Input & Interaction: Tea with BVP 10.20.16

Listen to highlights from the latest show for more on these Second Language Acquisition (SLA) takeaways.

There are two main camps, and one outlier when it comes to the role of Input and Interaction in SLA. Both assume Input is necessary. However, there are those who believe…

1) Interaction is absolutely necessary in addition to Input.
2) Interaction is beneficial, but not necessary.
3) Interaction isn’t beneficial at all (very few believe this).

A good place to start is defining Interaction, which Bill gave us as “NOT forced speech, but 2+ people demonstrating that they are involved in meaning making (e.g. speaking, facial/eye expression, nodding, other gesturing, etc.)”

A caller brought up the point that Interaction between the teacher and students is under scrutiny by those looking for students to do more of the communicating. After all, it certainly “looks” like lecturing, but Bill’s Principle #2 of a definition for communication (i.e. interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning in a given context) supports the process of a teacher expressing ideas to students who interpret those ideas is, most certainly, communication! Bill’s best advice is to “talk with, not talk at” your students. He further warns “if you say 2+ sentences without involving students, you’re doing something wrong.” I see this play out well when teachers circle tactfully. The teachers asks many questions and repeats student answers in order to increase exposure to input, but the students are involved and interacting. I see this play out not-so-well when teachers frequently restart a story from the beginning, or continuously retell the events without new ideas or questions with new information. So, 2+ sentences, then checking in with students is a GOOD strategy.

So, where does Bill stand on the role of Interaction? When learners signal that input is NOT comprehensible, their interaction leads to more comprehensible input, but clarification and negotiation are not needed all the time. Like Stephen Krashen and authors of Angelika’s quote,  Bill agrees that the role of Interaction does not CAUSE acquisition, but it can be beneficial, placing him in camp #2.



High-Frequency: a Concept, not Stats

Recently, John Piazza reminded me of Bill VanPatten’s definition of “high-frequency vocabulary” as vocabulary used often in a particular context.

The classroom context is very important. I can tell you that pater, though the 84th most frequent Latin word (according to Logeion), doesn’t come up much in my classes. You know what does? saccus pyraulocinēticus, meaning “jet pack.” Honestly, I don’t blame kids for finding a reason to sneak that into class, and I don’t mind one bit because a) we can show how Latin works with saccus pyraulocinēticus just as much as we can pater, and b) because it’s pure buy-in that makes Latin class fun.

The high-frequency lists are useful, but don’t forget that those lists are based on literature. Realize, then, that most of your students, if not nearly all, will NEVER read Latin literature. If your class is truly communicative, vocabulary used in your room each day will be relevant to students and their interests. Once you move beyond the Quaint Quīntum, Awesome Octō, Sweet Sēdecim, Top 32, Most Important 51, etc., the “high-frequency list” words you CHOOSE to use in class might be in vain, especially if they aren’t compelling, or worse, somehow causing grief in an effort to “get through” or “cover” words that appear in X, Y, and or Z.

2016-17 DEA

**See this post for all other grading schemes*

In its current form, there are only 3 agreements as part of the Daily Engagement Agreements (DEA), which are to Look, Listen, and Ask. Older versions of DEA had many more, but the 0% Portfolio grading category I now include Powerschool takes care of assignments previously covered under “Be Prepared,” and anything else I need to keep track of.  There’s no need for “No English” because “Listen” covers that. There’s no need for posture agreements because “Look” covers that. Last week a student was lying down between two chairs yet could read the board and was responding with the entire class. This kid understood Latin and was participating…he was just tired. An older system would have made that an issue when there wasn’t an issue. For me, DEA is super streamlined at this point, which means super clear for DAPS (department heads, admin, parents, students).

In terms of weighting, I ended up using last year’s sliding scale idea. Previously, I’ve written how my DEA weight had been anywhere from 0% to 50% of the grade. Colleagues at my new school liked the new sliding scale, but were a little uncomfortable with the 100/0 and 0/100 percentages at the start and end of the year. No problem. After a simple edit, the scale does slide, but at a 90/10, and 10/90 split to include at least a little bit of both DEA and Proficiency. I like this one because DEA now holds most of the weight for half the year, and is equal to Proficiency in 3rd quarter. After all, if students are Looking, Listening, and Asking when they don’t understand, they’ll acquire enough language to “understand most of what they hear and read,” which is honestly the most realistic expectation we could have, and is reflected in that 90% Proficiency weight in June.

N.B. if, somehow, students don’t Look, Listen, or Ask and STILL understand, just don’t take off DEA points!

Quarter 1
DEA = 90%
Proficiency = 10%

Quarter 2
DEA = 75%
Proficiency = 25%

Quarter 3
DEA = 50%
Proficiency = 50%

Quarter 4
DEA = 10%
Proficiency = 90%


Lingua Latīna: LOVE the textbook, but is it right for my students?


Lingua Latīna per sē Illustrāta (LLPSI), the Latin textbook entirely in Latin, has a cult following. I understand the appeal. Personally, I love it, and am currently rereading it for the nth time. Still, I’m wary whenever people suggest LLPSI as the panacea to common pedagogical problems, or assume it’s the most appropriate resource to use when teaching Latin communicatively. Again, I understand, but LLPSI is still a textbook, and comes with every downside of using a textbook to teach communicatively.

The majority of its users hold the series in such high esteem that it’s often the only resource used, and very few teachers use LLPSI along with other materials, probably because its so well self-contained, though I do know some teachers who keep it on hand for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). Even then, it’s clear that the narrative is part of a textbook designed to teach Latin grammar—not necessarily a compelling story—which is the kind of thing most people don’t read for fun. LLPSI certainly has its moments, but reading a narrative designed to teach over 30 forms of the pronouns quis, quī, is, ille, and hic all in Capitulum VIII gets old real fast.

The success of LLPSI relies on its AMAZING (don’t get me wrong) methodical design, but it tends to only reach a small few, at least in public high school with students of average to high interest in Latin (not absurdly off the scale like most Latin teachers). Why isn’t it suitable for my students? First and foremost, I don’t teach according to a grammatical syllabus. Personally, I find it unethical, at least when teaching for acquisition is the goal. Vocabulary is also a major problem…

The first chapter of LLPSI has 42 words. Since the rest of the book uses many (but not all) of those first 42 words to define and provide context for new words, understanding must be quite high (like 98% high). Chapter 2 has 35 new words, but only repeats 21 from the first chapter (i.e. Rōmānus, est, quoque, et, sunt, nōn, sed, in, parvus, duo, trēs, magnus, multī, ūnus, fluvius, īnsula, prīmus, secundus, tertius, capitulum, vocābulum), and many of those are recycled just once or twice aside from the function words. Chapter 3 unleashes another 36 words. This time, only 8 words from the first chapter are recycled (i.e. est, nōn, sed, in, quid?, et, ubi?, parva) and 4 from chapter 2 (māter, pater, puella, puer). So, by the time students reach chapter 4, they will have been exposed to 113 words, 8 of which they’ve seen most. That’s what we call a vocabulary problem.

I was reading LLPSI at a coffee shop recently, and a random person began talking to me about language pedagogy. When I mentioned that LLPSI is easily the best resource for the autodidact wishing to learn about Latin but that the vocabulary introduced was too much too soon when it comes to acquisition, he said “well that’s the problem with learning languages, right?” My reply was “yeah, so don’t do it. If you don’t use too many words it’s not a problem.” The thought never occurred to him. He honestly thought that learning languages had to involve flash cards and struggle (he might be true re: learning vs. acquiring). 

The key to using LLPSI in high school is straightforward; “just memorize what words mean, study paradigms, and respondē Latīnē.” Easier said than done. LLPSI is an excellent textbook for sponges—the problem is that most people aren’t sponges. LLPSI is also excellent for people who have developed some mental representation of the language ( = acquired), which mostly includes Latin teachers who have been to immersion events, but NOT their students. My advice? Buy LLPSI and read it because it’s awesome, but before you rush out to use the textbook that YOU love so much, ask whether it (or ANY resource, for that matter) is right for your students.

Stultus: Crowd Control

“Stultus” is not a word I want thrown around class. Sure, it’s National Bullying Prevention Month, but the fundamental reason why I can’t have students yelling at me when I make a mistake or error as part of the comprehension activity is because mistakes and errors are welcome in my class. I would be sending the wrong message, however gratifying and novel it might seem to call the teacher “stupid,” if I allowed that in my room. N.B. I must emphasize MY room, because I know that Stultus works out just fine elsewhere.

So, my adaptation has been to rename the activity “Magister Mendāx!” The process is the same, but the results are a bit more suited to me and my students. When I say something that’s simply not true (e.g. “Trump reads a lot” when the Latin reads “Trump nōn legit”), the students yell out “liar!” I like that the adaptation is not a judgement of my ability, I don’t have to pretend to not understand, and they still get a fun word we can use in class and in stories.

Saving Stories: Retell Pre-Load

OK, so you’ve taken the first step of switching gears because NO ONE wants to suffer through a stale story retell between storyasking days or between brain breaks, but what if that story was pretty good? Should you scrap it and move on? Here’s one strategy to save a stale story retell…

We started a story towards the end of class on Friday because, well, because it was Friday and compelling diversions can often be better than anything we had planned. Monday arrived. Unsurprisingly, the class was a bit hazy on details over the weekend. N.B. no, it doesn’t matter that one or two kids remembered every little thing—teaching with CI is about including ALL students. After a retell that produced even better details (as well as a longer-than-usual brain break), we ran out of time to finish the story, which was nowhere close to being done. I don’t blame anything—it was only the second class story of the year so students have been in that phase of getting comfortable with what nearly complete control over co-creating a story feels like. In addition to being heavy on details, and light on plot with virtually no time left to class, 5 students were absent. Was I really going to start the next class by retelling, or having students retell what we had so far? Nope.

Class Story Intro/Background Info
I’ve written about the importance of parallel stories, but we can get some mileage out of reading the actual class story provided that we don’t beat it to death by reading the whole thing. Reports from the field suggest that stories start to wane, and a big reason is because things start to feel routine right down to reading the same story (which is where most of our power comes from).

Instead of asking/telling a story and then reading all of it verbatim, I pre-loaded my retell by typing up the beginning details and background information, but that’s it. We began class with a choral translation before finishing the story during the rest of class. You could bet that there were questions from the absent kids (which is great because that means they’re buying into DEA), and that meant even more input for the other students.

This was enough of a change up to not feel like the “same old same old” we had been doing for three days, and allowed me the opportunity to assist those absent students a little more directly while keeping the interest of the others who had been there all three days. Give it a try!

Lost in the Shuffle: Rhythmic Fluency

So much of this blog is CI-centered, but there’s a neglected tab on the navigator bar devoted to what I’ve called Rhythmic Fluency. Since I’m now teaching Latin IV (Ovid & Catullus), I’ve gone back to my rhythmic roots, and am seeing the power of those earlier metrical resources combined with my classes now containing more comprehensible Latin. Pīsō Ille Poētulus (already greatly improved since sharing a couple weeks ago) includes 22 lines of original dactylic hexameter using a limited vocabulary, thus increasing its comprehensibility potential. It is scheduled for November publication so you can brush up on your rhythmic fluency beforehand by listening to the dactylic hexameter audio files, and be prepared to read Pīsō with your students in a more compelling way by actually focusing on the meter using a resource they can hear and recite along with!

In addition to that audio, of particular interest and effectiveness is Lingua Latīna, the Latin Poetry Rhythm Card GameIf you noticed, the title of the game represents the traditional 5th  & 6th foot of dactylic hexameter (i.e. — u u — —). The point of the game is to run out of cards by playing 2-3 words that form the very same rhythm of the phrase, Lingua Latīna.

I’ll be using this game throughout the year. A good way to use it would be to treat it exactly like you would a game of VERBA, either whole class first then in small groups so you can monitor, or as just one of several station options.