Since I began teaching a language, it’s been pretty hard letting go of the graduate school generic UbyD planning mindset, and spending less time working on administrator-desired posted Objectives (see Terry Waltz’s answer for this). These and various other educational processes sap our time that otherwise should be spent on honing our craft, and really, really getting to know our students and their needs. The hardest, but perhaps most fruitful thing to let go is the Lesson Plan, and just discuss something non-targeted in Latin. I know, it sounds crazy, right? Read on…
I had a list of phrases I wanted my students to acquire, and we began class as usual with an overview of the date, and weather (a student job) before moving into a little Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA).
Here’s where the magic happened.
A student asked me why I wasn’t in school earlier in the week, so I mentioned that I took a day off because I had a few personal days remaining. While I could have gone onto the lesson, I decided to stay put. I remember thinking that I felt confident I could explain how our teacher free days worked, since the students appeared slightly interested (for whatever reason) in my day off as a real person. So I did. After about a minute, one kid blurted out “wait, what are we doing? What does this have to do with Latin?” Acknowledging that I may have over shared or lost them along the way, I said “oh, OK, let’s start the lesson.” To my surprise, many students protested. Addressing the blurting student, I said “I was just telling you about my day in Latin, but we could certainly move onto other stuff.” At that moment, the student seemed to understand, and asked me to continue. There were a few more questions, then I launched into the lesson, and introduced my planned phrases.
One of our phrases included the word for “sheep,” since it appeared in a passage (I know, I know, not a great reason to use it). Now, instead of forcing students to answer circled questions about sheep, something happened. I can’t even remember how, but the students began wondering what it’d be like if “sheep” were a verb. They actually wanted to create and conjugate a verb. I had never explicitly taught them how to do this, but since they asked, I rolled with it. The Latin word for “sheep” is ovis, so they decided to go with ovīre for “to sheep,” etc. Then, we had a discussion, in Latin, about what it actually meant. The students determined that it should mean “to conform.” One student said that ovis, “sheep,” reminded him of ōvum, “egg.” As if one fabricated verb were enough, they clamored for another, this time meaning “to egg ____,” like during Halloween. They settled on ōviāre.
Before I knew it, most of class had gone by, completely in Latin aside from the suggested English meanings. All of a sudden, there was another blurt “wait, so we’re just making up Latin verbs today?” I had to stop class, not out of anger or anything, but to make a point about the difference between a lecture and discourse (video created well before I knew about non-targeted input, etc.), and how they can hijack class ANYTIME THEY WANT as long as we were making use of Latin. So I quickly catalogued all of the language features and phrases used in class that day; eyes widened with each language feature I added as they realized how much Latin they understood. Once I told them what some other alternatives of a class format were, they seemed to appreciate our class a little more. Yaaaay, my experience confirmed the research I have been reading so obsessively!
Abandoning a Lesson Plan is the first step in providing non-targeted input. I’m neither convinced, nor ready for it to be the ONLY strategy used to deliver understanding messages, but am enjoying the few encounters I’ve had so far.