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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NTPRS 2017 Takeaways

Before having the opportunity to present a couple workshops, my mind was blown quite sufficiently during the week. Overall, the Advanced Track with Alina Filipescu and Jason Fritze got me thinking about aaaaaaaall the things I’ve forgotten to do, or stopped doing (for no good reason) over the years. Thankfully, most of them are going to be soooooo easy to [re]implement. As for the others, I’ll pick 2 at a time to add—not replace—until they become automatic. This will probably take the entire year; there’s no rush!

Jason referred to high-leverage strategies—those yielding amazing results with minimal effort (i.e. juice vs. squeeze), and I’m grateful that he called our attention to everything Alina was doing while teaching us Romanian. ce excelent! I’ll indicate some high-leverage strategies, and will go as far as to classify them as “non-negotiable” for my own teaching, using the letters “NN.” I’ll also indicate strategies to update or re-implement with the word “Update!” and those I’d like to try for the first time with the word “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways organized by presenter:

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Stultus: Crowd Control

“Stultus” is not a word I want thrown around class. Sure, it’s National Bullying Prevention Month, but the fundamental reason why I can’t have students yelling at me when I make a mistake or error as part of the comprehension activity is because mistakes and errors are welcome in my class. I would be sending the wrong message, however gratifying and novel it might seem to call the teacher “stupid,” if I allowed that in my room. N.B. I must emphasize MY room, because I know that Stultus works out just fine elsewhere.

So, my adaptation has been to rename the activity “Magister Mendāx!” The process is the same, but the results are a bit more suited to me and my students. When I say something that’s simply not true (e.g. “Trump reads a lot” when the Latin reads “Trump nōn legit”), the students yell out “liar!” I like that the adaptation is not a judgement of my ability, I don’t have to pretend to not understand, and they still get a fun word we can use in class and in stories.

Why “do you understand?” is pointless to ask…

Language teachers usually ask this when something indicates that a student didn’t understand (e.g. verbal response “huh?” or non-verbal response deer-in-headlights expression on face, etc.). If this event has already happened, asking the question serves no purpose. In fact, it might even make the matter worse by putting the student on the spot. The student will likely answer “yes, I understand” just to get their teacher to move on to someone else. Here are some comprehension check alternatives:

1) Did I just say/ask X?
2) Did I just say/ask X or Y?
3) I just said/asked ____.
4) What did I just say/ask? -or- Who can tell me what I just said/asked?

The alternatives above are arranged by questioning level from low to high (i.e. yes/no, either/or, fill-in-blank, open-ended). The questions could certainly be asked in the target language, but one popular strategy is to ask, in English/native, “what did I just say/ask?” to a so-called barometer student, who would be one with the slowest processing speed. This popular strategy is interesting because that kind of question is technically harder to answer than “did I just say/ask X?” It’s probably a non-issue because we’re dealing with the native language, but for the sake of variety, or if you find that your barometer students are struggling, you could start asking those lower level comprehension checks in English/native as well the classic “what did I just say/ask?”