Nearly everything related to CI is a grassroots kind of thing.
With grassroots, you gotta do most of the work on your own. I’m not saying you gotta work outside of school hours, but you certainly gotta scour the internet and find some PD opportunities. No one’s gonna drop these on your lap. They’re rarely provided by your school, and often in direct conflict with other department members’ understanding so you’re unlikely to get it there, too. Even when you do find something, you can’t make significant changes overnight, either. Fun fact: Supovitz & Turner (2000) found that science teachers made just *average changes* to practices after 40 hours of PD. It wasn’t until the 80 hour mark that *significant changes* were made. How many hours was your last PD sesh? How many hours do you think you’ve spent on learning how to do X in the classroom? Exactly.
So, if you’re looking to move away from outdated legacy approaches and towards more contemporary comprehension based language teaching (CBT)—maybe even with a focus on communication (CCLT)—perhaps under an older or newer name, such as teaching with comprehensible input (TCI), teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling (TPRS 1.0 or 2.0), storytelling while drawing (Story Listening), acquisition-driven input (ADI), or under any other name that does, in fact, give priority to input (i.e., not forcing kids to deal with being uncomfortable while speaking, etc.), there are only two ways to make that change:
Change the texts students read.
Change what you do.
If you have input sources besides yourself, just replace “texts” above with any other form of input, and keep reading. You should definitely be reading a lot in the second language classroom, but the concept applies to other video/audio sources of input (e.g., if you listen to pop tunes with only a handful of lyrics the kids understand, that’s not CI; you gotta change the kind of songs you’re having them listen to, or you have to change what you do so by the time they listen, they’ll actually understand it).
There it is; just two ways. With the former, you either give students a) different texts entirely, or b) adapted versions of the texts you always used beforehand. With the latter, you do things like a) learn how to actually speak Latin (or develop a higher proficiency in the modern language you teach), b) write texts with students (no, not just stories…even a summary of what was learned in class, written in the target language, is probably the best non-story example), or c) change your assessments. That’s it, but here are those options in more detail…
Like usual, it took me a matter of minutes the other day to create the next day’s class agenda. Oh, you wanna know the trick to that? There are lots of them, but it all starts with a good grading system and ends with the basic Talk & Read format.Then, I try not to plan too far out knowing that something ALWAYS changes last-minute, and about 20% of our weeks aren’t even the typical schedule to begin with. I have a rough idea what’s coming up in following weeks, but never anything set in stone. Printing much ahead of time? Forget it. I’ve recycled WAY too many reams of no-longer-relevant activity sheets to know better. Anyway, I felt good about the time spent during my planning period, and had a solid idea of how class would go. The plans were simple and straightforward.
Yet, why was I exhausted by the end classes today?!
It turns out that low-prep isn’t always as easy as it seems to carry out. The good news is that it doesn’t take much more effort to avoid a draining class. In this post, you’ll find a list of the best low-prep AND low-energy-demanding activities generated from my input-based strategies & activities and how to get texts lists. Those lists have also been updated with the “EZ” code showing low-energy-demand typically required to carry them out.
You wouldn’t expect to read a Magister P blog post and end up doing more work, would ya? Naw, and this doesn’t disappoint. The Monitor Assessment should help a little with what is yet another exhausting year teaching, but be sure to keep it once we’re on the other side.
Instead of creating, administering, and scoring quizzes, have students do some kind of read and translate in pairs or small groups, preferably in preparation to a team game. My go-to right now is the Lucky Reading Game, which you can read about somewhere here.
Walk around and monitor the groups, making note of any incomprehension.
Firstly, yes, this is most definitely an assessment because you assess comprehension, and can jump in to make language more comprehensible, which is immediate feedback. Secondly, no, don’t bother grading this assessment! Not every assessment needs to be scored and then dropped into the gradebook. In fact, definitely don’t do that.
I’ve maintained that the only adjustment language teachers need to make is to provide students with more input, which should be happening anyway, so assessments don’t change much. That’s still true. However, The Monitor Assessment can provide insight into which kids need more support (e.g., more comprehension checks, or direct questions during class), as well as give us an overall sense of how comprehensible our texts are, especially a day or two later, acting almost like a delayed test that shows what stuck. I suppose, then, that The Monitor Assessment can be a handy tool to catch ourselves from moving too fast, and be more responsive and deliberate with vocab. In that sense, these are adjustments that can only help the necessity of providing input. Of course, if texts are at- or below-level to begin with, The Monitor Assessment will confirm that, and no further adjustment needs to be made, anyway! Oh, and the beautiful part?
That’s right. This assessment is 100% prep-free since you already had a text to read for the team game, right?
I continue to claim that teachers have the most positive impact on learning when there’s ample time to reflect and prepare. It sounds basic, but this isn’t reality for most. Ideally, for every class hour taught, there should be at least 30min prep time, and bonus if it’s 1:1 (e.g. teach four classes, have four hours to plan, every day). This probably sounds insane, but only because most teachers have been working insane schedules. It’s unhealthy. Most teachers put up with the madness of something like one guaranteed prep period a day, etc., which leaves them kind of screwed if they teach more than one course, which is almost everyone, especially teachers of less-commonly taught languages (LCTL) who prep all levels as a department of one. No wonder there hasn’t been much innovation in education, there’s no time for it! The solution? First of all, teachers should streamline their practices so they don’t waste that precious time doing something like grading, or giving the same feedback over and over that students won’t read, or pretending their code system will make any difference. Beyond that, it takes adequate funding to hire more teachers. That should be a reasonable ask, and is just one of the many reasons why I’m supporting John Bracey as NEA Director in the runoff, who’s vying for fully-funded public schools in Massachusetts among other crucial fights. It’s ridiculous this even has to be part of any campaign at all, right? Fully-funded public education should be the unquestionable foundation of society, period. Vote Bracey. He’ll get that job done.
Anyway, I’ve finally made it to a point in my career where in these last weeks I get everything ready for the fall. I’ve been close to accomplishing that in the past, but there’s always been this August calendar event I set up that goes something like “read this, review that, create this, think about that,” yet there’s usually no time, even for someone like me hyperaware of prep time. Guess what? I already did all that stuff, and consolidated the ideas into this one post so the work is truly done to start 2021-22.
Posters I sat in the middle of the room, looked around as if I were a student, and updated every poster that was hard to read. Really, what’s the point of having them if kids can’t see them?! Most are now on 11×17 at 120-pt font, with 80-pt English given below the Latin. Clarity is key, and so is comprehension. I’ll be pointing to these posters a LOT to establish meaning, and then even more when cuing it. I’ve also took down posters I couldn’t remember using. Some posters are nice in concept, but I’m just not gonna refer to fractions in Latin, etc. Also, I’ve redesigned my numbers, and put up my “who needs a boost” and “what would you like?” The latter are actually my first new practices I’ll have to be mindful of, which deserves a number, and bold color to draw attention when I check back in here come August. 1) Use Boosts & Quid velīs?
quālitātēs Since the cognate list has grown to over 700 words, I updated quālitātēsto have *only* cognates, and dropped the English. There are 19 pages with about 160 words organized by positive, neutral, and negative adjectives. My plan is to show students how much Latin they probably already understand, while at the same time introduce English words not in their vocabulary. For example, diabolicum is just too good of a word to avoid using (any fans of The Boys out there?). I’m also going to use these lists more deliberately, like when we describe characters during storytelling. This is another new practice. 2) Use quālitātēs.
PasswordNow “Weekly Word(s)“ This one’s simple. I used to stop students at the door requiring a rotating class password (but really for a quick check-in), and I wouldn’t let them in if they forgot the password. It was kinda fun except for when it wasn’t. The update is a reframing. No passwords, just weekly words now, but I’ll use the same words/phrases that went over well in the past. The very first one has always been “salvē!” which makes sense. However, I’m adding “…sum [___]” to the end so I get to hear how students pronounce their own name for a week. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this sooner!
DEA (Daily Engagement Agreements)Now “Look, Listen, Ask“ The update to collecting gradebook evidence that now has a weekly focus on Look, Listen, and Ask means I won’t need to refer to these the way I used to. I’m not even gonna mention the word “rule.” Also, it’s a good thing I wrote about this, because I hadn’t made that Google Form yet. Check! 3) Use new form to collect gradebook evidence on focus areas.
TPR Wall I’ve never really had much success with Total Physical Response, and haven’t been around students who like to act during collaborative storytelling either (i.e. so no TPRS for me). I’ve just removed all expectations (hopes?) for these things. It’s not the culture here. I’m not gonna force it. Therefore, I cleared up a whole wall that had TPR words, and moved the Look, Listen, and Ask posters over there.
Digital Fluency Write/Timed Write Form I’ve been having students type Latin into a Google Form, then count up their words (responses from each class section all link to the same spreadsheet). It turns out there’s a formula =IF(C2=””,””,COUNTA(SPLIT(C2,” “))) that takes care of the counting. Drop it into a column in the spreadsheet, and you’re all set. Check out how close it comes to students counting one-by-one! I still review the student’s writing and adjust for only Latin words & names in that last column, but the formula skips the step of students counting—and miscounting—after writing.
Eval I’ve been using timed writes for years to show growth. However, I haven’t been totally happy with the measurements used in the teacher evaluation goal setting. For example, if it’s by percentage, some students have increased their word count 1250%, while others by just 5%. If it’s by total word count, some students are writing 89 words, while others are still writing 10. If it’s by word increase, some students have written 74 more words than their first, and others just one or two. Regardless of the measurement, some students start writing a LOT right away, and don’t make much progress because most are just in that plateau of hanging out at Novice High or something. Therefore, I need a more variable goal that takes into account all these situations based on an average of the first three writing samples:
Under 10 will double. 10-30 will increase by 50%. Over 30 will increase by 25%.
Also, I’ll have to get writing samples early on within a few weeks (not months) so I have a more accurate baseline. I’m also adding two new practices to help increase comprehension when reading, lead to acquisition, and result in higher output. These are alternating between 4) Code-switched Readings and Facing English in addition to full glossaries. Every text will include at least one of these three supports.
Activities **Update: In particular, I’m gonna be sure to start with Card Talk Stories. This could be 4.5.** Due to remote teaching, I haven’t had much experience with a lot of things on my lists of input-based strategies & activities, and how to get texts. Therefore, I’m not ready to ditch any of them. Also, we’ll have more classes in what should be a more typical year, so I might need to draw from those lists to keep things novel. In particular, I’m thinking of varying reading activities considerably more. So, I’ll be sure to consult the lists when planning. 5) Check lists, weekly.
Syllabus/Learning Plan For the first time ever in my teaching career, I had the opportunity to review the entire year’s class agendas! I thought I’d end up with a long list of activities and a rough sequence for the year, but no. First of all, I don’t plan more than a day or two in advance, and certainly not more than a week out. Second of all, it turns out I already did some of that work when creating my core practices! However, until I’m familiar with the whole teaching thing next fall—because I DO forget how to teach, every single year—I’ll make it a point to review all those practices: 6) Check out core practices, weekly. Still, looking back at the entire year’s class agendas was helpful. Hands down, I’m keeping “hodiē,” the one doc I open each day and work from, for organization (although I’ll be created a new Google Classroom assignment each week to better help students keep track). Here are some other routines and ideas I found from reviewing the agendas that I want to make sure I include next year:
A basic Talk & Read format to each class
Start class with date + something else to copy into notebook (statement, story, excerpt, etc.)
Use digital class libraries (only print for certain activities)
Summary So, here I am. There’s a LOT of stuff in this one post to review come August. After all, I plan to take a full summer break. No PD. No posts?! Maybe. Who knows, but having all my work done in order to set up next year’s success feels real good, and maybe the consolidated resources will help you, too.
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.
The winter months are notorious for their interruptions, such as midterms/finals, PD days, holidays, and [un]expected bad weather. We’re back from the longest break, but not in full swing, and don’t expect to be. Why? I’ve long observed how Thanksgiving vacation marks the end of the most productive time of school, and the Swiss cheese feeling we’re in from now through February leaves just a couple months left to finish out the year. That is, with April vacation and a handful of other random short weeks of teaching, the next 18 weeks of instruction are going to fly by.
So, I took a look at all the interruptions throughout the year. Surprisingly, only 75% of the weeks are a full five days. That means 1/4 of the time teaching, plans based on an entire week’s worth of activities and routines get all messed up…for the entire year! Now, anything that messes things up as often as 25% of the time is enough to lead to burnout. There are a number of ways to plan no- to low-prep, and avoid that burnout, but for the 25% of short school weeks, perhaps the best way is to treat daily routines as independent from one another, not always needing the previous day’s events (e.g. a Tuesday routine shouldn’t rely on whatever happens Monday).
This is just a reminder to plan wisely (i.e. smarter, not harder) for the second half of the year!
You’re looking at what happens in May due to state testing, that state testing prep, special events, concerts, Jury Duty, and other random end-of-year goings-on. The four colors represent my class sections, and the numbers represent which class/lesson of the week they have. Ordinarily, all four sections should meet 4x each week in a fixed schedule, but you’ll notice that by every Friday, very few have a fourth class, and aside from the first of the week, no two days look the same the whole month!
So, all that code on my desk calendar was just to keep track of which class met when, and what they did. I didn’t dare write ahead more than one week! Also, this month began after the last two shortened weeks of April that followed Spring Break. Therefore, the last consistent week of school was April 8th! Yikes, right? I’ve written about how to deal with wrenches being thrown into plans. Well, May was such a massive wrench, that any teacher unprepared for it must have been caught up in the stress. I might even have been yelling “mayday!” were it not for a bunch of no-prep plans, many comprehensible texts ready to go, and solid Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) expectations already established. Thus, I was able to keep up momentum despite the lack of consistency this spring. I’ll share some more accurate numbers next week, but it’s looking like students were able to read at least another 5,000 total words since Spring Break. I consider that a victory given what May looked like!
OK, so it’s still holiday break, but we can celebrate the third #teachersunday in a row, especially to get more teachers on board after the New Year (just post a pic of your Sunday in the Twitter sphere, and/or FB). Even though it’s still break, I’ve already heard teachers beginning to plan their upcoming week. Not me; I took care of that work—at work—before I left work. In fact, I’m not even sure what’s been planned, and don’t really need to know until school begins Wednesday. Come to think about it, I don’t even really have to plan for Mondays at all because the options are bountiful. Having some Monday routines on hand are a must for teacher sanity…
Before you check out my #teachersunday activities from this week, here are some favorite no-prep options for every Monday so you don’t have to think very hard on a Friday, and definitely not during a holiday…
Weekend Talk/Holiday Talk/Card Talk + Simple Survey (e.g. “What was good? What was bad?”)
Special Person Interviews
MovieTalk (always have the next one cued & printed)
One Word Image (OWI)
Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)
Also, whatever you do, make sure it’s something without printing (do all that by Friday). Heading to the copier Monday morning is about as bad an idea as driving back to any major city on a Sunday afternoon.
Making some house compound gin (i.e. legal infusing, not illegal distilling)
This ambient music show is free on Sundays, and you can stream the show all week free on the app.
OK, so watching double bass videos isn’t exactly relaxing, but #teachersunday is more about not planning for school than it is about chilling out. #teachersunday is about making sure you retain free time, and doing what you want with it.
Calm Quincy water from a cozy corner at Aunt Pat’s.
On any given day, it’s common for teachers to have wrenches thrown into their plans without warning. Sometimes these wrenches appear during the very class teachers are required to plan for! Other times, it feels like the whole damn tool chest is being tossed our way! This post offers tips on how to structure your planning so those wrenches have absolutely no impact, whatsoever…
When choosing the class agenda beyond the Talk & Read format (now Talk, Read & Reread), it dawned on me years ago that I couldn’t remember all my favorite activities. Thus, here are the input-based strategies & activities I’ve collected, all in one place, and that I currently use (see older ones above). Everything is organized by pre-, dum-, and post- timing. 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.**