Olianna et obiectum magicum: Published!

Olianna is different from the rest of her family, and finds herself excluded as a result. Have you ever felt that way? One day, a magical object appears that just might change everything for good. However, will it really be for the better? Can you spot any morals in this tale told from different perspectives?

12 cognates + 12 other words!
1100 total length

“Familiar” is the name of the game. This debut non-Roman novella gets into the kind of family dynamics I discuss with students in first year Latin with the theme of “belongingness” relatable to all. The familiarity of the topic and high cognate count puts this on par with Mārcus magulus as the first two books that can be read by the earliest of beginners!

When it comes to those beginners, exposure to the language is crucial, yet they key is to not overwhelm the learner with too many different word meanings while reading. This is known as “sheltering vocabulary,” or limiting words, whenever possible. At the same time, the learner also needs exposure to different word forms for languages with many inflections, such as Latin. Exposure to different forms builds a mental representation of the language that helps the learner process meaning. Therefore, the most effective texts vary word forms within a small vocabulary. Varying word forms is known as “unsheltering grammar,” that is, not limiting word forms in an effort to teach that grammatical form—dearest no—but instead using any grammatical forms necessary, and at times even deliberately using as many forms as possible so the learner acquires them implicitly without effort. Olianna et obiectum magicum is another one of my best examples of exposing students to different grammatical forms of Latin within a single narrative, especially given its small scope. Despite the low word count, the novella contains over 120 different grammatical forms! These include:

  • ablative of comparison
  • ablative of means
  • noun/adjective agreement (across 1st/2nd and 3rd declensions)
  • comparative, superlative, and diminutive adjectives
  • imperfect, perfect, and future active
  • present and future passive
  • passive infinitive

You might not believe that a novella containing the above grammatical forms and functions could be one of the first texts read by Latin students, but trust me, it can. When meaning is clear and individual word meanings are reduced, magical things happen, and Olianna is a good example of that. So, with vocabulary sheltered, grammatical exposure early on provides a solid base language learners use to continue building mental representation of Latin throughout the year.

Oh, and like Mārcus, the new Olianna also has a few new features. There are two lists after chapters two and four that include summaries of what’s been learned so far. These short statements can be used to check understanding while building a sense of Olianna’s family dynamics. There’s also a choose-your-own-style epilogue where readers decide what best represents Olianna’s voice. Enjoy!

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs
  4. Digital audio narration

Basics: Current Ideas & Summary of Recurring Blog Posts

All Of My Daily Activities, etc.
– input-based strategies & activities
– how to get texts

If this stuff interests you, consider putting a few things in place to support the move towards a more comprehension-based and communicative approach. Here are the practices fundamental to my teaching, making the daily stuff possible:

Core Practices
CI
Grammar
Textbooks
Curriculum
Grading
Look, Listen, Ask
Course Grade
Assessments
Speaking & Writing

Continue reading for explanations of each…

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Efficiency & Effectiveness vs. Enjoyment

It’s my 9th year teaching, and I’m done. Finished. Kaputz. That’s it. I’m completely over the approach of talking to other teachers about efficiency and effectiveness. You won’t find me straying into a Twitter discussion circus trying to point out efficient practices for second language teaching. That ship has long sailed. The curtains have closed with me weighing in on comparing the effectiveness of Terrible Practice A and Undoubtedly Much Better Practice B. I might never update my page on Studies Showing the Ineffectiveness of Grammar Instruction & Error Correction, instead ignoring commentary on why I haven’t treated it like a formal annotated bibliography, or lit review, or part-time job. Ah yes, and 2020’s article on grammar-translation could be my final say on the matter.

I’ll be talking about enjoyment from now on.

I’m also going rogue here to say that the kids aren’t actually the priority. Teaching is a profession, and it’s time more teachers think of it that way. Underfunded and undervalued public education right now is like a plane heading straight for the water. Put your own damn mask on, first. It took all of last year to expose all the worst problems, and it should be clear by now that the mask is enjoyment. If you don’t enjoy what you do, learners in the classroom don’t stand a chance. We don’t have to be entertainers, uh uh, but kids sense a lot more than we think. Given all this, I won’t really have much to say about which conditions make a comprehension-based approach more effective than a grammar one. I won’t bring up how a communicative approach is more efficient for acquisition than immersion. No siree Bob. When asked why I do what I do, my answer will be “it’s more enjoyable.”

Enjoyment…for whom?
I’m sure someone who doesn’t teach with a comprehension-based and/or communicative approach reading this is pushing up their glasses (I wear them, too, relax) thinking “bUt My StUdEnTs LoVe ClAsS.” Sure, that might be true. Of course, that’s also like saying “my students turn in missing assignments only if I put in a zero.” Teachers who believe these do so because it appears to be true and work for the students for whom it works. However, it certainly doesn’t account for the rest of the students for whom it DOES NOT work. N.B. It’s also likely that the zero itself getting isn’t the student’s attention, but some notification and reminder from the teacher. Thus, the same holds true with enjoyment. The teacher who enjoys using a certain approach might assume it’s the approach itself that students enjoy. In reality, there’s probably a host of other factors actually causing the enjoyment, and students just have to deal with the approach.

So, you won’t find me comparing a grammar approach to a comprehension-based one. For starters, the best way to do that would be to teach two sections of Latin I using the former, and two using the latter. Sorry boutcha, but here’s no way I’m gonna do that. Of course, there’s no way another teacher using a completely different approach would do the same, either.

However, there’s a key difference.

I’m not going to use a grammar approach because I’ve been there, and it’s not enjoyable. Granted, I personally found that approach enjoyable in college as a complete nerd, but I never enjoyed the approach when I first started teaching, watching students either fail or succeed regardless of my support. Also, I’m not going to use an immersion approach because I’ve tried it, too, and it wasn’t enjoyable for me. As you can see, I’m talking about experience with different approaches. I’m not sure every teacher with a different approach can say the same about a comprehension-based and/or communicative approach. In fact, I only know of one teacher who tried, went back, but then ultimately settled on a comprehension-based approach again years later, as well as one other teacher who tried what generally has been referred to as “CI”—so who knows what that that teacher was really up to—then ditched it and went all Judas on a colleague and openly trashed the approach. I’m sure there are some others, but similar anecdotes don’t really abound. The majority follow a progression away from grammar, period. Are teachers drawn to a comprehension-based and/or communicative approach at first because they’re touted as more efficient, or effective? Maybe, but they mostly stick with it because it’s enjoyable, and the joy seems to spread to students, too. This kind of “new pedagogy” that Thomas Hendrickson refers to in his hot-off-the-press SCS blog on novellas is summed up well in a near-closing statement:”

…I’m confident that the time is better spent in reading novellas than in reading more sentences from Wheelock, which is what we used to do with that time. At the very least, the students seem to enjoy it more. And if one of your course goals isn’t to foster a love of reading Latin, perhaps it should be.”

Besides, future research on efficiency and effectiveness probably most definitely won’t lead to findings suggesting that a) the grammar-translation approach is more suitable and equitable for secondary students, b) learners somehow need less input than we thought and its comprehensibility overrated, or c) students don’t really need a meaningful purpose to communicate. No way. So, with future research all but certain to strengthen support for comprehension-based and/or communicative language teaching (CCLT), I’ll let those studies speak for themselves as I hang out over here talking about enjoyment.

Magister P’s Poetry Practice: Published!, Rhythmic Fluency Reboot, and 2021 Pisoverse Production Schedule

I started this blog in 2012—holy moly nearly a decade ago!—as a place for ideas about Latin poetry. At the time, I didn’t have much else to share besides what I knew on an abstract level about meter, and rhythm. My attention turned to understanding a bit of second language acquisition (SLA) as I began teaching. Therefore, I shifted the focus of this blog to sharing more practical language teaching ideas. Needless to say, poetry took a back seat. Still, I kept presenting on meter at Classical conferences. At these conferences, I learned that poetry didn’t make sense to a lot of Latin teachers, and I started lending a hand in what I began calling “rhythmic fluency,” sharing materials, and adding them to a tab here on the blog. I pretty much left that alone for years. It’s time for a reboot…

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Communicate ≠ Communication ≠ Communicative Approach ≠ Comprehension

I thought it’d be helpful to go through some terms that seem to be used interchangeably. Why? The misunderstandings have an effect on pedagogical discussions, and there’s always room for reminders. So, communication, as defined by at least Sandra Savignon and Bill VanPatten, boils down to “the interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning.” Each researcher added details like “within a given context, and “sometimes negotiation,” but the basic idea us teachers can focus on is in the three words, also conveniently picked up by ACTFL and keyed to their three modes: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational.

  • Examples of interpreting Latin would include listening and reading. You can do this alone. It’s one-way (input).
  • Examples of negotiating in Latin would include some interaction, which isn’t necessarily spoken because you can respond in non-verbal ways, and you can also do this via writing, such as email correspondence. You can’t do this alone. It’s two-way (input + output).
  • Examples of expressing Latin would include writing or speaking. You can do this alone, such as when writing a story, or publicly speaking. It’s one-way (output). When giving a presentation, there are people there, but you don’t necessarily have to interact with them. Think lecture without follow-up, or better yet, think videos. TikTok videos are people expressing meaning. Of course, any follow-up would involve interaction, thus becoming interpersonal communication.

OK, those are very clear examples of communication from a second language perspective. However, when most people say that they “communicate” with others, that usually just means speaking, and maaaaaaybe writing. That is, the verb “communicate” is often synonymous with “talk,” and almost always suggests two-way interaction. That’s…fine…but we start running into problems when language teachers use the two interchangeably…

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Independent Reading & Speaking Latin

I recently updated the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) to include ongoing Class Days and Culture Days. This provides more of a balance to the year without the previous “Unit 1/Unit 2” structure that each lasted approximately an entire semester. I also made sure to list independent reading as a key component. Yeah, I obviously have a stake in whether teachers build class libraries and include my books, but the whole reason I got into writing novellas in the first place is because I bought into the idea of independent reading tenfold…

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JDGI: A New Equitable Grading Acronym

I just spent 12 hours in Grading for Equity Virtual Institute, and my main takeaway comes down to what I’m calling JDGI. After all, no one wants to be judgy, right? Therefore, JDGI is a handy acronym for how to grade equitably. I’m not going to spoil the book, institute, or any of the work that Joe Feldman and Dr. Shantha Smith have been doing, but the basic idea is:

Just Don’t Grade It

Do you give homework? Fine, just don’t grade it. Do you expect students to participate? What if your idea of participation is biased? But OK fine, just don’t grade it. Are you under the impression that effort is observable and measurable? Might wanna check yourself on that one, but alright, just don’t grade it. Do you give tests that result in scores of X/Y points (e.g. 7/10, or 89/100)? Yeah, just don’t grade it (i.e., ditch those points in place of something like concept checklists the student showed they understood).

So yeah, you gotta grade something else…

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“All You CI People Do Is Just Quote…”

The typical claim is that teachers cite Krashen—and only Krashen—when talking about, or defending, comprehension-based teaching practices. In the past decade or so, that’s also expanded to include Bill VanPatten. One reason teachers might do this is that they have day jobs, and that day job certainly isn’t researching Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theories. Seriously. The fact that anyone demands evidence from comprehension-based teachers to justify their practices is insulting. Furthermore, the fact that language teachers have *any* awareness of research is amazing when you compare the state of teacher preparation programs/licensing paths with the responsibilities of a classroom teacher. Sometimes I think how INSANE it is that I even blog about teaching in addition to teaching!

Now, time—alone—doesn’t invalidate research, but bad research certainly invalidates bad research. When it comes to science, Krashen hasn’t been all that technical, but you know what? Who cares?! Eric Herman brought up that bad research could have very good implications for teaching, while at the same time good research could have very bad implications for teaching. His example was that if it were replicated study after study that 100% error-correction all the time were effective, just imagine a classroom in which the teacher corrected every utterance/writing of the students! That’d be a messed up, top-down, authoritarian, walking-on-eggshells kind of class for most kids in the room.

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Survey Says…Kids Like Self-Assessment! (et cētera)

Considering how impersonal the year felt, the responses from this end-of-year survey support an early prediction many of us had that learning and growth/development would take place this year after all, though certainly different from what we’ve expected in the past. To be clear, “learning loss” is a myth, and you should stop anyone trying to talk about that dead in their tracks. You simply cannot lose what you never had in the first place. It was a talking point used to get kids into schools ASAP, and nothing more. If students, or even just their learning were truly the priority, the conversation would be about improving living conditions for families at the societal level, as well as fully-funding our public schools.

Anyway, let’s start with the first question on my mind: grading. I’ve settled on the system after experience with a LOT of different ones, but what about students? The open-ended responses explaining what kind of grading students preferred are quite genuine. Scroll through the slideshow to see:

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Bracey For NEA Director, Prep Time, & Prepped For 2021-22

I continue to claim that teachers have the most positive impact on learning when there’s ample time to reflect and prepare. It sounds basic, but this isn’t reality for most. Ideally, for every class hour taught, there should be at least 30min prep time, and bonus if it’s 1:1 (e.g. teach four classes, have four hours to plan, every day). This probably sounds insane, but only because most teachers have been working insane schedules. It’s unhealthy. Most teachers put up with the madness of something like one guaranteed prep period a day, etc., which leaves them kind of screwed if they teach more than one course, which is almost everyone, especially teachers of less-commonly taught languages (LCTL) who prep all levels as a department of one. No wonder there hasn’t been much innovation in education, there’s no time for it! The solution? First of all, teachers should streamline their practices so they don’t waste that precious time doing something like grading, or giving the same feedback over and over that students won’t read, or pretending their code system will make any difference. Beyond that, it takes adequate funding to hire more teachers. That should be a reasonable ask, and is just one of the many reasons why I’m supporting John Bracey as NEA Director in the runoff, who’s vying for fully-funded public schools in Massachusetts among other crucial fights. It’s ridiculous this even has to be part of any campaign at all, right? Fully-funded public education should be the unquestionable foundation of society, period. Vote Bracey. He’ll get that job done.

Anyway, I’ve finally made it to a point in my career where in these last weeks I get everything ready for the fall. I’ve been close to accomplishing that in the past, but there’s always been this August calendar event I set up that goes something like “read this, review that, create this, think about that,” yet there’s usually no time, even for someone like me hyperaware of prep time. Guess what? I already did all that stuff, and consolidated the ideas into this one post so the work is truly done to start 2021-22.

Posters
I sat in the middle of the room, looked around as if I were a student, and updated every poster that was hard to read. Really, what’s the point of having them if kids can’t see them?! Most are now on 11×17 at 120-pt font, with 80-pt English given below the Latin. Clarity is key, and so is comprehension. I’ll be pointing to these posters a LOT to establish meaning, and then even more when cuing it. I’ve also took down posters I couldn’t remember using. Some posters are nice in concept, but I’m just not gonna refer to fractions in Latin, etc. Also, I’ve redesigned my numbers, and put up my “who needs a boost” and “what would you like?” The latter are actually my first new practices I’ll have to be mindful of, which deserves a number, and bold color to draw attention when I check back in here come August. 1) Use Boosts & Quid velīs?

quālitātēs
Since the cognate list has grown to over 700 words, I updated quālitātēs to have *only* cognates, and dropped the English. There are 19 pages with about 160 words organized by positive, neutral, and negative adjectives. My plan is to show students how much Latin they probably already understand, while at the same time introduce English words not in their vocabulary. For example, diabolicum is just too good of a word to avoid using (any fans of The Boys out there?). I’m also going to use these lists more deliberately, like when we describe characters during storytelling. This is another new practice. 2) Use quālitātēs.

Password Now “Weekly Word(s)
This one’s simple. I used to stop students at the door requiring a rotating class password (but really for a quick check-in), and I wouldn’t let them in if they forgot the password. It was kinda fun except for when it wasn’t. The update is a reframing. No passwords, just weekly words now, but I’ll use the same words/phrases that went over well in the past. The very first one has always been “salvē!” which makes sense. However, I’m adding “…sum [___]” to the end so I get to hear how students pronounce their own name for a week. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this sooner!

DEA (Daily Engagement Agreements) Now “Look, Listen, Ask
The update to collecting gradebook evidence that now has a weekly focus on Look, Listen, and Ask means I won’t need to refer to these the way I used to. I’m not even gonna mention the word “rule.” Also, it’s a good thing I wrote about this, because I hadn’t made that Google Form yet. Check! 3) Use new form to collect gradebook evidence on focus areas.

TPR Wall
I’ve never really had much success with Total Physical Response, and haven’t been around students who like to act during collaborative storytelling either (i.e. so no TPRS for me). I’ve just removed all expectations (hopes?) for these things. It’s not the culture here. I’m not gonna force it. Therefore, I cleared up a whole wall that had TPR words, and moved the Look, Listen, and Ask posters over there.

Safety Nets
I’ve already written about this, but it’s worth a reminder that I won’t have to establish the routine.

Digital Fluency Write/Timed Write Form
I’ve been having students type Latin into a Google Form, then count up their words (responses from each class section all link to the same spreadsheet). It turns out there’s a formula =IF(C2=””,””,COUNTA(SPLIT(C2,” “))) that takes care of the counting. Drop it into a column in the spreadsheet, and you’re all set. Check out how close it comes to students counting one-by-one! I still review the student’s writing and adjust for only Latin words & names in that last column, but the formula skips the step of students counting—and miscounting—after writing.

Eval
I’ve been using timed writes for years to show growth. However, I haven’t been totally happy with the measurements used in the teacher evaluation goal setting. For example, if it’s by percentage, some students have increased their word count 1250%, while others by just 5%. If it’s by total word count, some students are writing 89 words, while others are still writing 10. If it’s by word increase, some students have written 74 more words than their first, and others just one or two. Regardless of the measurement, some students start writing a LOT right away, and don’t make much progress because most are just in that plateau of hanging out at Novice High or something. Therefore, I need a more variable goal that takes into account all these situations based on an average of the first three writing samples:

Under 10 will double.
10-30 will increase by 50%.
Over 30 will increase by 25%.

Also, I’ll have to get writing samples early on within a few weeks (not months) so I have a more accurate baseline. I’m also adding two new practices to help increase comprehension when reading, lead to acquisition, and result in higher output. These are alternating between 4) Code-switched Readings and Facing English in addition to full glossaries. Every text will include at least one of these three supports.

Activities
**Update: In particular, I’m gonna be sure to start with Card Talk Stories. This could be 4.5.** Due to remote teaching, I haven’t had much experience with a lot of things on my lists of input-based strategies & activities, and how to get texts. Therefore, I’m not ready to ditch any of them. Also, we’ll have more classes in what should be a more typical year, so I might need to draw from those lists to keep things novel. In particular, I’m thinking of varying reading activities considerably more. So, I’ll be sure to consult the lists when planning. 5) Check lists, weekly.

Syllabus/Learning Plan
For the first time ever in my teaching career, I had the opportunity to review the entire year’s class agendas! I thought I’d end up with a long list of activities and a rough sequence for the year, but no. First of all, I don’t plan more than a day or two in advance, and certainly not more than a week out. Second of all, it turns out I already did some of that work when creating my core practices! However, until I’m familiar with the whole teaching thing next fall—because I DO forget how to teach, every single year—I’ll make it a point to review all those practices: 6) Check out core practices, weekly. Still, looking back at the entire year’s class agendas was helpful. Hands down, I’m keeping “hodiē,” the one doc I open each day and work from, for organization (although I’ll be created a new Google Classroom assignment each week to better help students keep track). Here are some other routines and ideas I found from reviewing the agendas that I want to make sure I include next year:

  • A basic Talk & Read format to each class
  • Start class with date + something else to copy into notebook (statement, story, excerpt, etc.)
  • Use digital class libraries (only print for certain activities)
  • Build in time to read on own (since no more expectations of reading at home)
  • Occasional Flashcard Blitz
  • Brain Breaks
    • JUST a break…lap around school, etc.
    • Rock, Paper, Scissors
    • Higher/Lower prediction w/ cards
    • Which Would You Choose?
    • Fun Facts (but ask as if they were T/F)
  • Use general prompts during novella month (February)
  • Consider January a “reset,” spiraling back down to lower level texts & novellas
  • Do a 1-class CALP more often, and after each novella (poll students on some related topic from the book)

Blog Posts
Also a first in my career, I reviewed every blog post I wrote since last August. Here are various reminders and ideas that might influence the year to come:

Summary
So, here I am. There’s a LOT of stuff in this one post to review come August. After all, I plan to take a full summer break. No PD. No posts?! Maybe. Who knows, but having all my work done in order to set up next year’s success feels real good, and maybe the consolidated resources will help you, too.