Monday, February 6, 2017

Comprehensible Input: Understandable Messages

This past weekend, Bob Patrick (@bobpatrick), Keith Toda (@silvius_toda), Rachel, and I all attended the Alabama World Language Association's 2017 conference in Auburn. We were all very thankful to have been invited to submit presentations and to have them accepted.

We decided to present a series on Comprehensible Input from a variety of considerations. Below are the titles, descriptions, and links to our presentations. If you have any questions, or if there are any issues with these links, please let me know in the comments below!

  1. Teaching with Comprehensible Input: Delivering Understandable Messages (Bob Patrick) As one of four in a series on Comprehensible Input, this session can be thought of as an introduction to or review of the basic principles of CI with examples of what they look like in a World Language Classroom. The presenter has been working with Comprehensible Input for the last 15 years. Over that time he has seen it move from an unheard of approach to a buzz-word that has entered common professional conversations among WL teachers. CI work is both difficult and dramatically effective. He will focus on helping teachers understand the principles of CI and how those principles can be turned into an almost limitless number of communicative workings in the classroom. Participants will know the working principles of CI with examples of what each in a WL classroom. Each will have continuing access to the presentation as a resource. Google presentation, discussion, brief demos, and Q and A. 
    Link to Presentation
  2. Comprehensible Input (Reading): Delivering Understandable Messages (Rachel Ash)
    Keeping readings understandable, yet still interesting and compelling to students, is a goal of Comprehensible Input. In this presentation, attendees will experience multiple reading activities that engage learners and reinforce readings, and leave with ready-to-use materials for their own classes. One of the most difficult aspects of teaching language with Comprehensible Input theory is creating meaningful repetition that is compelling and interesting to students. This presentation seeks to help teachers utilize activities that assess reading comprehension and create meaningful repetition without frustrating and boring students. Multiple reading activities will be demonstrated, and discussion of their purpose in class and within Comprehensible Input theory will help attendees gain better familiarity with CI and its application. Attendees will leave both with a better understanding of CI theory, and with multiple activities they will be able to use in their own classes immediately after the conference.
    Link to Presentation
  3. Comprehensible Input (Listening): Delivering Understandable Messages (Keith Toda) 
    As listening comprehension is an important skill for language learners, how can we as language teachers deliver understandable messages for the development of listening comprehension and of language acquisition? Come learn and experience Comprehensible Input listening activities which will both engage students and develop their listening skills. This presentation is designed to teach language teachers the importance of listening comprehension as part of Comprehensible Input second language acquisition. The presentation will begin with a short overview of Comprehensible Input theory and how listening comprehension plays a role in developing language skills. Following this, participants will take part in a number of listening comprehension activities which they can take back to their classrooms. Participants will gain knowledge of listening comprehension activities by taking part in them and experiencing them first hand like a student.

    Link to presentation
  4. Comprehensible Input (Assessments): What Understandable Messages Produce (Miriam Patrick)
    What comes after students receive understandable messages in the target language? This presentation will give examples and show what teachers can expect from students in a CI classroom at various levels and how output can be handled in various ways. Assessment is a large part of the classroom and teachers use it daily to assess what needs to be taught, retaught, or formally tested. Too often assessment has focused on getting specific data rather than using what students know to show what they can do and how classrooms should move forward. Participants will gain knowledge of ways to use assessment in a Comprehensible Input classroom and will walk away with ideas and examples for their classrooms. 
    Link to Presentation

Finally, a special thank you to AWLA for hosting a wonderful event and thank you Elizabeth Connor for the wonderful invitation! 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Task-based White Elephant

"Communicative Tasks" is one of those life-changing (or at least curriculum-changing) ideas: since listening to Tea with BVP and attending ACTFL a few months ago, I have been trying to figure out how to create comprehensible, compelling lessons with a purpose for my own classes. I've been working on the first two since I started teaching, but, aside from "to learn Latin," purpose has usually been missing from my curriculum.

But Miriam and I have been doing a book study lately using James F. Lee's Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms (hereafter TCLC), which is a textbook on using tasks to build your curriculum. And we read chapter 3. And went over our book study time limit by ten minutes--while trying to rush because we realized we had run out of time.

This chapter clarified the entire concept of tasks and purpose for me. I read it late the night before we recorded and got so excited about what I was reading that I scribbled notes all along the margin and then, after trying to go to sleep, wrote in the dark (after finding my handy-dandy pen and notepad by feel--everyone keeps those by their beds for midnight inspiration, right?) about the next day's assignment and about a much longer-term task-based and game-based unit that my students are almost exactly in the middle of right now (I'll write about it later). Then I still couldn't sleep, so I moved rooms and read about Alexander Hamilton for a couple of hours. And I still woke up functional and excited, because that's how I react to bringing something (relatively) new to my classes.

I have shifted paradigms. It feels like I was looking at a fuzzy picture and then suddenly it auto-focused (digital technology is cool) and everything made sense.

I have to change everything I do. I have to. It's the only way I can be sure I'm not wasting my students' time.

That sounds like a dramatic statement, but it's not as dramatic as it seems. I have spent almost fourteen years exploring the best ways to deliver comprehensible and compelling information to my students, supported in large by the research of Steven Krashen, and I firmly believe in the power of Comprehensible Input to make Latin enjoyable and accessible to my students--it's key to creating the kind of inclusive and low-stress environment I seek in my classroom. CI, at this point, is an assumed foundation of my approach to teaching language.

Tasks just add the blueprint. For example, the activity I had planned the next day was a take on "White Elephant" or "Dirty Santa" by Justin Slocum-Bailey. In short, students would choose stuffed animals, and other students could choose to claim a new stuffed animal or to steal another student's animal. Miriam and I thought this would be a nice way to ease back into using Latin the first couple of days after winter break.

Can I just say, as an aside, that I have been completely spoiled by my current teaching team? I teach with some of the best Latin teachers in the country and we get to meet and plan on a daily basis. I am super grateful.

After reading Chapter 3 of TCLC, I created this worksheet to go along with the White Elephant activity and designed a purpose for the stuffed animals--groups would be claiming an animal that they would then use the next day in a motivational poster. With this in mind, I asked students in groups to classify animals according to which adjectives they felt could describe them. This was followed by a whole-class discussion, and then, in groups, the students were asked to decide which animals they wanted most and why.

Only after all of that did I start the White Elephant game and, with the next day's project in mind, groups were extremely engaged. The important thing was getting and keeping the stuffed animal they had chosen, not just practicing and playing with the language. Latin became a means instead of an end.

The next day they created motivational posters (the instructions are here; we brainstormed about the two new vocabulary words first and then they created posters).

I am excited. I feel empowered. And very motivated :)

Our Latin-inspired senses of humor tend to be morbid.