Thursday, September 28, 2017

Immersion Can Turn into Submersion

In previous posts, I have blogged about my experience this summer learning Mandarin with Linda Li in a 4-day Fluency Fast class. Since then, my goal has been to continue acquiring Mandarin when I have time. Recently, I found a video on YouTube of a first day high school Mandarin 1 class, so thinking this video would be a great place for me to continue my language acquisition, I began to watch it. What I saw was that this teacher was using an 100% immersion approach on day 1. While there is nothing wrong with that per se, there was no attempt to establish any type of meaning in English, outside of gestures and handouts with Mandarin phrases where students filled in the English meaning during the class. In the video, when the teacher began to speak in Mandarin after the bell rings and asked the class to stand up, immediately you could see the confusion among the students, and only a few students caught onto what he was asking them to do. I am certain that affective filters immediately went through the roof with those students, because mine certainly did just watching it (and I was familiar with what he was saying in Mandarin!). For the remainder of the video, the teacher employed a traditional approach to an immersion classroom, with lots of the teacher saying phrases, students repeating after him (I wonder how many of those students actually understood what they were saying in Mandarin), and him correcting their pronunciation. Occasionally, the teacher would ask students (in Mandarin) to define words in English. While for me, much of what he said in the video was somewhat comprehensible (due to my limited Mandarin), I can guarantee that for most of the students in that classroom, it was not.

In reflecting on my experience with Linda Li this summer, I realize that from Day 1 of our Fluency Fast course, she could have employed a 100% immersion experience like the above teacher, but Linda also knew that this approach with beginning Mandarin students would not have been successful for every learner in our class. That is not to say that Linda did not utilize much more Mandarin as the class progressed, but it was not immediate from the first hour.

I am NOT saying that a classroom immersion environment in and of itself is a bad or terrible thing, but incomprehensible classroom immersion where the burden is completely 100% on students to establish and to negotiate meaning on their own in a "sink or swim" environment is where I have a problem. I have been in those types of immersion experiences, and I can definitely say that my affective filter went through the roof to the point of "fight or flight." Not every learner can succeed in that type of environment, and if equity in the classroom is our goal for all students, then a "survival of the fittest" attitude only excludes learners, as only "certain" types of learners end up finding success. Although we as teachers may have the best intentions in implementing an immersion approach, if we are not careful, immersion can quickly turn into submersion for students. When students do not perform well in this setting, our tendency is to to blame the students as being lazy or not trying (or even worse, that only certain students should take language, since not everyone can keep up in an immersion classroom). The reality is that students are not doing well, because we ourselves have not set them up properly for success in an immersion setting. An incomprehensible immersion environment is simply just noise to students.

In order to guarantee success for students in an immersion setting, then I feel that we as teachers must establish the following environment:
  1. Create a safety net for students. In my opinion, this is vital. A safety net empowers ALL students to inform you as the teacher NON-VERBALLY that they are not understanding what you are saying, that they need you to go slower, that their affective filters are skyrocketing, etc. It is very easy to get a false impression of what students are understanding or processing in an immersion environment if we are only relying on the fast processors to inform us. Even counting "1, 2, 3" aloud after you ask a question can greatly slow things down in an immersion setting in order to give ALL students time to process what has been asked (thank you, Annabelle Allen, for teaching me this).
  2. Strive to be 100% comprehensible by establishing meaning in L1. Nothing divides immersion-based teachers more than the topic of establishing meaning in L1. Some feel that this has absolutely no place in an immersion environment, as their argument is that students will figure out and determine meaning on their own or that students will be thinking in L1, instead of L2, if meaning is given in L1. Others feel that meaning can be established through props or pictures but still no L1. I am of the mindset that we teachers need to establish meaning in L1 if our goal is to be 100% comprehensible to learners. When understandable messages are delivered, then language acquisition can occur. In my language learning experiences with both Linda Li (Mandarin) and Betsy Paskvan (Japanese), each of them established meaning in L1 by writing any unknown language words on the board, having the English definitions next to them, and pointing/pausing when referring to them. I am so grateful that they did, because it made what was being said understandable to me. Yes, it was so helpful to have those words and meanings there as a reference, and yes, I was thinking in L1 during that time. To be honest, since I was negotiating meaning, it was necessary for me to think in L1. As the class progressed, I found that I no longer needed to refer to the words (although they were there if needed) and that I was starting to think in L2, instead of L1. Some may say, "If a student does not know a word in L2, can't just you explain the meaning in L2, instead of L1?" I have been in immersion environments where when I asked for a meaning of a word, the meaning was given to me in L2. Although these people had the best of intentions, i was already frustrated, because I did not know what the original word meant, so explaining the meaning in L2 only frustrated me more, thus raising my affective filter higher. In these situations, my thinking has always been "Just tell me what the d@*n word means in English, so that I can move on."
  3. Facilitate constant comprehension checks. This is a key point, because comprehension checks give students an opportunity to let you know what they think that you are saying and give you the teacher a chance to see if you are truly understandable. This can be done very quickly and easily either in L1 or L2 by simply asking, "When I said that, what did I mean?" Depending on their answer, this feedback can tell you whether to move forward or to "circle the plane a bit," since students are not understanding what you are communicating.
What are some tools and strategies which you implement in an immersion setting in order to guarantee success for all learners?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Assessing Students

When I have delivered presentations on Comprehensible Input at conferences, one of the questions which I usually get asked is, "So how do you test students on this? What does an assessment look like?" One of the main issues of which we need to let go is the concept of the traditional chapter/unit test. Assessments do not have to be long 4-page documents, which take students 30-45 minutes to complete. Rather, assessments can be short, to-the-point, and completed by students in less than 10-minutes.

A few things about my assessments:
  1. I assess students every 5-7 days.
  2. They are ALWAYS unannounced, outside of the midterm and final exam (since those dates are set by my department and school). However, I will only assess when I think that 80% of my students will score an 80% or higher. Usually, the reality is 90% of my students will score a 90% or higher. Setting a date for an assessment does nothing really other than letting you know who prepared and studied for it, but it does not tell you who retained the material afterwards. When we begin to assess on students' timelines instead of on our own as teachers is when we will see increased student success and mastery of material.
  3. They are always based upon a reading/story which we have been doing in class. In other words, it is never a sight passage.
  4. My Latin department implements standards-based grading, instead of the traditional grading system. In other words, students are assessed according to their proficiency in a number of various standards. I will save this topic for a later blog post.
  5. Students have unlimited retakes if they do not do well, as my goal is student proficiency in the language, not performance.
  1. I love doing these types of assessments, because they are fast! Before when administering a unit/chapter test, it would take the entire period. These type of assessments take less than 15-minutes for students to complete, meaning I can do other activities besides assess!
  2. Even though my assessments are unannounced, rarely do I have students complain about it. Most find them very easy and have told me that they like that they never have to "study" for this class. My response to students: if you do your 50% and if I do my 50% in class, then you never will have to study for these assessments!
Below are some actual ways in which I have assessed students this year. NOTE - The standards which I am assessing are at the top of each section. F = Formative (quiz grade), S = Summative (test grade). Notice that assessments usually have both formative and summative standards addressed:

Assessment #1

Iuppiter et Iuno duōs filiōs habent: Mars et Vulcanus. Mars est deus bellī. Mars est pulcher et torosus. Iuno Martem amat, quod Mars est pulcher et torosus.

Vulcanus est deus ignis. Vulcanus est torosus, sed non est pulcher. Iuno Vulcanum non amat, quod Vulcanus non est pulcher. Eheu! Iuno est irata, quod Vulcanus non est pulcher. Iuno Vulcanum e Monte Olympo ad terram deicit. Vulcanus est vulneratus in terrā, et est tristis.
F3  I can recognize isolated words and high-frequency phrases when supported by context.
Provide an English definition of FIVE of the underlined words. You may answer more than five as backup credit.

1) Mars est torosus.
2) Iuno Martem amat, quod Mars est pulcher.
3) Iuno Martem amat.
4) Vulcanus non est pulcher.
5) Vulcanus est torosus, sed non est pulcher.
6) Iuno est irata.
7) Vulcanus est vulneratus in terra.

S3  I can demonstrate understanding of authentic and adapted Latin passages when read.

Answer TWO of the following questions IN ENGLISH. You may answer more than two as backup credit.

1. Describe how Mars and Vulcan differ from each other in terms of physical appearance.
a. Mars

b. Vulcan
2. Describe the difference in how Juno reacts to Mars and to Vulcan AND why she reacts that way.
a. Mars

b. Vulcan
3. Give TWO reasons why Vulcan is tristis at the end of the story.

Assessment #2
Vulcanus Victor - Assessment
Vulcanus est valde peritus faber. Vulcanus sellam facit; sella est valde pulchra. Vulcanus sellam ad Montem Olympum mittit. Iuno pulchram sellam videt, et considit in sellā. Subito, sella Iunonem capit! Iuno non potest surgere e sellā! Iuno est captiva!

Quod Vulcanus est faber, Iuppiter eum ad Montem Olympum fert. Vulcanus Iunonem e sellā liberat, et Venus datur ut coniunx. Vulcanus est valde laetus, quod est in Monte Olympo, et Venus est coniunx. Venus Vulcanum non amat, quod Vulcanus non est pulcher. Venus Martem amat, quod Mars est valde pulcher.

F4     I can read and understand short stories and conversations.
Pick THREE of the following statements, and find the sentence IN LATIN from the story above which supports that statement. You may do more than three as backup credit.

1)  Juno likes pretty things.

2) Vulcan receives two rewards for freeing his mother from the chair.

3) Vulcan has a wife.

4) Due to his looks, once again someone rejects Vulcan.

S4 I can provide accurate, written translations of authentic and adapted passages in Latin.
Pick THREE of the following statements, and write out a translation into “good English.” You may do more than three as backup credit.

1) Vulcanus sellam ad Montem Olympum mittit.

2) Iuno non potest surgere e sellā! Iuno est captiva!

3) Venus Vulcanum non amat, quod Vulcanus non est pulcher.

4) Vulcanus est valde laetus, quod est in Monte Olympo, et Venus est coniunx.

Assessment #3 - Drawing Dictation
S2 I can demonstrate understanding of a Latin text/passage when heard.

(taken from a Movie Talk called MonsterBox)
  1. Ecce puella et duo monstra: parvum monstrum et mediocre monstrum! 
  2. Faber facit casam parvo monstro 
  3. Puella est laeta, quod monstro placet casa 
  4. Ecce puella et tria monstra: parvum monstrum, mediocre monstrum, et magnum monstrum.
  5. Faber facit casam mediocri monstro.
  6. Faber non facit casam magno monstro, quod magnum monstrum est molestum.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Drawing Dictation

This is a great listening comprehension activity, which I learned this summer from Linda Li in her Fluency Fast Mandarin class. It is very much like a regular dictation, but the difference though is that instead of having students write down the target language sentences as you say them, they draw them! I would recommend that you do this as a post-reading activity, instead of as a pre-reading activity.

  1. Take 6 sentences from a story which you have been going over in class. These sentences need to be "drawable."
  2. If needed, write any target vocabulary on the board with their English meaning.
  3. On a sheet of paper, tell students to draw a 2x3 grid which should fill the entire paper.
  4. Have students number each box from 1-6.
  5. Tell students “I will say a sentence, and your job is to draw a visual representation of that sentence. You will have 2-3 minutes to draw.” 
  6. Begin reading the first sentence slowly. It will be necessary to repeat the sentence many times. 
  7. Continue with the other sentences. Remind students that words are on the board if they need them.
  8. At the end, repeat the sentences and tell students to check their drawings to ensure that they have drawn everything needed.
Alternate version - ask students to draw their visual representations with their NON-DOMINANT hand. This will take a lot more time for students to complete and will cause them to focus more on what they are drawing (which means you saying more repetitions of the sentence).

  1. The sentences need to be very comprehensible, because students are drawing what they hear. If the sentences are too long or are incomprehensible, students will become frustrated.
  2. Students were much more engaged with this type of dictation instead of a regular one, since it involved them having to draw a visual representation of what they heard, as opposed to just writing down words. 
  3. Because students had to draw what they heard, it was necessary for me to repeat the sentences many times, which meant LOTS of great repetitions. 
  4. Students did not complain about doing this type of dictation, because it did not "feel" like a regular dictation.  
  5. Because students were already familiar with the story and vocabulary, it was not a difficult activity for them to do.
  6. This is another great post-reading activity for going over a story and to get in more repetitions.
Example (taken from a Movie Talk called MonsterBox)
  1. Ecce puella et duo monstra: parvum monstrum et mediocre monstrum! (Behold a girl and two monsters: a small monster and a medium monster)
  2. Faber facit casam parvo monstro (The craftsman makes a house for the small monster)
  3. Puella est laeta, quod monstro placet casa (The girl is happy, because the monster likes the house)
  4. Ecce puella et tria monstra: parvum monstrum, mediocre monstrum, et magnum monstrum. (Behold the girl and three monster: a small monster, a medium monster, and a big monster).
  5. Faber facit casam mediocri monstro (The craftsman makes a house for the medium monster).
  6. Faber non facit casam magno monstro, quod magnum monstrum est molestum (The craftsman does not make a house for the big monster, because the big monster is annoying).