Basics: Current Ideas & Summary of Recurring Blog Posts

I’ve done some spring cleaning this year by consolidating big ideas into lists, such as all the input-based strategies & activities, as well as how to get texts. Now, here are the practices fundamental to my teaching, making all of the rest possible…

Grammar
Textbooks
Curriculum
Grading
Course Grade
D.E.A.
Assessments
Speaking & Writing

Grammar
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.

Textbooks
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.

Curriculum
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.

Grading
I do as little of this as possible. Grading doesn’t cause learning, or acquisition, so why spend time on it? Instead, I score student work. Scoring shows progress without affecting a student’s course grade. To do this, I create a grading category with 0% weight, and use it as a digital portfolio of anything done in class. Sometimes it’s based on completion/collection, otherwise it’s out of 4 (for consistency, though you could do the same out of 100). That evidence is then used to give a course grade.

Course Grade
Students self-assess just once. They used to self-assess twice—once at the 1/2 way progress report period of the grading term, and then again at the end. Now, they do it at progress reports, and I just carry-over their self-assessed grade to the end of the term, sometimes adjusting it based on portfolio evidence, and classroom interactions. I used Proficiency Goal Rubrics for years, the caveat being that if a student were a slow processor, I’d just give them a different rubric with a lower goal. This year, however, I streamlined the system further to remove proficiency altogether. The rationale is simple; students who receive input that they understand (CI) will—WILL—acquire the language. Thus, my latest (last?) grading rubric, Input Expectations, is based on how much CI students receive, which is a result of following D.E.A. (Daily Engagement Agreements).

D.E.A.
These are my classroom rules (i.e. Look, Listen, Ask). I’ve graded these in the past, but found that there’s less to deal with when they’re posted just as rules. They’re the main factors contributing to how much input students receive, which is now what students are graded on entirely in my classes.

Assessments
I don’t spend any time whatsoever creating these. Like grading, testing doesn’t cause learning, or acquisition, so there’s no 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 school, however, I use short, no-prep quizzes that are input-based (see quizzes, about halfway down on this post), we score them as a class (i.e. immediate feedback), I record/report them in the 0% digital portfolio, and then use as evidence to determine the course grade, just once. This is a well-oiled machine.

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.

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3 thoughts on “Basics: Current Ideas & Summary of Recurring Blog Posts

  1. Pingback: CI Program Checklist: 1 of 13 | Magister P.

  2. Pingback: CI Program Checklist: 12 of 13 | Magister P.

  3. Pingback: A New Way To Think About Grading – I Heart Input

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