No, this does not describe a juniper and coriander-based evening. Ginput is Grammar-based Input. Surprise! Yeah, I played this one pretty close to the vest this year. In fact, I began writing this post on June 13th—2019—knowing it would be months until actually implementing and seeing any results from what was last year’s springtime idea.
The idea for Ginput came shortly after one of those frequent grammar debates online fizzled out. I still know that teaching grammar isn’t necessary, and I certainly won’t test grammar knowledge, but I also know that even really compelling things get boring throughout the year! I started wondering if grammar had a role to play, if only as a break from all the compelling stuff, especially since I had no plans to test or grade it. However, a question remained: “could grammar somehow be input-heavy?“
The Search for Grammar-based Input
Providing CI while teaching grammar is rare, so I began to think…“But what if teaching grammar weren’t the entire syllabus?” and “Could I explore Latin grammar with students knowing that our curriculum is based on their interests (i.e. NOT grammar) under a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach?” I was certainly onto something, but needed a resource for guidance. Oh wait, I wrote one…
At least half a dozen times now, I’ve sent a message to other Latin teachers with something like “wow, I really gotta get back into storytelling, with shorter stories, and a lot of them.” Well, now’s the perfect time for that…
OK fine, the grammar-translation (GT) method has been used for a few hundred years. It’s still the dominant practice for teaching Latin, and widely known. However, what is there to the method, really? I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but it turns out the method is quite simple. GT actually consists of presenting students with textbook grammar rules they apply to words in order to understand the target language. As a method, then, teachers present rules, but what is GT—really—for the student?
I posit that the entirety of GT can be reduced to memorizing. This makes it less a method, and more just a process. Students listen to or read about textbook grammar rules, and then recall and apply those rules in order to derive meaning. To be clear, this is a fairly complex way to arrive at step zero—establishing meaning. With GT, students not only must do this for themselves, such as consulting dictionaries and grammar notes, which accounts for a lot of “the work,” but the conscious process requires a decent amount of cognitive demand. Actual interpretive communication, on the other hand, either listening or reading, is an implicit, unconscious process, and effortless. In order to effortlessly apply textbook grammar rules while also recalling word meanings, though, a very good, if not uncanny memory, is required. Memory, then, is both paramount to student success with the GT method, as well as something we have no control over…
In terms of input, I’ve observed a few differences between reading independently and reading in pairs, or as a whole-class. The bottom line? Reading independently results in far more input than could be provided in pair, or whole-class activities. Therefore, I wonder if we’re not giving enough time for independent reading, even there are already routines in place (e.g. 10 minutes 2x/week). Could we be better off skipping some or even most of the reading activities in class? Maybe. Granted, independent reading cannot be the only kind of reading done in class since most students not only need input, but also interaction, at least in the K-12 public school context I teach in (conf. Beniko Mason’s more advanced Story Listening students with access to 500+ graded readers). Still, how much less input are students getting with all those activities? Let’s look into that…
Instances of Latin shaming (i.e. causing one to feel ashamed or inadequate regarding their use of Latin) come up every now and then. I last pondered the issue back in August of 2019 in a draft of this post, first started in 2018 after observing some kind of online scuffle. Like clockwork, there have been public discussions once again regarding Latinity (i.e. quality of Latin), whether spoken in the classroom, or appearing in published works. To be clear, I have no interest in participating in those discussions. None. However, I’d like to share a bit about what’s been going on, and give some examples of Latin shaming…
This is the time of year when it becomes obvious how much students have not acquired. That is, words not even remotely close to the most frequent of the most frequent are almost completely incomprehensible when they appear in a new text.
Perhaps you’ve already experienced this earlier in the year. Perhaps it’s coming. Either way, it’s important to recognize that falling back to the old mindset of “but we covered this?!” is *not* going to fly in a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach. To clarify: understanding in the moment is CI, and exposure to CI over time results in acquisition. For example, a text so comprehensible that all students can chorally translate it with ease one class might have a handful of topic-specific vocab. Even though there could be an entire class, maybe even an entire week of exposure, topic-specific vocab that isn’t recycled throughout the year has a very low chance of being acquired and comprehended in new texts. **Therefore, students can experience vocab overload even in classes with high levels of CI.** That applies to “big content words,” like all the vocab needed to talk about Roman kings. Now consider function words, like adverbs, conjunctions, particles, etc. that hold very little meaning on their own. Those have almost no chance of being understood unless they keep appearing in texts.
Of course, we cannot recycle all previous words in every new text, which is why acquisition takes so long. Naturally, the least frequent words fall off and out of bounds, and only the most spongiest of memory students have a shot at acquiring those. However, we cannot expect from most students what only few can do. Instead, we must expect will happen when vocab spirals out beyond the possibility of being recycled, and address that before it happens. Here are ways to address vocab overload when providing texts:
- Dial things back as much as you can, focusing on the top most frequent & useful words.
- Write a tiered version, or embedded reading for every new text, even if that new text is very short.
- When possible, use a word more than once, and in different forms. Fewer meanings (e.g. ran, runs, will run, running) have a greater chance of being understood than many meanings focused on a grammar feature (e.g. ran, ate, laughed, said, carried, was able, were).
- If a function word is important, use it a lot (e.g. the more recent “autem” has no chance of being understood if you keep using “sed”).
- If a message can be expressed in one very long sentence, break it into two or more shorter ones, restating subjects, etc. for clarity. Then, repeat the full message with a function word (e.g. “therefore,…so…”).
- When expanding vocabulary with synonyms, especially when beginning with cognates, consider glossing with the previous (e.g. if you began the year with “studēns,” each text that now has “discipula” could have ( = studēns) after the first instance in that text. Continue using “discipula,” but use “studēns” to clarify meaning when needed).