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!

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