Student Ownership: Prompts & Novella Month

You’re looking at one of my student’s illustrations. The prompt was to read a description and draw the cover of a new book (coming laaaaaaate spring, btw):

Marcus likes being a young Roman mage, but such a conspicuous combo presents problems in provincial Egypt after he and his parents relocate from Rome. Despite generously offering magical medicine to the locals, this young mage feels like an obvious outsider, sometimes wishing he were invisible. Have you ever felt that way? Marcus searches Egypt for a place to be openly accepted, and even has a run-in with the famously fiendish Sphinx! Can Marcus escape unscathed?

The result in all classes was some pretty amazing buy-in before we even got to the first page! The prompt I chose also generated class content—the source of that class’ Picture Talk—for which students don’t have to be artists like this one; stick figures are great, especially the really silly ones that get everyone laughing…

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Agrippīna aurīga, Mārcus magulus & mȳthos malus: convīvium Terregis

New year, new books!

My observations after reading novellas *as a whole class* during COVID-19 remote learning has convinced me that audiobooks make for the best experience in that format. Narration has its value, sure, but for whole-class reading, the books with sound effects, character voices, and music, really do up the game. I’ve got three novellas coming up this spring, all with accompanying audiobooks. There will be more details upon publication of each, but here are some brief descriptions…

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Collaborative Storytelling: Whole-Class Writing

Back in June, I did this test of what collaborative storytelling could look like for asynchronous learning. However, the process can be used during class for even more interaction, and more story variations. This format also has the benefit of modeling writing, which can become new sources of input with timed writes typed up, edited, and read in class. This is not innovative. I’ve seen teachers do this live in the classroom. However, you might have stepped away from collaborative storytelling for a bit, or just forgotten how easy and enjoyable it can be. I’d recommend getting back into it, keeping it a regular activity throughout the year. Here are my current favorite collaborative storytelling formats for live remote learning:

Whole-Class Writing
Using the super simple story script sequence, write a story by providing either/or details for students to choose, or blank spaces for students to fill-in their own. Share out, step-by-step as teacher restates in target language, and/or submit so teacher can edit, type up, and share back to whole class. You get up to as many new stories as you have students, although I found success projecting just 2 stories; one from the class, and one from another class.

Slide Talk Stories
Screenshare/project the Slides, and scroll through to inspire story detail options. If you want students to compete over details a little more, choose two options from the Slides (e.g. “H.E.R. or Brent Faiyaz?”). Otherwise, choose one detail from the Slides, then whatever other shadow comes to mind. Use the script below for a home-run story.

WOWATS (Whole-class One Word At a Time Stories)
Generate a list of words (e.g. from most recent text, high frequency, all words students know, etc.), randomly choose one, collaborate to use the word in a story, and continue. Consider following Mike Peto’s story structure of limiting each story part to 5 minutes so ideas don’t go off the rails and it takes the whole class.

1) Who? Where? With Whom?
2) Problem
3) Fail to Solve
4) Solution

Word Wall (For Screen Sharing) & Class Bibliothēcae Docs

As a drummer, and former drum corps and marching band performer, coordination isn’t really a problem. However, the clickity clickness and toggling of teaching remotely via Zoom is enough to give me pause, and that’s no good. The One Doc setup has taken care of organization, sure. This latest update takes care of providing input during class with supports at-the-ready. Oh, and the class libraries are just a cool space for texts…

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Remote Learning: Different Kind Of Feedback That’s Actually Sustainable

As of right now, there’s no plan for what school looks like in the fall. Even if we were told one thing tomorrow, though, I’d take it with a grain of salt. Whatever fall teaching ends up being, it’s reasonable to expect there to be *some* level of asynchronous remote teaching, if not completely virtual. Reducing burnout in what might be an entirely new teaching environment should be on everyone’s mind. A change to providing feedback* is crucial. **Content-based feedback, NOT corrective. Don’t waste time on that**

One feature of providing input live during class is that all students receive it. Similar to batch quizzing that maximizes time and reduces burnout, the teacher does something just once that everyone in the room experiences, regardless of how many students there are. For example, the teacher can ask a question like “who thinks that…?” and instantly see hands raise, students nod, and/or hear responses. When providing feedback, such as reacting to the responses, addressing them, and/or restating one or two, everyone in the room hears that feedback at the same time (i.e. with 3 or 30 students in class, it’s still just one statement). This is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of input and interaction during live teaching:

Even students not directly being addressed receive the input just like everyone else!

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Pisoverse eBooks Are Here!

**Updated 8.1.20 with this All-Access Pisoverse & Olimpi combo**

The world feels like it’s burning right now. Everyone should pay close attention to police brutality, those defending it, and so-called “leaders“ encouraging it and inciting further violence from white nationalists. If we can’t stand against systematic racism directly, we must be observant of what’s going on in solidarity. No one gets to tune this out, and if you do, recognize that privilege. So, this eBook announcement of mine is insignificant in comparison. Nonetheless, teachers’ attention at some point will have to shift to next year’s micro world of school and the classroom. This is what I have to offer when it comes to putting out some of those fires.

I’ve teamed up with Storylabs to offer the Pisoverse in digital form. All novellas are now available as an annual subscription for ALL your students (up to 180…and if you have more than 180, may the Olympian gods hep you!). Options include single books, packs of 3, or complete Pisoverse All Access. The eBooks are all web-based, and a school-safe certificate is on its way for a downloadable app.

Storylabs also has some tools for teachers, like tracking how long students spend reading, built-in notebooks, and the ability to create, share, and use resources other teachers have made for each book! If you have ideas, there’s a link to a Google form in each book’s Index Verbōrum. Or, fill that out directly, now. Unlike some textbook companies, we want to encourage collaboration between teachers sharing materials that support reading novellas. Just be sure to check first to see if you’re creating something that already exists in a Teacher’s Guide! Oh, and all the narration and Audiobooks I’ve recorded is included with the eBooks on Storylabs! Each student can listen to every chapter as many times as they want while reading at their own pace. There’s also built-in adorable Italian pronunciation for the few books I haven’t recorded, too!

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No Wonder Teachers Say They Have No Time…

I just provided feedback to all my students who completed a school-wide Google Form assignment this week. My feedback was a simple greeting that also referenced what was written in their reflection section of the Google Form. It took me hours. Hours. No wonder teachers who give written/typed feedback say they have no time to create or adapt texts!?!

Now that we’ve gone remote courtesy of COVID-19, this kind of feedback is the only way to connect with students asynchronously (aside from a personalized video…which would take even longer than typing). Of course, in typical teaching contexts, this written/typed feedback usually includes corrections. Let’s take a closer look at this practice that’s sapping a lot of time…

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Grammar-Translation: Not Really A Method & Resisting It Now More Than Ever

**Updated 7.26.2020 with this Cicero quote**

“Hence, if someone does not have a natural faculty of memory, this practice cannot be used to unearth one…”
– Cicero (de Oratore 3.560
), trans. James May in How To Win An Argument, 2016

OK fine, the grammar-translation (GT) method has been used for a few hundred years. It’s still the dominant practice for teaching Latin, and widely known. However, what is there to the method, really? I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but it turns out the method is quite simple. GT actually consists of presenting students with textbook grammar rules they apply to words in order to understand the target language. As a method, then, teachers present rules, but what is GT—really—for the student?

Memorizing.

I posit that the entirety of GT can be reduced to memorizing. This makes it less a method, and more just a process. Students listen to or read about textbook grammar rules, and then recall and apply those rules in order to derive meaning. To be clear, this is a fairly complex way to arrive at step zero—establishing meaning. With GT, students not only must do this for themselves, such as consulting dictionaries and grammar notes, which accounts for a lot of “the work,” but the conscious process requires a decent amount of cognitive demand. Actual interpretive communication, on the other hand, either listening or reading, is an implicit, unconscious process, and effortless. In order to effortlessly apply textbook grammar rules while also recalling word meanings, though, a very good, if not uncanny memory, is required. Memory, then, is both paramount to student success with the GT method, as well as something we have no control over…

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