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:
Look, Listen, Ask
Speaking & Writing
Continue reading for explanations of each…
You’ve seen the umbrella, right? Here’s my CI shield.
Here’s my latest attempt to clarify what CI is and isn’t. It all starts here because comprehension is step ZERO.
I don’t explicitly teach grammar. Students are already exposed to a LOT of grammar in my classes. Grammar is always found in context, like all language and communication. The most convincing reasons for not teaching grammar are probably the studies showing how the effects of instruction drop after a few months, and disappear after 8+. These basically show how most teachers are wasting their time, even if it appears to be effective in the moment, or over one’s career. But we don’t need studies to show this. Instead, consider how beginning of year/unit “review” reflects that students don’t actually KNOW the content—they only knew it enough to pass a previous unit, etc. Furthermore, even when I do address grammar on the rare occasion that a student notices and asks about the language, I still don’t test or grade that knowledge. In fact, in a different world I would sooner teach grammar explicitly than I would grade it.
I don’t use them. Aside from a focus on explicit grammar, textbooks overload students with vocabulary in a way that lowers confidence for all but the those with the spongiest memory. Textbook chapters typically have at least 20 different words used just once or twice in a text passage. Very few of these new words recur. As a result, students are exposed to a LOT of meanings, yet only a few grammatical structures at a time according to the chapter grammar focus. This has not been shown to aid comprehension—the sine qua non of language acquisition—and inhibits the student from creating mental representation of the language. Instead, I shelter (i.e. limit) vocabulary to few meanings, recycle them often, and unleash grammatical structures as needed. Thus, students are exposed to a wide net without the cognitive demand of new meanings, and build mental representation more effectively. This was a major reason for writing texts that beginning students understand.
As flexible as possible, never stale. The Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) combines features from various successful curricula I’ve implemented, and observed. It was designed to be the most student-centered, collaboration-ready, Second Language Acquisition (SLA)-aligned, and school-friendly representation of what to actually teach. We have Class Days learning about familiar topics like oneself, school, community, and then Culture Days exploring a topic from target-language-speaking cultures.
I do as little of this as possible. Grading doesn’t cause learning, or acquisition, so why spend time on it? Instead, I create a grading category that doesn’t factor into the course grade, using it as a digital portfolio of anything done in class (see this most-recent post on setting that up). The evidence collected depends on the standards (see below).
Look & Listen, Respond/Show/Ask
These are my classroom rules. They’re the main factors contributing to how much input students receive, an how comprehensible the target language is. Looking & Listening is the only way to receive input, so that’s the main process during class. The 2021-22 update clarifies when students should Ask. That is, they’re expected to Respond or Show their understanding non-verbally, and if they can’t do either one because of incomprehension, then it’s time to Ask for clarification.
New for 2021-22, I’ll be using a sliding-scale grading approach moving from self- to teacher-graded, and from one standard to three standards. Although it might appear to be a lot more work up from the single standard in the past of “receiving input,” it’s not much more work, and acknowledges that all routines start to get old. This system introduces a new standard each grading term, varying the kind of evidence collected as well, keeping things fresh throughout the year. Process is the sole Q1 focus (and 100% of the course grade) to establish what’s necessary for receiving input. Evidence for this category is notebook pics and other in-class checks for understanding.All students start the year with a 95 in the “Standards: CI Process” grading category. If I see or get evidence (reported in the digital portfolio category mentioned above) that they’re not meeting expectations, I’ll change the 95 to 85, or change a 85 to 75, then back up again when students begin to meet expectations. I do this on a rolling basis, usually each week, and it takes minutes. Students self-grade once at progress reports using the Input Expectations rubric, a reflection of their Looking & Listening, Responding/Showing/Asking.
Q2 introduces Growth for students to report perceived effectiveness of their Process. This is also self-graded. Evidence for this category are text comparisons. Students read early texts alongside current ones, then fill out the rubric below (still being developed, so you get a screenshot):
Q3 will introduce Proficiency to measure the effectiveness of the other standards. This will be teacher-graded according to the basic holistic rubric below, looking for trends in comprehension scores on Exit Tickets (see below) and other in-class checks for understanding.
Q4 will maintain the three standards, only with increased weight placed on Proficiency (50%), while the self-graded categories, Process & Growth, each have 25%. In sum, Process goes from 100% to 25%, Growth from 50% to 25%, and Proficiency from 33.3% to 50%. That’s the sliding scale.
I don’t spend any time whatsoever creating these. Like grading, testing doesn’t cause learning, or acquisition, so there’s very little need to spend time on it. Instead, my assessments are authentic, and in real time. When a teacher recognizes that a student doesn’t understand, they’ve made an assessment. The adjustment is making the language more comprehensible. The response is providing more input. Anything else is unnecessary. In fact, the response is always providing more input, so analysis might lead to the teacher thinking they need an explicit lesson to improve a perceived deficiency (which we know the effects of disappear). For maintaining expectations of teaching language in certain schools, as well as my new 2021-22 Proficiency category (mentioned above), short, no-prep quizzes that are input-based do the trick. These are 4-question exit tickets we score as a class (i.e. immediate feedback). They go in the digital portfolio to be uses as evidence to determine the course grade. This is a well-oiled machine for anyone required to use it.
Speaking & Writing
I don’t test these. Speaking & writing are forms of output, which is a result of input. Since listening & reading causes speaking & writing, there’s no need to focus on the latter. Also, there’s no need to speak or write Latin, so let’s stop there. While modern language teachers might feel pressure to get students speaking (often mistaking the ends with the means), there’s no logical rationale for Latin. Instead, I use student writing as one more step away from becoming more input, and I expect no verbal responses in the target language. 1-2 word responses are encouraged, but even a response in English shows comprehension. Still, students do begin speaking Latin, eventually. This shows me that all I need to do is provide opportunities for students to speak, and anything that comes of it is welcomed. If students don’t speak, I’ll be providing input no matter what, anyways. This is interaction, which sometimes is misunderstood as paired speaking activities, yet interaction can be non-verbal. As such, if I were to teach a modern language, I would have the exact same outlook; expect no output, but welcome it when the time comes for students to produce it naturally.