Weekend-Working Teachers: Just Wait

When I present at conferences and give in-school PD on the topics of grading, assessment, and/or planning, I like to share this slide that includes all the jobs I’ve held prior to (and during!) teaching:

One use of this slide is to show how I approach teaching as a job just like any typical worker would do. That is, when the work day is over, the work day is over. I effectively “punch out” of teaching at the end of the school day, and return to work on the next “shift,” no questions asked. I share this because most teachers are anything but your typical worker, which has significant implications. A lot of them go from one classroom as students themselves straight to another classroom as teachers with little to no experience in any other profession, perhaps besides college work study or a part time job in high school. Some are so fortunate that they never had to work before they began teaching. That means teaching the only example of work to many (most?). There’s a big problem with that…

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What CI Isn’t (reboot)

**Updated 5.1.2020 with CI is not immersion.**

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about misunderstandings I kept observing with the term “CI.” Since then, CI has not changed at all, of course, but my own use of it has. I now tend to avoid the term because it’s been misrepresented at best, and corrupted at worst. Whenever I can, I refer simply to “input” because in a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach, comprehension (C) is not only implied, but step zero. However, I think there’s a need once again for a reminder of what CI is not, as I’ve found non-examples to be just as helpful when it comes to explaining pedagogy.

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COVID-19 Contingency & CANE Flash Sales

Without sensationalizing the global matter, let’s recognize that employers are considering contingency plans for unexpected, or impending work closures. What would employees need at home in order to continue working for a week, or two, or three? This extends to educators and school closures. In fact, our admin have already been asked to prepare. At the very least, having a plan is a good thing for everyone, regardless of risk. However, I’ve already observed unreasonable burdens placed on teachers to invent new expectations, routines, policies, assignments, quizzes, tests, etc. Sure, the situation is extraordinary, but what I’ve seen is missing a few key factors…

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Dante’s Circles Of Latin Shaming Hell

Instances of Latin shaming (i.e. causing one to feel ashamed or inadequate regarding their use of Latin) come up every now and then. I last pondered the issue back in August of 2019 in a draft of this post, first started in 2018 after observing some kind of online scuffle. Like clockwork, there have been public discussions once again regarding Latinity (i.e. quality of Latin), whether spoken in the classroom, or appearing in published works. To be clear, I have no interest in participating in those discussions. None. However, I’d like to share a bit about what’s been going on, and give some examples of Latin shaming…

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AP Latin: There’s Bad News…And…Worse News

**Updated 2.25.21 with details from this post**

I ran texts from the AP Latin syllabus through Voyant Tools:

  • 6,300 total words in length
  • 2,800 forms (i.e. aberant + abest = 2)
  • 1,100 meanings/lemmas (i.e. aberant + abest = 1 meaning of “awayness”)*

Based on the research of Paul Nation (2000), 98% of vocabulary must be known in order to just…read…a text. According to Nation’s research, then, Latin students must know about 6,175 words they encounter in the text in order to read the AP syllabus texts. That’s a text written with 1,100 words. To put that into perspective, it’s been reported that students reasonably acquire ~175 Latin words per year, for a total of something more like 750 by the end of four high school years. Needless to say, there’s a low chance that all 750 would be included the Latin on the AP, and that varies from learner to learner. Even if they were, though, 750 is still only 68% of the vocabulary at best. Although this percentage isn’t the same as text coverage since it doesn’t account for how many of the 1,100 words repeat, it’s safe to say that the number isn’t going to be wildly higher. Even approaching 80% text coverage is not good. We know that reading starts to get very cumbersome below 80%. This is just one reason why no student can actually read AP Latin. Oh wait

****Those figures are just for Caesar****

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The Latin Problem

According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), there’s a scale of five main proficiency levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished. Most states require Advanced Low speaking proficiency to teach modern languages. However, many teachers attain near-native-like proficiency, anyway. To give you a sense of what that means, beyond Advanced Low, there’s still Advanced Mid, Advanced High, Superior, and then the highest rating on the ACTFL scale, Distinguished, for which the following are features:

“A non-native accent, a lack of a native-like economy of expression,* a limited control of deeply embedded cultural references, and/or an occasional isolated language error may still be present at this level.”

*economy of expression
“The use of the most precise and expressive words and phrases, thus eliminating the need for excess description, wordiness, jargon, or circumlocution.”

Of course, most of these teachers spend time abroad, and/or have found themselves exposed to the target language in some other way. Needless to say, modern language teachers tend to be highly proficient speakers, yet at the same time they’re not necessarily scholars who study the language, earning an M.A. in its literature. Granted, it’s not uncommon for modern language teachers to be that kind of scholar while also studying abroad and/or being exposed to input and interaction elsewhere. However, the former certainly isn’t necessary in order to achieve the latter. Then there’s the Latin problem…

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Opportunities To Talk (In A Bad Sense)

Last year, I had the opportunity to watch some videos of a teacher’s rough class—you know, that class we kinda wished would just go away, or fix itself over time, but that won’t because that’s not reality. We need concrete steps to take in order to regain MGMT (classroom management) in all classes, and the first one to work on until it’s solid is eliminating opportunities to talk.

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“Active Latin:” Confusion & Clarification

If you’re within the first years of speaking Latin in the classroom, I urge you to avoid using the term “active Latin.” In a nutshell, referring to “active Latin” is problematic, and just might lead you astray from what you intend to be doing.

A few years ago, some began recognizing the confusion “active Latin” was causing. This confusion is summarized below, with observations of people interpreting “active Latin” to mean that…

  • …Latin was to be spoken all the time.
  • …English was to be avoided, if not eliminated.
  • …students had to speak and write Latin.
  • …grammar had to be taught/learned in Latin.
  • …teaching in such ways meant that one was providing input (I) that was understandable (C) to the student.

**Before I continue, let it be clear that doing or not doing any of the bullet points is not the focus of this post. Instead, the focus is on this particular combination, how it’s referred to as “active Latin,” and its implications.**

When looking at the bullet list, it doesn’t matter what “active Latin” ever meant originally, has meant over time, or now means. What matters is that this confusion led to more emphasis on output, and a more polarized view of teaching Latin, in general. In particular, the combination of the first bullet points above doesn’t cause the last. Due to this confusion, there’s a problematic association with “active Latin,” and CI, which may or may not be provided under the listed circumstances.

Quite plainly, then, just because you’re speaking Latin, doesn’t mean you’re providing CI…

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Input Analysis & Textbook Comparison

One universal thing we can discuss with any language teacher is awareness of how much target language we’re giving students (I, Input), how well they understand (C, Comprehensibility), and the reason for doing an activity (P, Purpose). In fact, this focus is central to our school’s Latin department, and keeping track of input is part of my teacher eval goal.

I covered an ELA teacher’s class last Friday, which means the most productive thing to do was complete some kind of menial task. It just so happened that counting up words is exactly that. So, I compared the input my Albāta class students have received to the Latin found in the first four stages of Cambridge. N.B. I chose the Albāta class section because they’ve read the most total words between all class sections (i.e. 1616 to 1755).

Indeed, Albāta students received about 36% more input than Cambridge (1755 to 1117). Surprisingly, though, the unique word count was also higher by about 24% (221 to 169). I wouldn’t have expected that with such an intent on my part to shelter (i.e. limit) vocabulary unlike what is found in textbooks, so let’s take a look…

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No-Prep Planning: Using The School’s Calendar

On my school’s calendar, there are 10 vacation days, holidays, or 3-day weekends before the school week that lend themselves to a “what was X like?” no-prep discussion. That leaves roughly 25 other days back from the weekend. There’s the classic Calendar Talk, or Weekend Chat, but what else is there? For example, I have a poetry routine, which if started in January leaves only 10 remaining Mondays to actually plan for.

That’s it…10!

With classes meeting 5x/wk, the combination above just took care of all Mondays (i.e. 20% of planning)! This year, I plan to look at the school year more like this, especially as a department, seeing what events naturally lend themselves to providing content (e.g. big sports games, Superbowl, dances, election day, community parades, etc.). Also, that’s just everything we know about ahead of time, let alone any weekend events that get people buzzing (e.g. Notre Dame, community announcements, etc.).

So, how can you use the school calendar to gain even MORE planning and personal time?