Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I am a 4%er

My name is Keith, and I am a 4%er. I was that student who completed classwork on time, was always prepared for class, and excelled in school. I am a fast processor, so recall of material comes quite easily to me. If I did not understand something in school, I usually taught myself the material. In many ways, academics comes very easy to me, and as a result, I probably entered the teaching profession because I am a 4%er. I absolutely love grammar - I was that student who loved diagramming sentences (and quite honestly, I also loved doing geometric proofs). I loved the grammar translation approach, because it appealed to that logical side of me. I love grammar charts! I am the king of parsing - give a word, and I will rattle off EVERYTHING about that word without blinking an eye. As a teacher, I have to restrain myself from going off on grammar tangents in class. By no means am I ashamed to be a 4%er, as being one has opened up a realm of possibilities and of acknowledgements for me and has gotten me to where I am today.

But let me add this: I also know that I am an anamoly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a 4%er (as if being a 4%er is a form of some disease), but I must realize that not everyone is like me - 96% of the population, to be exact. I must remember that I am the exception, not the rule.

As teachers who are 4%ers, we must realize that the majority of our students are not like us at all. It may be that we have a high number of 4%ers in our classes, and for us teachers, many times we secretly delight that we have these students. But what about the other 96% whom we are not attracting to our classrooms? Is the word on the street among students that Latin is just for "smart kids" (insert the term "4%ers" for "smart kids")? The 96% are the ones whom actually we need to attract as students to our classrooms if we want our Latin programs to expand and to grow!

We must be aware not to teach solely to the 4%ers, which is very easy to do, since they are the ones who seem to grasp the material so quickly and are most like us. This is where Comprehensible Input plays a HUGE role - we are teaching in such a way by delivering understandable messages and by lowering affective filters that ALL students can learn and can be sucessful.

At the same time, we must be mindful not to exclude the 4%er from the classroom. We can focus so much on the 96% that we isolate the 4%ers, who in turn become disengaged from our classes due to a lack of challenge. The remedy which I have found for this is to have at least 2-3 (if not, 4) different CI activities planned for the class period. The 4%ers (who due to their nature probably have already grasped the material) will appreciate the novelty of the change in activities, which the other 96% will also appreciate the novelty but need the repetitions of language. To quote fellow CI Latin teacher Rachel Ash, "We want repetitions without being repetitive."

If you are reading this, I bet that you are a 4%er too, or from reading this, you have just realized that you are one! Whenever I hear Latin teachers say that Latin is like a puzzle which needs to be decoded, I want to say "You are speaking like a true 4%er!"

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sentence Flyswatter

This is an fun post-reading activity which I learned from Jason Fritze, and it is a variation of the activity Flyswatter. In the regular version of Flyswatter, you write a number of vocabulary words on the board but scatter them all over the board. You give two students flyswatters, and you call out the English meaning of a word. The goal is for students to "swat" the correct word, with the first student who does receiving a point.

I love Flyswatter, but in light of Comprehensible Input, it is a rather limited vocabulary activity; we know that vocabulary is never presented as isolated words but rather in a meaningful context. Jason Fritze's version brings in the Comprehensible Input factor yet still preserves what makes Flyswatter an enjoyable activity for students. Instead of vocabulary words, you will use pictures from a story which the class has been reading.

NOTE - this activity takes a bit of prep work on your end. 

  1. Take sentences from a story which you have been reviewing. These sentences need to be 100% comprehensible to students! I would not use sentences with which students are unfamiliar.
  2. On a piece of paper, draw four quadrants and in each quadrant, illustrate a sentence from the story.
  3. Repeat the same thing with 2-3 more sheets of paper with a variation of sentences
  4. With a document projector, project the pictures onto a screen. NOTE - you can also do this activity using a plastic overhead sheet and projector, but do those exist in the classroom any longer?
  5. Pick two student volunteers and give a flyswatter to each
  6. Explain that you are going to read a sentence aloud in Latin which corresponds to one of the pictures, and AFTER the sentence has been completed, the first one to swat the correct picture gets a point.
  7. Best 3 out of 5 wins
  8. Pick two new volunteers and repeat with a new set of pictures.

  1. Wow, what a great way to get in repetitions of the language in a VERY fun and meaningful context. Students are hearing the language and associating them with pictures.
  2. Students LOVE this activity due to being able to "swat" the board. I only do this activity though a few times a semester in order to preserve the novelty.
  3. It is another great way to review a story in a completely different modality.
Here is an example of a story which used for Sentence Flyswatter. 

1) Marcus duos filios habet
2) unus filius est bonus, sed unus filius est malus
3) bonus filius dicit, "mihi placet esse bonus!"
4) malus filius dicit, "mihi placet esse malus!"
5) bonus filius dicit, "mihi placet currere in silva!"
6) malus filius dicit, "mihi placet currere in urbe nude!"
7) bonus filius dicit, "mihi placet pulsare malos iuvenes"
8) malus filius dicit, "mihi placet pulsare senes!"
9) bonus filius dicit, "mihi placet consumere crustula!"
10) malus filisu dicit, "mihi placet consumere infantes!"

Here are the three "storyboards" which I used - can you guess which picture is which sentence?


Friday, March 13, 2015

Safety Net

One of the components of Krashen's Comprehensible Input hypothesis is that when one's affective filter rises, learning is compromised. Perhaps, a better way of putting it is that in order for students to learn, they need to feel emotionally safe in your classroom: safe to ask questions, safe to interact with their peers, and safe to make mistakes. If students feel safe in your classroom, they are more apt to learn.

Our primary goal as CI/TPRS teachers is to deliver understandable messages in the target language. Many CI/TPRS teachers incorporate a "safety net" for students, which is a series of hand gestures which students can use to communicate non-verbally when anything impedes the comprehension of those messages. Students have full permission to use any of these signs/gestures whenever they want. Some basic signs are:
  • Slow down, you're speaking too quickly
  • Louder - I cannot hear you
  • Say it again please
  • What does X mean?
  • I don't understand at all what you are saying
My friend Evan Gardner, founder of "Where Are Your Keys?" best explains it when he tells students, "These techniques are like super powers. You have the power to control me, your teacher. You want me to slow down? Use your "Slow Down" power. You want me to say something again? Use your "Again" power, and I will do it." 

I always add, "If I ever say something in Latin which you do not understand, then that is MY fault. BUT if you do not use your powers, I am going to assume that everything is okay, and I will keep moving on. If you do not understand something, do NOT just sit there and suffer in silence when you have the power to control your own learning."

You can make the gestures whatever you want them to be, or you can have the class create them. The idea though is that these gestures are part of the class "safety net". Because these signs are communicated non-verbally, they do not interrupt class; students can give a sign without saying a word, and you as the teacher can address the concern on the spot without drawing attention to that student.

I am amazed by how students have taken ownership of these hand signs and use them in class. As a teacher, I SO appreciate it when students will flash me a sign. In fact, I have students saying, “I wish that I could use these hand signs in my math class!” Why don't more teachers in other subject areas adopt them?! 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Art of Point and Pause

In a couple of my blog posts, I have referenced a CI strategy called Point and Pause, so allow me an excursus in this post to explain what it is. Point and Pause is part of establishing meaning, and it is done exactly how it sounds: you point to the word and meaning which you have written on the board, and you pause to allow processing time.

Writing the word on the board with the English meaning and then Pointing and Pausing allows the following:
  • it allows time for all students to process the word
  • a reference for students whenever I use that word again in the lesson
  • it levels the playing field for all, as comprehension of the word is now immediate for all, not just the 4%rs and fast processors
The irony is that Point and Pause is not as easy as it sounds, and it is a skill which I am still trying to master. My biggest problem is that whenever I point and pause, I actually forget to pause. I point and then rush to go back to the story which I am telling. By not pausing I am denying adequate processing time. I now have to remind myself constantly to count to 5 whenever I pause. Five seconds may seem like a long time, but some students need that processing time. 

A few months ago, I was co-facilitating a CI inservice for teachers in my district. I was giving an example of circling in Latin since the majority of the teachers did not know the language. I was demonstrating Point and Pause, but since I was among language teachers, I figured that I did not have to slow down too much. One of the French teachers in attendance raised her hand and said, "I need you to slow down. I am the barometer student in the room. I am a slow processor. I am that student who needs LOTS of repetitions and LOTS of processing time." Even language teachers need adequate time to process! 

From my own experience at NTPRS last summer, when learning Japanese via CI from Betsy Paskvan, she had our target vocabulary written on the board, and she implemented Point and Pause. I immensely appreciated that she did this, because it helped slow things down a bit so that I could process everything. 

Some may argue that establishing meaning/Point and Pause is counterproductive to language learning, as students need to construct their own meaning in the target language.
We need to remember though that our goal is that all students acquire the language. Not every student will be able to construct their own meaning correctly or at the same time - the 4%er probably can do this, but what about the other 96%? Establishing meaning/pointing and pausing lowers stress and confusion, thus lowering the affective filter and thereby allowing students to learn. 

If you ever get the chance to see a teacher demonstrate Point and Pause as part of their lesson and if they do a good job with it, let him/her know. That teacher will definitely appreciate it!