Sunday, January 31, 2016

In Which Language Should I Assess Reading Comprehension?

For the longest time, I struggled with this idea: when assessing reading comprehension on a test, should the questions/answers be in English or in the target language? In my early years of teaching, I used to assess purely in English, because that is how I myself had been assessed when I was in school, i.e., I did not know any other way. When I started to use more active Latin in my classroom, however, I switched over to only having the questions/answers written in Latin, because in my opinion, "This is a Latin class, not an English class! Having the questions/answers in English smells of translation!" (See one of my former blog posts which addresses the role of translation in a CI classroom). A few problems, however, began to arise:
  • I noticed that it was possible for students to answer questions correctly from the reading passage without ever having understod what they were reading, because they were savvy enough to know how to pick the correct answer.
  • When reviewing the test with students afterwards, I began to see that many students actually understood what they had read in the passage, but they did not understand the question or the answer choices due to mistranslation.
Leave it to the great Martina Bex to save the day! Last year I read a post on her blog which logically addressed this issue and every question which I had. As a result, I now assess reading comprehension only in English. Below is a link to her post.

I still do have one question which I am mulling over: If students are being assessed over a passage which they have read and prepared ahead of time, (i.e., you have explicitly told students which passage(s) will be on the assessment), should the questions and answers then be in the target language? My experience has been that when students know the passage ahead of time, in many instances, they end up memorizing it in English and then never refer back to the passage on the assessment if the questions/answers are in English. Is there a way around this? If students know prior to the assessment that the questions/answers will be in the target language, will they not pay more attention to the language itself during their re-reading of the passage in their preparation? The jury is still out on this one for me. Any thoughts?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Grammar Experts

One of the myths about Comprehensible Input is that grammar is never taught. The truth of the matter is that grammar is indeed taught in a CI classroom (see my former post called Grammar is Not One of the Five C's), but it does not hold a preeminent position in the teaching of the language.  

For the past few years, I have been incorporating "grammar experts" into my classroom, whose sole purpose, like the title implies, is to serve as the "grammar experts" on particular forms. This is a take on Ben Slavic's student jobs, and for all I know, maybe the "grammar expert" is on his list - quite honestly, I do not know from whom I learned this or if I indeed just thought of the idea myself (so if you are the one who taught me this, please let me know so that i can give you proper credit). Regardless, I have found it incredibly useful.

The idea is quite simple: whenever I cover a new language structure, I assign a student to be the "expert" for that structure. The job is simply to shout a particular set answer to the class and to me whenever I ask for it during a 30-second grammar timeout in English. Here are some examples of my "grammar expert" jobs and their lines:
  • -BA- person - whenever I ask "What does -BA- mean in a verb?", this student yells out "was/were BLANKing"
  • -RE person - whenever I ask, "What does "-RE" mean at the end of this word?", this student yells out "-RE means "to BLANK"
  • VSUX person - whenever I ask, "What does this V (S, U, or X) tell me in this verb?", this student yells out "BLANKed"
  • -UR- person - whenever I ask, "What does this -UR- in the middle of the word translate as?", this student yells out "about to BLANK"
  1. Because these are done during a 30-second grammar timeout, it is done very quickly and does not take up too much time.
  2. It is actually a fun way to do a grammar timeout, because if I ask a question requiring a grammar expert to respond, heaven forbid that this student not respond quickly enough, because the class will immediately let that student know and in many instances will respond for that student!
  3. I am not the one always having to explain the structure but rather the grammar expert does with a quick line.
  4. I used to have grammar experts for the names of verb tenses and of noun cases but not any more, since I do not ask for tense names and noun cases too much. I do ask for word function (subject, verb, direct object) due to the inflected nature of Latin.
  5. It is a great way to foster community and a sense of belonging in the class. I have students BEGGING me to be the grammar expert for the next upcoming language structure, because they want to be able to shout out the grammar line to the class.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Sex Game

This activity is a lot more innocent than the title states. The Latin word for "six" is sex - yep, Latin students love this fact. It is actually based on a Spanish activity called Seis (one of my Latin colleagues calles it Surrender on Six), and I learned it both from a Spanish teacher at my school and from Miriam Patrick, who is a fellow CI Latin teacher in my district. It is a high activity game involving rolling of dice.

Let me give you the basic directions of the game and then my CI twist on it:
  1. Make a list of vocabulary words. Around 75 words is good.
  2. Divide the class into groups of 4. Groups of 3 work well too, but groups of 5 can get a bit big.
  3. Students will need to arrange their desks so that there is one common workspace, with all desks touching with no spaces in between them.
  4. Every student will receive a list of vocabulary words.
  5. Every group will receive one writing utensil and one die.
  6. At the beginning, each group will place the one writing utensil in the middle of its workspace.
  7. Have students establish an order of rolling the die.
  8. Each student will take a turn rolling the die. The goal is to roll a six. If a student does not roll a six, then the die passes to the next person.
  9. The first student who rolls a six does two things: yells SEX (indicating "I rolled a six!"), grabs the writing utensil, and starts to write as many English definitions as he/she can. It is not required to go in order of the list; students can begin anywhere on the list.
  10. Meanwhile, the rest of the group continues to roll the die until someone rolls a six.
  11. At this point, that student will yell SEX, grab the writing utensil from the person who has it, and will now start writing as many English definitions as he/she can.
  12. The activity ends when someone has completed the page or after a set amount of time.
  13. Tell students to switch papers and to count up the number of correct answers. Only complete words count - if a word is halfway written, it does not count.
  14. There are two winners: the individual with the most number of correct answers, and the group with the biggest overall total.
My CI twist
  1. Although this is a fun vocabulary review game, vocabulary itself is not isolated in language and does not exist outside of a context. As a result, I use this as a post-reading activity. Instead of vocabulary words, I have sentences from the story which we have been going over. 
  2. When a student rolls a six and yells SEX, then he/she begins to translate the sentence into English. Again, it is not required for students to start at the beginning.
  3. At the end when going over the sentences, students receive one point for every correctly translated word.
  1. This is a very HIGH energy and loud game! Students LOVE yelling out SEX when they roll a six - when I told the Spanish teacher from whom I learned this activity that the Latin word for six was sex, she said, "Oh, even better!"
  2. Because students are translating sentences from the story which we have been going over, it is another way for them to see and to review comprehensible messages and to get in more repetitions of forms/vocabulary.
  3. Because of their familiarity with the sentences, it is quite easy for them to translate the sentences into English.
  4. This is a great student-centered, teacher-faciliator activity, as all you do as the teacher is walk around and monitor what is going on.
  5. The student who wins is not necessarily the fastest processor but the one who had the most time to write while the rest of the group tries to roll a six.
  6. It is so much fun hearing students yell SEX and then grab the writing utensil from the student who has it and who probably is mid-word when it is taken.
  7. I love it when I hear teachers afterwards asking me what we were doing since all they hear is the word SEX being yelled out.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mid-Year Report

I am back after taking 3 weeks off from blogging, and to be honest, I really did not miss it. Not to say that I do not enjoy blogging, but during the winter break, I deliberately chose not do anything related to academics/school, e.g. lesson planning, reading CI blogs, following Twitter, etc., because quite honestly, I needed a break. I was also in between semesters of my graduate school courses, so I wanted to take full advantage of that time off. I traveled back to CA to visit family for Christmas and then upon return back to GA, I spent the remainder of my break enjoying time with friends, celebrating the New Year, and of course, seeing Star Wars (I have waited 32 YEARS for Episode 7 - there was NO way that I was NOT going to see it!). As a result, I return back to second semester feeling completely rested. 

So now that second semester has started, I want to reflect on my CI goals for the 2015-2016 school and on my CI experience itself:

First off, I feel SO much more confident of my CI abilities this school year compared to one year ago, primarily because I feel like I have a much better, stronger foundation. This is my 3rd year in which I have dedicated myself to being a CI teacher, and I definitely have a much better idea now of writing compelling stories for my students, of sheltering vocabulary but not grammar, and of scaffolding lessons properly. I am definitely much further along in my level of comfort with CI than I was a few years ago. Attending NTPRS for the past two years has definitely been a great help.

Let me now address my progress on a number of my goals for this school year (from a previous blog post). 
  1. Associate vocabulary with gestures and get in TONS of repetitions using those gestures - I have definitely incorporated more gestures in my classroom in order to teach new vocabulary, and in the beginning of first semester, I saw that gestures indeed did help students recall vocabulary. As the semester progressed, I found that I did not need to use gestures to teach new vocabulary as much, because students did not need them. The question is why? The jury is still out on that...
  2. Use student actors when telling a story - I have had no problem in accomplishing this goal, because after I did my first Readers Theater and Movie Director last semester, students were constantly asking me (and not the other way around) if we were going to act out whatever story we were reading at that point. I feel very blessed to have this situation! I am definitely not taking this for granted, because in years past, I have had classes where NO ONE wanted to act anything out. 
  3. Incorporate more Movie Talk in my classes - I have yet to do a Movie Talk this school year. Not for a lack of trying, but rather, because I have been doing so many other different activities. This semester, however, I do have one already planned. 
  4. Ask HOT questions - For every story, I now devote 1-2 activities to HOT questions. I have found that my quietest students suddenly become the most active participants whenever I do HOT questions. Considering the change in the SAT, with more emphasis on critical reading, incorporating HOT questions is a wonderful way to be SAT relevant. See here for a previous blog post on the topic. 
So like I said earlier, I am very pleased with how things are progressing. I feel like I am in a really good CI place at the moment, and I look forward to giving you my final report for the school year in May!