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

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…

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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!

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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…

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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.

Grading: A Zero-Autonomy Quick Fix

After reviewing my NTPRS 2018 presentation with someone earlier today, I stumbled upon a way to demystify the concept while also providing an option for immediate implementation without ANY changes to those pesky school-mandated, unchangeable grading categories (if you’re in that unlucky situation). In each grading category:

  1. Create assignments that do NOT count towards the final grade (usually a check box)
  2. Create ONLY ONE assignment that DOES count towards the final grade
  3. Use a—ANY—holistic rubric to arrive at that grading category grade

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