Wednesday, July 9, 2014

2014 In Review: Or What My Students Really Thought

Following Bob Patrick's advice in his presentation on the No Failure Classroom, I skipped all the websites, articles, and blogs on student feedback and simply asked three questions:

  1. What did we do that was helpful?
  2. What did we do that wasn't helpful?
  3. If you could change one thing, what would it be. 
I am still going through these and plan a follow up in a few weeks during pre-planning where I'll discuss the third question in more detail, namely, the things I do and don't plan to change and why. 

For this post, I want to reflect on the Comprehensible Input activities we did do and students' main responses to them. I am not going to go over all of them, especially not the ones I intend to talk about later, but there was a nice amount of variation in the things they brought up.

I recorded their responses in a Google spreadsheet and used a formula to count the number of responses. Originally I wasn't going to count responses, but then it occurred to me that it would be helpful to simply see how many students wanted to comment on it. 

I polled all of my students. Of the roughly 130 of them, a few did respond with things like, "everything helped" or, "I can't think of anything", but mostly they were incredibly specific, some even providing detailed explanations. 

I did not provide them a list of activities and I did not ask them to comment on certain things. Instead, I left it completely open and have only recorded their responses. 

  • Quia - We used this website for all our "study guides" (which I don't give. Instead I make games and activities on Quia for in context practice) and tests. Students get immediate feedback and can replay and replay, rather than memorise answers. 18 students discussed this type of activity and 17 of them said it was helpful (94%). Students liked not being given the answers mostly, although some commented that they wished there was an "answer key" they could look at. The students liked how relaxed the study environment was and felt well prepared for tests and the final.
  • Movie Shorts - This activity was mostly done with students in levels II, III, and IV. 12 students listed this activity and all 12 called it helpful (100%). The response was overwhelming asking, in addition to the change below, if we could do this more often. Some even wrote suggestions for future movie shorts.
  • Reader's Theatre - I didn't do this activity often, and that showed in that only 5 students discussed this. All 5 students loved this activity and much of their thoughts were strongly written (100%). This is not my favourite activity, but it is something I will do more of next year.
  • Read and Discuss/Read, Discuss, and Draw - This activity was a central part of all my classes and one we did often. The students knew well what to expect. Of the 16 students who mentioned this, 14 found it helpful (88%). The ones who found it most helpful wrote why, explaining that reading it to themselves (or a partner), my reading it with emotion, Q and A time, and drawing (when applicable) helped them greatly make sense of stories. They liked the steps and knowing what was coming next.
  • TPR/TPRS - 9 students mentioned this. I was honestly expecting more, but this is such a major part of my class that I never really announce it, we just do it, so I wonder if it wasn't brought up more because they don't think of it as an activity so much as just a natural part of class. All 9 found it helpful (100%) and left comments that they really enjoyed talking about themselves and pulling my stuffed animals out. My kinesthetic learners really enjoy TPR as do my students who dislike sitting still for long. I have made plans to include more TPR next year, which I'll discuss in more detail in my next post.
  • Dictatio - 15 students named this and 13 found it helpful (87%). By far, this is the activity that students groaned about the most during class. We started every unit with it and I use it to introduce vocabulary and preview grammar. I was expecting more to say it wasn't helpful, given the groans, but overall they said that writing it down as I said it, correcting it, and going over it was incredibly helpful. The 4% students used it as a guide for the unit, referring back to it and using it to look ahead, while the rest used it as an introduction and a jumping off place.
  • Google 80/20 - This project, which I've written about before, was only done with the IIIs and IVs. Since I had given them a separate survey on it, I was not expecting anyone to put it here, but they did. 6 out of 8 students found it helpful (75%). They did have some suggestions for improving it, which I appreciated, but they really did enjoy being able to use what they like to teach others. 

Some of the other activities listed were our Timed Writes, themed units, Sustained Silent Reading, Sentence Frames, using PPT to display embedded stories, Speed Date Reading, Socrative, and using song in class. 

I really enjoyed reading their feedback for the most part and I do intend to give a report to them when we go back to school. While I will not take all of their advice, it has opened my eyes a little to the way I do things and some things I should change. 

In my next post, which I'll post probably in about two weeks or so, I want to focus on Timed Writes, Sustained Silent Reading, Speed Date Reading, and my lesson plan book for this next year. 

Did you use a different feedback system? I'd love to hear what your kids had to say.

Friday, June 27, 2014

ACL Institute 2014: Paper Slide Videos

On a purely sentimental level and having nothing to do with the activity in the title, this is a bittersweet presentation for me. This is my last presentation as a member of the Excellence Through Classics board, after six years of serving. I have grown to really love the board and the people who serve on it and will miss the chance to work closely with them in the future.

So this is one of the easiest activities I've ever picked up at a teacher's workshop. I learned about it at a Discovery-hosted workshop in my county and have used it since as a quick way to freshen up our routine when it starts to feel like we're in a rut in my classroom. It takes no prep (unless you're like me, but I'll explain that below) and uses up around a class period. Paper slide videos even give you material to use in your class afterward. It's basically the perfect activity.

The first time you assign students to do paper slide videos, there will be lots of instruction, some confusion, etc., but it becomes something easy by the second or third time you do it because the term is pretty self-explanatory.

The Process

I like to do these after we've done a reading. The examples I'm going to be posting were created after we'd read the Aesop's fable "The Dog and the Lion." We had done all the build up (TPRS, dictatio, a preliminary read-through individually, in groups, and with me, all with lots of question and answer) and I was ready to let students create.

After all of that, the next day, students found themselves with desks already grouped (I like to do that because it lets them choose their groups but keeps them to the arrangement I create--they are not allowed to move desks, so they have to be in groups of three, or however I have them arranged) and copy paper piled in each group. Students then are instructed to summarize the story in their own words and create a picture for each sentence. These are the paper "slides".  

Once a group has their slides complete (I don't ever require them to color them, but many do; I only require that the video is clear, obvious, and is finished by the end of the period) the students go off to the side to record their video. I have them do it with their smart phones; it's a safe bet in my school that at least one student in each group has a phone that can do the videoing. The video is simple; students focus on the slides and read the Latin out loud. That's what makes this such a simple activity that can be completed in just a period.

The most difficult part of this activity for the teacher is finding a way to access the results. I've tried several things and what works best for me is to have a cord for each kind of smart phone to plug into the usb port in my student computer. However, that was a $40 investment--one that I felt was completely worth it because now I can do all kinds of videos with my students, but you might not either be willing or able to spend that kind of money. 

Other options:
  • Ask certain students to be responsible for bringing their usb wires to class. I've done this, but it's random at best.
  • Watch the videos on the phone. It limits the chance you have to use the videos as material for class, but it does let you verify that the kids did their work.
  • Set up a mailbox of sorts to let students send you the video. I have tried Dropbox with varying results, and, since Dropbox is blocked on student computers in my county, I have had students submit work using dropittome, a secure file deposit system. Of course, that still requires them to have a means of getting the video of their phones.
  • Have students email you their videos or post them on youtube.

What does it look like?

I'm so glad you asked. Here are a few examples from the Aesop story mentioned above. In the story, a lion and a dog run into each other. The dog makes fun of the lion for working so hard and starving all the time. The lion replies that he would rather go hungry than be a slave like the dog.

After the videos are finished...

We generally are finished with the period. A few students might take theirs home to finish them because they are not completely done yet.

However, the next day there are several ways to use these videos as new material for the class.
  • Watch them! Even if you do nothing else, they generally want to see all the videos the class created.
  • Watch them with lots of question and answer. I generally pause it every so long and point at the pictures and ask questions about them.
  • Have students watch the videos and write reviews of them in Latin. I don't do this very often because it generally requires a lot more work on my end. I have to book a computer lab, organize the videos into something all the kids have access to (I usually use Padlet for that), and set up a way, again, for students to deliver their final results to me.
That's it! It's honestly deceptively simple, and once you have trained students to make them, all you have to do is say "Paper Slide Videos" and tell them the story to focus on, and then watch your students create!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Four Days of Comprehensible Input: Day 3

Since I feel the need to write a dissertation each time (I shouldn't joke about that, I'm sure it won't be funny when I'm actually writing my dissertation) I write a summary of my day of comprehensible input training, I got worn out as much from that activity as I did from the input of information, level of thought, and general effort required by the seminar itself.

Happily, it's been a few days and I'm feeling a little more rested, at least mentally (physically, I've been working on my new house, so not so much).

As a quick resource, our presenters created a blog so they could readily provide more resources and information for us. You can access it here.

Day three was Lauren’s testimonial. She had the good luck to spend two years in Italy in middle school (whether she realized it was good luck at the time or not). In Italy, Lauren attended the American International School and took Italian and French and by the time she hit high school she was able to start in French 2 and this launched her career in French.  When she started teaching, the big push was the Natural Approach--total immersion--and there was a problem. Her high school French teacher never spoke French, and she was not really all that conversant herself. Lauren solved the problem by studying abroad in France. She returned and taught her French with total immersion, but by the end of the year--even by the end of three years--the students were not able to speak French. She blamed the kids (obviously they were lazy) and wondered if she should leave teaching or at least stop teaching French. About this time Lauren attended a TPRS workshop led by Blaine Ray and had an experience much like mine: she was able to go home speaking Spanish and knew there was something to this method.

From there, her teaching experience turned around. She definitely didn't know what she was doing, she definitely made "mistakes", yet the kids were speaking. Her program quickly grew to full-time, and when she came to Atlanta, since the other teachers in her program were not into TPRS, she kept it secret. However, in her current school the French program has grown from three to eight teachers and Lauren is the department head. Needless to say, she is no longer hiding her love of comprehensible input.

Teach for May

CI is exhausting.  It takes so much more energy than worksheets and following the textbook.  There is no hiding from that. But it's worth it. Students are more involved, more excited, and learn more than any other teaching philosophy I have tried.

But there are variant results--it is rare that one class reacts the same as another, and while all kids learn, there will be times that what you've done simply flops. As Keith told us, just because it works one period, doesn't mean it works another (and vice-versa).

But you're teaching for May. Not for summer break, though you'll have earned it, but for where you envision your students in May. What should they be able to do? What are you expected to have taught them in order to maintain compatibility with the other teachers of your language and at your level? Those goals are what you keep in mind to guide your teaching and motivate you. And if you don't make it a whole year? So what? Try again the next year. It's taxing. Just keep May in mind, and eventually you'll get there.

Teacher as Facilitator

We discussed and demoed some activities on the third day that allow the teacher to be a facilitator and not the entire source of energy and information. Comprehensible input does not have to be delivered by the teacher--as long as it's understandable messages in the target language, it's comprehensible input and students are learning.

One Word Picture

Keith has written about this on his blog; the instructions are pretty straight forward: Take a word you want to introduce to the students (like “rex” or "king").  Then ask questions about it.  Basic question words, words they know.  Ask what kind of person or thing it is, what is he/she/it doing, what he/she/it is carrying, where, add another person, etc.  Circle each addition as they make it. As an extension activity, the next day you could put image up, circle it, do a timed write, etc. In case you are not clear on how much fun this sort of activity really is, Keith allowed me to post this demo video (the demo is in English so all of us would be on a level playing field):

Reader's Theater

To prepare for this activity, Keith handed out paper copies of the story but we were told not to look at it. Keith then acted out and told the story. Then he asked us to read the story silently, asked if there were any words we didn't know, and then asked us questions about the story to reinforce it. He said he'd normally follow this with a choral reading (having the class translate the entire story together into English in chunks) to make sure that everyone is clear on the meaning.

Once he felt we knew the story, the way was clear for Reader's Theater. In reader's theater, the students act out the story as the teacher reads it out loud.  Choose students you know will do a great job, and really act up the parts, and give the audience (rest of the class) the right to make them repeat a scene if it's not done well enough.

Telephone Relay

Pass out cards with sentences from the story, out of order.  Students sit in groups of three. The first student has one minute to draw the sentence from the first card (every group is given the cards in the same order, just a different order from the story) without showing his group.  Then second student finds the sentence in the story, has one minute to tell the sentence to the third student.  The third student writes the sentence down. This activity works best when students are really familiar with the story.  It's good to add a detail like “mother has a hat” so students can tell one stick girl from another. Keith does it competitively, but I'm not sure I will.


After those activities, we did a demonstration of a dictation (written up here on Keith's blog, and here on Latin Best Practices). I found this interesting because I have been doing dictationes this year, but without really experiencing one myself, so I was excited to see how someone else does it.

Lauren ran the demonstration and she posted the guidelines she puts on the board for her students:

  • I will pronounce each “chunk” 3 times and slowly
  • You may not talk at all
  • After I have completed a “chunk”, I will show you the correct sentence and you will make corrections without talking!
  • When I say “period” that indicates that the sentence is done and you move on to the next number.
  • I may say words you don’t know.  Do your best!

Lauren uses words for punctuation in her dictations and keeps them on the board and stops, knocks, and points when she uses them. I haven't done that before, but am considering it now--great way for students to hear even a little more Latin. Another difference is that Lauren does hers chunk by chunk--There is a giant bird (then shows on board) who soars through the clouds (then shows on board)--while I have been doing mine in complete sentences. My favorite difference, however, that I will for certain bring into my classroom next year is that Lauren puts the entire story from the dictation together at the end.

All the presenters agreed that it's best to limit dictations to 8-9 sentences.

Lauren said that she follows the dictation with a choral reading of the whole story, then question and answer about the story (almost everything should include question and answer in comprehensible input--it helps it remain comprehensible). Return to gestures for each sentence if possible.

Dictation NEEDS to be necessary to the current learning focus: vocabulary or structure or both. Students really get structures and vocabulary from the dictation. It can be used either for review or introduction.

A fun variation that requires students to be previously familiar with story and words is a Running Dictation.

As a quick addendum because my note-taking was sort of set aside when we broke out into the separate groups, in "class" we did trash ball (Keith calls it the "Word Chunk Game") and popcorn reading (on Latin Best Practices)

If you missed Day 1, you can find the post here. For Day 2, the post is here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Four Days of Comprehensible Input: Day 2

So I was contemplating this post while I made dinner for my family tonight (a job I only take on during the summer--my kind husband feeds us during the school year because he seems to think nothing but hamburger helper and sandwiches is unhealthy) and I realized that comprehensible input is like a gazpacho.  Actually, to be clearer, it's not.  It's like cooking.

You see, I was making a gazpacho because summer is also a time that I like to try new culinary things, and I've never had gazpacho before.  Gazpacho is one of those things I would have never tried to make when I was younger and didn't know how to cook, because it sounded so fancy that I knew it had to be difficult.  Yet it's not.  I basically chopped some well-balanced vegetables and blended them up with some spices.  It tasted great and has now been added to my repertoire of summer recipes.  I'll use it when the right opportunities crop up.

This reminded me of learning to cook.  My husband did not marry me for my cooking ability.  At the time we married, the agreement was that he'd cook everything (for our survival's sake) and I would clean the bathroom.  And we were satisfied with this arrangement, because he liked to cook and I viewed the process of creating recipes as something akin to magic.  I did not know how to do it, how others did it, or how someone could ever cook on his or her own.

I promise this is relevant.

Learning to use comprehensible input, if you haven't used it in your class before, is like learning to cook.  I know this more than most people I know, because I didn't really learn to cook well until I was an adult.  Watching or hearing about the practice can make it feel unattainable at times, like the magical ability to create a new recipe.

But the key to learning how to cook is finding one recipe to really learn and understand.  Get to know that recipe, how it works for you, and learn how to change it to suit your personal taste and needs.  That first step opens the door to understanding all kinds of recipes and foods, and soon you find you don't need recipes except when trying something new, adding new understanding to your collection of resources.

The best first step with starting comprehensible input is the same.  Miriam and I have posted many different comprehensible activities, theories, and starting points on this blog.  Pick one.  Go to a workshop, and pick one thing.  Read other blogs about comprehensible input. Pick one method to bring to your classroom.  The important thing is to ease your way in.  Pick one thing, one way to change the way you teach in your classes, and perfect it.  Get to really know it, really understand it.  Get comfortable.  Then, when you're comfortable, when you know how to take this one method or activity and make it yours and suitable to you different classes, pick another.

The great mistake that is made, often and repeatedly, is to try to adopt a new approach wholesale.  To take everything someone successful does and assume that if you do the same thing you will be successful.

But you are you, not that other person.  You need to find out what works for you.  So pick one thing.

This morning we began with Bob's testimonial.  Bob has been my friend for a while now, so I am familiar with his story, but it is another great story of a teacher who came to teaching via an indirect path and found out that it was his passion.  However, he'd only learned Latin one way--by memorizing charts--and that was how he taught his first Latin students.  His greatest frustration at that time was his retention rate.  Students did not continue to Latin III when he took over the program.  He had 0% retention.

It wasn't until he experienced learning a new language (Spanish) in a comprehensible way that he realized that perhaps his approach to teaching Latin could be different.  He wanted to bring this approach to his own classes, but had never spoken Latin before.  So he picked one thing.  He chose classroom management statements, things he said every day that he could prepare ahead of time.

From there Bob attended immersion institutes (the only way to get immersion as a Latin teacher), worked on improving his Latin, and slowly brought new ideas, new techniques, and new methods into his classroom.  Now he teaches Latin in Latin, carefully and comprehensively, but he did not begin that way, nor did he just sort of suddenly decide to only speak Latin and it was easy for him.

I know that sometimes these new techniques can seem like gazpacho would have seemed to me years ago--something too hard, too fancy, impossible for someone like me to do.  But if you take the chance, try something you think might be hard or fancy, you might find out that not only is it easier than you thought it would be, but you actually like it too.

Bob's current high school, the same high school I now work in along with the beauteous Caroline Miklosovic, now has a retention rate of over 60% for Latin; over 60% of the students who begin with us at Latin I continue through Latin IV.  It's a phenomenal number, and one we'll continue to try to increase.  It is also a great reflection of the difference comprehensibility in the classroom makes for the students there.

Classroom Management

Our focus for whole-group learning today was classroom management in a CI classroom.  The first thing that Lauren discussed was building rapport with your students.

Lauren pointed out, and I agree, that rapport is one of the most underutilized and underappreciated methods of classroom control.  With a good rapport alone, you can get most students to do what you ask of them, simply because they trust you--that you care about them, that you are trying to teach them the best way possible, that you are trying to do the best you can for them all around.  Of course, there are still some discipline issues.  Of course, there are students who will still struggle, who are still bringing baggage to class that you can't help them with.  But you can avoid many simple issues if you have a great relationship with your students.

However, there is no reason for a person to simply hope that a rapport grows between himself and his students; building rapport can be done consciously.  The advice I normally give is to listen to students, remember their stories, and ask questions.  Lauren and Bob had more specific advice (that is probably more helpful):
Ways to let students know you care about and are interested in them:

  • On the first day of school ask students: “What is important to you?” “Why does it matter?” (Miriam went into detail on these questions and why they matter here.)
  • Greet students at the door: this is an opportunity to connect with each kid and let him or her know “I see you.”
  • Keep a birthday calendar: when it's a student's birthday, sing, give a card, or do something else to recognize that student.
  • Keep a brag wall.  Students can post articles or news or achievements that relate to themselves.
  • Circling with Balls: I discussed this activity in yesterday's post. However, more specifically, if you focus on two kids per day for two weeks you will get to know all of your kids over time.
  • Personalized Question and Answer: PQA is literally about the kids themselves. That builds a relationship.
  • Offer as an extra credit quiz question: “Tell me something about yourself that I don’t know.” You will find out both great and heart-wrenching information that students haven't had the chance to tell you, all for giving up a couple of points.
  • Send postcards home to parents of particularly difficult students with positive things. This is extremely powerful.
  • Assign jobs for TPRS--this gives students ownership of the class and responsibility.
  • Teaching to the eyes.  If students aren't connecting visually, then you are most likely not creating a relationship with them.
  • Create a safety net for students to use when speaking in the target language. List items on the wall where they are visible to students for them to use when you are speaking if they feel overwhelmed. Essential items:
    • "Yes" and "No"
    • "What does ___ mean?"
    • "How do you say ___?"
    • Gestures for "slow down" or "I don't understand"
Bob took over the classroom management discussion to discuss power relations between teachers and students, specifically the difference between a "power over" and a "power with" relationship, and how a "power with" relationship forces students to take responsibility for their behavior and learning.  Miriam actually did a write up over this concept in her blog post over the no fail classroom.

The conversation then turned to Assessment. Bob pointed out that a grade should be a means of communicating success.  He then suggested that the communication should be fluid and flexible for the simple reason that success motivates.  If a student is able to prove that he or she has improved knowledge in an area, then the grade should reflect that.  Grades should not be a means of behavior control--that is classroom management and relationships.  Bob says he makes it clear in his classes that not being successful is not acceptable.  

So how can he do that?  As his colleague, I can tell you that he breaks his tests into multiple grades in the grade book, based on what each section was checking mastery of. If a student takes a test and fails the vocabulary section, for example, the student can request tutoring and a retest within 48 hours of the original test.  He himself follows the TPRS 80% rule: don't move on until at least 80% of your students have at least 80% of the material mastered. He also offers students a last-chance sort of question on assessments: "What were you prepared to tell me that I didn't ask?" The information they provide can replace a missed question of a similar vein (grammar to grammar, vocabulary to vocabulary, etc.).  

Bob then talked about the power of offering a bonus question, "What is going on in your life right now?" This question has had surprising results for him; there were the normal answers and updates, but there were also deeply personal and unbearably sad admissions, things that allowed Bob insight into student behaviors. All answers received the same credit, but some changed the way he viewed his students.

The next point was to "claim your power as the expert" while still telling students "I am your ally."

Every time Bob starts a new activity, he explains
  • the why of the activity--this is surprisingly effective. I personally always am ready to answer the question if it comes up (it's fun to give a list to a student who for some reason thought you wouldn't know why you do what you do), but this is a nice preemptive step.
  • what we are going to do
  • what is required for success
Bob also offered us the cardinal rules for comprehensible input in the classroom:
  • Establish meaning
  • Point and pause
  • SLOW

CI Builds and Fosters Community

Keith then talked about the natural community that is created simply by teaching in a comprehensible way. He pointed out that traditionally teachers shape their curriculum and classes around a textbook, and that's understandable. It is by no means a disparagement to say that the textbook is safe and easy. He talks about going back to the textbook and what he knows and what is comfortable and familiar to him when doing comprehensible input would become too exhausting.  I don't know a CI teacher who hasn't done the same. It is hard to do comprehensible approaches all the time. They don't allow for worksheets. They expect you to shelter vocabulary, when textbooks and district mandated tests don't. Depending on work load, it can feel necessary to go back to a traditional approach sometimes.  Don't think that it makes you a failure; just do what you can and return to CI when you feel comfortable and ready.

Keith said he really values the comprehensible input philosophy because it in and of itself creates community. The methods say to students "I see you," "I value you," and "I want your opinion," simply because they ask for student interaction and input.

Keith offered us teacher testimonies--names
may have been changed to protect the
Keith demonstrated asking a story for us in English.  It is nearly impossible to describe that here--scripting it would be uncomfortable and would simply interfere with my own participation in the seminar.  However, I have done my best to describe asking a story in writing here, and it is included in my demonstration here, so hopefully you might be able to find some guidance in both of those resources.

Advice Keith gave was to choose a student or teacher to feature in the story who can have fun with it.  I had a wonderful student a few years ago who was game for just about anything the class would throw at him.  I think they killed him off in the stories just about every way a person can die, and many ways that are pretty much impossible, but his attitude was always positive and he was always fun.  This made him a great choice as a story character because he understood that it wasn't personal and all in great humor.

He also mentioned something that is often lost when watching people demonstrate asking stories, because these people are experienced storytellers by that point.  That is that he started with a script. He wrote out every sentence, every question, expected student answers, basically each spoken language item was on a paper in his hand.  He told his kids he was trying something new and asked them to come with him on the experiment. And they did.  Just like mine did, when I held a script in my hand. Just like Bob's did when he taped scripts around his classroom to help him remember the Latin for "open your books."  Learning to teach this way is a process, like cooking.  A script is just a recipe you can follow until you're ready to cook on your own.

Movie Talk

I read this whole page on my second day
of French!

The last thing was a quick demonstration in English of Movie Talk (Miriam posted about the same here; she and I have been doing the same activity in our classes this year, which I began after I observed Bob's class and his own Movie Talk activity). When we broke out into our immersion groups, Lauren gave us a reading based on the previous day's vocabulary, and had us read it and discuss it with question and answer.  Lastly, she let us experience a Movie Talk in French.  I am finding the experience of being a student in an unfamiliar language really helpful for perspective.  I recommend that anyone who can, do so.  Even if you just have a friend who speaks another language, practice on each other and take turns being teacher and student.  It is invaluable.

If you missed Day 1, you can find the post here. For Day 3, the post is here.

Movie Talk/Movie Shorts

Rachel has been documenting our experience in a county in-service on Comprehensible Input led by Keith Toda, Bob Patrick and Lauren Watson. I won't repeat what she's already written, but you can read her first post here. I will say that, having taught using CI methods for 4 years, I am loving this conference and am learning some amazing new things!

One of the activities they covered, which I have come to love this year (absolutely love) is called Movie Talk/Movie Shorts. When I heard we were doing them, I quite nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement, almost ruining at least three people's coffees, including my own. That is how much I love this activity.

The particular example I will be sharing is from my own untextbooking unit on the Sea and, particularly, Pliny's story about the Octopus in book 9 of his Historia Naturalis.

Set Up
  1. Choose your video. I chose films based on, primarily, the vocabulary I was working with. I can edit the grammar to be whatever I want for whatever level I want, but the vocabulary needs to be sheltered, so this was key. For this particular unit, I was focusing on words like polypus (octopus), transcendit (climb across), and tam/adeo/tantus...ut... (he was so.... that...). Youtube has a wide variety of videos. All one has to do is search for Pixar Shorts, Disney Shorts, or movie shorts.
  2. Write Your Script. You won't need it except for the first few times you use it, but it is good to have it written down, especially since you will be pausing the video in key spots. I found this to be, by far, the most time consuming of the project, but even then, if you have chosen a video and know your end goals clearly, it did not take more than a few minutes. 
  3. Set up support activities. This is a great CI activity that you can use for one day or for multiple days. You can use other activities like TPR and TPRS with this. After we spent the first day going through this video, we then did it daily for a while, but only once, and paired with embedded readings, PQA, and TPRS. 
1. First, show the video - without interruption. This is a key step for a few reasons. It lets the kids familiarise themselves with the video and story line and, if it is particularly cute, funny, scary, or has a twist ending, they get to enjoy it. Here's the video I used.

2. Show the film again. This time, pause it at your pre-determined places and fill it with vocabulary. If you are using this to introduce new vocabulary, be sure to limit it to 3-4 new words/phrases. So, in this video, I would pause and introduce, new words are underlined - polypus (octopus), amat (loves), vir (man), rapta (stolen), coquus (cook), autoraeda (car), currit (run), transcendit (climb across), and so on...

3. Show the film a third time. This time, pause again, and give your sentences from your script. Be sure to move slowly, point to new words/images, etc. Here is the script I wrote for this film.

4. Show the movie a fourth time. This time, you can start asking questions and circling. Be sure to repeat the sentences from your script, circle new words and phrases multiple times, and ensure student understanding. When students start finishing the sentences for you, you know they are ready to start producing.

Follow Up

There are quite a few follow up activities for this kind of activity. I mentioned PQA, TPR, and TPRS as supplemental, but they can surely follow this activity as well. I would, for sure, recommend a follow up activity, but I would also caution to make sure the activity fits the needs of the unit and class interest. 
  • Embedded Reading - You can make an embedded reading based on the video and your script or on any TPRS work you've done with this vocabulary. I did not do an embedded reading with this particular video, but it is something I am considering for next year for every video, even if we don't use it in class, to give students that opportunity and resource. 
  • PQA - This can be used while working with the video or after. You can ask students questions about a time when they experienced what the characters experienced or were in a similar situation. 
  • Sentence Frames - I used this as a set up activity with this video, asking students to imagine a monster invading their home and what would happen. You can use it after, especially with a video that has a twist ending, to lead into some PQA or a really nice TPRS story and embedded reading. 
  • Timed Write - This is the follow up I chose, for this video. When students are ready to produce, give them time to complete a writing of all they can about the video. I found that after doing the video repeatedly, students easily increased their writing time and wanted more time to finish their own writing. 
  • Group Discussion - This is another follow up I did. Students were put in groups and practiced their own script for the film. I liked this because it allowed me to see who took the lead and who didn't as well as which groups remembered what the best. I could quickly assess what I needed to review and what we could keep moving forward with. 
Student Reactions
I am going to talk about this more in an "end of the year review" post soon, but overall my students love this activity. I think I only had one student say (s)he didn't like it. students found it helpful, entertaining, interesting, and informative. These are often videos they know and love and they really enjoy the comedy/tragedy of it all. Some of their specific feedback
  • It makes it easier to see and understand vocabulary. 
  • It is fun to watch and talk about. 
  • The combined visual and oral aspect make it easy to grasp the ideas behind what we learn. 
  • It's easy to talk about and get into. 
  • I look forward to this. 
The simple fact that students like it and look forward to it makes me want to do it more often. I enjoy this activity, immensely, and the students feed off my excitement making it low stress, which raises student acquisition. 

Let me know if you try this activity and, if you do, what videos you use. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Four Days of Comprehensible Input: Day 1

Bob Patrick presents Comprehensible Input theory.
I know I did a blog post about the the same topic this time last year.  What can I say?  When I find a method--or really, a philosophy--of teaching that works, I do as much research and training as I can in that method.  As Bob said today, there is always something new to learn.  The great thing about adopting comprehensible input as a teaching philosophy is that it can include so many, many different approaches and ideas and as long as I'm delivering understandable messages in the target language I'm doing it right.

So I'm attending a four day comprehensible input seminar again this year.  It's again led by Robert Patrick and Keith Toda (with Lauren Watson, a great TPRS teacher in French).  Yes, there has been some repetition--at which points I will refer you back to my previous post--but there was a lot of new as well.  And the approach is different this year, based less on discussion and more on demonstrations which has been fun.  Lauren Watson has led the breakout sessions for the Latin teachers so we get to learn some French and experience the method from the learner's perspective.

Testimonial Time

We began the day with a testimonial by Keith Toda (@silvius_toda on twitter).  Keith described his love of grammar, something I think most of us language teachers can sympathize with--after all, we got here because we love pretty much every aspect of language, including the chewy grammar center--and his very indirect path toward becoming a language teacher.

When Keith became a Latin teacher, he found that while he loved grammar, not everyone else did, and while he found it an easy and exciting puzzle to solve, his students just found it frustrating.  When he moved on to a reading focused textbook, things improved, the students were engaged, however there was a huge disconnect between the stories that had been written for the students and the high level Latin texts students are required to read to prepare for the Latin AP Test.  Keith said that he blamed himself ("Obviously I'm not teaching them well enough") and his students ("They're lazy") before he began to consider the method.  He started looking around and using comprehensible input.  This year, based on past success with his experiments in CI, he taught his class entirely using CI methods and found great success again this year.

Keith emphasized at the end of his testimonial that grammar is still part of teaching with comprehensible input--it's just taught in a different way.

Brief Interlude That Will Be Visited Upon in a Meaningful Way Later

We were asked to answer two questions on a piece of paper: What is important to you and why does it matter?  On the other side we were asked to write our names clearly and draw 1) our favorite pet or an animal we'd like to have as a pet and 2) something (music, sport, game) that we play.

CI Theory

After Keith's testimonial, Bob (@BobPatrick on twitter) stepped forward to provide some comprehensible input theory.  There were a few things I have already covered in my previous CI post, such as the Comprehensible Input Umbrella, the rules of the Rotary, and the cheesecake activity, but there were some topics that I only brushed on, or that were not fully developed by last year, that I am going to include below.

Language Teacher Affirmation (offered here word-for-word)

Our aim is to make the acquisition of the language we teach possible for all kinds of learners.  In order to do that:

  • We affirm that ours is a language like any other with its level of inflection.
  • We affirm that anyone who wants to acquire ability in our language can do so if offered an approach which employs principles of best practice in language acquisition.
    • A best practice is showing positive results, is reduplicable, and it can change and improve.
  • We acknowledge that most language teachers are themselves “four percenters” who enjoy questions of linguistics, grammar, and philology.
    • Although these are fascinating disciplines of their own..
    • They are not language acquisition, and they interfere with acquisition whenever and wherever they are substituted for best practices

Language teachers are not normal; for our programs to thrive we must become good at teaching normal human beings.

Principals of Comprehensible Input (also word-for-word)

  1. It is impossible to prepare students to read the great literature in 3-4 years.
    • It is possible to give them basic reading facility and an enjoyable experience of reading your language, which may encourage them to continue study, in school or on their own.
  2. Every student has a right to experience being in a second (or third or fourth) language
  3. Language teachers are not normal our language is not different
  4. Students only acquire language when they receive understandable messages in the target language.
  5. One of the quickest ways to deliver an understandable message is to give an English equivalent for a new word or phrase.
  6. Language acquisition, including the assimilation and understanding of grammar, according to the latest brain research, happens unconsciously.
  7. Direct grammar instruction does not advance acquisition.  It interferes.  It raises stress levels.  Rising stress = lowering acquisition.
  8. Error correction tends to put students on the defensive.  It focuses on the form of the language and not the message, thereby inhibiting acquisition.  Understandable messages are lost in the “endings”.
  9. Shelter vocabulary, not grammar.
    • All our texts do just the opposite
    •  Consider Tres Ursi: 52 vocabulary words, advanced grammar
    •  What to do with our texts, especially if they have good stories?
  10. Four percenters, both students and teachers, will interfere with their own language acquisition by focusing on my love for grammar, linguistics, and philology.
  11. We have an obligation to stay focused: am I delivering understandable messages in my language?
    • Delivering understandable messages will mean that WE are uncomfortable and that students are more at ease
  12. Reading another language is not translating or speed translating.
    • Reading is looking at squiggles on a page and seeing a movie in your head. Jason Fritze
    • Reading proficiency: what you are able to do, not what you know about the language.
    • Our methods have focused on knowing about and not allowed us to do much in our language
  13. True reading develops in stages.
    • Depends on acquired language
    • It does not correspond to a grammar curriculum
    • Reading is taking in understandable messages.  If the messages are not understandable, it’s not reading.
  14. i + 1
    • "i + 1" means the level of language that students fully comprehend ("i") plus a little bit that they don't ("+1").
    • where the students are, with interesting material plus a slight edge
    • Reading only advances acquisition when it is i+1
    • No textbook currently in use in the US provides those kinds of readings
    • Teachers are obligated to create and edit readings to fulfill this requirement
  15. What we teach
    • We do not teach a textbook
    • We do not teach standards
    • We do not teach AKS
    • We teach human beings
    • We teach a language
    • Textbooks are tools that may or may not be helpful
  16. Production of any kind, does not advance acquisition.
    • Production happens when the individual is ready to produce and not a moment before.
    • The individual will produce at the levels he/she is capable of and will advance at his/her own pace.
  17. CI is not Immersion
    • Immersion camps, here or abroad, in all our languages
      • Helpful and delicious in their own way, but…
      • Filled entirely with 4 percenters
      • Screened by prior knowledge of grammar
      • and not reduplicable in the classroom (with normal students)
    • Immersion camps can be stressful and rising stress = lowering acquisition
  18. CI does happen in all kinds of classrooms
    • In strict grammar-translation classrooms, moments of understandable messages happen, usually unintentionally
    • In immersion camps, understandable messages happen all the time, intentionally and unintentionally
    • How do we craft classes where we are 90% understandable and in the language?

Circling with Balls

I honestly have only dabbled in this particular activity, and really found this demonstration very, very helpful.  Remember the "Brief Interlude That Will Be Visited Upon in a Meaningful Way Later"?  Later is now.  First, though, check out this great explanation of Circling with Balls.

The papers that we decorated with our interests (mine had a wolf and a Portal Companion Cube) were brought back into play by the three seminar leaders in this activity.  It is by far the best "getting to know you" activity I have ever seen employed in a classroom and is definitely much more effective than pieces of toilet paper or M&Ms (though the latter tends to buy you at least temporary love from your students).

Each presenter took a couple of the papers, had the author identify him or herself, and began to ask questions.  The demonstration was in English, but I spent the entire time envisioning what it would look like in my classroom.  "Hello Susan.  Do you have a dog?  Yes?  Class, Susan has a dog.  Does Susan have a dog or a cat?"  And of course there are always students--even in a classroom of teachers--who draw dragons and unicorns.  They give great questioning meat (sparkly meat, in the case of the unicorn).  You can ask things like "Do you have a unicorn?  No?  Do you want a unicorn?  Do you want a blue unicorn?"  This brings the class into fantasy and that's really where you want them.  I love those students--they are perfect for setting a tone of fun and imagination.

This method gives teachers a chance to get to know students in a way that is both personal and conducive to learning.  I will be using it next year to begin my classes.

Learning French with Lauren Watson!

Learning with Lauren

I have been to more TPRS presentations and demonstrations and seminars and workshops than I can count and have presented quite a few of my own as well.  Why so many?  Because every time the method is demonstrated I get better at understanding it.  Every time.

And the rare times I can experience the method in a language that I don't already understand, I get the extra exciting opportunity of seeing the method from the point of view of here, including why I am so passionate about it and CI (hint: it has to do with real acquisition and a wish for equity--Bob's word, but also my wish--in my classroom).
the student.  I have already described my introduction to TPRS as a method
Caroline est fâché.

There were a few things I noticed that were similar to past experiences, and Lauren did a fantastic job of teaching us seven primary words and several "icing words" (defined as words you don't expect students to acquire but you need for the current story) in French today.  One thing that stood out to me this time (re-emphasis: I get something new every time) that I will be contemplating over the summer is that, as a four percenter who loves grammar and rules, I was dying to see the French word "est" written on a board.  I just wanted to see this word we kept using, and find out what the secret letters (obviously they're secret, or they'd be part of the pronunciation) are in it.  It turns out that it's just like its Latin equivalent.  Which would have totally flavored my comprehension and pronunciation of the word, had I seen it first.  Since Lauren did not write the word down, I never internalized my incorrect pronunciation nor the Latin implications of the word and now understand the word when I hear it in French.
Un bébé et un oiseau enter the story.

That is something to contemplate.  I tend to write everything I say because I myself am such a visual learner.  Now I'm going to start working on discrepancy, choosing carefully between possible things to write on the board.

At the end of the day we regrouped and did a question and answer session.  The big question of the moment is how to deal with standardized assessments.  The simple answer is to teach to them, but using comprehensible input.  However, I'd love to hear your stories and advice or concerns about the same--or about anything related to the post!

Read the post for Day 2 here. For Day 3, read here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

No Failure Classroom at Work

At this past FLAG conference, I attended Bob Patrick's workshop on the No Failure Classroom. Bob has a thriving program and is an award winning teacher of Latin. I wanted to write a post on it now because I have been slowly implementing pieces of the No Failure classroom this semester. The experience has been eye opening and something I'd fully recommend.

Bob started by asking us what was important to us and what our "elevator speech" was - that is, how we explain why we do what we do given a brief amount of time with someone who is not a foreign language teacher. Here were my responses:

The key to these things is that we, as teachers (especially foreign language teachers) need to build trust and relationships with our kids - "War is what happens when language fails." (Margeret Atwood)

Today, I'd like to write about three aspects I've already used in my classroom. I plan on doing the 4th this Friday and will write a summer post on it.

Two Most Important Questions
I did this the Monday I came back from FLAG. These two questions are now how I will begin each year. The key to this is to make sure you tell the students: 1) This is NOT anonymous; 2) I will read each and every one. Nota Bene - Also tell your students you are a mandatory reporter and what that means.

Here are the questions:
  1. What is important to you?
  2. Why does it matter?
I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting. Every kid wrote something. Some of them were short and simple and some students took an entire sheet of paper. I went home and, as I promised, read every single one. It changed the way I saw some of my kids. For others, it explained behaviours I'd wondered about. When I came back the next day, things were a little different:
  • Some students consciously worked to change habits they knew weren't productive. 
  • Many students wanted to know if I'd read all 130 papers
  • Some students approached me to talk more.
Overall, I am pleased I did this. It definitely built the amount of trust between me and my kids and our relationship has improved. 

Classroom Management - Power With
I use the Daily Engagement Assessment rules for my classroom management. Since my first day with them last year, they have done wonders for my room. These ten rules keep it clear what behaviour I require in my room and also serve to help students do their best in my room. If students are following the DEA, they will make progress. These rules, rather than simply being a list of do's and don'ts provide students the tools and power to succeed. 

A No Failure Classroom goes even further to create "Power With" situations as opposed to "Power Over" situations.

More than a few times, I've had situations that require a... gentle word with students. Bob lays out simple ways to deal with this after pulling a student outside
  • I am on your side
  • I am here for your success. Do you want to be successful?
  • Can we go back inside and do what it takes to be successful?
The key here is to not argue behaviour. At that point, it is about gaining power over someone whereas this conversation gives both parties power to do something together. More than once I  have had a conversation like this with students. Before, the conversation could take many minutes, filled with arguments, apologies, and explanations. Now, it is quick and clear. Sometimes I have to have this conversation with the same student daily. More often than not, however, the behaviour changes. 

There has been one instance in mind that I think is a perfect example of a no fail classroom. This student and I have had many conversations and struggles through the year. Having had these conversations with this student and knowing what is going on in his/her life, I have been working with the student to get work in and focus in class. The changes were startling when I changed from a traditional approach to the No Failure Classroom.

Before After
Student would miss 4 of 5 days Student misses 1 of 5 days
Student argues when asked to put away
technology or take out materials
Student initially argued, but now does it
after being asked once
Student would not participate in the Daily
Engagement Assessment and would roll
eyes frequently during class
Student participated 3 out of 5 times
Student would respond to my prompts
with an "I don't know" or "I will not" or
"I don't understand anything"
Student initially responded as before,
but after a few days of consistent help
and prompting, began to make
connections without teacher aid
Student would work, even on a basic
level with others. Student would refuse
to join groups or pairs.
Student is still reluctant to work with
others, but will do so, especially if a job
has been given to the student (like note
taker or artist or runner)
Student was rude to others, including me
on a fairly regular basis. 
Student initially responded as before,
but now is a good "classroom citizen",
helping clean up and helping others.

It was clear that the initial change caught the student by surprise. After a few days though, (s)he caught on to what I was doing and joined in. Here's an example of our progression:

Day 1 - "I know this isn't what you want to do, but I need you to do this." "Why? There's no point."

Day 3 - "I know this isn't what you want to do, but I need you to do this." "really.... okay"

Day 5 - "I know this isn't what you want to do, but I need you to do this." "ya, ya okay..."

Day 7 - "I know this isn't what you want to do..." "but you need me to... I know. I got it."

By day 7, this student was participating more, offering to help, etc. I was taken aback! With some other students the "broken record" phrase was what I discussed above about success. With that too, quick change occurred.

Having spent my semester slowly involving these techniques, I don't know how I ran my classroom before. This has changed everything about how I address students, see students, think about students, and it has changed how they see me. I definitely see more action and more excitement about things than before. What a great way to end a year!