Thursday, June 30, 2022

Doing Your 50%

I always find it funny when students tell me, "Latin is SO easy," because my immediate response is "Well, you don't know how HARD I have to work to make it easy for you." Another comment which I like to hear from students is "I don't understand how there are students who are failing Latin. All you have to do is pay attention in class, and you will get the material. It isn't that hard." This comment brings a smile to my face, because this student has just explained a basic tenet of Comprehensible Input without even knowing it: that language acquisition is subconscious.  

I learned the following from Bob Patrick. At the beginning of every school year in August, I always tell my students that I expect them to do their 50% in class, which is simply paying attention in class, and I will do my own 50% of supplying them with understandable input in different ways. If we both do our 50%, then they will be successful in my class. However I also tell them that I will not do more than my 50% - that is my boundary. I will do everything I can to help out students up to that boundary. 

Now that may seem "cruel" and that doing my 50% sounds uncaring, but it is far from it! Doing my 50% of the classroom effort actually means me doing my 100%! It is my job to provide as much compelling understandable input, to establish meaning, and to engage in active language repetition in as many different ways as I can in order to preserve novelty. That is no easy task!! Hence, my list of Comprehensible Input Reading Strategies

And while students' 50% part of the bargain may sound incredibly passive (since their task is to simply pay attention in class), it is not passive at all. In order for students to acquire language, they need to understand what is being communicated in whatever modality is being implemented. Students need to be "active intakers" of these messages, hence, the need to pay attention in class. And my 50% is to ensure that these messages are understandable to them!

One of the things which I like to do with students is to ask them how they know Latin and how they are able to understand what they are reading and hearing me say considering I have never assigned a vocabulary list to them for them to study (for the record, I do have vocabulary quizzes), have never assigned homework (I do not assign homework for the simple reason that I do not want to grade it. Yes, I am lazy, so if I am not going to assign homework, then I better be 100% faithful with my classroom time with students), and all assessments are unannounced. I love hearing students' responses and how it reinforces the idea of subconscious language acquisition:
  • "You go over the material so many different ways. It's hard NOT to learn it."
  • "I don't know how I know Latin - I just do."
  • "You're right - I just have to pay attention in class."
When students take a step back from their learning and really see that they have never had to actively study for the class but yet somehow know and have absorbed the material, they realize that indeed as long as they do their 50%, they will be successful in my class.

Are you and your students doing their/your 50%?

Monday, June 6, 2022

Observations from a Post-Hybrid Year

Now that I have been on summer vacation for a week, I am taking this time to reflect on the school year so that I can close that chapter and spend time away from anything academic for awhile. Here are some observations from a post-hybrid year. I only taught Latin 2 and 3 this year.


  • There were some MAJOR knowledge gaps in my Latin 2 classes.  My Latin 2 students were those who experienced Latin 1 in a hybrid environment, with most "learning" digitally at home. I did not teach Latin 1 last year, so I did not know any of my Latin 2 students this year. I quickly realized that although many of these students completed their digital assignments from last year and received A's, to a large degree, that actually did not mean much. Completion of assignments did not equal acquisition of material. This is not to blame the Latin 1 teachers but rather the hybrid learning environment itself.
  • As a result, I needed to have realistic expectations of student knowledge. My friend Edie always says "Disappointment is mismanaged expectations." We all know that the year of hybrid teaching was not effective at all, so it was best for me to accept it all for what it was and that it was rather pointless to place the blame on students or teachers. 
  • I had to reset my "goalposts" of what students should be able to acquire and to achieve. Once I viewed that Latin 2 was essentially going to be "Latin 1.5," it gave me somewhere to start. First semester was dedicated to filling in knowledge gaps and moving ahead much more slowly with new material.
  • I sheltered vocabulary, not grammar like crazy to help fill gaps for many students and to reinforce existing knowledge in others!
  • However, in my Latin 3 classes, I did not see such knowledge gaps like I saw in my Latin 2 students. I am wondering if it is because since Latin 3 is an upper-level elective, those students for whom knowledge gaps would have existed chose not to take Latin 3 and therefore self-weeded themselves out.
  1. We cannot assume that students in our classes for the near future will be like they were pre-pandemic. Even though our classrooms have returned to a "normal" face-to-face teaching environment, I firmly believe that it is going to be a number of years before any knowledge gaps in students caused by the pandemic interruption will be filled. And that is OKAY!!
  2. I am going to truly focus on sheltering vocabulary, not grammar. I had felt like I had done a good job of it before, but it was never my sole focus like it was this year. 
  3. There is NO rush to return to pre-pandemic expectations and standards. It is going to take a long time for both students and teachers to adjust back to a post-pandemic classroom, so let us this time to meet everyone where they are at and to go from there.