Thursday, December 19, 2013

Semester Reflections

As this semester is coming to a close, I now have time to reflect on how things have gone for me with CI these past 4 months.

After attending SALVI's Pedagogy Rusticatio and two other CI workshops this summer, I was very eager to incorporate it into my classes. But there were a few slight problems: I was only going to be teaching Latin 2, Latin 3 and AP Latin this year (and for the record, I do not do CI with my AP class, since the AP syllabus is so grammar-translation driven), so no chance of starting on the ground floor with Latin 1 students in introducing CI to a group who did not know language learning any other way; also, I myself had not taught 3/4 of these students in my classes, and in fact, about 1/2 were coming from a pure grammar-translation approach and had never encountered Latin as a true communicative language. The big question on my mind was this: I am already going to be viewed as the "evil step-parent" since the majority of these students have not had me before as their teacher, but will CI push them even further away from me since it will be such a drastic change from what they are accustomed? How much resistance will I encounter?

I decided to do the following: simply love them where they were at, and introduce CI to them very SLOWLY. And indeed, it worked. They truly began to warm up to it. In the beginning, it was quite an adjustment for all of us, but since the basic tenet of CI is to deliver understandable and meaningful messages in the target language, it worked perfectly, because my goal was to make sure that EVERYONE understood what I was saying in Latin and if not, to make modifications on the spot. Over the semester, I gradually incorporated TPR, TPRS, circling with balls, PQA's, asking a story, read/discuss, read/draw, embedded readings, dictations, one word picture, timed writes, micrologues, etc., until these became part of the class culture. Most importantly, we got there together.

For their performance exam, I had students do an evaluation of their timed write portfolio and of their overall progress for the semester. These students had never written anything in Latin prior to August - here is what some students wrote about their experience this semester, particularly with timed writes (NOTE - names have been changed)
"When i started Latin 3, I could barely translate the passages in the book to English without looking up half (of) the words in the dictionary. These writings forced me to write  passages which helped me improve my grammar and build vocabulary."             
                                                          - Joanie Cunningham
"Before this year, we usually stuck to straight translation but read/draw, micrologues and actually speaking the language in class has helped become even more comfortable with the language, especially when I am reading it. Translation has also become easier because I now better understand how the very sentences are pieced together and the grammar of them."

                                                                    - Little Bo Peep
"At first, I was uncomfortable having to write instead of simply translating. As the semester went on, my writing has become more and more complex, and I feel like I am honestly walking away from this semester with a greater ability to write in Latin."

                                                                     - Jan Brady

A few months ago, my friend Evan Gardner (founder of "Where Are Your Keys?", a language acquisition system heavily based on CI) had asked those who had attended Pedagogy Rusticatio if we would go back to how we taught five years ago. Quite honestly, I would do it in a hearbeat, because that old way is familiar to me - I could "phone it in" five years ago. CI is hard though and can be quite unpredictable. But I also see that CI is what is best for students, and one of my purposes of this blog is to share how I have seen this work for them.

1 comment:

  1. Keegan and I had some friends over last night, and because 5 of the 6 of us were teachers, talk turned to - what else? - our jobs. CI, you're right, is so unpredictable and depends so much on the relationship between teacher and students. I recalled for them a story I'd told to each of my Latin II classes. In one class, the story ended up being so complex that when I typed it up, we had to turn it into a two-parter because we went from China to the Underworld to the Racetrac of the Dead, searching for a new sister (because we broke the old one). In the other, we barely got into 'the brother is annoyed because the sister is bothering him.' The energy in a classroom determines to such an incredible extent what we do in a CI environment. The second class struggles - they don't like to listen; they'd prefer worksheets; they don't want to hear and respond and hear and respond over and over; they don't want to make up stories or draw or work for it. They also don't read as well, don't talk as much and don't understand as clearly as my other class. My only failure this year was in that class. It's interesting - when things truly are comprehensible, when kids are willing to listen and participate and contribute their energy, when kids and we can meet on the same level, magic happens. My challenge for next semester will be figuring out what that level is for that other class.