Efficiency & Effectiveness vs. Enjoyment

It’s my 9th year teaching, and I’m done. Finished. Kaputz. That’s it. I’m completely over the approach of talking to other teachers about efficiency and effectiveness. You won’t find me straying into a Twitter discussion circus trying to point out efficient practices for second language teaching. That ship has long sailed. The curtains have closed with me weighing in on comparing the effectiveness of Terrible Practice A and Undoubtedly Much Better Practice B. I might never update my page on Studies Showing the Ineffectiveness of Grammar Instruction & Error Correction, instead ignoring commentary on why I haven’t treated it like a formal annotated bibliography, or lit review, or part-time job. Ah yes, and 2020’s article on grammar-translation could be my final say on the matter.

I’ll be talking about enjoyment from now on.

I’m also going rogue here to say that the kids aren’t actually the priority. Teaching is a profession, and it’s time more teachers think of it that way. Underfunded and undervalued public education right now is like a plane heading straight for the water. Put your own damn mask on, first. It took all of last year to expose all the worst problems, and it should be clear by now that the mask is enjoyment. If you don’t enjoy what you do, learners in the classroom don’t stand a chance. We don’t have to be entertainers, uh uh, but kids sense a lot more than we think. Given all this, I won’t really have much to say about which conditions make a comprehension-based approach more effective than a grammar one. I won’t bring up how a communicative approach is more efficient for acquisition than immersion. No siree Bob. When asked why I do what I do, my answer will be “it’s more enjoyable.”

Enjoyment…for whom?
I’m sure someone who doesn’t teach with a comprehension-based and/or communicative approach reading this is pushing up their glasses (I wear them, too, relax) thinking “bUt My StUdEnTs LoVe ClAsS.” Sure, that might be true. Of course, that’s also like saying “my students turn in missing assignments only if I put in a zero.” Teachers who believe these do so because it appears to be true and work for the students for whom it works. However, it certainly doesn’t account for the rest of the students for whom it DOES NOT work. N.B. It’s also likely that the zero itself getting isn’t the student’s attention, but some notification and reminder from the teacher. Thus, the same holds true with enjoyment. The teacher who enjoys using a certain approach might assume it’s the approach itself that students enjoy. In reality, there’s probably a host of other factors actually causing the enjoyment, and students just have to deal with the approach.

So, you won’t find me comparing a grammar approach to a comprehension-based one. For starters, the best way to do that would be to teach two sections of Latin I using the former, and two using the latter. Sorry boutcha, but here’s no way I’m gonna do that. Of course, there’s no way another teacher using a completely different approach would do the same, either.

However, there’s a key difference.

I’m not going to use a grammar approach because I’ve been there, and it’s not enjoyable. Granted, I personally found that approach enjoyable in college as a complete nerd, but I never enjoyed the approach when I first started teaching, watching students either fail or succeed regardless of my support. Also, I’m not going to use an immersion approach because I’ve tried it, too, and it wasn’t enjoyable for me. As you can see, I’m talking about experience with different approaches. I’m not sure every teacher with a different approach can say the same about a comprehension-based and/or communicative approach. In fact, I only know of one teacher who tried, went back, but then ultimately settled on a comprehension-based approach again years later, as well as one other teacher who tried what generally has been referred to as “CI”—so who knows what that that teacher was really up to—then ditched it and went all Judas on a colleague and openly trashed the approach. I’m sure there are some others, but similar anecdotes don’t really abound. The majority follow a progression away from grammar, period. Are teachers drawn to a comprehension-based and/or communicative approach at first because they’re touted as more efficient, or effective? Maybe, but they mostly stick with it because it’s enjoyable, and the joy seems to spread to students, too. This kind of “new pedagogy” that Thomas Hendrickson refers to in his hot-off-the-press SCS blog on novellas is summed up well in a near-closing statement:”

…I’m confident that the time is better spent in reading novellas than in reading more sentences from Wheelock, which is what we used to do with that time. At the very least, the students seem to enjoy it more. And if one of your course goals isn’t to foster a love of reading Latin, perhaps it should be.”

Besides, future research on efficiency and effectiveness probably most definitely won’t lead to findings suggesting that a) the grammar-translation approach is more suitable and equitable for secondary students, b) learners somehow need less input than we thought and its comprehensibility overrated, or c) students don’t really need a meaningful purpose to communicate. No way. So, with future research all but certain to strengthen support for comprehension-based and/or communicative language teaching (CCLT), I’ll let those studies speak for themselves as I hang out over here talking about enjoyment.

Pisoverse Novella Recommendations: Levels & Whole-Class

Back in August, you might have seen my 2020-21 plans for novellas in preparation of remote learning on a reduced 2x/week class schedule. It turned out that with less time spent on Free Voluntary Reading (i.e. none), we read more whole-class novellas over Zoom than I would have preferred, but c’est la vie COVID. That experience gave me some insight into which books work best for whole-class reading, as well as helped me organize books in a different way. There was also Mike Peto’s Read-Aloud that came just in time to change things up with a new kind of reading process.

Levels
Following Andrew Olimpi’s system, my books now appear as AA to C (none of mine would be considered Level D or beyond). The general recommendation I’ve given is to read in order of word count. However, I’ve begun making it clearer which books might buck the trend due to higher percentage of cognates, as well as total length. For example, Drūsilla et convīvium magārum is my longest book at 3400 total words. In my experience, trēs amīcī et mōnstrum saevum—a book 1,000 fewer words in length, and with 3x as many cognates—is readable sooner. Books seemingly “out of order” like these can be identified by the word count badges on the front cover to highlight the percentage of cognates. Here are my recommended levels, and order within each, from left to right:

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A Pisoverse Novella Monthly Sequence: 1st Year Latin

Every now and then I get asked which of my novellas students should read and when. Of course, that depends entirely on how novellas plan to be used. However, there *is* a logical sequence to my books, and it’s simple. Although word count isn’t everything, I’ve found that it’s most things when it comes to the beginning student reading Latin. Therefore, reading from low to high word count pretty much as-is (i.e. 20 to 155) makes the most sense.

The only time this appears to go “out of order” is with books having a high cognate count, which I read a little earlier. For example, Quīntus et nox horrifica has 52 words, but 26 are cognates. I’ve read that immediately following Rūfus lutulentus (20 words, just 1 cognate) since the reading level is close due to the similar number of unrecognizable words between the two books. See this post on how cognates increase the likelihood of Latin being understood. In the list below, I’ve also omitted the companion texts used for additional reading, activities, and as independent reading options. However, when used along with a novella, those are just read at the same time (e.g. reading Syra et animālia along with Syra sōla). Here’s the current monthly sequence I have in mind:

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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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30 Hours & First Novella

With students meeting 1x/week—this year only—we just had the 30th class of the year. I compared this to our calendar for next year, which is as if it’s October 9th meeting every day of the week. Now, with constant reminders of routines (since at least one week passes from class to class), and typical testing/school interruptions, and Northeast snow, those 30 class hours could amount to fewer total hours of input (25, 20, 15?!). Total input hours is tough to calculate, though, so we’ll just stick with 30 for the purpose of this post! What does that mean for reading? Cue the first novella…

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Pīsō perturbātus: Published!

Hot on the heels of Drūsilla et convīvium magārum published last month, Pīsō perturbātus is the latest to emerge from the Pisoverse. It fills the need of beginning texts to read, and is on par with Rūfus et arma ātra, yet a couple hundred words longerThis book is silly, whimsical even, and completely inspired by the letters P and Q (and C)! Before he can actually compose poetry, and before even Rufus is around, Piso is seen as a very young boy with the crankiness of an old man. Oh, and there’s literally A LOT of alliteration!

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Piso minds his Ps and Qs..(and Cs…and Ns and Os) in this alliterative tongue-twisting tale touching upon the Roman concepts of ōtium and negōtium. Before Piso becomes a little poet, early signs of an old curmudgeon can be seen.

Pīsō perturbātus can be read by the novice student known to curiously continue comprehending even the campiest content in the classroom. It has a unique word count of 36 (excluding different forms of the same word, names, and meaning established within the text), nearly all of which can be found in the novella’s final sentence of Ciceronian length!

Pīsō perturbātus is 1450 words in total length, and even features two nearly completed lines of dactylic hexameter. It’s available…

1) This weekend’s CANE’s Annual Meeting, University of RI, March 16-17
2) Classroom Set Specials (up to $80 off!)
3) On Amazon
4) As a free preview through Chapter 4 (of 8)
5) Email me for Purchase Orders and classroom set discounts

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.