Wednesday, May 23, 2018

List of Classroom Technologies

Many times when teachers find out that I have a degree in Instructional Technology, I get asked "So what are some technologies I can use in my classroom?" That is a rather tricky question for me to answer, because I get the impression that they think that I must be a font of knowledge of specific technologies due to my degree, but more importantly, I realize that they are asking for some new "bells and whistles" which they can add to their curriculum that will most likely be used either to entertain students (instead of to engage students) or will be implemented at a very low level of critical thinking. A better question to ask would be, "So I am using X technology in my classroom - do you have any suggestions on how to use it at a higher level of thinking?"

Recently on Twitter, I saw the following picture on Twitter of a compiled list of classroom technologies. 

Having completed my Ed.S degree in Instructional Technology two years ago and now soon-to-be entering an Ed.D program in the field in a few months, I found this list to be of great interest. As a result, for my own purposes, I transferred the above list onto a document, added a number of my own, and added hyperlinks to each of the technologies listed. 

I have now created a List of Classroom Technologies page to this blog:

List of Classroom Technologies

To be honest, more than half of the technologies listed I have never heard of before, and the other half either I have used slightly or have been wanting to try out. One of my summer goals is to look into a number of these technologies to see how they can be used to deliver Comprehensible Input and to initiate critical thinking in students. And let me reiterate again: 
  • Technology in and of itself is not a panacea nor a cure-all for classroom woes.
  • To eschew technology usage in a classroom is short-sighted, because technology is here to stay and is only going to become more prevalent in the lives of our students. In addition, our students ONLY know a world with technology, where most likely we teachers are of the generation where we can live without it.
  • Proper technology classroom implementation involves engagement, not solely entertainment. 
  • Just because one facilitates technology in one's curriculum does not mean that it is being facilitated properly.
  • Technology can never replace a human teacher.
Let me leave you with this statement with which I begin every technology presentation I deliver:

Are there any technologies which I have left off this list which you have found very beneficial in your classroom?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Another Version of "Who is This?"

Here is a fun, quick take on the "Who is This?" assessment, which can be used as a warmup, bellringer, ticket out the door, etc. It is a listening comprehension activity involving whiteboards and characters from a reading/novella. It only lasts 5-10 minutes.

  1. Write 3 VERY short descriptions in target language of one character, where the 1st description is most general ,and the 3rd is most specific, i.e., by the third description, it should be obvious who the character is.
  2.  Do this for three or more different characters.
  1. Have students get a whiteboards and dry-erase markers. Students can also use pencil and paper for this, but it is not as fun.
  2. Have students number 1-3 on their paper or whiteboard
  3. Explain to students that you are going to read a series of descriptions and after each description, they should write the name of the character whom they think it is. All three descriptions are about the same character.
  4. After reading the 3rd description, ask students in the target language “who is it?” and have them respond. If they are using whiteboards, ask them to hold up their whiteboards so that you can see their series of answers.
  5. Continue with the next character.
Examples from the Aeneid
  1. Troianus vir (Trojan man)
  2. pater (father)
  3. a serpentibus interfectus (killed by snakes)
Answer - Laocoon
  1. deus (god)
  2. rex (king)
  3. mittit ventos (sends winds)
Answer - Aeolus
  1. femina (woman)
  2. in Italia (in Italy)
  3. sacerdos Apollonis (priestess of Apollo)
Answer - the Sibyl
  1. Troianus vir (Trojan man)
  2. fidelis amicus (loyal friend)
  3. rare loquitur (rarely speaks)
Answer - Achates

  1. This is actually a very fun activity to do. Years ago, I demonstrated this in a presentation at an American Classical League Summer Institute with Latin teachers using characters from the Aeneid, and they did not want to stop playing this and wanted me to keep giving them character descriptions, even though I had run out of them.
  2. The shorter the descriptions are, the better. Since it is a quick activity, to give students long descriptions makes the activity drag. Vocabulary words and short phrases work best.
  3. The more characters from which to choose, the better. If your reading only has four characters, then it becomes obvious VERY quickly whom the description is describing.
  4. I have found that students turn this into a competition to see if they can get the answer right based on the first, most general description.
  5. I like the class to show me their whiteboards after they write down the character after the last description so that I can see their "train of thought" - it is fun for me as a teacher to see them be able to narrow down who they think that the character is based on the names which they wrote down.
  6. If you are a Latin teacher who uses the Cambridge Latin Course, this is a great activity, since there are so many characters in the readings.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Taking a Huge Plunge

I am headed back to graduate school! This week, I found out that I have been accepted into the Doctoral of Education program in Instructional Technology at Kennesaw State University. It is an online degree program, and I had received my Ed.S degree in Instructional Technology from this same university back in July 2016; as a result, I can transfer many of my credits to this new program. Because it is an online program, I will still be in the classroom full-time but taking courses simultaneously.

Now that the initial shock and excitement have worn off, part of me is thinking, "Oh my gosh, what the heck am I getting myself into? A lot is going to change in my life as a result of this." Pursuing a doctorate means:
  • taking coursework and now pursuing a doctorate, in addition to working a full-time teaching job.
  • no longer having the free time which I enjoy now but rather instead having to be incredibly disciplined with my time.
  • at least three years of commitment to an academic degree program which now includes a writing a dissertation. 
  • cutting back big time on attending conferences and giving presentations and instead having to be rather selective in which ones I attend and to which ones I submit proposals.
  • entering the realm of academic research (both qualitative and quantitative), something which after writing my M.A thesis over 20 years ago I thought was behind me.
At the same time, the chance to pursue further and deeper knowledge in the field excites me. I think that it is incredibly short-sighted for people to disqualify technology's place in education, because whether we like it or not, industries are changing so rapidly due to technology. As a result, I would much rather be on the proactive side and on the cutting edge of proper educational technology implementation instead of being on the "reactive" end. However, I am also savvy enough to understand that technology is not a panacea and should never replace the needed humanity of teachers in the classroom.

As you can probably guess, my two specific areas of interest in Instructional Technology are: 
  1. the proper implementation of technology for the delivery of Comprehensible Input in a world language classroom. This was my Capstone project for my Ed.S degree, and quite honestly, there is little current research out there on this topic. Krashen has written a few short articles recently on the topic, but most "research" out there is quite outdated when addressing current technologies. Unfortunately, technology has an incredible short shelf life, and nowhere do we see that more prevalent than in today's world where the average lifespan of a gaming app is two weeks (which explains the perpetual need for updates). Also, note the emphasis on the word proper - most teachers have NEVER received any training on how to facilitate technology properly and are rather implementing it at an incredibly low level of critical thinking. 
  2. the use of technology for the delivery of extended staff development. I wrote a blog post a few years ago on this topic. 
Quite honestly, I do not know if in pursuing this degree that I will eventually leave the classroom as a Latin teacher and will become a school technology coordinator - I cannot rule out this option (my colleague and department head Bob Patrick has explicitly told me that I must give him a year's notice if I choose this path!).

I will still continue to blog here, but you may notice that my posts will begin to have a technology angle to them. I do not begin my graduate program until August, so I have a few more months both to prepare and to enjoy my life before it changes. Here's to my next few months!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Find the Sentence using Emojis

Recently, Kristy Placido posted on Twitter a Find the Sentence post-reading activity involving emojis, so last week, I decided to give it a try with my Latin 2 classes. We had been going over the Perseus story which deals with Andromeda and how Perseus rescues her, so using emojis was definitely a novel post-reading activity. It went quite well.

In order to do this activity, you will need to type emojis using a keyboard. See below how to do this using Windows 10.
Once you activate your emoji keyboard,
  1. Take known sentences from a story which you have been reviewing, and emoji-ize them, i.e., write the sentence on a document using ONLY emojis. NOTE - most likely, the sentences will not be a true one-to-one with emojis, because there are a number of words for which there are no emojis. My goal was to get the gist of the sentence as closely as possible.
  2. If you wish, scramble the emoji sentences so that they are not in order of the story.
  3. Project the emoji sentences OR print them out for students.
  4. Give students a copy of the passage from which the sentences come.
  5. Students are to find the sentence which the emojis best communicate and to write down that sentence.
  6. Review when students are done.
Extension activity - Give sentences from the story to students for them emoji-ize.

Here is the Emoji Find the Sentence activity which I did. I have included the Latin sentences and English translations for you.

  1. This was definitely a novel way for students to review a story, because it forced them to re-read the story to find the sentence. 
  2. Emojis are a great way to deliver additional comprehensible input. They are compelling and are already a "language" with which students use to communicate. 
  3. Be aware that students are not familiar with every emoji out there. If you have students create their own sentences to emoji-ize, you may have to help them out finding emojis.
  4. Unfortunately like when using pictures to deliver input, emojis can be interpreted differently by students. What seems obvious in meaning to one student is not always to another. It may be necessary to establish meaning for some of the emojis.
  5. If you print your sentences in black/white (as I did), sometimes meaning is lost, since the original emojis are in color. You may want to project your emoji sentences instead or to print them in color.
  6. For those students who did not have access to a smartphone, I had them use the classroom student computer and activate the emoji keyboard so that they could type out their sentences.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Nearing the End Zone

Yep, it is the end of the school year, with just three weeks left in the semester for me. If you are like me, you absolutely dread this time of the year. Instruction becomes disrupted by standardized End of Course testing, AP testing, and end-of-the-year activities (yearbook distribution, senior activities, graduation practice). It becomes a balancing act of trying to get in last bits of instruction, of keeping track of what students will be missing class on which days due to testing, and of trying to remain somewhat motivated. In addition, let me say for the record: I am tired of students, and students are tired of me. That is not to say that I dislike students or hate teaching. It is just that it is the time of the year where all parties involved are ready for a much needed break from each other.

I am weary and exhausted. I know that it must be the end of the school year, because every day for the past few weeks, I have taken a nap when I come home from work - I only nap like this at the start and at the end of the school year. As I have written before, I feel like I am in zombie mode during these last weeks of the year, because I am physically teaching, but my heart, mind, and emotions are not always fully present.

Apparently, this topic must be an important one to me, because I have blogged about it almost yearly, sharing the same feelings and sentiments. At the same time, I am glad that I have, because in my reading over these past posts, in hindsight it demonstrates to me that every year I have indeed gotten through and survived all of the craziness, received much needed rest over the summer, and returned re-energized for the new school year.  

I am constantly reminded that teaching is a marathon and not a sprint. I have never run a marathon, but I can imagine that the last few miles are absolutely brutal to complete as one's body begins to shut down and to fight back against the effort. As the end of the school year draws near, I find myself laboring (and sometimes crawling) to cross the finish line. Although I may be battered and bruised, I will still cross it.

I write this post not to vent nor to complain but rather to encourage others who are feeling this way that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. It is okay and normal to be feeling this way. So many times we are expected to be super heroes in the classroom, but we must remember that we are also human. The end is in sight...

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."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Screencasting Using a Smartphone

Last semester, I played around with having students create a screencast using their smartphones. In Latin 1, my colleague Bob Patrick had designed a very basic presentational speaking unit involving some Latin phrases and sayings. At the end of the unit, students had to choose one of the phrases, draw a picture of it, and then to present to the class what phrase they chose, why they liked it, and where they found an example of this phrase from one of the stories which we had read that semester. It was a very basic script which they were following, and the presentations lasted less then 45 seconds, since they only had a semester of Latin.

I was wanting to experiment some with the presentational aspect of the unit and decided to have students screencast their "presentation" for me. Here is what I assigned, in addition to directions for how one can screencast from a smartphone.

Latin 1 Presentational Speaking Directions
  1. Record yourself “delivering your presentation” on your device. For this, you will do a screencast. The recording will be of your picture, with you narrating the three sentences. Your recording will be no longer than a minute.
  2. You will be speaking your three sentences IN LATIN, so please practice saying these sentences aloud and slowly.
  3. Using your device, take a picture of the picture which you have chosen to present. Take a horizontal picture if possible.
  4. Create a screencast of your picture on your phone - You can use Snapchat or see "To Screen Record from IOS 11" directions below.
  5. Save the recording to your device's photo album.
  6. Submit your recording in the Latin 1 eClass “Sententiae” dropbox
To Screen Record from IOS 11
  1. To set it up, head over to your Settings>Control Center>Customize Controls>Screen Recording. Tap on the green "plus" icon next to it to add it to the Control Center.
  2. Show your picture on your device’s screen.
  3. Swipe your screen so that the control panel is now showing.
  4. Press on the screen recording icon for 5-10 seconds until you see a pop-up screen. 
  5. Tap the red Microphone Audio icon at the bottom of the screen. Now, you’ll record your screen, as well as the audio from and around your iPhone.
  6. Press the record button AND swipe away the control center screen so that your picture is showing - you have three seconds before recording begins.
  7. A red bar will show at the top, signifying that recording has begun. Narrate your three sentences with the picture on your screen.
  8. Tap the red bar when you are done. Press STOP to finish recording.
  9. Your screencast is now saved to your photo album.

Example of students' screencasts

  1. While I know that there are websites and apps such as Flipgrid which allow students to upload videos/screencasts of themselves, most of them require payment. At this moment, I am not interested in spending money for these apps/websites just yet.
  2. Although the screencasts which students created were quite rudimentary since it was my first time doing something like this, I can see students creating screencasts in the target language for very short formative presentations.
  3. Students liked creating a screencast to deliver their presentations, because they said that they would have been nervous delivering a presentation (even though less than 45-seconds with a script) in Latin to the class. They did not feel nervous at all creating a screencast.
  4. Since the students were turning in their screencasts to me and not presenting in front of the class, ideally I would have liked to have housed their presentations somewhere online for students to watch, to comment, etc. so that these screencasts had an actual audience. However, as we did this unit at the end of the semester right before finals, I ran out of time to do something like this.
  5. Those students who did not have access to a smartphone delivered their presentations to me one-on-one.
  6. Many student had never created a screencast on their smartphones and remarked how easy it was to do and that they wish that they could do more of this in their other classes. 
  7. There are some IOS compatibility issues with posting these screencasts on sites like YouTube and even here on Blogger, so unfortunately, screencasting on a smartphone is not 100% without its problems. I hope that these problems will be fixed with iOS 12.