Friday, September 30, 2016

Why Professional Development Fails

If you are like me, I dread teacher in-service days. Although these days are devoted to teacher training, in many ways, these in-services present overarching topics which have no application to me and to my classroom, or they are poorly implemented. Let me make it clear up front that I am a firm believer that teachers continuously need to better themselves in their craft and that ongoing professional development needs to play an important part of a teacher's career. The problem lies in forcing teachers to attend professional in-services which do not treat or view teachers as "professionals." As a result, most teachers find professional development insulting.

In my educational leadership courses in my Ed.S program, I learned much about proper professional development facilitation. One of the primary reasons why professional development courses fail (outside of no teacher input in what is being offered, hence there is no buy-in) is that there is absolutely no proper follow up afterwards. Most in-services cast out a net of general information, but unfortunately, the net is never retrieved to see who is interested. Those who wish to learn more are left empty-handed and are forced to pursue further information on their own, or they end up leaving it behind, because it is just too much work to pursue on their own; most often, the latter occurs. 

I feel like the same can be said about CI training. Teachers attend CI sessions at conferences or even a weeklong conference like NTPRS or IFLT, and as a result, they walk away with a desire to implement what they have learned. However, when these teachers have questions or their CI buzz starts to wear off and need that extra bit of motivation from a mentor, they have nowhere to turn really for continuous professional CI development. While blogs, professional learning networks (PLN), and social media can help, they can only go so far - there is nothing like personal interaction and mentoring from those in a CI community.

I will admit that I am 100% guilty of perpetuating this problem. For the past few summers, along with a number of CI teachers in my district, I have helped create and facilitate a district-wide 20-hour, 4-day CI workshop for interested world language teachers; over 40 teachers have attend each of these workshops. This past summer, Bob Patrick, Rachel Ash, and I delivered a 6-hour PreInstitute CI workshop at the American Classical League Summer Institute, and over 50 Latin teachers attended! In each of these cases, I wanted to have some type of follow-up training (either face-to-face or online) for those who attended, but unfortunately, life and work got in the way. I wonder how many of these teachers who were so gung-ho about CI following these workshops have fallen by the wayside and have returned to their former ways of teaching, because there was no one there to aid in their CI development. Even as I write this, I am trying to create a TCI Atlanta/GA group for CI teachers in my area, but I am finding it difficult to carve out time for it. O that CI professional development and follow-up could be my full-time job!

I am so grateful though that all over the country, pockets of CI communities have been developing which have served as support and a place for continued CI development. Local groups such as TriStates TCI and TCI Ohio offer ongoing professional CI training opportunities and community (this is why I would like to form a TCI Atlanta/GA group), and 1-2 day CI regional conferences like TCI Maine, CI Iowa, and CI Midwest are gaining momentum and popularity among CI users. 

Are you looking for some local CI support and community? Here are some suggestions:
  • On her blog, Martina Bex has compiled a list of CI teachers from all over the country who have volunteered to be a support for interested CI users.
  • Consider forming a local TCI group in your area. It only takes a few interested teachers to do this. Years ago, Alaska CI teachers Martina Bex, Michele Whaley, Betsy Paskvan and others began meeting on a Friday evening to share ideas - what a group that must have been! I still say that one day I need to go to Alaska so that I can learn Spanish from Martina, Japanese from Betsy, and Russian from Michele.
  • Network like crazy when attending CI workshops! 
For those teachers wanting support, I wish you the best in finding local CI support. I am not much of a CI expert, but you can always drop me an email ( or leave a comment on my blog if you need some community. For those of you in the Atlanta/GA, I am in the process of crafting an email which will announce the formation of a TCI Atlanta/GA group. Now if I can remember to finish it and to push "send"...

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Learning to Introduce Culture in a CI Classroom

I have always enjoyed teaching Roman culture to students, because it is such a rich topic. In the past, I have had students who have absolutely hated reading Latin but when it came to culture, they enjoyed every moment of the discussion. Many Latin textbooks try to tie in their readings to a particular cultural topic, such as the baths, gladiatorial games, life in different parts of the Roman empire, etc. The problem though has been that so many times, the actual teaching of culture is relegated to an English section. While this does provide lots of useful information, as a language teacher, I want my students to learn about culture in the language itself, so that culture is not viewed as outside of the language but rather as part of the language. The other side of it though is that one can go overboard with too much vocabulary in a creating a culture-based reading in Latin so that it ends up becoming too incomprehensible and overwhelming for students to read.

At my former school, when I made the decision to do a hybrid textbook/CI approach, I loved the freedom to be able to teach the textbook in whatever way I wanted and in whatever order I wanted. The problem, though, was that I still had to cover the culture sections from the textbook, as that was on my instructional team's final exam. To teach the depth of the cultural material in a level-appropriate target language manner did not seem possible, so I would always have to take a full-day to cover the culture material in English through a lecture so that I could get it out of the way. 

At my new school, however, where I am one of five CI Latin teachers and where we all have completely "untextbooked," culture is introduced and taught through a level-appropriate reading. In other words, like any other reading passage, the cultural reading involves pre-reading, reading, and post-reading. Bob Patrick and I teach all of the Latin 1 sections (we have nine!), so last week, we decided that we wanted to introduce the Roman domus vs. insulae. As a result, Bob wrote up a reading passage in a level-appropriate, Latin 1 language which explained life in the Roman insula vs. domus, which also included an adapted version of Horace's "City Mouse and Country Mouse" story. While Bob wrote the passage, I was in charge of creating the lesson plans. For some reason, when given this task, I found myself struggling to do this, because it meant introducing lots of topic-specific words about the house - how could I introduce these words in a compelling way?

The following is my lesson plan for how Bob and I "taught" the Roman insula for Latin 1 (we just finished this yesterday!). The goal is to use the Horace story as a transition for another reading about the Roman house (this will be a later blog posting):


In Romā antiquā (ancient), multī hōminēs (people) in insulīs (apartment buildings) habitaverunt.  Frequenter, familia in unō conclavi (room) habitavit.  Aqua non in insulīs erat (there was). Latrina non in insulīs erat. Aqua publica erat. Latrina publica erat.  Culina non in insulīs erat. Cubiculum non in insulīs erat. unum conclave (room) erat (there was), et tota (entire) familia in conclavi (room)  habitavit. difficile erat (it was) in insulīs habitāre.

Day 1
  1. Target vocabulary - culina, cubiculum, tablinum, latrina, coquit, dormit, scribit, dentes fricat. Preview target vocabulary by writing them on the board with their English meanings. Go over each word and their meaning. Ask English derivatives as a way for students to connect words with known vocabulary.
  2. Rooms of the house PowerPoint with circling and PQAs - if you are familiar with stage 1 of CLC, you will recognize these types of sentences! Some great PQAs for this are "cui Kanye coquit? cur?", "cui Praeses Obama scribit? Donald Trumpo? Justin Biebero?", "mavis dormire in cubiculo an in culina?" "mavis dentes fricare in latrina an in culina? in cubiculo?"
  3. Movie Talk - iPad vs. Paper
Day 2
  1. Review rooms of the house ppt
  2. Target vocabulary for Movie Talk - vir, cubiculum, latrina, intrat, abit, horologium, per scalas descendit, culina, domum, iterum. Preview target vocabulary by writing them on the board with their English meanings. Go over each word and their meaning. Ask English derivatives as a way for students to connect words with known vocabulary.
  3. Movie Talk - Destiny
Day 3
  1. mavis habitare ppt - this activity actually took MUCH longer than I thought it would, as students really wanted to discuss this!
  2. Hand out reading for students to read silently
  3. Review reading in order to establish meaning. 
  4. Discuss culture in English to "fill in the gaps."
Day 4
  1. Review reading if needed
  2. Verum/Falsum de Insulis ppt - students wanted to use whiteboards to show me their answers
  3. Products, Practices, and Perspectives handout - this helps students better understand the three P's but still use the passage. I was surprised at how QUICKLY students were able to complete this after only having gone through the reading the day before!
  1. Although I felt like I struggled to create a lesson plan which surrounded a culture-based reading, I was pleased with the results.
  2. Though the idea of a CI-based reading to introduce culture did not feel natural to me, students did not seem to think that it was any different from what we had been doing before. 
  3. I love this approach! It is still going to take me time to learn how to do it better, but I am definitely on board with doing it this way!
I will blog in the future about how the rest of the culture-based reading on the Roman house and the adapted Horace story goes, as that is currently a work in progress - not ready for public viewing yet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Movie Talk Script - Bear Story

After my post on Movie Talk and EdPuzzle, I received a number of requests for Movie Talk scripts which I have used in class. I am by no means an expert on doing Movie Talks, but today my colleague Bob Patrick and I recently did a Movie Talk which I think went extremely well with our Latin 1 students. As a result, I thought that I would share it with folks. 

I was wanting to do a Movie Talk which I could use to introduce family words, such as mother, father, son, etc., so I consulted Jason Fritze's Movie Talk database. If you have not seen this, then I highly suggest that you take a look at it and bookmark it! This summer, Jason Fritze began to create a list of Movie Talks using Google Docs, and then he shared it publicly for others to add additional Movie Talks. The database is sorted by possible target nouns, verbs, and adjectives, so I did a search for the terms mother and father, and I found this absolute gem of a movie short. 

The movie short is called Bear Story, and it recently won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. This Chilean short movie (made with help from Pixar) is incredibly powerful and absolutely emotional yet heartwarming - when I first saw Bear Story, I found myself so vested in the storyline emotionally. Watch it on your own, and see what you think - Link to Bear Story (note - I cannot guarantee how long this link will remain active before it is removed for copyright violations). Katya Paukova says that the best movie shorts are those which appeal to the emotions, because then students will be more engaged in them. Wow, Bear Story definitely had me engaged!  

Anyhow, Bob and I used this movie short today to introduce the words mother, father, and son, as well as some other target words. I am providing two different Movie Talk scripts: one in Latin, and one in English so that it can be adapted to your target language. NOTE - any movie short can be adapted to your own target words/structures if you watch a movie short closely enough.

Movie Talk script English

  1. Do NOT show the full movie short prior to the Movie Talk. Students will not be as engaged in the Movie Talk if they know the ending! You do not want to spoil the ending.
  2. Many of my students were on the verge of tears as they watched Bear Story.
  3. Due to the massive amount of repetitions and to the emotional engagement, I was surprised by how many of the target words students had acquired in this Movie Talk.
  4. The ending may seem ambiguous to students - the big question which many had was "Did the bear actually return to his family? or did he create his own fantasy ending in his picture box show?" My take: the bear does indeed return to his family. Although the bear is alone in the beginning of the movie short, it appears that his wife and son are not home. Pause it at 1:23, and you will see an imprint of both bears' bodies in the bed, and they are holding hands! Plus at the end of the movie, the father bear smiles, as looks at the picture of his family. Again, this is my take on it. 
  5. Explain the story behind the making of Bear Story to your students after you view it. It makes the animated short all the more powerful. 
I hope that you will be able to use this Movie Talk with your students!

P.S. Quite ironically, Anabelle Allen (who is my current IFLT heroine) today posted in her blog about doing Movie Talks - I highly recommend that you read her post here! I always learn so much from her!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pacing Yourself

With the beginning of the school year already in swing for some and soon to be for others, there is always a sense of excitement for CI/TPRS teachers, both experienced and beginners. I love returning from CI conferences like IFLT and NTPRS, because they are always right before I report back to work (we here in GA usually begin the 1st or 2nd week of August). As a result, my mind is full of ideas, and my enthusiasm and "CI high" have not worn off yet when the school year starts. These conferences energize me to return back to the classroom with a mindset that all students can learn a language both when understandable and compelling messages are delivered, and trust has been established between students and teacher.

From my own experience though, I also know that there will be a honeymoon period where everything I do in my classroom will seem to be going well. Students are somewhat excited to be back, and the novelty of returning back to school has not worn off yet for them (and for me). My attitude is, "Wow, CI is going great! My students love it, and I cannot think of teaching Latin any other way."

And then the honeymoon ends. Students begin to become overwhelmed with work in other classes, and the novelty of school wears off. Enthusiasm among students (and me as the teacher) begins to wane, and it becomes more of an effort to teach using CI, as the "CI high," which I once had, dissipates. Suddenly, I realize that I really have no idea where I am going with CI implementation - essentially I feel like I have hit a wall.

Too many times, I see teachers new to CI start off strongly with CI at the beginning of the school year and then suddenly drop it after a month or so when things become difficult or overwhelming. In their dismissal of CI, they blame the pedagogy methods as the reason and return to their former ways of teaching. So many times, I want to tell them, "Just because things become difficult does not mean that the method itself is the problem. It may have a number of things, such as you trying to take on too much too soon, having an unrealistic expectation of CI as a panacea, lacking collegial and collaborative support, etc." 

Why is that I can say that? Because that scenario is me. When I first began to implement TPRS years ago, I only lasted six weeks and returned back to the textbook. Each year after that, however, I returned to TPRS and lasted a little longer each time. When I fully committed to implementing CI back in the fall of 2013, though I had somewhat of a CI foundation due to TPRS, I slowly began to introduce a number of new strategies and techniques into my regimen.

So what are some ways one can pace themselves with facilitating CI, especially those teachers starting out with CI or experimenting with it?

1) Don't feel like you have to do EVERYTHING right away. When it comes to facilitating CI after a conference like IFLT or NTPRS, I have come to the realization that if I try to implement too many of these new ideas too quickly, then I will burn out or lose focus, because I am trying to take on too much without the proper foundation. For the past few years, I have made a list of CI goals for the school year (see here for 2014-2015's and 2015-2016's goals), and I actually have to laugh at my list for 2016-2017, because of how short it is. In past years, I have listed between 7-11 goals, while for this year, I have only written three. In some ways, some of those past goals have now become part of my teaching routine so I do not need to list them any longer, but honestly, I also now know that it is more realistic to focus on a few in order to do those well.

2) Continue to receive some type of formal CI training, such as at a 2-day Blaine Ray workshop, an area CI meeting such as CI Midwest, or at a summer weeklong conference like IFLT or NTPRS. Although there is nothing wrong with reading CI blogs for ideas and encouragement, solely relying on social media for one's CI knowledge can result in misinterpretation. As I have said before, there is nothing like learning another language via CI, because as a student, you get the chance to experience it firsthand like one of your students. Although I thoroughly enjoy seeing CI demonstrations done in Latin, they are actually limiting for me, because I am simply observing CI in action, not experiencing it firsthand. 

3) Join a TCI support group either in person or online. Many areas have physical TCI groups which meet for support, coaching, and collaboration -  I am trying to organize one for the metro Atlanta area. I love the fact that even in Alaska, a group of CI teachers meet throughout the school year on a Friday evening to share ideas (that group includes Betsy Paskvan, Martina Bex, and Michele Whaley - I need to be a part of that one). If your area does not have a physical TCI group, then create an online group of CI users from across the country through Skype or Google Hangout. 

4) Attend a CI webinar. TPRS Publishing has some great webinars, as does Fluency Fast.

5) Realize that it is okay to "fail" at CI; the real sign of success is how you handle it afterwards. Good CI teachers did not just come out of a box as good CI teachers - they all had their shares of success and of failures. At IFLT this past summer, I loved hearing the lab teachers talk about their first experiences implementing CI/TPRS: when a field trip got cancelled and Donna Tatum-Johns found herself without a lesson plan, she decided to do a TPRS story, saying dismissively "Really how hard can this be?"; Jason Fritze talked about how he thought it would be too easy to introduce just 3 vocabulary words/structures in a TPRS story, so instead he introduced 12 and found out the hard way that 3 is much better! I love stories like those, because they always give me hope - if these CI/TPRS teachers whom I hold in such respect struggled with it in the beginning, then it is okay (and par for the course) to struggle and to fail.

I wish all of you the best of luck as you progress through the school year!