Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Hybrid CI/Textbook Approach, Part 2

This is part 2 in a series based on my presentation "Detoxing from the Textbook".

My last post discussed that although textbooks are a resource for the classroom, they are not designed with CI in mind. Many of you are in stituations where you do not want to leave behind the textbook, cannot leave behind the textbook for various reasons, or do not feel comfortable enough with CI/TPRS to "untextbook." For the record, those are all indeed valid reasons. This, however, does not mean that you still cannot apply CI/TPRS strategies to the textbook, but it does require planning. 

1) When trying to do a hybrid/CI approach with a textbook, there are a few questions to consider:
  • What MUST I absolutely cover? What are considered non-negotiables? Look through your textbook and see what topics, language structures, vocabulary, etc are covered. Of those, what MUST be covered and for what reasons? Things which can determine coverage in a textbook:
    • state/district standards
    • standardized exams and assessments (school, district, state-level)
    • Student Learning Objectives (SLOs)
    • instructional team 
  • If there are topics which must be covered, can I cover them on MY own timeline? Is it truly necessary for me to be on the same page as other teachers? If I can ensure that all of these topics are taught by the time of the "_________" (final exam/SLO, etc.), does it matter that I will do it according to MY own personal pacing calendar?
2) Take a look at a chapter, and ask yourself "What is my end goal?" Depending on your goals, it could be a number of things:
  • students will be able to read a particular story/reading
  • students will be able to take part in a specific textbook dialogue
  • students will be able to demonstrate specific skills/language structures
  • students will be able to demonstrate proficiency on a common standardized chapter/final exam assessment
NOTE - Simply "knowing" a list of vocabulary is NOT an end goal, but rather an acquisition of, an internalization of, and a working knowledge of vocabulary should be the goal.

3) Now ask yourself, "What must I do to prepare students to get to that end?"
  • Shelter vocabulary but not grammar - One of the most practical tools which i have come across for this is Carrie Toth's Vocabulary Chuck-it Bucket. Sort through your textbook's chapter vocabulary and ask yourself:
    • What words are necessary? Are there words which are absolutely necessary for my end goal?
    • What words are high frequency? Teach these early! It will actually save you time in the long run, plus you can get LOTS of mileage from these words.
    • What words can be put on hold for a bit?
    • What words can I chuck out? Regardess of your textbook, I am certain that there are words on a textbook's vocabulary list which make you scratch your head and say "Who the heck thought that this was an important word to know (due to low frequency)?" I usually throw these words out, and if they appear in a reading, I will gloss it for students.

  • Preload/preteach vocabulary/language structures prior to the actual textbook reading/dialogue. This will allow for whatever your end goal is to be 100% comprehensible by the time your students get to it. Preloading/preteaching vocabulary/language structures can be achieved through TPR, TPRS, and many other CI strateges. 

  • Noted CI/TPRS presenter Karen Rowan passed along to me another great tool for backwards design. Take a look at your desired end goal dialogue/reading and based on the vocabulary/structures in that dialogue/reading, fill out the grid. This is a wonderful tool, because it really helps map out visually what needs to be done to prepare students for my end goal.

    You may be thinking, "This is great, but what does this look like in the classroom?" Stay tuned for my next post!

    POST SCRIPTUM: Quite ironically, this week on his live hour-long online "radio" show "Tea with BVP," second language acquisitionist Bill Van Patten discussed textbooks and if they were a "friend or foe" for language acquistion. It was a great lively discussion, but unfortunately, the episode was not recorded, so it is not in the Tea wth BVP episode archive (I am bummed, because I was only able to listen to the first half of the episode). If you are not currently listening to his show, you can listen live on Thursday afternoons starting at 3:00pm EST ( or you can listen to past episodes in the archive (

    Wednesday, October 21, 2015

    A Hybrid CI/Textbook Approach, Part 1

    The following is the first in a series based on my presentation "Detoxing from the Textbook".

    When one starts to embrace CI/TPRS, immediately one begins to think about casting aside the textbook. That was my first inclination when I began to implement TPRS in 2007, and for the first six weeks, I was moving along pretty strongly...and then I suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was going. I had no map, and I did not possess a strong enough foundation of CI/TPRS to head out on my own. As a result, I ended up going back to the textbook and felt like a CI/TPRS failure.

    So is the textbook in and of itself bad? It is a resource indeed BUT..
    • Textbooks are not written with Comprehensible Input language acquisition in mind. If they were, textbooks would focus on higher frequency vocabulary and unsheltered grammar; and they would scaffold like crazy with tons of repetitions. Instead, we find the opposite in textbooks: intensive vocabulary with limited grammar. 
    • Textbooks assume that language learning is linear in nature. Most textbooks assume that students will master a language structure in a chapter. The reality is that language acquisition does not occur in a linear fashion but rather in a spiral: one goes up the spiral a bit when being introduced a new target structure/vocabulary and then one goes back down, and then one goes up again a little higher, and then spirals back down again. It is actually in the goings up and down of that spiral where acquisition of previous structures/vocabulary occurs through repetition. And for the record, I am quoting ACTFL language in that description.
    So then why do we cling to the textbook?
    • It is what we know. For many of us, we have "perfected" lesson plans for the textbook after having used it for years. We have worksheets/packets set up for each chapter, and we know how to teach each concept. We ourselves most likely learned from a textbook, so we "understand" how it works.
    • It provides us a map (albeit faulty) of where to go with structures, topics, vocabulary, etc. Even though we are language teachers, creating a "map" on our own is difficult.
    • It is safe and easy. The textbook has everything lined up for us teachers, in terms of vocabulary lists, workbook exercises, classroom work, online resources, etc. All we have to do is to follow the teacher's manual. 
    • It saves prep time. Many language teachers have 2-3 preps (even more!), so using the textbook is a godsend, since it saves preparation time for teachers.
    • We are “required” to use it. Even if one wanted to leave behind the textbook, in many districts, teachers must use the textbook.
    • We are bound by a pacing calendar or Instructional team. Depending on one's district, there may be a policy requiring that all students be on the same page at the same time.
    • We do not have enough of a foundation of CI/TPRS to leave the textbook behind. This was exactly the situation in which I was in 2007.
    The question to ask yourself then is "Is the textbook what is best for your students? or is it what is best for you as the teacher?" 

    So if you need/want to use the textbook (for various reasons), is there a way you can implement a CI/TPRS approach with it? The answer is YES, That will be my next posting...

    Friday, October 16, 2015

    Three Ring Circus

    This is a fun way to preteach three verbs in an active way. I first saw Nancy Llewellyn demonstrate this activity at Rusticatio in 2010 but had forgotten about it until I saw Alina Filipescu use this in her session at NTPRS this summer. If you have any students who like to act/mime, this is a great activity for them:
    1. Pick out three verbs which you wish to preview/preteach and can be easily demonstrated by an action/gesture.
    2. Write the three verbs in the target language on three strips of paper, i.e., one verb per strip.
    3. Pick three students who will demonstrate the three verbs.
    4. Hold up the first strip, say the verb in the target language, and define the verb in English to establish meaning.
    5. Now have the first student demonstrate the action of the verb CONTINUOUSLY while you begin to circle, e.g. O class, Steven audit. (ohhh). Stevenne audit? (ita). Stevenne an Lady Gaga audit? (Steven). Lady Gagane audit? (minime). quis audit? (Steven). quid Steven agit? (audit)
    6. Now tell the first student to take a break and do the whole thing again with a new verb and student. Repeat again with the third verb and student.
    7. Line up all three students, and now ask three other students to stand behind them and to hold the strips over their heads.
    8. Tell all three students to demonstrate their actions simultaneously and continously (hence, the "three ring circus" aspect), while you circle regarding the three actions.
    1. When all three students are demonstrating their actions simultaneously as part of the Three Ring Circus, be aware: depending on the action, it can be very tiring for them if you do it for too long. This is a great activity in which to practice circling, but wow, one can get in a good workout acting out a verb. At Alina Filipescu's presentation, I had to demonstrate the verb "fight," and after a few minutes, I was really tired! Next time, I will ask if I can demonstrate "sit" or "stand"....
    2. I was surprised by how engaged students were in the activity. Maybe the choice in verbs and gestures lent itself to engaging students, maybe the students which I picked know how to ham it up.
    3. The three ring part of the activity naturally lends itself to circling, because you can ask about particular students, what they are doing, what they are not doing, who is doing what, who is not doing what, etc.
    I have definitely added this activity to my CI arsenal, but I will probably only do it every 5-6 weeks to preserve the novelty.

    P.S (July 23, 2018)
    Here is a video of Grant Boulanger demonstrating Three Ring Circus in Spanish.

    Here is another video demonstrating Three Ring Circus at 1:36.

    Friday, October 9, 2015

    The Role of Translation in the CI Classroom

    I do not think that any topic gets CI teachers more riled up than the topic of translating L2 into English. There are those who feel that it has NO place in the CI classroom, while others feel that it is a necessary part of the language acquisition process.

    I do not claim to be an expert on this topic by any means, but this posting represents where I am on the matter at this moment in time - a few months from now, my views may have changed.

    When I first began the switch over to a CI classroom, I was very greatly opposed to any type of translation into English, as I was reacting against the grammar-translation model which I had been implementing for years and under which I myself had learned Latin. In addition, I had just returned from my first Rusticatio, where only spoken Latin was allowed. Basd on my Rusticatio experience, to me, the thought of translating into English seemed to diminish the importance of L2. John Piazza, a fellow Latin CI teacher, however, shared an article by Susan Gross which addressed the need for translation in a CI classroom. In that article, "Reading is Essential in Second Language Class," Susan Gross (2009) writes the following about translation:
    One reason for translation is to assure perfect comprehension. I have witnessed many language classes where students were able to answer Spanish questions about a Spanish reading, yet they did not exactly understand the reading! Since language is acquired only when the input is comprehensible, we are not promoting acquisition by simply asking questions in Spanish.  
    A second reason for translation is to inform the teacher. While listening to a student translate a paragraph, the teacher will discover many interesting things, such as confusing “to” and “from” (this is surprisingly common) or a lack of attention to plurals. As the teacher notices which things tend to be incorrectly translated, the teacher then knows what to reinforce in the next few lessons.
    This showed me that translation does indeed have its place in a CI classroom, but just not THE place as the end result. For those of us Latin teachers, translation is pretty much all we did in college. Our university classes were very predictable, as we each took turns around the table translating classical works aloud into English, with a smattering of grammar questions and discussion in English about what we were translating. In most traditional Latin classes, translation occurs, but that is where we stop; we may have students do some projects about what was read, but anything using the Latin itself rarely happens. 

    When looking at Bloom's Taxonomy, you will see that translation ranks near the bottom (it is a demonstration of "Understanding"), as it is a low-level proficiency skill. Now some of you are scoffing, "But hey, translating requires much knowledge to accomplish." Granted, I will give you that, but when translating something from L2 into L1, although a great deal of skill is needed, in the end after translating, all which you have is the original L2 document but now in L1. Absolutely no new meaning has been created in L2, and the creation of new meaning is the ultimate end goal in Blooms Taxonomy. NOTE - we may do some consolidation, higher-level thinking projects in English regarding the reading, but our actual goal should be new meaning in L2. 

    So why is translation important then? To me, for one purpose: it establishes meaningWhenever I lesson plan, as I use stories to teach the language, I always make sure that one of my early activities is for students to chorally translate the story aloud into English. This way, I can make sure that all students are on the same page when it comes to the meaning. It also shows me where some of the problems are. But as I said before, translation is not where it ends for me. Following translation, I focus now on working with the language itself in a number of ways with students so that by the end of the "unit" a few days later, students are able to create their own meaning in the target language.

    A few caveats about asking students to do a translating a text/reading into English:
    1. it needs to be comprehensible and meaningful, i.e., students need to have acquired the majority of words and structures by the time of translating. It is okay to give glossed words ('icing" words), but if it is necessary to supply a large number of these words, then the text/reading is not comprehensible enough.
    2. it needs to compelling for students
    3. it needs to be a reasonable length for them. If you give students something too long, their affective filters will rise, even if the reading is comprehensible.
    Every few months, unannounced I give students a "translation check-in," where they have to sight translate a very comprehensible story into English (about 1/2 page in length at the longest), but the story contains known vocabulary and structures. I call it a "check-in," because this is their way to "check-in" with me to demonstrate proficiency of concepts and of comprehension and also so that i can see which structures I need to review with them based on any errors. At the very end of the passage, I always ask students "I found this translation to be (choose one of the following): difficult, challenging yet doable, easy, very easy" and then I ask "Why?" Overwhelmingly, most students will respond "easy" or "very easy," with a few "challenging yet doable." I have yet to receive any "difficult." In responding to "why?" most students answer "Because it was a story, it was easy to understand what was happening" or "I knew all of the words." For anyone who wants an argument as to the importance of presenting vocabulary in a meaningful context, there it is! I am also amazed at how quickly they finish writing out their translations! In fact, a number of students write, "This was much easier to do than I thought. I thought it would take me a long time."

    For me personally, in every CI/TPRS workshop which I have attended where a new language was being demonstrated, I have always been grateful for the times where we translated into English purely for the establishment of meaning. There have been a number of occasions at Rusticationes where I have been completely lost and felt frustrated/overwhelmed, because no meaning was established (or meaning was established through the use of incomprehensible L2).

    Essentially, it is okay to translate into English for the purpose of establishing meaning or for checking comprehension, but when we solely focus on that English translation and not back on the original text in the target language, then we have missed the point.

    Some more resources on the topic:

    Reading is Essential in Second Language Class - article by Susan Gross quoted above

    Translation: Evil or Essential? - a blog post by Terry Waltz, a CI Chinese teacher

    Direct Translation: Lame...Not as Boring as You'd Think and Efffective - a blog post by Chris Stolz, a CI Spanish teacher.

    Volleyball Translation - a post by Martina Bex, a CI Spanish teacher. The comments section especially has some great discussion about the role of translating.

    When to Assess Reading Comprehension in English - another great post from Martina Bex. Because of this post, I now assess all of my reading comprehension on tests in English.

    Thursday, October 1, 2015

    "Events" - Working in Past Tenses in Latin 1

    Here is a great way to introduce past tenses and to use them in a way which demonstrates the "past tense" nature as compared to the present tense.

    At NTPRS 2014, during my group's session with Blaine and Von Ray, they introduced the concept of "events," which essentially are flashbacks in a story with which students are already familiar.

    Now this concept of "events" was a departure from what I had learned at my first TPRS workshop in 2008, where Blaine Ray himself had said that it was important to teach past tenses as soon as possible, since most stories were written in the past tense; he posited that we should just begin telling stories using the past tense and expose students early to the concept. At NTPRS 2014, Blaine's changed his tune a bit, as he and Von explained that the use of "events" now allowed for past tenses to be used in a meaningful context, while at the same time distinguishing themseves from other tenses. After having implemented "events" in stories, I can definitely say that they work and are a wonderful tool to use.

    The set up is very simple: Take a story which you have already used with students, but the key part is that it needs to have been written in the present tense (I suppose you can take a story written in the imperfect/perfect tense if you wish to introduce the pluperfect tense). The idea now is to create a flashback which will either explain details of the original story or add new ones.

    So here is how I used an event to introduce the imperfect and perfect tenses in Latin 1. After roughly six weeks of school, I "revisited" the very first story which I had used with students.

    Part of Original Story
    Earl elephantum vult. Earl est tristis. Aliyah elephantum habet. Aliyah est laeta.

    Event (with original story embedded in it)
    hodie, Earl elephantum vult, sed heri Earl leonem volebat. heri Earl dixit, “ego leonem volo!”  mater leonem ei dedit. Earl erat laetus. sed leo patrem consumpsit. nunc Earl est tristis.

    hodie Aliyah elephantum habet. heri, Aliyah elephantum non habebat. Aliyah erat tristis. heri Aliyah erat in Arbys. Aliyah elephantum et senem vidit. Aliyah dixit, “ego elephantum volo.” Aliyah senem pulsavit. nunc Aliyah elephantum habet. Aliyah est laeta.

    1. I was surprised by how seamless it was for students to pick up the imperfect and perfect tenses this way.
    2. Using flashbacks in a meaningful context truly allowed for students to distinguish between the different tenses, because they were being used and contrasted at the same time.
    3. Because I was taking a story with which students were already familiar and one which involved their classmates, the flashbacks were compelling for them.
    4. Because I was limiting vocabulary, I could focus on taking known words and "milking the heck out of them grammarwise." When introducing the new language structures, because I was using known vocabulary words, students could focus purely on the new form and meaning. 
    5. The only new vocabulary words which I introduced were hodie, heri, and nunc, which served as adverbial timemarkers necessary for introducing the time shifts in the story. I also had to introduce the word erat.
    Now I try to write some type of "event" in all of my stories in order to work in both past and present tenses at the same time. There is no reason why I cannot introduce future tenses this way too!

    For some reason, "events" used to be known as "bird walks" - I do not quite know why...