FVR/SSR · Thoughts on Teaching

Getting Ready for 2018-2019

Down here in the South, school starts early (but most of us are out around Memorial Day), so we’ve got pre-planning starting this coming week, and then the kids are back August 6th. I’ve been thinking this summer about what I want to change for the upcoming year, and I have a lot of plans.

Latin I CPA

  • No more bonus points. I didn’t give a ton of these anyway, but I felt like they were inflating my students’ grades in a way that didn’t reflect what they were actually learning. So this year I’m putting more of an emphasis on remediation and mastery instead of bonus points.
  • Retrieval practice. One of my good friends at work uses retrieval practice with her history students and saw incredible success with it last year. This year I’m going to try it by using it as my board work (bellringer/do-now).
  • Really emphasizing reading. I want to pare down some of the “extra grammar” instruction we do in Latin I CPA to supplement what’s missing in CLC so that we can use our class time more efficiently to get kids better at reading Latin. To do this, I think I’m going to put more emphasis on reading comprehension and some translating on tests and cut down on the number of “What tense is X verb?” questions. The tricky part about this is balancing that desire with getting kids ready for AP, which does ask questions like that. So this year I’ll be working on finding that balance.

Latin III/IV CP

  • Writing the curriculum! This is a new class for us; well, we had III CP last year, but this year we are “untextbooking” with it. I decided to plan the fall semester around the mythology topics on the NLE syllabus, so we are going to start out with a quick gods and goddesses unit, then transition to reading an easy novella (Pluto: Fabula Amoris by Rachel Ash and Miriam Patrick) for a unit on the Underworld. After that, we will move through the Aeneid (using the prose retellings from the Jenney series), Jason (using stories from Using Latin), and Theseus (anchoring the unit with Andrew Olimpi’s novella Labyrinthus). The spring semester is still more up in the air, but I want to do some history-focused readings. If we ever break IV CP into its own class, I would love to teach Ellie Arnold’s Cloelia in a history unit.
  • Reworking grading categories. Big changes happening here, so I’ll try to explain each one.
    • Taking out homework as a grading category. I don’t give much homework in the first place, and I give even less to CP. I’ve decided that instead of having category for something that I really don’t use, I’m just going to use detentions (“unprepared for class”) instead if students don’t have homework (again, on the off chance that I assign it).
    • Replacing tests/projects with major assessments (35%). This is mostly semantics. I’m planning to do a lot of extended projects with this class, and “tests/projects” was just an unwieldy category for me.
    • Replacing quizzes with minor assessments (20%). This is actually more about practicality than semantics. I used to give “minor” projects that counted as quiz grades, but it was always hard for students to keep track of a minor project (quiz grade) vs. a major project (test grade), so I’m hoping that by calling the assignment “Such and Such Minor Assessment,” it will be easier for them to work with.
    • Proficiency portfolio (15%). This is what I’m most nervous about. I’m switching over to really using the ACTFL proficiency levels with this group a) because my ultimate goal is for them to make progress in their reading proficiency and b) because this class has such a wide range of abilities that using a portfolio system to track individual growth is, in my opinion, the most equitable way to measure a student’s performance in this class. My plan is to meet 3 times a semester with students to talk about their portfolio reflections, which I’d like to post here once I can figure out who to give credit to for the parts of it I adapted (i.e. shamelessly stole).
    • Habits of Strong Readers rubric (10%). I am using an adapted version (somewhat specific to my students’ behaviors) of Tina Hargaden’s Habits of Strong Readers rubric to measure my students’ behavioral habits during silent reading. I adapted her rubric because I wanted this portion of the grade (which is what I replaced homework with, by the way) to reflect not just social behaviors but metacognitive and reflective behaviors as well. I know that there is much to be said against the idea of incorporating any aspect of behavior into a student’s grade, but since what I am doing here is trying to assess their progress, it’s important to me to measure how much my students are contributing to (or inhibiting) their own progress. And… it’s only 10% of the grade.
  • Taking a field trip? I’d really like to take this class to the Carlos Museum at Emory. The Carlos is an incredible resource for those of us living in the Atlanta area, and who doesn’t want to see mummies?
  • Taking the ALIRA. I’d also like to have this class take the ALIRA this year as part of my focus on moving them toward a focus on proficiency. I’m also just curious to see how they would do on it.

Latin III Honors

  • Honestly, just teaching this class. I’ve never taught it before! Unlike III/IV CP, there is a set curriculum already for III Honors, so that part is taken care of. I’m really excited to revisit some poetry I haven’t read in a long time, especially the works we’ll be reading by my main squeezes, Catullus and Ovid.

I know everyone reacts to the start of the year differently; some people dread it, some people love it, and for some people, it’s just the start of the year – just a return to work. I’m really excited this year because of all these new changes and because I just love my school, my coworkers, and my students (and their parents, to be honest). At the end of the day, I can’t think of anyplace else I’d rather be.

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.

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.

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.