1969: 50 Years of “4%ers”

Just a few months after the moon landing, Superintendent John Lawson (Shaker Heights, OH) gave a speech at the Symposium on Foreign Language Teaching at Indiana University. Its age certainly shows. Then again, were it not for the typeface, you’d think some of these statements appeared yesterday in a blog! I find it striking that such “progressive” and “controversial” ideas have been discussed for 50 years, pretty much coinciding with the civil rights movement, yet without much fundamental change to either. There’s no excuse for the latter. As for second language teaching, that’s slightly more understandable considering the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) was hardly established by the late 60s.

To give you a sense of how relevant Lawson’s ideas are today, look at this statement addressing the importance of compelling topics, and what now has become criticism against using unadapted texts driving the AP Latin problem:

There’s also a section, while brief, managing to address topics like teaching to the test, teacher perception of status in their field, elitism, exclusivity, ineffective pedagogy, compellingness, connectedness, comprehensibility, and confidence. All that back in 1969. Holy moly, right?!

That speech also happens to be the source of the “4%er” term that Keith Toda just shared in his latest (and last-for-a-while) blog post. Now, Keith is somewhat of a self-proclaimed man of the shadows not really active on social media, so my first thought was that he didn’t know the “4%er” term doesn’t really come up these days. In fact, I had to go back to a 2015 moreTPRS list email to search for the references contained in here! But maybe that term is exactly what teachers need to be reminded of right now. Let’s start with its history:

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RILFA 2018 Presentations & Takeaways

On Saturday at RIFLA, I presented some updates to two NTPRS 2018 presentations. After the conference, I made even more updates based on what we discussed, including MGMT issues each setup decision addresses. I also had the chance to see two presenters.

Optimizing Your Classroom Setup for MGMT – RIFLA 2018

No-Prep Grading & Assessment – RIFLA 2018


Matthew Mangino

  • Signals Watching Matthew got me thinking: Have I been using signals?! In the past, we’ve had something for stop, and slow down. Matthew showed us one for faster, but I’ve never had the problem of speaking too slowly! Right now students just raise their hand. I might want to encourage the use of signals more.
  • Story Cubes I’ve used these, and written about using them as more of a whole-class brainstorm and input activity. Still, I can now see an additional use for them with “unlocking creativity.” For example, I could roll two cubes under a document camera, and ask if any word comes to mind that could fill in the next story detail I’m asking for. This could be real good. I’ve been noticing how much better an either/or question is (e.g. students choose, or are inspired a third possibility they otherwise wouldn’t have come up with on their own). Matthew’s version was to provide a paper with 9 prompts (e.g. where, when, how many, problem, etc.), distribute the Story Cubes, then ask students about the image they rolled on the cube as well as what story detail they wanted it to fulfill. In his experience, this little bit of structure has helped quite a lot. Matthew also gathered the cubes as rolled, and snapped a pic of all 9. Essentially, this is the class story depicted, which could then be used as a Picture Talk, or some kind of story retell activity.
  • “Oooooooooh” Matthew shared the 2016 video of Blaine Ray teaching English in Brazil, and the first thing I noticed was how every time Blaine made a story statement, he cued the “oooohs” from the class. If I had been trained to do this, I’ve certainly forgotten. I like how it kept students engaged on even the most basic of sentences! I think I’ll give this a try.

Viviana Hardy

  • The sēx game! Viviana captured our attention with a MovieTalk in Portugues. Afterwards, she shared a host of input-based followup activities. I had forgotten about the game Keith Toda shared. In groups of 3-4, students get a text, as well as a 6-sided die and 1 pencil. They take turns rolling until someone gets a 6, yells out that number in the target language (TL), and begins translating sentences from the text. They continue to do so while other team members keep rolling. Once someone else gets a 6, they grab the pencil  from who was writing, and play continues. First to finish wins, or give points for understood sentences and highest points wins.

Flyswatter PictureTalk

Keith Toda warns that Sentence Flyswatter takes a bit of prep. Here’s a way to remove that prep entirely:
  1. Do something to get you drawings from each student (e.g. Listen & Draw, or Silent T/F Reading).
  2. Project & describe as two students compete to indicate the correct drawing
That’s it! Silent T/F Reading drawings are ready to go w/ 2 pics on one page, but you could place any two drawings side-by-side under a document camera. Oh, and I know a gal who knows a guy so my doc cam from last year mysteriously showed up again. If you don’t have a document camera, you could scan, and maybe crop/arrange two images side-by-side in Paint or something. Either way, this is easy prep. Although any two drawings will do, I’ve found that the challenge level is best when you can describe things that are in both drawings, reserving any difference for after some input. Hence, Silent T/F Readings are a great option. Otherwise, if one drawing is a cat, and the other a building, there’s only so much input you could provide before the correct drawing is immediately recognized. Also, I had students yell out “left/right” in the target language and raise the same hand (instead of getting in the way of the board). Also, this is an excellent way for teachers to become more comfortable speaking Latin. Speaking slowly builds the suspense as students intently listen for clues about the drawings. Even a think-aloud provides input (e.g. “nesciō quid in arbore sit” or “vidētur mihi…” or “in pictūrīs nōn sunt…”).

Input-Based Strategies & Activities

**Updated 11.20.19 with new The Septem Game rules**
**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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Story Template Using Top 16 Verbs

Keith Toda just posted about writing simple texts and parallel stories for extensive reading use, such as during Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). Follow this template to create simple texts from scratch using the Sweet Sēdecim (Top 16). Also follow this template starting with any text (e.g. the simplest version of an Embedded Reading, a parallel story, a textbook chapter, a Write & Discuss, details from Discipulus Illustris, a myth, etc.). This will get you practice writing for the novice:

  1. Setup:
    (is, is in, likes)
  2. Conflict:
    (there isn’t, doesn’t have, wants [to ___], wants to go)
    Interactions: (sees, hears, says, thinks, knows)
  3. New Location(s):
    (leaves, comes to, is in, goes)
    – Interactions: (sees, hears, says, thinks, knows)
  4. Resolution/Unresolved Ending:
    (if item/object: someone carries, puts, gives, if action: character is able)

Here’s a 250 total word length story I could add to the FVR shelf as another comprehensible option…

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On Episode 61 of Tea with BVP, Bill explained Tasks a little bit more. He said that Tasks are usually longer term goals, but also added that level-appropriate and input-based Tasks could be given right away. They certainly could be given right away, but they’re also unnecessary. Considering how hard it is to get multiple concrete examples of Tasks, the amount of planning that needs to go into an assortment of Tasks makes me want to set up a retirement countdown timer and hope it goes by in a blink.

Bill uses the terms “Exercises, Activities, and Tasks” to categorize what we do in class as they relate to communication. Exercises are drills, practicing language for language’s sake, which haven’t been shown to significantly contribute anything to a student’s acquisition or learning experience other than anxiety and frustration for most, so I don’t recommend spending any amount of time on them whatsoever. Instead, the majority of time would be best spent on Activities and Tasks, and there’s one major difference between them…

A Task is an Activity that has a purpose.

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Von Ray on Circling & MovieTalk

I was just with Von Ray—the man, the myth, the legend—at a TPRS workshop in Manchester, NH. It’s been several years since I’ve seen anyone do the 2-day workshop, and I was impressed with the updates. I was also impressed with how magical the experience still was, given my familiarity with all the strategies and techniques of a basic skills workshop, while observing first-time TPRS participants in the room simply dazzled by the experience.

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Stultus: Crowd Control

“Stultus” is not a word I want thrown around class. Sure, it’s National Bullying Prevention Month, but the fundamental reason why I can’t have students yelling at me when I make a mistake or error as part of the comprehension activity is because mistakes and errors are welcome in my class. I would be sending the wrong message, however gratifying and novel it might seem to call the teacher “stupid,” if I allowed that in my room. N.B. I must emphasize MY room, because I know that Stultus works out just fine elsewhere.

So, my adaptation has been to rename the activity “Magister Mendāx!” The process is the same, but the results are a bit more suited to me and my students. When I say something that’s simply not true (e.g. “Trump reads a lot” when the Latin reads “Trump nōn legit”), the students yell out “liar!” I like that the adaptation is not a judgement of my ability, I don’t have to pretend to not understand, and they still get a fun word we can use in class and in stories.

Negligent Motorist = 1, Lance = 0

Yesterday, the following events unfolded while riding my motorcycle:

  1. I notice a car rolling towards towards the road at a TD Bank exit driveway—the driver isn’t looking left (i.e. my direction).
  2. The driver doesn’t look my way, keeps rolling, then suddenly turns left into the road directly in front of me.
  3. I stop short. The momentum sends my motorcycle down on its right side, and me forward, also on my right side.
  4. I’m on the ground now and can’t move, but it’s for an OK reason—I realize that my helmet is stuck between the pavement and bumper of the driver’s car.
  5. The driver gets out of the car and tries to move me (idiot!).
  6. I take some time to watch horrified rubberneckers looking downward at a motorcycle on the ground and its rider partly under a car.
  7. After the disorientation dissipates, I get bored not doing anything under the car, extract myself, take off my gear, and take in the situation.
  8. Motorcycle doesn’t start (it won’t shift BELOW 3rd gear—the one it was in before going down).
  9. I wrap things up with the officer, get the moto towed, start calling insurance companies, and text Bob Patrick. No, Bob is not my emergency contact, but he just happened to have caught a typo in Discipulus Illustris, which led to a nice suggestion (i.e. Quō in annō es? for Quō in gradū es?)

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iFLT 2016: Immediate Instructional Changes, and Other Thoughts

I just went to my first iFLT conference. I got to chat (live) with Bill VanPatten and Stephen Krashen, saw master teachers teaching with CI, and went to some awesome presentations. I don’t take detailed notes during presentations, but as you can see there’s plenty to take away from a few ideas I emailed to myself over the week. This post includes what I intend to think about and/or change for 2016-17, and would recommend others considering as well. Some of the ideas were ones I’ve seen before but just haven’t gotten around to implementing them, while others were completely new. They’re organized by who inspired me:

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