Friday, June 5, 2020

Is Latin Exclusive and Elitist? The Desperate Need for a Remedy

Yes, I know that I just posted a few days ago, writing that I was taking a break from blogging. In light of current events, accept this as my true last blog post before I go back into self-imposed blog "retirement." This blog post represents my own opinions based upon my own experiences. I do not speak for the CI or Latin teacher community in any way. Any views expressed are solely mine.

World Language enrollment at the college level has been in constant decline over the past number of years. While across the board, language enrollment numbers have been decreasing (with exceptions of American Sign Language, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean which all have seen an increase), the decline can be especially observed in Latin. According to the 2016 Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education Report published by the Modern Language Association (MLA), the Latin enrollment numbers at the college level are:

Year Enrollment
2006 32,164
2009 32,444
2013 27,192 (16.1% decrease)
2016 24,866 (8.1% decrease)
2019    report has not yet been published

The question remains: What has caused this decline? What trends have occurred in the past 10-15 years which have led to Latin numbers decreasing? Possible reasons:
  • In general, less college students are taking language courses. There has been a 16.3% decrease in overall enrollment since 2009. Are more students entering with AP language credit and thereby have already fulfilled their language requirement?
  • Changes in language trends. As stated earlier, ASL, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean language enrollments have increased. Are those students who traditionally would have taken Latin now taking one of these three languages instead?
  • More students headed towards STEM courses and majors, of which many do not have a world language requirement. 
  • Perhaps an emphasis on grammar-translation in university-level Latin? 
So what have we traditionally done in the past to increase our Latin enrollment numbers, especially to attract students of color in recent years? We play up wearing togas, that Latin is not a "spoken" language, that Latin is "fun," and that Latin helps prepare students for the SAT (not a reality any longer with the new SAT). We target underrepresented students by talking up the cultural diversity of the ancient Roman world. While all of these efforts are admirable, when implementing grammar translation, we still set up a classroom where only certain students will succeed. In our recruiting efforts to increase our Latin enrollment, we tend to set the following filters:
  • Do we weed out students who do not fit the traditional “Latin” mold? 
  • When promoting Latin with parents and counselors, do we say that only students with high language arts/math scores and high GPA's should take Latin?
  • Do we say that only “mature” 9th grade students should take Latin 1 (partly because that will guarantee an AP program down the road) and that "immature" 9th graders wait until their sophomore or junior years?
  • Do we target 4%ers, since those are the ones who tend to succeed under traditional Latin pedagogy?
  • Do only visual learners tend to succeed?
Latin has a reputation for being exclusive and elitist and that only smart students and those with the highest GPAs take Latin. In many ways, I cannot argue with that. However, although this status quo may be completely de facto in nature, and as much as I firmly believe that no Latin teacher ever intentionally sets out for this situation to occur and to exclude students, the fact is that it does exist. As a result, we as Latinists must address this. 

For years, I taught Latin using grammar-translation methodology, since that was the only way in which I knew to teach the language. And I was a damn good grammar translation teacher! At my former school, my colleague and I built up our Latin program to over 300 students using Latin for Americans, as the word on the street became "take Latin." I secretly delighted that all the smart students took Latin, but as our program grew, we began to attract all types of students, including those who did not academically fit the Latin mold. At the same time, I was determined that these students would pass my class (more for my pride and not for them as students). However, in good faith I remember telling one student who failed my class, "You know what? I don't think Latin is for you. I think you'd be better off in Spanish." Now this student tried so hard in my class, but when it came to conjugating verbs, doing synopses, parsing, memorizing endings, translating, and all which we expect students to master in a grammar-translation class, he struggled. I look back now and am so remorseful for displaying such an elitist attitude in saying this to that student. Essentially what I told this student was "Latin is only for certain types of learners - it is too bad that you are not it."

Those in the spoken Latin movement propose that adding a spoken component will attract new types of students to Latin, since we are now appealing to oral and auditory listeners, instead of only to visual learners. While I wholeheartedly agree that we need to add a spoken/listening component to our Latin curriculum, speaking Latin can turn the language back into being “exclusive” again. A survival of the fittest mentality emerges, as immersion often turns into submersion for students.

While I applaud the movement of introducing much needed under-represented and overlooked voices and perspectives into the Latin curriculum to address the absolute dearth of diversity in our Latin curricula, without a true change in a pedagogical approach, I feel that all these changes will accomplish is to create a diverse classroom of 4%ers. Yes, our students will look different, and we can applaud ourselves for having classrooms which now represent the diverse demographics of our school building, but in actuality, our classrooms still attract only those students who can succeed with a traditional approach to teaching Latin. Yes, a classroom full of students from diverse backgrounds but still a classroom of 4%ers nonetheless. All which we have done really is to replicate ourselves, students who can learn Latin in the way which we learned Latin. In other words, we have still missed the bigger picture of creating a classroom where ALL students and learners are able to succeed.

That is why I am proudly a CI Latin teacher (you can read here about my CI journey). If we wish to attract all types of learners to our classrooms, then our methodology needs to change first. When we do that first, then diversity in our classrooms will follow. When students who have traditionally viewed Latin as a smart, white-kids' language and do not fit that mold see that they can succeed in the language, word among students becomes "take Latin." And yes, I agree that much of CI curriculum too needs to change and to be revised to represent more diverse voices. As we reflect on current events, I am certain that these changes will occur.

I am not so blind to think that a CI-focused pedagogy is a panacea for inequity and diversity issues in the Latin classroom, but I have been an eyewitness to how CI seeks to address and to begin remedying these problems. I am part of a department of SIX Latin teachers (Rachel Ash, Elizabeth Davidson, John Foulk, Miriam Patrick, Bob Patrick, and I) at a public high school of 3,000 students, of which 700 take Latin. My classroom is now full of students whom I would not have seen in my classroom 15-20 years ago when I was using grammar-translation - all types of learners and of diverse backgrounds. These would have been the students to whom years ago I would have said, "I do not think that Latin is for you. I think you would be better suited for Spanish." But with a CI-based curriculum, I now welcome these students, because I know that they can succeed.

Latin enrollment numbers are declining. Programs at the college and secondary levels are closing due to decreased enrollment counts. We are now in survival mode. I leave you with this final thought: Do students need to fit the Latin mold in order for them to succeed? or does Latin need to fit the student mold in order for them to succeed?

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Taking a Break

I began this blog in December 2013, and now after 282 posts and over 615,000 page views, I have decided to take a break from blogging. The blog will remain live, but I am taking a break from posting. I am not "blogged" out per se, because I actually have about 20 future blog posts in one kind of draft form or another that I have yet to publish. So it is not that I feel like I do not have anything to say or that the well has run dry in terms of blog post ideas. 

Quite honestly, the reason is that I just do not feel the need to blog anything at the moment. It has been two months since I have last posted anything here. Granted the last two months have been adjusting to a life of self-quarantining, of social distancing, and of facilitating digital distance learning with my students, but now that life is starting to re-open to a post-quarantine world, I realize that during those two months, I did not miss blogging (and I certainly had the TIME to blog!). 

So much like when I took time off from attending/presenting at conferences, I am going to take time off here from blogging. But much like how I returned back to attending conferences and presenting, I am certain that I will return again to blogging. Hopefully, it will not be a 18-month respite like it was for me with conferences. When I miss blogging, that is when I will know that I am ready to return.

So to the ten of you who faithfully read my blog - I thank you so much! I look forward to blogging again and sharing ideas with all of you in the future.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Student Digital Lessons Feedback Survey

By now, I am sure similar to me, you have learned that teaching in an online environment is HARD! This makes me think that if this is hard for me, then what must it be like for my students? After the first week of digital learning (see my 2-week digital day lesson plan), I decided to have students fill out a survey about what they thought of their Latin digital day work. Since I am just one of their six classes, I wanted student feedback to know what they thought of their Latin assignments in terms of difficulty/ease, to gauge how does my workload compare to their other classes, and to check in with them personally.

In the Google Form survey, I asked the following questions with a Likert-type scale response:
  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • No opinion
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree
  1. Digital Day material for Latin has been challenging for me.
  2. Digital Day work for Latin is overly time-consuming compared to the work in my other classes.
  3. Digital Day work for Latin has contained a lot of variety.
  4. Compared to my other classes, I look forward to doing Digital Day work for Latin.
  5. Digital Day work for Latin has been difficult for me to complete due to access to technology.
  6. I find the daily screencast helpful in explaining directions.
  7. I prefer seeing all of my Digital Day Latin assignments for the week on eClass at once.
  8. I prefer seeing my Digital Day Latin assignments on eClass released on a daily basis.
  9. I am tired of Digital Day work and wish that I were back at school learning instead of doing learning independently.
  10. I am deeply concerned/worried about COVID-19.
  1. I am very grateful for the feedback, because it will definitely inform how I move forward.
  2. After the first week of digital learning, students overwhelmingly seemed to have a very positive attitude towards their online Latin assignments, with most saying that it was not overly difficult/challenging, not overly time consuming compared to their other classes, and that they thought that there was a variety in the assignments. Most students agreed that they look forward to doing their Latin work compared to their other classes.
  3. For most students, access to technology was not a major issues. For those where it was an issue, I am aware of many who have to share a computer with other siblings, thus limiting their access.
  4. After just one week, about 2/3 of students were tired of digital learning and wanted to return back to school. As of today, it has been two weeks since I gave this survey. I venture to say that the number is probably MUCH higher now.
  5. After one week, students were split in terms of how they felt about COVID-19, with 1/3 not concerned at all, 1/3 having no opinion, and 1/3 expressing concern. I wonder how they feel now that it is two weeks later and that the number of COVID-19 numbers have dramatically risen and so much has changed in their lives in those two weeks.
So consider checking in with your students about how they feel about your assignment workload and make adjustments where needed. At this point, it is no longer about keeping up with instructional calendars and making sure that they are prepared for next year - that ship sailed away A LONG TIME AGO! It is about making assignments worthwhile and meaningful for students.

Monday, March 30, 2020

My 2-week Digital Lesson Plan

On March 16, my district began its switch to a fully digital-learning curriculum. Now, my district has also been implementing Brightspace (formerly Desire2Learn) as its learning management system for years, and we have used it to supplement our curriculum and for digital learning on the occasional snow day. However, we have never had to implement it to the degree which we are doing now to deliver our full curriculum for an undetermined amount of time. 

Even though I have a degree in Instructional Technology and am pursuing a doctorate in the field, I will admit that planning of this magnitude is HARD. Although I possess a great deal of theoretical knowledge in the subject area, real-life application is still difficult, especially considering the circumstances of being in the classroom one day and then being told that we are switching over to online learning immediately for who knows how long.

Some things which I have learned through all of this in my own experience and from others
  1. Neither you nor your students signed up to teach/take an online course back when school began last year. This is important, because an online course is so much different from a face-to-face course. There are those students who absolutely thrive in a solely, digitally-delivered curriculum, but most do not. It is okay if both you and your students are struggling with this.
  2. Most likely, you have never received full training in how to teach an online course. As a result, do not expect that you are going to be good at it. Lowering your own expectations helps keep your goals realistic.
  3. If you think that you can simply transfer your normal classroom to a virtual environment and that everything is going to be business as usual but just digital, think again. Online teaching is so much different from face-to-face.
  4. Lowering student expectations does not mean lowering academic standards and rigor - it means being realistic. Do not forget that students are adjusting to all of this too, and they themselves have so many other disruptions going on in their own personal lives with which they are trying to deal. For many, school can no longer be their #1 priority.
  5. It is okay if students are not fully learning the material. Remember that essentially even with all of our support and resources, they are teaching themselves the material. And if students do not learn the material, we will make adjustments, and that is where we will pick up when we eventually return face-to-face. 
  6. Every teacher and student in the world is having to deal with this situation, so you are not alone at all. Everything is going to be okay in the end, and there is only so much which you can control in all of this.
  7. Remember that yours is not the only class which your students have. With that in mind, assign a realistic amount of work considering the situation.
  8. Start out by using digital web apps which you and your students have already used in the classroom. Now is not the time to suddenly try out new digital tools, because then it becomes a learning curve for both you and your students. 
  9. Keep the assignments simple, meaningful, and worthwhile. If students can find the answers by Googling it (such as having them write out a translation of sentences), then you need to think outside of the box a bit more.
  10. Create assignments which can be done purely on a device, not a computer. Many families are sharing a computer among 2-3 children. This is where I struggle the most in creating lessons.
  11. Give students at least a 3-day deadline to complete the assignment and then chances to make up missed assignments. We cannot assume that students are now working on our timeline due to other circumstances going on in their lives.
  12. What is a reasonable amount of material to cover daily? This tweet pretty much sums it up:

So here is what one of my classes has done for these previous two weeks of digital learning - in no ways should it serve as a template for distance learning. Right before we had to transition to a digital learning curriculum, we had finished up a chapter of Perseus et Rex Malus, so it just so happened that our first day of digital learning was going to begin with the introduction of a new reading. NOTE - I did not do any live synchronous sessions with students (Google Hangouts, Zoom) - that was a personal choice, because that meant students had to align their schedules with mine:

Day 1 
  • Introduced a new reading passage using a multiple choice Google Forms self-grading quiz. Because this was essentially a sight passage for students and the goal was comprehension, questions and answers were in English. I also glossed any new target vocabulary or icing words. Because it came from a CI novella, the reading itself contained lots of known recycled vocabulary and was pretty understandable on its own. We also had done lots of sight reading like this before in class, so the act of sight reading itself from this novella was not new to students. Students could complete the assignment three times, and I would take their highest score.  
  • As a resource, since this was a sight passage for them, I also created a screencast of me translating the passage into English using Google Slides in order to help establish meaning. Students could view this resource as many times as needed and throughout the two weeks whenever they needed translation help.
Day 2
  • Students had a choice for this day - using the passage (which I provided as a link), students could either complete:
  • Again, students could reference the translation video as a resource. Students turned this assignment electronically into the class' dropbox. 
Day 3
  • Today's assignment focused on vocabulary, so students could either complete:
    • a review GimKit of known vocabulary (the target goal was $950,000) OR 
    • create a digital Pictionary Dictionary of 12 words from the passage using Clipart images. I gave students a list from which they had to choose 12 words. Students submitted this assignment electronically into the class' dropbox.
Day 4
  • Students viewed two short video clips on Google Forms and then compared/contrasted the video clips in English with events in the reading passage - where were things the same? Different? Why do you think the changes occurred? I only asked for a short paragraph response.
Day 5
  • Students completed a matching Google Forms of Latin cognates and derivatives using vocabulary in the reading passage.  Students could compete this up to three times, and I would take their best score.
Day 6
  • As I had assigned grades from the previous week, I now gave students a catch-up day to complete any missing assignments. 
Day 7
Day 9
Day 10
  • By this point, I felt that I had exhausted going over the passage in as many ways as I could in a distance setting, so this day's assignment was to create an Invisibles Drawing based on choices which I gave them involving known vocabulary and words from the passage. Students took a picture of their drawing and submitted it me in the class' dropbox. I will use these pictures for some listening comprehension practice next week.
I leave you with this wise series of tweets from my IFLT friend Cecile Laine:

Friday, March 27, 2020

Inserting Audio Clips into Google Forms

I write this blog post with a HEAVY caveat, because on paper, this sounds like a great idea, but during the actual execution of it with over 100 Latin 3 students accessing the audio files multiple times, there were some Google issues of which I was unaware. Proceed at your own caution if you wish to do this!

Did you know that you can insert audio files into Google Forms and turn it into a listening comprehension activity? In this time of digital learning, I was looking for a way to address listening comprehension using Google Forms and came upon this. The downside of this activity is that it is a lot of work on the prep side.

Watch the following video for directions

In trying this out this week with digital learning, I uploaded 10 audio files of individual sentences from a story which we had been reviewing and had students pick the picture (I re-used pictures from my sentence/picture activity) which best matched what they had heard. NOTE - below is a just a screenshot so do not click on the audio file - yes, already a number of you have tried!)

Now here is the caveat. When students attempted to download the audio files, soon they began to see a message stating that they could not download the files. 

This appears to be a common issue among Google Form users, and unfortunately, Google Support has not done much to address this issue - I think that it has to do with too many downloads all at once so Google has set a limit. I ended up transferring the audio files to my digital learning management class page and had students listen to them that way to complete the assignment - not a true fix but it got the job done.

  1. What I like about this (when it works) is that students can listen to these audio clips as many times as they want in order to understand the message.
  2. I did this activity at the end of two weeks of doing this particular reading in a digital environment. I did not want to rush into it, since students were essentially learning and teaching themselves this particular passage on their own (even with my support). 
  3. I used pictures as answer choices, but I can see giving students different types of answers based on the audio file prompt, such as "Which is the best response to this audio question?" 
  4. I can also see having students listen to a much longer passage (2-3 minutes) and asking questions about the passage.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Picture/Sentence Matching using Google Forms

Google Forms allows users to insert pictures into both the question and answer sections, so here is how I facilitated a post-reading picture/sentence matching activity for students using a known passage. However, it will require that you find digital images to insert into your Google Form. It is very easy to do, and if you set the Google Forms as a self-grading quiz, students can immediately see their scores.

  1. Open Google Forms.
  2. Hover your mouse pointer over the "Untitled Question" section. 

     3. A picture icon should appear next to the "Untitled Question" section. Click on it to add 
         an image.

        4. A screen will appear which will now allow you to insert an image which you have 
        already uploaded onto your computer, is already in Google Drive, already has a pre- 
        existing URL, or you can do a Google search of images.

5. Once you upload your image, you can now write a question related to that image. 

I could definitely seeing using this with the model sentences of Cambridge Latin Course!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Inserting Videos into Google Forms

If you are wanting to incorporate videos as part of your digital lesson planning (and you've already been using EdPuzzle and want to add some variety), you can easily insert videos into a Google Forms and have students answer questions about them. Again, it is very easy to do, and if you set the Google Forms as a self-grading quiz, students can immediately see their scores.

  1. Open up a new Google Forms
  2. Push the Add Video icon. 
  3. On the screen which comes up, either do a search of a particular YouTube video or enter in its URL if you know it. NOTE - you may only use YouTube videos for this.
  4. When you finish, click on Select.
  5. You will now see your video on your Google Form. Add a title if you wish.
  6. Click on the Add Video icon to insert another video or Add Question to insert a question.
  1. Because you can only use YouTube videos, students may not be able to access it at school depending on your school's filter. My district does not allow students to view YouTube video using school Wi-fi. 
  2. My Latin 3s are currently reading Perseus et Rex Malus, and this week for their digital work, they were reading the last chapter where Perseus receives winged sandals in a dream. To cover the cultural aspect, I created a Google Forms, inserted two video clips (Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and Clash of the Titans) of Perseus receiving winged sandals or some mode of transportation (Clash of the Titans has Perseus use the winged horse Pegasus), had students view them, and then asked students to answer a very short paragraph question where they were to compare/contrast the two video clips with the account in the passage.
  3. Keep the video clips short. Students do not want to watch a 10-minute clip and then have to answer questions about it.