NTPRS 2017 Takeaways

Before having the opportunity to present a couple workshops, my mind was blown quite sufficiently during the week. Overall, the Advanced Track with Alina Filipescu and Jason Fritze got me thinking about aaaaaaaall the things I’ve forgotten to do, or stopped doing (for no good reason) over the years. Thankfully, most of them are going to be soooooo easy to [re]implement. As for the others, I’ll pick 2 at a time to add—not replace—until they become automatic. This will probably take the entire year; there’s no rush!

Jason referred to high-leverage strategies—those yielding amazing results with minimal effort (i.e. juice vs. squeeze), and I’m grateful that he called our attention to everything Alina was doing while teaching us Romanian. ce excelent! I’ll indicate some high-leverage strategies, and will go as far as to classify them as “non-negotiable” for my own teaching, using the letters “NN.” I’ll also indicate strategies to update or re-implement with the word “Update!” and those I’d like to try for the first time with the word “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways organized by presenter:

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CI Online: Conclusion

As I reflect a bit, my experience with Teaching CI Online was fine. The obvious physical barrier you would expect to be an issue didn’t actually impede much of anything. CI Online is absolutely possible. One major drawback was lack of reliable internet. On bad days, we just didn’t have class. Occasionally, I had to mute all microphones or disable cameras because of taxed bandwidth at a particular school. That was not cool for checking comprehension, teaching to the eyes, and making connections. If a school was prepared, there were no problems.

What works?
Elementary and Exploratory middle school classes were fantastic. There were extremely positive comments coming from students, teachers, and parents about the Latin experience online, and the pacing was appropriate. Students were spontaneously using limited language before and after class, and weren’t at all concerned with grades. Teaching Latin with Compelling CI Online to these types of students works.

What doesn’t work?
What doesn’t work is Teaching CI Online to high school classes that meet live only 2x a week, but are expected to “cover” a year’s worth of Latin. The number of contact hours online is about half as much from brick and mortar instruction, so I’m not sure where that expectation came from anyway. That pace of 2x a week is so slow that students don’t acquire enough to be reading much on their own during non-live class days. Since they’re expected to stay busy on those non-live class days, the courses are filled with random online quizzes, and drills. These assignments are of low communicative value, highly cheatable, and amount to completion-based “busy work” required for a transcript and course credit. This is anything BUT CI.

The time I had live with students DID contribute to their fluency, but only slightly. Just as the students were completing assignments in order to check them off a required list, they were also taking the course in order to fulfill a “2 year language requirement” at their school. This isn’t much different from university intensive summer language courses (e.g. you can fulfill the language requirement after two months). The problem is that there is no expectation of what to DO with the language; it’s just a completion requirement.

So, a high school program that meets daily, or near-daily, and is void of that busy work would highly benefit from CI Online.

What’s to stop schools from doing ^^that^^?
The business model of online teaching is to save money, not create fluent speakers. If the goal were the latter, asynchronous online courses would not be acceptable for language learning. The entire virtual high school model is based on work completion and knowledge assessments. That might be fine for some content areas, but language proficiency just doesn’t fall into that category.

I’m not needed to explicitly teach anything; we’ve had access to knowledge for a while. What I am needed for is providing compelling understandable messages (Comprehensible Input) with sheltered vocabulary. That’s my jam.

Parallel Characters: Not just in stories

Earlier this week, the following slide during DISCIPVLVS ILLVSTRIS was a huge hit:


The 3 dots on the lower left link to a slide with a bunch of numbers, but my students already understood the interviewed student’s response of quīndecim as 15, so I began using the images and phrases to ask different questions to verify the detail. I almost got stuck when I asked “is he older than…” while pointing to the senex (old man). Instead, I kept my finger where it was, and asked the class “what is HIS name? What is HE called?” One student quickly said “Frank.” Now I was free to use “is he (our interviewed student) older than Frank?” Then I looked over at the Roman boy on the other side of the slide and asked “what is HIS name? What is HE called?” The class looked at the same student who answered before, who said “Phil,” which was great, so I said “Ohhhhhh, how old is Phil?” The same student thought a minute, and said “8.” So, we continued using the four phrases on the board (all using “habet”) and got quite a bit of mileage out of that one.

Why was this so successful?

Using parallel characters is a 2-for-1 deal for Input. Since you have a couple of people to talk to and about, this strategy immediately exposes students to more language structure in a natural way with 1st, 2nd, 3rd singular and plural forms ready to be used. Of course, you could target any one of these forms, but non-targeted input casts the widest net for language acquisition, so just let go. Those of us using an interview activity (La Persona Especial, Star of the Week, etc.) have also found how great it is to compare the student of the day with ones we’ve already interviewed, just like creating a second character in a story. A recent suggestion from Eric Herman has been to interview students role-playing as characters from a class story, and Ben Slavic has had great success with talking about imaginary students who lurk in interesting places in the classroom.

The point?

As much as kids love to talk about themselves, they pick up fast on similar questioning patterns. Of course, we’re trying to shelter vocabulary, but the really hard part is doing it in interesting combinations. Adding or inventing a Parallel Character is boss. Shia Labouf has something to tell you about that.

Student Responses to 2015-16 Day 1 Survey Question: What Makes You Nervous? What Challenges Do You Foresee?

It’s a good habit to really listen to your students. In fact, if all language teachers did so, there would be more Teaching with CI.

At the start of the year, I hand out Expectations, and assign a few questions to be answered with an adult at home. Let’s face it, CI classes aren’t like other classes, and it’s good practice to make sure everyone understands how that academic environment is different, and what makes a CI class flow. The following response samples are somewhat depressing, but reflect the current state of taking a second language in high school. I offer them as anecdotal evidence that forced language production/output is damaging, as well as assurance that this “CI thing” will reach more students, especially if we embrace the research.

So, what makes kids nervous, and what challenges do they foresee? Some responses:

One challenge I foresee for myself is in-class participation, especially during the first few classes. When I was taking Spanish 1 in 8th grade I remember how hard it was to participate, because speaking another language in front of peers and a fluent instructor can very intimidating, in my opinion. In addition to that, I am generally quiet in most of my class however, I have been growing out of that with time. – NS

The only challenge I see is that I’ll have to speak in Latin because I had a lot of trouble trying to speak Spanish, even though I took 3 years of it. I think it’ll be a challenge to speak in only Latin and to speak by myself when I’m called on because I don’t know if I will be fluent or get fluent. – JP

I think speaking will pose the most difficulty because, unlike in Spanish, there aren’t many people who I can practice with. – MG

The whole speaking up when I have a question, since I’m a very forgetful person when put on the spot. – KP

Speaking up will be challenging. – RP

Speaking up during class. – GH

I will need to talk a lot more. It’s not something I do a lot. I’m usually silent. – MP

The limitation of English, even at the beginning of course, makes me nervous because with any language one of the biggest obstacles will be pronunciation. A challenge I foresee for myself will be the conjugation of verbs because I know there are several tenses in Latin and from my experience with Spanish conjugation I know it can be very tedious, having to memorize all the general rules as well as exceptions.- NR

One challenge that I foresee would be being called on for class and having to answer. – MS

There you have it. 82% of my students reported being anxious about speaking a new language. I’m not surprised.

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research shows that when acquiring (not just learning about) a second language, first we learn to listen, then we learn to read (what we’ve heard) before we write (what we’ve heard, and read), and finally speak (what we’ve heard, read, and wrote). Teaching methods should reflect this.

anxious students + forced speech + a blind eye to research
failure at worst, ineffective at best

CI Online: Welcome to a virtual classroom!

In my last post, I jumped ahead and showed some student work.  Lets back up so I can welcome you to my Adobe Connect classroom and explain a bit about how CI Online is working out.


In the screenshot below, you are looking at my “Classroom” layout for elementary students (I can create as many custom layouts as I need). The windows, called “pods,” can be hidden or revealed with a click. Everything remains saved and exactly how I left it (persistent). I have essentially unlimited wall space for vocab and English equivalents, and can show as much or as little to suit what we need…a huge win for TCI Online.

Elementary Screenshot 6 hours dictatio

As you can see, we are beginning a fourth sentence of a Dictātiō. Strangely enough, I find it more comfortable to give a Dictātiō remotely than in the room right in front of students. There’s something about walking over to a desk, grabbing the keyboard, then typing onto the screen that feels off…almost as if I’m less present than when teaching online. Since that’s the case, I tend to write on a whiteboard, and recently I’ve discovered that I can type a LOT faster than I can grab a different color pen and write on the board.

This other layout below is a virtual “Lobby” that I use to talk about the day and weather. I can give a student (the Mutātor Diērum student job) permission to drag the day’s date onto the left side of that whiteboard, pretty much like magnetic strips in my brick and mortar classroom, then have a few things to say about the day, or date. Once everyone is logged in, I switch to the “Classroom” layout show above, and begin some more CI.


What does a class look like? I would post a link to a recorded class, but I can’t. At some point I’ll get some video releases, or edit a recording by blurring images, and editing out names. You see, random people aren’t allowed in the room; we value security just like in a brick and mortar school. Earlier this year a few observers requested access to my class, but I denied them entry because no one gave me the heads up that we would have guests that day.


If you have good eyes, you’ll notice on the left side of the first screenshot that one participant’s microphone is disabled, and another muted. I have control over this…another win for TCI Online. When a student wants to chime in, they alert me by changing their status to “raise hand,” and I can easily enable or unmute them. Other alerts include signals that are part of our DEA rules, such as “speed up” ( I have NEVER seen this signal used, even in brick and mortar environment), “slow down,” “agree/disagree,” etc..

In terms of delivering understandable message, most online teachers present information on PowerPoints, or PDF’s. My intentions were to type in a few words, circle, and then read. That didn’t work out as well as when I was in a brick and mortar classroom. Here’s an example of how I introduce CI rules and procedures for class, which highlights how I adapted to the online environment:





You can see how there’s quite a bit of guiding going on. Despite what you might think, after designing my initial PPT template, this doesn’t require much work. I find this product to be incredibly helpful for beginners to learn what class is going to be like, especially through a computer. I might even use this exact presentation to start my year in a brick and mortar setting.

An unexpected challenge, though, was with simple questions I normally would ask orally. Despite establishing meaning of all words, my students needed more guidance. I have a feeling this is because of online format. After all, any type of “Make Eye Contact” DEA rule doesn’t really apply online since everyone is staring at small camera windows on a screen. In class, it’s very clear which student I walk up to and address, but online, not so much. Here’s an example of how I make questions clearer.

prox clear

When I attempted to ask this without those words, images, and cues, the students were unsure of themselves, who I was speaking to, and whether or not there was a question about a presentation slide, or something actually going on in their, or my room. Those are huge drawbacks to TCI Online. Still, I value CI enough to spend time on these PowerPoints in order to make it work Online.

In case you are wondering, I will make the slides available once enough revising has been done, and they will be keyed to TPR Vocab used with the 52 Most Important Latin Verbs.

Latin…Online…3rd Graders (oh my!)

This is my first post about Teaching with CI Online, but I’m skipping ahead to showing some student work samples before explaining a bit about how CI Online is working out. That post will follow shortly.

So, here’s the context for the student work I’m showing you:

  • I taught 5 students in the 3rd grade (~9 years old)
  • we met for an hour on Mondays and Wednesdays for 4 weeks before school actually began
  • this was an enrichment opportunity provided by their school
  • nothing was graded, no work was assigned

If you’ve done the math, you’ve figured out that these kids had 8 hours of Latin over the course of a month. I’d like to qualify those 8 hours by stating some challenges:

  • three students missed the first 2 hours
  • one student attended inconsistently, missing 3 hours overall
  • the first hour involved a tour of our classroom, and instructions on how to use the features (like clicking on the “raise hand” button, etc.), much of which had to be repeated when others arrived as new students
  • since school hadn’t started, each student was using whatever technology and support (=parents/grandparents) was available at home
  • one student had internet AND hardware (camera/headphones) issues, and only made it to three full classes, and wasn’t at the final two
  • during the 4th hour, two students unplugged their headset (slightly) from their iPad and computer, respectively, which was not immediately clear during our troubleshooting, causing a serious gap in Latin instruction

That is all to say that not even one student had a full 8 hours of listening to and reading Latin. In a brick and mortar class setting, there is never a “full” number of language hours as there are class days, but in this case it was a LOT lower than the number of days given all of the challenges. I’d say that the work shown here represents ~5 true hours of Latin although all data goes by class days.

First up, the student work below is from their second Dictātiō after 6 hours of Latin:

6 hours dictatio work only

The process for the Dictātiō is exactly the same as brick and mortar, except I just ask them to hold up their paper to their camera every now and then before typing the sentence on the whiteboard for them to see. I did not explicitly teach macrons, but instead provided a Pop-Up reason for why they’re there during the first Dictātiō when a student asked about them (i.e. “they represent a long sound”). As you can see, they are hearing, and noting those differences just fine. These are 9 year olds.

After 7 hours of Latin, I presented some images (thanks, Kevin et al.!) and asked students to take a few minutes to write down some responses to three questions we were using in class:

quis quid ubi elementary 7 hours questions

OK, so the kid at the bottom is on an iPad and the work is mirrored, but it’s pretty clear they are getting this stuff. I love how the one in the middle says “standing on the floor, OR not on the table.” I didn’t ask them to tell me what they weren’t doing…this kid just decided to use some Latin because it’s cool, and he can. Win.

Next up, we have two 5min story retells. Note only were they the first retells, but they were the first compositions in Latin, period. Here’s the disclaimer on these; the retell was the very last thing I asked the students to do, we were running out of class time, and I wasn’t going to see them again. Due to difficulties with these kids using a Google Form for the first time, and one kid who left to go pee (ah, elementary school), I only got two retells:

Elementary Retell 7 hours

Here’s the first transcription since the screenshot is quite small:

A puella had a telophium. Puella in America. Ursa in china habet piliam. The pulla volt piliam. The ursa non.

Spelling mistakes, but no big deal. Remember, this is actually the first thing the kid wrote in Latin on his own, even if it was a retell. Note the English word order despite my strict phrasing of verbs in final position – a change from last year for me. Also note how the student is trying to express “a” and “the” even though there’s no equivalent. This all makes sense when a Novice language learner uses native language (L1) to fill in target language (L2) gaps. All of the information in the retell is accurate based on the story told in class, which was a really short story asked over 20min. the class prior to this. I must admit that I violated the magical TPRS order because we never got to reading the story before they retold it, but that makes this work all the more impressive for retelling after 2 days and no reading activity. Lastly, note that habet means “has,” and the student instead wrote “had” in English knowing that there’s probably a different word for the past tense. THIS IS WHY WE DON’T SHELTER GRAMMAR. The kid is 9 years old and wanted to express something in the past tense…there’s no reason we shouldn’t do this, even after just ~5 hours of Latin! Some teachers on the moreTPRS Yahoo group are freaking out about teaching the past tense to high school students. Don’t. They can handle it.

Here’s a transcription of the second retell:

The girl has a telephone in the U.S. but she wants a ball. The ball is in japan and a bear has it, so the girl travels to Japan to get the ball back. In conclusion, she gets eaten by the bear. So the girl gets the ball in the end.

OK, it’s in English. So what? This proves comprehension, which I’m fine with given this context. This is from a students who missed 3 out of the 8 hours that were free from technical issues. Under those circumstances, an English retell is perfectly acceptable. This retell proves comprehension, but not quite 100%. This student mixed up China (in the real story) with Japan (the other option we didn’t choose as a class), but also wrote a new ending (guess which part), and added a logical detail, although I had to get into a 9 year old’s mindset to work that one out (i.e. she gets the ball in the end because the bear ate the ball…the whole reason the bear has it in the first place). Had we spent more time on the story, I might even have asked “why did a bear have the ball?” Clearly, this student would’ve been ready with a compelling answer.

Although I don’t have more samples, here’s some other data from the 8 hours I had with these fine students:

– 3 hours to get a good handle on “subjects” for TPR vocab
– first reading after 3 hours
– parallel reading after 4 hours
– 5 hours to work through “obvious actions” (= sits, gets up, stands)
– second reading after 5 hours, and hearing some long marks during first Dictātiō
– second Dictātiō after 6 hours
– 7 hours to begin “has/wants” leading into first story (introducing “goes to”)
– first Fluency Write retell after 8 hours

My next post will address this question I posed after reflecting upon the 4 week elementary class:

My presentation of new vocabulary required more steps than anticipated (not just a few words on the whiteboard like in brick and mortar) such as preparing questions ahead of time in a PowerPoint, and showing responses after question slides…is this because of young age, or because of lack of physical proximity in a virtual classroom?

CI Online: Personalized Readings

Despite the obvious physical barrier, teaching CI online is not very different from the brick and mortar setting (e.g. use words students know, establish meaning of new ones, talk about compelling things, don’t force speech too early, etc.). The format for online teaching, however, typically involves an element of asynchronous “independent work” that most closely resembles traditional drill and worksheet exercises, which we know does very little, if anything for language acquisition.

If students must do something on their own, they should be reading. The problem with most language courses is finding appropriately leveled reading material, let alone that which is compelling to read. One solution is using a Google Add-On (autoCrat) to give some personalization to a story you’ve typed up. Think of the process as an automated virtual individualized TPRS-like story-asking.


It’s probably best to see how this works, so click here, then check your email in a few minutes. That’s pretty cool, eh? If nothing happened, try again but use an email address that isn’t set to forward).

Each student will receive the same story your wrote only with slightly different details. While each student only gets one story, you can see all of them in a specified folder in Drive. Use these in class to compare details, invite students to read each others’, or assign other activities. You could also choose not to commit readacide, and simply provide them with some understandable Latin to read.

Be advised, this is not low-prep, and will get old if you use the same story template over and over…so don’t do that. Keep them short and familiar to students (e.g. if you notice that students choose similar details in each story, consider writing them into the next one in order to engage them a bit more with the content). This is just the START of what technology like autoCrat can do for teaching CI online. I’ve created instructions on how to accomplish this.

All of the documents you’ll need to use autoCrat are in this folder; I suggest beginning with the Instructions.