Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rejecting a Grammar Syllabus

One of the common misconceptions about CI which I often hear is "But you CI teachers don't teach grammar." Quite honestly, to a degree there is a nugget of truth in this statement but just not in the way that people think:
Yes, grammar is indeed covered in a CI classroom, but it is just NOT taught EXPLICITLY as we think it should be done.
An adage which you may have encountered with CI implementation is "Shelter the vocabulary, not the grammar." In other words, limit the vocabulary to high-frequency words and other "icing" words, but milk the @*#! out of these words grammatically. This completely goes against a grammar-based textbook/syllabus, since the grammar topic for the chapter determines what is going to be taught, along with a prescribed list of vocabulary words (of which probably half are "Why the heck does the textbook think that this is a necessary word for students?"). 

Traditionally in a grammar-based syllabus, certain language structures are considered upper level grammar topics (subjunctives, indirect statements, gerunds, gerundives, etc), and often we preface teaching these topics by telling students, "These are really hard to learn, so pay attention." But why do we hold off on introducing structures like these until later instead of in Latin 1 when for students, they are actually quite easy to understand in context, and for me as a CI teacher they seem very natural to incorporate? But yet we feel the need to teach all six tenses by the end of Latin 1, when in reality, we know that the future, pluperfect, and future-perfect tenses are not high frequency structures? 

If you learned Latin in the traditional grammar-based way in which I did, you will recall that the opening grammar concepts which we learned were the first declension and first conjugation. Or if you used the reading method, then instead of by declension/conjugation, you first learned the nominative and accusative cases. In each case, however, each chapter's lesson was determined by grammar. 

So if not guided by a grammar syllabus, how does one introduce grammar then? Simply this: Teach the grammar that you need for the situation/reading. If you shelter the vocabulary but not the grammar (and not get into LONG explanations of the grammar behind it), there is no reason why you cannot use periphrastic phrases or indirect questions in Latin 1.

I myself am still learning this concept of "sheltering vocabulary but not grammar." I am currently creating the Latin 2 lesson plans for my instructional team, and as I write them up, I am constantly thinking, "Why did I not introduce this particular strucuture back in Latin 1 when it seems like such a natural structure to introduce there." A good example is the temporal use of cum + indicative to mean express "when" - Latin textbooks hold off on this concept until later chapters because it is lumped together with the subjunctive for causal and concessive clauses. Yet, the use of cum + indicative as a temporal use is perfectly okay, so why not it implement it in Latin 1? 

Last year in Latin 1, I introduced indirect statements very early, because we were reading Brando Brown Canem Vult, and these structures appear very often in the novella. I found that indirect statements were quite easy for students to read in context when I GOT OUT OF THE WAY with teaching these structures explicitly.

When it comes to what my students know about grammar:

  • Do my students know the grammatical mechanics behind the formation of the particular clauses, e.g., what specific change is made to the root form of the verb based on its conjugation, sequence of tenses? No, not at all. 
  • Can they identify grammatical forms by their formal names, such as purpose clause, temporal clauses, indirect questions, and noun clause of characteristic? A few 4%ers may be able to, since I have mentioned them in passing, but quite honestly, no, not at all.
  • Main question: Is it 100% necessary for them to need to know these grammatical specifics? If my goal for them as novice and intermediate level learners is to be able to read level-appropriate Latin, then the answer is quite easy: no, not at all. 

NOTE - after 3-4 years of language learning, ACTFL classifies learners around an intermediate-mid level of reading. Most classical literature rates at the SUPERIOR level of reading, yet tradition says that students should be reading (insert rather, translating/decoding) Caesar (which rates about Advanced Mid/High), Ovid, and Vergil at the 3rd year of Latin.

Many Latin teachers would say that I am failing my students in the long run in not teaching them explicit grammar according to a traditional syllabus. These teachers need to remember that I LOVE grammar and was attracted to Latin because of the explicit grammar teaching, but I also know that the average learner is not like I am. When I do discuss explicit grammar, it is only in passing for about 30-seconds. I still will point out certain grammatical features, e.g, "See this -ba- in the verb? It is translated as "was/were _________ing." If I feel like the explicit grammar is something important for students to know, then I will assign certain students to be the grammar expert for the topic.

If you are transitioning to/dabbling in CI and still wish to use the textbook but want to move away from a grammar-based syllabus, then consider the following: 
  • In the textbook, what MUST I absolutely cover in a semester? What topics are considered non-negotiable? This can be determined by state standards, common exams/assessments, progress on Student Learning Objective (SLO) pre-tests/post-tests, instructional team decisions, etc.
  • If there are restrictions, can I still cover all of these grammar topics but yet on MY timeline? Just because I need to cover participles or X vocabulary words since they are on of the final exam, do I have to teach them in April since that is when the textbook and my colleagues do? Can I introduce these concepts/words in January since that fits better into my curriculum?
  • Leave out anything which is then superfluous. Carrie Toth's Vocabulary Chuck-It Bucket is a great example of this.
I will admit that leaving behind a grammar-based syllabus approach seems very weird and scary, but now that I have left it behind, I actually see that I have a lot of freedom in what I want to do.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Snack Attack Movie Talk

Here is a movie talk which I did last month. With our Latin 2 classes, we are doing the Perseus myth, which is quite a long, involved story with some very specific words. We were beginning the section of the myth dealing with the Graiae sisters, so I needed to preview the words short, old woman, and steal. Using the national movie talk database started by Jason Fritze, I found the following short movie called Snack Attack.

NOTE - In Latin, the word for old woman is anus (pronounced ahh-nus), but I deliberately chose the word avia (which means grandmother) for this based on the maturity level of some of my students. Latin teachers, it is your call on this.

English script

Latin script

  1. This is one movie talk in which my students got VERY involved. They were absolutely INCENSED that the young man would even think of brazenly eating this old woman's cookies. As we know, we learn best when emotionally engaged in a lesson.
  2. Students actually thought that the entire movie was going to be about the old woman trying to get the cookies from the vending machine and found that part of the movie very funny.
  3. When it was over, I asked the class in English "Why did the old woman smile at the end?" I was very surprised at how many understood the reason why: "Because the young man was actually being very nice and patient with this crazy old lady."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Screencasting Using a Smartphone

Last semester, I played around with having students create a screencast using their smartphones. In Latin 1, my colleague Bob Patrick had designed a very basic presentational speaking unit involving some Latin phrases and sayings. At the end of the unit, students had to choose one of the phrases, draw a picture of it, and then to present to the class what phrase they chose, why they liked it, and where they found an example of this phrase from one of the stories which we had read that semester. It was a very basic script which they were following, and the presentations lasted less then 45 seconds, since they only had a semester of Latin.

I was wanting to experiment some with the presentational aspect of the unit and decided to have students screencast their "presentation" for me. Here is what I assigned, in addition to directions for how one can screencast from a smartphone.

Latin 1 Presentational Speaking Directions
  1. Record yourself “delivering your presentation” on your device. For this, you will do a screencast. The recording will be of your picture, with you narrating the three sentences. Your recording will be no longer than a minute.
  2. You will be speaking your three sentences IN LATIN, so please practice saying these sentences aloud and slowly.
  3. Using your device, take a picture of the picture which you have chosen to present. Take a horizontal picture if possible.
  4. Create a screencast of your picture on your phone - You can use Snapchat or see "To Screen Record from IOS 11" directions below.
  5. Save the recording to your device's photo album.
  6. Submit your recording in the Latin 1 eClass “Sententiae” dropbox
To Screen Record from IOS 11
  1. To set it up, head over to your Settings>Control Center>Customize Controls>Screen Recording. Tap on the green "plus" icon next to it to add it to the Control Center.
  2. Show your picture on your device’s screen.
  3. Swipe your screen so that the control panel is now showing.
  4. Press on the screen recording icon for 5-10 seconds until you see a pop-up screen. 
  5. Tap the red Microphone Audio icon at the bottom of the screen. Now, you’ll record your screen, as well as the audio from and around your iPhone.
  6. Press the record button AND swipe away the control center screen so that your picture is showing - you have three seconds before recording begins.
  7. A red bar will show at the top, signifying that recording has begun. Narrate your three sentences with the picture on your screen.
  8. Tap the red bar when you are done. Press STOP to finish recording.
  9. Your screencast is now saved to your photo album.

Example of students' screencasts

  1. While I know that there are websites and apps such as Flipgrid which allow students to upload videos/screencasts of themselves, most of them require payment. At this moment, I am not interested in spending money for these apps/websites just yet.
  2. Although the screencasts which students created were quite rudimentary since it was my first time doing something like this, I can see students creating screencasts in the target language for very short formative presentations.
  3. Students liked creating a screencast to deliver their presentations, because they said that they would have been nervous delivering a presentation (even though less than 45-seconds with a script) in Latin to the class. They did not feel nervous at all creating a screencast.
  4. Since the students were turning in their screencasts to me and not presenting in front of the class, ideally I would have liked to have housed their presentations somewhere online for students to watch, to comment, etc. so that these screencasts had an actual audience. However, as we did this unit at the end of the semester right before finals, I ran out of time to do something like this.
  5. Those students who did not have access to a smartphone delivered their presentations to me one-on-one.
  6. Many student had never created a screencast on their smartphones and remarked how easy it was to do and that they wish that they could do more of this in their other classes. 
  7. There are some IOS compatibility issues with posting these screencasts on sites like YouTube and even here on Blogger, so unfortunately, screencasting on a smartphone is not 100% without its problems. I hope that these problems will be fixed with iOS 12.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Partner Crossword Puzzle

This activity is one which I have not done in a very long time, but someone on Twitter recently used it in her classroom and thanked me for the idea (I had presented this idea years ago, so I am glad to see that people are using it). I learned this years ago from David Jahner, my district's world language coordinator at the time. I was not a CI-teacher then but used it with the textbook. It is a basic partner activity involving crossword puzzles, but there is a twist. 

This listening comprehension activity involves crossword puzzles between two students,
where Student A has the target language clues for student B, and vice versa. This will require
making two different crossword puzzles and cutting/pasting the clues onto the other puzzle.
There are many crossword puzzle makers online.

  1. Student A will ask Student B for a particular clue, e.g. “5 down”
  2. Student B will read the clue in target language to Student A
  3. Student A will fill in the target language answer on his/her crossword puzzle
  4. Student B will ask Student A for a particular clue. The above pattern will continue until both crossword puzzles are completed.

Like I stated earlier, I have not used this activity in quite awhile and never in a CI classroom setting. I was a bit hesitant about posting this activity, because I can see both benefits and drawbacks. As a result, I will discuss both here:

  1. This is a great language lab activity, where partner pairs are scattered. Since partners are not seated directly next to each other, they must solely rely on listening.
  2. This is another post-reading activity to review a passage/story. You can take actual sentences from the reading or ask questions about the reading for students to answer.
  3. In using known sentences from a passage/story, students are continuing to receive understandable messages in the target language.
  4. It is a novel way to get students to interact with both the language and each other.
  1. Because students are working with crossword puzzles, it relies on them knowing the correct spelling of the words. As most students are at the novice/intermediate levels of language proficiency, their target language spelling skills are still developing. In doing a crossword puzzle, correct spelling is absolute key. In my opinion, adding a word bank does not really solve the problem and actually works against the concept of a crossword puzzle. 
  2. If one is using this to review a story, students need to know the story well by the time you introduce this. 
So CI teachers out there, try out this activity, and let me know how it goes, any changes which you made to it to make it more comprehensible, etc. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Making Conference Presentations Accessible

Allow me an excursus here from my usual CI-related posts to address something instructional technology-related (hey, I do have my Ed.S degree in the field) having do with conference presentations. 

We all have attended presentations at conferences where we would have liked to have had more time to digest what was presented or were not able to catch all of the links and resources which the presenter referenced. If we do ask for a copy of the presentation, either we have to get the presentation emailed to us, or the presenter sends a long Google URL link. If we are lucky, sometimes the conference allows for presenters to upload their presentations and handouts to a common sharing site.

Consider creating a website which will house everything related to your presentation! I leaned about this during my recent graduate studies, and I absolutely love this idea. I can upload everything in digital form which allows for my presentation to be paper-free. To see examples of my presentation websites, visit my Presentation page on this blog.

I use Weebly to create my presentation websites, because it is free and incredibly user-friendly. I divide my website into the following sections:
  1. Slide presentation
  2. Handouts
  3. Resources
  4. Contact information
  5. Evaluation (optional)
  6. Video of the presentation (optional)
Prior to the presentation, I will create the site and will upload everything to it. Because I use both Google Docs and Sheets, it is very easy to embed the presentation and handouts to the Weebly. I will usually also create a QR code which links to the presentation and place the QR code on the first slide of the presentation for participants to scan at the beginning if they wish.

  1. Creating a website allows for a presentation to be accessible to anyone at any time (or as long as you keep it up). Your presentation audience has expanded beyond the four walls of your presentation room to now the world.
  2. When someone requests to see my presentation, it is so much easier to give them a web address than a long URL code or to email the presentation. 
  3. Housing my presentations on my blog has allowed for people to view other presentations which I have given in the past.
  4. For my first couple presentation websites, it took me awhile to get the hang of it, but now I have found it quite easy to create a website due to the user-friendliness of Weebly.
If you are giving a presentation some time soon, consider creating a website for your presentation. Let me know how it goes!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Dabbling in CI

Last semester, Dr. Matthew Panciera, an associate professor in Classics at Gustavus Adolphus College, visited the Latin department at my school (Bob Patrick, Rachel Ash, Miriam Patrick, John Foulk, and me). He had seen many CI presentations at last summer's ACL Summer Institute (in fact, Matt presided at my session), and he wanted to see actual CI implementation in the Latin classroom. For two days, Matt observed all levels of our Latin classes from Latin 1 to AP among five different teachers and saw many different, compelling ways of delivering CI in Latin (everything from Circling with Balls to Movie Talks to the Word Chunk game). When he came to observe my Latin 2 classroom, we were doing 4-Word Picture Stories - not exactly the most dynamic CI activity to see in my opinion. Afterwards, when I showed Matt what students had written, he was amazed at what they were able to produce just after one year of Latin. Yes, there were grammar errors all over the place, but students were communicating! On his last day, during a conversation with me during my planning period, Matt asked me "So how does one begin dabbling in CI? How can begin using CI as a newbie?"

This is such a great, honest question, and at the same time, a HUGE question to answer. I know that there are SO many teachers out there who have heard of CI through various means (social media, blogs, Facebook groups, word of mouth) or have attended presentations on various strategies; perhaps, they have even attended a NTPRS or IFLT Conference. As a result, these teachers wish to implement some CI into their curriculum but are unsure about it or even where to begin with it all, because it all feels so new. I completely understand this, because I was once there, and in many ways, still am.

With the second semester now underway and with many teachers asking the same question as Matt, let me respond here:
  • Pick the low hanging fruit first. As I have stated many times before here in this blog, if you are a first-timer/newbie to CI/wanting to see what CI is all about, begin by taking 1-2 CI strategies into your traditional curriculum and running with them. Pick the fruit which you are able to obtain easily from the tree before attempting to pick the fruit at the top! I would never recommend jumping all-in without having a strong foundation, because after the honeymoon period wears off, most likely, you will have no idea where to go with it all (I can tell you all about that from firsthand experience). As a result, you will blame the method as faulty instead of realizing that you bit off more than you could chew. I know that there are CI-implementers out there who will completely disagree with me on this and argue that one needs to go all-in when using a CI approach or needs to adhere fully to CI tenets before beginning. My suggestion has always been to start off slow in order to build up your CI muscles. 
  • Attempt to understand the "why" behind a particular CI strategy - It is easy to get caught up in activities without really understanding and reflecting on its efficacy. When implementing those 1-2 strategies, pay close attention to how it delivered comprehensible input - essentially, why did this activity/strategy "work"? How did this strategy/reflect comprehensible input? See here for more about this. 
  • Remember that immersion is not necessarily CI. Just because one decides to go full target language immersion in the classroom does not mean that the messages are understandable. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive though - see here for my feelings on the matter.
  • Focus on a reading in your textbook. Pick a reading in your textbook which you wish to cover and "CI it up" through various ways.
I know that there are many teachers who view CI strategies as just another tool to add to their toolbox of traditional pedagogy, since according to them, "there is no one single way/method to teach." Essentially, they are dabblers. I know that this deeply angers many CI-practitioners, because it almost sounds like blasphemy - in their minds, "How dare you implement CI with that kind of thinking? It is so contradictory."

Guess what? I completely understand dabblers, because I was once one. Ten years ago, I was teaching straight from the textbook but also was implementing (not exclusively though) TPRS, circling, and PQAs as part of my teaching arsenal. My methodology was very traditional, but these CI strategies were great tools to implement every once in awhile and to add novelty to the curriculum. By no means, however, did I embrace CI - far from it! Over time (we are talking MANY years), though, I began to see how these strategies were truly helping my students acquire the language in a way which my traditional teaching was not. As a result, I wanted to pursue it. The point is that I had to arrive to that conclusion myself on my own time. Pointing out my flawed argument and telling me that I was wrong for embracing traditional teaching only put up walls. Instead of arguing, we should be rejoicing that that some type of CI is being implemented with these teachers!

I am not completely interested in getting into long dialogues arguing about CI (I will defend my use of CI though). Quite honestly, the way I see is that all I can do is put information out there about CI and my usage of it, and to leave it there. I cannot change peoples' minds about CI, nor do I want to get caught up in that. Folks have to come to their own conclusion about CI on their own timeline, and guess what? They may NEVER to come to the same conclusion about CI as I have, and I have to accept that - see here for more about my feelings on the matter.

So for those of you out there who wish to dabble with CI, go for it. I hope that as a result you will come to the same conclusion which I have about CI. Here's to the journey!

Monday, January 29, 2018

5 Ways to Use One Set of Ilustrations

In preparing a CI unit involving a story, sometimes I like to incorporate my own illustrations of a story into my lessons. I think that it adds another level of comprehensible input for students, as well as aids in engaging students. At the same time, however, I also do not wish to create a series of illustrations if I am only going to use it just once for five minutes in a unit. I want to get maximum benefit from my time creating them. As the brain craves novelty, here is a way to use one set of illustrations in five different ways in a unit. This will require you drawing a set of pictures only once, in addition to using a photo scanner.

NOTE - if you do not feel like you are good enough of an "artist," then you can always have a student illustrate for you. By no means am I a skilled illustrator, but I can definitely draw stick figures, and as the great Sally Davis once told me, "Everyone can draw stick figures."
  1. First, create a series of illustrations for Find a Sentence. This set of pictures will serve as your basis which can be used for the other four activities. N.B. - I actually will try to illustrate each sentence in the story (which could be as many as 15), so there may be a 2nd page of pictures, but for Find a Sentence, I will only use one of the pages.
  2. Now scan each of those frames individually. Now that you have each picture scanned individually, create a slide presentation of your story with the text and corresponding picture. This can be used to project the story as a review.
  3. Duplicate that slide presentation but now use it as a Cloze Sentence activity.
  4. Now duplicate that slide presentation of the story but remove the text. Print that slide presentation (in color if possible) for a Picture Story Retell
  5. Using the original page(s) of pictures, now create a Sentence Picture Relay of the story.
For me, Telling a Story with Pictures and then Cloze Sentences would be early in a unit, Find the Sentence would be in the middle, and both a Sentence Picture Relay and Picture Story Retell would be at the end - all in combination with other activities.

  1. I have found that when using the same pictures of a story for different activities lends to their comprehensibility, since students become very familiar with them and what the illustrations are communicating.