Monday, June 26, 2017


At the end of this week is the American Classical League Summer Institute (ACL), the national conference for Latin (and some classical Greek) teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Annually, around 300 Latin teachers from all over the country convene at this institute for three days. This will be my 10th ACL, and I enjoy attending due to the camaraderie. It is a time of seeing old friends from around the nation, of meeting new ones, of attending great sessions, and of some great receptions with food and drink (a few years ago, there were some SCREAMING good bacon bites at the ACL Institute in Memphis, which I now anticipate in vain at each year's receptions).

However, I will say that over the past few years I feel like there has been a cooling among some folks at ACL in how they interact with me now that I am a CI teacher, have published this blog, and have given many CI-related presentations. Maybe it is just me reading something which is not there, but still it is something which I need to consider:
  • Have I unknowingly separated and distanced myself from others who do not implement CI?
  • Do non-CI teachers think that I am secretly judging them, because I am now implementing CI in my classrooms and they are not? In reality, am I indeed secretly (or even worse, outwardly) judging them?
  • In promoting an inclusive approach to teaching Latin, am I actually exhibiting an exclusive outward behavior of "it's my way or the highway"?
  • Do I only keep company with CI teachers and have unknowing created a clique? Are these teachers exhibiting exclusivity so by association, folks think that i am too?
I would like to think that the answer is a big NO for each of those questions, but those questions do make me think. 

This world in which we live has become so polarized culturally and politically. At an ACL years ago, I recall a friend saying to me, "Where are centrists like us supposed to fit? No one will let us anymore. There is really no longer a place for us any more on the spectrum." Unfortunately, this polarization is bleeding into the world of pedagogy, and it is almost like we teachers are forced to declare a camp. If one does not align with a camp, then that person is seen as apathetic or uninspired.

I know that many teachers will put up walls against CI, because it threatens their current view of pedagogy, but I wonder how many times those walls are erected not due to CI per se but rather due to those who promote CI in an overbearing manner (do I fall into that category?). That person's behavior ends up representing CI, not CI representing itself, and as a result, no one wins.

I like to think that I am promoting inclusivity for newcomers to CI in allowing them to incorporate CI slowly into their curriculum (even if it is grammar-translation!) and in encouraging them to become comfortable enough with a strategy or two until they feel like they are ready to do more. I know that there are a number of CI teachers who disagree with me on this, saying that one needs to "jump all-in" with CI and "how dare that one still use the textbook if that person is going to implement CI?" Personally, I have to disagree with that view, because when I first tried out TPRS years ago, I went all-in and lasted six weeks, burned out, and vowed never to return again to it. Over the years, I have seen too many teachers new to CI do the same thing: start out all gung-ho, become discouraged due to a lack of foundation or when things do not go like they have before, and then disavow CI as a result. Recently, Rachel Ash wrote about this on her blog with a post titled The Inclusive Teacher Workshop

I like to think that I am also promoting inclusivity for those teachers who do not adhere to CI. From a post two years ago, I wrote the following:
This confirms my view that we CI teachers cannot beat CI into folks who do not want it to use it. All I can do is use CI in my classroom, share ideas with folks (whether they accept it or not), let my results speak for me, and simply leave it at that. Now that does not mean that I should not be prepared to defend my usage of CI if people ask - much like the apostle Paul says, "(I need to) be prepared in season and out of season" (I am VERY CERTAIN that Paul was not referring to CI when he wrote that!) - but I need to give permission for my non-CI colleagues to be the teachers they are at this moment. I need to follow the words of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach [CI], and if necessary, use words" (Again, I know that he was NOT referring to CI), and to let them come to the decision on their own, if they choose.
I hope that this still rings true for me. One's decision to implement CI rests with that individual. It is not my problem. All I can do is cast out the net, see who responds, and hopefully serve as a support for that person.

This week, I will giving my presentation "Detoxing from the Textbook" at ACL. It will be my 6th time delivering this topic, but I have changed it to be Latin-specific, as before it addressed modern languages. If you are going to be at ACL later this week and are curious about CI, I encourage you to come check out my presentation. Throughout the institute, please feel free to introduce yourself to me, to join me for a meal, to play a game of I Piscatum, etc. I would love to meet my blog readers in person!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wrapping My Mind around Communicative Tasks, part 2

The following post is part of a series.

So while this concept of communicative tasks is very appealing to me, the bigger picture for me is this: about what is it that I actually want students to communicate in my Latin class in the target language? What is my end goal for them in terms of communication? Do I want students to be able to communicate about themselves and others in Latin (like Can-Do statements)? Do I want them to communicate about a particular text in Latin which they have read?

If I were to ask Latin teachers (and even modern language teachers about the Latin classroom) this question, I would get an array of answers all across the spectrum, everything from "What? Why should we speak Latin? There is no value in it if our goal is for students to be able to translate Cicero" to "I do use spoken Latin via CI/TPRS, but my goal is still for students to read Cicero, not to converse with each other in Latin" to "Why are we NOT speaking Latin and teaching Latin like a modern language?! Latin is only viewed as a dead language, because Latin teachers treat it as one!" The question resonates for me, because I understand everyone of those responses. Honestly, I think that I am still trying to figure all of it out myself too, or rather, where do I fit in the debate.

If you have read my About Me page, then you know that I was once one of the biggest advocates AGAINST any type of spoken Latin, so I can relate to (though disagree now with) the argument of those who see no value in speaking Latin. For six summers, however, I have attended Rusticatio, a weeklong Latin immersion "camp," where I spoke and conversed only in Latin. I am probably only an Intermediate High conversationalist in Latin, but gosh, I love the Rusticatio environment, Latin-only setting of courses/activities, and just hanging out on the maenianum (back porch) conversing in Latin with other like-minded and similar-abilitied folks. (Click here for a video piece which Al Jazeera International broadcast about Rusticatio). So for me, I completely understand the concept of treating Latin like any other modern language. As I have commented before, following my first Rusticatio, I was incredibly BITTER that the idea of speaking Latin had been kept from me in my schooling years, because suddenly it was like a whole part of my brain had been activated. I finally saw Latin as more than just a read language.  

Quite honestly, I do not think that the world language community itself as a whole knows what to do with treating Latin as a spoken, communicative language. John Bracey, a fellow CI Latin teacher in Massachusetts, called into Tea With BVP, asking Bill Van Patten what he thought about spoken Latin being used in the classroom. Surprisingly, Van Patten did not seem to openly embrace the idea - he was not opposed to the concept but at the same time, he did not seem to praise it either (for the record, Van Patten did take Latin in school - I suspect under the grammar-translation method). Instead, he said that it all came down to goals for individual Latin teachers, so he kind of side-stepped the issue. 

Essentially, it does come down to goals. This summer, I am going to be working on what I would like to incorporate into my curriculum regarding student communication. When addressing my goals, I cannot speak for anyone but myself. I do not have anything concrete in terms of communicative goals at the moment, but here is what is shaping them:
  • My classroom will continue to be a Comprehensible-Input based classroom. Output will be the result and overflow of input.
  • Based on survey results, my students want to know more conversational Latin beyond salve and mihi nomen est ________. My favorite comment from a student: "I feel like I can talk about a boy, a three-legged dog, and a bear in Latin, but I cannot talk about myself." Students wish for Latin to be personal. 
  • As students will continue to read stories in my class, these will also serve as topics for communicative tasks.
  • I do not like the idea of isolating Latin solely to the classical period, as Latin spans the ages. When we keep Latin stuck in the 1st century in terms of its usage and setting, then indeed it is a dead language. Languages change and develop, and the same must apply to Latin if we wish to view it as a living language. Apparently, this was an issue even in the 16th century, as Erasmus wrote a treatise called Ciceronianus addressing this. 
  • I cannot let tradition dictate what happens in my classroom. Over the years, I have had Latin 1 students complain to me that I had not "taught" them Latin, because they did not know all of their declension endings, all of their verb tenses, and how to conjugate verbs like their friends at other schools. That saddens me that my students would feel this way, considering what they were able to do with the language compared to their friends, who only know about the language. This means that grammar will still be covered but just not in an explicit manner.
We shall see where this goes...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wrapping My Mind around Communicative Tasks, Part 1

The following post is part of a series.

I do not know what your Thursday afternoon routine is during the school year from 3:00-4:00 EST, but for me, that hour is devoted to listening to the live, online, call-in radio show Tea With BVP, which is dedicated to a discussion of second language acquisition. On most days, I will leave work by 3:00, but on Thursdays, I will stay an extra hour so that I can listen to the show uninterrupted. The funny thing is that Rachel Ash, one of my Latin colleagues at my school, also listens to the show after school in her classroom, which is right next door to mine (and we never listen to it together)! One time, I called in to answer the Diva Challenge Question, and I am sure that Rachel was quite shocked to hear me on the show, considering I was in the adjacent classroom! Miriam Patrick (another one of my Latin colleagues at my school) and Meredith White (a CI Spanish teacher in my district) also listen to Tea With BVP. There are so many world language teachers throughout the country who listen to the show - there is something very communal and bonding about listening to a live, online show together. It is so much fun when listening to the show to hear someone call in and to say, "Hey, I know that person!"  As I am now on summer break, I am binge-listening all of the past episodes. 

One of my takeaways from listening to Tea With BVP surrounds communicative tasks, a topic which Bill Van Patten has addressed on numerous occasions. In a nutshell, BVP states that if we want our students to communicate in our language classrooms, there needs to be a meaningful purpose for it, i.e. students need to have a true reason for communication. So many times teachers rely on oral exercises or textbook dialogues as examples of communication, but these actually do not have any true purpose nor is anything really being accomplished. While teachers may view the exercises as necessary language practice, students can quickly see through these activities, view that there is no real purpose behind them, and rather see them as empty, meaningless activities - in many ways, is it necessary for students to practice with a partner? Could they not just instead read the questions on their own and write down their answers? When communication is being utilized for the completion of a task, then that communication has a purpose, i.e., the language becomes secondary to the task itself. This still means that LOTS and LOTS of input are needed in order to get students to this point; input is still the name of the game! In addition, not all tasks focus on output, as there are both INPUT-BASED and OUTPUT-BASED tasks. 

I am currently reading Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms by James F. Lee (the book which Bill Van Pattern talks about much on his show) and Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen by James F. Lee and Bill Van Pattern, and both books are really blowing my mind with how we should be presenting and using language in the classroom. An important component is distinguishing between exercises, activities, and tasks:
  • Exercises – focused practice or something that gets learners to manipulate vocabulary and grammar in a controlled way. Examples are fill in the blank, translations, transformation drills, repeating after teacher, read-alouds, and multiple choice. These are non-communicative in nature.
  • Activities – events that get learners involved in the expression and interpretation of meaning. Examples are circling and "ask and answer" partner activities. These are partially communicative, as while communication is occurring, the focus tends to be on vocabulary, form and comprehension, and nothing is done with the information afterwards for a greater purpose.
  • Taskslike activities in that they get learners involved in the expression and interpretation of meaning but they have the added focus of purpose unrelated to language learning or practice. We learn something about ourselves and the world in which we live and use the language to achieve that purpose. The added component is now application of learned information. These are fully communicative.
Here is an example of the differences between these types:

Topic - Asking others their names, stating one's name, introducing someone
  • Exercises - teacher says target language phrases aloud and students repeat the phrase aloud, students read target language sentences aloud. 
  • Activities - teacher tells TPRS story with circling, students read TPRS-based story involving phrases, teacher asks students' their names, students in partners ask each other their names, teachers project pictures of celebrities and ask students what their names are in the target language.
  • Tasks: In the target language, introduce to the teacher three students in the class whom you do not know. This will require students asking each other "what is your name?," responding "my name is _________", and telling the teacher "his/her name is __________" based on prior input-based scaffolding. This is a task, because in the partner activity where students exchanged information about their names, there was no larger purpose for that information; the information ended there. Here in the task, the information gathered is gathered and applied for a bigger purpose: in order to introduce the student to the teacher. 
Let me say that there is NOTHING wrong with exercises and activities. Tasks should serve as the end goal, but input-based, meaning-centered, properly-scaffolded exercises and activities will get students to that point. So many times, we world language teachers only operate in an exercise/activity-based curriculum, but our goals should actually focus on level-appropriate interpretation and expression of meaning of language as a means for the overflow of input.  

For those interested, Rachel Ash and Miriam Patrick have created their own podcast series discussing Tasks and Communication in the Language Classroom

So the big question for me: how does this apply (if at all) to a Latin classroom? To be addressed in my next post...

Friday, June 2, 2017

More Reflections: Student Input for Reading

The last survey which Bob Patrick and I gave our Latin 1 students at the end of the semester surrounded their input into what kinds of readings which they would like to have for Latin 2. As our Latin department has "untextbooked" and because we want students to have some say in their curriculum, the survey results give us an idea of what topics students find compelling. Below is the survey (using Google Forms):

The top five responses were (in order):
  1. Mythology - heroes
  2. Mythology - gods and goddesses
  3. Mythological monsters and fantastical beasts
  4. Mystery stories
  5. Adapted readings from Harry Potter
This shows me that students want readings about mythology and that they want a variety of readings related to the topic. I was actually surprised that students picked mystery stories, but then again, mysteries do make for compelling readings (gosh, are there any mystery novellas out there?). I thought that students would want to read adapted readings from the Hobbit (because that interests me), but apparently, students do not find that compelling. 

This results from this survey definitely lend themselves to my planning for next year. For example, since students want readings related to fantastical beasts and adapted readings from Harry Potter, I can create a unit on the basilisk, as this beast appears in many different Latin stories throughout the ages and then give students an adapted reading of the basilisk chapter from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I am tempted to read JK Rowling's book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them purely to see what mythological beasts and animals are in it. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

More Reflections: Student Surveys

I am now officially on summer vacation, as yesterday was my final day of post-planning. Quite honestly, this past week has been such a rush of non-stop responsibilities. Mentally, I know that students took their final exams, that I finalized their semester grades, that I attended the graduation ceremony and handed out diplomas afterwards, and that I completed the myriad of end-of-year tasks which comes with post-planning (including packing away my classroom for the summer) - but all of it is such a blur (and seems like a long time ago!) due to the breakneck speed that comes with the ending of the school year, even though it was just this week. I kind of remember everything from this week, but all of it seems to run together.

As I continue to reflect on this past school year regarding what worked and did not work (see my last blog post), I now turn to my students' surveys. For years, my colleague Bob Patrick has been giving end-of-the-semester surveys to his students asking for their feedback, so this year, I did the same. The survey consisted of three questions: 
  1. What have we done this semester in Latin that has helped you learn? 
  2. What have we done this semester in Latin that has NOT helped you learn? 
  3. If you could change one thing about how we have been learning Latin so far, what would it be?
I greatly appreciated the student feedback, as they were quite frank - I asked students not to put their name on the survey so that they could feel safe in being honest in their replies. I only asked that they list their class periods so that I could trace any trends which were period-specific. Here are my reflections on their input:

What have we done this semester in Latin that has helped you learn? Overwhelmingly, students responded Movie Talks and Read/Draws. Some comments included:
- "I like it when you pause the movie and talk about it in Latin, because it gives me time to process."
- "I am a visual learner, so it helps me to see what you're taking about in Latin."
- "Movie Talks are interesting - so much better than just reading. You pick good movie shorts, but don't do the movie talk about the robot and the grandma again - way too sad!"
- "I like doing Read/Draws, because I can associate vocabulary with what I draw."
- "Read/Draws are fun, because I don't get to draw in any of my other classes."
- "Read and Draws are helpful, because I can see the story in pictures and label stuff [sic] in Latin."

Some students insightfully answered:
- "I like that there is LOTS of repetition of words in the stories, because if I don't get the word the first time, it comes up again, so I eventually learn it."
- "I'm a slow learner, so I like that you repeat words over and over."
- "Having the Latin and English on the board when you speak Latin makes it easy to understand what you're saying."

What have we done this semester in Latin that has NOT helped you learn? Although about half of the students responded "nothing," there were a number of students who did not like Movie Talks and Read/Draws. Some comments included:
- "I hate it when you pause the movie. It slows down my learning. I get bored. I just want to watch the movie."
- "When you turn off the lights, I get sleepy."
- "Do we really have to talk about the movie in Latin? Can't we just see the movie?"
- "I hate doing anything with drawing/coloring."
- "Read/Draws are helpful for timed writes, but that's it."
- "We do WAY TOO MUCH drawing in this class. I don't need to draw to learn."

I will seriously consider students' comments. I will continue to implement Movie Talks and Read/Draws but maybe cut back on their frequency. Last semester, students overwhelmingly responded that they did not like dictations. Although I do find great benefit in dictations for language acquisition, I greatly cut back on the number of dictations this semester based on their comments. I found that students appreciated that I employed their feedback in my lesson planning for this semester. 

If you could change one thing about how we have been learning Latin so far, what would it be? Although there was a WIDE range of answers here, everything from "no more Brandon Brown ever" to "when are going to learn about gladiators?", the most common thread related to wanting to learn a lot more conversational Latin. Some insightful comments included:
- "I feel like I can talk about a boy, a three-legged dog, and a bear in Latin, but I cannot talk about myself."
- "I want to learn how to say more than hello, goodbye, what is your name, my name is, his/her name is, how are you in Latin."
- "What about colors? Numbers?"
- "How come none of the stories had any conversational Latin in them?" 

Interestingly, there were NO comments about why Latin was being spoken in the classroom (no "Latin is dead language" or "no one speaks Latin"), so it appears that my students have accepted that Latin is indeed a communicative language. Rather these comments surrounded the idea that students wanted to be able to converse with each other in Latin and to talk about themselves in the language. Since my conversion to spoken Latin in 2010 (see here for my story) after years of adamantly opposing any type of active Latin, I have always said that students do indeed wish to interpret their world in Latin like modern language learners, so why do we cling to this idea that Latin should only be translated?

Based on this feedback, incorporating more conversational Latin is something which I will try to accomplish next year but more specifically so that it permeates the curriculum. This past year, I tried incorporating Bryce Hedstrom's Special Person interview (duly called Discipulus Illustris in Latin) during first semester, but students began to tire of it because we were doing it daily and because it seemed like a completely separate learning activity from the readings which were doing for the semester. This is not to say that I will not use Discipulus Illustris again next year but rather that i need to tie it in with what are doing in class. As that student insightfully commented, "How come none of the stories had any conversational Latin in them?", for students, there was nothing tying in conversational Latin with the readings which we were doing - there was a disconnect, and it seemed like something from left field. As a result, I will try to write more stories with conversational Latin in them - maybe these will become the genesis of a novella!

Next post: student survey results about what they wish to read next year.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reflections on This Past Year

In my last post, I addressed the craziness, emotional exhaustion, and everything else which comes with the end the of the school year. I referenced where I felt that I had "failed" with what I was wanting to accomplish in my classes - here are my reflections on that:

Where I fell short: teaching using a CI novella. Prior to the beginning of the school year, I was really excited about implementing CI novellas in my classes. As I was now at a new school and teaching in a Latin department which had gone "untextbook," I felt free, as I was no longer bound to a textbook. Brando Brown Canem Vult had just been released, and I had been waiting YEARS for a Latin version of this novella to come out (see here for my blog post on its release). When approaching a new reading, I knew that the name of the game was to pre-teach necessary vocabulary and structures prior to reading and not to use the reading itself to teach vocabulary. As a result, for each chapter of Brando Brown Canem Vult, I pre-taught any new vocabulary and structures so that students would already be familiar with (and hopefully have acquired) them before they began reading it (in fact, I have posted a number of those lesson plans/movie talks here on my blog). The problem, however, was that as there were ten chapters in the novella, this process began to drag on for students. As the process took much longer to go through it than I had expected, students began to tire of reading the novella and to a degree, to resent reading itself. 

Conclusion: Interestingly, this year I have heard many other Latin teachers mention the same struggles about their first time implementing Brando Brown Canem Vult. For some, the experience soured them to such a degree that they do not wish to implement CI novellas in the future. Although I can empathize with them, I do not believe that it was the novella itself which was the problem but rather our inexperience in undertaking something like this. In actuality, because no teacher's guide existed for Brando Brown Canem Vult this year (one is being released soon), we teachers who undertook this pursuit were pioneers, considering that we did not know what we were doing or what to expect.

What I wish to do differently: I still feel that novellas have tremendous value in a CI classroom, therefore, I need to change the way in which I implement them. Based on my shortcomings this year, I have a much better idea of how to do things differently next year. I will continue to pre-teach vocabulary and structures necessary to the novella, but I will not take it one chapter at a time like I did this year - that was the major flaw, because it slowed down students' reading experience. Rather, I will have students read through a novella as a whole AFTER the process. If I can get my act together, I would like to give students a choice in which novellas to read and implement reading as a FVR/SSR time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Home Stretch

I only have less than two weeks left in this semester. I feel like I am in the home stretch; the end is in sight. I am so ready for this school year to be over. 

It has also been a month since my last post. Usually, I will try to post weekly to my blog, but to me, the end of the school year feels like an all-out, last-ditch sprint where I end up having to drag myself across the finish line. For the past few weeks, upon coming home from work, every day I have taken a short nap, because I am so tired. I feel like I have nothing left to give to my classes, because mentally and emotionally, my well has run dry. A teacher-friend of mine aptly calls it "zombie mode." In addition, these past three weeks have been so disruptive in terms of students' schedules due to state standardized assessments and AP exams. I just want a degree of normality again. I have to laugh, because what I am feeling at the moment is exactly what I experience annually at the end of the school year; in fact, i wrote a blog post about this very thing one year ago (see here).

The end of the year is also difficult, because this is the time when I reflect on the past year and see everything which I did wrong, where I fell short, and where I could have done things better. This was my first year at a new school after having been 17 years at another, so it was definitely a year of adjustment. It was also my first year of going completely "un-textbooking" and of teaching using a CI novella. Though I felt like I had a strong foundation from years of doing a hybrid CI/textbook approach, part of me completely feels like I totally failed my students this year, since I did not feel completely comfortable with this new approach. Students began to tire of reading Brando Brown Canem Vult due to my inexperience, and I felt unsure with exactly how to teach a novella. At the end of the year, it is very easy to focus on the negative when I am feeling so physically and emotionally tired of teaching.

In spite of feeling all of this, another feeling stands out: hope. Yes, although I feel like somewhat of a failure for my shortcomings as a teacher this year, I know that I have a fresh start come August. I have the opportunity to have a whole new beginning in a few months. What I did not do right this year, I can correct in the new school year. Yes, it would be easy to throw in the towel and to return to a way of teaching which is more comfortable and safe for me, but if i give up now, then I will never know if I will do better the next time. Now that I have taught a CI novella, I have a MUCH better idea of how to do it, or better yet, what not to do.

This summer, I will be attending IFLT for a second year and serving as a coach again. In addition I will be giving a presentation there and at the American Classical League Summer Institute. These two conferences will refresh my CI batteries and recharge me as a teacher just in time for the school year to begin. I usually begin pre-planning on a CI high!

I am reminded of something which Rose Williams, a retired Latin teacher but still quite a pistol, once said to me. I was telling her how when I was a first-year teacher years ago, I had no clue what I was doing, how horrible I was, how I felt like I was always just a few pages ahead of my students in the textbook, and that if I had the chance, I would apologize to them for being such a poor teacher. Rose wisely replied to me, "But in spite of that, your students still loved you anyways." Words which I always need to hear.