Thursday, April 30, 2015

Circling with Balls

For anyone wanting an easy strategy to introduce CI to a class (and for you as the teacher to ease into it), here is a great activity. It is a wonderful way to learn about students and for them to learn about each other. Circling with Balls is staple of any CI/TPRS classroom.

  1. Give students an index card and have them write their names at the top. I use different color cards for different periods.
  2. in English (or in the target language depending on the level), ask two questions to which students will draw their responses on the card - the question may vary depending on their level, e.g., 
    1. what animal do you have or want to have?
    2. what is something which you like do?
    3. where in the world have you visited or want to visit?
    4. who is your favorite celebrity? actor? singer?
    5. if you were to be any animal, what animal would you be?
  3. Collect the cards and now pick 3 students' cards.
  4. Write any unknown necessary vocabulary on board along with their English meanings in order to establish meaning. For level 1, you will probably end up writing all of the vocabulary and various word-form changes. Whenever one of these words is used, point/pause at the word before moving on.
  5. Now in the target language ask student #1 about one of their picture (again, it may require pointing/pausing). The student will respond in the target language: "O Rhonda, do you HAVE a snake? (no). Oh, do you WANT a snake? (yes) Oh, you want a snake. O class, Rhonda wants a snake. (ohhh).
  6. Depending on your students' level, you can go further by asking, "O Rhonda, do you want a big snake? (yes), Oh, you want a big snake? O class, Rhonda wants a big snake (ohh). O class, does Rhonda want a big snake? (yes). O class, does Rhonda want a big snake or a small snake? (a big snake)? O class, does Rhonda want a small snake? (no) O class, does Rhonda want a big cow? (no) O class, what does Rhonda want? (a big snake).
  7. Move onto to student #2 and do the same routine. After finding out what student #2 asks, you can go back and ask the class "Does student #2 want a big snake? (no) Who wants a big snake? (Rhonda) Ah, Rhonda wants a big snake. What does student #2 want?"
  8. Check off those students whom you interviewed afterwards, and start anew with three new students the next day until all you have gone through all of the cards. 
  1. I do this starting on Day 1 of class. Because I have written meanings on the board and implement point/pause, the activity is completely comprehensible. Even though there is output, it is totally scaffolded and limited.
  2. This is a great way to know your students and to find out information which you can use to personalize readings and stories about them. The whole activity will take about 10 minutes a day, but students will still remember months later what other students answered.
  3. It is a great way to practice circling and to get in lots of repetitions!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Makes it Worth It All

There are certain days where I become incredibly frustrated with teaching and question why I am a teacher. On those days, I consider the possibility of leaving behind the profession and of pursuing another career. Yesterday was one of those day for me.

Yesterday, my students had to take the district's post-test Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes (SLO) assessment in Latin. If you are familiar with SLOs, in this age of data-driven, results-based education, you know that they are a part of the educational movement which says that actions of a student must be "observable, measurable, and demonstrated." As a result of Race to the Top, students in Georgia must now take a standardized pre-test in August and then again a post-test at the end of April in order to measure "progress". In order to prevent students from just "christmas-treeing" the post test, their score counts as 2% of their overall grade.

The SLO for Latin 1 consisted of 30 reading comprehension questions based on a passage, while Latin 2 and above had to read a number of passages. The problem, however, was that the passages were incredibly vocabulary-driven and in most of cases, they did not even reflect any of the vocabulary which students had acquired during the year or anything which I had done this year. My students were panicking and were completely demoralized as they took their SLOs. During the adminstration of the SLO, what else could I say but "Remember this is all about progress - do not focus on the grade or how many you get correct," but I felt like a fraud every time I said it.

By the end of yesterday, I was completely demoralized. I was:
  • angry, because I felt completely disrepected as a teacher. Am I not a professional who can be trusted to do my job and to teach students? Why is it necessary for students to take a standardized assessment to prove my efficacy? 
  • saddened, because if these SLOs were going to serve as one of the data measures of how effective I am as a teacher, then based on this faulty SLO, it looked like I have not been doing my job this whole year.
  • resentful, because even though the purpose of the post-test was to show progress from August, it was still being recorded as a grade. If a student were to score a 65% on the post-test (up from a 20% on the pre-test), that does indeed demonstrate tremendous progress, but it is still entered into the gradebook as a 65%. Granted it is only 2% of students' overall grade, how do I explain that to concerned parents?
  • guilty, because I had helped to create my district's SLOs for Latin. When our committee was writing the SLOs, these passages looked like they would be great measures to demonstrate progress. How had we missed it at the time? Now I will have to face my fellow Latin teachers in my district and explain to them that even though we had the best of intentions, we had gotten it wrong. An apology is necessary, but will it seem empty to them, since the damage has already been done? I also felt like I had to apologize to my students.
Yesterday, I was ready to leave it all behind. And then today happened. 

Since my classes were having a test tomorrow, we played a review game, and we had SO much fun. The game itself was nothing special, but for some reason, I felt totally "on" and was "in the zone" - my gregarious personality suddenly took over, which surprised me, considering how defeated I had felt the day before. As a result, students were totally engaged in what we were doing and with me. I felt such a strong connection with them; in fact, in one of my classes, a student said something truly funny, and I ended up laughing so hard that I cried in front of them and could not stop laughing, which in turn somehow created a bond with the class. As a student put it, "Wow, I have never seen you laugh so hard before - that's really cool. My other teachers would never do something like that."   

Is this not what teaching is all about? Not so much about the subject matter, but rather the relationships which we foster with students? The subject matter seems so incidental compared to this privilege: Yes, as their teacher, I am part of students' lives, but I forget so many times that they are a part of mine. 

In her blog, Martina Bex says it best:
“The ‘heart’ of CI is the teacher-student relationship. We strive to build this by making the students the center of instruction – both content and delivery…It is a time when the teacher asks questions that include the target structures to the students about their lives. For example, questions for the target structure “went” might be “Who went somewhere interesting last summer?” Then, their answers are discussed, and expanded PQA makes a lesson compelling, because students’ favorite topic of discussion is themselves!”
It saddens me that this overemphasis on standardized assessments and data/results is driving teachers away from the profession. Who knows - maybe it will one day drive me from the classroom. But for now, I need to hold onto days like today to remind me why I teach.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"What Do You Really Write About" Challenge

Recently on his blog, Albert Fernandez wrote a post called "What Do You Really Write About"; in it, he discusses how he was interested in seeing about what he was truly writing in his blog and if it lined up with what he thought he was writing about, i.e., did a disconnect exist? To discover this, he entered his blog into Wordle and created a word cloud. He writes:
It’s interesting to see what I talk about the most. The biggest words are “kids,” “story,” and “students,” followed “time,” “class,” and “Roberta,” the name of one of the main characters in a series of stories I wrote on the site. These words are all big and in the center of the word cloud, which is exactly where they should be. They are the main focus of my instruction.
It’s also interesting to think about what is small or not there: not much about textbook activities or conjugation. “Grammar” is there, but it is small and out of the way, which is exactly the way that it should be in my classroom: something that should be there, but not the main focus of the class and definitely not at the center of instruction. 
At the end of his post, he challenges other bloggers to do the same. Intrigued by this (and reading about how Cynthia Hitz undertook the challenge), I too took up the task and cut/paste the last 6 months of my blog into Wordle (over 10,500 words). Would I be surprised by what I saw? Below is what my word cloud told me:

My biggest words are students, Latin, language, word/words, story, vocabularymeaning, and teachers. I am relieved, because it solidifies what my focus has been for this blog. I do not even see the word grammar - is it there? Granted, there is still a year's worth of my blog which I did not enter into Wordle (perhaps I wrote about grammar big time there), but I am pleased by what I see. 

So if you blog, consider this challenge - about what are you truly writing?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Latin at NTPRS 2015

If you have been reading my blog, you know that last summer I attended the National TPRS Conference (NTPRS) for the first time. Although I was the sole Latin teacher there, I still found the entire conference incredibly worthwhile. So I am excited to announce that at this summer's NTPRS, there will be FIVE Latin-specfic presentations. Justin Bailey, Bob Patrick and I will be presenting - below is a description of the five presentations:

Three Latin Lesson Plans with Compelling Comprehensible Input (Justin Slocum Bailey)
These entertaining lesson plans can be used with any curriculum to provide personalized CI with high-frequency structures and to spark scaffolded conversation. The plans are highly adaptable and can be used repeatedly with different content and at different levels. Examples are in Latin, but the lessons work in any language!

Legere et Loqui: How to generate compelling Latin conversations from any text (Justin Slocum Bailey)
Learn to create compelling conversation in Latin around a Latin text of any genre or level by crafting and asking personalized questions based on key structures and themes in the text. Practice using questions before, during, and after reading (viewing, listening) to increase both engagement and comprehensible repetition of structures.

Report from the Field: CI Latin From Start to Finish, and What About AP? (Bob Patrick)
This session demonstrates how Latin teachers in a metro Atlanta public school are creating a total CI program including what they do with AP Latin. The session provides practical suggestions and ready made materials for use in your Latin program including tips for beginning CI work in a traditional program.

Speak Comprehensibly from Day 1 (Keith Toda)
Now that you have experienced CI/TPRS here at NTPRS, come see how to put it all together for Day 1 of class. Though session examples will be given in Latin, everything can be transferred to your target language. Come learn some Latin, and see that it never was a dead language!

Detoxing from the Textbook (Keith Toda)
Want to take the full plunge into CI/TPRS but district/state standardized assessments holding you back? Want to move away from the textbook but unsure how to do it? This session will focus on a hybrid approach of using the textbook purely as a guide but still giving students the full benefits of a CI/TPRS curriculum.

If you are a Latin teacher interested in CI/TPRS, consider attending NTPRS in Reston, VA this summer. Also, Pedagogy Rusticatio will be attendng NTPRS, so there will be a number of Latin teachers there - I'm excited that there will be others in attendance!

Even if you do not teach Latin, you can still apply much from these sessions to your language. I look forward to seeing many folks at our presentations!

Friday, April 3, 2015

I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours!

As part of a "I Will Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours" Twitter challenge from fellow CI/TPRS user Mike Coxon, here are some examples of student timed writes in Latin.

Much like Mike writes in his blog post, I use timed writes as a way for students to OUTPUT language after a great deal of INPUT. After going over a particular story multiple times over 4-5 days, I give students a set amount of time to retell the story to the best of their ability on paper. In most cases, the timed write turns into a free write, because if they complete the story before time is up, then they are to continue writing on their own in Latin what they think happens next.

The following are examples of some Latin 1 timed writes. This particular example is a 7 1/2 minute timed write, where the goal was 75-80 words for the time period - most far exceeded that goal. In this instance, for 4 days students had been going over a particular story (which I had written - the target structure was mihi placet + infinitive) in many different ways and modalities. Prior to the timed write, students were given pictures as a guide to retell the story aloud in Latin as a partner activity (another way for students to output after days of input). Immediately afterwards,I had them do a timed write, while the story was fresh in their minds.

Yes, the timed writes have errors in them, but that is expected - even ACTFL recognizes that there will be errors in communication at the novice and intermediate levels. Remember these are writings by Latin 1 students after just 1 1/2 semesters. Mastery of those concepts will come with time. The errors also show me what concepts which I need to review as their teacher. The other side of it too is that even though these are Latin 1 students who have only had 1 1/2 semesters of the language, look at what they are able to output after LOTS of input!! When I was took Latin under the grammar-translation approach, I never wrote anything in Latin!

182-word sample

136-word sample

111-word sample