TPRS, etc. & Interaction: Required

Here’s a quick note about TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) and other collaborative storytelling methods and strategies…

They require interaction.

This has become painfully obvious to me after teaching on Zoom for over a year in a public high school, where responses to polls are few, participation is low, and circling is next to impossible in most contexts (unless you happen to have surprisingly high levels of participation). I mean, we can certainly fake circling by doing something similar via those polls and chat, but it moves a LOT slower than that in-person question after question pace complete with reading the room (i.e. “teach to eyes” etc.). On Zoom, the process gets bogged down. That’s not circling. The point of circling is to give students a massive amount of exposure to a small set of words by asking many different questions that students can answer without hesitation. It’s actually the answering of questions that’s so key, not only to keep an eye on who might be getting lost (and then ask “what does X mean?” comprehension check), but also to get the details you ask for, as well as the surprise responses that can take the story in an unexpected yet highly compelling turn. Hence, interaction.

Yet “interaction” can be woefully misunderstood and misinterpreted to mean full-on conversations. That’s not what we need with collaborative storytelling at all. We need to provide students messages in the target language via a process that might feel ad nauseam to us, but is probably just enough (or maybe not quite enough!) for the beginner. That’s happens from questions, statements, and then restating everything that happens.

THAT kind of interaction is crucial. Other types of interaction might occur, or even prove to be beneficial in certain cases, especially in other activities, but without student responses during collaborative storytelling—not just the ones that get details—we got nothing.

Core Practices

I got thinking about what I’d say my core practices were if anyone wanted to learn more about CI and get an overview of what comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) looks like. Would it be a list of 10? Could I get that down to five? Might it be better to prioritize some practices like the top 5, 8, and 16 verbs (i.e. quaint quīnque, awesome octō, and sweet sēdecim)? Would I go specific, with concrete activities? Or, would I go broad and global, starting with principles and ideas?

I highly recommend that you do this just as an exercise during a planning period this week, making a quick list of your core practices. Doing so required me to sort out a few things in the process, and helped organize and align my practices to certain principles. Of course, terms and definitions can get tricky, here. I just saw that Reed Riggs and Diane Neubauer refer to “instructional activities (IA),” which covers a lot of what goes on in the classroom. It’s a good term. I’m using “practices” in a similar way to refer to many different methods, strategies, techniques, and activities that all fall under a CCLT approach, as well as general “teacher stuff” I find to be core as well.

Another reason for this post is that I’ve seen the “CI umbrella” graphic shared before, but that doesn’t quite fit with my understanding of things. Rather than practices falling under a CI umbrella, I envision CI instead as the result of practices under the umbrella of CCLT. I also consider such an approach a defense against incomprehensibility—the first obstacle that needs to be removed—and I thought a more aggressive graphic of a “CI shield” might best represent that.

Here’s the first line of core practice defense:

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Methods & Results: To What Do We Attribute Success?

Not every teacher shares how well their students are doing—probably out of fear of being criticized—and I don’t blame them one bit. This data is often kept under lock and key, so it’s hard to get a sense of whether all the talk amounts to something. SPOILER ALERT: it does. The reports I’ve seen on how well students have been doing under a…NOT…grammar-translation approach tend to attribute success in different ways, though. Today, I’m looking at two such programs to see if we can narrow down what contributes success:

Program 1:

  • 69% of Latin V students score Intermediate Mid (I4+) on ALIRA
  • Focus on reading
  • Translation of what is understood (vs. in order to understand)
  • Uses LLPSI (Lingua Latina per se Illustrata)
  • Uses novellas & other sources of input
  • Speaks Latin whenever possible (i.e. judicious use of English)
  • Establishes meaning in English (i.e. fēlēs = cat) when students ask
  • CI is necessary, but not sufficient for acquisition
  • Extensive interaction is most important

Program 2:

  • 64% of Latin IV students score Intermediate Mid (I4+) on ALIRA
  • Focus on reading
  • Translation of what is understood (vs. in order to understand)
  • No textbook
  • Uses novellas & other sources of input
  • Speaks Latin whenever possible (i.e. judicious use of English)
  • Establishes meaning in English (i.e. fēlēs = cat)
  • CI is necessary, and sufficient for acquisition
  • Interaction is important

The results are very close by the end of each program, and there’s definitely more in common than not, but what isn’t in common makes for differently-enough teaching and learning environments. Both are just as successful, but what can we attribute that success to? Let’s look into those differences a bit more…

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Pisoverse Novella Recommendations: Levels & Whole-Class

Back in August, you might have seen my 2020-21 plans for novellas in preparation of remote learning on a reduced 2x/week class schedule. It turned out that with less time spent on Free Voluntary Reading (i.e. none), we read more whole-class novellas over Zoom than I would have preferred, but c’est la vie COVID. That experience gave me some insight into which books work best for whole-class reading, as well as helped me organize books in a different way. There was also Mike Peto’s Read-Aloud that came just in time to change things up with a new kind of reading process.

Levels
Following Andrew Olimpi’s system, my books now appear as AA to C (none of mine would be considered Level D or beyond). The general recommendation I’ve given is to read in order of word count. However, I’ve begun making it clearer which books might buck the trend due to higher percentage of cognates, as well as total length. For example, Drūsilla et convīvium magārum is my longest book at 3400 total words. In my experience, trēs amīcī et mōnstrum saevum—a book 1,000 fewer words in length, and with 3x as many cognates—is readable sooner. Books seemingly “out of order” like these can be identified by the word count badges on the front cover to highlight the percentage of cognates. Here are my recommended levels, and order within each, from left to right:

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Novellas: +2 Forward, -1 Back

With new novellas being published almost monthly at this point, opening up titles to choose from, I’ve been looking at how my own sequencing has been changing in the past year. I no longer feel the need to systematically read a) from lowest to highest word count, or b) shortest to longest book, a practice that constantly increases the demand of learners. If you think about it, what’s really the difference between that and using a highly sequenced textbook?! Such practice of constantly increasing demand also presumes learners have attended all classes, and/or develop language ability at the same rate, which is complete nonsense…

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Mike Peto’s Read-Aloud

Get yourself over to the new COMPRHENDED! conference; it’s super cheap and flexible PD you can access until May. As a presenter, my main role is fielding any questions people have about what I presented, but I’ve also had time to poke around as a participant, too, and I’ve got a new activity for whole-class reading. Mike Peto of My Generation of Polyglots has been a champion of novels and independent reading for quite a while. He promotes having texts in your FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library that students can read on their own, which means at-level, as well as below-level reading options, as supported by research on extensive reading (Jeon & Day, 2016). Still, there might be available texts that students need a bit of scaffolding to read. While most texts Latin teachers use are far above level, this whole-class reading strategy is worth sharing, especially for texts adapted to something closer to at-level (but probably still above-level). There’s also value in this reading approach with texts of all levels, especially in COVID times. I’ve used it with first year Latin students as recently as this week. It’s a robust reading process:

1) Teacher reads aloud as students listen
2) Reread paragraph-by-paragraph as students ask clarifying questions to help understanding (English is fine)
3) Reread again as students come up with comprehension questions that the teacher has to answer
(English is fine)

Step #2 is an opportunity to establish meaning, but that doesn’t guarantee comprehension. The questions in step #3 are evidence that students understand…or not. For example, I was asked “where does she run to?” which is a fine question, only the text didn’t say that the character ran anywhere…yet. That gave me the opportunity to say “ohh, well she doesn’t run anywhere yet, but here we see that she wants to run to the stadium” as I pointed out the word vult. It could be a simple oversight, or the student might have a different mental picture of what’s going on in the story. In my experience, younger students will need coaching on how to ask a comprehension question. For example, I mentioned that “who, what, where, when, why, how?” were good question starters, but then I got a bunch of “why?” questions that couldn’t be answered from the text.

Zoom
Whereas my go-to reading strategy includes #1 as I help students process the meaning of Latin, steps #2 and #3 of Mike’s read-aloud promote a LOT more interaction. I like how the three steps are concrete tasks that keep the focus on Latin over Zoom. Other reading strategies rely on students holding themselves accountable for paying attention, and/or require the teacher to check comprehension. Over Zoom, that can get frustrating. With steps #2 and #3, it’s very obvious who needs more support (or who just isn’t there at the computer). Don’t make any judgements, either. I suspected a student had bailed, so while others were thinking of questions to ask, or sending me clarifying requests in direct messages—which I always replied to in general chat (e.g. “vult = she wants”)—I sent direct messages to the students I wasn’t certain were even there. Sure enough, they responded with something. This is the Zoom equivalent of the quiet student taking everything in.

Circling & Scripts: Back To Them Roots (+ 59 Simple Story Starters)

Imma take a break from playing Root and get back to my teaching roots. Several recent experiences have reminded me that the most effective teaching practices are the basics, hands down. Obviously, COVID messed with us big time, but I’m afraid some of us have done a little too much adjusting that might result in lingering bad habits. Let’s face it, we pulled out all the stops on that beastly concert organ that was remote learning, and not all of what we did to make it happen could be considered even OK practices. We want good practices, and best ones whenever possible. Oh, and it’s been a while. Consider this: it will have been over two years since starting the school year with tried and true practices you’ve known to be effective. Yeah, that’s right. No one really did that in 2020, so it was August or September of 2019 when you last began the school year how you wanted. Will you remember what all those practices were? I’m not confident I will, so I’m writing this post to remind myself about them roots. Feel free to follow along…

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Student Ownership: Prompts & Novella Month

You’re looking at one of my student’s illustrations. The prompt was to read a description and draw the cover of a new book (coming laaaaaaate spring, btw):

Marcus likes being a young Roman mage, but such a conspicuous combo presents problems in provincial Egypt after he and his parents relocate from Rome. Despite generously offering magical medicine to the locals, this young mage feels like an obvious outsider, sometimes wishing he were invisible. Have you ever felt that way? Marcus searches Egypt for a place to be openly accepted, and even has a run-in with the famously fiendish Sphinx! Can Marcus escape unscathed?

The result in all classes was some pretty amazing buy-in before we even got to the first page! The prompt I chose also generated class content—the source of that class’ Picture Talk—for which students don’t have to be artists like this one; stick figures are great, especially the really silly ones that get everyone laughing…

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Collaborative Storytelling: Whole-Class Writing

Back in June, I did this test of what collaborative storytelling could look like for asynchronous learning. However, the process can be used during class for even more interaction, and more story variations. This format also has the benefit of modeling writing, which can become new sources of input with timed writes typed up, edited, and read in class. This is not innovative. I’ve seen teachers do this live in the classroom. However, you might have stepped away from collaborative storytelling for a bit, or just forgotten how easy and enjoyable it can be. I’d recommend getting back into it, keeping it a regular activity throughout the year. Here are my current favorite collaborative storytelling formats for live remote learning:

Whole-Class Writing
Using the super simple story script sequence, write a story by providing either/or details for students to choose, or blank spaces for students to fill-in their own. Share out, step-by-step as teacher restates in target language, and/or submit so teacher can edit, type up, and share back to whole class. You get up to as many new stories as you have students, although I found success projecting just 2 stories; one from the class, and one from another class.

Slide Talk Stories
Screenshare/project the Slides, and scroll through to inspire story detail options. If you want students to compete over details a little more, choose two options from the Slides (e.g. “H.E.R. or Brent Faiyaz?”). Otherwise, choose one detail from the Slides, then whatever other shadow comes to mind. Use the script below for a home-run story.

WOWATS (Whole-class One Word At a Time Stories)
Generate a list of words (e.g. from most recent text, high frequency, all words students know, etc.), randomly choose one, collaborate to use the word in a story, and continue. Consider following Mike Peto’s story structure of limiting each story part to 5 minutes so ideas don’t go off the rails and it takes the whole class.

1) Who? Where? With Whom?
2) Problem
3) Fail to Solve
4) Solution