Tuesday, November 26, 2019

There is No One Type of CI Teacher

The ACTFL Convention has ended, and although I did not attend this year, my Twitter account can tell you what happened, as it blew up with Tweets from so many teachers who were there. When attending a conference like ACTFL or an IFLT or NTPRS, on the one hand, it is easy to feel motivated by all of the presentations and teachers. On the other hand, it is also easy for one to walk away feeling defeated, because "Gosh, I stink as a teacher, because I am not like X person in the classroom."

Quite honestly, it is very easy for me to get into that way of thinking. There are so many teachers out there whom I admire for all that they are doing for students in their classrooms and are achieving with them, and then I get into a "compare and despair" mindset where I think, "Gosh, I'm lucky if I can get my students to tell me their name in Latin." But then I remind myself: I am not that person - I am me. That person is not in front of my students - I am. And because of that, my students deserve to have me and who I am, not me trying to be someone else. Yes, all of that does sound a bit hackneyed and like an over-reaching platitude, but there is such truth in that.

There are CI teachers out there whom I think are SO effective in the classroom, but I also know that their teaching style reflects their individual personalities. I absolutely love the energy which Jason Fritze and Annabelle Williamson exhibit in their classrooms, but if I were to do that, gosh, I would have nothing left after 30 minutes. There are things which work perfectly well in my classroom, because it is me up front teaching, and there are things which have absolutely BOMBED in my class, because it is me up front teaching. In other words, the only person whom I can be as a teacher is myself. 

There is no one single type of CI teacher. There are those who are full of energy and run around their classroom acting everything out with their students. I know CI teachers who are incredibly laid back, implement a non-targeted language approach, and let students dictate the direction and scope of the class based on their spontaneous interests. I also know CI teachers who are ALL about structure and organization in their approach to teaching, facilitate a targeted language approach, and have everything planned out. I know that there are CI teachers who are implementing a hybrid, CI/textbook curriculum in their classrooms But the thing is that I know that all of these teachers are 100% effective in their facilitation of a CI classroom. 

The task then is to find your own voice as a CI teacher and to become comfortable with it. Yes, be motivated and encouraged by other teachers, but do not strive to be them. Finding your own voice as a regular teacher takes time, let alone as a CI teacher. It takes time becoming comfortable in your own skin in front of students. I look back at my early years of teaching, and I am so embarrassed at how I was as a 3rd-year teacher. At the same time, I have to admit, relatively speaking among 3rd-year teachers, I did a pretty good job. And as dear Rose Williams has said to me, "And your students loved you still in spite of all that." Such true words.

So continue to learn about CI and what that looks like in a classroom. As you do and as you progress as a teacher, you'll grow into it. As a result, there you will find your CI voice. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


This is one of my all-time favorite CI activities, but quite honestly, it is one which I have forgotten about until now!  It is a Rassias method which I learned from Nancy Llewellyn at Rusticatio, and at every Rusticatio which I have attended, I have always looked forward to when Nancy demonstrates a micrologue, because I get to experience it from a student's perspective. Essentially, a micrologue is telling a "mini" story in the target language through the use of pictures, with the idea that by the very end of the activity, everyone to a degree can "retell" the story. A micrologue is all about REPETITIONS, as the story is retold about 7-8 times, but different tasks accompany the retells to preserve the novelty.

  1. Write a very short story in the target language (6-7 sentences) or a series of 6-7 short sentences, using known vocabulary and grammar. The telling of the story should take no longer than a minute. It can be from a known story.
  2. Illustrate each sentence either on your classroom board OR draw a series of pictures for projecting using a computer projector
  3. Write the story as a document to be projected later.
  1. Pick one student to sit up at the front of the class.
  2. Explain to the rest of the class that you as the teacher are going to tell a story and that you only want them to listen.
  3. Explain the same to the student sitting up at front.
  4. Tell the story to the class slowly, using the pictures for each sentence.
  5. After telling the story, explain to the class that you are going to tell the story again 2-3 times but that they are now to write it down the story in Latin as you read it.
  6. Explain to the student sitting up front that he/she is to listen only.
  7. Read the story again 2-3 times, using the pictures for each sentence. The class will write down the story in the target language, while the student continues to listen only.
  8. Now repeat the story again, one sentence at a time, but ask the student, “Nonne….?”. Student will respond, “Ita/certe/sic, …..” and will repeat the entire sentence back to you.
Teacher: nonne Marcus et Paulus in via ambulabant?
Student: ita, Marcus et Paulus in via ambulabant.
Teacher: nonne subito Marcus canem ferocem conspexit?
Student:  ita, subito Marcus canem ferocem conspexit.

Teacher: Surely Marcus and Paul were walking in the street?
Student: Yes, Marcus and Paul were walking in the street.
Teacher: Surely, suddenly Marcus caught sight of a ferocious dog?
Student: Yes, suddenly Marcus caught sight of a ferocious dog.

    9. Now project the written story onto a screen, using the overhead projector or computer 
  10. Explain to the student that he/she is going to read the story aloud to the class. Explain 
        to the class that they can now correct any of their own writing/spelling errors at this                time.
  11. Have the student read the story aloud twice.
  12. Now using the original set of pictures, ask the student to tell you the story verbatim.

Example of Nancy Llewellyn doing a micrologue in Latin

Post Activity
Ask the class comprehension questions in Latin about the story, or ask another student to tell you the story verbatim. As a class, translate the story aloud to establish meaning. Do a timed write with the pictures

  1. For a micrologue truly to work, a few things need to occur
    • the story itself needs to be around 6-7 sentences, i.e. it needs to be short!
    • telling the story itself should take no longer than a minute. That is key; if it becomes to long, then it can become overwhelming to the student up front. 
    • the story needs to be 100% comprehensible and to use only known vocabulary/language structures.

     2. Switching tasks between the retell keeps the rest of the class engaged during the        
     3. Depending on the level of the story and the class's familiarity with the 
         vocabulary/language structures, I sometimes leave out the part where I ask the 
         student, "Nonne..." and the student responds back with the sentence, because this is 
         where I start to lose engagement from the class.

I myself have been the one up front who had to retell the story in Latin. A few Rusticationes ago, I was "volunteered" to be the "student". Even though I was 100% familiar with what to expect, it was a different experience being up front as opposed to being in the audience, but as the story was completely comprehensible to me due to the vocabulary, pictures and gestures, I felt at ease. By the 3rd retell, I was pretty familiar with the story and by 5th retell, I was ready to tell it on my own (even though 2 more retells still remained). When I retold the story finally, it seemed so easy, and I pointed to the pictures exactly and incorporated the gestures just like Nancy had done.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Struggling as a Student

As part of my doctoral studies, it is necessary for me to take research classes, both qualitative and quantitative. Because I will have to write a dissertation in a few years, I am required to take these courses. I wish that I could say that I am enjoying these classes - the truth is that I am not. Maybe "enjoy" is a too strong of a word. I can say that I am definitely learning much on the topics, but wow, I am finding these courses so overwhelming at times. Having to wrap my mind around conceptual frameworks, research designs, research methodologies, validity, ethical concerns, leptokurtic vs. platykurtic designs, correlation vs. causal, t-samples, 2-tailed, box charts - oh my gosh, this becomes WAY TOO MUCH to wrap my "pragmatic-based, theoretical framework" mind around (Identifying my conceptual framework is about as far as I can apply my understanding of academic research at the moment, so I guess I should be happy for little victories here). 

I know that most students do not automatically understand this material right away, and I know that my professors all struggled too when they first learned about research. I also know that there are those out there who LOVE conducting, reading, and writing about research and can lose themselves in the material because they are enjoying it so much. I can honestly say that this is NOT me. I am SO sick of reading academic research articles, but I will say that the more that I do read articles, the more I am able to identify aspects of the academic research process (Again, I suppose that I should celebrate this as a small victory, but I am not doing cartwheels just yet).

Let me tell you personally: the affective filter is REAL!! Not that I feel panicky or anxious when dealing with my research classes, but I will also say that there is a degree of stress hovering over my head whenever I have do any work related to these courses. 

It is important for us as teachers to struggle, to feel anxiety, and to not comprehend a subject like our very own students in our world language classroom. The reason is because most likely, when we were students, we did NOT experience this at all. Most likely, as a result, we became language teachers, because language came easy to us. Because of this, it is easy to project this onto our own students - if learning a language came easy to us, then it should be easy for them. The flipside is a belief then that if students are not performing well in a language class, then it is their fault or that they are not "language material" students. I love how Bill Van Patten says, "If all students were like language teachers, then they would be teachers of language, and they're not. We're the weirdos." I also have taught enough years to realize that there is only so much which I can do as a teacher to enable students to acquire material and to pass my class - students must also take some ownership. However, as a teacher, I need to do everything which I can do on my part.

Another area to consider in realizing that most students are not like us is that as 4%ers, we are internally-motivated and possess enough meta skills to drive us to continue through difficult material. Better put, although we may eventually give up on difficult material, that particular stopping point is MUCH further along on the spectrum than the majority of students. We need to accept that most students will give up when presented with difficult material (honestly, there have been so many times that I have shut down in my research classes), so the challenge for us is how to make this material more salient. I am not saying that we have to dumb down material, but rather we must learn how to make our material more understandable and malleable, in addition to lowering students' affective filter. A major way to do this is to SLOW DOWN with the material and to be realistic with an instructional timeline. When we realize that after 4 years that students will only be at the Intermediate level of language proficiency, that actually gives us teachers a realistic view of language instruction and expectations. As Mr. Rogers puts it, "I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex."

One of the best learning experience in my life has been taking a Fluency Fast Mandarin class with Linda Li. I wish I could say that it was because I picked up the Mandarin language so quickly and was the star student. Far from it. In the beginning of the class, I struggled with the language, because:
  • it was not a Romance language based on Latin, so I could not make connections
  • it was a tonal language not based on an English alphabet, so even when the words were written in English letters, the words did not match the sounds which I was hearing. 
But, I will say that it was because of Linda Li's caring, patient attitude and her implementation of Comprehensible Input that made me want to continue so that eventually, everything just kind of "clicked" - I cannot tell you when that happened or how it happened, but suddenly, the sounds of the Mandarin language began to have meaning.

I only have a few more weeks left in my graduate school semester, and although I am looking forward to the end of my quantitative research class, unfortunately, I have to take an even more advanced quantitative research class next semester. I am hoping that time away from having to think about research during Winter Recess will help reset my mind for my new research class in the spring.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Entering my Last Third

I am finishing up my 21st year of full-time teaching (prior to this, I taught part-time at a private school). In many ways, I find that astonishing, because it does not feel like I have taught for that long - so many of those years have blended together. But then I realize that I was at my former school for 17 years and am now finishing up my 4th year at my current school. Then throw in the fact that I have taught over 1,800 students during that time (although I usually teach around 150 students/year, many of those are repeats year after year, so probably 90 new students/year?) - that number still blows my mind!

I plan to retire in about 10-12 years, so the fact that I am now entering into the last third of my teaching career is incredibly significant to me as a Latin teacher. In ancient Rome, the office of a Vestal Virgin was a prestigious position for a woman as these priestesses of the goddess Vesta were considered religious guardians of the city. Those who were chosen began between the ages of 6-10 and served for 30 years, remaining as virgins during their time of service. The thirty years of a Vestal Virgin were very regimented:
  • the first ten years - were trained in their duties by elder Vestal Virgins
  • the middle ten years - served their duties as Vestal Virgins
  • the final ten years - trained newly chosen Vestal Virgins in their duties
As I look ahead to my final 10-12 years of full-time teaching, I must ask myself, "What can I do to help train/mentor new teachers in their early years of teaching, especially those who are interested in CI? What is it that I know now after 20 years of teaching that I can pass along to help novice teachers? What can I pass along which I have learned from those who are part of my CI family tree?"

I suppose in many ways that I am already doing this through this blog, but I still blog thinking that only 12 people read this. Although I am a doctoral student in instructional technology, I only use Twitter for professional reasons (and I am only on that 2-3 times a week), so I am not hip to what is going on in Facebook groups (and that is a personal choice) or in other social media forums.

Here are some ways in which I hope to help mentor novice teachers/newcomers, especially those wanting to learn more about CI:
  • I have signed up to be a Latin teacher Mentor as part of the American Classical League Mentorship program.
  • I wish to seek out and to partner with potential 1st-time/novice presenters to deliver presentations at conferences to give them experience and exposure.
  • I wish to be more available and approachable at conferences. When I attend conferences, I realize that I usually stick with my own group of friends and rarely branch out and spend time with those whom I do not know. For an ACL Summer Institute or an IFLT, I am seriously considering organizing nightly "A Meal with Five Strangers," where if newcomers to conferences do not know anyone or do not have anyone to eat with, they can join me and other newcomers to go out for a meal - the fact that no one really knows each other and that we are all strangers but are interested in meeting each other over a meal is what actually lowers the affective filter and social anxiety of it all. Many universities have events something like this but a lot more formal. When I was a student at UCLA, the alumni association had an event called "Dinner for Twelve Strangers," and I loved attending this event every!
  • I wish to be more available for observations by those who are interested in CI. Last month, we had four Latin teachers from three different schools come observe us at Parkview HS on the same day. I actually do like being observed, because it gives me a chance to show what I am doing in my classroom.
Those of you who are also in your last third, I challenge you too to take up the mantle!