*THE* Time For Writing & Adapting Texts

In the COVID-19 scramble to replace classroom instruction, many teachers are tossing anything they can at students, often using materials someone else created. This might work out fine, but it also might not. Some of the texts are comprehensible. Some aren’t.

Of course, some students will do the enrichment work, and some won’t. That’s just our reality. Yet the K (constant) in all this is us. Teachers can use this time to hone their skills while also providing input—that students may or may not receive, which is completely out of our control (i.e. what used to be problems with homework is now the entire course content!)—ensuring more productive ways to spend our time…

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Skip The Activity?

In terms of input, I’ve observed a few differences between reading independently and reading in pairs, or as a whole-class. The bottom line? Reading independently results in far more input than could be provided in pair, or whole-class activities. Therefore, I wonder if we’re not giving enough time for independent reading, even there are already routines in place (e.g. 10 minutes 2x/week). Could we be better off skipping some or even most of the reading activities in class? Maybe. Granted, independent reading cannot be the only kind of reading done in class since most students not only need input, but also interaction, at least in the K-12 public school context I teach in (conf. Beniko Mason’s more advanced Story Listening students with access to 500+ graded readers). Still, how much less input are students getting with all those activities? Let’s look into that…

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COVID-19 Contingency & CANE Flash Sales

Without sensationalizing the global matter, let’s recognize that employers are considering contingency plans for unexpected, or impending work closures. What would employees need at home in order to continue working for a week, or two, or three? This extends to educators and school closures. In fact, our admin have already been asked to prepare. At the very least, having a plan is a good thing for everyone, regardless of risk. However, I’ve already observed unreasonable burdens placed on teachers to invent new expectations, routines, policies, assignments, quizzes, tests, etc. Sure, the situation is extraordinary, but what I’ve seen is missing a few key factors…

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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.

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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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?