Basics: Current Ideas & Summary of Recurring Blog Posts

All Of My Daily Activities, etc.
– input-based strategies & activities

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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Draw & Discuss [Collaborative] Storytelling

Last year, I observed Emma Vanderpool’s class for about 20 minutes of storytelling. What I saw was a combination of storytelling while drawing (e.g., Storylistening), and Write & Discuss/Type ‘n Talk. Emma told the story of Romulus & Remus as students listened as they copied her drawings and any Latin she wrote on the board to accompany the story. She asked questions between all the statements and drawing, and established meaning of new words right on the board. The result was a smash doodle kind of collage. The experience was input-rich and highly comprehensible. Students were actively listening, drawing, responding, and asking for clarification.

Last week, I observed my student teacher run the same activity for Latin 1 students with a version of Berg’s ursa story from this month’s Writing Challenge #2. The experience was a hit, and just as effective. It was almost pacifying, too, like a waaaaaaaaay more interesting dictatio, and I plan to do this a lot more throughout the year. I also got thinking how this could easily be turned into collaborative storytelling, giving each student something to do while the story unfolds: draw! Perhaps part the story is established, and I do Draw & Discuss for half the time, then start storyasking details. I draw, they draw, etc.

Writing Challenge #3: Description

As we’re winding down the month’s writing challenges, let’s recognize that over just a couple weeks, contributors produced nearly 3,000 words of Latin for the beginner. These short stories share some themes and common vocab. Not bad at all! While sheltering vocab is not everything, it’s most things, but let’s add something onto keeping word count low, shall we? Descriptions. Among other uses of description, a character’s quality or how they do some action becomes an instant question for students: “are you also like the character?” or “would you do things the same way?”

So, Challenge #3 is to write a highly descriptive short story using as few of the following core verbs and function words as possible in order to focus on description:

  • esse, habēre, velle, īre, placēre
  • et, quoque, quia, sed
  • ā/ab, ad, cum, ē/ex, in
  • ergō, iam, nōn, subitō, valdē

For Challenge #3, there will be an overall unique word limit (excluding names, and different forms of words). Also, don’t forget about referring to the cognate list for adjectives, and don’t forget to make adverbs from them!

BOSS level sheltering: no more than 15 words
CONFIDENT level sheltering: no more than 25 words
NOOB level sheltering: no more than 35 words

Here’s the link for Challenge #3. And here’s where I’ll put the stories once they start rolling in.

Comprehension Establishers & Question Types/Possibilities

I end up learning at least one thing each year from my student teachers, whether it’s some insight while observing, some reflection when we’re planning, or some new activity or strategy they suggest. Here’s a revelation worth looking into…

When scripting out some questions back in October, one example I gave was asking “class, which word means ‘again?’ Is it aliquid or iterum?” After a few more like this, my student teacher said “oh, it’s kind of like a comprehension check acting as a comprehension…establisher.” I paused for a moment, then realized yes, that’s exactly what that is. She put a name to what I’ve been doing for years, going way back to the 2016 sneaky quizzes when I’d use the T/F statements to establish meaning of words.

Comprehension Establishers establish meaning in the form of a question.

The difference in purpose between comprehension checks and establishers is subtle. Establishers aren’t intended to evaluate student understanding. They’re asked in a way that all but guarantees students make a form-meaning connection (e.g., “What word means ‘obscure,’ nocte or obscūra?”). A comprehension check, however, is often exactly that: to check whether a student understands, and if they don’t, then we establish meaning right away. In that sense, can an establisher bypass the check and then establishing meaning? Absolutely, but then there’s variety to consider. Might as well get some experience with both.

Question Types/Possibilities
Also discovered when scripting out some questions, it became clear to me that there are often too many possibilities. Instead of brainstorming every possible one, it’s probably more beneficial to settle on a couple question types and cycle through them while reading. For example, using one sentence, Mārcus ōrdinārius esse nōn vult, we could ask each of the following:

Contrary-To-Fact Personalized Q: vellēsne esse ōrdinārius?
Comprehension Establisher Q: Which word means “to be,” esse or vult?
Comprehension Checks: What does esse mean?
Content Q: What does Marcus not want?

But should we ask that many questions for one sentence? If so, should we ask all four questions for EVERY sentence in the chapter? I’m thinking “no,” and “no.” While on the one hand it would appear to provide the student with a great deal of support, on the other hand this process would drag out quite a bit. My recommendation would be to ask just ONE of those question types PER sentence and see how it feels. You might find that even one of those questions per sentence ends up being too many while reading. If so, scale it back to a question per section of two-three sentences, and then just cycle through the four question types. For example, if a short chapter has eight sections of sentences, you’ll ask a comprehension establisher q, a comprehension check, a contrary-to-fact personalized q, a content q, and then repeat. My advice is to identify the contrary-to-fact personalized q’s first, since it doesn’t always make sense to ask those. Then, fill in the rest. Print these out, and stick them in the book you’re reading. Remember, unused scripts already served a purpose: to get you thinking of how and what to ask students.

Pīsō senex et sempermūtābilisyllabī: Published!

Piso has grown old. For years, people have been telling Piso how to write his own poetry. They’ve wanted it to sound like the legendary poet, Vergilimartivenallus, widely considered the GOAT, but Piso doesn’t take suggestions from those who don’t write any poetry of their own. Besides, that would change Piso’s verses into something they aren’t—someone else’s. He’s got plenty of advocates, anyway. But the mob persists, and keeps trying to get Piso to change how he writes. Mysteriously, the more Piso tries to write in his own voice, the more things start to get a bit…Strange.

18 cognates, 26 other words
800 total length

Who wants satire? I do, I do! You should know that no hexameter was harmed in the writing of this novellula (<– that word is even in the subtitle). In fact, we skipped the meter [almost] entirely. That’s basically it. Oh, and if you’re familiar with Pīsō et Syra et pōtiōnēs mysticae, and/or a personal favorite, diāria sīderum, there’s some stuff in here for ya. So, let’s welcome another <50-word tiny little book to the collection.

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs

Writing Workshop & Challenge #2

People have all sorts of things to say about the Latin being written these days. Sure enough, the vocabulary decisions I made for writing Challenge #1 were questioned almost immediately. While there’s no need to defend any of those decisions, it’s definitely worth looking at why those “core” 19 words were chosen and how they’re useful for storytelling. So before we get to Challenge #2, consider this a mini little writing workshop. Cui dono…? No one in particular. Let’s take a look at those words…

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November Writing Challenges

I’m a big fan of process over product—so much so that I don’t love sharing a bunch of ready-to-go class texts. I’ve been hesitant because the process of creating a text together as a class is more important than teachers having a print-and-go option. Granted, some of those for cultural exploration are available despite strongly encouraging teachers to focus on the process of writing their own. This all goes back to the #ACL100 presentation I gave with John Piazza and John Bracey, with contributions from David Maust. We showed how to do that under a “connect, explore, create” framework. Check out the Slides if you missed them.

Why the fuss? The idea is simple: when teachers don’t know what to do, they take anything pre-made and use it. Sure, this accomplishes one thing, the end, but what about the means? When the point is going through some kind of process that results in those products, it makes sense to focus on supporting teachers honing those skills. This is goal #1 of this post. For goal #2, I’ve been writing Latin using very, very few words, but my students could use more voices than just my own! Latin novellas being published still span quite the range. How about some more books at the lowest of levels?

Writing Challenges
November is time for the national writing month trend, so I thought it’d be a good way to get more teachers writing fewer words of Latin. At first glance, that doesn’t seem right, but what I’m talking about is setting parameters like writing a very short text using 20 unique words. I encourage teachers to use whatever grammar they need to express ideas, especially those that tend to be delayed until “advanced” study. However, sheltering grammar is a lot easier than limiting the number of words used to tell a story. Sheltering vocabulary is a particular skill that gets us the most leverage, but takes some practice. Let’s hone that. Consider this self-directed PD.

So, over the next weeks I’ll be adding some challenges to the Latin teaching community, for the Latin teaching & learning community. Submissions will be anonymous—or not—and the spreadsheet will be shared with everyone to view, copy, and read. That means if 10 Latin teachers each submit a short story using a particular set of words and some parameters, every Latin teacher with the link will have the option of reading any number of them with their classes. The best part? We can reasonably expect the texts to be of a similar level given the parameters. Latin 1 is about to get a whole lot of reading options. Well, maybe. That all depends if you’re up for the challenge!

Challenge #1
Write a short story about an animal using any of the following core verbs and function words:

  • esse, habēre, velle, īre, placēre
  • et, quoque, quia, sed
  • ā/ab, ad, cum, ē/ex, in
  • ergō, iam, nōn, subitō, valdē

Plus, the following additional words (excluding names, and different forms of words), scalable to your challenge level:

BOSS level sheltering: no more than 5 additional words
CONFIDENT level sheltering: no more than 10 additional words
NOOB level sheltering: no more than 15 additional words

Here’s the form for Writing Challenge #1. And here’s where I’ll put the stories once they start rolling in.

FAQs

How do I begin?!
If you’ve never written Latin for the beginner by sheltering vocabulary, start with three basic sentences. From there, fill in some details, and start to repeat words in different combinations of sentences. Break up longer ones into two or more, adding a new detail to each one. Count up everything, then add/remove individual words and sentences to get your story.

What if I use “nunc” instead of “iam?”
Bro, just submit using “iam,” then change your own text by doing a quick ALT+F (or whatever) to replace with words you use, or words your textbook/department forces you to use. Same goes for adapting other contributors’ stories.

How few is too few?
There really isn’t a bottom to this. If you can write a paragraph of Latin using five words from the core/function list and manage to use only two additional words, do it! A very short story using under 10 words is certainly BOSS level sheltering, and it’s gonna be SUPER helpful for beginning Latin readers.

How long?
Good question. A story with the full 34 words that amounts to just four short sentences isn’t gonna help beginning students very much. The key is to recycle words so they come up more than once, twice, thrice, or more! Maybe the result is a full page, big font, with each sentence on its own line. Maybe that’s block text of two to three paragraphs long. Depends your sheltering level. If you do manage to use just 10 of those words, you’re gonna run out of things to say at a certain point.

What kind of additional words?
I have no interest in getting into a semantic debate about any word, whatsoever. If it’s Latin, and appears somewhere, and you could make a reasonable case for using it (but no one’s gonna ask you to do so), use it. If all your students are native French speakers and you want to use 15 other words that look a lot like French ones, please do. Remember, anyone who contributes can grab any story and adapt it however they see fit. I might take your uber-Classical vocab and riddle it with late-Latin. Your choice & my choice.

0 To 130: Seven Years Of Latin Novellas

In August of 2020, I wrote 0 To 70: Five Years Of Latin Novellas. Well, here we are just two years later having nearly doubled that number!!!! I’ve got two more coming out this year as well, so I’m betting it won’t be long until we hit that 140 mark.

Novellas are no joke. While the majority of teachers who discuss them are K-12, I know of at least one teacher prep program that’s been giving attention to these “new” resources in methods (etc.) courses, as well as various college professors listing them as required texts for their own students to read. This summer, I even learned that my cousin’s wife read an Olimpi book as part of a Midwest Philosophy grad program. And as more novellas make their way into classrooms, teachers and professors are tweaking how they use them. Here are my own findings…

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The Problem With Circling & Solutions For Questioning

Circling isn’t an activity (e.g., “OK class, let’s answer some circling questions”) or something you plan to last 20 minutes during the next class. It’s a strategy, and Von Ray was right. In 2017, he told a small room of TPRS workshop participants if there’s no breakdown [in processing the language], we don’t circle. The strategy was developed as part of collaborative storytelling. No wonder that’s the context in which it works best! Sure, any language learner will benefit from getting micro-exposure to a small set of words, which is what takes place during circling and during the TPRS 2.0 update of triangling (i.e., circling with 3rd, 1st, and 2nd verb persons). Yet, there are times when circling falls flat…

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“Lowered Expectations”

There appears somewhere, in some publication, the following quote:

“…though he does not lower his expectations and students really do still have to memorize things.”

The source isn’t important. The “he” doesn’t matter (it’s not me, btw). It’s the rest of this statement that deserves a duly critique, not an ad hominem. Shall we?

Assumptions
In my research, I’ve been learning about “positionality,” which is making one’s interests, motivations, and assumptions known. I’ve also heard these referred to as “priors.” A researcher’s assumptions might be found in their theoretic framework section, which allows readers to understand the perspective, and situate the entire study. For example, the same study could be conducted by two teachers: one whose theoretical framework supports comprehension-based language teaching, and another who rejects that. Everything, from the epistemological view to the research question(s), data collection, interview protocol, analysis and interpretation—all of it—rests upon one’s assumptions. Well, in unpacking the quote above, we can identify three assumptions:

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Start Here

The most useful professional development (PD) I’ve had over these past 10 years in education has been from presentations, workshops, and blogs that have given me a “start here.” It’s usually in the form of someone figuring out a really effective way to do something, then putting it into some kind of ready-to-go format, whether that’s a packaged method, or list of steps. The “start here” works because it’s the culmination of trial, error, and revision. The “start here” works because it represents the essential. When I’ve used someone else’s “start here,” it’s been really effective. Naturally, there’s adaptation and I’ve been able to put my own spin on things, but only after I’ve implemented whatever was presented to me. So what’s the problem?

Some teachers begin to change the “start here” right away.

For example, if I share a cocktail recipe with you called “The Lance Drink,” and upon seeing .25oz Sfumato in the ingredients you decide to just leave it out, you haven’t actually made The Lance Drink. You’ve certainly made a cocktail. It’s close, but something else. You’ve mixed together ingredients of which the outcome is unknown…and there’s a good chance it might not turn out very good. Let’s say you love vodka. It’s in every cocktail you make, no matter what. When I give you my recipe, you sub vodka for The Lance Drink’s rye base. Why? That’s what you’ve always used. It’s what you’ve always done. So you mix…you sip…but you immediately spit it out because vodka is a horrible combination with the other ingredients. You might even say “gee, this Lance Drink isn’t so great.”

Teaching is a bit like that.

Instead of going with something tried and true, teachers tend to hold onto stuff that just doesn’t mix, not giving the “start here” a real chance. Sometimes, they might go as far as to claim that the “start here” doesn’t work (or whatever), mischaracterizing whatever was presented to them. In the worst of cases, other teachers that never got the original “start here” just listen to the ones who changed something right away, and shun the changed version before they can try the original, effective one.

The next steps—for anyone who works with these teachers—become searching for how to reconcile old principles in the changed version with new ones that the original “start here” was based on. Sometimes there’s no solution. The principles are too conflicting. Sad. Yet it all could’ve been avoided by just taking the “start here” and rolling with it. I’ve actually heard back from teachers who’ve experienced both, mostly when it comes to grading practices. Instead of rolling with the “start here,” they tried some weird combo, thought things didn’t work, then gave up only to revert to old ways. Then, sometime later, they gave things another try—exactly how it was presented—and come to find out they’re all of a sudden embracing the change. Again, it all could’ve been avoided.

So, in sticking with the metaphor, what’s your vodka? Let go of that, and why not give rye a try next time?