Monday, August 8, 2022

Personalized Questions and Answers (PQAs)

Often times I get asked what is the purpose of circling and asking students questions in class, especially when it starts to become really monotonous and repetitive for students. Essentially, asking questions is a great way to assess comprehension in the moment among students, since it can be very easy for students to "fake" understanding. If I ask a target language question, and students mis-answer, then I know right away there has been a breakdown somewhere in the comprehensibility of my messages. As a result, I can re-adjust in the moment. Also, asking questions is another way to continue the current dialogue in the class. I have heard Ben Slavic compare the process to a balloon which we are trying to keep in the air. The more we can dialogue with students using comprehensible language about a sentence/topic, the longer the "balloon can stay in the air." Personalized Questions and Answers (PQAs) are a great way to do this. But honestly, I feel like I am horrible at PQAs.

I do have Ben Slavic's PQA in a Wink (a great resource), but when it comes to questioning, I feel like my questioning just peters out after awhile because I do not know where to go with it or students begin to tire of it. However, as I look over what kinds of questions I ask students, I realize that I actually do ask a lot of PQAs and that PQAs can take a lot of different forms:
  • Do you like/have/want? - In many ways, this is a natural personal question to ask students such as do you like to eat pizza, do you have a dog, do you want a lion? But again, these questions can get really old with students even if you add details to them such as do you like to eat pizza at night or in the morning, do you have a big dog or a small dog, do you want a big lion or a small lion? So as extension questions, consider asking...
  • Would you... - In the summer of 2021, I was serving as a cohort coach for the virtual IFLT Conference. I was coaching teachers on circling, and a teacher had volunteered to do be coached on circling using the structure "eats". She did the basic, "Maria eats insects. Does Maria eat insects? Does Maria eat insects or Takis? Does Maria eat Takis?" However, then immediately she turned the structure into a PQA, directing it to a "student," asking "Do you eat insects? Would you eat insects? Would you eat insects for $100?" Now the questioning became interesting! I wanted to know how the student would respond! Moreover, this teacher was demonstrating how to shelter vocabulary, not grammar by keeping the vocabulary word "eat" but now changing it to a subjunctive form for the purpose of communication. This teacher did a great job of keeping the "balloon" in the air!
  • Asking for examples - Very often, I like to ask students to give me examples of something based on a vocabulary word for which I want to get in lots of repetitions or where I think we can get in some good discussion. For example, for a movie talk where the word "witch" was being introduced, I asked students to give me an example of a witch in a book, TV show, or movie. Wow, students were volunteering answers left and right (I did not realize that there were so many), because for many, this was a personal question of interest. I could extend the questioning to be "What witch did Carson suggest?" "Who suggested Glinda as a witch?" A student suggested Mary Poppins as a witch, and suddenly that became a question for discussion - "Who of you thinks that Mary Poppins is a witch? Or is she just magical?"
  • Predictions - In a Movie Talk or a reading which we are doing at sight, I like to ask students to predict what they think will happen next, "What will happen next?" "Do you think that X will be happy?" "How will X respond?" Once I get a response from a student, I can then ask the class, "Who else thinks this?" or "Who here does not think this?"  Again, this can be a personal question of interest for many. 
So consider using many of these different types of PQAs with your students!

Monday, August 1, 2022

"I Can" Writing Proficiency Check-ins

This is a type of writing check-in/assessment which I have learned while serving as a coach for Martina Bex and Elicia Cardenas' Acquisition Boot Camp (which by the way is a GREAT course for those wanting to learn more about CI/ADI instruction). I am not going to spend time here describing this type of assessment, because Martina does such a good job of this in her blog. Essentially it is a writing check-in/assessment over a current reading where students can choose at which level of writing proficiency with which they are most comfortable for that particular reading. However, to use this type of assessment, a teacher truly must have a good understanding of language proficiency. With what degree of language control are students able to communicate? Words? Simple sentences? Create new language?

Whenever it comes to language output with novice and intermediate language learners, we as teachers need to expect errors (and lots of them!). We need to realize that grammatical mistakes and shaky language control are typical in these proficiency levels; therefore, they are expected and okay! As a result, we need to focus on what it is that students are able to communicate and what we as sympathetic receptors can understand from their messages.

  1. I absolutely love this how this is set up - thanks, Martina!
  2. I view this type of "assessment" as merely a check-in for students to let me know where they are with the material - what have they acquired so far with the new material? Where are they with language output? Simply, it is a snapshot of their proficiency at the moment, and the snapshot is neither good nor bad. It is simply to inform me (and hopefully students) of where they are at. 
  3. Personally, I do not grade these, but I definitely do look at them. If you look at Martina's original directions, you will see how she grades these according to a proficiency-based rubric.
  4. I like the choice aspect of this, because it gives students permission to proceed at their preferred level of comfort when it comes to written output. Also, within each level, there is a degree of choice so that students can choose those options which will best display their mastery. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

CI/ADI Podcasts & Vlogs

I have COVID. And if it had not been for some post-nasal drip and slight chest congestion, I would have chalked it up to either a very slight cold or allergies. But to play it safe, I took a home COVID test and indeed, I tested positive (and the COVID line on the test was SO faint to read. Can these home tests be more user-friendly by using emojis or something instead of the lines and letters C & T? 😀 = negative, 🤮 = positive). So now I am forced to stay home (darn, right? lol) with a few mild symptoms - as a result, I am ordering pizza and binge-watching TV - not a bad situation, huh?

So among the many things which I am binge-listening are podcasts! Podcasts are great, because I can listen to them whenever I want and as many times as I want in as many ways as I want wherever I want. Even though my schedule is incredibly busy, podcasts are an easy resource to implement. I can listen to them in my car as I drive, or at the gym, or at my computer as I work. To be honest, there are very few podcasts which I actually listen to regularly, outside of The Real Brady Bros, a Brady Bunch podcast by actors Barry Williams (Greg) and Christopher Knight (Peter), because I am a HUGE Brady Bunch fan. However, last week at IFLT, I discovered two podcasts dedicated to CI/ADI instruction:

  1. CI Diaries by Kristy Placido and Carrie Toth
  2. Teaching La Vida Loca by Annabelle Williamson
I had known about CI Diaries prior to IFLT, but I had never really listened to it. However, Kristy and Carrie did a live episode from IFLT, so I decided to check it out, and it is really good! I knew nothing about Annabelle's podcast until she told me about it last week, and hers is absolute gold too (she does brain breaks in the middle of her podcasts!!)!

And while I was binge-listening these podcasts, I have also binge-watched Sarah Breckley's vlogs - she has so many of them to watch! Vlogs are great tools, because they are visual in nature and allow for the vlogger to connect personally with viewers. Sarah has so many good CI/ADI ideas here which she showcases with video demonstrations.

So please check out these podcasts and vlogs - these two types of tools are great uses of instructional technology and can go so much deeper in content than a regular blog. And no, I will never do a podcast or a vlog, because honestly, I do not like the sound of my voice nor do I want to watch myself on video over and over again. Please stay healthy!

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Sex Game 2.0

I am currently at IFLT at the moment, and literally 30 minutes ago, I had a conversation with one of my absolutely favorite people in the world, Annabelle Williamson! Annabelle teaches a Spanish language lab for elementary school students at IFLT, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE watching her with those students, because I learn so much from observing her (as well as some Spanish). Anyhow, I told her that I had stopped by her lab briefly to see what she was doing. She then asked, "Did you see [the students] play your Seis game? I do something different with it." (The Seis Game is the Sex Game in Spanish). Immediately that got my attention, and Annabelle then showed me what she does with the game - I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS IDEA, AND I AM NOW GOING TO DO IT THIS WAY!! I just had to blog about it immediately!!

So the set up of the game is still the same involving dice and a text. The rules themselves have not changed, i.e., students will roll a dice and if they roll a six, they begin writing. However, the difference now is in the worksheet given to students. The way I learned it was to give students sentences in the target language from a known/seen reading, and the goal was to translate the sentences into English as quickly as possible. Annabelle has turned the activity into a reading game instead of one based on translation - she has the story written out for students but now it consists of a cloze sentences with a word bank at the top! So now when students roll a six, they have to pick the missing word from the word bank to complete the sentence and will continue to do this with other sentences until another student rolls a six and relinquishes control of the pen/pencil. Annabelle said to me, "Now it is a reading activity, because students have to read the sentences to know what word is missing."

My example of a Sex Game 2.0 sheet (added 8/12/22)

I am loving this change to the Sex Game, because:

  1. like Annabelle says, the focus for students is on reading and not on translation itself.
  2. it keeps the activity in the target language.
  3. due to the cloze sentence aspect, it requires some higher order thinking for students.
  4. students are receiving repetitions of understandable messages in re-reading the sentences from the story.
So consider using the Sex Game 2.0 version with your students - there is nothing wrong with the original version, and I will still continue to use it. I would love to hear how version 2.0 goes with your students. Thanks, Annabelle!!

Monday, July 11, 2022

Writing Activities

 I have compiled a list of writing activities about which I have posted on this blog and have put this list on a separate page. It now has its own heading on the menu on the blog home page. You may also access it below:

Writing Activities

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

What Does Level 2 Look Like?

As a CI Latin teacher, often I get asked by CI-seekers, "So what does level (insert number) look like in a CI classroom?" On the one hand, I completely understand the practicalities which these educators are asking, but at the same time, I see a mindset which is rampant in world language teaching which needs to be addressed. 

The issue at hand is that we world language teachers tend to view language teaching and acquisition through the lens of textbooks. This view considers language learning to be linear in nature, and that acquisition occurs on a straight-line continuum and that language concepts and vocabulary introduced on Monday will be mastered by Friday. While I can understand the need for textbooks to do this in order to make material orderly and "efficiently-delivered," the truth is that this is not how language is acquired. Textbooks are set up to "shelter grammar, not vocabulary," e.g., if the grammatical topic for the chapter is the imperfect tense, the imperfect tense is pretty much all that is presented in that chapter (with other learned tenses as a contrast) with a LONG list of new vocabulary. As a result, then we assume that like most other disciplines, language acquisition can mastered in a straight-line method. Also when we view language levels through the lens of textbooks, we tend to associate certain grammatical structures with specific levels, e.g., that the subjunctive, gerunds, and gerundives are not topics covered in lower levels but are reserved for upper levels since that is how textbooks arrange their sequence of "acquisition".

So before you dismiss me as a textbook basher, I am not at all, because I understand why teachers use textbooks (I used one and was also a textbook trainer for years!). I am also a firm believer that one can adapt CI principles to the textbook and does not need to completely abandon it. But as someone who has "untextbooked" and does not view levels via a textbook lens, I will say this: language levels are not determined by complexity of language structures per se but maybe more by the level of proficiency in the "amount" of language which students can intake and can output. If CI teachers adhere to the "shelter vocabulary, not grammar" concept, then those language structures which we tend to think are too difficult can actually be introduced in level 1 as part of regular communication. This past year, I went all-in with "sheltering vocabulary, not grammar" with my Latin 2 classes, and I remember thinking halfway through the first semester, "Why do we not introduce cum clauses with subjunctives, indirect statements, and present participles in Latin 1? If I am 'sheltering vocabulary, not grammar,' it seems so natural because these are high frequency structures." And if we stay away from lengthy grammar discussions of these topics, then it is no problem for students to understand them when they encounter them.

When I say that language levels are determined more by the level of proficiency in the amount of classroom language which students can receive and can output, what a level 3 student experiences in the classroom vs a level 1 student will be different purely due to the amount of language to which those students have already been exposed over time. Even ACTFL notes this in that as learners progress in their language learning, the amount of language output and the level of learner language control will increase: from words to simple sentences to more complex sentences to ordered, sequenced paragraphs. ACTFL never mentions that knowledge and use of certain grammatical structures are what determine a level of proficiency! Accuracy itself of the delivered message does not determine language levels per se but rather was the communication at the novice/intermediate levels successfully understood by a sympathetic receptor? Cultural topics will also be probably different between levels, as lower levels focus on "self" and continue to expand to "the community at large" in upper levels. 

To address the original question then of "What does level (insert number) look like in a CI classroom?" In the fall, I will be teaching Latin 2 and 3. In many ways, the two levels will still incorporate the same types of activities and will still be using novellas for their readings. The difference, however, will be in existing student language knowledge, reading ability and output in the language, and my own personal expectations of their proficiency levels. The novellas themselves will be what dictates the specific vocabulary and language structures which I need to cover in class.

So in this blog post, I hope that I have given you something to think about. Believe me, I am still trying to figure it all out too!

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Doing Your 50%

I always find it funny when students tell me, "Latin is SO easy," because my immediate response is "Well, you don't know how HARD I have to work to make it easy for you." Another comment which I like to hear from students is "I don't understand how there are students who are failing Latin. All you have to do is pay attention in class, and you will get the material. It isn't that hard." This comment brings a smile to my face, because this student has just explained a basic tenet of Comprehensible Input without even knowing it: that language acquisition is subconscious.  

I learned the following from Bob Patrick. At the beginning of every school year in August, I always tell my students that I expect them to do their 50% in class, which is simply paying attention in class, and I will do my own 50% of supplying them with understandable input in different ways. If we both do our 50%, then they will be successful in my class. However I also tell them that I will not do more than my 50% - that is my boundary. I will do everything I can to help out students up to that boundary. 

Now that may seem "cruel" and that doing my 50% sounds uncaring, but it is far from it! Doing my 50% of the classroom effort actually means me doing my 100%! It is my job to provide as much compelling understandable input, to establish meaning, and to engage in active language repetition in as many different ways as I can in order to preserve novelty. That is no easy task!! Hence, my list of Comprehensible Input Reading Strategies

And while students' 50% part of the bargain may sound incredibly passive (since their task is to simply pay attention in class), it is not passive at all. In order for students to acquire language, they need to understand what is being communicated in whatever modality is being implemented. Students need to be "active intakers" of these messages, hence, the need to pay attention in class. And my 50% is to ensure that these messages are understandable to them!

One of the things which I like to do with students is to ask them how they know Latin and how they are able to understand what they are reading and hearing me say considering I have never assigned a vocabulary list to them for them to study (for the record, I do have vocabulary quizzes), have never assigned homework (I do not assign homework for the simple reason that I do not want to grade it. Yes, I am lazy, so if I am not going to assign homework, then I better be 100% faithful with my classroom time with students), and all assessments are unannounced. I love hearing students' responses and how it reinforces the idea of subconscious language acquisition:
  • "You go over the material so many different ways. It's hard NOT to learn it."
  • "I don't know how I know Latin - I just do."
  • "You're right - I just have to pay attention in class."
When students take a step back from their learning and really see that they have never had to actively study for the class but yet somehow know and have absorbed the material, they realize that indeed as long as they do their 50%, they will be successful in my class.

Are you and your students doing their/your 50%?