ecce, poēmata discipulīs! (Published!)

This is—by far—my metrical magnum opus, yet that doesn’t mean it’s beyond the reach of Latin 1 students. Forget any meter of mine you’ve ever met. If your pupils haven’t cared much for poor Piso’s poetry, no problem. This book is for them! It basically makes fun of Latin class, and school in general, which is a very different, yet delightful read, and it’s for students. I keep pointing that out because I’ve come to find that a lot of teaching materials are actually written for teachers, who then of course go on to use them with students (my own Piso Workbook included). This book, however, instead is written for students, directly…

“Wait, we have to read…Eutropius…who’s that?! Homework on a Friday?! Class for an hour straight without a break?! Oh no, more tests in Math?! What, no glossary?! Why can’t we just read?! Honestly, I was in bed (but the teacher doesn’t know!)…”

This collection of 33 poems is a humorous yet honest reflection of school, Latin class, homework, tests, Romans, teaching, and remote learning.

First Poems: “For students, teachers, cats, and dogs”
Those Classes in English: “Chem 101”
Romans & Not-So-Great Teaching: “Who’s Left?”

What makes this good? Why do I need this?
I can answer with some numbers:

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Methods & Results: To What Do We Attribute Success?

Not every teacher shares how well their students are doing—probably out of fear of being criticized—and I don’t blame them one bit. This data is often kept under lock and key, so it’s hard to get a sense of whether all the talk amounts to something. SPOILER ALERT: it does. The reports I’ve seen on how well students have been doing under a…NOT…grammar-translation approach tend to attribute success in different ways, though. Today, I’m looking at two such programs to see if we can narrow down what contributes success:

Program 1:

  • 69% of Latin V students score Intermediate Mid (I4+) on ALIRA
  • Focus on reading
  • Translation of what is understood (vs. in order to understand)
  • Uses LLPSI (Lingua Latina per se Illustrata)
  • Uses novellas & other sources of input
  • Speaks Latin whenever possible (i.e. judicious use of English)
  • Establishes meaning in English (i.e. fēlēs = cat) when students ask
  • CI is necessary, but not sufficient for acquisition
  • Extensive interaction is most important

Program 2:

  • 64% of Latin IV students score Intermediate Mid (I4+) on ALIRA
  • Focus on reading
  • Translation of what is understood (vs. in order to understand)
  • No textbook
  • Uses novellas & other sources of input
  • Speaks Latin whenever possible (i.e. judicious use of English)
  • Establishes meaning in English (i.e. fēlēs = cat)
  • CI is necessary, and sufficient for acquisition
  • Interaction is important

The results are very close by the end of each program, and there’s definitely more in common than not, but what isn’t in common makes for differently-enough teaching and learning environments. Both are just as successful, but what can we attribute that success to? Let’s look into those differences a bit more…

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Pisoverse Novella Recommendations: Levels & Whole-Class

Back in August, you might have seen my 2020-21 plans for novellas in preparation of remote learning on a reduced 2x/week class schedule. It turned out that with less time spent on Free Voluntary Reading (i.e. none), we read more whole-class novellas over Zoom than I would have preferred, but c’est la vie COVID. That experience gave me some insight into which books work best for whole-class reading, as well as helped me organize books in a different way. There was also Mike Peto’s Read-Aloud that came just in time to change things up with a new kind of reading process.

Levels
Following Andrew Olimpi’s system, my books now appear as AA to C (none of mine would be considered Level D or beyond). The general recommendation I’ve given is to read in order of word count. However, I’ve begun making it clearer which books might buck the trend due to higher percentage of cognates, as well as total length. For example, Drūsilla et convīvium magārum is my longest book at 3400 total words. In my experience, trēs amīcī et mōnstrum saevum—a book 1,000 fewer words in length, and with 3x as many cognates—is readable sooner. Books seemingly “out of order” like these can be identified by the word count badges on the front cover to highlight the percentage of cognates. Here are my recommended levels, and order within each, from left to right:

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Trust & Hope: We Can’t Tell Who’s Reading, But We Can SEE Who Isn’t (via Google Docs)

As many of us discussed, this remote year has been the time to put faith into the input hypothesis, by just providing input, and not demanding much more than reading from students during a pandemic. Of course, remote learning has been 100% homework, and there’s no way to know what students do at home, much less monitor and support it. So in addition to trusting the input hypothesis—that input would be sufficient for language acquisition expectations within a K-12 context—there was a hope that students were reading. Trust & Hope. Well, today I discovered that my hopes didn’t really pan out, although I cannot say I’m surprised. There’s a pandemic. Full stop. By chance, I clicked on the “trend” arrow that I’ve somehow ignored for a while, and found that it’s quite handy…

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Novellas: +2 Forward, -1 Back

With new novellas being published almost monthly at this point, opening up titles to choose from, I’ve been looking at how my own sequencing has been changing in the past year. I no longer feel the need to systematically read a) from lowest to highest word count, or b) shortest to longest book, a practice that constantly increases the demand of learners. If you think about it, what’s really the difference between that and using a highly sequenced textbook?! Such practice of constantly increasing demand also presumes learners have attended all classes, and/or develop language ability at the same rate, which is complete nonsense…

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Mike Peto’s Read-Aloud

Get yourself over to the new COMPRHENDED! conference; it’s super cheap and flexible PD you can access until May. As a presenter, my main role is fielding any questions people have about what I presented, but I’ve also had time to poke around as a participant, too, and I’ve got a new activity for whole-class reading. Mike Peto of My Generation of Polyglots has been a champion of novels and independent reading for quite a while. He promotes having texts in your FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library that students can read on their own, which means at-level, as well as below-level reading options, as supported by research on extensive reading (Jeon & Day, 2016). Still, there might be available texts that students need a bit of scaffolding to read. While most texts Latin teachers use are far above level, this whole-class reading strategy is worth sharing, especially for texts adapted to something closer to at-level (but probably still above-level). There’s also value in this reading approach with texts of all levels, especially in COVID times. I’ve used it with first year Latin students as recently as this week. It’s a robust reading process:

1) Teacher reads aloud as students listen
2) Reread paragraph-by-paragraph as students ask clarifying questions to help understanding (English is fine)
3) Reread again as students come up with comprehension questions that the teacher has to answer
(English is fine)

Step #2 is an opportunity to establish meaning, but that doesn’t guarantee comprehension. The questions in step #3 are evidence that students understand…or not. For example, I was asked “where does she run to?” which is a fine question, only the text didn’t say that the character ran anywhere…yet. That gave me the opportunity to say “ohh, well she doesn’t run anywhere yet, but here we see that she wants to run to the stadium” as I pointed out the word vult. It could be a simple oversight, or the student might have a different mental picture of what’s going on in the story. In my experience, younger students will need coaching on how to ask a comprehension question. For example, I mentioned that “who, what, where, when, why, how?” were good question starters, but then I got a bunch of “why?” questions that couldn’t be answered from the text.

Zoom
Whereas my go-to reading strategy includes #1 as I help students process the meaning of Latin, steps #2 and #3 of Mike’s read-aloud promote a LOT more interaction. I like how the three steps are concrete tasks that keep the focus on Latin over Zoom. Other reading strategies rely on students holding themselves accountable for paying attention, and/or require the teacher to check comprehension. Over Zoom, that can get frustrating. With steps #2 and #3, it’s very obvious who needs more support (or who just isn’t there at the computer). Don’t make any judgements, either. I suspected a student had bailed, so while others were thinking of questions to ask, or sending me clarifying requests in direct messages—which I always replied to in general chat (e.g. “vult = she wants”)—I sent direct messages to the students I wasn’t certain were even there. Sure enough, they responded with something. This is the Zoom equivalent of the quiet student taking everything in.

100% Coverage ≠ 100% Comprehension

A question by a member of the Latin Best Practices FB group prompted me to look into text coverage, which ultimately led me to comprehension. These are two ideas that a lot of people have misinterpreted, much like the “4%er” figure, and even “90% target language use.” I’m thinking people have a hard time with mathematical concepts, and maybe we should avoid percentages moving forward. But first, we should take care of what damage has already been done by looking at simple examples right away:

Text Coverage
Text coverage is measured by tokens. There are five tokens in the sentence “the bird sees the cat.” Two of the tokens in that sentence happen to be the same word. Therefore, “the” represents 40% text coverage. If the reader doesn’t know “the,” they have a text coverage of 60%. The reader who knows everything except “cat” would have a text coverage of 80%.

Comprehension
Comprehension is a different idea entirely. If the reader who doesn’t know “cat” were asked “what does the bird see?” and it were scored, they’d have a comprehension score of zero. If they were asked two questions about the bird, and two questions about the cat, their score would be 50% comprehension with their 80% coverage of the text. Not the same thing.

Reading
Laufer et al.’s research shows that learners need a text coverage—not comprehension—of 98% ideally to read with ease (and 99-100% whenever possible), but that’s just getting through the reading. That 98% figure is just the start of comprehension.

Hold up.

Yeah, that’s right. Knowing 98% of a text—STOP!!—Remember the first section on tokens. It’s not 98 out of 100 different words, but 98 of 100 tokens (i.e. some words probably repeat). So, knowing 98% of a text doesn’t even guarantee comprehension of what is read. That’s quite the trip, isn’t it? It gets worse when we look at some findings from one of Eric Herman’s Acquisition Classroom Memos on exactly how [in]comprehensible reading can get with what seems like decent text coverage.

There’s a lot in that chart, but compare the text coverage to comprehension scores. Even 95% text coverage can get woefully low comprehension (55%). Keep in mind that the higher scores are still in the “most” range, as in learners are understanding most of what they read when they know 95%+ of a text. Also, those vocabulary sizes are incredibly high for what the majority of K-12 teachers should expect from their students. Eric also adds some context to the research:

“For the most part, the above reading studies were done with high proficiency students, ungraded and academic texts, and count word families. A reasonable prediction is that even higher text coverage and vocabulary size numbers are required to enable adequate comprehension of graded texts by lower level proficiency students. And this is not considering levels necessary for a confident and pleasurable reading experience, which would undoubtedly be even higher!

Higher would be 100%. Let’s make sure we set the record straight:

  • Students need to know 98% of a text to read it with ease.
  • Reading with ease from knowing 98% of a text can still result in much lower comprehension scores, like 70%.
  • Coverage ≠ comprehension

Providing students with texts of 98%…even 100% coverage of known words is step zero. It’s actually the minimum hope we could have for students reading with ease with high levels of comprehension. It turns out that text coverage isn’t very important to look at, because even knowing 100% of the words doesn’t guarantee 100% comprehension. It all goes back to vocab as top priority, sheltering whenever possible so gradual exposure to new words increases vocabulary without the burden of incomprehension. What does this mean for class? Probably using even fewer words than you think! Students can’t magically learn thousands of words, so if we expect them to comprehend high levels of what they read—especially during any kind of independent reading—we must use and create texts with a very limited number of words.

Circling & Scripts: Back To Them Roots (+ 59 Simple Story Starters)

Imma take a break from playing Root and get back to my teaching roots. Several recent experiences have reminded me that the most effective teaching practices are the basics, hands down. Obviously, COVID messed with us big time, but I’m afraid some of us have done a little too much adjusting that might result in lingering bad habits. Let’s face it, we pulled out all the stops on that beastly concert organ that was remote learning, and not all of what we did to make it happen could be considered even OK practices. We want good practices, and best ones whenever possible. Oh, and it’s been a while. Consider this: it will have been over two years since starting the school year with tried and true practices you’ve known to be effective. Yeah, that’s right. No one really did that in 2020, so it was August or September of 2019 when you last began the school year how you wanted. Will you remember what all those practices were? I’m not confident I will, so I’m writing this post to remind myself about them roots. Feel free to follow along…

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Text Coverage & DCC’s Top 1000

**Updated 2.25.21 with details from this post**

The DCC frequency list is often consulted for choosing which words to use when writing Latin for students. It certainly makes sense to use ones they might encounter over and over again vs. those they might not, but *how* frequent are these frequent words? In particular, I was curious what a student could probably read having acquired the Top 1000 words on DCC’s list. Here’s some quick background…

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