Changes for the new year 1

As the new school year approaches, you may be thinking about ways to do things differently this coming year. I’ve compiled a list of questions that you might want to ask yourself (most of which I’ve been asking myself as I prepare for this year) and resources to help carry through on them.

I. Changing your class

  • Contests Would your students be interested in entering contests? CANE has its writing contest, which is on the theme of “‘What Mighty Contests Rise from Trivial Things’: Consequence in the Ancient World” this year. There’s also the Golden Sponge Stick, a fiction writing contest based in the UK. MaFLA runs contests on various aspects of foreign languages, and there are a lot of other ones out there. It can be good for your program if a student wins a prize.
  • Projects If you’re looking for a new project for your students, there are many on CANEns: Roman House, the Bayeux Tapestry,, a final project, using songs to learn Latin, and Roman clothing.
  • Systems Would switching how you handle hall passes help? Do you want to try hand signals for different questions? Is there a way to collect or return work that would make class run more smoothly?

II. Changing your tools

  • Organization What would help you stay organized better? There are paper systems out there and electronic ones. Would changing your planbook to an electronic format help?
  • Office Supplies Are you happy with your grading pens? Do you need to stick an emergency whiteboard marker in the back of your desk?
  • Teaching Bag Are there props or posters or other things that would enhance your teaching that you can get?

III. Changing your professional development

  • Content knowledge As you’ve probably noticed from links and announcements, there are many MOOCs on themes related to Latin and Classics. Would taking one of them make sense for you? What about joining a reading group or a discussion group?
  • Pedagogy Again, there are MOOCs on this. Are there other courses that you could take locally that would help you? Are there webinars or local workshops you could go to?

IIII. Changing yourself

Across the street from my local high school is a florist whose sign usually reads “Happy wife, Happy life.” I’ve been trying to figure out a compact rhyme for the idea that, “if the teacher is happy teaching, the atmosphere in the class will be better and the students will have more fun and learn more.” I’ve gotten it down to 24 words now, so I just need to cut 20 more!

* Food Will eating at a time other than your lunch improve your outlook on life? Will switching having breakfast to before coming to school or after make you happier? Do you have non-perishable food in your desk for the day when your lunch goes bad or didn’t make it to school?
* Self care Will getting noise canceling headphones or earplugs make it easier for you to prep while recess is going on outside? Do you have the little things (bandages, cough drops, mints, dish soap) that will make your life smoother?

Final Project: May it be Meaningful and Synthesizing

When I was in college, it was the fashion not to wish people “good luck!” before a final. Instead, people came up with their own phrases that denied the role of luck (I went with “Go forth and conquer!”). One of my friends would always send us off with the wish “May your exam be meaningful and synthesizing.”
As a teacher, I’ve thought about that wish. When I started teaching at a school where I could choose whether or not to give a final exam, I took the time to really look at what I wanted my exam to do. I did want it to be, as my friend had said, “meaningful and synthesizing.” I wanted it to draw together what my students had learned over the course of the year and help them see the connections. I also wanted it to be something that would help them retain the knowledge over the summer and help them at the start of the next year, not something that would make them pour knowledge into their heads the night before the exam and dump it back out the moment they were in the hall after the exam was over.
So, aided and abetted by the fact that the final exam schedule that year was extremely tight, I decided not to give an exam, but a final review project.
The review project was to cover the material we had covered in class that year and create a reference that the student could use in September. This way, if a student forgot something over the summer, he or she could quickly look it up in the packet and find his or her own explanation in his or her own words instead of looking it up in the book and getting lost in information we hadn’t yet covered.
For students who were moving on to a different school, my hope was that the packet would help their new teacher decide their placement levels.
I’ve attached the prompt for the general project. Each class also gets an individualized list with the chapters that they covered and the main topics highlighted.
Each student’s project ends up being slightly different, tailored to his or her needs. This does seem to help them bring together the concepts that they’ve learned, and I hope that they find it useful in the future.

Writing The Songs 4

Do you have your students sing silly songs about grammar points? (e.g. The Mexican Hat Dance, etc…)
I do this too…except I do something a bit different:  The students write the songs.  I was inspired by that crazy Lady Ba-Ba video that came out a few years back.  Anyway, I tell my students that not only are they writing for their class this year, they are writing for next years’ classes as well.  Yes, if they rock this grammar song, it will be used over and over again.
The assignment is to parody a song with a relatively easy tune, or one that is all over the radio and make the result about some point of Latin grammar that the students have learned.  One year, one of my students did “It’s Dative and I Know It” (to the tune of “I’m Sexy and I Know It.”)  Students can pick the same grammar point if they want. Heck, they can even pick the same song.  Songs and grammar points must be cleared with me first!
This is usually a solo project, but can work really well as a group project as well.  It can end with the students singing their songs live for the class, or making a video if them singing.  I usually give them the choice.
My students love this project.  It gives them a chance to really be creative, demonstrate their personality, and show off what they have learned about the Latin language.