Discipulī et Magistrī Illustrēs: A Guessing Game

On Facebook, I shared my variation on the student interview program Discipulus Illustris (i.e. Special Person) of getting teacher colleagues to choose and answer questions that I put into Google Slides to play “guess the teacher” with classes. Given the size of our staff, I have every Tuesday covered for the rest of the year. Students have enjoyed the process, but they wanted more. Therefore, instead of conducting the typical student interviews on Thursdays, from this point onward, we’ll play “guess the student.”

Setting it up was easy. Last week, all students chose 5-10 questions to answer (from the list they, themselves, generated earlier in the year), and turned them in. I selected a few at random, and put them into Google Slides. I also assigned point values decreasing with each question, a bit like a Kahoot alternative, as well as 15 seconds between each slide. This game runs itself aside from teams guessing a student on the paper, writing the number (of points) shown on the slide at the time, and dropping it into a hat. This awards teams points that correctly guess the student the fastest, or who take the risk if unsure. I can do three each class, so three rounds of this game will be played each Thursday (until the end of school). Most points out of all three rounds wins.

Not Just A Team Building Game
This isn’t just a game. There’s input. I found it easy to type up student responses in Latin without vocab getting out of bounds. Where it would have, though, I just quoted the student’s response in English. I also removed the English support from the questions that appear on each slide, so students have 15 seconds in their group to process the input. Then, the response appears as they have 15 seconds to confer. In some cases, I took the class through a choral translation of the question, and/ore response. Everything is timed, so there’s a sense of urgency to earn the most points and win the game (i.e. communicative purpose is entertainment).

Adapting Latin: No Excuses & Every-Text Tier Challenge

I’ve been writing my next book on the zodiac signs and their associated myths for months now. Despite being intended for the beginning Latin learner, I thought each myth could use an additional, even simpler, version in the final book. Today, it took me only 7 minutes to adapt one of the myths—that I’ve been writing for months—to about 1/4 the length using fewer words. Every teacher can do this kind of thing. Every.

No excuses.

My Every-Text Tier Challenge goes out to all language teachers. To accept and claim honor after observing greater comprehension from students, just take tomorrow’s text—because there’s no good reason your students aren’t reading every day—and write a simplified version of it…right now. Don’t worry about changing formatting if it’s perfect for printing or something. You can project the simplified version tomorrow and read with students just before they read the original (as part of the simple Talk & Read daily lesson plan format). Oh, and does the text have some twists, or juicy details? Leave them out in the simplified version, and you’re on your way to creating an embedded reading.

Keep doing this for every text until you can adapt Latin (or whatever) so fast you don’t have to think about it. No excuses. “No time” is the usual excuse I hear for not doing this kind of thing, but that tends to come from teachers doing too much planning, quiz creating, and/or too much grading. Just do less of all that, and do more simplifying of texts.

Why Bother?
Bottom line, all students will benefit from reading a simple- to super-simple version of a text. There’s also a very good chance that particular students even need a text at a much lower level to truly receive CI (i.e. input that’s *actually* comprehensible, and not just partly- to incomprehensible input).

Oh, and if it takes you too long to adapt your Latin (or whatever), that’s a really good sign that the original text is too high level for students to read, anyway (i.e. also a sign that you need to be giving more comprehensible texts that provide more comprehensible input). So, I challenge you to the Every-Text Tier Challenge. Of course, there’s no need to share this work, especially with Latin shaming still lingering about, so it’s truly the honor system, here. However, I encourage you to discuss the process of simplifying texts in fōra varia, especially if you’re unsure where to begin, or have questions about this important strategy to make language more comprehensible.

Rejoinders: Teacher vs. Students

This year, I’ve begun each quarter by sharing new (or “new”) expectations. These are simple reminders of rules and routines expressed in a slightly different way to keep management tight. For example, Q2 featured “less English, more Latin” to address increased chatter from students becoming more comfortable. This week, I introduced Q3 with “mostly Latin, almost no English.” However, I still don’t require or expect students to speak Latin (i.e. forced output). Here’s how that works…

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Demonstrations: Providing Compelling Input

I’ve known that Krashen et al. suggested long ago that using Total Physical Response (TPR) to teach basic dance steps, martial arts, magic tricks, etc. results in compelling input. I’ve seen presenters talk about the idea of doing so, but haven’t really seen it much in classrooms. Now, I’ve performed one of Eric Herman’s magic tricks, but I didn’t really think I knew how to do anything that I could instruct students to do.

However, Tuesday was one of those perfect times to try something new during a weird day because the rest of the week was midterms. Since I got into archery this year, I decided to bring in my bow to demonstrate basic assembly, shot cycle, and target point values. Yes, I cleared this with security as well as admin, and no, I didn’t bring any arrows.

The experience was fantastic.

Students were captivated for a solid 45 minutes, and there’s no surprise why. Humans are naturally curious learners. It’s just that the school system has destroyed the joy of learning. If we can pause that “school feeling” for a moment, we bring back the joy. After my demo using common vocab, I projected a list of archery-specific phrases, and we co-created a quick text on archery. From there, I put together a more comprehensive packet. However, I wasn’t teaching words. I was teaching about archery. That’s the content.

In pedagogical terms, this is content-based instruction (CBI). Students asked a lot of questions about the bow. Why? It’s cool. In comparison, though, they didn’t ask as much about Roman apartment buildings last month. Why? That’s kind of boring, no matter how well we connect the content to their lives. Of course, exploring Roman content works the same way as exploring archery. It’s just that it takes someone with particular interests to get as excited about Romans. However, I’m not convinced that this should be either/or. I’ll both continue to explore Roman content (in Latin), as well as teach about other content (in Latin).

I’m now looking for other things to demo. Drumming might be one. After performing that card trick, I suppose I could teach it. In all of this, I’m reminded of how beneficial it is to include students in the demo process (e.g. distribute toy bows, drum sticks, decks of cards, etc.).

So, What could you teach your students?

Vocab Overload

This is the time of year when it becomes obvious how much students have not acquired. That is, words not even remotely close to the most frequent of the most frequent are almost completely incomprehensible when they appear in a new text.

That’s OK.

Perhaps you’ve already experienced this earlier in the year. Perhaps it’s coming. Either way, it’s important to recognize that falling back to the old mindset of “but we covered this?!” is *not* going to fly in a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach. To clarify: understanding in the moment is CI, and exposure to CI over time results in acquisition. For example, a text so comprehensible that all students can chorally translate it with ease one class might have a handful of topic-specific vocab. Even though there could be an entire class, maybe even an entire week of exposure, topic-specific vocab that isn’t recycled throughout the year has a very low chance of being acquired and comprehended in new texts. **Therefore, students can experience vocab overload even in classes with high levels of CI.** That applies to “big content words,” like all the vocab needed to talk about Roman kings. Now consider function words, like adverbs, conjunctions, particles, etc. that hold very little meaning on their own. Those have almost no chance of being understood unless they keep appearing in texts.

Of course, we cannot recycle all previous words in every new text, which is why acquisition takes so long. Naturally, the least frequent words fall off and out of bounds, and only the most spongiest of memory students have a shot at acquiring those. However, we cannot expect from most students what only few can do. Instead, we must expect will happen when vocab spirals out beyond the possibility of being recycled, and address that before it happens. Here are ways to address vocab overload when providing texts:

  • Dial things back as much as you can, focusing on the top most frequent & useful words.
  • Write a tiered version, or embedded reading for every new text, even if that new text is very short.
  • When possible, use a word more than once, and in different forms. Fewer meanings (e.g. ran, runs, will run, running) have a greater chance of being understood than many meanings focused on a grammar feature (e.g. ran, ate, laughed, said, carried, was able, were).
  • If a function word is important, use it a lot (e.g. the more recent “autem” has no chance of being understood if you keep using “sed”).
  • If a message can be expressed in one very long sentence, break it into two or more shorter ones, restating subjects, etc. for clarity. Then, repeat the full message with a function word (e.g. “therefore,…so…”).
  • When expanding vocabulary with synonyms, especially when beginning with cognates, consider glossing with the previous (e.g. if you began the year with “studēns,” each text that now has “discipula” could have ( = studēns) after the first instance in that text. Continue using “discipula,” but use “studēns” to clarify meaning when needed).

Full Weeks Of School? Not As Many As You Think!

The winter months are notorious for their interruptions, such as midterms/finals, PD days, holidays, and [un]expected bad weather. We’re back from the longest break, but not in full swing, and don’t expect to be. Why? I’ve long observed how Thanksgiving vacation marks the end of the most productive time of school, and the Swiss cheese feeling we’re in from now through February leaves just a couple months left to finish out the year. That is, with April vacation and a handful of other random short weeks of teaching, the next 18 weeks of instruction are going to fly by.

So, I took a look at all the interruptions throughout the year. Surprisingly, only 75% of the weeks are a full five days. That means 1/4 of the time teaching, plans based on an entire week’s worth of activities and routines get all messed up…for the entire year! Now, anything that messes things up as often as 25% of the time is enough to lead to burnout. There are a number of ways to plan no- to low-prep, and avoid that burnout, but for the 25% of short school weeks, perhaps the best way is to treat daily routines as independent from one another, not always needing the previous day’s events (e.g. a Tuesday routine shouldn’t rely on whatever happens Monday).

This is just a reminder to plan wisely (i.e. smarter, not harder) for the second half of the year!

Total Words Read

Last year, I reported total words read up to holiday break, and it’s hard to believe that time of year is upon us again. Since part of my teacher eval goal is to increase input throughout the year, let’s compare numbers. 2018-19 students read over 20,000 total words of Latin by this time. However, this year’s students have read…uh oh…just 11,000?!?!

Hold up.

Something’s going on. I’m positive that students are reading more now, and for longer periods of time. Classes are now structured to be roughly half listening and half reading (i.e. Talk & Read), too. So…why don’t the numbers add up?! Surely there’s a reason. Let’s look into that, starting with this quote from last year’s post:

Over the 55 hours of CI starting in September up to the holiday break, students read on their own for 34 total minutes of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), and 49 minutes of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)…

This year’s independent reading time has skyrocketed to 99 and 233. That’s nearly 5x more independent choice reading! Now, last year’s 20,000 figure included an estimated 1,900 from FVR. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to estimate that this year’s students have read something like 9,500 total words during FVR, which would be like reading a third of this paragraph worth of Latin per minute. If so, the year-to-year comparison would be very close (i.e. 20,000 vs. 20,500). However, I’d expect the numbers to be much higher now with even more of a focus on reading. Seeing as it’s really difficult to nail down a confident number during independent choice reading due to individual differences, then, let’s just subtract all that FVR time from both years, arriving at 18,100 to compare to this year’s 11,000, which is still quite the spread. Let’s do some digging…

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Pīsō et Syra et pōtiōnēs mysticae: The Cognate Book Published!

This novella is written with 163…COGNATES!

That’s right.

There are 163 fairly to super clear Latin to English (and even Spanish) cognates, and then just 7 other necessary Latin words (ad, est, et, in, nōn, quoque, sed) found within this tale of nearly 2500 words in length.

“Piso can’t seem to write any poetry. He’s distracted, and can’t sleep. What’s going on?! Is he sick?! Is it anxiety?! Has he lost his inspiration?! On Syra’s advice, Piso seeks mystical remedies that have very—different—effects. Can he persevere?”

Pīsō et Syra… is the 17th novella in the Pisoverse, the collection of Latin novellas written with sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary to provide more understandable reading material for the beginning Latin student. The Pisoverse now provides over 44,000 total words of Latin using a vocabulary of 645 (just about half of which—320—are cognates!).

1) Pīsō et Syra et pōtiōnēs mysticae is now available on Amazon.
2) For Sets, Packs, and Bundle Specials (up to $200 off!), order here.

Game Of Quotes

This activity was shared quite some time ago. I didn’t look into it at the time, and just sent myself an email for whenever I had the chance. That chance was last week.

This game rules.

In short, it promotes reading, and highlights titles from your Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) library at the same time. Plus, even students who “don’t want to do the work” have a role that ends up bringing them into the fold (see below, *in bold*). This was my process for our team game after 10 minutes of independent reading (Free Reading Friday), also included in the Slides presentation you’ll find at the bottom of this post:

  • Students hold onto their books, forming teams (3+).
  • A prompt is revealed (e.g. “something you yell when you stub your toe”), then everyone has a minute or so to look for a word/phrase/quote from their book silently/independently.
  • Each student shares with their team. *Students who didn’t choose anything open to a random page and read a random sentence.*
  • After a count-off, teams vote for their favorite quote by pointing to whomever read it. Most votes wins.
  • Winner from each team shares their quote with the whole class.
  • A judge chooses best overall quote. That team gets a point, and becomes the next judge. Teacher chooses first judge to get things rolling.
  • Laugh and continue.

The process I listed above is a simple team-based version of the game I adapted from Jessie Oelke, with the presentation entirely in English. I figured that I’d end up spending more time trying to establish meaning of the prompts in Latin than we’d actually get to playing the game (i.e. students processing some input from their books). Otherwise, there’s this page from Senora Chase along with some Slides in various languages, as well as a longer story-based form of the game. You could always just collect a bunch of prompts that students create (much like Discipulus Illustris questions).

Here’s my Slides pres on Game of Quotes (in English).