Friday, July 21, 2017

IFLT 2017

Wow, has it only been a week since IFLT ended?! My mind is still absolutely full from everything which I took in, so blogging is a great way for me to process it all.

This year, IFLT was held in Denver. I had an absolutely great time, but gosh, I could not get over how dry it was in Denver compared to humid Atlanta (I kept losing my voice due to the dry weather, so drinking LOTS of water was definitely a necessity), in addition to being out of breath slightly for the first few days on account of the altitude.

This was my second time attending an IFLT conference (see here about my first time at IFLT last summer). That definitely helped, because I knew the "routine," and I knew how to pace myself better. A major concern of mine was that since I was taking the 4-day Fluency Fast Mandarin class immediately before, I would already be tired and burned out by the time IFLT began. Far from it! Both Fluency Fast and IFLT were two completely different experiences (and I absolutely loved both of them), and in fact, the high which I was experiencing from Fluency Fast carried over to IFLT. 

Here are just a few of my many highlights from this summer's IFLT:
  • Senor Wooly's opening address - Granted I am not a Spanish teacher, but I am aware of who Senor Wooly (Jim Wooldridge) is and of all of his resources (music videos, graphic novels, etc). At the same time, I never grasped why for most Spanish teachers, meeting him was like meeting Elvis. After hearing his opening address at IFLT, I now count myself in that group. In his opening talk, entitled "Embracing Inauthenticity," he addressed the following - I have been looking and asking everywhere if someone has a video of Senor Wooly's talk, because it was so incredible. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate one:
    1. Authentic language is not solely reserved for native speakers.
    2. Non-native speakers can be effective language teachers.
    3. When true communication (comprehension of what is said) in a language occurs, regardless of errors, it is real and authentic language.
    4. As a result, the language which our students produce is real and authentic. 
    5. Authenticity is about stepping the language outside of one's comfort zone to communicate.
    6. We need to tell our students that they have a right to speak the language.
  • Lab observations - Although I enjoy the many presentations at IFLT, I absolutely love the lab observations and getting the chance to see master CI teachers actually teaching students in a classroom setting. I can honestly say that the lab observations are where the true magic happens at IFLT, because folks can witness CI in action. To me, this is the major difference between IFLT and NTPRS.
    • Annabelle Allen - There was absolutely NO way that I was NOT going to observe Annabelle teach elementary school Spanish, because observing her last summer at IFLT made such an profound impact on me. If you have ever seen her in action, then you know what I am talking about! Annabelle's high-level energy is absolutely contagious - heck, I want to be one of her students. This year, I observed Annabelle twice, because that is how much I wanted to see her teach. I also knew that I needed to get there EARLY if I wanted a seat, because her observations fill up very quickly. There is so much that I could say about Annabelle, and believe me, even though I do not teach elementary-aged students, I learn so much from her every time I observe her (both in Spanish and as a CI teacher) - it is difficult for me to pinpoint just one thing. What I love most about Annabelle is her absolute love for students and how much they love her in return. I remember last year being brought to tears as I saw her students RUN to see her, and this year, I witnessed that same love in her students. I love how Annabelle is able to correct a student behavior-wise in such a way that it makes that student feel like he/she is still part of the community. I was incredibly touched in seeing her deal with a particular young boy who was experiencing a meltdown at the end of the day. 
    • Linda Li - I have to admit that I had rather selfish reasons for observing Linda: after 4-days of learning Mandarin from her in a Fluency Fast class, I wanted more! Before the lab observation began, I was sitting in the back of the room with the other observers, but Linda asked me if I wanted to sit up front with her students - I think that she sensed that I wanted to learn more Mandarin. I certainly obliged (but sat in the row behind the students so as not to freak them out) and even though I was there as an observer, I was also a silent participant in the class. I was an active listener, gestured with the class whenever Linda said particular words, and answered her questions in Mandarin under my breath. Even though Linda was teaching many of the same high-frequency vocabulary as she had in our Fluency Fast class, it did not matter to me: all I wanted was to hear more Mandarin, to interact with it, and to get more INPUT! Linda is a master at teaching Mandarin without it feeling one is actually learning, because it is all happening subconsciously. Honestly, this is how learning is supposed to happen!
  • Mafia presentation - I gave two presentations on how to play Mafia in a CI Classroom, and I was absolutely floored by the number of folks who attended each time! What I enjoyed most was being able to demonstrate the game in Latin. I venture to say that most who attended had never experienced Latin as a spoken language, so it was rather cool to expose fellow world language teachers to comprehensible spoken Latin and to show them that it is indeed a true communicative language. Annabelle Allen wrote up a blog post about the session -  I wish I could tell you how special I feel!
Believe me, so much more than just this happened at IFLT. The coaching sessions, the Lunchtime Talks, the presentations, the Q&A session with Krashen and Bill Van Patten - how I can cover it all?!

Next year's IFLT will be in Cincinnati from July 17-20. Hope to see you there so that you can experience everything which I mentioned here!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Comprehensible Input is Real

Folks, comprehensible input is real, and it works. I know, because I have experienced it first hand. It has been about a week since I have taken a 4-day Fluency Fast Mandarin class taught by Linda Li (see my post here about that experience), and I am surprised at how much I am still able to remember, to understand, and to use. 

In many ways, some may say that Linda's class was not rigorous enough, because we did not practice oral drills in Mandarin, conjugate verbs, nor complete any grammar worksheets. As Linda stated on the first day of class, all we as her students had to do was to pay attention to her, to listen to her, to respond when she asked questions, and to take part in activities. In other words, the burden of us acquiring Mandarin was on Linda, not us if we did what she said.

As I wrote in my last post, during those four days, we did so many different comprehensible, compelling activities involving Mandarin: TPR, answer her circling questions, read and draw, story listening, Movie Talk, and LOTS of reading. Linda focused on high-frequency words, as well as on a number of incidental words - believe me, there was TONS of repetition, but quite honestly. nothing seemed repetitive in the class.

In my last post, I showed just a few of the many readings which we did in class. If you were to read them, you may think that they were "stupid," because they were about people in the class wanting chocolate and their attempts to get it; Catwoman involved in a love triangle with Superman and Batman; a son giving his father lots of water to drink; and a classmate wanting to buy a bikini from another so she goes to see him and steals it. I have heard many teachers dismiss TPRS and using stories to teach the language, because they view these stories as nonsensical. On the surface, I would have to agree with you, but these "nonsensical" stories have an actual purpose: they are crafted in a very deliberate way in order to continue the implicit language acquisition process.  

So why am I able to say that CI works? Yesterday in response to a tweet which I had written, Linda Li wrote the following funny message to me in pinyin (a Romanticized version of Mandarin):

(Linda wants to see Keith, but Denver does not have Keith. Linda cries. Linda wants to go to Atlanta. Keith is located in Atlanta, yes or no?)

I was able to read and to understand what Linda wrote perfectly and without much thought, I tweeted her back the following:

(Yes, I am located in Atlanta. I want to see Linda, because Linda has chocolate, and I like to eat chocolate!)

Here is Linda's response:

(I have chocolate. I have a lot of chocolate. I also have iced coffee. I want to give you chocolate and iced coffee). NOTE - i love to drink iced coffee!

One week ago, I was not able to do any of this, but yet in those series of tweets, Linda and I actually communicated in Mandarin as a result of the Fluency Fast course! Albeit, it was at a low register, and I am sure that there are some grammar errors, I was able to create new meaning on my own and to respond to her in comprehensible Mandarin. Like I said before, NEVER in class did we do oral drills involving these forms, nor did I EVER have to create flashcards to learn these words. Linda just had us listen and interact with the language in so many different ways. For me to write that response actually was not that difficult to do, but at the same time, I am absolutely blown away that I was able both to read her messages and to respond. Quite honestly, I cannot even explain it other than there is Mandarin inside of me that had to have gotten there implicitly, because I did not put it there. What I wrote to Linda had to be an overflow of all that Mandarin input which she gave us, of which those stories played a major role!

Although I have been an advocate for CI, never before have I felt so strongly about it and that it does indeed work. As I said in the beginning, comprehensible input is real, and it works. I myself have experienced it first hand!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fluency Fast - Mandarin with Linda Li

I am currently here in Denver for the IFLT Conference. Today was the first day of IFLT, but I arrived a couple days early in order to take a Fluency Fast course. If you are not familiar with Fluency Fast, it offers CI-based language classes either on a weekly basis or in an intensive 3-4 day setting. I know a number of people who have taken Fluency Fast courses and have absolutely raved about them, so I wanted to take part in one and to experience what they were talking about. 

For its pre-IFLT, 4-day intensive classes, Fluency Fast offered three different languages: Spanish, French, and Mandarin (with Spanish and French divided into levels). While I did not know any of those three languages, I specifically signed up for Mandarin, because I wanted: 

  • to learn a non Romance-based language so that I could not make any connections to Latin when acquiring it. For example, if I were to learn Spanish or French, I would constantly be making comparisons to Latin (cognates, similar language structures). I did not want to have a Latin-based foundation upon which to build, but rather I wanted my mind completely to be a clean slate when experiencing this new language.
  • to experience language learning in the same manner which my students would, meaning I also wanted to experience not understanding something at all and to feel a degree of anxiety about that.
  • to learn a language which I did not know in a CI way so that I could experience CI myself firsthand.
  • most importantly to learn from Linda Li, who was teaching the class. Years ago Stephen Krashen himself had sat in on a Mandarian course taught by Linda, and this experience had a profound effect and influence on his view of CI (see a letter which Krashen wrote about that experience, praising Linda Li).
All I can say is that Krashen was 100% right in what he wrote about Linda Li. She was absolutely MARVELOUS in teaching Mandarin! I am at such a loss for words that I really do not even know where to begin in writing about my experience, because there is just SO much to say. Quite honestly, I cannot even find the right words to describe my experience, as I am still processing the whole thing. All I know is that I learned SO much and that it did not even seem like learning.

Linda opened Day 1 of class by establishing the safety net of signals for us to cue her when we did not understand something, wanted us to slow her down or to repeat something. She already had a list of Mandarin words written up with their English meanings. Linda ended by saying that our jobs as students was to listen, to pay attention, and to signal her when we did not understand something in Mandarin. She also said that it was her job to make us understand what she was saying, but that it was our job to let her know when we did not. If we did not understand something but chose not to tell her, then that was our fault. To be honest, inwardly i felt a degree of arrogant pride, because I give the same exact talk to my students on the first day of class. My teaching methods felt validated by what Linda said.

However, that degree of arrogant pride did not last long. To be honest, the first hour of class was quite brutal for me. Even though Linda was doing a great job of doing TPR in Mandarin, of establishing meaning through a word wall, and of pointing and pausing, because Mandarin is a tonal language and its written English forms do not fully correspond phonetically to Mandarin sounds, I started to feel overwhelmed at times. I remember thinking "What is written there does not correspond at all to how it sounds in Mandarin." 

I finally used Linda's safety net signals to let her know that I was not understanding something. That first time, part of me was hesitant to use the "I do understand" sign, because I did not want to call attention to myself, but the other part of me was saying "To hell with your pride. You don't understand what she is saying. STOP HER!" The best part was that Linda praised me for stopping her that first time! After that for the rest of the course, I had absolutely no hesitation in flashing the "I do understand" sign.

Slowly, Mandarin began to make its imprints on my brain. Through Linda's masterful use of CI, I began to understand what she was saying. Linda had us gesture certain words so that we would begin to rely on muscle memory to associate with words. And man, did she get in repetitions of the words any time she could! Linda circled, asked us questions, did comprehension checks, and had us interacting with the language. Even though from a teacher perspective, I was fully aware of what CI strategies she was using, but from a student standpoint, I remember thinking, "Keep going - I need the repetitions!"

By the end of the first 4 hours of class, Linda had us read a story using the words which we had learned that day. I was amazed at how easy it was to read after just 4 hours of Mandarin.

Over the next three days, Linda taught us new words, continued to recycle the words which had learned earlier, and gave us new readings. Every time we got a new story to read, I could not get over how easy it seemed to be.

I cannot explain why I am able to read these stories in Mandarin. I certainly did not know any Mandarin prior to the class. I never once made flashcards to learn these words. Linda certainly did not give us a vocabulary list ahead of time and tell us to have these words memorized by X day. All she required was that we listen to her, pay attention, and interact with the language in a comprehensible manner in various ways. Somehow, the language which Linda wanted us to acquire is inside me, but I am not able to explain how it got there really. The language must gotten there subconsciously, because I certainly did not actively put it there. In other words, I experienced CI as it was meant to be, and as a result, language acquisition occurred!

Now after just 4 days of class, if you were to ask me to say something in Mandarin, I probably would say that I do not feel that I am able to produce much Mandarin on my own. HOWEVER, today during a presentation which I was giving on how to play Mafia, I mentioned in English something about how I like iced coffee, and Linda Li said "iced coffee" in Mandarin (which was one of the phrases which we had learned). Somehow (and I do not remember doing this at all), I then said to Linda in Mandarin "I like to drink ice coffee and also hot coffee." I have NO idea where that came from or why I was able to say that, because Linda did not have us practice oral drills using the phrase "I like." All I can say is that somehow I had acquired those various phrases and was able to create meaning on my own (albeit on a very low level). In other words, I was able to communicate an idea in Mandarin without even thinking.

I have now added Linda Li to my pantheon of CI teachers who have most influenced me. So why was Linda Li such as an awesome teacher? Yes, she was comprehensible and compelling, but most importantly, she was caring (see my Three C's of CI post). After that first hour, I never again felt stressed or frustrated. Linda had fun with us! She was constantly laughing at what we said and so many times incorporated what we said into stories, because that was more compelling than what she had originally planned. Linda made it a point to connect with each of us on some personal level. In addition, there were only six of us in Linda's class. She was a bit concerned about the small class size, because she was more accustomed to larger classes. I am so glad that our class was small, because it felt so much more intimate, and Linda was able to devote more attention to each of us. If the class were 20-30 like some of the other classes, I do not think that I would have learned as much, because it would have been easier to hide in the back and to mask anything which I did not understand. We had two excursions as part of the class: dinner at a Chinese restaurant and a cultural event at the Confucius Center in Denver. Both times were a blast, because it continued to give all of us a chance to know each other better.

So to Karen Rowan and Fluency Fast, thank you so much for offering these classes, because I firmly believe that folks cannot truly understand and internalize CI unless they experience it by learning a language which they do not know. My grasp of CI had deepened so much from this experience.

Most importantly to Linda Li, thank you for being such a wonderful teacher. I now want to learn more Mandarin. I cannot say enough about what you did for the six of us in class. We are so appreciative!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What Go Fish Taught Me about Sheltering Vocabulary, Not Grammar.

I have returned from the American Classical League Summer Institute, and I had an absolutely great time. I reconnected with many friends, made new ones, and felt that my Detoxing from the Textbook presentation was very well received. 

On Day 2 of the Summer Institute was a Mensa Latina (literally, Latin table) breakout session for folks who wanted to get together to speak Latin. In the Latin teacher community, speaking Latin as a conversational, living language is a very sore topic, because most feel that there is no need for it or are scared to attempt to do it since it is a skill rarely taught when learning Latin. Since my first Rusticatio in 2010, I consider myself now to be a strong Intermediate-Mid/High conversationalist in Latin. There has not been a Mensa Latina at the Summer Institute for years, so I was glad to see it return. I was looking forward to taking part in the Mensa Latina, because it has been almost two years since I have truly conversed in Latin with folks, but at the same time, I was also very hesitant, because it has been almost two years since I have truly conversed in Latin with folks. For me, speaking Latin with my students as part of a CI classroom is NOT the same thing as actually conversing with someone in the language. In my Latin 1 classroom, as the teacher, I am the one who is dictating the conversation, its subject, and its register - it is more like I ask questions, students respond, and I am the one doing most of the talking in Latin for the purpose of providing input. In a true Latin conversation, so many components are going on: I have to understand what is being said to me, to formulate in my mind an understandable response in the target language, and to get that response to come out of my mouth...all in the matter of a few seconds if I wish for the dialogue to continue. Of course, this is assuming that I understand what is being said to me and that I possess enough knowledge to respond.

I was not sure who was going to be there for the Mensa Latina or what level of speakers would come, so I brought a couple decks of Go Fish to play in Latin. My dear friend Edie (or Editha in Latin) from Rusticatio has adapted a Latin version of Go Fish (called I Piscatum) using a deck with different fish illustrations on them. She also created an index with the corresponding Latin fish vocabulary. 

We play this at Rusticatio a lot with Latinists who are new to speaking Latin (but know their grammar!), because Go Fish has such a basic scripted dialogue to follow:

Person #1: Do you have __________?
Person #2: Yes, I have ___________. 
Person #2: No, I don't have _________. Go fish!

Primus homo: Habesne ____________?
Secundus homo: Certe, habeo ________. 
Secundus homo: Minime, non habeo __________. I piscatum!
About 20 folks showed up for the Mensa Latina with a wide range of speaking abilities, so I started up a game of I Piscatum with about half of them. Many 1st time Latin speakers joined in, and due to the limited vocabulary/structures of the game, they were able to participate, even at a basic level of speaking. To quote Nancy Llewellyn, they already possessed a passive knowledge of Latin, so all which they needed was an opportunity to activate it. 

But what I love about the way in which my friend Edie promotes I Piscatum is that the game also allows for folks to use different structures of the same word or different ways of saying the same thing in Latin if they wish as variety or to practice a higher register. Because of this, during the game I found my speaking confidence returning, as I began to use different ways of phrasing the same things and to hear others do the same (hence, input for me).

While we were playing I Piscatum, it suddenly it hit me: to a degree, this game was demonstrating sheltering vocabulary but not grammar. I could take the basic questions and answers in the game and truly play around with the grammatical forms but keep true to the vocabulary in most instances and yet still remain comprehensible in the process. This is why I was feeling successful in my speaking ability.

Possible various Latin questions
  1. Habesne ____________? (Do you have ___________?)
  2. Habesne ullos/ullas/ulla ____________? (Do you have any _________?)
  3. Velim aliquid te interrogare: habesne ullos/ullas/ulla ____________? (I would like to ask you a question: do you have any _________?)
  4. Suntne tibi ulli/ullae/ulla ___________. (Are there any __________ to you?)
Possible various Latin responses
  1. Certe, habeo ________. (Yes, I have __________.)
  2. Certe, habeo _____________, ergo tibi trado _____________. (Yes, I have _________, therefore I hand over to you ___________)
  3. Certe, sunt mihi ___________. (Yes, there are ________ to me).
  4. Minime, non habeo ullos/ullas/ulla ______________. (No, I do not have any _________
  5. Minime, habeo nullos/nullas/nulla ___________. (No, I have not any ___________.)
  6. Minime, nulli/nullae/nulla ___________ mihi sunt. (No, there are not any _________ to me)
  7. Minime. Si haberem ullos/ullas/ulla ____________, tibi traderem ________________. Sed re vera, habeo nullos/nullas/nulla ___________, ergo nequeo tibi tradere ullos/ullas/ulla ___________. (No. If I were to have any ____________, I would hand over ___________ to you, but in reality, I do have not any ___________, therefore, I am unable to hand over any _________ to you.
Possible various other Go Fish responses 
  1. Necesse est tibi ire piscatum (It is necessary for you to go fish)
  2. Tibi eundum est piscatum (you must go fish)
After years of playing I Piscatum at Rusticatio with Edie, I do not understand why I never made that connection of sheltering vocabulary but not grammar until now. 

More importantly, however, I finally now had a working knowledge of sheltering vocabulary and not grammar, because I myself was experiencing it and was using it for the purpose of communication. I think prior to this I really understood the concept of sheltering vocabulary (heck, I have even written up a post about it), but not necessarily how it went hand-in-hand with unsheltering grammar - in other words, I think that I was focusing too much on limiting vocabulary but not enough on applying that limited vocabulary to raising students through the levels of grammar in a compelling way.

If I wish truly to apply sheltering vocabulary and not grammar in my classroom, then it is going to require me to be very deliberate, i.e., to map everything out, and to figure things out. In I Piscatum, using subjunctive conditional clauses seems perfectly normal, but we traditionally hold off on anything relating to the subjunctive until upper levels - quite honestly when sheltering vocabulary but not grammar, there is no reason why we cannot introduce conditional clauses in level 1.

Anyhow, I had a great time playing I Piscatum with folks in Latin. I regained much of my confidence in conversing in Latin (still at an Intermediate Mid/High level), but I experienced and internalized a very important concept in Comprehensible Input. We shall see how and where this all goes in my classroom next year.