No More Reading At Home! & Look, Listen, Ask: What’s Your Focus?

On my path towards simplifying everything I possibly can about teaching, this next grading idea is quite promising. Don’t get me wrong, my expectations-based grading rubric has worked wonders in terms of flexibility, equity, and efficiency. This new idea just complements the rubric by aligning more of what is expected during class with arriving at the course grade. It also adds more varied gradebook evidence.

In this most-unusual of teaching years, one problem we ran into was how to get evidence of learning, especially when students weren’t in class. The best solution I used was called My Time, the form students filled out to get equal credit by reading on their own and showing their understanding. Otherwise, the typical evidence I collected was fairly simple: upload/share a picture of the day’s “work” done in the notebook. At some point, though, I noticed that students weren’t reading daily from the digital class library—a major course expectation—so I replaced that weekly notebook pic with checking the digital library (Google Doc) and reporting how many days students accessed it. To my disappointment, though not to my surprise, very few students were spending any time at all in the Google Doc. Admittedly, there’s no way to know if the students who did WERE reading, and we gotta take that on faith, but the majority weren’t even accessing the document! So, effective immediately, I’m removing all expectations of students reading at home. This is BIG! However, I’m still maintaining the expectation of reading something old and something new, every day which means the adjustment is to build this into class time for about 5-10 minutes. This is different from FVR (Free Voluntary Reading), which lasts 15-20 on one to two days a week. I like “Free Reading Fridays” and then “Read Whatever Wednesdays” when it really gets rolling. Also, it doesn’t matter if a kid goes home to a peaceful room and naps, then spends hours reading for school, if they go directly to a part-time job, or if they take care of family members. This update is more equitable, and maintains a focus on reading. A simple Google Form follow-up (“What Did You Read?”) is evidence for the gradebook.

But the brain craves novelty

Continue reading

Core Practices

I got thinking about what I’d say my core practices were if anyone wanted to learn more about CI and get an overview of what comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) looks like. Would it be a list of 10? Could I get that down to five? Might it be better to prioritize some practices like the top 5, 8, and 16 verbs (i.e. quaint quīnque, awesome octō, and sweet sēdecim)? Would I go specific, with concrete activities? Or, would I go broad and global, starting with principles and ideas?

I highly recommend that you do this just as an exercise during a planning period this week, making a quick list of your core practices. Doing so required me to sort out a few things in the process, and helped organize and align my practices to certain principles. Of course, terms and definitions can get tricky, here. I just saw that Reed Riggs and Diane Neubauer refer to “instructional activities (IA),” which covers a lot of what goes on in the classroom. It’s a good term. I’m using “practices” in a similar way to refer to many different methods, strategies, techniques, and activities that all fall under a CCLT approach, as well as general “teacher stuff” I find to be core as well.

Another reason for this post is that I’ve seen the “CI umbrella” graphic shared before, but that doesn’t quite fit with my understanding of things. Rather than practices falling under a CI umbrella, I envision CI instead as the result of practices under the umbrella of CCLT. I also consider such an approach a defense against incomprehensibility—the first obstacle that needs to be removed—and I thought a more aggressive graphic of a “CI shield” might best represent that.

Here’s the first line of core practice defense:

Continue reading

Trust & Hope: We Can’t Tell Who’s Reading, But We Can SEE Who Isn’t (via Google Docs)

As many of us discussed, this remote year has been the time to put faith into the input hypothesis, by just providing input, and not demanding much more than reading from students during a pandemic. Of course, remote learning has been 100% homework, and there’s no way to know what students do at home, much less monitor and support it. So in addition to trusting the input hypothesis—that input would be sufficient for language acquisition expectations within a K-12 context—there was a hope that students were reading. Trust & Hope. Well, today I discovered that my hopes didn’t really pan out, although I cannot say I’m surprised. There’s a pandemic. Full stop. By chance, I clicked on the “trend” arrow that I’ve somehow ignored for a while, and found that it’s quite handy…

Continue reading

Separating Grading From Assessing & Quizzing In 6 Steps

The concept is simple: you establish criteria students must meet in order to get an A in the class, but keep traditional assessments out of it, completely.

Keanu: “Whoa.”

Sure, you can still give quizzes if you want. You can even score them and provide feedback, too. Truth is, none of that is necessary to set expectations for class, and for students to meet those expectations. Here’s the process…

Continue reading

Fairness: COVID-19 Grading Solution

Recently, I was reminded of a particular conversation I observed many different teachers having last spring. It went something like this:

“How fair is it to the students who did the work if everyone gets an A?”

There’s a lot to unpack there. First of all, it assumes “the work” was reasonable for all students to complete, at home. Let us not forget that any graded remote work was essentially a 100% Homework grading category—something no K-12 teacher in their right mind would ever consider. So, fairness…

Continue reading

Grammar-Translation: Not Really A Method & Resisting It Now More Than Ever

**Updated 7.26.2020 with this Cicero quote**

“Hence, if someone does not have a natural faculty of memory, this practice cannot be used to unearth one…”
– Cicero (de Oratore 3.560
), trans. James May in How To Win An Argument, 2016

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?

Memorizing.

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…

Continue reading

Too Much, Too Little, and Too Late

One of my favorite topics in teaching is grading and the ridiculous amount of time teachers spend doing it.

Not only does the topic address issues with providing corrective feedback and scoring itself (re: grading during planning time, or setting aside a grading day during one’s free time), but the topic also addresses issues with designing a quiz or test, as well as establishing its criteria. Given those factors alone, it’s amazing teachers can do anything other than creating quizzes, administering them during quiz day class time, and then grading them in planning time or at home. It’s too much. So, all this is being done while language teachers *could* otherwise be focused on what students actually need their teachers to do…creating or adapting more input!

Continue reading

Rejoinders: Teacher vs. Students

This year, I’ve begun each quarter by sharing new (or “new”) expectations. These are simple reminders of rules and routines expressed in a slightly different way to keep management tight. For example, Q2 featured “less English, more Latin” to address increased chatter from students becoming more comfortable. This week, I introduced Q3 with “mostly Latin, almost no English.” However, I still don’t require or expect students to speak Latin (i.e. forced output). Here’s how that works…

Continue reading

Why Is Language Class So Different?

 

It’s taken years to develop my practices, so there’s no reason students should understand them all after 7 weeks. I’m using these comics to reinforce rules & routines, and to help students understand why their language class looks so different from other classes in school. 

1) Tests, Quizzes, “Assessments”
When students respond—even non-verbally—it’s like they’ve selected a multiple choice, or completed a fill-in-the-blank test item. Rather than score/”correct” each individual student’s test, the real time interaction provides immediate feedback to everyone in the room. This saves a massive amount of teacher time, typically redundant in nature (e.g. giving the same feedback over and over, possibly resorting to using comment codes, etc.). It’s actually the most natural form of a batch assessment, and it takes place all class long!

There’s no need to give tests when every utterance provides a) me with comprehension data, and b) students with immediate feedback. I do, however, need to train students to listen as if they were taking a test. That’s easier said than done, but not impossible. Aside from maintaining consistent classroom rules & routines that support language acquisition, statements like the ones in the comics help to explicitly connect SLA principles with school expectations in a student-friendly way.

2) Reading Expectations
I don’t give homework, but reading at home is a daily expectation, period. Without a product attached to reading, though, the concept of “we have Latin reading every night” is tough for 9th graders. Surely, I don’t want to contribute to readicide, but students do need it spelled out for them. The math on input is clear. If we spend 10min. reading in class each day, reading at home for another 10min. doubles the input for the whole year.

The power of reading at home cannot be emphasized enough, and reading what is understood is paramount. This means providing students with level-appropriate, or even below-level reading since doing so independently at home lacks any possibility for negotiating and clarifying meaning. Like novellas used for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), students are able to read far less on their own vs. the support available during whole-class, or partner-reading activities.