Four-day summary: Self-directed learning

Offering someone else professional development always gives my own teaching something of a boost. Let’s face it – we all get caught up in the grind and keep running the same routine over and over again. It’s helpful to remind ourselves once in awhile what Good Teaching looks like.

This week I had a firm goal of putting as much of the teaching load on the students as possible. In my Latin 1 classes, we are discussing shopping. Last week students had seen some of the vocabulary that was included in the curriculum, but these were all primarily content words. This week I wanted to students to look for functional language on their own.

Day 1

I started the week by projecting on the screen a picture of a college student buying textbooks. When students walked in, they were to start discussing what they saw in Latin (this is pretty standard operating procedure in my classroom). A few students asked questions, but mostly they were reviewing what they already knew (in this case, they focused on clothing and colors). After a few minutes of discussion, I asked students to share with the class what they had come up with. Then I explained to them our goal: figure out what interests you, and learn that.

I repeated my rules for this kind of activity:

  1. The teacher will only teach something once.
  2. Once you learn something new, you have to teach two other people.

With the setup in place, students got to work. Almost immediately students came up to me, trying to learn “buy” and “sell.” These words are both in the curriculum, but with the proper setup students had come up with them on their own. Students continued through the period, talking in groups or with various partners, drawing pictures on the board and using props to pull language out of me.

At the end of the period I had students complete a five-minute quick write. I knew that the success of the following day’s lesson relied on students getting these writings back, so I was sure to grade them right away. I noticed many students trying to use “buy” and “sell,” but could tell that there was still a little confusion. In other cases, students seemed to be trying to focus on too many things, rather than exploring a few concepts fully.

Day 2

The second day ran very similarly to the first, with a new picture on the screen, this time a farmers market in NYC. I returned students’ writing, and shared with the class my overall observations. It’s important to note that I was not addressing students’ Latin so much as I was trying to refine their language learning skills.

When students got to work on their own, their conversations were much more targetted than the previous day, when it was still unclear what language they would be persuing. This time they were asking me for clarifying information and refining their explanations to one another (one thing that had come up from the previous day’s writings was some confusion about “give” vs. “sell” and “get” vs. “buy”). We ended the class with another quick write.

Day 3…

… started with, you guessed it, another picture. I knew that today we would be reading, so I put up a few illustrations from our reader, from the chapter that covers shopping. Students came in and started speaking to one-another about the pictures, in some cases hunting new vocabulary from me. It was becoming increasingly clear what the focus of discussion would be.

After some discussion I asked for students to share what we discussed. I cleaned up a few sentences, which we then practiced chorally, in order to emphasize word order and case endings. Then we got into the book. I read the beginning of the chapter aloud, while students read along silently. Then I had students break off into pairs. They took turns reading aloud, and then discussing what they read. I circulated, making sure that students were on task, and addressing points of confusion. With the ground work laid the previous two days, students were now applying new content to what they had just learned. Half-way through the reading time, I had students find new partners, and review what they had discussed.

Day 4

This day was an extension of the work from the rest of the week. Students came in and discussed the same pictures from the previous day. Now they had some new content that they had learned from the story which they could use in their discussions. After some review, as we had done the previous days, students found new partners and continued the reading as before. When we finished this period with a quick write, I noticed that students were writing at much greater length than before, since they had been practicing these structures, and now had a story on which to base their writing.


During a No Grief Debrief in my second Latin 1 class, students responded positively to the activities we had done. While one student said she liked the work the first two days better than the reading, a number of other students responded that they found the combination of open discussion and reading based discussion helpful. One student said that having the reading helped him to focus better. Another student found the work extremely helpful, and said that she was able to remember more from these activities than anything else we had done this year.

For my part, these lessons required much less preparation, which meant that I was able to spend more time focused on the students’ production. Each day students received both a speaking grade and a writing grade, based primarily on their communication and practice rather than solely on accuracy. I was careful throughout each day to spend time addressing the process with students, and clarifying my expectations as I noticed misunderstanding. Finally, I made a committment at the beginning of the week to continue with these activities, even if they started slowly, or awkwardly, so that students would have time to develop their skill, and I shared this rationale with students. By the end of the fourth day, even the more reticent students were happily and actively engaged in discussion.

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