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Reflection on Today’s JCL Competition

I took a group of nine students to a JCL competition today. It was our second competition of the year.

We left from the school at 7:10 this morning, and then picked up the teams from two other schools in the county before finally arriving at Hume-Fogg Academy in Nashville. We arrived right as everyone was preparing for the opening assembly, and we we were able to sign in quite quickly.

Today’s events focused primarily around various academic contests. There were also art and costume contests. The event was well run, and everything occurred in a timely manner.

At the end of the day, my students walked away with 18 awards. Several others were close to placing – I was given a list of how everyone had compared.

As we were leaving, several of the students asked about meeting to practice more often. I myself have been trying to find a way to have more study sessions. The problem is that I can’t find the time.

Currently, the JCL meets after school twice a week for an hour and a half. Soon, the school day will be thirty minutes longer, and it will push back our starting time. I plan for us to continue to meet for the same length of time, and we will stay an extra thirty minutes.

We also can’t meet on the remaining three days of the week. One of those days is devoted to faculty meetings, and on the remaining two days I work with the After School Credit Recovery Program. While I enjoy working with those students twice a week, I need more time for the JCL. I have decided that next year I will just work with the JCL, and hopefully we will be able to meet more often.

In any event, we are now preparing for the state convention which will be in April. I have confidence that they will do well at that competition, and I hope we will be able to find some extra time to prepare.

But before all of that, we have one more event as part of the Mid-State competition. Certamen, this Saturday, and I am sure we will do very well at that.

After School TV

Yesterday, I read an article in which President Obama encouraged parents to not allow their children to watch television on school nights. I posted a link on Twitter and Facebook with the simple comment: “Obama’s children don’t watch TV on School nights.  I have several problems with this.” I did not expound any at that time, and I think several people misinterpreted what I meant by that simple comment. So, I have taken some time to explain here, on my blog. The short explanation would be that there are no good television shows on weekends, all of the good shows are during the week days, but that is not my real reasoning.

I would like to begin by pointing out what I found to be the most disturbing portion of the article:

“The first thing they do after school is homework. If they haven’t finished by dinnertime, around 6:30 p.m., they pick up where they left off after the meal. And after that, they can read until they hit the sack.”

I did a bit of research. I learned that the first children attend Sidwell Friends School. According to their website:

“The Lower School starts at 8:30 a.m and ends at 3:00 p.m. Tuesdays are early dismissal days with school ending at 2:00 p.m.The Middle School starts at 8:00 a.m and ends at 3:20 p.m. Tuesdays are early dismissal days with school ending at 1:55 p.m.”

Thus my first point:

Homework

If the first children are then working on homework until 6:30, they are spending three hours on homework on any given night. This is too much time.

As a teacher, I have a very strong stance on homework. It is, perhaps, the point I center all of my other pedagogical decisions around. To explain this, let me tell of how my middle school years passed.

I had several friends who lived in my neighborhood. During the summers we would spend a lot of time riding bikes, swinging on Sarah’s swing set, or swimming in Ben’s pool. When we entered sixth grade, I found myself on the opposite team as all of my neighborhood friends. I would come home with homework from every class, but my friends never had as much. I would sit the kitchen table and look out my window. I would see Lyndsay, Sarah, and Adam riding their bikes or doing other fun activities, and I was working on math, or English, or history, or who knows what else.

I hated every minute of it. I did not need to do that much work to understand a concept. Sure, each teacher may have only assigned thirty minutes of work, but that added up quickly. Not to mention that I, a sixty pound sixth grader, was carrying home a forty pound backpack once all of my books were in it. Should we mention how many children have back problems.

In seventh grade, I found a solution. I would not do any work I couldn’t complete in school. My grades suffered slightly, but not because I could not understand the material. I would ace every test or quiz, but the homework grades would drag my overall grade down.

I keep this in mind, and I refuse to assign homework. Students are at school for seven hours a day; they don’t need to go home and spend another three hours working. I try to judge how long assignments will take and only assign something that can be done in class, or we will continue working on it the following day. I even state in my syllabus that the class will not have homework.

Now, don’t assume I am against all forms of homework. Literature classes will require that students read outside of class. Other classes have instances when outside work is logical. I just oppose drill work. Not all students need to drill a skill repetitively. In fact, nearly none of my students need to drill any skill from my class, apart from learning vocabulary. Even this will be best learned by each student in varying manners and rates. Students are encouraged to find the method that works best for them when it comes to studying.

My second issue comes to one word:

Fun

I enjoy reading, and I have a hard time understanding how anyone could not enjoy reading. I do not understand how anyone can only do school work and read. Now, I am sure the Obama kids do more than just read and work, but how much more? Obviously no television. Our president does not want any kids to watch television on a school night.

I do believe that it is a good idea for parents to limit the amount of television watching a child does. Perhaps only an hour or two each night, but I do not agree with saying no television at all. Television is a great way to relax after a long day. I do consider what students do at school each day to be work, and for that purpose, I consider them worthy of a break to relax.

And really, the best television shows do come on during school nights.

“I’m Running Out of Letters!”

Last Friday and today I decided to introduce some mythology into the Latin 1 classes. I had planned to do this for a few weeks, and decided that it was a good time to work it into the class. Interestingly enough, there are more standards that directly tie into mythology than with Latin grammar and vocabulary combined.

I decided to begin the mythology unit on Friday, which corresponded with the release of the Percy Jackson movie. I knew that several students had read the books and planned to see the movie. I myself had recently read the books and planned to see the movie. In class, we were going to examine the hero myths which the books were based upon.

Although I had not taught a single class in lecture style this year, I decided to do that for the introduction to the myths. I wanted students to hear the myths presented as stories. I realize there are several different ways to approach this topic, but I thought that presenting myths as stories could be fun.

Prior to class I created a Prezi. It was rather simplistic, very few words and a handful of pictures. The primary purpose of the Prezi was to provide students with the correct spelling of all of the Greek names involved in mythology.

As we first began on Friday, I found that the lecture format was not going to work as well as I had hoped. It seems that my students are not used to lecture classes. Students were attempting to write down every word I said. Others decided they had no clue what to write, because I did not have every word that was important written for them on the screen. One students asked, “Why can’t you be like all of the other teachers and just tell us what to write down?” Another asked, “Why couldn’t you just give us a handout?”

Students continued to take notes throughout class using various methods. At one point, a girl in the center of the room of one of my classes said, “I’m running out of letters!” Immediately the girl sitting in front of her turned around and said, what we had all been wondering, “How do you run out of letters?” She informed us that she had been taking notes in an outline format. She had reached the letter “V.” At this point I really began to see how large of a problem students were having with taking notes. I myself had taken notes prior to the lesson, and I had been able to fit everything on a single notecard. I understand that the students may need more space to include new information, but many students were on the verge of using several sheets of paper.

Perhaps I am just too stubborn, but I decided that it could benefit students to continue to experience this style class. So, today, I spent a few minutes trying to help them learn how to take better notes during a lecture. Students were resisting my ideas, and continuing to ask me to repeat myself a dozen times.

As an exercise, I created a note taking rule. I informed students they were only allowed to write down names of people and places and important items. This brought forth even more resistance, but they agreed to humor me. We did this for roughly 15 minutes. After that time, I told the students to take a minute or two to add additional details. I had done the same thing. While I spoke, I wrote down a few words, and then added details at the same time they did. I had hoped that modeling the note taking activity would be beneficial to the students.

I then encouraged the students to try to do a similar method as we continued. I had hoped they would write down the important names and items and add a few details as we went. Several students did begin to do this, but others, unfortunately, tried again to write every word I said.

I had planned to teach mythology, but it appears I am also teaching note-taking skills.

Orange Gatorade was Dumped Tonight, and People Cared

Prior to the Super Bowl tonight I decided to see what the bookmakers in Vegas were saying about the game. During my research I learned that the Colts were favored to win. I also learned that a person can bet on how long it would take to sing the national anthem and which color Gatorade would be poured on the winning coach at the end of the game.

For those of you were wondering, the over (of 1:43) paid on the national anthem and the payout on orange was 2.5:1.

Reflecting on the game, I think about the fact that, as we return to school tomorrow, everyone will be wanting to talk about the game, or the commercials, or the half time show. Millions of people watched the game today, and they will be able to recount every detail. Yet, we know that using lectures everyday is not an effective teaching strategy because students lack the ability to focus on one item for an extended period of time.

This leads me to think about how people can focus on a game for several hours. The difference in my opinion comes to two items. The first is the aspect of entertainment, and the second is the constant changes.

As a teacher, I want to try to incorporate this more into my teaching style. Now, I am by no means recommending “teachertainment” as described by JD on the first episode of Scrubs this season. I simply mean finding new ways to keep class interesting. I will admit I do not always do this very well.

The changing has been recommended by several researchers. In regards to the game I would reference the changes from offense to defense or the change from a game to a humorous commercial with babies. In the classroom this comes into play by incorporating varying activities in a lesson.

Of course, betting on various outcomes could increase interest levels. Unfortunately, I doubt many school admins would accept this idea. It could be fun to bet the over/under of a median on an upcoming test. Perhaps students would study extra to control the outcome. Until this becomes, well, legal, I guess will have to settle on interesting and varying lessons.

My Thoughts on English Grammar Instruction

In a recent post by wmchamberlain, the notion of not teaching grammar in elementary schools is explored. While I do not teach elementary grades, what is taught at that level does have a direct effect on my classroom.

In the other post an unfortunately true statement was made. He mentioned that even though grammar is taught from third grade onwards most high school students still do not know the parts of speech. It was for this reason that the first test I gave my Latin 1 students this year had a section devoted to English grammar. This followed several days of lessons on English grammar.

I personally believe that the teaching of grammar is essential. It helps a person’s writing abilities, and it is beneficial for anyone who wants to learn another language.

I have decided to list a few items that are essential for students to know in order to be prepared for Latin.

Parts of Speech

Each part of speech in Latin has special rules, and a student can only use those rules if he or she knows what part of speech he or she is working with. A student can’t conjugate a noun or decline a verb, but a lack of knowing the difference won’t stop them from trying.

Use of Substantives in a Sentence

When is the noun a subject, predicate nominative, direct object, indirect object, or object of a preposition? When the ninth grade English students at my school took a benchmark test at the beginning of this year, the students performed quite poorly in regards to the standard related to this. This poses a problem for students learning Latin. English is a syntactical language and word order is the key to understanding the meaning of a sentence. In Latin word order is mostly optional and the endings of a word determine which word is the subject of a sentence.

Subject-Verb Agreement

In English, subject-verb agreement is limited to the third person.  This is rather easy for students to learn, and fortunately most of my students do understand this very well prior to taking my class. The problem occurs with students not being able to identify the difference among first, second, and third persons. In Latin subject-verb agreement depends on person as well as number.

Additional Helpful Grammar Items

There are several other grammar items which are helpful for students who are learning Latin.

Active and Passive Verbs

Students are often told not to use passive verbs in papers. I have known of college professors who would count the number of passive sentence in a paper and then deducted points for each. I find several problems with this. I often use passive sentences. Latin authors would use passive sentences to emphasize a specific word in a sentence. The second problem I have is the fact that so many students do not know the difference between an active and a passive verb. Before teaching passive verbs in Latin, I have to teach passive verbs in English. Of course, I can not use terms like transitive and intransitive when referring to verbs.

Cases

There are three cases in English. They are only used with pronouns. In Latin there are seven cases. The cases are used for nouns, adjectives, and pronouns. A person can correctly use pronouns in English without a knowledge of cases, and that is why I do not consider it an essential item in English. Cases are essential in Latin. As I mentioned previously word order does not determine how a word is used in a sentence. Cases do.

Final Toughts

There are several grammatical elements which are essential for the study of Latin. I believe that it is important for students to learn grammar at an early age. Unfortunately, I must admit that the current system for teaching grammar is not working. Students who have studied grammar for six years still have problems identifying nouns. I must disagree that we should completely ditch grammar.

I do agree with the idea of making grammar more relevant. I can remember studying grammar in elementary and middle school. Most of the time I thought the practice felt like busy work. The teacher would have us copy sentences out of a book and underline the subject, the adjectives, or some other word. This does not seem relevant to me now, and I hope that this teaching style stops. In reference to my own teachers, this is how every one of my teachers taught grammar not just one of them.

I believe that we need a pedagogical shift in the approach toward grammar education. Teaching needs to be relevant to students, regardless of subject. This could be incorporated into writing. Perhaps a larger view of linguistics could be taught to young students. Studies have shown that students who are taught a second language perform better on standardized tests. Why should foreign languages not be taught in elementary school? Suddenly grammar would be more relevant, and relevancy should lead to a better understanding of English grammar.

What are your ideas regarding the teaching of grammar?

Groundhogs and Broomsticks

As today draws to a close, I am looking at the outcomes of groundhogs across the nation. Phil in Pennsylvania saw his shadow, which is quite common. He has seen it 96 times and only 15 times has he not seen his shadow. Several other groundhogs did not see their shadows today.

Of course I don’t actually believe that whether or not a small mammal sees its shadow today will determine the length of winter. Statistics show they have been correct less than 40% of the time.

The determination of the end of winter brings to mind the Roman view of February.

For a long time the year was divided into ten months, not the twelve of today. It has been suggested by some historians that the winter did not have months associated with it. Whether winter did not have months or the year was just shorter, February was one of the months added later.

The Romans believed that the months of January and February were added by the second king, Numa Pompillius. Like most of the religious institutions the second king is credited with, the months appear to have an Etruscan origin.

The name of February was, according to the Romans, derived from the Etruscan word meaning to purge or clean. Some believe that the word comes from Sabine origin because Numa Pompillius was believed to have been a Sabine. Ovid refers to various items called Februa. According to his Fastifebrua could be any of several items each with a similar purpose. As the Latin word februum implies, these items were all used for cleaning.

The Romans viewed February as a month to clean and prepare for the Spring. Why clean in February?

For centuries, March was the first month of the year. Roman historians are divided when it comes to just when January became the first month. Some claim that when Numa created the month of January he made it the first month. Others claimed that it was during the early Republic that January became the first month in order to allow new leaders to prepare for war in March.

Even though the Romans did, for a considerable length of time, begin each year in March, many cultures treated March as the first month and February as the last. February was the last month of the year during the early stages of the Americas.

So, for many, February was a time of preparation for a new year. A time to clean out the houses and temples and to prepare oneself.

I just thought I would share a little bit of information about the month of February. I think I will continue to post some facts about Roman holidays and the origin of month names.

JCL Regionals 2010

Earlier today, my JCL competed in their first competition. The first part of it began yesterday, but a lot of the competition took place today.

I am completely uncertain who was more nervous during the competitions, me or my students.

My Latin 1 students had, obviously,  never competed before this Regional Competition. For several weeks now, they had constantly said that they did not think they would do well. I tried to encourage them the best I could. The best I could tell prior to the competition was that they were ready. It was hard to predict how well students would perform, because I did not know how the competition looked.

It turned out that my students were ready for today’s competition. All of my students placed in at least one event, and several students won first in an event (or 5). I was especially proud of my certamen teams.

The Latin 2 team consisted of two students, who competed last year. They had placed at the State Convention last year, and they were on Tennessee’s team at the National Convention as well. Today, they won, defeating the other teams by gaining the most points in a round robin system.

The Latin 1 certamen team consisted of five students, who substituted one student between rounds. They had been saying for months that they could not buzz fast enough. I think, that today they saw that was not true. In the end, they came in second. The first place team, MLK, only scored 20 points more than they did.

What was I doing while they competed? I was moderating Latin 1 rounds. This was my first time to moderate, and I was nervous about it. I am not sure why I was nervous, all I had to do was read questions. I guess I was nervous because that during my years playing certamen, I was often very critical of how the moderators read. Some did not enunciate clearly, others did not stop soon enough, and I did not want to be one of those.

During the first round that I read, it was my own team competing against Rossview. My students did very well. They were buzzing at the right times and getting the questions right. I think how well they were performing was actually making me more nervous.

Going into the final round, my students were very close in points to the MLK team. I knew that, and I was, for the second time, the moderator of their round. This round had questions which were more difficult, as was appropriate for the last round. That final round was their lowest scoring round of the day, and in the end, they finished in second. The difference between them and first was only 20 points, and with how Certamen is scored, that would be the equivalent of one toss up question and its two follow up bonus questions. The difference between second and third was much greater, if I remember correctly, it was over 100 points.

In the end, the students were able to pull off a terrific finish. In other competitions there is an award given called the sweepstakes award. At Regionals, this award is not formally presented, but it was determined that we would have placed second. Again, just a little behind MLK.

Next month we go to compete in the Mid-State Competition in Nashville. There are more teams involved at that level, but in the past, some of the toughest teams at that competition are the ones present at Regionals. There are a few new categories added, included essay and poetry. A few of the Nashville teams will gain a lot of points from those.

Pipilare Guided Grammar Exploration

My school system uses the Cambridge Latin Series as its Latin text book. At the beginning of each chapter, or “Stage,” the book presents several sentences in Latin, called Model Sentences. These sentences are designed to introduce students to new vocabulary and grammar in a fairly easy manner.

In the past, I had begun each stage by going over the sentences as a class. We would translate the sentences and talk about anything which appeared to be new. In yesterday’s class, I decided to try a slightly different approach. I handed out iPods and instructed students to login to their Pipilare account (this has been mentioned in previous posts, see the links in the categories section on the right). After students were logged on, I had them divide into groups of 4-6 members. Students were to work as a group to translate the sentences and post the sentences to Pipilare. They were also instructed to post any new grammar material they noticed as they worked. I had a live feed displayed in the front of my room, so that students, and myself, could see everything as it was posted. Each group was instructed to have one member watch this feed as a “spy” and provide information to the group about items the other groups had posted. Groups were encouraged to reply to posts by other groups. I had hoped this would lead them to help one another provide more accurate translations and maybe delve into the new grammar items as they were presented.

At the end of the activity, I had the students look at the screen and discuss some of the translations. We also talked about the new material which had appeared and began to discuss the names of the grammar elements (ablative of means, etc.). I was able to use this time to provide direct instruction regarding the specific rules governing the items which they had previously noticed.

From an assessment standpoint, I was quite happy with this format. I was able to see how each group was doing at once and as they were translating the sentences. It also allowed me to provide instant help to groups when I saw noticeable problems.

As a teaching moment, I found several benefits. I was glad when students posted observations they had made as they worked toward translating. One group made the comment that they noticed the ablatives in the sentences were not preceded by prepositions. This fed in perfectly to a discussion on how the ablative of means is formed. (Sorry to those who are reading the post and are unfamiliar with Latin grammar, just know that this was an excellent observation). Previously, every time the textbook had used an ablative it was preceded by a preposition. In the stage we had begun yesterday, students were introduced to two uses of the ablative which do not involve prepositions in Latin.

During the class discussion at the end of the lesson, several students asked great questions which was able to feed into the new material I had wanted to cover. Several times students asked higher-level questions which helped clarify the grammar and introduce new topics.

In the lesson, there was one item I was not entirely happy about. Students, although they have now used Pipilare in class on five occasions, are still not interacting with one another on it. I find this humorous, because when students have logged on and used it outside of the classroom, they have had long conversations with each other. I am wanting this to continue in the classroom as well. If anyone reading this has any suggestions, please leave a comment.

Another Latin Teacher’s use of Twitter

A colleague of mine, Jason, sent me a link to a blog called Teach Paperless. The writer of this particular article is another Latin teacher. In this article, he mentions several ways he has used twitter in his class.

One of the methods he introduced is one I am looking forward to trying in my own class sometime soon. He has students practice conjugating or declining within a hash, and then students can look through the hash and identify common errors which they had made. This highlights my favorite aspect of using twitter and similar services in the classroom. Every student is able to provide an answer at the same time, and every answer (or at least several) can be viewed at once. Even better is the fact that this can all happen in a short period of time. This enables me, as the teacher, to quickly identify trends with errors. The best formative assessment is one in which a teacher is able to quickly provide appropriate feedback, but the usual problem is the time it takes for a teacher to see the results of work from so many students and be able to view it in a timely manner.

Another useful feature of using twitter is that every student can provide one another with feedback, and even if multiple people are collaborating, the classroom environment is still fairly easy for the teacher to manage. I’ll admit that I was very nervous the first time I passed out 26 iPod touches for students to use. These items are much smaller than the netbooks I could have used in class. I saw this as being easier to pocket, and harder for me to monitor what was on a student’s screen. In practice, however, I found that my fears were not realized. I actually had less management issues from using the iPods than I ever did with computers.

I notice that I slightly digressed from the original focus of my post, which was a comment on the Teach Paperless blog. He mentioned using Twitter with translations, and this is an idea I had toyed with. Unfortunately I had not yet had a chance to implement it, because of Christmas break and exams. In the other post, the use of lists was mentioned. This is where I am most jealous. In my school district the Twitter website is blocked. As I have mentioned in a previous post I created a Twitter clone using the status.net source code. This code does not yet provide for lists. I may look into added this feature myself, but now that students return to class tomorrow, I am not sure when I will have the time to implement new features.

Pipilare guided discussion

Friday and today, I attempted to use my Pipilare site for class discussion. I tried to base the format off of the one used by Dr. Rankin at UT Dallas. On Friday, I found that the first part of class became devoted to making sure every student knew how to log in to the site and use an iPod touch.

Once we finally got started, we had little time left on Friday, but we were able to continue the lesson today. For this particular lesson, I used the basic concept of a Socratic circle. The students read a Latin passage, and we had various questions which dealt with the passage. I had hoped to begin with a few content-based questions and then progress into Higher Order Questions, hopefully created by the students themselves.

In practice, I found that students were more focused on answering my questions than creating some of their own. I plan to change this in the future by having students create questions of their own prior to asking my own. I realize that in good practice, this is how any Socratic lesson would work, but due to time and planning issues, this step had been previously skipped.

I had a live feed on the screen in the front of the class. While I was able to keep track of the posts to the hash shown on the screen, many students seemed to be more focused on their current posts and not the posts of others.

During the lesson, I found I had made a rather bad mistake. Halfway through the class today, one of my students asked if I had the posts sent to my cell phone. Instantly, my head fell. I had forgotten to disable that function prior to the start of class today. I immediately went to the computer to disable it, but it was too late. During my planning period today, I deleted 105 text messages sent to my phone.

As we bring this semester to a close, I do not foresee another chance to use Pipilare in my classroom. My students are still expected to interact with it this semester, but as we review, I will focus on other teaching strategies. I plan to use it again next semester for culture based discussions. I will update once I try that.