Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vocabulary Highlighter Game

Exams are coming up in a few weeks for my students, so every day this week, I have been trying to do some quick vocabulary review activities (such as Hot Seat and Quick Draw) that will both engage students in order to prepare them for the exam and will not take up more than 15 minutes of time. This is a popular activity which I learned from a colleague at my former school. Though not necessarily a CI activity per se, it is quick and engaging for students, and it involves highlighters!

For this, you will need to create a word cloud of vocabulary words which you want to review. I have found that 25 words is a good amount. Unfortunately, finding a website/extension for the creation of word clouds has been difficult, because many websites like Wordle do not work on Chrome or are not compatible with Windows 10. I use a MS Word extension to create my word clouds. Google Docs also has an extension for word clouds, but I have found that MS Word has more capabilities.

Below is a video for creating a word cloud on MS Word.

In creating a MS word cloud for this activity, I use the following settings:
  1. Font: Arial
  2. Colors: Black on White
  3. Layout: Half on Half (this will allow for words to be both horizontal and vertical)
  4. Case: Intelligent
Here is a MS word cloud which I made for my Latin 2 students

  1. Pair up students.
  2. You can have students either sit next to each other or across from each other.
  3. Students will need a common surface between them. It can be a desk, or if your class is deskless like mine, then I had students sit on the floor with a whiteboard between them.
  4. Each student in a pair needs to have a different-colored highlighter, i.e., no two students who are paired up can have the same color highlighter.
  5. Give each student a handout of the word cloud.
  6. There will be two different rounds of play, so have each pair of students use only one of the word clouds for the first round.
  7. Have each pair place the word cloud between them, and give students roughly 30-45 seconds to look at the words in order to familiarize themselves with both the words and the layout.
  8. You as the teacher call out a definition in English.
  9. The goal for each student is to be the first person to highlight the correct word.
  10. After about 9-10 words, now tell students that they have to use their NON-DOMINANT hands to highlight the correct word. Do this for about 9-10 words.
  11. After most of the words have been called, have students count how many words they each got correct. They will know based on the color of their highlighter. 
  12. To start the second round, students will now use the other word cloud.
  13. Tell students that they need to put this word cloud in a new orientation, i.e., if it was laid out horizontal before, now it needs to be vertical. This makes the second round more challenging, since although students know what words to expect, the words are in a "different place," since the orientation is different.
  14. Repeat steps 8-10 again.
  15. When finished, have students create their final totals for both rounds.
  1. As I said, this is a fast, quick activity. It lasts about 10 minutes. 
  2. Depending on your students, it can get VERY competitive.
  3. I have a tub of different-colored highlighters in the event that students have the same color or do not have a highlighter. I suppose one can use markers for this activity.
  4. Having students use their non-dominant hand for part of it adds to the novelty of the activity.
  5. Variation: Because vocabulary does not exist in a language isolated outside of a context, you can make a word cloud out of phrases in the target language. I know that Wordle will allow you to do this.
  6. It is not really a CI activity, but it is definitely fun to watch!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Majoring on the Majors, and Minoring on the Minors

I have returned from the 2017 ACTFL Convention in Nashville, and as always, wow, what a conference! Even though it was a quick trip (I was just there for all-day Friday and part of Saturday morning), I got the chance to attend some great presentations and co-presented a presentation on Tasks and Communicating in the Comprehensible Input Classroom with Rachel Ash, Bob Patrick, and Miriam Patrick, in addition to squeezing in some quick hi's and hugs with folks whom I have not seen in awhile. 

Although conferences like this are great for a gathering of world language teachers from across the nation in one place, unwittingly, it is brings up debates (sometimes heated) about teaching, pedagogy, etc. Unfortunately, the CI community of teachers is not immune from these disagreements, such as:
  • TPRS should be the sole way of delivering comprehensible input in the classroom, since story-telling is engaging.
  • TPRS is one of many methods of delivering comprehensible input, so we should not pigeonhole ourselves to just this.
  • If you want to implement CI in your classroom, then you need to go all-in. There is no room for dabbling or transitioning. Using CI methods while still teaching grammar-translation is wrong.
  • If you are a newbie to CI, do not go all-in, because you are going to burn out. Instead, dabble/transition in order to build your CI foundation.
  • I teach with CI novellas as part of my curriculum.
  • I do not use novellas and think that they should only be used for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR).
  • I do not think that we should use authentic resources, since most are incomprehensibe, are full of native idioms, and do not use high-frequency vocabulary.
  • I think that authentic resources are fine as long as they are adapted and/or are language appropriate.
  • We as CI teachers should be using targeted vocabulary and structures, because that helps keeps things focused.
  • We as CI teachers should focus on untargeted vocabulary and structures, since we want students to determine the focus of what we discuss.
  • We should strive to be 90% in the target language at all times.
  • 90% target language usage is a suggestion, not a prescription.
  • I only attend NTPRS and not IFLT, because ________________.
  • I only attend IFLT and not NTPRS, because _______________.
  • (For Latinists), we should only be using classical literature in our classes, since that is our standard. Anything non-classical related has no place.
  • (For Latinists), the Latin language spans over 2,000 years of usage. Why are we limiting ourselves to an ancient time period when Latin is still spoken today in the modern world? Language is fluid and changes. Why keep Latin stuck in the 1st century?
You get the picture. As you read the above, you may have very, strong views one way or the other on those topics. Unfortunately, what i have seen come from these debates is the emergence of camps. While I am not naive enough to think that differences in opinion will not arise, I also think that these disagreements keep us from our guiding focus and become divisive.

When it comes to teaching using Comprehensible Input, we need to determine what are non-negotiables - what is that MUST be implemented or has to occur in order for language acquisition to occur when facilitating Comprehensible Input? In my opinion, here is what I consider to be non-negotiables, and note - they are simply a summary of Krashen's Hypotheses:
  • Learners acquire language through the delivery of understandable messages and will progress in their knowledge when they comprehend language which is slightly more advanced than their current level, hence i+1. As a result of input, students will produce output when they are ready.
  • Language acquisition is subconscious, hence it is long-term memory. Language learning is explicit and conscious, but it is short-term memory. Our goal for students is language acquisition, not language learning.
  • Our focus should be on meaning and not form. Self-error correction only occurs through explicit language learning. In language acquisition, errors will occur, but our goal should be comprehensibility. Self-error correction will occur for learners on their own timeline.
  • When one's affective filter (or "stress") increases, learning decreases.
  • Learners pay attention more to compelling comprehensible messages than to less-compelling comprehensible messages.

To me, that is our foundation as CI teachers - those are the non-negotiables. Those are the major points on which we must both major and strive to protect in our classrooms. Focusing on the minor points and turning them into major points is where we begin to become divided. To discredit CI teachers solely because they are not implementing TPRS in their curriculum does not make sense to me. In good faith, we need to realize that these teachers are still delivering comprehensible and engaging input through other means.

Though we are all bound to have our opinions on the "best" way to implement Comprehensible Input, we all have the same end goal: student language acquisition. I think that these disagreements occur, because we as CI teachers are so passionate about what we do. However, when we learn to major on the majors and to minor on the minors is when we will gain perspective that we are all on this CI journey together.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Getting the Most out of Conferences

I leave for the national ACTFL Convention in a few days. This will be my third ACTFL convention which I have attended after having taken a 2-year hiatus (I have written a blog post about attending the 2014 ACTFL Convention), and I am looking forward to it. Because I have attended ACTFL Conventions before, I know exactly what to expect in terms of its overwhelmingly massive size and session offerings.

On last week's #langchat discussion on Twitter, the topic was the upcoming ACTFL convention, and folks were sharing their thoughts on numerous convention-related questions. This got me to thinking about what I have learned about how to survive conferences in general. Let's face it: conferences can be big, impersonal, and overwhelming. Here are my tips on how to get the most out of a conference:
  1. Do not feel like you have to attend every session. Pick and choose your sessions wisely. It is very easy to develop "information overload" from attending too many sessions and to burn out.
  2. Know your learning goals ahead of time. Is there a particular topic/strand which you wish to follow? This will help make selecting which sessions to attend much easier. For me, at this ACTFL Convention, I specifically want to attend sessions dealing with technology in the world language classroom. As I have a graduate degree in Instructional Technology, I want to learn more about new technologies for my curriculum but viewed through the lens of Comprehensible Input. 
  3. Take time for yourself. Take advantage of down-time if there is not a session which interests you. Grab a cup of coffee, tour the exhibit hall, find a place to plug in your phone, etc. Use this time to recharge yourself.
  4. Take time to network, to meet new people, and to reconnect with those whom you only see at conferences. There are so many people whom I know (or know of) that I only get to see at conferences. Some of my favorite times at conferences are when I am sitting alone off to the side at a conference in order to recharge myself or to prepare a upcoming presentation, and people will come/go at their leisure to talk with me. 
  5. If possible, share/discuss with others at the conference what you have learned. In turn, find out what sessions they attended and what they learned. Use that time to begin processing the conference.
  6. If there is something of great interest which you learned from a particular presenter, do some follow up. Talk to the presenter afterwards or contact him/her during/after the conference. Do not let your learning stop at the session door on the way out.
I hope to see and to meet many of you at ACTFL this weekend. Please take time to introduce yourself to me! 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Monster and Dumpling - Movie Talk

Here is a movie talk which I just recently did with my Latin 2 students. I was wanting to preteach vocabulary involving body parts, since we will be doing some readings related to monsters and fantastical beasts in the ancient world. Having found this movie short on Jason Fritze's national movie talk database, I thought that it did a great job of introducing this needed vocabulary.

The Movie Talk is called Monster and Dumpling (Monstrum et Cibus in Latin). 

Latin script

English script

  1. Students reacted well to this movie short. A number of them said that it had "feel goods" of the three-legged dog Movie Talk. One student insightfully said, "Both the monster and boy are outcasts - I'm glad that they found each other."
  2. Pause and ask students specifically at 3:00 in the movie short why the monster is sad. Some students thought that the monster felt sorry for the boy, because the boy was blind, but many caught that the monster felt bad for taking advantage of the blind boy.
  3. There is some English narration at the beginning of the movie short (about 6-7 seconds). My students did not like that! They have become so accustomed to Movie Talks having NO English in them that it did not feel right for them to hear it. 
  4. I showed the credits at the end too, because it shows the preliminary storyboard of the movie short. It appears that originally, the monster was ostracized by other monsters because of its looks, the character was a girl not a boy, and that the girl too was ignored and demeaned by others, because she was blind. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Who is This" Assessment

This is a quick assessment idea which I learned from my colleague Bob Patrick. Recently, our Latin 2 students were finishing up a story, so Bob implemented this listening assessment involving characters from the story with his class, which in turn, I used with my students. If your class is reading a story with at least three characters who do a number of different things, then this is a great way to assess students.

  1. In the target language, create a number of sentences that describe different characters in the story. I have found that 8-10 sentences is a good number.
  2. Each sentence should start out with "this character" (in Latin, haec persona) - I used actual sentences from the story since those sentences were with what students were most familiar.
  1. Write the character choices on the board.
  2. On a sheet of paper, have students number 1-8 (or however many sentences you have created.
  3. Explain to students that for each of the sentences which you will read aloud, their job is to determine which character this sentence describes and to write down that character.
  4. Read each sentence 2-3 times very slowly, as students write down the character about whom the sentence describes.
  5. At the end, read each sentence again so that students can check their responses. 
Latin Example - this was based on a story from a Movie Talk (Broken: Rock, Paper, Scissors)

a) forfex             b) puella chartacea          c) saxum

Question #1 - haec persona credit puellam chartaceam esse pulchram.
Question #2 - haec persona occidit multas arbores.
Question #3 - haec persona vult fugere cum puella chartacea.
Question #4 - haec persona occidit puellam chartaceam.
Question #5 - haec persona magnos sonos facit.
Question #6 - haec persona non vult fugere cum saxo.
Question #7 - haec persona occidit forficem.
Question #8 - haec persona fugit cum saxo.

  1. This was indeed a very quick assessment - it took less than 10 minutes.
  2. This is a great activity to assess listening comprehension in a very low-key way.
  3. I was surprised at how well my students did on this. You need to understand that when I was learning Latin in high school and in my college and graduate courses in Latin, I NEVER heard it spoken. Because I am implementing Comprehensible Input in my Latin classes with lots of repetitions in active Latin, for my students to hear Latin does not seem that big of a deal for them.
  4. Afterwards I asked students what they thought of it. A common response - "It was really easy, since we have gone over the story so many times..."