If An Hour Doesn’t Get Us One to Two Classes…

…we’re doing something wrong.

If we spend an hour preparing to teach, that hour should at least result in an entire class’ worth of content, activities, etc., and bonus if it gets us a couple more. In other words, the fruit of an hour’s labor should not result in a single activity lasting just 10-15 minutes, or a quiz that lasts the same time but adds another hour for us to check/enter in gradebook/follow up with. Even spending an hour on something that lasts half as much time in the classroom—physical, virtual, live, or asynchronous—isn’t enough juice for the squeeze, and we got alotta lemons this year…

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Weekend-Working Teachers: Just Wait

When I present at conferences and give in-school PD on the topics of grading, assessment, and/or planning, I like to share this slide that includes all the jobs I’ve held prior to (and during!) teaching:

One use of this slide is to show how I approach teaching as a job just like any typical worker would do. That is, when the work day is over, the work day is over. I effectively “punch out” of teaching at the end of the school day, and return to work on the next “shift,” no questions asked. I share this because most teachers are anything but your typical worker, which has significant implications. A lot of them go from one classroom as students themselves straight to another classroom as teachers with little to no experience in any other profession, perhaps besides college work study or a part time job in high school. Some are so fortunate that they never had to work before they began teaching. That means teaching the only example of work to many (most?). There’s a big problem with that…

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Things I Don’t Do (That Many Teachers Do)

Technology
I haven’t asked students to take out a phone, computer, or interact with tech in over 6 years. Quite frankly, there are too many constant problems and disruptions right down to not having any battery life, and students are getting smacked in the face with tech the rest of the school day. I’m over wasting all that time. I, personally, use free web-based tools daily, like Google Docs, but there aren’t any laptop days, computer lab time, Kahoot, etc. Less is more!

Grade (especially at home)
I don’t really do this at all. Anything with a score is done as a whole-class, anything collected is marked as completed, and any rubric resulting in the course grade is self-assessed by students (I just check those afterwards).

Quiz/Test Prep
I don’t create any quizzes or tests. Any quick quiz in class is determined on the spot, is input-based, and is scored together, making it part of class. These are also collected and reported as evidence, but don’t impact a student’s grade. Instead, they’re used to show trends of understanding (e.g. a lot of 3s out of possible 4 means “most.” This could fulfill evidence for a rubric showing a course grade of an A that expects a student to understand “most” Latin).

Lesson Planning
Talk & Read covers everything students need. The rest is just rotating out weekly routines, and giving a new activity a try every now and then. The more variety a teacher has actually means the less experience they have with those activities! There’s a healthy limit to novelty. Don’t underestimate the power of simple practices.

Different Learning Targets/Objectives
I don’t create new ones specific to each day. Mine never change. The point/reason for/target/goal/objective/etc. of each class is that at least one of three communicative purposes (entertainment, learning, creating) is being met. So, I make sure there’s a reason for all that input & interaction during class, and keep things comprehensible. There’s actually no evidence that different objectives make any difference in student learning, let alone acquiring a language! In fact, if any measurement shows that learning has taken place after just one class/lesson based on an objective, don’t trust it! Delay testing, and give no advance warning. That will tell you what’s been learned and acquired, and what hasn’t.

Speaking The Target Language
If a student responds in English, that’s evidence they’ve comprehended. Case closed, folks! I don’t need to play mind games. There’s actually no legit reason for speaking the target language in class when everyone shares another language that’s easier to communicate in…unless one wants to. Some students want to. Others don’t. To recognize the classroom as any other context would be role-play (i.e. pretending you don’t speak another language). I don’t pretend. I do have systems in place to encourage target language use, as well as curb chatter and lengthy story-like responses in English, as well as stay focused on input, but naw, I don’t need to hear Latin to know students know Latin.

Corrective Feedback
C’mon, self-explanatory. The evidence is really piling up by now!

Grammar
I don’t expect students to develop any grammar knowledge. I certainly don’t test it. This is a liberating expectation! Grammar knowledge is unnecessary—in any language—and there’s enough to deal as it is with what’s actually necessary.

Homework
When working at a job, I don’t mess with anything that isn’t in my control. What goes on at home is completely out of my control as a teacher—no judgement—and I don’t need to punish and chase down students for not doing something that probably lacks a communicative purpose anyway. My only assignments involve reading, and no products are attached to that reading. **Just read.**

Projects
I don’t schedule any class time for projects. My experience is that most of the research and work is done in English, which is zero input, and most students get bored after a few of those summative presentations anyway. There needs to be input in the first place in order to make it more comprehensible, right?

From the looks of it, I bet it seems like I don’t do a friggin’ thing. But that’s not true. I spend most of the time creating personalized texts, adapting other texts, and seeking out constant PD—mostly grassroots, from teachers still teaching in the classroom, and who share the same *current* second language acquisition principles that I have. It’s a lot of work, actually, but focused, efficient, and enjoyable. Guess what? My students can read Latin. They even speak it. If that seems impossible—because teachers who do all those things above can have students who understand Latin, yet I do none and get the same results—there’s a magic ingredient. It’s actually the oldest source of success the spoken word has ever known:

Input.

We just have to tap into what all humans are hardwired for and prioritize CI, then the magic happens. Now, you might be a teacher who does, in fact, do all those things above, and likes doing them. Carry on. You might also be a teacher who likes some and not others. Unless you’re required—which might be in your control to change—know that you can drop the things you don’t like without any negative impact whatsoever. Try it.

I expect there might be questions. Let loose.

Discipulī et Magistrī Illustrēs: A Guessing Game

On Facebook, I shared my variation on the student interview program Discipulus Illustris (i.e. Special Person) of getting teacher colleagues to choose and answer questions that I put into Google Slides to play “guess the teacher” with classes. Given the size of our staff, I have every Tuesday covered for the rest of the year. Students have enjoyed the process, but they wanted more. Therefore, instead of conducting the typical student interviews on Thursdays, from this point onward, we’ll play “guess the student.”

Setting it up was easy. Last week, all students chose 5-10 questions to answer (from the list they, themselves, generated earlier in the year), and turned them in. I selected a few at random, and put them into Google Slides. I also assigned point values decreasing with each question, a bit like a Kahoot alternative, as well as 15 seconds between each slide. This game runs itself aside from teams guessing a student on the paper, writing the number (of points) shown on the slide at the time, and dropping it into a hat. This awards teams points that correctly guess the student the fastest, or who take the risk if unsure. I can do three each class, so three rounds of this game will be played each Thursday (until the end of school). Most points out of all three rounds wins.

Not Just A Team Building Game
This isn’t just a game. There’s input. I found it easy to type up student responses in Latin without vocab getting out of bounds. Where it would have, though, I just quoted the student’s response in English. I also removed the English support from the questions that appear on each slide, so students have 15 seconds in their group to process the input. Then, the response appears as they have 15 seconds to confer. In some cases, I took the class through a choral translation of the question, and/ore response. Everything is timed, so there’s a sense of urgency to earn the most points and win the game (i.e. communicative purpose is entertainment).

Full Weeks Of School? Not As Many As You Think!

The winter months are notorious for their interruptions, such as midterms/finals, PD days, holidays, and [un]expected bad weather. We’re back from the longest break, but not in full swing, and don’t expect to be. Why? I’ve long observed how Thanksgiving vacation marks the end of the most productive time of school, and the Swiss cheese feeling we’re in from now through February leaves just a couple months left to finish out the year. That is, with April vacation and a handful of other random short weeks of teaching, the next 18 weeks of instruction are going to fly by.

So, I took a look at all the interruptions throughout the year. Surprisingly, only 75% of the weeks are a full five days. That means 1/4 of the time teaching, plans based on an entire week’s worth of activities and routines get all messed up…for the entire year! Now, anything that messes things up as often as 25% of the time is enough to lead to burnout. There are a number of ways to plan no- to low-prep, and avoid that burnout, but for the 25% of short school weeks, perhaps the best way is to treat daily routines as independent from one another, not always needing the previous day’s events (e.g. a Tuesday routine shouldn’t rely on whatever happens Monday).

This is just a reminder to plan wisely (i.e. smarter, not harder) for the second half of the year!

How To Plan So Your Plans Never Get Messed Up

On any given day, it’s common for teachers to have wrenches thrown into their plans without warning. Sometimes these wrenches appear during the very class teachers are required to plan for! Other times, it feels like the whole damn tool chest is being tossed our way! This post offers tips on how to structure your planning so those wrenches have absolutely no impact, whatsoever…

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OWI: Compiling Profiles Across Classes & Instant Parallel Characters

Last Friday, I suddenly found myself without a document camera after a Listen & Draw with our first One Word Image (OWI). Realizing my error, I scrambled to snap a pic of just one student drawing, send it to my email, sign in, download and orient, turn on the projector, etc. all just to discuss student artwork. No bueno. Not only did I lose a few kids during the shuffle, but I avoided repeating the process, meaning we looked at just one student’s work. No bueno mas. With a document camera, we used to look at several different drawings easily, keeping interest high throughout class. That absence was obvious, and I was unhappy with how things went. Still, I was determined to use the stack of hilarious drawings somehow…

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Input-Based Strategies & Activities

**Check out the EZ conversions for remote learning!**
**Updated 11.20.19 with new The Septem Game rules**
**Check out the companion post on Getting Texts!**

When choosing the class agenda beyond each particular day’s routine, it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember all my favorite activities. Thus, here are the input-based strategies & activities I’ve collected over the years, all in one place. Although this began as only reading activities, I decided that it didn’t matter as much whether students were reading or listening. Why? These input-based activities start with some kind of text either way, so beyond variety, what really matters most to me when planning for class is providing students with input, and what kind of prep goes into getting the text/activity. Everything is organized by prep, whether no instructions, no prep, printing only, or low prep. You won’t find prep-intensive activities here beyond typing, copying, and cutting paper. Oh, and for ways to get that one text to start, try here. Enjoy!

**N.B. Any activity with the word “translation” in it means translating what is already understood. This should NOT be confused with the more conventional practice of translating in order to understand.**

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First Week…err Day…

I live by the “low-prep/no-prep” mantra. Yes, there’s life outside of school (maybe not if you teach high school ELA, sorry folks), and I enjoy sharing with others ideas on how to regain their personal life back while also being a damn fine teacher. As part of this, I pride myself on having not taken home student work for a few years now.

This first week, however, is different…

I’ve been used to starting the year with a half-day devoted to essential rules, some routines, and that school-required housekeeping stuff. Then, in next 8-10 class days over about 2 weeks, I would get into Circling with Balls (CWB), Total Physical Response (TPR), Discipulus Illustris, not to mention the No-Travel Story Script I was looking forward to trying out. Not this year. I see my students just 1 hour per week, which means those usual beginning activities would take us up through Thanksgiving! That’s simply too slow for he brain craving novelty. Expectations must be lowered. I’m just now recognizing exactly how much lower, too. This first week—one class—had to combine all that housekeeping with only a little bit of Latin…very little. You know what we did? placet (= likes). Yep, that’s it, at least as the only verb, although eī, tibi, -ne?, an, nōn, et, harpastum, minimē, and certē also made appearances. The focus was on just one student, and another parallel student to compare.

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One Word Image/Picture/Drawing

This is probably the most effective no-prep activity you should become familiar with:

1) Say or ask for one(1) word.
2) Draw it on the board (or have the Class Artist draw it).
3) Ask about it, and add details to the image.

I’m never at a loss for what to add because I rely on my Question Word Posters as reference to drive the image. Looking at the posters around my board, I usually just ask questions in order and get corresponding supporting details without planning a single thing. Here’s an example that began with a single word, fūr (thief)…

Where? = The thief is in Starbucks
From Where? = Lived in Spain
To Where? = Wants to go to Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley, not Cambridge
What? = Has a gladius (Roman sword)
Who? = The thief’s name is Tom
Whose? = The gladius is actually the Starbucks barista’s gladius
When? = It’s night time
Whom? = The thief sees someone with a better, bigger gladius
With Whom? = Donald Trump (obviously!)
To Whom? = The Starbucks barista gives a coffee to Donald Trump
How? = The thief has the gladius because he stole it from the Starbucks barista
How many? = Actually, the Tom the Thief has 7 gladiī—one from each Starbucks in Starbucksville
What sort of? = Tom is actually a bad thief…the Starbucks barista saw him steal the gladius
Why? = Donald Trump is there because he wants to buy all the Starbucks’

Note how some of the details don’t connect (e.g. there is another person with a sword but doesn’t get mentioned again), but realize that they don’t have to. We’re just creating an image, not any kind of plot. Also note, however, how easily this COULD turn into a prompt for a Timed Write, or a Storyasking session, especially given the image we’ve established as a class.