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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Plenty of Latin FOR ALL! (provided that you can read it)

Mārcus et Imāginēs Suae Bonae is another recently published Latin novella (the first Latin book sold by TPRS Books!) co-translated by myself and John Bracey.

In a classic classist—not the classiest—Classicist move (probably better as “elitist,” but that phrase was too good to pass up—not unlike Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog), someone began the ole questioning of usage and word choice. No surprises. I’m well-aware that everyone’s a critic, but we could all learn a thing or two from the following video (serendipitously shared by Bob Patrick earlier this week). In sum, the focus of any 10 things shouldn’t be the 1 negative—there are 9 other positive things to make note of:

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“Teaching with CI”

I took a cue from Eric Herman and just updated my blog tagline and email signature. Yes, I dropped “teaching with CI,” not because I’ve done a 180 after ACTFL, but because it doesn’t necessarily distinguish our teaching the way it could. “Teaching with CI” is still a good term that has brought like-minded educators together, but most teachers are confused enough over the role of input in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) such that a different way of expressing what we do might be beneficial for all.

Bob Patrick has been saying for a while that most teachers end up providing at least some comprehensible input (CI) even if they have no clue it’s happening. I agree. As long as students understand what they listen to and/or read, they’re getting CI. So, if a grammar-translation teacher can provide CI, even just sometimes, well then I don’t really want to use a term that aligns myself with that pedagogy.

The big difference between providing CI by chance, and knowingly providing CI is attention to the “C.” It’s usually that “C” (along with the “C” for Compelling) which make the difference between a positive and negative language class experience for our students, and certainly the difference between acquisition, and low vs. high proficiency. Our classrooms are different from most language teachers because we focus on making the target language more comprehensible using various techniques, and strategies. This makes the target language more accessible, which leads to acquisition, and also promotes an inclusive classroom environment. That’s really what teachers seem to mean when using the term “teaching with CI,” so we might as well clearly express what we actually do. We make languages more comprehensible for learners, and not every language teacher can say that.

Teaching for Acquisition
Making Languages More Comprehensible

Negligent Motorist = 1, Lance = 0

Yesterday, the following events unfolded while riding my motorcycle:

  1. I notice a car rolling towards towards the road at a TD Bank exit driveway—the driver isn’t looking left (i.e. my direction).
  2. The driver doesn’t look my way, keeps rolling, then suddenly turns left into the road directly in front of me.
  3. I stop short. The momentum sends my motorcycle down on its right side, and me forward, also on my right side.
  4. I’m on the ground now and can’t move, but it’s for an OK reason—I realize that my helmet is stuck between the pavement and bumper of the driver’s car.
  5. The driver gets out of the car and tries to move me (idiot!).
  6. I take some time to watch horrified rubberneckers looking downward at a motorcycle on the ground and its rider partly under a car.
  7. After the disorientation dissipates, I get bored not doing anything under the car, extract myself, take off my gear, and take in the situation.
  8. Motorcycle doesn’t start (it won’t shift BELOW 3rd gear—the one it was in before going down).
  9. I wrap things up with the officer, get the moto towed, start calling insurance companies, and text Bob Patrick. No, Bob is not my emergency contact, but he just happened to have caught a typo in Discipulus Illustris, which led to a nice suggestion (i.e. Quō in annō es? for Quō in gradū es?)

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CI Program Checklist: 1 of 13

I have an upcoming workshop at CANE’s 2016 Annual Meeting on how to continue Teaching with CI. My abstract reads:

[…] Despite the success and enjoyment of experimenting with CI, many Latin teachers tend to abandon CI methods and strategies after a brief yet blissful period of refreshing change in favor of familiar ways. This workshop addresses how to continue using CI after the honeymoon phase ends by establishing routines, maintaining engaging activities, and having assessment systems in place to support you and your students.

These next 13 blog posts form a CI Program Checklist (emphasis on “a“), which serves as the basis for my workshop. The checklist is organized by words that begin with the letter C…they’re all the rage right now.

The Cs
Classroom MGMT
Comprehensibility
Camaraderie
Counting
Community
*Compellingness*

Let’s get right to it:

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OWATS: CI not Guaranteed

Familiarize yourself with Bob Patrick’s One Word At a Time Stories (OWATS), here.

Sure, this activity can be used to deliver understandable messages when asking questions to each group and/or providing Pop-Up Grammar explanations. Realize, though, that the more groups you have, the less CI you can deliver; time is divided between groups students instead of all at once in a whole-class format. Aside from the main purpose of providing some limited CI, OWATS is also suitable when you need a break from delivering CI. I was in that kind of state of mind today, and didn’t ask groups many questions. Still, the students had a blast creating stories together.

I didn’t plan ahead of time for today’s OWATS, but quickly realized upon entering the building that after the long weekend (including a surreal night at Hôtel de Glace), I didn’t have the energy to sustain a full day in Spanish (n.b. we start Latin in February, then French in April for this 7th grade Exploratory Language course). Teachers new to CI, and Latin teachers new to speaking Latin will likely find themselves in a similar boat. OWATS is a good option. I always have phrases we’ve used typed up, cut out, and ready to go, and continue to add more to the pile as we go…

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CI Flow: Participation & DEA

Scott Benedict just blogged about his current Pagame system, which is essential for a CI class to flow. If class doesn’t flow, we begin to consciously learn. If we do too much conscious learning, we don’t acquire as much. In place of a participation system, I use an adapted version of Bob Patrick’s DEA. I agree with Scott and the grading experts (e.g. Marzano, O’Connor, etc.) that traditional participation scores should be reported, but never included in an academic grade, especially when using proficiency-based grading systems. There is, however, one distinction that I, Bob Patrick, and other teachers using DEA make, that justifies including it in the grade.

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