We Should Grade Performance & Competency…Shouldn’t We…?!

Someone in my grad program recently mentioned how grading should be completely based on what students can do. This idea was challenged by another who said that it certainly makes sense if you’re “the last step” before a career (e.g., administering licensing tests, or proving you can do an actual job via some performance), but what about when students are still in the learning phase? This was a good point. How long does a typical learning phase last before you’d expect, or even need to grade performance & competency? What if you—the person ultimately responsible for that grade—are not “the last step?”

What if you’re a college instructor for a 100-level survey course? What if you’re a 10th grade math teacher? What if you’re a middle-school science teacher? What if you’re an elementary school reading specialist? Surely, a high-functioning society doesn’t rely on any of these people giving summative grades based on performance & competency as if it were “the last step.” Placing these kind of obstacles during the learning process long before the rubber hits the road isn’t something we should be doing.

This deserves some thought…

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KDP Cost Increase, Square Site Still $5/Book

KDP announced higher printing costs. As a result, my novellas on Amazon are increasing to $8. However, I’ve kept the deals on my Square site to about $5 per book to continue supporting teachers getting multiple copies for the classroom. Yes, there is a shipping cost. For everyone used to Prime free shipping, that cost might seem alarming. Yet it’s a reality I’m very familiar with having experience working at a UPS Store. Still comes out cheaper than Amazon, though.

Also, I’ll be updating my novella list over the next month to check prices. That’s about 150 books, though, so if you find a discrepancy, just contact me with the update. Thanks!

Novella Spotlight: diāria sīderum (The Star Diaries)

diāria sīderum is a personal favorite. I think this one is my best, honestly, though it appears to be an unlikely choice for the Classicist Latin teacher. Then again, they’re not the ones reading the book. Students are! The sci-fi/fantasy narrative has a bit of a “who dunnit?” feel to it, with students seeking to figure out what made the book’s ancient culture disappear. It’s in three parts using half cognates. The first part has 30 cognates and 30 other words (i.e., 60 total), and the other two parts add 20 and 20 words to that, respectively (i.e., 100 total). It was written so that my Latin 1 class could read a 1000-word long intro to “The Architects” in Part 1 to get a sense of what was going on just before their disappearance. Then, during independent reading, anyone interested could finish Parts 2 and 3 that provide more clues as to what happened.

And that might not be everyone…

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Lower Book To Read, Higher Book To Translate

Since translating, per se, isn’t the problem, and I’ve had success with Read & Translate alongside Read & Summarize (see input-based strategies & activities), my next update to the book-club-like “Novella Month” (now in May) will distinguish between reading and translating. Groups will choose a lower level book they can easily read over four weeks, as well as a higher level book they’ll plug-away at as a group (i.e., not to finish).

This serves two purposes. The first illustrates the different experiences to help students determine when they’ve chosen a book too high above their level, and the other gets at “schoolifying CI.” Whereas the first years of Novella Month included end-of-class prompts to respond to as some kind of low stakes “accountability,” this year’s products will be the translations of the higher level book (added to their portfolio as learning evidence). So no, there will be no product for the lower level book they’re reading, but that might help the cause of creating learners who read because they want to, and not because they have to. Also, several of those end-of-class prompts (choose 4?) are going to be used as a way to wrap up Novella Month along with comparing the two experiences of reading & translating.

Practically speaking, Novella Month will take place twice a week during the second half of every Monday/Wednesday (or Tuesday/Thursday) class. What goes on during the first half? We’ll be reading a books as a whole class: two weeks of The Star Diaries, a week of The Cognate Book, and two weeks of trēs amīcī et mōnstrum saevum. Fridays will be more free reading and a game based on the whole class text we’re reading. Almost done.

Quīntus et īnsula horrifica: AUDIOBOOK Release!

I teamed up with Michael Sintros (Duinneall) to create one last audiobook accompanying Quintus’ scary nights in the apartment (i.e., the prequel novella published last winter).

The total running time for this audiobook is about 20 minutes, meaning you could listen to the whole book in one go, then do some follow up activity, such as comparing this prequel to nox horrifica if students have read that one already. We’ll be doing that next week for an off-season thriller filler, perfectly timed for dealing with end-of-year testing madness that makes consistency this time of year quite difficult. In other words, more one-off activities are needed. I’ll add a listening challenge to listen for meaning, then look at the book and check for any pictures, footnotes, and/or clarification as we go. The narration is slower and has enough pauses to do so. The idea is that since my first year Latin students are well-beyond this book’s level, the additional task of purely listening (but having support if needed) should bring the activity up to “their speed.”

So, this audiobook is available on Bandcamp. If you’re not familiar with that site, it’s basically a donation-based way of musicians getting their music to fans. There’s a suggested cost, usually much lower than its value, so fans can choose to throw a few more dollars towards the musicians if they want to support them a bit more. One great feature is that you can stream the tracks a few times before Bandcamp gets sad. That means students can listen to this Latin without any cost to them whatsoever! For use in class, though, you might want to have the audio downloaded so you always have files ready to queue up. Enjoy!

Chapter 1 Excerpt:

Chapter 2 Excerpt:

Chapter 6 Excerpt:

Quīntus et āleae īnfortūnātae: Published!

Quintus is a gamester who really likes to gamble. The problem? He’s terribly unlucky and never wins! In this tale, Quintus gets himself into a dicey situation, betting all sorts of valuables he can’t afford to lose. Will he come out on top, or lose it all in the end?

16 cognates, 34 other words
840 total length

This is my third novellula written to be short, very much on purpose. Since Latin novellas first started popping up, teachers have noted that the whole-class reading experience can drag on for beginners. I’ve been finding that books under 1,000 total words seem best for a quick read at the start of Latin 1. This new tale is about gaming! I grabbed some dice-cups, dice, and knucklebones online to play as we read the book. Give it a try. Enjoy!

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs

ALIRA: “All Your Datum Are Belong To Us…Plz?”

In the original draft of this post, I compared two data sets of students taking the ALIRA. However, I’m not really comfortable publishing that. I really don’t need anyone trying to play the victim when it’s been me going on a decade now defending my teaching practices and the kind of Latin that I read (and write) with students. It’s too bad, too, because the data are quite compelling. Some day, I’ll share the charts. Until then, you’ll have to take my word on it. You probably already know that I don’t fuck around, either, so my word is solid.

In short, the charts will contradict the claim that reading non-Classical Latin leaves students unprepared for reading Classical Latin. They will suggest that reading non-Classical Latin texts, such as those rife with Cognates & Latinglish via class texts and novellas, is of no disadvantage. They will also suggest that reading Classical texts is of no advantage. That’s all I’m prepared to share, for now.

Once a lot more data like these will be presented, though, the jury will start to come in on the matter of what kind of Latin prepares students for any other Latin. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks like A LOT of any Latin can prepare students to read other Latin, and that’s a good thing. These emerging data show that concerns and claims over certain kinds of Latin don’t play out in reality. Still, it’d be good to have more scores, not just the 532 ones currently submitted to that ALIRA form. If this all seems mysterious, it kind of has been. I haven’t shared the spreadsheet yet for viewing. That changes today!

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Bethany Sawyer’s Table Qs

At CANE’s Annual Meeting last week, Bethany Sawyer shared a reading comprehension strategy “in chart form” that I’m calling Table Qs. This EZ format breaks up a text while giving students something specific to do while reading that focuses their attention. I think of this as giving students’ minds a job to do. When I brought this idea to our Director of Curriculum & Instruction, she (also an ELA teacher) found it similar to when they first do annotations. Instead of just “hey, annotate,” there’s always an “annotate for ____” prompt to guide students. It follows, then, that a “hey, read” prompt very well might result in students looking at the text, and maybe registering certain words, but something short of processing the Latin and really comprehending. Table Qs is one support for that. This kind of structure is also a great example of schoolifying CI. In short, students answer a question in the left column, underlining/highlighting its Latin in the right column. All you gotta do is drop text into a Doc, and make some Qs.

The key?

Don’t make obvious questions that allow students to avoid reading altogether! That would defeat the whole purpose. While it took me about 15 minutes to put a front/back Table Q page together, I’d consider it wasted time if all students were to do would be skimming the Latin to answer a question. While making these Qs is certainly a skill, consider rephrasing ones that call for a single word that’s basically already given in the question. Also consider avoiding “who?” Qs when there’s only one proper noun in the selected text. If that’s the case, at least add a follow up (e.g., “who ____ and then what do they do?”).

Check out the fourth Q in the screenshot below. That could’ve been “Marcus is what?” or “Is Marcus confused?” However, the Q allows for a number of responses that all indicate comprehension, such as “he’s not Egyptian” or “he doesn’t know hieroglyphics,” and encourages reading the whole segment (i.e., NOT just picking out only the Latin needed to answer a poorly formed Q). As a confirmation of understanding and to support their answer, students underline (or highlight if a digital Google Doc) the specific Latin. The following screenshot is from the second chapter of Mārcus et scytala Caesaris:

90%, 95%, 96%, 98%, 100%—Misinterpreted Numbers Demystified

Here are some common numbers floating around the language teaching world, their misinterpretations, and some clarifications to go with each one:

This figure comes from an ACTFL position statement on target language use. The biggest misinterpretation I’ve seen is thinking something like students should be speaking the target language 90% of the time. The 90% figure is actually about percentage OF language during class that IS the target language. For example, if you’re reading a 100% Latin text during class and ask SOME questions about it 100% in English, it’s quite possible that target language use is still above 90% (e.g., students read 1,000 total words of Latin and hear 100 words of English questions = 90% target language use). Students need input. This 90% figure is an attempt to prioritize high quantities of language. The alternative to avoid would be something like doing a close reading on a short paragraph of Latin with the discussion entirely in English, perhaps resulting in the opposite 10% target language use, which was quite common in the teaching of languages prior to ACTFL’s statement. Somehow, you’ll still find such low levels of target language use today, despite ACTFL’s efforts back in 2010. N.B. if you do a general search, some ACTFL page might come up that contradicts their original 2010 statement, referring explicitly to class time. It also name-drops Krashen, pointlessly throws in the i+1 concept that itself became misunderstood, cites Vygotsky in some kind of weird sociocultural nod, and ends with an obligatory reference to Long & Swain’s work on output theory. This hodgepodge of ideas is startling, but probably represents how ACTFL tends to remain as NEUTRAL as possible, taking bits and pieces from way too many popular ideas and approaches as if it makes sense to combine them all. Don’t fall into that trap. Follow principles that you know align with each other and don’t conflict!

See 98%, below.

Perhaps more commonly known as “4%,” the figure of 96% represents the students who typically do NOT continue beyond the second year of language study, here in the US, with the dominant paradigm having been grammar-based teaching. Although programs have been moving to comprehension-based, and/or communicative approaches, it’s still possible that the 4% figure represents some programs today, though the origin dates back to a 1969 speech, detailed in this post. A common misinterpretation has been to claim that individual “4%ers” are the only students capable of learning a language via grammar-translation (GT). This is untrue. The “4%ers” are simply those who tend to stay enrolled. Recently, I’ve argued they represent the pedagogically immune.

I’ve seen this (as well as 95%, and even 90% in some cases) shared as “minimum comprehension level” that students should have when reading. This figure actually represents recommended minimum text coverage while reading. It’s from various studies, detailed in this post. In short, a text coverage as high as 98% has been shown to produce comprehension scores as low as 70%. That’s not incredibly good. Also from the studies, a text coverage of 95% produced scores as low as 55%! You don’t want to know what the scores were for 80%!

I’ve heard people say that knowing 100% of words means a text will be 100% understandable. That’s not true (see above). In an age of promoting “productive struggle” and “grit,” the accusation is that a 100% understandable text is undesirable because students will somehow not get their +1 level to their i (again, see this post on that whole concept demystified). This is most definitely untrue. Even when comprehension is 100% there are aspects of language (e.g., word order, forms, etc.) that can still be learned. Given what is known about text coverage, there’s very little justification for using target language students don’t know, like above-level texts. Therefore, the 100% figure should be a goal for text coverage or known vocab.

Crowdsourced Quizzes/Comprehension Checks

I’ve written about sneaky quizzes in the past. Originally, they were intended to get a grade for the gradebook (I had not discovered ungrading) while being another source of input. I called them “quick quizzes,” rebranded as “comprehension checks,” and then went back. Call them whatever you like. This update is a new way to go about them, scaled to whatever you need, like breaking up a long class with a 5-minute quiz, or adding group collaboration to get a 20-minute activity. In a nutshell:

  • Collect quiz content from each student.
  • Use those for the quiz.
  • Go over the quiz.

About quizzes…I haven’t been putting a single score on anything this whole year, and I’m not going back. If you do, though, have students score their own work. I also haven’t assigned any specific work to turn in this whole year (see portfolios), and I’m not going back. If you do have specific assignments students are expected to turn in, though, report these scores in the gradebook like you would anything else. Here’s more detail…

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