Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Visiting "Sheltering Vocabulary, Not Grammar" Again

Now that I have returned to the classroom, one of my biggest challenges has been to see where knowledge gaps exist in students, i.e., what language did they actually acquire last year during hybrid teaching? And quite honestly, I have come to this conclusion: it is a futile attempt in many ways to do this. Several students have been very honest in telling me that they cheated on the majority of their work last year in all of their classes, because quite simply, they could. And my response to them has been, "And yep, we teachers knew that students would cheat when we assigned work. But based on the situation in which we were, there was not much which we could do about it."

So instead of trying to pinpoint specific knowledge gaps (which could take forever to find), I am really focusing on sheltering vocabulary, not grammar these first few months. Here is what I am doing:
  1. I know that there are specific vocabulary and language structures which were covered last year, but I am going to assume that students never acquired them. For me, at least that levels the playing field for everyone, and I am not projecting wrong assumptions onto students.
  2. In terms of vocabulary from last year, I am focusing on specific words which I know are important and then "chucking" the rest (see Carrie Toth's Vocabulary Chuck-It Bucket).
  3. I am slowly beginning to introduce specific vocabulary words which I know students will need for this semester.
  4. Using this limited set of vocabulary, I have created readings where I am using them in LOTS of language structures which we "covered" last year. As a result, there will be TONS of repetition of vocabulary in different grammatical forms, of which there will lot of repetition there too.
Example - Latin 3 reading:

Target words
milites, vocabatur, ostendere, fortior quam, celerior quam, nemo, cum, semper, odi, exercitus, iubebat ut, vehere, in castris, hostis, appropinquare, dux, ad defendam

Part 1

Olim erant duo milites. Primus miles Pullo vocabatur et semper fortitudinem ostendebat. Pullo erat fortior quam elephantus. Pullo semper exclamabat, “Nemo est fortior miles quam ego!”

Secundus miles Vorenus vocabatur et semper celeritatem ostendebat. Vorenus erat celerior quam equus. Vorenus semper exclamabat, “Nemo est celerior miles quam ego!”

Pullo et Vorenus erant non amici. Cum Vorenus vidisset Pullonem ostendentem fortitudinem, semper dixit, “Pullonem odi!” Cum Pullo vidisset Vorenum ostendentem celeritatem, semper dixit, “Vorenum odi!” 

Part 2

Pullo et Vorenus erant milites in exercitu Romano. Exercitus Romanus erat in Gallia, quod Gallia erat provincia Romana. Exercitus Romanus erat in Gallia ad defendam provinciam. 

Dux Modestus vocabatur. Quod Modestus erat dux, iubebat Pullonem et Vorenum ut aquam in castris vehant. Quod Pullo erat fortior quam elephantus, vehebat plus (more) aquae quam Vorenus. Cum Pullo vidisset Vorenum vehentem minus (less) aquae, exclamavit, “Cur tu es miles in exercitu Romano? Tu es non fortior quam puer! Non difficile est mihi vehere multam aquam in castris, quod nemo est fortior miles quam ego!” Cum Vorenus audivisset Pullonem exclamantem verba (words), dixit, “Pullonem odi, quod semper fortitudinem ostendit!”  

Subito, hostis appropinquabat! Cum Modestus vidisset hostem appropinquantem, iubebat Pullonem et Vorenum ut vehant arma ad milites in castris ad defendam Galliam. Quod Vorenus erat celerior quam equus, vehebat arma ad milites celerius quam Pullo. Cum Vorenus vidisset Pullonem lente (slowly) vehentem arma, exclamavit, “Cur tu es miles in exercitu Romano? Tu es non celerior quam testudo (turtle)!! Non difficile est mihi vehere arma ad milites, quod nemo est celerior miles quam ego!” Cum Pullo audivisset Vorenum exclamantem verba (words), dixit, “Vorenum odi, quod semper celeritatem ostendit!” 

Cum dux Modestus audivisset Pullonem et Vorenum exclamantes, dixit, “Pullonem et Vorenum odi, quod semper hi (these) duo milites sunt molesti (annoying). Nemo est molestior miles in castris quam Pullo et Vorenus!” 


  1. Some may scoff and say that the reading is maybe too easy and overly repetitive for beginning Latin 3 students, but considering last year, I really have no idea what/if students acquired any language during hybrid teaching. It is completely wrong for me to assume that they did or to place the blame on them if they did not.
  2. Students found the reading to be very engaging and want to know more!
  3. In many ways, part 2 is an "embedded reading" of part 1 (although the plot is moving forward), since so many of the same sentences are repeated verbatim. That is intentional - this way I could get in more repetitions of language in a new context. Having those repetitions of exact sentences from part 1 actually helped students feel successful when reading part 2 (and repeat them again for those who may have struggled when reading part 1 the first time).
  4. Because I had limited vocabulary, I was able to use circling, processing questions, and PQAs as a way to get in lots of oral/aural repetitions of the words in many different ways which did not seem repetitive.
  5. Because I had limited vocabulary but not grammar in the readings, I was able to get in a lot of different language structures and throw in pop-up grammar timeouts. Because so many of my students were digital last year and since I do not know what language they acquired, I have made many of my students be the grammar experts for particular language structures. Every time I want to ask about a particular structure, I call on that student to tell me about it. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Feeling Rusty

I have now been back face-to-face with students (in a completely masked classroom setting) for almost three weeks now, and I am SO glad to be teaching again where I am no longer bound to remaining behind my desk in front of a computer Zooming my lessons! After 18 months of digital/hybrid teaching, I feel like I have been chomping away at the bit like a racehorse ready to blast away at the starting gate, just waiting for the opportunity. I have SO missed teaching the way in which I was accustomed pre-Covid. I have missed being able to interact with students and to get them to interact with each other and with readings in the target language.

However, at the same time, I have noticed that I am SO rusty in many ways when it comes to teaching face-to-face again. I have been trying to get back into circling, asking processing questions, and doing PQA's, and often I find myself asking, "Now how I do this again? How did I ask questions before?" This past summer, I had served as a coach both for the online Acquisition Boot Camp summer class and for the IFLT Conference, where we addressed how to ask questions and I even demo'd how to do them many times this summer. But now face-to-face real time with students, I find myself hesitating at times, asking, "So what comes next again? What kind of question do I want to ask?"

But I also know this: it is perfectly okay to feel rusty doing this. Much like an athlete feels rusty in spring training after not having competed in a few months, so will I when it comes to teaching. If I as the teacher am feeling rusty asking processing/PQA questions in the target language, I am certain that students are definitely feeling rusty answering them! Heck, considering that I know that several of them NEVER showed up for a synchronous Zoom session last year, for many of them, they have not even heard Latin for 18 months!

I am finding myself re-reading so many past posts from my own blog both for instruction and for inspiration. This is the post which I have been re-reading to get myself back into circling, asking processing questions, and doing PQA's.
Most likely, I will write up a script of questions to use as a reference until I start feeling like I have regained my foundation. 

Where are you feeling rusty?

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Back to School - 2nd week Observations

On May 4, I wrote the following blog post: I am So Ready. Now 4 1/2 months later, I am back to teaching face-to-face (in a masked classroom), and I am LOVING it. Everything which I had listed in that blog post (outside of teaching wearing a mask) I am finally able to do again! After two weeks, I am so feeling like myself again as a teacher after the weirdness of last year known as hybrid teaching. This week, one of my students whom I had last year in-person but still hybrid-taught said to me, "You are SO different as a face-to-face teacher. You're a lot more fun, and you talk to us much more." I had to laugh, because what else could I do but congratulate him on his remarkable perception?

However, as COVID cases continue to rise and the uncertainty of how this new wave of the pandemic is going to play out, I am learning to cherish the moments which I do currently have with my students in a face-to-face setting. I am savoring the types of learning activities and language interactions which I am able to have with students which I was not able to facilitate at all last year. As the possibility of going digital again for a time looms overhead, I am definitely not taking this time for granted. I am truly enjoying my students and my time as a face-to-face teacher. Maybe I am still in the honeymoon phase of it all and perhaps the novelty has not worn off yet, but I am still going to treasure this window of opportunity for as long as I can.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Brags and Vents

As we return back to face-to-face classrooms after such a disruptive year of hybrid teaching, it is incredibly important that we focus on creating community once again in our classrooms. Even if we had students who were in-person last year, our classroom culture was so unlike to what we were accustomed. Honestly, last year I found it so difficult to establish any type of connection and relationship with any of my students (digital or in-person), because I never left from behind my desk! 

Last week, I began to implement a "check in" activity called "Brags and Vents," and it is exactly what the title implies: a time for students to brag and to vent about themselves, stuff in their lives, etc. I learned this activity from Christopher Emdin's book called For White Folks Who Teach in the ‘Hood And All the Rest of Y’all: Reality Pedagogy, which my instructional team read a few years ago as professional development. My colleagues Bob Patrick and Miriam Patrick have been regularly doing this in their classes as a way to build community in their classes. I had tried it out before with less than success in my classes, so I had put it on hold. 

However, upon returning to the classroom, I noticed that due to the disruption in schooling, many students really did not know each other in my classes. In many of my classes, students were silent and did not talk to each other - granted this could have been for many reasons: introverted personalities, not knowing anyone in the class, and just adjusting to being in a classroom of 30 other students again. But an unexpected rain storm (we are talking a HUGE downpour) one afternoon which happened right when school let out led to a perfect opportunity to begin doing Brags and Vents. Since this was a common experience shared by all students where most students were drenched, the next day I decided to let students talk about it in class. Wow - every student wanted to vent about their experience of getting caught in the rain. For times sake, I only allowed a few students to share, but gosh, it really got students talking because they all had a common, shared experience about which to share. Now I am seeing students beginning to feel comfortable in the class with each other and with me. 

How to lead a Brag and Vents

  1. Set a time limit for Brags and Vents - I set a timer for 2 minutes for brags and 3 minutes for vents. To me, the time limit is very important, because it is very easy to get sidetracked with this if you do not set a timer. 
  2. At the beginning of the class, explain that you are going to give students a few minutes to share a celebration or brag about something IN ENGLISH. It just so happened that the first time I did this last week, it was a student's 16th birthday, which led me to ask when he was going to get his driver's license. That then led to a student sharing that she was getting her driver's license that day. In each of those instances, it gave me a chance to ask them some questions and to guide their brags some. 
  3. When the two minutes are up, explain that you are going to give students a few minutes to vent about something. This first time, I simply asked, "So who got caught in the rain yesterday at the end of school." Immediately everyone felt like they had something to share since it was a common shared experience.
  1. This has been a great way for me to get to know students, for them to know each other, and to feel comfortable just back in a classroom again. 
  2. So far, I have only done this 2-3 times a week in order to preserve the novelty. Some teachers do it daily.
  3. I am loving what I am learning about students during the brag time: one student told me that he is involved with a male roller derby association in Atlanta (I did not know that one even existed!) and is now a junior referee! Another student told me that he just got his first job. I probably never would have learned this about these students nor would their classmates have. 
  4. Look for students who are involved in extra-curricular activities such as athletics, band, drama, etc., and during the brags, give them an opportunity to tell about their games, concerts, etc.
  5. Before class when students share something with me, such as getting their driver's license or their team winning a game, I now tell them to save it for Brags and Vents so that they can tell the whole class.
  6. It is important to set rules and parameters for this activity:
    • Only one person speaking at a time.
    • The timer is king, i.e., I tell students that since we are bound by a timer, please be brief in their brags/vents so that others have a chance. Once the timer rings, we are done. 
    • For vents, I give them a topic or two so that there is some degree of commonality during that time (or else, students will be all over the place with their vents). Topics which I have done: Who had multiple tests or quizzes today? Tell me about the traffic in the morning. How is your lunch period in the cafeteria? Who has first lunch vs. who has 6th lunch? Is it difficult getting to class on time?
    • Students cannot make an ad hominem vent about a particular teacher or person, i.e. no naming of names! 

Consider doing Brags and Vents in your classes - the activity has really helped establish community in my classes after these past 18 months of weirdness, and you and your students wil learn much about each other.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Back to School - 1st Week Observations

Today, I am finishing up six days of classes with students (we began last Wednesday with a staggered face-to-face return of students. Monday was my first official face-to-face day with all students). After 18 months of digital/hybrid teaching, I am SO ready to return back to a "normal," face-to-face teaching environment where I am no longer teaching hybrid completely behind a desk. I have felt SO FREE to be able to move around the (masked) classroom and to teach how I did pre-Covid.

However, after these past six days of teaching, I have come to a number of realizations. For those of you who have yet to return to the classroom and want to know how it has been, let me pass along some observations/words of wisdom:

  • When it comes to COVID concerns and the classroom, you do you - In other words, based on your school's/district's COVID guidelines, do what you feel is best for you and your students. If you are face-to-face but do not feel comfortable teaching like you did pre-Covid, then don't. It is okay to teach still from behind your desk.
  • Have realistic expectations and goals for your students this year - Now is not the time to set high expectations and to expect all students to rise to a very lofty standard. Do not think at all that you will be able to pick up where you left off last year. Due to the variety of learning situations and environments which students have experienced since March 2020, a WIDE range of knowledge gaps exists among them. Spend the first few weeks finding those gaps and holes - heck it may take all semester. Fill those holes which are necessary, and do not worry about those which are not. Most likely, your curriculum coverage for this year will definitely look different from past years.
  • Have a realistic outlook about last year's learning situation - Every year, I have students in the beginning of the school year who will say to me, "I do not remember any Latin from last year." Pre-Covid, my response would always be, "You remember more Latin than you think you do." This year, my gut feeling is, "Yep, that is probably true."
  • Therefore, if ever there was a time for this, SHELTER VOCABULARY AND NOT GRAMMAR! Just because you "covered" vocabulary last year does not mean at all that students ever acquired those words. Most likely, the majority of students did not. Although students may have completed assignments digitally, that is the extent of what they did - they completed the assignments, and that is probably as far as the acqusition process went. Therefore, focus on a limited amount of target/necessary/high frequency words in the beginning and milk the heck out of these words grammatically to ease students back into language so that they can feel successful again.
  • Ease students into routines and your expectations - Today in my upper level classes, I began doing circling, asking processing questions, and doing PQAs with students. Since I had not done this in-person for 18 months, I went all-in with it! However, I quickly realized that many students were not ready for it and became overwhelmed. Although I was certainly ready for them to get back into hearing Latin and interacting with the language again, many were not after not having been in-person on campus for 18 months. 
  • Survey your students about their language learning experience last year - This was one of the first things which I did with students, and I was very surprised at their honesty about how it was very difficult learning in a digital environment (even if hybrid) and that many relied heavily on Google Translate. A number of them were nervous about not remembering anything from last year. Here are questions which I asked students:
    • What was your learning situation last year?
    • How was your Latin learning experience last year? Be honest!
    • What did your teacher do last year which helped you acquire Latin?
    • What is something which you liked about your Latin teacher last year? Be positive!
  • Last year was traumatic for us as teachers - Last year's teaching situation was unlike anything which we had ever encountered before. When it came to teaching, the name of the game last year was simply survival, trying to come up with lessons which would work digitally, how to reach students, what to do with students who never showed up for Zoom sessions and never turned in any work, etc. I think that we are still healing from all of that. 
  • Love your students right where they are at!
For those of you who begin after Labor Day, enjoy your last weeks of summer!