Saturday, November 28, 2015

Comprehensible Input is Always Active Latin, but Active Latin Is Not Always Comprehensible Input

I know that my title sounds like a geometry maxim, e.g., a square is always a rhombus, but a rhombus is not always a square. The point of this post is not to offend anyone but is more of an effort to define terms. 

When Latin teachers hear the terms Active Latin and Comprehensible Input, I think that most assume that they are one in the same. The truth is that they are and yet, they are not. Both do involve the use of oral Latin in the classroom for the purpose of language acquisition, but Comprehensible Input is a specific and deliberate form of Active Latin. 

To me, the use of Active Latin means facilitating Latin as a spoken language in the classroom for the purpose of communication and of teaching. Under that umbrella definition, Comprehensible Input definitely fits that description. There are, however, many Latinists out there who think that because they are using active Latin in the classroom, then they must be implementing Comprehensible Input too. The truth is yes, but also no. 

The difference, however, between the two is that I equate active Latin many times with full immersion and forced production of the language. That is not to say that teachers are not achieving success with this approach. The issue is that in many instances full immersion can turn into submersion, which results in frustration for the learner and in a "survival of the fittest" classroom mentality. I myself have experienced this type of submersion at numerous spoken Latin events, and yes, I can attest that frustration and a doubt of one's abilities are the results. In his Comprehensible Input theory, Krashen states that when one's affective filter/stress level rises, learning ceases (for those of you familiar with "Where Are Your Keys?", think "full").   

In Comprehensible Input, full immersion can be implemented, provided that it is 100% comprehensible for learners. This can be achieved through using known vocabulary, limiting vocabulary (but not grammar), establishing meaning of unknown vocabulary and structures (yes, though the use of English!), and bathing learners' minds with understandable input (comprehensible input + 1 is the goal). In other words, Comprehensible Input is deliberate. Output and production of the language are never forced but are viewed as natural results and overflow of input.     

For those Latin teachers with little to no experience in speaking Latin, the use of CI/TPRS allows for the use of Active Latin through the delivery of understandable messages in Latin without having to be a fluent speaker. Even though I have attended Rusticationes for the past six summers, I would probably say that I am an Intermediate Mid/High speaker of Latin.  (maybe even an Advanced Low on a very good day), and I am happy with that.

So for those of you who do use oral Latin in your classroom, would you say that you are implementing Active Latin or Comprehensible Input? What benefits do you see in either approach?

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Power of Online Professional Learning Communities/Networks (PLC/PLN)

As the 2015 ACTFL Convention is going on at the moment and as I am not attending this year, I am definitely finding myself longing to be there. I have been to the past two ACTFL Conventions, and I can definitely say that attending one is worth it. Aside from the great presentations and outstanding professional development, what I love most about the ACTFL Convention is that I always realize there that I am a part of something so much bigger than just my department at school - I am indeed a world language teacher and am proud of that.

Luckily, however, due to Twitter, I am able to follow this year's happenings at ACTFL, and I am so grateful, because I am able to follow many of the presentations from afar. Apparently, my blog and I have already gotten a shout out at a presentation!

As much as I hate educationese buzzwords like Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and Professional Learning Networks (PLN), these groups have been such a lifeline for me, especially for my development of CI/TPRS implementation in the classroom. As CI/TPRS world language teachers, many times we are isolated from any type of physical face-to-face community, so having an online community is vitally important both for our professional growth and communal needs.

I cannot tell you how many conferences i have attended where I have finally gotten the chance to meet folks in person whom I only know online through PLC/PLNs. It is always fun to see what these people look like in person - apparently, online in my posts to listservs and in my blog, I come across as a tall white man with a beard. I hope that folks are not disappointed to see instead a 5'5, Asian man with a partial goatee and slight southern accent...

Here are some different types of online PLC/PLNs in which I take part, along with some suggestions:


Since you are reading this blog, you are already part of this professional learning community! Blogs have played such an important part in my professional CI/TPRS development. If you look at the sidebar, I have a list of blogs which I follow. These are all wonderful, and I have used many ideas from them in my classroom. More than anything though, these blogs have encouraged me to keep pursuing implementing CI/TPRS when at times I feel like I have hit a brick wall.

  • Latin Best Practices - this is a Yahoo group dedicated to breaking away from the traditional practices found in grammar-translation Latin classes. Begun by fellow CI/TPRS Latin colleagues Bob Patrick and John Piazza, this list has over 1,300 members. I was a member of this listserv LONG before I actually began to implement CI/TPRS in my Latin classroom. 
  • MoreTPRS - this is the primary listserv for CI/TPRS users. I used a member of this group, but as there are over 7,000 members, it became too much for me to read all of the postings coming in, so I unsubscribed. That does not mean that this group does not have value - based on the number of postings, it just was not for me.  
  • Ben Slavic's Blog Community - this is a pay site, but it is full of ideas and resources, as well of supportive teachers. 
Social Media
I am not one who utilizes social media. My life is Facebook free and am more than okay with that. I rarely text, and I have no idea how Instagram or Snapchat works and personally have no desire to learn, since I never use the camera on my phone anyway.Truthfully, I thought that "taking selfies" was a reference to drug usage. 
  • Twitter - I do use Twitter though for professional purposes, and I absolutely love it! I love being able to "follow" CI/TPRS folks and to learn from them in this manner. As i said earlier, I have been reading the many Twitter posts from this ACTFL convention; following #ACTFL15 has given me the next best thing to being there. You can follow me @silvius_toda on Twitter - Silvius is my Latin name! My name Keith means "from the woods" in Welsh, so I picked the Latin equivalent.
  • IFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook group - I suppose if I had a Facebook page, then I would be a member of this group. 
So I challenge you to increase your PLC/PLN beyond what you currently have and to check out many of these resources. Also, feel free to suggest any blogs or online resources which you have found helpful so that i can add them to my list!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why I Blog

As I approach the two-year anniversary of my very first posting on this blog, I find it only fitting to reflect on the question, "Why do you blog?" Quite honestly, I find it very difficult to come up with an answer. I have always equated blogs with those people who write letters to the editor or call into radio newstalk shows - those folks who always have something to say and want to make sure that you know that they do.

So to answer the question "Why do you blog?", based on my views of blogs, my first response is "I do not know - it is not like I have a whole lot to say." (Apparently, I do, because I have written almost 100 posts).

Maybe a better question is "Why are people reading my CI/TPRS blog?" Again, my answer is "I do not know" for the following reasons:
  • "I'm not really an expert on Comprehensible Input, but I do play one on TV." There are certainly others out there who REALLY know and understand Comprehensible Input theory so much better than I do. I do understand Comprehensible Input and second language acquisition...but to a degree. I am not one who enjoys spending time reading scholarly articles on the topic. To be honest, I absolutely hate anything to do with research, whether it is reading it or conducting it myself (believe me, the Ed.S degree which I am currently pursuing is ALL about research. I have such high respect for statisticians now). I am not putting on false humility at all when I say this, but whenever I read postings on this blog, I am always impressed, thinking, "Wow, this guy really knows what he is talking about," and then I have to stop myself and say, "Whoa, I wrote this." Honestly, I am convinced that little elves come in after I write up a post, and they change it to make it sound like I know what I am saying. I know myself, and these posts do not sound like me at all.
  • There are other Latin teachers out there who are implementing CI/TPRS so much better than I am. There are other Latin teachers who are conducting their CI Latin classrooms in the Latin language - they are delivering understandable messages close to 90% of the time in the target language. I am lucky if I do 50% on a good day. They are the ones who should be blogging, not I; I should be the one learning from them.
But at the same time, I realize that I do have something to say and apparently, it connects with many people. 
  • Many teachers have grown weary of language methodology/textbooks and are wanting something different
  • Many Latin teachers have become jaded with traditional approaches and the mad rush to get students to translate classical literature.
  • Many teachers are wanting to try out CI/TPRS but do not know how
As a result of this, I will continue to blog the best way I know how.

This week, I passed the 60,000 mark for blog page views after just two years. I am truly humbed by that. When i first started this blog two years ago, I was expecting maybe 100-200 page views/month; I am now averaging over 2,000 page views/month, and a lot of those who read my blog are not Latin teachers! 

I will continue to hone my craft by reading blogs and attending CI/TPRS conferences. I have attended NTPRS for the past two summers, and in the summer of 2016, I plan to attend my first IFLT, since it will be in Chattanooga (only 2 hours from Atlanta).

So to you faithful followers of this blog, I will strive to chronicle my journey into CI. I hope that you will continue to sojourn with me.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Hybrid CI/Textbook Approach, Part 3

This is the final posting in a series based on my presentation "Detoxing from the Textbook."

My last two posts discussed both the issues with wanting to leave behind the textbook and the hows of doing a hybrid CI/textbook approach. This post will demonstrate my actual lesson plan in teaching greetings. NOTE - I do not teach greetings right away, so students have acquired already a bit of language and of structures prior to me teaching greetings.

As I established in my last post, perhaps your end goal for a chapter is for your students to be able to take part in a dialogue found in your textbook. Perhaps your dialogue on greetings looks like this:

A: Hello, what is your name?
B: Hello, my name is Rhonda. What is your name? 
A: My name is Marsha. How are you?
 B: I am fine. How are you?
A: My stomach hurts.

Traditional methods would start first with the dialogue and then have students go around the room asking each other their names and asking how each other are. Nothing wrong with that, other than it gets incredibly boring very quickly! In addition, you are forcing students to produce language which has no meaning to them way too soon. Instead, why not use a story which has many of these phrases embedded in them as part of the storyline? 

Ian sees a girl. The girl is beautiful. Ian loves the beautiful girl. Ian greets the beautiful girl. “O girl, hello. My name is Ian. What is your name?” The beautiful girl greets Ian, “Hello, Ian. My name is Go Away!” Ian is sad and cries.

Ian sees another girl. The girl is beautiful. Ian loves the beautiful girl. Ian greets the beautiful girl, “O girl, hello, my name is Ian.  What is your name?” The beautiful girl greets Ian, “Hello, Ian, my is You are Annoying.” Ian is sad and cries.

Lesson Plan (over a span of 4-5 days)
  1. Tell the story aloud and you as the teacher act it out. Write any unknown words write on the board to establish meaning, and point and pause. No circling - simply establish listening flow.
  2. Tell the story again either with actors or pictures. Circle and implement PQAs.
  3. Project the story on the board and conduct a choral reading to establish meaning as a class.
  4. Play a game of Stultus using the projected story on the board.
  5. Give students a copy of the reading and have students in pairs do a ping-pong reading or Social Emotional Learning reading of the story
  6. Play a game of Sentence Flyswatter
  7. Do a Higher Order Thinking activity with the story (possible/probable, who would say X, is this necessary to know, etc)
  8. Do a partner picture story retell of the story
  9. Do a timed write of the story.
  10. Students FINALLY see the goal dialogue
  11. Play Same Conversation with the dialogue 
  12. Play a game of Nugas with the dialogue
Some of you may be thinking, "Wow, that seems like a lot of work PRIOR to students seeing the dialogue." Yes, it is. My point, though, is that I want students to have already acquired the vocabulary/structures and the sounds of the language before they actually see the actual dialogue. By the time students get to the dialogue, they already know it but do not realize it!