Update - there is a new blog post detailing "Write and Discuss - the OG version"
Writing in the target language is a skill which we want our students to develop, but so often we give students a topic and say, "Go ahead - write!" Students struggle to put down words, and even as sympathetic readers (an ACTFL term) who are focusing on "Am I able to understand what students are communicating errors and all?", as teachers many times we see that it can be difficult for students to "produce language." I am a firm believer that students cannot output unless they have enough comprehensible input and that students will write when they are ready to write. Personally, I feel like students can never have too much comprehensible input - we want to bathe our students in it to such a degree that as a result, students will naturally overflow with output. So if we are providing students with input, why do they struggle with writing and putting down ideas as output?
A few weeks ago, I gave my Latin 2 students a timed write where the topic was about Incitatus, a novella by Emma Vanderpool which we are reading. We had been back for second semester for 3 1/2 weeks, and I had spent the first week previewing the target vocabulary and structures through a movie talk and a subsequent reading. The following 1 1/2 weeks we read (and re-read!) through the first chapter of Incitatus, and in my opinion, I felt strongly like we had covered it to such a degree that students should be able to write about it, right? I was wrong! Now it wasn't that students could not write, but I could tell that many students were really struggling. My question was why? Was it that students were not ready for it yet? Had I not given them enough input for them to be able to output? Was I pushing them into something which was above their current capabilities? Was I at fault for possibly projecting too high of an expectation on them?
In many ways, there are other factors involved, so I cannot oversimplify the situation and say that comprehensible input is a panacea for all of this. I know that if I were to ask students to write paragraphs in L1, many would struggle even with that. So what are some ways I can assist students in helping them to write in the target language?
This week, we did another timed write, but this time, I did a pre-writing activity the day before to help prepare students for the write. As a class we previewed the writing by doing a Write and Discuss, which is exactly what it sounds like: as a class, you corporately review a story together by asking students to help you retell the story by writing it on the board in the target language, and then you discuss it. We are currently finishing up a Movie Talk reading on The Smoke Seller, so since it was a Movie Talk, I projected screenshots from the animated short as prompts. Each time, I asked students to volunteer responses in Latin for what was happening. I wrote their responses (and edited their grammar when I wrote it but did not call attention to it), and students copied down what I wrote on the board. Many times, I would guide students by asking in both English and in the target language "Who is in the screenshot? What is that person doing? Where is that person? What is emotion of that person?"
On the next day, we did the actual timed write and used the screenshots as prompts.
- Wow, in their post-writing reflections, students told me that they felt MUCH better about this timed write than the one they did in January. In their post-writing reflections, here is what some students had to say about the Write and Discuss activity:
- "Working on how to write and practice really helped."
- "The activity yesterday really helped immensely with giving me ideas about what to write."
- "Going over the story yesterday helped vocabulary stick to me more."
- "I was able to remember details in Latin about the story better."
- "I felt much more confident in writing this time than before."