I’ve been using the basic Talk & Read class structure for a while (i.e., a greeting, quick discussion, and/or some activity “by ear” for about 5 to 20 minutes, then reading, reading, reading for the remainder). That was when I had 40 to 60 minute classes for years. However, switching to an 85-minute block schedule last year really fucked things up. Now, classes feel way too long, I’m exhausted, there’s too much time between class days (i.e., 48 hours) so “the din” of Latin in students’ minds grows dim, and absent kids miss out big time (i.e., now 96-120 hours from class to class if absent just one day).
It turns out that I didn’t write much about the block schedule messing with things last year aside from a blog post or two. Granted, 2021-22 was the first year back from remote learning. That came with unique challenges, and the schedule change didn’t help. Btw, this is my 10th year teaching and my 10th schedule. Even when I stayed at the same school for more than a year, the schedule changed each one. I’m now in the 6th year at the same school. 6 schedules. Anyone wanna place a bet as for next year will hold? So, 2021-22 was a big calibration year for all sorts of reasons, and it’s taken me until right now to actually identify how much the schedule has negatively impacted first year language students. But I have a solution…
In a Latin Best Practices Facebook group discussion months back, I shared that I wasn’t sure I do any pre- or post-reading. I just have a bunch of…activities. While I still think that’s true, I’ve decided to consolidate and organize everything under the pre/dum(during)/post categories to make planning even easier.
I almost can’t believe I just typed that. Planning—for me—already takes mere minutes. With broad Class Day and Culture Day unit plans established for reference, I’ve had no need to plan the class agenda more than a day or two in advance. In fact, doing so becomes a waste of time as things become irrelevant, or causes frustration when plans—inevitably—must change. N.B. I’m able to plan this way because I work under a “forward procedure” approach, which I highly recommend. Still, if there’s a way to reduce planning even further, I’m game.
I hear teachers talk about cycles a lot these days, which are kind of like longer planning routines. Since my school went to A/B day block schedule, the whole “Monday = ____ day” is pointless, and the longer 84 minute classes really messed with how I structured it all. This year was a big adjustment to say the least. So next year, I’m gonna give the cycle thing a try as it pertains to pre-, dum-, and post-reading sequences within a single class. This differs from what Elizabeth Davidson shared, noting that her sequence typically lasts 4-6 days. These past weeks, though, I’ve been using the sequences when reading a short text, such as a novella chapter, in one class. As such, the amount of pre- needed for the reading (dum-) is far more limited, as well as the scope of a post-reading wrap-up (usually a game). For the descriptions of everything that follows, see this updated list of activities, which is now organized by timing, not prep…
This post includes practical ideas I got from Florencia Henshaw’s and Maris Hawkins’ theory-to-practice SLA (second language acquisition) book. The preface and first chapter contain what’s probably among the best 30 pages a language teacher could read, especially one having little familiarity with SLA, and/or those who missed the Tea with BVP train, and While We’re On The Topic.
My context is teaching first year Latin in a small public high school in a large city. Latin is required. It’s the only language offered. So there. I teach beginning students who have no choice (i.e., this often means no interest or any prior knowledge), and many of them didn’t have a second language experience in primary or middle school. Since “novice learners have a long way to go when it comes to developing a linguistic system” (p. 138), my focus is hardly on any output. Output “helps with the skill of accessing that system” (p. 138), which the beginner is still building, so it’s not a priority. This doesn’t mean no one speaks Latin (students do!). This doesn’t mean there isn’t any interaction. What this does mean is that I’m not thrown off by all the “Get students speaking the TL in just five easy steps!” messages that lead so many language teachers astray. Neither are the authors, although they’ve included stuff in the book for those who might be dealing with an IPA-heavy department (Integrated Performance Tasks), or who might be coming from a more traditional program and isn’t quite ready to give input its due attention. Input is key. I’d actually feel the same if I taught second year Latin as well, and maybe even year three. This would also hold true for any language. That is to say I think all Spanish I & II, or maybe even Korean III teachers would benefit from the same approach: a massive focus on input.
Considering how impersonal the year felt, the responses from this end-of-year survey support an early prediction many of us had that learning and growth/development would take place this year after all, though certainly different from what we’ve expected in the past. To be clear, “learning loss” is a myth, and you should stop anyone trying to talk about that dead in their tracks. You simply cannot lose what you never had in the first place. It was a talking point used to get kids into schools ASAP, and nothing more. If students, or even just their learning were truly the priority, the conversation would be about improving living conditions for families at the societal level, as well as fully-funding our public schools.
Anyway, let’s start with the first question on my mind: grading. I’ve settled on the system after experience with a LOT of different ones, but what about students? The open-ended responses explaining what kind of grading students preferred are quite genuine. Scroll through the slideshow to see:
I got thinking about what I’d say my core practices were if anyone wanted to learn more about CI and get an overview of what comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) looks like. Would it be a list of 10? Could I get that down to five? Might it be better to prioritize some practices like the top 5, 8, and 16 verbs (i.e. quaint quīnque, awesome octō, and sweet sēdecim)? Would I go specific, with concrete activities? Or, would I go broad and global, starting with principles and ideas?
I highly recommend that you do this just as an exercise during a planning period this week, making a quick list of your core practices. Doing so required me to sort out a few things in the process, and helped organize and align my practices to certain principles. Of course, terms and definitions can get tricky, here. I just saw that Reed Riggs and Diane Neubauer refer to “instructional activities (IA),” which covers a lot of what goes on in the classroom. It’s a good term. I’m using “practices” in a similar way to refer to many different methods, strategies, techniques, and activities that all fall under a CCLT approach, as well as general “teacher stuff” I find to be core as well.
Another reason for this post is that I’ve seen the “CI umbrella” graphic shared before, but that doesn’t quite fit with my understanding of things. Rather than practices falling under a CI umbrella, I envision CI instead as the result of practices under the umbrella of CCLT. I also consider such an approach a defense against incomprehensibility—the first obstacle that needs to be removed—and I thought a more aggressive graphic of a “CI shield” might best represent that.
Here’s a list of how to easily convert tried-and-true activities to the digital space during our remote learning. For a list of all original in-person ways to get texts and input-based activities, see this post.
Just use it to set up prior knowledge—what some might consider “pre-teaching”—before reading a text. Afterwards, students will have a bit of context from a 3-5min video clip so you can get to reading the story.
Of course, this changes the experience, but if you’re at all hesitant to provide input during a video, are running out of time, and/or want to focus on providing CI by reading, this is one way to do it.
All you need is a video, and a transcript or story based on it. There’s this database floating around for videos with universal content, but keep an eye out for language-specific videos and animations you could use while exploring the target culture. Some people have already created accompanying texts, but you could always watch, then co-create with students, or spend a planning period writing something on your own. If you find/have something existing, you could always create an additional tier, or embedded reading. N.B. Remember, you only have to create it once! I’ve been writing a new text every year or so to go along with videos collected over time. Here are many texts ready-to-go for Latin.
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?!?!
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…
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…
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:
Talk about 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…