“What Novellas Do You Buy, Magister P?”

All of them.

When someone shares the latest novella to the Latin Best Practices Facebook group, I add it to my list, then drop the link into my budget/item request form at school so I can get a copy. I order one, read it, then order more if it’s gonna work well for first year Latin students. I’ll order a lot more if it’s a hit, or maybe 1-2 if it seems good but a little above reading level. Once I notice students always going for a particular title during independent reading time, I might even order enough so we can read some of the book as a whole class. N.B. no, I don’t always finish books as a whole class, especially if it’s been more than 3 weeks of reading.

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Do Now/Activator/hodiē

For a few years now, I’ve been starting class with a calm, focused, 5 minute task for students to do while I take attendance and recover from our not-much-transition-time between classes. This is crucial. I greet students at the door—itself a high leverage practice that tells us so much about how a student might be doing that day and what their needs are—then, when official class time begins, I walk in, and project the task. I say nothing to begin. There’s no corralling, no raising my voice, no vying for attention. Students know that once the greeting is projected, it’s time for Latin. If anyone’s still in that “class transition” mindset instead of a Latin class one, I casually walk around, perhaps supplying them a pencil, pointing to our scrap paper area, or motioning towards the task, and we’re off and running with the start of class. This is part organization, part content, and part classroom management. N.B. this opening all takes place on my projected ONE doc. See this video from 2020 for more details. It’s basically stayed the same, even with in-person teaching.

What’s the task?
Nine out of ten times it’s to copy the date, weather, and a short greeting into notebooks added to throughout class, which serves as some optional portfolio learning evidence. This is the start of the weekly sheet/packet routine. While I no longer use weekly sheets, many things that used to be on them still end up in a student’s notebook, just with less structure and repetition. I like the flexibility now to include all of the weekly sheet content during a given class, or none of it besides the date. Last year, I added a note or two below the date, or some commentary about the school week’s or day’s agenda. This whole idea is really an indispensable way to firmly anchor the start of class, especially when there’s some kind of short task to get things going. Recently, though, I was thinking how to use this class opener for a more robust text. Nothing fancy, but there’s opportunity there. Here are my ideas for this year:

  • Magister P [discipulīs/classī Venetae/omnibus, etc.] salūtem dīcit
    Yeah, why not? If students have been copying “salvēte omnēs” all these years, might as well infuse some conventional Roman stuff each class. We rarely have characters writing letters to each other in class stories, but maybe we could start!
  • More weather descriptions & Q/A adverbs
    Instead of “pluit” or whatever, some commentary/question about rain would be a nice springboard for a quick discussion. In terms of adverbs, I’m thinking of drawing more attention to the Q/A posters by using phrases such as “mihi haud placet.”
  • Center piece: “describe the object, in Latin”
    Several years ago, I started Friday classes with a “guess what it is” or “what’s in the box?” kind of prompt. Drawing from that idea, I’ll either place an object on display, or put an image of something below the day’s greeting, having students describe what they see. This is a different kind of writing we don’t do much of, and I’m hoping that doing more of it will produce rich descriptions of items and characters in our stories.

Pre-, Dum-, and Post-Reading Cycles

In a Latin Best Practices Facebook group discussion months back, I shared that I wasn’t sure I do any pre- or post-reading. I just have a bunch of…activities. While I still think that’s true, I’ve decided to consolidate and organize everything under the pre/dum(during)/post categories to make planning even easier.

I almost can’t believe I just typed that. Planning—for me—already takes mere minutes. With broad Class Day and Culture Day unit plans established for reference, I’ve had no need to plan the class agenda more than a day or two in advance. In fact, doing so becomes a waste of time as things become irrelevant, or causes frustration when plans—inevitably—must change. N.B. I’m able to plan this way because I work under a “forward procedure” approach, which I highly recommend. Still, if there’s a way to reduce planning even further, I’m game.

I hear teachers talk about cycles a lot these days, which are kind of like longer planning routines. Since my school went to A/B day block schedule, the whole “Monday = ____ day” is pointless, and the longer 84 minute classes really messed with how I structured it all. This year was a big adjustment to say the least. So next year, I’m gonna give the cycle thing a try as it pertains to pre-, dum-, and post-reading sequences within a single class. This differs from what Elizabeth Davidson shared, noting that her sequence typically lasts 4-6 days. These past weeks, though, I’ve been using the sequences when reading a short text, such as a novella chapter, in one class. As such, the amount of pre- needed for the reading (dum-) is far more limited, as well as the scope of a post-reading wrap-up (usually a game). For the descriptions of everything that follows, see this updated list of activities, which is now organized by timing, not prep…

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As Many Students As Possible (AMSAP) Stories

I asked the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook group for ideas on how to get one massive story with every student starring in it. I was able to get a LOT of students into their own story back in the fall, but then storytelling kind of tapered off like it usually does. I still haven’t found a way to keep storytelling going throughout the year with all the other stuff we have to read, so that might just be my M.O., but I’m not ready to just accept things as-is. Besides, I’m more than enthusiastic about stories and am always on the lookout for collaborative storytelling options that don’t have any acting. The following idea is a combination of Mike Peto’s and Karen Rowan’s suggestions:

Prep:

  • On index cards, students write their name, something they like/like to do, and a role they’d like to have in a multiverse where anything’s possible.
  • Collect cards.
  • Put students into groups.
  • Shuffle and redistribute cards to groups.
  • Groups brainstorm possible connections and story elements based on card info.

There are two different ways to play: either the class works together and story isn’t done until all cards are gone (or class ends if doing this in one block), or the first group to get all their students in the story wins. I asked my students which one they wanted. All classes chose to collaborate, and got between 7 to 13 students into a story in about 30-40 minute. I also began by showing subsequent class sections the other class stories. By doing so, a competition emerged naturally where students to get more students into their story than the other classes.

Process:

  1. Pose a question (e.g., “Where were they?”).
  2. Give students time to discuss in their groups.
  3. Accept one group’s suggestion, or class votes.
  4. Repeat.

Notes:
– It will help to have one rule: a group can only suggest a single student at a time. This avoids a “who were they with?” question resulting in a list of all the students, lol.
– The group brainstorm and discussion result should help create a more coherent narrative.
– Even in the group-only win condition, a teacher goal could be to get every student into the story, so when you accept suggestions from groups, do so evenly, or at least don’t take them from just one or two groups. The winner should definitely be the group that contributes to making the most enjoyable story, but you can extend the storyasking process to include many students, their interests, and roles within the fantasy world.
– Use a target-language, or code-switch format depending on level.

Olianna et sandalia extraōrdināria: Published!

Olianna learns more about herself and her family in this psychological thriller continuation of “Olianna et obiectum magicum.” We begin at a critical moment in the original, yet in this new tale, not only does the magical object appear to Olianna, but so do a pair of extraordinary sandals! Olianna has some choices to make. How will her decisions affect the timeline? Will things ever get back to normal? If so, is that for the better, or worse?


20 cognates, 20 other words
1500 total length

While many Pisoverse novellas contain references to each other, none of them are what I would consider a sequel. This new book is different, though, picking up immediately in mediās rēs of an event towards the end of Olianna et obiectum magicum. As a true sequel, then, Olianna et sandalia extraōrdināria was deliberately written to include almost all the vocab from the original. The result is a book with 40 words, but just half are new. This reduces the vocab burden for any reader already familiar with the first book.

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs

Rethinking “CALP”

A few years ago, second language teachers I knew began borrowing terms and concepts from the English Learner (EL) world. I teamed up with John Bracey, John Piazza, and David Maust to present some of these ideas to Latin teachers at ACL’s 100th Annual Meeting in New York. The biggest impact the four of us found was looking at how to explore Roman topics as a class in Latin (vs. English), and we did this using a CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency) framework. It turns out that CALP is an older term that could use some updating.

CALP was originally conceived by Cummings in 1980/81 to describe the kind of language that students encounter in an academic setting as opposed to BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills) used for socializing. Within that framework, Cummings wrote that there’s social language and academic language, and that the latter is more complex and advanced than the former. However, critics such as Scarcella (2003), MacSwan & Rolstad (2003), and Bailey (2007) pointed out the deficit mindset in characterizing social language as inferior to academic language. Therefore, lest we continue to build walls, it’s time to update the term, and we’ve got options…

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Common Ground (Henshaw & Hawkins, 2022): First 30 Pages All Language Teachers Should Read

This post includes practical ideas I got from Florencia Henshaw’s and Maris Hawkins’ theory-to-practice SLA (second language acquisition) book. The preface and first chapter contain what’s probably among the best 30 pages a language teacher could read, especially one having little familiarity with SLA, and/or those who missed the Tea with BVP train, and While We’re On The Topic.

My context is teaching first year Latin in a small public high school in a large city. Latin is required. It’s the only language offered. So there. I teach beginning students who have no choice (i.e., this often means no interest or any prior knowledge), and many of them didn’t have a second language experience in primary or middle school. Since “novice learners have a long way to go when it comes to developing a linguistic system” (p. 138), my focus is hardly on any output. Output “helps with the skill of accessing that system” (p. 138), which the beginner is still building, so it’s not a priority. This doesn’t mean no one speaks Latin (students do!). This doesn’t mean there isn’t any interaction. What this does mean is that I’m not thrown off by all the “Get students speaking the TL in just five easy steps!” messages that lead so many language teachers astray. Neither are the authors, although they’ve included stuff in the book for those who might be dealing with an IPA-heavy department (Integrated Performance Tasks), or who might be coming from a more traditional program and isn’t quite ready to give input its due attention. Input is key. I’d actually feel the same if I taught second year Latin as well, and maybe even year three. This would also hold true for any language. That is to say I think all Spanish I & II, or maybe even Korean III teachers would benefit from the same approach: a massive focus on input.

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BURNout vs. BOREout

Someone online asked about routines last week or so, and I chimed in with my stock take about my own experience with things getting old, etc. and how the daily routine repeated weekly hasn’t worked out well for me in the past. A short while later, a friend gave pretty much the opposite advice. We’re both usually on the same page when it comes to prep and concern for burnout, so I was momentarily perplexed. Then it hit me: not only to teachers have to avoid burnout, but there’s also “boreout,” my word for stifling the joy in one’s day (for whatever reason). Both have the same outcome, which is leaving the profession at some point with a F^% it attitude. Quite plainly:

  • Too much planning = burnout
  • Too much of the same thing = boreout

For me, routines lead to boreout. I’ve done the Monday = X, and Tuesday = Y thing, but I haven’t had a daily school schedule making that possible for years. Last I did, though, the Monday “talk about weekend” thing got old. I’m not even talking about purely student interest, either. I got bored with it myself. I even get bored by the end of the third 84min. class plan that I teach straight in a row every other day, which is actually the fourth time I’ve taught it (i.e., four sections of Latin 1; one on A days, and the other three back-to-back on B days. Yeah, just put me to bed already, right?). It turns out that I’m prone to boreout just as much as burnout.

Daily routines and not-routines have a common goal. Both seek to avoid stressful, time-consuming, unnecessary planning. My friend has daily routines to reduce (eliminate?) all that. If Wednesday is always a quiz, Wednesday is always a quiz, right? For me, though, one thing I’ve run into is how even with a daily schedule, every Wednesday isn’t always a Wednesday. In fact, about 20% of the school year is irregular according to every calendar I’ve ever worked with given all the random days off, PD, snow days, testing, etc. That means one out of every five classes just…doesn’t happen. This displaces the routines and has caused me additional planning in the past. For example, if Wednesday is quiz day, and there’s no school Tuesday, it might not make sense to quiz anything.

Irregular weeks aside, even having a 2-week rotating activity schedule got old for me. I prefer a Talk & Read structure to every single class, as well as the “1-day-plan-ahead.” That is, each day, I look at a list of activities, noting what we haven’t done in a long time, etc., and plan for the following day. To be fair, I do roughly jot down the week’s possible agenda, or what I might want to do on Wed/Thurs, but it almost never quite stays the same once I get to the day before.

This also helps me be super-responsive to the class’ needs. For example, I did The Monitor Assessment recently and noticed far more incomprehension with one book’s chapter than the previous one. As a result, I adjusted by planning something to address all that in the next class. If I had the routines, and were expecting a quiz on Wednesday, that would’ve been harder to change things up. In sum, whatever time I spend picking out an activity or two for the next day and setting it up—which is usually 5-10 minutes—isn’t a problem for me. That certainly helps me avoid burnout, and has the benefit of keeping boreout at bay.

Reading Latin: What Does That Mean?

Next winter at SCS (Society for Classical Studies) 2023, there will be a panel on what it means to teach students to read Latin. Reading Latin. It seems so obvious what it means, right? But no. What does it mean to read Latin? Of all the approaches to take, looking at data is a good starting point. Let’s start with what reading Latin has meant in the first year Latin classroom for decades…

What better place than the self-described “reading method” of textbooks such as Cambridge and Ecce, Romani? The latter’s first chapter begins with a cold-open paragraph of Latin. Here are the details:

  • 70 total words in length (i.e., tokens, see below)
  • 29 unique words

Text Coverage
Text coverage is measured by tokens, or total words. There are five tokens in the sentence “the bird sees the cat.” Two of the tokens in that sentence happen to be the same word. Therefore, “the” represents 40% text coverage. If the reader doesn’t know “the,” they have a text coverage of 60%. The reader who knows everything except “cat” would have a text coverage of 80%. It’s a simple example, but not hard to see what can happen at that 80% level comprehension-wise. The reader understands “the cat sees the ____,” so the unknown word is a big piece of missing information. Imagine reading a whole paragraph about the cat and ____ without knowing what ____ is and then being asked about ____. That’s not a very fun experience. And now imagine grading some kind of assessment on that experience! Don’t do it!

In that Ecce textbook example above, est appears 7 times and isn’t glossed. You gotta guess what it means from context. Luckily, most kids do. Those who don’t, though, miss out on 10% of the text coverage. A text coverage of 90% isn’t good enough for comprehension to have a solid chance, either (Laufer 1989, Laufer 1992, Hu & Nation 2000, Laufer 2010, Schitt, Jiang & Grabe 2011, Herman & Leeser 2022), but est isn’t the best example. Let’s look a little more into what “reading” means in this first textbook paragraph…

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