Tuesday, April 17, 2018

An Open Letter: to myself

Dear Miriam,

I can't help but notice that, right at this time, you are feeling down and stressed. You've spent this semester working with brand new authors, teaching things you've never taught before and are uncomfortable with, attending conferences (and presenting), and working with three clubs. And so, here you are. You are tired, frustrated, and angry -- mostly with yourself. Why? A few thoughts come to mind.

  • You aren't getting enough sleep and it makes you grumpy.
  • You have over extended yourself in some areas and are struggling to meet deadlines. 
  • You have explained things 20+ times and yet, people still ask the same questions. 
  • If others don't meet their deadlines, you can't meet yours. 
  • You are working with brand new material - just WHAT have you gotten yourself into? (hint: upcoming blog post alert!)
  • Given all the above, and the fact you are dedicated to your job, you find yourself missing time at home with loved ones. 
Why do you blame yourself for all these things, especially when most are not your own doing? Because you care. I get it. But... also allow me to remind you of a few things:

  1. Sleep is good. So is coffee. Don't feel badly about that second cup, or sleeping in on the weekend. 
  2. Okay, so you are a "yes" person. There isn't anything wrong with that, in that it allows you to show your skill, grow professionally, and feel productive. 
  3. Look at you go. You are finding news ways to communicate with all kinds of people. :)
  4. There is always a way. Kids are kids, even when they are nearing 18. Don't feel badly for making changes and accommodations you would appreciate yourself. It doesn't make you a bad person or teacher. 
  5. WOW.... you are working with brand new material, that you've never read before. 
  6. You are a dedicated person. You can apply that same love and passion to your loved ones and relationships as you do work. 
Are there areas for growth? Sure, but before I get to those, remember this:

There is an ebb and flow to life. Remember those days when you wished and hoped for something to do, well here they are. They will come again. There is always a busy season and, yes, sometimes they overlap. The key to it all is: balance. Sometimes we say "yes" to too many things. The question is no longer, "how do I say 'no'?", but, "how do I honour my commitments and honour myself?" That is how you handle this - by moving forward, one step at a time: one plan, one moment, one day. So, Miriam, tired teacher.... A few points to work on:

  1. Make a morning routine and stick to it. On the weekends, say "yes" to that extra hour and "heck yes" to that nap. This too shall pass. 
  2. In the future, you must learn to say "no" - with gusto. You have made so much progress, but there is still more to do. Saying "no" to someone else means saying "yes" to yourself.
  3. Remember: you love these kiddos. Their brains are not fully formed yet and they need extra guidance sometimes. 
  4. See above. 
  5. Be proud of the work you do, no matter how messy it is. You are growing as a teacher, and student. You are becoming an avid reader of Latin. 
  6. If your loved ones are asking for you, make the time. Say no to someone else. Do it. 
And... a few life reminders:
  • Say yes to water. 
  • Say yes to a movie. 
  • Say yes to extra kitten and puppy snuggles. 
  • Say yes to self care.
Remember: you are a good teacher and this moment of self doubt, stress, and general busy-ness will pass. 


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How I Use Frequency Lists

This post is in partnership with our latest podcast (will post before 9:00 pm TONIGHT) which you can check out over at steppingintoci.com. In our podcast, we were discussing Bob Patrick's idea of Collective Memory which we all use in a variety of ways at our school. What came from this is the ultimate question of how we choose vocabulary to focus on and why.

I will do my best to link to all my resources as well as others that I know of at the bottom of the post. If you can think of others (for any language), link to them below!

What kind of frequency list do you have? What kind of frequency list should I have?

There are a lot of frequency lists out there. They all serve different purposes and have different origins. So, the tempting answer is, "ALL OF THEM!" Of course, this isn't practical and I certainly do not look into each frequency list when I create or adapt material. Rather, I look into some favourites depending on my purpose and what I'm creating. That being said, there are many types of frequency lists and we should know about them:

  1. Teacher Created - This can be any kind of frequency list that teachers have had a hand in creating. Latin has the 50 Most Important Verbs and many languages have "super seven" or "fab five" sets of verbs that are fairly common.
  2. District/Locally Created - This may be a list of words that you must look at when teaching/preparing a lesson. They may be agreed upon at a variety of levels. 
  3. Literature Based - This is the vast majority of frequency lists. They are based in frequency of words in certain types of literature. Here are a few types within the Latin language
    1. Classical Literature - There are a good number of lists like this. They often take their frequency numbers from a given number of authors within the Classical Canon. 
    2. Medieval Literature - There are some lists like this that, unlike the previous, focus on literature solely from the Medieval period. 
    3. Mixed Literature - There are a growing number of lists that use authors from both the Classical and Medieval period. These are the lists I prefer. 
  4. Author Based - These lists are ones based solely on a singular author. They tend to take into account an author's entire body of work (if available) to create frequency lists. 
  5. Novella Based - Often these lists make use of other frequency lists and are more a vocabulary list than a frequency list. However, slowly, we are beginning to see requests for and examples of frequency lists within novellas. They are based solely on a single book and its uses of various words. 

So... Which ones do you use and when?

Ultimately it boils down to what I am doing/creating, but I do have a few tried and true frequency lists that I really like:

  • Essential Latin Vocabulary by Mark A. E. Williams - I use this one for almost every project. I like the way it is divided up by frequency, alphabet, and in categories. It did have a learning curve to using it, but once I got that down, it was very easy to use. I often pair this up with Lewis and Short's dictionary. I like the combination because I can check both the frequency and uses of a word to ensure it is the right word that I'd like. I also use it when working with authors. I can check the frequency of the words they use to determine if I need to adapt a piece of writing. 
  • 50 Most Important Verbs - This was created with much discussion by a group of Latin teachers. It is a really good list of words that most often come up within classroom discussions. It is not based on frequency of text/literature, but what we find kids most often wanted to use in our rooms and what we needed to communicate with them. I like this list when I am beginning with a new group of kids or when we are discussing things we've done, like to do, etc. 
  • Dickinson's Core Vocabulary - This list is quite long, and I have not explored all its uses, but I do like to use it when I'm looking for a particularly frequent word from Classical Literature. 

Okay, well, how do you use them, especially together?

When I use a frequency list it is to: adapt a piece of literature, write a novella, or create a vocabulary list for a unit. Here is a quick rundown of how I might use these resources in each of the instances. 

Adaptation of Literature

  1. Read the literature as is, with a translation next to it (make your own). 
  2. Make notes on the words your students already know. 
  3. With the remaining words, check frequency and categorise them: words to target, icing words, words to change
    1. Words to target become your vocabulary words. They are high frequency and/or key to understanding the unit as a whole. 
    2. Icing words are words that are key to the literature, but have little/no use outside of it for your students. They are fine to acquire, but not required. 
    3. Words to change are words that are not high frequency and have an alternative word that is high frequency. You will want to check the dictionary for these changes to ensure your new words mean the same thing (i.e. is the word used in the same way? is it used with similar words?) 

Writing a Novella

  1. In this instance, I'll start with the 50 MIV. I usually start here because I know it is a list that many teachers reference and many students will already know/be learning. 
  2. If I need a verb/word not on the list, I will usually go to the vocabulary lists my students already have. 
  3. When considering other words, my first stop is the Essential Latin Vocabulary to check for frequency and see other words that might work and then I go to Lewis and Short to look at its uses and other synonyms. 

Preparing a Unit for Students

This process is a little more free for me. When it comes to conversation, we'll use what words we need and want. I am not too picky about frequency, unless...
  • I know what literature is coming up. 
  • I know already that a word is high frequency.
Either way, I almost always, if I'm not sure, check the dictionary for uses of the word to help make sure I'm using it correctly. 

List of resources

  1. 50 Most Important Verbs
  2. Essential Latin Vocabulary
  3. Dickinson's Frequency List
  4. Dickinson's Vergil Frequency List
  5. Super Seven (listed in many languages)
What other frequency lists do you know about? Share them below or on social media with the hashtag #steppingintoci

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Brain Dump Round Up - Miriam's list of activities

This morning I came to work knowing, in great detail, the things I wanted to work with, but at a complete blank of how to do it. The normal things I tend towards would not meet the purpose of what I wanted. So, after having a much needed cup of coffee, I started on a search on my favourite blogs to find an activity I could use. What I found were a few new activities and one that I am using today. Additionally, Rachel and I were speaking about some alternatives to the things we use for review/brain break vocabulary activities. I thought I'd take this information and round it all up for you all. So, without further ado, here is my list of favourite and newly discovered activities broken up into categories (and in no particular order). I want to honour what has been said, so I will only present 1-2 sentences where needed to clarify my thoughts or provide review.

Activities with Readings

  1. Fan N Pick discussed by Martina Bex - I found this activity this morning and I cannot wait to give it a try! 
  2. Story Tower discussed by Martina Bex - Also found this morning, this is the activity I ultimately decided to use. Look at my twitter for some pics later today! 
  3. Story Wars discussed by Miriam Patrick, original from Diane Neubauer - I love this activity to spice up a reading! 
  4. Picture Relay Races discussed by Rachel Ash 
  5. Seek and Find discussed by Rachel Ash - I love the variations on this! 

Activities with Vocabulary

  1. Draw, Discuss, and Read discussed by Miriam Patrick
  2. In my hat described by Miriam Patrick - We haven't discussed this original activity as it is. There is a variation on this, the white elephant activity, which is linked below. 
  3. White Elephant described by Rachel Ash and Justin Slocum Bailey
  4. TPR in the First ten discussed by Miriam Patrick with resources from Latin Best Practices
  5. One Sentences Stories discussed by Miriam Patrick and Two Sentence Horror Stories discussed by Rachel - both of these ideas were snagged from other places. My idea came from ideas for English/Literature classes and Rachel's idea came from a Reddit thread. 
  6. One Word Picture discussed by Keith Toda
  7. Movie Talks/Movie Shorts discussed by Miriam Patrick (secondary post)

Activities with Personalisation (PQA and untargeted types)

  1. Discipulus Illustris (student interviews)  discussed by Miriam Patrick with links to Bryce Hedstrom's original ideas and other follow up posts. 
  2. Free Voluntary Reading discussed by Miriam Patrick (expect an update post later this year)
  3. Roll A Write discussed by Miriam Patrick
This list is by no means exhaustive and I am always searching for new ideas. Share them in the comments below! 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Draw, Discuss, and Read

"This is my best timed write ever!"

"Can we have five more minutes to write, please?"


I think these are examples of my dream feedback from kids. At the very least, they go right along side things like, "I dreamt in Latin last night", and "I think I want to be a Latin teacher".

I heard these things yesterday in class after three days of the lesson plan I am sharing today. I have done this style once before and knew that it was a fan favourite, but only at the lower level. Doing it at a higher level is more of the same, and yet completely different.

The Plan

I used this plan to introduce a new unit and, particularly, a certain set of "themed" (if you will) vocabulary. In Latin I, we did this with natural elements and pictures of scenes from nature and sci-fi. In Latin III, we did this with medical/body vocabulary and urban legends. 
  1. First, I went over new words. Theses words stayed projected for #2.
  2. Secondly, we did a picture description. I read the passage three times. 
    1. I read, they listen
    2. I read, they draw
    3. I read, they draw
  3. Thirdly, I displayed the picture and we discussed. We discussed a variety of things.
    1. What they put in their own images  1&3
    2. What colour things are 1&3
    3. How many of things are 1&3
    4. What they think things are (if they don't know the name) 1&3
    5. What qualities they think things show 3
    6. Where they think things are 1&3
  4. Fourthly, I displayed a story I wrote. In Latin I they were based solely on the picture. In Latin III they were based on the mythology and legend I researched. We discussed
    1. Areas of misunderstanding (what does it mean) 1&3
    2. Content of the story 1&3
    3. Where they think things are going 3
    4. Comparisons to previous stories 3
  5. Lastly, after the three days, we did a timed write. 
    1. Latin I (after 5 days) - I showed a new picture and asked them to do a timed write and create a story around the image. Latin I was given, if I recall ~8 minutes
    2. Latin III (after 3 days) - I gave them copies of the picture descriptions and the stories and asked them to write about a monster and give a description and write a story. Latin III was given 12-15 minutes because we spent more time discussing than I anticipated. They could:
      1. Choose a monster from a favourite book, movie, game, etc. 
      2. Choose a monster from their own or a favourite culture/heritage
      3. Create a monster from scratch

The Differences

I've noted a few differences between Latin I and III. Latin III is fresh on my mind, so, if you'll allow me, I'll focus on those interactions. 
  • Today, a student interrupted me repeatedly, in the target language, to ask if what we were doing was similar to some other monster from some other culture. Another proceeded to "quiz" me on what mythology it may be from. This is something my ones (and most of my twos) NEVER did. They took what I said as fact. This debate totally got me off track, but was worth every minute. 
  • Along the same vein, kids argued with me, in Latin. If they didn't think I'd described something correctly or that it was a different monster than I said, they spoke up. They used the language to express their opinions. In Latin I, that rarely, if ever, happened. 
  • By today, students had started to identify with these legends. We did a "Would you rather" brain break. I asked them which ones they'd rather face and which ones they'd rather be. You'd have thought the monsters were in the room the way the kids got into it and moved. 
  • In both years, by the end, students knew I was going to ask what was in the image and started shouting them out to the point that I was play catch up. In Latin III, however, they were whole thoughts and ideas. They were complex. In Latin I, they were single words or simple phrases. 
  • In Latin I, kids wrote, but were done when they were done. In Latin III, kids asked for extra time and were excited for a timed write... A TIMED WRITE. 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of discussion about targeted CI and untargeted CI. Personally, I am of the mind that we can use both. This CI was targeted, in my plans, but the discussions that came out of it were untargeted. The freedom that the kids took to talk about what they wanted (their fears, interests, opinions, disagreements, excitement) was amazing. The freedom kids had in their timed writes (and the freedoms they took) were amazing. 

I plan to do this again and it is now firmly planted in my box of goodies. I really like that it is a linked set of lessons that use vocabulary in a variety of ways to help kids become comfortable and acquire the language. Sometimes I feel like some of the things we do are so unrelated... I didn't feel this way this time. So, for me... this was a win. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

March "Madness": 30 Day Challenge

Hi all!

In the spirit of getting through this long and "holiday-less" month (AKA longest day without a break), I thought I'd challenge us all to a 30 day "share" challenge (which means you get 1 "flub" day). I'm going to participate as well and share my own challenge on the PBP Facebook page and Twitter. :) Reply with your own photos and experiences!

I hope we build community, have some fun, and really see how similar we all are :)

  1. Find and snap a picture of one item in your classroom you think not many people have. 
  2. Find and share a blog post about your favourite activity. 
  3. Find and share a favourite reading (class created or "authentic" - however you define it-)
  4. Find and share a favourite podcast episode. 
  5. Try a new activity and share 3-5 sentences about the experience. 
  6. Share a recipe for a favourite snack/mid week meal. 
  7. Snap a picture of your favourite stuffed animal to use in class.
  8. Snap a picture of a stuffed animal you use that you doubt anyone else has. 
  9. Share you favourite morning beverage details that get you going each day
  10. Share a brief story of how your particular language reaches into the depth of your personal life. :)
  11. Share 10 facts about your target language.
  12. Give a shoutout to a colleague who has helped you, lifted your spirits, gifted you a lesson, etc.
  13. Share a favourite teaching app or website. 
  14. Share a favourite image from your: textbook, classroom, reading, etc. 
  15. Share your ideal classroom layout.
  16. Share a teaching dream you have.
  17. Share a joy from your classroom. 
  18. Share something you do to reset/unwind. 
  19. Snap a picture of your desk --- NO MATTER ITS CONDITION :)
  20. Snap a picture of your lunch
  21. Snap a picture of your classroom at the end of the day -- even if you haven't cleaned it :)
  22. Share a reading/novella that you love and want to recommend to others (especially if it isn't part of the accepted canon)!
  23. Give a shoutout to a favourite teacher/professor/program/school that you had/attended.
  24. School Pride! Give a shoutout to your team! (ANY team counts :) )
  25. Share something you'd like more information on/would like to see more resources on.
  26. Share your teaching "elevator speech".
  27. Share your favourite non-language related movie/show that EVERYONE should see. 
  28. Share a tip/trick that you swear by. 
  29. Share your to do list for the day. 
  30. Share your favourite/the worst "mess up" you see in regards to your language/history and popular media. 

Now, let's have some fun!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Quick Report - Style Wars

Today we are playing a game and I thought I'd share it very quickly. I take no credit for this as this is a game/activity I took from Diane Neubauer.

Style Wars


This is a great activity for when you are nearing an assessment and are sure your students understand a reading. This is great for just before a timed write, an assessment, or as a brain break following a heavy reading activity


This is a competition between the class. I've done it in halves, which seems to work really well. The halves compete in reading part of the passage back and forth in different styles. The winner is the group with the most points. 


Set Up

  1. Divide the class into halves. 
  2. Give the class a story. Today, they received a copy of all the poems we've read this semester. 
  3. Put a list of "styles" on the board (see below). 
  4. Give students 8-15 minutes to practice and strategise different styles. 
  5. Play the game!


  1. Groups read in turns. They get to choose the style the opposite team reads in. e.g. if team A is reading aloud, team B chooses their style. 
  2. Teams can earn up to three points: 1 for reading in unison, 1 for reading each word in the selection, 1 for style
    1. The teacher is the judge! 
  3. Do this for as long as time allows or as long as planned. 
  4. Tie Breaker 
    1. Each team volunteers their "best" reader. 
    2. The teacher chooses a style.
    3. Both read at the same time, in the style. The teacher chooses the winner. 


The styles can be anything you'd like them to be. I always listen to suggestions, but I decide the ones we choose. I also decide which ones I will not put up on the board for various reasons (too much, inappropriate, disrespectful towards a group of people). Here are some of my favourites:
  • canibus - like dogs
  • felebus - like cats
  • avibus - like birds
  • vaccis - like cows
  • matribus - like mothers
  • magistris - like teachers
  • infantibus - like babies
  • celeriter - quickly
  • lentissime - very slowly
  • tacite - quietly
  • "valley" - in a valley/"California" accent
  • "Southern" - in a "Southern" accent
  • "British" - in a "British" accent
  • somniosis - sleepily
  • tristissime - very sadly
  • irate - angrily

Monday, February 19, 2018

What's on my desk? Miriam Edition

Ah, the desk! The center of our working universe (during planning at least), the hub of procedure, the choice hiding spot. I am always fascinated by what teachers choose to have on/in their desks and how it affects what they do in the classroom. I go between have an overly neat desk and a cavern of never-ending stuffs that seems disorganised but, in reality, is a treasure trove of semi-orginisation. So, without further ado, here are the contents of my desk:

On My Desk

One of the desk owls
  1. A desk fan - I get super hot when I teach. I tend to keep my room absolutely as cold as possible and I have a variety of fans in my room should it get too warm. A must have on my desk is a small USB fan gifted by my school one year. I use this daily, even in winter. It is easy to use, easy to store, and quite effective. 
  2. A desk lamp - Sometimes when we watch things or the kids are playing a game, I'll still do some work at my desk. This small lamp is cute and projects enough light for me to easily do what I need to do without disturbing the scene. 
  3. A variety of stuffed animals - These vary, but the tend to be the ones kids love the most. They are the most grabbed, most loved animals. They sit here because, (a) they get left out the most often, and (b) they are easy to grab for a lesson. Right now, that list includes: a kangaroo, a frog, an elephant, a raccoon, two owls, and an octopus that, being quite honest, was a gift from a friend and is my animal. :)
  4. A coffee cup - This should be self explanatory. :) 
  5. My Traveler's journal - This is my planner this year. I LOVE my planners and this year embarked on the bullet journal journey. I have a (what some would describe as) unhealthy obsession with stationary items. This goes with me everywhere. I try to keep myself really focused and organised. At home I keep all my pens, markers, washi tape, etc. This keeps me very accountable and I love it. 
  6. My favourite grading pen - It is purple. It fits in my left hand quite nicely and I use it for "grading". I say "grading" because my opinion on grading has changed. I have moved away from marking what's "wrong" and proceeded to asking questions that might evoke a more detailed/more proficient response. 
  7. (next to my desk) My "Go" Bag - This is my bag of things I have, just in case. It has my ankle braces (2 different kinds), 2 pairs of socks, my emergency medicine, and extra shoes (depending on the ankle braces I wear). You'll find many students/teachers with issues have these. This greatly effects my teaching because it allows me to teach safely. 
    My Go Bag
    My Traveler's Journal

In My Desk

In addition to the normal, regular, madness  I have:
  1. chapstick, headache relief, and stain remover - just in case. 
  2. My "silent ball" ball - This is a go to brain break for me. I love silent ball and it is easy to pull out at any time. I can also use this ball for circling, or a trasketball/word chunk game.
  3. Grading Folders - I keep all documents needing to be graded in folders marked by period and this hangs in the back of my room. In my desk I have file folders, also marked by period, that are of graded papers so that I can quickly hand them back at any time I wish. 
  4. My Sub Folder - My sub folder is a purple binder that I've marked in blank marker. I keep it at my desk so that it is quick and easy to grab. In my sub binder are:
    * a map of the school with colour coded routes for severe weather, evacuation, and my morning duty.
    * current rosters
    * two copies of my lesson plans
    * the emergency evacuation paperwork (multiple copies)
    * notes on any students and how to handle any situations. 
  5. A box of various colour pens - I keep a box of pens for when we do take a quiz/written assessment. I don't do this often anymore, but on the rare occasion we do, having this box means I can quickly pass out pens, grade items as a class, and get them back. 
  6. A box of snacks - I keep a few healthy snacks in my desk. Right now I am kind of low, so it is just pistachio nuts, but usually I keep some apple sauce in there as well. Mostly these are for me, but sometimes I have students who haven't eaten. I am able to offer something to them quickly. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Creating Classroom Culture: Taking Time with Students

This year when we returned from Winter Break, I set my Latin I students on a task: think of every Latin word worked on last semester that you can and write it down. The goal was to remind them of how much they've grown and learned since they started at the beginning of the school year (called "Collective Memory," the brainchild of Bob Patrick; after they listed words, I'd ask them to group them into themes, then we'd write the themes and words on the board, then have them try to think up new words for the themes and ultimately we'd have more than one hundred Latin words gathered).

While they started their lists, I took the opportunity to do something I really like to do, but often forget: I sat down by each group of students and asked each student how he or she was and what he or she did on break.

This seems like a small thing, but it tells my students I care. When I ask and they say, "Oh, nothing really," I push a little bit. "In a good way or a bad way? Because sometimes I like a vacation where I do nothing." And then I get a little bit more. And that means I'm not just paying lip service to checking in on them, I'm listening to their replies and I'm responding with a little information about myself.

And yes, in a class of 30 kids, this takes T-I-M-E with not just a capital "T" but every letter capitalized. I got through a good third of the class, then put students on the next step, and sometimes, I was in the middle of a conversation when it was time to transition, and I chose the conversation over the transition. But I don't regret that choice.

Because I got to know my kids better, and I am creating a culture in my classroom that values them.

They know I care. They know I love them most.

That means that when I chase them down, tackle them (metaphorically of course), and force them to do an assignment, it's because I want them to be successful. They know I'm on their side. So that time I gave up to talk to them at the beginning of the semester is time saved trying to convince them that I want their success now.

It seems like a little thing, but talk to your students. Get to know them. Ask them questions and really listen. Build a relationship with them so you have that to fall back on when you need them to trust you and your intentions later on.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Sometimes I fail.

I try to keep this secret. Not because I try to portray myself as a superhuman, able to juggle all my balls while balancing on a unicycle and reciting the first 100 numerals in pi. I just really hate failing. I don't like it. It's why I don't play chess.

Seriously. My dad always beat me when we played chess. So I stopped playing.

I've written before about the fact that what I do is hard, that it takes a lot of work to write my own lesson plans, a lot of energy to teach interactively and inventively, and a lot of research to stop using a textbook.

I rarely mention failing. But I do fail.

Sometimes a little.

Sometimes catastrophically.

And I fail in the classroom. Sometimes a little. Sometimes catastrophically.

Sometimes I get an idea and I think it's a really cool idea and I think my students are going to love it and it's going to revolutionize how they think about Latin and I explain it and I'm super energetic and my students are picking up on my energy and I want it to succeed and they want it to succeed because I want it to succeed and it. just. doesn't. It falls flat. In fact, I spend maybe thirty minutes untangling their Latin because instead of improving their understanding, I have instead tied their Latin knowledge into knots rivaling the Gordian knot that stumped all but Alexander the Great.

That is catastrophic failure, and I have known it.

And I usually keep it secret from you.

The wisest Jedi, Yoda is.
(You can get the poster here if you want.)
But here's the catch. When I fail like that, I generally apologize to my students. I explain my intent, and laugh at my result. I show them how to fail gracefully. And then I show them how to get back up and try again. I come up with a new approach, usually much more successful (after all, I definitely know how NOT to teach the subject now), and we try again, and we move on.

We celebrate my failures in class, we celebrate their failures in class, and we learn, and we move on.

I was at a presentation last February, and a woman sitting near the front used the phrase "fail forward." I think that is the perfect life philosophy, and definitely an important teaching philosophy. In developing a classroom culture, it is super important to teach students to value taking risks, and how will they value taking risks if they are afraid of failure?

And in sharing only my successes with all of you, how can I convince you to take risks in your own classes when I won't even trust you with my own risk-taking?

I fail. I fail all the time.

But I try to #failforward every time.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Movie Talks, OWI, and Student Interviews

This post is completely in the hopes of continuing discussion here and over on the Facebook group I help moderate: North Atlanta TPRS/CI Teachers. This is a non language specific group for teachers in the Atlanta area who teach using the principles of CI or who are interested in learning more. If this applies to you, I'd encourage you to come join us!

My question for January was: What would you like to see a blog post about?

We've gotten some great responses and I want to use this format to respond to those questions. In this post, I'll discuss one topic myself and then provide resources for the other two. Please let me know of any resources I missed and any other topics you'd like to see this kind of round up for. :)

Movie Talks

A shout out to Greg for asking about this. Greg particularly commented on wanting to know more about how to "make them contextual with the 'unit'". He also commented on tiring of hearing his own voice (which I completely understand) giving input. I think this is a great place to take this discussion. 

First, if you would like resources on the basics of putting together a movie talk, here are a few resources:
Now, on to the topic at hand. I love Greg's question because it gets to the heart of why and how we use movie shorts in class. I know some teachers make the movie short the topic of the unit and turn these things into stories and discussions. I've done this some, particularly if I'm given a vocab list with no readings. I will be honest and say that I am not great at asking a story or creating class stories. I can write them, but I find discussion and debate much better for me and my classes. This may change as I make the rounds back to first year (I am teaching level 3 this year). We'll see. 

For many of us (whether you are using a textbook, novella, or a series of readings), fitting in a movie short can seem like a break from the content that can harm the process. But, often, that break is a good thing. It refreshes the mind and gives the kids a new context within which to use what they know. Here are a few ways I fit movie shorts into my units. 

As unrepetitive repetitions of vocabulary

Sometimes, I'll use a movie short early on in the unit, before we even see a reading. This will be when we are establishing vocabulary, using things like TPR, word webs, PQA, circling with balls, and tasks. I will pick a movie short based (often) solely on the vocabulary I can best use in it. We will spend part of a day with it or maybe use it as a beginning activity over a few days. If I were building a week plan and intended to include a movie short in my lessons, it may go something like this:

Sample Plan 1

  1. TPR/PQA new words
  2. Review words, movie talk (I lead through movie talk)
  3. movie talk (I lead through movie talk), PQA/TPRS/etc.
  4. movie talk (I ask questions while they lead), PQA/TPRS/etc.
  5. continue with reading

Sample Plan 2

  1. TPR/PQA/etc new words
  2. movie talk (I lead through, question and answer, they lead through)
  3. reading over movie talk
  4. follow up activity: seek and find, partner retell, etc. 
  5. timed write

As a break from a reading/novella chapter/etc. to reinforce vocabulary

Sometimes, I'll use a movie short in the middle of a reading. It breaks up the monotony and provides a welcome TL break from the story line. Again, I'll choose a movie short based on vocabulary and, sometimes, I'll try and choose one that goes along with the story we're reading. I won't spend much time on this in class, often only one day. 

Sample Plan 1

  1. reading
  2. quick reading activity (seek and find, T/F statements), movie short (I lead through, question and answer)
  3. reading activity and discussion

Sample Plan 2

  1. reading
  2. movie short (I lead through, question and answer, they lead through)
  3. movie short (they lead through), reading activity
  4. reading discussion

As a point for discussion/as a topic introduction

This is probably how I most use movie shorts in my upper level classes. I really like to use movie shorts to spark discussion or introduce a topic, rather than a specific set of vocabulary. So far this year, we've used movie shorts to:
  • introduce qualities like loyalty, bravery, etc. 
  • debate topics like: love, heroism etc. 
  • discuss what characters possess what qualities
Rather than providing a sample lesson plan, I'd like to take a moment and point to the way I use the movie short in class. Since the purpose of this is different, I don't repeat the movie short. This lesson takes 1 day. It can fit anywhere in a unit. You can use it at the beginning to introduce a topic, or in the middle to introduce a debate or things like qualities. You can also use it in the middle or end to hold the debate or provide another context to use words. When I do this, I do not show the movie short in its entirety prior to discussion, usually because I want this discussion to evolve over the course of the class. 

An Example

When using the movie short "Dragonboy", I don't want them to know that he ends up being the hero in the end. I want the discussion to naturally move along the movie short. Here is how I'd use this example. 
  1. When choosing the movie short, I will have written a script. This will have key words I want to focus on like qualities. I may also write some leading questions to help the discussion move along. I will have also written in some key questions to ensure understanding on the base level.
  2.  I will introduce any new words at the beginning of class. I will write the Latin and the English on the board. Students may take notes on these at the end of class OR I will send them out via Remind. 
  3. We will start the movie short. 
  4. As the moments I chose, we'll pause the movie short. The following will ensue:
    (a) I will either: make a statement and ask comprehension questions OR ask them to describe the scene for me.
    (b) If appropriate, I will ask the debate/discussion question. In this particular movie short, I might ask who loves who, whether they think the person loves them back, who demonstrates qualities (like bravery, loyalty, etc.), who is the hero, etc. 
  5. As the discussion continues, I will try and lead the conversation if necessary.
    (a) bring focus to the main character or a unique situation.
    (b) suggest key words that they may have missed or need more repetitions of.
    (c) ask leading questions that bring up future questions. In this short, I may ask if they think they'll fight or who will win the fight. I may ask how the girl will react, etc. 
  6. When it is time, we'll enjoy the end in silence. They'll get to focus on how things actually occur. Many times, it may not be what they thought and will inspire even more discussion. 
A few final thoughts on this example:
  • I would reserve this for when you are sure kids are ready to have this kind of discussion. We began using this some in Latin one (although mostly with images) and Latin two (with movie shorts). Now, in Latin three, they are ready. 
  • This is a great way to change up a movie short. In this example we are no longer the sole source of input and we are showing the caring aspect of CI by letting the kids lead the discussion. 
  • You can follow this up, easily, with a timed write. You can have them reflect on the story, the characters, or even discuss themselves. 

One Word Images

Thanks Greg for this suggestion! I will be honest and say that I am not very skilled in this area. I love images and using them, but I prefer to use complex images already made and use them to lead discussion. OWI is a great tool, however. Here are some resources on the OWI. 
Are there more resources out there? Share in the comments below!

Student Interviews

Thank you Christina for this suggestion! I am sure there are variations of this, everywhere :). What I am going to point to today, however, is Bryce Hedstrom's la personal especial and how I've used it in class. 


First, here are some basic resources on student interviews
Are there more resources out there? Share in the comments below!

General Process

Generally speaking, you can use this interview to get to know students better, provide task based discussion in class, and allow students to shine. It gets at all three C's: comprehensible, compelling, and caring. There are lots of variations on the process, but generally:
  • student comes up
  • teacher interview student, circling through each question
  • teacher reviews answers with students
  • students write down questions and answers
  • student check each other's work
  • teacher and students review again

Variations and Edits

I've now done this for a few years. I love this, but I do find that sometimes it can become repetitive in a way that takes away from the compelling piece. So, I've experimented with a few different variations of this:
  1. Blogging: I got this idea from Meredith White and it worked really well. Students created blogs and each week completed a prompt. They talked about themselves, a dear friend or pet, a celebrity, and a fictional character. They responded to each other as well. 
  2. Changing and Adding Questions: This year, I edited the questions to include some more things that fit alongside our units. We talked about qualities that people have and in the questions, students told me what qualities they had and showed. You could expand this to include qualities they want to have or don't want to have
  3. Persona Illustris: Towards the end of the semester, when most/all students had been interviewed, I changed how we did this. Students answered the questions about a fictional character or celebrity they loved. The more information they knew, the better. I chose one each week to "embody" and they interviewed me. Then, they took a guess at who I was. 

Final Thoughts

This is something I continue to play with. I have no idea how I will incorporate it in this semester... but:
  • My kids are really good at this now. They know these words and can easily use these words, phrases, and questions. 
  • The questions are EASILY adaptable. For example: rather than asking students where they were born (natus/a est) in Latin, I asked where they were native to (generare). 
  • This can be done as a quick warm up or lead into further discussion

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My "New Year's" Resolutions

It's the "new year" folks! Of course, not really because it's only half way through our year. :) I don't give much credence to new year's resolutions, partly because I don't really do much for the new year. I've never been to a NYE party and this year was the first year I actually stayed up until midnight (with a brief nap between 10-11). My partner and I cooked a romantic dinner and he woke me up so we could spend the new year's together. It was pretty rad (if you will).

But, as I sit here in my empty room the day before my kiddos come back, I think about what's changed for me so far this year and what I want to change this semester.

Here we go! In 2018, I resolve to...

  1. have next week's "plans" completed no later than Wednesday of each week. BWAAHAHAHAHAHAHA am I right? Honestly speaking though, there has been A LOT of talk on the internet waves about planning. Should we even plan? What (in all that is holy's name) is an essential question (really)? If we do plan, what should those look like? How often to we "replan"? etc. It's all led to some great discussions online. Personally, I plan. I work in a group of 5 Latin teachers and we all collaborate and work together. I like to have my plans ready should someone need them in coming years or want to see what I did (which has happened a few times). I also post my plans online for my kids to see. Most don't bother, but those who are absent or who need them find it useful. 
  2. take time for myself. 
    I struggle with this, pretty much all the time. My partner recently said to me that he wants to help me focus and make sure I don't get overwhelmed. I greatly appreciated this and plan to take the fact that he noticed this seriously. This is common in teachers. We have a HIGH burnout rate and we face possible burnout many times in the year. For many of us, especially those who have mental and physical issues, this risk is even greater. I am looking at ways to take care of myself that include some work related things like:
    * standards based grading
    * low-need days like dictatios, R, R, R days, and OWATS
    * working to even further refine my grading and assessment procedures
    * sticking to a strict policy of being on time in the morning and leaving on time in the afternoon. For me, that means arriving by 6:15-6:30 (about half an hour before we are due) and leaving no later than 3:00.

    and... some non work related things like:
    * taking time to care for my hair properly (curly girls anyone?)
    * enjoying my pets
    * reading more
    * enjoying my traveler's journal and the bullet journal process
    * cooking more
  3. take my time.
    I've done a lot of this already. Rachel discussed the importance of slowing down last year and the previous year, Bob and I discussed the importance of really evaluating how we do things and our assessments. I want to do more of this. This last semester I slowed down and went at my kids' pace. Based on their feedback for this semester, I know I made the right decision. I want to do more of this. This includes reevaluating how we are doing things like Free Voluntary Reading and R, R, R days. We were reading a class novella, Itinera Petri. We didn't finish, but MANY kids expressed an interest in continuing to read. I also want to honour the things they chose to read for this year. blog post coming
  4. sleep more.
    Here we go... every teacher's vow. I need it. We all do. One of the things I've discovered this last semester, thanks again to my partner, is that: naps are okay. If I take a nap, I don't need to feel like I wasted time because, it was what my body needed. If my body needs a nap when I get home at 4:00, I'm going to take one. It's better to take a short (26 minute) nap at 4 than it is to fall asleep on the couch at 7 and wake up at midnight. 
  5. enjoy my work more. 
    I LOVE what I do. I really do. That doesn't mean, however, that there are days (maybe weeks here and there) where I wish I could sleep in more (see 5), wish I could work on my house more (see 2), etc. That doesn't make me a bad teacher. What could/might is if I allow myself to get dragged down by the monotonous aspects of work. You know what I mean: the paperwork, the sometimes gratuitous meetings, the early hours, the days where I hear my name every 2 seconds and it is for the same gosh darn question which I not only addressed at the beginning of class, but also wrote on their papers AND on the board.... You get what I mean :). So, I want to enjoy more of what I already love. I want more tasks. I want more discussions. I want to move more. I want more smiles. I want to hear kids say "I can't wait for Latin" every gosh darn day. So, I'm going to find ways to accomplish that with more:
    * QR codes/running dictations
    * Tasks
    * stuffed animals!
    * FUN reading/discussions
  6. listen to more music and podcasts.
    Maybe this could go under number 2. Sure, okay. But it is ALSO professional development. I have my personal podcasts I listen to: food and health, How Stuff Works, story telling podcasts, etc. But, I also have professional podcasts. There are podcasts in my target language (although not many). I listen to those on occasion and I listen to some CI podcasts as well. PBP has started our own CI podcast too. This is a great way to get a little input for myself on the way to or home from work and provides a decent break from the news going on (when I need it). I'd love to add to my list! Comment below with your favourite podcasts! 
  7. reflect more.
    As I write this, I am reading my resolutions to Rachel and this popped up for me: I am being a lot more reflective lately (and in this post) than I have been in the past. We have become very reflective. We reflect on every unit, every assessment we do and I am SO HAPPY with this. I want to do more. I want to share more here and over at Stepping into CI. I know Rachel does too. Bob has always been reflective, and I relish in the fact I benefit from both of their reflections. I want to feel so comfortable with reflections that, if I need to, I can change what I do and how I do it when needed, instead of waiting until the end of the semester. 
  8. avoid toxicity.
    Lastly, and maybe key to each of these, is avoiding toxicity. Rachel and I talk about this all the time. We are members of various online communities and we find value in them all. We also find issues in nearly all of them. So, we want to avoid the toxicity. To this end, I want to suggest a few points you may take to do so, while keeping those positives

    For Social Media
    * edit your notifications - I edited the vast majority of my groups to varying degrees. Facebook allows me to only show the notifications I want: every one, only when friends post, only on things I comment on/post, never at all. I love this feature. I can also choose my favourite groups which appear on the top of my list. That ensures I'm not scrolling through things I don't want to read all the time.
    * keep some social media ONLY personal - for me, this is my instagram which is mostly pictures of my pets and my food. Every once in a while I post something school related that I REALLY love, but for the post part it is only personal. Facebook is a straight up mix and Twitter is mostly school related with some political/personal things mixed in (rare).
    * choose your groups carefully - I am a member of some groups. I am not a member of all groups. At one time I felt the need to be a member of everything, because... well I want to know what's going on! But now, I value my time a little more and I do not want to be overwhelmed with toxicity. Do not feel badly if you decide not to join a group.
    * as a last resort, leave a group - If you feel a group has become toxic. Leave it. Simple.

    For Life
    * eat lunch alone sometimes - I am an introvert. I am very introverted. If I'm not careful, I can isolate myself. That being said, sometimes I need a reset. I love my lunch mates. Sometimes, I need a break from people OR I need to allow myself to reset and get rid of any toxicity I have. Eating alone is okay sometimes.
    * remember, they are teenagers - I am awful at this. I spent many years giving all the value I had in myself over to others. I have spent years trying to undo this damage. I still struggle sometimes. Our kids are just that: kids. Sure, they aren't five year olds anymore, but they are still kids and they say things. Sometimes, a kids' words can become toxic if we give them too much power or if we dwell on them. Having a bad day? Okay, accept that, reflect on it. Give them the same understanding. Oh, that's how you feel? That's okay, I recognise you may feel differently tomorrow or next hour.
    * take time for yourself - Ah, the key mantra. I mean it. We can be our worst enemy. We can be the most toxic in our life if we allow it OR if we don't give ourselves time to be ourselves. Schedule it if we have to. I know I am.
    * find a safe space - Let's face it. Some of us are not in the most supportive environment (for whatever reason). We, as people and teachers, need to have a professional space where we are safe to express ideas and concerns and find solutions to issues. If you do not have one in your physical building -- find one in your teaching friends, even if they aren't in the same school/city/state/country as you; find one online; find one in Professional Learning Groups. The point is: find one. Latin Best Practices has some great tools for building this space (including a checklist for administrators). There are FB groups where you are encouraged to experiment and enjoy. The second point is: be safe. Avoid toxicity and ensure your space is safe. 
So, there you have it! My teaching resolutions. What are yours?

Monday, January 1, 2018

Capstone Projects: My New Approach to Google Projects

This post has been in my head since the beginning of school this year, when I stepped back from the previous Google projects I had done with my classes, that tended to yield mostly good but sometimes really lacking results, and thought about what I really wanted from my class. This year I am responsible for Latin IV lesson plans, and all of my Latin IV students are seniors.

I realized that what I wanted most was to help them find a way to contribute to the Classics community, where they have found a home for the past four years. So my approach this year has been to build the Google project into something ambitious: a year-long project that either contributes to publicity about Latin or creates new resources for Latin teachers.

So I renamed the project "Senior Capstone Project" and put aside a notebook to use exclusively with the project to record my meetings with students.

Pictured here with a strategically placed Starbucks card
to protect the innocent.
They got one day to discuss with others what they would like to do for their projects and to form groups for that purpose. One of my recommended projects was to teach a small Latin class at the nearby elementary school. I had several students interested in that option, so I contacted the school's principle, we had an amazingly animated and productive meeting, and my students were organized to teach at the elementary school once a month. Since I had so many interested, they divided into four groups, each with its own set of 15 elementary students. On the very first day they all returned excited and bursting with how much fun they had teaching the younger students. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the day to discuss their ideas and plans, I met with each group the next day and discussed their plans in detail. This gave me a chance to help them organize their approaches and to help them extend a project if it was underwhelming, and to help them scale a project back if it was overreaching.

Since then, I meet with each group once a week, check in on their progress and see if they need any extra direction to move forward. So far:
  • I have nine students (!) teaching four classes at the elementary school. I meet with them and help them design their lesson plans so the classes will be fun and engaging.
  • I have four groups designing games either steeped in Classics knowledge or in Latin itself. Two are basing theirs off preexisting games and creating their own spin, and two are completely new. We have talked about realistic options for production, the importance of Copyright law, and the need for alpha and beta-testing new games.
  • I have two coloring books being designed, one at novice Latin level and one advanced. The advanced book is very ambitious, and if they are able to create as much as they hope, it should be fantastic.
  • I have a pair working on translating songs into Latin and (eventually) recording them. They began based on the theme of internet memes, which has morphed completely into songs from LazyTown.
  • One student is designing an online magazine based in Classical culture but designed with a modern aesthetic. I get to see its progress each week, and am enjoying it very much.
  • One student is writing a blog over Roman clothing. He has explored themes, like military gear, as well as the basic Roman ensemble. 
At the halfway point, I feel like most groups are where they should be for successful completion by the end of the school year. There are a few that are struggling, and we had a serious discussion over their commitment and my expectations. 

Now I am looking back at my previous Google Projects and wondering how I could bring this level of focus to a younger group, like my Latin I students. One very nice perk to Google projects is that they make it much easier to write compelling student recommendations--each student has completed several passion projects for me to brag about in their letters, and details like that make students stand out to Admissions.

Overall, I recommend this project! It has been a joy and, I feel, extremely successful so far.