30 Hours & First Novella

With students meeting 1x/week—this year only—we just had the 30th class of the year. I compared this to our calendar for next year, which is as if it’s October 9th meeting every day of the week. Now, with constant reminders of routines (since at least one week passes from class to class), and typical testing/school interruptions, and Northeast snow, those 30 class hours could amount to fewer total hours of input (25, 20, 15?!). Total input hours is tough to calculate, though, so we’ll just stick with 30 for the purpose of this post! What does that mean for reading? Cue the first novella…

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Pimsleur: How Much Input?

Preparation for a road trip down to New Orleans only meant one thing: 5 Pimsleur language learning courses checked out from our local library! To be clear, Pimsleur courses are not effective in the long run, but there’s input nonetheless. Still, how much input is there…really?

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Comprehensible Online 2018 Takeaways

In its debut year, Comprehensible Online offered a different kind of PD, allowing participants to watch as many presentations over three weeks as they could from their computers and phones. #pdinpajamas was trending for many teachers sneaking in loads of PD from the comfort of their own home. In fact, I was able to watch most videos during my part-time job (shhh)!

Like other conference takeaways, I’ll consult this post over the years, and the info will be here to share with all. I have a code system to help me spot new things to try, and others to update. High-leverage strategies I consider “non-negotiable” for my own teaching are “NN.” Strategies to update or re-implement are “Update!,” and those I’d like to try for the first time are “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways from some of the presentations I got to, organized by presenter:

Erica Peplinski

  • Self(ies?) (NN) Harvard study showing humans talking about themselves 60% of the time in convos and 80% on social media. This activates parts of the brain associated with rewards. Thinking of skipping on student interest, Special Person, or PQA? Think again!
  • Prefrontal vs. Mentalizing System (NN) When one of these brain systems is on, the other is switched off. Prefrontal Cortex is used for math, logic, etc. Mentalizing, however, is the default system. In a study, one group was able to remember more when using the default Mentalizing system whereas a group focused on passing a test, thus activating the Prefrontal Cortex, didn’t do as well. This is support for the learning-acquisition distinction  right there!
  • Mirror Neurons (NN) Watching someone do something triggers the same neurons as if you were experiencing it! This supports the 70s studies showing how language students who observed video tapes of other students interacting in the target language made the same gains as if they were interacting, themselves!
  • Amygdala (NN) This is the “fight or flight” system. Physical pain & emotional pain trigger same system. Studies found that taking ibuprofen for heartache worked just as well for muscle ache! This is the affective filter, folks!
  • Big Brother (NN) When people know others are watching, or just THINK others are watching, they tend to behave better. Got a tough class? Tell them you’ll be recording the day to share with other teachers.
  • Sound Effect Reading Choice (Update!) Forget about discussing sounds, give groups a few minutes to come up with their own sound effects all throughout a short text. Then, assign each group a particular word/phrase.
  • “Like a…” (Update!) Not just for TPR, but annnnnnny acting can instantly be given novelty. Just change the style of how the actors dramatize the story.

Karen Rowan

  • Info Swap(New!) Students write 3 responses to questions (simple, can vary) you project/ask before a story. Students swap paper with partner, and try to get their partner’s responses into the story as details (1 point per detail). Highly competitive, and trains students for storyasking.
  • Tell Me What’s Going On In Your Life (New!) Karen gives extra credit for students answering this question, in L1 if they want. The info is used for personalization & making a connection). I don’t give extra credit, but need to find a way to work this into class.

Elicia Cárdenas

  • Bringing Texts To Life (in general) (NN) Almost every word or phrase could bring texts to life. As you read, stop to engage students. Have students do the actions in place (i.e. TPR), provide atmosphere by singing music, or become a prop. Enlist actors, check for comprehension, etc. Do everything you might do while storyasking, just with a new text.
  • Honor Cāseī (Cheese Award(s)) (New!) Awards given for overly dramatic performances as actors. This increase entertainment value, and builds community. Possible MGMT strategy by giving an unruly actor this award, then swapping out for a different actor.
  • Secret Input Activity (New!) In groups, students determine a few details they then read/act. The input comes from a) reading the text in groups, and b) listening to each group perform their version. The least prep would be to take a short text (parallel?), remove some details to make it a Cloze, then create questions based on what you removed. Students put their responses into the script, then perform. Elicia adds tips in L1 (e.g. “Decide on a verb that you can act out. Make sure it is an infinitive!!!). Great for showing people that students are “speaking,” which helps meet certain expectations.

Annabelle Allen

  • Transitions (NN) Prerequisites for Brain Breaks! Call/response, sound-makers, etc. Else, Annabelle says “it’s not even worth doing a Brain Break.”
  • Positivity (NN) “If nothing else, everything’s positive all the time.”
  • Modelling (NN) Modelling is an excellent way to remain in the target language during Brain Breaks without stopping to establish meaning of every word. Most Brain Breaks use known high frequency vocabulary anyway, but you can easily model Rock, Paper, Scissors while narrating your actions in the target language. It’s comprehensible. For Brain Breaks, this is standard practice. For storytelling, I’d stick with establishing meaning on the board using English.
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors (Update!) This is the foundation Brain Break. First do with numbers “ūnus, duo, trēs, ī!” before “saxum, charta, forfex, ī” vocab.
  • Circle BB (New!) Turn to partner for a Brain Break. Turn again to switch. This is FAST.
  • “The Next Step” for Fast Processors (New!) During any reading activity, give fast processors the next step, which is anything you make up on the spot (e.g. “now highlight what changed from the original story,” or “now circle all the verbs”)!
  • Don’t Finish/Alternate (New!) Don’t even FINISH a MovieTalk (whoa!). Instead, have upper level students write their own endings, or write an alternate ending (instead of an entire parallel story). Collect, and discuss possibilities with class before finishing the video.
  • Storyboard Dictation (New!) Can’t believe I didn’t think of this already. Major upgrade from standard dictation because students not only write what they hear, but then also illustrate. Students are shown the text afterwards and can change anything they heard differently (i.e. spelling).
  • Color for HW (Update!) If you want to reuse student illustrations and storyboards, instead of spending class time coloring, assign it for HW! This is an awesome assignment if force to give HW.
  • Screenshot Retells (New!) Post screenshots around room for students to use while writing a caption on a piece of paper. Perhaps best as a precursor to first Retell Timed Writes.
  • Current Events/Culture Talk (NN) Annabelle describes how there’s a powerful moment when kids see that “all the crazy/fun stuff done in class” has an application to things outside of the classroom.

Tina Hargaden

  • Structured OWI Stories (Update!) Meeting in L1, then expand details of Who, What, With whom?, Problem, Resolution (new character, new place, or both)
  • OWI Problem IN ENGLISH (New!) Tina has experienced improved conflicts to resolve by taking a few minutes to discuss “meaty” issues that students must find a solution for (i.e depth of character vs. possible superficial needs/wants).
  • Choral Translation w/ Pop Up Grammar (Update!) Ask questions about the language to elicit some pop up grammar. This breaks up the monotony of a choral translation that’s more than a few sentences.
  • MGMT – Don’t Name Behavior (NN) During hall conversations (i.e. level 2, 3 strategy for diffusion, after pointing to rules poster (level 1)), don’t name the behavior because students will argue with ANYTHING. Instead, ask “so, what are you out here for?” so they put it in their own words.

Terry Waltz

  • Pause to Catch Up (NN) Circling allows slow processors to catch up!
  • Mechanical Drill (NN) It is OUR responsibility that circling doesn’t turn into mechanical drill!
  • PQA to Shadows (NN) Asking Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA) could get you shadow options. This reduces being creative with being aware (i.e. CI Ninja).
  • “Short & Tall”  (NN) Students give a short answer, restate with a longer, more beautifully complete sentence.
  • Non-verbal Responses (NN) Don’t force speech. At one point, Terry asked a question, a participant nodded, then Terry said “honest to God, if a Chinese person asked me that question I would probably just nod, myself.”
  • Park on “No!” (Update!) Rapid and relatively predictable “no” questions primarily used to vary pace of speaking (i.e. you can use native-speed speech when the cognitive demand is lower!).
  • TPRS (Update!) With the quest for keeping things compelling and novel, this tried-and-true storyasking method offers more CI than most methods and strategies out there. Don’t forget the power of a simple story!
  • Let Fast Processors Guess Meaning (New!) In the effort to provided comprehended input, allow fast processors from time to time to guess meaning, and then confirm that meaning with the class.

Bryce Hedstrom

  • Model Reading by Reading (NN) Don’t use FVR time to catch up on emails. Read.
  • Leave After School (NN) Seriously, go home at the end of the day. Don’t burn out! Super Teachers might not be leading the most fulfilling life outside of school!
  • Make it Easy to Comply (NN) Establish simple class rules.

Scott Benedict

  • Picture Culture Pop-Up(New!) Variation on PictureTalk designed with 2 factoids, and 1 bizarre feature about a target culture product or practice.

Can-Do Statements vs. Objectives vs. Agendas

Here’s some clarification on related ideas that are often confused:

Can-Do Statements
“Can-Do Statements describe what learners can do consistently over time.” (p. 4)
Don’t use these as your daily objectives. Students can’t meet them after a class hour. If they can, you’ve written them wrong.

“Students will be able to X.”
Don’t spend time on these. These are particular goals for the day, but are largely a fake school thing that have almost no effect on learning, and zero on acquisition (especially if the point is to create a more implicit environment free of metacognicide). Post them if you have to, but use a Google Doc or something (vs. spending any amount of time whatsoever writing on the board). Better yet, use one that could apply to any class (e.g. “Students will understand new words used to discuss [target culture idea].” If someone tries to give you the Wiggins & McTighe “understand is not a good/measurable objective,” just say something in the target language they don’t understand, and draw attention to that). The only people who care about objectives are teachers who buy into skill-building, or teachers who prefer to teach language itself as content matter, as well as administrators who have been told that their teachers need objectives, but not students (see below). If you’re in a real bind, use Terry Waltz’ random objective generator.

“MovieTalk, Team Game, Survey, Quiz, etc.”
The day’s agenda is pretty much all that matters to students. It answers the question “what are we doing today?” and not “what skills will I develop as a result of your planning today’s lesson, o teacher mine?”

Teachers spend far too much time writing Can-Dos and Objectives when just a solid Agenda is needed. This allows maximum flexibility, and affords time to develop strategies to provide CI, as well as writing/adapting texts for the novice—the real high-leverage classroom practices. I’ve been implementing this in the daily & weekly schedule used in the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC).


post scriptum – Objective Traps
Cavē! The tendency to be satisfied—proud, even—with “students being able to X” on any given day has disastrous effects. If the skill or content is isolated, the day’s “mastery” means almost nothing in the long run. Take, for example, the K-12+ Spanish student in highly interactive, yet student-student focused classes (i.e. forced speech paired activities). Despite any success, or meeting of those daily objectives, she might later study abroad in Spain only to find out that she has limited communicative ability, and must undergo a silent period. How did all this—from an A+ student—go unaddressed? It’s simple; all those activities designed to meet objectives gave teachers the wrong impression from the wrong data! Furthermore, teachers tend to USE data like this as evidence when discussing best practices. Don’t fall into that trap!

Comprehension Checks as MGMT

Classroom Management is paramount. Without it, none of the strategies to provide students with CI stand a chance. They don’t stand a chance because students who aren’t paying attention aren’t receiving any input (I) at all, let alone input that’s comprehensible (C)! Of aaaaaaaall the systems in place to manage the classroom, though, comprehension checks are probably the most effective, yet most overlooked…

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Story Template Using Top 16 Verbs

Keith Toda just posted about writing simple texts and parallel stories for extensive reading use, such as during Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). Follow this template to create simple texts from scratch using the Sweet Sēdecim (Top 16). Also follow this template starting with any text (e.g. the simplest version of an Embedded Reading, a parallel story, a textbook chapter, a Write & Discuss, details from Discipulus Illustris, a myth, etc.). This will get you practice writing for the novice:

  1. Setup:
    (is, is in, likes)
  2. Conflict:
    (there isn’t, doesn’t have, wants [to ___], wants to go)
    Interactions: (sees, hears, says, thinks, knows)
  3. New Location(s):
    (leaves, comes to, is in, goes)
    – Interactions: (sees, hears, says, thinks, knows)
  4. Resolution/Unresolved Ending:
    (if item/object: someone carries, puts, gives, if action: character is able)

Here’s a 250 total word length story I could add to the FVR shelf as another comprehensible option…

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Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) Myths & Starting Your Library For $0 – $215

Myth 1“My students aren’t ready.”
Face it, this is a myth. Your students might not be ready to spend 15min/day reading 300-word, 5k length novels, but they’re probably ready to begin self-selecting short texts like class stories to read very early on. Once you have about 5-10 class stories, make some booklets and start FVR for a few minutes 1x/week. For this reason, I intend to make TPRS a priority early in the year after some TPR. In the past, I’ve built this up too much, spending a whole class or two on a story. My new plan is more shorter stories, at least 2/week.

Myth 2 – “There aren’t enough resources.
Curating that collection of class stories takes care of this second myth, at least for a while. Also, don’t forget about writing/adapting short texts yourself! This is an excellent way to practice writing for the novice, even if it takes you some planning time to write just a paragraph. Remember, if YOU have the time, you could expose students to the vocabulary they already understand in new contexts by writing texts outside of their class time. Even one short text that’s new to every section of Latin 1, for example, is enough novelty to get the most out of your class story FVR library.

However, let’s say you want to get some books, but your language is seriously lacking. Latin is a great example. There are 20 novellas written with sheltered vocabulary as of right now. Sure, most of them aren’t readable by first year students at the start of the year, but making those booklets of class stories should buy you some time. Rūfus lutulentus (20), Pīsō perturbātus (36), and Rūfus et arma ātra (40) are among the easiest novellas to read. After months of class story FVR, those three should provide some scaffolded reading opportunity. There are also the tiered readings in the Student FVR readers to accompany Rūfus et arma ātra. What’s special about these? Students can read 7 more expanded scenes/stories based on Rūfus topics without any additional cognitive demand (i.e. the first Expansion for each chapter introduces super clear cognates only). The rest of the Expansions with 21 more scenes/stories, could bring students up to an understandable vocabulary of 104. If students spend FVR time with this book, exposed to more sheltered vocabulary repeated in different contexts, it would bring them closer to comprehending other Pisoverse books at a similar level (i.e. Drūsilla et convīvium magārum (58), and Agrippīna: māter fortis (65) novellas), as well as ones from other authors.

So, the Rūfus et arma ātra Student FVR readers not only serve as a stepping stone, but they also contain the most variety of story lines! For teachers filling their shelves with Latin novellas to provide options, this resource has 28 scenes and stories under one cover! The stories are short, which makes them more approachable and manageable within a single FVR session (vs. starting a 3,000 word novella, for example).

Myth 3 – “I’ll never have enough funds for physical copies of books!
OK, so this one is probably true, but I have a possible solution. Buying 5 copies of every current Latin novella would run ~$700. That’s nothing compared to some workbook/textbook budgets, but still seems steep if you don’t have funding. N.B. look for mini grants offered by your school’s parents association, or local support organization; it’s not uncommon to find them around $500. That amount would still cover 5 copies of the 14 most appropriate novellas for the students you teach. Still a bit beyond your school’s budget? So, a possible solution?

How about all 8 Pisoverse novellas/readers for $215?

Yep! That’s $75 less than it should be for 5 copies of all 7 Pisoverse novellas (+ the Rufus FVR Reader). This, as well as other Classroom Specials are available:

1) Order online now!
2) Email me a Purchase Order to poetuluspublishing@gmail.com