The 1-Class CALP & Comprehensible Content-Based Instruction (CCBI)

At iFLT 2019, Martina Bex presented on content-based instruction (CBI), only with an important caveat you’d expect from the conference: a focus on comprehension, hence CCBI. I was delighted to see how similar her three steps were to the framework I’ve been developing with John Bracey, David Maust, and John Piazza, which we presented at ACL’s Centennial Institute. Martina uses slightly different terms taken from Bloom’s Taxonomy to describe the same process we’re using (hers on the left, ours on the right):

Knowledge = Connect
Comprehension = Explore
Analysis/Synthesize = Create

Martina’s presentation showed how simple the process can be, making the concept of teaching Roman content in Latin more approachable. How? The format she shared was for a single class. Of course, the idea is not to teach random new content every day, but instead to have each day’s content within a larger unit, but still, this “bite-sized” approach feels more manageable for anyone looking to teach content in the target language. So how does that differ from the unit template the John’s and I shared at ACL?

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Writing Requires Focus: Weekly MGMT Sheets

I’ve known for some time that ending class with Write & Discuss is a great way to focus students’ attention on the target language. I’ve also known that a simple dictation is pacifying, albeit boring (hence why I think I’ve done only one of these this year). Both of these activities require students to write, and both of these activities are nearly distraction-free because students have a writing task to do. It comes as no surprise, then, that we should be using writing as a MGMT tool…

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Admin-Friendly Sneaky Input Activities

Here are 4 sneaky activities that don’t seem like input at first glance. I call them “admin-friendly” because when there’s conflict over providing CI, it’s usually someone in a position of power who just wants to see the kind of schoolwork that makes more sense/is familiar to them. Unfortunately, that kind of observable schoolwork is output, or something completely non-communicative, or not even in the target language. I must admit that these 4 activities appear output-heavy, but they aren’t, so pay attention…

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Input-Based Strategies & Activities

**Updated 3.5.19 with Guessing Game**
**Check out the companion post on Getting Texts!**

When choosing the class agenda beyond each particular day’s routine, it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember all my favorite activities. Thus, here are the input-based strategies & activities I’ve collected over the years, all in one place. Although this began as only reading activities, I decided that it didn’t matter as much whether students were reading or listening. Why? These input-based activities start with some kind of text either way, so beyond variety, what really matters most to me when planning for class is providing students with input, and what kind of prep goes into getting the text/activity. Everything is organized by prep, whether no instructions, no prep, printing only, or low prep. You won’t find prep-intensive activities here beyond typing, copying, and cutting paper. Oh, and for ways to get that one text to start, try here. Enjoy!

**N.B. Any activity with the word “translation” in it means translating what is already understood. This should NOT be confused with the more conventional practice of translating in order to understand.**

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Required Homework: A Prep-Free Solution

My go-to homework is to read/reread a text from class. This is largely the honor system, banking on students finding the text compelling. There are those who want to see EVIDENCE that reading took place, though. Under such conditions, I don’t really want to hold a reading quiz the next day in order to catch and trap students who had too much Science the night before. Thus, I need a solution…

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HQ (High-Quantity) Reading & Pisoverse Vocab

One Second Language Acquisition (SLA) idea is that teachers mostly control only the quantity and quality of input—the sine qua non of language acquisition—with the learner’s internal syllabus acting as a major constraint. Conventionally, Latin teachers have been preoccupied with quality of Latin over quantity, which is likely the opposite of how to acquire a language! Furthermore, quality* has different interpretations, especially concerning its comprehensibility.

Recently, John Piazza has been promoting HQ (High-Quantity) Reading—of texts students understand—on the Latin Best Practices Facebook group, and with good reason. Blaine Ray’s recommendation is reading 32 pages a week (half in school, half at home) beginning in the 3rd year, which is quite the challenge for a profession lacking a high quantity of understandable reading material (i.e. texts written with a reasonable number of words, and NOT what some consider appropriate texts)! Right now, there are a couple of ways Latin teachers are working towards that goal…

1) Novellas
2) Writing personalized texts

There are about 17 novellas written with sheltered vocabulary for the beginning student, which I’ve been updating on a list, here. These novellas are ready-to-go sources of more understandable input than has ever been available in the past, offering thousands of Latin words for students to read in compelling contexts. As an author of some of those texts, I can share some stats. At this point in the Pisoverse, there are 4 novellas, and 2 readers. This winter, there will be a 5th novella of 58 unique words, which will end up being the longest in the Pisoverse at over 3000 total words! These 8 texts are written with just 300 unique words across them all—a reasonable amount for students to understand by their third year, no doubt containing some new words (because high-frequency is context-dependent). The total word count of these 8 texts is over 16,600. That’s a lot of Latin—twice as much, in fact, since this past October! So, the Pisoverse alone is just one huge source towards the 32 pages/wk goal in the third year. Approx. half of that Latin is available completely free for projecting/printing on each publication’s blog post,which you can find on the Novellas tab.

The other option is to write personalized texts for your own students. Here, “personalized” could mean texts based on details learned in class about the students themselves, or adapted ancient texts on topics that students are interested in. Writing personalized texts for your students daily is one way to provide copious amounts of CI. This is a high-leverage practice, and doubles as the least expensive option (yes, novellas are inexpensive, but 5 copies of all current 17 could run $500. This is quite low when it comes to classroom resources, yet remains a hard sell in underfunded programs in which teachers haven’t yet advocated for text budgets like ELA courses). So, writing personalized texts is one inexpensive way to provide the most comprehensible reading material, yet it also might require ditching some practices teachers ASSUME they must do, yet contribute very little to acquisition:
  • Instead of creating worksheets…
  • Instead of designing a 1-2 page quiz…
  • Instead of grading quizzes at home, or during planning time…
  • Instead of creating a translating activity…

…write personalized texts daily for your students!

Not sure where to begin when it comes to writing for the Novice? Read this, this, and this!

*Quality is usually synonymous with Latīnitās, which will be debated ad nauseum, ad inferōs, and beyond, yet another take on quality of input is in the richness and clarity of meaning. The ancient unadapted short sentences found in “Wheelock’s” and “Learn to Read Latin” textbooks hold very little meaning for the beginning student—not to mention some degree-holders—which calls into question the quality of input if only few can understand that level of Latīnitās. After all, even the best examples of single-sentence Ciceronian Latin can be meaningless to most! Quality, then, can be seen as messages that hold a great deal of meaning, and not just messages of a particular style consistent with great ancient authors.