Sunday, May 28, 2023

The End of Another School Year

My school year has now come to an end. Finals have been graded. Grades have been posted. Graduation has commenced. My classroom has been packed away for the next few months. I am now officially on summer vacation.

I do not know if it has truly hit me that the school year is over. It is always feels weird to transition from the frantic rush of the end of the year with finals, graduation, and post-planning to now suddenly having two months off. When I look back at it all, I cannot help but feel such a sense of accomplishment: I got through it. And every year I do get through it. Albeit battered, bruised, and emotionally tired, I get through it. 

The words of a former college roommate annually replay in my mind at this time of the year. Over twenty years ago he and I were discussing our lives then since I was a teacher and he was a CPA. He said to me, "I envy you, because [your job] has a distinct beginning, middle, and end. My job is a constant series of projects." In my early years of teaching, I did not quite understand his statement, but now as I get older and gain more life experience, I truly treasure his words, because they ring truth.

I do not know if non-teachers understand why teachers need a summer vacation. It is so that we can put closure on the past school year. It is so that we have time away from students. It is so that we can heal and re-energize for when students return. It is so that we do not have to be teachers and can focus back on ourselves.

As always. this summer I am looking forward to not being Keith Toda, teacher, or Keith Toda, department head. I can simply just be Keith Toda. For a few weeks I will be Keith Toda, coach, at the Acquisition Academy in June and CI Summit in July, and Keith Toda, strand guide at the Fluency Matters Conference (so if you are at any of these, please say hi!). Outside of those three commitments, I will have no professional responsibilities, can just stay under the radar without any titles/designations, and can deteriorate - I hope you will do the same!

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Translation is Not Bad...But...

The following post is directed more at Latin teachers than anyone else. This reflects my own personal views on the matter and not necessarily those of the CI/ADI Latin community.

Often I get asked "Why do you consider translation to be bad/wrong?" And my response is simply, "I do not think that it is bad at all...but..." Let me clarify:

  • Translation in and of itself is NOT bad - in fact, it is 100% necessary! Translation from L2 into L1 establishes meaning. I do know that there are those who think that putting L2 into L1 is absolutely wrong (I have many colleagues in the spoken Latin community who feel that L1 is wrong when teaching Latin - in their words, "The ancient Romans never knew puella meant girl - puella meant puella to them!") While I can understand their sentiments, whether we like it or not, when learning a language, our brains are constantly trying to make connections between L2 and L1 when creating a mental representation of L2 and as a result will default to L1 for meaning. 
  • However, big picture, translation is considered a low-level, thinking process. If you look at Bloom's taxonomy, translation is a level-2 function (Understand level), because what you are simply doing is taking L2 and putting it into L1. While there may be some "high level processes" going on to create the L1 translation, in the end all you have is the original L2 now in L1. You have not created any new meaning on your own. You have the author's original meaning now put into your own L1.
  • One can translate something from L2 into L1 but have NO IDEA what is being communicated. When I translate Cicero, his sentence structures are so complex and the vocabulary is way beyond me to such a degree that I must have a Loeb or an English translation to guide me. When I translate his works, although I may have the words and grammar correct (based on my own personal shorthand), I do not always understand the meaning.
  • Translation focuses on accuracy/performance and not on proficiency.
  • But discussing an L2 reading in L2 is actually a high level skill. Even ACTFL and college programs recognize this. After 3-4 years of language instruction, the expected proficiency level for these learners will be Intermediate-Mid, which means being able to answer comprehension questions, to ask questions, and to have a basic low-level discussion. Being able to create responses needed for a higher level discussion in L2 and possessing the language control needed for this are signs of Advanced level proficiency. I consider myself to be at an Intermediate High/Advanced Low level Latin speaker, and I do not think that I could carry on a high level discussion at all in Latin about a passage - that requires a great deal of language control and knowledge of vocabulary. 
  • As a result, our higher level discussions end up being in L1 about the L2 passage. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but for example, when I see what the AP Latin exam essays are asking students to do, the focus becomes more on L1 with support from L2.

It may shock people, but I actually do a lot of translation into L1 in my classes! However, it is solely used to establish meaning, and I implement this very early in a unit lesson plan to expose everyone in the classroom with the L1 meaning. Where I disagree with translation is that when that is the sole end goal and there is no movement up Bloom's Taxonomy with the end goal (or eventual goal) of creating new meaning with that L2 at an appropriate proficiency level.

Essentially, it comes down to what your goals are. If the goal for your students are to be able to translate Latin into English, especially classical literature after 3-4 years and the AP Latin syllabus and then discuss the Latin in English, then your end goal will be translation. The AP Latin syllabus already is a bear to get through in a year as a translation model, so an attempt to create any new meaning in L2 over what is covered in that syllabus is counterproductive to what will be assessed on the AP Latin exam.

To break out of a translation model is very hard for us Latin teachers to do when quite honestly, that is all we know and have really ever known about Latin. Also throw in that this is what goes on in the college/university Latin classes and what Classics program are wanting incoming majors to master. For many Latin teachers, this is what they want Latin to be. If that is you, then great - go out and prosper. I know for myself, I want my students to do more with the language than just L1 translation, and it has taken me YEARS to come to this point. 

So I write this blog post not as an attack on grammar-translationists but rather as a way to clarify for you my own views on translation and what is my motivation behind it.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Where has the Middle Gone?

The following is based on my own observations and does not represent the opinions and experiences of the CI/ADI community as a whole. I am only speaking for myself here.

One of the tenets which I leaned when adopting a CI/ADI-based classroom was "teach to the middle" - teach to those students who are between the high-flying, achieving 4%ers and those not doing well in our classes. I like how Judith Dubois puts it in her blog: 

[The middle] are students who have difficulties but are willing and make an effort as long as they can understand. When the teacher sees that they are not understanding, [the teacher] backtracks so that the entire class can follow.

Many times we refer to these students as our barometer students, those students to whom we look to tell us how well the class is understanding something and when we can move forward. These are our target students when teaching.

However, since the return to a post-COVID/hybrid classroom, I am struggling with teaching to the middle. Upon the return to full in-person last year, I anticipated that there would be major knowledge gaps in my Latin classes, especially in my Latin 2 classes, since most had been digital students for Latin 1. And indeed, there were as I had anticipated. Therefore, I knew to manage my expectations. I moved at a slower pace to fill in knowledge gaps while moving forward with new material. I moved the goalposts from previous years of what I normally would be able to cover to an adapted curriculum which truly focused on sheltering vocabulary and not grammar - almost to a overly nauseating degree!

Flash forward to this year, and something with which many others and I are being confronted head on in our current levels 1 and 2: there is no more middle. Before COVID, while classes still had high flyers and struggling students, it seemed that there was a distinct middle to whom to teach and to target. Now post-hybrid, there is a WIDE chasm between the high-flyers and those struggling, with very few students who can serve as barometer students. I feel like I have students falling into two categoies: those who are doing very well in my class and those who are failing very well. I have never seen it before to this extreme. 

So I have to ask myself the following questions:

  1. Just how much are we still dealing with knowledge and behavioral gaps from hybrid/digital teaching? These level 1 and 2 students never took language digitally/hybrid but were here for level 1 in full in-person classrooms, i.e., there were no L2 knowledge gaps per se to fill due to hybrid/digital. Many of these students were in middle school during hybrid/digital teaching.
  2. Are there literacy issues involved? Am I dealing with something which is bigger than I can address on own and needs to be addressed by special education? 
  3. Have we conditioned/trained students to think that they are not responsible per se for their learning? I will admit that during hybrid and last year to a degree as a teacher I was accepting missing work MONTHS LATE and lowered my expectations of what a passing student was. But the reality is that it is no longer 2021-2022 - is it wrong for me to expect a pre-Covid academic setting since things appear to be back to normal (or as normal as they are going to get)?
  4. Do I need to adjust my view of what doing my 50% and what students' 50% mean?

These are questions which I am asking myself so that I can determine where I need to manage my expectations. What observations have you noticed about the middle?

Monday, April 17, 2023

The Theory of Ordered Development

Over the past years, I have served as a coach at a number of CI/ADI training conferences and online courses. I know that for the most part, things will go fine with participants as they begin learning about CI. Many participants will be "This is great - I am with you this! Keep preaching!" But I also know that there will be certain topics which will "challenge" many teachers' views on language learning. This is one of them: the Theory of Ordered Development (also known as the Order of Acquisition theory or the Natural Order Theory). 

Essentially, this theory states that learners acquire language structures in a particular order (NOTE - when I use the term acquire, without oversimplifying the language process, I use it to mean that students are independently able to wield that particular language structure in their output, because they have internalized it without necessarily knowing the whys behind that structure). In his book "While We're on the Topic," Bill Van Patten gives an example of how these stages appear in students learning Spanish:

For the longest time, I could not understand why my Latin students would constantly leave out the verb and incorrectly write what I considered something very basic - something which I had felt that they had received tons of input, e.g., instead of canis est laetus, they would write canis laetus, i.e., they were leaving out the verb est (which to me seemed so incredibly basic, since est = is). Now I understand why! And what my students were demonstrating in this "error" was just purely confirming the theory of ordered development.

Long (1997) states that “the idea that what you teach is what [students] learn, and when you teach [x grammar topic] is when they learn it, is not just simplistic, it is wrong."

In Lightbown (1984), "French-speaking students’ English output did not 'match' the input they were given.  Students “do not simply learn linguistic elements as they are taught– adding them one after another in neat progression.  Rather, the students process the input in ways which are more 'acquisition-like' and not often consistent with what the teacher intends for them to 'learn'.”

Van Patten ends by stating that no amount of explicit grammar instruction can alter this order of acquisition. 

As I stated earlier, the theory of ordered development always brings up a number of comments, such as "So what is my job as a teacher then if I do not team explicit grammar?" and "This lesson makes me feel like I am obsolete if I am not teaching grammar!" While I completely understand these sentiments, there are some foundational CI/ADI basics which need to be understood:

  • Language learning is not linear in nature. In other words, since language acquisition is unlike any other subject area, just because we introduce a grammar concept on Monday does not mean at all that students will have acquired and mastered it by Friday (unlike what textbooks want us to believe). 
  • Instead, language learning is more piecemeal in nature. Van Patten states, "Neither first nor second language learners get a 'particular thing' all at once. For example, learners of both first and second languages don't first learn present tense, then past tense, then future tense. Instead, they start with no tense marking, get part of what it means to mark present tense while they are learning to mark past tense, which in turn they only get partially."
  • Accuracy is the last component of language acquisition and will always be a process in progress. Think of how long you have been speaking your L1 - are you always 100% accurate grammatically when you speak or write?
Now please do not feel frustrated by this theory. If anything, it will help you manage your expectations about what you see with student output of language. Some tips:
  • You can still teach explicit grammar - it is just will not look like how you have done it before! Use grammar timeouts and pop-up grammar. Explain the grammar, but do not spend too much time on it - 10-15 seconds. In other words, do not make the grammar timeout the focus of the lesson. However, do it often to get in "repetitions" of those quick grammar explanations. 
  • Continue to give lots of level-appropriate understandable input. If language acquisition is subconscious in nature, then when we bathe students' minds with comprehensible messages, then output will be the overflow.
  • Shelter vocabulary, not grammar.  
  • Remember that our students most likely will be in Intermediate stage of "outputting" language after 4 years. Their output will be MESSY and probably strewn with grammatical errors. However, at this level, the question to ask yourself as outlined by ACTFL is this: are these students' messages understandable to a sympathetic listener/receiver, one who is accustomed to interacting with non-native L2 speakers?

One last comment: Why not teach a syllabus based completely on the theory of ordered development? While that would be an exhaustive syllabus, again, the mindset behind that question is that language learning is linear and that explicit grammar is the way to go. We must remember that learners are able comprehend a lot more language structures than they can actually output and produce on their own. As a result, we must not put the "cart before the horse," i.e., do not think that just because students have been exposed to a structure and are able to comprehend it when reading or listening that it also equates to their acquisition of that structure and being able to wield it properly and independently.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Post Covid/Hybrid Student

The following are my observations and by no means represent anyone else's views other than my own.

This past month marked the three-year anniversary of the lockdown. Since then, we as teacher have endured the sudden switch to digital learning during that time, the subsequent year of the hybrid classroom, and then last year's return back to full in-person teaching. I have noticed much about the post-Covid/Hybrid student and how much that student has changed since pre-Covid. Quite honestly, I am absolutely perplexed - here are some observations:

  • Technology has changed the way in which students view assignments and classwork. I am all for using technology in my classroom. I possess a graduate degree in Instructional Technology, so I understand the educational theory behind integrating technology into one's curriculum for the purpose of creating higher order, critical thinking in students. In other words, I am not one to just assign digital work for the sake of assigning digital work. Plus, I never assign homework which students must complete outside of class - I always give students ample time in class to do digital assignments. Also, this past year, my school went 1:1 with Chromebooks as a result of being unprepared for digital learning during the lockdown and hybrid teaching, so all of my students have access to technology. HOWEVER, in my observations, students seem to think that anything technology-related gives them the license not to complete work, to put it off for completion at a later time, or not to participate. If I ask students to fill out a quick online survey, to complete a digital assignment, or to take part in a digital activity, it is such a hassle to get them to complete it. However, if I give students something on paper to complete physically which they must turn in or we do a in-class group activity, then it does not seem to be an issue. I noticed this prior to hybrid teaching even as early as 2017, but it has magnified greatly since our return. 
  • Allowing students to turn in missing work and to retake assessments have shifted expectations. I firmly believe that we need to give students retake opportunities and remediation so that they can demonstrate proficiency and minimal mastery of the material. Once a month, I devote a classroom day to making up/retaking assessments and providing any needed remediation prior to retakes. Students also have until the end of the semester to complete any digital work. But in doing so, have I unexpectedly and unnecessarily created an expectation among students that they do not need to be "present in the moment" when it comes to turning in work and being accountable for knowing material? I will admit that during hybrid teaching, the name of the game was survival, so we teachers were allowing students to turn in late work, half-completed work, anything (!) just so that we could assign these students a grade of some kind and get them to pass the class. Are we as teachers still furthering this model which we created and in a sense are enabling students to further this behavior? Have we conditioned students to expect this? To be honest, there is a limit of how much grace which I can give students on my end.
  • I am seeing a lot more student absences than I did pre-Covid. More importantly, it is not a one-day absence, but more of a weekly "2 days at school, 3 days absent" pattern for certain students. Is it because the expectation now is that since much of student work is digital, students think that they do not need to be present in class any longer? As I stated earlier, I am all about giving students an opportunity to make up work and to retake/resubmit low-scoring assignments and assessments, but it is very difficult to do when students are not present in class.
  • I am definitely seeing an increase in student failures. The no-fail, CI-model which my Latin program had established years ago and had seen much success pre-Covid is no longer operational. Students cannot pass if they are not doing their 50% or are not present in class on a consistent basis. 
  • I have never had to battle cellphone and earbud/AirPod usage in class before like I am now. Daily I begin each class with my cellphone ritual (where in Latin I tell students to put away their phones into their bookbags) - because I do this daily, students know the routine. Plus, I put my phone away too in my bookbag along with them to model this expectation. However, I am amazed at how often I still have to tell students to put away their phones, to remove their earbuds/Airpods, and if they are wearing hoodies, to lower their hoodies so that they cannot hide these listening devices underneath. I am finding that personal devices are distracting students to such a degree that they feel like they cannot be without them at all times.

I write all of this not to complain but rather to ask myself the following questions: Where is it that I need to manage my expectations and to adjust them to have a more realistic outlook about today's students? Last year, in our return back to in-person teaching, I adjusted my expectations of what students should know, moved the goalposts of how much material I would cover, and devoted the year to filling in any knowledge gaps. Do I need to continue? On the other hand, where is that students need to manage their expectations and to realize that the educational model which we had set up during hybrid and last year's rebuilding efforts were temporary and are no longer the norm? 

I do not profess to have any answers here. What are you seeing in the post-Covid/Hybrid student?

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Quick Grid BINGO Review

In my last blog post, I wrote about attending the Voces Digital Online Spring Conference and how I attended many great sessions and learned many new strategies. Here is one which Kara Jacobs demonstrated: Quick Grid BINGO.

This is an activity which can be found on Martina Bex's website, and it is a very easy to facilitate. The video below is Kara's demonstration of the activity in which I participated online, and yes, the Keith whom she is addressing in the demo is me!

I tried Quick Grid BINGO this week as a post-reading review of a chapter of Orpheus et Eurydice. Since I was trying this out for the first time, I focused on making it a review of the text as cloze sentences as well as some comprehension questions. Below is the list of terms which I projected at the beginning:

Below are examples of the questions asked:

  1. Wow - students were really engaged in this! I think that it was because although the ultimate goal was blackout, students could still get "BINGO" along the way (much like Kara demonstrated).
  2. This activity lasted around 30 minutes! I was able to get in a lot of review both in Latin and in English.
  3. In her directions, Martina Bex gives lots of different ways in which this activity can be used. I look forward to using this activity in those ways.
  4. This is a great way to play BINGO beyond just vocabulary, to use it as a review of a text, and to make it a more purposeful communicative activity. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Voces Digital - My Continued Need for Professional Development

Last week, Voces Digital sponsored a free weeklong (3-evening, 1-day) online virtual Comprehensible Input conference. Since I would be part of its CI Summit conference team this summer, I attended to support the company. However, I did not expect to get SO MUCH from attending! There were many great presenters (yes, I still fanboy over so many of them) and presentations - I attended Zoom sessions led by Allynn Lodge, Eric Richards, Paulino Brener, Annabelle Williamson, Bryan Kandel, and Kara Jacobs - I even learned how to make dumplings with Haiyun Lu! I am sure that I will blog about some of what I learned once I try out their strategies!


  • This online conference could not have come at a better time. If you are like me, you hit the February slumps where teaching is just plain HARD! School is burdensome for both teachers and students. This is always the time of the year where I annually question why I am a teacher. However, learning new strategies/activities and being among other CI/ADI teachers were very uplifting and motivating! Plus, with it being virtual, I could attend at home sitting at my kitchen table.
  • I was able to attend as myself. I was not Keith Toda - presenter. I was not Keith Toda - coach. I was simply Keith Toda - attendee and participant. In other words, I had no other responsibilities other than to learn and to be present in the moment with no other distractions.
  • We all need our CI/ADI cups filled and constantly refilled. Although I have been blogging about implementing CI/ADI for almost ten years, have attended numerous conferences, and have delivered numerous presentations on the topic, I am still constantly learning afresh so much about it. I am so grateful that there are people out there from whom I can learn and who motivate me to become a better CI/ADI teacher. I am also reminded that community is SO important - I need to be around other CI/ADI facilitators who "get me" pedagogically and can encourage me.

I challenge you to consider attending a CI/ADI conference this summer (here is a starting list), whether you are a beginner, dabbler/seeker, comfortable implementer, or advanced practitioner. I will be in-person at both the CI Summit and Fluency Matters Conference this summer - I hope to see you there. Get your cup filled along with others!