Thursday, April 29, 2010

Latin neuter nouns

Today the 7th grade students practiced their neuter noun patterns in wordchamp and became adept at using the pattern. One student called me over and said, "Hey, I found a pattern, it's always "a" when it's a plural subject." Yes, he'd heard me say it, watched me write it, wrote it himself, but it wasn't until he was getting a score from the computer that it CLICKED.

I also put a screencast on blackboard so that they could get an overview while studying tonight. Here's what they will see.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wordchamp Wednesday #2-Hunting and Gathering

I mentioned "hunting and gathering" in a previous post, and referred to the way that I supply pictures and cues to students early on, make them rely on it and then wean them off the teacher supplying it and help them learn the value of providing their own support information. This is an important part of middle school learning-learning to learn.

Some go hungry for a few weeks, and then in their lean and hungry moments lash out a bit and can be dangerous. I scaffold for them. Makes me think of Caesar before the ides:

(Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.)
Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 190–195

Okay, so I want them fat with knowledge. Completely sated so that they don't come after me. Ergo, I teach them to fish. Id est, I lead them through the processes that help them provide for themselves. ENTER:

I'll condense a 4 month process:
1. Give them wordchamp activities with pictures and sounds and lots of interesting nuances.
2. Play games in class with them that make them laugh and enjoy the vocabulary and learning.
3. Set up lessons in which the students provide the audio for the vocabulary.
4. Show them correlation between practice and success. Graphs good.
5. Give BLANK (only word) cards, and invite a few students to create their own PICTURES and AUDIO. (Give awards for the most creative, best recycle, best use of siblings, most cat picture-celebrate them all)
6. Assign blank cards to groups of students.
7. Remediate and coach students who do not use the system and do not succeed. Find out why and do your best to fix it! Do they need fewer words? Do they need computer time? Do they need a buddy? (Alas, some things we can't fix)
8. Allow students to create individualized word lists and set their own goals.
Repeat. (start with new activities and watch them take off faster each time)

There will be stragglers who will need a teacher-made list longer into the term, but the ones who start producing their own drag the others over to the achievement side pretty quickly! It's a student-led culture of learning that everyone can enjoy. Students e-mail me great wordchamp pics and sentences in the evening, just for the fun of it. Really.

Here's a picture that a student used to learn the phrase "turpis bubo". Well done, M.M.!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Does Technology make Students Lazier or Smarter?

A question teachers ask me often is about whether I think that students are cutting corners by using technology to perform tasks that used to be done in a traditional method. At the core, reading Latin requires recalling or looking up vocabulary-something that has been done for thousands of years with a good, old-fashioned dictionary. I have a full set of the OED in my house (a gift from former students who knew me well), and I spend many an evening just reading entries. Some evenings, I read 10 pages of Soot-Styx and learn word histories and uses-and then suddenly the next day a question comes up that amazes me in class! I know I'm not the only dictionary reader out there, and I DO worry that kids don't have the reference skills and all the benefits of practicing the skill. With that said, I know that for the majority of students, technology is making material attainable that they would never have tackled before.

One of my favorite digital suppliers, Laura Gibbs (bestiaria Latin blog) addressed the idea of using an online dictionary called to read Latin about a year ago and inspired me to look at how to use the site in my teaching. If you've never heard of nodictionaries, you should read that blog post up there and get an idea of what it does. Anything you teach has a similar site out there doing work for students.

At first I thought-NO! NO! NO! The students will think that they can just plug in the words and get a polished translation. But her description of the site attracted me, and I began playing with it to see what skills it required and honed, and how a student could use it to negotiate meaning and refine grammar knowledge. It only took me a few hours to devise replacement exercises for several objectives in my curriculum, and I carefully began introducing it to some students at the end of Latin I in 2009. Hand-picked students.

This past week I introduced it to all my Latin I students formally and they had to use it to complete an assignment. Ask me if I'm happy. . . go ahead. Yes. I'm happy.

The assignment? A Latin reading, within their ability, but with new vocabulary and a confusing context. The challenge: use your grammar to get the meaning. The tool:

In blackboard I provided a word document of the Latin reading (about 50 lines). The instructions told them to open the doc, save it, then begin reading with a parter. Together they highlighted vocabulary words in the first ten lines that they knew that they would need a dictionary to look up. Yes, they highlighted on the computer. There was a lot of yellow screen. Then, they copied and pasted the section (oh no they didn't! Yes, they did, they felt very naughty indeed) into It works its magic, providing the interlinear dictionary entries with an immense amount of information that they have to sift through to find the nugget that they need. "Hooray" (EUGEPAE) some said. Oh no ("EHEU") lamented others. Then there was a moment of trepidation and silence. "What is this toy that Magistra has given us? Is it a trick? Are we Prometheus, and we'll end up losing our livers?"

Next, the students added a second page to their word document, where they would type their translation-in any font and color that they chose. By bringing up a split screen with nodictionaries on one side and their word doc on the other, they negotiated side by side, talking with their partner, arguing over meanings and grammar uses and finally putting in their final decisions in a good English translation. Yes, we translated (we don't do a whole lot of that in our class). It was amazing. The conversations jumped to a level I NEVER see in the traditional mode.
The example below uses Caesar, no I did not subject them to Caesar, it's just something most people recognize.

The speed with which the meanings were coming and being processed engaged the students, they were locked into deciphering the grammar and getting it right, and high-fived when they smoothly arranged a clause, noted compound verbs with their dative objects and connected pronouns with their antecedents to get the meaning right. Toward the end of class, we projected the work to examine the similarities and differences in what they produced (it didn't matter how MUCH they had, we were looking for quality. Frustration was expressed-what's the right answer? Is there ONE right answer-oh, no, there is not just ONE answer, whatsoever shall we do? It reminded me of when they were in 6th grade and asked is it okay if I say "'The dog chases a farmer.' instead of 'A dog chases the farmer'? And I replied, "what do you think?", and they about died because I didn't give a straight yes or no. We've come a long way.

Without a name on the product, the students recognized their color and font (some had added pictures to help with the meaning, or sometimes a map of the area-information that I usually provide in a spoon-feeding way to them in 7th grade, make them rely on it, and then wean them off and make them hunt and gather for themselves as they are able.) As they processed the material and saw how others had handled the same sentence they grew more confident-it was okay if there was a variety of vocabulary, but the meaning had to come through correctly in the grammar. And who provided the grammar? THEY DID. Not the technology. The students themselves were citing the grammar rules and defending their translations. I got misty.

The next day we analyzed the process that we had gone through, listed what is good for, and not good for. Looked at scenarios when it would be a great tool, and when it would be a hindrance. We created horrible, bad, awful, wrong, ugly versions of readings and laughed VERY hard. Yes, we will have many follow-up lessons using it because they have to learn to fine-tune this ability whether they have the computer or not. It's just going to give me one more way to get to the final destination: Latin scholars.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wordchamp Wednesday

After discussing Wordchamp with
esteemed colleagues (Kerry Daus and K.C. Kless)
I decided to establish Wordchamp Wednesdays.
Why? Because there are too many accolades
to pile into one post.

Over the past few months, I have kept referring to this article: by Michael P. Critchley, and its profound statements have helped me quite a bit in fashioning formative exercises for my students.

Today, I will be addressing what he calls fine tuning the approximate meanings learned from a word list.

First, here is an example of a student's first try with a set of vocabulary. In it, you can see the student spent about 5 minutes on the words and got 17 right the first time. Wordchamp puts words that are missed back in the stack, and then the student has to get it right two more times in order for it to go into the "correct" category. So, this student missed 10 originally and then made the corrections.

Same student, next attempt. Look at the improvement.

Within Wordchamp, a teacher has access to a webreader which allows a student to hover over a word and see the meanings of that word in a dictionary-style entry. Because there are a variety of meanings provided, the student must use an approach that can elicit the best meaning for the word in context. When a student has memorized a single meaning from a vocabulary list s/he is at a disadvantage, because the flexibility in meaning is eliminated. A methodology which encourages negotiation of meaning helps the student to improve fluency.

Here's a picture of info provided by Wordchamp about a student's reading experience. It's showing me what words the student is having to hover over as she reads along in context. The student can click on those words and practice them, then try the reading again. This student practiced her list and did the reading a second time.

1st try:

2nd try, after practicing the words. Notice, ONLY ONE WORD is a challenge this time.

Anecdotal evidence: Students (17) who spent 20-30 minutes and assembled their own list of associative meanings for words in an original reading scored in the 4-5 range of proficiency as opposed to students (22) who spent 5-15 mintutes and did NOT assemble a word list, and scored in the 1-3 range range of proficiency.

What we are seeing is that students who "hover" and choose a meaning that has context, then practice that meaning, have a better ability to negotiate meaning when they are in situations where the original "memorized" term does not apply.

Wordchamp provides a visual rendition of which words the student "hovered" over, and also a list of "most missed" words from a vocabulary list. The teacher can also assemble contextual sentences to teach various meanings of the same word-the skill that we implicitly employ in our native language.

Furthermore, when presented with the information, even 7th-8th grade students understand the implications. As I presented data about 5 or 6 vocabulary words, the students verbally made the connection and created conditions (individually) for their own re-learning of the words. I'm looking forward to seeing what these children do with the work in 8th, 9th, 10 and nth grades!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

End of Year Awards

It's that time of year again, when we are planning how to recognize the accomplishments of our students, celebrate their learning and thank the families for their support. The students have put in the hard work, and have already experienced the intrinsic rewards associated with their efforts: pride, satisfaction, pleasure. They know who they are, but this is the time when we let them know that we know that they know, y'know?

The awards ceremony that I'm working on is our Latin Awards Night, an annual gathering that is a venue for presenting several specific Latin awards. We have over 400 Latin students in our program in grades 6-12, and when we incorporate our awards in the other academic ceremonies, it becomes a Latin spotlight, so we have split off, and instead have an hour of our own on a weeknight evening. This year we will be presenting National Latin Exam Awards (about 100 of the students earned this national distinction and we recognize them by level of Latin I, II, III, IV, V) and National Latin Honor Society awards (sorted by grade 6-12) to about 150 students (some overlap). We also recognize our Latin club officers, students who earned significant awards at our Ohio Junior Classical League Latin convention, and our seniors who are graduating after spending 6 years in our Latin program.

When we began handing out awards years ago, (no it was not BC), it was just two Latin teachers and a more intimate gathering. Now, with four teachers and hundreds of students, we're analyzing our format to grow with the demands. Last year I fielded some constructive criticism from middle school parents who mentioned the length of the program, which was 1 hour 10 minutes (we went 10 minutes over), in relation to the amount of time that their child was recognized (2 minutes for a name announced and a group photo). Some parents also were turned off by our senior tributes at the end of the program. The point is to give our students a personalized send-off with anecdotes from their classroom experiences, and a nod to their endurance. However, I can see that if a parent has a 7th grader who needs to get to a soccer practice, you may not want to hear one more time how delightfully witty the insights of "Senior
Susie" have been from Caesar through Sallust, and that she always ends her essays with "Carthago delenda est!"

Igitur, we are working on tweaking the format. I still want the overall message to be that our Latin program is doing a great job of helping kids succeed, and that we go the extra mile to meet individual's needs. But, I want the parents and students to walk out of the room thinking, "that was worth my time", not "that was another endless end of year award ceremony during which I wanted to stab my eyes out with red-hot pokers". (note Oedipus, left) Not that I've ever been to an award ceremony like that with my two delightful children.

As I've gotten started, the first thing that I realize is that we're (the teachers) going to have to collaborate so that we streamline the talking. Second, staging and directions for moving the people from "recognition area" to "picture area" is going to have to be considered. Last, I think that using technology to base the senior recognition is going to be key. We have a large projection screen with sound in the space we use, so I'm playing with Animoto to create a 30-second short for each of the seven seniors. It can be presented while we do the transition between awards, and followed up with 30 seconds of live remarks from an appreciative teacher.

Have you found unique ways of making the awards ceremonies real celebrations (sine ocular desecration)? I'm talking logistics. Things beyond the program, flowers, refreshments, decorations and displays. Because when it comes down to it, you remember the people and the relationships, not the balloons. Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Prezi? You're welcome.

Prezi is a slick little presentation tool, but don't think that it's going to do the work for you, it just makes the work you do look polished. What it does: You set up a layout of pictures and text and design its appearance, then you add a path through which it clicks and zooms. Or, you can go pathless and spontaneously choose a path as needed for a subject.

Keep in mind, Prezi is a presentation tool, so you do the talking and teaching while you're using the images to reinforce and add clarity to your message. So, it's not a replacement for your presentation, it's only a visual aid. I used images from the artwalk in Staines, Adpontes to show my students how ancient art lives with contemporary art in this city. It was good because we could go at our own pace, discuss the pieces and make comparisons. Here's the link to my Prezi:

I haven't had the children use it yet, because honestly, it can be kind of frustrating getting things just so. But when you don't want a one-path Powerpoint, this could be the answer. The students liked its appearance, but didn't beg for more either.

Here is a Prezi that I really like, about the mind and metaphor, that is much more advanced than mine, and it showcases some of the best features. Try it out, see what you think.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Speaking of Differentiation

It's the "D" word. Differentiation. (cue music indicating villain approaching). After years of looking at it, trying it, and finally coming to the startling conclusion that it's just good teaching, I found this.

In a post by Rebecca Alber, many of my thoughts were put into easily recognized scenarios: Is it fair? Better keep resource files on hand (graphic organizers and such) because it often has to happen on the spot when you see a student struggling and giving up. Research the students' files until you feel like Sherlock Holmes. And ask questions of the student, his/her former teachers, and the parents at home.

I still think we should call it something like "common sense goals" but since everyone is already using differentiation, I'll keep using the foul language.

Image resources

Here's a great list of image resources that I found as I was looking at through Marzano's instructional strategies. I'm always looking for pictures to reinforce the language that we're using in class and the students hook into the visual images quickly and readily. We spend class time using Latin (and elaborate English) descriptions that connect us to the picture. When the students see the picture again they remember many of the words that we used in class. Obviously, if the student wrote the word, demonstrated the word, said the word, made art of the word, used the word in a dialogue, he/she is more likely to recall it-so it's all in using the image. Technology is giving us many ways to "art" words, like wordle and one of my faves, Big huge labs' motivator.

When the students create something with the vocabulary themselves and use it in class (especially in games) they are highly engaged in the learning. And it's fun!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Formative Assessment

Getting students used to formative assessment is one thing, and explaining it to parents is another.

I love Graphjam and this one really sums up formative assessment. First you have to figure out what's going to flip the learning switch, then you can actually flip it. The problem is reducing the time fumbling around so that you go straight to the switch.

Bit by bit over the school year I've earned the students' trust so that they know when I say "I just need information about where you are" or "I need a snapshot" they understand that they should just do their best and expect a lot of feedback. Really, it took several weeks for them to get used to papers coming back with lots of ink (in green or purple) that told them what they were doing right, and what they needed to do to master the material. Then, it took a few weeks for them to get used to having follow-up activities based on what they needed (do THIS wordchamp exercise) When it was a matter of basics, they had a basic activity. If they had mastered the material, they had an extension that took them to the next level (but keep in mind, that all we needed was the basic, the extension was whipped cream on top). Then, I would analyze how they did on the specific assignment (how many times did it take them to master the pattern? how many minutes did it take? what kinds of errors are they making, spelling/careless, or substance/reversals?). Finally, when THEY felt they were ready, they could take a second assessment. This involved me saying, "I see you've done the work in wordchamp, and you are getting the answers right about 90% of the time, and we've talked about the problems. Do you feel ready to show your best work?" The answer was "yes" every time, and every time there was improvement.

Now, for the hard part. I recorded the first evaluation in gradebook with no weight, and an explanation as to how it was not a weighted grade, just an indication of our starting point. Also, in blackboard I had a note to parents referring to how I was tracking the students' growth, and that my goal was to get every student to proficiency on an objective, and that time line might be different for different students. Then, a second, weighted grade was put in AFTER the student had participated in the re-learning and mastery strategies.

As a teacher, this has been a challenging idea for me to wrap my brain around: that it's fair to give a student an A when they get it the first time, and it's fair to give another student an A when it takes them an extra few days, reteaching, practice, then mastery is shown. Now, I teach in middle school and I'm not sure that I would feel the same in a competitive high school situation, and from the feedback I've gotten from parents, I'm not sure that they will embrace it in a high school setting either. What are your experiences?

I'm seeing great things from the students. They have a "no one gets left out" attitude and everyone has had to participate in some reteaching and extension activities. In fact, they are starting to track their OWN progress (this was my devious plan all along), and have guessed that I'm going to have them create a record of their learning. The students will be pinpointing what types of activities helped them most, which are NOT always coinciding with their learning styles, by the way, and will eventually be choosing the type of activity that is right for them after a group introduction to a concept. Hmmm. Could I compact it? We'll see!

Saturday, April 10, 2010


This is (I'm sure) my first praise entry about Wordchamp. We've been using it for three years now. It provides huge advantages. K.C. Kless, my compatriot introduced it after attending a conference. He must be credited with all the leaps that our students have made with this advantage! You create a class, students join and complete the assignments that you post and the best thing-the DATA. It shows you how many times a student practiced the item, the most missed items for the group (reteach these in class) , the easiest items (skim these in class). And read between the lines-it shows you what they said so that you can interpret what mistakes are happening and address them directly with the particular student!

The webreader that it provides allows you to give students passages for comprehension, and, get this-they create THEIR OWN practice list. Completely individualized education in which they practice the vocabulary and grammar that THEY are hovering over-not what someone else might need. Then, the teacher can look at what they did, recognize it, use it to shape new lessons and help them get to the end goal. The student takes control of his/her own learning and this is the best example that I can provide of a student-led culture of learning.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Today we had a great classroom experience with timetoast, a free service, which allows students to create accounts with an email address and then add events and descriptions in a chronological order.

In our class, the students entered Latin sentences and then translated them into English and provided an image to go along with the story they were working on. The sequential nature of a timeline helps students to understand cause and effect, sequences, and story development. I used a detailed instruction sheet that I revised after the first class meeting to address student questions. All the students were successful with the technology and were able to demonstrate their Latin ability in a 21st century application.

Here' an example:

The highlight of my day was observing as students helped each other answer questions and troubleshoot as the classes reached 100% success in emailing me their products! My goal had been 90% and they exceeded my expectations.


In his blog "dangerously irrelevant" Scott McLeod said:

Should we be ashamed of our ability to predict dropouts?

If we can predict fairly accurately whether a student is likely to drop out in 9th or 10th grade 5 or 6 years earlier, isn’t that a pretty big indictment of our inability as school systems (and a society) to do something about it?

This set me to thinking about what we middle school teachers have power over, and what we don't. We see these children for large chunks of time and can (and do) have a huge impact on where they end up, but what about the parents and the support group at home? Do we have the right and responsibility to intervene when there is a cultural difference? How about when there is a philosophical difference? What is the right balance? Since every student is an individual who is a part of our community we will constantly be in this conversation until we make some decisions.

The motto "e pluribus unum" one from many sums up how our country makes up a single organism out of many individuals, and everyone knows that we want to value individuality and independence. So, how do we set standards of excellence, and yet "leave no child behind"? I know that they are not mutually exclusive, but is our society really capable of having this conversation and making some decisions?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I love JING. It's a screen capture program that is free. Here's one type of use: If a student is absent, you can record a part of a lesson for the student to view later. Here's a sample.

Or, you can make a screencast of you teaching essential items. Here's a sample.

Let me know what you think of these screencasts. I post them in blackboard and the kids use them for studying, catching up, or just to laugh.

Technology and Latin

So, should Latin teachers really be tech-savvy? Of course! No one was more into new technology than the ancient Romans, and this type of communication would never have evolved without the Romans to help kick start things.

Learning Latin is all about learning to learn. That's it. Understanding processes and communicating those and helping other people get to the point are skills that our students gain by studying Latin. So, by going through the process of seeing how a language is built, the students understand the scheme of how most things are constructed.

Technology is just a structure that can help our students go through this learning process. Ouch, learning hurts. The frustration that I feel as a teacher when I'm trying to use a new piece of technology keeps me in touch with that overwhelming feeling that my students get when I'm speaking in Latin and asking them questions. But we get through it and at the end we've learned.