Thoughts on Teaching

Year-End Reflecting

It’s my first full weekday of summer vacation, and I am starting to think about the fall. I am teaching one new prep for me (Latin II CP), but other than that, I will be teaching things I have taught before. This is very exciting for me, since I have taught a new-to-me prep every semester since I started teaching (only 4 semesters so far, but still).

I’ve thought about my successes and failures this year. I don’t feel that I’ve had huge failures, and I have definitely done better than I did my first year, but there are many things I want to improve, repeat, toss out, introduce, and more.

Improve

  • Classroom management. Still a difficult one for me. Sometimes I think about the person I am now vs. who I was 10 years ago, and 10-years-ago-me (and even 5-years-ago-me) would be stunned to know I am as laid-back as I am now. There are certain things I am not laid-back about (student safety, cheating, and the like), but I am sometimes too chill for my own good. I have to figure out a way to improve my classroom management without losing authenticity.
  • Work flow. Hooooo boy. I need to figure something out here. I feel like I have tried every which way of lesson planning, but it still comes down to me planning the night before and making copies the day of. Not a good look. I make intricate lesson plans weeks in advance, but then I don’t follow up on them later. I also need to get a better system of returning graded papers. I like the amount of paperless work I do, but for those things that must be done on paper, I have had such a hard time getting them back to students in a timely way. I will grade them and they will just sit on my desk. Part of this has to do with floating and sharing a room. With my own room and no floating, I could (maybe) have a more dedicated in- and out-box system, but it’s not to be at my current school.

Repeat

  • loved the vocabulary games we did this year, and so did the kids. Word races, VINCO, hot seat, and more. I will definitely be repeating those next year.
  • Board work. I will write about my board work routine at some point, but first I have to modify it. This is just a bell-ringer/warm-up, nothing fancy, but I love having something for students to do when they walk into class. Next year, I want to whittle it down, maybe make it digital (maybe not), and make it part of a participation grade instead of a homework grade.

Introduce

  • The big one: going mostly-reading method in CP. This isn’t to say that we are doing CI or TPRS, because we aren’t, but we are letting go of most of the drill-type “chartiness” that is present in our grammar-based CPA classes (although we do a lot of reading work in CPA too). I plan to spend a lot of my summer working on how to support literacy for struggling readers in a WL classroom. Many of the plans I have made for the fall for my CP class include working in stations, reading and re-reading stories in multiple ways, and incorporating things like Movie Talks for novelty and vocabulary repetition.
  • Along with the big one, and maybe even as big as or bigger than the big one: introducing more spoken Latin. Again, not exactly CI, but doing things like Movie Talks and incorporating more interpersonal tasks.
  • Starting a participation component to the grade breakdown. I think I am including at least the following in the grade breakdown, which (if all goes as planned) will comprise 10% of the grade: board work, comprehension/participation checks, and reflection pieces.

I feel like there are at least 5 million other things I want to do differently next year, but these things have been on my mind for the past few days. Hopefully in a year I’ll have another post detailing all the successes and no failures whatsoever (ha!) that I’ll have in this next year.

Breakout Edu · Latin Club/Junior Classical League

A Quick Idea for a Breakout Edu Crossword Clue

I am 200% sure someone else has already come up with this idea, but I wanted to write it down before I forgot, and it might help someone else.

I am always looking for new clues for Breakout Edu, and as I was making a vocabulary crossword for one of my classes, I had an idea about using these activities in a Breakout game.

Here’s my initial thought:

  1. Make a crossword puzzle, either by hand or using a site like Armored Penguin. Here’s a link to the one I just made that inspired me to make this post.
  2. Figure out where in the game the puzzle will appear. Is it your very first clue? Is it inside a 3-digit lockbox or another box that students have to open? If you can create digital crosswords, do students scan a QR code to get there?
  3. Figure out how you are going to use the puzzle to lead to a clue. Maybe…
    1. Students find a clue that says something like 1,6,13,16. They will think they should just add the numbers up, but they are really looking for the letters that appear in the box of that number. This can lead them to a password-protected document or website or it could open a word lock – just make sure that you have the correct letters on the word lock to make this work.
    2. You could circle certain boxes on the puzzle and somehow have these represent a password or lock solution. I’m not sure at this moment how you would let the kids know what order to put the letters in, but you could always have them do trial and error.

Armored Penguin also lets you create info-gap crosswords, where Student A has one half of the crossword and Student B has the other half, so it could be fun to give them one half of the crossword early in the game and the other half later in the game.

Just some thoughts!

Breakout Edu · Latin Club/Junior Classical League

How I Create Breakout Edu Games

The Breakout game we did at GJCL Convention was a hit (I think). We had to limit it to 24 people per session, and when we showed up half an hour before the session to set up, we saw that there were already 24 kids (and apparently they had been there for some time), and they were turning other kids away to keep their spot in line. Awesome!

I had a couple of people ask me if I would send them some info about how to do these games, which is why I am writing this post. A couple of things to keep in mind: I am not a “pro” at this (having only written a few games so far), and there are many things I want/need to improve with this kind of activity.

My step-by-step process of writing a Breakout game is below. If you want to “follow along” with a real game I wrote, here is the Google Drive folder for the game I ran at GJCL Convention. You are welcome to use or adapt this game in any way you want; I took some portions of this game from games published on the Breakout site.

  1. I figure out what I want the theme/story of the game to be. For the game I did at Convention, I was aiming for something that would have mass appeal, so I went with mythology. I am doing a game for my Latin I classes for final exam review, and that one is pretty much just reviewing what we’ve done this year.
    1. If you are teaching novellas or other extended stories, it would be really cool to do a Breakout that not only asks about the story but simulates or extends an aspect of the plot (e.g. to help X character find Y thing that she wants, you must open the box with all the locks on it).
  2. I start a Google Doc and make a list of all the locks and materials I have access to or want to use in the game. Our school library has enough locks and materials for 3 Breakout kits (our librarians are awesome), but I have started putting together my own piece by piece. I will write another post some day about sourcing materials for kits.
    Anyway! We don’t actually have any Breakout-branded kits; all of ours are “open-sourced,” meaning we got them from Amazon and the like. I generally have access to the following:

    1. A “Breakout box” (large box that can fit a hasp on it – I use a metal toolbox in my personal kit similar to this one)
    2. Hasp
    3. Invisible ink and UV flashlight (this is the flashlight I have bought)
    4. 5-letter word lock
    5. 4-digit number lock similar to this
    6. Directional lock
    7. Small 3-digit lock box
    8. I have also bought 3-digit number locks (similar here) for myself; I don’t think (I could be wrong) that these are in our school kits
    9. Key lock
    10. I bought a set of 4 very cheap ($3 each) plastic toolboxes at Walmart that can fit a single lock (not a hasp). I use these in the games too.
  3. I think about what I want each lock to do and where I want it to be. You want a decent number (4 or so) of locks on the hasp, but I also like for them to open at least one other box, like the 3-digit lockbox or the cheap plastic toolbox, in addition to unlocking the hasp. Remember that the more locks you have, the more time the game will take.
    1. I like for the lockbox/toolbox to have the UV light inside it as well as some other goodies they will need for solving further clues. Think QR codes, flash drives, new messages they have to decode, etc.
    2. I also think about the type of information that will be required for students to unlock a lock. Take the directional lock, for example. If you use it, you need to have a clue that involves students finding directions or arrows in some way. You can have students use the UV light to find arrows that are written in a certain order; you can have them find the literal words “left,” “right,” “up,” and “down” as part of a clue; you can do something that requires them to draw arrows or pay attention to the order in which they see something (hard to explain, but the directional lock clue in the Escape the Underworld game linked in this post does this).
  4. I make my games very linear, so I start with “Step One” in the Google Doc. Step One should have everything the students need to get to Step Two. This is the Google Doc I did for Escape the Underworld; go to page 2 to see the steps.
    1. Step One for this game was a little too hard. You want it to be something that students can figure out fairly quickly and that builds their momentum for the rest of the game. You want the right amount of struggle so that when they get to Step Two, they’re excited, but you don’t want them to lose steam.
    2. For the first clue, I like using acrostic poems or messages, but if you play a lot of games with your students, they will figure out it’s your signature move. I’ve had an idea to do a QR code cut up into puzzle pieces as the first clue, but I don’t know if it would scan the same when put back together.
  5. After Step One, I go to Step Two. Well, duh, I know. But what I mean by this is I have to think about how what they solved in Step One will get them to Step Two, then so on. Now that they have solved the puzzle in Step One, what are they going to do with that solution?
    1. I try to get the whole gist of the game down before I go back and really flesh out the clues. If you look at the review game I’m writing for my Latin I students for their final, for example, I don’t have everything hammered out, but I do have an idea of what I want to do with each clue. I will figure out the exact details later.
      Breakout Edu screenshot

Beyond that, there isn’t much to it in the way of planning. I do keep two principles in mind when planning the games, and these have helped me a lot (after some trial and error running other games I got from the Breakout website):

  • Limit the number of “around-the-room” clues. I ran a couple of games from the Breakout site that involved the extensive hiding of flashdrives under objects, writing on posters with invisible ink, etc. These didn’t work as well as other games for a couple of reasons. For one, no matter how much you tell the kids “stay within X physical boundaries,” they are going to be able to see what the other kids are doing, and if one group is running all over their quadrant of the room looking under desks and bookshelves, so will the other kids. It might be fun for them, but it strips the game of its problem-solving nature, especially if they just randomly find something they weren’t meant to find quite yet. (sigh. this happened to me in a recent game, and it kind of ruined the experience.)
    Instead of doing the “hide-the-object” types of clues, I try to use a lot of digital clues: QR codes, tinyurl links, and the like. If you use password-protected options, even better. I also like putting the physical clues inside the 3-digit lockbox or the cheap plastic toolbox – that way you can have them physically manipulate something like a puzzle or a matching set while still requiring them to do the problem-solving to get there.
  • Spread the clues out. By this I mean delay the gratification. Students might find something in Step Two that they can’t even use until Step Five; or even if they somehow get into the Step Three lockbox by some stroke of luck (it will happen), make it so they can’t do anything with the materials inside until they actually solve the puzzle they were supposed to solve or until they get to a later step. Make them think about the collection of materials in front of them, especially the ones they get from opening an envelope, a Padlet link, the lockbox, etc. What can we use right now? What do we need to put aside? The process of determining utility in a group is really powerful for their critical thinking muscles.

For more resources: I think one of the best ideas is to look at some of the games that already exist and either run one of those with your students or adapt the ideas from them (that’s what I do).

Where to find games:

That’s all for now. Later this week, I plan to write a post about clue ideas that I’ve had rattling around in my brain, and then at some point I will write a general info dump of tips for running the games.

Let me know if you have questions!

Breakout Edu · Latin Club/Junior Classical League · Technology in the Latin Classroom

Two Alternatives to Password-Protected Word Docs for Breakout Edu

Could that title be longer?

I’m planning a Breakout Edu game for GJCL Convention this year, and one of the things I kept running into trouble with was wanting to use a flashdrive for a password-protected Word doc. This is fine when we do these Breakout games at school; I am working with my own students, I know that they have devices that have Word, etc.

But at GJCL, we would run into a few problems. The big one? Nobody would have a device that could open a flashdrive. The kids there will have phones, though, and Rock Eagle does have Wi-Fi, so I’ve been trying to come up with ways to have our puzzles that would normally lead to a password-protected Word doc lead elsewhere on the Internet.

I really only had two requirements: 1) it needs to be easy to use, and 2) it needs to be free. This is what I came up with:

  • Padlet. I have used Padlet (and password-protected Padlets, at that) in class before and loved it, so why not incorporate it into a Breakout game? If you’re looking for a direct one-to-one replacement for a password-protected Word doc, I think Padlet’s got you covered, since you can put just about anything in one. One of the big pluses that you get with using Padlet for Breakout is that you can store multiple clues on the same page – but in discrete blocks. You can adjust the settings so that students can only view the Padlet, but I think it would be cool to do something where students have to drag the little Padlet notes to be in the correct order to reveal something to propel the game. You could even use the background image as part of a clue or puzzle.
Padlet setting the password
Setting the password

Padlet clues

  • Quizlet. You can password-protect Quizlet sets, even with a free account. I like the idea of using a Quizlet set in a Breakout game as a codebreaking aide (if, for example, students have discovered a set of numbers, they can use the Quizlet set to “translate” those numbers into letters to unlock a word lock).

I’m sure there are many other websites and apps that can be used for password-protecting material. I think Tumblr allows for password-protected blogs, but if you’re playing at school, it’s likely blocked by the Wi-Fi.

Hopefully the Breakout at GJCL goes well! It will be my first time hosting a workshop, period, and my first time leading a Breakout with students who aren’t mine. Wish me luck!

Technology in the Latin Classroom

More Kahoot Jumble Ideas

Long time, no blog! I don’t really have an excuse. I was going to say that I went to Iceland, but I went to Iceland before my last blog post, so… foiled by my own dang self.

Anyway!

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the possible uses of Kahoot Jumble as a post-reading activity. I’ve had a few ideas since then about how we can use this feature of Kahoot; I’ll just list them below. Again, I don’t think Jumble is as useful as it could be. You should be able to use regular Kahoot questions and Jumble questions in the same quiz, but alas, I don’t run the world or any part of it.

Any type of sequencing activity should work well with Jumble, including:

  • Putting the days of the week, the months, the seasons, etc. in order
  • Putting tenses in order (for example: pluperfect, perfect/imperfect, present, future)
  • Ordering characters in a story from youngest to oldest or vice versa
  • Putting positive, comparative, and superlative adjectives in order
    • I think you have to have 4 things to order in each question, so I would do this by using “non adjective.” For example: non iratus, iratus, iratior, iratissimus
  • Putting events in logical order
    • For example: I wake up. I take a shower. I put on clothes. I leave for school.
  • Putting historical events in order
  • Putting phrases in order according to transition words
    • For example: First, I get home. Second, I do my homework. Next, I watch TV. Finally, I go to bed.
  • Putting meals or courses in order
  • Putting numbers (cardinal or ordinal) in order
  • If you can find a GIF of someone doing something in a recognizable order, you can upload the GIF as part of the question. Then you could have students arrange the sentences to accurately reflect the order in which the person does that thing. (Could that be a more convoluted sentence? I’m sorry – I’m tired!)

I would use the quiz to target a specific sequence or set of vocabulary words, like days of the week or transition words, and do no more than 10 questions in a quiz (otherwise it becomes easily tiresome and repetitive).

I’m sure there are thousands of other ways to use this feature – let me know your thoughts!

Thoughts on Teaching

Reality Checks

About two weeks ago, I was telling my Latin I CP class what we would be doing for the day: activity X, then Y, then Z, and so on. I don’t remember exactly what happened – maybe I had forgotten to print something out for an activity, or the Internet was spotty, or any number of things – but I realized that one of the activities wasn’t going to work out. So I said this to my students, and what I heard in response was, “Yay!” and “Oh… darn” and all sorts of other really disheartening things.

Talk about a reality check.

The rest of the conversation kind of went like this:

Me: “Hey y’all, you know you’re being rude and disrespectful when you say things like that.”
Student A: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be. But I don’t like that game. It’s boring.”
Student B: “And I don’t like when we do speed dating. It’s too slow.” (I know. It’s speed dating. But I guess the speed for their rotations was too slow?)
Student C: “And I hate quizzes!”

Time out. We had a serious heart-to-heart about expressing dissatisfaction respectfully and constructively, but while we were having this (pretty productive) conversation, all sorts of things were running through my head. “Are they learning anything?” “Do they seriously just hate this class?” “Is there anything they enjoy about being here?”

I second-guess (and third- and fourth-guess, if those things are possible) myself a lot as a teacher. Part of it is being so young and lacking experience, part of it is teaching in a different way than I was taught, and part of it is working in a program with two other teachers where I need to make sure that my students are ready when they go to Latin II, then III, then AP. I constantly ask myself, deservedly or undeservedly, whether my students are going to be ready for their next teacher, whether they enjoy coming to class, whether they tell their friends to take Latin.

So for me, ruminating on these questions I was asking myself in this moment would have not only been easy, it would have been habit. But instead of doing my normal thing (worrying), I did the productive thing, which was to just ask them.

“Hey y’all, what do you like about this class?”

“Quizlet Live!” “Word races!” “Relays!” “The videos!” “The stories!”

Oh.

Well, then.

Talk about a reality check.

These moments remind me that my anxieties and wildest dreams live on the edges of reality. Not every student is going to love every activity we do, but they are not dreading coming to my class. I truly believe that the majority of my students do enjoy Latin (whatever “Latin” means for them – Quizlet Live, games, grammar) and enjoy the Latin class that we have together every day.

This doesn’t mean I’m ignoring my students’ critiques. If they don’t like X activity, and if I don’t think it’s necessary for our class, we can drop it. If they want speed dating to go faster, I can make it happen. If they love word races, we can do them more often. I always want my classroom to be responsive to my students’ wants, needs, and interests.

And as for my students not learning anything… let me show you something from a recent vocabulary quiz. My Latin I students don’t know anything about conjugating, other than “-nt” is plural and “-t” is singular. They also know some of the perfect tense markers and endings, and they can recognize imperfect tense.

On this quiz, students had to write the word for “She caught sight of.” This is a stage 7 vocab word in CLC. In stage 7, they are still getting a conjugated verb in their vocabulary listings instead of principal parts, which means that for “catches sight of,” they’re seeing “conspicit: conspexit.”

One student had trouble remembering that “she caught sight of” is “conspexit.” So this student wrote the following on their quiz:

conspicitavit

For those of you non-Latin people reading, “conspicitavit” is kind of like writing “runned” as the past tense of “run.” If you look at the “c” in this student’s answer, you can see where I started to mark it wrong with my red pen. But I thought about it: “x” is a new perfect tense “sign” these students have just been introduced to. This student has internalized “-avit” as looking like perfect tense, and they’re not wrong. This student is learning the patterns of language, and while they haven’t internalized “x” yet, they do have that “-avit” down.

It might not look like it at first glance, but my students are learning Latin and things about Latin. The more they see and hear verbs like duco, conspico, and dico, the more they will get that “x” down. The more they see and hear Latin, the more they will get Latin. And despite all my worries about whether students are actually learning anything in my class, I end up with reality checks like the one above that let me see that they are, in fact, learning.

Community in the Latin Classroom

Back to School… Again

At our school, students switch teachers after first semester. This is the way it worked at the high school I went to, but we were on a 4×4 block (similar to how colleges work), so you had an entire new slate of classes spring semester. At the school where I work, this isn’t the case. For the most part, with the exception of some 1/2 year electives and other classes, our students have the same classes all year long, but their schedules are rearranged so that they have new teachers.

I’m not 100% sure why this happens – I haven’t really ever asked anyone who would know. What it means on my end is that I keep some of my “old” (fall semester) students and get some “new” students who had another teacher for Latin I during the fall. I should note that I keep my Latin I CP class (CP = generally – but not always – students with learning or attention disorders, learning disabilities, etc.) the entire year.

Our first day of spring semester was Thursday. It’s a little nerve-wracking for me. The first day of school is like the most awkward blind date, at least on my end. I don’t know a lot of the kids, they don’t know me, we’re blinking at each other while we’re waiting for familiarity to set in. It’s even weirder this semester, since we had an early release day Friday for the snow/ice storm, meaning our classes were only 22 minutes long. I get through these days by mentally projecting myself to early March, when I know that I will be comfortable around the kids, they will be comfortable around me, and I won’t need to explain “how” we do anything in my class, since they’ll already know.

But there’s work to be done before getting to that comfort. Most of the ways that I get to know my students are informal. I ask them how they’re doing, I greet them in the hall (a Spanish teacher friend of mine said the only Latin word she knows is salve, since all the Latin students and teachers say it to each other in the hall constantly!), I try to go to their plays and games and shows, and I really try to pay attention to those moments of their lives that happen outside the parameters of “class” and “learning.” (I know, “learning” happens wherever, and “class” is so much more than learning Latin, but I hope you know what I mean here.) In this respect, I do what so many of us teachers do: notice that he looks more tired this week than last week, remember that she has a test tomorrow in math that she really needs a good grade on, and on and on.

But there’s also the formal things that are built into class time. The first of these is our class prayer, the way that we’re required to start class (Catholic school, remember). Another thing is I do is something I’ve been really surprised by called “question on the back” (sorry, no clever name here). When students take mini vocab quizzes (future post on that), I often ask them a question whose answer they should write on the back of their paper. Nothing to be graded, just interesting, and they never have to answer. These questions range from basics like “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” to “If you could re-live any moment in your life, what would it be?” I did this for a few quizzes, and on the first quiz that I forgot to do it on, the kids actually said before turning in the quiz: “No question on the back? Come on, Ms. B!”

The other thing I do in the “formal” category of getting to know my students is the student survey, a staple in many classrooms. Mine counts as a homework grade to give students some incentive to do it, and I try to have a mix of academic and personal questions. If you’d like to use it or adapt it, here’s the link (fall and spring versions):

Next year, I’ll probably change the questions asking what the students’ least favorite subjects are, or at least find a way to re-write them. These surveys have been so helpful to me in giving me a peek into my students’ lives outside of school. If I have multiple students, for example, write Adventure Time for their favorite TV show, I might use GIFs or stills from the show for writing exercises or vocabulary Kahoots. Anything to make class interesting!