Saturday, July 26, 2014

NTPRS 2014 Report (LONG)

This post is long, so take a seat if you wish to read this to the end...

I have returned from my first NTPRS (National Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) Conference in Chicago. I had a wonderful experience, and whew, my brain is absolutely full from everything which I learned. 

Quite honestly, I was kind of tentative about attending NTPRS, because although I use TPRS in my classroom, it is not my primary CI method of teaching, as I implement many other CI strategies/techniques as well; folks had cautioned me that NTPRS was directed specifically at TPRS and not other CI strategies. I had wanted to attend the iFLT Conference in Denver the week before, but it conflicted with SALVI's Pedagogy Rusticatio which I was attending, so I decided to attend NTPRS and to glean whatever I could for my TPRS usage. Wow, was I wrong! Yes, TPRS strategies were addressed, but that seemed to be only a part of the entire conference, as CI was the overall theme.

Now going into the conference, I had felt that I already possessed a pretty good knowledge about teaching CI, but gosh, this was like a full-week of graduate school on CI. I have a MUCH fuller and deeper view now on CI and how to use it more effectively in my classes. 

What I enjoyed most was how friendly everyone was but more importantly that I was with other world language teachers who shared the SAME pedagogical view as I did. I did not have to defend my use of CI/TPRS to anyone, because all of us were on the same page! I could openly discuss what I was doing in my classroom, ask others how to do something specific and encourage folks who were just beginning to use CI/TPRS.

I was surprised by how well run the conference was. Participants pre-self rated themselves based on their familiarity/usage of TPRS, so there were three tracks: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced - I was on the Advanced track. For the first three days, the morning/afternoon sessions were dedicated to one's particular track, and participants had the chance to learn and to be coached according to their levels. Following that, there were elective sessions which folks could attend based on specific CI topics. I will address much of what I learned in later posts, but here are the basics:
  • Learning Japanese with Betsy Paskvan - My first day's morning/afternoon sessions were with Betsy, where she taught us Japanese using only CI. Because I am of Japanese descent, I think that most folks in my group (and the instructor too) thought that I already knew Japanese or at least some other Asian language, but the the truth is besides English, I can only speak Latin - I know absolutely no Japanese. In the beginning of Betsy's session, I was lost, because Japanese is such a technically specific language (Latin seems like a cakewalk compared to Japanese), and it took me awhile to get accustomed to the sounds of Japanese, but Betsy patiently brought us along slowly through LOTS of repetitions and of meaningful interactions with the language through listening, questioning and reading. Suddenly, somehow, during those 5 hours, it began to all click and by the end, I was able to speak Japanese (albeit it was limited) and to read/write Japanese (using English letters). It has been 5 days since I had that session, and I have still retained ALL of that Japanese, which I acquired subconsciously through CI. Because I got to experience learning another language via CI, now I know how my own students must feel and just how important it is that I implement these CI strategies both to aid in language acquisition and to keep the affective filter low. I want to move to Alaska so that i can learn more Japanese from Betsy!
  • Session with Blaine and Von Ray - Wow, what could be better than 5 hours with the developer of TPRS and his son? Too much to discuss, so I'll leave that for a future post, but I have definitely added a lot more to my TPRS arsenal.
  • Embedded Reading - I attended two elective sessions on Embedded Reading led by Laurie Clarcq and Michelle Whaley, the developers of this CI strategy. When I entered their first session, Laurie saw my nametag and immediately said to me, "Keith Toda, can I have permission to use your blog post about embedded reading on my website?" I was absolutely floored that Laurie even knew who I was; that she knew I had a blog post about embedded reading, which I had just written last week; and that she wanted to use it as a link on her blog! I was on Cloud Nine after that! Anyhow, I can listen to Laurie and Michelle present on embedded readings for hours, because first off, they are a hoot to see present in person but more importantly, this strategy addresses so many issues. Even Blaine Ray is a huge believer now in embedded readings! I do not know why English/Language Arts teachers do not use this strategy, since it addresses literacy.
  • Research on TPRS - This was an important session to me, because as data now drives our schools, we as CI/TPRS need actual statistical results to validate our methodology; anecdotal evidence (such as student enthusiasm, fewer failures and higher student retention in the upper levels) is nice but that does not prove anything big picture. The presenter, who is a professor at North Indiana University, presented current statistical research which compared results of TPRS students vs. traditional-methods students on standardized language tests and how the TPRS students fared much better. Although this presenter only focused on TPRS and not on other CI strategies, the statistical data showed that this form of CI truly had an impact on learning.
  • Reading Strategies with Carol Gaab - Wow, this 5-hour session alone was worth the price of the entire conference. I cannot put into words what I learned from Carol,  because she gave us all such a incredible treasure trove of CI reading strategies/techniques and presented it all with an incredible amount of energy, humor and humility. Carol had me fully engaged during those 5 hours. She gave us reading strategies using excerpts from her CI-based novel Brandon Brown Wants a Dog (which is actually written in Spanish), and now I want to learn Spanish, purely so that I can read that book - I have a bunch of theories about the plot and how it ends, but since I do not know enough Spanish, I cannot read it! Most importantly, Carol imparted the following gem of CI wisdom which has now become one of my CI mantras:
The brain craves NOVELTY - Comprehension/circling questions can get old REALLY fast for you and your students, so change it up with a new activity every two minutes or every 4th question 

The downside of the conference: While it was absolutely wonderful to be surrounded by fellow teachers who were also pursuing a deeper knowledge and practical application of CI, at times, I felt like a total minority/bastard child at the conference; I was the sole Latin teacher there, so in some ways, I never felt like I "fit in" when it came to specific language discussion/sessions. 

At the exhibitors' tables, all of the CI materials/readers were geared towards the modern languages - absolutely nothing for Latin. When I asked an exhibitor if there were future plans for any Latin materials, the person said, "Even if we were to publish readers in Latin, there just aren't enough Latin teachers out there using TPRS to make it cost effective." Well, buddy, maybe it is time for me to write some original TPRS readers in Latin and sell them myself!

So I write this not out of bitterness but more to say "Watch out, NTPRS. I plan to return next summer with a number of Latin teachers hungry for CI in tow, and we will make our presence known!" I really want there to be a Brandonus Fuscus Canem Vult novel! Any other Latin teachers want to join me next year ?


  1. I would like to see a simple, TPRS-style reader but with mythological themes. That might dovetail nicely with the Cambridge Latin Course, which is interesting reading despite its overwhelming amount of vocabulary. It has almost no mythology, which students need to read a lot of Classical (and other) literature with any real pleasure or understanding. Maybe, "Hercules canem (= Cerberum) vult?" Students are also taking some interest in mythology right now due to the Percy Jackson books and movies, which might perk up their interest, too.

    I am not surprised the presenter on embedded readings knew about your blog; your blog is REALLY good and helpful! I can't commit to attending the NTPRS workshop next summer but will think about it. It IS nice to do TPRS/CI/immersion workshops with other Latin teachers.

    Regarding the research session, I don't know if it will impress non-CI Latin teachers who feel that our language is "different." What, exactly, did the researchers measure as indications of proficiency with the language? If they are not skills that produce good National Latin Exam and AP scores, I am not so sure most of my colleagues in my own school system would care.

    I do think the number of teachers and professors who want to use Latin more actively is growing. But that's just a gut feeling, which may be affected by the groups of Latinists I am choosing to affiliate with. It would be nice see some research that measures how many of us there are nationwide (or even worldwide), where, and how fast the numbers are growing. Has anyone gathered a list of programs beyond secondary school where students can study Latin in an active fashion? An online list would be nice to have.

    High school Latin teachers mostly want to prepare students for college and university level work, hence the interest in AP. A study would need to show that CI better prepares Latin students for success at the next level to interest Latin teachers. I can understand their scepticism, since there seem to be very few universities that teach Latin with anything other than the grammar-translation approach; there are precious few that seem to even use the reading approach. Teachers don't want to deviate too far from professors' expectations of their future students. The research would need to show that CI better prepares students to read and interpret a wider range of Latin texts with facility in order to interest university professors. I suspect the latter is true, but where is the proof? (And is there a significant difference in how long this process takes, since time is always limited?)

    As I type this I am one of the subjects of a research study by Mair (rhymes with "fire") Lloyd of Open University. She is not looking at CI or TPRS specifically, but on the effects of conversational Latin on Latin reading comprehension. She is testing volunteers before and after the Conventiculum Lexintoniense in regard to reading comprehension, speed, and feelings from the reading and the reading experience. We don't translate the passage but sketch what we envision (quite crudely, in my case). This research is an important beginning for us Classicists. There needs to be more work in this vein. Anyway, I will be curious about the results, which I hope Mair will share.

    Perhaps we need some alternative, testing-wise, to the NLE/AP to measure students' proficiency in ways that are more in line with modern languages and the ACTFL standards. So far I've heard mixed reviews about Alira. What do you think?

  2. Mary Lou,

    Thanks for your comments. Regarding the session which I attended on Research and TPRS, the standardized assessments which were used varied depending on the study. One used a standardized Spanish state exam (the Regents exam in New York?), while another was a Spanish district speaking asesssment patterned after the ACTFL OPI. In both studies, the TPRS-taught students outperformend the grammar-textbook-taught students. Diana Noonan, the WL Coordinator of Denver City Schools and a huge supporter of CI/TPRS, has data from her own school district which supports this too based on her district's standardized assessments.

    I would not use the NLE at all as an assessment to compare TPRS-students to textbook-students, since it is a contest and does not reflect what a student should know at a particular level (I heard this from the NLE committee itself at an ACL). I would not even use the AP Latin exam as a way to compare students, since it focuses so much on grammar/translation. For now, the ALIRA is a good assessment which could used, but not enough students have taken it to make it even a statistically valid exam.

    Blaine Ray has unofficial data comparing TPRS-students to textbook-taught students where at the end of a semester, Spanish 1 students were given a 5-minute timed write to write about their families. They were "graded" on the number of words written after 5 minutes and how accurate/comprehensible their writing was on a scale from 1-6 (I know that timed writes are not graded usually on accuracy, but he needed to show that aspect). According to Blaine, the TPRS-students outpeformed the textbook-students by far in terms of how many words they wrote and how accurate/comprehensible their writing was.

    Unfortunately, traditional Latin teachers will take no notice of this data, since according to them, we are "different" from the other languages: why should we have students speak, read, listen, and write Latin if all colleges want is for students to translate Latin into English? Eheu...

  3. Keith a few related thoughts:

    I went to a workshop with Blaine in June and he mentioned next years NTPRS conference would be out by Dulles Airport in the D.C. area. I am hoping to go. In addition, he certainly taught embedded readings with the TPRS method at the workshop. I didn't realize this is a newer development.

    And I would certainly support you writing such short novels! The stuff that Blaine had in French, and Spanish looked great and was interesting. I'm sure you would have a sufficient market and it would obviously help Latin teachers transition to CI.

    Also I think it would be great to get a list of CI teachers/Schools. I think that would help Latin teachers work together in different areas and allow for some of the more experienced CI teachers mentor/teach the ones with less experience. It seems to me if we are to help Latin teachers transition to CI then they/we (or maybe just me) need help both with CI tools (how to do it) and to gain Latin fluency (by receiving lots of CI).

    Matthaeus - Rusticatio 2012

    1. Yep, NTPRS 2015 will be in Reston, VA, 10 minutes from Dulles airport. I would love to see a number of Latin teachers there in attendance! Hope to see you there.

  4. Keith, it was great to meet you in person at Pedagogy Rusticatio! And how exciting that the conference will be in the D.C. area next year. I'll be there! Please let us know how the CI readers go, and we should all have a go at writing at least one. I'm always jealous of the modern languages for having these readers.

    Ann Martin

  5. Hi Keith,

    Great post! If you received a handout, could you share the research data you saw presented? Also, when you say to change up, do you mean only do circling for short bits of time, or do you mean only change up the line of discussion/questions?

    1. The research was done by Karen Lichtman, a professor at North Indiana University, and can be found at the following site: