Reading LLPSI, Teaching NONE of it!

I first adopted more realistic expectations of students after understanding how languages are acquired. This was within the first few months of teaching in my first job, so I was lucky; some have never had that opportunity. However, I was still trying to apply what I learned to a textbook program still focused on grammar, so it was a rocky start to any comprehension-based and communicative approach, to say the least. Despite what some might claim, CI and grammar just don’t mix. That is, whenever we decide to teach grammar, even for legit reasons, students are likely not receiving CI.

For my second year teaching, then, I decided to use the textbook Lingua Latīna Per Sē Illustrāta (LLPSI) at a more realistic pace. My plan? I would teach just the first 6 chapters of that textbook to the new first year Latin students entering high school. To be clear, that was a ridiculously slow pace by all accounts. For comparison, some grammar-based programs finish all 35 chapters that first year! My process involved storyasking via TPRS based on the textbook vocab, but a lot of it felt forced. In fact, I taught EVERY word that way before reading sections of each chapter. As a result, chapters took months to teach, and then I noticed students begin to hit a wall around chapter 4. After some analysis I did in 2016, though, I’m not surprised. The first chapter of LLPSI has 42 words, chapter 2 has 35 new words, chapter 3 unleashes another 36 words, etc. By the time students reach chapter 4, they will have been exposed to 113 words, 8 of which they will have seen most.

Fast-forward to now, and my classes have begun reading those first 6 chapters of LLPSI in the final weeks of school. I find it funny how they, too, have hit a similar wall beginning in chapter 4. That’s understandable, though, seeing as of the 113 words, which include a host of low-frequency vocab, my students have only read 66 of them throughout the year. Oh, and they have no interest in the narrative beyond a few laughs during the sibling fight of chapter 3! Still, at least they were able to read the first few chapters with ease having never opened the book beforehand.

Why is this significant?
I spent a whole year teaching the same content to my former students that my current students read within days! There was nothing forced about what we did this year, and as a result they could read level-appropriate Latin with ease. Sure, they hit the same textbook wall due to vocab overload, but they learned more about the Romans, and themselves—in Latin—than my former students ever did! Perhaps more importantly, current students will move on with a positive language experience. My recommendation?

Don’t teach any of your textbook. Just read it at the end of the year.

If my observations can be applied elsewhere—which they might not—students will read with ease up until the same point as if you had taught the textbook the whole time. If you don’t teach to the textbook, you’re free to spend the year communicative with a purpose, taking the last few weeks to read it down. I predict that you’ll also observe what students would have walked away with had you been teaching that textbook. For example, if students can read 10 textbook chapters with ease, that’s probably as far as their actual “learning” goes when teaching the textbook.

Have you already ditched a textbook? Are they lingering around in closets?Try giving them to your current students and see how much they can read! After all, this time of year has wacky disruptions we often need to fill-in with a random activity or two. If you do this, please report back in the comments section!

7 thoughts on “Reading LLPSI, Teaching NONE of it!

  1. “CI and grammar do not mix.” Is that really what you are saying when you write about explicit grammar teaching? Input contains grammar. I think the message “CI and grammar do not mix,” sends is that teachers focused on comprehensible input are not thinking about grammar. In my view, that isn’t helpful because it is not the case. Secondly, students acquire grammar forms along the way. Granted, it seems clear that instructors cannot control that process but we can facilitate more input that is comprehensible and purposeful following along the natural acquisition process. I think that an instructor presenting comprehensible input should be thinking about how the grammar fits into the input even more than before, with the difference being the goal of a message that means something versus is structured around a certain grammar point.

    • I mean what I mean in the blog post I linked (excerpt quoted below). All words contain grammar. There is a difference between teaching that grammar by giving it the linguistic codenames, and exposing students to grammatical features of Latin that happen to be in the input.

      “The only time explicitly teaching grammar might contain CI is if it is done in the target language. However, the messages don’t just have to be understandable on an equivalent basis (e.g. nōminātīvus = nominative/subject), but also in concept due to the abstract nature of grammar. Most students don’t even possess this knowledge of their native language, which is why conventional teachers lament having to teach about the native language grammar—in the native language itself—which also means no CI.

      So, there is a low likelihood of providing CI while explicitly teaching grammar to the few who comprehend grammar. In that sense, CI and explicit grammar are usually incompatible for most students. N.B. “Usually…most…,” and not “even after 3 years…for all students…””

    • And now that I look at it, the sentence that follows “CI and grammar just don’t mix” sums up everything from the quoted post I replied to you with earlier:

      “That is, whenever we decide to teach grammar, even for legit reasons, students are likely not receiving CI.”

      • “CI and grammar just don’t mix” seems to imply more than what you propose in respect to input within the context of teaching grammar explicitly. I will have to agree to differ with you about the messaging. People like to choose sides of polarizing ideas. Teaching with CI isn’t about removing grammar. I think there is even an argument that teaching CI doesn’t remove grammar but moves the focus to meaning and makes grammar a tool to use to express ideas. I need to read more research but in practice I’m starting to understand why some people seem vehemently opposed to teaching with CI principles. The message becomes anti-grammar at times even if that is not the intention.

      • Dan, we have studies like the Morgan-Short (https://magisterp.com/2018/07/02/studies-showing-the-ineffectiveness-grammar-instruction/) showing how teaching explicit grammar messes with how the brain processes input. Believe what you want, but data tends to do what you are calling “the polarizing” for us. I’m just recognizing what science is telling us. Not everyone will be happy about it, and not everyone is going to be able to teach however they want without someone at some point calling practices out for being ineffective. Teaching grammar is one of those, however much people like it.

        I don’t think there’s any opinion that when we explicitly teach grammar, there is no CI except for when all conditions are met (as I wrote in that old blog post). That’s not anything new.

        This post was about kids being able to read a textbook without teaching it. If you have some evidence against “CI is not explicitly grammar,” let’s move this over to that post and continue.

      • Actually Dan, “anti-grammar” is probably the best message. It’s extreme, but one that will have the most to gain.

        It’s like the climate crisis.

        We don’t need people making moderate changes. People should panic about the planet and make extreme changes to how they live.

        So, teachers would benefit from being very concerned over what explicit grammar does, doesn’t do, and who it’s affecting…in an extreme way.

  2. Pingback: More Input, Less…Everything Else | Magister P.

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