Monday, November 2, 2015

Guest Post: Success is often the product of a failure or two

Robert Patrick Ph.D., a colleague of ours, and my father as offered this guest post as a follow up to my post on "The Fault in our Plans". I am excited to share this post with you as he and I have continued this work with our students.

Success is often the product of a failure or two.  Or more.  Unfortunately, in the behaviorist world of rewards and punishments to which most schools belong, we don’t cultivate an awareness that allows us to see the relationship of success to failure.  Our continued journey into Untextbooking and Standards Based Grading is allowing us to work on those deeply ingrained reactions:  when I fail--panic!  When I succeed--be surprised!

Miriam has written of our recent “midterm mishap” as we are now calling it.  I had seen another colleague do this wonderful assessment in which he described animals with colors, shapes, sizes, locations, geographical forms, habitats etc in the target language and students simply wrote down the names of the animals.  It was an exquisitely good example of listening comprehension based on a significant amount of daily input from the teacher up to that point.  I suggested we use the same format for our midterm, describing gods and goddesses, their features, realms, relationships and activities in Latin.  All students would have to do is write down the deity’s name.  

There was one problem.  We had not included a significant amount of listening input up to that point.  No question that we verbally circled all the new vocabulary, but when it came to describing gods and goddesses and telling their stories, we did that primarily through reading and discussion, in Latin.

The midterm was a bomb.  There were moments of panic.  And then we remembered that we did not have a textbook to cover.  We were grading by standards and not individual tests.  We had all the freedom we needed to back up and begin giving students a significant amount of input about these gods and goddesses in their stories.  Rather than reading, we did three days of telling, listening and clarifying comprehension.  We gave the midterm again, and they well exceeded the 80/80 rule (where 80% or more of the students score 80% or higher on the assessment).

Built on that midterm mishap, we have created a new kind of experience--whether through live oral reading or audio recordings (saves the voice a bit) students listen to the story of Pluto and Proserpina as we read together Pluta: Fabula Amoris.  As we describe a scene or character or set of characters Latine tantum, students write down notes about the character and scene.  After listening, we ask students to tell us back what they have heard.  They use their notes.  They add to their notes from what their peers say.  Then, after listening to these scenes, we break out the books and they silently read the appropriate capitulum from the novella. After the reading, they did a 10 timed write in which they wrote all that they could about Pluto and Proserpina.  

Students blew their own minds!  One student who had only been able to write 6 words on his first timed write wrote 93 about Pluto and Proserpina--in ten minutes.  A young lady who had still not performed so well on the midterm was diligently involved in the listening and volunteering to tell what she heard.  She increased her writing from 10 words the first time to 23 words the second time.  There was not a single student who didn’t best his/her own writing record after this combination of listening and reading.

Right now, my personal reminder is written on the wall:  Listen.  Read.  Write.  In Comprehensible Input terms, that amounts to doubled effort on input before any output.  

When things don’t go well in a CI classroom, it really is a golden opportunity.  We should refuse to see it as anything else.