Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Curriculum Night

Well, it's that time of year again: curriculum (or parent) night is slowly rolling around for each of us. I don't know about you, but it is usually a very stressful night for me. I only get 10 minutes with each group of parents and 10 minutes is not a lot of time to fit in everything I need (*ahem* want) to say.

We've gotten a lot of emails the past few days regarding our own curriculum night (which was Monday!) that has elicited some thought from me as well as other teachers here. What should we be telling our parents? What is it that they want from us on that night?

If curriculum night is to be used to build trust and good relationships between us and the parents of our students, then perhaps we should consider/reconsider how we approach things.

Why do you do what you do?
I hear this a lot - at curriculum night, at schedule pick up, at elective fairs, etc.

* I do what I do because I believe everyone has a right to experience a language and make connections and I believe everyone has a right to a positive experience in another language.

How is my child going to learn in this class?
I teach using a method called Comprehensible Input. My goal is to make acquisition of Latin possible for all kinds of learners.
  • Every student has a right to experience being in a second (or third or fourth) language
  • Students only make progress acquiring ability in any language when they receive regular and constant understandable messages in the target language
  • Language acquisition according to the latest brain research, happens unconsciously.
  • I have an obligation to help students (and myself) stay focused on these principles of acquisition, namely, receiving understandable messages in Latin.

To this end, we do a variety of activities in the classroom that incorporate many ways of learning as well as the national standards for foreign languages.

  • Speaking, Writing, Reading, and Listening activities
  • Activities that involve physical movement
  • Hand signs to allow students to communicate their needs
  • A safety net, posted above board, to help students verbalise what they need
  • A word wall including vocabulary we commonly use as well as the 50 Most Important Verbs that support Latin in any time period

  • Culture research based on the National Latin Exam syllabus

How does grading work?
This year, rather than overwhelm parents with percentages, dates, and lists, I'm discussing how I assess:

* I will collect a variety of assignments during each unit. Students will have at least one (more likely two to three) opportunities to resubmit each assignment if they are unhappy with their grade and, when we do a similar assignment, show progress in proficiency. Students who would like to re-take tests may do so after attending at least one tutoring session

* E.G. - Today I collected a dictation from Latin II and III; we will do two more dictations this unit. Students may choose to submit either or both of these other two to get a better grade if it shows an improvement in proficiency in Latin.

What is the Daily Engagement Assessment?
This is an essential way for me to determine whether students understand what I say and also to show proficiency in listening and reading skills. You can read the requirements in this post. I keep my own notes daily and also ask students to self assess themselves weekly.

* The DEA grade is based off a student's ability to demonstrate that they understand what is being said to them. I measure this using a list of requirements. I watch students every day for verbal responses, hand signals, and other physical movements that show proficiency.

* E.G. - Latin I just completed a "Classroom Unit" where I commanded them to do various actions every day. If I said, "surge et lucernas extingue", I would expect the student to stand up and turn off the lights.

What is expected of my child each night? (AKA, is there homework?)
I have not given homework since my first day teaching, with an occasional exception. The longer I teach, the more I am convinced that homework has little to no place in my classroom. I do provide study materials for those interested and multiple copies of readings (in paper and online) and I do expect students to do some review on their own. I will only test, however, the things I am sure we have gone over enough times in class (not at home) to warrant a test.

* We should have time to complete most, if not all, of our work in class. That being said, I expect students to review/read/play Quia every night:

* Latin I - 10 minutes; Latin II - 10-15 minutes; Latin III/IV - 15-20 minutes


This year, I've gotten rid of the PowerPoint, lists for parents, and forms, and taken these questions (plus a few nuts and bolts) and put them on a handout (thanks to my department head for sending it out). Parents and I can just talk, rather than a lecture with furious note taking.

My hope is that by answering questions this way, and as simply as possible, parents will get what they need and also understand that I do care about their students and their students' success. 

What is your curriculum night like? How do you handle all the information in such a short amount of time?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why Being a PEAK Teacher Mattered to Me

Over the past four or five years, I've been feeling beat up as a teacher. If I watch almost any news station, I find teachers blasted for not teaching enough, well enough, being unprofessional, lazy, and uncaring. Not just particular "bad" teachers, but teachers. Read the comments on any news story about a teacher; whether or not the story is positive or negative, the comments will be filled with angry people explaining why teachers are worthless.

It shouldn't hurt me. But, like the trolling it is, it does hurt.

I put in crazy hours to be a decent teacher (want to know how many? One year I counted). I don't know any teacher who doesn't. We teach our normal hours, then we grade and plan and create materials as a minimum requirement when teaching. Many of us also attend training, participate in local, state, and national leadership, and take on additional tasks and hours when asked.

This is where PEAK comes in. In my district for several years there has been an award called the PEAK (Professionalism/Experience/Achievement/Knowledge) award; it was created to recognize all the teachers who put in extra hours and time to make education better for their students and their colleagues. Teacher of the Year awards are wonderful, but they can only recognize one teacher each year. The PEAK award recognizes everyone who has put in significant time outside of planning and grading and teaching. It rewards activity within professional organizations and time put into professional development and seeking additional knowledge.

When our district language coordinator resigned a couple of years ago, I worried that we'd lose this award. I didn't want to lose the only recognition we currently get for the extra time and extra energy and extra self that we put into our profession.

So, after giving him about half a month to settle in, I started pestering our new language coordinator almost as soon as the new school year began. I like him a lot; he always communicates openly and works hard to make sure language in our district is protected and promoted. And he not only put up with my pestering, he welcomed me to explain the award and to meet with him to help him update and perfect it.

And why did this matter so much? One of my colleagues asked me this. After all, the award was just for anyone who put in the time to earn it.

That's exactly why it mattered. Everyone who spent hours attending workshops to be better teachers; everyone who is continuing his or her education, everyone who blogs, leads presentations, mentors other teachers, publishes in journals, takes students to events on the weekends, all of those who give innumerable hours outside of their allotted duties simply to make teaching better for everyone concerned--all of those people get this award. It mattered to me that this award exists. I think it should exist everywhere.

I think everyone should ask for this kind of recognition, and be proud of it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Changes for the New Year (Or how my students make me a better teacher)

Two days until the kiddos arrive. Today I am working on their second vocab quiz, based on the 50 Most Important Latin Verbs list I have, as well as lots of Comprehensible Input activities for the first two weeks of class. After writing the last post on the things my kids wrote about on my survey, I took some time to consider things that I will and won't change based on their feedback. My hope is that, even though I am not taking all of their advice, they will appreciate the pieces I do take and it will improve the relationship between us.

Very quickly, here are the questions I asked of my students. In this post, I'll be focusing on the third question.

* What have we done this year that was helpful?
* What have we done this year that was not helpful?
* If you could change one thing, what would it be.

Timed Writes

The bag was pretty mixed on this, with roughly a 50/50 split on liking it. It did not appear on the third question, which may mean that even though they didn't like it, they understand why we do it, or they understand that I am not likely to change this activity. The biggest complaints were from students who write so quickly, they run out of things to talk about and often do not want to expand. The complaints that resonated with me most were requests for more time before writing. So, I am pairing this activity with the request to slow down. I need to remember to speak slowly for my students and to spend more time on certain things. My hope is that by doing this, I can help alleviate that concern.

Themed Units

It was fairly clear to me that themed units are the way to go (100% approval rating from my kids). This year, I am taking a pretty big leap and am going to used themed units to teach, rather than follow a particular textbook. Rachel has been blogging about our experience with it from last year. This year, I will probably update with some lessons and thoughts as we go, and as I teach IV preps this way. This is big leap for me and, as much as I shout that a textbook isn't what I teach, it is kind of scary to think about not using that crutch as much as I have in the past. I am both excited and slightly (okay really) nervous.

Sustained Silent Reading

80% of my students did not like this activity. I think this was for a few reasons:

  1. We were given an extra 10 minutes in classes last year to make up a large amount of snow days. I gave my students this time to re-read stories from our textbooks as a review. They were required to keep a log of unknown words and were not allowed to move on to a new story until they felt comfortable. 
  2. As "free" as it was (students moved at their own pace), I still mandated what students had to read. 
  3. Silence is hard. 
I know that SSR can be beneficial, but I keep coming back to Krashen's writing on reading by choice. The problem for Latin is that very few books and stories exist that are on a comprehensible level for students of 1, 2, 3, and even 4 years of language study. There are many movements among us to improve the library of easy readers (with no more than 200-300 words used in each), but these things take time and I have students now. I am not quite sure yet what this will look like.

Speed Date Reading

The majority of students who responded to this were my 4%ers. Their biggest complaint was moving at a slower student's pace. I will probably use this activity a little less than I did last year, but I will also want to vary the activities that introduce it and follow up to it, giving those who understand more quickly a chance to get what they need. I will also lengthen the amount of time each pair has to read. 

I plan to have my students re-evaluate me on a regular basis (at least four times this year). My hope is that these changes, as well as the things we are doing more of, are helpful and make positive change.

Happy new school year!

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.