Monday, January 2, 2017

There's More than One Way to Skin a Dictatio

"Dictatio" is one of the few words my students dread in my class. I'm going to admit that it's a nice break for me--requiring only voice and repetition and pretty much no creativity--and it sometimes finds its way into my plans simply because I need a day that does not require all of my energy. Dictationes fall within my Comprehensible Input toolbox because as long as I keep the vocabulary limited, the dictated sentences provide valuable repetition.

But students rarely enjoy it. Writing down a dictation is not a compelling activity.

I have tried to spice it up by making the dictatio its own story, or even a lead in to the main story I'm working toward but missing crucial information. That has its place, and it helps. But it does not keep students from moaning "eheu!" the next time they see "Dictatio" listed on the day's schedule.

This year I have only done a traditional dictatio twice so far, and I am working to slowly replace the practice completely for myself with equally low-stress but much more compelling versions of sentence listening and writing. There is something useful for acquisition in writing something down, and auditory repetition of understandable messages is universally good for acquisition. So I don't want to give up those strengths. I just want less "eheu" and more "euge" while students acquire Latin.

Keith Toda often cites Carol Gaab's statement, "The mind craves novelty." If I simply replace dictatio with just one activity and do it every other week or so, students will grow as bored of that activity as they are of dictatio. Instead, I've been gathering dictatio options.

With the new semester coming up, I thought I'd share the dictatio options I keep on hand. I hope to continue to add new twists and ideas to this list.

  1. Dictatio. This is the basic format of a dictatio, though I have seen it with a few variations (one of which is here).
  2. Running dictation. This is a paired form of dictatio, with a lot more activity and can be made into a race to add some drive. The short description is that students run to sentences posted around the room (or hall), memorize them, and repeat them to their partners, who then write them down. Find a full description here, here, and an extension here.
  3. Scrambled eggs. This is kind of a variation on the running dictation above; instead of posting sentences around the room they are folded in plastic easter eggs along with some duds. Find a full description here. Miriam and I have changed the dud eggs into stuffed animal interaction eggs (commands are things like: get your favorite animal, give the best animal to your teacher, etc.) and that seems to remove student frustration with the duds.
  4. Micrologue. This is an image-driven dictation activity in which you tell one student a story while other students write the story down, then review the story with the student, then let the students correct their writing, and finally ask the student who didn't write to retell the story to the class. You can find a description here, a demonstration here, and the micrologue I recently used with my students here.
  5. QR codes, pictures, and sub day dictations. Miriam recently posted a collection of three variants of dictation she uses in her classes here. All of them are great, but I used the QR code dictation in my class (called a "monster hunt" and linked on Miriam's post) and my students adored it. It had a purpose: gathering clues to guess the monster. More on that in a moment. That said, I think even had there been no purpose, most students were completely compelled just by the delivery. I'm doing this again next semester...once. This is a treat that I want my students to continue to be excited about.
  6. Pictura an Statua? This guest post by K.C. Kless has definitely been added to my rotation of dictatio substitutions and I can't wait to try it out. Students in teams either draw or pose to represent the sentences posted, allowing both movement and creative thought.
  7. Write or Wait. K.C. posted this activity on his brand new blog and I'm adding it here because it's a perfect alternative approach to dictation. Quick description: students get a certain number of sentences that they must write ahead and a certain number that they can wait and write with the teacher. Read the post here, it's really good.
I am continually looking for ways to bring variety to my classes, and I am working to make sure that every thing we do is as compelling as possible. The key to language acquisition is for students to forget that they are learning a language--that requires compelling activities and texts, ideally with a purpose. My recent summary of my ACTFL takeaways describes the importance of purpose and task-driven language teaching to student language acquisition.

One way Miriam and I were able to bring purpose to our dictation type activities last quarter was to either 
  • leave out key information and ask students to use the information provided to make educated guesses about the missing information OR
  • offer the description in its entirety and ask students to use the information to made educated guesses about the monster described.
Bill VanPatten encourages teachers to think in terms of purpose and tasks; Miriam and I are working on shifting our vision and ideas that direction. Another change and big idea to bring to my classroom--another reason to keep improving and making my Latin classes as effective and inclusive as possible!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Using Stranger Things' Demogorgon: Connecting Pop Culture to Ancient Authors

This group really did a great job finding themes to compare.
The end of the semester is tough; not only are students exhausted and stressed by testing (both standardized and local), but it can be equally difficult to time the end of new material so that it's familiar enough to be worth testing.

This year I found I needed a filler day--so I created a short, light lesson based on the recent popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I wanted students to recognize and think about the echoes of the Greeks and Romans that we still see today, and though it's easy to point at architecture and art, I like the chance to focus on some popular culture and an unexpected (i.e., not military or mythology-based) reference.

So I researched the Demogorgon.

Quick background clarification: I am a geek and I love most things geeky, including table top role play games. Especially Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (hereafter AD&D), my introduction to RPGs and the reason I got to know my eventual husband.

When we were watching Stranger Things and the Demogorgon became a central concept and reference, I was inspired to research the Demogorgon in Latin to find out its declension (not to use in class, but just because I wanted to know--I am super cool). Because I knew there would be a Latin version.

Something you may not know, if you are not my special blend of Pliny the Elder and AD&D fan, is that many or most of the AD&D monsters were ultimately derived from Pliny the Elder, after taking a quick detour through medieval bestiaries. My favorite example of this, partly because the connection between the AD&D Monster Manual to Pliny's work is so unmistakable, is the catoblepas, an animal described by Pliny as a slow-moving land creature with a head so heavy it can't lift it, which is fortunate, since whoever it looks at dies immediately (Naturalis Historia 8.77). Pliny's catoblepas definitely inspired medieval imagination, and finally Gary Gygax, the author of AD&D's Monster Manual, found its description in a bestiary and brought it into the game he co-created.

The point of this sidetrack is that only a very few of the creatures featured in AD&D materials are original; most of them come from Classical and medieval sources.

I liked the connections between depictions this group found
and the summary of Boccaccio's description.
So I knew that the word "Demogorgon" existed somewhere in Latin. And I wanted my students to feel that connection that I am constantly making between my every day experiences and Classical resources. I wanted them to see how ideas are transmitted throughout the centuries and to trace their paths.

And I really, really enjoyed Stranger Things. So this was an excuse to bring it up.

What I ended up cobbling together (this could be done much better, but I did not have time, so it's a shallow, mediocre version of what this activity could be) was a description of Plato's Demiurge, Boccaccio's description of the Demogorgon, a 16th century block print illustrating the Demogorgon, the AD&D description of the Demogorgon, and images of Stranger Things' "Demogorgon." Then I put students in groups and asked them to find connections between the depictions, either one common thread, or a separate connection between each depiction.
This group chose to condense the
depictions into one concise image.

I heard really great conversations as I roamed between the groups--the kinds of conversations I was hoping for--and got some great results that I've posted here and hung in the hall.

This is a good, almost no-prep, lesson that could be used to change class routine or just because you and/or your students are great fans of Stranger Things. The handout is here (Demogorgon Handouts), and the only other thing you need is butcher paper for each group. I let them use markers, crayons, scissors and glue to help them organize and present their thoughts on the connections between all of these varied representations.




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Guest Post: Pictura an Statua?

K.C. Kless is a CI-focused Latin teacher who is a fantastic innovator of classroom practices both technological and traditional. I asked him to write a post to share any of the activities he told me about at last summer's ACL Institute (one of the best parts is meeting teachers from all over the nation and just talking and sharing ideas).

First, let me say a hearty thank you to Rachel and Miriam for hosting my first blog post. I am very grateful for the community of CI teachers who blog, providing fresh activities, great insights & twists, and an incredible place to reflect & refresh.

Second, I do have a few other posts in the works - maybe so many that guest-posting would be a bit cumbersome. Hopefully, I will have my own blog in the new year. To get the news first, follow me on Twitter @klessk.

Okay, now onto the activity - "Pictura an Statua?" In this activity, students in partners, trios, or groups of four work together to earn points with the teacher as the judge of their artwork. However, the competition should be light-hearted and the judge should be generous because the real fun is in the interpretation.

For each sentence you will read, a single student decides whether the teams draw the sentence on hand-held whiteboards or whether they 'statue' the sentence, i.e., become living sculptures and freeze. When I invented this game, the Mannequin Challenge did not yet exist, but if your students are familiar with that, it adds a little something too.


Preparation:
  1. This game does really need individual student whiteboards. If you don't have those, I heartily recommend them for the myriad of activities they will allow you to do. Stop reading this blog post and get some whiteboards. Advice for how to do that here.
  2. Write / choose / create / find a story with sentences that can easily lend themselves to be drawn or acted out.
  3. Decide what kind of order you will use in reading the sentences to the students.
    1. If it is a known text, you can get away with going out of story order.
    2. If they are reading something for the first time, best to stick with story order. Also be prepared to allow students to clarify meaning of new words if you choose this path.
  4. Type up the sentences so you can easily show them one at a time (like in a slideshow).
  5. Think ahead about what each sentence will look like when students create it as a drawing or a 'statue.' Note how many 'statues' a sentence might need, or how many different objects or characters would be in a drawing. Then design your groups to ensure student success. Let me give you a couple examples.
    1. Puella videt lunam in caelo.
      1. In your mind, you might picture this:
      2. You can imagine a student drawing similar to that, but stick figure-y and without much detail.
      3. You can also imagine a student taking the role of 'puella' and a student taking the role of 'lunam'.
      4. So this sentence works best with 2-person groups.
    2. Puella videt lunam, stellās in caelō, et ursum.
      1. You can imagine a student drawing this, but there are at least four things to draw.
      2. Imagining the 'statue' means at least 3 roles (if moon & stars are combined somehow), but probably 4 roles (puella, lunam, stellas, ursum).
      3. This sentence won't work with 2-person groups. You will probably need groups of 4.

So preview the story you're working with and design the game accordingly. There are ways to change the numbers in the groups during the game, but doing so can be difficult the first time students play.


Gameplay:
  • Get the students into their groups with their whiteboard materials (board, marker, eraser).
  • Ensure groups can see your presentation and are spread out around the room so that they can 'statue' effectively.
  • Read the first sentence with the students in Latin.
    • Do your normal classroom procedure for clarifying meaning and confirming that students understand before you move on. In my class, that means students signal for 'time-outs' to ask 'Quid significat?' questions. When they understand and want to move on, they use a thumbs-up or the ASL sign for 'all done'.
  • Choose a student at random (popsicle sticks, index cards, etc.) Ask that student 'Pictura an Statua?'
  • When the student chooses, announce their choice enthusiastically and start a timer for 30 seconds. It is very important that the students feel timed. You can use a timer on a computer (although I keep the sentence up for them to reference), a sand timer, or just count in your head / on your hands.
  • Once the time is out, I call ‘sistite! facite statuas!’ or ‘sistite! demonstrate picturas!’ Students freeze into statue positions or hold up their boards. Silence and good listening is now expected. Students may try to explain themselves in Latin, that’s usually okay if it is quick. I take points away for English after the timer goes off.
  • Then comes the time for even more comprehensible input - I go around the room and award points based on the students’ efforts to include all the words from the sentence, or sometimes just silly points for fun. Advice - be very generous with the points. Also, this should provide plenty of chances to repeat those target words. For the example above, I would award points for:
    • Puella
    • videt
    • lunam
    • stellās
    • in caelō
    • ursum
  • Since I’m guessing you awesome readers can figure out what that would look like in picture form, but may not be as familiar with the statue part of the game, here's how that generally looks if the student chose ‘statua’:
    • Puella - most of the time the kids forget to show the details of the main character when statuing, so if it is obvious that a puella is a person, I award a point.
    • videt - big eyes, arm pointing, using a hand to block the sun and look into the distance - all of these things earn points
    • lunam - putting arms in a crescent or full moon kind of shape, rolling into a ball for a full moon - all of these earn points
    • stellās - spreading out all five fingers to show stars (it’s a statue, no twinkling!), 2 students standing with legs and arms spread wide to show a star shape with their body - all of these earn points.
    • in caelō - luna and stellas at least above the waist if not above the head - I award a point.
    • ursum - actions that show bear-ness - a growly face, holding out paws, scratching against a tree/wall, hibernating - for all of these I award a point.
  • Okay, so what does that look/sound like?
    I point to a group, point to a specific person in the group /part of their body/part of their picture. Say the Latin for it, and quickly follow that with ‘punctum!’ As the students are listening, it sounds to them like ‘lunam? punctum!’, ‘lunam? punctum!’, ‘lunam? punctum!’, lunam? punctum!’ This helps it go quickly, since they’re trying to stay still.
    Occasionally, someone has forgotten to include something in their statue: ‘lunam? eheu! est non in statua!’
  • Once you’ve awarded points for all the targeted words in the sentence, let them add up the points, write them on their whiteboards, and prepare to view the next sentence in the presentation.


Finally, some more advanced ideas:
  • Auto-switch: If the students have chosen the same option 3 times in a row, there is no choice for the next sentence, it automatically goes to the opposite.
  • You can go a good amount slower with the pictures than the statues, and the input is ‘more comprehensible’ - i.e., students can more easily observe other drawings during the points phase than they can other statues. you can also ask more questions or be more descriptive, blending in circling or simply quizzing each team about their drawing.
  • This activity is an excellent one to transition out of if it isn’t working for you or the students that day. Since you already have sentences in a presentation going one by one, you alter your plan pretty flexibly.
  • Guest-Judge: If you've played it with a class a few times before and you have a student for whom the 'statue' part isn't great, but their level of oral/aural skill is quite high, you can have them serve as a second judge of points. To start, they can award 'bonus' points to their favorite group for each word.


This is a great activity for days when 1) your students will have a bunch of energy, and 2) you're planning on reading a story. That said, it only truly works well if the story is suited to artistic interpretation - lots of objects, scene/setting changes, bold actions, characters, and such. If you've got a lot of dialogue or thoughts, steer clear.

Hope to be in touch again in the New Year!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Report from ACTFL 2016!

I have returned from my seventh ACTFL! The conference continues to be the perfect place to get new ideas, connect with like-minded teachers, and celebrate languages and culture.

One of the most exciting parts of this year's ACTFL Annual Convention and Expo is that it not only had record attendance (8,500 attendees!), but it had record attendance by Latin teachers. We had around 250 Latin teachers in Boston this year, and there was not one presentation session devoid of Latin presence.

I attended a mix of Latin-focused presentations, Comprehensible Input presentations, and research presentations. I've put my notes below—I didn't really take notes directly, but am using my memory and my tweets to rebuild what I learned, so please let me know if I misrepresent anything.

Research and Theory
I believe that it is important for us to not only know why language learning is important, but to be aware of the most current research in language acquisition and to be able to explain our methods and approach to teaching using that research. I can explain every thing I do to my students in terms of SLA research.

Tea With BVP (Live!)
Aside from the excitement of meeting the amazing Walter, Angelika, and BVP themselves, there were several key concepts in Second Language Acquisition theory that were discussed (if you are unaware of Tea with BVP, it is a weekly podcast over SLA, featuring Bill VanPatten, a lead researcher in the field).
Important concepts:

  • Explicit linguistic systems do not turn into implicit systems. There was time spent discussing whether explicit and implicit systems within the brain communicate with each other, but it was agreed that one does not turn into the other. What this means for us as language teachers is that no matter how many times we tell students that Latin has no helping verbs and they need to use the imperfect indicative active voice to translate “was sleeping” correctly, students will never internalize that knowledge so that it is their first instinct. However, if we spend enough time using “dormiebat” students will use it too, because that will be what sounds right to them.
  • Authenticity is a loaded word, often used to limit input resources, but it should not be allowed to do that. BVP says that any comprehensible input is authentic if it requires a student to construct meaning and interact with the language meaningfully. Especially interesting is his statement that what is really important is to bring texts to learners that are “authentic to the level students are at in the moment.” He also clarified that the context of the classroom is its own authentic context. Therefore, whatever we are using in our classes, as long as the materials allow students to negotiate meaning and understand in the target language, we are using authentic materials.
  • There is no research yet that clarifies whether SLA truly can never result in native-like language or the real issue is that people learning a second language simply have fewer hours of input. BVP pointed out that a five-year-old has had almost 30,000 hours of exposure to input in his or her first language. Each year of high school provides students with circa 180 hours of exposure in ideal conditions. Even after five years in the same language program, a student might have 900 hours of exposure. There is no comparison.
  • Despite attempts to coopt the term “communicative” for specific methodologies, communicative approaches include a large array of methods (including Comprehensible Input) and are still the best means for teaching language according to research. We are not in a “post-communicative era.” A communicative approach utilizes meaningful language engagement for real communicative purposes. Anything that does that is communicative.
  • Student-centered classrooms look different in language classrooms. That is, while in a student-centered history class students might be doing much of their own research and designing their own method of presenting their work, a language class fails students if they are not given enough input and interaction in the language. So they must be teacher led. However, as BVP pointed out, teacher-led and teacher-centered are two different things. He compared a student-centered linguistic interaction to a linguistic interaction with a 2-year-old: any conversation with a 2-year-old is centered on the child, naturally, with lots of questions (e.g., "Do you want to see the doggie? The doggie? Do you like the doggie? Do you want to pet the doggie? Is the doggie pretty?"). The conversation is almost always controlled by the 2-year-old's interests and needs.
I am inspired after live tweeting this and typing it up to do that for every episode. It helps me clarify my thoughts regarding the episode as well as maybe helps those who, like me, have trouble learning aurally (I have to be doing something physical to be able to pay attention to something with no visuals). If you don't have trouble with listening to podcasts, but don't have an hour to give to it each week, you could check out Lance Piantaggini's summaries

SLA Principals to Practice with Carol Gaab (@CarolGaab) and Bill VanPatten (@teawithbvp)
I thought I took better notes (read: tweeted) more about Carol Gaab’s and Bill VanPatten’s practical applications of SLA research to their teaching, but it seems that I was completely caught up in the experience and took almost no notes about practical application. Which was at least half of the purpose of the presentation. I do get a little star-struck at ACTFL.

The first big concept BVP imparted is that language is different than other subjects. Language is not subject matter—we don’t use it consciously, so it is not the thing we study. We learn to use it. So it cannot be assessed the same way, language structures cannot be taught the same way, and language classes should never look the same as classes on other subjects. To learn language, it must be used communicatively.

In the same vein, we communicate for a reason or a purpose. We don’t communicate to practice communicating. That means repeating dialogues or rote memorization of responses does not lead to acquisition. Only engaging with text (visual, written, or spoken) that is comprehensible causes your mind to form a mental representation of the language you are learning. The text (or source of input) must be at a level that the learner can understand or it will have no lasting impact on a student’s abilities. And there is nothing we can do in our classes to overcome the internal factors of language acquisition. Students will acquire language at the speed and in the order they can. Acquisition is stage-like and ordered. It won’t be altered by explicit instructions.

BVP asks students to read Spanish for a purpose, a task they need to
complete. He colors certain words to help them notice the forms he
wants them to internalize.
Which means that focusing on language forms (grammar) has no lasting effect on acquisition. Trying to force students to learn and use the forms is a distraction from the real impact communicative language teaching has on student learning.

That does not mean that grammar has no place in language teaching; it means that it has to be meaningful and in context. If there is focus on form, it should be input-oriented and meaning-based. One example of this sort of focus was provided by VanPatten: to help his students subconsciously assign import to the word “soy” in a text that he was using to discuss actors with his students he colored the word blue each time it occurred in the text. That way it was subtle, but there, and his discussion with his students was not “’soy’ is used with permanent traits like country of origin,” but about the content, and the students had a communicative purpose to guess which actor was being described by each paragraph.

The point both BVP and Carol Gaab made was that grammar does not help you communicate; it helps you communicate more accurately. Not because you memorized forms, but because when tense makes a difference in the meaning of a sentence, knowing which one means what you want it to is useful. This is still contextualized form—it is not independent of meaning or purpose. This was boiled down to the words “when grammar impacts meaning, it’s time to clarify.”

So, what does all of this mean for our classrooms? That we should build tasks that require meaningful use of language. VanPatten said that “tasks are the backbone of communicative teaching,” because they give practice with a text that engages the learner to think in the language instead of about the language.

This is probably my most important takeaway from the presentation, and something that is going to change the way I teach (it’s not a good ACTFL Convention if I don’t need to rethink how I teach!). I know everything I do in class has a purpose and helps teach language, but sometimes it’s obviously me asking students to do something because it will teach them and not serving a purpose outside of language input. I need language to be the unconscious means to accomplish some smaller goal.

I’m excited to figure out how that will work in my own classes.

Language Teaching Methods and Activities
Being surrounded by some of the greatest teachers in the nation means we got a chance to learn some of the most creative, engaging, and effective approaches to teaching language.

Impacting Fluency with Listen & Draw, Role-playing, and TPR + Story with Blaine Ray (@BlaineRayWrkshp) and Haiyun Lu (@Haiyunlu)
It was exciting to attend a presentation by the charismatic Blaine Ray and Haiyun Lu. Their energy and joy is contagious, and hearing about Ray’s progression into TPR and from TPR to storytelling from the man himself was amazing.

Both Ray and Lu emphasized the “illusion of simplicity,” the tendency of language teachers to feel that what they are teaching is easy because it is easy for them. Most language teachers overestimate how well their students understand them because of this bias, and it is important to not only make sure that we are teaching slowly, to the eyes, and with a lot of interesting repetition, but to consistently check for comprehension. Call out TPR commands without miming them. Ask students to make a fist if they can follow commands and choose one of the kids with a first to demonstrate the commands. Call out chains of three commands at a time to make sure they are comprehending larger chunks of information at a time.

So instead of counting repetitions, teachers should be assessing students regularly to see what they know. But by assessing, I don’t mean a formal memorize-this-list or prepared test. I mean unannounced and often informal assessments. As Ray and Lu reinforced at their presentation, we should be teaching kids, “not until they are getting it, but until they are SO getting it.” We need our students to comprehend the languages we teach, and since we tend to overestimate how well they understand, checking them at random is the best way to be sure that there is no hesitation in their comprehension.

The power here is that students are getting real language that they really understand.

Some practical ideas from the presentation:

  • Develop class signals to clarify whether you are addressing the entire class or just an individual student.
  • Give the students six sentences containing their vocabulary words and ask students to put them in order.
  • Give students sentences and ask them to decide where they fit best in a new story.
  • Use the same vocabulary in a new story (Miriam and I do this often! It’s a great way to get repetitions in without being repetitive).
  • One word image: ask either/or questions making sure to lead the class through vocabulary goals. This will allow you to control the conversation and be sure that you focus where you want to.
  • Give students images, they describe the picture and explain the action shown; you could make a quick test by providing four pictures and letting students choose three to describe.
  • Co-create characters, settings, pets, etc., with your students. This gives them ownership and the communication in the language has a purpose.
Party Like It’s MMXVI: The Fun and the Fruit of 21st Century Latin Teaching with Justin Slocum Bailey (@IndwellingLang)
I met Justin almost a decade ago at a Rusticatio hosted by SALVI. We were both interested in teaching language in the language, and both excited by the rare opportunity to immerse ourselves in Latin. He’s made of energy and enthusiasm (a little checked at ACTFL this year by a cold that stole most of his voice), and is one of TPRS’ coaches—their first Latin coach!

Justin’s presentation had a ton of interaction so my notes (tweets) are sparser, but it was really instructive and gave me new ways to think about how to utilize traditional TPRS activities in my own classes.

Justin started with a declaration that 2016 means input and interaction in Latin—not learning about Latin. This is an important distinction; learning about Latin means charts and grammar rules, while input and interaction in Latin require using the language to do what it evolved for: communication. This isn’t because Justin (or any of the rest of us in the room, to be honest) dislikes grammar. He pointed out that we love learning about Latin, but focus on form does not create the chemical changes and connections that shape your brain to reflect that of a native speaker of the language.

And TPRS does not mean no grammar. Grammar comes up naturally because any conversation requires many different grammatical forms. In CI philosophy, it is considered important to “shelter” (limit) vocabulary while allowing grammar to take the form most suited to the moment; you don’t avoid the passive voice because you haven’t defined it for your students. You just do it. And answer any questions that come up.

Justin introduced us to a brain break called “ovum-->pullus-->draco”: he has students play rock, paper, scissors while chanting a line of meter (our example was “vivamus mea Lesbia atque amemus”). The winner grows (or evolves, if your students prefer Pokémon terms) from an “ovum” to a “pullus.” Then students have to find another student at the same level (ovus plays ovus, pullus plays pullus), play, then evolve. All while chanting Latin poetry. Once most students are dragons (or at any point you decide has been long enough), you can call an end to the game and focus them on reading or listening again.

When Justin told us a story in Latin, he used a powerpoint with pictures to go with the text. He also had student actors who stood by during the reading from the power point, then were instructed to act after the reading. This gave Justin a lot of control over the actors, and a reasonable excuse to repeat the sentences everyone just read, but this time to instruct the actors and make sure they are displaying the correct actions. That is much more compelling repetition than traditional circling!

How to Teach Novels with Darcy Pippins (@darcypippins)
I was excited to attend Darcy's presentation both because I am still trying to figure out how to teach novels (but SO excited to finally have some for Latin) and because she was one of the wonderful people in Oklahoma who mentored newbie TPRS teachers (like me) when I was first teaching. She was amazingly supportive of all of us!

Darcy “hooks” her students onto novels via culture. As a prelude to La Guerra Sucia, she had a principal come in and remove a student from the class—a student known as a good student who does not normally get in trouble—to help them think about the confusion and terror the Argentinians felt during the Dirty War. Once you have students interested in what they’re about to read, the hard part is done—now you just have to figure out the best way to make it comprehensible.

Darcy gave us a whole list of ways to review vocabulary and encourage student practice with the words. I only tweeted two of those (it’s hard to keep up sometimes!); both of them are inspired by Jimmy Fallon.

  • Box of Lies (you can see Jimmy and Jennifer Lawrence play here), in which her students open a mystery box (Darcy said she uses a suitcase so it blocks the other player from seeing what is in the “box”) and either tell the truth about what is in their box or lie about it. The other player guesses, then takes a turn.
  • Word Sneak (Jimmy and Steve Carrell here), with a list of words they have to work into conversation as naturally as possible. I imagine this would require more proficient students, but it would be fun.

Darcy put up a list of reading strategies as well, and there are some really great ideas and practices listed here:

  • Never ask novice students to read aloud. I am 100% with Darcy on this. It is scary to be on the spot, and for some students a bad experience reading when they are not ready to can shut them off to language completely. I read Latin aloud when we chorally read, and of course they hear it spoken when I ask questions or discuss an image with them.
  • Read aloud to your students. I haven’t actually tried this with novel teaching yet. I do read aloud when we read chorally, but that is not the same. This allows the teacher to add tone and mood to the reading, and give feeling to the words. I plan to try it with the next novel.
  • Paired reading. I believe in pairs and small groups for reading. This allows students to check what they understand against the person next to them, and this is a much more comfortable way to interact with the text (so causes a lower affective filter).
  • Audio books. Would be neat. There are not so many of those in Latin yet, but I’m hopeful.
  • Read 15 minutes a day. This practice really caught my attention, because so far I have shoveled huge chunks of text at a time down my students’ throats and it is good to be reminded to go slow. Darcy pointed out that we need students to really take in the novella’s story, and they can’t pay close attention for long spans of time. So rather than have them read for an entire 55 minute period, she incorporates 15 minutes of reading, and the rest of the class is spent on reinforcement activities. This strikes me as genius. She says that she gets through around one novel a quarter doing this.
  • Students tweet the book from the perspectives of the characters. I like this, and it inspires me to consider going a step further. I live tweet conferences, students live-tweet events, movies, etc. We could do a live-tweet “event” with a specially chosen hashtag aimed at catching all their tweets in one place. Lance Piantaggini put together a set of posters for Latin exclamations that would be perfect for this kind of activity.
  • Reader’s Theater. But bigger. Darcy sets the task for the entire class to put together one film. Students are in charge of props, directing, lighting, effects, costuming, etc., as well as acting in the film. They can add characters if needed. Darcy says that you need to be sure to film every student during Reader’s Theater so they can see themselves on the screen. She also lets students choose their jobs, and many students specialize over time. Lastly, she as the teacher writes the script for Reader’s Theaters, which allows her to highlight certain scenes, focus on culture, etc. Students watch the film afterwards and they discuss it as a class.

There was so much more she told us, but these were my biggest takeaways. Teaching a novel has been an interesting (and exciting!) transition for me and figuring out how to make the reading better and more engaging for students who don’t usually enjoy reading in their native language is, well, sometimes boggling.

The ACTFL Standards for Classical Language Learning

ACL unveiled an early preview of the new ACTFL Standards for Classical Language Learning this summer at Institute, and this is a more complete document though it is still in draft form. You can find the draft, a comparison chart between the new standards and the old, and a quick summary of the standards here.

Some important points that came up at the presentation:

  • The standards are not meant to be prescriptive but descriptive. These are meant to reflect regular good teaching practice, and not meant to list off things that must be done. As Bill VanPatten often points out, languages are not like other subjects; you can list off things to be covered in a history class, but language teaching requires repeated focus on the same skills.
  • The standards have been designed to be inclusive of all types of teaching—to that point, the language of the document has been carefully chosen to encompass as many methods as possible. Rather than being used to punish teachers, the hope is that the standards can be used by teachers to support good practice, no matter what practice that might be.
  • The culture standards are divided into practices and products, like the modern language standards. This is a move toward normalizing the Classical languages and asserting our place on the national language field. And we need to take a place there; part of the new resources being produced for Latin now (like the seven Latin novellas that are out) is due to Latin finally being recognized as a language equally worth courting (as well as some frustrated Latin teachers writing their own).
  • There will be sample learning scenarios available so teachers can see the standards in context.
  • Progress indicators will be listed to help you identify at what level your students are performing, again matching modern language standards.
  • The committee worked to avoid limiting the standards to one set of texts; they are inclusive of Classical, medieval, renaissance, or even neo texts.
Final Thoughts and More Notes!
I gained so much from ACTFL this year and really am excited about next year in Nashville as well as ACL Institute this summer in Grand Rapids, Michigan (if you've never been to ACL Institute before, there's scholarships). I think it's really important to meet and think with other language and Latin teachers to get great ideas and grow as a professional. 

If you can't afford to attend a conference on your own (which is no surprise), don't be afraid to ask for money. Even if you are told no, you are showing interest in training and growth, which should be appreciated by your administrators and coordinators. I ask principles and our curriculum coordinator for the district for funds, and I apply to scholarships and grants. Sometimes I'm told no. But I've gotten more than I expected, and didn't risk anything in asking.

Some of the other awesome people who went to ACTFL took notes. I'll try to add links to any other posts I find about ACTFL here, and I'll start with the amazing and thorough notes Ellie Arnold took and shared with the Teaching Latin for Aquisition facebook group.

Here are Ellie's ACTFL Notes and Preconvention Paideia Workshop Notes

Monday, November 28, 2016

Becoming a Student Again

"So, Magistra, just how many languages do you speak?"

I probably hear this question at least twice a month if not once a week. I usually respond by asking them to "define speak". Ultimately it boils down the fact that I love languages. I studied Latin, Spanish, and French in high school, German, Latin, Greek, and Arabic in college, and on my own time, I've studied (to varying degrees) Mandarin, Hebrew, Korean, Thai, American Sign Language, Russian, and Irish.

Of all these languages, Latin has become, quite literally, my bread and butter. I love Latin. That being said, I've had reasons through various venues and situations to desire to learn and focus on some new languages: American Sign Language, Mandarin, and Arabic. In all three, I've become a student again learning, mostly, on my own. It has been an interesting journey thus far and one I'd like to share since we as educators so rarely get to experience it.

The Tools

Since I am on my own for much of this, I use a variety of tools (mostly online) to help with this process. Some of these are marketed to teachers as a way of doing homework or sub work if the teacher isn't there. So, I'd like to say a word about each and any thoughts or issues I've had. 

  1. Duolingo - (free) I use Duolingo to brush up on my Spanish, and will use it when I need German and French for my doctorate in Latin. As of right now, Duolingo is working on expanding its language options. I am hopeful that advanced courses for Arabic, Mandarin, and ASL will be ready for when I need them. I mostly use this, when I use it, online since I only keep the apps I use regularly. 
  2. Memrise - (free with paid options) I used this with Rachel when we were preparing for our Latin proficiency exams for our Masters using Dickinson's frequency list. Now I use it for Korean, Arabic, and Mandarin (although mostly Mandarin). I like this because it has lessons and lets me set goals. Duolingo does as well, but doesn't have Mandarin at this time. Memrise also has memory aids submitted by users. I don't always find them helpful, but they can be to others. I do wish that Memrise would let me speak into the app and compare it to the native speaker, like Duolingo does.
  3. Mango Languages - (free for some) I got free access for this through my library. My brother has access through his university. If you don't have access through something, you will need to pay for this. This works almost like, in my opinion, a combo of something like Memrise and a textbook. It takes you through lessons, asking you how to do things, and providing grammar, culture, and pronunciation help. It is by far the least interactive of the three, but it provides notes the others don't. Mango does have Latin, but I will tell you that it is heavily reliant on Caesar and translation. This may be useful for AP work, but I haven't explored it enough to feel confident to recommend it. Mango also includes some culture notes as well and includes things in various phrases, allowing you to practice in contexts that Duolingo and Memrise don't quite. 
  4. Youtube - (free) I use this for Thai and Mandarin mostly. I look at Thaipod or Chinese Podcast conversations to listen to tone (which is key in both), and get some in context experience. 
  5. Podcasts - (free) I use podcasts the same way I use youtube - in context listening. 
  6. Textbook - (free from a friend) I am borrowing an actual Chinese textbook from a friend of mine for practice. I am using this for writing practice with the writing system that Chinese has, vocabulary lists, and reading practice. This particular textbook has short stories and conversations in it along with grammar explanations and practice. 
  7. Other communication tools - I am not familiar with many languages' tools, but there are lots of communication apps for languages. I use Line, which is Chinese friendly to communicate, and Kakao is Korean friendly. Line also has "official" accounts which include some language accounts that offer daily words, phrases, etc. I also downloaded Google keyboards to my phone for Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Arabic. I can quickly switch between them to type messages or look something up. I also greatly recommend doing this through a single service, not separate keyboards. Since I did it through Google, I have a button on the keyboard that allows me to switch quickly, without having to go into settings. 

Issues and Concerns

I am not normal. I am learning these on my own time because I want to. Not everyone enjoys what I do. The same goes for our students. In order for many of these to be useful, students will need to have the desire to go further or to learn what these offer. I find them useful, but I also know how to use them, given that I've had training in this area. Most of our kids won't. If I offer these resources to a student it's because they've asked for them. I've offered Duolingo to a student who wanted to stay in Latin, but also wanted to learn French to speak to his family. I've offered Mango to a student who is learning Arabic for a trip. I cannot say whether these are useful for a whole group, but if you can find your language on them, you may find some individual uses for them. 

The Language Experience

Each of these three languages is different for me. I am using them in various situations and so each experience is different.

Arabic

I actually already speak Arabic. I learned it in college as my minor for my degree. My brother is now taking it in college, also as his minor. I help him with vocabulary and grammar and I've had the honour to attend his class as a visitor. What is unique about this experience is that while I learned Modern Standard and Egyptian in school, my brother is now learning Levantine Arabic. And so, in a desire to communicate with him, I have taken to learning this new dialect so that I can help and communicate with him. Most of my actual learning is on my own, using Mango and occasionally Memrise, but I get to communicate with my brother via text and actual conversations. Some of them are dictated by his course, so we can practise thematic vocabulary. 

Conclusions

I do wish I was getting more CI in Arabic. Right now I mostly get words and phrases that I then figure out what to do with. The grammar is mostly indirect which is helpful as my brain gets to work it out on its own, recalling and remembering things I learned years ago. I would like to read more Arabic script, but I've had trouble finding CI things to read in Arabic. 

All that being said, I do find the presence of my brother incredibly helpful as I learn this new dialect. It has also inspired me to seek a higher degree in Arabic, but, again, I'm not normal. 

American Sign Language

I've been learning this on and off since I was little. My mother signed for her travelling choir and once when my kindergarten teacher lost her voice and switched to sign language, we learned basics as well. Since then I've had few opportunities to use it. I've signed some songs, taught vocabulary, and had a couple of conversations, but I have not had much of an opportunity to practice. This is a big hindrance in my learning of this language, especially given my desire to become certified in ASL. That being said, I continue to learn using Memrise and as a member of a Facebook group for ASL learners. They post videos, hold chat sessions (which I often cannot attend during the week), and share resources. 

This experience has been interesting because, given the lack of communication for me, there has been a lack of CI. I will readily admit that I am not aware of all the resources, but as an example of what our students may struggle with, the lack of CI makes retaining this language difficult for me -- even as a "not normal" learner. The best I can do in the form of notes is descriptions of hand signs or pictures, which are not always helpful. That being said, Life Print University has recently come out with some CI type conversations, and there is a series on youtube of conversations and lessons which I am beginning to use. 

Conclusions

This language is one where the importance of CI has been made even clearer to me. I am not a normal learner. I thrive on learning new languages and figuring out the puzzle. Our students are normal. If I struggle, and I do, acquiring a language like ASL, then our students most certainly struggle if we don't give them comprehensible messages in the language.

Mandarin Chinese

Speaking honestly, I never thought I'd have a desire to learn this language. I had wanted to learn Korean, but Mandarin was not high on my list. It is now and it occupies the highest spot on my list and I love learning it. 

I have more help for this language than for any other through colleagues (Diane Neubauer @DuYanzi) who provided excellent starting places for me and key hints on learning this new writing system, a former student who meets with me once a week to chat and practice, and my own personal experiences. I use Memrise to learn words and am familiarising myself with the script this way as well. I have a textbook borrowed from my friend that has thematic vocabulary and even little stories and scripts that are CI-friendly (although I have not spent enough time with them yet to say more). I also have, mostly, experiences with food and food culture that have helped me retain more of this language, although my comfort level in speaking is very low. 

I started by listening to a recommended podcast, even though it was above my level (remember: not normal). I would listen in the morning on the way to school and again on the way home, making mental notes. By listening to the same podcast twice in one day, I started to retain the basics (and quickly learned to recognise things like hello, goodbye, my name is, how are you, etc.). Then, I started with Memrise and meeting weekly. I picked up some answers to the "how are you" question and started to put together pronouns and build my own sentences. Through these meetings, I've begun to connect Cantonese with Mandarin as well. When I compare how one person says one word with another, it creates more connections in my head as well. 

I remember one particular instance when an Asian street food type restaurant opened near my house. I had just learned the word for "steamed meat bun" earlier that day and the restaurant bears that name. I think I nearly jumped out of my car when I saw it and it quickly became one of my favourite words (and places to eat). 

 Conclusions

I have been told that when I study Mandarin I look like a two year old discovering things for the first time and that it is quite amusing. I don't doubt it. I have, by far, the most CI in this arena, even if through unconventional methods, and this language is incredibly compelling for me. I am terrified, however, of making mistakes and probably impede my own learning a bit in that way. That being said, I have certainly acquired a lot in the few months I've been working on it and I look forward to learning more, even if I don't have as much CI as I might, but, then again, I am not normal. :)

Overall Conclusions and Thoughts

From the outside, these experiences may seem relatively unimportant or relevant to our students, but from my perspective, I have learned a lot about what my kids need. I hope to have more lessons to share. 
  • Students NEED CI - Heck, I need CI. I am the kind of learner who has chosen to spend her free time learning languages on the side. I revel in colour coordinated notes and I absolutely love charts. I need CI. My kids need CI. 
  • Technology is not a fail safe or replacement for real life communication -- Technology is great and without it, this whole experience would be much more difficult for me. That being said, if my experiences are examples, I excel when I have real life experiences (like in Mandarin or Arabic), so do our students. Reading is one of the quickest ways to get CI to our kids, and it is one of the easiest ways for me to intake information, but language is about connection, ultimately, to people.
  • Learning a second language is not like learning a first, and yet... -- Before I started learning these languages, I already spoke three and had studied many more. But nothing compares to that moment when you make a real connection and acquire something without realising it. That is true when you are two and realise what a cookie is. It is true when you fall in love with an author. It is true when you learn a second, third, fourth, etc. language. In SLA we can use our other language as a connection, but we still have those moments in the new language that we thrive in. Those moments, I am more and more convinced, are the same we thrived in with a first language - first being understood, speaking without panicking, responding without thinking, reading. 


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Preserve the Classics: Don't Allow the Alt-Right to Define Us

I just returned from ACTFL, where I celebrated languages and cultures from all over the world along with another 8500 teachers. I returned excited and energized and ready to share what I learned and the things that I am currently thinking about. And I will, in another post.

Instead, this post is a call to action. There is a group of white supremacists, calling themselves the "Alt-Right," who are using a shallow understanding of the Classics and of Greece and Rome to justify their self-importance and racist propaganda. You can find excerpts on their general stances here. Donna Zuckerberg, editor of Eidolon, a Princeton-educated Classicist, published "How to Be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor" yesterday, eloquently outlining the Alt-Right's interest in and use of the Classics and the reasons we should not allow it. 

She writes, "This is my call to arms for all classicists. No matter how white and male Classics once was, we are not that anymore. In spite of the numerous obstacles that remain, our field is now more diverse than ever, and that is something to be proud of. These men are positioning themselves as the defenders of Western Civilization. Classicists, when you see this rhetoric, fight back. We must not allow the Alt-Right to define what Classics will mean in Trump’s America.

She's right. 

Zuckerberg describes several ways in which, "when we see Classics used to support a hateful politics, we must push back — unless we want to live through a second wave of fascist classical reception." Read her article. It is important, and part of an important dialogue we need to start now.

I'm going to add to this. Bob Patrick pointed out today that we are also teachers in a field that has long been dominated not only by white teachers but by white students. Our field has long been thought of as elite, exclusive. This also helps the Alt-Right build a white image of Classics and Classical studies.

So Miriam and I are making our own call to action. Comprehensible Input and Communicative teaching are naturally inclusive methods, reaching all skill levels, races, and economic backgrounds. Creating a safe classroom culture means that all types of students feel welcome with you as you celebrate ancient people. We can change the face of our student population as we change the nation's understanding of our field of study.

If you teach inclusively, present. If you know how to create a safe classroom culture, share your knowledge. 

We won't have to take back the Classics because we won't let them be usurped.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Coming Full Circle - using Pliny to hold interest

In my first post, I discussed building my unit and in my second, I talked about some variations on dictations that I've been exploring. In this post, I want to talk about a few ways I am playing with student interest and keeping things compelling.

General Recommendations

Often I will hear students talk about things in the hall, during guided study (advisement), and before or after class. They won't be helpful to me at that moment, but if they seem important to the students, I'll figure out a way to write it down or store it in memory until it is. This has helped immensely in building this unit in a few ways:

  • Pop Culture References - These are most helpful when we have our cultural discussion days, but they are helpful in that I can pull stories students know and reference them and bring them into a discussion comparing our culture with Roman culture. So far, My Little Pony (unicornis story), American Horror Story (vrykolacae story), Harry Potter (unicornis story), and a few others have all proven very useful in our discussions. While this may seem weird or off topic, using it to discuss Roman culture and opinions has proven important. Students need to be able to identify with something in some way and this is one way of doing it.  
  • Bacteria - Believe it or not, I've had a group of students who have believed, completely, that bacteria must play a role in our stories. They have argued for it and fought for it, much to my and our class's amusement. When I decided to do a creepy story (vrykolaca) I ultimately chose what I did because bacteria plays a role in the science. I could have decided to step away from this focus, but it fits in our ultimate goal of being able to understand perspectives. 
  • Santa - This is not quite come up in class yet, but students made many references to the European idea of Krampus and Santa. They took what they understood in Latin about the vrykolaca (large and round, hair on the face, stretches out) and decided it was an evil Santa type figure, similar to the Krampus. They were incorrect, but it created great discussion driven by student interest and made this story even more compelling for them. 

In Choosing Stories

There have been many discussions and argument regarding targeted vs. non targeted CI. Without opening up a large forum for discussion here, I want to address one way I use both in my classroom. I never want to curb student discussion based on student interest. I also want to expose students to the wonderful world of Latin literature from all the periods - Classical, Medieval, and Modern. To do both, I take into consideration a number of things:

  • A spiral sort of curriculum that we have in our program - Many groups place heavy emphasis on a vertical curriculum which should prepare kids for the most rigorous course in that subject. I like to argue for a more spiral format. As students progress in a course, they visit and revisit ideas, increasing their skills in that idea. If I know students might revisit this idea in another class, I feel slightly more compelled to offer it in my class. Here are two posts on this topic: one on student choice as we offer it and one on how the spiral worked last year in Latin I
  • Using shorter readings in some units to allow student input - Whit this particular unit, I purposefully did not choose two of the stories and waited until students expressed some feedback on our first one. When students started asking questions like, "did the Romans have a unicorn?" and "Are they all just versions of real animals?" I included the unicornis story and the basaliscus story. 

In Artwork

Not all kids like to draw, but all kids like crafts in various ways. I've worked to provide multiple opportunities for kids to use what they like and what they know in the classroom in this unit. Here are some ways I've accomplished that. 
  1. Lenticular Art - Rachel wrote about this last year and I revisited it this year. I had nearly forgotten about it, but then found it when I was trying to find an activity to see just how kids were connecting to the stories that I had ultimately chosen (even if based in student interest). We did this project and the requirements were:

    * Choose a monster we've read about and illustrate it as one perspective of your work. It can be any part of the story, but the monster should be portrayed accurately.
    * Connect this monster to something specific that has importance to you. It can be anything, but it should be specific so that I, the viewer, am clear on what is important to you and how it relates to what we've read. 


    Ultimately I got a wide variety of works of art. Many related to movies the kids enjoyed or stories they were familiar with. Some related scenes from our stories to current events that the kids were moved by. Some related ancient perceptions of monsters to the animals we consider "weird" or "gross" now. The variety was quite lovely and I am overall very pleased with their work. The kids loved this, despite its logistic difficulties in cutting and folding and appreciated the opportunity to have a say in how they expressed their opinions in my classroom.
  2. Cultural Discussion - I will write more about this in my next post, but I have used our culture discussions heavily to let students express their interest and choice. This week, after reading 3 of our 4 stories (and just before Thanksgiving break), we did an activity where students were to relate our story/monster to one they knew. They had to do research, use Latin, and science to build their argument and they were graded based on clarity and detail. Some examples:

    * Relating the Roman unicorn to the Indrik Beast - The Indrik beast is of Russian origin and relates to the unicorn in themes of savageness, purity, and innocence.
    * Relating the Greek vrykolaca to the legend of Slender Man - The students related these two through their creeping/stalkerish presence and the requirements for them to attack/leave their victims.
    * Relating the Roman polypus to the Kraken of Norway - Many students discovered that Roman authors had also written of the Kraken, which created an interesting connection they had not thought of. They also related these two in size, ferocity, general description, and contrasted them in the nature of their "attacks" and setting. 
  3. Timed Writes - You can read about the specifics of timed writes here. While most of ours this semester have been rather normal, using specific stories, our last one allowed for student choice and resulted in some fairly interesting considerations and experiences. Our last timed write (last week) covered the polypus, unicornis, and vrykolaca. We did it shortly after reviewing all three monsters again and, in the spur of the moment, after watching their excitement and passion talking about the monsters, I decided to open the timed write to student choice. I did this because I knew they were ready by the quality of discussion and their desire to continue the discussion. The prompt I gave students was to pick any of the three monsters we'd read about and write about it. This opened the floor to a whole series of questions and my answers:

    * Wait, we get to pick? of course.
    *
    Can we write about all three? of course.
    * Can we make up a story about one specific one? hmmm..... of course.
    * Can we name ours? give him a name that fits his ferocity.* Can we write a love story? of course.


    And it went on. Students wrote for around 15 minutes in Latin II that day. No one stopped early. Everyone wrote furiously. I was actually excited to watch them write!
  4. The Invisibles - This is an alteration of a CI activity/idea/class/etc. that revolves around storytelling that creates characters that students have complete say in. While I have not read everything on this topic, and would not feel comfortable trying to explain it all away, I can tell you how I altered it and what I did with it. I got sick in the middle of one week when the weather changed (my allergies are bad when that happens). I knew I was going to be out the next day, so I left this assignment for my kiddos to complete. When I came back, I took their descriptions and rewrote them as an activity. I would read the description out loud three times and kids would listen and draw what they think they heard. Then, I projected their student created art on the board and we discussed. Students like seeing their own work, especially if they recognise it from the Latin description, and seeing how close they get to what others drew. 


Conclusions

I have spent a good bit of time reading arguments for or against student choice. I agree with both sides, especially as a Latin teacher. I do feel as though there is a reason to read some works that are teacher chosen/written. I love exposing my students to a world they didn't know existed and discussing with them the nuances of that world and seeing their reactions. I also agree that student choice is key to learning language. Stephen Krashen's Comprehensible Input Hypothesis is the core of my teaching and part of that is student interest (the compelling piece).

So, I try to marry both as best I can. It takes work, but it is worth it to me. I also love learning and this large unit, compiled using what I know and what they want, has really allowed me to learn a lot. I've never considered myself good at science, but I now know more about decomposition, and the differences between Indian and African rhinos than I ever thought I would need. I also got to impart on the kids one of my interests which I proclaim from the rooftops - cephalopods. The kids learned more about cephalopods than they ever thought they wanted to know, but they enjoyed it. So much so that it is now somewhat of a joke in some of my classes.

This seems right to me - through conversation between teacher and students, using student interest and teacher knowledge, we learn language. This is how we learn in most situations I feel.

How are you gauging student interest? How do you include it in your classroom?