No Proficiency, No Problem: How CI allowed me to teach Spanish

At the end of November I was hired to teach a new 7th grade Exploratory Language program. This was the administration’s solution to a failed compulsory extension of their 8th Spanish program that was halted in October by the abrupt resignation of their teacher. I wasn’t certified to teach Spanish, so the workaround was to reestablish 7th grade Spanish as 7th grade Exploratory Language, and offer Spanish, Latin (for which I DO hold certification), and French.

When I accepted the position, I knew very little Spanish, and French wasn’t even on the map. I was willing to invest the time needed to teach them, and I had a secret weapon…my CI language training. The administration recognized such value, and I was on my way. I chronicled this experience in short videos capturing each day of teaching for a few months, which you can view by joining Ben Slavic’s PLC. In these videos I employ CI strategies & activities and reflect upon my teaching practices in video captions.

You might be wondering how I was able to teach a language I didn’t know. It turns out that in addition to pedagogical training, all you need is to hear and read some understandable messages (= CI) in order to acquire enough language so that you can teach it. I asked my wife to speak Spanish to me whenever possible, and I read a handful of Blaine Ray and TPRS Publishing novels (I’ve kept it going and am on my 9th book so far). I began reading public signs in both languages (sometimes ignoring the English altogether), and selecting Spanish as the language at the grocery store self-checkout. The only speaking I did was to my students, and that was in a very optimized way. Clearly, a more proficient speaker would be in a position to deliver more non-targeted input, but at least for my 7th grade student, we didn’t come CLOSE to hitting my own proficiency level. I was well-prepared for this.

Below are my results from what I’ve estimated to be ~10-20 hours of CI over 32 school days of instruction. In a typical CI program, the lower number usually accounts for a Total Physical Response (TPR) phase before moving onto stories. Why so few CI hours? There were massive behavior problems, the students had an entire month of study hall, and I was the third adult in front of them…there’s not much more to say about that. In a way, it’s amazing that students picked up any Spanish at all. You can be the judge of that from these Fluency Writes (and videos on Ben Slavic if you can join).

The first timed writes you see were retells of class stories, but the final ones were all original ideas. These were unannounced 5min timed writes, and no notes were used. The only thing students might have used were Question Posters in the classroom. Remember, my own Proficiency Level is probably Novice High. There’s no way I could’ve seen this kind of spontaneous/authentic student writing doing anything other than teaching with CI. Also note that the first timed writes reflect ~20 hours of traditional language teaching from their first Spanish teacher, and ~1 hour of CI with me. At this point, there should be no case for teachers ignoring the effectiveness of teaching with CI if I, a Latin teacher, can get these results from delivering ~20 hours of CI Spanish.

1) Madagascar Chicken:
This is clearly a fast processor, but note the  absence of any verb whatsoever on the first retell. The final product, though, definitely shows that the student now has a good handle on “has,” and the word count was pretty high at 72 words.

SKM_654e16020809470_0005SKM_654e16020809470_00062) La Chica:
Why have I included this? There will always be kids who just don’t give a hoot. This is what that looks like. This student copied words from posters from around the room for the final story, and is representative of what I saw, daily, from this particular student.

SKM_654e16020812220_0005SKM_654e16020812220_00073) The girl had no man:
This one shows excellent growth.SKM_654e16020812220_0001SKM_654e16020812220_00024) Bernie Sanders
My kids loved bringing Bernie and Donnie into our stories. You can tell from the final product that I focused on the Super 7 Verbs (there is, is in/at, is, likes, has, wants, goes) with these students.

SKM_654e16020812220_0003SKM_654e16020812220_00045) Sushi
This was a fast processor in one of the more well-behaved classes, so we’re talking closer to ~20 hours of CI, which probably accounts for the high word count.SKM_654e16020812260_0001SKM_654e16020812260_0003SKM_654e16020812260_0004
6) Pizza Hut
The first retell makes no sense, even for someone sympathetic to language learners. This student also just copied question words from around the room. The final product is modest in length, but the clarity in expression is undisputed. Sometimes a high word count isn’t needed to show growth.


OWATS: CI not Guaranteed

Familiarize yourself with Bob Patrick’s One Word At a Time Stories (OWATS), here.

Sure, this activity can be used to deliver understandable messages when asking questions to each group and/or providing Pop-Up Grammar explanations. Realize, though, that the more groups you have, the less CI you can deliver; time is divided between groups students instead of all at once in a whole-class format. Aside from the main purpose of providing some limited CI, OWATS is also suitable when you need a break from delivering CI. I was in that kind of state of mind today, and didn’t ask groups many questions. Still, the students had a blast creating stories together.

I didn’t plan ahead of time for today’s OWATS, but quickly realized upon entering the building that after the long weekend (including a surreal night at Hôtel de Glace), I didn’t have the energy to sustain a full day in Spanish (n.b. we start Latin in February, then French in April for this 7th grade Exploratory Language course). Teachers new to CI, and Latin teachers new to speaking Latin will likely find themselves in a similar boat. OWATS is a good option. I always have phrases we’ve used typed up, cut out, and ready to go, and continue to add more to the pile as we go.

The only change I’ve made to Bob Patrick’s OWATS is that now I keep the words at the front of the room and let students get new ones at their own pace. What do I do if not checking each sentence and distributing new words to groups? I constantly move from group to group to monitor progress, act as cheerleader, and engage them in some questions about their story. Why the update? I’ve found that groups wait too long for me to finish working with another group. This bogs down the pace to an unworkable level with less-proficient students on the verge of losing focus. The focus and proficiency in upper level classes is totally different, so my adaptation might not be necessary in your case.

Student Work (first OWATS, ~22 hours of Spanish CI)
Example 1:
OWATS - Good ExampleHere’s a group that did quite well. Don’t worry about those errors. With so few hours of CI, there’s no point in making a single error correction. The story is quite understandable, but not all of the Spanish is their own. Although it’s tempting to use this as evidence of acquisition/progress, the bulk of the writing was from the following OWATS phrases:

hay un problema
no tenía
otro hombre
va a

Still, they provided me (us) with another possible form of input if I were to edit and use their personalized story for a follow-up activity.

Example 2:OWATS - Example

The example above is from a group with low proficiency. English abounds, we have no plot/conflict, and there’s less continuity throughout. One of the challenges with OWATS is writing a line or two in order to set up the new phrase. This group didn’t do that, and instead tried to string together each of the phrases they drew from the pile one-by-one.

I’m not surprised by any of this. Ability to write in a second language after ~22 hours is limited, and when students work together there’s more uncertainty thrown into the mix. This is why the products from Novice level OWATS must be heavily edited, or used as a means to get more Input from the teacher during discussion. On a day when that teacher has low energy, there’s not a great deal of CI going on. Interesting to note, however, that students aren’t really aware of this, and quite enjoy themselves during OWATS. This is one of those activities that gives students the impression that they’re learning, which helps create buy-in for our programs.

What Next?
After today’s OWATS, I ditched the phrases that seemed to hinder the flow of writing (e.g. “I am not,” or “you are” in a mix of otherwise 3rd person forms). Now, instead of editing and typing these up for some kind of reading activity like I usually do, I’ll instead use them for a Dictation activity later this week. I’ll make edits on the fly just before reading aloud the next line. I’ll use the OWATS product, but not spend so much time creating materials. Teachers have lives, too.

Unexpected Idea from Students
One group of students misinterpreted the OWATS directions and actually each took turns writing a single phrase of the story after they drew “was in” from the pile (e.g. The man, was in, Mexico, he was, a small man, he wanted, cheese, a lot of cheese, etc.). This had a “campfire” storytelling feel to it, and actually engaged everyone more equitably. The limited Output seemed more manageable, just like our one to two word responses during class. I noticed that only a couple students were participating during OWATS, but then magically everyone appeared to be involved once I made my way to their group. That might be unavoidable; these are kids. Other than creating smaller groups, this new idea might be another way to include more students by design. Try this variation when you do this activity again. One Word At a Time Campfire Stories (OWATCS)? j/k

Here’s a link to the paper I use for story writing in class.


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 the 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 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

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?

Read, don’t Translate: Speed Reading

Reading without consciously translating into one’s native language is assumed to be a part of language acquisition, yet is taken for granted and difficult to assess. Through a Speed Reading program, students are encouraged to read chunks of words rather than individual word-for-word-translation. This aligns with how we focus on teaching the most frequent structures rather than isolated word lists. In addition, students find this reading program compelling due to the personal competitive nature.

Take a minute to read the Speed Reading Process (my adaptation of Blaine Ray’s adaptation of Paul Nation’s program).

If you like the idea, all that’s needed to begin is a set of reading passages (perhaps parallel class stories), accompanying document with 10 comprehension questions, and a table showing reading speed per passage. You will need the following files:

Student Progress Graphs
Words per Minute Calculator (you will need this to create tables based on your own readings)

In order to pilot Speed Reading in my classroom, I used existing reading passages rather than creating parallel stories. There were a few problems with that. The passages weren’t long enough (~250 words), and increased with difficulty since the textbook followed a grammatical syllabus. This latter point added unnecessary variables. For better results, wait until the midway point of your year, and write reading passages of ~500 words consisting of words students really, really know well. Click here to see what I used in my classroom.

Here are a few examples of my students’ Progress Graphs:

JW - Speed Read

Note how this student reread Reading #2 a week later. He was much faster the second time around, and the score shows that he missed a detail.

KW - Speed Read

This student also read a little faster the second time around on Reading #2, but note the drop in reading rate for Reading #3 in the last two columns. Doesn’t make sense, right? Aside from knowing that on any giving day any student could be off their game, let’s take a look at the dates; there’s a gap of over two weeks. This might indicate how important consistent reading is.

BB - Speed Read

This student really, really enjoyed the activity; all reading rates improved the second time reading. Note the comprehension scores. This student is clearly a fast processor, but definitely could read even faster while still retaining a decent understanding of details (~70%).

2014-2015 Fluency Writes

Following the initiative of Chris Stolz, Mike Peto, and Mike Coxon, I’ve scanned some student work to share. These 10min timed Fluency Writes are all from Latin I students with anywhere from ~20 to ~100 hours of Latin. The word counts range from 41 to 117, though aren’t necessarily all linear with respect to class time in Latin.

I use this format for Fluency Writes (adapted from Scott Benedict’s Free Write paper). Kids do an analysis of their work once or twice per year (midterm?/final) using this sheet (adapted from someone on LatinBestPractices, though I can’t find the file).

I should say that this was the first complete year of me teaching with CI, and I didn’t do a stellar job. Although I feel strongly that we can’t control acquisition rates, I am far more skilled at delivering CI now, which means that results like these will only get better, especially with general improvements to classroom MGMT, grading, and assessment.

I’ve provided commentary on the first five since they nicely represent what I see in the others.

Cubiculum - 41

Cubiculum – 41
This simple description of the room was an early year product back in the fall of 2014 (~20 hours of Latin). We use in cubiculō quite a bit, so this student hasn’t picked up the subject form, cubiculum. Still, he shows signs of solid noun-adjective agreement understanding (e.g. telephōnulum callidum, multa telephōnula, computātrum meum, etc.). The last sentence is great, too. He even got that duo, for some weird reason, isn’t the expected dua. Note also that plural habent. Not a story, but definitely a list of things in the room. This is a good example of ACTFL’s Novice Mid within the first few weeks. Clearly, a student with high aptitude, yet this shows the power of “micro-fluency” when teaching with CI, and TPRS.

Aliēnus - 54

Aliēnus – 54
Uses past auxiliary, but verbs are in present. Word order and 1 to 1 English to Latin translation (e.g. spectat sīcut aliēnus = looks, like, an alien) shows that the student is searching for ways to express an idea instead of just writing Latin he/she knows. The est pulsat (= is punches, or is is punching) at the end is such a classic indicator of this. Students really, really want Latin (and probably other languages) to have a single word for each English word. Endings haven’t been acquired, but the student has picked up the idea of [verb] + ad to express motion towards. We see that pugnāre was picked up in the infinitive form since we had it as vult pugnāre (=wants to fight). Here, the student is trying to recombine parts of phrases to express a new idea. This is a hallmark of ACTFL Novice High. Although I think I could do much better as a deliverer of understandable messages, this is pretty good for year 1 spring (~60 hours of Latin).

AvisVir - 100
AvisVir – 100
Here is a Fluency Write from spring (~80 hours of Latin). This student has been noticing macrons, and even some endings. She attempts to write accurately, though writes inconsistently. I see that she is trying to use to express “of.” This is interesting because another student’s name, Evelynae, clearly has the genitive case –ae expressing “of.” The phrases dīxit eī (=said to him/her) has been picked up. This student was paying attention during stories. Overall, this is more difficult to understand than others, but does fall within ACTFL’s Novice High.

Ninja - 114

Ninja – 114
This class story retell was the final Fluency Write of the year (~100 hours of Latin). It is quite good with only minor errors, which is far beyond what I expected. Interesting how after the initial past tense, this is retold in historic present. This represents the lexical approach I took; we began most stories with ōlim erat, yet other verbs weren’t exclusively used in their past form as much as that phrase. If this weren’t a retell, it might be classified as ACTFL’s Intermediate Low.

Ninja - 50

Ninja – 50
Notice how the same story retell is less than half the word count as the other student. Science tells us that kids develop in a predictable manner, but at different speeds, and I am reminded of that when looking at student work. This student hasn’t picked up on endings, but conveys the main idea. We’re in ACTFL’s Novice Mid for this one.

Discipulus Elephantus et Piscis - 107Discipulus, Elephantus, et Piscis – 107
(~30 hours of Latin)

Oceanus Joe - 96

Oceanus Joe – 96
(~30 hours of Latin)

Felis Unae - 77

Fēlis Ūnae – 77
(~40 hours of Latin)

Mōnstrum et Lūna - 47

Mōnstrum et Lūna – 47
(~40 hours of Latin)

untitled Sponge Bob - 57

Untitled Sponge Bob – 57
(~70 hours of Latin)