I thought it’d be helpful to go through some terms that seem to be used interchangeably. Why? The misunderstandings have an effect on pedagogical discussions, and there’s always room for reminders. So, communication, as defined by at least Sandra Savignon and Bill VanPatten, boils down to “the interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning.” Each researcher added details like “within a given context, and “sometimes negotiation,” but the basic idea us teachers can focus on is in the three words, also conveniently picked up by ACTFL and keyed to their three modes: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational.
- Examples of interpreting Latin would include listening and reading. You can do this alone. It’s one-way (input).
- Examples of negotiating in Latin would include some interaction, which isn’t necessarily spoken because you can respond in non-verbal ways, and you can also do this via writing, such as email correspondence. You can’t do this alone. It’s two-way (input + output).
- Examples of expressing Latin would include writing or speaking. You can do this alone, such as when writing a story, or publicly speaking. It’s one-way (output). When giving a presentation, there are people there, but you don’t necessarily have to interact with them. Think lecture without follow-up, or better yet, think videos. TikTok videos are people expressing meaning. Of course, any follow-up would involve interaction, thus becoming interpersonal communication.
OK, those are very clear examples of communication from a second language perspective. However, when most people say that they “communicate” with others, that usually just means speaking, and maaaaaaybe writing. That is, the verb “communicate” is often synonymous with “talk,” and almost always suggests two-way interaction. That’s…fine…but we start running into problems when language teachers use the two interchangeably…
If you’re within the first years of speaking Latin in the classroom, I urge you to avoid using the term “active Latin.” In a nutshell, referring to “active Latin” is problematic, and just might lead you astray from what you intend to be doing.
A few years ago, some began recognizing the confusion “active Latin” was causing. This confusion is summarized below, with observations of people interpreting “active Latin” to mean that…
- …Latin was to be spoken all the time.
- …English was to be avoided, if not eliminated.
- …students had to speak and write Latin.
- …grammar had to be taught/learned in Latin.
- …teaching in such ways meant that one was providing input (I) that was understandable (C) to the student.
**Before I continue, let it be clear that doing or not doing any of the bullet points is not the focus of this post. Instead, the focus is on this particular combination, how it’s referred to as “active Latin,” and its implications.**
When looking at the bullet list, it doesn’t matter what “active Latin” ever meant originally, has meant over time, or now means. What matters is that this confusion led to more emphasis on output, and a more polarized view of teaching Latin, in general. In particular, the combination of the first bullet points above doesn’t cause the last. Due to this confusion, there’s a problematic association with “active Latin,” and CI, which may or may not be provided under the listed circumstances.
Quite plainly, then, just because you’re speaking Latin, doesn’t mean you’re providing CI…
Last year, I ditched the TPR Word Wall for a bottom-up Word Wall (i.e. blank at start of year, then add as you go). This year, I’ll have both. As such, my TPR Word Wall just had a reboot, now featuring English meanings, pictures when possible, new verbs (that I know I’ll use more), and a cleaner look. Oh, and these posters are primarily to help me do TPR, not as a learner reference on the wall. With everything up there, all I have to do is combine things to form novel chain commands, and hilarious 3 Ring Circus scenes (i.e. assign chain commands/actions that a few learners then loop)!
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…
I once had a native Spanish-speaking colleague propose a deal; in order to improve his English, he was to speak only English to me, and in order for me to improve my Spanish, I was to speak only Spanish to him. Without wanting him to know how I reaaaally felt about language acquisition so soon after meeting, I hesitantly agreed to the terms.
The results were disastrous.
I was just with Von Ray—the man, the myth, the legend—at a TPRS workshop in Manchester, NH. It’s been several years since I’ve seen anyone do the 2-day workshop, and I was impressed with the updates. I was also impressed with how magical the experience still was, given my familiarity with all the strategies and techniques of a basic skills workshop, while observing first-time TPRS participants in the room simply dazzled by the experience.
**Updated 12.13 with this clue tracking sheet for teams**
Every Latin program has that perfunctory “Roman house” unit in which students memorize the layout and names of various rooms in a vīlla or domus, and then read (or translate) a narrative loosely connected to those rooms. This got me thinking; is there a more meaningful way to learn about the Roman house through a game? To be clear, gamification usually sucks (e.g. playing a board game to teach prepositions), so the key is to align the game objective with a communicative task in Latin. On Episode 42 of Tea with BVP, Bill stated that “we communicate in order to learn, build, create, entertain, and socialize,” so what better task covering at least 3 of those purposes than a “whodunit” based on Clue™?
**Update 4.11.16** See this post for some Grading & Reporting Schemes
If you’re one of the “lucky” teachers who has those classically typical, or absurdly unexpected grading restrictions, I don’t envy you! Nonetheless, the key is to find the wiggle room within these restrictions, and focus on delivering understandable messages in the target language (= Comprehensible Input, CI).
Most tricky questions are the misguided product of a teacher thinking they’ve created a valid or rigorous assessment. Validity is when the assessment measures what it’s supposed to measure. This usually means that assessments show that students know what was taught. When it comes to teaching a language, teachers lacking Second Language Acquisition (SLA) training tend to select the wrong thing to be measured (e.g. grammar, cultural facts, etc.). These things usually include tricky details, which lead to tricky questions. Validity then becomes an issue when these teachers use such assessments as evidence that they successfully teach “communicatively” or “for fluency,” when they’re only assessing memory and knowledge about the language system and its speakers. Rigor then muddles things up.
Rigor is not well defined in most school systems, but people (i.e. parents, admin, evaluators, colleagues, etc.) seem confident when they BELIEVE it’s not there. As such, teachers are under pressure to create assessments that seem rigorous, but these assessments just end up being longer (i.e. obtrusive), complex, and downright sneaky. Here’s an example I lifted from a teacher’s assessment. It’s a weak example, but serves our need for the purpose of discussion: