August: Time to harvest Sunday night energy.

For me, most of August is still summer break.  But back to school posts start to creep into my feed and, at least initially, there is a feeling of an extended Sunday night looming over each day.  If I’m not careful, anxiety over plans for tomorrow take over my time today.  It’s not fair to my kids as we enjoy our last days of summer.  It’s not fair to my spouse and it’s not fair to me.  This year I hope to channel this nervous energy into something positive that no longer steals me out of the present.

First off, I need to admit that I allow myself to think ahead and most of the time it is not a productive exercise.  This has become even more apparent to me since my teaching philosophy centers around delivering comprehended input.  A critical component of being able to deliver comprehensible input to learners is staying in the present.  Back to that nervous Sunday night like energy.  How can I gather thoughts toward what I will teach tomorrow so that I can focus them on what I’m teaching, doing, experiencing right now?

First; a continual reminder that students comprehending input in Latin drives their acquisition of Latin.  Why is it so hard for me to let myself off the hook in this respect?  Nothing I do or plan creates acquisition directly.  My plans simply attempt to facilitate opportunities for students to acquire.

Second; a renewed focus on routines.  I have always been the all in type of personality.  As I started reading about language acquisition and diving into some of the research, I simply couldn’t keep spending time on legacy activities that clearly didn’t improve opportunities for acquisition.  I envy those teachers who have figured out how to slowly transition, but that isn’t me.  After 2 years of focusing on comprehension I’ve discovered that I, alone, cannot be responsible for planning every encounter students have with input.  I have to take care of myself and the most deflating experiences happened to me when I spent extra time creating activities or text for input with students and, for a variety of reasons, students didn’t find the input compelling.  What is compelling today, isn’t always compelling tomorrow.  Therefore, this year I will focus on creating routines so that when compelling happens I can follow the input wherever it might lead.  Here are some ways I will set up routine.

  • Self Directed Reading – We have so many titles now.  Students can read introductions to mythology with Familia Mala, modern versions of myths like the Icarus story, fictional stories set in both the modern and ancient world or a complete universe centered around Piso and his brother Rufus among many others.  The key to self direct reading is opportunities for students to respond to text in ways that allow me to facilitate input in the moment or at a later date.  Images, surveys, perceptions, and discussions are more compelling for students when they create the material based on something they chose to read.  We will start self directed reading the 2nd week of school in levels 2-AP with 5 minute sessions on Mondays and Fridays.  About every 3 weeks I will reflect and if I feel students are handling the reading well I will add 1 minute to the reading time with a goal of working up to 12 minute reading sessions twice a week.   Beside the reading time we will discuss titles, draw, review, rewrite from a different character’s perspective and more.  We will create mini tprs style stories, data from class surveys based on ideas in text and images to further explore our ideas of texts in Latin.
  • Discipulus Illustris with level 1.  I will interview 1 student a week over 2 daily sessions to learn more about them and to build community with their peers.  With upper levels I found this to be, too, repetitive for them, especially when many of them have been in class together before they started taking Latin.  We will use the same idea but have informal discussions guided by the interests of a student each week.  I’m contemplating either connecting a spotlight student to calendar talk or I might create a survey to use as a discussion guide that involves things like what students did on the weekend, what they are planning for the future and universal questions connected to themes that we are exploring in the moment.
  • Calendar Talk – I haven’t really tried this yet.  My hope after reflection this summer to use Calendar Talk as a way to connect to what is happening to students’ lives right now.  Instead of using Calendar Talk as a speak and respond kind of activity, I want to connect it to mini student interviews.  I imagine creating some standard kinds of questions similar to:
    • Do you have any tests this week?  On what days?  How long will you study?  Will you study alone or with friends?
    • What days do you work this week?
    • Do you have any games or competitions this week?
    • What do you look forward to during this week?
    • What do you fear this week?

My school uses a modified block schedule with M, TH, F as 44 minute 8 period days, T as 77 minute blocks for odd period classes and W as a 77 minute block for even period classes.  Using the routines above an average week will look something like:

Monday – Self Directed Reading 10-20 minutes depending on the time of year.  Students read for 5-12 minutes, complete a log for about 3 minutes and spend a few minutes in some kind of response.

– Calendar Talk – focus on a student or 2.  Ask about what they did over the weekend, what things are coming up and anything else they are willing to share.  I imagine this will take 10-20 minutes depending on the student.

– Introduce new structures/introduction to a reading.

Tuesday/Wednesday (long block days for me)  – Discipulus Illustris for level 1.  The highlighted student sits up front while I interview them.  This usually takes 10-20 minutes.

Upper levels – Review of structures/Introduction to reading.

– Vocabulary structure repetitions – 3 ring circus, TPR, dictatio, stulte, word cloud predictions are some of the regular activities that I use.

– Reading activities – Because I have more time these days I can use response type of activities that take more time and many times finish them during the extended block.  Read and Draw activities, student actors, puppet shows, and rewrites are used often.  I’ve learned that I need to limit discussion time and connect it to the reading activities we are doing.

Language tasks – Throughout the year students seem to need a break from reading.  Creating Language tasks is a great way to change it up.  I like to do these in the middle of the week on our long days.

Thursday – Discipulus Illustris for level 1.

– Upper levels – review discussion looking back to calendar talk.  Ask how students tests/games/competitions/work shifts went.

– some type of simple comprehension based quiz.  I use a lot of Magister P’s style assessments.  A reading with a K-F-D quiz, a quick quiz connected to calendar talk or discipulus illustris, a short comprehension quiz on a reading from earlier in the week.

Friday – Self Directed Reading

-Some type of community building activity.   Ask a silly TPRS story, kindergarten reading, a review game such as the word chunk game, grudgeball or vocabulary games.


– An extended response to Self Directed Reading.  Typically I include choices on these days that are related.  For example, students choose a scene and a character and rewrite it from that character’s perspective.  Students write a review of a book or design a book cover.  Many of these ideas come from the SSR Handbook.

Throughout the week I constantly look for ways to increase personalized questions and answers.  When an interesting discussion emerges, I see where it goes and adjust my plans from there.

I also adjust throughout the year.  Projects, more difficult or more interesting readings, or even just the mood in the room will lead me to stop using the routine for a few days or a week if I sense it will be good for the group to do something different.  When I have these routines in place, it is much easier to go off course for a bit than it is to constantly feel like I’m creating new things for the next day.

What routines do you use to keep your prep work manageable?

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