Saturday, March 31, 2012

Should my blog make me miserable?

maybe somewhere in here lies the reason your colleagues don't blog 

Whence I come.

I am in a wonderful time of first getting connected as a teacher. I've got TweetDeck pumping, RSS subscriptions growing, and this blog too. Fascinating stuff keeps appearing on my screen. It is overwhelming, especially now at the end of a year when it is really neither feasible nor fair to begin a wholesale paradigm shift in my classes. It's encouraging too, though, to look forward to a summer planning and to next year.

Anyways, my point starts with something from TeachPaperless:
"to blog is to teach yourself what you think"
Reflecting on this, I realized that I have changed a lot as a teacher since I began this blog. It has to do with following Twitter and getting into other blogs, of course, but it also has to do with me being forced to face my own practices as I write about them. It turns out I didn't know my true feelings when I started blogging because, as you just read, I had not yet taught myself what I thought.

This blog scares and embarrasses me.

So now here is the scary part: What happens if I am not done learning what I think? Keep in mind I am planning on making huge changes this summer to my courses, all as a result of a new view of education and teaching. You can see, then, how disheartening it is to look back and see how flimsy I have been and how quickly my mind has been made to go new directions. What if, one week before the year begins, my worldview changes again and my summer of planning is destroyed? (I almost wish I had not been inspired. Now I have to improve my course materials that have, until now, been satisfactory. Could I not have done better with a summer off?)

Beyond causing me such anxiety, this blog also serves as an embarrassment. It is, after all, a permanent record. Some of the posts I have written are by now, with my new eyes, ignorant and lacking that saving revolution. A good example is my detailed post on tracking participation points, which I no longer give. Will this post as well, dear reader, cause me at some time likewise to blush?

Whither we go?

One thing is clear: Without having subjected myself to the fear and humiliation this blog provides, I would be worse off. And, even worse, I wouldn't even know it. (How easy it would be to be that teacher who just lathers, rinses, and repeats!) So is this blog only working if I am miserable, forever changing and so forever chasing the teacher I want to be?

I should end with a question that isn't rhetorical: Why should teachers go through this unsettling experience of blogging? Share, if you dare, a scary and embarrassing post you've made. Help show that the risk is worth the reward.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rigorous Reading Comprehension

The textbook series that I use, Cambridge Latin Course, is all about reading comprehension questions. I like them, too, but quickly realized a danger in saying just "read this and answer these questions." So to beef things up a bit, I have my students provide a Latin quote from the passage to justify each answer. For example, the first few questions from Masada I, Stage 29, pages 157-158:
Three things: 1) The quote needs to be in Latin, mind you; it should not be an English translation because I'll know you know what it says if the quote lines up with the answer. 2) The habit of talking about line numbers is always good to develop. 3) The quotes should be short, not a whole paragraph or even a whole sentence; this avoids the "I know the answer is in there somewhere" stuff.

Masada I Questions (.docx, 68KB)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ode for Authentic Latin

or, if not an ode, at least a rant, some musings, and a handout

How many of us Latin teachers fell in love with our subject reading passages from the Cambridge Latin Course or Wheelock's Latin? How many, and this will be controversial, developed our passion answering qui? and ubi? Maybe those things were fun and helpful, but when was our fascination with Latin formed? When did we choose to become lifelong learners and teachers?

I can answer for myself: In university, reading and discussing and (horror of horrors) translating Catullus, Vergil, Cicero, Horace, Suetonius, Tacitus, and others. Coming to know these guys and their world was exhilarating.

So, a simple question: Why wait until the end of the third or beginning of the fourth year of high school to begin reading these authentic, meaty, and totally cool authors? That has been my plan, at least. Surely students can't start appreciating Catullus or Vergil until after they have learned (and likely forgotten) indirect statement.

"Start the real stuff sooner and we'll learn indirect statement as we go." An approach like that has honestly never occurred to me as a teacher, even though that was my own path toward Latin as a student. Of course I didn't learn all of Wheelock's when I was supposed to. I started reading authentic stuff--in my third semester of college Latin--way before I really knew the ablative absolute. And here I am, a full-time Latin teacher several years later.

So, the same question put another way: Why keep my students from that authentic Latin which not only finally taught me Latin but made me fall in love with it?

More on this later. Back to reality for now. We are at the beginning of this year's fourth quarter. I think my Latin II students are ready to start some real stuff, with a few notes and plenty of vocabulary. So let's do it. And where is better to start than Catullus 5?

Here is part of the handout I have prepared. I have tried to make the "Notes and Help" more a spur to get them to think than a pile of answers and esoteric information.
There is also an alphabetized list of vocabulary. Download the whole thing here or below.

I'll report back on this topic when I've had a chance to observe how my students take the change. I welcome any comments!

Catullus 5 (.docx, 118KB)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cartoons with Captions

In Stage 6 of the Cambridge Latin course there is a passage entitled Felix et fur. The Teacher's Manual suggests that "This is... a good story to represent as a cartoon, using sentences from the story as captions." Here I think is where I was first inspired to try this with my students; I found that the same activity also fits with other passages as well.

To help my students, I provide this document as a template:
I have found that giving them this document really helps them to complete the task well. Of course you can change it to fit your needs. It can be for homework or classwork.

I am always amused to review their work, and normally pleasantly surprised with how much thought has gone into their drawings and choice of captions. Here is an example of the same activity done on a different passage:
Felix et fur Cartoons with Captions (.docx 45KB)