Friday, January 17, 2014

Untextbooking: What Does the Fox Say?

I've been feeling the need for something bigger lately. Teaching chapter-to-chapter has ceased to be all that fulfilling. I tend to feel like my students are missing out on a bigger picture, and that I am failing to offer them Latin as a complete experience. Luckily, I've recently received some divine aid from Muse #10, the much-ignored muse of teaching.

Since it's nigh unavoidable, I assume many of you have heard this song:

I was exposed to it as the song gained popularity as a youtube sensation and internet meme--and now I even hear it periodically on the radio, which is worth mentioning because it is really just a funny parody song by a Norwegian comedian.

However, I was suddenly inspired one day while I listened to some students attempting to sing the song. It's basically a bunch of animal names and sounds, all of which would make a great foundation for some Aesop. In case you're not familiar (my husband assures me that you probably are), Aesop recorded common Greek fables that were also popular in Rome. They highlight common Greek and Roman values, customs, and assumptions about social order, and a good percentage do so by using animals as main characters. These make for a great way to keep culture contextualized and in the language.

So now I have some end goals, and even one of my steps on the way. But I've had those before. The thing that has changed is my own knowledge of activities and methods to bring students to Latin that contains new vocabulary and new grammatical structures without it being hard.

I've practiced TPRS (for our write-ups of various aspects go here, here, here, here, and here) for ten years now in my Latin classes, and enjoy it.  And I've felt that it's possible that TPRS alone would let me prepare students for Classical Latin authors, even with their huge and varied vocabularies and grammar.  However I never took the plunge; it seemed like a huge change and too much work, I was comfortable and familiar with my textbook, what if I was wrong and ruined a whole generation of students--there were a lot of excuses not to do it.

But now, with a larger toolbox I'll discuss below, I have fewer excuses and more drive to leave the textbook behind.  As I write this, the unit I'm creating is just that--in the process of being created--and so as I finish aspects of this unit I'll add their links to this post.  Miriam and I are both experimenting with big ideas this semester, and I'm as excited about her Google project as she is about untextbooking (not a term I made up, but one I'm totally taking over for my purposes).  Having a great friend to support me in this endeavor helps stoke my courage.

The Toolbox

My list of tools is actually still growing.  I have a wonderful group of friends and colleagues who also read research and blogs, and are willing to experiment with their classes to figure out what works for them and what doesn't.  They also share their knowledge (thankfully!) so I get to benefit from it.

I have two tools that are currently the center of my untextbooking: dictationes and embedded stories.  Each tool, when added to CI techniques like TPRS and WAYK (we have posts here, here, here, and here), allows for even more repetitions of the vocabulary and a really strong reinforcement of the grammar I choose to focus on.


Dictationes are what they sound like: I dictate sentences to students, they write them.  That might feel like nothing new, but it gives students a chance to gauge their spelling and aural comprehension of Latin, and, since I have them check their own spelling and we review through the sentences to make sure students understand every word, dictationes become a great way to introduce new vocabulary and grammar structures (a great detailed explanation is offered here).

For my current purposes I am actually creating sentences that specifically cater to the grammar structure I want to emphasize and repeat the vocabulary words I think my students need most.  I like to start a unit with a dictatio as a great intensive introduction to the new forms.

Embedded Stories

Like the dictatio, embedded stories are not my creation.  I think every TPRS-based teacher has blundered into something close at times, but not as a concerted effort and not in an organized way, so I really appreciate this form of Comprehensible Input.  Embedded stories are really the tool that caused me to realize that I can leave the textbook behind.

Embedded stories can be traced back to Laurie Clarcq (she has a very charming story about her inspiration here), and they are wonderful tools to scaffold the more difficult texts I want my students to read.  As I started using them to scaffold the longer texts in my students' textbook (which is rarely difficult grammatically, but tends to throw an overwhelming amount of vocabulary at students), I started realizing that the embedded stories could empower me to tackle pretty much any text I wanted my students to read.  That's when the discontent I'd been feeling towards the textbook (I have yet to meet a Latin textbook that aligns to CI, limits its vocabulary, or moves away from strict grammar sequencing) finally came to a head.  I got permission to start this semester with my own units, created with authentic Latin texts in mind, and I started creating the unit that I will be posting here.

Image Property of Wikipedia

So, What Does the Fox Say?

It barks.  Just in case you weren't sure.  But for my purposes, it's an ancient mystery that my students will be expected to unfold and, yes, sing as a means to learn animal names and sounds.  Once students have worked their way through the song, they'll read two of my favorite Aesop's fables: "The Fox and the Cat" (wherein the fox brags about her many skills but the cat's one skill turns out to be the most useful one) and "The Frog and the Bull" (wherein the frog blows herself up in order to be as big as a bull).  We'll talk about the cultural significance of the fables' morals.  We'll play with the fables, perhaps draw them or simplify them into children's books (that part of my lesson plan isn't formed as of this writing).  Throughout, students will be inducted into much more "difficult" vocabulary and grammar than they had worked with before.

After the fables, I am planning to introduce them to the "scientific" thought of Pliny the Elder by choosing a relevant animal passage or two.  This will have to be seriously scaffolded, but I believe that by the time we arrive at the actual Pliny passages, my students will be ready to read and comprehend them.  This will be the end of the most comprehensive and well-rounded yet cohesive unit I have ever taught.  I am really excited.

So far, my students have done the dictatio and worked on the vocabulary.  I gave them a handout and they figured out quickly what they were learning.  There were groans ("I hate that song!") and sounds of glee ("This is your best lesson so far!"), both of which are great--they imply an emotional reaction to something they are reading in Latin.

So here it is, as it develops (remember that I will keep adding to it as I develop aspects of it--and since it's on Google Drive, I'll also be adding to each page and correcting any mistakes I notice along the way)*:
Overarching Lesson Plan
"The Fox"
Materials Created for the Song 
Handout for Students
"The Fox and the Cat"
Materials (Including the Story, Embedded Version, and Dictatio)
Handout for Students (Writing these)
"The Frog and the Bull"
(These materials will be written next)
Pliny the Elder
Did I mention I'm excited?  Because I'm excited.  And as we all know, an excited teacher is a better teacher.  I think these lessons will be the best I've ever offered in my classes.

*Edit: I should mention that the non-handout materials are basically not formatted because they're the notes I keep to teach from.  Also, there are contributions (none attributed because I am a poor friend) by Miriam Patrick here and there.

Friday, January 10, 2014

80% of me, 20% of you - adapting Google's 20% time idea to the classroom

For a while both Rachel and I have wanted to try out Google's idea of 20% innovation time in our classrooms. We did the research, but were waiting for a final push to try it out. Between frustration with textbooks, testing, and what we were able to look at this past fall at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language's 2013 conference, we have finally decided to give it a try.

This Spring, I am piloting my version of the 80/20 project with my Latin IIIs, IV, and AP students. I will be posting, hopefully, regularly on the process and the reviews. I intend to have students fill out surveys every few weeks to check in on their progress, but also get their feedback on the project itself. In this post, I'm going to set forward the premise of the project and talk about my initial reactions.

This link goes to my outline of the project. Students are being given an entire semester worth of 20% of time to work on this project and I will be using it as half of their final exam (we have to give performance exams each semester measuring speaking and writing progress). I don't want to repeat what is in the document, so I will try and address some of the questions they asked me instead while we went over it:

Frequently Asked Questions by Students
  1. What will we be turning in?Students will be turning in almost a portfolio of their project. They will need to have a presentation to share, a physical product to show, notes, cited resources, and their correspondence with their CC. I will use all of these elements to grade them using the rubric in the link. 
  2. How long does our correspondence have to be? I do not expect, especially in the beginning, long correspondence each time. Some times will be longer than others. In the beginning, they will introduce themselves and their ideas and as they research, their ability to discuss should grow (ergo, they will be making progress in their writing)
  3. So, the topics must relate to Rome? Not necessarily. The topics must relate to our classroom. For example, a student may take a survey of the class and find out their favourite movies/shows/music/etc. Then, they may look to see how much of an influence Roman culture, history, and language have in our modern media. Another student may be interested in cooking. They may look into Ancient recipes, or perhaps look to see how differently we do things or compare health standards or, just for fun, might try to cook modern recipes using only ancient methods. Students may create games for the class to play, videos to watch, etc. 
  4. Why can't we just know the day we're presenting now? I have found that students who know they are going the last day will wait until the last day to be done and, if we have extra time for example on a previous day, they will not be ready and will be upset. By asking each student to be ready the first day, I can go ahead and collect certain aspects (notes and correspondence) and begin building my grade that day. Everyone will have the exact same amount of time to prepare. 
Today I took my students to the lab for their first 20% day. They were given the period to pick a topic and complete their first survey. Below are my observations:
  • Some students will really struggle with the freedom. This is okay, and they need to know that it is okay. I sat with a few students who had no idea where to begin. I asked them what they liked to do or really enjoyed learning about. For the most part the response was, "but there is nothing Roman about..." So, we went over the connection part again. All my students ended up with a topic in the end and a clear connection.
  • I would change my initial survey to include a question about what resources they know they'll need. This will help me create resources more quickly and with more accuracy. 
  • Students were surprisingly excited to find out who their Classroom Comrades were (one of my favourite words, plus the alliteration is magical). They will find out over the weekend and be asked to begin communication ASAP. 
  • The students researched the entire period. Only once did I have to ask a student to focus. Since this project really focuses on their interests and their likes, I think, and hope, it will turn out to be easy work for them.
In my next post, I plan to update you on the progress of the project and take a look at the resources I am providing to my students. Stay tuned!