Novellas: +2 Forward, -1 Back

With new novellas being published almost monthly at this point, opening up titles to choose from, I’ve been looking at how my own sequencing has been changing in the past year. I no longer feel the need to systematically read a) from lowest to highest word count, or b) shortest to longest book, a practice that constantly increases the demand of learners. If you think about it, what’s really the difference between that and using a highly sequenced textbook?! Such practice of constantly increasing demand also presumes learners have attended all classes, and/or develop language ability at the same rate, which is complete nonsense…

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Mike Peto’s Read-Aloud

Get yourself over to the new COMPRHENDED! conference; it’s super cheap and flexible PD you can access until May. As a presenter, my main role is fielding any questions people have about what I presented, but I’ve also had time to poke around as a participant, too, and I’ve got a new activity for whole-class reading. Mike Peto of My Generation of Polyglots has been a champion of novels and independent reading for quite a while. He promotes having texts in your FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library that students can read on their own, which means at-level, as well as below-level reading options, as supported by research on extensive reading (Jeon & Day, 2016). Still, there might be available texts that students need a bit of scaffolding to read. While most texts Latin teachers use are far above level, this whole-class reading strategy is worth sharing, especially for texts adapted to something closer to at-level (but probably still above-level). There’s also value in this reading approach with texts of all levels, especially in COVID times. I’ve used it with first year Latin students as recently as this week. It’s a robust reading process:

1) Teacher reads aloud as students listen
2) Reread paragraph-by-paragraph as students ask clarifying questions to help understanding (English is fine)
3) Reread again as students come up with comprehension questions that the teacher has to answer
(English is fine)

Step #2 is an opportunity to establish meaning, but that doesn’t guarantee comprehension. The questions in step #3 are evidence that students understand…or not. For example, I was asked “where does she run to?” which is a fine question, only the text didn’t say that the character ran anywhere…yet. That gave me the opportunity to say “ohh, well she doesn’t run anywhere yet, but here we see that she wants to run to the stadium” as I pointed out the word vult. It could be a simple oversight, or the student might have a different mental picture of what’s going on in the story. In my experience, younger students will need coaching on how to ask a comprehension question. For example, I mentioned that “who, what, where, when, why, how?” were good question starters, but then I got a bunch of “why?” questions that couldn’t be answered from the text.

Zoom
Whereas my go-to reading strategy includes #1 as I help students process the meaning of Latin, steps #2 and #3 of Mike’s read-aloud promote a LOT more interaction. I like how the three steps are concrete tasks that keep the focus on Latin over Zoom. Other reading strategies rely on students holding themselves accountable for paying attention, and/or require the teacher to check comprehension. Over Zoom, that can get frustrating. With steps #2 and #3, it’s very obvious who needs more support (or who just isn’t there at the computer). Don’t make any judgements, either. I suspected a student had bailed, so while others were thinking of questions to ask, or sending me clarifying requests in direct messages—which I always replied to in general chat (e.g. “vult = she wants”)—I sent direct messages to the students I wasn’t certain were even there. Sure enough, they responded with something. This is the Zoom equivalent of the quiet student taking everything in.

Agrippīna aurīga, Mārcus magulus & mȳthos malus: convīvium Terregis

New year, new books!

My observations after reading novellas *as a whole class* during COVID-19 remote learning has convinced me that audiobooks make for the best experience in that format. Narration has its value, sure, but for whole-class reading, the books with sound effects, character voices, and music, really do up the game. I’ve got three novellas coming up this spring, all with accompanying audiobooks. There will be more details upon publication of each, but here are some brief descriptions…

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Spooky Season Stories: novellae horrificae

Autumn is probably my favorite season, and Halloween most certainly my favorite holiday. No fancy costume for me this year, but I’ll be reading a spooky tale for sure. You should, too. However, you’ve got just a couple weeks to get one of these books in time to read to students over Zoom (Kindergarten Day reading-style), or along with them via eBooks and PDF. Grab that hot apple cider, get spooky lighting, and scare your students this season!

Quīntus et nox horrifica (Amazon, eBook Polyglots, eBook on Storylabs)
Given its low word count (26 cognates, 26 other), and super short length (1100 total words), this novella can be read within a couple classes, and quite early on. In fact, we’ll start reading it on what will be just the 9th class for first year Latin students! This year, I get to use the new audiobook that came out last spring, which is killer for ambiance. My plan is to read a chapter as a whole class, then listen to its audiobook track, continuing for several chapters, and then switch entirely over to the audiobook on the second class day to finish it out.

Prologue Excerpt
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*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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