Former Student Studies Linguistics

So, I got my first “hey Mr. P, remember me?” email from a former student. Oh no, they found me! Naw, it’s not too hard. I’m the only person on the planet with my name, so…

Anyway, here’s the gist of that email:

“It’s ___, your former student, now majoring in linguistics at _____ in no small part due to your teaching style.”

That’s interesting.

Why? Because I didn’t explicitly teach grammar or focus on information about the target language when teaching. We were communicating in the language, co-creating stories in real time, and then reading them. I was providing CI (i.e. comprehensible input…the messages students understand), learning about students, and personalizing content. Grammar wasn’t the focus of class at all, yet somehow this student was inspired to learn more about languages. That’s cool.

There’s still soooooo much resistance to teaching with CI. The classic argument is that doing so “won’t prepare students” for studying Classics, linguistics, or related fields in college. Seeing how most traditional programs aren’t doing a great job of preparing students per se anyway—rather it’s the individual student that makes it happen—I’d say we’ll see the death of the “they won’t be prepared” argument sometime soon. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?

If teachers were to just stop grading grammar…

Here’s the third post this week with thoughts on assessment in addition to Friday’s on self-grading & batch assessments, and Thursday’s on averaging & delayed assessments.

If teachers were to just stop grading grammar, Latin (and other languages) would instantly become more accessible to students, as well as afford more planning time for teachers.

This is no joke.

There are some teachers excited about grammar and want to share that with students. Go ahead! I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but I’ve observed many (all?) of the negative effects of doing so, especially in K-12 public education, which mostly begin with grading. If you want to teach grammar, just don’t grade it. Here’s why…

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Capitalizing on Schoolwide Policies: Behavior Systems

I’ve used DEA as anywhere from 0% (i.e. just rules) to 100% of a student’s grade, including a sliding scale throughout the year. While a few have referred to DEA as a “behavior system,” I prefer to look at it as habits that promote an ideal environment for input and interaction. Whatever you want to call it, students who do DEA, or DEA-like things acquire language (adjusting for neuro-diversity, of course), and those who don’t, make it harder for themselves and/or others. Some schools forbid grading behavior altogether, others report them as “Life Skills,” etc. Still, others implement elaborate behavior systems more closely tied to discipline, etc.

My school has implemented a streamlined version of their behavior system. If you’re wondering why it exists in the first place, there’s good reason. Some of our students had never done a homework assignment in middle school (eso si que es), yet they are all college-bound, so we need to support them. For me, DEA is just rules this year, but many of the behaviors in the streamlined behavior system address my version of DEA (i.e Look, Listen, Ask). As such I’ve decided to begin class with another Call/Response routine (popular this year). Now, this is the kind of thing I would typically do in English, like giving instructions, but it’s just another opportunity for more input using common words, while at the same time supporting students with a school policy:

Demerit

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Teaching Grammar without the Grammar-Translation Method

Among the many misconceptions about CI, such as some mission against the Classics, “not teaching grammar while providing CI” is probably the most-cited, yet misinterpretissimus of misconceptions.

We teach grammar, oooooooh do we, although mostly in the context of complete Latin messages since even words/phrases contain grammatical information. There’s even explicit instruction, too, though brief student-initiated pop-up grammar explanations (e.g. “Mr. P, why does that word end with nt and not t?”) comprise most of this in a comprehension-based communicative classroom.

Still, even after all that, we do give explicit instruction when students are ready, usually in years 3 or 4. That’s right—even CI-advocating teachers explicitly teach grammar, and they do so using a host of methods and method-free strategies—all grammar-translation alternatives.

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Establishing Meaning: Confusion

Step 1 of TPRS is “establish meaning” to show what a word/phrase means in the target language (TL) before using it to co-create a story. The most efficient and effective way to do this is by using a native language (L1) common to all students (e.g. “fēlēs means cat“). In TPRS, we write the TL on the board, underline it, then write the L1 below in a different color. We refer to this throughout class by pointing and pausing.

Establishing meaning is also Step 1 for anyone providing comprehensible input (CI), regardless of the method or strategy.

If this step doesn’t occur, teachers are providing input (I) that might not be comprehensible (C). Although there’s some role that noise in the input plays (Incomprehensible Input?), it’s clear that acquisition doesn’t happen with high levels of that noise. This is why no one—NO ONE—disputes that CI is necessary; it’s the sine qua non of acquisition, which is why establishing meaning is so important.

Still, there’s been confusion over establishing meaning, and that confusion has to do with purpose…

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Preparing Our Students For…Latin 100?!

Someone on Facebook posed a couple questions to those at the college/university level regarding the preparedness, and subsequent placement of incoming students.

These are excellent questions.

One comment reported that most incoming Advanced Placement (AP) students retake a lower level grammar course in college. Most! These AP students were successful in high school because of significant memorization, but aren’t prepared for grammar the way colleges expect them to be. Perhaps we should look at exposing students to grammar a different way, no?

I’ve asked these questions, myself, yet the few Classics Departments I solicited years ago didn’t collect any of that data beyond a handful of students they could remember from the current year. Oh, would that they had done so!

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A- in Conjugating, D in Comprehending

**UPDATE 9.28.17** Episode 65 of Tea with BVP, entitled “Does Instruction Speed Up Acquisition,” confirms much of what’s in this post.

I just looked up the 3rd person plural future active indicative form of habēre—or—expressed in a more comprehensible way, I just looked up how to say “they will have.” Before I looked it up, though, habēbunt didn’t sound right in my head. It didn’t sound right because I haven’t received enough input of that word. I also haven’t received enough input of other words with the same ending in different contexts. If I did, I’d have a better chance of being able to extract the parts during my parsing (i.e. moment-by-moment computation of sentence structure during comprehension), and wouldn’t have had to think about how to express “they will have.”

No one dare say that I didn’t study my endings, because I totally did. I got an A- in paradigms. I knew them forwards and backwards, UK and North American order, too! That was after I got a D in comprehension the first time I took Latin because the pace was too fast, and my memory insufficient to learn Latin. Or so I thought…

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“Teaching practice X is at least as supported as Y.”

I read this statement somewhere recently about researched teaching practices:

“X is at least as supported as Y.”

Since we’re talking about something that affects students, I’d begin by asking the kind of questions Eric Herman includes with each of his memos. Then I’d move away from data, and instead consider practical classroom applications, as well as personal observations and reflections (of both practices X and Y when applicable).

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What CI Isn’t

CI is not optional.

For language acquisition, CI is necessary, and no one disputes it. For full inclusion of all students, no one can deny that tapping into what every human is hard-wired for (i.e. language acquisition) is the more universal practice and responsible choice as educators.

CI is not a method or strategy.

The messages students listen to or read are received as Input. When students understand those messages, they receive Comprehensible Input. Continue reading