Monday, June 6, 2022

Observations from a Post-Hybrid Year

Now that I have been on summer vacation for a week, I am taking this time to reflect on the school year so that I can close that chapter and spend time away from anything academic for awhile. Here are some observations from a post-hybrid year. I only taught Latin 2 and 3 this year.

Observations

  • There were some MAJOR knowledge gaps in my Latin 2 classes.  My Latin 2 students were those who experienced Latin 1 in a hybrid environment, with most "learning" digitally at home. I did not teach Latin 1 last year, so I did not know any of my Latin 2 students this year. I quickly realized that although many of these students completed their digital assignments from last year and received A's, to a large degree, that actually did not mean much. Completion of assignments did not equal acquisition of material. This is not to blame the Latin 1 teachers but rather the hybrid learning environment itself.
  • As a result, I needed to have realistic expectations of student knowledge. My friend Edie always says "Disappointment is mismanaged expectations." We all know that the year of hybrid teaching was not effective at all, so it was best for me to accept it all for what it was and that it was rather pointless to place the blame on students or teachers. 
  • I had to reset my "goalposts" of what students should be able to acquire and to achieve. Once I viewed that Latin 2 was essentially going to be "Latin 1.5," it gave me somewhere to start. First semester was dedicated to filling in knowledge gaps and moving ahead much more slowly with new material.
  • I sheltered vocabulary, not grammar like crazy to help fill gaps for many students and to reinforce existing knowledge in others!
  • However, in my Latin 3 classes, I did not see such knowledge gaps like I saw in my Latin 2 students. I am wondering if it is because since Latin 3 is an upper-level elective, those students for whom knowledge gaps would have existed chose not to take Latin 3 and therefore self-weeded themselves out.
Takeaways
  1. We cannot assume that students in our classes for the near future will be like they were pre-pandemic. Even though our classrooms have returned to a "normal" face-to-face teaching environment, I firmly believe that it is going to be a number of years before any knowledge gaps in students caused by the pandemic interruption will be filled. And that is OKAY!!
  2. I am going to truly focus on sheltering vocabulary, not grammar. I had felt like I had done a good job of it before, but it was never my sole focus like it was this year. 
  3. There is NO rush to return to pre-pandemic expectations and standards. It is going to take a long time for both students and teachers to adjust back to a post-pandemic classroom, so let us this time to meet everyone where they are at and to go from there.  

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The School Year is Over

Yesterday was the last day of post-planning for me - I am now officially on summer vacation! At the end of every school year, I always experience such a range of emotions and feelings, primarily happiness and relief that it is all over. But as I reflect on these past two years, all I can really feel at the moment is, "Wow, I got through it. Yes, while the experience was very imperfect, I made it through." I cannot help but feel an incredible sense of accomplishment as I reflect on the sheer fact that I endured the storm. As I have stated before in this blog, one of the biggest things which I have learned about myself these past two years is just how resilient I am, since I have been stretched like I have never before.

So as we all begin to transition to summer vacation over the next month and experience time away from the classroom, my biggest piece of advice is this: Do something this summer which gives you joy and which has NOTHING to do with the classroom. Distance yourself from what defines you as a teacher. Normally I would say attend a conference, further your professional development, etc. But after these past two years of the pandemic, digital teaching, hybrid teaching, and transition back to face-to-face, more than ever I realize now that we as teachers need to heal and to remember who we are outside of the classroom. Use this summer to recharge and to heal.

My former college roommate once told me how he envied my professional career as a teacher in that my work calendar always has a definite beginning, middle, and end, while for most people, their career is a continuous series of projects with just two weeks off for vacation. I appreciate his comment more than ever now and recognize the wisdom in his statement.

As I am now beginning my summer vacation, I realize that for many of you, you still have a month left before the end of your school year and that the last thing you need to hear from me is that I am on break. Well, when I return back to work on July 25 for pre-planning, then you can tell me about how you still have a month left in your vacation!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Teaching while Burned Out during the End-of-the-Year

This time of the school is always difficult for teachers and students, because by this point, everyone is burned out. Even though I returned from Spring Break feeling incredibly rested, at the same time, the final 6.5 weeks is always a mess for everyone with standardized state testing, AP testing, senioritis, and just "not feeling it any more." By this point, students are so emotionally and mentally ready for final exams (probably not academically though), because they are simply tired of it all (we teachers feel the same way). It is difficult to lesson plan during this time, because as teachers, "the well has run dry" in terms of motivation. Everything now just seems to take a lot more effort to do, and if you have more than one prep, the burden just seems heavier.

I have two preps (thankfully), so to save my strength and mental bandwidth, my two preps are all doing the same activities on each day. While the readings may be different for each prep, the lessons themselves are the same. If my Latin 2 classes are doing a Read, Draw, and Discuss on Monday, then so are my Latin 3's. If my Latin 3's are doing Whiteboard.fi on Thursday, then so are my Latin 2's. If my Latin 2's are doing a Movie Talk on Friday, then I am going to manipulate that same animated short so that I can do it with my Latin 3's too. This has made it so much easier for me these past few weeks, because then I feel like I am just planning for one prep.  

When I returned from Spring Break on April 11, I remember thinking, "We have 6.5 weeks left until the end of the school year. That is such a long time from now!" I remember telling my senior homeroom on that day, "The senior picnic and Prom are in 3 weeks," but inside saying to myself, "Oh my gosh, that seems so far away. It is going to take forever to get to those days." Fast forward to now - the senior picnic and Prom were last week, and in hindsight, I feel like those 3 weeks passed by very quickly. At the same time, it all happened one day at a time. And quite honestly, I can only be faithful with each day which I am given - worrying about tomorrow and trying to do tomorrow's work today is carrying a larger burden than is necessary. It is now May 3, and the last day of school/graduation is on May 25. Everything is all happening very quickly now, and the end is in sight. However, it will all happen one day at a time.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Runaway Train Has Begun

Graduation is one month from today in my school district (watch me do a cartwheel out of sheer joy), but the end of the school year is ALWAYS such a weird and stressful time for teachers. This week begins state End of Course tests for students in certain subject areas, and next week will start two weeks of AP testing. The next three weeks become a game of hit/miss to see which students will be in my classes on what days, which makes lesson planning incredibly difficult. Add in senioritis, Prom, burnout in both students and teachers, trying to get in teaching new material which will be on the final exam despite students being out for standardized testing, preparing students for final exams, and just end-of the-year stuff. It can be very overwhelming for everyone.

I have been teaching now for almost 25 years, and although I know from experience that this is how this time of the year will always be, it still does not make it any easier to endure. I always liken the end of the school year to a runaway train - regardless of how I feel, the train is not going to stop whether I like it or not, so the only thing which I can do is to just hold on and to ride it out. Complaining and venting about it will not stop the train. 

However, at the same time, wow - I have almost made it through another rather somewhat-weird year of teaching (nothing like the previous two though!). I can celebrate that! Despite being on this runaway train, I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Embedded Writing

This week, I was cleaning out my files in my Google Drive and came across this activity which I had completely forgotten about and have not used for years. It is a post-reading, writing activity which I learned from a conversation that I had with Bess Hayles at NTPRS a number of years ago and then saw demonstrated by Betsy Paskvan. It is a very low-stress, low affective filter way to get students to write without overwhelming them into a full-blown timed/free write. It is very similar to an embedded reading, but this time, students are supplying the missing information. 

Instructions
  1. Take a paragraph from a reading which you have been covering in class. 
  2. Type the sentences out on a document as a list but leave a lined space between each sentence. 
  3. The objective of the activity is very simple: Students' task is to write a sentence of their own in the target language in that lined space which makes sense between the two sentences. It can be an expansion of the sentence of previous sentence, be a transition between the two, or explain the need for the next sentence. Did something happen in the story between the two sentences that is missing? 
Observations
  1. I like this activity, because although students are writing in the target language, they also have parameters in adding new details and meaning to a story.
  2. For beginning levels, you may want to do this as a guided activity first to familiarize students with writing and with the activity itself. For example, for the sentence between #1 and #2, you could ask students aloud, "What is the boy or girl feeling? Happy? sad? Can you describe the boy or girl? Is the boy or girl doing anything?" This will help give students a number of different ideas and details which they could add. Many times I have found that it is not necessarily a lack of vocabulary knowledge which prevents students from writing but rather a lack of direction or ideas to follow.
  3. This is actually a very good higher-order thinking activity, because students must create a sentence of their own which makes sense between two other existing sentences.
  4. Depending on the level of the class and its familiarity with writing, you may choose to leave two lined spaces between each sentence as a higher-level challenge. Students must then write two sentences between each sentence.
  5. I would scaffold this late in a unit lesson plan, because students do need to be familiar enough with the story that they can add new details of their own.
  6. Variations of this activity could be pairing up students or having students pass their papers to another student after they complete writing a sentence, and the next student must write the next new sentence.
Again, I found this activity tucked away in a Google Drive file - I may need to see what else is in my Google Drive!

Friday, March 18, 2022

Dominoes - Putting the Story in Order #2

This is a great collaborative, tactile post-reading activity for students to apply their learning and knowledge of a particular reading using the target language. I learned this years ago at a Cambridge Latin Course workshop, and it was used in English as a culture review. However, I like doing this with a reading, since it is a twist on the "put the story in order" activity and is similar to dominoes. It requires students to recreate the story in the target language in word-for-word "chunks. NOTE - there is some prep involved prior to the activity.

Pre-Activity
  1. On a MS Word or Google Docs document, create a table in which the cells are long in height and resemble domino tiles. I usually do a table of 3x6 (18 cells) or 4x6 (24 cells).
  2. Print up the document.
  3. On the top left hand cell, on the side, handwrite "Start Here" 
  4. Now in that cell handwrite the first sentence of your reading but leave the last word blank. This may require you editing your sentence to fit the cell. NOTE - you do not always have to leave the last word blank, but I have found that visually it is easier for students to see than if a word in the middle is left blank.
  5. On the cell below it, at the TOP of that cell, write that missing word.
  6. Then below that word, write the next sentence from the story but leave the last word blank. Again, this may require you editing the sentence to fit the cell.
  7. On the cell below it, at the TOP of that cell, write that missing word.
  8. Continue this pattern.
  9. When you get to the last cell/sentence of the reading, the missing word will be written on the top of the "Start Here" cell.
  10. Make 10 copies of this table for a class of 30 - I usually use colored card stock, because card stock is firm and not flimsy like regular paper.
  11. Cut the cells into "domino tiles," and put each set in a separate plastic Ziploc bag (the snack-sized bags are good).
Activity
  1. Group students into 3's (a class of 30 would have 10 groups).
  2. Have students take the cards out of the bag and lay them out on a flat surface.
  3. Have them find the card which says "Start Here." 
  4. Tell them that their job is to recreate the reading by finding the missing word of that sentence. That word is found at the top of another card. 
  5. Like dominoes, students will line up that card underneath the "Start Here" card.
  6. Now students have a new sentence with a missing word, and their job is find that missing word.
  7. Tell students that the final card's missing word will be the one at the top of the "Start Here" card.
  8. As students begin to have less cards remaining, the activity should become easier.
  9. Optional competition - I have a bell at the front of my class that students ring when they think that they are done. I then will check that group's cards to make sure that the cards are correct.
  10. When the activity is done, have students scramble the cards before they return them so that they are out of order for the next class.
Observations
  1. I suppose one could create this digitally instead of handwriting the sentences. It would require you creating a fillable, set template where the parameters of the table do not change when typing in the sentences. If you can figure out how to do this, go for it.  
  2. This activity usually lasts around 5-10 minutes.
  3. 18-24 "cards" are a good amount - anything less than that is too quick and anything more can get long for students.
  4. You cannot have duplicate words on the tops of cards, because that would mess up groups' domino orders. Every word on the top of the cards must be distinct.
  5. Students can self-monitor their progress when they do this activity because if they "finish" but there are cards still remaining, then they have made a mistake somewhere.
  6. I have seen this activity adapted on Textivate. Since that is a pay-site, I have not used it.
  7. I have a deskless classroom, so this activity does not really lend itself well to playing on the floor since the cards are small. However, when I did have desks, I did this activity a lot!
  8. I found that students liked the tactile nature of the activity. Plus, it helped students see the story arranged visually.
  9. I like the collaborative nature of the activity, because students really do communicate with each other to find the next "domino" which completes the sentence.
  10. I do not understand why students like ringing the bell when they are finished but they do! Therefore, I have to ensure that even the last group to finish gets the chance to ring the bell.
  11. I would scaffold this activity for later in a reading's lesson plans, because students really need to know the reading well (and vocabulary) to be able to complete the sentence with the missing word.
  12. I do like how this requires students to re-read the story again in a completely different way (and to receive repetitions of understandable messages in their re-reading) but the focus isn't on comprehension anymore but on completing the sentence with the missing words.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Modifying Activities to Make Them Communicative

Last month, I worked as a coach for Martina Bex and Elicia Cardenas' online Acquisition Boot Camp course (ABC). An early lesson in the course addressed "Making Activities Purposeful and Communicative." According to Bill Van Patten, "Communication is the interpretation, expression, and/or negotiation of meaning for a purpose, in a given context." In a nutshell, we want to ensure that the activities which we implement in our classrooms have a true communicative purpose in the context of a classroom, meaning:

  • We should ensure that there is a interpretation, expression or negotiation of meaning. Our purpose should be that we wish to discover and learn information about each other, ourselves, and the world around us through communication and input. So having students interact with you as the teacher through processing questions and PQA's, TPRS, doing a Movie Talk or calendar talk, and having students read and interact with a text are some examples of activities which are purposefully communicative. In each of those examples, an interpretation, expression, or negotiation of meaning is occurring. However, grammar-related activities (such as conjugating in context, parsing) are not communicative in nature.
  • At the same time, this communication needs to occur in a realistic context and setting. Therefore, since we as teachers are communicating in a classroom, our communication needs to reflect what would occur in a classroom. The traditional textbook dialogues/role plays of "a trip to the doctor's office," "ordering a train ticket," and "maneuvering through the airport" are not truly communicative, because they are artificially set and delivered in a classroom context (and not in a doctor's office, train station, airport). If you wish to do those dialogues, then students need to be in those actual environments for these activities to have a true setting.
One of my roles as a coach was to respond to/interact with participant comments on the daily lesson discussion boards, and this particular topic always sparks much discussion from participants. For many this was a very eye-opening and somewhat pedagogical-challenging lesson. However, for the most part, participants were in agreement with the concept of implementing purposeful-communicative classroom activities, but the major questions were "What does this look like?" "What about activities like Kahoot and GimKit?" and "Does this mean that I have to create new classroom activities?"

First off, let me say/echo what Martina and Elicia say in this lesson: This is not to say that EVERY lesson and activity must be communicative in purpose. Believe me, there are days when you as the teacher and students both need a break so you play Vocabulary BINGO. And I love a good GimKit! However, so many of our existing "non-communicative" classroom activities can become communicative in nature through some modifications. Here are some examples:
  • Textbook dialogues and culture topics - instead of having students do a role play/dialogue of going to the doctors' office (which quite honestly, students are simply memorizing and parroting those dialogues), embed these dialogues into a reading (such as Anna must go to the doctor, because her mother is sick), where the dialogue has been inserted as part of something bigger. Because the dialogue is now in a reading which you are teaching, the dialogue has been contextualized into your classroom setting. So for those of you who must cover a camping unit in your curriculum (why is camping considered a necessary cultural topic to cover??), create a reading about characters who go camping - perhaps a character writes a diary entry about going camping!
  • GimKit/Kahoot/Blooket - I love using these web app tools for vocabulary review, but so often we present the vocabulary as isolated terms. A simple modification would be to present these vocabulary words in the context of sentences from a reading. For example, instead of a GimKit question being asked as "gemma," rewrite the question as a sentence from a reading, e.g., "Latrones non GEMMAS habebant." Now negotiation and interpretation of meaning are occurring due to the context of a sentence, and it is no longer presented as an isolated term (because vocabulary rarely occurs isolated in communication). Also, consider asking comprehension questions in the target language and character description questions such as "who would say this?" "Whom does this sentence describe?" "What sentence best describes Character X?", "Where is Character X in this reading?" in a GimKit/Kahoot/Blooket to make the activity more communicative. 
  • BINGO - Students love BINGO, so I am not opposed to having students play it when I need a break. However, I do like Martina Bex's extension use of BINGO as a precursor for a timed write.
So take a look at your activities and consider making some modifications to make them more communicative in nature!