Monday, June 26, 2017


At the end of this week is the American Classical League Summer Institute (ACL), the national conference for Latin (and some classical Greek) teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Annually, around 300 Latin teachers from all over the country convene at this institute for three days. This will be my 10th ACL, and I enjoy attending due to the camaraderie. It is a time of seeing old friends from around the nation, of meeting new ones, of attending great sessions, and of some great receptions with food and drink (a few years ago, there were some SCREAMING good bacon bites at the ACL Institute in Memphis, which I now anticipate in vain at each year's receptions).

However, I will say that over the past few years I feel like there has been a cooling among some folks at ACL in how they interact with me now that I am a CI teacher, have published this blog, and have given many CI-related presentations. Maybe it is just me reading something which is not there, but still it is something which I need to consider:
  • Have I unknowingly separated and distanced myself from others who do not implement CI?
  • Do non-CI teachers think that I am secretly judging them, because I am now implementing CI in my classrooms and they are not? In reality, am I indeed secretly (or even worse, outwardly) judging them?
  • In promoting an inclusive approach to teaching Latin, am I actually exhibiting an exclusive outward behavior of "it's my way or the highway"?
  • Do I only keep company with CI teachers and have unknowing created a clique? Are these teachers exhibiting exclusivity so by association, folks think that i am too?
I would like to think that the answer is a big NO for each of those questions, but those questions do make me think. 

This world in which we live has become so polarized culturally and politically. At an ACL years ago, I recall a friend saying to me, "Where are centrists like us supposed to fit? No one will let us anymore. There is really no longer a place for us any more on the spectrum." Unfortunately, this polarization is bleeding into the world of pedagogy, and it is almost like we teachers are forced to declare a camp. If one does not align with a camp, then that person is seen as apathetic or uninspired.

I know that many teachers will put up walls against CI, because it threatens their current view of pedagogy, but I wonder how many times those walls are erected not due to CI per se but rather due to those who promote CI in an overbearing manner (do I fall into that category?). That person's behavior ends up representing CI, not CI representing itself, and as a result, no one wins.

I like to think that I am promoting inclusivity for newcomers to CI in allowing them to incorporate CI slowly into their curriculum (even if it is grammar-translation!) and in encouraging them to become comfortable enough with a strategy or two until they feel like they are ready to do more. I know that there are a number of CI teachers who disagree with me on this, saying that one needs to "jump all-in" with CI and "how dare that one still use the textbook if that person is going to implement CI?" Personally, I have to disagree with that view, because when I first tried out TPRS years ago, I went all-in and lasted six weeks, burned out, and vowed never to return again to it. Over the years, I have seen too many teachers new to CI do the same thing: start out all gung-ho, become discouraged due to a lack of foundation or when things do not go like they have before, and then disavow CI as a result. Recently, Rachel Ash wrote about this on her blog with a post titled The Inclusive Teacher Workshop

I like to think that I am also promoting inclusivity for those teachers who do not adhere to CI. From a post two years ago, I wrote the following:
This confirms my view that we CI teachers cannot beat CI into folks who do not want it to use it. All I can do is use CI in my classroom, share ideas with folks (whether they accept it or not), let my results speak for me, and simply leave it at that. Now that does not mean that I should not be prepared to defend my usage of CI if people ask - much like the apostle Paul says, "(I need to) be prepared in season and out of season" (I am VERY CERTAIN that Paul was not referring to CI when he wrote that!) - but I need to give permission for my non-CI colleagues to be the teachers they are at this moment. I need to follow the words of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach [CI], and if necessary, use words" (Again, I know that he was NOT referring to CI), and to let them come to the decision on their own, if they choose.
I hope that this still rings true for me. One's decision to implement CI rests with that individual. It is not my problem. All I can do is cast out the net, see who responds, and hopefully serve as a support for that person.

This week, I will giving my presentation "Detoxing from the Textbook" at ACL. It will be my 6th time delivering this topic, but I have changed it to be Latin-specific, as before it addressed modern languages. If you are going to be at ACL later this week and are curious about CI, I encourage you to come check out my presentation. Throughout the institute, please feel free to introduce yourself to me, to join me for a meal, to play a game of I Piscatum, etc. I would love to meet my blog readers in person!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wrapping My Mind around Communicative Tasks, part 2

The following post is part of a series.

So while this concept of communicative tasks is very appealing to me, the bigger picture for me is this: about what is it that I actually want students to communicate in my Latin class in the target language? What is my end goal for them in terms of communication? Do I want students to be able to communicate about themselves and others in Latin (like Can-Do statements)? Do I want them to communicate about a particular text in Latin which they have read?

If I were to ask Latin teachers (and even modern language teachers about the Latin classroom) this question, I would get an array of answers all across the spectrum, everything from "What? Why should we speak Latin? There is no value in it if our goal is for students to be able to translate Cicero" to "I do use spoken Latin via CI/TPRS, but my goal is still for students to read Cicero, not to converse with each other in Latin" to "Why are we NOT speaking Latin and teaching Latin like a modern language?! Latin is only viewed as a dead language, because Latin teachers treat it as one!" The question resonates for me, because I understand everyone of those responses. Honestly, I think that I am still trying to figure all of it out myself too, or rather, where do I fit in the debate.

If you have read my About Me page, then you know that I was once one of the biggest advocates AGAINST any type of spoken Latin, so I can relate to (though disagree now with) the argument of those who see no value in speaking Latin. For six summers, however, I have attended Rusticatio, a weeklong Latin immersion "camp," where I spoke and conversed only in Latin. I am probably only an Intermediate High conversationalist in Latin, but gosh, I love the Rusticatio environment, Latin-only setting of courses/activities, and just hanging out on the maenianum (back porch) conversing in Latin with other like-minded and similar-abilitied folks. (Click here for a video piece which Al Jazeera International broadcast about Rusticatio). So for me, I completely understand the concept of treating Latin like any other modern language. As I have commented before, following my first Rusticatio, I was incredibly BITTER that the idea of speaking Latin had been kept from me in my schooling years, because suddenly it was like a whole part of my brain had been activated. I finally saw Latin as more than just a read language.  

Quite honestly, I do not think that the world language community itself as a whole knows what to do with treating Latin as a spoken, communicative language. John Bracey, a fellow CI Latin teacher in Massachusetts, called into Tea With BVP, asking Bill Van Patten what he thought about spoken Latin being used in the classroom. Surprisingly, Van Patten did not seem to openly embrace the idea - he was not opposed to the concept but at the same time, he did not seem to praise it either (for the record, Van Patten did take Latin in school - I suspect under the grammar-translation method). Instead, he said that it all came down to goals for individual Latin teachers, so he kind of side-stepped the issue. 

Essentially, it does come down to goals. This summer, I am going to be working on what I would like to incorporate into my curriculum regarding student communication. When addressing my goals, I cannot speak for anyone but myself. I do not have anything concrete in terms of communicative goals at the moment, but here is what is shaping them:
  • My classroom will continue to be a Comprehensible-Input based classroom. Output will be the result and overflow of input.
  • Based on survey results, my students want to know more conversational Latin beyond salve and mihi nomen est ________. My favorite comment from a student: "I feel like I can talk about a boy, a three-legged dog, and a bear in Latin, but I cannot talk about myself." Students wish for Latin to be personal. 
  • As students will continue to read stories in my class, these will also serve as topics for communicative tasks.
  • I do not like the idea of isolating Latin solely to the classical period, as Latin spans the ages. When we keep Latin stuck in the 1st century in terms of its usage and setting, then indeed it is a dead language. Languages change and develop, and the same must apply to Latin if we wish to view it as a living language. Apparently, this was an issue even in the 16th century, as Erasmus wrote a treatise called Ciceronianus addressing this. 
  • I cannot let tradition dictate what happens in my classroom. Over the years, I have had Latin 1 students complain to me that I had not "taught" them Latin, because they did not know all of their declension endings, all of their verb tenses, and how to conjugate verbs like their friends at other schools. That saddens me that my students would feel this way, considering what they were able to do with the language compared to their friends, who only know about the language. This means that grammar will still be covered but just not in an explicit manner.
We shall see where this goes...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wrapping My Mind around Communicative Tasks, Part 1

The following post is part of a series.

I do not know what your Thursday afternoon routine is during the school year from 3:00-4:00 EST, but for me, that hour is devoted to listening to the live, online, call-in radio show Tea With BVP, which is dedicated to a discussion of second language acquisition. On most days, I will leave work by 3:00, but on Thursdays, I will stay an extra hour so that I can listen to the show uninterrupted. The funny thing is that Rachel Ash, one of my Latin colleagues at my school, also listens to the show after school in her classroom, which is right next door to mine (and we never listen to it together)! One time, I called in to answer the Diva Challenge Question, and I am sure that Rachel was quite shocked to hear me on the show, considering I was in the adjacent classroom! Miriam Patrick (another one of my Latin colleagues at my school) and Meredith White (a CI Spanish teacher in my district) also listen to Tea With BVP. There are so many world language teachers throughout the country who listen to the show - there is something very communal and bonding about listening to a live, online show together. It is so much fun when listening to the show to hear someone call in and to say, "Hey, I know that person!"  As I am now on summer break, I am binge-listening all of the past episodes. 

One of my takeaways from listening to Tea With BVP surrounds communicative tasks, a topic which Bill Van Patten has addressed on numerous occasions. In a nutshell, BVP states that if we want our students to communicate in our language classrooms, there needs to be a meaningful purpose for it, i.e. students need to have a true reason for communication. So many times teachers rely on oral exercises or textbook dialogues as examples of communication, but these actually do not have any true purpose nor is anything really being accomplished. While teachers may view the exercises as necessary language practice, students can quickly see through these activities, view that there is no real purpose behind them, and rather see them as empty, meaningless activities - in many ways, is it necessary for students to practice with a partner? Could they not just instead read the questions on their own and write down their answers? When communication is being utilized for the completion of a task, then that communication has a purpose, i.e., the language becomes secondary to the task itself. This still means that LOTS and LOTS of input are needed in order to get students to this point; input is still the name of the game! In addition, not all tasks focus on output, as there are both INPUT-BASED and OUTPUT-BASED tasks. 

I am currently reading Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms by James F. Lee (the book which Bill Van Pattern talks about much on his show) and Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen by James F. Lee and Bill Van Pattern, and both books are really blowing my mind with how we should be presenting and using language in the classroom. An important component is distinguishing between exercises, activities, and tasks:
  • Exercises – focused practice or something that gets learners to manipulate vocabulary and grammar in a controlled way. Examples are fill in the blank, translations, transformation drills, repeating after teacher, read-alouds, and multiple choice. These are non-communicative in nature.
  • Activities – events that get learners involved in the expression and interpretation of meaning. Examples are circling and "ask and answer" partner activities. These are partially communicative, as while communication is occurring, the focus tends to be on vocabulary, form and comprehension, and nothing is done with the information afterwards for a greater purpose.
  • Taskslike activities in that they get learners involved in the expression and interpretation of meaning but they have the added focus of purpose unrelated to language learning or practice. We learn something about ourselves and the world in which we live and use the language to achieve that purpose. The added component is now application of learned information. These are fully communicative.
Here is an example of the differences between these types:

Topic - Asking others their names, stating one's name, introducing someone
  • Exercises - teacher says target language phrases aloud and students repeat the phrase aloud, students read target language sentences aloud. 
  • Activities - teacher tells TPRS story with circling, students read TPRS-based story involving phrases, teacher asks students' their names, students in partners ask each other their names, teachers project pictures of celebrities and ask students what their names are in the target language.
  • Tasks: In the target language, introduce to the teacher three students in the class whom you do not know. This will require students asking each other "what is your name?," responding "my name is _________", and telling the teacher "his/her name is __________" based on prior input-based scaffolding. This is a task, because in the partner activity where students exchanged information about their names, there was no larger purpose for that information; the information ended there. Here in the task, the information gathered is gathered and applied for a bigger purpose: in order to introduce the student to the teacher. 
Let me say that there is NOTHING wrong with exercises and activities. Tasks should serve as the end goal, but input-based, meaning-centered, properly-scaffolded exercises and activities will get students to that point. So many times, we world language teachers only operate in an exercise/activity-based curriculum, but our goals should actually focus on level-appropriate interpretation and expression of meaning of language as a means for the overflow of input.  

For those interested, Rachel Ash and Miriam Patrick have created their own podcast series discussing Tasks and Communication in the Language Classroom

So the big question for me: how does this apply (if at all) to a Latin classroom? To be addressed in my next post...

Friday, June 2, 2017

More Reflections: Student Input for Reading

The last survey which Bob Patrick and I gave our Latin 1 students at the end of the semester surrounded their input into what kinds of readings which they would like to have for Latin 2. As our Latin department has "untextbooked" and because we want students to have some say in their curriculum, the survey results give us an idea of what topics students find compelling. Below is the survey (using Google Forms):

The top five responses were (in order):
  1. Mythology - heroes
  2. Mythology - gods and goddesses
  3. Mythological monsters and fantastical beasts
  4. Mystery stories
  5. Adapted readings from Harry Potter
This shows me that students want readings about mythology and that they want a variety of readings related to the topic. I was actually surprised that students picked mystery stories, but then again, mysteries do make for compelling readings (gosh, are there any mystery novellas out there?). I thought that students would want to read adapted readings from the Hobbit (because that interests me), but apparently, students do not find that compelling. 

This results from this survey definitely lend themselves to my planning for next year. For example, since students want readings related to fantastical beasts and adapted readings from Harry Potter, I can create a unit on the basilisk, as this beast appears in many different Latin stories throughout the ages and then give students an adapted reading of the basilisk chapter from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I am tempted to read JK Rowling's book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them purely to see what mythological beasts and animals are in it.