Saturday, May 27, 2017

More Reflections: Student Surveys

I am now officially on summer vacation, as yesterday was my final day of post-planning. Quite honestly, this past week has been such a rush of non-stop responsibilities. Mentally, I know that students took their final exams, that I finalized their semester grades, that I attended the graduation ceremony and handed out diplomas afterwards, and that I completed the myriad of end-of-year tasks which comes with post-planning (including packing away my classroom for the summer) - but all of it is such a blur (and seems like a long time ago!) due to the breakneck speed that comes with the ending of the school year, even though it was just this week. I kind of remember everything from this week, but all of it seems to run together.

As I continue to reflect on this past school year regarding what worked and did not work (see my last blog post), I now turn to my students' surveys. For years, my colleague Bob Patrick has been giving end-of-the-semester surveys to his students asking for their feedback, so this year, I did the same. The survey consisted of three questions: 
  1. What have we done this semester in Latin that has helped you learn? 
  2. What have we done this semester in Latin that has NOT helped you learn? 
  3. If you could change one thing about how we have been learning Latin so far, what would it be?
I greatly appreciated the student feedback, as they were quite frank - I asked students not to put their name on the survey so that they could feel safe in being honest in their replies. I only asked that they list their class periods so that I could trace any trends which were period-specific. Here are my reflections on their input:

What have we done this semester in Latin that has helped you learn? Overwhelmingly, students responded Movie Talks and Read/Draws. Some comments included:
- "I like it when you pause the movie and talk about it in Latin, because it gives me time to process."
- "I am a visual learner, so it helps me to see what you're taking about in Latin."
- "Movie Talks are interesting - so much better than just reading. You pick good movie shorts, but don't do the movie talk about the robot and the grandma again - way too sad!"
- "I like doing Read/Draws, because I can associate vocabulary with what I draw."
- "Read/Draws are fun, because I don't get to draw in any of my other classes."
- "Read and Draws are helpful, because I can see the story in pictures and label stuff [sic] in Latin."

Some students insightfully answered:
- "I like that there is LOTS of repetition of words in the stories, because if I don't get the word the first time, it comes up again, so I eventually learn it."
- "I'm a slow learner, so I like that you repeat words over and over."
- "Having the Latin and English on the board when you speak Latin makes it easy to understand what you're saying."

What have we done this semester in Latin that has NOT helped you learn? Although about half of the students responded "nothing," there were a number of students who did not like Movie Talks and Read/Draws. Some comments included:
- "I hate it when you pause the movie. It slows down my learning. I get bored. I just want to watch the movie."
- "When you turn off the lights, I get sleepy."
- "Do we really have to talk about the movie in Latin? Can't we just see the movie?"
- "I hate doing anything with drawing/coloring."
- "Read/Draws are helpful for timed writes, but that's it."
- "We do WAY TOO MUCH drawing in this class. I don't need to draw to learn."

I will seriously consider students' comments. I will continue to implement Movie Talks and Read/Draws but maybe cut back on their frequency. Last semester, students overwhelmingly responded that they did not like dictations. Although I do find great benefit in dictations for language acquisition, I greatly cut back on the number of dictations this semester based on their comments. I found that students appreciated that I employed their feedback in my lesson planning for this semester. 

If you could change one thing about how we have been learning Latin so far, what would it be? Although there was a WIDE range of answers here, everything from "no more Brandon Brown ever" to "when are going to learn about gladiators?", the most common thread related to wanting to learn a lot more conversational Latin. Some insightful comments included:
- "I feel like I can talk about a boy, a three-legged dog, and a bear in Latin, but I cannot talk about myself."
- "I want to learn how to say more than hello, goodbye, what is your name, my name is, his/her name is, how are you in Latin."
- "What about colors? Numbers?"
- "How come none of the stories had any conversational Latin in them?" 

Interestingly, there were NO comments about why Latin was being spoken in the classroom (no "Latin is dead language" or "no one speaks Latin"), so it appears that my students have accepted that Latin is indeed a communicative language. Rather these comments surrounded the idea that students wanted to be able to converse with each other in Latin and to talk about themselves in the language. Since my conversion to spoken Latin in 2010 (see here for my story) after years of adamantly opposing any type of active Latin, I have always said that students do indeed wish to interpret their world in Latin like modern language learners, so why do we cling to this idea that Latin should only be translated?

Based on this feedback, incorporating more conversational Latin is something which I will try to accomplish next year but more specifically so that it permeates the curriculum. This past year, I tried incorporating Bryce Hedstrom's Special Person interview (duly called Discipulus Illustris in Latin) during first semester, but students began to tire of it because we were doing it daily and because it seemed like a completely separate learning activity from the readings which were doing for the semester. This is not to say that I will not use Discipulus Illustris again next year but rather that i need to tie it in with what are doing in class. As that student insightfully commented, "How come none of the stories had any conversational Latin in them?", for students, there was nothing tying in conversational Latin with the readings which we were doing - there was a disconnect, and it seemed like something from left field. As a result, I will try to write more stories with conversational Latin in them - maybe these will become the genesis of a novella!

Next post: student survey results about what they wish to read next year.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reflections on This Past Year

In my last post, I addressed the craziness, emotional exhaustion, and everything else which comes with the end the of the school year. I referenced where I felt that I had "failed" with what I was wanting to accomplish in my classes - here are my reflections on that:

Where I fell short: teaching using a CI novella. Prior to the beginning of the school year, I was really excited about implementing CI novellas in my classes. As I was now at a new school and teaching in a Latin department which had gone "untextbook," I felt free, as I was no longer bound to a textbook. Brando Brown Canem Vult had just been released, and I had been waiting YEARS for a Latin version of this novella to come out (see here for my blog post on its release). When approaching a new reading, I knew that the name of the game was to pre-teach necessary vocabulary and structures prior to reading and not to use the reading itself to teach vocabulary. As a result, for each chapter of Brando Brown Canem Vult, I pre-taught any new vocabulary and structures so that students would already be familiar with (and hopefully have acquired) them before they began reading it (in fact, I have posted a number of those lesson plans/movie talks here on my blog). The problem, however, was that as there were ten chapters in the novella, this process began to drag on for students. As the process took much longer to go through it than I had expected, students began to tire of reading the novella and to a degree, to resent reading itself. 

Conclusion: Interestingly, this year I have heard many other Latin teachers mention the same struggles about their first time implementing Brando Brown Canem Vult. For some, the experience soured them to such a degree that they do not wish to implement CI novellas in the future. Although I can empathize with them, I do not believe that it was the novella itself which was the problem but rather our inexperience in undertaking something like this. In actuality, because no teacher's guide existed for Brando Brown Canem Vult this year (one is being released soon), we teachers who undertook this pursuit were pioneers, considering that we did not know what we were doing or what to expect.

What I wish to do differently: I still feel that novellas have tremendous value in a CI classroom, therefore, I need to change the way in which I implement them. Based on my shortcomings this year, I have a much better idea of how to do things differently next year. I will continue to pre-teach vocabulary and structures necessary to the novella, but I will not take it one chapter at a time like I did this year - that was the major flaw, because it slowed down students' reading experience. Rather, I will have students read through a novella as a whole AFTER the process. If I can get my act together, I would like to give students a choice in which novellas to read and implement reading as a FVR/SSR time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Home Stretch

I only have less than two weeks left in this semester. I feel like I am in the home stretch; the end is in sight. I am so ready for this school year to be over. 

It has also been a month since my last post. Usually, I will try to post weekly to my blog, but to me, the end of the school year feels like an all-out, last-ditch sprint where I end up having to drag myself across the finish line. For the past few weeks, upon coming home from work, every day I have taken a short nap, because I am so tired. I feel like I have nothing left to give to my classes, because mentally and emotionally, my well has run dry. A teacher-friend of mine aptly calls it "zombie mode." In addition, these past three weeks have been so disruptive in terms of students' schedules due to state standardized assessments and AP exams. I just want a degree of normality again. I have to laugh, because what I am feeling at the moment is exactly what I experience annually at the end of the school year; in fact, i wrote a blog post about this very thing one year ago (see here).

The end of the year is also difficult, because this is the time when I reflect on the past year and see everything which I did wrong, where I fell short, and where I could have done things better. This was my first year at a new school after having been 17 years at another, so it was definitely a year of adjustment. It was also my first year of going completely "un-textbooking" and of teaching using a CI novella. Though I felt like I had a strong foundation from years of doing a hybrid CI/textbook approach, part of me completely feels like I totally failed my students this year, since I did not feel completely comfortable with this new approach. Students began to tire of reading Brando Brown Canem Vult due to my inexperience, and I felt unsure with exactly how to teach a novella. At the end of the year, it is very easy to focus on the negative when I am feeling so physically and emotionally tired of teaching.

In spite of feeling all of this, another feeling stands out: hope. Yes, although I feel like somewhat of a failure for my shortcomings as a teacher this year, I know that I have a fresh start come August. I have the opportunity to have a whole new beginning in a few months. What I did not do right this year, I can correct in the new school year. Yes, it would be easy to throw in the towel and to return to a way of teaching which is more comfortable and safe for me, but if i give up now, then I will never know if I will do better the next time. Now that I have taught a CI novella, I have a MUCH better idea of how to do it, or better yet, what not to do.

This summer, I will be attending IFLT for a second year and serving as a coach again. In addition I will be giving a presentation there and at the American Classical League Summer Institute. These two conferences will refresh my CI batteries and recharge me as a teacher just in time for the school year to begin. I usually begin pre-planning on a CI high!

I am reminded of something which Rose Williams, a retired Latin teacher but still quite a pistol, once said to me. I was telling her how when I was a first-year teacher years ago, I had no clue what I was doing, how horrible I was, how I felt like I was always just a few pages ahead of my students in the textbook, and that if I had the chance, I would apologize to them for being such a poor teacher. Rose wisely replied to me, "But in spite of that, your students still loved you anyways." Words which I always need to hear.