exist for Latin, I do a lot of printing from sources like the Mille Noctes database.
    • Custom groupings. Other sites would group by AR level or Lexile level, but again, this is Latin, and a lot of this stuff is just printed from Google docs. I am able to create custom groups based on difficulty levels that I have created for my students. I have also been able to set up my classroom library site so that the books are displayed by difficulty group rather than by ABC order.
    • Descriptions and photos. I wanted my students to be able to see the book covers and read a summary description of each book.
    • Book status and multiple copies. My students can see how many copies of each book I have and how many copies are currently available to check out.
    • Tons of stats. I can get reports on what books a given student has checked out, reports on general lending data from my class, and more.
    • Tags. Students can view books according to their difficulty groupings, but they can also click on a list of tags I have created to find books according to their topics. When we did an FVR self-assessment last fall, most of my students reported choosing a book based on its content rather than its difficulty. I don’t mean to say that most of them are choosing books completely out of their ability range, but most of them will choose a book that’s a little bit harder if it’s interesting to them. The tag list helps with this. The tags they seem most interested in are the graphic novels/comic books tag and the scary stories tag. Finally, it’s also a great way to organize series. I use tags for the Puer Ex Seripho series, Lance Piantaggini’s Pisoverse series, the Secunda comics, the I am Reading Latin series, and more.
    • Playing librarian. I can check books in and out with my desktop or phone, and, because I am a giant nerd, I have been able to use Libib and the Avery Labels online lab to generate barcodes for all of my books (even my custom-created books) so that I can quickly scan books to check in/out. You can even make library cards for your students, and if you’re so inclined, you can set up a “kiosk option” where students use an iPad to check books out to themselves.