**Updated 7.26.2020 with this Cicero quote**
“Hence, if someone does not have a natural faculty of memory, this practice cannot be used to unearth one…”
– Cicero (de Oratore 3.560), trans. James May in How To Win An Argument, 2016
OK fine, the grammar-translation (GT) method has been used for a few hundred years. It’s still the dominant practice for teaching Latin, and widely known. However, what is there to the method, really? I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but it turns out the method is quite simple. GT actually consists of presenting students with textbook grammar rules they apply to words in order to understand the target language. As a method, then, teachers present rules, but what is GT—really—for the student?
I posit that the entirety of GT can be reduced to memorizing. This makes it less a method, and more just a process. Students listen to or read about textbook grammar rules, and then recall and apply those rules in order to derive meaning. To be clear, this is a fairly complex way to arrive at step zero—establishing meaning. With GT, students not only must do this for themselves, such as consulting dictionaries and grammar notes, which accounts for a lot of “the work,” but the conscious process requires a decent amount of cognitive demand. Actual interpretive communication, on the other hand, either listening or reading, is an implicit, unconscious process, and effortless. In order to effortlessly apply textbook grammar rules while also recalling word meanings, though, a very good, if not uncanny memory, is required. Memory, then, is both paramount to student success with the GT method, as well as something we have no control over…
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.