Mārcus magulus: Published!

Marcus likes being a young Roman mage, but such a conspicuous combo presents problems in provincial Egypt after he and his parents relocate from Rome. Despite generously offering magical medicine to the locals, this young mage feels like an obvious outsider, sometimes wishing he were invisible. Have you ever felt that way? Marcus searches Egypt for a place to be openly accepted, and even has a run-in with the famously fiendish Sphinx! Can Marcus escape unscathed?

11 cognates + 8 other words!
800 total length

In 2017, I heard Jason Fritze say that “TPRS is basically the art of communicating using no words.” I’ve been drawing from that quote for years, writing stories with as “no words” as possible. This book truly pushes those limits. If you or your students have found any success with the ultra-early beginner Rūfus lutulentus, this new Mārcus magulus will not disappoint. The former will still have its place in the FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library. However, effective immediately, Mārcus will replace Rūfus as the very first whole-class novella we read for 2021 and beyond. This new book is shorter, more engaging and intriguing (i.e. moves along quickly!), and comes out even a bit easier—if you could believe that! The audiobook also features a noticeably slower speech rate. Michael Sintros (Duinneall) has done another amazing job on the music. Here are excerpts:

Chapter 1 Excerpt
Chapter 4 Excerpt
Chapter 5 Excerpt
Chapter 6 Excerpt
Chapter 7 Excerpt

Mārcus magulus also has a few new features. There are two lists after chapters two and five that include summaries of what’s been learned so far. These short statements can be used to check understanding while building a sense of Marcus’ experience in Egypt. There are also some post-reading discussion questions that I’ve redacted in the screenshot below so as to not spoil the book.

  1. For Sets, Packs, eBooks, and USB Audio, order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs
  4. Digital Audiobook

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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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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Lowering Anxiety & Priority #1: Every Kid Starring In Their Own Story

I had so much success with Slide Talk, the digital version of Card Talk, that I thought it would replace Card talk entirely. Well, some insight from Sr. Sedge has got me thinking that analog pencil—paper Card Talk still has it’s merits, especially at the start of the year.

Names
Again, the digital Slide Talk is awesome for what kids bring to their slides (vs. stick figures), but I didn’t consider how I’d memorize names of students without a physical card right in front of me. After all, it will have been over two years since I began the school year in person, right?!

Starting Seating Plan & Starting Activity
In addition to learning names, there’s an idea Sr. Sedge brought up about a starting seating plan, and starting activity so kids just aren’t looking around. In fact, the First Day Anxieties is one of the more interesting pages I’ve seen on a CI site. The paper Sr. Sedge shares isn’t just Krashen this, and Krashen that. This is refreshing, not only because it’d be wise for many of us to expand our quote sources, but also because we know the affective filter is the least sciency part of the monitor model, and is an easy target for the haters. But lowering anxiety, in general, is a very good idea. I must admit that I never quite thought of how nervous it can be to walk in the room on the first day—a little late even—being told to choose a seat (“oh gods, just like the lunchroom!”), and then just sit there while we stall until it seems all students are there.

Class Photographer
This is an excellent class job for anyone doing some kind of collaborative storytelling with acting. To be honest, I don’t think it will work well in my context without actors. What would students take a picture of?!

Card Talk Stories & Everyone’s Awesome
This is it. This is the one. This is the one new take on something that makes the world of difference. Although we would scroll through student slides when fishing for details in a class story, Sr. Sedge uses Card Talk to write a story about each student! Now, I’ve had massive success at the start of the year by typing up details of students after the first day so we have a personalized class text right way. That’s a keeper, and that’s something I’ll spend prep time on, myself. However, it never occurred to me to turn student interests into mini story activity during class, even the type-up of the story. Amazing, right? N.B. unlike Write & Discuss/Type & talk, note-taking of the story is optional. I can understand that, especially if this ends up in a digital class library. This addition to the statements not only results in a lot more contextualized input, but it also begins to awaking creativity. All it takes is a few key words to make some comparisons because in these stories, everyone’s awesome at what they do in class. Sr. Sedge explicitly states that. So, you end up with a kid into soccer being better than a pro. You have a kid who likes to read end up reading more than everyone on Earth, etc. This is actually crucial when creating a nice little story. Watch Sr. Sedge explain.

Here’s an example story. The English translation follows below…

  • James plays a lot of video games (i.e., “Class, James plays a lot of video games. What kind?”).
  • James goes to a grocery store to the cereal section and plays Grand Theft Auto 5 (i.e., “Class, where is James? Where does James play video games?”).
  • Ellen DeGeneres comes in (i.e., “Class, who is James with?”).
  • Ellen asks what James is doing (i.e., “Class, what does Ellen say?”).
  • James says he’s playing Grand Theft Auto 5 (i.e., “Class, what does James say?”).
  • Ellen and James play (i.e., “Class, what does Ellen do?” or “Does Ellen play GTA5, too?”).
  • James wins (because every student is awesome).

Notice what few questions need to be asked in order to get at a simple story. I wouldn’t even say there’s a conflict in these short stories, and that’s fine. If the story is about sport, the kid wins. If the story is about food, the kid eats the food. Make sure to ask “where?,” and “with whom?,” and add a bit of dialogue. Just ask questions and use answers (AQUA). Also, don’t be afraid to add new details when typing up. That’s a classic way to keep interest going. Thanks Sr. Sedge!

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.

No More Reading At Home! & Look, Listen, Ask: What’s Your Focus?

On my path towards simplifying everything I possibly can about teaching, this next grading idea is quite promising. Don’t get me wrong, my expectations-based grading rubric has worked wonders in terms of flexibility, equity, and efficiency. This new idea just complements the rubric by aligning more of what is expected during class with arriving at the course grade. It also adds more varied gradebook evidence.

In this most-unusual of teaching years, one problem we ran into was how to get evidence of learning, especially when students weren’t in class. The best solution I used was called My Time, the form students filled out to get equal credit by reading on their own and showing their understanding. Otherwise, the typical evidence I collected was fairly simple: upload/share a picture of the day’s “work” done in the notebook. At some point, though, I noticed that students weren’t reading daily from the digital class library—a major course expectation—so I replaced that weekly notebook pic with checking the digital library (Google Doc) and reporting how many days students accessed it. To my disappointment, though not to my surprise, very few students were spending any time at all in the Google Doc. Admittedly, there’s no way to know if the students who did WERE reading, and we gotta take that on faith, but the majority weren’t even accessing the document! So, effective immediately, I’m removing all expectations of students reading at home. This is BIG! However, I’m still maintaining the expectation of reading something old and something new, every day which means the adjustment is to build this into class time for about 5-10 minutes. This is different from FVR (Free Voluntary Reading), which lasts 15-20 on one to two days a week. I like “Free Reading Fridays” and then “Read Whatever Wednesdays” when it really gets rolling. Also, it doesn’t matter if a kid goes home to a peaceful room and naps, then spends hours reading for school, if they go directly to a part-time job, or if they take care of family members. This update is more equitable, and maintains a focus on reading. A simple Google Form follow-up (“What Did You Read?”) is evidence for the gradebook.

But the brain craves novelty

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Rethinking Safety Nets: Do We NEED Them?!

I was looking at some posters in my classroom last week and stopped at the Safety Nets signals (i.e. “unclear,” “write it,” and “too fast”). Honestly, I cannot recall the last time a student used them. I have no memory of the situation, or what year it was, and I have a pretty good memory. Is this stuff too pedantic for high school kids? Or worse, is it not culturally responsive? Yeah, maybe….

In reality, I’ve had one major safety net this entire time teaching communicatively: English (L1/native). That’s because I don’t pretend class should be exclusively in the target language. It doesn’t need to be, and maybe shouldn’t be in most contexts. Still, let’s say going full-immersion to near-immersion were just a neutral teacher preference. Well, I’ve never preferred it, even when I tried it. I did try it, too, having misunderstood “CI” teaching in the beginning to mean “speaking all the time”—a misunderstanding that persists with new teachers or new-to-CI teachers today. When I had a “no English rule,” there was always something nagging me about that role-play that didn’t quite sit well. I even have a short video used in grad school for the EdTPA requirement with students miming to each other attempting to express some basic idea because there was a “no English” rule. It’s downright embarrassing (no, I won’t share that vid, nice try), and proof of how ineffective something forced can be—whatever it is.

So in the classroom last week, it hit me: I’ve always used English to check comprehension (i.e. “what does X mean?”), even when there was some expectation of target language use (or even that old “no English” policing rule). So it follows…

  • Why have I been asking students to do anything different?!
  • Why do we need special signals students have to learn and be comfortable doing to show incomprehension?!
  • Why am I pretending I can’t tell when students have NO clue what’s going on?!

That last one is a striking reflection. I’m never surprised when something confuses students. I can literally see it, and I can even anticipate it. All I need is a perplexed look, blank stare, or “hey Mister, wait!” from the more outgoing ones. The more I think about it, the more I realize all of the safety nets meant to help slow-processing students actually just made it harder for the shy ones, forced to let all their classmates know they don’t get it. Our work as a staff regarding equity does make me question safety nets, too. Although the intention of making class more equitable from a comprehension standpoint by using signals makes sense, we gotta ask ourselves: Do these ever work? For everyone A short answer in the best contexts is “sure,” although I know that beyond the first week of classes or so, it became one of those routines that feel like work and just faded away—like the “Who?” student job that gets old real fast! The safety net thing might be something teachers do well during demos. However, demos are great for convincing teachers to use best practices when teachers can *feel* like a student again. Safety nets might also work really well when teachers participate as students in demos or beginner language classes. However, teachers tend to have about 8,000% more interest and motivation than your typical student. In sum, we know that demos and the teacher-as-student experience aren’t always the best contexts for modelling what we do with students in our own classrooms, so keep that in mind!

So, goodbye safety nets!