Sunday, August 30, 2015

Circling Troubleshooting

With the school year having already started (or soon to be starting) for CI/TPRS teachers, many folks have asked me about circling, specifically what to do when it is not "working" and students are not responding. 

First off, let me say that this student reaction happens to me ALL THE TIME, so please do not think that it is you and that you are the problem per se. However, when this does occur when I am circling, then this does communicate a message to me. Below are a few situations with possible solutions:

Students did not respond, because they did not fully comprehend what I was asking. When I attended my first Blaine Ray workshop back in 2008, I vividly remember him saying "If you are not getting any response from students during circling, do two things: ask the question again but this time more slowly." I have always remembered that statement, because I have had to do what he said SO MANY times. In many occasions when students are not responding, it is because I, the teacher, am speaking WAY too quickly for them to process what I am asking or I am asking TOO MUCH. When that happens, I take a breath, repeat what I am saying again more slowly and if possible, I will point and pause at any words which are projected. Sometimes, I will also do a comprehension check and say, "What did I just ask in English?"

Students did not respond, because they do not want to respond. One of my class rules is that everyone is required to answer aloud during circling. NOTE - there is a difference between students who are introverted and students who do not want to be part of the class. In each case, I still require each to respond chorally with the hopes that each will feel more comfortable being part of the community as a result. 

Students gave an incorrect answer to the question. If students gave an incorrect answer, then it is possible that they did not comprehend the question itself. When this happens, usually I will point and pause at the particular interrogative which is on my wall to establish meaning, and then I will ask the quesiton again more slowly.

Students did not respond, because they have figured out the basic pattern of circling. If you hold to the basic order of circling all the time, then students will figure out the pattern, as it is very predictable after awhile. During my first year of using TPRS, I had students who figured out the pattern after 3 days! As a result, you need to keep students on their toes. Vary up the order, and ask the questions in reverse order. 

Students did not respond, because they have become bored with circling. Let's be honest: circling can get very boring both for the students hearing the questions and for you the teacher asking them. I had always run into this wall, but I never voiced my concerns, because I thought that I was circling incorrectly. It was not until I heard Carol Gaab at NTPRS 2014 say, "Circling gets really old, really fast," that I felt understood! This, however, does not mean that you should throw out circling, but rather that you need to vary up the types of questions. A few months ago, i wrote up a post about circling and how to vary it up. The key is "the brain CRAVES novelty," so you need to change things up with W questions, PQAs, and higher order thinking questions. 

Another strategy is to circle with certain groups in the class. On the first day of class, I divide the class into two groups: Bubones (the owls) and Mortuambulantes (the walking dead). To vary up things during circling, I will direct certain questions to one specific group and then ask the other group particular questions.  

I hope that this helps some of you who are experiencing some difficulties in circling. Feel free to leave some strategies which you use!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Word Wall

Last year, I implemented a word wall for the first time. After 17 years of teaching, I finally created one, and I do not know why I did not do this sooner! It is an incredibly easy concept from which you can get LOTS of mileage.

A word wall is a very basic tool - the idea is simply to post vocabulary words on the wall which will remain there for as long as you want. There are many different types of word walls in the world language classroom:
  1. ones which have all of the semester words up there already and are referred to when new words are introduced
  2. ones which have words for a particular unit and are then taken down after the unit has been completed
  3. ones to which new words are constantly added and serve as a running, cumulative list for students
I use example #3. Once I introduce a new target word, then I add it to the wall (I add about 6-7 new words a week). 

Here is my Latin 1 word wall from last year just after a few months of instruction - note that I was limiting vocabulary.

  1. A word wall, however, does not work unless it is reviewed constantly. Reviewing the words on the word wall serves as a great warmup activity. I point my laser pointer at the word wall and can ask a variety of questions, e.g., quid tristis significat Anglice? quid vocabulum significat Latine gives to him?
  2. As a result of the word wall, students know exactly which specific words I want them to acquire. Just because I use a particular word in a story does not mean that I want them to acquire it at that particular moment (as it may be a word which I am previewing for later acquisition or it may just be an "icing" word). If students see the word on the wall later, then they know that it is a target word.
  3. The wall serves as a reference for students when using the language, especially in a timed write. If students cannot think of something to add to their story, they can glance at the wall and use a word for inspiration.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

HOT (Higher Order Thinking) in a CI Classroom

At NTPRS this summer, I attended Carol Gaab's session Inspiring Higher-Level Thinking Using Level Appropriate Language. I could listen to Carol all day, because she really does know her stuff, is incredibly quick-witted, and is always full of energy. Her session was on how to raise students' level of critical thinking, especially at levels 1 and 2 when students have a limited knowledge of language. 

Below is a link to Bess Hayles' blog where she has written up a post about Carol's session. I met Bess last summer at NTPRS in Chicago, and she knows her CI/TPRS stuff very well! Carol covered a lot in her 2.5 hour session, and I was in such awe as I drank everything in which she was saying that I forgot to take notes. I'm grateful for Bess's post here

In addition, here is a link to Carol's handout for the session:

So far in the first two weeks of school, I have already incoporated a few HOT activities, and I can tell you that they work, even in Latin 1 with limited language! With my Latin 1's, I did a "Who Would Say This in the Story?" and "Is This Relevant to the Story?" It really did get students to think, while at the same time get in more repetitions of the language. And honestly, it was a lot of fun! In most situations, since students would respond in English, and I would restate their answer in very comprehensible Latin. My goal now is to do at least two HOT activities with every story which I tell.

Consider being HOT in your classes!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Latin 1 - Week 1 Lesson Plan

I am finishing up the first week of school with students – here is the lesson plan which I used for my Latin 1 class during this week. It has gone SO well! Although this is for a Latin 1 class, it can easily be adapted to your language.

If you saw my Speak Comprehensibly from Day 1 presentation at either ACL or NTPRS this summer, this is the whole lesson plan (my presentation only covered Day 1). Below is the story which I used, and my target vocabulary is vult (want), habet (has), est (is), -ne (?), tristis (sad), laetus (happy). There are links to descriptions of the activity and to the actual documents/powerpoints which I used.

Story (in Latin)
Earl elephantum vult. Earl est tristis. Aliyah elephantum habet. Aliyah est laeta.

elephantus secretum habet. elephantus est tristis. elephantus Aliyahem non vult.

Earl crustulum habet. elephantus crustulum vult. elephantus crustulum consumit. elephantus Earlem consumit.

elephantus est laetus. Earl est tristis.

Story (in English)
Earl wants an elephant. Earl is sad. Aliyah has an elephant. Aliyah is happy.

The elephant has a secret. The elephant is sad. The elephant does not want Aliyah.

Earl has a cookie. The elephant wants the cookie. The elephant eats the cookie. The elephant eats Earl.

The elephant is happy. Earl is sad.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Sunday, August 9, 2015

CI Goals for 2015-2016

Students return back to school tomorrow, so as I am doing some lesson planning, I figure that this would be a good time to list my CI goals for this upcoming school year. 

This year's list is much shorter than last year's list. I still plan on implementing what I learned last year, but I feel like this year, I can focus on specifics, instead of on general CI topics. All of these goals are a result from attending NTPRS a few weeks ago.
  1. Associate vocabulary with gestures and get in TONS of repetitions using those gestures - Last year, I began to use gestures/TPR to teach vocabulary, but I did not focus on it. At NTPRS this summer, in learning both Japanese with Betsy Paskvan, and Romanian with Alina Filipescu, they both taught vocabulary with gestures, and from a student perspective, I can say that it truly helped! Due to the massive amount of repetitions using those gestures, it soon became muscle memory, and the gestures actually helped trigger vocabulary acquisition.  
  2. Use student actors when telling a story - Using student actors has always been hit or miss with me on account of student chemistry being a variable in my classes. Last year, in the majority of my classes I had a number of "sparklers" who loved attention, while I had one class where the majority of students were introverts who hated getting up in front of the class to act out a story. However, incorporating actors allows for another layer of comprehensibility for students. At NTPRS this summer, in the War and Peace Room, when observing folks teach 5 minutes of a language which I did not know, if they used actors in telling a story, my engagement level rose. I want the same to occur in my classroom.
  3. Incorporate more Movie Talk in my classes - I have done Movie Talk probably twice in my CI/TPRS career, with the reason being that it just takes SO MUCH prep ahead of time. The times, however, when I did do it, the students really enjoyed it. At NTPRS this summer, in Alina Filipescu's session, she demonstrated a Movie Talk in Romanian, and it was phenomenal! Since I feel like I have a good CI/TPRS foundation now, I want to focus on Movie Talk. 
  4. Ask HOT questions - HOT stands for "Higher Order Thinking," and I learned this in my session with Carol Gaab at NTPRS. She demonstrated how to vary up circling (because as she says "Circling can get REALLY old, REALLY fast for students") by asking higher level questions, even when vocabulary is limited. I was amazed how many different types of questions one could ask about a simple passage which did not rely on comprehension questions and how engaged I was.
  5. Be mindful of student engagement when planning - To quote my fellow Latin CI/TPRS comrade Justin Slocum Bailey, "Will what I am doing hold students' attention for ten minutes? or more likely, for two minutes?" We know that "the brain craves novelty," so I need to be aware of that when I lesson plan.
  6. Continue to demonstrate that Latin is a true, living language in today's world and not one stuck in the 1st century - Good lord, I cannot begin to tell you the level of shock and of sadness which I felt at NTPRS trying to explain to CI/TPRS folks that Latin is like any other language which deserves to be seated at the table with every other language and not delegated to the "novelty" table. 
  7. Continue to teach fearlessly This phrase "Teach Fearlessly" by Jason Fritze is taped on my classroom desk. For some reason, during this past of week of preplanning, I have felt so empowered to take a stand vocally against departmental policies which i view as counterproductive or obstructional to student language acquisition. I also no longer care if I am viewed as "that CI guy" in my department and quite honestly, I embrace that title. Based on the results which I am seeing from ALL types of students in my classes, why should I be afraid, apologetic or ashamed of what administrators, parents and other teachers in my department have to say?