Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Curriculum Night

Well, it's that time of year again: curriculum (or parent) night is slowly rolling around for each of us. I don't know about you, but it is usually a very stressful night for me. I only get 10 minutes with each group of parents and 10 minutes is not a lot of time to fit in everything I need (*ahem* want) to say.

We've gotten a lot of emails the past few days regarding our own curriculum night (which was Monday!) that has elicited some thought from me as well as other teachers here. What should we be telling our parents? What is it that they want from us on that night?

If curriculum night is to be used to build trust and good relationships between us and the parents of our students, then perhaps we should consider/reconsider how we approach things.

Why do you do what you do?
I hear this a lot - at curriculum night, at schedule pick up, at elective fairs, etc.

* I do what I do because I believe everyone has a right to experience a language and make connections and I believe everyone has a right to a positive experience in another language.

How is my child going to learn in this class?
I teach using a method called Comprehensible Input. My goal is to make acquisition of Latin possible for all kinds of learners.
  • Every student has a right to experience being in a second (or third or fourth) language
  • Students only make progress acquiring ability in any language when they receive regular and constant understandable messages in the target language
  • Language acquisition according to the latest brain research, happens unconsciously.
  • I have an obligation to help students (and myself) stay focused on these principles of acquisition, namely, receiving understandable messages in Latin.

To this end, we do a variety of activities in the classroom that incorporate many ways of learning as well as the national standards for foreign languages.

  • Speaking, Writing, Reading, and Listening activities
  • Activities that involve physical movement
  • Hand signs to allow students to communicate their needs
  • A safety net, posted above board, to help students verbalise what they need
  • A word wall including vocabulary we commonly use as well as the 50 Most Important Verbs that support Latin in any time period

  • Culture research based on the National Latin Exam syllabus

How does grading work?
This year, rather than overwhelm parents with percentages, dates, and lists, I'm discussing how I assess:

* I will collect a variety of assignments during each unit. Students will have at least one (more likely two to three) opportunities to resubmit each assignment if they are unhappy with their grade and, when we do a similar assignment, show progress in proficiency. Students who would like to re-take tests may do so after attending at least one tutoring session

* E.G. - Today I collected a dictation from Latin II and III; we will do two more dictations this unit. Students may choose to submit either or both of these other two to get a better grade if it shows an improvement in proficiency in Latin.

What is the Daily Engagement Assessment?
This is an essential way for me to determine whether students understand what I say and also to show proficiency in listening and reading skills. You can read the requirements in this post. I keep my own notes daily and also ask students to self assess themselves weekly.

* The DEA grade is based off a student's ability to demonstrate that they understand what is being said to them. I measure this using a list of requirements. I watch students every day for verbal responses, hand signals, and other physical movements that show proficiency.

* E.G. - Latin I just completed a "Classroom Unit" where I commanded them to do various actions every day. If I said, "surge et lucernas extingue", I would expect the student to stand up and turn off the lights.

What is expected of my child each night? (AKA, is there homework?)
I have not given homework since my first day teaching, with an occasional exception. The longer I teach, the more I am convinced that homework has little to no place in my classroom. I do provide study materials for those interested and multiple copies of readings (in paper and online) and I do expect students to do some review on their own. I will only test, however, the things I am sure we have gone over enough times in class (not at home) to warrant a test.

* We should have time to complete most, if not all, of our work in class. That being said, I expect students to review/read/play Quia every night:

* Latin I - 10 minutes; Latin II - 10-15 minutes; Latin III/IV - 15-20 minutes


This year, I've gotten rid of the PowerPoint, lists for parents, and forms, and taken these questions (plus a few nuts and bolts) and put them on a handout (thanks to my department head for sending it out). Parents and I can just talk, rather than a lecture with furious note taking.

My hope is that by answering questions this way, and as simply as possible, parents will get what they need and also understand that I do care about their students and their students' success. 

What is your curriculum night like? How do you handle all the information in such a short amount of time?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why Being a PEAK Teacher Mattered to Me

Over the past four or five years, I've been feeling beat up as a teacher. If I watch almost any news station, I find teachers blasted for not teaching enough, well enough, being unprofessional, lazy, and uncaring. Not just particular "bad" teachers, but teachers. Read the comments on any news story about a teacher; whether or not the story is positive or negative, the comments will be filled with angry people explaining why teachers are worthless.

It shouldn't hurt me. But, like the trolling it is, it does hurt.

I put in crazy hours to be a decent teacher (want to know how many? One year I counted). I don't know any teacher who doesn't. We teach our normal hours, then we grade and plan and create materials as a minimum requirement when teaching. Many of us also attend training, participate in local, state, and national leadership, and take on additional tasks and hours when asked.

This is where PEAK comes in. In my district for several years there has been an award called the PEAK (Professionalism/Experience/Achievement/Knowledge) award; it was created to recognize all the teachers who put in extra hours and time to make education better for their students and their colleagues. Teacher of the Year awards are wonderful, but they can only recognize one teacher each year. The PEAK award recognizes everyone who has put in significant time outside of planning and grading and teaching. It rewards activity within professional organizations and time put into professional development and seeking additional knowledge.

When our district language coordinator resigned a couple of years ago, I worried that we'd lose this award. I didn't want to lose the only recognition we currently get for the extra time and extra energy and extra self that we put into our profession.

So, after giving him about half a month to settle in, I started pestering our new language coordinator almost as soon as the new school year began. I like him a lot; he always communicates openly and works hard to make sure language in our district is protected and promoted. And he not only put up with my pestering, he welcomed me to explain the award and to meet with him to help him update and perfect it.

And why did this matter so much? One of my colleagues asked me this. After all, the award was just for anyone who put in the time to earn it.

That's exactly why it mattered. Everyone who spent hours attending workshops to be better teachers; everyone who is continuing his or her education, everyone who blogs, leads presentations, mentors other teachers, publishes in journals, takes students to events on the weekends, all of those who give innumerable hours outside of their allotted duties simply to make teaching better for everyone concerned--all of those people get this award. It mattered to me that this award exists. I think it should exist everywhere.

I think everyone should ask for this kind of recognition, and be proud of it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Changes for the New Year (Or how my students make me a better teacher)

Two days until the kiddos arrive. Today I am working on their second vocab quiz, based on the 50 Most Important Latin Verbs list I have, as well as lots of Comprehensible Input activities for the first two weeks of class. After writing the last post on the things my kids wrote about on my survey, I took some time to consider things that I will and won't change based on their feedback. My hope is that, even though I am not taking all of their advice, they will appreciate the pieces I do take and it will improve the relationship between us.

Very quickly, here are the questions I asked of my students. In this post, I'll be focusing on the third question.

* What have we done this year that was helpful?
* What have we done this year that was not helpful?
* If you could change one thing, what would it be.

Timed Writes

The bag was pretty mixed on this, with roughly a 50/50 split on liking it. It did not appear on the third question, which may mean that even though they didn't like it, they understand why we do it, or they understand that I am not likely to change this activity. The biggest complaints were from students who write so quickly, they run out of things to talk about and often do not want to expand. The complaints that resonated with me most were requests for more time before writing. So, I am pairing this activity with the request to slow down. I need to remember to speak slowly for my students and to spend more time on certain things. My hope is that by doing this, I can help alleviate that concern.

Themed Units

It was fairly clear to me that themed units are the way to go (100% approval rating from my kids). This year, I am taking a pretty big leap and am going to used themed units to teach, rather than follow a particular textbook. Rachel has been blogging about our experience with it from last year. This year, I will probably update with some lessons and thoughts as we go, and as I teach IV preps this way. This is big leap for me and, as much as I shout that a textbook isn't what I teach, it is kind of scary to think about not using that crutch as much as I have in the past. I am both excited and slightly (okay really) nervous.

Sustained Silent Reading

80% of my students did not like this activity. I think this was for a few reasons:

  1. We were given an extra 10 minutes in classes last year to make up a large amount of snow days. I gave my students this time to re-read stories from our textbooks as a review. They were required to keep a log of unknown words and were not allowed to move on to a new story until they felt comfortable. 
  2. As "free" as it was (students moved at their own pace), I still mandated what students had to read. 
  3. Silence is hard. 
I know that SSR can be beneficial, but I keep coming back to Krashen's writing on reading by choice. The problem for Latin is that very few books and stories exist that are on a comprehensible level for students of 1, 2, 3, and even 4 years of language study. There are many movements among us to improve the library of easy readers (with no more than 200-300 words used in each), but these things take time and I have students now. I am not quite sure yet what this will look like.

Speed Date Reading

The majority of students who responded to this were my 4%ers. Their biggest complaint was moving at a slower student's pace. I will probably use this activity a little less than I did last year, but I will also want to vary the activities that introduce it and follow up to it, giving those who understand more quickly a chance to get what they need. I will also lengthen the amount of time each pair has to read. 

I plan to have my students re-evaluate me on a regular basis (at least four times this year). My hope is that these changes, as well as the things we are doing more of, are helpful and make positive change.

Happy new school year!