2018-19 Syllabus & Latin Program Mission & Vision

Unless you’re an island of one, a program Mission & Vision is a good idea to keep the department heading in a similar direction, even if things don’t start out that way. I put a lot of time into crafting the document last spring, and just had some help from my admin for the final touches. Once that was squared away this week, I could hand in my 2018-19 Syllabus. Let’s unpack all that…

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“to be” Task Template

Tasks are becoming popular these days, though I’m not a fan.

The way I see it, a task itself must be so well-constructed that something else—something probably more beneficial—could’ve been done in the same amount of prep time as well as class time. Otherwise, low-prep simple and short tasks tend to lack compelling purposes. After all, there are purposes, and there are compelling purposes, right? For example, most of the Tasks that Bill VanPatten mentions on Tea with BVP are appropriate for self-selecting college students, yet leave the K-12 public school student saying “who cares?” Still, if you’re interested in early input-based Tasks, try using this template…

To Be
This task focuses on all conjugated forms of the verb “to be” in the present, and possibly other tenses. It answers the general questions “who am I?” and “who are we?” and could be used to determine a number of qualities shared in the class, and then to compared to some other source, like a target language-speaking culture. Get creative! In the first few steps, students pair up and rotate briefly to get some data. Then, the teacher elicits data in the final steps, compares, and summarizes the findings. Note how students aren’t speaking in the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Output sense. They’re saying words, sure, but all the words are provided, and any response options are listed. This is not Output since students aren’t generating any of the ideas, which means it could be done very early on given the appropriate level of scaffolding. The first few steps of input-based Tasks are designed to get information, NOT to “practice speaking” like some might refer to, though it will look similar to observers if you are being asked to have students speak more, or interact more. Most of the input will be provided by the teacher in steps 4+.

1) Student A asks:
Quis es? Who are you?
Quālis es? What are you like?

2) Student B replies:
sum [     ] I’m [      ]. **chosen from a provided list of words—the only prep**

3) Students record responses, switch partners party-style, and get more data:
Student B est [      ] Student B is [      ].

4) Teacher asks students to share details::
Student A, esne [      ]? Student A, are you [      ]?
Student A, estne Student B [      ]?
 Student A, is Student B [      ]?

5) Teacher tallies/graphs results, and makes statements:
discipulī trēs, estis [      ] You 3 students, you are [      ].
discipulī quīnque, estis [      ]
 You 5 students, you are [      ].
quattuor discipulī sunt [      ]
 4 students are [      ].
duo discipulī sunt [      ]
  2 students are [      ].
ūna discipula est [      ]
  1 student is [      ].

6) Teacher compares class to something:
multī Rōmānī erant [      ] Many Romans were [      ].

7) Teacher summarizes results:
discipulī, sumus [      ] Students, we are [      ].


Again, I don’t necessarily think students care a great deal about these kinds of Tasks, but if you find that something piques their interest, say, who is the closest to turning 18, or who takes the longest naps, break out this task template and see how it goes!


Mid-Year Check-In: Brain Breaks & Brain Bursts

Teachers fall into a routine, often focusing on a particular strategy for a while because a) they want to hone their skill,  b) it’s magically engaging for students, or c) both. During that period of focus, however, other teaching practices tend to get left behind. The holiday break is good time to take a look at what has NOT been going on in the classroom. For me, it’s been Brain Breaks. Annabelle Allen would be ashamed of me!

It’s true, though. Looking back to just before the holiday break, I’ve been doing just one Brain Break, and there were even days when I did zero due to an activity involving somemovement. There’s no excuse for neglecting Brain Breaks, though, and there’s no rationale behind substituting them with other activities. I need to get back on this horse…

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Ideas Without Labels: A Discussion Framework

It was John Bracey who reminded me that if either of us just started discovering CI right now, we’d have NO IDEA what to do or where to begin. It was very clear a few years ago when Story Listening wasn’t as popular, and Ben Slavic had yet to write his Big CI Book, let alone create The Invisibles with Tina Hargaden. TPRS wasn’t even promoting its version of MovieTalk, which is now standard practice in its workshops as the easier gateway to story asking. These all have positively contributed in some way to those teaching in comprehension-based communicative classrooms—don’t get me wrong—but the culmination has also made communicating ideas about CI more complicated. For example, the Teacher’s Discovery magazine has begun selling products branded with “CI,” regardless of actual comprehensibility, let alone amount of input, and some methods mention CI while simultaneously drawing from older methods shown to be ineffective (i.e. Audio-Lingual), and aligning practices with the latest publications from the research-lacking ACTFL. This isn’t a jab at ACTFL, it’s just the reality that most of what they promote is determined by committees, not actual research.

There were fewer teachers interested in CI, too, which meant that there were fewer opinions. In a way, it was almost easier beforehand to be dismissed by most colleagues than it has been lately, falling into debate after debate over what used to be quite simple. Professional groups have also migrated to Facebook, a more active platform. Instead of ignoring messages from a single list-serve daily digest email, folks have been receiving notification after notification on their phones, and responding promptly. There doesn’t seem to be as much time as there used to be to absorb ideas, formulate thoughts, and respond accordingly. For example, while my principles about what language is have been refined since the release of Tea with BVP in October of 2015, many teachers are just now discovering that resource, some of whom have been responding on Facebook with their ideas that haven’t had much influence since the 70’s. It’s becoming difficult to communicate ideas about CI clearly.

So, there are a lot of voices now, which is great, but just not that much support, which is not great, and not as much clarity, which is really not great at all. Many ideas I observe being discussed share no guiding principles, yet teachers go back and forth as if they’re the same thing. Most ideas aren’t, or there’s a crucial difference that one or all parties don’t see. There might be a way to move forward together…

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Teaching Grammar without the Grammar-Translation Method

Among the many misconceptions about CI, such as some mission against the Classics, “not teaching grammar while providing CI” is probably the most-cited, yet misinterpretissimus of misconceptions.

We teach grammar, oooooooh do we, although mostly in the context of complete Latin messages since even words/phrases contain grammatical information. There’s even explicit instruction, too, though brief student-initiated pop-up grammar explanations (e.g. “Mr. P, why does that word end with nt and not t?”) comprise most of this in a comprehension-based communicative classroom.

Still, even after all that, we do give explicit instruction when students are ready, usually in years 3 or 4. That’s right—even CI-advocating teachers explicitly teach grammar, and they do so using a host of methods and method-free strategies—all grammar-translation alternatives.

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Establishing Meaning: Confusion

Step 1 of TPRS is “establish meaning” to show what a word/phrase means in the target language (TL) before using it to co-create a story. The most efficient and effective way to do this is by using a native language (L1) common to all students (e.g. “fēlēs means cat“). In TPRS, we write the TL on the board, underline it, then write the L1 below in a different color. We refer to this throughout class by pointing and pausing.

Establishing meaning is also Step 1 for anyone providing comprehensible input (CI), regardless of the method or strategy.

If this step doesn’t occur, teachers are providing input (I) that might not be comprehensible (C). Although there’s some role that noise in the input plays (Incomprehensible Input?), it’s clear that acquisition doesn’t happen with high levels of that noise. This is why no one—NO ONE—disputes that CI is necessary; it’s the sine qua non of acquisition, which is why establishing meaning is so important.

Still, there’s been confusion over establishing meaning, and that confusion has to do with purpose…

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Communication: Definition & Clarification

Recently on Twitter, Tea with BVP caller extraordinaire, Longinus, as well as some Inclusive Latin Classroom folks, got me thinking about the definition of communication. What follows are terms I’ve been using for a while (almost entirely unoriginal), clarified by Bill VanPatten on Episode 68 of Tea with BVP.

Communication isn’t only speaking:
Communication is the interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning. We interpret when we read, and express when we write; no speaking necessary.

Two people are usually involved, but not required:
If I write a note (expression), and place it in a drawer, but then the apt. catches fire (yes, we have renters insurance), there’s no possible way for anyone to read it (interpretation), or ask me about it (negotiation), even if that was my intent. I most certainly expressed my ideas, there just wasn’t anyone around to interpret them.

In Latin, reading—though not to be confused with translating—is the primary form of communication. ACTFL modes of communication are helpful, here. Reading is one-way, and Interpretive (i.e. interpretation), but someone had to write what we read…at some point (i.e. two people involved). That person who wrote what we read is also one-way, and Presentational (i.e. expression). Neither of these become Interpersonal (i.e. negotiation) unless there is interaction between two people, and this interaction doesn’t have to take place in person. This is why Bill VanPatten refers to communication as “expression, interpretation, and sometimes negotiation of meaning.” Both the writer and reader engage in acts of communication, it’s just that their role is different.

Timing (i.e. real, or asynchronous) & Perspective:
Ovid wrote something (expression) a couple thousand years ago that I can try to read today (interpretation). There has been no interaction between us, eliminating the possibility of negotiation. However, if I write an adaptation of Ovid (expression), and then send it to John Bracey, a couple things could happen. John could star the email, forget, and never end up reading it (no interpretation, just my expression). Or, John could read it (interpretation), and send back some notes or questions (negotiation). This interaction between us would be delayed, but still the same process communication-wise as if we were in person. Now, if I also star and forget about that latest correspondence from John, however, neither negotiation nor interpretation occur. This doesn’t change the fact that John expressed ideas and attempted to negotiate with me. That is to say, from John’s perspective, he still engaged in communication, but it was only one-way without my involvement.

Communication as a concept, not as verb “communicate:”
Although I’m engaging in the act of communication by trying to read Ovid (interpretation), one could hardly say that I’m “communicating with” Ovid anymore than Ovid is “communicating with” me, or us as a society. Ovid certainly expressed meaning, itself communication by definition, but in the absence of real time interaction and negotiation, or even delayed negotiation of meaning over letters, we are not “communicating with” each other.

Someone correctly brought up the fact that the idea of “communicating with the ancient world” isn’t possible. Classicists use this phrase, referring to relating to [certain] ancient people’s ideas (expression) by learning more (interpreting) about the past, and making connections to our own lives, but this ends there as far as communication goes. There is no possibility of interaction (negotiating) with ancient authors. When we read about the past, communication is one-way.

Partially- or fully-communicative:
Things get more complicated from here, but the definition of communication still holds up. An activity lacking a purpose yet focusing on meaning is partially-communicative. Most teachers spend their time doing partially-communicative activities in preparation of a few fully-communicative tasks along the way. Personally, I don’t bother with tasks/Tasks, and find them awfully close to performance-based assessments, the juice of which tends not to be worth the squeeze.

A- in Conjugating, D in Comprehending

**UPDATE 9.28.17** Episode 65 of Tea with BVP, entitled “Does Instruction Speed Up Acquisition,” confirms much of what’s in this post.

I just looked up the 3rd person plural future active indicative form of habēre—or—expressed in a more comprehensible way, I just looked up how to say “they will have.” Before I looked it up, though, habēbunt didn’t sound right in my head. It didn’t sound right because I haven’t received enough input of that word. I also haven’t received enough input of other words with the same ending in different contexts. If I did, I’d have a better chance of being able to extract the parts during my parsing (i.e. moment-by-moment computation of sentence structure during comprehension), and wouldn’t have had to think about how to express “they will have.”

No one dare say that I didn’t study my endings, because I totally did. I got an A- in paradigms. I knew them forwards and backwards, UK and North American order, too! That was after I got a D in comprehension the first time I took Latin because the pace was too fast, and my memory insufficient to learn Latin. Or so I thought…

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