We Still Need More Books

I recently spoke to the M.A.T. students at UMass Amherst about writing novellas. My thanks goes out to Professor Closs for the invite. As we discussed my writing process and teachers and professors have been using novellas, I was reminded of a simple truth…

We need more.

I wrote about this three months ago. Since then, there have been four new novellas published, which is pretty good, but we still need more. Specifically, we need more books at lower levels. Why lower levels? The latest novellas range from 158 unique words to 750! That lower number represents a reasonable estimate of how many words a student acquires by the end of their first year, and the higher number how many words a student acquires by the end of their fourth year. What about during the first and second years when most students study Latin? Besides, students at a higher reading level benefit from reading below-level texts, even teachers!

In the Latin Best Practices Facebook group, I shared how I read Emma Vanderpool’s new novella of 158 unique words in about 40 minutes. The total amount of input I was exposed to was about 3,000 words. Compare that to the 2300 words of Fabulae Syrae (1000+ unique words?) that took me about 7 hours to read, and you see how much more input is possible with below-level texts. Remember that “books are easy” is one of five principles Jeon & Day (2016) identified for extensive reading! If students are reading independently, and extensively, that means books of not many words at all. Of course, when a teacher guides students through a text, that text can be at a higher level. Granted, that kind of close reading has been the status quo for Latin programs. The practice has been used to justify texts of ridiculously unrealistic expectations, and is just one source of Latin’s exclusivity. Disrupting that status requires changes to practices and expectations. Extensive reading is one of them, and only recently have there been Latin texts that lend themselves to independent reading. Nonetheless, when a learner is reading on their own and can control the pace of input, the text level must be much, much, much lower.

As a Latin teacher of first year language students, I’ve observed how more books written with fewer than 100 unique words would better serve everyone. Some learners really enjoy reading, yet their proficiency hasn’t increased to a vocabulary doubling in number—which is needed to reach 98% vocabulary coverage for the next books beyond the lowest—and this makes sense. Acquisition isn’t linear, nor should we expect it to be. Some learners are still at a 30-40 word reading level, which means they have like 5 books to choose from. This is also the third year I’ve had students new to the city appear mid-way through the year! Those learners don’t have much of a selection now that we’re reading at least 20 minutes on our own each week. We need more books.

Bottom line, though, we need books that all learners can read, whether it’s a first year student spending several classes doing so, or a third year student reading a whole story within 10 minutes! There really is no limit to how many of these we need, from a variety of voices, on a variety of topics, using a variety of writing styles.

Total Words Read

Last year, I reported total words read up to holiday break, and it’s hard to believe that time of year is upon us again. Since part of my teacher eval goal is to increase input throughout the year, let’s compare numbers. 2018-19 students read over 20,000 total words of Latin by this time. However, this year’s students have read…uh oh…just 11,000?!?!

Hold up.

Something’s going on. I’m positive that students are reading more now, and for longer periods of time. Classes are now structured to be roughly half listening and half reading (i.e. Talk & Read), too. So…why don’t the numbers add up?! Surely there’s a reason. Let’s look into that, starting with this quote from last year’s post:

Over the 55 hours of CI starting in September up to the holiday break, students read on their own for 34 total minutes of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), and 49 minutes of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)…

This year’s independent reading time has skyrocketed to 99 and 233. That’s nearly 5x more independent choice reading! Now, last year’s 20,000 figure included an estimated 1,900 from FVR. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to estimate that this year’s students have read something like 9,500 total words during FVR, which would be like reading a third of this paragraph worth of Latin per minute. If so, the year-to-year comparison would be very close (i.e. 20,000 vs. 20,500). However, I’d expect the numbers to be much higher now with even more of a focus on reading. Seeing as it’s really difficult to nail down a confident number during independent choice reading due to individual differences, then, let’s just subtract all that FVR time from both years, arriving at 18,100 to compare to this year’s 11,000, which is still quite the spread. Let’s do some digging…

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Pīsō et Syra et pōtiōnēs mysticae: The Cognate Book Published!

This novella is written with 163…COGNATES!

That’s right.

There are 163 fairly to super clear Latin to English (and even Spanish) cognates, and then just 7 other necessary Latin words (ad, est, et, in, nōn, quoque, sed) found within this tale of nearly 2500 words in length.

“Piso can’t seem to write any poetry. He’s distracted, and can’t sleep. What’s going on?! Is he sick?! Is it anxiety?! Has he lost his inspiration?! On Syra’s advice, Piso seeks mystical remedies that have very—different—effects. Can he persevere?”

Pīsō et Syra… is the 17th novella in the Pisoverse, the collection of Latin novellas written with sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary to provide more understandable reading material for the beginning Latin student. The Pisoverse now provides over 44,000 total words of Latin using a vocabulary of 645 (just about half of which—320—are cognates!).

1) Pīsō et Syra et pōtiōnēs mysticae is now available on Amazon.
2) For Sets, Packs, and Bundle Specials (up to $200 off!), order here.

Free Reading Fridays: We Need More Novellas

Last week, we started Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) in what I’m calling Free Reading Fridays, which is 10 minutes of independent reading at the start of class just before we do some kind of team game. It’s a great way to end the week. I wrote about how first year Latin students have had 143 minutes of FVR so far, but that’s been in segments of 3-5 minutes in the middle of class, with students choosing class texts from their folder. Last Friday was the first day they were able to sit in the back and choose anything from our library…

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Q1 Stats: 39% Of Input From Novellas

After sharing the strong start to the year from just the first 12 minutes of day 1, and results of a textbook comparison from the first 4 weeks, I’ve now got some stats from Quarter 1. Having arrived at the first 10 week mark of the year (36 hours), the total words read is now 6,500. But that figure isn’t really what I find most remarkable. How about the fact that 39% of the total input was read in just these last two weeks, from novellas alone…

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The Daily Lesson Plan: Talk & Read

Teachers unaccustomed to speaking the target language in class are often a bit lost when it comes to providing input. Instead, the more familiar rule-based lectures and paired speaking activities of PPP (present, practice, produce), target culture projects, and perhaps target language movies all become quite alluring, seducing teachers back to the pedagogy of yore. Here’s a way to conceptualize class in a clearer way that maximizes input:

  1. Talk about something
  2. Read something

Now, from the student perspective, this would be “listen & read,” but the “talk” portion of class is very much led by the teacher, especially in beginning years, so it’s easier to think of this in terms of what you, the teacher, must do. Don’t get fooled by anyone thinking this is the kind of “teacher-centered” lesson that’s frowned upon. The content is student-centered, it’s just that students can’t express themselves fully in the target language. They don’t have to, and this is expected. They need input. Case closed. The “read” portion could be any reading activity, either independent, led by you, in pairs, groups, or all of the above…

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Do Now & Text-Generating Routines

Classes feel a bit different this year—to say the least—meeting between just 40 and 44 minutes daily. That certainly doesn’t sound like much time for high school, but it’s growing on me. In fact, I’d even say that this is an ideal amount of time to spend in a second language each day, so no complaints, here. Due to the need for super efficient timing, though, my daily structure now looks like this:

  1. Do Now
  2. Activity 1 (or first part of a longer activity)
    -Brain Break-
  3. READ (independently)
  4. Activity 2 (or second part of a longer activity)

To give you a sense of how this looks, on Tuesday we held the first round of student interviews (i.e. Discipulus Illustris/Persona Especial), students read about last Friday’s basketball game, then I asked questions about what we learned from the student in the spotlight, typing into a Google Doc as students copied the Latin into their notebooks (i.e. Write & Discuss). That was it! Thinking of the class day as two parts is really easy to plan for. Also, since classes meet daily, I’ve decided to alternate activities. This makes the week feel like there’s more variety without adding too much. Here are my alternating daily routines for these first weeks of school…

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Are My Students Reading Every Day?

No? Why not?

After thinking it over—and I can think things over for a long, long time—I can’t find a compelling reason why students shouldn’t be reading every day, either independently, in pairs/groups/whole class, or both. This year’s students have already read independently for twice as long as last year’s students did…by the end of Quarter 1!!!!

Reading is probably the best source of input, and although I value class time interaction, the reason for all that interaction amounts to being able to read Latin. In fact, I would still place all my eggs in the reading basket when teaching a modern language, too, knowing that interpersonal communication *might* occur outside of the classroom, but that it also might not. However, books can accompany us wherever we go, and literacy is probably the most important skill to promote and build across all content areas, as well as language class.

Bottom line, reading is paramount. Looking back at last year’s plans, there were days when students didn’t read, but I can’t justify that, even for a few minutes at some point between activities. Therefore, I’ve now built reading time into my plans for each day…like…ALL of them…! How?!

Halfway through class, and before ANY reading or any other input-based activity, students read independently for 3 minutes. That’s it!

For example, last week I finished class with TPR (Total Physical Response), but guess what? Students had 3 minutes of independent reading time with their first text. This was after a brain break in the middle of class, and that’s in 40 to 44 minute classes. If I still taught for 1 hour, I’d set a timer for 25, quick break, then read. Every. Day.

Of course, the insistence on this routine means I need a text every day, but that doesn’t mean the text must be long. That also doesn’t mean that a new text is needed every day. While students certainly could be given new text daily, especially with judicious use of copying a text written/typed out during class (i.e. Write & Discuss), a longer text could last a couple days, or even the whole week.

So, if your students aren’t reading every day, what can you do to build in this time?

First Text: A Year To Year Comparison

After the first orientation day of just 12 minute “classes,” I typed up statements using the drawings students did while responding to “what do you like/like to do?” Even though I followed the same plan for the first day as last year, the higher execution of it this year has been…well…crazy.

Last year, each class section read just 50 total words of Latin (10 unique words). This year? There’s 520 total words using 54 unique (17 of which cognates)!!!! Yeah. That’s how much Latin I’ll be able to provide this week after just one very brief meeting, and a decent number of hours writing/typing. Oh, and I’m not keeping track of that kind of work at this point in the school year, doing what I need to do to start off in a calm and confident manner, putting in any extra time beyond the school day I need.

So, how does this year end up including SOOOOO much more input?! First of all, I made sure every 9th grade student was included in the text, clearing the time needed to write about them. Otherwise, I updated a few things. This post looks at those changes…

sample of 2018-19 first text
sample of this year’s first text

The differences you can probably see between the two comparison pics are the following…

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