Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reflections on This Past Year

In my last post, I addressed the craziness, emotional exhaustion, and everything else which comes with the end the of the school year. I referenced where I felt that I had "failed" with what I was wanting to accomplish in my classes - here are my reflections on that:

Where I fell short: teaching using a CI novella. Prior to the beginning of the school year, I was really excited about implementing CI novellas in my classes. As I was now at a new school and teaching in a Latin department which had gone "untextbook," I felt free, as I was no longer bound to a textbook. Brando Brown Canem Vult had just been released, and I had been waiting YEARS for a Latin version of this novella to come out (see here for my blog post on its release). When approaching a new reading, I knew that the name of the game was to pre-teach necessary vocabulary and structures prior to reading and not to use the reading itself to teach vocabulary. As a result, for each chapter of Brando Brown Canem Vult, I pre-taught any new vocabulary and structures so that students would already be familiar with (and hopefully have acquired) them before they began reading it (in fact, I have posted a number of those lesson plans/movie talks here on my blog). The problem, however, was that as there were ten chapters in the novella, this process began to drag on for students. As the process took much longer to go through it than I had expected, students began to tire of reading the novella and to a degree, to resent reading itself. 

Conclusion: Interestingly, this year I have heard many other Latin teachers mention the same struggles about their first time implementing Brando Brown Canem Vult. For some, the experience soured them to such a degree that they do not wish to implement CI novellas in the future. Although I can empathize with them, I do not believe that it was the novella itself which was the problem but rather our inexperience in undertaking something like this. In actuality, because no teacher's guide existed for Brando Brown Canem Vult this year (one is being released soon), we teachers who undertook this pursuit were pioneers, considering that we did not know what we were doing or what to expect.

What I wish to do differently: I still feel that novellas have tremendous value in a CI classroom, therefore, I need to change the way in which I implement them. Based on my shortcomings this year, I have a much better idea of how to do things differently next year. I will continue to pre-teach vocabulary and structures necessary to the novella, but I will not take it one chapter at a time like I did this year - that was the major flaw, because it slowed down students' reading experience. Rather, I will have students read through a novella as a whole AFTER the process. If I can get my act together, I would like to give students a choice in which novellas to read and implement reading as a FVR/SSR time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Home Stretch

I only have less than two weeks left in this semester. I feel like I am in the home stretch; the end is in sight. I am so ready for this school year to be over. 

It has also been a month since my last post. Usually, I will try to post weekly to my blog, but to me, the end of the school year feels like an all-out, last-ditch sprint where I end up having to drag myself across the finish line. For the past few weeks, upon coming home from work, every day I have taken a short nap, because I am so tired. I feel like I have nothing left to give to my classes, because mentally and emotionally, my well has run dry. A teacher-friend of mine aptly calls it "zombie mode." In addition, these past three weeks have been so disruptive in terms of students' schedules due to state standardized assessments and AP exams. I just want a degree of normality again. I have to laugh, because what I am feeling at the moment is exactly what I experience annually at the end of the school year; in fact, i wrote a blog post about this very thing one year ago (see here).

The end of the year is also difficult, because this is the time when I reflect on the past year and see everything which I did wrong, where I fell short, and where I could have done things better. This was my first year at a new school after having been 17 years at another, so it was definitely a year of adjustment. It was also my first year of going completely "un-textbooking" and of teaching using a CI novella. Though I felt like I had a strong foundation from years of doing a hybrid CI/textbook approach, part of me completely feels like I totally failed my students this year, since I did not feel completely comfortable with this new approach. Students began to tire of reading Brando Brown Canem Vult due to my inexperience, and I felt unsure with exactly how to teach a novella. At the end of the year, it is very easy to focus on the negative when I am feeling so physically and emotionally tired of teaching.

In spite of feeling all of this, another feeling stands out: hope. Yes, although I feel like somewhat of a failure for my shortcomings as a teacher this year, I know that I have a fresh start come August. I have the opportunity to have a whole new beginning in a few months. What I did not do right this year, I can correct in the new school year. Yes, it would be easy to throw in the towel and to return to a way of teaching which is more comfortable and safe for me, but if i give up now, then I will never know if I will do better the next time. Now that I have taught a CI novella, I have a MUCH better idea of how to do it, or better yet, what not to do.

This summer, I will be attending IFLT for a second year and serving as a coach again. In addition I will be giving a presentation there and at the American Classical League Summer Institute. These two conferences will refresh my CI batteries and recharge me as a teacher just in time for the school year to begin. I usually begin pre-planning on a CI high!

I am reminded of something which Rose Williams, a retired Latin teacher but still quite a pistol, once said to me. I was telling her how when I was a first-year teacher years ago, I had no clue what I was doing, how horrible I was, how I felt like I was always just a few pages ahead of my students in the textbook, and that if I had the chance, I would apologize to them for being such a poor teacher. Rose wisely replied to me, "But in spite of that, your students still loved you anyways." Words which I always need to hear.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Know Thyself

On last week's Tea With BVP show (episode 56), Bill Van Patten had a great discussion about explicit grammar. A listener had called in asking if there were advantages in explicit grammar instruction in a language class, as he and his wife felt like they had both greatly benefited from it when they were learning Spanish; knowing endings and grammar charts considerably aided their learning experience. I really liked Bill's answer: while there are explicit learners, there are also implicit learners. There are indeed those for whom explicit grammar lessons are beneficial, but for most, explicit grammar is not effective, but rather affective. In addition, in a research experiment of two groups where one was given explicit grammar instruction but the other was not, there was no difference between the two groups in terms of performance.

Why I enjoyed the discussion so much was because I felt like the caller perfectly described me and my experience of learning language. I LOVE grammar, so for me, when learning Latin (in a grammar-translation setting), the language made perfect sense to me. Visually, I could see the charts in my head, identify the patterns, and isolate words into its various parts. In fact, in my learning of other languages, I cannot help but to see the patterns and to create a working grammar chart in my mind. Grammar just makes sense to me.

About four years ago, though, I came to this realization: the majority of my students are not like me and do not share the same passion for grammar. For my first 16 years of teaching, however, I taught as if they did (and should), and I blamed them for not being like I was. In reality, the issue did not lie in my students, but in my thinking that they should be like me and learn exactly like I do. 

I think that the problem lies at times when our classes are composed of explicit learners. As an explicit learner myself, I LOVE those kinds of classes. Unfortunately soon that becomes the norm, as only explicit learners are the ones who take my class. But essentially all I am doing is replicating myself. If we wish for our language programs to grow, we need to attract all kinds of students in the building. This syndrome is not just limited to explicit grammar instruction, as I have seen teachers who flourish as learners in "incomprehensible" (and I mean that to mean "incomprehensible to me") immersive-language environments replicate the same setting in their classrooms. Soon, unintentionally, it becomes a rather exclusive setting where only certain types of students succeed.

On today's Tea With BVP show (episode 57 - Blaine Ray was his guest!), Bill Van Patten addressed this issue, calling it a situation where we teachers are projecting ourselves onto our students (starting at 38:57 in the episode): "If all students were like language teachers, then they would be teachers of language, and they're not. We're the weirdos." When we transpose ourselves and our natural passions/strengths onto students and expect them to learn in the same manner which we do, then we are only successful in teaching students who are like us. In the episode, Blaine even says that we teachers cannot think like teachers by focusing on the textbook and where we think that learners should be by X, but rather we must think like students and focus on their needs (starting at 37:17 in the episode). Well put, Blaine.

To me, this is the key: know thyself. We need to be aware that whatever attracted us as students ourselves to language learning is not what will attract the average student to our classrooms. We as language teachers sometimes are the biggest obstacles to our own students' learning. When we can get past ourselves, then successful learning can occur.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Support the Statement

On many occasions, I have been asked about ways to assess reading comprehension, outside of the traditional "What is X doing?","Where is X?","Who is X?" because that gets very boring and predictable for students (see previous post regarding why we should assess reading comprehension in L1, instead of L2). An easy way to assess reading comprehension is to give a statement to students, and they must find the sentence(s) from the reading passage which supports that statement.

  1. Using a known-reading, create statements in English about something in the passage. The statements need to be in English so that when a student writes down an incorrect answer in the target language, then you as the teacher know that the student did not understand the target language in the reading. If the statement itself is written in the target language and the student writes down an incorrect answer in the target language, then too many questions exist as to why the student missed it: did the student not understand the target language in the reading? did the student not understand the target language in the statement? If the statement had been written in English, would the student have written down the correct answer in the target language? 
  2. Give students both the reading and the statements. 
  3. The statement should not contain the wording itself of the sentence which you are asking students to find. That makes it too easy; in addition students will look for those exact words instead of reading through the passage.  
  4. The answer to the statement needs to be obvious to students. What may seem obvious to you as the teacher is not always obvious to students. 
  5. It is okay if there are multiple sentences from the reading which support the statement. 
  1. If students are familiar with the reading, this type of assessment should not take long at all.
  2. This is a great way for students to re-read a passage with a purpose. 

Latin Example - Dragonboy (based on a Movie Talk)

Puer florem facit. Puer picturam in flore ponit (puts). In picturā sunt puella et puer. Ecce puella in castellō! Puer et puella in fabulā sunt. Puer puellam valde amat. Ecce alius puer! Puer est dux in fabulā.

Puer valde tristis est, quod putat (he thinks) puellam amāre ducem. Puella in castellō ducem non amat, quod dux molestus est. Dux puerum pulsat, quod dux molestus est.

Subito dracō apparet! In fabulā est draco! Puer est dracō in fabulā. Puella in castello fingit sē valde timēre, quod est actor! Puer fingit sē esse draconem, quod est actor! Auditorium laetum est, et plaudit. Puella laeta est - non fingit sē esse laeta!

Subito dux apparet! Puella in castellō fingit sē amāre ducem, quod est actor! Puer valde iratus est, quod dux molestus est. Dux puerum petit. Dux puerum pulsat, et puer ducem pulsat! Puella in castellō valde timet! Quid accidet (will happen)?

1) The first boy is not a real dragon but acts like one in the play.

2) The first boy thinks that the girl does not like him.

3) A fight breaks out in the play.

4) The second boy is a pest and harasses the first boy.

English example - Dragonboy
The boy is making a flower. The boy puts a picture in the flower. In the picture are a boy and a girl. Behold - a girl in a castle. The boy and the girl are in a play. The boy loves the girl very much. Behold - another boy! The boy is a leader in the play.

The boy is very sad, because he thinks that the girl loves the leader. The girl in the castle does not love the leader, because the leader is annoying. The leader hits the boy, because the leader is annoying. 

Suddenly, a dragon appears! In the play is a dragon. The boy is a dragon in the play. The girl pretends that she is very scared, because she is an actor. The boy pretends that he is a dragon, because he is an actor. The audience is happy and applauds. The girl is happy - she does not pretend that she is happy.

Suddenly, the leader appears. The girl in the castle pretends that she loves the leader, because she is an actor. The boy is very angry, because the leader is annoying. The leader heads for the boy. The leader punches the boy, and the boy punches the leader. The girl in the castle is very scared. What will happen?

1) The first boy does not like how the second boy is treating the girl.

2) The audience likes the performance of the boy.

3) The second boy is a bully and harasses the first boy in the beginning.

4) The girl is pleased with the performance of the boy and is not acting.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Three C's of Comprehensible Input

These past few months, I have given a number of CI-related presentations, and in each, I have included a brief explanation of Comprehensible Input theory. If you are remotely familiar with CI, you know that this is no easy task. Luckily, my Latin colleague Rachel Ash has come up with a quick way to give an overview of the topic: she calls it "the Three C's of Comprehensible Input." NOTE - I am assuming that Rachel is the one who devised this. By no means is she trying to oversimplify Krashen's Hypotheses on Comprehensible Input, nor do I believe that the hypotheses can be reduced solely to three words. However, I do like this explanation, because for those unfamiliar with CI, it gives a great, focused, brief, easy-to-remember synopsis. 

I do realize that for ACTFL, there are the 5 C's (Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, Connections), and if you are familiar with Instructional Technology, there are the 4 C's (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking). Hopefully, you will not dismiss the Three C's of CI as just another set of acronyms.

The Three C's of Comprehensible Input - Comprehensible, Compelling, Caring
(I have taken some of this information from a presentation which Bob Patrick has given on the basics of CI and consolidated it here)
  1. Comprehensible - We acquire language subconsciously through the delivery of understandable (and of understood) messages. We only acquire that which we understand; therefore, that which has the most meaning is acquired first. In order to achieve this, we need to implement the establishment of meaning early. It is important that we as teachers constantly facilitate comprehension checks in order to determine the comprehensibility of these messages. We must focus on the message, not on grammatical forms; as a result, a grammar-based syllabus has no value in language acquisition. Progression in language acquisition occurs when messages become one step beyond a learner's language competence (i+1). Output is the natural overflow of receiving comprehensible messages.  
  2. Compelling - We want to hear and to read that which is personally interesting to us. Because a message is understandable does not necessarily mean that it is interesting. When a message becomes interesting, language becomes secondary; learners become "lost in the moment" and are no longer focusing on the language but rather on the message. Grammar is not compelling or interesting to the normal language learner. 
  3. Caring - When one's stress level (affective filter) increases, learning decreases, even if the message is comprehensible and compelling. As a result, it is important that we establish a safety net for learners, whereby they can communicate to the teacher incomprehensibility of messages and their rising stress levels. Being an external monitor (corrector of form) to learners only raises their affective filters. 
I know that these explanations do not fully encompass Krashen's Five Hypotheses, and I am certain that there are folks who will say that I have left out key components in my explanation here. I do hope that Rachel's Three C's helps some folks understand CI better, because it has certainly has helped me to explain it better.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Movie Talk - Changing Batteries

Here is a Movie Talk which Bob Patrick and I did this week in our Latin 1 classes. I have known about this particular movie short for a long time but debated on whether or not to ever use it, because it is SO SAD! However, Katya Paukova always says that the best movie shorts are those which will engage students emotionally, so I finally decided to use this one. Two of my target words were sick and doctor, and the only other movie short which I could find involving these words was one about the Berenstein Bears going to the doctor's office. For high school students, I thought that they would not like it, so I decided to hit them with an emotionally-packed Movie Talk!

This particular movie short is called Changing Batteries. Be prepared to have a few tears shed during this Movie Talk!

English script

Latin script

  1. On the day after I formally did this Movie Talk, as a warm up I re-showed the movie short and narrated it again in Latin this time without pausing. In one of the periods, an administrator came to do my formal observation, and she was very impressed, because of the fact that a) I was narrating this short movie in Latin and that students were understanding it (if she had come the day before, she would have seen an actual Movie Talk and its process) and b) the movie short was so good - she even reacted emotionally to it!
  2. Pay attention to the date July 5, 2011 in the very beginning of the movie short, because it will help explain how much time passes later on. I originally thought that this movie short took place over a few days, but my students pointed out the calendar to me while viewing this. 
  3. After viewing this, a few of my classes told me that I am never allowed to show this again to them, because it was so sad. For the record, these are the same classes which told me that I could never show Bear Story again too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

You Are Where You Are When It Comes to CI

It is finally the end of conference season for me. In the past seven weeks, I have attended four different state/regional conferences, delivered eight presentations related to Comprehensible Input, and co-facilitated a full-day CI in-service for a world language department at a high school in my district. 

As much as I truly enjoy presenting on CI, there is a part of me at times which feels like a complete fraud when speaking on the topic. I feel like my knowledge of CI is very surfacy, i.e., if you wish to have a high-level discussion on second language acquisition (SLA), I am NOT the person with whom to talk, because I possess an intermediate level of knowledge on the topic (in my defense, though, SLA research does not interest me at all, because much of it goes over my head - is there a way someone could create some embedded readings of SLA research?). I wish I were one who could naturally wield NON-targeted comprehensible input in my classroom so that i+1 would naturally occur. I wish that I were better at implementing PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers) in a compelling and natural way, because I absolutely stink at it. I wish that I were better at making language much more compelling with CI for students, because I can tell that they are getting burned out and bored with it.   

Maybe you are like me in that whatever manner/extent you are implementing Comprehensible Input, you are not where you would like to be. Here is what I have learned in my 3 1/2 years of CI usage: When it comes to CI implementation, you are where you are with it, and that is perfectly okay. Understanding CI does not happen overnight, and learning how to facilitate it in your classroom definitely takes time. It is a constant series of taking two steps forward with CI but then taking one-two steps of retreating back into what you know and were doing before, because CI feels uncomfortable. 

The goal, however, is to continue moving forward by learning more about Comprehensible Input. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Attend a weeklong CI conference like IFLT or NTPRS. Although one can certainly definitely learn about CI through attending individual sessions at state/regional world language conferences, there is something about attending a conference which is completely devoted to CI that one cannot learn elsewhere. I remember how much my mind expanded in CI knowledge/practice from attending my first NTPRS in 2014. Being in a supportive, yet more importantly, immersive CI environment was essential to my CI growth. I point to that first NTPRS conference as where my I truly established my CI roots and grew. I will be at IFLT this summer as a coach, so I hope to see many of you there. 
  2. Find digital resources, such as blogs and social media groups. Believe me, there are A LOT out there - so many that it can seem overwhelming. If you look at the sidebar of this blog, you will find a list of blogs which I try to follow. There are a number of Facebook groups dedicated to CI, but as my life is Facebook-free, I do not know which ones are out there. On Twitter (my sole use of social media), use the hashtags #tci, #tprs, #ntprs17, or #iflt17 to find current tweets related to CI. 
  3. Find other CI teachers either in your area or online with whom you can dialogue and collaborate. Do not undergo this journey alone.
Yes, I am not at all where I would like to be in my CI implementation, but gosh, I am so much further along in both my CI understanding and facilitation than where I was three years ago. I really do feel like I possess a strong foundation of CI after these 3 1/2 years. In other words, I am exactly where I need to be when it comes to CI. This self-realization is what will allow me to grow.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Technology in a CI Classroom, Part 2

This is part of an ongoing series on CI and Technology and is taken from my presentation Technology in a CI Classroom: How to Go Beyond Kahoot.

Now that I have my Ed.S degree in Instructional Technology, one would think that I am implementing technology all of the time. You would be surprised to find out that I do not. It is not because I do not want to, but more because most of the technology out there focuses so much on incomprehensible input, forced output, or low levels of critical thinking. In addition, my school is a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) school, so among students, there is an incredible disparity in the technological capability of the devices which students have due to rapid change in technology. Though my school does have numerous computer labs and wireless carts for teachers to use, these on-site resources cannot keep up with the demand. This does not mean, however, that i do not want to implement technology! I wish to very much, because there is technology which can complement the CI classroom, but I feel greatly limited by my students' access to available technology. This is the time where I wish that my school were a 1:1 school.

One of the main issues in instructional technology is that teachers are implementing technology at a VERY low level of critical thinking, and I would argue that 90% of teachers are completely unaware that they are doing this. When it comes to technology, most classrooms are still very teacher-centered. Much technology usage focuses on online quizzes/homework/assessment preparation sites such as Quia, Quizizz, Kahoot, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with these websites per se, but this is very low-level usage in terms of critical thinking.

I can honestly say that this is how I implemented technology in the past before I began my degree in Instructional Technology. I had a teacher website on Weebly which housed everything students would need, had students create PowerPoints for presentations, implemented Dropbox for student homework, and was one of the first teachers at my school to have a Promethean Board. I loved using remotes during assessments, because I got instant results on how students did. In other words, technology actually made my life somewhat easier as a teacher, and I am sure that students were engaged to a degree because of the technology. One would say that I was a leader in technology implementation. At the same time though, I was not raising students' critical thinking levels any through the use of technology. 

When implementing technology in the classroom, teachers should be aware of the SAMR (Substitute, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model. The SAMR model is very much like Bloom's Taxonomy in that the higher the level on the model, the higher the critical thinking involved, with the highest level being the creation of new meaning. 

The lowest level on the SAMR model is Substitution, where one could actually do the same exact task without technology, but technology has made it either easier or more engaging. Most classroom technology implementation is at this level. The next level is Augmentation, which involves some degree of functional improvement but is still BASIC SUBSTITUTION. The task itself has not changed but some features of technology are incorporated. Modification is the 3rd level, where the outcome of the task is still the same, but the product has been enhanced and has changed due to technology. The highest level is Redefinition, where the new meaning has been created, and the outcome is INCONCEIVABLE without the use of technology.

Here are some examples of technology usage as viewed through the SAMR model:

Google Docs
  1. Substitution: using Google Docs to write a paper.
  2. Augmentation: using collaboration function of Google Docs for feedback.
  3. Modification: Google Docs paper is rewritten using collaborative comments.
  4. Redefinition: Modified Google Docs paper now becomes a multimedia presentation.
Reading a text
  1. Substitution: reading texts online or using a device such as Kindle, iPad.
  2. Augmentation: using online dictionaries, informational videos, etc. which have been linked to online text.
  3. Modification: annotating digital texts with comments for sharing.
  4. Redefinition: creating an interactive document or blog for public discussion, comments, and dialogue.
Delivering a presentation
  1. Substitution: using PowerPoint/Prezi/Google Slides to make a presentation.
  2. Augmentation: creating a product which uses embedded hyperlinks.
  3. Modification: creating a screencast of the presentation for online viewing.
  4. Redefinition: Nearpod presentation.
Now let me say that it is perfectly okay to implement technology at the Substitution level. The problem, however, is when we remain there and do not facilitate technology beyond this. When we stay at the Substitution level though, technology becomes more about entertainment than about true engagement and creation of new meaning. To quote something which I wrote in an earlier blog post:
When focusing on technology as either substitution or entertainment and not as a tool for creating and engaging students in higher order thinking, then the novelty of that technology will wear off very quickly. Students will want to move onto the next new piece of technology for amusement. And why should they not, since this is how the teacher has modeled technology usage for them?
So how does one reconcile the SAMR model with Comprehensible Input methodology? The two are not mutually exclusive of each other, and one can implement the two together. However, it takes knowledge and understanding of both for it to work. This has been my quest lately, as I explore various instructional technologies. I will address this in a later post. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Writing from Novice Learners

This semester, I have been doing a number of free writes in my Latin 1 classes. Though I still implement timed writes (which to me is usually attempting to re-tell a story in the target language which we have been going over in class), I have also been giving opportunities for students to write whatever they want in Latin based on input.

As writing is an output activity, it is important that we bathe students in input to such a degree that output is a natural overflow of that input. This is why I like implementing timed writes - after going over a story 6-7 different ways over 3-4 days, all of that input from that story has somewhere to go as output. Free writes, however, are different. To me, free writes are exactly that: students have the chance to create and to write freely whatever they want in the target language and are not spitting back a story. I usually give them a prompt of some kind and then let them write for X amount of time.

Having students do free writes has been a very interesting experience so far, and I am learning SO much about language acquisition theory in the process, especially for novice learners.

  1. As not every student acquires language at the same rate, I have to accept that students "will be all over the spectrum" when it comes to output. There are students whose extent of writing output is being able to re-combine a seen list of vocabulary to create sentences, while others are able to create and to fashion sentences on their own. Guess what? Each of those examples is perfectly fine. The important thing to remember is that every individual student is exactly at the point where he/she is at; I cannot force students to progress at my pace. My sole job is to continue to immerse my students in understandable messages to aid them along their individual output continuum.
  2. Output is going to be MESSY!! Messy to me, that is. To the student, however, most likely they are completely unaware of their errors, which is fine, because that is where they are at in their language acquisition. I love the following cartoon:
  3. I am surprised at the number of students who are writing compound sentences on their own. In many ways, I do not think that they realize that this is actually "complex," because they are constantly hearing and reading compound sentences in the target language. In many ways, they cannot help but write compound sentences due to vast amount of input examples.
Some examples of free-write activities

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Find the Difference

This is great, quick post-reading activity which you can do with students. I got this idea from Annabelle Allen's blog (if you are not reading her blog, bookmark it!), specifically from her post on "Milking Movie Talks." Bob Patrick and I had done a Movie Talk last week, and I was looking for some new novel post-reading activities to do with it. Annabelle's post was perfect for what I was looking!

"Find the Difference" is exactly what students will do: find the differences in a reading which you have been reviewing!


  1. Type up a current reading, and make vocabulary word changes to it. It is important that students are quite familiar with the reading. In many ways, you do not want to completely change the reading - you do not want more differences than similarities.
  2. Print up reading.
  1. Students will need a highlighter for this activity.
  2. Hand out a reading to each student. You can pair them up if you want to focus on collaborative work.
  3. Explain that students are to find the differences in the reading from the real story. Tell students HOW MANY differences for which they will be looking. This will be very helpful for students.
  4. When students find a difference, they are to highlight the word(s) in the story. 
  5. Review the answers with students. I projected the story onto a whiteboard and had students come up and underline the difference.
  6. As an extension, you can ask students to replace the differences with the correct word(s) in the target language.
  1. I was surprised at how quickly students were able to get through this activity. Because it was a reading with which students were familiar, (due to being a Movie Talk and having gone over it a few different ways), it did not take long.
  2. Because I had told them ahead of time how many differences there were, students paid closer attention to the reading.
  3. This is another great way for students to interact with comprehensible messages. 
  4. Students were becoming tired of this story so this activity gave the reading some novelty!
Example in Latin:

Knock Knock Movie Talk reading
Ecce vir! Vir in spondā considit. Rē verā, vir totum diem agere vult in spondā. Rē verā, vir cenāre vult in spondā!

Subito, aliquis ianuam pulsat. Vir ianuam aperit, sed rē verā, nemo adest. Quod nemo adest, vir ianuam claudit. Aliquis iterum ianuam pulsat. Rē verā, vir totum diem agere vult in spondā. Rē verā, vir cenare vult in spondā! Vir iterum ianuam aperit, sed rē verā, nemo adest.

Vir iterum ianuam claudit, et iterum in spondā considit. Subito, aliquis iterum ianuam pulsat. vir ianuam non aperit, quod totum diem agere vult in spondā! Vir cenare vult in spondā!
Iterum aliquis ianuam pulsat! Vir valde iratus est!

Vir irate ianuam aperit. Rē verā, nemo adest! Vir ianuam claudit, sed rē verā, non in spondā considit. Aliquis ianuam pulsat. Vir iterum ianuam aperit, sed rē verā, nemo adest...

Find the Difference reading (changes are italicized here for your purpose)
Eheu vir! Vir in lecto considit. Rē verā, vir totum diem agere vult in Germania. Rē verā, vir aspicere televisionem vult in Germania!
Subito, aliquis ianuam pulsat. Vir ianuam aperit, sed rē verā, parvus catulus adest. Quod parvus catulus adest, vir ianuam claudit. Aliquis iterum ianuam pulsat. Rē verā, vir totum diem agere vult in lecto. Rē verā, vir cenare vult in lecto! Vir iterum ianuam aperit, sed rē verā, infans adest.
Vir iterum ianuam claudit, et iterum in spondā crustulum consumit. Subito, aliquis iterum ianuam pulsat. Vir ianuam non aperit, quod totum diem agere vult in spondā! Vir cenare vult in armario! Aliquis iterum ianuam pulsat! Vir valde laetus est!
Vir irate ianuam aperit. Rē verā, magnus porcus adest! Vir ianuam claudit, sed rē verā, non in ursa considit. Aliquis ianuam pulsat. Vir iterum ianuam aperit, sed rē verā, nemo adest…

Monday, February 20, 2017

4-Word Picture Stories

This is an activity which I got from Bob Patrick (and I don't know from whom - if anyone - he got this idea). Bob and I both teach all nine sections of Latin 1 at our school. I am the one in charge of creating lesson plans, and as we were starting a new chapter of Brando Brown Canem Vult, I was wanting to pre-teach some new vocabulary. My idea was for students to give students four new vocabulary words and for them to draw a visual representation of three of the four new vocabulary words. Bob took it one step further and had students draw a 4-frame cartoon involving the 4 new words and to create a very short "story" in Latin as captions for the cartoon - students could only use known words in their story. I really liked this idea and put my spin on the activity. 

For this activity, I gave students seven words, of which they had to choose at least four to use (four of the seven words were completely new, and three were words which I wanted to recycle from the past, because I did not feel like many had truly acquired them). Like Bob, I then had them illustrate a 4-frame cartoon which incorporated those four words and to write a short 4-sentence minimum "story" in Latin which used those 4 words. Again, they could only use words which they knew and learned in class, i.e., no Google Translate! There had to be a minimum of one sentence per frame, but students could write more if they wanted.

I then took a number of their cartoons/stories and edited them for grammar errors. After this, I scanned their pictures and created a Google Slides presentation to show them over the next few days as warmups (3-4/day). The scanning and creating Google Slides presentations did take some time and effort to complete. 

The seven words, from which students had to select at least four, were: 
  1. castellum - castle/fort
  2. prandet - eats lunch
  3. custodit - is guarding
  4. fingit se - pretends that he/she
  5. catulus - puppy
  6. petit - heads for
  7. dux - leader

  1. Because these stories were written by students (and edited for grammar by me), the stories were completely comprehensible to them, because they were level-appropriate.
  2. Students really enjoyed seeing each other's stories. Many liked that their story had been picked to show!
  3. Many students enjoyed the freedom of choice in choosing which words to use, because it allowed them to be creative.
  4. Because students had to incorporate at least four of the seven words into their stories, this allowed for LOTS of repetitions of words, since every story had some degree of commonality of vocabulary. 
  5. Even though students had to use four of the seven words in their stories, no student had the same exact story, so it allowed for LOTS of creativity.
  6. Because the stories were short (usually 4-6 sentences), it allowed for novelty and kept students engaged.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Focusing on the Basics of CI

A few weeks ago, Bob Patrick, Lauren Watson, and I presented a full-day CI in-service for the world language teachers at Lauren's school. During the lunch break, a teacher approached me about how I assessed students using Comprehensible Input. In some ways, I hate this question, not because it deals with assessments, but because the way in which I assess now is so different from the traditional methods. My formative/summative assessments are:
  • completely unannounced but only given when I feel that at least 80% of students will score 80% or higher. In most instances, I will wait until I feel that 90% will score 90% or higher.
  • based on standards-based grading.
  • never longer than 10-minutes in length, because I am only addressing particular standards at a time. I do not need pages of an assessment for students to demonstrate proficiency in a standard.
  • given with the idea that students can do a re-assessment if they (or I) are not pleased with their scores.
In explaining how I assessed students, I could feel this teacher starting to become overwhelmed and to back off a bit from CI, because it sounded like one had to adopt this method in becoming a CI teacher and that this style of assessment was a non-negotiable for a CI classroom.

With someone who is curious about CI or new to the topic, I think that we who are experienced with CI need to be very careful how we present the topic. Many times we start to talk about topics and practices which we ourselves implement in our classrooms that enhance CI but big picture are not exclusive to CI.
  • Yes, I have gone deskless, and it has greatly enhanced my classroom environment, BUT a deskless classroom is not necessary at all for establishing community and lowering the affective filter. For a number of years, my CI classroom had desks, and there are times now where I do miss students having desks.
  • Yes, I have "untextbooked" and am no longer using a textbook, BUT going off the textbook is not a requirement of a CI curriculum. One can deliver understandable messages and apply CI principles to the teaching of a textbook, doing a hybrid approach. It is not easy to facilitate, but many have done it.
  • Yes, I now implement standards-based grading (as opposed to traditional grading), and I am seeing its benefits in my students, BUT you will not find mention of standards based-grading specifically among Krashen's Five Hypotheses of CI (although standards-based grading does cause a teacher to look at teaching differently). One can use standards-based grading in a non-CI classroom.
  • Yes, I allow students to do unlimited retakes (with remediation though) in order for them to demonstrate proficiency in a particular standard, BUT this is not considered a non-negotiable in a CI classroom. To me, student-retakes are an individual teacher decision, but I will say that having a safety net of retakes does lower the affective filter in students when assessing.
I will say that those things which I have stated above do help contribute to and greatly enhance a Comprehensible Input learning environment, but a Comprehensible Input learning environment can exist WITHOUT those things.

When beginning to implement CI into one's classroom, I always suggest baby steps, taking things one step at a time. Begin to major on the majors first, and leave minoring on the minors for later. I have been using CI for four years now, and it is only this year where I have gone deskless, untextbooked, and implemented standards-based grading. I will also say that I felt like I was finally ready to facilitate these changes to my curriculum. 

Let us be sure to focus on the basics of CI when presenting the subject to those who are curious. So many times we can get sidetracked and add irrelevant topics to the message! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

QR Code Running Dictatio

Here is a great variation of a dictation which combines a running dictation on a much larger scale with QR codes. Bob Patrick and I did this activity last week with our Latin 1 with students with great success! I can absolutely take no credit for this activity, as I learned this from my colleagues Miriam Patrick and Rachel Ash, who discuss this on their blog - they in turn learned this from Meredith White, a wonderful CI Spanish teacher in our district last week.

The idea is essentially a scavenger hunt throughout the school. Students will scan QR codes, which will give them a sentence to write down as a dictation and will then give them a clue to the location of the next QR code. 

I will tell you up front that this activity takes much preparation on the front end, but once it is set into motion, you as the teacher simply facilitate or more specifically, observe!

  1. Write a series of sentences in the target language like in any dictation. The sentences should form a story; 10-12 sentences are a good amount. NOTE - for this activity, I created sentences using already-known vocabulary which had been targeted, so these sentences served as another way to get in repetitions of these targeted words. One can still use this activity to introduce new vocabulary but there will be an additional step.
  2. Make a list of locations where you can place QR codes, e.g., drinking fountains, vending machines, pictures, backs of books, under chairs/desks, etc. It is up to you to determine the scope/magnitude of the area of this activity. Bob and I chose to keep it to just our building but with many varied locations.
  3. Write up these locations in the target language.
  4. Create an order in which students will go to each location.
  5. Assign each dictation sentence to a location AND with the next clue. It is up to you whether you wish to have students write down each sentence in order or for the sentence order to be scattered is up to you. Because my dictation sentences were using known vocabulary, I scattered the order for novelty.
  6. Write up a list of the order of clues (with each sentence, location of sentence, and location of next clue), because it will come in handy during the activity. My example.
  7. Using a QR Code Generator, type up the sentence and location of next clue. It is important that you use a QR Code Generator which will save text. Save that QR Code - be sure to remember where that QR Code falls in the order!
Example of QR Code - scan with QR Code reader to see embedded information

    8. Repeat step #7 for all remaining sentences and clues.
    9. Create a table to cut/paste the QR codes. Be sure to put the QR codes in order. My     
        example of QR table.
  10. Print QR Code table.
  11. Create dictatio handouts. Students will record their dictation on this handout. On the 
        dictatio handout, paste a QR Code. At the very beginning, students will scan the QR 
        code to receive the first sentence and to find the location of their next sentence. You 
        will need to create handouts with DIFFERENT QR codes so that students are not all 
        starting at the same location. My example.
 12. Cut the QR codes from the QR code table and tape them in the various locations.
 13. Print the dictatio handouts - do not collate! 
 14. Send an email to your faculty, notifying them of the activity, that students will be 
       running around the school, and to notify you of any student problems.

  1. Explain that students will be doing a dictatio but with QR codes.
  2. Tell students to divide into groups of 2-3. No groups of four! You may also create the groups if needed. It is important that at least one team member has a smartphone with a QR code reader. If students have the Snapchat app, then that has a QR Code reader.
  3. Hand each group their “team dictatio sheets” - every team member will get a dictatio sheet. For me, There were nine different dictatio sheets, each with a Roman numeral at top. For example, Team 1 had two members, so each member received a “Dictatio I” sheet, Team 2 has three members so each member will get a “Dictatio II” sheet.
  4. Students will scan QR code on their student document. It will send them to one of 8 places.
    • Each QR code will have a dictatio sentence AND a clue to the next sentence on it.
    • Students are to write the dicatio sentence IN LATIN which matches the number on their sheet, i.e. the sentences are not in order when they scan the QR code
    • The QR code will also tell students where to go for the next sentence.
5. If you are using this dictation activity to introduce new vocabulary, you will want to add
in a step where students come to you for the meaning of new words BEFORE they
head to their next clue.
6. When they get ALL dictatio sentences, students will return to the class to turn it in.
7. Explain that they are to be respectful of other classes and to be quiet in the hallways.
8. Begin the activity, and watch the fun!

  1. The search for QR codes made the activity very engaging for students. The activity became more about finding the QR codes than about the actual writing down of the dictation sentence. In other words, the dictation sentences became incidental, although they were receiving subconscious repetitions of comprehensible language in writing them down. The search kept the activity novel. As one of my students who tends to be "less engaged" in my class said: "This was SO much fun! Let's do this EVERY week." 
  2. Bob Patrick said it best: "This activity was a true communicative activity, because students were actually using the language to complete a task."
  3. To make the activity last longer, you can add a translation component where students have to translate the sentences prior to turning them in. Per Miriam Patrick, you can also have students write down the location clues on their dictation handouts.
  4. Bob and I limited our QR code locations to a certain area in our building (as it was the first time doing something like this). Students requested that they wanted to go to various parts of the school for the next time. 
  5. Students said that they really liked being able to copy down the sentences from their phones instead of having to write them down by listening to me repeat the sentence aloud three times - lol!
  6. The list of sentences, locations, and next clues will come in handy if students get out of order. You can redirect them if they get "lost."
As I said earlier, this activity takes a lot of preparation the first time you do it, because you will be learning how to put it together. Now that I have created one, the next time I do this, it will be much quicker to prepare.