Nearly everything related to CI is a grassroots kind of thing.
With grassroots, you gotta do most of the work on your own. I’m not saying you gotta work outside of school hours, but you certainly gotta scour the internet and find some PD opportunities. No one’s gonna drop these on your lap. They’re rarely provided by your school, and often in direct conflict with other department members’ understanding so you’re unlikely to get it there, too. Even when you do find something, you can’t make significant changes overnight, either. Fun fact: Supovitz & Turner (2000) found that science teachers made just *average changes* to practices after 40 hours of PD. It wasn’t until the 80 hour mark that *significant changes* were made. How many hours was your last PD sesh? How many hours do you think you’ve spent on learning how to do X in the classroom? Exactly.
So, if you’re looking to move away from outdated legacy approaches and towards more contemporary comprehension based language teaching (CBT)—maybe even with a focus on communication (CCLT)—perhaps under an older or newer name, such as teaching with comprehensible input (TCI), teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling (TPRS 1.0 or 2.0), storytelling while drawing (Story Listening), acquisition-driven input (ADI), or under any other name that does, in fact, give priority to input (i.e., not forcing kids to deal with being uncomfortable while speaking, etc.), there are only two ways to make that change:
- Change the texts students read.
- Change what you do.
If you have input sources besides yourself, just replace “texts” above with any other form of input, and keep reading. You should definitely be reading a lot in the second language classroom, but the concept applies to other video/audio sources of input (e.g., if you listen to pop tunes with only a handful of lyrics the kids understand, that’s not CI; you gotta change the kind of songs you’re having them listen to, or you have to change what you do so by the time they listen, they’ll actually understand it).
There it is; just two ways. With the former, you either give students a) different texts entirely, or b) adapted versions of the texts you always used beforehand. With the latter, you do things like a) learn how to actually speak Latin (or develop a higher proficiency in the modern language you teach), b) write texts with students (no, not just stories…even a summary of what was learned in class, written in the target language, is probably the best non-story example), or c) change your assessments. That’s it, but here are those options in more detail…
Not all of these will make the most sense in your particular context, and some of them will be outright impossible due to particular demands. Nonetheless…
- Keep using everything you have, get tons of easy books, and plan free reading time during class. This is obviously the easiest and most effective way to get more CI into the minds/brains of your students. Expect to get through less content than before—depending how much free reading time you plan, of course—but your students WILL get CI and have a much stronger foundation from reading. What you do with that result, though, is on you. No, reading more will not mean students magically know what a double dative is (see “change your assessments,” below). Oh, and why would you want to get tons of *easy* books? You’re probably moving away from legacy approaches because you’ve accepted the fact that beginning students have no business attempting to read what everyone has pretended students have been reading for centuries. They haven’t. So, the lowest level books will be read by all. Harder books will be read by fewer students, and so on.
- Keep using everything you have, and add supplemental texts other teachers have written. Expect to put in a lot of time for this one. Unless you’re using a textbook that someone has *perfectly* added more understandable content to, you’re gonna have to adapt their resources. This one’s also tough because you’re still within the framework of the legacy approach—the one you presumably have noticed issues with. You’ll also get through less content from spending time on the more understandable texts.
- Switch to adapted texts. This one’s good for upper level course since already-adapted texts exist, like the tiered readers by Robert Amstutz, and the tiered texts available from Pericles Group.
**WARNING** Attempting to change something both above and below all at once almost ensures burnout for most. For example, if you drop your textbook, go to conventicula, then start doing TPRS stories as your main texts all at once, you might as well save yourself the hassle: pick one major thing to change. I’m a firm believer in updating and replacing practices, but if you do too many too soon with too great a difference between legacy approaches and new stuff, you’re toast.
Change What You Do
This category involves the most time and effort, hence, grassroots.
- Speaking Latin. This could be the hardest yet single most important change for the long game. No need to remove English from your classroom. That’s stupid. Even teachers who claim to have a fully immersed classroom are teaching humans who make connections between Latin and their native language. You cannot turn it off. Might as well make good use of it. Even just reading aloud *everything* you used in class before and adding in some stock phrases will set you on a CI path, or maybe you’re up for some interviews. Do teachers provide CI without speaking Latin? Yes, but nothing else comes close to actually using Latin as the vehicle for expression, sharing of ideas, and connecting with students.
- Writing Texts. This could almost be considered an extension of the first option, but the different teaching experience replaces a LOT of all the legacy stuff, so it deserves its own category of change. Create Stories: you can do this with minimal prep, and a lot of scaffolding (just scour the internet, here’s a start), but the experience and results will be significantly better if you have some speaking proficiency. Summarize: Type ‘n Talk or Write & Discuss is an excellent way for students to process Latin, and get a comprehensible text at the same time.
- Change Your Assessments. If you expect students to know the double dative, you’re probably gonna teach the double dative and test knowledge of the double dative. Knowing the double dative isn’t CI. It’s not language in context with any message. It’s a grammar feature. When you change your expectations of outcomes to understanding Latin, you shift the focus to CI.
- Change your activities. Keep everything you have, but get a bunch of new “CI activities” from a Latin teacher’s site. I don’t recommend this. It’s a simple kind of change, but I don’t think it’s the wisest. Most of these activities involve another change already mentioned, which means unless you’ve actually made that change first, you’ll be hit with double demand. Not changing texts, for example, while at the same time piling on new activities, requires the most effort to get those activities to work with the existing legacy approach. This might not result in much CI at all.
- Is it possible to…”do CI”…by changing practices in the second category and by *not* changing texts? I haven’t heard of anyone doing so successfully. For example, can you keep using Wheelock’s, but go to a conventiculum and just start teaching Wheelock’s in Latin by asking “quid genus casi vocabulum ‘litora’ est?” No. You haven’t DONE anything to make that text any more comprehensible. In fact, you’ve added another layer of cognitive demand. You’ve just made Latin *less* comprehensible. But let’s say you did do something to make it more comprehensible, like adding supplements other teachers have made, then you’ve changed your texts (i.e., first option).
- Can you stop asking for translations, give exit ticket questions instead, change nothing else and then claim to be providing CI? No. You haven’t DONE anything to make what’s on the exit tickets any more comprehensible.