Saturday, May 27, 2017

More Reflections: Student Surveys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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