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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Ginput

No, this does not describe a juniper and coriander-based evening. Ginput is Grammar-based Input. Surprise! Yeah, I played this one pretty close to the vest this year. In fact, I began writing this post on June 13th—2019—knowing it would be months until actually implementing and seeing any results from what was last year’s springtime idea.

What’s Ginput?
The idea for Ginput came shortly after one of those frequent grammar debates online fizzled out. I still know that teaching grammar isn’t necessary, and I certainly won’t test grammar knowledge, but I also know that even really compelling things get boring throughout the year! I started wondering if grammar had a role to play, if only as a break from all the compelling stuff, especially since I had no plans to test or grade it. However, a question remained: “could grammar somehow be input-heavy?

The Search for Grammar-based Input
Providing CI while teaching grammar is rare, so I began to think…“But what if teaching grammar weren’t the entire syllabus?” and “Could I explore Latin grammar with students knowing that our curriculum is based on their interests (i.e. NOT grammar) under a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach?” I was certainly onto something, but needed a resource for guidance. Oh wait, I wrote one…

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No Wonder Teachers Say They Have No Time…

I just provided feedback to all my students who completed a school-wide Google Form assignment this week. My feedback was a simple greeting that also referenced what was written in their reflection section of the Google Form. It took me hours. Hours. No wonder teachers who give written/typed feedback say they have no time to create or adapt texts!?!

Now that we’ve gone remote courtesy of COVID-19, this kind of feedback is the only way to connect with students asynchronously (aside from a personalized video…which would take even longer than typing). Of course, in typical teaching contexts, this written/typed feedback usually includes corrections. Let’s take a closer look at this practice that’s sapping a lot of time…

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Grammar-Translation: Not Really A Method & Resisting It Now More Than Ever

**Updated 7.26.2020 with this Cicero quote**

“Hence, if someone does not have a natural faculty of memory, this practice cannot be used to unearth one…”
– Cicero (de Oratore 3.560
), trans. James May in How To Win An Argument, 2016

OK fine, the grammar-translation (GT) method has been used for a few hundred years. It’s still the dominant practice for teaching Latin, and widely known. However, what is there to the method, really? I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but it turns out the method is quite simple. GT actually consists of presenting students with textbook grammar rules they apply to words in order to understand the target language. As a method, then, teachers present rules, but what is GT—really—for the student?

Memorizing.

I posit that the entirety of GT can be reduced to memorizing. This makes it less a method, and more just a process. Students listen to or read about textbook grammar rules, and then recall and apply those rules in order to derive meaning. To be clear, this is a fairly complex way to arrive at step zero—establishing meaning. With GT, students not only must do this for themselves, such as consulting dictionaries and grammar notes, which accounts for a lot of “the work,” but the conscious process requires a decent amount of cognitive demand. Actual interpretive communication, on the other hand, either listening or reading, is an implicit, unconscious process, and effortless. In order to effortlessly apply textbook grammar rules while also recalling word meanings, though, a very good, if not uncanny memory, is required. Memory, then, is both paramount to student success with the GT method, as well as something we have no control over…

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Forced Input

There’s plenty of talk about forced output (i.e. when students are told to produce language beyond their proficiency level), yet not much has been said regarding forced input. Forced input occurs when students are given a text above their reading level, or told to listen to something beyond their comprehension. Perhaps this is even assigned, and affects the course grade. Forced input also occurs when students are given or assigned anything that lacks a communicative purpose. Forced input is not very meaningful at best, and incomprehensible at worst, which means the target language is less likely to be processed and acquired. Are you forcing input? Let’s see…

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Doing Something Might Not Be Doing Anything

I’ve been thinking more about the topic of “doing work.” For example, students who don’t “do the work” could face profound consequences if that work accounts for the course grade, which it usually does. But what really *is* the work? Should students even be doing it? These are the kinds of questions seldom asked given daily demands, yet at the same time significantly affect what goes on during the day itself! Let’s investigate…

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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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