Saturday, December 17, 2016

Top 5 of 2016

With the first semester of school coming to an end and with my winter break soon to begin, I am going on hiatus for the next few weeks. Below, however, are my top-5 viewed posts from this year:
  1. The Perils of Comparing and Despairing
  2. One Word at a Time (OWAT)
  3. Seeing Your Students
  4. The "Sex" Game
  5. Memory Card Game
I am amazed at how quickly this year has gone by, because I can vividly remember writing my top 5 post of 2015 one year ago, but somehow everything between that point and now is a blur. Professionally, it has been quite a year: I left my school after having taught there for 17 years to begin teaching at a new school, completed my Ed.S degree in Instructional Technology, delivered numerous presentations and in-services on CI, attended IFLT for the first time and served as an apprentice coach there, joined a very pro-CI Latin department, and began teaching a CI novel for the first time. 

Since I posted weekly on my blog, it also appears that I did not run out of topics to discuss. Thanks to all who read this - I am deeply humbled that you feel like I have something significant to say on the matter. Whenever I go to conferences, I am floored (and rather embarrassed) to meet folks in person who tell me that they read this blog. I also have to laugh when these folks say that I come across a lot different "physically" both on my blog and Twitter. To quote a Twitter follower, "Glad to see you in person. You are much shorter than I envisioned you." I like to think that I make up for it with my charm and good looks...  

See you in 2017!


Monday, December 12, 2016

How Do The Characters Respond?

If you have a reading which has a lot of dialogue in it, here is a post-reading activity which can be used. I have no idea from whom I got this idea (or if I even got this idea from someone), but it is definitely a good quick activity which can be used to reinforce the reading. Plus, it does involve a degree of higher-order thinking.

Currently, Bob Patrick and I are reading Brando Brown Canem Vult in our classes. As it is the first time going through this novel, I have been going rather slow (maybe too slow), taking my time to preview vocabulary through various means. When we began Chapter 2, as the chapter is a dialogue between Brandon and his mother, we started with an 8-sentence dictation. From there, we did a number of different activities based on that dictation dialogue. 

One of the activities which we did was "How Do the Characters Respond?" where I started with Brandon's first statement and then gave students a choice of responses from the dictation dialogue. Here is what I did:

  1. We did this activity two days after the dictation. This was the 5th time in which students had reviewed this story (but 5th different way). By this point, students were very familiar with the dialogue and what each sentence was communicating. Students told me that it was not very difficult to pick the correct response.
  2. Even if students did not remember how each character exactly responded, many students told me that they were able to pick the correct answer based on context and what "made sense."
  3. This was another quick way for students to receive understandable messages and repetitions in a meaningful context. Students were also getting a review of all of the sentences from the dialogue.
  4. It is important to go over a reading multiple times in multiple ways, as students need to receive these messages in different ways (think differentiated learning). As Carol Gaab says, "The brain craves novelty."

Monday, December 5, 2016

Grammar "Errors" in a CI Classroom

Today, in my study hall, four of my Latin 1 students began to converse in Latin with each other. I was rather surprised to hear them doing this, because three of them had NEVER demonstrated any interest during class to converse in the language (outside of scaffolded output). What transpired between the four of them was a rather spontaneous 10-minute conversation in Latin, using language which we had been going over this semester. Now to be honest, it was not a high-level dialogue about anything in particular, and their language usage was FAR from correct - it was messy, full of "errors," and would have hurt the ears of many Latinists - but all I could think was "Oh my gosh, these students are communicating IN LATIN!" I cannot tell how happy I was to hear them conversing in simple Latin, errors and all. I just sat back and let them talk, not even trying to correct them and only giving them corrections when they asked. 

What transpired today reminded me of something which I had seen on Twitter not too long ago:

Which teacher are you - the one on the left or on the right? I can honestly say that I once was the teacher on the left for the longest time, because isn't error correction what we are supposed to do as language teachers? I think, however, that we as world language teachers forget just how difficult it is to for language to come out of the mouths of our students for the purpose of communication, let alone correctly.

How do I know this? Because I myself have been there when it comes to speaking Latin. To understand my situation, you need to understand that I learned Latin in high school, college, and graduate school with the grammar-translation method - quite honestly, I had no idea that any other method existed. Why should there be if our goal was simply to translate classical works into English and to discuss them in English, in addition to parsing the heck out of every word? Yes, being a 4%er, I really liked that (and still do to a degree now)...

So going into my first Rusticatio in 2010, even though I knew that I would struggle some since I had never had spoken Latin before, in my opinion, as I had both my B.A. and M.A. in Latin, and since I "knew" grammar, speaking should not be too difficult. Boy, was I wrong. Yes, although I had a brain full of grammar knowledge, I had never used it for communicative purposes. When it came to speaking Latin, I had no clue what I was doing. I remember how absolutely difficult it was to SAY ANYTHING in Latin, let alone communicate in a conversation in the language. For me, just to get ANY language to come out of my mouth was a major victory. I found myself making TONS of grammar errors, and I was absolutely frustrated that I was making what seemed to be very basic mistakes.

Luckily, Nancy Llewellyn, the leader of Rusticatio that summer, had warned us on the opening night that making grammar errors in the language was part of the process. In what I always call her "red pen" talk, she said,
You are going to make the same kinds of grammar errors that if your own students were to make them, you would skin your knees running to grab a red pen to correct them.
Rusticatio even has a rule about grammar correction: it is to only occur when the delivered message is incomprehensible and not understandable. This is a rule which I believe that we need to apply in our classrooms. But even at that, I think that we need to exercise a degree of caution, because in its speaking proficiency guidelines, ACTFL itself states that even "Intermediate Low speakers can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors, particularly by those accustomed to dealing with non-natives." The key word is sympathetic - even if what my students say is horribly wrong grammatically, can I still understand what they are trying to say? At my first Rusticatio, I remember saying "ego cena parat," and even though that is so grammatically wrong on so many levels, I remember as a beginning speaker how difficult it was for me to get that to come out of my mouth, but at the same, those around me knew what I was attempting to say.

I have even heard a number of CI teachers say that in many ways, there is no such thing as "conscious errors" for speakers, since they are applying their known knowledge of the language at that particular moment. Someone once told me that even recasting (the act of restating the speaker's error with the corrected form) is not always effective unless the corrected speaker actively knows that he/she is being corrected. 

So while we can make overt grammar correction for beginning speakers, in many ways, I firmly believe that these speakers simply need more input. If we as world language teachers believe that all students learn at their own pace, then we must also believe that students will produce correct language at their own pace. I believe Michelle Kindt says it best in this tweet regarding language acquisition:

Some random observations based on my students today
  1. Even though I am nowhere speaking anywhere near the 90% target language goal in class, whatever I am speaking and having students read in the target language is still effective, as these students were able to produce language on their own without being forced. That makes me feel good that I am doing something right!
  2. At the end of study hall, I told these students that I was impressed by their spontaneous dialogue in Latin. I told them, "You do realize that I never once made you make flash cards to learn those words." One student responded, "That is really weird. Somehow I just know these words inside me." That is proof to me of subconscious input and acquisition!