Skip The Quiz: Highlight Your Confusion

I took this idea from Kelly Gallagher, the History teacher who wrote the “readicide” book. At some point, he started having kids read current news “articles of the week (AOW)” in groups and told them to work together and “highlight their confusion.” I honestly haven’t though about this in a decade, then it just popped into my head the other day. I realized this could be another “skip the quiz” assessment that gives us just as good data, if not better. The task was simple:

  1. In groups of 3-4, read the text (i.e., this week the full Pisces myth from signa zodiaca: vol. III).
  2. Highlight your confusion.

I handed out one text and one highlighter per group. To complete the simple task, students read and interacted, helping each other understand the story. I collected them for use the next class. What I got was a list of words and phrases nearly all groups didn’t know, and a few here and there that each group blanked on. That’s all I needed to make the language more comprehensible, discussing the text the next day and having a short list of words/phrases to park on. Here, “park” refers to a strategy of asking questions and restating answers while focusing on a part of the text that wasn’t as comprehensible (i.e., unknown words). This provides micro-exposure to the words in question, making subsequent reading go more smoothly.

Key Observations & Pedagogical Implications

  • This was a major confidence boost for students who might have doubted their ability to read a text of about 400 words long. Even the most-highlighted packet turned in had no more than 10 unknown words. These were level-appropriate texts. If, however, the packets I got back were marked up beyond belief, that’d tell me the full version couldn’t be read with any ease—the majority of class time and effort unnecessarily spent arriving at comprehension, not starting with comprehension and doing something more with it, prompting a new text or new level of the text. This is more valuable data than any quiz.
  • Students read the story together, receiving input once. Then, we read the story together as a class, students stopping me when we got to a place they highlighted. We discussed the story’s meaning, as well as any etymological connections to the unknown words, and whenever possible, additional input was provided through Q&A. Therefore between a) the first run through in groups with their discussion & rereading while negotiating meaning (because I monitored student interaction), b) the rereading the next day, and c) hearing the Q&A, I wouldn’t be surprised if this 400-word story ended up providing over 1,000 words of input over just two classes. I’ve never heard of any quiz with that much input.

Frontloading Vocab: Known/Unknown Anchor Chart

I usually just read new novellas with students, cold-open. That is, besides reading the back cover description and having a quick discussion to situate the topic, there’s no prep, no fanfare. On occasion, I’ve had students do a little frontloading of some vocab on a Quizlet (and before that on Desmos during our remote year) to make the reading go more smoothly. I’ve also done that for certain chapters once we’ve already started reading, but again, there hasn’t been anything very structured ahead of time. It’s been mostly “just read,” all together, from the start.

Earlier this week, though, I stumbled upon a new way of starting a book together as a class. We began The Star Diaries, and to build on the intrigue and mystique of this book, I played into the mysterious details contained in the description. Here it is:

Not much was known about The Architects—guardians of the stars—until their diaries were found in dark caves sometime during the Tenth Age. Explore their mysterious observations from the Seventh Age (after the Necessary Conflict)—a time just before all evidence of their existence vanished for millennia! What happened to The Architects? Can you reconstruct the events that led to the disappearance of this ancient culture?

As you can see, we’ve got some knowns and unknowns right away. The Architects—are they even people?! They had diaries. There’s something called ages, and there were 10 of them. There was a Necessary Conflict. Was that a big war? The Architects vanished. How long was between Ages Seven and Ten?! How many 1,000s of years are we talking about?! They were an ancient culture. When is now?!

A simple nōta/īgnōta anchor chart really helped sort things out and set up the discovery later on. Students spent a couple minutes writing their own charts of what’s known and unknown right in their notebooks. When it came time to share, I wrote details in Latin on the board, using this time to establish meaning of 10 or so words we were about to read in the book.

COWATS & VOWATS

These are two variations on Bob Patrick’s One Word At a Time Stories (OWATS). OWATS has been around for years, before the first novellas, in fact. I can’t say that I’ve done OWATS with much frequency, but it’s becoming more and more appealing when I scroll through various activities used to get texts.

COWATS
I liked the research Miriam Patrick shared on code-switched (CS) readings, so I wanted to give a scaled-back version a try. In addition to creating CS class texts earlier in the year alongside facing English and full glossary versions, I thought the format might work well with OWATS. It did. The format was to write a story—in English—incorporating one Latin word at a time. Observations:

  • I saw more cohesive stories.
  • Groups wrote more Latin than I expected (i.e., beyond just the one word).
  • The stories were easy to type up in the code-switch format.
  • I would choose one or two stories to type up entirely in Latin and share with the class.

VOWATS
This variation uses VERBA cards as the words given to students to create stories. It eliminates the prep of writing out words on paper, or creating a list, and also generates more variety (since students won’t be getting the same base of words). This could result in less repetition than COWATS or OWATS. For a tighter cluster of vocab, though, select a group of VERBA cards, keeping them in order as students come to you to get their next word. Have them write it down before heading back to their group, and then you’ll be handing out the same words to each group. Plus, zero prep besides choosing some words.

Latin Criticism: Two Broad Categories

Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about Latin shaming in what’s turning out to be a quasi-annual public discussion on Latinity (i.e., quality of Latin). In 2020, the discussions concerned Latin spoken in the classroom as well as published works. This year, I’m told the focus is on novellas, which might have something to do with their proliferation. After all, in February of 2020 there were 52 books. Having doubled that number to 113 as of last week, and going from 18 author voices to 26, there’s a lot more different Latin being written now. Different Latin must lead to more opinions about that Latin. Granted, I haven’t been a part of these public discussions myself, but word gets around. Perhaps the 2023 panel on what it means to teach students to actually read Latin has spurred the latest round of things-Latīnitās. I have no idea for sure. Suffice to say that Latin shaming still plagues the profession. Instead of full-out shaming, though, this post sticks to general criticism. In my experience, there are two broad categories of criticism: that which matters, and that which doesn’t…

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Low-Prep Doesn’t Always Mean EZ

Like usual, it took me a matter of minutes the other day to create the next day’s class agenda. Oh, you wanna know the trick to that? There are lots of them, but it all starts with a good grading system and ends with the basic Talk & Read format. Then, I try not to plan too far out knowing that something ALWAYS changes last-minute, and about 20% of our weeks aren’t even the typical schedule to begin with. I have a rough idea what’s coming up in following weeks, but never anything set in stone. Printing much ahead of time? Forget it. I’ve recycled WAY too many reams of no-longer-relevant activity sheets to know better. Anyway, I felt good about the time spent during my planning period, and had a solid idea of how class would go. The plans were simple and straightforward.

Yet, why was I exhausted by the end classes today?!

It turns out that low-prep isn’t always as easy as it seems to carry out. The good news is that it doesn’t take much more effort to avoid a draining class. In this post, you’ll find a list of the best low-prep AND low-energy-demanding activities generated from my input-based strategies & activities and how to get texts lists. Those lists have also been updated with the “EZ” code showing low-energy-demand typically required to carry them out.

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Quick Competition: Most Points Wins!

Here’s a competitive reading activity I came up with on the fly the other day. You could consider it one of those “sneaky” re-reading strategies, almost like an annotation task, but more fun. It’s no frills, has an element of chance (like Lucky Reading Game), and adds a novel twist to reading any text. Here are the instructions I project:

  1. In your notebook, write down as many X as you can, in English.
  2. When the time is up, we’ll review, and you get a point for each detail the teacher calls out.
  3. Most points wins!

What’s “X?”
Anything you want. We just read about Sagittarius from sīgna zōdiaca Vol. II, so X was “facts about Sagittarius.” Students feverishly read through pages to scoop up details.

What Details Get Points?
Anything you want. In the zodiac example, I set a timer for 5 minutes, then started reading back from the beginning, making up points as I went (e.g., “If you wrote down something about Sagittarius being the 9th sign, give yourself a point). Just like The Monitor Assessment, I also gave points for details as a way to check comprehension.

What Do Students Win?
My go-to reward is “glory and honor,” which honestly is enough for students. Besides, they get a laugh out of the fanfare knowing I won’t try to bribe them into playing games with anything other than winning as the purpose.

DEBATE: Support The Statement (Sneaky Novella ReReading)

I’ve done “support the statement” activities in the past, but none quite like this debate version that student teacher Caroline Spurr suggested. I highly recommend giving this a try. No, there are no points awarded. Just one side reads their quote (& page #), other side gets rebuttal, then repeat.

How do you find the argūmentum?!

Good Q! I’ll be on the lookout for specific debate topics from now on when we read every novella, but here are some general tips:

  • Come up with a question (e.g., Do the Romans and Egyptians value Marcus?), then one team rereads to find statements supporting a “yes” response, and the other “no.”
  • Go with something from the book students are already talking about (e.g., you hear “ugh, I hate Terrex. He’s the worst!” so you set up something like “Terrex is terrible vs. Terrex is not terrible”).
  • Turn qualities into a comparison (e.g., Who’s stronger?).
  • Compare two characters (e.g., Who’s more responsible, Piso’s mother or father?).
  • Choose a statement that falls under a theme found in the book, then one team rereads to find statements supporting it, and the other its negative.

Critical Thinking
Almost every student thinks that Olianna‘s family is cruel, with good reason since the book states that explicitly in several places! However, this novella debate builds evidence-seeking skills. We just told one half of the room to put aside their own thoughts and instead scour the pages for anything used to support the position that the family is not cruel. Although the unpopular opinion, every class was able to find at least some evidence, and they spent time rereading. This goes back to communicative purpose. Why did students reread? To prepare for a debate they found compelling to participate in. This was pure entertainment.

That particular debate topic of Olianna’s family being cruel was certainly stacked in one direction. However, the book ends with several prediction questions about the future, which is a common way I end my novellas to promote discussion. For the second debate, we had students vote on one of the questions. Half the class looked for quotes to support “yes” and the other half “no.”

The format is basically think | pair | share, with students a) spending time on their own rereading (sneaky, right?) and writing a quote and its page # in notebooks (FYI, notebook pics are great evidence of learning for gradebooks), b) pairing with group to discuss what they found, and then c) the debate.

Back To Comprehension Basics: Don’t Speak Latin

No, I haven’t reverted back to the grammar-focused pedagogy of the 90s (and no, not the 1890s, either. Grammar teaching is still the dominant one today, which I predict will hold true for another 20 years). Instead, I’m going to challenge us all speaking Latin in the classroom to do so under just one condition:

Students will understand what you’re about to say.

It sounds too basic, I know, but not everyone does this or does this enough. Hence, back to the basics of comprehension-based teaching, right? So my challenge is now out there. If the condition isn’t met, say something in English, or change what we’re about to say to meet the condition. Of course, this challenge wouldn’t exclude the use of new words. No way. How else would students ever expand vocab?! However, this does mean that we must provide CI by using mostly words students already understand, allowing for just a few new ones during class, and then be sure students understand those new words (i.e., at least tell them what the new words mean in English, demonstrate the meaning whenever possible, and use a picture/realia if applicable).

Speech Rate & Text Coverage
The research of Hsueh-Chao & Nation as well as Laufer shows that a text must have 98% coverage of known vocab (tokens) to have a chance of being read with ease (because even 95% text coverage can get woefully low comprehension scores of 55%!). Well, that’s with texts, when the student able to control the pace and even reread! Speech doesn’t work that way. When we say something, the student can’t control our speech rate. They have to signal us. There’s no 15sec replay. They have to signal us. While we’re working towards training students to self-advocate for comprehension, the reality is that listening to Latin is the MUCH harder mode to process. Therefore, it goes without saying that we should be using 98%+ text coverage in speech. Only speaking the target language in class when students will understand will maximize comprehension. Who doesn’t want that?! Practically speaking, then, I challenge us to all give pause the moment we’re about to say something students don’t understand yet, then do the following:

  1. Say it in English and move on.
  2. Restate using other words students already understand.
  3. Use the new word/phrase, immediately establish meaning, then provide micro-exposure.

Micro-exposure
This is my term for giving students a little bit of concentrated exposure to what has the potential to be a one-off and out-of-bounds word/phrase. In practice, when a new word/phrase comes up, expect to sit with it for some statements and questions for a minute or two. Yes, a minute or two. This helps keep vocab limited and comprehension high without vocab overload and noise that students start to get used to (i.e., they begin to tune out the input and be OK with incomprehension because there’s so much of it during class).

Consider the alternative for a minute: a class during which we teachers use new words/phrases as a reaction to what students say. That’s basically a translation class (English –> Latin) without much expectation (and hope) that students will ever be exposed to those words/phrases again.

Think of micro-exposure as circling or something if that helps you, too. However it’s understood and whatever it’s called, we must acknowledge that the absence of micro-exposure entirely can result in a ton of vocab and high levels of incomprehension, or some kind of one-off situational experience like the translation class. Only the kids with the best, most freakish memories will absorb all that input, and there aren’t too many of them in class, if at all.

So, are you ready to not speak Latin unless students will understand what you’re about to say? Why or why not?

Jamboard: Read & Teacher-Draw, and Free Reading

Add short sections of a text to the top of a Jamboard (it’s in your Google apps), read as a whole class and have students tell you how to depict what’s going on. They probably won’t be speaking the target language (TL), but that doesn’t matter. You will. If they say “oh oh oh, don’t forget their hair,” just restate in the TL: “ah, dēbeō capillōs dēlīneāre? ego possum capillōs optimōs dēlīneāre. ecce! capillōs magnōs et rīdiculōs dēlīneō!”

“Why not have students do a Read & Draw?!” Good question.

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