Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Extensive Reading

I have been reflecting much on my Fluency Fast experience from last summer with the absolutely incredible Linda Li. I am amazed at the amount of Mandarin which I acquired through numerous activities and readings during those four days. Something which stands out to me from that 4-day class is that although we did lots of reading, Linda did not have us do any embedded readings. Instead, we focused on lots of various extensive readings - different stories which had much of the same limited vocabulary. Extensive reading allowed us to "circle the plane a bit" in various readings to focus on vocabulary/structures which we already knew; hence, we received continued reinforcement and repetitions of vocabulary/structures. Because there were different stories, it allowed for the readings to be compelling. As a class, through these extensive readings, we were receiving continued understandable messages through repetitions of vocabulary without being repetitive.

This is NOT to say that embedded readings do not have their place, because I firmly believe that they do. I am NOT saying that one is better than the other, as both do indeed serve their purposes in the delivery of understandable messages. However, in doing these different extensive readings in Mandarin, it helped keep things from becoming stale, instead of focusing on different tiers of the same story. And I can tell you that it got in the necessary repetitions which I needed.To quote Carol Gaab, "The brain craves novelty."

Reading (not translating/decoding) plays such an important part in language acquisition. As Krashen writes:
“Our reading ability, our ability to write in an acceptable writing style, our spelling ability, vocabulary knowledge, and our ability to handle complex syntax is the result of reading.”
Allow me an excursus here to define terms and to distinguish between extensive readings and intensive readings:
  • extensive readings - tend to focus on the use of limited known vocabulary but not necessarily the grammatical use of this limited vocabulary. These types of readings are not typically found in textbooks but tend to focus on pleasure reading.
  • intensive readings - tend to focus on a limited use of grammatical structures but uses an overwhelming amount of vocabulary (usually with lots of glossed words). This is the type of readings commonly found in textbooks, since textbooks usually are grammar/structure-dictated. How many times have we asked students to read a passage or story in the textbook which is way overloaded with vocabulary, which in turn results in student frustration? That is the result of most intensive readings.
Even if you think that extensive readings would be too easy for your students, since they have already acquired the words, consider that when we read for pleasure, we tend to read material which is BELOW our reading level; rarely do we read material at or above our reading level for pleasure. Plus, one can NEVER get in too many repetitions of acquired vocabulary/structures if the reading is compelling.

In my Latin 2 classes, we are reading the Perseus myth (level-appropriate reading), so last week, I introduced the fourth part of the story (as a screencast video) as an extensive reading without any new vocabulary (there were a few "icing" words/structures which were glossed but not necessary for students to know yet). I was surprised at how quickly students were able to read it and to comprehend what they read. When I asked students why, they replied "It was not that hard - we knew all of the words." I felt like responding, "Then master plan is working."

How to create extensive readings
Extensive readings are actually not that difficult to create, but they require having a set list of vocabulary from which to draw and a good eye from you as the teacher for lesson planning.
  1. Determine a point in your curriculum where you want to "circle the plane a bit" and to focus on a set amount of acquired vocabulary/structures. Sometimes, it may be necessary to gloss vocabulary if needed for the reading, but do not go overboard with this.
  2. Just start writing a story using words from the list. It is possible to be compelling with a set amount of sheltered vocabulary words. Dr. Seuss proved this with Green Eggs and Ham, which only has 50 unique words in the entire book. Yet, it is still incredibly compelling, and consider how many repetitions there are in the story!
  3. Extensive readings do not have to be long, i.e., they do not have to be novellas! They just need to be comprehensible and compelling! I do not think that I could ever write a novella, because although I can write in a compelling manner, I cannot maintain it beyond a very short vignette. I truthfully tell my students that if the reading ends with someone exploding, it meant that either I became bored while writing it or I could not figure out where to go next.
  4. Extensive reading can actually serve as great supplements for textbook readings, since textbooks have a set list of words for each chapter. Just do not feel the need for students to acquire every single word on that list - pick high frequency words, and implement Carrie Toth's Chuck-It Bucket process.
  5. Latin teachers, if you are using a reading approach textbook with stories, extensive readings are GREAT for creating new stories involving those characters. When I was using Cambridge Latin Course, I would write up short extensive readings about various characters, such as what really happened to Grumio after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; a short, "Hannah Montana-inspired" 3-part story called Stella Metella; and a story about why Quintus drinks so much in the triclinio and how the family eventually holds an intervention. Just be careful about putting these readings on the web, since that is a violation of textbook copyright...
  6. To me, extensive readings would be great for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)/Silent Student Reading (SSR) if you had a library of these types of readings from which for students to choose.
John Piazza, a fellow CI Latin teacher in CA, just recently had an article published in Teaching Classical Languages which addresses Beginner Latin Novels. In it, he also discusses extensive reading vs. intensive reading. Even if you are not a Latin teacher, it is a very good read!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Times when I Feel like a Failure as a CI Latin Teacher

In writing this blog, my intention has never been to brag about what my students are able to do in my classroom vs. others or to make any folks feel like they are bad teachers (the whole "compare and despair" scenario) on account of what I write here or post on Twitter. My goal has always been to share my successes and what has worked for me in the classroom based upon the concepts of Comprehensible Input with the hopes that others will find success with this too. Allow me an excursus here to discuss those times when I feel like an absolute failure as a Latin teacher...and how i get out of feeling like one:

The National Latin Exam - Last week, a number of my students took the National Latin Exam (NLE). I do not require my students to take the NLE, so it is purely voluntary. Nor do I make it a cornerstone of my curriculum, as I do not prep my students for it. If students want to prep for it, then they can do it on their own. Anyhow, when those students who took the NLE came back to class, the first thing they said to me was "Wow, there was so much grammar on it that I did not know."

I hate hearing students say that about their NLE experience. Even though they took the exam in good faith and understood what to expect, I cannot help at first feel like I somehow failed my students, because I did not teach them explicit grammar. I hate feeling like that, because if you read my post on reasons for rejecting a grammar syllabus, you know my views on the topic. After having a pity party for a bit, I have to remind myself of the following regarding the NLE:
  1. First off, the NLE is a CONTEST (as I have heard Sherwin Little, executive director of the American Classical League, himself say MANY times). It is not a prescribed curriculum, nor is it an accurate indicator of my students' acquisition of Latin.
  2. Secondly, results on the NLE do not demonstrate student proficiency with the language (and was never meant to) but rather student performance. 
So before you write me off as a NLE-basher, I do think that NLE has tremendous value as a contest. Student awards on the NLE are great publicity for one's Latin program, and there is something very communal as a teacher about the NLE, since it is something which most Latin teachers offer to their students. I will say that in my beginning years as a Latin teacher 20 years ago, I lived and died for the NLE. I can remember having my students practice the NLE for the week prior to its administration. We went over it so many times that I felt like I had cracked its code, e.g., "The first question will either be an ablative or accusative of time construction, the relative clause question will probably be either be ___________, the culture question about the Roman hills will either be about the Palatine or Capitoline hills." Over the years, my feelings have changed, and much of it has nothing to do with me becoming a CI teacher.

My students comparing themselves with students at other schools - I hate it when my students sometimes hear from students from other schools what they are learning in traditional textbooks, because they will usually come to me, saying, "How come you haven't taught us cases and things like subjunctives?" My response is always, "I have. You do know cases and subjunctives. You have been reading them and using them, but I just haven't told you about them." Now to me, that is absolutely correct, but to them, it sounds like I am trying to cover my @$$. Undoubtedly, I will question myself, saying "Am I a bad teacher, because I am not teaching my students as I was taught? Do my students think this of me?" Then I remind myself of what my students are able to do that I could NEVER have done when I was learning Latin under a traditional textbook. They are MILES ahead of me where I wa at their stage of learning Latin in terms of reading, writing, speaking, and communicating in Latin itself. Whenever I do a drawing dictation, Freeze Frame activity, or a free write in Latin with my students and I see how easily they are able to accomplish it since these skills are both embedded and supported in a communicative CI curriculum, I always say to them, "You have no idea of just what you are able to accomplish. The majority of college students taking Latin cannot do this. I NEVER did anything like this when I was learning Latin!"

So i write this post to say that all of us at times struggle with feeling inferior as teachers, but that there are so many things which are going right in our classrooms.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rejecting a Grammar Syllabus

One of the common misconceptions about CI which I often hear is "But you CI teachers don't teach grammar." Quite honestly, to a degree there is a nugget of truth in this statement but just not in the way that people think:
Yes, grammar is indeed covered in a CI classroom, but it is just NOT taught EXPLICITLY as we think it should be done.
An adage which you may have encountered with CI implementation is "Shelter the vocabulary, not the grammar." In other words, limit the vocabulary to high-frequency words and other "icing" words, but milk the @*#! out of these words grammatically. This completely goes against a grammar-based textbook/syllabus, since the grammar topic for the chapter determines what is going to be taught, along with a prescribed list of vocabulary words (of which probably half are "Why the heck does the textbook think that this is a necessary word for students?"). 

Traditionally in a grammar-based syllabus, certain language structures are considered upper level grammar topics (subjunctives, indirect statements, gerunds, gerundives, etc), and often we preface teaching these topics by telling students, "These are really hard to learn, so pay attention." But why do we hold off on introducing structures like these until later instead of in Latin 1 when for students, they are actually quite easy to understand in context, and for me as a CI teacher they seem very natural to incorporate? But yet we feel the need to teach all six tenses by the end of Latin 1, when in reality, we know that the future, pluperfect, and future-perfect tenses are not high frequency structures? 

If you learned Latin in the traditional grammar-based way in which I did, you will recall that the opening grammar concepts which we learned were the first declension and first conjugation. Or if you used the reading method, then instead of by declension/conjugation, you first learned the nominative and accusative cases. In each case, however, each chapter's lesson was determined by grammar. 

So if not guided by a grammar syllabus, how does one introduce grammar then? Simply this: Teach the grammar that you need for the situation/reading. If you shelter the vocabulary but not the grammar (and not get into LONG explanations of the grammar behind it), there is no reason why you cannot use periphrastic phrases or indirect questions in Latin 1.

I myself am still learning this concept of "sheltering vocabulary but not grammar." I am currently creating the Latin 2 lesson plans for my instructional team, and as I write them up, I am constantly thinking, "Why did I not introduce this particular strucuture back in Latin 1 when it seems like such a natural structure to introduce there." A good example is the temporal use of cum + indicative to mean express "when" - Latin textbooks hold off on this concept until later chapters because it is lumped together with the subjunctive for causal and concessive clauses. Yet, the use of cum + indicative as a temporal use is perfectly okay, so why not it implement it in Latin 1? 

Last year in Latin 1, I introduced indirect statements very early, because we were reading Brando Brown Canem Vult, and these structures appear very often in the novella. I found that indirect statements were quite easy for students to read in context when I GOT OUT OF THE WAY with teaching these structures explicitly.

When it comes to what my students know about grammar:

  • Do my students know the grammatical mechanics behind the formation of the particular clauses, e.g., what specific change is made to the root form of the verb based on its conjugation, sequence of tenses? No, not at all. 
  • Can they identify grammatical forms by their formal names, such as purpose clause, temporal clauses, indirect questions, and noun clause of characteristic? A few 4%ers may be able to, since I have mentioned them in passing, but quite honestly, no, not at all.
  • Main question: Is it 100% necessary for them to need to know these grammatical specifics? If my goal for them as novice and intermediate level learners is to be able to read level-appropriate Latin, then the answer is quite easy: no, not at all. 

NOTE - after 3-4 years of language learning, ACTFL classifies learners around an intermediate-mid level of reading. Most classical literature rates at the SUPERIOR level of reading, yet tradition says that students should be reading (insert rather, translating/decoding) Caesar (which rates about Advanced Mid/High), Ovid, and Vergil at the 3rd year of Latin.

Many Latin teachers would say that I am failing my students in the long run in not teaching them explicit grammar according to a traditional syllabus. These teachers need to remember that I LOVE grammar and was attracted to Latin because of the explicit grammar teaching, but I also know that the average learner is not like I am. When I do discuss explicit grammar, it is only in passing for about 30-seconds. I still will point out certain grammatical features, e.g, "See this -ba- in the verb? It is translated as "was/were _________ing." If I feel like the explicit grammar is something important for students to know, then I will assign certain students to be the grammar expert for the topic.

If you are transitioning to/dabbling in CI and still wish to use the textbook but want to move away from a grammar-based syllabus, then consider the following: 
  • In the textbook, what MUST I absolutely cover in a semester? What topics are considered non-negotiable? This can be determined by state standards, common exams/assessments, progress on Student Learning Objective (SLO) pre-tests/post-tests, instructional team decisions, etc.
  • If there are restrictions, can I still cover all of these grammar topics but yet on MY timeline? Just because I need to cover participles or X vocabulary words since they are on of the final exam, do I have to teach them in April since that is when the textbook and my colleagues do? Can I introduce these concepts/words in January since that fits better into my curriculum?
  • Leave out anything which is then superfluous. Carrie Toth's Vocabulary Chuck-It Bucket is a great example of this.
I will admit that leaving behind a grammar-based syllabus approach seems very weird and scary, but now that I have left it behind, I actually see that I have a lot of freedom in what I want to do.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Snack Attack - Movie Talk

Here is a movie talk which I did last month. With our Latin 2 classes, we are doing the Perseus myth, which is quite a long, involved story with some very specific words. We were beginning the section of the myth dealing with the Graiae sisters, so I needed to preview the words short, old woman, and steal. Using the national movie talk database started by Jason Fritze, I found the following short movie called Snack Attack.

NOTE - In Latin, the word for old woman is anus (pronounced ahh-nus), but I deliberately chose the word avia (which means grandmother) for this based on the maturity level of some of my students. Latin teachers, it is your call on this.

English script

Latin script

  1. This is one movie talk in which my students got VERY involved. They were absolutely INCENSED that the young man would even think of brazenly eating this old woman's cookies. As we know, we learn best when emotionally engaged in a lesson.
  2. Students actually thought that the entire movie was going to be about the old woman trying to get the cookies from the vending machine and found that part of the movie very funny.
  3. When it was over, I asked the class in English "Why did the old woman smile at the end?" I was very surprised at how many understood the reason why: "Because the young man was actually being very nice and patient with this crazy old lady."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Screencasting Using a Smartphone

Last semester, I played around with having students create a screencast using their smartphones. In Latin 1, my colleague Bob Patrick had designed a very basic presentational speaking unit involving some Latin phrases and sayings. At the end of the unit, students had to choose one of the phrases, draw a picture of it, and then to present to the class what phrase they chose, why they liked it, and where they found an example of this phrase from one of the stories which we had read that semester. It was a very basic script which they were following, and the presentations lasted less then 45 seconds, since they only had a semester of Latin.

I was wanting to experiment some with the presentational aspect of the unit and decided to have students screencast their "presentation" for me. Here is what I assigned, in addition to directions for how one can screencast from a smartphone.

Latin 1 Presentational Speaking Directions
  1. Record yourself “delivering your presentation” on your device. For this, you will do a screencast. The recording will be of your picture, with you narrating the three sentences. Your recording will be no longer than a minute.
  2. You will be speaking your three sentences IN LATIN, so please practice saying these sentences aloud and slowly.
  3. Using your device, take a picture of the picture which you have chosen to present. Take a horizontal picture if possible.
  4. Create a screencast of your picture on your phone - You can use Snapchat or see "To Screen Record from IOS 11" directions below.
  5. Save the recording to your device's photo album.
  6. Submit your recording in the Latin 1 eClass “Sententiae” dropbox
To Screen Record from IOS 11
  1. To set it up, head over to your Settings>Control Center>Customize Controls>Screen Recording. Tap on the green "plus" icon next to it to add it to the Control Center.
  2. Show your picture on your device’s screen.
  3. Swipe your screen so that the control panel is now showing.
  4. Press on the screen recording icon for 5-10 seconds until you see a pop-up screen. 
  5. Tap the red Microphone Audio icon at the bottom of the screen. Now, you’ll record your screen, as well as the audio from and around your iPhone.
  6. Press the record button AND swipe away the control center screen so that your picture is showing - you have three seconds before recording begins.
  7. A red bar will show at the top, signifying that recording has begun. Narrate your three sentences with the picture on your screen.
  8. Tap the red bar when you are done. Press STOP to finish recording.
  9. Your screencast is now saved to your photo album.

Example of students' screencasts

  1. While I know that there are websites and apps such as Flipgrid which allow students to upload videos/screencasts of themselves, most of them require payment. At this moment, I am not interested in spending money for these apps/websites just yet.
  2. Although the screencasts which students created were quite rudimentary since it was my first time doing something like this, I can see students creating screencasts in the target language for very short formative presentations.
  3. Students liked creating a screencast to deliver their presentations, because they said that they would have been nervous delivering a presentation (even though less than 45-seconds with a script) in Latin to the class. They did not feel nervous at all creating a screencast.
  4. Since the students were turning in their screencasts to me and not presenting in front of the class, ideally I would have liked to have housed their presentations somewhere online for students to watch, to comment, etc. so that these screencasts had an actual audience. However, as we did this unit at the end of the semester right before finals, I ran out of time to do something like this.
  5. Those students who did not have access to a smartphone delivered their presentations to me one-on-one.
  6. Many student had never created a screencast on their smartphones and remarked how easy it was to do and that they wish that they could do more of this in their other classes. 
  7. There are some IOS compatibility issues with posting these screencasts on sites like YouTube and even here on Blogger, so unfortunately, screencasting on a smartphone is not 100% without its problems. I hope that these problems will be fixed with iOS 12.