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).
Last Wednesday, we did our first MovieTalk (yes, still calling it this because I have no intentions or expectations of students acquiring specific vocab, and that’s peachy according to Dr. Ashley Hastings’ 2018 note to teachers who were misinterpreting the method). Believe it or not, but Wednesday’s MovieTalk has been the *ONLY* story so far. Yep. Other than that, no stories. With student interviews (i.e. Discipulus Illustris/Special Person), discussions based on a simple prompt (i.e. Card Talk), and questions about the weekend and upcoming week (i.e. Weekend & Week Chat), class has been compelling enough without any narrative. But stories are awesome, and we have a ton of other MovieTalk texts already prepared for every other week, so I’m thinking now is a good time to get into collaborative storytelling…
Those familiar with tiered versions and/or embedded readings will know that the difference between two of the first levels is often putting double-spaced sentences into paragraph form. I always knew this was to help the eye with clarity, and avoid intimidated by a giant block of text. However, I just discovered something else…
At iFLT 2019, Michele Whaley shared a way to write bottom-up embedded readings together as a class. While many fun collaborative storytelling methods and strategies involve dramatic participation, I’m always searching for new ways to ask a story that doesn’t involve acting. Michele certainly delivered with this new take on an already very familiar process…
For years, my go-to teacher eval goal has been for students to increase their timed write word counts by X% (like 20%, which always happens), which includes selecting one or two practices to improve that allow CI to be provided, and contribute to the goal (e.g. establishing rules & routines, consistently using brain breaks, writing more embedded readings, etc.). In my experience, it’s not necessarily the results that lead to good evaluations, it’s how everything is analyzed. That is, a thorough analysis is more important than every student meeting the eval goal. Thus, this post. Hey Principal HD, #shoutout!
Next year, I’m looking forward to a new goal of increasing the input I’m providing, but to wrap up this year’s analysis, here are some stats and insights…
**Updated 11.20.19 with StoryGuessing**
See this post for all the input-based activities you can do with a text. But how do we end up with a text in the first place?! Here are all the ways I’ve been collecting:
**N.B. Many interactive ways to get texts require you to write something down during the school day, else you might forget details! If you can’t create the text during a planning period within an hour or two of the events, jot down notes right after class (as the next group of students line up for the Class Password?), or consider integrating a student job.**
Keith Toda just posted about writing simple texts and parallel stories for extensive reading use, such as during Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). Follow this template to create simple texts from scratch using the Sweet Sēdecim (Top 16). Also follow this template starting with any text (e.g. the simplest version of an Embedded Reading, a parallel story, a textbook chapter, a Write & Discuss, details from Discipulus Illustris, a myth, etc.). This will get you practice writing for the novice:
(is, is in, likes)
(there isn’t, doesn’t have, wants [to ___], wants to go)
– Interactions: (sees, hears, says, thinks, knows)
- New Location(s):
(leaves, comes to, is in, goes)
– Interactions: (sees, hears, says, thinks, knows)
- Resolution/Unresolved Ending:
(if item/object: someone carries, puts, gives, if action: character is able)
Example: Here’s a 250 total word length story I could add to the FVR shelf as another comprehensible option…