You’re looking at one of my student’s illustrations. The prompt was to read a description and draw the cover of a new book (coming laaaaaaate spring, btw):
Marcus likes being a young Roman mage, but such a conspicuous combo presents problems in provincial Egypt after he and his parents relocate from Rome. Despite generously offering magical medicine to the locals, this young mage feels like an obvious outsider, sometimes wishing he were invisible. Have you ever felt that way? Marcus searches Egypt for a place to be openly accepted, and even has a run-in with the famously fiendish Sphinx! Can Marcus escape unscathed?
The result in all classes was some pretty amazing buy-in before we even got to the first page! The prompt I chose also generated class content—the source of that class’ Picture Talk—for which students don’t have to be artists like this one; stick figures are great, especially the really silly ones that get everyone laughing…
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…
I wrote about message count at the end of 2017. The idea came back to me this week since I’ve had a LOT of free time due to state testing and other end-of-year random events. I’ve found that this free time is good for trying out some things that don’t need much continuity, like one-off activities, or something I never got around to but have resources for, and dare I say…experimenting…the last couple weeks.
Teachers have had many questions regarding the use of novellas in the classroom. While the easiest is to simply have them available for students to read, I’ve taken a more cumulative approach to setting aside time for independent reading this year. Here are 5 different no-prep ways to read novellas:
**ALL novellas available for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)** 1) Whole-Class & Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Intro 2) Whole-Class & SSR 3) SSR & Expanded Readings (ExR) 4) Audiobook, SSR & ExR 5) Poetry of the Week
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…
It’s taken years to develop my practices, so there’s no reason students should understand them all after 7 weeks. I’m using these comics to reinforce rules & routines, and to help students understand why their language class looks so different from other classes in school.
1) Tests, Quizzes, “Assessments” When students respond—even non-verbally—it’s like they’ve selected a multiple choice, or completed a fill-in-the-blank test item. Rather than score/”correct” each individual student’s test, the real time interaction provides immediate feedback to everyone in the room. This saves a massive amount of teacher time, typically redundant in nature (e.g. giving the same feedback over and over, possibly resorting to using comment codes, etc.). It’s actually the most natural form of a batch assessment, and it takes place all class long!
There’s no need to give tests when every utterance provides a) me with comprehension data, and b) students with immediate feedback. I do, however, need to train students to listen as if they were taking a test. That’s easier said than done, but not impossible. Aside from maintaining consistent classroom rules & routines that support language acquisition, statements like the ones in the comics help to explicitly connect SLA principles with school expectations in a student-friendly way.
2) Reading Expectations I don’t give homework, but reading at home is a daily expectation, period. Without a product attached to reading, though, the concept of “we have Latin reading every night” is tough for 9th graders. Surely, I don’t want to contribute to readicide, but students do need it spelled out for them. The math on input is clear. If we spend 10min. reading in class each day, reading at home for another 10min. doubles the input for the whole year.
The power of reading at home cannot be emphasized enough, and reading what is understood is paramount. This means providing students with level-appropriate, or even below-level reading since doing so independently at home lacks any possibility for negotiating and clarifying meaning. Like novellas used for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), students are able to read far less on their own vs. the support available during whole-class, or partner-reading activities.
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…
In its debut year, Comprehensible Online offered a different kind of PD, allowing participants to watch as many presentations over three weeks as they could from their computers and phones. #pdinpajamas was trending for many teachers sneaking in loads of PD from the comfort of their own home. In fact, I was able to watch most videos during my part-time job (shhh)!
Like other conference takeaways, I’ll consult this post over the years, and the info will be here to share with all. I have a code system to help me spot new things to try, and others to update. High-leverage strategies I consider “non-negotiable” for my own teaching are “NN.” Strategies to update or re-implement are “Update!,” and those I’d like to try for the first time are “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways from some of the presentations I got to, organized by presenter:
While Card Talk (formerly Circling with Balls) is great for establishing MGMT expectations by having students literally play ball on the first day of school, don’t forget about it the rest of the year! Write/project a prompt (as bell ringer/Do Now?), then talk about what students drew on their cards. This is no-prep, which sounds like juuuuuuuust the right thing to begin class once back from the holiday break, especially to reinforce class routines after being away for a bit. Aside from my new Brain Bursts, this is what I’ll do tomorrow, and it might even last the entire class!
Given the nature of holidays, instead of making things difficult for the less-privileged, or assuming who celebrates what, I’ll keep mine to a simple and global prompt:
Quid bonum erat? (What was good?)
Oh, and the student who draws nihil (nothing) actually helps us out. The “nothing” response makes it all the easier to launch into some non-examples, either/or questions, and Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA) comparisons, as well as “I don’t believe you” and “liar” rejoinders that are instant hits that extend the conversation every time!