Monday, August 21, 2017

Pop-Up Theory

At IFLT this past summer, during the Q&A session with Stephen Krashen and Bill Van Patten, Krashen said that he felt that the CI movement had progressed enough in classrooms that one could now introduce "pop-up theory." Much like how CI teachers can give brief, 30-second "pop-up grammar" explanations during a lesson, Krashen expressed that one could now do the same with Comprehensible Input theory in a class and explain to students how language was acquired. I found Krashen's comment to be very interesting, because although I do try to establish a classroom environment (safety net) and student behaviors (being an active listener, teaching to the eyes, interaction with the target language) needed for acquiring a language, I had never really explained to students why all of this was necessary. 

Today in my Latin 1 class, I introduced students to their first reading. For the past two weeks, our Latin 1 instructional team (Bob Patrick, John Foulk, Rachel Ash and I) has been focusing on Circling with Balls and TPR, so Rachel wrote up a very short story using the vocabulary which had been introduced. I was a bit hesitant to show this reading to my students, because although the reading utilized limited vocabulary with lots of repetitions, in doing Circling with Balls and TPR, I had not been focusing specifically on these exact words per se. Instead, I had been doing more of an untargeted vocabulary approach and running with whatever words came up in class or were needed to keep the dialogue compelling and moving along. Imagine my surprise when as soon as I projected the reading, many students immediately began to translate it aloud without my prompting! We ended up doing a choral reading and a round of Stultus with it, and afterwards, I asked students to show me on their hands what they thought of it: 1 being very difficult to understand, and 5 being very easy to read. All students rated it a 4 or 5!

As a follow-up, I asked students, "So why was this so easy to read? This was your first time ever reading a Latin story. I never once gave you a list of Latin words to learn. I never once told you to make flashcards. Why do you know these words?" I got a bunch of blank stares, as students tried to process my question. A student then replied, "Well, you have been saying these words all the time these past few weeks." My response: "Exactly. All I have ever asked of you these past two weeks is to simply listen to me, to understand what I am saying to you in Latin, and to signal me when I am not understandable. You acquired these words SUBCONSCIOUSLY through listening to me and interacting with the language. These words are now inside you. That is how one acquires a language. When you say that this class is easy, it should be. Acquiring a language should not be difficult and should feel effortless if I am doing my job correctly." I could have gone on for awhile telling students about Comprehensible Input theory and the three C's of CI (heck, I gave a 5-minute lunchtime talk about this at IFLT, so I could have talked their ears off), but like Krashen said, "pop up theory" is all which students need. 

So I encourage you to introduce "pop-up theory" to your students. If students can start understanding their own language acquisition process through occasional short, 30-second explanations, they will more likely buy into what you are doing.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cecilia the Balcony Girl - Movie Talk

This is a Movie Talk which I just did with my Latin 2 students this past Monday. It was the beginning of the second week of school, so I wanted to do a Movie Talk which would both recycle lots of words from last year but at the same time introduce some new words. It is actually a Movie Talk which I feel could be used in a level 1 class depending on which words you wanted to introduce, because one could introduce a lot of high frequency basic vocabulary through this movie short.

Cecilia the Balcony Girl - link

Latin script

English script


  1. I was really surprised at how engaged students were during this Movie Talk! This Movie Talk allows for a lot of predictions so that helped keep it engaging for students. Even though it is only a 3 1/2 minute movie short, the Movie Talk itself went for about 35-40 minutes. I myself was surprised in all of my classes how quickly the time went by.
  2. Students really liked the twist at the end.
  3. Even though I use what some teachers may feel are advanced structures for the 2nd week of Latin 2 (according to a traditional grammar-translation syllabus), as long as the message is understandable (in other words, meaning has been established), students will understand what is being communicated. Comprehension is the goal at this point, not production. 
This Movie Talk is a keeper and definitely one which I will use again in future years.

Monday, August 7, 2017

P.S. to Returning to Work

Normally, I do not post anything on my blog two days in a row, but after what I wrote yesterday, I felt like I needed to do a follow up. Yesterday, I wrote up a blog post where I detailed how I was dreading coming back to work today for the first day of school and how mentally, emotionally, and physically, I did not feel in the least bit prepared to teach, even after attending IFLT and taking a Fluency Fast course. Quite honestly, I was feeling rather defeated.

I am home now from the first day of school, and wow, what a difference a day can make. The impasse about teaching which I was experiencing yesterday has been broken through. I had a wonderful first day back with students! It was as if a switch had been turned on in me when that first period bell rang, because suddenly I was back into teacher mode. How I enjoyed interacting with my students from last year and with new ones! My mind is now back in "work mode," and "summer mode" has been filed away. While yesterday my mind was parched even entertaining the thought of teaching, it is as if the floodgates have been opened. Whereas yesterday, i was struggling and laboring to come up with any type lesson plans, now my mind is racing with ideas from this summer, as I try to think of how to incorporate what I learned from Linda Li in her Fluency Fast class and from observing Annabelle Allen at IFLT into my curriculum. Tomorrow my Latin 1 and 2 teams are going to be implementing Circling with Balls and TPR in our classrooms, and I am really looking forward to it. There is joy and excitement in me now when I think about teaching. 

I wish that I could pinpoint exactly what caused this shift in my mindset from yesterday to today. I do not feel like I had somehow built up all of this negativity in my mind to be something bigger than it actually was, nor do I feel that I was over-reacting. I can tell you with confidence what I was feeling was quite real. Maybe I just needed to dive into it all head first. Maybe it was being back with students. Maybe it was feeling like a united team with my fellow Latin teachers. Maybe my years of teaching just kicked in and took over instinctually.

Teaching is a series of good days and bad days. That is something which I just need to accept, as I cannot expect to hit a homerun every day. We, however, cannot experience the fullness of those good days without the bad days. Therefore, I look forward to the good, the mediocre, and the bad days which I will experience this upcoming school year.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Returning to Work

Tomorrow is the first day of school for students. Last week, I had a full week of pre-planning, which consisted of meetings, in-services, a motivational speaker, time in my classroom, and seeing students and parents as they came to visit on registration day. 

This summer, I was pretty much a bum. Since I was finishing up my Ed.S degree last summer, this summer I was determined to take it easy. I deliberately stayed at home and enjoyed my time off doing nothing. In terms of professional development, though, it was busy for a 2-week span, as I delivered CI presentations at both the ACL Summer Institute and IFLT, served as a coach at IFLT, and took a 4-day Fluency Fast course in Mandarin with Linda Li. I got the chance both to teach others about CI and to experience CI myself firsthand, as well as learn many new strategies and ideas which I plan to implement in my classroom. Overall, I had a great summer.

After all that, one would think that I am ready and refreshed to teach students. The truth is: I am not. Far from it. Mentally and emotionally, I do not feel ready to teach or to see students. I feel like I am laboring to create lesson plans. Scaffolding and even knowing where to start as a beginning point with my lesson plans feels difficult for me, because I am out of sync. The idea of seeing 150 students tomorrow throughout the day seems a bit daunting to me. Quite honestly, I want to be feeling joy and excitement, instead of knowing that regardless of how early I go to bed tonight, I am not going to be able to get to sleep.

Now to be honest, I feel this way to a degree EVERY year before the first day of school, and I do eventually get back into the swing of things. I also know that the best thing for me is just to dive back into it all, and that like riding a bike, it will all come back to me. I am just out of rhythm.

My accounting friends always tell me that they envy my job, because "there is a definite beginning, middle, and an end." While I definitely celebrate the "end," do I celebrate the "beginning"? A beginning means a clean slate - I can start anew; where I fell short last year, I can strive to improve this round. I just wish my mind and emotions could embrace that at the moment.

So I write this to say that even after over 20 years of teaching, I still get nervous about the beginning of the school year. I guess that it is just part of being a teacher.

Friday, July 21, 2017

IFLT 2017

Wow, has it only been a week since IFLT ended?! My mind is still absolutely full from everything which I took in, so blogging is a great way for me to process it all.

This year, IFLT was held in Denver. I had an absolutely great time, but gosh, I could not get over how dry it was in Denver compared to humid Atlanta (I kept losing my voice due to the dry weather, so drinking LOTS of water was definitely a necessity), in addition to being out of breath slightly for the first few days on account of the altitude.

This was my second time attending an IFLT conference (see here about my first time at IFLT last summer). That definitely helped, because I knew the "routine," and I knew how to pace myself better. A major concern of mine was that since I was taking the 4-day Fluency Fast Mandarin class immediately before, I would already be tired and burned out by the time IFLT began. Far from it! Both Fluency Fast and IFLT were two completely different experiences (and I absolutely loved both of them), and in fact, the high which I was experiencing from Fluency Fast carried over to IFLT. 

Here are just a few of my many highlights from this summer's IFLT:
  • Senor Wooly's opening address - Granted I am not a Spanish teacher, but I am aware of who Senor Wooly (Jim Wooldridge) is and of all of his resources (music videos, graphic novels, etc). At the same time, I never grasped why for most Spanish teachers, meeting him was like meeting Elvis. After hearing his opening address at IFLT, I now count myself in that group. In his opening talk, entitled "Embracing Inauthenticity," he addressed the following - I have been looking and asking everywhere if someone has a video of Senor Wooly's talk, because it was so incredible. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate one:
    1. Authentic language is not solely reserved for native speakers.
    2. Non-native speakers can be effective language teachers.
    3. When true communication (comprehension of what is said) in a language occurs, regardless of errors, it is real and authentic language.
    4. As a result, the language which our students produce is real and authentic. 
    5. Authenticity is about stepping the language outside of one's comfort zone to communicate.
    6. We need to tell our students that they have a right to speak the language.
  • Lab observations - Although I enjoy the many presentations at IFLT, I absolutely love the lab observations and getting the chance to see master CI teachers actually teaching students in a classroom setting. I can honestly say that the lab observations are where the true magic happens at IFLT, because folks can witness CI in action. To me, this is the major difference between IFLT and NTPRS.
    • Annabelle Allen - There was absolutely NO way that I was NOT going to observe Annabelle teach elementary school Spanish, because observing her last summer at IFLT made such an profound impact on me. If you have ever seen her in action, then you know what I am talking about! Annabelle's high-level energy is absolutely contagious - heck, I want to be one of her students. This year, I observed Annabelle twice, because that is how much I wanted to see her teach. I also knew that I needed to get there EARLY if I wanted a seat, because her observations fill up very quickly. There is so much that I could say about Annabelle, and believe me, even though I do not teach elementary-aged students, I learn so much from her every time I observe her (both in Spanish and as a CI teacher) - it is difficult for me to pinpoint just one thing. What I love most about Annabelle is her absolute love for students and how much they love her in return. I remember last year being brought to tears as I saw her students RUN to see her, and this year, I witnessed that same love in her students. I love how Annabelle is able to correct a student behavior-wise in such a way that it makes that student feel like he/she is still part of the community. I was incredibly touched in seeing her deal with a particular young boy who was experiencing a meltdown at the end of the day. 
    • Linda Li - I have to admit that I had rather selfish reasons for observing Linda: after 4-days of learning Mandarin from her in a Fluency Fast class, I wanted more! Before the lab observation began, I was sitting in the back of the room with the other observers, but Linda asked me if I wanted to sit up front with her students - I think that she sensed that I wanted to learn more Mandarin. I certainly obliged (but sat in the row behind the students so as not to freak them out) and even though I was there as an observer, I was also a silent participant in the class. I was an active listener, gestured with the class whenever Linda said particular words, and answered her questions in Mandarin under my breath. Even though Linda was teaching many of the same high-frequency vocabulary as she had in our Fluency Fast class, it did not matter to me: all I wanted was to hear more Mandarin, to interact with it, and to get more INPUT! Linda is a master at teaching Mandarin without it feeling one is actually learning, because it is all happening subconsciously. Honestly, this is how learning is supposed to happen!
  • Mafia presentation - I gave two presentations on how to play Mafia in a CI Classroom, and I was absolutely floored by the number of folks who attended each time! What I enjoyed most was being able to demonstrate the game in Latin. I venture to say that most who attended had never experienced Latin as a spoken language, so it was rather cool to expose fellow world language teachers to comprehensible spoken Latin and to show them that it is indeed a true communicative language. Annabelle Allen wrote up a blog post about the session -  I wish I could tell you how special I feel!
Believe me, so much more than just this happened at IFLT. The coaching sessions, the Lunchtime Talks, the presentations, the Q&A session with Krashen and Bill Van Patten - how I can cover it all?!

Next year's IFLT will be in Cincinnati from July 17-20. Hope to see you there so that you can experience everything which I mentioned here!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Comprehensible Input is Real

Folks, comprehensible input is real, and it works. I know, because I have experienced it first hand. It has been about a week since I have taken a 4-day Fluency Fast Mandarin class taught by Linda Li (see my post here about that experience), and I am surprised at how much I am still able to remember, to understand, and to use. 

In many ways, some may say that Linda's class was not rigorous enough, because we did not practice oral drills in Mandarin, conjugate verbs, nor complete any grammar worksheets. As Linda stated on the first day of class, all we as her students had to do was to pay attention to her, to listen to her, to respond when she asked questions, and to take part in activities. In other words, the burden of us acquiring Mandarin was on Linda, not us if we did what she said.

As I wrote in my last post, during those four days, we did so many different comprehensible, compelling activities involving Mandarin: TPR, answer her circling questions, read and draw, story listening, Movie Talk, and LOTS of reading. Linda focused on high-frequency words, as well as on a number of incidental words - believe me, there was TONS of repetition, but quite honestly. nothing seemed repetitive in the class.

In my last post, I showed just a few of the many readings which we did in class. If you were to read them, you may think that they were "stupid," because they were about people in the class wanting chocolate and their attempts to get it; Catwoman involved in a love triangle with Superman and Batman; a son giving his father lots of water to drink; and a classmate wanting to buy a bikini from another so she goes to see him and steals it. I have heard many teachers dismiss TPRS and using stories to teach the language, because they view these stories as nonsensical. On the surface, I would have to agree with you, but these "nonsensical" stories have an actual purpose: they are crafted in a very deliberate way in order to continue the implicit language acquisition process.  

So why am I able to say that CI works? Yesterday in response to a tweet which I had written, Linda Li wrote the following funny message to me in pinyin (a Romanticized version of Mandarin):

(Linda wants to see Keith, but Denver does not have Keith. Linda cries. Linda wants to go to Atlanta. Keith is located in Atlanta, yes or no?)

I was able to read and to understand what Linda wrote perfectly and without much thought, I tweeted her back the following:

(Yes, I am located in Atlanta. I want to see Linda, because Linda has chocolate, and I like to eat chocolate!)

Here is Linda's response:

(I have chocolate. I have a lot of chocolate. I also have iced coffee. I want to give you chocolate and iced coffee). NOTE - i love to drink iced coffee!

One week ago, I was not able to do any of this, but yet in those series of tweets, Linda and I actually communicated in Mandarin as a result of the Fluency Fast course! Albeit, it was at a low register, and I am sure that there are some grammar errors, I was able to create new meaning on my own and to respond to her in comprehensible Mandarin. Like I said before, NEVER in class did we do oral drills involving these forms, nor did I EVER have to create flashcards to learn these words. Linda just had us listen and interact with the language in so many different ways. For me to write that response actually was not that difficult to do, but at the same time, I am absolutely blown away that I was able both to read her messages and to respond. Quite honestly, I cannot even explain it other than there is Mandarin inside of me that had to have gotten there implicitly, because I did not put it there. What I wrote to Linda had to be an overflow of all that Mandarin input which she gave us, of which those stories played a major role!

Although I have been an advocate for CI, never before have I felt so strongly about it and that it does indeed work. As I said in the beginning, comprehensible input is real, and it works. I myself have experienced it first hand!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fluency Fast - Mandarin with Linda Li

I am currently here in Denver for the IFLT Conference. Today was the first day of IFLT, but I arrived a couple days early in order to take a Fluency Fast course. If you are not familiar with Fluency Fast, it offers CI-based language classes either on a weekly basis or in an intensive 3-4 day setting. I know a number of people who have taken Fluency Fast courses and have absolutely raved about them, so I wanted to take part in one and to experience what they were talking about. 

For its pre-IFLT, 4-day intensive classes, Fluency Fast offered three different languages: Spanish, French, and Mandarin (with Spanish and French divided into levels). While I did not know any of those three languages, I specifically signed up for Mandarin, because I wanted: 

  • to learn a non Romance-based language so that I could not make any connections to Latin when acquiring it. For example, if I were to learn Spanish or French, I would constantly be making comparisons to Latin (cognates, similar language structures). I did not want to have a Latin-based foundation upon which to build, but rather I wanted my mind completely to be a clean slate when experiencing this new language.
  • to experience language learning in the same manner which my students would, meaning I also wanted to experience not understanding something at all and to feel a degree of anxiety about that.
  • to learn a language which I did not know in a CI way so that I could experience CI myself firsthand.
  • most importantly to learn from Linda Li, who was teaching the class. Years ago Stephen Krashen himself had sat in on a Mandarian course taught by Linda, and this experience had a profound effect and influence on his view of CI (see a letter which Krashen wrote about that experience, praising Linda Li).
All I can say is that Krashen was 100% right in what he wrote about Linda Li. She was absolutely MARVELOUS in teaching Mandarin! I am at such a loss for words that I really do not even know where to begin in writing about my experience, because there is just SO much to say. Quite honestly, I cannot even find the right words to describe my experience, as I am still processing the whole thing. All I know is that I learned SO much and that it did not even seem like learning.

Linda opened Day 1 of class by establishing the safety net of signals for us to cue her when we did not understand something, wanted us to slow her down or to repeat something. She already had a list of Mandarin words written up with their English meanings. Linda ended by saying that our jobs as students was to listen, to pay attention, and to signal her when we did not understand something in Mandarin. She also said that it was her job to make us understand what she was saying, but that it was our job to let her know when we did not. If we did not understand something but chose not to tell her, then that was our fault. To be honest, inwardly i felt a degree of arrogant pride, because I give the same exact talk to my students on the first day of class. My teaching methods felt validated by what Linda said.

However, that degree of arrogant pride did not last long. To be honest, the first hour of class was quite brutal for me. Even though Linda was doing a great job of doing TPR in Mandarin, of establishing meaning through a word wall, and of pointing and pausing, because Mandarin is a tonal language and its written English forms do not fully correspond phonetically to Mandarin sounds, I started to feel overwhelmed at times. I remember thinking "What is written there does not correspond at all to how it sounds in Mandarin." 

I finally used Linda's safety net signals to let her know that I was not understanding something. That first time, part of me was hesitant to use the "I do understand" sign, because I did not want to call attention to myself, but the other part of me was saying "To hell with your pride. You don't understand what she is saying. STOP HER!" The best part was that Linda praised me for stopping her that first time! After that for the rest of the course, I had absolutely no hesitation in flashing the "I do understand" sign.

Slowly, Mandarin began to make its imprints on my brain. Through Linda's masterful use of CI, I began to understand what she was saying. Linda had us gesture certain words so that we would begin to rely on muscle memory to associate with words. And man, did she get in repetitions of the words any time she could! Linda circled, asked us questions, did comprehension checks, and had us interacting with the language. Even though from a teacher perspective, I was fully aware of what CI strategies she was using, but from a student standpoint, I remember thinking, "Keep going - I need the repetitions!"

By the end of the first 4 hours of class, Linda had us read a story using the words which we had learned that day. I was amazed at how easy it was to read after just 4 hours of Mandarin.

Over the next three days, Linda taught us new words, continued to recycle the words which had learned earlier, and gave us new readings. Every time we got a new story to read, I could not get over how easy it seemed to be.

I cannot explain why I am able to read these stories in Mandarin. I certainly did not know any Mandarin prior to the class. I never once made flashcards to learn these words. Linda certainly did not give us a vocabulary list ahead of time and tell us to have these words memorized by X day. All she required was that we listen to her, pay attention, and interact with the language in a comprehensible manner in various ways. Somehow, the language which Linda wanted us to acquire is inside me, but I am not able to explain how it got there really. The language must gotten there subconsciously, because I certainly did not actively put it there. In other words, I experienced CI as it was meant to be, and as a result, language acquisition occurred!

Now after just 4 days of class, if you were to ask me to say something in Mandarin, I probably would say that I do not feel that I am able to produce much Mandarin on my own. HOWEVER, today during a presentation which I was giving on how to play Mafia, I mentioned in English something about how I like iced coffee, and Linda Li said "iced coffee" in Mandarin (which was one of the phrases which we had learned). Somehow (and I do not remember doing this at all), I then said to Linda in Mandarin "I like to drink ice coffee and also hot coffee." I have NO idea where that came from or why I was able to say that, because Linda did not have us practice oral drills using the phrase "I like." All I can say is that somehow I had acquired those various phrases and was able to create meaning on my own (albeit on a very low level). In other words, I was able to communicate an idea in Mandarin without even thinking.

I have now added Linda Li to my pantheon of CI teachers who have most influenced me. So why was Linda Li such as an awesome teacher? Yes, she was comprehensible and compelling, but most importantly, she was caring (see my Three C's of CI post). After that first hour, I never again felt stressed or frustrated. Linda had fun with us! She was constantly laughing at what we said and so many times incorporated what we said into stories, because that was more compelling than what she had originally planned. Linda made it a point to connect with each of us on some personal level. In addition, there were only six of us in Linda's class. She was a bit concerned about the small class size, because she was more accustomed to larger classes. I am so glad that our class was small, because it felt so much more intimate, and Linda was able to devote more attention to each of us. If the class were 20-30 like some of the other classes, I do not think that I would have learned as much, because it would have been easier to hide in the back and to mask anything which I did not understand. We had two excursions as part of the class: dinner at a Chinese restaurant and a cultural event at the Confucius Center in Denver. Both times were a blast, because it continued to give all of us a chance to know each other better.

So to Karen Rowan and Fluency Fast, thank you so much for offering these classes, because I firmly believe that folks cannot truly understand and internalize CI unless they experience it by learning a language which they do not know. My grasp of CI had deepened so much from this experience.

Most importantly to Linda Li, thank you for being such a wonderful teacher. I now want to learn more Mandarin. I cannot say enough about what you did for the six of us in class. We are so appreciative!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What Go Fish Taught Me about Sheltering Vocabulary, Not Grammar.

I have returned from the American Classical League Summer Institute, and I had an absolutely great time. I reconnected with many friends, made new ones, and felt that my Detoxing from the Textbook presentation was very well received. 

On Day 2 of the Summer Institute was a Mensa Latina (literally, Latin table) breakout session for folks who wanted to get together to speak Latin. In the Latin teacher community, speaking Latin as a conversational, living language is a very sore topic, because most feel that there is no need for it or are scared to attempt to do it since it is a skill rarely taught when learning Latin. Since my first Rusticatio in 2010, I consider myself now to be a strong Intermediate-Mid/High conversationalist in Latin. There has not been a Mensa Latina at the Summer Institute for years, so I was glad to see it return. I was looking forward to taking part in the Mensa Latina, because it has been almost two years since I have truly conversed in Latin with folks, but at the same time, I was also very hesitant, because it has been almost two years since I have truly conversed in Latin with folks. For me, speaking Latin with my students as part of a CI classroom is NOT the same thing as actually conversing with someone in the language. In my Latin 1 classroom, as the teacher, I am the one who is dictating the conversation, its subject, and its register - it is more like I ask questions, students respond, and I am the one doing most of the talking in Latin for the purpose of providing input. In a true Latin conversation, so many components are going on: I have to understand what is being said to me, to formulate in my mind an understandable response in the target language, and to get that response to come out of my mouth...all in the matter of a few seconds if I wish for the dialogue to continue. Of course, this is assuming that I understand what is being said to me and that I possess enough knowledge to respond.

I was not sure who was going to be there for the Mensa Latina or what level of speakers would come, so I brought a couple decks of Go Fish to play in Latin. My dear friend Edie (or Editha in Latin) from Rusticatio has adapted a Latin version of Go Fish (called I Piscatum) using a deck with different fish illustrations on them. She also created an index with the corresponding Latin fish vocabulary. 

We play this at Rusticatio a lot with Latinists who are new to speaking Latin (but know their grammar!), because Go Fish has such a basic scripted dialogue to follow:

Person #1: Do you have __________?
Person #2: Yes, I have ___________. 
Person #2: No, I don't have _________. Go fish!

Primus homo: Habesne ____________?
Secundus homo: Certe, habeo ________. 
Secundus homo: Minime, non habeo __________. I piscatum!
About 20 folks showed up for the Mensa Latina with a wide range of speaking abilities, so I started up a game of I Piscatum with about half of them. Many 1st time Latin speakers joined in, and due to the limited vocabulary/structures of the game, they were able to participate, even at a basic level of speaking. To quote Nancy Llewellyn, they already possessed a passive knowledge of Latin, so all which they needed was an opportunity to activate it. 

But what I love about the way in which my friend Edie promotes I Piscatum is that the game also allows for folks to use different structures of the same word or different ways of saying the same thing in Latin if they wish as variety or to practice a higher register. Because of this, during the game I found my speaking confidence returning, as I began to use different ways of phrasing the same things and to hear others do the same (hence, input for me).

While we were playing I Piscatum, it suddenly it hit me: to a degree, this game was demonstrating sheltering vocabulary but not grammar. I could take the basic questions and answers in the game and truly play around with the grammatical forms but keep true to the vocabulary in most instances and yet still remain comprehensible in the process. This is why I was feeling successful in my speaking ability.

Possible various Latin questions
  1. Habesne ____________? (Do you have ___________?)
  2. Habesne ullos/ullas/ulla ____________? (Do you have any _________?)
  3. Velim aliquid te interrogare: habesne ullos/ullas/ulla ____________? (I would like to ask you a question: do you have any _________?)
  4. Suntne tibi ulli/ullae/ulla ___________. (Are there any __________ to you?)
Possible various Latin responses
  1. Certe, habeo ________. (Yes, I have __________.)
  2. Certe, habeo _____________, ergo tibi trado _____________. (Yes, I have _________, therefore I hand over to you ___________)
  3. Certe, sunt mihi ___________. (Yes, there are ________ to me).
  4. Minime, non habeo ullos/ullas/ulla ______________. (No, I do not have any _________
  5. Minime, habeo nullos/nullas/nulla ___________. (No, I have not any ___________.)
  6. Minime, nulli/nullae/nulla ___________ mihi sunt. (No, there are not any _________ to me)
  7. Minime. Si haberem ullos/ullas/ulla ____________, tibi traderem ________________. Sed re vera, habeo nullos/nullas/nulla ___________, ergo nequeo tibi tradere ullos/ullas/ulla ___________. (No. If I were to have any ____________, I would hand over ___________ to you, but in reality, I do have not any ___________, therefore, I am unable to hand over any _________ to you.
Possible various other Go Fish responses 
  1. Necesse est tibi ire piscatum (It is necessary for you to go fish)
  2. Tibi eundum est piscatum (you must go fish)
After years of playing I Piscatum at Rusticatio with Edie, I do not understand why I never made that connection of sheltering vocabulary but not grammar until now. 

More importantly, however, I finally now had a working knowledge of sheltering vocabulary and not grammar, because I myself was experiencing it and was using it for the purpose of communication. I think prior to this I really understood the concept of sheltering vocabulary (heck, I have even written up a post about it), but not necessarily how it went hand-in-hand with unsheltering grammar - in other words, I think that I was focusing too much on limiting vocabulary but not enough on applying that limited vocabulary to raising students through the levels of grammar in a compelling way.

If I wish truly to apply sheltering vocabulary and not grammar in my classroom, then it is going to require me to be very deliberate, i.e., to map everything out, and to figure things out. In I Piscatum, using subjunctive conditional clauses seems perfectly normal, but we traditionally hold off on anything relating to the subjunctive until upper levels - quite honestly when sheltering vocabulary but not grammar, there is no reason why we cannot introduce conditional clauses in level 1.

Anyhow, I had a great time playing I Piscatum with folks in Latin. I regained much of my confidence in conversing in Latin (still at an Intermediate Mid/High level), but I experienced and internalized a very important concept in Comprehensible Input. We shall see how and where this all goes in my classroom next year.

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.