Sunday, July 28, 2019

Returning Back to Work

I return back to work tomorrow for pre-planning. I cannot believe that my summer vacation is over – these past two months have gone by very quickly. At the same time, it was a very full summer. I took two online graduate courses for my Ed.D. program in Instructional Technology (one course was on Digital Citizenship, and the other was on Managing Data Systems in a District – I ended up getting A’s in both!); attended two conferences (ACL Summer Institute and IFLT), where I presented at both; and managed to squeeze in a trip to Disney World before IFLT and then a trip to CA after IFLT to visit family. As packed as my summer was, in many ways, I feel like my summer vacation just started.

However, I am ready to be back to work. As I look back at the blog post which I wrote two months ago at the end of theschool year, I can sense just how physically and mentally exhausted I was when I wrote that. One of the things which I mention is that I was looking forward to the summer to have time away from students in order to recharge my batteries. Well, the time away from work and students did its job, because I certainly do feel ready for the school year.

My time at IFLT has played a HUGE part in this. Even though I had a larger role in leadership at the conference as a sub-cohort leader, coach, and presenter, I still received so much out of my time there as a participant. Seeing Linda Li teach a Mandarin class again (with me taking a part in it) showed me afresh how to deliver CI in a language class – people tease me that after Krashen, I am Linda Li’s biggest fan! Mostly, for me, however, being in an environment where I did not have to defend myself pedagogically, and where the presenters and lab teachers humbly gave of themselves to help others become better CI teachers (may I eventually display that level of humility) has so motivated me for this school year. I challenge all of you to attend a NTPRS or an IFLT, because although one can learn much about CI from conference presentations, in-services, and blogs, there is NOTHING like experiencing it in person in a weeklong, immersive environment.

So to those of you who still have a month of summer vacation left, enjoy it! I am ready to be back at school!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

So You've Just Come Back from Your 1st NTPRS/IFLT - Now What?

CI conference season has ended here in the US (it is about to begin in Agen, France), with both NTPRS and IFLT being huge successes. Perhaps the following scenario is you: This was your first time attending one of these conferences, and your mind has been totally blown away by everything which you learned and experienced. You also have a notebook full of great ideas from both presentations and lab observations which you are sifting through and trying to consolidate. You were coached for the first time in storytelling and asking questions, and as scary as it was, you made it through. You met so many dynamic people who share the same passion as you for teaching world languages and making connections with students. But now that you are home: now what?

I can totally relate to this, because after my first NTPRS conference in 2014, even though I had been implementing CI/TPRS for years, suddenly my mind had been completely expanded and blown away by everything which I had experienced during that week. Here are my suggestions to keep the ball rolling:
  1. Take time to reflect of what you just experienced. After an experience like NTPRS or IFLT, it is common to experience some degree of letdown. Reflect on your experience though: what did you go in thinking NTPRS/IFLT would be like? Where were my expectations not met? Where were my expectations exceeded? What "a-ha" moments did you have? Where do you still have some misgivings about CI? What are some strategies which I can implement in my classroom? 
  2. Find some type of CI professional learning community (PLC), either online or in person. This is key, since you cannot keep this up alone. Finding a CI PLC which meets face-to-face may be difficult depending on your area, but they do exist out there. I know of TCI Ohio and TCI Tri-States which meet on a semi-regular basis. If you cannot find something, organize one yourself! Online, there are so many CI PLC's on Facebook, such as IFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching, and others which are language specific.
  3. Find online resources such as blogs, podcasts, and vlogs. For me, outside of in-person conferences and presentations, blogs are my lifeline for learning more about CI. The list of CI blogs on the sidebar are a few places to begin. Most importantly, do not worry if the blog is is not for "your language," because CI implementation is CI implementation regardless of the language. As a Latin teacher, I cannot tell you how much I actually get from presentations by CI Spanish and French teachers. I am always floored by how many non-Latin teachers tell me that my blog (still written with Latin teachers in mind) has greatly helped them with their classroom.
  4. Watch videos online. I had no idea that so many CI teachers out there had classroom videos - I just learned about it last week at IFLT 2019. Here are some:
    1. Annabelle Williamson (lamaestraloca)  
    2. Erica Peplinski
    3. Another channel by Erica Peplinski
    4. Tina Hardagan (CI Liftoff)
  5. Follow CI teachers on social media. My only use of social media is Twitter (I do have a Facebook page which I had to create for professional purposes but I rarely use it), but I really do enjoy reading and interacting with tweets from these teachers.
  6. Attend CI presentations at state/regional/national conferences. I know that at ACTFL, Fluency Matters always creates a list of CI-focused presentations for participants to look over. 
  7. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. To be honest, you cannot do this journey alone. Find others with whom you can collaborate on lessons, either in person or online.
  8. Expect to feel like a first-year teacher when implementing CI in the beginning, so take your time. I am not of the mindset of "all in or nothing" when it comes to using CI, because that is how I started out years ago and burned out after 6 weeks. I had no idea where I was going, since I did not have a strong enough foundation. My advice: take a few CI strategies/activities and run with them until you feel confident to add more. It is okay to do a hybrid CI/whatever until you feel like you can do more. 
  9. Give yourself permission to fail. Great CI teachers did not just come out of a box like that. Believe me, I still fail as a "veteran" CI teacher (note the quotation marks implying doubt) on a daily basis. I also tell myself "Well, tomorrow is another day" (didn't Scarlett O'Hara say something like that?). I have seen too many novice CI teachers experience a "failing" moment with CI, then blame CI as the reason, and then leave it all behind. 
  10. Always be hungry to learn more about CI. This week at IFLT, there was a particular session which I wanted to attend, and when I walked in, the presenter said to me, "Wow, what are you doing here? You know all of this." I think I replied something like, "That does not mean that I still don't have more to learn on the topic." And I did walk away from the session with a number of strategies which I now plan to implement!
So to all of you for whom this past NTPRS or IFLT was your first CI conference, I am so excited for all of you - here is to the journey!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Does CI Work? H*ll Yeah it Does!

Today is the final day of IFLT, and it has been such a great conference. Yesterday morning, I got the chance to observe Linda Li teach Mandarin, and if you remember, I took a 20-hour Fluency Fast Mandarin class from Linda back in 2017. Even though it had been two years since I had done any Mandarin and I did not remember much, I still wanted to watch Linda perform her CI magic with her students. However, after just watching Linda interact with her students for 5 minutes in Mandarin, I was ABSOLUTELY FLOORED at how much Mandarin suddenly came back to me. Suddenly, I was completely understanding what Linda was saying, even though it had been two years since I had interacted with the language. Linda even asked me to participate in a game in Mandarin with her students, and I was able to take part in it fully.

To be honest, I have absolutely NO IDEA how that language got there in my mind so deeply, especially since it had been two years since I had even thought about Mandarin. I cannot tell you how I was able to recall all that Mandarin after two years. All I can say is that the Mandarin must have gotten there subconsciously two years ago, because I certainly have made no active effort over the past two years to learn any Mandarin. If you read my post about learning Mandarin from Linda in that 20-hour class in 2017, you will learn that we never did any oral practice drills or used flashcards. All that Linda required from us was that we listen to her, pay attention, and interact with the language in a comprehensible manner in so many different ways. Seeing Linda teach Mandarin yesterday suddenly re-activated that part of my brain where Mandarin had been stored away subconsciously, and it all came back in a POWERFUL way. 

That is the difference between learning and acquisition. Learning is active in nature, and in a language class it involves conscious, explicit learning, such as memorization, flashcards, grammar drills, oral repetition practice, and forced dialogues. That is not to say that material is not learned this way, but it is stored in a different part of the brain which holds temporary memory. Acquisition, however, is different, because it is subconscious,"passive," and implicit. This is not to say that a learner in a CI classroom is not learning or engaged in the material; the material is just delivered differently in a way so that it does not mirror explicit learning. Learning becomes subconscious, and as a result, it is stored in a completely different of the brain. Based on my own personal experience from yesterday, I can say that this is true.

So do I think that CI works? Since I have experienced it truly myself first hand as a student and realize now that Mandarin is so deeply inside of me in a way that I am unable to explain after yesterday's experience, all I can say is H*LL YEAH IT DOES!

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Forgetting Hypothesis

The following is taken from a recent presentation "How to Put Latin in the Ears of Your Students (When You Don't Know How to)," which I co-delivered at the American Classical League Summer Institute.

One of Krashen's key components of Comprehensible Input is that language acquisition occurs when messages are not only understandable but are also compelling in nature. We wish to listen to messages which are compelling to us. If the message (regardless of whether it involves targeted or non-targeted vocabulary) is compelling, then language becomes secondary, i.e. students "forget" that it is another language due to their focus and interest on the message itself. Krashen writes:
In fact, the "forgetting hypothesis" requires that the messages not only be interesting but also compelling, with all attention focused on the message to such an extent that thoughts of anxiety do not occur...When you get compelling input, you acquire whether you are interested in improving or not.
In a CI classroom, I think that for us teachers, delivering comprehensible messages becomes so much of a focus that we forget to deliver compelling messages. And to be honest, delivering compelling messages is difficult: what is compelling for one student is completely boring to another. Some students love PQAs and being asked about their lives, while others hate the attention. Some students love culture discussion in the target language, yet others find it boring. Some students really enjoy story asking/story listening, while others tune out.

As Carol Gaab always says, "The brain craves novelty," and she is completely correct. As CI teachers, we need to be mindful of this and to switch up activities in order to keep the compelling factor going. Rachel Ash's statement "We want repetitions without being repetitive" rings true about the need to keep things compelling in our classroom. The key is to vary activities so that the slower processors get in the necessary repetitions, while the faster processors get the novelty of a new activity in order to avoid boredom. This also allows for you as the teacher to appeal to as many students who have varied degrees of interest in a topic. 

Here are some examples of activities which I have implemented in class where I have seen "the forgetting hypothesis" occur, i.e., students focused more on the task/activity due to interest and the language became secondary due to the task's compelling nature:
  • PQAs - Personalized Questions and Answers. Luke Henderson, a Latin colleague in California, once said to me, "Students want to talk about two things: themselves and money. And since we are not going to talk about money, we are going to talk about them."
  • Movie Talks - I could base my entire curriculum on Movie Talks. Everyone loves a good story, and a good movie talk will achieve that. I used to struggle with doing movie talks, because I had never experienced one as a student. It was not until 2016 when I saw Katya Paulova demonstrate one using a Budweiser commercial involving a puppy and a horse that I understood how to do one properly. Katya demonstrated it in Russian, but I was so engrossed in this commercial that I did not really think about her speaking in Russian. Katya says that the best movie talks are those which appeal to the emotions. I also feel that there needs to be some kind of twist at the end of the clip which students did not see coming - I see this as a "reward" for those students who hate sitting through movie talks.
  • Optical Illusions/This Day in History - These are quick 5-minute activities where students get so focused on the task that they want to know the answer. At the same time, overuse of these can destroy the novelty.
  • Find the Disney/Pixar Character
Whenever I am observed, I love it if I am doing one of these activities, because even the observer becomes engaged in the activity. 

What activities have you used which leads to students to "forgetting" about the language?