Monday, June 26, 2017


At the end of this week is the American Classical League Summer Institute (ACL), the national conference for Latin (and some classical Greek) teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Annually, around 300 Latin teachers from all over the country convene at this institute for three days. This will be my 10th ACL, and I enjoy attending due to the camaraderie. It is a time of seeing old friends from around the nation, of meeting new ones, of attending great sessions, and of some great receptions with food and drink (a few years ago, there were some SCREAMING good bacon bites at the ACL Institute in Memphis, which I now anticipate in vain at each year's receptions).

However, I will say that over the past few years I feel like there has been a cooling among some folks at ACL in how they interact with me now that I am a CI teacher, have published this blog, and have given many CI-related presentations. Maybe it is just me reading something which is not there, but still it is something which I need to consider:
  • Have I unknowingly separated and distanced myself from others who do not implement CI?
  • Do non-CI teachers think that I am secretly judging them, because I am now implementing CI in my classrooms and they are not? In reality, am I indeed secretly (or even worse, outwardly) judging them?
  • In promoting an inclusive approach to teaching Latin, am I actually exhibiting an exclusive outward behavior of "it's my way or the highway"?
  • Do I only keep company with CI teachers and have unknowing created a clique? Are these teachers exhibiting exclusivity so by association, folks think that i am too?
I would like to think that the answer is a big NO for each of those questions, but those questions do make me think. 

This world in which we live has become so polarized culturally and politically. At an ACL years ago, I recall a friend saying to me, "Where are centrists like us supposed to fit? No one will let us anymore. There is really no longer a place for us any more on the spectrum." Unfortunately, this polarization is bleeding into the world of pedagogy, and it is almost like we teachers are forced to declare a camp. If one does not align with a camp, then that person is seen as apathetic or uninspired.

I know that many teachers will put up walls against CI, because it threatens their current view of pedagogy, but I wonder how many times those walls are erected not due to CI per se but rather due to those who promote CI in an overbearing manner (do I fall into that category?). That person's behavior ends up representing CI, not CI representing itself, and as a result, no one wins.

I like to think that I am promoting inclusivity for newcomers to CI in allowing them to incorporate CI slowly into their curriculum (even if it is grammar-translation!) and in encouraging them to become comfortable enough with a strategy or two until they feel like they are ready to do more. I know that there are a number of CI teachers who disagree with me on this, saying that one needs to "jump all-in" with CI and "how dare that one still use the textbook if that person is going to implement CI?" Personally, I have to disagree with that view, because when I first tried out TPRS years ago, I went all-in and lasted six weeks, burned out, and vowed never to return again to it. Over the years, I have seen too many teachers new to CI do the same thing: start out all gung-ho, become discouraged due to a lack of foundation or when things do not go like they have before, and then disavow CI as a result. Recently, Rachel Ash wrote about this on her blog with a post titled The Inclusive Teacher Workshop

I like to think that I am also promoting inclusivity for those teachers who do not adhere to CI. From a post two years ago, I wrote the following:
This confirms my view that we CI teachers cannot beat CI into folks who do not want it to use it. All I can do is use CI in my classroom, share ideas with folks (whether they accept it or not), let my results speak for me, and simply leave it at that. Now that does not mean that I should not be prepared to defend my usage of CI if people ask - much like the apostle Paul says, "(I need to) be prepared in season and out of season" (I am VERY CERTAIN that Paul was not referring to CI when he wrote that!) - but I need to give permission for my non-CI colleagues to be the teachers they are at this moment. I need to follow the words of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach [CI], and if necessary, use words" (Again, I know that he was NOT referring to CI), and to let them come to the decision on their own, if they choose.
I hope that this still rings true for me. One's decision to implement CI rests with that individual. It is not my problem. All I can do is cast out the net, see who responds, and hopefully serve as a support for that person.

This week, I will giving my presentation "Detoxing from the Textbook" at ACL. It will be my 6th time delivering this topic, but I have changed it to be Latin-specific, as before it addressed modern languages. If you are going to be at ACL later this week and are curious about CI, I encourage you to come check out my presentation. Throughout the institute, please feel free to introduce yourself to me, to join me for a meal, to play a game of I Piscatum, etc. I would love to meet my blog readers in person!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wrapping My Mind around Communicative Tasks, part 2

The following post is part of a series.

So while this concept of communicative tasks is very appealing to me, the bigger picture for me is this: about what is it that I actually want students to communicate in my Latin class in the target language? What is my end goal for them in terms of communication? Do I want students to be able to communicate about themselves and others in Latin (like Can-Do statements)? Do I want them to communicate about a particular text in Latin which they have read?

If I were to ask Latin teachers (and even modern language teachers about the Latin classroom) this question, I would get an array of answers all across the spectrum, everything from "What? Why should we speak Latin? There is no value in it if our goal is for students to be able to translate Cicero" to "I do use spoken Latin via CI/TPRS, but my goal is still for students to read Cicero, not to converse with each other in Latin" to "Why are we NOT speaking Latin and teaching Latin like a modern language?! Latin is only viewed as a dead language, because Latin teachers treat it as one!" The question resonates for me, because I understand everyone of those responses. Honestly, I think that I am still trying to figure all of it out myself too, or rather, where do I fit in the debate.

If you have read my About Me page, then you know that I was once one of the biggest advocates AGAINST any type of spoken Latin, so I can relate to (though disagree now with) the argument of those who see no value in speaking Latin. For six summers, however, I have attended Rusticatio, a weeklong Latin immersion "camp," where I spoke and conversed only in Latin. I am probably only an Intermediate High conversationalist in Latin, but gosh, I love the Rusticatio environment, Latin-only setting of courses/activities, and just hanging out on the maenianum (back porch) conversing in Latin with other like-minded and similar-abilitied folks. (Click here for a video piece which Al Jazeera International broadcast about Rusticatio). So for me, I completely understand the concept of treating Latin like any other modern language. As I have commented before, following my first Rusticatio, I was incredibly BITTER that the idea of speaking Latin had been kept from me in my schooling years, because suddenly it was like a whole part of my brain had been activated. I finally saw Latin as more than just a read language.  

Quite honestly, I do not think that the world language community itself as a whole knows what to do with treating Latin as a spoken, communicative language. John Bracey, a fellow CI Latin teacher in Massachusetts, called into Tea With BVP, asking Bill Van Patten what he thought about spoken Latin being used in the classroom. Surprisingly, Van Patten did not seem to openly embrace the idea - he was not opposed to the concept but at the same time, he did not seem to praise it either (for the record, Van Patten did take Latin in school - I suspect under the grammar-translation method). Instead, he said that it all came down to goals for individual Latin teachers, so he kind of side-stepped the issue. 

Essentially, it does come down to goals. This summer, I am going to be working on what I would like to incorporate into my curriculum regarding student communication. When addressing my goals, I cannot speak for anyone but myself. I do not have anything concrete in terms of communicative goals at the moment, but here is what is shaping them:
  • My classroom will continue to be a Comprehensible-Input based classroom. Output will be the result and overflow of input.
  • Based on survey results, my students want to know more conversational Latin beyond salve and mihi nomen est ________. My favorite comment from a student: "I feel like I can talk about a boy, a three-legged dog, and a bear in Latin, but I cannot talk about myself." Students wish for Latin to be personal. 
  • As students will continue to read stories in my class, these will also serve as topics for communicative tasks.
  • I do not like the idea of isolating Latin solely to the classical period, as Latin spans the ages. When we keep Latin stuck in the 1st century in terms of its usage and setting, then indeed it is a dead language. Languages change and develop, and the same must apply to Latin if we wish to view it as a living language. Apparently, this was an issue even in the 16th century, as Erasmus wrote a treatise called Ciceronianus addressing this. 
  • I cannot let tradition dictate what happens in my classroom. Over the years, I have had Latin 1 students complain to me that I had not "taught" them Latin, because they did not know all of their declension endings, all of their verb tenses, and how to conjugate verbs like their friends at other schools. That saddens me that my students would feel this way, considering what they were able to do with the language compared to their friends, who only know about the language. This means that grammar will still be covered but just not in an explicit manner.
We shall see where this goes...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wrapping My Mind around Communicative Tasks, Part 1

The following post is part of a series.

I do not know what your Thursday afternoon routine is during the school year from 3:00-4:00 EST, but for me, that hour is devoted to listening to the live, online, call-in radio show Tea With BVP, which is dedicated to a discussion of second language acquisition. On most days, I will leave work by 3:00, but on Thursdays, I will stay an extra hour so that I can listen to the show uninterrupted. The funny thing is that Rachel Ash, one of my Latin colleagues at my school, also listens to the show after school in her classroom, which is right next door to mine (and we never listen to it together)! One time, I called in to answer the Diva Challenge Question, and I am sure that Rachel was quite shocked to hear me on the show, considering I was in the adjacent classroom! Miriam Patrick (another one of my Latin colleagues at my school) and Meredith White (a CI Spanish teacher in my district) also listen to Tea With BVP. There are so many world language teachers throughout the country who listen to the show - there is something very communal and bonding about listening to a live, online show together. It is so much fun when listening to the show to hear someone call in and to say, "Hey, I know that person!"  As I am now on summer break, I am binge-listening all of the past episodes. 

One of my takeaways from listening to Tea With BVP surrounds communicative tasks, a topic which Bill Van Patten has addressed on numerous occasions. In a nutshell, BVP states that if we want our students to communicate in our language classrooms, there needs to be a meaningful purpose for it, i.e. students need to have a true reason for communication. So many times teachers rely on oral exercises or textbook dialogues as examples of communication, but these actually do not have any true purpose nor is anything really being accomplished. While teachers may view the exercises as necessary language practice, students can quickly see through these activities, view that there is no real purpose behind them, and rather see them as empty, meaningless activities - in many ways, is it necessary for students to practice with a partner? Could they not just instead read the questions on their own and write down their answers? When communication is being utilized for the completion of a task, then that communication has a purpose, i.e., the language becomes secondary to the task itself. This still means that LOTS and LOTS of input are needed in order to get students to this point; input is still the name of the game! In addition, not all tasks focus on output, as there are both INPUT-BASED and OUTPUT-BASED tasks. 

I am currently reading Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms by James F. Lee (the book which Bill Van Pattern talks about much on his show) and Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen by James F. Lee and Bill Van Pattern, and both books are really blowing my mind with how we should be presenting and using language in the classroom. An important component is distinguishing between exercises, activities, and tasks:
  • Exercises – focused practice or something that gets learners to manipulate vocabulary and grammar in a controlled way. Examples are fill in the blank, translations, transformation drills, repeating after teacher, read-alouds, and multiple choice. These are non-communicative in nature.
  • Activities – events that get learners involved in the expression and interpretation of meaning. Examples are circling and "ask and answer" partner activities. These are partially communicative, as while communication is occurring, the focus tends to be on vocabulary, form and comprehension, and nothing is done with the information afterwards for a greater purpose.
  • Taskslike activities in that they get learners involved in the expression and interpretation of meaning but they have the added focus of purpose unrelated to language learning or practice. We learn something about ourselves and the world in which we live and use the language to achieve that purpose. The added component is now application of learned information. These are fully communicative.
Here is an example of the differences between these types:

Topic - Asking others their names, stating one's name, introducing someone
  • Exercises - teacher says target language phrases aloud and students repeat the phrase aloud, students read target language sentences aloud. 
  • Activities - teacher tells TPRS story with circling, students read TPRS-based story involving phrases, teacher asks students' their names, students in partners ask each other their names, teachers project pictures of celebrities and ask students what their names are in the target language.
  • Tasks: In the target language, introduce to the teacher three students in the class whom you do not know. This will require students asking each other "what is your name?," responding "my name is _________", and telling the teacher "his/her name is __________" based on prior input-based scaffolding. This is a task, because in the partner activity where students exchanged information about their names, there was no larger purpose for that information; the information ended there. Here in the task, the information gathered is gathered and applied for a bigger purpose: in order to introduce the student to the teacher. 
Let me say that there is NOTHING wrong with exercises and activities. Tasks should serve as the end goal, but input-based, meaning-centered, properly-scaffolded exercises and activities will get students to that point. So many times, we world language teachers only operate in an exercise/activity-based curriculum, but our goals should actually focus on level-appropriate interpretation and expression of meaning of language as a means for the overflow of input.  

For those interested, Rachel Ash and Miriam Patrick have created their own podcast series discussing Tasks and Communication in the Language Classroom

So the big question for me: how does this apply (if at all) to a Latin classroom? To be addressed in my next post...

Friday, June 2, 2017

More Reflections: Student Input for Reading

The last survey which Bob Patrick and I gave our Latin 1 students at the end of the semester surrounded their input into what kinds of readings which they would like to have for Latin 2. As our Latin department has "untextbooked" and because we want students to have some say in their curriculum, the survey results give us an idea of what topics students find compelling. Below is the survey (using Google Forms):

The top five responses were (in order):
  1. Mythology - heroes
  2. Mythology - gods and goddesses
  3. Mythological monsters and fantastical beasts
  4. Mystery stories
  5. Adapted readings from Harry Potter
This shows me that students want readings about mythology and that they want a variety of readings related to the topic. I was actually surprised that students picked mystery stories, but then again, mysteries do make for compelling readings (gosh, are there any mystery novellas out there?). I thought that students would want to read adapted readings from the Hobbit (because that interests me), but apparently, students do not find that compelling. 

This results from this survey definitely lend themselves to my planning for next year. For example, since students want readings related to fantastical beasts and adapted readings from Harry Potter, I can create a unit on the basilisk, as this beast appears in many different Latin stories throughout the ages and then give students an adapted reading of the basilisk chapter from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I am tempted to read JK Rowling's book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them purely to see what mythological beasts and animals are in it. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

More Reflections: Student Surveys

I am now officially on summer vacation, as yesterday was my final day of post-planning. Quite honestly, this past week has been such a rush of non-stop responsibilities. Mentally, I know that students took their final exams, that I finalized their semester grades, that I attended the graduation ceremony and handed out diplomas afterwards, and that I completed the myriad of end-of-year tasks which comes with post-planning (including packing away my classroom for the summer) - but all of it is such a blur (and seems like a long time ago!) due to the breakneck speed that comes with the ending of the school year, even though it was just this week. I kind of remember everything from this week, but all of it seems to run together.

As I continue to reflect on this past school year regarding what worked and did not work (see my last blog post), I now turn to my students' surveys. For years, my colleague Bob Patrick has been giving end-of-the-semester surveys to his students asking for their feedback, so this year, I did the same. The survey consisted of three questions: 
  1. What have we done this semester in Latin that has helped you learn? 
  2. What have we done this semester in Latin that has NOT helped you learn? 
  3. If you could change one thing about how we have been learning Latin so far, what would it be?
I greatly appreciated the student feedback, as they were quite frank - I asked students not to put their name on the survey so that they could feel safe in being honest in their replies. I only asked that they list their class periods so that I could trace any trends which were period-specific. Here are my reflections on their input:

What have we done this semester in Latin that has helped you learn? Overwhelmingly, students responded Movie Talks and Read/Draws. Some comments included:
- "I like it when you pause the movie and talk about it in Latin, because it gives me time to process."
- "I am a visual learner, so it helps me to see what you're taking about in Latin."
- "Movie Talks are interesting - so much better than just reading. You pick good movie shorts, but don't do the movie talk about the robot and the grandma again - way too sad!"
- "I like doing Read/Draws, because I can associate vocabulary with what I draw."
- "Read/Draws are fun, because I don't get to draw in any of my other classes."
- "Read and Draws are helpful, because I can see the story in pictures and label stuff [sic] in Latin."

Some students insightfully answered:
- "I like that there is LOTS of repetition of words in the stories, because if I don't get the word the first time, it comes up again, so I eventually learn it."
- "I'm a slow learner, so I like that you repeat words over and over."
- "Having the Latin and English on the board when you speak Latin makes it easy to understand what you're saying."

What have we done this semester in Latin that has NOT helped you learn? Although about half of the students responded "nothing," there were a number of students who did not like Movie Talks and Read/Draws. Some comments included:
- "I hate it when you pause the movie. It slows down my learning. I get bored. I just want to watch the movie."
- "When you turn off the lights, I get sleepy."
- "Do we really have to talk about the movie in Latin? Can't we just see the movie?"
- "I hate doing anything with drawing/coloring."
- "Read/Draws are helpful for timed writes, but that's it."
- "We do WAY TOO MUCH drawing in this class. I don't need to draw to learn."

I will seriously consider students' comments. I will continue to implement Movie Talks and Read/Draws but maybe cut back on their frequency. Last semester, students overwhelmingly responded that they did not like dictations. Although I do find great benefit in dictations for language acquisition, I greatly cut back on the number of dictations this semester based on their comments. I found that students appreciated that I employed their feedback in my lesson planning for this semester. 

If you could change one thing about how we have been learning Latin so far, what would it be? Although there was a WIDE range of answers here, everything from "no more Brandon Brown ever" to "when are going to learn about gladiators?", the most common thread related to wanting to learn a lot more conversational Latin. Some insightful comments included:
- "I feel like I can talk about a boy, a three-legged dog, and a bear in Latin, but I cannot talk about myself."
- "I want to learn how to say more than hello, goodbye, what is your name, my name is, his/her name is, how are you in Latin."
- "What about colors? Numbers?"
- "How come none of the stories had any conversational Latin in them?" 

Interestingly, there were NO comments about why Latin was being spoken in the classroom (no "Latin is dead language" or "no one speaks Latin"), so it appears that my students have accepted that Latin is indeed a communicative language. Rather these comments surrounded the idea that students wanted to be able to converse with each other in Latin and to talk about themselves in the language. Since my conversion to spoken Latin in 2010 (see here for my story) after years of adamantly opposing any type of active Latin, I have always said that students do indeed wish to interpret their world in Latin like modern language learners, so why do we cling to this idea that Latin should only be translated?

Based on this feedback, incorporating more conversational Latin is something which I will try to accomplish next year but more specifically so that it permeates the curriculum. This past year, I tried incorporating Bryce Hedstrom's Special Person interview (duly called Discipulus Illustris in Latin) during first semester, but students began to tire of it because we were doing it daily and because it seemed like a completely separate learning activity from the readings which were doing for the semester. This is not to say that I will not use Discipulus Illustris again next year but rather that i need to tie it in with what are doing in class. As that student insightfully commented, "How come none of the stories had any conversational Latin in them?", for students, there was nothing tying in conversational Latin with the readings which we were doing - there was a disconnect, and it seemed like something from left field. As a result, I will try to write more stories with conversational Latin in them - maybe these will become the genesis of a novella!

Next post: student survey results about what they wish to read next year.

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.