Monday, April 16, 2018

Laundry Quandary - Movie Talk

Here is a fun Movie Talk which I did last week. With my Latin 2 classes, I am finishing up the last section of the Perseus myth (the part which deals him with rescuing Andromeda from the monster) which I have adapted, and I needed to preview the words in periculo (in danger) and servat (rescue/save). Once again, using Jason Fritze's National Movie Talk database, I was able to find a Movie Talk which addressed these words in a very humorous way.

The movie short is called Laundry Quandary, and it is about a superhero whose service is needed on his laundry day.

Latin script

English script

  1. Lots of good discussion on superheroes in the target language during the Movie Talk! I could have done a whole period of PQA's just on superheroes.
  2. I was kind of disappointed with the end of the movie short, as the woman ends up becoming all "fan girl" over Captain Beautiful. I would have liked to have seen the woman end up being a superhero and her saving the city.
  3. A number of students really liked the soundtrack - a couple students said to me, "You have picked some really good movie talks lately - they have had good music."

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

More Thoughts on Sheltering Vocabulary

Some random thoughts about sheltering vocabulary but not grammar:

1. Back in February, we were doing registration at my school. One of my Latin 2 students remarked to me how someone in her Advisement class asked her if Latin was easy; her response was "Yeah, it is super easy. We learn words through stories, and then those words appear in the next story along with some new words and then those words are in the next story, and so on. We never have stupid vocabulary lists to memorize. We never have fake dialogues like they do in other language classes. We learn vocabulary through stories and movie clips and through using them in conversation. It never feels like learning." In a roundabout way, unknowingly my student just explained many aspects of CI. I also find it interesting that my student never mentioned anything about grammar in her response, such as conjugating verbs and grammar drills.

2. As I become more versed in sheltering vocabulary but not grammar, I cannot help at times second-guessing myself when it comes to using CI. More than often I feel like I am short-changing my students in terms of the amount of words which they know. Of course, that is the old textbook side of me talking, where vocabulary acquisition was dictated by the lists which the textbook provided (which is usually around 20-30 words per chapter). Then, although I am focusing on high frequency words, I wonder if they are the right high frequency words. There are Latin high frequency lists out there, but they are based on frequency appearance in classical literature - should I focus on that? or on high frequency in language in general? I am still trying to find that sweet spot. I am reminded of the truth that Latin teachers probably know five different Latin words for catapult, but most do not know vocabulary related to themselves or to their daily life in the language. 

3. Just recently, Anthony Gibbins, a dear friend of mine from Rusticatio (Antonius Australianus is his Latin name - you may know him better as Legionum, the one who tweets Latin using Legoes), tweeted the following. It is a great example of sheltering vocabulary but not grammar. If you are a Latin teacher who uses The Cambridge Latin Course, then you will recognize the opening sentences.

English translation of above
Caecilius is in the garden. Caecilius is sitting in the garden. Are you able to see Caecilius sitting in the garden? Do you know why Caecilius is sitting in the garden? Perhaps someone ordered Caecilius to sit in the garden. Perhaps it is very pleasing to Caecilius to sit in the garden. Only I know that Caecilius is sitting in the garden. Where are you sitting?

The basic phrase which Anthony uses is Caecilius is sitting in the garden, but look how many different ways grammatically he uses that phrase in the passage. From a Latin teacher perspective, Anthony incorporates a present participle, indirect statements, an indirect question, and some infinitive usage with the verb iussit and the impersonal form perplacet. He then ends it with a PQA. 

Now in Latin 1, you probably would not present this full paragraph in the first weeks, but you can see in many ways how naturally you can take students through various structures with known vocabulary. Now you probably would not introduce all of these structures at once but in many instances, based on known vocabulary, new structures are very easy for students to comprehend based on context. I have found that present participles, indirect statements, and indirect questions are very quite easy for students to comprehend. We teachers are the ones who made them difficult for students, because we get caught up in teaching sequence of tenses, formation, stem change vowels, naming structures, making students parse the forms, etc.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


I have been thinking a lot about Jim Wooldridge's (Senor Wooly) opening address from last summer's IFLT, where he spoke on "Embracing Inauthenticity" (I list his main points here in my post about IFLT. You can also find blog post on the Fluency Matters website about Jim's talk)Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any recordings of Jim's talk, but I have found a vlog posting of his from 2012 which touches on some of what he addressed in his IFLT talk. The title of this particular vlog post is "Sr. Wooly vs. Native Speakers." I highly suggest that you take a look at it and that you consider what he has to say.

With the publication of many CI Latin novellas which are now available, there has been much discussion in the Latin teaching community regarding the level of Latinitas in these novellas, i.e, how well does the language in these novellas reflect authentic Latin. There has been much debate over specific word choices and whether these words are found in classical literature (for the record, Latin literature spans THOUSANDS of years, not just the classical period. Does this mean Medieval or Renaissance Latin is less because it is not classical? In keeping Latin to a specific time, are we stating that Latin is different from other languages, because it is not allowed to change or to develop over time? Enough of my soapbox).

While I will leave that debate for those who are more well-versed than I am (or for that matter, those who care to debate it), it does bring up an interesting point: How authentic is the Latin which I speak? I consider myself an Intermediate Mid-High speaker of Latin. I have attended numerous Latin immersion events (called Rusticationes) sponsored by SALVI, and although I would love for the Latin which comes out of mouth to flow perfectly in terms of nuance/aspect (proper word choice), perfect grammar choice, and sentence length. The truth is that it does NOT AT ALL. 

In many ways, for me, it comes down to the purpose of language: communication. Recently, I saw this on Twitter, and this simple message spoke volumes to me (as a Sesame Street fan, I will say that it is "Mr. Hooper," not "Mr. Cooper"):

I have heard prominent Latin speakers say "You should not say anything in Latin unless it is grammatically correct." Although I can understand the mindset of those saying this, I must completely disagree with that statement for this fact: if that were the case, I (and probably most wanting to try speaking Latin) would never make an attempt at saying something for fear of being incorrect and judged. As Jim Wooldridge states, this also communicates the idea that speaking a language is only reserved for those who can do it 100% correctly and that only those who can do it have a right to speak it. I would NEVER tell the ELL students in my classroom to not utter a sentence in my class unless it was 100% correct in English. All that matters to me is this: am I able to understand what they are saying even if it is not grammatically correct in English?

For me, this is why i so enjoy attending SALVI events like Rusticatio: I can be inauthentic with my spoken Latin, i.e. it is not going to resemble authentic Latin at all. That does not mean that I am not striving to be more correct and proficient in my speaking ability, but as an Intermediate speaker, inauthentic is where I am at. Most importantly, the attitude at a Rusticatio is that THIS IS OKAY because of my ability. In fact, SALVI prides itself in this, calling its programs "the safest introduction for spoken Latin on the planet." One of my favorite all-time quotes from Rusticatio is from Nancy Llewellyn's opening talk in English about what to expect for the week:
"(When speaking Latin here) you are probably going to make the same grammar mistakes that if your own students were to make it, you would skin your knees racing to grab a red pen in order to correct them." 
Yes, at Rusticatio, I am receiving authentic input from those more advanced speakers, but my output is going to be inauthentic probably in the moment. I am so okay with embracing my inauthenticity, because I am taking ownership of the language at the level where I am at. I can also say that I have come a long way in my speaking ability from 2010 when I had never spoken Latin before.

So I encourage you to view Jim Wooldridge's vlog called "Sr. Wooly vs. Native Speakers", and tell me what you think. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Extensive Reading

I have been reflecting much on my Fluency Fast experience from last summer with the absolutely incredible Linda Li. I am amazed at the amount of Mandarin which I acquired through numerous activities and readings during those four days. Something which stands out to me from that 4-day class is that although we did lots of reading, Linda did not have us do any embedded readings. Instead, we focused on lots of various extensive readings - different stories which had much of the same limited vocabulary. Extensive reading allowed us to "circle the plane a bit" in various readings to focus on vocabulary/structures which we already knew; hence, we received continued reinforcement and repetitions of vocabulary/structures. Because there were different stories, it allowed for the readings to be compelling. As a class, through these extensive readings, we were receiving continued understandable messages through repetitions of vocabulary without being repetitive.

This is NOT to say that embedded readings do not have their place, because I firmly believe that they do. I am NOT saying that one is better than the other, as both do indeed serve their purposes in the delivery of understandable messages. However, in doing these different extensive readings in Mandarin, it helped keep things from becoming stale, instead of focusing on different tiers of the same story. And I can tell you that it got in the necessary repetitions which I needed.To quote Carol Gaab, "The brain craves novelty."

Reading (not translating/decoding) plays such an important part in language acquisition. As Krashen writes:
“Our reading ability, our ability to write in an acceptable writing style, our spelling ability, vocabulary knowledge, and our ability to handle complex syntax is the result of reading.”
Allow me an excursus here to define terms and to distinguish between extensive readings and intensive readings:
  • extensive readings - tend to focus on the use of limited known vocabulary but not necessarily the grammatical use of this limited vocabulary. These types of readings are not typically found in textbooks but tend to focus on pleasure reading.
  • intensive readings - tend to focus on a limited use of grammatical structures but uses an overwhelming amount of vocabulary (usually with lots of glossed words). This is the type of readings commonly found in textbooks, since textbooks usually are grammar/structure-dictated. How many times have we asked students to read a passage or story in the textbook which is way overloaded with vocabulary, which in turn results in student frustration? That is the result of most intensive readings.
Even if you think that extensive readings would be too easy for your students, since they have already acquired the words, consider that when we read for pleasure, we tend to read material which is BELOW our reading level; rarely do we read material at or above our reading level for pleasure. Plus, one can NEVER get in too many repetitions of acquired vocabulary/structures if the reading is compelling.

In my Latin 2 classes, we are reading the Perseus myth (level-appropriate reading), so last week, I introduced the fourth part of the story (as a screencast video) as an extensive reading without any new vocabulary (there were a few "icing" words/structures which were glossed but not necessary for students to know yet). I was surprised at how quickly students were able to read it and to comprehend what they read. When I asked students why, they replied "It was not that hard - we knew all of the words." I felt like responding, "Then master plan is working."

How to create extensive readings
Extensive readings are actually not that difficult to create, but they require having a set list of vocabulary from which to draw and a good eye from you as the teacher for lesson planning.
  1. Determine a point in your curriculum where you want to "circle the plane a bit" and to focus on a set amount of acquired vocabulary/structures. Sometimes, it may be necessary to gloss vocabulary if needed for the reading, but do not go overboard with this.
  2. Just start writing a story using words from the list. It is possible to be compelling with a set amount of sheltered vocabulary words. Dr. Seuss proved this with Green Eggs and Ham, which only has 50 unique words in the entire book. Yet, it is still incredibly compelling, and consider how many repetitions there are in the story!
  3. Extensive readings do not have to be long, i.e., they do not have to be novellas! They just need to be comprehensible and compelling! I do not think that I could ever write a novella, because although I can write in a compelling manner, I cannot maintain it beyond a very short vignette. I truthfully tell my students that if the reading ends with someone exploding, it meant that either I became bored while writing it or I could not figure out where to go next.
  4. Extensive reading can actually serve as great supplements for textbook readings, since textbooks have a set list of words for each chapter. Just do not feel the need for students to acquire every single word on that list - pick high frequency words, and implement Carrie Toth's Chuck-It Bucket process.
  5. Latin teachers, if you are using a reading approach textbook with stories, extensive readings are GREAT for creating new stories involving those characters. When I was using Cambridge Latin Course, I would write up short extensive readings about various characters, such as what really happened to Grumio after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; a short, "Hannah Montana-inspired" 3-part story called Stella Metella; and a story about why Quintus drinks so much in the triclinio and how the family eventually holds an intervention. Just be careful about putting these readings on the web, since that is a violation of textbook copyright...
  6. To me, extensive readings would be great for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)/Silent Student Reading (SSR) if you had a library of these types of readings from which for students to choose.
John Piazza, a fellow CI Latin teacher in CA, just recently had an article published in Teaching Classical Languages which addresses Beginner Latin Novels. In it, he also discusses extensive reading vs. intensive reading. Even if you are not a Latin teacher, it is a very good read!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Times when I Feel like a Failure as a CI Latin Teacher

In writing this blog, my intention has never been to brag about what my students are able to do in my classroom vs. others or to make any folks feel like they are bad teachers (the whole "compare and despair" scenario) on account of what I write here or post on Twitter. My goal has always been to share my successes and what has worked for me in the classroom based upon the concepts of Comprehensible Input with the hopes that others will find success with this too. Allow me an excursus here to discuss those times when I feel like an absolute failure as a Latin teacher...and how i get out of feeling like one:

The National Latin Exam - Last week, a number of my students took the National Latin Exam (NLE). I do not require my students to take the NLE, so it is purely voluntary. Nor do I make it a cornerstone of my curriculum, as I do not prep my students for it. If students want to prep for it, then they can do it on their own. Anyhow, when those students who took the NLE came back to class, the first thing they said to me was "Wow, there was so much grammar on it that I did not know."

I hate hearing students say that about their NLE experience. Even though they took the exam in good faith and understood what to expect, I cannot help at first feel like I somehow failed my students, because I did not teach them explicit grammar. I hate feeling like that, because if you read my post on reasons for rejecting a grammar syllabus, you know my views on the topic. After having a pity party for a bit, I have to remind myself of the following regarding the NLE:
  1. First off, the NLE is a CONTEST (as I have heard Sherwin Little, executive director of the American Classical League, himself say MANY times). It is not a prescribed curriculum, nor is it an accurate indicator of my students' acquisition of Latin.
  2. Secondly, results on the NLE do not demonstrate student proficiency with the language (and was never meant to) but rather student performance. 
So before you write me off as a NLE-basher, I do think that NLE has tremendous value as a contest. Student awards on the NLE are great publicity for one's Latin program, and there is something very communal as a teacher about the NLE, since it is something which most Latin teachers offer to their students. I will say that in my beginning years as a Latin teacher 20 years ago, I lived and died for the NLE. I can remember having my students practice the NLE for the week prior to its administration. We went over it so many times that I felt like I had cracked its code, e.g., "The first question will either be an ablative or accusative of time construction, the relative clause question will probably be either be ___________, the culture question about the Roman hills will either be about the Palatine or Capitoline hills." Over the years, my feelings have changed, and much of it has nothing to do with me becoming a CI teacher.

My students comparing themselves with students at other schools - I hate it when my students sometimes hear from students from other schools what they are learning in traditional textbooks, because they will usually come to me, saying, "How come you haven't taught us cases and things like subjunctives?" My response is always, "I have. You do know cases and subjunctives. You have been reading them and using them, but I just haven't told you about them." Now to me, that is absolutely correct, but to them, it sounds like I am trying to cover my @$$. Undoubtedly, I will question myself, saying "Am I a bad teacher, because I am not teaching my students as I was taught? Do my students think this of me?" Then I remind myself of what my students are able to do that I could NEVER have done when I was learning Latin under a traditional textbook. They are MILES ahead of me where I wa at their stage of learning Latin in terms of reading, writing, speaking, and communicating in Latin itself. Whenever I do a drawing dictation, Freeze Frame activity, or a free write in Latin with my students and I see how easily they are able to accomplish it since these skills are both embedded and supported in a communicative CI curriculum, I always say to them, "You have no idea of just what you are able to accomplish. The majority of college students taking Latin cannot do this. I NEVER did anything like this when I was learning Latin!"

So i write this post to say that all of us at times struggle with feeling inferior as teachers, but that there are so many things which are going right in our classrooms.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rejecting a Grammar Syllabus

One of the common misconceptions about CI which I often hear is "But you CI teachers don't teach grammar." Quite honestly, to a degree there is a nugget of truth in this statement but just not in the way that people think:
Yes, grammar is indeed covered in a CI classroom, but it is just NOT taught EXPLICITLY as we think it should be done.
An adage which you may have encountered with CI implementation is "Shelter the vocabulary, not the grammar." In other words, limit the vocabulary to high-frequency words and other "icing" words, but milk the @*#! out of these words grammatically. This completely goes against a grammar-based textbook/syllabus, since the grammar topic for the chapter determines what is going to be taught, along with a prescribed list of vocabulary words (of which probably half are "Why the heck does the textbook think that this is a necessary word for students?"). 

Traditionally in a grammar-based syllabus, certain language structures are considered upper level grammar topics (subjunctives, indirect statements, gerunds, gerundives, etc), and often we preface teaching these topics by telling students, "These are really hard to learn, so pay attention." But why do we hold off on introducing structures like these until later instead of in Latin 1 when for students, they are actually quite easy to understand in context, and for me as a CI teacher they seem very natural to incorporate? But yet we feel the need to teach all six tenses by the end of Latin 1, when in reality, we know that the future, pluperfect, and future-perfect tenses are not high frequency structures? 

If you learned Latin in the traditional grammar-based way in which I did, you will recall that the opening grammar concepts which we learned were the first declension and first conjugation. Or if you used the reading method, then instead of by declension/conjugation, you first learned the nominative and accusative cases. In each case, however, each chapter's lesson was determined by grammar. 

So if not guided by a grammar syllabus, how does one introduce grammar then? Simply this: Teach the grammar that you need for the situation/reading. If you shelter the vocabulary but not the grammar (and not get into LONG explanations of the grammar behind it), there is no reason why you cannot use periphrastic phrases or indirect questions in Latin 1.

I myself am still learning this concept of "sheltering vocabulary but not grammar." I am currently creating the Latin 2 lesson plans for my instructional team, and as I write them up, I am constantly thinking, "Why did I not introduce this particular strucuture back in Latin 1 when it seems like such a natural structure to introduce there." A good example is the temporal use of cum + indicative to mean express "when" - Latin textbooks hold off on this concept until later chapters because it is lumped together with the subjunctive for causal and concessive clauses. Yet, the use of cum + indicative as a temporal use is perfectly okay, so why not it implement it in Latin 1? 

Last year in Latin 1, I introduced indirect statements very early, because we were reading Brando Brown Canem Vult, and these structures appear very often in the novella. I found that indirect statements were quite easy for students to read in context when I GOT OUT OF THE WAY with teaching these structures explicitly.

When it comes to what my students know about grammar:

  • Do my students know the grammatical mechanics behind the formation of the particular clauses, e.g., what specific change is made to the root form of the verb based on its conjugation, sequence of tenses? No, not at all. 
  • Can they identify grammatical forms by their formal names, such as purpose clause, temporal clauses, indirect questions, and noun clause of characteristic? A few 4%ers may be able to, since I have mentioned them in passing, but quite honestly, no, not at all.
  • Main question: Is it 100% necessary for them to need to know these grammatical specifics? If my goal for them as novice and intermediate level learners is to be able to read level-appropriate Latin, then the answer is quite easy: no, not at all. 

NOTE - after 3-4 years of language learning, ACTFL classifies learners around an intermediate-mid level of reading. Most classical literature rates at the SUPERIOR level of reading, yet tradition says that students should be reading (insert rather, translating/decoding) Caesar (which rates about Advanced Mid/High), Ovid, and Vergil at the 3rd year of Latin.

Many Latin teachers would say that I am failing my students in the long run in not teaching them explicit grammar according to a traditional syllabus. These teachers need to remember that I LOVE grammar and was attracted to Latin because of the explicit grammar teaching, but I also know that the average learner is not like I am. When I do discuss explicit grammar, it is only in passing for about 30-seconds. I still will point out certain grammatical features, e.g, "See this -ba- in the verb? It is translated as "was/were _________ing." If I feel like the explicit grammar is something important for students to know, then I will assign certain students to be the grammar expert for the topic.

If you are transitioning to/dabbling in CI and still wish to use the textbook but want to move away from a grammar-based syllabus, then consider the following: 
  • In the textbook, what MUST I absolutely cover in a semester? What topics are considered non-negotiable? This can be determined by state standards, common exams/assessments, progress on Student Learning Objective (SLO) pre-tests/post-tests, instructional team decisions, etc.
  • If there are restrictions, can I still cover all of these grammar topics but yet on MY timeline? Just because I need to cover participles or X vocabulary words since they are on of the final exam, do I have to teach them in April since that is when the textbook and my colleagues do? Can I introduce these concepts/words in January since that fits better into my curriculum?
  • Leave out anything which is then superfluous. Carrie Toth's Vocabulary Chuck-It Bucket is a great example of this.
I will admit that leaving behind a grammar-based syllabus approach seems very weird and scary, but now that I have left it behind, I actually see that I have a lot of freedom in what I want to do.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Snack Attack - Movie Talk

Here is a movie talk which I did last month. With our Latin 2 classes, we are doing the Perseus myth, which is quite a long, involved story with some very specific words. We were beginning the section of the myth dealing with the Graiae sisters, so I needed to preview the words short, old woman, and steal. Using the national movie talk database started by Jason Fritze, I found the following short movie called Snack Attack.

NOTE - In Latin, the word for old woman is anus (pronounced ahh-nus), but I deliberately chose the word avia (which means grandmother) for this based on the maturity level of some of my students. Latin teachers, it is your call on this.

English script

Latin script

  1. This is one movie talk in which my students got VERY involved. They were absolutely INCENSED that the young man would even think of brazenly eating this old woman's cookies. As we know, we learn best when emotionally engaged in a lesson.
  2. Students actually thought that the entire movie was going to be about the old woman trying to get the cookies from the vending machine and found that part of the movie very funny.
  3. When it was over, I asked the class in English "Why did the old woman smile at the end?" I was very surprised at how many understood the reason why: "Because the young man was actually being very nice and patient with this crazy old lady."